March 31, 2008
Jules Dassin, 1911 - 2008.Jules Dassin, the American who directed the film Never on Sunday and was married to the late Greek actress and culture minister Melina Mercouri, died in an Athens hospital after a short illness on Monday aged 96. George Hatzidakis, Reuters. Between the mid-1940s and the late 1950s, Jules Dassin directed some of the better realistic, hard-bitten, fast-paced crime dramas produced in America, before his blacklisting and subsequent move to Europe.... The Naked City is one of the first police dramas shot on location, on the streets of New York; Rififi is a forerunner of detailed jewelry heist dramas, highlighted by a 35-minute sequence chronicling the break-in, shot without a word of dialogue or note of music... Brute Force remains a striking, naturalistic prison drama, with Burt Lancaster in one of his most memorable early performances and Hume Cronyn wonderfully despicable as a Hitlerish guard captain. Thieves' Highway, also shot on location, is a vivid drama of truck driver Richard Conte taking on racketeer Lee J Cobb. Rob Edelman, Film Reference. Updated through 4/6. Dassin loved working with [Richard] Widmark, too. "I had immense respect for him as an actor," says the filmmaker, "and I lamented the way his career went. You may not believe this, but after we had this great experience on Night and the City, I wanted him to do Hamlet with me on stage. But he was terrified of the idea." Widmark fell victim, Dassin thinks, to the hard-guy typecasting the studios imposed on him: "Hollywood had trapped him." Michael Sragow, interviewing Dassin in 2000 for Salon. See also: Wikipedia. Updates, 4/1: "He joined the Communist Party in 1930s, a decision he recalled in 2002 in an interview with the Guardian in London," writes Richard Severo in the New York Times: "You grow up in Harlem where there's trouble getting fed and keeping families warm, and live very close to Fifth Avenue, which is elegant," he told the newspaper. "You fret, you get ideas, seeing a lot of poverty around you, and it's a very natural process." He left the party in 1939, he said, disillusioned after the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler.... He had always been demanding of himself and often critical of his own work. In 1962, with his best films largely behind him, Mr Dassin told Cue magazine: "Of my own films, there's only one I've really liked - He Who Must Die. That is, I like what it had to say. But that doesn't mean I'm completely satisfied with it. I'd do it all over again, if I could." Rick Staehling, one of the Intense Guys, posts a clip from Rififi. "François Truffaut considered Rififi the best thriller ever, although all of Dassin's harsh, realistic, fast-paced and highly-contrasted black and white films were to grip a whole generation, the audience of the new wave, throughout Europe and America," blogs Agnès Poirer for the Guardian. "American paced and European styled, his films carried both force and sophistication, two qualities that are still as blatant today as they were then." "Dassin's run of pictures between 1947 and 1955 - Brute Force, The Naked City, Thieves Highway, Night and the City and Rififi - was about as inspired as any director ever pulls off, and Dassin didn't break his stride of inspiration even as he was going into exile," writes Glenn Kenny. The Self-Styled Siren takes a swing at that "slanted piece of crap" that was the AP obit. "Brute Force, unlike Dassin's next film, The Naked City, is filled with an unrelenting sense of despair," writes Steve-O at Noir of the Week. Updates, 4/2: "It was at Universal, under the aegis of the enterprising producer Mark Hellinger, that he made Brute Force, his first personal work," writes Tim Pulleine in the Guardian. "The populist, democratic impulse that is submerged in Brute Force is allowed to surface in his subsequent collaboration with Hellinger, The Naked City." "Interviewing Dassin remains one of the highlights of my life, and I got to do it twice (both times with the help and contribution of the inimitable Bruce Goldstein)," writes Issa Clubb at Criterion's blog, On Five. "What still strikes me a few years later is how gracious he was. As a person, he belied the 'great director as tyrant' stereotype - there was something elegant, sophisticated, and almost gentle about him. For one thing, as much as we tried to get him to talk about the blacklist, he was extremely reticent to do so. He refused to 'name names,' which I suppose would have been out of character.... I think another reason that Dassin didn't want to talk about the blacklist was to avoid being defined by it. He recognized, exile or no, that he did get to make quite a few movies and that they were damn good." Online listening tip. Fresh Air revisits a 2001 interview. Update, 4/3: "Dassin may have been 'a lively director in a minor key,' as critic Andrew Sarris once described him, but such terms are relative," writes the WSWS's David Walsh. "A brief look at his life and career serves as a reminder that Dassin and others of his generation in Hollywood, whatever their limitations, were people of some substance. They had known hardship and struggle, they lived through enormous historical events and these varying experiences left important traces in their artistic efforts." Update, 4/6: "[T]he crime movie was just one item in the dossier of this fascinating, hard-to-pin-down ex-pat auteur," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "And Dassin lived long enough to watch the fickle swing of fortune's pendulum over and over until the movement became almost routine. It was as if he were a character in one of his heist films: top of the world one minute, disgraced and disconsolate the next, but always angling for the next big break.... It was DVD that revived Dassin's rep - not for the Mercouri films but for his early-prime crime pictures.... Yet a bunch of Dassin's major Euro-pix, including He Who Must Die, The Law and Phaedra, and his late-60s urban drama Up Tight!, remain unavailable on DVD. Some of his movies are so hard to find, they have not a single review posted on the Internet Movie Database."
Bette Davis @ 100.It's early yet, but there's so much already going on, we'd better get started... "Bette Davis would have turned 100 on April 5, and her career seems more than ever an unrepeatable anomaly," writes Dennis Lim. "With her outsize performances and distinctive features (those bulging eyes, that clipped voice), she is surely one of the most iconic Hollywood stars of all time. But she was also one of the most iconoclastic. Often more alarming than charming, she was an unconventional beauty who met few of the obvious requirements for stardom (save for drive and ego)." For the Los Angeles Times, he reviews Warners' six-film Bette Davis Collection, Volume 3 and Fox's five-film Bette Davis Centenary Celebration Collection. Updated through 4/6. More on the Warners collection from Jeffrey Kauffman at DVD Talk - and from Dan Callahan in Slant: "Davis is the auteur of all her movies, and during this star period her scripts were mostly high-flown, novelette-ish trash that she transfigured with the power of her epic-sized technique. No one before or since has had her level of intensity on the screen, and it's up to the individual viewer whether her more manic exertions represent a unique, old-fashioned style of overacting or the larger-than-life flourishes of a great artist. I've always see-sawed back and forth between those two judgments, but watching the first film in this set, The Old Maid, it seems clear that she was definitely a great artist whenever she bothered to rein herself in." The Boston Globe's Ty Burr picks out another title to focus on: "It's a relentless melodrama - an emotional gangster movie, really - called In This Our Life, and even Davis didn't think much of it at the time. Made in 1942, between The Man Who Came to Dinner and Now, Voyager (the latter possibly her single best movie), Life casts the star as Stanley Timberlake, the sweet-voiced, black-hearted sister of Roy Timberlake (Olivia de Havilland). (What's with the men's names? If anyone knew, they've long since forgotten.)... Stanley is b-a-a-d, and no one could have played her better than the ruthless Ruth Elizabeth Davis, late of 22 Lewis Street in Newton, Massachusetts. In This Our Life was the second film directed by a young John Huston, and he later wrote, 'There is something elemental about Bette - a demon within her which threatens to break out and eat everybody, beginning with their ears. The studio was afraid of her - afraid of her demon. They confused it with overacting. Over their objections, I let the demon go.'" "Moviegoers familiar with her only from late horror films like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)... may think of her as a campy grotesque, a cartoon diva," writes Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. "That's perhaps partly her own fault, for attacking those ludicrous roles with such unseemly comic gusto.... But on the occasion of her centennial, it's worth remembering Davis as she was in her prime, in the 1930s and 40s, when she commanded the screen with something subtler and more mysterious than the fierce, simple will that carried her through the mostly grim jobs of work that followed.... In her heyday, as the reigning female star at Warner Brothers, she was as electrifying as Marlon Brando in the 50s: volatile, sexy, challenging, fearlessly inventive. She looked moviegoers straight in the eye and dared them to look away." "For all the early attempts to pass her off as a bottle-blonde flapper, Davis was built for a complicated destiny," writes Sheila Johnston in the Telegraph. "Back in 1935, one perceptive critic of Dangerous - for which she won her first Academy Award, as a destructive, alcoholic actress - thought the actress would 'probably have been burned as a witch if she had lived two or three hundred years ago. She gives the curious feeling of being charged with power which can find no ordinary outlet.'" "With nothing but raw talent and raw determination, she became the most famous woman in the world, taking on the Hollywood studio system, the FBI and the Catholic Church," writes Johann Hari. "She had a voice like sour cream, and eyes like a raven. Humphrey Bogart said about her, 'Unless you're very big she can knock you down.' And she was one of the great events of her time.... But something odd has happened since the reign of Queen Bette: women in cinema have become weaker. If the symbol of 1930s Hollywood was Bette Davis in Jezebel, defiantly wearing red to her virgin-white ball, today it is Cameron Diaz in There's Something About Mary, rubbing semen into her hair because she is too dumb to realize it's not hair gel." "She was a screen bitch before it was fashionable to be one," writes Joan Collins, who, for the London Times, recounts a few tales - "I was privileged to work with Davis on my first Hollywood movie, The Virgin Queen (1955), in which she played the shaven-headed monarch Elizabeth I" - and admits to borrowing a trick or two in her own later work. More from Paul Burston: "All About Eve isn't simply a film for camp aficionados.... 57 years after it was first released, it remains the quintessential depiction of ruthless ambition in the entertainment industry, head and shoulders above more contemporary satires such as The Player or Swimming With Sharks. It's also an extremely modern film in the way it pathologises the relationship between celebrity and fan-dom." And Christopher Hart reviews Ed Sikov's Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis. Events and such: The Globe's Leslie Brokaw reports on Lowell's tribute to its native gal. Bette Davis on Tour, in theaters across the UK - and on TCM. And of course, on TCM's stateside mothership as well. The Stanford Theatre's series of "Complete early films: 1931 - 1938" begins this weekend and runs at a rate of four films a week through June 6. Wow. Updates, 4/3: All About Bette Davis: A Centennial Tribute opens tonight and runs through Sunday at the Aero Theatre in Los Angeles. "The Bette Davis Collection, Vol 3 concentrates on the war years at WB, where it seemed that the town's top acting diva came up with one winner after another," writes Glenn Erickson. "By 1940 Davis really was a genre unto herself, starring in quality vehicles that repeatedly showed her a master of the dramatic arts. When the material was good she made it better and when it wasn't she made up the difference in personal commitment." Updates, 4/5: "When I listen to people talk with reverential awe about Robert De Niro gaining weight to play Jake LaMotta or Charlize Theron uglying herself up to play Aileen Wuornos I think (with all due respect to De Niro and Theron), 'Davis did that every other movie,'" writes Jonathan Lapper, who points to video of Davis's appearance at the Oscars in 1987. "She appeared in melodramas, horror pictures, gangster movies, women's weepies, Disney flicks, the occasional comedy, and my favorite movie of all time," writes Odienator in the first part of a tribute at Edward Copeland on Film. "She was the first female president of AMPAS. Bette Midler is named after her, and among those who count her as an inspiration are numerous drag queens, more than one wannabe diva, and Jackie DeShannon, the latter of whom wrote the worst song of the 1980s about Miss Davis's most famous feature." "In many films, the plot turns on Davis's desirability - which means her plausibility," writes Kate Webb in the Guardian. "It's a problem all actresses face: some escape by playing celestial or androgynous figures; others collude and play the coquette. But Davis was alone in letting you know she knew she was being judged, and was indignant about it, showing us what it is to have one's existential credibility constantly called into question." Peter Nellhaus on Now, Voyager: "The retelling of the ugly duckling who becomes Bette Davis could never be made today. The film is two hours of platonic love, obvious rear screen projections, and lots of cigarette smoking. The film is also a love letter to Miss Davis, with two shots of the camera tilting up from her heels to her head." Online listening tip. Bob Mondello on NPR. In the German-language papers: Michael Althen (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Gerhard Midding (Frankfurter Rundschau), Ruth Schneeberger (Süddeutsche Zeitung), Christina Tilmann (Tagesspiegel) and Jürg Zbinden (Neue Zürcher Zeitung). Update, 4/6: "All About Eve supersedes all, incorporates all; it is art, ambition, vanity, intrigue, philosophy, journalism, sexual politics, and celebrity packed neatly into one overnight kit, the outside world barely noticeable in this brightly lit, drably furnished hermitage known as the Broadway theater," writes James Wolcott.
My Blueberry Nights."A big deal no one is making: the first Western-language films by the two most inimitable, imitated Asian filmmakers of our time are opening in New York on the same day." So, on the same page, the L Magazine's Mark Asch reviews both Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon and Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights, "a film as American as apple pie, and as out-of-time iconographic as that phrase implies." "If I was a snarkier writer, I'd say that this is a love story to New York from someone who's still afraid of Manhattan subways," blogs David Lowery. "Which is true, as evidenced by some of the dialogue in the film, but Wong's foreign perspective on Americana isn't necessarily a problem; nor is it the English delivery that makes his dialogue so bad, or Norah Jones's lack of acting experience that makes her lovelorn monologues so cloying. It's just that it's all so damn trite, a problem exacerbated by a serious case of self-importance." Updated through 4/5. "Wong Kar-Wai's script may exist in strange parallel universe contained wholly in the all-night diners and dives of a fantasy America, but it's forgivable," writes Josh Tyler at Cinema Blend. "His film is so beautiful and the performances he gets from his actors are so brimming with quiet power and life that it doesn't matter if we're in the real world or on the set of a badly paced soap opera. It works." Update, 4/1: "A refresher, deep-breath after the fractured convolution in production and final result of his last film, 2046, My Blueberry Nights has more than a passing resemblance to the early career break Wong took during the epic task of making Ashes of Time - a little ditty called Chungking Express that made the director's name in the West," writes Daniel Kasman. My Blueberry Nights can be seen as a somewhat pathetic if nonetheless gorgeously inlaid figment of a larger idea Wong has gathered, defined, and elaborated through his other work." Nicolas Rapold profiles Jones for the New York Sun. And John Jurgensen talks with her for the Wall Street Journal. Nate Chinen reviews the soundtrack for the New York Times. At Cinematical, Peter Martin comments on those $95 T-Shirts. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update: "[W]hile Wong's application of his style to an American landscape underscores just how many commercial and video directors have been biting his style over the past 15 or so years - e.g., you've seen a lot of this stuff before - now and again he hits on something new and startling," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "One hopes that, having possibly purged his romanticized preconceptions about the US, Wong comes back sometime, gets comfortable with his setting, and forges a unique vision." Updates, 4/2: "The disappointment here doesn't have much to do with Wong doing America - he's been doing America for years, even in Chinese - but with Wong doing Wong, and not up to his own standard," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. "Toward the end of Happy Together, Wong's other road movie, Tony Leung's character says, 'Turns out that lonely people are all the same.' Not quite." "Wong and [cinematographer Darius] Khondji's attempt at a signature image for the film - a close-up of vanilla ice cream melting into hot blueberry pie - must have sounded good on paper, but on the screen it's kind of revolting," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Which perhaps makes it a perfect metaphor for My Blueberry Nights itself." "Was this the strangest all-time mismatched-celebrity elevator ride?" Andrew O'Hehir realizes, "Not all competing universes are meant to be harmonized." Benjamin Crossley-Marra profiles Wong for indieWIRE. Update, 4/3: And here's Andrew O'Hehir's full interview for Salon - video, audio and text. Aaron Hillis talks with Wong for the IFC. "My Blueberry Nights feels like an abundantly attractive travelogue, the work of an artist who's passing through rather than taking up residence," writes Bryant Frazer. "Unfortunately, while Wong's synthesis of western cinema traditions with a notably eastern sensibility established him as one of the most boldly contemporary of filmmakers, his take on the US feels blandly traditional, from his reliance on too-familiar character stereotypes to his attachment to throwback pop/jazz artist Norah Jones as his latest muse." For the New York Press's Armond White, My Blueberry Nights is "a ravishing, triple triumph.... What possessed the Cannes Film Festival correspondents whose reports last year ridiculed My Blueberry Nights! (It's a thousand times superior to Cannes prizewinner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.)" Online listening tip. Wong and Jones are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show. Updates, 4/5: Grady Hendrix looks back over Wong's oeuvre and finds a slow slide into stagnation. In Slate: "He still has the potential to be the world's most transcendent director, but wake me up when he stops repeating his past movies and attempts something - anything - new." "[T]o complain about the evident artificiality of Mr Wong's variation on the Great American Road Movie, which has shed around 20 minutes since opening the Cannes Film Festival in May, is to risk missing the point," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Not only because in post-Hollywood America, as every self-respecting French philosopher knows, the simulacrum has eclipsed the thing itself. But also because Mr Wong, whose previous films have occasionally strayed as far from his beloved Hong Kong as Cambodia and South America, has never been especially concerned with verisimilitude.... For this director a sense of place is useful only insofar as it conjures a state of feeling, and geographical coordinates are, above all, indices of atmosphere and mood." "Thirty years from now, My Blueberry Nights may be considered a good film. It may even be considered a great film. Let me explain." Bob Cashill at Popdose. "It's not so much that Kar Wai doesn't know how to commence this specific tale but, instead, that he doesn't know how to start anew, as his latest proves a minor stateside revisitation (or, perhaps more accurately, a rehash) of his favorite thematic and aesthetic preoccupations," writes Nick Schager at Cinematical. "The director continues to languish in sexual intrigue and lavishly composed images," writes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun. "But these successes only heighten the absence of what has been lost in translation." Wong is "still one of the most innovative, fascinating and consistently talented directors in contemporary film," insists Leonard Pierce at ScreenGrab. "Here's five movies that prove it." Ben Gold talks with Wong for the Reeler.
Fests and events, 3/31.The theme of this year's British Silent Cinema Festival, running from Thursday through Sunday in Nottingham, is Rats, Ruffians and Radicals: The Globalisation of Crime and British Silent Film. "[T]hanks to the work of the excellent film historian Matthew Sweet, there is a general waking-up to the richness of Britain's silent cinema heritage," blogs the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "One of the most intriguing aspects of the festival is a showing of The Rat (1925), a wildly excessive melodrama starring the most under-remembered figure in British cultural history, Ivor Novello, perhaps now known chiefly for being (sympathetically) impersonated by Jeremy Northam in Robert Altman's Gosford Park." And Bradshaw suggests that Novello's own life would make for great biopic material. "Bernardo Bertolucci's Before the Revolution has kickstarted the Pacific Film Archive's homage to The Clash of '68," writes Michael Guillén at the Evening Class. "The series provides a fascinating and eclectic dedication, presented in conjunction with the Berkeley Art Museum's exhibition Protest in Paris 1968: Photographs by Serge Hambourg." The series is on through April 23; the exhibition, through June 1. Earlier: Gilbert Adair in the Guardian on Pop Goes the Revolution at BFI Southbank from April 11 through 30. S James Snyder previews the final edition of New York Underground Film Festival for the New York Sun. Wednesday through April 8. At Twitch, Stefan talks with Eng Yee Peng about her documentary, Diminishing Memories, set to screen at the Singapore International Film Festival (Friday through April 14). "Documenta Madrid s opening a slot in its program schedule to revitalize and share old home movies, thus vindicating at the same time the validity and charm of the format that best represents this amateur, free-and-easy, homemade cinema: Super 8." May 2 through 11. Chris Hansen's seen a handful of films at AFI Dallas. David Lowery's there, too. David Bordwell is still in Hong Kong. Mike Everleth notes that the Independent Feature Project/Midwest
ND/NF, week 2."The main reason to check out the second and slack final week of this year's edition of New Directors / New Films, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, is the superb documentary Trouble the Water about Hurricane Katrina and its equally calamitous aftermath," argues Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Updated through 4/5. It may indeed be "[o]ne of the best American documentaries in recent memory," but so far, this year's program has been weighed down by a "general mediocrity," according to Reeler ST VanAirsdale: "In fact, if you had told me two weeks ago that the Greek tandem of Correction and Valse Sentimentale would likely be the duo to beat in this year's crop - rich with festival alums out of Park City, Berlin and other high-profile berths - I would have asked if you wanted another drink." Earlier: Week 1. Update: IndieWIRE interviews Conrad Clark (Soul Carriage) and Lior Shamriz (Japan Japan). Update, 4/1: Howard Feinstein writes up several of the films screening this week for indieWIRE. Updates, 4/2: IndieWIRE interviews Jackie Reem Salloum (Slingshot Hip Hop) and Celina Sciamma (Water Lilies). More indieWIRE interviews: Constantina Voulgaris (Valse Sentimentale) and Lucia Puenzo (XXY). Update, 4/3: Another indieWIRE interview: Chadi Zeneddine (Falling From Earth). Updates, 4/5: Online listening tip. Megan Cunningham talks with Naoko Ogigami about Megane. "La France is undoubtedly the best gender-bending World War I musical you'll ever see," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Impossible to classify, it's a war movie with a love story that only flowers in its beginning and then in its closing moments. It's far more fully realized than the kind of promising but not quite accomplished film New Directors/New Films often showcases."
Frieze. April 08.The "Life in Film" column in this new issue of frieze is a particularly good one. Hito Steyerl looks back to her days at what's now called the Japan Academy of Moving Images: "Though its educational standards were lousy, Imamura [Shohei]'s school was one of the very few places in the world where the works of Japanese avant-garde documentary filmmakers of the 1960s and 70s could be seen. Inspired by sources as varied as Oshima Nagisa's Nihon No Yoru To Kiri (Night and Fog in Japan, 1960), Ogawa Shinsuke's Seishun No Umi (Sea of Youth, 1966) or Terayama Shuji's Tomato Ketcchappu Kôtei (Emperor Tomato Ketchup, 1971), and rooted in the massive and often militant political movements of the time, the films of the New Left mixed the personal and the political in vital, sometimes also wildly inappropriate and explosive, combinations." Alexander Kluge "has become one of the most productive protagonists of New German Cinema, alongside Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, outpaced only by Fassbinder," argues Bert Rebhandl. "Since the release of a comprehensive 16-disc DVD box set, which contains all of Kluge's feature films and abundant bonus material, it is possible to observe the unique evolution of an artist who started out as a lawyer (seemingly remembering the judicial aspects of his trade when the time came to pounce on a loophole in broadcasting law) and went on to become a filmmaker, philosopher, author and media mogul." "To understand America one must understand its Western Dreaming," writes Mark Mordue. "Why, now, of all times, has the genre staged a return? The way that the Western frontier moved on into films relating to Vietnam and the shock of defeat, and how that same sense of the frontier and some final moment of historical trauma continues to this day in Afghanistan and Iraq, may well suggest the reason."
The Flight of the Red Balloon."Like his 2004 film Café Lumière, Hou Hsiao-hsien's sublime new movie The Flight of the Red Balloon finds the director in a foreign country paying homage to another filmmaker," writes Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE. "With Lumiere, Yasujiro Ozu was Hou's reference point and Tokyo his canvas; here, Hou reimagines Albert Lamorisse's classic 1956 short The Red Balloon as a Parisian family melodrama." "A remarkably rich, rewarding, and restful experience, Hou's latest is a film like no other - in the simplicity of its lines, colors, and framing, and in the complexity of how those elements compound and contextualize its emotional subject matter, The Flight of the Red Balloon can, in my mind, be compared to the works of Matisse," writes Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot. "Despite this elevation, the film, miraculously, doesn't feel like an artist's grand summation, but rather just another in a long line of purely wrought canvases; it never calls attention to its own technique or turns its endless flow of lovely, complicated compositions into recognizable set pieces, and instead allows its three principal characters to navigate its spaces with ease." Updated through 4/5. Mark Asch in the L Magazine: "As an emotional experience, Flight is beyond therapeutic: Hou's drifting long takes accommodate octaves of melancholic grace notes, as in a late single-shot scene balancing the breaking and receding of multiple domestic crises, while a blind piano tuner works just offscreen. A sense of harmony is the not-so-secret to Hou's resonant ambience, and, maybe, how he makes someplace like home out of transcontinental flux." "Lamorisse's balloon now floats above Simon (Simon Iteanu), a 7-year-old Paris boy whose single mother, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), can barely keep her life together, and whose new nanny, Song (Song Fang), is a quiet, attentive film student who thinks about making her own version of The Red Balloon," writes David Edelstein in New York. "That balloon stands in for Hou and Song; at times it has the impishness of a Miyazaki god." Dennis Lim has a profile in the New York Times: "Mr Hou, who turns 61 next month, has worked on large and small canvases, moving from rural autobiography (1985's Time to Live and a Time to Die) to national history (1989's City of Sadness), period chamber drama (1998's Flowers of Shanghai) to youth-culture document (2001's Millennium Mambo). He combines most of those modes in Three Times (2005), a self-consciously retrospective triptych. What connects his films above all is the neorealist conviction, more formal than political, that stories should emerge from the flux of daily life." Martin Tsai talks with Hou for the New York Sun. Twitch's Todd Brown has the latest on Hou's next project, his first wuxia film. Shu Qi and Chang Chen have signed on; Tadanobu Asano and Takeshi Kaneshiro are said to have been... approached. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and the NYFF. Updates: "Part of Hou's genius is imbuing this material with emotion that is genuine and tender but never sentimental," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "This is a slice of life that implies so much more than what's on its surface, something that today's conventional narrative films are increasingly hard-pressed to even attempt." "Already, I have two strong candidates for my favorite film of 2008 (the other being Syndromes and a Century)," writes Jeffrey Overstreet. "Hou's mastery of light, reflection, and composition have me suspecting that he may surpass Kieslowski and Wong Kar Wai as my favorite image-maker for the screen." Updates, 4/2: "Since late January, New York audiences have been harvesting the riches of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival - Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park, Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra, New Directors highlights La France and Jellyfish, Asia Argento's performance in Boarding Gate," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "But Flight of the Red Balloon is in a class by itself. In its unexpected rhythms and visual surprises, its structural innovations and experimental perfs, its creative misunderstandings and its outré syntheses, this is a movie of genius." "In honor of the film's elliptical episodes," Daniel Kasman presents "a descriptive analysis or review of Flight of the Red Balloon in similar fragments" in the Auteurs' Notebook. "[S]low, unassuming, and strangely mesmerizing," writes Marcy Dermansky. Update, 4/3: "Flight never penetrates child and pop consciousness; luckily Hou has Binoche to ballast his vague meanderings," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Like Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (a two-hour adaptation of Chris Marker's 28-minute La Jetée), Hou's Lamorisse remake lasts longer than the original - but says less." Updates, 4/5: "Mr Hou's films can be crushingly sad; as with Bresson and Ozu, his restraint only deepens the emotional power of his work," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But whether because of that red balloon - which alternately invokes the spirit of liberty and its elusiveness - or because he was practicing his art in one of the world's most beautiful cities, Mr Hou has made a film that is, to borrow a line from one of his characters, 'a bit happy and a bit sad.'... In the end what elevates Mr Hou's films to the sublime - and this one comes close at times - are not the stories but their telling. In Flight of the Red Balloon Mr Hou plays with light and space on the small canvas that is Simon and Suzanne's apartment, moving the camera around as gracefully as if it were a brush (or a balloon)." "[O]verselling the subtlety of Hou's movies - his last was the marvelous triptych of love stories Three Times - can make them seem like abstraction rather than the beautifully concrete traceries that they so often are, and there's nothing elusive or difficult about his latest, the quietly astonishing Flight of the Red Balloon," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "This is a flight of fancy grounded in real life." "[T]he mere fact that a Hou Hsiao-hsien work features something that one would consider 'whimsical' is news enough," writes Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door. "Here, arguably for the first time ever, he's trying to blend the fantastical with the real and, miraculously, one never intrudes upon the other except in the most sublime ways.... Yet departure or not, Flight of the Red Balloon always feels like a Hou Hsiao-hsien work, and not just because of his typically lengthy master shots and careful framing. His usual concerns with history, identity, art and reality are all present in the film, but, like the titular balloon, they all hover over it without unduly imposing themselves." "If not as demanding as Mr Hou's past history-weighted works, Flight rewards multiple viewings, like revisiting a painting," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "The movie, in fact, ends with a grade-school student at a museum responding to Félix Vallotton's Le Ballon, which depicts a child running (gaily? frantically?) after a ball. It's an appropriate end to a film that was commissioned by the Musée d'Orsay; Mr Hou's wonderful film is indeed a living, breathing work of art and life." "Flight of the Red Balloon all but dares the spectator to play 'find the symbol,'" writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "It's an uncommonly elusive film, although more accessible than most of the Taiwanese director's work. Even after seeing it twice, I feel like I've only scratched the surface." "The delicate-featured Binoche has made her image and her career playing waifs, but she clearly saw this single-mother role as her chance to play, for lack of a better word, a broad, and she runs with it," writes Phil Nugent at ScreenGrab. "Binoche looks as if she's having more fun than she's ever had in a movie before when she's rampaging around the apartment warring with the neighbors or providing funny voices backstage at the puppet shows." "The film disappoints more in context with his career than as a standalone piece; once a director who brought history to scrupulous life in the modern classics The Puppetmaster and Flowers of Shanghai, Hou has lately contented himself with pretty little baubles that, Three Times excepted, are lacking in ambition," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson recalls that in a 1999 Village Voice poll, Hou was declared the "Director of the Decade."
Shine a Light."The joke that Martin Scorsese seizes on throughout his megawattage Rolling Stones concert movie, Shine a Light, is that the band's members have been asked 'How much longer can you stay together/productive/alive?' every year since Mick Jagger was a soft-faced boy who looked barely out of grammar school," writes David Edelstein in New York. "In the old days, Jagger seemed to be taunting us - or, more likely, his stuffy British headmasters and their blue-haired wives - by parading around the stage as everything most fearsome, the cock of the walk as a huffy black androgyne. Now he taunts us with his stamina." Updated through 4/5. "The eloquent creases in Jagger's face testify to his 62 years, but the crazily lean, prancing and spinning body tearing up the stage is, if anything, even more exuberant than the boy I remember setting ablaze the Boston Garden in 1965," writes David Ansen, in perhaps one of his last reviews for Newsweek. "If there's comedy in it, it's the sweet smile of survival that lights up Keith Richards's grandly depraved face - he looks more and more like a Tolkien tree creature who's gathered a lot of moss. Or the ageless dexterity of Ronnie Wood's finger work - and his undying devotion to his Rod Stewart shag cut. Or the look of winded amazement on Charlie Watts's poker face after the group has polished off an incredible smoking version of '[She Was] Hot.'" Geoff Boucher meets the band: "The music industry may be a diminished and uncertain mess this century, but the Rolling Stones, bless 'em, still don't disappoint or stray from the expected iconography; if anything, Richards seems to be going back in time with his pirate curtsy and eternal bluesman leer while Jagger, the whippet-thin rock star who once attended the London School of Economics, is the imperious archduke in full control." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Chris Lee: "Scorsese is part of a small group of acclaimed narrative feature directors who have chosen to tackle rock documentaries despite possessing a filmic skill set more suited to big-budget studio fare than showcasing fiery guitar solos and lighters-aloft audience rapture." And Steven Rosen talks with Steve Gebhardt, now 71, who shot Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, which documents the tour that followed the release of Exile on Main Street: "The project dates to 1970. During his stint as head of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's film operation, Joko, Gebhardt and partner Bob Fries were shooting Ono's avant-garde work Fly, about a fly buzzing over a woman in bed, in a loft where another filmmaker, Danny Seymour, was also working. Seymour was recruited to do sound for documentary filmmaker-still photographer Robert Frank, whom the Rolling Stones had hired to record their behind-the scenes antics during their tour, and Seymour turned to Gebhardt and Fries for assistance." Frank's film, of course, was the legendary Cocksucker Blues. Interviews with Scorsese: Will Lawrence (Telegraph) and James Mottram (Independent). Earlier: Opening the Berlinale. Updates, 4/2: "If Altamont was the Boston Massacre of rock shows, this Beacon date is a presidential-library dedication," writes Camille Dodero in the Voice. "In San Francisco, Hells Angels and tripping hippies lined the stage; in Manhattan nearly 40 years later, the front row is full of gym members and raised camera-phones." "Gorgeously shot by a who's-who of genius cinematographers, including Children of Men's Emmanuel Lubezki, There Will Be Blood's Robert Elswit and even Gimme Shelter director Albert Maysles, all working under the supervision of the great Robert Richardson, Shine a Light follows Scorsese's Last Waltz MO of keeping the cameras locked to the stage and zeroing in on the band's most intimate interactions," notes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly, where Matt Prigge looks back to "Six Films Starring The Rolling Stones." "Even an average performance by the Rolling Stones isn't boring," writes Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. "If you're a fan of the Stones, the movie will be a pleasing representation of these rapidly aging superstars, but even so, the show runs an exhaustingly long time and there's some undeniable vanity in the lingering close-ups, which transform Mick and Keith's leathery skin into epic mountain crevices - especially if you catch Shine the Light on IMAX!" Updates, 4/3: "Visually and sonically, it's spellbinding, and quite unlike any other concert documentary, or IMAX movie, I've ever seen," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "When the band initially suggested that Scorsese film them performing before a crowd of 1 million on the beach in Rio, he counterproposed New York and the Beacon (which seats a mere 2,800), and the result is a live-music film of uncommonly intimate proportions." "These guys look beyond old, more like melting gargoyles in some F/X-heavy beyond-the-crypt horror film," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "Yes, I know it's rude to shine a critical light on the physical effects of our idols' aging. I also realize that we're all getting older, and that the most politic thing for me to say next is that, appearances notwithstanding, the Stones still cavort and rock like antic adolescents. That is true - remarkably so, actually - and it's part of what makes Shine a Light such an engaging, satisfying cinematic concert for anyone not totally Stones-averse." "Jagger can still make astounding use of his body at 63, but his act seems like a wax statue of classic rock sexuality, as harmless as a saber-toothed tiger in a museum display," writes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "[N]o other rock-and-roll band has aligned itself with more great directors than the Stones," notes Glenn Kenny. "I'm still pretty big on One Plus One, the making of which ended with considerable enmity between Jagger and Godard. The director had initially approached John Lennon about his starring in a biopic of Trotsky, but Lennon didn't like where Godard was coming from one bit, so Godard turned to the Stones." Updates, 4/5: "Ultimately the movie is Mr Jagger's show," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "If his long-running circus act is ridiculous when you analyze it, conjoined to the Stones' music, it becomes a phenomenal high-wire exhibition of agility, stamina and cheek." As for Scorsese, he's "a besotted rock 'n' roll fan who wholeheartedly embraces its mythology. Its scruffy guitar heroes and roustabout rebel-prophets are the musical equivalents of the hotheads and outlaws who populate so many of his films. Almost every shot of Shine a Light conveys his excitement." "In a sense, this movie marks where Scorsese came in," notes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "I remember visiting him in the post-production loft for Woodstock in 1970, where he was part of team led by Thelma Schoonmaker who were combining footage from multiple cameras into a split-screen approach that could show as many as three or four images at once. But the Woodstock footage they had to work with was captured on the run, while The Last Waltz had a shot map and outline, at least in Scorsese's mind. Shine a Light combines his foreknowledge with the versatility of great cinematographers so that it essentially seems to have a camera in the right place at the right time for every element of the performance." "Nobody loves the Rolling Stones as obsessively as Martin Scorsese," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "Think about the way Mick Jagger's spastic shrieks on 'Monkey Man' captured the paranoid craving of the cocaine-addicted mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in Goodfellas. Or the fateful way the guitars of 'Gimme Shelter' shimmer like an elegy over the graves of dead Irish cops in The Departed. Mr Scorsese's 1995 film Casino even used two separate versions of 'Satisfaction' to mark the passage of time. Through the years, the director has repeatedly made freshly iconic use of the band's classics, usually to ramp up the visceral impact of key scenes, but also to remind us how edgy and spookily relevant the Stones once were." "As someone who loves the Stones, I find no joy in seeing what they've become - not, just like all of us, older, but irrelevant," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. Shine a Light is "a late-night infomercial masquerading as a concert movie, more an advertisement for vitality than a picture of vitality itself. There's something self-congratulatory, preening, about both the performance and the filmmaking." "Where the maverick director and the debauched band were once genuine artistic threats to conventional values and attitudes in using their substantial leverage in the entertainment industry to directly challenge it, they are now simply team players, content to coast on rebellious reputations despite long, dry droughts of actually vital work," writes Michael Joshua Rowin for Stop Smiling. "Shine a Light... may be a professionally rendered document... but in many ways it's also an unintentional funeral dance commemorating the vanished vitality and subversive potential of mainstream rock 'n' roll and celebrating its current utility as a nostalgic anodyne." Chicagoans might consider an alternative, at least this weekend, suggests the Reader's JR Jones: "The Scorsese movie easily trumps Movin' On Up as a cinematic experience, but hearing the elderly Stones pick through their back catalog isn't nearly as gratifying as all the rare footage of [Curtis] Mayfield at the full flower of his passion and social protest." "The most successful of the concert/film's three guest spots is the one featuring seminal blues guitarist Buddy Guy," argues Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Seven years older than Richards but looking about 15 years younger, big bad grin on his face, he adds some staggering soloing and singing to the old Muddy Waters tune 'Champagne and Reefer' while Jagger takes up a harmonica and more than manages to keep up. The blues is the fount from which both these artists draw their inspiration, and watching them drink from it, one gets a palpable sense of how it's key to what makes the Stones' music still pleasurable, if no longer cataclysmic." "Calling the Stones 'professionals' may be the ultimate insult in the rock world, where impulsiveness is valued over proficiency, but it's astonishing to see Mick Jagger perform a wrinkled standard like 'Start Me Up' as if it were the first time he'd ever sung it onstage," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Shine A Light pays tribute to the band's essential agelessness." And Steven Hyden offers a primer on the Stones. For Jürgen Fauth, this is "forgettable if not altogether unpleasant homage to the band." "Shine a Light may not be the last Rolling Stones movie, but it's likely to be the last one with a touch of the poet about it," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Look, you either acknowledge the Stones' primacy and legacy in the rock world or you don't - your call," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "But someday (the evidence of Richards' longevity notwithstanding) we are all going to die, and when it happens to you, you probably won't regret the two hours or so you spent watching a Martin Scorsese film of a Rolling Stones concert. Heck you might even reckon it a highlight." Online viewing tips. "So, what makes a great concert movie?" Annotated clips from Jonah Weiner at Slate.
March 30, 2008
Interview. David Gordon Green.James Rocchi finds David Gordon Green to be "articulate and enthusiastic about both his intimate, chilly-climate drama" - that would be Snow Angels, featuring the young director's largest cast yet (Michael Angarano, Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, the list goes on) - "and his upcoming stoner-comedy action flick," Pineapple Express, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco and produced by Judd Apatow. "David Gordon Green's fourth feature, the casually played yet deeply serious Snow Angels, continues along his own lovely path, reaching into particulars of working-class life with wit and empathy," writes Ray Pride. "Life is a river, and sometimes it freezes over: Green, working with generous breadth in adapting Stewart O’Nan’s 2003 novel, warms the heart." Updated through 4/3. "Like Green's previous movies, from the brilliant George Washington to Undertow, Snow Angels is about faith," writes Cindy Fuchs in the Philadelphia City Paper. "More precisely, it's about doubt and desire, the underpinnings of faith." "Snow Angels is jam-packed with American malaise," writes Joanne Laurier at the WSWS. "Green cares about his characters and their difficulties, and takes care in depicting them. There is a conscientiousness to his efforts, and one feels that he is on to something about American life, particularly the quite diminished prospects in its small towns and cities in the first decade of the 21st century." The Oregonian's Shawn Levy talks with DGG, too; Kathy Fennessy's talking with him at the Siffblog. Earlier: March 7 reviews; and reviews from Sundance 07. Update, 3/31: Sean Burns talks with DGG for the Philadelphia Weekly. Updates, 4/3: For the Austin Chronicle, Kimberley Jones salvages what she can from her botched recorder. Online listening tip. Rob Davis talks with DGG.
American Zombie."Grace Lee's faux documentary American Zombie takes one of horror cinema's enduring subjects - the undead - and crafts an amusing media satire on our fascination with/fear of marginalized cultures," writes Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times. Rob Humanick understands why you might be reluctant to take in another mockumentary, but he sees American Zombie as "not only among the most spot-on examples of the genre since Rob Reiner revolutionized it with This is Spinal Tap almost a quarter century ago, but [it] also [doubles] as an intelligent re-examination of its predecessors in the horror genre. For the bulk of its running time, I'd even go so far as to suggest it of near-brilliance, its failure to follow through with a consistent batting average being the only impediment to its status as something of an instant, albeit minor, zombie classic. Updated through 4/1. Arbogast finds it "sharp yet sweethearted media satire with more than a couple of good ideas about the human condition on both sides of the bright light. The film's salvation is the fact that director/cowriter Grace Lee is a documentary lover rather than a zombie movie lover, which keeps the piece from degrading into a string of glib homages, coy references and lame in-jokes." "Grace Lee gives us the zombie-as-oppressed-and-invisible-minority," writes Sam Sweet in the LA Weekly. "The best zombie movies shock us into a realization about ourselves and the world in which we live, but how much can zombies teach us when their world so closely resembles 1995?" At the Laemmle in West Hollywood. Earlier: Reviews from Slamdance 07. Update, 3/31: "Lee's satire is often affectionate, but in the end, she takes her gentle gloves off," writes Rob Gonsalves, who assures us that this is not just a "one-joke, one-note spoof" at Hollywood Bitchslap. "This is a horror movie, and in horror movies things suck and get worse and don't care if you feel bad about that." Update, 4/1: Arbogast and Michael Guillén talk with Lee.
Shorts, 3/30."There are two filmmakers [Ray] Tintori's work has been compared to more than any others: Guy Maddin and Wes Anderson," notes Zachary Wigon, introducing an interview for the Tisch Film Review. "The Maddin influence is clear, and Tintori himself more than acknowledges it. The Anderson attribution, however, seems more of a mistake - while Tintori's films do have something of the quirkiness and arbitrary turn-of-events tone that Anderson employs, Tintori's films seem to take themselves far more seriously. Death to the Tinman features an ending that has to have drawn some tears." "Silent Light took home five trophies - including best picture - at Tuesday's Ariel Awards," notes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "Carlos Reygadas, who wrote and directed the film, won awards for both of those jobs, while Maria Pankratz was named best supporting actress. Alexis Zabe's cinematography was also awarded, and with good reason - the images in this film are breathtakingly beautiful." France has another homegrown hit: "After two continent-wide trips for L'auberge espagnole (The Spanish Apartment) and Les poupées russes (Russian Dolls) and a plunge into the French capital's underworld with Ni pour, ni contre (bien au contraire) [Not For or Against], French director Cédric Klapisch stays close to home and well above the ground for Paris, his valentine to the City of Lights," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris "play siblings in but one of a tangle of stories meant to reflect the thousand faces of the city." Unlikely to be a hit anywhere but in the op-ed pages is Geert Wilders's Fitna. Spiegel Online translates Bas Blokker's review for NRC Handelsblad: "The rhythm goes like this: a verse from the Koran in which Jews or other heathens are threatened with death or torture, then images of terrorist attacks by Muslims followed by a shocking statement by a Muslim leader. Then a new verse." In the Los Angeles Times, Geraldine Blum reports that reaction to the film in the Netherlands has not been as fierce as expected. Also in the LAT: "With his 1986 breakout film, She's Gotta Have It, director Spike Lee unwittingly kicked open the door for a new wave of young independent African American filmmakers armed with audacious visions and fresh perspectives about black life," writes Greg Braxton: Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle), the Hughes brothers (Menace II Society), Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City), Charles Burnett (To Sleep With Anger), Matty Rich (Straight Out of Brooklyn), John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood) and others won over not only black moviegoers but wider audiences as well, creating comedies and dramas barbed with sharp perspectives on race, class, social conditions and politics. But now, more than 20 years later, and in a time when race has taken center stage in presidential politics, another type of African American filmmaker has established himself as the dominant voice.... If Lee laid the groundwork for a diverse army of black creators, then [Tyler] Perry has had the opposite effect, according to several experienced and aspiring African American filmmakers who want to tell dramatic, personal stories with complexity, and without bawdy humor, broad characters or facile resolutions. When the writers went on strike, John Krasinski "used the hiatus to resume postproduction work on his directorial debut, an adaptation of David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, a collection of short stories and monologues that he has been trying to make into a film for more than five years," writes Dave Itzkoff, introducing his interview. "In the shorter term Mr Krasinski, 28, can next be seen in Leatherheads, opening Friday. And new episodes of The Office begin April 10." Also in the New York Times:
Fests and events, 3/30."This year, Tribeca Film Festival organizers have announced a new embargo policy for reviews of festival films. Accredited journalists, many of whom may see TFF films at pre-fest screenings next month, are asked to hold reviews of films until the movie officially screens at the festival." Eugene Hernandez sparks a series of comments. Ebertfest's set its screening schedule and list of guests. Like Dave Kehr before him, the New York Sun's Bruce Bennett takes Film Forum's five-week-long celebration of United Artists' 90th anniversary as an opportunity to delve into the history of the studio. Gilbert Adair, who wrote the screenplay for Bertolucci's The Dreamers, based on his own semi-autobiographical novel, in the Guardian on May 68: What its detractors have always failed to comprehend is that the real bombs that were hurled in the streets of Paris were time bombs. They exploded later, sometimes decades later. It was, in France at least, out of May 68 that the liberalising ideologies and reformations that we now take for granted were born: modern feminism, the ecological movement, homosexual liberation, the outlawing of cultural censorship, the rejection of national service. If, for all its disfiguring scars, ours is a rather more civilised world than that which our parents and grandparents knew, it's in some part due to those posturing rebels. This month, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the événements, BFI Southbank is screening Pop Goes the Revolution, a short season of films released in France just before, during or after the riots. In a way, such a season is doubly appropriate. In the first place, film has always been, of the arts, the most powerful (if, on occasion, distorting) mirror of social textures and trappings, often simply at the not so very trivial level of permitting later generations to see what the past actually looked like. In the second place, May 68 began with the cinema. That'll be April 11 through 30. On a somewhat related note, 68: Brennpunkt Berlin, an exhibition accompanied by a series of talks, book presentations and such, is on through the end of May in Berlin. "[Franco] Zeffirelli represents an era of grandiose, sumptuous opera direction that, while still strongly represented at the Met, is fading," writes Daniel J Wakin in the New York Times. "Yet a healthy number of Mr Zeffirelli's works - eight - remain in the Met's repertory and are generally beloved by its audiences. The Met is making known its appreciation during a four-day Zeffirelli-fest." "Bill Viola and his wife and collaborator Kira Perov are coming to Sydney in early April at the invitation of Kaldor Art Projects, to present 3 major video works from The Tristan Project." "I thought it was some kind of avant-garde prank when I first saw a poster advertising a special showing of Roger Corman's X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes accompanied by the legendary Cleveland, Ohio band Pere Ubu, performing a live score." It wasn't. Jeff was there last Tuesday and reports at Movie Morlocks. "Artful and highly informative views of a life behind and inside the music, Daniel Lanois's new film Here Is What Is and self-released album of the same title had their Los Angeles premieres with a screening and live performance at the Vista Theatre on Thursday," reports John Payne in the Los Angeles Times. "A roving travelogue of the producer-engineer-guitarist's experiences recording in five locations, the film encapsulates the musical philosophies and detailed particulars of Lanois's approach to a new sound for contemporary music, as told by himself and his cast of high-profile collaborators, including U2, Brian Eno and Sinéad O'Connor." For the Observer, Sean O'Hagen attends the opening of Patti Smith: Land 250, at the Fondation Cartier in Paris through June 22: This major show - she has never exhibited on this scale in Europe before - spans the years 1967 to 2007, and consists of short Super-8 films, photographs, drawings, notebooks, installations, recordings and personal objects that possess a talismanic quality for Patti Smith. It's all very boho, of course, a bit Lower East Side, but back when the Lower East Side was edgy and alternative rather than affluent and ironic. I spent an hour and a half wandering around the exhibits and left feeling oddly unsatisfied. The underlying problem is similar to the one that dogged the David Lynch show at this same gallery last year: would these strange childlike drawings and rather mundane photographs be on these walls if they were not made by Patti Smith? The French fans present seem rapt and reverent as they move silently through the rooms. Blake Ethridge introduced a screening of Stuart Gordon's Stuck at AFI Dallas and led the Q&A afterwards. Then he learned why Gordon couldn't make it: Lionel Mark Smith, who plays Sam in the movie, had recently passed, and Gordon was attending his funeral.
March 28, 2008
Weekend books.If, like me, you don't know all that much about Julie Andrews, you may find Emma Brockes's review of her Home: A Memoir of My Early Years rather startling. "Many celebrity memoirs overegg the rotten aspects of a childhood in order to flatter the achievements that follow it, but Andrews resists this," writes Brockes. "Her approach is restrained, and the quality of her prose such that you are reminded she is already an established children's author." Andrews's tale ends when she leaves England for Los Angeles and Mary Poppins. Brockes: "To continue with the story you can skip to Page 118 of Richard Stirling's Julie Andrews: An Intimate Biography, an extensive cut-and-paste job." Still, "It is interesting to reread the critics' original responses to her films. Pauline Kael thought The Sound of Music would probably be 'the single most repressive influence on artistic freedom in movies for the next few years.'" Updated through 3/30. Also in the New York Times Book Review, Barry Gewen reviews Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight: Iraq's Descent into Chaos. The documentary, of course, came first. "Now he has taken the material he collected from more than 50 interviews, expanded and updated it with additional interviews, added his own interpolated commentary and a charming introduction, and produced a book... that, in its way, is as powerful as his movie, and equally heartbreaking. With the leisure that a book affords, a reader comes to understand why both versions of No End in Sight work so well." JJ at As Little as Possible makes a strong case for Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood. And via Jan Chaney's celebration of the new spiffed-up DVD release of Bonnie and Clyde in the Washington Post, I happened to stumble across a transcript of a chat with author Mark Harris. "There was about [Joan Crawford] a sense that her success had come at a price immeasurably high, and what she had endured in getting to the top had to be worse than anyone could know." Kevin Thomas finds Charlotte Chandler's Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford, a Personal Biography to be "indispensable for future considerations of Crawford and her career." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain, remembers Anthony Minghella: "Anthony sent every draft of his screenplay my way for comment. I hadn't expected it, and we didn't always agree on the details. I didn't win all the arguments, and that was all right with me. The book was mine and the movie was his. But it is hard to imagine a book writer being treated with more respect and consideration." More from Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman, where Rachel Cooke reviews The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. "Joanna Hershon's The German Bride is an elegantly written historical novel about Jews in self-imposed exile in the American Southwest," writes Kate Ahlborn. "VF Daily asked the author what her dream cast would be were The German Bride to be adapted for the big screen." Back in the LAT: Mary Rourke: "Arthur Lyons, who wrote a number of detective novels set in California and co-founded the Palm Springs Film Noir Festival, died Friday. He was 62." Update, 3/30: Ada Calhoun on David Bret's Clark Gable: Tormented Star: "This breathtakingly trashy biography does not skimp on sordid anecdotes.... For all its smut, the book is painfully unsexy."
Priceless.Gonna do something a little different with this one. First, a quick take from James Van Maanen - then the usual blurbs. As you'll see, mileage varies. One of my fonder and funnier movie memories, videotaped some years back off the French channel TV 5, is of a film called Cible émouvant (Wild Target, 1993), about a nearly-over-the-hill hit man (the great Jean Rochefort) with mother problems and a parrot, who befriends and then trains a couple of novice assassins (played by Guillaume Depardieu and the late Marie Trintignant). Wanting to share this little gem with film-loving friends, I did - until I finally lost track of the tape. Some years later, I took equal though different delight in another French comedy from the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, this one managing to snag a brief theatrical release: Après Vous (2003), starring Daniel Auteuil, Sandrine Kiberlain and José Garcia. Now, I've just seen a new film titled Priceless, starring the still-hot-post-Amélie Audrey Tautou and Gad Elmaleh (better here than in last year's by-the-book The Valet). All three films are directed by Pierre Salvadori, a filmmaker who creates smart, funny, quirky comedies and is, perhaps, due for an upgrading by America's critical establishment. Updated through 4/1. Salvadori discovers much of his humor in the collision between the workplace and life/love. In Cible émouvant, it's the world of the assassin; in Après Vous it's restaurants and florists; in Priceless, we're keeping company with, well, let's call them high-class whores: Tautou and Elmaleh are both "kept" by their very rich paramours. This off-kilter, non-mainstream environment (Après Vous also features a would-be suicide) may account for why American critics and audiences have not quite embraced Salvadori. Yet I find his work, which combines elements of farce and social commentary, just unusual enough to be odd and bracing - as well as often very funny. Also, these three films do not easily bring to mind other French comedies: They're originals. If not great, they are still good enough. Priceless - a smart title because it immediately calls to mind certain credit card commercials, our consumer society, and the idea of price versus value - also boasts some gorgeous sets and locations (posh hotels on the southern coast of France) and two splendid performances from its charming lead actors. Tautou is always better in roles that call for a little bitchiness and nuance, rather than the non-stop, poopsy-cute of Amélie (by the end of that film, I wanted nothing so much as to slap the character clear across the room - and, really, I am not a violent person.). Emaleh's work, too, is superior to what he did in The Valet. His sudden, automatic reversions from kept boy to waiter are, well, priceless. He manages to show a surprising amount of thought, intelligence and feeling behind what initially looks like a blank stare. The older, richer, in-charge generation is given its due via the performances of Vernon Dobtcheff and especially Marie-Christine Adam, who brings the necessary strength and sadness to her role. Salvadori is a smart director who knows how to use objects cleverly and economically for maximum effect. Note the little "drink" umbrellas (early on, and also in the title credits) and the coin that pops up just often enough. His movie explores - always with a light touch - love and commerce, the "fronts" we put on to attract others, and how we innately use and are used. And if Priceless is not quite up to the level of Après Vous (it may be; I'll have to see it again), it's certainly worth a visit. Just a tad long, it goes a bit slack during the last half hour. But considering how much fun it is, the fabulous location photography (courtesy of Gilles Henry), and its occasionally incisive take on "love for sale," it's a fine evening out.
"Pierre Salvadori's re-imagining (read: vulgarization) of Breakfast at Tiffany's, wears its contempt on its sleeve," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "It's hard to say what's worse, the film's ageism and condescension for the peculiar ways of the rich or that few stories have ever asked audiences to care for characters as loathsome and feebly redeemed as Irene and Jean, but this much is clear: an American remake seems inevitable, assuming that Michael Douglas, Catherine-Zeta Jones, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's schedules are all free." "Unlike American formula romances, which simply assume that glamour and riches come with the territory, co-writer/director Pierre Salvadori makes explicit how gold-digging undermines both parties," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. "Then everyone lives happily ever after regardless, which is even more cynical." "[T]he movie is an amusing ball of fluff that refuses to judge its characters' amoral high jinks," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Winking at the vanity of wealthy voluptuaries and hustlers playing games of tainted love, it heaves a sigh and says welcome to the human comedy. Because its shenanigans are so improbable, Priceless is too frivolous even to be called satire." "The film's contrivances are many, and its endless pimping of the Euro-chic lifestyle soon enough begs for a Robin Leach voice-over," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "What's fascinating, however, is Ms Tautou's commitment to her performance, which subverts the screen persona to which most American audiences are accustomed. Irène is mean, venal, shallow, faithless, materialistic, and corrupt - obviously, a great character to play, made sympathetic because a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do. And so does a guy. Priceless won't survive deeper scrutiny, even from those who are likely to palpitate over its every Tautou-soaked frame. It's a date-night confection: a cupcake, with caviar frosting." "The ups and downs of this odd couple's love affair are a pleasure to watch," writes Marcy Dermansky, "the Riviera is unfaillingly gorgeous, the jokes flirt with slapstick, and Audrey Tautou looks mighty fine tramped up in ridiculously low cut couture dresses." "While the publicity's focus is on Tautou, an actress Americans immediately recognize (she also starred in an art-house flick called The Da Vinci Code), Priceless belongs to her co-star, Gad Elmaleh, who lends the film the bulk of its charm, originality and genuine humor," writes Raphaela Weissman in the New York Press. "Priceless is better acted and a smidgen more sophisticated than your average Hollywood comedy, if also more cheaply made," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "As in Salvadori's last film, Après Vous, there's an acrid, manic, almost mean-spirited quality to the comedy that seems distinctively French. (And I mean that in the best possible way.)" The Los Angeles Times' Carina Chocano is glad to find Priceless "unencumbered by American squeamishness about less-than-innocent women.... [T]he unadulterated joy Irène takes in throwing open the closet door to show Jean how this gold digging is done is positively infectious." Update, 4/1: Sara Cardace talks with Tautou for the Vulture.
Flawless."Rife with the lipstick traces of Inside Man, The League of Gentlemen (which it explicitly references), and countless other superior heist pictures, Flawless is the sort of movie that tends to get called 'enjoyably old-fashioned,' except that there's nothing enjoyable about it," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "Michael Radford, the serious-minded director of 1984, Il Postino, Dancing at the Blue Iguana, among others, goes through the paces of the heist with precision, but without urgency, without tension, without excitement, without, even, clarity," writes Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader. "In a caper film, that could be thought a sizable flaw." Updated through 4/3. "It wants to transport us to the innocent, carefree days of traditional British caper movies in the Age of Bond, when the game was the thing," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But since the product being marketed is diamonds mined in South Africa, it also feels obliged to tip its hat to the Age of Blood Diamond and affect a political consciousness." "The central flaw in Flawless isn't in failing to provide its characters with backstories," writes the Stranger's Annie Wagner. "Plenty of heist films have gotten away with much flimsier motives. But giving the thieves social grievances serves only to undermine their greed - the one motive we can all understand." Writing for Reverse Shot, Matt Connolly wonders "why a film that equates robbery with feminist revolt would then relegate its female protagonist to passive outsider status." "Unlike so many formulaic heist procedurals that get bogged down in the 'how' of it all, Michael Radford's film rushes through the actual stealing to arrive at a third act that is more intrigued by the 'why,'" notes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "[Demi] Moore hasn't tackled a lead role since the turn of the century, and judging by her eminently forgettable work here, she hasn't spent that time painstakingly honing her chops," notes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. Update, 4/3: "It's as if Moore's collaboration with screenwriter Edward Anderson and director Michael Radford uses Quinn's criminal activity - and her chastened perspective on money, ambition, crime and jail time - to reflect the odd fortunes of her own career," suggests Armond White in the New York Press.
Chapter 27."Visually ugly, morally non-existent and a complete black hole in the departments of insight and wit, Chapter 27 is quite possibly the most godawful, irredeemable film to yet emerge in the 21st century," declares Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "This inverted vanity project of pretty-boy actor [Jared] Leto (he co-executive produces as well as stars), for which he packed on seventy pounds in order to portray John Lennon murderer Mark David Chapman, tries to take the viewer inside the head of the obsessive assassin. As it happens, that's a pretty empty place." Ed Gonzalez in the Voice: "Making the Fincherian The Killing of John Lennon seem like the masterpiece Zodiac wasn't, this misbegotten psychological portrait eagerly foregrounds Leto's excess blubber and histrionic blather, delivered like bad improv outside the Dakota building - 'home of the great and powerful,' according to Chapman, clearly oblivious that Rex Reed also lives inside." "Chapman narrates this subjective tale in a raspy voice that, apart from being in a slightly lower octave, closely resembles that of South Park's Towelie," notes Nick Schager in Slant. "This only compounds the inanity of everything he actually says, most of it revolving around his love/hate feelings for the Beatles and Lennon, as well as his infatuation and identification with The Catcher and the Rye." "None of these elements are integrated coherently enough to seem like more than postmodern noodling," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "And except for Judah Friedlander's earthy, funny work as a paparazzo, most of the performances are vague and dull, including Lindsay Lohan's supporting turn as a fictional Beatles fan who befriends Mr Chapman. The character's name is Jude. Care to guess how Chapman greets her?" "Perhaps the harshest criticism that can be directed at Chapter 27 is that it's awful even for a late-period Lindsay Lohan movie," suggests Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. Andrew O'Hehir talks with Leto for Salon.
Shelter."A confused young artist is torn between his family and his future in Shelter, a sensitive romantic drama from the writer and director Jonah Markowitz," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "And if at times the symbolism is a bit heavy-handed - and the ending is easily foreseen - strong performances and Joseph White's burnished cinematography do much to atone." "Although Shelter doesn't avoid being a bit sappy every now and then - and at times the acting feels a bit forced - the truly amazing chemistry between the two protagonists overshadows many of the film's imperfections," writes Maria Komodore in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Shelter bides its time with innocuous snapshots of local SoCal color—crashing waves, crystal-blue skies, natives who pronounce the 'r' in Louvre - before writer-director Jonah Markowitz allows Zach (Trevor Wright), a full-time burger-flipper and nanny to his nephew, to get his queer on," writes Ed Gonzalez in the Voice. "Those seeking high drama may be frustrated with the low-key Shelter, but Markowitz has put his faith in small moments," writes Chuck Wilson in the LA Weekly. "Wright is a find, while [Brad] Rowe may surprise those who dismissed him as a Brad Pitt look-alike when he first came to attention in Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss." "The first project of the here! gay television network's new movie initiative, Shelter regrettably plays closer to Lifetime fodder," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant.
Lolas. Nominations.Variety's Ed Meza sees Doris Dörrie's Kirschblüten (Cherry Blossoms) and Fatih Akin's Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven) as leaders in the race for the German Film Awards, also known as the Lolas. Film Zeit has the full list of nominees; also nominated for Best Film are Am Ende Kommen Touristen (And Along Come Tourists), Shoppen (Shopping), Yella and Die Welle (The Wave, currently doing surprisingly well at the box office, as Cineuropa reports). The winners'll be announced at a gala in Berlin on April 25.
Meet Tintin.Mark Brown meets Thomas Sangster: "The sixth-former from south London, the Guardian can reveal, has been chosen by Steven Spielberg to be his Tintin for a three-movie adaptation of the boy reporter's adventures. The trilogy is likely to give the 17-year-old the same profile as Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter, or Elijah Wood, who shot to international stardom as Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings series." And there's a brief audio clip accompanying the chat. "The big worry for fans of Tintin is how the characters will be translated to the screen," writes Nicholas Lezard. "The suspicion is that film versions of the books are unnecessary, since the books are already films, or, strictly speaking, storyboards.... Spielberg and [Peter] Jackson's comments about how they are going to approach the translation are intriguing, but there is always going to be a problem with moving into 3D." On a sadder note, Michael Farr: "Raymond Leblanc, who has died aged 92, was the Belgian businessman and Tintin enthusiast who made sure the famous boy reporter had a future after the tribulations of war."
You, the Living in the UK."'Painterly' is an overused adjective for films, but here's one where it makes sense," writes Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. "I don't know of any filmmaker whose work gives the viewer so much incentive and indeed leisure to examine the background of a shot.... You, the Living is a very funny film - though in the darkest possible way. It is a silent comedy, but with words." "To call it deadpan is barely to hint at [Roy] Andersson's style, which he mostly applies to the world of commercials (watch them on YouTube, they're hilarious)," writes Dave Calhoun in Time Out. "But just when you think the only answer to Andersson's view of the world – alcoholic couples; depressed psychiatrists; a girl searching for a disappeared rock star who shows her a modicum of affection – is to throw yourself under one of Stockholm's trams, he unleashes a set-piece that has you marvelling at its choreography or wondering at the sheer ridiculousness of life." Updated through 3/30. "You, The Living is only Andersson's fourth feature since 1970," notes Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph. "His ability to amuse and chasten audiences simultaneously, to conjure up as if from nowhere magical scenes in which an apartment morphs into a train carriage, to integrate into a bracingly energetic Dixieland-jazz score the prayer of a woman - 'Forgive those who bomb and destroy cities and villages; forgive governments who withhold the truth from the people': this is rare and covetable genius." "If the director is a miserabilist who makes Bergman look like a regular happy chappie, at least his observation of us all is almost as good as that master's," writes Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard. "The non-narrative mosaic and the sometimes enigmatic nature of the skits take some getting used to, while the bland, Ikea-style conformity of the decor may begin to creep you out," writes Anthony Quinn in the Independent. "Yet Andersson's impassive, off-the-wall reflections on the human condition do feel unique, and the comedy, even at its bleakest, is oddly mesmerising." Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update, 3/30: "Songs From the Second Floor was largely political: its targets the church, the capitalist system, fascism and a world running out of control," writes the Observer's Philip French. "You, the Living is about everyday life, death and the human condition, 'about the vulnerability of human beings,' as Andersson puts it. The title is a quotation from Goethe: 'Be pleased then, you, the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot.'"
Abby Mann, 1927 - 2008.Abby Mann, the screenwriter who brought incisive characterization and a searing sense of justice to Judgment at Nuremberg and other social dramas, died on Tuesday in Beverly Hills. He was 80.... Writing in Commentary, Jason Epstein said the movie, directed by Stanley Kramer, was "astonishingly intelligent" and raised "some of the darkest questions of this dark age." Mr Mann followed his Nuremberg script with more than four decades of serious dramas, many for movies made for television, a genre he helped pioneer. He won three Emmys for television movies. His scripts, often derived from real cases, delivered withering critiques of the criminal justice system, frequently examining the denial of the rights of the accused. Douglas Martin, New York Times. Updated through 3/30. His Emmy-winning television movie The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973) was a socially-committed crime drama about a detective who suspects a black youth is being framed. It was based on a real case, but significantly Mann introduced a fictional character who would go on to his own series and become one of the most familiar television detectives of the 1970s - the bald-headed, lollipop-sucking lieutenant Theo Kojak. The London Times. See also: Wikipedia. Update, 3/30: "His subjects were the Holocaust, racism, social deprivation and injustices in the American legal system," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "Nor did he mind that his scripts were labelled didactic. His main aim was to edify and instruct, mainly through television movies, while also attempting to entertain."
Interview. Daniele Luchetti."What makes My Brother Is an Only Child so alive and entertaining is how it dramatizes the endless tug-of-war between political conviction and personal experience - the way the lines twist and blur and finally implode," writes New York's David Edelstein. "In a way, I wanted to describe a thoughtful way of handling politics," director Daniele Luchetti tells James Van Maanen in an interview at the main site. "While I am totally against ideology as such, I am pro-politics." Updated through 3/30. "The film tradition Luchetti evokes includes Fellini (the boy's parents bicker but also display unique personalities) as well as Bertolucci (both brothers are entranced by the lovely, half-French Francesca played by Diane Fleri)," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Also discernible are nods to Bellocchio (the family's fears for Accio's sanity result in comic hostilities) and Pasolini (the boys' politics reflect a compulsion similar to sexuality). Luchetti's narrative spans a decade but does so concisely by building on those cinematic antecedents." "[E]ven when the narrative veers toward violence or grief, Mr Luchetti's manner is breezy and raffish," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "He seems to be aiming for the in-the-moment, open-ended aesthetic - the breathlessness - that characterized the youthful Italian films of the late 60s and early 70s, movies like Marco Bellocchio's Fists in the Pocket and China Is Near. The problem is that the director's effort to breathe immediacy and urgency into stories of that eventful era lends My Brother Is an Only Child an inevitable air of nostalgia. The absence of perspective that gives the film its antic rhythm - we are so close to the characters that we can't see past them - also feels somewhat evasive." "Unlike Louis Malle's great Lacombe Lucien, which laconically expresses how innocence is easily and cunningly gripped by fascism, Luchetti's characters already have dug their boots in the dirt by the time the film commences, with Accio [Elio Germano] sympathetic to the fascist cause and his entire family emboldened by communism," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "His name recalls Accatone and his mouth is as dirty as Mamma Roma's, but My Brother Is an Only Child eschews the grit and pathos of Pasolini's post-neorealist classics, settling instead for cuteness." But for Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, this is "a grand entertainment that seems to pack in all the major themes of postwar European film and literature. We've got a working-class family, a misunderstood young man, communism and fascism, the Sexual Revolution, the student uprisings and their subsequent decay into paranoid revolutionary violence. All that, plus a couple of handsome leading men and a hilarious rewrite of the lyrics to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (i.e., Schiller's 'Ode to Joy') so it's about Lenin, Trotsky and Mao." "If expectedly cynical about junior black-shirt hooliganism, Daniele Luchetti's film is also ambivalent about how piggishness takes the guise of 'free love' among the left," notes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update: "Despite its pedigree, My Brother Is an Only Child isn't in the same league as The Best of Youth, a brazenly unfair comparison if ever I've made one," writes Phil Nugent in ScreenGrab. "But on its own more modest terms it's smart and affecting, with the conflicts of years ago treated with all the wisdom of hindsight but a minimum of sentimentality.... Part of the charm of the movie, as with other Italian films such as The Best of Youth and Marco Bellocchio's Good Morning, Night, is that it carries the reassuring message that America isn't the only country that can't seem to get past arguing who was driven crazier by the 60s." Update, 3/30: "If the formal tropes are not those of classical melodrama - Luchetti's film is all run-and-gun handheld camerawork and jump cuts - then the sentiment is, with its sun-splashed, pictorial lighting and quick, easy lapses into Franco Piersanti's romantic score and some expertly chosen vintage pop," writes Brendon Bouzard in Reverse Shot. "Though its scope was obviously larger, The Best of Youth proves an instructive comparative text - where that film is magnificent for refusing to allow its politically active characters to serve as emblems of some sort of Hegelian dialectic, My Brother is so disinterested in interrogating the political and social subtleties of its era that its characters feel like bullet points on a Wikipedia page."
March 27, 2008
DVDs, 3/27.David Lynch's Lost Highway has finally seen a new release on DVD this week, but Cinematical's Monika Bartyzel explains why it's still "not the greatest option for Lynch fans." Meantime, for the Telegraph, Ivan Hewett reports on Olga Neuwirth's musical version, set to premiere as a joint English National Opera/Young Vic production next month. Via the House Next Door. "A Woman's Face starts out wonderfully, continues well through the midpoint and just when you are thinking, 'Hooray! I love this!' Joan Crawford shows up at a dance in some kind of Swedish peasant dirndl-drag and it's all over." Still, Self-Styled Siren reminds us: "For the first 70 minutes or so, Crawford is so good you almost can't believe it." "Essentially perfect, Die Hard is much more than an exciting and visually stunning film," writes Marco Lanzagorta in PopMatters. "Indeed, this flick portrays a sophisticated political discourse that deeply resonates with a variety of social and economic anxieties that characterized the Reagan years. Furthermore, Die Hard defined the narrative and visual structure of the action genre for the years to come, and delineated the popular representation of masculinity during the 1990s." The latest entry in Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: They Live. Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You on Killer of Sheep: "The consistent theme of [Charles] Burnett's career is family, especially the raising of children, here and elsewhere in his early work, under the constraints of urban poverty." Brian Gibson in the Vue Weekly on Lake of Fire: "[Tony] Kaye's film has largely been outpaced by time. The Bush era has been friendly to the religious right - one reason, no doubt, abortionist killings have dropped - and the issue hasn't yet raised its head in the run-up to the 2008 election." "The Ice Storm is a carefully crafted and intelligent film, one that grows in stature with repeated viewing," writes John Davidson in the Austin Chronicle. For the House Next Door, Jeremiah Kipp talks with Mulberry Street writer-director Jim Mickle and co-writer and actor Nick Damici.
Fests and events, 3/27."In making my film on the Dalai Lama I wanted to see if Beijing could justify its claim that he is duplicitous," writes Joshua Dugdale in the Independent. "If China's leaders could see the results, I have no doubt that it would challenge some of their preconceptions about him." The Unwinking Gaze opens the London International Documentary Festival on Saturday. Paul Tatara comments on the Guardian's blog. "United Artists will turn 90 next year, having survived countless transformations and takeovers since the company released its first feature, [Douglas] Fairbanks's His Majesty, the American," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Although the first agreement called for the four principals [Fairbanks, Charles Chaplin, DW Griffith and Mary Pickford] each to release four films a year, they soon found it impossible to keep up that pace, and United Artists turned to other independent-minded creators to fill its schedule. Among them were Buster Keaton, Norma Talmadge, King Vidor, Walt Disney, Howard Hughes, Samuel Goldwyn, Walter Wanger, Alexander Korda, David O Selznick and many others who will be featured in a five-week tribute to United Artists that begins Friday night at Film Forum." The Chicago Reader offers a guide to this week's offerings at the European Union Film Festival. The Independent Film Festival Boston has just unveiled its lineup. The Boston Globe's Ty Burr picks out a few highlights. April 23 through 29. Josh Rosenblatt previews Ascending Dragon: Films of Greater China, a Tuesday-night series running through May 20. Also in the Austin Chronicle, Raymond Blanton: "During the month of April, the HRC will present a series of 16 films ranging from shorts to documentaries and features that showcase the influence of the Beat Generation on the movies. The series will run in conjunction with the ongoing On the Road With the Beats exhibit, which examines the literary and personal journeys of prominent beat figures like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs and Neal Cassady." "Shot as the vinyl LP was nearing the offramp to oblivion, as rap and MTV were shoving jazz even farther to the margins, Let's Get Lost stands as a gorgeous gravestone for the Beat Generation's legacy of beautiful-loser chic," writes Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene. "Bruce Weber's transfixing 1988 portfolio of the artist - ravaged jazz trumpeter Chet Baker - as a junkie wraith unmoored in time seems doubly poignant 20 years later, when the bloom of its own newness is gone." At the Belcourt for a week starting tomorrow. "There is a towering force pulsing through Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli), Luchino Visconti's celebrated 1960 epic drama, as wild, forbidding and fearsome as it is transfixing," writes Josef Braun in Vue Weekly. "That force is called family." At Edmonton's Metro through Wednesday. "[Manoel de] Oliveira has said that he considers cinema to be the sum of all other art forms, and the achievement of his own films is that they embody that synthesis while managing to preserve their literary, theatrical, musical and painterly component parts." Scott Foundas profile is running in the LA Weekly in conjunction with The Talking Pictures of Manoel de Oliveira, at UCLA through April 27. Once again, SXSW (and to think that I still have plans to look back on the films that I caught, too) - and once again, Aaron Hillis for Premiere. This time he talks with Mark Webber about Explicit Ills, which picked up both the Audience Award for best Narrative Feature and a Special Jury Award for Cinematography.
Stop-Loss."Serving, for today's audience, roughly the same cathartic purpose that movies like Coming Home and The Deer Hunter did for audiences of the 70s, Stop-Loss directly addresses the unpleasant aftershocks of our latest unpopular war - the maimed bodies and marriages; the PTSD; the loss of faith in God, Uncle Sam, and Chief George - from the perspective of the soldiers themselves," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "In the end, Stop-Loss's evening-news topicality proves both an asset and a liability - an irresolvable structural conundrum. Simply put, the film so effectively reconstitutes those Vietnam-homecoming touchstones that we can anticipate its every move well before it makes them." "Stop-Loss is an obituary of America's leftist spirit," argues Charles Mudede in the Stranger. Updated through 4/1. "Well-shot with searingly bright reds, whites and blues by the great cinematographer Chris Menges, Stop-Loss has no shortage of good intentions and political urgency," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "It just needed a little more common sense." "[E]ven if you think the US presence in Iraq is justified, Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss provides a poignant and shattering portrait of what our soldiers have to endure in combat, at home, and from an army that sends its men and women back into battle over and over again," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "It is necessary to look past the modishness of this MTV Films production, aimed at the youth audience that resembles the film's characters," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Not simply on the anti-Bush bandwagon, Peirce's personal and professional ambivalence makes Stop-Loss the most conflicted movie yet about the Iraq War." "This is for the most part strong stuff..., acted with precision by serious young performers and directed with populist bravado by a second time helmer who clearly wants to make a film that is deeply informed by the simple realities of war in the 21st century and the terrifying ambiguity that it leaves in its wake for those who live on having survived its horrors," writes Brandon Harris. "That Stop-Loss wears its generally good intentions on its camo sleeve doesn't keep it from being consigned to the missed-opportunity file," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "Predictable, pointless, and sad," sighs Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. Interviews with and profiles of Peirce: Paul Brownfield (Los Angeles Times), Karina Onstad (New York Times), Stephen Saito (IFC) and Clay Smith (Austin Chronicle). Updates, 3/28: "The sober, mournful piety that has characterized a lot of the other fictional features about Iraq — documentaries are another matter — is almost entirely missing from Stop-Loss," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Not that the movie is unsentimental — far from it — but its messy, chaotic welter of feeling has a tang of authenticity.... It is an imperfect movie - marred, if anything, by its sincere affection and undisciplined compassion - about the imperfect young men who keep returning to a war the rest of us would prefer not to think about." "It is not just that we don't want to confront the costs and consequences of that conflict when we are out for a good time at the movies," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "It is also that we don't want to acknowledge that this war has largely been fought by a victim class whose motives for joining the military are rarely noble or exemplary.... As a nation, we owe them more than they owe us - as this painfully necessary and heartfelt movie makes abundantly clear." "This is a picture that takes a serious subject everyone in America should care about - the fact that the US government has no qualms about using up and then discarding the soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past seven years - and turns it into drama so aggressively mediocre that you're forced to guilt yourself into caring about the characters in front of you," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Watching Stop-Loss, I kept asking myself, How could I not care about Ryan Phillippe, as a trusting, dutiful soldier who's been called back to Iraq even after he's fulfilled his required term? And if you have to ask yourself how it's possible not to care, there's something wrong." "Four thousand Americans and counting have died in Iraq, and the litany of unsuccessful films about that part of the world - The Situation, Redacted, Rendition, The Kingdom, In the Valley of Elah among others - is growing as well," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Do not add Stop-Loss to that list. Stop-Loss is a film that does it right." "Peirce, the director of another provocative film, the Oscar-winning Boys Don't Cry, walks a fine line between being political and being human," writes John Anderson in the Washington Post. "Human wins. And that's what might help Stop-Loss "Peirce (working from a screenplay she co-wrote with Mark Richard) explores politically incendiary subject matter with empathy, sensitivity, and a particularly sharp sense of place, in this case, a lovingly depicted Texas," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Stop-Loss is a human story first and foremost, and Peirce and her stellar young cast ensure that the message never gets in the way of the storytelling." "[O]nce the first act abandons its look at the compulsivity of soldier-made videos to follow through on this premise, mismatched war-flick clichés unfurl at an alarming rate, pulling the film in directions as unfocused, frustrating and meaningless as the war itself," writes Aaron Hillis for Premiere. "[U]ltimately, Peirce and writing partner Mark Richard seem too ready to honor movie conventions at the expense of the issues," writes Robert Davis for Paste. "They've come up with a conclusion that seems designed to please all camps and to keep the film from being pigeonholed as either a flag-waver or a peacenik. It's a politician's ending, touching and gutless." "In Stop-Loss, Peirce (whose brother served in Iraq) certainly does right by the soldiers (real and imagined) in terms of not resorting to cheap polemic from one side of the debate or the other," writes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com. "But even her impressive handling of the actors, a pop approach that's glossy without being shallow, voluminous background research, and some glorious cinematography by Chris Menges can't obscure the problems of a seriously dithering screenplay." Updates, 3/30: "While military families bear the burden of near-constant deployments and physical and emotional injuries, the rest of the country barely senses the cost of our efforts to pacify Iraq and Afghanistan," writes Reihan Salam in the Atlantic's Current. "This could be a brief for a larger, better-equipped, and better-funded military coupled with more generous benefits for veterans - an agenda embraced by many on the right and left. But that's not Peirce's message. Aimed at a broader and younger audience than earlier Iraq War polemics like Redacted and In the Valley of Elah, the movie aspires to a more affecting, powerful indictment of the war, one that paints the young Americans who choose to join the military as victims, cruelly hoodwinked by politicians with a callous disregard for their lives." The Playlist on the soundtrack: "Curated by our music supervisor favorites Randall Poster and Jim Dunbar (the team behind I'm Not There and The Darjeeling Limited), the music culled in the film is appropriately red state-centric country by the likes of Toby Keith, Ricky Calmbach and Robert Earl Keen, good ol' boy Southern boogie (Marshall Tucker Band, and American swamp rock Creedence Clearwater Revival) and even a little hip-hop (ok, there's none in the credits, but we swear we heard a song in the film). After all, most of the film's action takes place in Texas and small town bars where brawls and southern belles are aplenty." Several links to YouTube follow. "It first seemed a little ridiculous to me at first to team up a Kimberly Peirce and MTV Films," writes Jim Rohner, who also rounds up clips and links for Zoom In. "It makes more sense now though, seeing as the war is largely being fought by youth; the same youth MTV is geared towards. Let's admit though that the youth demographic isn't the most demanding when it comes to what they expect from the movies and this film, with enough substance to get you emotionally involved but not enough to be rivetting, shouldn't fail to disappoint them." Updates, 3/31: "Stop-Loss is not a great movie, but it's forceful, effective, and alive, with the raw, mixed-up emotions produced by an endless war - a time when the patriotism of military families is in danger of being exploited beyond endurance," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "This movie may become the central coming-home-from-the-war story of this period, just as The Best Years of Our Lives, made in 1946, became central to the period after the Second World War.... The movie is one of the high points of psychological realism in Hollywood's studio period.... Thirty years later, in Coming Home (1978), Jane Fonda comforts Jon Voight, a paraplegic vet who, in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, is furiously banging around a military hospital in a wheelchair.... Francis Ford Coppola's forgotten Gardens of Stone, made in 1987 but set in the same period as Coming Home, is much better - a mournful elegy for the dead in Vietnam and a sober acknowledgment of the grit and the honor of military men." "For a Feminist Studies type, Peirce has an uncanny knack for getting inside the heads of young men, for making you feel how powerfully their identities are bound up in their masculine relationships and rituals," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Stop-Loss doesn't come together, but in its ungainly way it evokes the anguish of American shit-kickers who've lost all sense of autonomy." Updates, 4/1: Annie Nocenti talks with Peirce for Stop Smiling. "I'm not a film critic, so I'll skip over the weak script, melodramatic music, and atrocious 'southern' accents," writes Paul Rieckhoff at the Huffington Post. "But I feel an obligation as a veteran, and especially as the head of the largest Iraq and Afghanistan veterans group in America, to comment on films that attempt to define our experiences.... [W]hat really bothers me about Stop-Loss is the stereotyping of combat veterans."
21."I bet that a faithful film adaptation of the true story behind Ben Mezrich's best-selling book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions would sure make an interesting, entertaining movie," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "I also bet the house that movie isn't 21, a so-called 'fact-based' interpretation of Mezrich's non-fictioner that is as slick and superficial as its Las Vegas backdrop." Robert Wilonsky in the Voice: "Director Robert Luketic has pared down the story to the most hackneyed of three-act fairy tales - the whiny rise-and-fall film in which a bright young thing ditches his dorky pals and wills his way to a fortune, then loses it all in a fit of stupid hubris, then redeems himself only after his pile of cash turns to a pile of shit." Updated through 3/30. "The film is not able to make the frowned-upon practice of 'card counting' comprehensible, much less cinematic (unless you consider fast-shuffle editing to be cinematic), but then it's not really interested in mental acumen and application, only in the rewards and perks: a run-of-the-mill Sin City fantasy (dazzling montage of casino neon, top-of-the-world luxury suite, strip club, stacks and stacks of hoarded chips) in which the natural-born nerd can forget who his friends are, become somebody different, go around acting like a cross between Richard Gere in Pretty Woman and Michael Douglas in Wall Street." Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader. The New Republic's Christopher Orr experiments: "So profound is my sense that the trailer (which I've seen several times) gives away the entire movie (which I haven't yet seen at all) that I'm writing this review based solely on the former.... I'll catch a screening later to see how near or far from the mark I land, and will update this piece with an appropriate coda tomorrow." "Surprise, surprise: money's not everything in the end, but there'd be little else to ooh and aah about here without it," writes Cathy Erway in the L Magazine. "21 is a headache of a movie where every camera movement is overbaked and every turn of a card is accompanied by an unnecessary sound edit," writes Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger. "The only element in 21 that saves the film from being a dreary coming-of-age story grafted onto a two-hour commercial for the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Bureau is [Kevin] Spacey, who does sparkling wickedness like almost no other actor of his generation," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. In the Boston Phoenix, Brett Michel notes the ways the movie departs from what actually happened. John Horn tells the background story in the Los Angeles Times. Updates, 3/28: So Christopher Orr's actually seen the movie now: "I'd say my pre-assessment was pretty close. The film is dull, overlong, morally confused, and just not very much fun." It's a "feature-length bore," declares Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, where she proposes that "21 is either a very cynical or a very smart take on the power elite." "Here's another example of a good story turned into a purely generic one - no doubt with the aid of a Bob McKee screenwriting seminar and textbook," writes Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com. "21 is a mini-Ocean's Eleven about, and for, people who are the age of its title," quips Nick Schager in Slant. "[I]ts formulaic plot adds little to the weekend must-see list, much less the grand nerd narrative," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "A pleasant evening of whist would be a lot more exciting," suggests Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Welcome to a slick but resoundingly empty movie in which mental agility, beauty and brilliance are a sort of moral base line for the cast, which includes Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth, two performers who exude vigor, youth, beauty and gently buffed immortality," writes Desson Thompson in the Washington Post. "As it heads into the second hour, 21 loses its buzz and slips into a predictable series of life lessons, double crosses, and the group's ever-more-desperate (and unintentionally hilarious) efforts to be incognito," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Putting aside any disappointment that the filmmakers didn't find something more challenging within the material, 21 does have its charms," argues Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "Director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) has made the increasingly rare two-hour movie that actually feels shorter, and the cast - given the limitations of their characters - is across-the-board enjoyable." Also, Deborah Netburn gets Jeff Ma, the RL guy at the heart of the real story, to present an annotated list of the "most realistic gambling movies." Cinematical's Erik Davis talks with Sturgess. Update, 3/30: Ryan Stewart for Premiere: "There are moments where Spacey and Bosworth have their fun in spite of the film - they both adopt Southern 'characters' as disguises at one point, which is a hoot - but overall, 21 is a busted hand."
Shorts, 3/27.John McElwee's been throwing a pre-Code party of sorts at Greenbriar Picture Shows. "Following the brilliant lead of Sachin, and inspired by the upcoming European football championship, I've embarked upon a Euro tourney of my own: dedicated to cinema." Pacze Moj launches a showdown to determine the European Champion. Andy Horbal's Mirror/Stage is back. Time, too, for another round of occasional reminders on these ongoing goings on: Chris Cagle's "1947 Project" and Billy Stevenson's A Film Canon. Rob Davis is watching Last Year at Marienbad over and over and over again. Michael Guillén's attended John Beebe's recent seminar at the CG Jung Institute of San Francisco, where Guy Maddin's Heart of the World [more] and Jean Vigo's L'Atalante [more] were discussed. For Twitch, Stefan talks with Kan Lume, writer-director of Dreams from the Third World. And Todd Brown's got a poster for Barbet Schroeder's adaptation of a story by Edogawa Rampo, Inju: The Beast in the Shadows. "I haven't had occasion to ask director Richard Linklater whether an explicit agenda behind Slacker was to capture an Austin that was disappearing before his eyes, to get documentary proof of what he'd be telling newcomers that they missed," writes Spencer Parsons in FilmInFocus. "I doubt it, but I also think it's not for nothing that the film ends by throwing the camera off a cliff." "Anthony Minghella was only 54 and might have had a quarter-century left to break new ground," writes David Edelstein. "His passing robs us of the movies he might have made and leaves behind a cautionary tale. It's not that he was forced to make crap. It's not that his movies were entirely mangled by big hairy paws. It's that an artist who could have set an example for gutsy personal filmmaking surrendered his autonomy - as so many others have done - in the name of someone (or shmomeone) else's ego." Related: "Shekhar Kapur, the Indian-born helmer of movies such as Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, will direct one of the last pieces of writing from the late Anthony Minghella, a segment of the urban ode "New York, I Love You." Steven Zeitchik has more in the Hollywood Reporter. Acquarello: "A muted, yet provocative composition on the changing face of the labor movement - or more appropriately, its immobility - in Western Europe in the 1970s, Johan van der Keuken's Springtime: Three Portraits articulates the struggle of the working class under the protracted climate of an austere, stagnant global economy (stemming in part from the OPEC oil crisis) and industrial recession through first person testimonies and quotidian observations of society's increasingly fragile and economically vulnerable middle class." "Quaint and slight, Hats Off revolves around Mimi Weddell, a 93-year-old model and actress (of stage and screen) whose boundless energy and indefatigable spirit are amazing... ly ho-hum," writes Nick Schager. More from Vadim Rizov in the Voice. Also in in Slant, Ed Gonzalez: "Essentially a hit-or-miss affair, Backseat features a character who only communicates via text message, an expression of the filmmakers' frustration for the sublimation of human relations that feels amusing but also weird for a film that suggests Sideways filtered through a hipster scrim." More from Jim Ridley in the Voice. "Hollywood is full of older masters who've been mentors to younger acolytes," writes Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "But [John] Hughes, 58, is the only one who's disappeared without a trace; he quit directing in 1991, moved back to Chicago in 1995 and has basically stayed out of sight ever since. 'He's our generation's JD Salinger,' says [Kevin] Smith, whose film Dogma shows its heroes, Jay and Silent Bob, on a pilgrimage to Shermer, Ill, a mythical town that only exists in Hughes' films. 'He touched a generation and then the dude checked out. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be doing what I do. Basically my stuff is just John Hughes films with four-letter words.'" Chris Barsanti comments. "In the Electric Mist has not been a good experience for [Bertrand] Tavernier all round," reports Geoffrey Macnab. "A biggish-budget US film with a major star, adapted from a novel by his beloved crimewriter James Lee Burke, the movie is about a detective hunting a serial killer in America's deep south. For a French auteur who has always idolised US cinema, it has been a chastening experience.... Although he relished collaborating with actors such as John Goodman, Ned Beatty and Mary Steenburgen, he clearly disliked working with [Tommy Lee] Jones, though he will not be drawn any further." Also in the Guardian:
Mulvey & Philadelphia."In 1973, Laura Mulvey dropped her essay 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' on the unsuspecting world of film theory, and came as close to superstardom as any theoretician is likely to get," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "Mulvey, who will introduce the screenings [of her films Riddles of the Sphinx, Frida Kahlo & Tina Modotti and Amy!] as part of a Penn Cinema Studies program on her work, has spent much of her career wrestling with the issues in her original essay, not least the problem that the feminist narrative she conceived is so self-marginalizing that its political effectiveness is circumscribed. Finding a new language that is still intelligible to speakers of the old one is a riddle that remains unsolved." The screenings are on Tuesday, but Mulvey is already in town, lecturing away. Meantime, The Duchess of Langeais has arrived in Philadelphia; you might also find Rick Valenzuela's cover story on the Hacktory of interest. For more local goings on, see Matt Prigge in the Philadelphia Weekly. And of course, the city is gearing up for the Philadelphia Film Festival, opening a week from today and running through April 15.
March 26, 2008
Fests and events, 3/26."Over the past month the [San Francisco International Film Festival] has been revealing bit and pieces of this year's line-up," writes Michael Hawley. "So to begin the Evening Class coverage of SFIFF51, here's a recap of what we know so far, plus a bit of wishful thinking/speculation over what the rest of the program might have in store for us..." "The five films in the Pacific Film Archive's Heinz Emigholz: Architecture as Autobiography are part of a larger Photography and Beyond project Emigholz has been working on for the last 24 years," writes Maria Komodore in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "This handful of works captures constructions by important but somewhat neglected architects of the 20th century. One aim of Emigholz's endeavor is to provide an alternative kind of biography: a biography in which knowledge about the architect is derived directly from his or her creations." April 1 through 17. Meantime, Richard Lacayo takes a look at plans for the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive's new digs.
ND/NF dispatch. 1.This week's entry for New Directors / New Films is still being updated, and in the meantime, David D'Arcy will be sending in a few dispatches as well. The series opens tonight and runs through April 6. New Directors / New Films is a mixed bag, as all such selections of new work by relatively little-known directors tend to be. One thing is sure. It starts out well. Frozen River [site], writer-director Courtney Hunt's debut feature, which I reviewed for Screen, is the prototype for ND/NF, a small-budget drama shot entirely on location, with a lean, unsentimental script and actors who can make the story believable. It's set in the dead of winter on the shores of the St Lawrence River, and its plot involves two women who bond in utter desperation to make a buck ferrying illegal immigrants (who are even more desperate than they are) across the ice, protected by the fact that each side of the river is "sovereign" Mohawk territory. Both Ray (Melissa Leo) and Lila (Misty Upham) have children. They share Ray's tiny trailer with her (Ray's husband took off with the down-payment on a new "double-wide" to gamble it away) and Lila's baby was taken away by her Mohawk in-laws after her husband died when he went through the ice on a smuggling trip. The two women also share a dark sense of practicality that teeters on the edge of fatalism, which is all over the grey skies of the North Country, shot in a grim magnificence by cinematographer Reed Morano. There's a taut intrigue in this story of bonding and crime on the cheap, and acting that balances stoic understatement with unsettling explosions of emotion. The soundtrack also balances solo guitar, the obligatory instrument of Sundance-bound, low-budget filmmakers, with the ominous unsettling crunch of the river ice under tires. The drama's details also add up to an anthropology of lives that hover at or below minimum wage, and the climate doesn't make life any easier. Then there's the seemingly preposterous twist: into this society where men gamble and women scrape by, working hand-to-mouth to raise children, immigrants from poor countries like China and Pakistan are risking their lives and all their resources to have a part of it. Yes, people are dying to come in. Frozen River has a tender, humane ending that flows unexpectedly yet smoothly out of the story Hunt has led us through. You'll see more from her. (And we'll have an interview with Courtney Hunt within the next few days.) Winter films don't do well at the box office unless they are about Christmas, although Ray and Lila make a fateful run across the river so that Ray can buy presents for her two sons. Remember Affliction, Paul Schrader's powerful drama about a man who loses control in a New Hampshire winter as he senses that he is losing contact with his young daughter? Even with a dream team cast, that film barely reached beyond the art house audience, although it certainly deserved a larger one. Ballast, which has gotten plenty of attention on GreenCine, has some clear similarities to Frozen River, starting with its grey palette. Grey is the word in Ballast. Its cast of characters is struggling after a suicide in the middle of endless fields in the Mississippi Delta. A storekeeper, anguishing after the death of his brother, is left with his brother's wife and her son of 12, the prototypical child at risk. Ballast is also a first feature, Lance Hammer's, and its script, unlike the tight scenario of Frozen River, is more like an outline of events and relationships. There are long silences during which the camera meditates on austere messy interiors or on the furrowed fields that make you think of drawings by Vincent Van Gogh or Jean-Francois Millet. To call the film open-ended assumes too positive a judgment, yet its lack of any resolution gives it a different realism than that of the hardheaded Frozen River. Moving Midway [site] is another look at the South today, a documentary shot inexpensively and directed by the film critic Godfrey Cheshire about the literal moving of his family's ancestral plantation from its ancestral site outside Raleigh, North Carolina, to another location that was less threatened by highways, malls and rapid (if not rapacious) housing construction. Cheshire makes his directorial debut with the story of his family, genealogy being an activity in which Southerners have often taken the lead, and he takes us from the early 18th century to the present on land that his family has lived on for all that time. His family owned slaves, and some family members had intimate relations with them. In the course of this journey, Cheshire sees a letter from a black man in the New York Times who has the same name as his mother, Hinton, and the family story expands to include black relatives that Cheshire never knew that he had. In fact, a slaves' graveyard is on the property that the house is about to vacate. All the while we watch the understandable mourning among the white relatives for the moving of a home that holds almost two centuries of memories. Filled with archival imagery, Moving Midway grows poignant as it tracks the fate an icon threatened by the kind of sprawl that is turning much of the South into a strip mall, or into something terrifyingly larger and uglier. Cheshire's family is genuine and genteel in its willingness to accept the kind of dark truths that most families have tried to suppress. They are so disarmingly kind, however, that you can't imagine that they're typical. Occasionally, the memories of a less harmonious time seep out. Cheshire's distant cousin, Robert Hinton, who leads the Africana Studies Department at NYU, watches a costumed re-enactment of a Civil War battle, the kind of ritual that you can see all over the South. The re-enactments are popular with whites, and a lot less popular with blacks, as Hinton takes pains to explain. Asked if it bothers him to watch, Hinton says it doesn't - "just as long as you keep losing."
Richard Widmark, 1914 - 2008.Richard Widmark, who created a villain in his first movie role who was so repellent and frightening that the actor became a star overnight, died Monday at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 93.... As Tommy Udo, a giggling, psychopathic killer in the 1947 gangster film Kiss of Death, Mr Widmark tied up an old woman in a wheelchair (played by Mildred Dunnock) with a cord ripped from a lamp and shoved her down a flight of stairs to her death. Updated through 3/30. "The sadism of that character, the fearful laugh, the skull showing through drawn skin, and the surely conscious evocation of a concentration-camp degenerate established Widmark as the most frightening person on the screen," the critic David ThomsonThe Biographical Dictionary of Film. Aljean Harmetz, New York Times. "That damned laugh of mine!" he told a reporter in 1961. "For two years after that picture, you couldn't get me to smile. I played the part the way I did because the script struck me as funny and the part I played made me laugh. The guy was such a ridiculous beast." The AP. See also: Classic Movies and Wikipedia. Updates: "Not many stars today have the emotional equilibrium to keep their private lives private," writes Richard Corliss for Time, where you'll find clips from Kiss of Death. "The consummate professional, Richard Widmark made his ripples and waves only on-screen. He had worked with plenty of notorious stars and tempestuous directors, but never wrote a tell-all autobiography, perhaps because he thought that secrets were best kept, not spilled. 'I think a performer should do his work,' he said in 1974, 'and then shut up.' He let his acting do the talking, snarling and giggling. And that was eloquent enough." "Widmark excelled as a tough guy or a streetwise man who liked to make himself out as smarter and tougher than he really was such as in 1950's Night and the City," writes Edward Copeland. "My personal favorite role of his may be in Samuel Fuller's great Pickup on South Street with another Oscar orphan, Thelma Ritter, giving one of her very best turns." Night and the City is "a movie that only grows in my estimation with each viewing, largely because of Widmark's brave, spare work in the lead role," writes Vince Keenan. "Performances don't cut any deeper than that one." "The actor possessed such a glacial resolve and was so seemingly unstoppable in the realization of his intentions that it's strange now to find myself flashing on his many memorable death scenes - gored by a Mexican bayonet as Jim Bowie in The Alamo (1960), erased in the flash of an atomic warhead in The Bedford Incident (1965), falling in a hail of bullets in the line of duty in Madigan (1968), gunned down like a dog in the street in Death of a Gunfighter (1969), poisoned and then aerated by postmortem knife wounds in Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and getting his butt kicked by a mess of bees in The Swarm (1978)," writes Arbogast. "Seems like he was always getting killed. It was a living, I guess." "He often made sub par films more watchable just with his presence," writes Kimberly Lindbergs. "These days actors with Widmark's kind of charisma and versatility are few and far between in my opinion and he'll be missed." At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth has a clip from Pickup on South Street. Phil Nugent surveys Widmark's career at ScreenGrab and finds a good quote: "'The older you get, the less you know about acting,' he once said, 'but the more you know about what makes the really great actors.'" Updates, 3/27: "No matter how far he moved away from Tommy Udo in his long career, even when he played noble characters, that giggling psychopath was always just beneath the surface," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. More from David Bennun. "[M]y very favorite Widmark performance is the one he gave as himself at the one and only Telluride Film Festival that I ever attended, back in 1982, when the actor was one of the lifetime-achievement award honorees." Joe Leydon tells the story. "What we have to look back on is his lifetime of wonderful performances, and that unforgettable visage... a one-man rejoinder to Norma Desmond's line about having faces then," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. Steve-O introduces a handful of clips at Noir of the Week. Die Zeit offers a photo gallery. "Screenwise, Widmark is what happens when a bad guy goes respectable and never really fits in," writes Robert Cashill: But Widmark moved on, freeing himself from typecasting and becoming his own, quintessentially modern, man. The brawny, good guy heroics of his contemporaries, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, were not for him. Nor was he as reflective as Henry Fonda, or as aw-shucks charming as James Stewart. Widmark always tapped into a part of Udo, a strain of anxiety and neuroticism that never entirely went away as he aged into military parts, ranchers, and the like. Cast as a pillar of society, he was skeptical of the pedestal and looked askance at the society, and tried to improve it - eventually. That was what I responded to in Widmark; for his characters, respectability was a giant pain in the ass, but responsibility - to his own personal code, for the group, for a nation beset by the Cold War or killer bees - dictated that he had to make the goddamned effort. Even if it killed him, as it so often did. Which, in part, is why he's not particularly happy with TCM's April 4 tribute. "No, it won't do." Updates, 3/30: "[T]hrough much of the 1950s, Mr Widmark moved back and forth - shuttling between heavies and heroes - with a freedom mostly unknown to other performers of the period," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Mr Widmark's richest roles were those that placed him somewhere in the middle - in that great swamp of moral ambiguity that four years of active conflict and a shadowy new cold war had made Americans ready to acknowledge." "My grandma and several of my relatives met him (and Robert Mitchum and Sally Field and Kirk Douglas) on the set of the 1967 western The Way West, which was shot near their ranch in Christmas Valley, Oregon," recalls Dennis Cozzalio, "and my grandma, who knew how movie-crazed I was even by the age of seven, loved to tell me stories of what they saw on the shoot." "Shortly after Widmark's death, I contacted Gary Meyer, director of the Telluride Film Festival (whom I'd known as co-founder of Landmark Theatres), to see if Widmark's tribute speech was transcribed anywhere, because I would love to reprint it," notes Jim Emerson. "Those were relatively early days for the Telluride festival (which began in 1974 and seemed much more remote than it is now). Gary couldn't locate the speech (which I remember Widmark reading from notes he produced from his jacket pocket), but he did find some 1983 press coverage, from which I have pieced together the following 'story.'"
The Cool School."In the 50s and 60s, Los Angeles transformed itself from an artistic wasteland into a burgeoning mecca of modern art, thereby confirming there was more to the world of painting, sculpture, and photography than what was happening in Paris and New York," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "With narration from Jeff Bridges, Morgan Neville's The Cool School details this vital period of creativity, in which a group of young artists championed by curator Walter Hopps at his famous Ferus gallery (1957 - 1966) made great strides in the areas of abstract expressionism and assemblage." Nathan Lee, in one of his last reviews for the Voice, finds the doc "does an ace job at tracking down forgotten figures and burgeoning bohemias even as it perpetuates some of the conventional disparagements and outmoded narratives of mid-century La La Land.... All told, and well told, this is essential history." Updated through 3/28. "The Cool School is one of a subset of documentary biographies that might best be called 'Scenes of Yesteryear,'" suggests Michael Joshua Rowin in indieWIRE. "Like the recent Weather Underground, Commune and American Hardcore - whose respective subjects include radical terrorists, hippie collectives, and indigenous, anticommercial punk rock - The Cool School weaves testimony from participants of a faded fringe movement with footage from its heyday to take stock of the legacy of the marginal subculture in question.... As 'Scenes of Yesteryear' documentaries go it does right by its subject, providing an illuminating primer on a lesser-known strand of America's eruptive postwar art movement, even as it doesn't do much aesthetically to distinguish itself from the pack." Opens at New York's Cinema Village on Friday. Online viewing tip. Sujewa Ekanayake's found what seems to be a demo. Updates, 3/28: "It's an old story in some ways, a myth-making tale of a group of post-World War II aesthetic adventurers who, working together and alone, created an exciting American moment," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Given the lingering prejudice of some East Coasters and the inferiority complex of select West Coasters, though, it's also a story that deserves to be told often and as loudly as possible." "The film's direct chronology and straightforward narration (by Jeff Bridges) isn't as deliberately arty as its subjects, but it's also looser and more fun than a Ken Burns exhumation would be," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "Expert witnesses (including the painter and Newsweek art critic Peter Plagens), survivors ([Billy Al] Bengston), second-wave inheritors (Ed Ruscha), celebrity enthusiasts (Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell), and various ex-wives weigh in with testimonies, and generous stock footage does the rest." "Neville's film shows, in effect, how deliberate the founding of an art movement can be," writes James Hughes for Stop Smiling. "But also how thrilling it is for those at the eye of the storm."
Alexandra."Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra - a film of startling originality and beauty - feels like a communiqué from another time, another place, anywhere but here," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Mr Sokurov, a Russian director best known in America for Russian Ark (2002), makes films so far removed from the usual commercial blather that it sometimes seems as if he's working in a different medium. His work is serious, intense, at times opaque and so feverishly personal that it also feels as if you're being invited into his head, not just another reality." Updated through 3/30. "In her recent history of Russian war films, scholar Denise Youngblood notes that the half-dozen movies treating the Chechen conflict fall into two categories," notes J Hoberman in the Voice. "There are the internationalist films like Sergei Bodrov's Prisoner of the Caucasus, which romanticize the conflict, casting the Chechens as oriental Others, and there are chauvinist films like Aleksei Balabanov's War, which sound a warning against encroaching barbarism. Alexandra is neither. The conflict is an existential condition; Sokurov's subject, in his own words, is 'the eternal life of Russia... There is not a single word that could not have been sounded forty years ago.'" "Set in a Russian army encampment in Chechnya, the film consists entirely of a grandmother's brief visit to see her grandson, an army captain, and her walks when he is away," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "o guns or bombs go off - we simply wander with the babushka's whims, yet the movie is raptly engaging." "Alexandra could be a cynic's militarized revision of Peter Pan," suggests Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "Sokurov's string of historical dramas (culminating in the single-take history lesson-via-museum tour Russian Ark) gives way to a universal tale of squandered youth." At New York's Film Forum through April 8. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and New York. Updates, 3/27: "This movie, so simple on its surface and so hard to figure out, is a pretty tough point of entry to Sokurov's work, though it's not like his other narrative features (The Sun, Father and Son, Mother and Son, Moloch, etc) are such easy assignments either." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir presents "the Cliff notes as I see them." "Despite the narrative's move from Alexandra's drifting tour of the military occupation of Chechnya to more specific, less impressionistic interaction with Denis about his life and state of mind, and a sequence where Alexandra befriends an elderly Chechen woman that is emblematic of how vague Sokurov is sketching this section of the film, Alexandra somehow loses its emotional might," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "The film had so beautifully evoked this tenor of decamped emotional ties, of a people cared for forever traveling away from home, by conflating the grandmother's searching familial love with the isolated, forlorn faces of the soldiers, but the moment the film tries to explore its characters and what they think and feel, it becomes lost in a gently, caringly muddled blur." Update, 3/28: "[I]n spite of Sokurov's usual formal mastery - dispensed this time in audience-friendly short takes rather than punishingly long ones - the gist of Alexandra can be processed in pretty short order," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Which would be fine, if Sokurov weren't so clumsy about delivering the message." Update, 3/30: "Sokurov's films seem to be getting more and more accessible (his video work is another matter), but scratch the surface and they're actually quite bizarre," writes Michael Sicinski.
Early Albert Brooks.Albert Brooks's first two films will be screening at Anthology Film Archives from tonight through April 1, and Scott Foundas reminds us in the Voice why we ever loved him: "Like Brooks's legendary stand-up routines, his films key into the audience's discomfort zone between the comedy of embarrassment and the embarrassment of comedy, between what's supposed to be funny on purpose and what's funny precisely because it isn't supposed to be at all." More from Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine: "If you've never seen it, Real Life may surprise you with its prescient awareness that reality TV is a genre built for false consciousness.... Less topical than Real Life, Modern Romance is every bit as up to date about our national mores." "According to Anthology's archivist, Andrew Lampert, and its programmer, Jed Rapfogel, the Brooks mini-retrospective has been gestating since the two were in junior high school in St Louis," reports Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. Lampert: "It's been our life's goal to do this."
Sight & Sound. April 08."Mizoguchi's late period films, with their tragic stories of delusion, suffering and injustice, were very well received in the west," writes Alexander Jacoby in the new issue of Sight & Sound. "By contrast, his films set in the present day (one half of his works produced during the 1950s) were less widely distributed and appreciated.... In the intervening decades critics such as Noel Burch and Yoshimoto Mitsuhiro have argued that western writers in the 1950s, viewing Japanese cinema through a distorting lens of liberal humanism, were approaching the material from an inappropriate standpoint. But the truth is more complex than this." "That such an over-explanatory, super-macho shoot-'em-up as José Padilha's Elite Squad won the Golden Bear for Best Film says much about the quality of this year's Berlinale," writes Nick James in an overview of the disappointing Competition lineup. But for Jonathan Romney, Elite Squad "was one of the few features in competition that you could have an argument about. It may not be entirely new in terms of film language - the manic editing, the bronzed-earth tones of the photography and the bursts of favela hip-hop are all strictly in the wake of City of God - but Padilha's film bristles with cinematic energy and narrative complexity." "Most of the more rewarding movies screening outside this year's Berlin competition were modest in budget, scale and ambition," writes Geoff Andrew. The Koji Wakamatsu retrospective was a highlight of the Forum for Tony Rayns: "He vindicates his entire career with United Red Army... Thanks to scarily convincing performances and a Peter Watkins-like objectivity in the telling, this gets as close as anyone will ever need to understanding how extremist groups function and why they end up imploding. Wakamatsu knew, liked and worked with some members of the group in the 1960s; he tells their story partly to write a history that's already almost forgotten but mainly to inform present-day drones that kids not so long ago lived and died for their beliefs." Agnès Varda's "work stands resolutely outside the trends and precepts of her national cinema, her films unfolding from the perspective of an earth-mother rather than a grand-mère," writes Tim Lucas. "The first thing one notices about her films, dipping into La Pointe courte, remains a consistent quality throughout the total selection: Varda is more interested in community than in the individual, interested in drama only to the extent that it provides stimulus for her documentarian mill." Maria Delgado on The Orphanage: "This is a movie whose power and emotional pitch lie in the understated: the discreet performances, the lack of special effects, the laconic script. Yes, one can quibble over an unnecessary prologue, a drawn-out séance and a sentimental final sequence, but these are minor flaws in a poignant film that looks to the past and the world beyond to illuminate the realities of the present." "California Dreamin' is a heavily fictionalised version of a real event, and an impressively ambitious undertaking for a debut feature," writes Kieron Corless. "Above all it's often just very funny, then sad, and finally tragic - [Cristian] Nemescu it seems could handle it all, and had he lived, there's no doubt he had an outstanding career in front of him. What a terrible loss." Kate Stables on The Flight of the Red Balloon: "Finding a serene and contemplative beauty in the quotidian world has long been Taiwanese master-minimalist Hou Hsiao Hsien's stock in trade. This delicate, deceptively low-key tale of a Parisian single mother's attempts to pull herself out of emotional chaos is his first European movie, but it develops several of the motifs of 2003's Ozu-inflected Café Lumière."
March 25, 2008
Fests and events, 3/25."What exactly does one do when one lectures, and how is this practice related to other forms of cultural production?" Gleb Sidorkin on Thinking in Loop: Three videos on iconoclasm, ritual and immortality by Boris Groys, on view at apexart through Saturday. Also in the Tisch Film Review: "Beginning April 1st, the French Institute/Alliance Francaise is hosting the series Jean Eustache's Circle for their weekly Cinéma Tuesdays screenings. This is tantalizing for several reasons." Alex Ross Perry lays 'em out. "Maybe one shouldn't judge a country by its movies," writes Peter Keough. "Nonetheless, after following the MFA's Turkish Film Festival for the last seven years, I find this year's selection suggestive of a nation that has become more inward and regressive." Thursday through April 6. Also in the Boston Phoenix, Jim Sullivan on opening night at the Boston Underground Film Festival. IndieWIRE has the list of premieres slated for Film Forum throughout the summer. SXSW roundup:
Critics, 3/25.As you may have heard, Nathan Lee has been "abruptly laid off" by the Village Voice and is now, "as they say, 'looking for work,' though presumably not as a staff film critic as such jobs no longer appear to exist." The quotes come from "an email to colleagues" passed along by Reeler ST VanAirsdale, who notes that "New York newspapers have now lost four full-time film critics in the last month." If you have any interest in the implications here at all, you'll want to check the threads running at the Reeler and the House Next Door. For example, Matt Zoller Seitz writes, "I think we're fast approaching the point where criticism will become, for the most part, a devotion rather than a job." Updated through 3/31. "Last week, I was invited among 10 foreign guests to Bucharest to take part in a round table discussion on 'Romanian Films Today,' generously hosted by the Romanian Film Critics Association," blogs Ronald Bergan at the Guardian. Naturally, where the current wave's come from was one topic; but where it's going was another: "[A]ll the directors I spoke to were determined to keep their independence even if it meant refusing money from a co-production which could mean profits leaving the country and some interference with the production. Of course, there was the danger that Romania might start producing the type of films that festivals expect of them, as Iran did previously." Harry Tuttle comments on the recent Responsibilities of Criticism seminar. Online comic relief. From Ty Burr. Updates, 3/26: "Nathan Lee, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, is a perfervid cinephile (I hope he'll appreciate that phrase), a writer whose insights and observations are penetrating, often pointed and even more often hilarious," writes Jim Emerson, who offers several entertaining snippets to back up the claim. Then, he gets into the matter at hand: I'm afraid that the demise of writing and reporting for newspapers and magazines may be attributable to nothing so much as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once readers start feeling that a publication offers no particular personality, that one review or reviewer is interchangeable with any other, then the next step is inevitable: They realize there's no reason to pick up that particular publication. The web has more than its share of ignorant, inarticulate movie bloggers - but it also offers strong, distinctive personalities and points of view. I'm overwhelmed by how many smart, vigorous, thoughtful ones I find, simply by jumping from one blogroll to another (and I add new ones to my right column whenever I can). Robert Cashill: "I side with the majority: The web has its uses, but the depth and breadth of coverage beyond simple reviews and gossipy palaver is lacking, online as well as in print (which, to its detriment, is apeing blog style, or what is thought of as blog style - snark, yelling, one-sidedness)." Miriam Bale talks with J Hoberman for the Reeler: "'It's interesting,' he said as he then recalled that Karen Durbin, a self-declared sex-positive feminist (and current film reviewer for Elle), was his editor at the Voice [in the early 80s], and that his many conversations with her were probably assimilated into his view. Durbin said in a recent panel at the Woodstock Film Festival that Hoberman is indeed one of the most feminist men she knows, but when I asked if he considers himself a feminist film critic, he said that he was hesitant to be called any '-ist.'" "For those of us old enough to have put a few years effort towards such a career but too young to have achieved any kind of institutional seniority, [the recent string of firings] is a pretty troubling state of affairs," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Strippers are winning Oscars, but I have no future? There's a great joke here, but because it's on me it's up to someone else to unpack." "Lee, a gifted writer with his own idiosyncratic taste and a brawler's verve, who earned attention for his work in the New York Sun and the New York Times, will surely land on his feet," predicts Phil Nugent at ScreenGrab. "It's not so clear how much of the Voice's reputation as a vital force in film coverage will be left standing by this latest development." Update, 3/27: "[T]he recent fuss within the film community - namely, regarding what might happen to a highly circulated, printed form of published film criticism - seems impulsive," writes Ricky D'Ambrose in the Tisch Film Review. "What should matter - rather, what our anxieties should be directing us towards as viewers and thinkers of the cinema - is the fate of seriousness." There may be yet more bad news and soon, warns Variety's Peter Debruge: "Word has it that revenues are way, way down at the chain and at least one of our friends at the LA Weekly will likely be pounding the pavements before the week is out." Updates, 3/30: Via the House Next Door: "Imagine several prominent film critics writing under the same masthead," proposes Jason Bellamy: Imagine these critics not having to waste their talents by writing reviews of three lousy February releases for the same Friday. Imagine being able to read your favorite critic as he/she dips back into the vault to write about films past. Imagine, in essence, if someone combined the best elements of paid criticism with the qualities of the best film blogs. Can't this happen? And can't it provide money for the publisher daring enough to try it and provide a tremendous boost to film criticism for those of us who wish to read it? I'd this is going through a lot of minds right now. Thing is, I can't think offhand of a corollary that's worked yet - e.g., a single one-stop, go-to site for political opinion or literary, music or art criticism. Online, writers tend to go solo (and of course, unpaid) and readers gather their own clusters, their daily, weekly or semi-regular reads via feeds and bookmarks. At the Reeler, Kent Jones replies to a comment aimed at his 2005 piece in Film Comment on Andrew Sarris. Regarding Pauline Kael: "[S]he chronicled the sensation of taking part in the conversation, with devotion and care, and that was her great achievement. As a critic, however, I think that she assured her audience that they could take a pass on way too many movies - movies that necessarily disrupted the conversation, movies that were finally the inconvenient guests at the party." Update, 3/31: "The staff of Newsweek will shrink dramatically, after 111 staffers on its news and business sides accepted a buyout last week," reports Radar. "Among those leaving are some of the magazine's best-known, most-admired and longest-service critics, including David Gates, David Ansen and Cathleen McGuigan." Via the House Next Door. And Glenn Kenny comments.
FIFA 26 dispatch. 1.David D'Arcy on a recent batch of docs about photographers and videographers. Once again, the International Festival of Film on Art (FIFA) in Montreal, which ended on March 16, proved to be one of the best annual events showcasing films you won't see anywhere else - a retrospective of documentaries on architecture made under the umbrella of the Pompidou Center in Paris, new profiles of the sculptor Louise Bourgeois and the architect/designer Eileen Gray, a meditation on the future of the skyscraper, and an inquiry into the collections of erotic art hidden away in the world's greatest museums. Most of the films on view were one-hour productions destined for television, yet the number of short films has grown, as has the presence of feature-length documentaries. And the field of films on art has gotten more eclectic than ever. Along with a wide range of films on music, dance, literature and design, including works on Walkman and the Concorde, some of the most prominent films this year at FIFA were documentaries on photography. Helmut by June opens with a declaration by June Newton, the late photographer's wife, who says her husband was not a promiscuous man, but then acknowledges that "photography was his mistress, and I was his wife." Helmut Newton (1920 - 2004) has been condemned as an exploiter of women (although the women in the film certainly don't seem to mind) and was paid handsomely over decades for his fashion pictures. He has also been praised for breaking down boundaries between art pictures and commercial shots. Who wants to be remembered as a mere fashion shooter? Richard Avedon felt the same way. While Newton was making "anything but fashion photographs," he was cashing huge checks from the couturiers and the magazines that showed his work, shuttling from Miami to Paris, Beverly Hills and the French Riviera. June Newton picked up one of his movie cameras and became a voyeur of her husband's life. "Helmut," one model says, "that's not me." Newton answered: "My dear, I'm not interested in you. You're getting paid to be what I want." Interestingly, Hollywood director Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand, etc) has reworked June Newton's original cut. The final product has plenty of slick pictures of women who aren't wearing much, but it would have been a better portrait of the photographer if we had learned more about his childhood as a Jew in Berlin (Helmut Neustaedtler), which he fled in the late 1930s, and his reasons for creating a museum in his name in the city that his family abandoned. (Note that Helmut by June was not the only film at FIFA made by or in collaboration with a director from commercial cinema. Antony Gormley: Making Space, a BBC documentary about the sculptor and installation artist known for making casts of his own body with an Everyman iconic quality, is the work of Beeban Kidron (Antonia and Jane, Bridget Jones 2). The documentary is competently made, with wide shots of Gormley's beachside sculptures, Another Place, which placed Gormley auto-casts on Waterloo Beach.) The unintentional humor in Helmut by June comes in scenes in which Newton tries to draw drama out of models who can't act. You can see the results in the stagy pictures that Newton made for six decades. Yet Newton himself was a born performer, a photographer who knew how to attract so much attention to himself that his models were no longer self-conscious. In one scene, the mostly male gawkers gather for a shoot in which Cindy Crawford bounds down a staircase in a skirt that opens to the waist, revealing legs without end - no small achievement in very high heels. One of the voyeurs says he'd love a picture of it all, at which point Newton asks the cocky young man how much money he has in his pocket. For 1000 francs, the young man gets a Polaroid from Newton. Soon a friend takes up the same offer at the same price. You leave the film wondering why Newton didn't do something more challenging, like taking a picture of someone who is neither famous nor beautiful. It's the same feeling you have after seeing Robert Wilson: Video Portraits, in which Wilson takes on the well-worn medium of portraiture in a film produced by Gallery HD, a cable channel that is under the umbrella of Rainbow Media, which is part of the Cablevision conglomerate. Once a polymath dabbling in everything from theater to set design at the edge of the art scene, Wilson has come closer to the mainstream over the last decade or so, and the portraits reflect that evolution from maverick to comfortable mandarin. The subjects are famous - Princess Caroline, Macauley Culkin, the Nobel Prize-winning Chinese writer Gao Xingjian. Wilson makes his subjects up like Annie Leibovitz models, then captures them in likenesses that you would expect to see on magazine covers. Revolutionary? You end up thinking Andy Warhol, who revived his career (and his income) with portraits commissioned by the rich and famous, including international villains like the Shah of Iran and Imelda Marcos. Warhol flattened everything out of these celebrities; Wilson doesn't show us anything more about his subjects than what we know already, although we do see that high-definition technology brings a precision to the image that we're not yet used to. We see a different attitude toward beauty in Eloquent Nude: The Love and Legacy Edward Weston & Charis Wilson, by Ian McCluskey, which traces Weston's relationship with a much younger woman from San Francisco who became his lover, his model, his muse and his scribe. Charis Wilson, now approaching the age of 94, was denied the chance to study at Sarah Lawrence by her parents in California, and got into some serious carousing, drinking and sex before she hit 20, all of which she freely admits to. Weston gave her some higher goals. She prepared his grant proposals for shooting trips, and you can see her in portraits of a beautiful confident youth. She and the photographer who redefined the nude bought a house together, but Weston balked when Charis presented her own ideas about where they should travel, how long they should stay, and how to make their journeys something more than campaigns for Weston's career. It was Charis who kept the journals of it all. Eventually the lovers split, never to reunite again. McCluskey's film includes re-enactments of Weston and Wilson's cross-country travels, including their trips to Yosemite to take pictures with the younger Ansel Adams. The dramatizations are so convincing that you think they're the real thing, and the actress that McCluskey chose for the young Charis seems to come right out of Weston's prints. McCluskey also has a feel for lighting bodies and faces. You wish more filmmakers could learn as much from still photographs. Perhaps some might need to be looking at something besides other movies and contemporary art. More to come on another post-FIFA report.
DVDs, 3/25."For indigenous American surrealism, it's hard to beat the Saturday matinee serials of the 1930s, and I'm not sure that The Phantom Empire, a 1935 release from the Poverty Row studio Mascot, can be beat at all," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Very likely the world's first singing-cowboy science-fiction adventure, this 12-episode chapterplay, directed by Otto Brower and Breezy Easton, features Gene Autry in his first starring role - as 'Gene Autry,' the proprietor of Radio Ranch." Dennis Lim reviews the third volume of Warner Bros' Gangsters Collection, which showcases "the fruitful early careers of James Cagney and Edward G Robinson, the era's thuggish leading men of choice," but: "By far the darkest film of the lot (and the only one with neither Cagney nor Robinson), Black Legion (1937) stars Humphrey Bogart, who was then still a few years shy of mega-stardom.... It's a nightmarishly bleak vision of nationalist fervor stoked by male working-class impotence. And given the xenophobic overtones of today's debates over immigration, it remains as topical as ever." More from Sean Axmaker. Also in the Los Angeles Times: With Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty, Geoff Boucher looks back on Bonnie and Clyde. "Asking a group of cinephiles what films book ended the film noir cycle is akin to throwing raw meat to a pack of wild dogs," writes Mike at Noir of the Week. "You're liable to lose a finger if you're not careful. It's commonly held that Orson Welles's Touch of Evil rounded out the movement but Allen Baron's Blast of Silence should rightfully hold this distinction." Evan Davis and Madelyn Sutton open a days-long discussion of Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt. "Douglas Sirk was Hollywood's first master of intentional but nearly imperceptible irony," writes Karina Longworth, who reviews a double feature at the SpoutBlog: All That Heaven Allows and Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. "Played with that deadpan quality we come to expect from highbrow, stiff upper lip British comedy, if... is told with rigorous control, with unobtrusive camerawork and naturalistic, unpretentious sound design," writes Jeremiah Kipp at the House Next Door. "Back to the Future only gets better the further we get from the 80s," argues Steven Hyden in a column for the AV Club that's part of a series, "Song and Vision," on songs - in this case, "The Power of Love" - and movies that do wonders for each other. There's a compare/contrast note at the end, too, on the use of another Huey Lewis and the News tune in American Psycho. Also at the AV Club, Noel Murray talks with Amy Heckerling: Q: I Could Never Be Your Woman has gotten some press because it's being sent straight to video, in spite of a cast of well-known actors and your own marketable résumé. That must be disappointing, but at the same time, the story does give you a hook you can use to bring attention to the film. Is that any compensation? A: No. Nobody wants to tell that story. Nobody wants to go around going, "Hey, look. My kid is in the hospital." Nobody in the industry thinks, "Oh, isn't that too bad! We feel sorry for you," or, "Gee, the movie went to DVD. It must be really good or have an interesting story behind it." It's just bad. It's just bad, bad, bad. There's really no nice, interesting spin you can put on it from my point of view. "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was one of the highlights of 1999, the best movie year in living memory," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "Since then, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made only one more feature, the non-SP puppet extravaganza Team America: World Police (2004). Now they've released the DVD South Park: Imaginationland, which is a sort-of feature." "Spiral is a quiet observation of an outsider fumbling to fit in, a work indebted more to Roman Polanski than Freddy Kruger," writes Flickhead Ray Young, Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign-Region DVD Report": Preminger's Saint Joan. "At the end of the day, and perhaps even before that, movies like The Kite Runner and Charlie Wilson's War are acceptable to those wishing to justify the present occupation of Afghanistan," argues Harvey Thompson at the WSWS. Rob Humanick is compelled to revisit The Mist. DVD roundups: Kevin Crust (Los Angeles Times); DVD Talk; Bryant Frazer; Movie City News; and Slant. And of course, the Guru. Online viewing tip. A discussion of Spielberg's Duel with Steven Boone, Andrew Grant and Keith Uhlich at Kevin Lee's Shooting Down Pictures.
David Lean @ 100.David Lean would be 100 today and the New Yorker's Anthony Lane assumes that, thanks to "the British reserve that Lean both typified and struggled to escape," the only "fanfare or fuss" the Brits will bother themselves with is a two-month-long retrospective at BFI Southbank in June and July - but that's simply not the case. As the Telegraph's David Gritten notes, the "Carnforth railway station in Lancashire will be the centre of celebrations, with tributes, screenings and an exhibition about his life." And as Kathryn Flett reports in the Observer, "There is now something of a Brief Encounter mini-industry at Carnforth, what with the famous clock, the visitors' centre and the delightful refreshment room - a replica of the set, which was itself a copy of the original." Updated through 3/30. "My own favorite Lean films are Great Expectations, still one of the most watchable film adaptations of Charles Dickens, and Brief Encounter, a story of unfulfilled love that generates more heat than its description would indicate," writes Peter Nellhaus at Edward Copeland on Film. Back to Lane: "The glory of Lean was that, with [Lawrence of Arabia], he summoned his earliest memory of awe and, perhaps for the last time, restored our illusion that a mass medium could be a miracle. And the sadness of Lean is that he went on clinging to that belief while the rest of us watched it drift away. He died in 1991. Thank heaven he was not around for the iPhone." More in German: Marc Hairapetian (film-dienst) and Verena Leuken (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). Update, 3/30: FilmInFocus runs a chapter from Kevin Brownlow's David Lean.
March 24, 2008
Shorts, 3/24."It is better to see all my films together as a collection," Eric Rohmer tells Kaleem Aftab, who's met him in his Parisian office. "At the moment they're showing the Four Seasons on French television, one part each week, and that is perfect. There is a relationship between all the films and that is where the interest lies." Also in the Independent, Richard Strange: "[A]s I was about to fly to Los Angeles for a three-month run of the Tom Waits/Robert Wilson/William Burroughs theatrical collaboration The Black Rider, [Harmony] Korine called me and announced: 'Hey, I want you to play Abe Lincoln in my new movie. We film in the Highlands of Scotland, June through August. Do the dates work?' They did." And Ciar Byrne quotes NME features editor James McMahon on Kurt Cobain About a Son: "The film is a beautiful piece of work." The film's director, AJ Schnack, has in the meantime gathered a wide array of comments on the inaugural Cinema Eye Honors. Owen Hatherley is "surprised, to put it mildly, to be very impressed with the first of [Jean-Luc Godard's] collectively produced, 'Maoist' films, British Sounds." Slant's Ed Gonzalez presents "a snippet from Dreams from My Father, in which Barack Obama describes watching Marcel Camus's Black Orpheus, the first foreign-language film his mother, Ann Dunham, had ever seen." And then comments. Filmbrain on that recent Responsibilities of Criticism event: "I can't help but feel this workshop was something of a missed opportunity - a chance for two (three, had [Nicole] Brenez been able to make it) of the most brilliant, important critics working today to engage in dialog with the new generation of critics (some of whom are read by a shockingly high number) on the subject of responsibility - something that is in dire need of addressing in the online community." "I still hold the naïve belief that cinema is a young art, and a century of it isn't impossible to put one's arms around," writes Girish. And he's got a few questions for you. For example, do you feel a "tug-of-war between the desire or need to see older films versus new films? What guides your decision-making on what to see from day to day?" "Though Brooklyn native and screenwriter Malvin Wald changed how the world sees police officers in film and television, many had never heard of him prior to his death on March 11th at the age of 90," writes Michael A Gonzales for Stop Smiling. "Best known as the scribe behind Jules Dassin's 1948 cinematic classic The Naked City, it was Wald's realistic glance of New York City coppers in action that helped launch the mystery sub-genre known as the police procedurals." Yesterday, Self-Styled Siren wished Joan Crawford a happy 100th. "Let's discuss a movie or two." At the Chicagoist, Rob Christopher has news of Aram Rappaport's Helix, a feature-length crime drama set to be shot in one take - today. "It puzzles me why filmmakers so often fail in trying to play the classics straight but sometimes oddly succeed in capturing some real essence of an ancient work in an exaggerated or outrageous guise," writes Steve Coates in Paper Cuts. Tim Lucas admires makeup artist Rick Baker's work on next year's The Wolf Man, starring Benicio del Toro. Chris Lee looks into "one of the most interactive movie-marketing campaigns ever hatched by Hollywood: a multi-platform, hidden-in-plain-sight promotional blitz for the new Batman movie The Dark Knight, which stars Christian Bale and Heath Ledger and reaches theaters on July 18." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen on Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns: "Angela Bassett... brings an emotional reality and deep resonance to her performance that plainly elevates the material." More from Ross Douthat (Atlantic), Ed Gonzalez (Slant) and Nathan Rabin (AV Club). And Scott Timberg profiles Bret Easton Ellis, now 44. Antonello Grimaldi's Quiet Chaos, starring Nanni Moretti, has scored 18 nominations for David di Donatello Awards. Italy's "Oscars" (sort of) will be presented on April 18. Camillo de Marco reports for Cineuropa. "Clint Eastwood is to star in his first film for four years, the mysterious Gran Torino," reports the Guardian. "Details of the movie's plot, which Eastwood will also direct, are being kept tightly under wraps." Also: Andrea Hubert talks with Crispin Glover and Aida Edemariam meets Lucian Msamati, star of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. "Taxi to the Dark Side is part of a growing list of important documentaries - Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) and the Road to Guantánamo (2006), to name two—that could be used as evidence in any future war crime hearings against the Bush administration," proposes Richard Phillips at the WSWS. "What is missing in these documentaries, however, is any clear explanation as why these violations of the US Constitution and the Geneva Conventions have emerged or a detailed exposure of the role played by both major political parties in this process." He also talks with Taxi producer Eva Orner. Brandon Harris talks with Tom Quinn about The New Year Parade. Stephen Saito talks with Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro about Body of War for the IFC. For the London Times, Will Lawrence talks with Martin Scorsese and the Rolling Stones about Shine a Light. Sean Axmaker talks with Ira Sachs about Married Life. More on the film from Vince Keenan. Adam Ross's most recent interviewee: Gareth Moses. "[T]he widely accepted idea that movies are recession-proof will be tested in new ways in coming months, as Indy and Batman do battle with stay-at-home entertainments people have already put on their credit cards, like iPods and plasma-screen TVs." Rebecca Winters Keegan reports for Time. AO Scott in the New York Times on Drillbit Taylor: "'You get what you pay for,' the tag line on the advertisement says. I saw it free, and I still feel cheated." More from Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nick Schager (Slant), Ryan Stewart (Premiere) and Keith Uhlich (House Next Door). "The below-average Shutter coughs up another vengeful ghost in the form of a spurned Japanese waif who appears in photographs and sets about getting her message across as many ghosts do—in the most indirect, passive-aggressive, logic-defying way imaginable," sighs the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "After 85 minutes of celestial charades, the movie is over and everyone can go home." More from Rob Humanick (Slant) and Andy Webster (NYT). Online viewing tip #1. "I'm running a little contest over on idrinkyourmilkshake.com: for a chance to win one of five There Will Be Blood DVDs, grab your camera phone or webcam and upload a video of yourself saying the line that gave the site its name," announces Jürgen Fauth, who displays the first (and so far only) entry. Online viewing tip #2. Struggle, a short by Ryan Fleck. Online viewing tips, round 1. Peter S Scholtes: "My Top 20 music videos of all time." Via Fimoculous. Online viewing tips, round 2. Little Minx's Exquisite Corpse shorts, via Brandon Harris, who also talks with four of the five filmmakers.
Fests and events, 3/24.For the New York Sun, Steve Dollar talks with Ross Lipman about "his evolving road show, Report from the Ghost City, which brings together like-minded artists in different cities to explore themes of urban phenomenology in a mixed-media context. Previously staged in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Ghost City arrives at Anthology Film Archives [today] as a collaboration between Mr Lipman's Disembodied Theater Corporation and the New York-based Ars Subterranea - fellow travelers in the ambiguous realms of contemporary civic ruins." "Tian Zhuangzhuang is an elusive figure at the heart of Chinese cinema," writes Tania Branigan in the Guardian. "With Zhang Yimou and his childhood friend Chen Kaige, Tian forms the core of the 'Fifth Generation' which electrified the industry in the 1980s and won an audience worldwide. But while Zhang and Chen's most recent offerings have been glossy, action-packed blockbusters, Tian's latest, The Go Master, is a sombre, grainy biopic of a man famed for his brilliance at an ancient board game, Go." The China in London: Spotlight Beijing season runs at the ICA through April 20. More from Sheila Cornelius at cinemattraction. "Johnnie To gave another of his legendary dinners, this time to a crowd of filmmakers, distributors, festival directors and programmers, and hangers-on like me." David Bordwell's still in Hong Kong. "Finally! I'm in the New York Underground Film Fest!" exclaims Jennifer Macmillan. Meanwhile, Mike Everleth comments on the end of the NYUFF and on what might take its place. April 2 through 8. Chuck Tryon looks ahead to the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, running April 3 through 6 in Durham. Bob Turnbull previews Hot Docs. April 17 through 27 in Toronto. Fish Kill Flea heads to Florida and California. Dennis Cozzalio looks back on the American Cinematheque's recent Mario Bava retrospective. Online listening tip #1. Movie Geeks United! interview Sarasota Film Festival programmer Tom Hall. April 4 through 13. Online listening tip #2. SXSW panel podcasts.
New Directors / New Films. 08."This year's New Directors / New Films program - the annual survey of emerging artists presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art - is chock-full of unusual stories and unlikable heroes," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. The series opens Wednesday and runs through April 6 and for the next seven days (until it falls off the front page), this entry will collect variously related items. Snyder: "[C]inephiles will have to wait until Friday to catch what may be the series's most captivating, inscrutable, and jarring entry: Momma's Man is the third feature film by Azazel Jacobs, the son of the renowned avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs, but the first of his works to gain access to a wide audience." Updated through 3/28. More from David Pratt-Robson in Slant, where the special ND/NF section is fattening up nicely. "I know this sounds idealistic, but it was a conscious decision to make a film for and about Rwandans," Munyrangabo director Lee Isaac Chung tells Dennis Lim in a piece for the New York Times. David Lowery on Eat, For This Is My Body: "[Michelange] Quay is less phantasmagoric in his intentions than [Matthew] Barney, and certainly more literal, but there's a languid appropriation of traditional cinematic language present in both directors' work, and just as Barney's films were most at home in museums, I think audiences might appreciate and understand Eat more if they go in expecting art first and film second." "The fortysomething, out-of-the-culture-loop moms who left their fabulous lives in New York City to raise their kids in Columbia County were buzzing. Courtney Hunt, one of our own, denizen of the local diner, had directed a film, Frozen River, that was accepted into Sundance. Then in late January a thrill spread through the county: She'd won the Grand Jury Prize for drama." Karen Schoemer profiles Hunt, whose debut feature opens the series. New York also spotlights four more features. Update, 3/25: Howard Feinstein at indieWIRE: "Some of the best movies from the first half of the festival (I'll write about part two next week) are textbook studies on achieving near perfection on a lower-than-low budget." Updates, 3/26: At the House Next Door: a whopping overview from half a dozen contributors. "There is, as ever, much old hat, plenty of promise, and one or two outright sensations, though in the case of this unusually strong 37th edition, that number climbs up to three or four," writes Nathan Lee in one of his last pieces for the Voice. "My pick of the pick favors a pair of defiantly queer debuts positing genuine new directions/new cinemas." "I'm not suggesting that they change or rebrand it, but after watching the first half of this year's lineup, movies of modest means and evident ambition, I prefer to think of the festival as Serious Directors/Small Films," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. Matt Dentler recommends catching Momma's Man, The Toe Tactic and Munyurangabo. Cullen Gallagher has a few capsule reviews in the L Magazine. Updates, 3/27: "In the 26 features and seven shorts from 17 nations, no single thematic trend unites the selections," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "The directors vary in age, and not everyone is making a debut. Nevertheless, there's a common tone of desperation shared by many of the entries that confront personal alienation - whether as a result of class struggle, gender confusion or simply growing old." Regarding Frozen River, "Hunt and Leo were on hand after the screening for a Q&A with the audience. The Film Society's Rich Peña kicked off the discussion." And the Film Panel Notetaker went to work. IndieWIRE interviews Chung (Munyurangabo) and Etgar Keret, whose Jellyfish screens Thursday and Sunday. More on that one from Paul Schrodt in Slant. Update, 3/28: IndieWIRE interviews two more directors: Aditya Assarat (Wonderful Town) and Emily Hubley (The Toe Tactic).
Shotgun Stories."Shotgun Stories is broadly in the category of what we sniggering urbanites used to call 'deadbeat regionalism' (before the indie movement was kicked into the mainstream by Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Weinstein)," writes New York's David Edelstein. "But the sensibility here is more subversive, more attuned to the South's subliminal violence. Adam Stone's wide-screen cinematography captures the heat and the corrosive moisture, the lush green of the cotton fields and the rust of the pickup trucks, the natural beauty juxtaposed with the unnatural human debris.... Shotgun Stories has a flawless cast, but it's the peculiarity of Michael Shannon that keeps it from becoming too obvious." Updated through 3/27. "The film seems to work so hard at undermining the inclination of average, urban audiences and film reviewers to label this as a film about rednecks, hillbillies, white trash, and holler folk that it never provides an adequate sense of the passions at the root of the characters' exceedingly poor judgment," writes Leo Goldsmith in indieWIRE. "But if this represents a shortcoming in his screenplay - supplanting character development with a collection of offhand quirks and mannerisms - Nichols more than compensates with his direction of a dedicated cast." "The film might have worked better if it was simply a poetic representation of farmlands and parking lots, with a repressed American anger haunting every moment, rather than a long, slow build-up to a showdown," suggests Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with director Jeff Nichols "about modern day revenge movies, the influence of Lawrence of Arabia, and his dad taking him to see Pale Rider in the second grade." Update, 3/26: "Shotgun Stories is as cool-headed as its characters are reckless," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "The film is a here-and-now American potboiler and a stripped-down parable that can be appreciated by any culture." "Glorious Southern fried sloth, in epic widescreen," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "Writer-director Jeff Nichols plays everything at half speed, passing the time in a style similar to films directed by his producer, David Gordon Green." This is a "very solid first film, which should, among other things, be a breakthrough feature for the superb Shannon, a stalwart character actor (World Trade Center, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) who here - more than in the alienating film version of Bug - proves that he can carry a picture," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Which shouldn't detract from the fact that the rest of the cast is note-perfect as well." "Despite the mythic ring, the drama of Shotgun Stories is resolutely ordinary; Nichols arranges scenes in even blocks, punctuated by shots of fields or telephone poles dominoed into the distance," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "This dead-air evenness is the movie's strength, utterly relentless, as well as its weakness." "A lyrical story of feuding familial factions in Southern Arkansas, Shotgun gets off to a slow, quirk-leavened start, but as a seemingly minor character morphs from grating comic relief to major catalyst for action, the film gains weight and eventually snowballs into an undeniably affecting moral tragedy," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. Updates, 3/27: "If there's one below-the-radar American movie of the past year that has caused film buffs, on their way out of festival screenings, to call their friends and demand, 'Why the hell haven't we heard more about this one?' - that movie is Shotgun Stories," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I honestly believe that in another era Shotgun Stories might have become a huge hit." "Shotgun Stories deserves credit for its credible and non-stereotypical narrative of rural vendetta," writes Chris Barsanti in Film Journal International. "But there's no escaping the fact that the film, well-crafted though it may be, is ultimately just as slow as the proverbial molasses."
The Grand."Great movies about gambling - Robert Altman's California Split, say, or Jacques Demy's Bay of Angels - concern almost everything but the rules of the game or even the outcome of the wager," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "What matters are faces, surroundings, sharp talk, and the behavior of people in the grip of fixation—people undaunted by losing, yet unappeased by winning. The Grand, a largely improvised comedy set at a Las Vegas poker championship, isn't as good or tough-minded as those movies. But it earns a seat at the table anyway, mostly because it's funny - sometimes very funny." "The actors certainly look as if they're having a good time, and if you're in the right mood, you might too," suggests Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. Updated through 3/25. Director Zak Penn, "a recognized screenwriter in Hollywood responsible for penning such scripts as PCU, X2 and Last Action Hero, as well as the forthcoming The Incredible Hulk, actually wrote little of his 2004 improvisational 'hoax' documentary, Incident at Loch Ness, starring Werner Herzog, and he follows a similar, improvisation-heavy pattern here," notes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun. "Penn's poker comedy is a light-hearted tease on the math geeks, old-school sharks, Internet donkeys, and random yahoos that turn up on ESPN poker broadcasts," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "But typical of bad improv, the inmates take over the asylum, leaving a movie that's little more than a loose, wildly uneven assemblage of individual comedic shtick." Interviews with Penn: Paul Cullum (Los Angeles Times), Logan Hill (New York) and Andy Klein (LA CityBeat). Update, 3/25: Michelle Orange talks with Penn for the IFC.
Run, Fat Boy, Run."Run, Fatboy, Run is the type of romantic comedy apt to be described as 'nice' or 'sweet,' both of which are codewords for 'unexceptional' and 'useless,'" writes Nick Schager at Slant. "In both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright's sly genre deconstructions, [Simon] Pegg mimics the audience's thrill of being adrift in fantastical conflict with wide-eyed incredulousness and a goofy demeanor," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Akin to the underdog appeal of slapstick artists like Buster Keaton, the pathetic nature of Pegg's characters hardens into a heroic streak. In Fat Boy, playing an out-of-shape security guard who runs a marathon to prove his worthiness to an ex-girlfriend, Pegg just seems pathetic." Updated through 3/28. "[D]espite following a stock rom-com blueprint, the film is actually very likable, due in large part to the presence of Pegg, who can make even the most tired gags funny," writes Bryan Whitefield at ScreenGrab. "The supporting cast helps to make the material stronger than you'd expect." "In a performance that is much softer, sweeter, and sensitive than fans of Hot Fuzz will be expecting, Mr Pegg establishes himself as a most unlikely leading man — a chipper, suave, but woefully flawed charmer," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. Melena Ryzik talks with Pegg for the New York Times; Paul Brownfield profiles Schwimmer for the Los Angeles Times. Capone talks with Schwimmer for AICN. Update, 3/25: "Where Run, Fatboy, Run fails most prominently is by creating a strong female central character, and then surrounding her with men who aren't worthy of her," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. Updates, 3/26: Premiere's Glenn Kenny: "March is proving to be a fairly dicey month for contemporary comedic talent. First producer Judd Apatow and partial writer Seth Rogen laid an egg with Drillbit Taylor (no way do I hold Owen Wilson in any respect responsible for it; such are my biases), and now the heretofore nothing-but-delightful Simon Pegg stumbles in the long-anticipated feature film directorial debut of - ta-da! - David Schwimmer, who takes the sow's ear of a script given him by Pegg and Michael Ian Black and deep-fries it into a burnt pork rind of a movie." For Jim Ridley, writing in the Voice, Run "confirms that [Pegg's] one of the only comic actors working today who's as adept at banana-peel pratfalls as he is at delivering brainy verbal wit." "At first, the funny-slacker-grows-up arc seems akin to the recent Judd Apatow pictures, or maybe a Nick Hornby novel," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. "But Fat Boy, with its wacky side characters and half-hearted set pieces, more resembles a lazy late-period Adam Sandler comedy." "[C]learly this is a failed group effort," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE. Update, 3/27: "Akin to the underdog appeal of slapstick artists like Buster Keaton, the pathetic nature of Pegg's characters hardens into a heroic streak," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "In Fat Boy, playing an out-of-shape security guard who runs a marathon to prove his worthiness to an ex-girlfriend, Pegg just seems pathetic." Updates, 3/28: "If you can get past its toothpick of a premise, Run Fatboy Run is a perfectly enjoyable light comedy," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "It's also just good enough that I wanted it be better." "Fat Boy will never be mistaken for art," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "It's Rocky by way of There's Something About Mary, an inspirational fantasy with guy's-guy banter and gross-out humor (including a blister-popping scene that seems to be this film's answer to the hair gel bit in Mary). Yet it's effective and affecting; much of its impact comes from its images of Dennis running and its conviction that there's a difference between running toward something and running away." "There's no denying that Run Fat Boy Run turns on a well-worn premise, but is the simplicity in itself a bad thing?" asks S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "There's bittersweet humor in watching Pegg struggle to become the man he and his family need him to be, but this is still the sort of formulaic, high-concept fare it's easy to imagine Black dryly lampooning in his capacity as VH1's in-house smartass," writes Nathan Rabin at AV Club.
Blindsight."Featuring exceptional people doing extraordinary things, Blindsight is one of those documentaries with the power to make you re-examine your entire life - or at least get off the couch." Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Lucy Walker's film, about six blind Tibetan teens who endeavor to scale Mount Everest with the help of pioneering, Everest-conquering blind climber Erik Weihenmayer, employs what's become a familiar structural template, interrupting footage of the hike with backstory snapshots of its young, disabled subjects," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "[I]t naturally expands from simply a can-do inspirational tale into a more complex, non-judgmental portrait of differing cultural and personal values." "Lucy Walker does justice to the full range of these children's experiences, treating them as intellectual and emotional equals and refusing to patronize or exoticize them," writes Julia Wallace in the Voice. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Walker "about her own partial blindness, shooting in the death zone, and being distraught when she couldn't watch The Aristocats for a fifth day in a row."
Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File."'Who did it?' asked the filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov when his friend the exiled Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko died of polonium poisoning in a London hospital in November 2006," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "That question resonates throughout Poisoned by Polonium: The Litvinenko File, Mr Nekrasov's extraordinary testament to a man whose incendiary allegations against his government might have had fatal consequences." "Screened at Cannes as Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case, the film is muddled where it should be straightforward, and Nekrasov-centered when the focus should be on Litvinenko," writes Martha Mercer in the New York Sun. "Poisoned By Polonium tries to encompass a thousand tiny details of Russia's decline into mob rule," agrees the AV Club's Noel Murray. "Nekrasov comes off like a scatterbrained foreign correspondent, reading off his notes to the bureau chief. The result is a film that does an injustice to the whole chaotic situation in Eastern Europe by making it seem not just impossible, but impenetrable."
Irina Palm."The story of a middle-aged widow entering the sex trade to help finance her grandson's medical care sounds, depending on the emphasis, like either one of those lightly bawdy, twinkly English comedies or softcore porn," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. "It's admirable that Irina Palm falls into neither category, but unfortunate that it stops at 'none of the above,' with no answer of its own." AO Scott, writing in the New York Times, finds it "does rise slightly above the silly clichés embedded in its story." Jim Ridley in the Voice: "The whole ridiculous thing could serve as one of Lars von Trier's lurid melodramas of female abasement, if director Sam Garbarski's tone didn't fluctuate between kitchen-sink miserabilism and the smirky archness of a Very Special Are You Being Served? - and if it weren't such a pack of cozily sanitized lies." Martin Tsai opens his review in the New York Sun with a a quick reminder of just who the star here is: "In her 1960s heyday, the British pop tart Marianne Faithfull recorded a few hits, had a stormy affair with Mick Jagger, spun the revolving door of detoxification a few times, and graced her share of tabloid headlines. Her iconic presence leaped onto the big screen as well, notably with appearances in cult films by Jean-Luc Godard and Kenneth Anger. Ms Faithfull is also, according to many, the first person to ever utter the four-letter 'F' word in a major motion picture - in her movie debut, no less, alongside Orson Welles and Oliver Reed in I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1968)." "Comparisons to Maria Full of Grace are inevitable - a powerless woman, forced to do the unthinkable, discovers a certain power she never had before - and they're not undeserved," writes James Rocchi for Cinematical. "Faithfull's performance is the centerpiece of the film, and it is a truly impressive piece of work.... Irina Palm is about the ugly business of money, of living, of keeping promises, of not giving up - and thanks to careful direction, superb writing and finely-tuned performances, it transcends its own plot to succeed as a truly impressive drama." "[T]he movie feels too thematically familiar, despite the unusual setting," writes Robert Levin at cinemattraction. "Characters confront their repressed emotions, step out of their self-imposed shells and find themselves better off for doing so." Sara Cardace talks with Faithfull for New York.
March 20, 2008
Interview. Olivier Assayas."Italian director Marco Ferreri named one of his films The Future is Female. For Olivier Assayas, that's a given." Steve Erickson introduces his interview with the director of Boarding Gate. "Assayas's later career has been a heady stew of class and crass, yet not even in his terrific, audience-baiting pseudo-technothriller demonlover, with its corporate-girls-gone-wild for the smart set, did he flirt as heavily with exploitation as he does here," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Boarding Gate, B-movie heir to Phil Karlson and Ingmar Bergman, screws any pretence of naturalism for hallucinatory confrontations," writes David Pratt-Robson in Slant. "If, like its protagonist, the film is brutally forthright, in B-movie tradition, that's because all it cares about is expressivity - raw impact and momentum.... Down and totally dirty, Boarding Gate is one of the best genre films in years." Updated through 3/26. "This is very much a French intellectual cineaste's idea of a B thriller, and hence is as far from innocent in its genre as you can get," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "There are some genuinely frisson-inducing twists, and he does wrap up the plot pretty neatly despite giving every indication that he's not going to. In the meantime, his mastery of the camera and his always innovative approach to setting are constant, knotty pleasures." Updates, 3/24: "In truth, thriller is a convenient but imprecise descriptor for Boarding Gate, which resists categorization despite Mr Assayas's stated insistence that he was trying (really) to make a B movie in English," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Much like demonlover this new film plays with various genre codes and conventions - the femme fatale, violence, murder, an atmosphere of danger and dread - but plays with them very differently than most run-of-the-mill modern thrillers. Indeed both films depend on your having at least a passing familiarity with the kind of anonymously produced slick flicks - slickly packaged, slicked with blood - that are an industry staple from Hollywood to Hong Kong." "As the film shifts to the Hong Kong streets, where Sandra flees after the inevitable bad things happen, it's Mr Assayas who seems to lose control," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "The trouble is that Assayas saddles himself with a needlessly complicated plot, which distracts from the other, more elegant distractions that he clearly hopes will occupy viewers' minds instead," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "There's basically only one reason to see Olivier Assayas's self-consciously hypermodern, meta-sleazy, English-French-Chinese-language globo-thriller Boarding Gate, and her name is Asia Argento," writes J Hoberman. More in the Voice from Nathan Lee: "The story of Asia rising goes back to 1993, when, at the age of 16, she disrobed for her father, legendary giallo maestro Dario Argento, in the aptly named thriller Trauma. Going back to that squirmy moment confirms that Asia has always been the least embarrassed of performers, as comfortable flaunting her tits as she is flubbing through the silliest of roles." The IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore look back to "some of our favorite moments from a few of her films so far." "Assayas's thriller about a wanted woman can be ridiculous, but his 'rapturously mobile eye' (to quote [Kent] Jones [in Physical Evidence]) makes the unwinding scenes and spaces a pleasure to behold no matter what," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "It's fitting that his best-known film in this country, Irma Vep, is a study of a director struggling to make a fetishistic femme-fatale movie," suggests David Edelstein in New York. "Assayas seems obsessed by the workaday world of Hong Kong with its mass insouciance as a crossroads of international, interlingual and interracial commerce and industry, which leaves it little time to pause and notice a desperate European woman running for her life," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Boarding Gate's graphic-novel style and S&M titillation disgraces the real world of young-adult bewilderment with which Assayas began his career (as screenwriter of André Téchiné's wild-child movie, Rendezvous)," writes Armond White in the New York Press. For Filmmaker, Brandon Harris talks with Assayas about "his working method, the effects of the internet on modern sexuality and just how much the Asian economy impacts all of us." Steve Dollar talks with Assayas, Madsen and Argento for the New York Sun. More talks with Assayas: Scott Foundas (LA Weekly), Aaron Hillis (IFC) and Nick Pinkerton (Reverse Shot). Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Updates, 3/26: Mark Olsen profiles Assayas for the Los Angeles Times. "Michael Clayton (and similar films of its ilk) use characters as slightly somnambulistic pawns that are moved around only to accommodate the plot (like shifting financial figures to balance the books), and its barely decipherable logic is its badge of honor, proof that the film deserves a second viewing," writes Cullen Gallagher at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Boarding Gate stands opposed to any such position: as labyrinthine as its plot may be, it is its precise intention to disorient and decentralize the spectator, just as it does Sandra: its overwhelming, jigsaw obtuseness is not the end result, but rather the impetus for a vertiginous journey about reestablishing one's identity."
Interview. Benson Lee."Planet B-Boy considers the international resurgence of breakdancing and closely follows five of the most prominent teams from Korea, Japan, France, and the US as they prepare for the annual Battle of the Year (aka the 'World Cup' of b-boying) at its home base in Braunschweig, Germany, which is attended by 10,000 spectators." Cathleen Rountree talks with director Benson Lee. "Despite Lee's refusal to present the routines in their entirety, the climactic competition's dancing is nonetheless electrifyingly acrobatic and inventive," writes Nick Schager in Slant. Updated through 3/24. "The flashes of human interest are welcome, but what most sticks is Planet B-Boy's aesthetic, which feels jocked from the school of Michael Moore and runs counter to one b-boy's gripe about breakdancing being co-opted by mainstream America back in the day," writes Ed Gonzalez in the Voice. IndieWIRE, too, talks with Lee. Updates, 3/24: "Hip hop music may be dead at the hands of corporate thug rap, but the culture lives on, worldwide, says Planet B-Boy," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "This is good TV, but it benefits from a big screen presentation, too, because, well, the bigger the windmill or head spin, the better." "Nagging flaws keep this documentary from realizing its potential," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times. "Still, from moment to moment, Planet B-Boy is fun, sometimes thrilling and packed with illuminating details and striking personalities - like the Korean dancer, nicknamed Laser, who we're told 'has spent three or five years solely spinning on his head.'" "Mr Lee browses an international grab bag of B-boy groups en route to Battle of the Year 2005, loosely following the contest format popularized by the 2002 film Spellbound and reality shows," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Helicoptering limbs and floor-flouting freezes are on invigorating display, but as for history or background, the film hustles past with the keep-it-moving bonhomie that is customary for filmmakers using this template."
SXSW. Podcast. Goliath.Goliath saw its world premiere at Sundance, but David and Nathan Zellner were actually more nervous at their film's first screening at SXSW. Aaron Hillis talks with the brothers about the leap from shorts to a full-blown feature and about pacing a comedy. To download or listen, click here. Freedom can be hell. Recently divorced, David Zellner's character is left alone with his house, his nowhere job and his ridiculous mustache. Munching takeout for dinner, he can watch anything he wants, and so we find him not in front of the TV but in front of the computer. He starts typing a URL and his browser's address bar, eager to help, calls up his recent history and dumps a string of porn site names for him to choose from, all of them hilariously, pathetically absurd. The music Aaron's chosen for this podcast? That's the site he lands on, and of course, it's anything but arousing. Having it all can be hell, too. The house, the lawn, the car, all in a quiet suburban neighborhood that, as far as our antihero's concerned, might as well be called Desolation Row. When he's called in from his desk, where he watches some anonymous company's computers hum all day and his boss (Andrew Bujalski) tells him to fire one of the literally blue-collared guys downstairs (Wiley Wiggins) and take his place, he protests, "But that's not my world. Those guys... they fart in each other's faces; they light their own farts..." They are farty guys and he has, once again, become one of them. At least he has his cat. Goliath. Who hasn't been around in the past couple of days. Our involuntary loner throws himself into finding that cat, his last lifeline to sanity. On top of the usual "kitty-kitty-kitty" called out into the night, he tries the can opener. A few scenes later, he's got the can opener in the open window. A few scenes later, he's actually walking the streets with a portable generator and holding up the buzzing can opener. If Goliath slapped one gag after another, its comedy would hurt a lot less and overall the film would be far less memorable. Instead, we lope from one degradation to the next at the painful pace of reality towards a cringe-inducing but necessary catharsis. More on Goliath, one of my own favorites at SXSW this year, from Scott Von Doviak (ScreenGrab). And Alison Willmore talks with the Zellners for the IFC.
Shorts, 3/20.Craig Keller and Andy Rector discuss Jean Renoir's Eléna et les hommes (Eléna and the Men) and loads and loads of related imagery. "Truthfully, for me, it was a decade of cinephilia and thought finding a certain closure and, more importantly, a certain renewal." Zach Campbell, following NYU's Responsibilities of Criticism conference and two films by Manoel de Oliveira. More from Girish, who moderated a discussion with Adrian Martin and Jonathan Rosenbaum: "All over, a generous, infectious enthusiasm was circulating this weekend and I'll remember one funny, touching moment that crystallized it: at the screening of Doomed Love, Adrian slowly and silently raised his fist and punched the air when the opening credits unrolled 'Um Filme de Manoel de Oliveira'..." Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on Manoel de Oliveira's Christopher Columbus, The Enigma: "The mission of the film is a mission reminiscent of Godard's work of the late 1960s and 1970s - demonstrative, realism-based pedagogic cinema, lessons on the state of the world in precise terms. Only here, today's state - for Portugal especially - only has meaning within the weight of importance of the magnificent quests of discovery of the past." "In general, 'publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy' since it assumes a world that is impervious to collective action and substantive change," writes Chris Robé, quoting John Berger in PopMatters. "By naturalizing social inequality, publicity asserts that happiness can only be purchased, not fought for, as it attempts to mask over and compensate for 'all that is undemocratic within society.' It is these two divides - between the rich and the poor, between publicity and the practices of everyday life - that most concerns Agnès Varda."
Fests and events, 3/20.For the Los Angeles Times, Christopher Knight reviews California Video, an exhibition on view at the J Paul Getty Museum through June 8: "Assembled are more than 50 single-channel videos and 15 installation works made in the four decades since Sony introduced the first portable video recording device in 1967." Geometry of Motion 1920s/1970s, on view at MoMA from Wednesday through June 23; e-flux: "Taking cinematic experience as its point of departure, this exhibition uses 14 historic works to trace the transformation of the art object from static image to fluid light projection within two artistic lineages: the unconventional optical techniques of the 1920s Neue Optik, or 'New Vision,' generation of artists, among them El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Hans Richter and Marcel Duchamp; and the situational aesthetics advanced by Robert Irwin, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Smithson and Anthony McCall in the 1970s." "Time to expose the greatest conspiracy of contemporary cinema," declares Christopher Huber in the LA Weekly. "Although film historians and critics have spent decades trying to conceal the truth, the auteur theory was really invented for the vindication of Mario Bava, an Italian maestro of the macabre, who mostly made disreputable yet genial genre pictures on a budget for which mere mortals like us couldn't be bothered to videotape our brother's wedding." Mario Bava: Poems of Love and Death runs through Sunday at the Egyptian. "[I]t's not too early for a little Cannes gossip, is it?" Salon's Andrew O'Hehir's been hearing about films that that may - or may not - be in the lineup. "[T]he hospitality that Thessaloniki extends to its guests is as good as any fest in the world," writes David Wilson in a dispatch for indieWIRE. The Documentary Festival runs through Tuesday. Also, Kim Adelman reports on the winners of the Independent Lens Online Shorts Festival and Howard Feinstein looks back on the Cleveland International Film Festival. David Bordwell's in Hong Kong. So is Todd Brown. Mike Everleth has the full lineup for the Boston Underground Film Festival, running Thursday through Sunday. Peter Keough has a preview in the Boston Phoenix. "A poetic spirit of perseverance is to be sifted from Lu Zhang's Mongolian sandscape Hyazgar (Desert Dream, 2007), the follow-up to his much-acclaimed Mang zhong (Grain in Ear, 2005)," writes Michael Guillén from the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. Maria Komodore and Max Goldberg revisit Last Year at Marienbad for the San Francisco Bay Guardian; it's at the Castro for a week starting Friday. "Uncompromising in technique and unwavering in his humanism, [Thorold] Dickinson (1903 - 84) mined the tense dramatic relationship between identity and action with unwavering clarity, compassion, and invention," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "For the next week, in its program called Thorold Dickinson's World of Cinema, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will survey the brief but brilliant career of this rarely revived yet central figure in British cinema." Through March 25. Also: "In the six decades since the bitter wartime enmity between America and Japan climaxed with the atomic bomb attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan's subsequent surrender, America's 'image of the Japanese has completely changed,' said the filmmaker Risa Morimoto, director and co-writer of Wings of Defeat, a new documentary making its American premiere tonight at Japan Society. 'The image of the kamikaze has not.'" And S James Snyder previews New Directors / New Films. March 26 through April 6. Then, for the L Magazine, Snyder previews the final edition of the New York Underground Film Festival. "Oscar Micheaux (1884 - 1951) and Spencer Williams (1893 - 1969) are the two titans of America's 'race' cinema," writes J Hoberman. "Anthology's three-day celebration (notably scheduled a month outside the traditional ghetto of Black History Month) includes two Micheaux silent films and a quartet of Williams talkies, all archival prints." Dan Sallitt in the Auteurs' Notebook on Eyes Without a Face: "It would be half true to suggest that [Georges] Franju wants to make the audience uneasy. The other half of the truth is that he wants us to be calm and accepting in the face of this uneasiness, and even to find beauty in the unsettling object." Tonight's the last night of Le Grand Franju at the Anthology Film Archives. Related: Tim Lucas on Judex and Nuits rouges; more from Alex Perry in the Tisch Film Review. "Again: it's the sound design in later [Pedro] Costa films that dictates the space, that colors the image, that roots the film in the tactile present," writes Ryland Walker Knight in his latest entry from Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa at the House Next Door.
Wrapping SXSW, 3/20.The Austin Chronicle's Kimberley Jones notes that SXSW has announced two more audience awards: "Voted audience favorite from 24 Beats per Second was Sascha Paladino's Béla Fleck doc, Throw Down Your Heart; top votes for the Lone Star States sidebar went to David Pomes's Cook County." "The camaraderie is pure pleasure. But it doesn't answer the burning question: Is anyone outside a film festival, even a cool one like SXSW, going to see this fucker?" Sean Nelson was there not just for the Stranger but also because he'd acted in a film in competition, My Effortless Brilliance. Cinematical presents its list of the ten "Best Films of SXSW." Karina Longworth works up a SpoutBlog index of SXSW coverage. Mark Bell wraps SXSW for Film Threat. Pul Harrill lists a handful of highlights, and then: "As good as those films were, perhaps my two favorites of SXSW were two very polished documentaries, Second Skin and At the Death House Door." AJ Schnack looks back on another batch of docs. Chris Lee looks back at the stoner comedies at the fest for the Los Angeles Times. "Yeast is the feel-good movie of the year," writes Peter Martin at Twitch. "No matter how miserable your life may be, you'll feel better off after seeing Mary Bronstein's chaotic debut." Among the many impressed with The Order of Myths: Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Online viewing tip. Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay passes along Mike Hedge's SXSW montage.
The Harder They Come @ the Barbican."The Harder They Come doesn't have an amazing screenplay, but it floats by on the strength of its other qualities." A terrific entry on the film from Matthew Dessem, via the cinetrix. Meantime: "How often do you see dancing in the aisles at the Barbican?" asks Lyn Gardner in the Guardian. "It happens during this Theatre Royal Stratford East transfer of Perry Henzell's stage version of the cult 1972 movie about country boy Ivan who arrives in Kingston, Jamaica, with dreams of making it in the hit parade and ends up riddled with bullets." "Does the show overglamorise Rolan Bell's Ivan, who comes to make his fortune in Kingston, gets into drug pushing and shoots dead two cops before he's inadvertently betrayed by his girl Elsa and is himself killed in his shanty town hideaway?" asks Benedict Nightingale in the London Times. Given our thriving British gun culture, especially in the East End of London, that could be a worry. But no, you don't object when you're watching Kerry Michael's ebullient production. As it proceeds to suggest, you might as well damn Robin Hood for resisting King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham." "All around me, people seemed to be having a fantastic time, but whenever the admittedly terrific music and dancing stopped, I found myself becoming bored and fractious," writes Charles Spencer in the Telegraph.
Paul Scofield, 1922 - 2008.On stage, the actor Paul Scofield, who has died aged 86, was braver than a lion. Off stage this genial man kept his private life quiet as a mouse.... [I]t was his voice that marked him out. It already had the sonority and "iron sweetness" that the film director Fred Zinnemann, who directed Scofield in his Oscar-winning performance as Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons (1966), called "a Rolls Royce being started up." The critic JC Trewin once described Scofield's voice as "sunlight on a broken column." Lyn Gardner, the Guardian. Updated. Scofield had a moral integrity and quiet authority that shone through everything he did. Even his choice of roles was exemplary: many actors trade fame for money, but I can't think of a single meretricious piece of work Scofield ever did. But, like all great actors, he also had a rich sense of comedy that would often emerge unexpectedly. Michael Billington, the Guardian. Within the acting profession Scofield was often referred to as 'St Paul.' In part it was the appearance, always distinguished but in late middle age almost demanding veneration, with the brow and cheeks deeply lined. Scofield's features at times had the look of a statue pitted by the wind and the rain. The weather-beaten face was a reflection of the long walks he was in the habit of taking across the downs near his Sussex home and around his Scottish summer retreat on the Isle of Mull. The London Times. Blessed with powerful features and a richness of voice, Scofield's most obvious quality was his ability to bring a poised tension to everything that he did. The Telegraph. I've always used the running gag that "All British actors are whores" though I always qualified that with one exception: Paul Scofield. Edward Copeland. Of his acting generation - Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris were his closest peers in age and impact - Scofield was the film star who wasn't. No marriages to Hollywood sex goddesses, no flirtations with the star-making machinery, no appearances in Harry Potter movies. He was primarily about the stage and, even more fundamentally, about playing a role before a live audience. "Acting is all I can do," said the man who turned down a knighthood three times and who stayed married to the same woman for 65 years. The Boston Globe's Ty Burr. It's a flab-free resume.... But Scofield had me at More. Robert Cashill. He was truly a sui generis actor. Have you ever heard anyone say of another performer, "He reminds me of Paul Scofield?" Glenn Kenny. See also: a Guardian gallery; Screen Online; and Wikipedia. Update: "Sir John Gielgud admired Mr Scofield's stillness and sense of mystery, describing him as 'a sphinx with a secret,'" writes Benedict Nightingale in the New York Times. "Peter Hall, who directed Mr Scofield's acclaimed Salieri in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus in London in 1979, said that as a young man Mr Scofield brought 'a sulfurous passion, an entirely new note' to the stage, and that there was always a tremendous tension beneath the surface, 'like a volcano erupting.'"
DVDs, 3/20."What an awesome disaster of a movie," writes Waggish of Southland Tales. "Panned at Cannes, left for dead by Sony, eventually raking in $300K on an $18 million budget and forcing a promise from Richard Kelly that he will be more commercial in the future, I now say that it's the major American movie of 2007 that I enjoyed the most, far more than limp critic-fodder There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men." "I know, for myself, that whereas No Country for Old Men stunned me in its first weekend, by the time it won Best Picture I had come to feel what a bleak trick it is," writes David Thomson in the LA Weekly. "But I find myself still close to tears with Bonnie and Clyde, even though I know it shot for shot, and I'm not sure now whether I am moved by Warren and Faye, by the idea of cinema, or by the bloodshot summer of 1967. I cannot forget that when the picture opened (for me) in London that August, I saw it day after day, leaving the job I dreaded and telling myself that my life had to change, even if I ended up shot to pieces with those two shampooed darlings." "The Lumière Brothers - scientists and industrialists - saw their invention as a way of dispassionately recording reality for study purposes, but [Georges] Méliès was their temperamental and professional opposite: a veteran showman who saw in the new technology a bigger and better way of continuing to bamboozle the public that flocked to his magic shows." Dave Kehr reviews the five-disc collection Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896 - 1913). More from Glenn Kenny and from Michael Atkinson ("Not for nothing was Freud a youthful contemporary - but Méliès never dared to suggest textual insight, making only comedies and always, always striving towards irreverence, another advantage he had and still has over [Edwin S] Porter and [DW] Griffith"), who also reviews Khadak for the IFC. "To watch The Dragon Painter today is to realize how little the role of Asian characters, viewpoints, and aesthetics has advanced over the history of mainstream American cinema," writes Andrew Chan at the House Next Door. "Here is a long-lost silent film, one of the countless casualties of the medium's early era, coming back from the dead to return to us the legacy of forgotten Asian-American icon Sessue Hayakawa - only to remind us that, in the intervening years, almost no Asian Americans have come close to rivaling his eminence as a traditionally dashing male lead." Also, The Ice Storm "still feels like the most mechanical exercise of [Ang Lee's] hit-and-miss career." But Glenn Kenny still finds it "spectacular, and a breakthrough for Lee, in that his debut collaboration with cinematographer Frederick Elmes marks the first time his work contains some visual kick." More from Josef Braun and Brian Gibson in Vue Weekly. Noel Vera: "Was looking at Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) again, drinking in all the little details...." "What's in Your DVD Player, Chris Cooper?" asks Sean Axmaker for MSN Movies. The latest addition to the AV Club's Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon": Babe: Pig in the City. DVD roundups: The AV Club; Sean Axmaker (MSN); Monica Bartyzel, Matt Bradshaw and Peter Martin (Cinematical); Bryant Frazer; Kevin Crust (Los Angeles Times); DVD Talk; and Slant. And as always: Watch the Guru.
March 19, 2008
Awards, 3/19."Rodrigo Pla's intense drama, The Desert Within, dominated prizes handed out at close of the 23rd Guadalajara fest," reports Robert Koehler at the Circuit, where he's got a full, annotated list of winners. And at filmjourney.org, he's got more on the state of Mexican cinema - and on highlights of the festival overall. "Born out of anger, to use the words of filmmaker Jason Kohn, the inaugural Cinema Eye Honors for documentary films awarded three prizes to Manda Bala (Send A Bullet) on Tuesday night in New York City," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez. AJ Schnack has the at-a-glance list; more from Nell Boase, Michael Tully, Reeler ST VanAirsdale and the IFC's Alison Willmore. "South Korea dominated the Asian Film Awards for the second year running, with Secret Sunshine, a tragic movie about death and faith, taking home three top prizes including best picture." The AFP reports. More from Peter Martin at Cinematical.
Love Songs."Christophe Honoré's Love Songs is in many ways a conscious rediscovery of the tradition of the French musical, engaging most specifically with Jacques Demy's masterful The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," writes David McDougall in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Love Songs uses the same three section titles as Umbrellas, but like the rest of the film's explicit Demy-references they are put to an independent purpose. Which is to say, Honoré keeps his homage mainly in his back pocket, leaning less on postmodern form than on postmodern social mores." "The musical numbers are restrained and not especially showy, but their tact makes them feel more rather than less self-conscious," writes AO Scott. "Still, for all its imperfections, Love Songs is a worthy and intriguing experiment, the latest sortie in an international rescue operation aimed at saving musical cinema from extinction or self-parody. Like other movies that have been involved in this undertaking - Once, say, or Hedwig and the Angry Inch - Mr Honoré's film is likely to inspire ardent love among its admirers. The rest of us may envy their passion." Updated through 3/24. Also in the New York Times, Kristin Hohenadel profiles Louis Garrel, "the youngest member of an esteemed French cinema clan that includes his grandfather, the actor Maurice Garrel, and his father, the director Philippe Garrel (who cast him as a 5-year-old in the 1989 film Emergency Kisses). His mother is the actress Brigitte Sy, and the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud is his godfather." In the Voice, Scott Foundas looks back to "Jean-Luc Godard's 1961 bed-hopping meta-musical, A Woman Is a Woman... [which] effectively launched a distinctly French subgenre of minimalist song-and-dance anti-spectaculars that would come to include work by Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), Chantal Akerman (Window Shopping) and Jacques Rivette (Up/Down/Fragile)." Love Songs is "Honoré's first full-tilt genre outing, and while his earlier films were hardly devoid of their own show-offy cinephilia (Dans Paris aped Truffaut's Antoine Doinel films in the way Love Songs apes Godard), this one has been stripped of everything but its pastiche; it's as if Pulp Fiction had wandered into Jack Rabbit Slim's and never left." And Michelle Orange talks with Honoré and Garrel.
La Misma Luna."To all the people who think that the illegal immigration debate is about electronic fences, NAFTA, Lou Dobbs and such, director Patricia Riggen and screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos offer a polite but emphatic rebuttal," writes Reed Johnson in the Los Angeles Times. "Immigration, say the women, is about survival. It's about learning to be invisible. It's about families. It's about love." "In La Misma Luna [Under the Same Moon] and in several other recent American and European films, one senses "a feeling that migration is the symptom of a large-scale social crisis rather than the individual solution to an economic or political problem," writes AO Scott. Updated through 3/24. But also in the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis writes, "Like Cinema Paradiso and its tyke-centered ilk, Under the Same Moon places all its marketing eggs in the cute-kid basket, a container to which American art-house audiences seem particularly drawn.... If only predictability were the worst of it." "Under the Same Moon aims to get audiences to blubber at the trials of mother and child but doesn't persuasively put convincing flesh on people caught in the immigration firestorm," writes Bill Weber in Slant. Michelle Orange in the Voice: "Firing off a deluge of immigrant-hardship vignettes with the thudding consistency of a tennis-ball machine, Under the Same Moon presents a genre somewhat at odds with itself: the gritty fable." For Michael Joshua Rowin, writing at indieWIRE, there's room "within Under the Same Moon's predictable trajectory for a few surprisingly effective emotional moments, but the film as a whole betrays the somber authenticity of its subjects' dire situations with unbelievable and sentimental contrivances." "Riggen attempts to show the enormous hardship illegals immigrants face, but the actual storytelling is so filled with sunshine and resilient good cheer that true pathos of the situation never rings true," writes Marcy Dermansky. "[T]his largely Spanish-language film brings on the waterworks because its core story is undeniably affecting," writes Kenneth Turan in the LAT. "The whole movie, however, would be more convincing if the elements around that vital core were more multidimensional and less contrived." "For all its flaws, Under the Same Moon pushes back against prejudice with an exercise in empathy," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. For Filmmaker, Damon Smith talks with Riggen "about the timeliness of La Misma Luna, the politics of acting in Mexico, and why Latino filmmakers working in the States need to maintain an independent voice." Earlier: James Van Maanen, who's also interviewed Patricia Riggen. Update: "The use of paralleling narratives in which the main characters, unbeknownst to each other, take actions that are in fact contrary to their common goal - one of them zigging while the other zags, with the audience saying 'No!' all along the way - is a strategy more common to the screwball comedy or suspense film than the heart-tugging family drama," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "But it turns out to be one of the strengths of Moon, making it a little more unconventional than the average heart-tugging family drama." Updates, 3/24: "This "story about a Mexican mother and son yearning for each other across the border is at its best as a personal story rather than a political tract, but it's so tied to stereotypes and broad contrivance that there's little room for honest emotion to leak through," writes the AV Club's Tasha Robinson. "The movie has a picaresque quality that may remind you, at its best and loosest, of Fellini," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "It pulls at your heartstrings without shame, but without tricks, either."
March 18, 2008
Atlantic. April 08."Conservatives hoped that 9/11 would bring back the best of the 1940s and 1950s, playing Pearl Harbor to a new era of patriotism and solidarity," writes Ross Douthat. "Many on the left feared it would restore the worst of the same era, returning us to the shackles of censorship and conformism, jingoism and Joe McCarthy. But as far as Hollywood is concerned, another decade entirely seems to have slouched round again: the paranoid, cynical, end-of-empire 1970s. We expected John Wayne; we got Jason Bourne instead." Related online viewing: Douthat talks about "Hollywood's Vietnam Moment." Also in the new issue of the Atlantic: "The evolution of Hollywood paparazzi from a marginal nuisance to one of the most powerful and lucrative forces driving the American news-gathering industry is a phenomenon that dates back to March 2002, when a women's magazine editor named Bonnie Fuller took over a Wenner Media property called Us Weekly," writes David Samuels, who profiles X17, "the biggest agency in the Hollywood paparazzi business." Their bread and butter is a hefty chunk of "Britney-related product [which] easily exceeds $100 million a year." Related slide show: "The Celebrity Hunters." "[Joan] Crawford's was a life less lived than produced, a joint venture undertaken by herself and MGM, and though it's been much better recounted in previous biographies (one by Bob Thomas, another by Lawrence J Quirk and William Schoell), the chance to gawk at its sad closing and then work backward, peeling off the layers of metallic maquillage, remains a sordid thrill." Thomas Mallon on Charlotte Chandler's Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford, a Personal Biography.
Arthur C Clarke, 1917 - 2008.Arthur C Clarke, a writer whose seamless blend of scientific expertise and poetic imagination helped usher in the space age, died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. He was 90.... The author of almost 100 books, Mr Clarke was an ardent promoter of the idea that humanity's destiny lay beyond the confines of Earth. It was a vision served most vividly by 2001: A Space Odyssey, the classic 1968 science-fiction film he created with the director Stanley Kubrick and the novel of the same title that he wrote as part of the project. His work was also prophetic: his detailed forecast of telecommunications satellites in 1945 came more than a decade before the first orbital rocket flight. Gerald Jonas, New York Times. Updated through 3/20. The paradox of Clarke's fiction is that the writer most associated in the public mind with accurate "hard sf" predictions, based upon existing and potential technology and grounded in "real" science, returns again and again to themes of an almost mystical or metaphysical sort, in which advanced cultures, often benevolent, allow humanity to transcend its Earth-bound beginnings. These were expressed in Clarke's laws, of which the best-known was his dictum that "any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic". The Telegraph. The news of Clarke's death... sent me scurrying to see what memories I could elicit.... Curious, I peeled open Tales of Ten Worlds and started reading the first story: "I Remember Babylon." It begins: My name is Arthur C Clarke, and I wish I had no connection with this whole sordid business. But as the moral - repeat, moral - integrity of the United States is involved, I must first establish my credentials. Only thus will you understand how, with the aide of the late Dr Alfred Kinsey, I have unwittingly triggered an avalanche that may sweep away much of Western civilization. Believe it or not, "I Remember Babylon" is a bizarre mix of fact and paranoid fantasy in which Clarke's breakthrough conception of the geosynchronous communications satellite is foully coopted into a Cold War plot in which the technologically superior Soviets seek to destroy the West by interlacing propaganda with broadcasts of Tantric pornography filmed on location from the walls of ancient Indian temples.... Literarily speaking, returning to some of these authors decades later can be a painful experience - Heinlein, sad to say, has not held up well under the ravages of time. Clarke, I think, does better - there's an intellectual playfulness to his prose that is more lasting. Andrew Leonard, Salon. Despite his track record as a futurist, Clarke remained humble about his work when he was interviewed for a 1993 Q&A with Wired magazine. "I've never predicted the future," Clarke said. "Or hardly ever. I extrapolate. Look, I've written six stories about the end of the Earth; they can't all be true!" Lewis Wallace, Wired News. See also: The Arthur C Clarke Foundation, the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and Wikpedia. Updates, 3/19: The Guardian's Andrew Pulver looks back on Clarke and Kubrick's collaboration. "It also speaks well of him that he was so selective about his film projects," notes Glenn Kenny. Dave Itzkoff has a bit of online viewing: Clarke on his 90th birthday. Update, 3/20: "Whatever attitude comes through — and it is almost always fraught with ambiguity - religion suffuses Mr Clarke's realm," writes Edward Rothstein in the NYT. "He demands the canvas of Genesis and upon it he enacts experiments in thought."
SXSW. Podcast. Woodpecker.Alex Karpovsky, whose debut feature The Hole Story is still drawing raves, brought Woodpecker to SXSW and his new hometown this year. Aaron Hillis talks with him about the fragile line between documentary and fiction and about his star, Jon E Hyrns, whom you may know from Johnny Berlin. To download or listen, click here. I'll remember SXSW 08 not only for its terrific lineup of films but also for not being able to turn around without coming face-to-face with either someone I hadn't seen since SXSW 07 or some blogger or critic or filmmaker I'd been wanting to meet forever. In other words, SXSW 08 was a blast. And as always at film festivals, once the niceties are done with, you start trading lists of movies you've liked so far. Inevitably, Woodpecker would rank right up there on the list of anyone who'd seen it. So when I finally caught it myself, my expectations were probably unreasonably high. But while they may have initially thrown me off, an appreciation has been quietly taking shape in the back of my mind for this dual portrait of an individual and collective longing for something, someone, anything to hang our hopes on - even a presumably extinct oddball bird. The individual (Hyrns), a birdwatcher so desperate not so much for love as for mere recognition from his fellow humans that he melds his own identity with a town's prospective economic salvation, wraps a narrative framework around a collective hysteria (albeit a mildly harmless and amusing sort of hysteria). This one's still growing on me. More on Woodpecker from Jette Kernion (Cinematical), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE) and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail).
Anthony Minghella, 1954 - 2008.Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, who turned such literary works as The English Patient, The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain into acclaimed movies, has died. He was 54.... Minghella was recently in Botswana filming an adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith's novel The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. It is due to air on British television this week.... "He wasn't just a writer, or a writer-director, he was someone who was very well-known and very well-loved within the film community," [producer David] Puttnam told the BBC. "Frankly he was far too young to have gone." Jill Lawless, AP. See also: British Film Directors, Variety and Wikipedia; the Telegraph's David Gritten recently reported from the set of Detective Agency. Updated through 3/24. Updates: "He was one of those rare people who, though extremely powerful in the industry, was not well known to the public," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Yet in person he had as much vibrant physical presence as any star.... I first became aware of him with his first movie, a film I liked and continue to like, though it has become much sneered at for supposed emotional luvviness: Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), starring Juliet Stevenson as the woman whose husband (Alan Rickman) has died suddenly and almost inexplicably - that fact alone gives me pause now - and then comes back as a benign phantom to watch over her.... With his passing, cultural life in this country has descended one or two IQ points." And Andrew Pulver introduces a series of clips. "Anthony Minghella became best-known as a director, but he was first and foremost a writer." In the Huffington Post, Robert J Elisberg looks back on a 1999 interview for the WGA. Via Movie City News. The BBC rounds up quotes from many he worked with. "At a time when many British directors were making introspective chamber pieces, Minghella was tackling large subjects," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. The English Patient "had a famously troubled production history, eventually being 'rescued' by Miramax. This only seemed to add to its mythic status. Minghella proved that he was a craftsman, capable of staging big set-pieces and working with small armies of extras, but he was also adept at capturing emotion in scenes between just two actors. He made an international star out of Ralph Fiennes and also elicited one of the very best performances that Kristin Scott Thomas has ever given." "Though he directed only six feature films - and Jude Law starred in three of them - he wrote and produced several others, and made an indelible mark on British and international cinema," writes the London Times. "[H]e was far more than the sum of his credits," writes the Telegraph's David Gritten. "Minghella cared deeply about Britain's film heritage, and helped re-position the BFI, stressing his commitment to its library and archives. On his watch, the BFI's National Film Theatre on London's South Bank received a long-overdue facelift." Updates, 3/19: "Minghella, whose ample figure and cheery countenance exuded a love of life, seemed to be Harold Pinter, Orson Welles, David Lean and Richard Attenborough all rolled into one," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "[H]e was also a mixture of English restraint and Italian exuberance. Some critics stressed the adjectives in the titles of The English Patient and Cold Mountain to describe his work, while others saw his films as truly, deeply romantic. His background might explain this dichotomy." FilmInFocus presents excerpts from Mingella on Mingella. "[H]is best film by far was his adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley, which remains criminally underrated almost a decade after its release," writes Ross Douthat for the Atlantic. "With its literary pedigree, pretty-person cast and gorgeous Italy-in-the-50s setting, Ripley tends to be lumped in with the same group with The English Patient and Cold Mountain, Minghella's middling Civil War epic. But Ripley was a richer, darker, less romantic and more psychologically subtle film than either of the late director's other big-budget efforts." "Ripley's the kind of glossy prestige movie that gives the word 'middlebrow' a good name, the kind that should make such classifications null," writes Reverse Shot's robbiefreeling. "Take another look, and notice the talent we've lost today." "Because he died with decades of work still ahead of him, we'll never know whether Minghella would have made another movie with the lasting power of his first one, Truly, Madly, Deeply, a 1990 made-for-television comedy that was successful enough to gain a big-screen release and a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay," writes Slate's Dana Stevens, who's put the film "on my semisecret list of all-time favorite movies. Semisecret because I don't know that I could entirely defend the choice: It's not as if the film is formally innovative or visually impressive or thematically original. It's just so damn wonderful." "[I]t's tough not to feel in part the passing of a unique creative force that connected audiences to another era," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. "There was something of the Hollywood classicist in his films, which might have made them occasionally seem a touch staid, but they were nevertheless always sturdy, impeccably constructed and seamlessly engaging." In the New York Times, David Carr quotes, among others, Sydney Pollack: "He was interested in the magic. Not fake magic, like hiding the ball under the cup, but real magic, the kind that occurs between people. Nowadays, everybody making movies wants to get the clothes off fast and the guns out quick, he was just the opposite. He was interested in the poetry, lavishing the viewer with story, and scope and richness." "In a sense, it's apt that his last film be shown on TV, the medium in which he started his career," writes Jumana Farouky for Time. "In a time when Jason Bourne and James Bond are worshipped like cinema kings, when quick cuts and chase scenes are box office gold, Minghella's films seem to come from a bygone era. The lingering shots; the scenes that measure out in minutes, not seconds; the dialogue where silence says as much as words — his motto could have been 'Just Because Nothing Happens Doesn't Mean Nothing is Happening.'" "He saw himself first and foremost as a storyteller, and had few artistic pretensions," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Unlike so many people in his trade, Minghella was universally well liked on both sides of the Atlantic." "Mr Minghella was not an old family friend. I never worked on one of his films. At best, I shared light conversation with him on various mornings and afternoons while working at the front desk of The Mercer Hotel, in Manhattan. He was my favorite guest." Andi Teran for Vanity Fair. Online listening tip. NPR. Online viewing tip. Matthew Clayfield. "Minghella walked a delicate line between discretion and spectacle, class and its trappings, obsession and romance," writes Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. Ty Burr: "The director's later work was nothing if not tasteful and gradually, I'd argue, that became a liability." Online viewing tip. Phil Nugent at ScreenGrab: "One of Minghella's smallest and least-known projects is his two-part, 15-minute version of Samuel Beckett's Play (2000), Mighella's contribution to the multi-director, comprehensive Beckett on Film project." Update, 3/20: "This is absolutely ghastly," writes Juliet Stevenson in the London Times. "As soon as I heard the news I fell apart and ever since I've been staggering about trying to take it all in.... None of the obituaries, or lists of achievements, has mentioned his delicious sense of humour. It infused everything, his work and family. He adored taking the piss out of himself and me." Updates, 3/24: "Anthony - or as he was to all of us lucky to be near and dear to him, just simply 'Ant' - had the rare gift of making everyone who came into his orbit feel special," writes producer Colin Vaines in the Guardian. For the Telegraph, James Rampton talks with Jill Scott about working with Mingella on Detective Agency. Online listening tip. The IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore.
March 17, 2008
SXSW. Podcast. Nerdcore Rising.The final leg of the droning journey from Berlin to Austin about a week and a half ago was a flight from Newark to the heart of Texas and, as everyone piled into their seats, it didn't take us long to figure out that about half the plane was headed to SXSW. When chirpy Negin Farsad told us she was taking a film, Nerdcore Rising, reaction up and down the aisle was nearly unanimous: "Oh, yeah! Can't wait to see that!" Hopefully, everyone on board got a chance to. In today's podcast, Aaron Hillis talks with Farsad and her star, MC Frontalot, and to download or to listen to him find a rhyme, on the spot, for Andrew Bujalski, click here. Farsad has a couple of things going for her that make Nerdcore Rising more fun than the usual doc following a novelty band around on its first tour. First, her own background in comedy puts the band at ease, and each of them - Frontalot, Gaby Alter, Brandon Patton and Sturgis Cunningham - has his own unique talent for bringing on the funny. What's more, they all do a mean Chewbacca impression. The band hits mostly small - okay, teensy - clubs in the east, nailing their show, before they head to Seattle and play for an audience of thousands at last summer's Penny Arcade Expo. Along the way, we meet the fans and deal with that prerequisite of any doc - issues: Who are nerds, and why are they the ones who, ultimately, "run shit"? (Short answer: You already know who they are and why they pull the planet's strings, but it's fun to hear it from them all over again anyway.) Is everyone - including, say, legendary hip hop producer, DJ and rapper Prince Paul - okay with a predominately whiter-than-white subculture co-opting an undeniably black musical genre? (Short answer: Sure, why not.) Good times. More on Nerdcore Rising from Christopher Campbell (SpoutBlog), Jette Kernion (Cinematical) and Eric Kohn (Stream).
Midnight Eye. Readers and reviews.The results of Midnight Eye's Readers Poll are in and, by a healthy margin, Satoshi Kon's Paprika has been voted best Japanese film of 2007. Tied in 5th place with Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Retribution is Michael Arias's Tekkon Kinkreet. "Arias has crafted a debut feature that not only lives up to Studio 4ºC's reputation, but also compares favorably to the recent works of a number of much more established directors, Japanese and American alike," writes Paul Jackson. "Faces of a Fig Tree is Kaori Momoi's first feature film, in which the actress shows an inventive streak likely to baffle or enthrall," writes Robin Gatto. "But the seasoned actress, whose diverse range of experiences includes collaborations with Art Theatre Guild and Akira Kurosawa, as well as Memoirs of a Geisha and Aleksandr Sokurov's The Sun, does not hide the fact that her intention was to rock the stereotypical world of filmmaking in Japan." Gatto also talks with Kaori Momoi. "Winter Days, an adaptation of a renga by Basho, is a unique project in terms of scale," writes Catherine Munroe Hotes. "Renga is a collaborative form of poetry involving a minimum of three poets. The original poem Winter Days involved six poets (Basho, Yasui, Kakei, Jugo, Tokoku, Shohei and Yasui) who alternated contributing verses. Kihachiro Kawamoto and Tatsuo Shimamura took on the daunting task of assembling an impressively diverse group of 35 animators, including themselves, to make the 36 short films required." Here's a clip. "The Swords in the Moonlight trilogy (aka The Killer Pass) by the neglected Tomu Uchida will seem uncannily familiar to anyone who has seen the better known Sword of Doom by Kihachi Okamoto," writes Dean Bowman. But: "Made in 1966, Okamoto's abstract, existential meditation could not be any more different from Uchida's lavishly staged melodrama made almost ten years earlier." "Yasuo Baba's Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust (Bubburu e go: Taimu-mashin wa doramu-shiki) deserves the distinction of being the first Japanese comedy to be retrospectively set in the 'bubble era' of Japanese history, that glorious period in the late 80s where loan interest rates were staggeringly low, property values ludicrously high, worker bonuses doled out in extravagant amounts, etc, etc," writes Bryan Hartzheim. "It's also a particularly painful place to return to for many Japanese: lurking around the corner of such seemingly free-spirited fun is Sumitomo bank chief Ichiro Isoda's sudden resignation and the tide of bank scandals that would follow, resulting in the recession Japan has only recently begun to pull itself out of. Perhaps Baba, and more specifically screenwriter Ryoichi Kimizuka, felt enough time had passed to create a parody of the past and a satire of the present."
Lush Life."Miramax Films and producer Scott Rudin have acquired screen rights to Richard Price's novel Lush Life," reports Variety's Michael Fleming. "Price, who recently won the Edgar Award for his script work on HBO series The Wire will write the script.... Price's other script-work includes The Color of Money, Sea of Love, Mad Dog and Glory and adaptations of his novels Clockers, Freedomland, Bloodbrothers and The Wanderers." And he and his new novel have been the talk of the books pages for weeks now, starting, of course, with the New York Times. Reviewing Lush Life for the Book Review, Walter Kirn finds not only Raymond Chandler "peeping out from Price's skull" but evidence of "Saul Bellow's vision, too." Besides an earlier review from Michiko Kakutani, the NYT also offers a profile of Price by Charles McGrath, an excerpt and a page devoted to a thorough list of related reviews, articles and interviews. And you can listen to Price on the NYTBR podcast. "Post-Giuliani, Manhattan's once-edgy Lower East Side seems like a Wi-Fi wonderland, a kind of theme park where, as writer Richard Price has observed, young would-be artists flit between coffee shops, pretending to live in a never-ending production of Rent," writes Maud Newton in the Boston Globe. Lush Life "explores the collision between the old and new Lower East Sides, the disconnect between the faux-Bohemians who swan through the streets, coked up, in their moccasins, and the kids from the projects who are forever being stopped and frisked by the Quality of Life Task Force." "At times Lush Life takes the reader in too many directions, inside too many heads of intensely conflicted characters," writes Carolyn Alessio in the Chicago Tribune. "But Price, who writes with the psychological intensity of PD James, seems determined not to let anyone have the last word."
March 16, 2008
Brooklyn Rail. March 08.Genevieve Yue introduces what cinephiles will certainly consider to be the centerpiece of the new issue of the Brooklyn Rail: "In February 2003, I had the opportunity to transcribe the audio recordings that Pip Chodorov had taped for his film, A Visit to Stan Brakhage, a brief, 15-minute portrait film of the great American avant-garde filmmaker, commissioned for French television. The interview was to be Brakhage's last.... Brakhage made the case for cinema he'd been making in over 400 films for the past 52 years: the case for a personal cinema, visual poems of pure light, the reaches of vision itself." Williams Cole on War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death: "The main idea is that, ever since Spiro Agnew declared his disdain for the 'nattering nabobs of negativism' otherwise known as the media, politicians (especially those in the GOP) have taken an aggressive and dismissive tone towards the media while also working to manipulate news coverage. Even so, it's still shocking to see a concentrated dose of pandering and sycophant-laden journalism that arises in the build-up to war." "Perhaps [Zeitgeist] is successful in opening viewers' eyes to the world around them, and the possibility of systemic oppression, but it attacks a loosely concocted and vague group of elites, using obviously false information and doing logical acrobatics to construct its theory, while ignoring the reality of forms of systemic oppression like racism and sexism," writes Owen Roberts. "Like all conspiracy theories, it taps into the powerlessness felt by the masses. But in the end, it seems that Zeitgeist exists more as a way for Peter Joseph, and whoever else was involved in the film, to break into the entertainment industry than as a call to real political action." "Jar City shares with Insomnia and the Pusher trilogy a believable, tragic sense of ever-present doom and an atmosphere in which every action - except those that stave off existential nausea by way of degraded kicks - is demonstrably meaningless," writes David N Meyer. "No discussion of contemporary Japanese cinema is complete without the mention of maverick movie star Tadanobu Asano." And David Wilentz talks with him. Also, an overview of Gamblers, Gangsters and other Anti-Heros: The Japanese Yakuza Movie, a series running through April 17 at the Asia Society. "Based on the Chinese hit, Gin Gwai, The Eye provides alarming insight into Western death anxiety," writes Sophie Gilbert. "Discussing his art, [Goran] Paskaljević once said, 'The beauty of film for me is its closeness to life. And if it is going to reflect life faithfully, it has to draw on metaphor, just like poetry.'" Lu Chen looks back on January's retrospective at MoMA. Br Cleve revisits Payday, "a great little character study film that found a niche audience in the early 70s, before the age of the blockbuster." "In Moolaadé, Africa's patriarchal culture shows its tragic flaw in the violence it inflicts upon its women and young girls through the mutilation of their bodies," writes Makenna Goodman. "And as [Ousmane] Sembene said, 'The development of Africa will not happen without the effective participation of women. Our forefathers' image of women must be buried once for all.'"
March 15, 2008
Senses of Cinema. 46."When, in the light of a potential 50th anniversary tribute to the French New Wave, Sally Shafto proposed that we consider looking back at the movement, not from the perspective of a Jacques Rivette or Jean-Luc Godard, but rather through a focus on one of their collaborators, Charles Bitsch, we did not exactly ask, 'Charles who?'," write editors Rolando Caputo and Scott Murray, introducing the new issue of Senses of Cinema. "His name was, of course, familiar to us. First, as a contributor to Cahiers du Cinéma in the 1950s and, second, for his sustained association with Godard throughout the 60s. However, we were surprised at how much more was to be revealed." Shafto introduces the "Focus" on Bitsch, which includes her 1998 interview and a filmography and list of relevant publications; an appreciation by Luc Moullet; and an interview with Orson Welles conducted by Bitsch and André Bazin for Cahiers in 1958. Also in this issue is a "Spotlight" on Nina Menkes, "the woman warrior in Chinese martial-arts cinema," as Bérénice Reynaud describes her; David E James interviewed her last summer. "If there were no more to [M Night] Shyamalan's career than its spectacular early trajectory and its remarkable economic impact, analysis of the films themselves might be beside the point," writes Lesley Brill. "But M Night Shyamalan has established himself not just as a manufacturer of abundant revenues, but also as an auteurist writer-director-producer with high artistic and what one might call spiritual ambitions, and, after seven released films, with consistent thematic and stylistic preoccupations.... As he enters early mid-career, then, a preliminary report on his work to date seems worth undertaking." "There are some films that could only be made by a certain director, at a certain point in time," writes Linda Ehrlich. "Here is an account of three such films, and of a journey to Spain in October to encounter first-hand examples of a contemporary alternative cinema." Wheeler Winston Dixon on Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne: "[T]his unique collaboration between Cocteau and Bresson would be a one-off in every sense of the term." "So what does I'm Not There contribute to our understanding of Dylan?" asks Adrian Danks. "Does it actually present anything new? Not surprisingly, the answer to this second question is both 'yes' and 'no.'" "Themes such as the punk movement, homelessness and substance abuse would come to perpetually infect his documentaries, with films like Rock Soup (1991), Gringo (1985), the monumental Sex Pistols documentary DOA (1981) and Born To Lose: The Last Great Rock and Roll Movie (1999), about musician Johnny Thunders." Jennifer Jones: "I interviewed Lech Kowalski in Paris at the Café de la Musique in May 2007." "Here in Melbourne, [Dirk] de Bruyn has established a profile as a promoter, curator and theorist of experimental film (readers of Senses of Cinema should recognise him as a regular contributor), yet his own creative practice has received very little acknowledgement or critical attention over the years in spite of its apparent scale and consistency," writes Steven McIntyre. "[R]ather than provide a close-reading of individual films as part of a 'body of film work,' I want to try to define and draw out the broader aesthetic and theoretical lineaments of [his] performance-events, and suggest ways in which they intersect with, and perhaps extend, the thinking and theorization of this not only peripheral but notoriously elusive practice." "Boxing Day is an important film in the landscape of recent Australian cinema," argues Alex Munt, who analyses various threads leading to Kriv Stenders's "micro-budget digital feature." "Melbourne-based, independent filmmaker Bill Mousoulis's latest offering, A Nocturne (2007), is an intriguing reworking of the vampire genre," writes Fiona Villella. "As in previous Mousoulis films, A Nocturne sets up an opposition between commerce and art; mainstream and alternative space; the ruthlessness of capitalist society and the humanity of the artist." Reviewing the DVD release of Romulus, My Father, Fincina Hopgood focuses on theater director turned filmmaker Richard Roxburgh's frustrations with the compromises he felt obligated to accept when making his first feature. Then there are 11 festival reports, six book reviews, 14 annotations on films (with special emphasis placed on Roman Polanski) and one new name added to the Great Directors critical database: Charles Chaplin. James L Neibaur does the honors.
Weekend shorts.The April/May 08 issue of Bookforum is up, and of specific interest to cinephiles will be Bilge Ebiri's backgrounder on David Gordon Green's adaptation of Stewart O'Nan novel, Snow Angels, and J Hoberman on Mark Evanier's "lavish celebration," Kirby: King of Comics. Related: Geoff Boucher in the Los Angeles Times on David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. Also in the LAT, Susan Salter Reynolds: "With his estate finally in some kind of order, a movie of Brave New World is in the works, produced by George DiCaprio and starring his son, Leonardo, directed by Ridley Scott with a screenplay by Andrew Nicholls. The respected New York agent Georges Borchardt is shepherding new editions of his books and selling foreign rights to a world market hungry for [Aldous] Huxley's work (especially those countries of the former Soviet bloc). We are, it is safe to say, on the eve of a Huxley revival." Friday was Stan Brakhage day at DC's. Robert Drew, Barbara Kopple and Alex Gibney are just a few of the presenters lined up for the Cinema Eye Honors. AJ Schnack has details. At Wellesnet, Lawrence French presents "Peter Bogdanovich's comments regarding the status of completing The Other Side of the Wind as recorded in San Francisco on March 9, 2008." Matthew Sweet's got a new documentary, Truly, Madly, Cheaply: British B-Movies. "[T]he cheapness and the marginality of these films is now the very thing that makes them seem so rich," he writes. "In the past year, I've watched hundreds of the things, and come to love their bargain-bucket pleasures." Also in the Guardian:
Weekend fests and events."The Guru Dutt film festival this weekend in London reminds us that long before Bollywood was born - long before the big, melodramatic scores and blockbuster appeal of modern Mumbai's film industry - there was Indian cinema," blogs Kavita Amarnani for the Guardian. "Acclaimed as one of that cinema's great auteurs, Dutt is something of an Orson Welles-like figure, only fully appreciated after his death in 1964 - which, tragically, came at his own hand." "The Responsibility of Film Criticism" is the title of a recent workshop at NYU and Kevin Lee's been posting extensive notes. Following his introduction, he's got notes on presentations by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin and Nicole Brenez and on a Q&A session with Rosenbaum and Martin, moderated by Girish Shambu. Andrew Hultkrans recently caught Slavoj Zizek talking about movies and he's sent an entry in for Artforum's diary: "Accusing Spielberg films of promoting family ideology is like calling Hitchcock films suspenseful. I expect more complexity from a Lacanian Christian Communist, and you should too." "Ed Halter and his partner Thomas Beard are opening a new space in Brooklyn, NY dedicated to film and electronic art called Light Industry," notes Mike Everleth at Bad Lit. "The duo are also presenting the first screening event called The Blazing World, which will feature several short films based on the concept of utopia and will take place on Tuesday, March 25 at 8 pm." New Directors / New Films won't be running until March 26 through April 6, but as it's a highlight of the season, Slant's already got its special section up. Selected By... Andrew Bujalksi runs through Wednesday at the Brattle in Boston. Via the cinetrix. Two days into the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (it runs through March 23), Brian Darr's got an entry on the highlights so far, including Edward Yang's The Terrorizer. With Mario Bava: Poems of Love and Death running through March 23, the Los Angeles Times' Susan King talks with Joe Dante, who'll be introducing the screening of Lisa and the Devil on Saturday. Martin Tsai previews MoMA's Canadian Front series for the New York Sun. Through March 20. PDFs featuring a mini-guide and the full program for this year's Philadelphia Film Festival, running April 3 through 15, are now available. Via Michael Lerman. Robert Koehler has more from Guadalajara at filmjourney.org. "Welcome to the world of the 'gentleman amateur,' the hero of countless British films of the middle part of the last century." For the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab previews BFI Southbank's Robert Donat season, running April 11 through 30.
SXSW, 3/15.First, major congrats to Matt Dentler and his team for an outstanding edition of the SXSW Film Festival. As it wraps today and Austin thumps on, louder than ever (Aaron Hillis captures the transition to the SXSW Music blowout well at In the Company of Glenn), what's been a flood of film reviews - again, sampled all but randomly below - will likely soon dwindle to a trickle. But that trickle will last and last, particularly if it's as leisurely paced as it will be here at the Daily. I'll eventually get around to every film I've seen here - but it may take a while. "In the face of the six-headed Hollywood hydra, indie-film fans have to play a role alongside filmmakers in making sure that smaller, stranger pictures get seen by people who might actually like them." So Andrew O'Hehir offers a subjective list of this year's SXSW discoveries. "Something that's stayed with me since leaving Austin is how utterly grounded many of the narrative films were in the performances of their female leads," writes Durier Ryan in a roundup for Filmmaker. At indieWIRE, Brian Brooks reports on the many ways music and film cross-polinate at SXSW. Peter Martin, who's seen two dozen films at SXSW, lists half a dozen favorites at Twitch. "The Toe Tactic is a highly original film with a particular artistry, whimsy, and a peculiar humor, but it's also, and somewhat paradoxically, brazenly esoteric," writes Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Paper Covers Rock is a simple, lovely expression whose quote-unquote disposability is hardly evidenced by the care that's been put into its execution," writes David Lowery for the SpoutBlog. "Brief, honest, and admirably to-the-point, Explicit Ills follows a group of seemingly unrelated South Philadelphia folks who try to lead normal, happy, anonymous lives - but their station on the lower rung of the income scale means that even the most basic requirements remain frustratingly out-of-reach." Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. At indieWIRE, Kim Voynar offers quick takes on They Killed Sister Dorothy, Some Assembly Acquired, We Are Wizards (site) and Full Battle Rattle (site). "With Wellness, Jake Mahaffy has created a world well worth visiting, although you sure wouldn't want to live there." Scott Von Doviak for ScreenGrab. For the IFC, Stephen Saito talks with Jay Delaney about Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie (site). Online listening (and downloading) tip. From Paul Ford in the Morning News: "Six-Word Reviews of 763 SXSW Mp3s."
March 13, 2008
Shorts, 3/13.The CR Blog has an exclusive excerpt from Black Dog Publishing's new collection, Tarkovsky. "Film and Painting" is an essay by Mikhail Romadin, Tarkovsky's art director on Solaris. "Rachel Weisz and Max Minghella will star as astrologer mistress and enamored slave in Ancient Egyptian epic Agora, the next film by Alejandro Amenábar," report Emiliano de Pablos and John Hopewell for Variety. Jed Armstrong talks with Aaron Katz for Conversational Ball. Via Sujewa Ekanayake. Noel Murray talks with Parker Posey for the AV Club. You'll have heard about David Mamet's "election-season essay" for the Voice, "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal.'" Comments: Glenn Kenny and Jennifer Schuessler. Poor Boy's Game "relies on a story that's too contrived to be completely convincing, but the acting is uniformly fine," writes Neil Genzlinger in the New York Times. A ScreenGrab list: "Apocalypse Now and Then: Ten Great End-of-the-World Movie Scenarios. Parts 1 and 2. Here comes 3D. Reports from Dan Glaister (Guardian) and David M Halbfinger (NYT). Online listening tip. Mike Figgis and Robert Benton talk about Bonnie and Clyde on the BBC. Thanks, Jerry! Online viewing tip. Take a look at that panel of judges for Moveon.org's "Obama in 30 Seconds" ad contest.
Fests and events, 3/13."Every national film movement has its peaks and valleys, and it appears that Iranian cinema, having captured the interest and imagination of audiences, critics and film-festival programmers over the past 15 years, is well beyond its peak," writes Robert Koehler in the LA Weekly. "It may even be in real decline, judging from the recent offerings on the international festival circuit, this year's widely disparaged edition of the Fajr film festival (by far the country's most important) and now UCLA's 18th annual survey of new Iranian cinema." Also, at filmjourney.org, he's got another dispatch from Guadalajara, this one on José Padilha's Elite Squad and Albertina Carri's La rabia. The latest from Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa: Michael Guillén at the Evening Class and Ryland Walker Knight at the House Next Door. "In the second of three feature film program announcements, the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival unveiled the line-up for its Discovery and Midnight sections on Thursday," reports Peter Knegt for indieWIRE. The Independent Weekly's Neil Morris gets a few words with Love Lived on Death Row filmmaker Linda Booker: "After nearly a year on the national festival circuit, the movie's next screenings take place Tuesday, March 18, at the Hanes Art Center in Chapel Hill and March 19 at the UNC School of Law, both as part of the 'Criminal Justice: The Death Penalty Examined' initiative." In the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams recommends two films by Agnès Varda screening at the International House.
March 12, 2008
SXSW. Podcast. Nights and Weekends.Aaron Hillis has a frank and honest discussion with Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg about their frank and honest film, Nights and Weekends (site), about a very intense year or so, about laying themselves on the line and about that Film Comment piece. To listen or download, click here.
Shorts, 3/12.Acquarello reviews Questions of Third Cinema. Quoting Keith Griffiths, Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has the latest on Apichatpong Weerasethakul's battle with Thai censors: "Twelve months after [Syndromes and a Century's] World Premiere in the Official Selection of the Venice Film Festival, the Thai audience will be able to finally see this locally produced and acclaimed masterpiece of cinema, interspersed with intermittent silent black scratched leader. The longest scene of silence will run for seven minutes." "After months of rumors, Warner Bros... will announce Thursday that they plan to split Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling's seventh and final Potter novel, into two blockbuster films - one to be released in November 2010 and the second in May 2011." Geoff Boucher reports for the Los Angeles Times. In the Voice:
Other fests, other events, 3/12."Cinema of cruelty, cinema of the absurd, cinema of extreme situations - French filmmaker Georges Franju (1912 - 1987) combined them all in a cinema of bile," writes J Hoberman. "Anthology Film Archives' survey Le Grand Franju opens Friday with Franju's 1959 Head Against the Wall, an account of rebellion and delusion inside a mental hospital that serves as an appetizer for Eyes Without a Face." More from Dan Sallitt - and from Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine, where Benjamin H Sutton notes: "The eight films having their New York premieres during MoMA's annual survey of new Canadian cinema resort alternately to personal drama, political satire and clever genre manipulation, but propose a consistently cynical outlook." Manoel De Oliveira, or Cinema, The Art of Enigma runs at the Harvard Film Archive from Saturday through March 29. Michael Atkinson in the Boston Phoenix: "He may be an unassailable mandarin, but his films - often beautiful but rarely stylish or innovative or thematically fresh - are wickedly difficult to make a case for. What's more, they vary in form and tone, from formula melodramas to documentaries to meta-docs to post-mod Pirandello-isms to straight-on literary adaptations that long to be books rather than films." Michael Hawley previews the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival for the Evening Class. Tomorrow through March 23. Jennifer Reeves's s movies are personal wishing wells, each a repository of dreams and worries," writes Max Goldberg. "'I want to counter the turncoats who say film's dead,' Reeves announces on her excellent new blog. 'Try telling a painter that she can only use digital paint on a Mac for the rest of her life. She'd be pissed.'" See the San Francisco Cinematheque for details on this weekend's events. Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Matt Sussman on Kenji Fukasaku's Black Lizard, "one of queer cinema's unsung gems. Which is precisely why freelance curator T. Crandall chose the film to kick off his rep series, The Revival House: Classic Queer Cinema, at Artists' Television Access." "The Malaga Spanish Film Festival unveiled the full line-up for its 11th edition today. The event - which is one of the most important in the country - will be held from April 4 - 12." Sergio Ríos Pérez reports for Cineuropa.
SXSW, 3/12.For this roundup, I've quickly plucked, almost at random, a few items from ever-lively sites mentioned here and tossed in a few other bulletins as well. I'll be adding a few thoughts of my own just as soon as I get a chance to think them. "[T]o get the festival you need to understand that films aren't the only game in town." Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay explains. "John Cooper, the Sundance Film Festival's director of programming, admitted that he came to SXSW to do reconnaissance," reports Chris Lee for the Los Angeles Times. "'Sundance is where industry meets film,' he said at a party on Austin's main club drag, 6th Street. 'Here, it's where Internet meets film.'" "It seemed I would need detailed plans and a disciplined strategy to take on this festival," writes Steven Abrams in a first dispatch for the Independent (the film journal, not the British newspaper). "Instead, I chose to wing it." PopMatters opens its SXSW coverage. Andrew O'Hehir on Battle in Seattle (site): "[T]he multi-character drama [Stuart] Townsend tries to construct inside and around the Seattle protests is disappointingly conventional (see also: Ken Loach), and really tells us nothing about the protesters, cops, WTO dignitaries and city officials he's striving to portray. Or rather, what he tells us is: Fill-in-the-blanks are people too! Which is a little bit worse than saying nothing." Eric Kohn reviews a handful of "Notable Narratives" for indieWIRE; and four more here. Aaron Hillis sends a letter to Premiere; particular attention is paid to Frank V Ross's Present Company. "Natural Causes, while not perfect, is composed of so many identifiably true moments that I fell in love with the movie," writes Peter Martin at Cinematical. Just about everyone here in Austin is taking great, back-breaking pains to avoid mentioning the m-word. Not ScreenGrab's Leonard Pierce: "With The Lost Coast [site], writer/director Gabriel Fleming has presented us with a colossal leap forward in this boundlessly underperforming genre: the gay mumblecore movie!" For David Lowery, Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely "is a masterpiece of iconographic narrative." "For those of us in the nonfiction world, the idea of an emerging SXSW strikes as old news," writes AJ Schnack. "If you want to ascribe great meaning to SXSW's increased narrative profile, be our guest, but the documentary line-up has been strong for years." "But for most documentaries, which aim to take us inside a particular, if unremarkable, world for a few hours so we can get a small taste of a life outside our own, the appearance of one truly great and original personality - serendipitously discovered and artfully drawn out - can be enough to make us care about just about anything, even things we never had interest in, had never thought about, or had even found or still find reprehensible or unseemly," writes the Austin Chronicle's Josh Rosenblatt. "Great personalities can make garbage-collecting interesting, entomology, sealant distribution, carpal tunnel syndrome, even Canadian politics." "One Minute to Nine is one of three films that I've been wandering around Austin championing as a must-see, and every time I offer the in-a-nutshell synopsis to someone who hasn't heard of it, their jaw drops," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "In its own wacky way, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay [site] is one of the ballsiest comedies to come out of Hollywood in a long time," writes Joe Leydon. "No kidding." Collin Armstrong interviews Shuttle director Edward Anderson for Twitch. Jette Kernion's got recommendations at Slackerwood. More from Michael Tully. For the IFC, Stephen Saito talks with Richard Jenkins about The Visitor. Site. Online listening tip. The IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore talk SXSW: "[W]hat we've been up to, what we've seen, and why we like this damn festival so much." Online viewing tip. Timo Vuorensola is interviewed by M dot Strange.
Stream."Stream is a new magazine devoted to filmmakers who want to exploit new technologies in producing, promoting and distributing their work," reads a note from the editors. "It's not as complicated as it sounds: We wish simply to be enablers.... We're the sister site of Wonderland, a new concept in filtering out high quality work among the great deluge of video on the Web."
Heartbeat Detector."Before it reaches its end, Heartbeat Detector winds its epistemological way through discussions of historical amnesia, the decay of language, and the soullessness of technology," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "It's an unapologetic film of ideas—perhaps the headiest of its kind to arrive on these shores since Godard's Notre Musique.... For two and a half hours, [Nicolas] Klotz walks a perilous tightrope between profundity and pretension without ever tipping into the chasm." "As satire, the film lacks bite, but it generates some measure of good will from its utter strangeness—that is, until a pretentious historical dialogue rises to the surface and the film is gripped by a punishing inscrutability," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. Updated through 3/19. "A corporate mystery with a horrific answer, this French neo-melodrama opens on to an evergreen avenue of insight: the insidious continuity of Western civilization, and especially language, with its 20th-century nadir," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. Earlier: James Van Maanen and reviews from Cannes. Updates: "Shot mainly in drab green and brown office spaces and the bars Simon haunts after hours, Heartbeat Detector leads down a rabbit hole of revelations that finally appear to equate multinational companies with fascism," writes Jürgen Fauth. "The analogy is strained to say the least - not even lefty documentaries like The Corporation go quite as far - and finally distracts from what began as a clear-eyed portrait of a complex, contradictory character." "In the last several years, moviegoers have been inundated with films - narrative and documentary features alike - that depict the decaying soul of the individual in the service of corporate ambition, but I can recall no such work as dark or morose as Heartbeat Detector," writes Chet Mellema in Reverse Shot. "While unquestionably sincere in its efforts to suggest that personal choices in furtherance of institutional progress can and do have dire consequences - not only for the decision maker but also, and especially, the nameless victims of such choices - Klotz's film is a challenging slog, and it falls far short of compelling cinema." Updates, 3/15: "Intriguing, frustrating, exasperating - the French film Heartbeat Detector succeeds best as a provocation," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Swamped by abstractions, the film can only gesture toward the obvious: capitalism kills, people do too." "Heartbeat Detector can be a chilly film, and its attempts to find moral equivalency between the crimes of history and the injustices of modern business practices don't always pan out," writes Noel Murray at AV Club. "But [Mathieu] Amalric gives another in a recent string of riveting performances, and Klotz gets a lot of play out of the ironic distance between musical expression and corporate rigor." "Though not as dreadfully pretentious as Mr Klotz's best-known film, The Bengali Night - which had a young Hugh Grant learning the deep, dark secrets of India — Heartbeat Detector is too intent on proclaiming itself an intellectual film," writes Darrell Hartman in the New York Sun. Update, 3/19: "If you're a fan of Hitchcock, of Kubrick, of the kind of thriller that has the implacable mystery of great sculpture or great architecture, of movies that create their own visual, aural and symbolic universe and suck you bodily into them - well, you've simply got to see this," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.
Blind Mountain.While Blind Mountain, opening today at Film Forum, where it runs through March 25, has some reviewers reaching far and wide for comparisons, the New York Times' Manohla Dargis sticks to Li Yang's first feature: "Tough and stripped to the narrative bone, Blind Shaft has a tighter, faster feel than this new film, in large part because it's about men who make (bad) things happen in the world, while Blind Mountain hinges on a woman whose imprisonment - conveyed through claustrophobic rooms and taunting landscapes framed by windows and doors - paradoxically helps hobble the storytelling.... Yet while there's something terribly frustrating about her stop-and-go motion, this sense of irritation, of feeling bound by and to the story, is the point." Updated through 3/15. "Not simply exploitation with an air of social conscience, Yang's film is rather more like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days [than Hostel: Part II] in that it uses as its raw material a contentious women's rights issue to drive home a broader point about the political and the personal," writes Leo Goldsmith in Reverse Shot. It's "forceful and provocative, even if it fails to strike as deeply empathic a note." "Picture a Zhang Yimou pastoral with a pigtailed Gong Li or Zhang Ziyi getting gangbanged by an entire household and you'll see how far Chinese cinema has come in the past decade, for better or worse," suggests Kevin Lee in Slant. "There may not be a lot of nuance to this dystopia, but Li's monomaniacal insistence on showing the dark despair lurking in the unheralded corners of Chinese society achieves its own strident integrity and leaves a haunting, inconsolable impression." "Watching Blind Mountain, it's impossible not to think of Lars von Trier's Dogville," or at least for Benjamin Strong, writing in the L Magazine. "But Von Trier's sanctimonious fantasy of American inhumanity takes place, literally, on a black-and-white stage. Yang, in contrast, shows a more complex understanding of the motives behind cruelty." Earlier: S James Snyder in the New York Sun. Update, 3/15: "Both Blind Shaft and Blind Mountain are blunt and raw, distinguished by the immediacy of their hand-held camerawork and by screenplays that don't truck with narrative ambiguity," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "The viewer isn't asked to fill in any gaps; anyone who doesn't know what's going on in these films must've fallen asleep. And given how arresting the action is in both, nodding off is highly unlikely."
March 11, 2008
SXSW. Awards.They Killed Sister Dorothy has won both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards in the Documentary Feature category at the SXSW Film Festival. Explicit Ills has also scored twice, with its Audience Award for best Narrative Feature and a Special Jury Award for Cinematography. And the Grand Jury Award for best Narrative Feature goes to Wellness (site). The Austin Chronicle has the full list of winners. Meantime, the festival roars on through Saturday.
Shorts, fests, DVDs, 3/11.Seymour Cassel "arrived three weeks late for an acting workshop of Cassavetes's and ended up as associate producer on Shadows, while [Al] Ruban pitched in as assistant cameraman. The tireless Ruban, extraordinarily, both produced and shot for Cassavetes's most famous movies (after an entertaining sojourn into Sixties sexploitation). Embodying the freewheeling warmth in the films, the rascally Cassel went on to star in Faces and Minnie and Moskowitz and now enjoys a new generation of fans in roles for Wes Anderson, among others." Nicolas Rapold talks with Cassel and Ruban for Stop Smiling. John Del Signore interviews J Hoberman for Gothamist. Via William Speruzzi. Girish presents Nicole Brenez's comments on avant-garde cinema in Fergus Daly's Experimental Conversations. "[I]f you are one of the many who are not excited about Juno or Hillary, the next time someone asks how you could possibly be against those two plucky can-do underdog stories and alleges you're just recently become part of the backlash, look them in the eye, explain how you've been part of the frontlash for a while, and then tell them why." James Rocchi in the Huffington Post. "Her Name Is Sabine embodies an essential, brutal sadness," writes Michael Atkinson for the IFC. "In contrast, Barbet Schroeder's bio-doc Terror's Advocate (2007) is as complicated and duplicitous as full-on espionage." "In recent years, stars have learned that their intense presentness in people's daily lives and their access to the uppermost realms of politics, business and the media offer them a peculiar kind of moral position, should they care to use it," writes James Traub in a cover story for the New York Times Magazine. "Hollywood celebrities have become central players on deeply political issues like development aid, refugees and government-sponsored violence in Darfur." In the paper:
Funny Games US."The hate this movie will generate is the kind that will persist for decades," predicts Paul Maywychuk. "It's a hate that will bind married couples together and cause couples who see it on their first date to break up for good. I'm talking hate that will define a generation." "Buñuel died before video killed the radio star but Haneke, a great architect of sustained movie tension, shares with the late master an obsession with disrupting bourgeois complacency," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "What separates them is that Buñuel's funny games were actually funny and whenever he pointed his finger, it pointed everywhere, including at himself. Haneke's admonishments are disturbing only in the sense that they're never self-critical, and while watching one of his films, there's always a sense that he thinks he's above his characters, his audience, and scrutiny." Updated through 3/17. "In either incarnation, Funny Games is a profoundly unpleasant experience," writes Kathy Fennessy, who raises a series of questions in the Siffblog. "[T]he new movie hits the States in the wake of Saw, Hostel, and their sequels and knock-offs. Does the popularity of such torture-fests render Haneke's provocation more relevant than ever - or more redundant? Further, did it help to influence them?" "I would absolutely defend Haneke's right to relaunch his broadside on our voyeuristic vices, but he's not keeping up with the times; he's behind them," argues Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "The problem is that even if one fell for Haneke's limp tsk-tsking the first time around, ten years later his nasty little games of viewer barbarism seem musty, even quaint," concurs Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "What's worse, the entire project suffers from the gall Haneke shows in not only remaking his own film for the 'edification' of a wider audience, but in trusting his own original vision so fundamentally and without question that he has chosen not to append or alter it in any significant way." Earlier: Brian Darr on both versions. Updates, 3/12: "Professional obligations required that I endure it, but there's no reason why you should," writes the Voice's J Hoberman. And in an earlier parenthetical, he notes that "the American audience whom Haneke seeks to address is less apt to see Funny Games as a critique of dominant cinema than an argument for personal handguns." "Throughout the picture, Haneke demonstrates an imperial hauteur that completely undercuts his already dubious point," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "An art-punk lecture gone weirdly wrong, the film works in ways the director presumably never intended," writes Sean Burns. "But the nasty thing works all the same." Also in the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge on "Six Remakes Made by the Director Who Made the Original." For Michael Joshua Rowin, writing in the L Magazine, Funny Games US "signals no less than a lazy and cynical career regression." "It's worth noting that perhaps Haneke's most ingenious (and frequently overlooked) gambit is that there is almost no onscreen violence," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "As much as Funny Games feels like particularly merciless, graphic torture porn, the actual moments of assault are almost always cut away from or just out of frame. The one exception turns out to be Haneke's single cruelest joke - and naturally, it's on you." For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Haneke "about resurrecting his prescient 1997 movie, cinema as truth or lies, and bawling in terror at Olivier's Hamlet." "Call him the high priest of Finger-Wagging Cinema," suggests Nick Schager. Updates, 3/13: Scott Foundas meets Haneke for a longish profile for the LA Weekly: "Not surprisingly, the influence of Bresson looms large over Haneke's own movies - in their visual austerity, in the absence of original music and, most of all, in their asking of a great many more questions than they answer about the motives of human behavior.... For all his indebtedness to Bresson, he possesses the canny pop instincts of a Hitchcock or a Kubrick - directors who knew that before you could implode an audience's expectations, you first had to get them into the seats." "It's a cliché to chalk his temperament up to his Austrian nationality, but I couldn't help thinking of Pauline Kael's review of A Clockwork Orange, which she said might have been 'the work of a strict and exacting German professor who set out to make a porno-violent sci-fi comedy,'" writes Sam Adams, reviewing Funny Games US for the Philadelphia City Paper. "The difference is that you'll never catch Haneke cracking a smile." "Code Unknown, The Piano Teacher, Time of the Wolf and Caché all succeed where Funny Games fails: they make a deeply troubling spectacle of violence and withhold information as a way to coerce our active participation with the narrative and the layers of significance inherent in it." Josef Braun in Vue Weekly. "Slasher movie fans exhibit better taste and higher standards when they scream or cheer at horror fare than Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke does," argues Armond White in the New York Press. "By transferring the setting of his 1997 film Funny Games to the United States, Haneke makes a tasteless and revolting miscalculation." "This provocative, confrontational, and, yes, sadistic thriller has, as it proceeds, a lecturing quality about it, a hectoring quality, a scolding quality," writes Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader. "Either way - as a generic suspense film or as a lecture on the genre - it is a punishing experience. A no-fun game. And it is difficult to shake off afterwards." "At once both brilliant and nihilistic, the real paradox is that while Funny Games demands a second viewing, you might not want to give it one," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "[H]e's still putting the screws to his viewers," sighs Alonso Duralde (MSNBC). "What's terrible and irritating about the film is that Haneke isn't doing it to tell a story. He just wants to punish us for wanting to see this movie in the first place." "It's akin to gently being invited into a room, then the door slam behind you locked tight and all you can hear is maniacal laughter." The Playlist. ST VanAirsdale hears that Haneke will be directing the New York City Opera's production of Così fan tutte 2012. Sara Cardace talks with Michael Pitt for Vulture. Funny Games US is "interesting more than it is affecting and there's pretty much no chance in hell that the audience that most needs to see it will either enter the theater or care about what they experience there if they do," writes Todd Brown for Showcase. Updates, 3/15: "You may try to dismiss what [Haneke's films] are saying (which is basically that you, bourgeois cultural prestige-monger that you are, should congratulate yourself for having purchased a dose of Mr Haneke's contempt), but their unsettling effects are not so easy to shake," writes AO Scott in the New York Times: Like Peter and Paul, who wear immaculate white gloves as they go about their awful business, Funny Games tries to insulate itself from its own awfulness in the fine cloth of self-consciousness. On a few occasions Mr Pitt turns to address the audience directly, mocking us for rooting for Ann and George's survival, deriding our desire for neat resolutions. At these moments, using techniques that might have seemed audacious to an undergraduate literary theory class in 1985 or so, the film calls attention to its own artificial status. It actually knows it's a movie! What a clever, tricky game! What fun! What a fraud. "Defenders of Funny Games repeatedly point out that it shouldn't be fun," notes Michael Joshua Rowin for Stop Smiling. "But if it isn't, then it should at least be subversive. That's where Funny Games US is supposed to justify its existence, and where it least achieves its conceptual goals." "The closest antecedent for Haneke's new Funny Games might be Gus Van Sant's widely panned 1998 color remake of Psycho, which almost completely replicates the script and shot sequence of Hitchcock's black-and-white original," writes JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. "Yet even that project has more integrity than Haneke's." "The unspoken idea behind the remake might be that, while Funny Games remains the same, the world around it has changed," writes Fernando F Croce at the House Next Door. "Since the original's release, we have witnessed Kosovo, Columbine, 9/11 and Iraq, to say nothing of the box-office success of Saw and Hostel. Can people still be shocked? What hasn't changed, unfortunately, is Haneke's smug feeling of superiority toward his characters and audiences." "No matter what virtues of craft one can find within, no matter what themes lie beneath, Funny Games is aesthetically indefensible," argues Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "[I]f you liked those pictures from Abu Ghraib, you'll love Funny Games!" Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com. "[E]ven with a new cast, a new language, and a decade's distance from the original, the film's hostile brilliance has not been muted by this uncanny facsimile," counters Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "It would be easy to dismiss Funny Games as a sadistic, self-important piece of garbage were it not for the superb artistry that went into its construction," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "It gives you what you want and asks why you want it in the first place, and it does both those things superbly," writes James Rocchi in Cinematical. "It is cruel, cold and darkly thrilling." "In a generous mood, one could argue that Haneke is going for a truer portrait of violence by relinquishing the usual freaky Freudian, society-made-me-do-it baggage," writes Peter Rainer in the Los Angeles Times. "But his solution is also a cop-out. He is saying that the causes of violence, at bottom, are not only unknowable but not worth knowing." "If this remake of Funny Games proves insight into anything, it's the degree to which Haneke's work had steadily advanced since the original, gaining resonance and complexity," writes Bilge Ebiri for ScreenGrab. "Better to forget about this tired regression and move on." "[P]ositioning Funny Games as a critique of a specifically American cinema may win Mr. Haneke the usual plaudits from the usual suspects, but it risks diluting its impact," writes Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun. Adam Nayman talks with Haneke for Eye Weekly. Updates, 3/17: "[A]ny movie that's causing this much bile to spew from the critics' pens is doing something right," argues Chicagoist's Rob Christopher. "The last thing I expected was to walk out of a theater showing Funny Games with a smile on my face," writes Bryant Frazer.
March 10, 2008
SXSW. Dear Zachary.I'll have more from SXSW just as soon as I possibly can, but I do want to go ahead and type out all I'll be saying for the time being about Dear Zachary: See it. Director Kurt Kuenne was not at liberty to elaborate in the Q&A this evening, but it does sound as if a distribution deal is in the works, so you may well get the chance. This is not a perfect documentary. I do think that the concerns that David Lowery raises in his comment on the Slamdance entry are legitimate. That said, I have not been so emotionally walloped by a film in years.
March 9, 2008
SXSW. Podcast. Bi the Way.For the first in a series of podcasts from the SXSW Film Festival, Aaron Hillis has a terrific talk with Brittany Blockman and Josephine Decker about their documentary Bi the Way (site and blog), as well as with Jonathan Caouette (Tarnation), who's featured in the film. To listen or download, click here.
March 8, 2008
SXSW, 3/8."Welcome to the indiest film festival on the planet!" Steve Rose lands in Austin to report on SXSW for the Guardian. "Like any fast-growing institution, SXSW is likely to go through awkward stages, but this festival isn't anywhere close to being ruined," argues Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. Brian Brooks and Eugene Hernandez present "Eating, Drinking, and Shopping in Austin: An indieWIRE Insiders Guide." Reviews of 21, which officially opened the fest: Erik Davis (Cinematical) and Joe Leydon (Variety). Bustling special sections and blogs: The Austin Chronicle, Hollywood Bitchslap, the IFC, indieWIRE, ScreenGrab, the SpoutBlog, Twitch and Variety. Keep an eye, too, on the Austin Movie Blog, Austinist, Hammer to Nail, AJ Schnack and Slackerwood. Online listening tip. James Rocchi talks with Erik Davis, editor of Cinematical, which has set up its SXSW special category as well.
Weekend fests and events."Regarded as a modern master in Europe, on a par with Buñuel, Dreyer and Bresson (filmmakers to whom he is sometimes compared), [Manoel de] Oliveira is a more marginal figure in the United States," writes Dennis Lim. "BAMcinématek's centennial retrospective... is an opportunity to take stock of a singular career and to catch some rarely screened films." Through March 30. Related: "Like Jia Zhang-ke's recent Still Life, Manoel de Oliveira's new Christopher Columbus - The Enigma parallels a foreground story of personal changes and losses with a background one: how all has been lost to history," writes David Pratt-Robson. Back in the New York Times: "Jean-Luc Godard's radiant, ambiguous, serenely perverse Contempt, 45 this year, is being revived again, in startling color and elegant, ribbony CinemaScope, for the second time in just over a decade, and it's beginning to look like one of those movies we can't do without for very long: a classic," writes Terrence Rafferty. "Film Forum, which in 1997 gave New Yorkers their first opportunity in many years to see the film on the large screen it practically requires, starts another run (two weeks, minimum) on Friday." "Throughout March, the Northwest Film Center affords a chance to take a hearty gulp of the Altmanesque," notes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "It Don't Worry Me: A Tribute to Robert Altman consists of a dozen films drawn from more than 30 years, from Brewster McCloud and MASH (both 1970) to Gosford Park (2001)." "Playful and eclectic though he may be, Brazilian filmmaker Jorge Furtado, whose work gets a rare screening in a brief retrospective this weekend at the Harvard Film Archive, has pursued the same preoccupations through his entire 25-year career, beginning with his arch, masterfully constructed and jolting shorts." A preview from Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. Rob Nelson files from the Miami International Film Festival, on through tomorrow, for Filmmaker. Dennis Cozzalio rounds up goings on in the Los Angeles area. French Film Festival UK runs through March 20. At european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij previews Emmanuel Mouret's Changement d'adresse (Change of Address), Philippe Lioret's Je vais bien ne t'en fais pas (Don't Worry I'm Fine) and Emmanuel Bourdieu's Les amitiés maléfiques (Poison Friends). Acquarello has the lineup for the 2008 New York African Film Festival, running April 9 through 15. Michael Guillén has extensive notes on Pedro Costa's comments made during a Q&A following the Pacific Film Archive's screening of O Sangue. Filmbrain springs to the defense of Erick Zonca's Julia, which took a critical drubbing at the Berlinale. Online viewing tip. "This year, the spots for the True/False Film Festival were some of the best I've ever seen." Joel Heller's got 'em.
Weekend shorts."In almost every movie you go to these days you'll see another screen - a television, a computer, even another movie screen - within the screen you're watching," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "In 1964, when Marshall McLuhan submitted, in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, that 'We have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time.... We approach the final phase of the extensions of man - the technological simulation of consciousness,' it might have sounded a little over the top. Not so much now." "What is this fascinating new film theory known as cognitivism?" David Bordwell offers a primer with linkage. FilmInFocus interviews the SpoutBlog's Karina Longworth. Profiling Stanton Kaye for the LA Weekly, Steven Mikulan notes that before setting up Infratab with his wife, Terry Myers - it's a company that specializes in radio-frequency identification tags (RFIDs), tiny transmitters that are making it possible to pinpoint whereabouts and make date profiles instantly accessible anywhere - he was a filmmaker: "Kaye's magnum opus, In Pursuit of Treasure, completed while he was an American Film Institute fellow in 1972, has never been shown and remains locked in an AFI vault." What makes this doubly interesting: "During a few years in the 1970s, the fate of both Kaye's career as a promising filmmaker and AFI itself were inextricably bound together." John Lichman does a little compare/contrast: "[Takashi] Miike and [Takeshi] Kitano take their Yakuza in the disillusioned sense.... But it is fitting that these two directors have such similar views portrayed through drastically different styles (Kitano, reserved and sudden; Miike, lavish and self-indulgent - dare I break out the 'disgustingly decadent' too? I shall.) The best examples of their own fascination with the genre have to be Miike's Dead or Alive: Hanzaishia/Dead or Alive: Birds and Kitano's Takeshis'." Also at the House Next Door: Once and for all, which is the best dramatic series "in the history of American television? Andrew Johnston makes the case for The Wire; Alan Sepinwall goes for The Sopranos; and Matt Zoller Seitz argues for Deadwood. "It was only when their grandfather Perry Henzell passed away, a little over a year ago, that my children took in how significant his influence had been around the world," writes Justine Henzell in the New Statesman. "Of course, they knew he was the co-writer and director of Jamaica's first feature film, The Harder They Come. My son had the poster over his bed; his sister was old enough to actually watch the film. But they were a little surprised by the magnitude of the tributes and obituaries that streamed in." "In his second feature film Andalucia, director Alain Gomis again explores immigrant identity after his debut feature L'Afrance." Boyd van Hoeij talks with him at european-films.net. Children of Glory opens on March 14 in the UK. Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas looks back on the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Also in the Guardian:
Film Comment. March/April 08.Of all the films Robin Wood saw in Toronto, Lee Isaac Chung's Munyurangabo is his favorite. It "grows out of cultural collapse on a grand (and horrific) scale, and then proceeds to transcend it." Also in the new Film Comment: "This year Messrs Coen, Coen, Anderson and Fincher appear to have induced a total mind meld, with their films netting the same top slots in our Readers' Poll as in last issue's survey of critics." Not only are the "extended" results are an online exclusive; so are the rants and raves. La Question humaine (Heartbeat Detector) recently screened in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, which wraps tomorrow (see James Van Maanen's overview, parts 1 and 2), and Irina Leimbacher considers the work of Nicolas Klotz: "With a background in music documentary and theater, Klotz combines attention to socioeconomic realities, corporeal gesture, and music in an absolutely unique way." Elisabeth Lequeret puts out this issue's call for distribution: Philippe Ramos's Captain Ahab. Michael Chaiken on Standard Operating Procedure: "The film bears an affinity with both Joseph Strick's 1971 film Interviews with My Lai Veterans and the Winterfilm Collective's 1972 Winter Soldier, two documentaries made during the Vietnam Era. However, in his attempt to reach a wide audience, [Errol] Morris subverts his own intentions by compromising formal conventions in ways those films never did."
March 7, 2008
Austin Chronicle. SXSW Film.Last night, at the end of the odyssey that brought me from Berlin to Austin, I stepped off the plane to find a stack of fresh Austin Chronicles, and there on the cover, as you can see, is the lovely and talented Greta Gerwig. "Love it or hate it, mumblecore is here to stay, as evidenced by this year's Festival program book," writes Kimberley Jones, introducing the Chronicle's SXSW Film package. Spencer Parsons conducts the interview. A quick run-through of the rest, before I head off to catch Goliath (site); first, Josh Rosenblatt talks with its makers, David and Nathan Zellner. Also: an overview of the 24 Beats a Second program of music docs. Anne S Lewis has a quick chat with Celia Maysles about Wild Blue Yonder (site). Shawn Badgley talks with Bob Byington about Registered Sex Offender. Previews:
Fests and events, 3/7.The Chicago Reader previews the European Union Film Festival, running today through April 3. On the occasion of 30 Years of J. Hoberman, at BAM through, Bruce Bennett writes in the New York Sun: "Like Lester Bangs, who examined old, new, mainstream, and vanguard work with equal suspicion, passion, and curiosity, Mr Hoberman created his own aesthetic beat, putting experimental short works, foreign art films, and mainstream Hollywood fare all under the same energetic scrutiny. Infuriating though it often could be, a Hoberman review invariably articulated a fierce intelligence and a strong desire to position films within both the mechanisms of expression their makers employed and the social and political contexts from which the work emerged." "While the film might make sense within its own societal context, it's impossible to place anywhere in the American cultural landscape," writes Martin Tsai, introducing festival favorite Funky Forest: The First Contact to New York Sun readers. "Using the television sketch comedy show format as a framing device, Funky Forest is a series of bizarre non sequiturs interconnected by recurring characters: Imagine a two-and-a-half-hour episode of Saturday Night Live or MADtv, directed by Michel Gondry. No, make that Matthew Barney. No, make that David Cronenberg." At the ImaginAsian Theater through March 13. Also, Nicolas Rapold on Myra Breckinridge: "Fueled by Gore Vidal's rambunctious source novel, the 1970 film was a studio production aiming to shock and subvert, and the result was a treat for gawkers of 1960s camp. 38 years after its premiere, New Yorkers can watch the oddity firsthand in a new print this weekend at Anthology Film Archives." More from Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "[W]hile the body of [Dames], directed by Ray Enright, is tepid, the big-show finale is ultimately worth the wait," writes Hazel-Dawn Dumpert. "That's when the directorial reins are handed over to mad genius Busby Berkeley, and the enterprise spins off, literally at times, into the kaleidoscopic, gyroscopic world of one man's obsessive imagination." Also in the LA Weekly, John Tottenham: "When Sergio Leone shifted the action of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo from a windswept silk-trading outpost to a sun-drenched Mexican border town, he ran a blade through the traditional Western, stripping it down and opening it up, eviscerating its tiresome romantic subplots, upping the violence and deepening the fatalism." A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo are at the ImaginAsian Center through March 13.
Frownland."Like a signal flare rising above the streets of Lower Manhattan, Frownland announces that underground cinema is alive and well and taking up residence - at least for the next week - at the IFC Center," announces Scott Foundas in the Voice. "We're not the only ones mad about this film," writes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "It has received a Spirit Award nomination, a French theatrical deal, and praise from critics ranging from Amy Taubin to Scott Foundas to, now, The New Yorker.... In short, the film is a trip. It crawls under your skin, and you'll be thinking of its grubby little world and the characters who live within it for days afterward. Please go see it and support what has sadly become a lost vision of American independent cinema." Updated through 3/8. "An up-close, painfully intimate portrait of a hapless, manipulative schlub, a Loser with a capital L, the film offers for our horror and our empathy a creature whose very existence is a rebuke to the stultifying uniformity (the niceness, the neatness) of what now often passes for American independent cinema," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Written and directed by Ronald Bronstein, making his feature-film debut, this is personal cinema at its most uncompromising and fierce." "This is perhaps the most wrenching portrait of inarticulateness and desperation I've ever seen," writes Brandon Harris. "It is the story of a completely unappealing, near rabid man told without compromise. Run and see for yourself. You might regret it, but you won't forget it." "It might make you angry, it might give you hope that films this weird and fucked up can still get made with a little persistence," agrees William Speruzzi. "At the least you will take away one simple fact; Juno it ain't." But for Bill Weber, writing in Slant, "The anomic gloom that envelops Frownland, a miserabilist, micro-budgeted 16mm freak show, fatally impedes its seeming aspirations to the mercurial grit of Cassavetes - or even to attaining a grainier, black-comedy kinship to the razor's-edge psychodramas of Lodge Kerrigan." "If David Lynch remade Taxi Driver with equal doses of Eraserhead and The Elephant Man, the result might look something like the drab existential loneliness of Ronald Bronstein's Frownland," suggests Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "It's as raw and as offbeat as independent film gets - which is exactly the kind of stuff that the studios' so-called indie divisions won't touch with a 10-foot pole," writes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun. "Mr Bronstein has managed to come up with an absorbing little film under extremely limited circumstances. It will be interesting to see what he can one day do with a budget." Updates, 3/8: "The comedy/drama of discomfort may have evolved into pure rhythm indifferent to its own content, but Frownland forgoes this evolution, and the result is a film whose effect is cumulative and energy-based," writes Daniel Cockburn at Reverse Shot. "Frownland offers the flipside of American independent cinema's common glorification of all things and people quirky and eccentric," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. Brandon Harris talks with Bronstein; so does Jeremiah Kipp for the House Next Door.
J'Entends Plus la Guitare."J'Entends Plus la Guitare, a film by Philippe Garrel, is a fugue composed in a key of philosophical melancholy," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Though its subject is love, the movie is less a romance or the story of a breakup than a series of meditations on, and analytical explorations of, need, truth and the passage of time. The dialogue is abstract and cerebral as only French discussions of l'amour can be, but Mr Garrel's hovering, undulating camera movements impart a dimension of sensuality to the endless, sometimes inscrutable talk." Updated through 3/12. "The meaning of love, the mystery of women, life, and all that: Garrel finds it, everything, in the faces, bodies, and words of his actors," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "If not the greatest movie we'll see this year - though it's a strong early candidate - J'entends will surely prove the most tenderly played." "Like Garrel's more recent and arguably more accessible Paris 68 drama Regular Lovers, J'entends plus slowly builds a trippy, meditative state out of apparently miscellaneous, formless material," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "If you have the patience for his work, it evokes the peculiar feeling that you've known his characters all your life, gotten high in the same crappy rooms with them, slept with them, had the same endless discussions with them. (Perhaps you have.)" "Years after Mr Garrel's relationship with Nico ended, her presence in his films remained, haunting the filmmaker's work and life," writes Anne-Sophie Jahn in the New York Sun. "I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore which was released three years after she passed away, is explicitly dedicated to Nico, who is marvelously interpreted by one of Mr Garrel's favorite actresses, Johanna ter Steege." Earlier: Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. At the Cinema Village. Update, 3/12: "Further evidence that the 90s might be the greatest film decade," proposes Nick Pinkerton in Reverse Shot.
It Always Rains on Sunday."You could call the secret loves in It Always Rains on Sunday noirish, yet the passion and torments of its women are grounded in an East End locale that feels kitchen-sink-real," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "The 1947 Ealing Studios drama by Robert Hamer, best known for the Alec Guinness black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, is frank and bracing in ways that we're not used to seeing in a movie from this period, marking a very worthy rerelease by Rialto." "It Always Rains on Sunday is a masterpiece of dead ends and might-have-beens, highly inventive in its use of flashbacks and multiple overlapping narratives, and brilliantly acted by [Googie] Withers and [John] McCallum," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "Compacted into a breathless 90 minutes, the entire film exists in a state of high anxiety—not a frame is wasted." "That this slice-of-life melodrama collides with a fugitive-on-the-run thriller makes Sunday a most notable installment of 1940s British cinema," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "But it's when things go from gray to pitch black in the film's final moments, building to a climax that links the anguish of a prison inmate with the daily routine of a working-class wife, that Sunday delivers an existential wallop for the ages." "Hamer handles the clockwork plot with precision and shoots a final chase scene with panache," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It's a cannily crafted and satisfying entertainment, which isn't the same thing as claiming it has a point." At the Film Forum through March 13.
CJ7."Western audiences accustomed to the airborne theatrics, martial arts mayhem, and cartoon humor of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle may blink when they see the advertisement for the Chinese writer-director-actor's latest film, CJ7," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "The greenish glow and wide-eyed wonder of it all suggests that the shaggy-headed Mr Chow, 45, has gone all Steven Spielberg on us.... Yet it's not such new terrain for Mr Chow.... [T]hough his hyperactive camera style and outsize caricatures remain, in CJ7 the director has finally fleshed out his childish aesthetic with a real child." Updated through 3/8. "The story of CJ7 is less Keaton and more Chaplin - Dicky (Xu Jiao), a poor boy without a mother (shades of Disney) whose construction worker father Ti (Chow) is working overtime to put him into private school, faces adversity from classmates and teachers until a small alien/toy found in a landfill changes both his and his father's lives," writes Brendon Bouzard in Reverse Shot. "Most surprising, however, is how pointed Chow proves in his engagement with questions of socioeconomics, painting both Dicky and Ti's lives as a succession of personal and financial indignations." "There's quite a bit of silly incidence packed into this slight, frenetic film, including an episode of machine-gunned-from-the-butt miniature alien dog turds," writes Glenn Kenny in Premiere. "The overall feel is Hong Kong to the core... which means CJ7, like the first 25 minutes or so of Shaolin Soccer, doesn't make many allowances to Western sensibilities." "Whether American viewers will respond with the enthusiasm of their Chinese counterparts remains to be seen," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "What is clear, however, is that Mr Chow's notion of family is decidedly more Addams than Brady." "Happily, the filmmaker demonstrates a knack for this unfamiliar terrain, even if the end result periodically feels like yet another attempt to recapture Spielberg's particular brand of magic," writes Robert Levin at cinemattraction. "[K]ids might not be able to keep up with the subtitles, Chow fans may be disappointed by his relatively straight role, and the E.T. crowd probably won't be wiping their eyes," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. "For the moment, Chow's imagination has gotten the better of him." "In a healthy film culture, critics would celebrate Stephen Chow the way they do PT Anderson, Todd Haynes or Sofia Coppola," argues Armond White in the New York Press. "Consider Stephen Chow the true spiritual heir of Jerry Lewis, and consider CJ7 Chow's The Family Jewels," suggests Fernando F Croce in Slant. CJ7 "not only fails to generate the exhilarating cartoon zaniness of his heralded Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle but, more importantly, lacks any convincing magic or heart," writes Nick Schager. "Chow is trying to put more thought and heart into his films, with uneven success," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. Kevin Crust finds it "as clumsy and awkward as his previous films were stylishly silly." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Susan King: "So what was it about Xu Jiao, now 11, that made Chow believe she could play a boy?" Updates, 3/8: Simon Abrams talks with Chow for Twitch. Online listening tip. Ed Champion talks with Chow and Jiao Xu. Online viewing tip. David Poland lunches with Chow.
Married Life."[Ira] Sachs's previous features, Forty Shades of Blue and The Delta, which racked up sufficiently good notices to allow him to raid the top drawer of indie talent for Married Life, also dealt with the mysteries of domestic life," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "But Married Life is his first real excursion into genre filmmaking, and though it's a perfectly presentable effort, he lacks the passion and the radical vision of the filmmaker to whom he owes his biggest debt. Sachs co-wrote the script for Married Life with Oren Moverman, who also co-wrote Todd Haynes's I'm Not There, and though the imprint of Douglas Sirk is all over Sachs's homage to old movies about restless men in bad suits and untrustworthy women in lovely frocks, his immediate reference point is clearly Haynes's Far From Heaven. Updated through 3/8. "Married Life falls somewhere between parodic pastiche and straightforward narrative," writes Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE. "Like Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven, it filters its period details through classical Hollywood genre while nevertheless striving for emotional resonance. Where Haynes pulled off this nearly impossible gambit, though, Sachs falls short on both counts." "The movie is a goof on Hitchcock and Sirk - a period (late forties) soap opera with nasty sexual undertones and the omnipresent threat of murder," writes David Edelstein in New York. "When to shudder and when to smirk: as you watch this sly marital fable of secrets, lies and homicidal intent, you're never sure of what your reaction should be," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Up to a point, the director... clearly wants it that way." "What starts as a dark comedy that plays like a film noir, or a film noir that plays as a dark comedy, detours into a melodramatic comedy of manners and ends up confused," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "As a committed bachelor who takes an interest in his best friend's mistress, [Pierce] Brosnan is by far the most compelling element of Married Life," argues Scott Tobias at the AV Club. For S James Snyder, writing in the New York Sun, it "loses its sizzle as it tries to balance B-movie fun and Oscar-minded doses of social commentary." "I tried out an intellectual experiment for this FilmCatcher article 'Burdens of Conscience,' comparing David Gordon Green's Snow Angels, Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park and Ira Sachs's Married Life," blogs Anthony Kaufman. "You'd think these three very disparate films, by three very different filmmakers, would share little in common, but in fact, buried beneath the surface, I found some remarkable similitaries in their thematic concerns - namely, that we must come to terms with our complicity in other people's pain, as well as our own." And he talks with Sachs. Online listening tip. Chris Cooper is a guest on Fresh Air. Earlier: Reviews from the New York Film Festival. Updates, 3/8: "Married Life, which is set in 1949, doesn't have much on its mind besides providing its audience with a few twists, some lush period trappings, and the occasional frisson of suspense," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "But parlor games have their uses, too. Sachs's script... cleverly balances a farcical tone with some scenes of real feeling and at least one moment of white-knuckle suspense." "[A]lthough this whole picture is inarguably a fluffy affair that would be hard-pressed to justify its existence to a multiplex herd, the dance between the talented leads and Sachs' creative energy establish a baseline of quality that Married Life never sinks below," writes Ryan Stewart for Premiere. Online listening tip. Cooper and Patricia Clarkson are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day."Brisk, peppy, light on its feet, and trying awfully hard to be reminiscent of a fast-talking Depression-era rags-to-riches comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day can be best described as inoffensive," writes Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. "But what saves the film from being disposable fluff is the casting of Frances McDormand as the prim, proper, middle-aged London governess of the title." But for the New York Times' Stephen Holden, Amy Adams is the true star here: "The particular screwball screen magic Ms Adams commands in Miss Pettigrew, a weightless period fairy tale based on the novel by Winifred Watson, hasn't been this intense since the heyday of Jean Arthur." Updated through 3/8. "Adams is the sole reason to bother with this flimsy time-passer," agrees the AV Club's Scott Tobias. Steve Dollar, writing in the New York Sun, likes both leads. Their "yin-and-yang chemistry gives this breathless contrivance its bubbly pep." "Every once in a great while a film comes along that reminds you of the zany screwball comedies of yesteryear and the witty, rat-tat-tat dialogue of a long-abandoned way of writing," writes Brandon Fibbs at cinemattraction. "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is such a movie, a film of sparkling intelligence and incandescent humor that feels as if it was just yesterday plucked from a vault where it had mistakenly been shelved for the past 60 or so years." For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, this is "one of those rare cases where a filmmaker's good intentions, and the enthusiasm of his actors, are enough to fill in the cracks." "If the same teams of tastemakers and demographic experts that design movies like Transformers and 300 to be sure-fire vehicles for 14-year-old boys were to come up with a must-see for women over the age of 50, the result might be Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," suggests Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Alas, this grossly underserved segment of the moviegoing public deserves a stronger film than this flimsy, chaotic venture." "[T]he movie puts more of a premium on being likable than hilarious," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "The most common reaction to it will be either 'Why do they even bother making that stuff?' or 'Well, that was sweet.' Neither view is without merit." Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly: "I will admit I was bored. Out of my skull. Not every Brit chick flick makes me wish I was anywhere else. This one did." "Bharat Nalluri directs with a light touch and a great eye for costumes and sets, which are gorgeous enough to make up for any contrivances in the plot," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "It's pure romantic fantasy, and you won't believe it for a minute. But it's fun to watch Miss Pettigrew and Miss Lafosse live for a couple of hours." In FilmInFocus, a bit of background from Priya Jain: "The story of Watson's novel is of the kind that's often described of as a fairy tale, but even though it began in 1938, it's a distinctly modern one about being resolutely one's own self, whatever that may be." "Were Watson alive today, her comic verve would likely intimidate Diablo Cody," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "But what makes her novel a delight is its guilelessly homoerotic subtext. By downplaying that, the movie argues the case for Watson's innocent sensuality - and against its own worldly update." Update, 3/8: "[Y]ou could easily be forgiven for mistaking this buoyantly bubbly treat as an adaptation of some lesser-known Noël Coward comedy from the same era," writes Joe Leydon in the Houston Chronicle. "Pettigrew, while brisk, is also pretty flat," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "It revels, alas, in the over-determined nature that's infected such fare like a virus; the ending in particular overplays its hand so spectacularly as to be laughable in all the wrong ways." "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day doesn't tred any new ground and it's completely absurdist fantasy in that 'happily ever after' way of separating true love clearly from all pretenders, but it has its moments," writes Nathaniel Rogers at Zoom In Online.
Snow Angels."Snow Angels exhibits a mellowing - if not full abandonment - of [David Gordon] Green's trademark emo-Malick mannerisms," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "His camera can't entirely resist an ersatz-70s art effect here and there, but by and large he plays things straight, erratic as they become. What saves this heavy, heavy material from sinking into the chill, familiar turf of the Small-Town Midwinter Tragedy is his practiced ear for verbal idiosyncrasy and off-kilter conversation rhythms." "The wintry pall of fatalism that hangs over all of [the characters] deadens the possibility of melodrama, which might have given Snow Angels a touch of lurid life," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "This is not an updated Peyton Place, but rather the kind of self-enclosed, hard-bitten American place fashionable in American fiction of the 1970s and 80s and in American independent cinema ever since." Updated through 3/11. Green's "acclaimed debut George Washington has a wrenching last act, but much of it is a strange and estranging blend of the amateurish and the slick - a kind of cinematic dyslexia in which nothing quite fits," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Scene by scene his new film, Snow Angels, isn't terrible. Parts of it are amusing, and there are wintry images that eat into the mind. But it's one of the most disjunctive things I've ever sat through." "Like Undertow and All the Real Girls before it, Snow Angels is an obnoxious pageant of effusive style, the cinematic equivalent of a Precious Moments figurine," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "This one is a twee Nashville, set - according to the film's press notes - in a small town north of the Mason Dixon line, though it may as well be squeezing audiences into the snow globe Orson Welles drops to the floor in the opening of Citizen Kane." "Unfortunately, the material never avoids the feel of a retread of familiar themes and popular independent movie conceits," writes Robert Levin at cinemattraction. "By the time Snow Angels reaches its conclusion, given the flat bifurcated structure and the narrative's heavy borrowing from other, better such dramas, one can't help but conclude that this filmmaker's particular talents are ill-suited to the genre." "More remarkable than Snow Angels's sheer ponderousness - think also: languid photography - is that Green still can't invent a credible conversation," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "Snow Angels confines itself to predictable plot points (guns! tragedy!) and scenes which lack distinctiveness that would lift them above middle-of-the-road domestic drama," writes Jürgen Fauth. For IFC News, Aaron Hillis talks with Green "about the North Carolina film scene, what attracts him to youthful characters and how he ended up directing a Judd Apatow stoner comedy, the upcoming Pineapple Express." S James Snyder profiles Green for the New York Sun. Earlier: Reviews from Sundance 07. "Taking place in a northern American small town, smack-dab in the middle of Russell Banks country, the plaid-clad, winter-set tragedy of Snow Angels superficially recalls Paul Schrader's Affliction and Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "But Mr Green and his cast have blessed their adaptation of Stewart O'Nan's Banksian first novel with the same limpid sensitivity that characterizes the director's previous films." "George Washington was a true example of filmmaking that came from outside mainstream thinking and revenue streams," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "But in pursuing his career, Green corrupts his original poetic idiosyncrasies with the standard indie (or Sundancey) affectations." Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "In spite of strong performances and a characteristically vivid sense of place, the film feels disjointed and heavy; it's a miserablist slog that lacks the transcendent lightness of Green's other work, even as he tries awkwardly to impose his sensibility." Updates, 3/8: "There are about two or three different films fighting for control of the screen during David Gordon Green's powerful but flawed Snow Angels, and in the end none of them win," writes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com. For Time's Richard Corliss, Snow Angels "has an emotional density that trumps its familiarity." "This is very strong stuff that mops up the floor with the likes of Little Children, with which it shares a number of thematic points," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Where Paranoid Park is almost purely an aesthetic experience, to the point where [Gus] Van Sant abandons any moral perspective or any coherent sense that acts have consequences, Snow Angels is a sober-sided, deterministic indie-formula narrative, full of Fine Acting, Life Lessons, Meaningful Moments and Quirky Supporting Characters," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. Update, 3/11: A face-off at Reverse Shot: Jeff Reichert vs Michael Joshua Rowin.
Interview. Arne Johnson."Young women find expression for more than their music in Girls Rock!, a jubilant documentary about a place where power chords and empowerment go hand in hand," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "The idea of two men directing a documentary about a summer camp for pre-teen girls might inevitably raise some red flags. But Arne Johnson and Shane King use their outsider status to craft an incredibly thoughtful and creative film about the Portland-based Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls." And Erin Donovan talks with them at the main site. Updated through 3/8. "Animated sequences that juxtapose '90s female rock pioneers with today's Britney-fied culture, or ones that deliver depressing stats about women's educational success and body image, have a punk-collage aesthetic that's in tune with the milieu's brash, ragamuffin spirit," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Yet such visual devices are also glib to the point of being reductive." For Vadim Rizov, writing in the Voice, "the film hews to a predictable doc template and comes off as a drag." Ben Gold talks with the filmmakers for the Reeler. "The best thing about Girls Rock! is the passion of the girls, ages 8 to 18," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Delighted to be making their mark on an area that's often viewed as a male preserve, these young people have an infectious energy that lights up every room they're in." "The documentary, opening in the city today, introduces us to a brand new kind of young girl - or rather, a fairly typical young girl, but one who has rarely been celebrated in popular culture." Ruth Graham explains in the New York Sun. "King and Johnson betray their unconventional subjects some by making a film that falls into a lot of the traps of contemporary documentaries," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Frankly, the scenes of these girls trying to work together and share ideas are enough to make the movie's point. It's hard for anyone to work collaboratively, regardless of age or gender, but there's something telling about the way one of Girls Rock!'s teen drummers doesn't want to play unless everyone in the room looks away from her, because she's too embarrassed." "This is the age of the children's documentary: Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom proved that the vulnerability and enthusiasm of kids working toward a goal is a formula for riveting, often heartbreaking stories." Writing in the New York Press, Raphaela Weissman finds Girls Rock! "a delightful addition to the genre." Update, 3/8: Mike Russell: "Girls Rock! leaves you hoping against hope for the future of popular music when Laura very logically asks herself, 'Why don't you start your own band? That's a lot cooler than having a boyfriend in a band.'"
March 5, 2008
Anticipating SXSW, 3/5."In the early 1990's a loose-knit group of likeminded outsiders found common ground at a little NYC storefront gallery." Jared Moshe launches a series of entries on Beautiful Losers (site). Jette Kernion emails a few questions about Goliath (site) to the Zellner brothers and notes that Chris Holland has all sorts of advice for those on their way to SXSW. Just realized I haven't mentioned the Global Doc Days yet, and I really should. For the Guardian, Mark Drinkwater previews Heavy Load, a doc "about a UK punk band, some of whose members have learning disabilities." "Kevin Ely and Beau Leland's Rainbow Around the Sun [site], a feature-length musical built around the songs of star Matthew Alvin Brown, is the rare non-doc to find a place on the 24 Beats Per Minute sidebar." Karina Longworth passes the SpoutBlog's questions along to the filmmakers. Also, replying is Negin Farsad, whose documentary, Nerdcore Rising "delves into a subgenre of hip hop that's all about nerdery." Site. More More Zellners? See Hollywood Bitchslap, where Erik Childress writes up "10 Films To Put On Your Schedule." And then, there are more interviews:
Fests and events, 3/5.With Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa on at the Pacific Film Archive through April 12, Mark Peranson offers a few "initial notes toward understanding why Costa matters" in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "[C]alling him a 'Straubian neorealist,' to quote J Hoberman, is misleading; if anything, his films, with their rejection of rational structures, are more neosurrealist. Rather, the progression in Costa's cinema has been to give voice to his subjects and to treat them as worthy of existing as fictional characters (Bones, 1997); then, to delve further into their world, their personalities, and their ways of living (In Vanda's Room, 2000); and most recently, with great success, to combine the two approaches (Colossal Youth, 2006)." More from Ryland Walker Knight at the House Next Door. 30 Years of J Hoberman is a series at BAM running Monday through April 3. To celebrate, the Voice is running Hoberman's 1992 review of David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch. More Hoberman, more BAM: The Talking Pictures of Manoel de Oliveira, Friday through March 30. The Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival runs Friday through Sunday. El Topo screens Saturday as part of SFMOMA's Non-Western Westerns series and, in Pixel Vision, Erik Morse insists that this "only reconfirms that the religiosity of El Topo demands 35MM theatrical presentation." "Baby Mama, the comedy by first-timer Michael McCullers starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, will open the Tribeca Film Festival," notes the Circuit's Michael Jones. Matt Prigge rounds up local goings on in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Rutger Wolfson has been appointed general director of the Rotterdam International Film Festival for the next four years," reports Steve Clarke for Variety. Eugene Hernandez files an indieWIRE dispatch from the weekend's True/False Film Festival. Online listening tip. Joel Heller talks with True/False founders Paul Sturtz and David Wilson. Online viewing tip. Mike Everleth has the trailer for the Boston Underground Film Festival (March 20 through 23).
Spring!Opening with an interview with Harmony Korine, whose Mister Lonely begins its theatrical run in May (after screening at SXSW; also see the Austinist and reviews from Cannes and Toronto), Aaron Hillis lays out ten "Spring Film Picks" in the Voice. Update, 3/7: Daniel Trilling profiles Korine for the New Statesman. More springtime previews? See Sara Vilkomerson in the New York Observer. As for what's in store even further down the line, the IFC's Alison Willmore does some heavy lifting in the up-n-coming dept. Update, 3/7: "Hollywood's big studios have found their cure for the surfeit of dour movies last fall and winter: a spring-summer comedy glut." Michael Cieply in the New York Times. Updates, 3/11: Peter Keough has a preview of the season in the Boston Phoenix. In Portland? See CulturePulp.
Berlinale 08. A chronology.Festivals pit the moviegoer and the media junkie in me against each other. The day begins with movies. Three or four, a modest number by the standards of many. I rarely have a computer with me, never a cell phone. The moviegoer is resolutely undistracted, blissfully out of the loop. By the time I get home, the media junkie is ravenous. Year after year, I learn over and again that the best laid plans - in the case of this year's Berlinale: write just a little about each film, blog only the most essential news items, stay on top of both, because, after all, 24 are more than enough hours for any day - well, those plans, they go awry. I started off just fine, Dispatch 1, covering Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light and honorably mentioning Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno shorts and Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg. I kept my viewing of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood to a mere mention, too, bowing out on trying to think up anything fresh to say about it after tracking other critics' thoughts for about three months straight - especially after having seen it just once. Even while keeping up with news here at the Daily - the barest essentials! - I wrote briefly about Wang Xiaoshuai's Zuo You (In Love We Trust), then some more on Petri Kotwica's Musta jää (Black Ice). But the entry on Fernando Eimbcke's Lake Tahoe was the last I managed. In other words, I didn't last long. I caved. The "Shorts" entries bloated back up again. Surely once the festival was over I could write, say, one or two entries a day and catch up within a week. But then came magazines and Oscars, not to mention the next festival. Spirits sank, guilt mounted. Then I remembered the example set by Jonathan Marlow. That's the way to go. And so, let this entry serve as a cross between a Berlinale 08 index for the Daily and a brief personal record of the films I caught in the order I saw them.
To begin where we left off, Auge in Auge: Eine deutsche Filmgeschichte (the going festival translation is Eye to Eye: All About German Film) has an inviting premise: eight German directors, a screenwriter and an actor each choose one German film that's meant something to them and explain why. Their talking heads are livened up with clips from the films, the occasional montage (smoking in German movies, German men, German women, German kisses and so on, all nicely selected and edited) and split-second snippets of each of these filmmakers simply naming names that conjure whole swaths of German movie history. Expectations deflate in the first few seconds with the hokey music and voice over ("What is German film?"), but the bulk of the collage that follows more than makes up for the writing and directing team (Michael Althen and Hans Helmut Prinzler) putting us off like that. The organizing principle is the chronological order of the films discussed. So we begin with Tom Tykwer recalling how Nosferatu (1921) terrified him - even long after he'd seen far "harder" horror. He's followed by Wolfgang Kohlhaase on Menschen am Sontag (People on Sunday, 1929), Wim Wenders on M (1931; and unlike my esteemed fellow blogger, Thomas Groh, I was perfectly happy with his comments - and I'm a bit of a Fritz Lang nut), Christian Petzold on Unter den Brücken (Under the Bridges, 1944), Hanns Zischler on Abschied von Gestern (Goodbye to Yesterday, 1966), Dominik Graf on Rocker (1971; a new one on me, and my curiosity's piqued), Doris Dörrie on Alice in den Städten (Alice in the Cities, 1973), Michael Ballhaus on a film he shot himself, Die Ehe der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun, 1978), Andreas Dresen on Solo Sunny (1979) and Caroline Link on Heimat 1 (1984). The mix - east and west, classics and obscurities - makes for a bouncy and entertaining 106 minutes, but: Gegenschuss: Aufbruch der Filmemacher (Reverse Angle: Rebellion of the Filmmakers) also screened at the festival and, by comparison, makes Auge seem pretty fluffy. I missed it at the fest but was able to catch it a week or so later at the Babylon. This excellent documentary does two things extraordinarily well. First, it tells the story of the founding and eventual dissolution of the Filmverlag der Autoren, a collectively owned and run distribution company; in other words, its subject isn't even as broad as what would come to be known as the New German Cinema, but instead smartly sticks to one vital chapter - which is complex enough, what with all the friendships and alliances, egos and rivalries among the 13 filmmakers involved. Second, Gegenschuss impresses upon us the depth and breadth of the loss we suffered when its co-writer and co-director (with Dominik Wessely), Laurens Straub, died last April. Not only is he simply one of the funniest interviewees in the film, he also displays a razor-sharp insight into the characters he was hanging with 30 years ago. While the recent interviews are terrific, my own favorite looks as if it were taped (probably for Alexander Kluge's ongoing television program) maybe ten years or so ago when he recalled how each of three filmmmakers - Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders - behaved during the premiere screenings of the films they took to Cannes. His recollections are perfect portraits in miniature of these three radically different personalities.
Erick Zonca's Julia feels like two films prefaced with a short that might have been called "Portrait of an Alcoholic." Tilda Swinton, who claims to drink very little when at all, plays rip-roaring drunk and maintains her American accent throughout. And that's precisely the sort of thought I found difficult to shake all through the film. I wonder: Is it because I've been such a Tilda fan for so long that, seeing her take on a role so different from the characters she's played in the past, her performance is distracting me from the film itself? Or is there something slightly off about the performance after all? Salon's Stephanie Zacharek holds that "Swinton plays down to her character, which isn't nearly the same as playing it" - but I don't think that's quite it. Maybe what I was doing instead of watching Julia the film was looking for Julia under all the staggering and rebalancing, morning-after blech-ing and underarm wiping. But then come the two kidnapping stories and we're not going to get through them at all if she doesn't sober up at least a little; she does, and by the time the American kidnapping story literally crashes through the border and becomes a Mexican kidnapping story, the tables are turning so fast and the stakes are so high Julia forgets to juice up entirely. I was surprised to hear and read so many dumping on this film. There is something sloppy and unfocused about it, but that's partly what makes it work. Julia's wobbly voice matches Julia. Tilda Swinton admirers, and our number is growing in the wake of her recent acceptance speeches at the Baftas and Oscars, will want to catch it regardless of any critical verdict. Favorite moment: Julia's friend (Saul Rubinek), scolding her but with barely concealed love, calls her a big giraffe of a woman. I'll never look at Tilda quite the same way again.
I need to pick up the pace here or I'll never finish this before SXSW. Please pardon the rush:
For all the grumblings about the Competition lineup this year - and there were many, and most were justified - festival director Dieter Kosslick did choose reasonably well when it came to the opening and closing films. There's an inviting, let's-party atmosphere to both Shine a Light and Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind; but as with many parties, watching both movies, you kind of have to will yourself to have fun. I'm hoping in the coming months to see stories in the German papers about Kosslick & Co rethinking the selection process for the Competition. Many have remarked that the lineup for this year's edition actually looked pretty good "on paper." But too many of the films, once seen, didn't measure up the names behind them. Thing is, Kosslick and his selection committee did see them and deemed them worthy. There's nothing wrong with unremarkable fare like, say, Lady Jane or Restless seeing a modest theatrical run and then finding an audience on DVD. But they really have no place in what should be a showcase of some of the best cinematic work of any given year. The calculation behind a lineup like this year's is easy to see and understand, balancing as it does the often clashing demands of critics, audiences and the red carpet crowd, while at the same time, dealing with Sundance's growing appetite for international titles and Cannes's constant dibs on first pickings. But a curatorial hand is less easy to make out here. I'd like to see Kosslick carry on overseeing the overall direction of the Berlinale, which has become quite a cultural juggernaut in the dead of winter, what with the booming European Film Market and the thriving Talent Campus. But it may be time to consider taking on an artistic director of some sort to tend to the heart and soul (not to mention the core business) of any film festival: the films.