April 30, 2008

Fests and events, 4/30.

Peppermint Candy "Korean filmmakers reinvent Hollywood genres and conventions much the way their Asian counterparts do, but my sense is that they tend to put everything in a broader context, using the form to investigate the inexorable influence of the past, both personal and historical," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "That's the case at least with Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) and the lesser-known Lee Chang-dong, who will be appearing at the Harvard Film Archive this weekend with four of his films."

"Wong Kar-wai made his debut feature 20 years ago - an event that BAM is marking with the movie's first non-Chinatown theatrical run," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Ostensibly a conventional tale of triad loyalty, As Tears Go By announced the presence of a genuine Hong Kong new wave - as well as an ambitious cineaste."

The Maryland Film Festival opens tomorrow and runs through Sunday; Sujewa Ekanayake has already fired up an entry collecting his coverage. Michael Tully recommends catching Yeast; and Paul Harrill notes that his Quick Feet, Soft Hands will be there, too.

Chicagoans! The Reader's JR Jones notes that Jonathan Rosenbaum is all over town this weekend, lecturing, chatting, introducing screenings.

"Some of Italy's cultural stars are already bemoaning the end of a golden age following the election of the rightist candidate Gianni Alemanno as Mayor of Rome, which has placed a question mark over the future of the city's lavish film festival." Peter Popham reports for the Independent.

Online viewing tip. "For music video fans, BUG, a bi-monthly event held at the BFI Southbank in London, has become a must-attend event," notes Eliza of Creative Review. "So much so that the show has a tendency to sell out long in advance, prompting the organisers to hold two nights in May, one on May 22 with regular host, Adam Buxton and another on May 27, with a special guest host, director Dougal Wilson."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:32 PM

SFIFF, Week 2.

SFIFF 51 Picking up where we left off, the Bay Guardian presents its guide to the second week of the San Francisco International Film Festival, running through May 8. Also: D Scot Miller insists that you see Medicine for Melancholy (and for good reason, too), while Erik Morse calls up Guy Maddin to talk about My Winnipeg.

Updated through 5/6.

"If any one thing unites the 22 winners so far of the SF Film Society's Founder's Directing Award, it's that they're all unique cinematic voices whose signature viewpoints and styles could never be mistaken for another's," writes Dennis Harvey. "Over four decades as a writer-director whose film, TV and stage work have created a distinctive ongoing insider's portrait of working-to-middle class English life, Mike Leigh now seems a natural 23rd addition."

Also at SF360, Michael Fox talks with graphic designer Someguy and director Andrea Kreuzhage about 1000 Journals.

10 + 4

Jeffrey M Anderson opens his current roundup for Pixel Vision with a bit of background on 10 + 4, Mania Akbari's sequel, made with Abbas Kiarostami's blessing, of Ten. Meanwhile, at Cinematical, Jeffrey reviews Just Like Home.

Michael Guillén was at the Q&A with Catherine Breillat when The Last Mistress opened the festival - and he's got notes.

Update, 5/2: Jeffrey M Anderson in Pixel Vision: Go Go Tales and I Served the King of England; also, Touching Home.

Updates, 5/4: Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical on A Girl Cut in Two: "I loved it. It's another superbly-made, highly enjoyable Chabrol film, but you probably won't see it on any top ten lists, nor will Chabrol be collecting any awards for it. I think 'consistent' is a bad word among film people; we're more easily impressed by change and diversity, or by the newest, latest thing. Actors like John Wayne were routinely overlooked in favor of actors like Marlon Brando, though Brando could never in a million years have pulled off what John Wayne accomplished in The Searchers. Brando could do lots of things, but John Wayne was the best at being John Wayne. That's my standard rant, and that's how I feel about Chabrol."

"The diners at Film Society Awards Night this past Thursday - including Warren Beatty, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, Maria Bello, John Burton and Dede Wilsey - saw a mash-up of two opposing approaches to the art of great filmmaking in awards to Mike Leigh and Robert Towne," writes Susan Gerhard at SF360. "One shuns Hollywood, one helped create it. Leigh builds screenplays after a long collaborative process with an acting crew. Towne writes screenplay masterpieces he begrudgingly alters at the request of directors and actors, often (though certainly not always) to the detriment of his original vision. Both, of course, are keen observers of humanity, a fact that can be observed not only in their filmmaking, but also in their speechmaking."

For Pixel Vision: Jeffrey M Anderson on Cachao: Uno Más and Umbrella. More on that one, too, from Johnny Ray Huston.

Updates, 5/5: E Steven Fried rounds up the first week for the Siffblog.

Susan Gerhard talks with "film festival superfan Sue Jean Halvorsen... Her tastes are eclectic, from bleak nihilism to political nonfiction to big-budget entertainment to specific ethnic/national cinema niches. She calls the International 'my window on the world (cheaper than airfare),' adding, 'I love seeing the international community show up for various films - no matter how remote.' SF360.org sat down over a slice to find the method behind Halvorsen's madness in putting together a cinemaniacal film festival viewing schedule."

Topsy-Turvy

Updates, 5/6: When Mike Leigh received the Founder's Directing Award, some were surprised that he chose to screen Topsy-Turvy. At the House Next Door, Fernando F Croce recalls asking him why, "and he told me the film, uncharacteristic as it may appear in his oeuvre - 'the cuckoo in the nest,' he fondly dubbed it - had the festive spirit the event called for. Incidentally, it is this seemingly uncharacteristic quality that makes Topsy-Turvy my own favorite of his films."

At Hell on Frisco Bay, Sean McCourt looks back to the night Black Francis performed his new soundtrack as The Golem screened at the Castro and notes: "There is talk of the soundtrack possibly getting a future release, either with the film on DVD, or as a stand-alone album, both of which would be most welcome."

At SF360, Cathleen Rountree talks with Alex Gibney about Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson. More.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 PM

Tribeca, Week 2.

Tribeca Film Festival "Tribeca, rather than being a big player in the global film marketplace, has become a successful local event, partly because the organizers have avoided film elitism and mastered the high-low New York landscape," argues David Carr in the New York Times.

The festival runs through Sunday and, picking up from Week 1, here we go.

Updated through 5/7.

Sara Vilkomerson's got a roundup in the New York Observer.

"The real highlight of [Katyn] is Krzysztof Penderecki's magnificent score (his influence can be heard all over Jonny Greenwood's music for There Will Be Blood), which often works its discordant melodies just beneath the surface of the film, subtly affecting the mood and quietly amplifying the overall sense of horror," blogs Cullen Gallagher for the L Magazine.

In Slant: Nick Schager on Boy A and Before the Rains.

My Winnipeg At the House Next Door: Lauren Wissot on that "incredible odyssey," My Winnipeg, and Zachary Wigon's interview with Guy Maddin (to read or listen to).

At Cinematical:

Fermat's Room
  • Fermat's Room "is a strange but engaging Spanish thriller in which four well-established mathematicians convene after receiving a mysterious invitation, and then find themselves trapped inside a shrinking room. The only way out is to solve a bunch of math riddles, but the biggest question is this: Why the heck is someone trying to kill four mathematicians in the first place?" Scott Weinberg. Also, Seven Days Sunday and Gunnin' for That #1 Spot.

"Let the Right One In is the kind of film you like better a few days after first seeing it," writes the IFC's Alison Willmore.

At ScreenGrab: Phil Nugent on Idiots and Angels, Playing and Theater of War, My Winnipeg, Profit motive and the whispering wind (more from Ricky D'Ambrose in the Tisch Film Review), The Zen of Bobby V and From Within.

Old Man Bebo "Carlos Carcas's Old Man Bebo and Faramarz K-Rahber's Donkey in Lahore are both screening in the World Documentary Competition," and indieWIRE interviews both directors.

Erich Kuersten files a dispatch from New York to Bright Lights After Dark: "The question is, what are all these bleached Midwestern tourists doing this far down from Times Square? Suddenly it hits me like the cold rush off a dirty crack pipe: Am Ex and that stupid beer have turned Tribeca Film Festival into a tourist attraction, ala Mardi Gras, 'jazz fest' and - not long from now I imagine - Burning Man. Dudes!"

Updates, 5/2: "Winners were announced late yesterday evening for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival," reports S James Snyder, who's got the list in the New York Sun. "The long list of awards included a slate of stories about New York economics, war-torn African nations, and the pain of adolescent alienation - as seen through the eyes of a bloodsucking vampire."

Also in the New York Sun:

"Now that I have seen dozens and dozens of films in this 7th Tribeca Film Festival, I want to correct myself," writes Howard Feinstein at indieWIRE. "I was wrong in my first report. Tribeca is unique, and occupies a certain niche in New York that belongs to it alone. It is neither film festival nor film market. It is closer to Las Vegas's Showest, or Orlando's Show East, which are more mainstream in their focus than, say, artier events like the New York Film Festival, although it is eclectic enough to include 'high art' movies, too."

"Guest of Cindy Sherman feels more like three or four docs fused into one entertaining (and sometimes squirm-inducing) concoction," writes Joy Press, who talks with director Paul H-O for Salon. "We get a sidelong view of the art world and its symbiotic relationship with commerce and celebrity, as well as an exploration of the awkward life of a famous person's 'plus one'... At the center of it all is Sherman, in a fragmented portrait of a woman H-O calls 'the most famous mystery girl of art,' a photographer who has used her own image as the basis for a hugely influential body of work."

Eric Kohn talks with Bill Plympton about Idiots and Angels. Also in the New York Press, Simon Abrams on Somers Town. More on that one from Bill Weber in Slant.

Somers Town

Somers Town also features in Aaron Hillis's new entry in his "Critic's Notebook" at Premiere - and so does Charly.

For VF Daily, Julian Sancton talks with Ben Kingsley, currently at work with Martin Scorsese on Ash Cliff: "At Tribeca this year, he changes gears once again with two very different comedies: War, Inc, a satire of the military industrial complex, and The Wackness, where he plays a pot-smoking, emotionally stunted psychiatrist against the backdrop of a changing New York in 1994."

Marcy Dermansky quite likes War, Inc.

For New York, Bilge Ebiri talks with José Padilha about Elite Squad.

At Cinematical:

At ScreenGrab: Phil Nugent on Bitter & Twisted, Confessions of an Ex-Doofus-Itchy-Footed Mutha, Finding Amanda, Boy A, Guest of Cindy Sherman and 3 docs.

In his latest dispatch at Stream, Eric Kohn covers Mike Figgis's appearance as part of the Tribeca Talks series, Wild Man of the Navidad and 57,000 Kilometers Between Us.

Alison Willmore has a "Rednexploitation!" roundup: Tennessee, From Within and The Wild Man of Navidad.

For Filmmaker, Jason Guerrasio on Chevolution; and Brandon Harris talks with John Magary (The Second Line).

At the L Magazine: Cullen Gallagher on Idiots and Angels and Sita Sings the Blues; and George Krzewski on Amos Poe's Empire II.

Online listening tip. Leonard Lopate talks with Robert Drew about A President to Remember: In the Company of John F Kennedy.

Online viewing tip. Jürgen Fauth has the first 20 minutes of "an extraordinary panel consisting of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, screenwriter Ann Druyan, artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky, and actor Matthew Modine." The topic is the 40th anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Sita Sings the Blues

Updates, 5/4: "Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues is a strange and beautiful little film, a potentially wispy slice of autobiography smartly elevated through irresistible, orgiastic style," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

"[Cindy] Sherman, already a sensation due to her Untitled Film Stills, happened to enjoy watching Gallery Beat, and while everyone in the haute art world clamored for interviews with her, she decided she’d prefer to talk to Paul H-O. This was like Nicole Kidman granting exclusive access to a pimply teenage blogger from some godforsaken dungeon in Secaucus." Andrew Hultkrans for Artforum on Guest of Cindy Sherman - and on The Universe of Keith Haring, too.

At Twitch: Simon Abrams on The Cottage, Let the Right One In and Fermat's Room.

At ScreenGrab: Phil Nugent on Man on Wire.

For the IFC, Stephen Saito talks up a This Is Not a Robbery roundtable.

At Zoom In Online: Keith Uhlich on Milosovic on Trial and Kicking It and Jim Rohner on From Within, Dying Breed and Killer Movie.

At Slant: Fernando F Croce on The Aquarium.

At Cinematical: Joel Keller on Head Wind.

Updates, 5/5: "I will gaze into my crystal ball right now and assure you that Tribeca did not premiere next year's big Oscar-sweeping triumph," writes Andrew O'Hehir. "But at least arguably, Tribeca screened the year's best films made in Britain, France and Sweden; at least two documentaries that will win multiple awards and draw loving audiences; a thriller that could be the latest Spanish-language hit; at least one American indie that's headed for cult status; and the latest work by the cinematic poet laureate of Winnipeg, Manitoba." He picks ten in all to watch out for.

Also in Salon, Amy Reiter talks with Trisha Ziff and Luis Lopez about Chevolution.

"Though it's still very much in search (and need) of an identity, this year's edition of the Tribeca Film Festival is the first one that hasn't left me with a case of agita," writes Filmbrain.

In the New York Sun, S James Snyder looks back: "Most notable, perhaps, about this year's winners is that they were not the titles being widely discussed three weeks ago.... [T]here's a populist sensibility about Tribeca that is particularly appealing on the film-festival circuit."

Phil Nugent wraps the festival for Screengrab.

Brandon Harris rounds it up for Filmmaker.

"John Gianvito proves once again that in the cinema simplicity begets superlative richness." Daniel Kasman on Profit motive and the whispering wind in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Karina Longworth presents her "Tribeca 2008 Recap" at the SpoutBlog.

"Guest of Cindy Sherman is a true work of talent and artistry," writes Keith Uhlich at Zoom In Online.

Updates, 5/6: Aaron Hillis puts the finishing touches on his "Critic's Notebook" for Premiere: Guest of Cindy Sherman, "a riveting, witty and quite sophisticated portrait of three overlapping subjects of varying depths, which belies the self-serving sameness of most artist docs"; Sita Sings the Blues, "the beautifully audacious feature debut of long-time comic strip artist Nina Paley"; and a list: "Premiere's Top 10 Films of Tribeca 2008."

Lou Reed's Berlin

Lou Reed and Julian Schnabel were on hand for a Q&A following a screening of Lou Reed's Berlin on Sunday and the Film Panel Notetaker went to work. More on the Playlist.

"Days in Sintra is Paula Gaitán's meditative, sensory exercise," writes Ricky D'Ambrose in the Tisch Film Review. "It is also a documentary, dedicated to her husband, the Brazilian filmmaker Glauber RochaM.a<, who passed away more than 25 years ago."

The Cottage is "an enjoyably but fairly schizophrenic genre experiment that does a fine job with the horror and comedy as separate components - but, as is usually the case, the combination of the two proves to be a very difficult feat to pull off," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical.

Stephen Saito talks with James Mottern about Trucker for the IFC. More from Time Out New York.

IndieWIRE indexes its coverage.

Cinematical's index.

"Undoubtedly the best fictional film to play at the Tribeca Film Festival is Luc Moullet's fantastic, weird little short, The Milky Way, where-in the strangeness of the world blossoms in cinema’s simplicity," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook.

And Daniel Kasman indexes his coverage, too.

"Attendance appears to have dipped for the second year in a row at the Tribeca Film Festival despite lowered ticket prices, a 25 percent reduction in the number of features and an attempt to consolidate most screenings in the Union Square area," notes the New York Post's Lou Lumenick.

Updates, 5/7: For Movie City News, Noah Forrest talks with Julie Checkoway about Waiting for Hockney.

At Cinema Strikes Back: Charlie Prince on Fighter and Susannah Gora, briefly, on Finding Amanda and Yonkers Joe.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:08 PM

Mister Lonely.

Mister Lonely "As a filmmaker, [Harmony] Korine - who made an instant sensation 13 years ago as the teenage author of the Kids screenplay, and earned the undying enmity of the entertainment press with his subsequent Andy Kaufman-esque mindfuck antics - combines an installation artist's eye with a Catskills comic's affection for the threadbare fringes of showbiz," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "Co-written with his brother Avi, Mister Lonely is startlingly straightforward compared to his earlier work. But, like that work, it stands or falls on each single, self-contained scene. And it falls, often.... But letting a movie keep its intimations of chaos... sometimes yields moments of wonder."

Updated through 5/6.

"Mister Lonely reveals that the punk abrasiveness of Korine's youth has been replaced by a lyrical self-pity - the apparent upshot of a decade on the skids," writes New York's David Edelstein. "I'm glad he has pulled himself together, but the film is pretty ramshackle, full of obvious group improvisations that fail to spark and an overdose of bathos."

"While the film falls short in comparison to his other films, Korine remains one of the most innovative and surprising new voices in American cinema," writes Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. "As a champion for the beautiful and the strange, I'll take bottom-shelf Korine over just about anything else currently playing in theaters."

"What to make of it all?" asks Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Hard to say. Just to take in the fact that its soundtrack is made up of music by both J Spaceman and Sun City Girls is to understand that this is a picture that's divided against itself in a way that's perhaps too hermetic to be comprehended."

"As he tells it now, the Harmony Korine of the 90s was not just a precocious upstart but also a thin-skinned kid," writes Dennis Lim, who met him recently for a New York Times profile. "Even then, he said, he realized that it was partly his youthful hubris and pranksterish humor that made him such a tempting target. 'It's one thing to understand it intellectually,' he said, 'but another to live through it.'"

Eric Kohn talks with Korine for indieWIRE.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and Toronto.

Updates: "All that Korine asks in exchange for his not passing judgement on characters is that the viewer does not either," writes Alex Ross Perry in the Tisch Film Review. "Considering the natural spectator/spectacle relationship that immediately arises when presented with a street performer or a celebrity, by giving you people who are pretty much both - at least as far as the film is concerned - Korine has already put the viewer at a distance from which judgement is difficult, if not impossible."

Mark Olsen profiles Korine for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 5/1: "Mister Lonely is enigmatic, its moods and meanings sometimes elusive in the way that dreams can be, but nearly every frame is an image of arresting clarity and beauty," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "And even when it strays beyond the border of sense, you can’t help accepting its logic and its truth, much as you do when your unconscious spools pictures in your sleep."

"While Korine's earlier films contained many moments of sheer artistic brilliance, they never congealed into a deeper, unified feeling in the way that they do here," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Sonically, visually, and structurally audacious, Mister Lonely firmly establishes Harmony Korine as a major voice in world cinema."

"I certainly don't mind if a filmmaker works with the same ideas and themes in more than one film, but while the two portions of Mister Lonely spoke to each other, I don't think they necessarily formed a single whole," writes Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "But the two films still operate as separate meditations on some of the same themes."

"Offbeat?" asks Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "Sure. But not as strange as, say, your average Charlie Kaufman screenplay. It's too bad, because for once Mr Korine has given audiences the sense that he was trying to create something that might play before midnight."

For the Guardian's Danny Leigh, Kids "still feels somehow under-appreciated to me, the combination of its teen-sex subject matter and the role of busted flush Larry Clark as director still keeping it from its rightful status."

"Mister Lonely has its moments of wonder and beauty, but the film is obscure by design, and meant to appeal to those who favor the alternative canon of directing greats: the one that includes the likes of Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, Crispin Glover, John Cassavetes, Claire Denis, Abel Ferrara and Vincent Gallo," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Korine clearly wants to be on that list too—though at the moment, the best he can do is pretend."

Korine is "a sideshow barker and Mister Lonely is his freak show," growls Armond White in the New York Press.

"Though Mister Lonely seems sweeter and more mainstream than Korine's other films, it still has that sense of randomness, of pathetic luck and habit and wisdom all combining to make up a life, or a collision of lives," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical.

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth talks with Korine about his media diet.

Andy Battaglia talks with Korine for the AV Club.

Erica Abeel talks with Mamet for indieWIRE.

"Mister Lonely is richer and sweeter than anything [Korine's] ever made," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon:

What it all boils down to, I think, is that Korine belongs more to the visual-art tradition of cinema than the psychological-drama tradition. It's simplifying only a little to say that all narrative filmmaking comes out of two strains of modernist theater, the Eugene O'Neill-Tennessee Williams strand in one direction and the Brecht-Artaud strand in the other. What most people expect in a movie, most of the time, is the O'Neill-Williams tendency, with naturalistic characters and cathartic resolutions. It's safe to say Korine isn't interested in that. He comes partly out of the more confrontational Brecht-Artaud tradition, and - like Godard and Jim Jarmusch and Peter Greenaway, to name filmmakers I bet he likes - out of photography and dance and advertising and postmodern art. It's not coincidence that he's spent the last decade making music videos and performance art projects rather than feature films.

Updates, 5/4: For Michael Sicinski, Mister Lonely is "a film riddled with as many good ideas as shoddy ones and in its own weird way all the more admirable for being such a sincere, ramshackle piece of junk."

"Although Harmony has never made a big deal of it, certain characters in his movies appear to have been influenced by people who appeared in his father's films," writes Gary Dretzka at Movie City News, where he also takes stock of recent developments in the distribution of art house movies.

Update, 5/5: "Korine's influence on American film culture has been minimal, all told," writes Nick Pinkerton in Reverse Shot. "I'm surprised to find myself thinking that this might not be entirely a good thing; slogging through any given season's slate of 'smart' indies, his spazziness seems a boon."

Update, 5/6: "Mister Lonely has gotten under the cinetrix's skin." And she's got some online viewing for you.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 AM | Comments (1)

April 29, 2008

Matt Zoller Seitz.

Matt Zoller Seitz The biggest news so far in an already eventful week is most certainly the announcement from Matt Zoller Seitz, by way of a conversation with new House Next Door proprietor Keith Uhlich, that he is leaving print journalism to devote himself to filmmaking full-time.

You can read or listen to that conversation as well as the comments that follow, and you'll sense immediately that Matt's thought this through and is more than comfortable with his decision. To which I say, congrats - and respect! I'll miss reading you in the papers, Matt, but hope that, as you say, you'll still be dropping in at the House, where you've always made all of us readers feel right at home. More, though, I look forward to watching your work.

Updates, 4/30: "Consider this a very short clip reel." Jim Emerson presents some of his favorite passages from Matt's reviews at the House. Because it was there that "he became a habit with me." I agree. Some writers gather strength when pressing up against limitations of form (call it the James Merrill Effect), while others flourish when cut loose (the John Ashbery Effect).

Keith Uhlich gathers more appreciations and best wishes at the House.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:18 PM

Shorts, 4/29.

João César Monteiro "João César Monteiro directed 21 films from 1969 until his death in 2003," writes Craig Keller. "Most of them are masterpieces, even of the supreme sort. I'd like more people to know him, and to pursue seeing and showing his work, so over the next few years I'm going to write on Cinemasparagus about all of his movies."

Just up at First Monday: Michael Z Newman on "Ze Frank and the poetics of Web video."

"Steven Soderbergh will direct The Girlfriend Experience, a feature that focuses on the world of prostitution from the vantage point of a $10,000-a-night call girl," reports Michael Fleming in Variety.

Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, has told Tim Murphy that he's working on screenplay for a biopic of Dusty Springfield - to be played by Nicole Kidman.

Congrats to the Iron Sky team on its grant from the Finnish Film Foundation!

Acquarello in the Auteurs' Notebook on Jean EustacheMes petites amoureuses: "Rather than a chronicle of the serial misadventures of a wayward young hero, Eustache's penchant for distilled naturalism and rigorous attention to detail suggests even greater affinity with Maurice Pialat, a shared aesthetic that is further reinforced through Pialat's appearance in the film as a visitor who challenges Daniel on his academic knowledge (placing great importance on learning the fundamentals that also reflects their like-minded approach to filmmaking)."

"A College Woman's Confession is Shin Sang-ok's big hit of the 1950s, and indeed the film that established his commercial career," writes Darcy Paquet. "Aesthetically, Confession contains accomplished acting, an effective use of suspense (despite the slow manner in which it unfolds), and a keen feel for image and sound during an era when technical challenges dominated the filmmaking process." Also at Koreanfilm.org, Adam Hartzell on Lump of Sugar: "Although I can't say the film is a stellar piece of work, I resolve to let the film be what it is, a decent film within the young adult, coming-of-age genre."

In the New York Times:

  • Elizabeth Vincentelli reports on the various reactions in France to the phenomenal success of Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis (Welcome to the Sticks): "Many pundits have interpreted the praise of small-town living in an unglamorous, untrendy region as a rebuke to [President Nicholas] Sarkozy's pro-capitalist politics and his flashy lifestyle. Indeed, the movie is laying bare fault lines running through a France anxious at the prospect of losing its identity and cultural roots to a dehumanizing globalization closely linked to America.... Curiously, the few expressions of dissent in the sea of love have come from the intellectual left, which usually has no problem railing against big money and Hollywood."

Grand Theft Auto IV
  • "Grand Theft Auto IV is a violent, intelligent, profane, endearing, obnoxious, sly, richly textured and thoroughly compelling work of cultural satire disguised as fun," writes Seth Schiesel. "It calls to mind a rollicking R-rated version of Mad magazine featuring Dave Chappelle and Quentin Tarantino, and sets a new standard for what is possible in interactive arts. It is by far the best game of the series, which made its debut in 1997 and has since sold more than 70 million copies." And the Guardian's Bobbie Johnson reports that "the suits in Hollywood are anxious that it may dent the profits of their summer blockbusters." Andrew Osborne comments at ScreenGrab and, via the House Next Door, Adam Rosenberg reviews the game for UGO.

  • "Kate Phillips, who played mostly supporting roles on Broadway and in more than 50 films in the 1930s and 40s and who later was a co-writer of the 1958 horror film The Blob, died on April 18 in Keene, NH," writes Dennis Hevesi. "She was 94." Related, at Slate: "In 2007, Torie Bosch attended Blob Fest and talked to Phillips about theories that The Blob represented America's battle against communism."

"The recent news that the board of Minnesota Film Arts has finalized a deal to sell the Oak Street Cinema to a developer isn't surprising, but it sure is heartbreaking," writes the Minneapolis Post. "The Oak Street was always a cinema of the heart, a cinéaste's equivalent of Hemingway's clean, well-lighted space. Its demise hurts." Comment here.

"If recent studio acquisitions are any evidence, then the fastest way to get a movie deal these days may just be to turn your next Big Idea into a graphic novel," writes Jay A Fernandez. "In a faddish frenzy, no fewer than 22 film projects born of graphic novels or comics have been announced in the last six weeks."

Also in the Los Angeles Times: "How many nonagenarians, even those with their health, still consider glamour, grace and fantasy to be among the most important things in life?" Emili Vesilind on Hats Off, Jyll Johnstone's documentary portrait of Mimi Weddell.

"A funny thing happened while I was watching Shine a Light," writes DH Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "I got bored."

Bette Davis "I came across a stack of albums that represented five years in the life of one [Bette] Davis admirer," recalls John McElwee. "She'd maintained them between 1938 and 1942.... Coverage in these scrapbooks was exhaustive. You look through such labors of adoration and realize just how important movie stars once were."

Nathaniel R is celebrating Michelle Pfeiffer's 50th.

It's another "Supporting Actress Smackdown" at StinkyLulu's, and the year is 1953.

"Is Gus Van Sant the most consistently adventurous director in America?" asks Ryan Gilbey. Also blogging for the Guardian, Mark Hooper reminds us of "Cinema's greatest controversies."

"Juan Lopez Moctezuma's Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975) is one of those movies you watch and, after mentally cataloging all the things wrong with it, realize how cool it really is... mostly because of all the things you thought were wrong with it," writes Arbogast.

Troy Patterson in Slate: "You can contrast [Amy Poehler's Hillary with her far more acute SNL impersonations of Dennis Kucinich (a twinkling elf) and Britney Spears (gum-baring, gum-snapping). Those are projections of her core comedic identity, which is puckish, slightly feral, and not in any great rush to be house-trained."

Michael Guillén talks with Chen Shi-Zheng about Dark Matter.

In the Observer, Philip French looks back on the career of Walter Matthau; and Katie Toms gets a few quick words with Morgan Spurlock.

Marianne Faithfull James Mottram has a long talk with Marianne Faithfull for the Independent Magazine.

There was a lot more to Bebe Barron than Forbidden Planet, Ed Halter reminds us at Rhizome.

"Amy Winehouse is working on a theme song for the forthcoming James Bond film with Mark Ronson, the producer has confirmed to the BBC."

Online fiddling around tip. Like riddles? Jonathan Lapper has a game for you.

Online listening tip. Rob Davis and J Robert Parks discuss the films of Michael Haneke.

Online viewing tip. Nick Dawson: "In 1965, Samuel Beckett wrote his one and only film script, an 18-minute short called, very simply, Film." Starring Buster Keaton.

Online viewing tips. Cineleet's "Directors' Cameos in Films," via Coudal Partners.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:01 PM

Fests and events, 4/29.

Maryland Film Festival Sujewa Ekanayake is impressed by the lineup for the Maryland Film Festival, running Thursday through May 4.

"The Coen brothers' Burn After Reading will open the 65th Venice Film Festival," reports Nick Vivarelli. "World preem of the dark spy comedy, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton, will launch from the Venice Lido Aug 27, ahead of its UK release Sept 5."

Also in Variety: Adam Dawtrey on the Edinburgh International Film Festival's new "cult" sidebar, "Under the Radar," and Jay Weissberg, wrapping the 23rd Turin International GLBT Film Festival.

"On May 10, audiences will gather at screenings, online, and around cell phones and televisions in far-flung locales from Cairo to Rio de Janeiro. They'll be there to watch four hours of documentaries and short features made by people around the world, on pressing issues ranging from climate change to political repression." Corey Binns for Good Magazine on Jehane Noujaim and Pangea Day.

David Bordwell posts an extensive entry on the just-wrapped Ebertfest, prefacing his and Kristin Thompson's takes on offerings with this: "You can get a sense of what was happening by checking Jim Emerson at scanners and Peter Sobczynski at Hollywood Bitchslap and Kim Voynar at Cinematical and Lisa Rosman at A Broad View and PL Kerpius at Scarlett Cinema and Andrew Wells at A Penny in the Well and many others. There is some coverage at the News Gazette, although the most informative stories from the paper aren't on the net. Then there's Roger's own blog, Ebertfest in Exile, which in one entry goes off on an unexpected trajectory... toward Joe vs the Volcano."

Blake Ethridge rounds up Udine-related interviews.

hot docs More from Bob Turnbull at Hot Docs: Talking Guitars, Shot in Bombay and All Together Now. And then, a wrap up.

Also: "Every once in a while, a film arrives that calls upon its audience to question everything that it believes about film," writes AJ Schnack. "Tehran Has No More Pomegranates is just such a film. Director Massoud Bakhshi has built a daring essay doc out of scratchy black and white historical films, beautiful film images from present-day Tehran and a series of narrations that defy logic and good sense. It's madness, this picture, deconstructing every notion of film, propaganda and history."

In the Guardian: Jonathan Glancey on Dan Dare and the Birth of Hi-Tech Britain. Wednesday through October 25 at London's Science Museum.

Recently updated entries: Cannes, Tribeca, San Francisco and Boston.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:03 PM

DVDs, 4/29.

Exiles Back in 2005, Marilyn Ferdinand issued a call in Bright Lights Film Journal: "Distribute This!" And now, Milestone is doing just that. A restored 35mm print of Kent Mackenzie's The Exiles, presented by Sherman Alexie and Charles Burnett, will begin its tour of the US at New York's IFC Center on July 11 - and a DVD will follow in late 2008 or early 2009.

"The 1960s had birthed the spaghetti Western, but by the early 70s - the 'Decade of Lead,' which brought neofascist bombings and Red Brigade assassinations - it was as dead as Dillinger, and the giallo and poliziotteschi were ascending. The latter genre, defined by rough and bloody crime thrillers, was inspired by such American cop films as Dirty Harry. But unlike American films, there were no good guys or bad guys - everyone was shaded gray." Grady Hendrix in the New York Sun on Pasquale Festa Campanile's Hitch-Hike, Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City and Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper.

"I get the sense after watching 5 Centimeters Per Second that [Makoto] Shinkai is at something of a crossroads," writes Jason Morehead. "Though barely an hour in length, 5 Centimeters Per Second is such a perfect encapsulation of the themes that Shinkai has been exploring in his work to date that one can't help but wonder what's left there for him to explore, and wonder where he'll go from here."

Land of Promise "A vast new box set from the British Film Institute, Land of Promise, which collects the most notable films of documentary-makers working between 1930 and 1950, is a compendium of what-ifs, in which the idea of a fair and equal Britain, one brought about by war but created in peace, seems so real and near as to feel graspable," writes Lynsey Hanley in the New Statesman. "In these richer but once more unequal times, it is hard to avoid nostalgia."

"There is, simply put, no film before or after Blast of Silence that uses the city as a character better or more knowingly, including the work of Jules Dassin, Sidney Lumet and Martin Scorsese," writes Brian Berger in Stop Smiling. More from Paul Matwychuk.

Stone Wallace, author of George Raft: The Man Who Would Be Bogart, has the Noir of the Week: They Drive By Night.

John Adair on Winter Light: "Bergman's camera and lighting move in unison with the burgeoning atheism of the film's central character to produce a scene that crystallizes the tension of faith present throughout the film."

"As [Miroslav] Tichý is a man with a very interesting past life who is now in his 80s and facing fame as an outsider artist, he of course would be the great subject for a documentary film," notes Mr Whiskets. "Luckily a director as sensitive to her subject as Nataša von Kopp came along first to create a portrait of the man before anyone else." Worldstar is now out on DVD in Germany.

Silent Ozu "Ozu made a lot of films in the 30s, many of which are silent, some of which are lost, and these early films are seldom screened, so the new Eclipse series release, Silent Ozu: Three Family Comedies, is valuable in that it lets us see the genesis of his refined late style," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door.

Also, Kevin B Lee on O Lucky Man!: "David Sherwin's screenplay seems to depend heavily on the audience taking its wry depictions of widespread dystopia at face value to attain an aura of verity." In the accompanying video at Shooting Down Pictures, Kevin and Dave McDougall discuss a scene.

With The Guatemalan Handshake, "[Todd] Rohal has whipped his world from the weedy ground up into a fiery, relentless storm of quirk, but he's original enough in his cataract of details to keep us in a constant state of enchanted disorientation. Why was Napoleon Dynamite with its relatively stereotypical uber-misfit, a hit, while this 2006 daydream foundered out of sight?" asks Michael Atkinson for the IFC. Also: "Another revelation, Lois Weber's Hypocrites is a deeply eccentric, troublingly lyrical vision, for its day - 1915! - and ours."

And in the New York Times, Dave Kehr reviews Kino's complete bundle, First Ladies: Early Women Filmmakers. But first, Gregg Araki's The Living End's "pop nihilism still packs a punch, its impact amplified by more recent mainstreamed, Oscar-friendly gay melodramas like Brokeback Mountain."

"[Julian] Schnabel's films - Basquiat, Before Night Falls (2000), and last year's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, out on DVD from Miramax this week - are stories of cruelly curtailed lives," writes Dennis Lim. "Not only is Schnabel respectful of his artist-heroes - and these are all unmistakably heroic films - he seems willing to absorb their aesthetic strategies." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Susan Spano presents a list of films that make Paris look lovely.

With the hype long dried up and blown away, "Cloverfield emerges now not as a hollow shell, but as some kind of brilliant conception, albeit one more than a bit too caught up in its calculated form to effectively indulge in the emotional undercurrents that made The Blair Witch Project one hell of a character study in addition to a representation of the moving image as point-of-view documentarianism," writes Rob Humanick.

True Romance At the Playlist: "True Romance 15 Years Later: A Look Back."

"Day Night Day Night isn't an easy film to watch, and it leaves you with more questions than answers," writes James Rocchi at the Culture Blog! "But as summer arrives at the movies with its fantasies wrung out of comic books and cartoons, and less complicated and more comforting forces of destruction battle for box office, think of Day Night Day Night as a chance to feel a chilling blast of something rich and dark before sinking into the cool, soothing air-conditioned embrace of big Hollywood."

"Does Billy Jack still work?" asks Paul Clark at ScreenGrab. "Nope."

With "The Mod Musicals of Lance Comfort," Kimberly Lindbergs not only does a terrific job of putting Live It Up! and Be My Guest high on your to-see list, she also tells you how to get your hands on the DVDs. Keywords: Joe Meek, David Hemmings and Steve Marriott.

Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign-Region DVD Report: Letter From An Unknown Woman."

DVD roundups: The AV Club, Sean Axmaker, Paul Clark (ScreenGrab), DVD Talk, Bryant Frazer, Paul Harrill, the Lumière Reader, Peter Martin (Cinematical), Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and Slant.

And as always, watch the Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:39 PM | Comments (1)

David Lean, 4/29.

Kevin Brownlow: David Lean David Lean "had a fortunate life, and his last piece of good fortune lay in attracting Kevin Brownlow as his authorized biographer," writes Philip French in the Observer. "Brownlow has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history, a practical understanding of film-making and this outstanding 832-page biography is as lucidly written and carefully produced as his trilogy on the silent cinema."

"On Friday, as part of the BritWeek celebration commemorating the British consulate's 50 years in Los Angeles, the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre will present a centenary tribute to Lean hosted by film historian David Thomson, who will discuss Lean's career and influences on such directors as Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and the late Anthony Minghella," notes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "The evening will include clips and reminiscences with Lawrence of Arabia editor Anne V Coates, Great Expectations actress Jean Simmons and [James] Fox."

Earlier: "David Lean @ 100."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:37 PM

SFIFF Dispatch. 2.

Brian Darr on two revivals in San Francisco.

Leave Her to Heaven

The San Francisco International Film Festival's first weekend of screenings arrived in conjunction with late-April weather that could be called summery, except that in San Francisco summer generally means cold fog, not blue skies and temperatures in the 70s. The festival staff introducing daytime screenings, at least the ones some of my friends and I attended, consistently thanked us for deciding to spend the afternoon in a darkened theatre. As if we really had any other option - I mean, how many opportunities does one get in a lifetime to watch a lustrous 35mm print of John Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven on a screen like the Castro Theatre's?

Leave Her to Heaven Movie buffs know how Leave Her to Heaven's sunny technicolor exteriors mask truly sinister impulses underneath. It's not for nothing that the film is frequently the sole full-color entry into the film noir canon. With such a reputation preceding, audiences don't have to guess whether Gene Tierney's longing stare at Cornel Wilde on their early New Mexico train ride portends eventual doom. Tierney's affection-starved green-eyed-monster is no simple rich bitch or cut-and-dried psychotic. Even in her most despicable moments, the audience is asked to empathize with the motivations, if not the twisted logic, behind her devastating acts. As a result, Leave Her to Heaven becomes as cutting an indictment of repression as anything by Ingmar Bergman.

Before the screening of the 1945 Fox picture, Schawn Belston presented a brief digital demonstration of how the film's restoration was accomplished, followed by a video introduction from Martin Scorsese. Scorsese reminded us that the archivist's job does not consist only of the restoration and preservation of film materials. Just as important is the proper exhibition of our cinema heritage, both to viewers already familiar with a particular work, and to newly appreciative audiences.

If the Leave Her to Heaven screening was a happy occasion to bridge the gulf between these two groups - classic cinema devotees and curious newbies - the previous night's screening of The Golem illustrated that trying too hard to connect a new audience with an old film can be fraught with complications. The Golem marked the 2008 edition of the festival's tradition of commissioning untraditional music scores composed and performed live by contemporary rockers. Launched in 2000 with Tom Verlaine's accompaniment of a selection of early 20th century avant-garde shorts, the series has joined Yo La Tengo with the films of Jean Painlevé, Superchunk with Teinosuke Kinugasa's A Page of Madness, the American Music Club with Frank Borzage's Street Angel, and much more. Silent film music purists have learned to steer clear of these match-ups, as the music generally makes little or no attempt to sonically simulate the experience silent-era moviegoers had watching the films upon original release. But for those of us concerned with perpetuating a living tradition of the appreciation of silent film art, these experiments represent an intriguing alternative to a meticulously-researched in-period score performed by a top-tier keyboardist or orchestra. If I prefer the latter, I still leave room to appreciate something different.

The Golem

I appreciated the musical accompaniment to The Golem, very much actually. It was composed and performed by Black Francis, best known as frontman for the Pixies, though he brought along a coterie of instrumentalists including prior collaborators Eric Drew Feldman and Duane Jarvis. Ralph Carney's flute provided the unexpectedly soprano sound of the shofar horn used at one point in the film, but this was one of the few instances in which the sound piped through the Castro speakers directly matched the action on screen. For the most part, the band's contribution was no score at all, but instead a set of ear-catching songs inspired by the 1920 German film. Francis would wail lyrics like "how did you get so screwed" and make references to the demon Astaroth, creating a parallel narrative that sometimes illuminated and sometimes dominated the images shot by Karl Freund.

The Golem Because I enjoyed the music so much on its own terms, I didn't so much mind the fact that the film was comparatively incidental to the experience. I did mind the attempted wisecracks about YouTube, the Castro Street Fair, and other irrelevant topics uttered by comic Roy Zimmerman, billed as "master of the ceremony" for the evening. These hapless attempts at wit, perhaps intended as bite-size benshi bits to help smooth over the alien experience of watching an 88-year-old film for Generation MST3K, thankfully did not draw much laughter out of the audience, and were infrequent enough that they didn't ruin the rest of the evening.

But honestly, The Golem is no masterpiece to desecrate; it's actually a rather thin telling of a well-known legend, and it takes a while to get very exciting. The Jewish inhabitants of a medieval Prague ghetto whose protection from an anti-Semitic emperor is a clay guardian come to life, played by the film's co-director Paul Wegener. The most interesting aspects of the film are its special effects, Wegener's earthen performance as the Golem, and the significance of the frizzy-hair, wizard-cap depictions of medieval Jews in a Weimar-era film that clearly is trying to appear sympathetic to the persecuted minority, even as it trades on superstitious stereotypes. I don't have my Siegfried Kracauer handy right now, but I'm curious to see what he says about the role a little blonde gentile girl outside the ghetto gates plays in the films denouement, and what it might have meant to audiences of the time.


More from San Francisco here.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:05 AM

Tribeca Dispatch. 3.

Bart Got a Room David D'Arcy on three films at Tribeca.

If you've ever thought of moving to Florida, or wished that you grew up there, see Bart Got a Room, the debut comedy by Brian Hecker, a high school prom comedy in which senior Danny Stein (Steven J Kaplan) has everything but a girlfriend. Yet he's still determined to go the prom. Shake well and serve.

The film was shot in Hollywood - Hollywood, Florida, that is - Hecker's dystopian hometown, which makes Miami look glamorous. I don't whether he lives there now, but somehow I doubt it. Danny, no surprise, is Jewish, although the fact that his parents are played by arch-gentiles Cheryl Hines and a tightly curled William H Macy clues you in to the absurd dimension of Hecker's script. Think of the palette of magic realism, and then transfer it to a parking lot.

Danny's parents have just divorced, and are already casualties of the singles scene. The boy is prepared to follow in his parents' misbegotten footsteps, with a nose that only a plastic surgeon could love. Hence the endless schtick of everyone giving him advice on what to do - from the parents of his chubby and freckled friend, Camille, who expects to be taken to the prom, to portly Craig, a fat peer with divorced parents - everyone seems to have them - who is tanning himself, without much success, in his swimming pool in preparation for the main event. Each character here is more deluded than the next, each one adding to the fun of this wry observation of a rite of passage. Think of The Tender Trap (1955) with Frank Sinatra, or the little-known classic, The Plot Against Harry (Michael Roemer, 1969), in which a smalltime Jewish racketeer, just out of prison, is under siege in the kitschy Bronx from well-wishers who want to find him a wife.

The title comes from a line that all the boys who talk to Danny repeat. A room is a synonym for prom night "action," and even Bart, the school's biggest nerd, has reserved one. Hecker has a keen ear for dialogue and for the way kids talk - a rare thing, in spite of the endless number of high school movies out there. He has a delicate touch with his mostly-young cast, so the gags don't have to pile on top of the zinger lines and try to nudge a laugh out of you. In fact, Hecker's craft, still on the way up, could use some refinement. I found that scenes tended to be too short, that the laughs could have been extended, and that's rare in a commercial comedy. It's a good beginning for a young writer/director with plenty of potential.

Paraiso Travel From Colombia comes Paraiso Travel [site], an immigrant saga directed by Simon Brand about two attractive kids from middle-class Medellin who decide to move to New York. It's no small ambition, if you're starting out in Colombia. It will cost them $3000 just to get started, and in case you haven't guessed, the going is not smooth. We encounter Carlos and Reina when they are already living in the kind of subdivided basement that becomes home for thousands of illegal arrivals in the outer boroughs of New York City. They fight, Carlos goes out for a smoke, and when police stop him for littering, a chase follows which injures a cop and takes Carlos so far away from his basement that he can't find his way back - and he can't speak English.

Paraiso Travel shifts between two odysseys - Carlos's quest to find Reina, and the couple's initial trip through Guatemala and Mexico to get to the US. The first strand presents a pretty generic view of New York as a very cold town when you're Colombian, broke and unable to speak anything but Spanish. It's the second story that's harrowing, the best thing about this movie. Paraiso Travel has been a hit in Colombia since January, and Tim Padgett's gushing feature/review in Time saw it as an "honest look at illegal immigration," and an indication of the Colombian cinema miracle that's just over the horizon. That's about as realistic as saying that Raul Castillo, who plays Carlos, is the next Gael García Bernal - and people are saying that, although 99.9% of them are Colombian women. Angelica Blandon, who plays Carlos's sexy and impulsive girlfriend, may be someone worth watching as well.

Love, Pain & Vice Versa From Mexico comes Love, Pain & Vice Versa, a formal exercise directed by Alfonso Pineda-Ulloa about a young woman architect, Chelo (Bárbara Mori), who decides to find the man who has been haunting her dreams for a year. She ends up running over the fiancée of the man in question, Dr Marquez, (Leonardo Sbaragli), who looks like an Armani-model posing as a cardiologist. Their two fantasies and attractions clash, all heading to a dark ending in faceless locations in Mexico City, with rain pounding like an endless Hitchcock loop, and music pulsing at every pivotal moment.

Pineda-Ulloa is a UCLA grad from the producers' program, and he studied photography in Mexico City. He has talent - a sure hand with the camera and with his actors, and a sophomoric need to impress whoever's watching. The film plays like a job application with an overcharged resume of someone seeking high-budget commercial work, and offers strong evidence that he would be able to shoot a music video, a fashion ad, or even a feature. Let's hope this talented young man makes a movie next time.


More from Tribeca here.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:49 AM

April 28, 2008

Reverse Shot. 22.

Numero Deux "For this issue, we attempted a unique approach by asking our writers to select a filmmaker who's traditionally worked in film and has moved to digital video, as a brief sidestep or a career-changing ideological statement," announce Reverse Shot editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert. "Then we asked them to contrast and compare this digital foray with their earlier cinematic style (unfortunately no one picked up the offered gauntlet of The Godfather vs Youth Without Youth).... Do we see differences in shooting style? Has digital editing had an impact? What does this all mean in terms of aesthetics? Or storytelling?"

Eric Hynes: "Coppola and De Palma went video in 2007. Lynch went video in 2006, Michael Mann in 2004. Eric Rohmer did it in 2001. Following technological strides in the late 90s, the above projects by established masters would seem to provide an historical time frame for an above-mentioned sea change. Except, when did Jean-Luc Godard first make a feature with video? That would be 1975, thank you very much.... By 1975 and Numero Deux (in the time it takes many filmmakers to complete a single film) he was through with propagandistic projects and pronouncements, and ready to address video not as an arm of the proletariat but as a vocational option, with benefits and drawbacks, as well as an aesthetic and mechanical tool to be pondered, tested, used, and abused."

"As the aesthetic-material history of cinematography goes, [David] Fincher's 2007 feature, Zodiac, shot by Harris Savides just might prove to be the turning point for rethinking the way the night is photographed, a revolution that comes about because of Savides's beautifully, ineluctably alien experiment with digital video," writes James Crawford.

"Contempt had bred familiarity." Kevin B Lee on how a 2004 screening of Saraband caused him to lay to rest "a decade of personal misgivings and outright scorn I had harbored against Ingmar Bergman." Why? "In a word, digital. Startling as it was to see [Erland] Josephson and [Liv] Ullmann together after three decades - like encountering one's high school enemies after years of separation - their appearance on HD doubled this perverse nostalgia effect. The sight of them awash in a strange new palette of colors and textures - drawn in hard contours but brushed in soft metallic pastels - suggested classic Bergman being beamed from a digital afterworld."

The New World "To set a movie like Days of Heaven next to something like The New World is to compare two films that have been assembled with completely different technologies, products of two different filmmaking eras." And Chris Wisniewski concentrates specifically on editing - cautiously: "To speak of 'going digital' in the context of editing takes a conceptual leap of faith predicated on tenuous counterfactual speculation, a guess - that the tools and the process have impacted the final result in ways we can more or less deduce, even though we can never know with certainty that the film we're watching would have been different if the tools used to edit it were different."

Leah Churner opens up an interesting case: "Mike and George Kuchar have proudly marched in step with the consumer-grade vanguard for over 50 years. Their filmography, which covers big-ticket issues of the second half of the twentieth century (the atom bomb, thalidomide pregnancies, UFOs, the sexual revolution, AIDS, and F-4 tornados) is a tour of the 'puny' formats: 8mm, 16mm, Video-8, Hi-8, and now MiniDV. Their story helps to sully the film/digital divide. When they switched from Bolex to camcorder in 1985, it was a paradigm shift; when they switched from analog to digital video in the 90s, the difference was hardly discernable."

"The equipment is always improving, always refining, and will certainly overtake celluloid as the defining capture and delivery tool for movies, even if it retains a certain level of imperfection. If little of the audience can note the difference, does it even matter?" asks Jeff Reichert. "A generally disrespected figure like Robert Zemeckis may well prove to be a flashpoint for unlocking this moment."

Inland Empire "Like many directors (Hitchcock being only the most psychoanalyzed), Lynch is obsessive, even anal, about each aspect of his films," writes Leo Goldsmith. And Inland Empire "is all about self-control.... But if this is true, why is Inland Empire such a mess? Why is it a film that, unlike any previous Lynch film, seems to lack control entirely, that flits from scene to scene - indeed into and out of various diegeses - almost at random? Has Lynch in fact lost, rather than gained, control with this new medium?"

"[I]s there any 'filmmaker' who faces the shifts within his chosen medium with such blissful unconcern as Chris Marker?" asks Andrew Tracy. "Though Marker has been supplanted from his own experiences by the record he's kept of them, pushed even further away by the interpolation of the filmed records of others, it can be said that his aesthetic is founded precisely upon losing images - losing proprietorship over them, seeing them taken away and transformed by each successive incarnation.... Like his fellow recluse Godard, Marker is forever concerned with the meaning of the image, but where Godard's palimpsests overload those images with meaning both visual and aural, the meaning of Marker's images is being forever stripped away, and any trace of his 'authorship' with it."

"In his last two films, [Michael] Mann has used video to enrich and make palpable his earlier works' angular sheen," writes Ryland Walker Knight. "The familiar is foreign, the margin is focused, and action takes on a new weight in tandem with its new speed."

"Is it the use of video - its mobility, the allowance of endless takes and pickup shots, the cheapness of the tape - that has permitted [William] Greaves to construct [Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take 2 ½] with more traditional images?" asks Michael Koresky. "In other words, had the burden and cost of shooting on film in [Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One] forced him to forgo these familiar tropes, relying instead on whatever captured images he could assemble into a somewhat chronological whole? The answers aren't easy, but that the questions remain testifies to the thin line between invention and pragmatism in experimental filmmaking, as well as the fortuitousness that contributed to Take One's brilliance and the lack of spontaneity that makes Take 2 ½ more of an interesting oddity than an equally valuable work."

Full Frontal Benjamin Mercer notes that, all these long years after his 1989 debut, sex, lies and videotape, "Soderbergh still uses video as a medium of unbridled confession, a unique outlet for furtive unburdening. Full Frontal was even heralded as a kind of spiritual sequel to sex, lies, and videotape, and while it didn't come close to duplicating that film's immense financial (or critical) success, the claim is certainly more than a disingenuous sales pitch. Soderbergh still delights in playing the voyeur, and a look at his body of work suggests it's video that allows him to do so most freely."

"If we don't herald or appreciate [Robert Altman's] The Company as a revelation on the same level of In Praise of Love or Inland Empire it's because the film's innovation is so much absorbed into the process of the filmmaking that we can't immediately know its technical import," argues Michael Joshua Rowin. "But that process is the secret treasure which when once discovered makes us fully appreciate just what a miracle - a minor one perhaps, but a miracle - it really is."

"Writing in his film column for the Village Voice in 1963, [Jonas] Mekas predicted that 'the day is close when the 8mm home movie footage will be collected and appreciated as beautiful folk art, like songs and the lyrical poetry that was created by the people,'" notes Eric Kohn. "More than a prophetic statement, it was a declaration of aesthetic intent. Ever the fierce guardian of independent cinema, shielding it from the deleterious pressures of studio product, Mekas recognized cinematic redemption in the formal properties of thriftiness."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:12 PM | Comments (7)

Frieze. May 08.

Frieze May 08 "Can we still imagine the uncanny pleasure of seeing pictures in motion for the first time?" asks David Campany in a compelling piece on the work of Mark Lewis in the new issue of Frieze. "If that pleasure lives on anywhere, it is in contemporary art, which seems compelled to spiral back to the beginnings of cinema. Indeed the theorist and curator Raymond Bellour has spoken of a 'Lumière drive' in much recent film and video art, with its preference for the long take, simple apparatus and almost forensic attention to duration and movement."

Mark Leckey opens this issue's "Life in Film" column with an appreciation of Blade Runner: "I love this film for the same reasons I love Roxy Music: they share a sense of yearning for the past and the future, for another place and another time, but it's flattened out, so everything seems to occur at the same time in the same space." The rest of his list is a fine mix; one I hadn't known about intrigues me - and it's on DVD, too: "A Bigger Splash (1974) is a strange, fake documentary made by Jack Hazan, a portrait of David Hockney... Hazan gets Hockney and his friends to act out real situations as well as recording events as they occur. It makes for such uncomfortable viewing I don't know why anyone agreed to appear in it."

Rosalind Nashashibi's films are "concerned with how selfhood mingles with or is dissolved into performance and codification," writes Martin Herbert. "Nashashibi points to the formative influence of watching groups of actors rehearse, seeing how fluently they slip from role-play to being relatively 'themselves,' and she's also confessed to artistic crushes on Pier Paolo Pasolini and Robert Bresson - who famously used non-actors in their films - but she proceeds from the opposite direction, locating the latently fictional in the factual."

Lars Bang Larsen: "Marine Hugonnier deliberates subjectivities and technologies of seeing with a film trilogy that she characterizes as an anthropology of images: Ariana (2003), The Last Tour (2004) and Travelling Amazonia (2006)." Honorably mentioned: Georges Perec, Jean Rouch and JM Coetzee.

Chromophobia Back in the late 90s, David Batchelor wrote a book called Chromophobia about "the fear of contamination or corruption through colour. It is found in the tendency to treat colour as somehow at odds with the higher workings of the Western mind, as feminine, primitive, oriental or infantile; as superficial, inessential or cosmetic. Somewhere between a meditation and a rant, I looked at the use and suppression of colour in art, architecture, movies, literature and philosophy." Four years after the book's publication, he heard about Martha Fiennes's film, Chromophobia, starring the likes of Kristin Scott Thomas, Penélope Cruz, Ian Holm, Rhys Ifan and, of course, Ralph Fiennes. An amusing story of his relationship with a movie that, really, has next to nothing to do him or the book follows. And then, of course, along comes Gui Boratto.

"Despite its limitations..., Is That All There Is? did succeed in providing an accurate dual picture of [Lindsay] Anderson as both a progressive maverick and, at the same time, a very British character," writes Richard Unwin.

George Pendle reviews Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, the movie and the recent show at the Deitch gallery, which is "problematic. After all, is such a show necessary when a quick trip to YouTube will reveal countless films made in exactly the guerrilla spirit Gondry seems to be trying to foster? The revolution has already been televised."

Online extras: Dan Kidner on If: people and places in recent film and video, Natasha Degen on John Currin and Chris Sharp on Owen Land: Logical Facades:

What makes this show special is its context: up until now, for various logistical and financial reasons, Land's films have only been shown in the context of the cinema, either individually or as part of a screening programme. Inserted into a white cube, they become both less and more themselves. Less in that, bereft of the big screen, they tend to shed some of their once radical, non-narrative recalcitrance. However, projected in easel-painting size proportions in close proximity to their projectors, they almost become objects, and their stunning celluloid presence and original concerns (illusionism, borders, materiality) are made all the more manifest through this intimacy.

And while the whole of this new issue is of at least tangential interest to cinephiles, let me put an extra word in for Kristin M Jones's piece on Barbara Bloom's show at the International Center of Photography.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:21 PM

Boston Dispatch. 2.

Once again, the cinetrix.

Savage Grace Is it truly already Day Six? How'd that happen?

The cinetrix had heard the rumors before arriving, but now she can confirm that filmmakers really do love the Independent Film Festival of Boston. Day and night you see first-timers and seasoned vets alike milling about the lobbies, bent in conversation at local bars and restaurants, and happily answering audience questions at Q&As right up until the next screening is scheduled to seat.

Long absent from the silver screen, director Tom Kalin brought Savage Grace to the Coolidge Corner Friday, the night before its Tribeca nod. He spoke candidly and at length about why it'd taken so long after Swoon to get Grace made, its genesis as a gift from producer Christine Vachon of the book on which the true-life tale is based, and how the vagaries of international financing can affect casting.

Robb Moss explained Saturday how he'd moved from autobiographical docs like The Same River Twice to shooting Secrecy with codirector Peter Galison. Moss wryly observed that "It's a really crappy idea" because you couldn't choose a less visual subject than what we are forbidden to see. The result, however, is a riveting and truly enraging look at the modern history of United States governmental secrecy policy, from the 1950s Supreme Court decision that set the precedent for the state secrets privilege clause to the recent Hamdan v. Rumsfeld et al. decision that upended the confidentiality culture shrouding military tribunals in the war on terror.

Following the screening of her debut doc Wild Blue Yonder, Celia Maysles also spoke frankly about a difficult subject, in this case the chilling effect of her uncle Albert's refusal to let her see or use any footage by or of her father, David Maysles, who died when she was seven years old. Now an expert in fair use law, Celia explained how Al's failure to cooperate pushed her to go deeper, unearthing Lois from the Grey Gardens birthday sequence, video of her father from the Larry Rivers foundation, even Olga Silverstein, her father's former therapist, to compile a portrait perhaps as personal as the solo film Blue Yonder that her dad was working on when he died. She noted, too, that had IDFA not accepted her film last fall, she doubted it would have ever screened in her father's hometown.

American Teen Nanette Burstein packed the house for Sundance fave American Teen, a film the cinetrix will predict right now will unseat Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and those penguins as the top-grossing doc of all time after it's released this August. Additional screenings of two other crowd-pleasers have been added to Monday night's line-up. Twelve, directed by twelve of Boston's best up-and-coming directors, sold out its World Premiere screening and packed a 900-seat theater. And Crawford, a look at the effect of the First Family's residency on the Texas town, sold out two screenings so far and is going for a third.

Still to come: Sunday and Monday highlights and the audience award winners.


More from Boston here; earlier: Dispatch 1.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:31 AM

SFIFF Dispatch. 1.

Craig Phillips files a first dispatch from the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The Toe Tactic Animator Emily Hubley, the daughter of renowned animators John and Faith Hubley (A Windy Day, Voyage to Next), is perhaps best known for her work on Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but she's also director of a wealth of fine animated shorts. The Toe Tactic [site] is both her first feature and her first live action film and, as you'd expect and hope, that live action is interspersed with her wonderfully wobbly, colorful cartoons. In the post-screening Q&A, Hubley confessed that her original intent was to make an all-live action film, with one brief animated sequence, but then things took off, evolved... and now, animated dogs control the universe in playfully self-deprecating interludes that do a fine job of carrying the film forward.

The film stars lovely young actress Lily Rabe, who has a little bit of a young Laura Linney-ish vibe, and is the daughter of Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe), along with Daniel London (Old Joy), who plays the shy elevator man who finds her appealing.

The Toe Tactic is also boosted by a wonderfully eccentric, recognizable cast of indie stalwarts - including the ubiquitous Kevin Corrigan as a neighborhood piano teacher, John Sayles as Rabe's landlord, the always reliably wacky Jane Lynch (the "fuck buddy" boss in 40 Year Old Virgin and several Christopher Guest mockumentaries) as a bitter open mic night hostess and Mary Kay Place as the worrying mother - along with voices provided by comics (David Cross, for example, as one of the animated dogs) and veteran actors (Eli "Yes I'm Still Alive" Wallach, Andrea Martin, Marian Seldes). A plot involving Rabe's friendship with an eccentric and lonely woman played by Novella Nelson gets a bit muddled along the way. The multiple character framework with the gentle comedy about yearning and loss may remind you of Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know and the melancholy Australian film Look Both Ways, and while it isn't as polished as either of those films, it's charm lies in its low-key humor (the open mic night is one highlight) and sweetness.

Toe Tactic has some decidedly awkward, amateurish moments in pacing and tone, and the thin story isn't really much to hang a cartoon hat on - young woman trying to finally move past the tragic death of her father years before - but Hubley mostly resists making things too mawkish or cutesy, and the film does grow into its own as it moves along. In short, it's slight and imperfect, but so lovely and lovingly made that it's hard to pick on, too.

The appropriately moody but sweet music score is by Yo La Tengo, by the way, one of the members of which is Emily Hubley's sister Georgia.


Online viewing tip. Crackle talks with Hubley (and shows a couple of clips from the film, too).

More on SFIFF here.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:10 AM | Comments (5)

Interview. Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Redbelt Fresh off its premiere at Tribeca, David Mamet's Redbelt sees a limited opening this weekend before screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival and opening wider on May 9.

Sean Axmaker introduces his interview with Chiwetel Ejiofor: "His body language and his carriage are essential to the way he inhabits his characters, whether they are calm and controlled men of strength and determination (Children of Men and Serenity) or casual and easygoing in volatile situations (Inside Man and American Gangster). His presence and his physical interactions with other characters define his character, Mike Terry, even more than Mamet's marvelous dialogue."

Updated through 5/4.

"So how's the Mamet Rocky?" asks David Edelstein in New York. "Fast. Lively. In your face. Very watchable. And, like its predecessors, so bizarrely convoluted it barely holds together on a narrative level. But the underpinnings are consistent. As Mamet has evolved into a confident and resourceful film director, his worldview has hardly budged.... Ejiofor is a great Mamet spokesman. He internalizes the lines - he internalizes everything - so you're not aware of all the finicky punctuation. Like Forest Whitaker, in Jim Jarmusch's ludicrous Ghost Dog, he can speak of the spirit and honor of the samurai without making you long for John Belushi."

"In the context of David Mamet's directorial career, Redbelt breaks no ground, signals no new direction, adds nothing to what he's done at the typewriter and behind the camera thus far," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "In taking up where 2004's largely ignored Spartan left off, Redbelt instead merely reconfirms the pros and cons of Mamet's unique brand of tough-guy dramatics."

"David Mamet may not be the visual stylist that Jean-Pierre Melville was, but in most other respects, his Redbelt is faithfully cast in the tradition of the great French auteur's Le Samouraï," argues Nick Schager in Slant. This is "a precise, invigorating portrait of the difficulty and nobility of remaining true to oneself."

"All fighters are sad." In the New York Times, Mamet himself recalls three examples: Stanislaus Zbyszko in Night and the City, Kola Kwariani in The Killing and Takashi Shimura in Seven Samurai.

"Chiwetel Ejiofor brings [to] his role a strong presence and the ability to convey complex thought and emotional storms going on beneath a placid surface," writes Phil Nugent in ScreenGrab. "He deserves a lot of credit for not appearing ridiculous when his character pounds away at the jujitsu formula that appears to be his all-purpose mantra for life: 'There is no situation you can't escape from. There is no situation you can't turn to your advantage.'"

Updates: Andrew O'Hehir's "advice is this: Don't give up the day job, Dave. The whole thing with misanthropic plays that bit your middle-class audience in the ass - that was working much better. Mamet turned up briefly onstage at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center to introduce the movie, and at age 60, with a full gray beard and translucent horn-rimmed spectacles, he now bears a totally unexpected resemblance to Allen Ginsberg. If you follow such things, you may have noticed that Mamet recently declared that his politics have diverged pretty far from, say, Allen Ginsberg's. But even I do not think it's fair to blame the badness of Redbelt on Republican ideology."

"[B]y my sights, the first 74 minutes of this 99 minute picture constitute Mamet's best effort as a film writer/director since, well, maybe, his indelible film writing/directing debut, 1987's House of Games," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "Now, as you may have inferred, that is not to deny that there is a falloff, and that the falloff takes place not long after the 74th minute. And yes... that is true. But, by my sights, it's not nearly as egregious a falloff as the one that completely sunk Mamet's last film as writer/director, 2004's Spartan. For whatever its flaws, Redbelt offers up a good deal of Mametian red meat while also trying to break out of some of the strictures that Mamet's erected around his own work."

Update, 4/30: "Neither oppressive nor subtle in its symmetries, Redbelt is a cleanly constructed piece of work," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "In press notes so long, detailed, and repetitive they could only have been supervised by Mamet himself, the filmmaker is identified as a longtime student of, and purple belt in, jujitsu. Thus, Redbelt is a personal statement, as well as a sort of naturalized kung fu western and revisionist Popular Front boxing drama."

Updates, 5/2: Paul Matwychuk has the most fun review of Redbelt you'll read.

"In Redbelt, David Mamet has taken a sturdy B-movie conceit - a good man versus the bad world, plus blood - tricked it out with his rhythms, his corrosive words and misanthropy, and come up with a satisfying, unexpectedly involving B-movie that owes as much to old Hollywood as to Greek tragedy," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "That may sound like a perilous combination, but the film's visual moderation, contained scale and ambition keep it well tethered."

"What I like about David Mamet's movies is how lean and propulsive his characters are - clipped and sure of themselves," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Not particularly cinematic, clearly existing on the page through dialog and the determination of action through written word, it is nevertheless refreshing to see a film like Mamet's great Spartan (2004) and his less impressive Redbelt and hear someone speak. Because from the look of the actor and the shine of the words, we can know all there is to know about the character."

"In many ways [Mamet's] most straightforward film, Redbelt is a ruthlessly executed tale of cloistered warrior honor exposed to the open air of a fallen world," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "In other words, it's an old samurai story, but Mr Mamet's clockwork mechanism is downright cathartic and his leading man, Chiwetel Ejiofor, is charismatic enough to watch indefinitely."

For James Rocchi, writing at Cinematical, it's "not as impressive or thought-provoking as some of his other dramatic works, like Glengarry Glen Ross or House of Games or Oleanna; at the same time, it's an exciting, engaging mix of drama and action supported by an immensely appealing lead performance by Chiwitel Ejiofor."

"Redbelt is Mamet's richest film of the decade," declares Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

Redbelt is "a contemporary noir with a samurai movie interior, as sincere, plaintive and strangely optimistic a movie as [Mamet's] made," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

"[T]he film's intricate plot begins to collapse the moment the lights come up and you begin thinking about the story," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

"Mamet's self-seriousness stifles Redbelt's cinematic potential," argues Armond White in the New York Press.

Updates, 5/4: "Docile when you want it to snarl, slovenly when you expect it tighten, Redbelt is a confounder," writes Justin Stewart in Stop Smiling.

"The movie is my love letter to the world and philosophy of jiu-jitsu," Mamet tells Chris Lee in the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:41 AM

April 27, 2008

May 68.

The Struggle Continues There are so many commemorative series in various cities marking the 40th anniversary of May 68 and so many writers revisiting films somehow related to that tumultuous month in various publications that it's high time for a sort of overview entry.

"New Yorkers can mark the occasion with two rich and wide-ranging programs that aim to capture, on screen, the spirit of that bygone age," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "One, at Film Forum (Friday through June 5), is devoted to [Jean-Luc] Godard in the 1960s, when he was at the height of his influence, productivity and creative power. The other, at Lincoln Center (Tuesday through May 14), stretches across geography, time and genre: from Paris and Chicago to Hungary, Japan and Brazil; from journalistic documentaries to agitprop and experimental theater; from defiant in-the-moment statements of revolutionary zeal to somber post-mortem contemplations of ideological exhaustion and political defeat.... To rediscover 40 years later some of the cinematic experiments of 1968 is to be amazed at how raw, how urgent, how disarmingly alive these films are."

Updated through 5/4.

There are two series in London as well. The current issue of the BFI's Sight & Sound has much to offer in print, though not online, as a supplement to the BFI Southbank season Pop Goes the Revolution: French Cinema and May 68, wrapping on Wednesday; last month, Gilbert Adair, who wrote the screenplay for Bertolucci's The Dreamers, based on his own semi-autobiographical novel, had a piece on the series in the Guardian. And Will Kane's gathered several related clips.

All Power to the Imagination! 1968 and Its Legacies is on through June 10, and just yesterday, I pointed to Sukhdev Sandhu's piece on that one in the Telegraph, accompanied by a list of his May 68 top ten. See, too, Sue Steward's introduction to an exhibition of 46 vintage street posters opening at the Hayward Gallery on May 1. Earlier: Daniel Tapper, blogging for the Guardian.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit in 1968 In Berlin, Kino Arsenal presents 1968//2008, a series of 98 films beginning on May 1 and running through July and including all the works of the Dziga Vertov Group (1967 through 1974). Kino Babylon Mitte's series Paris: May 68 runs May 9 through 16 and features an exhibition and an opening debate, "1968 in Today's Europe," between Daniel Cohn-Bendit and André Brie. And still on through the end of May: 68: Brennpunkt Berlin. For more, see Silvia Hallensleben in today's Tagesspiegel (and in German).

Recently wrapped is the Pacific Film Archive's The Clash of 68, and Michael Guillén had a terrific piece on Bertolucci's Before the Revolution.

Meanwhile, in today's Observer, Nick Fraser, editor of the BBC documentary series Storyville, argues that "agitprop is back in vogue." And he lists ten films, from Citizen Kane through Brokeback Mountain, that "made waves."

Updates, 4/29: For the New York Sun, Steve Dollar previews the Lincoln Center's 1968: An International Perspective (today through May 14) - and Film Forum's Godard's 60s (Friday through June 5).

Tom Hall looks over both series, too, and asks, "What is left for me, for my generation? Where do we stand in relation to this definitive experience that has shaped our collective imagination, an image of populism so powerful that we have been unable to replace its fundamental physical structure in the decades since its collapse?"

At the House Next Door: Lauren Wissot on It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives and The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp.

Ricky D'Ambrose in the Tisch Film Review: "There is a tremendous passion to revitalize the medium with these films, and an immense offering of images and sensations curious about the cinema's potential for being agitated, disrupted, transformed."

A symposium: "Many 68ers now feel ambivalent about their heritage. Was too much of value discarded? Were the hippies just carriers of a new strain of capitalism? What was the silent majority thinking? Prospect writers give their views." Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Hot Splice rounds up more linkage.

The Guardian asks, "Were you there?" And Daniel Tapper revisits Godard's Weekend.

The Creative Review takes a look at those posters.

WR: Mysteries of the Organism Updates, 4/30: "Back then, it seemed as though life itself were a movie," writes J Hoberman. As for the Lincoln Center series, "the quintessential movie is: Dusan Makavejev's 1971 WR: Mysteries of the Organism is part counterculture doc, part New Left comedy, the saddest and funniest of 68 post-mortems, as well as the movie most redolent of the period—that is, everything at once."

Also in the Voice, Scott Foundas presents "A Necessarily Incomplete Guide to Godard."

"The fierce debate about what happened 40 years ago is very French," notes Steven Erlanger, reporting from France for the New York Times. "While a youth revolt became general in the West - from anti-Vietnam protests in the United States to the Rolling Stones in swinging London and finally the Baader-Meinhof gang in West Germany - France was where the protests of the baby-boom generation came closest to a real political revolution, with 10 million workers on strike, and not just a revulsion against stifling social rules of class, education and sexual behavior." And there's a slide show.

Cinema 68 / Forget 68

Cahiers du cinéma presents a book, Cinema 68. And speaking of books in French, Daniel Cohn-Bendit is stirring things up in France with his latest, Forget 68.

The L Magazine's Mark Asch on the Lincoln Center series: "Expect formally boundary-pushing metacinematic works and movies whose reels can be shown in any order, on-the-street documentation, and more and more and more. And Regular Lovers. (God, see Regular Lovers.)"

Update, 5/1: "Nearly every text in the current issue looks at May 1968 specifically in historical counterpoint, operating in a comparative and genealogical mode that brings the questions of 68 to bear on today," writes Artforum editor Tim Griffin. "To give an example that speaks to the contemporary art context: When independent scholar Sally Shafto writes of the Zanzibar group's intermingling of leftist politics and cinematic dandyism - and attributes a 'destabilizing potential' to their contradictory mix - one is bound to think as well of similar film- and video-making collectives working now and to wonder whether the potential of such seeming contradiction in culture remains the same."

Unfortunately, Shafto's essay is not online, but a few of this issue's May 68-related pieces are: Arthur C Danto looks back at the student revolt at Columbia University, Sylvère Lotringer talks with Antonio Negri, Tim McDonough revisits Henri Lefebvre's The Explosion: Marxism and the French Revolution (tipping his hat to Godard's La Chinoise along the way), Tom Holert surveys Germany's radical art scene at the time (Harun Farocki provides much of the imagery accompanying this one) and Liam Gillick argues that "1968 was the last instance of major change within the art context, supplying us with the critical tools we still use today."

Chris Kraus notes that "after 1968 the word liberation would have to migrate from a term used to describe anticolonial struggles to include almost all aspects of daily life. In the ensuing half decade, sexuality became central to these investigations..." This introduces a discussion of Suck: The First European Sex Paper, which "also produced the Wet Dream Film Festival of banned erotic and pornographic films in Amsterdam, which took place in 1970 and 1971, and published a book (Wet Dreams: Films and Adventures) commemorating the festivals in 1973. 'Everyone was lovely,' [Heathcote] Williams recalls of the era in [Jim] Haynes's 1984 autobiography, Thanks for Coming! 'Suddenly the vision of everyone Coming Together could only be physical... no longer intellectual. The sex politics of Reich, the belief of Auden that we must love one another or die, the holy orgiastics of Willie Blake, God's Rake, had to burst through... Suck was a display of pantheistic and revolutionary Schtupping. You cannot fuck everyone in the world, but at least you can try.'"

"Since 1968, the west has grown not only more prosperous but more sybaritic and self-absorbed, and even that cultural victory of the left hasn't turned out as intended, especially in terms of the sexual revolution that was arguably the true legacy of the age," writes Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Guardian. "The 'bourgeois triumphalism' of the Thatcher (and Blair) era, the greed is good ethos which even the governor of the Bank of England now condemns, and our materialistic individualism, might just have had their roots 40 years back."

Pierrot le fou

Updates, 5/2: Kenji Fujishima on Pierrot le fou:

[T]he heart of this seminal Godard work lies not so much in its "last romantic couple," not in Raoul Coutard's eye-popping color cinematography (capturing both privilege and freedom in lush comic-book colors), not even in its many plot twists and tonal and genre shifts. All of these are certainly important to the film's being, of course, but its real heart and soul lies in its middle section: that lengthy passage set at the edge of civilization, in the south of France, as Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) - now liberated from the alienating clutches of his privileged life - strives to live out his dream of intellectual freedom, while the less introspectively inclined Marianne (Anna Karina) yearns to "go back to our detective novel, with fast cars and guns and nightclubs." This passage is perhaps the most personal and resonant in Pierrot le fou: no longer shackled by the chains of narrative and genre expectations (which of course Godard tries to undermine in his usual postmodern way), Godard himself, ever the intellectually searching mind, is free to give full rein to all the philosophical and political inquiries that are weighing on him.

Also at the House Next Door, Dan Callahan on Breathless: "The Hôtel de Suède sequence is the heart of the film, and Godard returned to and intensified it in Contempt, where Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot try to connect for at least a half hour. This man/woman battle is really completed, though, in Jacques Rivette's L'Amour Fou, which brings the struggle to it logical, May of 1968 destruction (it has been rumored that Rivette based his hotel nightmare with Bulle Ogier and Jean-Pierre Kalfon on an actual incident between Godard and Karina toward the end of their relationship)."

While May 68 is being "vigorously commemorated" in France, any real debate "is confined mostly to the media and intellectual class," writes Patrice de Beer at openDemocracy. "The normally voluble President Nicolas Sarkozy (who said during the election campaign in 2007 that 'May 68's heritage must be liquidated once and for all') has since kept quiet. More important, the French 'people' themselves - in whose name so many of the 1968 protests were launched and speeches were delivered - appear uninterested."

Update, 5/4: "[W]hen we talk of Godard, certainly in terms of post-68 France, we're talking about a cinema not just politically engaged but transformed into a medium for political confrontation: filmic missives that refuse to cloak their agenda in tangential details like narrative or character," writes robbiefreeling at the Reverse Shot blog. "Godard's first film, then, was to always remain unlike any of those that followed; political only as it related to genre representation and the decimation of his beloved art form in the hopes of rebuilding something new in its place, Breathess was both a new beginning and a full stop."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:31 AM | Comments (1)

April 26, 2008

Weekend shorts.

Jia Zhangke "[M]y adolescence happened while the state was utterly transforming the lives of each and every individual Chinese. In many ways it is still like this today - perhaps not as pronounced, but each political change, each policy shift has an immense influence on individual lives. And so when I began to make movies, this is where my attention turned." Jia Zhangke in what is, clearly, a highlight of Good Magazine's "China Issue; editor Jaime Wolf has been posting related blog entries in the meantime; for example, he presents a "Chinese Pop Primer" with an accompanying Muxtape.

"Jiang Rong's big-advance (well, for a Chinese title...) Wolf Totem has been getting an extraordinary amount of attention in the US and UK this spring, with a big build-up up to its publication, but from the looks of it Ma Jian's Beijing Coma is the far more interesting Chinese-novel-event of the season," notes the Literary Saloon, pointing to Chandrahas Choudhury's rave in last week's Observer and quoting from Tash Aw's in the Telegraph: "Once in a while - perhaps every ten years, or even a generation - a novel comes along that profoundly questions the way we look at the world, and at ourselves. Beijing Coma is a poetic examination not just of a country at a defining moment in its history, but of the universal right to remember and to hope. It is, in every sense, a landmark work of fiction."

Cineuropa's Bénédicte Prot reports on Michael Haneke's next film, Das Weisse Band (The White Tape), his first in German since the original Funny Games: "The film - which once again explores the cruelty at the heart of the director's work, here in the form of ritual punishment - is set in a school in the German countryside in 1913, before the rise of Nazism. Haneke looks at the educational system that prepared the way for an entire generation's descent into fascist ideology, a subject and era that have not yet been tackled in film, as the director is keen to point out." He's aiming for a release about a year from now.

Tilda Swinton "Tilda Swinton will star in Italo helmer Luca Guadagnino's Io sono l'amore (I Am Love), a romantic drama in which she will play a foreign society matron in Milan who falls for a young chef," reports Nick Vivarelli for Variety.

"In a major step forward on The Hobbit, Guillermo del Toro has signed on to direct the New Line-MGM tentpole and its sequel." Dave McNary reports for Variety. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir argues: "It's not a good idea.... At least on the surface, it's a natural fit, and I hope my premonition is wrong. But this whole project smells to me of hubris, and indeed of something worse: It smells of George Lucas."

"The most bizarre thing about the new intelligent-design propaganda film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed isn't that former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein is being paid to extol a pseudoscience whose hypotheses can't be tested (everyone has a price), or that the film compares science with Nazism and Stalinism (though it does, repeatedly and remorselessly)," writes Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "What's truly weird is that the filmmakers don't seem to understand the tenets of intelligent design." More from Steven Hyden (AV Club) and Andy Klein (LA CityBeat). And the Guardian's Danny Leigh rounds up more bloggish reactions.

"A would-be erotic thriller with no heat and zero chills, Deception has the kind of glassy, glossy sheen and risible story that mean to suggest Basic Instinct but instead invoke lesser laughers like Jade and Sliver," writes Manohla Dargis. More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Jim Emerson (RogerEbert.com), Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times), James Rocchi (Cinematical), Nick Schager (Slant), Bradley Steinbacher (The Stranger) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).

Also in the New York Times:

  • "In Swaziland, one of Africa's smallest countries and its sole remaining absolute monarchy, the prevalence of AIDS and starvation ensures an average life expectancy of 31 years," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "But Without the King, Michael Skolnik's subtly perceptive documentary, avoids a tone of first-world outrage; leaning more toward understanding than blame, the film examines a country forced to choose between tradition and survival." More from Bruce Bennett (New York Sun) and Louis Proyect.

  • "Bomb It isn't the first documentary to address the history and evolution of graffiti culture, and it probably won't be the last," writes Laura Kern. "But what distinguishes Jon Reiss's lively, sure-handed film from the rest is that it widens the spectrum by taking a comprehensively international viewpoint."

Tashan
  • "With the arrival of the comically exuberant action-adventure-romance Tashan in theaters on Friday, the Great Bollywood Bikini Question of 08 - will she or won't she wear one? - was finally answered," writes Rachel Saltz. "Readers, she did."

  • Allen Salkin on the legal squabbling over The Secret.

  • "Bebe Barron, who with her husband Louis composed the first electronic score for a feature film - the eerie gulps and burbles, echoes and weeeoooos that accentuated invisible monsters and robotic creatures in the 1956 science-fiction classic Forbidden Planet - died Sunday in Los Angeles," writes Dennis Hevesi. "She was 82."

  • Also: "Iris Burton, a chorus girl in the 1940s and 50s who later started a talent agency that represented many of the top juvenile actors in Hollywood, including River and Joaquin Phoenix and Henry Thomas, the wide-eyed little boy in E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, died on April 5 in Los Angeles. She was 77."

  • An AP report: "Joy Page, the stepdaughter of Jack L Warner, a president of the Warner Brothers studio, who made her film debut as a Bulgarian newlywed in Casablanca, died on April 18 in Los Angeles. She was 83."

"Tough to even think this was an intended antidote to Altamont." Colin Fleming on Cocksucker Blues, where Bill Gibron revisits the career of Rod Serling: "Just like the decision to sell his interest in The Twilight Zone backfired when CBS parlayed the program into rerun gold, Serling's choice to not personally oversee Night Gallery would end up destroying his dream of a weekly series success."

Substitute "If you've ever been dumped, had your dreams crushed, had your very identity stripped inch-by-inch from you by unfeeling hands (that covers about all of you is my guess), then Substitute will resonate with you," writes Stuart Jeffries, who talks with soccer player and filmmaker Vikash Dhorasoo.

Also in the Guardian: Emily Barr floats a theory or two as to why there aren't any good, never mind great films for kids anymore; and John Patterson on the comeback of the American penis.

"Given the amount of big money involved in film, you'd think that the story of on-screen strikes has been one of wealthy producers trying to demonise non-compliant workers," writes Daniel Trilling in the New Statesman. "But from the cheery, singing factory girls led by Doris Day in The Pajama Game (1954) onwards, this hasn't been the case."

Ready to argue about which are the 100 best films again? The Telegraph is.

In the Tisch Film Review, Dene-Hern Chen isn't quite sure what to make of the "odd" doc, Belarusian Waltz.

"On the one hand, when faced with the end of the world, there is really nothing you can do except bear witness to it in some form, which here means documenting it with video," writes Steven Shaviro, reviewing Diary of the Dead. "On the other hand, even if the video is uploaded onto the Net, it is unclear whether there will be anyone left to watch it - the witness lacks an audience. Such is the antinomy on which the film ends, and I think that it is a profound one. We have moved from being a 'society of the spectacle' to being a society of participatory and interactive media."

"Maybe the reason for the junkiness of so much of what pretends to entertain us is that we have accepted - indeed, we have helped to articulate - such a narrow, debased concept of entertainment," proposes Michael Chabon in an essay the Los Angeles Times has excerpted from Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands. "The brain is an organ of entertainment, sensitive at any depth and over a wide spectrum. But we have learned to mistrust and despise our human aptitude for being entertained, and in that sense we get the entertainment we deserve."

A Freewheelin' Time "A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties is only partly about Dylan," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "[Suze] Rotolo has written a perceptive, entertaining and often touching book about a remarkable era in recent American cultural history, about a way of living, of making art, that couldn't have happened at any other time or in any other place."

At Cinemascope, Talia Lavie has a good talk with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus about working with Fassbinder and Scorsese, Nicholson and De Niro.

Gill Pringle talks with Christina Ricci for the Independent.

In the Los Angeles Times, Tina Daunt talks with Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro about Body of War.

Interviews in the London Times: Kevin Maher with Danny Glover and Janice Turner with Gwyneth Paltrow.

Adam Ross's interviewee this week: "Call him Dylan, or Fletch, or even Dr Rosenpenis - but don't call him easily amused."

Nick Dawson in FilmInFocus: "As a way of making my blogging in this space a little more adventurous, I've decided to embark on a little experiment: For the foreseeable future (i.e. as long as I can sustain it), every daily blog entry will be in some way connected to the previous day's post." And recently, he's been smashing seemingly unrelated cultures up against each other. Also, a brief history of red band trailers.

Bruce Bennett's piece in the New York Sun on the state of shorts is actually tied into Tribeca, but doesn't need to be. He talks, for example, with Matthew Modine, "who grew up working in a drive-in theater owned by his family, compares moviemaking before and after the digital revolution with the defining creative threshold that separated black-and-white from Technicolor."

Sky Crawlers Online viewing tip #1. Twitch's Todd Brown has the trailer for Mamoru Oshii's Sky Crawlers.

Online viewing tip #2. With Julia Kots's Naturalized, Nextbook launches a series of online short films.

Online viewing tip #3. Via Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay, Very Independent Producers, with Ted Hope and Christine Vachon.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:43 PM

Weekend fests and events.

Manoel de Oliveira "My films rest - I won't say eventually but rather fundamentally - on memory, because it is through memory that we orient our actions, thoughts and feelings," Manoel de Oliveira tells Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. The Talking Pictures of Manoel de Oliveira runs through tomorrow.

"Geoffrey Smith's The English Surgeon, which debuted last year at the Sheffield DocFest, took the top international prize at Hot Docs in Toronto on Friday night, winning the award for Best International Feature," notes AJ Schnack. "Tamar Yarom's To See If I'm Smiling, which previously has received awards at IDFA and Sarasota, received the Special Jury Prize." And AJ's got the full list of award-winners.

Related: Bob Turnbull on Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home and Monika Baryzel at Cinematical on Letter to Anna: The Story of Journalist Politkovskaya's Death and The Demons of Eden.

Far East Film Festival Todd Brown's still sending reviews into Twitch from Udine.

From Hollywood Bitchslap's Peter Sobczynski at Ebertfest: Entries 2, 3 and 4. More from Kim Voynar at Cinematical.

Rob Nelson has more Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival previews: Disconnected, Pond Hockey and Dean and Me: Roadshow of an American Primary. The fest runs through May 4.

Mike Everleth has the lineup for this year's PDX Film Festival. Wednesday through May 4 in Portland.

At Boing Boing, Xeni Jardin has a sneak peek "at a show opening at New York's Adam Baumgold Gallery on May 1 - Alphaville, by Scott Teplin, features meticulously rendered pen and ink and watercolor drawings inspired in part by Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 film (which happens to be my favorite movie, ever, period)."

Eija-Liisa Ahtila: The Cinematic Works "Few things say serious art like a darkened gallery and multiple video screens, which makes Marian Goodman one of the most serious galleries in town," writes Roberta Smith in the New York Times. "In side-by-side solo shows through Wednesday, it is screening new work by two prominent artists in the cinematic medium, Chantal Akerman and Eija-Liisa Ahtila. Their combined efforts add up to more than the sum of their parts: a lesson in big budgets, ambition and making sense."

Nick Davis and Nathaniel R arrive in Indianapolis, where the festival carries on through May 3.

"At a time when most rep houses seem to be in hot water, Los Angeles' New Beverly packed 'em in [Tuesday] night for the finale of Dante's Inferno, two weeks of forgotten classics guest programmed by Joe Dante," writes Peter Debruge. "While many of the director's picks were obscure, none could compete with The Movie Orgy, a marathon 4½-hour clip show Dante first assembled in 1968 with Jon Davison, then put on ice for nearly four decades.... Over the years, the project has earned a borderline apocryphal reputation, called by some the 'Rosetta Stone' of Dante's career - a glimpse deep into the filmmaker's id - and it's a testament to the city's cult film scene that so many stayed for the entire show."

The Bomb "The Movie Orgy isn't really a movie," writes Dennis Cozzalio. "It's more like a hallucinatory party for the certifiably movie mad. What began in 1968 as a lark instigated by two creative movie fans (Dante and his close friend, future producer Jon Davison) soon became an event, an explosion of movie geek love that morphed into a small cult phenomenon... Dante and Davison boldly and proudly mash up the sophisticated and the sophomoric. Their slice-and-dice aesthetic is hardly random though; the narrative lines of those sci-fi movies that provide what there is of the Orgy's spine are routinely violated by the intercutting of TV commercials, patches of industrial and sex education films and political speeches (1968 being the point of origin here, Nixon gets kicked around plenty)."

Nashville Film Festival announces its awards. On a related note, Joe Leydon: "Since I'm much too humble to report on how wonderful I was Tuesday evening while doing an on-stage Q&A with the great Patricia Neal when she received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Nashville Film Festival... well, I'll just link to this scintillating report on the evening's festivities."

In the Telegraph, Sukhdev Sandhu previews All Power to the Imagination! 1968 and Its Legacies - and lists his "top ten films which encapsulate the spirit of May '68."

"It's a milestone year for the San Francisco Black Film Festival," notes Walter Addiego in the Chronicle. "Starting as a one-day event, this cultural celebration is about to mark its 10th year, running June 4 - 8 and 11 - 15."

And current entries on ongoing festivals have been updated recently: Boston, San Francisco and Tribeca.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:48 PM

Previewing Iron Man - and Summer 08.

Iron Man "With its dusty Humvees, violent Afghan battlefields, and worries about the munitions business, the upcoming Iron Man is a film set firmly in 2008," writes Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun. "That'll do, I suppose, but what was wrong with 1963? If there's any tale that deserves the chance to return to the sheen, swank, and soul of its Rat Pack, space-age, pay-any-price-bear-any-burden origins, it's Iron Man's."

"Finally, someone's found a sure-fire way to make money with a modern Middle East war movie," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Just send a Marvel superhero into the fray to kick some insurgent butt. The powerhouse comicbook-inspired actioner Iron Man isn't principally about this fantasy, but it won't hurt at least American audiences' enjoyment of this expansively entertaining special effects extravaganza." Also, Anne Thompson: "[I]f Iron Man delivers on the prognostications, the first summer blockbuster of 2008 will see several participants emerge with new cachet."

Updated through 5/2.

"You gotta love a middle-aged wreck as a superhero," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "Iron Man may not make the A-list of Marvel Comics' stable - home to Spider-Man, X-Men and the Hulk - but he may be the cinema superhero for the rest of us.... Iron Man, the first self-financed production from Marvel Studios, should catch boxoffice lightning in a bottle, thanks to hiring longtime Marvel Comics reader Jon Favreau as director and the supersmart casting of Robert Downey Jr as the conflicted protagonist."

Robert Downey Jr's "charismatic performance holds Jon Favreau's film together when it threatens to lose its way between the crash-bang set pieces," writes the Evening Standard's Nick Curtis.

But Time Out's David Jenkins finds the whole thing "little more than an elongated, episodic and sporadically charming introduction to the life of this mechanised millionaire superhero, light on both CGI and moral quandaries, and possessing neither the zip and sparkle of a Spider-Man nor the brooding existential subtexts of Batman Begins."

"For its first 60 minutes (of a total of 126) Iron Man manages to overcome quite a few obstacles to become a surprisingly chirpy comic-book action movie," writes Yair Raveh.

Rachel Abramowitz has a long profile of Downey in the Los Angeles Times, where Cristy Lytal has a shorter one of creature effects supervisor Shane Mahan.

Earlier: "2008: Robert Downey Jr's Year."

"The summer of 2008 will feature an unusually deep bench of comic-book characters," write Lauren AE Schuker and Peter Sanders in a preview for the Wall Street Journal that comes equipped with an interactive thingy.

Previewing this summer's movies, the Telegraph's David Gritten notes that never before has an entire season, not just individual titles, been promoted as heavily in Britain. A 60-second trailer, for example, featuring flashes from 28 forthcoming movies, is playing in British theaters this weekend. Moviegoers with longer attention spans can also pick up a 16-page magazine - for free. And Will Lawrence recalls visiting the set of Speed Racer.

Gabriel Shanks surveys the season and decides: "The Good News: May is going to rock. The Bad News: The rest of the summer I should mostly read."

Updates, 27: In the New York Times, Michael Cieply takes a look at the bad boys of summer: "Businesses and business people remain some of Hollywood's most reliable villains. But the next crop of corporate heavies appears to have something attractive in its villainy. Perhaps that means a long-overdue acceptance by movie makers that at least some of those who pump oil, sell stock, run airlines and build our increasingly fuel-efficient cars are not completely without value."

In the Observer, Chrissy Iley talks with Harrison Ford about Indiana Jones and things in general.

The Oregonian's Shawn Levy talks with Jeff Bridges about Iron Man and more.

Updates, 4/28: "Every age gets not the superhero it deserves but the superhero it needs to ease its anxieties," proposes David Edelstein in New York: "the midwestern farm boy who conquers metropolitan crime; the caped vigilante of the Gotham night; the tortured teen whose sticky excretions become a source of potency; the persecuted freaks whose differences empower them to save the normal folks. Now, in Iron Man, the first of the season's megabudget comic-book spectaculars, we get an American weapons mogul whose guilt over facilitating the deaths of US soldiers and Mideast civilians impels him to turn off the arms pipeline and rescue Afghans from marauding warlords.... I loved it."

"Downey, who completely dominates the whooshing junk pile that is Iron Man is on his own wavelength, and he turns the movie into a hundred-and-eighty-five-million-dollar put-on," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "Downey has a star's confidence now, and, if the audience takes to him, he could probably do this insouciant acting turn again. But it would be a bad joke on him - his most unfortunate mishap - if he winds up clanking around in a metal suit forever."

Film Threat presents its "2008 Summer Preview."

PopMatters launches its week-long preview of the summer.

Ming Doyle: Iron Man

Via Brainiac Joshua Glenn, the winning designs from Project Rooftop's contest calling for redesigns of Iron Man's armor.

A list from Peter Hartlaub: "Best and worst superhero movies."

Update, 4/29: "The problem with Iron Man is the script... or the utter lack thereof," writes David Poland. "But the suit is really, really, really cool." Karina Longworth comments.

"It's all designed to a tee, and nothing feels particularly risky," writes The Visitor at Twitch. "That said, Iron Man is really The Robert Downey Jr Show. Without him, the movie would be just another typical superhero picture."

For the Independent, Stephen Applebaum talks with Terrence Howard (Lieutenant Colonel Jim Rhodes/War Machine in Iron Man).

Updates, 4/30: "Iron Man is the first Marvel Comics superhero movie I would willingly sit through a second time," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "This is the result not just of what the movie does, but what the movie doesn't do. One reason Iron Man doesn't suck as a Marvel adaptation is that it smartly sticks to the spirit of what made Marvel comics so entertaining during its 60s Golden Age."

"Forget about all the fantastic action," begins Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Dismiss the disarmingly smart, wry screenplay, and ignore the phenomenal supporting cast. Feel free to overlook the dozen components that make Jon Favreau's Iron Man the most uniquely entertaining superhero movie in a long time... I've got the one main reason that this flick is worthy of your two hours and ten bucks right here, and that reason is named Robert Downey Jr."

As for summer movies in general, at Twitch, Colin Armstrong looks back at "a few lavish productions which not only bombed but took something of (in my mind’s eye, anyway) an unfair critical drubbing."

Updates, 5/2: "Though Favreau remains best known for writing and co-starring in 1996's hipster totem Swingers, he honed his directing chops with a couple of richly imaginative, resolutely low-fi kids' movies, Elf and Zathura," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "If the larger-scale, bigger-budget Iron Man never quite ascends to those heights of tinsel-and-string splendiferousness, it maintains Favreau's fondness for the handmade over the prefab, for Erector Sets over CRPGs. It's an exemplary comic book fantasia."

"Readers of movie reviews often think that critics hate the big Hollywood stuff and cherish only the little films about Romanian abortions or Iranian kids," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "But some of us, this one anyway, knows that there's an American style - best displayed in the big, smart, kid-friendly epic - that few other cinemas even aspire to, and none can touch. When it works, as it does here, it rekindles even a cynic's movie love. So cheers to Downey, Favreau and the Iron Man production company. They don't call it Marvel for nothing."

Iron Man The New York Times' AO Scott finds Iron Man to be "an unusually good superhero picture. Or at least - since it certainly has its problems - a superhero movie that's good in unusual ways. The film benefits from a script (credited to Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) that generally chooses clever dialogue over manufactured catchphrases and lumbering exposition, and also from a crackerjack cast that accepts the filmmakers' invitation to do some real acting rather than just flex and glower and shriek for a paycheck."

"It's difficult to imagine a better actor-character fit than that between Robert Downey Jr and Iron Man, the superhero who, out of all of comic book writer Stan Lee's creations, probably possesses the darkest of dark sides," writes the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday.

"We can win the war on terror, the movie suggests, with the force of Robert Downey Jr's personality alone," smiles Dana Stevens. More seriously, "The movie's central conflict, which is also Stark's internal one, has to do with the ambiguity inherent in waging war." Also in Slate, Grady Hendrix:

Even now, Iron Man represents Stan Lee's adolescent dog-eat-dog version of capitalism, the version that appeals to our "might makes right" monkey brains: Innovation is good; monopolies rock when we run them, suck when we don't; big corporations need CEOs rich enough to own space jets; and regulations should be a result of the CEOs' benevolence and wisdom, not imposed by outsiders. Tony Stark is a self-made man who believes that we can build ourselves out of trouble. He's one of America's romanticized lone inventors who, like Steve Jobs, solve problems by locking themselves away in secret workshops to emerge later with their paradigm-shifting inventions.

"[E]ven as Iron Man fulfills its genre obligations, it transcends them, thanks to lively direction by Favreau and, especially, the tour de force performance by Downey, who cements the comeback he's been building in such films as Zodiac, A Scanner Darkly, and (especially) as the bumbling hero of the criminally neglected Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. So "Stop Trying To Kill Robert Downey Jr!"

"There's chunkiness in the third act of Iron Man, and some of the characters are underwritten in Paramount's bid to make that all-important 126-minute mark," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "But even in its closing moments, there's something fascinating about the way Mr Favreau takes a few steps back from the likes of Transformers, Fantastic Four and X-Men: The Last Stand. The world of Tony Stark is not one steeped in far-fetched fantasy, but in the dirt and sweat of hard labor. Iron Man is not a hero because of his gadgets, nor his intellect, but because of his work ethic."

"The ace up Iron Man's sleeve, quite unexpectedly, is Gwyneth Paltrow, who brings both radiance and gentle intelligence to the role of a glorified housekeeper called Pepper Potts," writes Tim Robey in the Telegraph. "How she takes out the laundry in those heels is beyond me, but she's a great sport for doing it, and her dry chemistry with our hero is worth a dozen atomic warheads."

For the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, Iron Man is "a cheerful and unpretentious change to the current crop of war movies. At least at first. But I am sorry to say that it is guilty of the sneaky chauvinist trick of making the ultimate villain an American: a mannerism common to many Hollywood movies that cannot quite bring themselves to accord foreigners the status of effective enmity."

"If you're one of those literalists who has a hard time dealing with exploding planets, radioactive spiders or mutant genetics in your superhero movies, Iron Man may be right up your alley," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "While the big-screen debut of the armor-plated Marvel Comics hero may feature technology that's way ahead of reality, a very human heart beats within this souped-up action machine."

Jesse Phillips's Iron Man Poster

For the Independent's Robert Hanks, the film "is by the standard of superhero yarns unusually, even uniquely, thoughtful, witty and three-dimensional - a popcorn movie that has some of the satisfactions of a proper three-course meal."

"[T]here's simply not enough exhilarating slam-bang juice to the film, which bogs down in corporate intrigue when it should be putting its energy (and considerable budget) toward colossal clashes between Stark and his nemesis," argues Nick Schager in Slant.

Downey "gives his part of Tony Stark - the whiz inventor-mega-billionaire who converts himself into the clanking crusader Iron Man - a wit, passion, intensity and irony that light up the whole movie," writes Michael Wilmington at Movie City News.

"[A]lthough Downey spends a certain amount of screentime inside that suit, his face still carries the movie, giving it emotional weight," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

"Iron Man is the rare comic-book movie that makes the prospect of a sequel seem like a promise instead of a threat," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

"Solid and funk-free, Iron Man lovingly tosses American ego about like a cat with string, mixing things up just enough to remind us that, when we get down to what's really important, there isn't that much separating traditional red state muscle from blue state radicalism (among other factors, least of which are the deceivers and thieves among us)," writes Rob Humanick. "All within the space of a traditional nuts-and-bolts studio summer picture, that is - the area in which Jon Favreau's very-capable Marvel adaptation succeeds most broadly, its barely-hidden subtext deliberately de-politicized in favor of more a more universally guided moral compass."

"The ultimate male power one-man-show, Iron Man is less successful as political allegory than as sexual fantasia," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:15 PM

Then She Found Me.

Then She Found Me "Then She Found Me, a serious comedy, is more impressive for what it refuses to do than for its modest accomplishment," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "The directorial debut of Helen Hunt, who plays April Epner, an anxious 39-year-old kindergarten teacher in New York City, it has all the ingredients of a slick, commercial farce, which it emphatically is not."

"A movie about a woman in her late 30s who is desperate to have a baby is a hard sell in the male teen-oriented movie environment of today, or so the story goes in nearly every mainstream media outlet, including this one," notes the Los Angeles Times' Carina Chocano. "[D]efying all laws of probability and presumed palatability, this week offers up two such movies - one a bright, broad comedy starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and another a narrower, flintier movie starring Helen Hunt and Bette Midler. Despite the appearance of Midler, Then She Found Me treats the subject more dramatically, likening the desire to have a child to hunger, thirst or the urge to relieve oneself - all three longings that will make anyone cranky, Hunt especially. The problem isn't so much the character of April as it is the way Hunt plays her - a little too whiny, a little too angry to be very sympathetic."

Updated through 4/28.

"Hunt and Midler are both underrated actresses, and though their conviction is obvious, their characters' propensity to blather is neither unique nor justified, simply psychotic - a transparent attempt on the filmmakers' parts to make this melodrama about motherhood and surrogacy seem less conventional and unspectacular than it really is," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

"It's a romantic comedy, it's a mother-daughter drama, and most importantly, it's an unpretentious, gentle, moving film," writes Marcy Dermansky.

"Hunt directs like she acts - straightforward and without humor, even when she's meant to be funny," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.

"The anxieties and angst of middle-class, middle-aged women remain rich, underexplored cinematic territory, but Hunt's instantly forgettable film does little to make this deep vein of cultural experience seem vital or exciting," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

"The story of a lonely woman confronted with the betrayal of her husband, her mother, and her God, Then She Found Me flirts with cinematic cliché but finds surprising rewards in its idiosyncratic story," writes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun.

Vulture Amy Preiser explains "How Helen Hunt Got Salman Rushdie to Give Her a Sonogram."

Lisa Rosen talks with Hunt for the Los Angeles Times.

Online listening tip. Michelle Norris talks with Hunt for NPR.

Update, 4/28: "What makes this small movie work is the filmmakers' curiosity about the many-sidedness of need - the way genuine benevolence, say, can be cloaked in blunt intrusiveness, or the way insults can be a reckless demand for love," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "We get the feeling that these people are far from completed as personalities, and that the movie's end, when it comes, is more like a pause. With any luck, Helen Hunt will continue to put complicated people on the screen."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:02 PM

Tribeca Dispatch. 2.

David D'Arcy on a doc about a monolithic figure of 20th century art and history. 

Portrait of Diego: The Revolutionary Gaze Portrait of Diego: The Revolutionary Gaze, by Gabriel Figueroa Flores and Diego López Rivera, is a composite picture - a walk through Diego Rivera's work, reminiscences from Rivera's children and grandchildren of the rotund muralist who reigned over Mexican art, and an introduction to footage from a never-completed documentary made by Rivera with the extraordinary photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo and the cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa (who shot Los Olvidados and other films with Luis Buñuel).

Rivera is the kind of cultural figure that doesn't exist in our times. After studying in Paris and passing through impressionism, cubism and other styles, he returned to Mexico to make Mexico his canvas, to paint so many of its walls - literally - that he would depict himself coyly as an architect in the vast murals that he made of Mexico's history and folklore. Rivera so dominated Mexican art during his lifetime - overshadowing his muralist peers David Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco and his dutiful mournful wife, Frida Kahlo - that our images of Mexico in the 20th century are more often than not drawn from some image that Diego Rivera made of fruit, flowers, Indians or conquistadors. In a country that called its political party the Institutional Party of the Revolution, Rivera was the institutional artist.

Portrait of Diego: The Revolutionary Gaze

The new doc by Rivera's granbdson and Figueroa's son personalizes the man who looked like a cross between Buddha and a toad - and who painted himself unflatteringly as just that again and again. Rivera knew that his strength wasn't his appearance; it was his skill at creating inspirational evocative appearances that seduced (almost) an entire population - from a pampered cultured class that wanted to seem close to the "people," to ordinary Mexicans, mostly illiterate, who could view his grand paintings and read the imagery in the way that medieval European peasants could experience stained-glass windows.

In the doc from 50 years ago that snakes through the new doc like a twisted spine, Rivera is filmed sketching, like a portly Mexican Alfred Hitchcock with a notebook and a big hat. We've already seen pictures of Rivera the man. What he's looking at is what catches your eye - luminous scenes in which Indian women (dressed in the clothes that Frida Kahlo would later wear) are carrying the same white lilies that you see in Rivera's paintings. (Alvarez Bravo had already observed the Mexican landscape in black and white still photographs - some magical, some achingly severe.) Rivera, the star, ended up directing the movie, but died in 1957 before a final version was finished.

Rivera, it turns out, was fascinated by photography, even jealous of the new medium that Edward Weston used so effectively with nudes. You can imagine that a man of appetites like Rivera would envy the tactility of Weston's pictures. The muralist is quoted as saying that if the Spanish 17th century painter Diego Velásquez were working in the 20th century, he would be a photographer - quite a remark for a painter who never let himself be tied down to realism.

Portrait of Diego: The Revolutionary Gaze

Given Rivera's stature in Mexican history, the doc tries to minimize Diego-worship, with mixed results. We are told that Orozco called him a "player piano," among other things, presumably for the volume of repetitive work that Rivera produced. And we see that Mexican art, especially film and photography, went beyond Rivera, into realism (which the government found hard to tolerate when it dealt with poverty) and surrealism (which explored the nightmarish side of Rivera's folkloric reveries.)

Let's not forget that Rivera and Kahlo were shameless Stalinists, which we hear nothing about in Portrait of Diego. But isn't that how Stalin wanted to be depicted, as an amiable grandfather?


More on Tribeca here.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:35 AM

April 25, 2008

Lolas. Winners.

German Film Awards You wouldn't quite call it a sweep, but Auf der anderen Seite (Edge of Heaven) has fared very well tonight at the German Film Awards: Best Film (Gold), Best Director and Screenplay (Fatih Akin, on both accounts) and Best Editing Andrew Bird).

Doris Dörrie's Kirschblüten (Cherry Blossoms) picks up Lolas for Best Film (Silver), Best Actor (Elmar Wepper) and Best Costume Design (Sabine Greunig). More awards:

Leroy

Posted by dwhudson at 1:42 PM

Boston Dispatch. 1.

IFF Boston The cinetrix gets this party started.

Greetings from the Independent Film Festival of Boston's epicenter, Somerville, Massachusetts, home of, among other things, marshmallow Fluff. There's no fluff to be seen on these screens, howevah.

It's day three, and the fest, now in its sixth year, is in full swing. Opening night saw former Brattle Theatre ticket-taker made good Brad Anderson come home to debut his latest feature, Transsiberian, with cast member Sir Ben Kingsley among those making the IFFB red-carpet scene.

On Thursday night, already the unofficial beginning of the weekend in this college-glutted town, the pace picked up noticeably as the cinematic choices multiplied. Lines snaked around the block for Medicine for Melancholy, My Effortless Brilliance and Natural Causes. The first shorts program unspooled. The Coolidge Corner Theatre came on line for the duration of the fest, hosting Potter-mad doc We Are Wizards and Alex Orr's twisted Blood Car, set in a futurist dystopia that turns the "no blood for oil" vow inside out.

Mister Lonely

The first film the cinetrix saw, Mister Lonely, drew a bona fide sellout crowd - filled to the brim with Harmony Korine devotees, as it turned out. This quickly became evident during the post-screening Q&A with the director, back with his first film since a "crisis of faith" he vaguely eluded to left him wondering if he'd ever make movies again. Earnest questions about Werner Herzog and sky-diving nuns were interrupted by an enthusiastic fellow strategically situated in the front row, who seemed to treat the encounter as a private audience with the bemused auteur. There's one in every crowd, and sometimes more than that.

Meadowlark A much smaller but no less enthusiastic audience convened later that evening for the world premiere of a film you must track down, Taylor Greeson's Meadowlark. This very personal documentary, set in Montana's Big Sky landscapes, revisits the filmmaker's twelfth summer. That year, he began his first sexual relationship - with an older man, an ordained a priest in the Mormon church - and his 15-year-old brother Charlie was stabbed to death. It's a stinging, painful examination of Greeson's past, and how that past has informed his own and his family's present.

Tomorrow, the Brattle Theatre's single screen joins the fray, complicating further the itineraries of eager cinephiles who want to see it all. It's a wonderful dilemma. Pretty much, there are as many ways to approach this festival as there are films. You can catch up on raves and faves from recent festivals, or reduce your carbon footprint and go local, exploring the films that make this fest not just independent but distinctly Boston-based. Or simply pick a venue and stick with it. The cinetrix will be trying to do all three - I'll let you know how it works out. And if you spot me on the red line or the 66, say hello.


More from Boston here.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:26 PM

Tribeca Dispatch. 1.

With Steven Soderbergh's two-part Che biopic set to premiere in Cannes, David D'Arcy sends word on a doc tracing the origins and lasting impact of a single photograph.

Chevolution

You could call it the last stencil standing. Ernesto "Che" Guevara failed miserably to bring about world revolution. Yet he's outlasted even Mao Zedong in the battle of self-promotion, long after his death in a doomed revolutionary campaign in Bolivia in 1967.

Updated through 4/27.

At the Tribeca Film Festival, Chevolution, directed by Luis Lopez and Trisha Ziff, examines the persistence of Che's image through the Cuban Revolution (which eventually drove Guevara abroad) to the student movements of the late 1960s to Woodstock to the stores selling t-shirts and bikinis around the world, from Brazil to Baghdad. Guevara could never defeat communism, but his picture made some people rich.

The documentary takes a long time to make its point, establishing Guevara as a major figure in the Cuban Revolution, with plenty of archival imagery to document the triumph of bearded commandantes (bearded because they were hiding in the mountains) over the perfumed and tuxedoed corrupt US-supported Cuban dictatorship. As expected, Guevara emerges as a charismatic man of purity and courage, a martyr to dreams of turning the wretched of the earth into revolutionaries with beards and berets. It's straight out of the catechism.

A parallel story in the film is more of a revelation - we met Alberto Korda, the fashion photographer and boulevardier who documented the barbudos' rise to power, complete with photo-martyrologies of bloody demonstrations in Havana before Castro's defeat of the Batista regime. Photography would be a weapon in the propaganda war that accompanied Castro's guerrilla campaign. (We already saw this in the Spanish Civil War, when photographs of children killed in bombings were put on posters and on the front pages of newspapers by the Republicans who were under siege from fascist troops led by Francisco Franco.)

Korda: Che

As Chevolution tells the story, Korda began as a Cuban Helmut Newton and transcended his beginnings in fashion. He discovered what Europeans and American already knew, that photography could be leveraged to achieve political ends. The folklore about his relationship with Guevara is that the Argentine commandante, who was camera-shy, insisted that Korda cut sugarcane for a week, which Korda did dutifully before Guevara agreed to a portrait. The photo that was eventually silk-screened around the world was taken by Korda in 1960, after La Coubre, a Belgian ship carrying munitions, exploded while being unloaded. The evidence pointed to official incompetence by Raul Castro in allowing the cargo to be unloaded so close to shore. The official version blames the CIA. The photo of a defiant Guevara was taken by Korda while Guevara and Castro presided over a huge rally commemorating the casualties of the explosion, which the Cubans denounced as an act of US terrorism. The mythic picture, cropped to show Guevara from below silhouetted against a solid background, was born at a mythic event.

The man who sent the picture into the global marketplace, after Guevara vanished for a year or two in the mid-1960s, was Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, an Italian publisher, who went to Havana to buy two prints of the photo in 1967. Korda gave the picture to the Italian for nothing because he was "a friend of the revolution." Feltrinelli turned around and made posters which were all the rage in Europe. Guevara's Bolivian Diary, with Korda's photo on the cover, sold more than a million copies. Korda did not get a penny, and the image took off.

Malanga / Warhol: Che In exploring the way that the Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick turned the photograph into a psychedelic image in accordance with the consumer tastes of 1968, the documentary turns to Gerry Adams, the former IRA leader, who tells of Guevara's appeal to generations of desperate Catholics in Northern Ireland. "I wanted his image to breed like rabbits," Fitzpatrick said. Inexplicably, we're never told of a multiple-paneled colorized Guevara grid of photographs that were attributed in 1968 to Andy Warhol. In fact, the work was a forgery by Warhol hanger-on Gerard Malanga. When Warhol heard of the fake, he cynically certified it as his own work, ensuring that he would profit if it were reproduced. (For Cuban Pop Art inspired by the photograph, see the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, which is now hosting a huge exhibition of Cuban Art, much of it on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana.) And on the image went, to the dorm room walls and to a black hole of t-shirts.

Ultimately, the Korda family would hire lawyers to stop the use of the photograph to sell harmful products like liquor, tobacco and perfume. In a famous case, the family got $50,000 from Smirnoff Vodka, which used the picture without permission.

Plenty of Che-worship is on the screen, but there's more than that in this film, some of it even critical. We're reminded of Guevara's participation in violent retribution in the early days of the Revolution, a fact that you rarely hear about from well-meaning admirers, and we're also reminded that the government which Guevara helped install is an undemocratic military dictatorship. "If you like undemocratic governments, then you should wear this t-shirt," says one young man who is not practicing Che-nuflection.

We hear from Antonio Banderas (Che in Evita) and from Gael García Bernal (Che in The Motorcycle Diaries), and from the biographer Jon Lee Anderson, who seems determined to achieve a John Malkovich speaking style. (How about Malkovich as Che?) We don't hear from Omar Sharif, who played Che in Richard Fleischer's solemnly laughable Che! (1969), in which Jack Palance played Castro. To get an inside perspective on that film and the emerging myth just a few years after Che's death, find John Leonard's entertaining report of his visit to the set in the New York Times Magazine of December 8, 1968.

Che Poster Besides Sharif, the documentary would also have benefited from the consumers who are buying the Che image. Are generations of romantic mindless youth who went to see Che as Jack Kerouac in The Motorcycle Diaries keeping Che-commerce going, or is it a case of Che being a perennial among images of Bob Marley, James Dean, Tupac Shakur, Jim Morrison, Elvis, Subcommandante Marcos or whoever else happens to be the rebel heart-throb of the week? Thank God that Che's beret has not been given lifetime fashion tenure, although the documentary does make the point that the Black Panthers adopted the beret thanks to Che's fashion leadership.

Another question left unasked and unanswered is why Che's image has a much broader global reach than Fidel Castro's. Was he just better looking? Or could it be that Che's reputation was saved by the fact that he never exercised power or that his admirers never bothered to learn too much about him? Bear in mind that the Che-mania isn't simply the case of the longevity of a handsome face and a seductive myth. It shows us how a logo can survive, long after its historical associations are forgotten, if they were ever known at all.

For more, listen my report about the persistence of the Che image that aired on NPR in October 2004. Check out, too, J Hoberman's "Ernesto Goes to the Movies" in the October 2004 American Prospect.


More from Tribeca here.

Updates, 4/26: For the IFC, Stephen Saito talks with Trisha Ziff.

Chevolution's "clean, tight narrative is both poignant and entertaining, and clearly benefits from Ziff's deep understanding of photography and Lopez's previous documentary work (The King of Kong, Shut Up & Sing)," writes Mike Raffensperger at Zoom In Online.

3 more Ches

Updates, 4/27: "Chevolution would be a stronger documentary if it included a meatier picture of who Che himself was and what he did and stood for," writes Phil Nugent in ScreenGrab. "One way or another, the movie does demonstrate that the Che image is now so cut off from actual history as to mean whatever the person who wears it thinks it ought to mean, which is one reason it's had a much longer shelf life than Che himself did."

"Just about all of it is engaging, making it less a dry history lesson and more of an examination of how pop culture and capitalism conspires to make Marxist revolutionaries into corporate logos," writes Joel Keller at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 AM

Interview. Yung Chang.

Up the Yangtze "Imagine the Grand Canyon turned into a lake," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "That image is summoned by Yung Chang, the Chinese-Canadian director and occasional narrator of Up the Yangtze, an astonishing documentary of culture clash and the erasure of history amid China's economic miracle."

"With delicacy devoid of preachy grandstanding, Chang documents a landscape mutating not only literally but socially and economically as well, as flooding of countless cities and towns along the Yangtze's banks leads to displacement and, in turn, to an encounter between old and new worlders," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

James Van Maanen talks with the young director as Up the Yangtze opens at the IFC Center in New York.

Updated through 4/26.

Scott Foundas in the Voice: "By journey's end, Yung has found, in the Yangtze, a brilliant natural metaphor for upward mobility in modern China: Whether they hail from the lowlands or the urban centers, everyone here is scrambling to reach higher ground."

"In spite of the way-off-the-beaten-track subject, the film, co-produced by Montreal outfit EyeSteelFilm and the National Film Board of Canada, has become one of the more notable Canuck domestic hits in recent memory," notes Brendan Kelly in Variety. "In the first week of April, the film was the No. 2 domestic performer at the box office and the top non-French homegrown pic."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Yung Chang "about his experiences filming in China, the future of documentaries and the meaning of 'Chinese time.'"

Update, 4/26: "When an enormous lock creaks to life in the opening scene of Up the Yangtze, its hulking slabs of metal shifting like tectonic plates, it's almost as if the rapid transformation of China's powerhouse river is unfolding in geologic time," writes Darrell Hartman in the New York Sun. "It's an appropriate overture, as Yung Chang's lovely, unhurried documentary goes on to extract some timeless truths from China's latest great leap forward."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:41 AM

April 24, 2008

Reminder. DK Holm fundraiser.

Help DK Holm It's this Sunday night at Portland's Cinema 21. All the info's here.

"When I finally got to know Holm, I was disappointed to find I actually liked him," writes David Walker in the Willamette Week. "And even though I often disagreed with his criticism, I've always thought he was a great writer. He has proven it time and time again in his various columns and his books, which include R Crumb: Conversations, Independent Cinema and Kill Bill: An Unofficial Casebook."

At Chud, Andre Dellamorte recalls meeting Doug at Powell's, hitting it off and getting invited to Doug's Thursday night gathering of local film critics. As for Doug's writing, "Some of my favorites include his essays on Klute, Boogie Nights (though I disagreed with him), and on the old men he was always a master, like this piece on Red Beard."

Update, 4/28: Shawn Levy has the full tale and plenty of pix from the night that was: "If Doug ever wondered where he stood in the hearts of his peers, friends, colleagues and fellow Portlanders, he knows for certain now."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:37 PM

Shorts, 4/24.

Yasukuni "Yasukuni, the new documentary on the controversial Tokyo shrine that stands as the symbolic heart of Japanese right wingers has been making headlines for the fact that it is not being shown," notes Hot Splice. "All of the Tokyo cinemas that had originally booked the film for an April 12 opening have cancelled screenings, bowing to right wing pressure and threats.... Director Li Ying knew his film would be controversial, but perhaps he never expected it get to this point." More from Rica Naylor in the Auteurs' Notebook.

"'You may think I am crazy,' Jonas Mekas wrote in one of his 1963 'Movie Journal' columns in the Village Voice, '[but] the day is close when the 8 mm home-movie footage will be collected and appreciated as folk art, like songs and the lyric poetry that was created by the people,'" recalls Ed Halter at Rhizome. "In the future, he predicted, we will come to appreciate 'travelogue footage, awkward footage that will suddenly sing with an unexpected rapture' since 'time is laying a veil of poetry over them.' History has borne out Mekas's prophecy."

Pacze Moj posts a piece by British filmmaker John Grierson on the documentary film from a 1946 issue of Hollywood Quarterly.

The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation "In The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation, David Whitley, a lecturer at Cambridge University, argues, in the overstuffed prose that launched a thousand academic careers, that the finely wrought imagery and emotional power of Disney movies like Bambi and Finding Nemo helped inspire generations of environmentalists." Patricia Cohen. Related: Brooks Barnes on Disneynature, a new production banner charged with releasing two nature docs a year.

Also in the New York Times, Michael Cieply asks United Artists' Paula Wagner about the latest flurry of predictions that Valkyrie, having had its release date bumped a couple times, will not fly. David Poland comments.

Spike Lee "is teaming up with Nokia, the cellphone maker, to direct a short film comprising YouTube-style videos created by teenagers and adults using their mobile phones," reports Laura M Holson.

"To date, BLDGBLOG has spoken with novelists, film editors, musicians, architects, photographers, historians, and urban theorists, among others, to see how architecture and the built environment has been used, understood, or completely reimagined from within those disciplines - but coverage of game design is something in which this site has fallen woefully short," writes . "So when I first saw Daniel Dociu's work I decided to get in touch with him, and to ask him some questions about architecture, landscape design, and the creation of detailed online environments for games."

Daniel Plainview Jürgen Fauth points to a few questions being raised at idrinkyourmilkshake.com:

"While Tsai Ming-Liang's 2002 short The Skywalk is Gone provides a succinct narrative bridge between his previous feature What Time Is It There? and his most radical work, 2005's The Wayward Cloud, it also represents somewhat of a thematic and aesthetic holding pattern," writes Andrew Schenker at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "But if Tsai seems chiefly concerned with moving his characters into proper position for his next feature while deferring any further artistic explorations, he nonetheless presents his signature concerns with a compelling economy, reproducing earlier triumphs - both through repetitions of established aesthetic strategies and direct allusion - and neatly summing up his cinematic achievement to date."

"A cut above the average Quad-bound video agit-prop doc, Michael Skolnik's Without the King succeeds mostly through negative virtues." Vadim Rizov explains in the Voice.

Also, Brian Miller: "Though street satirists like Robbie Conal and Blek le Rat appear briefly to argue their case, along with guerrilla designers Marc Ecko and Shepard Fairey, Bomb It doesn't have the patience or the smarts for real analysis."

"It is depressingly easy to imagine the brainstorming process behind the film Three and Out," writes Patrick Barkham. "This week train drivers took the unusual step of protesting outside the movie's premiere and challenging its star, Mackenzie Crook, about the comic potential of suicide." Also in the Guardian, Chrissy Iley talks with Andrew Garfield.

Gene Hackman "I guess you could call it retired. I haven't worked for four years now." So says Gene Hackman; Geoffrey Macnab comments in the Independent.

Matt Waller at the WSWS on Body of War: "Cinema does us all a service when it portrays the personal costs of war, especially in a climate where the vast numbers of US wounded from Iraq (currently at least 23,000) are willfully brushed under the rug by the media.... Unfortunately, this is only half the movie. Intercut with [Tomas] Young's story is a potted retelling of the Senate vote for the Iraq War Resolution in October of 2002. This section is a shameless glorification of the Democratic Party, or a section of it, that succeeds in torpedoing much of the anti-war potential the work might have had."

Also, Joanne Laurier on Under the Same Moon.

"Girls Rock!, a documentary about the weeklong Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls in Oregon, explores what happens when you arm young girls with the kind of encouragement, confidence and free-spirited aplomb usually reserved for their brothers," writes Tracy Moore in the Nashville Scene.

Mike Everleth enjoys the underground musical Bad Dog and Superhero.

The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors From Seoul, Marc Raymond on Hong Sang-soo's The Power of Kangwon Province and The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors.

"Now that I've outed myself as a cinema advocate, I'd better get around to promoting a couple of DVDs representing the best of the perpetually underappreciated cinema of Africa." Kevin Lee on Moolaadé and Bamako.

The latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: The Blair Witch Project.

At Twitch, Blake Ethridge talks with Sydney Tamila Poitier, mostly about Death Proof.

For Facets Features, Phil Morehart compiles a list of films in which the Earth strikes back - at us.

Cinematical: "Our Ten Most Anticipated Films of the Summer."

Kristin Thompson revisits the issue of fair use.

At indieWIRE, Jeremy Walker reflects on a career as an independent film publicist.

At VF Daily, Elizabeth Hurlbut and David Poland exchange a bit of light-hearted email, "Re: NOT Forgetting the Full Monty."

Online viewing tip. Via Alison Willmore, vodcasts on iTunes from Baz Luhrmann, talking about Australia.

Online viewing tip #2. Vulture presents "Five Hilarious Moments From W."

Online viewing tips. Jerry's found an amusing Vincent D'Onofrio talking at the Nashville Film Festival about working with Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick; and this has set him off on string of Kubrick clips: an autobiographical monologue; the story of impersonator Alan Conway and a bit on the FX and conceptual art of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM | Comments (1)

Interview. Etgar Keret.

Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen "Predicated on the spectacle of functionally depressed types stuck in mildly ridiculous situations not entirely of their own making, the Israeli ensemble comedy Jellyfish - which won the Caméra d'Or last May at Cannes and was among the highlights of this year's New Directors / New Films - has an emotional resonance beyond its controlled slapstick and deadpan sight gags," writes J. Hoberman in the Village Voice.

Jellyfish was written by Shira Geffen and co-directed with her husband, the popular writer, Etgar Keret - with whom David D'Arcy talks as the film opens in more US cities this weekend.

Update, 4/26: "Underlying Jellyfish's sense that the world is a more remarkable place than we may imagine is its willingness to embrace surrealism as a story element," writes Kenneth Turan. "Working with a remarkable sureness of touch, the film's directors understand that what's imaginary and what's real can be made to look exactly the same on film, and that what makes logical sense is less important than deeper emotional truth. Yes, Jellyfish says, it's a wonderful life, not in that old-fashioned style we've perhaps tired of but in a surprising new and magical way all its own."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Charles Taylor talks with Keret.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:13 PM

Critics, 4/24.

NYP 20 The New York Press turns 20, giving Armond White an opportunity to lash out at all those snake-hipped word-slingers once again. Only this time, at length: "There's more writing about movies these days than ever before. In print and online, it's never been worse - especially on the Internet where film buffs emulating the Vachel Lindsay-Manny Farber tradition are no longer isolated nerds but an opinionated throng, united in their sarcasm and intense pretense at intellectualizing what is basically a hobby." Movies that "should have rocked film culture" are ignored; instead, "critics' imprimatur" lands on "movies that are mendacious, pseudo-serious, sometimes immoral or socially retrograde and irresponsible." And there's a list, too, of "Ten Current Film Culture Fallacies."

Updated.

Kevin Lee not only wraps his coverage of the recent Moving Image Institute symposium on film criticism, he also comments on much of what's been blogged about it in the past couple of weeks. "Much has been made of the perceived antagonism between print institutions like the Times and the blog-barians storming their gates. As rousing as these posts and discussions have been, let's cut to the chase: in three years this isn't even going to be an issue. While I won't divulge any details of what was discussed at the Times meeting I think it's fair to say that they are as anxious as any blogger about securing their audience in a sea of competing critical voices."

Film International: Andre Bazin Doug Cummings has been reading the Winter 2007 issue of Film International dedicated to André Bazin. Guest editor Jeffrey Crouse writes, "I look forward to the day when film analysis is conducted from an emphasis on love arrangements as Bazin conceived, rather than largely power ones [favored in academia], with the latter being a subset of the former. Imagine the expanded vocabulary and range of concepts one might draw upon so as to delve more precisely into the significance of so many film masterworks." Doug: "I submit that the French film, The Secret of the Grain, which deservedly swept the Césars a couple months ago and screened at the Los Angeles COLCOA festival last weekend, is a prime candidate for this kind of analysis."

The film screens, by the way, at Tribeca on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and May 4; and at the San Francisco International Film Festival on May 3, 5 and 8.

"Call it an aesthetic existential crisis, film-critic style," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "The key symptom: I came out of Flawless pondering the unanticipated but undeniable fact that I found it more enjoyable, absorbing, companionable and, in certain ways, cinematic, than I find about 99 percent of fictional films these days, including pretty much everything nominated for Academy Awards, all the big Hollywood summer and year-end spectaculars, plus most Amerindie and foreign auteur films of current renown."

Harry Tuttle revives his series on critical fallacies.

Updates: Glenn Kenny to Armond White: "You think you're applying some form of moral rigor to your work, but the fact is that you're a bully and a hypocrite, and I don't want to know you." Comments ensue.

"Armond's deeply confused screed makes me glad I quit the Press so that I don't have to attempt to explain to people out of professional courtesy what point he thought he was trying to make," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in a comment at the House Next Door. "My admiration for Armond's originality and the impact of his 1980s and 90s writing on my own have been detailed at length here many times, so I won't rehash it again. Cutting to the chase: It has become increasingly and sadly clear in recent years that Armond's as much the establishment as AO Scott, in that he derives much of his impact from the institutional weight of a print publication and from the insulated status that this one-way model of communication affords." There's more.

Jeffrey Wells and Karina Longworth also comment on the White piece; best of all is Karina's entry title, "How to Write Film Criticism? Stop Reading It." Which is inspired by a quote from Nathan Lee, which certainly strikes a chord with me and bears repeating all over again right here:

I find most film writing almost... unreadable. And the longer I write, the less of it I try to read. I think that keeps me a better writer. I'm reading all the time, but I can learn more about the movies I'm seeing this week from reading a great 19th century novel than I can from whatever XYZ critic has to say this week about whatever. I think another problem with movie writing is that it's insular, especially Internet writing. It's so narrow and insular and just about movies, and I think to be a really good writer and film critic you need a range. You need to know what's going on in painting, you need to know what's going on in music, you need to read books, and get laid, and go to restaurants, you know what I mean?

Since I spend the better part of most days feeding what Matt aptly calls "film writing's equivalent of a news ticker," or at least one among many, I do find that once I tear myself away from it, I'm starved for anything but more film news, film criticism - and on some days, even films themselves. A quick list of my own sanity-saving diversions of the moment: the US presidential campaign (no, really; someone said the other day that this would make for a great opera), Berlin's thriving art scene and Zadie Smith's White Teeth.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:00 AM | Comments (6)

April 23, 2008

Other fests, other events, 4/23.

Ebertfest 10 "The 10th Anniversary Ebertfest begins tonight in Urbana-Champaign. It is with some melancholy that I write these words on a legal pad in a hospital bed in Chicago. After consulting with my doctors, I have decided it may not prudent to try to make the journey today with a fractured hip." Get well, Roger Ebert!

Peter Sobczynski's blogging from the festival, running through Sunday, for Hollywood Bitchslap. Update, 4/24: Jim Emerson and Lisa Rosman are blogging the fest as well.

"Termed 'the longitudinal documentary' by Hot Docs Director of Programming Sean Farnel, films that follow a character or story over an extended period of time are increasingly problematic these days," writes Peter Knegt in indieWIRE. "Deals with distributors or television networks put pressure on the time a doc has to finish, often limiting the diachronic scope of the project. Three feature films screening at the 2008 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival: Jens Hoffman's 20 Seconds of Joy, Greg Kohs's Song Sung Blue and Nik Sheehan's Flicker, exemplfy this increasingly rare form in documentary filmmaking."

And AJ Schnack reviews At the Death House Door, To See If I'm Smiling and Song Sung Blue. Hot Docs runs through Sunday. Update, 4/24: Bob Turnbull on Jennifer Baichwal's 2002 portrait of photographer Shelby Lee Adams, The True Meaning of Pictures.

Attending the Minneapolis-St Paul International Film Festival? Rob Nelson's got some recommendations for you. And some more. Related online viewing: Chuck Olsen and Lori review five films they've caught at MSPIFF.

USA Film Festival Chris Vognar has an overview of the USA Film Festival in the Dallas Morning News: "[A]s the grandfather of local fests, USA still has a way of bringing in master craftsmen with names that aren't as big as their talents and achievements." Through Sunday.

Dennis Cozzalio's looking forward to this weekend's kickoff of the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society's Drive-In Tailgate Party, celebrating 75 years of "this not-at-all dead, but instead resurging and uniquely American institution." Related online listening: Nancy Mullane on NPR.

Matt Dentler'll be painting Austin red before he departs for New York in June.

Matt Prigge rounds up local goings on in the Philadelphia Weekly.

Janine Armin files an entry in Artforum's diary on Milan's Salone del Mobile, "which opened last Wednesday to roaring crowds of shoppers and speculators.... This fantasia of beautiful things did not detract from auteur Peter Greenaway's multimedia extravaganza, Ultima Cena di Leonardo, which was shown at the Sala delle Cariatidi in Palazzo Reale, one of historic Milan's most stunning buildings."

Glory at Sea ST VanAirsdale to New Yorkers: "First up on Saturday afternoon, Sissy Spacek and executive producer Ed Pressman will visit IFC Center for a special screening and discussion of Terrence Malick's Badlands.... Later that night the Walter Reade Theater is hosting a benefit screening of Glory at Sea!, whose filmmaker recently incurred a few thousand bone fractures and many times more dollars' worth of medical bills in a car accident before Glory's premiere at SXSW."

"Celebrating and singing the scene it records, Walden is four years (1964 - 68) seen through the corybantic 16mm Bolex of Jonas Mekas," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. At Anthology Film Archives tomorrow through Wednesday.

Also, New Yorkers, you have about two weeks to do the must-do day Brian Scholis maps out for you.

Online viewing tip. The Quay Brothers' trailer for Kinoteka, London's 6th Polish Film Festival, running through May. Related: filmPolska opens today in Berlin and runs through April 30.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:21 PM

IFFB 08.

Independent Film Festival of Boston "Elusive animals, the mysteries of time past, family conflict, peer pressure, and, inevitably, Iraq dominate what we were able to screen from the robust sixth annual Independent Film Festival of Boston," writes Peter Keough, introducing another round of capsule reviews in the Phoenix. "What unifies them is their originality, their intensity, and their high quality, all of which confirm that the IFFB is now the top film festival in New England."

Not Coming to a Theater Near You is ready; and the festival, running through April 29, has got a blog going, too.

Updated through 4/29.

Also in Boston, but unrelated to the IFFB, the Phoenix's Gerald Peary has details on several screenings coming up in May tied to a book release. The background: "For peddling some not-for-sale DVDs to a dubious Internet customer, local critic Paul Sherman found himself in the middle of an FBI sting, removed from his reviewing posts at the Boston Herald and the Improper Bostonian, and under voluntary house arrest. Down but not out, Sherman spent his incarceration compiling the Beantown book of books, Big Screen Boston: From Mystery Street to The Departed and Beyond. Self-published (Black Bars Publishing, May 1), this is an indispensable history/dictionary/catalogue/critique of local feature filmmaking through the years. Dramas. Documentaries. Hollywood features and many indies." The site's got excerpts galore.

Updates, 4/26: Victoria Large at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "I wanted, I think, to read Crawford as an optimistic film that celebrates America's ability to accommodate a variety of viewpoints, one that reminds us that there is dissent, and a potential for dialogue, even in a place like Crawford. But by the end I had realized that any film that sets out to capture a moment in time - particularly this moment in time - needs to be more bruising than that."

More from Andrew Osborne at ScreenGrab.

Update, 4/27: Goliath has Andrew Osborne at ScreenGrab thinking back to another Zellner Brothers' feature, Plastic Utopia, "one of the most brilliantly deranged independent films I’ve ever seen, a surrealistic cult classic that, sadly, has never inspired nearly the cult it deserves."

Update, 4/29: Once again, Andrew Osborne with a few more quick takes and a longer one on Turn the River.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:54 PM

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay.

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay "American political cinema of the George W Bush era has come to assume a few familiar forms: the documentary indictment (Fahrenheit 9/11, No End in Sight), the sober memorial (World Trade Center, United 93), the angry or earnest Iraq drama (Redacted, Stop-Loss)," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. "In this cheerless landscape Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay, the sequel to the 2004 cult favorite Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, creates its own category: the stoner protest film." And he talks with writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.

Updated through 4/29.

"Who would have imagined that movie which begins with its heroes getting racially profiled at an airport, tossed into prison at Guantánamo Bay, threatened with rape at gunpoint by American soldiers (a practice that is depicted as so routine there's even a slang term for it), and questioned by a Homeland Security officer who literally wipes his ass with the Bill of Rights, would also turn out to contain the most sympathetic portrayal of George W Bush of any film in the last eight years?" asks Paul Matwychuk. "Welcome to the topsy-turvy politics of Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay."

"Unfortunately, nothing in Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo is funnier than its title," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. It's "a largely mind-numbing experience, but if I hadn't sat through it before seeing Standard Operating Procedure, I don't think I'd have appreciated how much the Abu Ghraib photos owe to dumb-ass frat humor, stupid pet tricks, and YouTube gross-outs."

Hurwitz and Schlossberg "boisterously tackle worthy targets like counterproductive counterterrorism efforts, cronyism and brashly ignorant leadership," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Tucked among the Epic Movie smorgasbord of rotely reversed stereotypes and fan-friendly Neil Patrick Harris escapades are barbs worthy of South Park's heyday."

Earlier Hurwitz/Schlossberg interviews: Shirley Halperin (EW) and Dave Itzkoff (Heeb).

Updates, 4/24: "A franchise that began as a half-assed, half-baked but quite natural Political Statement shrouded in pot smoke now strives too hard for relevance, and its satire this time around is rendered clunky and clownish," writes Robert Wilonsky in the LA Weekly.

"Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay may look like a wild comedy with some political teeth to it, but - a ha! - turns out it's really just dumb," writes Josef Braun in the Vue Weekly. "Real dumb. Okay, dumb with a few inspired little surprises that help wash down the pervading dearth of anything actually funny or clever happening."

For the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen talks with the writer-directors and the leads. Hurwitz: "When it really comes down to it, our priority at all times is to have a crazy, bonkers, out-there, outrageous, un-PC, insane comedy so you and your friends can go to the theater and have an incredible time. There's nothing that can ruin that kind of movie more than being preachy or having a strong political message. So for us, this film brings up what's going on and helps us all laugh at it. It's a form of therapy."

"[W]hile the comedy is as low-brow and outrageous as ever, this new movie actually scores more points off the nation’s paranoid and repressive post-9/11 mindset than all of Hollywood’s hand-wringing war-on-terror dramas put together," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

"It's true that H&K2 tries a little too hard; it's a little too unsubtle in its fervent attempt to both humanize the protagonists and show them, like, growing emotionally and shit, man!" writes Jenni Miller for Premiere. "That said, the scenes from their college days are a-ma-zing, and I can't help but cheer when love interests hook up."

And in honor of tomorrow's release of H&K2, at the main site, Craig Phillips presents a list of "10 Sequels That Are Better Than the Original."

Updates, 4/26: "[P]recisely because their attitudes are so bluntly hedonistic and apolitical, Harold and Kumar manage to be fairly persuasive when they get around to criticizing the status quo, which the movie has the wit to acknowledge itself as part of," writes AO Scott in the New York Times.

Grady Hendrix in the New York Sun: "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is an act of pure genius - not because it's a great film, but because if it does well at the box office, its makers will be hailed as political satirists of the highest order who have provided a much-needed laugh break in the midst of the soul-deadening war on terror. And if it flops, they'll be box-office martyrs, misunderstood and underappreciated by nervous Americans with a case of the 'too soon!' jitters. Either way, they'll get far more respect than they deserve for this timid yuck-fest."

"Is it daring to portray Bush as overgrown frat boy drifting through a haze of marijuana smoke - or is it a tip-off that writer-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg actually have a fair bit in common with Bush's cocky disinterest in seriousness and sensitivity?" asks Mark Asch in Stop Smiling. "Probably the latter... Hurwitz and Sclossberg's frattish sensibility is inherently conservative, even when it's lip-servicing progressive sensibilities."

"Somebody needed to do a merciless sendup of Homeland Security bullshit, but are Harold and Kumar up to the task?" asks Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "Not quite."

"It betrays the spirit of the stoner comedy, which has traditionally been subversive - when it wasn't detailing the love affair between two marginally functional young men and their stash of sweet, sweet herb," argues Slate's Dana Stevens.

"Some gags are inspired in their extreme crudeness and toked-up surrealism, and others are simply lazy and base, targeted at the sniggering 14-year-old boys who snuck into the back row of the theater," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Yet the bad stretches in both [Harold & Kumar] movies are more easily forgiven and forgotten than they would be in other comedies, because John Cho's Harold and Kal Penn's Kumar make such amiable company."

Writing in Slant, Nick Schager finds "a slapdash laziness one expects from a stoner, not a stoner comedy."

Choire Sicha talks with Neil Patrick Harris for the Los Angeles Times.

Leonard Pierce lists five pot movies at ScreenGrab.

And finally for now, a moment of brilliance from C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark that I'm pointing to from this entry and from Baby Mama's.

Update, 4/29: "Dude, Harold and Kumar are back in a new movie, but I gotta warn you: it's a major buzzkill if you're queer or a woman." Marianna Martin in Reverse Shot.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM | Comments (1)

Roman de Gare.

Roman de Gare "The problem with Roman de Gare," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker, "is that the tale grabs you more than the telling.... By the end - which, true to form, feels cheerful but insubstantial - the film is relying on the charms of its cast."

"Claude Lelouch's A Man and a Woman may be one of the silliest love songs in the canon of French fluff, but 42 years on, it gets a beguiling makeover in this new soufflé from the director, who seizes the day both to trade on and shake off his enduring reputation as France's reigning romantic airhead," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "[T]his goofy tale of self-emancipation, a love story made by a mature man wise to the possibilities of the improbable, is also a thriller with an unexpectedly dark edge."

Updated through 4/26.

"Lelouch has made a diverting but cool suspense puzzler whose payoff proves to be smaller and more mundane than its twisty, fluid setup," writes Bill Weber in Slant.

Andrew Sarris wants you to see the film before you read his review in the New York Observer. Then, he'll tell you why, "despite all my reservations, I think it is worth seeing, though I do not approve of all the trickery involved."

Dave Kehr has a fun talk with Lelouch for the New York Times.

Erica Abeel talks with Lelouch for indieWIRE.

Earlier: James Van Maanen's take when he caught it at Rendez-Vous With French Cinema in February.

Update, 4/24: "I can't say that I love all of Roman De Gare, but it is worth reporting that the first half of the film is nearly perfect," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

Updates, 4/26: "[I]f Roman de Gare never quite lives up to the sheer delightful audacity of its mock-pastoral comic middle, it dispenses a few other pleasures en route to the talky, deflating revelations of its climax," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "One of these is Fanny Ardant."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:43 PM | Comments (4)

SFIFF, Week 1.

SFIFF 51 "In the words of José-Luis Guerín, director of In the City of Sylvia, 'we should see cinema as a separate continent' - and we should be cheered by what we see." Johnny Ray Huston introduces the San Francisco Bay Guardian's preview of the San Francisco International Film Festival, opening tomorrow with Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress and closing with Alex Gibney's Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S Thompson on May 8.

Besides capsule reviews of films screening through Tuesday:

Updated through 4/29.

Staub
  • Profit motive and the whispering wind is "an hour-long pilgrimage to the graves, minor monuments, and commemorative plaques erected to honor America's freethinkers and radicals," writes Matt Sussman. "If [John] Gianvito's film is part eulogy and part rallying cry for America's radical left, then Hartmut Bitomsky's more conventionally structured documentary Dust (Staub) is a vanitas for late capitalism."

  • J Hoberman is the recipient of this year's Mel Novikoff Award and Max Goldberg offers a fine appreciation and notes that "Hoberman's film selection for his special night is likely the most unabashedly sensuous movie not starring Asia Argento to play this year's festival." That would be In the City of Sylvia.

  • "There are three Mexican films this year, all first features," notes Jason Shamai. "Though one manages to be an infield home run, the overall representation of the country is underwhelming and, we hope, less than representative."

  • "[I]t's a pleasant and unexpected surprise that the San Francisco Film Society has chosen to showcase Shampoo while presenting [Robert] Towne with this year's Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting," writes Maria Komodore.

  • And Johnny Ray Huston: "It's a mug's game determining the correct genre of John M Stahl's 1945 Leave Her to Heaven - especially since a true shorthand pitch should dodge the question entirely to note instead that it contains not one, but two, of the most unsettling murder scenes in movie history."

"You can think of it as The Sound of Music meets Quest for Fire, or Jesus Christ Superstar rocks Land of the Lost. However you slice it, Evolution: the Musical! amounts to some pungent cross-breeding." For SF360, Robert Avila talks with filmmakers Andrew Bancroft and Kenny Taylor and actors Tonya Glanz and Jon Wolanske.

Earlier: Michael Hawley's preview for the Evening Class; and Brian Darr.

Update: Michael Hawley has another round of previews at the Evening Class.

Update, 4/24: Brian Darr reminds me that there are, in fact, other weeklies in the Bay Area besides the Guardian and of course does a fine job of parsing their coverage. He also points to Rob Davis's new entry: "It's a large festival - the first on this continent, actually - and although it suffered a bout of acute melancholia at the turn of the century, it seems to have been set aright by festival director Graham Leggat. It's the standard bearer for the city's culture of cinema. San Franciscans who care about movies guard it jealously." Rob then picks "Six Personal Favorites" and offers a list of "Decent Films" in the lineup.

Brian also notes that Lincoln Spector (specifically, here and here) and Tony An have previews.

Update, 4/26: The latest round in the Chronicle:

Brian Darr saw more than a handful of films in the SFIFF lineup at Sundance - and tells you about them in his latest entry at Hell on Frisco Bay.

For SF360, Jenn Preissel talks with Eddie Muller about The Grand Inquisitor, which "pays homage to the Dashiel Hammett-style detective story, but with a twist - the investigator is a dame."

Updates, 4/27: For SF360, Michael Fox talks with Barry Jenkins about Medicine for Melancholy.

Jeffrey M Anderson at Pixel Vision on Karl Boese and Paul Wegener's The Golem: "The screening boasted a live score by none other than Black Francis (once again going by his Pixies-era moniker, rather than Frank Black or Charles Thompson). The good news is that it was a great Black Francis show, but the bad news is that I'm not sure the songs actually synced up with or enhanced the movie in any way."

Woodward's Gardens

Updates, 4/29: At SF360, Jennifer Preissel talks with Katherin McInnis about Woodward's Gardens, screening in the experimental shorts program In A Lonely Place: New Experimental Cinema.

On Sunday, as noted above, J Hoberman received the Mel Novikoff Award; Kent Jones interviewed him onstage before a screening of In the City of Sylvia and, afterwards, an email conversation was struck up. To be read in order: Ryland Walker Knight, Jennifer Stewart and Kevin Lee.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston had a busy weekend, taking in Glas: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, Ermanno Olmi's One Hundred Nails, Carlos Saura's "magical" Fados, John Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven and Eric Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon.

"The Last Mistress is the most enjoyable of the three Breillat films I've seen," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "It works on a gut level of sexual turmoil that her other films never approach, although I suspect that most of the film's success lies more with star Asia Argento than with Breillat." Also, The Golem.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:55 AM

Tribeca, Week 1.

Tribeca Film Festival The Tribeca Film Festival opens tonight with Baby Mama and closes on May 4 with Speed Racer, "but in between, there are some pretty outstanding finds that won't be enjoying a studio ad blitz any time soon," notes a collective Voice, laying out 13 picks and posting four warning signs.

Updated through 4/29.

Also, Vadim Rizov talks with John Gianvito about Profit motive and the whispering wind, "an avant-garde response to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, with static frames taking in the grave sites and memorials of left-wing heroes, labor strikes, et al."

And Michelle Orange: "Arranged as a kind of Middle Eastern tasting menu, several Tribeca offerings begin not only to complement but to converse with one another."

Plus: Aaron Hillis talks with Guy Maddin about his "time-out-of-mind "docu-fantasia" about his provincial hometown," My Winnipeg.

Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun: "By combining with Renew Media (which began as National Video Resources), the Tribeca Film Institute not only acquired deeper pockets for funding film, video, and new-media artists, but drafted a leader in [Brian] Newman who possesses a unique perspective on both the nonprofit and for-profit media playing fields."

The Film Panel Notetaker introduces an interview: "She Stares Longingly at What She Has Lost is the title of Phillip Van's segment of Little Minx, a new web film series produced by Rhea Scott and based on the French parlor game of the same name where the last line of the previous film's script starts the first line of the next film's script.... He also talks about his new feature-length screenplay Darkland that is in the Tribeca All-Access program at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival."

Marina Yaru in Toby Dammit

"Toby Dammit has always been a curiosity amongst Federico Fellini's already curious ouerve," writes Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine.

Also, Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha is "a zany picaresque narrated on-camera by the 75-year-old [Melvin] van Peebles. As a storyteller, van Peebles seemingly invites the entire audience upon his colossal knee to hear the story of grandpa's life (though not necessarily his life) - from his childhood in Chicago to his first visit to New York City and around the world several times over - with all the juicy bits mom and dad wouldn't want you to hear told with extra gusto."

And S James Snyder talks with Harmony Korine about Mister Lonely.

Earlier: "The run-up to Tribeca."

Updates: IndieWIRE interviews An Omar Broadway Film co-director Douglas Tirola.

"[O]ver the last half-dozen years, as Tribeca grew into a glitzy stopover on the film festival circuit that includes Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Toronto and it's uptown neighbor, the New York Film Festival, the event has come to seem too small and too big at once, a perpetual kid," writes the New York Observer's Sara Vilkomerson, who talks with the producers and programmers about where the festival's been, is and will be.

The Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik and Gregg Goldstein pick out a few highlights.

Brandon Harris talks with Waiting for Hockney director Julie Checkoway for Filmmaker. More from Stephen Saito for the IFC.

"After Film Geek, I made a mental note to follow what the filmmakers do next," writes Noah Forrest, introducing two interviews at Movie City News. "The director, James Westby, and the star, Melik Malkasian, have teamed up once again for a film called The Auteur which is playing at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. This is another movie about movies, but in this case it follows the 'world's greatest living porn director' named Arturo Domingo."

Jürgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky pick their top ten.

Another interview for Filmmaker from Brandon Harris: The Wackness director Jonathan Levine.

"Baghdad High combines the video diaries of four Iraqi teen boys during their 2006-07 senior year in the violence-fraught capital." Bill Weber in Slant.

VF Daily has lots of pix from the opening night gala.

Variety's got a special section going.

Brandon Harris, at it again, this time with Yonkers Joe director Robert Celestino.

More from VF Daily: parties!

The Objective

Updates, 4/24: In the New York Times, David Carr talks with Blair Witch Project co-director Daniel Myrick, about his new film, The Objective, "a military-horror-thriller-buddy movie set in Afghanistan that suggests that Osama bin Laden is not the only seemingly supernatural force haunting the mountains there."

"Tribeca's honchos have embarked on an extended quest to join Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto at the top rank of destination festivals," notes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I don't know about that, frankly. I don't know whether it's a goal worth pursuing and I don't know whether it's ever going to happen. But here's the good news: Tribeca has mellowed out, at least a little, in 2008." And he lists his picks.

Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks cover the opening at indieWIRE; also, interviews with Kief Davidson (Kassim the Dream) and Michael Christofersen (Milosevic on Trial).

The IFC opens its special section.

"[B]y blending obscure titles with the work of proven talent, Tribeca provides a resolutely solid collage of the film community's modern state," argues Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

"I can't really tell you about all the great movies, due to Tribeca's embargo on reviews of all world premieres before the films screen publicly for the first time," writes Michael Lerman at the SpoutBlog. "So, here we are now with nothing to cover but the program itself (and the embargo, of course). And instead of reviewing the quality of the films in the midnight program, I'm just gonna review the section as its own entity."

Cinematical's Erik Davis picks seven films he's looking forward to.

Aaron Dobbs: "I want to share with you a really special program that we're introducing this year at Tribeca - two actually that are a bit similar called Conversations in Cinema and Behind the Screens."

"Skeptics may continue to see the zanier surfaces of My Winnipeg as a sort of whimsy with an attitude, given its juxtapositions of rear projection and gauzy black and white with unhinged sight gags, nudity, and Canadian pop songs like 'Moody Manitoba Morning,'" writes Bill Weber in Slant. "But it has the feel of a personal accommodation, possibly one the real-life Guy Maddin has already made, with ambivalence and the way the march of time can seem married to the ascendancy of mediocrity."

VF Daily's recommendations for 4/24.

More indieWIRE interviews: Paul H-O and Tom Donahue (Guest of Cindy Sherman) and Gini Reticker (Pray the Devil Back to Hell).

Brandon Harris, Filmmaker: Justin Meeks (The Wild Man of the Navidad).

Via Shawn Levy, John Del Signore Gothamist interview with Bill Plympton (Idiots and Angels).

"Fermat's Room is sort of Saw for arithmetic dorks," writes the IFC's Matt Singer.

"It's a thrill to be able to see some of the titles in Tribeca's lineup, but I do think that, as always, some institutional accountability is in order before we delve into the individual movies themselves," begins Howard Feinstein at indieWIRE:

What keeps Tribeca from being merely a magnet for future productions and a random hodgepodge of films, some of which are connected to the founding fathers and mother professionally, are some of the programmers, who, in spite of the pablum that takes up a majority of the available slots, find some fabulous works, the kind of art that causes you to exit the cinema in a different state of mind than you were in upon entering....

These programmers are the people whose contributions and taste keep "festivalness" in the mix of this overproduced, Howard Rubensteinesque, well, vanity production. Spin is as cultivated and valorized as it is at Hillary headquarters, and some journalists are complicit in its transmission. (Just read last Friday's New York Times piece on the event for a, um, blow-by-blow.) No wonder so many of the small, low-budget Amerindie selections end up being represented by celebrity PR agencies like 42 West. Ethical boundaries are blurred. I was horrified to see the entry for one of Tribeca's films in the festival catalog signed by one of the selectors who is listed on the print as executive producer. Fine if it were merely a synopsis, but "a visually saturated and incendiary film" is a critical evaluation and just plain inappropriate. I do not think that would fly at the Film Society, Moma, BAM, or AMMI.

Updates, 4/26: "Tribeca has announced the winners of the All Access Creative Promise Awards, their program to bring together filmmakers with the industry." Michael Jones has the list. Also: "Check out our dynamic Tribeca schedule and rate the films - even if you've seen them before! Tell people what's good, what ain't good and why."

Baghead

At Slant, Bill Weber on Baghead: "This second feature by the Duplass brothers, with co-writer/lead actor Jay from The Puffy Chair now sharing directing credit with Mark, soon becomes a kind of mumblecorish spin on The Blair Witch Project... As a hybrid, it's destined to disappoint horror fiends who take its predator-in-the-woods moves at face value, but it delivers on its premise that the shameless scheming of a friend can be a scarier phenomenon than a boogeyman with a knife." But a "lackadaisical focus eventually proves debilitating," argues Nick Schager, "with the end result of its myriad intentions – character study, relationship drama, scary movie, meta-scary movie – being that Baghead spreads itself thin to the point of flimsiness."

Back to Bill Weber, who's with Profit motive and the whispering wind right up until its "concluding misstep... Far less successful at going in one era and out the other is Hidden in Plain Sight, a quasi-diaristic attempt by New Yorker Mark Street to glean commonalities of life and distant history in his travels to Santiago, Dakar, Hanoi, and Marseille."

"Who better to sympathize with during the lonely alienation common to adolescence than the equally forlorn existence of a teenage vampire?" Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on Let the Right One In.

Phil Nugent at ScreenGrab on Savage Grace, The Secret of the Grain, Simple Things, Lou Reed's Berlin, Seven Days Sunday, War, Inc, Waiting for Hockney and Somers Town.

S James Snyder's latest in the New York Sun covers An Omar Broadway Film, Theater of War and The Zen of Bobby V. Also, Bruce Bennett's "12-film sampling culled from among Tribeca's nearly 80 short offerings."

At Cinematical: Erik Davis on Trucker and Bart Got a Room ("easily my personal favorite so far"); and Scott Weinberg on The Wild Man of the Navidad and The Objective.

At the SpoutBlog: Karina Longworth on The Wackness.

"Playing is composed entirely of interviews conducted on a bare stage, monologues of women's stories in tall type, of heartbreak, of faith, of children lost or estranged, of departed lovers, of missed parents and their stand-ins," writes Alison Willmore. "[Eduardo] Coutinho's twist is that half of the women we see aren't the owners of the stories they tell. They're actresses interpreting the accounts, some of whom, like Central Station's Marília Pêra, might be recognizable to audiences here."

Steve Erickson's overview in Gay City News: Lou Reed's Berlin, Baghdad High, Katyn and Man on Wire.

At Zoom In Online: Jim Rohner on Bigger, Stronger, Faster and Man on Wire.

For his own blog this time, Brandon Harris talks with Tom Kalin (Savage Grace. Then, for Filmmaker, Ivan O'Mahoney (Baghdad High).

More indieWIRE interviews: Huseyin Karabey (My Marlon and Brando), Dan Castle (Newcastle), Alfonso Pineda-Ulloa (Love, Pain & Vice Versa) and Mohamed Al-Daradji (War, Love, God & Madness).

Cinematical's Erik Davis talks with Bart Got a Room director Brian Hecker.

"Lana Veenker, the Portland casting director, reports in from New York City, where she attended last night's world premiere of James Westby's latest comedy, The Auteur."

A President to Remember: In the Company of John F Kennedy

Updates, 27: For the IFC, Stephen Saito talks with the legendary Robert Drew, now 84, about A President to Remember: In the Company of John F Kennedy - and about the current campaign: "From my standpoint, politics now are impossible to cover. That is, the network nightly news or CNN are about as good as you can get because none of the candidates have the confidence that Kennedy had to make their own decisions and let things happen. Everything is planned and plotted, and for somebody who wants to make candid films about what's really happening, that's impossible. You've got people looking over your shoulder when you shoot, people looking over your shoulder when you edit, and I would rather bow out than jump into it."

Michael Jones notes that Cindy Sherman has publicly and unequivocally disavowed Guest of Cindy Sherman.

"After her debut Demi-tarif, and even after the first 30 minutes of her second feature Charly, it wasn't clear to me that Isild Le Besco was going to find a way to integrate the sensual immediacy of her film style into a larger structure," writes Dan Sallitt. "But I think everything is going to be all right with her."

In the NYT, Anthony Ramirez reports on Tribeca Film Fellows: "The fellowship program, which began in 2004, is intended to start young people on careers in film through mentorships with filmmakers, workshops, panel discussions and the filming of a collaborative documentary titled CityScapes."

"Clocking in at a brisk 37 minutes, Toby Dammit, Fellini’s contribution to the 1968 omnibus film Spirits of the Dead, is a minor epic and a major source of cult and critical affection," writes Simon Abrams at Twitch.

Peter Knegt's not only enjoyed Squeezebox! but also the party afterwards "with extreme debauchery rampant and a slew of performers, including Mistress Formika, Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Karen Black and Debbie Harry. It was the most worth-it hangover I ever had."

While The Auteur "definitely sags just a bit in the middle section," notes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical, "it's really, really funny."

A "punchline with a sprinkling of gore do not a midnight movie classic make." Phil Nugent in ScreenGrab on The Objective.

"James Mottern's Trucker is a throwback, the kind of low-budget, low-impact drama about grubby, ordinary people that used to be as plentiful at film festivals as fleas on a sheepdog in summertime," writes Phil Nugent in ScreenGrab.

For Scott Weinberg, Eden is "one of the most honest, touching, and quietly insightful "people stories" I've seen in quite some time."

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, Brian Brooks and Peter Knegt post another big roundup.

For Chelsea Now, Rania Richardson talks with Christina Clausen about making The Universe of Keith Haring.

"The eye-opening documentary Lioness, directed by Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers, deals with one of the least-covered aspects of the Iraq war: the role of American women in combat." Phil Nugent, ScreenGrab.

"Savage Grace is only special for [Julianne] Moore's delicious performance, though this great actress does not settle for facile vamping, conveying a chilling combativeness and tragic sense of emotional resignation with nearly every gesture, whether she is exhaling a sinister plume of cigarette smoke or chomping on an olive, bringing glints of life to [director Tom] Kalin's comatose artistry," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

"Killer Movie is a well-acted, enjoyable popcorn movie," writes Joel Keller at Cinematical. "But its flaws sink it to the level of 'wait until it's on DVD.'"

Idiots and Angels

Updates, 4/29: Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on Bill Plympton's Idiots and Angels: "[W]hile the action in conception treads ground that is uninspired, often unfunny, and sometimes awfully limited in generosity, Plympton's execution and imagination of the script is always exciting to behold."

More from Eric Kohn at Stream, where he also reviews Bart Got a Room, The Objective and Sita Sings the Blues (site), which "might be one of the most startlingly original feature-length explorations of familial discordance since Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation."

"I saw six films at Tribeca this weekend, and five of them were completely blown off the map by Somers Town, Shane Meadows's practically perfect follow-up to his 2007 triumph, This is England," announces Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

And Alison Willmore finds it "a scruffy and stupendously warm story of life in an unpretty part of the city with no lessons to teach or morals to impart."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir has longish takes on Man on Wire, Redbelt and Theater of War.

In the first entry in his "Critic's Notebook" for Premiere, Aaron Hillis recommends Profit motive and the whispering wind and The Secret of the Grain.

Howard Feinstein's second entry in his "Critics' Notebook" for indieWIRE focuses on docs. Also, Peter Knegt profiles Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg).

At Slant: Nick Schager on Before the Rains and The Wackness.

In the New York Sun, S James Snyder presents "a survey of 10 not-to-be-missed events scheduled for this week" and an overview of films made in and about New York City.

Fresh podcast at the IFC: Matt Singer and Alison Willmore. Also, Matt on Bigger, Stronger, Faster and Stephen Saito talks with Dori Berinstein about Gotta Dance.

At Cinematical:

Jürgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky offer a quick roundup.

At ScreenGrab: Phil Nugent on Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, The Auteur and Sita Sings the Blues.

At Zoom In Online: Jim Rohner on The Wild Man of the Navidad and An Omar Broadway Film.

The Film Panel Notetaker attended a presentation of Lake City, where Sissy Spacek was on hand to discuss her latest.

More interviews from Brandon Harris at Filmmaker: Declan Recks (Eden and Paula Gaitan (Days in Sintra).

For New York, Bilge Ebiri talks with Bobby Valentine about The Zen of Bobby V.

More on Elite Squad: Phil Nugent (ScreenGrab) and Scott Weinberg (Cinematical).

More on Idiots and Angels: Jim Rohner at Zoom In Online.

Phil Nugent, ScreenGrab: Baghead.

IndieWIRE interviews Baghdad High co-directors Ivan O'Mahoney and Laura Winter.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:39 AM

Cannes. Lineup.

Cannes From Screen Daily this year, the Cannes lineup for 2008:

Competition:

Updated through 4/29.

Synecdoche, New York

Out of Competition:

Special screenings:

Midnight Screenings:

Special Jury President's Screening:

The Third Wave

Main Jury:

And Barry Levinson's What Just Happened? will close the festival, which runs May 14 through 25.

Updates: The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw offers first impressions of the lineup.

Via Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa, the lineup for Un Certain Regard:

How is that Che's in the lineup after so many reported it wouldn't be? "Some conspiracy theorists might not be wrong in smelling a hand behind the bait and switch," writes Michael Jones. Karina Longworth looks into it at the SpoutBlog.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir looks into a slew of titles that leap out at him.

Glenn Kenny's getting fired up, ready to go.

Nathaniel R pores over the lineup.

Directors' Fortnight 40 Updates, 4/24: "After its strong Latino flavor last year, Cannes sidebar Critics' Week largely focuses on European pics for its 47th edition," report John Hopewell and David Hayhurst for Variety, where they've got that lineup.

Once again, Variety's John Hopewell: "Vet Pole auteur Jerzy Skolimowski's comeback movie, Four Nights With Anna, will world preem as the opening film of the Cannes Film Festival's 40th Directors' Fortnight.... Directors' Fortnight's full program will be announced Friday. Speculation is running rife in Paris about which films will make the cut, given that the Directors' Fortnight will be the last Cannes section to be announced this year... There's a question mark over a clutch of films that were being talked up for Official Selection but as yet have to find a berth at the festival."

"Italy's robust presence at the upcoming 61st Cannes Film Festival was front page news Thursday in the country's top dailies, which are hailing the three Italian titles unspooling in the Official Selection as a sign of the local industry's new vitality." Nick Vivarelli reports in, yes, Variety.

Paul Clark at ScreenGrab: "Meet the Jury!"

Updates, 4/25: John Hopewell and David Hayhurst have the Directors' Fortnight lineup in Variety: "Twelve of the 22 films are either French pics or co-productions."

The Toronto Star's Peter Howell talks with Atom Egoyan: "His new drama Adoration, the sole Canadian contender for this year's Palme d'Or, is set in a Toronto high school. And for once, the city won't be pretending to be somewhere else." Via Movie City News.

Updates, 4/27: "During much of the Gilles Jacob era of Cannes, regions such as Latin America and Southeast Asia were usually ignored," writes Robert Koehler at filmjourney.org. "Now, it's Thierry Fremaux's Cannes - the 2008 edition will be his first in which he has full rein over all aspects of the program - and, as we've seen during recent Cannes festivals, programming seeks to reflect the reality that filmmaking is exploding on every continent." Still, "It may be Thierry's Cannes, but it's Olivier [Pere]'s Quinzaine," and "Olivier's Quinzaine, celebrating its 40th year as the Croisette upstart, looks to be a whole lot more interesting than Gilles' Cannes. Just look at some of the filmmakers in the roster, and you're looking at a window on the future of cinema: [Lisandro] Alonso and his Thierry del Fuego-set Liverpool, Albert Serra and his Three Wise Men odyssey El Cant dels ocells, Claire Simon's Les Bureaux de Dieu, Raya Martin and his five-hour Now Showing and the best Romanian you haven't heard of - Radu (The Paper Will Be Blue) Muntean and Boogie." As for Alonso, Serra and Martin, "Few younger filmmakers matter more than these three, and any program that contains all of them unveiling major new work is an event of the highest magnitude." He then sorts through the competition.

"There are six British films in Cannes this year," notes Agnès Poirier at the Guardian. "Yet, instead of making champagne corks fly, grumpy observers have been whining and sneering."

Anne Thompson's got a still from Synecdoche, New York and notes that Charlie Kaufman "plays the game of being very shy and press-averse, but he's actually just as canny about getting attention paid to him as most successful people on Hollywood."

Updates, 4/29: "The Cannes Film Festival has officially announced that Fernando Meirelles's Blindness (Miramax, 9.12) will open the festival," and Jeffrey Wells has news of other films that have been added to the slate as well: Laurent Cantet's Entre les murs and James Gray's Two Lovers in the competition lineup; Steve McQueen's Hunger will open Un Certain Regard; and Jeanne Balibar and Marjane Satrapi have joined the jury.

Andrew O'Hehir comments on the additions, including the confirmation that Barry Levinson's What Just Happened? will indeed close the festival.

"Being a subjective, not entirely well-informed, and hopefully not pre-judging bunch of observations on the pictures in competition at the 61st Annual Cannes Film Festival, May 14-25..." Glenn Kenny.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:37 AM | Comments (10)

Stuff and Dough and more Romanians.

Stuff and Dough "[Cristi] Puiu's second feature, The Death of Mr Lazarescu, winner of the Prix un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2005, introduced many European and American critics to a new kind of tough, socially critical realist cinema blossoming in Romania," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Stuff and Dough, a 2002 film belatedly crossing the ocean in the wake of Lazarescu, is more modest in scope but no less impressive in its self-confidence, its candor and its stringent, undogmatic contemporary relevance."

Updated through 4/26.

"Where Lazarescu was old and long, Stuff and Dough is young and short," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "But both films are travelogues of a sort - one confined to the back of an ambulance, the other to a cargo van - in which you can sense Puiu, who moved to Switzerland shortly after the 1989 revolution and returned to Romania in the late 1990s, is sorting out his relationship to a country he doesn't fully recognize, while that country does the same."

"The film is all rhythm, with Puiu's camera jumping to and from anxious faces but sometimes landing on empty space," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Stuff and Dough suggests that time, like procedure, is of the essence in Romania, though it lacks Lazarescu's gravitas and poignancy."

"Like Jeff Nichols's excellent Shotgun Stories, a recent American film that told a revenge story without stooping to catharsis, Stuff and Dough recasts a road movie game of cat-and-mouse as a zero-affect shrug-a-thon," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "By the standards of Steven Spielberg's Duel, George Miller's Mad Max and other pumped-up, fleshed-out films of a similar circumstantial trajectory, Stuff and Dough is uneventful and anticlimactic to the extreme. That doesn't make the film's journey any less worthwhile, nor its ultimate lesson - that when traveling the economic frontiers of crime, there is no such thing as easy money or limited partnership - any less trenchant."

At Film Forum through May 6.

Meanwhile, Shining Through a Long, Dark Night: Romanian Cinema, Then and Now, the series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, carries on through Sunday and aquarello's posted half a dozen sharp and concise reviews so far.

Update: "[I]f this were an American film, it would most likely play out as a stoner-comedy variation on The Wages of Fear," writes Leo Goldsmith in Reverse Shot of Stuff and Dough. "But what keeps it refreshing and even, in its own way, gripping is that it resists glib characterizations, just as it avoids the conventional genre satisfactions of high-speed car-chases and deals gone wrong. As in Lazarescu, Puiu's tone isn't quite blackly comic - it doesn't simply cut its characters adrift and watch from a condescending remove as they scramble towards their fate."

Update, 4/26: "Stuff and Dough sometimes briefly turns into a slow-speed chase movie - think Bullitt filmed with stick-shift vans on Romanian back roads," writes Sam Adams at the AV Club. "But for the most part, the movie is as adrift as its post-teen characters, slogging through the muck of post-Communist Europe with eyes cast firmly downward.... There's no question of the mood Puiu means to capture, the sullen anomie of a rootless generation, but too often, he's just spinning his wheels."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:16 AM

April 22, 2008

Shorts, 4/22.

The Girl by the Lake "Surprise winner The Girl by the Lake swept the David di Donatello awards, taking home 10 statuettes, including Best Film, Best Director and Best New Director for Andrea Molaioli (40), who beat out his two teachers, Nanni Moretti and Carlo Mazzacurati, for whom he previous worked as AD." Camillo de Marco reports for Cineuropa.

André Téchiné will soon begin shooting La fille du RER (The Girl on the Train) with Catherine Deneuve and Émilie Dequenne, reports Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net, where he's got news of other projects in the works as well.

"Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee is returning to the gay genre with a movie revolving around the Woodstock music festival." According to the Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein, Taking Woodstock will be based on Elliot Tiber's Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and a Life.

At Treehugger (happy Earth Day, by the way), Jeremy Elton Jacquot passes along word that Al Gore will indeed be making a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth.

Slate has a transcript of Edward Norton's chat with Washington Post readers about the National Geographic TV series Strange Days on Planet Earth.

Frost/Nixon

AICN is running a very, very early review - by one Gordon Shumway - of Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon.

Lou Lumenick passes along news that Elvis Mitchell has landed a regular show at TCM

Anne Powers profiles soldier turned antiwar activist Tomas Young, subject of Body of War.

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Shaw talks with Doug Benson about Super High Me. Related online viewing: Mark Bell talks with Benson and director Michael Blieden.

"If Charlie Wilson's War (brand-new on DVD) is an entertaining mishmash, oddly less than the sum of its remarkable parts, the story it has to tell is one of the most fascinating, improbable and haunting yarns in recent world history." For Salon, Andrew O'Hehir talks with the real Charlie Wilson - not just about what went down in the 80s but also about what we should be doing in Afghanistan now.

"In 1984, the British Conservative government banned scores of horror films under the Video Recordings Act in response to a media orchestrated moral panic. They became known as Video Nasties. Good sense was gradually restored, and since the mid 1990s most of these films have become available again. There are 73 Video Nasties in all, and I aim to watch them all." Via Steve Bryant, Ben explains the Video Nasty Project.

Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook:

Du côté d'Orouët

Jacques Rozier is a name few American fans of the French New Wave will recall, but the writers - and by then, filmmakers - of the Cahiers du cinema who literally defined the New Wave jumped all over Rozier's feature debut, the quite hard to see Adieu Phillipine (1962). Between that and Du côté d'Orouët (1973), the only two features of the director I've been able to see (the excellent 1964 documentary short on Brigitte Bardot, Paparazzi, is available on Criterion's DVD of Contempt), Rozier carves perhaps the most remarkable niche of all: a director jumping into the New Wave as if it was a natural means of expression. Featuring none of the zany energy, genre-hopping, American-film referencing, and formal assuredness of the more well-known members of the movement, Rozier in these two features embraces verité influences and a focus on young lives, culture, and sensibility to create veritable fictive documentaries on French urban youth.

In the Threepenny Review, Frederick Wiseman describes, step by step, his approach to editing a film: "The editing is finally finished when I go through the film and try to explain to myself why each shot and sequence is in the film. I have to express in words both my rational and non-rational decisions. Since I like talking to myself, this is the last pleasure of the editing process." Via Alison Willmore, who also Greil Marcus's piece in the new issue: "[W]e all have memories of things we did not experience: cultural memories that have taken up residence in our minds, built houses, filled them with furniture and appliances, and commanded that we live in them. These sorts of memories come from all sources, but especially from movies - and so, before I come back to the blank memory I started with, I'm going to talk about David Lynch's Blue Velvet."

"Films labeled melodrama are too often maligned, but have a fine pedigree in the American cinema." The Siren on what we talk about when we talk about melodrama.

"Hollywood has convinced itself, against considerable evidence, that audiences insist on happy endings," writes Newsweek's David Ansen. "How, then, to account for two of the most popular movies ever: Titanic and Gone With the Wind, and, of course, the Godfather movies? Frankly, my dear, we don't give a damn if the ending is happy or sad, as long as it's right."

The Accidental Tourist "Sometimes I think Anne Tyler is the greatest unacknowledged influence on the last two decades of American indie cinema - or at least that subset of indie cinema that tends to dominate Sundance. I'm thinking of those small-scale character comedy-dramas in which a repressed main character - sad, lonely, getting older, seemingly set in their ways - learns to embrace life again thanks to a chance encounter with a dynamic, 'exotic' new friend or lover." Paul Matwychuk finds a way into The Visitor, "Tom McCarthy's beautifully executed followup to his 2003 debut The Station Agent."

"There aren't that many pockets in our economy where the possibilities for pluralistic expression and communication are relatively unaffected by monetary considerations, but the blogosphere is one of them," writes Girish. "I find great promise in this flowering of generalism and its empowerment of non-professionals." And he asks: "Why do you blog?" Goodness, some of these comments that follow are mini-essays themselves.

FilmInFocus's latest "Behind the Blog" interview: Matt Zoller Seitz.

New blog on the block: August Ragone's The Good, the Bad, and Godzilla. Via Kimberly Lindbergs.

Welcome relaunch: Granta.

In the New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon talks with Isabella Rossellini: "It's not so hard to watch Casablanca, because I wasn't even born. But it's very difficult to see Autumn Sonata because that is the mother that I remember."

And at the site: "Well, there's life in that old dog yet," blogs Stanley Fish. "My editor thought that a column on French theory would elicit a small number of responses from readers interested in continental philosophy. More than 600 comments later, it is clear that terms like deconstruction and postmodernism still have the capacity to produce excitement and outrage."

Patrick Goldstein on Al Pacino and Robert De Niro: "The two icons of 70s New Hollywood, heroes to a generation of young actors and filmmakers, have become parodies of themselves, making payday movies and turning in performances that are hollow echoes of the electrically charged work they did in such films as Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Mean Streets and Taxi Driver."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Susan King gets a quick chat with Shotgun Stories director Jeff Nichols.

Mark Mordue talks with Elmore Leonard for Stop Smiling.

Election "Alexander Payne's Election (based on the novel by Tom Perrotta) may, in fact, work even better now than it did when first released a few years ago," argues James Rocchi.

David Poland previews Hollywood's summer.

Michael Swaim for Cracked: "How To Make Your Own Judd Apatow Movie."

From Aaron Hillis in Spin: "Sound and Vision: 2008's Rock Movie Roundup."

Michael Guillén talks with Carl Martin of the Film on Film Foundation. From the mission statement: "We envision a vital film culture in which repertory screenings figure prominently on the cinematic landscape, and film - actual film - is not just an object of nostalgia but a living medium of expression."

Online gaze. At Shorpy, "Double Feature: 1939."

Online listening tip #1. The IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore present an "Indie Summer Movie Preview."

Online listening tip #2. "Harlan Ellison & Robin Williams Discuss LRH."

Online listening tip #3. Who would Hollywood cast as the three remaining presidential contenders? David Greene looks into it for NPR.

Online viewing tip #1. Via Fimoculous, "Charlie Rose by Samuel Beckett."

Online viewing tip #2. La Constellation Jodorowsky. Thanks, Jerry!

Posted by dwhudson at 3:59 PM

Synoptique. 11.

Synoptique 11 "After a four year hiatus, Synoptique, a film journal written and published by graduate Film Studies students at Concordia University in Montreal, is back!" announces editor Amanda D'Aoust. Actually, she announced it over a month ago, but I'm just catching up with the new issue now.

Besides two pieces in French, you find, in English, Graeme Langdon on "Conceptions of Childhood in the American Avant-garde," Zoë Heyn-Jones on "how gender, genre and politics play out in Sally Potter's Orlando," Kate Rennebohm's "affective experience while watching David Lynch's Inland Empire" and Kina de Grasse's note on the design for this issue and on how she collaborated with artists in the deviantART community to create it.

If it's been a while, you might want to revisit the Synoptique Style Gallery and/or the archives.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:43 PM

DVDs, 4/22.

Daisy Kenyon For James Wolcott, Daisy Kenyon "is a fascinating chamber drama shot in deep-volumed noirish black and white (every room looks like a cove), with dialogue that tears through sentimentality with sharp little teeth and a clutch of tough, wary, ultra-observant performances by Joan Crawford, Dana Andrews (even more prickly with postwar dissatisfaction than in The Best Years of Our Lives), and a deceptively easy-going Henry Fonda.... If you haven't seen Daisy Kenyon (and you probably haven't, being so buried under the backlog of all your Wire and Battlestar Galactica DVDs), you really must give it a dark whirl."

"As with pre-codes, a lot of smaller musicals along the lines of Born to Dance had to wait until the emergence of TCM before fans could really enjoy them again," writes John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows. "DVD release has done the rest. Warner's Classic Musicals From The Dream Factory series has been the fulfillment of dreams for fans who've waited lifetimes to see these favorites truly showcased as they deserve."

Shirley Temple "Long before she was an ambassador in real life (to Ghana in 1974 and Czechoslovakia in 1989), [Shirley Temple] seemed, to Depression-era audiences, like an emissary from another world, one where ships were made of candy and there were no bread lines in sight." In the New York Times, Dave Kehr reviews the America's Sweetheart Collection, Volume 6.

Bill Hare, author of Hitchcock and the Methods of Suspense, on the Noir of the Week: "Strangers on a Train: Hitchcock's Rich Imagery Reigning Supreme."

"A social problem film par excellence, [Gentleman's Agreement] represents the directions of the postwar prestige film, particularly the house style of 20th-Fox," writes Chris Cagle.

The Observer's Philip French revisits the highlights of Anna Magnani's oeuvre.

Hannah Takes the Stairs "Though it may seem unfair at first, let's pick up Joe Swanberg's Hannah Takes the Stairs heft it in our grips for a moment, and then use it to beat this thing called 'mumblecore' to a pulp." And Michael Atkinson proceeds to go right at it for the IFC. Then: "[F]lowers do arise out of the sludge, and in Hannah Takes the Stairs, it's the title character, as conceived by Swanberg's ensemble and defined by Greta Gerwig's performance." Meanwhile, as Scott Macaulay notes at Filmmaker, the cover's drawn quite a bit of commentary.

"It's not often a film should be praised for its lack of originality, but The Orphanage is a satisfying horror movie in large part because it is also a veritable compendium of horror-movie conventions," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "[F]irst-time director Juan Antonio Bayona borrows heavily - and smartly - from the familiar repository of shock tactics and psychological anxieties that have sustained the genre for decades. A primary influence, no surprise, is his producer, Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro, whose taste for melancholic ghost stories is readily apparent here."

A dissenting voice: Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

"In The Castle, surely the least well-known of [Michael] Haneke's early films, and one made for television to boot, we have what seems to me far and away the best of his Austrian films." Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

For Stream, Austin Bunn talks with Brent Hoff, creator of Wolphin, McSweeney's DVD magazine.

Cloverfield "The best news about the new Cloverfield DVD is that you can pause it whenever you want in case - ya know - halfway through you feel a little motion sickness," writes Erik Davis. "It's been touted as 'The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla' or 'a monster movie for the You Tube generation,' but when it was all said and done Cloverfield turned out to be an original, captivating piece of filmmaking that took risks where other films of the genre would've played it safe." Also at Cinematical: Monika Bartyzel on Charlie Wilson's War and Matt Bradshaw on Women's Prison Massacre.

In the New York Sun, Gary Giddins tells the story behind an upcoming release of Disney's Latin America-themed wartime animated musicals.

DVD roundups: The AV Club, Sean Axmaker (MSN), Paul Clark (ScreenGrab), DVD Talk, Bryant Frazer, Harry Knowles (AICN), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Noel Murray and Dennis Lim (Los Angeles Times) and Slant.

And as always, keep an eye on the Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:03 AM

Baby Mama.

Baby Mama "Baby Mama may be Tina Fey's first starring big-screen role, but what it desperately needs more of isn't Fey the smart, self-deprecating comedian but Fey the sharp, witty writer, as this snoozer from Michael McCullers (scribe of all three Austin Powers movies) is as pedestrian and middling as they come," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"Forget the title, the target audience, and the taglines: what fuels Baby Mama is not the eternal quest for motherhood, or the topical conflict between parenting and careers, but an old-fashioned scuffle over class," writes David Denby in the New Yorker.

Updated through 4/26.

"Baby Mama keeps the laughs coming, mainly from the horror that Kate and Angie [Amy Poehler] experience over the other's excesses, but also through amusingly eccentric supporting characters like Steve Martin as Kate's kajillionaire tree-hugger boss and Greg Kinnear's independent smoothie maker with a hatred for Jamba Juice," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Even when the movie gets bogged down in plot - Angie fakes being pregnant, but then it turns out that she is, but the baby may actually be Carl's - the zingers keep coming and the characters maintain a sense of being both cartoony and realistic."

S James Snyder, writing in the New York Sun, finds the film "sweeter and smarter than many will be expecting... The obvious rapport shared by Ms Fey and Ms Poehler makes for a feel-good formula, but not a lazy one."

"It can be difficult to determine where we are currently in the whole can-women-be-funny? debate other than to say there have been a spate of essays on the topic," writes Paul Brownfield in a Los Angeles Times piece before segueing into his meeting with Fey and Poehler. "The Times' movie critic Carina Chocano recently noted how 'the girl' and 'the hot girl' have merged into one abject role for women in studio comedies. Last year, Vanity Fair published agent provocateur Christopher Hitchens's essay 'Why Women Aren't Funny,' though the April magazine featured an essay by New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley going the other way, highlighting the bumper crop of women writing as well as performing their comedy, mostly on TV."

And the comedy will open Tribeca tomorrow.

Updates, 4/23: Julia Wallace talks with Poehler for the Voice.

"Baby Mama is less about conception-mania - or the stage that invariably follows it, baby obsession - than it is a romantic comedy, a picture about two people who fall into a kind of love with one another only to fall out, ultimately finding a deeper, or at least more realistic, connection after they've reckoned with each other's flaw," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "But even if the picture is softer than it needs to be, it still resists devolving into something warm and squishy."

Update, 4/24: "Baby Mama is the most disappointing movie of the year so far - which, granted, isn't saying a lot in mid-April," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. It's "a politely bland retread of women's-movie clichés a generation old: the driven businesswoman who puts off motherhood till the last minute, then pursues it with type-A zeal; the guy who flees a first date when babies are mentioned; the down-to-earth potential boyfriend (Greg Kinnear) who, by his very existence, reminds the overly ambitious heroine of what really matters in life. Look, I have fond enough memories of Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard in Baby Boom, but that was more than 20 years ago. Have our ideas about working, parenting, and the formation of alternative families really changed so little since 1987?"

Updates, 4/26: "The film never comes fully to term, as it were: the visual style is sitcom functional, and even the zippiest jokes fall flat because of poor timing," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But, much like the prickly, talented Ms Fey, it pulls you in with a provocative and, at least in current American movies, unusual mix of female intelligence, awkwardness and chilled-to-the-bone mean."

The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday notes that the movie "ambles along with such low-key, easygoing humor that it's almost a shock to the system: Where are the hamburger phones, the rat-a-tat pop culture references, the porn? All have been left behind in the service of what is a far more observant, if uneven, comedy of 21st-century manners."

The Los Angeles Times' Carina Chocano finds the film "much too sweet-natured to be cruel, and much too cheerful to be angry. It probably could have pushed a few more buttons, but Baby Mama aims to please and succeeds."

"When a member of Judd Apatow's extended comedy troupe pops up on screen, the audience claps and laughs out of sheer anticipation," notes Ryan Stewart in Premiere. "When a member of Lorne Michaels's does so, it's tumbleweeds, which is symptomatic of the larger problems at work in Baby Mama, an exhausting 90 minutes of SNL-centric mediocrity that gives one the nagging feeling that Tina Fey's inability to cut the cord is going to quickly start to cool interest in her upcoming projects.... Cut the cord, Tina. Cut the cord."

"Memo to smart, funny TV stars in smart, funny TV shows: When you take similar wares to the big screen and expect me to pay full ticket price to follow you there, I'd better laugh at least as hard as I did at home," writes Mike Russell. "Baby Mama, I'm sad to say, is just sporadically funny, bland, talent-wasting junk."

"It's an Odd Coupling that, while conventional in conception, is exceptionally executed by Fey and Poehler, firmly in their respective comedic comfort zones of wry vulnerability and barely restrained derangement," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "Though Baby Mama is being billed as a gal-friendly counterpart to the male-centric lens of the Apatow Industry, it doesn't try as hard or scratch as deep as the latter's better efforts, in ways both good and bad."

Richard Corliss in Time: "Oscar and Felix; Kate and Angie. I'm not making claims that Baby Mama transcends the format's routine progressions - opposites not only attract, they learn from each other - only that, within these conventions, the movie is smart, funny and beguiling."

"[T]he upshot, and upside, of Baby Mama is that Ms Poehler and Ms Fey should pair up for another movie that gives freer rein to their talents," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun.

"Baby Mama doesn't have a plot so much as a series of contrivances that play out completely as expected. It's not without laughs - Poehler and Fey, as ever, have strong chemistry, and there's a truly bizarre scene in which Martin offers Fey a strange 'reward' for a job well done - but there's a lot of arid space between them," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

"The movie is what it is, but I must confess that for all the by-the-numbers plotting and utterly conventional turns of the plot, there’s a dynamic between stars Amy Poehler and Tina Fey that both lifts the comedy and grounds the characters in ways that made the film better than it should be," writes Sean Axmaker.

And finally for now, a moment of brilliance from C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark that I'm pointing to from this entry and from Harold and Kumar's.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:35 AM

Charges against Steve Kurtz dropped.

Strange Culture It was almost exactly four years ago that artist Steve Kurtz woke up to a relentless, how-bad-can-it-get nightmare. His wife, Hope, a fellow member of the Critical Art Ensemble, had died in her sleep. When Kurtz called 911, the ambulance crew noticed the materials CAE was working with in preparation for an exhibit protesting US food policies. They called Homeland Security, who promptly arrested Kurtz and confiscated, well, everything.

Via David Pescovitz at Boing Boing comes welcome news that US District Judge Richard Arcara has dropped the charges. The AP: "'Obviously this is a weight off his back, but he still had to suffer through this for four years,' said Kurtz's attorney, Paul Cambria. 'The last thing this guy is is a bioterrorist.'"

You may recall that Lynn Hershman Leeson made a film based on the case, Strange Culture (site), featuring Tilda Swinton, Peter Coyote and Thomas Jay Ryan. It screened at Sundance in 07 before David D'Arcy caught it in Berlin.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:25 AM | Comments (1)

April 21, 2008

Filmmaker. Spring 08.

Filmmaker Spring 08 There's a new Filmmaker out and about and what's online are primarily interviews; Jason Guerrasio, for example, meets Christopher Zalla: "Since winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, the search for distribution has been a frustrating one that has included a change of the title to Sangre de Mi Sangre (Blood of My Blood) from its original Padre Nuestro (Our Father). And even though IFC will release the film in May, as of press time the company says it doesn't plan to make a formal announcement of the title change. This was partly the cause of Zalla's frustration when we met for breakfast in New York City last month to talk about the film and the ever-shrinking distribution path for indies (especially foreign-language ones)."

Lisa Y Garibay talks with Tom Kalin and screenwriter Howard A Rodman about Savage Grace, screening at Tribeca before opening in May.

With Mother of Tears slated for a June release, Travis Crawford introduces an interview with Dario Argento: "Asia Argento stars as a woman whom the fate of Rome rests on as a group of witches enters the city and causes massive carnage and related depravity. Suspiria screenwriter and actress Daria Nicolodi - Dario's ex-wife and Asia's mother - co-stars in perhaps the most violent film of the director's career and one that summons up the nightmare logic and disquieting decadence of his best work."

Peter Bowen talks with Errol Morris about Standard Operating Procedure.

Howard Feinstein tells the story behind The Visitor.

The international market's getting tighter for American independent films, reports Anthony Kaufman: "Whether it's the result of a worldwide economic dip, a slowdown in moviegoing, widespread piracy or the rise of homegrown product, US-based indie producers and sales agents can no longer count on sweet deals from European TV stations or automatic sales to countries, far and wide."

The gaming industry is finally opening up to indie developers, reports Heather Chaplin. And "with gaming poised to be the dominant form of entertainment of the 21st century, this is good news for all of us."

And Roberto Quezada-Dardon has the latest on the Red One, a high-resolution digital camera that more than a few filmmakers have fallen hard for. Steven Soderbergh, for example, is quoted as saying, "I feel I should call up film and say, 'I've met somebody.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:24 PM | Comments (2)

More on Stalags.

David D'Arcy has a quick recommendation; and here's the April 9 entry.

Stalags You have today and tomorrow at Film Forum in New York to see Stalags, the Israeli documentary that explores a phenomenon of the early 1960s that was all over Israeli news kiosks at the time, but is little-known today - a genre of pulp-porn "memoirs," called "Stalags," in which female Nazi SS officers preyed with whips and other instruments of sadomasochistic torture on Allied prisoners of war in concentration camps, and pretty Jewish female prisoners were forced to provide sexual services for the Wehrmacht soldiers and other members of the Master Race who were trucked into the camps for just that purpose. In the horror of industrialized killing, was there also industrialized sex?

According to the doc by the Israeli filmmaker and journalist Ari Libsker, at least one generation of Israeli youth grew up thinking so.

Updated through 4/26.

The books were presented to the public as translations from English of the "real-life" accounts of pilots who were shot down and found themselves in the clutches of insatiable female Nazis. Men who were young back in the early 60s read excerpts mockingly and remember that the "Stalags" had a role to play in their own sexual initiation. Holocaust survivors deplore the exploitation genre.

It turned out that the novels were written under pseudonyms in Hebrew by Israelis, who adapted easily to the formulaic narratives and the purple prose. Men who wrote "Stalags" talk about the experience - there was a demand for the porn war stories in the austere Israel of that time, they say, and it was a way to make a shekel.

The genre got a boost from testimony at the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961, a pivotal event when Israel took it upon herself to punish those responsible for crimes against Jews. Testimony before the court from an author of his own Auschwitz memoirs - Yehiel Feiner De-Nur, who wrote under the nom de plume, K-Tzetnik, or concentration camp prisoner - recalled sexual abuse in the camps, which fueled a new rash of "Stalags." K-Tzetnik's books were received by many at the time as a new benchmark of truth-telling about the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Literary critics in the documentary raise doubts about the accuracy of K-Tzetnik's stories - whether he invented them or just exaggerated is still a matter of debate - but the Eichmann trial witness still stands accused of violating the memory of the Shoah. Israelis still read K-Tzetrnik's books and, as the documentary shows, details from his accounts of camp life are repeated by guides today to students who tour Auschwitz.

In fact, back in the early 60s, the publishers of "Stalags" such as I Was Colonel Schultz's Private Bitch were prosecuted for disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. Eventually the "Stalags" were overtaken by other trends and by real legal pornography. Who knows? Maybe all this exposure will get the virulent neo-Nazi net to exhume it. They're not averse to digging up Nazi bodies.

Libsker's seductive tale is nothing if not a glimpse at forgotten forbidden fruit, even if the "Stalags" phenomenon is barely a titillating footnote in Israeli pop culture. Bear in mind that it didn't take much for filmmakers from Luchino Visconti to Mel Brooks to find rich material in the sexual peccadilloes of the Nazis. [And let's not forget Lina Wertmüller - Ed.]

Few young Israelis knew about these books, although now they certainly do, and it's hard to identify any influence that they had on Israeli society, other than aiding young boys in finding pleasure in solitary sex. Yet there are gaps in Ari Libsker's story that keep you wondering how these books fit into the official or dominant Israeli mythologies that are still works in progress today. Let's hope that more information comes out of the door that Libsker opened to help unravel the strands of memory, history and myth.

Update, 4/26: On the Media.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:58 AM

More on Standard Operating Procedure.

Standard Operating Procedure "In Standard Operating Procedure, [Errol] Morris has hold of a monster subject, one in which politics and art bleed together," writes New York's David Edelstein. "Using his own standard operating procedure - fixed camera, slow-motion reenactments, a hypnotic score - the director circles in on two points: that the men and women demoted or convicted for abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib were doing as they'd been ordered by higher-ups who remain unpunished; and that the photos obscure larger and more complicated truths. I'm not sure Morris clinches his case, but I'm not sure he wants to: His aim is to throw a monkey wrench into the cogs of our perception."

Updated through 4/27.

"A documentarian like no other, Morris, since The Thin Blue Line, has combined head-on interviews, recreations of the testimony with anonymous actors, churning scores (usually supplied by Philip Glass, here Danny Elfman), and an epistemologist's curiosity about image, memory, and human behavior," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "Casting the audience into the groupthink of young, inexperienced soldiers whose depraved antics during the fall of 2003 provoked a global uproar only because they were photographed, Morris has made one of his finest inquiries into corruptibility and violence."

The film "is remarkably cool, allowing the horror of the hundreds of photographs and the explanations by some of the soldiers who took them to play across the viewer's psyche like waking nightmares," writes Christopher Dickey in Newsweek. "The book, written by Philip Gourevitch in collaboration with Morris, is, by contrast, incandescent with righteous anger. The full context for the photographs is even more disturbing than the images themselves. When the case is laid out, when you have met the characters and learned their stories and understood what they suffered as well as the suffering they inflicted, it is hard not to want to scream."

"Standard Operating Procedure is a twisted investigative documentary that purposely doesn't add up," writes Chris Wisniewski in indieWIRE. "But the power of the film rests not in Morris's ability to create a coherent idea of Abu Ghraib... but rather in his ability to render such a master narrative impossible."

Brian Sholis has an extensive quote from WJT Mitchell's piece on the film in Harper's. The gist: "The referent of a photograph, the real object or event 'captured' by it, is not the same as the meaning it my acquire as a cultural icon."

Morris, in John Anderson's piece for the New York Times: "It is a mistake to confuse the pictures at Abu Ghraib with the crimes at Abu Ghraib.... One of the incredibly deep ironies is that the photographs could serve as both an exposé and as a cover-up. That they would encourage people not to look any further and make them think they had seen everything. And that is very interesting."

Steve Dollar talks with Morris for the New York Sun.

Online listening tip. Morris is a guest on the Bob Edwards Show. Via Chuck Tryon.

Earlier: Items posted April 1 through 4.

Updates: Morris's "well-argued point is that the real culprits behind the crimes committed weren't the grunts doing the actual dirty work but the higher ups who encouraged and sanctioned such behavior," writes Nick Schager. "Yet given the filmmaker's subject matter, it's exasperating (if, given his past history, not overly surprising) to find him distastefully fetishizing the images via a series of recreations shot with plenty of lavish, self-conscious attention to visual beauty."

The Playlist (following an entry on Robert Downey Jr): "Another long-ass profile we read this weekend (around 17 pages online), was another warts-and-all GQ article on the great documentarian Errol Morris... Morris has gotten many people to admit many a self-incriminating story on film and we loved that he calls his technique, the 'shut-the-fuck-up school of interviewing.' It's called listening and something more interviewers should try."

"[T]he film's narrow focus is both its point and its weakness," writes Jürgen Fauth, who recalls a somewhat rowdy press conference in Berlin.

Peter Bowen talks with Morris for Filmmaker.

Updates, 4/22: Nick Schager talks with Morris for the IFC.

Howard Feinstein talks with Morris for indieWIRE.

Updates, 4/23: "A description of dogs attacking naked prisoners is supplemented with close-ups of slavering hounds. This obtrusive mannerism is not only superfluous but, for a movie that aspires to be a critique of representation, bizarrely self-defeating," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Why so frantic? Does Morris fear that the faces, voices, and photographs he's assembled are insufficiently compelling to hold an audience? A vivid description of Fallujah's nauseating stink doesn't require smell-o-vision to register. Is he, like his subjects, compelled to amuse?"

"[M]aybe the most problematic reenactment is the movie's restaging of already hard-won insights about the commission of horrible acts during wartime," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Morris acts, and promotes himself, like a pioneer, which he is, primarily, in successfully restoring Abu Ghraib to the cognoscenti's lips where Taxi to the Dark Side didn't."

"[A]t about the fifteen minute mark, I was thinking, 'Does he really need all this artfulness?' The answer is, finally, yes," argues Premiere's Glenn Kenny.

Updates, 4/24: "Political posturing is the real subject of Morris's newest film," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

Scott Tobias talks with Morris for the AV Club.

Online listening tip. Ed Champion talks with Morris.

Standard Operating Procedure Updates, 4/26: "The very scale of Standard Operating Procedure - evident in its costly-looking production values, special effects and elaborately choreographed re-enactments - suggests that Mr Morris has grown weary of working in the margins to which documentary filmmakers are still too often relegated," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Standard Operating Procedure is a big, provocative and - it goes without saying - disturbing work, though what makes it most provocative is that its greatest ambitions are for its own visual style." And an analysis of that style follows: how the interviewees are framed, the nature of the Q&As and, of course, those reenactments.

Then there's this: "Mr Morris said this week that some of the lower-ranking soldiers who were convicted of tormenting inmates at Abu Ghraib in Iraq were paid for their time, in which they recount events at the prison in detail and describe a wayward environment that led to the excesses," report Michael Cieply and Ben Sisario. "Word of the payments drew conflicting reactions among those in the world of film documentaries, where show business values have been known to collide with the more austere standards of good journalism."

"If I believed that there was any public appetite for a movie like Standard Operating Procedure, I might also believe that it would spark a public conversation about responsibility for the crimes and abuses committed in our name - some we know about and a great many more, one suspects, that we don't," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Intentionally or not, Morris' interviews with these confused, vacuous and morally rudderless people felt to me like a sweeping indictment of those of us who are their fellow citizens and who share the culture that produced them." And you can read, listen to or watch clips of his interview with Morris.

"The movie affirms Morris's evolution into a political documentarian," writes Elbert Ventura in the New Republic. "He has admitted as much, saying that SOP grew out of his 'horror at current American foreign policy and the feeling that I should be doing something rather than nothing.' Despite the nobility of his intentions, the turn toward the political marks a regression for the filmmaker. Forget the consensus: The Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure (which won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival) are Morris's two worst movies."

"Morris takes an artist's view of the Abu Ghraib photographs and their inhabitants," argues Teddy Blanks in the Design Observer. "His interest in photography has led him to a set of iconic images that exposed a nation to its own worst behavior, and at the same time provided a cover for those most implicit in it to duck behind. He subjects them to a full circumstantial and aesthetic investigation, and uses them as the backdrop for his riskiest and most topical film to date. He will thus continue to be chided for straying from the self-congratulatory stoicism that characterizes the dirge of Iraq documentaries that are released each year - all more purely 'documentary' than his. But with luck, Errol Morris will transfer some of his own uneasiness about photography and its many possible interpretations to his audience, and we will think twice when confronted by the future images, horrific and bold, of this American war."

"By the end of the feature-length frustration that is Standard Operating Procedure, the maverick documentarian Errol Morris reminds you of the oblivious, tunnel-vision eccentrics from his past films," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Where other filmmakers and writers have looked at the infamous photos of the Abu Ghraib scandal and sought to chronicle the relevant events and policies, Mr Morris ties himself into knots by questioning photographic truth and by embellishing the events with luxuriant re-enactments in this misguided and ill-defined endeavor.... In a way, by limiting his focus to his one-on-one interviews with the participants, he unwittingly replicates the unwillingness of media coverage to explore the larger context, and perpetuates a myth of incomprehensibility that tends to obscure such events."

"Morris is obsessed with the impossibility of truthful storytelling, the way individual testimony is always strained through the filters of memory, perspective, and the speaker's need to present him- or herself in the best light possible," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "As abstract and intellectually distancing as this approach may sound, it's strangely well-suited to documenting the abuses at Abu Ghraib, which took place in a moral gray zone tacitly sanctioned by the administration's ongoing refusal to define exactly what torture or stress position or enemy combatant means."

Morris "likes to liven things up by bringing what Hollywood has always called 'production values' to his docs," writes Richard Schickel in Time. And he lists them. Then: "All of this seems to me at odds with the very sordid story Morris is trying to tell. It distracts from, even vitiates, the moral power inherent in the film."

"The film makes no attempt to exonerate the participants of wrongdoing, but it does add context to their actions and argues one very important point: these soldiers were not punished for torture; they were punished for being in embarrassing photographs," writes Mike Raffensperger at Zoom In Online.

"With Standard Operating Procedure, the Iraq War finally has its Hearts and Minds," announces Scott Tobias at the AV Club, where he gives it an "A."

Film Panel Notetaker was at work at the Q&A with Morris at Tribeca. More from Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

And more interviews with Morris: Steve Erickson (Film & Video), Brian D Johnson (Macleans) and Eric Kohn (Stream).

Update, 4/27: In the Los Angeles Times, Geoff Boucher asks Morris what's next: "I used to make funny movies and I think of myself as a funny person, so maybe I'll go in that direction."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:30 AM

Fests and events, 4/21.

Rolling Roadshow Tour Via Anne Thompson comes news that the Rolling Roadshow Tour is rolling on out of the US in June - to the Almeria region of Spain, where, in 1964, Sergio Leone teamed up with a then-little-known American actor by the name of Clint Eastwood to shoot A Fistful of Dollars. And of course, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly would follow.

Peter Knegt files a dispatch from Hot Docs to indieWIRE. Through Sunday.

New Yorkers: Dan Sallitt recommends The Paper Will Be Blue, screening tonight as part of the series Shining Through a Long, Dark Night: Romanian Cinema, Then and Now running through Sunday. And Acquarello reviews Maria and Don't Lean Out the Window, "a well crafted, if occasionally caricatured portrait of a nation at a profound political and cultural crossroads, where the anonymous, if familiar structure of repression has begun to collapse under the anarchic weight of an uncertain, encroaching liberation and (re)emerging identity."

All Power to the Imagination "This week marked the beginning of the All Power to the Imagination festival celebrating the 40th anniversary of 'les evenements' of May 1968 and its effects on European and American film," notes Daniel Tapper at the Guardian. "The program covers films from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Britain, with discussions on everything from Walter Benjamin to the Beatles' white album in locations across London, Leeds, Glasgow and Berlin." Through June 10.

At Hollywood Bitchslap, Peter Sobczynski has an extensive preview of Ebertfest. Wednesday through April 27.

"Never simply telling a story so much as taking apart and seeing what is inside it, [Tomu] Uchida forces the viewer to pay close attention and follow the trail to the conclusion, at which point they are often asked or forced to recall the beginning," writes Alex Ross Perry in the Tisch Film Review. "These narrative recurrences, in addition to being well ahead of their time in the early 60s, show a director in touch with the power he has over an audience and is intent on using this power to bring attention away from the story and onto the means by which it is being spoken, written or filmed." Tomu Uchida: Discovering a Japanese Master runs through April 30.

The San Francisco International Film Festival opens on Thursday and runs through May 8. Brief picks in the San Francisco Chronicle:

SFIFF 51

Brian Darr plans to catch pretty much what Michael Hawley plans to catch - but he's adding Johnnie To's Linger to the list. But the bulk of Brian's entry - another whopper, taking in all sorts of Bay Area goings on - is a preview of the Silent Film Festival, set for July 11 through 13.

Michael Guillén previews several of SFIFF's offerings that he's caught at other festivals.

Morgan Freeman's "appearance in The Country Girl is especially noteworthy because his character, an actor who has lost his nerve, has no center whatsoever," writes Bruce Weber in the New York Times. "Mr Freeman is playing not only squarely against type, he has rarely, if ever, embodied uncertainty. The play opens next Sunday at the Bernard B Jacobs Theater."

Fantastic Fest At Twitch, Blake Ethridge has early word on a few highlights of September's Fantastic Fest.

"The exhibition High Risk Citizen explores forms of political resistance and public engagement today, as considered by contemporary artists working in video." Through May 3 at Art in General, via Marisa Olson at Rhizome.

At the House Next Door, Keith Uhlich takes a long look back at the Sarasota Film Festival.

Recently updated: "The run-up to Tribeca."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:21 AM | Comments (1)

April 20, 2008

Interview. Young@Heart.

Young@Heart "What happens when a musical form associated with the dubious glamour of dying young becomes entwined with the less glamorous and far less dubious eventuality of dying old?" asks the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "This is the question implicitly posed, and movingly answered, by the documentary Young@Heart."

Under the direction of Bob Cilman, the Young@Heart Chorus covers tunes originally performed by the likes of Sonic Youth, James Brown and the Ramones. "It sounds dubious and cutesy," admits Jeffrey M Anderson, "but within minutes it reveals itself as the real thing and doubt gives way to unbridled enthusiasm."

Jeffrey talks with Cilman, director Stephen Walker and two members of the chorus.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:25 AM

April 19, 2008

Weekend shorts.

Film Arts In a recent piece for Film Arts, Katy Chevigny "notes the recent trend over the past decade of declaring the Year of the Doc in response to the increase of nonfiction filmmaking, which reflects a change in both the industry (as technology gets cheaper) and the art form (which larger audiences are beginning to notice)," writes Eric Kohn in Stream. "I'm of the opinion that too much of a good thing is still a good thing."

"Filmmaking requires perseverance, zeal, sometimes even a pathological commitment to see a project through. Now imagine making movies in Baghdad." Anthony Kaufman profiles Kasim Abid and Maysoon Pachachi, who "set up their first three-month course with around 20 students, but the class lasted up to a year, because students often couldn't get into the school." Also at FilmInFocus, Peter Bowen's "Short History of Iraqi Cinema" and Nick Dawson's "Brief Guide to the Iraq War on Film."

And look who's blogging at FilmInFocus: Cary Fukunaga, who's working on his next feature, Sin Nombre. Parts 1 and 2.

Syndromes and a Century "[T]he Haus der Kunst has become one of Germany's leading galleries of modern art," blogs Keith Griffiths at FilmInFocus. "It is curated by one of Europe's most manic, imaginative and maverick museum directors - Chris Dercon, who has invited the Thai artist and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul to create an ambitious new film-video installation provisionally entitled Primitive, for the museum's large 'foyer' space. This will open in the spring of 2009 alongside major exhibitions of the work of Gerhard Richter and William Eggleston." He brings up Munich's respected showcase because it was in the Haus der Kunst that the Nazis staged the infamous Degenerate Art Grosse deutsche Kunstausstellung (Great German art exhibition; see comments below) in 1937. And on that note, he segues into screenings in Thailand of Syndromes and a Century with the portions censored there replaced by scratched black leader - and quotes a local critic: "If the film had been allowed to un-spool a year ago without any cuts, it would long be out of the consciousness of the mainstream viewing public. Before the censorship debacle, Syndromes and a Century was a remarkable film. Now, it is truly historic."

"This year marks the 40th anniversary of the genesis of the American Nightmare," writes Marco Lanzagorta. "Indeed, four decades ago the landscape of US horror cinema was drastically and permanently altered by the release of four revolutionary films: George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Franklin J Schaffner's Planet of the Apes. Furthermore, these movies faithfully embody the social and cultural anxieties that characterized one of the most distressing periods in US history."

Also at PopMatters, Bill Gibron on Mike Myers's Love Guru controversy: "[T]he notion of a non-native using another country and religion's foundation for funny business smacks of a strange, almost surreal tactlessness."

Khuda Kay Liye "For the past 43 years no Pakistan-made film had been distributed commercially to movie theaters in India until the opening here of [Shoaib] Mansoor's movie, Khuda Kay Liye (In the Name of God).... The release of the film, which broke all box office records in Pakistan last year, was hailed here as a significant moment in the slowly progressing India-Pakistan peace talks." Amelia Gentleman reports in the New York Times.

Twitch's Todd Brown notes that Lars Von Trier will be shooting his Antichrist in Germany this summer. More from Annika Pham at Cineuropa.

Cineuropa's Naman Ramachandran notes that "Danis Tanovic (the Oscar-winning No Man's Land, Hell) is ready to roll with his new project Triage." The film will star Irish actor Colin Farrell (In Bruges), Spanish diva Paz Vega (Sex & Lucia) and British icon Christopher Lee (Star Wars).

"I am locked, half-naked, in a wooden box in an abandoned hospital in the East End of London, playing a mathematician called Kalman." Alex Cox takes a role in Alex de la Iglesia's The Oxford Murders.

Elizabeth Peyton: Jarvis Also in the Guardian: Jarvis Cocker dabbled in film once and recalls his "adventures in the avant-garde world"; and Noble and Silver on moviegoing these days.

"Wong [Kar-Wai]'s sense of artistic priorities - his art, period - is the true subject of My Blueberry Nights," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. "It's spare, relaxed, playful and very, very loose. Coming on the heels of the symphonic, Proustian romantic drama 2046 (arguably his most ambitious movie) and his stunning segment of Eros, The Hand (surely his most precise) it's the directorial equivalent of a musician following up back-to-back marquee performances with an after-hours jam session."

The Oregonian's Shawn Levy on Last Year at Marienbad: "It maddens, beguiles, frustrates, and tantalizes, and has done so for nearly 50 years; it was, in fact, designed for just that effect. It's gorgeous - almost too gorgeous - and artificial and dense, and it fights off analysis with an air of studied indifference and a trickster's self-satisfaction. And it's got tremendous sticking power: experience it once and even if you hate it you'll find it unforgettable."

Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on La France: "Bareness and simplicity define this oddity of a war film, which is why the pooling shadows and light of the evenings speak so loudly, for they enrich a mysteriously simplified work."

"If Michael Haneke ever makes a film about love (save for the psychosexual transgressions of The Piano Teacher), chances are he'll reach for Valeska Grisebach's Longing (Sehnsucht) as a point of reference," suggests Tim Wong in the Lumière Reader.

"The combination of director Lee Joon-ik and screenwriter Choi Seok-hwan has been golden, not only with their record-breaking smash hit King and the Clown but also with mid-sized hits like like Once Upon a Time in a Battlefield (2003) and Radio Star (2006). Their films are sometimes clever, but never flashy or trend-chasing." Darcy Paquet reviews their new, "unusually fun movie," The Happy Life.

Also at Koreanfilm.org, Adam Hartzell on Zhang Lu's Desert Dream.

In the Voice:

Young Yakuza
  • Ernest Hardy: "Director Jean-Pierre Limosin's Young Yakuza, a documentary on the immersion of a troubled Japanese youth into the shadowy, sorta-legal-but-still-illicit world of the yakuza (Japanese mafia), never delivers either the thrill of its underworld setting or much insight into its complicated workings." More from Neil Genzlinger in the New York Times.

  • Aaron Hillis finds the horse racing doc, The First Saturday in May, "isn't exactly a winner, but it places." More from Jeffrey Gantz (Boston Phoenix), Robert Levin (cinemattraction), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Bill Weber (Slant) and, in the New York Times, Manohla Dargis: "If Barbaro weren't one of the main attractions in The First Saturday in May, and if his name weren't being used in the marketing, the movie's lapses might be forgivable. It would still be a bad documentary, marred by dribbling camerawork and pointless choices... but it wouldn't smack of exploitation." Related online listening: Ed Champion talks with filmmakers Brad and John Hennegan.

"A certain superficial 'leftist' will simply make life easy for him or herself by arguing that [Charlton] Heston was always 'essentially' a right-winger and there is nothing to be gained by looking at his life and career," write Joanne Laurier and David Walsh at the WSWS. "Such people never learn anything. The more challenging task is to look at the evolution of individuals like Heston as the product of objective historical and social processes."

"With her slightly askew beauty and her compelling but unorthodox mix of neuroses and earthy sexiness, Teri Garr was always destined for underappreciation," writes Reverse Shot's robbiefreeling, adding that her "simultaneously hefty and vulnerable work in Tootsie still might be her career pinnacle, and it's worth noting that she stands out even in a cast positively brimming with stellar supporting actors (Charles Durning, Jessica Lange, Dabney Coleman, George Gaines, Sydney Pollack), each of whom abscond with at least two scenes."

"The more the Siren watches, re-watches and reflects upon [John] Garfield, the more she thinks that he - not the inarguably magnificent Brando - was the definitive American screen actor, the one who divides it all into Before and After." And this glides into a defense of Hedy Lamarr.

Dan Sallitt salutes André Bazin, who'd have turned 90 yesterday.

EW Summer 08 So. Here comes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. May 22, all over, just days after its world premiere at Cannes. "Per Spielberg's strict decree, not even the Paramount marketing team has been allowed to see any work-in-progress versions," writes Steve Daly, opening Entertainment Weekly's "Summer Movie Preview" package. "Neither has EW. But we do have inside intelligence on what it's about: greed, abduction, the Cold War, anticommunist fervor, torture, theft, artifact-acquisition rivalry, and the post-WWII generation gap, among other things."

Daly also talks with Spielberg and George Lucas - and with Harrison Ford.

Meanwhile, Anne Thompson is tracking rumors and counter-rumors.

Oh, and that "Crystal Skull"? "Twelve such skulls, carved from solid crystal or quartz, are known to exist," reports John Lichfeld in the Independent. "Doubts about the authenticity of the skulls as Aztec or Mayan artefacts have existed for years." Now the French national museum service's research and restoration center, C2RMF, has determined they're fakes. The one they've got, at least, was "probably made in a small village in southern Germany in the second half of the 19th century."

Before Indy, though, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay opens on Friday, and back in EW, Shirley Halperin hosts a roundtable on stoner comedies. Participants: Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express), Doug Benson (Super High Me), Tommy Chong (Up in Smoke, etc), Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and John Cho (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle). Related: Nicolas Rapold talks with Hurwitz and Schlossberg for the New York Sun.

In the Independent, Andrew Gumbel tracks the rise and fall of New Line Cinema.

Ted Zee notes that HBO has lined up quite a slate of new docs for the summer's Monday nights, beginning with Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (June 9) through to The Black List, Vol 1 (August 25).

In the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge lists "Six independent female filmmakers who really ought to be allowed/made to direct more."

"Ten defining films of the noughties so far," from Phil Hoad at the Guardian.

The Spider The Movie Poster Addict's found one it likes as much as Twitch's Todd Brown, who describes the film, Robert Sigl's The Spider, as "a 15 million dollar production shooting in Turkey. Archaeology, demon possession, reincarnated emperors, it's got it all. Plus that killer poster."

Spencer Sloan made me laugh. Out loud.

In signandsight, Ekkehard Knörer has a good laugh at The Red Baron.

Things via Coudal Partners: the 2001 Spacesuit Restoration Project; a storyboard for The Shining with Kubrick's extensive notes; the closing credits for Hal Ashby's Being There, probably the best outtakes reel ever; Italian movie posters and ads.

The cinetrix wants a Cinemobile.

Online contest. Mark A Rayner's "Vintage Ads of Fictional Futures," via Joshua Glenn.

Another contest: "What's the Big Idea?" The Green is looking for photos and short films.

At Shorpy, "Saturday Matinee: 1925."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:23 PM | Comments (2)

DVDs, 4/19.

2 from Benten Benten Films relaunches its site and adds pages for upcoming releases The Guatemalan Handshake and The Free Will. Plus: Aaron Hillis's interview with musician-composer David Wingo (George Washington, Great World of Sound, and now, The Guatemalan Handshake) and Kevin Bewersdorf's soundtrack for LOL.

"On the new Flicker Alley box set, which comprises all 173 extant [Georges] Méliès films, spanning from the 'actualités' of 1896 to the mini-epics of 1912 and 1913, we're given a chance to trace the entire trajectory of an extraordinary career," writes Andrew Schenker at the House Next Door. "What we find is a world opened up to new possibilities of the fantastic by both technological advance and the transformative power of the imagination, but at the same time complicated by a marked ambivalence on the filmmaker's part. Still, if the earlier works are more likely to conceive of this world as being governed by a comic mischievousness, then many of the later efforts, even while maintaining an undercurrent of menace, look on the unknown with an open sense of wonder."

"Of all the movies considered part of the New Queer Cinema movement, The Living End most directly and angrily confronted the impact of [its] era on queer people, but it eschewed preaching and sentimentality for hot HIV-positive guys on the lam (Craig Gilmore and Mike Dytri) - with plenty of sex, anarchy, and guns, set to a dark and driving post-punk soundtrack." Alonso Duralde in the Advocate.

Black Tight Killers "Yasuharu Hasebe's 1966 film Black Tight Killers is the kind of film that puts a smile on my face," writes Bob Turnbull. "It takes what could have been a lame Z grade picture and enlivens the story by using the medium - showing lots of color, sets, shadows and angles to move the story forward instead of relying on too much exposition. Of course, having a whole whack of go-go dancers, female ninjas and guys in trenchcoats helps keep things fun as well."

In the L Magazine, Cullen Gallagher previews Eclipse's April 22 release, Silent Ozu: Three Family Chronicles.

"The plot [of Captain Fracasse] is fairly pedestrian... but [Alberto] Cavalcanti and Wulschleger invigorate the movie with an unorthodox, modernist visual sensibility," writes Cullen Gallagher. Also in Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Katherine Follett on The World According to Garp.

Cinematical's Kim Voynar talks with Jason Kohn about Manda Bala.

"Despite its flaws, Voyage en douce is an engaging look at potential blithe spirits locked away in self-constructed prisons," writes Flickhead. "It may appear to lack an intellectual edge, but [director Michel] Deville works prudently between the lines. And the countryside, [Dominique] Sanda and [Geraldine] Chaplin are simply radiant."

From Evan Davis, "Hitchcock and Authorship: Spellbound": "[T]he prime concern of this paper is Hitchcock's signature, and whether or not it still makes its presence felt despite external creative sources (i.e., Selznick)."

The AV Club's Scott Tobias finally catches up with Harold and Maude: "[T]he film is the birth of modern indie quirk, full of elements and attitudes that have become cliché: Heroes who are more whimsical conceits than real-life, flesh-and-blood creations; an offbeat and slightly twee pop soundtrack (here by Cat Stevens); authority figures painted as stiff, clueless, and completely devoid of humanity; and some vague leftist political references thrown in for good measure. It may sound like I'm being snarky and dismissive here - and I'll be the first to admit that familiarity has bred some contempt - but there's good quirk and bad quirk, and Harold and Maude still falls on the right side of the line."

Pi And the latest addition to the "New Cult Canon" is Pi.

"She is sitting, he is standing. He reaches over and grabs her right breast, then turns his head away from the camera, walks over to the hotel-room wall and bangs his head against it." In the Independent, Roger Clarke tells the story behind the scene in The Graduate.

"I originally saw Seth Holt's terrific British thriller The Nanny (1965) when I was just a kid and it terrified me," writes Kimberly Lindbergs. "I haven't seen the film in its entirety in many years so I was afraid it wouldn't live up to my fond memories of first watching it, but The Nanny managed to exceed my expectations."

Filmmaker Jamie Stuart in Stream: "Probably the most rewarding thing about creating DVDs is when I give copies to people and they realize my work holds up in another format - that it isn't just tiny-screen web video. It's genuine filmmaking."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:07 PM | Comments (1)

Books, 4/19.

Orson Welles at Work "Orson Welles at Work is a stunning new collection of rare and beautiful images from the films of Orson Welles, as collected by co-authors Jean-Pierre Berthomé and François Thomas," writes Lawrence French at Wellesnet. "To put it simply, this is the Welles book I've been hoping to see for quite some time. It's certainly a must have volume for anyone interested in the cinema of Orson Welles." Update, 4/21: The Afterword.

For the Los Angeles Times, Liz Brown reviews Richard Schickel's Film on Paper: The Inner Life of Movies: "Some writing does not benefit from being plucked from its original context. Gathered together, these essays form not so much a body of criticism or history as a series of finger exercises in dismissal."

Meanwhile, in his latest review for the LAT Schickel takes on Cecil B DeMille: "Simon Louvish, who subtitles his book 'A Life in Art' instead of something more accurate (like 'A Life in Hokum'), has taken on the daunting, not to say hopeless, task of smuggling DeMille out of camp's camp and ushering him back into more respectable circles."

Also, Nick Owchar on a reissue: "There's something about Batman - as vigilante, as avenger - that pulls storytellers into lurid depths. The Killing Joke goes deeper than most in exploring the darkness of this contemporary passion play."

"On stage, on screen and on the page the writer described by some as the most outstanding poetic voice of the century is undergoing an unprecedented cultural revival." Arifa Akbar in the Independent on Dylan Thomas.

Indignation "In a seven-figure deal, producer Scott Rudin has made a preemptive acquisition of Indignation, the Philip Roth novel to be published in September by Houghton Mifflin," reports Variety's Michael Fleming. Rudin: "I've been a maniacal fan of Roth's for years and waited for the one I thought could really be a great movie. It has remarkable movie potential."

In Slate, Ron Rosenbaum recommends a batch of books, movies and websites related to Shakespeare. Related: Via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, Kevin Pease imagines Act 1, Scene 2 of Pulp Fiction as written by William Shakespeare.

At McSweeney's John Warner, author of So You Want to Be President?, has begun writing "Scripts for Negative Political Advertisements Offered to the Candidates Free of Charge."

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

Weekend interviews.

10 by Heinz Emigholz Michael Guillén has a good long talk with Heinz Emigholz. Parts 1 and 2. Also, a Visitor double: Richard Jenkins and Tom McCarthy.

At the House Next Door, Jeremiah Kipp talks with Preston Miller about his film, Jones.

For the Age, Stephanie Bunbury talks with Fatih Akin about The Edge of Heaven.

David Bordwell visits accomplished Hong Kong-based sound designer Martin Chappell.

In the New York Sun, Steve Dollar talks with Errol Morris about Standard Operating Procedure.

Katyn Katyn was the big winner at the Orly or "Eagle" Awards, the Polish national film prizes, reports Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. Brigid Grauman talks with Andrzej Wajda for the London Times.

"The How to Homestead serial is dedicated to cinematically distilling and disseminating rich folk wisdom and newfangled experiments in 21st century homesteading." The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston talks with filmmaker Melinda Stone.

Chrissy Iley talks with fashion designer Antony Price about, oh, all sorts of things, including his work on Flashbacks of a Fool. Also in the Guardian, John Patterson profiles Tony Curtis and interviews Kimberly Peirce.

David Mamet fills out Vanity Fair quick questionnaire.

Adam Ross's interviewee this week: Andrew James.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:07 PM

Weekend online viewing and listening.

an unhappy art Efe Cakarel pastes a clip of a talk with Andrei Tarkovsky into the Auteurs' Notebook.

On Point: "China at the Movies." And at Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow has a bit of related online viewing.

Ralph Bakshi is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper in Milan got a multimedia makeover thanks to British director Peter Greenaway." Nicole Martinelli. Thanks, Jerry!

Ed Champion talks with Chen Shi-Zheng and Liu Ye, the director and star of Dark Matter.

Via Tim Lucas, Rue Morgue Radio.

In an On the Media segment, David Carr argues that the Anthony Pellicano case shows that folks in Hollywood watch waaayyy too many movies.

There Will Be Bud Via the House Next Door, There Will Be Bud.

Tetris: The Movie, via Coudal Partners.

In the New Republic, Jonathan Cohn, author of Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis - And the People Who Pay the Price, recommends Sick Around the World, as it's evenhanded than Sicko.

Jason Kottke finds The Machine That Made Us, a BBC doc on the Gutenberg Press hosted by Stephen Fry.

From Jürgen Fauth: "The post-Oscar doldrums hit the theaters every year, but it must say something about our current moment that the most exciting new movies I've seen these last few weeks appeared on the typo-ridden tumble-blog of a moody rock star: Ryan Adams's DR Adams Films, nicknamed 'Foggy,' is a never-ending, must-check-daily source of inspiration, poetry, images, and experimental short films shot and scored by the singer and songwriter himself." Thing is, it looks as if he's just said goodbye to Foggy. Darkly. But at least there's an archive.

Jon Stewart interviews Will Ferrell as W.

A guide from Scott Kirsner at FilmInFocus: "A Law-Abiding Look at Indie Movie Download Sites."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:53 PM

Hazel Court, 1926 - 2008.

Hazel Court
Hazel Court, a British actress who began as a popular ingénue and became a cult figure as a "scream queen" in horror films on both sides of the Atlantic, died on Tuesday in Lake Tahoe, Calif....

A redheaded, leggy, green-eyed beauty who was a busy film actress and a pinup girl in England in the 1950s, and who went on to make dozens of guest appearances on American television, Ms Court had a long and varied professional life, including a second career as a sculptor. But she became best known for showing considerable cleavage and screaming bloody murder in movies like Devil Girl From Mars (1954), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961) and Roger Corman's treatments of three works by Edgar Allan Poe: Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963) and The Masque of the Red Death (1964). In the last two, her best-known films, she co-starred with Vincent Price.

Bruce Weber, the New York Times.

Updated through 4/22.

I had always admired her as an actress; she was as comfortable in period pictures as in contemporary ones, she could be prim, saucy or serious. Also, I had always admired her as a woman - and I do mean always: I have vivid memories of being dazzled, in my single-digit years, by the galaxy of freckles revealed by some of the low-cut gowns she wore in some of the Poe pictures.... So my expectations before meeting her were great, but the woman I met that afternoon was extraordinary. Warm, civilized, artistic, full of humor, bawdy in the nicest possible way, completely charming.

Tim Lucas.

The best thing about The Raven may be that it gave Ms Court, who spends an awful lot of her time in these movies standing around looking gorgeous waiting for the chance to need rescuing, a chance to be regal and bitchy - at one point, she laughs enchantingly while Karloff threatens her own daughter with a red-hot poker - in a way that left a lasting impression on many a young movie-watching poetry enthusiast.

Phil Nugent, ScreenGrab.

As I confessed to GreenCine a few years back: Throughout most of my impressionable adolescence, I had a serious crush on Brit actress Hazel Court.

Joe Leydon.

[S]he never seemed stuck up or fussy and when the script required her to be pecked to death by birds or pawed by a mossy Cornish zombie she gamely took her medicine.

Arbogast.

Lush, vibrant, unique ... unforgettable.

C Jerry Kutner, Bright Lights After Dark.

Among her original fans was the horror writer Stephen King: her name would crop up repeatedly in his stories. In his recent memoir, On Writing, he described the thrill of encountering her at a horror film screening. "Who could ask for more?" he wrote. "You might even get Hazel Court wandering around in a lacy low-cut nightgown if you were lucky."

Will Pavia, the London Times.

Update, 4/22: "One of her best roles (also her last in a feature film, apart from a cameo in 1981's Omen II) was in The Masque of the Red Death (1964)," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "She played Juliana, jealous mistress of Prince Prospero (a sibilantly ghoulish Vincent Price), who brands her ample breast with an inverted cross, with the intention of marrying Satan. Her demise comes when her throat gets torn out by a falcon.... Hazel died only a week before the release of her autobiography, Hazel Court: Horror Queen, published by Tomahawk Press."

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

Four Minutes.

Vier Minuten "A women-behind-bars plot seething with lesbianism, incest, hanging and catfights - on paper, at least, Four Minutes promises more fun than a Roger Corman marathon," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. But "this award-winning melodrama from Chris Kraus could not possibly take itself more seriously."

"If watching tender body parts smashed against panes of glass and set on fire makes you queasy, stay away," warns Julia Wallace in the Voice. "If Nazi allusions and yearnings make you uncomfortable, stay far away.... The milieu is predictably drab, but the relationship between the two women is as poignant as the Schubert impromptu to which it unfolds."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:13 PM

Anamorph.

Anamorph "Anamorph, a new film opening today at IFC Center on the same day it becomes available on cable, via IFC's on-demand service, is that increasingly rare commodity - a contemporary genre film that doesn't stumble as it looks backward to capture the spirit of the films that inspired it," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun.

Nick Schager in Slant: "It's not clear what's more irritating about Anamorph: that it's another shameless rip-off of Se7en or that its high-concept gobbledygook has almost no bearing on its mystery's conclusion."

"25 years ago, the Dario Argento of Tenebre might've socked this style-baiting silliness into the stratosphere, or at least past its eye-rolling contrivances," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "Director/co-writer HS Miller just lays on the chilly blues and a wet-blanket mood of arty anguish."

"Zodiac may well be the last word on serial-killer films, less because it's a work of genius than because it directly engages with our obsession - our moviegoing, spectacle-seeking, bloodletting obsession - with serial killers," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Anamorph is a far more modest endeavor in aesthetic and intellectual terms: It's self-conscious about its influences without being self-reflexive."

"The killer's fine arts education seems far ahead of Kevin Spacey's theological savvy in Se7en or the snuff freak's cinéma-vérité chops in 8MM," notes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "Each crime scene in Anamorph provides a lesson in art history and technique: sculptures, murals, animation flip books, tattoos and, of course, the killer's specialty, anamorphosis—the use of special optics or vantage points to transform one image into another. Styles and influences vary, from action painting to Bacon to Bosch, but the media remain blood, bone and flesh." Still, "The wonder and terror never take."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:07 PM

Constantine's Sword.

Constantine's Sword "At the heart of Oren Jacoby's screen adaptation of James Carroll's book [Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History] lies a question to which each person of faith must his find own answer," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "When your core beliefs conflict with church doctrine, how far should your loyalty to the church extend?... At once enthralling and troubling, the film... does about as good a job as you could hope of distilling a 750-page historical examination of religious zealotry and power into 95 swift minutes."

"In many ways [Carroll] makes an ideal guide to the subject, not just because of his several years as a Catholic priest, but also because of his unique positioning at the confluence of religion and war," notes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com. "At the height of the Vietnam War, while Father Carroll was protesting at the Pentagon, his father, a hard-nosed conservative Catholic, was inside helping direct the conflict as first director of the Defense Intelligence Agency."

"But what exactly is this Holy Grail that Carroll is seeking?" asks Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door. "Nothing less than that exact moment in time when the Cross and the Sword became one - when the Emperor Constantine consolidated his authority by combining war and religion."

"Once the cross displaced life-giving emblems (shepherds, fish) as the symbol of Christianity, the religion made Christ's death its rallying point - providing a handy weapon against the fingered murderers, Europe's thriving Jews," notes Jim Ridley in the Voice.

"Far more valuable than simply as an indictment of Christian fundamentalism, Constantine's Sword records an intensely tortured moment in contemporary spiritual debate," writes Shahnaz Habib in the New York Press. "Carroll's quest to confront the violent history of Christianity is ultimately the challenge of resisting manipulation by what we love - by our faiths, by our countries, by our fathers."

For Erica Orden, writing in the New York Sun, "[W]hile the film offers a blistering indictment of papal practices from Hitler's era through the present day, it fails to resolve either of the major questions it asks: Where did anyone get the idea that killing in the name of God is all right? And what is the origin of the rise in evangelical Christianity in the United States Air Force Academy?"

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir has a good long talk with Carroll.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:57 PM

William Klein @ 80.

William Klein Films "One of the most pleasurable things about embarking on each new Eclipse series is the excitement of delving into a chapter of film history that's been cobwebbed by years of neglect," blogs Michael Koresky for Criterion. One "true revelation came when encountering the films in series nine, The Delirious Fictions of William Klein.... Hopefully this Eclipse release, coming in May, will get the ball rolling on recouping the once lambasted Mr Freedom as a valuable piece of 60s radical cinema; it was far too prescient to ever be appreciated in its time, so now will have to do."

"With their kaleidoscopic imagery, myriad filterings of perception and multi-tiered storytelling, [Klein's films] are more meta-fiction than fiction, and their delirium is that of a world driven mad by its own media, observed by a rational artist who views its psychosis, amused and appalled," writes Tim Lucas in Sight & Sound.

Ray Pride has photos.

As part of the Pop Goes the Revolution: French Cinema and May 68 season at London's BFI Southbank, Klein's Where Are You, Polly Maggoo? screens April 26 and 29, Mr Freedom on April 28 and 29.

Grand soirs et petits matins screens on May 9 at Documenta Madrid 08 (May 2 through 11).

Looking Through the Lens: Photography 1900 - 1960, on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art through June 8, features Klein's work, among that of many others.

Online listening tip. David D'Arcy interviewed Klein in 2003.

See also: designboom, the IMDb and Masters of Photography.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:38 AM | Comments (4)

Sight & Sound. May 08.

Sight & Sound: May 08 "While the current Anglophone appetite for French cinema is squarely auteurist, what gets released here is shaped by distributors' preferences, prejudices or habits. Though a handful of distributors are known to pick up wild-card titles, the number of films that slip through the net is considerable - and regrettable, when you realise how many careers we never manage to track at close range." While you'll find most of Sight & Sound's "French cinema now" special in the May issue only in the print version, online, Jonathan Romney offers "a selection of interesting titles and names from the last decade or so that have never got beyond festival exposure."

Related: "The French cinema industry is booming - or so it seems. French cinema, as an art form, is struggling - or so we are told. A paradox?" asks John Lichfield in the Independent. "Yes, but all facts and arguments about the French movie industry, the only full-service movie industry in Europe, are confusing.... An independent report published recently by a group of movie professionals ('The Club of 13') protested that the public cash was being lavished on commercial block-busters (which did not really need it) or first-shot, experimental art movies (which frequently did not deserve it). Middling budget projects that had a chance of being both good and popular were being squeezed out, the report said."

Back in Sight & Sound, Kent Jones argues that The Wire, "a critics' darling since its inaugural season in 2002, more or less lives up to its hype as the greatest thing to hit television since The Honeymooners. For most of its near 60-hour duration, this cross-hatched portrait of the drug economy in Baltimore, Maryland, plausibly unfolds as one ongoing work as opposed to the usual theme and variations. Not that it isn't a struggle."

Tim Lucas reviews the Eclipse package, The Delirious Fictions of William Klein, but we'll get to that in the next entry.

Private Property "Belgian filmmaking over the last decade has enjoyed a remarkable creative renaissance, especially in the area of realist cinema," writes Ginette Vincendeau. "Following in the footsteps of the Dardenne brothers and Lucas Belvaux, relative newcomer Joachim Lafosse offers in Private Property an impressive low-key family drama, helped in no small part by the presence of Isabelle Huppert in the central role."

Roger Clarke reviews The Go Master, "a graceful, exquisite film about the complex relationship between China and Japan; it is also a film about one man's spiritual quest and his intensely personal love-hate relationship with the board game at which he so obviously excels. Taiwanese actor Chang Chen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Happy Together) plays the man himself, appearing in almost every scene, in one of the great and unheralded central performances of recent years."

Mark Sinker on Manufactured Landscapes: "The thrill of vicarious terror - at such landscapes and such mass social convulsions - is after all a classic Romantic trope, with its heyday in England's Industrial Revolution: the Sublime. Back then it was a very western worship of the nature-demons as they threatened and invigorated settled society; the emotional and mythological energies drawn on here aren't so different; the times really perhaps are."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:35 AM | Comments (3)

2008: Robert Downey Jr's Year

"Fifteen years after he was nominated for an Oscar for his uncanny portrayal of Charlie Chaplin and seven years after his last of several well-publicized trips to either rehab or jail, [Robert Downey Jr], 43, is finally claiming the career he was always meant to have, one befitting a fiercely talented, eccentric and magnetic leading man." A profile for Time from Rebecca Winters Keegan.

Robert Downey Jr

"Look at him standing there," writes David Carr in the New York Times, "a great big movie star in a great big movie, the Iron Man with nary a trace of human frailty. A scant five years ago the only time you saw Robert Downey Jr getting big play in your newspaper came when he was on a perp walk." Slide show: "The Faces of Robert Downey Jr."

Updated through 4/21.

"Downey has a vision of the world that is darker and more grown up than is available to most actors," writes David Thomson in the Guardian. "He is someone who might be the engine in a great film one of these days, if it could harness all of his own demons."

The Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein is cheered somewhat to see a movie being shot with a newspaper columnist as a hero. The columnist is the LAT's Steve Lopez, played by, yes, Robert Downey Jr in The Soloist. More on the shoot as its moved to Cleveland from Julie E Washington in the Plain Dealer.

"I've seen Tropic Thunder and as I've been telling anyone who will listen since, Robert Downey Jr's performance is absolutely one of the funniest I have seen in years," writes Josh Horowitz for MTV. Earlier: Neely Tucker in the Washington Post: "Hollywood's About-Face On Blackface."

"Iron Man doesn't do much wrong - it's got some great action sequences, some amazing special effects, is pretty loyal to the comic, and most of all, features an insanely terrific performance by Robert Downey Jr," writes Clint Morris at Moviehole. Even so, the movie "ain't quite as good as X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman Begins."

"Since they were born on the eve of the second world war, America's superheroes have been enlisted for all sorts of undercover propaganda duties, from promoting patriotism, war bonds and recycling (even of comics themselves) to warning about health, drugs and landmines," writes Paul Gravett in the Guardian. "So it's nothing new that Iron Man, the latest in Marvel's pop-icon pantheon to hit the big screen, is coming to the rescue of the United Nations."

Another profile: Gill Pringle in the London Times.

Update, 4/21: The Playlist plucks the highlights from Carr's profile and Matthew Klam's cover story for GQ.

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

April 18, 2008

Fests and events, 4/18.

Cannes 08 "It's down to the wire for the Cannes Film Festival," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "With just five days left before fest topper Thierry Fremaux is due to announce the lineup for the May 14-28 event, much uncertainly surrounds the competition titles, as the availability of some films and the completion status of others remains in question." Lots of fun speculation follows.

The Circuit's Michael Jones notes that a restored version of Max Ophuls's Lola Montes will open Cannes Classics.

Meantime, see the new poster in all its glory at indieWIRE.

In the New York Sun, Steve Dollar previews Best of Youth: New Italian Cinema, a series running at BAM through Sunday which "collects prize-winning films from the past eight years that also happen to be directorial debuts."

The cinetrix recommends Letters from Chad: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun at the Harvard Film Archive this weekend.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation - you know, the one three 12-year-olds started shooting in 1982 and eventually finished in 1989 - screens tonight and Saturday at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland. Mike Russell talks with one of those kids, Chris Strompolos, now no longer a kid, of course.

"From questioning how Palestinians living in Jerusalem could possibly go to the movies after 1967, when another 250,000 Palestinians were made refugees and the West Bank and Gaza fell under Israeli rule, I finally began to understand the connection between the will and the need to survive," blogs Najwa Najjar for the Guardian. "My film, which was triggered by the plans to turn Cinema Al Hambra into a commercial centre, has helped in returning the cinema to its original state. Cinema Al Hambra will be opening its doors again at the end of this year." Jawhar Al Silwan (Quintessence of Oblivion) will be screening on April 26 as part of the Palestine Film Festival, opening tonight running through May 1 in London.

Dumbo "John Lasseter, the award-winning animator and CEO at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, has directed two Toy Story films, A Bug's Life and Cars," notes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "But what counts as his favorite movie of all time? Dumbo, the 1941 Disney classic animated film." Along with Curtis Hanson, Lasseter will be presenting the film on Monday evening as part of the Movie That Inspired Me series at UCLA.

Brad Anderson's Transsiberian opens the Independent Film Festival of Boston on April 23. The Phoenix's Peter Keough reviews six of the films that'll be screening on April 24; more previews next week.

Carny premieres this week at Hot Docs (through April 27) and Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay emails a few questions to its maker, Alison Murray.

"There's something seductively fascinating about the chilly spareness and cryptic allusiveness of writer-director Nicholas Chin's Magazine Gap Road, a formally precise yet emotionally resonant thriller about going to extremes while escaping the past," writes Joe Leydon. At the WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival on Friday.

"To see [Carolee] Schneemann's films today, in an era absurdly dubbed 'postfeminist,' is at once to experience the explosive power of a radical artist whose work sustains its initial impact and to wonder, well, 'What the fuck?'" writes Holly Willis in the LA Weekly. "Given her legacy, why are today's images of sex and the body so narrow, docile and prescriptive? You can ask Schneemann herself, as she'll be present at three nights of screenings." Sunday, Monday and next Friday.

SF360 interviews with filmmakers who've got films lined up for the San Francisco International Film Festival:

Faubourg Tremé

"If you see one 11-minute video this year, make it Michael Robinson's magnificent, hilarious, and terrifying Light Is Waiting (2007)." The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston recommends Shine On: The Films of Michael Robinson on April 27 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts - whose film and video curator, Joel Shepard, Michael Guillén has a good long talk with.

In the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge rounds up local goings on.

"The Czech Republic's Karlovy Vary Film Festival will honor veteran helmers Nicholas Roeg and Arturo Ripstein with tributes, officials announced Tuesday, adding that both are expected to be present," reports Will Tizard for Variety. July 4 through 12.

"Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami and actor Fiona Shaw are to make their English National Opera directorial debuts, in a new season that will seek to refresh the artform by bringing in fresh names from outside the opera world," reports Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian. Kiarostami will direct Mozart's Così fan tutte. Also: "As a tribute to [Anthony] Minghella, ENO will revive his Madam Butterfly production next season." Related: Ronald Bergan suggests that Cosi might have been a better project for Woody Allen, who'll be directing Puccini's Gianni Schicchi for the Los Angeles Opera - a piece that, in turn, might have been a better match for Kiarostami.

Sean Connery and Ian Fleming

"To celebrate the centenary of Ian Fleming's birth, Imperial War Museum London is producing the first major exhibition devoted to the life and work of the man who created the world’s most famous secret agent, James Bond." Through March 1, 2009.

"F Javier Gutiérrez's debut film Before the Fall has picked up the Golden Biznaga Award for Best Film at the 11th edition of the Malaga Spanish Film Festival." Sergio Ríos Pérez reports for Cineuropa.

"The appearance of Shimon Peres on stage for the opening night of Doc Aviv's 10th anniversary was an early indicator that the Israeli documentary scene deserves attention," writes Thom Powers at indieWIRE. "Peres surprised this jaded festival goer with his eloquent perspective on the role of documentary film." More from POV exec director Simon Kilmurry.

Sarasota Film Festival Programmer Tom Hall bids farewell to this year's edition of the Sarasota Film Festival; and James Israel and Michael Tully (more and more) have pix.

Back at iW, Kim Adelman: "Docs Rocked Aspen Shortsfest 2008."

David Bordwell says "Goodbye to Hong Kong for another year."

Ty Burr was on hand to see producer Jeremy Thomas receive the Coolidge Award the other night, but you weren't: "Oh, well, your loss, because Nicolas Roeg was there! And Debra Winger, for pete's sakes. Tim Roth and director Julien Temple, too, all talking with varying degrees of acuity about the larger-than-life producer they nicknamed 'Toad of Toad Hall.'"

PopMatters unwraps a big package looking back at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Online viewing tip #1. Gabe Wardell has a reel of Atlanta Film Festival clips. Wraps tomorrow.

Online viewing tip #2. Via the Playlist, a trailer for I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store. Nice list of talking heads; screens May 3 at Hampshire College in Amherst.

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

Happy-Go-Lucky in the UK.

Happy-Go-Lucky "Happy-Go-Lucky has been extravagantly admired since it premiered at the Berlin film festival earlier this year, and I find myself liking it more and more," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Mike Leigh's trademarked cartoony dialogue, as ever lending a neo-Dickensian compression and intensity to the proceedings, is an acquired taste and I have gladly acquired it, though some haven't."

"Sally Hawkins is a real delight in Mike Leigh's new film as Poppy, a 30-year-old Londoner with a bubbly nature and an ever-present laugh that teeters between lovable and annoying," writes Dave Calhoun in Time Out. "The trick that Leigh and Hawkins finally pull off so cleverly by the end of Happy-Go-Lucky is that we're entirely in cahoots with her. Poppy is a mirror to us all: if we find her blind optimism and sunny nature hard to swallow, perhaps there's something wrong with us instead?"

Updated through 4/22.

"Make no mistake, Poppy is annoying," declares Kevin Maher in the London Times. "[S]he threatens to alienate any prospective audience that is expecting either the bittersweet miserablist poetry of traditional Mike Leigh movies (Vera Drake, Secrets & Lies) or just a protagonist whom you don't want to slap.... Of course, it's not the done thing to criticise Leigh, who is, alongside Ken Loach, one of the revered godfathers of the British film industry.... Happy-Go-Lucky, may be an attempt to save a 21st-century world that's heading towards disaster, but it's also a testament to the old Leigh foibles." Maher also profiles Eddie Marsan.

"Advance word (not to mention the title's unsubtle hint) suggested this film would show a chirpier Leigh than the man behind Vera Drake and All or Nothing," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "But the most superficially upbeat parts - Poppy larking around with her chums or trading nonsensical small talk on a first date - are the least convincing, as cosmetically wacky in tone as 1993's Naked was artificially doom-laden." Poppy "is a pleasant enough lass, but two hours in her company is pushing it."

The Evening Standard's Derek Malcolm can't get anywhere with Leigh's critics: "It's no use telling them that most of his sad films are funny, and that most of his funny ones have a serious core - like this one. It is also one of his most fluent works, light on its feet, supremely well cast and acted and a portrait of a particular north London milieu that's well-nigh unbeatable for accuracy."

"Leigh's stock-in-trade may be sweet, wry melancholy, and he has carved out his niche with stories of working-class people dealing with pain, rejection and hopelessly elusive ambitions," writes the Telegraph's David Gritten. "But he has declared that in Happy-Go-Lucky he set out to make an 'anti-miserabilist' film. He and his cinematographer Dick Pope plumped for an expansive, widescreen approach, using different film stock to make London - and life itself - seem brighter."

"Happy-Go-Lucky is Mike Leigh's sunniest film, though some way short of his best," writes Anthony Quinn in the Independent. "Aside from the driving instructor's waxing fury, it lacks strong dramatic propulsion, especially in its first half. Perhaps that is the director's point, that life simply bowls along in its largely eventless way, sometimes funny and charming, more often not. But film - art - has an advantage over life in being able to select and discriminate; that's how it takes on shape and meaning. There's not much evidence of either here."

Hawkins profiles: Stephen Applebaum (Independent), Maddy Costa (Guardian) and Amy Raphael (Telegraph).

Leigh profiles: Nick Curtis (Evening Standard), Rebecca Davies (New Statesman), Sheila Johnston (Telegraph) and Jonathan Romney (Independent).

Online browsing tip. Time Out hosts "a gallery of Leigh's London places."

Online listening tips. The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Leigh; then with Hawkins and Marsan.

Earlier: Ray Pride pulls together a dossier on Leigh.

Updates, 4/21: "Happy-Go-Lucky is as funny, serious, life-affirming and beautifully performed as anything Leigh has done, but with a lightness of touch only previously found in his Gilbert and Sullivan movie, Topsy-Turvy," writes Philip French in the Observer. And it takes place "in a colourful, yet very real London. It's a cheerful, likable place, but Leigh, working for the first time, I think, in widescreen, doesn't visit those fashionable locations that have recently been so popular with British and visiting American moviemakers. There's no Tate Modern, no walk past Lord Foster's Gherkin (though, inevitably, it's seen from a great distance), no London Eye, no Tower Bridge, no romantic excursion to Primrose Hill or Hampstead Heath."

Guardian readers chime in.

Update, 4/22: Sarfaraz Manzoor has an onstage talk with Leigh for the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:36 AM

April 17, 2008

Zombie Strippers.

Zombie Strippers "Zombie Strippers, a Joe Bob Briggs-worthy piece of nudie-horror camp opening this weekend, is in no danger of being accused of false advertising," writes Ryan Stewart for Premiere. "Director Jay Lee clearly viewed the film's title as a challenge to be risen to, delivering not just another zombie-splatter pic but something that occasionally plays like the wet dream of a necrophiliac.... Whatever planet these dance sequences are happening on, their cuckoo surrealism is the movie's saving grace."

For Luke Y Thompson, writing in the Voice, this is "a consistently hilarious, brutal, and titillating mash-up of Return of the Living Dead and Showgirls that actually beats out Mark Pirro's Nudist Colony of the Dead for the unofficial title of best naked zombie movie ever."

Updated through 4/23.

Rob Humanick in Slant: "Though broader and less funny than Idiocracy, the political commentary of Zombie Strippers is effectively one-note, keeping things short and sweet as the film moves from one hot dance number to another with a steady flow of exploding heads in between, schlocky genre titillation distilled to its essence."

"A former stripper and horror-cinema scholar such as myself might be expected to judge such a film harshly," writes Peg Aloi in the Boston Phoenix. "But I found it well-directed, sexy, schlocky, and sublime."

"Sure, it claims to be based loosely on Eugène Ionesco's classic absurdist play Rhinoceros and, sure, it features allusions to a number of philosophers, including Camus and Sartre, but really it's dumb and silly and a heck of a good time," writes Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "Particularly if you're anything but sober."

But for the AV Club's Scott Tobias, "The film's devotion to smug, self-conscious camp lets the audience know early and often that the filmmakers and actors are in on the joke, and that they aren't mindless purveyors of boobs and blood. That above-it-all attitude isn't convincing, and what's more, it saps any fun or cheap titillation that might have been had from this dreary enterprise."

Updates, 4/18: "Zombie Strippers is a B-movie whose ideas and wit set it well above the great unwashed of the genre," writes Michael Ordoña in the Los Angeles Times. "Early on, [Jenna] Jameson's still-human character is seen reading Nietzsche. Later, post-zombification, she reads the same book and laughs hysterically: 'This makes so much more sense now!'"

"Though not nearly as clever as it aims to be, the film at least tries," writes Laura Kern in the New York Times.

Update, 4/23: "It's funny that this flick should appear almost exactly a year after the failure of Grindhouse, as Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's $100 million monument to garbage culture was sorely lacking the subversive inquiry that makes this sort of schlock stand out," writes Stephen Wells in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Tarantino and Rodriguez offered a megabudget wax museum, whereas Zombie Strippers is the real deal."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:05 PM

Ollie Johnston, 1912 - 2008.

The Incredibles
The animator Ollie Johnston, the last of the Disney "nine old men," as the studio's core group of senior animators was called, died on Monday in Sequim, Wash.

The AP.

I came along at a "best of times/worst of times" moment at Disney animation. The worst of times because the studio was creatively moribund and young people were not yet empowered to do anything to change it. The best of times because a few of the old masters were still around, still working, and still able to impart their wisdom to us eager students....

Ollie was one of the best that ever was and will be. He lives on as an entertainer, a teacher and inspiration for all generations to come. Needless to say, I'll miss him. But I plan on visiting him as I visit Milt, Eric, Frank and all the others who taught and/or inspired me - through their work... which will be around forever.

Brad Bird, Cartoon Brew. Bird paid homage to Johnston (right) and his close friend and collaborator Frank Thomas in The Incredibles.

What Johnston and his fellows took the most pride in was embuing their anthropomorphized animals with palpable human emotion. Nobody did it better before, or has done it better since.

Glenn Kenny, who also passes along a tribute from artist Joseph Failla.

Johnston was feted for his specific contributions to the Disney canon - the character of Mr Smee, Captain Hook's feckless sidekick, in Peter Pan; the evil stepsisters in Cinderella; Bad King John (eventually voiced by Peter Ustinov) in Robin Hood; and, perhaps most memorably of all, the taboo-breaking early scene in Bambi when Bambi's mother is shot dead by hunters. The Bambi aesthetic tends to be ridiculed as much as it is cherished these days - all those big, blinking, tear-moistened doe eyes designed to tug at our emotions seem more than a touch mawkish and manipulative.

At the time, though - the film came out in 1942 - the very achievement of bringing animal drawings to life and triggering an emotional response in a mass audience was little short of groundbreaking. Blame the cheesy aesthetics on Disney himself; the technical accomplishment was all Johnston's, along with the rest of the nine.

Andrew Gumbel, the Independent.

See also: Wikipedia; online viewing from Karina Longworth, Ben and Me, parts 1 and 2.

Online listening tip. Bob Mondello on NPR.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 PM

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts.

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts "Shot over 18 months, [Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts] follows the influential modern composer Philip Glass through a little more than a year in his life with a casual honesty and deftly shifting distance that flatter the viewer by not kowtowing to its subject." Bruce Bennett talks with director Scott Hicks for the New York Sun.

"Glass's status as one of America's most venerated and mocked highbrows matches gracefully with his peripatetic cultural and spiritual life; he may not define himself exclusively as a Buddhist, but his frequent self-targeted laughter and robust playfulness at physical-meditation sessions are so clearly engrained, not affected, that he often seems like a jolly, music-consumed monk," writes Bill Weber in Slant.

Updated through 4/18.

For Vadim Rizov, writing in the Voice, this is "a stupefyingly dull portrait... Things perk up briefly in a segment devoted to soundtrack work, sparked by a typically loud Errol Morris announcing, 'I think collaboration should be contentious,' and an endearingly professional, non-neurotic Woody Allen editing Cassandra's Dream. Otherwise, everyone seems to conclude that Glass is a) intensely private, or b) very interiorized, which tells us exactly nothing."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Hicks "about returning to his filmmaking roots, editing over the internet, and watching The Red Balloon at a drive-in in Kenya."

More from indieWIRE.

Satyagraha Meanwhile, Glass's 1979 opera Satyagraha sees a new production at the Met, running through May 1. In the New York Times, Daniel J Wakin talks with Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott, artistic directors of the London-based theater and performance company Improbable, about the staging: "The dominant medium is newsprint.... 'It's an ordinary object that, when transformed, becomes magical,' Mr McDermott said. 'Ordinary simple actions, when done with commitment, become something powerful,' he said, a quality of Gandhi's idea of 'satyagraha,' a Sanskrit term that can be translated as 'truth-force' and stands for Gandhi's principle of nonviolent resistance." And there's an accompanying video.

Updates, 4/18: "First and most important among the welcome surprises in Glass is in fact Glass," writes Chris Barsanti in Film Journal International. "Glass would seem to be the kind of man to appear in starkly monochromatic outfits and pontificating about his 'method' and the artist's mission in a callow world. Instead, the portrait presented by Hicks is of a robustly normal guy who doesn't allow his decades-long pursuit of outré art and music to keep him from being human. In addition to his long avant-garde resume, he also composed the music for Candyman, after all."

In the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis finds the doc "is much like its subject: affable, quotable and emotionally guarded in the extreme."

"Intentionally or not, Scott Hicks's documentary Glass: A Portrait Of Philip In Twelve Parts makes a good companion piece to his breakthrough film, Shine, right down to the way that Philip Glass even looks a little like Shine star Geoffrey Rush," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. But "where Shine was visually beautiful and aspired to the poetic, Glass looks flat and feels scattered."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:23 AM

Nashville Scene. NFF.

Reel Nashville 08 "The Nashville Film Festival isn't huge, like Sundance or Toronto. Nor is it tiny, like the many regional festivals that have sprouted in the past 10 years like mushrooms after rain. What the Nashville Film Festival is, mostly, is ours. It reflects our identity as Music City, with an ever-expanding section of films devoted to bluegrass, country and beyond. It has a makeup as diverse as our own population, with selections targeted to Nashville's thriving Mexican and Kurdish communities. Its audiences - celebrities, college kids, churchgoers, out-of-towners - could be the line outside Pancake Pantry any given Saturday."

The Nashville Scene's day-by-day guide runs all up and down one long, long page. The festival opens tonight and runs through April 24.

Update: Paul Harrill's short, Quick Feet, Soft Hands, featuring Greta Gerwig, will see its world premiere in Nashville.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:10 AM | Comments (3)

The Forbidden Kingdom.

The Forbidden Kingdom "A martial arts epic with hints of Tolkien in which a Caucasian hero teams with Jackie Chan and Jet Li to save a kingdom, win the affection of a beauty, and gain the power to kick a homicidal bully's ass, The Forbidden Kingdom plays out like the wet dream of kung-fu fanboy nation," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Except, however, that even rabid Hong Kong cineastes will likely be underwhelmed by director Rob Minkoff's family-friendly fusion of The Lord of the Rings, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Karate Kid."

"This is the first collaboration between kung fu's Astaire and Kelly, and, as that, it disappoints," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Taken as a whole, though, it's an amiable lost-and-found of epic-adventure tropes. As I still illogically treasure Willow, many a 10-year-old who sees Forbidden Kingdom will remember it fondly in spite of its flaws."

Updated through 4/21.

"Just as you'd want it, Chan and Li are not adversaries," notes Armond White in the New York Press. "Both play heroes - drunken Kung Fu master Lu Yan (Chan) and maverick warrior Silent Monk (Li).... Every fighting move - Drunken Fist, Praying Mantis vs Tiger, Intercepting Fist and Buddha's Palm - is presented as a fabled gesture in Hong Kong lore. It's Li and Chan's athletic and artistic supremacy doing these moves that has entranced moviegoers (especially kids) across the globe."

"So why is it that their careers have outlasted those of Western action stars?" asks Time's Richard Corliss. "Chan has been in nearly 100 films since he did bit parts as a child actor. Li's been making movies nonstop for 26 years.... The actors whom Chan and Li most closely resemble are the comedy stars of early Hollywood: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, all onstage since youth. In films full of physical derring-do, they prided themselves on executing their own graceful maneuvers and extravagant stunts."

Ron Magid reports on the visual effects for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 4/18: For Grady Hendrix, writing in the New York Sun, The Forbidden Kingdom is one that "will leave most adults bored out of their skulls, but which serves as an excellent primer to the wonders of Hong Kong movies for children 12 and under." The fun part of his review, though, is his "rough guide to the references."

"It's the first big Hollywood production in two decades (i.e., since Big Trouble in Little China) to really absorb the kinds of Chinese stories that have formed the basis for much of Hong Kong action cinema," notes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

"[T]he film works well enough as a primer for latecomers and a fix for insatiable martial arts lovers," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "If you've never seen a movie like this, it might satisfy your curiosity; if you can't get enough of this kind of movie, nothing I say about it would keep you away."

"The Forbidden Kingdom is kung fu light, the kind of martial arts family film that results when the director who made Stuart Little and The Lion King gets to work with Jackie Chan and Jet Li," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Of course, the great martial arts films of the past didn't exactly feature scripts by Ingmar Bergman or Graham Greene. What they did have was a hard-core integrity that reveled in exhilarating action and didn't worry overly much about market share."

"Why didn't this happen 15 years ago, when they were both in their prime?" asks Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Even if it had happened 15 years ago, how do you reconcile the austere beauty of Li's wire-fu classics like Once Upon A Time In China with the Buster Keaton-inspired slapstick acrobatics of Jackie Chan standards like Drunken Master 2? And why not entrust the project to an old Hong Kong hand like Tsui Hark or Ronny Yu, instead of the guy responsible for The Haunted Mansion? At best, The Forbidden Kingdom counts as an amiable time-waster for kids, but much more should be expected from the momentous union of two kung-fu titans."

"Yeah, it's a dopey kid's movie, but - significant detail - one that feels like it was actually written for kids, rather than slumming thirtysomethings easily amused by pop-culture references," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "Also, whenever things threaten to get too schlocky, this amazing villainess with a magic bullwhip shows up."

"The good news is that the picture is so good-natured, it's easy enough to disregard many of its flaws," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "The Forbidden Kingdom is lavish in its approach - it attempts some rather extravagant battle scenes - yet it still seems modest in its goals: It's more interested in being a Saturday-afternoon entertainment than a blockbuster."

"[W]ith the exception of the special effects, it resonates mostly as a throwback to the days of films such as The NeverEnding Story, when ancient fantasies were book-ended by tales of modern-day misfits who get their lunch money taken but later exact revenge on their tormenters with a furry flying dragon," writes Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"As the latest entry in the category of 'low expectation, Asian-themed, English-language movies written and directed by respectful American creative talent,' the film is slightly above average entertainment," writes Peter Martin at Cinematical. "But I grow tired of having to lower my expectations in exchange for the pleasure of seeing talented Asian performers make an appearance on the big screen in America."

"It pains me to note that The Forbidden Kingdom has the feeling of a valedictory about it," writes Bryant Frazer.

Quint talks with Jackie Chan for AICN.

Update, 4/19: Susan King profiles Michael Angarano for the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 4/21: "Unable to muster the competency and imagination to mount a rousing kung fu-fantasy epic, Minkoff makes do with aping under the guise of influence," writes Francis Cruz.

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

April 16, 2008

Udine's FEFF @ 10.

Far East Film Festival The tenth edition of the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, opens on Friday and runs through April 26. Variety marks the occasion with a package featuring Darcy Paquet's brief history.

Mark Schilling explains the FEFF's decision in 2000 to include Japanese films in its lineup.

Derek Elley, the festival's first programmer, looks back on "Udine's cinephile origins."

And:

Updated through 4/21.

Far East moviemaking may seem to be well repped on the international map, but the reality is far different, with the West cherry-picking films that mirror either Euro-style art movies or out-of-date cultural cliches. No case is more egregious than that of Asia's most populous nation - China - whose pic industry is still largely an undiscovered country.

Between the peaks of a handful of big-budget helmers (Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Jiang Wen, Feng Xiaogang) and the shoreline of "indie"-cum-"underground" hardcore auteurs (Jia Zhangke, etc) lies a vast plain of midrange filmers whose pics are almost unseen outside Asia - except in specialist berths like Udine's Far East Film Festival.

Nick Vivarelli profiles FEFF "co-toppers" Sabrina Baracetti and Thomas Bertacche.

Also: "Italy's northeastern corner packs a triple punch when it comes to heavyweight fests." Besides the FEFF, there's Venice and the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

"Few Western distribs have been as successful at the art of releasing Asian films as independent French distributors," reports Tobias Grey.

More pix, via Blake Ethridge.

Update, 4/21: Todd Brown is sending reviews into Twitch.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:02 PM | Comments (1)

Heeb. The Hollywood Issue.

Heeb: The Hollywood Issue That's Jason Segel, writer and star of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, on the cover of the "Hollywood Issue" of Heeb; Emma Forrest takes on the profile.

"Considering the boom in publicity focused on the Christian marketplace in the wake of the [The Passion of the Christ] hailstorm, the landscape appears strangely barren," writes Eric Kohn in a piece examining the precarious relationship between Hollywood and a big chunk of America.

Dave Itzkoff meets "the guys who dreamed up the multi-culti odd couple of Harold Lee and Kumar Patel and sent them on their road-trip adventure to a third-rate fast-food franchise (and who, this spring, send them to the offshore home of America's ongoing human-rights violations)." Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz are "just a couple of raunchy, self-effacing Jewish guys from New Jersey who don't want you to know how hard they've worked to create the most unlikely slacker franchise in contemporary cinema."

Screenwriter Michael Green explains why he avoided seeing Casablanca for years and years.

Slow Food Seder

"Once upon a time, the first Jewish film starlets were striking, young first-generation Americans: vamp Theda Bara, Yiddish darling Molly Picon and comedienne Fanny Brice." Photos of a trio of the imagination by Doron Gild.

Etgar Keret is the co-director of Jellyfish; Sarah Goldstein reads his latest collection of stories, The Girl on the Fridge. Earlier Chris Barsanti in PopMatters.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:22 PM

The run-up to Tribeca.

Tribeca Film Festival The Tribeca Film Festival opens a week from today (to run on through May 4), so previews and such will land here until next Wednesday.

And we can begin with the L Magazine's cover package. Besides the preview ("Not Quite Every Single Film Worth Seeing - or at Least Pretending You've Seen") and a general guide, there's Benjamin Strong offering a bit of context for this year's edition:

Updated through 4/22.

Quality films have not yet gone out of fashion, as many of the best selections at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival demonstrate. But with informed critics who have the time and resources to champion little seen gems disappearing, and with small festivals that feature genuinely independent releases struggling to survive in the shadow of corporate-sponsored events - or, for that matter, with a film like Profit motive and the whispering wind vying for attention at a festival where Universal's new Tina Fey and Amy Poehler vehicle, Baby Mama, is the opening night selection - it is clear that the movies, once our national popular art form, are no longer for everyone.

In New York, Sara Cardace, Bilge Ebiri and Logan Hill preview "Nine to Watch."

Updates, 4/18: In the New York Times, Stephen Holden argues that "he festival is finally settling into its own identity and establishing itself as a major international showcase.... A sign of the festival's confidence is its willingness to shrink. No longer does it project the panicky sense of an event grabbing too many things offered to it in a mad scramble to demonstrate its size and importance. This year it has 120 features, about 40 fewer than last year, selected from 2,300 submissions from 41 countries. Fewer movies mean more discriminating programming, and that is all to the good." And there's an accompanying audio slide show in which Holden picks out a few highlights from the lineup.

"While the usual bounty of nonfiction films yielded a glut of artist biographies and foreign policy statements in 2007, this year's batch revisits political figures and events from prior generations, and the films are often not shy about tweaking history accordingly," writes Nicolas Rapold. "Appropriately for the current Democratic presidential primary, a strain of nostalgia for progressive and liberal heroes of all stripes is on display at Tribeca."

Also in the New York Sun: "Just as entertainment executives have struggled to come to grips with work stoppages, erratic ticket sales, and the steady decline of film critics who once championed art-house products, so is there now widespread debate as to the broader value of film festivals," argues S James Snyder. "Theatrical buyers are increasingly hedging their bets, looking more skeptically at smaller titles that are getting lost in a glutted marketplace. Similarly, more and more directors are making deals to get their films seen not just in theaters, but primarily on DVD and cable."

And Bruce Bennett has an overview of the highlights.

Update, 4/19: The IFC opens its special section; Matt Singer previews Man on Wire.

Updates, 4/21: In the New York Sun, S James Snyder presents "some of our early picks for the best films of the opening week."

New York's got a Tribeca special section going; Logan Hill talks with Madonna, who's "produced and narrated the documentary I Am Because We Are, about Malawi and its AIDS orphans, which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival."

Also: "Closing the Tribeca festival, the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer puts more than a fresh coat of paint on the old anime series - thanks to effects gurus John Gaeta and Dan Glass. Gaeta pioneered The Matrix's 'bullet time' effect; together they staged Reloaded's chase scenes. They call their new approach 'poptimistic photo-anime'; we asked them to dissect their influences and techniques."

Carl Swanson profiles Harmony Korine, whose Mister Lonely will be on hand.

And Sara Cardace recommends four NYC documentaries.

Online listening tip. For Cinematical, James Rocchi talks about the festival with David Fear of Time Out New York.

Melvin Van Peebles has handmade a bildungsroman that isn't merely energetic enough to be called "spry" work for a 75-year-old independent filmmaking legend; Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha is downright effervescent." Bill Weber at Slant.

Updates, 4/22: "[O]bservers say that while Tribeca lacks the cachet or industry drawing power of other festivals, it does continue to make inroads as a film market." Paul Brownfield reports for the Los Angeles Times.

Steve Dollar talks with Korine for the New York Sun. Also, a few more previews from S James Snyder.

Slant's Ed Gonzalez on Elite Squad.

Sharon Swart and Anthony Kaufman in Variety: "10 films generating interest among execs."

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth offers "a look at some of the films and events that I'm looking forward to covering over the next couple of weeks."

Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door on Man on Wire.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:00 AM

Romanian Cinema, Then and Now.

The Paper Will Be Blue Shining Through a Long, Dark Night: Romanian Cinema, Then and Now opens tomorrow at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, runs through April 27, and "serves up a sampling of eight recent films that helped garner worldwide attention, as well as 10 classics that were lost for years behind the Iron Curtain," writes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun - and he talks with Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest).

"Divided almost equally between pre- and post-revolution films, the series is nothing if not an object lesson in the habit of artistic movements to reject what has come before," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "Where the Romanian films of the new New Wave have been celebrated for their documentary verisimilitude, long hand-held tracking shots, and absence of original music, their precursors - to judge by the evidence here - are deeply formalist works very much influenced (particularly in their approach to montage) by the Soviet constructivists. Yet, past or present, the films share a certain inescapable air of ironic fatalism, which might be considered something of a national temperament."

Earlier: Marina Kaceanov in POV on the "New Romanian Cinema."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:07 AM

The Life Before Her Eyes.

The Life Before Her Eyes "Riddled with high concept, this florid adaptation of Laura Kasischke's 2002 novel is a horror picture of sorts that plays off a Columbine-style high-school shooting from the victims' point of view," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "But moviegoers may mistake The Life Before Her Eyes for an unduly long L'Oreal commercial featuring softly lit film stars moving languidly with swinging hair through overbearingly premonitory weather."

"Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood and Eva Amurri give fascinating performances as multifaceted women, but the movie yanks the rug out from under all three in its quest for a Shyamalan-esque shocking twist ending," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

Updated through 4/21.

"The sheer insistence with which every image is offered up makes me feel like some jerk was sitting next to me, pulling on my sleeve," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "I've read that [Vadim] Perelman is in line to helm the Angelina Jolie-starring adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. That's almost too perfect."

"If you haven't caught on to the gimmick after ten minutes, the Zombies' 'She's Not There' is all over the soundtrack," notes New York's David Edelstein. "In between snorting and rolling your eyes, you can pass the time pitying Thurman, who has to emote in a vacuum, and admiring Wood - who is open and unaffected, the anti-Ellen Page."

Choire Sicha talks with Wood for the Los Angeles Times.

Online listening tip. Thurman's a guest on Fresh Air.

Updates, 4/17: Life offers "a reasonably well made, if hopelessly overblown melodrama, which oversteps its mark with pretensions of narrative complexity and social currency," writes Leo Goldsmith in indieWIRE.

But it also sports "the dumbest metaphysical plot concoction since Demi Moore's Passion of Mind," argues Armond White in the New York Press.

Updates, 4/18: "Tidy, predictable, excruciatingly fussy in its details and lacking the tiniest glimmer of humor, The Life Before Her Eyes contradicts the director's claim in the production notes that the movie 'is not a perfectly ordered experience with clear causes and effects,'" writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "As it plods along decorously, you have the sense of reading a poetic essay in which every image and metaphor is hammered too neatly in place."

"Every moment is critically meaningful, Life says, in its facile, simple-minded way," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "But if that's true, why does it waste so much of its run time on overwrought symbolic music-video footage of dead birds and wilting flowers? Like Wood, viewers may someday regret every squandered moment of their lives, and this film is full of them."

"Though atmospheric and occasionally suspenseful, its gimmickry keeps it from being transcendent," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

"[T]he breakout performance in The Life Before Her Eyes occurs behind the camera," argues Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "After the cloddish excesses of House of Sand and Fog, a film that delivered NPR sound-bite story pieties with abusively adamant film grammar and lazy, simplistic dramatics, Mr Perelman's comparatively gentle directorial handprint in The Life Before Her Eyes borders on the revelatory."

Crosswalk's Christian Hamaker finds a film "interested in the problem of evil - the topic of an honorary speech Diana's professor husband is scheduled to deliver - and the definition of the word 'conscience,' which, we are told, can be defined as the voice of God within us."

Leonard Klady talks with Perelman for Movie City News.

Update, 4/19: Chris Lee profiles Perelman for the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 4/21: For Cinematical, Kim Voynar talks with Perelman and Amurri.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:05 AM

Jazz Score.

Mickey One "The Museum of Modern Art's sprawling new program Jazz Score, which includes screenings of more than 50 films, an exhibit, and live performances, takes encyclopedic note of the ways jazz has influenced film." In the New York Sun, Steve Dollar previews the series that opens tomorrow and runs through September 15.

J Hoberman in the Voice on the opening film: "An off-Hollywood production made for under a million dollars, Arthur Penn's Mickey One had its American premiere at the same 1965 New York Film Festival that opened with Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville; widely reviled at the time, it shows its ambitious director, several years before Bonnie and Clyde, trying to figure out just what a 'new wave' American movie might be."

Earlier: Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:12 AM

88 Minutes.

88 Minutes "Filmed on the cheap almost two and a half years ago in Vancouver and only arriving in North American theatres now, 88 Minutes will likely be remembered only as one of the least distinguished starring vehicles in Al Pacino's long and admirable film career," writes Paul Matwychuk.

"88 Minutes can't even live up to its title. With 19 - count 'em, 19 - producers, including director Jon Avnet, ensuring that every aspect of the film, from the script to the star's haircut, is ludicrous in the extreme, the picture easily snatches from Revolution the prize as Al Pacino's career worst," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy.

Updated through 4/18.

Chris Cagle finds McCarthy's review "entertaining enough for those who like snark (I sometimes do), but for me it raised a larger question: when (and why) did trade press reviews start sounding like their counterparts in the popular press?"

"With its lumbering efforts at black humor and phony pretense to moral complexity, 88 Minutes is an ugly specimen on just about every front," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "There is one way, however, in which, all unawares, the movie works like a charm - as a twisted, self-torturing essay on the aging man's fear of and desire for the young female body. We may have to sit through worse films to come this year, but with any luck, there'll be none as guilelessly, idiotically misogynist as this one."

"88 Minutes is a cheesy, star-driven thriller, and the wrong Al Pacino shows up to drive it: instead of the devilish ham from The Recruit or The Devil's Advocate, we mostly get the weary old man from Insomnia and People I Know, severed from the ambitions and complexities of those films." Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine.

Online listening tip. The IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss "Movies in Real Time."

Update, 4/17: "Let 2008's 10 Worst List begin," suggests Armond White in the New York Press.

Updates, 4/18: "Although it's often laugh-out-loud laughably bad, 88 Minutes is mostly just a slog," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Misogyny aside, the attention shown to the display of dead bodies in 88 Minutes offers continued evidence that cinema's fascination with human locomotion during the art's first 50 years - evident in early motion studies, in the gymnastics of the silent-movie clowns and in musicals - seems to have been supplanted in the last 50 by a fascination with rigor mortis. The touchstone for this shift is probably Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho, in which the camera is more vibrantly alive than any of the characters, including that dead blonde in the shower. She makes such a beautiful corpse it's no wonder that we keep asking for more."

"'It's not absurd!' Pacino barks at FBI agent William Forsythe after explaining the whole dead-hooker-semen-pumping theory," sighs Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "Actually, it's pretty much the definition of absurd."

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "He has 88 minutes to live. But trust me, it feels more like around 236."

"[W]e watch as one of cinema's greatest talents runs to and fro with absolutely nothing to do," sighs S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "I'd rather watch 88 uninterrupted minutes of Mr Pacino running on a treadmill."

"Couldn't a cleverer filmmaker have set the movie in real time, and then used flashbacks to do all that boring preliminary stuff?" asks Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "Wouldn't the film have been much better if it just started with a bang, with that phone call?"

"Rather than being memorably disastrous, 88 Minutes is merely crappy," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:10 AM

Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?

Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? "Instead of somber stories that mirror the audience's disgust and disillusionment, several filmmakers are taking askew or comical approaches to America's policy blunders and injustices." Anthony Kaufman previews the next round of post-9/11/Iraq war movies. Like Morgan Spurlock's Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?, they approach on lighter feet than those we've seen so far (or, more likely, have not seen).

Also in the Voice, J Hoberman: "An affable action hero in search of the planet's arch supervillain, Spurlock is less irritating than his obvious model, Michael Moore, but also less politically astute; assuming the role of a faux-naïf stranger in a strange land, he's more benign and not nearly as funny as unacknowledged analogue Sacha Baron Cohen."

Updated through 4/18.

"Tacking center and down, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? finds Spurlock embellishing a faux-naïve average-Joe shtick that's about as irritating and intermittently head-up-the-ass as Moore's," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine.

New York's David Edelstein sums up a few of the lessons Spurlock learns on his road trip:

Egypt - our great ally as well as the birthplace of Mohamed Atta, Al-Zawahiri, and the Islamist-jihadist philosopher Sayyid Qutb - emerges as a prototype of repression: People hate the US because it funds the bogus democracy, but many hate bin Laden, too, for helping their leaders justify further repression. The Palestinians say they don't care for bin Laden because they're a secular society, but it doesn't hurt to have someone beating the drums against Israel - whose "settlers" subsequently tell Spurlock it's God's will that they plunk themselves down on disputed borders. Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Jews don't share their thoughts on bin Laden because they're busy putting their black hats over the camera lens and physically attacking Spurlock. It's an accomplishment to look more repulsive than the Taliban.

"Spurlock's aesthetic is opportunistic by design, but what makes the director's pandering to the masses so vulgar, almost sad, is that he obviously knows better," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Foregrounding his pop-cultural fixations, thus suffocating the flashes of insight he gives us into the lives of Middle Eastern people, Spurlock gives currency to the stereotype of the self-absorbed, globetrotting Ugly American."

For the Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns, the film is a "monumentally epic waste of time and an exercise in narcissism run amok... Even the most cursory knowledge of the world and current affairs renders the movie insultingly simple and wildly unnecessary."

Aaron Hillis talks with Spurlock for the IFC. His first question: "I'd love to hear your thoughts on John Anderson's Variety review from Sundance, which said the film 'serves up a rehash of others' 9/11 reportage, bin Laden biography, Islamic theology and suicide-bomber psychology.' What do you think your film brings new to the conversation?"

Updates, 4/17: "Spurlock ends the doc with a credit sequence showing candid images of his travels, set to Elvis Costello's '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,' and the simple sincerity and anger of Costello's song blows away the 90 minutes of fake humanism that came before it," writes Steve Erickson in the City Paper.

"Unfortunately for Spurlock, the comedian-on-a-quest schtick has begun to wear thin," writes Felicia Feaster in the New York Press. "As the Iraq War enters its fifth year, the mugging, Borat-baiting approach to Bush-era incompetence has become a less reliable source of hilarity."

Shaun Brady talks with Spurlock for the Philadelphia City Paper.

Tom Roston meets Spurlock for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 4/18: "Spurlock, more so here than in Super Size Me, advances an essentially anti-political view of the world," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "It's impossible to disagree with much of what he says in Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden, but it's also impossible to learn anything about war, terrorism, religion, oil, democracy or any of the other topics a less glib, less self-absorbed filmmaker might want to tackle."

"The film pretends to discover that Arabs are people, too - but of course Spurlock knew that in the first place," writes Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "His film consistently condescends to the non-Americans it portrays while pandering to its American audience."

"Unlike Moore's movies, Spurlock's don't split their seams with ideas and nervous energy," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "For all their edifying political ambitions, they are closer to doper comedies, with Spurlock as a Cheech, Bill or Harold searching for a Chong, Ted or Kumar." And Frances Romero talks with Spurlock.

"At least Spurlock's messages are generally simple enough that it's easy to trust his motives and conclusions," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "But sometimes being on his side is a little embarrassing."

"So little new information and meaningful context are brought to the table in Morgan Spurlock's film that one truly wonders how the director felt comfortable presenting it to the American public as a finished product," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

"[T]his well-meaning film probably would disappoint less were it titled 'We're Not So Different; Can't We All Just Get Along?'," suggests Michael Ordoña in the Los Angeles Times.

"For all his self-deprecation, Spurlock really does see himself as a holy fool, a crusading clown brave enough to risk his own body in order to make a point," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "When that point was "Stop eating McCrap," there was a certain balance between the medium and the message (and Super Size Me did have real-world effects; after the film was released, McDonald's rescinded its super-sizing policy). But now that Spurlock has replaced burgers and fries with geopolitics and the war on terror, he seems less like an agitprop maverick than a gawking rube."

"Beneath his shtick Spurlock actually isn't a dumbass, even if his film yo-yo's from recycled Bush administration rhetoric at one end to we-are-the-world sentimentality on the other," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "The point he's striving for here is both simple and valid. If more Americans got out of our cubicle-to-couch cycles and went places, including the countries where we are told everyone hates us for our freedom, we'd find much more commonality than difference. We might begin to view the grand, mythic narratives that govern American foreign policy and domestic politics with some skepticism, or at least some perspective."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:35 AM | Comments (1)

City Pages. MSPIFF.

MSPIFF 08 "As if you didn't already have enough trouble picking which screenings to attend at the Minneapolis-St Paul International Film Festival, this year's event will be significantly bigger than last year's: nearly 140 films from more than 40 countries (not counting several short-film programs), compared to about 80 titles in 2007."

Matthew Smith opens up a package in the City Pages, which naturally includes a whopping guide, "Flicks to Pick," but also profiles of local filmmakers: Tony Cane-Honeysett (Mondo Bondo), Tommy Haines (Pond Hockey), Chris Gegax (Forgotten), Diego Luke (Diego's Trip to Guatemala), Melody Gilbert (Disconnected) and Jesse Roesler (Finding Flight and Secrets of the Symmetrical Gentlemen).

The festival opens tomorrow and runs through May 3.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:01 AM | Comments (1)

April 15, 2008

DVDs, 4/15.

The Rabbit Is Me At Movie Morlocks, Jeff reviews First Run's DEFA Collection. Related: James Van Maanen at the Guru on The Rabbit Is Me and Robert Horton's "East German Cinema Guide." Somewhat related browsing: Iron Curtain Call.

"Grand Guignol does not get much grander than in Inside, one of the latest in a new wave of extremely violent horror films coming from France," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. More from Steve Erickson in the City Paper: "Directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo may have made it as a résumé padder - their next project is a remake of Clive Barker's Hellraiser - but they don't lack ambition or talent."

"Forget what anyone else says, Night and the City (1950) is Jules Dassin's finest film," insists Anthony Frewin. "It's a noir masterpiece, no ifs or buts."

The Films of Sergei Paradjanov Also in Stop Smiling, Michael Joshua Rowin on The Films of Sergei Paradjanov: "Kino's release provides a terrific example of what can happen when quantity surpasses quality: unsatisfactory transfers, unnecessary documentaries, and missing credits that leave the viewer lost in a fog of incomplete information about Paradjanov's career. This is a disappointment because Paradjanov was one of the most unique, challenging, and mystical directors in the history of the cinema, let alone that of Russia - I can hardly imagine this treatment accorded to Fellini, Bresson, or Tarkovsky, Paradjanov's peer and good friend."

"While the inherent New Zealandness of Eagle vs Shark is never in doubt, it draws on a greater geographical force: Wellington," writes Tim Wong in the Lumière Reader. "Another testament to the city's incestuous creative community, its sights - from Titahi Bay to Manners Mall - are lived-in, personalised and not at all obnoxiously touristy, while its sounds - The Phoenix Foundation, chiefly, so ubiquitous yet enlivening on film here - are nothing if not tailor-made for the incandesce of cinema."

Tasha Robinson at the AV Club: "Commentary Tracks of the Damned: Romance & Cigarettes."

For the IFC, Michael Atkinson comes to the defense of Lars and the Real Girl and explains why The Dragon Painter may be "the only American film we've seen from the first 60 years of the medium's existence that treats Asian characters with respect and dignity."

Beyond R1:

  • Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign-Region DVD Report: Chantal Akerman Collection: Les Annees 70: "My own feeling about Akerman was that her work was a sort of punk rock - DIY, defiant, new without even trying to be new, just because of its very existence."

Oyu-sama
  • "[N]ot every film by a master director has to be a masterpiece, and Oyu-sama is a moving, beautiful film, small in stature, compact in storytelling, concise in construction, and eloquent in evocation." Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on Masters of Cinema's latest Kenji Mizoguchi release.

"Donald Pleasence is the Genero-President of the United States!" declares Jonathan Lapper.

TV:

  • Back in the NYT: "With episodes (actually partial episodes, even better) now available in several DVD sets, This Is Tom Jones unearths some vintage pop nuggets that, if not as history-making as Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show, at least recall a time when popular music was an infinitely more unruly contest than it's become in the 21st century," writes Greg Evans. "Proof? Take a look at Joe Cocker, in his snarling, disturbing, full-on spastic mode, then watch June Carter Cash, looking and sounding so authentically country that she makes a joke of Reese Witherspoon's perky portrayal in Walk the Line."

  • "How much would you pay for a four-disc collection of the best episodes of The Price Is Right?" A slide show at Slate from Keith Phipps.

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN), the AV Club, Monika Bartyzel (Cinematical), Paul Clark (ScreenGrab), DVD Talk, Bryant Frazer, Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:24 AM

Criterion's Blast of Silence.

Blast of Silence David Pratt-Robson in the Auteurs' Notebook: "By the time of Blast of Silence, Walter Benjamin, if not Edgar Allan Poe himself, had long ago laid the connection between detective fiction and flâneurs, and a new type of consciousness (emblematized specially by the modern phenomenon of movie-going), in which the crux of identity lies in nothing innate and little lasting, but in the act of perceiving, and, perceiving, in particular, the city: detective's work. Yet neorealism would seem to be a necessary condition for flâneur movies, which, despite Night and the City's influence, may be why relatively few major noirs followed in Benjamin's tradition, devoted entirely to cutting through swaths of city spaces and social milieus, to exploring parties and restaurants and businesses around town in an ostensible search for clues, and to depicting a man as he finds or loses himself - perhaps the same thing - in urban phantasmagoria.... But, if long post-Poe, Allen Baron's Blast of Silence still did it all years ago."

Updated through 4/21.

"The studiously gray, unglamorous views of 1961 Manhattan - St Marks Place, where Frankie takes a room at the Valencia Hotel; the blanked-out East 30s, where Frankie's mark has a girlfriend stashed in a walk-up apartment - are worth the price of admission alone," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Here's what was being left out of those Madison Avenue melodramas and Park Avenue romances of the period."

"The film plays like an unholy marriage between the realist films noir of the 40s like The Naked City and the early independent dramas of John Cassavetes, with a narrator (uncredited Lional Stander) speaking in second person like the twisted inner voice of a soul that has been basting in antipathy and spite for years," writes Sean Axmaker for MSN Movies. "The hard-boiled riffs play like pulp beat poetry distilled into pure misanthropic cynicism."

"Blast of Silence is possibly the great lost masterpiece of film noir; a twilit, deathward emanation of everything that had underlain the form from its beginnings," wrote Tom Sutpen in Bright Lights Film Journal in 2005. "No American film before it, made in Hollywood or anywhere else, had trafficked so promiscuously in unadulterated nihilism, or so used the condition of Hate - constant, irritated Hate, with no coherent Other to direct it toward - as its emotional motif."

As for Criterion's edition, Gary W Tooze at DVD Beaver assures us that "this is the best digital image of the film to date... and possibly ever."

"Beyond the packaging bonuses, there are four features on the DVD itself," notes Jamie S Rich at DVD Talk. "The final extra is a brand-new, hour-long documentary called Requiem for a Killer: The Making of Blast of Silence. It's both a biography of the film and of Allen Baron, of his love affair with the city he grew up in, how he got into cinema, and how he made this impressive debut. Culled from an older German TV program, it's built around Baron taking us on a walking tour of Manhattan, telling us a ton of great stories of the time when Blast of Silence was made. The revelation that he had been a cartoonist makes the comic book stuff even more apropos."

Update, 4/16: Glenn Kenny looks back on the days when...

... the home video revolution was occurring, and creating a new underground network of film collectors. These were guys (always guys) who would pore over the television listings of local stations within a hundred mile radius - or whatever they were comfortable with, sometimes more - and when they came across a picture they absolutely had to have, they'd lug their big, bulky VCR into their car, drive out to a motel, check in, hook the deck to the motel's television, and tape the film. It was via this method that I acquired my very first copy of Blast of Silence back around 1986. A Betamax copy, of course, because Betamax was the format of serious people.

Updates, 4/17: Eric Henderson in Slant: "The neglected standing of Blast of Silence is the film's own best proof of its uniquely wallflowerish take on film noir tropes."

For Newsarama, Zach Smith talks with Sean Phillips, whose "art can be found all over" Criterion's package. Volume 1 of his series Criminal features illustrations of an essay on Blast by Patton Oswalt, posted on the comedian's MySpace blog (click his name to see it).

Update, 4/18: "You know you're a part of something when it feels like both the last 'real' noir, a kiss of death to that movement as we knew it, while also one of the first true neo-realist American independents," writes Craig Phillips at the Guru.

Update, 4/21: "You know the movie's not perfect. The plot gets a little convenient, and if he can't see the ending coming you figure Baby Boy Frankie Bono may not be the sharpest cannon in the shed," writes Vince Keenan. "But you're not watching this one for the story. No. You're watching it for the mood."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:11 AM | Comments (1)

April 14, 2008

Shorts, 4/14.

The Big Country "What The Big Country demonstrates is that [Charlton] Heston was really a character actor in a leading man's body, and that his basic character was not Moses or Ben Hur or El Cid but the weak and flawed inhabitant of a physical frame he could not live up to," writes Stanley Fish. "In some of his finest films, he plays that role even when he is the leading man."

Also in the New York Times: "If you want to know how the Olympic torch really began its 'Journey of Harmony,' as the Chinese call its current relay, if you want to see why the torch has had to pass through a human obstacle course composed of protesters, SWAT teams and police in San Francisco, Paris and London, then do not look to Tibet's grievances against China," writes Edward Rothstein. "Look to the opening of Leni Riefenstahl's 1938 film, Olympia."

And Frank Rich has seen Standard Operating Procedure:

Sympathetic critics will tell us it's our civic duty to see it. The usual suspects will try to besmirch Mr. Morris's patriotism. But none of that will much matter. Standard Operating Procedure will reach the director's avid core audience, but it is likely to be avoided by most everyone else no matter what praise or controversy it whips up.... Iraq is to moviegoers what garlic is to vampires.

This is not merely a showbiz phenomenon but a leading indicator of where our entire culture is right now. It's not just torture we want to avoid. Most Americans don't want to hear, see or feel anything about Iraq, whether they support the war or oppose it. They want to look away, period, and have been doing so for some time.... Unable to even look at the fiasco anymore, the nation is now just waiting for someone to administer the last rites.

The Wild Life of Sailor and Lula Chicagoist's Rob Christopher talks with Barry Gifford "about Wild at Heart, working with David Lynch, his love for the writing of Nelson Algren, and the mysterious enduring popularity of the Cubs."

David Edelstein's "New York Movies Canon" has the Guardian's Danny Leigh and Reeler ST VanAirsdale thinking about what's happened to the idea of New York in the movies during the last decade or so.

"Angel Díez's reverent and elegiac rumination on the iconoclastic, deeply personal cinema of Jean Eustache, La peine perdue de Jean Eustache (The Lost Sorrows of Jean Eustache) hews closer to essay film than straightforward documentary, a muted, brooding tone piece where loss, grief, and mourning are reflected in the images of empty spaces, fragmented figures, and extended silences." Acquarello.

Deep End "Dieter Eppler, a German-born but quite international actor whose career encompassed everything from Edgar Wallace krimis and Italian vampire films to the occasional art film like Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End, has died in his hometown of Stuttgart, Germany at the age of 81." Tim Lucas offers a toast.

Jay Slater's survey in Film Threat: "The Perverse, Deranged and Lost Movies of Alberto Cavallone."

"Darktown Strutters brings up an important issue for blaxploitation and cinema in general: can filmmakers adequately depict a culture they are not a part of and should their voice be considered as valid as those coming from within?" David Carter at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Borys Kit for the Hollywood Reporter: "Shia LaBeouf is making a trip to The Dark Fields, a thriller Neil Burger is directing for Universal." LaBeouf's character "gets his hands on a top-secret pharmaceutical drug that makes you smarter. He experiences sudden financial and social success but soon discovers that the drug has lethal and lasting side effects, including 'trip-switching,' a phenomenon in which time moves with a stop-motion quality."

Human Desire "Though Jean Renoir's The Human Beast has become the more well known and well respected film, Fritz Lang's American remake Human Desire is an equally provocative film of fate, passion, and suspense." Jeff Markam's got the Noir of the Week.

Vince Keenan recommends a few show business melodramas.

A slew of stars have switched talent agencies lately and "the swaps have grown so frequent and significant that many in the industry have been startled by all the big moves, which some say are a reaction to an overall contraction in the movie business," reports John Horn. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Josh Getlin on "the rapidly shifting terrain in the book-to-film world and the increasing convergence of New York literati and Hollywood filmmakers."

Mike Everleth's enjoyed J Hoberman's The Dream Life: "Although Hoberman's book is subtitled Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties, he actually covers material that extends into the 70s and 80s, ending with Brian De Palma's Blow Out, which came out in 1981. It's as if Hoberman had so much fun writing about one decade, he couldn't stop himself from keep going into two more."

Paul Matwychuk talks with David Hajdu about his book, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. Bookforum collects reviews.

Online browsing and viewing tip. Via Jason Kottke, The Art of the Title Sequence.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:14 PM

Issues, 4/14.

MovieMaker Spring 08 Way overdue on a mention of Issue 10 of Scope, dated, gulp, February 10. As always, the book reviews are a rewarding browse.

In the Spring 2008 issue of MovieMaker, Travis Crawford lists the "10 Greatest Rockumentaries of All-Time," while Jed Riffe offers "Advice for Aspiring Documentarians." David Fear talks with Tom McCarthy about The Visitor and Mallory Potosky collects quotes from the print version of the issue from half a dozen independent filmmakers.

Fresh commentary and interviews are up at the Queer Film Review.

Issues of Offscreen to catch up with: "Popular Cinemas Past and Present," "Off the Beaten Track," "Critical Methodologies," "Popular Italian Cinema" and a "Film Noir Special."

KinoKultura, covering the cinemas of the regions east of where the Berlin Wall once stood through to Russia, has its April 2008 issue up.

Then, POV goes deep into three short films: Alison Maclean's Kitchen Sink, Hossein Martin Fazeli's T-Shirt and Radu Jude's The Tube with a Hat.

Also, Marina Kaceanov on New Romanian Cinema and Anca Mitroi's interview with Adrian Sitaru.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:39 PM

Fests and events, 4/14.

The Howling "I had the privilege of visiting Joe Dante in his office on the Warner Hollywood lot to talk about the movies he's programmed as the curator of the Dante's Inferno film festival at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles." On top of the interview, Dennis Cozzalio's got some clips, too. "We begin by talking about his legendary project The Movie Orgy, which screens as the festival's closing-night feature."

"[T]he majority of documentaries made for the armed forces or general release [during WWII] were more propaganda films to rally the troops and the country," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "Then John Huston entered the picture. And war documentaries grew up." The Academy will be screening "John Huston's Suppressed World War II Documentaries" on Tuesday evening.

The cinetrix discovers that Cornell Cinema is screening a two-day series of films by Leonard Retel Helmrich on Thursday and Friday - and she's blurbing it, too.

In San Francisco:

SFIF 51

  • "With two films from Argentina, two from Brazil, one from Chile, and a short from Colombia, the sampling of South American cinema in this year's [San Francisco International Film Festival] line-up is considerably less ample than in past years," writes Michael Guillén. "Notwithstanding, the sextet warrants mention."

  • Speaking with Johnny Symons about his documentary Ask Not, Michael Fox opens a series of SF360 interviews with Bay Area filmmakers with films screening at the SFIFF.

  • "Justicia Now! is a documentary about Chevron Texaco's toxic legacy in the Northern Ecuadorian region of the Amazon rainforest - and a courageous group of people called Los Afectados (The Affected Ones) who are seeking justice for the ensuing cancer, sickness and death in the largest environmental class action lawsuit in history." Premiering in San Francisco at the Roxie on April 17.

  • At the Siffblog, Anne M Hockens looks back on the one-day Jazz + Silent Film Festival at the Castro: Sherlock Jr, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Nosferatu, all accompanied by the Club Foot Orchestra.

"On April 21, The Importance of Being Earnest kicks off the Edmonton Film Society's spring screening series - this one devoted to British comedies of the 40s and 50s," notes Paul Matwychuk. "In some ways, Earnest is the odd film out among these eight titles."

Krazy! Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art. At the Vancouver Art Gallery from May 17 through September 7.

"Sunny, warm weather and a sea of smiling faces greeted attendees of the Sarasota Film Festival as the southwestern Florida event wrapped its tenth anniversary and continues to grow in prominence as an important part of the film festival circuit," reports James Israel at indieWIRE. Also:

  • Matt Dentler's got stories and pix.

  • AJ Schnack's got a note on serving on the documentary jury: "[T]he process is ephemeral and, dare I say, a bit mysterious even to the participants."

  • The IFC's Alison Willmore enjoyed "a kick-ass mix of an ambitious and wide-ranging film line-up from programmers Tom Hall and Holly Herrick, lavish, gown-and-tux-and-shrimp cocktail parties, and downtime on the beach." And she's got the award-winners.

The 10th Maryland Film Festival runs May 1 through 4.

The mission of the Humanitarian Media Foundation, set to launch on May 1: "Employ multiple forms of media (film, television, journalism, photojournalism art, photography, music) to explore aspects of domestic and international humanitarian crises, issues and histories; raise awareness for humanitarian matters; and facilitate change in areas where it is most needed." And a festival's in the works.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:31 PM

Big news @ SXSW.

SXSW Film "Janet Pierson is taking the place of Matt Dentler as the producer of the SXSW Film Festival and Conference."

The Austin American-Statesman's Chris Garcia cuts to the chase, then passes along the press release.

Updated through 4/15.

Major congrats to Janet, whom I had the pleasure of (finally!) meeting in March. Many of us became a bit acquainted with her first via her husband John Pierson's book, Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes, then got to know her a little better with the release of Reel Paradise, chronicling the family's year programming a movie theater in Fiji. Jonathan Marlow interviewed the Piersons in September 05.

Congrats, too, to Matt, who's moving to New York City to head up the marketing and programming operations of Cinetic Media's new digital rights management unit. As I've said here in the past, any history of American independent cinema in the 00s is going to have to include a passage on the impact of Matt's smarts, instincts and sheer guts as a programmer. Not just for the selections he's made in his years as a producer of the festival, and not just for the guiding hand he's offered to many of the filmmakers SXSW has hosted, but also for creating an environment that's allowed a pretty unique community of filmmakers and film lovers to flourish each spring in Austin.

For more news and initial commentary for now, turn to indieWIRE's Brian Brooks and Eugene Hernandez.

Updates, 4/15: More from Brian and Eugene at indieWIRE as they talk with both Janet Pierson and Matt Dentler about their respective futures. Nice bit here: "Asked to summarize CRM for iW, Matt Dentler explained simply, 'It's taking what I consider to be the gold standard of indie film representation and creating an extra aspect that is going to explore avenues that [filmmakers] think about and know about, but don't know how to explore.' 20 years ago it was the Piersons... who emerged to shepherd indie films into distribution." Janet: "I've seen festivals change and grow, replacing the old art film world that I came of age with. So, it's particularly fascinating to be a part of that evolution. My work both before John and with John has been championing work and connecting film with audiences."

Scott Kirsner is a bit skeptical about Cinetic's plans.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:10 PM

Online viewing, 4/14.

Mazursky and Jaglom At Wellesnet, "two fantastic scenes of Paul Mazursky and Henry Jaglom from The Other Side of the Wind."

A work in progress: Martijn Hendriks's Give Us Today Our Daily Terror: "Exact copy of Hitchcock's 1963 film The Birds from which all birds have been removed. Single channel video, color, 119 minutes." Via Waxy.

"Beginning at Zero: Notes on Cinema and Society." Pacze Moj presents an article "by Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha intellectual leader of the Cinema Novo, from the Winter 1970 issue of the Drama Review. Translation by Joanne Pottlitzer." And a list of related torrents.

Bob Turnbull: "Precious Images is the name of Chuck Workman's 1986 Oscar winning short film that edits together 100 years of moments from film (English language film that is - it was made for the Directors' Guild of America)."

At Vinyl Is Heavy, an excerpt from Marc Lafia's Harry, Zelda and Antoinette and Steven Boone's turkey and cheese.

From Todd Brown at Twitch, a trailer for Yasuhiro Yoshiura's Eve No Jikan (Time of Eve).

David Poland's found a trailer for Speed Racer that has me thinking back to the days when a certain generation indulged in mind-altering substances and watched Tron over and over and over again.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:37 AM | Comments (2)

American Cinema Anniversary Blog-a-Thon.

The American Cinema "As announced a month or so ago, this is a blog-a-thon to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Andrew Sarris's The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929 - 1968, one of my personal favorite books on film and one of surpassing influence," writes Adam at Film at 11. "Starting this week (and hopefully beyond), you'll be seeing entries on directors since 1968 from all around the blogosphere." Because, as he wrote in February, the idea here is "to write up the next generation of The American Cinema by tackling the careers of auteurs since."

Via Peter Nellhaus, who contributes an entry on Lucky McKee. By the way, as a further sign of the book's persistent influence, this is similar to a project DK Holm has picked up and worked on now and then; see, for example, his entry on Gregory Hoblit - or for that matter, Lucky McKee.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:22 AM | Comments (1)

Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall "From its raunchy, genitally obsessed dialogue to its tender heart, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is instantly recognizable as a product of Clubhouse Apatow," writes Newsweek's David Ansen. "Its director, first-timer Nicholas Stoller, and its writer and star, Jason Segel, are alumni of Judd Apatow's cult TV shows Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks.... The breakup scene is not one you're likely to forget, for Peter is buck naked when Sarah breaks the bad news, and remains that way throughout the entire scene. It's a new, and startling, use of full-frontal male nudity - one that makes his emotional vulnerability hilariously, uncomfortably literal."

Updated through 4/18.

For Scott Weinberg, writing at Cinematical, this is "a semi-romantic comedy that covers some of the same ground as The Break-Up and The Heartbreak Kid but does one thing differently: It delivers a lot of laughs."

"Segel's script frequently enlivens pedestrian scenarios with sharp verbal back-and-forths and sudden cutaways to bizarre gags, and in the story's bookending scenes of heartache and bliss, it also finds - via phallic money shots - a perfectly hilarious encapsulation of the vulnerability that comes from being in love," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"The vacation-spot coincidence is so lame a plot turn that you groan over it, but there's a benefit here - the boyfriend, one Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a Brit rocker and professional sex god, turns out to be the best thing in the movie," writes David Denby in the New Yorker.

"Aldous may be suffused by his sense of entitlement, but he's arguably the most honest and self-aware person on screen, and Brand's performance is marvelously droll and controlled," agrees Joe Leydon in Variety.

Dave Itzkoff profiles Segel for the New York Times: "[H]e insisted that the scene of him in the altogether appear in Forgetting Sarah Marshall in all its cringe-inducing glory, because it actually happened to him." More from Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times.

Updates: Online viewing tip. Sujewa Ekanayake has Brand's BBC Four tribute to On the Road.

"Yeah, it's pretty funny," admits Premiere's Glenn Kenny. "And it's a pretty accurate depiction of a certain feature of male romantic humiliation. But it's also a little - and this is one of my two misgivings about the movie - expected. The Apatow formula hasn't curdled just yet, but there's a certain can-you-top-this? tone cropping up in its raunch."

"If there's a myth we cling to in America, it's that life is arranged in stages of "personal growth," and each one leads to a higher plane of enlightenment," writes Jim Emerson at MSN Movies. "But Apatow seems at least somewhat ambivalent about the idea, which is why his movies tend to end with reunions rather than the weddings or engagements that have concluded traditional comedies for centuries."

Patrick Walsh talks with Stoller for Cinematical; and Mallory Potosky talks with him for MovieMaker.

Updates, 4/16: "Lost in the quasi-backlash against Knocked Up and its questionable procreative politics was Judd Apatow's greater artistic crime as writer/director/producer/comedy godhead: his unabashed conformity, a middlebrowization of potentially subversive humor for the purposes of white, upper-middle-class hegemony," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "In this respect Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the least troublesome product to emerge from the Apatow factory."

"The smartest thing about Segel's script is its spirit of generosity," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "It's a pleasure spending time with these people, which is a rare enough feeling to have at a movie these days."

"Segel's willing to go to dark, weird places his contemporaries won't," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "[W]ithout Segel bravely channeling 'his own anxieties and obsessions into his clowning,' as Pauline Kael wrote about Woody Allen 24 years ago, Forgetting Sarah Marshall would have been easily forgettable and, one might even say, limp."

Updates, 4/17: "Sarah deftly mixes raunchy, R-rated comedy with an intelligent, humane look at the foibles of the heart that's almost like something out of an Eric Rohmer movie," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall has perhaps already earned the distinction of the funniest movie of the year," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly.

Eric Kohn, writing in the New York Press, prefers The Palm Beach Story.

Updates, 4/18: "Forgetting Sarah Marshall does not entirely play by the established conventions of its genre," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Its willingness to explore states of feeling and modes of behavior that tamer romantic comedies never go near is decidedly a virtue, though this same sense of daring and candor also exposes its limitations."

With Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Apatow "moves one step closer to becoming a brand name rather than a breathing, thinking presence with a distinct sensibility," argues Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. The film "is less Apatow than it is Apatowistic. Behind every gag - and some of them are inspired, if poorly executed - you can hear the scratchy sound of a checklist item being ticked off or, worse, the not-so-faint jingle of cashing in."

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall could be pegged as yet another Apatow tale of arrested adolescence, but Segel has always played more a serial monogamist than a horndog, and his earnest, self-deprecating screen persona graces the film's crudest moments with a kind of innocence," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"If Forgetting Sarah Marshall lacks the heady mix of sheer exuberance and unexpected maturity of the granddaddy of the genre, Apatow's 40-Year-Old Virgin, it's more soulful than Knocked Up and more inclusive than Superbad," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

"Peter doesn't bother to mask his insecurity with raunchy bravado, like Seth Rogen in Knocked Up or the foulmouthed seniors of Superbad," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "The crying, like the nudity, is funny in itself—not because the audience is insensitive to Peter's suffering but because his baby-bird vulnerability so thoroughly subverts our expectations of how a male romantic lead should behave.... Like its hero, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a little soft around the middle, but all the more loveable for that."

"Like most Apatow-influenced movies, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is, at heart, about forgiveness," writes Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com. "We all do stupid, destructive and self-destructive things for which we're probably not going to forgive ourselves, so the best thing in the world is when somebody else forgives us. In the movie's moral universe, there are no irredeemably bad people - just those afflicted to various degrees with shallowness, immaturity, selfishness, obliviousness, ambition."

The film "navigates the indignities of a big breakup while providing enough romantic comedy elements to keep date audiences happy," writes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun. Also: "If our new crop of young male movie stars has anything to say about it, unsexy male nudity may be populating the Internet in years to come."

Will Lawrence talks with Brand for the Telegraph.

"Sarah Marshall is a very funny movie," writes Patrick Walsh at Cinematical. "But its faults - its sloppiness, its tendency to let improvisation roll past the point of laughter, its relationships that simply don't ring true - are what separate this Judd Apatow production from a Judd Apatow film." Also, Monika Bartyzel lists seven "Bad and Bitter Movie Breakups."

"This is a fairly low-keyed comedy, but a grown-up dropping in on it can appreciate its lack of frenzy, its fundamental good nature, as easily as its core audience will," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "It isn't exactly a gem, but as zircons go, it'll do."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:06 AM | Comments (2)

April 13, 2008

Critics, 4/13.

Museum of the Moving Image With the Moving Image Institute in Film Criticism and Feature Writing rolling on through Tuesday and so many entries going up here lately related to critics and criticism in general, I thought a catch-all entry might be in order again. Kevin Lee has a full report on the first day of the MII seminar, and I noted Karina Longworth's earlier. For Doug Cummings, yesterday's highlight "was meeting Andrew Sarris (who turns 80 this year) and Molly Haskell, two highly influential but shockingly modest and enthusiastic critics who proved to be a joy to interact with during our session as well as dinner afterward.... 'I'm truly the sum of all the conversations I've had about the movies,' he told us. Sarris does teach at Columbia today, and he was quick to graciously assert that 'kids today write much better about film then I did when I first started.'"

Updated through 4/18.

Online listening tip. At the House Next Door, John Lichman and Vadim Rizov host an informal roundtable on a wide variety of related topics. Good listening.

Recently noted: Michael Atkinson and Gary Dretzka.

Recent related entries: "Roger & We," "Help DK Holm" and "French's 30 years."

Updates, 4/14: "Underlining virtually all of our discussions this weekend is the need to find or create an audience, a topic that goes far beyond commercial profits and into cultural transformation," writes Doug Cummings from the MII. "I believe one of the central purposes of criticism is to convince or convert, to educate and inspire. When critics decide their writing should be determined by others (implicitly or explicitly), they cease to matter."

Kevin Lee finds the bloggers' panel (Eugene Hernandez, Michael Koresky, Matt Zoller Seitz and ST VanAirsdale) to be "the most free-wheeling discussion during the Institute.... When the elephant-in-the-room question was raised about what distinguishes a paid critic from an unpaid critic, the discussion sidestepped into a somewhat related binary between professional vs. amateur criticism, leaving me to conclude that with paid film writing gigs shriveling away, both distinctions are moot." Also, notes on talks by visiting filmmakers Kelly Reichardt, Tom Kalin and Ellen Kuras.

Also, as you may have seen, there's an "American Cinema Anniversary Blog-a-Thon" going on.

Updates, 4/15: "To take the ongoing critical downsizing as proof there is a shrinking audience for film criticism is to indulge in a classic piece of false logic," writes Screen's Lee Marshall. "I would argue that more people are reading more film reviews than ever before." Via Movie City News.

Looker notes that AO Scott is a family sort of guy.

Update, 4/16: "The Haskell/Sarris Hour (actually, several hours - the discussion continued over dinner, including wine for many of us and a vodka tonic for Sarris) was, for me, both the most purely pleasurable session of the Institute, and the portion of the program that gave me the strongest dose of film cultural-historical education," writes Karina Longworth. "It all came down through Andrew and Molly's candid storytelling. MOMI's David Schwartz more than once credited Sarris for having mastered the lecture-as-stand up comedy, but in our small group, with Haskell at his side snarkily finishing sentences, it felt more like lecture-as-autobiography. With jokes."

Updates, 4/17: For the Los Angeles Times, Liz Brown reviews Richard Schickel's Film on Paper: The Inner Life of Movies: "Some writing does not benefit from being plucked from its original context. Gathered together, these essays form not so much a body of criticism or history as a series of finger exercises in dismissal."

Once again, Karina Longworth: "[N]early every guest speaker made some mention of making trade offs, of covering for noble failures with less-noble successes." And she's sparked a string of comments about comments.

Ray Pride sees that Pauline Kael was again all over the place this week.

Via the House Next Door, Jen Yamato talks with Nathan Lee for Rotten Tomatoes.

Updates, 4/18: "I'm longing for the day when bloggers and critics can get together in a room without pulling the hierarchical bullshit (and that includes paid bloggers looking down at those who do it for free) and flippant generalizations, and actually discuss how we're going to move forward and keep the art of genuine film criticism alive, because the threat is coming just as much from the corporate overlords as it is from those sullying the blogosphere," writes Filmbrain. "Plus, when you get right down to it, we're the only ones reading each other's work." And he points to a comment he's posted at Shooting Down Pictures.

"As a peekaboo glimpse of a certain kind of critical mindset, Scott's remark surprises me only in his willingness to let it slip publicly - for all the supposed blurring of boundaries between print critic and net commentator, author and audience, in my experience many print journalists still view blogs much as Margot did Tom and Barbara's pigs in The Good Life," writes the Guardian's Danny Leigh. "And yet, for whatever it might be worth, having spent a considerable chunk of the last year poring over film blogs both for my own pleasure and this column, I can say one thing with some conviction: while some among them may display a worrying interest in the minutiae of The Dark Knight, the gulf between the best blogs and the bulk of print film journalism is vast. For honesty, insight and nuance, not forgetting passion, breadth of cultural reference and welcome self-awareness, the newer voices often leave their supposed print role models looking like an irrelevance."

With MII over, Doug Cummings offers "some lingering images and quotes."

Glenn Kenny chimes in - most entertainingly, of course - on the gigglefest the blogs have been enjoying set off by Tom O'Neil's... critique?... of Sunrise.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:08 AM

April 12, 2008

Weekend shorts.

"Recently we lost two American actors who embodied widely different styles, and their passing is a reminder that the very presence of an actor can suggest everything about a film," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Dassin, Heston, Widmark

Adds John Patterson: "With the deaths of conservative Charlton Heston and liberal Richard Widmark within a week of each other (and with blacklisted director Jules Dassin sneaking less noisily off-stage midway between their two splashier exits), it feels as if the 1950s, that most lushly American of decades, are finally slipping over the horizon like the last sliver of land glimpsed from the stern of an ocean liner."

Also in the Guardian, Jeremy Kay reports on 3-D's comeback.

Chris Cagle launches Film of the Month Club: "Each month a member will select a film, after which other members can watch and post their reflections and reactions.... The idea behind this grab bag approach is to facilitate a conversation among all corners of the film blogosphere. And to watch more movies."

"After writing this indieWIRE article, 'Webolution or Wild Unknown,' about the not-so-distant future of digital rights and Internet-based distribution, it got me thinking how close we really are to Godfrey Cheshire's prophetic 1999 article, 'The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema' (a must-read to see how prophetic he was)," blogs Anthony Kaufman. "For FilmCatcher, I've written up a little op-ed, 'Against the Future of Cinema: There is No Such Thing as Small Movies,' which is definitely more opinion than journalism, and certainly ignores the realities of the marketplace for an idealistic call to action: Throw away your iPods, dump your Netflix subscription, stop saving for that AppleTV and get thee to a Movie Theater."

Related: Ricky D'Ambrose in the Tisch Film Review on "distinctions between the kinds of spaces available for film viewing (specifically, between private and public spaces of reception)."

Secret People "As I was watching some Thorold Dickinson films during his recent retrospective at the Walter Reade, I started thinking about dramaturgy, and how it relates to my tastes.... [I]t occurred to me that classical dramaturgy could be seen as a way of creating a relationship between internal and external views of a work of art." Dan Sallitt elaborates.

"The films of Georges Franju are full of sleepwalkers, automatons, and prisoners," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Oppressed stages of being reign over his characters, eclipsing psychology and even drama as signifiers for understanding his strange stories."

Continuing his series on films from the Pre-Code era, John McElwee turns to Mystery of the Wax Museum, in which "Warners brought its horrific nastiness closer to home thanks to modern settings. Again there was Fay Wray helpless and exposed, this time literally, as she lay convincingly nude before [Lionel] Atwill's admiring gaze. For once, audiences got what lurid advertising promised."

"Kristin and I have already written admiringly about Pixar on this site (here, here, and here). It's quite likely that this studio is making the most consistently excellent films in America today," writes David Bordwell, who describes a talk given by Bill Kinder, Director of Editorial and Post-Production: "I've always been uncertain about what an editor does in the animation process. Since every shot is planned and executed in detail, what can be left for an editor to do? Bill started from that question. No, editing digital animation isn't just a matter of cutting off the slates and splicing perfectly finished shots together."

The latest entry in Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Primer. And at Filmmaker, Scott Macaulay has a sort of Primer primer.

"Final preparations are underway before shooting begins on April 21 on the detective film Bellamy, the 54th feature by Claude Chabrol," reports Fabien Lemercier for Cineuropa. "The director will work for the first time with Gérard Depardieu."

"Japanese comedian / writer / painter / actor / director / whatever else he may want to be Takeshi Kitano unveiled his latest film Achilles to Kame (Achilles and the Tortoise) yesterday," notes Todd Brown at Twitch. "As has been his pattern with recent efforts he actually shot this one in secret before announcing it to the public - shooting began in February - and he's aiming to debut the picture in Venice."

Wuthering Heights "Natalie Portman is attached as the lead in a new film version of Wuthering Heights," reports Dade Hayes for Variety.

"Sam Raimi is extending his reach into the booming horror DVD genre," reports Thomas K Arnold for Reuters.

"Filmmaker/playwright Jang Jin has carved out a niche all his own in the film industry these past several years, and although he participates on Going By the Book as a screenwriter and producer - not a director - his contribution is unmistakable." Darcy Paquet at Koreanfilm.org.

"I can never forget Anthony, never repay my debt to him. But I will celebrate him every day for the rest of my life." In the London Times, Harvey Weinstein looks back on the highlights of making each movie, The English Patient on, with Anthony Minghella.

Vanity Fair runs an excerpt from David Kaufman's Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door.

Margy Rochlin talks with Helen Hunt about Then She Found Me, a film she's co-written, directed and stars in: "'In my life I've always thought, "As long as I understand the rules, it'll be OK." But the theme of the movie is that the sand is always shifting,' Ms Hunt said, with a laugh and a shudder. 'What a horrible thing to make a movie about.'"

Also in the New York Times:

  • "For a film about erotomania, Prom Night is a curiously flaccid affair, dampened by a risible villain (Johnathon Schaech) and a bloodless script that channels all its tension into the choosing of the prom king and queen," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. More from Alonso Duralde (MSNBC) and Nick Schager (Slant).

  • Again, Jeannette Catsoulis - on Tehelim: "If your goal is to illuminate the tension between Orthodox and Reform Judaism, losing your audience in liturgy may not be the best strategy."

  • "A generally entertaining but half-baked variation on Richard Linklater's high school period piece, Dazed and Confused (made in 1993, set in 1976), Remember the Daze (set in 1999) takes its cue from the earlier film in an excess of ways," writes Laura Kern. "Ultimately, the ensemble of more than 20 featured characters seems as vapid as the intentionally caricatured adults who pop up on occasion. Where are this decade's John Hugheses? Or even the Cameron Crowes?" More from Bob Baker in the Los Angeles Times.

Speaking of Hughes. In a piece for the New York Sun on the "Apatow imprint," Steve Dollar notes that Hughes "harbored a similar fascination with freaks and geeks, as well as situations arising out of adolescent (or adolescent-minded) social awkwardness. But Mr Hughes managed to create strong, sympathetic female characters who had more to offer than drunken rites of passage or stern lectures about putting childish things behind."

The House is Black "It is a curious anomaly in the male-dominated history of Middle Eastern cinema that female directors have been pioneers." In the Independent, Kaleem Aftab segues from the examples of Aziza Amir and Forugh Farrokhzad into talks with Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and Nadine Labaki (Caramel).

"The first half of this debut feature from director Brad Furman and screenwriters Joshua and Jonas Pate details the effects of Felix's injuries on him and his family, and in these sequences, Furman draws superb performances from [John] Leguizamo and [Rosie] Perez, two actors whose hyperactive energy has often been a distraction," writes Chuck Wilson, reviewing The Take for the Voice. So "when the screenwriters shift into revenge-thriller mode... one wishes that [Furman had] found a way to stay at the house with Felix and Marina, who don't need guns to thrill." More from Rachel Saltz (New York Times) and Bob Baker (Los Angeles Times).

"Hou [Hsiao-hsien] the outsider has adopted a teasing, playful, deliberately ungrounded viewpoint in Flight of the Red Balloon," writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. "He comes and goes so freely that you may be surprised, near the end, to realize how deeply he's drawn you into a down-to-earth story."

"There are very few filmmakers with the technique, style, and sheer will to create strange, instantly accessible worlds that not only draw the viewer in, but also remain in the mind as places worthy of revisiting," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "In America, David Lynch is the most obvious living example; for me, Guy Maddin, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro are among the others with that power... as is Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov, whose latest feature, Alexandra, opens this week at the Nuart." More from Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times.

Eric Gillin for Esquire: "With a new book, Real Hollywood Stories, in stores now, we talked to Scott Raab about his career annoying the crap out of celebrities."

Klute Stephen Armstrong profiles Donald Sutherland for the New Statesman.

Adam Ross's interviewee this week: James Frazier.

Bob Cashill presents a Summer 08 movie guide at Popdose.

In the Los Angeles Times, Chris Lee reports on yet another viral marketing campaign, this one for Quarantine, a remake of the Spanish [Rec]. Related: James Urbaniak on a possible case of viral marketing: "Who can tell anymore?"

As for [Rec], which opens this week in the UK, Nigel Floyd, writing in Time Out, finds it to be the "most effective of this year's Blair Witch-style shaky-cam horror movies" and "more focused and far scarier than either Cloverfield or Diary of the Dead." More, briefly, from Xan Brooks (Guardian) and Kevin Maher (London Times).

"At what point in the long and distinguished history of the horror film did the pump action shotgun become so seemingly indispensable to the genre?" wonders Arbogast. Adam Ross responds.

Ed Halter buys some books.

From Dan Jardine and Ben Livant at the House Next Door: an exchange on Rashomon. Also, Michael Healy on Shine a Light.

Dystopias: Dave Itzkoff on the ending of Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! (the novel on which Soylent Green was based); dizzie Ed with a bit of Orwell; Chris Barsanti on kids these days.

A Slip of the Tongue Online browsing tips, plus a spot of online viewing via Coudal Partners: "Cinemas of Italy" and "Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s." Then, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra.

Online listening tip #1. The Bryant Park Project performs the first few pages of that supposed screenplay for Oliver Stone's W.

Online listening tip #2. A Kindlings Muse round on several recent releases.

Online viewing tip #1. Josh Levin offers a primer on movie car crashes for SlateV.

Online viewing tip #2. At Cinematical, Eugene Novikov notes that the trailer for Neil LaBute's Lakeview Terrace is up at the site.

Online viewing tips, round 1. "This insane montage of every instance of 'What?' from the Lost series started me thinking about this genre of video meme, where some obsessive-compulsive superfan collects every phrase/action/cliche from an episode (or entire series) of their favorite show/film/game into a single massive video montage," writes Andy Baio. "For lack of a better name, let's call them 'supercuts.'"

Online viewing tips, round 2. Twitch's Todd Brown notes that Europa Net's got behind-the-scenes interviews shot during the making of Christopher Doyle's Warsaw Dark.

Online viewing tips, round 3. More from Jerry Lentz: Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Filmmaker, a doc made in 1970 and fascinating to see now; Eraserhead Neighborhood; and Rick Fahle talks with Julie Andrews about Home: A Memoir of My Early Years for Borders.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:30 PM

Fests and events, 4/12.

Ascenseur pour l'echafaud "The forthcoming exhibition of jazz-related movies, posters, video clips and merchandise at the Museum of Modern Art is dauntingly vast, but its title could not be plainer: Jazz Score." Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Times: "Those two words encompass the exhibition's breadth and depth as well as its provocative omissions, and they allude to jazz's complex, somewhat wary interaction with cinema - one that's fundamentally different from the alliance between film and its longtime go-to music source, classical."

Joe Leydon's all set to go the Nashville Film Festival. April 17 through 24.

"Once you've been to the Williamsburg, Brooklyn bar/experimental restaurant/performance space [Monkey Town], which features a four-screen, communal comfy couch, 6.1 surround-sound 'theater in the round' as its centerpiece, you'll wonder why you spend ten bucks or more sitting like a zombie in an outdated, auditorium-style dive with a bucket of stale popcorn and your feet stuck to the ground," writes Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door. "And in keeping with its mission to go beyond the cutting edge, Monkey Town recently offered a four-day festival of Silent Films + Unique Instruments, the first screening of which - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916) scored with 'pencilina' and cello - was an innovative delight." Through Sunday.

The Edge of Love "Director John Maybury's Dylan Thomas biopic The Edge of Love has been announced as the Opening Gala of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) that runs June 18 - 29." Naman Ramachandran reports for Cineuropa.

In the San Francisco Bay Area? Do check in with Brian Darr.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:24 AM

Roger & We.

Roger Ebert: Awake in the Dark Roger Ebert may have bid farewell to broadcasting, but it is his "print corpus that will sustain Mr Ebert's reputation as one of the few authentic giants in a field in which self-importance frequently overshadows accomplishment," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "His writing may lack the polemical dazzle and theoretical muscle of Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, whose names must dutifully be invoked in any consideration of American film criticism. In their heyday those two were warriors, system-builders and intellectual adventurers on a grand scale. But the plain-spoken Midwestern clarity of Mr Ebert's prose and his genial, conversational presence on the page may, in the end, make him a more useful and reliable companion for the dedicated moviegoer."

As it happens, Scott opened the Moving Image Institute in Film Criticism and Feature Writing yesterday and Karina Longworth has an initial take at the SpoutBlog well worth reading top to bottom: "The Scott session, for me, reinforced the notion that there's a divide between those of us who struggle to cobble together a living out of our engagement with the online film community, and those who, because of age or professional stature or other factors that I'm too young and naive to grasp, see the increasing empowerment of the audience as a nuisance."

So let's think back a few years and doubly appreciate what Scott calls Ebert's "genial, conversational presence." Ebert, who's been writing for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967 and is now returning after a bout with health problems you've surely heard all about, has been online since 1983. No, that's not a typo. "I've been a subscriber to CompuServe since I got my Tandy model 100 in about 1983," he told Paul Kedrosky in the January 1996 issue of Wired. Granted, the focus of the interview is on Ebert's hassles with being overwhelmed by thousands of readers scrambling for a piece of him, but the point is, for decades, from the pre-Web online forum days on, Ebert's been actively seeking out ways to genially converse with fellow film enthusiasts: "I am a better critic now, because I am engaged in an ongoing criticism of my work by people who are not in the least impressed by my reputation."

Read that Kedrosky interview. Sure, a few details are 1996-specific ("E-Mail Addresses of the Rich & Famous," a deluge of AOL discs), but much of what Ebert has to say about learning from readers who disagree with him, even as he sticks to his guns (the "critic who tries to reflect the views of his audience is not a critic, he's a ventriloquist") as well as what Josh Bell has to say in his comment on Karina's entry are encouraging signs that film criticism will thrive long after this or that tower crumbles.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:03 AM | Comments (1)

April 11, 2008

Help DK Holm.

DK Holm It's been a while since I've heard from DK Holm, a contributor to the Daily and the writer of not only one of the most popular but also one of the best pieces we've ever run at the main site, his profile of Tim Lucas. And now, via an entry from Shawn Levy, I may know why. "Help DK Holm" delivers the disturbing news that Doug's "suffering from a very treatable case of esophageal cancer. However, he is also, as he puts it, 'the American nightmare' - uninsured and facing thousands of dollars in medical bills for chemotherapy and surgery."

But here's the encouraging part: "His colleagues and friends want to help defray some of these costs. There is a fundraiser." If you're in Portland, a city that's already pitching in to make this an evening to remember, you might want to mark the date: Sunday, April 27. Place: Cinema 21. But you don't have to be in Portland to help. More info here.

Update, 4/12: Doug posts a round of capsule reviews of recently released movies at the Vancouver Voice's blog.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:46 PM | Comments (2)

Plays, 4/11.

Lost Highway "English National Opera's latest venture - three weeks of contemporary opera in the intimate space of the Young Vic theatre - is launched with the UK premiere of Olga Neuwirth's Lost Highway," writes Andrew Clements in the Guardian. "Based on David Lynch's 1997 film, Neuwirth's theatre piece has travelled widely since it was first seen five years ago - mainly, one suspects, because Lynch fans have been curious to discover how such a psychological thriller could be reinvented for the lyric stage.... If Lynch's compelling storytelling survives its transformation, it is debatable whether that is because of Neuwirth's score or in spite of it. But the show is worth seeing: this is contemporary European music theatre of a kind rarely staged in Britain."

Updated through 4/12.

More from Rupert Christiansen (Telegraph) and Richard Morrison (London Times). And by the way, in the LA City Beat, Andy Klein reviews the new DVD release of the film.

At the 29th St Rep through May 4: Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, adapted by Kate Harris. "It was unlikely for the stage, and unlikelier still for a 74-seat house, but leave it to clever, industrious Chicagoans to figure out a credible way to make it work," writes Robert Cashill. And Sam Thielman has a full review in Variety.

Norman Norman McLaren "is virtually unknown outside art-school studios, but a stage show that reaches Stirling this week should revitalise the reputation of one of the most original artists that modern Britain has produced," writes Erlend Clouston in the Guardian. Norman is at the MacRobert Arts Centre from April 17 through 19 and at the Theatre Royal in Brighton from May 6 through 10. Update: John Coulthart goes looking for a bit of online viewing - and finds it.

Brian Logan talks with Tom Stoppard for the London Times.

Update, 4/12: "Margaret Martin is, to say the least, a highly unlikely choice to write the book, lyrics and music for a major West End musical version of Gone With the Wind," write Donna and David Kornhaber, who talk with her in London for the New York Times. "Her adaptation, which began previews on April 4, opens at the New London Theatre here on April 22."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:53 PM

Docs, 4/11.

Expelled Via Chris Barsanti, Ivan Oransky introduces a Scientific American package on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Ben Stein's "Michael Moore-style documentary confronting a contemporary scientific status quo that harbors a zero-tolerance policy for the theory of intelligent design in scientific research and American classrooms," as Bruce Bennett puts it in the New York Sun. As you'd imagine, SA isn't nearly as sympathetic. Oransky notes that Michael Shermer is "dumbfounded by the movie's dishonesty," while John Rennie argues "that the movie's attempts to link the theory of evolution to the Holocaust are shameful." And there's a podcast, too.

Errol Morris picks up where he left off; much of his new entry, "Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part Two)," is a conversation with "Dan Levin, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, who has been involved in various studies of continuity errors in film and otherwise."

Related: Ron Rosenbaum in Slate: "Slo-mo is virtually the standard operating speed of Standard Operating Procedure. I think there's a reason (and a revelation) inherent in its use, which I'll get to. But first let me talk about why I find slo-mo so seductive in the first place."

Bulletproof Salesman

Bulletproof Salesman "introduces us to Fidelis Cloer, a war profiteer who sells armored cars to diplomats, journalists, and others working in Iraq," writes Chuck Tryon. "Bulletproof Salesman, like [Michael] Tucker and [Petra] Epperlein's two previous documentaries on the Iraq War, Gunner Palace and The Prisoner Or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair, avoids any simple political positions, instead choosing to introduce us to one face of a man who profits off of war. The film works, in part, because Cloer is a natural salesman, selling himself just as quickly as he sells bulletproof cars and vests, as well as other safety devices. In fact, as Variety reviewer Joe Leydon observes, there is an extent to which Cloer seems like he would be a charming dinner guest until you develop a full understanding of his occupation and its dependence on the continuation of the war, or perhaps of war in general."

In the New York Times:

  • "Young & Restless in China, Sue Williams's latest documentary about that country, follows an assortment of youngish adults as they try to find places for themselves in a rapidly changing social and economic landscape," writes Neil Genzlinger. "[S]oon it becomes clear that everything about them is just like us: health insurance problems, environmental concerns, citizen protests, declining spirituality, the tug of war between work and family obligations. And that makes the film, which follows nine subjects from 2004 until relatively recently, kind of pedestrian." More from Carina Chocano (Los Angeles Times), Noel Murray (AV Club) and Michael Joshua Rowin (indieWIRE).

  • "The teachings of the Buddha infiltrate a maximum-security prison in The Dhamma Brothers, a thinking-head documentary about finding answers within for those who can't get out," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. More from Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "The Dhamma Brothers builds internal tension effectively, especially when you consider that its core 'action' consists of a group of men sitting on cushions in total silence." Related: For the New York Press, Amre Klimchack talks with co-director and co-producer Jenny Phillips.

"Adding to the rich tradition of family-friendly nature documentaries finding success on the big screen - Microcosmos, Winged Migration, March of the Penguins - Earth is possibly one of the most ambitious to date," writes Matt Riviera.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:29 PM

Fests and events, 4/11.

The River "For a Better America: The New Deal on Film, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt's economic recovery legislation, will be presented in three segments at Columbia College on April 16," writes the Chicago Reader's JR Jones. "[T]he most rewarding segment is the third one, which focuses on documentary maker Pare Lorentz and his brief, controversial tenure as head of the national film service, from 1938 to 1940."

In the Guardian, Leo Benedictus talks with Mike Figgis about Soho Composites, his show of photographs at the Photographers' Gallery in London. Through Sunday.

Michael Tully has lots of pix from the Sarasota Film Festival, which rolls on through Sunday.

Goings on in Pittsburgh? Andy Horbal's got you covered: The Duchess of Langeais at the Manor Theatre, the Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival and the Russian Film Symposium 2008, "The Ideological Cult: Russian Cinema Under Putin."

Reeler ST VanAirsdale has the lineup for this year's Sundance at BAM program running May 28 through June 8.

Belmondo vs Mastroianni

Duel of the Cool: Belmondo vs Mastroianni, April 29 through May 14 at Northwest Film Forum.

"The Banff Mountain Film Festival made its decidedly unglamorous third appearance in Austin last weekend, giving Austin's outdoorsy crowd its fill of BASE jumping, paragliding, snow skiing and other extreme sports." Pamela LeBlanc reports at the Austin Movie Blog.

"A Necessary Death is sustained by a provocative premise: a filmed suicide," writes Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, still catching up with SXSW (and a helluva lot farther than I am on that). "The question of ethics notwithstanding, it is possible, even meritable, for the film to function solely as exploitation. But it doesn't - it's standoffish exploitation at best." But Nights and Weekends is "at times bold, intimate, unfunny, and discomforting, but it is never anything less than sincere."

Philip Roth's 75th Birthday Tribute at Columbia University will probably have already taken place by the time you read this; but Vulture's version of how it might have gone is still fun. Silly, but fun.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:11 PM

French's 30 years.

Philip French It was just a few weeks ago that BAM and others were celebrating J Hoberman's 30 years at the Voice. Now Philip French gives us a preview of a package in Sunday's Observer Review celebrating his three full decades at the weekly.

Updated through 4/13.

French looks back on "reviews spanning 30 years... of movies that were in different ways landmark occasions for critics, audiences and the people who made them; they're not intended to be a top 10." For example, of The Deer Hunter, he writes, "A concerted campaign, that involved Jane Fonda in the States and the Soviet Union, sought to discredit the film as a racist defence of American imperialism, and for my review I was vilified in the New Statesman and the Village Voice. I regret not a word of it." You can download PDFs of the original reviews as they appeared in the Observer - and an accompanying podcast.

Update, 4/13: "What have I done these past 70 years, apart from sit through around 14,000 films and be paid for doing what I like?" Philip French's mini-memoir in today's Observer, spanning from 1937 to the present, is rich with anecdotes and personalities, festivals and universities, books and magazines, and of course, movies. I'll pluck out just one: "It was a magical experience, when I was teaching at the University of Texas in 1972, to have an expansive lunch with [Fritz] Lang, then retired and cruising the university circuit, and he was as imperious as I expected. He'd seen Hitchcock's The 39 Steps on TV the night before. 'So they call this a classic?' he rasped. When I flinched, he added: 'Don't repeat that.'"

He's also listed his top tens for each of the past five decades; and Ally Carnwath and Matt Bolton gather tributes from the likes of AS Byatt, Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears and more.

This week French looks back on the career of James Mason and reviews Shine a Light, [Rec], The Last Mistress, The Devil Came on Horseback, 21, Leatherheads, Steve Buscemi's Lonesome Jim, Strange Wilderness, Feng Xiaogang's The Banquet - and, yes, The 39 Steps.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:37 AM

Chaos Theory.

Chaos Theory "A predictable romantic dramedy that isn't particularly tender, moving or amusing, Chaos Theory suffers first and foremost from featuring the least engaging couple to headline a movie in some time," writes Laura Kern in the New York Times. "If the bland [Ryan] Reynolds and the grating [Emily] Mortimer are Hollywood's idea of the latest in romantic leads, then we're in trouble."

"From over-familiar beginnings - a wry bad-boy bachelor best friend whose idea of a good time is (head-slap) to 'go to Rascals and play some blackjack' - the plot off-roads into almost free-associative happenstance," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Reynolds, called to 180 from anal nebbish to feral beast, is beautifully committed, but he gets no help on the other side of the camera."

In the New York Sun, Nicolas Rapold agrees that this is "a charmless and tedious comedy hidden behind the title of a straight-to-video thriller." So he'd rather concentrate on Reynolds: "His specialty, or at least the shtick I like most, is a contained mania that frays into vulnerability. In Just Friends, and portions of Chaos Theory, there is an amusing and affecting disconnect between an under-his-breath motormouth and the thought bubble above him - a kind of self-observed panic, hunching his action-jock bulk. The flip side to the mood is a frantic impatience, often absurd and ultimately deflated in a scene of terrible realization."

But "Reynolds, so commanding in the framing sequence as the wily father with a life lesson, seems adrift in a sloppy story that is less chaotic than indifferently random," writes Sean Axmaker in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

"For all his squinty-eyed good looks, boyish edginess, and experience in such comedies as Just Friends and Definitely, Maybe, Reynolds is neither romantic nor funny," writes Desson Thompson in the Washington Post. "Here, he's pitched too sharp and serious, even for a movie about love's darkest downs."

"Just when it hits its giddy comic stride, Chaos Theory retreats into conventional, sentimental terrain," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

"Of the many facile ironies at play in Chaos Theory, the title may be the biggest: How can a movie so stuffed with writerly contrivances call itself Chaos Theory?" Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"You know what they always say about stories," writes Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com. "When it comes down to it, there are really only two: somebody goes somewhere (fish out of water), or a stranger arrives (familiar water, unknown fish). Chaos Theory is neither, sandwiched between both. Dramatically it's neither fish nor fowl, so you can't quite tell if the sandwich is tuna salad or chicken salad."

"Chaos Theory is not exactly bad, but it disappointingly never really discovers the movie that it wants to be," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:01 AM

Bra Boys.

Bra Boys "Rudimentarily made as documentaries go - and more than a touch self-glorifying at times - Bra Boys is nevertheless intriguing for its insider's perspective of an outsider culture steeped in tradition, male-bonding rituals, and intense localism," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice.

"Bra Boys - narrated, with an absolute minimum of energy, by Russell Crowe - proves merely an extended commercial for the ragamuffin gang and their hard-charging surfing skills that offers scant basis for audience interest in the first place," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"Part jock movie, part image rehabilitation, Bra Boys makes no pretense of impartiality," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Yet this crude, rowdy movie is also unexpectedly touching in its embrace of surfing as an escape from the stigma of poverty and broken homes."

"Despite the indisputable wonder of watching sun gods glide through barreling waves, it's hard to tell in this muddled account where blithe bias ends and sloppy technique begins," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:55 AM

The Last Mistress in the UK.

The Last Mistress "No one familiar with the films of Catherine Breillat will be shocked to learn that her costume drama The Last Mistress, based on Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly's 19th-century novel Une vieille maîtresse, is more of an out-of-costume drama," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "What is surprising, after her insufferably woolly studies of sexual power games (Romance, Sex is Comedy, Anatomy of Hell), is that the picture is a model of precision."

Updated through 4/14.

"[I]t is a little like Dangerous Liaisons, though its erotic interludes are more candid, its tragedy more heartfelt, and its dialogue more cerebral, even austere," suggests the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It is in fact closer in style and substance to Jacques Rivette's recent film Ne Touchez Pas la Hache... Catherine Breillat's movies have never been much liked in this country; she is often dismissed as the sole surviving practitioner of an obsolete art-porn aesthetic. The people who want to deride her may find more ammunition in The Last Mistress, and yet it is an outstandingly intelligent, formally pleasing film, and a fascinating development for Breillat herself."

"Swiftly and deftly immersing us in the fashions - not just the clothes and decor, but also the changing sexual and social ethics - of the 1830s, Breillat's meticulous, eloquent script and direction succeed in relating a rich, complex, consistently engrossing story and in providing an insightful commentary on the mores and literary concerns of the time," writes Geoff Andrew in Time Out. "[Asia] Argento has never been better, [Roxane] Mesquida and the supporting actors are strong, and Fu'ad Aït Aattou is a real find, his androgyne beauty splendidly cast, his début performance subtle and assured."

"The histrionic grand passions border on the ridiculous," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "Argento's wildcat Vellini lashes out at the ones she loves, and she's usually holding a knife when she does it. But it's a handsome and atmospheric piece that explores Breillat's preferred themes of sex and misery with gusto."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and the NYFF.

Opens at the IFC Center in New York on July 27.

Update, 4/14: "There are few directors less likely to make a costume drama than Breillat and yet The Last Mistress shows the same well-honed eye for period detail, shifting sexual politics and social change as Patrice Leconte's Ridicule or Patrice Chéreau's La Reine Margot," blogs Maria Esposito for the Guardian. "As she prepares for her next film, Bad Love, Breillat would do well to reflect on The Last Mistress's success. With Naomi Campbell and fraudster Christophe Rocancourt lined up to star in an adaptation of Breillat's own novel, love might not be the only thing to turn bad. Campbell and Rocancourt will be in their first leading roles and delivering their lines in both English and Chinese."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:53 AM

Interview. Gina Kim.

Never Forever "A compelling cross-cultural love story that sneakily blends elements of Lifetime-style domestic melodrama and ambiguous art-house cinema, Gina Kim's Never Forever is one of the spring season's unlikeliest and most delectable surprises," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.

Cathleen Rountree sat down with the vivacious and sophisticated Gina Kim to talk about the history of recent Korean Cinema, her stint at Harvard, where she finds herself in her characters and her upcoming documentary. Never Forever is opening in New York and San Francisco before rolling out in May.

Updated through 4/12.

"Throughout the film your gaze is riveted to [Vera] Farmiga's stricken eyes," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Blindingly blue, expressing varying shades of panic, desire and refusal to feel, they signal the desperation of a woman who is driven to solve everyone's problems at the risk of personal catastrophe. You might describe her character, Sophie, as the square version of Irene, the drug addict Ms Farmiga played in the 2004 movie Down to the Bone. That film catapulted her into Martin Scorsese's Departed, in which her talents were conspicuously wasted."

"The fearless, frequently nude Farmiga conveys the awakening of passion in a spectrum of small, subtle shadings; among other virtues - including Matthew Clark's rapt camerawork - the movie has some of the hottest, most precisely modulated sex scenes since A History of Violence," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice.

Update, 4/12: "What could have been soap opera is instead thoughtfully and subtly presented by Kim, a bold storyteller who drew notice with a festival favorite, Invisible Light, in 2004," writes G Allen Johnson in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Korean-born, New York-based and a former Harvard professor to boot, Kim is a filmmaker who shouldn't just be on the rise but shooting through the film world's glass ceiling."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:34 AM

April 10, 2008

Fests and events, 4/10.

City of Lights, City of Angels City of Lights, City of Angels "will, in the course of seven days, transform the Directors Guild of America Theater on Sunset into a giant Parisian googolplex wherein one can travel from the art house to the grindhouse without ever leaving the building," writes the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas.

One of the major attractions will be Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis, "already the most successful French-language movie in history." It's a "modestly budgeted culture-clash comedy about a disgraced postal supervisor (Kad Merad) who finds himself transferred from sunny Cassis to the bleak, linguistically challenged French-Belgian border region of Nord-Pas de Calais," writes Scott Foundas, who talks with its director and star, Dany Boon. The dates: Monday through April 20. More in the Los Angeles Times.

Back in the LAW: David Thomson checks in on A Sterling Legacy: British Directors in Hollywood, running at LACMA through April 26.

The Philadelphia City Paper presents reviews of 29 films screening in the second week of the Philadelphia Film Festival, which runs on through Tuesday.

It! The Terror From Beyond Outer Space "What 'distinguishes' the painfully bad stuff—the misfires of talented artists, the hack work of lesser mortals, the by-the-numbers cookie-cutter crap—from the low-rent gems, the bizarre one-offs, the twisted genre riffs, the pinnacles of unintentionally hilarious bad taste?" asks Michael Fox at SF360. "With the latter we have entered the exalted province of Will 'The Thrill' Viharo, the fez-festooned impresario of the monthly East Bay cult-movie extravaganza Thrillville. In anticipation of his 11th anniversary show April 10 [that's today, folks] at the Cerrito Speakeasy, featuring the 1958 chiller It! The Terror From Beyond Outer Space (whose plot was ripped off by Alien, it's widely maintained), we hobnobbed with Viharo over a mug of joe."

Cine Las Americas opens on Wednesday and runs through April 24; the Austin Chronicle's got a preview package:

Valley of the Dolls Also in the Chronicle: "Anne took the green pills. Neely took the red pills. Jennifer took the blue pills. You can choose your own color so you can sparkle, too." Stephen Moser will be presenting Valley of the Dolls at the Alamo Downtown on Tuesday.

Mike Everleth has the lineup for the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Tuesday through April 20.

"Projections brings together the rich area of artistic experimentations with slide, film and video projection that characterizes much contemporary art since the 1960s." In Vue Weekly, Mary Christa O'Keefe talks with curator Barbara Fischer and Amy Fung takes in Bruce Nauman and Bill Viola. Both shows are on view at the Art Gallery of Alberta through June 8.

"Schlepped out to the U of C last Thursday for the opening-night screening in Doc Films' new Golden Age of Mexican Cinema series," blogs Pat Graham for the Chicago Reader. "Not that there's anything remotely new about it, since the films are all venerable antiques, dating from the 1930s through early 40s - also, based on a handful of viewings (and leaving Emilio Fernández 'poetically' aside), relatively unwatchable, at least in the narrowly modern sense of narratives that cohere, of cinematography, blocking, performances, etc, that conform to fussbudgety notions of cinematic excellence. But who cares, it's all marvelously seductive, a raw celluloid rush..." Thursdays through June 5.

For the Phoenix, Neely Steinberg talks with Mohammed Harba about the Boston Muslim Film Festival; the first edition focuses "on 'Think-Different Women,' in which the themes of women's equality and free expression are expounded." April 14 through 30; free and open to the public.

Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra is still at Film Forum and will play there through April 22. In the New York Press, Armond White argues that "Sokurov continues the sensual-spiritual nationalistic impressionism of his 2003 Father and Son, where military men made objects of unabashed adoration."

Godard's 60s At the Tisch Film Review, Ricky D'Ambrose notes that Film Forum will be screening five weeks worth of Godard's 60s. May 2 through June 5.

POV's Cathy Fisher notes that a special guest popped in on a screening of Campaign at MoMA on Tuesday.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:41 AM | Comments (1)

April 9, 2008

Shorts, 4/9.

Ernst Lubitsch "Sometime in the late 1960s, I asked Jean Renoir what he thought of Ernst Lubitsch," writes Peter Bogdanovich in the New York Observer. Now if that sentence alone isn't catnip for cinephiles... Anyway: "He raised his eyebrows and said, enthusiastically, 'Lubitsch!? But he invented the modern Hollywood.' By 'modern Hollywood,' Renoir meant American movies from about 1924 to the start of the 60s. Before Lubitsch's arrival to California from Germany in 1922 (to make a Mary Pickford vehicle called Rosita), Hollywood films were under the overwhelming influence of DW Griffith... [Lubitsch] brought European sophistication, candor in sexuality and an oblique style that made audiences complicit with the characters and situations." And since "Lubitsch is always fun and often as good as it gets," Bogdanovich has been watching a lot of his work on DVD; he takes us on tour, title by title.

Related online viewing: Bogdanovich, Mel Brooks, Frank Capra and Robert Altman on the Dick Cavett Show. (Thanks, Jerry!)

The Pulitzers have Gary Dretzka thinking back to the impact Roger Ebert's 1975 award may have had; he then traces the evolution of film criticism in newspapers up to the present day. This and Michael Atkinson's latest are the entries to read in today's batch in the current round of the whither-criticism panic. Read all of Atkinson's entry, but here's what he's building up to: "If writing in America is a matter for the common denominatorship, then we're all freelancers, and we'd better face up to it."

In the New York Times:

Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • "It wasn't enough, apparently, for Zora Neale Hurston to write a great American novel and to blaze trails for black women as a scholar and an artist," writes Mike Hale. "In Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun, an American Masters documentary on Wednesday night on PBS, we learn that she also pioneered a very 21st-century genre: the unreliable memoir."

This is not the angle Andrew Schenker takes at the House Next Door: "If we can locate a central crux to Hurston's literary achievement, Jump suggests, it's in her ongoing project - encompassing both novels and anthropological work - to document a vanishing way of life: the behaviors and customs of Southern black culture.... Hurston created as vivid a fictional world as any of her contemporaries - only perhaps Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County stands as a more fully-imagined depiction of the variegated fabric of a Southern community."

"To label Chukiat Sakveerakul's The Love of Siam as simply a gay teen romance is to misjudge its power and intention," writes Francis Cruz. "Within the two and a half hour running time (the director's cut is reportedly four hours long) of the film, Sakveerakul essays not only the two young leads' reunion and inevitable attraction but also a family's slow and painful road to accepting a long-delayed reality."

The Dhamma Brothers "What happens when you put a group of maximum-security prison inmates through the rigors of a 10-day Buddhism boot camp?" asks Julia Wallace. "This is the intriguing premise of The Dhamma Brothers... But the film's flabby, rambling narrative structure, which introduces too many bit players without giving enough background on either prison or meditation, prevents us from getting a good sense of who these men are, how they change over the course of the film, or what effect Buddhism really has on them."

Also in the Voice, Aaron Hillis reviews Young & Restless in China, a "four-year survey of Chinese Gen-Xers... [F]or a film that assumes its audience is cultured enough to know of the Chinese government's abuses, why condescend by giving the subjects clueless English voiceovers instead of subtitles when many of them speak of how they've Westernized in order to succeed?" For Louis Proyect, though, this is "an eye-opening documentary about social change in China today."

Among the new guest bloggers at FilmInFocus: Producer Keith Griffiths.

"It was not an audience of cinephiles; indeed, it was not the usual film festival audience at all. Oscar Redding's The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was about to have its world premiere at the 2007 Melbourne International Film Festival, and the city's theatre-makers, theatre-goers, and even a few of its theatre critics, had flocked to the RMIT Capitol Theatre in their air-kissing, turtlenecked droves." Matthew Clayfield talks with Redding for RealTime.

For Film & Video, Bryant Frazer talks with Wong Kar-Wai about My Blueberry Nights; and with Jason Kohn about Manda Bala.

It's "Sex on Film" month at Premiere; Karl Rozemeyer talks with Brian De Palma about his femme fatales; also, Paul Verhoeven.

At the WSWS, Joanne Laurier finds Stop-Loss "a generally worthy effort, whose real strengths deserve recognition. Its limitations too, however, which express ongoing problems, merit thinking about."

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Skip The Ruins; catch Creature from the Black Lagoon instead, recommends James Rocchi.

"Daisy Kenyon is not noir, no matter what the box says," insists Vince Keenan. "Daisy Kenyon is melodrama. Pure melodrama. Uncut melodrama. Schedule I grade melodrama. And as such, I couldn't get enough of it."

Jonathan Lapper salutes Paul Robeson @ 110.

Online desktop. Vanity Fair's "Inside Dylan's Brain."

Online listening tip at Coudal Partners: Ian Fleming talks with Raymond Chandler for the BBC.

Online viewing tip. At the main site, Erin Donovan has a new list, "Top 10 Environmental Documentaries That Don't Rhyme With A Schminconvenient Schmuth." Which is great, of course. But still. Supplement those with Al Gore's latest short presentation at TED. It's rattling.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM

Fests and events, 4/9.

Gabriel Figueroa Gabriel Figueroa: Cinefotógrafo is on view at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City through May 4. As Reed Johnson reports in the Los Angeles Times, LACMA may take on the exhibition and retrospective in 2010: "During his prolific 50-year career, which began as a still photographer and included a brief Hollywood sojourn, Figueroa forged a film iconography that was as elaborately crafted with calculated symbolism as a baroque altarpiece. In classic films such as Enamorada, Los Olvidados, La Perla, Night of the Iguana, Pedro Páramo and Vámonos con Pancho Villa, Mexico's most famous cinematographer conjured an emblematic vision of his country's landscapes, people and history."

Michael Tully has an entry loaded with pix covering the first couple of days at the Sarasota Film Festival. And for the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth reviews Throw Down Your Heart, "Sascha Paladino's somewhat overlong but surprisingly moving document of his brother Béla Fleck's journey to Africa to sort out the roots of the banjo and record an album with native musicians." Plus: Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story.

Then Karina took notes one fine evening: "Dressed in a low-cut black pantsuit bracketed by diamond earrings and killer heels, quick with self-deprecating quips and eager to offer candid, perfectly paced anecdotes, her faded Noweigian accent occasionally taking on the lilting cadences of a woman a third her age (she's a big fan of the word 'whatever'), [Liv] Ullmann came off as loquaciously eccentric and yet completely clear-eyed about past, present and future."

Jean Eustache Jean Eustache: Film as Life, Life as Film, sees two more nights at the National Gallery of Art in DC: Saturday and Sunday, while The Rediscovery of Jean Eustache carries on at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Acquarello reviews Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Delights, Le Cochon, Les Photos d'Alix and Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes; and Girish has recently seen Eustache's Mes Petites Amoureuses and revisited Robert Bresson's L'Argent: "To me, it's particularly important that although both the Bresson and Eustache films make striking use of place and nonprofessional actors, their conveying of sensations and impressions is not done in a documentary-like manner. Instead, the filmmakers present certain details (of gesture, movement, color, light, sound, texture) while also guiding our attentions in a controlled and highly selective manner."

For the Walker Art Center, Rob Nelson introduces the retrospective Milos Forman: Cinema of Resistance, running through April 22; and via Movie City News, Colin Covert talks with Forman for the Star Tribune.

For the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge notes the highlights of the second week of the Philadelphia Film Festival; here's more.

David Bordwell has notes on some of the avant-garde work he's seen at the Hong Kong Film Festival "that seemed to me especially fine."

"I've returned from a too-short visit to one of the film festivals I love, the Images Film Festival," blogs filmmaker Jennifer Reeves.

Alan Rudolph @ Gallery Fraga "Writer-director Alan Rudolph is showing paintings at Bainbridge Island's Gallery Fraga," notes Ray Pride.

Mark Bell not only wraps AFI Dallas for Film Threat; he's been blogging about it all along. At indieWIRE, Eric Kohn has the list of awards - and he assesses the festival's place in the circuit. Cinematical's been all over the festival as well.

Meanwhile, the USA Film Festival, set for April 21 through 27 in Dallas, has announced a series of special events.

"Where's New York? Where's LA?" asks Gerald Peary in the Phoenix. "Nowhere for film, that's the impression from last month's 5th International Mexico City Festival of Contemporary Cinema (FICCO), where Boston, our Boston, totally ruled."

"The Jackson Hole Film Festival has announced a lineup heavy on international fare," notes the Circuit's Michael Jones. June 5 through 9.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:06 PM

Goings on in and around New York.

New York African Film Festival "Charles Burnett's Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation, about the country's decades-long fight for independence from apartheid-ruled South Africa, would make for a great PBS or HBO miniseries," suggests Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door. "Burnett, an efficient filmmaker with any budget, does his best to thoroughly tell the story of Samuel Nujoma (Carl Lumbly, in an impressively moderated performance), Namibia's first president and the founder of the SWAPO political movement, along with the many others instrumental to the cause, but simply can't fit the density of material into a 161-minute film." Namibia screens this evening at the New York African Film Festival tonight.

Previewing Tomu Uchida: Discovering a Japanese Master, running at BAM from Friday through April 30, the L Magazine's Mark Asch tips a hat to Craig Watts's "deeply researched and analyzed Uchida bio" for Bright Lights Film Journal. "And yeah, 'that guy sure knew how to block a scene' sounds like auteurists slurping through the ice cubes at the bottom of world cinema - but the discovery of a fluid, consummately cinematic style in a genre journeyman from the middle echelons of his national film industry is cinephilia's purest rush."

"Of all the films about prostitution, Kenji Mizoguchi's Street of Shame, made in 1956 at the end of his career, is perhaps the greatest," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. The Films of Kenji Mizoguchi runs Fridays through Sundays at the IFC Center.

Campaign "Appreciation of [Campaign] hardly depends on an intimate knowledge of or interest in Japanese politics; the candidate and his prospective constituents don't manifest much of either," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Instead [director Kazuhiro] Soda uses tried-and-true fly-on-the-wall techniques to create a real-life satire. Campaign may invite a certain skepticism about democracy, but it will surely restore your faith in cinéma vérité." At MoMA through Sunday.

Doug Cummings has been invited to the Moving Image in Film Criticism and Feature Writing: "With the demise of so many newspaper and magazine film critical positions, and the continual growth of serious film writing and discussion on the Internet, this is an interesting time to be reviewing the state of the art, particularly at an event sponsored by the New York Times. I'm sure this widespread cultural transition will be a recurring subject of discussion throughout the event." Thursday through Tuesday.

Alison Willmore has a first round of titles lined up for the New York Asian Film Festival, set for June 20 through July 6. More from programmer Grady Hendrix.

For the New York Sun, S James Snyder talks with Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal about the way this year's seventh edition will slim down after a bloated sixth edition.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:14 PM

Goings on in San Francisco.

Besides, well, you know.

The Roof "Watching Kamal Aljafari's astonishing film The Roof (2006) - a work at once explicitly personal, coolly contemplative, and full of coruscating protest - is to recognize a marvelously intuitive artist and the momentum of a larger cinematic movement at the same time," writes Robert Avila at SF360. "Although its approach remains dramatically different, Bay Area filmmaker James T Hong's This Shall Be a Sign (2007), which screens with The Roof tonight as part of Kino21 and the Arab Film Festival's program Palestine: Interior/Exterior at Artists' Television Access, also grounds the ongoing history of conflict in Israel/Palestine in the contested physical landscape."

"Is it possible that, with the fragmenting of niche cinema audiences, the existence of such a large repertory venue in town may actually be stunting the ability of smaller venues to develop interesting programming and interested audiences?" News that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be screening at San Francisco's Castro for four weeks sparks a train of thought in Brian Darr - who also looks ahead to other programs lined up for the 1400-seat repertory theater.

San Francisco International Film Festival At the Evening Class, Michael Hawley has a thorough preview of this year's San Francisco International Film Festival, running April 24 through May 8.

"Watching the feverish films in the Pacific Film Archive's short Frank Tashlin retrospective, we see an artist pushing the outermost limits of cinematic realism, gorging 1950s America on its desire for bigger, better, and faster," writes Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Friday through April 18.

Also: Matt Sussman previews No Borders, No Limits: 1960s Nikkatsu Action Cinema, running Thursday through Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Meantime, there's a movement afoot: "Should the City and County of San Francisco rename the Oceanside Wastewater Treatment Facility the George W Bush Sewage Plant?"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:50 PM | Comments (1)

Body of War.

Body of War "Drenched in emotion and suffused with good intentions, Body of War is impossible not to like, but difficult to admire," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Produced and directed by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue (yes, that Phil Donahue), the movie uses the wrenching story of one American soldier to mount an angry if unfocused jeremiad against the war in Iraq."

"Body of War is neither the most cinematic nor the most elegantly crafted of recent Iraq War documentaries, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the most deeply affecting," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice.

Updated through 4/11.

"Body of War is a gut-wrenching documentary experience, though like any effective polemic, it is almost as canny as it is facile in construction," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "This humane project probably bites off more than it's able to fully chew in 87 minutes, but it chews well enough: In addition to documenting Thomas's injuries and how their extent was acerbated by military negligence, it catches startling glimpses of people within his family caught in ideological tug of wars that miraculously don't get in the way of their love for one another."

"It's a stirring story that speaks for itself politically and otherwise, which is why Donahue and Spiro's decision to interlace it with CSPAN footage of Congress's vote to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq is so unnecessary and ill-fitting," suggests Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine.

Online listening tip. Donahue's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Earlier: Aaron Hillis talks with Donahue for Premiere and Stephen Saito talks with Donahue and Spiro for the IFC.

Update, 4/10: "Why can't documentary filmmakers comprehend the concept of less is more?" asks Raphaela Weissman in the New York Press. "In Body of War, directors Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue suffocate one soldier's moving story with a musty political history lesson."

Updates, 4/11: "What makes Body of War such a powerful documentary isn't the clever rhetorical device of debate vs reality - which, frankly, loses some of its impact after a while - but the way it documents American life in the '00s," argues Noel Murray at the AV Club.

IndieWIRE interviews Spiro.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:21 PM | Comments (1)

Smart People.

Smart People "While Smart People boasts Sundance credentials and a hip cast of actors, its treacly life lessons, tame 'edginess' and smothering tenderheartedness makes it feel like a big-screen version of Family Ties," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "All that's missing are Tina Yothers and some Maxwell House commercials."

"Smart People is a borderline-excruciating exercise in trying to replicate the eccentric charm of Little Miss Sunshine, pulling its nasty punches... in order to make room for third-act uplift, and defining its protagonists through idiosyncratic (and metaphorical) habits and hang-ups that reek of screenwriting affectation," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Updated through 4/14.

"It's almost impossible to bear the film ill will, as it makes a case for compassion and tries awfully hard to be awfully sweet," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "But then what? Written by first-timer Mark Poirier, it's all action without any meaning, a beginner's-class screenplay populated by archetypes - the wise-beyond-her-years teen, the hardboiled widower, the reckless and feckless half-sibling, the nice lady who rescues the dick from himself - who just do things till they run out of unhappiness, the end."

Terence Rafferty talks with Poirier, who'd written a collection of short stories, Naked Pueblo, and a novel, Goats, before deciding to turn the idea for his next novel into a screenplay.

For AICN, Capone talks with Thomas Haden Church.

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance.

Updates, 4/11: "There is something about impersonating thwarted intellectuals, their early promise and ambition fading into vanity and irrelevance, that inspires a certain kind of actor to tap into deep veins of pathos and wit," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Jeff Daniels struck the modern template for this kind of performance in The Squid and the Whale, and in their different ways [Richard] Jenkins [in The Visitor] and [Dennis] Quaid live up to his high standard."

"[T]he constant tone of surly sarcasm with which the smart people in Smart People keep the world at bay finally begins to grate," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. "When the film reaches its happy ending, is it because it's genuinely happy or just ending?"

"Smart People is the kind of small, cranky family and/or friendship comedy that has been busting out since Sideways, often exceeding expectations, occasionally inspiring a backlash, and sometimes not," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "It's the kind of observational comedy, that'll be hard to find come summertime and should be enjoyed while there's still a chance."

"There's not a minute in the picture where we're not reminded, either by a too-polished line of dialogue or a precociously unstudied camera angle, that this is a movie for an intelligent, sophisticated audience, an audience who just naturally gets it," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Smart People is so preoccupied with congratulating us for getting it that it fails to give us much to get in the first place, even though it features a respectable ensemble of actors... squeezing as hard as they can to wring some life from the material."

"Come for the popular Ellen Page and the punchy Sarah Jessica Parker, but stay for the scene-stealing Dennis Quaid," advises S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

"So why should audiences care whether this undeserving schlub finds happiness?" asks Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "Good question, and one first-time screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier and first-time director Noam Murro never fully answer."

"Quaid is a downright lovable jerk; Ellen Page plays Juno again, exquisitely - but novelist Mark Jude Poirier's writing turns sharp, surprising corners, and Noam Murro's direction is patient, giving the material plenty of room to sprout out of its ruts," writes the Stranger's Annie Wagner.

"Smart People is fairly intelligent, mildly amusing and clinically depressed," writes Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com. "If you put it next to brilliant pictures about emotionally stymied writers/academics, like The Squid and the Whale, Wonder Boys or The Accidental Tourist, it looks a bit dull, like the dour professor who never removes his tweed jacket - the one with the leather elbow patches."

"The point of Smart People is to return its anti-hero to something like civility, which is not exactly a startlingly original comic notion," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "That said, its pretty conventional characters are often pretty funny. Or maybe I should say, surprisingly interesting."

"Ostensibly a seriocomic tale about coping with loss and finding a balance between ambition and decency, Smart People is, for the most part, a sour and thoughtless bore," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr.

Nathaniel R's "whipped up" a Scrabble board.

"Too bad the movie's central relationship, the prickly courtship between Wetherhold and his doctor girlfriend, never finds its momentum," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker, both terrific, aren't to blame. The problem is that their relationship proceeds according to the As Good as It Gets law, which dictates that angry, paunchy, deeply disturbed old men in the movies need only to dial down their unpleasantness by 5 percent to win the affection of smart, kind, beautiful young women."

"An accumulation of meaningless family squabbles sutured together by what must be the most overwrought, intrusive score ever, Smart People should have hired a few," writes Ryan Stewart for Premiere.

Update, 4/12: "It's About Schmidt meets The Squid and the Whale with a Sideways twist," writes Chuck Tryon.

Updates, 4/14: "I had an odd sensation (I've had it at other movies like this) that Murro was eager to remain calmly and quietly at the level of observation as long as he could, that he wanted to avoid conventional movieness - powerful emotions and the vulgarity of a dramatic climax," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "But a movie can't end, as a good short story might, with a mere pinprick of insight."

For New York's David Edelstein, Smart People is "of interest chiefly for the first post-Juno role of Ellen Page.... Will she prove talented enough—like, say, Katharine Hepburn - to transcend her mannerisms?"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:13 PM | Comments (1)

Dark Matter.

Dark Matter "'Inspired by' the 1991 University of Iowa school shootings, Dark Matter gives a sympathetic picture of its doctorate candidate turned sociopath, Liu Xing (Liu Ye)," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Despite overtures toward evenhandedness, Dark Matter's insights go no deeper than 'chickens coming home to roost' banality."

"Dark Matter begins with a shot of Meryl Streep practicing tai chi, and therein lies a precise encapsulation of the film's attitude toward the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "In its 90-minute duration, the film grapples with a number of weighty themes: the origins of the universe, the importing of Chinese scholarly talent by American universities, even the deep causes of incidents of campus violence, like those at Columbine and Virginia Tech. But ultimately, the film's approach to these issues is as suspect as an American movie star going through the motions, however gracefully, of the thirteen postures."

Updated through 4/11.

"Liu Xing is an uncommonly brilliant student of cosmology, and his glibly condescending mentor, Professor Jacob Reiser (Aidan Quinn), realizes this from day one," explains Kate Folk in the L Magazine. "Only when Xing develops a theory that clashes with one of Reiser’s does the relationship sour, and thus begins Xing’s breakneck downward spiral."

[A]side from depicting American academia as a cutthroat environment that can inspire deadly resentment, there's not much going on in Dark Matter, in large part because director Chen [Shi-Zheng] and screenwriter Billy Shebar's script... never truly gets underneath its increasingly troubled protagonist's surface," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance.

Updates, 4/10: Meryl Streep "has recently entered her most interesting phase as an actress," argues Armond White in the New York Press. "Streep was the best thing in the fraudulent The Hours, unexpectedly funny and credible in Adaptation, dauntingly fierce in The Manchurian Candidate, authentically officious in Rendition, dazzling and heartfelt in A Prairie Home Companion. Her two most unusual roles are a sell-out journalist in Lions for Lambs and now as a dissembling patroness in Dark Matter."

"Dark Matter has neither the technical command of an art-house film nor the manufactured intensity of a grade-B thriller, yet it's also too cheap and dirty to feel like a Hollywood-scale drama," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It's an inelegant experiment that captures many intriguing moments as they pass, but ends up utterly baffled by the question of how its delightful central character becomes a tabloid-ready monster."

Updates, 4/11: Dark Matter "is a movie of ideas that does an exemplary job of translating scientific speculation into layman's language," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "The filmmaking style of Mr Chen, an internationally renowned opera director (still best known for his 20-hour Peony Pavilion at Lincoln Center in 1999), is considerably more formal than American audiences are accustomed to. And that formality keeps you at a distance."

"For most of the film, Mr Chen does an admirable job of externalizing Liu Xing's spacey naiveté and alienation through solidly crafted visual conceits, including soft-cut transitions and low-key computer graphic fireworks, of the A Beautiful Mind, genius-at-work variety," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "But as the pilgrim slips toward lunacy, the shortcomings of Billy Shebar's script grow apparent."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:05 PM

Street Kings.

Street Kings "An ungainly and fetid but seldom dull mishmash of 70s Eastwood, Lethal Weapon, and a high-octane Serpico, Street Kings opportunistically miscasts [Keanu] Reeves as 'the point of the spear' among a unit of Dirty Harrys, but it's only a semi-mistake," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "Keanu's metronome cadences and recessive persona are a seeming nonstarter for a menacing, reckless cop, but as a dissipated, lost soul who's only saved from oblivion when he struggles against the ethical whirlpool he finds himself in, he resonates."

Alonso Duralde at MSNBC: "Street Kings may have one of the year's most depressing screen credits: 'Story by James Ellroy. Screenplay by James Ellroy and Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss.' That's right - the filmmakers had an original story and screenplay by one of the greatest living crime novelists, but somewhere along the line some genius decided, 'Hey, let's bring in the guy who wrote the movie version of Sphere to punch this thing up. Oh, and you've got a third writer with no screen credits? Even better.'"

Updated through 4/15.

"Though conceived as yet another sobering frontline report on law enforcement's ever-expanding gray area, director David Ayer's grim police thriller mostly plays as one long dick-measuring competition," writes Tim Grierson in the Voice. "You sense that an infinitely more complex drama exists within the film's grasp, but no one bothered to stop guzzling the testosterone long enough to find it."

"Ayer penned Training Day and recently helmed the unpleasant Christian Bale-gone-psycho-homeboy dud Harsh Times," notes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "He seems fascinated by knuckleheaded machismo in the 'hood, without having anything particularly interesting or relevant to say about it. The material's inherent deja vu isn't helped by his flat staging, claustrophobic compositions and numerous improbable scenes in which everyone stands around explaining the plot, when they should just be shooting at each other."

"Essentially, the film feels like a pulpy late-40s noir made on the cheap, only with a couple of multiplex 'names' (Reeves and Forest Whitaker) and an assortment of eccentric co-stars (Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, Hugh Laurie, Common and The Game)," writes Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine.

"Why can't Hollywood and the most celebrated crime writer of our time get along?" asks Scott Timberg in the Los Angeles Times. "While most remember only LA Confidential and Black Dahlia, Ellroy's writings have provided material for movies for 20 years, including Cop, a 1988 James Woods-starring version of Fire on the Moon, which [editor and publisher Otto] Penzler called 'unbelievably awful'; the 1998 bomb Brown's Requiem; and 2002's box-office disappointment Dark Blue which starred Kurt Russell.... [T]he word 'unfilmable' comes up a lot when people talk about Ellroy's work."

John Clark talks with Ayer for Premiere.

Updates, 4/10: "Reeves plays the morally conflicted Ludlow as an uncanny impersonation of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry," agrees Armond White in the New York Press. "If only Street Kings' director, David Ayers, and screenwriter, James Ellroy, had the wit to complement Keanu's ingenuity; instead, Street Kings unintentionally provokes laughter."

"Ayers' scripts read like the work of a latchkey kid left home with a battered VHS tape of To Live and Die in LA," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "In that William Friedkin classic, a pair of cops, one a moral blank slate, the other a gonzo narcissist, use their state-sanctioned power to cross far, far over the thin blue line. It's a structure that Ayers has reproduced intact in every one of his films so far... To make an Ayers film, you place a ruthless but charismatic older cop in the driver's seat of a Crown Victoria, plonk down an Oedipally challenged rookie by his side, fill the glove box with miniature bottles of vodka, speed to the ghetto, and see what happens. But what if the cop in that driver's seat isn't Denzel Washington or Kurt Russell but the waxen, perpetually boyish Keanu Reeves?"

Updates, 4/11: "It's easy to laugh at Street Kings for its bigger than big emotions, its preposterously kinky narrative turns and overwrought jawing and yowling, but there's no doubt that it also keeps you watching, really watching, all the way to the end," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The film can be unintentionally, often grotesquely, funny... What Mr Ayer doesn't appear to have realized - a mistake shared by Brian De Palma in his unfortunate adaptation of Mr Ellroy's crime novel The Black Dahlia - is that you don't need to gild a 24-karat lily. It's plenty shiny already."

"We live, so the story goes, in a nation of laws, but we also seem to accept, if quietly, that some laws will occasionally have to be broken if others - the laws we really care about - are to be enforced," writes Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun. "Sometimes, of course, a rogue cop is just a rogue cop. The difficulty of distinguishing between good policemen and bad is, I suppose, the theme trying to survive the splattering gore, rampaging clichés, and flying bullets that otherwise define the noisy, nasty, but sporadically watchable Street Kings."

"The movie runs around chasing subplots, letting the actors chew it up, while Reeves does the opposite," writes Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune. "He doesn't chew. He practices his seething, keeping his voice in as low and weary a register as possible, trying to Clint and Vin Diesel his way through a role not well-suited to his preferred Zen-like mode."

"Street Kings is an anemic attempt to evoke the big, shiny action pictures of the late 80s and early 90s, the heyday of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, when Timothy Dalton was 007 and Clint Eastwood had fewer wrinkles and bigger hair," writes Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com.

"After all the actorly fireworks, Street Kings concludes that the LAPD is an institution where even the well-intentioned can't work clean," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Okay. What else?"

Peter Martin's got a list at Cinematical: "Out of Control Cops."

At IFC, Stephen Saito takes "a look at the behind the scenes history of Ellroy's film career that's nearly as tangled and tortured as one of his novels."

"Street Kings, though it isn't a great movie, is a pretty damn cool Keanu Reeves movie, one that on the Reevesian action scale measures somewhere between 'Whoa' and 'Wow,'" writes Time's Richard Corliss.

"Hey, Hollywood," calls out Shawn Levy, "When somebody dreams up a dumb idea, you're allowed to say 'no.'"

"[T]his is a bloody crime caper in a somewhat lackluster month, so if you're looking for some big, stupid fun, you could do worse than Street Kings," writes Jenni Miller in Premiere.

Reeves "attacks his role with the force of a flaccid penis, counting on expository dialogue to detail his character," writes Jim Rohner at Zoom In Online.

Updates, 4/12: "As yet another tale of dirty criminals and even dirtier cops, Street Kings works well enough, albeit strictly in a "been there, seen that" sort of way," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical.

Joe Queenan is sticking with Keanu, no matter what.

Update, 4/15: Lesley O'Toole talks with Keanu Reeves for the Independent.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:57 AM | Comments (2)

Jean-Paul Belmondo @ 75.

Jean-Paul Belmondo Out of sight, out of mind? Granted, we haven't seen much of Jean-Paul Belmondo since his stroke in 2001, but even the French papers seem to have let his 75th pass without notice. I vaguely remember mention of some sort of special evening - Godard, among others Belmondo has worked with, would be present - but can't trace that mention now.

Meantime, in the German press, Markus Zinsmaier comments on 13 photos for Die Zeit; and Neues Deutschland sends its congrats.

"Outside of the larger canon of Godard's work, Pierrot le Fou makes little sense and satisfies few expectations; within it, it's perhaps his most perfectly achieved film," writes Evan Kindley in a review that happens to appear today at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Updates: More on Pierrot from Erin Donovan at the Guru; earlier: an entry here on Criterion's release.

See also: Wikipedia - and Arbogast.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:10 AM | Comments (6)

Stalags.

Stalags "Named for the German prison camps in which they were set, the 'stalags' were soft-core s&m porn in which downed US or British pilots were abused by lustful, bodacious 'female SS brutes,' ultimately repaying their tormentors in kind," explains J Hoberman in a piece for the Voice you've got to read, if only for the mid-section on House of Dolls and its author, Ka-Tzetnik 135633:

If this tormented figure clearly deserves his own film, the whole issue of Holocaust porn deserves fuller treatment. Does a death trip of this magnitude necessarily call some sort of life force - no matter how sordid - into existence? Is there something inherently pornographic in the fascination that mass murder evokes? Far too short at 60 minutes, Stalags raises many more questions than it can possibly answer. The abrupt, inconclusive ending has the effect of throwing the problems inherent in teaching, dramatizing, or even representing the Holocaust back at the viewer. The least that can be said is that these issues are raised. However artless its presentation, Stalags imparts material that's difficult to shake off and impossible to dismiss.

Updated through 4/11.

"Simply put, this film is a revelation," writes Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door. "Like the best investigative journalists, [director Ari] Libsker patiently sifts through each and every contradiction to discover that something that would seem so horrifically paradoxical on its face proves ultimately inevitable beneath the surface. How could Israeli Nazi pornography even exist, let alone be a widespread phenomenon? Stalags answers, 'How could it not?'"

"Because only one talking head, an Israeli man who thrills at the idea of sex with the German girlfriend whose grandfather was an SS officer, sufficiently conveys how stalags, in their perverse mingling of fiction and fantasy, rouse feelings of empowerment, the documentary remains slight," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

At the Forum Forum with Roee Rosen's Two Women and a Man, a short addressed by Hoberman, Wissot and Laura Kern in her review for the New York Times as well. Through April 22.

Update: "Over a remarkably dense (and occasionally convoluted) 63 minutes, Mr Libsker serves enough food for thought to satisfy the most historically and critically voracious viewer," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "The Stalags, we are told, arrived in Israeli kiosks the same year that Israel and the world were forced to acknowledge the length and breadth of the Holocaust via Eichmann's televised trial. The books were an ineffectual cultural scab growing 'in the thick air of suppression' over a recent and, until the Eichmann trial unacknowledged, racial wound."

Updates, 4/10: "[I]f anything serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when taboos stifle dialogue, this is it," notes Michael Joshua Rowin parenthetically at indieWIRE. "Libsker, the grandson of Holocaust survivors and a filmmaker known for investigating uncomfortable topics in relation to Jewish culture (as in his 2004 documentary Circumcision), refuses to dismiss the sensationalistic hyperbole of the genre and instead takes it seriously as a product and shaper of historical confusion."

"While the paperback covers flout vulgar, sexually inflamed hues - the crimson of painted lips, whip lashes and Nazi armbands - the interviews with Israeli aficionados and authors of the Stalags are photographed in black and white," notes Felicia Feaster in the New York Press. "Real life takes on a diminished, banal look next to the hot-blooded, tempestuous scroll of fantasy."

Update, 4/11: "Stalags is most interesting when Libsker explores the deeper significance of this craze, as it reflects Israel's pseudo-pornographic relationship to the past," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. And as for Two Women and a Man: "Not to be missed if you're fond of intellectual parlor games."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:18 AM | Comments (1)

Young@Heart.

Young@Heart "Time revises every taste and closes every gap," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "To observe the Young@Heart Chorus, a fluctuating group of about two dozen singers whose average age is 80, perform 'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees in Stephen Walker's documentary Young@Heart is to be uplifted, if slightly unsettled."

"Though it overplays the 'feisty oldsters' angle and Spencer's Gifts-level ribaldry, the movie can't entirely smother its subject's inherent questions about how we relate to pop music," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "It's basically a question of shifting context - as in listening to the 1977 Langley Schools Music Project recordings, in which Beach Boys and Bowie covers are invested with new level of meaning when eerily harmonized by kids in the Vancouver suburbs."

Updated through 4/10.

"The Rolling Stones, as it turns out, are not the only senior citizens singing rock 'n' roll," quips Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "This may sound like a suspect enterprise, a musical gimmick impossible to embrace, but the reality is otherwise. For what the members of this uncanny chorus lack in pure ability they make up for in irrepressible spirits and a desire to simply have fun. It's as much of a heady tonic for these folks to take on these unlikely lyrics as it is for us to watch it all go down."

And Paul Brownfield tries this angle: "They sound like mockumentaries, variations on that comedic standard-bearer This Is Spinal Tap.... By chronicling the rise of pop music in these unlikely contexts, both of these unusual documentaries shine a light on subjects from which most Americans would prefer to avert their attention: old age in Young@Heart and the Iraq war in Heavy Metal in Baghdad." Well, he tried.

"Young@Heart's worst enemy is its director, Stephen Walker, whose incessant pushing and prodding strives to manipulate in ways both needless and trite," writes Nick Schager in Slant. Still, "though Walker refuses to let his story breathe sans embellishment, it's hard not to be touched by the group's performance at a local prison, the performers and inmates discovering solidarity in a shared familiarity with the desire for joy and sorrow of loss."

Scott Foundas, writing in the Voice, finds it "so slavishly embodies the creakiest clichés of British television documentaries that you begin to wonder if it's not all a big put-on." But the singers "more than carry the day.... Not surprisingly, a feature remake is already in the works."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with director Stephen Walker "about the conception of the film as a rock opera, the transition from small to big screen, and choosing Halloween 4 as an antidote to plane turbulence."

Sylviane Gold hangs a bit with the group for the New York Times: "Both on film and in person, they know part of their job is to be adorable old people, and they're very good at it."

Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss "Seniors of the Silver Screen."

Updates: "The filmmakers tread a fine line between exultation in their subjects and the hint of the grotesque, beyond even the humbling infelicities of old age," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "But Young@Heart gets at least one painful truth right as the chorus comes to terms with the inevitable departure of its members: The show must go on."

Edward Douglas: "A few weeks back, ComingSoon.net sat down with Stephen Walker and musical director Bob Cilman to talk about making the movie."

Update, 4/10: "Every so often even cynical film critics come across a movie that's so painstakingly good hearted and upbeat, so hopeful about the potential for transcendence in everyday life, that any critical inclinations simply melt away." Robert Levin at cinemattraction.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 AM

April 8, 2008

Shorts, 4/8.

Aamir Khan Bollywood star Aamir Khan blogs: "I request those of you who have asked me to stay away from the Olympic Torch Relay to understand that when I do run with the torch on the 17th of April it is not in support of China. In fact it will be with a prayer in my heart for the people of Tibet, and indeed for all people across the world who are victims of human rights violations."

"'Freedom of expression and secularism were once the hallmark of our own cultural heritage,' Samir Farid, one of Egypt's leading film critics, told Al-Ahram Weekly." Gamal Nkrumah gathers an array of responses to Fitna.

"A landmark decision to ban a film showing Christ being caressed on the cross on the grounds that it was blasphemous could be reversed after almost 20 years," reports Jamie Doward. "The 1989 ruling by the British Board of Film Classification to refuse a release licence for Visions of Ecstasy, a low- budget film depicting the 16th-century Spanish mystic St Teresa of Avila caressing the body of Jesus on the cross provoked a national furore." Mark Kermode commented on the case back in February 2006.

Also in the Observer: "Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey met with mixed reactions when he became artistic director of London's Old Vic in 2004," writes Katie Toms. "Recently, however, he has become beloved among the arts establishment." And Philip French outlines the career of Jean Simmons.

"Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the memoir section, questions are being raised about the nonfictional status of another best seller," blogs Jennifer Schuessler at Paper Cuts. "In a story in Sunday's Boston Globe Ideas section, Drake Bennett writes that Ben Mezrich's 2002 book Bringing Down the House - a tale of whiz-kid gamblers from MIT that was the basis for the new Kevin Spacey movie 21 - is so heavily embellished as to verge on fiction."

W

For Slate, Juliet Lapidos cuts "straight to the good parts" of that supposed screenplay for Oliver Stone's W. floating around out there.

"Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell are set to star in the Kirk Jones-directed Everybody's Fine," reports Michael Fleming for Variety.

"I was first introduced to the work of Carlos Atanes via his short film compilation DVD Codex Atanicus, which featured a trio of surreal shorts filled with wild characters, garishly colored sets and non sequitor plots, all produced with an intense manic energy," writes Mike Everleth. "However, Atanes's first feature film, FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) - released in 2004 - is a complete stylistic turnabout.... I found Atanes's first feature a much more thought-provoking and satisfying experience."

"I was mesmerized by Olivier Assayas's Boarding Gate (2007), a delirious thriller about sex and lust and murder, money and business, and the international flows of capital," writes Steven Shaviro. "Where demonlover envisioned the postmodern world as an enormous pornographic videogame, with proliferating fractal levels and self-reflexive loops, and ultimately imprisonment and bondage, Boarding Gate rather presents the world of global capital as a place of lateral connections."

Boarding Gate

More from Dennis Harvey at SF360 - and from AS Hamrah, who comments on a handful of other recent releases as well for n+1.

"Reading 'Camp' as Liberation and Salvation in Splendid Float: Negotiating Queer Space in Taiwan Cinema." Siu Yan Xavier Tam in Film International.

George Clooney "is America's national flirt, a pitchman on talk shows and red carpets who, against the background hum of the world's lust and envy, is lightly ironic, clever, and self-deprecating, with furrowed brow and bobbing head, and a gyration in the lower jaw suggesting something being moved around under his tongue," writes Ian Parker in the New Yorker. "[H]e is the fellow at the end of the bar, who, on a scale running from James Stewart to Jack Nicholson, has found an enviable midpoint of courteous roguishness."

Ty Burr has a looong talk with Martin Scorsese for the Boston Globe.

In the Telegraph, Benjamin Secher talks with Catherine Breillat and Daisy Garnett meets Clémence Poésy.

Daniel Craig Liz Hoggard talks with Daniel Craig for the Independent. Also: "In his time, [Harvey] Weinstein has seen off many heavyweight directors, including Martin Scorsese, but even he has to listen when faced with the new force in Hollywood - film fans." Kaleem Aftab tells the tale of a formation of a "rebel alliance" between Fanboys fans and Star Wars fans.

Sheri Linden talks with Daniele Luchetti about My Brother Is and Only Child for the Los Angeles Times. Also: "The age of the singular critical voice is ending - people prefer the wisdom of a community." Patrick Goldstein elaborates; David Poland comments.

The Independent asks "three filmmakers fresh off self-distribution success to explain how they pulled it off."

Scott Weinberg is about to conduct... "The Hammer Horror Xperiment!"

For those who have seen (or for those like me who would very much like to see) The Cool School: You'll definitely want to know about Lorraine Wild's Design Observer entry on Mason Williams's Bus, co-conceived with Ed Ruscha in 1966.

Thomas Groh's made a movie blogs aggregator.

It's on: Pitchfork.tv.

Slingshot Hip Hop

Online listening tip. Megan Cunningham talks with Jackie Reem Salloum about Slingshot Hip Hop.

Online listening tips. Via Pacze Moj, ten albums of Italian film music from the 60s and 70s at experimental etc.

Online viewing tip. "Now, for the first time, a feature length movie is premiering on YouTube. While films like Four Eyed Monsters found audiences there in the past, they wound up online only after a festival run failed to yield a decent theatrical deal. The guys behind a quaint little comedy called The Cult of Sincerity, however, have opted out of that process, skipping forward and debuting the feature-length film today with YouTube's stamp of approval." Eric Kohn interviews the team for Stream.

Online viewing tips. IFC and Nerve team up for a YouTuberific list: "The 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:29 PM | Comments (1)

Full Frame Postscript: The Power of Story.

The cinetrix wraps one festival, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, in preparation for another.

Man on Wire Did the cinetrix call it or what? Man on Wire won the Audience Award on Sunday, as well as special recognition from the Grand Jury. The film benefited from its prime Saturday night spot on the festival schedule. (And it certainly didn't hurt that the post-screening Q&A revealed filmmaker James Marsh to be a floppy-haired Brit so charming and self-effacing he'll no doubt be played in the fiction version of the story by Daniel Day-Lewis.) It heads next to Tribeca.

I suspect that the final film I saw at Full Frame could have given Man on Wire a run for its money, had it not screened second on a Sunday morning double bill. In Weijin Chen's Please Vote for Me, which was commissioned by Why Democracy, a Wuhan primary school class holds its first-ever democratic election of a third-grade monitor. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. The audience quickly started roaring with laughter - tinged with horror - as little emperor Cheng Cheng, bossy Luo Lei, frequently tearful Xu Xiaofei, and their respective parents matter-of-factly resort to a degree of dirty dealing that would make even Karl Rove blush. Cheng Cheng, especially, is a mini Machiavelli, offering bribes and empty promises in exchange for his classmates' votes. When the winning candidate is announced, it comes as a shock.

Glass Much less shocking was that Trouble the Water garnered the Grand Jury Award, as well as the Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights. (The Katrina doc split the Full Frame/Working Films prize with Please Vote for Me.) I'd love to tell you more about Water, but along with Man on Wire, American Teen, Gonzo, Glass, Surfwise, Bigger, Stronger, Faster and Up the Yangtze, it is subject to a press embargo. Up the Yangtze, always a bridesmaid, never a bride, received honorable mentions for both the Charles E Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award and the Full Frame Spectrum Award.

The cinetrix would like an honorable mention as well. For the first time since she began coming to Full Frame four years ago, she actually managed to see some of the eventual award winners this time. A few of the others - Lioness, which received the Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award, and At the Death House Door, which won the Full Frame Inspiration Award and received an honorable mention for the Edwards - she plans on catching at the Independent Film Festival of Boston. Until then, then.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:27 PM

The Visitor.

The Visitor "Tom McCarthy's surprise indie hit The Station Agent was something of a minor miracle," writes Chris Wisniewski in indieWIRE. "A touching, big-hearted character study propelled by three vibrant performances, The Station Agent distinguished itself with its sensitivity and grace, qualities sorely lacking in an independent film culture that too often prizes the clever, the glib, the cute, and the smug. With his sophomore effort as a writer-director, The Visitor, McCarthy once again proves himself to be refreshingly out-of-step with the indie mainstream, taking an improbable set-up and patiently observing as his damaged but likeable characters work their way through it. Despite its contrivances, the film is a work of quiet, restrained empathy."

Updated through 4/12.

"McCarthy's movie is less about the trials of illegals in this country as it effects illegals but as it does people like Walter [Richard Jenkins] who are inspired to give a damn about them," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

S James Snyder talks with McCarthy for the New York Sun.

Profiles of Jenkins: Paul Brownfield (Los Angeles Times) and Jeremy W Peters (New York Times).

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance and Toronto.

Update, 4/9: "McCarthy unquestionably means well, but he's made one of those incredibly naïve movies that gives liberals a bad name, and which does more to regress the sociopolitical discourse than advance it," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "'I was struck by how little I knew about the region,' McCarthy says in the movie's press notes, remarking on his trip to the Middle East as part of a US cultural-outreach program. 'With all the news and the headlines and the drama, we can forget that there are human beings on both sides of this.' Is McCarthy really this dense, or does he think he's the enlightened one and we are in need of his counsel? I hope the former, but, on the basis of The Visitor, I fear the latter."

Updates, 4/10: Chuck Wilson talks with Jenkins or the LA Weekly.

Aaron Hillis talks with McCarthy for the IFC.

Updates, 4/11: "The curious thing about The Visitor is that even as it goes more or less where you think it will, it still manages to surprise you along the way," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. " It is possible to imagine a version of this story - the tale of a square, middle-aged white man liberated from his uptightness by an infusion of Third World soulfulness, attached to an exposé of the cruelty of post-9/11 immigration policies - that would be obvious and sentimental, an exercise in cultural condescension and liberal masochism. Indeed, it's nearly impossible to imagine it any other way. And yet, astonishingly enough, Mr McCarthy has."

"Eloquent and unassuming, it's a picture that hits home precisely because it doesn't overreach its grasp," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

"It's tempting to describe McCarthy's movie as a story about the effect of draconian post-Sept 11 immigration laws on individuals, but this would make it sound like the kind of issue-driven movie that plays like a scolding and feels like a chore," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "The Visitor is far from that. It's a film about relationships, their randomness and unpredictability, and what happens when bureaucracy attempts to make life conform to its rigid, parochial and often ignorant standards."

"As a low-key exercise in illustrating the scope of human compassion, The Visitor is a terrifically well-meaning film whose story is too tidy in its symmetries, though often redeemed by its performances," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun.

"McCarthy imbues a hoary old staple of low-budget American film - an unlikely conglomeration of misfits who come together to form an unlikely family - with sensitivity and grace," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Like few of his filmmaking peers, he understands and respects the power of quiet, and how a whisper can be as explosive as a shout."

Howard Feinstein profiles McCarthy for Filmmaker: "Although comparing McCarthy's paid thesping to personal projects he writes and directs may seem glib, one can make a case for his attraction to films whose ideological underpinnings echo his own predispositions.... The Visitor incorporates technical and dramatic elements McCarthy gleaned from his work on innumerable features and television series into an enlightened take on contemporary America in crisis. The brilliantly unobtrusive depiction is so au courant that one might expect it to have been realized as a quickie television doc instead of as a feature narrative."

Update, 4/12: For NPR, Elizabeth Blair talks with Haaz Sleiman, who plays Tarek Khalil.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:53 AM

ND/NF Dispatch. 2.

Momma's Man Following up on his first dispatch, David D'Arcy looks back on one of the highlights of the just-wrapped series.

Now that New Directors / New Films, organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, has come to an end, we can see that a few first features were stand-outs. One which showed the hand of a promising new talent was Momma's Man, by Azazel Jacobs, son of the veteran independent filmmaker Ken Jacobs.

Momma's Man premiered at Sundance, and was among four US independents shown at ND/NF 2008 - the others were Ballast, Frozen River and Sleep Dealer. Each, including Momma's Man, makes great use of its location. You can't really call the concrete and interiors of Momma's Man a landscape. (For what we've come to see as the generic Sundance look, consider Jellyfish, which I'll look at soon in an interview with its Israeli director Etgar Keret.) Should we praise Sundance's programmers for this outcome, and should the ND/NF programmers be looking more widely for new work?

The title of Jacobs's film hints that our protagonist has been overly coddled by his mother, which may well be true. Momma's Man opens as 30-something Mikey (a child's nickname if there ever was one) is beginning a trip home from his parents' cluttered loft in lower Manhattan. He will spend the whole film never completing that trip. Mikey has a job, a wife and a child back in California, yet somehow he can't go back.

It's no secret that the generation born after World War II has learned how to make adolescence last a lifetime. Yet this isn't the suburbs and Mikey's parents are not overbearing types who smother their son with either affection or abuse. Squirrled into a bunk in a loft that seems like a vertical workshop, Mikey fights behavioral demons that seem to have existential roots. We are watching a confused creature, from one furtive move to the next.

Momma's Man Jacobs is getting at something uncomfortably human here - the dull pain of a child, well past childhood, who is stuck in his parents' home - not to speak of the pain on the faces of his parents (Ken and Flo Jacobs) as they witness what became of the unfinished job of raising Mikey. Is he hiding something, or is there a secret bond or stigma that ties him to his parents? We're never told.

There are also literary conceits at work in this modest minimalist family story. Sometimes you feel as if you're observing a situation conceived by Kafka in Lower Manhattan (how many times have you heard that one?): a thirty-ish man awakens one morning to find that he cannot escape the forces that attach him to the home of his parents. Yet we see the behavior, not the causality. Jacobs may also be borrowing a turn somewhat obliquely from the writer Robert Coover, that master of the ritual of human perversity. In Spanking the Maid, Coover created a theme and variations on a maid who entered the master's domain to receive - well, it's in the title. In Momma's Man, scenes (if you can call them that in this flow of inaction) begin with Mikey's mother warmly asking him if he will come sit with her or talk to her. The son's detachment just grows. Sisyphus starts up once again.

Matt Boren fits the part (and the baggy clothes) as that man, pudgy and fearfully deceitful as he runs through excuses on the telephone to his wife and co-workers. He's like a baby roused from a nap when he paces through the loft in his underwear, yet Mikey bears a stunning resemblance to David Berkowitz, that child of murderous fantasies, constructed around a neighbor's dog, who became the Son of Sam and murdered girls in cars all over the city of New York in the summer of 1977. Hey, maybe Mikey's problems aren't so serious after all. Still, you feel them all in this film.

The aesthetic of the film is as spare as the story. Mikey walks up and down stairs. He rides the subway, and turns back. He picks up the telephone and tells a lie or two. Then he goes back to sleep in his parents' house, crammed into a bed like everything else that is jammed into their space.

In a lesser world, this kind of character would be calling out for a talk with Montel Williams, or just downing martinis at a country club. Azazel Jacobs has taken nothing, or next to nothing, i.e., the unlived life, and made real drama.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:15 AM | Comments (2)

Wrapping Full Frame.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival AJ Schnack wraps the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival for indieWIRE: "Sporting a limited number of premieres - and generally eschewing the premiere frenzy that marks a number of top festivals - Full Frame concentrated on a line-up of some of the best nonfiction titles of the past year." And AJ's got the full list of winners at his own site, plus pix.

Three reviews from Chuck Tryon:

Updated through 4/11.

  • Trouble the Water is "one of the most personal, gripping narratives about Hurricane Katrina that I have yet seen."

  • At the Death House Door is "a powerful indictment of the death penalty, one that introduces us to the emotional transformation of [prison chaplain Carroll] Pickett without cheap sentimentality."

  • "[W]hile I found myself compelled by American Teen's] individual stories, I did have some reservations about what the film seemed to be telling us about high school life."

Yance Ford looks back on the festival for POV.

Updates, 4/9: As a new guest blogger for FilmInFocus, Docurama's Liz Ogilvie looks back on the last day.

"One of the most entertaining films of Full Frame was Christopher Bell's Bigger Stronger Faster*, which takes the steroids hysteria dominating sports media over the last five years and turns it on its head," writes Chuck Tryon, who's been thinking, too, lately about "Iraq War (Movie) Fatigue.

Updates, 4/10: The Independent Weekly has a recap.

Bulletproof Salesman "introduces us to Fidelis Cloer, a war profiteer who sells armored cars to diplomats, journalists, and others working in Iraq," writes Chuck Tryon. "Bulletproof Salesman, like [Michael] Tucker and [Petra] Epperlein's two previous documentaries on the Iraq War, Gunner Palace and The Prisoner Or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair, avoids any simple political positions, instead choosing to introduce us to one face of a man who profits off of war. The film works, in part, because Cloer is a natural salesman, selling himself just as quickly as he sells bulletproof cars and vests, as well as other safety devices. In fact, as Variety reviewer Joe Leydon observes, there is an extent to which Cloer seems like he would be a charming dinner guest until you develop a full understanding of his occupation and its dependence on the continuation of the war, or perhaps of war in general."

Update, 4/11: Once again, Chuck Tryon: "Because of my proximity to Fort Bragg, one of the films I was most curious to see at Full Frame was Full Battle Rattle, Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss's documentary about a simulated Iraqi village, Medina Wasl, set up in California's Mojave Desert.... [W]hat compelled me was not the degree to which these narrative representations of the Iraq War are inadequate–that's pretty obvious–but the way in which the representations actually seem to shape the war itself. As one commenter at Full Frame observed, Jean Baudrillard would have a field day with this film."

Also: "As Tom Hall notes in his Sundance review, Man On Wire primarily plays as a heist film."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:37 AM

DVDs, 4/8.

Marker / Medvedkin I noted the other day that Acquarello has reviewed Chris Marker's The Embassy (1973), now available along with The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (1967) on a single DVD from the Chris Marker Store of the Wexner Center for the Arts. Today in the New York Times, Dave Kehr reviews another pair of Marker films released by First Run/Icarus Films "that unites The Last Bolshevik, Mr Marker's 1993 contemplation of the life and art of the Soviet filmmaker Alexander Medvedkin, with a solid restoration (though spoiled by a poor transfer from the European to American video standard) of Medvedkin's most famous film, Happiness (1934-35). Seen together, the two films make up a tragic history of 20th-century communism, extending from the first, exhilarating blasts of the Bolshevik avant-garde to the final whimpers of the Soviet Union and the exhausted, duplicitous imagery of the party propaganda film."

Updated.

"[Harry] Houdini displayed little cinematic aptitude, yet the viewer who plunges, handcuffed or not, into Kino's new three-disc DVD tribute, Houdini: The Movie Star, may surface with the showman's grim, stocky, square-faced, curly-haired, gimlet-eyed glare forever locked in memory, like an unshakable specter from the past," writes Gary Giddins in the New York Sun. "Houdini was no actor, but he had presence."

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen "It is hard to envision a more perfect match between teller and tale than the one between [Terry] Gilliam and Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, the Baron Münchausen, memorialized as the greatest liar in history," writes Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times. "That in itself is, of course, something of a tall tale, perpetrated by one Rudolf Erich Raspe, who cast the baron as the hero of a series of extravagantly embroidered and thoroughly implausible adventures. But stories, as Gilliam is fond of observing, are more powerful than truth. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, released as a 20th-anniversary DVD this week, stars John Neville as the famous fabulist who swoops in on an 18th century theatrical re-creation of his life and loudly denounces it as a pack of lies - not because it is untrue but because it isn't nearly outlandish enough."

"Spalding Gray was a towering figure in 1980s avant-garde theater, a performer whose relationship with his own stage persona was so unique it spawned a new genre of playwriting." Teddy Blanks introduces a package at Not Coming to a Theater Near You that features reviews of Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box and Gray's Anatomy.

Also at NCTATNY, Chet Mellema admires Platform's "unassuming affront to the cavernous social dichotomies found in China during the 1980s, as the country begins to transition from a forced communal mindset to an acknowledgement, of sorts, of the individual. Along the way, the film addresses a kaleidoscope of issues, including the roles and contributions of the artist in a labor-intensive society; the onslaught of capitalism and its side effects; youthful longing to travel and seek other locales; familial, generational and class divides; and the influx of Westernized pop culture on a people virgin to such influence."

Classic Musicals From the Dream Factory Volume 3 "Warner's new nine-film box set Classic Musicals From the Dream Factory Volume 3 features four Eleanor Powell films, and they are a reminder of just what audiences attended musicals for," writes Sean Axmaker.

Wishing King Kong a happy 75th: Robert Cashill and Ted Pigeon.

"John Carpenter's mastery of hard-boiled genre tropes may be no more evident than in his 1976 masterwork Assault on Precinct 13, a neo-western bathed in urban decay and 70s racial tensions that packs - in 90 minutes, no less - more insight into life lessons and moral codes of honor (do unto others, etc) than most filmmakers achieve in an entire career." Rob Humanick.

Also: "Lions for Lambs is talky, preachy, obvious, but it's also honest, to-the-point, frank, and anything but simplistic, avoiding not only the disingenuously visceral point making of the likes of United 93, but also (and more importantly) the distancing apathy of so many films that it deliberately seeks to counter."

Sudden Fear Guy Savage at Noir of the Week: "The Homme Fatale in Sudden Fear."

For Stop Smiling, Mark Mordue talks with Andrew Dominik about The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte has been out on a R1 DVD for some time, but Eureka's just released an R2 version as part of its Masters of Cinema series and the DVD is "an exquisite piece of work," writes Glenn Kenny. As for the film itself, though, "Pauline Kael called La Notte, Last Year at Marienbad and La Dolce Vita 'The Come-Dressed-As-The-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties,' and as far as La Notte is concerned she has a point."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, Paul Clark (ScreenGrab), DVD Talk, Bryant Frazer, Harry Knowles and Peter Martin (Cinematical).

Updates: "[I]f the Tavianis' penchant for old-fashioned narrative folkiness has grown tedious over the last decade or two, there's still 1982's The Night of the Shooting Stars, their premier achievement, and arguably the best Italian film of the 80s," writes Michael Atkinson for the IFC. "he legacy of Italian cinema is the primary axe being ground in Diva Dolorosa (1999), making its long overdue appearance on DVD almost a decade after it dazzled authentic cinephiles at film festivals all over."

"I'm late in covering 4 by Agnès Varda and that's because I didn't want the feeling of being finished with it," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But one is never finished with Varda. She is so uncompromising, so resolutely unfashionable, so undigested by film theory and film history. Each of these four movies is like a master class in artistic independence, an unsatisfactory Zen koan whose only possible answer is its own existence."

"[I]n its formative years, the gangster movie was funnier, weirder, more sexually charged, and less constricted by moralizing than anyone remembered - as a revelatory new box set makes clear," writes Mark Harris, author of the currently widely discussed Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, for Slate. In the third volume of Warners' Gangster Collection, he finds "half a dozen relative rarities that contribute immeasurably to any understanding of how elastic, adaptable, and energetic the genre had become by 1934, when the stultifying restrictions of the Production Code began to be enforced and Hollywood movies became, for a time, duller and dumber. These movies also showcase an actor who still has the power to astound. Between 1931 and 1934, James Cagney made 17 movies, all of them for Warner Brothers. Four - Smart Money, Picture Snatcher, Lady Killer, and the irresistibly titled The Mayor of Hell - are included here. None of them is, strictly speaking, a gangster movie. But together they make it clear that rigid genre labeling is beside the point when you're considering a period in which genres, and talking pictures, were still inventing themselves."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:39 AM

April 7, 2008

Korea. Call it a comeback?

Our Town "If you sit down and think about if calmly and rationally, Jung Gil Young's dueling serial killer thriller Our Town is a film that very likely shouldn't work," writes Twitch's Todd Brown. "But it does work, and it works very well indeed... Can it be that between this film, The Chaser and Epitaph Korea is finally producing some legitimate young talent and showing signs of shaking off its extended slump? Damn straight."

"One thing Korean cinema has done rather well in the last 15 years is its continued support for, and introduction of, female directors with strong personal visions, beginning with Lim Soon-rye (whose Forever the Moment is shaping out to be 2008's first big Korean hit), Jeong Jae-eun (The Aggressives) and Byun Young-joo (Flying Boys)," writes Kim Hyun Kim. "Kim Hee-jung is the latest in this roster of talented Korean female directors. Her Wonder Years is a gentle, composed character study that will probably bore viewers expecting either a well-heeled, cliche-bound melodrama wherein copious amounts of tears are shed, or an adolescent phantasmagoria with surrealistic flights of fancy."

Also at Koreanfilm.org, Darcy Paquet on Hellcats, "a tasty two-hour diversion."

Online viewing tip. Back to Todd Brown, who points to Kweb's interview (in English) with Bong Joon-ho and notes that "among the topics covered are the upcoming sequel to The Host and Bong's upcoming adaptation of French graphic novel Le Transperceneige AKA Snow Train, which Oldboy's Park Chan-Wook will be producing."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:18 PM | Comments (1)

Books, 4/7.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee "So far, Rebecca Miller has written and directed Personal Velocity (originally her collection of short stories) and The Ballad of Jack and Rose," writes Olivia Laing. "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is already in pre-production, with Robin Wright Penn signed up for the title role. Like The Ballad of Jack and Rose, this delicate, dreamy novel tells the story of an outsider for whom the ties of blood and marriage are both trap and salvation. As the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis and the daughter of Arthur Miller, it's no doubt a paradox with which Miller is exquisitely familiar."

Also in the Observer: Rachel Cooke tells the story of Virago Modern Classics and Andrew Anthony profiles Salman Rushdie.

"What constitutes live cinema?" Michael Fox asks Thomas Beard at SF360. Beard is a programmer and critic who's edited Cinematograph 7: Live Cinema: A Contemporary Reader. A book launch party is set for Thursday at Artists' Television Access in San Francisco. Among those on hand performing live screenings, you might say, will be Sue Costabile, Animal Charm and members of Wet Gate.

The cinetrix points to Anthony Miller's fantastic interview with Zeroville author Steve Erickson for litpark.

French Theory "It was in sometime in the 80s when I heard someone on the radio talking about Clint Eastwood's 1980 movie Bronco Billy," recalls Stanley Fish, blogging for the New York Times. "It is, he said, a 'nice little film in which Eastwood deconstructs his Dirty Harry image.' That was probably not the first time the verb 'deconstruct' was used casually to describe a piece of pop culture, but it was the first time I had encountered it, and I remember thinking that the age of theory was surely over now that one of its key terms had been appropriated, domesticated and commodified." He then discusses French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States, in which François Cusset "sets himself the tasks of explaining, first, what all the fuss was about, second, why the specter of French theory made strong men tremble, and third, why there was never really anything to worry about."

"Reynold Humphries is a writer on cinema and author, among other works, of Fritz Lang: Genre and Representation in His American Films, 1988, and The American Horror Film: An Introduction, 2002," notes the WSWS's David Walsh. "His forthcoming book, Hollywood's Blacklists: A Political and Cultural History, will be published in September by Edinburgh University Press. I asked Humphries if he would reply to a number of questions via email about [Jules] Dassin and the blacklists. He was kind enough to consent."

For Newsweek, Cathleen McGuigan talks with Julie Andrews about her memoir, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years. Andrews is also a guest on Fresh Air.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:58 PM

Pulitzers. 08.

The Pulitzer The nominated finalists and winners of this year's Pulitzer Prizes have been announced, and there are a few that may be of interest to cinefolk. The Boston Globe's Mark Feeney has won the criticism award "for his penetrating and versatile command of the visual arts, from film and photography to painting." The finalists are the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday "for her perceptive movie reviews and essays, reflecting solid research and an easy, engaging style, and Inga Saffron of the Philadelphia Inquirer for her forceful critiques that illuminate the vital interplay between architecture and the life of her city."

The drama prize goes to Tracy Letts for August: Osage County; Letts wrote the play Bug, which William Friedkin adapted for his 2006 film.

And a Special Citation goes to Bob Dylan "for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:13 PM

Mississippi Review. Movies Issue.

Mississippi Review: Movies Issue Marcy Dermansky and Jürgen Fauth have edited a "Movies Issue" for the Mississippi Review - and you can download all 40+ pages for your cost-free literary pleasure.

Jürgen and Marcy note that the collection of short stories ranges from "mumblecore" to "the interior lives of city-devouring monsters, strange dreams involving Louis Garrel and Kurt Russell, as well as guest appearances by Mel Gibson, Madonna, Fred Astaire's mother and - of course - The Wizard of Oz."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:48 AM

Film Quarterly. Spring 08.

Film Quarterly Once again via Girish comes word of a new issue of Film Quarterly, and once again, there are four pieces online. Editor Rob White tantalizes browsers by noting that the bulk of the issue, including a batch of pieces on "unusually lengthy works now available on DVD," may be read exclusively in print; he then considers the recent spate of onscreen "serial killers who try to talk like philosophers. What may be most disturbing about their viciousness is its credible pretense of lucid rationality."

Joshua Clover on I'm Not There: "[W]e all feel so cool about being down with the gender play, so open-minded and progressive (indeed, there is another column to be written about the extent to which, in casting Dylan as a woman, a young black male, and a bunch of white guys who are still fundamentally identical, [Todd] Haynes has made a film of this year's Democratic presidential primaries). This sensibility is finally annoying, both because it reminds us that the anxiety endures after all, but also because there are few spectacles as unwholesome as liberals flattering themselves. This critical reception doesn't make I'm Not There a lesser film, just a less-pleasant social fact."

Adrian Martin contrasts the way in which I'm Not There dances around the hole, the absence at its center - Bob Dylan - with the approach taken by Ken Jacobs's Star Spangled to Death to Jack Smith - and to the viewer - adding, "To watch Star Spangled is to be plunged back to the very origin of a 'funk art' that created its magic from, literally, whatever junk was to hand, from what [Félix] Guattari called 'this American mess' - a true no-budget endeavor."

In a piece written before the writers' strike ended, Ben Walters looks back at all the little movies that got made anyway: the pro- and anti-WGA online videos.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:20 AM

New York's Canon.

New York @ 40 To celebrate the magazine's 40th anniversary, New York editors decided: "Our New York canon would not be a best-of, or a greatest-hits list of works made about New York, or in New York, or by New Yorkers.... The key was that the choices be unmistakably New Yorky, even if a few weren't all that good."

David Edelstein knows his list of movies is heavy on the 70s, "But if you're looking for films that capture something emblematic about New York, it's hard to leave out The French Connection, Taxi Driver, or Annie Hall. It's hard to leave out Death Wish, too, even if it's hateful."

Do the Right Thing makes the list, and Logan Hill asks Spike Lee, among other things, "What do you think of Obama?" Lee: "I'm riding my man Obama. I think he's a visionary. Actually, Barack told me the first date he took Michelle to was Do the Right Thing. I said, 'Thank God I made it. Otherwise you would have taken her to Soul Man. Michelle would have been like, "What's wrong with this brother?"'"

Cindy Sherman "What mistakes do people make about the [Untitled Film Stills]?" Mark Stevens asks Cindy Sherman, who replies, "Referring to them as self-portraits."

Boris Kachka talks with Tony Kushner about Angels in America. Q: "You made Heaven look like San Francisco. So why was the play set in New York?" A: "Who is it, Baudrillard? One of those French guys said New York is the city of the Apocalypse. It has a kind of real and unreal feeling. It's also a city of towers, it points upward, so obviously it has this feeling of vision, of a hallucination almost."

Kachka also talks with EL Doctorow about Ragtime; unfortunately, the film doesn't come up.

More lists: Sam Anderson (books), Jeremy McCarter (theater), Hugo Lindgren and Ben Williams (pop and jazz), Jerry Saltz (art), a crowd (TV), Justin Davidson (architecture and classical music).

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 AM

April 6, 2008

Cinema Scope. 34.

Colossal Youth Thanks to Michael Guillén for the heads-up: Cinema Scope and filmswelike are teaming up to offer free DVDs to subscribers, starting this summer. And the first DVD to come with that issue: Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth.

Meantime, online from the new issue are two pieces from each department; but first, editor's Mark Peranson introduces Issue 34: "I take a look and I'm truly surprised to see how much that follows covers films that screened in Berlin.... And this was a festival roundly scorned, by myself included, one where a truly rank competition led to a rank Golden Bear.... So do we judge a festival by the few interesting films, or the horrors?"

Regardless, Cinema Scope is, for the most part, focusing on the upside, beginning with Mark Peranson's own interview with James Benning: "Those familiar with Benning's recent landscape films will be comforted by the fixed camera and the film's continental scope, but RR marks something of, dare I say, a crucial advance."

"Undeniably, there is some poetic justice to the fact that United Red Army, Wakamatsu Koji's monumental chronicle of the excited emergence and devastating disintegration of Japan's ultra-left movement, towered head and shoulders above this year's pimply Berlinale edition," writes Christoph Huber. "After all, it was 43 years ago at the Berlin film festival that Wakamatsu's career kicked into high gear."

Ballast Tom Charity talks with Lance Hammer about Ballast, whose "minimalist aesthetic is not what we might expect from a former art director on studio blockbusters like Batman and Robin (1997). As he made clear when we met, Hammer has already served his time in the studio system; he's not desperate to break back into it."

"Watching The Feature, vidéaste Michel Auder's return to filmmaking (on HD video; co-directed by Andrew Neel, grandson of the late artist Alice Neel, Auder's longtime friend and frequent subject), which premiered in the Forum at this year's Berlinale, a sense of length becomes almost painfully pronounced, and not just because the film is long, which it is at 2 hours and 54 minutes," writes Andréa Picard. "The overriding sense of summation that fidgets through the fictionalized auto-portrait likewise induces a squirmy viewing, though surprisingly, that's a product of its strength, of its flashes of raw humanity cloaked in a narcissism too grand and too self-aware to be real."

Now about that Golden Bear. Quintín has definitely the most interesting, possibly the most provocative and very likely the best piece on Elite Squad we'll see.

Alexandra On to the items, then, that have nothing to do with the Berlinale:

Michael Sicinski on Alexander Sokurov: "Tracing all the threads in adequate detail would be impossible here, but suffice to say, we have his video work, his dictator trilogy, and his familial films. Alexandra can best be understood as the juncture of all three, and that's why even though it seems like humanist arthouse fodder to the point of being comically quaint, it's ultimately very bizarre."

Once again, Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Global Discoveries on DVD" is too bountiful for any one running theme to keep up with it, but the touchstone here is "critical editions, with extras that do a lot to enhance the original films."

Adam Nayman: "It matters not a whit that Diary of the Dead is a dreadful movie: its themes are easily discernable, and thus it has been subject to high-end critical cooing."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:54 PM

Brooklyn Rail. April 08.

Brooklyn Rail April 08 "Starting with Repo Man, director Alex Cox has successfully subverted mainstream culture (and the studio system) with several definitive cult films," writes David Wilentz, introducing his interview in the new issue of the Brooklyn Rail.

Also, Two-Lane Blacktop "thematically and stylistically bears the trait that defines the greatest heroes of the West: restraint. Two-Lane replaces both the horse and the gun with the cars; the drag races that move the narrative are metonymical gunfights. Curiously, the journey has been inverted - our protagonists travel west to east, and their path seems to have neither goal, nor an end in sight. The quest has been reduced to nothingness: these characters go just to go."

Christian Parenti on a video installation by Peter Garfield:

Throughout the 17-minute piece, one witnesses the political logic of the last two or three decades - a market economy run amok, culturally sensitive advertising, the military-industrial economy, dotcom bullshit, the biomedical moment, and a political culture contained by fear, surveillance, and a growing police state.... The underlying politics are what gives Garfield's work its traction. Deep Space One is technically proficient, perfectly scored, and complete with Foley sound and remixed; in other words it is cinematic in that big-budget, epic fashion we all like, but it maintains a deeply subversive, critical defiance towards what can otherwise seem to be a juggernaut of defeat.

"Take a particularly clammy chunk of Magic Realism - Gabriel García Márquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch will do - cut it up into the discontinuous array of William S Burroughs's Nova Express, and you might come close to the incantatory and mesmerizing extravagance of Catherine Sullivan's sprawling, multi-screen installation, Triangle of Need," writes Thomas Micchelli.

Triangle of Need

"Although replete with structuralist narrative complexities, Sullivan's ambiguity of intent is also a throwback to the most primitive forms of cinema, as described by Stanley J Solomon in The Film Idea (1972): before directors began to make editorial choices determining the narrative and emotional thrust of a film, scenes were shot by a static camera as if on a theatrical stage 'in which all subjects are visible from head to toe and in which the audience... selects the area to concentrate on.'"

Robert A Haller kept a diary will attending the opening of the Jonas Mekas Center for the Visual Arts in Vilnius last November. Diplomats from around the world and reps from the Guggenheim and the Hermitage were on hand: "At least ten news photographers were flashing pictures through all of the introductions, and continued as the crowd looked at the graphically powerful and often puzzling [George] Maciunas art and documents, and Jonas's kinetic film clips and frame enlargements."

Williams Cole reviews Oren Jacoby's Constantine's Sword, a doc based on James Carroll's book subtitled The Church and the Jews. And it "does bring up important historical and contemporary questions about how religion is used for war and persecution - issues that are especially relevant given that the present 'global war on terror' is sparked and fuelled largely by religion."

Jesi Khadivi on Funny Games US: "While script, shot sequence, production design and score are virtually the same, something gets lost in cultural translation. When Funny Games is divorced from its cultural context, it takes on the air of a beautifully constructed, Germanically pretentious exploitation film." Also: "In a historic cameo, pulp director Samuel Fuller tells Ferdinand that 'a film is like a battleground; It has love, hate, action, violence and death. In one word, emotion.' Pierrot Le Fou proves Fuller's definition of cinema to be spot-on."

Paranoid Park

"Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park is triumphant throughout," declares Sarahjane Blum. "Every shot is a masterpiece. The screenplay improves on an already tremendous book. The casting is phenomenal. The sound design is haunting, humorous, and never cute. Any of these is cause enough to see the film (especially the cinematography and editing), but there's more. The film manages to dissociate words from meaning, truth, and beauty without naively asserting that images conjure these abstractions."

My Blueberry Nights "is classic Wong Kar Wai: swaggering cowboy rebellion meets pin-ups, meets poetry, meets philosophical meandering, with a dash of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, and Wim Wenders's Don't Come Knocking," writes Makenna Goodman. "The director addresses America as both a visual buffet of downtrodden, sexy loners searching for purpose in their places of worship (the bar, the poker table, the café whose owner always knows your order), and the ground upon which it stands—both desolate craggy rock and cities crammed with metal. In Blueberry Nights, style saves the day."

Tessa DeCarlo on Married Life: "I love the idea of this movie, of codependence so extreme that it can see murder as an act of tenderness, of profound selfishness blindly insistent that it cares only about what's best for everyone else.... Sadly, the execution doesn't live up to the premise. What should be a mordant Hitchcockian romp clumps along with the slow tread of an art flick, but minus insights that might justify the leisurely pacing."

The Draughtsman's Contract

"If you watch Peter Greenaway's introduction to The Draughtsman's Contract, an alarm may go off as he reveals how he conceived the film," writes Rachel Balik. "A fine artist by training, Greenaway had a teacher whose mantra was: 'Draw what you see and not what you know.' The Draughtsman's Contract is Greenaway's cinematic elucidation of that theory."

And Melina Neet revisits A Zed & Two Noughts, "Greenaway's discourse on death and decay, replete with an introduction in which the director mentions his admiration for Darwin, a 'very good storyteller.' Despite the multilayering of metaphors, though, the film's story doesn't really satisfy; it's so dry it could have been delivered in a lecture hall."

"I am not a big fan of reality TV, but VH1's Rock of Love resonated with me from the beginning," confesses Mary Hanlon. "Now in its second season, Rock of Love continues to be a looking glass into the world of those desperate to join the C-List."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:38 AM

Full Frame Dispatch. 3.

Once again, the cinetrix from the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. And here are dispatches 1 and 2.

American Teen "It's entertaining. It'll get butts in seats. But does it belong at Full Frame?" This question sums up the divided response to American Teen. Nanette Burstein's documentary, showing out of competition at the festival, was one of Saturday's big draws and a guaranteed conversation-starter.

Another was Werner Herzog's look at the professional dreamers who gravitate to the McMurdo base in Antarctica, Encounters at the End of the World [site], also showing out of competition. Die-hard Herzog fans could be heard happily trading favorite Werner voice-over gems afterward, such as when the filmmaker announces up front that he traveled to Antarctica as a guest of the National Science Foundation, "even though I would not come up with another film about penguins."

Unfortunately, midway through the screening, the technological bad luck plaguing the Carolina Theatre's Fletcher Hall this year struck again, and the presentation was marred by every programmer's nightmare: a buggy tape that pixilated the image. Many in the audience took the staff's opt-out offer, but the cinetrix chose to stick it out and is glad she did.

Life Support Music In-competition flicks also held their share of surprises. Chuck Tryon spoke highly of world premiere Life. Support. Music. [site], which chronicles the recovery of musician Jason Crigler from a brain hemorrhage that left him a vegetable. The cinetrix, a little leery of yet another movie about a Mardi Gras and white class privilege, was pleasantly surprised by The Order of Myths [site], in which filmmaker Margaret Brown takes a nuanced look at the black and white celebrations in Mobile, Alabama, home of the oldest Carnival in North America.

Another divisive and distinctly Southern subject was the focus in Boogie Man [site], Stefan Forbes's film about the late Republican bagman Lee Atwater. Even though the doc is reportedly not quite finished, with time codes still popping up on some archival footage, Boogie Man prompted a spirited discussion among South Carolinians attending the festival for its balanced but still incendiary story of that state's notorious native son.

But the night's most rapturously received film had to be Man on Wire [site]. A definite front-runner for the audience award, James Marsh's film tells the tale of Philippe Petit, the French tightrope walker who crossed the chasm between the Twin Towers eight times in August 1974. The director explained afterward how fortunate he was that the players in this plot had never really spoken about the stunt, but the true happy accident was discovering color footage of Petit and his friends as they practiced in France that had never been developed.

As for the other award winners, I'll report back after the awards BBQ...

Posted by dwhudson at 8:03 AM | Comments (1)

Charlton Heston, 1924 - 2008.

Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston, who appeared in some 100 films in his 60-year acting career but who is remembered chiefly for his monumental, jut-jawed portrayals of Moses, Ben-Hur and Michelangelo, died Saturday night at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 83....

Every actor dreams of a breakthrough role, the part that stamps him in the public memory, and Mr Heston's life changed forever when he caught the eye of the director Cecil B De Mille. De Mille, who was planning his next biblical spectacular, The Ten Commandments, looked at the young, physically imposing Mr Heston and saw his Moses.

Robert Berkvist, New York Times.

Updated through 4/9.

Heston won the Academy Award for best actor in another religious blockbuster in 1959's Ben-Hur, racing four white horses at top speed in one of the cinema's legendary action sequences: the 15-minute chariot race in which his character, a proud and noble Jew, competes against his childhood Roman friend....

Like the chariot race and the bearded prophet Moses, Heston will be best remembered for several indelible cinematic moments: playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with Orson Welles in the oil fields in Touch of Evil, his rant at the end of Planet of the Apes when he sees the destruction of the Statue of Liberty, his discovery that "Soylent Green is people!" in the sci-fi hit Soylent Green and the dead Spanish hero on his steed in El Cid.

Robert W Welkos and Susan King, Los Angeles Times.

It must be noted, of course, that during the final decades of his life, Heston effectively overshadowed his acting career with his off-camera activities as spokesman for the National Rifle Association and other conservative causes.... Indeed, many people - most people? - were so accustomed to thinking of him as a right-wing grey eminence that it was all too easy to forget that, as a younger man, Heston was active in the civil rights movement - he marched alongside Dr Martin Luther King (along with Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier) during the 1963 march on Washington, DC - and campaigned for such decidedly non-conservative Presidential candidates as Adlai Stevenson and John F Kennedy.

I don't pretend to have gleaned great insights into his psyche after a handful of conversations over a decade or so. But Heston was, I suspect, a much more complex fellow - politically, philosophically, whatever - than either his sneering critics or fawning admirers could ever fully appreciate. And I know he was a better actor than many of my bleeding-heart liberal brethren will ever admit.

Joe Leydon.

See also: Ray Pride gathers links and several clips; annotated photos in the LAT; Wikipedia.

Updates: "I have no single favorite Heston role, but in 1998 I had the rare pleasure of interviewing Mr Heston for the release of the Walter Murch-supervised 'restoration' of Touch of Evil (1958), based on the detailed notes give to the studio by Orson Welles (and largely ignored at the time)," writes Sean Axmaker. "It was supposed to be the center of a essay on the film, but the article was canceled and the review never published. I publish it here for the first time."

"With his regal posture, searing blue eyes, perfect jawline and a baritone voice bred for noble declarations, Heston was the ideal vessel for Hollywood grandeur," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "In the 1950s and 60s, the era of the movie epic - those three-hour extravaganzas with a cast of thousands and the passionate enunciation of high ideals - he was the epic hero; it's almost impossible to imagine the genre without him. To any of these films he added millions in revenue, plenty of muscle and 10 IQ points."

"What made him such a surprise to watch, especially when he was sermonizing - and the screenwriters never seemed to run out of things for him to sermonize about - what made him an entertainer was the bang he gave the preaching," blogs the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "Heston succeeded at playing these courageous, imposing, appalled, beleaguered, almost classically handsome (too much forehead, too many teeth) men by overplaying them. This manly man's secret weapon was his histrionics - it was camp. Even at his most ridiculous, Heston was hard to resist."

"Between Apes, [The Omega Man] and Soylent Green, Heston became to certain late-Baby-Boomers what John Wayne was to their dads," writes Glenn Kenny, following a rousing defense of Heston's role in making Touch of Evil what it is. "Only in those films Heston was the John Wayne of the dystopia - the inescapable dystopia. He was, then, a pre-adolescent's first effective intimation of Sisyphus."

"In 1966's Khartoum, he adopts a light British accent to play General Charles 'Chinese' Gordon, safeguarding the Sudan against the forces of the Mahdi in the Gladstone era," recalls Robert Cashill. "He is probably as much like Gordon as Laurence Olivier, in Othello blackface, was like the Mahdi. No matter - the clash of acting styles is completely absorbing, and it drives the central conflict home. The picture is one of my favorite historical epics, and unsung."

"Of the many actors I've interviewed I have to say that Mr Heston was the most self-aware about his own strengths and limitations," writes Carrie Rickey. "And that he had a terrific sense of humor. If you were to see only three films of his, I'd nominate Touch of Evil (his participation allowed Orson Welles to get this thriller financed), Will Penny, at his best as the cowboy loner, and Soylent Green, as a furistic cop investigating the murder of a VIP, a movie perfectly scaled to his particular brand of heroism."

"How sad that the last view we had of Charlton Heston... was in the final moments of Michael Moore's 2002 film Bowling For Columbine," blogs the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "His final years may have underscored an image as a shrill and reactionary figure, but Charlton Heston's thrilling, indispensable part in Hollywood history deserves to be remembered."

Also, Brian Baxter: "A French critic once described Heston as the axiom of cinema, but the reviewer who noted that if he had not existed then Hollywood would have needed to invent him, probably got near the truth. 'There was an epic, Everest-like quality to the man and many of the characters he played. He may not have counted as one of the wonders of the world, but he was surely an imposing part of its landscape.'"

The "French critic" was Michel Mourlet, and Dave Kehr has the full quote.

"Axiom, maybe," writes Peter Nellhaus. "But to borrow from the book title of one of his films, he was legend."

"I treasure most two performances he gave nearly two decades apart," writes Paul Clark in ScreenGrab. "The first, of course, is Touch of Evil... At the other end of his career, in the middle of his elder-statesman period, Heston gave what may have been his best performance in Kenneth Branagh's epic production of Hamlet. Ever since his early work, Branagh has love for stunt casting, often to disastrous ends. But Heston's performance is no stunt."

"I wonder sometimes if Heston's performances seemed as funny to people in his day as they seem to us now," writes Peter T Chattaway. "I remember watching Planet of the Apes on the big screen in the early '90s with an audience that laughed uproariously throughout the film. And the scene in The Greatest Story Ever Told where Heston, as John the Baptist, defiantly tries to force-baptize the soldiers that have come to arrest him is a strikingly ridiculous moment in an otherwise sombre film."

Online listening tip. Gloria Hillard on NPR; the link will also lead you to a 1990 interview with Heston on Fresh Air.

Updates, 4/7: "I would like to offer a few words about one of the last American movie stars," writes Manohla Dargis in a piece for the NYT devoted primarily to Touch of Evil; honorable mention goes to Major Dundee: "As he had with Welles, Mr Heston showed great loyalty to his troubled director and threatened to walk if the studio fired [Sam] Peckinpah, who was drinking heavily throughout the production. Mr Heston forfeited his salary in the bargain. As much as I admire Major Dundee, my fondness for Mr Heston can be traced back to the films I saw growing up, most important his great dystopian trilogy: Planet of the Apes (1968), The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973). This was the Charlton Heston I first met and loved and the one I still love, the last man on Earth, the raging consciousness, the horrified hero."

"Gods don't get more flawed than Charlton Heston," writes PopMatters' Bill Gibron. "He was a Hollywood he-man that actually found time for invention and experimentation, a gun-toting political conservative who had, at one time, made a life changing career choice championing speculative films that dealt with decidedly liberal issues."

"Should we be influenced in any way by the opinions that actors hold on subjects outside their profession, or give a damn about their beliefs?" asks Ronald Bergan, blogging for the Guardian.

Craig Phillips floats a theory concerning Heston's political arc (for more, see Andy McSmith and Ciar Byrne in the Independent) and lists his top six Heston films.

"What Heston gave his historical characters was the power of his own belief in them, no matter how improbable the setting," writes the Self-Styled Siren. "His finely detailed memoirs reveal a man who never wanted for self-respect, and it translated into a screen persona that absolutely demanded your credulity. Heston believed he was Moses, El Cid, a heterosexual Michelangelo, believed it with such burning intensity he swept the audience along. You may question the setting, the special effects, the dialogue, the dialect, the leading lady's eyeliner, but never Heston's absolute conviction in his character."

"Even if, like me, you were too young to know that Heston had incarnated the granite-jawed, macho American hero even when he was climbing down the mountain with a stone tablet in each paw, it was sort of clear why the people who made these movies wanted him at their center," writes Phil Nugent. "Heston was stiff in a way that spelled out 'ESTABLISHMENT HERO FIGURE' in block letters 50 feet high.... To cook up a hellscape of the future or a contemporary Los Angeles falling down like a house of cards, and then to cast Heston as the ineffectual hero proving that the center cannot hold, was to appear to be making a statement about how the times, they were a-changin'."

Slate runs a 1998 piece by David Plotz:

Those who liken him to Reagan misunderstand Heston. It is an easy comparison. Both are Democrats who converted to conservative Republicanism. Both are actors who involved themselves in politics. Both served as president of the Screen Actors Guild. Both are marvelous speakers.

But here is the critical point about Heston: He never grabbed the ring. He declined invitations from Democrats and Republicans to run for the Senate in California and resisted efforts to draft him into the 1988 presidential race. He was an actor, is an actor, and will always be an actor. His life is comfortable, and he sees no reason to change it.

"I just love Heston," writes Harry Knowles at AICN. "His range was exactly what it needed to be - and like Harrison Ford after him - it was his iconography that defined him - and like Ford - his acting ability was greatly underestimated... the fact is he conveyed emotions to an audience that accepted him. He is and will always be one of the great film stars of all time."

Updates, 4/8: "[I]f Charlton Heston were a young star today, there would be no context in which he could be, well, Charlton Heston," writes Carina Chocano in the LAT. "It's not just that Heston played the epic hero throughout most of his career, it's that he embodied postwar America, a younger, more vital, less morally compromised America in a way that it's no longer possible to do.... To behold Heston in chains, behind bars or even in a morally compromised situation was to behold the classical ideals of moral clarity, youthful vigor and civilization oppressed by the depraved, the primitive, the corrupt. He stood, he observed, he suffered. Heston's muscular body and hard, determined jaw were made to endure injustice, to absorb and transform it into virtuous action."

"My favorite Heston role, I think, in terms of just being completely entertained by his work on a really basic movie fan level, is in 1954's South American jungle tale The Naked Jungle, where he pits his wits against an army of vicious, devouring, and unstoppable army ants," writes Medusa at Movie Morlocks. "Yikes! What a movie!"

Tim Lucas notes that TCM will be broadcasting "a 15-hour marathon of memorable Heston performances" on Friday.

Updates, 4/9: Nic