May 31, 2008

Fests and events, 5/31.

The Enchanting Shadow The Boston Phoenix's Peter Keough previews Shaw Scope: A History of the Shaw Bros. Studios, at the Harvard Film Archive through June 7.

Works from the Chicago Film Archive are screening at New York's Anthology Film Archives this weekend. "Think of it as an archive road show - a special program of artifacts preserved by one of the nation's youngest archival institutions that sheds light on a city not typically embraced as a hotbed of experimental or avant-garde cinema," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

At indieWIRE, Peter Knegt has an overview of NYC goings on.

"Nuri Bilge Ceylan is to head the jury at this summer's Sarajevo Film Festival," reports Nick Holdsworth for Variety.

Boston, Not Coming to a Theater Near You: Rumsey Taylor on Severed Ways and both Katherine Follett and Victoria Large on Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:05 PM | Comments (1)

Online viewing tip. At the Suicide...

At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World Back in March, Stuart Klawans wrote about David Cronenberg's At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World for Nextbook.

And now Nextbook has the four-minute film.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:49 AM

An open reply.

Movie Theater So many issues have been raised here and in other corners to Jonathan Marlow's entry that came to be known as "They didn't build their sales model for you" that he felt another entry might be in order. Opinions expressed, etc. Updated through 6/2:

We all see the world through our own prism of personal experience. In my "rant" (I'd characterize it as a "ramble" myself) from earlier this week, I attempted to make a case that filmmakers should not view the likely non-acquisition of their work from festival screenings as a failure. There are plenty of other distribution opportunities out there, although not many of them are particularly lucrative at this moment in time. Then again, it's not really about the money, is it? Only a fool makes a movie "on spec" with the notion of some future windfall.

Given all of the public and private support for my diatribe, there are always a few folks that get into a tizzy when confronted with reality. Reality, however, is debatable. Spout's Karina Longworth, for instance, described me as the film acquisitions fellow "for GreenCine's DVD-by-mail main site." That was true about a year ago. Tom Hall's thin-skinned piece (more about that in a moment) says that I don't "seem to know much about how film festivals work." I wager it would take about 20 seconds to discover that I have something of a familiarity with festivals. I attend about 40 such events every year and I've worked for about a dozen (either directly or in-directly). This is what passes for journalism these days? Little or no research? Meanwhile, Agnes Varnum writes, "Do people really not know this information?" Unfortunately, not as many folks are familiar with these talking points as I had hoped. I'd initially intended to write a compare-and-contrast piece about the Independent Film Festival of Boston, the Tribeca Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival - something of an embellishment on the already excellent coverage of these festivals on the Daily - from the relatively unique perspective of someone who attended all three. Yet, at each festival, I talked to numerous filmmakers with tales of pending acquisition just on the horizon. I've been talking these same points since my days at Amazon.com in the 1990s. It's slightly disappointing that these directors are still dreaming the dream.

To be clear, the piece was also not-so-subtly considered to be a bit of a challenge to the few theatrical acquisition establishments that are still standing. I'd be delighted to see Barry Jenkins's Medicine for Melancholy play at multiplexes across the country. Add to that about a hundred other features that I've seen over the last decade that sadly never went much of anywhere post-festival circuit. Prove me wrong! I'm still waiting.

Meanwhile, back to Tom and his response. I've never attended the Sarasota Film Festival although I've only heard great things about it. My only limited experience with Sarasota is their party at the Toronto Film Festival about two years ago. Admittedly, it's the only party that I've attended in Toronto that I have ever enjoyed. I figured, perhaps mistakenly, that if they could get that right, they probably know how to throw a good festival, too (and, for ten years, they've evidently been doing exactly that). A quick look at the programming for the most recent edition, for which Tom was largely (if not entirely) responsible, clearly demonstrates a solid event. Let's get something clear, though - "[O]ur festival featured over 220 films this year and I was proud to show each title among them." 220? You've made a decision to have a large festival and I can't argue with that choice. However, you can't expect me (or anyone) to believe that every film was good. Without calling them out, I see several dodgy ones in the list. I also see Woodpecker and the aforementioned Medicine for Melancholy. Tom's marks for independent street-cred are duly noted. Although Sarasota clearly isn't one of the festivals that exploit the filmmaker and their work, it's naïve to suggest that such festivals don't exist. In other words, I didn't have Tom and/or Sarasota in mind when I was scribbling this piece out on a flight (back from a festival, naturally). Nor True/False. Nor Ann Arbor. Nor TIE. All great events, from what I hear, that I have yet to attend.

Further along, Tom notes that "non-profit arts organizations are not structured as a replacement for traditional for-profit distribution models." I never suggested that they were. As a Board member of a non-profit arts organization that presents non-commercial films from around the world, I would never suggest anything of the sort. I believe, though, that I am largely to blame for this essential misunderstanding since the theme was picked up by Sujewa Ekanayake as well. It was not my goal to get festivals to pay filmmakers. While it is gradually becoming de rigueur for films with distribution in place to get a few dollars for the right to show these works, Tom has a vested interest to discourage such efforts. I don't blame him for that. In fact, the economics of such events don't warrant the proliferation of such a system at all (although if Sujewa can figure out how to make it happen, I'll definitely do what I can to support it).

"Each event stands alone and should be weighed on its individual merits, benefits and shortcomings." I thought that was what I was doing. "What film festivals share with distributors is that they both screen films in a theater. But does that make them the same thing?" Not at all, but therein is the crux of the issue. "Ersatz" was not a word chosen lightly. Film festivals have become an "artificial substitute" for the real thing only because the real thing has largely disappeared. Independent exhibitors are rapidly disappearing, too. The plea isn't for an end to film festivals or independent exhibitors. The plea is for every filmmaker that has shelved their work or hidden it away in a closet or basement to make it available for all to see. They should not be discouraged by the sorry state of affairs but should be, instead, encouraged by all of the new opportunities for their work to be seen - new opportunities that will ideally bring them a few dollars, Euros or Pesos as well (and perhaps, eventually, enough money to make another film if they're self-financing their own projects). Like any sensible person, I'd rather see a movie in a theater (either at a festival or in theatrical release). Like any reasonable person, I'll see a movie-of-interest any way possible. DVD? TV? On a set-top box? On a laptop? On a mobile phone? Although my Luddite side is not too fond of this last option, I'm ultimately format-agnostic.

As for "one of the most condescending ideas," I'll do you one better. About 20 years ago, David Thomas (frontman for the legendary Pere Ubu) suggested that there were far too many bands in the world. I think it's time to revive his appeal and apply it to the motion picture industry. There are far too many people making movies that have no business picking up a camera. I've said it on panels and now I'll put it in print - if you're a filmmaker and you suspect that you're not up for the challenge, please stop! We've had enough. The business of filmmaking, like the process of politics, often discourages our best and brightest. These days, the good ones generally give up on the Sisyphean hurdles and find some other practical line of work. Audiences are then regularly left with a particular personality type that continues to make films-about-nothing long after they should've stopped. If we can promote the former and deride the latter, we've done our part.

Of course, the odds of making a good movie are against us all. I've been involved in my share of mediocre efforts. For every Barry Jenkins there are a dozen Eric Schaeffers. If I can somehow contribute to an environment that makes it easier for Barry's current film to find distribution or his next to get produced, I've accomplished something. This is by no means a lofty goal. A modest proposal for the filmmaking (and film exhibiting) community? Perhaps.

- Jonathan Marlow


Update, 6/2:: Bob Alexander, President of IndiePix, argues "that the traditional models of distribution, which barely work for the major studios, do not work - at all - in some scaled down version for independent film." But "new technologies of the Internet era offer great new possibilities for the community of film fans.... Filmmakers and film-lovers alike should be excited about the evolution of our industry."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:38 AM | Comments (6)

Israel @ 60. The Lemon Tree.

James Van Maanen on the opening of the series and The Lemon Tree; further notes on the series will go on appearing here.

Lemon Tree Gorgeous, tasty cheese plates (catered by Zabar's!); good wines, red and white; happy people mixing and chatting. It was all quite delightful during Wednesday night's reception for the opening of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's week-long Israel @ 60 series, in collaboration with The Jewish Museum and the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. 15 films will be shown, generally twice each. Of course, the list is a fine one, and (of course) what was not included seems as pointed as what has been: Nothing by Eytan Fox (Yossi & Jagger, Walk on Water, The Bubble)? Why Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's interesting and thoughtful The Inner Tour rather than his amazing (and evidently, in some circles, quite anger-provoking) James' Journey to Jerusalem? Still, the series offers the great Late Marriage by Dover Koshashvili, Joseph Cedar's inquisitive Campfire, Karen Yedaya's difficult Or (My Treasure) and Giddi Dar's too-cute-for-my-taste Ushpizin, among others.

Maybe it's too easy for a non-Jew to ask the following question, but hasn't any celebration of Israel got to be a double-edged sword? There's so much to be thankful for and so much over which to despair. One of the things I love most about Israeli filmmakers is that they ask this question, too - each in his/her own way, over and over again. Instead of celebrating, they seem to pin their state to the wall and then question, question, question. Their films resound, and last night's American premier of Eran Riklis's The Lemon Tree continues the resonance.

Riklis himself was on hand to introduce the movie and for a Q&A afterwards. He made a splendid host: genuinely self-effacing, very easy to question and always quick and honest with his comebacks. He seemed, in fact, very similar to his movie: full of irony, love, sadness, anger, fear, joy - the works - and yet so low-key about it all. One of the first things Riklis told us was that he is often asked how films such as his, which are usually critical, or at least questioning of Israeli policies, are allowed to be made. The director made it clear that there is simply no film censorship in Israel. Period.

Audience questions about The Lemon Tree were many and interesting - everything from the process of collaboration (Riklis evidently directed and co-wrote), to the meaning of various moments in the film and how it was to work with the wonderful Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass, whom he earlier used in his hit film The Syrian Bride. Due to be released theatrically later this year by the more-adventurous-than-most distributor IFC, the FSLC was granted this one-time, not-open-to-the-public screening of The Lemon Tree, as its post-reception attraction. A thoughtful, realistic and fair film, it proved a very good choice for the "celebration."

Lemon Tree

The Lemon Tree is based on an actual incident that happened in Israel not that long ago. It's been jiggered for effect, but not in the way that so many mainstream movies seem re-imagined to make "winners" of their protagonists (and losers of the audience). When the Israeli Defense Minister moves in next to a Palestinian widow, whose lemon grove, the minister's security forces decide, poses a threat, the grove must be destroyed. Legal battle stations are assumed, and the gears of "justice" begin to grind. But it is the personal side of things that prove most interesting: the widow (played by Abbass) and her lawyer (Ali Suliman from Syrian Bride and Paradise Now), the Minister (Doron Tavory) and his increasingly estranged wife (Rona Lipaz-Michael).

The movie shifts from Israel to America and back, from the law courts to the lemon grove, from soldiers on duty to reporters at work, always capturing the moment of interest in an understated manner. Even the one scene you might call overstated (a kiss during which the screen literally lights up) is so full of conflicting possibilities (Is this moment fantasy? Did the sun just come out?) that, oddly enough, it enriches the movie rather than detracts from it. And without overtly mentioning such hot-button terms such as "fundamentalism," "feminism" or "state power," the movie forces us to think about all of these, along with others we might prefer to forego.

When it was released in Israel this past March, the director explained, The Lemon Tree was a commercial failure. Thankfully, it has been more successful in Europe. It is not difficult to understand why: The film captures, about as well as possible, both sides of the circumstances of this tiny and relatively unimportant (in the whole scheme of things) event. And it offers but the smallest hope for either side. Not a crowd pleaser, certainly - but in its manner, truthful. I hold out not much greater hope for its American release. Yet the fact that it will appear here theatrically (and later, I expect, on DVD) is good news for all of us willing to keep wrestling with the Israel/Palestine problem and hoping against hope for progress via small increments. I'd call The Lemon Tree one of these.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:04 AM

May 30, 2008

Shorts, 5/30.

Stranger: Sandy Cioffi "It is a heady concept to be seized at gunpoint, and it's compounded when you feel responsible for the Nigerians who have trusted you - the ones in your notes and on your footage." Sandy Cioffi was in the Niger Delta filming Sweet Crude (trailer), a doc-in-progress about "the systematic theft of vast oil riches from under the feet of a population now living in abject poverty and environmental decimation," when the crew was detained by the military. "Once they Googled the film title and my name, we were held because the old-guard military in Nigeria does not want this story told. They were open about this. Had I been filming only militants in masks with guns - an image that supports the narrative the Nigerian government wants disseminated - I believe my crew and I would have walked."

An online viewing tip of sorts. In the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab has the trailers for Bernd Eichinger and Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex, "one of a growing number of terrorist-themed features and documentaries currently being made" (and with an all-star German cast), and for discusses Steven Soderbergh's Che. Other films warranting mention in the piece include Olivier Assayas's planned "action film" on Carlos the Jackal and Colombian director Victor Gaviria's Black Blood: The Hour of the Traitors, "based on a true story about a young Farc leader betrayed by his own family."

"It is impossible to hear the call for a conversation about race without thinking about Barack Obama's 'A More Perfect Union' speech," writes Chuck Tryon. "It is in this context that I viewed Katrina Browne's important new documentary, Traces of the Trade, which will be airing on the PBS series, P.O.V. on Tuesday, June 24. In Traces of the Trade, Browne makes use of her own physical and psychological journey to map out the history of the slave trade in North America and its continued implications in the present moment."

Andy Rector posts Charles Burnett's "Inner City Blues."

Coup pour Coup "In Marin Karmitz's 1972 Coup pour Coup (Blow for Blow), a film about a group of women mounting a successful strike at a textiles factory, the nature of work is clear: there is exploitation (long hours, sexual harassment, physical exertion and foremen and women whose job it is to prevent you from slacking off), there is a site (the factory itself, which becomes a fortress complete with ad hoc crèche, kitchen and sleeping quarters during the strike) and there is an enemy (the boss himself, who is later held hostage in his office and forbidden to use the toilet, as the women themselves had been)." infinite thØught: "The final scene, a freeze-frame of the workers united in struggle accompanied by a voice-over extolling the virtues of continued resistance, is formally paralleled by the last scene in Schrader's Blue Collar six years later, although the horizon of victory has now shrivelled to a bleak and relentless recognition of the divisive power of the bosses: 'They pit the lifers against the new boy and the young against the old. The black against the white. Everything they do is to keep us in our place.'"

"As if being Nobel Prize winner, vice-president, snookered-by-history presidential candidate, environmental scold, and Oscar-winning filmmaker weren't enough to flesh out his résumé, Al Gore is about to add another job title: opera librettist," notes Vulture's Justin Davidson. "La Scala, Milan's legendary but troubled opera house, has commissioned an opera based on An Inconvenient Truth, Gore's movingly righteous PowerPoint presentation about global warming." John Hooper's report for the Guardian and others make it clear that this is an "inspired by," not a "written by" sort of arrangement.

"In a lot of ways, one can really understand the lifestyle choice of the American hobo," writes Mike Everleth. "However, while trying to glamorize this carefree life, documentarian Alison Murray - who rode the rails herself for several months for [Train on the Brain] - really ends up de-glamorizing it."

Taxi to the Dark Side In the Telegraph, Sheila Johnston talks with both Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Errol Morris (Standard Operating Procedure).

Ray Pride passes along news that Aki Kaurismäki has become Finland's youngest "Academician of Art."

"While Italian cinema is marked by various aesthetic shifts and experiments, its thematic preoccupations have remained, for the most part, consistent," writes Ricky D'Ambrose in the Tisch Film Review. "One can think of the nation's cinema as a collection of 'movements,' distinct in their manipulation of cinematic devices and techniques, given unification by a stock set of interests: the family, religion, labor, and class conflict."

Focusing on Nerdcore for Life more than Nerdcore Rising, Marcus O'Dair presents a guide to the scene.

Also in the Guardian:

The Foot Fist Way The Foot Fist Way is "an itsy-bitsy, ultra-indie, super-silly comedy packing huge laughs and unexpected heart," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. More from Keith Phipps (AV Club), S James Snyder (New York Sun), Armond White (New York Press), Patrick Walsh (Cinematical) and Robert Wilonsky (Voice).

Adam Ross's interviewee of the week: Chris Poggiali.

Online viewing tip. "I'd like to thank the folks at IFC Center for allowing me to interview theater patrons both before and after one of their midnight screenings of El Topo that took place in April." Kevin Lee; notes.

Online viewing tips, round 1, via Movie City News. The trailer for the Coen brothers' Burn Before Reading (with an all-star American cast) and the teaser for Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Online viewing tips, round 2. Karina Longworth's guide to Fred Astaire mashups.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:48 AM | Comments (2)

The Strangers.

The Strangers "The Strangers doesn't take many words to describe," notes Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "isolated vacation home. Masked tormenters. Helpless couple. And yet it's precisely the film's spare, disciplined, back-to-basics horror effects that lend it a sustaining chill."

"Claiming inspiration from true events, The Strangers builds tension with tiny details - a moved cellphone, a looping song on the record player - and empathy with victims whose intimacy is affectingly real," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Like Nimród Antal's recent Vacancy, this highly effective chiller suggests that a relationship in extremis is the most honest of all."

Updated through 6/4.

"Tight, intense, often legitimately frightening, and committed to its suburban-nightmare premise, The Strangers may not be gory, but I wouldn't wish it on too many kids under fifteen," writes Eugene Novikov at Cinematical. "It's a classical, no-frills, 85-minute blast of cold air, a refreshing bit of professionalism in a genre whose mainstream, at least, has been plagued of late by lazy pandering and general shoddiness."

"When the lights came up at the end of The Strangers, a grim and depressingly hollow technical exercise from first-time writer/director Bryan Bertino, a colleague sighed: 'Just what we needed - a remake of Funny Games without the joy.'" Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly.

But Dennis Harvey, writing in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, finds that "The Strangers makes excellent use of eerie restraint and quiet in a long, tense buildup before most of the real mayhem happens. Too bad the last five minutes are as uninspired as the prior 80 are crafty."

And in the Voice, Ed Gonzalez finds that "Sometimes avoiding the synapse-raping bad habits of splat packers Eli Roth and Alexandre Aja is its own reward; doing so without also submitting to Michael Haneke-style hand-slapping is nearly monumental."

Mark Peikert sees the Funny Games parallel, too: "But Bryan Bertino... offers up no pseudo-intellectual bullshit. His movie, at a brisk pace and with little fanfare, terrifies us because of its ambiguity."

"The biggest problem is that all the pay-offs to the deliberate build-up are telegraphed well in advance of the action," writes Peter Martin at Twitch. "I saw this with a full house at an advance promotional screening, and there were big screams at the first scare - which I won't give away - but then each time that same trick was subsequently used, the returns were diminished. There is simply no suspense when you know what's coming."

"Bertino has the pretensions of an artist and the indelicacy of a hack," writes Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe. "He tries to get under our skin with a pile driver."

"[Liv] Tyler and [Scott] SpeedmanThe Strangers has them playing, essentially, meat puppets," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Starring in this movie isn't doing them any favors, and buying a ticket for it won't do you much good, either."

"Though at times predictable and overcalculated, The Strangers takes some sincere risks in fucking around with our expectations," writes Jonathan Busch in Vue Weekly. "And that makes me feel, well, appreciated."

The Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov has a good talk with University of Texas alum Bertino.

Update, 5/31: ""Inspired by true events" may be the best thing to happen to horror movies since the invention of the chain saw," writes the Chicago Tribune's Jessica Reaves. But "Bertino's taut, spare thriller is plenty scary without relying on pseudo-historical context... [T]his is an enormously unsettling movie."

Update, 6/4: "If The Strangers has any real or lasting appeal (it made $21 million its opening weekend), it will of course be on DVD, where, as if in some kind of William Castle promotion, the viewer is seeing the film in a vulnerable context that replicates that in the film itself," notes DK Holm at the Vancouver Voice.

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

Stuck.

Stuck "If you've ever yearned to watch (as well as hear and practically feel) Academy Award nominee Stephen Rea writhe gorily in windshield glass for the better part of 85 minutes, Stuck is your movie," writes Justin Stewart in Reverse Shot. "[I]t's not hard to get high on its gamy fumes. It may not be the idea movie that [director Stuart] Gordon and [writer John] Strysik think it is, as evidenced by press-conference statements, but the notions it attempts to get across (the homeless are hopelessly marginalized, misdeeds matter) come from a good place."

"[A]n original, deadly serious, blackly-comic thriller," declares Peter Martin at Cinematical. "Gordon exercises superb sleight-of-hand with the material; we never know if the next moment will be funny, thoughtful, or stomach-churning, and his orchestration of a wide range of emotions makes watching Stuck an exhausting, exhilarating experience."

Updated through 5/31.

This is a "grim, expert little thriller," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Mr Gordon has enjoyed a cult following since his 1985 horror hit, Re-Animator. And Stuck, while not strictly a horror film, is steeped in gore and carries a seam of mocking gallows humor as relentless as that of Sweeney Todd."

"That Stuck is mostly based an actual event (one that happened in Texas, of course) is frightening, but ultimately irrelevant thanks to [Mena] Suvari's and Rea's nuanced performances," writes Mark Peikert in the New York Press.

"The callousness and casual disregard for human life displayed by Suvari and several other characters, major and minor, recalls Larry Clark's Bully, though Gordon's film is much more purposeful," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Though it takes a little time to find its groove - the hilarious opening-credits sequence notwithstanding - Stuck picks up a lot of comic momentum once the situation gets more desperate and absurd.... It's a righteously nasty piece of work, and a rare example of a movie that traffics in B-movie grime without a trace of Grindhouse-style self-consciousness."

"[I]t's an energetic B-movie with pulpy magnetism," writes Bryant Frazer. "Think of it as slapstick social realism."

"Don't get stuck watching this," warns David Goldman in the L Magazine.

Interviews with Gordon: Nick Dawson (Filmmaker) and Aaron Hillis (IFC).

Matthew DeBord talks with Suvari for the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto 07; and David D'Arcy.

Update, 5/31: "Grandiose claims have been made in some quarters for this nasty, economical little film, but it does what it sets out to do pretty well," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Is its tale of cruelty, selfishness and idiocy... a metaphor for the current state of American life, or maybe for the unchanging human condition? Only if you want it to be."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:20 AM

Wonders Are Many.

Wonders Are Many "Jon Else's Wonders Are Many closes in on the Trinity atomic test of July 1945, twinning it with the production of an opera based on those events called Doctor Atomic and offering the creative dilemma faced by both operations as common ground," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. "The historical narrative easily outpaces that of the opera, and at times, the difference between crying 'bomb' in a crowded theater and the New Mexico desert takes this otherwise engrossing film one juxtaposition too far."

There is a "third strand," notes Stephen Holden in the New York Times, "a history of atomic weaponry and the nuclear arms race between the United States and Germany and, later, the Soviet Union, related in a booming narrative voice-over. Devastating vintage film of German and Japanese cities going up in flames reminds you that even before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, millions of civilians died in saturation firebombing. The numbers of casualties cited are staggering. The three strands mesh into a profound and sorrowful meditation on warfare, the possibility of nuclear annihilation and how developing a doomsday weapon affected the lives of the scientists building it."

In the previous paragraph, Holden writes, "It is fascinating to observe [Peter] Sellars demonstrating to cast members the exact phrasing and emotional shading for conveying [John] Adams's austere but passionate score, and to watch the final touches being added to a facsimile of the original test weapon."

Earlier: Brian Darr spoke with Else in December.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:12 AM

Bigger, Stronger, Faster*.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster "You can only make so many Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens jokes before the actual seriousness of steroid use rears its ugly head, and Christopher Bell's expansive, informative and sometimes unwieldy documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster* proves the issue to be a complex and embarrassing one to cut through," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine.

Writing in the Voice, Michelle Orange reveals why her reaction to this "scrappy, remarkably expansive, crazily watchable documentary" can't help but be personal.

Updated through 5/31.

"Without endorsing use of the drug, Bell, who's a bodybuilder himself, dives into the heated debates surrounding the maligned practice and finds something pretty damn close to an even-handed portrait, if not a fair and balanced one," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "But that's basically the point: Issuing a blanket decree for or against steroid use isn't exactly fair, because steroid users generally don't care about balance. To understand them, one must comprehend the weight of their ambitions."

In Film Journal International, Chris Barsanti notes that the doc "benefits greatly from his family-centric approach to the subject, without which it might have remained just another narrow-cast film trying to chip off a handful of converts from mainstream wisdom. Starting with his childhood reminiscences about heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Hulk Hogan (the first scenes are actually from a 1984 match in which Hogan 'defeated' that Iranian terror, the Iron Sheik), Bell first tracks his obsession with strength and size, before focusing on the nation's cult of unattainable perfection and coming up with some unexpected insights."

The doc "situates steroids as American an apple pie, an inevitable, 'natural' outgrowth of the masculine self-actualization of the Reagan-and-Rambo era," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "It's too simplified: are we really all just innocents victimized by a distinctly American striving for perfection? And how does class fit into all this? Ultimately, it's Bell's prerogative to put anabolic steroids on the same shelf as dietary supplements and weight-gaining powder, but by placing the blame on the culture rather than the individual, he leaves out a crucial piece of the puzzle."

"The lines between cheating and fair play, the movie suggests, are hazy to the point of being arbitrary," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "The bottom line in the debate is the sprinter Ben Johnson's rationale for using steroids, which cost him his 1988 Olympic 100-meter title: Everybody does it."

"While the health risks of steroids remain somewhat open to debate (given the medical benefits they afford, such as for AIDS patients), Bell's film astutely and convincingly pinpoints the means by which issues of beauty, power, potential, ego and success all fuel our supplement-and-steroid-ingesting obsession," writes Nick Schager.

Noel Murray at the AV Club: "'I was born to attain greatness,' one of Bell's brothers insists. To which Bell shoots back, with all due fraternity: Why can't you be happy with who you are?"

IndieWIRE interviews Bell; so does Bilge Ebiri for New York.

Updates, 5/31: "Bell's family is the core of the documentary," writes Peter Martin at Cinematical, and they "may be the best reason to see Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (the asterisk, by the way, leads to the wonderfully apt sub-title: The Side Effects of Being American)."

The Los Angeles Times' Carina Chocano finds the doc "turns out to be a surprisingly comprehensive and insightful look at a culture predicated on might and obsessed with achieving success at any cost. This, more than rampant steroid use among professional athletes, is what makes Bell's documentary so timely and ultimately so sobering." And Mark Olsen meets Bell.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:02 AM

Agnès Varda @ 80.

Agnès Varda Let's not leave Johannes Bock dangling alone in the wind (or rather, the Tagesspiegel) with his congrats to Agnès Varda on her 80th today. We don't have to reach far back to find appreciations in English; in January, Criterion released its collection, 4 by Agnés Varda, and I collected reviews and interviews here.

Meantime, the site's a breezy browse, particularly the recherche thématique section.

UbuWeb has a bit of online viewing; YouTube, naturally, has much more.

Updates: Paul Harrill notes "that one of my favorite films of Varda's, Jacquot, is now available on (Region 2) DVD from her web store."

Craig Keller: "Une bonne soeur."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:19 AM

Interview. Giuseppe Tornatore.

The Unknown Woman "Giuseppe Tornatore's sleazy Hitchcockian thriller, The Unknown Woman, keeps you glued to the screen despite your increasingly nagging doubts about its integrity," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Just under two hours, sumptuously photographed in noirish shades and slathered in spine-tingling music by Ennio Morricone, it twists every which way to sustain suspense until the final frame."

Nick Dawson talks with Tornatore about "his all-consuming love of cinema, the strong female figures in his films, and his long-running working partnership with Ennio Morricone."

Updated through 5/31.

"If you remember Giuseppe Tornatore as the director of Cinema Paradiso, the 1988 ode to Il cinema that was immediately destined for those cheesy Academy Award montages, then the Italian director's new movie is not going to change anything," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Last seen putting Monica Bellucci (and slavering audiences) through paces in 2000's Malèna, Mr Tornatore now delivers a protracted, forgettable revenge thriller. The Unknown Woman, which opens Friday at the Angelika Film Center, turns the plight of an escapee from the sex trade into something preposterous."

In the Voice, Ella Taylor wonders "how this repellent piece of garbage managed to win no less than five Italian Oscars."

But Jeffrey M Anderson, writing at Cinematical, finds it to be "a restless, panicked, devastating emotional roller coaster, meticulously planned and executed like a razor.... [L]ike the violent crime (giallo) films of his countrymen Dario Argento and Mario Bava, Tornatore's The Unknown Woman gets by on sheer guts and style."

Martin Tsai talks with Tornatore for the New York Sun.

Earlier: James Van Maanen.

Update, 5/31: The Unknown Woman is "an exceptionally well-made example of the kind of delirious, semi-Gothic, overcooked melodrama filmmakers from the Boot have long specialized in," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Maybe this is a serious picture about sexual slavery and the exploitation of Eastern European women in Italy, and maybe it's an upscale remake of I Spit on Your Grave - and who am I to say it can't be both?"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:47 AM

Harvey Korman, 1927 - 2008.

Harvey Korman
Harvey Korman, the award-winning comedic actor who rose to fame playing second banana to Carol Burnett on her television variety series and who starred in hit movies like Blazing Saddles and High Anxiety, died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 81.

Bruce Lambert, New York Times.

Online viewing tip. Ray Pride has "The Pledge to Hedley Lamarr."

Updates: Robert Cashill, Edward Copeland, Dennis Cozzalio, Bill Gibron, Glenn Kenny, Phil Nugent, Scott Weinberg and Bob Westal.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:35 AM | Comments (1)

May 29, 2008

"L'Origine de la tendresse" and Other Tales.

Before reviewing the collection, James Van Maanen interviews the programmer. A few notes follow. Updated through 5/30.

L'Origine de la tendresse and Other Tales It's so rare that a program of short films opens commercially here in NYC that this alone makes the May 30 release of six French shorts newsworthy (not to mention watch-worthy: the program is a good one). Under the title "L'Origine de la tendresse" and Other Tales, the collection is the second theatrically released presentation from The World According to Shorts.

After watching the program (my impressions follow), I talked with Jonathan Howell - director, programmer and founder of The World According to Shorts - to get some background on him and his organization and to learn if there might be more movement and/or interest these days in the short film as art form.

Why shorts, Jonathan? When and how did your interest in this form begin?

It started when I was in the position of short film programmer at Ocularis in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where we would show a feature film preceded by a short every Sunday evening at Galapagos. The program actually began back in 1997, and I joined up in 1998. I found myself fulfilling a need because the group wanted to replace a programmer for short films who was leaving, so I started helping out. I was told about a very fine annual international festival devoted to short film in Clermont-Ferrand, France. So I went. And it was terrific; however, I could not program anything at Ocularis because we only had 16 mm facilities available. Everything at Clermont-Ferrand was 35. The Brooklyn Academy of Music's recently opened BAMcinématek then offered me a couple of days to program shorts, and this was the beginning.

Getting involved with shorts was matter of chance, mostly, but having stepped into this, I have discovered that the short format is neither superior nor inferior to the full-length. It's a matter of what the individual filmmaker brings to the project.

Do you think shorts are garnering more interest these days. And if so, why?

They are a little bit higher-profile, now that the Oscar-nominated films get a yearly theatrical and DVD release. There is more attention paid in that sense, and also now short films are available at the Apple iTunes store. There is just more availability, in part, because of things like these. People have been saying for years that the web is a perfect exhibition ground for short films. And we're getting closer to this. Now, with the ubiquity of broadband, this is even more feasible.

The World According to Shorts When was the World According to Shorts' first theatrical release?

We started releasing them theatrically via New Yorker Films in 2006. This new set is our second, though it's not through New Yorker this time - we're doing it on our own. It's not an annual thing, just whenever we can get a new project together.

Who is your biggest audience for a program like this?

I find the programs tend to skew more toward foreign film lovers than to short film lovers, perhaps because the films are not primarily O Henry-type stories with twist endings or calling card features.

I know that Film Movement always puts one short on each of its monthly DVD releases. And the Ironweed Film Club also sticks a short or two on its monthly release.

This past year, Film Movement actually used one of the films we premiered in New York in its compilation, Pauline Pinson's Aided Migration. We also had the New York premier of a film that was subsequently nominated for an Oscar: Samuel Tourneux's Even Pigeons Go to Heaven.

Great. We'll hope to sere more of this in the future. And we'll look forward to seeing the next World According to Shorts program, whenever that might be.


"L'Origine de la tendresse" and Other Tales offers six short films ranging from eight to 32 minutes in length, all in French with English subtitles. Pen-Pusher, the shortest of the six and directed by Guillaume Martinez, offers an original "meet cute" scenario on the Paris underground that is sweet but not cloying, coolly funny and makes a nice statement about how "writing" can bring us together.

My Mother

Felipe Canales's My Mother is maybe my favorite of the bunch. In just 15 minutes, the director leads us through a story of an immigrant family, Algeria to France, centering on its women: three generations of them, though the meat of the movie involves the writer and her mother. The form is like a scrapbook of black-and-white photographs, with narration and (as I recall) music, all of which makes the story seem like a tale told from long ago that is somehow terrifically immediate and beautiful. I don't recall becoming so involved in someone else's story so quickly and strongly - and have it linger with such tenacity in my memory. Howell tells me that film, narrated by the woman who wrote the original autobiographical book/photo essay with the same title, was put together by the filmmaker on his computer. Talk about a wonderfully productive collaboration!

One Voice, One Vote

For the politically inclined, among whom I count myself, One Voice, One Vote, will be much appreciated. Here, in the run-up to the 2007 French Presidential campaign, Jeanne Paturle and Cécile Rousset combine the taped conversation of a politically active older woman and a political slacker of a young man with animation to give us a 13-minute lesson on why it might be a good idea to get involved. Their conversation is by turns charming, frank, funny and needling. But with the subtitles (at least for us non-French-speakers), I found the animation distracting and not all that helpful. I'd rather have had the man and woman photographed as they speak. You may feel differently.

The Last Day

Olivier Bourbeillon's The Last Day gives us just that - at the 1867 Schneider and Co power hammer No 125, which ceased operation at the former smithy of the Brest military harbor on the day in question. The three remaining workers spend their remaining hours on the job talking to the filmmaker and each other about the past and present. The film fascinates for a number of reasons: visually (I'd never before seen a machine like the one used here to create huge metals parts), social/political/economically (neither the men nor the filmmaker natter about it, but you can't help feel their pain, worry and wonder at what is to come next) and historically (we learn something of the type of business the men are engaged in, where it comes from and where it is going). This is one of those small films that you probably would not intentionally seek out but which, by its conclusion, you feel pleased - even privileged - to have witnessed.

The gem and wonder of the group is also the longest. I generally find that size does matter in short films. I've seen few five-, ten- or even 15-minute shorts in my life that had as much impact on me as (equally good) ones at the half-hour mark. Alain-Paul Mallard's L'Origine de la tendresse tracks the life of a relatively attractive, approaching middle-age museum attendant. It is beautifully observed and shot and possesses that reticence and philosophical bent that seems to appeal to the French (and to me, as well). This is a rich, thoughtful mix, wonderfully acted and, I think, worth just about anybody's time.

Kitchen

The program closes with a zinger: Alice Winocour's 15-minute Kitchen, starring Elina Löwensohn (Schindler's List, My Antonia, and various Hal Hartley movies), which alone makes it worth watching. Ms Löwensohn plays a little homemaker who has decided to cook for her hubby, who wants a lobster entree. Mistake. By turns funny, ugly, sad and unsettling, this is a very strange little short. Though my French is paltry, I believe that the end credits assure us that "no lobsters were harmed," etc. You could not prove this by me.

-James Van Maanen


Michael Guillén reviews each of the films as well.

"Carefully assembled so as to avoid the pitfalls that come from overreaching one's grasp, 'L'Origine de la Tendresse' and Other Tales proves a delectably satisfying round of hor'dourves, sampling various styles and subjects without attempting the contrivance of establishing a singular unifying theme," writes Rob Humanick in Slant.

"Good intentions aside, this installment doesn't work," argues Vadim Rizov in the Voice.

Updates, 5/30: Individually, each of these films "might prove diverting in the right place at the right time," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times, but "cumulatively," they "don't much make for a knockout night at the cinema."

In the New York Sun, Martin Tsai finds it "a mixed bag, but a couple of entries make the event well worth the time and price of admission."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:24 PM

Shorts, 5/29.

Boudu Saved From Drowning "[I]f I want to remind myself that the movies are capable of achieving a level of transcendence comparable to a painting by Rembrandt or Turner, or to a symphony by Mozart, I run a film by Renoir," writes Peter Bogdanovich in the New York Observer. And of course, he's got stories to tell:

Extremely taken with Boudu Saved From Drowning - the ironic and satirical saga of a bum floating down a river whom a middle-class family "saves" - I went right over to the Renoirs' beautiful Beverly Hills living room and raved about the film, quietly observed by the giant Renoir portrait of Jean at 15 with a rifle (now at the LA County Museum) and a few small Cézannes.

Jean smiled and looked delighted: "Oh, thank you so much! You are very kind." After more effusiveness, I asked what he himself thought of the picture. "Oh, well," he said with his strong French accent, "you know, we made it in the early days of sound, and sometimes the sound is not so good. Also, because we had no money, we had to buy the film stock as we went along, and some of it does not match, and sometimes the cutting is a little too fast, and sometimes it is too slow, and the music is not so well recorded, but I think, maybe, it is my best picture!"

Doug Cummings: "I'm always proud of the resources Trond Trondsen and I provide at Robert-Bresson.com, and our latest project - years in the making–is an exclusive online Bresson Bibliography that uses Jane SloanShmuel Ben-Gad's recent bibliographies as a starting point."

"A failed escape through transgression and transcendence - in body, spirit, and mind, respectively, and somewhat interchangeably - is the common ending of my favorite Rivette films: L'amour fou, Out 1 and Céline and Julie Go Boating." David Phelps.

I Peed on Fellini "[M]y bedside reading during Cannes this year included I Peed On Fellini, a wonderful new memoir by the Australian film critic and former Sydney Film Festival director David Stratton," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "In one chapter, Stratton reminisces about his friendship with Variety's late, legendary Paris-based film critic Gene Moskowitz, who, in the 1960s and 70s would file reviews from Cannes by typing them on a manual typewriter and air-mailing them to New York, where, several weeks later, they would finally appear in print. Technologically speaking, we've come a long way since then, but I wonder if the movies - and movie criticism - are any better for it."

"Like William Faulkner and Alexander Dovzhenko, Jia [Zhangke] is a hick avant-gardist in the very best sense - someone whose outsider/minority status enhances both his humanity and his art," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum. "Working in long, choreographed takes, and mixing realistic accounts of working-class life with diverse forms of cultural shock and fantasy ranging from animation to SF to rock, he already qualifies as a poetic prophet of the 21st century, and not only for China."

"[Alfred] Vohrer is a filmmaker whose mysterious life and career would probably reward a book-length examination," suggests Tim Lucas. "[W]hile Vohrer didn't launch the krimis, he was by far the most essential contributor to what the krimis became (especially in their uses of garish imagery and macabre humor), much as Mario Bava's approach to filming thrillers defined the giallo."

Jim Emerson sees the future present in Theodore Roszak's Flicker.

"Among avid consumers of serial television, there is no more hubristic claim than to say that you know Lost - know it in every convolution of its intentionally anarchic plot, know it in understanding the real meanings of all of its allusions to Philip K Dick or game theory, or the Gospel of John, or Nietzsche's theory of eternal recurrence," writes Ginia Bellefante in the New York Times. "To watch Lost is to feel like a high school grind, studying and analyzing and never making it to Yale.... It is an opiate, and like all opiates, it produces its own masochistic delirium."

"Bill Henson's photographs of a nude 12- and 13-year-old boy and girl had been due to be shown in an art gallery in Sydney last week, but were confiscated by police after complaints from a child protection campaigner," reports Barbara McMahon. Among those coming to his defense: Cate Blanchett (Adam Jasper comments for frieze). Also in the Guardian, Sarfraz Manzoor reports on "a new generation of British Asian Bollywood stars."

Arvo Pärt "This is music that drops jaws in any context," blogs Samuel Wigley: "Lest [Arvo] Pärt's sound begin to work in the opposite direction, jolting us from our involvement with a film as we recognise what a cliché its use has become, it is I think time to give it a rest."

Scott Foundas (LA Weekly) and Ray Pride (Movie City News) talk with Joachim Trier about Reprise.

Online eeeek! tip. Jordan Gray's winning poster from SpoutBlog's Zombie Photoshop Contest.

Online viewing tip #1. Matt Zoller Seitz reviews At the Death House Door. More from Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail.

Online viewing tip #2. Zach Campbell's got a long clip from Robert Gardner's phenomenal Forest of Bliss."

Online viewing tip #3. "Inspired by I Know Where The Summer Goes, an exhibition of celebrated photographer Ryan McGinley, who also contributed to the making of the video, Gobbledigook will take you on a place where innocence is still alive." No fat clips!!! has the clip and the tune and all you need to know, but for starters, the tune is from Sigur Rós and the photography's by Christopher Doyle. Via Bryant Fraser. NSFW.

Online viewing tip #4. Jonathan Lapper's Frames of Reference, "the idea being no chronological order, no genre order or preference, simply the language of film referencing itself."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:14 PM

Fests and events, 5/29.

Fulltime Killer Cheryl Eddy previews Hong Kong Nocturne: The Films of Johnnie To, opening tomorrow: "Even the PFA admits, in their notes on the series, this is a 'small sampling' of To's output. But if I had to pick nine To films - culled, as the PFA's are, from To's output under his own Milkyway Image banner, created in 1997 - my sampling would likely resemble what's on tap through June." Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Johnny Ray Huston offers a taste of Other Cinema's Saturday evening of "New Experimental Works."

"In 2005, a reporter asked Augie Garrido for his thoughts upon winning his second NCAA championship at the University of Texas and his fifth career title," notes Ashley Moreno in the Austin Chronicle. "He responded, 'We're lookin' for a shortstop for next year.' No wonder he carries the title of baseball's winningest coach ever and - as some of the participants in Richard Linklater's newest film, Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach, would argue - greatest coach ever." Linklater and Garrido will be on hand for a screening at the Paramount on Tuesday.

Also: Josh Rosenblatt previews the Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema series, "which - after months of bringing audiences films from the more dour end of the cinematic spectrum - will be presenting Making the World Laugh: Global Comedy this month, featuring slightly more lighthearted fare from around the world - from the salt mines of Germany to the streets of Thailand, the highways of Buenos Aires to the back lots of old Hollywood." Tuesday through July 29.

For Vue Weekly, David Berry previews the Dreamspeakers Film Festival, running June 4 through 7 in Edmonton.

Portland Underground Film Festival Mike Everleth has the lineup for the Portland Underground Film Festival, running June 12 through 15.

"The 10th annual P'Town film festival runs from June 18 through 22, and the line-up has just been announced," notes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

Michael Guillén passes along word of the Impact Film Festival, to be staged twice, three days each, during the Democratic and Republican Conventions in Denver and Minneapolis.

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

At the House Next Door, NP Thompson files another dispatch from Seattle.

Back in Boston: For Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Rumsey Taylor on Medicine for Melancholy.

Joanne Laurier wraps the WSWS's coverage of San Francisco.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:37 AM

Cannes. Now Showing.

Now Showing "Raya Martin's fourth feature Now Showing, which [premiered] at Cannes in the Director's Fortnight, deeply examines that void that possibly and probably happens when all the stars have died all at once," writes Francis Cruz. "The film, epic-like in length with a running time of four hours and forty minutes, can be divided into two parts, an episodic account of Rita's childhood and her present experience as an adult working for her aunt's pirated DVD stall, divided by an intriguing interlude composed of clips from one of the few surviving Filipino pre-war films, Octavio Silos's Tunay na Ina (Real Mother, 1939)."

"This film is probably better suited to gallery spaces than traditional cinemas," suggests Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "Purportedly scripted but giving off the impression of old home videos exhumed from an attic grave, Now Showing offered an extreme example of what could be considered Cannes 2008's defining trend: an aggressive blurring of whatever boundaries remain, in the YouTube/MySpace/Blair Witch era, between documentary and fiction."

Update, 6/1: Online viewing tip. Noel Vera points to clips in which Martin "talks about his filming and logistical methods, his scriptwriting style (for his first two features, he didn't have any), and how Indio Nacional, Autohystoria and Now Showing form not a trilogy, but the beginnings of three separate trilogies. Ah, youth! And more power to him, for his ambitions..."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:54 AM | Comments (2)

Madeline Kahn. Day of Appreciation.

Madeline Kahn StinkyLulu has called for a "Day of Appreciation" in memory of one of his "most treasured supporting actresses," Madeline Kahn. And the appreciations are coming in.

Via Gabriel Shanks.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:42 AM

May 28, 2008

Shorts, 5/28.

Lancelot du Lac In the London Review of Books, Michael Wood delves into Robert Bresson. For example, Lancelot du Lac:

An irreverent viewer is going to think of Monty Python every five minutes. And yet. The sheer anguished seriousness of the work, the sense that human beings might well be reduced to the bare essence of their distress, and that a camera could catch them in this condition, do offer one answer to my question. These people are interesting because they are unconvincing in mimetic terms: any attempt at richness of character would hopelessly compromise their poverty of spirit, which is all they have. Even the touch of ludicrousness helps; it is part of their penitence.

At Harper's, Wyatt Mason posts the opening paragraph of Cormac McCarthy's The Road and comments: "Here a style of writing can be understood as a style of seeing - a 'cold glaucoma' is metaphorically over the eye of the world; a metaphorical beast by a pool has eyes literally 'dead white.' Eyes teem, in fact, through the dark landscape of this fable about the blinding of the world, a world at which a reader is made to peer, through its language, for visions. Whatever else a film version of The Road may offer, that drama of seeing won't - can't - obtain. We'll see everything."

"We're in a Golden Age of documentary filmmaking right now," writes Steve James at the IFC (At the Death House Door makes its television debut on the IFC tomorrow). "Yet I don't see a commensurate growth in the number of 'longitudinal documentaries' - ones like Hoop Dreams or Stevie or Barbara Kopple's American Dream (which Peter [Gilbert] shot) that track people's lives and stories over several years. For me, longitudinal docs are the most deeply satisfying form."

Mukhsin "The Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad tells deeply personal and intensely humanistic stories based largely on her own experiences," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "For her fourth film, Mukhsin, she revisits the loving and liberal family of her previous features, continuing her portrait of one woman's journey from childhood through adolescence and marriage." More from Mary Block in the L Magazine.

"A strange, bitter sensibility was stirring in even [the Zellners'] goofiest of outings, and it is this sense of anti-pathos that blooms into full blown bittersweet misanthropy in Goliath," writes David Lowery in Hammer to Nail. "Their observant style calls to mind the old cinematographers' adage about lens lengths: what's a tragedy in close-up becomes comedy in a wide shot. Suffice to say, this is a film with a lot of wide shots."

Fernando F Croce for Slant on American Teen: "The problem isn't so much with the subjects per se as it is with the film's insistently slick, reductive attempts to mold them into real-life counterparts to characters from some John Hughes comedy circa 1986."

In FilmInFocus: Kaleem Aftab on Spike Lee's passion for soccer.

Anywhere I Lay My Head "The critical consensus on [Scarlett] Johansson's voice is that it's flimsy and expressionless, and that it's buried deep beneath the record's cottony, somewhat synth-heavy production," writes Stephanie Zacharek, reviewing the new collection of Tom Waits covers, at Salon. "But I'm here to make a confession: I like Anywhere I Lay My Head, and if Johansson 'can't sing' - a claim that's debatable anyway - she is at the very least part of a long, proud tradition of actors who 'can't sing' and who have nonetheless made wonderful, or at least extremely enjoyable, records."

"At present she is knee-deep in preparation to play Condoleezza Rice in Oliver Stone's film W, about the Bush administration." Laura Barton interviews Thandie Newton. Also in the Guardian: Francesca Martin notes that Ben Whishaw is a very busy fellow.

Online listening tip. "Much of the plot setup and some of the dialogue in Martin Scorsese's excellent 1985 film After Hours - a significant portion of the movie's first 30 minutes, in fact—were brazenly lifted from 'Lies,' a 1982 NPR Playhouse monologue by Joe Frank, the great LA-based radio artist who's gotten a lot of love here on Panopticist. Joe Frank never received official credit for his contributions, and he appears to have been paid a generous amount of money to settle the plagiarism suit and keep everything quiet." Andrew Hearst has the monologue. Via Ed Champion.

Online viewing tips. "Trust Me, You're Going to Love This." Tim Lucas has some trailers for you.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:13 PM

Heavy Metal in Baghdad.

David D'Arcy; a few notes follow.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad Why a heavy metal band in Baghdad? "Just look outside," says Faisal, the rhythm guitarist in Acrassicauda (the latin term for "black scorpion") as he points to bombed out streets where nobody's saying "mission accomplished" these days. Heavy Metal in Baghdad [site] tells us that there is only one metal band in Baghdad - or, at least, there was, before the band moved to Damascus. The band members are now in Turkey.

In Baghdad, where the members of the band approach the streets with all the comfort of entering a free-fire zone, this black scorpion - "the most dangerous spider in the desert," says the bassist, Faris - is just another endangered species.

They can't play gigs (with a few exceptions that we do see), they can't grow their hair long or even grow full beards for fear of being singled out as "American-ized" (don't underestimate how much these young guys are troubled by the restrictions on their personal appearance - what's a metal-head without hair?), they're denounced as Satan-worshippers (probably because someone heard the name Black Sabbath thrown around and then saw the goatees that they wear defiantly), and things are getting so bad, when we catch up with them in a Damascus basement at the end of the film, that their families are writing and warning them not to come back to Baghdad.

The screening of the film that I attended at the near-invisible Clearview theater on Broadway and 62d Street, just south of Lincoln Center, had an audience of about 30, and I'm sure that not all of them paid to get in. That's a shame, not just because yet another documentary seems to be going nowhere with its theatrical release, but because this film, which has been all up and down the festival circuit, deserves a broader audience for its walk into the lives of four would-be heavy metal musicians in country where you would think that nothing coming from their amplifiers could be as threatening as what they encounter when they walk out the door. Let's hope that it gets that audience on television, which seems to be its next stop.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad

Heavy Metal in Baghdad unfolds in the form of a video diary, directed by Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi, with deadpan narration from Moretti. We'll be seeing more of this approach, since it lends itself to gathering footage whenever it's available, and it's a cheap way to shoot. It's also a way that a journalist on a "legitimate" assignment can gather footage for a film, which is how this documentary began, with an article on the band by an MTV reporter, Gideon Yago, which ran in Vice magazine. Yago also shot crude video footage of the band and introduced us to their peculiar English, learned from films and metal songs, in which "fuck," "fucking" and "motherfucker" occur a few times in every sentence. Their stories are relentlessly grim, although far less grim than you'll find elsewhere in Iraq, so you're thankful for the unintentional humor. If you close your eyes, the four metalheads can sound like obscene versions of Adam Sandler in The Waterboy.

We enter the film in 2006, when the filmmakers Moretti and Alvi are in a Baghdad that's bristling with guns to visit the guys in Acrassicauda whom Yago filmed back in the "mission accomplished" days of 2003. They're about to play a gig, which has its own set of frustrations, not least of which is the intermittent electricity. (The band had been practicing using power from gas generators.)

As metal films go, this one has a special niche as testimony to the determination of four apolitical young men and the daily obstacles that they face before and after the US invasion. We see footage from 2002 of an official performance at a nightclub belonging to Saddam's son Uday, for which Acrassicauda was required to sing a song in support of the dictator, which they agree to do, rather than be punished - "following our leader, Saddam Hussein, we will make them fall, we will drive them insane." The lyrics are in English, of course. Better for the enemy to be made aware of his fate? Faris says in 2006 that "it's just a bunch of fucking lies and shit." Worse compromises were made during Saddam's tenure. Metal was already under suspicion in 2002, Faris notes in a twangy Englsih, because head-banging was thought to resemble the nodding motion that Jews make while praying. Heavy Metal as a Zionist plot? No surprise. Saddam blamed everything else on Israel. If being accused of "Fifth Column Zionist" spying weren't bad enough, before and after the US toppled Saddam, the beards were a red flag for the thought police.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad

In metal, as everywhere else, it takes more than a beard to make music. Musically, this is not a band that is ever going to revolutionize the metal universe. Most of the musicians are competent, except for the guitarist Tony, who plays wild licks over the crude rhythm section with quiet composure - quiet, in part, because he can't speak English as well as the others. While derivative, Acrassicauda does play original songs, with lyrics in English. But this is not really a film about music.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad is also not the warm-hearted chronicle of a band's lasting influence and economic failure that we see in the recent profile of the Canadian band Anvil. It's sadder. The Baghdad boys barely have the chance to practice, either in their home town, or in Damascus, where they work for slave wages and end up in basement rooms in suburban apartment blocks that look a lot like bunkers. Nor is this doc anything like Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, in which the multi-millionaire metal princes sit through anguished sessions with a tender soul of a therapist who seems to be modeled on Mr Rogers. Those are the kinds of problems that Acrassicauda would love to have.

"You got the troops and you got the terrorists outside, and we got stuck in the middle," says one of the band members when Moretti and Alvi visit them in Baghdad in 2006. "I'm like, fuck this democracy," says another. It's not an unusual reaction from any young man anywhere who, at this stage in his life, might be expected to hate everything. But these are secular young Iraqis, educated kids from the urban middle class. We never hear whether they are Shiite or Sunni. They don't say anything nasty about America or Israel. They come from the population that George W Bush wanted to save. These were the guys who were supposed to rebuild the kind of Iraq that the United States sought as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. They are now poster boys for the failure of that gambit.

You barely see an American soldier in Heavy Metal in Baghdad. In a better world, in which Americans and Iraqis actually made an effort to learn about each other's cultures, and circumstances were such that they didn't have to risk their lives to do so, Acrassicauda would have fans among the US soldiers. Remember Stuart Wilf, the guitarist in Gunner Palace? Here they don't risk being seen with Americans and being used for target practice as a consequence.

Heavy Metal in Baghdad

What you feel in this documentary is the separation of these four would-be metal stars from almost anyone but themselves. Eventually they end up in Damascus, having traveled there by bus for 18 hours. On the way, we're told, they were terrified of being robbed or worse, having seen entire busloads of fleeing Iraqis on the side of the road, who have lost everything to bandits, even their clothes. The boys say that they were robbed once already, by the organizers of the extortionately expensive bus trips through the desert. Once in Syria, where the Arab solidarity of official rhetoric is nowhere to be found, they work for the lowest wages, seven days a week, at whatever jobs they can find. Now, according to the film's website, they're in Turkey, still struggling.

Sound familiar? The metal-heads run into some of the same problems leaving Iraq as Latin Americans encounter as they try to enter the US - exploitation by traffickers, the fear of being gunned down in transit, and poverty wages if they even find jobs in their new home. The difference is that it is even harder for young men like the four members of Acrassicauda to get visas to enter the US than it is for Mexicans or Guatemalans. Fewer than 500 Iraqis have gotten visas since the war began.

So we've turned Iraq into an even more desperate dependent version of Latin America. What's next? Turning part of Latin American into another Iraq? Keep your eyes on Venezuela.

Also keep your eyes on Operation Filmmaker, a documentary by Nina Davenport on a survivor of the US invasion who decides that his way out of the deadly chaos there is through film, in Prague. As in Heavy Metal, collateral damage meets unintended consequences. It opens June 4.

-David D'Arcy

Heavy Metal in Baghdad

"Viewing an unwieldy topic through a narrow prism almost always yields greater insights than a sprawling overview, and prisms don't get much narrower than the slant of Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi's arresting doc," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. Heavy Metal in Baghdad "reclaims metal's appeal to the powerless as well as its threat = when you can get shot for wearing a Slipknot T-shirt (talk about 'Death, be not proud') or speaking the English you learned off Master of Puppets, raising those devil horns isn't an empty act of aggression."

""The filmmakers evidence a clear affection for the guys in Acrassicauda, a big-hearted and charming bunch who just want to play in peace," writes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com. "In a particularly poignant moment, Moretti and Alvi manage to put together (after enough planning and security to organize a small war) an Acrassicauda concert for a few diehard loyalists. Though truncated, it's a few minutes of cathartic thrash bliss, pushing back the soul-crushing chaos of the streets outside.... In its later sections, Heavy Metal becomes a trickier sort of film to behold."

"Both a stirring testament to the plight of cultural expression in Baghdad and a striking report on the refugee scene in Syria, this rock-doc like no other electrifies its genre and redefines headbanging as an act of hard-core courage," writes Nathan Lee.

Also in the New York Times, Melena Ryzik talks with filmmakers and the band Says Moretti: "'It was life-changing, nothing short of.' In addition to helping the band, he said, 'the big ambition is to get people to change the discourse on the war a little bit, to get people started talking about, wanting to know about, the Iraqi refugee situation.'"

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:03 PM

Savage Grace.

Savage Grace "Sizzling hot, swimming in high falutin' European locales and barely articulating thriller beats that intrigue and puzzle without doing much thrilling, I can't quite shake Tom Kalin's bizarro feature Savage Grace," writes Brandon Harris. "His first in 15 years, the long awaited follow up to his 1992 New Queer Cinema opening salvo Swoon, Savage Grace stays with you and is nothing if not unsettling (and watchable), but that doesn't mean its any good."

Writing in the Voice, Jim Ridley finds the film to be "a tawdry nighttime soap that marvels without insight at its characters' despicable behavior: It squanders a major performance by [Julianne] Moore."

Updated through 5/31.

"It's no coincidence that Savage Grace, which begins on the Upper East Side in 1946 and ends in Swinging London in 1972, announces every stop in its path with intertitles in the same typeface used by the New Yorker — that rag and this flick share a similarly gelid air of faux intellectualism and leisure-class entitlement," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine.

"Howard A Rodman's script has a lot of juice, and the rhythms are so pregnant that the air vibrates with something, even if you're not sure what," writes David Edelstein in New York.

Steve Dollar talks with Kalin for the New York Sun.

Scott Tobias talks with Moore for the AV Club.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes 07 and Sundance.

Update: "Distanced, opaque, and criminally lurid, Kalin's new film dares you to look beneath its prurient exterior: instead of a beating heart, you'll find a rotting hole," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "As in Swoon, these people are unknowable, here their lives an empty parade of glossy misery; nothing particularly new about that, but the defiance of the technique makes for fascinatingly disagreeable viewing."

Updates, 5/29: "Is Julianne Moore the queen of fraudulent gay cinema?" asks Armond White in the New York Press.

"Julianne Moore is some kind of great in Savage Grace, but the film? Not so much." Nick Schager in Cinematical.

Andrew O'Hehir talks with Moore for Salon.

"Savage Grace should have the force of Greek tragedy, but Kalin's chamber drama feels curiously stifling and flat, and Moore's volatile turn isn't enough to quicken its pulse," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

Updates, 5/30: "There is a degree of pleasure to be found in watching a slow-moving spectacle of privileged decadence," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But your interest in the decline of the Baekelands as they wander down the path from sarcasm and social posturing to abandonment, incest and murder never rises above the level of prurience.... Bisexuality! Marijuana! Anal sex! A father who sleeps with his son's girlfriend! A son who sleeps with his mother's boyfriend! All of great intrinsic interest, to be sure, but Savage Grace doesn't seem quite sure of how to communicate its own fascination with such doings, whether to convey shock, envy, pity or bemusement."

"Were it not based in fact, the film could be derided as sensationalist pulp," writes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun. "As it stands, scenes degrading the film's star (including one particularly scarring sex scene) border on the abusive. But despite, or perhaps on account of, the indignities of her character, Ms Moore takes off running with the role."

Updates, 5/31: Peter Knegt profiles Kalin at indieWIRE.

"Eddie Redmayne, primarily known for his work on the British stage, plays Moore's sexually conflicted son Tony; he proves himself to be equally pale, wan and extraordinarily good looking as his famous on-screen mother - no small feat," writes Marcy Dermansky. "While both actors are a sumptuous treat to look at, as are many of the European locations, Savage Grace seems valuable more for its camp value than for its emotional truths."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:28 PM

Sex and the City - and Summer 08.

Previous entries on this summer's movies and the season in general: Iron Man, Speed Racer, Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Sex and the City "[T]hough Sex and the City is every bit as busy as its HBO progenitor was, it's virtually plotless, not to mention pointless," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice, where Lynn Yaeger's got seven open questions for writer-director-producer Michael Patrick King.

"It's hard to feel halfway about these women and their unabashed materialism, overprivilege, and self-indulgence, their overdependence on and objectification of men," writes David Edelstein in New York. "But what a hoot it is to see babes, for once, doing the objectifying - and talking dirty and sleeping around and measuring their fantasies against the sobering truth of male emotional insufficiency. If the core friendship of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte is the biggest fantasy of all - they complement one another perfectly; they're never too competitive - it's a moving design for living: existential haute couture."

Updated through 6/1.

Both Edelstein and the New Yorker's David Denby catch up with Indy 4, while at Stream, Eric Kohn talks with Eric Zala about the already-legendary Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

"Prince Caspian is all shallow iconography: a parade of portentous images just nondescript enough to have Narnia newbies like myself wondering what exactly the big deal is," writes Matt Connolly in Reverse Shot.

Back to the movie at hand: Alonso Duralde assures fans that "if you'd been looking forward to a Sex and the City movie but were carrying the slightest doubt that the feature film would deviate from the show's formula even a little, have no fear. And have another cosmo."

Amie Simon caught it last night and posts impressions on the Siffblog: "I liken the experience to seeing Snakes on a Plane, only instead of beer-fueled men yelling 'motherf**king snakes' every 5 minutes, it was cosmo-fueled women swooning, sighing, giggling uncontrollably, emitting shocked 'ohmygods' and oohing/ahhing over the parade of gowns, shoes and bags."

"I remember the moment when, as a senior in college, I decided that I could no longer in good conscience watch Sex and the City," writes Karina Longworth in the SpoutBlog. "It was, I think, the premiere of the first season to air after 9/11, and there was a scene where Carrie announced that she was going to help rebuild downtown by going shopping."

At Movie City News, Noah Forrest has a lot to say about his love-hate relationship with the series.

Blogging for the New York Times, Sewell Chan notes that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not at all happy that his scene has been left on the cutting room floor.

Earlier: "Sex and the City in... London?"

NYP: Sex and the City Updates, 5/29: So there's the cover of this week's New York Press. Pretty much sums it up, but if you're in for more: Armond White. Also: the summer's "Film Events."

"At its best - which admittedly was never a sure thing - Sex and the City was post-feminist Edith Wharton, a tour of the status anxiety of smart young women who could no longer count on a WASP hierarchy or a college admissions dean to preselect suitable mates," writes City Journal contributing editor Kay S Hymowitz. "The writers were forever undercutting the characters' illusions about their liberated lives; in the end, these high-achieving, independent thirtysomethings - even the ever-horny Samantha - were mostly in search of men worthy of their fabulous selves."

"Sex and the City was preferable on television, negating race on Sunday nights in much the same way as the superior Friends did on must-see Thursdays," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "On the movie screen, King's desperate attempt at 'racial balance' pathetically backfires but at least proves useful in putting the show's inherently materialistic and borderline-supremacist ethos into sharper focus."

"Under the levity, there's a core seriousness about presenting these women's lives, one emphasized by the willingness of Sex and the City to grow and mature along with its characters," writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle.

By the way, notes Emily Anthes, citing research in Slate, "It's the country, rather than the city, where more of the sex is."

"In his wrapup to the half-hour groundbreaker of a sitcom that began on HBO a full ten years ago, writer/director Michael Patrick King takes about two or three season finales' worth of tears and OMG jawdroppers and whacks them together into a big, sloppy, gooey sundae of a film that is, for better or for worse, just like the show... only longer," writes Chris Barsanti at PopMatters.

Julia Turner in Slate on what - and who - they're wearing: "[T]here are fewer vintage pieces, fewer off-kilter touches, and the movie, with its emphasis on big-name designers, seems to ignore what the show got right about clothes: that dressing up is a way to invent different versions of yourself."

"[T]he film arrives shrouded in such a fog of expectation, preconception, anticipation and (now with more post-Hillary bite!) gender bias that it's hard to see - or write about - the movie for the trees," observes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Which is too bad, because Michael Patrick King... has done some brave, surprising things with it, mining territory that's been all but abandoned by Hollywood. It's hard, in fact, to think of any other recent examples of movies that explore the complicated emotional lives of characters comically without stooping to adolescent silliness or that are willing to go to such dark places while remaining a comedy in the Shakespearean sense - all's well that ends well."

"By Sunday, if the early buzz translates into huge ticket sales, Hollywood may have to consider a new truism: there's instant girl power at the movies," notes Time's Richard Corliss. "SATC spends too much time dawdling, but at the end it boils its theme down to 12 words. An estranged couple once communicated by reading love letters from famous people. Now, the longtime stud sends this email to his wounded partner: 'I know I screwed it up, but I will love you forever.'"

"It's been a nasty couple of weeks for New York's writing women, both real and imaginary," writes Rebecca Traister in Salon:

What provokes such fury, over Carrie Bradshaw, and - for a flash - over [Emily] Gould (barring a book deal and TV show that will turn her meanderings into cultural furniture) is that in a media landscape in which there are a severely limited number of spaces for women's writing voices, the ones that get tapped become necessarily, and deeply inaccurately, emblematic - of their gender, their generation, their profession. More annoying - and twisted - is that those meager spots for women are consistently filled by those willing to expose themselves, visually and emotionally. And not accidentally, by those willing to expose themselves in a way that is comfortable, and often alluring, to many of the men who control the media, and to many of the women who consume it.

Updates, 5/30: "A little Botox goes a long way in Sex and the City, but a little decent writing would have gone even further." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "The froufrou and the lunches are back, as are, kind of, Carrie's three girlfriends, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), all tricked out with their customary accessories (men, children, handbags)," and the movie "is the pits, a vulgar, shrill, deeply shallow - and, at 2 hours and 22 turgid minutes, overlong - addendum to a show that had, over the years, evolved and expanded in surprising ways."

Also, Timothy Williams and Annie Correal talk to fans in neighborhoods "that have about as much in common with the glimmering, candy-coated Manolo Blahnik world of Sex and the City as, say, East Texas."

"Looking back on the series, and on the way it could so often be both breezy and sharp, I can see it more clearly as a grandchild of the jazz age, a cocktail laced with the spirit of Anita Loos," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. But the movie is "a fat, misshapen valise that's a betrayal of the trim, elegant lines of the original show."

"The show's values are reprehensible, its view of gender relations cartoonish, its puns execrable," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "I honestly believe, as I wrote when the series finale aired in 2005, that Sex and the City is singlehandedly responsible for a measurable uptick in the number of materialistic twits in New York City and perhaps the world. And yet... and yet..."

"This is a movie so unbelievably girly, whirly and twirly that, on leaving the cinema, I felt like reading three Andy McNabs back to back, just to get my testosterone back up to metrosexual level," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It is all very trivial and disposable, and yet for all its contrivances, its brand-name silliness and its amplified problems afflicting the comfortably-off metropolitan classes, I can't help thinking this is still a cut above the sinister romcom slush that we are fed, week in, week out."

"What with one thing and another, dramatic developments cause the four women to join one another at a luxurious Mexican resort, where two scenes take place that left me polishing my pencils to write this review." And... I'll let Roger Ebert take it from there.

Ann Hornaday notes that "it slyly winks at its own ambiguous cultural impact, having spawned the decidedly dubious phenomenon of young women traveling in loud, high-heeled packs, trying way too hard to be just like the show's chic, sexually adventurous characters." Also in the Washington Post, Robin Givhan profiles costume designer Patricia Field.

"I'm not against product placement per se, but even the best-written heart-to-heart scene can only be undermined when you can tell it's choreographed to show everything from Pret a Manger sarnies to Manolo bloody Blahniks in the most flattering light," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "The film could have been witty about this, but its tone of gormless materialism remains as unironic as it is unwavering."

"You cannot simply shift a load of television actors onto a movie screen and expect them to command its greater expanse," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.

"King knows how to write smart one-liners and throwaway gags, but too often the film screeches to a standstill as it pimps more merchandise - one fashion-show sequence features Carrie breathily reciting a list of couture names that seems to last longer than the catalogue of ships in the Iliad," writes Anthony Quinn in the Independent.

"In the end, the film functions more as a super-sized television episode than a fully fleshed-out movie, but it succeeds in ratcheting up all the series' best defining features," writes Genevieve Koski at the AV Club.

Tom Leonard talks with Cattrall for the Telegraph.

"The three biggest summer movies of the year, all more or less done at the box office before summer even arrives. So the question becomes: Now what?" S James Snyder previews the rest of the season for the New York Sun.

"Helena Andrews at The Root (spoiler alert) has a great piece on the hackneyed 'best black friend' character played by Jennifer Hudson of Dreamgirls fame," notes Dana Goldstein at the American Prospect.

Updates, 5/31: For VF Daily, Kate Ahlborn and Louisine Frelinghuysen list the products placed in Sex and the City. It's a long list.

"If Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull functions on the purest level as a nostalgia machine - a reminder of celluloid's dominance as the twentieth-century's most popular art form, of Spielberg's position at Hollywood's mountaintop, of film's very intrinsic pleasures - then it's also just as much an attempted confirmation of Harrison Ford's continued vitality," writes Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot.

Erinn Bucklan, Meghan O'Rourke, Dana Stevens and June Thomas discuss Sex and the City at Slate. Warning: "There are REALLY BIG SPOILERS ahead. GIGANTIC, ENORMOUS SPOILERS right in the VERY FIRST LINES. Read at your own risk."

Updates, 6/1: "The programme raised the bar or pushed the envelope of sexual frankness in American discourse and is a milestone in the journey from the typical Hollywood woman's movie to the chickflick, though it managed to retain the adolescent dream of slipping a foot into a glass slipper while banging a beautifully coiffed head against the glass ceiling," writes Philip French in the Observer. As for the movie: "What we never see is anyone working, responding to public events or expressing a view about anything except love, sex, money and clothes. The casting of Candice Bergen as Carrie's editor at Vogue reminds us of her screen debut as the intellectual Chicagoan Lakey in the 1966 film of Mary McCarthy's The Group and of a more serious time when women could be seen in a historical context. Everyone is fabulously wealthy, no one looks at the prices on menus or questions the cost of anything."

"[T]he fashion is jaw-droppingly fantastic." An assessment from Eric Wilson in the NYT.

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

The 60s, Godard.

Previous entries in an evolving thread: 1, 2 and 3.

Godard's 60s "If The Little Soldier was something of a lost and rudely treated film, it bears attention as a thematic precursor to [Jean-Luc Godard's] genuinely anarchic Week-End," writes Roderick Heath. "Like all of Godard's films, there is lying at its core an infuriating conflict—the conflict between intellectual discourse and cinematic sensuality."

"Contrary to prevailing opinion, political films do not begin with Sergei Eisenstein and end with Ken Loach, and it is greatly unfair if not highly delusional to banish all political work of the arts to the doldrums," blogs Daniel Tapper from All Power to the Imagination: 1968 and Its Legacies. "Perhaps a sobering antidote to the reductionist opinions of such pseudo post-modernists would be the documentary Palms by Artur Aristakisyan."

Updated through 6/3.

"As if dared to articulate genre in the fewest shots and with the fewest possible tropes, Godard casually establishes in a matter of seconds that Alphaville is both a work of noir and of science fiction (as if conjoining the two was the most natural thing in the world)," blogs Reverse Shot's eshman.

Also: "Scorsese's on record as labeling Contempt as one of the best movies about moviemaking going, and it is that," writes clarencecarter. "But though the film's very first shot turns the/a camera literally on the audience, what's really at stake here is not movies, but romantic love. Or, more specifically: the idea of romantic love as it has been mediated by the complicity between audiences and the motion picture industry."

Nick Pinkerton in the Voice on Vivre sa Vie: "Star Anna Karina was in the brutal early rounds of marriage to her director, who was never more doting and egghead-condescending than in this showpiece."

Back to Reverse Shot and eshman, this time on Sympathy for the Devil (One Plus One): "[A]nyone actually paying attention to what he'd been doing up to and during the period can't have expected a sober, unproblematized documentary recording. Furthermore, this was 1968, and there was simply too much going on outside to spend an entire film stuck inside a recording studio."

Godard's 60s runs at Film Forum in New York through June 5.

Updates, 5/29: "There are many strands to the annus mirabilis of 1968 - the Prague Spring, the Paris barricades, Flower Power - but all involved an uprising against a stifling postwar order," writes Roger Cohen in the New York Times. "In what the author Paul Berman has called 'an incoherent fraternity,' idealism provided what coherence there was.... It's not true that everything changes so that everything can stay the same. Not much emerged unchanged from 1968, even if protest never became revolution."

"Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou is a road movie, but one in which the characters move, not through any physical geography, but across the well-traveled terrain of Godard's own cinematic corpus, revisiting key themes and familiar scenarios from the nine feature films that Godard made in the five years preceding Pierrot." Ed Howard.

Updates, 5/30: David Fear in Time Out New York on Vivre sa Vie: "Most of the ingredients of his early period are present: pulp-fiction posturing, quotes from poets and philosophers, puckish formal innovations. The manner in which these elements are presented, however, is the first step toward the cohesive blend of intellectual savviness and emotional resonance Godard would perfect down the road."

Ronald Bergan channels Truffaut.

Updates, 5/31: For the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Rebecca Casati visits the set of Stefan Krohmer's Dutschke, a docudrama about German activist Rudi Dutschke.

"Even though Vivre sa vie may leave its heroine, Nana (Anna Karina), used and dead, crumpled in a heap in the streets, on the heels of forcing her into prostitution, it still may be an even more fitting filmic tribute to the actress behind the role's beauty than the lighter, more palatable A Woman Is a Woman or Band of Outsiders," writes Jeff Reichert at Reverse Shot.

Update, 6/1: In Artforum's new film section, Andrew Hultkrans reviews Richard Brody's Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard: "What lingers is the realization that Godard, the ultimate auteur, whose oblique cinematic experiments pushed the medium forward and seemed aggressively, at times perversely, sui generis, is far more a receiver and conductor than a generator - a deeply, often insecurely impressionable man who allowed the women and political currents in his life to inspire and guide his every artistic move."

Updates, 6/3: At Cinematical, Christopher Campbell comments on Godard's decision to back out of attending the Tel-Aviv International Student Film Festival.

"Because 1968 was such a tumultuous moment there are a lot of 40th anniversaries this year," writes Time's Richard Lacayo. "The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the May uprisings in France, the street battles at the Democratic Convention in Chicago - all of it four decades ago. But I didn't want one other milestone to go by unremarked. It was 40 years ago today that Valerie Solanas walked into the Factory, the Andy Warhol studio in Manhattan, pulled out a gun and shot him." Related: Tom Sutpen.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:58 PM | Comments (2)

Sundance Institute @ BAM.

Sundance Institute at BAM "Now in its third year, the Brooklyn Academy of Music packages up some highlights from the 2008 [Sundance] festival, including 22 features (some still lacking distribution) and 36 shorts, plus live concerts, art installations, and miscellaneous diversions," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "As is the growing trend at festivals, the Sundance documentaries tend to be more potent than the narrative features overall, but who can tell the difference between the two these days?"

Updated through 6/4.

Dan Sallitt recommends Ballast: "The proof of [Lance] Hammer's artistic intuition is that he hinges the story's climax on a magical event that only a committed realist could get away with; the proof of his artistic commitment is that he lets the film's bleak setting and ominous imagery have their way with the potentially heartwarming ending."

Tomorrow through June 8.

Earlier: S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

Updates, 5/31: "Anvil! revolves around a band that, in all probability, will forever fail to attain Metallica or Megadeth-levels of popularity," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "But if fame and fortune elude them, their abiding, unadulterated love of shredding guitars, thunderous drums and growling vocals nonetheless exemplifies something just as vital: the fast, brutal, never-say-die essence of metal."

"[I]f American Teen doesn't at least get nominated for Best Documentary come Oscar time, then folks at the Academy should seriously re-think what, exactly, makes a film one of the best of the year," argues Erik Davis at Cinematical.

Reeler ST VanAirsdale talks with John Magary about The Second Line, screening tomorrow.

"Terry Gilliam captured slash-and-burn counterculture daredevil Hunter S Thompson in his first-rate film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but little of the vehement political creature was evident," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "It's this often overlooked side that makes Alex Gibney's Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson both an absorbing documentary and an apt follow-up to Gibney's Taxi to the Dark Side."

Update, 6/3: "[T]he short films that screened yesterday... signified the most important aspect of the two-week event," argues Eric Kohn at Cinematical. "With few exceptions, the films on display received the kind of exposure that helped validate this frequently neglected format. While some of the titles are available on iTunes, many that were shown to a packed house finally got the long-delayed reception they deserved."

Update, 6/4: For the Vulture, Bilge Ebiri talks with Stacy Peralta about Made in America.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:50 PM

Israel @ 60, the series.

Late Marriage "Israeli cinema has enjoyed a banner year in 2008," writes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun. "In addition to the war drama Beaufort scoring an Academy Award nomination, The Band's Visit, Jellyfish and My Father My Lord have all made relatively successful commercial runs in the city. One would be hard-pressed to name another country with this many cinematic exports to America in the same six-month span. As various institutions around the city honor Israel's 60th anniversary, it's only fitting that the Film Society of Lincoln Center should recognize the nation's thriving film industry with a look back at some of its greatest achievements (such as Dover Koshashvili's Late Marriage, Radu Mihaileanu's Live and Become and Giddi Dar's Ushpizin) with its weeklong Israel @ 60 series, beginning today."

Dan Sallitt recommends Late Marriage and Keren Yedaya's "daringly stylized" Or (My Treasure): "To my mind, these are the two finest films that Israel has produced."

Through June 5.

Earlier: "Israel @ 60."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:45 PM

Ian Fleming @ 100.

Ian Fleming "It's the big day: the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ian Fleming," announces Janet Maslin in the New York Times. "Without Fleming, who died in 1964 at 56, we would never have had the debonair company of James Bond, the creative sadism of Goldfinger and Dr No or the pet octopus named Octopussy. Without the benefit of Fleming, however, we've had Octopussy as a cinematic Bond Girl in 1983, part of a movie franchise that is miraculously resuscitated (most recently by Daniel Craig as Bond in Casino Royale) each time it falters, and a string of ersatz Bond books by fill-in writers. To this shaky bibliography we can now add Devil May Care."

Updated through 6/1.

But let's back up a moment: "A number of new books have been timed to the centenary... and London's Imperial War Museum is staging an exhibition, For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, which explores the numerous connections between Bond and the author's real-life experiences, particularly those that occurred during his service with British Naval Intelligence in World War II," writes Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times:

All the Bond books - 12 novels and two collections of short stories - were written over a dozen years, beginning when Fleming was 44, and all were composed during his annual three-month sojourn at his beloved retreat on the Jamaican coast, Goldeneye. (The name was borrowed from a particularly ingenious intelligence operation Fleming conceived during the war.) There, each day, the author rose early, went for a swim in the cove below his home, then went to work on a portable Remington typewriter for three hours. Cocktails and lunch were served on the terrace with its spectacular views, followed by an hour more of work and the completion of each day's quota: 2000 words. The rest of the day and evening were spent in the glittering company of friends - Noel Coward, first among them, but also W Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Eden and a "Who's Who" of British literature and politics....

Casino Royale

Coming to Fleming's utterly masterful Bond novels fresh after many years, one is surprised to find just how tough-minded and extraordinarily well written they are. (It's easy to see why John F Kennedy so admired them, a taste that was instrumental in winning Bond's first American audience.) Fleming was a taut and propulsive stylist with a deep gift for characterization. Perhaps because we now see Bond through the gauzy scrim of affable, slightly preposterous films with inevitable political and sexual happy endings, it's easy to forget that the Bond of Fleming's books was, in many cases, an unlovely character, often described as "cruel," his relations with women often aggressive and forthrightly exploitative.

That brings us to the latest in a long series of Bond novels by Fleming impersonators sanctioned by his estate. (The first, Colonel Sun, actually was written by Kingsley Amis under the pseudonym Robert Markham.) Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks is the 22nd such book and, though competently enough constructed, belongs more to the cinematic Bond tradition than to the one Fleming tapped out on his Remington.

The London Times runs an extract from Devil May Care, while Peter Kemp interviews Faulks.

Joseph Connolly collects first editions: "The jacket is all-important. That of Casino Royale is legendarily rare, and five years ago one fetched more than £13,000 at auction; that's just the jacket - there was no accompanying book. Caveat emptor, however: in the jargon of the book-collecting world, this was a 'first state' jacket."

Also in the Telegraph:

  • Faulks on writing Devil May Care.

  • Sam Leith's review: "He unrolls everything you want from Bond, thereafter, more or less by the numbers: a violent pre-credit sequence; a visit to M and a flirtatious exchange with Moneypenny; capture while snooping in the hangar holding the secret weapon; transportation to the Secret Base, where there is a monorail; having the villain confess his plans; then thwarting said plans."

  • The "Ian Fleming map of Britain."

  • Online browsing: Damien Noonan scours the web for the best 007 links."

Quantum of Solace

The Guardian challenges its readers: "give us the outline for a new, updated James Bond plot - but keep it snappy: 70 words max." Also: Charlie Higson's "top 10 Bond villains," a quiz, and John Grace takes note of the other authors that have preceded Faulks but followed Fleming: "Between 1981 and 1996, John Gardner wrote 14 Bond novels - equalling Fleming's output - and when he retired, the American, Raymond Benson, knocked out a further 12."

"[T]he Bond stories are catalysed by conflicts between individualism and authority, loyalty and betrayal, heterosexual desire and misogyny, and luxury and sacrifice, to name just the most overt, and the most enduring, of the themes," writes Sarah Churchwell. "But sex, snobbery, and sadism remain the bedrock of the Bond mystique." Also in the Independent: Faulks and Fleming, side by side.

Earlier: Penguin covers Bond; John F Burns (NYT) and Charlie Higson (Guardian) on the London exhibition; Joan Collins (Telegraph) on not being a Bond girl.

Update, 5/29: "Much of the nihilism and fatalism of the latter Bond books reflect Fleming's own failing health and confrontation with mortality," writes Jeffrey Hill at Edward Copeland on Film. "But the novels were also a conduit for Fleming to dwell on any matter that interested him. Cars, cards and gambling, food, drink and women... but also crime. After reading Fleming's travelogue that he wrote late in his life, Thrilling Cities, it becomes clear just how fascinated he was with gangsters and mob wars."

Update, 5/31: "Devil May Care is in many ways a stronger novel than any that Fleming wrote, both because it's better written and because it has all the Bond lore to draw upon," writes Charles McGrath in the NYT. "It's a satisfying thriller in its own right, set in the early 60s and beginning in Paris - very satisfactorily - with a man getting his tongue pulled out with pliers, then traveling to Iran and Russia. But it's also a fond and at times funny homage to all the other books in the series."

Updates, 6/1: "Faulks has indeed produced 295 pages, unfalteringly, as though he were Ian Fleming," writes ASH Smith at Stop Smiling. "Their styles are indistinguishable. What's more, Devil May Care is a good thriller on its own merits: a doubly masterful achievement."

More from Euan Ferguson in the Observer: "It's good. Which is to say it's better than it could have been. It is not, however, that good."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:39 AM

May 27, 2008

Shorts, 5/27.

2001 "I've seen 2001 well in excess of 100 times (it is, without peer, the greatest motion picture ever made), in formats as disparate as 70mm, laser disk, VHS, broadcast TV, DVD and even the awful, scratched, discolored 35mm print, complete with a missed reel change, at Tribeca." Jamie Stuart in Stream on how "different formats play 2001 differently, as is true of all films."

David Bordwell presents "a tribute to cuts I admire. Warning: Superb as Eisenstein's, Ozu's and Hitchcock's cuts are, I'm deliberately leaving them out. Too obvious!"

"To my eye, the stylistic verve of directors like Welles, Wyler, Preminger, Hitchcock, Stevens and Ophuls - and Negulesco - relied on an aesthetics of exaggeration," writes Chris Cagle. "This exaggeration supplemented the invisible storytelling yet did not become outright expressionism."

Elizabeth Day introduces a conversation with Christina Crawford:

Mommie Dearest

It was the first tell-all celebrity memoir, the first book to talk so openly or with such clarity about a childhood allegedly punctuated by psychological and physical abuse. It caused a sensation, left an indelible imprint on the cultural consciousness and stayed at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for 42 weeks. In the years that followed the children of Bette Davis and Bing Crosby wrote similarly excoriating parental memoirs, and the 1981 film adaptation starring Faye Dunaway became a cult hit. Joan Crawford's reputation took a battering so ferocious that it has never fully recovered....

Now, 30 years after publishing Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford is reissuing the book with a new introduction and afterword, supporting testimonies from contemporaries and more than 100 pages and photographs that were cut from the 1978 edition.

Also in the Observer:

  • "The book-length interview with a film-maker is now an established form, and the most important series in English is the one started by Faber 20 years ago with Scorsese on Scorsese," writes Philip French. "Now comes Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh, the 24th book of the series, and it is one of the longest and best of its kind."

  • Roy Williams: "When I think back over the countless number of war films I have seen, and knowing what I know now - that there were black soldiers killed on the beaches of Normandy, there were West Indians serving in the RAF during the war (my own father included) - I have to ask myself, why aren't their stories on the big screen, whereas a tale about the white men who hoisted that flag on Iwo Jima is? Will black people's lives ever be as interesting as white people's?"

  • Rafael Behr reviews Standard Operating Procedure, the book.

  • A quick Q&A with Malcolm McDowell.

Albert Camus "Gianni Amelio will shoot a French-language adaptation of Albert Camus's autobiographical last novel The First Man with Claudia Cardinale attached to star," reports Nick Vivarelli for Variety. Via Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical.

Shooting has just wrapped on The Road, John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel. Charles McGrath talks with Hillcoat, special effects director Mark Forker and with Viggo Mortensen, mostly about Kodi Smit-McPhee, "an 11-year-old Australian who plays the son and bowled everyone over when he tested for the part, greatly reducing the anxiety filmmakers feel when casting a child. Some of the crew privately referred to him as the Alien because of the uncanny, almost freakish way that on a moment's notice he switched accents and turned himself from a child into a movie star."

Also in the New York Times: "Steve James and Peter Gilbert, the director and cinematographer of the 1994 high school basketball documentary Hoop Dreams, are the co-directors of At the Death House Door, which they hope will renew debate about the death penalty," reports Felicia R Lee. "'It's the kind of film we gravitate to, letting one person's story tell you about a much bigger issue,' Mr Gilbert said in an interview."

In the Los Angeles Times, Gina Piccalo tells the remarkable story behind Blindsight; Susan King talks with Zev Yaroslavsky, "one of the leading activists in the international movement to free Soviet Jews, who, for many decades, were essentially prisoners in their own country" and who "talks about his experiences in the movement in Laura Bialis's new documentary, Refusenik." Also: a quick chat with Arthur Dong about Hollywood Chinese.

Acquarello: "In a way, Robert Todd's Rising Tide represents a continuation on the themes of obsolescence and disposability that runs through Our Former Glory and In Loving Memory, a reverent, quietly observed collage on the changing face of manual labor that, like Johan van der Keuken's Springtime: Three Portraits, captures a way of life that is slowly becoming extinct in the face of technology, globalism, and mass production."

Flowing Also: "Adapted from the novel by postwar author Aya Koda (the daughter of Meiji-era novelist Koda Rohan) and filmed in the same year as the banning of prostitution in Japan, Mikio Naruse's Flowing is something of a corollary to Kenji Mizoguchi's Street of Shame, a complex and richly textured panorama capturing a transforming way of life within a community of women whose increasingly uncertain livelihood depended on the patronage of men."

In the Guardian, Ronald Bergan remembers Joy Page and Laura Barnett talks with Ashley Walters.

For the New York Sun, Gabrielle Birkner meets Agnès Troublé (agnès b..

Tasha Robinson talks with Joan Cusack for the AV Club.

Gwynne Watkins lists the "5 Kinds of Twist Endings."

Online browsing tip. "New Yorkers pride themselves on celebrity-sighting nonchalance. But if we happen to spot Clive Owen and Julia Roberts loitering about - in this case, shooting Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy's new spy thriller, Duplicity - our blasé front may just fall away." Sara Cardace introduces a New York slide show.

Online listening tip. "Susan Batson has been called the 'Oscar coach.' She takes big Hollywood actors and makes them better." And she's a guest on On Point.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:07 PM | Comments (10)

Online viewing tip. YAB 3.

Young American Bodies The third season of Joe Swanberg's Young American Bodies debuts today at the IFC, partnering with Nerve.

If you're new to the series, you can catch up with the first two seasons right there, too; my, but it's been a while since this. At some point, too, I have to get around to praising Nights and Weekends like I should.

Update, 5/28: Chicagoist Ali Trachta interviews Joe.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:04 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 5/27.

Roddy Doyle: The Van "What makes a novel great are often those qualities unique to the form: the ability to portray someone's interior life, to move fluidly between past, present and future, to render the ordinary magical through language," writes Stephanie Merritt in the Observer. "None of this can't be done on screen, but it is rarely achieved with the same subtlety.... [N]ow the ICA in London is giving book and film lovers the chance to debate the issue with its The Booker at the Movies season. Every Sunday in June it will screen the film of a Booker-winning or shortlisted novel, accompanied by a panel discussion from eminent screenwriters and novelists."

"As people arrived from all over the world to attend the opening weekend of the Reykjavik Arts Festival and participate in Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Olafur Eliasson's Experiment Marathon Reykjavik, the mood resembled a summer camp - albeit one attended by Björk, who was on my flight from London, and the country's president, Olafur Ragnar Grímsson." Among the other attendees: Jonas Mekas and Brian Eno. Cathryn Drake writes a diary entry for Artforum. Through June 5.

"Filmmaker Naomi Kawase has unveiled plans to launch the Nara International Film Festival." Jason Gray reports.

"What's wonderful about the third annual Sundance Institute at BAM, which begins its 10-day program of selections from the 2008 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, is that its titles have already been run through a few major filters," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "Only 22 features and 36 shorts will make the trip eastward for the event - still too much to absorb in a week and a half, but the filtration process ensures any ticket to the series is a safe bet." Thursday through June 8.

Frameline32 runs June 19 through 29 and Michael Hawley's got a big preview at the Evening Class, where Michael Guillén talks with Diana Lee Inosanto (The Sensei).

"Rare is the film which deals with pre-pubescent sexuality and even rarer that which does it well." Matt Riviera on Let the Right One In, slated for the Sydney Film Festival, running June 4 through 22.

At Slant, Fernando F Croce takes a long look back at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:42 PM

Other DVDs, 5/27.

The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On The Film of the Month Club is rolling along quite nicely now, with several entries on the first selection, Kenzo Okuzaki Kazuo Hara's The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On.

"[Dario] Argento, reached by phone in Rome, took a few minutes to talk about the five films collected in The Dario Argento Box Set." Geoff Boucher in the Los Angeles Times: "He said that he never worries that modern audiences and their love of special effects will make his older works feel dated. 'The things that scare us never change. It's in your heart, not in your eyes. The special effects can help, but the things that touch us in the heart are what really frightens us.'"

Gary Giddins reviews the Columbia collection, Icons of Adventure: "These films were frequently censored and reviled for their violence and sexuality, inciting revulsion in England, where they were made. Here they were the stuff of Saturday matinees - not family films, like The Thief of Bagdad, but fare for adolescent boys who could scarcely believe (I bear witness) the sadism, the colors, and the bosomy extras."

Michael Atkinson at the IFC on Tony Palmer's 1976 pop music chronicle, All You Need Is Love: "This is Ken Burns before Ken Burns (if not quite as polished as Baseball or Jazz), comprised of interviews and archival footage both common and rare (including footage of a singing Woody Guthrie, and a woeful Roxy Music performance that nonetheless affords a glimpse of a synthesizer-playing Brian Eno), and unfurling the whole story, from Scott Joplin to Earl Hines to Bessie Smith to Benny Goodman to Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Jethro Tull. Palmer's 14-hour-plus odyssey is filthy with progressional details."

Touchez pas au grisbi "Aging and betrayal will throw a wrench into any criminal career," writes Guy Savage at Noir of the Week. "While aging is inevitable, loyalty amongst thieves and establishing a network of reliable friends are crucial elements for survival. Touchez pas au grisbi (AKA Hands Off the Loot) a 1954 flawless French film noir from director Jacques Becker confronts the issues of aging and loyalty head-on through the life of world-weary, middle-aged gangster Max (Jean Gabin) - a seasoned criminal and Existentialist protagonist who faces a crisis."

"Perhaps because of this neutral perspective, the effect of this documentary is all the more shocking and maddening." Kevin Kelly on No End in Sight.

"The biggest reason why now is a good time to revisit the Indiana Jones is not necessarily that the new set is anything so impressive," writes Chris Barsanti at PopMatters. "[T]he real reason is ultimately that the half-decade since the series first appeared on DVD have been particularly abominable for adventure cinema."

"The thing that struck me most deeply about Blade Runner upon seeing it for the first time on the big screen is its profound sense of loneliness." Andrew Bemis.

For Tom Hall, writing at Hammer to Nail, Teeth "is a case study for the triumph of balance, a darkly comic story that strikes a primal chord in the most private of places."

Online viewing tip. Matt Zoller Seitz offers more terrific running commentary, this time on The Outlaw Josey Wales, which he finds "richer" and "more expansive" than Unforgiven. See also Kevin Lee's accompanying file.

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN) and DVD Talk.

And the Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:57 PM | Comments (4)

Cannes. JCVD.

JCVD "Van Damme is back!" yelps Rob Nelson in Variety. "Combined with recent news that the Muscles from Brussels will soon turn auteur with Full Love, Gaumont's JCVD, a French-language meta-movie parody par excellence, constitutes the headiest stretch of the beefy star's career since, well, ever. Playing 'himself,' i.e., an international action stud whose bruising child custody battle has him literally going postal, exec-producing Jean-Claude Van Damme reveals heretofore hidden third dimension to his monosyllabic persona."

"If the goal with the self-reflective JCVD was to recreate the public image of aging action star Jean Claude Van Damme, then you may consider that mission a success," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "If the goal was to announce to the world that sophomore feature director Mabrouk El Mechri is a truly world class talent, then you may also consider that mission a success. If the goal was to skewer celebrity obsessed culture while laying out the toll it takes on those on the receiving end of the idol worship, then - yep - that's another one in the success column."

Earlier: A clip and Cinematical has the trailer.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:34 AM

Eclipse's Delirious Fictions of William Klein.

Delirious Fictions of William Klein "Like a missing-link hominid stepping out of the jungle, famous photographer William Klein emerges on 21st century DVD as the great bullgoose Art Film-era satirist we never knew we had," writes Michael Atkinson for the IFC. "The movies in the new Criterion Eclipse set are a revelation (arguably, they're the most astute left-wing mockeries of their day), but more than that, they appear to be timeless, and their blitzkrieg critiques are just as pertinent now as they were then."

"If the French New Wave had a Frank Tashlin equivalent, it was William Klein," counters Eric Henderson in Slant. "Erratic and undisciplined, the three films collected in Eclipse's box set reflect the director trying as hard as he can to be French, but never quite shedding his background as an American blowhard."

"I was always interested to see some of the 'cool' French crowd involved (like Serge Gainsbourg, Jean Rochefort and Philippe Noiret)," notes DVD Beaver Gary W Tooze.

Earlier: "William Klein @ 80."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:16 AM

Come Drink With Me.

Come Drink With Me King Hu's 1966 martial arts spectacle Come Drink With Me "turned the genre away from the supernatural vagaries and clanging swordplay that had dominated it and moved the action into the relatively realistic, hand-to-hand combat and clean, well-defined spaces of the contemporary kung fu movie," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times.

"After taking the reins, in 1965, of a World War II drama called Sons of the Good Earth, Hu infused his sophomore directorial outing, Come Drink With Me, with a personal vision that was absent from much of Shaw's assembly-line filmmaking," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "He had studied Chinese history and design, and his attention to period detail in costumes, settings, and lighting were a marvel. From the rough-hewn, Ming Dynasty-era rural tavern in which the first half of the film primarily takes place, to the set-bound fairy-tale wonder world in which it climaxes, Come Drink With Me is a visual feast."

"The film soars on a lyrical mix of scruffy singing heroes, cross-dressing heroines, narcissistic villains and fantastical action choreographed like dance," writes Sean Axmaker at MSN.

"In a word - WOW," exclaims DVD Beaver Gary W Tooze.

Related: "There have been rumours before, but this time it appears that the godfather of all ageing media moguls, 100-year-old Sir Run Run Shaw, may finally be parting with the last piece of his Asian media empire," reports the Economist.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:10 AM | Comments (1)

Criterion's Thief of Bagdad.

The Thief of Bagdad "[F]or all of its implication in its historical moment, The Thief of Bagdad plays - in the newly remastered DVD from the Criterion Collection - like a timeless fantasy, a pure and naïve expression of, as Sabu puts it in his famous curtain line, the search for 'some fun and adventure, at last!'" writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times.

"Re-watching The Thief of Bagdad... is not unlike rereading Treasure Island," suggests Gary Giddins in the New York Sun. "Conceived to enchant children, they both requite the adult longing for formative influences that withstand disillusionment and fashion. Unlike Treasure Island, an exemplary display of English prose and plotting, with one of the finest first sentences in fiction, The Thief of Bagdad (1940) occasionally sputters, losing tempo and continuity; yet it, too, survives as a model of its kind, reveling in cinematic craftsmanship - not least the then-novel techniques of color and trick photography - and boasts one of the most magisterial opening shots in cinema."

Updated through 5/30.

At MSN, Sean Axmaker notes that the disc features two commentary tracks, "one by film directors/fans Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, the other by film historian Bruce Eder."

"I gained an immense amount of appreciation for the film through this Criterion package and the purity of the transfer presentation added to the fantasy element and amusement of the film," writes DVD Beaver Gary W Tooze. "Really, like Martin Scorsese says, 'a child-like - not childish - film' of adventures and grandiose events. I predict this package will get some much deserved votes in our year-end poll."

"This new, restored transfer still has a few problems, but is head and shoulders above anything we've seen and will hopefully introduce the film to a whole new generation aching for some real magic, as opposed to the pre-fab, CGI variety that so dots our current filmic landscape," writes Jeffrey Kaufman at DVD Talk.

Updates, 5/28: "Most of the children of today know this story as Disney's Aladdin, but one of the crucial differences here is that a jive-talking genie isn't the main attraction; it's Sabu, which gives a young audience a much greater point of identification," writes Scott Tobias in the AV Club.

Update, 5/28: Glenn Kenny compares screenshots of the MGM and Criterion versions: "I have to call advantage: Criterion."

Update, 5/30: "The nine-year-old within you should be uncritically enraptured by Thief of Bagdad, a genre landmark that's retained its thousand and one delights," writes Bill Weber in Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:02 AM

Sydney Pollack, 1934 - 2008.

Sydney Pollack
Sydney Pollack, a Hollywood mainstay as director, producer and sometime actor whose star-laden movies like The Way We Were, Tootsie and Out of Africa were among the most successful of the 1970s and 80s, died Monday at home here. He was 73....

Mr Pollack's career defined an era in which big stars (Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty) and the filmmakers who knew how to wrangle them (Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols) retooled the Hollywood system. Savvy operators, they played studio against studio, staking their fortunes on pictures that served commerce without wholly abandoning art.

Michael Cieply, New York Times.

Updated through 6/1.

I first noticed him in 1969, the year I transitioned from high school senior to college freshman, when he directed two of my favorite movies from that period: The under-rated Castle Keep and the still-potent They Shoot Horses, Don't They? He got terrific performances from ensemble casts in both films....

As for his work on the other side of the camera - well, I wish Pollack had received more props, and maybe an Oscar nomination or two, for his first-rate performances in Husbands and Wives, Eyes Wide Shut, Changing Lanes and Michael Clayton. I wish he'd had time to produce more excellent films like The Quiet American, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Flesh and Bone and Sense and Sensibility. Of course, I also wish he were still alive. He'll be missed.

Jeo Leydon.

As a filmmaker, Pollack had a reputation for being a painstaking craftsman - "relentless and meticulous," screenwriter and friend Robert Towne once said.

"His films have a lyrical quality like great music, and the timing is impeccable," cinematographer Owen Roizman, who shot five films directed by Pollack, including Tootsie and Havana, said when it was announced that Pollack would receive the 2006 American Society of Cinematographers Board of Governors Award for his contributions to filmmaking.

"He is never satisfied.... His passion is contagious. It inspires everyone around him to dig a little deeper," Roizman said.

George Clooney, who starred with Pollack in Michael Clayton, said: "Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better. A tip of the hat to a class act. He'll be missed terribly."

Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times.

Ray Pride, who interviewed Pollack in 2006, has collected "10 interviews and 3 trailers."

Updates: A "Times Topics" page.

Pollack wrote two entries in the Guardian's film blog last year, one on Sketches of Frank Gehry, the other on the photography of Paul Robinson.

"A tall, handsome, immediately charismatic man, he was a director most actors loved to work with, because when he talked to them about acting he knew what he was talking about," writes Roger Ebert. "'I am not a visual innovator,' Pollack told me shortly before the release of his Out of Africa (1985), which won seven Oscars, including best picture and best director, and was nominated for four more. 'I haven't broken any new ground in the form of a film. My strength is with actors. I think I'm good at working with them to get the best performances, at seeing what it is that they have and that the story needs.'"

"Like Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer, Pollack brought the dramatic intensity of his days in the theater and TV to the fledgling revolution occuring in film," writes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "His style could best be summed up by the brilliant social commentary They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Set within a Depression era dance-a-thon, and featuring fiery performances by Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, and Oscar Winner Gig Young, Pollack uncovered the simmering unease of the era, perfectly reflecting the film's contemporary 1969 mirror message. His movies were like that - quiet and subtle, selling their conceits in perfectly modulated performances and expertly helmed scenes. And like his fellow filmmakers of the era, Pollack wasn't afraid to try."

"A wry worrier, he once said to me that the responsibility for directing big budget studio pictures had begun to weigh on him, making him tense and anxious; he directed only about a half-dozen films in his last 20 years," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "He became a much more prolific producer, with the pictures he made through his Mirage company tending to be smaller in scale, more eccentric, more personal than his studio pictures had been and he enjoyed godfathering them. The individuality that films like Birthday Girl and Forty Shades of Blue flung in the face of increasingly conventionalized studio production appealed to his romantic side; the business of bringing them in on time, on budget, appealed to his realistic side. Those were the poles of his sensibility."

"His death signals the end of a bridge between two Hollywood eras," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "Or, at the very least, he was a holdout that movies could be - should be - now as they once were: serious, glamorous, feeling, intelligent, and, above all, respectful of their audiences.... Tootsie gets better every single time it turns up on cable. Just last month, I was in a video store that happened to be playing Tootsie, and damn if I didn't stand there completely hooked as if I'd never seen it before. It doesn't even matter that Dave Grusin's score still makes you feel like you're stuck in a mall elevator. The movie itself would have worked just as well in 1942 as it did in 1982. In 2022, it'll still feel as vibrant. Tootsie still works as a kind of feminist critique, watch it with a certain indefatigable presidential candidate in mind. Your brain will explode."

"In a way, Pollack the actor was the visual correlative of the Sidney Lumet worldview: tough, East Coast-direct, politically progressive, trusting the individual far more than the group," writes the Globe's Ty Burr. "[B]ecause he was a smart filmmaker and a good friend to the reigning powers of his day, it's movies like Tootsie, The Way We Were, Out of Africa and Three Days of the Condor that you think of when you think of the good movies of the 70s and 80s. Not necessarily the great movies, but the good ones: intelligent, committed, well-acted films with a sweep that flattered both their subjects and their audiences. Three Days is possibly the best of the conspiracy thrillers that studded the 1970s, the one most rooted in a realistic sense of one individual (Robert Redford as a low-level CIA librarian, standing in for you and me) peering over the abyss into the evil deeds our government can do."

"He was a bustling, vigorous presence right to the end," blogs the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "It's tempting to write off Pollack's later career, though even here he found a way to confound us. At the same time as his films were turning blandly anonymous (The Firm, Sabrina, The Interpreter), he discovered a vibrant sideline as a character actor."

"Like Alan J Pakula, he apotheosized the intelligent mainstream of Hollywood moviemaking," writes Glenn Kenny.

"When I think of Pollack, two things immediately come to mind: the sense, in his directing and acting, that it's possible to be mature and almost unshockable without being cynical or unfeeling; and that marvelously expressive voice," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door. "He had one of the great voices in movies. I'm really going to miss hearing it."

"Regarding The Way We Were: I think it's one of the best romantic dramas Hollywood ever produced," writes Nathaniel R.

Producing partner Anthony Minghella's "death came up like a knife in the dark, unexpected, and forestalled him. It must have left a bleak loneliness," assumes David Thomson, blogging for the Guardian.

"He was one of those rare filmmakers who seemed genuinely interested in work other than his own," writes Dave Kehr, who relates a few stories. "He was one of our last remaining links to a time when movies were not made primarily for 13-year-old boys, and I for one will miss him tremendously."

"Being at odds with much mainstream filmmaking, it is probably no surprise that my favorite film by Sydney Pollack was also one of his least successful films commercially," writes Peter Nellhaus. "It is probably not coincidental that the authorship of The Yakuza is only less convoluted than that of what may be Pollack's best film, Tootsie.... The reputation of Pollack's film has grown to the point where a remake has been listed among future Warner Brothers productions."

Online browsing tip. Die Zeit's gallery.

Online listening tip. Fresh Air revives a 1990 interview.

Jon Taplin "was lucky enough to 'go to school' with him. I had had written a screenplay called Panama and he optioned it and then spent months with me and a writer named Jeff Fiskin crafting it into the kind of political thriller he made better than anyone of his generation. We never got the movie made, but it didn't matter, because I learned about the craft from a master."

In the LAT, Susan King takes "a look back at Pollack's work both behind and in front of the camera."

"A highlight of my currently non-thriving screenwriting career was working on a script for the delightful and neurotic Sydney Pollack, who died yesterday at the age of 73. My writing partner, Richard Taylor, and I had pitched Sydney a story about high-level corruption in Washington, which was just chum for Sydney, who was fascinated by Washington, and therefore fascinated by sleaze, greed and moral failure (see: Absence of Malice, Michael Clayton, etc.)" Jeffrey Goldberg tells his story.

C Jerry Kutner recalls an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Contest for Aaron Gold" - "because of the extraordinary natural performance by the actor who played the camp counselor. It was the late Sydney Pollack, and to see him in this episode is to wonder why he didn’t have the major acting career of a Hoffman or a De Niro."

FilmInFocus runs an excerpt from Helen De Winter's 2006 compendium What I Really Want To Do is Produce in which "Pollack describes how the producer's chair came to be an easier fit for him, and gives his own view on whether the prime years of his career - the 1970s - were also, as often argued, a 'golden age' in comparison to American film now."

"If he could be compared to a major figure from the Old Hollywood, it would not be to one of the great individualists like Howard Hawks or John Ford, who stamped their creative personalities onto every project, whatever the genre or the level of achievement," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Mr Pollack was more like William Wyler: highly competent, drawn to projects with a certain quality and prestige, and able above all to harness the charisma of movie stars to great emotional and dramatic effect.... His passing is a reminder that things have changed, that the kind of movie he made, which used to be the kind of movie everyone wanted to make (and to see), may be slipping into obsolescence."

"Pollack, in his performances and in many of the movies he made or produced, always had faith in what movies, and the people in them, could be," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "His legacy, dropped in our laps at a time when mainstream filmmaking is in trouble if not in crisis, is a challenge to us not to lose faith. And, at the very least, to silence our cellphones and pay attention to what's in front of us."

Gilbert Cruz talks with Redford about Pollack for Time.

Updates, 5/28: "Sydney Pollack's death at 73 has robbed our cinema of one of its finest... actors," blogs David Edelstein. "In later years, Pollack had more life in front of the camera than behind it."

"Look through his filmography and what leaps out is its diversity," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent.

"Hollywood loses its greatest mensch," writes Dana Stevens. "Slate's Bryan Curtis wasn't wrong, in a 2005 assessment, to call Pollack a 'journeyman' director; over a 40-plus-year career, he tried his hand at virtually every genre (with the notable exception of the special-effects blockbuster) and churned out his share of competent schlock (The Firm, The Interpreter, The Electric Horseman). But I can't agree with Curtis' contention that Pollack could 'take any scenario... and mold it into benign mush.' More often, he took mushy scripts and shaped them into films that were surprisingly sophisticated and adult."

"I was irked by his Oscar win for 1985's Out of Africa, just as I was ticked off that 1982's Tootsie, one of the great film comedies, went home with just one statuette," writes Robert Cashill. "Prizzi's Honor seemed the superior film in 1985. But Africa, with its magnificent Meryl Streep performance and typically excellent use of the hard-to-pin-down Robert Redford, has grown on me since then. It is that rare thoughtful epic, beautifully shot, edited, and scored (by the great John Barry). These kinds of pictures are difficult to make, and harder still to make well."

James Wolcott points to an appreciations of Pollack's performance in Husbands and Wives at the Sheila Variations and adds, "Husbands and Wives is a rarity in Woody Allenland in that it showcases two hot-wired performances, the other by Judy Davis as Pollack's estranged wife, who's like an escapee from a Philip Roth novel in her vertiginous fury." It goes on and needs reading.

Update, 5/29: The LA Weekly runs Scott Foundas's 2007 piece, now appearing for the first time in English, on Pollack's early television work.

Updates, 5/31: Online viewing tips. Pollack tells Harrison Ford what makes Harrison Ford Harrison Ford. Thanks, Jerry! And of course, there's more Pollack on Charlie Rose.

"In the 90s, I worked for Sydney Pollack as a story editor," blogs Trish Deitch at the New Yorker:

Finding the spine of a story like Out of Africa was important to Sydney for many reasons, the most important of which was that it led to what he called 'the ache.' The ache is self-explanatory if you've seen Sydney's films. It is the ache of having one chance at deep love in a lifetime of shallow loves, and losing it too early. It is the ache of perfect, private union destroyed by terrible, worldly circumstance. For Sydney, the ache was about the way that the things we hold most dear always elude us.

Via Michael Sippey.

Update, 6/1: "Sydney Pollack was one of the nicest, most congenial people I have ever known," writes Philip French in the Observer. "Much the same age, we met in 1986 when I was a member of the Cannes Festival jury over which he presided with quiet authority.... Most of his later film parts were unsympathetic, so, in 2006, he played a delightful version of himself, speaking both English and French as an American director in Paris in Orchestra Seats, directed by Danièle Thompson, another 1986 Cannes juror."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:40 AM | Comments (2)

May 26, 2008

Wrapping Cannes 08.

Cannes Any entry gathering overviews of this year's just-wrapped Cannes Film Festival for the next week or so needs to begin with Manohla Dargis and AO Scott's in the New York Times. Just about all the angles are covered - critical evaluations, awards, sales and future prospects for the films on hand - and livened up with commentary and quotage.

Updated through 5/31.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw looks back on the highs and lows. Then, a bit more on the festival as an enduring brand from Toby Rose.

Karina Longworth indexes the SpoutBlog's coverage and lists her five favorite films.

Anthony Kaufman lists his "Cannes Top 11, and the Ones that Got Away."

"As always with Cannes, some of the most satisfying films were not found in the official competition," writes the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan.

ST VanAirsdale checks the status of the New York films that screened at Cannes.

Updates, 5/27: "The festival began smashingly and ended beautifully," writes Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir presents a list of his "top 10 films from the 61st Festival de Cannes. First and foremost they're movies I liked, but they're also films that come out of here with some critical momentum, and that ought to show up on art-house-type screens all over the world in the coming year. I've tacked on a handful of more problematic films that didn't thrive here but deserve a second look, away from all the overcaffeinated, underslept craziness of Cannes."

IndieWIRE indexes its coverage.

Online listening tip. John Powers talks Cannes for half an hour on NPR.

Another online listening tip, another half an hour: the IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore.

Daniel Kasman indexes his reviews for the Auteurs' Notebook.

"Missing kids, dead kids, wayward kids - they haunted the frames, drove the plots, and without necessarily ever taking center stage at the 61st Cannes Film Festival, stood out as a recurrent presence at this year's prestigious world movie showcase: a collective symbol of lost innocence, perhaps, or a looming dread about the future of the human species." Anthony Kaufman at FilmCatcher.

Update, 5/28: Cinematical wraps it up.

Updates, 5/29: "And slowly, with 'les stars' and their entourages now gone, the Cannois began to re-emerge on the streets of their own city, blinking a little, as if seeing the place for the first time," writes Steven Erlanger in the New York Times. "Monday is the 'Day of the Cannois,' and as a gesture to the residents, who rarely venture out during the festival unless they work in service industries, the Palais shows the prize-winning film on Monday to all who can prove, with their electricity bill, that they live here. By Tuesday, the judgments were in. There was pride that a French film had won the Palme d'Or for the first time in 21 years. But..."

"[O]ne can reliably emerge from seeing a near masterpiece only to discover that everyone - or at least the influential industry trade newspapers - has declared the very same movie une catastrophe!... This is Cannes, after all, where dismissing movies out of hand and storming out of screenings before the end are points of professional pride for some festival vets - as if they had somewhere better to be." Scott Foundas turns a must-read overview into the LA Weekly.

"Throughout its 61st gathering, Cannes proved especially strong in the unexplored regions outside the main competition, particularly in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar, which celebrated its 40th year mainly by a having a solid program of independent cinema from around the world." Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

Anne Thompson looks back on the "Best of the Fest." Topping that list: Il Divo.

A profile from Rob Nelson: "Minnesota-based filmmaker Aleshia Mueller is working the market at the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France. For her, that means putting up fliers - 'propaganda,' as she jokes - for her film Lady of the Woods, a 10-minute documentary portrait of octogenarian North Country cookbook author and botanist Alma Christensen."

Rob Nelson's got a list, too: "I can earnestly recommend the half-dozen below - all of which, with the exception of the potentially unmarketable Ché, seem likely to make it to our local artsyplex within the year."

"[A]fter 12-plus days of looking at a selection of tasteful, well-made and entirely bleak movies, society's rules were breaking down into sweaty anarchy," writes Matt Singer in his wrap-up at the IFC.

Andrew O'Hehir has an acquisitions update.

Update, 5/30: "It was 21 years ago when I filmed part of Let's Get Lost in Cannes, as well as screening my first documentary, Broken Noses, at the Jean Cocteau theatre and photographing for Per Lui," writes Bruce Weber in the Guardian. "Yes, there was a lot of confusion, but that was the best way for me to be with Chet, because if he didn't show up, we always had something else to do. But guess what? There he was, on time, hair slicked back, trumpet case in one hand and his girlfriend in the other."

Update, 5/31: Online listening tip. James Rocchi and Glenn Kenny discuss this year's edition.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 3:06 PM | Comments (1)

They didn't build their sales model for you.

Jonathan Marlow has a few words for independent filmmakers about the rapidly evolving distribution system. Updated through 5/27 with a couple of pointers below.

Festival

When Graham Leggat announced Barry Jenkins's remarkable Medicine for Melancholy as the Audience Award co-winner at the closing night of the San Francisco International Film Festival a few weeks back, he noted (to paraphrase) that MfM would likely be opening soon at a theater-near-you. While such a development is obviously the writer/director's desired outcome (and this is not speculation - I asked him that very question the night before), how likely will it come to pass? Since the beginning of the independent "common era" (circa 1989), the traditional Grail-quest of acquisition-derived-from-festival-screenings was a relative uncertainty. Now, nearly 30 years later, such good fortunes are approaching the level of impossibility.

The festival circuit has instead become an ersatz distribution system unto itself that, for the most part, keeps money away from the makers. The ten or 20 dollars you spend on a ticket (or the $50 to $500 you spend on a pass) rarely finds its way into the hands of the folks behind the camera. For all of those folks that were frustrated by the late-1990s business model of mere exposure-driven outcomes, these same folks generally have little complaint when festivals routinely screw them the same way. If you're going to prostitute yourself and your work, wouldn't you want to at least be treated with a little respect? To stretch the analogy, isn't the distance between "street-walker" and "call girl" really a matter perspective?

Whether you're a filmmaker or a filmgoer, I'll let you in on a little secret that might guide you. The enjoyment to be found at a film festival is generally counter-proportional to the number of films in the event. Take the Independent Film Festival of Boston (where I met the aforementioned Mr Jenkins - indeed, I had to travel to the opposite coast to be introduced to a fellow from my own neighborhood). Seven days of screenings (two of those evenings with only one film each) and yet more attention is given (and risks taken) with its programming than most longer-in-the-tooth festivals. Works such as the Zellners' Goliath and new documentaries (such as Nerdcore Rising and Wild Blue Yonder, a film about David Maysles by his daughter) screen alongside recent features by Werner Herzog and Guy Maddin. IFFB is rapidly becoming the SXSW of the East (itself, despite its full-week schedule, an essentially half-a-week affair). We'll see if a Dentler-less SX continues along its ascendant path. In the able hands of Janet Pierson, I would certainly presume that it will.

Festival

If you're still skeptical about this less-is-more notion, take Telluride - one of the shortest and most selective festivals in the world and arguably the greatest event of its kind in the Americas. Telluride is the festival against which all others should be judged. What these events share, overall, is a distinct love of cinema as opposed to the all-too-common alternative - a celebrity showcase.

The exception that proves the rule here is the Seattle International Film Festival. SIFF is merely so damn extensive and exhaustive that several dozen good (and occasionally a few great) films are bound to slip through. It also says something about the monoculture of Seattle that a three-and-a-half week/roughly 300-film festival could even work. Note the distinction here between regional festivals and market festivals - Sundance (which is unbearable by any standard), Berlin, Cannes, Toronto and the symbiotic relationship between AFM and the AFI Fest. They're all reasonable places to screen your work since acquisitions happen with some frequency at each, albeit less and less often these days. I have also intentionally failed to address the large events where the festival essentially takes over a city during its run. Rotterdam, Pordenone, Bologna, Morelia - less "regional events" than "specialty fests."

Regardless, I digress. We were talking about distribution.

These concerns, however, overlap. If the proverbial theatrical release is elusive and the video business is flat or in decline (depending on which statistic you tend to support), what else is there to expect out of the proverbial festival tour beyond the face-to-face that filmmakers get with their audience? The undercurrent of a point from these words is that if you're traveling to a festival, you might as well enjoy the experience when you get there. Any other expectation misguided at best.

I Wake Up Screening If John Anderson and Laura Kim's I Wake Up Screening (a recommended text about the movie business) is to be believed, good films will naturally find their respective (and appreciative) audiences. Do they really? After a brief festival tour in 2006, The Fall was acquired by Roadside Attractions. If you happen to live in Los Angeles or New York (or, thanks to SIFF, Seattle, where it screened this weekend), you can catch this Wizard of Oz-by-way-of-Roald-Dahl (as if directed by a post-MTV-age Sergei Paradjanov) in the theater, where admittedly it shows off its best assets. If you live elsewhere, tough luck (at least for now - it expands to a few more cities next Friday). It isn't as if I blame Roadside for the limited release; quite the contrary. I'm delighted that they've released the film at all. Roadside's initial two-city launch plan is a reflection of reality (and, for so called "smaller" films, the norm). It is prohibitively expensive to open a movie wide these days and particularly difficult to break out a largely unknown title from the pack.

Then again, it's also difficult even with a known title. Ask the team at Warner Bros about their "sure thing," Speed Racer - there are no certainties in this business. It's tough to open just about any movie (unless it's a sequel to a franchise and, even then, there are no guarantees). After its first week of release, The Fall grossed $117K (on, I believe, nine screens). How much did the critically celebrated Mutual Appreciation gross, by comparison? $104K for its entire domestic run. How about Aaron Katz's latest, Quiet City, to which Medicine for Melancholy bears a passing resemblance (although, to be honest, their filmmaking sensibilities are less like each other and more resemble the efforts of late-1960s/early-1970s Eric Rohmer, Jean Eustache, Maurice Pialat and François Truffaut)? No theatrical, except for a few isolated screenings here and there, for total Quiet City revenues of $16K over five weeks. Documentaries, on those rare occasions when they get a nation-wide theatrical release, are not immune to disenchanting results, either. Aaron Woolf's King Corn, distributed by Balcony Releasing, generated just under $100K at the box office. The Oscar®-nominated Iraq in Fragments? Roughly twice that figure. If these limited fortunes are the expected fate for best independent films being made and/or released in this country, what hope is there?

Under these circumstances, why are filmmakers still holding out for the legendary promise of a theatrical release? When the likelihood of success for films made on spec (that is, a film made with private money on the hopes of selling it to an established studio or distributor) approaches the same statistics as the chances of winning the lottery, why do so many filmmakers persist? Why do they essentially follow the same established patterns? Why, for instance, are otherwise intelligent people still playing by the studio rules? The whole (to oversimplify) festival-circuit-followed-by-theatrical-release-followed-by-video-debut-followed-by-television-sale - the notion of cascading windows of availability - was created to benefit the multiple-sales cycle of the studios, in essence carving out different periods of time to sell the same "product" again and again. Conversely, this process rarely benefits independent filmmakers at all. For just-starting-out directors, playing by these tired rules generally does more harm than good. Don't expect to hear this angle from the old hands of the business because they've often bought in to the basic storyline.

Movie theater Take this simple hypothetical. Say you're fortunate enough to receive a positive review of your film in the New York Times (which is read by more people outside of New York than in it). If someone in Chicago or Austin or San Francisco or Dubuque reads this review, they might very well be compelled to see the film. But they can't. When (or, more likely, if) it finally rolls around to their neighborhood, how probable is it that they'll remember many months later that anecdotal review? They've moved on to something else.

Fortunately, there are a few companies working to bring these exceptional films to their potential audience(s). Benten Films has taken to releasing DVDs by the aforementioned Katz, Todd Rohal and others in beautiful packages. Heretic Films is doing the same with similar festival favorites (and, not coincidently, they've both released films by Joe Swanberg - LOL and Kissing on the Mouth, respectively). Microcinema International continues to locate forgotten gems for their remarkable catalogue of titles. Others have moved the notion of the film festival into the online landscape. IndieFlix's MyFestival and the forthcoming From Here to Awesome are doing their part to reach viewers with the latest-and-possibly-greatest. That stated, festivals and DVD releases are only one part of this process - these efforts absolutely have to be done in tandem with some form of digital distribution (of which all-of-the-above are involved).

Granted, I have my own bias about where this is all headed. There are fortunately several companies now distributing movies-that-have-skipped-the-prescribed-steps directly into the living room. If we can't find an audience in their own home, can we expect to find them anywhere?

Of course, the obstacles to making a good film are not quite Sisyphean. These obstacles are surmountable. Resolving (or at least making steps toward resolving) the distribution problem is similarly difficult but doable. I'll leave it to an expert in marketing to address the final piece to this puzzle - answering, "Why should I care about this movie?" Making the film is one thing. Getting it out there is another. Giving an audience a reason to watch? Something else altogether. It is definitely something that the filmmakers and distributors of today (and tomorrow) should be prepared to figure out.

-Jonathan Marlow


Updates: A couple of related notes:

Update, 5/27: "dGenerate Films is a venture spearheaded by my good friend and indie producer extraordinaire Karin Chien," announces Kevin Lee. "Last year through some resourceful linking among her extensive network of contacts, she was able to bring together an impressive group of collaborators, funders, filmmakers, resource providers and general supporters for a common goal: to bring the real life visions of contemporary independent and underground cinema from China into the spotlight. By partnering with the Tribeca Film Institute and Amazon.com's new digital delivery platform Reframe, dGenerate will distribute previously undistributed media from China via on-demand DVD and download. We are set to launch this summer with a dozen or so titles that we think represents the most aesthetically cutting edge and socially incisive work that American audiences have yet to see."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:52 PM | Comments (15)

Seattle Dispatch. 2.

A round of reviews from Sean Axmaker at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Red Awn SIFF welcomed the North American premiere of The Red Awn, the directorial debut of Cai Shangjun (screenwriter of Zhang Yang's films, including Shower), in its opening weekend. The film leaves the urban cultures of Zhang's drama for a rural story of a father returning, after five years away looking for work in the city, to his home village where his wife has passed away and his son has had him pronounced legally dead. Yongtao, now a teenager, simmers with rage and resentment toward his long absent dad, who has left a veritable orphan since his mother's death, and the grudge continues even as they head out together to harvest the wheat fields with a local man who owns a combine. Cai is more circumspect than Zhang, both as a director and a writer of his own material, leaving us to put together what the father's life has been like in the city and why he's so forgiving of his son's increasingly defiant and destructive actions.

Meanwhile, he shows us a culture in rapid transition, where the rural folk (especially the young) flee the farms for work in the city and small armies of independent combines fan out over the countryside and compete for work. There are no tidy scenes of forgiveness or explanation, only a father whose astounding tolerance and protection of his ferociously angry son is a measure of his guilt and sense of failure, and a son who slowly comes around to grasping the chance that his father offers him.

Jose Padilha's Elite Squad [site] is a companion piece to City of God, this one from the perspective of the officer of BOPE, an elite squad of cops more like Marines than patrolmen. The film is crammed with examples of police corruption (the Elite Squad was created as an antidote to unrestrained extortion and graft) and gang predations, which gives the film a Dirty Harry justification for the astoundingly violent tactics and aggressive neglect of civil rights of this unit. And Padilha's strategy is rather suspect when he makes every liberal voice either hopelessly naïve or glibly hypocritical (the young activists, all children of privilege, are just another link in the drug trade chains). It's a busy whirlwind of a film with a narration that drives it as much as the jumpy direction. And yet, for all the glorification of the mercenary methods of this elite squad, it's still a fascinating portrait of a nightmarish police and crime culture and a vivid narrative. It comes down to survival: the favelas (ghettos) of Rio de Janeiro are literally a war zone, each district under the control of a drug warlord. You don't have approve of its extreme message of vigilante justice to appreciate the vivid portrait of a culture mired in violence and predation and polarization. And the climax can be read as a troubling triumph of this vigilante justice; I see a man whose sense of justice has been whipped out of him by the very nature of life and death in the urban drug war zone.

Tarsem Singh's The Fall [site] is a lovely reminder that stories don't belong to the teller. They have a life of their own. They live in the hearts and minds of those who hear them, read them, see them, whose experiences ricochet and reverberate off the characters and narrative turns and story details, expanding and enriching them with their own personal meanings. Tarsem's second feature is a glorious embrace of narrative innocence directed as a deliciously, vividly visual phantasmagoria of an adventure fantasy. As an injured silent movie Hollywood stuntman (Lee Pace) with a broken heart spins his make-believe epic to little immigrant girl Alexandria, a child migrant worker in the orange orchards who broke her arm in a fall, their respective personal experiences and cultural references mix for a story that shifts with each new addition and adjustment. It's as if a Terry Gilliam film were actually directed by Zhang Yimou, based on a script concocted by a child. Shot all over the world, it's stunning to look at and a charge to see the travelers make their through a world where you can leap a continent just by crossing over the next rise. The story imagery and character identities are equal parts imagination and appropriation from the real world, and those connections, far from being deeply symbolic, are almost naively direct reflections of their respective emotional lives.

Foster Child I wrote about Brillante Mendoza's Slingshot during the Vancouver festival and finally caught up with his other 2007 feature Foster Child. While not exactly a companion to the viscerally anxious and perpetually in motion Slingshot, it too is comprised of long handheld shots that take in the chaotic world of the slums, but Foster Child is a warmer portrait of family life in trying circumstances. The poverty and desperation is just as palpable, but where Slingshot showed the constant hustling and thieving (and not just from the poor) in a male-dominated culture, Foster Child is anchored by women, notably a wife and mother (Cherry Pie Picache) who brings in a little extra income as a longtime foster mother. She lives in a tin-roof place barely better than a hovel in a Manila slum, with her construction-worker husband and two sons, one of whom is just as attached to John-John. Mendoza carries us through the home life, the poverty of the area, the often neglectful foster mothers and families that the system relies on, and the sprawling families and pregnant young girls that fill the slums. But it's not an expose; it's an introduction to a social culture with a perspective defined by the sincere affection of a mother for her adorable little boy over the course of their last day together before giving him up to adoptive parents, an affluent Caucasian couple from San Francisco. Mendoza's new film, Serbis, played in competition at Cannes to disappointing reviews, but from the evidence of these earlier films, he's a filmmaker to watch (hey, SIFF - a plug for a future Emerging Master?)

Dario Argento's Mother of Tears [site] is his first film to get a theatrical release in years, but this long-awaited completion of his Three Mothers trilogy is dreadful. The problem isn't that it makes no sense (I defy anyone to explain to me what Inferno is about - or even what happens). It's that it's simply clumsy and graceless and, quite frankly, ugly. Even daughter Asia, as a wide-eyed archeology student who watches the release of evil bring witches from all over the world to Rome (actually Turin, which is an unconvincing stand-in) and swarm the streets like a gang of harpy thugs or like refugees from an 80s New Wave video, can't get through his lines with a modicum of conviction (Udo Kier doesn't even bother; he just goes nuts). Written from a compendium of B movie dialogue clichés and directed as if he'd never worked with actors before, Argento's film is a cheap production with little visual creativity and dull cinematography, produced to showcase familiar shocks and images rather than delving into the abstract beauty of his glory days of horror. Once a director of high style, with cameras that danced and floated through scenes of dynamic choreography and searing colors and stunning visions, the master of abstract ballets of blood and beauty has become a tired old man.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:42 PM

May 25, 2008

Cannes. Awards.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks have been tracking the awards at the Cannes Film Festival as they've been announced this evening, and they've just topped the list: the Palme d'Or this year goes to Laurent Cantet's Entre Les Murs (The Class).

The Class

Further awards (and commentary as it comes in):

Updated through 5/27.

Previously mentioned awards: Un Certain Regard, the full list, topped by Sergey Dvortsevoy's Tulpan.

As noted earlier today:

Updates: "Immediately a cheer went up, as Cantet, his star Francois Begaudeau and the 24 kids in the movie swarmed onstage, beaming as if they'd all graduated summa cum laude," report Richard and Mary Corliss. "Suddenly, les enfants de Cannes were movie stars, reveling in their group closeup."

Because Che has won an award, I'm giving myself permission to rush a link here to Glenn Kenny's most excellent, and of course, most amusing entry on conservative bloggers' potshots taken at a movie they have, in fact, not seen.

Dave Kehr notes that this is the first Palme d'Or to go to a French film in 21 years: "It was Maurice Pialat's Under the Sun of Satan the last time, and I can still hear the booing and hissing that broke out in the Palais. 'If you don't like me,' said the ever diplomatic Pialat, 'Then allow me to say that I don't like you, either.'"

Updates, 5/26: Cineuropa collects quotes from the winners.

Andrew O'Hehir comments on each of the awards in Salon.

Updates, 5/27: "On Sunday night in Cannes, France left its Catholic angst behind to now firmly confront, perhaps even embrace, the 21st century," argues Agnès Poirier in the Guardian.

Glenn Kenny presents a delightfully subjective "User's Guide" to the award-winners.

Online browsing tip. A Guardian gallery of award-winners.

"This year, more than perhaps any other, it would be interesting to know what really went on in the jury deliberations, because the whole list of prizes seems like a series of compromises," writes Facets' Milos Stehlik.

"That Cantet's film, the last of the 21 movies shown in competition, was (per Penn) a unanimous choice suggests that the movie offered a welcome solution to a divided jury.... The best evidence of a divided jury was the special prize given jointly to Catherine Deneuve and Clint Eastwood." J Hoberman parses the list in the Voice.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 11:42 AM | Comments (20)

Cannes, 5/25.

Cannes With just hours to go before the Palme-winners are announced, a slew of organizations are scrambling to get their awards - and press releases - out. FIPRESCI, the international federation of film critics, has, in addition to declaring Fernando Eimbcke's Lake Tahoe the "Revelation of the Year," is honoring Hungarian Kornél Mundruczó's Competition entry, Delta; Steve McQueen's Un Certain Regard entry, Hunger; and presenting the the François Chalais Award to Marco Tullio Giordana's Sanguepazzo (a "Special Screening"). Camillo De Marco reports for Cineurpa.

Jay Stone of the CanWest News Service reports that Atom Egoyan's Adoration has won "the ecumenical jury prize - the award given for movies that celebrate spiritual values." Via Movie City News.

For Time, Mary Corliss sorts through the indicators and finds a wide open race for the Palmes.

A few big roundups: Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Emmanuel Burdeau (Cahiers du cinéma), Eric Kohn (Stream), Jonathan Romney (Independent), Jason Solomons (Observer; plus his "Trashes d'Or") and Anne Thompson (Variety).

"Cringiest press conference," "most candid quote" and so on: Arifa Akbar in the Independent on the stars behaving and misbehaving at Cannes.

Online viewing tip #1. The Guardian's Xan Brooks has an overview of a few of this year's high profile films.

Online viewing tip #2. Having just returned home from Cannes, filmmaker Raymond De Felitta "decided to look for some vintage Cannes material on YouTube hoping to see what resemblance, if any, the current festival has to its no doubt infinitely more sedate and appropriate earlier incarnation." And he's come up with one of "the absolutely silliest pieces of film I've yet found posted on the good and great thing called YouTube."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:25 AM

Dick Martin, 1922 - 2008.

Time: Laugh-In
Dick Martin, a veteran nightclub comic who with his partner, Dan Rowan, turned a midseason replacement slot at NBC in 1968 into a hit that redefined what could be done on television, died Saturday night... He was 86.

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the hyperactive, joke-packed show that Mr Martin and Mr Rowan rode to fame, made conventional television variety programs seem instantly passé and the sitcom brand of humor seem too meek for the times.

Neil Genzlinger, New York Times.

Updated through 5/26.

Update: "[F]or millions of middle-class Americans, outside the urban and cultural centers, Laugh-In was the means by which they came to assimilate and accept the mindset of the 1960s," blogs Mick LaSalle. "Watching the DVDs today, it's almost inconceivable, but in 1968 and 1969, there was nothing funnier on earth."

Update, 5/26: "If I viewed a rerun today, I quite possibly would find it more antiquated than edgy, and not nearly as audacious as a contemporary show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967 - 69)," concedes Joe Leydon. "On the other hand: For a variety of reasons, I can't imagine any broadcast TV network daring to air anything like Laugh-In in prime time right now. Yes, not even in an election year. Especially not in an election year."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:50 AM | Comments (4)

Cannes. Snow.

"The prize list for the 47th Critics' Week is dominated by European films, including top winner Snow, the debut feature by Bosnian director Aida Begic." Fabien Lemercier has the full list.

Snow

Also in Cineuropa: "Begic has made a feature that looks at a familiar theme in Balkan cinema from a fresh point of view and with a raw energy that is especially noteworthy in the work of cinematographer Erol Zubcevic and actress Zana Marjanovic," writes Boyd van Hoeij.

"A polished but often tedious outing that may leave some auds cold, Snow depicts the daily hardships of a war-torn Bosnian village where all that remains are widows and their memories," writes Variety. "Debut feature by writer-helmer Aida Begic offers up female insights and a local point of view on the (literal) no man's land left by the mid-90s conflict. Yet strong performances and craftsmanship cannot save a paper-thin narrative that plays like heavy-handed Abbas Kiarostami without the Iranian auteur's poetic virtuosity."

"A fictionalized account of the plight of Muslim women in a mountain village two years after the 1995 Dayton Accords ended the ethnic cleansing of Muslims (and Croats) by their Bosnian Serb neighbours, Snow is a step up from director Aida Begic's experimental 2001 film First Death Experience," writes Howard Feinstein in Screen Daily. "Unobtrusively directed, this ensemble film successfully captures the special camaraderie among the survivors of such horror and the emotional and psychological toll it takes on the individuals."

Online viewing tips. Cineuropa talks with the players; the video's not subtitled, but there are notes on each interview in English.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 6:09 AM

Un Conte de Noël.

A quick word on a contender for the Palme d'Or from Ronald Bergan; the earlier entry, still being updated, is here.

Un Conte de Noël In Un Conte de Noël, Arnaud Desplechin has tried to instill new life into the well-worn formula of the family reunion. In fact, there is an echo, surely unintentional, of TS Eliot's second play in which the dying mother is told, "Death will come to you as a mild surprise." Here, the dying mater familias is the Junoesque Catherine Deneuve, who plays a character called Junon, in a detached manner. Yet, despite the strong cast, the cautious avoidance of melodrama, the often wry Rohmeresque dialogue, the film remains as traditional as its title suggests. The director seems so careful to avoid the clichés of the genre, that he only draws attention to them. The convoluted screenplay with its skeletons rattling in the closet, the dysfunctional family made up of insecure odd balls, the redemptive theme with its religious undertones, are all there.

Desplechin's efforts to trick out the mise-en-scene with lite Godardian effects such as characters addressing the camera, voice over, and quotes from literature as well as using titles, shadow puppets, irises, an eclectic choice of music from classical to jazz, to Irish and Indian melodies, smack of a certain desperation.

Paradoxically, all these cinematic devices with vague nods towards La Nouvelle Vague, and a screenplay that acknowledges La Regle du Jeu and Ingmar Bergman's family dramas, plus inconsequential clips from films watched by the characters on television - Max Reinhardt's film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (Mendelssohn's incidental music for the play is also often used on the soundtrack), Funny Face and DeMille's 1956 The Ten Commandments (curiously dubbed into French with French subtitles), Un Conte de Noël remains rooted in the theater. It is in the line of the above-mentioned A Family Reunion, but further back to Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra and its obvious antecedents and superficially to Chekhov.

It might have worked as a play, but as a film it is the kind of highly-wrought middle-of-the-road artifact - neither too commercial nor too avant-garde - that may gain a festival prize or two, if not the Palme d'Or, and a relatively large audience.

- Ronald Bergan

Posted by dwhudson at 3:54 AM

May 24, 2008

Interview. Lynn Shelton.

Lynn Shelton "Lynn Shelton's My Effortless Brilliance plays something like an overtly comic remake of Old Joy, with mountains swapped out for woods, and a third man wild card pushing the narrative along," wrote Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog when she caught the film's premiere at SXSW earlier this year. "It's not quite like nothing I've ever seen before, but it's a nicely rendered, novella-esque character study with some impressive naturalistic performances."

Now Shelton and her film come home, in a way; Brilliance is screening at the Seattle International Film Festival tonight and Monday night. Sean Axmaker talks with the determinedly independent filmmaker about learning to direct by editing and about the local Seattle film scene.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:34 PM

Cannes. Tulpan.

"Sergey Dvortsevoy's Tulpan won the Prize of Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival tonight in France, while Kurosawa Kiyoshi's Tokyo Sonata won the jury prize," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, who lists winners of further UCR awards.

Tulpan

"Shy courtship, stark landscapes and a spirited supporting cast of livestock make Tulpan a vivid, intensely enjoyable debut feature from former documentarian Sergei Dvortsevoi," writes Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily. "The Kazakhstan-set film hardly breaks new ground, in both setting and mood pitching its tent very close to The Story of the Weeping Camel. But it similarly blends intimate, gentle fiction with a strong dose of ethnographic observation, to immensely charming effect."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:49 PM

Shorts, 5/24.

Matthew Barney "Process art was alive and kicking last Sunday, when Regen Projects in Los Angeles had no trouble persuading over six hundred art-worlders to a baking-hot spot an hour south of town to be extras in the filming of Ren, the first of a series of unique performances to be staged by Matthew Barney and his longtime collaborator, composer Jonathan Bepler." Linda Yablonsky reports and snaps lots of pix for Artforum.

"I was saddened by the news first relayed by Wise Kwai that Tartan USA had closed down," writes Peter Nellhaus.

"It feels like the correct time to be reminded of an ancient tradition that has always served civilization well, that of the independent, truth-telling poet provocateur." That's Tilda Swinton in an email to Dennis Lim, who looks back on the work of Derek Jarman (Isaac Julien's Derek will screen at MoMA from June 9 through 16 and Zeitgeist will release a DVD box set on June 24): "His poetic sensibility owes a debt to the outlaw lyricism of Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet. His taste for the baroque calls to mind British filmmakers like Michael Powell and Ken Russell (who hired him as a set designer). There are also kinships with the bad-boy iconoclasts he memorialized: Caravaggio, the painter who revolted against the refinement of the Renaissance, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the philosopher who regarded the academy with hostility."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "In You Don't Mess With the Zohan (opening June 6), [Adam] Sandler plays an Israeli assassin who flees to the United States to become a hairdresser," writes Dave Itzkoff. "Trailers for the film promise plenty of broad farce, physical comedy and at least one lewd dance routine. What the ad campaign for Zohan does not emphasize is that the film also attempts to satirize the continuing tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and provide humorous commentary on one of the least funny topics of modern times with a comedian who is not exactly known for incisive political wit."

Machine Girl

"When François Truffaut's Jules et Jim was released in 1962, it was an instant hit with girls like me, francophile, penniless and non-monogamous," writes Germaine Greer. "Catherine seemed a woman after our own hearts, who followed her desires rather than the rules." Looking back now, though, she realizes Truffaut "would have been horrified to be told that he was in any way a misogynist. Yet all the women in Jules et Jim are grotesques."

Also in the Guardian: "[T]he political Oliver Stone has been on hiatus for a long while, and it'll be interesting - and probably infuriating and exasperating - to have him back," writes John Patterson. And Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case "exerts an awful grip," writes Peter Bradshaw. "It's certainly a wake-up call to those who believe that Russia is not as relevant in the 21st century."

Postal "Regurgitating Mad Magazine, South Park and Borat into what he believes may be some sort of comedic super-barf, German fauxteur Uwe BollBloodRayne, Alone in the Dark, In the Name of the King, et al), yet manages to be as toothless as he is tasteless," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. More from Bill Gibron (PopMatters), Eric Kohn (New York Press), Nathan Lee (NYT), John Lichman (House Next Door), Martin Tsai (NY Sun) and Scott Weinberg (Cinematical).

Related: In the NYT, John Schwartz reports on the man "often referred to as the worst filmmaker in the world," talking, for example, with Dave Foley: "Boll is 'like a quintessential German intellectual artist who has almost taken film arbitrarily as the medium he's going to work in. The art form is, almost, in being hated,' Mr Foley said. Comparing him to the comedian Andy Kaufman, he added, 'It's his relationship with the audience that is his creation, his relationship with the critics, more than the movies.'" And Andy Klein talks with Boll for the LA CityBeat.

And Andy Klein also talks with Arthur Dong about Hollywood Chinese, while Brent Simon talks with Danny McBride about The Foot Fist Way.

"What Makes a Movie Sexist?" Lisa Kansas on Iron Man.

Kaleem Aftab profiles Ben Affleck in the Independent.

Adam Ross's interviewee of the week: Marilyn Ferdinand.

Online listening tip. An On Point roundtable on Vertigo.

Online viewing tip #1. The trailer for David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

Online viewing tip #2. Well, everyone's doing it, so here we go: Wheezer's "Pork and Beans."

Online viewing tips. DVblog has the trailer for and a clip from Andreas Troeger's Kill the Artist.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:40 PM

Fests and events, 5/24.

Brooklyn Bridge "Brooklyn Bridge marked the debut of the popular mythmaker and PBS stalwart Ken Burns," notes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "If something's American, and historical, and big, Mr Burns has 'done' it." Brooklyn Bridge screens at BAM this afternoon, the 125th anniversary of the NYC landmark. Related online browsing: Magnum photos of the Bridge at Slate.

"The ongoing decline of the Spike & Mike festivals, with their crappy computer animation and pointlessly scatological gags, has been offset by the growing excellence of Mike Judge's Animation Show, so successful that this year Judge has actually commissioned work from four artists," writes JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. At the Music Box through Thursday.

DK Holm previews another entry in his summertime festival, launching this coming Thursday: Dark of the Sun.

Mike Everleth has another lineup: "Presented by Video Inferno, the first ever H3R3TIC Film Festival in Amsterdam is a four-day celebration of alternative ways of thinking and living. Dedicated to Guy Debord, Robert Anton Wilson and Albert Hofmann, screenings will take place in nine different locations all over the city. Most of the films seem to be documentaries of extremely colorful characters, but there are some outré fictional films thrown into the mix." May 29 through June 1.

Seattle's off and running and the Siffblog springs to action.

At SF360, Robert Avila has an overview of the San Francisco Arts Festival, running through June 8.

"Well, there's the dance... the Madison. And there's the mad sprint through the Louvre... nine minutes, the new record. But for me there's no set piece in Band of Outsiders that can equal the dazzling effect that is Anna Karina's face." Reverse Shot's robbiefreeling. Godard's 60s runs through June 5.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:41 AM

Charles Boyer.

Charles Boyer "The Film Society of Lincoln Center will begin a changing of the guard this weekend as its 11-day, two-sided program extolling Saints, Sinners, Obsession, and Seduction transitions from American leading lady Jennifer Jones to vintage French screen heartthrob Charles Boyer," writes Bruce Bennett. "Though only 35 when he appeared in Le Bonheur, Boyer had already perfected the fatalistic, world-weary Gallic equipoise that became his oft-caricatured stock-in-trade on both sides of the Atlantic."

Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door: "History Is Made at Night is my first encounter with [Frank] Borzage; my response, generally, is that it's easy enough to see why he has ardent admirers, but also why he'll never have more than a relative handful of those."

Updated through 5/27.

Charles Boyer and the Art of Seduction runs through Tuesday.

Update: "The First Legion is the high point of the driest period of Douglas Sirk's career, the stretch between his adventurous independent American films of the 40s and the full-bodied Universal melodramas upon which his reputation stands today," writes Dan Sallitt.

Update, 5/27: "No one in a Hollywood movie has cried in such agony as Charles Boyer does at the end of Frank Borzage's History is Made at Night (1937)," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Not until Tippi Hedren in The Birds, or perhaps Jimmy Stewart in some of his traumatic films with Anthony Mann do we find someone in Hollywood expressing so much pain. But that kind of agony is of a personal, inward driven pain - and perhaps something let loose after the Second World War - whereas Boyer in Borzage utters a cry of selfless pain.... Borzage, rightly, is the greatest romantic of the cinema."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:39 AM

Cannes. Palermo Shooting.

At Cinematical, James Rocchi first takes aim at the Cannes paparazzi, fires and scores a beaut. "So, yes, the idea of watching a Wim Wenders film about a photographer who's having a crisis of conscience about his profession seemed like a capital idea."

Palermo Shooting

However: "Palermo Shooting goes fairly off the mark, or fires blanks, or has a damp fuse; I'm not sure about which firearm metaphor applies here, and if Wenders can't be bothered to have any cohesion to his signs and symbols, why should I? Palermo Shooting is hardly the worst film I've ever seen at Cannes - Southland Tales still takes the Palme d'Junk in my book - but it's still a little sad to see a major filmmaker make such a series of major mistakes in the name of a fairly minor film."

Further up in that review: "Films about people who have to choose between two different kinds of success are, by definition, boring. The second problem comes with the casting of Campino, who is certainly a well-made slab of Euro-flesh, but whose range of expressed emotional states ranges from hunky bewilderment to bewildered hunkiness."

"Wim Wenders muses on love, death and his perennial bugbear, the 'Crisis of the Image' in The Palermo Shooting, a metaphysical thriller cum philosophical essay that marks another step on the downwards slope for this once-vital filmmaker," writes Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily. "Unwisely cast, leadenly written and ultimately farcical in its earnestness, The Palermo Shooting is a glossy travelogue-thriller with metaphysical pretentions, and one of the low points of this year's Cannes Competition."

The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Roxborough talks with Wenders, who's now planning to shoot a horror movie.

For Variety, Ali Jaafar reports that Axiom Films has picked up UK rights.

Reviews in German.

Competing.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 8:23 AM | Comments (1)

Cannes. Chelsea on the Rocks.

"Abel Ferrara's new film, Chelsea on the Rocks, represents a kind of homecoming for the Bronx-born director and longtime chronicler of the New York City underbelly," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times.

Chelsea Rocks

"Chelsea on the Rocks, which had its premiere as a special presentation at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday night, is a documentary about the 125-year-old Chelsea Hotel, the spiritual home of Manhattan bohemia, where Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road, Andy Warhol filmed Chelsea Girls and the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, to death. It's Ferrara's first proper New York movie since 2001's 'R Xmas."

"A skittery, rambling but often absorbing portrait of the Chelsea Hotel, pic shuffles together vintage archive footage, scrappy dramatic re-enactments of famous moments at the hotel, and original interview material in helmer's first go at docmaking in more than 30 years," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety.

Writing in Screen Daily, Allan Hunter finds the doc "more effective in its conventional talking heads material than some ill-advised dramatic recreations of key events in the establishment's illustrious past."

Update, 5/25: "Chelsea Hotel is commanding, and Ferrara remains a sick god, the ingenious hunchback of Notre Dame du Cinéma," writes Cahiers du cinéma's Emmanuel Burdeau. "This is how he appears to us, in a hallway, his shoulders hunched up to his ears, his pale head thrown backward in order for his hair to reach a woman's genitalia painted on the wall. The is the first time we see him in one of his films, his silhouette resembling Keith Richards's, with his cough and his winded feline's walk. The film is fairly nondescript, outside of a few shots of rooftops and a few palimpsests of images to which Ferrara holds the secret."

Update, 5/26: "It might be the boldfaced names that are going to sell the thing, but the best material here, the spots where Ferrara seems most comfortable, involve the usually drug-related shock-horror stories of relative nobodies," writes Karina Longworth in the SpoutBlog. On the other hand, "The reenactments cheapen what might otherwise have been a bittersweet document; as it is, it's an extraordinarily entertaining but not totally satisfying mess."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 8:10 AM

Weekend books.

Exile Cinema Michael Atkinson, Stuart Klawans, Ed Halter, David Sterritt, B Kite, "and maybe Guy Maddin, if he's not exhausted," will be reading from Exile Cinema: Filmmakers at Work Beyond Hollywood in Manhattan on June 11.

The new summer issue of Bookforum's up. Bilge Ebiri: "Whereas Brick Lane the four-hundred-plus-page novel was sprawling, spanning decades and even continents, Brick Lane the movie, running at just over a hundred minutes, is a model of focus and precision - a streamlined slice-of-life tale about a woman who finds herself faced with a difficult choice."

Also:

  • "Because [Doris] Day is as much signifier as star, it's astonishing that few have tackled her work in relation to the mores of her time and ours," writes Marc Weingarten. "In Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, David Kaufman has certainly made a nice run at it. His book is, in all senses of the word, exhaustive: It omits no detail of Day's life and career. But it fails to provide the sort of intellectual heft the subject warrants - the synoptic detail in Kaufman's narrative consistently crowds out context and analysis."

  • Kera Bolonik interviews Ron Hansen, author of, among other novels, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

  • And then, besides all the rest - any new issue is a highlight of the online reading season, however much or little it might have to do with cinema - there's a casual symposium on fiction and politics.

Congrats to Tim Lucas on his Independent Publisher Book Award for Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Night.

Seagalogy David Gordon Green has written the introduction to Vern's Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and the Guardian's running an edited version: "Who wants to see Jean-Claude Van Damme in Death Warrant or Cyborg when you could witness the brutal human elegance of Seagal's Marked for Death or the astonishing Hard to Kill? His stretch of films that promoted themselves with three dramatic words was for me a trademark and a guarantee that I would be getting my money's worth."

"Brideshead Revisited has exerted a powerful hold on the British imagination for more than 60 years, although it's far from obvious why," writes John Walsh in the Independent. "Its structure is shockingly broken-backed. One of its most attractive characters disappears halfway through. An undercurrent of anti-egalitarian snobbery becomes a tidal wave. The central love story is treated by the author like a conveyancing contract. And the characters' preoccupation with Catholicism doesn't ring true. But Brideshead has Unassailable Classic status and, as the producers of a new film have found, one mucks about with it at one's peril."

New reviews of Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure: Raymond Bonner (NYT), Michael Byers (Guardian) and Michael S Roth (Los Angeles Times).

Posted by dwhudson at 7:51 AM

HBO's Recount.

Recount "This is absolutely the perfect moment to revisit the 2000 election," writes Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe. "With the new movie Recount, HBO is either remarkably savvy or the beneficiary of happy coincidence.... Timeliness, though, does not equal drama or comedy, and Recount is a surprisingly enervated and enervating piece of work."

Updated through 5/25.

For the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley, this is "an astute and deliciously engrossing film" which "retells the tale of Florida in all its bizarre and inglorious moments, from haggling over the 'hanging chad' and 'butterfly ballots' to the ruckus between the Florida secretary of state, Katherine Harris, and the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board. Recount is not satire; it's a mordantly serious look at a moment when character, political influence and luck fatefully collided."

"The core problem with Recount lies in its being at once fatally cynical and touchingly naive about American democracy," counters Troy Patterson in Slate. "It grovels for the approval of political junkies while flaunting the shallowest interest in politics, and everything flows from there in the most silly fashion."

"If it's vaguely eerie that the film's premiere on 25 May coincides with current ado over popular, delegate, and electoral counts, it's also germane to the film's essential point," writes Cynthia Fuchs at PopMatters. "That is, the oft-repeated claim that 'the system works' is by definition duplicitous, ironic, and right, all at the same time. Indeed, when James Baker (Tom Wilkinson) makes that very declaration at the end of Recount, it's enough to send shivers down your spine. Though Recount doesn't press the case, it seems plain enough that the system remains infinitely gameable for those who know it, those in power who wish to remain in power."

Sara Cardace talks with screenwriter Danny Strong for the Vulture.

And now, I'm going to so something I never do... except now: Quote an entry in full. Comes from VF Daily:

Before you park yourself in front of Recount, HBO's critically acclaimed new dramatization of the 2000 chad-tastrophe, take a minute to read Evgenia Peretz's mind-boggling account of how the media totally screwed Al Gore and stuck us with the least popular president in the history of popularity - who, if Vincent Bugliosi is to be believed, basically deserves to be executed.

You might also check out Sally Bedell Smith's devastating account of how Bill and Hillary Clinton basically more or less hamstrung Gore's campaign. (Note to Barack Obama: read this before making any vice-presidential decisions!)

And if all that sounds like a lot of heavy reading for a Memorial Day weekend, you can always just look at these funny pictures of Washington people partying!

Earlier: Robert Abele (LA Weekly), Joshua Alston (Newsweek) and Edward Wyatt (NYT).

Online listening tip. Laura Dern, who plays Katherine Harris, is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Screens tomorrow and Monday nights.

Updates, 5/25: "Laced with dark humor and somehow making what amounts to a long chess game dramatically compelling, Recount is probably the best made-for-TV movie of the year, a distinction which would carry more weight if a) the various networks made more made-for-TV movies and b) it hadn't arrived at such a fortuitous moment, six days before the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws panel meets to decide what to do about Florida in yet another election-related brouhaha," writes Todd VanDerWerff at the House Next Door. "In another 20 years, Recount probably won't play as persuasively as it does right now, in this moment, when it largely stirs up feelings long dormant in an electorate that desires, at some primal level, a do-over. Largely unable to take the long view because of when it was made, Recount is definitely a chronicle of its time and place, but it can't find anything larger to say about the political process than, 'Wasn't it sad that Al Gore lost and we had to put up with this?'"

Choire Sicha talks with Danny Strong for the Los Angeles Times.

"Dern's performance is something special: hilarious, deadly serious, a master class in walking the line between going for a laugh and going for the jugular," writes JJ at As Little As Possible.

"[T]hough Recount is artless and not much worse than Charlie Wilson's War, Mike Nichols's film at least understood itself as a caricature, whereas Recount behaves as if it were the real deal," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Only interested in scoring cheap shots, Recount tells us that conservatives are bullies on a very fundamental level, but it's most effective at conveying the sense that Hollywood liberals are only interested in making movies that showcase how right they were all along. They were, of course, but that's no excuse for this movie's wholesale smugness."

The New Republic hosts Jonathan Chait, Jay Roach and Danny Strong's discussion of Recount.

"So just how (un)likely are these recount things anyway?" 538 does the math.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:36 AM

May 23, 2008

Cannes, 5/23.

Cannes "[O]n behalf of my own one-man jury, with scant compensation for the winners and in scandalous unfairness to those few movies yet to screen, I bestow the following awards," announces J Hoberman in the Voice. First up: "Le Gran Surprise du Festival to Che." Five more follow.

"Cannes is perhaps not the worst of places to reiterate one of the clear signs of our time: there is no more hierarchy in the cinema," declares Emmanuel Burdeau in his latest Cahiers du cinéma diary entry.

Meanwhile, the London Times' James Christopher and Wendy Ide write up a Cannes Top Ten. So far.

Turns out, Mark Peranson and Christoph Huber have been blogging all this while from Cannes at La lectora provisoria. Via Movie City News.

"Each year at some point here in Cannes, the question arises: is this festival all it's cracked up to be? Is Cannes what it was? Typically, the subject crops up about a week into the festival, as fatigue starts to set in," writes the Telegraph's David Gritten. "Yet I'd bet that nearly everyone here this year will return in 12 months' time. Everyone I talked to about the state of Cannes agreed: in its way, it's irreplaceable."

"Madonna the documentary-maker came, saw and conquered the world's biggest film festival yesterday with a powerful polemic on the effects of disease and poverty on Malawi [I Am Because We Are]," reports Mark Brown. "Next in her sights is the Israel-Palestine conflict."

"The Cannes Film Festival is looking back, sorting it all out, being realistic," writes William Booth in the Washington Post. This isn't about young, brash, new. This is the year of longing, of the nostalgia trip."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:03 PM

Cannes. Wendy and Lucy.

"When a film this small gets thrust under a spotlight this bright, you worry about that the movie itself will be overwhelmed," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog, reacting to the splashy coverage of Michelle Williams's surprise appearance in Cannes.

Wendy and Lucy

"I do hope this unlikely attention helps Wendy and Lucy get seen, but coming in with high expectations ([Kelly Reichardt's] Old Joy was one of my favorite films of its year), I was a bit underwhelmed.... Wendy and Lucy has the bleak, but it never explores the light. It hits its single tone perfectly, but it's still a single tone."

"Reichardt is no pessimist and her compassion for Wendy and belief in the kindness of strangers make for an optimistic film which should serve to build her already strong US reputation on an international scale," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen Daily. "Williams is superb here, unbeautified and effortlessly natural as a woman driving a clapped out Honda from her homestate of Indiana to Alaska in search of lucrative work at a fish cannery."

Un Certain Regard.

Updates, 5/24: "Like Old Joy which tracks two friends on a short trip to the country, Wendy and Lucy is political to the bone but without any of the usual grandstanding," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "As of Thursday night's screening, though distributors were circling the room, this pitch-perfect triumph had yet to attract an American buyer. It will."

"I've seen films about genocide at this year's festival, I've seen films about corruption, about terrible crimes, about war and about murder, but nothing cut me to the quick like Wendy and Lucy, which is about a girl who loses her dog." For Alison Willmore, Reichardt has "created something of incredible emotional genuineness that's one of my favorites in the festival."

Updates, 5/27: "Because the film focuses entirely on Wendy and her relationship with her dog, Williams has to carry the film entirely, and she does so remarkably," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical.

"Wendy's self-sufficient routine has a introverted, bitter stability, but her deep reliance on Lucy as the sole discernible human, emotional, tender existence in her life predictably, but movingly brings Wendy to a frazzled crisis," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Will Oldham's childish, nostalgic, and lyrical hummed theme for Wendy and her dog neatly encapsulates the film, which attacks a simple, sad theme with an exemplary, but modest cast and crew, who bring a powerfully sympathetic approach. The sadness is natural, and therefore all the more sad, and it takes a patience, a kindness, and a calm to bring an inner life, however painful, to such a film."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 1:08 PM

Seattle Dispatch. 1.

Sean Axmaker launches his coverage of the marathon, the Seattle International Film Festival.

Battle in Seattle Stuart Townsend and four central cast members - Martin Henderson, Michelle Rodriguez, Andre Benjamin and Charlize Theron - brought his independently produced Battle in Seattle [site] back to the city where it really happened. Whatever you think of the film, it may be the most apropos film in the history of SIFF to open the festival: never has an opening night film been so inextricably tied to the city. You might think that the hometown audience who lived through (and, in many cases, participated in) the WTO protests and the disastrous police response would be the film's toughest audience for a film about their experience directed by an Irish actor who wasn't even there. Not just because of our own immediate experiences but because of the use of fictional stories to structure the film (the fictional Seattle Mayor Jim Tobin, played by Ray Liotta, stands in for the real Paul Schell) and Vancouver, BC doubling for Seattle in principle production (there were a few days of Seattle shooting to get key landmarks, but sharp eyes will detect Canadian road signage throughout the film).

Some of the stories are frankly unconvincing (Connie Nielsen gives perhaps the least dimensional performance of her career as a superficial TV reporter transformed by the experience) and others slip into all-too-familiar ruts (the rocky romance between Martin Henderson's passionate protest organizer and the angry guerilla activist played by Michelle Rodriguez), and the literal gut-punch of the experience of bystander Charlize Theron and the turmoil of cop Woody Harrelson is a messy way to get an emotional reaction from the audience (it works, by the way). But the film pushed all the right buttons in this very liberal crowd, who responded to key scenes and speeches and (rather repetitive) defining lines with cheers and applause.

Battle in Seattle

That sounds condescending, I admit, but I have to hand it to Townsend for not only showing how the protests caught the city by surprise and capturing the chaos within the loose organization of protesters (such as the outbreaks of vandalism that almost derailed the non-violent actions and captured the focus of media coverage for a few news cycles), but also for getting beyond slogans to explain what the WTO was doing and what the protesters stood for, at least to come extent. And his most interesting (though least developed) story takes us into the tensions inside the meeting, where another protest was brewing among the representatives of the Third World nations whose concerns were being ignored. Townsend doesn't try to create a causal link, just show the parallels between those working within the system and those working outside for the same thing, and the revelation of this story, lost in the media coverage of the more visible public protests.

Townsend's approach is a mix of the conventional - with personal stories of the protesters and the police and others to bring us into the various arenas of the drama - and the political, and Townsend believes in the politics and the passion of the protesters; he makes their concerns heard over the media noise focused on the spectacle of conflict. In his Q&A, Townsend cited Medium Cool as his primary inspiration among many, and he took his camera into the midst of the protest scenes to try to get the immediacy and the energy seen in so much of the documentary record from both amateur and professional camera operators during the event. Townsend's efforts to be honest to the spirit of the event are apparent and the cast's commitment helps carry the film through its rougher patches.

My Effortless Brilliance

Keeping with the Seattle theme: My Effortless Brilliance [site], from local Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton, debuted at SXSW earlier this year before its local debut this weekend. Where her debut feature, We Go Way Back, was autobiographical and rather tightly structured, Brilliance shifts both style and subject matter. It's a study of male relationships, specifically the "break-up" of old friends and the desperation with which one man (played by Harvey Danger's Sean Nelson), a novelist struggling to repeat the success of his first book, attempts to reconnect. His motivations are less out of affection than ego - dude, he was dumped!

The film's reception has been mixed, which may have as much to do with the seeming lack of narrative drive and plotting (I know a few people who believe the film is shapeless and hopelessly misguided) and its undeniable similarities to Old Joy as with the discomforting portrait of male relationships. Yet I found the texture of the relationships and the sly humor winning and was impressed with the performances, especially Nelson's, a natural in the role, subtly establishing the sense of ego and vulnerability and self-aggrandizement in the character with brave intimacy. (In the interests of full disclosure, let me say that Nelson is an acquaintance of mine, but quite frankly I was ready to cringe at seeing him onscreen, so his triumph was a genuine - and happy - surprise.)

Posted by dwhudson at 12:24 PM | Comments (1)

Cannes. O' Horten.

O Horten "The 'O' stands for Odd, which is a Norwegian male first name. And, in the most affectionate sense, this film is 'odd,'" writes Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter. "It's also outstanding."

"Bent Hamer's unique blend of absurdist humour and aching melancholy has never worked better than in O' Horten [site]," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen Daily. "Hamer, who scored a minor international ripple with his first English language venture Factotum in 2005, is nevertheless more comfortable working in his native Norwegian and employing his wonderfully deadpan sense of comedy which is somewhere between Aki Kaurismäki and Monty Python. Central to O' Horten's success is Baard Owe, a veteran Norwegian actor based in Copenhagen who has worked with everyone from Carl Theodor Dreyer to Lars Von Trier (most memorably as Dr Bondo in The Kingdom series)."

"Although the bittersweet, episodic tale of an ultra-dedicated locomotive engineer uneasily transitioning into retirement lacks the fully developed characters and tightly constructed narrative of his more poignant and substantial Kitchen Stories, it nevertheless provides a warm and gently humorous divertissement that should be appreciated by niche arthouse auds worldwide," writes Alissa Simon in Variety.

The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan talks with Hamer.

Un Certain Regard.

Update, 5/29: James Rocchi at Cinematical: "Hamer's earlier films had a finely-tuned capacity for observation, perhaps best demonstrated in Eggs (1995) and Kitchen Stories (2003); Hamer's English-language debut, Factotum (2005), took the boozy, woozy prose of Charles Bukowski and put a little air and space in it, turning the alcohol-fueled anger of Bukowski's words which, on the page, hit like a shot of cheap whiskey and turning them into something smoother and finer with the smooth burn of regret going down. In O'Horten, Hamer's back in Norway, and still crafting careful, considered portraits of day to day life, but ones which nonetheless have a deadpan comedy to them, a careful and humane sense of the absurd."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 11:30 AM

Cannes. The Class.

"With the Official Competition having been widely regarded as generally decent but lacking in knock-out fare, the late showing of The Class (Entre les Murs) came as an extremely welcome surprise," writes Time Out's Geoff Andrew.

The Class

"Directed and co-written by Laurent Cantet (Human Resources, Time Out), the film is set in a school in the Parisian suburbs... The movie initially comes on like a documentary... Gradually, however, a narrative thread beings to emerge from the sometimes heated, sometimes cordial, always fertile dialogue between the teacher and his pupils."

"[E]ven though it takes place entirely 'entre les murs,' it offers a rich microcosm of today's multi-ethnic French population and fascinating insights into the complicated dilemmas and misunderstandings which teaching - and indeed learning - can entail," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen Daily. "The film demands that the viewer pay attention to long talkative sequences in the classroom which may be offputting to some, although the characters of the kids are so colourful as to render all these sequences humorous and lively."

Sales are brisk, reports Elsa Bertet in Variety.

Online viewing tip. Trailer (no subtitles).

Update, 5/24: "Mr Cantet is motivated above all by a passionate curiosity about the way people live, and he directs with such sensitivity and skill that his curiosity becomes contagious," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "It is not enough to call him a realist, though he is surely at the forefront of the current wave of realism in European cinema. It's simpler to say that his movies tell the truth."

Update, 5/25: Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay points to Fest21.com's notes on the press conference and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips:

It plays out with the ease and fluidity of a fine documentary. Cantet developed much of the material through improvisation, but he never pushes his young nonactors to act. Rather, he lets them simply be, and he trusts that the situation he creates will be enough to sustain us. It's more than enough. As Begaudeau asserts in the film's press materials, "Everyone is right in this story." He also notes that the film strove to avoid a kind of patness and elocutionary slickness, lest the result, in his words, end up "a left-wing Dead Poets' Society."

This Cannes highlight already has been sold to various international territories for distribution. American distribution seems very likely as well, which would be good news indeed.

"Begaudeau's interactions with his students are so nuanced and smart that it doesn't feel like the heavy hand of drama when various incidents and events escalate as the film progresses; they feel natural, lived in, human," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Cantet's previous films - Heading South, Time Out, Human Resources - all explored the same sort of territory as The Class does, with the interactions between people in relationships defined by power as their prime concern. And, put like that, it makes Canet sound like a one-topic filmmaker; instead, though, his filmography has quietly, credibly taken on heft and power as he tackles tough questions and tells fascinating stories few filmmakers in France - or, for that matter the world - would have the skill or courage to depict so well."

Update, 5/27: "Entre les Murs is a tete-a-tete between France and its educational system," writes Agnès Poirier in the Guardian. "It may also be seen as the trial of France by its aspiring citizens":

This not Alan Bennett's The History Boys. No talk of preparing for Oxford or any grande école. Cantet's pupils are Rousseau's bons sauvages. Teaching them the past subjunctive becomes a herculean task and a confrontation between old and new France; helping them to express themselves becomes a struggle of Dantesque proportion in which the fear of revealing too much of one's roots leads to clashes with the teacher's authority; interesting them in literature turns into an olympian achievement. In the process, the question of identity comes back again and again.

Also in the Guardian: Lanie Goodman gets an interview with Cantet.

"The movie sharply points out the French pedagogical tendency of 'confrontation,' the intensely critical or questioning nature where nothing is out of bounds, like the teacher's sexual orientation," writes Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling.

"Think Stand and Deliver or Dangerous Minds without the Hollywood formula, or Half Nelson without the drugs," suggests the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik.

Updates, 5/29: "Cantet returns to the contemporary social and work-related issues of his earlier features... Again an austere but acutely observed drama with a quasi-documentary style, Entre les murs impresses with its veracious tone and nuanced characterisations, though when late into the proceedings Cantet tries to impose a more rigid order on the until then Altmanesque portrait of banlieue-school dynamics, its narrow focus on a particular incident diminishes the force of the film as a whole," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net.

"[T]here is much to be impressed by, including Cantet and veteran screenplay collaborator Robin Campillo's keen observations of class, race, the politics of language, the asserting of adolescent identity and the classroom as simulacrum of the outside world (which, in keeping with the film's French title, Between the Walls, we never see after the opening scene)," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "As the son of a public-school educator with some 40 years under her belt, I was moved."

FilmInFocus runs an extract from Peter Cowie's interview with Cantet in Projections 15: European Cinema (2007).


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 10:48 AM | Comments (2)

Cannes. Eldorado.

"A couple of genial idiots in a beat-up Chevy hit the Belgian blacktops in Bouli Lanners's funny and melancholy road picture Eldorado with widescreen images that suggest the American West and a soundtrack to match," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter.

Eldorado

"Wacky rural humor and a yearning for country roads run smack into urban decay and city nightmares as Lanners puts his getaway trip into a hard u-turn in a story of ultimately frustrated generosity."

"This off-beat tragicomic road movie from Belgium is one of the sleeper hits of the festival," writes the London Times' Wendy Ide. "Screening in the Director's Fortnight sidebar, it's a far cry from the dour, grey perception of Belgian cinema fostered by the work of people like the Dardenne brothers.... The landscapes and soundtrack choices evoke American road movies of a bygone era; the sensibility is definitely European."

This is a "small but damn-near perfectly formed serio-comedy," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety. It "strikes a just-so balance between absurdist humor and sadness. Yet pic never puts a wrong foot forward in the direction of sentimentality or cliche."

Aurore Engelen talks with Lanners for Cineuropa.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 10:02 AM

Cannes. Il Divo.

"The uncrowned king of post-war Italian politics, Giulo Andreotti, might be the subject of Paolo Sorrentino's nominal biopic Il divo, but it is as an incisive portrait of Italian politics in general that it impresses," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net.

Il Divo

"Unlike Stephen Frears's The Queen, in which an icon of power became human through solid acting and a strong screenplay, Andreotti, a seven-time Prime Minister and senator for life, remains an impenetrable enigma in Sorrentino's film, hiding, like he does in real life, behind a barrage of funnily ironic remarks and a smoke screen carefully orchestrated by himself and his kowtowing entourage."

"Paolo Sorrentino's enjoyably original, lurid, sardonic political opera tries to anatomise the character and explain the longevity of a man who has been prime minister three times and has emerged unscathed from no less than 26 separate court cases on charges that include corruption and Mafia involvement," writes Lee Marshall in Screen Daily. "If the director never quite gets to the heart of the man, that's part of his point: Andreotti emerges from the film as a collection of fragments: a slippery strategist, a political opportunist, a purveyor of witty bon mots, a dutiful but opaque husband, a worldly Catholic.... Stagey lighting, direct camera eye matches, surreal set pieces reminiscent of Fellini's Roma and a quirky soundtrack stress the fact that this is political theatre, an operetta of power."

"The dialogue - which hails from the repertoire of Andreotti, a man with a ferocious sarcasm - and tragicomic situations flow rapidly, all the more contorted by an ingenious and mature director, and underscored by a good choice in rock music," writes Camillo de Marco at Cineuropa. "The urgent and farcical style recall Elio Petri of We Still Kill the Old Way, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (winners at Cannes in 1967 and 1970, respectively) and Todo modo. What emerges is a portrait of a grey man who is not particularly intelligent (according to his tender but strict wife Livia), and whose political career seems to have been dedicated to evil."

James Mackenzie, reporting for Reuters, has comments from Sorrentino - as well as Andreotti's reaction to the film: "I would have happily lived without it."

Online viewing tip. Trailer.

Update, 5/24: "I knew I was seeing something intensely audacious and stylistically exciting, but the political arena it depicts is so dry and complex and wholly-unto-itself that gradually the film makes you feel as if you're lying in an isolation tank," writes Jeffrey Wells.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

Cannes. Synecdoche, New York.

"[Charlie] Kaufman, the wildly inventive screenwriter of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has, in his first film as a director, made those efforts look almost conventional," writes AO Scott in the New York Times.

Synecdoche, New York

"Like his protagonist, a beleaguered theater director played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, he has created a seamless and complicated alternate reality, unsettling nearly every expectation a moviegoer might have about time, psychology and narrative structure. But though the ideas that drive Synecdoche, New York are difficult and sometimes abstruse, the feelings it explores are clear and accessible."

This is "film of staggering imagination, more daring in content than form as it explores the unbearable fragility of human existence and the sad inevitability of death," writes Allan Hunter in Screen Daily. "Flashes of comic genius and melancholy insight into the human condition are woven into an increasingly elaborate canvas in which the boundaries between artifice and reality are slowly erased. Mainstream audiences are likely to find it simply too weird and unfathomable for their viewing pleasure but surely nobody expected Kaufman to make What Happens In Vegas?"

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has a photo and quotes from the press conference.

The Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein talks with Kaufman.

Anne Thompson comments on Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and UTA's decision to screen the film earlier than originally planned.

Online viewing tips. Via Playlist, three clips.

Online viewing tip. The Circuit asks folks on the street to try to pronounce the title.

Competing.

Updates: "Like an anxious artist afraid he may not get another chance, Charlie Kaufman tries to Say It All in his directorial debut," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Unusually for a first film, the strangely titled opus feels more like a summation work, such as or especially All That Jazz as it centers on an artist who battles creeping infirmity and deathly portents by plunging into a grandiose project. On the most superficial level, many viewers will be nauseated by the many explicit manifestations of physical malfunction, bodily fluids, bleeding and deterioration. A larger issue will be the film's developing spin into realms that can most charitably be described as ambiguous and more derisively will be regarded as obscuritanist and incomprehensible."

"There are so many things going on in Synecdoche, New York - deadpan jokes and weird set design, perverse reversals and leaps in time, the strong possibility that our protagonist may not be living these events but dreaming them, or may not even be real, or alive - that one can feel curiously challenged to actually care," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Synecdoche, New York is the kind of movie that inspires more intellectual comparisons - It's for our modern age! It's a post-Woody Woody Allen film! It's Jacob's Ladder for New Yorker subscribers! - than emotional responses."

"Collapsing in sodden self-reflexivity after a promising 40 minutes, Kaufman's arch, interminable phantasmagoria - with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a Job-like theater director - retroactively improved all but the most miserablist movies I saw at Cannes," writes J Hoberman in the Voice.

"Is pretty much the whole film a dream of one of the characters, as another critic was making a (persuasive) case for in the lobby of the Lumiere screening room mere minutes after the picture ended?" wonders Glenn Kenny at indieWIRE in one of the most intriguingly descriptive reviews yet. "Shockingly despairing as Synecdoche, New York can be, it offers such an abundance of imaginative material that it could conceivably be telling us that arguing about stuff is its own reward, and possibly the only point of living, as love never solves any of the characters' quandaries here."

Updates, 5/24: Kaufman "could use a Spike Jonze (less so a Michel Gondry) to rein in his indulgences, but this is a funny, self-lacerating film," blogs Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago.

"Finally!" exclaims Richard Corliss in Time. "For nine days, the 61st Cannes Film festival had doddered along into a premature senility. What we got, mostly, were cautious reprises of top directors, earlier pictures... In 2006, Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth showed up on the last day, to prove there was life in the old medium yet. This year the savior is Charlie Kaufman's demanding, rewarding Synecdoche, New York.... Kaufman has constructed a most devious puzzle, a labyrinth of an endangered mind. Yet it's one that - thanks in large part to a superb cast, led by Hoffman's unsparing, sympathetic, towering performance - should delight viewers who both work the movie out and surrender to its spell.... No film with an ambition this large, and achievement this impressive, can be anything but exhilarating. Coming on the next-to-last day of a mostly glum festival, Synecdoche, New York is like a surprise happy ending. This is a deus ex machina - a miracle movie."

Updates, 5/25: "It's not a dream, Kaufman says, but it has a dreamlike quality, and those won over by its otherworldly jigsaw puzzle of duplicated characters, multiple environments and shifting time frames will dissect it endlessly," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. "None of this is easy to follow, and it requires concentration to stay up with all the changing characters and the many abrupt moves in all directions, but such is Kaufman's confidence as a filmmaker and his wonderful ability to write memorable dialogue that the converted will follow him anywhere."

Adds Steven Zeitchik: "[T]he film is not at all the surrealist muddle early detractors had described - it's a work of profound ambition and artistry."

Update, 5/26: "The problem with [Kaufman's] film, which I loved in portions, understood the point of and was somewhat amused by in the early rounds, is the damn moroseness of it," writes Jeffrey Wells.

Update, 5/29: "When I interviewed Kaufman a few years ago, around the time of the Oscar-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly, "he told me with palpable gravity that he feared he had run dry as a writer, and this deeply personal movie about the fear of death - creatively and physically. Kaufman lacks the peppy visual direction and snappy pacing of a Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry, but I nevertheless enjoyed Synecdoche, New York for its uniquely jaundiced view of the attempt to bring meaning to one's life through art, and I'd wager that the film will look even better a few months from now, seen apart from the hothouse atmosphere of the world's most prestigious (but also impatient) film festival."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 5:04 AM

Cannes. Birdsong.

"Some stories are told so many times there is no longer any need for words. Albert Serra understands this," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Birdsong

"His digitalized, elliptical, nature-bound adaptation of Quixote, Honor de cavalleria, and now his story of the three wise men's visit to Jesus, El Cant dels ocells (Song of Birds [site]), leave storytelling behind and envision tales worn ragged until the pages the film adapts must have faded away, and all we are left with is minimal, uneventful human beauty."

"Patience was no doubt required of the Three Wise Men as they made their way toward Bethlehem, and the same will be required of auds who seek out Birdsong, Albert Serra's minimalist reinterpretation of the Magi's journey," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "Hushed, contemplative but often quite droll experiment offers beautifully sculpted images on a black-and-white canvas across its sometimes hypnotic, sometimes tedious runtime."

"Not too long ago Mark Peranson (of the Vancouver Film Festival and Cinema Scope magazine) got a cheery text from his friend, film producer Montse Triola: 'Albert would like U to perform Saint Joseph. What do U think? Fancy?'" Elizabeth Renzetti reports in the Globe and Mail. Via the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston.

Directors' Fortnight.

Update: Turns out, Peranson and Christoph Huber have been blogging all this while from Cannes at La lectora provisoria. Via Movie City News.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 4:46 AM

May 22, 2008

Cannes, 5/22.

Cannes "It is easy to forget that the cinema is but light and shadow, and for such a simple admission, it takes someone like Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet to remind us of this vital fact," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Le Genou d'Artemide, to my knowledge Straub's first film directed by himself after Huillet passed away, is really nothing but the sound of wind in the air, and the look of moving light through trees....

"More cryptic than Le Genou d'Artemide is what seems to be the last film made by the husband and wife couple, Itinéraire de Jean Bricard, shot in severe, silvery, and restrained shades of black and white.... Commemorated now, even if only commemorating its passing, the filmmaker couple's last film becomes an ode to the evidence of a disappearing history—or the history of disappearance—just as their final project may become but the last surviving evidence of cinema's master artists."

"Latin America is supposed to be the success story at this year's Cannes." And yet, and yet... the Guardian's Xan Brooks enumerates all the reasons to celebrate - and to remain cautious. Also: "The Cannes marché is a babble of TV screens playing trailers for films you will never see.... I still love the marché and frequently get lost along its endless, green-carpeted rat runs. That said, it feels more sedate and conservative this year."

Quentin Tarantino gave a master class today and they were there, taking notes: Richard Corliss (Time), Karina Longworth (live-blogging for Spout) and Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times).

"Olivier Assayas's Summer Hours screened in the market without the Cannes Film Festival's official kiss on the cheek," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog, "but even without that critical imprimatur, it's nonetheless one the finest features I've seen this year, a return to classicism of a sort for Assayas (in the press notes, he admits that he sought to return to the stylistic concerns and working method of his Late August, Early September era) and the kind of thoughtful French film designed for adults for which there seems to longer be a US market (IFC bought it anyway)." Earlier: Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook.

"Dividing audiences, it seems, is what Cannes does best," notes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE.

Online listening tip. The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Matteo Garrone (Gomorra), Bruce Weber (Let's Get Lost), Steve McQueen (Hunger) and Spike Lee.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 2:56 PM

Shorts, 5/22.

Austin Chronicle "Between 1998 and 2006, Hollywood studio films had combined production in Texas of more than $530 million, averaging eight or nine films a year, according to Texas Film Commission figures," writes Joe O'Connell in a cover story for the Austin Chronicle. "The entire year of 2007 eked out a mere $300,000 for the few days that A Mighty Heart landed in Austin." What's more, "Between 1998 and 2006, those Hollywood films produced more than 8,300 temporary crew jobs. In 2007, it was 20. Ouch." And: "It's no big surprise who the culprit is: States like neighboring New Mexico and Louisiana offer heftier incentives to entice Hollywood to come a-calling." Sidebar: "The Texas Film Commission crunched the numbers to compare what kind of incentives each state offers for a $20 million production. Of the country's filmmaking hubs, Texas came in dead last."

Also: Kimberley Jones on local filmmaker Brad Neely's new series for Adult Swim, China, IL, plus a brief on a bump in the road Monkey Wrench overcame when it set out to mark the 40th anniversary of May 68.

"Jonathan Demme has taken over from Martin Scorsese as director of an authorised documentary about Jamaican reggae icon Bob Marley." The BBC reports.

Larry Gross's 48 Hrs diaries, continued at Movie City News.

In the LA Weekly, Robert Abele reviews Recount, "a docudrama of the fierce post–Election Day fight in Florida that determined whether George W Bush or Al Gore would win the presidency of the United States. (Spoiler alert: The United States lost.) Written with an eye for telling detail by Danny Strong, and directed in surprisingly nimble fashion by blockbuster-comedy wrangler Jay Roach (of the Austin Powers movies and Meet the Parents fame), it has the peculiarly alchemic structure of a nail-biting tragi-farce." More from Chicagoist Rob Christopher. Airs Sunday on HBO.

The Children of Huang Shi "Loath though I am to carp about any director who's devoted chunks of his career to bringing the non-white world's suffering to Western attention, Roger Spottiswoode's The Children of Huang Shi - a drama based on the life of an Englishman who saved an orphanage full of boys from Japanese invaders and Chinese nationalists in the 1930s - is a tale as ploddingly familiar as it is good-looking and worth telling," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Personally, I'd rather have a bad movie that distracts Americans from their navels for a moment than none at all. But even by the tainted standards of subconsciously imperial storytelling, The Children of Huang Shi is weak." More from Alonso Duralde (MSNBC) and Raphaela Weissman (New York Press).

Also in the Voice, Ed Gonzalez on Insidious: "Ostensibly about the efforts of a young man named Donny (James Schram) to finance the very movie we're watching, this unwieldy Manhattan murder mystery with lame-brained aspirations to meta-ness boasts the plot of a dozen Abel Ferrara movies and the style and gravitas of none." More from Nick Schager in Slant.

"Released in France last year to glowing reviews, Ceux Qui Restent (Those Who Remain) went on to be nominated for three Cesars, including best first film," notes Matt Riviera. "Though it hasn't yet made much of an impact on the international festival circuit, the film should play well at French film festivals everywhere: it's a confident and accomplished debut from veteran actress Anne Le Ny, taking on writing-directing duties here for the first time.... Along with the subtle chemistry between the great Vincent Lindon and Emmanuelle Devos (last paired up in the terrific La Moustache), this capacity to prefer realism over narrative conventions is the strength this sweet and strangely satisfying film."

Time to Die "When director Dorota Kedzierzawska was born on June 1, 1957, actress Danuta Szaflarska was already 42 years old and had been performing in films for almost a decade," writes Adam Balz at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Over the next half-century they would each perfect their individual crafts - Szaflarska would quickly become a renowned actress while Kedzierzawska, on the eve of her 34th birthday, released her first feature film - until last year, when they joined together for Time to Die, an outwardly quaint and simplistic look at the last days of a 91-year-old Polish woman named Aniela."

Zach Campbell considers various treatments and context of the "close-up of female persecution."

Roaring along recently: A Film Canon.

The latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.

Dennis Cozzalio presents "Professor Brian O'Blivion's All-New Flesh for Memorial Day Film/TV Quiz."

"One of the things I most enjoyed about Texas Snow was [Aaron] Coffman's attention to the way that twentysomethings communicate, the late night confessions and revelations that usually take place several hours (and usually several beers) after most sane people have fallen asleep," writes Chuck Tryon.

Peter Capaldi (and a few others in the biz) have an amusing way of explaining the art of the pitch to Guardian readers.

At Movie City News, Noah Forrest talks with Michael Skolnik about Without the King.

Online browsing tip. The TimesMachine.

Online listening tip. Ed Champion talks with Ralph Bakshi.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM

Fests and events, 5/22.

Eyes Upside Down From Jennifer McMillan comes word that P Adams Sitney will be giving a talk at Light Industry in New York on May 27. Three short films (by Marie Menken, Ernie Gehr and Stan Brakhage) will be screened; his talk will be based on the argument he presents in Eyes Upside Down: Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson.

"It's tempting to credit film curator Joel Shepard with a sorcerer's clairvoyance, because the Witchcraft Weekend he has programmed for the screening room at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is so damned prescient," writes Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

"The Paramount's Summer Film Series begins tonight with, as is traditional at the Paramount, Casablanca," notes Austin-based Jette Kernion. "This year, the film is paired with Key Largo for a Bogie double-feature."

Blogging for Reverse Shot, eshman on Godard's Le Gai savoir and Un Film comme les autres: "Both films seek a new language for film and for society in the months after May 68, and as such both succeeded in offering a wholly fresh, if frequently inscrutable discourse. That audiences were (and are) bound to disengage from that discourse would seem to reveal the folly of Godard's revolutionary project, but seeing these films out of the context of 68 - as hard as that is with such historically located texts - it's apparent that failure was part of the philosophical expectation." Godard's 60s continues at Film Forum through June 5.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:32 PM

Cannes. Adoration.

"Atom Egoyan's Adoration is a fascinating muddle," writes Justin Chang in Variety.

Adoration

"Folding all sorts of post-9/11 questions - about the ethics of terrorism, the deceptiveness of outward appearances, the ways technology can enable dialogue yet hinder the truth - into a very Egoyanesque miasma of elegantly fractured chronology and provocative ideas, this ambitious think-piece ultimately smothers its good intentions in didactic revelations, earnest pleading and incessant violin music."

"Following the failed effort to cross over into conventional, commercially viable film-making with Where The Truth Lies (2005), Canadian auteur Egoyan returns to his signature style with Adoration," writes Howard Feinstein in Screen Daily. "The camera glides at a near-perfect leisurely pace. He blends a rich soundtrack (an excellent, mournful score by Mychael Danna) with elegant sound bridges and sharp, clipped dialogue. And he once again moves gracefully between assorted plotlines. Unfortunately, the stories here are thin, unnecessarily complicated and glibly cryptic; some sections are difficult to follow, even annoying in their self-consciousness."

"Shot on beautifully utilized film but employing images vividly from the Internet and mobile phones, it's an examination of the power that false ideas may have on people's imagination and beliefs when they are repeated over and over," writes Ray Bennett, who goes on to praise the screenplay - and the score.

Competing.

Globe: Adoration

Updates, 5/23: "What's familiar in his 11th feature film (and eighth invited to Cannes) is a kind of storytelling that characterized his films from the mid-90s, such as Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, which feature a group of people in a kind of post-traumatic state," writes Liam Lacey in the Globe and Mail. "Eventually, through the progression of the narrative and flashbacks, we uncover the web of connections between them.... What's unexpected is a streak of crazy black humour in Adoration." Via Movie City News.

"[T]he topics are life fictions, disemmination of information on the internet (this is in a sense the longest MacBook commercial ever), cultural difference, bigotry, and terrorism," writes Glenn Kenny. "At the heart of the picture, though, is a simpering sanctimony that could well bring out the neo-con you never knew you had in you."

Update, 5/24: "Where The Sweet Hereafter dealt with the impact of guilt and grief in a small community following a tragic school bus accident, in Adoration Egoyan deals with grief and loss on a more personal level, while also blending in ideas about the subjective nature of reality and identity in a technological age," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "In a world where who we are can be invented, reinvented, and broadcast to the world via chat rooms and virtual reality avatars, can we ever really know another person - or even ourselves?"

Update, 5/25: Jay Stone of the CanWest News Service reports that Adoration has won "the ecumenical jury prize - the award given for movies that celebrate spiritual values." Via Movie City News.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:04 PM

Cannes. Frontier of Dawn.

Philippe Garrel's Competition entry, Frontier of Dawn, is "a story of amour gone so fou that the natural world becomes subject to the supernatural. Hands down the most accessible Garrel film I've seen, it's still a strange, swoony, genre-bending challenge," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

Frontier of Dawn

Following a compare-n-contrast with James Gray's Two Lovers, she adds, "There are shots in this film's second half that are scarier than anything I've seen in a horror film in recent years... and simultaneously, incredibly moving in their invocation of a love that won't die. Or, at the very least, refuses to abide by traditional boundaries of love and death."

"Frontier of Dawn - the 28th feature by traditionalist director Philippe Garrel - met with tumultuous applause and whistles following its competition screening," reports Fabien Lemercier for Cineuropa. "Lauded on several occasions at the Venice Film Festival, the 60-year-old filmmaker is in official competition at Cannes for the first time, with a work characteristic of an oeuvre that could be described as timeless and anachronistic, or even suggestive and ephemeral, depending on one's point of view."

"Earnest, inherently divisive effort, lusciously photographed in black and white, is one of the weaker recent entries in Philippe Garrel's four decade career of bravely iconoclastic art films," writes Lisa Nesselson in Screen Daily. "Garrel's son Louis continues to embody his generation, projecting an appealing blend of mop-topped insouciance with doubt and anguish on tap. But his presence in this episodic love story with supernatural overtones is insufficient to overcome the film's endearing but awkward retrograde aura."

"Having been recently canonized by some critics and auds for his May 68-set slacker story Regular Lovers, helmer Philippe Garrel may now face excommunication by a goodly chunk of his erstwhile supporters for Frontier of Dawn," warns Leslie Felperin in Variety. "A risible slice of pretentious hokum, this love triangle plot with a supernatural angle peddles that covertly misogynist and sadistic old chestnut, that the hottest, most desirable women are self-harming loonies."

Update, 5/23: "The more some folks ostentatiously laughed at the introduction of a supernatural angle into the plot (achieved via effects that date back to Cocteau if not Melies), the more I loved the film," writes Glenn Kenny.

Update, 5/24: "On the face of it, Frontier of Dawn comes across like a familiar if peculiarly French love story, though one tinged with madness," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But few other filmmakers can - through purely visual terms, through shades of gray, meticulous framing and harmoniously balanced bodies - convey the mysterious transformation by which ordinary men and women become the adored."

Update, 5/27: "Philippe Garrel's cinema - which tends towards the suicidal - questions whether everything in the present can truly mean something in the moment," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Time and time again, the highs and lows of the moment calcify in the past and turn into a brooding regret, remorse, and romanticization. Frontier of Dawn, Garrel's smaller love tale following the epic-intimate May 68 opus Regular Lovers, asks the filmmaker's perennial question: how do you reconcile the unchangeable fate of the past with the quotidian sorrows and joy of the present? The answer is impossible, but the way Frontier of Dawn poses the question is frustrating but utterly effective."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 11:50 AM

Cannes. Surveillance.

"Fifteen years after the career-killing debacle of Boxing Helena, Jennifer Lynch dares to raise her head above the parapet once more," writes Allan Hunter in Screen Daily.

Surveillance

"Eccentric thriller Surveillance shows no signs of any lasting impact on her self-confidence as it mixes together a lurid cocktail of jet black humour and bloodshed with a startling, left field plot twist."

Updated through 5/23.

"Think Rashomon meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Twin Peaks, and give lots of leeway for the gooniest improv overacting, and you may get on the warped wavelength of this semi-comic parable of social anarchy," writes Time's Richard Corliss.

"A twisty thriller with an unabashedly nasty streak and an almost theatrical taste for excess, the movie stars Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond as FBI agents investigating a massacre in the flatlands of Nebraska, where they must contend with the dim local cops and a host of highly unreliable witnesses." For the Los Angeles Times, Dennis Lim lunches with Lynch and notes that "Magnet Releasing, which acquired the film just before Cannes, is set to open it later this year."

"With a high splatter quotient and many scenes of deviant humiliation, the film will have its fans even if the eventual twist hardly comes as a surprise and probably isn't meant to," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter.

Screening Out of Competition.

Update: Ben Kenigsberg, blogging for Time Out Chicago, finds Surveillance "just as unwatchable as Boxing Helena, albeit lacking in the gender-warfare pathology that made that film marginally interesting."

Update, 5/23: "Ooh, this one is a real dud," declares Charlie Prince at Cinema Strikes Back.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 8:58 AM | Comments (1)

Stranger. SIFF Notes 08.

The Stranger's SIFF Notes "Holy shit, SIFF has shrunk!" exclaims Annie Wagner, SIFF being the Seattle International Film Festival, of course, opening tonight and running through June 15. The exclamation's a perfect opener to the Stranger's SIFF Notes, now a blog and a database: "Over 150 real reviews and zero publicist bullshit."

The gist, of Annie Wagner's intro, though is that "the biggest film festival in North America is actually scaling back" and "is more manageable than it's been in some time." What's more, "as far as it's possible to analyze the broad programming decisions in a 25-day festival, this year's SIFF is looking unusually strong."

The Seattle Weekly's got a special section, too, but, you know, it's not the Stranger. More previews and roundups: Gillain G Garr (Siffblog) and NP Thompson (House Next Door; more).

Posted by dwhudson at 6:01 AM

Cannes. Che.

"Che benefits greatly from certain Soderberghian qualities that don't always serve his other films well, e.g., detachment, formalism, and intellectual curiosity," writes Glenn Kenny at indieWIRE.

Che

"The two parts of Che treat two discrete periods in Ernesto Guevara's life: his participation in the Cuban revolution of 1957 - 59, wherein he was Fidel Castro's second in overthrowing the tyrannical Batista regime is depicted in Guerilla; his dreadfully abortive attempt to spread Latin American revolution in Bolivia from 1966 to 1967 in the subject of The Argentine. This structure very conveniently elides the period wherein Che, as effective co-head of Castro's Cuban government, presided over mass executions, the persecution of homosexuals, the ruination of the island's economy, the ill-fated alliance with the Soviet Union, and so on."

"There will be arguments about the politics of the films; there will be discussions of whether or not the films have any emotional center," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "There will be talk of if Benicio Del Toro deserves a Best Actor nomination for his work as Guevara, or if Soderbergh's portrait of Che is too flat to engage us; I can easily imagine discussions of the look and feel of the film, shot in high-resolution digital with all the craft and care Soderbergh usually brings to shooting on film. I can't predict how all of these questions and possibilities will play out, but I can say - and will say - what a rare pleasure it is to have a film (or films) that, in our box-office obsessed, event-movie, Oscar-craving age, is actually worth talking about on so many levels."

"In the 20 years since he won the Palme D'Or for sex, lies and videotape, Steven Soderbergh has travelled along some unexpected paths from the demented experimentation of Schizopolis and the sterile 1940s homage of The Good German to several helpings of Danny Ocean and his merry men to top up his commercial credibility," writes Allan Hunter in Screen Daily. "It is hard to imagine another American director of his generation with the clout or all-round ability to pull off a two-film, five-hour portrait of revolutionary icon Ernesto Che Guevara. His measured approach eschews grand, crowd-pleasing gestures or any temptation to adopt the sweep of a David Lean-style epic. Instead, he has created an absorbing, thoughtful marathon in which the focus is firmly on the personalities and the political arguments that forged the revolutionary ideals of the 1950s and 1960s.... This is very much a film of ideas."

"If the director has gone out of his way to avoid the usual Hollywood biopic conventions, he has also withheld any suggestion of why the charismatic doctor, fighter, diplomat, diarist and intellectual theorist became and remains such a legendary figure; if anything, Che seems diminished by the way he's portrayed here," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Che is too big a roll of the dice to pass off as an experiment, as it's got to meet high standards both commercially and artistically. The demanding running time also forces comparison to such rare works as Lawrence of Arabia, Reds and other biohistorical epics. Unfortunately, Che doesn't feel epic - just long."

Updates: "What does it say about people who see a film like this and go 'meh'? asks Jeffrey Wells. "You can't watch a live-wire film like Che and say 'give me more.' It is what it is, and it gives you plenty. Take no notice of anyone who says it doesn't."

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez and Variety's Anne Thompson have pix and quotes from the press conference.

For the Los Angeles Times, Pete Hammond describes the ordeal of waiting to get into the screening - only to see crowds thin considerably in the intermission. At any rate, he has an idea for the marketing people.

"The Cannes film festival now has a serious contender for the Palme d'or," announces the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, for whom Che is "virile, muscular film-making, with an effortlessly charismatic performance by Benicio del Toro in the lead role. Perhaps it will even come to be seen as this director's flawed masterpiece: enthralling but structurally fractured - the second half is much clearer and more sure-footed than the first - and at times frustratingly reticent, unwilling to attempt any insight into Che's interior world. We see only Che the public man, the legendary comandante, defiant to the last."

"Whether it's one movie or two, Che clearly isn't finished," blogs Salon's Andrew O'Hehir:

It was shown here with no opening or closing credits, only a few crude digital intertitles ("NEW YORK 1964") that looked as if they'd been slapped on an hour earlier. As with seemingly every movie in this Year of Mixed Emotions at Cannes, reactions to the screening were all over the map; nobody in the group of critics I ate dinner with was entirely sure what he or she thought.

The Cannes Che, probably a film no one will see again, is a big, sprawling, ambitious mess. It's less a grand-opera mess than a beautifully constructed machine whose parts don't all quite work together. I was never bored, in four hours-plus. Whether or not it ends up becoming a great film (or films), this is miles and miles beyond anything I thought Soderbergh could create from this material.

"There's a lot more struggle and tension in Che 2, which gives the film more narrative thrust, and also more political context so you're not locked into the claustrophobia of the Bolivian jungle," blogs the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik. "Still, the film is difficult, episodic and willfully disgregarding of what the director calls 'movie moments.'"

"It's not only an entirely serious and adult film - indeed, it is best regarded as an art movie - but it's also an extraordinary movie from an American director," writes Geoff Andrew for Time Out. "This, in the end, is a film about the Revolution as work, as process, as struggle, rather than a sentimental celebration of one individual."


"For all of its length and action, the film is strangely under-dramatized, and you don't know that much more about Che coming out of the film than going into it," writes Facets' Milos Stehlik.

"This is Soderbergh's most avant-garde picture, and although there are already calls for re-editing - the first half, in particular, throws an enormous amount of nonchronological information in the audience's lap - the Cannes version deserves to be preserved; to cut the movie would diminish the sense of Soderbergh's sheer obsession with the material," blogs Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago. "It is a fair criticism that the movie unduly elides, among other things, the brutal injustices that Che committed in Castro's government, even if they aren't in a period covered by the film. The source of Soderbergh's interest appears to be exclusively in the nuts and bolts of guerrilla revolution - educating civilians, recruiting soldiers, finding food, cooking a pig and so on. If focusing so relentlessly on apparent minutiae can sometimes be alienating, it's also what makes the movie such an attention-grabber."

"The impulse is unimpeachably admirable; the result is heartbreakingly misguided," writes Stephen Garrett for Esquire. "Why try to avoid passing judgment? Why pretend that you haven't anyway?... There's no need for character assassination here. But the absence of darker, more contradictory revelations of his nature leaves Che bereft of complexity. All that remains is a South American superman: uncomplex, pure of heart, defiantly pious and boring."

"[T]he running time is not the problem of this honorable, doomed effort; it's that so many scenes are repetitions of earlier ones," argues Time's Richard Corliss. "But the major burden falls on its star, who as one of the producers has nurtured the project for almost a decade. And Del Toro - whose acting style often starts over the top and soars from there, like a hang-glider leaping from a skyscraper roof - is muted, yielding few emotional revelations, seemingly sedated here. Except for one thrilling confrontation at the UN between Guevara and ambassadors from other Latin American countries, Che is defined less by his rigorous fighting skills and seductive intellect than by his asthma."

For the New York Times' AO Scott, the film has "some big problems as well as major virtues." It's "interesting, partly because it has the power to provoke some serious argument - about its own tactics and methods, as well as those of its subject. Whether American audiences will have a chance to participate in that argument is, for the moment, an open question."

Updates, 5/23: "Che is a highly impressive achievement," writes Patrick Z McGavin at Stop Smiling. "It delivers on several different levels, frequently subverting classical drama or storytelling. It relates only fragments of a complicated life, but the director expertly collates these incidents and dramatic episodes in connoting a larger portrait. Soderbergh produced Todd Haynes's Bob Dylan work, I'm Not There, and both filmmakers express an obstinate refusal in going against the grain. Like I'm Not There, Che is a fundamentally expressive and elective piece on subjective forms and contentious lives."

"The battle sequences, like the rest of the film shot by Soderbergh himself on the new digital RED camera, are exhilarating; the brothers-at-arms camaraderie is engaging," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "But it’s a very uncritical portrait of Guevara who presides, Solomon-like, over the petty squabbles and misbehaviour of guerrillas who shuffle like guilty schoolboys in his presence."

Che "may well be the most fastidious and exhaustive anatomy of revolutionary politics since The Battle of Algiers," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "Neither hagiography nor lightweight biopic, Che is a brave and gorgeously photographed film whose seriousness and captivating story offer a cinematic experience beyond the extraordinary."

"[T]he latter half is really where it's at," writes Alison Willmore. The Argentine may be "ust an exceptionally long, background-laden prologue to "Guerrilla," which is linear, less efficient, more poetic and unhappy."

"Regardless of your political views, I bet most people will be disappointed to find that Soderbergh hasn't put together a more balanced view of the controversial leader," writes Charlie Prince at Cinema Strikes Back. "And with a 4.5 hour running time, the director certainly can't complain that he didn't have enough time to do it."

Che "may be a great movie, but it is also something just as rare - a magnificently uncommercial folly," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "This skillfully didactic, nervily dialectical, feel-good, feel-bad combat film has less in common with The Motorcycle Diaries than with Peter Watkins's La Commune (Paris, 1871) or even a structuralist extravaganza like Michael Snow's La Région Centrale. Che is a thing to be experienced."

Update, 5/29: "Simply put, Che is a movie - or two movies - after Guevara's own heart, in which the rebel leader often recedes into the jungle scape, one more proletariat cog in the Marxist wheel, while the greater cause (represented by long scenes of ideological debate and battlefield strategy) comes to the fore," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "One part ends in conditional triumph, the other in tragedy; in both, Soderbergh, per Che's prophetic words, suggests that a revolution succeeds or fails by the will of the people."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 AM

Cannes. Classics and more movies about festivals and film.

"Few experiences are richer than to be able to see a film again, ten years after the first time, while remembering the reception it got fifty years earlier," writes Emmanuel Burdeau in the Cahiers du cinéma Cannes diary.

Lola Montes

"One must count the years; hold several scoring boards at the same time. This suits Lola Montès, which is in many ways a story of calculation. Higher, Lola, higher, repeats Ustinov to her constantly. Higher than what?"

Updated.

Related: In the Guardian, Agnes Poirier reports on what Marcel Ophüls remembers of the premiere in Cannes of his father's film in 1955.

Mary Corliss for Time on David Lean's The Passionate Friends: "It's not one of the great director's masterpieces, but it had an emotional gravity that locates the difference between love and being in love, and it fulfilled the basic dictum of Golden Age movies: beautiful people with difficult problems, in radiant black-and-white."

Further down that same page, Richard Corliss reports on a sprightly appearance by Manoel De Oliveira as he collected an honorary Palme d'Or and saw his first film, Douro, Faina Fluvial (Working on Douro River, 1931), screened to an audience that included "Cannes Jury President Sean Penn, Marjane Satrapi of Persepolis and a young pup named Clint Eastwood, who will be 78 at the end of the month and who was a year old when Working on the Douro River opened in Portuguese theaters."

Related: Why do some directors carry on working into their 70s, 80s and 90s, a few of them quite well, too, while others seem to dry up and blow away, wonders Ronald Bergan at the Guardian.

"The often stormy, sometimes downright crazy, history of what the Cannes Film Festival still refers to as a 'parallel section' rather than by its actual name gets a warm 40th anni pat on the back from a battalion of big names in docu [40X15: Forty Years of the Directors' Fortnight]," writes Derek Elley in Variety. "Anchored by an in-depth interview with the wry Pierre-Henri Deleau, head of the Directors' Fortnight for its first 30 years, this makes required viewing for movie aficionados, especially with some trimming of its more discursive second half." In the Hollywood Reporter, Duane Byrge finds it "a comprehensive, affectionate look at the 40 years of the Cannes sidebar that began in the wake of the protest tumults of 1968."

Lawrence of Arabia

Derek Elley on a "once-over-lightly look at the man, the movie and director David Lean," Once Upon a Time... Lawrence of Arabia: "Most entertaining, and occasionally perceptive, about the movie and Lean himself is Omar Sharif, who relates the story of the helmer asking his cast each day for ideas on how to shoot a scene."

Update: "Longtime documentarian and Time film critic Richard Schickel brings both privileged access and humble cinephilia into Warner Bros' vaults for five-hour You Must Remember This, the first 116 minutes of which were shown at Cannes in advance of full version's three-part PBS broadcast - and tie-in book's release - in September," writes Rob Nelson in Variety. "Celebrating the studio's 85th anniversary, docu - judging from the footage shown at Cannes, spanning WB's first quarter-century - is clip-heavy almost to a fault. But Schickel's unsurprisingly smart assemblage of talking heads gives it a valuable measure of critical and scholarly sensibility."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:06 AM

Cannes. Johnny Mad Dog.

"The brutal French-Belgian-Liberian movie Johnny Mad Dog, an assaultive fiction about Liberian child soldiers made with boys and girls who actually fought in that country's recent war, left me wrung out - furious, confused, deep in thought," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

Johnny Mad Dog

"One of a gang of lost children who call themselves 'the death dealers,' Mad Dog roams the wastelands of his country, spreading machine-gun terror and death - to men, women and other children - in the name of the revolution. Whose revolution? The movie doesn't say.... Without context, information or explanation, the movie plunges you into horror - yet, to what end?"

"Cinema is forever inventing new ways to tell us that war is hell, but few recent films have explored the extremes of that hell as vividly or intrepidly as Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's African drama Johnny Mad Dog," writes Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily. "Shattering performances by unknowns, many of them actually former child soldiers, plus a confrontational directing style make this one of the most striking recent French fiction debuts.... There's a certain Lord of the Flies horror in the suggestion that these are still children at play in the most murderous way, their battle garb suggestive of a nightmarish carnival."

"Kidnapping takes its vilest form as armed children in Liberia commandeer other kids to join their marauding troop," writes Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter. "Fiction based on unbelievable fact, Johnny Mad Dog chronicles the atrocities of the ongoing civil war in that West African nation. Although hard to watch, it's an important document that should scorch sensibilities on the festival circuit."

Un Certain Regard.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:50 AM

Cannes. Delta.

"'A typical festival art film.' That was the judgment of a friend of mine after the Tuesday press screening of Delta, a competition entry from the Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo," writes AO Scott in the New York Times.

Delta

"The festival film - slow, difficult, formally austere - can be a welcome antidote to the fast-moving, accessible movies that thrive in the sphere of commercial cinema. But it is also worth remembering - and Delta is hardly the only film here to remind me - that art movies, too, are susceptible to formula and cliché."

"Five years after launching the project and 18 months after starting to shoot it, with one tragic accident in the middle which almost sunk the entire production (the death of lead actor, Lajos Bertok, to whom the film is dedicated), Kornel Mundruczo is back on his feet with his best rounded and most mature work to date," announces Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily. "The themes he has been associated with in the past are now integrated in a perfectly coherent world and it seems as if he has found his own individual voice and a style he is most comfortable with, facts attested by the Best Film Award and the Gene Moskovitz prize offered by the foreign press, which he collected at the Hungarian Film Week."

"A classic structure, lots of the Hungarian peasant faces we know from Béla Tarr's films, a lyrical touch," writes Facets' Milos Stehlik.

"Staggeringly beautiful from an aesthetic perspective, the film manages to captivate viewers despite its minimalist plot and dialogues," writes Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa - which also has the trailer.

Fest21.com has notes from the press conference.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:40 AM

May 21, 2008

Cannes, 5/21.

Cannes "Watching a stolid horde of blue-clad factory workers trudge obediently up an institutional staircase in Jia Zhangke's 24 City as though to the next movie, the colleague beside me murmured: 'It's Cannes!'" A roundup from J Hoberman in the Voice: "Midway through the madness, it's been a good but not yet great festival."

"Screening at the Cannes sales market on Thursday and Friday, Nick Nolte: No Exit is an almost existential documentary, part self-celebratory profile, part surreal question-and-answer session," writes John Horn in the Los Angeles Times. "While the film does include a range of friends and collaborators talking about the Affliction and Prince of Tides star's acting - Ben Stiller and Jacqueline Bisset among them - its center focuses on Nolte asking himself (and usually answering) his own queries."

"Though this has been a good festival, with some tremendous films, the emphasis has been on tragedy and unrelenting grimness," and the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw wonders why.

Xan Brooks and Mary Corliss, blogging for the Guardian and Time respectively, catch up with Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

"[Josh] Safdie's work reflects a certain youthful ingenuity, and a great example of the way a low budget can actually enhance the final product." At Stream, Eric Kohn tells the story behind The Pleasure of Being Robbed, closing this year's Directors' Fortnight.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 3:49 PM

Frameline32. Lineup.

Frameline32 "The historically rich Castro Theatre - with its marquee recently revamped for the Milk biopic shoot - hosted Frameline's announcements of its program for the annual San Francisco International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Film Festival Tuesday morning," notes Susan Gerhard at SF360.

"In its 32nd year, the festival runs June 19 - 29 at the Castro, Roxie and Victoria theaters in San Francisco, and the Elmwood in Berkeley. It opens with Affinity, based on Sarah Waters's 1999 novel, a film Festival Artistic Director Michael Lumpkin described as a 'same-sex bodice ripper.' Its closing night film, the Canadian Breakfast with Scot, mixes homosexuality and hockey a story about raising a child."

Michael Guillén previews two entries: Saturno Contro and Ruby Blue.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:55 PM

NYAFF. Lineup.

The Rebel "The New York Asian Film Festival is back like a bad dream, ready to cleanse the dirt from your soul with a barrage of sparkling, super-powered movies straight out of Asia. It's a seventeen day orgy of new films from Takashi Miike, Johnnie To, Hur Jin-Ho, Koji Wakamatsu and Shinji Aoyama. Plus, our first-ever documentary (Yasukuni) and our first movies from Indonesia (Kala) and Vietnam (The Rebel)."

The lineup's up. June 20 through July 6.

Via Todd Brown at Twitch.

Update: Jason Gray has notes on the Japanese films in the lineup.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:10 PM

Production Design Blog-a-Thon.

Production Design Blog-a-Thon "With a little effort, it isn't difficult to think of films where we have been delighted by the product of production designers' labor and aesthetic, but they have nevertheless received a saddening lack of sustained appreciation, even from the most attentive of critics."

So Jeremy Bushnell's hosting the Production Design Blog-a-Thon, running through Sunday. Via the House Next Door.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:04 PM

War, Inc.

War, Inc "War, Inc, a new political satire co-written by and starring John Cusack, reminds us that it's possible to agree with a movie's agenda while simultaneously despising the movie itself," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "A thuddingly heavy-handed comedy about corporations profiting both from wars and from their aftermath, the film contains not one honest-to-goodness laugh."

"Over these years of war and occupation, Cusack has become one of the most insightful commentators on a far too seldom discussed aspect of the occupation: the corporate dominance of the US war machine," writes Jeremy Scahill for the Nation. "Cusack is no parachute humanitarian. While he continues to do the Hollywood thing with big-budget movies, he is simultaneously a fierce, un-embedded actor/filmmaker who has been at the center of two of the best films to date dealing with the madness of the Iraq War [Grace Is Gone and War, Inc]. Without big-money sponsors and the backing of powerful production companies, Cusack has spent a lot of his own money on these projects."

Updated through 5/24.

At Movie City News, Noah Forrest, a serious fan of Cusack's since Grosse Pointe Blank, finds this one "a colossal failure that really does not work on any level. It's really hard for me to say that because I went into this film wanting so much to love the film and every time I felt the film about to pick up, it just shoots itself in the foot. What makes it especially difficult is that it is clear from the writing of the film that there are intelligent and creative people behind the project."

"This must be the pandering liberal Hollywood circle-jerk studio execs wanted when they poured millions into Southland Tales," sighs Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine.

For the New York Times' David Carr, this is "a satire that goes over the top and stays there." He calls up Cusack, who's in London, "where he is filming Shanghai, about an American expat visiting that city right before Pearl Harbor," and adds, "Those who suggest that the [War, Inc's] core premise - war as a profit engine - is so five years ago are right in a way. Mr Cusack and his co-writers, Mark Leyner and Jeremy Pikser, have been grinding away almost since the start of the very long war it takes aim at."

Joshua Holland talks with Cusack for Alternet.

Meantime, Tatiana Siegel reports in Variety that Cusack has signed on for Roland Emmerich's "apocalyptic thriller" 2012.

Updates, 5/22: Mary Lyn Maiscott talks with Cusack for VF Daily.

"It's certainly more audacious than your typical Cusack vehicle, which might've been fine if Naomi Klein's ideas on disaster capitalism - a major inspiration for the project - hadn't been filtered through an atonal jumble of quasi-Strangelovean histrionics, absurdist slapstick, sudden melodrama and violent action, and then still offered as pointed or relevant criticism," writes Aaron Hillis in the LA Weekly. "Antiwar, anti-Bush, anti-corporate, yet neither as progressive nor half as funny as the Harold and Kumar sequel, War, Inc squanders some top-tier talent (Marisa Tomei, Sir Ben Kingsley) as well as our patience."

"Joshua Seftel's satire War, Inc might not be as non-stop laugh-out-loud funny as intended, but somehow I didn't care," writes Marcy Dermansky.

Aaron Hillis talks with Leynor for the IFC.

"Even less funny than Southland Tales and not nearly as adventurous, War, Inc brings new levels of desperation and botched satire to the anti-Bush, Strangelove-wannabe genre," writes Bill Weber in Slant.

Updates, 5/23: "[I]t is a zany, nihilistic free-for-all that goes soft," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "What bracing misanthropy War, Inc is able to conjure in its early scenes is sabotaged by the presence of the film's prime mover, John Cusack, an actor who even when playing the ultimate cynic can't keep from coming across as a misguided nice guy on the verge of seeing the light."

LACB: Cusack ... to Andy Klein.

"[I]f it isn't a bomb, the film's about as messy as our own current situation in the Middle East," writes Craig Phillips.

"Somehow, what starts as a series of cheap shots in a barrel develops into something more, thanks largely to warm, engaging performances by Cusack and Tomei," writes Carina Chocano. "War, Inc is both right-on and somehow off, but it gets points for trying." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Tina Daunt meets Cusack.

For Nicolas Rapold, writing in the New York Sun, finds War, Inc "neither as bad nor as brave as advance press in various quarters has suggested. It's essentially a riff on Mike Judge's 2006 dystopian comedy Idiocracy, transposed to an anonymous Eurasian locale, with Mr Cusack reprising his conflicted hangdog hit man from Grosse Pointe Blank. After hitting some early polemical points in a freewheeling blaze of mordant absurdity, the film putters through incongruously conventional romantic-comedy intrigue and self-defeating Borat-ism."

"It's too soon to laugh about Iraq, and it'll never be time to laugh about it with this kind of maladroit humor," argues Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Cusack, too.

Update, 5/24: Another Cusack interview: Amy Goodman.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:38 AM | Comments (1)

Cannes. The Bastards.

Los Bastardos "Much like his debut Sangre, Los Bastardos is another protest film from Mexico's Amat Escalante, which points the finger at the industrialised world, in particular the US, for its treatment of illegal immigrants, and the tragedy that inevitably ensues," writes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily. "Escalante's arguments are valid and the film's horrific climax will shock the audience out of its complacency but the film's style - with its static first shot to a drawn-out ending - places this firmly in the art house niche."

"A nihilistic high-art film marked by fashionable static takes, banal minimalist dialogue, glacial pacing and ultra-violence, The Bastards will attract support from the usual suspects in the critical community," grumbles Variety's Todd McCarthy. "From the bold opening credits, the simplicity of his conceptions, the stripped-down refinement of his widescreen framing and the rich sound mix, it's clear Escalante possess a strong talent. What he does with it is another matter."

Updated through 5/23.

As Escalante "subtly sketches the daily frustrations of these impoverished, uneducated men far from their families, along with the backbreaking but badly-paid work they perform and the ethnic taunts they endure, a sense of hope slowly arises in the viewer that this is going to be a very special film," writes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter. "Alas, Escalante perversely chooses to dash that hope by suddenly changing gears in the direction of a half-baked plot twist."

Un Certain Regard.

Meantime, according to Charles Masters in the Hollywood Reporter, actor Ruben Sosa was stopped at the border as he tried to get into France to catch Monday's screening. Seems the police couldn't believe he was actually in a movie. "'He was dragged off like a dog, they rummaged through his luggage three times, then he was stripped to his underpants in front of everyone,' said Francois Guerrar, the film's French publicist. 'They didn't believe he was an actor in a film, and Sosa didn't understand what was going on.' Sosa, who was traveling alone from Mexico, was eventually allowed to get into the Mercedes sent to meet him by sales company Le Pacte. The driver said that a police car then followed them all the way to Cannes to confirm the actor's story."

Welcome to Europe!

Update, 5/22: "Los Bastardos really is lovably obnoxious," writes Charlie Prince at Cinema Strikes Back. "Intentionally discordant and uncomfortable, even the opening scene comes off as a shot across the bow - literally for several minutes we watch as two men (who will be the stars of the film) start hundreds of feet away as little dots, and slowly walk towards us down a long stretch of abandoned cement in near silence. At first you can't even see the two guys. It is an astoundingly dull way to start a movie. Most films try to hook the audience in the first few minutes, but Los Bastardos goes to considerable effort to send a different message: 'we're going to do this our way - deal with it.'"

Update, 5/23: "Escalante's political objectives in drawing attention to the way that the US economic system degrades those at the bottom of the heap are ill-served by his confrontational tactics - evoking Michael Haneke's Funny Games and Gaspar Noé's I Stand Alone - that are blunt and over-familiar," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 10:06 AM | Comments (1)

Wired @ 15.

Wired in 1995: Brian Eno Congrats to Wired on its 15th. Like Rolling Stone and Artforum, which also eventually defected to New York, Wired was at its provocative best in its rambunctious San Franciscan youth. For a taste of the times, see founding Louis Rossetto's open letter to his kids, outlining a few things Wired got wrong and a few things Wired got right in the years stretching from Mosaic to Facebook. There's a video interview, too, plus another with former editor Kevin Kelly; there's even a map: "How the Ideas and Events of 1993 Created the World We Live in Today."

Also: Steven Leckart talks with Brian Eno about the ideas he raised in a 1995 cover story and Lucas Graves revisits Kevin Kelly's 1997 "New Rules for the New Economy."

Now then, a few items in the current issue of likely interest to cinefolk: "Hellboy II: The Art of the Movie (Dark Horse Books) offers a sneak peek at the menagerie of mutants primed to swarm the world-weary demonoid, portrayed again by the heavy-browed Ron Perlman," reports Hugh Hart; do take a look at the accompanying illustrations.

More nifty imagery comes with Jennifer Hillner's brief item on how a few of the gadgets on "some of those dopey spy shows of the 60s," e.g., The Man From U.N.C.L.E., were eventually realized.

Adam Rogers talks with Ron Moore about re-imagining Battlestar Galactica; he's also got details on the ways a few movies rides get pimped.

"Over the past century, dozens of apocalyptic plotlines have risen from the enigmatic ashes of the charred Tunguska pines," writes David S Hirschman. "These four win for creativity."

"[I]'s a bit surprising to learn that for his first venture as a videogame creative director, the man behind Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park is making not a photorealistic shooter but a cross between Tetris and Jenga." Chris Kohler previews Steven Spielberg's Boom Blox.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:44 AM | Comments (1)

Cannes. The Headless Woman.

"Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel is nothing if not subtle," writes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter.

The Headless Woman

"She is also a master of visual and aural technique, which is on full and splendid display in La Mujer Sin Cabeza (The Headless Woman), her third feature. The problem is that, as with La Cienaga and La Nina Santa, her narratives can be maddeningly slight, causing the viewer to struggle to comprehend even basic character relationships or motivations. It's difficult to invest much emotion if you have little idea who's who."

"It's a minor but effective Blow-Up about an upper-class Argentine woman (Maria Onetto) whose life becomes unmoored after she possibly kills a young boy while driving on a country road," blogs the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Onetto's quite special as bourgeoisette who drifts into and then out of a state of heightened clarity, and you can feel the anger burning away under the movie's cool glass surface. Perhaps Martel should have let more of it erupt onto the screen. There may be a cultural disconnect on my part, since the Argentine guys I sat next to during the screening roundly booed it. But movies are a blood sport here; that's part of the sadistic fun."

"Throughout, Martel places the character in shallow focus widescreen close-ups; therein, those people in her periphery—generally servants, workers, and so on—are diffused, hazy," writes Glenn Kenny. "It's an oblique way of reflecting on contemporary class relations, but it's apt, and in point of fact this is one of the few films in the largely-socially-conscious Competition that reflects on class relations as such."

"Lucrecia Martel asks way too much of the viewer in her third feature, a dour tale of moral and social paralysis centring on a hit-and-run incident in an Argentinian rural backwater and its effects on the woman at the wheel," writes Lee Marshall in Screen Daily. "At first the Latin American auteur's long-awaited new film looks like it is about to build the same edgy mix of family drama, visual symbolism, social critique and menacing atmosphere that distinguished her first two features, La Cienaga and The Holy Girl. But in The Headless Woman, Martel lets the miasma blur the drama and stifle the story. The result is a 'plotless film' that, in its Cannes press screening, prompted walkouts and boos, although many still maintain that the film's advanced symbolic and narrative sudoku is worth puzzling out."

Updates: "Pic's denouement is chilling, but doesn't provide the same kind of enigmatic kicker that graced The Holy Girl," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety. "Despite the guilt theme, thesp Onetto keeps Vero's signs of anxiety so subtle she almost doesn't seem all that bothered. Maybe she's not, and maybe that's the point, but if this is a work of social criticism, indicting the callousness of the rich, it's pretty mild stuff."


"As with Three Monkeys, the plot of this Argentine non-drama makes it sound more interesting than it is," writes Mary Corliss for Time. "The film is inert, visually tiring, utterly lacking in suspense; nothing changes except Onetto's hair color."

Update, 5/22: "Few filmmakers use focus as effectively and incisively as Martel," notes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "Inspired by Martel's dreams and nightmares, The Headless Woman is moody, mysterious and suffused with ominous portents and subtle critiques of the bourgeoisie."

Update, 5/23: For J Hoberman, writing in the Voice, this is "the Best Film in Competition Least Likely to Win a Prize."

Updates, 5/25: Daniel Kasman, writing in the Auteurs' Notebook, finds Martel "refining her utterly precise sense of visual and aural exploration of psychology while keeping the scale of her film smaller than anything else she has done. If the eerie sense of off-screen space and subtle, active sound design in The Holy Girl suggested a director who could make a truly disturbing horror picture, Martel goes halfway to embrace a ghost story."

Andrew O'Hehir talks with Martel for Salon.

Update, 5/29: The Headless Woman is "one of the strongest of a very strong festival," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "Shooting for the first time in wide screen, Martel effects a sense of spatial and temporal dislocation that is close to the phantasmagoric subconsciousness of a David Lynch or Luis Buñuel. As she films her saucer-eyed, peroxide-blond leading lady (Maria Onetto) from a distance, in and out of focus, reflected in glass, we too begin to feel that we aren't quite ourselves, that we are sharing in Veronica's dark, private, waking dream. Most critics, though, were too busy complaining about being confused by the film to realize that this was exactly the point."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 6:30 AM

Cannes. Maradona By Kusturica.

Maradona By Kusturica "As a twice-over Palme d'Or winner, Emir Kusturica might justifiably feel that he too, like Diego Maradona, has been touched by the hand of God," suggests Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily. "But his loosely-structured documentary portrait of the beleaguered football legend bears out the suspicions suggested by its title: Maradona By Kusturica is indeed practically a large order of Kusturica with a side salad of Maradona."

"Kusturica deserves credit for revealing Maradona to be more articulate and thoughtful than he usually appears, but what a strange, blustering, macho film this is," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It is pure penis-envy cinema. Kusturica has no obvious affinity with the cinematic possibilities of football; his clips of Maradona's goals are unimaginatively chosen and presented, and often repeated to pad out the film."

Update, 5/23.

"It's the director's good fortune that everything about Maradona rags-to-riches tale of a fallen anti-hero is classic Hollywood material," notes Kaleem Aftab in the Independent. Even so: "The director is not a good journalist. There is much that Kusturica chooses not to discuss with the man he idolises. Maradona doesn't talk about his illegitimate son, his relationship with the Neapolitan mafia or anything about his career in Barcelona. It also pays to have some knowledge of the midfield maestro when montage sequences of Maradona on the football field are shown. The most preposterous moment is when Kusturica in all seriousness says that analysing Maradona play football could be as valuable for understanding the human condition as the works of Freud and Jung."

"In thrall to the iconic soccer wizard, the director makes the film as much about his simplistic politics and idolizing fans as about his playing career," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. "Kusturica gets Maradona talking about his rags-to-riches rise to fame and the cocaine addiction that he says prevented him from being an even greater player, and shows him in the cocoon of a loving family. But the director puts himself in the film quite a bit and it leaves the impression that, as many men would, he just wanted to hang out with one of his sporting heroes and brag about it."

Screening Out of Competition. Update: "Snarky detractors might muse that both men, monumental egotists on the evidence here alone, demonstrated spectacular ability in their early careers only to eventually disappoint," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety. "More generous souls will find in this an original perspective brought to bear on a complex figure with a fascinatingly chequered career."

Update, 5/22: "The movie - and by that we mean YouTube collection of footage - is the most absurdly self-indulent hodgepodge of a picture we've ever seen (and we've been to Tribeca)," blogs the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik.

Update, 5/23: "Unexpectedly, much of the film is about politics," notes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "Maradona says he would die for Castro, appears on platforms with Hugo Chávez, and describes Bush as a 'piece of human garbage.'"


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 5:45 AM

A Jihad for Love.

A Jihad for Love "Six years after un-closeting the Orthodox Jewish homosexual community in Trembling Before G-d, filmmaker Sandi Dubowski brings his documentary mensch sensibility to open another dialogue on faith and tolerance, this time on behalf of Muslim gays and lesbians around the world," writes Kevin B Lee in Slant. "Jihad for Love, by first-time feature director Parvez Sharma [blog], follows the globetrotting, multi-character arc of Dubowski's film; by establishing the worldwide ubiquity of homosexuality among many believers as a structural lynchpin of their rhetorical argument for tolerance, Sharma and producer Dubowski opt for breadth over depth."

Updated.

"Mr Sharma's film emphasizes testimony over context to such a degree that it feels at first of little use to anyone except gay Muslims who might take comfort in knowing they're not alone," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "But the documentary gains depth of feeling as it goes and even develops something of a nail-biting narrative as it follows a clique of Iranian men who flee to central Turkey in hopes of applying for political asylum in Canada."

"[A]s in Trembling Before G_d, the movie leaves open a provocative question: If you pick and choose which tenets of a religion apply to you, is it still a religion?" Jim Ridley in the Voice.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Sharma "about the difficulties involved in making the film, reclaiming the word 'jihad,' and designing his own Bollywood film posters as a child."

Updates: "From the outset, Mr Sharma's A Jihad for Love, which opens today at IFC Center, makes one thing clear," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun:

It is not, as some might expect, a story of alienation. Unlike other recent documentaries that have tackled religious and moralistic themes - such as Tony Kaye's Lake of Fire, which lent a soapbox to every side of the abortion debate - A Jihad for Love is not about irreconcilable differences or two groups that regard each other with disdain.

Mostly, the film presents men and women who are passionate about their faith, who have tried to live life as prescribed by their parents and spiritual leaders, but who cannot ignore the fact that their source of love and comfort, of lust and consolation, is a person of the same sex. Their story is not one of alienation, but of determined reconciliation.

"Sharma, a gay writer, reporter, and filmmaker born in India, is himself a Muslim, and his lack of condescension toward the religious communities he captures on film is A Jihad for Love's greatest strength," writes Michael Koresky in indieWIRE. "Sharma excels at depicting the effects of repressive regimes on individuals in a matter-of-fact manner, without the aid of overly cute populist doc tricks or direct audience appeals; one comes away with the sense that Islamic governmental law based on religion isn't so different from nonsecular Westernized rationalizations for discrimination."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:08 AM

May 20, 2008

James Stewart @ 100.

By the way: Happy birthday, James Stewart.

James Stewart

Salutes in the German papers: Gerhard Midding (Frankfurter Rundschau) and Bert Rebahndl (Berliner Zeitung).

Updated through 5/22.

Updates, 5/21: "As someone with a serious critical interest in film the Siren knows her obligations. She's supposed to prefer late-period Stewart to early.... But, to quote Woody Allen's most infamous line, the heart wants what it wants and what the Siren wants is The Shop Around the Corner. After that she wants The Philadelphia Story, Vivacious Lady, Made for Each Other, The Mortal Storm and The Shopworn Angel. In short, she wants Stewart the romantic and ideally she wants Margaret Sullavan in there somewhere too."

"1939 is often cited as the greatest year in the history of motion pictures, producing a bumper crop of classics," writes Josh R at Edward Copeland on Film. "Certainly, no actor reaped more of the benefit of that yield than Stewart - he appeared in no less than five films, two of which would proove to be among his very best."

"James Stewart probably came closest to playing the classic American better than anyone," writes moirafinnie6 at Movie Morlocks.

Update, 5/22: "He was, as one writer then put it, 'unusually usual,'" writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "[T]he lingering impression will always be of the small-town blunderbuss who, as Stewart put it himself, was "the inarticulate man who tries. I don’t really have all the answers, but for some reason, somehow, I make it.... I suppose people can relate to being me, while they dream about being John Wayne." Well, maybe in a shootout - but in everyday life, probably most folks would rather the gent next door be Jimmy Stewart."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:09 PM

Cannes, 5/20.

Cannes "The festival organizers have to feel pleased," assumes Patrick Z McGavin in Stop Smiling. "In past years, they appeared under constant institutional attack by the media for their programming choices. Right now, they are benefitting from a deep and strong lineup, while very few complaints have emerged."

On the other hand, Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE:

"Good, but not great. Accomplished, but not amazing. A consistent thread is emerging within this year's Cannes selection: Name directors are showing up with solid work that displays their talents, but doesn't transcend them or spin them into new, novel directions."

And according to Time's Richard Corliss, there's a "consensus that this session of Cannes, where more than half the competing films have already been shown, is a relatively weak one."

Must depend on who you bump into between screenings.

Regardless: "To celebrate the 61st Cannes Film Festival, Granta.com is revisiting some of its favourite writing on film."

"[S]peaking as one who has lately been wondering what [Spike] Lee has been up to this election year, I think now I know," blogs Rob Nelson, who's just seen a clip reel of Miracle at St Anna. "And, as they say in election years, I approve this message."

"What happened to me? How did I become such an arsehole?" But of course Toby Young's having a grand time in Cannes, promoting How to Lose Friends & Alienate People and knocking back a few with Simon Pegg.

Also in the Guardian:

  • Xan Brooks: "Spare a thought for the ghosts of Cannes, the Palme d'Or winners of yesteryear. When Roland Joffé won for The Mission in 1986, he was hailed as the poster-boy for classy British cinema. Now he is back with his latest opus: a low-budget romance about two girls who fall in love at a t.A.T.u. gig. Suffice to say it is not in competition."

  • "Jude Law yesterday swept into the Cannes film festival to explain why he was helping a documentary-maker who for the last 10 years has campaigned for an official day of ceasefire and non-violence." As Mark Brown reports, Jeremy Gilley's been working on the project, "and the result is the documentary The Day After Peace, which had its world premiere in Cannes last night."

  • Geoffrey Macnab: "There was a comical moment when Tommy Lee Jones met distributors in Cannes this week to talk about his new project, an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel Islands in the Stream. Jones is writing, producing, and directing the film; he will also star."

How bad is the economy this year? Scott Macaulay notes that the definitive indicator just might be found in Cannes.

"Following on from The Grudge, Sarah Michelle Gellar stars in another yet remake of an Asian horror pic with Possession, a rejig of Addicted, a supernatural(ish) thriller little seen outside of Korea," writes Variety's Leslie Felperin, having caught the film at the market. "Dully predictable Possession sees Gellar looking creeped out, or maybe just bored, when her husband's ne'er-do-well brother (Lee Pace) wakes up from a coma after a car accident with her still-comatose hubby's personality and memories seemingly uncannily transferred into his head."

Also, Yelena Nikolayeva's "late 90s-set Russian dramedy" Vanechka is " an essentially fluffy tale of a teenage girl forced to take care of a cute orphaned baby."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 4:00 PM

Shorts, 5/20.

Tomoyasu Murata Catherine Munroe Hotes profiles Tomoyasu Murata and Company, whose work "nestles somewhere between high art and popular culture. Some of his films have a modern look to them, but others are influenced by Japanese traditional art and nostalgia for an earlier time."

Also at Midnight Eye, Jaspar Sharp reviews Fine, Totally Fine, "one of the funniest, most charming and genuinely unique films I've seen in a long, long time"; Tom Mes on Jeans Blues: "A simplistic Bonnie and Clyde redux, somewhat clumsily directed by Toei action stalwart [Sadao] Nakajima, it is saved by the kind of unapologetic socio-political backgrounding that was prevalent in the studio's films of the period"; and Paul Jackson on Appleseed, "a prime example of how anime's comparative niche appeal can afford a film success despite limited merits."

Michael Guillén has an overview of TCM's series Race and Hollywood: Asian Images in Film, running throughout June.

"As I edit, I think often of Claire Denis - not out of a need for answers or influence, or even for inspiration, but rather for the comfort of knowing that some of the more difficult parts of this path I'm taking are already well-worn." David Lowery.

The Alchemist Laurence Fishburne will direct, produce and star in an adaptation of Paulo Coelho's best-selling novel The Alchemist, reports the BBC.

"Mark Ruffalo and Amy Adams are attached to star in writer-director Noah Baumbach's next feature, Greenburg, for producer Scott Rudin." Gregg Goldstein has a bit more in the Hollywood Reporter. Via Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical, where she's also got news of Asger Leth's next film, Olympia, "set against the backdrop of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece as war waged between Athens and Sparta."

And Christopher Campbell has news that José Padilha (Bus 174, Elite Squad) has signed on to make an action movie for Warner Bros.

"Christian Bale is to play rebel leader John Connor in three sequels to the Terminator franchise, its producers have revealed." The BBC's Mark Savage has more.

"John Woo is to direct 1949 a big budget romancer that will crank up as soon as he has finished his epic Red Cliff," reports Patrick Frater in Variety.

Team of Rivals Abraham Lincoln turns 200 next February and the Spielberg movie won't even half the hoopla - brace yourself, advises Karen Springen.

Also in Newsweek, Joshua Alston on Recount: "The battle may have been between Al Gore and Bush and their armies of lawyers, but in cinematic terms, the person who walks off with the whole thing is Laura Dern, who plays Katherine Harris with abandon and vigor." And a few of the real-life players comment on the film.

"This is all definitely part of the general trend.... People in the film world are going to Texas and Germany. Artists, filmmakers, movie theaters - we're getting pushed out of Manhattan, and my evolution is yet more proof of that." Ray Privett is leaving his position as programmer of the Pioneer Theater to run his own production company, Cinema Purgatorio. S James Snyder talks with him for the New York Sun. Ray Privett comments on the piece.

"[H]ow often are today's critics (and filmgoers for that matter) given the opportunity to use their noggins once the lights go down?" asks Filmbrain. "Are filmmakers living up to their half of the bargain, treating us with respect...? Less and less, I'm afraid. What's even more disconcerting is that spoon-fed meaning is finding its way into areas of cinema that were once refuges for those interested in something other than the bottom line." Comments ensue, of course; plus: The cinetrix and Keith Uhlich.

Remember the Night Michael Atkinson presents the "first of what might be interminable random sortings of bests."

Flickapedia has more than a few Memorial Day recommendations.

"The Siren generally writes about artists she loves, and the ones she doesn't she leaves alone. Still, not even the Siren can like everyone." A finely illustrated list.

"It's odd thinking of Lino Brocka directing a big-budget action epic, much less directing the late action-star-turned-presidential-candidate Fernando Poe, Jr in a World War 2 epic - but there you are; even if you watched Santiago again and again, it still feels odd," writes Noel Vera.

"I venture to guess that at one point The Evil Twin was supposed to be a straightforward retelling of a traditional ghost story, usually a young virgin wronged by the Confucian family system and blamed for sins she did not commit," writes Kyu Hyun Kim at Koreanfilm.org. "Alas, the only carryover from that type of classic Korean ghost story is the long-haired, white-clad visage of the vengeful spirit. Nearly everything else has been updated disastrously."

"Is any genre more despicable, more dependably hollow than the rock documentary?" asks Zach Baron in Artforum's diary. "So all credit to Matt Wolf, whose documentary on the downtown cellist and disco auteur Arthur Russell, Wild Combination - which had its raucous New York premiere at The Kitchen last Thursday - turns out to be one of the genre's few incandescent exceptions to the rule."

Charlie Bartlett Charlie Bartlett has Andrea Hubert sorting drugs by generations. Also in the Guardian: "Reliance Big Entertainment, the media arm of Anil Ambani - the world's sixth richest man - [has] announced it would be making 10 Hollywood movies for a billion dollars." Randeep Ramesh reports.

Blake Ethridge has a long talk with Richard Kelly about Southland Tales.

Patrick Kevin Day talks with Mel Brooks for the Los Angeles Times, where Patrick Goldstein turns up some dour stats: "Of the 250 top-grossing American movies in 2007, only 6% were directed by women, down from 7% in 2005 and 9% in 1998."

Lesley O'Toole profiles Dennis Quaid for the Independent.

"Shreveport [Louisiana], home to about 200,000, equally divided between black and white, has become a kind of Hollywood South," reports David Carr in the New York Times. "More than 40 mostly independent productions, both television and film, have turned this very Southern city into a location stand-in for New York, Alaska and Maine in movies like Blonde Ambition, Factory Girl, The Mist, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay and The Great Debaters."

Online scrolling tip. More trains in cinema at The Art of Memory.

Online viewing tips. At Boing Boing, Mark Frauenfelder has a list of every movie at the Internet Archive that appears in Mike Weldon's Psychotronic Video Guide.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:41 PM

Fests and events, 5/20.

"What can noir mean to us now?" asks Michael Atkinson in the Boston Phoenix:

Stranger on the 3rd Floor

It's not quite as easy to moon over the existential remarkability of the genre as it once was, when critics like Raymond Durgnat and Paul Schrader were busy specimen-boxing it as if it were a breed of black butterfly that had lived on our streets long ago and yet escaped our notice. Nowadays we're somewhere near post-retro-neo-meta-noir... But the beauty of noir has always been its cultural specificity - the genre is bound wrist and ankle to the unexpected, untamable social malaise that arose during WW2 and exploded in the post-war era. The films are modern anthropology, as wickedly expressive of its context and anxious historical moment as Goya's aquatints or Faulkner's novels or Walker Evans's photographs - but emanating from a kind of American-pulp unconscious, not from the conscientious perspective of a single artist.

The occasion for all this (and there's more) is the Unseen Noir series at Harvard Film Archive, running Friday through Monday.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil will be the centerpiece of next month's Los Angeles Film Festival and screens on May 31 as part of BAM's Sundance series. "Like the vapor trail of a rock-arena smoke machine, uncommon fellowship has followed Anvil! since its germination in a Toronto restaurant four years ago," reports John Anderson in the New York Times.

May 29 sees the opening of the DK Holm Outdoor Film Festival in Portland. It's free (though donations will be appreciated) and it's a series of early summertime outdoor screenings. Click for details.

Sweet Smell of Success "No film fits more neatly into MOMA's Jazz Score series than Sweet Smell of Success (1957), screening May 24 and May 25." Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.

"The 10th Annual San Francisco Black Film Festival (SFBFF), scheduled to run June 4 - 8 and recommencing June 11 - 15, 2008, is primed to compete for festival audiences come June with 100 films over 10 days at 5 venues in San Francisco," writes Michael Guillén. "Anticipating the festival proper, SFBFF and the Coalition of 100 Black Women Oakland Bay Area Chapter Sistahs Getting Real About HIV/AIDS Initiative (NCBW/OBAC) are co-sponsoring a private screening of Miss HIV on Wednesday, May 28, 2008, 6:00PM at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD), 685 Mission Street, San Francisco."

Ian Fleming would turn 100 on May 28 and, for the New York Times, John F Burns visits For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, on view in London's Imperial War Museum through next March, exploring "the degree to which Bond was his 'fantasy version of himself,' as [historian and curator Terry] Charman put it. As well, it shows how the debonair Fleming drew on his experiences as a man about town and as a prewar foreign correspondent, in the world of banking and investment, in his postwar sojourns in Jamaica, and as a World War II aide to the head of Britain's directorate of naval intelligence, to give what he described as 'verisimilitude' to Bond's world of spies and villains and romance." Related: The Observer asks seven women all about James Bond.

"Debut features dominate Variety's Critics Choice selection of European films for this year's Karlovy Vary Intl Film Festival," reports Nick Holdsworth. "The 10 films, chosen by Variety's team of critics, include seven first films." The festival runs July 4 through 12.

"When The English Surgeon had its US premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival earlier this month, director Geoffrey Smith and his subject, the inimitable London-based neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, received a standing ovation from an enthusiastic and moved audience." For SF360, Jennifer Preissel talks with both.

Back to Boston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: Victoria Large on Goliath. Also, The Tracey Fragments.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:57 PM | Comments (1)

DVDs, 5/20.

Rio Bravo "You can't feel lonely watching Rio Bravo, just as you can't feel lonely when the person next to you - even a stranger—knows the same song." A fine, clip-laden entry from Steve Hyden at the AV Club.

As it happens, Dave Kehr has a terrific roundup of recently released westerns.

Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) writes up his top ten Criterion releases.

"'A Film in the Making' is how Jean-Luc Godard defined La Chinoise (1967) in the film itself, in one of its many aphoristic title card face-slaps, and it's a simple parameter with which to view all Godard: as a process, not a product; as interrogation, not "entertainment"; and as a refutation of commercial culture and every easy market-driven conclusion it encourages." Michael Atkinson also reviews Le Gai Savoir for the IFC (after declaring Godard "at the very least the Balzac or Hugo of the mid-20th century"), and then: "Here's an old-school tonic water to cut the grain alcohol of Godard's postmodernism — the new Criterion Eclipse set of three silent comedies from the first phase of Yasujiro Ozu's unassailable career, back when Japan was just acquiring talkie technology..., and when he, in his late 20s, was just finding the calm and observant syntax that made him happy for the next three decades."

Brand Upon the Brain! "Well, I'm in heaven," declares Kurt Halfyard at Twitch. "Guy Maddin's fabulous Brand Upon The Brain! is coming to the Criterion Collection."

"After launching 'ero-guro' cinema with 1969's jaw-dropping Horrors of Malformed Men, [Teruo] Ishii was tapped to direct Bohachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight, or, as it's directly translated, 'Porno Period Film: Way of the Outlaw Samurai,'" writes Grady Hendrix in the New York Sun. "This 1973 film is being released on a beautiful new special-edition DVD from Discotek Media, and while the passage of time hasn't made it respectable, it has turned it into a remarkable cultural artifact full of eye-popping sex, sin, and swordplay."

"According to William M Drew's fine career overview, [Evgenii] Bauer made comedies, social dramas, and historical films, but what he's best known for are his dark tales of obsession," notes Michael W Phillips Jr. "It's tempting to think that he somehow knew he'd have only four short years in which to make films, which could explain how he managed to make 26 films during his pneumonia-abbreviated career. Perhaps this foreknowledge of his own impending death led to his onscreen obsession with death and obsession, which are the twin poles of [Twilight of a Woman's Soul] and [After Death]. Or maybe the film has gotten to me."

Last fall, Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream was released in the wake of Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, notes Richard Brody in the New Yorker: "Lumet's vulgarly histrionic film, its story chopped up into a pseudo-hip jumble of time frames but ultimately reduced to a petty tale of simmering resentments, blew Allen's tight-lipped and straightforward narrative away at the box office, as well as in most critical estimations. But Allen's film is the far darker and stranger experience, its failure a reflection of the writer-director's greater audacity."

I Know Where I'm Going! "The film becomes a transcendent mystery of local color and romantic longing powered by directorial details so slight as to seem inconsequential, yet so cumulatively powerful as to be undeniable." Dennis Cozzalio on Powell and Pressburger's I Know Where I'm Going!

Back in the New York Times: "Here is a treasure," writes Peter G Davis. "Opera DVDs tumble out by the dozens nowadays, too often featuring routine performances of recent productions that hardly seem worth preserving. In contrast Arthaus's scholarly and imposing Walter Felsenstein Edition offers a fascinating glimpse of an important moment in operatic history now vanished."

And: Susan Stewart on the six-episode 2003 British comedy Fortysomething, starring Hugh Laurie.

"In his extraordinary film, Great World of Sound, [Craig] Zobel takes the hypocrisy of the [American] dream and brings it to the grassroots, to the embryonic moment when the expectation of fame meets the con of possibility," writes Tom Hall at Hammer to Nail.

At Cinema Strikes Back, Charlie Prince recommends The Guatemalan Handshake.

Kevin Kelly on My Kid Could Paint That: "For what it's worth I came away with the notion that this girl does have special talents - not in seeing or painting abilities, which I think she shares with many young kids - but in her confidence and willingness to follow through and keep painting."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN) and Slant.

And of course, listen to the Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:28 PM

Cannes. Liverpool.

"After years at sea, a middle-aged sailor returns to his home in deepest Tierra del Fuego and finds his past coming back to haunt him in Lisandro Alonso's supremely accomplished Liverpool," writes Robert Koehler in Variety.

Liverpool

The film "continues the Argentine helmer's fascination with solitary men at work (La libertad) or a mission (Los muertos), while elegantly encapsulating a massive family saga. Much will be made, on the Croisette and beyond, about how Alonso... seems to be inching toward more traditional filmmaking. That would be somewhat misleading..."

Updated through 5/22.

"This will be a guaranteed turn-off for most viewers, but the auteur's small army of devoted admirers... will see this fourth feature as a subtle refinement of his gaunt style," writes Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily. "Like Alonso's other films..., Liverpool holds the attention, as long as you're willing to enter something like the trance-like state that it requires. But it also keeps the viewer at a distance, discouraging emotional involvement and withholding all but the most basic info rmation. Liverpool is the road movie at its sparest and most down-to-earth."

"Painfully slow and inexplicably dull," counters Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter.

Directors' Fortnight.

Update: "It's my first encounter with Alonso, and I'm told his earlier movies, La Libertad in particular, are quite good," blogs the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "This one struck me as a Béla Tarr movie left to die in a snowbank."

Updates, 5/22: "Alonso's brilliant, slow-burning simplicity creeps slowly but definitively, and its impact continues to entwine itself after its scenes of brutal disinterest and deeply repressed unhappiness routinely proceed past," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "It is a sign that Liverpool is not nearly as banal as it seems."

"Of course, the film is exactingly photographed, with its cool images of rural southern Argentina, and mystifying in the way it withholds its story, but ultimately, Liverpool is a pain to get through and richer in retrospect," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:31 PM

Cannes. Versailles.

"The abandoned child is a sure-fire dramatic devise, and it is to writer-director Pierre Schoeller's credit that in Versailles he uses it to explore true sentiment rather than mere sentimentality."

Versailles

The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "Charlie Chaplin made classic comic melodramas with similar material, but Schoeller merely wants to observe a character forced to adapt to an unexpected love."

Updated through 5/21.

"Versailles is a thoughtful, cumulatively affecting portrait of three social outcasts - including a very young boy - at critical junctures in their lives," writes Lisa Nesselson in Screen Daily. "This story of a single mother who abruptly abandons her beloved son to another homeless person she barely knows is as non-judgmental as it is leisurely. Intelligently demonstrating that in a nation of plenty, many have next to nothing, the film is loaded with the understated irony of subsistence-level lives in a Paris suburb whose very name is synonymous with wealth and opulence."

"Very Gallic in the way down-and-outers double as philosophers, pic requires a heavy suspension of belief and never really builds to anything memorable, though perfs are strong and lensing is finely textured," blurbs Jay Weissberg in Variety.

Un Certain Regard.

Update, 5/21: "The best thing in Versailles is what connects it, from the top, to what is becoming an obsession for the young French cinema," writes Emmanuel Burdeau in Cahiers du cinéma's Cannes diary:

Do you remember a time when people said that all first French features were literary love stories that took place in Paris, between the walls of tiny maid's rooms? That time has come and gone. Paris is now far away; the new studios are in Versailles, Boulogne, all of the rich suburbs to the west of Paris. Maid's rooms? Not at all; now we're off to the forest, to the edges of the city, to reconnect to the humus of our origins. Locking horns between young adults? Wake up! We the youth of the 2000's are old before our time, weighed down with maternity or paternity. The screenplay for the coming years is easy to sum up: it's about infanticide, abandoning one's child. The story told in Versailles will also be told by a number of other films in the fall of 2008.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:24 PM

Cannes. Involuntary.

"Human folly in its rich variety gets a brisk, chilly airing in Involuntary, an inventive ensemble piece from Swedish director-writer Ruben Östlund," writes Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily.

Involuntary

"Using a sprawling cast comprised largely of unknowns and non-professionals - with one notable exception - Östlund paints a coolly non-judgmental comic picture of the appalling things people do to each other, and to themselves, when weak will, peer pressure and plain foolishness come into play."

Updated through 5/21.

"Structured like a set of interspersed, but not interconnected, short films, sophomore outing for helmer Ruben Östlund (The Guitar Mongoloid) features characters ranging from teens to the late-middle-age, often facing moral dilemmas about when to speak up or stay silent," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety.

The film "takes a look at a series of unconnected episodes involving people of assorted ages doing very little of interest," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. Östlund "employs a filming technique using a static camera aimed with no attempt to frame what's being observed so that individuals are half seen or simply offscreen. It is deeply off-putting."

"The film itself reminds of Sweden's reputation for being polished, antiseptic, even," suggests Ali Zaderzad at Screen Comment.

Un Certain Regard.

Update, 5/21: Online viewing tip. Cineuropa talks with key players.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:17 PM | Comments (1)

Cannes. Afterschool.

"A handsome, widescreen cinematic essay on modes of perception amongst those raised in the TV-internet age, Afterschool marks out 24-year-old Antonio Campos as a filmmaker to watch," writes Howard Feinstein in Screen Daily.

Afterschool

"The filmmaker raises some significant philosophical issues. Is culpability more complicated because human actions are less and less a function of will power? Is original thought a thing of the past? Are we more and more able to live with ourselves as amoral creatures merely mimicking the behaviour of clichéd, unreal characters?"

"At a posh New England prep school, an introverted student finds himself witness to the tragic death by overdose of two beautiful twins," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "To work through his angst, he makes a film about them. Somewhere between Gus Van Sant's Elephant and French artiness, this is a sophisticated stylistic exercise too rarefied for wide audiences, but earmarked for critical kudos."

The film "suggests a fascination with themes of voyeurism, violence and the ethics of image-making a la Michael Haneke," writes Justin Chang in Variety, but it "unsettles without illuminating, marred by narcotic pacing and a blank lead performance."

Update: "If the film deals with the standard strife of high school (budding love, jealousy and bitterness), it's far more disturbing and enigmatic than similarly set portrait, writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "Gus Van Sant's Elephant and Atom Egoyan's voyeuristic visions come to mind, but Campos's style remains unique: he frequently employs dislocating, fragmentary, or off-center frames - even a major kiss is barely seen, shoved to the bottom corner of the frame in favor of bobbing foreheads. And his thematic concerns are also his own: coming-of-age becomes a pathological condition and strange disconnected state, where the virtual worlds of violence and sex intermingle with the real."

Un Certain Regard.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:07 PM | Comments (1)

Sight & Sound. June 08.

Sight & Sound: June 08 The one piece online from Sight & Sound's "Cinema of the New Europe" cover package is Michael Brooke and Kamila Kuc's interview with Andrzej Wajda. From their intro: "Katyn is the first Polish film to tackle two of the most contentious issues in the country's history: the massacre of up to 20,000 members of Poland's intellectual and military elite and its cover-up by its Soviet perpetrators."

Editor Nick James talks with Bruce Weber about his legendary (and often-revived) Chet Baker doc, Let's Get Lost.

"Colossal Youth demands to be seen more than once: a first viewing just about lets you acclimatise to its mesmerically slow pacing, visual stillness and incantatory verbal rhythms," writes Jonathan Romney.

"He calls himself 'the best-known author of unknown movies' and perhaps he's right." Tim Lucas celebrates the release on DVD of a series of films by Chris Marker from First Run Icarus.

I Served the King of England

I'm not sure how this came about exactly, but Geoffrey Macnab, Kieron Corless and Brad Stevens are credited with the review of Jirí Menzel's I Served the King of England: "The film has a zest that belies the director's age. There is no sense here of a distinguished director striking a ponderous and introspective note at the twilight of his career."

"Sex, money, incest, murder: it may be based on a notorious real-life high-society scandal that rocked the wealthy American heirs to the Bakelite plastics fortune, but Tom Kalin's Savage Grace seems determined to handle the story's explosive ingredients with the utmost circumspection, turning what could have been a sensational melodrama into something much more complex - though not necessarily more successful as a film." Just one reviewer here, Lisa Mullen.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:41 AM

Cannes. Changeling.

"A thematic companion piece to Mystic River but more complex and far-reaching, Changeling impressively continues Clint Eastwood's great run of ambitious late-career pictures," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy.

Changeling

"Emotionally powerful and stylistically sure-handed, this true story-inspired drama begins small with the disappearance of a young boy, only to gradually fan out to become a comprehensive critique of the entire power structure of Los Angeles, circa 1928."

"Changeling rings the muckracking bells of the likes of I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, and the devoted-mother high notes of Stella Dallas," writes Glenn Kenny. "Its old-fashionedness, or I should say respect for verities, goes hand-in-hand with a particularly Eastwood-esque directness. The result is not as perfect a film as Eastwood has made, but it's damn strong, both as a story and an exploration of the parent-child bond and a polemic. Because despite the fact that it deals with the corruption and venality of a past era, Changeling is at times a very angry picture; Eastwood's angriest, I think, since Unforgiven."

"Beautifully produced and guided by Eastwood's elegant, unostentatious hand, it also boasts a career-best performance by Angelina Jolie who has never been this compelling," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen Daily.

The true story the film's based on, "as incredible as it is compelling," as the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt puts it, was "uncovered by screenwriter J Michael Straczynski in the city's own records and newspapers, adds a forgotten chapter to the LA noir of Chinatown and [LA Confidential]."

Updates: For Time's Richard Corliss, Changeling "juggles elements of LA Confidential, The Black Dahlia, The Snake Pit and any number of serial-killer thrillers. But at its center are the heartache and heroic resolve of a woman who has lost the one person she loves most and is determined to find him, dead or alive, against all obstacles the authorities place in her way. In that sense the movie is a companion piece to last year's Cannes entry A Mighty Heart, in which Jolie played the wife of kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl - except that Changeling is far more taut, twisty and compelling."

"Because the film is based on real events, we know going in how it's going to end; the film's tension rides, therefore, not in the destination but in the journey to get there," notes Kim Voynar at Cinematical.

Eugene Hernandez has a snapshot and quotes from the press conference.

"Whatever it winds up being called, 'L'Ex-Changeling' got a warm reception from the press this morning," reports Salon's Andrew O'Hehir:

Whether that really reflects the film's inherent qualities, or just the experience of observing two prodigious stars of different eras collaborate on a major Hollywood project that wasn't made for morons, is open to debate. For anybody who's ever felt passionate about the movies, it was impossible to resist the spectacle of Eastwood, looking both dapper and weatherbeaten in an elegant cream-colored suit, strolling slowly through a rooftop garden here with the gloriously pregnant Jolie on his arm. It was of course the impersonation of casualness and spontaneity rather than the real thing; they were walking through a forest of photographers on their way to the press conference. But the appearance of being at one's ease while maximally exposed to public scrutiny is the essence of stardom.

Much more follows.

Online viewing tip. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 5/21: "A view of the human beast at its worst, the film is a tricky bit of storytelling business, in part because it involves a true crime with no moral gray areas, in part because it takes place in the 1920s, an era so at odds with its modern star that it's like watching Joan Crawford do Queen Victoria," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It's a lurid, nightmarish story, reminiscent of any number of James Ellroy's Los Angeles pulp noirs and one that Mr Eastwood approaches with such restraint that the somber mood soon turns sepulchral.... Despite Ms Jolie's hard work and Mr Eastwood's scrupulous attention, the difficult, fairly one-dimensional character fails to take hold."

"The film's heart is very obviously in the right place, but it is trying to be so many things at once: family drama, cop-corruption thriller, child-snatcher nightmare - and, for Jolie, another flight over the cuckoo's nest, only this time with far more queenly dignity than in Girl, Interrupted," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Accompanied with a syrupy musical score to cushion the dramatic blows (and to ensure that the audience isn't too horrified or upset too early on) this over-long film fails to convey - is in fact afraid of conveying - the real horror of child loss."

"In the twilight of his directorial career, Clint Eastwood continues to make some of his finest films," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. This is "a magisterial piece of work.... Eastwood has never been known as a liberal, but it is hard not to see the film as an allegory about the present US administration."

"Changeling is director Clint Eastwood at his most manipulative, leagues beyond Million Dollar Baby," writes Alison Willmore. "With its star, its varnished vintage appearance and the ability to generate bewildering reviews like this one, Changeling is a picture all but created to win Academy Awards. Maybe it will, but hell if it deserves any."

Updates, 5/22: "Eastwood remains an exceptionally talented director," writes Patrick Z McGavin in Stop Smiling. "Largely because of the personal attacks against his work and art by Pauline Kael and her disciples, Eastwood was unfairly underrated for much of his first two decades behind the camera. Ever since Eastwood's official rehabilitation, beginning with Unforgiven in 1992, the critical pendulum has swung too hard and far in the other direction." As for this one, "The sensationalized, tabloid nature of the material does not play to Eastwood's strengths."

"It's a binary world for Mr Clint: there's the outsider/underdog fighting for justice and a cruel status quo trying to keep him/her down, only to be vanquished in the end by all that is Good and Right," blogs the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik. "That same straw man from Million Dollar Baby (the opportunistic relatives who stood by while Hilary Swank lost various appendages) is here, only he's been reincarnated as a merciless police captain on the take."

"It's a solid, confident, old-school studio picture that packs a few big emotional wallops," blogs the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "But it is also ponderous and self-important, with a surfeit of lead in its boots. Jolie carries it and her knees sometimes buckle. But the public perception of Jolie is changing as well. She has been the wild child, the ingénue, the sex symbol and the global phenomenon. Now she's entering a new phase and seeing if it fits: the mature, respected artist."

Jolie's "contribution is a positive one, even though she's sometimes in cahoots with a script that threatens to afford this victim of circumstance, corruption and chauvinism a near-angelic status that distracts from the horror of children being kidnapped and murdered," writes Dave Calhoun for Time Out. Overall, the film is "well-crafted and sensitive but never particularly imaginative or surprising and not nearly as claustrophobic or as chilling as Tom Stern's shadowy photography would suggest."

Cinematical's Kim Voynar reports on the press conference.

"If most of Eastwood's films since Unforgiven can be read as different kinds of apologies for Dirty Harry, then this is his most overt mea culpa yet—a critique of the imperfection of justice in genera," writes Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago. "In a manner less clumsy than the one in Mystic River, Eastwood subtly shifts our sympathies mid-film, suggesting that when the law turns against you, it turns against you completely; and that when it turns toward you, it may be turning with equally unfair force against someone else. (It's difficult not to watch and think of, say, the absolutism practiced at Guantanamo.) The ultimate implication is that society is incapable of addressing even the most horrible of crimes."

Update, 5/27: "Ultimately all of Eastwood's genre-blending comes up with nothing more than a hollow highbrow message movie that lacks all the blood and verve of its lowbrow inspirations," writes Stephen Garrett for Esquire. "Moviegoers may feel that the real exchange plays more like a bait and switch."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 6:38 AM | Comments (4)

Cannes. Two Lovers.

"[M]ost of my US colleagues here hated James Gray's new film even more than they did last year's booed-right-here We Own The Night, which I wasn't too crazy about myself," writes Glenn Kenny.

Two Lovers

"But I gotta give it up - as earnest and awkward as this loose rethink of Dostoevsky's 'White Nights' can get, it frequently moved me. Perhaps it's something to do with my own past as a fall-hard guy for troubled, difficult women.... Turning away from the crime-steeped mileus of his previous features, Gray aims for a kind of deliberately ache-filled romanticism that no other filmmaker I can think of is particularly interested in today. Good for him, says I."

Updated through 5/27.

"Two Lovers is the third successive James Gray feature to play in Competition at Cannes and it has become harder to discern why the selectors keep such resolute faith with this particular American auteur," grumbles Allan Hunter in Screen Daily. "Two Lovers is a maudlin, melancholic tug at the heartstrings that marks a welcome break from Gray's preoccupation with crime and corruption. It is well-crafted and ably acted but never especially moving and winds up feeling like something from the classier end of the American TV movie spectrum."

"Boxoffice will depend on audiences in the Grand Theft Auto era deciding that the fate of three little people adds up to more than a hill of beans," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. "The story asks the eternal question of whether it's wiser to pursue the one you love or turn to the one who loves you. It is also a snapshot of the tribal ritual that pits the instinct for loyalty and continuity against the temptation to stride into the unknown."

Updates: For Jeffrey Wells, this is "an attractively composed, persuasively acted but slightly too earnest and on-the-nose drama about romantic indecision. But it's not half bad - a little Marty-ish at times, maybe a bit too emphatic here and there, but nonetheless concise, reasonably well-ordered and, for the most part, emotionally restrained and therefore believable."

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has a snapshot and quotes from the press conference.

"It's a gem," declares Anne Thompson.

"Polarizing - Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama polarizing, Yankee-Red Sox polarizing - is the best way to describe the reaction to James Gray's "Two Lovers," blogs Steven Zeitchik for the Hollywood Reporter. "At the party after the Lumiere premiere and into the rainy hours of the night, media and viewers decried the things they disliked, and they had many of them: it was dull, it was dour, the plain-Jane choice was too attractive. But a smaller and equally passionate group, of which we were decidedly a part, rallied on behalf of the film."

Updates, 5/21: "Mr Gray tells this story in the key of melodrama, a choice that strikes me as admirably bold, since seriousness in American movies too often seems to grow out of the barrel of a gun rather than affairs of the heart," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Though it takes place in the present, the look and mood of Two Lovers are old-fashioned, perhaps even anachronistic, but nonetheless there is something grand about the film's sincerity and the intensity of its emotions."

"Well acted by Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, this very New York tale is old-fashioned in good ways that have to do with solid storytelling, craftsmanship and emotional acuity," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy.

Mark Brown meets Paltrow for the Guardian.

"Gray is an intriguing and somewhat lonely figure who inhabits the nebulous middle ground between American independent cinema and contemporary Hollywood." And Andrew O'Hehir talks to him for Salon.

"This is one long toothache of a movie, painfully earnest, not preposterous enough to be enjoyed as camp, and a waste of some very good actors," writes Richard Corliss for Time.

"It'll be too little too late for some, but in its final third, Two Lovers becomes an extremely strong parable about the madness of romantic love, and maybe even its impossibility," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

Updates, 5/22: "We can now say that Gray is the filmmaker of negative triumph." Emmanuel Burdeau has a relatively longish entry on Gray and his most recent two movies in Cahiers du cinéma's Cannes diary, but: be warned, he spoils the endings of both.

"Like Eastwood, Gray is an anomaly: He makes throwbacks that seem radical because almost no one makes throwbacks anymore," writes Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago. "Two Lovers has moments of reckless acting, tentative dialogue and flimsy characterizations - and yet it keeps you guessing, even haunted. It's a case when ambition may outweigh achievement - but strange, bold gestures are part of what Cannes is all about."

Updates, 5/23: "James Gray has exactly what American cinema needs - sincerity," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Gray deals in melodrama—and male melodrama at that - but treats it with a solemn seriousness that makes one believe again in the earnestness of American genre cinema."

"Two Lovers is not a great film; it's not even close," writes Matt Noller at the House Next Door. "But it confirms Gray as, I think, one of the most exciting new directors to come out of Hollywood. He's not making movies quite like anyone else around, but whether that's a good thing or a bad thing depends on who you ask. If you ask me, it's a very good thing indeed."

Update, 5/26: Erica Abeel talks with Gray for the IFC.

Update, 5/27: "A film like Two Lovers is somewhat of a rarity these days," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "This isn't the cheesy romantic comedy that Hollywood would make of this script; it's a darker, intellectual, and thoughtful romantic drama about life and love and the choices we make that sometimes compromise both who we are and who we really want to be."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 6:34 AM

Cannes. Modern Life.

"Modern Life is the name of a lovely new documentary by the French director Raymond Depardon, and the title, like the film itself, carries a gentle but unmistakable irony," writes AO Scott in the New York Times.

Modern Life

"Mr Depardon's subjects - as they were in Profils Paysans (2000) and Le Quotidien (2005), to which Modern Life is in effect a sequel - are small farmers who work the land in a remote and mountainous region of southern France where, at first glance, there is nothing very modern at all.... Mr Depardon resists the temptation to wax elegiac on the disappearance of family farms or to mystify the bond between the land and those who draw their living from it."

Updated through 5/21.

"It's a love-letter, really, made up of virtual still-life portraits of the grizzled and taciturn men and women who cling to their harsh profession," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. "Depardon has been photographing the hardy small-holders of French agriculture for a very long time and his admiration for these rugged characters and the wild terrain in which they live and farm shines through every image."

In Variety, Leslie Felperin notes that a standing ovation followed the Cannes screening. "Although some are happier and better off than others, the message that times are tough for agronomists gets a little repetitive after a while. At least moments of warmth and humor jolly things up occasionally, such as one little boy refusing to be put off his ambition to be just like his daddy when he grows up, or Cecile tottering over the rocks in her high heels on her wedding day."

"The film is full of dignity and empathy for its characters, connected to the land and the seasons and to the animals they keep," writes Facets' Milos Stehlik.

Un Certain Regard.

Updates: "Taking on the triple role of interviewer, cameraman and narrator, the filmmaker's affection for and rapport with his subjects is obvious, his tenacious patience a welcome contrast to the aggression employed by so many self-referential documentarians," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "There's not a superfluous moment in the film, but most of the Moderne's core ideas come across most beautifully in the narrative thread about the Privat family, who have appeared in each of Depardon's farmer films."

Agnès Poirier meets Depardon for the Guardian.

Update, 5/21: "Depardon composes in very wide images to give the work and the land scope and breadth in light of the lonely and diminishing local population, yet also to hold down his interviewees for friendly but somehow constrictive conversations," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "His intent and attitude is that of a empathetic comrade, but the way he shoots his friends and acquaintances admits to a minor tremor of uncomfortableness between filmmaker and subject on camera, despite their obvious rapport in person."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 1:45 AM

May 19, 2008

Cannes. Tony Manero.

"Nothing I've seen in Cannes has possessed and disturbed me quite as much as the Directors' Fortnight entry Tony Manero, from young Chilean director Pablo Larraín," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.

Tony Manero

"If Larraín has an argument to make about the power of pop culture, it definitely isn't a positive one.... There's a current of reckless, nihilistic black humor in Tony Manero, which might just make it a candidate for international cult status. But only if you're the sort of person who understands that Texas Chainsaw Massacre is pretty funny too."

"Chile's darkest days coincide with the golden age of disco in Tony Manero, a disturbing character study with a trenchant edge of social satire," writes Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily. "Larrain follows his 2006 debut Fuga with a film that works on at least three levels: notably, as the study of a warped loner, as a comment on fan fetishism, and as a portrait of Chile's national traumas under the Pinochet dictatorship."

The film, "despite its various forms of crudeness, is vital and strangely arresting," writes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter. "It's 1978, and Raul Peralta is a fiftysomething loser and petty criminal who is obsessed with John Travolta and his performance as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever.... The problem is that he becomes so intent on winning a John Travolta look-alike contest on television that he starts killing people who get in his way. And not very prettily either."

Update, 6/6: "The film turns the premise of a rom-com into a quiet cold-blooded serial-killer thriller with only slight political undertones," writes HarryTuttle in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Pablo Larraín says he had to hasten the post-production of his film in order to deliver the reels to Olivier Père for Cannes. I wonder how much of this could explain certain awkward cuts, and the intentional discontinuity between takes within a unique scene. Though Larraín seems to experiment with out-of-focus shots too (an intention more justifiable than the jump cuts in my mind), so it might all be part of an (arguable) anti-conformist stance."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 3:31 PM

Cannes, 5/19.

Cannes "This is how it always happens," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Benny Safdie, an undergraduate film school student at Boston University, picks up his degree and proceeds to fly directly to Cannes, where his most recent short film, The Acquaintances of a Lonely John [site], is selected to precede the closing night film in 2008's prestigious Director's Fortnight program.

"Oh, yes, the closing night film just so happens to be the only American feature selected that year. And, oh, yes, of course, we mustn't forget. That feature, The Pleasure of Being Robbed, was directed by Benny's older brother, Josh, who is only 23 years old. You see, friends, when it comes to the wide-open world of independent filmmaking, this is how it happens. Just like this. To all of you aspiring filmmakers out there, don't worry. Your break is just around the corner. Really."

The New York Times' AO Scott and Manohla Dargis turn in a mid-festival report and podcast. Scott hits the Vanity Fair party - "What a lark! (What a mistake.)" - and Dargis notes, "What's curious about seeing a movie like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in close proximity with 24 City as one tends to do here, are their points of convergence and divergence."

Chaz Hammelsmith-Ebert is blogging: "To Roger from Cannes."

"Metal god, actor, novelist, swordsman, pilot, DJ - and now screenwriter. Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson is a man of many parts, and this weekend he showed up in Cannes to show off a new film called Chemical Wedding." A review from the Guardian's Andrew Pulver.

"IFC Films has announced a deal for all North American rights to The Chaser, continuing a very busy Cannes with the recent acquisitions of A Christmas Tale, Summer Hours, The Pleasure of Being Robbed and Mermaid," reports IndieWIRE.

"While most conventional festivals lump shorts together in a few programs or screen them before features, the Cannes Film Festival has a wide variety of practical venues for practitioners of the form." Eric Kohn reports for Stream.

Notes: Todd Brown (Twitch) and Karina Longworth (SpoutBlog; also: Karaoke Night).

Photos: IFC.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:28 PM

Cannes. Of Time and the City.

"[T]he one truly great movie to emerge so far has been Terence Davies's Of Time and the City [site]; it's not only this writer who considers it some kind of masterpiece."

Of Time and the City

This writer is Geoff Andrew (Time Out): "Watching the film, you realise that Britain has no other filmmaker to match Davies in terms of his purely cinematic sensibility. Fine as our other far-from-inconsiderable big names are, it's hard to imagine any of them creating sheer filmic poetry as may be found here. Davies's juxtapositions of music and image, especially, are consistently audacious, original and exhilarating, whether the compositions reflect and reinforce each other or whether they make more complex by way of superbly sharp irony."

Updated through 5/22.

"[E]ven though it runs a brief 72 minutes, this documentary memory play about Davies' hometown of Liverpool is so rich with emotion, nostalgia, clarity, and love that it feels epic," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Davies himself narrates over the inspired onrush of historical and archival footage, and his hoarse, whispered cadences have the urgency of the confessional and the scornful humor of the outsider.... [I]t's easily the most haunting work I've seen at Cannes."

"[T]his is mainly a biography of a place and time," writes Mary Corliss for Time: "of its stately old civic monuments and, later, its soulless estates (an expression, Davies says in the narration, of 'the British genius for creating the dismal'); of its residents' football mania and fondness for radio's corniest comics; of the contrast between postwar rationing and the regal excesses of Queen Elizabeth's coronation ('the Betty Windsor Show')."

"Davies has always been fascinated by both out-of-reach glamour and the banality of everyday life," writes Howard Feinstein in Screen Daily. "Revisiting what he calls 'the happy highways where I went and can not come again,' is obviously cathartic for Davies, even if melancholy seeps through every frame."

Earlier: Frank Cottrell Boyce talks with Davies for the Guardian.

Updates, 5/20: Davies "ranges far and wide through both the city and its history, waxing personal and then political as he lingers at the movies (an early love), pauses in bleak homes and passes through one grim brick-lined Liverpudlian street after another, strewn with litter and busy with children," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Mixing his words with quotations (from Friedrich Engels to Willem de Kooning), pop songs and classical music, he brings the past sensitively to life with black-and-white and color footage of a time long gone, both distant and still."

"Nothing in Cannes has given me as much pleasure as Terence Davies's glorious Of Time and the City," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It is by turns tender, lyrical, angry, shrewd and, above all, funny. This tough, unsentimental film refuses to use cliches and it got enormous, deserved laughs from festival-goers of all nationalities.... I was reminded of Philip Larkin's request that his poems should be read aloud as simply as if giving directions in the street: Davies's poetic cinema has precisely this clarity and force."

Variety's Leslie Felperin finds the film "by turns moving, droll and charming, and niftily assembled, but not necessarily that profound."

"Who's the happiest man in Cannes this week?" asks the Telegraph's David Gritten. "My vote would go to British director Terence Davies, who's walking around the place looking like the cat who got the cream."

Update, 5/21: Online viewing tip. "Director Terence Davies has urged his fellow British film-makers to reject "sub-American nonsense" and create films made in and about the UK instead." The BBC has a clip.

Update, 5/22: "More than anything, it feels like a city symphony film, an update on The Man With the Movie Camera, After Irony," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Davies takes Dziga Vertov as a template, and then takes into account history both personal and social, transmitting both with the dryest of British wit. As far as recent place-based diary film masterpieces go, it's not quite My Winnipeg, but there's some lovely stuff here."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 2:19 PM

Cannes. Ashes of Time Redux.

"National cinemas have different Golden Ages," writes Mary Corliss for Time.

Ashes of Time Redux

"For Hong Kong, it was the decade from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, when directors like Tsui Hark and John Woo were revitalizing the crime film, and when young Wong Kar-wai was revolutionizing the misty romance. At the time, Hong Kong also had perhaps the world's greatest roster of glamorous stars, and prominent among them were Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, the two Tony Leungs, Jacky Cheung, Carina Lau and Charlie Young. All of them are in Wong's 1994 martial-arts reverie Ashes of Time, which had a special screening last night in a version revised by the director."

Updated through 5/25.

"The first surprise about Wong Kar-wai's revamped, re-edited and rescored version of his 1994 cult wuxia classic Ashes of Time is just how little has been changed," writes Lee Marshall in Screen Daily. "The second is how much these minor tweaks still have helped clarify the Hong Kong auteur's interpretation of Louis Cha's historical fantasy novel The Eagle-Shooting Hero, confirming that his most poetic, experimental film belongs not in the curiosity cabinet but on the big screen."

"Wong was not content merely to repeat or reinvigorate the genre when he began shooting Ashes of Time more than 15 years ago, but decided to reinvent it completely," writes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter. "[O]ne wonders what fecundity of imagination - or perversity of artistic willfulness - it took to shoot a costume epic that is made up almost entirely of dark rooms, close-ups and tightly constricted long shots... Wong's obsessive themes of memory, the irretrievability of the past and the impossibility of love, trump those of the traditional wuxia film, which tend to deal more with honor and the indomitability of the spirit."

"The original 1994 Ashes, which I haven't seen (it's available in a poorly done DVD version) apparently didn't make much sense, and it certainly doesn't now, but, lord, is it a vision to behold - a wuxia film turned into an abstract expressionist action painting," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

Patrick Frater has a brief report on the emotionally charged screening - and a pick of Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, together - at the Circuit.

Updates, 5/20: "Culled from prints gathered from around the world, this newly re-edited and digitally tweaked iteration runs about 10 minutes shorter than the original, and rather more coherently," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Drenched in shocking color - the desert shifts from egg-yolk yellow to burnt orange under a cerulean sky - the film is Mr Wong's most abstract endeavor, a bold excursion into the realm of pure cinema. It also now seems like one of his most important. Ashes of Time Redux will be released by Sony Pictures Classics in September."

The Guardian's Xan Brooks gets a few words with Wong.

Ray Pride's found the poster.

Update, 5/23: "Insanely gorgeous, filled with poses and ecstasies, and always trembling on the brink of self-parody, this tale of medieval warriors and the women who can't forget (or remember) them evokes the most extreme mannerism of the 60s - Last Year at Marienbad, Flaming Creatures, Once Upon a Time in the West," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Memories should be made of this."

Update, 5/25: "Jonathan Rosenbaum rightly described Jim Jarmusch's 1995 film Dead Man as an 'acid western,' but I wonder if he had known that Wong Kar-wai beat Jarmusch to the punch in 1994 with his acid wuxia, Ashes of Time," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Messy, intoxicatingly insular and obsessive, and painfully tortured by a kind of ecstatic regret, Ashes of Time has re-emerged as one of cinema’s greatest films."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 1:05 PM | Comments (3)

Interview. Errol Morris.

Standard Operating Procedure "This is a very complex, convoluted story on so many, many different levels," Errol Morris tells Sean Axmaker. "I think it is, in many ways, a story about American women in the military. I think that's one of the things about the photographs that made the photographs particularly strange, particularly appalling, particularly perverse. I've often imagined, when [Charles] Graner was taking those pictures, of his 90-some-odd pound, twenty-year-old girlfriend, holding that leash on that the prisoner known as Gus, he was in some very deep sense reenacting American foreign policy."

Standard Operating Procedure continues to roll out across the country, opening in more cities just this weekend. Earlier entries: 1 and 2; newish items after the jump.

Updated through 5/24.

Roger Ebert comments on a message he's received from Morris regarding the controversy over the reenactments (Sean prefers to call them "illustrations"; Morris tells him he's used the word "reenactments" all along, so he feels he's stuck with it).

SF360 presents a transcription of the Q&A with Morris led by B Ruby Rich when Morris received the San Francisco Film Festival Persistence of Vision Award on April 29.

"In The Fog of War, [Morris] managed to grill former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara about details of his career without ever daring to ask him why he, McNamara, shouldn't be held at least partly responsible for the more than 2 million civilian deaths in Indochina," writes Michael Atkinson in In These Times. "In his new film, Standard Operating Procedure, Morris revisits the Abu Ghraib scandal in his classically myopic way, scrutinizing and re-enacting and scab-picking the minutiae of the infamous incidents at the Iraqi prison - without considering the larger political implications, impact or context. He may well be the only filmmaker in America who can make movies about atrocity and yet resists any sort of overt ethical inquiry."

Standard Operating Procedure "By insistently focusing on the photos and the lower-level soldiers who appear in them, the movie version of Standard Operating Procedure often has the inadvertent effect of playing into the 'few bad apples' argument put forth by the Bush administration," writes the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani, reviewing Standard Operating Procedure, co-authored by Morris and Philip Gourevitch. "This book version, in contrast," she continues, "does an admirable job of situating those photos (which curiously do not appear in the volume) within a larger context, showing the roots those repellent images had in decisions made at the highest levels of the Bush administration, which started the torture snowball rolling by declaring that it need not abide by the Geneva Conventions in its war on terror. As Lt Gen Ricardo S Sanchez, former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, notes in his new memoir, Wiser in Battle (Harper), the 2002 presidential memo concerning Geneva 'constituted a watershed event in US military history.'"

"The film has drawn criticism because Morris paid his subjects for their interviews, possibly influencing their stories, but at least he doesn't seem to pressure his subjects to deflect blame upward, as director Rory Kennedy did in Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (Kennedy also paid her subjects)," writes Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "The numerous reenactments in the film have also sparked some controversy, but the distinct look of those shots and the frequent use of slow motion make it clear that these images portray only one hypothetical version of events. Standard Operating Procedure is a fascinating, if limited, glimpse at the small personalities that handed the United States its greatest humiliation in decades."

For Mother Jones, Dave Gilson talks with Morris about, among other things, the "best political ads you never saw."

Online listening tip. Philip Gourevitch follows Morris on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Update, 5/20: Errol Morris's latest blog entry:

SABRINA HARMAN: I can't believe they murdered the guy.

Wait just one second. Murdered?

And who are they? What does the photograph really show? What are we looking at? A smile? A murder? And if it is a murder, who is the killer?

I would like to answer these questions.

And he's inviting readers to help.

Update, 5/22: "Morris has not set out to assemble the definitive account," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "In a sense, Standard Operating Procedure is anti-definitive, a lament that the truth of what went on at Abu Ghraib will never be brought to light."

Update, 5/24: New reviews of the book: Raymond Bonner (NYT), Michael Byers (Guardian) and Michael S Roth (Los Angeles Time).

Posted by dwhudson at 9:49 AM

Cannes. Lorna's Silence.

Glenn Kenny finds Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Le Silence de Lorna "every bit as nuanced, surprising, and deeply moving" as their 2005 Palme d'Or-winning L'Enfant.

Lorna's Silence

"[T]heir approach to storytelling isn't as Bresson-inflectedly-idiosyncratic as some might tell you. Which is my hifalutin way of professing that Lorna is an entirely accessible film, one that moviegoers who like a nice juicy tale ought not be scared of."

Updated through 5/23.

"Few directors offer the patient viewer such consummate rewards as Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, longtime documakers whose uncompromising, beautifully observed studies of Belgium's urban poor (including Palme d'Or winners Rosetta and L'Enfant) reveal a peerless talent for conjuring drama out of the mundane and wresting emotion from determinedly unsentimental material," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "Lorna's Silence is their first feature not set in their hometown, Seraing, but rather in the more densely populated city of Liege - a logical backdrop for a tale of hard-scrabble immigrants trying to secure their livelihoods through less-than-honest means."

"Fake marriages undertaken to get Belgian citizenship are the subject of the Dardenne brothers' latest drama, which starts as rivetingly as any of their films and then, an hour in, spins into an unexpected and unsatisfying direction," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen Daily. "Needless to say, the acting is fine. Kosovo-born [Atra] Dobroshi is luminous in a largely silent performance as the crumbling Lorna, and Dardenne regular [Jérémie] Renier is always compelling."

Eugene Hernandez has a snapshot and a few quotes from the press conference.

Competing.

Updates: "I was close to enraged by the actions of Arta Dobroshi's main character in La Silence de Lorna," writes Jeffrey Wells. "Which means I felt strongly irked by the Dardenne brothers' screenplay. Which means, despite the feeling and focus that went into it, that I didn't care for the film. At all."

"The sense of revelation may not be there as it was with Rosetta," blogs Jonathan Romney for the Independent, "and the jurors may well be looking for something bigger and more of a statement - and there's no shortage of films like that in competition this year. But as a film that's very much about the new Europe, and the street-level problems that rarely get covered in film, Lorna certainly commands attention."

"On the one hand, it's good to see the Dardennes trying something new, something beyond their normal cast of working-class Belgian feckless ne'er-do-wells," writes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter. "On the other hand, it feels like they don't really know this new territory very well - neither in terms of the novel characters they're using, or the physical move to Liege from Seraing, the industrial town in which all their previous films have been set - giving Le Silence de Lorna a highly derivative feel. Throw an Italian mobster and a Russian mafioso into the mix, and the resulting stew feels very foreign indeed."

"[T]his new tale of immigration, sham marriages, heroin and murder strikes me as an intriguing misfire," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "The Dardennes' vision of downscale Liège is as intimate as ever - or as intimate as an anonymous middle-Europe of bus stations, hospitals, laundries and post-war apartment buildings can get - and the movie's mini-shocks are coolly effective. Dobroshi gives a brave and affecting performance, but there's something mechanistic and even cruel about Lorna's Silence, which is more like a thriller than any previous Dardenne film, and correspondingly a lot less plausible. Whatever moral points it's trying to make about the underside of European affluence are uncharacteristically murky."

Updates, 5/20: "Dobroshi is a revelation as the eyes-on-the-prize woman who finds her life spiralling out of control almost as much as that of the drug addict whom she had initially scorned," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "Renier has an amazing ability to give humanity to loser characters. Their scratchy relationship may seem implausible on paper, but because of terrific performances rings utterly true on screen."

"The Dardennes use the speed, movement and volatility of the handheld, mobile camera to examine interior consciousness," writes Patrick Z McGavin in Stop Smiling. "Their scenes play out in short burst of duration, with little cutting, the drama established in the tense relationship between the actors' bodies and the cameras.... Lorna's Silence is subtle, compelling and tense, but it's also a little limited to the point where I wish the Dardennes would push their work toward the unexplored."

For Anthony Kaufman, writing at indieWIRE, "the film doesn't have the raw, relentless energy of Rosetta or the powerfully redemptive climax of L'Enfant. To be sure, the film remains urgent and affecting, Lorna's growing sense of guilt and grief beautifully crescendos after some surprising turns of plot, and Dardennes newbies would certainly find in Lorna's Silence a bracing, delicate and profound human drama. But the prevailing sentiment among critics here is that Lorna's Silence doesn't have the same gut-wrenching kick as their previous work."

"It's not top-drawer Dardenne - the necessary tending to plot seems to have dulled their focus a bit - but it's quite good," blogs the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

Updates, 5/21: Fabien Lemercier has a brief talk with the Dardennes for Cineuropa.

"The film is an improvement on the formulaic L'Enfant and boasts an impressively naturalistic performance by Dobroshi, who could win the Best Actress award," writes Mary Corliss for Time.

Update, 5/22: Erica Abeel talks with the Dardennes for the IFC.

Update, 5/23: "The turn that the narrative eventually takes, while subtly and gracefully executed, yanks the film out of the realm of real life and into that of movie-world fiction," writes Matt Noller at the House Next Door. "It's not a disastrous move, but L'Enfant and The Son were so unbearably moving precisely because their stories of guilt and redemption were so grounded in reality. With Le Silence de Lorna, the Dardennes have become victims of their own greatness. For any other directors, it would be a triumph; for them, it's a slight step back."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 8:52 AM

Cannes. The Seven Days.

"The searing intensity of To Take a Wife turns into overly diffused heat in Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz's follow-up family drama The Seven Days," writes Variety's Jay Weissberg.

The Seven Days

"Revisiting the unhappy couple from the first extraordinary feature, the sibling helmers expand the characters and open a Pandora's Box of festering resentment and jealousies, creating so many highs and lows that the dramatic arc becomes a repetitive series of peaks and valleys."

"In what is once again a claustrophobic chamber piece, the camera is symbolically drawn back to show not only the tensions between Viviane and Eliahu, but the intricate fabric of an entire family squeezed together for a whole week, bristling under the pressure of traditions that have to be observed and nursing old resentments that have never been aired," writes Screen Daily. "This is an ambitious undertaking, dealing with so many characters and perhaps too many crises, and the plot is ultimately too thin, lacking the forceful, concentrated impact of To Take A Wife."

"Intensely observed, smartly choreographed and very well acted by a large ensemble cast, the film, which opened the Critics' Week sidebar at the Festival de Cannes, will attract attention at festivals and art houses but its lack of humor may test audiences' patience," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 8:19 AM

Cannes. Rumba.

"Like an episode of Sesame Street scripted by Luis Buñuel and helmed by Jacques Tati, Rumba turns dark tragedy into deadpan comedy through a series of surreal G-rated gags."

Rumba

Jordan Mintzer in Variety: "An impressive do-it-yourself feature about a couple fun-loving dance freaks whose careers are cut short by a nasty car accident, this clever, near-silent comedy should bop around plenty of fests after preeming in Cannes' Critics' Week."

"The gifted trio behind 2005's near-wordless burlesque romp L'Iceberg [Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Bruno Romy] avoids the second film slump with excellent comic posture in Rumba," writes in Screen Daily. "Adding well-placed dollops of dialogue to carefully-calibrated movement-based gags, Rumba's film-maker-performers have constructed a consistently droll, slightly surreal and entertaining universe."

"Perhaps the movie could best be considered a family entertainment - a little of something for everyone," writes Bernard Besserglik in the Hollywood Reporter. "One admires the commitment of the filmmakers and freshness of much of the material, but the rarified nature of the humor means that the movie never fully engages."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 8:06 AM

Cannes. Salt of This Sea.

"Boldly grabbing hold of the central issue at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict - namely, whose land it is that is being contended by both sides - Salt of This Sea will certainly make people talk, even while it fails to fully involve them in its artificial drama," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter.

Salt of This Sea

"Making her first feature film, Palestinian Annemarie Jacir shows she is a courageous director able to articulate Palestinian pain and longing to return to the land of their ancestors. But the drama of a Brooklyn-born waitress who naively travels to Ramallah and Israeli-occupied Jaffa to live in 'her homeland' is depressingly one-note, a story that never springs to life."

Updated through 5/22.

"The seductive scent of political correctness apparently overwhelmed judgment when Salt of This Sea began looking for coin, not to mention a festival berth," writes Variety's Jay Weissberg. "That the taste of Annemarie Jacir's feature debut should be bitter is completely understandable given the untenable Palestinian situation, but the heavy-handed, excessively didactic script plays like a primer for people only vaguely aware of the issues while overly confirmed in their righteousness."

Writing in Screen Daily, Lee Marshall finds it's "clearly made with passion and fuelled by a keen resentment at the plight of the Palestinian people. And the film has an authentic, colour-saturated sense of place. But this is not enough to turn an overlong travelogue-cum-manifesto with a flat romantic subplot into a convincing drama."

Un Certain Regard.

Update, 5/21: "The politics are plausible, the lead actors charming enough, and it's nice to see Palestine by sunset," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "But in its making, this is an all-too-familiar melodrama."

Update, 5/22: "Screenwriter William Goldman once instructively quipped that the most boring screenplay imaginable would be The Village of the Happy People; drama thrives on conflict and challenge and perishes from complacency and certainty," notes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "I was thinking about that during the Un Certain Regard selection Salt of this Sea, which might as well be called The Woman who was Always Right."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 7:49 AM

The Edge of Heaven.

The Edge of Heaven "A German filmmaker of Turkish descent, Fatih Akin has made hybrid cultures and hyphenated identities his great subject," writes Elbert Ventura at indieWIRE. "Head-On, his acclaimed breakthrough film from 2004, told a love story between two German Turks that wended its way back to the homeland. In The Edge of Heaven, his latest, the fixation on blurred borders and social dislocation continues on a larger canvas. Several characters shuttle back and forth between Turkey and Germany, even as the quest for home and rest seems increasingly quixotic. But let the overstuffed The Edge of Heaven be a lesson: Just multiplying and magnifying your obsessions does not make them any more powerful."

Updated through 5/25.

"The movie is like a Dickens novel with the ends of all the subplots lopped off," writes David Edelstein in New York: "The related characters (six of them) who improbably stray across one another's paths can't see the connections, and the harmonious resolutions you're expecting don't arrive. Frustrating! And yet those frustrations pay off. The Edge of Heaven is powerfully unsettled - it comes together by not coming together."

"Akin's movies, like the works of a major novelist, tend to seek out those thorny, intractable areas of private experience where politics is never going to gain more than a crumbling foothold," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "The Edge of Heaven is, in the best sense, mainstream cinema. It dives into the current that sweeps all of us along: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, anyone leaving home and aching to return."

"Apparently, Akin wanted to communicate a Message to the audience through the relationship between these characters," writes Louis Proyect. "In the press notes, he states that 'Literacy, education, plays a profound role' in his movie and that 'the key element' in the film is reading. Very high-minded stuff. It is too bad that it is not reflected through dramatic action. You're better off reading John Dewey."

Earlier: British reviews (February) and reviews from Cannes 07.

Updates, 5/20: For Steve Dollar, writing in the New York Sun, Edge is "a small masterpiece. Partly, that's because of the way [Akin] stays relentlessly focused on the individual, examining lives tossed up against an often unfathomable geopolitical matrix without ever losing sight of the tiny, finite details that compose their experience."

"While not as egregiously sentimental or simpleminded as another German political melodrama, The Lives of Others, it nearly defines all things political as not just personal, or even familial, but exclusively filial," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "Edge of Heaven seldom goes slack and is bolstered by one transcendent performance in its ensemble, but a certain patness of Akin's Cannes prize-winning screenplay is distancing. Its surviving characters may change their lives and forge new or renewed loves, but rather than singular personalities they're types familiar in cross-cultural movies: the Disillusioned Radical, the Thawed Academic, the Heartbroken/Healing Mother."

Updates, 5/21: "Mr Akin's previous fictional feature, Head-On, was a tour de force, driven by rage and sexual desire, that traveled over similar cultural and geographical terrain at ferocious velocity," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The Edge of Heaven has a wider scope and a more contemplative, deliberate mood, and if it doesn't match the brutal impact of Head-On it has a cumulative power, both intellectual and emotional, of its own. By the end you know the characters in it so well that you can't believe you've seen the movie only once, yet on a second viewing it seems completely new."

"Examining a Europe whose increasingly porous borders have drastically undermined a longstanding homogeneity is at the center of excellent recent work by Austria's Ulrich Seidl (Import/Export) and Britain's Shane Meadows (Somers Town)," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Both films still await a proper US release date, while writer-director Akin once again secures distribution (as he did for his punk-posturing 2004 Head-On) with pseudo-provocations and a superficially deceptive simulacra of Art."

Related news item: "Highly qualified professionals of Turkish descent are leaving Germany because they feel denied opportunities there. In contrast other countries, particularly Turkey, are vying for their talents," reports Michael Sontheimer for Der Spiegel. "Experts warn of the disastrous consequences of this 'fatal' brain drain."

Updates, 5/22: "Those expecting the punkish, masochistic energy of Head-On, with its car-crashing and wrist-cutting and club-hopping, may be a bit surprised by this new film's more measured and contemplative tone," writes Mike D'Angelo at Screengrab. "All the same, Akin's keen intelligence, his sensitivity to cultural dislocation and his skill with actors are all still very much in evidence."

"The Edge of Heaven is unabashedly emotional and patterned around recurring structures and recurring themes and its deep well of sorrow as well as Akin's superbly expressive filmmaking—framing and cutting and a generous eye for the features of city streets and besorrowed faces—demonstrates bold use of craft." Ray Pride talks with Akin for Filmmaker.

"Like Head-On, Edge's final third suffers from a sudden loss of energy, because Akin is the kind of dude who takes concepts like 'redemption' and 'remorse' as seriously as only an alpha male can, which means his previously energetic characters suddenly spend a lot of time staring into space aimlessly," writes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "Alternately galvanizing and turgid, Edge works as giddy melodrama and State Of The EU tract - we're going to be seeing a lot of these in the years to come. Akin's film could benefit from one of the Economist's dispassionate appraisals and explications, but it has enough dramatic steam of its own to travel well."

Updates, 5/23: "The Edge of Heaven's final part is less spectacular by design, and feels a little forced at times, but Akin's multigenerational cast helps give the story a touching sense of perspective," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"Akin, like RWF, updates melodrama," writes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "What distinguishes The Edge of Heaven is that fear, rather than consuming its characters, is vanquished by them."

"The Edge of Heaven is another wondrous creation from one of the world's most versatile writer-directors," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail.

Update, 5/24: "His films have done nothing but improve," argues Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical: "his 2000 romantic comedy In July was a delightful summer road movie with a fairly predictable conclusion. His 2005 film Head-On started out like a similar situation romance, but suddenly switched to something more dire and engaging. And now The Edge of Heaven is his most accomplished film yet."

Updates, 5/25: Mark Olsen talks with Akin for the Los Angeles Times.

"[T]he form and content don't mesh at all; the way Faith Akin tells this Turkish-German story could hardly be more generic," argues Steve Erickson in Gay City News.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:28 AM | Comments (3)

Cannes. Je veux voir.

"Where is Ali G or Borat to do a post-screening interview with Catherine Deneuve about this doc in which she takes a field-trip through the war rubble of Lebanon?" asks Duane Byrge, reviewing Je veux voir for the Hollywood Reporter.

Je veux voir

"Ali G wants to know: Will a new cutting-edge fragrance emerge from the adventure; will Mid-east peace talks be spurred by the appearance of an international star amid the ruins, will her hoop ear-rings inspire Hillary Clinton to spruce up her pants-suit ensemble; will the trek inspire reality-show producers to launch Paris Hilton into Darfur?"

Updated through 5/23.

"The idea here is surreal," concedes Howard Feinstein in Screen Daily. "The film-making couple of [Joana] Hadjithomas and [Khalil] Joreige, who proved their imaginative skills with the 2005 Lebanese-set fiction A Perfect Day, succeeded in making it happen. And brilliantly."

"An uneasy mix of scripted scenario, improvisation and surprising reality, pic professes to want to show destruction wrought during Lebanon's 2006 summer war through the French star's eyes, but seems more concerned with capturing her image as she's trundled about," writes Alissa Simon. "Mostly as stiff as her perfectly coifed hair, a tired-looking Deneuve appears as if she feels every bump in the road."

Un Certain Regard.

Update, 5/23: James Mottram profiles Deneuve for the London Times.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:54 AM

May 18, 2008

Cannes. Tokyo Sonata.

"Kiyoshi Kurosawa's previous film Retribution (Sakebi, 2006) carried a distinct air of farewell," writes Tom Mes in Midnight Eye. "Farewell to a genre that its director loved intensely but which seemed to become an increasingly restrictive straitjacket."

Tokyo Sonata

"A two-year break later, the arrival of Tokyo Sonata seems to confirm the impression. The story of a salaryman who keeps up appearances to his family after he has been laid off, it is entirely devoid of anything vaguely supernatural.... Yet it is without doubt the most terrifying film Kiyoshi Kurosawa has ever made."

Updated through 5/22.

"Though there's nothing here that hasn't been dealt with in other Japanese movies, pic benefits considerably from its pitch-perfect performances - especially [Teruyuki] Kagawa as the diminutive, wild-eyed paterfamilias, and the graceful [Kyoko] Koizumi as the wife in desparate need of companionship," writes Derek Elley in Variety. "Kurosawa's skill (seen in his best J-horrors) at suggesting so much more than appears onscreen is a further plus, without going into the mystical realms of his earlier non-horror, Bright Future."

Jason Gray posts his January feature for Screen International as a zipped image.

Un Certain Regard.

Updates, 5/19: "It may seem incongruous for a filmmaker best known for his horror efforts to give us a drama as humane - and funny - as Toyko Sonata; then again, horror and humor are both exercises in tension, and Kurosawa demonstrates his understanding of that with true skill here," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Tokyo Sonata's been one of the most unexpected surprises of the Un Certain Regard selection at Cannes this year, and one of the most delightful."

"This may be Kurosawa's most accessible film yet," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. "Thanks to the script which invests the smallest scenes with dramatic significance, Tokyo Sonata enthrals audiences for the first hour with the pacing of a thriller. Though depicted reactions of families galvanized by financial hardship are as Japanese as tea ceremony or Pachinko, the film's comment on global economic issues is universal."

"Kurosawa has often hinted, in earlier pictures, that he smells something rotten in his homeland, and this time he tackles the issue front-on - by the time he has finished, there he is precious little hope left," writes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily.

"[T]he real surprise is not the shift in genre from horror to drama, but from influence, from Tarkovsky to Tati," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "The result is one of the most eccentric and successful tragicomedies in recent memory."

Update, 5/22: "The film's surprising final narrative turn - with its outbreak of violence (however non-threatening) - vaguely recalls the genre work for which Kurosawa is most known (Cure, Pulse)," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "What's more illuminating about the film, however, is the straightforward family dynamics - a downsized salaryman who keeps his unemployment a secret and his young outspoken son, whose creative passions suggest an ultimately hopeful Japanese future, as long as it's not squashed by the insecurities of the older generation."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:40 PM

Cannes, 5/18.

Cannes "We've seen a number of truly terrific pictures here this year, but there is a danger that they will eventually start to blur, that we'll sit on the plane at the end convinced that all we've sat through is one extraordinarily long movie about cartoon hunger strikers who've gone blind and are being forced to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks.

Twitch's Todd Brown roams the market and finds a few promising items. More.

Films-so-far roundups: Anthony Kaufman (indieWIRE), Jonathan Romney (Independent) and Jason Solomons (Observer).

News & biz roundups: Charlotte Higgins (Guardian) and IndieWIRE (more).

Notes: Erica Abeel (Filmmaker), Eugene Hernandez, Peter Knegt, Anne Thompson (Variety) and Steven Zeitchik (Hollywood Reporter).

Online viewing tip. Mark Kermode is vlogging from his balcony.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:58 AM

Cannes. Gomorrah.

"Powerful, stripped to its very essence and featuring a spectacular cast (of mostly non-professionals), Matteo Garrone's sixth feature film Gomorrah goes beyond Tarantino's gratuitous violence and even Scorsese's Hollywood sensibility in depicting the everyday reality of organized crime's foot soldiers."

Gomorrah

Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter: "The characters of the film's five stories all work for the Camorra - the Neapolitan 'mafia' behind over 4,000 murders in 30 years in Italy, and countless illegal activities - and besides being extremely dangerous are relentless, petty and anything but wise."

Updated through 5/25.

"Probably the most authentic and unsentimental mafia movie ever to come out of Italy, Gomorrah is a courageous, bruising and harrrowing ride," writes Lee Marshall in Screen Daily. "But the film suffers from its own bravery: in adapting Roberto Saviano's bestselling book for the screen, Matteo Garrone and his five co-scripters (including Saviano himself, currently living under police protection) have jettisoned the journalistic context of the Neapolitan Camorra war and left us only with the dog-eat-dog, carpe-diem chaos of life in the crime-ridden suburbs of Scampia and Secondigliano. Like the white powder used and traded by many of its protagonists, Gomorrah provides a kick-in-the-head rush but no lasting buzz."

"Utilizing a mesmerizing documentary style that studiously avoids glamorizing the horrors, Garrone cherrypicks episodes from Saviano's muckraking tract, building to a chillingly matter-of-fact crescendo of violence, though interwoven tales tend to dissipate the full force of the criminal Camorra families' insidious control," writes Jay Weissberg in Variety. "While the Sicilian Mafia has drawn the lion's share of media attention over the years, it's the Camorra families of Naples who have really created an oligarchy of power and violence, controlling lives and entire economies not just in Italy but worldwide - their profits are estimated at over $233 billion per year.... But Garrone is clearly more interested in how the average inhabitant becomes drawn into the cycle of corruption and violence. Wads of cash regularly turn up in Gomorrah, but the trappings of wealth are nowhere to be seen: no fancy villas, no flashy jewels or expensive meals, since the Camorra's dough never really trickles down to the foot soldiers."

Competing.

Updates, 5/19: "With dozens of characters bulleting around (most of them male, most of them not terribly bright, many of them dead before too long), it's not an action or crime movie so much as a pesudo-documentary on interspecies aggression," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "With rich, real characters. Sort of like if Robert Altman had directed The Godfather. (And I mean sort of)."

This is "a dynamite reinvention of the Italian Mafioso movie as both a multileveled social melodrama and an Antonioni-style nihilistic contemplation," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Many critics here found themselves disoriented by Gomorra, but I'm sure that's the director's intention. This isn't one of those crime operas with a cast of finely drawn mini-Lears and mini-Hamlets to follow.... [I]t's hard to avoid seeing it as a broader commentary on Italy's recent social and political paralysis. Furthermore, Gomorra blends the disparate traditions of Italian cinema - the crime drama, the melodrama, the art film - more adeptly than any movie from that country in recent memory."

Updates, 5/20: Gomorrah is "the best movie I've seen at this year's festival, as well as a furious and brilliant engagement with the times in which we live," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Gomorrah is also something of a rebuke to fans of The Sopranos and the countless other television programs, movies and books that traffic in the mythology of organized crime.... And while this complicated, multistranded story is saturated with local detail, its implications resonate further."

"The complex intercutting yields a cascading and revealing sense of how power, fear and the constant specter of death govern the daily activities," writes Patrick Z McGavin in Stop Smiling. "I didn't recognize any of the actors, but the bodies and faces are all possessed of an eerie verisimilitude."

"Gomorra may be better than your standard variety mob picture, but the plot strands themselves aren't remarkable," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "Ultimately, the film stands out because of its meticulous attention to detail."

Updates, 5/21: "Gomorra shows a charmless, down-and-dirty, ruthlessly capitalistic organization where all but the worst are always busting their backs and the good times are few (and often cost, dearly)," writes Glenn Kenny. "The movie's overt yoking of capitalism to criminality boasts the advantage of having a preponderance of facts on its side; one delights in imagining the fulminations of protest this picture might inspire in a glib Randroid free-market cheerleader like Megan McArdle. Its particular social conscience aside, this is an instant genre classic that I dearly hope sees American distribution."

For Boyd van Hoeij (european-films.net), this is "one of the most incisive organised-crime films to emerge from any country since the 1970s" and perhaps "the first Italian hyperlink film since that term was coined a few years ago.... Like the Godfather films, Gomorra looks at organised crime from the inside out, which leaves it up to the audience to decide whether to sympathise with people who are essentially criminals. (Except as extras, police are nowhere in sight and never seem to be on anyone’s mind either.) Certainly, it is possible to find recognisable human behaviour in the many people that populate Gomorra's streets, whether it be their fears, their loyalty or their lust for money, power and revenge."

Online listening tip. In the May 18 NYT Book Review podcast, Rachel Donadio talks about the popularity of Saviano's book in Italy (still waiting to be discovered by many readers in the US) and what it's cost him.

Online viewing tip. Cineuropa has the (un-sub-titled) trailer.

"Normally, comparing a film to a television program's intended as a slight, a knock against a film that didn't have the sweep and scope you'd expect to witness on the big screen, but when I compare director Matteo Garrone's Gomorra to The Wire, I hope you'll recognize I mean it as a compliment," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Set in the provinces around Naples, where the crime organization known as the Cammora is not parallel to the everyday workings of society but instead is the everyday workings of society, Gomorra's a sweeping, stirring drama that has the shoot-and-loot tension of the best crime cinema but also has the scope and serious intent of great drama."

Update, 5/22: Online listening tip. The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Garrone - and predicts Gomorrah will win the Palme d'Or.

Update, 5/25: The Observer's Jason Solomons is sticking by his guns: "By some distance, the best film at this 61st Cannes Film Festival was Gomorra."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 11:40 AM

Cannes. Serbis.

"Taking place mostly in a porno theater ironically, yet fittingly, named Family, Serbis is part homage to cinema, part intimate domestic drama that vividly details the tangled relations and all-too human frailties of an extended family running a theater in the provincial Philippines."

Serbis

Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter: "Director Brillante Mendoza continues the neo-realist vein of Foster Child and Sling Shot in Serbis, but displays marked improvement - both the grunge aesthetic and film language now bear his personal handwriting. To this, he adds some bristling sexuality, both gay and straight."

"Since he shifted from production design to directing with The Masseur (2005), a static misfire about a gay massage parlor in the provinces of his native Philippines, Mendoza has made up for lost time by cranking out four films since (including one documentary), all low-budget, showing mastery in a variety of genres," writes Howard Feinstein in Screen Daily. "With Serbis (Service), his first feature with foreign (French) backing, he has taken a giant step in the wrong direction, even if The Masseur's numbing stasis has been supplanted by an unpleasant, ADD-like dynamism."

"Explicit fellatio, blocked toilets and a crudely exploded ass-cheek boil form some of the more unsavory elements of “Service,” Brillante Mendoza’s latest opus that revels in shock value," warns Variety's Jay Weissberg. "Moving into pseudo-Tsai Ming-liang territory is unlikely to win the prolific helmer further converts."

Competing.

Update, 5/19: "As an environmental experience, Serbis has a peculiar voyeuristic draw, and that noisy soundtrack turns into a drone that has a near-trance effect," writes Glenn Kenny. "The hypnotic tedium of a life lived in underdevelopment and sensory overload and most likely oppressive humidity is, finally, effectively evoked. Beyond that, the viewer is out of luck."

Updates, 5/23: "For me, Brillante Mendoza's depiction of 24 hours in the life of a struggling porn cinema in Manila was one of the highlights of the festival," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "Shooting inside a beautiful Art Deco theatre, Mendoza not only shows a flair for evoking its strange and glamorous interiors, but offers high-end soap opera, at once nuanced, funny and melancholic, about this religion-soaked, sexually ambiguous world governed by sad-eyed matriarchs."

"I pulled my first D'Angelo of the festival by walking out of this miserable slog, which has been racking up the most universally vicious reviews of the festival," writes Matt Noller at the House Next Door.

Update, 6/1: Online viewing tip. Noel Vera points to clips in which Mendoza "talks about the source material for the film (the porn theaters that inspired his premise), and the sound problems noted by some critics, which he maintains is actually an immersive statement, and how surprised he was to have shocked the Cannes audience."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 10:14 AM

Cannes. Cloud 9.

"[S]ure, you have to be willing to watch old people have sex," grants the Boston Globe's the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

Cloud 9

"A lot of it. Fairly explicitly, too. Which, in a culture that says only strapping youth and firm skin can and should be contemplated, makes Cloud 9 something of a rebel yell."

"The 30-year itch proves to be pretty much like the seven-year version in German director Andreas Dresen's Cloud 9, a cautionary tale about infidelity that suggests the temptations and pleasures are the same but so may be the consequences," writes Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter.

"Wisely, pic doesn't spend any time leading up to or justifying the coup de foudre between Inge and Karl: crux of the story is her decision whether to go with a relationship that has revived her spirit or stay in one that is safe but predictable," writes Variety's Derek Elley. "Only the ending seems dramatically over-contrived compared with the downplayed material to that point."

"Andreas Dresen stays fairly close in approach to his other slice-of-German-life films such as Willenbrock and Sommer vorm Balkon (Summer in Berlin), though for once references to East Germany or the division of the country are completely absent," notes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net.

Reviews in German.

Un Certain Regard.

Update, 5/21: "The movie moves at [70-year-old] Werner's pace, but its eye for character is clear and its heart strong," writes Richard Corliss for Time.

Update, 5/27: "Can a love story for the geriatric set be as engaging as an affair romp about sexy young people? It certainly can," argues Kim Voynar in Cinematical.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 10:05 AM

Cannes. The Chaser.

The Chaser "Possessed of the same bloody fatalism that pulses through many a Korean crimer, and topped by Kim Yoon-suk's star-making performance as a lowlife racing to save a woman's life, The Chaser [site] is a grisly serial-killer thriller that develops into a howl of outrage at the ineptitude of the system," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "Drawing both white-knuckle tension and moral anguish from a maddening succession of red herrings and wrong turns, Na Hong-jin's overlong but accomplished debut feature has been a runaway hit at home, and should chase down plenty of offshore bookings before its eventual US remake by Warner Bros."

Updated through 5/21.

"Some kind soul really ought to have taken first-time director Na Hong-jin aside during some point in the creation of this film and told him that Oldboy both opened and closed the book on hammer violence in Korean film," suggests Glenn Kenny. "For it is the hammer violence, at the picture's beginning and end, that helps sickeningly sink what could have been an engaging hybrid of Detective Story and The President's Last Bang.... Without giving too much away, the last twenty minutes had my seatmates and I muttering 'Jesus!' over and over."

"Na Hong-jin's promising but over-long debut is reminiscent of Bong Joon-ho's highly-regarded Memories of Murder and may possibly achieve similar returns," writes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily. "What it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for with plenty of action and wild chases which propel it towards a predictably gory climax."

A Midnight Screening.

Updates, 5/19: "The Chaser overturns genre conventions like tables in a saloon brawl - for one, the killer's nabbed in the first half of the film and, unprompted, quickly confesses," writes Alison Willmore. "Most of the suspense comes from whether or not the astronomically incompetent police force will be able to come up with evidence to actually arrest him - since he was brought in without a warrant, they have to prove he did the things he claims within 12 hours, or he walks.... From all of this, first-time director Na teases out some pitch-dark comedy."

"The climax is in the first act," notes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. "It contains a chilling mis-en-scene of dark foliage that is a veritable fallen eden, a thrilling montage that crosscuts between the killer's attack and the pimp's frantic search, and the action lives up to its title with a heart-stopping and brilliantly edited chase through alleys and steps. The narrative loses steam midway and only clicks into place when the pimp's race to find the survivor converges with the killer's comeback."

IndieWIRE reports that IFC Films has picked up The Chaser.

Update, 5/21: "[F]ascinatingly ambiguous." Charlie Prince gets into it at Cinema Strikes Back.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 9:55 AM

Cannes/Summer 08. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Previous entries gathering reviews of the then-current week's blockbusters, plus notes on this summer's movies in general: Iron Man, Speed Racer and Prince Caspian.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

"Best appreciated as a pulp prequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind... no, I can't," sighs Glenn Kenny...

Updated through 5/25.

"I mean the thing kind of is that, but the fourth Indy installment isn't really an attempt to retroactively create a Spielberg omniverse. But David Koepp's script, from a story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson and Hergé and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Erich von Däniken and Carl Stephenson and... well, you get the idea... does tie together a good number of Spielbergian themes into an eventually pretty nifty package. Yeah - this is, by my sights, the most fun and least irritating installment of the series since the first one."

"The world can rest easy - the old magic still works in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull [site]," announces Allan Hunter in Screen Daily. "It may take some breathless, helter-skelter action to redeem the opening hour's clunky storytelling, but the first Indy adventure in almost twenty years is like a fond reunion with an old friend and will not disappoint diehard fans or deter a new generation from embracing it as a summer blockbuster adventure ride."

"Aliens and a space ship mix it up with unaccountably well-lit caves, tumbles over waterfalls and swings through a jungle that would cause Tarzan to gape," notes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "Director Steven Spielberg seems intent on celebrating his entire early career here. Whatever the story there is, a vague journey to return a spectacular archeological find to its rightful home - an unusual goal of the old grave-robber, you must admit - gets swamped in a sea of stunts and CGI that are relentless as the scenes and character relationships are charmless."

"Sunday's world premiere was met with roaring approval, and any critical sniping will be deftly deflected by adoring audiences," reports Charles Ealy at the Austin Movie Blog.

Eric Kohn actually live-blogged the screening - spoilers galore.

Screening Out of Competition.

FILMdetail gathers notes, clips, just all sorts of things related to the Indiana Jones series.

At Cinematical, Christopher Campbell looks back on the "lost art of the serial."

Jonathan Lapper posts some concept art for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In the Guardian, David Thomson considers Harrison Ford's career.

For the Los Angeles Times, Peter Rainer profiles Spielberg; Paul Brownfield, Karen Allen.

The Toronto Star's Peter Howell talks with Allen and with Harrison Ford.

Online viewing tip. Anne Thompson meets Allen.

Online viewing tips. Loïc Le Meur gathers Seesmic interview with Spielberg, Ford, Lucas, Shia Laboeuf, Allen and Cate Blanchett.

To be continued below...


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Meantime, on with the summer: "Here's to the extremes of cinema," writes Fernando F Croce. "I watched the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer not long after Eric Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, and the switch proved to be more illuminating than jarring."

Indy 4

Updates: "[N]o critic's negative review will keep people from seeing this film - and yet, at the same time, no amount of enthusiasm or expectation or nostalgia can make up for the things that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets wrong in its strained effort to throw Indiana Jones back up on the big screen," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Spielberg and Lucas have stated that there's a minimal amount of digital trickery in Crystal Skull, but it's like hearing someone in the throes of labor testifying to their virginity between contractions... [Spielberg] may have done the impossible here; out of all his films, good and bad, Crystal Skull feels like the first one without a single shred of his personality in it, as if it were just another big, bland, expensive action movie."

"There are scenes in the new movie that seem like stretching exercises at a retirement home; there are garrulous stretches, and even the title seems a few words too long," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "But once it gets going, Crystal Skull delivers smart, robust, familiar entertainment. Ford looks just fine, his chest skin tanned to a rich Corinthian leather; he's still lithe on his feet, and can deliver a wisecrack as sharp as a whipcrack. Karen Allen, 56, who was Indy's saucy love Marion Ravenwood in Raiders, still has that glittering smile and vestiges of her old elfin swagger. They needn't break a sweat keeping up with the (relative) kids: 39-year-old Cate Blanchett, the movie's villainess, and Shia LaBeouf, who plays the young lead Mutt Williams, and who may be tapped to continue the series after Ford's retirement - at least that's what Lucas hinted a few days ago here in Cannes."

"One of the most eagerly and long-awaited series follow-ups in screen history delivers the goods - not those of the still first-rate original, 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, but those of its uneven two successors," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "As has been well chronicled, Spielberg and exec producer George Lucas went through no end of writers and story concepts before plausibly updating the action precisely the same number of years as have elapsed since Last Crusade, to 1957, smack dab in the middle of the Cold War. US versus USSR dynamic spurs the dynamite opening action sequence... Like the bravura opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan this smashing launch sets a standard the rest of the film has some trouble living up to."

"As a femme viewer I'd have liked more of the bicker-banter from the first installment," writes Anne Thompson. Still: "The film is directed with expert, Spielbergian precision and panache."

Cinematical's Kim Voynar reports on the press conference.

"It could shape up as the story of the summer," suggests the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik: "a new franchise from a character few had heard of (Iron Man), is snappy, original and complex. A revived franchise the entire planet knows about feels tired and mechanical."

"Since I'm not much of a fan of the Indiana Jones films, I went to a preview of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with dread, watched it with a mixture of nostalgia and bemusement, and left shrugging my shoulders," blogs Carrie Rickey.

"What made the Indiana Jones series so fresh and amusing back in the 80s was its lightness of touch and its tongue-in-cheek, 'ripping yarns' spirit," writes David Gritten. "That hasn't quite disappeared, but there's an awful lot of long-winded explanations of myths, legend and hieroglyphics in this story about Indy's mission to Peru for a crystal skull that's allegedly the fount of all knowledge. Thus, between a series of stunt-driven set pieces, many of them implausibly linked, the film gets bogged down in wearying talk."

Also in the Telegraph, Anita Singh: '[I]'s not as bad as everyone feared, but not as great as everyone hoped."

For the Boston Globe's Ty Burr, this is "grand old-school fun - a rollicking class reunion that stands as the second best entry in the venerable series.... Character and star may have aged two decades since the last installment, but bullets still miss the good guys with astonishing regularity, and Indiana Jones may be the only person who could escape a desert nuclear test site with an A-bomb due to land in ten seconds. How he manages this makes no blessed sense, but it's a hoot anyway."

"What they've done is certainly okay or good enough," writes Jeffrey Wells. "I didn't go into this thing expecting something by Euripides. Plus I had such a good time with Spielberg's immaculate architecture, choreography and editing that I was just charmed and off-the-ground during much of it. The 'old-school' character of it is pretty damn sublime. It felt wonderful to watch an adventure flick untouched or uninfluenced by time or post-Matrix or Tarantino-ish attitudes."

"It's the summer's most-anticipated film, the latest in a beloved series that's earned $1.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Add in a premiere at the most prestigious of international film festivals, and the wonder of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that it avoids being an anticlimax and is entertaining in its own right.... [T]he real heroes of this film are director Steven Spielberg and the veritable army of superb technicians who turn the film's numerous stunts and special effects into trains that insist on running on time."

"[W]hen Lucas and Spielberg launched this series in 1981, they were pioneers," Andrew O'Hehir reminds us in Salon. "Adventure movies had been left behind by the self-serious American cinema of the 70s, and they were the guys who were bringing them back. In the years since then, the world's filmgoers have gorged themselves on adventure movies, cheap ones and mind-blowingly expensive ones and every gradation in between.... In a sense, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has to get by on its nostalgia appeal - nostalgia for an earlier style of filmmaking, nostalgia for an aging and beloved character, even nostalgia for an older and more innocent form of nostalgia - which is an odd path to success for a $125 million motion picture."

Indy 4 Updates, 5/19: "What I want is goofy action - lots of it," writes Roger Ebert. "I want man-eating ants, swordfights between two people balanced on the backs of speeding jeeps, subterranean caverns of gold, vicious femme fatales, plunges down three waterfalls in a row, and the explanation for flying saucers. And throw in lots of monkeys.... I can say that if you liked the other Indiana Jones movies, you will like this one, and that if you did not, there is no talking to you."

"The immensely entertaining Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gives you the same sort of pleasurable rush - a potent mix of nostalgia-fueled glee and in-the-moment excitement - that you can get from a really great concert by a favorite band that first started charting in the 1980s," writes Joe Leydon. "That is, provided it's a concert where (a) the original players are obviously and unashamedly older, but still at the top of the their form, (b) they play both the oldies and the new stuff with the same full-out, rock-the-house energy, (c) the new members of the group fit in seamlessly because they've got the same beat, and (d) a bandmate who left the group a few albums back makes a welcome return midway through the performance."

"Unlike the calamitous Star Wars prequel trilogy, this film doesn't trash our treasured memories, but it doesn't add anything either," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "In fact, it seems like a very, very long extra ending, like the six or seven Peter Jackson tacked on to his The Return of the King."

Matt Dentler finds it "by far the most sentimental of the four installments, a film about generations of family. Likewise, it ends up being the lightest in tone, not as sarcastic as Last Crusade and much easier to swallow than the dark flourishes in Temple of Doom."

"The most striking thing to me about Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that it is, in spite of claims otherwise made, a CG version of an Indiana Jones movie," writes David Poland. "And this changes a great deal about what was so very pleasurable about the first three films."

The AICN triple whammy: Harry Knowles, Moriarty and Quint.

At Cinematical, Peter Martin offers "recollections of watching Indiana Jones through the years."

Time presents its "2008 Summer Arts Preview."

"Smitten With a Whip: Three Appreciations of Indiana Jones." At the House Next Door: Odienator, Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich.

At Hollywood Bitchslap: Peter Sobczynski and Erik Childress.

"A rainy day, one can't help but wonder where this late-blooming avidness for Spielberg has come from, having begun to emerge with his films A.I. and Minority Report," writes Emmanuel Burdeau in the Cahiers du cinéma Cannes diary. "Of course there is the fact that the filmmaker has become melancholy, even morbid of late, constantly retelling the same story about the lost child and the unworthy father. But still, that isn't enough to justify the type of love shown to someone who remains above all, to speak like Jean-Claude Biette, a great director, even more than a great filmmaker: all you need to see is the first hour of The War of the Worlds. Few have his logistical sense, his organization of image."

Paul Matwychuk and Nicola Simpson Khullar have a talk about Indy 4.

Chris Barsanti has a few bullet points.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Updates, 5/20: First and foremost for today's round, the Indiana Jones Blog-a-Thon is up and running at Cerebral Mastication, and has been for a few days now, so there's plenty to delve into.

"The most bizarre plot element in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn't have anything to do with extraterrestrials or the existence of El Dorado or even Shia LaBeouf's comb-wielding hommage a Marlene Dietrich in Dishonored - all of which do figure in the movie," finds the Boston Globe's Mark Feeney. "No, it's a thankfully short-lived subplot about the FBI suspecting Indy of being a security threat."

"[W]hile it's hardly the best of the series (not that we were expecting it to be), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull delivers an irresistible infusion of matinee-style mayhem that, really, we don't get enough of these days," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical.

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like an old romance re-kindled," writes Mike Russell. "The pleasure is still there, informed by nostalgia, but that pleasure is also... complicated. Messier."

"At times, Crystal Skull proves that it can classically rock, and an automotive chase through and around the Yale campus has some especially ecstatic get-up-and-go," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "As with Live Free or Die Hard, however, computerized spectacle undercuts one of the series's basic pleasures: the woundable humanity of its protagonist."

"Fantastic first 30 minutes, almost perfect in every way," finds Yair Raveh. "But then loses steam. Lots of steam."

At Cinema Strikes Back, Charlie Prince is "happy to report it doesn't suck."

Another Summer 08 movie preview: The Boston Globe.

Updates, 5/21: "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is as joyless as its predecessors were blissful," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "Its sole intention seems to be the launching of a new franchise with LaBeouf's Mutt as heir to his father's fedora."

"You know how watching a sub-standard James Bond movie can make you feel like you're watching a 007 rip-off?" asks Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has that same kind of hollowness, as if you were watching an action-adventure from someone who had borrowed all of Steven Spielberg's script beats and pyrotechnics and none of the joy."

But for Bruce Bennett, writing in the New York Sun, the film's "not bad. In fact, it's good. Very good. There's nothing like a rousing mainstream movie that is actually rousing, and for most of its 120 minutes, Indy 4, as it's been dubbed, is fun, funny, harrowing, and imaginative, and it sustains a relentless pace."

"[W]hat a relief that Crystal Skull turns out to be a serviceable little nostalgia piece," writes Sean Burns. "I'm not sure there's any compelling reason for it to exist, but nowadays the summer movie landscape has grown so cluttered with gargantuan, visually incoherent behemoths, Indy's relative modesty is disarming. It's a fun night out at the movies, no more than that—but certainly no less." Also in the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge lists "Six action movies featuring actors way above the traditional age limit."

"Exuberantly executed anachronisms, the earlier Jones adventures happily bore the hokiness of their serial inspiration: the legends, the bullet-showered escapes, the sets, the moral at the end," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "In the thankless task of making a long-delayed follow-up in his earlier image, Spielberg - always hit-or-miss with (explicit) sequels - has made an overcautious movie, comfort food for some tastes but not very fresh."

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Updates, 5/22: "There's plenty of frantic energy here, lots of noise and money too, but what's absent is any sense of rediscovery, the kind that's necessary whenever a filmmaker dusts off an old formula or a genre standard," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "As expected, the high leaps and long jumps look impressive, even if it's something of a bummer when one of the best directors working today (Mr Spielberg) doesn't seem to be working as hard as the stunt crew. Initially, I thought he was bored with the material (he wouldn't be alone), but now I think he's just grown out of this kind of sticky kids' stuff."

"[T]here is something oddly moving about the dedication, diligence and inventiveness that Spielberg pours into every frame of the movie's mounting," counters Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "I will admit I didn't allow myself to be quite so impressed by the director's exacting expertise two decades ago. Granted, Spielberg was always a wizard in combining physical action with expressive compositions and dazzling camera choreography (as well as other formal elements including John Williams's sometimes trite but always effective scores). Back then, this all looked like empty prestidigitation and commercial cunning. Today, in context, it can seem as personal and purposeful as the craft of John Ford's Stagecoach."

"As one who considers Spielberg among the most immensely gifted moviemakers of his generation, I've never been convinced that the Indiana Jones movies find him working at (or anywhere near) his personal best," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "At the end of the day, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is nothing if not consistent - taking care of business solidly, professionally and without a lick of the genuine wonderment or inspiration that you can find in surplus in Jon Favreau's Spielberg-influenced Iron Man. But we're also (relievedly) a long way away here from the strenuous self-importance of the Bruckheimer-era blockbuster, and one should never look even such modest gift horses in the mouth."

"No mainstream filmmaker since Orson Welles can touch Steven Spielberg when it comes to camera movement and composition - or, more precisely, to composition that gets more vivid as the camera moves," blogs David Edelstein. He then describes a shot that is "the work of a man with film storytelling in his blood. What a bummer when the story he has to tell is such a cosmic nothing."

For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek,

it miraculously pulled off the effect of feeling like a surprise: The picture both fulfilled some vague, unexpressed hopes I didn't know I had and also left me with the sense that I'd just seen something I wasn't quite prepared for - the kind of contradiction that great showmanship can bridge. In a movie climate that seeks to promise bigger, bolder thrills, Crystal Skull daringly offers less, in the sense that it gives us action sequences that rely on visual logic rather than lots of fast cutting; its computer-generated effects are used with relative judiciousness; and it features human faces that actually look human - in other words, they belong to people who have aged, visibly, with the rest of us. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, made by a man who's amassed a great deal of money exploring the dreams and fears of childhood, and featuring a one-time action hero who's now in his 60s, is an adventure about the inevitability of adulthood - but if you put that on a poster, almost nobody would come.

"[L]ogistics match dialectics and we knowingly behold contemporary myth," declares Armond White. Related: The New York Press's Jerry Portwood blogs about editing White (and sorting through the hate mail) and points to John Lingan's interview with White for Splice Today.

"As someone who, as a boy, spent countless hours whipping invisible Nazis in the backyard, and clinging to the family station wagon in an imaginary dash to Cairo, it pains me to announce that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a dud." Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger.

"Some things about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are nearly irrefutable," argues Chris Barsanti at PopMatters. "First, Cate Blanchett does a fantastic Greta Garbo. Second, swarms of deadly ants are possibly scarier than tombs full of venomous asps. But most important is this: the audience opened their hearts and expectations to this film because 'they' (Hollywood) in fact doesn't make them like they used to. Maybe they never did. But with moviegoers facing a grim season of pallid CGI battle-toons like The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Prince Caspian, even the problematic adventures of one Indiana Jones can feel like a rich banquet in comparison." More from Bill Gibron.

"They didn't take the bait offered by Casino Royale or The Bourne Ultimatum and attempt to shoehorn Dr Jones into a frenetic, circa-2008 thrill-ride," and Jason Kottke is all the happier for it.

"Each new Spielberg film inevitably occasions some serious think-piece writing about the latest addition to the oeuvre of the most loved and hated American director currently at work," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Stop Smiling. "Having recently caught up on some Spielberg films I've missed over the years I must admit to being more baffled by him than ever - how could such a savvy creator of pop culture that's both unabashedly awe-inspiring (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and deeply disturbing (AI: Artificial Intelligence) raise suspicions that he's just trotting out an old cash cow for one more milking?"

"It may suffer from a script that's both overstuffed and underdeveloped, but at its best - in happily preposterous action scenes staged with speed-demon verve, punctuated by slapstick punchlines - the jolly Indiana Jones offers the pleasure of a master horsing around with a long-stored train set, tickled to see he can still make the thing run," writes Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene.

"Even as the movie occasionally trips over its nostalgias, it's still a likable, if unremarkable, entertainment, a pleasant echo of past delights," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr.

Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "The movie, like the series overall, goes from a bang to a whimper."

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal is probably the worst of the Indiana Jones movies, but it's still pretty much a delight, from the beginning almost until the end," writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle.

Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper: "To answer the obvious questions off the bat: Yes, there's too much CGI; no, it doesn't ruin the film; yes, Harrison Ford both recognizes his age and still manages the requisite action; no, Shia LeBeouf isn't intolerable; and yes, this is a worthy successor to the original trilogy capable of being embraced by lifelong fans."

Updates, 5/23: Noel Murray and Keith Phipps present a Spielberg primer at the AV Club.

Indy 4 "sends you out as it should - exhausted and happy - and you won't begin to think about its flaws for hours," writes Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post.

"What happened to Spielberg's ingenuity and pizzazz?" asks Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "From Janusz Kaminski's leaden cinematography to the customary John Williams score that keeps trying to bully us into thinking we're having a blast, the film oozes complacency."

"The unholy mix of George Lucas's colonialist nostalgia and Steven Spielberg's fluency with action becomes more self-conscious in this fourth Indiana Jones outing," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader, where Lee Sandlin reviews Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

"Sitting through the final death agonies of the Star Wars prequel franchise was like witnessing the last moments of a dying elephant: the staggering, the pain, the doomed, redundant trumpeting," writes Peter Bradshaw. "Watching this new Indiana Jones movie, on the other hand, is like seeing a healthy, if elderly, elephant forced out of dignified retirement and made to caper and do tricks, to the obvious detriment of its health."

Also in the Guardian: "There's an increasing feeling that CGI, which promised so much, is looking increasingly clunky these days, that sophisticated audiences can see the joins and spot the jerky movements, and that these failings are cheapening the cinema experience," writes Ravi Somaiya.

"If you ever desired swarms of computer-generated red ants, now's your time," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "But the movie is all too often free of physical heft or gravity (an ironic indictment of the digital industry Lucas is responsible for), especially during a passive, Close Encounters-style climax that triggers an 'Um, wow?' in lieu of actual catharsis."

Following David Poland, the Movie City News team chimes in: Leonard Klady, Ray Pride and Michael Wilmington.

Updates, 5/24: "On the Raider's scale, the film is not quite as good as the first one, but better than the third, and way better than the second," writes DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice.

"Spielberg shouldn't have to shoulder much of the blame for the film's problems though. Legendary director Akira Kurosawa said that 'with a bad script, even a good director can't possibly make a good film' and many of Crystal Skull's problems stem from David Koepp's script that ignores personal relationships and relies on too many scenes of ridiculously over-the-top action," writes Jim Rohner at Zoom In Online.

Updates, 5/25: "The film is old-fashioned, self-referential fun, in which ancient mythologies are stirred in with newly created ones like the fetishistic fedora, bullwhip and leather jacket that make up Indy's ritual regalia," writes the Observer's Philip French. "Indiana Jones as embodied by Harrison Ford inspires an affection that Bond and the supposedly more complex, self-doubting superheroes don't. In an odd way, he embodies old-fashioned decency and a sense of being at one with the world and its history."

"It's not just a narrative mess," writes Matt Riviera. "Some of it looks like a fan film screened on YouTube in low-res, the green screen reflected in Blanchett's shiny bob. Crystal Skull pales in comparison to that oher recent adventure film throwback, Peter Jackson's meticulously crafted King Kong."

More from Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door: Spoilers!

Posted by dwhudson at 8:01 AM | Comments (1)

Cannes. Better Things.

"Better Things unfolds in photographic compositions rather than dramatic scenes," writes the Observer's Jason Solomons.

Better Things

"It's a painful portrait of a fractured Cotswolds community, though not the one on the postcards. [Duane] Hopkins's version is a world of teenage heroin addicts shooting up and driving too fast down country lanes, and sad, elderly folk staring out of windows."

Updated through 5/23.

"The drama takes place in the wake of a young woman's heroin overdose, and most of the young characters are past or present users," writes Jonathan Romney in the Independent. "Austere in the extreme, Better Things is shot in a vein (perhaps 'vein' isn't the best word) of poetic realism, Hopkins displaying an intuitive knack for stitching together allusive chains of images. It's certainly fated to be dismissed by some as the latest chapter in the history of British miserabilism, but Hopkins is a director with an introspective subtlety uncommon in UK filmmaking. Better Things proves the Brits can make Belgian art films as well as anyone - and I hope you realise that's a compliment."

"The film's presentation in Cannes' International Critic's Week - the first British feature to garner a slot in the three years since the similarly-set The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael - should attract festival programmers and put Hopkins on the radar as a talent to watch," notes Screen Daily. "But if Ecstasy was on uppers, Better Things is on downers."

"This Short Cuts-style film, full of fragile hopes and imbued with a deathly atmosphere, is outstanding in terms of its directorial approach," writes Fabien Lemercier in Cineuropa. "From the skilful changes in rhythm to the editing and the aesthetic effects of the natural light, Hopkins reveals an originality and talent that the future will no doubt confirm."

Earlier: Andrew Pulver profiles Hopkins for the Guardian - where Hopkins has posted a blog entry.

Update: "The slide-show-like rhythm moves too quickly between the multiple narratives, obfuscating relationship of characters and not giving various plots time to breathe," finds Variety's Alissa Simon. "Evoking memories of early work by Alan Clarke or Lynne Ramsay, as well as Nan Goldin's Ballad of Sexual Dependency, pic gives a special twist to UK tradition of social realism by juxtaposing the natural and the constructed."

Update, 5/19: "What is striking about Duane Hopkins' debut feature, Better Things, is the number of negatives it accumulates," writes Bernard Besserglik in the Hollywood Reporter. "No camera movements. No musical soundtrack. No story. No humor. It's tempting to go on: no warmth, no hope, no love, no life. In their prospectus to the media, the filmmakers promise poetry and transcendence. These, like beauty, reside largely in the eye of the beholder. The problem with Better Things is that, beyond the community of festival-goers and hard-core arthouse buffs, there are likely to be few beholders."

Update, 5/20: "Perhaps overly obtuse and glacially paced, the film shows a keen photographic eye and cinematic riskiness," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE: "In one scene, Hopkins abruptly cuts all ambient sound, allowing the stark dialogue to come powerfully to the fore. There's even less narrative here than Afterschool, as it's more concerned with imbuing a feeling, of pain, loss, and hopelessness. As the voice-over repeats, 'Why does she think falling in love would make it any easier?'"

Update, 5/23: "It's almost impossible to describe the feeling of watching the film with an audience for the first time," blogs Duane Hopkins for the Guardian:

For two years you have been solidly working on the movie. You get so used to watching and analysing the film from a technical point of view that the instant pull of viewing it alongside a new, objective audience turns it back into an emotional experience. For months and months you watch and discuss the film with a group of producers and financiers that number no more than 10, so to suddenly hand the film over to a few thousand strangers is a very intense period of discovery; at once exciting and humbling. You hear every single piece of sound design anew, all the directorial decisions you have made are instantly shown in a new light. You try to gauge the changing perceptions and emotions within the cinema but you know that it is impossible. You have to be patient and wait till the end while enjoying rediscovering the film yourself. It is only now that the relationship between the film and its real audience truly begins.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 6:15 AM

May 17, 2008

Cannes 08. Index.

Cannes 08 The awards have been announced; Cannes 08 has wrapped. Coverage of some films never snowballed into entries; you'll find notes on a few of those here. But here's what collected from opening day, May 14, through June 1.

Competition

Un Certain Regard

Out of Competition

Special Screenings

Directors' Fortnight

Critics' Week

Midnight Screenings

Cannes Classics.

Caught at the market: JCVD.

News roundups: 5/14 and 5/15, 5/16, 5/18, 5/19, 5/20, 5/21, 5/22, 5/23, 5/25 and "Wrapping Cannes."

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:58 PM | Comments (3)

Cannes. 24 City.

"The latest chapter in Jia Zhangke's chronicles of modern Chinese history is certain to reinforce the director's status as an international arthouse icon," writes Dan Fainaru, reviewing 24 City for Screen Daily.

24 City

"Consisting of five authentic interviews and four fictional monologues delivered by actors (but presented in a documentary format) it uses the removal of a large industrial complex from the centre of Chengdu, to be replaced by flashy new high-rise luxury apartments (24 City), as the departure point for an account of rapid-pace changes in China over the last half-century."

"Following Still Life and Useless, documentary and fictional artifice are combined ever more egregiously by Mainland helmer Jia Zhangke in 24 City," writes Variety's Derek Elley. "Result is far more accessible than Jia's previous two pictures, with moments of genuine emotion by the real-life interviewees. But technique of interweaving name actors into the docu fabric smacks of auteurism for the sake of it, and pic says nothing new or revealing that hasn't been said in countless other movies and docus."

Competing.

Update: "'As far as I'm concerned,' Jia says in a program note, 'history is always a blend of facts and imagination.'" Mary Corliss for Time: "24 City is eloquent testimony to a China that is vanishing with each swing of the wrecking ball. But the memories of the workers in their factory microcosm, and telling documentaries like these, keep the past alive, so that later generations will know what once was, and what's been lost."

Updates, 5/18: "Jia may have absorbed the aesthetics of Wang Bing's West of the Tracks and Feng Ming in his meditative interpretation of Chinese social history," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. "Less ambitious than Wang, the film neither strains for unplumbed depths nor all-encompassing breadth. It is essentially a micro-vision of individuals of various ages, offering recollections or opinions either of their parents or their own that are related to the factory's past that deliberately sound improvised. Grander themes like historical turmoil, seismic shifts in economic and human infrastructures are in the periphery, but always informing these characters' destinies."

"Jia's poetic vision of demolition and progress takes on disturbing new resonances after the recent earthquake that killed thousands of people in the same area where the film takes place," notes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "One has to wonder whether 24 City, the high-rise luxury apartment complex that has replaced Factory 420, is still standing.... The film takes an ironic turn with the story of 'Little Flower,' a middle-aged former factory worker (played by actress Joan Chen) who received her nickname because she looked like Joan Chen in a famous 70s movie called Little Flower. While Chen's performance is memorable, the film's most affecting moments belong to the real-life older citizens, men and women who devoted their lives to work, now made unnecessary and obsolete."

Updates, 5/19: "Without nostalgia but with sensitivity and depth of feeling, Mr Jia is documenting a country and several generations that are disappearing before the world's eyes," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[I]n 24 City you can see China repurposing what come across as very American ideas about the pursuit of happiness, success and especially money. Mr Jia is one of the most original filmmakers working today, creating movies about a country that seems like a sequel."

"Not only is the 38-year-old director the most prominent Chinese filmmaker of his generation, he also has come to assume the role of witness and conscience in a society characterized by rapid modernization and a growing amnesia." Dennis Lim talks with Jia for the Los Angeles Times.

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco will be screening Useless and Dong on June 5 and 8.

Updates, 5/21: "More obviously documentary than most of his fiction films (or vice versa), Jia's 24 City is an ambivalent exercise in Communist nostalgia so meaningfully framed that it could have been shot by Andy Warhol or Chantal Akerman," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "As with Jia's other movies, this subversively old-fashioned hymn to production is filled with offbeat details (an elderly worker walking past the doomed plant holding her bag of IV fluid aloft like a torch of freedom) and punctuated with pop songs."

"As befits a filmmaker who always looked for the documentary and the fictive in his works, Jia is moving towards a place where the mature result may be an indistinguishable hybrid," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Like Jean-Luc Godard and Roberto Rossellini before him - to name but a few - Jia embraces both impulses instantly, and like those before him, this hybrid of the times is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Its method strange and its deeper motivations opaque, the sense is of a work in progress, an experiment towards a naturally hybrid cinema of modern China."

Update, 5/27: Edwin Mak translates two Chinese articles on Jia and his new film. Via Girish.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:56 PM

Cannes. It's Hard Being Loved By Jerks.

It's Hard Being Loved By Jerks "Freedom of speech and freedom of the press versus religious grievances are explored to edifying effect in It's Hard Being Loved By Jerks," writes Lisa Nesselson in Screen Daily. "This lively, intelligently-structured documentary chronicles the suit brought by Muslim organisations against French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo after the irreverent paper, famed for its own stable of political cartoonists, published 12 allegedly-insulting Danish cartoon interpretations of the Prophet Muhammad.... This dense, Daniel Leconte-directed documentary boasts eloquent protagonists, high stakes and a certain measure of suspense: will the values of a secular democracy whose law on free speech dates back to 1789 trump broader fears of upsetting Islamic fundamentalists?"

"While placing the action firmly in the context of the anti-Western terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid, Bali, Amsterdam, London and elsewhere, the film focuses intently on the cartoon scandal, which flared only in 2006, the year after the drawings were initially published in Denmark," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "The verdict is heartening if not surprising by the time it comes."

A Special Screening.

Update: "It's a serious issue, gods know, but Leconte keeps the film racing along like a Preston Sturges comedy," writes Mary Corliss for Time. "Aside from being a tribute to the liberality of the French judicial system (at least on free-speech matters), It's Hard Being Loved by Jerks is the briskest, most hilarious and, in its subversive way, most inspiring film so far at Cannes."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:27 PM

Cannes. Moscow, Belgium.

Moscow, Belgium "Crossover hits from Flanders are rare and Flemish working-class romantic comedies even less so, but director Christophe van Rompaey may have actually made both when he made his feature film debut Aanrijding in Moscou (Moscow, Belgium)," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. "Especially during its first hour, the Flemish box office sensation toys with cliché material with such an assured sense of direction and such a strong screenplay that it simply is a pleasure to watch."

"Although it may not sound like the most exciting place on earth, Moscow, Belgium is packed with plenty of drama, laughs and sentimental charm," writes Jordan Mintzer in Variety, noting that the film "features a knockout perf from actress Barbara Sarafian (8½ Women) as a mother of three caught in a love triangle with two good-natured losers."

Critics' Week.

Update, 5/19: "When care-worn Matty backs her battered family car into Johnny's truck in Christophe Van Rompaey's highly enjoyable romantic comedy Moscow, Belgium, triggering a torrential exchange of inventive abuse, you just know they were made for each other," writes Bernard Besserglik in the Hollywood Reporter. "The story of how they bridge their differences is one that should appeal to audiences of broadly varying tastes in Europe and to arthouse moviegoers around the world."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:03 PM

Cannes. Boogie.

"Drinking, smoking and whoring ain't what they used to be in Boogie [site], Radu Muntean's attenuated reflection on friends whose paths since high school have taken starkly different routes," writes Jay Weissberg for Variety.

Boogie

"Playing on themes similar to Old Joy, Muntean uses his cool yet sympathetically observational eye to chart the distance between a responsible family man and his long-lost buddies who have yet to grow up - problem is, auds are aware that the guys are losers long before the protag. Though more universal in theme than the helmer's superior The Paper Will Be Blue travel is unlikely to be widespread outside fest berths."

"Surprisingly, like most latter-day realism, it has the same intention as those most artificial of Hollywood films: to make the spectator unaware they are watching a movie," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "But so what? In the cinema, the quotidian is never just quotidian, but the regular is just that. And so Boogie proceeds, and once we've guessed its rhythm and intonation, gives no discerning reason why any five minutes of it is any more or less interesting than any other five minutes. So congratulations, by effacing the sense of filmmaking and entering the every-day, here's a movie that is indeed everyday."

For the Boston Globe's Ty Burr, this "is the first New Romanian film I've seen in a while that didn't utterly bowl me over; it's perfectly okay without breaking much new ground.... The scenes between the three pals and the prostitute have a tawdry honesty, and Anamaria Marinca (the discovery of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days) is believably worn down as Boogie's wife, but where films like 4 Months or The Death of Mr Lazarescu use grubby realism to accrete powerful meaning over the long haul, Boogie just feels like, well, a long haul."

Directors' Fortnight.

Update, 5/18: "The film's discoloured, unattractive look seems a deliberate attempt to reflect present-day Romanian reality but it doesn't make for easy viewing," writes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily. "The same goes for the pace, set by the lethargy of the characters who aren't particularly forceful. On the other hand, the Ceausescu era is cleverly shown slipping into the past, and Boogie underlines the first, tentative steps of the country into a capitalist system."

Update, 5/19: "Boogie is the kind of long-take, slice-of-life movie that gives long-take, slice-of-life movies a bad name." Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 7:17 AM

Cannes. Linha de passe.

"Twelve years after co-directing Foreign Land, filmmakers Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas have returned to update their portrait of urban Brazil, which they left in the economic throes of president Fernando Collor," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter.

Linha de passe

"Linha de passe is a far more successful film, both as a drama and in depicting the reality of growing up poor without no future in sight.... Comparisons to Luchino Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers are inevitable, but without name actors in the cast, this is not going to be as easy a commercial ride as Salles' cultish The Motorcycle Diaries."

In Screen Daily, Jonathan Romney finds in the film "a down-to-earth alternative to the more romantic and stylistically flashy films (City of God, Lower City, Berlin winner Elite Squad) with which Brazilian cinema has been identified lately. Very much in the mode of Salles' 1998 breakthrough Central Station, Linha de Passe offers a compelling cast and a narrative fail-safe - the travails of a tough mum and her unruly brood - that should give it modest but significant international appeal."

"[B]leak, bleak, bleak," blogs the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Salles can really make movies, and he just lovingly ground my face in this one."

Competing.

Update: "In essence, the filmmakers' list of society's scourges would be led by fatherless families, too many babies and drugs, an analysis that provides solid intellectual footing for a story that strongly links the general with the specific," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Structured by month, from May through September, the film intricately intercuts among events, both significant and banal, in the five protrags' lives.... Title, literally translated as 'Passing Line,' is a Brazilian soccer term for players passing the ball from one to another without letting it touch the ground, a notion that poetically evokes the structure of the film itself."

Updates, 5/18: At indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman finds this one "an accomplished, though unremarkable competition film that never rises above its familiar tale of a poverty-stricken family."

Erica Abeel talks with Salles for the IFC.

Updates, 5/19: "The directors show through their story the lack of choices facing Brazil's young people and its consequent results, but the tone of the film is also hopeful," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "The film is part of a larger project; Salles and Thomas plan to follow the changes in Brazilian youth and society at 12 year intervals, making four more films together exploring similar themes. If the next four are as good as Linha de Passe, we have much to look forward to."

The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu finds Linha to be "a superbly-handled ensemble piece that paints an insightful and compelling portrait of life in São Paolo."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 7:01 AM

Cannes. Soi Cowboy.

"Brit helmer Thomas Clay's sophomore feature, Soi Cowboy, demonstrates a growing maturity," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety.

Soi Cowboy

"This slowburning, enigmatic drama, mostly about a Danish man and a Thai woman awkwardly living together in Bangkok, is deeper and more likeable than Clay's controversial debut, The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael. Gone are the latter film's shock tactics, allowing Clay's cinematic sophistication to sparkle all the better."

"That Clay has a fondness for the ennui generated by simply waiting is clear, as both Robert Carmichael and Soi Cowboy share a structural similarity in which the running time is used against the viewer in an attempt to generate a quiet before the storm-type anticipation that cannot but end with a violent catharsis," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. "The problem with Soi Cowboy is that this quiet is awfully quiet. Antonioni, to whom this film pays 'indirect homage' as the director puts it, made ennui exciting cinematographically, but Clay's screenplay and editing leave out almost anything that might make the two main characters worthwhile to take an interest in for an hour or two."

"Little happens in the opening hour - and indeed, after a painstakingly slow opening in the couple's apartment, it's a full 25 minutes before the film's sparse dialogue even kicks in," notes Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily. "After an hour, however, the couple temporarily drops out of the picture, as the film shifts into vivid colour and a looser, more documentary-like camera style... and the story winds up in a sequence that may be fantasy, but is certainly indebted to David Lynch."

Blogging for the Independent, Romney adds: "A very un-British director, Clay is doffing his hat here to auteurs such as Carlos Reygadas and Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Perhaps the least British UK film you've ever seen, Soi Cowboy confirms - as his first film didn't quite - that Clay is a man to watch."

Un Certain Regard.

Update: "To screenwriter-director Thomas Clay's credit, he neither sensationalizes the relationship nor glamorizes its underworld backdrop," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. "To the film's detriment, he does not dramatize them compellingly either."

Updates, 5/19: "Clay doesn't let us forget his self-appointed auteur status, name-checking his own first film alongside David Lynch's Inland Empire, writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "But there is little sign of his supposed genius in this pretentious, fraudulent film."

Earlier: Geoffrey Macnab profiles Clay for the Guardian.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 6:40 AM

Cannes. Tyson.

"France loves James Toback, and James Toback loves France right back," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

Tyson

"The New York auteur, whose work is more often than not unfairly maligned stateside, has already seen Fingers, his first (and best) film, remade by French director Jacques Audiard. The original is one of two Toback films screening at Cannes this year; the other, his documentary on long-time friend Mike Tyson, premiered to more than one standing ovation last night."

"Those who think of Mike Tyson as just an animal unleashed upon an unsuspecting world should welcome the alternative perspective provided by Tyson, James Toback's revelatory closeup look at the tumultuous life of the former heavyweight champ," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Although straightforward in format, the film capitalizes on an obviously intense connection between filmmaker and subject with psychological acuity and emotional power."

"[T]he saddest film I've seen at Cannes - and that's saying something - is Tyson," blogs the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "The tragedy is that, by the end, Tyson, an old man at age 40, seems to have acquired self-knowledge but not genuine wisdom; he has renounced the animal within but seems uncertain with what to replace it. You come out of the movie hoping for the best and fearing for the worst, which already is a more nuanced position than you probably went in with. A strong, troubling work, with some astonishing fight footage from the 80s and 90s."

"People may be less inclined to judge after watching this feature-length interview, but the feeling of never entirely understanding what makes Tyson tick still persists," writes Allan Hunter for Screen Daily. "All the mellow musings on his past misdemeanours and a life littered with second chances never quite takes us to the heart of this tragic figure."

Variety's Anne Thompson talks with Toback.

Un Certain Regard.

Updates: "It'd be easy to see parallels between Toback and Tyson; both have fought with addiction and struggled with their way in the world, albeit with Toback doing so under far less scrutiny," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "And Tyson never strains to reach for meaning to a degree that feels phony or false, although I'm fairly sure that others will be glad to do that on its behalf."

"Here is a film that supposedly allows the boxer free rein to set the record straight and yet actually provides him with the rope he can use to hang himself," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "It's not that Mike Tyson is stupid (on the contrary, he's far smarter than your average pug), but he is deluded and possibly damned, a paranoid man throwing phantom blows off either wings; fighting endless battles for the wrong reasons, often with the wrong people and almost always with the wrong tactics."

"Toback told us before the screening that he wanted to capture Tyson as a 'complicated and in many ways noble human being,'" recalls Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "One can dispute the adjectives, but he certainly succeeds in rendering a man frequently depicted as an almost animalistic stereotype of African-American manhood as a tortured and vulnerable person who has genuinely struggled to understand his flaws."

"Toback, who for 30 years has directed movies about extreme characters seeking Nirvana through self-destruction, has always been fascinated by athlete-studs; his memoir of football icon Jim Brown still curdles the memory," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "So Tyson can't help but hit Toback's sweet spot: the fighter is smart, reflective and scary, even as he reminisces about his time in the ring."

Update, 5/22: James Rocchi talks with Toback for Cinematical.

Update, 5/23: Geoffrey Macnab talks with both Tyson and Toback for the Guardian.

Update, 5/27: Karina Longworth notes that some are questioning the facts in this doc.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 6:17 AM

May 16, 2008

Cannes. Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

"The only parts of Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona that really and truly feel alive and crackling are the Spanish-language scenes between Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz," writes Jeffrey Wells.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

"These two, portraying a pair of identically tempestuous, self-obsessed painters whose marriage has fallen apart due to an overabundance of heat and impulse and Spanish vinegar, are dynamite together. They create spark showers when they rage and taunt and rekindle their mutual hunger." The problem? A "persistent, obnoxious, unwanted and thoroughly unnecessary narration track... There were boos."

But for Variety's Todd McCarthy, VCB, as he calls it, is "a sexy, funny divertissement that passes as enjoyably as an idle summer's afternoon in the titular Spanish city.... Just as London did when Allen went there for Match Point, the Catalan capital serves as an evident stimulus for the director. Even if the film provides a strictly tourist's view of the city (a perspective justified by the scenario, in fact), and one just as upscale and heedless of money as ever for Allen, VCB is by several degrees more hot-blooded than his usual norm, thanks especially due to the palpable chemistry of Bardem and Cruz in the second half. The film is all about sexual attraction and what to do about it (and in what combinations)."

Screening Out of Competition.

Meantime, the trailer's been searing the wires for the past few days.

Updates, 5/17: Screen Daily's Mike Goodridge finds Vicky "as close to consistently delightful as Allen has been able to deliver since 1994's Bullets Over Broadway.... [T]his sunny romantic comedy could well be the director's biggest audience-pleaser in years. Taking place over a summer in picturesque Barcelona, Allen and his local DP Javier Aguirresarobe (Talk to Her, The Sea Inside) set their attractive cast against a lush backdrop of colourful Gaudi architecture, lavish cityscapes and rural idylls which douse the love tangles and intrigue of the story in a blissful ambiance straight out of a Shakespeare comedy."

"The story opens with Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), two best friends heading to Barcelona for eight weeks of fun," writes Kim Voynar in Cinematical. "Vicky's distant relations Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and Mark (Kevin Dunn) live in Barcelona, and have invited the girls to spend the summer there, where Vicky will do research for her Masters and Cristina will soak up the local culture. Vicky is engaged to be married to Doug (Chris Messina), a stalwart, likable, but rather boring young man, and Cristina is recovering from her latest breakup and looking for an artistic outlet for her pent-up creativity.... Suffice it to say that Allen has created one of his best works in years, a film that is funny, philosophical, and imaginatively explorative of the meaning of love and desire."

Woody "still has loyal admirers in Europe," notes Time's Richard Corliss:

After the screening we ran into one of his champions: Michel Ciment, the doyen of French critics. 'You still go to Woody Allen films?' asked Michel in mock or mocking surprise. He was just setting us up for a pronouncement: that whatever Allen's current reputation, years from now people will take a retrospective look at the 40 - some films he's made and proclaim him as part of a holy trinity of movie comedy with Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder.

Well, maybe not in that empyrean, but arguably in the ballpark. It's hard not to feel warmly toward Allen after VCB, his first vital movie since Match Point three years ago (we quickly throw the veil of oblivion over Scoop and Cassandra's Dream), and maybe his most engaging large-scale effort since, let's say, Crimes and Misdemeanors nearly 20 years ago.... With seven major characters, five of whom have affairs during one Spanish summer, VCB is a God's-eye view of the thesis that "only unfulfilled love can be romantic."

"[I]t's true that VCB is travel porn at its most arrant, an upscale tourist fantasy of Barcelona locations and table settings, fine wines and clichéd Catalan studs whispering outre sexual possibilities in the ears of shallow, susceptible American women," writes Ty Burr. But: "[T]he movie's inordinate, even ridiculous fun, despite an overly chatty narrative track (not sure by whom at this writing) that I wanted to slap down after about five minutes.... Bardem is simply delicious as a post-Valentino roué who's just as sexy but not quite as smart as he thinks. When he, Johansson, and Cruz settle into a sensual ménage a trois, it's hard not to think Allen has become the dirty old man of the movies. However he gets his jollies, though, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is an unexpected picnic - a lightweight New Yorker short story lit up with real warmth."

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has a snapshot of Woody and Cruz and a few notes on the press conference. Jeffrey Wells has another shot.

"[T]he film belongs to Bardem and Cruz," reaffirms the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "This is a Spanish version of Private Lives, a couple that cannot live apart or together, whose love will always burst into fiery combat. Their scenes are some of the funniest Allen has ever put on film, and the culmination of this love/hate tango is not to be missed."

Cinematical's Kim Voynar reports at length on the press conference.

"Maybe Allen is another of those Jerry Lewis figures in American culture who just reads differently in Europe (see also Jim Jarmusch, Abel Ferrara and, increasingly, Quentin Tarantino) but I'm inclined to believe that both sides are wrong about him," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Allen seems to me to have been punished unjustly by his former American admirers for perceived failings in his private life, and it's no good judging an artist on that basis. On the other hand, I don't see how anybody can argue that his recent films - while they're far from being terrible - support the widespread European view that he remains a major figure in world cinema." As for VCB, "it's a pretty good late Allen film, meaning that it's a competent, entertaining blend of sweetness and misanthropy, and that the director seems enormously far away from his characters."

Updates, 5/18: "Vicky Cristina Barcelona is something of a play date between typical Allen characters and ones from an Almodóvar film," suggests Alison Willmore. "They occupy an income bracket in which it's possible to spend the summer in Spain taking in Gaudí, to effortlessly flee to Antibes for a few weeks to clear one's head, and to grow weary of discussions of home purchases in Westchester.... Narrated, via cheerily omniscient voiceover, like one long anecdote (or an episode of Arrested Development), the film doesn't come to any particular point at all, other than that both girls have a good sense of when its the right time to go."

"Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona might be the easiest film to sit through of all in his recent European period, but that doesn't mean it's any damn good," writes Glenn Kenny. "The film comes to peculiar life during Bardem and Cruz's exchanges, which are largely in Spanish and which I suspect the pair rewrote and directed themselves. The exchanges are ridiculous - Cruz comes off like a Spanish-speaking Daffy Duck in a particularly foul humor - but even so ring truer than anything else."

The Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein talks with Woody.

"[Y]esterday critics celebrated the birth of a new English star," reports Vanessa Thorpe in the Guardian. The new star would be Rebecca Hall.

Update, 5/20: "Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a larky, agreeably bittersweet romantic and sexual roundelay that contains some of the liveliness and funny, observant flair of Allen's short fiction," writes Patrick Z McGavin in Stop Smiling. "Averaging a movie a year for four decades, Allen has repeated himself of late. I'm not sure he is further capable of making a sustained and brilliant work, something on the level of Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters. The short story equivalent is more inviting, because Allen is now better and funnier in miniature."

Update, 5/31: Online viewing tip. Matt Singer and Glenn Kenny man the IFC Cam for the red carpet proceedings; the hour features generous clips from the film and the press conference.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 4:16 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 5/16.

Summer Hours In the Auteurs' Notebook, Daniel Kasman writes an entry on "something from Cannes, that's not at Cannes. With all praise due to Olivier Assayas's technophiliac/technophobic recent films that bend and twist space and time as befits this globalized, postmodern world, his latest film Summer Time is a breath of fresh air, if only because it is grounded in an old age: that of objects, and the memories and history kept in them."

"Eight decades or more, you would have thought, is time enough to let bygones be bygones. But in this sad, remarkable but all too human instance, the answer appears to be, no." Rupert Cornwell reports in the Independent on the ongoing rivalry between sisters Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland.

"'Oh, it'll be just another job,' Sean shrugged. 'Then I'll be waiting for the phone to ring again as usual.'" In the Telegraph, Joan Collins looks back to the days when she and just about everyone else were first hearing about a British spy named James Bond. "I had my own flirtation with the Bond casting cartel - twice, as a matter of fact."

"Some movies are too personal to be shared with a crowd." Jim Emerson's been reading Steve Erickson's Zeroville.

"When will Variety and the Hollywood Reporter Credit Online Websites for Breaking a Story?" Collider's Frosty wants to know. Examples are given, a call to action issued. "And the reason it really gets under my skin is pretty simple... unlike Variety and the Hollywood Reporter which are given their major scoops by the people in the stories... all of us in the online community work extremely hard to get anything. It's not like George Lucas decided to let Collider break the news about his new live action TV show. And it's not like Steven Spielberg's publicist picked up the phone and told me he was dropping Chicago 7. I frackin' worked to land those exclusives." Via the Playlist.

Color: The Film Reader "The works of prominent film studies and visual arts scholar Angela Dalle Vacche - such as The Body in the Mirror: Shapes of History in Italian Cinema and Cinema and Painting: How Art Is Used in Film - have consistently offered original and revealing insights into images of all sorts," writes Carmen Siu in Film International. "This time, she and co-editor Brian Price shift their focus to the study of film colour - a subject that has yet to be honed at the theoretical level, at least compared to its recent and notable renaissance in film aesthetics proper - with their newly published Color: The Film Reader, the first anthology of its kind to 'approach color from different perspectives, providing scholars with a sense of the myriad of ways in which color in film can be described.'"

"[I]f there's one early [Dreyer] work that satisfies most completely on its own terms, it's probably the filmmaker's 1920 feature The Parson's Widow and that's largely because, until a sudden late shift in the narrative, it's played pretty much as comedy, an approach that seemed more amenable to the young Dreyer than the epic solemnity he would undertake in [Leaves from Satan's Book] or the heavily educed melodrama of Michael, and allowed him to narrow (as well as deepen) his focus by shifting his attention to the smaller scale lifestyle of a tiny Norwegian village." Andrew Schenker at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

"While shadows and empty spaces pervade Naomi Kawase's search for her absent father in Embracing, the images in Katatsumori are tactile and suffused in light - a stark contrast that conveys Kawase's deep affection towards her 80 year old maternal great aunt and adoptive mother, Uno." Acquarello. Also, a review of Hiroshi Shimizu's Japanese Girls at the Harbor, "a film that, like his early masterpiece, Ornamental Hairpin, is propelled by a moment of carelessness that would have far reaching consequences for its characters."

Pacze Moj on Tadeusz Konwicki's Zaduszki: "The point of it all seems to be that not only can there be no art after Auschwitz, but, even more vitally, there can be no love - at least for those who were directly affected."

Secondhand (Pepe) "[A]nyone in the Miami, NYC, and Boston areas — cities with large Haitian immigrant populations — is likely to run into someone at a flea market or thrift store collecting goods to take home to Port-au-Prince," writes Joanne McNeil, introducing an interview at Tomorrow Museum. "Secondhand (Pepe) (clip) is a short documentary showing this remarkable trade in goods, as it explains the history of secondhand clothing in our country. Filmmakers Hanna Rose Shell, a PhD in the History of Science at Harvard, and Vanessa Bertozzi, a graduate of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program, who now works at Etsy, were curious about the tradition of secondhand clothing. From 2003 - 2007 they visited ragyards in Miami, went through archives in London and Washington DC, and traveled to Haiti to see the pepe markets for themselves." Via Jason Kottke.

The latest additions to FilmInFocus's special section on Mexico City are a guide by Nick Dawson and an interview with Under the Same Moon director Patricia Riggen.

"El-P, the founder of the definitive underground hiphop label of the 00s, Def Jux, and former member of the trio that helped establish the underground in the 90s, Company Flow, regards Blade Runner as the best movie ever made," writes Charles Mudede. "More than any other rapper and producer, El-P has translated the themes and images of the most prophetic science-fiction film of the 80s into the sounds of late-hiphop - a period that proceeds from the postmodern moment in hiphop, between 1993 and 1997 (the modern period of hiphop is between 1984 and 1992)."

Also in the Stranger: Mudede on Mister Lonely, Jon Frosch on Jellyfish and Jen Graves on Alice Neel.

"Barbet Schroeder, a dry, elegant director, has always had a taste for regal horror and a willingness to stare ugly facts in the face (past subjects include Idi Amin and Claus von Bülow)," writes Ryan Gilbey, reviewing Terror's Advocate for the New Statesman. "He purposely resists coming down too hard on [Jacques] Vergès, but then he doesn't need to. When a man's most effusive character witness is Pol Pot, there's not much damning left to be done." Related: Angelique Chrisafis talks with Vergès for the Guardian.

Also:

  • "While Hollywood enjoyed its 70s renaissance, while new German cinema flourished and the Italian and French cinemas continued to produce groundbreaking work, British cinema, so vibrant throughout the 1960s, seemed to keel over and die," writes John Patterson. "It didn't - not quite - but it takes some dedicated cinematic archeology to disinter several gleaming threads of endeavour that suggest British cinema didn't die after all, but went into a form of internal exile."

  • "It was 1968, so what more natural time to make a film about Che Guevara?" Duncan Campbell has a fun story to tell about Richard Fleischer's Che!

La Antena

"Well now, if this isn't just the cutest thing I don't know what is," beams Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "Quantum Hoops, a documentary by Rick Greenwald, tells the story of the California Institute of Technology's men's basketball team - a topic that in the context of college sports is approximately as farcical as the history of aspiring semioticians among the contestants on America's Next Top Model."

In the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas talks with Claude Lelouch, whose Roman de Gare "has on both sides of the Atlantic been garnering the 70-year-old filmmaker some of the best reviews of his career."

Wild Combination "Matt Wolf's Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell isn't your typical documentary experience," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "For Wolf doesn't just tell the life story of the immensely gifted Russell. He resurrects him." Also: "What makes XXY such an impressive debut is that, considering its subject matter, it can never be mistaken for a work of exploitation. It's a tenderly wrought drama that uses an abnormal situation to explore the universal, end-of-the-world emotions spawned by adolescence."

"Appropriately enough for a movie titled How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer, writer-director Georgina Garcia Riedel's sharply observed and sympathetically detailed dramedy proceeds at the pace of someone drifting aimlessly through a hot August afternoon," writes Joe Leydon in the Houston Chronicle. "You really have to downshift your moviegoing metabolism if you want to get into the measured rhythms of this spare yet insightful movie about three generations of Mexican-American women in the sleepy border town of Somerton, Ariz."

"The Outsiders works as a silent film primarily because of the physical acting." An accidental experiment, conducted by Sarah D Bunting and recalled at the House Next Door.

Nikki Finke hears that David O Russell's Nailed has been shut down. Again.

For In These Times, Akito Yoshikane talks with Margaret Cho about the new reality show she'll be doing for VH1 in August.

Brad Stevens: Abel Ferrara With Bad Lieutenant on our minds again, now's a good time to revisit read Jonathan Rosenbaum's review of Brad Stevens's Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision.

"Recently I posted a review of a new short film about to enter the festival circuit daringly, some might argue vulgarly, titled I F*cking Hate You (2008, hereafter IFHY). Produced by the self-described 'interdependent' filmmakers at Los Angeles based Sabi Pictures, the nine-minute ironic comedy is fueled by a mixture of humor and heartache highlighted by a song performance that you'll either love or hate, but will probably laugh at in either case." Thom Ryan talks to the film's makers.

"One of the real pluses of Up the Yangtze, aside from its empathy with its subjects, is its striking visual quality," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Beijing-based cinematographer Wang Shi Qing has an impeccable eye, often coming up with haunting images that show both the beauty and uncertainty of this pivotal time."

Jason Sperb forges ahead in his PT Anderson Month.

Latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Adam Ross's interviewee of the week: Gautam Valluri.

A few new pieces from the Spring 08 issue of Filmmaker are up, primarily of interest to, well, filmmakers. Let Scott Macaulay be your guide.

First Run Features First Run Features is being folded into Icarus Films. Ray Pride: "The company lives, but a familiar micro-distribution label disappears."

Nice headline from Quint at AICN: "Daniel Plainview drinks up Anton Chigurh's role in Rob Marshall's Nine! He drinks it up!"

Vanity Fair hands its "Proust Questionnaire" to John Cusack.

Online viewing tip #1. Bilge Ebiri introduces Luke Matheny's Earano.

Online viewing tip #2. Paul Moore: "In honor of SpoutBlog's Presidential Zombie Contest, the best zombie film I've seen in a long, long time."

Online viewing tip #3. Nicholas Rombes: "The first time seeing this, thinking: a mistake. Someone forgot to edit. 1980. Reagan. The New Era. Morning in America. De Palma."

Online viewing tip #4. Matt Dentler's got the video for Coldplay's "Violet Hill," noting, "Filmmaker Mat Whitecross (co-director of The Road to Guantanamo and editor of Scott Walker: 30 Century Man) directed the clip, which meticulously edits images from a multitude of political figures getting their groove on."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:52 PM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 5/16.

Planting the Seeds "CineVegas will show a site-specific work by Takashi Murakami for one night only, June 16, at the Wynn Las Vegas." The Circuit's Michael Jones has details.

Cinewhores NYC presents The World of Susie Wong at Galapagos Art Space on Sunday. Via Edith at the L Magazine.

Michael Guillén carries on previewing Another Hole in the Head: Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer and Exte: Hair Extensions.

Cinema Purgatorio: "We've noted before the Opera Double Bill, which Lech Majewski will direct at Bard college in late July and early August. Meanwhile, filmmaker and stalker Kyle Gilman reminds us of another summertime opera: La commedia, directed next month in Amsterdam by Hal Hartley, in collaboration with Louis Andriessen.

Lipstick Traces in Chicago

Jake Meany looks back to Boston for PopMatters.

David Walsh has more from San Francisco at the WSWS. More from Sean McCourt at Hell on Frisco Bay.

And SF360 runs Kevin Kelly's State of Cinema Address. A couple of points: "[W]e're coming up to the point where the tools used by the amateur and professionals are basically the same." And:

[T]he moving image becomes as ubiquitous in our culture as the written word was until now. OK? I call that the Gutenberg Shift. We're going through the Gutenberg Shift in the visual world, in what I call "vizuality." If you saw the Harry Potter movies and The Daily Prophet - when [Harry Potter] takes out the daily newspaper - the images on the newspaper are moving. We're going to do that.... The moving image will become part of our literacy. That's already happening. Here's [he points to slide] an example of Seesmic, [a] Web site where you post videos. The way you comment on the videos on this site is you make another video.

Chuck Tryon comments on ideas raised in Artists Using YouTube, an evening at the Kitchen a few nights ago.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:44 PM

Cannes, 5/16.

Cannes "It's probably not an exaggeration to say that were it not for Cannes, directors like myself would not get the chance to make the kind of films we are compelled to." Duane Hopkins, whose Better Things screens as part of Critics' Week, blogs for the Guardian.

"The real Cannes, like the festival itself, is a diverse and many-storied thing," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "It can be found on the Rue d'Antibes, with its gaudy boutiques and its coterie of wealthy old women with their poodle sidekicks. It can be found in the picturesque side-streets of the old town up the hill, and it can be glimpsed in the peripheral landscape we whip through on the way from the airport; a place of forlorn car showrooms, take-outs and sex shops. The real Cannes exists cheek-by-jowl with the festival Cannes but the two camps rarely fraternise. It's as though each has agreed, by mutual consent, to ignore the other."

"Cannes grafts many parts and forms of the French cultural identity - a bruising, sometimes blunt collage of the institutional, political, artistic, and nationalist," writes Patrick Z McGavin for Stop Smiling. "But the festival is quite possibly the only time of the year when director-driven movies are granted equal footing with the technological and cultural apparatus that is Hollywood."

"The trailer for Tsui Hark's She Ain't Mean - a collaboration with My Sassy Girl's Kwak Jae-Yong - looks surprisingly light and airy and fun," notes Twitch's Todd Brown.

Another special section, but for those who read French: Le Nouvel Observateur.

Online viewing tip. Variety's Anne Thompson talks with Michael Moore about his sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:11 PM

Cannes. Tokyo!

"Two Frenchmen and a South Korean make a great deal of mischief in Tokyo!, an uneven but enjoyable trio of films that take affectionate (and sometimes literal) aim at the Japanese capital," writes Justin Chang in Variety.

Tokyo!

"Fittingly enough, horror and sci-fi rep the primary building blocks of these Tokyo stories, though the ingredients aren't always doled out in the proportions one would expect from filmmakers Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho."

"I liked the Michel Gondry entry more than Manohla Dargis does in today's Times," blogs the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Ayako Fujitani stole my heart as a bohemian newcomer to the city who loses her nerve and turns into a chair (yes, that's right). The Leos Carax installment, starring Denis Lavant as a kind of evil Id that crawls from the sewers and stalks the city, is fun for a while, but Bong Joon-Ho's final chapter, about a recluse who discovers he's not alone - in so many ways - bears real emotional/metaphorical fruit."

Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho

"Whimsical Michel Gondry delivers a thirty-minute segment that resonates, while compatriot Leos Carax spoils an otherwise tasty genre exercise by pressing it into service as a message film," writes Lee Marshall in Screen Daily. "Korea's Bong Joon-ho, meanwhile, delivers an artsy rom-com that is too slight even for its half-hour running time."

Un Certain Regard.

Update: "I was surprised to see Gondry turn out for the screening at the Debussy, given his open disregard for Cannes ever since Human Nature got slammed there years ago," writes Eric Kohn in Stream. "I'm glad he turned out again, given the quality of the new project, which deserves a decent American release based on the sheer cult reputation of its various authors. Before a crowd of fans enshrouded him after the screening, I went up to Gondry and asked, with a half-smile, if he was glad to be back at Cannes. He grinned back, hesitantly nodding. The cameras were watching. This was not the time for complaints. "

Updates, 5/17: "I liked the Gondry portion, found Carax's a promising joke stretched too thin (though it attracted the most applause at the screening) and Bong's pretty damn disappointing," writes Alison Willmore.

But Cahiers du cinéma's Emmanuel Burdeau finds the Corax "funny, ferocious, and often facile.... [W]e'll certainly be talking about it in the days to come. A cinema of anger and furor."

Blogging for the Boston Phoenix, Rob Nelson finds Carax's installment not only the "coolest" but also "an alternately nasty and tender throwback to the sympathetic-monster movies of the early 20th century."

Update, 5/18: "Tucked in the middle of the surprisingly inspired omnibus Tokyo! is the first masterpiece of Cannes, Leos Carax's short feature Merde," declares Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "A sneering dark comedy pastiche combo of ,a href="http://www.greencine.com/central/guide/godzilla">Godzilla and Oshima's Death by Hanging, it captures in wicked digital imagery (by the unbeatable Caroline Champetier) the emergence from the sewers of a hideous Denis Levant to wreck havoc on the unprepared Japanese city.... Carax [relishes] an all-too-rare opportunity to make yet another unqualifiable, indescribable work of pure cinema, an ode to the monsters of the world."

Update, 5/21: For Matt Noller, writing at the House Next Door, Carax's Merde is "one of the most unbearably shrill, unfunny things I've ever seen."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 10:46 AM | Comments (1)

John Phillip Law, 1937 - 2008.

John Phillip Law
He was a youthful 70, still handsome, still a very young guy in spirit and hadn't lost any of his professional ambition. He was always auditioning, checking his car phone for messages from his agency; he loved to work and loved knowing that a handful of the films he made had become cult pictures, movies that earned him a niche in popular culture, that would outlive him: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Barbarella, Death Rides a Horse, Danger: Diabolik (of course), CQ and - as I always insisted whenever in his company - The Last Movie.

Tim Lucas (more).

Also remembering John Phillip Law: Ronald Bergan (Guardian), Robert Cashill, John Coulthart, Joe Leydon, Phil Nugent (Screengrab) and Richard Harland Smith. The site.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:31 AM | Comments (5)

Cannes. A Christmas Tale.

"'Now that is a movie!' I exclaimed to a friend on exiting this morning's screening of Arnaud Desplechin's Un Conte De Noël (A Christmas Story [site])."

A Christmas Tale

Glenn Kenny: "The bourgeois-dysfunctional-family-comes-together-for-a-holiday setup is one of the hoariest in any medium, but if anybody can conjure something fresh out of it, it's Desplechin, and boy does he ever.... The creation of such a vivid, individualized group of characters and such a compelling roster of dilemmas is a staggering enough feat. But what makes this movie such a darkly exuberant feast is Desplechin's storytelling."

"Like so much of Desplechin's work, this combines a largely naturalistic story with a highly idiosyncratic approach," writes Andrew O'Hehir for Salon. "Characters address the camera directly, or narrate their letters before a photographer's backdrop. There's a puppet show, a children's play, bits of romantic fantasy and mock-noir montage - depicting the abundant nightlife of Roubaix, the provincial city in northern France where the story takes place - as well as quotations from Emerson, Nietzsche and Shakespeare and snippets from Funny Face, The Ten Commandments and other films I didn't catch.... IFC has acquired United States distribution rights, and I can only applaud the company's courage. This won't be an easy sell even to European audiences, and it's not likely to win the Palme d'Or. But if I see another film all year long that prickles me, disturbs me or moves me half as much, I'll be surprised."

"Desplechin's ambitious widescreen tale overflows with inescapable emotion, served both raw and endlessly reheated," writes Lisa Nesselson for Screen Daily. "Although Desplechin takes visual delight in framing his characters and juggling elaborate social geography, this is a talky affair and some delectably forthright dialogue illuminates many scenes.... Despite entrenched animosities and unrequited longings, Desplechin finds that change is possible in A Christmas Tale, lending a perverse buoyancy to the proceedings."

Competing.

Cahiers: Noel Updates: "The film is as brilliant as it is cruel, and brings together the sweetness of intelligence and cinematic know-how with its characters' overflowing bitterness," writes Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. "Its explosive elegance is near perfect, yet it successfully manages to keep the audience at an emotional distance."

"[V]ery French, very engrossing, often very funny, like a good, long novel you can't put down," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "One of the jokes is watching [Matthieu] Amalric and his Diving Bell co-star Anne Consigny as a brother and sister who detest each other; one of its joys is watching [Catherine] Deneuve play opposite her daughter Chiara Mastroianni - playing a daughter-in-law Denueve's character doesn't much like." All in all, a "rambunctious, imperfect joy of a movie."

"Unexpected but still made squarely in the French humanist tradition, this is a film you don't want to see end, not because the people are so happy but because they are so human and so alive," writes the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan.

"This could have been an emotionally wrenching film, but Desplechin keeps the tone light, infusing the drama with humor in the most unexpected places, and offers Henri's girlfriend, Faunia (frequent Desplechin actress Emmanuelle Devos), as the amused Shakespearean witness to the whole affair to lighten the heavy load," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical.

Derek Elley in Variety: "Film must be the only one ever to be inspired by a treatise on transplants: 'La greffe,' by psychoanalyst Jacques Ascher and hematologist Jean-Pierre Jouet. The notional center of the pic is, indeed, that: the search among the extended family of Junon Vuillard (Deneuve) for a compatible donor who can give her a bone-marrow transplant, and maybe extend her life for a couple of years. But Desplechin and co-scripter Emmanuel Bourdieu fail to transmute the material into anything really dramatic, touching on but not developing subsidiary themes like inherited guilt or familial debt owed to one's parents."

Updates, 5/17: "Desplechin is a past master at this sort of Chekhovian orchestration of multiple story lines," writes Bernard Besserglik in the Hollywood Reporter. "The danger, though, is of information (and sensory) overload as characters unburden themselves, sometimes at great length, in dialogue that often sparkles, though opinions might differ as to whether it is witty or merely febrile."

Reviews in German.

Updates, 5/18: "Desplechin's previous work, Kings and Queen, was the strongest French feature of the last five or six years," writes Patrick Z McGavin for Stop Smiling:

That film borrowed the structure of John Cassavetes's Love Streams. Every shot of the new work is electric and enthralling and reaches a musical buoyancy and novelistic density. Stylistically, the film is so imaginatively conceived and constructed: The story, character detail and emotional force are conveyed through a collage of dovetailing flashbacks, iris shots, family photographs, musical interpolations, direct-address confessions and a shadow puppet précis of the family's tragic past.

[...]

At two and a half hours, every moment is unexpected — the depths of characterization, humor and verve never fail to astonish. It has moments of incredible pain, conveying a sense of transience and emotional fragility that is alternately revealing, observant and continually alive.

"Desplechin takes the holiday reunion melodrama and flips its every which way, cutting away from scenes before you expect and utilizing a host of cinematic tricks, from irises to direct-camera monologues to enliven the proceedings," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "The result is vertiginous and anything but expected. Witty, profound and highly literate - with references from A Midsummer's Night Dream to Friedrich Nietzsche, the film is both a uniquely emotional and intellectual experience, as much about familial relationships as death, despair and madness."

Updates, 5/19: "I swear, it filled me with unadulterated joy," writes AO Scott in the New York Times.

"Un Conte de Noël feels long and windy at first, especially since Desplechin must set up so much backstory and entrenched hostility," writes Erica Abeel at Filmmaker. "But the longer you sit, the more you get roped in.... This won't win me many friends, but I have a beef against Amalric and how he always plays the same loony, no matter the film (and [he] should consider washing his hair). I've also lost patience with Emannuelle Devos (cast as his girlfriend), equally enamored of and always ... Emmanuelle."

"Though the interlocking stories are in and of themselves banal, what is tremendously sophisticated here is Desplechin's overlapping style, and the rigor which Desplechin applies as an overarching mirror to the subject," writes Facets' Milos Stehlik.

Updates, 5/21: "As convoluted as it is superbly acted, Desplechin's ensemble piece inevitably acknowledges Renoir's Rules of the Game (although, in staging a prolonged house party, it inexplicably leaves out the downstairs component)," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "At once avant and retro, A Christmas Tale is the sort of Palm-friendly movie-movie Desplechin's admirers always thought he could contrive."

"It's exciting cinema, but it can just as easily be seen as unfocused as thrilling," writes writes Matt Noller at the House Next Door. "Still, even if Un conte de Noël sometimes (okay, frequently) seems more than a little messy, there's enough life on display here that it's hard to begrudge Desplechin his excesses."

"Desplechin seems to be going for the old French New Wave recipe of emotional warmth and cinematic wizardry," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "But the soufflé doesn't quite rise. This is faux Truffaut."

Update, 5/22: "As a fan of Desplechin's Esther Kahn and someone who admired, but had doubts, about his frantic Kings and Queen, I was won over instantly by this engrossing, novelistic family melodrama, which finds Desplechin channeling his virtuosity into a more stable structure," writes Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago.

Update, 5/23: James Mottram profiles Deneuve for the London Times.

Update, 5/25: A review from Ronald Bergan.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 7:46 AM | Comments (1)

My Father My Lord.

My Father My Lord "Although profoundly compassionate toward its characters, My Father My Lord is an implicit critique of ultra-Orthodox dogma by a filmmaker who grew up in a Hasidic community but abandoned it when he was 25 to study film," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. The film "has the glowing simplicity and force of a biblical parable."

"With a dreamlike narrative suffused in a fuzzy childhood-memory glow and dominated by the presence of an overbearing father, the movie, in its best moments, suggests a Haredi version of Terence Davies's 1988 masterpiece, Distant Voices, Still Lives," writes Joshua Land in Time Out.

"A self-confessed devotee of the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland's celebrated secular poet of cinema who dramatized Hebrew Bible morality in his Decalogue films, [David] Volach's picture bears many of the strengths and the weaknesses of Kieslowski's work," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "On the plus side, My Father My Lord reconnects with the latent power of religious devotion by reframing the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac in a contemporary, albeit exotically cloistered, milieu. On the minus side, the ethical drawing and quartering that Menachem's father undergoes by the film's end borders on melodrama."

"The question Volach seems to be asking is whether blind faith is enough to make up a life, and it's a question that resonates most when it plays out in the contrast between a society where God is at the center of everything, and the face of one little boy who can't stop thinking about his family's next trip to the beach," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

Earlier: Ella Taylor in the Voice.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:46 AM

Cannes. Three Monkeys.

"An ostensibly routine noir-style psychological thriller vaults into the realms of high art in competition contender Three Monkeys [site]," writes Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily.

Three Monkeys

"Cannes has been kind to Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan in the past, with Uzak and Climates establishing his auteur credentials here in 2003 and 2006. His new film represents a bold departure from his past style: it's best described as introspective melodrama, yet both visually and tonally, it's still quintessential Ceylan."

"Seeing, hearing and speaking no evil comes all too easily to the tortured trio in Three Monkeys, a powerfully bleak family drama that leaves its characters' offenses largely offscreen but lingers with agonizing, drawn-out deliberation on the consequences," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "Bad faith, simmering resentment, adultery and murder all figure into Nuri Bilge Ceylan's darkly burnished fifth feature, giving it a stronger narrative undertow than his previous Cannes competition entries, Distant and Climates."

"I was hooked from the get-go - gripped, fascinated," writes Jeffrey Wells. "I was in a fairly excited state because I knew - I absolutely knew - I was seeing the first major film of the festival.... It's a very dark and austere film that unfolds at a purposeful but meditative (which absolutely doesn't mean "slow") pace, taking its time and saying to the audience, 'Don't worry, this is going somewhere... we're not jerking around so pay attention to the steps.'"

Competing.

Updates: "On the surface, the best film here so far for me - Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys - is only very superficially about incarceration, in that the story is quickly kick-started when a local politician facing elections persuades his driver to take the rap for him after the former knocks over a man with his car; in return he'll pay his employee's salary to his teenage son, and hand over a large lump sum when he emerges from prison after six months or so," writes Geoff Andrew for Time Out. "But if we actually see only a couple of prison-set scenes, when the son visits his father, that doesn't mean that imprisonment isn't a central, almost Dostoievskian metaphor for what happens to the driver, his wife and son, and the the politician.... It's been bought for the UK, so when it turns up, see it - and marvel!"

"[I]t's largely commonplace, drear, and claustrophobic," writes Glenn Kenny. "One finds oneself frustrated by the stories Ceylan chooses not to tell - the would-be politician who sets the film's plot into motion seems a more interesting character than anybody in the family whose lives he effects - and by his too-insistent emphases, e.g., a bit involving an idiosyncratic ring tone that's funny and wrenching the first time, still effective the second, and stale the third. The movie's not bad, but it's not terribly special, either."

"[L]eft me cold," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "It's a familial melodrama of imfidelity and incrimination that James M Cain could have made hay with but that gets slowed down to a portentous Antonioni crawl by the director."

Update, 5/17: "Nothing whatsoever seems to happen, yet little clues are constantly being planted that will continue to build throughout the film and lead to several grand, if understated, emotional payoffs," writes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter. "No one working in cinema today can suggest an interior psychological state, solely through the camera's external observation of an unmoving character, as well as Ceylan can."

Updates, 5/18: "Ceylan vaults into new territory here: Three Monkeys is a noir-flavoured psychological thriller, which starts off close to Georges Simenon, slides more into James M Cain territory, and ends up vaulting into the Dostoyevsky league," writes Jonathan Romney in the Independent. "It is very much a Ceylan film - there are all the elegant, brooding cityscapes we expect of him - and the elliptical intrigue is typical of his sombre, slow-burning style. But here we find Ceylan having the sort of fun with narrative twists you might expect from the Coen brothers, and the moral resonances leave you feeling you've grappled with not just a teasing enigma but a substantial tragedy too."

"Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips has written perceptively about the influence of Chekhov in Ceylan's work - and that influence is especially evident here," notes Patrick Z McGavin for Stop Smiling.

"The film's hi-definition video images are blanched and grainy, lending a vaguely surreal air to the film's hot summer coastal setting along with the secrets, lies and barely repressed recent tragedies that hover over the characters' psyches," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "That phantom past reemerges in two spectacular moments in the film; jarring and disturbing, the scenes create an unnerving effect that lasts longer than just about anything else yet seen on screen here."

"Ceylan seems to hate all his characters," grumbles the Observer's Jason Solomons.

Updates, 5/21: "An impeccably crafted, ambitiously schematic, distressingly empty melodrama, Three Monkeys strains to make a statement about this corrupt world, but lacks the rueful subtleties of Ceylan's earlier features," writes J Hoberman in the Voice.

"Among the most beautiful recent films I've seen, Three Monkeys is my favorite of the fest so far," writes Matt Noller at the House Next Door.

"This is a lazy study of a dysfunctional family, and we've seen enough of those," writes Mary Corliss for Time. "But it's still a provocative premise that could be made into a compelling thriller. Perhaps by the Coens."

Update, 5/25: Kim Voynar at Cinematical: "The pacing of the film is glacially slow at times - what some might call meditative but others, less kindly, might consider indulgent - but perhaps that's fitting for a film that's driven less by action and active decisions than by the hope that consequences will somehow just fade away."

Update, 5/27: "Celebrated Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan was awarded Best Director in Cannes on Sunday," notes Pelin Turgut in Time. " Perhaps now Turks will finally go see his movies.... It is true that Ceylan's films are never easy going, but in a country of 70 million, 20,000 viewers seems, well, a little pathetic. Are Turks a nation of cultural philistines? Critics bemoaning the dearth of interest in cultural fare (book sales are shrinking along with art-house film audiences) point to a brutal 1980 military coup as the start of this malaise."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:48 AM | Comments (3)

May 15, 2008

Senses of Cinema. 47.

Sweet Movie Editors Rolando Caputo and Scott Murray tip their hats to May 68 and cede the floor to Dušan Makavejev, who opens the new issue of Senses of Cinema with a question: "How did I get Otto Muehl and the AA Kommune (Actions-Analytic Kommune) into Sweet Movie?" They weren't rough on him, but they didn't make it easy, either. And then: "At a screening in Taormina, within a minute or two of the Commune scene a few dozen people stood up and ran out of the screening room. And minutes later another three, five and a dozen people left. They were ugly moments. When I went out to hear what they were saying, I found them all watching the film through the exit doors. When the Commune scene ended, they all went back to their seats."

"Many, including myself, were initially shocked and repelled by Makavejev's most complex, explosive and assaulting film," writes Lorraine Mortimer. "In Sweet Movie, Eros and Thanatos are not concepts but forces. Wilhelm Reich, François Rabelais and Jonathan Swift, rather than Sigmund Freud, seem to inspire this never-safe journey, grounded in the senses, a journey which seems like it has land mines placed along the way." Mortimer's book, Terror and Joy: The Films of Dušan Makavejev, will be out in March 09.

In "Slovak Cinema of the 1970s Revisited," Peter Hourigan tugs a forgotten chapter out from under the chapter of the "Czech New Wave."

The Passionate Friends

Think of David Lean and you often think of Brief Encounter, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist; and then, The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. But "bridging the gap, are three forgotten films in which the English stage and film actress Ann Todd, who became Lean's third wife, is the central female protagonist, if not the focal point of each narrative," writes John Orr. "The Passionate Friends (1949) and Madeleine (1950) were box-office flops, The Sound Barrier (1952) successful in the main as a novel action picture about the jet technologies of post-war aviation.... The Todd trilogy is an intriguing one, unjustly forgotten, not just for her acting but for her role as muse, as inspiration in Lean's pushing of classical film form, and the stylised oscillation of romance and restraint that shapes so much of his work."

"Henry Hathaway's 1960 film Seven Thieves falls in the heist category," acknowledges Pedro Blas Gonzalez, but it "allows us to re-discover, or re-event, the order of what Edmund Husserl has referred to as the lived-world of experience."

Jason Mark Scott examines the moment that the "buddy movie" became "overtly, strangely homoerotic. What began in El Chuncho, Quién sabe? (A Bullet for the General, Damiano Damiani, 1966) as a paradoxical, almost schizophrenic relationship between two antithetical men was echoed and amplified in Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (Love is Colder than Death, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1969), ultimately reaching its apotheosis in Le Cercle rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970), where the buddy movie finally becomes an unabashed, albeit peculiar, romance: queer in every sense."

Jeffrey Bunzendahl and Robert von Dassanowsky on Casino Royale: "In wanting to keep Bond's mystique and the connections to the Bond history, but desiring to break him from his past beyond the elastic time structure, Daniel Craig's character is presented in every way as being one of a different generation than Brosnan's and all the Bonds he supposedly represents. The new 007 may then be nothing less than the son of Bond."

Dracula "The world created in these films was so foreign to my experience in small-town Australia, so strange, so old, so... European, that it became imprinted on my mind as a vision of Europe. And when, many years later, I travelled to Europe and spent time living there, that imprint remained." John Potts: "What I Owe to Hammer Horror."

"In his monograph on Samuel Beckett, A Alvarez famously characterizes the author's trilogy as 'a terminal vision, a terminal style and, from the point of view of possible development, a work at least as aesthetically terminal as [James Joyce's] Finnegan's Wake,'" writes Andrew Schenker. "In the world of film, there have been only a handful of similarly 'terminal' works."

Matthew Boyd on last year's crushed-on, backlashed and backlash-backlashed indie hit: "The viewer is not only subjected to a false approach to the big question of whether there is meaning or legitimacy in prosaic middle-class life and tradition as reduced to routine; in Juno, we find that, additionally, the rite of passage has been completely annihilated."

Angela Dalle Vacche interviews Mahamet-Saleh Haroun (Bye Bye Africa, Abouna and Darratt).

Also in this issue: four DVD reviews, a dozen festival reports, half a dozen book reviews, more Cinémathèque Annotations and one new addition to the Great Directors critical database: Matthew Stephenson on Peter Jackson.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:10 PM

Cannes. Hunger.

"A visceral, violent and deeply disturbing vision of life in the Maze prison, set during the 'dirty' protests and the second hunger strike of 1981, is offered up by Britain's most prominent entry in the Cannes film festival," writes Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian.

Hunger

"Steve McQueen's Hunger, which focuses on the death of Bobby Sands after 66 days without food, prompted both applause and walk-outs as it premiered today, opening the prestigious Un Certain Regard section of the festival."

For Leslie Felperin, writing in Variety, Hunger is "a powerful, pertinent but not entirely perfect debut for British visual-artist-turned-feature-helmer Steve McQueen, who demonstrates a painterly touch with composition and real cinematic flair, but who stumbles in film's last furlough with trite symbolism."

In Screen Daily, Allan Hunter finds "a history lesson with obvious contemporary resonances in the so-called war on terror.... McQueen conveys the living hell of this situation with the composure of a forensic examiner.... If Loach is the obvious name that comes to mind, McQueen also has an element of Terence Davies in the lingering intensity he brings to bear on some of his most telling compositions."

"This is a sensational feature debut, fearless and uncompromising, bolder than any film to come out of the UK in a long time," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "The lighting is cold and drear. The sound design bleak. It's a film - as confrontational as the late Alan Clarke's Elephant - about extreme, intense spaces: those of Belfast, the jail cells, the psychology of those young men, ghosts in the making."

Updates, 5/16: "Hunger is extreme cinema for an extreme subject," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It is outstandingly made; long wordless sequences are composed with judgment and flair and expository dialogue scenes are confidently positioned. It surely confirms McQueen as a real filmmaker."

"For McQueen, the details of hardline Republicanism, the specifics of Republican prisoners' arguments over their political status, and even the haunting voice of Margaret Thatcher on the soundtrack denouncing pity as the basest of human emotions all play second fiddle to an examination of exactly what it meant to live - and, for Sands and nine other prisoners, die - in prison in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s," writes Dave Calhoun for Time Out. "What McQueen and [Michael] Fassbender give us here is a martyr who literally gives his whole body over to a cause."

For the Independent, Arifa Akbar nabs quotes from Jan Younghusband, the executive producer of the film and commissioning editor of arts at Channel 4: "Let's remember we were doing this before Guantanamo." And McQueen: "The film, for me, has contemporary resonance. The body as site of political warfare is becoming a more familiar phenomenon. It is the final act of desperation; your own body is your last resource for protest."

Also, Kaleem Aftab: "The centrepiece of the film is a 22-minute single shot in which Sands reveals his plan to go on hunger strike to Fr Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham).... The sympathetic portrait within this excellent film will cause much debate, and outrage."

"The film takes a while to settle down, pingponging between other prisoner and guards in the notorious Maze prison, but when it lands on Sands, played in an astounding physical performance by Michael Fassbender, Hunger takes hold, writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

Updates, 5/17:"In Hunger, we saw two projects," writes Emmanuel Burdeau in Cahiers du cinéma's Cannes diary:

One that fully draws its strength from McQueen's terrible artistic precision in the creating of images which can resume and condense, in two polar axes and as many gestures, a much larger situation: torture, family visits, imprisonment, an essay on daily life in a space of 19 square feet.

The other, that would at last answer the question: just how does that constitute a film? (Note: I didn't say cinema). It is, we think, in considering this question that McQueen built a complex system of temporal comings and goings constantly confounding what he calls our "moral benchmarks."

But in doing so, does he not fall back upon convention? Ours, or those of so many films: the convention of Rashomon, of flashbacks?

The question remains. And McQueen has our admiration.

Arifa Akbar profiles Fassbender for the Independent.

Reviews in German.

Updates, 5/18: "The film is a British revelation," declares the Observer's Jason Solomons. "McQueen is a raw talent with an innate feel for the language of cinema."

"Little in Cannes is likely to be as provocative as Hunger," writes Jonathan Romney in the Independent. "With an intense Michael Fassbender sparing himself no rigours in the lead, Hunger is bound to generate equally intense controversy: it's one of the most uncompromising films to emerge from Britain in some time."

Earlier Cath Clarke profiles McQueen for the Guardian.

Update, 5/19: "I have mixed feelings about Hunger, largely because the political and religious context of the hunger strikes is crucially important, and the movie deliberately withholds most of it," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But as an immersive work of cinema that inevitably suggests more recent headline stories about famous prisons and the dire things that happen there, it's unforgettable."

Updates, 5/21: "If Waltz With Bashir seems specifically Jewish in its concern for the burdens of history, interpretation of dreams, and the nature of individual responsibility, Hunger... is an audaciously Catholic film," writes J Hoberman in the Voice:

Sands is shown as an explicitly religious martyr, and even the British cops are into a form of subtle self-mortification.

Deliberate verging on precious, Hunger opens as dryly academic as something by the Berwick Street Collective and then transcends mannerism halfway through with an extraordinary 20-minute single-take conversation between Sands (Michael Fassbender) and a not-unsympathetic parish priest (Liam Cunningham).

The film's harrowing final movement is a contemporary last passion that's informed not only by religious scripture but a thousand years of Christian art - with Margaret Thatcher herself, or at least her voice, playing the part of Pontius Pilate.

"Close camera shots within the prison cells evoke sweltering claustrophobia, and the unflinching lens of the camera brings us no relief from the brutality to which we are witnesses," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "This is a violent film, but there is masterful artistry at work as well."

Updates, 5/22: Online listening tip. The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with McQueen.

"Suggesting a parallel between Margaret Thatcher's detetention policies and those of George W Bush, this first feature has more to say about the nature of fanaticism than any recent film on the subject," writes Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago.

Update, 5/24: Andrew O'Hehir talks with McQueen for Salon.

Update, 6/3: "Only in the last part of the film does Hunger lose force, as the director resorts to some trite imagery to convey Sands's final moments - unsurprisingly, the textbook lyricism of birds taking flight does not fit very well in a movie whose signature shot might be of a prison guard mopping up puddles of urine," writes Jason Anderson for Artforum. "But McQueen has done more than enough to convince viewers of his huge promise as a filmmaker."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:59 PM

Cannes. Kung Fu Panda.

Kung Fu Panda "Cartoons at a super-serioso film festival?" asks Time's Richard Corliss. "Mais oui, if the festival is Cannes, which has been hospitable to animation from the start; Walt Disney's Make Mine Music and Dumbo won prizes the first two years.... Today DreamWorks unveiled its latest ani-movie, Kung Fu Panda [site]. As cunning visual art and ultra-satisfying entertainment, it proved an excellent choice."

Variety's Todd McCarthy finds it "a nice looking but heavily formulaic DreamWorks animation entry. The tale of a bumbling, pot-bellied, black-and-white bear who has greatness thrust upon him when anointed to protect his community, the vocally star-laden effort features an abundance of broad, buffoonish slapstick that will play perfectly well with kids to desired BO effect. But overall mild impact will likely prevent this from joining the top commercial tier of animated attractions."

"The world has already fallen in love with a grumpy green ogre (Shrek) and a lugubrious mammoth (Ice Age) so it should have no trouble clasping a podgy, self-deprecating panda to its collective bosom," writes Allan Hunter in Screen Daily. "Kung Fu Panda ticks all the boxes for must-see family entertainment and the cute factor is only enhanced by the vocal expertise of Jack Black and the fact that this particular rotund panda has delusions of martial arts grandeur."

Screening Out of Competition, naturally.

Online viewing tip. Goldenfiddle spots a slip-up.

Update: "Perhaps the best thing about Kung Fu Panda is that it's an action comedy that doesn't skimp on the action," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. This is "a well-made kid's film that earns high points for how directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne clearly crafted and contemplated its look and feel with ambition and style. Anyone can make a computer-animated cartoon with fuzzy animals doing kung fu; you have to be at least a little inspired to make a computer-animated cartoon featuring fuzzy animals doing kung fu in widescreen Cinemascope."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 12:57 PM

Fests and events, 5/15.

The Americans "He captured a society in flux, one making a jarring transition from contentment to discontentment, and he did so from uncommon perspectives," writes Steve Dollar, previewing Celebrating Robert Frank, an evening - this evening - at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. "One oft-cited review deemed his work a “meaningless blur.' But as Jack Kerouac (who served as narrator on Pull My Daisy) wrote in his introduction to the Grove Press edition of The Americans, published in 1959, 'Robert Frank. Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the great tragic poets of the world.'"

Updated.

"Beginning as a teenage prodigy amidst Andy Warhol's Factory, [Warren] Sonbert brought his Bolex camera to bear on his life, tastes and milieus. He's sometimes simplistically referred to as a 'diarist' filmmaker, though Sonbert developed more over time than the term implies. As his films moved from outsider pop to symphonic polyvalence, their overlaid and often contradictory tones and themes inscribed a uniquely capacious cinema." At SFR360, Max Goldberg previews tonight's screening at SF Camerawork, followed by two more Thursday evenings at Artists' Television Access. Presented by kino21. Update: Michael Guillén talks with kino21 co-curator Konrad Steiner.

Mike Everleth has the lineup for the Portland Women's Film Festival, opening tonight and running through Sunday.

Bill Wood's Business

"On Monday night, the worlds of media, fashion, and photography packed Chelsea Pier 60 for the International Center of Photography's annual Infinity Awards dinner," writes Patricia Bosworth in VF Daily. "Diane Keaton's entrance was unobtrusive.... Her latest book, Bill Wood's Business, coincides with a new exhibit she curated with [Marvin] Heiferman. Also called Bill Wood's Business, it opens today at ICP and will run through September."

"In conjunction with the run of Mister Lonely, the Belcourt is showing a retrospective of Harmony Korine's first two films, Gummo (May 22-23) and Julien Donkey-Boy (May 22 & 24) along with a making-of documentary on his current film." Jim Ridley has details in the Nashville Scene.

More from Boston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: Victoria Large on Nerdcore Rising.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:44 AM

Cannes. Lion's Den.

"In his breakthrough film Crane World (1999), Pablo Trapero displayed his mastery at depicting wide open urban spaces and liberating patches of sky in his native Buenos Aires," writes Howard Feinstein for Screen Daily.

Lion's Den

"Then, in Born and Bred (2006), he created a parallel world in nature, capturing the endless, intoxicating landscape of Patagonia. Now, with Lion's Den (Leonera) he successfully and gracefully shifts in the reverse direction, creating a suffocating, claustrophobic environment within women's prisons - specifically those that house mothers and their young children."

"Martina Gusman stars here as Julia, who wakes up one morning a bloody mess, with two male bloody messes in the apartment with her, and subsequently winds up accused of murder. And she's pregnant," writes Glenn Kenny. "The film follows several years of her life, chronicling her finessing of prison politics, the fierce bond she creates with her son, her fraught relations with her wealthy mother (Elli Medeiros), and more. Gusman's performance is what most critics would call a 'powerhouse' (unless somebody's pulling my leg, she was pregnant for real during the part of the shoot in which her character was) and Pablo Trapero's direction is what you would call 'remarkably assured.'"

"Situated somewhere between neo-realist study and standard women in prison pic, Lion's Den too frequently wanders into common territories to make the material its own, though pic's overall style and Martina Gusman's bold lead have a great deal to recommend them," writes Jay Weissberg in Variety.

"Lion's Den is marvelously shot and acted, constantly surprising, and completely focused on Julia's struggle to get from one moment, or one day, to the next one rather than through some formulaic story arc," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It's a terrifically engaging story about a woman who is damaged, angry, beautiful and indomitable, who loves her son and who remains a mystery to us, and to herself, right to the end."

"It wasn't bad: steroided social-realism with much rattling of bars, tooth-and-claw survival techniques and cat-fights aplenty," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks.

Competing.

Update, 5/16: "It’s a fairly simply story, though Trapero makes the most of it by only revealing salient facts at sporadic intervals and by focusing so closely on character: not just the superbly played Julia, but also her mother Sofia and Marta, a fellow inmate who helps the novice adjust to prison life," writes Geoff Andrew for Time Out. "As the film slowly zooms in not so much on what exactly happened in Julia’s apartment but on how she’ll respond to the child and its future, Trapero teases out the various social, psychological and ethical strands of a morally complex situation with commendable clarity; and as in his Familia Rodante, what can sometimes seem a fairly straightforward film of no particular originality or consequence is transformed by an ending that is at once pleasingly ambiguous and almost unexpectedly affecting."

Update, 5/17: "As important as the prison is as a backdrop, with its cursing, lustful, hair-pulling inmates and their hordes of tiny tots, Julia remains a solid axis for the story," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "Gusman, who has been involved on the production side of all Trapero's films since El Bonaerense and who also played in Born and Bred, has a modern intensity that blows away the rest of the cast."

Updates, 5/18: "Some of the classic tropes of slammer dramas are here - the shower-room brawl, the spell in solitary, the riot," writes Jonathan Romney in the Independent. "But Trapero's hard-bitten realist approach - he shoots in actual prisons, and casts real-life guards and inmates - gives the film a distinctive steeliness. Expect Martina Gusman to be a leading contender for the Best Actress Oscar."

"There's a rough-hewn realism in Lion's Den, but there's also a subtle lyrical quality to it; the performances are impressive but unforced, the camerawork contemplated without being showy," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical.

"Trapero's battle is to keep clichés at bay, and through subtle camerawork and Gusman's acting, this is grippingly managed," writes the Observer's Jason Solomons.

Updates, 5/21: "With her work in this film, Gusman becomes the early front-runner for Cannes' Best Actress prize, and if I see a better performance all festival I will be very surprised," writes Matt Noller at the House Next Door.

Gusman "is strenuous but not persuasive, in a gritty film whose heart is too soft," writes Mary Corliss for Time.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 7:57 AM

Cannes. Four Nights with Anna.

Four Nights with Anna is "the first film in 17 years from the great Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, who mostly has spent his time recently acting (he was Naomi Watts's racist Russian uncle in Eastern Promises)," writes Ty Burr.

Four Nights with Anna

"The film's small, bleakly funny, quite sad, and beautifully controlled - a tale of peeping-tom passion about a hospital handyman who drugs his favorite nurse's nighttime tea so he can sit and watch her as she sleeps. Creepy, yes, but the film teases the pathos and even nobility out of this wretched man."

"I found this rather frustrating at first," writes Glenn Kenny. "Jerzy Skolimowski's first directorial effort in ten years, and he's doing a pastiche of Bruno Dumont and Béla Tarr?'... Truth to tell, the film's still sinking in for me, and my enthusiasm is growing."

"Helmed with absolute assurance from the get-go, but still marbled with moments of black comedy that faintly recall his younger, wilder works, pic has the metaphysical feel and control almost of a story from Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue and is all the more impressive coming from a filmmaker who's just turned 70 and has been absent from the profession for almost two decades," writes Derek Elley in Variety.

Four Nights with Anna has opened the Directors' Fortnight. For more on the 40th anniversary of the fest-within/beside-the-fest, see Scott Foundas's piece and interviews for the LA Weekly.

Updates, 5/17: "Skolimowski goes deadpan not in content but in form," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "But it is oddly pleasurable - a near total unfathomability beyond its surface, Skolimowski's return hints at really being far, far from what it seems."

"There is about enough material here for a thirty-minute short, and it's only Artur Steranko's absorbing one-man act as a lovelorn village simpleton that stops a stretched film from feeling even thinner," suggests Screen Daily.

Update, 5/21: "Fluid filmmaking that can boast a surplus of black humor and a much-appreciated lack of dialogue, Four Nights With Anna features a great physical performance by Artur Steranko as the frightened, clever, seeming halfwit who spends his days tending a small town's hospital crematorium and his evenings spying on the ample nurse who lives across the muddy way," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "This sardonic thriller has an early 60s jangle. New Wave to the bone, it's replete with Hitchcock jokes and predicated on voyeurism."

Update, 5/22: "It plays like a smart and chilling analogue to Krzysztof Kieslowski's A Short Film about Love," writes Patrick Z McGavin in Stop Smiling. "Both are fascinating works of voyeurism, but the Skolimowski is the far knottier and difficult work.... This is a talent very much worth welcoming home."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 7:42 AM

Eno @ 60.

Eno: Music for Films "The quietest revolutionary in rock is 60," writes Nick Hasted in the Independent. "Elvis, Dylan, James Brown, even Oasis, have set more souls alight. But, by working for Microsoft (he wrote the Windows start-up theme), Bowie, U2 and Talking Heads, Brian Eno has parlayed outlandish musical ideas into a ubiquitous and lucrative career."

But of course, Eno's much more than just a musician and producer. He's also shot his own video works, mapped his own scents, exhibited art works... for starters. And now, among other things, he's collaborating with David Byrne again; recent online viewing tip: Eno on Barry Lyndon.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:50 AM

Cannes. Waltz With Bashir.

"Ari Folman's animated documentary could easily turn out to be one of the most powerful statements of this Cannes and will leave its mark forever on the ethics of war films in general," writes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily.

Waltz With Bashir

"Dealing from a very personal point of view with the Israeli incursion into the Lebanon in 1982 and culminating with the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre, which the Israelis did not perpetrate but surely tolerated, this is not only a tremendously potent anti-war movie but also a formidable moral indictment of Israeli conduct at that time."

"Where Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (to which this film will be inevitably, if somewhat inaccurately, compared) used stark black-and-white animation based on Satrapi's graphic novels to tell the history of one girl growing up during the Iranian revolution, Waltz With Bashir uses vivid, hand-drawn animation to bring to life interviews Folman conducted with friends who were involved in the Lebanese war in the early 1980s to bring to life harrowing memories of death, guilt and regret," writes Cinematical's Kim Voynar, who wouldn't be surprised to see the film make a showing at Telluride - and at the Oscars.

Via Karina Longworth, the trailer.

Updates: Waltz is "something special, strange and peculiarly potent," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety. "Folman is effectively an onscreen (but animated) narrator and reporter here, whose interviews with other soldiers (voiced by the real people themselves, apart from two individuals) form the film's narrative spine. Each interviewee's story is illustrated, with often startling results."

"It's a strong, strong work - while the reliance on Flash animation gives the visuals an unnecessarily cheap edge, the voice-over work (in most cases by Folman's actual army pals) leads the audience slowly closer to the event until the final, stunning moments almost erupt from the screen," writes Ty Burr. "Waltz with Bashir is an anti-war movie but it's also about what really passes between male friends, and it's about the guilt that can come from abetting an atrocity rather than committing it."

"Animation, of course, solves the problem of recreating with real bodies scenes that should never be recreated (see Gilbert Adair on Schindler's List in his book Flickers)," writes Glenn Kenny. "It also gives Folman imaginative opportunities to ruminate, both sardonically and agonizedly, on a form of Israeli guilt that isn't given much voice anywhere outside of Israel. Its exposure in this festival is almost as groundbreaking as the movie itself."

"Stylistically, the film has the woozy, weightless intensity of Richard Linklater's Waking Life, while it circles its central horror in the same mercurial, questioning manner adopted by Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "Waltz With Bashir is an extraordinary, harrowing, provocative picture. We staggered out of the screening in a daze."

"If any of us were wondering why an unknown Israeli director's animated quasi-documentary about a largely forgotten war was scheduled so prominently, we're not wondering now," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "At least in part, the subject of Waltz With Bashir - the title refers to Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel, whose assassination inflamed Lebanese Christians to widespread anti-Muslim violence - is the unreliable and fantastic quality of memory itself."

"Though Folman is to be commended for the seriousness and remorselessness of the accretion of detail, his is still very much a view from one side of the fence, however breast-beating," blogs the Guardian's Andrew Pulver. "Can American films ever tell the whole story of the Vietnam war, however lacerating? In the end, Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter are most eloquent on the US soldiers' traumas, not of the Vietnamese locals. Jewish audiences rightly react with suspicion when Germans make films about the second world war death camps. But that is one advantage of Cannes: all the world's media are here, and it may be one of the few opportunities Arab commentators will have to respond to Folman's confession."

"The film feels very personal and almost intimate - the first real winner here, in Cannes," writes Facets' Milos Stehlik.

"Its troops alone bear the scar of war; they carry it home with them - if they come home - and those nightmares may never end," writes Mary Corliss for Time. "Waltz With Bashir is about the cold fingers of memory that clutch the heart. Forman's exemplary film says that only by exposing the wounds can they begin to heal. The message of the futility of war has rarely been painted with such bold strokes."

"The sporadic weakness of the animation is easily overcome by its cinematic adventurousness, with the camera making wild tracking shots and impossible zooms through its sketched-in world," writes Alison Willmore. "More than the monstrous events that are witnessed and that close the film in all-too-real detail, the moments of levity and jolting, out-of-place beauty are spookily resonant of the way things are perma-seared into your recollection, bright and vivid as the passing present. It's a quiveringly good depiction of sense memory, and both a lovely and disquieting film as a whole, one that takes few of the directions you'd expect in that overcrowded field of atrocity docs."

A "major revelation," declares the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu.

Updates, 5/16: "As in Maus, Art Spiegelman's two-volume graphic novel about the Holocaust, the animation in Waltz With Bashir initially works as something of a distancing device, giving you the space — intellectual, emotional — to process the story and its accumulating horrors," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. The "finale, which finds the animation violently giving way to live-action documentary footage, is stunning, at once a furious act of conscience and a lament."

But for Eric Kohn, writing in Stream, that transition "remind[s] us how everything that came before was artifice and giving off the sense that the gimmick eclipses the good intentions."

"Last year's hints of an Israeli cinema renaissance are given further weight by this unsettling examination of the brutally surreal nature of modern combat," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "[T]he film's most damning moment is reserved for the then Israeli Minister of Defence, one Ariel Sharon. An interviewee recalls that when he informed the minister in a late-night phone call that a massacre was suspected, Sharon said 'Thank you for bringing it to my attention' and promptly went back to sleep."

Updates, 5/18: "If the start of the film threatens to appear too episodic and repetitive, the traditionally drawn animation renders a destabilizing and surreally beautiful succession of imagery, particularly the dread, confusion and frightening simulacra of war, which assume a haunting, tragic intensity," writes Patrick Z McGavin for Stop Smiling.

"That Folman chooses to depict his quest in impressionistic, often dream-like animation initially seems like an outrageous poetic liberty - but it makes his film all the more personal and gives it the urgency of a true cri de coeur," writes Jonathan Romney in the Independent.

"It's a shattering war film, full of guilt and shock, and finding a new medium for expressing and exploring familiar themes," writes the Observer's Jason Solomons.

Updates, 5/19: Online viewing tip. At Twitch, Ardvark finds trailers at the site.

"Folman has captured a rare thing, and something almost exclusively relegated to fictional cinema: the emotions and personal feeling of memory," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Folman's personal quest to determine his own roll in Beirut - which culminates in the film's most affecting and startling use of mediated remembrance: live action, harsh video footage of the massacre - structures the film, but that story's urgency pales in comparison to the supreme, earnest evocation of the way of remembered events can be colored by psychological and personal reflection and trauma."

Update, 5/21: "The film is little more than a straight-forward condemnation of the horrors of war, made slightly more powerful by the self-critique at the heart of Folman's project," writes Matt Noller at the House Next Door. "But Folman too often resorts to obvious statements of theme, and a late-film shift to live-action footage of the massacres is especially blunt and ill-advised."


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 1:39 AM | Comments (3)

Cannes, 5/15.

Cannes It's a bit early in the day for a roundup, but Gregg Goldstein packs so much Wow! in his hot little item at the Hollywood Reporter that this entry cannot wait and will simply have to serve as a sort of Cannes ticker until this long day is done. The lede: "Werner Herzog and David Lynch are teaming for My Son, My Son, a horror-tinged murder drama based on a true story."

He's got a bit more on that one, but next: "In a separate development, Lynch's Absurda production company has attached Asia Argento and Udo Kier to star with Nick Nolte in Alejandro Jodorowsky's metaphysical gangster movie King Shot." That'll be a set to visit.

Goldstein also mentions that "Marilyn Manson is touted to appear as a prophet in the Sin City-style film, which producer Eric Bassett said has enough sex and violence to guarantee an NC-17 rating."

So, Werner Herzog: busy guy. A remake of Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant with Nicolas Cage in July; The Piano Tuner in the fall; then a "guerrilla-style digital video shoot on Coronado Island" with Lynch in March 09.

On a calmer front, the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas offers "A Brief History of the Directors' Fortnight," now celebrating its 40th anniversary, and gathers memories of the Quinzaine from the likes of Lisandro Alonso, Theo Angelopoulos, Cristi Puiu and more.

For the Guardian, Frank Cottrell Boyce meets Terence Davies to talk about Of Time and the City, a "movie that is among his best."

Cineuropa pulls its special section together.

"Sean Penn may be president of the Cannes Film Festival jury - but don't expect any buttoned-up presidential behavior from the Hollywood rebel." Angela Doland reports on yesterday's press conference for the AP. More from Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian.

IFC has acquired a pair of Cannes festival entries, Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale and Josh Safdie's The Pleasure of Being Robbed. Brian Brooks reports for indieWIRE.

"The big gun?" For Twitch's Todd Brown on his first day, it's new promo for Ong Bak 2.

Emmanuel Burdeau writes a first entry in Cahiers du cinéma's Cannes diary.

Online listening tip. The Observer's Jason Solomons.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has notes on various press conferences: "Serious, Silly Intersect In First 24 Hours of 61st Cannes Festival."

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

Yella.

Yella "Set in a German nowheresville of conference centers and anonymous greenery, Yella has been lauded as a stringent portrait of disaffecting 'dog-eat-dog' business, like some late-capitalist Western counterpart to Still Life," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "But Christian Petzold's stripped-down, lucid-dreamt drama is more slippery than that.... Despite some superficial overlap, like the formal attention and Yella's red suit, the film has little to do with the 2003 French office film She's One of Us; Petzold's film is more controlled and embodies a conflicted state of mind and being."

Updated through 5/16.

"Like Laurent Cantet's Time Out and Nicolas Klotz's recent Heartbeat Detector, it's a corporate ghost story in which the undead are scarcely (and scarily) indistinguishable from the living," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice.

"Given the quick decimation of foreign-language arthouse releases, even award-winning ones like Yella, see it lickety-split if you can; its lead performance, in particular, will linger by the time the piece makes it to pixels." A recommendation from Robert Cashill. "Yella is portrayed by Nina Hoss, who won the Silver Bear at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival for her anxious-under-the-surface performance."

"Hoss effectively exudes deep-seated, intense unease but little else, mainly because Yella - far less concerned with character development than with bludgeoning clues to the drama's true nature - isn't truly a film about a woman or the moral health of modern Germany but, first and foremost, one centered around a climactic surprise, and a frail, trivializing one at that," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"Hoss provides a performance that is as phenomenal as any I have ever encountered," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Yet, she has been appearing and reportedly excelling in German movies, stage plays and television productions since at least 1996, and I have never, ever seen her perform in any medium. This suggests the still uncertain vagaries of foreign film distribution in America."

Earlier: Chris Darke in Film Comment.

Online listening tip. Kulturwoche's interview (in German) with Hoss.

Updates, 5/16: "Christian Petzold's enigmatic thriller Yella offers a surreal X-ray vision of cutthroat capitalism in 21st-century Germany," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "As the movie, which was inspired by the 1962 film Carnival of Souls, becomes increasingly abstract, the geography and the characters acquire a deeper symbolism."

"Yella's subzero rendering of Euro capitalism's cutthroat culture simultaneously critiques its antihuman modernism and keeps the paranoia simmering at Polanski-esque levels (one scene involving a broken wineglass is worthy of Repulsion)," writes David Fear in Time Out. "Tension is brilliantly sustained, especially when Ben reappears, and yet... You know that horrific feeling of suddenly realizing that a narrative is pulling one of the oldest tricks in the book?"

"[T]hough the sociopolitical message in Yella may be a bit obscure, the feelings conjured by the characters and the scenarios are starkly real and universal," writes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun. "Mr Petzold, whose previous three feature films have not yet been released in America, shows himself to be a major talent. With a severe visual style that recalls the works of Michael Haneke, Yella stirs up the intense emotions that boil beneath clinical, placid settings such as meeting rooms, hotels, and country roadsides. The character of Yella and the film itself remain enigmatic throughout, but it's difficult not to get involved in all the twists and turns."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:30 AM

Sangre de mi Sangre.

Sangre de mi Sangre "In Sangre de mi Sangre, Christopher Zalla serves up an old-fashioned, sentimental weeper with a sucker punch of urban-immigrant horror," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Zalla, a graduate of Columbia's film school, is talented and single-minded. He needs to lighten up, literally. He frames his characters to bring out all their sweaty desperation, and his palette is dark with splashes of muddy brown; even the street scenes look as if they were shot in a dungeon. The director really piles on the grotesquerie."

"Dark and clamorous, never less than tastefully lurid, Sangre de Mi Sangre intimates Luis Buñuel's classic slum drama Los Olvidados - not in terms of the narrative per se, but in the way it deals with conflict and characterization, as though Zalla had recast Buñuel's types (the confused good boy and his delinquent alter ego, the contested woman and the blind miser) in another drama set in another corner of society's basement," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. All in all, it's "contrived, but compelling."

Updated through 5/16.

"Though it's infinitely better than last year's execrable Trade (the worst movie... ever?), Zalla's film similarly traffics in south-of-the-border stereotypes, opening, of course, with the usual touristy-dangerous shots of Mexico, set to 'indigenous' rhythms, which only prove to further distance the viewer from what should be a more intimate, humane experience," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE.

"Throughout, the action unfolds in moody monochromes, with alternately blue-, gray- and golden-hued scenes," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "Cinematographer Igor Martinovic puts his artistry on full display, reveling in expressive zooms, instinctual handheld movements and an isolating focus. Such technical prowess reinforces characters' unstable situations while Zalla's hybrid immigration-and-identity-theft script keeps the moving parts in flux."

"[I]ts noirish narrative is antithetical to the feel-good sentimentality of the recent Mexican mother-son reunion in Under the Same Moon," notes Andrew Sarris in the Observer.

A "refusal to show the Disneyfied version of New York (which anyone with an interest in can gorge on with the release of the Sex and the City movie later this month) is eventually what makes Sangre so haunting," writes Mark Peikert in the New York Press.

Earlier: Jason Guerrasio's interview with Zalla for Filmmaker and reviews from Sundance 07.

Updates, 5/16: "Although [Sangre] exhibits a heartfelt connection with the city's half-invisible population of illegal immigrants, its myriad inconsistencies and strained plotting are increasingly frustrating," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

"Sangre De Mi Sangre is an exercise in misery, painting the immigrant life in America as every bit as bleak as what they were trying to escape," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "The film seems even more one-note when compared to the recent indie feature Chop Shop, which also follows young immigrant hustlers in NYC, yet takes the time to provide a fuller picture of the city and its opportunities. Zalla prefers to wallow in the dead-end, an approach that's initially powerful, then numbing."

"It's not that Sangre doesn't work; it's that it works way too smoothly for material this ostensibly raw," writes Joshua Rothkopf for Time Out.

"[T]he film's relentless focus on the adversities faced by illegal immigrants eventually tips from heartbreak to preachy pulp," writes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:24 AM

May 14, 2008

Shorts, 5/14.

The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger "The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger (Faber & Faber), a studious, informative, often astutely argued new book by Phoenix contributor Chris Fujiwara, abounds with horror stories of Preminger's sadistic ways," writes Gerald Peary. Those stories told, "he leaps boldly from tainted biography to the purity of Preminger's artistry, seeing mastery and even a moral vision in the filmmaker's Hollywood oeuvre."

At the AV Club: Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon) and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie, The Postal Service) talk about, among other things, of course, their respective minor roles in movies.

For indieWIRE, Jason Guerrasio checks in on five indies currently in production: Gigantic (with Paul Dano and Zooey Deschanel), Peter and Vandy (with Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler), Phantomschmerz (producer Matthias Emcke's directorial debut), The Seminar with Robert McKee (a doc; trailer's at the site) and Ry Russo-Young's You Won't Miss Me (with Julian Schnabel's daughter, Stella).

Movie City News is running Larry Gross's 1982 48 Hours diaries.

Notes on a Life For the Los Angeles Times, Margaret Wappler talks with Eleanor Coppola about her new book, Notes on a Life, "a free-flowing document that draws power from a steady accumulation of detail rendered in quiet, natural prose. It's the testament of a woman devoted to her family, seemingly at the disservice of her own artistic goals. But it's also not that simple."

"City of Ember is probably the first post-apocalyptic movie openly aimed at the under-18 crowd. But there have been others." And Joshua Glenn can think of a few.

"[A]re the new fertility film stars actually feminists?" asks Alissa Quart in Mother Jones. "The heroines of this year's conception flicks (Smart People, Baby Mama and Then She Found Me, as well as recent hits Juno, Knocked Up and the brilliant-but-forgotten Happy Endings) mostly procreated with someone of questionable character: Their stunted inseminators include a childlike ex-husband, a curmudgeonly near stranger, and the trashy boyfriend of a wacky gestational mother. Every one of these embryo pics presents itself as a comedy, but their real themes are dark as pitch."

Film blogs yelp a collective "WTF!?" as news breaks that Werner Herzog's directing Nicolas Cage in a remake of Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant. Variety reports.

Yeast Sujewa Ekanayake talks with Mary Bronstein about Yeast.

"Alfonso Cuarón has quite the task ahead of him in adapting Nicole Krauss's The History of Love, his potentially more challenging follow-up to Children of Men," writes Matt Prigge in the Philadelphia Weekly. "The charms of the novel, a structurally inventive tale of a teenage girl and a Holocaust survivor, are exclusively literary, but with the right radical approach, the tale could find a whole new life in cinematic form. As a warning on what not to do, Cuarón would do well to watch Fugitive Pieces, Jeremy Podeswa's unimaginative and literal-minded take on Anne Michaels's bestseller."

"Wounds from the Florida recount, still healing for many Democrats, are being ripped open again for some prominent former advisers to Al Gore," reports Edward Wyatt in the New York Times. "They say that a coming HBO film dramatizing the ballot battle after the 2000 election [Recount] unfairly blames them for the Democrats' failure to secure the White House."

Too good to be buried in the current summer movies entry: "What's surprising is how kind time has been to Days of Thunder," writes Dennis Cozzalio. "I wonder how Speed Racer will look to audiences 18 years from now.... What's authentically awesome about Speed Racer is the way it nimbly accesses the emotions buried within a blockbuster package and uses the digital medium not only to excite the senses but to come to an understanding, in the rush of excitement in our brain waves and in our follicles as the goose bumps rise, of why we should be reacting at all. This is, to me the mark of a work of pop art."

Lord of the Rings: Popular Culture in a Global Context In Film International, Terry Hobgood offers an approving overview of the collection The Lord of the Rings: Popular Culture in a Global Context.

"Much like some of this season's other film highlights (In the City of Sylvia, Alexandra, Paranoid Park), Hou [Hsiao-hsien]'s latest foregoes plot restrictions for acute ambience and sustained portraiture," writes Max Goldberg. "I didn't respond to Flight of the Red Balloon as quickly as I did to the others, but it's the one I most want to revisit. Diffuse yet deep, Hou's vision erases the boundaries between his film and the worlds that surround it."

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Dennis Harvey: "Battle for Haditha is like a realpolitik version of a 1970s disaster movie, sans soap operatics, Charlton Heston, or idle pleasure in the spectacle of order collapsing. It's tense, immediate, and vivid (if not quite so potently) in the way 2006's United 93 was."

"The title of 'first American independent filmmaker' seems to be thrown around quite a bit, often being assigned to John Cassavetes and his 1959 film Shadows, though the farther one looks back, the vaguer the term becomes and the more the possibilities increase (particularly in the silent era)," writes Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine. "While historian Foster Hirsch has bestowed the title upon Morris Engel and his 1953 masterpiece Little Fugitive, the veracity of such a statement is of no importance compared to the film itself and its undeniable influence on the generations of filmmakers who came after."

Quantum Hoops "The documentary Quantum Hoops is firmly rooted in a premise that Americans love and hold dear as a reflection of our collective mythological character: the story of the feisty underdog battling seemingly insurmountable odds," writes Ernest Hardy.

Also in the Voice: "Like Amos Gitai's 1999 Kadosh, Israeli writer-director David Volach's first feature has scores to settle with Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, especially as dominated by literal-minded men," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Unlike Gitai's strident screed, however, My Father, My Lord (unfortunately retitled from the more aptly elliptical Summer Holiday) is a subtly discriminating view from within one family's agonizing spiritual crisis by a secularized filmmaker who grew up one of 20 children in the separatist Haredi community of Jerusalem."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Georgina Riedel "about the real-life inspiration for [How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer], tackling old-age sexuality, and her lack of desire to have a penis." And Michael Guillén talks with Elizabeth Peña.

Gill Pringle profiles Susan Sarandon for the Independent.

War Inc At Screengrab, Phil Nugent spots the return, sort of, of Mark Leyner, "a genuine literary star in the 1990s." Now he's worked with John Cusack on the screenplay for War, Inc.

Gabriel Shanks weighs his predictions against the actual Tony nominations. Nathaniel R parses the list for movie fans. More commentary: Robert Cashill and David Poland.

How do you get from, say, No Country for Old Men to Little Caesar? Matt Langdon's been counting degrees of separation.

"'Our aim, in the not too distant future, is to have every British film digitally restored,' Andrea Kalas, senior preservation manager at the British Film Institute boldly states." To Chris Evans in the Independent.

New Yorker editor David Remnick lists "100 Essential Jazz Albums."

Playing the Building: An Installation by David Byrne.

Online viewing tip #1. The Onion reports on the Blockbuster Museum.

Online viewing tip #2. Sean Dodson has the story behind And I Refuse to Forget.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:30 PM

Critics, 5/14.

Mike D'Angelo Sigh. Another one. Or almost. "[I]f you've been following my adventures as a film critic for a long while, as I know many of you have, be advised that that lengthy chapter of my life seems to be on the verge of closing," blogs Mike D'Angelo. From home. And not from Cannes.

"I think that some of the current discussions about the souring state of movie criticism would benefit from some thoughts about what criticism is and does." David Bordwell steps back to take in the long view.

Updated through 5/15.

"Woody Allen is an extreme example, but the critical discussion about his films evidences the dominion psychoanalysis holds over film criticism," argues Ted Pigeon.

FilmInFocus has a good long talk with Kimberly Lindbergs, proprietor of the excellent Cinebeats.

"There are thousands of stories in Print City, this is one of them..." Adam Ross's "The Blog Sleep."

A fresh list from FILMdetail: "The Most Useful Movie Websites 2.0."

RC at Strange Culture announces a "Dads in Media" Blog-a-Thon for June 12 through 15.

Updates, 5/15: At PopMatters, Bill Gibron chimes in with "An Open Letter to the Online Critic": "New technology may mean a new way of communication, but frankly, we're doing a piss poor job of getting our point across - that is, when we can come up with a cogent and coherent argument to begin with. It's time to cast off the amateurish aura given off by what many of us do and recognize the role we will play in the next decade."

"[U]ndeserved, advance pigeonholing," is one of Rob Humanick's pet peeves. "Reviewing based on pedigree isn't criticism, it's a marketing assessment."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:51 PM

Fests and events, 5/14.

Tearoom Chicagoist Rob Christopher has admired the work of William E Jones for some time. "The uncanny feeling that comes from peering into a vanished world is in full force in Jones's newest video, Tearoom, which screens on Sunday at White Light Cinema." Jones will be on hand - with his accompanying book.

"Rarely screened, Rome 78 - part of this week's James Nares retro at Anthology Film Archives - has nevertheless built up its own aura over the years, no doubt due to its subcultural provenance," writes Ed Halter. "Seen now, Rome 78 collapses three layers of dead civilization: The script conveys the waning days of the Roman imperium; the sets evoke the Empire State's 19th-century robber-baron capitalism; and the cast memorializes the last days of urban bohemia's counter-kingdom."

Also in the Voice: "Before Hollywood snatches David Gordon Green away in a cloud of pot smoke, BAM will host a series of the auteur's downbeat, down-home dramas (from his debut, George Washington, to the recent Snow Angels), along with a sneak preview of his first potential blockbuster, the stoner action-comedy, Pineapple Express." Aaron Hillis chats with him a bit - and then notes the highlights of Summer 08 in NYC.

The L Magazine's Mark Asch rounds up a few more NYC goings on.

"The film series I'll Be Your Mirror: Rare Films by Philippe Garrel cuts a swath through Nico's and Garrel's enduring dual magnetism, a connection that endured long after her 1988 death from a cerebral hemorrhage," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Tomorrow through Sunday.

The Machine Girl "San Francisco's Fifth Annual Another Hole in the Head Film Festival ('Holehead08') had its press conference this morning where the line-up was announced and Noboru Iguchi's The Machine Girl was screened." And Michael Guillén was there. "Is it really true that revenge is a dish best served cold? Not when there's a wok with bubbling oil around!"

Brian Darr was there, too: "Few of the films announced for this year's program have been 'done to death' on the festival circuit, and nearly all of them have never screened in Frisco before. It seems unlikely that many will screen again here anytime soon, so if this sounds like your thing, mark your calendars for June 5 - 21."

"If you live anywhere near Austin, TX, you have to go see the new stage production by filmmaker Mike Z called The Strip Cult, which is a musical about Charles Manson," insists Mike Everleth. "It's being performed this Friday, May 16 at 9 pm at the Parish Room."

"This month's Bath International music festival is running a series of events to raise awareness of homelessness in the city." Francesca Martin reports for the Guardian.

Joanne Laurier has WSWS's second San Francisco roundup.

For SF360, Michael Guillén's talked with Alex Rivera about Sleep Dealer, picked up at SFIFF for a run in the US next February.

A Tribeca pick-up from Keith Uhlich at Zoom In Online: The Universe of Keith Haring.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:25 PM

Cannes, 5/14.

Cannes Here we go. Wall-to-wall Cannes, from today through May 25. If the items noted in the "Anticipating Cannes" entry, updated through last night, are any indication, the mood over there is nowhere near as festive as it was when last year's 60th anniversary edition opened. "Everyone may be expecting the bounty of good and even great films from around the world over the next 12 days, but the excitement is tempered by a sense that those films are facing unusually difficult prospects back in the United States." Manohla Dargis and AO Scott open the New York Times coverage on more or less the same downbeat note that Anthony Kaufman did indieWIRE's yesterday.

"Year after year - since its inception in 1939, really, when moving picture pioneer Louis Lumiere headed the jury - Cannes has embodied the notion of cinema as a monumental, prestigious form of artistic expression," writes Eric Kohn in Stream. "Over time, however, many regulars have started to feel that the festival has devolved into a oversized European fashion statement.... The stars nab the spotlight while distributors haggle for their best prospects and breakout independent filmmakers fight to gain notice. Together, they aggressively huddle for space in the hulking shadow of the Palais des Festival. The chaos is kinda brilliant."

"Cannes likes to return to the same filmmakers time after time, but this year none of its established British favourites - Loach, Leigh, Winterbottom and Figgis - has made the cut. Instead, something much more interesting is happening in the festival's lower echelons: four British directors, two of them well-known and two rather less so, have been selected, and while they are all at different stages in their film-making careers, their presence points to a new generation of British cinema beginning to make an impact on the world stage." Andrew Pulver introduces the Guardian's interviews with Steve McQueen (Hunger), Sam Taylor-Wood (Love You More), Thomas Clay (Soi Cowboy) and Duane Hopkins (Better Things).

"From a film lover's point of view, this year offers one of the most exciting Cannes lineups in many years," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir in a fairly lengthy preview. "I haven't looked forward to a festival this much (in terms of actually seeing movies) since I started doing this job. Still, it must be said that those cheap cloudy-weather metaphors fit a little too well."

What's more, John Horn reports that Cannes draws "bandits like moths to a flame. 'It's a convention of thieves,' says Tom Luddy, a co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival. He is speaking from personal experience: His Cannes hotel room and its safe were cleaned out several years ago. 'The pickpockets know it's perfect hunting grounds. They must come from all over the world.'" Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times is blogging in earnest.

Matt Noller opens a journal at the House Next Door.

"This year's Cannes Film Festival is awash with nostalgia," report Lars-Olav Beier and Martin Wolf in Der Spiegel. "The world's most important cinefest is celebrating the legacy of 1968, showing films by the now ageing masters of world cinema and even features two films that romanticize the left-wing icon Che Guevara."

Anne Thompson's blogging up a storm.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw pages through the catalogue. So, too, does Facets Multi-Media Executive Director Milos Stehlik.

More arrivals: Ty Burr, Eugene Hernandez, Glenn Kenny, Peter Knegt and Lou Lumenick.

Special sections reminder: indieWIRE; Variety; and the Guardian, the Telegraph, the London Times.

In German: angelaufen.de.

Online browsing tip #1. Magnum photos at Slate.

Online browsing tip #2. Cinematical's Kim Voynar snaps pix of all those posters all over town.

Panda-monium

Online viewing tip #1. At the Circuit, Michael Jones has video of Jack Black... and a bunch of pandas. More from Peter Knegt.

Online viewing tip #2. The IFC's got its Cannes Cam up and running again.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:23 AM

Cannes. Blindness.

"Blindness [site] may well be the bleakest curtain raiser in the history of the festival, a nightmarish parable of the apocalypse, directed by the Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles and just as impressive in its way as his career-making City of God," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks.

Blindness

"Blindness feels like a curious mix of highbrow literary aspirations and lowbrow genre fiction," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "[I]t'd be easy to dismiss Blindness as Dawn of the Dead for NPR listeners or Outbreak for grad students.... But while Blindness can be faulted for many things, it also has to be respected for its ambition, craft, and effort; Blindness shows us a world of wide-eyed sightlessness, and it does so through a fierce vision that only occasionally loses focus."

Variety's Justin Chang finds it "an intermittently harrowing but diluted take on José Saramago's shattering novel. Despite a characteristically strong performance by Julianne Moore as a lone figure who retains her eyesight, bearing sad but heroic witness to the horrors around her, Fernando Meirelles' slickly crafted drama rarely achieves the visceral force, tragic scope and human resonance of Saramago's prose."

"The laudably-ambitious Brazilian director hurls every visual trick in his considerable book at the challenges inherent in making a visual experience out of blindness," writes Fionnuala Halligan for Screen Daily. "Meirelles seems to struggle to find a tone, and Blindness fatally lacks tension before it tips over into bizarre final-act sentimentality."

"It startles but does not surprise," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "The script by Don McKellar bears witness to a mysterious plague of blindness, a 'white' disease in which people's eyes suddenly see only white light. As a cosmopolitan city struggles to cope with the horrifying fallout, a panicked government orders the immediate quarantine of those infected. The herding of shunned people into prison-like camps clearly provokes images of any number of 20th-century atrocities."

"As always, it's impossible to take one's eyes off Moore who is so adept at playing roles in which her strength seems brittle, almost masochistic," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "Alice Braga, a prostitute who is one of the inmates that Moore and [Mark] Ruffalo befriend, is also a stand-out performer. They do well to save a film that, in trying so hard to be faithful to the novel, falls prey to tone-deafness."

"Two or three people clapped at the end of the press screening," reports Jeffrey Wells. "The reception at the press conference was on the muted side. The movie, I fear, is going to be generally 'meh'-ed when it opens, and audiences are almost certainly going to steer clear."

Earlier: Will Lawrence's talk with Meirelles for the Telegraph.

Blindness is in Competition and opens in the US in September.

Updates: "In truth, only a director of Meirelles' particular combination of gifts could have brought that book's combination of despair and hope successfully to the screen," writes Kenneth Turan in a background piece for the Los Angeles Times. "As demonstrated by his best-known features, City of God and The Constant Gardener, which between them earned eight Oscar nominations, Meirelles joins the flair of commercial filmmaking with a socially conscious sensibility." And: "Saramago had wanted to come to the festival for the premiere, but his doctors hadn't allowed him to travel. So the director is flying to Lisbon on Saturday to show him the film. 'That's the screening I'm really afraid of,' he says. 'Two thousand people at the Grand Palais is not a big thing compared to Saramago's opinion.'"

For Charles Ealy at the Austin Movie Blog, it's "broken the traditional opening-day jinx in Cannes. Usually, the first movie of the fest is a real stinker. But Blindness got the show off to a good start Wednesday, with redemption emerging from an apocalypse."

Updates, 5/15: "Blindness is a drum-tight drama, with superb, hallucinatory images of urban collapse," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It has a real coil of horror at its centre, yet lightened with finely judged touches of gentleness and even humour. It reminded me of George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead, John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids and Peter Shaffer's absurdist stage-play Black Comedy, showing humanity groping in the darkness. This is bold and masterly filmmaking from Meirelles: popular entertainment with challenging ideas."

"[I]t's the script that's lacking," writes Dave Calhoun for Time Out. "[A]s a parable for a society - both its working and its failings - Blindness works only in fits and starts and relies too much on events and too little on ideas. Ultimately, it's a film that falls prey to its narrative speed and complexity; as a viewer, one is rarely able to focus on a moment, a scene or a thought and to investigate it for its meaning. There's no room for meditation, which is a bit of a disaster for a film whose story hinges on the need for society to sit back, take a breath and 'see' what it's doing to itself."

"The movie opens with Danny Glover's wise-man voiceover: 'I don't think we went blind; I think we always were.' Get it?" asks Glenn Kenny. "A lot of people have more of a stomach for this sort of thing than I do, but I couldn't help wondering just what there was here to admire as the metaphor gave way to an allegory." Still, "The conclusion moved me rather unexpectedly - Meirelles intimations of grace always come in unexpected ways, which make them work."

"The 2008 Cannes kickoff was a dog," declares Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It's not a bad film in any risible or outrageous way; Meirelles is a careful craftsman who can create memorable images, and Julianne Moore gives a performance of great tenderness, strength and vulnerability in the leading role. But Saramago's allegorical novel about a mysterious epidemic of blindness that paralyzes a major city - and perhaps all of human society - just wasn't meant for the movies."

"Pretentious trans-national, empty dud," pronounces Facets' Milos Stehlik.

"That the director succeeds more often than he fails proves the resilience of Saramago's potent themes as well as Meirelles's skillful visual language," writes Stephen Garrett for Esquire. "But Blindness stumbles because it's a fundamental mismatch: A visceral director better known for searing portraits of real-life injustices shouldn't really make a parable."

Erica Abeel talks with Meirelles for the IFC.

Updates, 5/16: "Curiously, the film's carefully calibrated racial and ethnic demographics echo those of the central castaways in Lost, though any given episode in that show's best seasons is far better," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Smarter too."

"[I]t's a dopey B-movie injected with simplistic melodrama - but maybe that's just a sign of the times," writes Eric Kohn in Stream.

"Because Blindness is an apocalypse-now movie for people who don't like horror or sci-fi or war films (or whatever generic bastard Children of Men was, either), it's therefore a melodrama - which in turn means that the Moore character's doctor hubby (Mark Ruffalo) spends the last few scenes whispering sweet nadas a la 'I miss you - I miss you so much,'" blogs Rob Nelson for the Boston Phoenix. "Yeah yeah, Mumbleman, love is blind, but here you wish it could be dumb - not stupid, but dumb."

"Evident from his first two features, Meirelles is almost too good at aestheticizing depravity," writes Patrick Z McGavin for Stop Smiling. "To its credit, the movie is fairly uncompromising.... A lot of the movie was shot in Toronto, and the use of the depopulated landscape and almost sinister architecture recalls David Cronenberg's Crash. Blindness never quite reaches that level of inspiration or audacity. It desperately needed that kind of personality, a Cronenberg, somebody to demonstrate how the transgressive and breakdown of the body is just the means for finding and revealing art."

Update, 5/17: "It's perhaps not a shock that Moore can pull off the role of a suffering housewife, but there's more to it than that; as she attempts to lead her followers through the tragedy, her face and body gradually register increasing measures of horror, exhaustion, and strength," writes Matt Noller at the House Next Door. "It's deep, layered acting, powerful but never showy; Meirelles could learn a thing or two from her."

Updates, 5/18: "The film works like an upmarket zombie thriller, with echoes of 28 Days Later and I Am Legend," writes the Observer's Jason Solomons. "But its parable elements, about the breakdown of society and the warring human urges for power, survival and kindness, are more haunting than in traditional horror movies. Meirelles infuses the carnage with humanism, teetering on the sentimental and pompous but never toppling in."

"The flamboyance of Meirelles's direction sits strangely at odds with the severe subject, and one problem is that Saramago's novel is one of those compelling, near-perfect works that never really needed to be filmed in the first place," writes Jonathan Romney in the Independent. "Given such a realist treatment, a resonant parable becomes a conventional apocalyptic adventure. But there's much to defend here - above all, Moore's commanding performance, catching a delicate balance between vulnerability and authority."

Update, 5/20: Kim Voynar posts extensive notes from the roundtable interviews.


Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.


Posted by dwhudson at 10:39 AM

Jennifer Jones.

Jennifer Jones "During a long career, celebrated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center this week, [Jennifer] Jones managed to avoid typecasting and appeared in roles ranging from the innocent and saintly to the wild and hysterical, working with a number of major directors - Vincente Minnelli, John Huston, and Vittorio de Sica, to name a few. Yet, never secure with stardom, Jones was driven to pursue it by [David O] Selznick's Svengali-like obsession with her." For the Voice, Elliot Stein previews Saint and Sinner: The Tempestuous Career of Jennifer Jones, running Friday through May 24.

Updated through 5/16.

"The best reason to attend this festival is the resurrection of Jones' Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger film Gone to Earth (1950), which was re-cut by Selznick and released as The Wild Heart," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door:

A comparison between the two cuts reveals Selznick's simplifying impulses...

Selznick was a great producer in the 30s and early 40s, giving valuable first opportunities to Katharine Hepburn, George Cukor, Vivien Leigh, Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock, but by the time he met and then married Jones, he had exhausted himself. He created and then thwarted her career, just as Van Heflin's well-meaning but drunk husband spoils Jones' vertiginous waltz in Madame Bovary. Still, Jones is a crucial part of five varied and exceptional films, Cluny Brown, Gone to Earth, Carrie, Ruby Gentry and Beat the Devil, and her fascinating, in some ways morally compromised life operates as a cautionary tale with a partial happy ending.

Earlier: Miriam Bale in Film Comment.

Updates, 5/16: "Blessed with limpid eyes, high cheekbones, and lips that purse devoutly in prayer in her Oscar-winning interpretation of St Bernadette Soubirous in The Song of Bernadette (1943), or splay into a licentious, leering overbite in Vidor's infamous, overheated Duel in the Sun (1946), Ms Jones was a bona fide movie star with the looks to prove it," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "But the lingering, haunting, ephemeral truth she brought to the movies came from deeper within."

Reverse Shot's robbiefreeling recommends William Dieterle's Portrait of Jennie, "one of the most haunting Hollywood films of any era."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:58 AM | Comments (2)

Reprise.

Reprise "Joachim Trier's dazzlingly kinetic tale of two aspiring Norwegian cult novelists is bounded by fantasies of what might have become of the friends and literary competitors after the publication of their first novels," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "But Reprise - a masculine story whose women come off best - is less a hermeneutic finger in your face (though it aims wonderfully low blows at literary celebrity) than a savage, funny, tender, tragic, and strangely beautiful riff on growing up in a broken world."

Updated through 5/16.

"The film is an exhilarating weave of childhood remembrance, projection, literary digression, and impish commentary," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Yet its postmodernism doesn't distance you. Even at its artiest, Reprise could spring from the pages of either protagonist's novel.... It's really a testament to the liberating power of art. You'll come out humming the syntax."

"Trier references DeLillo, Joy Division and Russ Meyer, and gets drunk on possibility in tangents and flash-forwards — when his exhilaration isn't stabbed by self-awareness or drained by depression," writes Mark Asch in the L Magazine. "The difference between totally digging Reprise and just admiring it is maybe a matter of the secret kinship that clicks into place, or doesn't, with each name dropped. Kinda the point, for a movie with the nouvelle vague's love of the personal canon that forges friendships and fuels creativity."

For the New York Times, Dennis Lim meets Trier for an interview and a "double-time tour" through MoMA: "Reprise is as energetic and digressive as its director, leaping ahead and circling back, dropping in jump cuts and freeze frames. Mr Trier acknowledged that the film's tricky structure owed something to time-bending experiments like Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now and Steven Soderbergh's Limey, as well as to the work of the French director Alain Resnais."

"Joachim Trier's mother was a documentarian, his father a sound department tech, his grandfather a Cannes-selected filmmaker, and his distant cousin Lars von Trier, so is it any surprise that the feature debut of this Copenhagen-born, Norwegian-based director has already turned out to be one of the year's best imports?" Aaron Hillis talks with him for the IFC. Sample question: "But what led to you twice becoming the National Skateboarding Champion of Norway as a teen?"

And Eric Kohn talks with Trier for indieWIRE. Sample question: "You recently introduced your grandfather Eric Lochen's film Remonstrance at Lincoln Center. How did that go?"

Updates: A "minor miracle," writes Brandon Harris, "stylish and suave, touching and humorous, it is perhaps the most propulsive and eminently watchable film about young, ambitious, literary twentysomethings ever made, which, I suppose, makes it tailor made for the chattering, art house set and just about no one else." Even so, "Reprise makes no false moves. It allows you to see the world new again."

"The film plays rough, but it also manages to find just the right places for some raw and edgy humor," writes Moriarty at AICN. "He wraps things up a little too neatly in places in the script, sort of like a punk-rock Richard Curtis, but there’s a lot to like here anyway. He appears to be a huge fan of early Truffaut, and there’s a giddy sense of release to the filmmaking that so often marks the work of young men finally turned loose with a camera."

"What's amazing is how fully you get absorbed into the lives of these characters and how every seemingly disparate scene ultimately makes sense in the grander scheme of things," writes Edward Douglas at Coming Soon. He also talks with Trier.

"[I]t's only a matter of time before Hollywood gets his hands on him and turns him into an anonymous hack," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "That's not merely cynicism or a judgment call on Trier's foregrounded visual flair, which, unlike most other flashy films pitched at the speed of youth, actually contains more true invention than gimmick.... In the rocket-fueled opening montage sequence, twenty-something writers Erik (a lanky and lovely Espen Klouman-Hoiner) and Phillip (tightly coiled Anders Danielsen Lie), longtime friends out of school and still living in Oslo, mail their respective manuscripts and imagine, in a series of flash-forwards, their possible futures... There's real passion here, and for a while, Trier's verve is exhilarating."

Update, 5/15: "That rare debut in which self-conscious formal daring proves exhilarating rather than excruciating, Joachim Trier's Reprise is a constantly fracturing wonder that finds exuberant expressiveness in its splintered structure," writes Nick Schager.

Updates, 5/16: "An exuberant, exhilaratingly playful testament to being young and hungry - for life and meaning and immortality, and for other young and restless bodies - Reprise is a blast of unadulterated movie pleasure," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Made under the self-knowing influence of the early French New Wave, before Godard discovered Mao and Truffaut lost his groove, the film wears its influences without a trace of anxiety, in part, I imagine, because its precociously talented Norwegian director, Joachim Trier, doesn't worry about old-fashioned conceits like creative patricide. You don't have to kill your fathers, just learn from them."

"For all their emphasis on the youth market, American movies have never done a good job of portraying actual youth," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times:

The idea that young equals dumb prevails - never mind that it's about the only time in life when reading Foucault or sitting through a Tarkovsky double feature is a viable task. What Hollywood tends to ignore is perhaps the central project of late adolescence and early adulthood - the avid, voracious creation of identity through books, movies, music and cultural hero-worship.

Norwegian director Joachim Trier's inspiring first feature Reprise joyfully tackles the process of self-creation, as well as the friendships that feed and sustain it. He captures, in a way that's cool and romantic and heady, the moment in life when nothing matters more than ideas, influences and the possibility of shaping one's life into a work of art.

For Time Out's David Fear, this is "easily the freshest debut to come along in ages. Imagine the intellectually dense pathos of Masculine-Feminine and the punk puckishness of Trainspotting filtered through a Nordic lens darkly, and you're halfway there."

"Now let us import sad young literary men," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Reprise skitters with a heady, hit-the-ground-running style that cools off with the fading of its characters' illusions and energies."

"Like many debut features, Reprise is a foremost a statement of purpose, and in that respect, at least, Trier shows limitless promise," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"Even though both leads spend a fair amount of screen time mired in Scandinavian gloom, the movie never stays still; it's a formal wonder, zipping to and fro in time and space, revisiting the boys' childhoods and imagining multiple possible futures for them," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "The pacing is occasionally a little jerky, with a disproportionate amount of time spent on aimless bull sessions. But the story keeps reeling you back in with mischievous tricks."

Andrew O'Hehir talks with Trier for Salon.

"Reprise is one of the most brilliant, heartfelt, exciting and exuberant feature film debuts in recent memory, and works not just as a demonstration of Trier's substantial talents but also as a superbly-made collaboration," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Trier co-wrote alongside Eskil Vogt, and the film's ensemble (including Lie, Klouman-Hoiner and Viktoria Winge as Phillip's gamine girlfriend Kari) is also superb, down to seemingly-minute supporting roles that are nonetheless perfectly cast, like Eindreide Eisvold's all-seeing but hardly certain dry tone as the narrator." And he talks with Trier, too.

So does Bryan Whitefield at Screengrab.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:04 AM | Comments (1)

Paraguayan Hammock.

Paraguayan Hammock "While gore-fests may get the most attention in the realm of horror films, perhaps not enough is given to that darkness of art-house cinema, the secret repose for the most suggestive kind of horror: the ghost story," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Paz Encina's New Crowned Hope entry, Hamaca paraguaya (Paraguayan Hammock) is an excellent example, where-in what is nominally dubbed a pretentious or at the very least plodding aesthetic and focus is really just looking at the same picture the wrong way.... [H]aunted by what's not there, we are always hoping that which is missing will appear, that which is longed for will be relieved."

"Encina's script is a beautifully written and considered immersion into the humdrum of campesino life, reminiscent of the psychological minutia Reinaldo Arenas brought to the first two novels of his Pentagonia, Singing from the Well and The Palace of the White Skunks, in which adults are always obsessing about food, weather, tradition, country and the gods above," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Both Arenas and Encina thrive on repetition, but Encina is not a phatasmagoric artist: More sobering than Arenas, she tells Paraguayan Hammock not from the wild and crazed point of view of a child tormented by - and in awe of - the adult world just beyond his reach but from the less nuanced and objective vantage point of an outsider."

"A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a Jungian psychiatrist, who took me to task for failing to enter into the world of Michael Haneke's Funny Games," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "But for me, a movie is an object in the world and not a virtual reality - and even if I do 'enter' one, it's with an appreciation of that world as a construction. In this sense, Paraguayan Hammock is an exemplary film object. It's impossible to watch Encino's movie without grasping how it was made, although this isn't to say that its simplicity precludes emotion or even suspense. On the contrary."

"Paz Encina does wondrous things in an overly familiar style of international art-house formalism: long, fixed takes of carefully arranged scenes; the meticulous orchestration of environmental noises; an oblique handling of character and continuity." Nathan Lee in the New York Times.

"Maybe the most mesmerizing effect is the abstracted yet intimate sound design of the couple's conversations," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Closely miked and slightly delayed, they sound like internal monologues, and sharp eyes will notice early on that the performers do not even appear to be talking (indeed, other actors were dubbed). It's as if their loving concerns about their son's return lie so close to heart that they hardly even need to be voiced: They're thinking about it all the time, turned inward even during their daily routines."

At Anthology Film Archives, today through May 20.

Earlier: First impressions from Cannes 06.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:36 AM

May 13, 2008

Sinatra.

Frank Sinatra "Comes a report that Martin Scorsese might be doing a film about Frank Sinatra - and not a documentary but an honest-to-God biopic," notes Shawn Levy. "I've written a book about Sinatra, so I know that there's more than a ton of material there for a movie."

"The life and work of Frank Sinatra, who passed away 10 years ago tomorrow, will be celebrated in film, television, radio, and even a commemorative 42-cent Sinatra postage stamp, which will be issued today," notes Charlotte Cowles. Two DVD sets are out today, too, the Early Years and the Golden Years. "His film work is often remembered as an adjunct to a musician's career," writes Gary Giddins:

Updated through 5/14.

Between 1954 and 1958, though, Sinatra functioned as an actor of nerve, stature, and originality - a natural, perhaps, but also a signature personality playing the type he assiduously perfected onstage. As a quintessential antihero and derisively anti-Method actor, Sinatra - his face filled out with an appealing virility absent in his early years - embraced a work ethic that led to several ambitious movies. In these five years, alongside a couple of middlebrow melodramas, coy comedies, and a fiasco of Himalayan dimensions (The Pride and the Passion), he played an assassin in Suddenly, the best Nathan Detroit ever in Guys and Dolls, a junkie in The Man With the Golden Arm, the heir to and equal of Bing Crosby in High Society, a semi-heel in Pal Joey, and broken men in The Joker Is Wild and Some Came Running.

Also in the New York Sun, Jay Akasie reports on that stamp.

"In the 1949 musical On the Town, you'll find a lot of things that might seem familiar from other musicals - big set pieces and a whimsical, can-do attitude - but at least one or two that will seem completely foreign," writes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com. "Top of the list: Frank Sinatra himself playing a detail-oriented nerd of a guy more interested in seeing the sights than he is scoring with a big-city dame."

For more on Some Came Running, currently enjoying a revival in London, see David Jenkins in Time Out - and of course, albeit briefly for now, Glenn Kenny, who's heading to Cannes and has just dubbed his new blog... Some Came Running.

Update, 5/14: At Cinematical, Jeffrey M Anderson gets an email conversation going with Sinatra's youngest daughter, Tina, regarding those new DVDs.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:53 PM | Comments (1)

DVDs, 5/13.

The Big Trail "Had it been even marginally successful, Raoul Walsh's 1930 epic western, The Big Trail might have changed the course of film history." Dave Kehr explains in the New York Times. Fascinating stuff. Also: reviews of two films by Mitchell Leisen, "[t]he very model of the crack studio director": "the 1937 Easy Living, with Jean Arthur and Ray Milland in a romantic comedy written by Preston Sturges, and the 1939 Midnight, a Parisian farce with Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore, from a screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett."

"Like Luis Buñuel, and in particular, like Buñuel's main heir, Manoel de Oliveira, Resnais's career trajectory seems to have been to quickly abandon evocations of a subjective consciousness in favor of a blatantly theatrical, questionably objective style that dryly notes the precise behavior of delusional people acting only on the logic of their own emotions, which isn't very logical at all," writes David Pratt-Robson in the Auteurs's Notebook, reviewing Mélo. "But only for Resnais has the move been frequently disastrous, with his hypocrites way too systematically hypocritical, and with his occasional attempts to sympathize with these idiots via cute camera tricks and sound effects coming off as feeble nods to avant-garde roots by a man who is himself mired in outdated Vaudeville gimmickry."

WR: Mysteries of the Organism "Did you know that fucking is the best way to resist totalitarianism?" asks Chris Gisonny at the House Next Door. "Me neither but I like the sound of it. In his schizophrenic and hilarious WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971), Dusan Makavejev gleefully presents sex as the greatest of all revolutionary acts. The film wears its 60s radicalism with pride, so expect to hear a lot about, you know, revolution, communism, sexual liberation, censorship, and youth. Dated? Preachy? To an extent. But its message is presented in such an entertaining manner that the film remains one of the more worthwhile artifacts of the counterculture."

Abel Gance's La Roue "is a massive, tragic melodrama, but it's also a high-gear modernist landmark, and its restoration and DVD release is an event," writes Michael Atkinson at the IFC, where he also reviews I'm Not There: "[Todd] Haynes is right in not making a safe or orthodox film about Dylan, even if it's at a cost."

Guy Savage has the Noir of the Week: Red Lights.

Paul Matwychuk revisits Charlie Varrick and The Long Good Friday.

Youth Without Youth "It would be easy to say that Youth Without Youth is many things at once, but bolder and truer to say that it is about everything and nothing, at all times," writes Rob Humanick. "I can't begin to expound on the rolling layers of profundity the film relishes in, from infinite sorrow to redemption and back again. It is the soul itself, born witness to."

"If [its] discourse on faith and flexibility reflects specific concerns within the schism-beset Church of the 16th century, as well as more general concerns about the nature of Christian identity, [Masahiro Shinoda's] Silence is equally preoccupied by the uneasy trafficking of goods and ideas between East and West - the same theme that in fact dominated Shinoda's first period film Assassination (Ansatsu, 1964), set against the background of a 19th-century Japan riven by US attempts to reopen trade routes," writes Anton Bitel in Film International. "It is, of course, a theme of great currency in Shinoda's own post-war Japan, occupied by the Allied forces until 1952 and still undergoing a rapid process of Westernisation."

"The first three Indiana Jones movies, which Paramount is reissuing in a new boxed set this week in anticipation of the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, are rife with multiple nostalgias," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times.

The Living End Dennis Harvey at SF360 on the remixed and remastered Living End: "Billed as 'An Irresponsible Movie by Gregg Araki,' this was maybe the first US narrative feature that responded to the AIDS crisis with ACT UP-style radical rage rather than lamentation or case-pleading. It's also (still) intensely sexy, funny, and romantic."

"10 Films Not Good Enough For DVD" (Jeff & Patrick, College Humor) and "10 Films Too Good To Be On DVD" (Alex Ross Perry, Tisch Film Review).

"[E]ven amid today's DVD culture, indicators abound of just how quickly our collective viewing habits are changing, and how Hollywood players are positioning themselves for a DVD-less future." S James Snyder reports for the New York Sun.

DVD roundups: AV Club; Sean Axmaker (MSN); Monika Bartyzel and Peter Martin (Cinematical); Paul Clark (Screengrab); DVD Talk; and Slant.

And of course, ongoing, the Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:31 PM

Godard, the 60s and 1968.

Les Carabiniers Following this one, the most recent entry on May 68 has fallen off the page. Reflections on that particular 40th anniversary will likely subside and the series 1968: An International Perspective wraps tomorrow; but Godard's 60s rolls on at Film Forum through June 5. Hence the tweak in the entry title.

"A major contradiction of Jean-Luc Godard's 60s films is that for all their difficulty, abrasiveness, unconventionality, and 'distance,' they are largely pleasurable works," blogs Reverse Shot's mjr. But not all of them. "Universally trashed by critics and audiences alike upon its release, Les Carabiniers still hasn't been successfully rescued or rediscovered in recent years. What caused it to be so rejected then and forgotten now?" This one's "ripe for reevaluation."

Updated through 5/19.

"Jean-Luc Godard was a relative latecomer to the 'conceptualist cinema' of the 1950s and 60s, but his post-Pierrot productions experimented with text in a variety of novel ways," writes Gleb Sidorkin in the Tisch Film Review. "Godard's background in text-based practice and his reasons for bringing them into the visual space of the film theater was similar to the conceptual artists. A former critic for Cah