June 30, 2008

Shorts, 6/30.

Vertigo "'Power and freedom.' Coupled together, these two words are repeated three times in Vertigo." Chris Marker on Hitchcock's masterpiece - at 3quarksdaily, via wood s lot. Related: Richard Brody, briefly, in the New Yorker. And an online listening tip: more Hitchcock and Truffaut at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger... Earlier: "Vertigo @ 50."

For the Financial Times, Tobias Gray talks with David Cronenberg about working with composer Howard Shore, librettist David Henry Hwang and Los Angeles Opera musical director Placido Domingo on The Fly: The Opera. Via Movie City News.

Girish notes that less than seven percent of André Bazin's writings are in print. Then:

I've been doing a Bazin immersion the last few weeks, and I'm amazed especially by two things. First, his writings are not about developing a "theory of cinema" in an abstract and "systematic" manner. Instead, he puts in motion a process of continual exchange between film criticism and film theory. He begins with the films themselves, and their details - formal, stylistic, thematic, etc. His theoretical reflections then arise from a scrutiny of these details. Second, it's striking to see how he did all his theory and criticism work in full public view. As Bert Cardullo points out, Bazin's writings were produced for a range of publications that were variously aligned: liberal (L'Écran Francais); socialist (France-Observateur); left-wing Catholic (Esprit and Radio-Cinéma-Télévision, now Télérama); non-religious and state-run (L'Education Nationale); and conservative (Le Parisien libéré). In addition, of course, he co-founded and wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma. It's staggering to be reminded of how much he accomplished before he contracted leukemia at 36 and died at 40 in 1958.

Bathory "For centuries Countess Elizabeth Báthory was one of Europe's most notorious figures." With two "rival films" on the way, Julie Delpy's The Countess and Juraj Jakubisko's Bathory, Tony Thorne offers a little background in the Telegraph.

"Swedish cinema longs to crawl out from under the shadow of Bergman, even as it cannot afford to forget him," writes Michael Koresky in a dispatch to indieWIRE.

Fests and events:

Vanity Fair "Little did we imagine how many of those shooting stars would become unguided missiles." James Wolcott surveys the wreckage left behind by the Vanity Fair cover girls of 2003. "As for the class of 2008 pictured in these pages, they inhabit a far more predatory media-parasite environment, a Grand Theft Auto of 'gotcha,' which so far they're handling with aplomb. Easy to track, hard to trap, they belong to the iGeneration, for whom texting and Twittering are as natural as popping orange Tic Tacs, inhabiting and trailing invisible clouds of information wherever they go in the digital eco-system, where online and off-line, real life and Second Life, overlap. Boundaries dissolve everywhere they turn their pretty heads." This year's young ladies are: Amanda Seyfried, Emma Roberts, Blake Lively and Kristen Stewart. And there's an accompanying gallery.

In the Guardian, screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People, Millions) offers a few pointers: "This is not a description of how I write. It's more how I wish I'd written. A map of the rocks on which I perished."

Oliver Stone "is either the oddest person to chronicle the life of the current president or the most inspired," writes John Horn in a report on the making of W. "Whatever the verdict, the marriage of director and subject has left nearly as many people running for the sidelines as wanting to be a part of the director's undertaking."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas talks with Guido Santi and Tina Mascara about their documentary, Chris & Don: A Love Story.

"What fascinates me about Los Muertos is that it explores the connection between form and content by taking all of the tropes of 'transcendental cinema' and staining them, by narrative means, with dread and violence," writes Darren Hughes.

The Execution of Solomon Harris "I mentioned in my review of Myna Joseph's Man that the influence of the Dardenne Brothers is becoming increasingly apparent in American cinema," writes David Lowery at Hammer to Nail. "Moreso than that film, a perfect example of this trend is The Execution of Solomon Harris, a grueling eight minute short film whose intensity is almost entirely related to the way the camera attaches itself to its subject. This form of subjectivity is a trademark of the Dardennes; they maintain such a steadfast attachment to their characters that the events around them almost - almost - seem peripheral. It's a fascinating way to get inside a character's head without relying on anything more than a camera and that character."

Michael Guillén talks with Eran Kolirin about The Band's Visit for movieScope.

David Lean "was a relentless womaniser." Geoffrey Macnab tells a few stories in the Independent.

"In an industry first, Sony Pictures' hoped-for blockbuster Hancock... hits theaters on Wednesday and will be available - after its theater run but before release on DVD - over the Internet, directly to viewers' television sets," reports Tim Arango in the New York Times. "That is, if they own a Sony Bravia TV with a Web connection. The announcement is significant in what it means for the future of movie watching, and for the future of Sony itself."

"The mere thought of an analytical book about Steven Seagal movies could provoke laughter, and yet I'm here to tell you that [Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal is] an essential read for any action movie fan, and a must-read for anyone who has enjoyed Seagal's works," writes Adam Ross. "Vern knows Seagal movies are not Oscar-worthy, but he also bristles at the notion that they're all the same, or that Seagal is just another action star."

Online viewing tip #1. For those who speak German and/or Japanese. Blake Ethridge posts video of a Q&A with Koji Wakamatsu that took place at this year's Berlinale. The film at hand is Secrets Behind the Wall.

Online viewing tip #2. Tony Kaye on Stanley Kubrick. Thanks, Jerry! For the Wendy Carlos interview, too.

Online viewing tip #3. A "Summer Movie Extravaganza" at Bloggingheads.tv featuring Ross Douthat and Dana Stevens. Thanks, Ed!

Online viewing tip #4. The story behind Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.

Online viewing tip #5. Phil Morehart launches a series: "Every day in July (hopefully), Facets Features will spotlight a warped, wild, weird, odd, unusual, unique trailer to pique (or melt) your brain."

Online viewing tip. #6. Twitch has the trailer for Quantum of Solace.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 PM

Tartan Films.

Tartan Films Filmbrain bids a fond farewell to Tartan Films: "Tartan head Hamish McAlpine liked to push people's buttons, referring to his company's releases as 'cultural hand grenades,' which explains acquisitions of controversial titles from Carlos Reygadas, Catherine Breillat, Gaspar Noé and Ulrich Seidl.... The question now is who, if anybody, will take their place? Is there another company willing to take similar chances, or are UK film-goers about to find themselves with a dearth of edgy, international fare?"

Updated through 7/4.

More from the Guardian's Andrew Pulver: "It wasn't entirely unexpected, but the sudden slide into administration of independent distributor Tartan Films is still a moment to give the British cinema world chills." Even if you're in a hurry, take a moment to look at the films he lists that Tartan brought to the UK.

Jason Gray passes along thoughts from Jaspar Sharp - "the biggest problem I had with Tartan was this whole 'Asian Extreme' thing" - and sparks a discussion.

Update, 7/4: "'It is so easy to bash iconoclastic entrepreneurs like Hamish,' says producer Don Boyd, who founded Tartan in 1984 with McAlpine and veteran Scottish distributor Alan Kean." Geoffrey Macnab offers a good, quick history of Tartan and carries on quoting Boyd, who "bemoans the public money that has been 'put into bureaucracy and shockingly bad British films' when that money could have been used 'much more intelligently to help out people like Tartan and perhaps encourage them to be more involved in European and British film production.'" And Macnab lists six landmark films for Tartan - and UK viewers.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:52 AM | Comments (1)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army, round 1.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army "In terms of sheer spectacle and visual invention, [Hellboy II: The Golden Army] is an absolute knockout, frames stuffed with bizarre creatures and mystic runes and arcane weaponry and wondrous design," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "And yet, Hellboy II has more than a little heart to it; it's scrappy and self-aware, and never out of touch with what it is. Adapting Mike Mignola's post-superhero retro-styled comic series Hellboy for the second time, writer-director Guillermo del Toro corrects some of the mistakes of the first Hellboy, makes a few mistakes of its own, picks itself up, keeps going. And, on the way, knocks the back of your eyeballs for a loop."

Updated through 7/6.

"Curmudgeonly, cantankerous, cigar-chomping Hellboy is a cross between a 40s noir detective and a burning fireplace, but he's also cool enough to make Hellboy II: The Golden Army the hipster's hit of the summer," writes John Anderson for Variety. "Yes, Catholic imagery has always run rampant through helmer Guillermo del Toro's movies, including Pan's Labyrinth, which he made in between the two "Hellboy" entries, but he's really an evangelist of fanboy excess: Given the right push by Universal, he'll be making fantasy-horror acolytes out of the heretofore unconverted."

"De Toro stays true to the B-movie tenets of his original, reuniting the sub-A-list cast of Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones and Jeffrey Tambor and maintaining a broad sense of humor," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen Daily. "There is no bombast or self-importance here a la Batman or The Incredible Hulk, just a great storyteller delivering a good time at the movies."

And Michael Rechtshaffen in the Hollywood Reporter: "With writer-director del Toro given free license to go where his singular vision takes him, Hellboy II plays like Guillermo's Greatest Hits with even hotter visual effects - Liz's engulfing flames have come a long way in four years - and a winking nod to The Wizard of Oz tossed into the crazy mix for good measure."

Updates: Anne Thompson listened to Del Toro as Hellboy II closed the Los Angeles Film Festival: It "comes from an exotic country inside my brain and my gonads. People think I do two types of movies: strange little Spanish films and big studio movies. This movie comes from a different place. It's the first of those big movies that belongs to the same world as Pan's Labyrinth. The imagination in it is unbridled."

What follows is precisely the same passage from Moriarty's AICN entry on both Hellboy II and The Dark Knight that Jason Morehead's snipped, but seems worth snipping again:

Bottom line: these are films that are built to last. When someone says to me, "It's just a comic book movie," these are the films that make that statement pointless. Nothing has to be "just" a comic book movie or "just" a video game movie or "just" a remake or "just" a sequel. Every single time you set out to make a film, you have a chance to say something, a chance to genuinely affect your viewer. You don't have to aim for "good enough." Ambition is important, but Hancock proves that's not enough. It's ambition plus inspiration plus creative chemistry plus a little bit of dumb fucking luck that all come together to make movies like these. But the only reason they accomplish anything is because Christopher Nolan and Guillermo Del Toro and all the remarkable madmen they collaborated with in bringing them to the screen... they all dared to drop the word "just" from their vocabulary. They aimed for art. They aimed for pure enduring cinema.

And, good god, we are richer for it.

Updates, 7/3: "Del Toro's baroquely bizarre imaginativeness has never been more mesmerizing than in Hellboy II, its cornucopia of extraordinary creatures (some beautifully melding flesh with metal) seemingly stolen from children's nightmares, and its preponderance of metal gears intrinsically linked to the saga's fascination with fate and free will." Nick Schager.

Update, 7/5: Dave Itzkoff introduces a series of images taken from Del Toro's sketchbook, accompanied by the director's comments.

Updates, 7/6: Michael Guillén has a good long talk with Doug Jones.

Choire Sicha talks with Selma Blair for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:16 AM | Comments (5)

June 29, 2008

The Free Will.

The Free Will "A character study of two people desperately fighting for a seemingly unattainable life, Matthias Glasner's The Free Will is rigorous and wrenching, and made all the more impressive by the fact that one of its protagonists is a relatively empathetic serial rapist," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "Trying to elicit compassion for Theo (Jürgen Vogel, who co-wrote the script), who in the graphic opening scene beats and sexually assaults a bicyclist after being fired from his job, appears on the face of things like a bid for cheap sensationalism."

But as Steve Erickson argues in the City Paper, "Glasner isn't exploring this subject to shore up his credentials as a bad boy; he's genuinely fascinated by the process of a rapist seeking to free himself from his worst impulses." The Free Will is "one of the most interesting German movies of the past decade; along with promising directors such as Christian Petzold and Valeska Grisebach, it's a sign of life in the long-moribund German cinema."

Updated through 7/3.

"Hats off to Benten Films once again for having the guts to release a challenging film like this," writes Charlie Prince at Cinema Strikes Back. "If you can handle uncomfortable dramas, I can't recommend the film enough; it's one of the best films I've seen in the last 10 years."

Cinematical's Monika Bartyzel notes that "there is a commentary with Glasner and Vogel - a discussion that covers how they felt and approached the controversial opening, as well as further thoughts and production details for the whole of the film. It's a measured journey in subtitles, but worth the time if you're curious about their motivations. There is also a critical essay written by Time Out New York critic David Fear."

Updates, 6/30: In other Benten Films news, Paul Matwychuk talks with Todd Rohal about The Guatemalan Handshake and reviews Aaron Katz's Quiet City.

Jürgen Fauth, who translated the commentary track: "Matthias Glasner's unflinching look at uncontrollable desires and evil urges is shot, acted, and told with such an uncompromising sense of purpose it's almost impossible to endure (how's that for a blurb guaranteed to jack up sales?) The fearless plumbing of the abyss on display here recalls Kinski and Herzog's Woyzeck."

Update, 7/1: "Is there a thematic point to be made about compulsive sexual violence?" asks Michael Atkinson (IFC). "There is if you see the film as being a critique of a masculinized society, and Theo as being a walking metaphor for every man's inner ape. But I'm not sure... You get the feeling Glasner was lighting house fires for the sake of raising questions about motivation and viewer complicity and social responsibility, an agenda that could make him, with some seasoning, the next generation's Michael Haneke."

Update, 7/3: "The Free Will is not so much a critique of a sexualized society, as critic Ian Johnston suggests on the back cover of the gorgeous new DVD package from Benten Films, but instead a terrifyingly intimate glimpse onto the hardships of a convicted sexual predator's attempt to reconcile his profound need to meaningfully connect with women and the vile impulses that make his attempt to re-enter society after nine years away in prison so awfully difficult," writes Dennis Cozzalio. "One thing that characterizes Glasner's intelligent approach, an approach that hands over a huge parcel of trust to his audience, is the degree to which he is unwilling to sentimentalize Theo or his plight."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:08 PM

Interview. Catherine Breillat.

The Last Mistress "The talkiness, the drawing-room intrigue, the frilly garments, and the slippery assignations might suggest all too much a Dangerous Liaisons redux," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "But [Catherine] Breillat is much too clever for that. What makes [The Last Mistress] so deliciously fun is the way she uses the narrative as a template for her own playful (and fever-ridden) ideas about the anarchy of passion and the disorder of decorum."

"Recovering from a dangerous brain hemorrhage at the end of 2004 that left her half paralyzed for several months, Breillat has returned to her artistry with a dazzling ferocity," writes Michael Guillén, introducing his interview. "The fire of trauma has lent her a searing voice of urgency."

"Their reputations precede them - Catherine Breillat, Asia Argento and their joint project, the courtesan Vellini in The Last Mistress - and always threaten to trap them, too," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Then you actually watch The Last Mistress and discover a patient film of novelistic subtlety and fine-tailored construction from screenplay up through rich cinematography."

"Having made her reputation as a sexual provocatrix with Romance, Breillat here tweaks the bourgeois from another, earlier perspective - namely that of the aristocracy," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "It was when French social distinctions blurred in the 1830s that dandyism emerged as an oppositional mode. If Louis-Philippe and his court endorsed the 'vulgar' bourgeois work ethic, the dandy - as embodied by Ryno [Fu'ad Aït Aattou] - embraced a program of ostentatious idleness and gratification."

"Ms Breillat's explorations of desire and pleasure are so far from the antiseptic world of most screen depictions as to seem far out," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "In truth she's just fearless, determined to show what others keep hidden - the good, the bad, the tumescent, the fluid - so she can keep puzzling through her ideas. The Last Mistress isn't as graphic as some of her other films, notably Romance, which features full-frontal and then some. The sex in this film is far from explicit, though it features geometric formations that may be better suited for Kama Sutra students, or at least the limber. What's explicit here is ravenous passion and the depiction of desire as a creating, destroying force that invades the very flesh. It's terribly French."

"This is a movie whose over-the-top qualities sneak up from behind," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Breillat generally likes to go for the visceral response; The Last Mistress burns more slowly than her other pictures do, but it does so almost as intensely. It's more in league with Truffaut's The Story of Adele H, especially if you consider that in that movie, Isabelle Adjani's delicate-flower vulnerability is really a manifestation of raw romantic hunger."

"Taboos are indeed broken in this mature, masterful film that sets its sights on what might be the last holy commandment of our postmodern, capitalist world: that right and wrong is best defined by hardworking, upstanding, respectable middle-class society." Lauren Kaminsky in Reverse Shot.

"This 19th-century setting results, on the one hand, in something of a startling change of pace for Breillat, whose cinema has long been infused with a decidedly modern strain of provocation," writes Nick Schager at Cinematical. "And yet on the other hand, her preoccupation with love's thorny complications feels right at home in the drawing rooms and boudoirs of indolent 1835 Parisian aristocrats, whose public civility masks private conduct of a much more lascivious sort."

"Argento feels vaguely out of place in Breillat's film, a creature of the 21st century somehow transported to the 19th, but Breillat uses this incongruity to excellent effect," writes Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE. "Her defiant nonconformity confers upon the character the status of a perennial outsider, while making the film into an uncommonly playful star text."

The Last Mistress

"Though Argento's full-barreled performance hits some bum notes, her utter lack of reserve stands out as both reckless and courageous against the social rigors of Parisian high society," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "She's both relentless in pursuing Aattou and powerless to quell her self-destructive impulses; when she talks of the 'bottomless abyss' of their caresses, it's the perfect distillation of Breillat's feelings about relationships. For her, love opens the door to jealousy, humiliation, and bone-deep pain, and it isn't easy to close."

"Ms Breillat has forgone the anarchic force of her earlier forays into the still relatively underdeveloped realm of female sexuality," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "As a pioneer of sorts in her field, she has earned this temporary respite of classicism represented by The Last Mistress."

"Breillat may be brash and lewd, but she's a thinking bawd," writes Armond White in the New York Press. Still: "Not enough of Sex is Comedy's rigor is apparent in The Last Mistress."

"[I]t captures the absurd dimensions of romance with immediacy and unexpected compassion," writes Mark Holcomb in Time Out New York.

More interviews with Breillat: Fernando F Croce (Slant), Nick Dawson (Filmmaker), Sheri Linden (Los Angeles Times) and Martin Tsai (New York Sun).

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, the NYFF and the UK.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:36 AM

June 28, 2008

Shorts, 6/28.

The Common Review: Woody Allen "[H]e's Kierkegaardian without the leap of faith, or Sartrean without the existential ethics of action," suggests Lennard Davis in an essay on the education and philosophy of Woody Allen in the Common Review.

Also via Bookforum, David Riedel's odd criteria for choosing a film critic to trust. In the New York Review of Magazines.

"That Eloge de l'amour, roundly heralded as a contemporary Godard masterpiece, fetishizes Robert Brasillach while turning up its nose at the Liberation is certainly... um, provocative?" Glenn Kenny gets a conversation going at Some Came Running.

"Wong Kar-wai has been an incessant reviser of his work," writes David Bordwell, who's been gathering information on "a fugitive, somewhat hallucinatory cut" of Days of Being Wild.

Pedro Almodóvar snaps back at the Guardian: "It is deeply unfair, and also rather silly, to blame me for an absence of Spanish films at UK cinemas." Further down that same page, Catherine Shoard, editor of guardian.co.uk/film, responds, but Almodóvar is right to object to the needlessly sensationalistic hook of Paul Julian Smith's piece, "The curse of Almodóvar."

Meantime:

I Spit on Your Grave

  • Kira Cochrane's been watching rape-revenge movies lately, specifically, "those in which a woman wreaks revenge. These convey very mixed messages, particularly for a female audience: on the one hand, they often show multiple images of sexual assault, which can seem exploitative; on the other, they give female protagonists the chance to fight back. Are they empowering for women, or quite the opposite?"

  • "Steve McQueen [Hunger] has been chosen as the artist who will represent Britain at the 2009 Venice Biennale - the most important combined festival, exhibition, tribal gathering and party in the international art world calendar, and an indicator of new developments in contemporary art." Charlotte Higgins: "He is the first artist working primarily in film selected to represent Britain for the event."

  • Toby Rose has a brief preview of Antoine de Caunes's Coluche, "which lifts the lid on politically-engaged French comic Michel Colucci, better known as Coluche, a boulevardier with brio who made a run for the presidency in 1981."

  • "What's the point of deleted scenes?" wonders Xan Brooks.

  • John Patterson talks with Frank Darabont about The Mist.

  • "The film historian John Barnes, who has died aged 87, was a leading authority on pre-cinema and early cinema, and co-founder - with his twin brother William - of the Barnes Museum of Cinematography, which opened in St Ives, Cornwall, in 1963," write Frank Gray and Stephen Herbert. "Their collection filled two whole floors of a house in Fore Street and, as one of the first film museums, it became a focal point for scholars worldwide."

Nick Dawson presents a lively history of "naughty cartoons" at FilmInFocus. Also: an excerpt from Schrader on Schrader, in which Kevin Jackson talks with Paul Schrader about Auto Focus, and Heather Chaplin on Grand Theft Auto IV as a "near-brilliant satire" on "American consumerist culture."

"Sometimes received ideas become reinforced and cemented by being brought up repeatedly as critical short-hand," writes Girish. "For example: Samuel Fuller's films are 'primitive'; Lang is all about fate; Ozu celebrates quiet resignation, and keeps his camera low and static; Chabrol makes Hitchcockian films that are bourgeois satires; Bresson is austere and minimalist; Peckinpah's films revel in ultraviolence, etc, etc. Now, these pronouncements aren't exactly false, but by no means are they the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The problem is that they 'fix' filmmakers too easily and quickly, thus constraining our thinking about them to certain pre-determined pathways."

EW: New Classics At Bright Lights After Dark, C Jerry Kutner lists the AFI's "10 Top 10 Genre Omissions." Meanwhile, Glenn Kenny offers a "(weak) defense of Entertainment Weekly's 'The New Classics' lists." And Jim Emerson asks, "What's your definition of 'classic'? Record-breaking? Precedent-setting? Influential? Enduring?"

More lists? Ok:

  • Flickipedia's got some end-of-the-school-year movies.

  • Screengrab's "15 Movies That Show What's Wrong With U.S."

  • The SpoutBlog's "10 Most Critically Acclaimed Action Movies of the Past 10 Years." Also at the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell lists "10 Awful Matrix 'Bullet Time' Spoofs."

  • And from Stephen Saito (IFC): "Rockin' the Reel: Musicians Turned Moviemakers."

In ShortEnd Magazine, Noralil Ryan Fores talks with Bret Wood (Hell's Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films, Psychopathia Sexualis) about screenwriting and many, many other things. Via Ray Privett.

Fatty Arbuckle John McElwee on Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle: "His comic pioneering seems all the more remote for old rags and hanks of hair that pass for surviving prints. Watch those ghostly figures steeple-jumping over splices and sections missing, then try convincing your doubtful audience that such things once delighted millions."

Dan Callahan's "5 for the Day" at the House Next Door revisits the work of another Hollywood figure perhaps not remembered as well as he should be: Lew Ayres.

Clara Bow gets Nathaniel R thinking: "It's easy to assume, perhaps cynically, that it's merely the unfamiliarity of their images that gives them so potent and so alien a life force on the screen: the black and white, the unnatural speed of the footage, the disintegration of the image. But I think it's more complicated than that. I think it's also the magic, as it has ever been between true stars and cameras, and the silence itself."

In the second edition of Best Pictures from the Outside In, Nick of Nick's Flick Picks, Nathaniel of the Film Experience and Mike of Goatdog's Movies discuss The Broadway Melody (1929) and The Departed.

Volker Briegleb at Twitch on Infernal Affairs director Andrew Lau's Hollywood debut, The Flock, starring Richard Gere and Claire Danes: "What a mess."

"Jamaa Fanaka is the creator of some of the maddest, baddest filmmaking ever to come from a black man rolling bones in a rigged white man's game." And Marc Savlov interviews him. Also in the Austin Chronicle, Spencer Parsons talks with Jeff Nichols about Shotgun Stories.

"Spending 80 minutes with Alby Cutrera (Matt McGrath), the insufferable protagonist of Full Grown Men, a serious road comedy about arrested development, is excruciating enough," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But it is hard to imagine why any sane woman would actually marry and have a child with this unemployed 35-year-old cartoonist, who has the emotional maturity of a 10-year-old." More from Ed Gonzalez in the Voice: "For better and for worse (at least for a story about a man struggling to behave like an adult), Full Grown Men feels and thinks with the heart and mind of a child." And more from Ashna Ali (New York Press) and Noel Murray (AV Club). IndieWIRE talks with director David Munro.

Also in the Voice:

Gunnin' for That #1 Spot

Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic on Chris & Don: "The subtitle of the film is A Love Story The picture makes the worn term fresh, moving." Kauffmann also notes that Isherwood's Prater Violet "stands with Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon in the front rank of fiction about film."

The Paper Will Be Blue "enfolds the audience in the dead of night during which most of the film takes place, adding a slightly surrealistic element to the absurdity of the actions," writes Marilyn Ferdinand. "But the daylight that eventually ends the film does not increase comprehension in this riot-torn city. If anything, it makes human actions seem more senseless than ever."

You Don't Mess With the Zohan "Israeli protagonists in American film, I realize now, belong to two basic groups," writes Liel Leibovitz in a Nextbook piece on You Don't Mess With the Zohan:

The first - Paul Newman's Ari Ben Canaan, say, or Kirk Douglas's Mickey Marcus - consists of strong and silent men whose chiseled shoulders carried beautiful blondes, large guns, and the entire weight of Jewish history. The second - think of Richard Dreyfuss as a somber commando in Victory at Entebbe or of Avner, Eric Bana's character in Munich - consists of men who differ from their brethren in that they seem to prefer brunettes and follow up the killing with a debilitating shot of self-doubt, guilt, and shame.

Amazingly, Adam Sandler has just forced on Hollywood an entirely new category of Israeli hero, and in doing so he and his co-screenwriters, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow, along with director Dennis Dugan, may just have created the first film that strips the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of its distorting filters and instead presents the century-old battle in all its raw absurdity.

More from Stuart Klawans in the Nation: "Extensive critical analysis has revealed to me why Zohan succeeds where [Get Smart fails.... The secret is hummus, hacky sack, cheap electronics stores and the descending falsetto pentatonic denial ('No, no no no no'). In short, the secret (don't tell the spies) is specific intelligence about the characters and their world - including the verifiable information that a great many Israelis, like the expatriated Zohan, prefer to love their country from a good, safe distance."

"Three female detectives rummage around in their own lives as much as in the lives of others in Icíar Bollaín's Mataharis, the director's first film since her laurelled domestic abuse drama Te doy mis ojos (Take My Eyes)," writes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net.

"A sustained encounter with a disturbed personality, Frownland is nothing like a conventional comedy," writes Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "But funny moments are the engine of this extraordinary 16 mm film, capable of mounding observations together into something like an experience, of turning repulsion so far inside out that it starts to feel like empathy." Also: My Winnipeg, Fugitive Pieces and When Did You Last See Your Father?

"As a portrait of the justice system's penchant for embracing media-circus hype at the expense of performing its duty, and of journalists' preference for tabloid scandal rather than truth, [Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired] is reasonably damning," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Its indictment, though, ultimately feels like a secondary issue to Polanski's apparently incontrovertible guilt, which makes him - in this instance - still more victimizer than victim."

Alan Yentob talks with Werner Herzog for the London Times.

Adam Ross's interviewee this week: Andrew Bemis.

Punch-Drunk Love The latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Punch-Drunk Love.

Back in the NYT:

  • Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl is set to open wide over the July 4 weekend, and if it's a hit, "there will be the usual expressions of surprise from some movie industry analysts and cultural commentators," predicts AO Scott. "This is always the reaction when a previously underserved segment of the population turns out in large numbers for a movie, whether it's African-Americans lining up for the latest Tyler Perry film, evangelical Christians flocking to The Passion of the Christ, or, just last month, women of various ages and backgrounds embracing Sex and the City." And high on the list of the underserved would be, of course, American girls.

  • Dave Itzkoff talks with George Lucas about Star Wars: The Clone Wars, "which Warner Brothers will release on Aug 15 and which will introduce an animated television series with the same title that will have its debut on the Cartoon Network this fall.... [H]is enduring interest in Star Wars hints at a lesson that his filmmaking peers have already learned: that it is sometimes easier for them to make big movies than small ones. As his longtime friend and collaborator Steven Spielberg wrote in an e-mail message: 'All of us would like to make these little personal films that sneak into theaters under the radar. Sadly, for George and myself, and others who have enjoyed and endured great success - "under the radar" has become a no-fly zone.'"

  • "Labor unrest continues to dominate the landscape in Hollywood, and the possibility of a strike by actors has large movie studios planning to shut down production after Monday and has television studios rushing to complete episodes of series scheduled to return in the fall or January." Edward Wyatt reports.

  • Rome is hoping that Angels and Demons, Ron Howard's second adaptation of a Dan Brown bestseller, will revive a tourism industry hurt by the weak dollar, reports Elisabetta Povoledo.

For the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab profiles "some of the leading power brokers who keep the British film industry juggernaut in motion."

John Rogers plays the one-word game.

New blog on the block: The Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein's Big Picture.

Online viewing tip #1. The DVblog has the video for Grizzly Bear's "Knife."

Online viewing tip #2. Another excellent video essay from Matt Zoller Seitz, this one on Sharky's Machine. It'll make you want to track down this movie.

Online viewing tip #3. A doc (in German) on Fritz Lang. Many thanks, Jerry!

Online viewing tips. Michel Gondry's top 25 music videos at the Playlist.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:23 PM

Fests and events, 6/28.

Loves of a Blonde Milos Forman: The Formative Years opens at Facets Cinematheque runs through Thursday; the Chicago Reader picks the highlights.

"Douglas Fairbanks caused a sensation in 1920 with The Mark of Zorro, the first in a series of costume spectacles that launched an entire genre and defined Fairbanks's contribution to popular American culture," writes David Jeffers at the Siffblog. Monday evening at Seattle's Paramount Theater.

"It was a rare find: a film version that had been shot in 1964 during rehearsals for the Broadway version of Shakespeare's play," reports Victoria Laurie in the Australian. "The New York theatre critics went wild about John Gielgud's modern-day staging, and [Richard] Burton in his role as Hamlet. The rare film will be shown for the first time in Australia, for one screening only at Perth's Astor cinema next month. Since its rediscovery, the film has only been screened three times in Britain and once in Los Angeles." There is, however, a DVD. Via Movie City News.

Dalí: Painting and Film arrives at MoMA and Roberta Smith finds it "a strangely piecemeal, open-ended and inspiring exhibition... The show tracks the traffic of images, themes and ideas between Dalí's films, both realized and not, and his more static efforts, including paintings, drawings, letters, illustrated notes, scenarios and other ephemera." Sunday through September 15.

Dali & Film More from Randy Kennedy: "'I'm in Hollywood,' Salvador Dalí wrote in a postcard to André Breton in 1937, 'where I've made contact with the three American surrealists, Harpo Marx, Disney and Cecil B DeMille.' Dalí's devious wit was legendary, but in this case it appears he was being sincere. The same year, in Harper's Bazaar, he sang Hollywood's praises as an ideal incubator of Surrealism whether Hollywood knew it or not."

Also in the New York Times, for Ken Johnson, Paul McCarthy: Central Symmetrical Rotation Movement Three Installations, Two Films, at the Whitney through October 12, is "a smart, tightly focused study of the formal and conceptual underpinnings of Mr McCarthy's art: his work stripped to its bare, abstract yet still metaphorically resonant essentials."

Michael Buening in PopMatters on Film Forum's Tatsuya Nakadai retrospective, running through July 17: "In an interview in Joan Mellen's collection, Voices from the Japanese Cinema, the director Kobayashi says of Nakadai, 'I still feel he was one of a small group of actors who combined the traditional Shingeki background with the fresh innocence and energy of our postwar generation. He could thus effectively represent both pre- and postwar people.'... Few actors have worked such varied masters: Ichikawa, Naruse, Kobayashi, Kurosawa, Hiroshi Teshigahara and Kihachi Okamoto."

Wim Wenders will chair the jury at this year's Venice Film Festival. Reuters reports.

Dan Sallitt looks ahead to NYC goings on in July.

Online viewing tip. For those in Austin, Slackerwood's Chris Holland has the Alamo Drafthouse's July highlight reel.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:59 PM

June 27, 2008

All in This Tea.

All in This Tea "All in This Tea dips effortlessly into a half-dozen modes - travelogue, biography, nature ode, business story, nerd profile - sustaining a flexibility of tone that allows for both keen insights into the rapidly evolving Chinese economy and drunken raptures on the ability, in one especially prized blend, 'to taste the mountain.'" Nathan Lee in the New York Times.

"Here partnered with filmmaker-editor Gina Leibrecht, [Les] Blank's first feature in over a decade (and his first to take advantage of the portability of DV) visually recalls [Burden of Dreams] in a couple ways." Aaron Hillis explains in the Voice.

IndieWIRE interviews Blank and Leibrecht.

Jonathan Marlow spoke at length with Blank last year (parts 1 and 2).

Online viewing tip. Bilge Ebiri - who also interviews Blank for Vulture - introduces a celebrated Les Blank short: "What emerges is a film about following your vision, and finding new and extreme ways to show how much you care. Also, did we mention Werner Herzog eats his fucking shoe?" I'm not sure it's all here, but what is is worth the viewing.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:47 PM

Finding Amanda.

Finding Amanda "Clumsily mashing up Leaving Las Vegas and Hardcore, Finding Amanda follows TV show writer and alcoholic compulsive gambler Taylor (Matthew Broderick) as he travels to Sin City to track down his whoring niece Amanda (Brittany Snow)," writes Nick Schager in Slant. The film's "inability to find a consistent groove that might best utilize its appealing leads... is secondary to its overarching unimaginativeness."

And in the other corner, Ella Taylor in the Voice: "By keeping the tone light, the players human (Steve Coogan has a nice turn as a greasy casino host), and never, ever romanticizing the addict, Finding Amanda comes by its heartbreak honestly."

Updated through 6/29.

"Over the years, it's been both disconcerting and somehow satisfying to watch Matthew Broderick gradually morph from a lithe, cocky teen heartthrob to a pudgy, middle-aged sad sack," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. The transformation "began somewhere around Alexander Payne's superlative Election." Here, "Broderick puts on his best deluded-dork outfit and wanders precariously close to Chevy Chase territory." As for the film overall, "It's a litany of male fantasies and nightmares, posturing as a moralizing tract on values and the relativity of exploitation that even Broderick's dopey affability can't recoup."

Scott Tobias talks with Broderick for the AV Club.

"The more animated Mr Broderick becomes trying to fill Taylor's shoes, the less believable he is," argues S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "It probably doesn't help that Brittany Snow, as Taylor's titular niece, delivers one of the year's most vulnerable performances. The profoundly conflicted prostitute alternates between warm smiles and harsh tears, seeing prostitution as at once enabling and degrading. Once we find Amanda, the movie becomes a convincing study of a character at a crossroads. Taylor, though, comes across as more whiny than worldly."

"Blackly superficial, Amanda is pitched somewhere between a dark night of the soul and the pilot for one of those self-consciously edgy pay-cable shows that glory in the freedom of being able to show boobs, drugs, profanity and wanton bad behavior," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Broderick has an affecting speech late in the film once he rouses himself from his downward spiral and experiences a moment of clarity, but Finding Amanda mostly seems content to skate briskly along the surface, seldom mining Broderick and Snow's predicaments for anything more than snarky gags and bitter one-liners. It's amusing but facile, reasonably clever but hopelessly glib."

"Finding Amanda is an easy movie to reject because its microcosm of a society obsessed with commercial sex and fast money is so relentlessly, uncomfortably and casually dark," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "The only comparably cynical recent film set in Las Vegas was Peter Berg's savage 1998 comedy, Very Bad Things, in which a bachelor party takes a tragic turn. That film wasn't as funny as Finding Amanda, because the dialogue, sharp as it was, lacked the absurdist razor edge of this curdled screwball comedy. Here the characters' outlandish utterances (especially Amanda's) will make you gasp."

"The Hollywood hack, full of vice, self-loathing and needing redemption, finds that an actual prostitute has more pride in herself and her work than he does," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. "Written with more bite, the premise might hold up, but as executed here by [Peter] Tolan, it is a soft-hearted, haphazard mess."

Michael Ordoña profiles Peter Facinelli for the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 6/29: Choire Sicha talks with Broderick for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:45 PM

Elsa & Fred.

Elsa & Fred First, James Van Maanen; a split jury follows.

In the genre of geriatric love stories, things don't get much better - or, let's be honest here, more predictable - than Elsa & Fred. No matter. If you are seeking a movie for which the proverbial "you'll laugh, you'll cry" couldn't be more apt, a movie that'll have you turning alternately giddy and cuddly (and, yes, I know that some of you are already running from the room), you may have found that rare, end-of-the-rainbow pot o' gold, caveats - and there are plenty of them - be damned. Featuring an award-winning cast of supporting actors (Blanca Portillo, Federico Luppi, José Ángel Egido, Carlos Álvarez Novoa), the film is blessed with two leads as close to perfect for their roles as any you can imagine: Manuel Alexandre and China Zorrilla.

Zorrilla, 83 when she made this movie, is a force of nature, as is the character she portrays. A big girl, who has probably only grown bigger with age, she literally dwarfs her leading man - which is all to the good. Quiet and courtly, he sneaks up on her (and on the viewer) and by the finale will have you chuckling though your tears (do take the entire box of tissue with you to the theater). His last line, a single word, combines all the reticence and charm, humor and delight that he has brought to his role. (Alexandre, now 90 and credited with some 226 film and TV performances, has a new film, Pretextos, currently in release in Spain. Go, Manuel!)

Elsa & Fred depends entirely on the chemistry and connection between its two stars, and, my, they do come through. Elsa brings Fred out of his shell, and through his eyes we begin to see the wonderful woman whom we'd initially imagined as some sort of harpy. The screenplay (credited to the director, Marcos Carnevale, and to Lily Ann Martin and Marcela Guerty) is probably the least of the film: nasty daughter, cute grandchild, and a leading lady who's always getting into a car wreck for comic effect. But the performances do much to mitigate the predictability, and the direction, simple but not obvious, does its job in workmanlike, pleasant fashion.

If I sound cavalier about Carnevale's achievement, this is only because his film lacks much surprise. Would I have missed it? Never. Just because you know what you're getting inside that brightly wrapped gift box doesn't mean that you're not going to love it.

-James Van Maanen


Not everyone agrees. Nick Schager, for example, writing in Slant: "Sweet November for the nursing-home set, Elsa and Fred is sentimental mush cooked up with extra syrup."

"Although too few movies take into account the rich lives of the elderly - unless those elderly are actors trying to pass as action heroes - that doesn't fully excuse a movie as cloying and predictable as Elsa & Fred," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"The problem isn't the acting; both actors are superb," writes Jean Oppenheimer in the Voice. "It's Elsa's character that is so difficult to take. Only the hopelessly romantic will be able to tolerate her."

"Elsa & Fred is best enjoyed as a sampling of Ms Zorrilla's combustible energy and still dazzling screen presence," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "There are also moments of credible intimacy, like the ease between Fred and his young doctor as they discuss the physical boundaries of the affair. In movies like this expect medication to deliver the most vital - and least celebrated - supporting performance."

"It's the kind of movie that looks effortless but undoubtedly wasn't," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "If the real attraction of Elsa & Fred lies in the offbeat, asymmetrical chemistry between its two elderly stars, Manuel Alexandre and China Zorrilla, playing a unlikely couple who find each other as twilight is closing in, it's Carnevale who has built a quietly enchanted space around them."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:43 PM

Wanted, round 2.

Wanted "As if in instant celebration of the Supreme Court's ruling on a citizen's right to bear arms - and of the newly articulated 'individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation' - the burly new fantasy Wanted reveals the magic that can blossom when you put a gun in the hand of a meek wage slave and tell him he was born to be a righteous killer," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "Directed at a pitch of gritty giddiness by the Kazakhstan-born Timur Bekmambetov, who did the DVD faves Night Watch and Day Watch, this hard-R splatter-fest about a team of sanctified assassins is also the summer's zazziest action movie."

Updated through 6/30.

When Slate's Dana Stevens first heard that Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy were being paired up in an action flick, "I believe my exact words were, 'She'll crush him like a bug.' 'Sounds pretty sexy to me,' said my interlocutor, giving me an unsolicited yet bracing glimpse into his fantasy life. He was right. For those whose fantasies include being crushed like bugs by Angelina Jolie (or beaten senseless by hulking Russian thugs, or forced to use dead pigs for target practice by Morgan Freeman), Wanted is a compendium of bedside erotica. I don't know when I've seen a mainstream movie that so explicitly caters to the S&M niche."

"There's no denying Bekmambetov's energy or enthusiasm: he blows people and stuff up with gusto," concedes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But all his visual ideas, or at least the memorable ones, are borrowed... Things happen in Wanted, but no one cares. You could call that nihilism, but even nihilism requires commitment of a kind and this, by contrast, is a movie built on indifference."

"In some ways, Wanted... is your garden-variety summer action picture, delivering an assortment of sick thrills along with the mind-bendy special effects we've come to expect in post-Matrix movies," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Wanted is fast-moving and bloody, enjoyable even within its unapologetically generic limits. But McAvoy is its real secret weapon: With his X-ray blue eyes and lips that look bitten with anxiety, he has the miraculous ability to fool us into thinking there's really something at stake here."

"[Graphic novelist Marc] Millar's key dystopian premise has been shelved, and with it, his supremely unattractive super-villains (including a Thing-like creature composed of serial-killer fecal matter), the use of random killings and rape as methods of empowerment, and rather too many sequences of peculiarly grotesque violence," writes Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun. "Instead, moviegoers will be treated to a mildly enjoyable piece of hyperkinetic hokum. Innovative it is not."

"Wanted makes an unusually mean-spirited break from such relatively warmhearted comic book movies as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. "Whereas those PG-13 films have provided fun for at least most of the whole family this summer, Wanted presents hard-R fare for viewers craving nonstop violence, foul language and the overcompensating symbolism of big guns, loud cars and fast trains. (As for the preponderance of rats, we'll leave that for Dr Freud to sort out.)"

"Objectively, I award it all honors for technical excellence," writes Roger Ebert. "Subjectively, I'd rather be watching Danny Kaye in the film version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

"Wanted is a queasily unapologetic power fantasy about becoming a better person through violence," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "As McAvoy learns to hurt, he heals a psyche wounded by the tiny emasculations of the 21st century. There's no humiliation, the film suggests, that can't be corrected with a well-placed bullet."

"Having pummeled us, Passion of the Christ-style, for an excruciatingly long haul, this exercise in ultraviolence then insults us by having a beaten, bloodied McAvoy inform viewers that he used to be a loser 'just like all of you,'" writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "Hey, Wanted, what did we ever do to deserve such punishment, except give you $12 and almost two hours of our wasted time?"

"Bekmambetov may commit grand larceny upon action flicks of yore, but it's hard to resist all the energy on display," writes Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger. "By the third act, however, as the story wheezes to a climax, all the visual lunacy grows tiresome."

"It is an in-yer-face blockbuster like nothing else this summer, and it's going to be enormous," predicts the Telegraph's Tim Robey.

"Wanted straddles the line between the delightfully absurd and the merely ridiculous," writes Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 6/28: "Wanted is a tonally aggressive, wildly expressionistic, extremely violent, rude, foul-mouthed, yet satisfying film, a sleekly machined action powerhouse, words I hardly expected to type this summer." Ray Pride at Movie City News.

"As for the gun issue, well, it is only a movie. Right?" Robert Cashill: "But I've seen this movie before, played out in workplaces and streets and campuses, and if someone takes this one's simplistic message to heart in our nervous times I will be ashamed to have given eight bucks to its cause."

Update, 6/29: "For all its crassness, the picture is rather surprisingly affectless; and for all its putatively adrenaline-pumping fast-slow-fast-slow breakneck-the-laws-of-physics action, rather no big deal, leaving the audience impressed with its bright shine and noisiness, but hardly stirred or stirred up," writes Glenn Kenny - after spotting a potential trend.

Updates, 6/30: "At one point, meek Wesley opines that, if the hot chick in the office just saw him for who he really was instead of the wage slave that he had become, she'd recognize the fierceness of his soul etc," writes Bryant Frazer. "Wanted never once delivers the reality check this douchebag so richly deserves - as a matter of fact, it rewards him, and gives you the finger for expecting anything different."

"Would I sound like too much of a moral scold if I said that WALL•E symbolizes every good impulse in Hollywood filmmaking, and Wanted every corrupt one?" asks Paul Matwychuk. "Or would I just sound like someone who can properly evaluate the evidence of his own eyeballs?"

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM

Hal Ashby's Commingling Seventies.

Hal Ashby's Commingling Seventies Hal Ashby's status in film-critic circles as an underrated genius has become, by now, somewhat overstated," writes Sean Nelson in the Stranger:

If he was overlooked as film historians began the process of lionizing the great auteurs of the 1970s, books like Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Mark Harris's Pictures at a Revolution have gone a long way toward affirming him as one of the essential, unique and tragic filmmakers of that essential, unique and tragic decade. Still, it's about time. Now, Northwest Film Forum is joining the hallelujah chorus with its forthcoming series of the late director's incredible streak from 1970 to 1979 - The Landlord (1970), Harold and Maude (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Shampoo (1975), Bound for Glory (1976), Coming Home (1978) and Being There (1979). This series includes two interesting novice works, two acknowledged minor classics that are actually major classics, two shatteringly great films that somehow no one seems to talk about, and one perfect diamond that everyone adores.

Updated.

"Along with Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese and the late Sydney Pollack, he shaped, for better or worse, the way I look at film (I was a child of the 70s)." A personal reverie from Kathy Fennessy at the Siffblog.

Earlier: A big thumping Ashby roundup from Jennifer Wachtell in Good Magazine, featuring contributions from Wes Anderson, Judd Apatow, Alexander Payne, David O Russell and Jason Schwartzman.

The series runs from Tuesday through August 2.

Updates: "In 1970, The Landlord - Ashby's debut feature, a spacey ode to a rich white kid's radicalization by his black Park Slope tenants, a movie permeated with all sorts of intoxicants—impressed Paramount's Peter Bart enough to give the director Harold and Maude (1971), and with it the chance to establish a running theme that would survive a decade increasingly inhospitable to the message: Straight man gets bent." Rob Nelson reviews the career for Moving Image Source.

"Not surprisingly, Apatow and other auteurs in Wachtell's roundup politely avert their eyes from Asbhy's films of the 80s, which are widely viewed as disappointments of varying degrees," writes Joe Leydon. "But while it's true that most are undeniably dismissible - Let's Spend the Night Together has the rare distinction of being the most boring Rolling Stones rockumentary ever made - it should be noted that 8 Million Ways to Die, Ashby's final completed feature, is not without its admirers. Indeed, I remember once speaking with an Oscar-winning director (not one you'd expect) who only half-jokingly told me that he'd love to swipe one of the movie's more offbeat conceits..."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:47 AM

Satoshi Kon: Beyond Imagination.

Paranoia Agent Vol 3 Satoshi Kon: Beyond Imagination opens tonight at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and runs through Tuesday. Following this evening's screening of Paprika, Kon will be on hand for an onstage conversation. Grady Hendrix's overview of the series in the New York Sun is so very fine it's tough to find a snippet to snip. So I won't; go read it all. And then follow up with his Kaiju Shakedown email back-n-forth with Kon.

At the House Next Door, Brendan Bouzard, John Lichman and Keith Uhlich have a good long conversation about the features and the TV series, Paranoia Agent.

Earlier: Simon Abrams in the New York Press.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:33 AM | Comments (1)

Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World.

Razzle Dazzle "Pixilated, magnified, morphed, torn, stretched, slowed, strobed, smeared and smashed, a 1903 Edison actuality of a fairground ride becomes celluloid putty in the hands of cine-magician and avant-garde legend Ken Jacobs, whose phantasmagoric reconfiguration of turn-of-the-century artifacts finds new and exhilarating expression in Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World, a Tom, Tom the Piper's Son for the digital age." Then Michael Joshua Rowin takes a deep breath and carries on in the L Magazine.

Updated through 6/30.

"An eye-popper and brain-boggler, Razzle Dazzle is also, remarkably, a thing to stir the soul, delivering in its final stretch an astonishing, unexpected political jolt that elevates what appeared to be a mere (if marvelous) formal triumph into a shattering confrontation," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "Arriving at this magic moment makes for one of the most striking imaginative and perceptual adventures since the advent of digital video cinema."

"In a sense, Razzle Dazzle is a continuous loop," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The amusement park merges with the film machine; these long-vanished children are riding the celluloid ribbon through the projector. Despite its defined ending, the piece projects an eternal Now as the artist ponders the infinite possibilities that photography (and re-photography) afford to reconstitute the moment. Razzle Dazzle feels endless - not a criticism - because it is."

Earlier: Amy Taubin in Artforum and Daniel Kasman.

At the Anthology Film Archives, today through July 3.

Update: "It looks like a screensaver from hell," writes David Phelps in the Auteurs' Notebook. "I think Jacobs thinks somewhat like I do, that very early silent film was a point of innocence - in content and form alike - to which we can never properly return." Razzle Dazzle "is bitter lament without a bit of celebration."

Update, 6/29: David at videoarcadia argues that Razzle Dazzle and WALL•E make for "the double feature of the year."

Update, 6/30: "Created under the auspices of a pro-imperialist patriotism," writes Andrew Schenker, "Razzle Dazzle shows the domestic flipside of the coin: the mindless leisure that Americans are free to enjoy at home and the attitude of effortless entitlement that constitutes the tainted legacy with which the United States hoped to stamp the rest of the world. Any resemblance to the country's current international situation is, needless to say, wholly intentional."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:38 AM

June 26, 2008

Film Quarterly. Summer 08.

Film Quarterly Summer 08 James Naremore has put Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth at the top of his list of the best films of 2007. As "a sort of gesture of solidarity," Jonathan Rosenbaum is running his piece on Casa de Lava.

"We want to spark convivial debate and dissent," writes Rob White in the editorial opening the new issue of Film Quarterly. "In that spirit, Leo Braudy initiates the new 'Talking Point' column with a skeptical take on No Country for Old Men."

Also online are David E James on California Video: Artists and Histories and: "[A]ll roads now lead to China," argues Joshua Clover, and you may be surprised where he finds "the China of our dreams: half cheap, fast, and out-of-control hyper-capitalist production zone; half the last bastion of collective life."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:06 PM

Up-n-coming, 6/26.

Jericho Via Thomas Groh, Christoph Hochhäusler has the latest on Christian Petzold's Jericho, a "variation" on James M Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, previously adapted by Luchino Visconti, Tay Garnett and Bob Rafelson. Nina Hoss, who won a Berlinale Silver Bear for her performance in Petzold's Yella, gets to be the femme fatale; Benno Fürmann's the drifter. Bettina Böhler is currently overseeing the editing.

Margarethe von Trotta will finally begin shooting Hildegard von Bingen in the fall, with Barbara Sukowa playing the 12th century composer. The Berliner Morgenpost reports.

Johnnie To is planning to make his English-language debut with a remake of Le Cercle Rouge. At Twitch, Todd Brown has casting news.

"Roman Polanski has set Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton and Pierce Brosnan for his next film, The Ghost, an adaptation of the Robert Harris political thriller," reports Michael Fleming for Variety.

"The Oscar-winning actor Anthony Hopkins is to play King Lear in a new film version of the Shakespeare tragedy," reports the Guardian. "The film will feature Gwyneth Paltrow, Naomi Watts and Keira Knightley as Lear's three daughters, with more big names to be revealed soon, according to the director, Joshua Michael Stern."

Michael Guillén talks with Elvis Mitchell about: TCM Presents Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence: "In each half-hour episode of this series, Mitchell invites special celebrity guests to sit down and talk about how classic film has influenced their lives." Starts July 7.

"MSNBC has picked up Dear Zachary," announces Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical. "The company is launching a documentary division called MSNBC Films, which will support docs through their theatrical release before screening them on television, and the company is starting with Kurt Kuenne's triumph."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:35 PM

Other fests, other events, 6/26.

Born in Flames "Now a quarter-century old, Born in Flames - screening Saturday night (7 pm) at the Walker's Queer Takes fest, and hailed by former Twin Cities programmer Jenni Olson as 'one of the most dynamic feminist films ever made' - also begins by proudly celebrating an anniversary: that of New York's Social-Democratic War of Liberation, which 10 years earlier had brought equality to all, even Trotskyite black lesbians." A preview from Rob Nelson.

Owen Land - New and In Person! happens Sunday evening. The LA Weekly's Scott Foundas meets "the artist formerly known as George Landow, whose densely constructed, impishly funny short films made in the 1960s and 70s established him as a major figure of the then-burgeoning American avant-garde cinema," and talks with him about his new work.

Updated.

In the Voice, J Hoberman previews The Films of Bahman Ghobadi, running today through July 7 at MoMA.

"From Perfect Blue to Paprika, [Satoshi] Kon has fleshed out a niche in the anime world that is as maddeningly creative as it is giddily strange," writes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. From tomorrow through July 1, "the Film Society at Lincoln Center screens all of Kon's feature-length films and his six-hour long TV mini-series, Paranoia Agent (screened in two three-hour installments). Together they form an oneiric tapestry of incandescent imaginary lives given meaning by dreams and movies."

"Coming as it does in between the city's two flagship festivals - April's behemoth Philadelphia Film Festival and July's ever-expanding Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival - the Independent Film Fest has to be looked at as David next to a pair of well-established Goliaths," writes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "But by focusing on indies, the new kid on the block has a distinct advantage in differentiating itself from the marquee names and crowd-pleasers that increasingly fill PFF's catalog, and the niche programming of PIGLFF." Today through Sunday.

Triple Canopy in LA

Mysterious Objects: The Short Films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul was originally planned to screen as two programs at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts tonight and Sunday. There's been a delay in the delivery of the films, though, so they'll be screened on July 3 and 6; meantime, in their place - and for free - Syndromes and a Century. Matt Sussman in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Apichatpong shows more than he tells, and his camera often obscures rather than explicates the minute, alchemical operations taking place before it."

"The Times BFI London Film Festival announced that their 2008 edition will open on October 15 with the world premiere of Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon." Peter Knegt has more at indieWIRE. October 15 through 30.

Meantime, the BFI's David Lean retrospective rumbles on through July; Michael Wood surveys the oeuvre in the London Review of Books.

Quick update: Toronto's picked up a lot of this year's Cannes titles. Peter Knegt has more at indieWIRE. September 4 through 13.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:25 AM

NYAFF, week 2.

NYAFF 08 Picking up from the first week of the New York Asian Film Festival...

Takashi Miike's Like a Dragon is the rare film that is actually improved by its fundamental incoherence," writes David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back, where, on the same page, he also reviews Assembly. Plus, Charlie Prince on The Rebel and The Butcher.

Updated through 6/30.

At Twitch:

  • Todd Brown on Always: Sunset On Third Street 2: "All of the ingredients that made the first film such a rousing success are also in full effect here and while the sequel might lose a little something simply due to the audience now knowing the formula and what to expect it more than makes that up in the pleasure of seeing our favorite characters continue to develop and grow. There is, after all, something to be said for a director that knows what his audience wants and then proceeds to give them exactly that." So what makes the first one so terrific? Todd'll tell you.

  • "Kala isn't just a noir crime thriller," writes The Visitor. "It has elements of horror, fantasy and political intrigue. It's a nice mix, with gorgeous visuals and a creepy and disturbing atmosphere, but it also has a huge problem towards the end."

  • Andrew Howitt talks with Tokyo Gore Police director Yoshihiro Nishimura.

  • Rodney talks with Butcher director Kim Jin-Won.

"Lee Myung-se (Nowhere to Hide, Duelist) is, for better or for worse, building a reputation as being one of contemporary cinema's preeminent stylists," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "The successes and failures of the director's approach can be seen in his newest film, M."

Update, 6/27: Online listening tip. John Lichman and Vadim Rizov talk NYAFF with Grady Hendrix.

Updates, 6/28: At Twitch:

  • "Dai Nipponjin is an absurdist treat, a sly parody of both day to day working class life and the Japanese television superheros of yore all played with a deliciously dry—almost arid—sense of humor," writes Todd Brown.

  • Also: "Bright, brash, violent, and intentionally camp Sukiyaki Western Django is that rarest of things: an intentional cult film that succeeds on all fronts."

  • Ardvark: "Accuracy of Death is by no means a masterpiece and will not floor you with new stunning insights into human nature, yet it still manages to be quite a pleasant little movie. Takeshi Kaneshiro steals the show and is worth the price of admission all by himself."

Updates, 6/29: Twitch's Todd Brown on Lee's M: "[T]he highly structured form obscures the emotional core of the story resulting in what is arguably his least accessible film thus far."

"Sasori, a remake of the classic Japanese surreal exploitation series, Female Convict Scorpion, is a throwback to the trashy Hong Kong films of yesteryear," writes David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back.

Updates, 6/30: "And slowly but surely a disturbing picture arises. That of a Japan in which a large group of people act polite but have nothing but a deeply ingrained disdain for anything which is non-Japanese." Ardvark at Twitch on Yasukuni.

Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on Shamo: "Believe it or not, Chinese genre director Cheang Pou-soi has miraculously dedicated an entire movie to the Kubrick Stare, with an unbridled, truly brilliant lead performance of desperation by Shawn Yue."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:08 AM

LAFF, week 2.

Los Angeles Film Festival The Los Angeles Film Festival rolls on through Sunday. "[T]he Austin film community was out in force this year," notes Kyle Henry. In the Austin Chronicle, he specifically calls out Spencer Parsons's I'll Come Running (MySpace) and PJ Raval and Jay Hodges's Trinidad (site; exec-produced by Matt Dentler). "[I]n a few short years, LAFF has established itself as a viable launch alongside Sundance, SXSW, Toronto and Tribeca for North American features, and Austin filmmakers will now travel out each summer hoping to come away with a distribution deal or maybe some cash to begin their festival circuits."

Updated through 6/30.

IndieWIRE interviews Largo director Andrew van Baal, Dirty Hands: The Art & Crimes of David Choe director Harry Kim (site), Pressure Cooker directors Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker, Loot director Darius Marder (site) and Prince of Broadway director Sean Baker (site). Plus, a few words from a batch of "emerging filmmakers."

Karina Longworth has lots of pix and captions at the SpoutBlog.

More from Film Threat's Mark Bell.

And Matt Dentler.

Earlier: "LAFF, week 1."

Updates, 6/28: "Written and directed by Ben Rodkin, Big Heart City consciously evokes the 'beautiful loser' cinema of the 1970s, from the unrepentantly conflicted nature of Frank's character down to the presence of longtime John Cassavetes collaborator [Seymour] Cassel." James Rocchi at Cinematical.

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez listens to Sheila Nevins, president of HBO's documentary division, argue the case that docs belong on television.

Also, more interviews: Stefan Forbes (Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story), Sarah Friedland (Thing With No Name) and Morgan Dews (Must Read After My Death.

"Finishing Heaven, in its way, becomes a post-mortem on both romance and youthful romanticism, a bittersweet accounting of the havoc wrecked on fates by the passage of time," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

Online viewing tips. At Variety's Circuit, Guillermo del Toro talks about, among other things, Hellboy 2 and The Hobbit.

Updates, 6/29: At indieWIRE, Michael Lerman on Trinidad, Thing With No Name, Pressure Cooker, Loot and Boogie Man.

"Co-directed by Largo manager and co-owner Mark Flanagan and Andrew van Baal, Largo recreates the Largo experience; loose, smart, random and unique," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Mixing concert musical performances with snippets of comedy, the final film makes you feel like you've been to Largo, even as the more elegant notes in the black-and-white composition and the vignettes of the club's rhythm and tempo between the acts make it abundantly clear you're watching a film that was constructed and not just a tape that was turned on."

Updates, 6/30: "Prince of Broadway [site], the latest feature by Sean Baker, won the Target Filmmaker Award, the top narrative feature prize at the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival. Darius Marder's Loot [site] simultaneously won the Target Documentary Award as the Film Independent event came to a close in California on Sunday night." And indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez has more award-winners.

Eric Campos wraps the festival for Film Threat.

"Sarah Friedland and Esy Casey's Thing With No Name follows two women in sub-Saharan African villages as they controversially begin a program of anti-retroviral drugs after having been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Undeniably beautiful to look at and powerfully poetic in its depiction of a community of women stricken with poverty and sick with a virus that they don't fully understand, the film ironically and sadly fails at its propagandist mission when tragedies of timing and fate intervene. Meanwhile, Trinidad offers a portrait of the titular 'sex change capitol of the world,' a frontier town in Colorado where a male-to-female post-op transsexual rockstar surgeon named Marci is pioneering the art and science of genital reassignment surgery. In tone and content these films couldn't be more different, but they still constitute a sort of double feature of films about real people living lives impacted by scientific attempts to customize fate."

Stephen Saito rounds up a few highlights for the IFC.

"Captain Ahab [trailer] is lush and scenic," writes Doug Cummings of one of his LAFF favorites; "its measured pace, lyrical narration, and sense of irony (not to mention its misadventurous hero) could all be compared to Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, but it’s a more intimate film, emphasizing the life of a boy who never truly knows a home as he’s traded from hand to hand."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:52 AM

Wrapping HRWIFF and Silverdocs.

Inheriting the Trade Today's the last day of this year's New York edition of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, while Silverdocs wrapped a few days ago. David D'Arcy's got reviews of one film from each festival - and all related pointers will be gathered here, following entries on HRWIFF (1 and 2) and Silverdocs. Updated through 6/28.

Balzac once said that behind every fortune lies a crime. In this country, Norman Rockwell took a different approach in his 1959 painting, Family Tree, which traced a proper American family back to pirates and prostitutes, and through to a relationship between a drunken pioneer and an Indian squaw, then to what look like a gunslinger and a bar girl, and then eventually to the kind of "respectable" people who populated Rockwell's warmhearted scenes of American life. Don't look too closely, Rockwell seems to be telling us slyly, or you might see that your family's success might have come from people who made money the old-fashioned way - by stealing it, or sleeping with it.

As the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival closes, I wanted to take note of one film which examines a family fortune and is bound to make some viewers uncomfortable. Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North [site; Thomas Norman DeWolf's Inheriting the Trade], looks at the DeWolf Family, heirs of Rhode Island entrepreneurs whose fortune came from the slave trade. The film is the debut feature of Katrina Browne and it premiered at Sundance, although I missed it there.

Information about the family business was not hard to find, the troubled descendants learned. Back in the 18th century, the DeWolfs packed goods on ships that went to Ghana and traded those goods for slaves, who were then sold in Cuba, where the ships carried other goods and some human cargo to Charleston, South Carolina, and then north to Rhode Island. Slaves were all over the North, the family is told, although not in such great numbers on the land of an individual family, as they were in the South. And when the slave trade was illegal, the DeWolfs found ways to get around that ban. With their earnings, they built the church in Bristol, Rhode Island that they attended. Katrina Browne reads to her chagrin that Mr De Wolf gave his wife two African children as a gift, and the family immortalized the child slaves with a nursery rhyme. This could be right out of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who would have appreciated the delicate darkness of the DeWolf's family secret.

It was bad enough for the educated and prosperous DeWolf heirs to learn that their proper ancestors were slavers, and that the unpaid labor of slaves subsidized factories and other enterprises in New England in the 18th and 19th centuries. But the DeWolfs are Episcopalians, and their guilt is painful. Not satisfied to wring their hands, the DeWolfs research their history in Rhode Island and find to their chagrin that the economy there depended on slavery. They then journey to Ghana, where the locals don't all welcome the well-meaning travelers, and then travel to Cuba, where much of the slave trade moved once it was outlawed in the US. Then they take on the Episcopal Church, which of course has voted to condemn slavery and recognize its pernicious legacy. It's a little late.

Traces of the Trade

Traces of the Trade edges into the debate over whether the descendants of slaves should receive reparations from the descendants of those who enjoyed the benefits of an economy based on slavery, but mostly it dwells on the piercing guilt felt by the DeWolf family. With most of the water under the bridge, and none of the family members responsible for the sufferings of those whom the family traded as property, they can confess their guilt as they dig up more and more troubling facts, and the film ends up bogged down as a series of meetings at which the DeWolfs tell each other how troubled they are, and then tell the same thing to their Episcopal brethren and sisters. Just doing the digging, however, is more than most white Americans are willing to do.

Katrina Browne can't seem to figure out how to end her movie, nor could lots of other people, if we are to judge by the number of funders and friends who are thanked in the credits. Perhaps that's getting it right. One family member looks at the camera and wonders what crimes we take for granted today, as slavery was back then by the church-going and church-building DeWolfs. What crimes will be deplored a few decades from now? Humans are no longer part of the triangulated trade that brought slaves to the New World, but illegal immigration that sustains the US economy, to the extent that anything sustains it these days, could be another place to look. Only a fraction of immigrants are actually bought and sold, but the DeWolfs, who wring their hands like troubled Protestants over yesterday's crimes that they can do nothing about, might do better to consider the peculiar institution of immigration.

Now over to Silverdocs. In Four Seasons Lodge [site], directed by Andrew Jacobs, another family is the subject. This "family" is a colony of Holocaust survivors who sought out each others' company in a group of bungalows in the Catskills. We meet several dozen of them, all veterans of concentrations camps, as we visit the colony in what is to be its last summer. We hear stories of childhood before the war and explanations of why they lived when the vast majority did not - and plenty of humor in Yiddish-ized English. A lot of marriages among survivors did not work out, one woman says, because people married whomever was left alive right after the war. "Hitler was the matchmaker," she says ominously. The survivors seek each other out, most of them say, because they can never satisfactorily explain what they went through, and only those who lived through what they endured could really know them. Their shared experience creates a community, but the community is based on the experience of seeing mass murder firsthand.

Four Seasons Lodge

Jacobs's documentary is tender as it roams through the modest colony. We hear that there used to be more of these summer communities, but the survivors are dying out. It's surprising that we don't hear much that is specific about their experiences in the concentration camps. Indeed, they may not need to talk to each other about those horrors, but this documentary is not just made for Holocaust survivors who don't need to be told about Auschwitz. Oddly, in this film about people who were able to come to America and create new lives, we meet only one of their children. It's as if they went from concentration camp to holiday camp, and you know that couldn't have been the case.

Four Seasons Lodge builds its tension on what seems to be the end of the colony, which I won't give away. It's heartwarming to see women (and a few men) in their 80s who can still dance and curse and laugh among themselves. It's a shame that Andrew Jacobs could not get them to tell us more.

-David D'Arcy


Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door on Letter to Anna (site; David D'Arcy): "Though dry and straightforward, even clunky in spots (especially when narrated in the English language version by Susan Sarandon, standing in for the filmmakers), the doc is a low-key, respectful summation of a life that resembled a tabloid-ready espionage thriller." More on from Rob Humanick at Slant.

Acquarello:

  • "The specter of the Partition of Bengal in 1947 continues to haunt the modern day consciousness of a divided Kashmir in Senain Kheshgi and Geeta Patel's provocative and acutely observed Project Kashmir." Site.

  • "Continuing in the vein of Justice, Maria Ramos's examination of the Brazilian justice system, Behave is an equally potent and sobering social inquiry into the state's juvenile re-socialization program."

  • "Thoughtful and impassioned, Youth Producing Change is a diverse and intimate reflection into some of the issues and ideas that inspire young people worldwide into taking action."

Update: Online scrolling tip. AJ Schnack's Silverdocs Photo Booth.

Update, 6/28: For Acquarello, China's Stolen Children is a "thoughtful and remarkably comprehensive examination of modern day human trafficking." Also: Sari Soldiers.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:36 AM

Frameline, week 2.

Glitterbox Frameline32 has a few more days to go before wrapping on Sunday. Further dispatches and notes will be gathered here. For an overview of the fest so far, turn to Dennis Harvey at SF360 - where Max Goldberg reviews Derek (site), "a documentary tribute which does not seek to enlarge or complicate the filmmaker’s legacy so much as succor its loss."

"You'd never know it, but there was a time when British filmmakers, emboldened by punk culture, fueled by hatred for Thatcherite conservatism, and funded by the BFI and the new Channel Four, made outrageous, experimental, high culture vs. low culture collision movies, doped on structuralism and gender-bending and period-picture mockery," writes Michael Atkinson, reviewing the newly released Glitterbox for IFC. "[Derek] Jarman was the moment's jester prince; he never made a film you'd mistake for the work of another, or a film that doesn't manifest on the screen as an unpredictably impish riff on serious matters, Art-making and Sex and Death. Not to mention, Jarman's was a not-so-distant day when thanks to a small number of artists, but largely to Jarman, gay cinema had a chance to be regarded as pioneering art, and not just politics."

Updated through 6/30.


Monica Peck follows up on her first and second dispatches:

San Francisco filmmaker Brynn Gelbard introduced Ruby Blue [site] last night in lieu of the film's writer/director Jan Dunn, who couldn't make the screening due to work on another film. Gelbard, who worked as an assistant to the director and producer for Ruby Blue, recalled first meeting Dunn when Gypo screened at Frameline two years ago.

Ruby Blue

"After the screening I met up with them at the Lexington and they were talking about the next film they wanted to make and that was Ruby Blue," Gelbard explained. "So there I was getting to go to Roundsgate in Kent, England.... It was amazing to get to work with Bob Hoskins. I told him that Mermaids changed my life, that when I saw that movie, Winona Ryder made me realize I'm a lesbian. He said, 'Me, too.'"

The film was screened in partnership with this year's Tranny March. Three organizers took the stage to invite "any and all genders" to join them for the show and march tomorrow: San Francisco's Dolores Park at 3 pm.

The film played to a packed house. Dunn's flawless pacing and comedic timing, combined with the energetic Frameline viewing audience, created a unique atmosphere of genuine participation in the unfolding of this timeless story.


With Eleven Minutes (site), "[Michael] Selditch and [Rob] Tate have constructed a brisk and coherent fashion-industry procedural that expertly switches out the cultivated tension of Project Runway for its real-world counterpart," blogs Jason Shamai at Pixel Vision. "The film is an equally adept portrait of a designer who gracefully channels his fear of squandered momentum into the dry charm the filmmakers were probably banking on."

Updates, 6/27: Since the dominating presence of this entry so far is Derek Jarman's, this seems the right place to point to Sam Adams's assessment for Moving Image Source, where two upcoming series are also noted: Derek Jarman, at the Seoul Cinematheque from today through July 10, and Of Angels and Apocalypse: The Cinema of Derek Jarman, at the Northwest Film Center from July 11 through 31. Sam Adams: "Poet, prophet, and provocateur, Jarman made films that were polemical by their very existence, yet intensely, and occasionally inscrutably, personal in substance. Frankly homoerotic, they queered the history of Shakespeare, Caravaggio and Wittgenstein/a>, to say nothing of Saint Sebastian and Jesus Christ. As AIDS hysteria and homophobia mounted in the 1980s, Jarman sharpened his knives and strengthened his stance."

At the SpoutBlog, Lauren Wissot suggests five "Top Hot Pride Pics."


Update, 6/29: Once again, Monica Peck...

A Horse Is Not a Metaphor "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" veteran experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer told last night's Frameline32 audience at the Roxie Theater before the premier of her latest film A Horse Is Not a Metaphor. "Thank you! People are the most important thing - that's what I've learned!"

"I also want to thank my wife, Florrie Burke, who shot some of the cinematography for the film," Hammer announced. "We just got married yesterday!" Shouts of congratulations and resounding cheers filled the intimate venue.

Friday night's screening began with two of Hammer's earlier films, Vital Signs and Sanctus, both breathtakingly beautiful explorations of the body and death.

"My body is a performative structure, as well as sexual... as well as a person in skin with touch," Hammer explained. "The body is the mind as well; we mustn't forget that."

Hammer's recent battle with ovarian cancer provided the subject for A Horse Is Not A Metaphor. A deeply personal poetic map of the cancer experience, the film also aims to educate viewers about the symptoms and available treatments for ovarian cancer.

"Ovarian cancer has been called the 'silent killer,' so now we want to yell about it and make it not silent anymore," Hammer explained during the Q&A after the screening. "You literally are the first people to see this film. Only three others have ever seen this before, but now I want to write a distribution program so the film can go around to hospitals and clinics and get the message out there about ovarian cancer. Perhaps with a new Democratic president in office we can finally get the stem cell research to find that tumor marker so that the chemo can focus on the tumor, rather than having to flood the entire body cavity."

Beautifully constructed from a variety of visual media, including Hammer's own archival footage of the first All-Women Rodeo in 1962, as well as Florrie Burke's videos of chemotherapy treatments, the film also reflects Hammer's recent acquisition of Final Cut Pro and digital video within her process.

"This is the first film where I worked from the beginning to the end without stopping," she explained. "I'd heard of painters doing that with a large canvas, just starting at one corner and not stopping until it's finished - that's what making this film was like."

-Monica Peck


Updates, 6/30: XXY (site) has won the Frameline32 Audience Award for Best Feature.


And again, Monica Peck...

"I saw the gayest thing on my walk to the Castro Theater today," Michael Lumpkin spoke warmly to the Frameline 32 audience as a few giggles emanated from the crowd. "It was a pink plushy bear with a veil... That pretty much says it all for today," he laughed, referencing the hundreds of wedding celebrations happening on nearly every scenic stoop of San Francisco this month.

Derek Jarman Lumpkin introduced Julie Blankenship from the non-profit Visual Aid, co-presenters of the afternoon's screening of Derek, a tribute to Derek Jarman. Visual Aid provides grants and materials to professional artists diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, such as HIV/AIDS.

The film, although a bit of a dud, will hopefully serve to foster greater interest in Jarman's films. Lumpkin said he wanted to screen some of Jarman's films at this year's festival, but no 35 mm prints were available.

This year's Frameline closed with the film Breakfast With Scot (site), from Canadian director Laurie Lynd, before attendees headed over to 1015 Folsom for the closing party celebration.

-Monica Peck


Michael Guillén at Twitch on The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela (site): "Billed as a transsexual Cinderella story, this Berlinale Teddy winner is amazingly engaging for its heady blend of gritty vérité and whimsical fairy tale."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:46 AM

Zeitgeist and the zeitgeist.

Cowards Bend the Knee Happy 20th anniversary, Zeitgeist Films. MoMA's celebrating with Zeitgeist: The Films of Our Time, opening tomorrow and running through July 23. In the Voice, Anthony Kaufman talks with co-Presidents Nancy Gerstman and Emily Russo - and with Guy Maddin: "Zeitgeist has always had the most eclectic and discriminating catalog, and I've never been quite able to believe my good fortune in being part of it. Their company is by far the most personal, passionate, and character-driven of all the distributors."

"The MoMA screening schedule spans the life of the company, and will feature a number of special filmmaker appearances," notes indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, who talks with Gerstman and Russo about the state of indies: "The duo repeatedly discussed that being an optimist is crucial in stomaching the ups and downs of distribution and despite the current storm clouds, expressed confidence about the future."

Updated through 6/30.

"Nobody in the film business questions that the current mode of distribution for independent film - in [Carrie] Rickey's article [in the Philadelphia Inquirer], Emerging Pictures CEO Ira Deutchman calls it the 'post-studio, pre-Internet era' - is somewhere between transitional and dysfunctional, and that some version of electronic home delivery is likely to dominate the marketplace within five to 15 years," writes Andrew O'Hehir at Salon. "But as God is my witness, we need gatekeepers! If anything, we need them in the digital era more than ever. At least in the short term, the current marketplace implosion is likely to have a highly undemocratic effect on both filmmakers and film lovers, delivering still more practical control over what we watch and when to a shrinking group of ever-larger entertainment conglomerates."

"Needless to say, media coverage of the Indie Film Crisis is entering crisis proportions itself." Variety's Anne Thompson gathers more related linkage.

Updates: In the wake of Mark Gill's LAFF keynote, indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez asks industry insiders and observers, "Is the Sky Really Falling?"

"Can the Internet Save Indie Film?" For Portfolio, Fred Schruers asks Matt Dentler.

Updates, 6/27: Online listening tip. Maddin, Gerstman and Russo are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"During the course of two tumultuous decades in independent film distribution, the company's track record demonstrates a remarkably astute sensitivity to the ebb and flow of public and critical tastes, both in the art house and the video store," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "'That is what "zeitgeist" means, isn't it?' Ms Russo said last week. 'It's the spirit of the times, and that is what we do. We have certainly been attracted to films that have political messages or philosophical messages or some kind of social messages' - 'And emotional messages,' Ms Gerstman interjected - 'that we thought audiences of that time would want to respond to.'"

Also, S James Snyder tells the story behind Maddin's The Heart of the World.

Updates, 6/28: Since this is just as much a zeitgeist entry (as it relates to the current shakeout among indie distributors) as a celebration of Zeitgeist, this would seem to be the place to note that, in the New York Times, Charles Lyons reports on why Alex Gibney - and others - are taking ThinkFilm to court.

Meanwhile, Anthony Kaufman reports that "Sundance sleeper hit Momma's Man, which may be this year's Old Joy, will not be handled in theaters by ThinkFilm, as I reported last week." It's going instead to Kino International.

AJ Schnack gathers commentary on all this and adds himself, "Sadness all around."

Update, 6/29: The Film Panel Notetaker was a work on Todd Haynes's night at the Zeitgeist series.

Update, 6/30: David Carr runs through Mark Gill's talking points for New York Times readers and calls up Mark Harris (Entertainment Weekly, Pictures at a Revolution), who tells him, "I think Mark said a brave thing. There are too many movies, and too many of them are terrible and dull. The overproduction is a breach of faith with the audience, and they have become skeptical. I know I have."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:34 AM

WALL·E.

WALL-E "Many will attempt to describe WALL·E with a one-liner," begins Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "It's R2-D2 in love. 2001: A Space Odyssey starring The Little Tramp. An Inconvenient Truth meets Idiocracy on its way to Toy Story. But none of these do justice to a film that's both breathtakingly majestic and heartbreakingly intimate—and, for a good long while, absolutely bereft of dialogue save the squeals, beeps, and chirps of a sweet, lonely robot who, aside from his cockroach pet, is the closest thing to the last living being on earth."

"[I]ts central theme owes plenty to Al Gore and the general proliferation of environmental awareness," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "WALL·E codifies the save-our-planet dictum by injecting it with charm - something no snazzy PowerPoint show could possibly accomplish.... The green initiative has hit pop culture, but at least it does so with feeling."

Updated through 7/1.

For Cinematical's Erik Davis, this is "a beautiful sci-fi tale complete with all the feel-good vibes and fantastic, cutting-edge visuals we've come to expect from a film wearing the Pixar name. Despite a few small bumps in the galaxy, WALL·E can easily claim a spot up top on a list featuring the best films of the year so far, and it will surely go down as one of Pixar's most memorable - because it's also one of their most personal."

"No one can accuse Pixar Animation of not taking big risks with its latest feature WALL·E, which tells a love story between two robots (who speak three words between them) against the backdrop of an Earth that's been destroyed by waste and consumerist overkill," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "While the film's most daring gambits pay off in full, the inclusion of a standard outwit-the-bad-guys storyline dulls the magic that WALL·E so often achieves."

For Variety's Todd McCarthy, this is "a simple yet deeply imagined piece of speculative fiction.... [H]ow many films, sci-fi or otherwise, have proposed a future human civilization populated by people so fat that they can't raise themselves from their mobile chairs, in which they sit connected to phones, screens and super-sized cups? One can't help but speculate about the perverse prospect of plus-sized multiplexers laughing at these genuinely funny scenes while digging into their popcorn and slurping their sodas."

Via Jeffrey Wells, Devin Faraci at CHUD: "Is WALL·E Environmental or Hypocritical?" And Jason Morehead asks, "Are conservatives going to be outraged by WALL·E?"

Tasha Robinson interviews director Andrew Stanton; Newsweek gets him to list his "Five Most Important Movies."

"Plenty of internet observers have noted the visual similarities between WALL·E and Short Circuit's Johnny 5, but the more trailers I watched for WALL·E, with the title character zipping around through a lonely, ruined world and sifting the wreckage of what's been left behind by humanity, the more I was remained of another film entirely, 1972's Silent Running," blogs James Rocchi.

In the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge lists "Six movies featuring robots as protagonists."

Online browsing tip. Via Coudal Partners, Eric Tan's WALL·E posters.

Earlier: Katrina Onstad's backgrounder in the New York Times (where Michael Hirshorn reviews The Pixar Touch) and Mark Feeney's profile of Stanton for the Boston Globe.

Updates: "Daring and traditional, groundbreaking and familiar, apocalyptic and sentimental, Wall•E gains strength from embracing contradictions that would destroy other films," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"It's a masterpiece of its type," writes Jeffrey Wells. "It's going to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar. I understand the impulse on the part of director Andrew Stanton to call it a robot love story and leave it at that, but it's a lie, of course - a disinforming of pig-trough moviegoers who might think twice about going to a 'green' movie that satirizes their lie-around, fat-ass lifestyle."

"WALL•E uses our nostalgia for our youth to reconnect us with our essential goodwill—an appeal that's impossible to resist whenever you stare into WALL•E's peepers," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Messenger and messiah, he asks us to look into eyes that see much wear but can only be replaced so many times, reflecting back a future that is ours to either make or destroy. He'll clean up whatever we leave behind; just don't ask him to take any of the blame."

WALL-E Updates, 6/27: "For over a dozen years now, the best name in American film has been Pixar. No movie star, no director, no writer, producer, or studio approaches its level of consistent excellence," declares the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "Even Pixar's weaker offerings (A Bug's Life, Cars, and - in my moderately heretical view - Finding Nemo) have exceptional depth and texture, moral as well as visual. And its best efforts (Toy Story, The Incredibles) are simply transcendent, rivaling the finest live-action films in sophistication and sentiment. Pixar's newest movie, WALL·E, is firmly in the latter tier, and quite possibly at the top of it. It is, in a word, a marvel, a film that recalls in equal measure Hollywood's most evocative future visions - Blade Runner and Brazil, E.T. and 2001 - and the silent intimacies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin."

"Although WALL•E ends with a very apt and moving nod to City Lights, it is in fact Pixar's answer to Modern Times - both a bravura summation of everything the studio is great at and a 'You ain't seen nothing yet!' statement of purpose," writes Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Not to mention that it's both a techno- and eco-fable, of course."

"[T]he genius of WALL•E... lies in its notion that creativity and self-destruction are sides of the same coin," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. Then: "Rather than turn a tale of environmental cataclysm into a scolding, self-satisfied lecture, Mr Stanton shows his awareness of the contradictions inherent in using the medium of popular cinema to advance a critique of corporate consumer culture."

"WALL•E pushes the purist aesthetic of Pixar animation to the borders of the avant-garde," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "WALL•E isn't quite as transcendent as last year's Ratatouille, but it's more formally innovative.... Despite the virtuosity of its technical execution, WALL•E never feels like a soulless, well-oiled entertainment machine. Rather, the movie resembles its resilient, square-shaped hero: a built-to-last contraption with a disproportionately big heart."

"Incredible. Not only is WALL•E the best Pixar movie yet (an immodest claim, I realize, though I can't imagine you'd disagree), but its entire plot is devoted to freaking its audience out about consumer culture," writes Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "The creators of WALL•E are trying to get credit for the insurgency while profiting from the occupation. But all this seems pathologically cynical when you consider the film itself, a wonderfully insane and involving love story."

For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, "the picture feels weirdly, and disappointingly, disjointed, something that starts out as poetry and ends as product.... The gloss of preachiness that washes over WALL•E overwhelms the haunting, delicate spirit of its first 30 minutes. This clearly isn't a movie made by a robot; the drag is that it ends up feeling so programmed."

"[T]he difference between WALL•E and any other counterintuitive hero (say, a kung fu panda) is Pixar's capacity for fully imagined, painstakingly rendered worlds and a genuine feel for emotional gradations - not gimmicks," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "The first half-hour of WALL•E is effectively the best summer movie all by itself, and its charm and sense of transport carry the film through its energetically but more predictably conceived latter portions in outer space."

"It's Pixar's most daring experiment to date, but it still fits neatly into the studio's pantheon: Made with as much focus on heart as on visual quality, it's a sheer joy," writes Tasha Robinson. Also at the AV Club, from Donna Bowman and Noel Murray, a Pixar primer.

"So confident is the studio in its ability to charm audiences, it has made a futurist movie that's a lot like an old silent picture," writes Richard Corliss, who talks with some of Pixar's movers and shakers for Time.

"The plot of WALL·E may be about a steaming heap of garbage, but the film is a garden of unearthly delights," writes John Anderson in the Washington Post. "One of the summer's presumptive blockbuster-tentpole-hits-to-be, the Pixar film is clearly making co-producer/distributor Disney nervous. And it's not hard to see why. It's too good. Too smart. And, most importantly, too dark."

"WALL•E succeeds at being three things at once: an enthralling animated film, a visual wonderment and a decent science-fiction story," writes Roger Ebert. "The movie draws on a tradition going back to the earliest days of Walt Disney, who reduced human expressions to their broadest components and found ways to translate them to animals, birds, bees, flowers, trains and everything else."

Online viewing tips. "What's the Best Pixar Movie of All Time?" A clip-sprinkled list from Vulture.

Updates, 6/28: For David Edelstein, this is "one for the ages, a masterpiece to be savored before or after the end of the world... a sublime work of art."

"Where Cars erred on the side of trying to make 1950s style internal combustion engines into a thing of shiny love to dazzle the most prehensile of animation watchers, WALL•E's anthropo-dwarfism goes the opposite direction, toward an eco-fable that's more than majestic in its detailing while keeping its characters exceedingly small," writes Ray Pride.

Also at Movie City News, Michael Wilmington: "[T]his movie actually ignites our sense of play, and of wonder. Even if you're way past childhood's end, as an adult or in your mature years, the film has some of the dreamy intoxicating effect of the Disney feature cartoons of the late 30s through the mid 40s, that fantastic run from Snow White through Bambi, especially if you saw them as a child."

"There is something audacious, maybe hubristic, in Pixar's gamble to market a potential blockbuster — to families, no less — so out of step with the expectations of multiplex audiences weaned on a succession of Shreks with diminishing returns," writes Chris Wisniewski for Stop Smiling. "But WALL•E dazzles, particularly in its magnificent first half-hour, a post-apocalyptic love-story in miniature that serves as a graceful introduction to the intergalactic journey that follows."

Updates, 6/29: "About once every ten years Hollywood makes a movie that is so 'outside the box' that you wonder how it ever got a greenlight," writes Jon Taplin. "When the history of the first 100 years of animation is written, I'm pretty sure WALL•E will be right up there with the earliest Disney classics in the pantheon."

"In WALL•E, Pixar's best film to date, the joke is on us," writes Matt Dentler. "The film flies in the face of all that is expected and acceptable: corporate America has destroyed earth, heroes don't speak English, and an animated feature can pack more heart and ingenuity in 100 minutes than we've seen in American multiplexes this entire year so far."

Updates, 6/30: "A very funny, beautifully designed, unexpectedly affecting (I cried, okay? The walking trash compactor with the googly eyes fell in love and I cried. And I'd do it again.) animated fable, WALL•E deserves all the riches it will earn for its makers, which will probably only pile up faster and faster as people look for something to take the kids to see even as the remaining summer sure-shots, such as the new Batman and Hellboy films, turn weirder and darker," writes Phil Nugent at Screengrab. "In the meantime, some canny repertory theater programmers would be well advised to cash in on the movie's success by pulling Silent Running out of mothballs, toot sweet. Although WALL•E pays comic homage to 2001 and includes an in-joke for Alien fans by employing Sigourney Weaver as the Mothering voice of a spaceship's computer, its strongest debt, both visually and spiritually, is to the 1972 hippie sci-fi film that marked the directing debut of Douglas Trumbull, still best known for his work as a special effects wizard on such films as 2001, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner."

"Would I sound like too much of a moral scold if I said that WALL•E symbolizes every good impulse in Hollywood filmmaking, and Wanted every corrupt one?" asks Paul Matwychuk. "Or would I just sound like someone who can properly evaluate the evidence of his own eyeballs?"

"The media is playing two pointless games of 'gotcha' with Pixar's wonderful WALL•E at the moment," begins Eugene Novikov at Cinematical. "Eric Kohn addressed the first - conservative critics griping about the film's 'left-wing' message - over here. The other, best articulated in this post by CHUD's Devin Faraci and this mind-boggling missive from the New York Post's Kyle Smith, but also showing up in Todd McCarthy's Variety review, is that WALL•E's supposed anti-consumerist bent is 'hypocrisy' on account of it's released by Disney. I think that's a stupid and dishonest argument, and here's why."

Updates, 7/1: The LAT's Patrick Goldstein talks with "Pixar guru" John Lasseter about the studio's phenomenal success.

Blogging for the NYT, Damon Darlin spots to nods to Apple, while Chris Suellentrop notes that "already the right-wing backlash to the right-wing backlash against WALL•E is underway."

Online viewing tip. AO Scott on "Pixar's 4th Dimension."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:23 AM

Hancock, round 1.

Hancock "When this movie opens July 2, it will be eviscerated," predicts Variety's Anne Thompson. "It's a movie that tried to be smart and weird and interesting, with gifted filmmakers behind it: producers Michael Mann and Akiva Goldsman (who do cameos), edgy screenwriter Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) and director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom). They created a fascinating damaged, alcoholic, homeless superhero, well-played by Smith, but their attempts to mix and match smart character-based drama (Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman also star) with superhero action adventure (VFX by Sony Pictures Imageworks) is a Frankenstein's Monster."

Updated through 7/2.

"This misguided attempt to wring a novel twist on the superhero genre has a certain whiff of The Last Action Hero about it, with Will Smith playing an indestructible crime-buster in a pointedly real-world context," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Although it will inevitably open very large, this odd and perplexing aspiring tentpole will provide a real test of Smith's box office invincibility."

For Stephen Farber, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, the problems begin when Hancock "veers from comedy to romantic tragedy and introduces an elaborate backstory that never makes much sense."

"Outright baffling choices mark the last 30-35 minutes of the movie," agrees Brent Simon in Screen Daily. "Interesting narrative opportunities have been discarded in favour of a twist which creates needless confusion, and saps the film of its accrued goodwill."

"As superhero dramas go, I'd give it three capes," writes Rachel Abramowitz in the Los Angeles Times. "But the pure boom-boom factor of the genre made me feel bludgeoned. Again.... Author Peter Biskind, who's written books about movies and culture in the 50s, 70s, and 90s, assures me that superheroes return with bad times.... Janine Basinger, a film historian from Wesleyan University, has a slightly different take on it. 'We all want a daddy, don't we?'... While I believe in hope and change, I know some cynics (mostly die-hard Hillary Clinton supporters) who think Barack Obama taps into the same collective yearning... Obama-man has no past. Like all caped crusaders, he is a mysterious cipher, and yet a reassuring figure, like Superman or Spider-Man.... As screenwriter David Koepp (Spider-Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) notes: 'Hollywood is only obsessed with superheroes because audiences seem to be. As soon as audiences are not, Hollywood will scrape them off their shoe.'"

Meantime, as Lizo Mzimba reports for the BBC, Smith's more than happy to talk up Obama.

"It's a superhero movie that is not a superhero movie," writes David Poland. "It has complex ideas. It has quiet moments when most studio movies would be giving you zip. It pushes the funk harder than usually makes studios comfortable."

Chris Lee in the Los Angeles Times: "I won't spoil the surprise here, but let's just say Valkyrie-like South African Oscar-winner [Charlize] Theron has a much meatier part in the film than you might otherwise be led to believe by her marginal presence in various trailers, billboards and one-sheets for Hancock."

Updates, 6/27: "Will Smith memorably starred in sci-fi movies called things such as I, Robot and I Am Legend," notes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "This one could be called I, Asshole or I Am Asshole, or perhaps just Asshole.... I wondered what it might have been like with Snoop Dogg in the role, out of his head on skunk and habitually abusive. Well, he might have been awful in other ways: but he wouldn't have been as solemn."

"[F]or everything that doesn't work in Hancock, there's a sort of structural anarchy going that's refreshing - it rebels against even the adolescent formulae of rebellion to give us something more adult," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "It also has one quality that your average superhero flick never does: you haven't the faintest clue where it's going."

Update, 6/28: "Subversive tendencies would certainly be welcome amid all the cookie-cutter product being funneled into cineplexes by play-it-safe studios, yet aside from the fact that its crime fighter initially comes off as a boozy jerk, director Peter Berg's latest assumes a superficial deconstructionist attitude while strictly adhering to conventions - especially, and ineffectively, during its second half, when the story goes so far off the rails that its illogicality flirts with abstraction." Nick Schager in Slant.

Update, 6/29: Carole Cadwalladr profiles Charlize Theron for the Observer.

Update, 6/30: For David Denby, writing in the New Yorker, Hancock is "a surprisingly resonant spectacle that places three people with recognizable feelings in the middle of a wild fantasy.... Hancock suggests new visual directions and emotional tonalities for pop. It's by far the most enjoyable big movie of the summer."

Updates, 7/1: "Hancock is just intriguing enough that I kept wishing it were better," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "But Berg doesn't have the subtle touch that this material needs.... It's Smith who seems truly lost. His two most recent performances - in the 2006 The Pursuit of Happyness and in last year's I Am Legend - were so astonishing that it's become hard not to expect miracles from him.... It's the sort of role Smith ought to be able to pull off easily. But even his superpowers apparently have their limits."

"There's something ugly and profoundly self-absorbed about the go-nowhere loser comedy Hancock, a superhero action blockbuster that arrives in theaters tomorrow almost as a big-screen equivalent of an US Weekly magazine," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "When not poking fun at its central celebrity when he's down on his luck, the film cashes in on the drama as he's shuttled off to rehab, then slaps together a redemptive coda without doing any of the heavy lifting. All things considered, reactions to the film will likely mimic those of gossip-rag readers: fleeting enchantment slowly replaced by indifference."

Updates, 7/2: "Although whatever teeth it had have mostly been pulled, Hancock makes for one unexpectedly satisfying and kinky addition to Hollywood's superhero chronicles," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[W]hile it would be a stretch to say that this summertime amusement has much on its mind, it does have a little something percolating between its big bangs and gaudy effects. Most of that something isn't overtly political, despite the setup (Super Angry Black Man), a few winking asides and Mr Berg's downbeat tendencies."

"Hancock's so indefensibly enh during its first half-hour that it almost doesn't recover; like its hero, the movie comes off as a touch suicidal," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "But slowly, and clumsily, Hancock lurches toward greatness." Still, "It doesn't take itself as seriously as it should, and undercuts a final act that should have and so could have packed a mighty emotional wallop. Noted a colleague after a preview screening: 'Here's a superhero movie that could have used more pretension.'"

"Hancock is hardly the worst movie of the summer season," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "(That would probably be this or this.) But it is in some ways the most frustrating: a clumsy, half-hearted mishmash dropped carelessly into the holiday weekend with the clear assumption that Big Willie's superpowers will be enough to catch it and hold it aloft. I (like every moviegoer on Earth, if box office numbers are to be believed) consider myself a fan of Will Smith. But Hancock, even more than its protagonist, has deep-seated problems, and anyone who gives it money is only enabling its misbehavior."

"It's a movie with an identity crisis that seems to offer one gentle pleasure but instead offers a harsher experience by far," writes Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post. "It's very, very strange."

The Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns also finds it "deeply strange" and offers a little background: "This kooky patchwork of a project was spun from a much heralded, notoriously unfilmable script called Tonight, He Comes, penned by first-timer Vincent Ngo, that surfaced sometime in the 90s. The double entendre title referred to our hero's struggle to keep a lid on his libido, a sort of extra-graphic riff on the great Mallrats gag in which Superman can't screw Lois Lane because his Kryptonian super-spooge will most likely rip her in half."

"The lunacy of the plot twist would be acceptable if it were given the appropriate loony-bin treatment," writes Sam Weisberg in the L Magazine. "Instead, the story shifts between trite slapstick and humorless exposition - if we are told, for instance, that Smith was scarred in a Constantine-era battle, why not show it?"

"A critique of Hancock is an essay in irrelevance," decides Time's Richard Corliss. "You'll go see it anyway." So he turns his attention to Will Smith, who "deserves that overused epithet 'the last movie star.' For more than a decade, he's been immune to moviegoers' fickle fashions."

"When we shell out to see a star vehicle, we are effectively paying insurance premiums which we get back in the form of more precious time with that chosen celebrity," blogs Ryan Gilbey for the Guardian. "What we're getting in Hancock is essentially a metaphor for the making of Will Smith."

Richard Vine talks with Berg for the Guardian. The director insists Smith is not a Scientologist, by the way, which, if true, would be, you know, a relief.

"[G]iven that the movie itself is a cynical, slapdash moneymaking machine - yes, that's Akiva Goldsman, screenwriter of Batman & Robin and coproducer of this film, glimpsed in the boardroom scene - it mainly succeeds in trashing the ideal of summer-movie entertainment," writes Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out New York.

"Smith's foray into superhero movies manages to entertain," shrugs Amber Humphrey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "For those keeping track, Hancock is no Men in Black (1997). Thankfully, though, it's no Wild Wild West (1999) either."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:21 AM

June 25, 2008

Trumbo.

Trumbo "Revered screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (1905 - 1976) is the most famous of the Hollywood Ten - the Tinseltown scapegoats blacklisted in 1947 after refusing to name names before the House Committee on Un-American Activities - probably because his own life sounds like a movie he scripted," writes Benjamin Strong, reviewing Trumbo in the L Magazine.

"The readings of Dalton Trumbo's letters to family and friends are starkly rendered—famous faces (Michael Douglas, Nathan Lane, Donald Sutherland, Liam Neeson, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, so forth) recite rousing missives without the aid of sets or props of any kind save for Trumbo's own thunderous proclamations in defense of free speech," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.

Updated through 6/27.

"Trumbo's trials are perfect for these actors to display some serious in-house outrage at the evils of Hollywood past, and Douglas and company seem more interested in being cinematically enshrined for their stance on events now ensconced in the hindsighted past than in giving sincere interpretations of Trumbo's outraged, bitter, and political voice," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. Even so: "Through interviews with biographers, family, and friends like Otto Preminger and Kirk Douglas, Trumbo emerges as an unflappably strong-willed "contrarian" who took what the reactionary paranoia of his time dealt him and more than survived."

"Ultimately, Trumbo is well worth seeing for what it tells us about the age in which this irrepressible individualist lived, loved, suffered and finally triumphed," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Indeed, his hilarious letter to his son, Chris - in college at the time - on the pleasures, glories and guilts of masturbation is alone worth the price of admission. Whatever reservations I have about Trumbo can be attributed to my liberal anti-communist mind-set, which demands that the whole tangled story of the cold war be told."

"Trumbo is most focused when it lets the man and his peers testify directly; actress-writer Jean Rouverol, now past 90, is positively giddy in telling each impassioned war story, as of the night she turned two federal agents away from her door and then phoned her husband and collaborator to warn, 'Get on your horse,'" writes Bill Weber in Slant.

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

Update, 6/26: "The real target of the Red Scare was not the handful of prominent lefties like Trumbo who had their livelihoods destroyed and their reputations ruined but rather the rest of society, which proved by and large to be craven, suggestible, and downright eager to hew to a new standard of patriotic conformity," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Whether this was accidental or intentional, pursuing a highly unpopular minority provided authoritarian elements in this country with a test case: How far could constitutional rights and liberties be eroded by government-sponsored fear-mongering? The answer was pretty far, and would-be dictators from J Edgar Hoover to Dick Cheney have been renovating and repeating the pattern ever since, with a different half-imaginary enemy in the gunsight."

And then there's Armond White in the New York Press: "Myth and piety are the film's guiding principles - documenting truth isn't."

Updates, 6/27: "If the story of the Hollywood blacklist and the lives it destroyed has been told many times before, it still bears repeating, especially in the post-9/11 climate of fearmongering, of Guantánamo, of flag pins as gauges of patriotism," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Today few would dispute Trumbo's assessment of that very dark period: 'The blacklist was a time of evil, and no one who survived it on either side came through untouched by evil.'"

"Trumbo clearly proves that, if nothing else, its subject endured the deprivations of the blacklist with more wit than any of the rest of the writers in the original Hollywood Ten," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "After watching Trumbo, one suspects that no matter when he was born, Trumbo's flair for agitprop and almost compulsive iconoclasm would have brought him into conflict with the prevailing politics of any era."

"Trumbo's ornery genius couldn't be contained by the screen or the pages of a book; it spilled into every aspect of his life," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Trumbo emerges as a son's bittersweet valentine to his old man, and a tribute to the senior Trumbo's resilience, wit, and outrage in the face of a national disgrace."

"Trumbo could be funny, as when he called Albert Ellis, the author of Sex Without Guilt, 'the greatest humanitarian since Mahatma Gandhi,'" writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "He could be an irascible pain in the neck, as when he excoriates his local phone company for its service. But being dull, or compromising what he believed, was never an option."

"Balancing the political and the personal is a smart idea, though the resulting togglethon ends up being the uneasiest of marriages," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

Online listening tip. Screenwriter Christopher Trumbo (Dalton's son) and director Peter Askin are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:56 PM | Comments (1)

Edinburgh, week 2.

Edinburgh International Film Festival "At its halfway point, we have a clearer idea of whether the Edinburgh film festival can cope on its own, divorced from the supportive hubbub of the Fringe that brought so many people into the city," blogs the Guardian's Andrew Pulver. "I have to confess initially I was a bit of a sceptic, reasoning the film festival must surely get more out of Edinburgh's August maelstrom than it would gain by losing it. But having just nipped into town, it's interesting to see how the film festival's identity has already changed in quite subtle ways."

Neil Young's been indexing his coverage, most of it for the Hollywood Reporter:

Updated through 7/1.

  • Christopher Doyle's Polish political thriller Warsaw Dark is a "classic example of style triumphing over substance." More from Allan Hunter in Screen Daily: "Elements of political conspiracy, shady underworld intrigue and romantic infatuation are executed with a measure of elegance but this is an idiosyncratic, unfathomable muddle that begins to resemble a jigsaw where all the pieces are present but the hapless viewer is clueless as to how they might fit together."

  • "As an example of issue-driven community filmmaking, Trouble Sleeping, an ensemble drama "based on the experiences of members of Edinburgh's refugee community," is a respectable effort that almost transcends tight budgetary limitations."

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  • "East meets West with quietly droll results in We Went To Wonderland the second feature-length film by London-based Chinese filmmaker/novelist Xiaolu Guo. While her 2006 debut, How Is Your Fish Today?, spellblindingly combined documentary and fiction, this time she takes a more straightforwardly documentary approach to record her elderly parents' first visit to Europe."

  • "An intense, downbeat psychological character study that feels infinitely closer to recent Austrian and German cinema than anything from its native Britain, Helen is a ponderously pretentious affair that wastes an intriguing premise not to mention Ole Birkeland's superlative cinematography." More from Allan Hunter in Screen Daily.

And still more from Allan Hunter in Screen Daily:

  • "The move from kidulthood to Adulthood prompts some awkward growing pains for screenwriter/actor Noel Clarke as he also assumes the role of director for the first time and his film's polished, technical confidence is fatally undermined by overwrought melodrama and unconvincing performances."

  • "Eight years after ivansxtc, director Bernard Rose and star Danny Huston are reunited on another digitally-shot, The Kreutzer Sonata is the lesser of the two films, transforming a tale of all-consuming sexual jealousy into a turgid journey through banal scenes from a Beverly Hills marriage."

  • "A defining moment in the forging of Scottish nationalism is transformed into an Ealing-style comedy caper in Stone of Destiny, a sentimental rendition of the true theft - or liberation - of the ancient Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey."

The festival wraps on Sunday.

Earlier: "Edinburgh, week 1."

Update, 6/26: "Relationships between brothers can often provide fertile subject-matter for cinema, but overcooked family-drama Dummy is an undistinguished variation on the theme," writes Neil Young for the Hollywood Reporter. Also: "The family that slays together stays together in Mum & Dad, a nightmarish little Brit-horror that makes a virtue of micro-budget limitations."

Updates, 6/27: Online listening tip. Jason Solomons hosts the latest edition of Film Weekly from Edinburgh.

For the Telegraph, Tim Robey reviews The Wackness, Somers Town, A Complete History of My Sexual Failures, Donkey Punch, Red and Of Time and the City.

Updates, 6/28: From Charlie Olsky's indieWIRE dispatch: "Cinematographers certainly aren't left out of the Edinburgh love; the festival held a particularly anticipated conversation between two of this year's academy-award nominated cinematographers Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and Seamus McGarvey (Atonement). Longtime Wong Kar-Wai collaborator Chris Doyle held the world premiere of his film Warsaw Dark, about violent Mafioso and tragic prostitutes in the title city (which Doyle portrays as a hellhole). It's a disappointing film from one of the world's finest cinematographers, somehow managing to simultaneously look beautiful and be profoundly ugly, as doomed people live out bleak situations, cursing the horrors of capitalism."

Dummy director Matthew Thompson tells Guardian readers what it's like to have a film at the festival.

Update, 6/29: "The 62nd EIFF concluded with today's awards ceremony which saw Somers Town winning the Michael Powell Award, and Robert Carlyle walking away as best actor for his performance in Summer." Congrats to Shane Meadows; the site's got the full list of winners.

Update, 6/30: Sheila Johnston looks back on the highlights in the Telegraph.

Update, 7/1: Tim Hayes offers an overview in cinemattraction.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:44 AM

Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine.

Louis Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine "A true (and sometimes terrifying) original, [Louise] Bourgeois, now 96, is more than the sum of her parts," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "The uncommonly elegant and evocative portrait Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine reveals much about this haunting and haunted master while leaving intact what Georges Braque once wrote was the only thing that mattered in art: the thing you cannot explain."

"The stroke of genius in Marion Cajori (who died in 2006 while the film was still being edited) and Amei Wallach's documentary is filming Bourgeois's artworks in a way that conveys their imposing emotive presence," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. The film "gets at the heart of what makes Bourgeois a great artist (indeed, what makes anyone a great artist): her work reveals as much about her as our reactions to it reveal about us."

Updated through 6/27.

John Anderson looks back on the life of Marion Cajori, whose films include Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter and Chuck Close, and talks with her daughter about the many years devoted to this one: "Just as Louise has had the past with her all the time, my mother had cancer following her around, no health insurance, two kids—and I think, in a way, for both of them, art was a source of sanity. I think, for many years, making the film kept my mother alive."

Also in the Voice, Nick Pinkerton: "The filmmakers seem to have developed an unusual intimacy with their subject, and part of this film's pleasure is in the intergenerational frictions that come up in Bourgeois and Wallach's conversations, with the interviewer trying to coax her subject into mouthing explicitly feminist cant, and Bourgeois cannily demurring."

"Frequently roving around and taking awe at Bourgeois's massive artwork, the filmmakers may understand the artist as a woman and a living creature but they often treat her as if she herself were a museum piece," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

At Film Forum through July 8. On Friday, Louise Bourgeois, "a full-career retrospective," opens at the Guggenheim. Through September 28.

Update: "Although difficult to encapsulate," writes Lauren O'Neill-Butler for Artforum, "the best précis of Bourgeois's career is offered near the end of the film by Tate Modern curator Frances Morris, who notes, 'For me, the first encounters with Louise were really as a historic figure, a classic modern 20th-century artist. Subsequent encounters with her were as a contemporary artist.... She's the only figure in 20th-century art that I see in both these contexts.... As she's become physically older and, in a way, more ambitious, her work has become more universal.'... Never fully embraced by Dada, Surrealist, or Abstract Expressionist circles, she stopped showing her work in the early 50s, only to gain late-career success in the 80s, when 'Greenberg formalism was on the way out.'" That last quote, I believe, is Bourgeois's.

Update, 6/26: The filmmakers "depict the vulnerability and fortitude of the artist, qualities that are as much characteristics of her person as of her body of work," writes Nell Gluckman in the New York Sun.

Louise Bourgeois at the Guggenheim Updates, 6/27: Holland Cotter in the NYT on the Guggenheim retrospective:

"There is one story and one story only that will prove worth your telling," says the poet. The trouble is, even the most intriguing story has its limits, its fixed set of characters and situations. And Ms Bourgeois's story - Robert Storr makes this point in the exhibition catalog - has been the sole lens through which her art is viewed, so faithfully and consistently that you would be very surprised to find any surprises in a retrospective.

But there are surprises, beginning with what the exhibition reveals about the shape of her long career, and specifically, its departure from the linear shape that "career" implies.

"Louise Bourgeois is neither linear nor narrative; it jumps around in ways that aren't always helpful, and assumes (or dismisses the importance of) some familiarity with Bourgeois' career history, her personal life, and her place in New York's artistic pantheon," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "But as a portrait of the artist and her work, it's endlessly striking, a catalog of visual accomplishments that speak for themselves."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:46 AM | Comments (2)

June 24, 2008

DVDs, 6/24.

Solo Sunny "Konrad Wolf's Solo Sunny was widely regarded at the time of its 1980 release as perhaps the best film to come out of the unhappy nation then known as East Germany, and with the passing of time the 'perhaps' might safely be removed," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "On its surface the film is a Socialist reinterpretation of the highly romanticized youth films that flooded America in the early 70s - its heroine, Sunny (Renate Krössner), is a wide-eyed waif from the industrial provinces who dreams of becoming a pop star in the big city. But it is at heart a devastating study in social determinism, in direct line with the realist Kammerspiele films of the late Weimar period."

"The rediscovery of Classe Tous Risques is, in a way, doubly special, as it leads us to reexamine the work of someone who is not an acknowledged master," writes Andrew Chan at the House Next Door. "[Claude] Sautet's career is notable for its lack of ostentation.... What anchored his films was not the nouvelle vague's cinephilia or ideology, but rather the ordinary human concerns he found at the center of big genre constructions like the criminal underworld or the comic ménage a trois. For him, even the fantasies of genre were subject to the cruel disappointments of real life."

"No matter how slick a plan is, no matter how well it's executed, it's always the unexpected events, the things that you can't plan for that ultimately trip up the murderer's scheme." Guy Savage on the Noir of the Week: Elevator to the Gallows.

Le gai savoir Ed Howard reviews Le Gai Savoir, "Godard's attempt to 'return to zero' at the end of the 60s, an attempt to both erase and rethink the 17 features he'd made during the previous decade."

Online viewing tip. C Mason Wells on Truffaut's Two English Girls. See also: Kevin Lee's notes.

At Twitch, Blake Ethridge talks with Alex Proyas about the director's cut of Dark City.

Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign-Region DVD Report" this week features Hiroshi Shimizu Film Collection Volume One: Landscape: "The English language literature on Shimizu is sparse but growing, but film lovers won't need any of it to recognize a master; he's worth getting to know feet-first, as it were."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN), Monika Bartyzel (Cinematical), Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk and Peter Martin (Cinematical).

Posted by dwhudson at 9:39 AM

Criterion's The Furies.

The Furies "Criterion's surprising, all-stops-out release of [Anthony] Mann's early western The Furies (1950) offers a valuable view of this director nearing the height of his powers, before his gifts had calcified; in many ways, it's his most exciting movie because it's also his most unresolved, opening up a Pandora's box of psychological issues that cannot be contained in any conventional conclusion," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door.

"In truth, The Furies, frontier setting notwithstanding, barely counts as a western," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "There are elements of film noir in both the plot and the look; many key scenes unfold under cover of darkness (Victor Milner earned an Oscar nomination for his moody cinematography). Above all, though, it plays like a Freudian melodrama, dissecting the hysterical and ultra-competitive love-hate relationship between widowed patriarch TC Jeffords (Walter Huston) and his headstrong daughter, Vance (Barbara Stanwyck)."

Updated through 6/26.

"Stanwyck's inward performance, one of her most brilliant - even the back of her head is somehow stunningly expressive - contrasts with Huston's gleefully over-the-top histrionics, which actors playing crazed patriarchs have strained to match ever since," writes Richard Brody in the New Yorker. "Mann emphasizes the characters' ambiguous blend of outsized evil and noble virtue, eliciting grand, tragic overtones from Charles Schnee's adaptation of the orotund novel by Niven Busch (included in the box)."

"Mann gives the action a metaphysical dimension that overwhelms easy psychoanalytic readings," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "As in his films noirs (Raw Deal, Desperate), he systematically composes his shots to create a sense of instability, using lines of perspective or boldly massed foregrounds to pull the images off balance. The titanic struggle between father and daughter has knocked the world off its axis."

"Anthony Mann was a director who knew his Aeschylus well enough to keep the story front and center, goading it with efficiency and brio, confining the poetry to visual effects that make the story memorable and, in two instances of sudden violence, awful - but in a good, Greek way," writes Gary Giddins, whose review for the New York Sun segues into the Mann films in James Stewart: The Western Collection.

"Traditionally, women have very specific roles in westerns, and Stanwyck dismantles them all," writes Jamie S Rich in DVD Talk.

Earlier: DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice.

Update, 6/26: "It's a marvelous, complex, perverse, horrifying - there are strong doses of mutilation and humiliation - and often touching movie that, for all the issues it fails to fully resolve, should be regarded as something very near greatness." Josef Braun and Brian Gibson in the Vue Weekly.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:28 AM

Frameline32 Dispatch. 2.

Monica Peck follows up on her first dispatch..

All My Life "Sex is political," insisted Maher Sabry, talking about the explicit sexuality of his film All My Life [site; trailer]. "We need to show more sex in order to tell people it's not wrong." The Victoria Theater erupted into cheers and applause.

A former burlesque hall, the historic Victoria was an appropriate venue for the world premier of All My Life, the first Egyptian movie to realistically depict the struggles of homosexuals under the country's dictatorial regime. Sabry was inspired to make the film by actual events in 2001, when police raided the Queen Boat, a gay club in Cairo, and proceeded to torture, imprison and fraudulently charge those arrested that night. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the government is using laws against "debauchery" to entrap and imprison hundreds of men.

But Egypt wasn't always oppressive towards homosexuals. According to the report, persecutions began in the 1980s, coinciding with the rise of political conservatives in the government and an increased dependence on foreign aid, primarily military aid from the United States. "Of course, Egypt wasn't fighting a war with anyone, so you know how the aid was used - against the people," Sabry explained. "There is no law against homosexuality in the books, so they always fabricate charges of, say, prostitution, as I show in the film with the character Rami."

Actor Mazen Nassar, who stars as Rami in the film also made an appearance last night. "Making this film was amazing," he told the crowd. "It was three years of blood, sweat, and love." Shot with one video camera and minimal crew on half a shoestring, All My Life still manages to hit its mark. As an anonymous member of the audience told Sabry during the Q&A after the screening, "Thank you so much for this film. I had to leave Egypt for the same reasons as these characters. This is the first time I have seen my life on the big screen."

Although Sabry is exiled from Cairo, he expressed confidence that the film will be shown in underground venues there. "That won't pay my bills," he laughed, "but it will reach those I made it for."

-Monica Peck


David Khalili talks with Sabry for American Sexuality.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:01 AM

June 23, 2008

Shorts, 6/23.

Pruning the Grapevine Pruning the Grapevine "is an overwhelmingly sincere film, well-mannered and respectful, that takes its subject, the quest for genuine faith in God, absolutely seriously," writes Kyu Hyun Kim. "It rivals Secret Sunshine in its thorough immersion in the Christian Weltanschauung, so much so that non-Korean viewers who tend to think of, say, [Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring] festooned with the signs of chicly Orientalist, mock-Buddhist 'spirituality,' as representative of Korean cinema may well ask in befuddlement, 'What is Korean about this movie?'"

Also at Koreanfilm.org, Adam Hartzell on "the omnibus film The Camellia Project, three shorts about the lives of contemporary gay South Korean couples."

Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady) might have found a European acolyte in the surprising person of UK director Thomas Clay, who shot his second film Soi Cowboy on location in Thailand." A review from Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net.

"Yes, The Sky Really Is Falling" is the title of Film Department CEO Mark Gill's keynote address at the Los Angeles Film Festival and both Variety's Anne Thompson and indieWIRE have the full text: "I know I don't have to repeat all the ways that the independent film business is in trouble. But I'm going to do it anyway - because the accumulation of bad news is kind of awe-inspiring." 13 bits of bad news follow. Then, a survey of the majors' problems. All of it leading up to the argument that "the sky might fall further than we like, but it won't hit the ground."

Speaking of the majors, though, Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay points to a "good conversation going on at the always excellent blog of Jon Taplin. Entitled 'Who Will the Next Fool Be,' the short piece... critiques the recently announced deal in which India's Reliance may be financing Dreamworks." Heather Timmons has the latest on this particular potential deal in the New York Times.

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger "will appear alongside the Bollywood stars Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor in Incredible Love, the story of an Indian stuntman who takes Hollywood by storm but cannot find true love there," reports Dean Nelson for the London Times. "The film will be the first Indian production to be shot at Hollywood's Universal Studios and will have the highest budget in Bollywood history: more than £11m." Via Merrick at AICN.

Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz in Elegy "No, it's not your imagination. Ben Kingsley is everywhere." Michael Ordoña in the Los Angeles Times, where Sheri Linden talks with Werner Herzog and Jason Matloff tells the story behind Beastie Boy Adam Yauch's basketball doc, Gunnin' for That #1 Spot. More on that one from Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

David Phelps in the Auteurs' Notebook on Céline and Julie Go Boating: "L'amour fou and even Out 1 are the realistic ones (comparatively) because the worlds the characters create and destroy - and ultimately outgrow - are short-lived balms in face of a messy, mutable reality.... But the fantasy life becomes plausible (in all sorts of ways) in Céline and Julie, because the fantasies here, infinitely more petty, are not for order, but for subversion, not for stability, but for constant mutation and metamorphosis."

"[I]s Bonnie & Clyde a kind of Western?" In True West Magazine, Henry Cabot Beck directs this question - and many more, of course - to Arthur Penn himself. Via Joe Leydon.

Speaking of westerns, take a look at the Cinematheque Top 5, or rather, take a look at the many, many annotated ballots.

"She was feminine and androgynous, spontaneous and calculating, heavily made-up yet natural, at ease in period costume but most relaxed off-screen in flared trousers." The Observer's Philip French on Marlene Dietrich.

Garth Pearce talks with Robert De Niro for the London Times.

It's not just movies - increasingly, critics aren't being given previews of books, plays or TV shows, either. Mark Lawson looks into it. Also in the Guardian: "I love the Russians: they look hard for the soul and less for the cute little nose."Jethro Skinner, who plays the lead in Plyus odin (Plus One), has won a best actor award at Kinotavr, "Russia's biggest festival, the equivalent of Cannes," and blogs up the experience.

Emma Thompson Emma Thompson takes on Vanity Fair's "Proust Questionnaire."

PopMatters has 20 questions for Alan Cumming.

Matt Riviera talks with Kimberly Peirce about Stop-Loss.

Online listening tip #1. At If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...: Hitchcock and Truffaut discuss I Confess.

Online listening tip #2. The IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss the AFI's 10 top 10s.

Online viewing and/or uploading tip. "Frieze Film issues an open invitation to submit, appropriate and adapt material." Click to find out more about the project inspired by Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

Online viewing tips. The AV Club lists "19 stellar cinematic one-scene wonders," cameos you'd better have some time for.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:41 PM

Fests and events, 6/23.

Karlovy Vary Film Festival 08 "Karlovy Vary, Central Europe's leading international film festival, announced a competition line up Monday for its 43rd edition rich in world and international premieres." Nick Holdsworth reports for Variety. July 4 through 12.

Tonight at 7 at Seattle's Paramount: The Goucho, with Douglas Fairbanks. David Jeffers has a preview at the Siffblog.

"Undressed, the New Zealand International Film Festivals cut a lean figure in 2008," writes the Lumière Reader's Tim Wong. "Whether or not you approve of the makeover, it's important to note the only real casualty of Telecom's desertion has been the luxurious souvenir tome, with the festival's capacity to import cinema - if ever there was any doubt - unhindered and at full strength." And then, a few reviews.

"The Bryant Park Summer Film Festival doesn't take people away from the skyscrapers, but instead lures them into the heart of Midtown, into a park that is encased within the steel and glass of the surrounding real estate," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "It is, perhaps, the most striking park space in all the city."

Andy Horbal rounds up goings on in Pittsburgh.

Brian Darr posts a big, big roundup of local goings on at Hell on Frisco Bay.

In Chicago? Do check in with the Cine-File.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 PM

Bizarro Days.

Bizarro Days "It's Bizarro Days. Up is down. Right is wrong. Left is right. And I believe Lindsay Lohan should run for the Senate because we need more like her in office if we want to turn this ship around.

"Okay, you get the point."

Piper's hosting another round through Wednesday at Lazy Eye Theatre.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:51 AM

Drive-In Movies: A Primer

Drive-In For all the talk these days of the eventual demise of theatrical distribution, you might be surprised to learn that drive-ins, that quintessentially American pop culture phenomenon, have not only survived but, in some areas of the country, are actually thriving.

Dennis Cozzalio's "Drive-In Movies" primer is many things: a personal love letter to the experience; a history of drive-ins; an annotated list of 13 directors who have shaped the idea of the "drive-in movie" as a genre; and a fun shortlist of drive-ins in the movies.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:16 AM | Comments (2)

Frameline 32 Dispatch. 1.

Cthulhu Guru contributor Monica Peck on one film at Frameline32, running through Sunday; notes follow.

Writer Grant Cogswell introduced Cthulhu (site) last night alongside director Dan Gildark at the Castro Theater with news that the film, based on HP Lovecraft's short story "The Shadow over Innsmouth," is heading straight to the editors for a re-cut. "You are the last audience to see this, the original cut of the film, so if you feel like a scene is dragging, just remember, we're about to tighten it up." Gogswell went on to add that the film isn't "just a gay film." An odd comment to make to a Frameline 32 audience; yes, Grant, gay films are people films, too.

It was perhaps not surprising then that the protagonist Russ Marsh (Jason Cottle) has to cope with cliché familial homophobia from his purple-jumpsuit clad father, the Reverend Marsh (Dennis Kleinsmith), who snidely asks, "How's the gay life treating you?" About as well as that Tinky Winky outfit is treating you, we wanted Russ to retort.

Other unsophisticated attempts to explore nuances of gay sexuality also brought peals of laughter from the audience. Notably when Russ and his childhood buddy Mike (Scott Patrick Green) spend a night of passion, the audience is treated with shots of their hands in blue-tint pressed against the sheets in a rather unconvincing - and conservative - sexual montage.

Tori Spelling (Kiss the Bride, Scary Movie 2) plays Dannie's nympho pal Susan. Spelling's charisma does liven up the film, in spite of poor lighting and sound in many of her scenes. Still, one can't quite believe that her character, a vampish sexual predator who works "at the seal lion caves," is meant to be taken seriously.

The final destination for this not-just-a-gay-movie could well be cult status alongside The Evil Dead and Plan 9 From Outer Space, only perhaps with a smaller cult. Indeed, the film is not unremarkable, nor bland, though the look is often inconsistent, leaving one viewer wondering aloud, "Have they finished processing the film?" Perhaps one of the best - and most Ed Wood-ish - scenes has Russ driving the convenience store clerk home and an object very much like a ghostly tumbleweed floats in front of the car, inexplicably terrifying them both. When Russ goes out to investigate, the girl, out of nowhere, breaks into top-volume screaming hysterics. As the camera cuts in tight on her glam make-up, we catch an expression - not of terror or even fear, but of self-satisfaction, a sort of a flirtatious sideways glance - at us. Unfortunately, the editors will most likely try to find a serious horror flick in Cthulhu, rather than work to draw out its authentic camp.

- Monica Peck


Earlier: Grant Cogswell recently told the long, sad yet sadly entertaining tale of Cthulhu's making in the Stranger, where Annie Wagner checked in on the crew back in 2005.

KZA interviewed Cogswell and Gildark almost exactly one year ago.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:30 AM | Comments (1)

George Carlin, 1937 - 2008.

George Carlin
George Carlin, the Grammy-Award winning standup comedian and actor who was hailed for his irreverent social commentary, poignant observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, and groundbreaking routines like 'Seven Words You Can Never Use on Television,' died in Santa Monica, Calif, on Sunday, according to his publicist, Jeff Abraham. He was 71....

By the mid-70s, like his comic predecessor Lenny Bruce and the fast-rising Richard Pryor, Mr Carlin had emerged as a cultural renegade.... By 1977, when his first HBO comedy special, George Carlin at USC was aired, he was recognized as one of the era's most influential comedians.

Mel Watkins, New York Times.

See also: The site; Wikipedia.

Updated through 6/26.

Online viewing. Film Threat gathers routines and reflections.

Updates: "Not just aware of but steeped in the traditions of American populism - more William Jennings Bryan and Eugene Victor Debs than Bill Clinton or John Kerry - Carlin preached against the consolidation of wealth and power with a fire-and-brimstone rage that betrayed a deep moral sense that could never quite be cloaked with four-letter words," blogs John Nichols at the Nation. "Carlin did not want Americans to get involved with the system. He wanted citizens to get angry enough to remake the system.... There will, of course, be those who dismiss Carlin as a remnant of the 60s who introduced obscenity to the public discourse - just as there will be those who misread his critique of the American political and economic systems as little more than verbal nihilism. In fact, George Carlin was, like the radicals of an earlier age, an idealist - and a patriot - of a deeper sort than is encountered very often these days.

"George grew tougher and sharper over the years, putting more of himself, and his intellect, at the service of his always nimble, always adventurous comedy mind," writes Harry Shearer at the Huffington Post. "And, while his comedy was dark, his spirit with his peers was generous."

For Salon's King Kaufman, Carlin "was one of the best sports humorists around."

The AV Club gathers its two interviews (1999 and 2005) and Carlin's recent routine on death.

"By the time he died Sunday night (of heart failure at age 71), the transformation he helped bring about in stand-up had become so ingrained that it's hard to think of Carlin as one of America's most radical and courageous popular artists," writes Richard Zoglin, author of Comedy on the Edge: How Stand-Up in the 1970s Changed America, for Time. "But he was."

Esquire pulls out Larry Getlen's talk with Carlin, the "What I've Learned" feature.

Ed Champion gathers a lot more video.

"Ironically, I first became aware of Carlin when he and Richard Pryor were conservatively dressed (i.e., coat and tie), ever-so-polite stand-up comics during their weekly stints on the 1966 Kraft Summer Music Hall hosted by - no, I’m not making this up - John Davidson." Joe Leydon.

Updates, 6/24: "In 2001, George did me a solid when he accepted the part of the orally fixated hitchhiker who knew exactly how to get a ride in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," recalls Kevin Smith in Newsweek. "When he wrapped his scene in that flick, I thanked him for making the time, and he said, 'Just do me a favor: Write me my dream role one day.' When I inquired what that'd be, he offered, 'I wanna play a priest who strangles children.'" Via Movie City News.

"Like all the great comics, Mr Carlin had a gift for saying - and thinking - things that other people wouldn't or couldn't," writes Charles McGrath in the NYT. "Especially in his later years, when, mostly bald but with a white beard and just a hint of a ponytail in back, he would bounce onstage in a black sweater, black pants and sneakers, his persona was warmer, cranky rather than angry. He was like your outrageous beatnik uncle."

Update, 6/26: For Slate, Joshua David Mann watches all 800 minutes of All My Stuff:

Carlin discusses his craft in more philosophical terms - his expertise, he says, lies in "reminding you of things you already know but forgot to laugh at the first time they happened." The bulk of the material in his early shows was concerned with such pedestrian acts as grocery shopping and, yes, walking. In one early performance, he constructs a bit around the phantom stair phenomenon, when we accidentally trick our legs into thinking a staircase has one more step than it actually does.

The stair bit works on an observational level because we have all experienced it. But Carlin also makes it work on a physical level, embellishing the joke through his wild gesticulations. Unlike Seinfeld, Carlin was also a gifted physical comic, and in his early performances, the influence of Carlin's idols - Buster Keaton, Danny Kaye, the Marx Brothers - is particularly evident. He contorts his face into wrinkly malformations. He squats slightly and mimes masturbatory motions. He freezes onstage in strange postures, an American ambassador to Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:38 AM

June 22, 2008

Interview. Eric Guirado.

The Grocer's Son "Director Eric Guirado's The Grocer's Son is a small, self-assured film that moves at its own pace, always staying one graceful step ahead of its reluctant protagonist," wrote Michelle Orange in the Village Voice earlier this month.

And - relatively speaking, of course - it's become a modest hit, now enjoying the third week of what was originally planned to be a one-week run in New York. And soon, it'll be expanding to several other US cities.

James Van Maanen talks with Guirado about this first two features and his plans for the next one.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:48 AM

June 21, 2008

Shorts, 6/21.

Stop Smiling: Gambling Stop Smiling presents online excerpts from its new "Gambling" issue, including a good chunk of John Buffalo Mailer's interview with Oliver Stone, recollections from California Split screenwriter Joseph Walsh, a bit of Annie Nocenti's talk with Deadwood creator David Milch and more from her interview with Jennifer Tilly. And online: José Teodoro on My Winnipeg.

This may be a first: breaking a story via a DVD extra. Well, not exactly, since the story is out and the DVD isn't yet. Regardless, Harry Knowles been given a preview listen to a 40-minute conversation between Enzo Castellari and Quentin Tarantino that'll be part of the package when Castellari's 1977 film Inglorious Bastards is released in late July. The news everyone's picking up on has to do with Tarantino's plans to split his Inglorious Bastards into two separately released parts, as he did, of course, with Kill Bill. But Harry has more, too, on why Tarantino's spent more than six years developing this project.

"At 72, having outgrown the smut-minded confines of the pink film, [Koji Wakamatsu] has made his most ambitious work, United Red Army, a 190-minute chronicle of the tumultuous rise and self-destructive collapse of the Japanese militant student groups of the 1960s and 70s," writes Dennis Lim in a profile for the New York Times. "An intensively researched docudrama, teeming with dates, names and events, it is also a personal reckoning with a familiar narrative of idealism and disappointment: Mr Wakamatsu and his regular screenwriter in the 1960s, Masao Adachi, were active members of the radical left."

Also in the NYT:

The Pixar Touch

  • "What's striking about David A Price's history of Pixar, the computer animation studio behind Toy Story, The Incredibles and other movies, is how provisional it all seemed in the moment, how key players at important junctures didn't really understand what they were doing even as they were doing it," writes Michael Hirschorn, reviewing The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. "But they kept working because of a sixth sense that something would eventually happen."

  • And Katrina Onstad sets the stage for the next unveiling: "Last year's offering, Ratatouille, about a cartoon rat with Cordon Bleu aspirations, seemed like a hard sell. But Pixar may have outdone itself in the weird-premises department with Wall-E, a $180 million post-apocalyptic, near-silent robot love story inspired by Charlie Chaplin." Related: The Boston Globe's Mark Feeney profiles Wall-E director Andrew Stanton.

  • "Fabulous real estate plays a lead role in these recollections." Indeed, Sarah Kerr's review of Eleanor Coppola's Notes on a Life begins with the story of the family's acquisition of "a grand old estate" in Napa Valley. Whenever I try to imagine what that place must be like, I begin with the kitchen at the center of that marvelous spread in Shoot the Moon.

  • Sam Shepard is directing Stephen Rea in his newish play, Kicking a Dead Horse, opening on Wednesday at the Public Theater. Celia McGee talks with the players.

  • Michael Cieply previews Comic-Con International, convening in San Diego July 24 through 27: "Rumbling into its 39th year, this loose-jointed, four-day fan gathering has become the single most important promotional stop on Hollywood's annual circuit of festivals, awards shows and star-studded selling opportunities. But that doesn't make it easy to love, particularly for the studios, stars and writers and directors compelled to come."

Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique "The protagonist's goals are usually what shape the plot, so can one have a turning point without him or her knowing about it?" Kristin Thompson revisits some of the ideas she explored in Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique. Related: Jim Emerson's latest, "Tell me a story... or don't."

"It is accepted now that Bill Douglas's trilogy of films - My Childhood [1971], My Ain Folk [1973] and My Way Home [1978] - are landmarks in British cinema," writes Mamoun Hassan, who was head of production at the British Film Institute at the time. Melanie McFadyean talks with Douglas about how he met the star of the trilogy, Stephen Archibald.

Also in the Guardian:

  • "During the Depression, a movie ticket bought you a cartoon, a newsreel, a B feature and a marquee-topper - something like four hours of entertainment for a nickel (the price of a gallon of gas or a pack of smokes back then)," notes John Patterson. "It was hard to feel Greatly Depressed when Astaire and Rogers, Gary Cooper, the Marx Brothers or Eddie Cantor were living it up on screen.... In 1938, the movies competed only with such distractions as booze, sex, God, the radio or political agitation; there was no streaming online video, no computer games, no 60in plasma TVs, no home-movie market whatsoever. If the economy collapsed tomorrow, would seeing Transformers 2 alleviate your misery or simply compound it? Dear viewer, you have options!"

  • Stuart Jeffries talks with Sophie Marceau "about her performance in Female Agents as a secret operative fighting the Nazis. It's an unexpected role for Marceau to take: it's tough stuff, but unintentionally hilarious. Were the women of the French Resistance so glamorous? Did they really fight in full makeup? Doesn't Marceau look hot as she takes aim with steam trains puffing and blowing all around her?" More from Deborah Ross in the Independent.

  • Gwladys Fouché asks echt submariners about submarine movies.

  • In case you were looking for reasons to dislike Will Smith - and you might be, since, as Variety's Anne Thompson points out, he's still in the "Fluke Zone," "a place where a movie star can do no wrong" - Pete Cashmore suggests more than a few. Spot the deal-breaker.

48 Hrs Larry Gross's 48 Hrs diaries carry on at Movie City News.

"The lovers in The Duchess of Langeais never consummate their love, but it consummates them," writes Roger Ebert.

In the Stranger: Paul Constant on Mongol, Charles Mudede on Bigger, Stronger, Faster* and Bradley Steinbacher on Savage Grace and The Children of Huaung Shi.

In the Boston Globe: Wesley Morris on Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra and Ty Burr on Nina Davenport's Operation Filmmaker.

Docs reviewed at the AV Club: Tasha Robinson on Up the Yangtze and Noel Murray on Chris & Don: A Love Story and Surfwise.

Adam Ross's interviewee of the week: Craig Kennedy.

In the Independent, Guy Adams senses a "seismic shift" in Hollywood comedy from "subtle 'regular guy' hits" like Knocked Up and Juno to taboo-breakers like You Don't Mess With the Zohan and Tropic Thunder. Stretching, seems to me.

In the New York Sun, S James Snyder reports on "an entirely new brand of video camera, a state-of-the-art device that is poised to permanently alter the landscape of the movie industry. Already well-known to filmmakers - not to mention thousands of owners - the name of the device is the Red One."

Online listening tip. Movie Geeks United! revisit the Summer of 1983.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:51 PM

Fests and events, 6/21.

Tokyo Gore Police "Ho boy, are you ready for the nightmares?" asks the Bay Guardian's Kimberly Chun. "That's practically guaranteed this weekend as the Another Hole in the Head fest closes out with its final mow-down at Brava. Fans of arterial spray, extreme Japanese filmmaking, random acts of unkind dismemberment, and fatal flying guillotines will be able to get their geek on one last, but hella amazing time with the final Hole in the Head screening, a last-minute double feature of Japanese shock-and-argh at Brava, showcasing the other late add Tokyo Gore Police and crowd fave Machine Girl." Tomorrow night.

Fred Camper picks the highlights from the Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival for the Chicago Reader. Through tomorrow.

Matt Riviera follows up his first two batches of reviews of films he's caught at the Sydney Film Festival (1, 2) with another ten.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:15 PM

June 20, 2008

Wanted, round 1.

Wanted "When Wanted [site] was announced as the opening night film for the Los Angeles Film Festival, there was a mild outbreak of head-scratching over the choice; why start a film festival loaded with independent and foreign film with a big-studio action movie?" writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "The fact is that the opening-night LAFF premiere of Wanted - directed by a Kazakh director who made his name in Russia, loosely based on a series of comics by a Glasgwegian Scot, starring America's most notable movie starlet opposite a Glasgow-born lead actor and shot with Prague standing in for Chicago - doesn't say much about the LAFF as a film festival and doesn't say a single thing about LA as a real city, but it says plenty about LA as a company town with a global span. Wanted's a corporate product, but, thankfully, it's an excellent one - the two-fisted, double-barreled high-octane guilty pleasure summer action movie you've been waiting for. Wanted is speedy and spiffy and shiny as a bullet, and it's got about as much actual weight when it stops moving."

Updated through 6/26.

(Sorry for quoting your entire opening paragraph, James, but it's awfully damn good.)

"Like it or not, Wanted pretty much slams you to the back of your chair from the outset and scarcely lets up for the duration," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy.

"[T]his over-the-top, ultraviolent, hyperkinetic action thriller pretty much has it all," writes Michael Rechtshaffen in the Hollywood Reporter. Director Timur Bekmambetov "has funneled the best of the Wachowski brothers, Quentin Tarantino and contemporary Hong Kong action movies through his own wry sensibility."

"The final scenes have the feel of a sequel set-up, though that may be optimistic thinking," notes John Hazelton in Screen Daily. Another note: "[Angelina] Jolie dominates the film's marketing artwork but gets considerably less screen time than [James] McAvoy."

Will Lawrence talks with McAvoy for the Telegraph.

Updates, 6/21: "McAvoy carries his third American-accented picture - sans dialogue coach," notes Variety's Anne Thompson. "He gives the movie a believable center. And yes, these people are playing actual characters. The movie breathes. And it delivers action on a Bourne or Matrix level."

But: "For me it was pure agony to sit through - another sledge-hammer rocket slam to the castle of Good Cinema," writes Jeffrey Wells.

Updates, 6/23: "What a ride on the cyber-whoosh rapids!" exclaims David Edelstein in New York. "It takes about an hour after it's over for the heart to slow, the brain to recalibrate, and the nonsensicalness of the thing to sink in: I fell for that??? By then, you'll have already babbled to a few dozen friends and strangers, 'You gotta see this movie!!!' It's like the bighearted urge to share your Ecstasy at a party."

In the New Yorker, Anthony Lane imagines Bekmambetov making a cup of coffee: "My best guess, based on the evidence of the film, is that he tosses a handful of beans toward the ceiling, shoots them individually into a fine powder, leaves it hanging in the air, runs downstairs, breaks open a fire hydrant with his head, carefully directs the jet of water through the window of his apartment, sets fire to the building, then stands patiently with his mug amid the blazing ruins to collect the precious percolated drops. Don't even think about a cappuccino."

"While it's clear that this movie borrows liberally from the Wachowski's action packed bullet time virtual reality revisionism, it also incorporates much of Fight Club's insignificant rebel in a crass corporate pond philosophizing," writes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "Together, the combination adds up to a strangely unique experience. On the one hand, you easily recognize the various references. On the other, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov uses the homage as a means of manufacturing his own incredible vision."

Updates, 6/24: Mark Millar, who wrote the series of graphic novels the film is based on, likes the adaptation and posts, "Wanted 2 [is] already being planned and they've asked me how I can develop some of the other stuff from the book into the sequel. We'll see what box office is like at the weekend, but everyone knows this is going to make a lot of dough... Wall-E permitting. Fucking bastard of a wee robot." Via Elizabeth Rappe at Cinematical.

"Wanted is as stylish as it is foolish, but it's got one thing going for it: exploding rats." Jürgen Fauth.

Updates, 6/26: "Even with a well-deserved R rating - the Red Cross should develop funnels to catch all the zero-gravity splatter floating in the movie's screen space - Wanted is the most juvenile of the summer's superhero movies, and in some ways the most up-front about its stunted playground machismo (the source of Fight Club's irony)," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "This is a boy's, boy's world.... Women figure into the story as either obstacles or turncoats. The battle cry here is 'Grow a pair,' and there's no more blood-boiling insult than being called a pussy - which is bizarre, since the most lethal ass-kicker on call is a woman."

On that note: "It looks as if it has been written by a committee of 13-year-old boys for whom penetrative sex is still only a rumour, and the resulting movie plays like a party political broadcast on behalf of the misogynist party," grumbles the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. 1 star.

"Now this is how you start a summer movie," begins Nick Schager in Slant. "None of this season's action extravaganzas have yet to match this film's icebreaker, but then again, neither does anything else in this adaptation of Mark Millar and JG Jones's graphic novel. The hazard of early gratification is raised expectations, and though it never becomes a slog, the rest of Timur Bekmambetov's film can't muster a similar sustained high, instead delivering mildly satisfying awesomeness (of special note: a keyboard-to-the-face gag) in the course of a thoroughly clichéd story."

"Like Jolie's performance, Wanted is slick, sexy and ridiculous; if only the latest Indiana Jones adventure had been half as thrilling," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

"Wanted has everything that should be expected from a summer action movie - uncontrollable volume, gratuitous violence and sex, inane dialogue, plot holes, fast cars - and yet somehow still manages to sprinkle in animal cruelty and racism," writes Aly Semigran in the Philadelphia Weekly.

"Wanted is s a zit-riddled high-schooler's wet dream," writes Simon Abrams in the New York Press.

Ella Taylor talks with Bekmambetov for the LA Weekly.

"It's big and flashy, the ultimate example of style over substance and it's got a few car stunts and kills that I've certainly never seen before... big stupid fun, basically," writes Todd Brown at Twitch.

Online listening tip. James Rocchi talks with Bekmambetov for Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:25 PM | Comments (1)

Parallels.

Stranger: BEA Does this ring a bell:

Publishers Weekly, the industry standard magazine for reviews, recently made the shocking decision to cut freelancers' pay by exactly half - from $50 a piece to $25 - and newspapers across the country are cutting their book sections either drastically or entirely. To certain people this is a sign of the End Times, but it's really a kind of corrective measure. The book-reviewing community had allowed itself to shrink, lazily, into a boring, self-reflexive subindustry with little value to a general-interest reader. But good reviews, well-written ones, are published on blogs and websites and in other alternative news sources now more than ever.

These are places that, unlike newspaper book-review sections, actually treat book reviews like pieces of writing with value unto itself, more than just your standard buy-this/don't-buy-this gloss. Nevertheless, people in publishing point to what's happening in PW and major-market newspapers as yet another sign that the industry is about to disappear.

The passage comes from Paul Constant's very fine cover story in this week's Stranger, the one he's brought back from his trip to BookExpo America, which means there's another tie-in to the film world: BEA takes place in LA, so there are lots of celebrity cameos throughout. He's witness to more silliness as well (the IndieBound presentation will have you, if you'll pardon the expression, running for cover), but lo, the more numbers he sorts through, the more hardworking people who love their medium he meets, the more he does see light somewhere down the line:

This is the hour for these independent publishers to ascend. By fully embracing e-books, blogs, and a public that is dying to not be condescended to, any one of these independent presses could thrive in this year's market. The fact that bookstores are opening in huge numbers and that the independent bookselling industry appears healthy, especially in this economy, is a sign that everyone should be paying attention to. These small publishers should work with these new independent bookstores in ways that the arrogant major publishers never do, by promoting each other and by telling the world, in no uncertain terms, that books are alive and well and doing just fine, thank you very much.

The parallels to our own ecosystem - filmmakers, critics, fans - would be uncanny if it weren't for the fact that nearly identical forces are at work on both movies and publishing.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:36 AM | Comments (2)

Tatsuya Nakadai in New York.

Tatsuya Nakadai "From samurai showdowns to yearning melodramas, Akira Kurosawa to Masaki Kobayashi, the Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai has been, at his best, a chameleon of genre, mood, and directorial style," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Film Forum's long-planned multi-week series devoted to this versatile, handsome star, which begins Friday, harvests his 50-year career to yield a healthy portion of the most satisfying output from a reliable boom time in Japanese cinema."

"He was the gun-toting punk in Yojimbo (1961), the do-or-die warrior in Sanjuro (1962) and the determined police detective in High and Low (1963). You could also bring up the smitten bar owner in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960); the woodcutter in J-horror's Rosetta stone, Kwaidan (1964); or the Lear-like lion in winter of Ran (1985)." And David Fear talks with him for Time Out New York.

Updated through 6/24.

"The line-up features plenty of obscure and hard-to-find titles, like Kihachi Okamoto's Age of Assassins and Kon Ichikawa's I Am a Cat, an adaptation of the novel by the celebrated Natsume Soseki," notes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "It also features canonical Nakadai performances, like Hiroshi Teshigahara's The Face of Another, Kurosawa's Kagemusha and Kobayashi's The Human Condition, the long unavailable nine-hour epic that propelled Nakadai to prominence."

Through July 17.

Earlier: Chris Fujiwara at Moving Image Source and Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times.

Update, 6/21: "A handsome, roguish fellow equally well suited for hero or villain roles, and best known for playing characters plagued by doubt or moral uncertainty, Nakadai has been called the Japanese equivalent of Marlon Brando or Steve McQueen," writes Andrew O'Hehir at Salon. "As that might suggest, Nakadai is identified with the massive social changes of postwar Japan, but calling him a rebel or bad boy isn't quite accurate or sufficient."

Updates, 6/24: "As a retrospective within a retrospective, Film Forum's ongoing tribute to the great Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai features five films directed by Japan's grand master of filmmaking, Akira Kurosawa." Bruce Bennett revisits them in the New York Sun.

Online listening tip. Get this: Nakadai is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:36 AM

Woman on the Beach in San Francisco.

Woman on the Beach "Woman on the Beach isn't as formally rigorous as Hong [Sang-soo]'s previous films, and it spells out matters that might have been implicit in an earlier work," writes Jonathan L Knapp in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "But this should only matter to hardcore Hong-heads. The biting observations remain, and they've never been funnier."

"Hong's films are full of come-hither gestures followed by bodies retreating once the fleeting desire is consummated, yet this consummation never brings satiation," writes Adam Hartzell in an overview of the oeuvre at SF360. "Hong's characters always wander away, as if slightly fearful or disgusted following attainment of what they thought they wanted. Those of us who appreciate Hong's films know not to expect resolution."

"Hong, who has made seven films in 12 years and has become respected around the world, has never had a film released in the United States before now," notes G Allen Johnson in the San Franciso Chronicle. "It is booked at the Kabuki for a week as part of the new partnership between the San Francisco Film Society and the Sundance Cinemas to play a festival favorite or other type of film that has not received conventional distribution. A film like this - unconventional, adventurous and by an important director - is the type that can benefit from such an arrangement."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:05 AM

Exte: Hair Extensions.

Exte: Hair Extensions "As any J-horror aficionado will tell you, the long-haired, vengeful female ghost is one of the staples of the genre," writes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun. "But there's so much more to the not-so-aptly named Hair Extensions, which opens Friday at the ImaginAsian theater. It's actually a pastiche of serial-killer thriller, torture porn, domestic nightmare, and good old atmospheric J-horror."

"Director Sion Sono clicks channels between self-reflexive larks (Yuko and her roommate introduce each other with an absurdly on-the-nose mockery of expository dialogue), installation-piece imagery (a 'hair-clogged rooms' series), and sincere drama," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Also: I would love to clean my apartment to that anonymous Nutrasweet pop song over the closing credits."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:00 AM

Couscous.

La Graine et le Mulet "If you crossed Ken Loach with Robert Guédiguian, added a pinch of wry comedy and handed it to a thoroughly committed ensemble of actors, the result would be something like Couscous," suggests Anthony Quinn in the Independent.

For the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, Abdellatif Kechiche's latest, La Graine et le Mulet, known elsewhere as The Secret of the Grain, is "a deeply involving tragicomedy, combining warmth with an unexpected level of complexity, and delivering a fiercely unsentimental commentary on the sexual politics of family and food. Some critics have complained that Kechiche's scenes of family life ramble on too long, yet for me they have the easygoing, directionless quality of real life; they radiate charm and authenticity. Without them, the drama would mean far less."

Updated through 6/22.

"The winner of three awards at the Venice film festival, it has attracted sizeable audiences and been hailed not only as a cinematic masterpiece, but as an important contribution to debates about the roles and visibility of immigrant communities in national life," notes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "[I]t conveys, in a manner that is sensual as well as documentary, a profound understanding of both the fragility and the ferocious will-to-endure that lies - that has to - at the heart of many ethnic communities."

"The performances, too, developed in extensive workshops, are superb, with two standouts," writes Wally Hammond in Time Out. "The first is [Habib] Boufares, who is particularly touching and impressive as a prideful man coping in his own way with dislocation, disappointment and redundancy. The other is Hafsia Herzi as his 'adopted' daughter, whose bolder, more street-wise manner belies an equal, if different, second-generation immigrant's vulnerability to the problems of cultural assimilation."

"This is an extraordinary mosaic of a certain aspect of French life - which probably mirrors part of British life, too," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "What happens to this Franco-Arabic family has both a particular and a universal significance. And it is put on the screen with care, humanity and a total lack of forced sentimentality."

Earlier: Ginette Vincendeau in Sight & Sound and reviews from Venice.

Update, 6/22: Philip French opens his review in the Observer with a brief overview of what a history of food in the cinema might look like. Then: "[T]his movie about exile, loneliness, the nature of families, self-respect and the pursuit of dreams encompasses comedy and tragedy with understanding, compassion and a total absence of sentimentality."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:25 AM

The Edge of Love.

The Edge of Love ""'I sleep with other women because I'm a poet, and a poet feeds off life!' The speaker is the super-sonorous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, played here by Matthew Rhys," notes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, "and the line's cringe-making awfulness is sadly typical of [The Edge of Love]: full of defiant bohemian giggling and exuberant artistic types drinking heavily, dancing together round tatty rooms to wind-up gramophones and plucking lit cigarettes out of each other's mouths: 'Gissa drag on that, boy!'"

Updated through 6/22.

"Fortunately for us, the film is much less about Thomas than it is about two women who were central to his life," writes Anthony Quinn in the Independent. "[John] Maybury's camera catches the giddy energy of the friends' saloon-bar carousing, but he also finds a visual language for the crosscurrents of tension and jealousy that crackle between them.... I'm not sure [Keira] Knightley or [Sienna] Miller have ever been more beautifully photographed, and they reward the director with what are, by a long chalk, their best performances."

"[I]t's all very well bucking the biopic trend and shunting Dylan Thomas into the sidings, but there has to be something to take his place," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "But no amount of stylistic gusto can disguise the film's flimsiness, or its peculiar and off-putting inner tensions. For all the sniping against Dylan Thomas, it was presumably his name that got the film made in the first place. And it is Thomas's lines from 'In My Craft or Sullen Art' that chime out in the final moments, essentially giving him the last word over the women the film purports to defend."

"The reality of the Blitz is left to archive as Maybury keeps things personal, depicting alleyways at night, smoky pubs and cramped flats as an intense friendship builds between Caitlin and Vera," writes Dave Calhoun for Time Out. "Vera meets and marries William (Cillian Murphy), a straight-backed soldier who leaves for service overseas; and Caitlin and Vera buzz around Thomas like Jules et Jim after a sex change."

Knightley is "much better than might be imagined," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu, but: "The real star of The Edge of Love is Sienna Miller, whose Caitlin is dynamic, bawdy and fun... She lends drive and sparkle to a film that doesn't quite know what it's trying to do or say, but is darkly seductive and entertaining none the less."

"The Edge of Love is at least a partial success, having an excellent period atmosphere and performances from a quartet of stars who do a fair job on a screenplay that moves backwards and forwards from the banal to the truthful as the plot progresses," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard.

For the Guardian, Aida Edemariam talks with Maybury about, among many other things, Francis Bacon, Derek Jarman and Christopher Marlowe. "I come from an abusive background - alcoholic parents, abused by Jesuits when I was a kid. Every cliche in the book, basically."

Joan Walsh talks with Knightley for the Independent.

Murphy Williams profiles Miller for the Telegraph.

Earlier: Kate Stables in Sight & Sound and first impressions from Edinburgh.

Update, 6/21: "Tom and Viv, Ted and Sylvia, and now Dylan and Caitlin: there is something about poets and their spouses that fascinates filmmakers," writes Andrew Lycett in the Guardian. "The Edge of Love's romanticised storyline has Thomas whooping it up in London during the Blitz, working as a scriptwriter in the thriving wartime film propaganda industry.... I have a special interest in this aspect of Thomas's output since, when researching his biography at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, I came across The Art of Conversation, one of his wartime propaganda scripts, which had lain there, unknown and unpublished, for 40 years." Extracts follow, but the full version is here, as a PDF.

Update, 6/22: "This is a fascinating story, its chronology somewhat muddled and its dramatic thrust rather obscure," writes Philip French in the Observer.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:18 AM

Jean Delannoy, 1908 - 2008.

Jean Delonnoy
Jean Delannoy, a French director of lavish mid-20th-century film dramas whose career suffered after he was publicly reviled by proponents of the New Wave as the ultimate anti-auteur, died on Wednesday at his home in Guainville, France, west of Paris. He was 100....

He believed that a director's job was to realize the work of the scriptwriters; Truffaut considered that attitude contemptuous of film as an art form. Jean-Luc Godard shared Truffaut's opinion, once suggesting that when Mr Delannoy carried a briefcase to the studio, he might as well be going to an insurance office....

Mr Delannoy devoted much of his career to religious films, including La Symphonie Pastorale and Dieu A Besoin des Hommes, which Bosley Crowther, writing in the Times in 1951, called a "film of rare and simple beauty" that "goes boldly and squarely to the heart of the fundamental nature of religion in the best tradition of French intellect and art."

Anita Gates, New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:23 AM

June 19, 2008

Shorts, 6/19.

Hal Ashby & Pals "In the 1970s, Hal Ashby made a series of films so brilliant and yet so utterly different from one another that if you didn't know who the director was, you might not think they were made by the same person.... It is not surprising that Ashby's films feel relevant at the moment, since our fragmented political climate isn't that different from the post-Vietnam-and-Watergate years in which they were made." Jennifer Wachtell introduces a feature at Good Magazine that includes Alexander Payne on The Landlord, Jason Schwartzman on Harold and Maude, Wes Anderson on The Last Detail, David O Russell on Shampoo and Judd Apatow on Being There.

Just up at Moving Image Source:

  • Tom Charity: "Just as many of the most arresting 21st-century filmmakers (Jia Zhangke, Pedro Costa and Abbas Kiarostami, for starters) have taken a deliberate step back from the sensational overload of the late Hollywood commercial model and toward a more minimalist Lumièresque aesthetic (static camera, long takes, 'real time'), the critical anthology Defining Moments in Movies (Cassell Illustrated) attempts to extract singular insights from the flux of cinema history - to take a view, as it were, as all active spectators must."

  • Mark Asch on Tomu Uchida: "He was skeptical about social hierarchies and sympathetic toward those on the low end, their marginalization often reaching a boiling point in climactic sequences of violence or amour fou."

  • "Peter Lynch is the great wanderer of contemporary Canadian cinema, traversing wide swaths of physical and psychological terrain in search of what he calls the 'deeper myth,'" writes Adam Nayman. The series Weird Science: The Idiosyncratic Archaeology of Peter Lynch runs at the Cinematheque Ontario from June 20 through 28.

Marcel L'Herbier
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum on Marcel L'Herbier: "The founder of l'IDHEC (l'Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques), the most famous French film school, which he headed for over a quarter of a century (1943-1969), as well as a onetime director of the Cinémathèque Française (1941-1944), author of hundreds of articles, and a pioneer in French television who produced over 200 documentaries, he's still better known today as the writer-director of about 50 films, mostly features. Yet none of these is easily obtainable in the US."

"If you really want to go where this film thinks its ideas are, watch Stan Brakhage's The Wold-Shadow." Craig Keller on Shrooms and many other things.

Abé Mark Nornes's Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema offers "an expansive, insightful and thoroughly entertaining picture of how translation practices over the past hundred years have helped and hindered the global flow of moving images," writes Tom Mes at Midnight Eye.

"Vern's Seagalogy is the definitive statement of film writing by a member of my generation," declares Michael Tully. "Laugh if you want, but it's true."

Vadim Perelman tells Cinematical's Kim Voynar that he will not be directing the Angelina Jolie-starring adaptation of Atlas Shrugged after all.

By now you'll have heard...

Time Traveler
  • "Spike Lee will co-write and direct Time Traveler a feature adaptation of a memoir by Ronald Mallett, one of the nation's first African-Americans to earn a Ph.D in theoretical physics," reports Variety's Michael Fleming.

  • "The black airmen whose lives will be the basis of a George Lucas movie know the picture will highlight their record of successfully escorting thousands of US bombers in World War II. They also feel it should tell of the trials they encountered stateside, like seeing German prisoners of war being treated better and afforded rights that were withheld from black American citizens." The AP reports on Red Tails, currently in preproduction. (That's about 40 words, by the way.) At Cinematical, Christopher Campbell assures us that Lucas won't be directing - he's an executive producer.

"Directing is a job I'm very new to," writes Chiwetel Ejiofor. "We're shooting the last sequence of a short film I wrote, called Slapper. Time is tight, it's just gone midnight, and we have plenty left to do. I pull off my headphones and walk over to the guys. 'Really good,' I say, 'it just needs ... more.'"

Also in the Guardian: "Kevin Spacey is delving into the personal turmoils of Hollywood's rich and famous in the drama Shrink," reports Gwladys Fouché. "The Oscar-winning star will play a pot-smoking psychoanalyst to Tinseltown stars who, unable to come to terms with a recent personal drama, believes he can no longer help his patients get better. Spacey will be joined by an array of Hollywood stars portraying his patients, including Robin Williams, Saffron Burrows, Jack Huston and Griffin Dunne, as well as the writer Gore Vidal."

"[W]hile Hou [Hsiao-hsien]'s name remains little known to the US public, among critics his renown has reached the point where one senses that he receives raves that are more automatic than considered, even if they reflect an understandable desire to educate audiences about an important filmmaker," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "That kind of knee-jerk acclaim, I'm afraid, explains the widely sympathetic, sometimes gushing reviews that Flight of the Red Balloon has received. Hou is a genius, it is said; therefore every film of his is a work of art. In this case, though I'm a longtime admirer and defender of the director, I must beg to differ. Hou's latest strikes me as a trifle, more perplexing than interesting, with inherent problems that are bound up with the fact that it's the first movie he has made outside of Asia."

Yokihi David Phelps in the Auteurs' Notebook on Yôkihi: "[A]s a fairy tale, it's an Ugetsu companion piece: power and happiness may be mutually exclusive, but both are fleeting; love, as always in Mizoguchi, may make life worth living, but it also makes it a hell of a lot more tortuous."

Also, Glenn Kenny on why The Gang's All Here is "just small-s surreal" rather than full-blown Surreal: "[Busby] Berkeley's visions are, among other things, uniquely American, having more to do with the fantastic gigantism of Winsor McCay, expressed to the most eye-popping effect in popular comics series Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend and Little Nemo in Slumberland, than the lonely, sometimes erotically charged landscapes of di Chirico and Ernst."

"[W]hat's most striking about The Third Part of the Night is how, in his very first film, [Andrzej] Zulawski's themes and aesthetics are already full-formed," writes Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

Andrew O'Hehir in Salon on My Winnipeg and Encounters at the End of the World: "Both of these pictures are funny and mournful by turns, and both are episodic affairs, narrated in voice-over by their directors (that's nothing new for Herzog, but a first for Maddin), that make almost no effort to tell a conventional story. You can use critical buzzwords like 'distinctive' and 'visionary' to describe both of these guys, and I probably have. But that only serves to conceal how fundamentally different they are."

In the San Francisco Bay Guardian: Dennis Harvey on Savage Grace and, briefly, Maria Komodore on Tuya's Marriage and Johnny Ray Huston on Mother of Tears.

Little Fugitive "An outgrowth of street photography, inspired by Open City and The Bicycle Thief, New York Neo-Realism was the main independent tendency of the post–World War II decade," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Little Fugitive won a prize at the 1953 Venice Film Festival (and was generously credited by François Truffaut with inspiring the nouvelle vague), but [Morris] Engel would never repeat its success, either critically or aesthetically."

Acquarello: "The coronation of Queen Beatrix on the eve of May Day in 1980 provides a salient point of departure for Johan van der Keuken's The Way South, a cultural interrogation into the intertwined sociopolitical landscape of immigration, dislocation, underprivilege, and class division."

Revisiting To Die For: Marilyn Ferdinand and Ed Howard.

Brian Gibson in Vue Weekly on The Singing Revolution: "Once the film calms down and defers to the basic power of its subject matter, it offers some powerful archival footage and intriguing undercurrents."

"Film acting is the least skilled of all the performing arts and the one that needs least training," argues Ronald Bergan.

"Film preservation does not begin and end with the safeguarding of original materials." Brian Darr notes that, while none of the original archival prints were lost to the recent fire at Universal Studios, the "duplicates" will most certainly be missed. He sorts through the damage.

"Critically acclaimed films about provocative subjects struggle to make money all the time, but rarely have so many lauded documentaries consistently failed to connect at the box office," reports John Horn in the Los Angeles Times. "The recent nonfiction returns have been so bleak that several distributors are growing wary about taking on such highbrow works."

At the House Next Door, Elise Nakhnikian talks with Sara Taksler and Naomi Greenfield about cobbling together their own distribution package for their "balloonamentary," Twisted.

"It may be premature to change our hometown's name from Music City to Movie City, but there's little doubt that filmmaking has been on the rise here, aided by recent incentive programs the Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission (TFEMC) has introduced," writes Jack Silverman in the Nashville Scene. "Naturally, more filmmaking means more jobs—that is, if you have the requisite skills. To that end, Columbia State Community College has developed a 12-month film crew technology program, to be taught at the school's Franklin campus."

"Beyond the Rave is the first film co-released by Hammer in 20 years," and as John Lichman reports in Stream, this release is like no other in Hammer history. He talks with Lance Weiler, who's handling the Alternate Reality Game.

"As ThinkFilm's Cash Crunch Continues, Urman and Company Try to Keep Filmmakers, Creditors at Bay." Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE.

Lists:

Mala Noche
  • At Screengrab, the "Gay Pride Top Twenty," parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

  • Flickipedia offers an Independence Day list in time for you to actually pick a movie or two and line up for the July 4 weekend.

  • And, in that celebrate-America spirit, Christopher Campbell lists "15 Films That Offended Religious Groups" at the SpoutBlog.

New blog on the block: Film Industry Bloggers.

On or offline reading tip. With everyone pointing to the new (and highly appreciated) HD version of the trailer for David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Jonathan McNicol is giving us a little something to do while we wait the half a year for the film itself: He's proofreading and reformatting the original short story by F Scott Fitzgerald and posting individual chapters. Beautiful. Via Jason Kottke.

Online scrolling tip. "A Visit to Naruse's Grave: Essay & photos by Bruce Goldstein, Director of Repertory Programming, Film Forum." Via Kevin Lee.

Online listening tip. Errol Morris is a guest on the Bat Segundo Show.

Online viewing tip. "Toe Jam." Brighton Port Authority, featuring David Byrne and Dizzee Rascal, via popnutten.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:27 PM | Comments (4)

Other fests, other events, 6/19.

Media Matters Film Festival "Unlike the standard festival circuit, the Media Matters Film Festival continues to play an active role in the lives of the films it supports, all the way up to a DVD collection that will be released later this year. The festival operates under leadership of Arts Engine founder Katy Chevigny, a documentarian whose latest feature, Election Day, hits cable and DVD on July 1." Eric Kohn talks with her at Stream.

"Security fences, punching bags, graveyards, beat-up cars: These are [Danny] Lyon's tropes," writes David Velasco for Artforum. "The journeys he charts (and sometimes facilitates) are those across borders, those into and out of prison, those, often, to nowhere in particular. It's the peculiarly American, desperate aimlessness of the underclass—our country, riven with roads, none of which take you where you want to go." Born to Film: The Cinema of Danny Lyon opens tomorrow at Anthology Film Archives; Lyon's photographs are on view at the Edwynn Houk Gallery.

"Ironically, it seems, one super-sized name can capsize a national film industry by monopolising international interest," writes Paul Julian Smith in the Guardian. "This is why the London Spanish Film Festival, which comes to an end this Friday [tomorrow!] at the Cine Lumiere, is important. Along with Manchester's longer established Viva festival, it gives a flavor of what lies beyond planet Pedro."

Jerzy Skolimowski: Inside/Outside runs at the International House tomorrow and Saturday; in the Philadelphia City Paper, Shaun Brady previews Identification Marks: None and Deep End.

For the MinnPost, Rob Nelson previews the Solstice Film Festival, opening tonight and running through Saturday.

"Kids as young as 13 and 14 years old, established filmmakers, film students, people who do it as a hobby." Matthew Halliday talks with 48 Hour Film Festival producer Sharon Murphy for the Vue Weekly. Saturday in Edmonton.

Serenity Benefit

Mike Russell has details on this weekend's charity screenings of Serenity in Portland.

The Nashville Scene picks out a few highlights from the Belcourt's "Summer Doc Block," running through July 3.

Charlie Olsky rounds up New York goings on for indieWIRE.

The AfroPunk Film & Music Fest: July 5 through 13.

Accepting submissions through August 11: The Melbourne Underground Film Festival.

At Midnight Eye, jury member Tom Mes reports from "one of the best film festivals in Japan," the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, where he's also interviewed documentary filmmaker Kenji Murakami.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:20 PM

Silverdocs 08.

Silverdocs Silverdocs, already rolling for a few days now, runs on through Monday. A few impressions are coming in: "Leave it to me to get teary-eyed from a film about Iranians installing illegal Satellite TV dishes." Cynthia Rockwell reviews Head Wind, noting that "the film is not so simplistic as to claim that access to media will cure everything."

Updated through 6/24.

Also, Dust: "[D]espite the Godardian narration, which constantly brought to mind the coffee cup scene in Two or Three Things I Know About Her, unfortunately the film is rather heavy-handed at times, forcibly making and repeating its philosophical points and pounding some of the film's mystery - yes, I'll say it - into dust."

"[I]t was a total accident that I spent my first day at SilverDocs watching two consecutive films about the refugees of international atrocities struggling to form a community within resorts that have seen better days," writes Karina Longworth, reviewing Seaview (site; blog) and Four Seasons Lodge at the SpoutBlog.

Online viewing tip. The trailer for Bird's Nest: Herzog & De Meuron in China.

Updates, 6/20: "You watch Kassim the Dream unsure whether you want to adopt Kassim or smack him upside the head," writes David Segal. "You're wowed by his achievements but worried about his future. Which is how [Kief] Davidson felt as he shot the movie."

Also in the Washington Post: Jen Chaney's "Five to Watch at Silverdocs" and Ellen McCarthy on All Together Now: "The documentary, which follows the drama-soaked creation of Love, a dazzling Cirque du Soleil show based on Beatles music, winds up looking, [director Adrian Wills] says, 'like we had all the access in the world.' In fact, 'what it is, is stolen moments.'"

The Film Panel Notetaker got to work following a screening of Milosevic on Trial.

"Where other festivals derive much of their appeal from a sense of discovery, Silverdocs feels more like an annual canonization of the documentary form, highlighting some of the best practitioners of the art while observing the bigger picture presented by the industry around them," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "This year's festival, which launched its one-week run on Monday, found inspiration with two notable attendees: Alex Gibney, whose Afghanistan-based Taxi to the Dark Side won an Oscar in March, and Spike Lee, the legendary auteur equally compelling when working in narrative or non-fiction mode."

Both Karina Longworth and AJ Schnack found the session with Lee frustrating, but Karina did come away with news of an Obama doc in the works (not Lee's) and a basketball doc Lee's planning, having been inspired by Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

As for Gibney, AJ passes along news (and an explanation) of the filmmaker's lawsuit against ThinkFilm - whose Mark Urman responds.

"This morning, I was on a panel with Karina Longworth, AJ Schnack, Anthony Kaufman and Sandy Mandelberger, moderated by former Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson," writes Scott Kirsner. "We were talking about the differences between reviews and film coverage in traditional media versus the blog world. I proposed one theory: that traditional media (radio, TV, print) and the blogosphere serve two very different purposes for filmmakers."

Update, 6/22: AJ Schnack has the award-winners.

Update, 6/23: "Hard Times at Douglas High [site] is a fly-on-the-wall work of activism documenting a year in the life of an all-black Baltimore high school, as teachers, students and administrators struggle to comply with No Child Left Behind," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog, where she also goes on to review Going on 13 (site and blog).

Having seen Encounters at the End of the World (site), Cynthia Rockwell contrasts early and late Werner Herzog.

Scott Kirsner presents two-sentence reviews of three films.

Updates, 6/24: "If there's an aesthetic lesson conveyed by the premieres at AFI Silverdocs this year, it's that cinema verite continues to thrive - and the classical approach to documentary filmmaking hasn't frayed with age." An overview from Eric Kohn at indieWIRE.

Rose Vincelli has a roundup at Filmmaker.

Via Scott Kirsner, Dave Nuttycombe's notes on the "Distribution Now: Strategic Thinking for the Feature Doc" panel.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:24 PM

LAFF, week 1.

Los Angeles Film Festival "It's purely coincidental, of course, that this year's Los Angeles Film Festival (June 19 - 29) opens for business as the aftershocks of several seismic events are still reverberating throughout the independent-film community," writes Scott Foundas, mentioning the shutting down of New Line, Warner Independent and Picturehouse, the shrinking of Paramount Vantage and the sluggish market at Cannes.

Updated through 6/24.

"For all the gems that programming director Rachel Rosen and senior programmer Doug Jones have plucked from the past 12 months of new world cinema (and there are many), the LAFF program also offers its share of reminders that documentaries, low-budget American indies and international art-house imports can be infected by the same depressing conformity that plagues mainstream Hollywood cinema.... So, the time may indeed be nigh for a certain pressing of the indie-film reset button, and there are ample indications at LAFF of which filmmakers might be the ones to do it."

Also in the LA Weekly is the "A to Y" guide to the festival, pages and pages of robust blurbage and critics' picks, plus:

In the Los Angeles Times, Lisa Rosen talks with "accidental movie star" Lori Petty about her directorial debut, The Poker House.

Updates, 6/20: "What the rarified realm of movie writers wants is a festival on the order of Cannes, Rotterdam or Toronto and using that yardstick disadvantages the LAFF (or the AFI Film Festival later in the year). In the immortal words of Mark Twain that scenario 'ain't gonna happen.'" Leonard Klady explains why at Movie City News.

"Coming on as a scruffy gadabout in order to mask a deceptively sophisticated structure, Baghead [site] mixes and matches the loose talk of indie comedy with the roundhouse scares of a horror film." Mark Olsen talks with Jay Duplass.

Update, 6/21: "[Seth] Packard, who calls himself a 'questioning Mormon,' freely admits he wrote his debut film, a giddy celebration of teenage nerd love, as a vehicle for his acting career." For the LAT, Michael Ordoña has a quick chat with the director and star of HottieBoombaLottie.

Updates, 6/22: "Following in the archival-confessional mold of such documentaries as Tarnation and Capturing the Friedmans, filmmaker Morgan Dews has created Must Read After My Death [site] - or, rather, assembled it, from decades of photographs and home movies and Dictaphone recordings found in his grandmother's home after her passing," writes James Rocchi. "These recordings - made in quiet contemplation or moments of anger, some heavy with things unsaid, some thick with the sounds of rage and desperation - are the aching heart and wounded soul of the film."

Also at Cinematical, a bit of online listening. James talks with Reeler founder and Defamer senior editor Stu VanAirsdale.

Updates, 6/23: "Watching Paper or Plastic? [site], the new documentary about the regional qualifiers and Las Vegas final of the 2007 National Grocery Bagging Competition, I was surprised to note the presence of something that's hard to come by in 2008: Sincerity." James Rocchi at Cinematical: "I don't mean just that Paper or Plastic? never mocks, knocks or condescends to the seven contestants from every corner of America the finale brings together - although it never does - but more that co-directors Alex D da Silva and Justine Jacob not only found an event to observe but also a spirit to celebrate."

In his dispatch from Los Angeles for indieWIRE, Michael Lerman emphasizes the "extremely diverse slate."

Updates, 6/24: "Largo the movie [site] is a lot like Largo the club. The lighting is low, its attention is 100% on the performers and it doesn't make things easy for its customers," writes Richard Cromelin in the LAT. "No texting, no electronics, no talking - [producer and co-director Mark] Flanagan runs a tight ship in service to the artists and an appreciative community of musicians and comedians - Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, Fiona Apple, Brad Mehldau, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, et al - made the room a uniquely intimate and spontaneous laboratory for experimentation and expression."

"Boogie Man: The Story of Lee Atwater may seem like another exhumation of the recent political past, another laundry list of bygone wrongs for Democrats to fume about; it's much more than that, though, not only in its portrait of one man's journey from the streets of South Carolina to the halls of power, but also in its portrait of the consultant-driven, dirty-trick laden mess that modern politics has become," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical.

IndieWIRE interviews Paper or Plastic? co-directors Justine Jacob and Alex D da Silva.

Jeffrey Wells has pix from the fest - and captions.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:16 AM

HRWIFF 08, week 2.

Human Rights Watch International Film Festival The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival rolls on in New York through June 26; the New York Press offers reviews of USA Vs Al-Arian, Project Kashmir and Letter to Anna.

Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door: "Wiseman-like in its patient stillness and no frills style, lacking in overbearing soundtrack or any other potentially distracting enhancements, Maria Ramos's Juizo (Behave) is a study of the Brazilian juvenile judicial system illuminated through both 'fact' (all the adults, from judges to lawyers to prison guards to parents, are the real thing, filmed during court hearings and on visits to the correctional facility in Rio de Janeiro) and 'fiction' (the accused involved in the cases are minors and cannot be filmed, thus Ramos ingeniously substitutes other children from the favelas to play their roles)."

Updated through 6/24.

Ed Gonzalez in Slant on the Youth Producing Change program: "In spite of their largely unsophisticated filmic sense, these shorts produced under the Youth Voices banner are all impassioned rallying calls."

Update, 6/20: Project Kashmir's "final lack of clarity - mirrored in the necessarily jerky camerawork - may be precisely the point, but in the end, it makes for a largely unsatisfying piece of cinema," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant.

Update, 6/21: "Katrina Browne exhumes long buried secrets in Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, a nonfiction portrait of her ancestors' forefront role in the US slave trade," writes Nick Schager at Slant. The doc premiere on PBS on Tuesday; see the POV Blog for more.

Updates, 6/23: "Possibly the most poignant, profound and artistically viable film you'll see at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival this year is Georgi Lazarevski's This Way Up, a portrait of a senior citizens' home for Palestinians just east of Jerusalem." Ed Gonzalez.

Also at Slant: "Critical Condition offers a salutary lesson in the difference in viewer response between the fiction and the nonfiction film," writes Andrew Schenker. "What we can comfortably deride as a self-conscious miserablism when it's mediated through the performances of well-paid actors is not so easy to dismiss when presented directly as the sufferings of real-life individuals."

Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door: "[T]here is limitless drama (the stories in Traces of the Trade could easily fill a PBS miniseries) with everyone involved in a perpetual soul-search - this is what makes cinema (and life) so interesting."

Update, 6/24: Lauren Wissot on USA vs Al-Arian at the House Next Door: "Like the slain journalist at the center of Eric Bergkraut's Letter to Anna, [Sami] Al-Arian learns that activist fame will not shield him in George W Bush's America any more than Anna Politkovskaya's high profile protected her in Putin's Russia. In fact, it can make things much, much worse." More from Bill Weber at Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:02 AM

The French, 6/19.

Inside "In a country known more for its frank portrayals of sex and meditations on philosophical ennui, an aesthetic of violence has emerged that, ironically, accomplishes what American auteurs have failed to do - recapture the grit, power, and above all, the danger of American horror in its 1970's heyday." Simon Augustine introduces his list of the "8 Most Disturbing Films of The New Wave of French Horror."

"Abdellatif Kechiche has started the casting and preparation for his fourth feature, which is scheduled to shoot in the first half of 2009," reports Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. "[T]he director will depart from a contemporary setting for the first time and plunge viewers into the early 19th century, retracing the experiences of an African woman confronted with racism in Europe: Saartjie Baartman, known as the 'Hottentot Venus.'"

Shane Danielson, blogging for the Guardian. "Why do we accord French cinema such dogged affection? In part, because some of it is astonishingly good - but also, because we're starved for broader options."

"[F]rankly, the aura surrounding the Nouvelle Vague can be a bit too fawning and mythical," writes Matt Prigge in the Philadelphia Weekly. "At worst Dans Paris and Love Songs simply reinforce this trend, presenting a Disneyland version of the Wave: people reading books in bed, dizzying on-location Paris footage, playful opening titles, fourth-wall breaks—the works. The films of Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, etc, were trying to reinvent a medium; [Christophe] Honoré just wants you to think about the awesomeness of Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer, etc. (And that reminds me: Go buy Richard Brody's excellent new Jean-Luc Godard biography Everything Is Cinema.)" More on Love Songs from Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper.

In the Guardian, Ronald Bergan remembers Jean Desailly, whose "most famous film portrayal, in which he displayed his discreet bourgeois charm, was in François Truffaut's La Peau Douce (The Soft Skin, 1964)," and whose on and off stage partnership with Simone Valère spanned six decades.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:43 AM

Expired.

Expired "Despite Expired's many flaws, give writer-director Cecilia Miniucchi points for gamely tackling an almost unworkable conceit in her romantic-comedy debut: the awkward courtship of two thoroughly incompatible people," writes Tim Grierson in the Voice. "Homely, withdrawn Claire (doe-eyed Samantha Morton) leads a dull life as a Santa Monica meter maid, until she attracts the attention of Jay (Jason Patric), a fellow parking official whose two most notable features are his bushy mustache and his raging, paranoid misanthropy."

"A brutally funny and relentlessly squirm-inducing film about neuroses, loneliness, and love, Expired posits the traffic cop as the nadir of self-esteem and the constant recipient of abuse and disgust," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "Miniucchi's direction of the film's tone is pitch-perfect - a strange, but deft mix of farcical and naturalistic."

Updated through 6/22.

"Morton is one of those tingly actresses whose skin barely covers her soul, and to watch her search for tender mercies in a crazy-hostile world is a gift," writes David Edelstein in New York. "The film is appallingly good."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Miniucchi "about her own experiences with parking attendants, the illustrious directors she has worked with, and fleeing a location after it was trashed by gang bangers."

Update: "Emotional investment in this unhealthy romance is aided rather than impeded by an intentional mood of off-center strangeness, which consistently blends heartfelt pathos and caustic humor," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "In a mesmerizing performance, Patric gets surprisingly robust mileage from his character's sentence-to-sentence vacillation between amorous warmth and unfiltered assholishness."

Update, 6/20: "The funny, sad, offbeat, sometimes off-the-beat romance Expired is one of those precariously balanced movies that might fall to pieces with a different cast," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It's possible that two actors other than Samantha Morton and Jason Patric might do justice to Cecilia Miniucchi's story... But it's hard to think of a better match for the stubborn idiosyncrasies of Ms Miniucchi's visual style and worldview than these two."

Update, 6/21: For the New York Times, John Anderson profiles an evidently lovable director: "The cast features Teri Garr and Illeana Douglas, and its credits include the couturière and installation artist Swinda Reichelt; the guitarist Andy Summers of the Police; 'special thanks' to the filmmakers Marc Forster, Jeremy Podeswa and Larry Gross; and, as producer, Fred Roos, who has The Godfather II and Apocalypse Now on his résumé and said he was attracted both by the strength of Ms Miniucchi's script 'and my affection for her.'" What's more, "It was [Lina] Wertmüller who drafted Ms Miniucchi into the world of Italian cinema, hiring her after a chance meeting on an elevator in Rome."

Update, 6/22: Choire Sicha chats with Illeana Douglas for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:19 AM

June 18, 2008

NYAFF, week 1.

NYAFF 08 The New York Asian Film Festival opens Friday and runs through July 6. "Subway Cinema's seventh annual extravaganza of demented pop curiosities both highbrow and low- returns with its largest lineup and juiciest cherry pickings yet," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django, "one of the several Japanese titles to dominate this year's schedule, will be co-presented with the Japan Society's concurrent 'Japan Cuts' fest - and easily the finest of NYAFF's offerings exist within the programming overlap."

Updated through 6/24.

The L Magazine's Mark Asch offers seven capsule reviews.

Earlier: The Brooklyn Rail's big overview.

Updates, 6/19: "What makes the festival so terrific is that they provide a full movie-going package," writes Simon Abrams in the New Press. "While soulless disappointments like Iron Man and Indiana Jones continue to rake in box office booty, festival spokesman Grady Hendrix tirelessly cracks the audience up with breathless pre-show introductions and prize giveaways. They bring a personal touch to a wide array of films and make scuttling indoors on a sunny day a no-brainer."

"The most exciting film festival each year in New York is neither the prestigious New York Film Festival nor the Tribeca behemoth that explodes every May." You know the festival Daniel Kasman is thinking of in the Auteurs' Notebook. "A heady and potent hodgepodge of genre schlock, genre purity, blockbuster mainstream, art-house eccentricity, and flat out unclassifiable insanity (see last year's Funky Forest), one will rarely see such an invigorating mixture of contemporary cinema playing in New York at any other time."

At Cinema Strikes Back: Reviews and 3 out of 4 stars each for Mad Detective and Sukiyaki Western Django.

Twitch's Todd Brown on Sad Vacation: "With character and thematic links to Eureka, his breakthrough dramatic film, director Shinji Aoyama along with a stellar cast of Japan's best (Tadanobu Asano, Jo Odagiri, Aoi Miyazaki) here crafts a quiet, inward reflection of people living in the aftermath of extreme loss."

"[O]ne of the very best festivals in the world," declares Peter Martin, introducing a gallery at Cinematical.

Updates, 6/20: "Across the metropolitan galaxy of cinematic obsession, in a city that unspools a new film festival every week, there is nothing quite as giddily in love with the mad, marvelous insanity of movies as the New York Asian Film Festival," writes Nicolas Rapold, introducing his overview in the New York Sun. "It's not an excuse for a night out. It's more like a state of being, a way to live, a tao."

"Opening night kicks off with the world premiere of Then Summer Came, the Joe Odagiri/Yoshio Harada father-son marriage comedy directed by Japan's most respected playwright, Ryo Iwamatsu," note Marcy Dermansky and Jürgen Fauth.

"[T]he selection suggests an ongoing crisis in the region's cinema." Steve Erickson explains in his overview for Gay City News.

The Butcher boils "horror conventions down to a raw, wet core, and [uses] the agility of video to furiously rub the audience's face in it," writes Rodney at Twitch, where Todd Brown calls Adrift in Tokyo "a meandering, quirky and surprisingly beautiful piece of work that perfectly balances humor and emotion. Flawlessly written and shot by a man who seems to have figured out exactly what sort of film maker he is and where his strengths lie, Adrift In Tokyo makes it very clear that Miki Satoshi is no longer simply that goofy TV director mucking about on the big screen but that he has become one of the strongest voices in Japanese film. Yes, it's really that good."

"Generally, I'm inclined to be pretty forgiving of any movie that features zombies, and girls in bikinis, and girls in bikinis with swords fighting zombies, but Chanbara Beauty just didn't grab me," writes David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back.

Updates, 6/21: "Like Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers (2005), another epically sad post-68 portrait, United Red Army opens on a note of exhilaration before lingering on the painful hangover after the thwarted revolutionary moment," writes Dennis Lim in a profile of Koji Wakamatsu for the New York Times.

At Twitch:

  • Ardvark on Kala: "[W]hat a pleasant surprise it is to find a genre movie from Indonesia which I can wholeheartedly recommend to... well, to everyone who would like a damn good mainstream movie!"

  • "Call Johnnie To's Sparrow proof positive that the acclaimed director can do pretty much whatever he sets his mind to," writes Todd Brown.

  • And: Johnny Nguyen's The Rebel "is a quality piece of work that bears none of the weaknesses that would label it a vanity project."

Updates, 6/22: "From the same team that created The Machine Girl, Tokyo Gore Police is quite likely the most aptly titled film ever made," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "The thing is positively saturated with blood, massive sprays of the stuff filling frame after frame of the film." But: "While Machine Girl plays out largely tongue in cheek, Tokyo Gore Police takes its world very seriously. There is no nodding and winking here, instead director Yoshihiro Nishimura sets out to create a sort of alternate future where these events, bizarre as they may be, actually make some sort of sense. The end result is a sort of nightmare fugue, a swirling hallucination that just plunges farther and farther into depravity as it proceeds."

"Yudai Yamaguchi's latest film, Tamami: The Baby's Curse or Akanbo Shojo belongs to the rarefied subgenre of monster baby films, for which, luckily, I have a soft spot," writes David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back. "Akanbo Shojo successfully mixes the gross-out oddity of imports like Devil Fetus with the more emotional horror of Larry Cohen's It's Alive, while adding a strand of jealous rivalry from sibling-based horror films like Basket Case (probably the most direct influence after It's Alive) and the Shaw's Siamese Twins. It's no masterpiece but it is pretty damn fun all the same."

Updates, 6/23: "Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to Feng Xiaogang's The Assembly, a film built around Communist Chinese military campaigns of the 40s and 50s, is that he has created a film that completely and utterly transcends politics," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "Technically astounding, with battle sequences orchestrated by the team behind Korean hit Taegukgi - sequences that match or beat anything ever put on screen by big budget Hollywood, Saving Private Ryan included - the heart of the film never gets lost in the spectacle, the soul of the piece anchored in an astounding central performance from Zhang Hanyou."

Also: "Fine, Totally Fine is something quite different from the brightly colored hyper-kinetic cult flicks that we know [comic Yoshiyoshi] Arakawa from, something far more subtle and unique."

And also at Twitch, Simon Abrams talks with Ryo Iwamatsu about his film, Then Summer Came.

Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on Strawberry Shortcakes: "Believe it or not, the film often actually seems like a Japanese version of Sex in the City, only with significantly less handholding. But more importantly than that, director Yazaki Hitoshi and screenwriter Inukai Kyoko refuse to let their characters sink to the void of dejection that hovers so close beneath the surface of the American show and rears its head much more honestly in Strawberry Shortcakes."

Also, Sad Vacation: "Each change in style is as much a change in narrative, and possibly in character, and Aoyama seems to birth a new film at every moment - and it is a thrilling sensation."

Update, 6/24: "And the hot streak continues for Johnnie To," writes Todd Brown, reviewing Mad Detective at Twitch. "While the latest from the prolific action auteur lacks the blistering intensity of the Election films and the extreme high style of Exiled it reunites him with a pair of favored collaborators - screenwriter and co-director Wai Ka Fai and star Lau Ching Wan - and the result is an entertaining, surprising piece of work anchored by a powerhouse performance from Lau." More from Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:50 PM

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl "For a G-rated film, [Kit Kittredge: An American Girl]'s profound insight into the breakdown of society and families during the Depression and the country's subsequent rebirth is surprising," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant. "Kit Kittredge is remarkable for the social consciousness its young characters evince, but the whole thing would feel dubious if Kit and her friends didn't behave like real children."

"Based on several American Girl stories about a 1930s cub reporter in Cincinnati, this dull theatrical debut especially disappoints because I'm usually fond of square, sepia-toned, period-costumed kids' movies (like Fly Away Home) that go nowhere at the box office," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "This one could go somewhere: As the opening weekend of Sex and the City showed, gee whiz, there's a distaff market out there, so why not tap the little ones?"

Updated through 6/20.

"Director Patricia Rozema - who with films like Mansfield Park and I've Heard the Mermaids Singing has shown herself to be a brilliant chronicler of the lives of women with artistic ambitions - does a terrific job of capturing Kit's world and allowing audiences to experience the joys and sorrows of the 1930s from a child's perspective," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "From Kit's embarrassment at seeing her father at a soup kitchen to her triumph over mean schoolmates who mock the less fortunate, the first two-thirds of Kit Kittredge often resembles Spike Lee's underrated Crooklyn or even Fellini's Amarcord as a memory piece that mixes sentimentality and warmth with cruelty and heartbreak."

Online listening tip. The IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss child actors.

Updates, 6/20: "[T]his classy, heart-on-its-sleeve movie is packed with laudable life lessons and Depression-era trivia, including the fact that the hobo sign of fish bones means really good garbage (particularly useful on the Upper East Side)," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "But when you consider that a Kit doll, complete with book and accessories, will currently run you $105, the movie's insistence on the nobility of the indigent might be a tad more difficult to stomach."

"[I]n a climate where the TV shows of our childhood may be remembered with deep fondness, but old movies often get laughed at for being corny or overwrought - it's easy to forget that the past is a real place," notes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "What's remarkable about Kit Kittredge is the way it strives for emotional authenticity, and often achieves it. The picture manages to give a sense of what people's lives were like during the Depression, at least as far as those of us who didn't actually live through it can understand from the stories our parents told us."

"The movie has a surely unintended but inescapable current resonance in its tsunami of residential foreclosures," writes Michael Ordoña in the Los Angeles Times. "Kittredge personalizes the Great Depression in terms simple enough for young audiences by showing how loving families can be torn apart by circumstances beyond their control. This can be strong stuff for kids, but the film's humanistic approach preaches tolerance and hope." Also: Jason Chow has a quick profile of Abigail Breslin.

"I expected so much less," admits Roger Ebert. "I was waiting for some kind of banal product placement, I suppose, and here is a movie that is just about perfect for its target audience, and more than that. It has a great look, engaging performances, real substance and even a few whispers of political ideas, all surrounding the freshness and charm of Abigail Breslin, who was 11 when it was filmed."

"With Julia Roberts executive-producing, Mattel executive Ellen Brothers on board, and Ann Peacock (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) providing the screenplay, the project boasts a cast of heavyweights before even taking the stars into account," notes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun. "And there are stars aplenty, including Chris O'Donnell, Julia Ormond, Joan Cusack, Stanley Tucci and Jane Krakowski, all of whom pull their own weight and seem to thoroughly enjoy their time on-screen.... Kit Kittredge: An American Girl will be a welcome reprieve for parents in search of child-appropriate yet non-brainless entertainment on the big screen - though they may not appreciate the sequels that are likely to follow in this franchise."

For the AV Club's Scott Tobias, "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl languishes in G-rated earnestness, content to promote decency while soft-pedaling the outside forces that challenge it. It's all message, no tension."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:48 PM | Comments (5)

The Love Guru.

The Love Guru "Mike Myers, the star-producer–co-writer of The Love Guru, should seriously consider sending a muffin basket to the makers of Strange Wilderness, because without that hideous, barely-released film, Guru would be the hands-down worst comedy of 2008 so far," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "A movie endlessly amused with its own stupidity - to the point where Myers actually laughs at his own jokes, and shots of other characters breaking character to giggle are left in, as though this were a Carol Burnett Show sketch - The Love Guru is a soul-draining waste of 90-plus minutes."

"Jessica Alba romps adorably through a goofy Bollywood dance sequence," notes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Justin Timberlake gives his all to a sing-off with a Céline Dion impersonator. And Ben Kingsley, as a cross-eyed Zen master, hasn't been this funny since he swanned around in that outsized diaper in Gandhi. The rest is disposable."

Updated through 6/20.

"The Love Guru is so relentlessly juvenile as to merit a new twist on the PG-13 rating - one that strongly cautions not only those under 13 but anyone much above it, too," warns Brian Lowery in Variety.

The New York Post's Lou Lumenick notes that the first round of reviews in the trades and so forth are "harshly negative" across the board.

At Esquire: Mike Myers's 45 years in 45 sentences.

In the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge lists "Six films featuring Indian characters played by Western actors."

Updates, 6/19: "The Love Guru Happening," a cartoon by RJ Matson.

PopMatters' Bill Gibron addresses "a one-man campaign" against the movie waged by "self-proclaimed Indo-American leader Rajan Zed.... In the end, Zed shouldn't have bothered. Certainly, The Love Guru gives certain Indian stereotypes a tweaking or two.... Sadly, the only honest snickers will come from anyone who has read Zed's missives over the last few months. This does not defend The Love Guru - it's a god-awful anti-comedy, unfunny in unfathomable, almost heroic ways. But it should teach anyone who wants to openly complain about an upcoming project (and the supposedly negative depiction within) to get their facts straight before starting to complain."

Updates, 6/20: "To say that the movie is not funny is merely to affirm the obvious. The word 'unfunny' surely applies to Mr Myers's obnoxious attempts to find mirth in physical and cultural differences but does not quite capture the strenuous unpleasantness of his performance," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "No, The Love Guru is downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again."

Slate's Dana Stevens clears her throat: "There are good movies. There are bad movies. There are movies so bad they're good (though, strangely, not the reverse). And once in a while there is a movie so bad that it takes you to a place beyond good and evil and abandons you there, shivering and alone."

"[W]atching Myers in this particular guise is almost completely joyless," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "As an Indian stereotype - or even a faux-Indian stereotype - he's not nearly as funny as the Bollywood-via-Tennessee pharmacist Padma Perkesh, played by Tracey Ullman on her show, State of the Union. Ullman's Perkesh can turn a laundry list of Viagra side effects into a lavish yet compact two-minute musical extravaganza. Myers wastes a good 90 minutes trying to summon a transcendental boner."

"Pee-pee jokes are forever, but The Love Guru is a sign that Mr Myers is close to exhausting his brand," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun.

"Myers has made some funny movies, but this film could have been written on toilet walls by callow adolescents," writes Roger Ebert.

"Any time you review a film like this negatively, people ask 'Why can't you just enjoy a few laughs?'" notes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "And I can't give a simple answer to that, but I think it comes down to the fact that I can't just enjoy a few laughs if they're surrounded by a much larger chaotic mass of things that aren't funny."

"It's a pitiful assortment of bad ideas and gags that never work," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "I don't know what else to call a movie that asks us to find Jessica Alba credible not only as the owner of the beleaguered Toronto Maple Leafs and a comedian, but as a woman attracted to a vulgar, hirsute Mike Myers. Oh, yes I do: Embarrassing."

"American comedy has wandered in some interesting directions over the last decade, from the irony-free stylings of Will Ferrell to the tender obscenities of the Apatow Empire, but Myers hasn't budged an inch," sighs the New Republic's Christopher Orr.

Indeed, "The Love Guru's prankster garb is cut from the same brash, developmentally stunted cloth as Wayne's World and the Austin Powers series," writes Jan Stuart in the Los Angeles Times. "But by this point, the threads are worse for wear."

"Guru nevertheless represents at least a tiny step up from Austin Powers in Goldmember, if only because it's blissfully short and Myers now has a new, slightly different set of stock bits and running gags to beat into the ground," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

For Time's Richard Corliss, it's not all that bad: "The Love Guru is a shambling, hit-or-miss thing, like an old Laurel and Hardy two-reeler. And like the situations those comics often got into, this movie is a fine mess."

"Myers knows the simple power of a well-played penis joke, but as a writer he still hasn't figured out how to make characters who aren't just funny variations of himself," writes Paul Schrodt in Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:46 PM

Edinburgh, week 1.

Edinburgh International Film Festival "Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller are among the stars attending the opening night of the Edinburgh International Film Festival," reports the BBC. And they're there tonight because the "opening night gala features the World premiere of the Dylan Thomas biopic - The Edge of Love," recently reviewed by Kate Stables in Sight & Sound.

Updated through 6/20.

The London Times has a video interview with the two actresses, Kevin Maher's profile of Miller and Wendy Ide's review: "[W]hat soon becomes clear is that Thomas (played with a petulant sneer by Matthew Rhys [profile: Chris Ayres]) is not the focus. It's the enduring, turbulent friendship between the women, Thomas's wife Caitlin MacNamara (Sienna Miller) and his childhood sweetheart Vera Philips (Keira Knightley), that drives the movie."

The Scotsman finds that "the film remains peculiarly unmoving."

The Guardian's got a special section featuring Peter Bradshaw's "top 10 picks to whet the appetite."

Updates, 6/19: For Dina Iordanova, the festival's move from August to June makes sense.

Online listening tip. The Observer's Jason Solomons on opening night.

Update, 6/20: Ray Harryhausen will be discussing his life and work at the festival on Wednesday. Geoffrey Macnab profiles him for the Independent.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 PM

Taking Off.

Taking Off "Bearing evidence of an outsider's inquisitive eyes, Czech director Milos Forman's first American feature took an even-handed, humorous look at the parents of the Me Generation," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "Addressing issues for youth and parents of the time, Taking Off is inseparable from its historical context, an eloquent time capsule for the movies and larger cultural trends on the threshold between the 60s and 70s."

"Even taking into account the ambitious biographical sweep of later projects like The People vs Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon, it remains his best film in and about America," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. "Whether Taking Off is caricature or dead-on is, presumably, all a matter of perspective and distance, and I can't resolve it - I wasn't even embryonic at the time. But it's definitely hilarious."

Updated through 6/20.

At MoMA, tonight through Monday.

Update, 6/20: Taking Off is "a satire about the generation gap (cowritten by playwright John Guare and Buñuel's scenarist, Jean-Claude Carrière) that put the squares and the groovies in the crosshairs," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "It's no wonder that Taking Off tanked; rake both sides of the cultural divide over the coals and you're left with no audience whatsoever. Seen today, however, Forman's career pivot point between Prague's film-school halls and the Oscars podium is still a prime example of the way a foreign director can apply an outsider's perspective to something like Nixon's Amerikkka and draw blood.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:33 PM | Comments (2)

Best Pictures from the Outside In.

Wings No Country for Old Men Nathaniel R introduces a fun new feature bringing together three favorite stalwarts of film blogdom: "Each week (or thereabouts) the Film Experience, Goatdog's Movies and Nick's Flick Picks will be looking at two Best Picture winners. We're pulling Oscar's favorites from the shelves from both ends, starting with the very first year of Oscar (Wings) and the most recent (No Country For Old Men). We'll work our way eventually to the 1960s, smack dab in the middle of Oscar's 80 years of back-patting."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:14 PM

Frameline32, week 1.

Frameline32 "After all the angst and hoopla, the first full day of same-sex marriage in California on Tuesday turned out to be almost placid, if you discounted the whoops of celebration or the courthouse crushes of brides and brides, and grooms and grooms," reports Barbara Davidson in the Los Angeles Times. "The weight of history, the sense that this was a signal moment in the decades-long battle for gay rights, was lightened by joy and relief as couples - some of whom had waited decades to marry - took their vows amid smiling friends, proud relatives and beaming government officials."

The mood at this year's Frameline, opening tomorrow and running through July 29, just might be a bit more festive than usual.

Updated through 6/24.

"So why appeal for terror?" asks Matt Sussman. "To put it simply, there is pleasure in being scared. And to put it more complicatedly, there can be empowerment in that pleasure.... Luckily for all the rainbow-colored Fangoria fans still bloodthirsty after catching local director Flynn Witmeyer's Imp of Satan earlier this year at Another Hole in the Head, late June is bearing an unexpected slasher crop of queer horror films. It includes Dead Channels' one-off presentation of Sean Abley's Socket (2007) and some scary fare at Frameline's SF International LGBT Film Festival."

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Frameline32 package: Maria Komodore and Jason Shamai both review Iranian director Tanaz Eshaghian's Be Like Others (site); Komodore on Barbara Hammer's A Horse Is Not a Metaphor and Johnny Ray Huston: "Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell [site] is like an audiovisual kiss from Russell to those who loved him, and to a greater audience who has yet to discover him."

And at the SFBG's blog, Pixel Vision, you find a collection of "fast reviews" of nearly a dozen more Frameline32 offerings.

Earlier: Talks with retiring artistic director Michael Lumpkin: Michael Guillén and Marcus Hu.

Update, 6/19: "[T]he continued currency of 'New Argentine Cinema' stems from the Argentine film industry's tenacity as well as the uncompromising intelligence shown by so many of the directors who continued to get yoked under the banner. The term seems less a temporal designation than something whispered to ensure continued good fortune: If you say it, the films will keep coming." SF360 looks into this year's crop at Frameline.

Update, 6/24: Michael Guillén interviews Woman in Burka director Jonathan Lisecki at the Evening Class and Tongzhi in Love director Ruby Yang at SF360.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:56 AM

CineVegas Dispatch.

David D'Arcy on a handful of films he's caught at CineVegas. That first entry is still being updated, too.

The Juche Idea Las Vegas is an unusual place, a city of appetites and rule-breaking where gambling is legal [see comments], but gay marriage is not. CineVegas, with its adventurous program, is an anomaly there, at the Palms Casino, just a few steps from the floor of slot machines. This year marks the festival's tenth anniversary.

What better place than Sin City for a film that takes us inside one of the three bastions of the Axis of Evil? In his mock-umentary, The Juche Idea, Jim Finn constructs a spoof on the official North Korean idolatry of Kim Jong-il that is so convincingly woven into the texture of communist dogmatism that it seems indistinguishable from the official propaganda that comes out of Pyongyang.

Built around a filmed "visit" to a North Korean agricultural site by a Russian journalist - those visits do take place - the film takes the audience through the workers' paradise, cutting in and out of actual North Korean films. The details get crazier and crazier, including a course in "Socialist English," in which a Korean teacher leads an earnest Russian pupil from base to superstructure, including directions to a toilet. Juche, by the way, is loosely translated as self-reliance, in case you didn't know.

All this inanity didn't keep the ardent revolutionaries at WBAI in New York from treating North Korea (which they called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK) with the proper reverence back in the 1980s, when I was on the air there.

The Juche Idea

There's a cosmology to The Juche Theory, which includes situating Kim Jung Il as the center of the universe. Not that the North Koreans hadn't done that already. Finn incorporates virtuoso parody and buffo elements into his satire - sometimes they are one and the same - but let's not forget that the truth brings in an eerie Dr Strangelove dimension to what otherwise would be as harmless as fantasies like Lost in Space or satires like Galaxy Quest. The same nation that starves its own population (led by a pudgy lover of cinema and fine Scotch) has a space program, or at least a missile program, and it has made those weapons available to countries like Libya, Syria, or Pakistan, which could do serious harm to the world if they decided to.

The same country that has isolated itself from the rest of world in the rigidity of its dynastic communism conducted a real English-language instruction program that involved kidnapping Westerners or luring them to North Korea, and then forcing them to breed Western-looking children, who were to be taught English and sent abroad as spies. It sounds like an idea for a terrible screenplay - or maybe a comedy with potential. The evidence in another documentary, Crossing the Line, by Daniel Gordon, shows that the would-be Manchurian candidates don't learn much, and the results are indeed an unintentional comedy about undercover strategies in the hands of incompetents. (Read about the history of American defectors and life as foreigners in the DPRK in the new memoir, The Reluctant Communist, by Charles Robert Jenkins.) Somehow the notion of incompetents with nuclear weapons in North Korea is not as funny. Bear in mind that the recent firings at the highest level at the US Air Force came after US bombers carrying nuclear weapons were found to have flown over the country for no apparent reason.

Plot Point Another hybrid of documentary and fiction at CineVegas is Plot Point, a short by the Belgian filmmaker Nicholas Provost. Set in Times Square, where police are deployed en masse, the film is composed entirely of shots taken of people who happen to be on the street. Provost edits the street footage to make it seem as if something explosive is about to happen. His images have a staggering digital precision. Minimal dialogue is dubbed in, but the threatening storm gathers with music that builds dramatically, all ending with a convoy of police cars rolling down 42d Street. If the film has a script, it is the musical score, all borrowed from existing music.

This overture-as-film began as an idea for a documentary, in which Provost planned to ride around with NYPD officers and assemble a film from his footage. The cops themselves agreed to cooperate, but the city administration killed the project, according to Provost in a post-screening discussion at CineVegas. Now, during the festival, he's filming in Vegas, as part of what he calls an observation of happiness. Happiness? Sounds like he and I were at different crap tables.

A sidebar section at CineVegas looked at new Mexican films, four of them. My favorites were Cochochi, by Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán (interview), and Donde Estan Sus Historias? (Where Are Their Stories?) by Nicolas Pereda. (Mike Plante's informative interviews with the filmmakers can be found on the festival website.)

Cochochi Each of the two films is a journey, each operates at low end of low-budget cinema, and each tells a simple story situated in a specific place that goes far beyond those circumstances. In Cochochi, which has already been on the festival circuit for a while, two young brothers in remote northwestern Mexico leave their town in search of what they think is a stolen horse. The boys, played by two brothers, set out in the way that rural Mexicans tend to travel - on foot, on horseback, or in the back of crowded trucks. The landscape is by turns spectacular and lifelessly banal, as the directors follow the boys in a way that reminds you of The Fast Runner - the logistics are at least as challenging, and these filmmakers make it look seamlessly easy. I won't give the outcome away, but there's no great crescendo. If fantasy is the domain of Guillermo del Toro, fatalism is the domain of films like these.

Donde Estan Sus Historias? follows the long march on foot to Mexico City of a rural young man who is contesting the potential sale of his ailing grandmother's hardscrabble land by a greedy uncle. The future, he is told, is somewhere else than the dirt-poor village where he was born, and that his mother has already abandoned. If this story about a young rural Mexican who struggles to avoid migrating sounds as iconic as a fable, it is. On the way, he stops by the home of a rich family, where his mother works as a maid, absenting herself from her family, as so many Mexicans do, to make a living. The sideshow becomes a story in itself, as the family suspects the young visitor of stealing from them, and the mother is approached by her same distrustful employers to conceive and carry the couple's child, for a fee. It's an odd droit du seigneur, the right of the master to sleep with his servant (usually the right to take a servant's virginity). In this case, the husband seeking to become a father is a large bald American. "You mean, you want me to have sexual relations with Mr Jim?" she asks, incredulously.

In neither film do the characters carry much money or drive cars, or enjoy any of the benefits of globalization. The economies in the rural places that bleed away immigrants to the US and to Mexican cities can barely sustain the populations that remain. You can find many of those who left now working in Las Vegas, which could not survive without the mass migration of gamblers as well as workers. Add these two films to a growing number of stories told from the perspective of the southern side of the border.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:19 AM | Comments (2)

Brick Lane.

Brick Lane "Sarah Gavron's Brick Lane is the kind of movie a critic would just as soon let pass without comment," writes Elbert Ventura at indieWIRE. "Unchallenging and inoffensive, it gives little to work with, its soft-focus take on a rich novel less outrageous than enervating. The potential for a banalized transposition was always there. Monica Ali's bestseller approached issues of cultural dislocation and female empowerment with sensitivity and nuance, but faint whiffs of Lifetime wafted through at certain moments. In Gavron's hands, those shortcomings find their full flowering."

Updated through 6/20.

Ella Taylor, writing in the Voice, finds it "absorbing enough, moving enough, and visually attractive enough to provide a perfectly acceptable night out at the movies."

"If it weren't painful enough that Gavron deals entirely in cliché caricature..., her queasily romanticized style misrepresents the sad and sometimes perilous lives of her subjects," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "[E]ven when 9/11 is invoked the film doesn't so much suggest a melodrama of the heart and spirit as it does an explosion at a fabric store."

For Mary Block, writing in the L Magazine, "Brick Lane is beautifully made and told, captivating its audience within its tiny sphere."

Earlier: Reviews from the UK.

Updates: For the IFC, Aaron Hillis talks with Gavron "about adapting Ali's book, her surprising experiences within the Bangladeshi community, and the sea change for women's filmmakers today."

"Brick Lane manages to be both textured and stunning yet loses the book's distinctive spirit and overall complexity," writes Nick Plowman. "A resonant effort of high quality and distinguishing beauty indeed, Brick Lane falters one too many times to be considered great."

Updates, 6/19: "In films, fat people often get the comedic roles, but in Brick Lane, Chanu, as played by veteran Indian actor-director Satish Kaushik, is unexpectedly heartbreaking, evoking the idiosyncratic spirit of a kind man drowning in a foreign land that has no use for his skills or intellect," writes Rachel Abramowitz, who profiles the actor for the Los Angeles Times.

"Brick Lane is one of those depressing movies in which you catch a glimpse of the tighter, leaner, stronger film that could have been," writes Mark Peikert in the New Press.

Updates, 6/20: "In a perceptive essay on Brick Lane, the literary critic James Wood noted that Ms Ali's novel brings some of the canonical concerns of 19th-century European fiction into a modern multicultural social setting," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "This fusion of an old style with a new reality gives the book its freshness and solidity, but it poses some problems for the film. Ms Gavron, working from a script by Abi Morgan and Laura Jones, veers between understatement and melodrama, and seems unable to convey the inner evolution that is the heart of the story."

"Brick Lane feels something like the Kramer Vs Kramer of Indian domestic issues," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "[I]t addresses sexual and social freedom rather than divorce and single parenting, but with the same feeling of slowly fumbling through the radical ideas that women are more than humble household servants, and men are more than simple stereotypes. Like Kramer, it can be insultingly timid about these ideas, and given that Indian writer-director Deepa Mehta (Fire, Earth, Water) has covered similar ground more boldly and beautifully, Brick Lane feels slight and late to the table. Still, its pretty musings about small-scale self-actualization can be seductive."

"Too many flashbacks and manufactured confrontations make you wonder whether Ali's book would have made for a better TV miniseries, a format that worked well for Zadie Smith's White Teeth," notes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York.

"Brick Lane has been whittled down from Monica Ali's expansive 2003 novel into a glossy but overly efficient drama that, like Nazneen's husband, is ultimately too ineffectual to make much of a dent," writes Jan Stuart in the Los Angeles Times.

"The real ace in the hole in Brick Lane is [Tannishtha] Chatterjee," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "On the screen or the soundtrack in nearly every scene, the actress navigates the occasionally strident and heavy-handed nature of Brick Lane with an alternately serene and anxious radiance that spreads into every shadowed corner in the present and nostalgically saturated landscape in the past."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 AM

Get Smart.

Get Smart "So, the old turn-a-beloved-TV-show-into-a-hit-movie trick, eh?" David Carr talks with Get Smart's makers for the New York Times, notes that, "For every Mission: Impossible there is more than one Bewitched."

This one's a "pleasant surprise," declares the Voice's J Hoberman. "As directed by Peter Segal..., Get Smart redux is less a parody of a genre that had already passed into self-parody many moons before the TV show was in reruns, and more an all-purpose (and often quite funny) goofball action comedy in which ridiculous banter alternates with slapstick car chases and mid-air stunts."

Updated through 6/20.

Writing for Cinematical, Eric D Snider finds this "one of the better TV adaptations to come along in recent years. It's faithful to the original without being overly reverential, it modernizes the premise without mocking it, and you can fully enjoy it even if you've never seen the TV series. Oh, and best of all - it's funny."

But so far, these voices are the exceptions. "In this distressingly generic spy spoof, it's not Maxwell who's clueless, but the filmmakers," writes Newsweek's David Ansen.

"Since original series creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry are credited as 'consultants,' I like to envision them nodding noncommittally as they cashed their checks," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "No matter how many cute nods to the TV show they wedge in (the shoe phone, [Don] Adams's catchphrases, putting Hathaway in a bobbed wig that recalls the purring, witty 99 of Barbara Feldon), the makers of this Get Smart have essentially cranked out a dull slam-bang spectacle where laughs are tertiary. The reaction of a nostalgic Boomer who's witnessed a childhood favorite pissed on? Well, that's easy for you to say..."

"Yeah, TV show this, TV show that, but what use are the external signifiers without the sensibility that birthed them?" asks the L Magazine's Mark Asch.

At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell lists "10 Movies That Made Get Smart Obsolete."

Lynda Gorov talks with Anne Hathaway for the Boston Globe.

Updates, 6/19: Robert Abele profiles Alan Arkin for the Los Angeles Times.

"At least [Steve] Carrell and Hathaway are well cast," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Get Smart tempts one toward the cynical thought that summer entertainment is deliberately meaningless. Should Hollywood ever grow up, Carrell and Hathaway would be ideal for another remake: God forbid it's TV's Moonlighting, but how about The Thin Man?"

James Rocchi talks with Arkin, too - for Cinematical.

Alonso Duralde has some advice for Carell: "Stay classy."

Updates, 6/20: "Reviewing a movie like Get Smart is pretty much like writing about the new packaging of a laundry detergent," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The box may be a brighter orange, the label a little louder (Improved! Kind Of!), but the stuff inside is pretty much the same as the stuff inside every box of detergent. And, in this case, the stuff inside consists of exactly what most Hollywood movies based on old sitcoms are made of, namely feeble and funny jokes, brand actors and enough special effects to give you some bang for your summertime buck."

"[T]he movie doesn't make the mistake of trying to re-create the show," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "[T]he picture, at its best, has an affable, easygoing glow, and features a number of silly, delightful sight gags... At its worst, though, Get Smart doesn't trust its audience to groove on comedy alone: It has to be an action movie, too, and the recurring explosions and chases feel forced and manic. The picture could have been streamlined into a swift, 90-minute comedy. Instead, it suffers from needless bloat. Get Smart tries to give its audience everything, and ends up delivering less."

"Seriously, comedy writers, what's wrong with an old-fashioned pratfall?" asks Annie Wagner in the Stranger. "Must every mishap cause severe trauma to Carell's gonads and soft tissue?" And as for those Bush jokes, "A lame duck in politics is a sitting duck for satire: If you held your fire until now, you don't deserve the laughs." Sing it.

"'Forget it, Jake, it's summertime,' a cynical voice whispers in my ear, and I know he's right," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "But Charlie Chaplin used to say that all he needed to make a comedy was a park, a policeman, a pretty girl and his divinely innocent self. Of course, he was touched by genius and the people who make movies like Get Smart are touched by no more than the unwise desire to spend someone else's money on special effects that are inherently antithetical to the antic."

James Rocchi poses a series of questions at Cinematical: "Does Carell and Hathaway's unexpectedly deft capacity for combining comedy and action make up for the fact that director Peter Segal (The Longest Yard, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) seems to find fat people, or people in fat suits, the height of comedy? Does the smart plot idea for how to get desk-jockey Max out into the thick of things make up for the lazy reveal of the film's final twist, which not only comes out of nowhere but, worse, strikes with no force whatever? Does the presence and obvious strong efforts of motion picture veterans in behind-the-scenes positions like fight director James Lew (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Rush Hour 3), director of photography Dean Semler (The Road Warrior, Dances With Wolves) and editor Richard Pearson (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy) compensate for the times the script by sitcom veterans Tom J Astle and Matt Ember slumps into lazy jokes or meandering tedium?"

"A lot of things explode, but the movie never detonates," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

"As a reworking of one of the great 1960s TV comedies, you'd think being funny would be its main goal," writes Kenneth Turan. "But you would be wrong. Very, very wrong." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Denise Martin lists "10 things you may not know about Get Smart's Masi Oka."

"It's funny, exciting, preposterous, great to look at, and made with the same level of technical expertise we'd expect from a new Bond movie itself," writes Roger Ebert. "And all of that is very nice, but nicer still is the perfect pitch of the casting."

Carell "is indeed perfectly cast," notes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "Unfortunately, Mr Carell's performance is frankly just about all that Get Smart has to recommend it."

"In updating a beloved TV show, the filmmakers have gone out of their way to excise everything that was fun about it," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"The comedy is only so-so, and the espionage action isn't much of a thrill either," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:10 AM

June 17, 2008

Sight & Sound. July 08.

Sight & Sound: July 08 The online sample from Sight & Sound's Cannes package in the new issue comes from Nick James: "Instead of the flop romcoms and hopeless gangster films that were loudly boosted in the markets (having failed to be selected by the festival) of the dying 20th century, the British films being vaunted this year are all from genuine artistic talents - and were selected by Cannes. What's more, their producers and executives seem a more thoughtful breed than their forebears. And if it's a welcome anomaly that Steve McQueen's Hunger, Terence Davies's Of Time and the City, Duane Hopkins's Better Things and Thomas Clay's Soi Cowboy have talent, promise and quality to spare, then the warm reception given to most of them by French and American critics is almost unprecedented."

"The BFI, in partnership with Granada International and Studio Canal, has just completed an ambitious three-year £1 million programme to restore the first ten films directed by David Lean, from In Which We Serve (1942) to Hobson's Choice (1953)." A report from the BFI's Sonia Genaitay.

So Abdellatif Kechiche's third feature, La Graine et le Mulet, so far known as The Secret of the Grain on the festival circuit, is going to be known as Couscous in the UK. Ginette Vincendeau: "Against the familiar French divide between blockbuster comedies and auteur cinema - recently exacerbated by the runaway box-office success of films such as Les Bronzés 3 (2006) and Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (Welcome to the Sticks, 2008) - Couscous heralds the possibility (or illusion) of a return to the era of classical cinema, when French film-makers could supposedly combine artistic ambition with popular success."

The Pied Piper "Though it received an 'A' certificate in Britain and a 'G' rating in America, [Jacques Demy's] The Pied Piper is a remarkably kindred work to Ken Russell's X-rated The Devils (1971), being in its own way an exposé of historical connivings between political Church and pious State, meant to resonate with the anti-establishment tenor of its times - which it still does," writes Tim Lucas.

For Kate Stables, The Edge of Love's "concentration on the Killicks' romance among the air-raid rubble rather than the Thomases' turbulent and more artistically complex coupling, seems a missed opportunity, one which again unbalances the movie and distances us from its cat's-cradle of relationships." This is the first review I've seen of Edge, the first in a series of forthcoming films involving Dylan Thomas in one way or another and, while expectations weren't high, it's still disheartening.

"Scattershot it might be, but My Winnipeg nudges at the heart of what it means to dream, and how our fantasies of who we are spring from the reality of where we are," writes Ryan Gilbey.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:43 PM

Cyd Charisse, 1922 - 2008.

Cyd Charisse
Cyd Charisse, the long-legged Texas beauty who danced with the Ballet Russes as a teenager and starred in MGM musicals with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, died Tuesday. She was 86....

Classically trained, she could dance anything, from a pas de deux in 1946's Ziegfeld Follies to the lowdown Mickey Spillane satire of 1956's The Band Wagon (with Astaire).

The AP.

See also: the Cyd Charisse Appreciation Page, Legs, Wikipedia and YouTube.

Updated through 6/19.

Updates, 6/18: "Ballet provided the backbone of her rock-solid technique, yet when she danced straight ballet on screen, something was missing; in trying to be overly correct for ballet dancing, Charisse looked too tall, too leggy," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door. "But give her something jazzy, something modern, something fifties, and she does things with her body that are hard to describe, let alone understand." And he revisits the "five essential Cyd Charisse films."

"Looking back on her work with Kelly and Astaire during a 2002 interview in the New York Times, Ms Charisse said that her husband, [Tony] Martin, always knew whom she had been dancing with," writes Robert Berkvist. "'If I was black and blue,' she said, 'it was Gene. And if it was Fred, I didn't have a scratch.' In a 1992 interview with the Times, she remembered dancing with Astaire to Michael Kidd's demanding choreography in Silk Stockings and said admiringly, 'Fred moved like glass.'"

"The turning point came with her mesmerizing, erotically charged performance in Singin' in the Rain's extended dance sequence, 'Broadway Melody,' in which she appeared as a long-stemmed speak-easy queen in three inch heels, bobbed hair and a fringe dress seducing Gene Kelly's dumbstruck hoofer," notes Josh R at Edward Copeland on Film.

"The impossibly leggy, mildly exotic, confident almost to the point of camp Charisse added counterpoint nuance to Kelly's weird barrel-chested blue-collar ballet," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It never felt like it was a perfect pairing, and that was maybe what was exciting about it: as a partner and as a choreographer, Kelly knew how to use and play off their incongruities."

"She was strong, lithe and 'drop-dead gorgeous to look at,' dance/film historian and author Larry Billman said of Charisse in her breakthrough performance," writes Mary Rourke in the Los Angeles Times. "After years when Hollywood's leading dancers were cute and fluffy, Cyd took dance to a more sensual realm in the 1950s,' Billman said in a September 2007 interview with the Times."

"When I think of Charisse, my heart usually leaps straight to Brigadoon," writes Nathaniel R. "It appears in my mind's eye far more often than its fairytale time table of once every 100 years."

"She was simply the greatest female screen dancer who ever lived," writes C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark.

More from Robert Cashill.

"The rap on Cyd Charisse was that she was a far better dancer than an actress, but I don't care what you say," blogs the Boston Globe's Ty Burr: "The lady had presence."

"There were a lot of dancers who came up in the Hollywood system, but none were as elegant as Cyd Charisse," writes Marilyn Ferdinand. "Even when she sizzled, she reflected the refinement of her classical ballet training, and she was a model for dancers looking healthy instead of severely underfed."

Ronald Bergan opens his obit in the Guardian by noting that, in Singin' in the Rain, "In a few minutes, Charisse's film persona is encapsulated - at first cold and aloof, later melted by the love of the right man." And Band Wagon "featured two faces of Charisse, dark-haired and tough, or blonde and vulnerable. As Astaire says in the pastiche private-eye narration, 'She came to me in sections. She had more curves than a scenic railway.'"

"[T]he contrast between her usual lack of presence and the voltage she gave off as soon as she started throwing those legs around just made her seem that much more fascinating," writes Phil Nugent at Screengrab, "as if she were an ordinary mortal who had the ability, when her body heard the music, of communing with strange gods, from the hips down."

"[T]he Siren has a special place in her heart for Brigadoon for a number of reasons, but the greatest of these is undoubtedly that the movie was the first time she saw Cyd Charisse, the matchless dancer who died yesterday at age 86." And she's got a quote from David Shipman regarding that remarkable moment that appears in nearly every piece linked to in this entry:

If you were in an air-force cinema, circa 1952, you'll never forget the sound which greeted the appearance of Cyd Charisse halfway through the climactic ballet in Singin' in the Rain. The audience to a man greeted the sinuous leggy beauty with a loud and prolonged 'Ooooaah!' As she slithered round an understandably bewildered Gene Kelly, there was uproar in the cinema. Cyd Charisse didn't do more than dance in Singin' in the Rain and people remember her in it.

"The Siren leaves the final word to Astaire: 'That Cyd! When you've danced with her, you stay danced with.'"

Updates, 6/19: "It's impossible to imagine the Hollywood musical without her," writes Manohla Dargis. "Like the greatest American movie dancers, she showed how appearing on screen isn't just a matter of mouthing words, but also moving through and holding space. And she was a stunning physical specimen, at once lean and beautifully curved, with a wasp waist that seems to have been naturally designed for a man's hand to rest gently in its slope. She didn't do all that much with her face, though on occasion she let loose a deliciously evocative leer."

"And if I had to choose only one moment to remember Charisse by, it would be her silent duet with Astaire in The Band Wagon," writes Vera Klinkenborg, also in the New York Times. "The song is 'Dancing in the Dark,' the setting is Central Park, and, as usual, the overlapping illusions are nearly confounding. There they are - two professional dancers, carefully choreographed and rehearsed, playing two professional dancers dancing spontaneously on a soundstage that is meant to be Central Park, and all the while they are feigning an almost reproachful, amorous awareness of each other that conceals the hard-working awareness of two pros on the job. It was Cyd Charisse's remarkable gift to move through the hall of mirrors that is the American movie musical and never be caught glancing at herself."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:38 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 6/17.

Raoul Walsh Raoul Walsh, eight of whose films will be featured on TCM throughout the summer, is "without doubt, the most neglected major figure in American movies," argues Allen Barra in the New York Sun.

"Sometimes when I'm grooving with cartoons, I'll say to myself, Why not just move into these and leave the rest alone?" Another fine entry from John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows.

"J Todd Anderson modestly describes himself as 'a guy who draws for the movies,' but because the movies include almost all of the Coen Brothers' renowned films - including No Country for Old Men, which won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Picture - his job as storyboard artist is considerably more prestigious than that." A profile from Linda S Price in American Artist, via Ted Zee.

"Throughout the course of the past twenty years, [Rakhshan] Bani-Etemad has achieved the kind of artistic success and popular appeal (at least domestically) that is not only unrivalled by any other Iranian female filmmaker but almost unparalleled by a contemporary female director working in any country," writes Stephen Snart at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "The Blue-veiled, her fifth feature-length film, is a beautiful tale of a suppressed love between a wealthy widower and a young factory worker."

Pop Foul "Years after the cycle of self-important, sentmimental 'hood' movies (anyone catch Straight Out of Brooklyn recently? Yikes. Matty Rich, wherever you are, please, keep it real) thankfully disappeared from American commercial movie screens, Pop Foul is the first to visit these themes with such unadorned pain, insidious intelligence and aesthetic grace," writes Brandon Harris at Hammer to Nail.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Sweet Smell of Success, FilmInFocus runs an extract from On Film-Making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director in which Alexander Mackendrick recalls asking Clifford Odets to take a look at Ernest Lehman's first draft of the screenplay and do what "seemed a relatively simple job of story doctoring: polishing the dialogue and making some minor adjustments to the scene structure. We could not have been more wrong..."

Also, a new feature in the works: "Five travel writers on their favorite city films."

"P.O.V. is one of those occasional reminders that public broadcasting matters. Every year, like its complementary series Independent Lens, P.O.V. brings before national audiences the artists, perspectives and films that otherwise would find no home on television." In These Times senior editor Pat Aufderheide previews the series that begins on June 24.

Online scrolling tip. The Big Picture is the "best new blog of the year so far, hands down," says Jason Kottke, who, of course, would know.

Online viewing tip. "For a century, amateurs, collectors and archives have gathered films existing today only by miracle: bits of film eaten into by humidity or heat, decomposed or even in ashes, discovered right on time or just too late... These surviving images have withstood time..." Europa Film Treasures, via Dave Kehr.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:46 PM

DVDs, 6/17.

Carmen Miranda "Did Carmen Miranda invent performance art?" asks Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "From Cindy Sherman to Madonna, artists across the cultural spectrum have continued to build on her flamboyantly absurd representations of the feminine, now anthologized in a new box set from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.... No less than Jerry Lewis did a decade later, she brought an unpredictable anarchy to the staid business of studio filmmaking."

"Let's consider Danny Boyle's Sunshine as both a characteristically exaggerated response to environmental crisis and an extended visual pun on the term 'Enlightenment.'" And traxus4420 is off and running at culturemonkey.

The releasee of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days seems to have been delayed at the last minute, but even so, the film "may be the best of the Romanians, in part because, like [The Death of Mr Lazarescu], it constitutes a kind of state-of-the-art naturalism, down to the longueurs, underlighting, open-ended narrative and extraordinarily confident use of off-screen space," writes Michael Atkinson for the IFC. Also: "Here's why Diva was a global hit: it conjured a modern urban universe in which everyone is an impulsive, hell-or-high-water artiste, whether they're actually producing art or merely cluttering their rooms with wrecked cars and doing jigsaw puzzles. Everyone dallies and obsesses; aping Godard, [Jean-Jacques] Beineix sets up a suspenseful crime tale and then loiters in an apartment for a fat dose of flirting."

Joy Division "By now, less pop-obsessive viewers probably have had their fill of films about the rise and fall of the music scene in Manchester, England, in the late 1970s and early 1980s - the post-punk era," writes Steve Dollar. But "Grant Gee's 2007 documentary [Joy Division] is a solid case of the best having been saved for last."

Also in the New York Sun: "The release of The Onion Movie might be an indicator of what is to come from the name that has consistently disrupted the comedy establishment," suggests S James Snyder.

Along with Movie Geeks United!, the House Next Door is revisiting the Summer of '83 and begins with a discussion of Krull: Steven Boone, Justine Elias, Annie Frisbie and John Lichman. Also: Sarah D Bunting and Joe Reid on Staying Alive.

Glenn Kenny presents his "High Definition DVD Consumer Guide #5: Please Put Out Better Movies Edition."

Online viewing tip. Chris Fujiwara, author of Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall, comments on Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon). Kevin Lee: "The film is perhaps never so unnerving as when it envisions evil in the simplest terms: a storm that descends with sudden implacable force on a children’s party; a slip of paper flapping relentlessly against a fire grate towards its own incineration; a man stumbling down railroad tracks, literally chasing after his life in vain."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN), Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk and Peter Martin (Cinematical).

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 PM

Fests and events, 6/17.

TIFF 08 "Canadian filmmaker Paul Gross's Passchendaele will open the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival with its world premiere on September 4, 2008," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez.

"With Frameline Artistic Director Michael Lumpkin leaving his post after this year's San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, SF360.org felt it appropriate to ask an equally storied figure in LGBT film to help mark the occasion. Strand Releasing President Marcus Hu graciously agreed to speak with his old friend Lumpkin about Frameline, queer cinema and the future of this niche festival."

The festival opens Thursday and runs through June 29; at the Evening Class, Michael Hawley previews two docs, Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band and The Kinsey Sicks: Almost Infamous.

"It may not get the biggest audiences or hype amongst umpteen local film festivals, but Another Hole in the Head surely must have the most dedicated viewership of them all," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "To make a crass generalization: Either you're a horror/fantasy fan, or you're not. And if you are, you can watch a lot of the stuff - even the more low-budget, formulaic or simply not-so-good stuff - back-to-back. Many Hole Head patrons would probably just live at the Roxie for two weeks if there was room for sleeping bags."

I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History "On Thursday, the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre will honor [producer Walter] Mirisch with screenings of The Apartment and In the Heat of the Night," notes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "Mirisch will introduce the program and sign copies of his new memoir, I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History."

Andy Horbal posts takes on a handful of films he caught at the Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival.

"Steve McQueen's British drama Hunger took the cake, winning the inaugural award of the Sydney Film Festival last night." More from Matt Riviera. More from Shane Danielsen at indieWIRE.

"Every Saturday night you'll find the second-floor auditorium of the Bank of America on West Irving Park Road in Portage Park packed with movie lovers." Chicagoist Rob Christopher talks with programmers Mike King and Mike Phillips.

Harriette Yahr looks back on the Maui Film Festival for indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:38 PM

HRWIFF. Letter to Anna.

David D'Arcy, from the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, running through June 26, the day Letter to Anna screens at 1 and 6:15 pm. And the first HRWIFF entry is still being updated. Updated through 6/19.

Letter to Anna In Vladimir Putin's Russia today, you can observe the aftermath of the seizure of power by a former KGB leader (who has already passed official authority to a designated successor) and the rise of a Kremlin oligarchy that some of us thought had finally passed into oblivion with fall of communism. The Russian parliament has ceased to be a place for political debate. Russia has crushed an insurgency in Chechnya with extreme brutality and installed a government loyal to Moscow and is supporting armed insurgencies against its neighbors in Georgia. The journalists who bring this news to the public can expect to fear for their lives, with good reason. Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated on October 7, 2006. She has not been the only one.

Remember the days when George W Bush said that he looked into Vladimir Putin's soul when Putin was down on Bush's Texas ranch, and saw that Putin was "a good man"? He also said that about Scooter Libby. Can you believe there was a time when people took Bush seriously? The late journalist Anna Politkovskaya looked at Putin's Russia and saw something else.

Letter to Anna [site], Eric Bergkraut's heartfelt documentary screening at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, is about Politkovskaya's journalism and her assassination in 2006 and is bookended into a letter that the Swiss filmmaker writes to his late Russian friend, who had already figured in Coca: The Dove from Chechnya, Bergkraut's 2005 doc about a Chechen woman who filmed human rights abuses. Framing his film as a letter to a murdered friend is a tender conceit, but the very notion of it seems to miss the point. Anna Politkovskaya, who revealed abuses by the Russian government and military, was the last person who needed to be told about her own life or the gruesome details of the stories that she wrote week after week. It was Russians and the rest of the world who needed to be informed, Politkovskaya would argue.

The New Cold War Try finding much news about Russia in the US press right now - an important exception would be The New Cold War by Edward Lucas of the Economist, published in the US earlier this year. Another exception was the photograph on the front page of the New York Times Sunday which showed newly-comfortable Russians bearing their flesh to the Mediterranean sun in Turkey. It's almost as hard to find reporting from Iraq.

Politkovskaya wrote for the Novaya Gazeta, an independent Moscow newspaper that exposed the atrocities of the Russian war in Chechnya and reported on the selling of that war to the Russian public. One way of rallying public opinion behind the government was to implicate Chechens in crimes that cost Russian lives. Bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow in September 1999 that killed 300 Russian civilians are now thought to have been the work of the FSB, the former KGB. (Think of the Reichstag fire.) Politkovskaya publicly condemned the war in Chechnya as genocidal (a term that bedevils Washington these days) and traveled regularly to Chechnya, where she obtained photographs and videotape of Russian atrocities. Her sources were Chechens who documented the war autonomously, and former Russian soldiers who felt guilty about their roles in the abuses. She ended up with more material than she could use.

The footage that Bergtraut shows here can be grim - dead mutilated bodies, grieving mothers, and video of prisoners being taken naked from one holding vehicle and forced into another. The assumption was that the next stop was execution. It was the kind of evidence that alerted Politkovskaya's readers to what their government was doing in Chechnya, and alerted the Russian government that Politkovskaya could be brought to the top of their enemies list.

Soon Politkovskaya became part of her own stories. When Chechen terrorists attacked the Nord-Ost Theater in Moscow in October 2002 and held the audience hostage, she was brought in to negotiate, and disappointed the Chechens by showing her sympathy with their hostages. Before she could help with negotiations, Russians commandos intervened, killing 129 in the audience with a gas that has still not been identified, and shooting all the Chechen hostage-takers. Politkovskaya's editor says on-camera that the theater hostage-taking was a hoax, a caper set up by a Chechen working for the Russians that went horribly awry.

Things would get worse. When Chechens struck a school on the first day of classes in Beslan in 2004 and held children and their teachers without food or water for three days, Politkovskaya was flown to the site by the government, but fell sick on the plane after eating something poisonous. Once again the Russians would storm the building, and hostages would be killed.

Politkovskaya was taken hostage by Russian troops in Chechnya in 2002 and held underground in a pit. She said it was an opportunity to see how captives were confined. She was also subjected to a mock execution, but later released.

Letter to Anna

Bergtraut's doc, which played in a tribute to Politkovskya during the Berlin Film Festival, but not as part of the festival's program, takes us through some of the stories that she covered, with great detail from the documentation she revealed, and far too much footage of the late journalist walking through Moscow. Narration is by Susan Sarandon.

At the end of her life, which was terminated on Putin's birthday in 2006, Politkovskaya was looking into torture committed by Russians in Chechnya. At that time, Russia was sustaining the sort of public shame that the United States has endured after the Abu Ghraib photos exposing torture by US troops in Baghdad had been shown around the world. Clearly, she had gotten too close.

The campaign against whistle-blowers like Politkovskaya and Gary Kasparov, and the use of poison against enemies like Politkovskaya and the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko suggest a pattern. (The Litvinenko story is told in Poisoned by Polonium by Andrei Nekrasov and by a forthcoming Hollywood feature based on a book by Litvinenko's widow and Alex Goldfarb.) For now, Letter to Anna, while more testimony than cinema, is an essential reminder of the kind of people who are in the Kremlin, ruling prosperous Russia.

From another newly prosperous country, Brazil, comes testimony at the HRWIFF about the young criminals and their punishment in Behave. More about that in a forthcoming dispatch.

-David D'Arcy


Update, 6/19: "Russian investigators yesterday charged four men in connection with the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, adding that the preliminary inquiry into her death was now over." Luke Harding reports for the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:11 PM

June 16, 2008

Shorts, 6/16.

A Flower in Hell "With its jarring formal economy in the service of a classic melodramatic tale of two brothers torn apart by a faithless woman, the film appears like some long-lost bridge between the radical end of American B-movie production (especially Sam Fuller and Edgar Ulmer) and the anti-imperialist modernism of Nagisa Oshima." Michael Sicinski on Shin Sang-ok's A Flower in Hell (1958).

Also fresh at Moving Image Source:

  • Thomas Doherty traces the evolution of the serial killer, both off screen and on, from Scorpio, "the smirking psychopath" in Dirty Harry, through that "aspiring law student and polite Republican," Ted Bundy, to the Zodiac killer in Zodiac, "a cipher, a shadowy figure whose motives and personality are beside the point."

  • And David Schwartz argues that Sydney Pollack's "best work may well have been a supporting performance in another director's film, his 20 minutes of screen time as Victor Ziegler in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999)."

"Reflecting an eclectic Broadway season, the 62nd Annual Tony Awards crowned a salsa-flavored musical written by a theater novice [In the Heights], a nostalgic glamorous revival [Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific], a sweeping melodrama from a writer making his Broadway debut [August: Osage County], and the revival of a 60s sex farce [Boeing-Boeing]," reports Campbell Robertson for the New York Times. Commentary and more from Robert Cashill, Julie Klausner (Vulture), Nathaniel R and Gabriel Shanks.

Exile Cinema "What will a world without print film critics be like?" asks S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "A partial answer to that question could be found last week amid a most unusual East Village gathering. Assembled to salute the recent release of the book Exile Cinema: Filmmakers at Work Beyond Hollywood, a collection of film essays that celebrate and analyze unsung cinematic masters, edited by the film professor and critic Michael Atkinson, New York movie buffs heard readings by such prominent critics as Ed Halter, Stuart Klawans, B Kite and Mr Atkinson.... In effect, the book functions as a fantasy edition of what its collected writers hope that film criticism can once again be. 'Exile Cinema,' in that sense, is their rallying cry."

It's still Frederick Wiseman Month at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

"[T]his year marks ten years since the unheralded demise of laserdisc," notes Mark Altman at the Digital Bits, where he delivers "the final eulogy to this dearly departed format." Picking up on the piece, Jeffrey Wells sparks a string of comments.

The AV Club looks back on "16 protested movies."

"Tony Schwartz, a self-taught, sought-after and highly reclusive media consultant who helped create what is generally considered to be the most famous political ad to appear on television, died Saturday at his home in Manhattan," reports Margalit Fox in the NYT. And here's his "Daisy Ad" for LBJ.

Online listening tip #1. Hitchcock and Truffaut discuss Strangers on a Train at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger....

Online listening tip #2. Glenn Kenny and Karina Longworth are John Lichman and Vadim Rizov's guests at the House Next Door.

Online viewing tip. E Steven Fried has come across "one of the best fan videos I've ever seen." So he's decided to contact its maker, Thomas Kanschat and interview him for the Siffblog. The song: Mr Bungle's "Pink Cigarette."

Online viewing tips. Owen Hatherley has not one but two videos David Bowie made for "Sense of Doubt" in 1977. Actually, the second seems to be some sort of portrait done by someone else, but the posturing and, as OH notes, the jacket make it worth the watch.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:24 PM

Stan Winston, 1946 - 2008.

Stan Winston
[Visual effects artist Stan Winston, t]he father of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, of the Terminator, of Pumpkinhead and Predator and the Monsters in Monster Squad and, of course, Aliens, has passed on. The man is a legend and created legends.

Quint, Ain't It Cool News.

See also: the site, the Studio and Stan Winston Productions; and Wikipedia.

Updated through 6/20.

Updates, 6/17: "Although he created some of the most famous special effects in movie history, Mr Winston insisted that he cared less about technical wizardry than he did about storytelling," writes William Grimes in the New York Times. "'It's not about technology,' he once said. 'It's about writers writing wonderful stories with fantastic characters and me being able to create a visual image that's beyond what you would expect.'"

Robert Cashill:

By 1993, I'd seen plenty of fossilized dinosaurs, and just about every dinosaur movie, good, bad, and indifferent. But I hadn't seen a real dinosaur, a fully functioning, living animal, till the great Stan Winston and a team of Hollywood's best special effects experts crafted a menagerie for that summer's blockbuster, Jurassic Park. When the T-rex makes its appearance, in a stunningly crafted sequence that is Steven Spielberg firing on all cylinders, you could have heard a pin drop in the theater. I had tears in my eyes. This went beyond movie magic - it was as if the creature itself, terrifying and magnificent, had been reconstituted whole. I still can't get over it.

"Will makeup effects soon seem as anachronistic as the papier-mache monster suits worn in the grade-Z horror movies off the 50s?" asks Time's Richard Corliss in a piece surveying the state of the art and its most significant creators. "No, as long as directors find symbiotic inspiration in minds as fertile as Winston's."

"There are still a few good men working in the field, but Winston was in a class by himself," blogs Jeremy Knox at Film Threat.

"[H]is death has got me wondering if it's Winston who was the true architect of 80s and 90s horror," writes Arbogast. "While the directors who hired him were often hit and miss throughout their careers, Winston always delivered something memorable. And we do remember."

"My first exposure to Winston, first awareness of his existence, came fairly young, well before even his famous work on Terminator and Aliens: yes, for his fine work (no, seriously!) on the bizarro Star Wars Holiday Special," writes Craig Phillips. "Seek it out on VHS or in bootlegs if you can."

"I feel like a part of my childhood died today," writes Andrew Bemis.

"[H]e had no problem owning up to being a twisted specemin in much the way many of us genre fans are twisted," notes Glenn Kenny.

An annotated list from Eugene Novikov at Cinematical: "Stan Winston's Greatest Achievements."

Update, 6/18: "I had the chance to speak to Winston last year about his legacy in the effects business," writes Calum Waddell in the Guardian. "'It was really King Kong and The Wizard of Oz that got me interested in the career I now have,' he said. 'The animatronics and stop-motion animation on King Kong is amazing, and The Wizard of Oz had some really great make-up effects. However, I actually came out to Hollywood to be an actor and the film that made me think that I would rather get into the special effects business was Planet of the Apes."

Update, 6/20: "Inevitably, Winston's passing puts a new, sharper focus on frequently glossed-over industry debate about the place of practical work in today's digitally dominated effects landscape.... Is there a certain danger of Winston's art being lost along with him?" Tom Russo asks industry folk for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:26 PM | Comments (3)

CineVegas @ 10.

CineVegas X "CineVegas, celebrating its tenth year with a steady turnout and lively festivities to accompany the program, hosts one of the strangest big budget showcases of American independent filmmaking this side of Sundance," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "It's less a matter of quality than ingenuity, and ultimately an object of wonder and excitement precisely because of that."

For the Las Vegas Weekly, Josh Bell collects memories of the festival's first year from organizers, participants and attendees. Also, Jeffrey M Anderson talks with Abel Ferrara about Go Go Tales and Chelsea on the Rocks (site; review) and John Katsilometes profiles Hank Greenspun, the subject of the doc, Where I Stand.

Updated through 6/22.

Also all over CineVegas: Mark Bell (Film Threat), Cinematical and Michael Jones (Circuit), who notes that B-Side is tracking audience ratings. Riding the top slot at the moment is South of Heaven (site), which Todd Brown reviews at Twitch.

Finally, Lillian and Dan At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth reviews a "heartbreaker," Finally, Lillian and Dan (site), which "shares some production tropes with thematic cousins like Kissing on the Mouth and Yeast - namely shaky handheld low gauge lensing and improvised performances - but director Mike Gibisser so perfectly and versatilely weds form to content that his use of such stylistic touchpoints seems less like the result of a low budget and micro crew than deliberate, and often brave, aesthetic choices."

The festival runs through Saturday.

Updates, 6/17: "I have no idea what to do with Josh Fox's Memorial Day, a sporadically engaging - but far too simple-minded to be as troubling as it wants to be - hypothetical slice-of-life which exists to explain away Abu Ghraib via spring break," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It seems to be consensus that this is, at the very least, the ballsiest film at this festival, although it certainly has fewer defenders than detractors."

"Your enjoyment of Your Name Here might depend on your tolerance for mind-bending narratives and acid-trip weirdness," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "Mine is low, I'll tell you that up front. But Your Name Here deserves credit for being different, and Bill Pullman's central performance is probably the most bizarre and demanding of his career."

Eric D Snider at Cinematical: "If a comedy troupe like Broken Lizard or The Whitest Kids U Know had made Lars and the Real Girl, it might have turned out like Happy Birthday, Harris Malden, a sweet, funny, and very odd comedy about growing up and accepting reality."

Update, 6/19: "When filmmaker Michael Albright returned to his hometown of Reno, Nev, following a stint working under legendary documentarian Albert Maysles in New York City, he found himself casting about for something creative to do in a city whose chief artistic claim to fame is its proximity to freak-flag Valhalla the Burning Man festival," writes Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle. He found it. "[A]long with seven untested kids from the Reno-area high school where he landed a substitute teaching gig to help make ends meet," he "has crafted one of the most intimate and aesthetically pure rock & roll documentaries to come out in years: Sonic Youth: Sleeping Nights Awake."

Updates, 6/21: "Most of the individual components of Visioneers [site] are not new, nor are the film's ideas particularly deep," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "Yet somehow the combination, written and directed by brothers Jared and Brandon Drake - in their first film, amazingly - feels fresh and invigorating. It's a high-concept comedy, but it's down-to-earth and accessible, even a little touching."

Also: "There are many things to admire about Dark Streets, a film noir set against a 1930s backdrop of jazz, blues, and booze. Unfortunately, the story isn't one of them."

Film Threat's Mark Bell has lots of pix of celebs and... well, more.

Update, 6/22: The Circuit's Michael Jones has the award-winners.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:23 AM

Wrapping Seattle 08.

Seattle International Film Festival That great American marathon, the Seattle International Film Festival, has wrapped; Sean Axmaker has the award-winners, a few reviews and an annotated list of his festival favorites. Updated through 6/20.

Some end-of-the-fest statistics: 191 narrative features and 57 documentary features were screened over the 25 days, and 170 short films were screened through various packages concentrated over a single weekend (a kind of shorts festival within SIFF). 69 countries were represented. 70 percent of this year's films entered the festival with no US distributor. About half were by first or second-time directors. The more surprising and heartening statistic: about a third of the films are from women directors.

Despite the best efforts festival programmers, there were no Eastside venues this year. One of Bellevue's major cineplexes, the Galleria, shut down earlier in 2008, leaving the existing downtown screen real-estate a little too valuable to give up to SIFF, according to Festival Director Carl Spence. But the Cinerama stepped in to offer three days of screenings on the final weekend (giving up valuable screen space that would have gone to Indiana Jones which is no small sacrifice for an independent theater of such enormous size and accompanying overhead) and Benaroya Hall welcomed SIFF-goers for "An Evening With John Waters" and four performances of Alexander Nevsky. The newly-restored presentation of famed photographer Edward S Curtis's In the Land of the Head Hunters screened at the Moore Theatre, where the shot-in-Washington production (a staged documentary that, among other things, influenced Nanook of the North) originally premiered in 1914.

Before getting to my festival wrap and final reviews, here are the festival prize winners.


Juried Awards

Em Grand Jury Prize winner in the New American Cinema Competition is Tony Barbieri's Em. The accompanying jury statement reads: "In Em, writer-director Tony Barbieri tackles the timely and original subject of love and mental illness, with the help of his two excellent leads, Stef Willen and Nathan Wetherington. It's a sweet, sad, scary movie that feels completely contemporary."

And more from the jury: In the words of the jury: "The New Directors Showcase Prize for director of a first or second feature goes to Yves-Christian Fournier from Quebec, Canada, and his film Everything Is Fine, for its skillful avoidance of the nihilistic clichés in its treatment of contemporary youth. The jury would also like to commend the outstanding performance of Marie Turgeon in the role of the mother."

The Grand Jury Prize winner in the Documentary competition is Isaac Julien's Derek, "for the strength of both the subject and the filmmaking."

The FutureWave Jury Award was given to Disorder, directed by Rose McAleese. And the SIFF and IndieFlix 2008 MyFestival Winners, which were streamed online and voted on by the viewers are Perfect Sport, directed by Anthony O'Brien (for feature film) and Robbie's Withdrawal, directed by John Burish (short film). One of the prizes for these winners is a theatrical screening in one of the fest's final screening slots.

Audience Awards

The Golden Space Needle awards are voted on by the audience. This year, over 70,000 ballots were cast. And the winners are:

The Wrecking Crew

The complete press release, with winners and runners up and more jury statements, can be found on the Seattle International Film Festival website here.

For a different perspective, here are the top vote-getters in the "Fool Serious Awards," an independent poll run by and limited to the Full Series Passholders, which gives a fan's eye take from the more obsessive members of the audience. Over 150 ballots were collected, counted and run through a program to get the film's "Likability Rating." And in what may be a festival first, the most liked film from the Full Series voters mirrored the audience award: Doris Dörrie's Cherry Blossoms – Hanami. The first few runners-up include Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven (which won the Fool Serious Awards for Best Director and Best Script), Dorota Kedzierzawska's Time to Die, Abdullah Oguz's Bliss and Courtney Hunt's Frozen River.


All the familiar jokes about Seattle weather aside, it has been an unseasonably dreary June this year. That should have made it more attractive to go inside and watch a movie or three, but after two weeks straight of gray, overcast days and chilly temperatures, it tended to sap my motivation at a time when the exhaustion of unending screenings and too many mediocre movies takes its toll. I saw just over 50 films at SIFF this year, an all-time low for me. Partly that was due to having to drop out for four days to move, and then skip screenings to catch up with assignments, and partly it was due to the huge decrease in coverage from my paper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In fact, both the usually supportive P-I and Seattle Times (a festival co-sponsor) drastically cut back coverage. Where the P-I once had bragging rights to the most comprehensive coverage and largest number of films reviewed, it was the Seattle Weekly and the Stranger that took the honors among the print media this year, while such online venues as Siffblog and Prost America challenged them in terms of quantity (if not always quality).

Jolene The acknowledged wisdom of veteran SIFF-goers: when you see "American Independent" and "World Premiere" in the same listing, look elsewhere. Not all such films are necessarily bad, but they tend to be films that were passed over by Sundance, Slamdance, Tribeca and SXSW. There are exceptions, of course: Julia Sweeney and Dan Ireland chose to premiere their respective films, Letting Go of God and Jolene, in part because of their history with Seattle. Sweeney is a Washington State native and longtime Seattle resident and Ireland is, of course, the co-founder of SIFF. Then again, Letting Go of God is less a film than a straightforward performance recording, while Jolene is a rather disjoined character study without a sense of purpose.

Adapted (and, one assumes, greatly expanded) from the short story by EL Doctorow, Jolene (played by newcomer Jessica Chastain, making her feature debut) tells the story of a modern Candide, an orphan banged around the South Carolina foster system until she becomes a 15-year-old bride to a sweet and stupid child of a young man. Then she gets banged around some more by a succession of dubious lovers and bad situations. We're supposed to feel for her ordeals and admire her resilience, and Chastain does a great job of igniting Jolene's mix of street-wise survivalist instinct and romantic soul. Her performance anchors a film that has no solid grounding and her voice-over is spoken with a candid bluntness, the toughened, unsentimental honesty of hindsight with just a wistful trace of regret - but after a while I was merely shaking my head at her nearly fatal bad judgment, which does not improve with time or experience.

It's one thing to watch a vulnerable 16-year-old fall for the sexual confidence and the romantic words of her childish husband's skeezy uncle (Dermot Mulroney), but the self-aware narration and street-smart insights don't fit with blind leaps into marriage with a suspicious tattoo artist (Rupert Friend) or an "eccentric" scion (Michael Vartan) of a rich Tulsa family. At least Friend (unrecognizable from his performance in Ireland's previous film, Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont) has attractive moments of romantic passion (however brief), but the third act stops dead at the unlikeable arrogance of Vartan's character, a sheltered rich guy who lives every moment with a sense of unthinking entitlement. Vartan's mannered performance makes him unpleasant enough, but it's not like there's anything remotely human under the blindly self-centered behavior and appalling personality even as scripted. All the voice-over in the world can't convince us he's anything more than a potential psycho just waiting to be unleashed on our eternal victim, which despite it's intentions is exactly what the film turns Jolene into by the end.

I saw too few films to go trend-spotting, but Jolene did spark a recognition of a tendency in films in general and American indies in particular (especially adaptations) at SIFF to frame and explain their narratives with voice-over narration. (Allow me to thank friend and festivalgoer William Kennedy for helping me focus my ideas and offer a few of his own on the subject in a pre-screening conversation.) In the Brazilian Elite Squad, the voice-over explains the complexities of the culture of police corruption and the criminal control of the slums of Rio de Janeiro and at times the self-righteousness serves as a bitter irony (the systematic destruction of an idealistic young cop's humanist beliefs is celebrated not simply as a necessary evil for survival, but as the only proper code in policing the violent streets).

Choke In Choke, Clark Gregg's adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel, the voice-over sardonic commentary on a bizarre trip into the world a sex addict and offbeat con artist (Sam Rockwell) who goes around choking on food so that total strangers can have the honor of saving his life (our hero has a way of making them pay for the privilege with cash donations). The witty scripting and detours into off-the-wall observations turn this narration into an entertaining counterpoint.

In the trifling The Great Buck Howard, a pleasantly unmemorable piece of character study fluff starring John Malkovich as a once famous stage magician and longtime Johnny Carson guest now reduced to playing small town civic centers, the narration by Colin Hanks (who, as Buck's new road manager, bears the brunt of the performer's mercurial behavior) serves as sugar sprinkled over a day-old pastry.

In The Mysteries of Pittsburg, Rawson Thurber's adaptation of Michael Chabon's novel, the first-person narration drags the film down with the lifeless droning of mundane observations and bland language. Not that there is much there to drag down. The dreary coming-of-age drama follows a blandly inert college grad (a non-descript performance by Jon Foster) through a final summer of freedom before he steps into a professional life he dreads. His idea of freedom turns out to be braindead work at a discount bookstore, but his summer is livened up when a beautiful young musician (Sienna Miller) and her unpredictable, low-level gangster boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard) invite him into their lives for no apparent reason. Sarsgaard is the film's sole interest, playing his character close to his chest yet exuding a genuine affection for Foster's inert character, and his easy confidence is such a convincing front that we don't realize just how badly his life is spiraling into disaster until it's too late for damage control. Miller is pretty much a walking sex fantasy and even Nick Nolte, who plays Foster's crime boss dad with a stony paternalism, fails to inject any menace into his role. I haven't read the novel, but Chabon's other works are so alive with character and place that it's hard to imagine this film is based on work by the same author. By the time Thurber is done with it, it's almost indistinguishable from any other portrait of the aimless American male who is jolted from passivity to action by a reckless pal.

So what did I like? Of my 50+ screenings, my top films were:

  • Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven, a sad yet affirming and triumphant story of life and death and characters whose paths cross and lives connect without their awareness of the patterns. Like Akin's previous Head-On, the issue of identity among Turkish Germans is central, but more important is the humanity revealed in and odysseys between the two countries. And it's always a joy to see Hanna Schygulla in a role that brings out her compassion.

The Secret of the Grain
  • Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain, the meandering story of a 61-year-old Tunisian immigrant fired from his shipwright job who decides to turn an abandoned ship into a floating restaurant that serves his ex-wife's fish couscous. The film loses itself in conversations around dinner tables or over drinks on the sidewalk tables of a hotel bar, which carry on and on beyond the simple task of relaying the story. The complicated relationships of the extended family and the neighborhood inhabitants arise from the textures and details.

  • Audrey Estrougo's Ain't Scared which I wrote about in Dispatch 3. It's startling and alive and it's all the more impressive that it comes from a 24-year-old woman who never went to film school and told me in an interview that she learned to direct from "watching bad movies."

On the more eccentric side, I was taken with Tomas Alfredson's juvenile vampire tale Let the Right One In, a young love horror film set in the snowy winter of a dreary little suburb of Stockholm; and Baghead the second feature from Mark and Jay Duplass. The mix of romantic comedy, indie character piece and horror movie manages to begin as a spoof of each genre and then slip seamlessly into the real thing - no mean feat.

Brillante Mendoza proved himself a burgeoning talent with both Slingshot and Foster Child, two perspectives on the slums of Manila with radically different styles but shared sensibilities. And I can't understand why My Effortless Brilliance was so disliked by audiences; I've heard it described as shapeless and dull, but I was riveted by the tensions in the character relations and the fearless mix of charm and vanity in the performance by Sean Nelson.

On a final note: the dormant sun came out and brightened up the final day of the festival. Of course, with such warmth outside after weeks of cold, I was even less inclined to step inside the theater one more time, so instead I dropped by the SIFF Hospitality Suite and talked with a few of the directors whose films played over the last weekend. The fact that I had seen neither Marc Grigoroff's Salawati nor Armin Völckes's Leroy didn't hamper our conversation. It was an engaging afternoon and a great way to end the festival. I left excited to see their films. Just not today.

Until next year.

-Sean Axmaker


Update, 6/17: Also wrapping Seattle: Kathleen C Fennessy at indieWIRE.

Update, 6/20: NP Thompson has a "Post-Mortem" at the House Next Door.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:55 AM

June 15, 2008

Dads in the Media Blog-a-Thon.

Dads in the Media Blog-a-Thon Catching up with this one just in time (good thing I caught Adam Ross's excellent - and sobering - entry on Hoop Dreams): One of the refreshing aspects of Strange Culture's Dads in the Media Blog-a-Thon is its embrace of all media, not just movies.

Top off your Father's Day by sampling just a few or all of the just over a dozen entries so far. Related: Erich Kuersten at Bright Lights After Dark on "Great Dads of the 1970s."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:31 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 6/15.

In Spring At Stream, Jamie Stuart reconstructs the decision-making process that eventually resulted in In Spring, a delightful and, for a few hours, popular short film that was quickly knocked offline. It is, as Stream notes, "currently unavailable for public viewing." Jamie: "In the end, I found In Spring to be one of the most successful shorts I've made. In its own way, it's a summation of everything I've been doing these past four years. It doesn't have a meaning in terms of a message - its meaning comes from its juxtapositions of images and verbal text."

Northwest Film Forum has news of Robinson Devor and Charles Mudede's next project. In just a matter of days, the team behind Police Beat and Zoo will begin shooting North American, a story of an airline pilot who has a mental breakdown in mid-flight based on true events.

At the SpoutBlog, Steven Boone crashes the set of Antoine Fuqua's Brooklyn's Finest and interviews first-time screenwriter Michael Martin.

"Variety reports that [Paulo] Coelho's spearheading a project to adapt his book, The Witch of Portobello," notes Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical. "But he's not looking to sell it to a big studio, or whip up a run-of-the-mill indie production. Instead, he wants to create a fan-made film mash-up."

Visioneers "Visioneers is a feature film about an alternate reality where people's lives are drained of all joy by their mindless work. Eventually they begin to explode from unhappiness." Roxanne Emadi talks with the film's makers. Also in the Stranger: "The Tracey Fragments never stops to ask whether Tracey is sane or not," writes Annie Wagner. "The pleasure is in watching [Ellen] Page stomp all over any answers."

Jonathan Rosenbaum presents a piece on John Cassavetes commissioned by the Torino Film Festival for last year's retrospective. It now appears for the first time in English.

"What is the political purpose of Speed Racer's two-dimensionality?" asks Daniel Kasman. "That a film which forgoes time and space can address nothing but the abstract? (Are the profit-motives and spectacle only abstractions anyway?) That a move towards digital cinema of this kind threatens to disconnect cinema from the real world and move to a realm solely of ideas? Not to be nostalgic, or even idealistic, but Godard's movies of this late 1960s era seem the best answer. The process of making a movie like Sympathy for the Devil embraces a cinema of (certainly abstract) ideas and ideology, yet one fundamentally produced by a direct - and obvious - engagement of the world around it, right then and right there."

Rouben Mamoulian fan Filmbrain has nabbed a DVD of the director's second film, City Streets: "Though I'm far from being fully versed on 30s Hollywood cinema, I can't think of another American film that so calls to mind the masterpieces of the early Russian cinema."

Sweden, Heaven and Hell "Sweden, Heaven and Hell is one of those movies that best come alive when watched in solitude in the after-midnight hours," muses Tim Lucas. "It struck me, unexpectedly, as a Ballardian picture, empathic but strangely clinical, the kind of movie that entices one (at least entices me) to think about exploring it further - not in the form of a review, but in a work of experimental short fiction. It's not so much about Sweden, I gather, as it's about a place in the imagination called Sweden."

The AV Club presents an annotated list of "25 worthwhile documentaries about ambitious outsiders." And the latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" is Wet Hot American Summer.

"Applying the tartrazine-fuelled pop-cultural aesthetics of Japanese TV to the overblown narratives of the Depression-era Hollywood weepie sounds like a dreadful idea on paper, a recipe for glitzy postmodern style-over-substance," writes Tom Huddleston. Which only serves to make Memories of Matsuko all the more astounding: yes, it's vibrantly, often toe-curlingly, bright. But it's also stunningly inventive, crammed with ideas and emotional truth, high on the possibilities of cinema." Also in Time Out London, Dave Calhoun on In Search of a Midnight Kiss: "This debut indie flick is a crude, funny and tender riff on romance with a script that crackles with deadpan, spiky humor."

Glenn Kenny recalls meeting Jose Mojica Marins (Coffin Joe), "one of the handful of filmmakers to whom the phrase 'pulp subversiveness' genuinely applies."

"Since Franklin D Roosevelt, only three presidents haven't cited a western as their favourite film," notes Rich Hall:

High Noon

For the record, Jimmy Carter's was Gone with the Wind, technically not a western. For Reagan it was It's a Wonderful Life: saccharine twaddle, but what the hell, Reagan was a cowboy. And for Gerald Ford, Home Alone. I don't know what to make of that. Maybe Home Alone was the only film Ford ever viewed. For all other presidents it's been Stagecoach (Lyndon B Johnson), Bad Day at Black Rock (John F Kennedy), High Noon (Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, George W Bush), My Darling Clementine (Harry S Truman). Why? Because America is a nation that believes almost religiously in individualism and self-reliance, the two values that inform every western. And, like the western hero, a president carries a sense of impending obsolescence. He has exactly four years to clean up the town. That's a High Noon scenario.

Also in the Guardian:

  • "Considering how modest its films were - sometimes filmed on Bolex cameras that could only shoot for around 40 seconds before needing to be rewound by hand - it's astonishing how influential the Free Cinema movement was." Simon Hoggart elaborates.

  • Ryan Gilbey: "There's evidence that the big stylistic influence in contemporary British cinema is ... the TV show Skins."

  • The dust-up between Ed Norton and Marvel over what sort of movie The Incredible Hulk was supposed to be (see Anne Thompson for the lowdown) has Andrea Hubert listing "Hollywood's prickliest" stars.

  • "Why are British prison movies so infuriatingly mild?" asks John Patterson.

  • Jon Henley meets Audrey Tautou.

  • David Thomson riffs somewhat bizarrely on Angelina Jolie.

"Is it harder to break out of a British prison or to break into British film?" asks Jasper Rees. "The person to ask is Rupert Wyatt, a 35-year-old writer-director. The Escapist, a prison break-out movie starring Brian Cox, Damian Lewis and Joseph Fiennes, is his accomplished debut." Also in the Telegraph: Sheila Johnston talks with producer Rebekah Gilbertson about her personal connection with The Edge of Love; her grandfather, you see, once tried to kill Dylan Thomas.

LA CityBeat: Howdy "The Hollywood sign was our Everest once - artists and men of vision hoofed it up Mount Lee and (depending on one's receptivity to change and general placement on the deference to authority scale) defaced it, vandalized it, or created monumental public art from it ... because it was there." A brief history from Kevin Ferguson in the LA CityBeat.

"Grover [Crisp] brings a Film Person's sensitivity to the mission of film preservation," writes David Bordwell. "What does that mean? For one thing, he takes the long perspective. Film archivists think about how to store and maintain films for decades, even hundreds of years."

Cecil B DeMille "remains something of a joke among sophisticated cinéastes, largely because of his tin ear for dialogue," notes Andrew Sarris in his review of Simon Louvish's Cecil B DeMille: A Life in Art. What's more, "DeMille may have been too easily dismissed by the mostly liberal and left-wing film establishment because of his right-wing anti-union and anti-Communist activities during the cold war, particularly during the McCarthy and Hollywood-blacklist years." But "for all its length and copious detail, Louvish's biography is a great read and, incidentally, a fascinating history of a life lived to the hilt through a long, turbulent segment of our time."

Also in the NYT:

"What Chinese Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang achieves in his documentary Up the Yangtze is remarkable," writes G Allen Johnson in the San Francisco Chronicle. "In one sense, he has created an epic - his backdrop is the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam project, the biggest hydro-electric project in the world and China's largest project since the Great Wall. In another sense, he has created an intimate film about two teenagers whose lives will never be the same."

George Raft: The Man Who Would Be Bogart Stone Wallace at Noir of the Week: "As stated in my recent biography George Raft: The Man Who Would Be Bogart, 1949's Red Light could almost be taken as a follow-up to Raft's They Drive by Night (1940)."

Sam Adams profiles Julianne Moore for the Los Angeles Times.

"Actor and writer Kwame Kwei-Armah joined a black British film group on a mission to meet some of the most powerful figures in Hollywood." And the Observer runs his brief diary.

Michael W Phillips Jr calls for a Movies About Movies Blog-a-Thon: August 22 through 24.

Online listening tip. Errata's "Summer Speed Round."

Online viewing tip. At Shooting Down Pictures, Dan Callhan comments on Joseph Losey's The Go-Between (though "Pinter is more dominant here than Losey"). See also Kevin Lee's notes.

Online viewing tips. Taylor Mead at DC's.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:10 AM

Fests and events, 6/15.

Kitano Retro in Moscow Jason Gray passes along news that the Moscow International Film Festival will present a lifetime achievement award to Takeshi Kitano. June 19 through 28.

On Friday, June 20, Northwest Film Forum will present two fundraising screenings of John Helde's Made in China to benefit the victims of the May 12 earthquake in the Sichuan province.

Tatsuya Nakadai, notes Terrence Rafferty, is probably best known in the US as "Hidetora, the 80-something feudal patriarch of the Ichimonji clan in Akira Kurosawa's Ran," which is "one of two dozen Nakadai movies Film Forum will be screening from Friday to July 17; for three weeks after that it will show, for the first time in many years, Masaki Kobayashi's three-part, nine-and-a-half-hour World War II epic The Human Condition (1959 - 61), in which Mr Nakadai, playing a leftist intellectual conscripted into the Japanese Army in Manchuria, soldiers his way through one of the most physically and emotionally grueling roles any actor has ever had to endure."

Also in the New York Times: Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space is "the first museum exhibition devoted to this Belgium-born, Paris-based director and presents five projects — two films and three multichannel video installations — dating from 1995 to 2007," notes Ken Johnson in the New York Times. "Ms Akerman demands a lot of her viewers. At least three hours are needed to take in the exhibition fully, and the time does not fly by. With their excruciatingly long, mostly silent scenes and minimalist storytelling, her films can feel like exercises in deprivation. On the whole, it is worth the effort." Through July 6.

Nostromo

As the David Lean centenary retrospective rolls on at BFI Southbank in London, an accompanying exhibition shows original sketches by production designer John Box for Nostromo, the adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel Lean was working on when he died in 1991. In the Independent, Chris Evans tells a story "involving four different scriptwriters and some of the most celebrated names in cinematic history, including Steven Spielberg, Alec Guinness, Marlon Brando and Peter O'Toole.... Now 20 years on, the trials and tribulations of the film have come to light in scripts, notes and correspondence between the different parties involved, which have been donated by the David Lean Foundation to the British Film Institute."

The Chicago Reader previews the Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival, running through Thursday.

"[I]n ways both profound and ridiculous, Wanted is the ideal film to open the LAFF," writes Chris Lee in the Los Angeles Times, a co-sponsor of the Los Angeles Film Festival. "[T]hanks to the flashy counterprogramming step of including popcorn movies and big-budget studio fare like the closing-night selection Hellboy II: The Golden Army (a comic book adaptation from Oscar-nominated writer-director Guillermo del Toro) and Wanted, the 10-day festival's stature has grown in recent years. And so has attendance, which is up almost threefold." Director of programming Rachel Rosen: "The festival has to be right for the city it's in. We're a film fest in LA in the summer. To pretend that we're not seems ridiculous." June 19 through 29.

Eric Kohn's been snapping pix at CineVegas; Karina Longworth files a diary entry at the SpoutBlog.

At the Evening Class: Matthew Kennedy's introduction to the double feature (Blonde Crazy and Night Nurse) kicking off the Pacific Film Archive series, Joan Blondell: The Fizz on the Soda.

Frameline32 "When word was announced last October that Frameline's Artistic Director Michael Lumpkin was relinquishing his position to pursue personal goals, after 28 years involvement, and 22 years as Executive Director, Frameline Board President Linda Harrison released a statement detailing Lumpkin's numerous and impressive accomplishments during the course of his tenure." Michael Guillén has a good long talk with him about an eventful couple of decades.

Meanwhile, in the San Francisco Chronicle, David Wiegand presents recommendations for the first four days of this year's edition. June 19 through 29.

For Cineuropa, Camillo de Marco reports on a change of leadership for RomeFilmFest.

Online viewing tips. Cahiers du cinéma talks with filmmakers at Cannes.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:12 AM

June 13, 2008

My Winnipeg.

My Winnipeg "My Winnipeg is [Guy] Maddin's best filmmaking since the not-dissimilar confessional bargain-basement phantasmagoria, Cowards Bend the Knee," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "In the course of this clanging, spectral memoir, all of the artist's previous movies—from his underground mock epic Tales from the Gimli Hospital through his faux–Soviet silent The Heart of the World to his period spectacular The Saddest Music in the World - come to mind."

"Much as he may dream of taking that one-way rail journey to somewhere else, Mr Maddin can no more spurn Winnipeg than it can disown him," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But his real point - and, for admirers of this brilliant and idiosyncratic artist, the true source of the movie's interest - is that Winnipeg explains him."

Updated through 6/17.

"[A]s with all Maddin (excluding, perhaps, the blessedly brief and rather exhilarating The Heart of the World), all declarations of extremity are cozily couched in quotation marks," argues Andrew Tracy in Reverse Shot. "Is the enthusiastic embrace of each new offering at least partially due to the fact that one need never risk being moved?... Maddin's cannibalized, half-imaginary evocations of the cinematic past - shreds of German Expressionism, film noir, and Soviet proletkult wrapped up with the arcana of the Canadian flatlands - renders his films blessedly harmless; indeed, their preciousness is their armor."

Karina Longworth objects: "Yes, I've seen My Winnipeg three times since in premiered at Toronto last fall and consider myself an unabashed (though not uncritical) Guy Maddin fan. But I didn't care that the review was negative; I cared that it suggested that even contemplating My Winnipeg as something worth contemplating is a waste of time."

"For someone who previously never fell under Maddin's spell, My Winnipeg is a work of converting hypnosis," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail.

"[I]t may be the year's stand-out achievement in alternate realities - it's a funny, accomplished look at how the geography of a life influences the topography of a mind," writes Bryant Frazer.

"Truth is, the titular subject is entirely ostensible, which is both the film's charm and its greatest limitation," writes Mike D'Angelo at ScreenGrab. "[T]he movie is kind of a doodle — and yet, it's a magnificent doodle, with parts so individually flavorful that you don't so much care about pulling out your calculator and working out their sum."

"At their best, [Maddin's films] are like psychosexual messages piped in from the collective unconscious of moviegoers; the medium itself becomes the ultimate fetish," writes David Edelstein in New York. "My Winnipeg is overloaded and digressive - it comes with the territory - but it's also grounded in a place, Maddin's Manitoban hometown, and it's painfully engrossing."

"[E]ven though much of My Winnipeg is overtly ludicrous - from the corrupt judging of male beauty pageants in The Hudson's Bay Company's 'Paddle Room' to Maddin's memories of a locally produced TV series about an overly sensitive man who spends every episode out on a ledge, threatening to kill himself - the movie still touches on real feelings of loss and regret," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Maddin talks at length about Winnipeg's hidden layers, but what makes My Winnipeg perhaps his best film to date is that so much of it is right out in the open."

"Maddin has previously tapped autobiographical detail - and, most important, sensation - but he puts special heart into His Winnipeg, virtually busting out of his voiceover by the end," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "He maps a psychosexual geography and, for family as well as city, keys into a kinky welter of half-understood fantasy and entrapment."

"As witty and entertaining as Brand Upon the Brain! was, it threatened to get bogged down in campy snickering," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "The most surprising thing about My Winnipeg is that Maddin sounds passionate most of the time. In particular, he gets audibly riled up about hockey."

"This is his mainstream-ready masterpiece, his Mulholland Drive," argues S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

"Has he ever been psychoanalyzed?" wonders John Anderson in the New York Times. "'I never have,' he said. 'I almost feel it would ruin everything. I kind of like poking around in my own little cesspool and every now and then making a film. It's therapeutic enough for me.'"

Steve Erickson talks with Maddin for Film & Video. More from Bilge Ebiri at the Vulture.

Brandon Harris talks with Maddin for Beet.tv. More from the IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore.

Earlier: Nicolas Rapold's talk with Maddin in the New York Sun; and reviews from Toronto.

Update, 6/17: "I may be getting a bit frustrated with Guy Maddin's more blatantly autobiographical progression away from the exquisite fiction of films like Careful and Archangel to the autobio trilogy of Cowards Bend the Knee, Brand Upon the Brain! and the new My Winnipeg," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "But while the return to more mother-based melodrama and hockey references definitely wears thin, there is no denying that Maddin is pushing not only himself as an artist, but also pushing the expanses of his unique form of early-talkie pastiche with each one of these films."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:56 PM

Love Comes Lately.

Love Comes Lately Ella Taylor in the Voice on Love Comes Lately: "The mercurial spirit and gnomic intellect of Isaac Bashevis Singer are properly difficult to trap in a bottle, but German director Jan Schütte comes as close as any in this atmospheric, exhilaratingly ambitious chamber piece that weaves the great Yiddish writer's life and obsessions with three of his seminal stories."

Michael Koresky at indieWIRE: "With its main narrative thread interrupted by tangential fictions and dream sequences, Love Comes Lately often comes across as a less randy version of Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry (which was in turn a far more randy remake of Bergman's Wild Strawberries); it's a mostly benign affair, though, and it doesn't probe far enough into its protagonist's deep-rooted neuroses or octogenarian sexual hang-ups."

"There have been several other films over the years based on Singer's works, but none with such relevance as Love Comes Lately to Singer's own description of his subjects," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer and then gives us the quote:

I deal with unique characters in unique circumstances... a group of people who are still a riddle in the world and often to themselves - the Jews of Eastern Europe, specifically the Yiddish-speaking Jews who perished in Poland and those who emigrated to the USA. The longer I live with them and write about them, the more I am baffled about the richness of their individuality (since I am one of them) by my own whims and passions. While I hope and pray for the redemption and resurrection, I dare to say that for me, these people are living right now, in literature, as in our dreams, death does not exist.

"Max Kohn (Otto Tausig), the aging Lothario of Love Comes Lately, is very much like the movie itself: doddering and milquetoasty, but ultimately disarming," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times.

This "is really a story about sex and death, not love," writes Ruth Graham in the New York Sun. "It's about the question of 'why people are born and why they must die' - everything in between is optional, of course - and how they amuse themselves as they approach the latter dismal requirement."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:55 PM

Blue Planet.

Blue Planet "Shot over three years and brilliantly honed in editing booths and mixing studios, Blue Planet combines epic aspirations and restrained storytelling in a way subsequent micro-documentaries like Microcosmos forgo," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "Despite modestly beautiful cinematography, Piavoli's editing and sound design set his films apart. Often, watching one is like hearing a great DJ: catchy synchronous samples build, pleasurable connections are laid out for the viewer to make, and a cyclic rhythm runs through."

"The banal organizing principles of Blue Planet - the cycle of seasons, day flowing to night and back - are complemented by a pervasive tedium in the montage," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "The movie doesn't move; it's a slide show, lacking intelligent image-rhyme, counterpoint or melodic progression from shot to shot."

For the New York Sun's Bruce Bennett, this is a "paradoxically modest (in subject) yet extraordinarily ambitious (in scope) filmmaking tour de force."

"Piavoli is reminding us of our primal natures, but his human subjects behave as if they've been rehearsed—weeping incredulously, rolling stones, running through rooms as if being chased by ghosts, and waking up in the night to point at and mumble over a map of the land," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Fight nature hard enough and nature will fight back, which is probably why the decay Piavoli captures toward film's end is so haunting, but direct your human subjects too much and you end up with a Tarkovskian pantomime."

Earlier: James Van Maanen.

Currently at NYC's Pioneer Theater for a week; the series Celebrating the Earth: The Films of Franco Piavoli runs at the nwFilmCenter in Portland in July.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:53 PM

Seattle Dispatch. 4.

Take it away, Sean Axmaker; a few notes follow.

Alexander Nevsky The 34th Edition of the Seattle International Film Festival, the biggest and longest film festival in the US, screeches into a busy final weekend.

There are various world premieres and the dozens of guests arriving for screenings and audience Q&As, but the highlight event will surely be the screenings of Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky at Benaroya Hall, with Sergei Prokofiev's score performed live by the Seattle Symphony and Chorale with mezzo-soprano Kathryn Weld.

The film is undeniably a classic, and just as undeniably a bald piece of nationalist propaganda that celebrates the salt-of-the-earth heroism of Russian citizens who rise up to defeat the invading German Teutonic Knights (backed by the blessing of the Catholic Church), not just to defend their homeland but to bring glory to their national honor. It's largely pageant until the famous battle on the ice, which is a thrilling work of cinema and illustrates just what a magnificent action painter Eiseinstein was. The epic scenes of the Teutonic Knights on horseback (looking like some unholy combination of Viking invader, aristocrat soldier and Klu Klux Klan grandmaster) overwhelmed by the onrushing armies of Russian peasant foot soldiers is as evocative a portrait of action cinema as you'll see.

The other exciting development for the last weekend will be the three days of screenings at The Cinerama, the crown jewel of Seattle cinemas. Not that it's necessarily showing the big screen spectaculars that should have been reserved for this venue, but it should be a kick to see the Hong Kong collaboration Triangle and the French war movie Female Agents thrown across the Cinerama's huge screen.

JFK and Jackie Chuck Workman's new documentary, In Search of Kennedy [site], makes its World Premiere at SIFF this weekend, but he seems to have released it before finding anything of note. Ostensibly an investigation of the legacy of John F Kennedy, the film attempts to clarify what JFK represents to people today beyond his political record while in office. Why is he revered, why has he become almost mythic in stature, why is he the name resurrected to represent hope and possibility? A lot of people weigh in, from pundits on the right, journalists on the left, political professionals of all stripes, cultural figures, and political leaders from both within and without the US (especially in Germany), to everyday folks on the street or visiting DC, but few have anything new to add or offer any insight to what has been said before.

Workman himself fails to organize his interviews and familiar archival clips into any meaningful structure, this from a man whose fame lies in his editorial wizardry. And even more confounding is his decision to frame it all within context of the 2008 political campaign. It does nothing to illuminate the man or the myth, and illustrates little more than the way the media and its coverage of politics and politicians has changed in 40-some years - but it instantly dates Workman's film as last week's news.

Bottle Shock Bottle Shock [site] is as generically inoffensive and blandly forgettable a film as we've had close SIFF. A fascinating true story - the rise of California wines in the eyes of the world when a Napa Valley wine won the top prize in a 1976 blind wine tasting in France against revered French vintages - is buried in a mundane story of generational conflict.

Bill Pullman is the bull-headed gentleman vintner who literally drives away anyone who offers to help save his vineyard (which is so far in debt to the bank that it will take the inevitable third act miracle to save it) and his beach bum son (Chris Pine) who works the fields for lack of anything better to do. A gorgeous blond intern (Rachael Taylor of Transformers) arrives to learn the business and the director/co-writer Randall Miller sells out the closest thing it has to a surprise - she actually sparks to the passion and commitment of hired hand Gustavo (Freddy Rodríguez), a landless dreamer who treats winemaking as both art and cultural legacy, over the directionless apathy of the generically hunky leading man - with third act matchmaking that is, in retrospect, as inevitable as every other tired narrative cliché that thuds into place in the unimaginative script. What, did Miller have a checklist of tried and untrue tropes for instant, superficial audience gratification?

Alan Rickman is the British wine expert who organizes the event and is, against his expectations, surprised at the quality he finds exploring the Napa Valley wineries - except the film doesn't know what to do with him apart from playing off his innate British stuffiness for easy laughs. The biggest lesson the film has to tell us, however, is that a twentysomething guy with long, dirty blonde hair and a sun tan driving an old pick-up to the sounds of the Doobie Brothers is effortless shorthand for California in the mid-70s.

-Sean Axmaker


More from Seattle: KJ Doughton (Film Threat), the Siffblog, the Stranger and NP Thompson (House Next Door).

Posted by dwhudson at 12:13 PM

The Happening.

The Happening "M Night Shyamalan's latest movie, The Happening, is not merely bad," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "It is an astonishment, so idiotic in conception and inept in execution that, after seeing it, one almost wonders whether it was real or imagined.... So rather than write a conventional review explaining why you should or shouldn't see The Happening (trust me, you shouldn't), I'm offering an alternative: A dozen and a half of the most mind-bendingly ridiculous elements of the film, which will enable you to marvel at its anti-genius without sacrificing (and I don't use that term lightly) 90 minutes of your life. As this is intended to be an alternative to seeing the actual film it is, of course, overflowing with spoilers."

Updated through 6/16.

"What a bunch of nonsense - effective nonsense, chilling nonsense, occasionally wrenching nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "This is what happens when M Night Shyamalan tries to play both John Carpenter (bloody) and Stanley Kubrick (cold-blooded) while writing and directing what the literalist will either dismiss or embrace as the horror-film extension of An Inconvenient Truth, depending upon who the literalist thinks is responsible for, ya know, killing the planet."

For the New York Times' Manohla Dargis, The Happening "turns out to be a divertingly goofy thriller with an animistic bent, moments of shivery and twitchy suspense and a solid lead performance from Mark Wahlberg. Much like Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix in Signs, which this film resembles in mood, effectiveness and flaws, Mr Wahlberg fits into the Shyamalan universe comfortably. He rides the spooky stuff with as much ease as he does the jokes, the manufactured sincerity and cornball messages."

"The former frightmaster's descent from wunderkind to embarrassment has been unusually dramatic and public, thanks not only to the high-profile failures of The Village and Lady in the Water, but also to such bizarre, backfiring ego-stroking endeavors as The Man Who Heard Voices, Michael Bamberger's fawning, sycophantic account of the making of Lady in the Water, and the self-indulgent faux-documentary The Buried Secret of M Night Shyamalan," recounts Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Shyamalan should be glad he makes movies primarily in Pennsylvania instead of Hollywood, because under California's 'three strikes' law, he'd be facing hard time in movie jail thanks to his third consecutive disaster, The Happening."

"He still sees dead people, only now they're the best thing in the movie," writes the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter.

"When he's not borrowing liberally from himself, Shyamalan has numerous other sources of inspiration," notes Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon. "There's an obvious similarity to the 2002 Japanese shocker Suicide Club, right down to the device of people jumping en masse off buildings. There are elements of The Stand and The Invasion. There's even a whole lot in common with the infinitely more awesome Shaun of the Dead, from the way that an apocalypse can bring an estranged couple together to the channel-surfing explanatory postscript. Because this is Shyamalan, however, there is one final compulsory gotcha. I spoil nothing that isn't already quite spoiled when I reveal that even then, the director just reuses a familiar idea."

"What would drive the people of New York, and later the people of the entire Eastern Seaboard, to calmly kill themselves?" asks Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. Rhetorically, of course. "Unfortunately, as the movie unspools, other questions come to mind, such as: What would make Mark Wahlberg give one of the worst performances of his career? What would inspire Shyamalan to miscast a limited actress like Zooey Deschanel in the underwritten role as his dissatisfied wife?"

For the LA CityBeat's Andy Klein, "The Happening is nowhere near the level of his breakthrough, The Sixth Sense, and not quite as good as the subsequent Unbreakable, Signs and The Village, but at least it suggests that the awfulness of Lady in the Water may have been an aberration."

Roger Ebert finds it "oddly touching. It is no doubt too thoughtful for the summer action season, but I appreciate the quietly realistic way Shyamalan finds to tell a story about the possible death of man."

"What is most bizarre are Shyamalan's touches of comedy - bizarre because they appear to indicate that he realises how ridiculous everything is, but they do nothing to mitigate the film's absurdity and implausibility," observes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "His movie lands, decisively, the wrong side of the laugh-with/laugh-at divide."

"Mr Shyamalan has said that he writes B movies with A-list talent, camerawork, and style, but no amount of beautiful faces and quality cinematography can save The Happening from self-destruction," writes Meghan Keane.

"The Happening succeeds when Shyamalan is toying with his audience," writes Marc Lee in the Telegraph. "The film doesn't work, however, when Shyamalan becomes bent on lecturing us."

"It's an entertaining movie, which is half the game, but it's not scary, which it should be," writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Eugene Novikov at Cinematical: "Why M Night Shyamalan Has Nothing to Apologize For."

"My next movie is called Avatar: The Last Airbender for Paramount," Shymalan tells Time Out. "It's a fantasy, inspired by a Japanese animated series, and has a lot of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy."

Rachel Abramowitz has a long talk with Shyamalan for the Los Angeles Times. More from Eric Kohn at Cinematical.

"It was just a few years ago that M Night Shyamalan was on the cover of Time magazine, which had proclaimed him the 'Next Spielberg,'" notes Noah Forrest at Movie City News. "What happened to the man we all thought would inherit the mantle from the bearded master of spectacle?"

Allyssa Lee has a quick chat with John Leguizamo for the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier: The Visitor at Twitch.

Updates, 6/15: James Rocchi at Cinematical: "It's not that The Happening is bad, as such - although there are a few fairly off moments in it - it's more that I found myself wishing, on more than one occasion, that Shyamalan could forget about plucking the audience's heartstrings and instead just keep going for the jugular. I wanted The Happening's tension at a higher pitch so that I wasn't puzzling over plot holes and questionable character decisions while actually sitting in the theater; The Happening simmers when you want it to boil, smolders when you want it to burn."

"If Romero or Cronenberg were filming this story, they would enjoy earning the R rating that Shyamalan seems to be dutifully working toward with his ever-grosser suicide scenarios," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "The whole solemn concoction is preposterous and not always in a fun way—even at 99 minutes' running time, the movie provides plenty of opportunities for watch-consultation in the dark. But there's also an efficiently maintained hum of low-level anxiety."

"Here's a movie trivia game I wish I didn't have to play," sighs Time's Richard Corliss. "Is there any major director who has made six consecutive films, each one markedly inferior to the one before? A case can be made that the answer is M Night Shyamalan."

"[T]he shocking thing is how awful it looks," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "There's a certain creepiness to the premise... but it's executed in bland and remote fashion, with little in the way of compelling suspense, mystery or directorial craft. Think of the worst Spielberg thriller or one of Hitchcock's dull late career works, then make it ugly and fill it with bad performances; voila: The Happening."

Alonso Duralde, writing for MSN, finds The Happening to be "a big snooze, riddled with awful dialogue and unconvincing performances, all underlined by a dreadful score by James Newton Howard, a composer whose vocabulary is missing the phrase 'on the nose.'"

"Shyamalan is far better at setup than payoff, and the Sixth Sense director's latest once and for all cements that reputation," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Allyssa Lee talks with effects coordinator Steve Cremin for the LAT, where Choire Sicha chats with actress-singer Betty Buckley.

Updates, 6/16: From the latest entry in DK Holm's Directors Project: "[P]erhaps the director Shyamalan most resembles is William Castle."

"The Happening is an unforgivable, shameful, career-shattering embarrassment of a motion picture," rants Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "This isn't disposable cinema; it's garbage disposal cinema. Even as a symbol of the Avant-Retarde movement, or as a work of unintentional comedy, or of who knows what else, it remains defiantly inexcusable."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:04 AM | Comments (6)

June 12, 2008

Shorts, 6/12.

Spellbound by Beauty Donald Spoto's The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures appeared in 1976 and was, as DK Holm puts it in the Vancouver Voice, "at one time the longest and most sympathetic analysis of the director's films." 1983 saw the publication of Spoto's "quasi muckraking bio," The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. And now, currently via the UK only, comes Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies. "The portrait of Hitchcock is much like the one put forth in Dark Side, only darker," writes Doug. A sampling of cringe-inducing details follows. "One almost pines for a time when one didn't know so much about celebrities," but then, "it is better to know the truth, if it is knowable at all."

Well, along that line, at Slant, Kim Masters follows up on her last report about changes to the ending of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. Seems the original version wasn't that far off from the truth; that is, if Polanski were to return to the US in 1998, he would have likely had to agree to some sort of media attention.

Back to Hitchcock for a moment. Catherine Shoard, blogging for the Guardian, comments on a study that would seem to "provide neuroscientific evidence for his notoriously famous ability to master and manipulate viewers' minds." More in Science Daily.

Mukhsin "Four films into her career, [Yasmin] Ahmad is already known as the godmother of the new Malaysian digital cinema, and Mukhsin's May premiere at MoMA (as the first of Ahmad's films to receive a weeklong engagement in New York) marked another notable stateside appearance of the Malaysian new wave - which, despite festival acclaim, has seemed all but unexportable," writes Andrew Chan at the House Next Door. "It's unfortunate that Mukhsin would never stand a chance of attracting today's distributors, on the one hand because it is about Malays (an ethnic group most Americans know almost nothing about) and, on the other, because it lacks the air of aesthetic and thematic gravity that wins over the cinephilic press. But at a time when questions about Barack Obama's biography have brought Southeast Asian Islam under the microscope, Mukhsin might be just what American audiences need: a positive, deeply personal view of a religion whose followers are far more diverse in ideology and ethnicity than our government would have us presume."

Once he wraps the documentary he's working on, Garbage in the Garden of Eden, Fatih Akin will start shooting his first comedy, reports Bénédicte Prot for Cineuropa. Soul Kitchen will star Adam Bousdoukos, Birol Ünel (Head-On) and Moritz Bleibtreu.

Beauty in Trouble is "a romantic fable about a beautiful working-class wife and mom (the amazing Ana Geislerová), torn between a filthy rich and perfectly lovely older man who offers her a future and the bad-boy criminal she married who offers her a little of what she needs Right Now, if you know what I mean and I think you do," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But along with this downscale Sex and the City plotline comes a ruthless and hilarious portrait of contemporary Czech society as a realm of bottomless hypocrisy and corruption, as well as a roster of ludicrous yet somehow compelling supporting characters."

Lauren Wissot at the SpoutBlog on Wild at Heart: "Lynch's typically bizarre noir contains one of the steamiest foreplay scenes ever to grace the indie screen. Strangely, this kinky non-sex scene involves not Laura Dern's Lula and Nicolas Cage's Sailor Ripley (whose love scenes are saturated with such hyper-real color and artistic angles as to overshadow the screwing), but the childlike Lula and Willem Dafoe's greasy, so-creepy-he's-charismatic Bobby Peru ('Just like the country,' he drawls, introducing himself to Lula and Sailor outside the hotel they're all staying at, sliding snakelike into Wild at Heart nearly an hour and twenty minutes fashionably late)."

Duelle (une quarantaine) With [Duelle (une quarantaine)], Rivette's filmmaking is at its most obtuse and enigmatic, but also, perversely, at its most lushly sensual," writes Ed Howard. "Between the fluid camerawork and the film's gorgeously understated color palette, subdued to a twilight mix of rich blues and pale reds, the look of the film is stunning, creating the atmosphere of an eternal urban evening."

"Inasmuch as Alain Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour examines the impossibility of translation in articulating the weight of tragedy, Nobuhiro Suwa's H story also aligns with Arnaud Desplechin's Playing 'In the Company of Men' in illustrating the inherent limitations of adapting source material to convey the essential story," writes Acquarello.

Nextbook editor Joanna Smith Rakoff looks back to the critical reception of Helen Hunt's directorial debut, Then She Found Me: "Largely omitted are any mentions of the heroine's ethnic and religious identity, never mind that the film's denouement consists of a moment of spiritual anguish, rather than, say, a montage of breakup scenes. The odd silence on these matters can perhaps be attributed to discomfort or bafflement that the blonde, sharp-nosed Hunt is playing a devout Jew (though Hunt, like [Matthew] Broderick, is half-Jewish), but more likely it's because narrative features about faith, particularly about Jewish faith, are so rare that critics don't quite know what to make of them."

Paul Newman Shawn Levy is working on a biography of Paul Newman and "it's a pleasure to share my brain space with him. Funny, upright, smart, brave, moral, talented, faithful, honest, manly, wise, humble: he's simply good people. A mensch, in fact and deed." As for the news that he's battling cancer, "just this, then: Godspeed."

Related: An observation from Joe Leydon.

In the LA Weekly, Ella Taylor profiles Mongol director Sergei Bodrov.

For the Independent Weekly, Douglas Vuncannon talks with Errol Morris about Standard Operating Procedure.

IndieWIRE interviews Kicking It director Susan Koch.

For NPR, Anthony Giardina recommends "Three Books About Our Affair with Movies."

Online viewing tips. "Yesterday we learned that a bunch of Disney movies will be available for free online, each for a limited time, this summer," writes Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "Now, because everyone wants in on the streaming video game, Fox Searchlight has also put up three of its own films for free." Click here for the freebies; just so you know, the films are 28 Days Later, Quills and Sideways.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:21 PM

Fests and events, 6/12.

Telluride Film Festival Michael Jones has Laurie Anderson's poster for this year's Telluride Film Festival (August 29 through September 1) - and her comments on it as well.

"The ninth Mods & Rockers Film Festival opens June 26 in Hollywood with the world premiere of The Seventh Python, a look at the life and music of longtime Monty Python associate, former Bonzo Dog Band member and Rutles singer and songwriter Neil Innes," reports Randy Lewis for the Los Angeles Times. Through July 9.

Brad Neely will screen a collection of his favorite shorts on Thursday, June 19; Monday, June 23; and Thursday, June 26, at the Alamo Drafthouse; Spencer Parsons talks with him. Also in the Austin Chronicle, Joe O'Connell tells the story behind Z: A Zombie Musical, opening Monday at the Arbor.

Vue Weekly's Brian Gibson previews Edmonton's Queer Images, "a Pride Week mini-film fest at Metro." Next Wednesday and Thursday.

Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival At Twitch, Blake Ethridge has the lineup for the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival (July 1 through 6).

For the Philadelphia City Paper, Shaun Brady previews the Lawn Chair Drive-In's offerings this summer.

"It's hard to say which event in midtown Manhattan on Thursday night was cooler: New German Cinema legend Werner Herzog in conversation with director Jonathan Demme at the Times Center, or the two crazed climbers who attempted to scale the New York Times building right next door just a few hours earlier." But you know which one Eric Kohn will write about at Cinematical.

And Glenn Kenny has notes from a different happening Manhattan evening.

What does the fate of the films that screened at Cannes 07 tell us about the state of distribution? HarryTuttle does some tracking and commenting.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:36 PM

June 11, 2008

Shorts, 6/11.

Meat What a great opening from Adam Balz at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "For what it's worth, the best review of Frederick Wiseman's Meat comes not from Bill Nichols or Dan Armstrong of Film Quarterly, Barry Keith Grant's Voyages of Discovery, or even Wiseman himself, but from the pages of a 1977 issue of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics."

Also at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Andrew Schenker revisits Viva L'Amour: "What I read on a first viewing as a final assertion of self, an attempt at a humanizing gesture that's been denied by the film's emotionally repressive program, I had to conclude on a second viewing was a mere continuation of that anesthetization of feeling that marks the state of humanity across Tsai [Ming-Liang]'s work."

Plus, Leo Goldsmith on Wiseman's Sinai Field Mission and Timothy Sun on Mandingo, "not only one of the most subversively exploitative films America has ever produced, [but] also one of the quintessential masterpieces of American filmmaking."

Errol Morris responds to his readers' comments on reenactments in documentaries.

John McElwee looks back on the career of a Stewart who could be either James or Jimmy.

Hollywood Asian Michael Guillén talks with Hye Seung Chung about her book, Hollywood Asian: Philip Ahn and the Politics of Cross-Ethnic Performance.

"After a long and muddled pre-production history with several changes of director and lead actress, a start date has finally been set for Die Päpstin (Pope Joan), the big-screen adaptation of the bestselling Donna Cross novel of the same name," reports Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net. "German director and former professional football player Sönke Wortmann (Das Wunder von Bern / The Miracle of Bern) is now at the helm of medieval epic, with rising German star Johanna Wokalek (Barfuss / Barefoot) taking on the title role."

"This week, Broadway celebrates itself with the Tony Awards being held on June 15," notes FilmInFocus. "In recognition, we wanted to celebrate the bond between Broadway and Hollywood by asking five Tony nominees to name their own favorite Hollywood musicals."

"As much an elegy to film as it is a dissolution of romantic myth, Jon Jost's Paris-set digital feature, Oui non hews closely to the spirit of Jean-Luc Godard's late period, mixed media essay films - a reflection on the city and the cinema through conventional images of the present as preconceived, idealized evocations of the past," writes Acquarello in the Auteurs' Notebook.

"The wide lens has two converse effects: it captures the weight of heaven indoors; outdoors, it reveals heavens' entire expanse," writes David Lowery, reviewing Silent Light at Hammer to Nail. Battle in Heaven, he notes, "took a more sensational approach to finding God in the mundane. There, [Carlos] Reygadas entangled spirituality with sexuality, fusing the two into a fascinating, troubling, and not altogether successful amalgamation of the sacred and the profane. Here, he begins with sexuality, but quickly moves past it, past what's corruptible and resolute. He's after something far more elusive and difficult to define, and by the time he arrives at the final shot of the film–a mirror of the first, a slow push towards the horizon as the sun sinks behind it–he has, at the very least, caught a glimpse of it."

Beauty in Trouble "The center of Beauty in Trouble, Czech director Jan Hrebejk's trying foray into soapy realism, is the kind of provincial, hard-luck lass who shows boob at a funeral and sweetens sauvignon blanc with a dousing of soda pop," writes Michelle Orange. "Unfortunately, Hrebejk settles for unsatisfying allusions to the Czech experience that never break through the thick haze of melodrama to make his case with any conviction."

Also in the Voice:

  • Aaron Hillis on Kicking It: "It's hard to imagine how [Susan] Koch could have made her film any more heavy-handed: perhaps by adding U2's 'Where the Streets Have No Name' to the soundtrack or having the narration delivered by Colin Farrell - both of which, inevitably enough, the director does."

  • "The Western world can be divided between those who are predisposed to dig anime and those who split at the first sight of spiky orange hair. I am not among the former," confesses Nick Pinkerton. Still, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is "basically the equivalent of a sensitively wrought read from the Young Adult shelf, and there's naught wrong with that."

  • "While not quite great filmmaking, To the Limit is daring enough to appeal to more than just the usual extreme-sports junkies," writes Vadim Rizov. More from Henry Stewart in the L Magazine.

"[Y]ou'll have to wait around for the Polanski doc that links up the director's Grand Guignol treatment of Macbeth - the Scottish play as a horror show - with the state of his brain after the murder of his first wife, Sharon Tate, at the hands of the Manson Family," writes Troy Patterson, reviewing Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired at Slate. "And [Marina] Zenovich is not your woman if you want to wonder whether Bitter Moon - the aggressively kinky 1994 film that's a cross among Last Tango in Paris, Sabbath's Theater and Heart of Darkness - qualifies as a confession or a mission statement. But if you are looking for a high-end procedural packed with fresh interviews and touches of easy visual poetry, then she's your woman." Related: Cathleen Rountree interviews Zenovich.

"[I]t's understandable that a medium that specialises in showing us our best fantasies and our worst nightmares - the cinema - is now going through a distinct girl-on-girl moment," writes Julie Burchill.

Also in the Guardian:

A Complete History of My Sexual Failures

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir on that whole Clint vs Spike run-in: "This may be impossibly liberal of me, but I'm going to suggest that they're both right, and that both of them need to tone down the grump-o-meter.... [N]ow that both of these esteemed American directors have allowed themselves to be lured into a Limey-sponsored pissing match, maybe they'll hang it up and get back to what they actually do for a living." Related: artwork by William Speruzzi.

"A stuntman filming John Woo's new movie in Beijing was killed in a bizarre fire when a small boat rammed into the set of an ancient warship," reports Reuters.

"Short Cuts may have been made in the early 90s, but its aesthetic quality and style at times feels straight out of the 70s," writes Jonathan Pacheco at the House Next Door. "In an age with too many steadicam or other fancy shots, zooms seem kind of outdated, but Altman always held on to them, at times putting the slickest dolly shot to shame with his zoom lens."

Scott Hamilton watched a little over 100 movies in 100 days - and reviewed 'em all. Via Coudal Partners.

"Steven Spielberg aims to raise more than $1 billion in third-party financing to reinvent DreamWorks as a separate company that once again owns the movies it makes." Carl DiOrio reports for Reuters.

Marketing-wise, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl and Sex and the City have more in common than you might think; Michael Cieply reports for the New York Times. More on the implications from Rachel Abramowitz in the Los Angeles Times.

Ben Goldsmith comments: "Three stories from different newspapers/magazines, all dated 5 June 2008, each illustrating an aspect of the spread of film and television production around the world. Massachusetts is booming on the back of a 25% tax credit, Belfast is also on the rise as a location and hoping recent activity will lead to more work in future, while Geoffrey Macnab documents the migration of British co-productions to other parts of Europe."

Good Morning, Luang Prabang For the Independent, Andrew Buncombe reports from Laos: "33 years after the communist government overthrew the king and seized power, the south-east Asian nation has just produced its first privately funded movie, Good Morning, Luang Prabang."

Online browsing tip #1. Cinerama, via Coudal Partners.

Online browsing tip #2. Stale Popcorn's "100 Greatest Movie Posters (of All Time)," via Movie Poster Addict. And here's #1.

Online listening tip. Ambrose Heron talks with Peter Biskind "about the history of Miramax, the larger than life methods of the founders, the landmark films they released and their legacy."

Online listening tips. On the Leonard Lopate Show: Robert Osborne discusses TCM's Race and Hollywood series; Debra Winger discusses her new book, Undiscovered.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM

Fests and events, 6/11.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival is still a week away (June 18 through 29), but the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw has already written up his "top 10 picks to whet the appetite."

Helen

To that list, Ben Slater adds Helen, "a strange, unusual and beautiful film" that's also screening in Sydney.

Another upcoming festival, another preview in list form. "10 Films To Put On Your Schedule" - if you'll be able to make it to CineVegas, that is - from Erik Childress at Hollywood Bitchslap. Tomorrow through June 21.

With Tokyo Sonata screening in competition at the Sydney Film Festival, Mathieu Ravier profiles Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Live by the Lens, Die by the Lens, an exhibition on view at the National Media Museum in Bradford, England, from June 20 through September 28, "explores how a star is made, and how that process has changed over the years, from the early Hollywood glamour portraits to more revealing journalistic photographs and the rise of the paparazzo image," writes Hannah Duguid in the Independent.

Warren Sonbert "Kino21's Warren Sonbert triptych concluded last Thursday evening with the Narrative Vertigo program featuring A Woman's Touch and Short Fuse. Afterwards, a fellow gawker puzzled over whether Sonbert's work made him want to see more films or live more life." Max Goldberg talks with series programmers Konrad Steiner and Johnny Ray Huston.

"Some of Michael Haneke's early made-for-TV movies are showcased in the aptly titled mini-retrospective Bitter Pills at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts," notes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "In them, Haneke's now-characteristic austerity - long static takes, cryptic narrative omissions - is yet undeveloped. But his nihilistic take on society is already present." Tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday and June 19.

"Brendan Lott's Memories I'll Never Have, currently showing at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, makes use of the Internet in inspiring ways," writes Sean Uyehara at SF360:

Brendan Lott

He has culled photos from social networking sites. You know these photos. As Lott describes, they are often of people who may have had a little too much to drink. Lott sends a URL of the image to southern China where it is meticulously reproduced as an oil painting and paid for through PayPal. Then Lott receives the paintings and displays their photorealistic glory in shows likes this one. How inspiring is it? Suffice to say that the paintings look so great, are so funny and beautiful and the process seems so easy (perhaps too easy) that everyone I spoke to who saw the show asked the same thing: "How much does it cost to get one of those paintings made?" I don't want this to turn into a plug for commissioning oil painting reproductions in China, but let's just say it is very reasonable.

Mike Everleth has the lineup for the San Antonio Film Festival. June 19 through 22.

The Jackson Hole Film Festival has presented its awards; Michael Jones has the list.

At Cineuropa: Theodore Schwinke has the 48th Zlin International Film Festival for Children and Youth award-winners; Fabien Lemercier previews the 32nd Annecy Animated Film Festival (through Saturday); and Vitor Pinto takes note of the Italian films screening in Lisbon at the 8½ Festa do Cinema Italiano.

Matt Prigge, Philadelphia Weekly, local goings on.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:22 PM

HRWIFF 08.

A Promise to the Dead "For the opening of the 19th Human Rights Watch International Film Festival on June 13, 2008, the organizers made a smart but possibly problematic choice with Peter Raymont's A Promise to the Dead." So begins Chris Barsanti's overview of the festival; this film in particular, though, is also reviewed by Nick Schager in Slant.

In Salon, the subject of the doc, Ariel Dorfman recalls going back to "revisit the joys of the Allende revolution and the murderous aftermath of Augusto Pinochet's military takeover, and one of the rewards of that journey into the past was that I finally got to track down and thank the woman who had saved my life."

Back to Slant: In To See If I'm Smiling, Tamar Yarom "may illuminate the unique struggles women face when they're drafted by the Israeli army, but the guilt and regret these women feel (like their sense of themselves as oppressors) has nothing to do with sex—an insight that becomes the documentary's grace note," writes Ed Gonzalez.

Updates, 6/12: Rob Humanick offers a quick take on The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) at Slant. Earlier: Dennis Lim in the New York Times.

For Ed Gonzalez, Prisoners in Time is "rife with volatile themes about uncertainty and forgiveness, the narration does most of the heavy lifting. If Roman Polanski made [Ariel] Dorfman's propensity for psychological self-scrutiny feel vibrant and cinematic [in Death and the Maiden], [Stephen] Walker is content evoking the feel of actually lying on a psychologist's couch."

Updates, 6/13: In the New York Times, Stephen Holden offers quick takes on A Promise to the Dead and The Betrayal - and also Traces of the Trade: A Story From the Deep North: "The implications of the film are devastating. The North was the South's complicit economic enabler, and the movie suggests that the North's high-toned abolitionist rhetoric was a cover story. The old saying that 'behind every great fortune there is a crime' echoes silently through the movie, which extends that notion to implicate an entire society."

At the House Next Door: Lauren Wissot on A Promise to the Dead and To See If I'm Smiling.

Bill Weber for Slant: "That discrimination and land theft are still brazenly practiced by the US government against Native Americans is the cri de coeur of Beth and George Gage's American Outrage, documenting the legal battle between Washington and a pair of octogenarian ranching sisters, Carrie and Mary Dann, members of the Western Shoshone community of central and eastern Nevada."

Updates, 6/15: Bill Weber, Slant: "The Human Rights Watch fest profiles one of the organization's own in The Dictator Hunter, which trails HRW lawyer Reed Brody as he strives to close an international-justice dragnet around Hissène Habré, known as 'the African Pinochet' for his brutal (and Reagan-backed) rule in Chad in the 1980s."

"The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) is slow-paced but not slow moving - thoroughly engrossing," writes Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door.

"Under the Bombs is half a great film," blogs Slant's Ed Gonzalez.

Update, 6/16: At Slant, Nick Schager finds Calle Santa Fe "redundant, artless and lacking anything approaching directorial restraint."

Update, 6/17: Nick Schager, Slant: "A counterpart to her 2004 documentary Justice, Maria Ramos's Behave focuses on a Buenos Aires juvenile court system wracked by inefficiency and hopelessness, due in part to a crushing caseload that makes anything more than quick, cursory legal hearings impossible."

Update, 6/18: Nick Schager, Slant: "Six diverse women attempt to shape their country's future in The Sari Soldiers, Julie Bridgham's affecting documentary, shot over three years, about Nepal's tumultuous civil war."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:04 PM

Directors' Fortnight @ BAM.

Céline and Julie Go Boating "Directors' Fortnight emerged as a sort of Gallic Slamdance: an independent alternative to Cannes," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. "Presenting four decades' worth of alt-programming highlights, BAMcinématek kicks off Directors' Fortnight at 40 with a fabulously appropriate, week-long run of Céline and Julie Go Boating, Jacques Rivette's 1974 hoof up and down cinematic and psychosomatic memory lane." Friday through July 3.

Updated through 6/13.

"As mind-blowing as it may seem, in 1971 Susan Sontag, Werner Herzog, Nagisa Oshima, RW Fassbinder and George Lucas all presented their films at the same festival: the Directors' Fortnight, then in its third year." Melissa Anderson runs through a historical overview at Time Out New York, and then: "Two films from actor-directors that debuted at Fortnight 07, Jacques Nolot's Before I Forget and Serge Bozon's La France (both of which are in BAM's tribute and will receive a proper theatrical release in New York next month), prove just how singular the festival lineups are."

Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine: "Céline and Julie Go Boating is Jacques Rivette's Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - psychedelically assisted, indebted blatantly to Lewis Carroll and overrated to the point that conventional wisdom has deemed it a masterpiece, even if fans know that the movie actually rates somewhere nearer to the middle of the creator's oceanic oeuvre."

Updates, 6/12: "Arriving at the tail end of the New Wave... Céline and Julie seemingly predicts, among other things, the Lacanian cinema theory of Christian Metz's Imaginary Signifier (1977) and Laura Mulvey's 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' (written in 1973, published in 1975)," writes Michael Ned Holte for Artforum. "If the latter essay dissected the male's gaze and the female's 'to-be-looked-at-ness' encoded in cinema, then Rivette's film is remarkable in its positioning of its female leads as both characters and spectators (mostly) in control of the film's subjectivity and outcome."

In conjunction with BAM's series, the French Institute: Alliance Française presents a busy weekend of La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs screenings (June 20 through 22).

Updates, 6/13: "One thing the series aims to reflect is a lack of cinematic hierarchy," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "The Fortnight at 40 program accommodates everything from Roger Corman's The Trip - a 1967 time capsule artifact written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda as a television commercial director who spends a hard day's night on his first LSD trip - to Béla Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies, which saturates the viewer in trancelike perceptions instilled by 15-minute takes."

"There's cinema, and then there's Céline and Julie Go Boating," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "It's the Ulysses of moving pictures: You can feel Rivette exploring the art form's modes of expression and then erasing their borders, one by one."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 PM | Comments (3)

The Incredible Hulk.

The Incredible Hulk "Like most Marvel Comics, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Hulk hit a nerve because it keyed into the readers' subconscious anger - the totally awesome idea of a great green stomping id monster lurking inside all of us, one we can barely control," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "But unlike Ang Lee's misguided, often awful opus, this latest film doesn't even bother digging into those pulpy roots, and instead settles for empty action-movie competence. [Louis] Leterrier's reboot might be a tighter, more coherent movie than Lee's Hulk. But it's also way less interesting."

"While it doesn't measure up to the lofty standard laid down by last month's Iron Man, this new Hulk flick is quite a bit better than the early skeptics would have you believe," Scott Weinberg assures us at Cinematical. "You could retitle this flick The Hulk is Bourne, and it would be a perfectly appropriate description (albeit a really awful pun)."

Updated through 6/17.

"For months stories have circulated that the persnickety Ed Norton, replacing Eric Bana as The Hulk's timid alter-ego, was demanding final cut over a screenplay he's said to have beefed up with chatty character-building sequences since excised," notes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "Add to that the critical drubbing Lee's take rightly received, and there's an inevitable and justly deserved fear: Hulk no smash. Cheers to lower expectations, then, because The Incredible Hulk is The Pretty Good Hulk. All things considered, of course."

Glenn Kenny's fairly sure that "it'll be better received by audiences than its initial and persistent 'bad buzz' had indicated." Which he knows quite a bit about, being on friendly terms with Norton and all. "But the larger question remains - if Edward Norton's idea, if your idea, if my idea, of an intelligent mainstream genre picture won't play with the money people, where the hell does that leave anybody's idea of an intelligent mainstream picture, period? I asked Edward recently if he wanted to discuss it; he e-mailed, sounding a little burnt-out, that it was not 'the time or the place to deconstruct.'"

For Jürgen Fauth, it's "as by-the-numbers as they come.... The Incredible Hulk is a crushing, noisy bore without a heart, brain, or single fresh idea. It's no accident the movie ends exactly where it started - plus a tacked-on final scene with Robert Downey Jr that tries to sell us the next superhero movie before this one's even over."

Earlier: Nick Schager in Slant.

Update, 6/12: "It might be time for Marvel to give up and recognize that the Hulk just doesn't work outside of a comic book setting," suggests David Berry in Vue Weekly.

Ang Lee "tried to make a thinking person's action movie, but ended up with a film suffering from multiple-personality syndrome, part dull and earnest, part mindless and violent," writes Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. "The Incredible Hulk, by contrast, embraces its identity as a sci-fi-summer-action-blockbuster extravaganza. Along the way, it actually comes close to finding the balance that Lee was looking for."

"Norton's conceit that Banner's transformation into the Hulk represents Gen-X anti-militarism is more pretentious than Ang Lee's comic book humanism," argues Armond White in the New York Press.

Robert Abele sketches a profile of Tim Roth for the Los Angeles Times. Cinematical's Erik Davis talks with Roth, too.

"[O]ne has to admit that enormous movie-making skill goes into the creation of pictures like The Incredible Hulk," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "The sheer craft directors such as Leterrier lavish on them is awesome to me. I can't imagine how they orchestrate - or even remember - all the little pieces of film they require to build their big set pieces. That thought, however, is nearly always followed by this question: Why do they bother?"

"While Lee's Hulk often felt inert, eventually building up to an incomprehensible climax, Letterier's hits all the usual action-movie beats before building to an inert climax," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

The Incredible Hulk

Updates, 6/13: "'The Adequate Hulk' would have been a more suitable title," suggests AO Scott in the New York Times. "There are some big, thumping fights and a few bright shards of pop-cultural wit, but for the most part this movie seems content to aim for the generic mean. If you really need a superhero to tide you over until Hellboy and Batman resurface next month - and honestly, do you? really? why? - I guess this big green dude will do."

"The makers of The Incredible Hulk throw all their energies into a few bowel-vibrating set pieces of varying impact, but they seem unable to sustain much else in this largely spiritless and often shabby effort," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Hulk more angry, yes, but not so interesting."

"It sidesteps the intriguing aspects of Hulkdom and spends way too much time in, dare I say, noisy and mindless action sequences," writes Roger Ebert. "By the time the Incredible Hulk had completed his hulk-on-hulk showdown with the Incredible Blonsky, I had been using my Timex with the illuminated dial way too often."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "Hulk smash all hope of interesting time in cinema."

Paul Constant in the Stranger: "As in many superhero movies, the third act has problems - how do you keep your villain from becoming a caricature when he's a giant evil monster whose sole motivation seems to be finding a really tough guy to fight? - but the movie is such great fuck-shit-up fun that it can successfully smash through any cliché in its way."

"It's a retreat to core Hulk values, a film of low risks and low yields, though not entirely without its own silly merits," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

The "transformation into someone with muscles where other people can't even imagine muscles is initially satisfying, but as generations of angry people have found before him, there's not much of interest you can do when you get that mad," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, where Chris Lee looks back on "Edward Norton's rocky relationship with studios."

Kevin Maher talks with Leterrier for the London Times, where Wendy Ide asks, "Is there even a spark of freshness or originality in this tedious film? Well at one point Hulk tears a police car in half and fashions it into a pair of makeshift boxing gloves, but that's about as far as it goes."

"Norton's an intriguing choice to play Banner," finds the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu: "good-looking, but not as cute as John Cusack; serious, but less intense or haunted than Sean Penn; fit, but not as buff or regular a guy as Matt Damon. This middling quality serves him well here, allowing him to slink into his character rather than trying to shape it into a personal vehicle."

"Leterrier and his team of CGI elves have worked hard to make the Hulk look 'real,'" notes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "They just haven't bothered to make him seem human."

In PopMatters, Monte Williams revisits the TV series and finds it "a surreal and intriguing extended metaphor for man's clumsy, half-assed attempt to embrace woman's changing role in the world."

Updates, 6/15: "One of the reasons that the Spider-Man movies, Iron Man and now this new Hulk, play so well with both huge audiences and (sometimes) critics is that the transformation aspects of the stories, allow the filmmakers to cast less hunky actors highly capable of wit, depth and emotion (Tobey Maguire, [Robert Downey, Jr] and now Norton) in the hero roles, something which nicely balances the dramatic and action scenes," writes Michael Wilmington.

Also at Movie City News, Leonard Klady: "What's chiefly intriguing and potent is that for all its anger management issues and inevitable effects charged confrontations it is a love story. It is Beauty and the Beast or King Kong and in the present landscape of angst ridden heroes, such an approach is refreshing. The emotional core provides it with a spine few of its recent brethren have evinced and whether intended or not (one suspects the latter) the film becomes a commentary on the entire genre."

A few of Slate's Dana Stevens's "observations culled from this two-hour onslaught of stimuli: The Hulk's transition from an amoral destructive force to a fighter for right happens too suddenly and without sufficient motivation. Liv Tyler, who plays Banner's biologist girlfriend Betty Ross, appears to be made of marzipan - sweet, pliant, and utterly bland. Tim Blake Nelson, the Don Knotts of his generation, kills in a small part as a socially awkward scientist eager to help the couple. And Robert Downey Jr, who pops up as Iron Man's Tony Stark in a cross-promotional cameo late in the film, is such a diabolical cad he makes the slender, diffident Norton look like a choirboy."

Justin Stewart in Stop Smiling on Iron Man and the new Hulk: "Alike in their weaknesses, the two movies both climax in audience-punishingly loud and busy street brawls between huge CGI lumps. Jon Favreau was able to practice some taste and patience during his movie's expository scenes, but Louis Leterrier's share his action scenes' incoherence."

Update, 6/17: Coming to the defense of Ang Lee's Hulk today are Ted Pigeon at the House Next Door and Erik Sofge in Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:34 PM | Comments (1)

Monsieur Verdoux.

Monsieur Verdoux In the New York Times, J Hoberman recounts the history of the critical reception of Monsieur Verdoux, from its polarizing debut in 1947 to its slow revival in the 60s - and again now, as it screens at Film Forum for a week, beginning on Friday: "Chaplin considered this, his first post-World War II movie, a topical one. As he had satirized Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator (1940), he would now comment on the carnage Hitler provoked and the mass destruction he feared would follow. 'Von Clausewitz said that war is the logical extension of diplomacy,' Chaplin told an interviewer. 'Verdoux feels that murder is the logical extension of business.' But Monsieur Verdoux was also the logical result of Chaplin's feelings of victimhood, as a celebrity and a man."

Updated through 6/18.

"Having been served little, sour gags where fat guffaws were expected, critics panned the movie, most judging that Chaplin had forsaken entertainment to become a Cause; still, others saw a mature artist working with kamikaze mettle," notes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Those two views are not mutually exclusive."

Seattle's Northwest Film Forum will be screening Verdoux next month and suggests in the meantime "picking up a copy of Agee on Film and reading his three part defense, one of the only published at the time."

Updates: Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine: "'Don't believe too much,' Verdoux advises. 'This is a ruthless world and one must be ruthless to cope with it.' A sentiment that perhaps The Tramp would have agreed with, but only up to a point: whereas in City Lights The Tramp goes so far as to risk his life in a boxing match to raise money for the woman he loves, would the same man ever go so far as to murder for love, as in Verdoux?"

"It is a masterpiece," insists Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "See it."

Updates, 6/12: "It may be difficult for contemporary audiences to see either the scandal or the classic in Monsieur Verdoux (written and directed by Chaplin, from an idea by Orson Welles) - it's difficult for me, quite frankly - but it's worth the effort," argues Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It's a stagy, self-conscious and erratic production that suffers from awkward editing and peculiar shot selection, and for viewers unused to Chaplin as a speaking actor (or unused to him at all) his high-pitched voice and mannered, almost limp-wristed portrayal of a serial killer is likely to be off-putting. I know all this is heretical, film buffs, but it's better to get it into the open. If you want to argue that Monsieur Verdoux is an important movie for people to see in 2008 (and I do), you have to acknowledge the obstacles it presents."

"The fact remains that, in spite of its admirable daring, the primary value of the film is Chaplin's own self-abnegation, and this is simply not enough to make a gestalt on its own," writes Evan Kindley in Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "What we are left with is an oddity, and an accomplishment, but not an achievement. No one else could have played Monsieur Verdoux but Charlie Chaplin; but the suspicion remains that someone else - Welles, perhaps? - could have made a better Chaplin film." A recommended read.

Updates, 6/13: "[T]he tonal mix natural to the Bluebeard DNA wasn't what doomed Chaplin's strange film — that would be Verdoux's mordant concluding monologue, judging his exploits as par for the course in a world of amoral nihilism and violence," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun.

"There are few comedies as resoundingly defiant as Monsieur Verdoux," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "Harshly received at the time, it is now impossible not to see it as anything other than career commentary, revealing a verbally excoriating (though no less dandified) Chaplin implicitly connecting the dots between entertaining the masses and making a killing."

Update, 6/18: "Chaplin's initial forays into the world of sound film display his talent as a composer of distinctive prose," argues Eric Kohn at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:20 AM

Quid Pro Quo.

Quid Pro Quo "The first half of Quid Pro Quo is among the most jaw-dropping things I've ever seen: Who knew there was a closeted subculture of people pretending to be paraplegics?" asks David Edelstein in New York.

"With glamorous Old Hollywood blond locks and a high heels-assisted statuesque figure that nicely clash with her paraplegic fantasies, [Vera] Farmiga is enthralling, her unhinged expressions—and ability to ooze sexuality while revealing intimate, off-the-wall truths about herself—lending the proceedings a beguiling, erotically charged sense of unease," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "When Farmiga isn't on screen, however, Quid Pro Quo goes limp."

Updated through 6/16.

"Farmiga is captivating," agrees Jean Oppenheimer in the Voice, "[Nick] Stahl less so - although a bigger problem is writer/director Carlos Brooks's script, which sets up one story, then shifts gears into something more personal and psychologically specific. That's normally a plus, deepening the viewer's sense of involvement, but the transition here is bumpy and, ultimately, unconvincing."

Online listening tip. The IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore "examine how people with physical disabilities have been portrayed in movies, from Freaks to My Left Foot to Rory O'Shea Was Here, and discuss whether actors playing disabled characters is the new blackface."

Update: Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer:

The ambitious indirection of the film's visual style is reflected in the director's own comment on the direction of his cast: "I told the actors in rehearsal to think of the story as unfolding entirely within that moment that transpires between deep sleep and wakefulness. So from the earliest rehearsals and creative discussions and final sound design, we approached the film within that framework - that the film itself should be experienced as a kind of dream. Even to the extent that we avoided the usual overtly 'dreamy' filmmaking and editing tricks - in favor of a straightforward style that would, like an actual dream, invite you to perceive it as real."

Quid Pro Quo thereby seems to be the latest attempt to awaken us all from more than a century of dreamlike voyeurism at the temples of the cinema so that we can look more closely at the mechanics of our addiction.

Update, 6/12: "Castrated twice in Sin City, stabbed and beaten to death in Bully, shot in the face in In the Bedroom, and most recently a mentally abused emotional adolescent in this year's Sleepwalking, Nick Stahl is steadily carving out a niche for himself as the whipping boy of contemporary American independent cinema," notes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "For good or ill, Carlos Brooks's debut feature Quid Pro Quo allows Stahl to graduate from this bit of typecasting, making him less the passive recipient of violence, and more one who endures in its aftermath." Ultimately, the film "isn't quite deep enough to be offensive."

Updates, 6/13: "[T]his small, intensely acted film is a psychological detective story that suggests a boutique version of David Cronenberg's Crash or David Fincher's Fight Club, but it eventually runs out of courage," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

"Gorgeously shot by Michael McDonough, Quid Pro Quo belies its modest budget with a glossy, burnished look that lifts the material into another realm," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "There's something liquid and haunting about the look of the film that adds to the feeling that what we're watching isn't real, and yet it easily avoids the clichés of the 'dreamlike' aesthetic.... Brooks and his actors manage to render an involving and thoughtful story from some pretty dubious material."

"Brooks plunges into the thick of a largely unfamiliar subculture in Quid Pro Quo, but the journey involves a series of well-telegraphed twists and turns - one of them, a bit of fantasy involving a pair of magic shoes, at odds with the tone of the rest of the film," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

The IFC's Matt Singer talks with Brooks.

Update, 6/16: Erich Kuersten at Bright Lights After Dark on Farmiga: "This girl is the James Dean of our time."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:18 AM

June 10, 2008

Waiting for WALL•E.

Wall E Admittedly, what follows is a miniscule sample, but Hollywood's summertime offerings over the next couple of weeks are beginning to look rather thin, if not downright grim. You might want to steer clear of a multiplex until June 27, when Pixar's WALL•E rolls in.

Then again, who knows. By the time enough reviews of the following three heavyweights appear, the summer might appear brighter after all.

"The aesthetic dexterity and psychological depth of Ang Lee's Hulk is corrupted by Marvel's 'reboot' of the superhero franchise, Louis Leterrier's intermittently kinetic but depressingly shallow The Incredible Hulk," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "In response to complaints that Lee's unjustly excoriated 2003 effort was too talky and slow, Leterrier swings the pendulum to the opposite side of the spectrum, delivering a slam-bang spectacle so lacking in weight that, until the impressive finale, the film seems downright terrified of character and relationship development, as if too much conversation or - gasp! - subtextual heft will immediately alienate coveted young male fanboys."

"M Night Shyamalan's latest, an ecological thriller, will definitely not sit well with everyone," writes The Visitor, reviewing The Happening at Twitch. "While high on suspense, the film mixes comedy and terror so much that at some point, we get confused whether we're suppose to laugh, scream or cry. And that makes it a very, very strange piece of work.... But all the good stuff doesn't take away the fact that the whole is less than the sum of its parts."

"It seemed like a natural," sighs John Anderson in Variety. "Redo Get Smart, the landmark 60s TV spy spoof, with Steve Carell. Who better to update Maxwell Smart - the idiot-savantish secret agent originated by Don Adams - than The Office' master of disassociative, self-effacing humor? But in the end, a bigscreen version of television's Get Smart had issues to address - the hero was too one-dimensional, the female lead too adoring, the Cold War too over. So helmer Peter Segal's formulaic takeoff is neither fish nor fowl, not quite faithful to the show, but not quite bringing it into the 21st century either."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:34 PM

More online viewing.

Brush Interesting publication, this Triple Canopy. Among the offerings in the second issue are Brush, a "video melodrama in six parts" by Keren Cytter, and Victory Over the Sun, by Michael Robinson, introduced by Thomas Beard, who writes: "Refiguring the romanticism of epochs past, his film elicits sober reflection on their radical aspirations while offering ecstatic glimpses of 16 mm’s continued (if endangered) capacity for fresh pleasures of texture and tone. Robinson affirms a notion that filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh once suggested (quoting Napoleon): 'The purpose of the avant-garde is not to advance, but to maneuver.'"

Click the plus signs to view.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:07 AM

DVDs, 6/10.

Sophia Loren Collection As Lionsgate releases box sets devoted to Sophia Loren and Catherine Deneuve, Dave Kehr remarks in the New York Times that the two actresses "seem to belong to sovereign territories of their own, which barely have diplomatic relations. Lorenland is a proletarian world of workers and peasants, defined by spontaneity and sensuality, a world of broad comedy and even broader melodrama. The petit principality of Deneuve is the Monaco of movies: a primarily urban environment of designer boutiques and chic restaurants, in which emotions are muffled and sex discreet (and frequently unhappy)."

"That [Anthony] Mann is not as esteemed or well known among the public as Ford or Hitchcock is almost criminal, but probably due to the fact that he toiled almost exclusively in the groves of genre has sustained his anonymity," writes DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "He's like the perfect filmmaker: a great director of actors, shaper of screenplays, an eye for decor and location, and visually dynamic, especially in collaboration with John Alton." As for The Furies, which Criterion will be releasing next week, "like the other psychological westerns, it is filled with un-self-aware neurotics" and is "richer for being flawed."

"After viewing Carol Reed's atmospheric crime drama Odd Man Out (1947) I'm convinced that the director's first major post-war feature is every bit as visually rich and engrossing as its more famous sibling, The Third Man (1949), if not even more so," writes Thom Ryan.

"John Ford's The Informer might best be thought of as a silent film. Or better yet, as a film that relies on its images and sounds, rather than its dialogue, to provide story elements, atmosphere, or character development." John Adair analyzes the opening sequence.

"In the span of 90 amazing minutes, The Green Pastures performs a feat untold in most religious cinema: it actually explains and illustrates faith," writes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "It gives it a face and a feeling. It renders it real and imparts amazing emotion and devotion into it. Though the shading used may be scandalous, this is art—cinema as epic exploration of aesthetic goodness."

Sympathy for the Devil "Certainly, [Sympathy for the Devil] is a provocation - political, formal, pop cultural - before it's a coherent work of narrative drama; certainly, most of its most memorable moments involve juxtaposition of political critique with infantile sex farce," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "If it comes off as impenetrable, it may just be because no penetration is needed - everything Godard wants to say is laid into the film's surface. If anything, Sympathy for the Devil is a blatant (and, at times, blatantly transparent) cinematic flail from a filmmaker at a crisis point."

"A few fictional tangents aside, [Chris] Marker's mode was always the personal documentary - a non-fictional amble between political fact and subjective, and often poetical, observation, and over the years, practically under the oblivious noses of the filmgoing world, it's become one of the medium's most insightful, humane and profound strategies." For the IFC, Michael Atkinson reviews the slew of new releases from Icarus Films. Also: "The framing material of Boarding Gate may seem thin, but [Asia] Argento, after more than 20 years flitting around the fringes of Euro-pulp and costume epics and the occasional Hollywood action flick, emerges here as a crystallized star."

"[William] Klein's films may attract an audience through their acquired patina of kitsch - [Who Are You, Polly Magoo], with [Dorothy] McGowan's Karina-Cleopatra bangs and its gratingly eccentric Dick Lester 'inventiveness,' is a Mod time capsule - but he's an enervating virtuoso," writes Nick Pinkerton for Stop Smiling. "Scenes are treated as vessels for far-out sets, catchy compositions; once looked at, they've done their job, but they hang around on screen for a remarkably long time - it's material better suited to be silently projected on the wall of a hip bar than really watched."

"Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004) is an exceptional film in many ways," writes Richard Armstrong at Flickhead. "It is a Hollywood release with an A list star which moves with all the grace and hauteur of a European art film.... It is customary for a Hollywood film to revolve around romantic love, but rare for one to be so analytical about what love is, or can be, about the relationship between identity and desire."

Chikamatsu Monogatari "A master of deep-focus, of theatrical spaces, of long takes, of drowning scenes and of scenes of drifting at sea, of ellipses, of off-screen space, of shifting subjects (both in plot and image), and of, overall, lyrical-objective camerawork - all talents he shares with Renoir - Mizoguchi is almost certainly the master of victims of circumstance stories." David Phelps reviews the Masters of Cinema edition of Chikamatsu Monogatari (Crucified Lovers) for the Auteurs' Notebook.

Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign-Region DVD Report": "Marcel L'Herbier's monumental, legendary 1928 L'Argent."

"Paul Verhoeven's Turkish Delight is, it seems, the notorious Dutch director's idea of a Hollywood-style love story," writes Ed Howard. "Boy meets girl, they fall in love almost immediately, they marry. This is a very basic narrative, except that Verhoeven is determined to undermine, question, and indeed vomit all over the expectations, generic conventions, and emotional limitations inherent in this kind of story." Also, Manhattan Murder Mystery: "It's hard to tell what Woody's enjoying more in this film, finally getting to film what was obviously a pet project for him, or finally getting back his best comedic foil."

"Candyman, the 1992 film adapted by Bernard Rose from Clive Barker's short story, 'The Forbidden,' is perhaps one of the most underrated satirical horror films of the 1990s," argues Ed Champion.

Christmas on Mars The Playlist hears that Christmas on Mars, the movie the Flaming Lips have been working on for about seven years, will screen at a couple of festivals before appearing on DVD in time for, yes, Christmas.

"Kinky thrills on a budget, that's where my head's been lately." Vince Keenan gives us a rundown.

Adam Ross has a few money saving tips.

Online scrolling tip. Red River at the art of memory.

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN), DVD Talk, Logan Hill (New York), Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and Slant.

And of course, the Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:13 AM | Comments (1)

Online viewing tips.

The Indestructible Man It's only Tuesday, but so far, this week's shaping up to be a slow one, news-wise. Which is as it should be in June, of course. Gives us all time for whoppers like Dennis Cooper's: "A bedsheet, 4 thumb tacks, a 16 mm movie projector, 15 folding chairs, and 10 films by or about the Kuchar Brothers.

Or: "Happy Centenary, Jack Pollexfen!" exclaims Tim Lucas. "Instead of working today, let's all celebrate the 100th of the man who gave Butcher Benton 300,000 volts by watching this fine 1956 production Once Again in its almighty entirety, this time courtesy of our techy friends at YouTube."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:32 AM

Interview. John Cusack.

John Cusack Critical reaction to War, Inc [official site] has been, shall we say, mixed. Caroline McKenzie's pan in Reverse Shot ("War, Inc is no more than an ugly byproduct of the mass-produced culture it so wishes to satirize") is just one recent sampling.

And yet the film's darkly comic take on the corporatization of warfare has been a hit where it counts most - with audiences. It's set to expand to several cities on Friday, so Sean Axmaker talks with Cusack about, among other things, his two very different treatments of the ongoing war in Iraq, War, Inc. and Grace Is Gone.

Updated through 6/13.

Rob Capriccioso talks with Cusack, too - for Identity Theory.

Update, 6/11: Online viewing tip. Cusack's pop quiz at MoveOn.org.

Updates, 6/13: "[T]here is no polite or nice or calm or neat or kind or sane or rational way to process the situation in Iraq," writes Charles Mudede in the Stranger. "War, Inc might very well be the film that the future uses to understand our bleak moment of shock and awe." And he talks with Cusack, too.

"[T]he satire-challenged Right has tried to attack Cusack and War, Inc as (all together now) unpatriotic and a slam on American troops," notes Arianna Huffington. But "Cusack has received many moving emails and postings on his MySpace page from soldiers and military family members supporting the film and its message. Their missives run from disappointment to disillusionment and fury over being asked to serve and sacrifice while mercenaries are better paid - and often better treated."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:08 AM

June 9, 2008

Shorts, 6/9.

Roman Polanski At Slate, Kim Masters explains why the ending of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, that is, the version airing tonight on HBO, differs from that seen at Sundance and Cannes. Related: director Marina Zenovich is interviewed on NPR.

"By focusing only on the Ferus artists and by minimizing the disagreements among them, The Cool School offers a somewhat one-dimensional narrative of the city's art scene, even as it provides a lively and clear account of that seminal group," writes Cécile Whiting for Artforum. More from Time's Richard Lacayo.

For the Los Angeles Times, Desmond O'Grady reviews Federico Fellini: The Book of Dreams: "As a child, Fellini could not wait for bedtime, when he would close his eyes and see absorbing spectacles. He had named the four corners of his bed after four cinemas of Rimini, his birthplace on the Adriatic coast. True to his childhood self, he later was to regard his films as dreams on celluloid. His sketchbooks were partly a record of possible film ideas. One sketch has the worried annotation, 'Have I just let a film idea escape while engaged in my usual neurotic masturbatory fantasies?'"

The Movies of My Life "The Movies of My Life has an appealing conceit: the narrator, Beltrán Soler, recounts his life in fifty movies, describing when he first saw specific films as well as the surrounding circumstances as a way of recounting his childhood and youth. There's obviously a good deal of potential in this sort of presentation of a life-in-films, but Fuguet doesn't go all out with it." The Complete Review presents its dossier on Alberto Fuguet's novel.

"For much of the past century, the job of imagining the worst possible outcomes of [architects and city planners'] good intentions - of assessing the radically dystopian implications of urban progress - has fallen to film directors and production designers," writes AO Scott in the New York Times Magazine. "They invent the city of the future not as a model but as a cautionary tale; and their future is the only future we know firsthand." Considered: Metropolis, Alphaville and Blade Runner.

Glenn Kenny writes an open response to Michael Atkinson's remarks in Vincent Rossmeir's piece for the Brooklyn Rail, "Where Have All the Film Critics Gone?"

Michael Tully talks with Will Oldham about The Guatemalan Handshake and more; also freshly posted at Benten Films is a sneak peek at Kentucker Audley's Team Picture, due in August.

The New York City Opera has commissioned Charles Wuorinen to compose an opera based on Annie Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain," reports the BBC.

Atari 2600 Leonardo DiCaprio will produce and star in a biopic about Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. Tatiana Siegel reports for Variety. Also: Reese Witherspoon and Ben Stiller have signed on to a romantic comedy to be directed by Cameron Crowe and produced by Scott Rudin.

Larry Gross's 48 Hrs diaries, continued. Also, Bryan Burrough at VF Daily: "By 2:30 am my duties as an extra were long over. Over by the Biograph's famous alley, Michael Mann was walking the actors through the climactic shot of the week, the killing of Johnny Depp's John Dillinger."

"Chak De! India, a big-hearted minority sports film whose title means 'come on India,' was the appropriate winner at the Indian International Film Awards Sunday," reports Patrick Frater for Variety. "The pic about a tarnished (field) hockey player who redeems himself as coach to the Indian women's team, was named best film, saw helmer Shimit Amin named best director and Shah Rukh Khan elected best actor."

Joe Leydon talks with Stephen Rea about Stuck for the Houston Chronicle.

IndieWIRE interviews On the Rumba River director Jacques Sarasin.

With Ed Halter's piece on microcinemas, FilmInFocus launches a four-part series on exhibition.

The Pixar Story "David Price's The Pixar Touch is clearly an unauthorized history, written from an outsider's point of view," writes Charles Solomon in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Lacking direct access to the key people, he has to rely on previously published accounts, secondary sources and interviews with more minor players who have left the studio.... In contrast, Karen Paik's To Infinity and Beyond: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios, which was written in conjunction with Leslie Iwerks's lively documentary The Pixar Story (2007), is a studio-approved insider's account."

"[D]espite its enduring legacy as one of Hollywood's most legendary movie studios - and a seemingly stubborn refusal to disappear - MGM hasn't fit the profile of a full-fledged production company in years." But as David M Halbfinger reports in the New York Times, despite "a daunting pile of debt and other financial challenges," the studio's hoping to turns its fortunes around.

"Bob Anderson, who played the young George Bailey in the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life, has died. He was 75." The AP reports.

September Industry's "Cinematyopgraphy" (update), via Jason Kottke.

Online listening tip. Hitchcock and Truffaut discuss Under Capricorn and Tom Sutpen's got the audio.

Online viewing tip. "A new short (unsigned?, untitled?) video by Jean-Luc Godard premiered on the Swiss television channel TSR in May." Andy Rector's got it.

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

Frieze. June - August 08.

frieze 116 With Euro 2008 in full swing, perhaps the most pertinent way into the new issue of Frieze is Jennifer Doyle's piece on the "art of football," with an emphasis on film and video. Her paragraph on Fußball wie noch nie is particularly fine.

"The 5th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival (BEFF) opened amidst controversy, with Thailand's Censorship Board demanding cuts to Apichatpong Weerasethakul's acclaimed Sang Satawat (Syndromes and a Century, 2006)," writes Brian Curtin. And yet: "Lack of artistic merit and purportedly negative images of Thailand were everywhere and nowhere in the festival. Therein lies the rub, so obvious as to be hardly worth mentioning: how can decisions be made in these terms and as a condition for censorship?"

"Over the past decade [Javier Téllez] has worked with 'invisible' populations: the disabled, the poor and those institutionalized for metal illness," writes Steven Stern. "That the concept of ‘working with' is linguistically - and politically - ambiguous is precisely the point. These marginal communities are, essentially, Téllez' medium. At the same time his film, video and installation-based pieces grow out of and encompass extended collaborative work with his subjects. He walks a tricky, often unsettling line. He flirts with - and yet avoids - the twin perils of exploitation and do-gooder-ism, deriving ethics and aesthetics from the situation in which he finds himself."

Vivian Rehberg's monograph on Loris Gréaud, "something of an art/science/technology wunderkind, as fluent in the languages of conceptualism as he is at navigating the complexity and plurality of 'the post-medium condition,'" is accompanied by an intriguing short film, Bucky. Stick with it.

"[Klara] Lidén's spiky videos, few of which run to more than four minutes, are all attuned to how routines can be performed and disrupted," writes Sam Thorne.

Dan Kidner on Boris Groys: "Tentatively proposed as films, his artistic output constitutes a conscious attempt at mining (or undermining) the interstices between disciplines."

This issue's "Life in Film" column is, unfortunately, not available to non-subscribers.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:10 PM

Chris & Don: A Love Story.

Chris & Don: A Love Story "There are many reasons to see [Chris & Don: A Love Story]," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door, "but the best one I can think of is the chance to see [Christopher] Isherwood and his best friend WH Auden, probably the greatest poet of the 20th century, jumping around together like middle-aged schoolboys in beguiling home movie footage. There is the opportunity to hear [Don] Bachardy hold forth about a scary drug experience with Paul Bowles in Tangier, and some hilarious anecdotes about visiting the set and working as an extra on The Rose Tattoo with Anna Magnani. But mainly this is a chance to get acquainted with the exemplary work and life of two great artists, one dead, one living, utterly and touchingly and romantically indivisible."

Updated through 6/13.

"The 30-year difference between an upper-crust British writer and a young Californian glamour-hound was just one of the difficulties facing the pair in the 1950s, yet the strength of their love through the ups and downs of a relationship that blossomed for three decades was what kept them together up to Isherwood's death in 1986, and what makes Chris & Don: A Love Story one of the most positive, affecting portrayals of queer romance in recent memory," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant.

Screened at Newfest on Saturday; rolls out across the US throughout the summer.

Trailer. And more reviews.

Update, 6/10: "While in description, a documentary focusing on the experiences of one pair of lovers might sound hermetic, Chris & Don comes across as remarkably expansive; rarely is love depicted onscreen with this much soul-rattling care," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "While [Tina] Mascara and [Guido] Santi easily could have used Chris and Don's decade-spanning romance as a launching pad into considerations of contemporary domestic human rights issues, they wisely let it speak for itself, and let us hopefully follow by example."

Updates, 6/11: "The terms on which the couple set up house not only reach back to the most ancient manifestations of queer coupling (the older man taking a younger partner under his wing, schooling him on life, culture, and sex), but also illustrate lingering issues with—or even within—the modern gay and lesbian community," notes Ernest Hardy in the Voice. "[I]t might be a good thing for gays and straights to glean some lessons from Isherwood and Bachardy's example: Make your own rules, set your own terms for connection, and be willing to let them evolve as you and your partner hopefully do."

Writing in the L Magazine, Mimi Luse finds the doc " a tender (albeit somewhat hokey) double portrait."

Updates, 6/12: "Chris & Don doesn't fully address the merits (and critical reaction to) either Isherwood or Bachardy's work, and though this omission is clearly designed to afford greater concentration on their romance, it nonetheless stands out simply because few other corners of their lives are left unexplored," writes Nick Schager at Cinematical. "Still, Mascara and Santi burrow so deeply into the constantly metamorphosing emotions between the two, as well as how their art reflected those feelings, that such stumbles prove minor.... Even more than unwavering dedication, however, what the film ultimately locates in the saga of Isherwood and Bachardy - two men so harmoniously intertwined that, as old photos and home movies convincingly establish, they began to sound, think, act and view the world in the same way - is the much-coveted, seldom attained fantasy of becoming one with a true love."

Armond White in the New York Press on Derek and Chris & Don: "These gay documentaries show more loving than today's gay film fiction."

Updates, 6/13: "The elderly Mr Bachardy makes a wonderful character," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "Still trim in a white sleeveless T-shirt and painter's pants, his silver hair wispy above a face that retains a good bit of the chiseled features of his youth, he leads the camera around the home he shared with Isherwood, opening up boxes of memories with an emotional transparency that shows the enduring value of his commitment to Isherwood. It's something lovely and rare."

Notes Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "In this pre-Stonewall era Isherwood's increasingly acute political consciousness led him to make 'the treatment of the homosexual a test by which every political party and government must be judged.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 10:06 AM

Derek.

Derek "Derek, a fragmentary portrait of the British filmmaker, painter, set designer and writer Derek Jarman, is a cinematic scrapbook of the life and times of an iconoclast, aesthete and provocateur who died of AIDS in 1994," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Assembled by the director Isaac Julien, the fragments are clustered around a poetic epistle, 'Letter to an Angel,' written by Mr Jarman's friend Tilda Swinton and published in the Guardian in 2002."

Updated through 6/12.

"But where angels go, trouble follows," warns Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "On the page, Swinton's elegy is moving; hearing her deliver phrases like 'but our souls droop without the bittersweet touch of something we might recognize,' the effect is fruity and turgid."

At MoMA, from today through Monday.

The series Of Angels and Apocalypse: The Cinema of Derek Jarman runs at the nwFilmCenter in Portland from July 11 through 31.

Earlier: Brian Darr and others from Sundance; Dennis Lim in the NYT.

Update: For Artforum, Brian Sholis sketches an overview of the life, then adds, "Julien's film, more homage than full biographical study, is an affected yet affecting collage, sure to help stave off, if only for a short while, the narrator's assertion near the end of Blue: 'In time, / No one will remember our work / Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud.'"

Update, 6/10: Slant's Ed Gonzalez finds it a "shame" that "Julien, whose previous multimedia tributes to Jarman have imaginatively overlapped the man's experimentalism with his personality, here presents his story with such generic linearity. Derek is a sincere and succinct snapshot, though its singular subject might have taken issue with its stylistic conventionality."

Update, 6/12: Armond White in the New York Press on Derek and Chris & Don: "These gay documentaries show more loving than today's gay film fiction."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:31 AM | Comments (3)

Reframe.

Reframe "The nonprofit Tribeca Film Institute in New York is joining Amazon.com to create a digital marketplace for films and videos that have been stuck in archives with limited circulation or have been otherwise unavailable through conventional retail and Web outlets," reports Michael Cieply in the New York Times.

"Opening its digital doors today," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, Reframe is backed by a million dollars in grants from the MacArthur Foundation, and includes a partnership with CreateSpace and Amazon aimed at digitizing and delivering - on DVD or via Amazon's Unbox service - films from leading indie, documentary, foreign and experimental filmmakers."

And, via Scott Kirsner, the Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein explains how the filmmakers and/or rights-holders get paid.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:47 AM

Fests and events, 6/9.

Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes First, an online studying tip. For those who read Spanish, Tren de sombras looks awfully inviting, but they do have a chart that works in any language, one you'll likely want to spend some time with. Dozens of films that screened at Cannes 08 are given star-rankings by the likes of Scott Foundas, Jean-Michel Frodon, Christoph Hubert and Kent Jones.

Michael Guillén has a good long talk with Matthew Kennedy about his biography, Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes: Parts 1 and 2. The series Joan Blondell: The Fizz on the Soda runs at the Pacific Film Archive from Friday through June 29.

Update, 6/11: "Kennedy's paean to Blondell is reminiscent of Roland Barthes's poetic 1957 short essay, 'The Face of Garbo,'" writes Erik Morse in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "But whereas Garbo's face represents for Barthes an eternal, unforgettable synecdoche of Hollywood, Blondell's mystique lies mostly in her erasure. What became of this celluloid icon whose image once defined an era but has since been lost in the canister?"

"In recent years [Adam] Cvijanovic, 47, has become known for his 'wallpaper' painting installations, which typically render a landscape (a 52-foot-wide meadow, say, or a 21-foot-high glacier) at a relatively monumental size," writes Carol Kino. "But this time he has tackled a more mythic monument: DW Griffith's 1916 silent epic Intolerance, in particular the portion that unfolds in the court of ancient Babylon." Adam Cvijanovic's Colossal Spectacle is on view at the Bellwether Gallery through July 3.

Also in the New York Times: Following its well-recieved premiere at Sundance, The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) screens this coming weekend at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (through June 26) before opening in November. For the New York Times, Dennis Lim talks with director Ellen Kuras (also an accomplished cinematographer) about why the documentary has taken 23 years to complete. For much of that time, "I saw it as a personal project that didn't need a definitive end," she explains. Then: "There were parallels between Laos and what was happening in El Salvador in the 80s. And now there are parallels again with Iraq. It was important to finish the film now."

Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image

The 2008 Conference of the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image happens Wednesday through Sunday. David Bordwell: "In over forty sessions, researchers will be talking about how we respond to movies, TV shows, and videogames. How has digital imagery changed our experience of cinema? How does film music enhance our emotional response to the story? How do films guide our visual attention to one part of the screen, and how much do viewers differ in this? How do we respond when movie characters behave inconsistently?"

The Edinburgh International Film Festival, running June 18 through 29, will host "the most comprehensive Shirley Clarke retrospective ever, including rarely seen shorts and hard-to-trace documentary footage of the director herself," reports Susan Mansfield for the Scotsman. Via Movie City News.

In Good, Patrick James reports on Women in the City, a viral public art exhibition infecting all of Los Angeles.

The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality and the Moving Image, Part II: Realisms, at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden from June 19 through September 7.

Cynthia Rockwell has a brief preview of Silverdocs, running June 16 through 23.

Hal Ashbys 70s

Attendance was up this year at the Transylvania International Film Festival (TIFF) in Cluj, "drawn principally, I suspect, by the recent mini-renaissance of Romanian films," blogs Ronald Bergan for the Guardian. "If they were expecting to find another The Death of Mr Lazarescu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or 12:08 East of Bucharest, they would have been disappointed. Nevertheless, there were enough signs to indicate that Romanian cinema is still a force to be reckoned with, despite some curious anomalies."

James Crawford, blogging for Reverse Shot, doesn't seem to have warmed up to either Sydney or Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky.

Brian Darr in San Francisco: "Two museum screening rooms on opposite sides of Third Street between Mission and Howard have posted more information about their summer film schedules."

"The setting is the story at the Explorers Club Film Festival, which kicks off its sixth edition on Friday evening at the organization's New York headquarters with a revival of George Lowe's classic 1953 adventure documentary The Conquest of Everest. S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:17 AM

Encounters at the End of the World.

Encounters at the End of the World First, an online viewing tip. With In Spring, Jamie Stuart takes his glorious crusade against the mind-numbing yet all-pervasive celebrity interview to a new and unusual and funny place. Update, 6/10: Frustrating news, via Karina Longworth: Jamie's felt compelled to remove In Spring and post, in its place, a note on the irony.

Werner Herzog "is a driven man—self-dramatizing, unafraid to pose metaphysical questions, unembarrassed (I surmise) at occasionally sounding like a crackpot," writes David Edelstein in New York. "At first, his newest film, Encounters at the End of the World, is unusually detached, rambling in its approach to the setting - Antarctica's McMurdo Station - and the sundry eccentrics who reside there.... But midway through, an eerier theme creeps in, all the more powerful for Herzog's lack of insistence. By the 'end of the world' he means the end of the world."

Updated through 6/13.

"Given its thematic and visual echoes with not only The Wild Blue Yonder but also The White Diamond, Encounters sometimes comes off as minor Herzog," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Yet intoxicatingly poetic and profound, it's nonetheless also vital, offering an experience that - as with much of the director's superlative nonfiction work - is best summed up by a phrase seen carved in a McMurdo wood banister: 'I sink into bliss.'"

"While Herzog refuses to keep a straight face, he does take Antarctica seriously," notes Matt Riviera. "Underneath the absurd jokes and irreverent tone lies a potent warning about the folly of men, the fragility of the planet and the sombre truth that our species has an expiry date stamped all over it."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Herzog "about the genesis of his latest expedition, fainting at Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, and the need for documentaries in a world filled with video games, virtual realities, the internet, Photoshop, WrestleMania and breast implants."

Earlier: David N Meyer in the Brooklyn Rail; Christopher Long in Cineaste; Herzog's been a recent guest on the Leonard Lopate Show; and reviews from Toronto.

Updates: "There's no diminishing Antarctica, with its gaping lava lake and mountains that kiss the clouds, but Herzog does something extraordinary in demystifying a continent that hosts small pockets of dreamers, and that the rest of us see only in our dreams," writes Victoria Large at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "It is the inclusion of both the ordinary and the extraordinary in Herzog's film that makes it what it is. To focus on one at the expense of the other would make for a far less nuanced film, and a far less accurate depiction of Antarctica, or, more specifically, of its uncommon denizens."

"Encounters at the End of the World seems to be a conscious attempt on [Herzog's] part to deconstruct the myth of adventurism that so much early Antarctic exploration (and western expansion in general and, well, modern popular cinema) has always thrived on," writes Brandon Harris.

Updates, 6/10: "Encounters lacks the profundity and the sublime impact of the director's other work," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "This is one Herzog film in which his famed voice-over simply isn't the most intriguing take on the images. The strongest part of the anecdotal sketch comes from the particular brand of hard-to-categorize thinkers, drifters, and dreamers who end up at the bottom of the world, and their patient responses to Mr Herzog's grumpy questioning."

Aaron Hillis talks with Herzog for the IFC. They seem to be having a pretty good time - and by the way, Herzog knocks down those Bad Lieutenant "remake" rumors down once, but by his own admission, probably not for all.

Updates, 6/11: "If this were a nature documentary like any other, the casual talk about global warming and other calamities might cast shadows across this bright expanse," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But there's something about Mr Herzog - including the accidental if now well-practiced comedy that colors even his most dramatic pronouncements - that inevitably keeps his pictures from growing too dark. One reason is beauty, which in his hands has a way of keeping the worst at bay; it is, after all, hard to fully despair in the face of so much of the natural world's splendors."

J Hoberman cleverly packs Encounters and Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg into a single piece for the Voice: "Both movies are personal travelogues, wintry in their humor and Nordic in their aggravated sense of impending doom; both feature the director as intrepid, not entirely reliable tour guide."

"I find it easy to get frustrated with Herzog, if only because I doubt I'll ever like what he's doing now in quite the same way, or quite as much, as anything from his otherworldy-good Signs of Life (1968) to God's Angry Man (1980) streak," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. " may be in the minority, but Herzog's subjects interest me far more than Herzog himself, or his musings on them.... [W]atch (or rewatch) Land of Silence and Darkness for a sense of the mystery that's been lost."

"Too frequently Herzog overshadows subjects by narcissistically filtering the world through his enormous ego, but criticizing that is like criticizing Hemingway's take-on-all-comers bluster," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "Like it or not, it's where his unique strength lies."

Updates, 6/12: Nearly every review mentions this moment, but Slate's Dana Stevens gives it a nice twist: "Visiting a colony of the continent's native birds, he observes a single male setting out for a mountain range in the opposite direction from his colony and the ocean that's his only source of food. As a scientist notes that the maverick bird is headed to certain death, Herzog leaves the camera on the tiny black figure waddling toward the horizon: the Klaus Kinski of penguins."

"It is a futile act, perhaps, to reject one's life in the hopes of finding something else, but it is an act that Herzog admires," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "He doesn't fully know what this penguin is thinking–maybe the animal simply became deranged–but its suicidal mission supports Herzog's lifelong belief that nature is inexplicably cruel and unforgiving."

"There's a sense that Herzog is at least beginning to try to sum himself up, that he's (quite improbably) worried about his legacy," writes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door:

But there's still a few blank spots and things undone left to fill in. Late in the film, he pours an unexpected amount of scorn on one Ashrita Furman, a man whose sole goal is to set multiple world records. Having probably set a few unofficially himself, Herzog seems to be bothered by people who do things just to say they've done them (unlike his sensationalist feats, presumably all performed in a disingenuous spirit), and he responds to Furman's assertion that Antarctica is like the moon with a severe rejoinder that it's "not the moon, even though it sometimes feels like it." At first, I thought "How does he know? He's never been." Then it hit me: WE HAVE TO SEND WERNER INTO SPACE. We owe him, and ourselves, that much.

Updates, 6/13: "Encounters at the End of the World is diffuse by nature, bouncing around aimlessly rather than focusing on the strong central subjects that drove superior films like Grizzly Man and Little Dieter Needs to Fly," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"Herzog's take on the exterior landscapes may lack focus, but the keen attention he pays to interior geographies is perfect compensation," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson talks with Herzog for the IDA. Via Movie City News.

"[T]he film seems only one more step on Herzog's path to living oddity," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Encounters at the End of the World is just that: a series of encounters that never quite focus or go into depth on any particular subject."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:03 AM | Comments (3)

June 8, 2008

Brooklyn Rail. June 08.

Brooklyn Rail June 08 "[T]his year a fascinating trend continues to emerge amidst the hyperbolic genre explosions the fest is known for: stream of consciousness slices of life, those who like a little representation with all that mythological presentation." Make the first click into the new issue of the Brooklyn Rail the roundup on the New York Asian Film Festival: David Wilentz on Fine Totally Fine, Dainipponjin, The Rebel, The Sparrow and Adrift in Tokyo; David N Meyer on M and Sukiyaki Western Django; and Lu Chen on Assembly.

"Where Have All the Film Critics Gone?" Vincent Rossmeier asks around - and keeps coming back to Michael Atkinson.

Williams Cole and Shahnaz Habib present "a spring roundup of some documentaries that are premiering theatrically, available on DVD or included in festivals like the ever-important Human Rights Watch International Film Festival," running from June 12 through 26: Letter to Anna, Operation Filmmaker, Without the King, A Jihad for Love, Iron Ladies of Liberia, Who Killed Martin Luther King?, We Are Wizards and One Small Step: The Story of the Space Chimps.

"There's no two ways about it," declares David N Meyer: "Werner Herzog has become an old poot. A Wagnerian, Nietzschian old poot, but an old poot nonetheless. Werner rails - old poot-like - against 'tree-huggers and whale huggers' and describes as 'an abomination' the fact that workers living in the no nighttime summer of the McMurdo Center in Anarctica practice yoga and aerobics. He sounds like Grandpa on The Simpsons.... Encounters at the End of the World is, simply, a travelogue in the old poot style."

"Clayton Patterson, a self proclaimed 'artist and documentarian,' best known for his footage of the Tompkins Square Riots of 1988, has been a ubiquitous presence in the Lower East Side since the early 1980s. He has since meticulously documented the characters and events of this legendary neighborhood, recently classified as 'endangered' by the National Trust for Historic Preservation." A profile by Jericho Parms.

Blue Planet

"Franco Piavoli's films, praised by greats such as Bertolucci, Brakhage and Tarkovsky are unique, falling somewhere between Italian Neo-Realism and extreme formalism," writes Mary Hanlon. "Virtually free of dialogue, and sans subtitles, Piavoli draws the viewer into his world with images of nature-turned-abstract through his experimental editing techniques and eye for the fantastic." Celebrating the Earth: The Films of Franco Piavoli not only runs at Anthology Film Archives from Thursday through June 15 but also at the nwFilmCenter in Portland in July.

Sarahjane Blum on Dreams With Sharp Teeth: "In the 25+ years since [Erik] Nelson first toyed with making a documentary about [Harlan] Ellison, he enjoyed a steadily rising career as TV and film producer (highlighted by Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man). Yet his approach to showcasing Ellison remains that of late adolescent hero worship. It's a fitting tribute, as Ellison is touched by the loving attention in a way few successful authors seem to be."

Makenna Goodman on Sex and the City: "It's your thirty-year high school reunion on the big screen, only with screwing, for two and half hours."

Rachel Balik on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: "The movie is a bit too self-conscious to provide any real tension or dramatic intrigue."

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

Kino Fist. Work.

Kino Fist The latest print edition of Kino Fist is out, and infinite thØught indexes a handful of pieces online.

In her essay on Le Sang de bêtes, Emmy Hennings quotes director Georges Franju: "I didn't make this film because I was particularly interested in the subject of slaughterhouses but because the Vaurigard and La Villette slaughterhouses are circled by the Ourcq Canal, and by what were the Porte de Vanves vacant lots. So in other words, the location of the slaughterhouses allowed me not just to document them, but to make a documentary film."

Updated through 6/9.

"Blue Collar, made in 1978, is colour-blind in a way that is inconceivable in contemporary cinema," writes Carl Neville, after noting: "While Springsteen and Mellencamp on the radio might address your fears and sell you the Capraesque romance of the small man against the mighty Corporation, the dream of escape, the open highway, 'Thunder road,' the only Promised Land that the working stiffs in Blue Collar are going to case is the local Union Office and its ungaurded safe. No-one is going anywhere here and there is only one real concern, money, and the desperate need for more of it."

"Godard's own estimation of his Dziga Vertov group is uncannily close to the very framework and terminology employed by Rancière," notes Alberto Toscano in a piece that considers the period that begins with La Chinoise and closes with Tout va bien. "As he and Gorin remark about Letter to Jane: 'This is an aesthetic, this is a movie dealing with aesthetics understood as a category of politics....'"

"Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a critical essay on the corrosive nature of 'work' - specifically, the invisible work performed by women," writes Dave McDougall, who then elaborates on the film's "two major conceptual frameworks for 'work' that contrast with the cusp-of-'68, Maoism-inflected works of Jean-Luc Godard."

"If in the early days of Hollywood (and of film) it was still possible to depict the production process in all its misery, it is because the industrialization of labour, and the ideological mystery-making machinery of global capitalism, was itself less sophisticated, its reach further from total," writes Boris Knezevic. "As the production process disappears from the view of consumers in the West, its disappearance is 'recorded' on film, indexed by its absence."

Updates, 6/9: Owen Hatherley presents a "Short History of the Refusal of Work as a Revolutionary Strategy" and, as noted earlier, infinite thØught on Marin Karmitz's 1972 Coup pour Coup (Blow for Blow).

Posted by dwhudson at 4:23 AM

June 7, 2008

Open Roads. Round 2.

James Van Maanen's takes on three narrative features and three documentaries screening in this year's Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series.

Valzer

Given the number of movies I watch now, the thrill of discovering something cinematically new occurs rather seldom (the last time was Jaime Rosales's Solitary Fragments from 2007). I just had the experience again, while viewing Salvatore Maira's The Waltz (Valzer).

This thrilling combination of ideas (touching on sports, cosmetic surgery, marketing and control) and an unusual visual notion - it's been done previously in spurts and in at least one full-length film, Russian Ark - is here coupled to a narrative rich in plot and character, past and present. The result is an amazement that, thankfully, becomes much more than mere technical achievement.

If you're familiar with Russian Ark, you will have guessed that The Waltz is another movie composed of a single, continuous shot that comprises the entire, feature-length film. The camera moves from person to person, room to room, inside to outside with nary an edit. So what? In Russian Ark, we were in the Hermitage, looking at all that spectacular art, meeting historical characters, and being led around by a charming, slightly naughty tour guide. In The Waltz, the technical achievement - and it remains quite an achievement - is matched by a grand conception and dialogue that had me hanging on almost every word - listening hard and marveling at the intelligence, irony, cynicism and caring and daring on display.

Writer-director Maira has brought us today's world via the venue of one posh Italian hotel, with guests representing the "haves" and workers the "have-nots." The roving camera gives the film a continuous fluidity - as well as an immediacy - different from what editing might have achieved. It also blends and binds all the characters and plot strands into a seamless, horrible w/hole. The most daring and amazing part of the film, for me, is the manner in which Maira manages to take us into not just the present moment, but the past, too - with his camera still roving. He has performed the cinema equivalent of a stunning coup de théâtre.

Valzer

The story comes directly and urgently from the characters on view: specifically, a father just released from a South American prison, and the young woman, one of the hotel staff, with whom he has an unusual connection. There is a missing girl, a conference devoted to the idea of first controlling soccer and then an entire populace, the immigrant as work force, and a moment of memorably shocking violence. Don't worry: It's bereft of the torture and gore found in the Saw and Hostel franchises; instead it's Maira's technique that gives the scene such immediacy and force.

Through it all, Maira opens us up to ideas about the meaning of family, blood and the insider/outsider; the connection between service people and the acting profession; and most importantly, how the ideas we hear spouted by a "marketing/psychology" guru have taken their toll on a one young woman who becomes the tragic personification of everything our guru is saying. Amidst the rich and pointed dialogue, there is one moment I wish were gone: a cheap reference to a reality show set inside a concentration camp. Reality shows have long lost their use as satire. But this is such a minor quibble when set against Maira's achievement.

For anyone interested in cinema that expands and experiments while remaining accessible, exciting and even moving, there is no more bracing current example than The Waltz. It screens at the Walter Reade on Sunday, June 8, at noon and Wednesday, June 11 at 4:15 pm.


Ms F A love story above all else, but one so grounded in its time and events that it also becomes a film about economics, politics and class-consciousness, Ms F (Signorina Effe) is set during the 1980 factory workers' strike against the automotive behemoth FIAT. An assembly-line worker and a low-level manager set off sparks from which a film rises that should appeal to fans of romance as well as to those who have more of a taste for politics and labor relations.

I am not certain that either audience will be fully satisfied, however, for the film keeps crossing boundaries that are not easily breached. The characters are complex; they switch sides on occasion and screw things up, mostly for themselves. Within a single family, a number of differing attitudes toward this famous strike come to the fore, not to mention the attitude of the interloper who wants to carry off the family's younger, upwardly-mobile daughter. The daughter herself, as attracted as she is to this new love, seems almost equally appalled by her desires - and by the object of them. The disposition of her former boyfriend (who doubles as her boss at the factory) also grows more complex as the movie continues.

The strike and its aftermath helped create the current labor situation in Italy, and I suspect that the movie will be a must-see for those who also catch Francesca Domenici's documentary In the Factory (another Open Roads feature this year) which also addresses the 1980 strike as part of its survey of Italian factory life post-WWII. (Both movies, I believe, use some of the same documentary footage.) Ms F is a short film but it is packed with characters possessed of immense feeling and barely-suppressed rage - toward their situation, toward others, often toward themselves. Director/co-writer Wilma Labate was wise to concentrate on her characters above all: There is enough dissension and drama within the three-generation family shown here, and with the factory worker and his roommate (who begins dating older sister in the family) to fill out this feature - and a few others. Yet Labate keeps her movie from veering into melodrama and she consistently gives everything - management, labor, sex, love, family, friendship - a clear-eyed view and proper respect.

The director is helped enormously by her capable cast. The younger daughter Emma is played by rising Italian actress Valeria Solarino, from this year's The Waltz and last year's Secret Journey. Solarino is among the more beautiful actresses working today. I'm not certain how expansive her range may be, since the three roles in which I've observed her call for characters of limited expression: quiet, reserved, watchful. Within this framework, however, she is quite wonderful, and Filippo Timi as her new paramour is equally good, as open and fiery as Solarino is subdued. Together, these two make memorable lovers. The third side of the triangle is well-played by Fabrizio Gifuni, also seen this year (and from very different angles) in The Sweet and the Bitter and The Girl by the Lake.

The FIAT strike, fleshed out so interestingly in Ms F, was a kind of turning point - downhill - and not just for Italy but for European workers in general. I would guess that the tearing of the societal/familial fabric that the film observes has had long-term consequences. Labate's finale, as close to perfect as any movie ending I have seen since Once, brings the point home with a combination of reticence, pain and tact that will leave viewers, as it does its characters, holding their breath.

Ms F screens at the Walter Reade on Sunday, June 8, at 4pm and Wednesday, June 11, at 6:15 pm.


The Right Distance Something about "a prophet being ignored by his own country" comes to mind, when one considers Carlo Mazzacurati's splendid film The Right Distance (La giusta distanza), which seems to have won not a single award anywhere and yet it is so far superior in every aspect to the multi-award winner, The Girl by the Lake, as to boggle the mind. Its setting is similar - a small Italian town near water - and there are other similarities, which, to protect you from "spoilers," I will not address here. Instead I'll concentrate on why you should stick this little gem on your list.

First off, who is the protagonist here? In fact, there are two, maybe three, and that breaks certain "rules" of dramaturgy. But co-writer (with Doriana Leondeff) and director Mazzacurati breaks them with such ease and generosity that I think you will gladly go where the filmmaker takes you. Perhaps the real hero is the town itself, which is, like so much of the west, going through growing pains as it takes new immigrants into its community.

Journalism, honesty, stalking (in various forms) and love all come into play in this unusual story, and the fact that the lines between right and wrong begin to fudge a little, then a lot, is all to the good. There is such a strong sense of the fullness, the richness of problematic humanity on display throughout this 105-minute film, all of it captured via so many telling details that the movie never for a moment grows uninteresting.

The actors do such a terrific job of bringing their characters to life that I think Mazzacurati and his casting director Jorgelina Depetris Pochintesta deserve particularly high marks. They've cast newcomer Giovanni Capovilla in the pivotal role of the youngster with journalistic tendencies, and Capovilla, naïve and smart in equal doses, surely delivers the goods. Valentina Lodovini and Ahmed Hefiane play, respectively, the town's new school teacher and car repair shop owner, and each brings so much to the film that they finally and necessarily commandeer it. Giuseppe Battiston (again!) is on hand as a pushy shop owner and Fabrizio Bentivoglio brings weight and class to his role as newspaper editor. Every last cast member rings true, as do the events that unfurl leisurely to our delight and dismay.

"The right distance" refers to the space between the journalist and his subject - not too close to intrude personally, but near enough to see and understand. This distance, like so much else in the movie - love, morality, responsibility - changes as necessary. What a fine film this is! The Right Distance screens at the Walter Reade on Sunday, June 8, at 6:15 pm and Tuesday, June 10, at 4:15 pm.


Biutiful Cauntri The FSLC's annual round-up of new and/or special Italian films usually offers an interesting documentary or two - and this year is no exception. As fascinating and schizophrenic as was last year's See Naples and Die (Enrico Caria's combination of rah-rah tourism and Mafia-like Camorra exposé, this year's Biùtiful Cauntri [site; Beppe Grillo], written/directed by Esmeralda Calabria, Andrea D'Ambrosio and Peppe Ruggiero, makes that one seem like high tea with your favorite Disney characters.

This 75-minute descent into Italian hell details what has happened to the Campagna region of the country, where currently reside some 1200 illegal toxic dumps. When I interviewed Italian director Daniele Luchetti in March (in advance of the US opening of My Brother Is an Only Child), he mentioned having just seen a very disturbing documentary about illegal dumping of toxic waste in the south of his country - and mentioned it as an example of why he believes that Italians are true anarchists: they simply won't/can't obey the law. Biùtiful Cauntri must have been the film he saw.

Oddly enough, there are no villains to be seen (some are heard via recorded phone calls) but plenty of victims, especially sheep - herds and herds of them - plus the water, everything that grows in the district, and of course, the people who live there. Most of them have lived there since birth, and so did their ancestors. One tired fellow explains that if you were to simply kill someone here, outright, with a gun or knife, you would be arrested. But killing the entire district in this manner that is ongoing produces nothing: no arrests, no stopping of the slow slaughter (it is well into its second - or is it third? - decade), only further "study" of the situation by the powers that be. Clearly organized crime is working with at least some of the politicians and elected officials to enable the illegal dumping.

I suspect that the reaction of many savvy Americans will be shock and disgust, empathy, and perhaps a slight nod to the fact that, as horrific as has been the past 8 years of the Bush administration, even America has not achieved something as despicable on its own soil as what we see here. Little wonder that the investigating fellow we see most often throughout the film keeps hitting the steering wheel of his car, swearing and screaming to himself (and the camera) about the lunacy, the impossibility of it all. This film - and the situation it examines - is frustration writ huge.

Biùtiful Cauntri screens at the Walter Reade Theater on Monday, June 9, at 7:15 pm and Thursday, June 12, at 2 pm.


In Fabbrica Much quieter but perhaps no less frustrated are many of the faces and voices that pass through In the Factory (In Fabbrica), the documentary by Francesca Comencini (daughter of Luigi Comencini and director of I Like to Work, which was shown at Open Roads several years ago) that offers us the post-WWII history of the factory in Italy - and the people who have labored within it. The film begins with black-and-white footage from past decades, starting after the Second World War and continuing through the "economic miracle" of the late 50s and early 60s, the student/worker unrest of the late 6os into the 70s (a period that saw the rise of the Red Brigades).

In the 80s, the film switches to color, and soon the color of the workers begins to change, too. Toward the end, more women than men are seen at work, along with a heavily immigrant population. What's most fascinating about this documentary are the visuals of the various decades, along with the comments made by workers protesting, at almost all points along the way, their working conditions. Whether it be the southerners who have come north, only to find no decent accommodations in which to live, or the women who wonder at the men's behavior or at how they are expected to work and raise a family on so little income, the filmmaker allows the people to have their voice, rather than spoon-feeding her viewpoint to us (although in fairness, they are probably one in the same).

Fiat and Alfa Romeo are two of the largest factories featured, and while the documentary sticks mostly to the workers and their attitudes, we can't help but wonder about the men at the controls. We we see little of them, but the inequality between underling and overseer leaves its mark.

In the Factory screens at the Walter Reade Theater Sunday, June 8, at 2:10 pm and Wednesday, June 11, at 2:30 pm.


Blue Planet I'll leave it to others to debate whether Franco Piavoli's Blue Planet (Il Pianeta azzurro) is a documentary film in the strictest sense, an essay or a highly unusual narrative. Beginning with shot after shot of water dripping as snow melts, this is an unusual look at our world from an Italian filmmaker who seems to justifiably cherish the earth above all else. After a few minutes of nothing but water, I began to think I would not last throughout the full hour and a half. But then Piavoli begins to take in plant life, then animal life... Even after all the amazing documentary footage we've seen in the intervening quarter-century since Blue Planet was first screened, Pivoli's eye still amazes. There is one segment showing various copulating animal life (including mankind) that is riveting, as though some alien was recording all this to take back to his home planet. Copulation is followed by one species feasting upon another; the day goes on; man's labor is recorded, too. Then it is night: mealtime, and sleep (with dream/nightmares) and a distanced look at man's unconscious.

When day returns, it seems we're in another season, then autumn folds into winter. Somewhere in here, the soundtrack, which has eschewed any music (other than that of the actual sounds of the world we are watching), is suddenly bursting with a full orchestra. Maybe I get Piavoli's point, but, still, this does not seem necessary. The film ends with a wonderful and appropriate quote from Lucretius.

As Blue Planet is seeing its New York premiere during Open Roads, I suspect you'll want to sample its pleasures. It plays only once at the Walter Reade Theater (Tuesday, June 10, at 6:30 pm), but then opens for a commercial run at Two Boots Pioneer Theater on Friday, June 13, where it will be shown nightly at 7 and 9 pm. In addition, Anthology Film Archives has scheduled an entire series, Celebrating the Earth: The Films of Franco Piavoli, running from June 12 through June 15, including Blue Planet, Nostos: The Return, Voices Through Time and At the First Breath of Wind. Each film runs approximately 90 minutes, and Piavoli himself will appear and answer questions after several of the screenings.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:58 PM

Dino Risi, 1916 - 2008.

Dino Risi
Italian film director Dino Risi, who chronicled the bittersweet and lighter side of Italy's post-war economic boom, died on Saturday....

Among his most famous films were Poveri ma Belli (Poor Girl, Pretty Girl) and Il Sorpasso (The Easy Life). His 1974 film Profumo di Donna (Scent of a Woman), won two Oscar nominations....

He was one of the directors who helped advance the careers of stars such as Sophia Loren and the late Vittorio Gassman.

Philip Pullella, Reuters.

See also: Wikipedia, in English and Italian, and YouTube.

Update, 6/9: Risi directed "some of the sharpest and most widely seen comedies of the postwar era," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "In the early 1950s, Italian cinema was turning away from the politically charged movement known as neorealism, with its harsh, documentary-like depiction of daily life. Adding an element of sentimentality and comedy, Mr Risi joined a group of filmmakers who at first were condemned with the label 'rose-colored neorealism,' but quickly earned the affection of an Italian public eager to put war trauma in the past."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:06 AM

June 6, 2008

Open Roads. Round 1.

James Van Maanen offers a first round of takes on films screening as part of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, running through Thursday.

The Girl by the Lake

Last year's big winner at the David di Donatello awards (roughly, Italy's equivalent of the Oscars) was Giuseppe Tornatore's sometimes florid but hugely effective The Unknown Woman. I suppose it is understandable for the voters to swing from one extreme to another - baroque and flamboyant to restrained and plain - but after viewing Andrea Molaioli's The Girl by the Lake (La ragazza del lago), which won ten Davids, including Best Picture, Actor, Director and Screenplay. (The Unknown Woman won only five.) I am flummoxed. Completely.

The movie is gorgeous to look at (it won Best Cinematography, too), and certainly begins well enough, with a red herring that effectively creeps us out, while leading into the real story - of which I shall give little away. My complaints, after reaching the end of this extremely convoluted tale, have to do with characterization (damn little, and what there is not always that believable), coincidence (an ending, which may have you muttering: "Are you telling me that she just happened to pass by at precisely the moment when...?"), the use of far too easy and by now tiresome tropes (the detective with a key family member suffering from Alzheimer's: the movie will have you more fondly recalling Away From Her), and a directing/acting style that, by the finale, seems to have taken "restrained" into some territory that approaches Zombie Land. This seems particularly true of the performance of Toni Servillo, who won the Best Actor award. (I'm all for "subtle," but it's been awhile since I felt such an urge to smack an actor across the face, simply to see him achieve a different expression.)

We're used to small town life being portrayed as relatively nasty, but what we see here seems all that plus strange and unconnected. Everyone has his or her secret, but one begins to wonder if any of these people have ever been introduced to each other, so utterly detached do they seem. (Another film in Open Roads, The Right Distance, to be reviewed later, offers a much richer, more nuanced and believable look at a small Italian town.)

I am perhaps being too hard on The Girl by the Lake (a bushel of awards can goose expectations to the breaking point), as there are certainly reasons to appreciate the movie. But the very qualities that make the first half of the film seem rich and strange - subtlety, chance, confusion and secrecy - grow faintly ridiculous when continually piled on with a trowel.

The Girl by the Lake will be screened once more on Saturday, June 7, at 4:15 pm.


Don't Think About It The story of an adult returning to the "womb" of family has given us any number of interesting films, from countries all around the world, and in modes comic, tragic and romantic. To the long list, add Don't Think About It (Non Pensarci), co-writer (with Michele Pellegrini) and director Gianni Zanasi's first film in eight years. I wonder what he's been doing since he wrote, directed and starred in Fuori di mi in 1999. Regardless: the wait was worth it, for his new movie is a low-key, funny, generally charming - if a bit predictable - look at what happens to an aging rock musician after he suddenly decides to visit his family back home.

If the moment in which this decision is made appears arbitrary (it seems to happen out of the blue in a little supermarket), it makes perfect sense later in the film, after you've learned more about his family and what they do. This moment reflects well Zanasi's style: He gives you information quickly and off the cuff; later, you realize how handy and useful it is as you piece together character and events.

Our anti-hero, Stefano, is played by Valerio Mastandrea, also seen this year in Night Bus. Here again he is a relatively quiet, unassuming guy: pleasant enough, perhaps, and certainly more sophisticated than the rest of the family - until you begin to perceive all his flaws. Watching Stefano and his family interact, as he presumes one thing after another - often incorrectly - is to witness something that will probably hit close to home for many of us "sophisticates" who make occasional forays back to family.

The rest of Zanasi's cast is exemplary, as well: from parents to grandkids and especially the two siblings, played by the smart and sensual Anita Caprioli (from Santa Maradona, shown at Open Roads '02) and Giuseppe Battiston, who is simply ubiquitous these days. With major roles at this year's festival here, in The Right Distance and in Days and Clouds, he also appeared in the best film of last year's fest, One Out of Two, and in Don't Tell and Agatha and the Storm. At times you may wonder if Signore Battiston, always good and quite different from role to role, is the only heavy-set actor currently working in Italy. No matter. Pound for pound, he lights up the screen and makes us laugh, cry and sometime wince.

Don't Think About It screens once again on Sunday, June 8, at 8:45 pm.


Days and Clouds It does not seem that long ago that Silvio Soldini's enormously popular movie about life, change and a sort of Italian women's liberation, Bread and Tulips, took the international movie world by storm. That was only eight years ago, but it was pre-9/11 and well before the western world's economic decline. This is the point at which Soldini's newest film, Days and Clouds (Giorni e nuvole) arrives like a punch in the gut. Its subject matter, in a kind of reverse reading of Bread and Tulips' anything-is-possible scenario, fits our current times as neatly as Cinderella's slipper - if that rags-to-riches scullery maid's story had played out in reverse.

The movie, about a bourgeois Italian couple's economic decline, is as quietly harrowing as last year's Will Smith vehicle The Pursuit of Happyness was over the top. Full of small but real details that build into something sad and seemingly unstoppable, the film is grounded by its honest perceptions, fine writing, unshowy direction, and strong performances all-round. The cast is led by the enormously empathetic Margherita Buy (Fuori dal mondo/Not of This World, Ignorant Fairies/His Secret Life, Caterina in the Big City and this year's Saturn in Opposition), who won Italy's Best Actress award for this role, and Antonio Albanese, who has the more difficult part - because it is less obviously sympathetic - of the husband. The two make a very real couple, and we root for them continuously, often wanting to bang some heads - maybe our own, but particularly his. Alba Rohrwacher, who plays the couple's daughter Alice, brings a fine dose of sass and smarts to the film, for which she took home Italy's Best Supporting Actress Award.

Days and Clouds is all the more frustrating because of the reality it insists on revealing. Of course, unemployment leads to a poor self-image, and from there to depression. Of course, taking on a second job is going to tire one out completely. Next? Yet because the film is constructed with enough movement, change and interesting secondary characters - the daughter and her boyfriend, the workmen from Dad's former business - it carries us along and then, finally, lifts us up. To Soldini's and his co-writers' credit, the movie does not go "sentimental." It provides not a smidgen more hope than is actually called for, yet manages to leave its couple (and us viewers) in a sudden, if temporary, state of grace. The road ahead? Not likely to be easy. For any of us.

Days and Clouds screens at the Walter Reade Theater Friday, June 6, at 6:30 pm and Thursday, June 10, at 2 pm. Good news: Film Movement has picked this one up for a limited theatrical release on July 11, followed eventually by one on DVD.


Piano, solo Making a movie about a nut case is always risky. Creative folk do seem to love to give it a go, however, perhaps because of the fine line said to exist between the artist and the lunatic. There's such opportunity for drama, passion, psychosis, plus the ever-popular prospect of winning awards that "playing crazy" often offers. The downside arrives in convincing the viewer that our round-the-bend hero or heroine is actually worth that much of our time. Bad behavior from someone who can't control it may grow tedious. It's a big help, however if he/she is/was famous, and it's here that Piano, solo (inspired use of the comma!) proves on target.

Pianist/composer Luca Flores (1956 - 1995) was one of Italy's great jazz musicians. Since I don't follow jazz, I had never heard of him, but this movie about Flores, directed and co-written by Riccardo Milani (from a book by Walter Veltroni, Rome's recent Mayor and noted film buff), did pull me in and hold me in thrall - even though it does fall prey from time to time to the aforementioned downside. It's hard to distill any single life into 100 minutes, and when the life in question seems filled with more crazy moments than sane, it's even more difficult.

Signore Milani, who four years ago at Open Roads gave us the truly wonderful Il Posto dell' anima, gets a number of things right, starting with his lead actor Kim Rossi Stuart. Together, the actor and director bring this character beautifully to life, without overdoing a single moment yet making clear how disturbed - and aware of it, too - this talented and hugely creative young man really was. Rossi Stuart is not yet 40, and already he's acted in nearly that many film and TV productions, as well as having written/directed his first film, Anche libero va bene, seen at last year's Open Roads.

Because of the immense beauty of his face, I've always thought that this was the actor, maybe the only one of his generation, who could easily slip on the mantel of Alain Delon. But Rossi Stuart's choice of projects has ranged far and wide (from Crime Novel to The Keys to the House, TV's Uno bianca to Antonioni's Beyond the Clouds), requiring both acting chops and a decision not to continually fall back on popular mainstream choices. In Piano, solo, he delivers on his promise: He's as profound and real as he is gorgeous. (Flores himself was a very good-looking guy, so this is not one of those cases in which the moviemakers have cast a god to play a dog.)

If everything else were as fine as this performance (and many of the supporting roles are indeed handled well), the movie might have been a winner, rather than simply okay. But what the writers and director have chosen to offer us from Luca's life is not enough. We see the character as a child, clearly a bit disturbed, even before the accident that disturbs him even more, and then suddenly he's an adult with deeper and more apparent problems. Perhaps the poor fellow never experienced much normal life. But since he had a career - and a good one - this seems a bit suspect. In any case, we watch the descent, as expected, with sadness and a little too much ability to predict. (The single great scene in the movie, worth the entire watch, is the one in which Luca auditions for music school. Combining music, acting, editing, the works, this is a can't-take-your-eyes-off-the-screen series of moments, convincing us that Luca Flores was indeed some kind of genius.)

In the supporting cast, Michele Placido gives yet another fine performance as the protagonist's father, with Sandra Ceccarelli (less seen) as his mom, newcomer Kristy McGovern, lovely as the closer sister, and Alba Rohrwacher (so good - and so different as to be almost unrecognizable - in Days and Clouds) as the more distant sibling.

Piano, solo will screen at the Walter Reade on Friday, June 6 at 9:15 pm and Monday, June 9, at 1 pm.


Immediately after viewing writer/director Stefano Coletta's debut feature An Unusual Time to Meet (Appuntamento a ora insolita), all I wanted to do was to learn more about the fellow who made this odd but immensely beguiling little movie. My first thought was that this is the work of a young man - the film is so fresh and speedy - who possesses surprising knowledge of film craft, as well as an understanding of how the older generation lives, loves and thinks. No: Coletta turns out to be a relatively well-known cinematographer (he shot one of my favorite unheralded Italian gems, Verso Nord [Without Conscience], which, if you have not seen, you should). Clearly, this middle-aged man has retained his understanding of youth - consequently, both generations depicted in his tender film are shown to fine effect.

Although Coletta tosses us immediately into the middle of things, he retains the kind of distanced view of his characters that allows us to see and understand them with compassion and without judgment. The young people, in particular, are not the sort of clichés you may be used to. They and their significant others don't handle things in any standard fashion. Yet they seem quite real, appropriately at sea, but with a wonderful will to make life work for them, somehow. Their parents - and the friends of their parents who complete the interesting ensemble - are having a bit more trouble with things, as age and the realization of missed opportunities that will not come again take their toll.

Politics and philosophy are tossed into the mix but with a lighter hand than is oft found in films about the bourgeoisie. Of course these are significant, Coletta seems to be saying, but they are just a part of a larger and more important picture: the flawed humanity we see before us, from which politics and philosophy stem, rather than the other way around.

An Unusual Time to Meet is rich with lovely little scenes. One of my favorites is a support-group encounter during which one character's means of employment comes to the fore. To be expected, given Coletta's history, the cinematography is everything that is called for. The musical score, too, is especially beautiful: rich and diverse but never intrusive. (I'd like to be able to praise the correct people here, but the screener I viewed had neither beginning nor end credits, and the film itself is not yet mentioned on the IMDB.) The 80-minute running time is surprisingly short, given how much territory Coletta covers. By the finale, we realize that we have come full circle visually so that we are back literally to the opening shots, though now, we know quite well who all these people are. At this point, with brevity and quiet emotion, the film simultaneously lifts off - and ends.

An Unusual Time to Meet screens at the Walter Reade on Saturday, June 7, at noon and Monday, June 9, at 5:20 pm.


The Sweet and the Bitter If you prefer movies that, rather than glamorizing the Mafia, nail it to the wall, look to Italy. For a while during Andrea Porporati's creepy but sadly believable The Sweet and the Bitter (Il dolce e l'amaro), I was afraid that Italian film, too, had gone the American glamour route. Here is all the easy living - sex, drugs, dames and disco lights - that can look awfully appealing to the young initiate, in this case played by one of the Italy's top stars, Luigi Lo Cascio.

Now 40, but with such tiny features within his youthful face, this fine actor can easily essay a 20-year-old when necessary. (He and France's Mathieu Amalric should someday play brothers.) In his first film, I cento passi (The Hundred Steps), Lo Cascio gave life to the late Peppino Impastato, the young man who sacrificed himself by going after the Sicilian Mafia. Now nearly a decade later, here he is playing another young man, one "blessed" with entrance into the upper echelon of the mob. (This actor seems to enjoy duality: in 2003 he made both The Best of Youth, in which he played the thoughtful, loving, law-abiding brother, and Good Morning, Night, playing one of the self-deceiving Red Brigade terrorists who killed Aldo Moro).

Written and directed by Porporati, The Sweet and the Bitter appears to break no new ground as it moves along its leisurely way, intercutting past and present and building up its story of Saro Scordia (Lo Cascio), his main squeeze (the excellent Donatella Finocchiaro) who cannot abide Saro's chosen profession, and the various friends, mobsters and lawmen who come in and out of his life. What separates the film from most American variations, however, is its viewpoint: bleak and finally unforgiving.

There's a proverb told a couple of times within the film (once by Saro's imprisoned father) about life offering both the sweet and the bitter. We see damn little of the former here, which is as it should be. The Mafia depicted here is filled with treachery and death, as underlings are used, abused and then thrown away - not to mention what happens to normal citizens (including children), cops and judges who get in its way. Justice tries, and is not only blind but helpless. Life, in the end, is as hollow as the laughter that rings out so darkly in the film's final scene.

The Sweet and the Bitter will screen Saturday, June 7, at 2 pm and Monday, June 9, at 9:30 pm.


Saturn in Opposition If you're lucky enough to have ever been part of a band of deeply close friends, then add writer/director Ferzan Ozpetek's new film Saturn in Opposition (Saturno Contro) to your must-see list immediately. We're speaking here of the kind of friends who can often predict each other's actions and words. Their sexualities span the spectrum, and they may have been lovers, or at least sex partners, prior to their friends-forever status. They are so caring and close that, should one of them introduce a new member to the group, he or she is simply accepted - no matter what. When these friends fight, they know each others' weak points, go for the jugular and bounce back: bloody, unbowed and more loving than before. And when something really bad happens, they unite; they're there.

Something really bad happens in Ozpetek's film, followed by guilt and grief, and perhaps the highest praise I can meekly bestow is to say that this Turkish-born, Italian director allows the viewer to become part of this wonderful group and thus experience the whole shebang with them. One of the most successful directors in present-day Italy, Ozpetek has made six interesting films, some better than others, but each a worthy addition to Italy's film canon. His new one is maybe the high point (I'll have to see it again before going all the way).

This writer/director often includes homosexuality and homosexual characters in his work, but always within a larger framework of heterosexualty, community and state. In this way, his films manage to address divergent sexuality without reducing it to a mere "cause." Even his Ignorant Fairies (His Secret Life on DVD in the US), which comes closest to a "cause" film, still deals with the larger community because the main character is a woman who has discovered her husband's bi-sexuality and must come to terms with it. In Saturn in Opposition, Ozpetek gives equal weight to hetero, homo, pan and even - who knows? - the chaste. His encompassing enriches. He still manages to overdo certain scenes just a tad (Davide's grief atop the cliff), but overall, he's on target. And so thoroughly does he entwine you in the feelings of his little group that, despite the occasional excess, you'll gladly forge ahead.

Ozpetek's cast is plum, and because no credits save the title are given until the film's conclusion, I didn’t realize that one of my favorite actresses, Margherita Buy, was one of the stars. She and Stefano Accorsi play a married couple - quite a switch from Ignorant Fairies, in which Accorsi played Buy's husband's much younger lover. Accorsi seems more mature now, six years later, while Buy has clearly gone in the opposite direction (well, European actresses, too, I suppose, must hang on to their looks). Another fine actor, Ennio Fantastichini, is so different here from his other major Open Roads role in Night Bus that I did not recognize him, either. And it is wonderful to see again the roly-poly Serra Yilmaz, an Ozpetek regular, who, like an old friend, brings us special delight with her every movie appearance. The gem of the ensemble, however, is Pierfrancesco Favino as Davide, a successful author of children's books. How very different - sweet, self-effacing, enormously intelligent and supremely beautiful - is this actor from his other major roles: the sergeant in El Alamein, Libano in Crime Novel (for which he won Best Supporting Actor) and even his smaller role in The Keys to the House.

If you're part of - or once knew - a group of friends like this, consider yourself blessed. Meanwhile, there's Saturn in Opposition to keep you company. The movie screens at the Walter Reade on Saturday, June 7, at 6:30 pm and Wednesday, June 11, at 8:30 pm.


Night Bus Rear-view mirrors, poker, bus driving, "unhelpful" corpses and a microchip MacGuffin all play their role in the fast-moving and yummy Night Bus (Notturno Bus). Part noir, part chase thriller, part comedy and always about the odd ways of love and attraction, this first-full-length-feature by Davide Marengo (written by Giampiero Rigosi and Fabio Bonifacci from a story by four more writers) may be no genre-hopping classic, but it's certainly a winner on its own clever and relatively original terms. If Claude Lelouch had been born Italian (and a few decades later), I can imagine him turning out a movie like this. In fact, it bears interesting comparison with Lelouch's latest, Roman de Gare.

A microchip - reported to contain information powerful enough to bring down an industry, perhaps a government - is suddenly on the market (the film's first scene is subtle and fast, with just enough black humor to point you in the right direction), and a rather large cast of characters begin bouncing off one another, sometimes rather violently. Not everything we see is quite the way we first imagine, however, and within this framework of noir/chase/comedy/romance, as the characters' needs and personalities are revealed, we come to care for several of them as much as can be expected from a snappy cross-genre movie like this. Marengo actually keeps his MacGuffin in play longer than most, giving it a nasty ironic twist toward the end.

The cast is expert and expertly used. One of Italy's most popular actresses, the beauteous Giovanna Mezzogiorno (seen often at Open Roads and elsewhere: Facing Windows, Love Returns, Don't Tell, Love in the Time of Cholera) plays Leila, a woman of dubious provenance. Her less-than-willing helper, Franz, is essayed by one of Open Roads' men of the year, Valerio Mastandrea (he also stars in Don't Think About It). The two work beautifully together, feinting and parrying their way into solidarity. Their very odd "cupid," in a third crack performance, is played by Ennio Fantastichini (also in this year's Saturn in Opposition), and he brings the necessary gravity and experience to both his role and the film itself. The scene in which he must decide between bonding with Leila and breaking her arm is just lovely. All the subsidiary characters are well cast and played; especially unusual and oddly dear is Mario Rivera's "Titti."

Though we've seen before the happenings here, as well as many of the characters, Signore Marengo, his writers and cast manage to imbue them with originality and life. (His idea for the visuals during the end credits is especially fun.) Every occupation, Leila explains at one point, has its secret: Something that not only helps you get that job done but also succeed in life, a point the movie proves a number of times with a number of professions. Once you've seen Night Bus, I think you'll be inclined to look more closely at rear-view mirrors.

Night Bus screens at the Walter Reade on Saturday, June 7, at 9:15 pm and Monday, June 9, at 1 pm.

-James Van Maanen

Posted by dwhudson at 4:07 PM

The President's Analyst.

The President's Analyst David D'Arcy on Flicker's flick, screening at Film Forum through Thursday. Earlier: J Hoberman (Voice) and Nicolas Rapold (NY Sun). Update (already!): Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door.

The idiocy of Cold War intrigue as represented in 1967 in The President's Analyst, with James Coburn playing the swinging new age psychiatrist Dr Sidney Schafer before there was such a thing as new age, is enough to make you nostalgic, given the pernicious idiocy of politics and "intelligence" today. Imagine a modishly groomed Manhattan psychiatrist who plays a Chinese gong before he puts patients like undercover agent Godfrey Cambridge on the couch, and admits that he likes contemporary art, another target of constant satire in those days. Dr Schafer's pact to treat the president is sealed during a visit to the Whitney Museum, Marcel Breuer's concrete castle on Madison Avenue, where he accepts the job in a hushed gallery in front of a John Chamberlain sculpture of smashed metal.

"The presidency used to be the world's loneliest job, but now even he has someone to talk to," says Dr Schafer, with that toothy Coburn smile. Just think of how things might have been if presidents had an alternative back then to that soul-searching tete-a-tete with Billy Graham. As far as I can remember, the only Washington figure who saw a psychiatrist in those days (and admitted it) was the Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Elsberg, and the Watergate dirty tricks squad on orders from a paranoid White House burglarized his shrink's office, looking for incriminating material.

Indeed, once Dr Schafer decamps for Washington from a stylishly filmed New York (in which writer/director Theodore J Flicker lingers on modern architecture and elegiac views of the skyline), he soon knows too much, and therefore the FBI determines that he must be killed before any of the foreign intelligence services gets him. A comedy of terrors ensues that takes Coburn and the would-be killers and kidnappers from Chinatown to a bus that leaves for the countryside with protest singer Barry McGuire's band (and a nymphette named Snow White) to a Cold War face-off with a Russian spy (Severn Darden) on a yacht. Coburn in mufti, wearing glasses and a wig, gives you a sense of this farce's tone.

The President's Analyst

Sound a bit like James Bond? Every parody back then did. And parodies like this one were playing in theaters at the same time that the "real" James Bond was on a screen down the street. This was in the days before multiplexes.

The twist here is that this analyst's secret weapon turns out to be analysis itself. He immobilizes his adversaries by getting them talking - like Darden's KGB agent, who launches into a soliloquy about his communist parents once Schafer asks the right questions. "I, VI Kropotkin, hate my father. All my life I've been miserably unhappy, but I always thought it was my Russian soul. Yes, KGB agents are people, too, and The President's Analyst mines this comic vein almost 40 years before Analyze This/Analyze That took on the sensitive mobster.

The interiors, especially Dr Schafer's loft-like bachelor pad that seems styled for a Scotch ad of the time, are wild time capsules. So are the groovy clothes that Coburn wears, which look as if he walked off with them from the wardrobe room of another spy-farce in which he starred, In Like Flint. The President's Analyst reminds us once again of the gulf between intelligence and government "Intelligence." See this one before you wait on line for Get Smart.

- David D'Arcy

Posted by dwhudson at 12:07 PM | Comments (4)

Shorts, 6/6.

Public Enemies "I know I'm going to sound a bit like a fanboy here, but there's no denying it: When you've seen a good number of your Hollywood projects fall by the wayside over the years, you're thrilled to see even a single one actually get made, much less to watch its creation at the hands of people the caliber of [Johnny] Depp, [Christian] Bale and [Michael] Mann." The book is Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933 - 34 (the film, of course, is simply Public Enemies) and the author is Bryan Burrough, who's begun a series of pieces for VF Daily. From the second entry: "They handed me a 1934 Reporter's Notebook, a 1933 mechanical pencil, and told me to 'find my mark.'"

"I was the screenwriter, fundraiser, second-biggest investor, PR hack, extras coordinator, and a sometime producer of the largest, most expensive locally produced film ever made in Seattle. It took five years, it cost $1 million, and its extremely slow projected return may have broken the bank for local distribution-quality films for the foreseeable future. It ruined my health, driving me to the brink of suicide twice, and from sobriety back down into a drinking life (and, briefly, the cocaine life below that), and aggravating a chronic muscle condition that addicted me to painkillers." Grant Cogswell on the making of last year's Cthulhu.

Also in the Stranger, Charles Mudede profiles 22-year-old filmmaker Zia Mohajerjasbi: "Seattle, from his view, is about an interaction (center/periphery) and an emergence (the new voices of the global youth)."

At indieWIRE, Jason Guerrassio checks in on five independent films currently in production.

Maxim Gorky McSweeney's recently hosted a contest entitled "A Convergence of Convergences" in conjunction with the publication of Lawrence Weschler's Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences. Walter Murch introduces his entry: "What follows is the astonishing outpouring of a great writer's first impressions on encountering a new medium. Maxim Gorky (1868 - 1936) saw a program of Lumière films at a Russian fair and published this article in a local paper a few days later, on July 4, 1896. It is written on a completely clear slate, by someone who had not already been taught how to regard the cinema by a thousand other writers, and the newness of it all leaps from the page." Via the House Next Door.

Somehow, I missed AJ Schnack's to Jonathan Marlow's "They didn't build their sales model for you" when he ran it a few days ago; but his latest entry on further responses has caught me up.

"Munyurangabo was one of my favorite films of 2007 and was far and away the best debut I saw all year." Darren Hughes interviews director Lee Isaac Chung for Sojourners.

Joseph Lanza's Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films is reviewed in the London Times by... Ken Russell. Via Movie City News. Also: Kevin Maher talks with Joseph Fiennes.

"The Duchess of Langeais, at a little more than two hours, of course is not unconventionally long, nor it is experimental in the overt sense of many earlier Rivette films," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "Yet it seems not to contradict but to subsume and affirm the tendencies of his previous work, and it does that in a way that recalls an axiom of the past century's art: Scratch an iconoclastic modernist and underneath you'll find a confirmed classicist."

"Maybe Darling is a little too commercial to make a big festival splash," writes Dan Sallitt in the Auteurs' Notebook. "But [Johan] Kling is commercial in the way that Lubitsch, Deville or Mike Leigh could be called commercial: he gives audiences pleasure, his control of pace and rhythm is exceptional, he's a natural at comedy and knows how to use music for narrative propulsion. I can imagine him having an international hit, but audiences would have to enjoy him on his own quirky terms."

Crazed Fruit Then: "I accidentally created an interesting double bill when I attended back-to-back screenings at MOMA of Yasushi Nakahira's 1956 Kurutta kajitsu (Crazed Fruit, aka Juvenile Passion) and Roger Vadim's 1959 Les Liaisons dangereuses." A meticulously illustrated entry.

"It's a crusade largely forgotten today, but when director George Stevens took on Paramount and NBC for the latter's distorted, truncated, and segmented broadcast of A Place in the Sun, he was striking a blow for filmmakers appalled by television's habitual abuse of theatrical motion pictures." John McElwee looks back on a mid-60s tussle.

At Stream, Eric Kohn has a good long talk with Joe Swanberg "about his unique professional trajectory, the philosophies behind his output, and upcoming projects, including a collaboration with Oscar-nominee Noah Baumbach."

"[T]he singular brilliancy of I Spy was its way of deepening escapist fantasy by sketching both the red star of communism and the color line in America," argues Troy Patterson in Slate.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy "John le Carré's hit thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is to hit the big screen," reports Francesca Martin. The author's working on the screenplay with Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon).

Also in the Guardian:

  • "The original Get Smart TV show, and The Party, the movie to which Mike Myers's [The Love Guru] owes its greatest debt, were part of an amorphous mass of mediocre, yet for some reason now fondly remembered, popular culture from the mid to late 1960s that was largely made by people old enough to be the embarrassingly hip uncles of the flower children and the war protesters," writes John Patterson in the Guardian. "Which is why my vote goes to dependable, crazy old bourgeois French Maoism of the soixant-huitard variety. Mainly because it's 40 years since 1968, and I've just seen Jean-Luc Godard's newly available La Chinoise for the first time." He's also just read "a fabulous, foot-deep new biography of the inscrutable JLG himself by the New Yorker writer Richard Brody... You get the movies, the critical thinking, the politics, the gossip and the sex. And it's about time: I certainly need to hear about JLG slapping his girlfriends in public, talking darkly of 'the Jews,' and being a gigantic pain in the ass on a regular basis. For a start, it makes him a lot less inscrutable."

  • Also, a look back at Charles Burnett and the "LA Rebellion": "They were consciously anti-Hollywood, caught up in a wave of political activism and social transformation, and managed to construct a body of work now widely admired by critics and in-the-know African-American filmmakers, but still largely unseen by the public."

  • Stuart Jeffries talks with Anne-Marie Duff.

  • Bidisha on sex; that is, what works and what doesn't onscreen.

Dead Man The latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon": Dead Man.

With War, Inc in theaters and Grace Is Gone out on DVD, Slate's Dana Stevens assesses John Cusack's career: "His is not a Tim Robbins-style activism, clomping solemnly through big-budget issue pictures and dampening the mood at awards ceremonies. Cusack's mode of protest is both subtler and more savage than that." As for Grosse Pointe Blank, Cusack is believable both as the bemused wanderer in a universe of Kafka-esque absurdity and as a total catch for Minnie Driver (one of the few female leads since Ione Skye who's seemed smart enough to be his match)." Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles Times, Tina Daunt reports that War, Inc "has survived bad reviews to find an audience in its very limited theatrical release."

Brian Gibson, writing in Vue Weekly, likes the idea of The Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians Through Film, but: "Unlike a good library, or maybe like a badly underfunded library, this low-key film doesn't neatly order or cross-reference its various parts, lacks a strong, solid core to its collection of information and raises more questions than it helps answer."

"Maciej Drygas's The State of Weightlessness is a clear-eyed, thoughtful, and articulate survey of the human cost of the Cold War-fueled space race, and the moral vacuum left in the wake of geopolitical upheaval," writes acquarello.

"One of the merits of Errol Morris's new documentary on the Abu Ghraib photographs, and even more of the excellent book written by Philip Gourevitch in cooperation with Morris, is that they complicate matters," writes Ian Buruma, reviewing both incarnations of Standard Operating Procedure for the New York Review of Books. "The pictures don't show the whole story. They may even conceal more than they reveal. By interviewing most of the people who were involved in the photographic sessions, delving into their lives, their motives, their feelings, and their views, then and now, the authors assemble a picture of Abu Ghraib, the implications of which are actually more disturbing than Sontag's cultural critique."

"Caravan/Prague is a first person documentary account of a 500-mile bicycle caravan across Europe." At the House Next Door, Jeremiah Kipp talks with filmmaker Zack Winestine.

The Grocer's Son "Director Eric Guirado's The Grocer's Son is a small, self-assured film that moves at its own pace, always staying one graceful step ahead of its reluctant protagonist," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. Adds Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "For 18 months [Guirado] focused on mobile grocers in Corsica, the Pyrenees and the Alps. As the movie affectionately observes the gruff, self-reliant customers, some of whom hobble to the van on canes, it has a documentarylike realism. You grow to respect these hardy, weather-beaten people who lived their whole lives close to the land."

Julia Wallace in the Voice on On the Rumba River: "As a filmmaker, [Jacques] Sarasin has an extraordinarily light touch - a good thing for those who want to sit back and enjoy the music (the toe-tappingly spirited rendition of [Papa] Wendo's biggest hit, 'Marie-Louise,' is a highlight), a bad thing for viewers unfamiliar with Congolese history and in need of a little context with their rumba." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (New York Times), Rob Humanick (Slant) and Noel Murray (AV Club).

"I caught a lot of flack, most of it out of New York, for my negative review of Sex and the City." So Ella Taylor responds.

In the Austin Chronicle, Josh Rosenblatt talks with Danny McBride about The Foot Fist Way, while on a very different note, Anne S Lewis talks with Kieran Fitzgerald about The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez and "the perils of having the military on the border."

The Universe of Keith Haring In the Age, Craig Mathieson talks with "Danish-born, Italian-based television director and documentary maker Christina Clausen" about The Universe of Keith Haring, while Stephanie Bunbury talks with Mike Leigh about Happy-Go-Lucky.

In the New York Sun, Nicolas Rapold talks with Guy Maddin about My Winnipeg, which opens next week.

"Its conversational song structures and lovely chamber-pop arrangements (both by Alex Beaupain) building toward a truly joyous rapproachment, Love Songs ends up a truly gay musical utterly devoid of camp," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "Jacques Demy might be a trifle shocked, but he would still be proud." More from Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Its crushworthy final half-hour is touching and sometimes magnificent. But much of its initial hour is maddening."

Hollywood is "a town that is constantly on the look-out for the next big thing. And at the moment, the next big thing is young, little-known British actors." Alice Jones matches names and faces. Also in the Independent, Lesley O'Toole interviews Jena Malone.

"Miss Conception isn't so much a movie as an extended sitcom - it looks like one, it acts like one, it reduces everything to the lowest common denominator like one," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

Adam Ross's interviewee of the week: Me.

Paramount "its faux indie division Paramount Vantage's marketing, distribution, and physical production and combining those three into big Paramount," reports Nikki Finke. "But I'm also assured that Paramount Vantage will still be an ongoing brand that will still be developing and acquiring specialty product with dedicated creative staff." Anne Thompson follows up, sorting rumors - some are true, some aren't.

Online scrolling tip. "As has been noted elsewhere, particularly in David Bordwell's writings, [King] Hu's elliptical editing of close inserts during fight sequences gives the illusion of lightning quick, almost incomprehensible skill that is faster than the eye can see." Daniel Kasman introduces a series of stills from Come Drink With Me in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Werner Herzog Online listening tip #1. Werner Herzog is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online listening tip #2. Ambrose Heron talks with Ben and Casey Affleck about Gone Baby Gone.

Online viewing tip #1. Muto by Blu, via Richard Lacayo.

Online viewing tip #2. Mike Everleth is just wild about Jeff Krulik.

Online viewing tip #3. Kevin B Lee has "Paul Schrader and Ed Lachmann interviewed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as part of the Ed Lachmann retrospective at BAM." Plus accompanying notes on Light Sleeper.

Online viewing tip #4. "Geoff Edgers, an excellent arts journalist here at the Globe, is making a documentary about The Kinks. Or trying to, anyway. (Maybe he's making a documentary about not making a documentary about The Kinks.)" Joshua Glenn has a sneak peek.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:25 AM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 6/6.

Sydney Film Festival The Sydney Film Festival, running through June 22, features a series entitled From Kerr to Eternity. Dan Callahan: "Basically composed and uncomplicated, [Deborah] Kerr was at her best on screen when she was listening to other's troubles and trying to help them. When she turned her compassion inward on herself, it seemed to have an almost neurotic effect, as if all that on-screen forbearance left her own nerves shot to pieces." Via the House Next Door.

"If you've got the time, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has the movie," notes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "The museum will screen the seven-hour 1968 Oscar-winning Russian film, War and Peace, in two parts Friday and Saturday evenings this month."

"The Boston International Film Festival kicks off today at the AMC/Loews Boston Common, running through the 14th," notes Ty Burr. "The Globe's Ethan Gilsdorf breaks down some of the offerings."

Andy Horbal sorts through June's offerings in Pittsburgh; similarly, Matt Prigge for his town in the Philadelphia Weekly; see also the Philadelphia City Paper.

The David Lean centenary retrospective rolls on at London's BFI Southbank through the end of July. Film Weekly celebrates, Time Out gathers tributes from an illustrious roster, and: "Now when I make films, I think to myself: 'How would Lean have done this shot?'" Atonement director Joe Wright in the London Times.

And the entries on goings on in New York and San Francisco have been updated today.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:20 AM

Take Out.

Take Out "Take Out tracks, with nimble attention and fine curiosity, a day in the life of an illegal Chinese immigrant as he darts around Upper Manhattan on a cheap bicycle laden with MSG-soaked delicacies," writes Nathan Lee. "At the heart of this humble and resourceful little picture is a simple but nuanced drama of the door: the tippers, the nontippers, the scary dogs, the impatient, distracted, racist or demanding." Also in the New York Times, Jennifer 8 Lee talks with co-directors Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou.

"[B]eyond the bickering yuppies, condescending complainers, and 'that bitch at 845 West End,' a seamless supporting cast of pros and amateurs and scenes shot in a real take-out restaurant during business hours - plus a palpable sense of levity amid the humility - makes for some of the most authentic neorealism this side of De Sica," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "This is as exceptional as microbudget cinema gets."

Updated through 6/10.

"Take Out is the kind of small-scale, precisely realized drama that values the little moments, like Jang stopping in the middle of a downpour to zip up his jacket, while the camera captures every raindrop on his anxious face," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "The movie took a long time to get distribution, but there's no expiration date on filmmaking this strong."

IndieWIRE interviews Baker.

"Take Out, the best film I have seen this year so far, is playing at the Quad Cinema in New York City and I strongly urge you to see it," blogs Louis Proyect. "It will change your perception of the world around you and the people who live in it forever."

Update, 6/10: "To call Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou's Take Out 'documentary-like' is to undersell its massive accomplishment as a narrative feature so startlingly realistic that it feels more like a documentary than most documentaries," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Many films are lazily compared to The Bicycle Thief, but Take Out warrants that lofty comparison."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:15 AM

The Promotion.

The Promotion Scott Foundas in the Voice on The Promotion: "Making his directorial debut, screenwriter Steven Conrad (who previously wrote The Weather Man and The Pursuit of Happyness) continues his career-long interest in success and self-fulfillment in America with this low-key, witty, observant farce about two rival assistant managers (Seann William Scott and John C Reilly) vying for a coveted career opportunity at a Chicagoland supermarket."

"Think of it as a polite, tightly muzzled Clerks," suggests Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

Updated.

It's "a comedy of restraint that almost seems out of place in an era when You Don't Mess With the Zohan is considered standard operating procedure," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "Anyone who has lived in Canada, or in a Midwestern city with a Scandinavian heritage such as Chicago, where The Promotion takes place, should respond warmly to Mr Conrad's approach to this story of quiet, deceptive blue-collar office warfare. If NBC's The Office has a meaner streak to its rendition of office culture, then The Promotion is the more pitiable and introverted side of the familiar coin."

"[W]hat is most different about The Promotion in today's movie market is its unusual lack of malignancy, to the point that one feels sympathetic to both the apparent protagonist, Doug [Scott], and the apparent antagonist, Richard [Reilly]," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Then what accounts for the quiet horror of the situation? Dare I say it? It's the infernal system that tortures and enslaves the great majority of ordinary people."

"John C Reilly long ago established himself as one of our best film actors," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "He's quickly emerging as one of our funniest actors as well, thanks to turns in Prairie Home Companion, Year of the Dog, Talledega Nights and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Reilly's evolution from theater-trained thespian to funnyman continues with a standout turn in The Promotion as a heartbreakingly fragile former biker/drug addict just barely hanging onto his hard-won happiness and sobriety in the face of fearsome professional competition with an archrival played by Seann William Scott."

"It's one of those off-balance movies that seems searching for the right tone," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"One of the chief virtues of this modest, eccentric comedy is Conrad's refusal to make the Canadian interloper with the Scottish wife (Lili Taylor, always a pleasure) an easily pegged antagonist," writes the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips. "If the film disappoints, it's because Conrad doesn't do much to amplify the competitive gamesmanship of the would-be managers."

Stephen Saito talks with Conrad for the IFC.

David Wilonsky talks with Scott and Conrad for the AV Club.

Update: "This is a fantastic little comedy, filled with all sorts of weird little moments and strange diversions, but at its core, The Promotion is a profanely sweet-natured dual character study that doles out a lot of laughs while actually celebrating... small doses of actual humanity!" exclaims Scott Weinberg at Cinematical, where he adds, "(My normal m.o. is to 'champion' smaller horror flicks, but a good movie is a good movie, period. If I can turn a dozen people onto The Promotion, then I'm doing my job.)"

Posted by dwhudson at 7:08 AM | Comments (2)

The Go-Getter.

The Go-Getter "Part travelogue, part search for the self, the road movie - like its literary cousin, the on-the-road memoir - is a distinctly American genre, and we should enjoy good new specimens while we can, before the escalating price of gas means the notion of non-rich people driving cross-country has all the verisimilitude of Flash Gordon and Dr Zarkov taking a rocket ship to the planet Mongo," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Martin Hynes's first film, The Go-Getter, is an especially wonderful addition to the genre, with the right - flickering - mixture of loneliness and enchantment, and with jokes that come at you from just around the bend."

"[I]f you can look past writer-director Martin Hynes's familiar fest formula, his film modestly rewards with gorgeous sun-spotted cinematography, tender digressions in rather brave quantities, and believably charming dialogue that doesn't all sound like it came from the same brain (listen up, Diablo Cody)," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice.

"Its contrivances are many and immoderate, and there's something self-consciously stilted and performative about the dialogue (you never get the sense that anybody is being sincere, even when they're supposed to be at their most sincere), but The Go-Getter... does have its slight, passing charms," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times.

"Mr Hynes, who wrote the screenplay, seems well aware of the challenge of breathing fresh life into a familiar formula," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Much of the dialogue is so quirky it sounds overheard instead of scripted. The performances are correspondingly spontaneous."

"More than a movie about becoming an adult, The Go-Getter is a feature-length audition reel for [Zooey] Deschanel to finally get the roles she deserves," writes Mark Peikert in the New York Press.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Hynes "about his move away from acting, the roots of The Go-Getter, and abandoning his lead actor while shooting guerrilla-style in Mexico."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:00 AM

When Did You Last See Your Father?

When Did You Last See Your Father? Ella Taylor in the Voice: "Directed by Anand Tucker with the same intelligent tact he brought to Hilary and Jackie, and cleanly adapted by David Nicholls from a brutally frank memoir by British writer Blake Morrison, this minor pleasure of a drama about an aggrieved son (Colin Firth in the Blake role) re-evaluating his relationship with his cantankerous old sod of a dying father (Jim Broadbent as Arthur Morrison) is the kind of superior middlebrow filmmaking at which the Brits excel."

When Did You Last See Your Father? "isn't a groundbreaking work; just a smartly played story, enlivened by drama and spiked with passion, the very thing that thinking audiences pine for, especially during the summer spectacle season when theaters are clogged with sticky kids' stuff and television reruns," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

Updated through 6/8.

"If ever a film was placed in the hands of the wrong director, it's When Did You Last See Your Father?," argues S James Snyder in the New York Sun. Tucker "bathes his new film in the same pixie dust and pageantry that made Shopgirl a memorable, modern-day fairy tale. But given the nature of the Blake Morrison memoir upon which this movie is based, which is chiefly about wounded hearts and the clouded nostalgia of family (a far cry from the themes of love and life in Los Angeles in Shopgirl), Mr Tucker's fairy-tale flair misses the mark by a wide margin."

"Actors of the caliber of Firth and Broadbent are going to do effective work even under the worst of circumstances," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. "It is difficult not to feel a bit choked up as the film builds toward its inevitable finale, but then Tucker pushes things one grand sweeping shot too far, forcefully on-the-nose rather than subtly oblique."

"There's another film here about the death of an older England," suggests Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "Sadly, that film surfaces rarely and briefly. Instead, things devolve into patented tear-jerking, with Tucker wearing a few tricks really, really thin."

It "fully qualifies as what film historian Raymond Durgnat once designated as a 'male weepie,'" notes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

"While his staging can sometimes feel overly posed, Tucker elegantly lets past and present rhyme against one another, particularly in a long, lyrical passage covering a father-son road trip," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "Trouble only really sets in as the film starts to wind down and struggles to tie all those observations together a little too neatly. It's too true to life not to resist an easy conclusion."

"[T]hanks to Tucker's confident visual style, Nichols's seamless transitioning between past and present and an Academy Award-worthy performance by Jim Broadbent, this plotless motion picture with only the vaguest of a narrative arc proves a powerful experience," argues Robert Levin at cinemattraction

Matthew DeBord profiles Broadbent for the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto and the UK.

Update, 6/8: "At once over-reliant on the visual cliches of its genre (oversaturated light for outdoor scenes, metaphor-reflecting mirrors for indoor ones, slow-motion everywhere) and thoroughly unabashed in juxtaposing the gravity of mortality with the uncouth avenues of expression people take to get through it, the film oscillates wildly between middlebrow preciousness and a genuinely messy understanding of what could very well have been in other hands by-the-numbers Oedipal angst," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:56 AM

Mongol.

Mongol "Mongol marks a personal first for this reviewer: a bloated epic so boring and unengaging that by its numbing conclusion (the word anticlimactic can only be used for stories that actually build) he was zapped even of the conviction to hate it." Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE.

"Here's a brawny old-school epic to make the CGI tumult of 300, Alexander and Troy look like sissy-boy slap parties," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "[I]t's probably the last thing you'd expect - great fun."

Updated through 6/7.

"Directed by the protean and prolific Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov (who wrote the script with Arif Aliyev), it is, among other things, a stubborn defense of old-fashioned, grand-scale moviemaking," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "While it takes a sympathetic view of young Genghis Khan - whose name, in the West, is a synonym for rapacity - it does not force him into conformity with modern sensibilities. His world feels authentically raw and refreshingly archaic, and also strangely beautiful."

"Once best-known for the lyrical, haunting Prisoner of the Mountains, an adaptation of a Tolstoy novella updated to reflect today's Chechen conflict, the director has abandoned his earlier, subtle take on the cost of war in favor of something cruder," writes Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun:

His last film, Nomad, was a cack-handed Kazakh Braveheart, a laughably acted, lamentably written slab of nationalist kitsch redeemed only by its deft use of a landscape so lovely, so strange, and so huge that John Ford should have been there to film it.

That same terrain, or somewhere very much like it, adds an equally hallucinatory grandeur to Mongol. What's more, like Nomad, the new film shows clear traces of 'Eurasianism,' a distinctively Russian, distinctly shaky interpretation of history sometimes deployed to explain why Western-style democracy could never work in Russia. Whatever the similarities between the two movies, however, Mongol is a significantly better film.

Time Out's Tom Huddleston finds Mongol "a gracefully mounted, stunningly photographed historical account, fascinating in its attention to detail if somewhat unengaging in its story and characters."

Online listening tip. Bodrov is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Updates: "[T]he battles are worth the price of admission. I was stunned and impressed," writes Sheila O'Malley at the House Next Door. "Bodrov may have wanted to humanize Genghis Khan, but what I was left with was admiration, awe, and fear for who he was as a military leader. I yawned through the sex scenes and the domestic scenes, and found myself yearning for those masked guys to leap on their horses again, and gallop towards each other across the steppe, arrows flying through the air, blood spurting out behind the horses in a slow-motion fan of carnage."

"As Genghis-Khan-to-be, [Tadanobu] Asano projects a preternatural self-possession, rarely raising his voice above a low mumble," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. "But that very stillness makes him more formidable. Though Asano is a shade delicately built for a great warrior, he's more than convincing as a man with the resolve to conquer the world.... My only problem with Mongol is that - how often in life do you get to write this sentence? - Genghis Khan is a little too nice."

Update, 6/7: "Mongol does a lot of 'sweeping,'" notes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "It moves from sweeping vistas to sweeping battles and when it stops sweeping, it really has no idea what to do; it merely waits for the next opportunity to sweep."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:52 AM

Kung Fu Panda - and Summer 08.

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

Kung Fu Panda "At once fuzzy-wuzzy and industrial strength, the tacky-sounding Kung Fu Panda is high concept with a heart," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Even better, this animated feature from DreamWorks is so consistently diverting and visually arresting that it succeeds in transcending its storybook clichés. The tale has the consistency of baby pablum - it's nutritious and easy on the gums - but there's enough beauty and pictorial wit here from opening to end credits, enough feeling for the art and for the freedom of animation, that you may not care."

"By all means, gather up the little ones and take them to this perfectly pleasant, very good-looking, modestly funny, dispiritingly unoriginal variant on the nerd-with-a-dream recipe that's been clobbered to death in animated films for at least a decade now," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice.

Updated through 6/7.

"Taking as its source the same Hong Kong martial-arts films that inspired Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the new picture provides a master course in cunning visual art and ultra-satisfying entertainment," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "In a way, the live-action chop-socky films of the 70s were already animated. Their whirling, exhausting, body-punishing stunt scenes tested an audience's credulity; surely real people were incapable of these athletic graces. (But they were, because of the severe training the actors had undergone since childhood.) KFP has fun with the conventions of these old films, but it honors the ethic and dedication behind them; it's true to the Shaolin spirit."

"[S]urprisingly, it doesn't suck," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "Chalk it up to either a newfound maturity or management being asleep at the wheel, but, somehow, someway, it achieves a low-impact playfulness that actually feels kind of... charming."

"Kung Fu Panda is not one of the great recent animated films," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The story is way too predictable, and truth to tell, Po himself didn't overwhelm me with his charisma. But it's elegantly drawn, the action sequences are packed with energy, and it's short enough that older viewers will be forgiving. For the kids, of course, all this stuff is much of a muchness, and here they go again."

"Over the last decade, the outpouring of Pixar-imitating CGI comedies about wacky mismatched animal pals (The Wild, Madagascar, Over the Hedge, Shark Tale, Surf's Up, Ice Age, Chicken Little, Open Season, etc) has occasionally felt like the output of an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters, all banging out more or less the same thing," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "But as in the famous thought experiment, the infinite typing monkeys may have finally produced their Hamlet, or at least as close to one as the genre will allow. Kung Fu Panda is yet another celebrity-voiced animal adventure, but it stands out from the crowd of similar films with its lightning wit and whirlwind brio."

"Gone are [DreamWorks'] usual penchant for garishness and lack of stylistic unity; the claustrophobic, sealed-in worlds; the horrible neon colors; the feeling that everything's been dipped in a hard plastic coating," notes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Instead, production designer Raymond Zibach and art director Tang Heng, who spent years researching Chinese art and architecture (not to mention kung fu movies), have inserted vast, moody, misty landscapes, fanciful interiors and traditional Chinese colors (red and gold dominate) to give the movie an epic, expansive, ancient quality that's a real pleasure to inhabit."

"I love a surprise, even a small one like finding out that Kung Fu Panda was more likeable and fun than I might have expected," writes Jette Kernion at Cinematical.

"[W]hile Kung Fu Panda features its share of self-esteem pap, it's also quite entertaining and likable, as well as innocuously pleasing to the eye and sometimes even beautiful in a kitschy way," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Maybe most important, the film, which opens Friday, is tricked out with spiffy fight sequences at prudent intervals. [Jack] Black dials down his shtick from abrasively foolish to gently amusing, and is backed by a warmly drawn batch of supporting critters."

"[I]n the inoffensively passable film's favor, Shrek-ish potty humor is nonexistent, and Black is right at home voicing the adolescently hyperactive and insecure Po, in large part because the boisterous panda is really a big, furry eight-year-old version of himself," writes Nick Schager at Slant.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Sara Vilkomerson presents the New York Observer's summer preview.

Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell consider Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Updates: "In the same way that Robin Williams's tiringly manic shtick suddenly got about 100 percent more tolerable when it was coming out of the mouth of the shape-shifting genie in Disney's Aladdin, Jack Black's triumph-of-the-fat-guy routine gets a much-needed shot in the arm with Kung Fu Panda, a new animated comedy about a very unlikely martial arts champion," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

"There is a great deal of slapstick in the film, and your tolerance for slapstick may ultimately decide whether or not you enjoy Kung Fu Panda, but much of these comic action set pieces are expertly handled, with inspired timing that Chuck Jones would be proud of," writes Craig Phillips.

Update, 6/7: "Jon Favreau is a solid director, and Iron Man's first ninety minutes are surprisingly tight," writes J Robert Parks. "And yet, the last half hour trots out every asinine cliche you can imagine." As for Indy 4, "The problem is that when history is treated as a library of images that a filmmaker can trot out for atmosphere, people are fooled into thinking that's all history is good for. Or even worse, that because they can catch the reference, they actually know something about history. As Neil Postman wrote, 'What shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?'"

Posted by dwhudson at 6:42 AM

You Don't Mess With the Zohan.

You Don't Mess With the Zohan "In a passable Israeli accent, outsize codpiece, and a new and improved bod, Adam Sandler's Zohan, a Mossad super-heavy, is every Jewish nerd's dream of self-transformation - until, that is, he has a career crisis and turns up in Manhattan as a would-be hairdresser in an awful 80s shag who falls for his Arab boss (Emmanuelle Chriqui) while heading off a simmering Israeli-Arab war among the expats in the 'hood," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "If nothing else - and there isn't much else - You Don't Mess With the Zohan pronounces the Middle East fair game for absurdist comedy."

Updated through 6/9.

"Nobody makes a movie as restless, freaky and all over the map as You Don't Mess With the Zohan unless they've got a hell of a lot on their mind," suggests Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "The film is a bloody mess, but it'll also never be confused with the sort of phoned-in star vehicle somebody of Sandler's stature could easily coast his way through. To paraphrase the late Spalding Gray: His subconscious is so close to the surface you can see its periscope."

"American diplomatic efforts have so far proved inadequate to the task of bringing peace to the Middle East, but You Don't Mess With the Zohan taps into deeper and more durable sources of American global power in its quest for a plausible end to hostilities," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Ancient grievances and festering hatreds are no match for the forces of sex, money, celebrity and exuberant, unapologetic stupidity. Zohan (Mr Sandler) certainly seems to think so, though he might express his views differently, and certainly with a thicker accent."

"This is a mighty hymn of and to vulgarity, and either you enjoy it, or you don't," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "I found myself enjoying it a surprising amount of the time, even though I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. There is a tiny part of me that still applauds the great minds who invented the whoopee cushion."

It's "the movie Munich should have been," argues Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Steven Spielberg attempts to wrestle with some morally ambiguous issues, particularly the question of whether violence is ever morally justified, or necessary. But Spielberg tiptoes up to the complexity of those issues only to pull back from the edge." Zohan "is the braver movie, for the way Sandler uses throwaway humor in the service of a strong point of view."

"Sandler's films now seem to function mostly as a kind of philosophical experiment: How lazy, sloppy and stupid can a film be and still make money?" writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "And let's not mince words here, or hem and haw and add caveats about a few laughs or good intentions: You Don't Mess With the Zohan is astonishingly, impressively, depressingly bad."

"Zohan isn't pro-Israel or pro-Palestine; it's pro-America," writes Eric Kohn in a "Fan Rant" on Sandler's conservative politics at Cinematical: "There's nothing corrupt about Sandler promoting ethnic tolerance, even in a crass vehicle like this. At the same time, the zeal of its conclusion reads like the reductive "fair and balanced" mentality of a Fox newscast - it's a blind stab at pragmatism that doesn't exist."

"If this was to be unapologetically funny, likable in an un-ironic, non-guilty-pleasure way, You Don't Mess With the Zohan falls short," writes Mark Olsen. "As a cutting comedic satire about the Arab-Israeli conflict and stereotypes, it misses more than it hits. As another run-of-the-mill Sandler movie, it is better than most. At this point it seems a little foolish to want, let alone expect, 'more' from the guy. If he can't be bothered to put more effort into his films, why should anybody else?" Also in the Los Angeles Times: "It so happens that Sandler's own stylist, Yuki Sharoni, served as an Israeli soldier before moving to Los Angeles to open a salon." Nathaniel Popper reports. Also: Chris Lee profiles co-writer Robert Smigel.

The AV Club's Nathan Rabin finds Zohan "spectacularly, unimpeachably, relentlessly preposterous. In the hands of a crackpot genius like Stephen Chow, this cartoonish romp about a Mossad operative turned New York hairdresser might have been sublimely silly. In the hands of professional Sandler crony Dennis Dugan, it's merely amiably ridiculous."

Richard Schickel, writing in Time, finds that it "isn't quite as funny as it might be, but is as funny as it needs to be."

"Zohan "is such a witless, joyless, and cynically conceived enterprise that the film deserves to be discussed in movie critic clichés as conceptually threadbare as the misguided creative impetus that spawned it." Bruce Bennett proceeds accordingly in the New York Sun.

"Zohan is something of a let down for Sandler who recently has made bold, successful choices in the movies Spanglish, The Click [sic], Reign Over Me, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, where comedy revealed a recognizable deep longing and sadness—yet never turned mawkish." Armond White in the New York Press.

"If you're already wondering what gives the Zohan crew the right to tackle such sensitive subject matter, well, so are they." Dave Itzkoff talks with them for the Age.

Update: "[T]his new movie's scattershot approach to humor means that at least a few comedic targets are hit," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "But really - 113 minutes? Some judicious trimming might have made the jokes' hit-to-miss ratio way more tolerable."

Update, 6/9: "How does Sandler get by with narcissistic fantasies so far-out?" asks David Edelstein in New York:

One way is by turning them into camp, so that he seems to be satirizing the movie-star potency he's actually peddling. The art is in the balance. Sandler never falls into the Jerry Lewis mode of naked self-infatuation. Something fogbound in his demeanor takes the edge off his self-aggrandizement - a quality Paul Thomas Anderson exploited beautifully in Punch-Drunk Love, in which Sandler played an emotionally overdefended child-man who floated through the world in a solipsistic (but lyrical) bubble. Like Will Ferrell, Sandler has layers of tenderness under layers of irony under layers of tenderness—plus a floating anger like Jupiter's great red spot.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:26 AM

June 5, 2008

Open Roads. Preview.

With this brisk overview, James Van Maanen opens another series of dispatches from the Film Society of Lincoln Center.Updated through 6/6.

The Girl by the Lake Open Roads: New Italian Cinema is beckoning once again, presenting 14 films from tomorrow (Friday) through June 12, all of them new except one little-seen classic, the New York premier of Franco Piavoli's Blue Planet from 1982, plus a program of new Italian shorts.

What holds true for this festival year after year (as it does for the FSLC's other annual "country" fests, the Spanish and the French) applies again this time. Where else can you see the culture, economy, politics, problems - big city/small town, north/south, old/new - of a country mirrored, often stunningly, in so many different ways? Nowhere, in my experience, except at the Walter Reade Theater, where each feature will be shown twice (only once for Blue Planet, but that opens commercially the following week at the Pioneer).

Having now seen every film except the group of short subjects, I can flatly state that this year's fest takes a major leap, artistically and commercially, from those of the past few years. And the sheer enjoyment level is about as high as I can recall. There may be a disappointment or two within this lot, but there's not a ringer in the pack. Every film is worth seeing for one reason or another, and several are much more than that.

If you're an "Awards" groupie, get set for the film that won the most Davids (the Italian Oscars) at this year's David di Donatello awards: Andrea Molaioli's The Girl by the Lake. (Interestingly, the movie that won most of the major awards last year, Giuseppe Tornatore's The Unknown Woman just opened commercially in New York last week - to rather disparate reviews.)

As I watched this year's films, I was impressed again and again with the confluence of themes: how the same earth celebrated by Blue Planet is ravaged in Biùtiful Cauntri; how Wilma Labate in Ms. F explores the famous 1980 strike against FIAT (from a narrative perspective that involves lovers, employers and family), which we see again from another angle in Francesca Comencini's fine documentary In the Factory. The Italian economy (applicable, at this point, to the west as a whole) is present in the documentaries, of course, but really everywhere: from Gianni Zanasi's return-to-family comedy Don't Think About It to Davide Marengo's noirish, chase thriller/black comedy Night Bus and Silvio Soldini's moving Days and Clouds, in which the economy takes its toll on an upper-middle-class family.

Family is everywhere (come on: this is Italy!) and in various conceptions. There's the "real" family of famous jazz composer/musician Luca Flores in Riccardo Milani's Piano, solo; the group of friends as tight as any family in Ferzan Ozpetek's Saturn in Opposition; the Mafia family of Andrea Porporati's The Sweet and the Bitter; the fracturing families of cinematographer Stefano Coletta's debut film An Unusual Time to Meet, and the faux families of Carlo Mazzacurati's The Right Distance and Salvatore Maira's The Waltz. These latter two films are, for me, the highlights of this year's Open Roads. In the former, family is really an entire community, which we get to know as well as possible within the framework of 100-or-so minutes. Mazzacurati has given us the most humane film of the festival - at once kind and uplifting, sad and surprising - while Maira's groundbreaking movie melds startling technique with content and character to deliver the most bracing cinema I've seen since Jaime Rosales's Goya-winning La Soledad.

Finally, there is the just-plain-wonderful group of Italian actors that, this year, more than in any Opens Roads I recall, make it seem as though you have stumbled into one of the worlds' great repertory companies. The same actor/actress you loved here pops up again there, some of them three times, in roles so different you may not, until the final credits roll, even recognize them. I'll have more on all these films in dispatches to follow. But don't wait on my further babblings. Queue up for tickets ASAP.

-James Van Maanen


Simon Abrams has more on this year's Open Roads in the New York Press, and: "On its 25th anniversary, Franco Piavoli's Blue Planet remains a one-of-a-kind nature documentary," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. "While Planet Earth and its ilk try to shock and awe viewers into submission, this is a defiantly formalist, nearly avant-garde Italian countryside romp."

Update, 6/6: Martin Tsai in the New York Sun gives Open Roads a newsy hook: "'Italy's cinema is again flying high,' the veteran critic Paolo Mereghetti declared at last month's Cannes Film Festival after the country nabbed the hotly contested Grand Prix and Jury Prize, respectively, for Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah, a gritty film about the criminal underground in Naples, and Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo, a satire on the nation's former prime minister, Giulio Andreotti. The triumphs have lent the country's fading industry some much-needed resuscitation, even if it still has a long way to go before reclaiming the glory days of neorealism established by Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:40 PM

Seattle Dispatch. 3.

Sean Axmaker has another round of quick reviews from the Seattle International Film Festival, running through June 15; a few notes follow.

Regardez moi From my decidedly distant perspective, Ain't Scared, the debut feature from French director Audrey Estrougo has echoes of Abdellatif Kechiche's L'Esquive (aka Games of Love and Chance) in its portrait of the Paris projects, or in French lingo, les cities, but has its own sensibility and its own vivid surprises. There is little sense of racial divide or tension as we watch the young men of these ghettoized suburbs filled with minorities, the poor and unemployed, a cultural mix of French-born citizens of African, Arab, white, Jewish, and Asian ancestry, talk and play and flick shit at another (race does come up in the insults, but it is equal opportunity and decidedly non-aggressive).

But halfway through the film, which surveys a day in the life of the neighborhood as their local hero, Jo, prepares to leave to play football for Arsenal in England, the whole thing begins again, this time from the perspective of two of the young women: Julie, the white girl, and Fatima, the angry black girl who moons over Jo. Suddenly race is front and center. "Whites and Blacks shouldn't mix," the black girls (which, by their definition, encompasses both African and Arab) state to the camera in a scene as confrontational as anything in Do the Right Thing.

The poster for Nanette Burstein's documentary American Teen is modeled directly on the promotional photo for The Breakfast Club, which is appropriate. Not just because she picks similarly recognizable social specimens for her year-long study of the American high school students - the Homecoming Queen, the jock, the nerd, etc - but also because she structures the film like condensed season of Dawson's Creek or One Tree Hill. The portraits of these kids often feel honest, sometimes intrusive, and occasionally they come off a little camera-conscious, which may simply be the nature of the beast. It's just that Burstein's editorial choices feel driven to deliver familiar story arcs. For a film that's supposed to get beyond the clichés offered up by the popular media, it winds up mired in the usual conventions and characterizations.

Letting Go of God Seattle doesn't get many world premieres, but there are some, and every once in a while they are even interesting. Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God, a concert/performance film of her one-woman show directed by the artist herself, is a straightforward recording executed with an effective enough functionality designed to preserve the performance and remain true to the modulations of the symphony of words and reflections. To be honest, the cinema is at its best when it's invisible and we can get lost in her amazing, funny, serious and moving monologue about growing up Catholic and accepting the faith without really exploring it until a bout of adult Bible study and spiritual quest through the religions of the world has her questioning what she believes and why. For all the humor (and it's very, very funny), it's all about answering a simple question: "God, who are you?" - and feeling comfortable and secure in what she discovers. The title of the film gives some idea of her destination, but it doesn't even hint at the joyous celebration of mysteries and wonders of life, the universe and everything that she still embraces on her own terms.

Creative Nature Another world premiere, the documentary Creative Nature [site], is a perfectly fine portrait of glass artist William Morris, a protégé of Washington-based glass artist legend Dale Chilhuly and his Pilchuck Studio. Organized around the biggest single exhibition of his work, it delves into his history, his working methods, the "periods" or movements of his work, and his inspirations, which he finds in the world around him. This isn't the kind of production that transcends its subject, but the footage of making his piece in the "hot room," the workshop full of furnaces and tools and teeming with fellow glass artists who serve as assistants while pursuing their own work, reveals a collaborative process in which few words are spoken and the physical nature of glass blowing and manipulation can be seen in the physical interactions of the many hands involved in simply holding and hauling the heavy materials involved in the art.

Garden Party Garden Party [site], however, is a thoroughly inconsequential example of the intertwined short stories which ostensibly offer a portrait of a city. In this case, it's simply a fashionable take on the idea of strangers in Los Angeles passing through one another's lives. Half the characters are perpetually stoned (the others are somewhat more discreet) and you wonder if the writer was as well. We've got an artist addicted to Internet porn, a real estate agent who secures customer loyalty by including a little weed in her client's packages, a teenager who flees a stepdad making moves on her and making the rent by posing for, yes, Internet porn, and a blank slate of an aspiring singer/songwriter who just drifts through the city, getting by on the kindness of strangers; these are just a few of the characters who never seem to grow out of their single-sentence descriptions. When it's over, you're not sure if you've seen a movie or simply sat through a pitch for a screenplay.

-Sean Axmaker


Also all over Seattle these days: Brendon Judell (indieWIRE), the Siffblog, the Stranger and NP Thompson (House Next Door).

Posted by dwhudson at 12:57 PM

Moving Image Source.

Bookmark it, subscribe to the feed, then start exploring. Moving Image Source, the new project from the Museum of the Moving Image overseen by the extraordinary editor and cinephile Dennis Lim, has launched today and will be updated each Thursday.

Moving Image Source

There are three main sections - with quite a bit of thematic overlap. The extensive Research Guide is smartly organized, tree-like, so that no matter how far you drill down into it towards specific sites, you can always see the trunk or other thick branches to leap over to at whim. What makes the Calendar unique is its emphasis on international events. And the Articles? Here's where Dennis Lim's years of experience working with dozens of the best writers on film pay off. Just a random sampling: Jonathan Rosenbaum on William Klein, Chris Fujiwara on Tatsuya Nakadai and B Kite on Richard Brody's new biography of Godard.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:27 AM

RFK.

The Last Campaign There's a film to get to, but first this: "Forty years ago tomorrow, as he was celebrating his victory in California's Democratic presidential primary, Senator Robert F Kennedy was assassinated. To mark the occasion, the Op-Ed page invited his children to share their memories of him." Turn first to the New York Times.

See, too, James Stevenson's remembrance in the NYT Magazine accompanying Paul Fusco's astonishing photographs taken of mourners lining the tracks as the funeral train slowly rolled to Washington DC.

There are two new books out: The Last Campaign: Robert F Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America, by Thurston Clarke (excerpted in Vanity Fair), and A Time It Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties, by former Life photographer Bill Eppridge (a guest on today's Leonard Lopate Show), with an introduction by Pete Hammill (a guest on Fresh Air).

Now then, to the movie (and third book) at hand.

Updated through 6/7.

"Exploring several of the inconsistencies in the official account of the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy without stating an alternative outright, Shane O'Sullivan's RFK Must Die is more of a conspiracy-query doc, but will titillate the suspicious nonetheless," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice.

Who Killed Bobby? "Mr O'Sullivan, whose door-stopping book, Who Killed Bobby? The Unsolved Murder of Robert F Kennedy, also arrives tomorrow, asserts that [Sirhan Bishara] Sirhan was a patsy, just as Lee Harvey Oswald is alleged by some to have been five years earlier," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "The filmmaker fingers a trio of CIA agents whose faces appear repeatedly, and mysteriously, all over footage captured before and after the fateful moment at the Ambassador.... Though it's all skillfully framed and outlined by Mr O'Sullivan, producing an aura of inevitability, the film's most appealing aspect may be its real-life X-Files vibe."

At the Pioneer from tomorrow through June 12.

Meantime, in the Los Angeles Times, Joe Mozingo profiles David Steiner, a lawyer who worked for RFK's campaign and was there that night in the Ambassador Hotel: "And then, the cavernous room was nearly empty. The Klieg lights were gone. Steiner was sitting on the stage. Now he knew that Kennedy had been shot in the head and rushed to the hospital. He felt that if he stepped off the stage he would free fall into an abyss."

Online browsing tip. Magnum photos at Slate.

Updates, 6/6: "How fitting - even how poetic - it is that Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic presidential nomination during the week in which we mark the fortieth anniversary of the death of Robert F Kennedy," writes Robert S McElvaine, countering an argument Sean Wilentz laid out recently in the Huffington Post. "This harmonic convergence has deep significance."

Also, Tom Hayden: "There are vast differences between Bobby Kennedy and Barack Obama, owing to circumstance, though both have followed hero's journeys of the classic sort. Kennedy was shaped by his brother's murder and the climate of his times, which drove all but the most robotic towards alienation. Barack is a product of globalization, immigration, even slavery, but nonetheless a privileged inheritor of the movements for which Bobby Kennedy stood.... Those who denounce Obama - and the possibilities of all electoral politics - should ponder the effectiveness of sitting judgmentally on the sidelines while an Unexpected Future arrives through the sheer will of a new generation."

Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT on RFK Must Die: "Overstuffed and underdirected, the movie combines snippets from Robert F Kennedy's speeches with an impressive selection of two-centers, including Sirhan's brother and former CIA operatives. Sadly, neither their testimonies nor that of a mysterious audio recording determine whether the assassin was under the influence of Langley or a lethal combination of self-hypnosis and Tom Collinses."

Updates, 6/7: "Remembering RFK" in the American Prospect.

In 2004, Alistair Cooke recalled the night of the assassination.

Joe Leydon recalls the day - it "should have been the happiest day of my life. But, of course, it wasn't."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:17 AM

The Wedding Director.

The Wedding Director "Marco Bellocchio has rejuvenated his career and his world-class reputation in recent years with a series of visually classical yet thematically absurdist moralist parables," writes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun. "The feisty 68-year-old Italian tackled Catholicism with My Mother's Smile in 2002, and revisited the Red Brigade's assassination of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro with Good Morning, Night in 2003. Next to these projects, his 2006 film The Wedding Director, which begins a one-week engagement at the Museum of Modern Art tomorrow, seems like a lighthearted change of pace."

"While a step-by-step plot summary suggests comedy, or even farce, Mr Bellocchio mischievously scrambles the tone with suspenseful music, funereally elegant scenes and the occasional throb of melodrama," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The result is unpredictable and sometimes confounding, but the movie is pulled into beguiling coherence by an odd and effective combination of absurdism and sincerity.... The liveliest aspect of The Wedding Director may be its cynicism, which is directed at sex, cinema and nearly everything else that matters in modern Italy."

"For a film confronting mortality, it's an astonishingly exuberant expression of the will to live," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine.

"The Wedding Director is truly complex; but that's also its delight," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:00 AM

The Mother of Tears.

The Mother of Tears "Treating The Mother of Tears as intentional self-parody is the only way to get much enjoyment out of what should have been a triumph," writes Jim Ridley in Voice: "the long-awaited, long-deferred climax to [Dario] Argento's Three Mothers series, begun in 1977 with Suspiria and followed in 1980 by Inferno. And indeed, taken as a stand-alone entity, The Mother of Tears is a high-camp hoot—a nut-brain fiasco so awe-inspiringly awful that somewhere in the great beyond, Ed Wood raises his maggoty fist in solidarity."

"Making fun of this sort of ripe, over-the-top horror isn't difficult: it's impaling fish in a barrel," writes Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. "What's tougher to account for in Mr Argento's work is the often extraordinary grace of his filmmaking, which shows itself in the long, tense intervals between outbursts of stomach-turning gore. He's both a sensationalist and a sensualist, and the line that separates Argento the showman from Argento the artist is razor thin."

Updated through 6/7.

"Coming after a couple of slack efforts sadly reminiscent of Hitchcock's tepid final years, The Mother of Tears feels like Dario Argento's Frenzy, a burst of late-career vigor that allows the horror auteur to address old themes and run them to delirious limits," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "[I]t's a teasing, energized gothic reverie that refers to Suspiria's glories without cheapening them and, in the debased age of Eli Roth, shows that through Argento's prowling camera the macabre can still be bloody lyrical."

"[W]hile Argento illuminates the occult as a tactile, living thing, he has never shown the slightest interest in making that terror seem like something that could exist outside of the frame," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Take away Argento's undeniable craft, and what would you really be left with? The answer is Mother of Tears."

"If Suspiria was a candy-colored fairy tale and Inferno a waking nightmare of illogic and bold visuals, then Mother of Tears is an unremarkable death metal video with hot, naked witches in faux-S&M wardrobe," writes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "The worst move a director of Argento's ilk can make is to give his audience the opportunity to wonder why a woman whose innards have already spilled out on the floor is still alive enough to necessitate strangling with her own intestines. In the past, sheer spectacle was enough of a distraction to negate such logical questions; Argento no longer possesses such recourse."

"Fresh off an astounding S&M performance in Olivier Assayas's Boarding Gate, and soon to be vamping in a theater near you in Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress, Asia Argento is unusually nondescript here — dull, even," notes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine.

Asia Argento's "odyssey has a little Harry Potter, a little Da Vinci Code, and enough splatter to make the late Lucio Fulci dash his brains against the inside of his coffin for the chance to come back and top it," writes David Edelstein in New York.

"Argento draws an orgiastic link between sex and sin that is surprisingly regressive," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

In the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge lists "Six daughters who've acted for their director fathers."

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

Updates, 6/6: "The Mother of Tears is silly, awkward, vulgar, outlandish, hysterical, inventive, revolting, flamboyant, titillating, ridiculous, mischievous, uproarious, cheap, priceless, tasteless and sublime," declares Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "And that's before the evil monkeys and sniggering Japanese harpies start running amok. By the time it gets to the diabolical subterranean soft-core orgies, this lunatic B-movie extravaganza has long since defied description and dazzled every irreverent, gore-hungry synapse in the brain."

"What's key to appreciating Argento is understanding his use of violence, which to unaccustomed eyes surely has an effect of shock or disgust," writes Rumsey Taylor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You:

Shock and disgust aren't the intentions, however. Argento's films are foremost potent, colorful palettes, and violence is typically in service to both these palettes and the atmosphere of dread. My favorite example is in Tenebre, in which a woman has her forearm chopped off cleanly by the giallo killer with a meat cleaver. She grasps the wound, and carefully aims the offshoot - which is shooting out like water from a spigoted hose - at a white wall, bathing it in fluorescent red blood before she collapses out of the frame. This instance - the painting - is what makes the film great.

Mother of Tears has neither the revelations of Tenebre nor the expressionistic lighting of Suspiria or Inferno, but its gothic atmosphere is more or less the same.

"We've lost something in the culture of horror movies when a good, solid evisceration at the hands of slobbery, bloodthirsty demons has come to seem old-timey and quaint, a comforting relic of drive-in gorefests and 70s-era Times Square double features," argues Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Mother of Tears is depraved, bloody and unrepentantly exploitive, and the plot makes virtually no sense - it's the sort of movie nobody, save Argento himself, is crazy enough to make these days. It's also so full of life that it dwarfs contemporary horror pictures of the Saw and Hostel variety. Argento - who is now 67 and who made his first movie, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, in 1970 - has no interest in nihilism: Instead he goes for the gusto, with tooth and claw."

"Almost nothing in this gore-drenched sprawl makes any sense, from the ludicrously flat dialogue to the dumb things people do when ancient demonic forces stalk their mortal souls," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "But that only adds to the vertiginous fun."

"When the film premiered to mass bedlam in the Midnight Madness section of the 2007 Toronto Film Festival, everyone seemed to agree that it was off-the-rails, batshit gothic camp, but couldn't agree on how to process it," recalls Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Are we laughing with Argento or at him, or does it really matter in the end? If you're a fan of Argento's, it does matter, and watching the once-great stylist continue his nearly two-decade-long decline with Mother of Tears isn't all that amusing."

"This over-the-top thriller offers extended flashes, if not a full-blown homecoming, of the artist his long-suffering devotees know and love," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "For the rest of us, this is simply tasty supernatural goulash served with a side of Fangoria pictorials."

Nick Schager: "Devoid of malevolent aesthetic splendor, and engaged in thoroughly unflattering thematic dialogue with its far-superior forbearers, The Mother of Tears is an ignominious mess, one that - for anyone who once prized Argento's work - is apt to make one misty-eyed."

Andy Klein, writing in the LA CityBeat, agrees that Mother "has its moments, but it really can't supersede my fondness for his much earlier stuff."

"To be sure the picture shows a vivid imagination at work; would that it was placed in the service of less dubious ends," writes Andrew Schenker at the House Next Door.

Update, 6/7: "Coincidentally, in many ways there's some similarity between Mother of Tears and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part III (1990)," notes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "They both took decades to produce after the first two parts were completed in close proximity; they both come from directors of Italian descent; and they both feature the director's daughters in the third installment. They're both disappointments in comparison to the originals, but taken on their own terms, they both work remarkably well."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:54 AM

Dreams With Sharp Teeth.

Dreams With Sharp Teeth "If you happened to be a teenager in the late 1960s or early 70s, Harlan Ellison was a literary giant," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "Mr Ellison, now 74, wasn't the only important author rewiring sci-fi to more deeply explore social, psychological, metaphysical, and ethical themes, nor perhaps the most cultishly lionized (Philip K Dick takes the prize, as might, to varying degrees, Samuel Delany, Ursula K Le Guin, or the mysterious James Tiptree Jr). But he was the loudest, the angriest, and the most abundantly published in every available medium, from magazine short stories to acutely memorable episodes of Star Trek and The Outer Limits."

Updated through 6/8.

Directed by Erik Nelson, [Dreams With Sharp Teeth] recalls the career of a runty young geek who evolved into a world-famous artist - and ladies' man, civil rights advocate and, from the look of his Xanadu-like Hollywood hideout (aptly nicknamed the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars), a fiercely committed collector and pack rat," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "Mr Ellison's written achievement largely takes second stage to his volcanic verbal attitude, of which there's more than enough to overflow an entire outlandish mini-series."

"Ellison is the leading authority on Ellison," writes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "Dreams is so well-versed and intermittently inspiring because it allows Ellison to run his mouth about everything from his self-made beginnings to his boundless cache of anecdotes and aphorisms. Nelson just winds him up and lets him go. With a little craft, he manages to arrange Ellison's quotes with a verve and intelligence that admirably doesn't succumb to fan worship or to Ellison's bullying."

"So much barking rhetoric can become boorish, however choicely phrased," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "[T]he author's 'Fuck you, pay me' credo, however, should be an inspiration for all aspirant men and women of letters."

At Film Forum through Tuesday.

Update: Nick Schager at Cinematical: "Less intent on investigating than simply depicting, it's neither a definitive statement on his canon nor on his fantastically interesting life but, rather, an intimate portrait of a now-73-year-old artist who, as [Neil] Gaiman sums up, is 'partly one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century... and partly an alternately impish and furious 11-year-old boy. Or possibly 9-year-old boy. Or possibly 5-year-old boy.'"

Updates, 6/6: "Perhaps any qualms one may have with Dreams with Sharp Teeth are attributable to how fully it conveys its subject's tone, with all its tangents, floridity, and vitriol," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "That this tone remains incisive, funny, and even occasionally inspiring is itself remarkable, especially as its source is a practitioner of a literary genre whose credibility many still question. But if the literary worth of Ellison's huge output is a debate left untouched by the film, Nelson still makes a great case for Harlan Ellison as more of a personality, a cultural force, than a mere writer - of 'imaginative literature' or of 'sci-fi,' as you prefer."

Tasha Robinson talks with Ellison for the AV Club, where Noel Murray notes, "More than maybe any other living writer, Ellison seems to enjoy his job and the sound of his own words - although he's sometimes had difficulty finishing what he starts, and his diffuse focus seems to have prevented him from producing novels as artful and impactful as his short stories."

Update, 6/8: Sarahjane Blum in the Brooklyn Rail: "In the 25+ years since Nelson first toyed with making a documentary about Ellison, he enjoyed a steadily rising career as TV and film producer (highlighted by Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man). Yet his approach to showcasing Ellison remains that of late adolescent hero worship. It's a fitting tribute, as Ellison is touched by the loving attention in a way few successful authors seem to be."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:06 AM

Newfest @ 20.

Newfest "Newfest, now in its 20th year of celebrating LGBT film, is geared to our motley gay community with painstaking regard, and one of its prevailing impressions this year is that Michael Musto has become as ubiquitous as the rainbow flag," writes Ed Gonzalez. "The Voice columnist appears in no less than three festival pop docs, shooting the shit about bisexuality in America in Bi the Way, gabbing about porn legend Jack Wrangler in Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon, and reminiscing with John Waters and Debbie Harry about one of my favorite old haunts in SqueezeBox! Will someone - anyone - please give this man a film to call his own?"

Meantime, at indieWIRE, NewFest is interviewing filmmakers with works lined up. The fest opens today and runs through June 15.

Update, 6/7: Artistic director Basil Tsiokos speaks in an audio slide show for the New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:56 AM

Baghead in Austin.

Austin Chronicle: Baghead You'll have likely seen Michael Cieply's report in the New York Times by now: segueing off the festival circuit, the latest feature from Mark and Jay Duplass will see its theatrical premiere in the directors' hometown, Austin, on June 13. "Then Baghead will probably move on to Dallas, Houston or, maybe, Portland, Ore - cities that, in the words of Tom Bernard, the co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, 'tend to connect with what's new and different.' In July or August, if all goes well, Baghead will finally make it to screens in Manhattan and West Los Angeles, where independent film gems are supposed to be discovered by sophisticated viewers who live on the culture's cutting edge. Or used to. Whether the reverse rollout of Baghead is an aberration or the tip of a trend remains to be seen. But that it is happening at all signals a change in the way independent film executives view the delicate business of shaping tastes."

Ok: "Let's start at the beginning," as Josh Rosenblatt puts it in his cover story for the Austin Chronicle. He does. The Duplass Brothers' story is told. Then it's on to the movie itself:

Baghead is many things: a drama about people in their 20s and 30s struggling to communicate, a satirical send-up of actors who decide to write movies for themselves after it becomes clear their careers are going nowhere, a classic slasher genre film plucked right out of the 1970s, complete with a cabin in the woods, a homicidal maniac, and exposed breasts. Or maybe Baghead is really just about the increasingly blurry line between movies and reality in our media-saturated age, a study in postmodern self-reflexivity and irony taken to confusing heights: a movie about out-of-work actors getting tormented by a man with a bag over his head making a movie about out-of-work actors getting tormented by a man with a bag over his head.

Then it's back to the Duplass story. If you're in a hurry but also in need of a quick smile, find "This is a true story" about halfway in. Enjoy.

Sidebar: "A short, unreliable survey of the bag in recent cinema."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:26 AM

June 4, 2008

DVDs, 6/4.

Variety "One of the pioneering wagon-train movies of the inaugural, New York-based independent film movement, predating Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise, Bette Gordon's Variety (1983) comes off in retrospect as a veritable time capsule of post-punk downtown coolness," writes Michael Atkinson for the IFC. "Just read the credits: screenwriter Kathy Acker (experimental novelist), star/photog Nan Goldin (famed shutterbug and model for the Ally Sheedy role in High Art 15 years later), soundtrack composer John Lurie (of Jarmusch movies and the Lounge Lizards), cinematographer Tom DiCillo (director of Living in Oblivion, etc), producer Renee Shafransky (Spalding Gray's longtime girlfriend), co-star Luiz Guzman, bit players Spalding Gray and Cookie Mueller (veteran of John Waters's universe), production assistant Christine Vachon, and so on. Where is Cindy Sherman? The grungy vibe of Variety is itself a window on the past - only at the nascent launch of a DIY indie wave in the post-60s period could you, or would you, set an interrogatory neofeminist psychodrama like this in a Times Square grindhouse devoted exclusively to cheap Euro-porn."

Dave Kehr in the New York Times on What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?: "Directed by Blake Edwards from a screenplay by William Peter Blatty, this 1966 antiwar farce, made as things were heating up in Vietnam, is one of the most ingeniously constructed American comedies, a brilliantly sustained series of plot reversals, inverted identities and reconfigured values."

Control Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times: "Most rock biopics are in the business of grandiosity and inflation, but Control - Anton Corbijn's spare, laconic portrait of Ian Curtis, the late singer of Manchester post-punk heroes Joy Division - does quite the opposite: It creates a life-size version of an iconic figure."

"At the first Toronto After Dark Film Festival in October 2006, Twitch's Todd Brown called Funky Forest: The First Contact the strangest film he'd ever seen. Two and a half mind boggling hours later, several hundred attendees had just updated their own lists too." Bob Turnbull recommends the DVD, even for those who've already seen it in a theater.

Mark Asch for Stop Smiling on The Lovers and The Fire Within: "There's a sense, in the early films of Louis Malle, of an expensive education at play - of a connoisseur rifling through people and their ideas, habitats and possessions; through LPs by Miles Davis, Brahms and Erik Satie; through film genres and classical and au courant style, with the ease of one at leisure to acquire and relish his tastes."

Human Resources For Richard Brody, whose Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard is reviewed by Andrew Hultkrans in Artforum's new film section, the DVD he's recommending this week to New Yorker readers is Human Resources, directed by this year's winner of the Palme d'Or, Laurent Cantet.

The Titanic's been on the Siren's mind; so she revisits A Night to Remember, "fifty years on still the best rendering of the ship's sinking. As she wallowed once more the Siren decided to take a look at some of the differences between this fine version and the other two major movies, the 1997 James Cameron behemoth and the quiet, almost elegiac 1953 Titanic."

Bill Hare, author of Hitchcock and the Methods of Suspense, on the Vertigo, the Noir of the Week: Parts 1 and 2.

Marnie "What neither the feminists nor cinephiles seem to appreciate is that Marnie is one of the greatest bondage and discipline (B&D in sadomasochistic parlance) pics of all time," argues Lauren Wissot at the SpoutBlog. "Artfully disguised as a psychosexual thriller, Hitchcock's classic is actually kin to The Story of O with [Tippi] Hedren's O-like Marnie at the sole mercy of Sir Connery's sexy daddy (think Sir Stephen), reduced to being trapped like a wild animal to be broken and trained, owned and cared for, eventually becoming Rutland's wife/slave. This ain't misogyny - it's erotic art!"

Marilyn Ferdinand recommends Richard Fleischer's The Narrow Margin, "a taut, cat-and-mouse game played on the claustrophobic cars of a California-bound train."

And here's a recommendation from James Rocchi: "Three Days of the Condor's a great little thriller; considered against [Sydney] Pollack's other films, it may not have the majestic sweep of Out of Africa, the raw fury of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? or the laughs of Tootsie, but it's great entertainment - a nicely-made, paranoid run-and-hide thriller that not only evokes the Nixonian tenor of its times but also stands up even now through a fairly timeless sense of cynicism and suspicion."

Ding-a-ling-LESS "So how can a filmmaker discuss sexuality frankly and openly in a movie without going too far?" asks Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Onur Tukel (Ding-a-ling-LESS) and Bryan Poyser (Dear Pillow) have come up with a clever solution: do it with language.... It's inexpressibly rewarding to discover two filmmakers who have chosen exceptionally smart dialogue over nudity and graphic sex in order to tackle such provocative material."

"Blue Underground announces first wave of Blu-Ray titles," notes Collin Armstrong at Twitch.

In the Washington Post, Jen Chaney lists "Five Summer-Centric Double Features."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN), Paul Clark (Screengrab), Peter Martin (Cinematical) and Tom Russo (Boston Globe).

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM | Comments (1)

Dirty Harry.

Dirty Harry "When critics inevitably say Dirty Harry looks better than ever on Blu-ray, they won't be kidding (I wasn't)," blogs Peter Debruge for Variety. "Warner's new hi-def edition is stunning in its clarity, to the degree that the word 'gritty' (so much a staple of the Dirty Harry conversation in the past) no longer applies. These new hi-def transfers are so sharp, virtually no sign of film grain remains, a decision that surely reflects what the market currently demands, but also suggests a certain amount of very sophisticated tampering on the part of Warner Home Video."

Updated through 6/6.

"The movies, of course, are paramount," writes Glenn Kenny. "Were I to be ungenerous, I'd say that only the first picture, Don Siegel's 1971 Dirty Harry, and the fourth, the 1983 Eastwood-directed Sudden Impact, were deserving of Blu-Ray treatment, but in this game, as the saying goes, deserve's got nothing to do with it."

"All the movies you make, all these roles you take, and there are certain ones that people really hold on to. Harry is the one I hear about the most from the people on the street." Geoff Boucher talks with Eastwood for the Los Angeles Times.

And at DVD Talk: Kurt Dahlke on Dirty Harry, "the Bible of cop movies," and Paul Mavis on The Enforcer: "Desultory Harry."

Online listening tip. David Edelstein talks Dirty with Movie Geeks United.

A related note from Jeffrey Wells: "Tomorrow night Clint Eastwood will attend a Q&A session at Santa Monica's Aero Theatre following a showing of Michael Henry Wilson's Clint Eastwood: A Life in Film, a year-old 81-minute doc about Eastwood's career."

Update, 6/6: In the Guardian, Jeff Dawson talks with Eastwood, who responds to Spike Lee's criticisms of Flags of Our Fathers, "yes, there was a small detachment of black troops on Iwo Jima as a part of a munitions company, 'but they didn't raise the flag.'" As for Lee, "A guy like him should shut his face." On to Dirty Harry: "'Of course people built a lot of connotations into the film that weren't necessarily there.' Eastwood grins. 'Being a contrary sort of person, I figured there had been enough politically correct crap going around. The police were not held in great favour particularly, the Miranda decisions had come down [forcing police to read arrested suspects their rights], people were thinking about the plight of the accused. I thought, "Let's do a picture about the plight of the victim."'"

Posted by dwhudson at 2:04 PM

Goings on. New York.

Rooftop Films For the New York Sun, S James Snyder checks in with Rooftop Films: "More than 2,500 submissions flow in to its organizers on a yearly basis, all sent by filmmakers hoping for the chance to headline an outdoor show. Their interest is stoked by the ever-increasing size of Rooftop crowds; this year, between June and September, an estimated 20,000 viewers will take part in the group's 38 planned events."

Updated through 6/6.

"The body count at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival rivals any in Hollywood's summer shoot-'em-ups," writes Anthony Kaufman. "Notwithstanding the vital reality check the fest provides, the event's greatest achievement is putting human faces on such numbers." June 13 through 26.

Also in the Voice, J Hoberman on The President's Analyst, opening today for a week-long run at Film Forum: "A political satire that impressed me mightily as a teenager (and less so thereafter), Theodore Flicker's genial exercise in comic paranoia re-emerges, for no apparent reason, a reasonably fit and funny artifact from the age of grooviness."

Scott Macaulay: "Thursday, June 5, Filmmaker, the IFC, IndieGoGo and the IFP are hosting an evening at the IFC Center that is part of Internet Week New York. It's called Where Film and Internet Collide, and it's one of three events going under this name that are dedicated to the merging of filmic and web sensibilities when it comes to creating new work."

In the New Yorker, briefly: Anthony Lane on Celebrating Summer (at MoMA through June 26).

Update, 6/6: "Many spoofs of the 1960s failed partly because they couldn't top the inherent ridiculousness of their target," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "The President's Analyst, starring James Coburn in the title role, surges past an ordinary hippie jaunt with assured Cold War nuttiness, a few gun-toting suburban liberals, and a zany conspiracy theory that may ring true to current Verizon customers. The 1967 caper, which Film Forum is reviving for one week beginning today, benefits from affable performances and playful direction, and the political satire doesn't try to show off at being sharp or bemused."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:52 PM

Mandingo.

Mandingo Reviewing "an extremely mixed bag" of titles from Legend Films and Paramount Pictures, the New York Times' Dave Kehr finds that the "big title in this first group is