July 31, 2008

Shorts, fests, etc, 7/31.

Norwegian Wood Twitch's Todd Brown hears big good news from Jason Gray: Tran Anh Hung (Cyclo, The Scent of Green Papaya and A Vertical Ray of the Sun) is set to direct a Japanese-language adaptation of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood. I agree with Todd: This is a match-up that sounds right.

But back to the dreadful present: "August has arrived, bringing with it the shitty August Movie." Vulture offers "A Theory of Awfulness" and a history of the August Movie.

"I mean no disrespect to the fine folks at Lionsgate, because they spend a lot more money on horror movies than I do (and I spend a lot), but Dance of the Dead is a whole lot better than just another 'DVD drop' flick - and it sure as hell doesn't deserve to be released buried next to seven other titles." At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg argues that this'll will be garnering a cult following soon regardless, talks with director Gregg Bishop and quotes from many a rave.

Ray Privett unveils Amos Gitaï: Exile and Atonement.

"Ten Novels and Short Stories That Would Make Good Movies" from none other than Maud Newton at IFC.

Hamlet "[I]n considering the best Hamlets I've seen in 50 years of theatre- (and cinema-) going, I am struck by several facts. One is that the romantic tradition of Hamlet as a figure of introspective melancholy - 'the gloomy Dane' - has long been supplanted by an emphasis on a host of other qualities: his wit, irony, intellectual agility, sexual confusion and frequent brutality. This, after all, is a man capable of murdering any number of people except the one who really matters: his uncle Claudius." The Guardian's Michael Billington lists his top ten performances.

"Scene Stealers: Five black-and-white films that cast design in a starring role." A list from Phil Nugent at Nerve.

Latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Showgirls.

"Best years in cinema history (in chronological order...)" from listmaster Richard Kelly.

Fests:

Novelist Jon Barnes sums up Batman's history in the Times Literary Supplement before turning to The Dark Knight: "Never can a movie of such size and ambition, released by a major Hollywood studio and intended for a mainstream audience of global proportions, have deliberately inculcated so minatory and oppressive an atmosphere of pessimism and despair. That the film is also so recklessly exhilarating, with its giddily kinetic narrative, overwhelming martial soundtrack and ceaseless barrage of gunplay, pursuits and explosions, makes it one of the most interesting (yet troubling) interpretations of the myth to date."

The Fame Formula "PRs - that mysterious and dark breed of fixers, stuntsters and arch media manipulators - have, for more than a century now, been as fundamental to the Tinseltown fantasy as the Hollywood sign itself," writes Kevin Maher in the London Times. "They are, according to [Mark] Borkowski, in his new book The Fame Formula, the hidden gatekeepers of the Hollywood dream machine 'who guard its formula, often to the death.'" Via Ambrose Heron.

"Dance With the One is the first movie made by the University of Texas Film Institute, a nonprofit in the College of Communication, and the crew is made up almost entirely of UT students." Clay Smith visits the set. Also in the Austin Chronicle, a DVD roundup.

Revisiting Gilda: Billy Stevenson and the Intense Guys.

Michael Koresky in indieWIRE on America the Beautiful: "Director Darryl Roberts's mode of address is so hackneyed and juvenile, and the editing strategies and muddy non-aesthetic so predictable, that one has to try and look beyond the surface of things to find any value here; after all, that's what Roberts himself has attempted to do in making it."

Online listening tip. Noah Forrest talks with Beautiful Losers director Aaron Rose.

Online viewing tip. Ted Zee has the trailer for Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time Redux.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:46 AM

July 30, 2008

Shorts, 7/30.

Objectified "Objectified is a documentary about industrial design; it's about the manufactured objects we surround ourselves with, and the people who make them." And Gary Hustwit (Helvetica) is working on it right now. Via Coudal Partners.

"Love Story is a fine introduction to the bittersweet career of an utterly unique band - newcomers will be piqued to dig deeper - and it's likely nothing better will be made." For Artforum, Andrew Hultkrans on a doc about Arthur Lee, "indisputably the first black psychedelic musician, and his boundary-smashing, interracial, psych-folk-Latin-rock band," Love.

"With perpetually delayed projects like Chinese Democracy, Inglorious Bastards and Where the Wild Things Are now closer than ever to near-existence, Terry Gilliam must be feeling left out," notes Vulture. "According to Hello! magazine, the hapless film director is allegedly making plans to revive The Man Who Killed Don Quixote - the movie whose first hilarious problem-plagued attempt resulted in the excellent documentary Lost in La Mancha - with Johnny Depp purportedly interested again."

Depp may also play the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's 3D version of Alice in Wonderland.

What could happen if Goethe's Faust, Bagdad Cafe and a wild machismo kitsch fantasy filled with mother-whore dichotomies clashed together?" asks X at Twitch. "Quite likely something as insanely pretty as Go Eun-Gi's [My Love, Yurie).

Ong Bak 2 "The very strange saga of Tony Jaa and his disappearance from the set of Ong Bak 2 appears to have come to a tearful end." The tale is told by Wise Kwai and Twitch's Todd Brown.

Girish has been revisiting films "that are (1) either well-reputed, or (2) ones for which I have a special affinity" and then diving into analyses of each. After offering several examples of various match-ups, he asks: What about you?

"Trailers began slow and silent. At first mere glass slides, they were colorful and sometime objects of art in themselves." But John McElwee's terrific overview begins in 1964.

"For the past several months I have waded through mounds of research, marked countless pithy [Paul] Newman quotes, and sat and talked with his friends and colleagues," writes Patricia Bosworth, introducing her profile in Vanity Fair. "What follows is, for lack of a better word, a tribute to this singular artist and philanthropist. It's a kind of Newman collage, highlighting some of the most memorable incidents in this remarkable man's unique existence." And there's an accompanying slide show.

"Max Linder and the Death of Bourgeois Respectability," from Cullen Gallagher: "He tore down pretension and ridiculed respectability. The very symbols of social refinement - clothing, manners, marriage, propriety - are the targets for his humor. The greatest victim, however, is always Linder himself: his transgressions always end with his expulsion from the class he strived to attain. It is this liberation from respectability that is the archetypical Linder scenario." Also at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Adam Balz on You the Living

Beautiful Losers "[Mike] Mills features prominently in NYC gallery curator-turned-director Aaron Rose's Beautiful Losers, an entertaining doc celebration of the DIY talent (Shepard Fairey, Harmony Korine, Ed Templeton, the late Margaret Kilgallen, et al) who took part in Rose's titular museum exhibition," writes Aaron Hillis for IFC. "Emerging from the fringe of subcultures like skateboarding, graffiti bombing, hip-hop and punk, these passionate outsiders became art stars entirely by accident, but who's complaining? In support of the film, Mills spoke with me about art, LA wildlife, and pirate school."

At FilmInFocus, Richard T Kelly talks with Alex Cox about true independence.

"[Alex] Ross is fond of a scene that begins Lawrence Levine's Highbrow / Lowbrow, which describes Shakespeare performances on the 19th century American frontier," notes Scott Timberg in the Los Angeles Times. "'There were scrambled programs,' Ross said, 'with a Rossini aria, then a vaudeville pianist, and then a movement from a string quartet, and then dancers, and then something from Shakespeare.' That kind of mix, he said, 'is very deeply rooted culturally,' and today's eclecticism is just a return to the way things were before culture became sacred." Timberg also talks ruffled brows with novelist Steve Erickson, essayist Pico Iyer and critic Laura Miller.

"With their hopes for conventional movie deals increasingly dead on arrival, more and more indie filmmakers are opting for a do-it-yourself model: self-distribution, once the route of the desperate, reckless or defiant, has become an increasingly attractive option for movies otherwise deprived of theatrical exhibition." John Anderson reports: "Ballast, Wicked Lake, The Singing Revolution and Last Stop for Paul are among the indies currently or recently taking the maverick route."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "Hollywood could not come up with a rich enough deal for [Steven] Spielberg, the most bankable director in the business and a 'national treasure'?" Brook Barnes looks into the implications of the DreamWorks deal with Mumbai conglomerate Reliance.

  • Speaking of Spielberg, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may have given us an update on the old phrase, "jump the shark," reports Noam Cohen: "'to nuke the fridge' means to introduce a wildly implausible element to a once-respected franchise, or more generally, to signal the abandonment of past standards of quality."

  • And speaking of Mumbai: Snoop Dogg, "once dubbed 'America's Most Loveable Pimp' by Rolling Stone makes his debut in India this summer, with a guest appearance on the title track of a highly anticipated Bollywood movie, Singh Is Kinng," notes Heather Timmons. "The movie is set to open in August, but the title song is already in heavy rotation on some radio stations in India."

  • Michael Cieply compares the back stories and possible futures of Creative Artists Agency and Endeavor.

  • Fox is going to be pushing the DVD release of Horton Hears a Who! "with one of the biggest marketing pushes in the medium's history," reports Brooks Barnes.

Fanny "Fanny, in the end, made the Siren take a look at how much emphasis she places on direction. On that score, you have to flunk the movie.... But the Siren can't lie and say she disliked Fanny, when in fact she enjoyed it very much."

Lauren Wissot at the SpoutBlog on A Clockwork Orange: "[W]atching [Malcolm] McDowell's performance one begins to understand how cult leaders and serial killers could have so many females wanting to bed them. Bad boys with high IQs and their own set of rules, rebels writ large, all belong to the seductive brotherhood of Alex."

"[A]ny reduction in coverage of books that matter is particularly hard to swallow," writes Sara Nelson at Publishers Weekly, responding to news of layoffs and general shrinkage at the Hartford Courant and Los Angeles Times:

But here's the reality. Complaining and worrying aren't going to make a difference. The newspaper business is in free fall and book coverage is only a tiny part of the problem. If you want to get really depressed, consider what it means that, say, the New York Times had massive layoffs earlier this year and that the reorganization at the LA Times is paper-wide. It's not just "book culture" that is endangered, it's culture in general - political, economic, social, ethical.

Ed Champion's got some thoughts on all this.

Tom Shone talks about On the Waterfront and HUAC with Budd Schulberg, while Nick Bradshaw interviews Larry Charles (Borat, Curb Your Enthusiasm).

Also in the Guardian: "Those who consider The Dark Knight the best film ever made... are entitled to their view," offers David Cox. "But not, surely, to the claim that this woefully disappointing hodgepodge says something useful about the central predicament of our age." Related: Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on one good shot: "For a movie that wants to explain every damned thing on its mind, from the vigilante morality of Batman to the urban terror 'anarchy' of the Joker, here thank God, is an honest-to-goodness snippet of cinema: brutal, moving, feeling, expressing images." And in the Voice, RC Baker comments on the politics: "Will you sacrifice your privacy, accept surveillance of your every phone call, as if you were a villain, in order to snare terrorists?"

"Angelina would own the part." Says Julie Newmar, responding to rumors that Angelina Jolie is interested tackling Catwoman. The Age reports.

"After Burnt Money (2000), Marcelo Pineyro's conventionally entertaining true crime tale of gay bank robbers, queer blooms began to grow within the wilder garden of new Argentine cinema." Johny Ray Huston presents a guide, a sort of sidebar to Lynn Rapoport's review of Lucía Puenzo's XXY.

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Dennis Harvey: "Kenny is one of those films that sneaks up on you, at first seeming 'not so bad,' then 'pretty cute, actually.' Then before you know it, you're grinning ear-to-ear, pants duly charmed off." And local cinephiles coming across the Bay Guardian's "Best of the Bay 2008" special issue will likely head straight to the Nightlife & Entertainment section, where they'll find plenty to celebrate.

Sixty Six "There is a certain class of British film - for which John Boorman's Hope and Glory is perhaps the prototype - which follows an adolescent boy's coming of age during a notable or sentimentality-laced period of 20th-century English history," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. The film at hand is Sixty Six, also reviewed by Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "Condescendingly, the story spells out the parallel between Bernie's [Gregg Sulkin] 'underdog' status and England's during the World Cup, but what really stings is the onslaught of quirk, which isn't surprising given that Paul Weiland's name appears on the credits." In the Voice, Ella Taylor finds the film "brightened by a terrific cast, including Eddie Marsan as Bernie's timid dad, the hilarious Catherine Tate as his culinarily challenged aunt, and (given that she's about as Jewish as the queen) a surprisingly terrific Helena Bonham Carter in full floral folly as Bernie's loving mum."

"Is it just me, or is 'the inevitable, tragic interconnectedness of all humankind' currently in danger of replacing 'wise-cracking hitmen' as the most overworked arthouse cliche of our time?" Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly on The Edge of Heaven

"In a summer that will have Tom Cruise applying his considerable cackle to a Sumner Redstone surrogate in Tropic Thunder and a manscaping-derelict Bruce Willis doing his meanest Alec Baldwin impression in the adaptation of producer Art Linson's Hollywood tell-all, What Just Happened?, we thought it was high time to look at a few ways filmmakers have exacted revenge, both personal and professional, through their movies in recent times." A list from Stephen Saito at IFC: "The 10 Most Slanderous Cinematic Slights."

More on What Just Happened? (with a clip, too) from the Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein: "Not a knockout, but a victory nonetheless."

"In the course of recent events, various people have asked me what it feels like to have completed the project of a lifetime," writes Tim Lucas. "The answer I've settled on, the most truthful one, is quick and to the point: 'I feel bereaved.'" But that's not stopping him.

In Stream, Eric Kohn watches the studios ooze online - and notes that there's still plenty of room for independents.

America the Beautiful "The scattershot America the Beautiful recapitulates vintage Beauty Myth trumpery," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "Beauty standards make us average frumps miserable and are the conspiratorial invention of a cabal of Madison Avenue execs working in concert with Patriarchal Hegemony."

How are docs doing in theaters? Agnes Varnum presents a mixed report card at indieWIRE.

Ray Pride has a DVD roundup.

"The nominees for the Israeli Academy Awards, The Ophir Awards, were announced yesterday." Yair Raveh's got 'em.

"Hacker Ethic is a provocative feature documentary that explores the politics and culture of the latest generation of hackers." And its makers are raising funds.

Online browsing tip. Via JR Jones, programmer and radio host Scott Marks's Emulsion Compulsion, "which includes over 10,000 images from his gigantic memorabilia collection. Enter at your own risk; the next time you look at your watch, it'll be two hours later and you'll be late for something or other. This I know."

Online listening tip #1. If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger... has Hitchcock and Truffaut discussing Psycho.

Online listening tip #2. At the House Next Door, John Lichman and Vadim Rizov talk with Adam Nayman and Andrew Tracy.

Online listening tips. Talking DVDs with Glenn Kenny and Douglas Pratt, Aaron Aradillas launches a new radio program, Back By Midnight. Also: A talk with John Badham about WarGames.

The Magnificent Ambersons Online viewing tip #1. Terence Davies discusses Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons at a recent retrospective of his own work in Poland (that's Michal Oleszczyk translating in the background). Related: "Recently, I watched one of Welles's supposedly 'minor' works, The Lady From Shanghai (1947)," writes Ted Pigeon. "I was not surprised to find out that it was yet another intriguing exercise in Welles' career-long inquiry into the potential of the moving image."

Online viewing tip #2. Lena Gieseke's 3D exploration of Picasso's Guernica. Via Fimoculous.

Online viewing tip #3. Ed Halter has The House That Kent Built, "a profile of a local librarian who built up his library's 16mm collection, and remembers the format's popular heyday in the 60s to 80s. Great stuff with many cinephilistic shout-outs!"

Online viewing tip #4. For those in the US, Hoop Dreams, on Hulu, for free.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:20 PM

Fests and events, 7/30.

Le Voleur "Starting with the bleak contours of the period preceding the German Occupation and its aftermath's anxious confusion to the stylish rebellion of the New Wave and today's slicker psychological studies, French film directors like Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Becker, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol refashioned the tropes of American B-movies to create enduring masterpieces of good and evil," writes Elena Oumano. "And if not all 38 noir films and thrillers (spanning six decades) in Film Forum's French Crime Wave series are rave-worthy, each is rich in defining the moments and ironies of our ongoing struggle against those terrifying yet fascinating unseen forces that bat us about." August 8 through September 11.

Also in the Voice: For ST VanAirsdale, the highlights of Collaborations in the Collection: Coen Brothers, running August 2 through 28 at MoMA, are the three films Joel and Ethan Coen made with cinematographer Barry Sonnefeld: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona and Miller's Crossing.

The Deal at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

"In three years, Britdoc has transformed from noble experiment (inclusive documentary conference based at a legendary university) to unquestionable success," reports Matt Dentler at indieWIRE. "Set over three days on the Keble College campus in Oxford, UK, the conference (founded and organized by the Channel 4 Documentary Foundation) has become a necessary launch pad for both completed and in-progress nonfiction filmmaking. The 2008 edition will be known for its combination of large audiences (early estimates are at 900 attendees), inspiring discoveries, and unconventionally beautiful English weather."

"One of the things that BritDoc has consistently gotten right has been the pitch panel format, wherein filmmakers have a limited amount of time to pitch their projects to an impressive table of commissioning editors," notes AJ Schnack. And: "Reasons to Crash a Veddy British Festival."

Lorenzo Semple Jr looks back to Karlovy Vary for the Los Angeles Times.

Online viewing tip #1. The Cinefamily will be presenting an evening of shorts by George Kuchar on August 3. And they've got video of him introducing the shorts he made in San Francisco and New York.

Online viewing tip #2. Scott Kirsner and Lance Weiler talk about The Conversation, a gathering slated for October 17 and 18 at the Pacific Film Archive: "The Future of Cinema, Games & Online Video: New Tools / New Distribution / New Rules."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:54 PM

Candidates, 7/30.

The Candidate This'll be the entry that collects notes on Swing Vote and Stealing America: Vote by Vote, but first: FilmInFocus has asked five political minds "to stand back from the current race and vote on their five favorite campaign films." Posted so far are lists from David Sirota, author of The Uprising, and Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.

"An inflated, dumbed-down variation on the 1939 John Barrymore vehicle The Great Man Votes, Swing Vote is as tired as its stunt of casting a dozen cable-news blowhards as themselves," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "Replacing its father-love syrup with genuine election-year vinegar would be change you could believe in, or at least stay awake through."

Updated through 8/5.

"In Stealing America: Vote by Vote, director Dorothy Fadiman does a fine job outlining the ways in which the integrity of the United States electoral process is repeatedly undermined by fraud, de facto disenfranchisement and the concerted efforts of corrupt politicos to draw on any available means to ensure the successful campaign of their candidate; where she runs into trouble is in trying to pose solutions." Andrew Schenker in Slant.

For Vadim Rizov, writing in the Voice, she runs into trouble a lot earlier than that. He lists the doc's many sins (in his eyes, of course), and then: "What matters is that Stealing America: Vote by Vote - even by the political video documentary's meager standards - plays like a particularly dull PowerPoint presentation. The case it lays out is factually sketchy, but as a movie, it's unforgivable."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Fadiman "about covering a story the mainstream media had avoided, the advantages of having true independence as a filmmaker, and where Hollywood is going wrong."

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth notes that many on both the left and right sides of the aisle aren't too happy that Oliver Stone is pushing his W. into theaters before Election Day.

The Nation: Free Fall

Update: And FilmInFocus has just added Nation columnist Katha Pollitt's list of five.

Update, 7/31: "[Director Joshua Michael] Stern (who also co-wrote the script with Jason Richman) is a touch too slick - and too soft - to pull off a truly incisive American political satire, but he's also far from stupid, and the longer Swing Vote hangs around, the more engaging it becomes," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "It's twice as smart as you have any reason to expect but still only half as smart as you wish it were."

"Swing Vote is absurd, and by all rights it shouldn't work," writes the Stranger's Annie Wagner. "I won't say it's Capra-esque, but it's awfully nice."

The New York Press's Armond White finds it "superior to such pseudo-political comedies as Dave and The American President."

The Los Angeles Times profiles Swing Vote's leads: John Horn with Kevin Costner and Michael Ordoña with Madeline Carroll.

IndieWIRE interviews Stealing director Fadiman.

Meantime, Glenn Kenny has a very fun entry on the dust Jeffrey Wells has kicked up with his comments on Jon Voight's knee-slapper of an op-ed in the Washington Times.

Jim Emerson at MSN: "Lights, Camera, Election! Political lessons we learned from the movies." And at his own site, he's got more notes and a question: "What else should have made the list, and why?"

Updates, 8/1: "Swing Vote isn't exactly a toothless political satire," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "It's something worse: a satire with dentures. What little bite it manages to apply against the American electoral system is fake, to be removed at will whenever a truly chewy topic comes up."

"A pleasant muddle about life, liberty and the pursuit of Budweiser, among other noble and base causes, Swing Vote is also one of the most surprising, politically suggestive movies to come out of Hollywood this year," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Swing Vote is a mainstream, eager-to-please, relatively generic endeavor, not an auteurist showcase. Mr Stern does nice work with the actors, even the weak ones. But it's difficult to pick out a distinctive voice amid the loud music and equally blaring commercial imperatives that mandate that even the sharpest political jabs be delivered with smiles."

"Swing Vote is a polemic about process: It's vitally important that you vote, the movie argues, but whom you vote for makes not the slightest difference," writes Christopher Orr in the New Republic. "Indeed, to a degree the movie seems not even to recognize, it is not about the political ramifications of voting at all, but the therapeutic ones."

"The modern political comedy falls into one of two extremes; either it's a bland bore with no actual politics in it that makes you want to fall asleep (Welcome to Mooseport, My Fellow Americans) or a bleak blunt satire that makes you want to slit your wrists (Wag the Dog, Thank You For Smoking)," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "In our divided, focus-grouped age where politics is, to flip von Clausewitz, the continuation of war by other means, most political comedies either skip any real ideas in the name of making money ('Ha! The president fell down!') or go for the jugular on their way to the poorhouse.... Swing Vote isn't going to be remembered as the best political comedy of our time (Ivan Reitman's wacky-but-warm Dave still holds that position) but it's not a bad showcase for Costner, and its heart and brain are both in something close to the right place."

"[G]iven the way things turn out in this cynical, confrontational film, one wonders if it was Mr Stern's decision to go goofy at the outset, or if it was the decision of a studio executive concerned that the film was mocking its audience a little too directly," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

"Costner makes a convincing everyman, even handling the transition from drunk to diplomat in one week flat," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"[T]he film radiates squandered potential in every frame," sighs Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

Time: Obama / McCain

"Borrowing the idealism of Frank Capra movies and the cynicism of Preston Sturges comedies, but not near those old masters as an entertainer or political guru, Stern suggests that the real hero is the ordinary Joe who goes to the polls and votes these rascals in," notes Richard Corliss in Time. "Swing Vote has aspirations to be Molly - or, in a pinch, Bud. But it's closer to the parties' idea men, trying to guess what the people want, then desperately laying it on."

"There are some interesting little surprises in Joshua Michael Stern's Swing Vote, glimmers of intelligence flashing briefly amid the muddiness of the picture's uncertainty," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Unfortunately, you have to wade through the whole movie to get to them."

Nathan Lee in the NYT: "Stealing America: Vote by Vote might have been this year's most alarming and patriotic documentary if it weren't so shoddy and dull." More from S James Snyder in the New York Sun - and Salon's Andrew O'Hehir:

1) As Fadiman's computer experts tell us, fixing a moderately large number of votes is technically feasible. 2) If Karl Rove and Dick Cheney could do such a thing, they certainly would. 3) The whole thing is unproven and unprovable, and gets a pretty low Occam's-razor score for probability. Conspiracy theories, whether they're about the JFK assassination or 9/11 or Flight 800 or, I don't know, the 2002 Kings-Lakers series, represent our desire to see order in a chaotic and ambiguous universe, whose patterns are generally too large for us to grasp. On a more practical level, they generally require a degree of competence, organization and secrecy for which human beings are not much noted.

[...]

It's one thing to have a point of view, even an unpopular or outrageous one, and pursue it vehemently. It's quite another to feign an interest in the truth while ignoring all complicating or contrary evidence.

Meantime, Dan Rather picks his five for FilmInFocus.

And Jane Hamsher (firedoglake) presents her five.

Update, 8/3: "[D]isappointingly weak," sighs Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "There's substantial evidence that Republicans have committed election chicanery in Florida in 2000, in Ohio in 2004, and with the politically motivated hirings and firings at the Department of Justice. We currently have an election where an African-American with a Muslim name has a better-than-average shot at being elected president. Times like these call for smarter and sharper movies than Swing Vote."

Update, 8/5: "The makers of Swing Vote, the new film starring Kevin Costner, have pulled off a rare double play, producing a smart political satire that is also heartfelt and moving. It's also a film that turns out to be remarkably relevant to the 2008 race," argues Arianna Huffington.

Online listening tip. Discussed on the Leonard Lopate Show: The Best Man, The Candidate and Bob Roberts.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:31 PM

In Search of a Midnight Kiss.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss "From Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive and beyond, most movies revolving around Hollywood hopefuls portray the greater Los Angeles area as a soulless cesspool into which the hordes can't help but sink," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE. "But in his Tinseltown-set feature In Search of a Midnight Kiss, Alex Holdridge reimagines LA as a place of renewal and unsung beauty: Skyline shots inclusive of freeway traffic, graphic compositions incorporating the city's variegated architecture, and even the Hollywood sign shrouded by smoggy haze are lovingly lensed in stark black-and-white in obvious homage to Woody Allen's Manhattan (though this hipster kid on the block scores his images to the indie rock of Shearwater rather than Gershwin)."

Updated through 8/5.

"Holdridge's film oscillates wildly between low-key romantic comedy and antic slapstick and doesn't always hit the mark, but it has charm to burn, as well as a welcome eye for the timeless in a rapidly changing metropolis," writes the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas.

"To praise the beauty of this film," argues Anthony Lane in the New Yorker, "is not enough; what lends it tension is that it's wrapped around people for whom beauty is at best an anachronism and at worst an embarrassing joke, like gracious conduct or any hint of duty or service - all the stuff that belongs to big-studio cinema, with its superheroes and stuck-up guys in period costume. It is as if Vivian [Sara Simmonds] and Wilson [Scoot McNairy] know they are stranded in a good-looking movie and want to bluster their way out."

"If Mr Holdridge belongs to any school of filmmaking, it is the Austin, Texas, school of Richard Linklater, he of Slacker (1991), Dazed and Confused (1993), Before Sunrise (1995), SubUrbia (1997) and Before Sunset (2004)," suggests Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Mr Linklater's and Mr Holdridge's are the types of romantic comedy that can spend an entire film on a single date, as if a chance encounter can change one's whole existence, which often, if not always, happens in real life as well."

"Holdridge has taken the clumsy, true-to-life qualities of [Andrew] Bujalski's films and thrown in a little endearing Miranda July for good measure," suggests Mimi Luse in the L Magazine.

Eric Kohn profiles Hildridge for indieWIRE.

Update, 7/31: "Profane, hilarious and ultimately heartbreaking, Alex Holdridge's black-and-white feature In Search of a Midnight Kiss has a gutter purity that makes you root for it all the way and forgive its patches of ultra-indie awkwardness," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Its plot is one that Judd Apatow could use, and probably will: A lovelorn video store geek, not lacking in a certain dissolute charm, tries to find a last-minute New Year's Eve date via Craigslist and winds up circling the drain of existence - or roaming downtown Los Angeles, which is roughly the same thing - with a pill-popping, chain-smoking blonde whose hysterical redneck boyfriend keeps calling every five minutes. A hit at last year's Tribeca Film Festival that has been making the film festival rounds ever since, In Search of a Midnight Kiss is both more delicate and more ruthless than that premise suggests."

Updates, 8/1: "[W]hile In Search of a Midnight Kiss has its derivative moments along with awkward patches - the inelegantly shaped climax tries to force uninteresting parallels between the two central couples - it manages the difficult task of creating a sustained, plausible and inviting world," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "That part of this world has been formed by other movies is to be expected. Mr Holdridge, after all, is a young filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles who, much like Wilson, is navigating one tough town."

"As long as it sticks to being a visually stunning love letter to the much-maligned city, an inverse of the LA segment of Annie Hall, a filmic rehab from City of Quartz to a city of romantic fantasy - I can totally get on board with it," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It's when the actors open their mouths that I start to have a problem."

"[B]ehind the serendipity, the film's dull, graceless storytelling deflates any prospect of a magical night," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun.

"Derivativeness, of course, need not be fatal, and the first-time director's portrait of solitude negated and desperate longing fulfilled - strengthened by lovely Manhattan-ish black-and-white cinematography of Los Angeles, here cast as a barren wonderland fit for lonely souls - boasts an endearingly idiosyncratic, unfussy vibe," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"In Search of a Midnight Kiss shows enough flashes of brightness that its more conventional business is all the more dispiriting," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

Update, 8/5: Stephen Saito talks with Holdrige for IFC.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:57 AM

Interview. Courtney Hunt.

Frozen River "When I heard that Quentin Tarantino handed the Grand Jury Prize for best feature to Courtney Hunt's Frozen River at this year's Sundance Film Festival, telling the audience that the movie 'put my heart in a vise and proceeded to twist that vise until the last frame,' my jaw went slack," recalls Ella Taylor in the Voice. "But Tarantino was raised by his mom, and if there's one thing this movie gets dead right, it's the desperation of impoverished single mothers trying to fend for their children. And if Frozen River finally gets the terrific actress Melissa Leo her place in the sun to boot, so much the better."

David D'Arcy talks with Hunt about the immigrant smuggling we rarely hear anything about: crossing the US-Canadian border.

Updated through 8/4.

"Frozen River isn't cinematically ambitious or formally adventurous, but it's built around powerful and nuanced performances by Leo, [Misty] Upham and Charlie McDermott," notes Andrew O'Hehir, introducing his interview with Hunt at Salon. "Furthermore, it showcases a confident director who uses her characters to fill out an engaging, well-constructed plot, and you can bet Hollywood execs are paying attention."

For the New York Times, Karen Durbin talks with Leo, who's been working on Veronika Decides to Die, based on Paulo Coelho's novel and also starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Thewlis.

Stephen Saito talks with Hunt, Leo and Upham for IFC.

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance.

Updates: For the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris, Frozen River "plays out as one of the strongest feminist statements I have ever seen onscreen.... Ms Leo and Ms Upham somehow project an aura of indestructibility around Ray and Lila that should prove thematically and spiritually invigorating for adult audiences with a feeling for the heroism of everyday life."

S James Snyder profiles Hunt for the L Magazine.

Updates, 7/31: "British filmmaker Mike Leigh, who has demonstrated some genuine feeling for underclass life (Hard Labour, Secrets and Lies, All or Nothing), told me he once reprimanded an art director who decorated the set of a poor family's home by 'dirtying up' the doorframes," recalls Armond White in the New York Press. "Leigh barked, 'Are your doorframes at home smudged? Then why would these be? These characters have self-respect.' A polite way of describing what's wrong with Frozen River, the new indie film about underclass life, would be to call it Smudged-Doorframe Cinema."

Interviews with Leo: Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Chuck Wilson (LA Weekly).

Updates, 8/1: "In many respects, Frozen River feels like a prototypical Sundance winner: It's plaintive and minor, small in scale and technical ambition, and concerned with issues affecting working mothers, the poor, Native Americans, and immigrants," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "What lends it distinction, if only mildly, are the engrossing particulars of the setting, with its uncommon glimpse into tribal law and reservation life, and Leo's performance, which brings overdue attention to a career spent laboring under the radar."

David Fear in Time Out New York: "That Hunt's thriller can't sustain tension suggests she still needs a few more films under her belt; the fact that Frozen River says the minimum about working-class life (it's hard) or modern Native Americans (they've been screwed) is less forgivable."

"Possibly the best thing about Frozen River is that the mechanics of its busy plot do not intrude awkwardly on the portrait it offers of harsh, pinched lives," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "In the end, you feel that Frozen River gives about as truthful a picture of American bleakness as it's possible for a movie to present. It is a movie that asks something of an audience, but it richly rewards our curiously rapt attention."

"Ms Leo's magnificent portrayal of a woman of indomitable grit and not an iota of self-pity makes Frozen River a compelling study of individual courage," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "She brings the same kind of gravity to the role that Patricia Neal did to Alma Brown in Hud 45 years ago."

"Melissa Leo owns Frozen River," agrees Meghan Keane in the New York Sun.

"At a time when films such as the blockbuster Sex and the City and the upcoming The Women present a female perspective based on consumerism, romance and the romance of consumption, Frozen River is a different kind of women's picture." Mark Olsen talks with Hunt for the Los Angeles Times.

Nathaniel Rogers talks with Leo and Hunt for Tribeca.

Brent Simon has a quick chat with Hunt for Vulture.

Update, 8/3: "With Frozen River, Hunt creates two remarkable roles and a fascinating situation," writes Marcy Dermansky. "With every passage over the frozen river, the relationship between the two women develops, as does our relationship with the characters. The suspense steadily builds."

Update, 8/4: "All in all, Frozen River is gripping stuff," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Except it's also rigged and cheaply manipulative. There's a turn near the end involving a young Pakistani couple - for some reason Ray decides they're terrorists - that's outlandish on every conceivable level. And the ending... Surely Hunt didn't mean to, but her testament to American gumption in the face of crushing poverty ends up affirming that crime pays, social consequences be damned."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:21 AM

July 29, 2008

Toronto 08. Docs lineup.

Toronto 08 "One of the more passionate doc programmers, Toronto's Thom Powers, runs a good blog," notes Michael Jones. "He has the lineup here, with a tease that more is coming." And Michael picks out a few highlights.

Toronto runs from September 4 through 13.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:28 AM

DVDs, 7/29.

Inglorious Bastards "Never hurrying, but never lingering, The Inglorious Bastards is a tribute to the kind of relaxed, professional B-list filmmaking that existed for decades before it was killed by television and rising production costs," writes Grady Hendrix in the New York Sun. "In [Enzo] Castellari's hands, a gang of naked, submachine-gun-wielding Nazi women comes off like just another surreal incident on the way to the Swiss border. In [Quentin] Tarantino's remake, it will probably be a breathless, glossy shot that reviewers will talk about for years. But while the remake will most likely have a Saving Private Ryan-size budget and A-list stars, it probably won't be able to recapture the original's sense of a professional team of men on a mission: to complete their movie against all odds."

"Yet another very good American movie that vanished from theaters in the blink of an eye but will be found enduring on on the DVD shelf is George A Romero's Diary of the Dead," writes Daniel Kasman. "The lean, but robust umpteenth entry in the director's decade-spanning zombie series, Diary of the Dead, on its modest scale, gets it all right: broad but brawny characterizations, stalwart, plucky survival, a healthy dose of social criticism, and uncomfortable, necessary violence." Related: Philippa Hawker's interview with Romero in the Age.

"Lucifer Rising exists as an intersection between two filmic ideas, and it is within this intersection that the film gains it's power," writes Mike at Esotika Erotica Psychotica: "more than any other film, Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising is about spectacle and hypnosis."

Wholphin 6 For Michael Atkinson, writing at IFC, Wholphin "might be the most relentlessly fascinating and inventive showcase for new short films in the country." Also: "The new Flicker Alley set, Perils of the New Land, is straight as an arrow, collecting pre-World War I silents that address, in of course outrageously pulpy and melodramatic and stereotypical ways, the issues facing turn-of-the-century immigrants in America (New York, precisely)."

Dave Kehr in the New York Times on Tyrone Power: "Though the source of his appeal is evident - his only rival for physical beauty on the Fox lot was his frequent costar, Loretta Young - the secret of his endurance is harder to pin down. Hollywood in the 1930s did not lack for strikingly handsome leading men, but while most of his chiseled brethren sooner or later fell by the wayside, Power continued to be a box office force until his premature death in 1958."

"I know of few films that reveal more of what 'life is about' than Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep." A review from J Robert Parks. Related: The Errata podcast.

Quiet City "Dance Party, USA moves from a shocking, hilariously recognizable profane rant to the bloom of teen love, and it never misses a beat along the way," writes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. As for the other Aaron Katz film in Benten's box, "If Quiet City is annoying and fascinating in equal measure, it nonetheless offers another counter-argument to the supposedly monolithic nature of m*****core: it's the most gorgeous film out of the movement."

Peter Nellhaus: "The Free Will is ultimately about is the choices one makes in life, assuming that they are choices, the responsibility for the actions one takes, and that no matter what we do, we finally end up alone either in death or to face a future that can still offer unexpected possibilities." Also, Lee Kang-sheng's Help Me Eros.

Guy Savage has the Noir of the Week: Bob le flambeur.

Paul Matwychuk on Car Wash: "Even on my tiny iPod screen, the film was bursting with life, good humour, and a vivid sense of time and place."

Seminole Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report" is now happening in the Auteurs' Notebook, and first up in the new locale is Budd Boetticher's Seminole, "an Eastern Western, as it were—it's set in Florida, and it star Rock Hudson as Lt Lance Caldwell, a West Point graduate with roots there, and connections to its peaceful Seminole tribe - a tribe that Caldwell's commanding officer, Major Harlan Degan (Richard Carlson), intends to drive out of the land.... The Optimum disc, alas, doesn’t do the film many favors."

Online viewing tip. Jim Emerson presents a "condensed version of David Fincher's 1999 comedy masterpiece, Fight Club, to accompany and expand on my personal/critical essay."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, DVD Talk, PopMatters and Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:45 AM | Comments (2)

Man on Wire, round 2.

Picking up from last week's entry, David D'Arcy's take, followed by more pointers.

Man on Wire Man on Wire, not only in theaters but also actually attracting sizable audiences, is about Philippe Petit's famous walk in the clouds on a cable stretched between the roofs of the two towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974, two days before Richard M Nixon resigned from the presidency. James Marsh's documentary begins as a parody of a caper movie, following the now-obligatory approach of using devices usually associated with fiction to to shape a documentary's narrative. This time, it works.

A group of Frenchmen and their American accomplices pile into a van - a la The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) or The French Connection - and sneak in workmen's clothes up to the roof of one of the WTC towers. Their plan is to suspend a wire from one of the towers to the other, to enable the high-wire performer to walk between the buildings.

Updated through 8/4.

Petit did it, as we all know, ending up in a jail for psychiatric cases (long enough for that to be part of his legend) and on the front pages of newspapers around the world, although the achievement of this elfin Marcel Marceau on a tightrope seemed to last all of 15 minutes, since Nixon fell so hard so soon afterwards. Nixon would be pardoned by his vice-president, Gerald Ford, and Petit worked out a deal to avoid any punishment for his very pardonable acts if he would put on a juggling and tightrope show for New York kids. Sounds surprisingly humane. That was a different New York.

Black and white imagery evokes that different city. Back then, the World Trade Center towers were already a kind of symbol for people outside the US that they never really were for Americans, or at least for New Yorkers who were used to tall buildings and knew that the builders of the towers had to go begging for tenants. The very existence of the towers made them something to conquer for Petit. We would see years later how that idea could be taken to a violent extreme. Bear in mind that a group of guys in rented vans were already trying to bring the towers down in 1993. Security wasn't much better then than it was when Petit and company snuck through in 1974.

Man on Wire makes extensive use of reenactment sequences, many of them ingenious, which will no doubt infuriate documentary purists. It's hard to know how Marsh could have told his story without them, since his location is - to put it carefully - no longer available. There are far more of these scenes than in Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure, where the reenactments served more as billboards and bookends for scenes. They could still be trouble for the literal-minded (as was the case when SOP collided with the critics), but the lightness of the story and the verisimilitude of the action keep you going.

The music in the film about performance stirs up the mood effectively - generic ominous pacing from Michael Nyman (this movie's Philip Glass) during the plotting of the act as if clouds are gathering, fanfare of Vaughan Williams and Grieg as the team members motivate each other, and meditative solo piano by Eric Satie when Petit is finally alone on the wire. Obvious or not, the soundtrack builds the atmosphere. [That said, let's keep Godfrey Cheshire's reaction in mind as well - ed.]

Still, Marsh's documentary is a better reconstruction of the crime than of the time - I would have preferred a more generous flavoring of that era's New York - although the incredulity of one plotter on Petit's confinement, however short, in a psychiatric unit, shows an aspect of the gap between French and American culture: "We weren't crazy, we were stars," he says in outrage. And he was right.

The intrepid Petit was just as vulnerable to the temptations of celebrity as anyone, as you'll see in the film's sober ending. Part of the allure of being on top of the world was also being onstage alone, which seems a lot less dignified. But ambition doesn't always end up as a group thing. See this film, and then compare it to Werner Herzog's documentary from 1974, the same year as Petit's walk, The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, an extraordinary look at a solitary young man defying heights and flying.

PS: Man on Wire achieved something extraordinary, earning more than $50,000 in its first weekend. If you don't think that's extraordinary, check Box Office Mojo for the numbers other docs have racked up. Of course, it's not the money (as they all say, with every drop of the sincerity of craven politicians), but maybe it really is too soon to write the obituary for the theatrical documentary just yet. Let's hope so.

- David D'Arcy


Chris Barsanti, writing at Filmcritic.com, finds this an "unaccountably thrilling story... One of the best things about Man on Wire is how little it tries to decipher Petit's actions, even with the copious amount of time it spends interviewing him and his accomplices."

Online listening tips. Petit and Marsh are guests on On Point; Ambrose Heron talks with Petit, too.

Updates, 7/30: Roger Ebert talks with Petit, too.

The Guardian's Ben Walters watches Petit perform now, on the street.

Update, 7/31: Online viewing tip. Brandon Harris with Marsh and Petit.

Updates, 8/1: And the film's opening in the UK: Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Trevor Johnston (Time Out) and Kevin Maher (London Times).

"Petit's girlfriend at the time, Annie Allix, offers some of the most moving testimonials, recalling how, as a shy young woman drawn by Petit's charisma, she gave up on her own dreams for years to help him follow his," notes Slate's Dana Stevens. "But the eloquent Allix is gallantly (and Gallically) accommodating. She speaks without bitterness or resentment of how she and Petit drifted apart in the wake of the event: 'It was beautiful that way.'"

Update, 8/4: "The best design movie of 2008 is not about a typeface. It's about a tightrope walker." Michael Beirut in Design Observer on "the timeless lesson of the power of a simple idea, beautifully realized."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:55 AM | Comments (2)

Venice 08. Lineup.

Venice 08 As Wendy Mitchell reports for Screen, the Venice Film Festival has announced the lineup for its 65th edition. The fest opens on August 27 with Joel and Ethan Coen's Burn After Reading (screening Out of Competition) and runs through September 6.

Among the highlights reaped from a quick scan: New films by Darren Aronofsky, Hayao Miyazaki, Takeshi Kitano, Ferzan Ozpetek, Christian Petzold, Barbet Schroeder, Venice favorite Jia Zhangke, Abbas Kiarostami, Manoel de Oliveira, Agnès Varda, Ramin Bahrani, Lav Diaz and Ross McElwee.

Update, 7/30: For the Guardian, Jeremy Kay scans the lineup for signs of potential Oscar contenders.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:24 AM | Comments (1)

Online viewing tip. "Let's Step Outside."

The Return of the Dragon "The fight scene as it usually turns up in today's action spectacles - smeared, destabilized, fixated on chaos at the expense of clarity and precision - reflects the changing syntax, the all-around acceleration, of movies in general and Hollywood blockbusters in particular."

Taking widespread disgruntlement over the action sequences in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight as his cue, Dennis Lim introduces a series of clips, with notes on each, tracing the evolution of the fight scene at Slate: "The current vogue for chopped-up fights also raises the question: Are these hyperedited brawls any more successful than their more straightforward predecessors?"

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

July 28, 2008

Making The Wire.

The Wire On Wednesday, a symposium entitled Making The Wire will take place at the Museum of the Moving Image and Moving Image Source is gathering materials that even those far and away from Astoria, New York are going to want to read and watch.

For some time now, Kevin B Lee's video essays have been among the most exciting developments in film blogging, suggesting not an alternative but supplemental form of film criticism accessible to anyone online. Here, he and Matt Zoller Seitz have edited Andrew Dignan's analyses of The Wire's credit sequences (Season 1 and Season 2).

"The Wire is strikingly bereft of a central figure from whose perspective the story is told and whose voyage of self-awareness provides its raison d'etre," writes Dana Polen. Instead it suggests that in the complexly knit fabric that is the urban environment, any one figure is little more than a place-holder, a token that can always be replaced by someone else." Hence, the series is "like Balzac's fictional project, which aimed to offer a total physiognomy of the urban experience in which individual stories mattered only for their place in a larger context."

Related: Jürgen Fauth's Wire roundup.

Updates, 7/29: Nelson George explains why The Wire " is the best black TV show written mostly by white men."

And the video analyses of the credits for Seasons 3 and 4 are up.

Updates, 7/30: "The Wire is a show (like Twin Peaks or The Sopranos, Deadwood or Dexter) in whichthe music and montage are essential to bringing the viewer into the world of the show. Like a clearing of the mind as you go into meditation, these familiar (mantra-like) rituals help us leave our conscious surroundings behind and enter a different (but eventually quite familiar) imaginative terrain." Jim Emerson, too, on the credits sequences.

And the video for Season 5 is up.

Updates, 8/1: Vulture reports on the panel.

David Schwartz at the Source on a terrific scene (and the clip's there, too): "As engrossing as the chess scene is on first viewing, it gains in power on re-viewing, not only because we know the tragic fates of the three characters but also because we see how the chess lesson can be applied to much of the other action in the series. After all, in chess, the pieces don't control their own moves. And series creator David Simon's worldview is much closer to that of Greek tragedy - with its ambitious protagonists unaware that their fate is not entirely in their own hands - than to the more conventional view of most American literature, and television, where personality triumphs and good defeats evil."

Update, 8/14: Online listening tip. The full panel.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:50 PM | Comments (1)

Interview. David Redmon.

Mardi Gras: Made in China In Mardi Gras: Made in China, David Redmon asks revelers in pre-Katrina New Orleans if they have any idea where the beads they're throwing in exchange for a glimpse of mammaries were made. In short, nope.

Laura Kern in the New York Times: "A startling look at both the effects of globalization and at a dramatic cultural divide, the film contrasts the lives of the Chinese, hard workers who are forced to make serious sacrifices at very young ages, with indulgent Americans intent on having a good time and seemingly at ease with their lack of awareness. With any luck, this film will manage to open a few closed eyes (or minds)."

James Van Maanen talks with Redmon about the many projects he's working on with producer Ashley Sabin and the many more they'll be distributing shortly.

Update, 7/29: At Hammer to Nail, Michael Tully finds Mardi Gras "an intelligent, thoughtful and entertaining exploration into the troubling effects of globalization."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:34 AM | Comments (1)

July 27, 2008

Kubrick @ 80.

Via William Speruzzi comes a reminder that Stanley Kubrick would have turned 80 yesterday.

Stanley Kubrick

He also points to the Kubrick Site, where you find essays, discussion, reviews, interviews, a FAQ and other related resources.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:06 AM | Comments (1)

Observer Film Quarterly. July 08.

Film Quarterly Juliette Binoche graces the cover of the Observer's current Film Quarterly; the profile's by Hephzibah Anderson:

France's highest-paid actress is set to reveal several more unseen sides of herself this autumn, when a BFI Southbank retrospective, entitled Jubilations, will coincide with the premiere of In-I, a dance work co-created with her co-performer, London-born choreographer Akram Khan. Additionally, the BFI atrium will be showcasing Binoche's paintings of directors with whom she has worked and of herself in character.

As if that weren't achievement enough for one woman, a bilingual book will be published at the same time, composed not only of paintings, but also poems she has written about some of those same directors. And all of this after having just released five films in 10 months.

Related: Binoche's recent diary for the London Times.

"Cinematic new waves are announced with such frequency that it's hard to tell where one ends and the next begins," writes Ryan Gilbey. "But there is currently an unmistakable groundswell in British cinema, heralded by a clutch of directors who are chafing against the boundaries of narrative filmmaking, and in some cases dismantling them altogether." He talks with six: Matthew Thompson (Dummy), Joanna Hogg (Unrelated), Duane Hopkins (Better Things), Marianna Palka (Good Dick), Steve McQueen (Hunger) and Saul Dibb (The Duchess).

The London Film Festival will open on October 15 with the world premiere of Frost/Nixon. Jason Solomons considers the festival's "intent to become, instead of Venice or Toronto, the place for premieres" and to become, in general, "bigger and glitzier."

Elephant Man Solomons also gets Mel Brooks to recall hooking up with David Lynch for The Elephant Man: "I guess it was the outsider aspect that appealed to him. And that's where I think we met, mentally. My films, even if they're comic, they're about: 'Let's accept the bizarre. Let's learn more about these creatures, or these Jews.' I know the Elephant Man wasn't Jewish, but, to me, the story had all the aspects of anti-semitism and [Joseph] Merrick had all the traits of the classic wandering Jew."

"Kristin Scott Thomas gives an extraordinary performance, one of the best of her career, in I've Loved You So Long, which had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February," argues Killian Fox. Also, "Introducing... Michael Fassbender," star of Hunger and François Ozon's Angel.

And Fox asks novelist Siri Hustvedt about the films that have resonated in her life. And: Some big stars' modest debuts.

"Trilogies have been springing up all over, and choosing the top 10 is no longer an easy matter." Philip French gives it a go.

Free Jimmy "These days, cannabis is popping up everywhere," notes Charles Gant. "Pineapple Express will be beaten into UK theatres by The Wackness, in which shrink Ben Kingsley dispenses therapy to teenage patient Josh Peck in exchange for little bags of weed. It will be followed this autumn by feature-length animation Free Jimmy, whose tagline, intriguingly, is: 'Four stoners, three gangsters and a million reasons to free one junkie elephant.' And recent weeks have seen two new announcements: the self-descriptive High School, from the producer of American Pie; and Shrink, another comedy about a psychiatrist pot-head, this time starring Kevin Spacey." A list of five best stoner comedies follows.

Guillermo del Toro takes another look into those famous sketchbooks.

"Elite Squad, released in the UK next month, proved to be one of the most explosive and controversial films in the history of Brazilian cinema." Tom Phillips reports.

A "blast from the past," as Film Comment calls them: novelist Howard Jacobson's 1993 interview with Spike Lee, conducted in the wake of the release of Malcolm X.

And there are brief previews of Ethan and Joel Coen's Burn After Reading, Steven Soderbergh's Che and Kevin MacDonald's State of Play.

Also in this week's Observer, though not in the Quarterly:

The Hunting Party "Last year, US director Richard Shepard made the fictional The Hunting Party, inspired by an Esquire article in which a group of journalists set out to capture Radovan Karadzic in Bosnia." Killian Fox asks him, "How did you react to the arrest?"

"The crane cabbies of the world, the men (and now women) who climb 100 metres straight into the air every day to help build new concrete worlds, are an astonishing, serene, brave, contemplative lot, according to the graceful and revealing The Solitary Life of Cranes, winner of the FourDocs short film competion at last week's Britdoc Festival in Oxford." Euan Ferguson in the Observer.

Philip French considers Simone Signoret and reviews The Dark Knight, Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame, Before the Rains, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, Paris, Baby Mama and Quiet City.

Mark Kermode's "DVD of the week": Funny Games US.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:57 AM

Youssef Chahine, 1926 - 2008.

Youssef Chahine
Youssef Chahine, one of Egypt's most lauded movie directors whose films over nearly five decades often went on Fellini-esque flights of fancy and tackled social ills and Islamic fundamentalism, died Sunday in Cairo. He was 82 years old. His death comes about four weeks after he fell into a coma following a brain hemorrhage....

Chahine grew up speaking French and English better than Arabic, and many of his films were French co-productions, bringing criticism by some at home that he was not Arab - or Egyptian - enough. But his early films became classics of social realism, giving gritty depictions of the lowest in Egyptian society. In his 1958 Cairo Station, Chahine himself starred as Qenawi, a mentally retarded newspaper seller at Cairo's main railroad station, who becomes obsessed with a woman selling lemonade.

Updated through 7/30.

The Land in 1969, seen by some as his greatest film, told an epic story of peasant farmers and landowners struggling over land in the Nile Delta.

In his Alexandria Trilogy - Alexandria, Why?, An Egyptian Story, and Alexandria Again and Forever - Chahine turned autobiographical, recounting his childhood in his hometown, his love of Hollywood and his ambiguous feeling toward the United States, which he was drawn to but also saw as an overweening power.

Lee Keath, the AP.

See also: The site, Arab Media and Wikipedia.

Updates, 7/28: "Egyptian screen stars were among around 1,500 mourners who gathered at a Cairo church on Monday to bid farewell to Arab cinema's most celebrated director, Youssef Chahine, who died on Sunday aged 82," reports the AFP. "Hundreds of celebrities and officials were crammed into the Roman Catholic Church of the Resurrection, with hundreds more gathered outside as the controversial director's coffin was carried in, draped in the Egyptian flag."

"Chahine, notable for his large, thick-framed glasses, an impish face and elfin stature, was a warm, humorous man," recalls Sheila Whitaker in the Guardian:

His influences - Julien Duvivier's The Great Waltz, Busby Berkeley and Gene Kelly (to whom he dedicated Al-Yawm Al-Sadis, The Sixth Day, 1986) - plus his more Mediterranean than Muslim Alexandrian background and often non-linear filmmaking probably made him something of an outsider in the Arab world, while his adherence to Egyptian and Arab national, social and political concerns perhaps militated against wide acceptance in the west.

But his substantial achievements and courage are undeniable, and although his later films were, perhaps, less imaginative and innovative than in earlier days, notably in his use of song and dance, he ranks in any world pantheon.

"Mr Chahine, who directed his first feature film, Baba Amin, in 1950, was an eclectic and exuberant storyteller who could move easily across a range of styles and genres," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "In 28 movies - the last, Chaos, was shown at the Venice Film Festival in 2007 - he shifted deftly from urban realism to florid melodrama, from historical allegory to musical comedy, from social criticism to autobiography. Whether his subject was the domestic struggles of poor and middle-class Cairenes, his own youth in Alexandria, the building of the Aswan Dam or the life of the medieval philosopher Averroes, Mr Chahine's films reflected his cosmopolitan, humanistic sensibility, as well as his deep interest in Egyptian and Middle Eastern history and society."

"He took on imperialism and fundamentalism alike, celebrated the liberty of body and soul, and offered himself warts and all as an emblem of his nation," blogs Nick Bradshaw for the Guardian. "Egypt's modern history is etched in his life's work."

"Jo, as he was known to almost everyone who crossed his path, was a warm, delightful individual and an endlessly inventive filmmaker, whose unpredictable mixture of styles and tones remains one of the best arguments I know for an anti-theoretical, 'impure' cinema," writes Dave Kehr.

Update, 7/29: "It's true he strove to dramatize the Arab condition; pushed back against the government's Islamist leanings; criticized President Hosni Mubarak; and founded, more or less, Egypt's film industry," blogs the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "But he was also born of a Greek mother and a Lebanese father in British-occupied Alexandria (the family spoke four languages), so in many ways his art was determined to try to look past those nationalistic boundaries to locate and illuminate the joy, ache, comedy, and cruelty of being alive."

Update, 7/30: "He was both a nationalist and an internationalist," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "He loved Hollywood movies - as a young man he went to Los Angeles, studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse - and he learned as much from their robust pace as he did from the gritty humanism of Italian neo-realist films and the romantic sweep of Indian cinema in its postwar Golden Age. He was both an art-house auteur and a director of popular hits, at least in the Arab crescent. He made political points, often different ones in different movies, but his didacticism was typically overwhelmed by his irrepressible urge to entertain."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:52 AM | Comments (3)

July 26, 2008

Shorts, 7/26.

American Movie Critics "American film criticism has, traditionally, never been a cushy vocation with a guaranteed income; it has always been nourished by the financial sacrifices of the vast majority of its finest practitioners." A historical overview with a brief glance at a possible future from Phillip Lopate.

Also in FilmInFocus, David Parkinson describes producer William Castle's fears that Rosemary's Baby was well and truly cursed; and a talk with Chuck Tryon all about the Chutry Experiment.

Peter Watkins's Privilege "is an astounding fireball, and could not have been mistaken for a normative movie even by 1967 standards," writes Michael Atkinson. "Like several Watkins films to come, it's a frank portrait of a near-future dystopia, where the already pervasive forces that so terrified Watkins in the ‘Nam era have seized complete control of Western society, exploiting our mass desire to surrender autonomy and collectivize as an obedient throng."

Also at Moving Image Source, David Cairns on a telling sequence in Blind Date: "The prowling around in this scene far exceeds any narrative need to establish place, and shows [Joseph] Losey's obsession with moving the viewer through space, almost for the sake of it (no wonder Last Year at Marienbad would impress him so deeply in 1961)."

Ludwig

Another fine collage of text, imagery and clips at DC's: "Entry level: Luchino Visconti's 'German Trilogy' (1969 - 1973)." Also: Dennis Cooper once wrotes a screenplay for Carter Smith; he tells the story behind this cliffhanger-and-gay-porn-spiked feature and posts the first 20 pages; Cooper hears Smith is still interested in making the film: "I'm pretty skeptical that Warm is ever going to get made, but we'll see."

"Counting Down Ten Sadly Underseen Films." Do take a look at what Aaron Hillis has done with this list for IFC.

Emile De Antonio's "America is Hard to See is a film whose heart and mind is in the right place; but like its subject [Eugene McCarthy], that's about all it is." Tom Sutpen at Bright Lights After Dark.

Immortal Love Daniel Kasman sees, for the first time, a film by Kinoshita Keisuke, and shares his notes in the Auteurs' Notebook: "Immortal Love strikes me as very modern in its stylization, and very modern for 1961, absorbing lessons of camera bravura both from the rise of art-cinema in the 1950s (Fellini, Rossellini), popular cinema turned 'art-cinema' from Japan (Mizoguchi, Kurosawa), and latter day Hollywood stylists getting wilder in the 1950s like Welles, Hitchcock and Minnelli."

"Kim Novak - a major star if not a major actress - had something to offer that was a far cry from updated Hayworth or imitation Monroe," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum. "In point of fact, Novak was more beautiful than either actress, yet paradoxically she was also less of a fantasy. Marilyn Monroe was plainly a comic-strip figure and a fantasy wish-fulfillment that simultaneously converted all the men in her orbit into both fathers and infants, whereas Hayworth apparently lived up to her own self-characterization: 'Men go to bed with Gilda but they wake up with me.' But Novak was real from the get-go, and it's tempting to think that her humble Midwestern origins had something to do with her reality."

Gerald Bartell reviews David Kaufman's Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door for the Washington Post.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird "Kim Jee-woon, who has an impressive track record of having successfully tackled a wide range of genres, from sports comedy (The Foul King) to horror (A Tale of Two Sisters) and European-style film noir (A Bittersweet Life), now turns his sight on the western," writes Kyu Hyun Kim at Koreanfilm.org, noting that viewing The Good, the Bad, the Weird is "a lot like watching a witty pastiche of great westerns, a la My Name is Nobody, rather than a great western itself.

"In a move that could have a big impact on indie film sales and distribution, online film rental service Netflix is shuttering its film financing and acquisition arm Red Envelope Entertainment." Gregg Goldstein has more in the Hollywood Reporter. And Anthony Kaufman has even more at indieWIRE.

Also via Movie City News: "Two years after the success of Lonelygirl15 - the groundbreaking YouTube serial that turned out to be not the DIY diary of a 16-year-old girl but the work of three wannabe auteurs in Beverly Hills - Web video has finally captured Hollywood's imagination." The focus of Frank Rose's piece for Wired is Gemini Division, starring Rosario Dawson.

And also in Wired: Scott Brown puts together an oral history of WarGames.

"The end result of genre television hero Joss Whedon's intriguing episodic short film Dr Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog suggests a brighter future for mainstream entertainers than previous attempts at digital programming have suggested." Eric Kohn in Stream. And the actual numbers? Jeffrey McManus does some "back-of-the-cocktail napkin guesstimation." Via Waxy.

More Kohn, more Stream: A talk with stop-motion animator Nick Hilligoss.

Ciao Congrats to David Lowery and his fellow cast and crew on the impending theatrical release of of Ciao.

Patrick Goldstein researches the research screenwriter Peter Morgan's been doing on The Special Relationship, the projected third part of his, you might say, Cool Britannia trilogy (following The Deal and The Queen), this one examining how Tony Blair and Bill Clinton got along during the three years that their respective administrations overlapped.

Michael Fox checks in on Bay Area films in production at SF360, where Hannah Eaves launches a new column on digital media, this one focusing on fair use.

"Reading both Jane Mayer's stunning The Dark Side and Philippe Sands's The Torture Team, I quickly realized that the prime mover of American interrogation doctrine is none other than the star of Fox television's 24: Jack Bauer." Slate's Dahlia Lithwick: "As Sands and Mayer tell it, the lawyers designing interrogation techniques cited Bauer more frequently than the Constitution."

"What distinguishes the Bond books, apart from the floggings and the Floris, is the simple moral world they inhabit." Geoffrey Wheatcroft heads off on several worthwhile tangents in his piece on Ian Fleming in the New York Review of Books.

Michael Guillén talks with Don Bachardy about Chris & Don: A Love Story. Related notes: Rob Christopher.

Glory at Sea "This week, Benh Zeitlin, director of the oh so glorious SXSW winning short film Glory at Sea, was named one of Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces in Independent Film," writes Brandon Harris. "I had the pleasure of profiling Benh for the magazine's new issue and recently I caught back up with him to talk about his film, the burgeoning new film collective Court 13 and whatever else came to mind."

For the Age, where Stephanie Bunbury talks with Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne about Lorna's Silence.

Like Ozu's I Was Born But..., "Hiroshi Shimizu's Children in the Wind, based on the children's story by Joji Tsubota, also eloquently (and poignantly) captures the children's confused reactions to the contradictions and irrationalities of a complicated, adult world," writes Acquarello in the Auteurs' Notebook.

"Tomas Alfredson has crafted one of the most memorable films I've ever seen with his latest effort, Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)." Blake Ethridge talks with him for Twitch.

In the Voice:

  • Aaron Hillis on Late Bloomer: "Japanese writer-director Gô Shibata's self-described concept of 'a handicapped Taxi Driver subverts the adversity-triumphing disabled character in the same way Crispin Glover's stilted avant-curiosity It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. does, with both films failing to convey how seemingly simple men of limited faculties could suddenly become multiple murderers." More from Jeannette Catsoulis in New York Times: "Weird, wicked and wonderfully perverse, Late Bloomer pulses with frigid energy. Watching it is like having your finger trapped in a light socket: no matter how much it hurts, you can't quite tear yourself away." And more from Simon Abrams (New York Press) and Martin Tsai (New York Sun).

No Regret
  • "No Regret begins as a perceptive glimpse into a specific gay subculture, then descends halfway through into Korean melodrama hell," writes Vadim Rizov; "put both parts together and it's still ahead of the ghettoized gay movie par." In the NYT, Nathan Lee notes that director Leesong Hee-il "presents a remarkably frank portrait of low-rent South Korean homosexuality (the film was a succès de scandale at home), alert to the varieties of sexual identity colliding with economic need."

  • Nick Pinkerton on Canary: "Writer-director Akihiko Shiota's dramatic strategies are limited to the point of monotony, a workmanlike vocabulary of glum location atmospherics and in-the-mix handheld hustling for when the yelling starts." More from Simon Abrams (NYP) and Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT).

  • Scott Foundas on Bustin' Down the Door: "The title of director Jeremy Gosch's engaging, elegantly made surf documentary describes the oftentimes brash methods employed by a pack of scrappy foreigner... to make names for themselves at a time (the 1970s) when surfing was still more of a local (i.e., Hawaiian) pastime than a global professional sport." More from Rob Humanick (Slant), Nathan Lee (NYT) and Nick Plowman.

  • Jim Ridley on The Animation Show 4: "Less hit-or-miss than the long-running Spike & Mike packages of drawn-to-the-dark-side filth, this touring animation program curated by Mike Judge (this time without co-founder Don Hertzfeldt) has hit its stride." More from Nathan Lee (NYT), Matt Noller (Slant) and S James Snyder (NY Sun).

  • Ruth McCann on Red 71: "Watching this film for the sake of plot (or indeed audio quality) will make you suicidal, so instead enjoy the handful of character actors who spring delightfully (and inexplicably) into [director Patrick] Roddy's competently aimed shots." More from Martin Tsai (NY Sun).

"This week, in defiant mode, [Harvey Weinstein] went on a PR offensive, claiming that malicious rumours about the alleged demise of his Weinstein Company were being gleefully exaggerated by jealous former rivals." Guy Adams surveys the battlefield.

What Just Happened? Also in the Independent, Kaleem Aftab talks with Robert De Niro about Barry Levinson's What Just Happened? and about why the Screen Actors Guild should not go on strike.

"Writing criticism requires taking the vague feelings and conflicting impressions we often take from the theater and wrestling them to ground, not spouting the first thing that comes to mind." The Los Angeles Times' Carina Chocano reflects on the need to reflect. Also: Kate Aurthur defends Neil Marshall's Doomsday.

The New York Times has asked Jeanine Basinger, author of The Star Machine, to review Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard: "Some shout hurrah and some shout humbug..."

Also:

Dog Day Afternoon
  • Wilborn Hampton on the Barefoot Theater Company's production of Dog Day Afternoon: "Given the physical impossibility of mounting anything on a stage that could compare with Sidney Lumet's gripping movie, [Francisco] Solorzano has done a creditable job, although it raises the question: Why even attempt to turn the story into a play? The result is more a curiosity for fans of the movie than any elucidation on Frank Pierson's Oscar-winning screenplay."

  • Julie Bosman gets John Waters to confirm that he's writing a Hairspray sequel.

Johnny Ray Huston and Max Goldberg each offer their takes on The Exiles; also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Erik Morse on Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

In the Stranger, Sean Nelson addresses "the whole dilemma of being an ardent fan of Polanski's movies":

Because of what we know and think we know, it's never easy to find the line between the artist and his work. Because there is no such line. Because the Polanski who made so many titanic works of cinema is the same Polanski who escaped from the Nazis is the same Polanski who not only lost his wife and unborn child to the Mansons but was initially accused of the murders in the press is the same Polanski who gave a 13-year-old girl champagne and a quaalude fragment then had sex with her on the floor of Jack Nicholson's living room. If the 20th century happened to anyone, it happened to Roman Polanski. And as [Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired] shows, it's still happening to him.

Devil's Advocate The latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Devil's Advocate.

Kathy Fennessy at the Siffblog on A Colt Is My Passport: "Billed as a noir, the film feels more like a thriller with Left Bank overtones, i.e. more Albert Camus than Jean-Luc Godard."

"[U]nderstanding how a film generates meaning and communicates with the audience is a really useful guide to help budding screenwriters develop their own craft." Trevor Johnston launches a new column at the Script Factory with an "under the bonnet" look at WALL•E.

"The Kurdistan regional government is rolling out the red carpet for the motion picture business, hoping that Hollywood can help showcase their land, culture and tortured history for the world." Alexandra Zavis reports in the Los Angeles Times.

"Superheroes and comic book adaptations have graced Turkish cinema for about three decades as part of a remarkable era," writes Emrah Güler in the Turkish Daily News. "These B-films, with homemade special effects and the most bizarre story lines, are now a treasure for pop culture aficionados in Turkey and even for some filmgoers abroad."

"Maybe one reason we can all relate to superheroes in these depressed times is that this year's batch has had to deal with a lot more shit, and it's turned them into assholes." For VF Daily, Julian Sancton asks Frank Miller, Guillermo Del Toro and Zack Snyder what they think.

"I'm against the idea of a 'guilty' pleasure in the same sense that I don't believe anyone can enjoy something ironically," writes Tyler Coates at This Recording. "Did you really spend six weeks growing that 'stache simply as a goof that only you think is funny? Fuck you! I don't waste time watching movies with Anna Faris because I think I'm hilarious - I'm doing it because I think she's hilarious."

Teri Garr

Sean O'Neal talks with Teri Garr for the AV Club.

Adam Ross's interviewee this week: Scott Knopf.

In the Guardian, David Thompson considers Brendan Fraser.

"Estelle Getty, the diminutive actress who spent 40 years struggling for success before landing a role of a lifetime in 1985 as the sarcastic octogenarian Sophia on TV's The Golden Girls, has died," reports the AP's Bob Thomas. "She was 84." Jessica Coen comments at Vulture.

In the Guardian, Ronald Bergan remembers Evelyn Keyes.

Nathaniel R indexes Best Pictures From the Outside In - five episodes so far.

The cinetrix finds a good comic.

Online viewing tip #1. Alan Yentob interviews Werner Herzog - and talks to others about Herzog. Thanks, Jerry!

Online viewing tip #2. "Corporate Cannibal, the new Grace Jones video (directed by Nick Hooker) is utterly astonishing." An analysis from Steven Shaviro.

Online viewing tip #3. Joanna Jurewicz's Goyta at Nextbook.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:11 PM

Fests and events, 7/26.

Leonard Cohen There's a Leonard Cohen International Festival? Yep. It's happening in Edmonton this weekend and Matthew Halliday has an overview in Vue Weekly.

Fantastic Fest director Tim League has a wrap-up and a list of award-winners from the PIFAN festival in Pucheon at Twitch.

Scott Foundas: "For every household name of contemporary British cinema represented in the UCLA Film & Television Archive's excellent series, The Next Wave: British Films of the 1970s and 80s - Stephen Frears, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach - there are just as many others whose names are less known but whose contributions to this renaissance moment in the British film industry were no less significant." Through August 23.

Also in the LA Weekly, Ernest Hardy previews Dances With Films, "one of the few [festivals] with a committed ideological thrust (no 'name' actors, directors, writers, etc are allowed)." Through July 31.

400 Blows "The 400 Blows, Truffaut's profoundly affecting and enduringly influential first feature, is on view in revival screenings this weekend at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston," notes Joe Leydon in the Houston Chronicle. "It's a frankly autobiographical drama, at once brutally specific and brilliantly emblematical."

"Originally written in French in 1946 and translated into English by Beckett, First Love has been staged by Michael Colgan, the artistic director of the Gate Theater of Dublin, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival's program of Beckett works not written for the theater," writes Charles Isherwood in the New York Times. This weekend [Ralph] Fiennes joins Liam Neeson and Barry McGovern in two marathon performances of all three of the offerings, an indispensable ticket for admirers of Beckett's writing - and, for that matter, of first-rate stage acting."

Lynn Rapoport previews the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival for SF360. Through August 11.

In the New York Press, Simon Abrams previews the Hola Mexico Film Festival, running through Sunday.

Venice Days Gabriele Barcaro previews Venice Days for Cineuropa. August 28 through September 6.

Nick Bradshaw sends a dispatch from the just-wrapped Britdoc 08 into the Guardian. Matt Dentler has pix. Related online listening: half an hour with the Observer's Jason Solomons.

Darren Hughes enjoyed Guy Maddin's introduction to and narration during Tod Browning's The Unknown at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival: "The sold out house never stopped laughing, it was so silly. Except the film isn't silly at all. (And I'm sure Maddin would agree)." He takes another, closer look. More from Sean McCourt at Hell on Frisco Bay.

More on Slovanian Cinema from Acquarello: Idle Running, Beneath Her Window and Paper Planes.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 PM

Interview. Jesse Lerner.

Magnavoz "I think the collage aesthetic, with the rough edges still showing, encourages us as viewers to engage critically with the material we're watching, rather than simply letting the visual or narrative pleasures wash us away."

With Delineating Borders: The Films of Jesse Lerner running through tomorrow evening at Anthology Film Archives in New York, James Van Maanen talks with the filmmaker (and co-author of F Is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth's Undoing) about Mexico, cultural hybrids, politics and future plans.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:56 AM

Kiyoshi Kurosawa Blog-a-Thon.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa "Welcome to the Kiyoshi Kurosawa Blog-a-Thon!" announces Michael Guillén, who then goes on to explain that it'll be focusing on "Kurosawa's career up to but not including Tokyo Sonata, which seems to indeed mark a significant departure from his existing oeuvre. Michael then points to WeepingSam's piece on Retribution and Mathieu Ravier's overview for the Sydney Film Festival before presenting his own thoughts on Bright Future and Cure and rounding up highlights from various interviews.

Update, 7/30: "Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse, about dead souls spilling through the Internet, isn't just scary, it's primally disturbing," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at the House Next Door.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:07 AM | Comments (1)

Mick Jagger @ 65.

Performance "Mick Jagger's birthday could never be like any other 65-year-old's," writes John Walsh in the Independent. "In fact he will mark his bus-pass acquisition day by announcing that the Rolling Stones are to leave EMI, to sign up with Universal Music; the Stones will also win control over all their albums since the 1970s.... Since 1963, Jagger has been the greatest frontman in rock'n'roll. He is popularly thought to be a tireless British Casanova, an indefatigable swordsman of the boudoir, a cricket-loving health fanatic whose youthfulness defies medical science. What's sometimes missed, in the chorus of oohs and aahs that greets his every performance and paternity suit, is what an astute businessman Jagger has always been.... 'Mick Jagger is a really nice bunch of guys,' Keith Richards once said."

More from Alan Hamilton (London Times) and Claire Smith (Scotsman).

Posted by dwhudson at 5:31 AM | Comments (1)

July 25, 2008

Back to Normandy.

Back to Normandy "Determined to cast only locals in his adaptation of Michel Foucault's I, Pierre Rivière, director René Allio combed Normandy in 1975 for a youngster to convey the true confessions of Pierre, a peasant who killed his mother, brother, and sister 140 years earlier," writes Michelle Orange, reviewing Back to Normandy for the Voice. "Allio was taken with the idea of returning the local legend to its people, and filled his film with farmers and factory workers; 30 years later, director Nicolas Philibert returned to ask the participants just how that worked out for them."

"As he chats with the families whose lives were briefly touched by the arcane disruptions of moviemaking, his visit yields a palimpsest of observations on work, rationality and the ineluctable connections between history and modernity," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times.

Updated.

"Back to Normandy has some illuminating moments amid the nostalgia, but the film doesn't have nearly as much insight to offer on class, gender, the shifting times, or 15-minute celebrity as Paul Almond's and Michael Apted's Up! series," writes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun. "Mr Philibert's new film isn't nearly as haunting as some of his previous efforts. But one thing is sure: He is a wonderfully humanist filmmaker."

"A recent subset of French docs has shown a fascination with returning," notes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York, but "Philibert proves that not all directors should wade in the same river twice."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes 07.

Update: "What is particularly fascinating is the way this series of reflections is filtered through Philibert's own focus," writes Cullen Gallagher at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, "which isn't so much the motivation of the original crime, the debate of Rivière's madness, or even really the production of Allio's film: Philibert, a humanist documentarian, is primarily interested in the actors themselves, and the chatty charm and small-town warmth they radiate.... Willing to indulge in the villagers' anecdotes and personal histories, Philibert captures a sense of small-town ephemera that is too often caricatured or exaggerated, and he does so with both sincerity and subtlety."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:23 AM

Step Brothers.

Step Brothers "I haven't seen much at the movies in the past two years that has given me as much unbridled comic pleasure as the sight of Will Ferrell as the win-at-any-cost NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby, calling on Jesus, Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey to put out the psychosomatic flames engulfing his body in director Adam McKay's 2006 Talladega Nights," writes the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas. "Until, that is, I saw Ferrell's Brennan Huff - a 39-year-old, live-at-home mama's boy with dreams of a professional singing career - belt out a heartfelt rendition of Bonnie Raitt's 'Something to Talk About' midway through the new Ferrell-McKay collaboration, Step Brothers."

Updated through 7/26.

"When it takes off into bizarre realms, the film most confidently finds its goofy groove, as well as most vigorously (and good-naturedly) mocks the boys-just-want-to-stay-boys genre that [Judd] Apatow has made his lucrative own," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Which is to say that McKay and Ferrell's latest generally succeeds at having its cake and devouring it too, mining juvenile behavior for inane laughs while also, via a coda involving beating the shit out of schoolyard punks, ridiculing stories wherein immaturity must eventually be discarded for adulthood."

"What's distinct about the recent cycle of comic juvenilia are its contemporary contours - male camaraderie and self-actualization combined with raunchy guffaws and a preoccupation with women that doesn't extend to giving them interesting roles - and the ease with which its prominent practitioners are willing to recycle their own laughs to increasingly diminished ends," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

"I almost never laugh at characters who whack each other on the head," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "But for some inexplicable reason (and are there ever explicable reasons why comedy works?), it cracked me up in Step Brothers, maybe because Ferrell and [John C] Reilly always look a little like they've just been whacked on the head, anyway.... Stupid, crude and hilarious, Step Brothers works by sneaking past our better judgment: I don't know why the sight of Reilly, aggressively chattering at his dignified doctor-father while dressed in a faded Bahamas T-shirt and Kelly green Underoos, is funny. It just is."

"Well, now we know why the trailers for Step Brothers were so dispiriting - the movie actually has lots of laughs, but almost all of them come from places too obscene and outrageous to include in the average coming attraction," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Step Brothers is, ultimately, an R-rated comedy for 12-year-olds. But if you've remained in touch with what makes your inner 12-year-old have a filthy giggle, you'll have fun with it."

"[W]ithout a viable satirical element, all the film leaves us is the quality of its gags," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "Unfortunately, they do not rise above the level of a post-Weekend Update Saturday Night Live sketch."

"One of the elements that separates Step Brothers from other arrested-development comedies also happens to be what makes it worse," argues Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "Ferrell and Reilly aren't adolescents refusing to cross the threshold into adulthood, they're more like petulant 10-year-olds given to bunkbeds, treehouses, and temper tantrums."

"Sometimes I think I am living in a nightmare," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "All about me, standards are collapsing, manners are evaporating, people show no respect for themselves. I am not a moralistic nut. I'm proud of the X-rated movie I once wrote. I like vulgarity if it's funny or serves a purpose. But what is going on here?"

At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell lists "10 Great Movies About Brothers."

Update: "[M]uch of the raillery in Step Brothers seems lazy or desperate" to Time's Richard Corliss: "The Ferrell character lacks the goofy appeal of Ricky Bobby or the skater in Blades of Glory. And I'll take the comedy stylings of Jon Heder over Reilly's drabber improvisations any day."

Updates, 7/26: Mike Russell finds it "only fairly amusing - with a couple of inspired minor characters and nary a gag or wacky wrestling match that can't wait for DVD. Frankly, the whole thing feels like a coast."

On the other hand, Paul Matwychuk: "I can't help it - I'm a sucker for this stuff."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:12 AM

The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe "Baggy, draggy, oddly timed and strangely off the mark, The X-Files: I Want to Believe is the generally bad-news follow-up to the show's first feature-film incarnation, The X-Files," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The first X-Files movie, released before the show ended, added nothing substantive.... The new film, [Chris] Carter's debut as a feature director, adds even less, but it won't hurt the show's legacy, at least among die-hard fans who appreciated it as a wittily sustained pop take on what the historian Richard Hofstadter has called 'the paranoid style in American politics.'"

Carter "has dispensed with the convoluted mythology that bogged down the show in the last third of its run," notes Stephanie Zacharek. "I Want to Believe comes off like a solid - if not great - episode from one of the show's early seasons, a reasonably suspenseful story made by a director with a sturdy sense of how to tell a story. Yet it's the very modesty of "I Want to Believe" that makes it so admirable."

Updated through 7/26.

Also in Salon: "I was crazy about The X-Files, Fox's pre-9/11 ode to trusting no one," writes Rebecca Traister. "Mulder was hot, and made you want to heal and help him and go with him to the Andes in search of the yeti or whatever it was he planning to do with his three-day weekend. But the one I would have gone to the ends of the earth for was Scully."

"Did we really just fast-forward through six years of long-deferred passion to arrive at boringly consummated couplehood?" asks Dana Stevens. Also in Slate, Juliet Lapidos: "Just as Twin Peaks was superficially about talking logs and psychic dreams but more essentially about small-town betrayals and the trauma of incest, the X-Files standalone episodes, beneath the paranormal apparatus, were really about sad sacks acting out."

"The last time a geek favorite delivered such an anticlimactic follow-up to a cherished science-fiction institution, a rascally, malapropism-spouting Rastafarian frogman named Jar-Jar Binks was prominently involved," growls Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

"Even at its stride, The X-Files was a load of malarkey," writes Jan Stuart in the Los Angeles Times. "But it was thoughtful malarkey and compulsively watchable. One could say the same about the first two-thirds of The X-Files: I Want to Believe before it spins out of control and into a delirious plane of awfulness."

Alonso Duralde at MSNBC: "I Want to Believe, as the title suggests, deals with issues of faith and credence, raising some interesting issues along the way; unfortunately, the script (by Frank Spotnitz and series creator Chris Carter) ties its various plot strands together in a clunky and unconvincing way, allowing theme to run roughshod over story."

"It's technically true that the new film is accessible to the uninitiated, but the mediocre material may only interest those with prior emotional or paranormal investment," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun.

"The X-Files: I Want to Believe is in no conventional sense a good movie," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. And yet, for fans of the series, it may be just good enough." It's "not an unpleasant way to pass a couple of hours, provided you, too, want to believe. But you have to want it pretty badly."

"What I appreciated about The X-Files: I Want to Believe was that it involved actual questions of morality, just as The Dark Knight does," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "It's not simply about good and evil but about choices."

John Patterson talks with Carter for the Guardian.

Gregg LaGambina talks with Gillian Anderson for the AV Club. More from John Hiscock in the Telegraph, where Will Lawrence talks with David Duchovny.

"[I]t's worth looking at how [Anderson and Duchovny] have crafted careers that allow them to enter and exit the geek ghetto as they see fit," writes Alonso Duralde, introducing a guide at MSNBC: "Any actors who are about to board a starship might want to read this safety card first."

Elaine Lipworth talks with Billy Connolly for the Independent.

Allyssa Lee meets "lead snow man" Andrés Dominguez for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates: "Because the show has been off the air for so many years now, audiences may wonder why these characters haven't moved on from their obsessively singular points of view," writes Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. "Some things never change, and even though the actors haven't lost their charm and sparkle, it feels like they're trapped in a rerun, minus the action."

"It remains a pleasure just to see Anderson, one of the best and most chronically underemployed American actresses, doing anything on-screen," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "But long before I Want to Believe reaches its anticlimax, you too may be having visions - of the exit sign."

"'Don't give up!' is ultimately revealed to be the film's mantra, though given the contrivances and clunky speeches that abound, it resonates less as a statement about the need to keep the faith than as Carter's plea to fans whose reward for a decade of patience is merely this forgettable mediocrity." Nick Schager.

"The movie has manifold pleasures for the show's fans, as much for the interplay of Mulder and Scully - the soulmates who were afraid to become lovers - as for a story that concentrates on human, not astral, malfeasance," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "But for the uninitiated, The X Files: I Want to Believe may seem as musty and forbidding as one of those dank secrets that Mulder and Scully were forever digging up from some backyard, or fetid swamp, or their own aching hearts."

"For anyone who believed the film could recapture something other than the palpable chemistry between Mulder and Scully and the constantly eerie atmosphere present in the TV show, get ready to have your belief system shaken to its core," writes Nick Plowman. "It's no wonder the details surrounding the film were kept under such tight wraps."

Update, 7/26: "[F]ar from making believers out of the audience, it does everything possible to turn them into staunch realists, not to mention people who might then wonder, What was the big deal about that show, anyway?" Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:04 AM

Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame.

Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame "Iran's Makhmalbaf family make films like most of us eat breakfast," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame "is by 19-year-old Hana, who directed The Joy of Madness, a documentary about the making of her elder sister Samira's film, at Five in the Afternoon. Rough and ready as it sometimes is, this broadside against the Taliban, set in the Afghan city of Bamian, works wonders at times."

The Guardian's Cath Clarke finds the "film builds up an overwrought symbolism that fails to hit the mark dramatically."

Buddha "takes place... where the famous stone Buddhas were blown up by the Taliban," writes Mike McCahill in the Telegraph. "Life goes on amongst the rubble: after six-year-old Bakhtay (Nikbakht Noruz) overhears a neighbour reciting his ABCs, she resolves to get in on this education lark herself... Throughout, Makhmalbaf juggles extraordinary scenes of observation and tension, filling the screen with indelible imagery, while making a near-iconic figure of young Bakhtay herself: a little shy and snotty-nosed, but hellbent on improving herself by any means necessary."

"What the film says about contemporary Afghanistan is unclear, other than life is tough, tougher if you're a woman, tougher still if you're a girl," writes Kevin Maher in the London Times.

The New Statesman has a quick chat with Makhmalbaf.

Earlier: Ryan Gilbey in the Guardian; and J Robert Parks.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:30 AM

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging "Gurinder Chadha's films are almost always better than you think they're going to be, possibly thanks to their horribly inane titles," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "What's Cooking? (2000) sounds like a dumbed-down translation of a bad Singaporean romcom. Bride & Prejudice (2004) is a pun to make Jane Austen moan and wriggle beneath the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral. What to make of Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging?... I approached with a mixture of dread and resignation. And was promptly charmed to pieces."

More from Mike McCahill.

Updated through 7/30.

"The film is a gentle romantic comedy, whose title was changed from Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging (as the novel on which it is based is called) so as not to offend American audiences," supposes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "But it couldn't possibly offend anyone, since these kids are so unlike the beastie boys and girls of tabloid imagination that you scarcely recognise them as modern children."

"Sweet and often funny," finds Wally Hammond in Time Out.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw finds it "a bit too cheesy and icky, but I can't help reflecting that movies for 14-year-old girls like this are destined to be patronised, while movies for 14-year-boys like Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight get treated with saucer-eyed respect by the overwhelmingly male commentariat."

"The soundtrack blasts 'She's So Lovely' by the frothy popsters Scouting for Girls," notes Kevin Maher in the London Times. "If you've heard the song (sing 'She's so luv-eh-lee' a thousand times without taking breath), you'll get a sense of the movie's 'infectious' tone."

"The title is horrible, and I'm afraid I didn't find the movie attached to it much better," grumbles the Independent's Anthony Quinn.

Interviews with Chadha: Kaleem Aftab (Independent), Cath Clarke (Guardian) and David Gritten (Telegraph).

Update, 7/30: Teen lit is thriving, finds Alice Wignall in the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:20 AM | Comments (6)

Paris in the UK.

Paris "There was a wince-inducing portmanteau comedy recently released in this country called Paris Je T'Aime, and that title was very clearly ordering us to go into a Jane Birkin-style breathy rapture at the French capital," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, reviewing Cédric Klapisch's Paris. "Something of the same complacency is detectable here. The movie has French commercial cinema's tendency to veer into the over-sweetened and picturesque, a kind of nostalgia for an idealised present."

"Perhaps the film's key problem is the feeling that Klapisch lets his ambition obstruct his storytelling," suggests Tom Huddleston in Time Out. "It feels like the idea of the movie - an Altmanesque ensemble piece for a French audience - came first, with the director slotting his characters in afterwards like puzzle pieces, rather than working from a strong central premise and allowing the narrative to grow organically."

"As a former dancer (Romain Duris) re-evaluates his life under sentence of a possibly fatal heart condition, his sister (Juliette Binoche) and her kids move into his flat to keep him company," explains the Independent's Anthony Quinn (3 out of 5 stars). "Meanwhile, a metropolitan fresco unfurls, encompassing market stallholders, social workers, patissiers, vagrants, a Cameroonian immigrant and, in one sad sequence of vignettes, a history professor (Fabrice Luchini) who loses his head and heart to a student young enough to be his daughter."

"Klapisch knows how to do this sort of thing - even if, on this occasion, his well over two-hours-long film has its longueurs," writes the Evening Standard's Derek Malcolm.

"Tourist-trap cinema," harrumphs Mike McCahill in the Telegraph.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:13 AM

July 24, 2008

Austin Chronicle. Sci-Fi issue. (And Comic-Con.)

Austin Chronicle Science Fiction Issue Like AO Scott, I've had my fill of superhero movies - and I haven't even seen a single one from this year's round. I guess, as Nikki Finke puts it, introducing the LA Weekly's Luke Y Thompson's previews of Comic-Con (today, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday), "I don't do geek."

But hold on: How, then, can I be so excited about the Austin Chronicle's Science Fiction Issue? The one in which every section - books, music, even food, and of course, movies - is sci-fi-themed this week; the one with "Wonder Stories" sprinkled throughout? What is the difference between a geek and someone who loves a good speculative story, someone who'd count Metropolis and 2001 somewhere in his all-time top ten?

Whether or not we ever figure that one out, Comic-Con items, as I stumble across them, will be filed to this entry.

Updated through 7/30.

Updates, 7/25: First, Cinematical, the SpoutBlog and Variety's Anne Thompson are all over Comic-Con.

"[I]t looked pretty certain that Fox's recent box-office drought would not be a long one," reports Michael Cieply for the New York Times. Fox is promoting X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Max Payne and The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Darren Aronofsky is slated to direct a Robocop movie, due in theaters in 2010. Todd Brown has details at Twitch.

Rebecca Winters Keegan for Time: "Comic-Con audiences sank their fangs into two hotly anticipated vampire projects Thursday, as the makers of Twilight, the movie inspired by Stephenie Meyer's best-selling young adult novels, and True Blood, the new HBO show adapted from the Southern Vampire Mysteries books by Charlaine Harris, showed footage, fielded questions from expectant, sometimes hysterical fans and tackled the enduring appeal of the undead."

Film Threat's Mark Bell blogs on.

Keith Phipps is there for the AV Club.

Updates, 7/26: Michael Cieply reports on the glimpses attendees have had of The Spirit, Frank Miller's take on Will Eisner's landmark series; Wolf Man, starring Benicio Del Toro; Zack Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen; and TR2N, "a much-rumored but hitherto unconfirmed sequel to Disney's 1982 film Tron, about a hacker sucked into the world of computers that, in those days, were almost big enough to have accommodated the star, Jeff Bridges - who also shows up in the new one."

At PopMatters, Bill Gibron is watching the Watchmen watchers.

Update, 7/27: "Comic-Con is the new Sundance, the marketing event for people who want to be the first to know about things that other people will envy them for knowing because they knew about them first. (See my earlier ruminations on 'Be the first on your block...')" Jim Emerson.

Updates, 7/30: The SpoutBlog indexes its coverage.

Time's Rebecca Winters Keegan recaps the highs and lows of this year's Comic-Con.

Online listening tip. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:44 AM | Comments (4)

Brooklyn Rail. July 08.

Brooklyn Rail: July 08 Amy Taubin has a fine, leisurely paced conversation with Harmony Korine in the new issue of the Brooklyn Rail.

"With his most recent theoretical construction, Eyes Upside Down, P Adams Sitney, author of Visionary Film, reveals an intricate matrix of aesthetic attributes with Ralph Waldo Emerson as its core source," writes Marcela Silva. "Sitney's power as a theoretician lies in his ability to translate the fluctuations of images into a language which is both as singular and poetic as the films they discuss."

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson "isn't a biographical picture in the strict sense - it is a vehicle to explore Thompson's insights as written and lived," writes Brian J Carreira. "Although covering the journalist's writing zenith from the mid-1960s through mid-70s, the documentary is not as much an exploration of that time as a meditation on this one. What happened then, through Thompson's aviator-framed eyes, serves as a springboard for discussion of what is happening now."

"The American Ruling Class is a self-proclaimed 'dramatic-documentary-musical' featuring ex-Harper's editor Lewis Lapham as guide on a voyage of discovery," writes Williams Cole, introducing his interview with director John Kirby and producer Libby Handros. "Part of the conceit involves following two Yale grads, one coming from a wealthy family and the other coming from more modest means, as they consider their career choices or 'inevitabilities.'... [O]ne memorable segment has Lapham bring the guys into a diner where, lo and behold, the immersion journalist Barbara Ehrenreich is waiting the tables, thus starting a musical number called 'Nickel and Dimed that various low-wage workers sing in their real places of employment.'"

David Wilentz reviews a few highlights of the recent Japan Cuts festival and looks back on the Tatsuya Nakadai Retrospective.

The Human Condition

David N Meyer picks it up from there: "No character in the history of cinema suffers as much as Nakadai's Kaji in The Human Condition." Earlier: Last week's reviews.

Also: "Clearly derived from Italian Neo-Realist classics like Rome, Open City, John Cassavetes's groundbreaking Shadows (1959) and the Beat-influenced work of street photographers such as Gary Winogrand, [The Exiles'] power and flaws spring from the rigor of the filmmaker's naturalist approach."

Cyd Charisse "danced in three dimensions, sometimes appearing to torpedo from the screen toward the audience, others floating in the arms of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, both of whom treated her weightlessness as reverie," writes Sarahjane Blum. "Charisse might be regarded as the supernova that brought down the studio musical. As early as her premiere break out performance in Singing In the Rain it was clear that no one would dance on screen better than this transcendent beauty, whose ethereal calm made her seem to be from another planet. No one has even tried."

"[Bahman] Ghobadi creates an exchange," argues Camila de Onís. "He gives and takes; he makes Kurdish people real by presenting their lives in his own fashion. But his films transcend the ethnographic. They are humanist stories formed to make analogies between people and place, joy and despair, documentary and fiction. And they are funny. The situations are catastrophic, yet life goes on as it would and as it must."

Savage Grace "Savage Grace is, like its central characters, a pretty but poisonous piece of work," writes Tessa DeCarlo. "The film’s a disappointment in many respects, but it does offer the solace, sweet during these difficult economic times, of watching the sufferings and sins of people whose responsibility-sapping wealth hasn’t spared them from going deeply, horribly crazy. And [Julianne] Moore is terrific."

Mary Hanlon: "[I]n a nutshell The Happening is God-awful."

"The Wackness may be one of the best coming-of-age stories so far this decade," dares Makenna Goodman; "think Reality Bites meets Good Will Hunting. Which is to say, if there's only one film you see this summer, see The Wackness." Related: Jonathan Levine in MovieMaker on, yes, making the movie.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:09 AM

July 23, 2008

Fests and events, 7/23.

Venice Film Festival "The Venice Film Festival's Critics' Week has unveiled a promising lineup of nine first works, eight of which are world preems, with a prevalence of caustic comedies and pics taking the pulse of contempo life in cities such as Sarajevo, Kabul, Beijing, Olso and Istanbul." Nick Vivarelli reports for Variety. August 27 through September 6.

Toronto's unveiled titles for its programs Midnight Madness (Scott Weinberg picks out a few highlights at Cinematical), Sprockets Family Zone and Wavelengths. Bob Turnbull has begun making his to-see list and notes that TOFilmFest is tracking the overall lineup as it lines up, while First Thursday has reawakened with anticipation. September 4 through 13.

The Lumière Reader is still all over the New Zealand International Film Festivals.

Mark Bell presents Film Threat's Comic-Con preview. Tonight through Sunday.

Violette et Mr B "For five days, ballet lovers can feast on works like The Rediscovered Notebooks of Nina Vyroubova, from 1995; the 1997 film Serge Peretti, the Last Italian; and Violette et Mr B, made in 2001 and featuring the irrepressibly delightful Ms Verdy and George Balanchine." For the New York Times, Claudia La Rocco previews Dominique Delouche: Ballet Cinéaste, running at the Walter Reade from today through Sunday.

Previewing the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in the Bay Guardian, Dennis Harvey focuses on the program "Italian Jews During Fascism." Also, Cheryl Eddy on Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Then: "Although I'm sure the program contains some fine narrative features, the eclectic selection of documentaries is what really grabbed my attention this year," writes Michael Hawley, who previews a dozen at the Evening Class. Tomorrow through August 11.

"On July 31 and August 1, [Profiles in History will] be auctioning off a ton of Hollywood props, costumes, and one-sheets, among other things, and just reading the catalog is enough to make a geek's mouth water," blogs Matt Blum for Wired. Via Coudal Partners.

Modern Times For the Los Angeles Times, Susan King has a brief preview of Techno Chaplin: An Exploration of the Technology and Locations Used in Modern Times. Tomorrow evening at the Academy.

At the House Next Door, Ryland Walker Knight looks back on the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. So, too, does Girish.

Acquarello's reviews from At the Crossroads: Slovenian Cinema: Vesna, Valley of Peace, Spare Parts, Rooster's Breakfast, Raft of the Medusa and Dance in the Rain.

Tim Lucas had a grand time at Wonderfest and passes along photos snapped by Joe Busam.

"The Asian American International Film Festival concluded its 2008 edition here in NYC this past Saturday, and I wanted to draw H2N readers' attention to a couple of highlights," writes Nelson Kim.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:43 PM | Comments (1)

DVDs, 7/23.

Satantango Let's start with lists because, as much as I try to keep the Daily not about me, to be asked to draw one up by Criterion is pretty damn exciting. The second list to mention is Simon Augustine's terrifically annotated "Most Spiritually Affecting Buddhist Movies" at the main site.

Now then: "The behemothic, almost impossible to see, hardcore-critic-exalted art film legends keep coming at us on DVD - will there be any Holy Grails left? - but it's likely that no movie has been awaited as intensely and with as high expectations as Béla Tarr's Satantango (1994)," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC. "Finally, after literally years of rumors and broken promises and restoration troubles, Facets has brought this cathedral of a movie to disc, and we can all explore its frontiers at will.... Films like Satantango may not necessarily change your life, but they cannot help but become a part of it once they are experienced." Updates, 7/24: Jason Anderson for Artforum: "It may sound absurd to say that a seven-hour movie has hardly a wasted moment - as famously insisted by Susan Sontag - but Tarr's minimalism has maximum impact, especially when the film's satiric nature becomes more prominent in the final hour." Armond White in the New York Press: "Out of the many words expended by journalists and scholars attempting to describe and catalog this epic-length art-film, the definitive assessment actually came from film critic Dennis Delrogh who astutely noted, 'It could be a great film if it was edited.'" Update, 7/26: Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine.

Also reviewed: Eagle Shooting Heroes, "a Hong Kong self-parody that's as utterly goofy and bubbly and schticky as any Keystone Kops two-reeler, but packed with ordinarily stoic stars (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Leslie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Tony Leung Ka Fai, etc) making ridiculous hay of their screen personas and the entire wuxia pian genre."

Fight Club "One of the (many) reasons I probably connect so strongly with David Fincher's Fight Club (1999) is that, by capturing clinical depression more accurately than any other movie I've ever seen (though Laurent Cantet's Time Out and Eric Steel's The Bridge delve mighty deep into that abyss), it helped shake me out of the grips of a depression that was sucking me down at the time." Jim Emerson: "I was the only person in the theater convulsed with laughter from beginning to end, because it was liberating, exhilarating, to see the truth of my own inner experience reflected back at me in its funhouse mirror."

With the American Film Theatre series re-released as a box set, Michael Barrett explains the concept behind the works produced between 1973 and 1975.

Don't Change Your Husband Michael W Phillips Jr enjoys Cecil B DeMille's Don't Change Your Husband, "generally a smooth, arch, enjoyable romp; the action moves quickly, there are real sparks between [Gloria] Swanson and [Lew] Cody, and the cross-cutting between [Elliot] Dexter's transformation from schlub to hunk and Swanson's realization that the grass is always greener is particularly good."

That Spaced set sounds like quite a package. It comes "complete with all the extra material created for the British special editions," notes Grady Hendrix. "Also included are new commentaries from fans of the series such as Quentin Tarantino; Matt Stone of South Park; Diablo Cody, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Juno, and director Kevin Smith. It's a dizzying display of talent lined up to worship at the altar of a half-hour sitcom about two loser roommates who pretend to be married in order to land an apartment." More from Noel Murray (AV Club) and Craig Phillips (Guru), while Alison Willmore rounds up more linkage.

Electroma Back in the New York Sun, Bret McCabe: "Think of Electroma as equal parts THX 1138 and Zabriskie Point - a meditation on the terrible vulnerability of being human and alone in this world, told entirely with robots. It might not be what Daft Punk's fans were expecting to see, but in its own powerful way, it's a minor masterpiece of personal filmmaking." More from Mike Plante in Filmmaker.

Bill Weber in Slant on André Téchiné: 4-Film Collector's Edition: "The bare-bones treatment doesn't make this representative selection from a major auteur's sober, elegiac vision of late 20th-century French life any less valuable."

"My Darling Clementine envisages the Western as the American answer to Shakespearean tragedy, and so culminates Ford's movement away from the democratic laughter-space of his earlier films," writes Billy Stevenson.

Daisies "Daisies is the kind of film that just sweeps one along in its antic merriment," writes Marilyn Ferdinand.

"If there's one film that epitomizes the power of environment over libido, it has to be Lawrence Kasdan's directorial debut, the totally-80s noir Body Heat, which takes place during a Florida heat wave (does it get any hotter than that?)." Lauren Wissot at the SpoutBlog.

"[W]atching Mad Men, my mind kept going back to one of my favorite Manhattan movies, 1957's Sweet Smell of Success," blogs James Rocchi; "like Mad Men, it takes place in New York's dog-eat-dog media world, and like Mad Men it's a celebration of good times and bad people - there's plenty of drinking, carousing and blunt behavior in it, and it gets plenty of mileage out of men in elegant suits doing inelegant things. Starring Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster, I heartily recommend Sweet Smell of Success to anyone who's got the Mad Men bug... or, for that matter, for anyone who loves a great movie."

Beyond R1:

The River

  • "The greatest of Frank Borzage's silent films, The River (1929) gave Hollywood's foremost exponent of melodrama (I realize that I am slighting Griffith - I suspect that Borzage would not have approved of my disrespect) a hint of realism on which to hang his hat, as well as ample opportunity for abstraction and extremism." Dan Sallitt in the Auteurs' Notebook.

  • The Siren fumes at studios for sitting on prints while foreign DVD distributors scramble to make what they can available on DVD: "What becomes of a great film if it is confined to highly expensive overseas orders, bootleg copies made by friends, a late-night Turner Classic Movies screening or the occasional festival screening? You might as well take the score for Beethoven's String Quartet No 14, stick it in a closet and bring it out once a decade. You're slowly killing the potential audience for the lesser-known movies, virtually guaranteeing that the broad taste for classics as something more than antique curios is fated to wither and die."

  • Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign-Region DVD Report": "For its first hour or so, The Devil, Probably, Robert Bresson's 1977 film, seems like the most difficult of the inimitable master's works, for the most banal of reasons: that is, the viewer really just wants to give its putative protagonist a sharp smack in the chops."

The Threepenny Opera Online viewing tip. Kevin Lee comments on GW Pabst's The Threepenny Opera, with a special emphasis on Lotte Lenya's Brechtian performance. Further notes.

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

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

CSNY: Déjà Vu.

CSNY: Déjà Vu "Directed by [Neil] Young (credited as Bernard Shakey), CSNY: Déjà Vu presents the foursome's summer of dove (though the hatchets buried between them seem to have shallow graves) as part tour documentary, part polemic for-and-by-the-people," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice.

When, at SF360, Dennis Harvey previewed a recent screening in San Francisco, he noted that Young's "message is likely to induce a whole lot more fist-pumping than cat-calling. Not so some of the audiences depicted in Déjà Vu, notably those in Atlanta, where the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion tour's unabashedly agitative content - one song performed is 'Let's Impeach the President' [video] and disillusioned Iraq war vets are interviewed - sparks some outrage by 'patriotic' attendees who didn't want anti-war protesting (at least not against the current war) getting in the way of those nostalgic songs and four-part harmonies."

Updated through 7/27.

At Slant, Andrew Schenker picks it up from there: "If the rest of Young's film rarely reaches the same level of intensity, it remains largely compelling in its consideration of the struggles of musicians to meld their art with a political message and present it to a largely indifferent public who just wants to rock out.... [A]s an inspiring call to arms for engaged artwork in a cultural climate that demands unthinking entertainment (even as the film acknowledges the ultimate inability of artists to effect real social change), CSNY: Déjà Vu can be rather heady indeed."

Ben Sisario talks with Young and the band for the New York Times.

Updates, 7/25: In the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger finds the doc "has some delicious moments, but you never quite shake the feeling that it's documenting a tempest in a teapot."

"Some of the new songs are genuinely touching, while others are a bit creaky; portraits of Iraq vets and their families deliver undeniable pathos," writes Stephen Garrett in Time Out New York. "The core of this self-congratulatory call to arms, though, is a portrait of a geezer protest group still singing sweet songs but desperate for a voice."

"Young's ambitious combination of rockumentary and war protest piece... is, true to form, a bit of a mess," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger. "Unlike his albums, however, there's no spidery whammy-bar wizardry here to balance things out."

"Young intends to show a country divided, but the noise bleeds as if this was a cable-TV shoutfest. and the music isn't much of a relief either, mostly because Young keeps cutting away from the performances," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

Tom Huddleston talks with Young for Time Out.

Update, 7/27: Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical on the Atlanta crowd: "One man suggests that we shouldn't criticize the government because 'they're smarter than us.' Another girl sums up Young's performance: 'It was too political.' One interviewer brings up the Dixie Chicks, to which a concertgoer responds: 'If it was the Dixie Chicks we wouldn't be here.' Both CSNY: Déjà vu and the 2006 Dixie Chicks documentary Shut Up and Sing have that in common: that kind of hysterical, instantaneous mob mentality that disregards rhyme or reason."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:17 PM

Brideshead Revisited.

Brideshead Revisited "The images from the 11-episode mini-series are still vivid, 27 years later," writes Sarah Lyall in the New York Times. "It is those lingering memories, even more than Evelyn Waugh's novel, that anyone attempting to turn Brideshead Revisited into a feature film for the first time naturally has to contend with. And so as not to contaminate his approach Julian Jarrold, the director, studiously avoided the mini-series - all that elegiac emotion, spread out over 659 languorous minutes - and returned to the book."

An accompanying slide show focuses on the work of costume designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh.

Updated through 7/25.

"[T]hough I can imagine Waugh rolling his eyes at the very idea of Brideshead Revisited as 'a heartbreaking romantic epic,' this remake is, often inadvertently, closer to the novel's spirit than the sepulchral television series, albeit still not half as waggishly Waugh-ish as Bright Young Things, Stephen Fry's delightfully naughty interpretation of Vile Bodies," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice.

"In the early 80s, you could still get away with telling a gay love story without daring to speak its name," notes Dan Callahan in Slant. "In 2008, there's no way to leave the Charles and Sebastian question open, which says a lot about social progress but also tells us why Waugh's story doesn't work anymore.... This new Brideshead takes a step in the right direction, but it's time some radical writer or filmmaker dared to leave out the dim Julia charade and let Charles and Sebastian play out their Isherwood/Auden Oxford love match to its full."

"Waugh, a Catholic convert, intended Brideshead to express his deep faith during a time of newly chic godlessness," notes Matt Prigge in the Philadelphia Weekly. "This Brideshead Revisited doesn't want to convert atheists into believers. Director Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane) and screenwriters Andrew Davies (the BBC's Pride and Prejudice) and Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland) even end their film one step sooner than the novel, which has Charles climactically kneeling down in a chapel, fully flip-flopped. Any adaptation ought to be its own thing, but the film's hesitation to follow its source to the end produces a confused, schizophrenic work."

"We pride ourselves in America on the absence of anything as rigid as the British class system Waugh depicts and dissects so brilliantly in Brideshead Revisited," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Still, I think we Americans have much to identify with in Mr Jarrold's insightful rendering of the material and spiritual aspirations in the life of an arriviste, no better, and no worse, than the great majority of our own young seekers after the American Dream. In this respect, Michael Gambon's death scene as a repentant Lord Marchmain encapsulates one of the most profound manifestations of the eternal struggle between faith and doubt it has ever been my privilege to witness."

"The new Brideshead Revisited had a turbulent production history." Tom Teodorczuk traces it in the New York Sun.

Update: "As The Dark Knight is comic-book nerd holy scripture, Brideshead Revisited serves the same purpose to fans of a genre I personally refer to as Fancy British People Sitting Around Staggeringly Huge Mansions Being Civilized," writes Dave White at MSNBC. "And Emma Thompson is that genre's Batman." Here, "Thompson's Lady Marchmain, the sternly rigid and suffocating Catholic matriarch of the titular ancestral home, is the drummer that keeps the slow, doomed beat of this remixed version." Sidebar: "Fancy British People Sitting Around Staggeringly Huge Mansions Being Civilized. I love movies about this sort of thing."

Updates, 7/25: "[T]edious, confused and banal," declares AO Scott. "It is not Mr Jarrold's fault that this landscape has been so heavily trodden over by others. But he and the screenwriters, Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock, can be blamed for finding so little new or interesting to say about it, and for systematically stripping Waugh's novel of its telling nuances and provocative ideas."

Also in the New York Times, Ginia Bellafante revisits the 1981 series: "Brideshead Revisited was the sort of epic television event that gave rise to phrases like 'epic television event.' Among its legacies, it helped establish Jeremy Irons as a star.... Twenty-six years after its American broadcast, Brideshead Revisited, which was rereleased on DVD in 2006, is both pleasure and punishment, anachronism and forecast."

"Jarrold seems to believe that given the charged circumstances, little more than focusing on the apparel and furnishing is required," writes Leonard Klady at Movie City News. "His camera lingers and obsesses on accoutrements as if bored by the passions of the flesh and blood inhabitants of this antiquated realm. Thankfully the performers will have no truck with his bias and collectively comprise a viper's nest from which its protagonist will not emerge unbitten."

"To their credit, the filmmakers don't shy away from the novel's implication that Charles is in many ways a sort of human hand grenade that fate (or, per Waugh, grace) has rolled into a household full of blue bloods to hasten the job of self-destruction that they have already begun themselves," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "Like many of the themes and tropes common to Waugh's novel and the Granada series, Charles's culpability is in the new Brideshead Revisited somewhere; one just has to find it during those rare moments when the film isn't busy making passionate love to the furniture."

"By focusing on Charles, Sebastian, and Julia, the film gives short shrift to some of the story's crucial historical context," argues Albert Williams in the Chicago Reader. "Waugh was writing about his own generation - people born in the first decade of a new century who keenly appreciated the legacy of Victoria's empire but foresaw its imminent decay. (And what a generation it was: Waugh's literary contemporaries included Christopher Isherwood, Graham Greene, George Orwell, TH White, Nancy Mitford, Mary Renault, Anthony Powell and WH Auden.) Jarrold fails to capture the excitement of 1920s Oxford, a hotbed of intellectual and artistic exploration, and the screenplay reduces many of the novel's fascinating secondary characters to cameo roles... On the other hand, Jarrold does offer an intriguing take on an enduring literary mystery: the extent to which Charles and Sebastian's 'romantic friendship' is sexual."

"It lacks the visual pyrotechnics of Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice, but Jarrold's movie is otherwise a kindred spirit, stripped of voiceover and other markers of literary bona fides," writes Sam Adams at the AV Club. "It's a movie of its own, not merely an attempt to cram as much of its source as possible within the confines of a theatrical feature."

Roger Ebert finds it "a good, sound example of the British period drama; mid-range Merchant-Ivory, you could say."

"[Ben] Whishaw makes a fantastic Sebastian, sympathetic yet untouchable in his headlong dash into alcoholism, but [Hayley] Atwell has exactly the wrong look for the part [of Julia]," argues Annie Wagner in the Stranger.

"Rather than emphasize Sebastian's larger-than-life campiness, Whishaw plays him as a tragic fading flower," notes Hank Sartin in Time Out New York. "Curiously, the changes heighten the drama, but make the film a more generic costumer about lovely country estates and British class issues."

Michael Ordoña profiles Matthew Goode for the Los Angeles Times.

"Brideshead Revisited is untaxing, pleasant enough to watch. But I'm still waiting to be seriously discomfited by it." Richard Schickel explains in Time.

"[D]o not, when attempting any course of reading aimed at appreciating Waugh's wit, give undue attention to Brideshead RevisitedTroy Patterson in Slate. "There's a comic novel in there, but it is not, as the common expression goes, struggling to get out. It's lodged there quite contentedly... 'Waugh wrote Brideshead with great speed, unfamiliar excitement, and a deep conviction of its excellence,' Martin Amis once remarked. 'Lasting schlock, the really good bad book, cannot be written otherwise.'"

Erica Abeel talks with Jarrold for indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:26 AM | Comments (1)

The Order of Myths.

The Order of Myths "Margaret Brown's penetrating The Order of Myths... explores a potentially enraging subject - rigidly upheld racial segregation in the country's oldest Mardi Gras celebration, in Mobile, Alabama - but her touch is so unforced and her gaze so open that no one is bruised," writes David Edelstein in New York. "The situation is heartbreaking, the people... inured. Set. Following rituals passed down from evil times, too timid or unimaginative or, maybe, although it's well below the surface these days, racist to challenge them. You just don't know."

"Brown hasn't made agit-prop or a heavy-handed exposé of the obvious (viz., Southern racism is alive and well, just more genteel and better-disguised)," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. "Quietly shocking, The Order of Myths is a deft, engrossing cross-section of Mobile life, heavy on local color and insight."

Updated through 7/27.

"Easy enough for the cosmopolitan viewer to feel comfortably superior to Brown's misguided subjects (of both races) who are willing to accept such an embarrassing state of affairs, but the filmmaker does a good job of suggesting just how strong a pull tradition continues to exert on Southern culture and how that culture's unquestioned customs - having taken on the order of myths - tend to close off any discussion of potential change," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "So when the African-American king and queen attend the coronation ceremony of their white counterparts and are moved to tears by the warm reception they receive, it would be easy enough to scoff at the naïve pleasure they take in a vaguely condescending recognition, but when we take into account the cultural framework that makes their very attendance into something of a radical gesture, it becomes clear that the situation is fraught with unseen complexities that makes nonsense of such a hastily registered response. If, despite a rather too-abrupt ending and a somewhat indifferent visual conception, Brown's film can be termed a success, its principal achievement is in giving us some measure of these complexities."

"In his Variety review of the film, the progressively problematic John Anderson criticized Brown for essentially mocking her subjects, and while I think that's a misguided read, I can see where he gets it," notes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It's a personal doc in which the person gracefully bounces the spotlight on to others. To imply that this kind of subtle, displaced autobiography is exploitative, especially in contrast to some of the more self-indulgent works of non-fiction coming off the festival circuit, feels like a knee-jerk miscalculation."

"Even if [Brown] occasionally sidesteps potentially explosive subplots, as when Mobile's shameful legacy of modern lynching is left on the back burner, her Myths is an essential investigation of American mask and reality," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine.

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance.

Update: For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Brown "about the challenges of filming secretive organizations, her mother's anticipated response to a burning cross in her yard, and the rule about when it's OK to leave your friend's bad movie."

Updates, 7/25: "More than most, Ms Brown knows that there's nothing black and white about race in America, and nothing specifically Southern about its calamities," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Or maybe she's just more honest. The extent of her sincerity doesn't become apparent until late in the proceedings, when she reveals a personal connection to Mobile that gives this very fine movie a bracing emotional kicker. In contrast to the cloistered, all-white Mardi Gras membership group (called a mystic society) that gives the movie its poetic and freighted title, Ms Brown has a beautiful grasp of gray."

"The tendency to skew toward a Rainbow Coalition vibe makes it feel like part of the story is MIA, yet this microcosmic look at race relations is a great reminder that, even in the year of Obama, we remain a nation divided between black and white," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

"[I]t is the kind of illuminating work that sends audiences stumbling home in a wide-eyed state of astonishment," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun.

At the AV Club, Noel Murray gives the doc a B+.

"The Order of Myths is not some Yankee carpetbagger's exposé on the lingering effects of Deep South white supremacy, although they are as inescapable as the Gulf Coast humidity," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Brown is a white Mobile native, with a personal connection to the city's Mardi Gras history that is revealed late in the film. She views Mardi Gras in Mobile - it's the oldest such tradition in America, because the city was founded before New Orleans - with a combination of ruthlessness and tenderness."

"[L]ike gently lifting a decaying flagstone with a twig, Brown has managed, in a fleet 75 minutes, to uncover quite a lot about (obviously) America's entrenched racism and (perhaps not so obviously) why our presumably modern sensibilities allow for its continuity," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE, who also notes, "This is highly sophisticated nonfiction filmmaking, and as lensed by Michael Simmonds, the cinematographer on Ramin Bahrani's lovely Chop Shop, made wonderfully vivid, especially in the final nighttime moments of the Carnival, popping with rich velvety purples and reds."

"The 'docs are dead' mantra... is perhaps most harmful in the way it compresses the varied modes of documentary practice into yet another genre to be compared and contrasted alongside 'blockbusters,' 'foreign films' and 'romantic comedies'; it makes it easier for audiences to forget the unlimited richness of documentary practice," writes Reverse Shot's Jeff Reichert. "The pundits hurt, but the filmmakers themselves have hurt matters worse.... [W]hy would people go to docs when the recipe so often boils down to little more than: Hot Button Issue + Sketchy 'Cultural Impact' of Said Issue + How Issue Affects My Family, Man + Gotcha! Exposé Moment –Attempts at Aesthetic Unity = Film. Thank goodness then for the bracing eye and refreshing candor of Margaret Brown's The Order of Myths."

IFC's Alison Willmore talks with Brown.

Update, 7/27: "The Order of Myths is less a vitriolic critique than a considerate, despairing depiction of the intractable sway exerted by long-held, unpleasant traditions," writes Nick Schager at Cinematical. "Accepted it unquestionably is. But as Brown's shrewd doc makes clear through tight editorial juxtapositions, telling snapshots, and refusal to belittle or disparage her sometimes-repugnant subjects, acceptable it most certainly is not."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:29 AM

Boy A.

Boy A "Adapted by Mark O'Rowe from Jonathan Trigell's novel, and directed by John Crowley, Boy A is a brutally soulful film that tells the tale of a young man trying to forge a new life and identity after serving time for a murder committed as a boy," writes Ernest Hardy. "The film's both smart and devastating as it unthreads interwoven questions about redemption, justice, and the pivotal role of history in shaping an individual and his actions." Also in the Voice: John Anderson talks with Crowley.

"In some ways Boy A is a throwback to the sooty kitchen-sink realism of early-60s British films by Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson and John Schlesinger, which portrayed a depressed, alienated working class teetering between rage and hopelessness in a stagnant economy," notes Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

Updated through 7/25.

"Delightfully ambiguous mindgames and rapturously exquisite cinematography aside, this is an actor-driven narrative of an endearing shy guy winning over a surrogate father (Peter Mullan), a devoted girlfriend (Katie Lyons) and his co-workers," writes Benjamin Sutton in the L Magazine.

Andrew Garfield's performance as Jack, that is, Boy A, is "career-making" for the Playlist, while New York's David Edelstein finds it to be "an amazingly vivid performance that strikes me as wrong. He's a simpleton, an innocent - more childish in his affect than the kid (Alfie Owen) who plays him in flashbacks."

Back to the Playlist: "'For all its sensitivity, thoughtful sobriety, and sound performances, though, Boy A finally permits itself an excessive number of contrived and/or clichéd gestures,' writes Slant's Nick Schager and he's spot-on."

"Crowley's film is a compassionate antidote to the British (and global) ruling elite's 'law-and-order' mania - a socially regressive preoccupation with containing the population and desensitizing it in the process," argues Joanne Laurier at the WSWS. "Its appearance also reflects a shift in popular mood against this drive."

Howard Feinstein talks with Crowley for indieWIRE.

At Film Forum through August 5.

Updates: "For all the powerfully human sentiment on display here (particularly on the part of Garfield and Mullan), Boy A evinces a specifically tragic northern UK spirit that evokes the work of Shane Meadows or even Andrea Arnold's Scottish-set Red Road, and will make it a bitter pill for many to swallow," writes Chris Barsanti in Film Journal International. "The stabs of warmth that come through the institutional bleakness are intermittent and all the more powerfully felt once dissipated."

"If the possibility of exposure and rejection for bygone transgressions hums queasily under even the most blissful moments, such danger only intensifies Boy A's clear-eyed pathos: the potential for devastation all the more reason to embrace momentary happiness," writes Matt Connolly in Reverse Shot.

"Perfectly portraying Jack's awkward winsomeness, Garfield is precisely the halfway point between Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) and Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan), heartthrob and space cadet," writes Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "Garfield had me from the first shot, but later, in a long sequence depicting his first night out with his new coworkers, his transition from wondering simpleton to spastic, drug-induced freak (his dance moves are the work of a true physical comedian) to mad heroic avenger, he found a place into a short list of actors I'm most excited about following (Garfield will next be seen alongside Heath Ledger and Boy A costar Katie Lyons in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus)."

Update, 7/24: Mark Olsen profiles Garfield for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 7/25: "Only time will tell whether Irish director John Crowley's Boy A can tap into the art-house audience that fell for John Carney's Once, and to a lesser extent for Pawel Pawlikowski's My Summer of Love and Shane Meadows's This Is England," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It's arguably more old-fashioned than any of those movies, channeling a strain of dark British social realism that stretches back to the 1950s, but Boy A is a compelling, compact melodrama that packs an emotional wallop. It's my nominee for sleeper surprise of the summer, at least so far."

"The movie belongs... to Garfield," writes David Fear in Time Out New York: "Feral, paranoid and childlike, his Jack is a walking open wound. It's the type of vulnerable performance that turns an ordinary drama into something truly devastating."

Gary Goldstein, writing in the Los Angeles Times, hopes Garfield "will be remembered at this year's Independent Spirit Awards."

"Boy A is so excessively mannered that the story's human element (misunderstood youth, society's indifference) is lost," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:01 AM | Comments (2)

July 22, 2008

Criterion's Vampyr.

Vampyr "The relationship between the physical and the spiritual figures heavily in the climax of Vampyr, Dreyer's most thoroughgoing break with conventional realism, with the scariest sequence in this strangest of horror movies predicated on a vision of body and soul ripped asunder," writes Joshua Land at Moving Image Source. "It's only the most dramatic example of how Vampyr approaches many of the same basic questions as the more overtly philosophical later films, questions about the relationship between our systems of belief, religious and otherwise, and our means of knowing and experiencing the world. In Vampyr, the narrative becomes merely one more illusion to be peeled away in Dreyer's pursuit of inner realities."

Updated through 7/23.

The New York Times' Dave Kehr notes that this Criterion release is based on a restoration of the German version overseen by Martin Koerber: "The print is still not pristine, but the signs of age and wear that remain add to the film's mystique: it seems itself an ancient, arcane curio, the cinematic equivalent of the thick little book of vampire lore that falls into the hands of the film's passive hero. Seen today, Vampyr seems to belong less to a narrative tradition than to the avant-garde genre that the critic P Adams Sitney has defined as the 'trance film,' a form that extends from Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Poet (1930) through the work of Maya Deren, James Broughton and Gregory Markopoulos."

"I generally rank it not only as one of the four or five greatest horror films, but also as one of the greatest films ever made, regardless of genre," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at GC's Guru. "It's a masterpiece that still gives me the chills."

Don Kaye relishes the extras at Fangoria and notes that Vampyr is "a cornerstone of horror cinema, not just because it's so supremely unsettling, but because it proves than even a genre looked down upon by so many can be indisputably elevated into art."

"'[M]ust-own', 'essential' all seem understating the value," adds Gary W Tooze at DVD Beaver. "Along with ITV's Blu-ray of Black Narcissus this is my personal favorite DVD of the Year to date."

"It's a movie that viewers have to work at to understand, and screening this film isn't a passive event," notes John Sinnott at DVD Talk.

Update, 7/23: "Vampyr, like Murnau's Nosferatu, is a film that creates a unique and unreproducible atmosphere. It is a perfect melding of genius and available technology; it is one of the most vividly variegated visual works ever." Glenn Kenny thinks back to the day in 1980 that he saw it first.

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

Filmmaker. Summer 08.

Filmmaker Summer 08 The new issue of Filmmaker features the 10th annual survey of "25 New Faces of Independent Film" and, on the blog, Jason Guerrasio offers links to past roundups back to 2001, plus the names of those who made the grade from 1998 through 2000. And in a press release, Filmmaker announces "that five filmmakers from the list will participate in Nokia Productions' current film competition with director Spike Lee."

Three interviews from the Summer 08 issue are online: James Ponsoldt with Jay and Mark Duplass (Baghead), Damon Smith with James Marsh (Man on Wire), Mike Plante with Daft Punk (Electroma, "reminiscent of minimal yet powerful films from the 1970s explosion of studio funding meeting the artistic underground") and Nick Dawson with Alex Holdridge: "Sweet, sexy and sophisticated, In Search of a Midnight Kiss has been a huge crowd-pleaser at festivals worldwide and it seems inconceivable that, when the film is released here this summer through IFC, US audiences will not similarly fall in love with it."

"The future of the Internet, as with most aspects of our lives, is being determined behind our backs," warns David Rosen. "Awareness of the forces and issues driving these changes can help indie makers think through their relative position within the long-term development of the Internet."

"Today independent filmmakers find themselves in a wonderfully awkward position," writes Lance Weiler. "It is the best of times in terms of the ease of making work and the worst of times with regards to seeing profits from your efforts. This paradox creates an interesting opportunity for those willing to experiment with new models."

Making movies about real people raises a few legal challenges. Shelley H Surpin offers a quick guide to overcoming them.

"Some believe the key to 21st-century literacy will be something called 'systems thinking,' which is understanding how dynamic systems work, things like the eco-system and global warming - i.e. big systems made of interrelated parts that constantly change and affect one another. Like a videogame," writes Heather Chaplin. "And sure enough, games just may be the best way to teach people systems thinking."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:05 PM

Interview. Jay and Mark Duplass.

Baghead "A refreshingly high-concept low-budget outing, the Duplass Brothers' Baghead is an immensely likeable and surprisingly well-executed genre hybrid," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "The difficulty one finds in trying to categorize it is part of its charm, and this is not just whether one sees it as horror, comedy, or relationship roundelay but also how one defines and compartmentalizes its aesthetic: Baghead's makers and at least one of its stars may have crawled out from under the 'mumble'-corps, but its adherence to a somewhat conventional narrative framework successfully contorts and expands the boundaries of what that short-lived almost-collective of filmmakers were after. And furthermore, and of greater significance, it smartly proves that it only takes the slightest, smartest tweaks to temporarily revitalize an entire genre."

Sean Axmaker talks with Jay and Mark Duplass about how they've pulled this off.

Updated through 7/26.

"Think Hannah Gets Pushed Down the Stairs," suggests Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "But Baghead succeeds where other genre fusion films fail because its horror emerges organically from its drama; expertly entwined, they pick up each other's slack."

"[I]t's very broad, but the satire - and its attendant babble - actually heightens the scares," writes David Edelstein in New York in New York. "The monstrous maniac with the bagged head is like an extension of the characters' own self-indulgence."

Kathy Fennessy talks with the brothers as well - at the Siffblog.

Earlier: Rob Nelson in Cinema Scope, "Baghead in Austin" and reviews from Sundance.

Updates: More interviews with the Duplasses! As noted above, James Ponsoldt talks with them for Filmmaker and at IFC, Aaron Hillis's first question is, "How do we destroy the word 'mumblecore'?"

Updates, 7/23: "The movie's better in its first half, when it pokes gentle fun at the film-festival circuit," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. But I would love to see the overwrought bit o' nonsense shown during the film's opening minute, when the foursome attend a film-fest screening of We Are Naked. Best joke in the picture."

Michael Guillén talks with the Duplass brothers.

Updates, 7/25: "I want to persuade you to see Baghead, but I don't want to overhype it, because in many ways it's a delicate construction best served as a surprise." Andrew O'Hehir introduces his interview with the Duplass brothers at Salon.

"The shallow, crabby characters... are uncomfortably recognizable," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Beyond chewing over their own insecurities, these smart, self-absorbed people have little to say.... The semi-improvised performances, which seem so natural that it is tempting to confuse the actors with their characters, bring Baghead into the realm of group therapy observed through one-way glass."

"The real fun is how the Duplasses manage the horror movie business as if it's a poker hand, creating tension that magnifies the quirks and emotional prickliness of the characters, whose mutual neediness fluctuates with the love/hate dynamic of a reality TV competition (or college dorm room)," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "When all hell finally breaks loose, it's that much scarier and that much funnier, mostly because you're not sure whether to scream or laugh."

"The Duplasses are self-deprecating about their craft, but they're obviously skilled enough to incorporate a nerve-jangling variety of tones while keeping them all in balance," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"Baghead, despite its early sweetness, is actually a horror film, and, unfortunately, a failed one," argues Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York.

Online listening tip. Mark Duplass, Greta Gerwig and Ross Partridge are on the Leonard Lopate Show.

The Duplasses have "made a movie about trickery that neatly tricks its viewers into laughing, then screaming, then laughing again," writes Dana Stevens in Slate.

"For the Duplass's film about these talentless slackers to work - both as a comedy and then as a horror film - it's essential that we care about the characters," writes Marcy Dermansky. "I couldn't do it. Maybe if they had just one thing going for them."

Updates, 7/26: "Baghead is the first mumblecore movie to fail from thematic overambition rather than excessive modesty; for that alone it deserves some kind of prize," writes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "[L]ike the finale of Adaptation. and Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, its ending is so theoretical and arid that even as it makes all the right moves onscreen, it feels like a needless endgame. But the Duplass brothers are really onto something: they seem to be trying to build themselves back up to a mainstream narrative that'll fulfill all conventional expectations without making a single emotional false step."

Mark Olsen profiles Gerwig, "something of the accidental 'It' girl," for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:59 AM | Comments (2)

Guardian. Culture.

Guardian The Guardian redefines "Unlimited": Catherine Shoard offers a day-by-day guide to what we can expect to see at the new film site week in, week out, while Alex Neeham explains the many ways the entire culture site's been revamped.

Taking a quick look around:

  • Jonathan Jones argues that Martin Scorsese's King of Comedy is the "Last Great American Film."

  • Laura Barnett chats with Mike Figgis.

  • "Blockbusters have become a key battleground in the culture wars, an arena where left and right exchange biffs and kapows in the struggle for the American soul," writes Ben Walters.

  • Andrew Pulver: "I've been a film journalist since leaving university in 1990, and I can't work out whether my increasingly ambiguous feelings towards the medium are a product of middle-aged ennui or a genuine paucity of compelling ideas out there." This leads to a bit of online viewing: "Saint Etienne as a band have their retro-fetish side, and this is writ large in their films."

That's just a few items that hit the eye first at this hour; looks like it's going to be a fairly constant stream.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:07 AM

July 21, 2008

Shorts, 7/21.

Judex Craig Keller: "If we have to classify the films of Louis Feuillade - and we don't, because there are no rules in cinema or criticism (love or war) - ...we'd do well to stop deferring to the contemporary marketing that announced them as adventure serials, and start referring to these (un-/)determinedly recursive five-plus-hour sagas by what they really are, which are extended psychodramas - dangerous, occult, quasi-cathartic manipulations of the spectating psyche."

"Between about 1913 and 1920, the way movies looked changed, and we are still living with the results. What were the changes? What brought them about?" David Bordwell traces the "trail to continuity" and along the way points to an amazing database at CineMetrics.

"One of the more interesting challenges in viewing [Tex] Avery's vintage MGM work is learning how to process various aspects of their racism and sexism without overlooking their good-humored humanity or drowning in political correctness," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum. "Though I've only sampled [Floriane] Place-Verghnes's [Tex Avery: A Unique Legacy, 1942 - 1955] so far, she appears to pull off this difficult task."

Gus Van Sant's Milk is slated to open in December; FilmInFocus is running Graham Fuller's 1993 interview, conducted "at his rented apartment near Castro Street in San Francisco in April 1993. Van Sant had located himself there in order to begin pre-production on The Mayor of Castro Street, a film adaptation of Randy Shilts's biography of Harvey Milk, the city supervisor whose 1978 assassination (alongside that of Mayor George Moscone) made him a martyr for gay rights. Shortly after we talked, Van Sant quietly withdrew from the project, unwilling to direct the version of the script that Oliver Stone and his fellow producers wished to make."

Canyon Cinema Scott MacDonald's Canyon Cinema: The Life and Times of an Independent Film Distributor "fills a major gap in our knowledge of the history of avant-garde film," writes Malcolm Turvey for Artforum. "This history is determined not just by films that are made but by the extent to which those films are seen - and that, in turn, depends in major ways on distributors such as Canyon."

"As it has so often, commercial calculation finds a willing handmaiden in critical laziness, even (or perhaps especially) that evinced by those more intelligent and discerning writers who devote their efforts and talents towards designing elaborate intellectual justifications for films that neither require nor deserve them," writes Andrew Tracy in Reverse Shot. "By elevating the latest pop detritus to the level of godhead, by implicitly declaring the centrality of pop moviemaking (most often bad pop moviemaking) above all else, [critical discussion] only further occludes those films that don't have the advantage of being relentlessly drilled into our consciousness by the marketing machine.... All of which is a grand lead-up to the comparatively puny declaration that Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II is a lousy piece of moviemaking and a lousier work of imagination, its thunderous acclamation aside."

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea "is on course to become Miyazaki's, and the territory's, 2nd biggest hit ever," notes Jason Gray.

With The Spirit slated for a Christmas season opening, Andy Webster profiles Frank Miller, who, growing up, "supplemented his superhero diet with Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane and broke through in the 1980s with a gritty run on Marvel's Daredevil; DC's Ronin, which embraced Japanese and European influences; and the classic four-issue Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. He also created the graphic novel 300, about the battle of Thermopylae. All bore his feverish, testosterone-infused stamp."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Richard Bernstein reports on China's Kung Fu Panda debate: "The main question being asked is: How could Western filmmakers have used Chinese themes to create such a brilliant animated movie with such widespread appeal to the Chinese themselves? Why, in other words, doesn't China itself seem to be able to use its rich traditions to such brilliant cinematic and commercial effect?"

Beckett

The Films of Samuel Fuller "In [The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I'll Kill You!], Lisa Dombrowski, associate professor of film studies at Wesleyan University, reveals a filmmaker who was first and foremost a writer." Rodger Jacobs at PopMatters.

"[Timothy] Treadwell [in Grizzly Man and Graham Dorrington in The White Diamond seem like two poles for Herzog now, mad outcast and mad scientist, with those in between them not proving interesting enough. In [Encounters at the End of the World], I get the sense that Herzog, like the old master that he is, is favoring the Dorrington side, that of the scientist, that of craft and virtuosity." That's Daniel Quiles in a note to Roger Ebert, who comments and passes along a reply from Herzog himself.

In the meantime, as Karina Longworth notes at the SpoutBlog, following Richard Roeper's exit, Ebert, too, "will no longer be associated" with At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper. Here's his statement; Shawn Levy, David Poland and Chuck Tryon comment.

"I recently caught a documentary called New York 77, which brilliantly captured that tumultuous year. While it's true that the city was an economic disaster, crime was running rampant (it was the summer of Sam to boot), and the city almost destroyed itself during the blackout, there was a vibrancy and immediacy that even this precocious 12 year-old was able to pick up on." So Filmbrain's been catching up with more films from the period and finds a passage worth dwelling on in Wim Wenders's Alice in the Cities.

Memoirs of Hadrian The exhibition Hadrian: Empire and Conflict opens at the British Museum on Thursday and will be on view through October 26 and Dan Snow's Hadrian has just aired on the BBC. But wait, there's more: "Later this summer filming will start in Morocco on a version of the emperor's story by British director John Boorman. Based on Marguérite Yourcenar's 1951 novel, Memoirs of Hadrian, Boorman's film casts Antonio Banderas in the lead role and Charlie Hunnam as Antinous, the Greek boy who became his lover and then drowned mysteriously in the Nile." Vanessa Thorpe on "The cult of Hadrian." Related online listening: Dan Snow on Start the Week.

Also in the Observer:

Jason Sperb: "Five Forms of Cinematic Nostalgia (or everything I need to know about the films and the past I learned from the Star Trek Movies)."

The Guilty Steve-O's Noir of the Week: The Guilty (1947).

Brannavan Gnanalingam talks with Adam Wingard about Pop Skull and the Lumière Reader; also: a talk with Yung Chang about Up the Yangzte.

At Stream, Eric Kohn profiles Open Source Cinema pioneer Brett Gaylor.

"Nearly three years since the creation of the Weinstein Co, the duo insist they've finally got all the elements in place to do justice to a full slate of films, some already shooting, others ready to go before the cameras." The Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein talks with Bob and Harvey Weinstein: "Still, like everyone else in the indie film sector, the Weinsteins face a tightening credit market and a glut of films that have made scoring a hit ever harder. As a result, there are doubters who question how the Weinstein Co is financing its many projects."

New blog on the block: Lawrence Levi's Nothing Sacred at Nextbook.

Mihcael Guillén calls for a Kiyoshi Kurosawa Blog-a-Thon: Friday through August 1.

Online listening tip. Hitchcock and Truffaut talk about North By Northwest at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...

Online viewing tip. David Carr introduces Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own. Via Movie City News. Related: An excerpt in the NYT Magazine.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Pierre Huyghe at the DVblog.

Online viewing tips, round 2. Seth Rogen, James Franco and others talk comedy in the NYT's T Magazine. It's probably easier to access what you want to see here.

Online viewing tips, round 3. The Think Tank documentary series.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:44 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 7/21.

San Francisco Jewish Festival "The San Francisco Jewish Festival has never, in its 28 years, taken the path of least resistance," writes Michael Fox, introducing his interview with exec director Peter Stein and program director Nancy Fishman at SF360. "To cite the most obvious example, a hallmark of the annual program is the inclusion of several films critical of Israel. (That these movies are almost always produced by Israeli filmmakers, and financed by government grants, is irrelevant to the fest's critics.) This year's contrarian act is increasing the number of films and screenings in the face of a spiraling economy." Thursday through August 11.

As Anne Thompson notes, the Toronto lineup is shaping up nicely.

The Museum of the Moving Image has big plans: "By the time the new-and-improved museum opens in late 2009 (or early 2010), visitors will be greeted by a fully renovated first floor and a three-story addition - three new floors composed in part of a brand-new theater, a separate screening room, an array of galleries and a multi-classroom education center," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "But in the meantime, as construction has required a partial closing of the facilities in Queens, museum organizers have continued to move forward with an ambitious slate of online and off-site events - expanding the institution's footprint even as it must close off some of its physical space."

Jennifer MacMillan sends out an invitation to two summer screenings in New York.

Reminder: Twitch's reviews from Fantasia, which wraps today.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:53 PM | Comments (3)

Man on Wire.

Man on Wire "On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit went where no man had gone before, and where no one can ever go again," writes Nicolas Rapold, introducing his interview with Petit for the New York Sun. "Early that overcast morning, a quarter mile above the streets of New York, the French tightrope artiste crossed a high wire linking the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. When he crossed back over the wire, he lay down in the middle, then practically danced a jig as police waited at either end and crowds below gawked."

Updated through 7/27.

"It goes without saying - and, happily, Man on Wire doesn't say it - that all this happened in a more naïve time, that today the notion of foreigners with fake ID's slipping past security guards into the Twin Towers has a different meaning," writes David Edelstein in New York. "So does the prospect of falling from the sky. The most miraculous thing about Man on Wire is not the physical feat itself, 1,350 feet above the ground, but that as you watch it, the era gone, the World Trade Center gone, the movie feels as if it's in the present tense. That nutty existentialist acrobat pulled it off."

"The law caught up with him every time, but so did a flabbergasted public, who understood what he was doing may have been illegal but in no way wicked or mean - as one of Philippe's friends succinctly puts it," notes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "And it is with the same awe of those who were lucky enough to have seen Philippe walking on what looked like a cloud that morning that director James Marsh, in an aesthetic mode best described as Errol Morris meets vintage Spike Jonze."

"The narrative is a wonderfully edited and engaging mix of loquacious French aesthetes rhapsodizing over the poetic beauty and daring of the act, more monosyllabic Americans justifying their participation, and hilariously wacky re-enactments," writes Benjamin Sutton in the L Magazine. "'The coup' (as the group called the event during planning) happens in a cheesy 70s crime-saga aesthetic, with hideous broad-collared shirts, massively ugly suits and simply massive sideburns. Scenes of Petit's early acrobatics development, meanwhile, are rendered in the wacky silent film style of Buster Keaton movies. The influence of Guy Maddin's period-popping style is in there somewhere."

Earlier: Catherine Wheatley in Sight & Sound and reviews from Sundance.

Update: Howard Feinstein talks with Marsh for indieWIRE.

Update, 7/22: "Like the events it's based on, Man on Wire is the kind of film that's more inspiring to witness than it is to later think (or write) about, but let it be said that Marsh's adeptness at mounting his tale is undeniable, and what the film lacks in any sort of subtextual richness it more than makes up in narrative functionality and the clarity with which it reconstructs Petit's mission impossible," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE.

Updates, 7/23: Anthony Kaufman talks with New Yorkers and some of the film's major players about that August day in 1974. Also in the Voice, Jim Ridley: "Still lithe and trim, with a strangely well-muscled delicacy, the middle-aged Petit animates Man on Wire with his impish presence.... Ultimately, Man on Wire memorializes a New York of almost lackadaisical looseness - a place where security breaches end in magically fanciful outcomes; where even Petit's awestruck arresting officer refers to him as a 'tightrope dancer, because you couldn't call him a walker'; where the Port Authority bestows upon this daredevil scofflaw not a ticket to Gitmo, but a lifetime pass to the World Trade Center's observation deck. Marsh shows the pass, and you may feel a catch in your throat when you see the word hand-written in the corner: 'permanent.'"

At the House Next Door, Godfrey Cheshire explains why he walked out after 45 minutes: "As far as I can recall, this is the first, nominally serious movie to come along with a soundtrack that has been plundered not just from other movies, but from movies once celebrated for their distinctive collaboration between composer and director."

Updates, 7/25: AO Scott in the New York Times: "Why did they do it? Rather than risking banality by addressing this question head-on, Mr Marsh allows the answer to be at once self-evident and profoundly mysterious. A work of art is its own explanation, and Man on Wire leaves no doubt that Mr Petit's coup deserves to be called art."

"Marsh's film rattles one's nerves simply via the regular sight of Petit suspended over immense chasms, appearing, from a distance, like he's literally floating in air," writes Nick Schager at Cinematical. "There's a supernatural beauty to these stark images... and they lend the proceedings an almost quasi-religious atmosphere, as if what we're watching is the story of a man attempting to do something divine."

"All the components of a riveting heist film are here," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "There's a well-laid plan that runs afoul, conflicts among the criminals that blow up mid-heist, and unexpected complications that heighten the drama. The fact that it's all true only makes it more exciting - so exciting, in fact, that we almost forget the simple majesty of what Mr Petit set out do in the first place."

David Fear in Time Out New York: "Marsh has, in effect, created a real-life heist procedural (the black-and-white scenes of the ragtag bunch infiltrating the WTC might have been plucked from a Melville flick); one of the most compelling portraits of because-it's-there ideology ever captured on celluloid; and a ghost story."

"[T]his tale is as notable for its evocation of a prelapsarian New York as it is for Marsh's ability to sustain interest in a story with a known conclusion," writes Brian Sholis for Artforum.

"Marsh allows the high-wire man to yammer away and tell his own story: And, strangely enough, it works," finds Simon Abrams in New York Press.

"Marsh's film lacks a certain broader scope - or necessary contrast," argues Noel Murray at the AV Club.

David Jenkins talks with Marsh for Time Out.

Kevin Maher meets Petit for the London Times.

Update, 7/26: Andrew O'Hehir talks with Marsh and Petit for Salon; Damon Wise chats with Petit for the Guardian.

"One recurrent theme has to do with Europeans' perceptions of Americans - gentle bemusement mixed with a smidgen of distaste," notes Bryant Frazer. "Petit recalls that, after his arrest, news reporters bombarded him with the same query: why did you do it? For him, that's a particularly frustrating question because it betrays a failure of imagination, or perhaps just a misguided practicality."

Update, 7/27: Lauren Wissot talks with Marsh and Petit for the House Next Door.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:35 PM | Comments (3)

American Teen.

American Teen "American Teen, which follows the senior year of five supposedly archetypal high school students in rural Indiana, is entertaining enough, but it's still 100 minutes of pure exploitation," argues Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "To give herself cover, [Nanette] Burstein repeatedly makes the point that this generation lives their lives in electronic media. But just because the subjects are willing to have their private horrors filmed doesn't mean that they should be."

"Maybe this will be the big crossover doc, the hit that’s a hit because it reinforces everything we knew going in," writes David Edelstein in New York. "The movie does get under your skin... but the way it has been put together reminds me of those animal shows where the crew nudges the gazelles in the direction of the lions with multiple cameras standing by."

Updated through 7/25.

"What do Juno, Napoleon Dynamite and The Breakfast Club all have in common?" asks Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. Answer: They're all being used to sell a documentary; American Teen is "one of the summer's trickiest marketing challenges."

S James Snyder talks with Burstein for the New York Sun: "While the movie seems to unite many audiences, reviving memories about the cruelty of high school, it's also revealed the divide that exists between the parents on the screen and some of the parents in the audience. Some are living in very different worlds."

"I want to do a fiction film," Burstein tells Karen Durbin in the New York Times: "I've spent a lot of time taking real life and molding it into a narrative. Now I'd like to take a narrative and make it feel like real life."

Anne Thompson reports on a screening last week at which some of the American teens were on hand for the Q&A.

The AV Club lists "17 scare films about the teen menace."

Online listening tip. Cort and Fatboy.

Earlier: Brian Darr and more reviews from Sundance.

Updates, 7/23: Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times: "'I was really surprised actually and have been upset by it,' Burstein said of the level of pushback American Teen has generated. 'There's accusations that it's staged and scripted and that I went after the stereotypes, and it's just not true. I think it's unusual to have a very narrative documentary, so people aren't used to it,' she continued. 'I think people have a hard time believing teenagers are willing to be that intimate on camera. So sometimes I feel I'm being criticized for what the film's achievements are.'"

"It's no accident that most of the great teen movies - American Graffiti, Sixteen Candles, Fast Times at Ridgemont High spring to mind - were made decades ago, when adolescents were still thought of as a generation rather than a demographic," observes Ella Taylor in the Voice. Still: "Even when it's ripping off Juno and The Hills, American Teen is fascinating in the way of every good documentary—the more time you spend with anyone, the more they surprise you."

Eric Kohn talks with Burstein for indieWIRE; so does Scott Tobias, but for the AV Club.

Updates, 7/25: "It goes without saying that a documentary film that finds non-famous, non-adult people at an especially vulnerable crux in their lives is something of an ethical minefield," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Can a filmmaker investigate the sexual, emotional and family lives of innocent youngsters without slipping into exploitation? The easy answer, confirmed by American Teen, is no way. And why even try? In a project like this one, the line between sympathy and prurience is not so much thin as nonexistent. Once we know a little about how these kids think, interact and behave, we are caught between the hunger to know everything and the impulse to look away before we learn too much."

"It's probably impossible to expect anyone to come up with a documentary as powerful as Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines's Seventeen which in 1983 traced the lives of another group of Midwestern teens with risky, gut-punching social realism," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "The film, broadcast on PBS, is out of circulation but you can YouTube it here. Obscure as it is, Seventeen has, in retrospect, the advantage of being shot on the cusp of the MTV era (a big moment comes when the teenagers play Bob Seger's 'Against the Wind' as a eulogy for a pal who has been killed in a car accident). American Teen, for all its seeming 24/7 access, never feels terribly vérité. Its subjects sport their remote transmitters on their belts like the latest hip accessory. Yet that may be the most telling element of all."

"The kids' mistakes make you cringe - often with laughs of recognition - and, during the film's most involving moments, makes you long to comfort them through their trials and cheer on their triumphs," writes Michael Ordoña in the Los Angeles Times. "If nothing else, American Teen reminds us that, though its charges aren't exactly Sudanese refugees, their pressures, joys and pains fill their worlds as much as anyone's do."

"In form, it's admittedly slick and packaged, with a commercial feel that owes as much to reality television as it does to Frederick Wiseman," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "But in content, it's easy for anyone who survived (or is surviving) high school to feel twinges of identification."

In the New York Press, Armond White describes an incident that he finds to be "a vile misuse of the intimate, verité and reportorial technique that the Maysles, Pennebaker and other doc pioneers worked so hard to justify."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:33 AM

The Dark Knight, round 3.

The Dark Knight "Fevered fans pushed The Dark Knight the sixth of the Warner Brothers series of Batman movies, to record three-day ticket sales of $155.3 million over the weekend, shoring up what so far had been a wobbly year at the box office." Michael Cieply reports for the New York Times, while, at Movie City News, Leonard Klady sorts through the numbers and Variety's Pamela McClintock notes that the final tally has been revised - upwards.

"As happens only once every decade or so, the entire moviegoing population of America became welded into a single breathless entity, and the result was a pop event on the order of the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan," blogs the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Go ahead and scoff at the analogy, boomers, but one of the kids [he's met] likened the opening of Dark Knight to the JFK assassination and the Challenger disaster as quintessential where-were-you defining moments of his generation. That says much, about both this movie and the callowness of smart young men - the correct analogy is to Titanic or the final installment of The Lord of the Rings - but a pop event has always created its own sense of necessary immensity."

Updated through 7/27.

"Now you see it, now you don't," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "That about encapsulates the depths of feeling and artistry in The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan and company's sordid exercise in avert-your-eyes sadism, a work at best inelegant and at worst inept. The film would have us believe it's about dualities and polarities, the so-called Dark Knight of Gotham (Christian Bale as billionaire Bruce Wayne and vigilante alter-ego Batman) compared and contrasted with White Knight—soon-to-be literally two-faced—Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), both of them joined in messily chaotic battle with the facially-scarred villain known as The Joker, whose mid-film 'You complete me' declaration to Batman is less Jerry Maguire-jest than Matrix-like pseudo-philosophy." Since that went up on Saturday, a storm of comments has been battering the House.

"No formula exists to determine the greatest living American filmmaker," writes Mike D'Angelo for Esquire. "The thing about Christopher Nolan (who's as much British as American - but sue me, so was Hitchcock) is that he doesn't clonk you over the head with his genius."

"[Heath] Ledger, for my liking, doesn't quite have the ticcy, nervy danger on screen that would have made his Joker an outstanding piece of cinematic devilment," write the Observer's Jason Solomons.

Jesse Hassenger goes spoilerific at the L Magazine.

"If director Christopher Nolan's first Batman film, the origin story Batman Begins, took as its model the famously dark Frank Miller stories of the mid-80s, and especially Batman: Year One, this new installment takes off from Alan Moore's even nastier The Killing Joke," notes Ed Howard. "Miller's Batman may have launched the darker, grittier take on the bat-eared crimefighter, but Moore's slightly later short story considerably ups the ante, positing a Joker who only wants to prove that anyone can be driven to madness, and a Batman who exists as a moral flipside to this evil clown, only a few short steps from the same fate."

Earlier: Rounds 1 and 2.

Updates: "Part of the problem with The Dark Knight for the critical cast of mind is the fact that it is such a multifaceted film that criticisms and praise alike get swallowed up into its richly textured abundance of character, incident, politics, and pointed set design," writes DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "Though its two-and-a-half hours does make up a unified whole, with a couple of digressive longheurs along the way, the film does lend itself to atomization, creating handy parcel with which the critic may make salient points sometimes relevant to the whole. In fact, there are at least 11 The Dark Knights, each self-contained units lending themselves to in-depth treatment." A dozen are noted.

Via Matt Dentler, Variety's Phil Gallo talks with Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard about their score: "Batman gets two notes. The Joker, only one. It's a radical concept for a film score, a technique more likely to be found in a Wagner opera. Those notes do not sit alone or on top of a brash comicbook score either. This is a score inspired by minimalism, repeated motifs that echo the work of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians and Philip Glass."

Updates, 7/22: "This is a summer tent-pole movie that plays to the masochistic instincts of cinemagoers fretting over their own futures," writes Geoffrey Macnab. "All the signs are that audiences are basking in that sinking feeling and sense of trepidation the film gleefully induces." Also in the Independent: Mark Hughes reports on last night's premiere in London; a FAQ on Batman's enduring appeal; John Walsh asks, "why did American comics differ so sharply from British ones?"; and Guy Adams wonders, "Would Batman still be a blockbuster if Heath Ledger had lived?"

"If you think this summer has been jammed with superhero movies, you ain't seen nothin' yet," warns the Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein.

"Dear Film Critics," begins Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Really, everyone? Really? I know how this is going to come off to those of you who are still quivering under its dark, moody spell, but someone has to do it." The Dark Knight is "just as long-winded, shapeless, formulaic, and deadening as the most generic big-budget buffoonery out there. You can call me a snob if you want to, go right ahead. I'm simply calling the movie out for what it is: a glossy, pseudo-'deep' work of mass consumer-friendly torture porn."

"A catch-22: Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight demands, in a mean, raspy voice, to be taken more seriously than your average comic book movie," writes Adam Nayman in Reverse Shot. "But when one endeavors to do just that - to analyze its loudly explicated themes of duality and ethical impasse; to parse the implications of having its villain be referred to and self-identify as a 'terrorist'; to consider the use of invasive surveillance technology as a post–Patriot Act plot point - one is reprimanded for bullying a defenseless Pop object. Hey, guys, why so serious?"

Updates, 7/23: Salon's Andrew O'Hehir points to the discussion going on at Dave Kehr's place, "an intriguing back-and-forth among defenders and detractors of The Dark Knight - as well as a fascinating discussion of the role and limits of film criticism - with nary a nasty epithet in sight. Is the picture, as one poster proposes, a complex tragedy 'about moral ambivalence and the impossibility of justice in America at this moment'? Or does it tell us we 'shouldn't question those who operate outside of what we consider acceptable codes of morality, but rather just shut up and trust the hero'?"

"What kind of world would this be had we taken Batman so seriously since 1939?" asks John McElwee. "Could we have won a World War with such conflicted role models as super-heroes have become?"

"Personally, I understand the hype that surrounds just about any big Hollywood release as being the work of masterful publicity machinations which seeps into the blood of those prepared to dig the scene - that's business as usual," offers Dennis Cozzalio. "But there's something different going on here, and fan reactions to dissenting views like Edelstein's and Uhlich's often seem more like Joker-esque dementia than protectiveness over a pet film."

Jürgen Fauth defends his nerd cred: "I now offer a comparison of George Lucas's tragically misunderstood pop masterpiece and the absurdly overpraised muddle for which Christopher Nolan is now treated as the second coming of Alfred Hitchcock." It's Revenge of the Sith vs The Dark Knight.

James Rocchi: "[A]fter sitting down with The Prestige, I think I get what [David] Fear was saying about Nolan's body of work as a whole; The Prestige suggests Nolan's capable of a lot more than the bat-clad, bomb-bursting bullet-filled action of The Dark Knight."

"Eckhart suddenly finds himself the flag-bearer for the UK release of this record-breaking blockbuster ($158m and counting), now that one of the movie's two stars is helping police with their enquiries, and the other one is reachable only by ouija board." Ryan Gilbey talks with him for the Guardian.

IFC's Matt Singer offers a "Visual History" of Gotham City.

Updates, 7/24: "I have a hunch, and perhaps a hope, that Iron Man, Hancock and Dark Knight together represent a peak, by which I mean not only a previously unattained level of quality and interest, but also the beginning of a decline," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "In their very different ways, these films discover the limits built into the superhero genre as it currently exists.... Is it just me, or is the strain starting to show?"

"Nolan reveals an ambition unseen not only in most comic book adaptations but in most movies, period," writes Andrew Bemis. "It feels like his entire career has been building to this, as he reveals himself to be one of the great cinematic storytellers, and The Dark Knight an unqualified masterpiece."

"[O]ne thing all The Dark Knight's fanatics have in common is profound enthusiasm," writes Ariel Leve in the Guardian. "I envy that. I wish I cared about something as much as they care about Batman."

Vue Weekly's David Berry and Josef Braun have a quick chat.

"However high Nolan might pile on the gravity, however long he might stretch out the agony, the comic-book iconography inevitably simplifies and trivializes the moral debate: Can you fight fair when you fight terrorism?" Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader: "Somehow bat ears and clown makeup ill become a crisis of conscience. The truth is that Nolan's lack of faith in the superhero of olden days - the White Knight - goes hand in glove with a larger lack of faith in the fairy-tale form. He can't trust it to convey its import (in spite of all the scholarly efforts of Bruno Bettelheim, Joseph Campbell, et al) without an additive of grand-operatic bombast. His reformer's zeal amounts to just another aspect of his pretentiousness."

Updates, 7/25: The Dark Knight hits the UK: Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Dave Calhoun (Time Out), James Christopher (Times), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Derek Malcolm (Evening Standard), Anthony Quinn (Independent) and Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph).

The WSWS's David Walsh finds it "a good nor a serious film. It is ill-conceived and poorly done, overlong, confusing and emotionally muddy."

Gill Pringle profiles Maggie Gyllenhaal for the Independent.

Updates, 7/26: "It's time, I'm afraid, to let loose the dogs of apocalyptic cultural complaint, this time upon the throat of The Dark Knight, which I was coerced into finally seeing despite my official moratorium on voluntarily watching superhero movies, or any film in which someone puts on a mask or has 'special powers,' the latter of which is all by itself a dead giveaway, as a narrative device, to the film-culture mess we find ourselves in," sighs Michael Atkinson. "The Dark Knight epitomizes the problem specifically not by simply being a Caped Crusader trifle masquerading as Paradise Lost, but because it failed to do the simplest things movies have always done: tell a fucking story."

"The Dark Knight is middling as a summer blockbuster, zero as art, and more than a bit alarming as a phenomenon," argues Fernando F Croce.

At Vinyl Is Heavy, Jennifer Stewart and Ryland Walker Knight begin a longish conversation via email.

You'll have heard about this: here's William Triplett's take at Wilshire & Washington: "An op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal is either brilliant satire (New Yorker cover artists, take note) or the most breathtakingly silly form of wish-fulfillment one is ever likely to find in those otherwise august pages."

Update, 7/27: First thing Pacze Moj does is issue a warning: "The following post is long, messy, and full of overblown, half-baked ideas that I just felt like writing down. In other words, it's very much like the film it's describing."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:10 AM | Comments (2)

July 20, 2008

Yerevan Dispatch.

David D'Arcy sends word from the capital of Armenia.

Golden Apricot International Film Festival At the Golden Apricot International Film Festival in Yerevan, Armenia, now marking its fifth year, international cinema is meeting the culture of this small nation whose diaspora reaches from the former Soviet Union to Paris, Santa Monica and Toronto. Armenia does not have much film production today, one to two features in a good year and those are made on low budgets (and then there are the documentaries, made with a lot of heart and even less money). But it did have its own active studio under the Soviet system, and its film culture runs deep.

Sergei Paradjanov (1924-90), an Armenian born in Georgia, is commemorated in the extraordinary museum that bears his name and reveals a restless vibrant imagination (and these are just his drawings and assemblages). Most of Paradjanov's work was banned in his lifetime for its transgression of rules mandating Socialist Realism, and he spent more than four years in prison. Paradjanov's objects range from wildly inventive satirical collages that combine the influences of Arcimboldo with a sensibility like that of Joseph Cornell and drawings, like his finely-rendered pictures of friends from prison, that convey emotional depth. The museum alone warrants a visit to Yerevan. The food and cognac, and the people, might keep you here for a while.

Paradjanov (or Paronian, as his name would be in Armenian) once said, "Beauty will save the world," before he died of lung cancer at the age of 66. Now Armenians in film from around the world have converged on the GAIFF this week, and there is much talk of co-productions and plans to shoot here. An American firm has bought the Soviet-Era Hyefilm (Armenian Film) Studio, and is committing funds to renovate it into a hub for production and location services. The Central Partnership, a Russian distribution and production house run by Armenians (as a number of them are in Moscow), has avoided much involvement in Armenia, but its new film, Mermaid (winner of Sundance's international feature competition last year) is the work of Anna Melikian, an Armenian woman living in Moscow. Relations between Russians and Armenians are far more friendly here than in neighboring Georgia, where Russia funds insurgencies in the North and bans the import of Georgian wine, a product that is so identified with Georgia that its patron saint is depicted holding a cross made of vine branches.

Still, though, Armenia lacks modern cinemas and there are none on the drawing board. So far, as the construction cranes all around town suggest, this cinematic renaissance is another work in progress.

Heart of Two Nations: Hrant Dink

New Armenian documentaries at the GAIFF were a mixed bag, often showing the austerity of their budgets on the screen. For an outsider, however, they were a revelation. Two films looked at the assassination in March 2007 of Hrant Dink, the journalist and editor of Agos, a newspaper in Istanbul that publishes in the Turkish language and pushes for Turkish recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, improbably, as part of a effort to bring Armenian and Turks together, an ambitious and seemingly impossible task if there ever was one.

The documentaries, by performer and Gorky biographer Nouritza Matossian (Heart of Two Nations: Hrant Dink) and by Hrant Hakobyan (Eternal Flight: Hrant Dink) seem to assume that the audience is familiar with the factual detail of Dink's killing by Turkish nationalists, aided by the indifference or active collaboration of the Turkish military. Each depicts Dink as a prophet for peacemaking, a humanitarian who led open conversations about history in the face of threats to his life. Matossian is now seeking to remake her own documentary, sub-titled in English (with an English voice-over by the director), which began as a series of video-taped conversations in Armenian with the murdered journalist.

Even as Dink's killing points to enduringly acute Turkish opposition to any official recognition of the Genocide (just look at the intense lobbying in the US against Congressional resolutions marking the tragedy of 1915), there were Turkish jurors on two of the GAIFF juries, a deliberate step in the right direction.

Who Is Monte?

The documentary Who is Monte, by Edward Badounts, takes up the story of Monte Melkonian, a California-born American killed in the Nagorno Karabach War after two years of commanding Armenian troops in the region that fought for its independence from neighboring Azerbaijan, and won it in 1994. (Only Armenia recognizes the new government there.) If Armenia were more of a draw at the box office, this story would have been made into a Hollywood feature years ago.

Monte (as everyone seems to have called the charismatic hero whom Armenia now honors) graduated from Berkeley, traveled the world, and by the late 1970s found his way into radical groups that practiced the kind of violent hostage-taking and assassinations which we associate with the more visible Red Army Faction, Irish Republican Army and Red Brigades of those years. The Beirut-based Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (or ASALA) tended toward shooting Turkish diplomats, although it was abandoned (some say sold out) by its former allies in the Palestine Liberation Organization and broke into violent factions in the early 1980s. Monte spent the years 1986 through 1989 in prison in France for traveling with false papers and carrying an illegal handgun. At the collapse of the Soviet Union, he was in Armenia, having taught himself the language. He soon became a participant in the war in Nagorno-Karabach, which then sought independence from Azerbaijan. Before long he was commanding unpaid and untrained troops.

The film, narrated by Monte's widow, Seta Kbranian, takes you in and out of Monte's military and personal lives. The saga of a war fought by citizens who became soldiers overnight calls to mind the early days of Israel and the images of mountain fighting could have been lifted from the Bosnian archives. The tone of the film is romantic, patriotic and motivational, but the young widow's voice is poignant, and leaves you wanting to know more about her husband and his journey from suburbia to a war halfway around the world.

Vandals of the 21st Century Another documentary, Vandals of the 21st Century, shows that the war with Azerbaijan has taken its cultural toll. In Julfa, which is in the region of Nakichevan (an Armenian territory now controlled by Azerbaijan), a cemetery of thousands of Khachkars, massive gravestones with carved crucifixes, was hacked apart by soldiers from Azerbaijan's army with sledgehammers. The pieces of the 400-year old carvings were then put in trucks and dumped into a ravine. Much of the destruction was videotaped from a distance by Armenians, and the short documentary by Ashot Movsisyan follows the soldiers as they smash the irreplaceable objects.

The film quotes from a letter sent by the chief Islamic cleric of Azerbaijan, informing concerned Armenians who watched the video (which is more extensive than the sections shown in the documentary) that his government is taking measures to protect Armenian heritage there. It's rare that antiquities vandals are caught in such a flagrant act. As Donald Rumsfeld said when asked to explain why Iraq's National Museum could be looted while heavily armed US troops stood by, "Stuff happens." Here the troops were ordered to obliterate a graveyard, presumably to discourage Armenians from ever thinking of this territory as their home. It's hard to watch.

(To see a Khachkar, you can visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where one carving is currently on loan from Armenia.)

- David D'Arcy

Posted by dwhudson at 2:58 AM

July 19, 2008

Interview. Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber.

Full Battle Rattle "This is part of the endless war machine. The war machine grinds on. They used to run Cold War simulations there. Now they run Iraq simulations there. They're beginning to evolve more into Afghan War simulations. For all I know, it'll be Iran in two years. They only have to re-jigger the actors and the sets, and the war continues."

That's Jesse Moss, talking about the National Training Center, which has built Medina Wazl, a fictional town out in the Mojave Desert, where soldiers train to fight the real war in Iraq. David D'Arcy talks with him and his filmmaking partner, Tony Gerber, about their documentary Full Battle Rattle, currently at Film Forum in New York through Tuesday.

Keep an eye on their blog for further screenings. Earlier: Reviews from the week of July 7.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:50 PM

Shorts, 7/19.

David Lynch It's "David Lynch Day" at DC's.

Whether or not you plan to read Leigh Montville's The Mysterious Montague: A True Tale of Hollywood, Golf and Armed Robbery, do see Colman McCarthy's succinct telling of the tale in his review for the Washington Post.

"The uncut version, whether you call it Amanti d'oltretomba or Night of the Doomed, is an important title from the Italian Golden Age pantheon, and one of Barbara Steele's best star vehicles," writes Tim Lucas, reacting to news that an original negative has been found. "Not a notch on Black Sunday, of course, but it is significant as the only horror film for which Steele dubbed her own performance (one of her dual roles) - and the news about the discovery of the original negative element is wonderful. Just to know that people over there are looking for such things is wonderful."

Also, a review of Scott Walker: 30 Century Man: "[A]s music documentaries go, this is about as good as they come."

The Room "There is nothing on this planet quite like The Room," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Character logic is primitive at best. Narrative flow? Pre-mammalian. All this could've meant deadly amateurish boredom if not for the pervasive, hypnotically strange imprint of auteur-star [Tommy] Wiseau. He might have made the ultimate performance art prank here - or he might unknowingly be it."

Disney "finds itself fending off a chorus of accusations of racial stereotyping in its forthcoming big-budget cartoon, The Princess and the Frog: An American Fairy Tale, which marks a return to hand-drawn animation," reports Arifa Akbar in the Independent.

Also: "It looked increasingly unlikely yesterday that cinema audiences in this world will get to see the planned film sequels in Philip Pullman's children's fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials. Sources in the film industry said that plans for a sequel to The Golden Compass appeared to have been put on ice following the fervent Christian protests surrounding the first film, which led to boycotts and box office disappointment in the United States."

Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) and screenwriter Jesse Wigutow are teaming up for a doc based on Frank Snepp's Irreparable Harm: A Firsthand Account of How One Agent Took on the CIA in an Epic Battle Over Free Speech. Christopher Campbell has more at Cinematical.

The Unknown Having seen Tod Browning's The Unknown, Michael Guillén writes up a terrific appreciation of Lon Chaney.

"My Winnipeg is [Guy] Maddin's most hauntological film, as well as his most 'political,'" writes Steven Shaviro. "Maddin has always played off campy humor against abject affect; but in this film, these two dimensions of feeling are more indiscernible than ever before, fusing in a kind of all-embracing ghostliness."

"Faustus's Children uses its integration of political commentary with supernaturalism and a Baudrillardian aesthetic mission to reclaim pastiche as a form of political commentary from the 'blank parody' / 'dead language' paradigm identified by Frederic Jameson in his work on postmodernism," argues Dave McDougall in the Auteurs' Notebook. "By making these aesthetic parameters the primary 'characters' of the film, the film situates itself as an example of 'art practice' via the moving image; it's a fully realized conceptual work that lacks a human element, but in so doing brings its political subtext to the fore, exploring the artificial hopes of both cinema and contemporary leftist zeal - but leaving hope for a brighter morning to come."

Wise Kwai reports that Apichatpong Weerasethakul has been honored as a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres.

In the Austin Chronicle, Kimberley Jones revisits WarGames, "the 1983 blockbuster that chilled to the bone anyone who had newly installed an Apple IIe in the family room." Related online viewing: "On Friday, May 30, Craig Silverstein hosted a panel and an exclusive screening at Google of the 1983 suspense film, WarGames, in honor of the 25th Anniversary DVD."

Roman Polanski "There could be a motion to dismiss based on prosecutorial misconduct." That's Roman Polanski's lawyer, Douglas Dalton, talking to Michael Cieply about the tentative actions he's taking now that Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired has documented a questionable judicial process all those years ago. Related, and via Ray Pride, Heidi Atwal's interview with filmmaker Marina Zenovich.

Also in the New York Times:

  • "Mara Manus, the Public Theater's top financial executive for the last six years, will take over as executive director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the society said Wednesday." Robin Pogrebin reports in the New York Times. And: "Describing it as a 'front porch' for Lincoln Center, the architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have redesigned Harmony Atrium between West 62nd and 63rd Streets as a 'theatrical garden' featuring 20-foot-high walls of plants and rods of falling water."

  • Bill Carter: "The nominations for television's biggest award, the Emmy, were released on Thursday morning, adding more fuel to the argument that much of the best creative work in the medium is now being done on cable, and to the perception that shows do not necessarily need big audiences to be celebrated by the television academy." The nominees in major categories; and the complete list. More from the NYT's TV Decoder.

  • "A struggling anorexic and her physical opposite form an unlikely friendship in disFIGURED, a funny, awkward and often uncomfortable drama eager to confront the pain beneath the pounds," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. More from Matt Noller in Slant.

  • Charles Isherwood on Eh Joe, directed by Atom Egoyan and starring Liam Neeson: "Although it lasts just half an hour, this staging of a Beckett piece originally written for television is one of the most wholly satisfying nights I've spent at the theater this year. Remarkably, Mr Neeson draws a transfixing portrait of a man on the edge of emotional collapse without speaking a single word."

  • Patricia Cohen talks with Kay Ryan, the new US poet laureate. More from David Orr.

"When Al Gore presented Pittsboro, NC, filmmaker Michael O'Connell with the award for best documentary at this year's Nashville Film Festival, he didn't just rattle off a prepared speech and smile for the photo-op. The former vice president, once berated for his lack of visible emotion, nearly choked up onstage as he recalled the plight of Ed Wiley, the protagonist in Mountain Top Removal, O'Connell's film about a devastating method of coal mining in Southern Appalachia." Matt Saldaña profiles one of the winners of the Independent Weekly's Indies Arts Awards.

Chicago Outdoor Film Festival At FilmInFocus, Peter Bowen offers a brief history of watching movies outdoors; Scott Macaulay presents a list of the "Most Insane Movie Sequels"; and Mike Plante takes a look at the work of six animators who are bringing handiwork back to the art.

"Dark clouds have gathered over the whole of Hollywood's top tier," writes Phil Hoad. "'Star power is definitely waning,' says one producer at a major Hollywood production company. 'There's no mystique any more. The power of celebrity has been commodified, and that weakens people's willingness to go and see stars. I can see Tom Cruise on Perez Hilton; why should I go to the cinema?'" In a related piece, David Thomson writes, "You cannot grasp the age of stardom, or the failure of the stars' personal lives so often, without understanding the intensity with which they were loved by strangers. The great age did not last: oddly enough it was killed in part by the moment when the stars overthrew the studios." Meanwhile, in the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab offers a historical overview of the impact of the literal deaths of movie stars.

Also in or at or in very close vicinity to the Guardian:

  • "John Lennon once said he wasn't one for doing autobiography, but a new film - from the Bafta-winning writer of the Ian Curtis biopic Control - will take up the challenge with a controversial retelling of his early life," reports Jo Adetunji.

The Scarlet Empress

"An engaging, BBC-style documentary about Manchester, England's answer to Tony Soprano, A Very British Gangster is a must-view for casting agents," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "There haven't been this many slack-jawed mugs with crew cuts and bad teeth on-screen since Trainspotting." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon) and Julia Wallace (Voice).

Ray Pride talks with Catherine Breillat about The Last Mistress. "All the French writer-director's films are anatomies of hell, but this time she's courting provocations instead of simply imposing them," writes Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. More from Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Jon Frosch (Stranger), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle) and Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly).

Alexandra "[T]he babushka [Galina Vishnevskaya] we see at the beginning of [Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra] - riding a rattling train through the moonless night, being helped into a mean metal tank, dragging her banged-up roller bag toward the army base - is in fact a living ark of Russian art," writes Charles Mudede in the Stranger. "It is art that is visiting the army, the young captain, the bomb-damaged city. It is art (and not a mother) that soldiers admire and can't stop looking at. But art is no stranger here, in the miserable land of war. 'There is no document of culture that is not at the same time a document of barbarism,' wrote Walter Benjamin. In Alexandra, art must confront this truth and be made sensitive to the suffering of humankind."

Also: "Because so many critics have failed to see the brilliance of Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, notably the one at the Village Voice, I must lead them by the hand, out of the cave and into the day of truth."

"It's easy to see the attraction that Kent Mackenzie's 1961 film The Exiles - a jazzy cinéma-vérité portrait of 14 hours in the life of a band of Native Americans living in a picturesquely downtrodden Los Angeles neighborhood - would have for Milestone, as it marries the socioeconomic concerns of their re-releases like Mikhail Kalatozov's I Am Cuba with a similar brand of bravura Southern California underground auteur style seen in Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep," writes Chris Barsanti at Film Journal International. "Although Mackenzie's work will probably never attain the kind of totemic stature of those films - being not as stylistically driven or showy - it certainly deserves to stand alongside them as one of the great under-seen cinema gems of the 1960s." More from Richard Corliss in Time.

"Like Lee Chang-dong's 2007 Secret Sunshine, Charles Oliver's debut feature Take deals with the awkward moral quandaries of infanticide and the subsequent, touchy relations between a killer and his victim's mother," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "That Lee's film remains unreleased in this country is no doubt due in part to the fact that his film, unlike Oliver's, did not star Minnie Driver (although it did win an award at Cannes for its actress, Jeon Do-yeon). But in spite of this star pedigree, Oliver's film manages to grapple with some knotty questions about justice, even if it is not quite as bold or ironic as Lee's." More from Steve Dollar (NY Sun), Ed Gonzalez (Voice), Joshua Land (Time Out New York), Nathan Lee (NYT) and Mark Peikert (New York Press).

A Man Named Pearl "Feature-length elaborations on quirky, inspiring human-interest stories are generally to be avoided, but I'll make an exception for A Man Named Pearl," writes Vadim Rizov. More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT) and Andrew O'Hehir (Salon).

Also in the Voice:

Simon Abrams talks with Satoshi Kon for Twitch.

Dave Calhoun in Time Out on Donkey Punch: "This bloody, waterborne horror doesn't exactly scream with originality, but the filmmakers make up for it with a strong atmosphere of sex and violence - both latent and unleashed - good performances and a mostly imaginative approach to genre." More from Xan Brooks (Guardian), James Christopher (London Times) and Derek Malcolm (Evening Standard).

Once Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman) started watching The Wire, " the pictures that I was seeing in my capacity as film critic began to look compromised and conventional. The show had spoiled me."

James Mottram profiles Penélope Cruz for the Independent, where Roger Clarke notes that one of the most famous lines from The Godfather was improvised.

Adam Ross's interviewee of the week: Ibetolis.

Calamity Jane The Film Experience launches the "Musical of the Month" on August 6 with Calamity Jane. You can join in, too.

Online listening tip. At the House Next Door, John Lichman and Vadim Rizov talk with Benten Films' Andrew Grant and Aaron Hillis.

Online viewing tip #1. Seems odd that I haven't mentioned Joss Whedon's Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog yet. But I have now.

Online viewing tip #2. Martin Scorsese and Tina Fey in... an American Express ad. Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #3. At the SpoutBlog, Lauren Wissot reminds us that L'Age d'Or is surreally sexy.

Online viewing tips. Half a dozen from the Guardian's Kate Stables.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:45 AM

Fests and events, 7/19.

Sitges 08 First, what's coming: "Salivate and prepare to be completely blown away by the first half of the Sitges 2008 program!" yippies Blake Ethridge at Twitch. October 2 through 12.

"The homegrown but internationally lauded Fantastic Fest - ground zero for all things horror, sci-fi, fantasy, animé, and the catch-all 'cult' - announced [on Thursday] the first wave of its 2008 festival lineup." Kimberly Jones in the Austin Chronicle. September 18 through 25.

Derek Elley has the lineup for the Locarno Film Festival (August 6 through 16) in Variety.

"The Melbourne Film Festival's Romanian collection comes, perhaps, rather late in the Bucharest spring; and it is a pity that it only gives us half the sandwich." Still, it gives Stephanie Bunbury an opportunity to look back over the wave in the Age. The festival runs from July 25 through August 10.

The Chicago Reader's JR Jones previews the Silent Film Society of Chicago's Summer Festival, running Fridays through August 22.

The Philadelphia City Paper and the Philadelphia Weekly present their guides to the second week of the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

"Every year the Brick Theater in Williamsburg manages to come up with a snappy new theme to capture summer headlines amid the festival fray (last year's was the Pretentious Festival)," writes Alexis Clements in the L Magazine. "This year's [Film Festival: A Theater Festival] began a few weeks ago, but because of its success they've extended the run of many pieces until July 27." Kate Lowenstein has a bit more for Time Out New York.

Online listening tip. Erik Davis and James Rocchi preview ComicCon at Cinematical. July 24 through 27 in San Diego.

Now then; what's been:

Brussels Film Festival Capsule reviews galore, from David Bordwell at the Brussels Film Festival, which wrapped a few weeks ago.

At Moving Image Source, Jonathan Rosenbaum looks back to Bologna and Il Cinema Ritrovato: "Throughout the festival, [Lev] Kuleshov and [Josef von] Sternberg proved to be rather strange bedfellows, offering an intriguing dialectic of what it meant to be pioneering mavericks in both Russian and Hollywood cinema of the silent and early sound periods and all the perils this might entail."

Bergman Week "has made me reassess my notions of what defines a film festival," blogs Criterion's Michael Koresky. "Rather than the usual community of film journalists and programmers fighting each other over screenings and proffering instantaneous responses to films once the lights came up, I was surrounded by what seemed like an equal number of local islanders and Bergman devotees who had traveled from far and wide, all of whom were enjoying being outside as much as in the darkened spaces of the theaters. Indeed, Bergman Week is as much about the setting as the artist."

"The 54th edition of the notorious Flaherty Film Seminar (June 21 - 27) kicked off with some steamy words from president Patti Bruck. 'We're not here to discuss film,' she insinuated; 'we're here to argue about film.'" A report from Jason Sanders for Filmmaker. Chi-hui Yang has a full report, too - for SF360.

"George Balanchine and Mikhail Baryshnikov called him one of the greatest dancers in history, while Gershwin and Irving Berlin preferred him over all other vocalists," writes Paula Marantz Cohen in the Times Literary Supplement. "[Fred] Astaire made art which, in the words of his character in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), seemed to be 'fun set to music.' Film scholars, English professors, dance and music historians, performers and plain enthusiasts gathered at Oriel College, Oxford, last month to pay homage to this achievement with semiotic analysis and singalongs."

Twitch's Todd Brown has the New York Asian Film Festival award-winners.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:15 AM | Comments (1)

Sight & Sound. August 08.

Sight & Sound August 08 "Who killed the double bill?" asks Jane Giles. "And when did our days or nights become so short that the very idea of going to the cinema to watch four to six hours of brilliantly compatible or creatively contrasting content became impossible?" A quick history of creative repertory programming in London follows as an introduction to the heart of the new issue of Sight & Sound, nine pages of fantasy "Dream Tickets," put together by 52 critics and programmers and downloadable as a PDF.

Also:

"Uruguayan cinema was all but unknown in Britain when Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll's wry, low-key Whisky (2004) broke out of the festival circuit to achieve a modest commercial release," writes Michael Brooke. "El baño del Papa (The Pope's Toilet) offers many of the same pleasures, but while the earlier film stuck rigorously to a Kaurismäkiesque minimalism in both dialogue and mise-en-scène, the newer film is more expansive and much closer in tone and content to Luis García Berlanga's Welcome, Mr Marshall! (1953), one of the acknowledged classics of Spanish-language cinema. If it plays like a more realistic spin on Berlanga's masterpiece, El baño del Papa's basis in fact (the Pope's 1988 visit to Uruguay) absolves it from the charge of slavish imitation." Earlier: Michael Guillén's take.

Houdini: The Movie Star "Houdini was not your usual leading man material - short, woolly-haired, compactly built with an impressively large head and an intense, brow-knitted expression that almost never relaxed - yet he managed to overcome his odd appearance and mannerisms through sheer personal magnetism. You can't take your eyes off him." Tim Lucas on Kino's collection, Houdini: The Movie Star.

"James Marsh is known to British audiences for fashioning elegiac works from archive film (Wisconsin Death Trip) and interviews (The Burger and the King) alike," writes Catherine Wheatley; "more recently he has demonstrated a gift for crafting a tautly-strung thriller with his 2005 fictional turn The King. These elements resolve in his enthralling new documentary Man on Wire, a film that will surely elicit gasps of wonder from its audiences as it recounts the story behind Frenchman Philippe Petit's high-wire walk between the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center on 7 August 1974."

"[W]ith so much about WALL•E presold before we even enter the cinema, it seems a bit much to expect reviewers to champion a film backed by a lucrative Hollywood brand," writes Andrew Osmond. "Annoyingly, WALL•E - from Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton, who previously had a less auteurist cachet than Ratatouille's Brad Bird - is exceptionally good. In fact it's one of Pixar's best films, ranking alongside Toy Story 2 (1999) and The Incredibles (2004)."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:48 AM

July 18, 2008

Mad Detective.

Mad Detective "Hong Kong genre-jumping auteur Johnnie To's films are invariably pretty and intelligent (though not always clear-headed and restrained), and his specific achievement here is in pushing neo-noir conventions (already a hyphenated set of narrative rules developed from Chinatown through Blade Runner, LA Confidential and beyond) into post-neo-noir territory," writes Benjamin Sutton in the L Magazine.

"Whereas Johnny To's gangster sagas are usually efficient, operatic and serious-minded, his frequent collaborations with co-writer and co-director Wai Ka-fai often come equipped with some goofy supernatural twist," notes Nick Schager in Slant. "In the duo's latest, Mad Detective, the conceit is that detective Bun (Lau Ching-wan) is an investigative ace as well as a complete loon who reenacts crimes in order to crack them and claims to be able to see people's 'inner personalities.'"

Updated through 7/21.

"Though some of the movie's charms are at times forced, Mad Detective has enough consummate film style to make many of the narrative bumps more or less irrelevant," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Among its most sustained pleasures is its clever attention-grabbing idea that Bun may actually be able to see the real personalities lurking inside other people. The filmmakers don't bother to plumb the depths of this revelation, poking about Bun's existential turmoil and whatnot. Instead, they just go as gloriously overboard as their detective at his best and sometimes worst, specifically by unleashing a dazzling riff on the funhouse climax of Orson Welles's Lady From Shanghai. It really has to be seen before it can be believed."

"Mad Detective is genre exercise through and through, humor and pathos enabled with supreme precision due to the psychic-tint on a traditional internal affairs plotline, which distracts from the conventions with the feats, pathetic and fantastic, of Lau's weary, optimistic/depressive schizo," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. And its "wacky distraction is playing a darker kind of game than one may think."

"Apart from its inventive depiction of the weaknesses that tough guys try to hide, Mad Detective is a slight work from the wildly prolific To," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "But as the directors amuse themselves in devising new ways to visualize schizophrenic dementia - casting a half-dozen different actors as the suspect's splintered psyche in a kind of psychotic entourage - the movie makes deadpan sport of its convolutions."

"Compared to the fire that drove the Election films and the pyrotechnics of Exiled the far more character oriented Mad Detective can feel much smaller than it really is," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "The emphasis here is not on style, camera tricks or action - though there is a healthy dose of that - but on the portrayal of a man lost in his own mind and taken on those terms Mad Detective is a resounding success."

Running on Karma "had romance, humor, kung fu, motorcycle chases, a Taoist plea for peace, time travel, Sikhs hiding in small tin cans and, most importantly, Andy Lau in a muscle suit," recalls Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "Four years later, Wai and To's Mad Detective continues to push the limits of their viewers' sanity with more brilliant images and ideas than you can process all in one sitting."

The AV Club's Noel Murray finds that "a certain baseline ludicrousness keeps it from being as effortlessly entertaining as To's best."

"It's a metaphysical mystery masquerading as a doodle," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson emails To to ask him "about genre, auterism and his reshaping of Hong Kong cinema."

R Emmet Sweeney talks with To for IFC.

Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto.

Update: "The film's biggest surprise is how seriously it ultimately takes its premise," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Apart from its final reel, Mad Detective never seems completely sure of what it's doing, but there's something exciting about its refusal to settle into either a silly comedy or a hard-boiled thriller."

Update, 7/21: Peter Martin lives in Dallas and doubts Mad Detective will ever make it to a theater in Big D. So he tries out the VOD option: "For one thing, IFC in Theaters is only available in standard definition, so the picture looks only so-so, even on my 26-inch high-def monitor. On the other hand, the service allowed me to see a movie I very much wanted to see, without delay."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:12 AM

Wonderful Town.

Wonderful Town "An affectionate love story that apes the studied art-drone minimalism of Tsai Ming-Liang and the haunted lushness of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the ironically titled Wonderful Town rewards more in its social-realist backdrop than its minor foreground drama," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice.

"Wonderful Town, by its third act, is a title drowning in irony," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "Wondrous, nevertheless, is Mr Assarat's sustained command as he guides his material into darker waters. It's no small feat to pull off as sweet and sensitive a romance as that between Na and Ton, and something rarer yet to suffuse such affections into a poem of wounded landscape."

Updated.

"In many ways, the debut feature from Bangkok-born, American-educated Aditya Assarat, Wonderful Town, has all the hallmarks of a workshopped Sundance indie," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE: "an eminently tasteful romance between two ingratiatingly sweet people burgeoning against a backdrop of recent tragedy, buoyed by delicate guitar score, bracketed by self-consciously lovely landscape shots. A detailing of the emotionally and physically ravaged coastal area of Takua Pa following the December 2004 tsunami that cost it more than 8,000 local lives, Wonderful Town means to use the event's aftereffects to evoke its characters' personal displacement. There's no doubt that Assarat has talent for situating people within gracefully framed environments, but in an overly studied manner that leaves no room for the sort of spontaneity in performance and composition that the film's subject matter warrants."

Assarat's "raw, poetic sensibility turns this posttraumatic parable into something both dreamy and oddly disturbing," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

"What clinches the film's downfall is the sucker punch of an ending, which puts a brutal, predictable cap on the menace hovering over the frowned-upon relationship," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "This is shortly followed by the cheap found poetry of two girls in tutus, which, again, feels like something rustled up from the Sundance rummage bin."

"The film is aesthetically captivating and both [Supphasit] Kansen and [Anchalee] Saisoontorn give impressively subtle, naturalistic performances, but one can't help feeling that a large part of Wonderful Town has been lost in translation," writes Mary Block in the L Magazine.

"Assarat is both a patient and a surprising director, alive to the most intimate details of everyday life - folding laundry, changing sheets, drinking coffee - and also to the dreams people hold closest to their hearts, the ones they can barely admit to themselves, let alone their lovers," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.

Update: "Each shot is rendered with skill and consideration, has a light loveliness to it, but never seems fully earned, the expression said and said well, but not believed, not reaching past the surface of the characters," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "There is little richness beyond this lovely surface, but, at least until the awkwardly divergent ending, Assarat's film stands beautifully, movingly on its own, and points towards greatness to come."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:07 AM | Comments (21)

Transsiberian.

Transsiberian "A suspenseful Hitchockian course is charted by Transsiberian, which concerns the murderous intrigue that envelops American tourists Roy (Woody Harrelson) and wife Jessie (Emily Mortimer) while making the famous week-long Transsiberian train trek from Beijing to Moscow," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Despite HD cinematography that can't quite capture the ominous grandeur of the vast landscape through which the train travels, director Brad Anderson establishes a suitably portentous mood through claustrophobic staging and an overarching air of linguistic and cultural isolation."

"At its queasy best - when absorbing the naturally phantasmagoric vibes of Siberia and surveying Jessie's grueling efforts to discard a backpack filled with unwanted goods - Transsiberian more subtly critiques our American sense of privilege than any of [Eli] Roth's Hostel pictures," writes Ed Gonzalez in the Voice. "But just as nasty as the titular mode of transport is the script's wanton declaration of theme and a cynical and fashionable belief in moral grayness that may complement the frosty setting but nonetheless feels easy."

Updated through 7/23.

"Ben Kingsley, seen briefly at the beginning of the movie before disappearing, only to re-emerge much later, plays Grinko, a duplicitous narcotics detective," notes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "A sophisticated embodiment of a cynical middle-aged Russian with a double vision of his country during and after Communism, he lends the movie a modern Dostoyevskian gloss.... 'In Russia, we have an expression,' he says, fixing his eyes on Jessie, who is frozen with panic. 'With lies you may go forward in the world, but you may never go back.' The cat-and-mouse game that ensues leads Transsiberian from tantalizing mystery into clanking melodrama."

"Though Harrelson's name is first in the cast list, Transsiberian belongs to Mortimer, who digs into a complicated character who seems decent and trustworthy, but often acts out of ruthless self-interest when the pressure's on," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "While it piles on the hair-raising twists, the film is ultimately a morality tale about the devastating consequences of people not taking responsibility for their actions."

"Mr Anderson, who first garnered attention with whimsical romantic comedies such as Next Stop Wonderland and Happy Accidents, has since made a credible transition to thrillers, with Session 9 and The Machinist," notes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun. "The captivating Transsiberian is another impressive addition to his filmography. It stays on point even when the screenplay, written by Mr Anderson and Will Conroy, becomes increasingly reliant on convenient coincidences."

"If you can look past the gimmick of Christian Bale's weight loss, you can see an unabashedly old-fashioned, noirish attitude in writer/director Brad Anderson's The Machinist (2004) that carries over into his latest film, Transsiberian," writes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "Both are playfully subdued psychological thrillers that could just as easily have been B-films from John Frankenheimer's 1960s period save for the grisly violence that pervades The Machinist and (thankfully) only rears its head twice in Transsiberian."

"The action heroics aren't terrible, only disappointing given the ticket we've bought," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York.

The Film Panel Notetaker went to work at a recent advance screening.

Jeffrey M Anderson talks with Anderson for Cinematical.

Charles McGrath profiles Mortimer for the New York Times; Marnie Hanel talks with her for VF Daily.

Updates: "Even if you've seen lots of movies of this type and can figure out exactly what's going to happen, Anderson takes great pleasure in the pure form and execution of it," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "Best of all, before any of this starts, the film spends at least a reel on - get this - developing the characters!... Perhaps that's the reason Transsiberian works so well; the film's plot and suspense are all a matter of skill, but the characters continue to derail us."

"I was taking notes during the screening, but at a certain point I just wrote 'THEY'RE F*CKED,' and stopped writing," recalls Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog. "It's one of those thrillers that does character development well enough that when the protagonists get in serious trouble you can feel your intestines twisting with anxiety."

Aaron Hillis talks with Anderson for IFC; bookmark it, then come back when you've seen Transsiberian, as there are spoilers in there.

Updates, 7/19: At Cinematical, Scott Weinberg notes that Anderson considering a few horror projects for his next step or two.

"Brad Anderson makes movies that are hard to look away from and movies that you can still see after they're over," writs Canfield at Twitch. "This is another way of saying that he makes vital movies, alive movies, movies that thrum with a pulse that sounds beyond the genres they inhabit. Transsiberian offers up equal measures of suspense, character development and story and ties it all together with gorgeous photography. The whole emerges as do almost all of Andersons films, as a telling morality play in which guilt figures heavily as a shaper of destiny."

Update, 7/23: "Harrelson can't wrestle a believable human out of this underwritten caricature named Roy, I am afraid, but Mortimer's Jessie, who at first seems a demure Christian from Middle America, is a delicate but ferocious construction, defined by urges and desires she battles but can't quite control," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "As recent patchwork-grade thrillers go, Transsiberian is a perfectly decent effort."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:57 AM

Mamma Mia!, round 2.

Mamma Mia! "Any film that asks us to imagine the comingled semens of Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth competing in the fallopian tubes of Meryl Streep ought to be at least slightly more compelling than this," notes Glenn Kenny - and 14 further points follow.

"For all its half-hearted stabs at catering to the transatlantic youth market (with a little gift tucked in for the stage show's voluminous gay following), Mamma Mia! is a (Shirley) valentine to fiftysomething, we're-not-done-yet broads," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "The three fiftysomething British broads - director Phyllida Lloyd, screenwriter Catherine Johnson, and co-producer Judy Craymer - who so successfully courted that wildly under-served demographic in the smash-hit stage version of Mamma Mia! came on board the movie with no prior film experience. They haven't a clue, and though their screw-it-all ineptitude lends the movie a sporadically infectious gaiety, basically it's a mess."

Updated through 7/23.

"Lloyd's background as an opera director in England might explain this uncinematic debut (despite many exterior scenes, everything's a mite stagy)," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "But it's even more baffling that the songs are performed as circusy tumbling and broad-faced burlesque.... Essayist Charles O'Brien once outlined musicological parallels between ABBA and Mozart, and he was right to do so. Mamma Mia!'s chirpy songs express many intricate emotional complications through balanced, egalitarian musical epiphanies. 'Gimme, Gimme, Gimme' and 'Does Your Mother Know' say as much about heterosexual affairs as about gay experience. That's why ABBA's catalog joined the disco revolution and eventually influenced the radical pop of Erasure. It's an all-purpose, celebratory template - a high point of modern expression."

"See that girl! Watch that scene! If you change your mind, I'm the first in line. Mamma Mia, here I go again." AO Scott in the New York Times: "Like me, you may have spent the last 30 years struggling to get lines like those out of your head - and wondering what they were doing there in the first place - but you might as well have been trying to compost Styrofoam. Those shimmery, layered arrangements, those lyrics in a language uncannily like English, those symmetrical Nordic voices - they all add up to something alarmingly permanent, a marshmallow monument on the cultural landscape. When our species dies out, leaving the planet to roaches and robots, the insects will beat their little wings to the tune of 'Waterloo' as Wall-E and Eve warble along."

"Loud, forced, occasionally crotch-grabbingly crude, Mamma Mia! is so fueled by the shrieking-banshee vibe of a drunken hen party that it makes the cafe confabs of Sex and the City girls look like a meeting of the Ms. editorial board," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. "With Lloyd resolving every scene by raising the pitch ever more hysterically, Mamma Mia! quickly goes from being a sun-splashed, slightly kitschy piece of escapist fluff to an all-out assault. Message: You will have fun. Or else."

"[I]ts employ and utilization of Abba is less accomplished when put alongside Muriel's Wedding," writes Leonard Klady at Movie City News. "That film managed to take the songs and the title character's devotion to them to a level that was funny, heartbreaking and honest."

"Even if the dictates of a profit-loving culture practically mandated the making of a film version of the über-popular stage musical that has been seen by 30 million people in 170 cities worldwide, did they have to turn it into Mamma Mia! The Movie with all the excessiveness that that title implies?" asks Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"Mamma Mia! is a relentless happy-making machine calibrated to beat viewers into submission, and there are times when seems silly to try to fight it," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. That said: "The only showstopper is Meryl Streep's heartfelt rendition of 'The Winner Takes It All,' and not coincidentally, it's also the one time the film introduces a note of gravity to the proceedings. The rest of the time, Mamma Mia! force-feeds bliss."

"Streep has a sweet voice and knows how to use it (although she can't save a song as terrible as 'The Winner Takes It All'), but it's sad to watch a perfectionist remove part of her brain and try to convince us she's having a jolly time," sighs David Edelstein. Also in New York, a shot Brigitte Lacombe snapped on location.

"For a time, the unapologetic, inorganic cheesiness of Mamma Mia! is charming," concedes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. "Unfortunately, that time is far shorter than 108 minutes - after 40, it feels a bit like scarfing an entire bag of Doritos."

"Streep's sunshine carries a lot of charm, although I will never be able to understand her final decision in the movie - not coming from such a sensible woman," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Never mind. Love has its way."

"This movie isn't just unapologetic fluff; it's aggressive, out-loud-and-proud fluff," writes Hank Sartin in Time Out New York. "Just like ABBA."

Aly Semigran recommends it in the Philadelphia Weekly, where you'll also find a review of the soundtrack.

Tina Daunt meets Firth for the Los Angeles Times.

Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss stage and screen cross-pollination.

Earlier: Round 1.

Updates: "There's something pleasing about the day-and-night clash in sensibilities between this weekend's two big movies," notes Dana Stevens at Slate. "In essence, they cancel each other out: the zero-sum, high-stakes, über-masculine gloom of The Dark Knight and the sunny, goofy gynotopia of Mamma Mia!. I admired The Dark Knight enough to return a few days later for a second viewing, but Mamma Mia! is one of the few movies in years that I could have sat through a second time right then."

"I don't normally think of Meryl Streep as the dominatrix type, but watching her and her two BFFs, played by Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, grinning and giggling their way through Mamma Mia! I felt I was being thoroughly, and unenjoyably, punished," writes Stephanie Zacharek. Also in Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams: "What is it about this rather cheesy Scandinavian pop group that sticks in our hearts like hot chewing gum on a summertime pavement? How is it that a group that essentially disbanded in 1982 is still selling upward of 2 million albums a year?... Elisabeth Vincentelli, author of the 33 1/3 series book ABBA: ABBA Gold, says, via e-mail, 'The band has tons of fans among the kind of artists that usually get the kind of 'serious' critical recognition ABBA itself sometimes doesn't get (Elvis Costello, Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields, etc). The songs are incredibly melodic, and their sophistication hides behind apparent simplicity.'"

"I can see how Mamma Mia! might be a fun stage musical," writes Mike Russell. "As a movie musical, it's a train wreck."

"Sing-along versions of this will surely be popular for ages to come," notes Jette Kernion at Cinematical, adding, "Make sure you stay through the first half of the credits at least, or you'll miss one of the best over-the-top numbers in the entire movie, as well as more eye-popping costumes."

Alonso Duralde, writing at MSNBC, notes that "Phyllida Lloyd, the first-time feature filmmaker, constantly puts the camera in the wrong place so as to undercut the musical numbers; she makes the first half-hour all about people hugging and squealing; she sucks the energy out of almost every ABBA song being trounced about by the jukebox musical's cast; and she apparently lacked the wherewithal to stop cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos from shooting a dingy, washed-out movie set in one of the planet's most beautiful corners."

Update, 7/20: "Mamma Mia! may be terrible, but I've never seen a movie embrace its own terribleness as completely as this one does," observes Paul Matwychuk. "I even think it might be terrible by design."

Update, 7/21: "The legal definition of torture has been much aired in recent years, and I take Mamma Mia! to be a useful contribution to that debate," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "In a way, the whole film is a startling twist on the black art of rendition: ordinary citizens, often unaware of their own guilt, are spirited off to a secure environment in Eastern Europe, there to be forced into a humiliating and often painful confession of sins past."

Update, 7/23: "I know I am not supposed to say this, but Mamma Mia! has the exuberance you want out of a summer musical movie," blogs DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:49 AM

Summer Hours in the UK.

Summer Hours Olivier Assayas's Summer Hours "is a quiet and lyrical movie that poses a pertinent question in a time where philanthropists like Eli Broad are wresting power from museums: if you are fortunate enough to inherit art, what should you do with it?" Laura Allsop, writing in Art Review, finds the film instructive.

The Guardian's Xan Brooks finds Summer Hours to be "an airy Chekhovian miniature in which Charles Berling and Juliette Binoche play bourgeois siblings parcelling up the estate of their dead mother and the great artist she shacked up with. In his unobtrusive fashion, Assayas poses telling questions about the ways we lay our past to rest."

"With a seemingly loose but meticulously assembled narrative in the style of his earlier ensemble piece Late August, Early September, it chronicles the interactions between the various characters with psychological subtlety and precision, even as it explores the changing roles played by art, property, work and blood-ties in an increasingly globalised world," writes Geoff Andrew in Time Out. "Perhaps the characters are finally a little too uniformly decent, but it would be churlish to bemoan the generosity of spirit in a film so beautifully performed, intelligently written and fluently directed."

"Assayas seems to flip-flop between jagged postmodernism and stately neo-classicism, and it makes him one of the most restless talents in current cinema," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "Summer Hours fits comfortably into the second bracket... It has Assayas's favourite themes - commerce, identity, globalisation - all over it, but more subtly than of late, and the film's elegant upholstering makes it his most enjoyable."

It "recalls the late great works of master miniaturist Claude Sautet," suggests Anthony Quinn in the Independent.

The Evening Standard's Derek Malcolm even finds it "reminds us gently and persuasively of the films of the great Renoir."

Online listening tip. The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Assayas.

Earlier: Daniel Kasman (Auteurs' Notebook) and Karina Longworth (SpoutBlog).

Posted by dwhudson at 5:44 AM

Puffball.

Puffball "The release today of the movie Puffball is timed to honour the impending 80th birthday of its distinguished director, Nicolas Roeg," notes Mark Lawson in the Guardian. "But the screening date also marks another cinematic anniversary: it's exactly 35 years since Roeg's masterpiece, Don't Look Now, introduced what remains one of the most celebrated movie sex scenes: an extended, fragmented, ecstatic encounter between a naked Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.... But the journey between the two films shows the change in the relationship between moviegoers and erotic material."

"Puffball, sad to say, is a borderline disaster, a preposterous carnal burlesque that catches the one-time visionary looking woozy and exhausted, his pants metaphorically around his ankles," adds Xan Brooks.

"Time was when a new Nicolas Roeg film would have been a proper date for the diary," writes the Independent's Anthony Quinn. "Now it's about as welcome as a new Woody Allen."

"Roeg is a matchless director of mystery, but this gloomy psychodrama, adapted from a Fay Weldon novel by her son Dan, flirts dangerously with corn," writes James Christopher in the London Times.

"Roeg conjures reasonably lightly with Weldon's teasing feminist-inflected, ‘Wicker-Man'-lite allusions, blending a naturalistic, psychologically heightened shooting style with sexual frankness and gynaecological inserts," notes Wally Hammond in Time Out.

"No one could call this Roeg's best work but it still shows us a director who, though now 80, has a few tricks up his sleeve," offers Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "Donald Sutherland, almost a Roeg regular, has a couple of scenes as Liffey's visiting boss, but I'm not quite sure why."

With Eric Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon and Manoel de Oliveira's Belle Toujours set to open in September, Geoffrey Macnab notes that, yes, directors who carry on working well past 70 are indeed a historical rarity.

Earlier: Steve Rose's interview with Roeg.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:42 AM

July 17, 2008

The Human Condition.

The Human Condition "The three-part fuming World War II bummer The Human Condition (1959 - 61) - considered the magnum opus of socially critical Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi (Harakiri) - runs just shy of 10 hours and is an arduous watch in ways beyond its creator's intentions," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "Based on Jumpei Gomikawa's ambitious novel and seasoned with Kobayashi's own experiences, this overly melodramatic trilogy set in Japanese-occupied Manchuria depicts the dehumanizing brutality of war with on-the-nose pedantry, never subtext, and offers little richness to Western eyes already adjusted to the next half-century's deeper anti-war tales."

Updated through 7/21.

For the L Magazine's Mark Asch, this "is not 'the finest achievement yet made by the cinema,' per historian David Shipman's existing-to-be-pullquoted pullquote. (He also nominated it for a Nobel...) It is, though, a never less than engrossing field study of a belief system in contact with the world, composed by Kobayashi in classically delineated, high-contrast space that would make his peak 60s works self-contained worlds for thought-out consciousness."

At Film Forum from tomorrow through August 7.

Earlier: "Tatsuya Nakadai in New York."

Update, 7/18: "Kobayashi was one of the leading figures in postwar Japanese cinema, a peer of Akira Kurosawa and Kon Ichikawa, though his critical reputation abroad never quite matched theirs," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "He was also part of a broader humanist tendency in world cinema. The Human Condition was made at around the same time as Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy and Luchino Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers, and like them it is a work of large-scale realism grounded in a thorough but undogmatic left-wing political sensibility.... The Human Condition can, in its speechifying moments, feel a bit creaky. But it is also, and more frequently, amazingly powerful in its emotional sweep and the depth of its historical insight."

"In the first chapter, No Greater Love, our hero is in a position of power," notes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "Next, in Road to Eternity, he is in a position of obedience. Then in the breathtaking A Soldier's Prayer, he has devolved to a position of abject desperation, at the mercy of a God who seems all but ignorant of his plight. From a factory to the army barracks to the mud and dirt of the open field, the central theme of The Human Condition involves man turning against his fellow man, using such devices as employment, rank, and nationality to rationalize the abuse."

"So many melodramatic ironies and such broad, sweeping indictments can produce a wearying effect, especially when Kobayashi's ambitious-to-a-fault attacks treats the message-mongering as a blunt instrument rather than a scalpel," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "It's Nakadai who makes this impressive yet flawed screed worth your time commitment. His transformation of Koji from idealist to leader, protector, killer and finally, a haggard ghost of man offers a powerful example of humanity being slowly, painfully stamped out."

"Nakadai's performance as a man of Christlike forbearance, who travels to the edge of human endurance in a doomed and lonely struggle against an evil society, is both moving and charismatic," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "That comparison is not frivolous, by the way; Kobayashi was profoundly influenced by Western philosophy, cinema and religion, to the point of being called 'anti-Japanese' by some of his countrymen. (I feel virtually certain that this movie was an influence on Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima.) Kobayashi's wide-screen landscapes (shot by Yoshio Miyajima), depicting the lonely human figure against a natural world that knows and cares nothing about him, combine wonder and mortal terror."

Update, 7/21: In Reverse Shot, Michael Joshua Rowin tries out a comparison with Fassbinder's Berliner Alexanderplatz: "[S]trangely, surprisingly, both projects share a haunted fascination with national and historical trauma that is almost entirely unique and unparalleled in cinema, the obsessive nature of their pursuits for answers about their nations' shameful descent into self-destruction fueling not only marathon runtimes but also torturous passion play narratives featuring stubborn protagonists whose education in the horrors and hypocrisies of the world unfold in relentless, punishing accretions of indignities. There's an instructional quality to Kobayashi's humanism as well as Fassbinder's theatricality: Kaji's encounters with bureaucratic fascism, militaristic brutality, sexual exploitation, and animalistic selfishness play out as stations on the road to personal and universal annihilation in the same manner in which Franz Biberkopf's run-ins with Nazis, gangsters, communists, and prostitutes gradually acquire profound significance and stand for a greater level of collective shame and guilt."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:37 AM | Comments (2)

All the Real Americans: The World of David Gordon Green.

Pineapple Express The retrospective All the Real Americans: The World of David Gordon Green opens tonight at BAM with Snow Angels and closes with a sneak preview of the stoner comedy Pineapple Express on July 24.

"Has David Gordon Green gone pop?" asks Nick Pinkerton in the Voice before revisiting George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow and Snow Angels. Pinkerton then looks ahead to Express, "the best movie (as opposed to an arrangement of scenes) to ever come from Camp Apatow," and, with Green, further on: "Upcoming is a remake of Suspiria ('The way that horror is going, I think we're losing sight of the artistry and the complexity and the kind of strange, surreal, emotional element'), a John Grisham true-crime adaptation, and 'a cartoon TV series.' ('That doesn't include all the weirdo projects— little, bizarre, personal, intimate portraits and things that I try to develop on the side.')"

Updated through 7/23.

Chris Lee, blogging for the Los Angeles Times, on Pineapple Express: "Turns out Green was an inspired if not altogether obvious choice. He more than capably pulls off the kind of improv-heavy, zeitgeisty, male bonding comedy for which Apatow productions have come to be known. At a screening packed with teenagers I attended earlier this summer, Pineapple Express' bong-hit humor and bloody, surrealistically funny action sequences were killing."

John Del Signore talks with DGG for Gothamist.

Earlier: Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun; and James Rocchi's March interview.

Update: Ed Howard on All the Real Girls: "Green finds a lot to love in these characters, approaching them and their stories on their own terms, and comes away with a small gem of a romance and a fine sophomore film."

Update, 7/18: David Lowery at Hammer to Nail on All the Real Girls: "Some of my best memories and all of my worst ones are set to music, and I think what Green was after here was to make a movie that might work the same way. I could tell you about the photography in the film and the actors in it and how they do what they do, but none of that would get at what they're all actually getting at."

Update, 7/23: Online listening tip. DGG on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:01 AM

Lou Reed's Berlin.

Lou Reed's Berlin "What a beautiful and strange album Lou Reed gave us with Berlin, with its haunted and melancholic lyrics about a relationship being dragged down into the depths of despair, with a little bit of heroin and a little bit of suicide and a little bit of loathing and a section where the main character's children are taken away by social workers," writes Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. "And yet this tragic record achieved an intense, crystalline grace with the weight of its orchestral accompaniment, its choir of young voices and lyrics containing the specificity of romantic detail one remembers in the haze of reminiscence.... Some concert documentaries give one an impression of watching a show, and experiencing the performance in a secondhand way but still enjoying the vicarious experience. Others, such as Lou Reed's Berlin, seem like the movie experience gets in its own way."

Updated through 7/18.

"Yes, this may be Lou Reed's Berlin, but it's more a bygone New York experience than having a subway bum puke on your lap," writes Camille Dodero in the Voice. "For one, Reed and [director Julian] Schnabel are both such uniquely 800-pound New York gorillas, they belong in the Bronx Zoo. For two, Berlin was just a handy 'metaphor' - Reed told the Times he'd never been back then - and what better fractured-relationship trope than a Cold War locus with an impenetrable wall and an east/west divide?... Schnabel somehow magically makes the subdued hues of St Ann's Warehouse in 2006] feel like a grand loft space."

Henry Stewart in the L Magazine: "In contrast to, say, Shine a Light's big-screen verve, Berlin is YouTube-ready: visually banal, spiritlessly assembled. Its camera movements feel arbitrary, which suggests a reproachable lack of pre-production (or stoned camera operators)."

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

At Film Forum.

Updates: "There's a green-robed children's choir, two backup singers, a small orchestra and a rock ensemble, but it's mainly a chance for Schnabel to illustrate - as in Basquiat, Before Night Falls and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - an artist's agony," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "For him, Berlin isn't glam-rock nostalgia; it's a still-relevant expression of the hell that he and Reed know people inflict on each other. Schnabel calls it 'Love's darker sisters: rage, jealousy, loss.'"

"Lou Reed's Berlin can't quite take its place in the pantheon of great concert films, because Schnabel's cameras rarely seem to be in a useful place, and his pointless lo-fi recreations of the album's story look cheap and intermittently pretentious," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "But for Reed fans - for rock fans - the movie is an essential document of a noteworthy event."

Updates, 7/18: "Those songs are some of the most melodic and tender of Mr Reed's career," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "The original record, produced by Bob Ezrin in the grand style of 70s concept albums, is Mr Reed's most operatic. For the concert, in addition to basic rock instrumentation, intensely dramatic arrangements with four horn and reed players, two violas and a cello were used. In the more contemplative passages, the music seems to hover as though holding its breath until the last second before a storm breaks. When it does, the guitars swell to a howling crescendo that evokes the passing of a tornado."

"The mixture of onstage valediction with vintage melodramatic lyrical degradation that makes up Lou Reed's Berlin is frankly an odd sensibility cocktail, and Mr Schnabel's filmic approach doesn't really make it go down any smoother," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "Despite the director's dogged attempts (aided considerably by the excellent cinematographer Ellen Kuras) to avoid merely documenting the proceedings from front-row center, Lou Reed's Berlin remains a concert film, through and through. And, as is often the case with live rock and roll committed to film (the Stones's catastrophic performance at the Altamont Speedway in the Maysles brothers' Gimme Shelter notwithstanding), it's difficult to shake the impression that it would've been a lot more fun to have been there."

Lou Reed's Berlin "makes most other concert films look like what they are, wimpy and nonessential," argues Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "So intensely displeasurable is the album that you may end up loving it, and director Julian Schnabel is smart enough to stay out of the way of the music." Reed's is "one of the most fascinating performances of the year."

"As a concert film, Lou Reed's Berlin is a little closer to The Song Remains the Same than The Last Waltz, engaging in digressions and hallucinations of the album's protagonists, Caroline and Jim, as much as in the band's sometimes thunderous, sometimes chilling performance," writes Leo Goldsmith in Reverse Shot. There are also "newly shot dramatic sequences starring Emmanuelle Seigner as Caroline, and credited to Schnabel's daughter, Lola. The irony here is pungent, especially when Reed sings of those 'men of poor beginnings' who 'have no rich daddy to fall back on.' But while this bit of nepotism (and the press notes' revelation that Lola is a junior at Cooper Union) will be cause enough for many to dismiss her contribution, this is partly a work about parents and children, and Lola's work here still very much of a piece with her father's. More importantly, it fits with the retrospective angst of the entire project, conjuring Reed's own ersatz evocations of Brecht/Weill villainy in a canny succession of styles from New York's avant-garde cinema."

"One thing you should know," warns Christopher Campbell at Cinematical, "is that Lou Reed has personally instructed theaters to play the film at concert-level volume. That means it's really, really loud.... Perhaps Berlin was ahead of its time. Or maybe Reed just should have begun performing the album right away; with the kind of supporting talent he brought to St Ann's Warehouse that weekend in 2006. I'd like to meet the rock critic who could speak negatively of the grand execution of 'Caroline Says I.' I'd also like to meet the person who doesn't feel emotional during 'The Bed,' a song about suicide that, in the concert/film, prominently features a dozen, mostly female teens from the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, who all appear to be on the verge of tears while singing backup."

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

Before I Forget.

Before I Forget "Before I Forget, the new feature by the French writer, actor and director Jacques Nolot, trains an unflinching spotlight on a species that, to judge from the movies, might as well be extinct: the aging homosexual." Dennis Lim in the New York Times: "Practically a lifetime removed from the buff heroes of the typical boy-meets-boy romances, Mr Nolot's Pierre is a 60ish writer and ex-gigolo who has been HIV-positive for 24 years.... 'I don't know if it's provocation, but there is a wicked pleasure to the film,' Mr Nolot said on a warm May evening at Le Select, the famous literary cafe in Montparnasse, not far from where he lives. 'I expose myself, and I show myself naked and sick. Here is how we are, how we live. People can take it or leave it.'"

Updated through 7/18.

"The catchwords for Before I Forget would seem to be direct, intimate, unsparing; yet, conversely, it also feels cavernous and, in its seeming brutal frankness, slippery and elusive," writes Michael Koresky for indieWIRE. The film "is enormously complex, a surveying of an entire life just past its midpoint via its practicalities and lost promises."

"This is the third semi-autobiographical feature made by Nolot, who collaborated on the scripts for several André Téchiné movies and may be best known to arthouse audiences as the husband who mysteriously disappears at the start of François Ozon's Under the Sand," notes Scott Foundas in the Voice. Here, "the central themes of the work - decay and loss - remain unwavering."

"Were Rainer Werner Fassbinder still with us, would his twilight films be anything like Jacques Nolot's?" wonders Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Roughly the same age as the late, great German wunderkind, Nolot displays little of Fassbinder's cinematic invention yet shares with him a tough, rigorously unsentimental eye for human intimacy and alienation, particularly when said eye is directed at his old queer self."

Earlier: Acquarello.

Updates: "Nolot's tough meditation on Pierre is elegant, tense and mournful, like Mahler's Third Symphony which accompanies Pierre's final crisis," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "A character study this spiritually obstinate lacks Téchiné's richness (Young Pierre discovered the life options Old Pierre rejects), but it no less than ranks with Scorsese's Raging Bull - especially when Pierre launches into an intellectual confession of his own stupidity: 'We see it in fervent hedonists whose orgasms serve to forget they are not happy.' This isn't gay self-hatred, but an authentic unnerving portrait; it dares to oppose cinema's false romanticism with ruthless honesty."

The AV Club's Noel Murray's take would be closer to Michael Guillén's (see comment): "Forty years ago, some members of the gay community took issue with the parade of self-pitying, self-hating queens in Mart Crowley's play (and subsequent film) The Boys in the Band, but is there really that much distance between Crowley's lonely New Yorkers and the network of Parisian hustlers and ex-hustlers in Jacques Nolot's more aesthetically respectable Before I Forget?"

Update, 7/18: "Mr Nolot's fictionalized self-portrait is proudly self-lacerating," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "While Pierre maintains an attitude of haughty independence, Mr Nolot goes out of his way to puncture any illusions he may have of being desirable to the boys he covets. As the camera studies Pierre from a distance in his dimly lighted apartment and slowly surveys the possessions on his shelves, you sense a man who has accepted the choices he has made."

"Nolot's portrait of senescence isn't about rainbow visions; his film, one of the most honest, courageous and witty of the year, instead looks at decay, insufferable loss and humiliation—all endured, particularly at the end as Mahler's Symphony No 3 blasts, with defiant, willful abjection," writes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York.

"This openness never becomes a clichéd tactic of plant-and-shoot voyeuristic stares," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "The film, like its protagonist, keeps a certain casual civility, a stance matched by the modestly neat cinematography by Josée Deshaies. Mr Nolot's restraint conveys the character's deeper weariness and barely diffused fears about holding on to who he is. His subtle performance rewards a close eye to tone and little shifts in line readings."

"Like the film, Pierre's surface is one of restraint, collection, and composure, but when he speaks Pierre does little but lament about a barely seen interior state of disarray, regretting past actions and missing old loves. This disconnect between exterior appearances and interior states makes Before I Forget one of the most unexpected surprises I've seen in some time," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook.

"I hope - as I continually hope for that snowball's chance in Hell - that Before I Forget will find its way to movie lovers stateside, and not just the portion of moviegoers who would generally check out what are so euphemistically and blithely called 'gay-themed' pictures," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Before I Forget is, in the broad sense, 'gay-themed.' But it's also one of the loveliest, most direct and most devastating pictures about aging that I've ever seen."

"Only in retrospect is the simplicity and craft of Nolot's storytelling and visual style fully apparent," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Pierre is certainly prone to self-pity, including blithe talk about suicide. However, he maintains his dignity to the end, despite the difficulties his life has thrown at him and his masochistic tendencies that extend outside the bedroom. Nolot makes no pretense of judging his alter ego, and he seems to expect the same from his audience."

"[O]ne of the best things about Before I Forget, which was selected as one of last year's ten best films by Cahiers du Cinema [is that] it's the uncompromising work of an artist making a film for himself, rather than targeting a demographic," writes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:58 AM | Comments (1)

indieWIRE to SnagFilms.

SnagFilms / indieWIRE "As you can read today on indieWIRE, we have some big news to share," announces editor Eugene Hernandez. "In the waning hours of our 12th anniversary on Tuesday, we signed a deal to sell iW to SnagFilms, a new company founded by Ted Leonsis and backed by Steve Case and Miles Gilburne."

Updated through 7/21.

Details and reflections follow, as well as pointers to pieces on the deal from Variety's Anne Thompson and the Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Goldstein.

Updates: Eugene talks with Leonis about "Snag and the state of distribution today."

Via Scott Kirsner, the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg's take on SnagFilms and Jefferson Graham's story for USA Today. Meanwhile, a first impression from Anthony Kaufman.

Update, 7/18: Co-founder Michael Jones, currently with Variety: "The difficult truth about being independent is that it's mostly for the young. Few filmmakers can make a complete career of it. And yet sometimes the upside of 'selling out' is - if you do it right - your buyer understands that independent ingredient that makes you valuable."

Update, 7/21: "Hell, advocate for your subject to your heart's content, with my blessing (not that you'd need it). But - and this is just a theory, so be sure to treat it as such - if there was a downturn for docs last year, it might be argued that some art house audiences weren't interested in paying good money at theatres for taking their medicine." AJ Schnack comments on - and then raises "a cautious glass" to - the deal.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:33 AM | Comments (2)

July 15, 2008

Shorts, 7/15.

Two-Lane Blacktop "What can one say about Rudy Wurlitzer that doesn't suggest multitudes of overlapping worlds?... After several years in the New York literary and visual arts underground as a participant observer, Wurlitzer emerged with a series of one of a kind novels - Nog, Quake and Flats and the screenplay for Two-Lane Blacktop in collaboration with Monte Hellman in the late 60s and early 70s. He has worked with Sam Peckinpah, Michelangelo Antonioni, Alex Cox, Bernardo Bertolucci and then some." So Lee Hill gets him talking for Vertigo.

"A humanist intellectual, whose layered studies of conflicting social forces and individual fates may have been too subtle for the culture surrounding them, [Helmut] Käutner qualifies as one of the pantheon directors of German cinema, possibly even the nation's finest major filmmaker of the sound era save, perhaps, Fassbinder," argues Christophe Huber.

Also at Moving Image Source: "Recycle It" is Ed Halter's brief but excellent history of the use of found footage from the silent era through Joseph Cornell and Bruce Conner to net.art and YouTube.

And David Cairns, too, makes a stab at reviving an under-appreciated oeuvre: "Celebrated in the 60s and 70s, [Shirley Clarke] seems to have been progressively erased from film history, just as the Eastmancolor sequence of Skyscraper (1959) has faded to pink. Stalinist revisionism or cultural amnesia?"

Jim Emerson sorts through the various colors of blood in the movies.

Inglourious Basterds When DK Holm first read what may or may not be the screenplay for Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards, he "hated it." Then he got to thinking, talking with friends and a second read-through: "I've come to the conclusion that Inglourious Basterds would be one hell of a movie, one of Tarantino's best; that its 'problem' is that the movie isn't as much on the page as his previous films; and that it is probably the best marriage of Samuel Fuller and the nouvelle vague since Pierrot le fou."

Meanwhile, Defamer runs "An Open Letter to Quentin Tarantino on the Occasion of His Latest Gross Overexposure" (via Movie City News) and the Playlist has a few casting ideas.

Speaking of Fuller, though: "As a director, Fuller delighted in rubbing America's face in its social and political failures, but he judiciously refused to align himself with any Utopian political movement," writes Chris Dumas in Nextbook. "Fuller's films are typified by a sense of moral urgency, the feeling that the stakes are too high to be polite. This is how he was the opposite of a director like Ernst Lubitsch: elegance of structure and fluidity of style were never his concern. This insolence, this brashness, is perhaps why Fuller has always been more popular with other directors than he has been with critics or film historians, and more celebrated by the French than by us."

Happy birthday, indieWIRE!

Mike Everleth launches the Underground Film Guide.

Animal House Dennis Cozzalio recalls the day he met John Belushi.

Netroots Nation, "a four-day event at the Austin Convention Center bringing together the brightest lights in liberal and progressive opinion and activism," as Wells Dunbar puts it in the Austin Chronicle, takes off this Friday. Alex Gibney will be there, so Marc Savlov talks with him: "I think I'm just going to give a little preview of a new film I've done. It's about Jack Abramoff, and it's called Casino Jack and the United States of Money, and it looks at the Abramoff scandal as a way to reckon with the pernicious influence that money has had in our political process." Meanwhile, blogging for the Guardian, Gibney tells the story behind Taxi to the Dark Side.

In text and audio, Guernica Mia Farrow talking about the ongoing, right now, as-I-blog-and-you-read genocide in Darfur. The presentation took place in April; just yesterday, as the Guardian reports, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has been charged by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court with genocide.

"Can Spike Jonze save Where the Wild Things Are?" Patrick Goldstein "just spoke to Warners chief Alan Horn, who offered, for the first time, his studio's side of the story." Goldstein also asks Bob Shaye about "why New Line was slammed with so many lawsuits about Lord of the Rings profits, how he desperately tried to save New Line and why he still thinks it was a good idea to go off and direct a movie as his company was struggling to survive." Also: Spike Lee's LA Riots is back on.

School of Rock Variety's Tatiana Siegel reports that producer Scott Rudin, director Richard Linklater, writer Mike White and star Jack Black are reuniting for a sequel to School of Rock.

"Beginning in a fairly muted fashion, John Crowley's second feature, Boy A, maintains its restraint throughout, and is the better for it," writes Jacob Powell in the Lumière Reader. More from Maggie Glass at cinemattraction.

"Latter-day cinephiles and movie reviewers (and I number myself in this concord) should, it can be argued, preserve their morale and remain in perpetual flight from the reality of what they're doing," argues Tom Sutpen. "But when our enthusiasm, our true and everlasting love for cinema becomes so omnivorous, so all-embracing that even crap like Skidoo starts looking good to us, then I sometimes wonder if it might not be time to honor the medium at the center of our souls and find another, slightly less honorable preoccupation."

Niagara Also at Bright Lights After Dark, Erich Kuersten: "A strangely soothing, a sun-drenched proto-neo-noir, Niagara is one of my favorite Marilyn Monroe movies, up there with Don't Bother to Knock and The Misfits in its ability to capture the sociopathic allure of Monroe (this is the film with her infamous 'longest walk'), and Niagara Falls makes the perfect backdrop for her dangerous sexuality; the cascading water forms a cthonic curtain that drapes around Monroe's Venus in a ceaseless embrace."

"[T]here is one movie moment that endures more than all others for me, if only because it hit me like a bolt of thunder - and also nearly made me lose my lunch." The Toronto Star's Peter Howell, via Movie City News.

"[T]he Maysles Cinema, a nonprofit theater in Harlem founded by [Albert] Maysles, who, with his late brother David, made such landmark films as Salesman (1968) and Grey Gardens (1975), aims to show nothing but documentaries, and intends to build an audience through them, not in spite of them." Benjamin Mercer reports in the New York Sun.

"I've been given the cool opportunity to participate in a mass group review of Randy Olson's latest science mockumentary, Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy, joining approximately fifty other science and environmental bloggers," writes Chuck Tryon. "It's a cool idea, one that will likely help to promote Sizzle, but one that can also - hopefully - serve to provoke a conversation about our discourse on global warming."

For the Telegraph, Chris Hastings talks with Stanley Kubrick's widow, Christiane, about the 900 boxes of material from the archives that she's donated to the University of the Arts.

"The end of the 1980s and the early 1990s represent a turning point in Cuban cinema and a departing point for a 'revolutionary' approach to gender representation." Br'gida M Pastor in Eurozine.

Room For Michael Tully, writing at Hammer to Nail, Kyle Henry's Room is "one of the more effective true indies to depict the struggles of a working-class American trying to survive in a politically and economically disturbed early 21st Century America."

"Exactly when did cinema get sanitised?" asks Andrew Pulver in a piece on the "coffee-table-isation of film," when "it became fashionable to go to see something like Betty Blue or My Life as a Dog - the latter being the prototype for a seemingly endless parade of sappy European movies with a cute little tyke in the lead. These two films both reached our shores in 1986, so it's fair enough to nail that year as the key moment."

Also in the Guardian:

Ingmar Bergman
  • Gwladys Fouché reports that Ingmar Bergman's home on the Baltic Sea island of Fårö may well be auctioned off "unless sponsors can be found to fund a cultural centre that would preserve the home as it is." Yesterday in the Berliner Zeitung, Jan Brachmann wished Bergman a happy 90th, wherever he may be, and Jerry Lentz sends along a bit of related online viewing.

There are rumors "that Ingmar Bergman named it one of his favourite films, and Liv Ullmann, who plays the role of Kristina, considered it one of her finest." Pacze Moj on Jan Troell's The Emigrants.

Barbara Ellen talks with Jaime Winstone for the Observer, where Philip French remembers Rita Hayworth and is "bludgeoned into submission by the energy and exuberance and came near to embracing the camp frolics and calculated pseudo-artlessness" of Mamma Mia!

"From the New Wave to the New Hollywood: The Life Cycles of Important Movie Directors from Godard and Truffaut to Spielberg and Eastwood" is a paper issued in June by David Galenson, author of Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, and Joshua Kotin. For Portfolio, Zubin Jelveh writes up a little quiz. Look at his list of ten directors, then: "Decide whether each director is a Conceptual or Experimental innovator." Via Movie City News.

X-Files: I Want to Believe The X-Files: I Want to Believe, "is, in X-Files argot, a stand-alone," reports Mark Harris: "a self-contained story reminiscent of several beloved early episodes in which Mulder and Scully were dispatched to a remote (but always vaguely Canadian looking) location to confront an undefined, menacing presence. [Chris] Carter promises not only scares but also a beginning, middle and end, none of them overly entangled in back story. Everyone, including newcomers, is invited to jump aboard." More from Gina McIntyre in the Los Angeles Times.

Also in the New York Times:

August
  • Jeannette Catsoulis on August: "Set in New York City in August 2001, in the tense climate of a dot-com startup where stock price and corporate morale are plummeting, the movie unspools with an unrelieved cynicism and a metallic aftertaste." More from Meghan Keane (New York Sun), Eric Kohn (Cinematical), Nathan Rabin (AV Club) and Steven Zeitchik (Hollywood Reporter). And Eric Kohn talks with director Austin Chick for Cinematical.

  • "Harold (Spencer Breslin) is a chubby 13-year-old afflicted by hemorrhoids, crotchetiness and a flagrant case of male pattern baldness. If the milk of hilarity just blew out your nostrils, have I got the movie for you!" Nathan Lee on Harold. More from S James Snyder (New York Sun).

  • Eight Miles High "follows, with refreshing lack of judgment and titillating brio, the überbohemian peregrinations of a wild child born to a drab Munich household but destined for flamboyant London orgies and spectacular third-world slumming," notes Nathan Lee. More from Sam Adams (AV Club) and Andrew O'Hehir (Salon).

  • "Death Defying Acts, a fictionalized love story involving Harry Houdini, could be a sweet little discovery if only the relationship at the core of it were more convincing," writes Neil Genzlinger. More from Dana Stevens (Slate).

"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired will not convince you that Polanski is a good or bad guy, it won't argue that his having sex with a minor was wrong or OK (as far as matters, it was against the law) and it won't prove that Polanski was innocent or guilty (he already admitted guilt in his plea in 1977)," writes Christopher Campbell in Cinematical. "But it may get you thinking about why exactly he couldn't be here to accept his Oscar, what is the fault of his having to flee. Does it go back to [Sharon] Tate's murder? Or further? Was it the media? The legal system? The corruption of [Judge Laurence] Rittenband? Or a deep conspiracy administered by Susan's actress mother? The answer is not exactly found in the film, though, which is fine when you think about what an exhaustive and riveting narrative [Marina] Zenovich and company have compiled out of the events." More from Noel Murray (AV Club).

Surfwise "Most producers of reality-TV series can only dream of finding subjects as fascinating as the family examined in Surfwise, a provocative documentary about a man who dropped out to follow a dream that gradually evolved into something not unlike a nightmare." Joe Leydon in the Houston Chronicle.

Andrew Schenker on The Exiles: "Yes, it's regrettable that alcohol played such a large part in Native-American life, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be documented and it doesn't mean that a filmmaker shouldn't draw on all his available resources to achieve this documentation. Clearly a little perspective is needed."

"Apparently I'm less above juvenile humor than I was when I was actually a juvenile, during [Adam] Sandler's heyday," sighs Mark Asch at Stop Smiling. "But hey, You Don't Mess with the Zohan is what it is; Get Smart and The Love Guru aren't even that."

"At its best, War, Inc reaches the level of a biting—and courageous—political satire," writes Joanne Laurier at the WSWS. Nonetheless: "The Hollywood 'left,' even its most conscientious elements, remains extremely limited in both its social thinking and its artistry. The years of immense wealth and vapid content have not left anyone unscathed."

For the Stranger, Roxanne Emadi talks with Jonathan Levine about The Wackness, reviewed by Bradley Steinbacher. Also: Annie Wagner on Monsieur Verdoux.

James Mottram talks with Colin Firth for the Independent.

Adam Ross's interviewee of the week: Jeremy Richey.

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

"Hazy, lazy, crazy - our choices here, from a million possibilities, recall beach days, hot nights, childhood matinees, sweaty exotica, and, notably, the sun-scorched way American movies captured summer heat in the 1970s." A Flickipedia list.

"100 Online Sources for Good, Free-As-In-Beer, Feature-Length Films." An Internet Service Deals list.

Watch the blinking gif: Nathaniel R's "100 Favorite Actresses."

What're your favorite films of 08 so far? asks Eugene Hernandez.

"In the fall of 2007, filmmaker and Hollywood actor Edward Burns made history by choosing to premiere his romantic comedy Purple Violets on iTunes." At Stream, Eric Kohn asks producer Aaron Lubin how it's worked out.

Paul Harrill lists and links to "iPhone WebApps for Filmmakers."

Online browsing tip. Via Coudal Partners, movie posters by All City Media. For example, Alice in the Cities.

Online listening tip #1. At the House Next Door, John Lichman and Vadim Rizov talk with Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.

Online listening tip #2. If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger... has Hitchcock and Truffaut, talking of Vertigo (and in the room the women come and go).

Online viewing tip #1. Kermesse Fantastique ate filmtagebuch.

Online viewing tip #2. Watch and learn all about the making of that video for Radiohead's "House of Cards."

Online viewing tip #3. Ray Pride posts an "hour with [Cinetic's] Matt Dentler on digital distribution."

Online viewing tips. David Friedman's 60 Seconds series; S James Snyder has background in the New York Sun.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:51 PM

Fests and events, 7/15.

The Class Michael Jones hears that Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or-winning The Class will open the New York Film Festival, which'll be running from September 26 through October 12. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Chantal Akerman's Hotel Monterey is screening at the Camden Arts Centre alongside two installations, To Walk Next to One's Shoelaces in an Empty Fridge and Women from Antwerp in November, "more than a record of a dying habit," as Adrian Searle puts it in the Guardian. "It celebrates smoking's conviviality and the splendid isolation of the smoker, the smoker's exhibitionism and her pensive introversion. Meanings curl and writhe and disappear into the night. After a while, the idea seems stale and repetitive; it leaves you empty but hungry for more. That's smoking for you."

"In the end, [Alain] Robbe-Grillet will be best remembered as an artist undaunted by the charges of sexism leveled against him, undaunted by his failures at the box office, and entirely focused on freeing cinema from its reliance on comfortable stereotypes and narrative assumptions," writes T Jefferson Kline in Artforum. The Immortal Alain Robbe-Grillet is wrapping tonight at BAM, but Memory/Montage/Mondernism: Alain Resnais & Alain Robbe-Grillet runs at the Cinematheque Ontario from July 25 through August 20.

3epkano @ BAM Steve Dollar tells the story behind 3epkano: "The band has created musical accompaniment for 11 films and 12 shorts during the past four years, with a special focus on German Expressionist masters such as FW Murnau, Fritz Lang and GW Pabst, whose Pandora's Box gave the band an occasion for its American debut last year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's BAMcinématek. The group returns this week for shows at BAM, where it will perform with Murnau's Sunrise tomorrow night, and at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where it will accompany Paul Leni's The Cat and the Canary on Friday night."

Also in the New York Sun, Martin Tsai: "The Museum of Modern Art's Premiere Brazil, 2008, which starts July 17, seems to go out of its way to prove that there's more to the country than favelas riddled with drugs and violence."

David Gordon Green @ BAM And Bruce Bennett: "All the Real Americans: The World of David Gordon Green, a film retrospective that showcases Mr Green's elegantly evolving work, begins today at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Cinematek. It will appropriately climax with Mr Green introducing a screening of Pineapple Express in advance of the film's multiplex debut."

"In spite of the earnest attempts of academic critics to problematize both the conception and consumption of filmed representations of indigenous 'others,' filmmakers have been drawn to exotic cultures and landscapes since the Lumière Brothers first introduced lightweight cameras," writes Max Goldberg at SF360. "Bengali filmmaker Arghya Basu didn't have too far to travel to reach the Northeast Indian state of Sikkim, but the Buddhist population nestled into its ancient Himalayan landscape must have seemed remarkable to him. A Listener's Tale is first and foremost a sensuous evocation of this place's unique historical-spiritual-geographical coordinates." Thursday and Sunday at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Adela "The fourth edition of the Cinemalaya Film Festival opens with a film by Adolfo Alix, Jr," notes Francis Cruz. "Ever since Alix debuted his first feature film Donsol in the 2006 edition of Cinemalaya, he has never stopped working, directing at least nine feature films during the span of three years. The screening of Alix's Adela coincides with the festival's tribute to Anita Linda, an actress who works just as hard as Alix, having appeared in more than a hundred movies since before the early 40's up to the present." The festival's on through July 20.

Twitch has a Fantasia 2008 category going so you can follow all the genre film goings on through July 21. And the reviews are coming in hard and fast.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:53 PM

At the Crossroads: Slovenian Cinema.

At the Crossroads: Slovenian Cinema James Van Maanen another series running in NYC. Updated through 7/17.

Last October, the Film Society of Lincoln Center offered New York City a surprising festival of Croatian film, the first in its four-part look at the cinemas of the former Yugoslavia. I managed to see a quartet of excellent films from that group - Armin, Fine Dead Girls, Dejan Sorak's brilliant Two Players from the Bench and a classic from the early 70s, A Village Performance of Hamlet - all of which convinced me that Croatian cinema was something to which I should pay more attention.

The FSLC (with major support and collaboration from the Slovenian Film Fund) launches its week-long second installment, devoted to Slovenian Cinema, tomorrow Once again, I arrive as a novice and leave somewhat closer to an acolyte. Titled At the Crossroads: Slovenian Cinema, the program consists of 13 films, contemporary to classic. According to program director Richard Peña, "At a time in which most discussions of international cinema focus on the negative impact of globalization, Slovenia has become an uplifting and inspiring success story for the cinemas of other small nations." Slovenia currently turns out six to eight films per year and is becoming an increasingly familiar presence at international film festivals, notes Peña.

Opening night will offer the premiere of Marko Nabersnik's Rooster's Breakfast (site), an enormous commercial success in Slovenia last year, as well as the recipient of national awards for best director, actor and screenplay. Seven other contemporary films will be shown, including Outsider, Slovenia's biggest box office hit in 1991; the college comedy Idle Running from 1999; and Spare Parts, the 2003 film that helped establish Damjan Kozole as Slovenia's best-known director.

Five "classic" films from the 50s, 60s and 80s complete the program: the immensely popular domestic comedy Vesna (1953); a beautifully photographed war film, Valley of Peace (1956); the modernist-styled Dance in the Rain (1961); Paper Planes (1967); and 1980's Raft of the Medusa, which offers a rare glimpse of the free-thinking Yugoslav cinema that existed in the years before its republics began declaring independence and breaking away.

Two important personages will be present during the series: Rooster's Breakfast director/adapter Marko Nabersnik will introduce screenings of his film on Wednesday, July 16, at 6:30 pm, and Saturday, July 19, at 5:00 pm. And author, film writer, filmmaker and Slovenian scholar Joseph Valencic will introduce several screenings during the series. (Interestingly, Valencic is based in Cleveland, the city with the greatest concentration of Slovenians outside of Europe.)

As often happens during particular festivals at the Walter Reade Theatre, the FSLC's adjacent Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery will host an art event that compliments the films. In this case, it's Posters from Metelkova, on view from Thursday through August 1. (Metelkova is an alternative culture community in the heart of Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, dedicated to organizing non-institutional social and cultural activities for the public.) The exhibit will present film festival posters, architectural drawings and collages produced in Metelkova in the 1990s. The Gallery is open daily 1:30 to 6:00 pm.

Rooster's Breakfast One of the major frustrations accompanying festivals such as this one for me is the fact that I cannot see all the films included, as I do with the annual French, Spanish and Italian fests. Consequently, I don't come away with nearly as much of a feeling for the country itself. Viewing only three films out of thirteen is a paltry sampling, but one must be grateful for whatever time is allowed him.

Rooster's Breakfast - we don't learn the meaning of the title until late in the film, but the reveal's a humdinger - seems a good choice for a series opener, as it probably approximates well the current state of mainstream Slovenia cinema. It's relatively fast-paced (even if it clocks it at just over two hours) and full of colorful characters, rock music, sex, death and double dealing. The film begins with a sadly typical boss bidding goodbye to a suddenly downsized employee. Be it Slovenia, Italy (Days and Clouds) or the US (Kabluey), the pinch is being felt everywhere, it seems.

Our hero Djuro (nicely played by Primoz Bezjak, who keeps his "hunkiness" under wraps) is recommended for similar work in a small-town garage owned by a salty old fellow, played by Slovenian theater pro Vlado Novak. He's terrific: alternately weird, funny, sad, smart, foolish - and always believable. These two make a lovely, complementary duo, as Djuro tries to keep to himself but ends up getting sucked into his employer's friendships and schemes as well as an affair with the gorgeous and sometimes available wife of the local crime boss (the slick and smart Pia Zemljic).

What's most affecting here is the sense of place and character: everyone seems odd, needy and trapped somehow in the past. We can identify with the needs on display, yet the way these people go about satisfying them seems a bit prehistoric. If you were to view this group is exemplary, you'd assume the national character must entail a combination of whining and cheating - here, followed by a sudden confrontation in which a person stands up for himself and either wins or suffers the consequences. All quite strange, but not unbelievable. The entire cast - made up of a number of endearing oddballs - is just fine; ditto the cinematography, editing and music (which plays a big part in the proceedings). If the movie, which I think wants to be taken seriously as cinema, does not come close to the high-level mix of theme and imagination reached by Croatia's Two Players from the Bench, it works fine in its own mainstream, feel-good mode.

Spare Parts

Spare Parts, an altogether darker (and I'll bet consequently less commercially successful) movie, written and directed by Damjan Kozole, is one of those rare films that may be difficult to endure but that leaves you feeling that you've witnessed a reality that has neither been sugar-coated nor shit-encrusted. Human trafficking is the subject, seen through the eyes, mind, body and heart of people who earn their living doing it. This is a switch from the usual, in which we might see all this from the viewpoint of the trafickee rather than the trafficker. We do see some of these "travelers," but mostly we're watching the boss and his new assistant live out their love, health and money problems. And we learn, subtly but clearly, how the job impacts them, just as it impacts their cargo.

Kozole combines a documentary feel with a spare, stark story that, though never hard to follow, does not work on the viewer in the manner of most movies, in which you immediately begin identifying with the lead characters. Identification here is loaded. God knows, this looks like a place from which you'd definitely want to escape.

For our third and final film here, we travel back to those wonderful 1960s, a time when cinema seemed to be opening up, often with a bang and beautiful fireworks (but sometimes just popping with a silly splat). Dance in the Rain is said to be one of the first films to introduce Yugoslavia to what was then considered modernist storytelling. To be fair to the movie, you'd have to be more familiar than I with what Yugoslavians had previously been subjected to, movie-wise. Even so, you may have a hard time differentiating the late Bostjan Hladnik's 1961 endeavor - combining failed love stories, fantasies and nightmares, the past and the present - from something approaching high camp.

Dance in the Rain

The sumptuous black-and-white photography remains enticing and the cast is made up of competent actors who also look good (and certainly "of their time"). The story weaves in and out of the lives of a half-dozen people: an artist who's unhappy with his life, his current "squeeze" and his work; the "squeeze" herself, a theater actress who's beginning to age and so clings ever more tightly to her distant lover; the theater prompter, carrying an unrequited torch for the actress, an older, more cynical neighbor, who lives in the artist's building; and a dewy-eyed younger twosome, whose ingénue sweetness is used mainly as a foil to set off the whiny foolishness of the older set. All kinds of things happen, many of them imagined (some of which resemble moments from "artsy" plays of this same time period), until we arrive at an over-the-top climax that nudges the film even further toward camp. The denouement offers - yes! - that lovely young couple again, dancing in the rain.

According to the IMDB, this film was originally titled Dancing in the Rain, but the gerund form was removed, perhaps so that no one would mistake the movie for a Yugoslav sequel to the Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen classic. Once you seen this unusual piece of work, I don't imagine that you'd ever mistake one film for the other.

-James Van Maanen


Updates, 7/17: <"With its retrospective on Slovenian cinema, Lincoln Center sets out to prove that intelligent cinematic life exists in the post-Communist European landscape beyond Romania - and half-succeeds," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. "Sampling over half the slate, I found three winners, a few interesting misfires, and only a couple of outright dogs."

Andrew O'Hehir has a quick overview of the series for Salon.

More from Simon Abrams in the New York Press.

"Director Marko Nabersnik has a few explanations for both why [Rooster's Breakfast is] domestically successful and internationally a little inert, and why the Slovenian film industry generally remains below the radar." More from Vadim Rizov, this time at indieWIRE.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:51 AM | Comments (2)

Criterion's Trafic.

Trafic Trafic flummoxes some people; no less a comedy authority as Richard Lester has pronounced it 'unbearable,'" writes Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Playtime's wry and rueful view of modernity and 'progress' is here replaced by a mode of acceptance.... Trafic's lack of effective dramatic momentum is, it turns out, its whole reason for being: the movie insists that life really happens in the interstices of 'events'; that getting there is not only more than half the fun, but all of the meaning. One expects a satire, but what one gets instead is a Zen lesson, topped off by the sight of Hulot actually opening that umbrella he kept furled throughout his five-feature run, as the rain that never happened in the previous films begins to pour down."

Updated through 7/17.

Trafic's "meticulously framed images are stuffed with the recognizably choreographed chaos, entropic mayhem and long-lens potshots at humanity fumbling with mechanization that are its ringmaster's signature," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "If Playtime's enormous scope was visionary, here Tati's tone is that of a bemused, unshakably certain philosopher."

Earlier: Gary Giddins in the New York Sun.

Updates, 7/17: Reviewing Trafic for Fanzine, Jonathan Rosenbaum, who interviewed Tati for Film Comment in 1972 and then worked for him for a while the following year, first defends Parade, Tati's final film, shot on video and perhaps "his most radical... Trafic, on the other hand, represented a conscious step backward for Tati." He then explains why "Trafic is the only Tati film with any traces of anger.... Harking back to the bucolic pleasures that were prominent in Tati's first two features, Trafic posits aimless and haphazard drift as a meaningful alternative to capitalist compulsiveness."

"The pacing is admittedly awkward, and the characters hard to grasp, but rarely have elaborate gags blended so seamlessly with slice-of-life revelations," writes David Hartman for Artforum. "Tati shot documentary footage for his traffic and auto-show scenes; like Buñuel, he delivers most of his punchlines straight-faced, and many of his jokes are buried deep in his long shots. Needless to say, Trafic rewards repeat viewings."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:44 AM | Comments (1)

DVDs, 7/15.

Times and Winds "It's amazing to contemplate, but world cinema didn't really make serious feature films about children until after WWII; Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine (1946) might've been the first," suggests Michael Atkinson at IFC. "Did cinema change with the war, or did we? Two new movies to DVD, Reha Erdem's Times and Winds (2006) and Ramin Bahrani's Chop Shop (2007), make their individual cases that little outside of the movie dynamic has changed at all, and that life as a 12-year-old in any corner of the globe is still subject to the grinding, merciless self-involvement of the adult world."

"[T]he new and restored Godfather Trilogy was released first in Europe on PAL DVD and only later in the year it will be released in the States," notes Yair Raveh. One of the bonus discs features the doc Emulsional Rescue, "only 18 minutes long but in its bright and succinct way it tells not only of the process used to save The Godfather deteriorating negatives but of what made this movie cinematographically exceptional."

More from Bill Desowitz in the Los Angeles Times: "The restoration was a sizable undertaking that required a team of technicians, several hundred thousand dollars and two years of effort, largely because the negative for The Godfather had been nearly destroyed by overprinting and mishandling."

Metropolis isn't the only Fritz Lang film currently being restored; the FW Murnau Foundation is also hard at work on Die Nibelungen, reports the Frankfurter Rundschau. Theatrical and DVD releases are slated for 2010 and the Foundation promises an image quality even better than that seen by audiences when the film premiered in 1924.

A Throw of Dice "There's hardly a frame in the 1929 film A Throw of Dice that doesn't provide a surge of visual pleasure," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Though hardly free of the colonialist curse of Orientalism, A Throw of Dice seems less concerned with presenting its characters as exotic/erotic 'others' than with creating a common ground of artfully presented spectacle." Also: "Columbia Pictures thought so little of its serials that it apparently didn't bother to maintain the copyrights for many of them, and it has fallen to individual collectors and enthusiasts to keep them in circulation, often in substandard prints. One of the independent companies fighting the good fight is Restored Serials."

Billy Stevenson has watched his way up to 1946.

"In retrospect, Chan is Missing can be seen as part of a broad wave of American independent cinema that emerged after the social movements of the late 60s and 70s, when culturally marginalized groups decided to make their own movies outside the Hollywood system, but before the institutionalization of 'indie film' began in the late 80s and early 90s," writes Nelson Kim at Hammer to Nail. "Like Barbara Loden's Wanda, Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess, Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, and other key works of its time, Chan remains interesting and relevant today due to its fusion of cultural and aesthetic radicalism."

"As with sophisticated television advertising, but perhaps even more so, it becomes pointless to 'decode' ideological messages that in fact aren't hidden or unconscious at all, but are calculatedly placed in the film (or ad) by the filmmakers (or ad-makers) themselves for well-understood stimulus-response reasons," writes Steven Shaviro. "A film like Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay has already done its own decoding of its messages, and its own desublimation of social reality - precisely because it is so overtly crass and commercial, in a way that, say, Brokeback Mountain is not."

"I Could Never Be Your Woman, despite its relevant, interesting, and smart dissection of the place of women over 40 in film, pop culture, and the workplace, was given a metaphorical slap in the face in what felt like an outright attack on a decidedly feminist endeavor." Matt Mazur takes a long second look at PopMatters.

"Barbara had idolized James Cagney ever since she saw him in person at a war bond rally in Odessa in 1943. Then just 16 years old, she had gotten to meet him that afternoon and never dreamed that six years later, she would be starring as his leading lady in a prestigious Hollywood film." John O'Dowd, author of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story, at Noir of the Week.

Blues in the Night "To celebrate its 85th anniversary, Warner Bros is digging even deeper than usual into the vaults for DVD releases." Lou Lumenick on Blues in the Night and Pete Kelly's Blues.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir presents the "ultimate family DVD list," weeks in the making, followed by a sequel: the Awesome Kids' Video Project.

MS Smith begins a series on El Orfanato.

The latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Road House.

And the latest extract from Larry Gross's 48 Hrs diaries: "Return To LA & The Eddie Problem."

"When I heard that the New York in the Movies Blog-a-Thon and the Self-Involvement Blog-a-Thon were happening around the same time, I got it into my head that there was one film I could write about that could legitimately fit on the nexus of both." Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog on Ghostbusters.

Jim Emerson's working on something; we don't know what yet, but it requires revisiting a piece he wrote in 1999: "On one level, Fight Club can be seen as the story of a guy who wakes up one day and discovers to his profound horror that that he is Jim Jones, David Koresh, Ted Kazinski, and Timothy McVeigh all rolled into one."

RoboCop FilmInFocus runs an excerpt from Rob Van Scheers's 1985 conversation with Paul Verhoeven about RoboCop.

"There are two classic films which have a significant influence on Jumpin' Jack Flash: North By Northwest and Laura." Dan Eisenberg: "The influence of Laura can be written off as mere coincidence - both films spend considerable time following someone falling in love with someone they might never meet - but direct references to Hitchcock's cameo and the auction house scene beg comparisons."

"There are two ways to gauge how long it's been since the teenage comedy Square Pegs ran on CBS," writes David Browne in the NYT. " The first is historical: It was canceled 25 years ago, after only one season. The second is sartorial: Its star, Sarah Jessica Parker, wore peasant skirts, baggy sweaters and oversize glasses."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN), Paul Clark (Screengrab), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and Stop Smiling.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:31 AM

Charles H Joffe, 1929 - 2008.

A Jack Rollins-Charles H Joffe Production
Charles H Joffe, a legendary manager of comic talent who helped guide the careers of Dick Cavett, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Woody Allen and co-produced nearly all of Allen's films, died Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a long illness. He was 78.

Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times.

Updated through 7/17.

Mr Joffe was the brash, wise-cracking, cigar-chewing contract bargainer in the talent agency Rollins Joffe, which booked Lenny Bruce's first act in New York in the 1950s. The agency later mentored, among others, Dick Cavett, Robert Klein, Tom Poston, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Martin Short and Martin Mull. The firm, founded by Jack Rollins, later became Rollins Joffe Morra & Brezner.

Dennis Hevesi, New York Times.

They started in Old Showbiz, but they really are of the Middle Era, between the end of the Studio System Era and the Rise & Fall of Mike Ovitz. They went from Brooklyn to Hollywood and for a while, they were on the top of the mountain. Who could ask for more?"

David Poland.

Update, 7/17: Ronald Bergan opens his obit in the Guardian by noting how much Woody Allen owes Joffe: "Most significant of all, Joffe was able to guarantee Allen complete artistic control over his films, including casting and script approval, final cut, advertising and promotion - a very rare deal indeed in Hollywood."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:46 AM | Comments (1)

The French, 7/15.

The Possibility of an Island Vinyl Is Heavy celebrated Bastille Day all day yesterday with a series of pieces on French cinema.

La Possibilité d'une île (The Possibility of an Island) is Michel Houellebecq's adaptation of his own novel and Nicholas Lezard, blogging for the Guardian, thinks "it could work out.... The film has been described by his friend and fan, Frédéric Beigbeder, as completely different from any other film he's seen, and a long way from the book. It might be that Houellebecq's decision not to be too reverent to his own source material could produce something extraordinary. Let us hope it is for the right reasons."

"French thrillers are making a comeback in North America," announces Eric Kohn in Cinematical. At Pixel Vision, Erik Morse recommends Guillaume Canet's Tell No One.

At SF360, Michael Fox talks with Catherine Breillat about The Last Mistress.

"Ostensibly framed as a restoration of a degraded found film recovered some 70 years after the sudden and unexplained death of its creator, a Parisian attorney and amateur filmmaker named Gérard Fleury at a lake in the village of Le Thuit in Normandy, Tren de sombras (Train of Shadows) is a dense, sensual, and richly textured exposition of José Luis Guerín's recurring preoccupations: the nature and subjectivity of the image-gaze, the permeable borders between truth and fiction, the role of architecture (and landscape) as palimpsest of hidden histories." Acquarello.

For the Financial Times, Peter Aspden talks with Olivier Assayas about Summer Hours. Via Movie City News.

For Cineuropa, Gabriele Barcaro has a quick talk with Marc Caro about Dante 01.

Online viewing tips. Dennis Cooper "casts a wary eye on the upper rungs of the French pop music charts."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:31 AM | Comments (1)

July 14, 2008

Yet more on WALL•E.

WALL-E "Technically, WALL•E is indeed a marvel, especially the long, nearly wordless opening sequence that shows the title character, a trash-collecting robot, going about his lonely labors on an environmentally devastated Earth," writes Reed Johnson. "But this G-rated movie, with its lovable protagonist and ultimately reassuring message about mankind's fate, also strikes me as something of an evasion, a retreat from the knottier issues and themes raised in 2001 and other classic sci-films of the 60s and 70s, such as Planet of the Apes (1968) and Silent Running (1972)."

Also in the Los Angeles Times: "I'm a conservative, and I just love the movie WALL•E," announces Charlotte Allen, noting that "WALL•E doesn't mark the first time that critics on the right have unloaded inexplicably on a piece of popular entertainment that you would think would appeal to their conservative ideals.... The irony of all this is that if WALL•E is didactic, what it has to teach is profoundly conservative."

Updated through 7/18.

David Denby in the New Yorker: "WALL•E blends two kinds of science fiction - the post-apocalyptic disaster scenario and the dystopian fantasy derived from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, in which people are controlled not by coercion but by pleasure.... WALL•E is a classic, but it will never appeal to people who are happy with art only when it has as little bite as possible."

"There's nothing wrong with the film's anti-corporatism, which is just a variation of the anti-totalitarianism that's requisite to the genre," argues Ben Crair in the New Republic. "More troublesome is the film's complicity in the commodified culture it ostensibly critiques. This isn't about Disney, whose external merchandise and marketing are extraneous to the film's artistic vision. Within the movie itself, WALL•E betrays its true corporate overlord, and it isn't Mickey. It's Apple."

"If the pattern of the past seven years prevails, WALL•E will be nominated for the Best Animated Feature category; if justice prevails, it will win," predicts the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern. "But WALL•E isn't just an animated feature; it's a great motion picture by any measure, and has already been hailed as such - by critics who've called it a masterpiece (I'm one of them), by audiences who watch it in a state of enthrallment (which is one notch up from enchantment). In keeping with its singular distinction, Pixar's latest gift to movie lovers should be a candidate for the most prestigious award, Best Picture, when Oscar time rolls around. And the time to start the drumbeat is now, because the path to that nomination is strewn with prickly practicalities and marked by timeworn doubts." Via Jeffrey Overstreet.

Earlier: Rounds 1 and 2.

Update, 7/15: Ambrose Heron talks with directing animator Angus MacLane.

Updates, 7/18: The British papers welcome the robot to the UK: Xan Brooks (Guardian), Dave Calhoun (Time Out), James Christopher (Times), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Derek Malcolm (Evening Standard), Anthony Quinn (Independent) and Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph).

Wendy Ide talks with Sigourney Weaver for the London Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:27 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 7/14.

A Colt Is My Passport Twitch's Todd Brown from Fantasia: "A Colt Is My Passport was apparently considered a fairly minor title by Nikkatsu at the time but it is a sharp, compelling film, one that has stood up to the test of time beautifully. Its fusion of styles and influences results in something truly unique, a treasure that can - and should - be recognized by fans of classic Hollywood, European arthouse and modern cult films alike." Todd notes that this one, along with six other Nikkatsu Action titles, has been picked up by Criterion.

Also, X-Cross: "Holy crap, Kenta Fukasaku went and made a film that doesn't suck." And: Adrift in Tokyo.

Miriam Bale at the House Next Door on William Holden: A Different Kind of Hero, running through Tuesday: "By presenting a series of thematic double features, it seeks to excavate the various and conflicting characteristics that made Holden a remarkable performer. His voice was like ashes and nails, rough with a staccato delivery. His physique was effortlessly perfect (apparently his only regular physical activity was standing on his hands out of the open windows of tall buildings after too many martinis). Over the course of his career, his face aged from golden toned to burnished copper but - even when deeply lined from age and hard living - he never stopped being empirically handsome. Holden was the ultimate movie star; yet this was his greatest humiliation." Also, Vadim Rizov on The Key.

The Discreet Charm of Charles Boyer runs at LACMA through July 26.

In the Los Angeles Times, Valli Herman talks with Faythe Levine about the silent-auction fundraiser she'll be holding in LA for her doc-in-the-making, Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY Art, Craft and Design.

Anne Thompson previews From Here to Awesome, the "discovery and distribution festival" which "showcases twelve micro-budgeted features selected from 115 submissions via a complex online process. The features, many of them weary vets of the global fest circuit, plus ten shorts, are being distributed in many different ways, including handheld devices, Amazon Unbox, Netflix, Hulu and VUDU. All revenues will go to the filmmakers." Launch is July 26.

On August 1 and 2, San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts presents a "world premiere collaboration," Music Without Borders, featuring the Kronos Quartet and "Who's Who list of collaborators." And yes, there will be film.

Gregory Markopoulos "It is difficult to separate the form of Gregory Markopoulos's Eniaios, his 80-hour magnum opus, from his idiosyncratic biography," writes Michael Wang for Artforum. "At the vanguard of the American experimental film scene in the 1950s and 60s, Markopoulos emigrated to Europe in 1967 and withdrew his films from circulation. Two weekends ago, and 16 years after Markopoulos's death in 1992, the second installment of the film, cycles three through five of the 22-cycle work, was projected, for the first time, at the site outside his ancestral village of Lyssaraia in the Peloponnese specified by him as the only suitable location for the viewing of the work - what he called the Temenos, after the classical term for a sacred space delimited from the everyday." More at Secret Cinema.

Damon Wise sends a dispatch from Karlovy Vary to indieWIRE. Theodore Schwinke has the award-winners at Cineuropa.

"Film flows forward, but it loves to look back," writes Nick Bradshaw in the Guardian. "And what greater form of flashback could there be than an entire festival devoted to reviving old movies - the restored, the rediscovered, or simply the seen anew? Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato (Cinema Rediscovered), which just wrapped its 22nd edition, offers a window on the past, turning the most fantastic fiction films into documents of their time; but it also reflects back on us now, holding a yardstick to our presumptions of progress."

"Re-released for the second time (it came to Los Angeles in 1997) in a new 35mm print, Contempt is a perfectly devastating marriage of beauty and loneliness." Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. More from Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times.

The RomeFilmFest finally drops that ridiculous name. Camillo de Marco reports on other changes going on at the Rome International Film Festival (October 22 through 31) for Cineuropa.

Online viewing tip. All the Real Americans: The World of David Gordon Green runs at BAM from July 17 through 24. New York's Bilge Ebiri: "In honor of this retro, we figured we'd present Physical Pinball, one of the terrific shorts Green did while a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:26 AM | Comments (3)

Red Cliff in Asia.

Red Cliff Stefan at Twitch on "John Woo's return to his Asian filmmaking roots following his stint in Hollywood": "Red Cliff is nothing short of spectacular."

"As the first film to re-create the 208 AD Battle of Chibi, the most famous military feat in Chinese history, John Woo's Red Cliff is a Pan-Asian project with the word 'monumental' written all over it," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. "[H]ardcore disciples of his Hong Kong oeuvre will be straining hard to find the all-stops-out passion and sinewy machismo that ignited his bullet ballets such as A Better Tomorrow or The Killer. Such signature themes as male bonding and David-and-Goliath face-offs still drive the action, but the functional script has dismantled much of the original story's dramatic intricacies and character complexities, then reassembled it into a easy-to-follow three-act structure."

Updated through 7/15.

Variety's Patrick Frater reports that this "most expensive Asian film ever enjoyed a boffo start to its theatrical career across East Asia, where part one of the two-part epic bowed in six territories."

"It's good news for a film that seemed to be doomed from the start - with massive budget overruns, numerous casting changes and, most tragically, the death of a stunt actor during filming of the second installment last month," notes Sky Canaves, blogging for the Wall Street Journal.

Update, 7/15: Via The Visitor at Twitch, Allan Loay's interview with Woo for the Star.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:16 AM | Comments (4)

The Dark Knight, round 2.

The Dark Knight "Even if the death of Heath Ledger hadn't already draped it in a funeral shroud, The Dark Knight would be a morbid affair," writes New York's David Edelstein: "It could only be darker if Batman died.... The Dark Knight is noisy, jumbled, and sadistic. Even its most wondrous vision - Batman's plunges from skyscrapers, bat-wings snapping open as he glides through the night like a human kite - can't keep the movie airborne. There's an anvil attached to that cape."

"Warner Bros has continued to drain the poetry, fantasy, and comedy out of Tim Burton's original conception for Batman (1989), completing the job of coarsening the material into hyperviolent summer action spectacle." David Denby in the New Yorker: "Yet The Dark Knight is hardly routine - it has a kicky sadism in scene after scene, which keeps you on edge and sends you out onto the street with post-movie stress disorder. And it has one startling and artful element: the sinister and frightening performance of the late Heath Ledger as the psychopathic murderer the Joker. That part of the movie is upsetting to watch, and, in retrospect, both painful and stirring to think about."

Updated through 7/20.

"[Director Christopher] Nolan wants to prove that a superhero movie needn't be disposable, effects-ridden junk food, and you have to admire his ambition," writes David Ansen. "But this is Batman, not Hamlet. Call me shallow, but I wish it were a little more fun." Also in Newsweek, Devin Gordon talks with Nolan.

Roger Clarke profiles Nolan for the Observer.

Sean Porter - not his real name - was an extra on Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and, in the Independent, tells a few amusing stories about his casual encounters with Heath Ledger. Then: "My image of Heath is of a man envisioning a life rather than a death; of an actor deeply committed to his art - perhaps to such a degree that it contributed to his undoing."

Earlier: Round 1.

Updates, 7/15: "Why return to Batman?" asks James Rocchi at Cinematical. "It turns out that for Christopher Nolan, the reason to come back is that there's something to say about, and with, the character even after decades of stories and multiple reinventions. I was hoping The Dark Knight would be good; I had no idea that director and co-writer Christopher Nolan was going to make a film that not only addressed the philosophical and political conflict between the rule of force and the rule of law but also takes on the timeless clash between order and chaos... and, along the way, evokes everything from Michael Mann's Heat to John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."

Rob Gonsalves at Hollywood Bitchslap on the online avalanche that has befallen David Denby since his review appeared just yesterday: "This isn't genuine intellectual give-and-take discussing a critic's take on a film; this is bullying, and since these are fanboys, it's probably a case of the once-bullied turning into bullies."

Gwladys Fouché reports on last night's black carpet premiere. Also at the Guardian: Video of Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart and Nolan... talking.

The BBC has pix.

Steven Zeitchik was there for the Hollywood Reporter: "First, the movie. It's very good. Not Citizen Kane-meets-Star Wars-meets-The Godfather very good, but still very good."

"It's said in the film that the Joker is the kind of man who simply wants to watch the world burn, and his presence opens up the kind of nihilistic abyss that rarely worms its way into the popular consciousness outside of Sex Pistols records," writes Victoria Large at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Pretty subversive stuff for a summer blockbuster."

"It is impossible to watch this film and not start spewing hyperbole upon exiting the theater," warns Quint at AICN.

From Bob Westal at Bullz-Eye: "The Caine File: 10 Hidden Highlights from Batman's Benevolent Butler."

"The Dark Knight is a diamond in a mound of cubic-zirconia gemstones, two and a half hours of blockbuster at it's finest, a movie worth the price of a concert ticket," writes Paul Moore at the SpoutBlog.

David Edelstein, too, is under attack: "Needless to say, 99 percent of these attacks have come from people who haven't seen the movie - which is not to say they won't love it, having so much emotional energy invested in its greatness."

The Dark Knight Updates, 7/17: Scott Foundas (Voice, LA Weekly) assures us that Nolan

delivers the kick-ass goods, from an opening bank heist à la Michael Mann to a climactic episode of vehicular mayhem à la The Searchers' Ethan Edwards and High Noon's Will Kane, he's left to ride off into the darkness, pondering the uncertain destiny of principled men in an unprincipled world - as are we.

For Nick Schager, writing in Slant, The Dark Knight is a "majestically bleak vision of our modern age as dissolute, fragile and teetering on the precipice of anarchy" and "something very close to a pop masterpiece, a noir-ish DC Comics action-adventure reconfigured as a discerning, ambiguous rumination on these terrorism-besieged times. Thrilling, heady and, as befitting its title, exceedingly dark, it's epic pulp, or perhaps more accurately, it's pulp transformed through auteurist artistry into a piercingly relevant morality play epic."

"Something fundamental seems to be happening in the upper realms of the comic-book movie," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Spider-Man II (2004) may have defined the high point of the traditional film based on comic-book heroes. A movie like the new Hellboy II allows its director free rein for his fantastical visions. But now Iron Man and even more so The Dark Knight move the genre into deeper waters. They realize, as some comic-book readers instinctively do, that these stories touch on deep fears, traumas, fantasies and hopes. And the Batman legend, with its origins in film noir, is the most fruitful one for exploration."

"The personality split between the operatic Dark Knight of the soul and the OMG set pieces is almost as pronounced as the maladies of our freak trio," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "Yes, it's visually impressive, but any hack can do a halfway decent job with trailer-ready tangents. Not everyone can push the genre forward, and the fact that Nolan's padded popcorn flick isn't the streamlined masterpiece it could have been is a real buzzkill."

"A muscular, overwhelming, even sadistic blockbuster, The Dark Knight gives you your money's worth and burns it in front of you," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Batman Begins, despite its long run-up to take-off, ultimately assumed a safely satisfying shape; The Dark Knight is almost exhausting, a movie and a half that pours forth flipped trucks, leveled buildings, Sophie's choices, a beaten-down Batman and even the launch of the next grotesque baddie, Two-Face.... [I]t's clear Nolan is taking the long view, and The Dark Knight plays like an action-heavy middle chapter."

"By the midpoint of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour proceedings, the characters have begun to assail one another with so much moralistic, and oddly artificial, speechifying about choice, heroes, and truth that the film begins to resemble an action-blockbuster version of Brecht's Mother Courage," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "Everyone talks a good game about human maliciousness and moral rot at its most foul, but despite all the bangs, booms, swoops, and crashes, except when Ledger is on screen, it feels mostly like talk."

"The movie may fall shy of greatness, but that's not for lack of trying," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Indeed, The Dark Knight might be our first-ever megabudget summer blockbuster dialectical exercise. The witty, literate screenplay (penned by Nolan and his brother Jonathan) is comprised mainly of philosophical debates among various agents of order and chaos. These chats are punctuated by the curious, often exhilarating spectacle of a depressed billionaire dressed up like a flying rodent, beating the shit out of a psychotic clown."

"What is most unprecedented about the narrative... is its largely unsympathetic treatment of the yapping and yowling citizens of Gotham City, a gloomy echo of ourselves, at the gas pumps and grocery stores, still looking for easy answers from the highest bidders for our votes," writes Andrew Sarris. "In this respect, Ledger's Joker brilliantly incarnates the devil in all our miserable souls as we contemplate a world seemingly without hope."

Also in the New York Observer: "[I]n the words of the Joker (and Warner Bros marketing campaign), why so serious? Moreover, when you can't pay people to sit through a documentary on Abu Ghraib, or entice even the most earnest viewers to watch even one of the countless Iraq films that's tanked at the box office, why are we downright enthralled with the grim realities of our present day when they're trussed up in a batsuit? What is it about Batman?" Sara Vilkomerson talks with exec producer Michael E Uslan and film critic David Thomson.

"Some may find it too hefty - besides a few zingers from Michael Caine's Alfred, its only moments of levity are supplied by a psycho in face paint," writes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Personally, I'm glad to see The Dark Knight presented like a drama (with, uh, capes and explosions) instead of a toy commercial."

"The Dark Knight may be the most hopeless, despairing comic-book movie in memory," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "It creates a world where being a superhero is at best a double-edged sword and no triumph is likely to be anything but short-lived."

Bill Gibron looks back over Nolan's oeuvre for PopMatters: "[H]e's the bellwether for a new kind of filmmaker, one that successfully merges Hollywood classicism with the best of the post-modern revision."

The Dark Knight "Pitched at the divide between art and industry, poetry and entertainment, it goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its comic-book kind - including Batman Begins, Mr Nolan's 2005 pleasurably moody resurrection of the series - largely by embracing an ambivalence that at first glance might be mistaken for pessimism," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But no work filled with such thrilling moments of pure cinema can be rightly branded pessimistic, even a postheroic superhero movie like The Dark Knight.... Like any number of small- and big-screen thrillers, the film's engagement with 9/11 is diffuse, more a matter of inference and ideas (chaos, fear, death) than of direct assertion. Still, that a spectacle like this even glances in that direction confirms that American movies have entered a new era of ambivalence when it comes to their heroes - or maybe just superness."

Nolan is "using the superhero movie as a pretext to create the most elaborate, sweeping, post-noir urban crime drama ever," writes Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook. "And why not, given the fertile if under-the-radar cross-pollination between the print work by Bob Kane and his inheritors and post-Expressionist film stylists. Still, the prerequisites of the superhero genre (as they're defined in film, mind you, not in comics or graphic novels) keep Nolan from fully achieving his dream. There's nothing of the erotic element one expects of a true noir."

"Nolan turns the Manichean morality of comic books - pure good vs pure evil - into a bleak post-9/11 allegory about how terror (and, make no mistake, Heath Ledger's Joker is a terrorist) breaks down those reassuring moral categories," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "The long, intricately braided story... include[s] vast wiretapping networks, suicide-bomb threats, and moral clashes over torture and prisoners' rights. In short, Chris Nolan does more nuanced thinking about the war on terror than we've seen from the Bush administration in seven years. And despite a falsely heroic closing speech from Gary Oldman's character, police Lt Jim Gordon, the movie seems to arrive at much the same conclusion about Batman as Americans have about Bush: Thanks to this guy, we're well and thoroughly screwed."

"As much as I disliked Batman Begins, finding myself not just unmoved but bored by its alleged darkness and moral complexity, I concede that it was at least a real movie, with a thought-out structure, a reasonable degree of character development and, most significant, an adherence to visual logic that was at least workmanlike," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "The Dark Knight offers the same degree of murkiness, both visually and thematically, and maybe even a little more. (The cinematographer is, once again, Nolan's frequent collaborator Wally Pfister, working largely in a dank, muted palette of grays and greens.) And Nolan... gives us enough multilayered subplots to at least fool us into thinking this is a work of intellectual and moral complexity. But as a piece of visual storytelling, from shot to shot, The Dark Knight is a mess."

But for Sean Axmaker, this is "the new gold standard for superhero noir."

"As strong as The Dark Knight's setpieces are - and they're all pulsing showstoppers of a kind not seen in Batman Begins - the real tension comes from Nolan's willingness to let that battle's ultimate outcome remain in doubt even as the credits roll," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "The film's capes and cowls suggest one genre, but it's a metropolis-sized tragedy at heart."

"The Dark Knight rides on Ledger's performance as the Joker," writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle. "So does a lot of audience hope, and that's another element at work here. There has never been a situation quite like this: Audiences for the biggest blockbuster of the summer are flooding in, not just hoping an actor will be good but also expecting and needing him to be absolutely amazing. They want something profound, to put alongside Ledger's Ennis in Brokeback Mountain. They want the fabled gift that arrives six months after the loved one's death."

"This sociological bloodsport shouldn't be acceptable to any thinking generation," declares Armond White in the New York Press.

The Dark Knight

Updates, 7/18: "The Dark Knight is, to a surprising degree, a film about politics by other means: Its antagonists wrestle over the public mood like Victorian novelists over the soul of a virgin," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "Batman cultivates himself as a symbol of hope and justice, but also inspires mob retaliation and the appearance (shades of Magnum Force) of lookalike vigilantes more bloodthirsty than himself. Little wonder that he aspires to abandon his mantle to the less-compromised Dent ('Gotham,' he explains, 'needs a hero with a face'). The Joker, meanwhile, tries to suck the people of Gotham into criminal complicity, with a series of mortal ultimata: Reveal Batman or bear my wrath; destroy a whistleblower or watch a hospital burn; kill others or be killed yourselves. This is rich, resonant material, and Nolan wades in deeply."

"The Dark Knight may be a state-of-the-art popcorn movie, but its Gotham City is a fun-house-mirror image of America, its democratic institutions crumbling and its people perched between anarchy and totalitarianism," agrees JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. "This infusion of 21st century politics makes Batman a more complicated screen hero than he's ever been before."

Dominic Wells traces Batman's history in the London Times.

"Kane's Batman comic art got much of its look and feel from movies like German émigré Paul Leni's The Cat and the Canary and The Joker himself was modeled on Conrad Veidt's carved smiley-face disfigured hero in Leni's film of Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughs," writes Michael Wilmington at Movie City News. "Ledger makes a very different laugher than Veidt, the tall, slender movie fiend who played the deadly somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and the evil and lordly Major Strasser in Casablanca. Ledger is hip and feline and bitterly funny, and, in some ways, like Jack Nicholson's Joker for Tim Burton, he's the real hero of this movie."

"Nolan's strength lies not in action but in emotion; he always manages to coax excellent performances from his cast," writes Paul Constant in the Stranger. "Aaron Eckhart is as good as he's ever been as incorruptible Gotham district attorney Harvey Dent. But Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, the beating heart of the first film, gets crushed under the weight of all the flashy villainy. He lisps and roars as Batman, like a child trying to sound scary, but it's hard to hear him with all the eye-boggling nine-figure property damage going on around him."

"The film's mistake is Eckhart as Dent," argues Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post. "This is a role that calls for more gift than Eckhart, in other circumstances an honest journeyman, possesses.... So the whole subplot about Dent is mostly just fury and sound, signifying nothing except someone's idea that a summer blockbuster has to be 2½ hours long and therefore must be chock-full of not very compelling subplots to swell it up to epic length if not quality."

"There is almost no humor in The Dark Knight, even less than in its predecessor," notes the LA CityBeat's Andy Klein. "This is not merely serious; it's downright somber, even grim."

"Like a symphony where every note is exactly where it needs to be, or a painting without a brushstroke wasted, The Dark Knight is an unabashed, unashamedly great film," argues Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "It's a flawless amalgamation of moviemaker and material, Christopher Nolan's calling card for future cinematic superstardom."

"Issues of who gives the 'best' performance as the Batman and Joker, or which director best understands Batman all pale in importance compared to what has always been Batman's true subject matter: the modern city," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in a longish piece for Stop Smiling. "Since Roman Empire comparisons have become routine since 9/11 in describing America's current role on the global stage, Nolan's link is hardly daring or inspired, but what would otherwise remain bullet points slapped on to Batman's vigilantism for cheap, one-dimensional political relevance expand with his blockbuster's delineation of urban space."

"It's a cliché to say that Dark Knight is a teenage boy's idea of a serious film, but of course that's the source of its immense appeal," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "I'd go a step or two further: It's either a teenage boy's poorly executed idea, or the teenage boy in question has a Memento-scale case of ADD, and maybe all the fogeyish, clueless protestations about how video games are ruining the youth of today are actually true."

"What amazed me most about The Dark Knight, among several things, is that the flick's got more layers than an onion farm - and yet it never loses touch with the idea of fun," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "True that we're talking about a comic book fun that's decidedly more melancholy than the cinematic exploits of The Marvel Gang, but dang if TDK isn't supremely satisfying for about a dozen different reasons."

Also, a list from Eric Kohn, a "Dark Knight Companion."

"The Dark Knight is, in many ways, stupendous," acknowledges the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "And it contains the indelible souvenir of Ledger's gifts and presence. But it simply (or, rather, complexly) tries too hard to out-think and out-reason itself."

"[I]t runs a marathon when a 10K would have sufficed," argues Scott Von Doviak at Screengrab.

"Tim Burton knew how to have fun with Batman rather than turning it into plodding, puffed-up kitsch mistaking itself for profound psycho noir that the source material won't support," writes Jürgen Fauth. "As Hellboy 2 amply illustrates, there's nothing wrong with fun - but there's none to be had here."

"The Dark Knight is Dirty Harry stripped of Don Siegel's ambivalence and ambiguity," argues Dave Kehr.

"The Dark Knight is the most disappointing movie of the year," declares Bob Cashill at Popdose.

Speaking of The Man Who Laughs (up there, a few items back): Michael Guillén.

"This is the first film-with-terrorism-metaphor that our age of terrorism deserves," writes JJ at As Little as Possible. "And it will stop your heart."

"[T]he last half hour of the film dawdles and sidetracks when it should be gunning for the climax," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "It's a flaw shared by Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, and it's the one misstep of The Dark Knight. Other than that, it's a soaring, brooding, haunting piece of work that sets a very high new standard for any future film forays for the Caped Crusader."

Updates, 7/19: Ryan Nakashima reports on a record opening night for the AP. And Peter Knegt lists the "Biggest Opening Days of All-Time."

At Movie City News, Larry Gross spots connections between Nolan's film and Fritz Lang's Spies and The Testament of Dr Mabuse.

"In the nearly 70 years since artist Bob Kane created Batman with writer Bill Finger, there have been thousands of comics about the character, and innumerable wildly different takes on him," writes Douglas Wolk in Salon, where he argues that "Nolan has dropped the ball on one of the most compelling ideas comic books have established about Gotham City's most famous resident: that his heroism doesn't come from his batarangs and right hook, but from his magnificent, brooding mind."

The Playlist is listing again: "10 Things About The Dark Knight That Aren't So Great."

Updates, 7/20: "My favourite Batman movie is the one with Adam West," writes Roderick Heath. "Perhaps it's the retro-camp fan in me.... For dumbed-down Lichtenstein, the 60s Batman was still a truly pop-art creation. It was stylish, funny, mocking, and zippy.... The Dark Knight is not a bad film at all, but it's also light years away from the instant, legitimate noir classic it's being hailed as. It may take a new, revved-up Catwoman to drag a reaction from this Batman that doesn't sound like he merely needs a cough lolly."

"Every time Ledger comes onscreen, you can't wait to see what he's going to do next, and of course the tragedy is that now we'll never know what he might have had in store for us in future films," writes Paul Matwychuk. "Indeed, one of the disappointments in The Dark Knight is that once Ledger's final scene is over, we still have to spend 20 minutes with a bunch of much less interesting characters."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:06 AM | Comments (5)

July 13, 2008

"Is it curtains for critics?"

Critics vs Bloggers "It appears that consumers no longer feel the need to obtain their opinions from on high: the authority of the critic, derived from their paid position on a newspaper, is diminished. Opinion has been democratised." Does this clean cause-and-effect explanation for the current upheaval in criticism really hold water? The Observer's Jay Rayner talks with a wide range of UK bloggers and professional critics about how their respective roles are changing - and in a followup blog entry, he opens the discussion up to readers. And of course, they're responding.

As sidebars, the Observer asks for comments from bloggers and critics, while Hermione Hoby and William Skidelsky offer a brief - very brief - guide to "critics now and then."

Updated through 7/15.

Updates, 7/15: Leo Robson offers examples of film reviews that operate "neither as a prelude to the filmgoing act nor as a substitute for it, but as an autonomous source of pleasure and instruction. If [criticism] is dying or dead, then we have lost a vibrant vehicle for the expression of ideas, a noble variant on the essay. It deserves a more grateful send-off."

Rob Gonsalves at Hollywood Bitchslap on the online avalanche that has befallen David Denby since his review of The Dark Knight appeared in the New Yorker just yesterday: "This isn't genuine intellectual give-and-take discussing a critic's take on a film; this is bullying, and since these are fanboys, it's probably a case of the once-bullied turning into bullies." July's an odd time for the magazine to release its most controversial issue of the year.

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

July 12, 2008

Books, 7/12.

The Leopard "Initially rejected by several leading publishers, The Leopard went on to become one of the best-selling Italian novels of the 20th century (more than 3.2 million copies sold) and the basis for Luchino Visconti's classic 1963 film," writes Rachel Donadio on the occasion the 50th anniversary of a work that is "at once a loving portrait of a vanished society and a critique of its provincialism.... In Italy's postwar intellectual scene, dominated by Marxists after years of Fascism, Lampedusa's novel was at first seen as quaint and reactionary, a baroque throwback at the height of neorealism in cinema and class-consciousness in all the arts.... The novelist Alberto Moravia thought the novel 'right wing,' and others found fault with its pessimism. Italian Marxists denounced 'its apparent denial of progress,' as [Lampedusa biographer David] Gilmour put it, though the French Marxist writer Louis Aragon disagreed, calling it a 'merciless' and 'left wing' critique of Lampedusa's own class."

Earlier: Adam Begley on Lampedusa's Sicily; and in Bookforum, Wendy Lesser.

Also in the New York Times Book Review is this week's review of Richard Brody's Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard. "Now we know how one of the greatest of all filmmakers - the man who so radically changed cinema in 1959 with his debut feature, Breathless - became an intolerable gasbag," writes Stephanie Zacharek. "Brody is hardly blind to his subject's foibles: he calls Godard on his flimsier political ideas, particularly his devotion to Maoism (a trend among French intellectuals in the late 60s that Brody identifies, rightly, as thinly veiled fascism) and, later, the anti-Semitism that repeatedly surfaced in his work.... Although Brody repeatedly challenges Godard's limited ideology, he does buy a little too readily into the notion that a work of art informed by political ideas is inherently more meaningful or more interesting than one with, say, a great deal of aesthetic inventiveness or emotional depth."

Here come the warm ICBMs.

Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Hilary Mantel reviews Towards Another Summer: "Its content and imagery show its intimate relation to Janet Frame's three volumes of memoir, which have become widely known through Jane Campion's celebrated film An Angel at My Table. Frame's haunting and powerful trilogy is one of the greatest of autobiographies, an account of the upbringing of a writer who - partly from choice - put on the inmate's smock of a madwoman, and who discovered just in time her real identity as a genius. This is where, it seems, her great work of memory began to take shape: London 1963, the frigid end of winter."

Also, Charlie Higson on Cosmic: "As one would expect from father-of-seven Frank Cottrell Boyce (the award-winning author of Millions and Framed), it's funny and engaging and in the end rather moving (though not in a horrible Hollywood 'what have we learned today, children?' kind of way)."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:36 PM

HBO's Generation Kill.

Generation Kill "Generation Kill is in many ways the most straight-ahead, apolitical portrait yet of who's fighting our wars for us," writes Robert Abele; also in the LA Weekly, Matthew Fleischer talks with Evan Wright, who wrote the book the HBO series, premiering tomorrow, is based on.

The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley finds it "bold, uncompromising and oddly diffident. It maintains impeccable dignity even as it tracks a group of shamelessly and engagingly profane, coarse and irreverent marines, members of an elite reconnaissance battalion that spearheaded the invasion. The odyssey of these men from training tents in Kuwait to occupied Baghdad is laid out with brutal candor and without the aid of maudlin cinematography or emotive music."

Updated through 7/18.

"Despite the first episode's frequent crosstalk and restless camera, this isn't M*A*S*H, and these aren't guys you want to hang out with," warns Troy Patterson in Slate. "Generation Kill is too skeptical about authority to entertain neocons or red-meat nationalists and too depressing to delight a good liberal. It plays like it's been built for antisocial boys - armchair heroes in love with guns and in search of demented adventure."

"Shot in a vérité style, with the action unfolding from the Marines' point of view, Generation Kill is as much about our current 'Greatest Generation' as it is about the war itself," writes Brendan Bernhard in the New York Sun. "As Mr Wright states in his book, these men, often from broken homes, were 'raised on hip-hop, Marilyn Manson and Jerry Springer. For some, slain rapper Tupac is an American patriot whose writings are better known than the speeches of Abraham Lincoln. Many are on more intimate terms with video games, reality TV shows, and Internet porn than they are with their own parents.'"

David Simon and Ed Burns, co-creators of The Wire, are writers and producers for Generation Kill as well. And as Stuart Levine reports in Variety, HBO plans to work with Simon on Treme, "an hourlong drama concerning the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina."

Levine notes, too, more green and yellow lights from HBO, including: Boardwalk Express, "about the birth of organized crime in 1920s Atlantic City," exec produced by Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson; a possible Sopranos movie, "if series creator David Chase is willing"; Washingtonienne, based on the novel by blogger Jessica Cutler, exec produced by Sarah Jessica Parker; and, hardly a surprise, a Sex and the City sequel.

Updates, 7/14: Wright's original Rolling Stone "pieces are punchy; in the book, the tone has been neutralized and the author's voice is not nearly as present. Fatally, it is entirely missing from the miniseries." Nancy Franklin in the New Yorker.

Takes at the House Next Door on the first episode: Jeremiah Kipp and Keith Uhlich.

Update, 7/18: "[T]he highest achievement of the miniseries is the way it unveils the disordered workings of the American military and the inevitable destruction of all objects in its path, including civilians whose only offense is to tend their sheep or drive down a road," writes Peter Maas in Slate. "With its $550 billion budget and 1.5 million troops, the military might seem a mechanized colossus of precision-guided violence, give or take a few bad apples and errant artillery shells. But if you have served in the military or written about it from the inside, you know that on the unit level it is filled with men and women of vastly different motivations and skills. The Marines in Generation Kill are intelligent and dimwitted, panicked, sensitive, racist, comic, homicidal, brave. It is a wonder when things go according to plan."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:14 PM

Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Journey to the Center of the Earth "Let's be clear about one thing: Journey to the Center of the Earth is more a demo reel than a narrative feature." Robert Wilonsky in the Voice: "It's a decent, if overly familiar and yawningly obvious compendium of look-at-me moments intended to show off the latest and greatest in stereo 3D filmmaking."

"Previous Journeys - no fewer than five television projects and four feature films have worn the name - have been more trudge than adventure, despite attempts to boost the novel's sometimes leaden pace with additional love interests, murderous rivalries, a martyred duck, a massive ape, humanoid dinosaurs, sexy primeval girls, noble Maori rebels, gunrunning, and, in a confusing 1989 version that doubled as a sequel to Alien From LA, Kathy Ireland." A brief history from Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun.

This Journey "would be barely passable under normal circumstances, but in 3-D it's a circus of excellent FX," writes David Edelstein in New York. "If today's movies take place inside computers anyway, it's nice when the technology can usher us inside, too."

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "Best of all, just as the effects in Journey to the Center of the Earth start to become tiresome, the thing is over: Part of its beauty lies in its economy."

The New York Times' AO Scott would like to have avoided the cliché, but: "If this movie is not a ride, then what is it? One thing it may not be, quite, is a movie."

"Thank goodness [Brendan] Fraser himself is an effect: square-jawed and chiseled, entirely unpretentious in movement and demeanor, a true leading man in ways that even computerized bombast can't smother and suffocate," writes Keith Uhlich at UGO. "If someone's got to Roman shower the audience with spit, dribble, and Colgate, let it be him."

At the AV Club, Tasha Robinson talks with Fraser and director Eric Brevig.

More from Bruce Bennett (New York Sun), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Richard Corliss (Time), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Robert Hanks (Independent), Tim Robey (Telegraph), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Mike Russell, Eric C Snider (Cinematical) and Andrew Wright (Stranger).

Posted by dwhudson at 2:47 PM

Evelyn Keyes, 1916 - 2008.

Evelyn Keyes
Evelyn Keyes, who played Scarlett O'Hara's younger sister Suellen in Gone With the Wind and counted director John Huston and bandleader Artie Shaw among her famous husbands, has died. She was 91.

Bob Thomas, AP.

The actress was almost as famous for her love life as her film roles, which included Here Comes Mr Jordan, 99 River Street and The Jolson Story.

The BBC.

Updated.

She was quoted as saying, 'I always took up with the man of the moment and there were many such moments.'

Anita Gates, New York Times.

"I got to star in my own movies," Keyes once said, reflecting on her career. "I even had my name above the title in some cases. But what am I known for? My bit part. It's very funny."

Jocelyn Y Stewart, Los Angeles Times.

See also: Wikipedia.

Updates: "I'm gonna sound like a heel for saying this, but I always thought Evelyn Keyes made a better Ruby Keeler than Ruby Keeler did." Glenn Kenny explains.

More from Arbogast.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:57 AM

July 11, 2008

Ponyo in Japan.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea "[Hayao] Miyazaki's most beloved film in Japan - Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) (1988) - is also among his easiest to understand," notes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. "His latest feature animation, Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea), exceeds even Totoro in simplicity, with a core target audience about as old as its hero - 5. This is not to say that those who have mastered hiragana (or the alphabet) will be bored, as long as they leave their expectations for the usual Miyazaki film at the door. Miyazaki has made what is for any adult - but especially a 67-year-old anime veteran - an extraordinary leap: In Ponyo he is not just telling a story to tikes, but imaginatively becoming one himself."

Via New York's Vulture, which has video and stills.

See also: Wikipedia.

Update, 7/12: "This September the legendary filmmaker and Pixar have joined forces for the non profit organization Totoro No Furusato National Fund to help fund the on going battle to save Totoro Forest." Swarez has details at Twitch.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 PM | Comments (1)

Cinema Scope. 35.

Cinema Scope 35 It's the wake-of-Cannes issue of Cinema Scope. "Today's auteurism at times risks running its course, at least in its popular formulation: films that can easily be read as works similar to, or fitting into, a filmmaker's extant oeuvre, films that gaze inwards rather than searching outwards," writes editor Mark Peranson. "To revert to English: though far from awful, Cannes creaked with too-frequent examples of the world's greatest filmmakers presenting far from their most interesting recent works, especially in a less-than-memorable Competition. In other words, the art was safe and sellable. Or, just as plausibly, I was the patsy who was tired, and often punch drunk. Let's call it a split decision."

As for the Palme d'Or-winner, Laurent Cantet's Entre les murs (The Class), it's "a crowdpleaser,' writes Richard Porton. "Certainly not without its charms, Cantet's film is primarily intriguing for the contradictions it embodies, as well as its ambivalent view of the French educational system and the ideological consensus it represents."

"Right from the buzzing, symptomatically absurd opening shots of Mafiosi getting tans in the confines of a solarium, Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah grabs you with a strong sense of visual expressiveness and never ceases to let go," writes Christoph Huber: "the film is nothing short of a pile-up of images powerful in both concrete and metaphorical ways. What's staggering about the hot-cool style of this remarkable, slightly unconventional, and strictly unglamorous Mafia epic is that despite the (self-)conscious large-scale significance underlying its matter-of-factly presented narrative patchwork, the spaces, gestures, sounds, and (telling) details from which it is constructed feel entirely lived-in."

El cant dels ocells Robert Koehler reviews Albert Serra's El cant dels ocells (Birdsong), "created out of the building blocks of genuine religious belief and the faith in the camera's power to convey and transform one's sense of time, duration, and position on the earth below the sky, which in this case is an actual heaven - and by the very act of filming explaining once and for all in visual terms why the ancients believed in a heaven. This is the Bazin root, alongside Catholic conviction and adherence to film's capacity for modern art-making, which is to find meaning and form out of a necessarily rough process that's very willing to stumble and make mistakes. In fact, errors are the point."

Jason Anderson talks with Terence Davies about Of Time and the City.

Moving onto another festival, Brandon Wee looks back on this year's edition of Hot Docs.

Olaf Möller has been paging through books on East and South-East Asian cinemas.

Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Global Discoveries on DVD" column is a straightforward affair this time around: dozens of titles and/or filmmakers, some in groups, arranged alphabetically and commented on.

"Both Baghead and Frownland offer early proof of their post-postmod, pre-apocalyptic place in American life with opening scenes of their characters watching variably scary movies," writes Rob Nelson. "But of course there's no one way to watch a movie these days, and whatever their similarities as works of low-fi/Gen-Y horror, Baghead and Frownland are as different from one another as smile and snarl."

"If we can trace lines of evolution, and even discrete periods, within [Chris] Marker's assorted output, the films—and the ongoing history they chronicle—so often double back on their predecessors that the effect is of a palimpsest," writes Andrew Tracy, who's also got an online viewing tip. "A guided tour through a virtual museum of Marker's store of film images, this 'Farewell to Movies' (as per the opening title) characteristically undercuts the supposedly valedictory air with tantalizing glimpses of a cinema history heretofore unknown."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM

La France.

La France "Serge Bozon's La France is a generic clusterfuck, but in the best way - a stunningly confident, category-defying, broken-down dream piece about loss and being lost," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It's a film about war in which soldiers are not only never seen actually fighting for their land, but in fact seem to have lost their way in vague and vain pursuit of a lost land to reclaim as their own. It's a musical with just one song, performed by non-performers in a handful of mutations throughout the film. And it's a love story, soaked in romantic delusion but ultimately fatalist in regards to the actual odds that love can overcome existential crisis. After a 14-month festival run (including stops at Cannes, New Directors/New Films and LAFF), it opens for a week in New York at Anthology Film Archives on Friday."

Meaning, of course, today. But there's good news for many outside New York, too. Northwest Film Forum has announced that it's acquired limited rights to La France and will be touring it around the US and Canada in "a progressive and unique new model of film releasing."

"There is something obviously discordant about this infusion of pop into the generally hallowed realm of the war movie, which greatly adds to the pleasure and mystery of La France," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Much like its expressive cinematography, which ushers you deep into the night, the film's impudent genre sampling - it begins as a woman's picture before morphing into a romantic war musical - is an invitation to boldness."

"The movie opens in May 1917, nearly three years into World War I," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "French farm girl Camille (Sylvie Testud) receives a letter from her soldier husband warning that she will not hear from and perhaps never see him again. That night, she crops her hair and sets off for the front in the guise of a 17-year-old boy. Her adventures are at once dreamlike and prosaic: Wandering in the woods, she stumbles upon an encampment of sleeping soldiers. Perhaps imagining that she is invisible, Camille lies down among them."

"As befits the work of a former film critic, La France is as much Bozon's ballad-like fable as it is his corrective critique of recent, WWI-set French productions (the film's pared-down intensity shames the manipulative bathos of Joyeux Noël and the visual blubber of A Very Long Engagement)," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "While Minnelli, Davies or Tsai would have used the songs as an escape for the characters from a dreary world, Bozon instead stages these numbers as inseparable from the film's dreamscape, where the ethereal and the brutal are engaged in a war of their own. Despite the portentousness of its title, La France remains a close and intimate work that sustains its singularity to the end."

"[Pedro] Costa may have lived with [Jacques] Tourneur in his work for a longer period of time, and as such displayed a deeply ingrained translation of the director's ambiance into socially and politically progressive poetics, but La France too proudly wears Tourneur on its sleeve," proposes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "[I]n La France's night scenes pools of luminescence miraculously light an entire errant platoon of French troops and leave them warm-blooded and thoughtfully cared after in this special kind of night vision, yet utterly vulnerable to, and almost anonymous in, the surrounding darkness. For it is when shadows start to close off the visible world, the one we think we see and therefore think we understand, that the film speaks of Tourneur's ambient terrors and atmospheric menace, the irrational spilling out of the inkiness and insulating our generic heroes and heroines even as its dark cushion suggests the awful unknown hiding in its folds - the war."

"In the movie's lengthiest monologue, Camille is taken aside by her fellow soldiers and told the story of one young private who went to war and lost his ability to dream," notes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "In almost any other war film, such an anecdote would seem woefully naïve, but in La France, the loss of one's imagination is considered the worst possible casualty of war."

"France has given us two of the most charmingly original films of the year so far, both of them fond, modernist interpretations of the musical genre," writes Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine. "First was Christophe Honore's tale of young love in the city, Love Songs, and now Serge Bozon's WWI battlefield fable, La France."

Earlier: Mark Peranson in Cinema Scope and Craig Phillips here.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:36 AM | Comments (3)

Karlovy Vary Dispatch. 2.

David D'Arcy, with more from the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, running through tomorrow.

The Investigator There's a lot of Aki Kaurismäki in The Investigator, by Attila Gigor, a new Hungarian film in the competition in Karlovy Vary about Tibor, a pathologist who makes a deal with the devil to raise the money to care for his mother who is languishing towards a slow death from bone marrow cancer in the hospital where he works. Besides the rhythms of Hungarian, which sound a lot like those of Finnish, there is a deadpan darkness to The Investigator which makes you laugh at the worst of situations. If humor is based on pain, the best thing you can say about the characters in this film is that most of them are no longer feeling any pain, or anything else. You might call the genre deadpan bedpan.

Tibor (Szolt Anger) is a large humorless bald man who has trouble with intimacy, although his calling in life involves opening bodies and determining how the dead people in his care died. When he himself kills, he finds out too late that the person killed has a special relationship to him - then a drama of revenge begins.

The Investigator The Investigator builds on the kind of tactility that was heaped into Taxidermia, another recent Hungarian exercise in bodies turned inside out. Here the conceit is the body, in all its drippy physicality, contrasted with the mind that sets plots into motion or prevents two bodies - Tibor and the woman who you think will be his love interest - from pressing against each other. I won't give too much away.

The crowd at Karlovy Vary loved the darkness of the humor, seen from the perspective of the deadpan misfit. It's fun, if you don't think too much about so much effort and talent going into a story that's supposed to make you squirm. (But think of all the talent that went into ambulance humor in Mother, Jugs and Speed.) And it's a step up in its Hungarian morgue humor from the recent gore-thriller Pathology, which I reviewed for Screen after seeing it in an empty theater in April on the day it opened because its distributor lacked the guts to have a single press screening. Even the janitor who was the only other person in the theater with me walked out. Perhaps they knew what they had on their hands in the 21-styled gore story about dream team high achievers in forensic medicine who conspire to kill people and then challenge each other to explain the deaths scientifically. Pathology seems to have closed quickly this spring, although I admit I didn't monitor its free-fall. For all the humor in The Investigator, I can't imagine it playing in too many places outside Hungary.

Captive Captive by Alexei Uchitel takes us to the Chechen war, a conflict that is all but forgotten by the western media. Believe it or not, there is even a Grozny Film Festival, and this film was invited, but its producer chose not to go.

Two soldiers take a Chechen fighter prisoner, which means they can either kill him or travel back to Russian lines, risking their lives and his. (In the real war, most prisoners don't survive to turn that experience into a movie.) In the rugged terrain - the film was shot in Crimea, not in Chechnya - not much of a relationship develops, although the trio survives from one close call of being swept away in a mountain stream to another encounter with an enemy sniper. Rather than give away the ending, let's remember that prisoners in this conflict were (and are) abused horribly by both sides, and dignity was (and is) the exception. (See some of the footage shot of the treatment of Chechen prisoners and testimony about their confinement in the documentary Letter to Anna).

Captive keeps its focus tight on the two Russian soldiers, concentrating on the psychological weight of being a captor and fleeing the enemy. As the soldiers anguish, their Chechen captive is mute and stoic, fitting some of the cultural stereotypes that you might expect from such a film. There's not too much Stockholm Syndrome here, and the worst prejudices about Chechen barbarism never emerge, although some are certainly suggested in a scene where Chechen boys torture a wounded Russian prisoner. The corruption of the two soldiers' Russian commanding officer is made clear at the top of the film. The Hollywood studios should be all over this one for its remake potential, set in Afghanistan. But don't hold your breath.

Pictures of the Old World Pictures of the Old World by Dušan Hanák, was banned in Czechoslovakia after Hanák finished it in 1972. Hanák's respectful encounters with old people in rural Slovakia, from which all the youth seems to have fled, is a kind of cinematic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the collaboration between the writer James Agee and the photographer Walker Evens which examined the lives of poor white families in rural Alabama during the Great Depression. The people whom Hanák meets seem to have known nothing but poverty in their lives.

Beginning with still photographs by Martin Martincek of men and women living subsistence lives with no one to care for them, Hanák lets his subjects speak, and they talk of work, family, drink, sex, and all sorts of other things that fill up a life. A soundtrack from Handel, which seems over the top now, pumps "importance" into your observation of their everyday activities, in the way that Pier Paolo Pasolini used Bach as a dramatic accompaniment in Accatone, his first feature, about a handsome petty criminal in Sicily. The filmmakers can be forgiven for overdoing it. They seem to be trying to use the music to pry you away from your predispositions to ignore the kind of people on the screen or to react to them in predictable ways.

The communist government seems as absent as everything else is from their quiet communities. This is just four years after the suppression of Dubcek's experiment with the reform of Czech communism; the clampdown became harsher in the years afterward, thanks to support from the Soviet comrades. You'd never know it here. Nor does anyone talk about politics, although one or two men remember military service, including one who, at 94, sends greetings in French to a child that he fathered in France while a soldier in World War I.

Pictures of the Old World Why ban it? These self-reliant souls had no belief in progress, and the New Communist Man, wherever he was, was not anywhere near the villages where he was needed most. The testimony from these workers who now lived in a failed workers' state showed that poverty was alive and well in Czechoslovakia, and that none of these men and women who had lived impoverished lives ever expected there to be anything different. It was reassuring to hear applause from the young audience in Karlovy Vary, although the room in an old spa where I saw it was far from full.

At last week's ArtFilm festival Trenčianske Teplice, film students were given a week to shoot and edit interviews on the model of Hanák's film. The results were surprisingly good, given the time constraints, although time and technology have made it difficult for anyone to be as isolated from the rest of the world as the villagers whom Hanák interviewed for his film. Shooting on video made it hard to get anywhere near the look that Hanák achieved, but it is encouraging to see film students looking to Dusan Hanak for inspiration, rather than to Michel Gondry.

-David D'Arcy

Posted by dwhudson at 4:32 AM

July 10, 2008

LGBT, coast to coast.

Outfest 08 "One of the struggles faced by Outfest (aka the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival) in recent years has been to clarify its purpose in a post-Will & Grace/Queer Eye for the Straight Guy world in which studies on cultural homophobia show Americans (notably younger generations) becoming more tolerant of LGBT folk even as the political right reliably deploys homophobic tactics to bolster support among its faithful," writes Ernest Hardy, introducing the LA Weekly's guide to the festival running through July 21 - and looking back over its history:

Updated through 7/13.

How to negotiate the two-steps-forward-one-step-back realities of queer power and visibility on a morphing cultural landscape? How to juggle the often conflicting perceptions of film festivals as bazaars for distributors and studios, rarefied outposts for cinephiles and (particularly in the case of Outfest) forums for activist art? Those questions have been complicated by a lot of queer filmmakers evolving - or devolving, depending on your point of view - away from the more politically charged, often experimental fare of the New Queer Cinema of the 1980s and early 90s to create films as bland and formulaic as anything coming out of mainstream Hollywood.

Susan King in the Los Angeles Times: "Kirsten Schaffer, interim executive director of Outfest, says that while the festival's main audience is gay men, it does attract straight moviegoers as well, and organizers are working to expand Outfest's appeal. 'We are trying hard to generate more of a female audience and bring in a younger audience and bring in more people-of-color audience,' she says."

"This year's festival contains a whopping 212 titles (including roughly 80 features), with many keynote premieres, from director Tim Frywell's fascinating-sounding Victorian women's prison mystery, Affinity, to Todd Stephens's likely D-and-A beefcake fest Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild!" Paul Birchall introduces the LA CityBeat's upbeat Outfest overview: "Even considering the daunting number of entries on display, the number of works likely to make a crossover to the mainstream is small. Instead, the festival offers an exciting venue for dynamic smaller efforts, which continue to artfully shade in the nuances of queer life."

Laurie Lynd's Breakfast with Scot (site) opened Outfest last night and, as Brian Brooks reports in indieWIRE, it's "been acquired by here! Films, the theatrical distribution and worldwide sales division of here! Networks, the company announced Tuesday. Sister company Regent Releasing will open the film in autumn." A quick rundown of Outfest highlights follows.

Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Meanwhile, the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival opens today and runs through July 22; both the Philadelphia City Paper and the Philadelphia Weekly offer guides to the first week.

Also in the City Paper: Natalie Hope McDonald talks with Jane Lynch, who plays a closeted teacher's girlfriend in Stewart Wade's Tru Loved (site), and who'll "be in town this weekend to receive the fest's Artistic Achievement Award for Acting and cut a rug at Sisters nightclub's after-party, aptly titled See Jane Dance."

Sam Adams has got an interview, too: "Samuel R Delany has conjured distant worlds and bizarre societies, alien beings and unfathomable futures, but few of them are as strange and wondrous as his own life." Fred Barney Taylor's doc, The Polymath, or The Life and Opinions of Samuel Delany, Gentleman, is featured at the festival.

Gabriel Wardell, executive director of Image Film and Video Center, currently morphing its identity into Atlanta Film Festival 365, has put out a call to the local LGBT community to "take ownership" of Atlanta's Out on Film (November 6 through 9). He points Gregg Goldstein breakdown of the challenges facing LGBT festivals and independent LGBT cinema in general in the Hollywood Reporter, adding, "It was almost a year ago to the day that I wrote 'LGBT Film Festivals in crisis?' in which I drew comparisons between LGBT film festival programming and the increasing challenges of programming quality international films on fest circuit because of unreasonable guarantees demanded by reps and distribs, and pointing out why the LGBT distributors were effectively crippling the fests by asking for unreasonable guarantees."

Earlier: Michael Koresky and Chris Wisniewski open indieWIRE's "Queer Cinema Notebook."

Update, 7/13: "Outfest's Queer State of the Nation panel with gay politicos and filmmakers on Saturday was designed to talk about issues like same-sex marriage and 'don't ask, don't tell,' but it naturally spilled over into a wider discussion of the state of the 08 race." Ted Johnson reports.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:39 AM

July 9, 2008

Shorts, 7/9.

The Firemen's Ball Marilyn Ferdinand introduces the Film of the Month: Milos Forman's The Firemen's Ball.

Vulture claims to have a copy of Quentin Tarantino's screenplay for Inglorious Bastards: "If anyone is crazy enough to fund it, this movie is gonna be awesome."

Deutschland 09 is an omnibus film in the works, a state-of-the-nation sort of project that takes as its inspiration Deutschland im Herbst (1978, with contributions from Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge, Edgar Reitz, Volker Schlöndorff and others). Signed up so far for next year's model: Fatih Akin, Wolfgang Becker, Dominik Graf, Tom Tykwer and Hans Weingartner.

"When two Italian films [Gomorrah and Il Divo] won the top runner-up prizes at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the reaction at home was akin to that usually reserved for victorious national soccer teams. The news media went wild." Elisabetta Povoledo reports in the New York Times.

"Robert De Niro is planning to make two sequels to The Good Shepherd, his 2006 feature about the early days of the CIA starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie." And Gwladys Fouché has more up-n-coming news in the Guardian.

The Corrections Via Dwight Garner, one exchange from Cameron Martin's interview with Jonathan Franzen for the B&N Review:

BNR: It's been reported that a film version of The Corrections is in development with producer Scott Rudin, who has helped bring other literary novels to the big screen, including The Hours and No Country for Old Men. Some authors have enjoyed writing the adapted screenplays of their works, while others have relinquished control. How involved would you like to be in the screen adaptation of your best-known novel? Have you written or attempted to write anything for film or television before? If so, what unexpected challenges did you encounter? If not, what keeps you from exploring this artistic medium?

JF: Right now I've got my hands full with the artistic medium of the novel. In any case, the problem with "exploring" the artistic medium of film or television is that the screenwriter doesn't get to do much exploring. Movies and TV are team efforts. It might be fun to join the team if I could be team captain, but, with all respect to Scott Rudin and his people, who have been unfailingly nice to me, I think I have a better chance of becoming our country's next Secretary of Defense than of having an artistic say in a major motion picture.

We came this close to a 70mm standard in the late 20s and early 30s; John McElwee on what might have been.

Framed Time Tom Ruffles reviews Garrett Stewart's Framed Time: Toward a Postfilmic Cinema for nthposition: "He provides definitions of the two types of cinema. 'Filmic cinema: temporal change indexed by segments, then remobilized frame by frame. Digital cinema: time seeming to stand still for internal mutation.' (This head-scratching sense of vagueness is quite typical of his style.)"

Michael Guillén collects the "Received Wisdom of André Bazin," parts 1 and 2.

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

Boyd van Hoeij talks with Ferzan Ozpetek about Saturn in Opposition.

Mark Follman meets Ricky Gervais for Salon: "It's mid-December in Brooklyn, and Gervais is hard at work on the final day of shooting for Ghost Town, a romantic comedy due in theaters this September. Alongside actors Greg Kinnear and Téa Leoni, Gervais stars as a misanthropic dentist whose near-death experience leaves him with special powers of perception and caught in a wacky love triangle reaching beyond the grave."

In the Voice:

  • Ella Taylor objects to Marina Zenovich's argument in Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired: "[I]t is illegal and morally outrageous to take a 13-year-old girl - whether she's a nun or a nymphomaniac - to a strange house, feed her Quaaludes, and sodomize her. That, and not American prudery, a rotten judge, or a predatory press, is why Polanski is 'wanted' in America, and would be in Europe if the crime had occurred there." What's more, adds Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine, "for scandal-seekers, Wanted and Desired isn't half as illuminating as a trip through the trial's file at the Smoking Gun."

The Reflecting Pool

Harald Reinl would have turned 100 yesterday; Tim Lucas looks back over the career of "an outstanding contributor to the fantastic cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, a chief architect of the krimi and the post-Lang Mabuse thriller, and as something he is too seldom acknowledged as being: one of the great Western directors of all time."

The Night Porter Danny Leigh, blogging for the Guardian, looks back "at the moment in the mid 70s when, as Britain teetered on the brink of economic collapse amid a global oil crisis, movie culture became smitten with the sex lives of Nazis."

"Written and directed by Preston Sturges, Sullivan's Travels is a great example of a film that's loved out of proportion to the degree to which it's been viewed; if you asked a hundred people if they'd seen it, you might get one who had - but, boy, try to shut them up about it." James Rocchi, blogging for SFGate.

For the Derelict's New York in the Movies Blog-a-Thon, the Siren writes up an entry "in which each movie represents something the Siren has observed, experienced or yearned for in New York, some good, some bad. And this is the New York of the mind, not geography."

"Most film writing is movies filtered through the self; I want the self filtered through movies." Jeff Ignatius explains what he's after as he opens up the Self-Involvement Blog-a-Thon, running today through Sunday, at Culture Snob.

Online viewing tip #1. Oliver Laric's Clip Art Movie, via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip #2. Scott Macaulay: "At Boing Boing, Joel Johnson interviews designer Syd Mead, whose work includes Aliens, Tron and Blade Runner."

Online viewing tip #3. Bob Westal's been revisiting the work of Michael Caine and is now "in full worship mode," which I can certainly sympathize with; Bob's "now fully in awe of his onscreen brilliance and the craftsmanlike humility and thoughtfulness of his approach, epitomized in a single aphorism of his: 'The work is the rehearsal and the performance is the relaxation.'" And he posts a fun interview.

Online viewing tip #4. Ted Zee posts the trailer for Stacy Peralta's Made in America.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Alison Willmore has more trailers, including the one everyone's talking about today.

Online viewing tips, round 2. The DVblog considers two shorts by Robert Croma.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:47 PM | Comments (3)

Fests and events, 7/9.

Il Cinema Ritrovato Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell post a whopping wrap-up of Il Cinema Ritrovato, the festival of restored films in Bologna. Among the highlights are notes from a briefing on what's known so far regarding the recently discovered copy of the long version of Metropolis; Michael Powell's 1964 film of Béla Bartók's short opera Bluebeard's Castle; Lev Kuleshov; the year 1908; and pix of some the folks you read.

For the New York Times, Nathan Lee previews La Rivière Gentille, "one of three feature-length portraits by the filmmaker Brigitte Cornand that are screening at Anthology Film Archives and that afford, if not a whole day, at least an exceedingly long afternoon in the company of [Louise] Bourgeois." Michelle Orange (Voice) suspects the series may be "required viewing for superfans only." Earlier: "Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine."

"A new film festival, which Oscar-winning actor Tilda Swinton is founding in her hometown of Nairn, north-east Scotland, is to have no red carpets, no ranks of paparazzi and no designer evening dresses. Entry to the films will cost you £3 or a tray of home-baked cakes; and the audience will sit on beanbags." And Joel Coen's programming a double feature. Charlotte Higgins reports for the Guardian.

"Much can be learned about how French filmmakers saw themselves by how they saw Jean-Pierre Léaud," suggests Jason Anderson at Artforum. "In Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore - the 1973 masterpiece that launches Bad Company, a traveling retrospective that arrives at Toronto's Cinematheque Ontario on July 11 - Léaud is best described as an outright prick."

For the Voice, Nick Pinkerton previews the Asian American International Film Festival. Tomorrow through July 19.

As the Bicycle Film Festival wheels into Minneapolis, the City Pages' Bradley Campbell picks out a few highlights. Through Saturday.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:06 PM | Comments (2)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army, round 2.

Round 1 was looking pretty good. But let's see...

Hellboy II: The Golden Army "Guillermo del Toro's 2004 Hellboy, based on the popular Mike Mignola comics about a spawn of Satan who heroically helps humanity fight off beasts and bad guys from all dimensions, was no classic, but it's certainly looking a lot better now that Hellboy II: The Golden Army is hitting theaters," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Despite a handful of creepy and visionary sequences, this sequel remains limp and unengaging."

"No, Hellboy isn't a bittersweet fable like Pan's Labyrinth or a supremely creepy coming-of-age tale like The Devil's Backbone, but even with all its romping, stomping action-adventure (and there's plenty of that), there's a peculiarity to Hellboy that blurs the line between del Toro's Hollywood blockbusters (Blade 2, Mimic) and his less conventional Spanish-language films," writes Jürgen Fauth.

Updated through 7/14.

"Smitten still with the movies of his youth, the 43-year-old del Toro joyfully references everything from the cantina in Star Wars to the Alien pod field to Ghostbusters' marauding dough boy," notes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. "With this new Hellboy, del Toro is clearly coasting, and while there's no shame in having some summertime fun (and making some summertime money), the question hangs: Is del Toro a mad genius or an imaginative hack? Or both?"

"The original worked because Del Toro is a fan-boy who exults in both his hero's crash-and-bash potency and his morbid spiritual dislocation," writes David Edelstein in New York. Here, the "best scene is when Hellboy and Abe get drunk and sing out raucously, which after Hancock suggests a trend toward superhero alcoholism. The economy?" Also, Brent Simon talks with Del Toro.

"[T]here are more eye-popping creatures in the background here than the original had all together," notes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine.

Updates, 7/10: "Hellboy II: The Golden Army is the first pitch-perfect hybrid of the personal and professional del Toro," writes Tim Lucas. "On one hand, it is a wonderful, commercial, highly accessible entertainment; on the other, it is consistently stimulating to the mind and appealing to the eye. It meets all the requirements of summer blockbuster fast food, but it's actually nourishing."

Jeremiah Kipp in Slant: "Though Hellboy II caters to the fanboy crowd that wants to see rock 'em, sock 'em monster fights, Del Toro's strength as a filmmaker is the same as Peter Jackson's in The Lord of the Rings - an ability to create a legion of creatures and their fantasy worlds, then take the time to give these beasties a very specific look that defies CGI whitewashing."

"There aren't many directors who can pay homage to both The Dark Crystal and Ghostbusters and not end up with a complete mess," notes Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle. "But the movie also reaches a point where the plot, emotional impact and even some of the performances are sacrificed to the clutter of the director's vision. After nearly two hours, there's only so much awesome creature design a viewer can take."

For Michael Wilmington, writing at Movie City News, Hellboy II "is one of my so-far favorites of this summer's flood of big, splashy action fantasy movies... And I suspect it will remain that way. (I've already seen The Dark Knight.) In many ways, it's more fun, more magical, more delightfully characterized and more splendiferous imagined and stunningly visualized than the others - perching atop a summer short list that also includes WALL•E and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

"Hellboy II suffers, in my opinion, from too much of everything," writes David Poland. "[A]s the movie pressed on, I was more and more aware of the size of the visual palette and less and less interested in the storytelling, the basics of which were there, but often seemed like the afterthought. In other bad words, Guillermo Goes Lucas."

In the New York Press, Armond White explains why the Ting Tings' "That's Not My Name" and Adam Sandler's Little Nicky are better. Meanwhile, for Simon Abrams, this is "a long sprint through a series of loosely connected episodes that feel like the serialized issues of a comic. That having been said, Hellboy II also has a comic's worst attributes."

James Rocchi talks with del Toro for Cinematical.

Connor Kilpatrick talks with Ron Perlman for Vulture.

Hellboy II

Updates, 7/11: "In Mr Perlman's performance you catch glimpses of Bogey and Lee Marvin and hints of Robert Mitchum and George Kennedy, all blended with devilish glee and disarmingly sexy sincerity," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "And the movie itself is similarly easygoing in its eclecticism."

"When people say that comic books are as close as our secular late-capitalist culture gets to having its own mythology, it's not generally meant as a compliment," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "But over the course of two Hellboy movies..., Guillermo del Toro has started to look like a legitimate successor to Ovid. Del Toro is not so much a creator of myths as a collector of them, a transhistorical myth nerd whose pantheon of influences ranges from Hesiod to Harryhausen (with liberal helpings of steam punk and Catholic iconography). In Hellboy II: The Golden Army, del Toro continues to develop his own private eschatology, a vision of the end of the world dominated by motifs of meshing gear wheels, dangling rosaries, and the looming visage of a devil with sawed-off horns. The joke is that this crimson-faced demon is also a beer-swilling regular guy, not to mention the universe's only hope for salvation."

"The bald truth is that del Toro is one of the few young filmmakers working in the mainstream who actually has any vision, as opposed to just a knack for dreaming up cool effects," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Hellboy II - poetic, funny, darkly romantic and beautifully structured - is a very different picture from Pan's Labyrinth. But there's no doubt that it springs from the same cathedral." That's a reference to Cathedral Head, one of the movie's minor characters.

"As a fan of Mr del Toro's art-house hits who finds most superhero movies tedious and freighted with gratuitous noise - visual as well as aural - I'll confess that the film's big battle sequences made me sleepy," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "Likewise, the sheer extravagance of the director's esoteric monster designs and hallucinatory netherworlds almost feels like a waste, because the pace of the film allows scarce time for the images to resonate or permeate the viewer's consciousness in a meaningful way. If Pan's Labyrinth was a boutique display of Mr del Toro's dreams and nightmares, then Hellboy II is a yard sale that anticipates a Christmas rush on plastic replicas of its boogeymen at Toys 'R' Us."

Del Toro "has the wildest imagination and grandest ambitions of anybody in modern movies," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "All his films, whether based on US comic books or his own verdant visions, are uniquely and vibrantly Del Toro. From Cronos through Hellboy II, there's a consistency of visual tropes: the insects, crucifixes, subways and bizarre clockwork devices, not to mention his ethereal or infernal or disgusting creatures - the good, the bad and the ugh-y."

"Hellboy II can't help but feel slight following Pan's Labyrinth, but that's part of its charm," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Think of it as a pleasant diversion for del Toro and his fans before the epic task of mounting The Hobbit for producer (and fellow geek-god) Peter Jackson."

Jonathan Pacheco at the House Next Door: "With Hellboy II, del Toro has gotten much closer to creating what I've always craved from him: a fully-realized world."

"The trouble with the current spate of comic-book movies is that their numbing conventionality can make it easy to forget why you loved the original comics back in the day," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Hellboy II: The Golden Army will help you remember."

Del Toro "has an endlessly inventive imagination, and understands how legends work, why they entertain us and that they sometimes stand for something," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Imagine one of the Star Trek crews transported to Tolkien's Middle Earth, or Buffy and her Scooby gang whisked away into the heart of Narnia," suggests Jette Kernion in Cinematical.

"While Hellboy II still hasn't quite found that perfect mix of horror and subtle comedy present in the comics, it's a vast improvement on the first film," writes Jonah Spangenthal-Lee in the Stranger. "We're clearly in store for another sequel, and if del Toro is again allowed to run wild, the series can only get better."

"Which Hellboy II Creatures Deserve Their Own Spinoffs?" asks Linda Holmes for Vulture.

Updates, 7/12: Latest CulturePulp from Mike Russell: "Hellboy 101."

"With his newest fantasy, Guillermo Del Toro has earned a place at the table with Jim Henson, George Lucas, Peter Jackson and Hayao Miyazaki as one of the big screen's most imaginative inventors of new worlds." Jeffrey Overstreet argues the case.

Noel Vera: "Iron Man can keel over dead, Wall•E rust in a corner, Kung Fu Panda choke on his chopsticks and Hancock sear his black butt on a hot grill; the most satisfying summer movie to date has to be Guillermo del Toro's flat-out beautiful Hellboy 2: The Golden Army."

Updates, 7/14: The latest addition to DK Holm's Directors Project: Guillermo del Toro.

"You may not be overwhelmed by the thinly drawn Shakespearean character dynamics or the predictably action-heavy denouement, but this movie is about the moments in between - the simple, seamless unfolding of narrative energy," writes Ted Pigeon at the House Next Door.

For Bryant Frazer, "Much of what happens here is frustratingly routine, but the high points are worth making time for."

Robert Levin, writing at cinemattraction, this is "a wholly satisfying sequel."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:23 PM

Distribution debates, 7/9.

The Nines "I've held off writing a post-mortem on The Nines, but now that everything is said and done, I should probably say and do it," announces writer-director John August. "The short version is this: the movie turned out just the way I wanted. The release of the movie was deeply disappointing." The "key lessons": "Sundance buzz is annoying and meaningless"; "Theatrical release is kinda bullshit"; "The DVD should have come out much sooner, maybe simultaneously"; "I should have paid a lot more attention to foreign"; "Without an alternative, everyone will just pirate it"; and a closing question: "Should anyone bother making an indie film?" Comments avalanche.

Updated through 7/11.

On the other hand, though, Jamie Stuart in Stream: "Theatrical alters people's perception. Theatrical makes it a real movie." Scott Macaulay comments: "[O]ne of the problems with the new day-and-date models is the lack of clearly understood metrics."

"The myth of the film and television industry being under the same burden that the record business once was is fueled by seeing everything on a macro level and not thinking for a second about the micro details," argues David Poland. "The devil is, indeed, in the details."

"How do we sustain ourselves as filmmakers and storytellers in this day of shifting film distribution systems?" DIY Days, July 26 in Los Angeles.

Meantime, the Auteurs have opened up their Garage: "Our ambition is to build a global filmmaking community."

And in somewhat related news, Ambrose Heron reports that "New York-based Palisades Media have acquired the library of Tartan Films, the former UK distributor which recently went into administration."

Update, 7/10: "Consider this Wired story more than loosely related to yesterday's back-and-forth on theatrical distribution," blogs Karina Longworth, "and maybe sort of possibly related to today's rampant speculation on Che. At the Television Critics Association conference yesterday, vertically integrated movie mogul Mark Cuban announced that he's going to start selling Magnolia's theatrical releases on HDNET's On Demand cable service - before they debut in theaters." And there's a followup entry, too, in which Peter Bogdanovich weighs in: "You know, I have a theory that one of the reasons younger people don't like older films, films made, say, before the 60s, is because they've never seen them on a big screen, ever. If you don't see a film on the big screen, you haven't really seen it. You've seen a version of it, but you haven't really seen it. That's my feeling, but I'm old-fashioned."

Update, 7/11: Danny Leigh gets a discussion going at the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 PM

Karlovy Vary Dispatch. 1.

Karlovy Vary David D'Arcy on films from China, Belgium, Germany, Russia and Poland.

Good Cats There are always some discoveries at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, although you don't expect them to come from China.

The Good Cats by Ling Yiang is a satire that takes aim at one example of Chinese economic growth, a real estate deal that seizes land from local peasants, thanks to bribed politicians. As businessmen and politicians present their project at a photo op, one of the developers says, "This is about your benefit. My profit is only secondary." Ling is savvy enough to see the humor in the very idea of a businessman sounding pious. (If only Americans were so skeptical.) And these businessmen don't sound pious for long.

The story focuses on a young man with a promising future who throws his lot in with the opportunists who are planning to sell out the locals. He delivers bribes to elected officials in bricks of cash (often the politicians turn around and demand more - it's a growth economy, after all), he drives through angry crowds of peasants intent on beating the businessmen to death, and he ditches his beautiful sensible wife for evenings with a young prostitute whom he promises to marry.

Between acts of shameless corruption that you find every day in Chinese business, a band whose singer has a voice like a howler monkey reflects in the style of a Greek chorus on the pageant of wrongdoing, appearing in the most unusual of places. As you can imagine, the juxtaposition of craven self-enrichment and moral condemnation makes for laughs. Ling Yiang doesn't hold back. The Good Cats, which takes its title from the cynical results-driven notion that a cat's color doesn't matter as long as it catches mice, is a film that even presents suicide as a joke. Believe me, you'll laugh. There's not much of an aesthetic to the film (despite the kitschy interior decoration of the nouveaux riches), which Ling Yiang seems to have shot with the cheapest camera he could find, unlike the refined muted composure of a film like Peng Tao's Little Moth. It doesn't matter. This is a comic fable about the cheapening of human relationships and everything else.

The absurdity seems less contrived against the context of US-Czech relations unfolding at this very moment. Condoleezza "Mistakes Were Made" Rice was in Prague yesterday, urging the Czech government to become part of an anti-missile (i.e., anti-Russian) radar initiative. The deal was signed. Does anybody really expect the Russians to attack Eastern Europe - the "new" Europe, as Donald Rumsfeld liked to call it? As things look now, the Czechs seemed willing to join up. Even the Poles balked at it. What's the payoff? Word is that if the Czechs didn't sign, Dick Cheney threatened to organize a hunting trip to the Czech Republic next year. And radar won't work if Cheney has a loaded shotgun in his hands after a few Pilsners. Now there's a story that calls for a satirist.

Distant Tremors

In this year's international competition at the 2008 KVIFF, Distant Tremors, directed by Manuel Poutte of Belgium, gets my vote for most unoriginal. In Senegal, a young man, Bandiougou, would like to leave for France, if he ever obtains a visa, but the whole process is delayed when what seems to be a bad spell is cast upon him, and his luck goes south. In his town is a middle-aged European physician who is overworked and misanthropic (we're asked to believe, presumably from too much time spent saving lives). His wife has just died (did he kill her?) and his gorgeous pouting daughter who, improbably, has spent all her life in Africa is also confronting a deep darkness. You wonder why she just doesn't sign a modeling contract and get on with her life. Enter an antique dealer intent on returning to Brussels with an "authentic" African fetish, and all four set out en bateau for the interior territory that is inhabited by spirits. Throw in a little Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now and Aguirre: Wrath of God, and you get the picture. First the Europeans are arrogant unbelievers, then they get scared and sick in the labyrinthine mangroves, and then they go crazy. We could have told you so.

Dr Aleman Equally predictable is Dr Aleman [site], directed by Tom Schreiber, also in this year's main competition at KVIFF, a German film about a well-menacing surgical resident in Cali, Colombia. Handsome Marc, played by Viggo Mortensen look-alike August Diehl, is boarded with an evangelized family (with a libidinous daughter) and he heads right for the rough barrio of Siloe. The young man who cuts up bodies of gunshot victims alongside life-hardened doctors in the hospital is besieged by local girls, and there's almost as much cocaine-fueled sex as there is violence in this "How I Spent My Internship" tale of Marc's loss of innocence in a place where life is cheap and gangs don't need much of a reason to murder an entire family. Marc gets caught up in a gang war and the bodies pile up, until he finally exacts revenge. Make no mistake - revenge is valued highly in Colombia. President Uribe now has around a 90 percent approval rating after soldiers took back hostages from the FARC rebels in a brazen maneuver last week [and, of course, the movie's on the way - ed]. Despite blood and body parts strewn all over the streets and hospital floors, Dr Aleman will struggle to find approval, even among Germans. The film has little chance of a release in the US.

For sheer tactility at KVIFF, it's hard to beat the in-your-face impact of The Hollow, from Russia, which seems determined to bolster the argument that rural life, as some famous Russian writer (Turgenev?) put it, is throbbingly dull, and much worse. The problem is that Marina Razbezhkina's film begins and ends there, with peasants tearing each other apart and saving their fiercest abuses for fair-eyed Karev (Mikhail Evlanov), who has had some education - maybe it was that same Russian writer who said that a little knowledge is a bad thing. Let's just add that a little of this film adapted from a story of the same name by Sergey Yesenin, goes a long way, unless beating people with dull objects in the Russian mud is your thing.

That view of Russia is one frequently found among Poles, who have found themselves at the wrong end of the Russian stick more frequently in their history than they would like to recall. The subject of Andzej Wajda's epic Katyn [site], which has included KVIFF on its marathon festival run, is the Katyn massacre of 1940, in which Soviet troops on Kremlin orders slaughtered some 22,000 Polish officers taken prisoner in the Soviet invasion of 1939 that divided Poland as part of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. When the Nazis found the shallow graves in 1943 and brought it to the attention of the world press, the Soviets claimed to have had nothing to do with the killings. In the 1970s, a Soviet film based on a book by a Byelorussian writer made the argument that the Katyn massacre was really the Nazi destruction of a Byelorussian village.

Katyn

Although I'm one of the critics who believes that Katyn is distinguished only by the blandness of its script, given the subject, and the wooden solemnity of its storytelling, I congratulate the KVIFF for taking the fillm to the belly of the beast, as it were, since Karlovy Vary can give you the feeling that it is sovereign Russian territory.

Russians here ignored it, I'm told, much as they would in Moscow if it were to ever open there. Although many in the press corps here believe that Katyn was banned in Russia, basing that conclusion on their need for backstory drama and on the fact that a screening of the film on March 5, (the anniversary of Stalin's 1940 execution order and of his death in 1953), was cancelled, the film simply has no Russian distribution. It was not officially prohibited from opening theatrically, as was the case in Russia with Borat. I credit my friend and colleague Nick Holdsworth from Variety for that clarification. Further clarification came when I was told that the real risk of showing Katyn in Russia would be the economic risk of seeing cinemas go empty after a distributor paid dearly for the rights to show the high-priced epic, not any political risk of reopening interest in a mass murder that the Soviet government would not acknowledge. To date, Katyn has not been sold to any foreign territory. For a more positive view of the film than mine (which ran here during the Berlinale), see the recent promotional article on "a film that matters" in the New York Review of Books. (In the interest of full disclosure, the NYRB should have told its readers that the author of that piece, Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post, is married to the current Foreign Minister of Poland.)

Posted by dwhudson at 6:55 AM

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

The Soul of Youth "One of the least-known titles in the 13th San Francisco Silent Film Festival, The Soul of Youth is a small delight that hews to and transcends the reigning tropes of screen ragamuffinery circa 1920," writes Dennis Harvey. Also in the Bay Guardian, Erik Morse on Paul Leni's "macabre mutilation drama," The Man Who Laughs.

Updated through 7/14.

Brian Darr has been researching Teinosuke Kinugasa's Jujiro, "a samurai film without swords," and will be presenting his findings over the next several days.

Michael Guillén has a good long talk with artistic director Stephen Salmons (parts 1 and 2) while, also at the Evening Class, Michael Hawley previews the festival running Friday through Sunday. More from Anne M Hockens at the Siffblog.

Update: "Produced in what collectively became the greatest year of the silent era, Harold Lloyd considered The Kid Brother (1927) to be lacking sufficient action and humor," writes David Jeffers at the Siffblog. "In reality, his tenth of eleven silent features was the synthesis of all his acquired talents."

Updates, 7/10: "I've attended each SFSFF since its start in 1996, and can always feel the sincere passion for these classic films exhibited by everyone involved. The perfect marriage of form and content, the Festival makes sure to get the best 35mm prints of films both famous and bizarre, as well as world-class musicians to accompany all the films, which are shown in a bona fide film palace built in 1922." An overview of this year's edition from Mary B Scott at SF360.

At the Siffblog: David Jeffers on The Man Who Laughs and The Unknown.

Brian Darr has more on Jujiro.

Update, 7/12: At the Siffblog: David Jeffers on Her Wild Oat and The Patsy.

And Brian Darr delves deeper into Jujiro, with entries on Teinosuke Kinugasa and the Benshi.

Updates, 7/14: Michael Guillén has Guy Maddin's introductory remarks to his own untranslation" of the French intertitles in Tod Browning's The Unknown.

Shahn on The Kid Brother: "I have to admit here that Harold Lloyd was my very first crush."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:04 AM

July 8, 2008

DVDs, 7/8.

Sunflower A "subgenre has emerged" in recent Chinese cinema, notes Michael Atkinson (IFC): "the traditional family saga/bildungsfilm-as-haunted-by-the-Cultural-Revolution film, à la Zhang Yimou's To Live, Gu Changwei's Peacock, Xiao Jiang's Electric Shadows, etc. Zhang Yang's Sunflower (2005) is a paradigmatic example, with its 30-year span, its timeless father-son battle of wills, and its intersections between family life and the dragon-writhe of Chinese history as it tried to poison the peoples' lives for decades and did not quite succeed.... Sunflower isn't particularly daring or inventive, but it takes a slice from a universal pie, and I'm glad I saw it." Also reviewed is Ettore Giannini's Carosello Napoletano, "a kind of Neapolitan answer to An American in Paris and The Red Shoes" and "an expressionist, ambitious scramble of commedia dell'arte, opera and interpretive ballet."

This week, Dave Kehr pretty much even divides his DVD column for the New York Times between three releases from, seemingly, three different worlds: Thorold Dickinson's Hill 24 Doesn't Answer,"[a]mong the first features produced in the State of Israel," The Stan Laurel Collection, Volume 2, showcasing the early work before the comedian became "the Stanley we know and love," and Chris Marker's Remembrance of Things to Come, which also features, as an extra, Yannick Bellon's Colette: "Toward the end the poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau drops by for a late-night visit, and the banter between the two, though possibly scripted, conjures up an entire century of French life and literature."

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten With Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten out today, PopMatters revisits its special feature, "Joe Strummer, 1952 - 2002."

Gary Giddins in the New York Sun: "The idea that Trafic is critically regarded as minor Tati is so widespread that even the insightful essay by Jonathan Romney accompanying the [Criterion release] retails its presumed failings: 'a hovering tone of despair,' the absence of 'a clearly defined goal,' 'humor drawn out or diffuse to the point of near abstraction' - '[Tati] himself saw it as a step back after the accomplished vision of Playtime.' Putting aside the probability that anything would have been anticlimactic after Playtime, the outsized 1967 comic marathon that bankrupted Tati and garnered little of the adulation heaped upon his three earlier films (1949's Jour de fête, 1953's Mr Hulot's Holiday and 1958's Mon Oncle), this is an example of critics paying more attention to what the director said than to what he put on the screen."

Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail on The Free Will: "This is European cinema at its most intellectually stimulating and emotionally depleting, which ventures into territory even the most demanding American indie would never dare go. But that's what makes it such an exciting addition to the Benten Films catalogue, as well as a must-see for aspiring filmmakers and viewers in this country (or anywhere, for that matter). [Matthias] Glasner and co-writer/star Jürgen Vogel have chosen this excruciating subject matter not to shock-and-stun their audience, but to bravely examine the human condition at its most knotty and conflicted."

The Furies "The Furies is one odd duck of a movie," writes Vince Keenan. "It's a western that takes place largely indoors. It has little action, but several startling acts of violence. It's the sort of film praised for its 'complex characterizations,' which is a critic's way of saying that people exhibit wildly contradictory behaviors that get a pass because they're entertaining. But The Furies is also my favorite type of movie, the kind in which shit keeps happening." Related online listening: Nina Mann discusses her father's film on the Leonard Lopate Show. And Criterion producer Curtis Tsui recalls what surprised him about meeting Nina Mann - and posts a clip of an interview.

"Director Anthony Mann's 1947 breakout film T-Men duped me, but that's what he had in mind," writes Tim at Noir of the Week. "Deception is the theme that resonates throughout the story of Mann's film and he cleverly delivers that premise of duplicity right into the lap of the audience."

"I Walked with a Zombie is a horror film for grownups, which presents a complex picture of human relations and offers multiple explanations for events portrayed without definitively endorsing any of them," writes Sarah Boslaugh at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Frequently it is not even clear whether something is real or imaginary, or whose version of events should be accepted. Even the film's conclusion, although satisfying, leaves room for interpretation about what really happened and why."

Batman: Gotham Knight "[I]t is in animated form that the Batman mythos has become legendary." At the House Next Door, John Lichman takes a good hard look at Batman: Gotham Knight.

At Cinematical, Monika Bartyzel talks with Kimberly Peirce about Stop-Loss and reviews Flakes.

Glenn Kenny's Monday Morning Foreign-Region DVD Report: Make Way for Tomorrow, "one of the most underseen classics of golden age American cinema, a movie that is as unusual today as it was on its 1937 debut, arguably the most perfect jewel in the auteur crown of the great Leo McCarey."

DVD roundups. Sean Axmaker, Monika Bartyzel (Cinematical) and Peter Martin (Cinematical).

And, as always, follow the Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:31 PM

Interview. Silvio Soldini.

Days and Clouds "A perceptively written, finely-played exploration of a fundamentally good marriage during an unanticipated bad patch, Silvio Soldini's Days and Clouds is an absorbing, deliberate drama about choices and commitment," wrote Eddie Cockrell in Variety from last September's Toronto International Film Festival.

"Where so many films about domestic stress descend into staginess and flat-out caricature, Days and Clouds presents us with recognizably flawed people, who happen to be flawlessly inhabited by stars Margherita Buy (a vision of fraying elegance) and Antonio Albanese (a portrait of dignity in reverse)," wrote Adam Nayman in Eye Weekly.

Days and Clouds opens in New York on Friday, and James Van Maanen nabbed a quick talk with Soldini during this year's Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series.

Updated through 7/11.

Update, 7/9: "Falling down a social class and abandoning your entire lifestyle sucks; still, this particular freelancer has trouble working up too much sympathy for a couple selling a Genoa loft and moving into a solid if blockish apartment," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. "The search for a better recent movie about unemployment and self-effacement than Laurent Cantet's 2001 Time Out continues."

Similarly, Henry Stewart in the L Magazine: "Forced to sell their house, they suffer the injury of moving into a modest apartment. It looks a lot nicer than mine."

At indieWIRE, Kristi Mitsuda finds the ending "smacks falsely when rubbed up against the tough times Days and Clouds sometimes seriously portrays."

Update, 7/10: In Michele's (Antonio Albanese) withholding of information from Elsa (Margherita Buy), Simon Abrams, writing in the New York Press finds an "emotional dishonesty... indicative of the worst trend in the new wave of Italian neo-realism, where economic recession and familial malaise is reduced to cheap soap operatics with an allegorical twist. They transform serious socially relevant problems into trite domestic fairy tales. As a result, loaded scenarios are confused for sincere social probing and a protracted non-resolution is substituted for a real answer."

Updates, 7/11: "[T]his film - unlike its forerunner [Bread and Tulips], which was set in Venice - is unblinkingly realistic," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Genoa, with its narrow streets and quiet harbor, has none of the hallmarks of a glamorous international destination."

"Soldini's main interest is in the politics of marriage," writes Sam Adams at the AV Club. "Buy and Albanese try to support each other, but the fear of financial ruin sets them at each other's throats as often as not. The movie doesn't judge their actions, or excuse them. It just allows the details of their relationship to accumulate until they feel less like characters, and more like people you've known for years."

More from Martin Tsai in the New York Sun.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:01 PM | Comments (1)

Mad Men.

Mad Men "The televised Nixon-Kennedy debates are generally acknowledged as the moment when image overtook content and began supplanting it; for the hard-drinking, impeccably tailored men and women who populate the randy, smoke-filled offices of Sterling Cooper, the self is a performance, adjusted according to the demands of The Room." Jessica Winter at Moving Image Source on Mad Men.

More from Michael Beirut in Design Observer: "It gets so many things right about its subject, the advertising business, but it absolutely nails one thing: the art behind the art of the pitch."

Michael Z Newman collects more - much more - Mad Men madness.

Online listening tip. David Bianculli on NPR.

Update, 7/12: For the New York Times, Alex Williams bops around Manhattan with the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, and a few cast members.

Update, 7/13: "I Was A Mad Man." William Drenttel has stories to tell at Design Observer. Read them.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:46 AM | Comments (2)

Bruce Conner, 1933 - 2008.

Bruce Conner
Bruce Conner, a San Francisco–based artist known for his assemblages, films, drawings, and interdisciplinary works, passed away Monday afternoon.... His gauzy assemblages of scraps salvaged from abandoned buildings, nylon stockings, doll parts, and other found materials gained him art-world attention, as did A Movie (1958), an avant-garde film that juxtaposed footage from B movies, newsreels, soft-core pornography, and other fragments, all set to a musical score. (In 1991, A Movie was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.)

Artforum.

The entry to go to right now is Ray Pride's. He's collected text and trivia, video and links to more.

Updated through 7/12.

Update: Quotes and thoughts from Mubarak Ali and Brian Darr; and Ray Pride rounds up more linkage.

Update, 7/9: Bruce Conner: Mabuhay Gardens, an exhibition of photographs at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, is on view through August 3. Curator Steve Seid remembers Conner at SF360.

Updates, 7/12: "Bruce Conner's ecstatic films - fabricated from bits of old documentaries and educational reels, from mass-cultural snips and snails and recycled movie tales - were at once salvage projects and assertions of individuality in an increasingly anonymous age," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "In their modest way (modesty, in this case, being less a virtue than a worldview), they were acts of resistance, an aesthetic rejoinder to a world drowning in its own image. Just as important, they are generally a blast - witty, exuberant, despairing, engaged, apocalyptic."

Conner "saw his legacy celebrated in a 2000 touring show, puckishly titled 2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II," notes Ed Halter at Rhizome. "So the next time you get psyched over the latest online video concoction by Oliver Laric or John Michael Boling, take a moment and think of Conner, who might someday be considered one of the great forefathers of 21st century art."

"A Movie (1958), drew its substance from a variety of sources: stock footage, educational films, newsreels," writes Tom Sutpen at Bright Lights After Dark. "Like the assemblages, there was little of significance in each individual snippet, but when joined together the effect was mordant... a term that could be spread evenly across virtually the entire spectrum of American avant-garde filmmaking of that time... and more than a little grim (1961's Cosmic Ray utilized roughly the same technique, but to a more frenzied effect).... But while the earlier works could, as I say, be darkly humorous, 1967's Report is simply dark."

SF360 gathers thoughts from filmmakers Craig Baldwin and Lynne Sachs, curator/CalArts dean Steve Anker and New York curator/archivist Mark McElhatten.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:38 AM

July 7, 2008

Shorts, 7/7.

Cahiers: Waltz with Bashir "This was the paradox of Israeli cinema: Jews had achieved so much in film industries elsewhere in the world, yet took so long to do much of anything within their own state. That the wait is now over seems unquestionable." So, in Nextbook, Stuart Klawans addresses a few questions: "Why was Israeli film so slow to develop? And what conditions had to be satisfied before it could flourish?"

"For this, our first column about where queer cinema's at, and possibly where it's headed, we could think of no better place to start than the films selected for this month's slate of LGBT festivals (from San Francisco's recent Frameline and last month's NewFest in New York to Los Angeles's upcoming Outfest)." Michael Koresky and Chris Wisniewski open indieWIRE's "Queer Cinema Notebook."

Each of the shorts by Apichatpong Weerasethakul that Brian Darr has seen has "brought up rhymes, resonances, and questions from at least one of the feature-length works I've seen from Apichatpong's filmography."

"We admire Naruse for his realism - both psychological and social - and for his pessimism, pushing farther than Ozu's melancholy or Mizoguchi's tragedy, about human relationships in a world driven by money. Yet perhaps Naruse's often elaborate stories are more than anything excuses to explore the breadth of variety and humanism, not to mention inhumanity, in the expressions of actors in front of the camera." Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on Untamed.

Paddy Johnson finds The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not For Sale, premiering tonight on HBO, to be "a series of excruciating episodes composing an inconsequential look at an artist whose time has come and gone."

In another fine roundup, Girish includes a bit from Adrian Martin's column on the death and occasional afterlife of film magazines.

"A new wave of British horror directors and writers are reanimating the genre, washing away the blood and the ham acting to produce complex psychological chillers," reports Andrew Johnson in the Independent. "At least 15 horror movies are in production in Britain and due to be released later this year. Such is the boom that the annual Film4 Frightfest festival in London's West End next month features an unprecedented number of British films, making up a quarter of the showcased movies."

Ben Slater collects reviews - raves, mostly - for Helen following its premiere in Edinburgh.

The Gits Movie "[Mia] Zapata's stage presence was remarkable," writes Sam Adams, introducing his interview with Kerri O'Kane, director of The Gits Movie ((currently held over at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum). "Wearing a tank top and with her dreadlocks pulled back in a rough ponytail, Zapata seems lost in a trance until she snaps into focus and unleashes a full-throated wail that is equal parts Patti Smith and Janis Joplin. Despite the power of her voice, her lyrics are fraught with vulnerability, a tension that gives the Gits' songs their edge."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Susan King, briefly, with Ellen Burstyn.

"[I]t's time once again to gather up in digest form my favorite answers from the most recent quiz, Professor Brian O'Blivion's All-New Flesh for Memorial Day Movie (and TV) Quiz." Dennis Cozzalio rounds up the fun stuff.

In the New York Times, a travel tip from Adam Begley: "I believe that if you love the novel (or the movie), you should start planning your trip right away, not because you'll find Lampedusa's Sicily waiting for you when you touch down (you won't, believe me), but because the bitter, resigned romantic nostalgia that pervades The Leopard is also the sensibility that savors the decaying grandeur of an island burdened with layer upon layer of tragic history — and blessed also with startling beauty, much of it perpetually waning."

At Slate, Troy Patterson finds TCM's Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence "warm, insightful, and only about 30 percent too snazzy for its own good." On a related note, James Wolcott tells the tale of a show you will not be seeing on TCM.

Observer Magazine: Julianne Moore Chrissy Iley talks with Julianne Moore for the Observer Magazine.

For the Scotsman, Siobhan Synnot talks with Gurinder Chadha about her new film, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. Via Movie City News.

For Filmmaker, Shari Roman talks with Patricia Rozema about Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.

The Edge of Heaven is about to open in the San Francisco Bay Area, so Robert Avila's called up Fatih Akin for SF360.

Cinema Strikes Back interviews Lee Myung-se.

2008 so far...

  • Nathaniel R highlights five favorite performances in six categories from the 50 movies he's seen so far this year.

  • Despite the name, the folks at the Playlist "kind of hate lists." Even so, they've gone and listed the "Best Films of the Year... So Far."

  • Scott Weinberg takes the month-by-month approach at Cinematical, listing the best and the worst.

  • More at Screengrab: Paul Clark and Andrew Osbourne.

The Guardian introduces a Bollywood blogger: Nirpal Dhaliwal.

Rear Window The AV Club lists "13 memorable films set during heat waves."

Online listening tip #1. Hitchcock and Truffaut discuss Rear Window at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...

Online listening tip #2. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore ask, "Is the Sky Really Falling on Independent Film?"

Online viewing tip #1. The trailer, probably NSFW, for Ozploitation doc Not Quite Hollywood, via Matt Riviera.

Online viewing tip #2. Cartoon Brew has video of Disney animators (including Tim Burton) and producers facing off at the volleyball net in 1980. Thanks, Jerry!

Online viewing tip #3. The BBC's Tom Brooks talks with Quentin Tarantino about Inglorious Bastards. Via the SXSW News Reel.

Online viewing tips, round 1. "In 2003, there was an exceptional touring program of short films that made its way across North American theaters," writes Listener Jim, introducing a collection at WFMU. "How To Be Eccentric: The Films of Richard Massingham was a program of short films made between the 1930s and the 1950s by Richard Massingham, a man who trained for a medical career but ended up making a better name for himself from his part-time hobby of amateur filmmaking." Via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tips, round 2. "The Art of the Tracking Shot," a compilation at Laboratory 101, via Andrew Sullivan.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:06 PM

Fests and events, 7/7.

Socrates Outdoor Cinema "On Wednesday, Long Island City's Socrates Sculpture Park will kick off the 10th year of its Outdoor Cinema summer series, a two-month multimedia event presented in conjunction with the Museum of the Moving Image that has become a weekly tradition for many in Queens, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Manhattan's Upper East Side," notes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "Dubbed a Festival of International Film, Music, Dance and Food, the Socrates spectacle, which offers free admission, combines the programming of an outdoor film festival with a weekly catered picnic and outdoor concert. Every Wednesday through August 20, organizers will select a particular cultural heritage to celebrate, then set about planning food, music, and films to match."

At the Circuit, Penny Colston files a dispatch from the Midnight Sun Film Festival, founded by Aki and Mika Kaurismäki in 1986, where films screen 24 hours a day.

Also, Steven Gaydos: "Seven Meditations Upon Encountering Nicolas Roeg in Karlovy Vary... or Why I Still Like Film Festivals."

Speaking of Karlovy Vary, Cineuropa interviews ten directors with films there.

Seattle Bike-In

Poster by Marianne Goldin.

The Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival has drawn to a close and Blake Ethridge has the list of award-winners at Twitch.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:28 PM

Full Battle Rattle.

Full Battle Rattle "Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss have assembled one of the most complete pictures yet to emerge of how an Iraqi town fragments into civil war, given the well-meaning but clumsy nudges of its American occupiers," writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. "It is a work of direct cinema, which like all such documentaries demands to be valued for the intense labor that went into it: the weeks of filming, the months of editing. Paradoxically, though, Full Battle Rattle may also be the most conveniently made of all records of US military failure in Iraq - because everything you see in it happened in just three weeks, about forty miles outside Barstow, California."

Updated through 7/11.

"The film is freaky, amusing, and sickening in equal measures - part fly-on-the-wall vérité, part multiple-perspective Altmanesque tragicomedy," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Soldiers writhe on the ground choking in their blood, and then Americans and Iraqis pick themselves up and stand in line at ice-cream trucks; it's like Disney World with the fireworks aimed lower."

"The training village is like one of those living museums that recreate colonial times (which says something prophetic about the real Iraq, no?), or, as one soldier puts it, like a 'big expensive laser tag' game, but it seems more complex, like a very serious and well-managed game of Dungeons & Dragons," suggests Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "On a second level, of course, the film is appreciable for what it says about the US military's involvement in Iraq. Contrasted with the rigorous psychological military training exposed in The Ground Truth, Patricia Foulkrod's excellent 2006 documentary about Iraq War vets, the exercises shown in Full Battle Rattle appear to be more fair, considerate and beneficial."

For Nick Schager, writing in Slant, "it's hard to see what concrete effect the simulation's contrived plots and characters (all crafted with attention to Hollywood-ish staging, storytelling and acting) have on actual battlefield performance. Moreover, it's tough to figure out what profound influence it even has on individuals, as Gerber and Moss's mini-portraits... are so hasty that any insight into role-playing as combat training exercise or attempt at educational cross-cultural dialogue goes by the wayside."

Update: "[D]espite its dark and often hilarious humor, Full Battle Rattle never loses sight of the fact that its subject is ultimately deadly serious, that every fake death in the simulation could be a real death on the battlefield, that the fake Iraq where the refugee role players spend their time is now more of a home to them than their own country." For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Gerber and Moss "about occupying this strange alternate reality, the war films that inspired them, and making films with dead people."

Update, 7/8: "With the release of Full Battle Rattle, the Iraq war documentary has entered its postmodern phase," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun, and "the resulting film, too hands-off in some respects and too constricted by its style, is oddly unsatisfying."

Updates, 7/9: "Let's keep this terse," begins Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "I talked with three other colleagues about Full Battle Rattle, and we all came to the same conclusion. To wit: it's yet another documentary where filmmakers are fearless about getting great footage but clueless about the form it should take."

"Like many of its predecessors, Full Battle Rattle takes no overt side in any arguments about the cause and course of the war," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Instead the film emphasizes the strangeness and complexity of the conflict, and also the endlessness that seems to be its most salient feature."

"The show ends with the American actors being sent to Iraq as the Iraqi performers prepare to entertain their next batch of recruits," notes J Hoberman in the Voice.' "The filmmakers alternate a few stories: American families are separated; Iraqi families are reunited in America.... One of the many surreal aspects of this fabulously disorienting movie: its representation of an Iraqi heaven that's an American hell."

"On one level, Full Battle Rattle captures one of the most peculiar (if conceivably most sensible) elements of the massive US war machine," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "On another, it simply illustrates that the distinction between reality and fiction - and the question of which one emulates the other - is never entirely clear."

Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine: "War is hell is theater seems to be the thesis, but then if you've been paying attention for the last eight years, you already knew that."

"Shorn of insight and any informative examination of what is, without argument, one of the stranger places on the planet, Full Battle Rattle remains little more than a curiosity," writes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com; "its lack of the most basic context or reportorial curiosity keeping it a feature-length C-grade History Channel selection at best."

Aaron Hillis talks with Gerber and Moss for IFC.

Update, 7/10: "The cameras never take us to the real Iraq; we only go as far as the runway before a closing note reveals the fate of the group," notes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Consequently, the movie fails to become a document of our time and settles for the dopey synthetic version instead."

Updates, 7/11: "Full Battle Rattle might be the first Iraq War documentary that liberals and conservatives could appreciate equally," suggests Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "The former can see an allegory for the war's absurdities in Medina Wasl, while the latter would be excited to see a group of cheerful Iraqis happy to collaborate with the US military and become American citizens themselves. While the filmmakers state that 'we both have strong and similar feelings about the war' in their press kit, they neglect to get very explicit about just what those feelings are - and that's problematic."

More from Noel Murray at the AV Club.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:53 AM

The Dark Knight, round 1.

The Dark Knight "Having memorably explored the Caped Crusader's origins in Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan puts all of Gotham City under a microscope in The Dark Knight, the enthralling second installment of his bold, bracing and altogether heroic reinvention of the iconic franchise," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "An ambitious, full-bodied crime epic of gratifying scope and moral complexity, this is seriously brainy pop entertainment that satisfies every expectation raised by its hit predecessor and then some."

"The Dark Knight is pure adrenaline," announces the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. Nolan "puts the Caped Crusader through a decathlon of explosions, vehicle flips, hand-to-hand combat, midair rescues and pulse-pounding suspense.... Not that the story with its double crosses and ingenious plans isn't clear, but to enjoy the full glory of these urban battlefield strategies, multiple viewings are required."

Updated through 7/12.

"In many ways, this movie functions as a western," notes Variety's Anne Thompson, "with an honorable sheriff (Gary Oldman's lovable police detective Gordon), a nasty outlaw (Heath Ledger's extraordinary, anarchistic Joker), a lone gunman hero operating outside the law (Christian Bale's Batman) with loyal veteran sidekick (Michael Caine as Alfred), and the lovely lass that the outsider cannot have (Rachel Dawes, the delightful and wily Maggie Gyllenhaal). And then - here's where the movie starts to go off the tracks - we have Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent, the too-virtuous-to-be-true DA who is in love with Gyllenhaal, thus forming a love triangle, as well as another Batman accomplice, inventor Lucius Fox (read James Bond's Q), played by the over-exposed Morgan Freeman. Then add a bunch of mafia guys led by deliciously wicked Eric Roberts.... After twists and turns aplenty, some more satisfying than others, the movie comes to a gratifying conclusion (setting up the next sequel)." A Q&A with Nolan on "the challenge of topping Batman Begins" follows.

Geoff Boucher has a long profile of Nolan for the Los Angeles Times.

Gill Pringle talks with Bale for the Independent.

Update, 7/8: "It's very solid, occasionally reaching the point of being fantastically gripping, but I don't see the masterpiece that all the viral brainwashing has lead everyone to expect," blogs Eric Kohn. "Trust me, though: See it in IMAX."

Updates, 7/9: "What Nolan is clearly reaching for is a Godfather-esque effort," writes David Poland. "You can feel all the corrections of his first film... all the improvements by spending more freely... all the 'stuff we would have done differently.' And almost all of them are, indeed, improvements."

On July 18, screenings will go on all night long in some cities, reports Michael Cieply in the New York Times.

Updates, 7/10: "It's been one of the best summers in memory for flat-out blockbuster entertainment, and in the wow category, the Nolan film doesn't disappoint," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "But Nolan has a more subversive agenda. He wants viewers to stick their hands down the rat hole of evil and see if they get bitten. With little humor to break the tension, The Dark Knight is beyond dark. It's as black - and teeming and toxic - as the mind of the Joker. Batman Begins, the 2005 film that launched Nolan's series, was a mere five-finger exercise. This is the full symphony."

The Visitor at Twitch: "Here's the truth: The Dark Knight belongs to Heath Ledger.... Ledger truly lives the character on screen, from that strange gait to the ticks and quirks, smacking his lips after every sentence. His Joker is at once funny, amusing, repulsive and terrifying, a true favourite son of Arkham Asylum. It's really a brilliant, ingenious take on the character and a great final performance by the late actor."

Updates, 7/11: John Hiscock talks with Nolan and Bale about Ledger for the Telegraph.

"Could Darren Aronofsky's Batman have eclipsed Christopher Nolan's?" asks Alex Larman at the Guardian.

Update, 7/12: In the New York Times, Pam Belluck reports on Senator Patrick Leahy's cameo. And via Movie City News, the clip.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:50 AM | Comments (1)

ArtFilm Dispatch.

David D'Arcy, from both halves of what was once Czechoslovakia.

ArtFilm I'm just finished with serving on the jury at the ArtFilm festival in Trenčianske Teplice in Slovakia, where our jury gave the Blue Angel prize to Summer Book by the Turkish director Seyfi Teoman. You could call the film a coming of age story, a description that sells short almost anything it's applied to. Teoman's film is also the story of a boy learning of his father's death, in messages that are both tragic and trivial. He has an eye for the exquisite shot, as in the opening sequence of uniformed children swarming across a groups of rocks. Teoman also has a feel for what is precious in the most ordinary of surroundings.

Summer Book made its mark at other festivals before ArtFilm, but one of the other discoveries for me at the festival was Blind Loves [site], the new documentary by the Slovak filmmaker Juraj Lehotsky. Blindness has been anything but invisible on the screen recently, not least with the film Blindness, premiering at the Cannes Film Festival. Lehotsky's meditative look at four blind subjects was also at Cannes, in the Directors' Fortnight. It's been the subject of a positive whispering campaign ever since, most recently in Karlovy Vary, where it screened last night.

Blind Loves This film could just as easily be called Un Certain Regard. Part of what Lehotsky seems to be doing is to test the notion that the blind, to the rest of us, are sort of like the rich. As the saying goes, they're just like us, except they have more money. So are the blind just like us, except that they can't see? Not really, according to Blind Loves. We're first introduced to a stable relationship between Peter, a music teacher with perfect pitch, who can run along the sidewalk and down a steep flight of stairs and his chubby wife. Peter is a dedicated teacher, but he is also committed to a serious fantasy life, wherein he imagines himself underwater as a deep sea explorer. Are his dreams visual? They are in this film, complete with the participation of Peter, who walks from a beach into the water - with a white cane - until he is completely submerged. Lehotsky animates the dreams with all sorts of marine life. What Peter "sees" in his own head is another issue.

In another story, we learn that love is not necessarily color-blind. Miro, a Roma man - there are hundreds of thousands of Roma (gypsies) in Slovakia - falls head over heels for a partially-sighted white girl, Monika. Her parents are not pleased with their daughter's choice, and concerns rise when she gets pregnant. Here, once again, Lehotsky is challenging our preconceptions of the blind. One tender scene explores how those with little or no sight "see" skin color. Monika tells him affectionately that he is getting as dark as a "briquette," while she is as white as flour. Soon we learn that culture, rather than color, makes the difference.

In another of Lehotsky's stories, Elena is expecting a baby and wondering how she will communicate with a child who can see. Is there a culture of the blind that she fears losing if her child can see? Elena even imagines how she would teach her child, if blind, the most basic of tasks, and give the child the head-start that Elena never had. Could having sight be a misfortune, for mother or child? I won't give the end away. 

We also meet Zuzana, a teenager who puts on her own makeup and who chats on the Internet with a boy like any other teenager. And when she talks to her friends about him, what does she talk about? His looks.

Lehotsky and his team, which includes producer Marko Skop, spent five years on Blind Loves. The film doesn't coddle or pity its subjects, nor does it mock them, despite plenty of opportunities for unintentional humor. The filmmakers' next project is a satrical doc about a depressed town in the corner where the borders of Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia meet. Politicians there decide to save the place by appealing to the European Community. Sounds like a new take on The Mouse That Roared.

Little Moth Little Moth, from China, was another revelation, and not just because it cost all of $20,000 to make. Its heartbreakingly poignant story, performed deadpan by a non-professional cast, was adapted by the director from a novel by Tianguang Bai. It's not a vision of China that the Beijing government is likely to want foreigners to see just before the Olympics.  Yet it couldn't be more realistic, or more convincingly filmed.

The film's title comes from Xiao'e, the name of an expressionless girl of 11 (played by Huihui Zhao) who can't walk. She is bought through a petty hustler who knows her drunken father by Luo and Guiha, a couple who beg on the street. The professional pandhandlers figure that adding a sick "daughter" to their team, on the curb with her "mother," will add to the take. A doctor tells the "parents" that the girl has a serious disease and is in dire need of treatment. They claim not to have money, so he gives them some herbal medicine and a prescription that can be filled if they ever want to pay for it.

Soon money complicates things. Yes, even panhandlers can run short of cash, or fear that they might. Luo is so cheap that he won't allow Guiha to prepare the girl's medicine, but Guiha's motherly instincts win out. Local thugs then demand their cut from the street begging, and another con-man, Yang, who has a one-armed boy of 13 begging for him, joins the picture. Eventually Xiao'e and the young boy who befriends her flee - see the film to find out how - and they find that life on the streets for sick and disabled children is as grim as it looks. "Child beggars get restless when they reach the age of 13," Yang explains knowingly, as he heads to an orphanage to find a new boy.

Little Moth Little Moth, shot in dusty grey street locations that are typical of the outskirts of any Chinese city these days, has an austerity which fits the story, but never seems to be cutting corners to save money. The tale has a deliberate rhythm, and cinematography by Yi Huang tracks the young girl's journey with a remarkable subtlety. Peng Tao's script is not an indictment of his government for letting such a girl fall into slavery - officials are absent from this film - yet his spare storytelling ensures that you understand why she is where she is. I won't give away the ending, except to note that the sick young girl eventually becomes too expensive for anyone to care for her.

There is something of a neo-realist look to Little Moth, thanks in part to the polluted atmosphere of its locations that mutes its colors into a monochrome. As in the neo-realist dramas, we know why these people are poor, so Peng Tao has no reason to be didactic. Think of the poverty of Naples in the late 1940s, but without the spectacle and the outbursts of emotion. The fatalism here, internalized by every character on the screen, hums along like a small efficient engine.

Director Peng Tao was in Trenčianske Teplice with his producer, Wenwen Zeng, a former corporate lawyer who is now his collaborator. The producer pointed out that, even though the actors in the principle roles were non-professionals, the doctors on screen lamenting the severity of Xiao'e's untreated illness were real doctors, who seemed to have seen it all before. "They know their profession," she said.

More on some other ArtFilm selections, and a lot more from Karlovy Vary as the week progresses.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:30 AM

July 6, 2008

The Exiles.

The Exiles "The Exiles, a film about American Indians living on the edge of downtown Los Angeles in the 1950s, is both a chronicle and a casualty of neglect: a movie about a forsaken community that itself became a lost object," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. "Directed by Kent Mackenzie, a first-time filmmaker who had just graduated from the University of Southern California, it is a poetic and empathetic hybrid of fiction and documentary.... [Cinematographer John] Morrill said The Exiles was an attempt to return documentary to the tradition of Robert Flaherty, whose films incorporated staged elements, and Humphrey Jennings, whose dramatized documentary about the London blitz, Fires Were Started, was a major influence. 'We never thought documentaries had to be newsreels, and we didn't have any compunction about using narrative techniques,' Mr Morrill said."

Updated through 7/12.

Saul Austerlitz in the Los Angeles Times:

Lounging at downtown bars such as the Ritz and the Columbine, Mackenzie got to know the people who would ultimately appear as actors in The Exiles, which opens Aug 15 at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater, re-creating moments that Mackenzie had observed during his months with them. The director then recruited passionate fellow students from USC such as Morrill to assist in their deeply unusual film. "Horrified that we might learn to make films the way everyone else seemed to be making them," Mackenzie wrote in a thesis he submitted to USC about the film, "almost in desperation we started on The Exiles.

[...]

For its rebirth, The Exiles has two die-hard cinéastes to thank: Thom Andersen and Dennis Doros. Andersen, who had seen the film at a UCLA screening in the 1960s, first dragged the picture out of the darkness in which it had languished by highlighting The Exiles in his own 2003 documentary, Los Angeles Plays Itself, as one of the greatest realist films ever made about the city and an antidote to the endless procession of misguided, simplistic LA movies.... Andersen's seal of approval provided the impetus for Doros and his film distribution company, Milestone, which last year rereleased Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, to look into bringing the film to the public with some restoration help from the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

At the IFC Center for a week starting this Friday.

Updates, 7/9: "For the length of Kent Mackenzie's 1961 feature, the past is not distant: It's vital, concrete, immediate—a record of vanished sites and vanquished dreams suspended in an eternally looped present," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "[T]his 50-year-old film about a Los Angeles neighborhood on the skids and its barely tethered dwellers stands as the freshest movie in theaters."

"While John Cassavetes's landmark Shadows (made during the same period) offers jazz-scored racial politics through an accessible romantic narrative, MacKenzie's unique achievement wanders frustratingly, but also hypnotically, into the outer limits of plot and character, abandoning conventional reportage for a hybridized documentary/fictional group portrait captured in gorgeous, shadowy textures and moods," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine.

Updates, 7/10: "I have no doubt that Mackenzie was committed to honestly documenting a ghettoized, desperately impoverished minority that a wealthy city chose to ignore, and also to finding moments of wild poetry in the experience of people with whom he empathized," writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. "Still, I could not help but notice that what was on the screen was in fact a bunch of drunken Indians - not Indians acting drunk and pawing at women but, well, the real thing, aided and abetted by the film's director.... At the time of its original release, The Exiles was treated with great respect by critics and cinephiles.... The veneration of the re-release has been even more over-the-top. I can only look at the screen and wonder, What's wrong with this picture?"


And on a similar note, here's James Van Maanen's take...

The immense celebratory tone surrounding the first theatrical release of The Exiles - Kent Mackenzie's 1961 made-on-a-shoestring movie about American Indians (plus a Latino or two), fairly fresh off the reservation and marking time in Los Angeles - is fully warranted. Unfortunately, the celebration is due less to the merits of the film itself and more to the understandable thrill of its finally achieving a theatrical release 47 years after the fact. I believe that credit and honor are also being given now for the ideas and labor that went into the original production, as well as for the time and effort spent on the fine restoration given the movie by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, with the help of the University of Southern California Moving Image Archive, the National Film Preservation Foundation - and Milestone Film & Video, which is releasing it theatrically. Thanks, too, should probably be paid to Sherman Alexie (Smoke Signals) and Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep), two noted moviemakers whose names appear in the credits above the title and who most likely devoted time, energy (and maybe even money?) to this endeavor.

Mackenzie (who died in 1980) began filming The Exiles in January of 1958 and continued off and on through April of 1961. His finished film premiered at both the Venice and San Francisco film festivals later that same year and then played the international festival circuit for some time. Judged "too difficult" by distributors of the day, it never saw theatrical release - until this Friday, July 11, when it opens at NYC's IFC Center.

The Exiles

Not apparently a fan of the ash-can school of documentaries (The Exiles is not a documentary, although it most definitely uses a documentary style), Mackenzie is on record as wanting to avoid "the romance of poverty," and not wanting to be attracted by the strangeness of a foreign environment; nor did he want to emphasize the squalor and horror of poverty to the exclusion of all else, or impose his own illusions on his subjects. Toward this goal, the filmmaker befriended Indian and Latino residents of the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles and over time worked with them on his/their script, with the express purpose of making a movie that would present a realistic portrait of Native American life in the LA community - one that would also avoid false stereotypes of Indians in films. In order to judge how well Mackenzie has succeeded or avoided all this, you will need to see the film. To my mind, the filmmaker's reach rather noticeably exceeded his grasp.

Much of the above information is taken from the press kit about the movie, which runs 21 pages of relatively small type, and actually took longer to navigate, read and digest than sitting through the entire 72-minute movie. All this history and verbiage does go a distance toward burnishing The Exiles' reputation. But since most viewers - likely to be made up of hard-core film buffs rather than walk-in attendees - will not have the benefit of press information, I think we must concentrate on "the thing itself."

The Exiles charts approximately half a day - late afternoon until the following early morning - in the lives of a group of Indians (and again, a few Latinos) as they talk, drink, shop, eat, drink, date, drink, gamble, drive (and drink), fight and sleep. The black-and-white cinematography is surprisingly rich and more nuanced than you'd imagine, given the budget restrictions of these beginners in film. And, of course, what fun it is to see downtown Los Angeles again, circa 1958, with that wonderful LA version of a cable car on the nearly perpendicular hill known as Angels Flight.

The performances from Mackenzie's amateur cast are also better than you might expect, with dialogue that is believable for a time, until it becomes apparent that most of it is simply generic and, finally, tiresome. No attempt has been made to create any kind of interesting, nuanced story, other than the obvious "this is a typical night, with typical characters doing typical things." Granted, we must receive this film via the time period from which it came (in 1959, in the middle of Mackenzie's endeavor, Cassavetes' Shadows made its debut, and the two films bear some resemblance). The "reality" of the day appeared to be best achieved by shoving the camera in a face and recording "real" moments. Times/styles have changed, but back then, this approach seemed highly original and effective.

The Exiles

As for the wish to avoid stereotypes of Indians in films, well, the movie seems awash in them. Does the word "firewater" ring a bell? It's not used here, but after the non-stop drinking on view, you'll want to cry, "Get those guys the fuck away from alcohol!" Is all this drinking realistic? Probably. But exactly how does showing it in this manner circumvent stereotype? The young woman we see most often talks to herself (or us) about the importance of having her soon-to-be-born baby and muses on a few other subjects. The other women all exist as appendages to the men, who treat them, of course, like shit. Realistic? Sure. The penultimate scene takes place on a hill above the city, where everyone comes to play drums and sing their native tribal songs. But by now, they're so drunk that they can do little but babble and fight. (Jesus: I know I sound like someone from the temperance league, but couldn't anybody have talked about his life, her work - some of them have jobs, surely - or just indulged in a moment of one-on-one communication that did not involved the urge to screw, imbibe or evacuate? I guess not.)

Part of the point of this film is that, since Los Angeles itself was not communicating with these displaced people, they had lost the ability or urge to communicate with each other on any important level. There is almost no hope in The Exiles, and perhaps that is why I find it so difficult and one-note. It does, however, bring up another unpleasant thought: How much different are things for Native Americans now? Maybe it's time for Alexie to give us something again as wonderful as his decade-old Smoke Signals (which Chris Eyre directed) or the less wonderful but still quite good Business of Fancydancing. As usual, our remaining Native Americans are under-seen and under-served. The tardy release of The Exiles won't change that, but the movie stands as an interesting, if circumscribed, past chapter in their lives.

-James Van Maanen


"The Exiles projects the same curiosity and compassion that marked Visconti's great story of Sardinian peasants, La Terra Trema," suggests Armond White in the New York Press. It also "reminds us how Alex Cox's Repo Man was one of the few films to bring LA subcultures out of the shadows. But Mackenzie's tale of Indians adrift also poignantly recalls the underbelly truth of a great mainstream film like Altman's California Split, which shares a startlingly similar poker-game subplot. That today's film culture has grown obscenely comfortable with the white-supremacist lies of film noir (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, LA Confidential) creates an ongoing form of cultural alienation and disenfranchisement. The nightmare is apparent in elitist reviews that praise the art-house racism of Pedro Costa's movies without ever dealing with their socio-political content and mandarin detachment."

Updates, 7/11: "Like his contemporaries Cassavetes, Truffaut and Godard (whose work he may or may not have seen), Mackenzie is pursuing subjective human experience, not intellectual analysis, and his extraordinary shot-sequences - like the giddy, drunken, hair-raising drive through a tunnel in a top-down convertible - address issues of signification more than anything I could say about the film," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It's worth adding that the terrific original garage-rock score is by an LA band called the Revels, whose song 'Comanche' appears both here and in Pulp Fiction, a movie unquestionably influenced by this one. If the stagey, docudrama quality of The Exiles takes time to get used to, as does the odd, artificial 'post-sync' sound - nearly all the dialogue was recorded in a studio, after the fact, as in many European films of the period - the startling naturalism of the images still wins out."

"Writers like Nathanael West, John Fante and Chester Himes, among others, had each mapped out their version of outsider Los Angeles by the time Mr Mackenzie began making The Exiles," notes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "During the Depression, Fante lived on Bunker Hill on a sustenance diet of literary dreams, and wrote eloquently about the divide between the city's promise and its reality, its sunshine days and enveloping nights. ('The hot semitropical nights will reek of romance you'll never have.') The American Indians in The Exiles may be more real than most movie subjects. But, steeped in what [Norman M] Klein calls 'postcolonial noir,' they are also in the grip of a durable Los Angeles nightmare. It's impossible to know where their reality ends and Mr Mackenzie's begins."

"For a film about Native Americans depleting what's left of their lives in skid row haunts, The Exiles is a groovy visual experience," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "The film's conclusion left me longing for a sequel, or some once-a-decade check-ins. Whatever happened to Homer and Yvonne? I mean the real ones as much as their characters. It's that kind of movie."

"The cinematic landscape has since witnessed more than four decades of spare, virtually plotless foreign and indie films about people hanging out, and if anything, The Exiles feels a little protozoan," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Better then to admire The Exiles for its specific docu-realist elements, which preserve places and moments that viewers won't find in any other film."

The Exiles and Killer of Sheep "bear similar concerns and moods, not to mention a focus on a migrated community," notes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "But it would be unfair to expect Mackenzie's film to match the critical (and box-office) success of Mr Burnett's film. On its own terms, The Exiles brings back lives and sights that might otherwise continue to disappear into the past."

Eric Kohn talks with Alexie and Burnett for indieWIRE.

Update, 7/12: "[T]o compare Mackenzie's film to either Burnett's or Cassevettes's is to overstate not only its historical stature but its artistry, given that despite enveloping atmospherics and stunning aestheticism, Exiles is a more limited and problematic work," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:26 AM

More on WALL•E.

WALL•E "[John] McCain should be required to see WALL•E to learn just how far adrift he is from an America whose economic fears cannot be remedied by his flip-flop embrace of the Bush tax cuts (for the wealthy) and his sham gas-tax holiday (for everyone else)," argues Frank Rich in the New York Times. "[Barack] Obama should see it to be reminded of just how bold his vision of change had been before he settled into a front-runner's complacency. Americans should see it to appreciate just how much things are out of joint on an Independence Day when a cartoon robot evokes America's patriotic ideals with more conviction than either of the men who would be president."

Updated through 7/11.

Nick Shager: "[T]his animated marvel is most epic when operating on a small, personal scale, ultimately earning its esteemed place in the Pixar canon not only through top-notch CG, expertly orchestrated chase sequences, and provocative pro-green viewpoints, but also through its depiction of love's capacity for making us more than what we might otherwise be."

WALL•E "is an immaculately executed character, a necessarily endearing emcee to what is at times the grimmest American comedy in years," writes Brendon Bouzard in Reverse Shot. "As much as I would love to equivocate about the film's reification of gender (yes, the robots have genders, even though the closest they desire to sexual contact is hand-holding) or its satirical barbs at the overstimulated, grotesquely obese humans who lazily populate the spaceship Axiom, a Guy Debord hell of flashing screens and corporate fascism, I find it hard to do so. Its successes are simply too overwhelming."

Susan King reports on how those Hello, Dolly! tunes got in there. Also in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Sragow revisits some of cinema's most memorable dystopias.

Jeffrey Overstreet quotes from a spoilerish review that "has me ready to run out and see it a third time. Or write a book about it. Or something."

Updates, 7/7:"Pixar is playing guts ball commercially," writes Phil Nugent, "and not just because the eco-friendly/accusatory tone of the movie is designed to give Fox News people fits; the bulk of the first half is both experimental and a stunningly well done example of how to orient audiences to a strange new world with a minimum of explanatory dialogue. If Steven Johnson wants to step in now and explain to me how Pixar is doing its part to make kids smarter, he'll be preaching to the converted."

David Smith reports in the Guardian on the film's reception and the debates it's sparked so far.

More from Think Progress: "Somehow, this touching love story has outraged the radical right."

"Pixar's a decent enough animation outfit, probably the best in the United States - but still largely aimed at children, and still years behind what the Japanese are doing now," writes Noel Vera.

Noah Millman has a few problems with the film and lays them out in the American Scene. Via Peter Chattaway.

Updates, 7/8: Online viewing tips. Via Movie City News, Wired's Jenna Wortham notes that Pixar's short, Presto, screening in front of WALL•E, is now online: "Directed by Doug Sweetland, who also helped animate Cars, Toy Story and Monsters Inc, the gag-arific comedy and throwback Hollywood aesthetic ranks this mini-movie high on our list of favorites from Pixar's library of shorts."

Jason Morehead is left "a little underwhelmed" by WALL•E.

"Will Cockroaches Inherit the Earth?" Dan Riley looks into it for you in Slate.

Update, 7/11: "I had heard almost nothing about the film before attending, so was not at all prepared for a strange surprise: It kept reminding me of Kenneth Burke's writings about a grim future world he called Helhaven." Scott McLemee in Inside Higher Ed, via Bookforum.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:22 AM | Comments (1)

July 5, 2008

Shorts, 7/5.

Rolling Stone: Barack Obama "The Obama press contingent was abuzz last night with the news that Davis Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth, has apparently been enlisted to direct Barack Obama's biographical convention film." Variety's Ted Johnson's got what's known so far, plus background ("Guggenheim's father, Charles, was a famous documentarian who won four Oscars, including Robert Kennedy Remembered, a tribute film that was shown at the 1968 Democratic convention and went on to win an Academy Award for short subject") and clips from the Spike Jonze Al Gore film that never made it to the 2000 convention.

"[T]here's a horror movie at the heart of every film about love and art," writes Kathleen Murphy. "Death's always abroad in these environs, a reaper whose scythe eventually edits everyone out of the picture. Our avid gaze consumes the images we love; if we take them in, perhaps we will become them. Movies are haunted houses - full of dead people who come to life again and again for our pleasure." Via Jim Emerson, who notes that while Murphy begins with Last Year at Marienbad, she "moves through those haunted corridors, into Stanley Kubrick's Overlook Hotel, passing through doors (and walls) into the worlds of Max Ophuls, Luis Buñuel, Josef von Sternberg... As you wander through the maze of this Lady from Shanghai hall of mirrors you'll catch glimpses of ghosts around every corner - not just the phantom images of particular movies, but insights into a spectral world Dave Kehr has described as 'the lost continent of cinephilia.'"

Also at Testpattern: Jay Kuehner: "The recent films of James Benning are about nature, America, ecology, industry, and finding solid ground on which to mount a movie camera. But true to their titles, and just as matter of fact, they are about nothing you haven't seen before."

At indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman reports that Lance Hammer has decided to take the self-distribution route with Ballast.

Holmes and Watson "Columbia Pictures is prepping a comedy in which Sacha Baron Cohen and Will Ferrell will play iconic characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, respectively," notes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Already you know if you're going to see this movie or not, right?" The Independent's Arifa Akbar reports that the film will be going up against Warners' Holmes project - to be directed by Guy Ritchie. We can probably call this one right now, can't we.

Paul Harrill: "Brian Newman of the Tribeca Film Institute has the best response I've seen to Mark Gill's 'The Sky is Falling' speech, the one that has the (film-centric) internets all abuzz."

"Incarnation is the second DVD compilation put out by Montreal's avant-garde screening series Cinema Abattoir," writes Mike Everleth. "All I'll say is that the new disc is an extremely worthy follow-up to the mind-blowing L'erotisme and cements Abattoir's reputation as the modern premiere purveyor of transgressive cinema."

"The suspicion is that the best way to answer the question, What Is Cinema?, is to ask, What Is Cinema For?" Zach Campbell" "Which means: for whom is the cinema (and the true answer is complex but this doesn't mean diffuse beyond interpretation); how the cinema got to be; why; how it has developed - all of which is inseparable from the prior question of for whom."

"Though it is an invisible and largely unspoken presence, the weight of history is evident in every moment of Chantal Akerman's work," writes David Schwartz at Moving Image Source. "The many autobiographical passages in her films and videos (including letters, diaries, and phone calls) make us aware of her specific identity as a Jewish European woman born five years after the end of World War II. Yet her work is deeply ambivalent about the way that she (and others) are identified by their membership in a group - whether by race, nation, or gender."

"All over Europe filmmakers keep churning out scripts featuring stories of exuberant Roma," writes Dina Iordanova. "All over Europe unwanted Roma populations are on the move; some are struggling to get themselves to a better life while others are being deported in the context of illicitly executed law enforcement campaigns. One welcomes the images while barring the actual people. The striking failure to reconcile actual and metaphoric Gypsies persists."

Fassbinder's Germany Thomas Elsaesser, known particularly for his writings on German cinema, is retiring from the University of Amsterdam; David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson were there to take part in three related events.

"Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, 1974) is as direct as a white man's contemptuous glare, as mysterious as a black man's serene gaze." Noel Vera.

"How does a Western artist approach a culture as elaborately and dauntingly formalized as Japan?" asks Girish Shambu in a piece on Mishima for Artforum. "[Paul] Schrader's response to the challenge of representing Japan is to seize on its very source of difficulty - forms, their ubiquity, and their resistance to meaning making - and create a hyperformalized work that, wisely, rather than 'revealing' Japan, instead makes it recede." Related: Peter Sobczynski talks with Schrader for Hollywood Bitchslap.

"[Wednesday] night an eclectic crowd of thousands gathered for a bizarre spectacle: the world premiere of David Cronenberg's operatic remake of The Fly," reports Lizzy Davies from Paris, where the opera's on at the Théâtre du Châtelet until July 13 before it sees its US premiere in September in Los Angeles. "With a score written by Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore, an orchestra conducted by tenor Plácido Domingo, and Cronenberg himself directing, La Mouche is the brainchild of three creative greats." Ray Pride has lots more.

Also in the Guardian:

  • "[P]erhaps there's something about the horror genre with its primal invocations of fear and loss that particularly lends itself to opera," suggests Danny Leigh. "Certainly there's a minor tradition of horror filmmakers becoming smitten with the form, ranging from slasher icon Dario Argento's typically baroque 1987 project Opera to the latter-day moonlighting of Exorcist director William Friedkin on international productions of Bartok, Puccini and Strauss."

  • Guy Maddin recalls "miraculously" coaxing Ann Savage out of retirement to play his mother in My Winnipeg: "This feat I likened to tricking Garbo herself out in front of a movie camera after her decades in hiding - for when you think of it, Savage is indeed the Garbo of the modern American independent film world." Peter Bradshaw finds the film "composed of memories that have been inventively transformed and this is entertaining, although occasionally frustrating in that they hint at a more powerful, simpler story that Maddin is unwilling or unable to tell. (Terence Davies's forthcoming movie, Of Time and the City, about his hometown Liverpool, is an interesting comparison.)" Meanwhile, for the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge talks with Maddin. Also related: Billy Stevenson on Detour.

Adulthood
  • Noel Clarke on what he wants to get across in Kidulthood and Adulthood: "[T]hat there are consequences to every action." More in the Independent.

    A robot uprising, a serial killer, an alien invasion, or even just your run-of-the-mill car chase: what are your chances of survival? John Marrs asks a few experts."

"It has been more than 20 years since [The Wire co-creator Ed] Burns, then a detective, met David Simon, then a young police reporter for the Baltimore Sun, sharing a handshake that neither man could have imagined would lead to a book and three television shows - and counting - for HBO," writes . "Their latest project, and their first set outside of Baltimore, is Generation Kill, a seven-part mini-series that will have its premiere next Sunday. Based on the 2004 book of the same name by Evan Wright, a Rolling Stone reporter embedded with a Marine battalion, the series follows a group of marines as they race, crawl, shoot and wisecrack their way north through Iraq."

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer for Artforum on Lawrence Weiner's Water in Milk Exists: "Scenes alternate between often-thrilling hardcore porn and contrived and tedious philosophical musings about 'personal definitions of reality' and 'string theory.' Like a switch flicked too soon, stimulation teasingly turns on and off."

The latest phase in DK Holm's "Directors Project": Clint Eastwood.

Nick Davis hosts the third installment of Best Pictures from the Outside In, featuring himself, Goatdog and Nathaniel discussing, this time around, All Quiet on the Western Front and Crash.

Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic "Kunal Kohli's latest movie, Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic, seems to suggest a shift in the Bollywood aesthetic," writes Ruth McCann. "Yes, the film is glossy and colorful, and yes it features a dancing velociraptor, but Kohli's film stands out from the glittering Bollywood oeuvre for its refusal to capitalize on America's caste-fascination and its conspicuous paucity of glitzy song-and-dance numbers. Instead, the bulk of the movie consists of inscrutable character psychology in (dis)service of a messy plot, all layered with a less-than-subtle comic critique of American cultural dominance."

Also in the Voice, Ella Taylor on We Are Together: "What's not to weep over in the latest documentary about the virulent spread of AIDS through the African continent?... Still, I'm a little queasy about an emergent strain of poor-Africa documentaries that double up as consciousness- and fundraising tools, if only because they tend to focus on pathos and sentimental uplift rather than the wholesale abandonment of these children by governments at home and abroad." Nathan Lee offers a cold but honest take in the NYT. More from Matt Noller in Slant.

And then there's the Voice piece that got everyone taking a peek last week: Tony Ortega rummages through Harvey Weinstein's trash. "Topping Harvey's June 9 'need to call' agenda was Gwyneth Paltrow, 're: PROMISES, PROMISES.' Has Paltrow heard that another update to the 1968 Broadway smash (in turn based on the Billy Wilder film The Apartment) is in the works and wants in? Does Anne Hathaway know that Paltrow may be interested in the lead role she's reportedly already landed?" Related: The Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein: "As if Weinstein didn't have enough problems already... he has now has to deal with a presumably disgruntled ex-staffer promising to reveal a new host of dirty laundry about Weinstein's days inside the Disney empire."

"Pure, unadulterated mediocrity is achieved by Diminished Capacity, whose contrivances and corniness indicate its own limited intellectual faculties," writes Nick Schager. Adds Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "It's the kind of lite movie you go and see with your mom, and she'll say she liked it - but then a year later, you're both trying to remember what it was even about. Two and a half shrugs." Henry Stewart in the L Magazine: "The filmmakers kindly distill the major themes into single lines of dialogue—something about those who don't know what they got don't deserve to have it. Also: live for today!" Manohla Dargis in the NYT: "The actors look as if they're having a reasonably fine time, but there's no sense of commitment here, no sense that this was a movie that absolutely, passionately had to be made." More from Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE and Noel Murray at the AV Club. "But is it fair that we most associate [Matthew] Broderick with Ferris, thereby continuing our disappointment in seeing him play one nebbish nobody after another?" asks Christopher Campbell at Cinematical.

For Michelle Orange, writing in the Voice, Very Young Girls is a "heartbreaking look at the trafficking of underage girls in New York City," but for Slant's Ed Gonzalez, it "suggests a squandered opportunity." Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT: "Ignoring underlying issues of upbringing, class or race (only one of the film's victims is white), Very Young Girls is still an effective scratch on the surface of a serious social problem. However hard it is out there for a pimp, it's not nearly hard enough."

Again, Ed Gonzalez: Holding Trevor "evolves entirely around the trite, self-cocooning ramblings of a do-nothing LA gay boy." Julia Wallace in the Voice: "Such an anomie-filled nothing of a movie that it wouldn't even be a pleasure to savage it."

What to watch at home over the July 4 weekend? James Rocchi's got a recommendation: "Idiocracy's cold sneering mockery may be tough to take, but it's still got plenty of laughs; if you need something to half-watch as you lay dazed in a post-barbeque torpor this holiday weekend, you'll find Idiocracy has a light-yet-bitter flavor that'll freshen even the most overloaded palate."

Wild Things The latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Wild Things.

Evan Derrick at MovieZeal: "10 Ways to Become a Better Film Critic," parts 1 and 2.

"Is it possible (or even desirable) for film criticism to be free from personal bias?" asks Ronald Bergan.

Guy Flatley's looking ahead to 25 movies yet to come in 2008.

At PopMatters, Bill Gibron presents the "2008 Summer Movie Scorecard (So Far...)."

Screengrab lists "15 Movies That Show What's Right With US." And Michelle Orange (IFC) lists "Ten Bittersweet Patriotic Films."

"Hands down the best film I've seen so far this year has been Paranoid Park and the unfortunate thing is that nothing else has really come close." Noah Forrest at Movie City News.

"Widely portrayed as kung fu's loveable goofy hero, Jackie Chan's wide-ranging business empire attests to a very different persona; a driven, ambitious man whose financial acumen is more fearsome than his fist." Gill Pringle in the Independent.

New blog on the block: Shock Room: A Horror-Movie Blog.

Online listening tip #1. James Rocchi talks with David Poland about this summer's movies.

Online listening tip #@. "TS Eliot, Portishead; Portishead, TS Eliot." Brainiac Christopher Shea.

Online viewing tip #1. "Channel 4 has painstakingly recreated the set of Stanley Kubrick horror film The Shining, complete with look-a-likes of the crew and cast members including Shelley Duvall, for a TV ad to promote a More 4 season of the director's films." And the Guardian's got it. Ambrose Heron has more on the season.

Online viewing tip #2. Notorious producer Wayne Barrow is keeping a video diary.

Online viewing tip #3. You've probably seen it, but: Where the Hell is Matt? is, as Cory Doctorow describes it at Boing Boing, "a silly dance in 42 countries that will make you grin like a fool."

Online viewing tip #4. The Guardian asks stars, critics and so forth about the possibility of an actors' strike next week.

Online viewing tips. Eliza rounds up "Great New Videos" for the Creative Review.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:09 PM

Books, 7/5.

Everything Is Cinema "Deeply researched, conscientiously written, careful to contextualize its subject both in his field and in the larger culture that shaped his work, [Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard] is in almost every respect an admirable biography, exactly the sort of scrupulous and passionate work significant movie figures deserve and almost never receive. I am in awe of Richard Brody's accomplishment. Yet I have rarely been so glad to come to the end of an admirable book." For Richard Schickel, Godard is "a director whose films and theories about the cinema endlessly flirt with revolutionary ideas about the medium only to abandon them to solipsism, flight and contempt - for his colleagues, his backers and, most significantly, for his audience, which has dwindled to a cult more interested in what movies might be than in what they, perhaps ineluctably, are."

Updated through 7/8.

Earlier reviews: Andrew Hultkrans (Artforum) and B Kite (Moving Image Source). Earlier discussion: Some Came Running.

Back in the Los Angeles Times: Paul Wilner on Larry McMurtry's Books: A Memoir; and Susan King talks with author David Kaufman about Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door.

"David Gilmour is a father as well as a novelist and former film critic," writes Douglas McGrath in the New York Times Book Review. "He has written a memoir, The Film Club, about his decision to allow his 15-year-old son, Jesse, to drop out of school on the condition that he watch three movies a week of Gilmour's choosing. Because it smacked of a plot gimmick from one of the movies Gilmour used to review, I feared the book would be similarly cute and tidy. But it's a heartfelt portrait of how hard it is to grow up, how hard it is to watch someone grow up and how in the midst of a family's confusion and ire, there is sometimes nothing so welcome as a movie."

For the Guardian, Elizabeth Day reviews The Studs Terkel Interviews: Film and Theater.

Rob Pegoraro reviews David A Price's The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company for the Washington Post.

Update, 7/8: "It could even be argued that Godard, in some respects, is a more important artist than Picasso," suggests Gilbert Adair in the New Statesman. As for Everything Is Cinema, "Brody's is a good, scholarly life, of interest not only to a charmed circle of initiates, and its lapses are fairly minor ones of judgement (he mystifyingly dismisses Bande à part, one of the most puckishly magical films ever made, while praising the almost unwatchable King Lear as being among Godard's finest achievements) and tone (the book is utterly devoid of irony, something that cannot be said about its subject's films)."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:12 PM | Comments (6)

Interviews, 7/5.

Chris & Don: A Love Story "[W]ith Guido Santi and Tina Mascara's sparkling documentary Chris & Don: A Love Story arriving in theaters just as same-sex marriage arrives in California, it seems a most auspicious moment to speak to the surviving member of one of the best-known unofficial same-sex marriages of modern times," writes David Ehrenstein, introducing his interview with Don Bachardy.

Also in the LA Weekly, Steven Mikulan talks with John Waters: "Like many people with an eye to the near future, Waters questions the timing of California's gay-marriage love fest. 'I wished it had happened after we got a Democratic president in.... We've got to learn to stop giving Republicans red-meat issues before an election.'"

And Nick Moore meets Steve Erickson: "I had read his latest novel, Zeroville, in one sitting, only putting it down to sob and hallucinate. When I tell him this, he locks eyes with me, leans back, and with a voice somewhat reminiscent of the cartoon tortoise who reduces Bugs Bunny to tears, says, 'Yup.'"

Adam Ross's interviewee this week: Karina Longworth.

Summer Hours For the Telegraph, Marianne Macdonald meets Juliette Binoche: "She made five films last year and is at the tail end of four months of dance rehearsals with the choreographer Akram Khan, known for his work with Kylie Minogue and the ballerina Sylvie Guillem. At the same time Binoche has been painting a series of portraits of herself in her different film roles. Both the dance piece and her artworks will be shown this autumn, as part of Ju'bi Lation, a season of events at the National Theatre and the British Film Institute dedicated to her.... his interview is to promote yet another project: her new film, Summer Hours."

"It's not hard to warm to Jaime Winstone," James Mottram informs us in the Independent. "One minute, she's pumping my hand, calling me 'babe' and greeting me in her Cockney songbird voice, the next, she's dashing out for a 'moment of toilet,' as she gleefully calls it. As down-to-earth as her actor-father, Ray, she's not one to put on heirs and graces. When I bump into her later in the evening at the Edinburgh Film Festival party for her latest movie Donkey Punch, she has her boyfriend Alfie Allen (brother to singer Lily) in tow."

Andrew Pulver talks with Bernard Rose about The Kreutzer Sonata, a follow-up of sorts to Ivans xtc in that it's also based on a Tolstoy story, also stars Danny Huston and also cost relatively little to realize. More on the film from Tim Hayes at cinemattraction. Also in the Guardian: John Patterson talks with Jeff Garlin.

For Stop Smiling, Chris Ross has seven questions for Amy Sedaris.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:59 PM

Fests and events, 7/5.

Fantasia Film Threat's Jeremy Knox caught "two great films" the night Fantasia opened in Montreal. Through July 21.

"A film festival unlike any other, Bergmanveckan (or Bergman Week), now in its fifth year in operation and its first incarnation since the death of the man at its center last July, is a celebration of location as much as film." Michael Koresky reports for indieWIRE.

In the Los Angeles Times, Randy Lewis talks with Tony Palmer, whose 17-hour TV series All You Need Is Love, showing this weekend as part of the Mods & Rockers Film Festival, rolling on through July 9.

Sonjia Hyon, director of the Asian American International Film Festival (July 10 through 19), offers a preview at the POV Blog.

Memories of Underdevelopment Memories of Underdevelopment screens at the Barbican in London from July 11 through 14. Michael Chanan in the New Statesman: "By the time the Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea died in 1996 he was widely regarded, at home and abroad, as the doyen of Cuban cineastas, and over the next few years several Cuban filmmakers, established figures and newcomers alike, dedicated new films to his memory. For some, he had been a personal mentor. For all of them he was a role model, for his commitment to the revolution's ideals, combined with his criticism of its failures."

"Want to see the new flick from Spike Lee? Come to Toronto. Got a thing for Michael Cera or Viggo Mortensen? Come to Toronto. Guy Pearce? Ralph Fiennes? You get the point..." Twitch's Todd Brown has info on six films added to the lineup.

Weaving Worlds screens Wednesday at the Alamo Drafthouse, so Anne S Lewis talks with filmmaker Bennie Klain, whose "subtle and beautifully shot (by UT's Nancy Schiesari) portrait of the co-dependent relationship between a group of Navajo weavers and its longtime Anglo trader - the guy who buys their rugs cheaply, marks them up substantially, and pockets a tidy profit at his trading store - is really the story of the uneasy, always tenuous interface of the artist with the marketplace and the exploitation that frequently accompanies a lopsided balance of power."

Also in the Austin Chronicle, Kimberley Jones "trundl[es] down Highway 71 West toward the San Saba River in search of flatheads. [Okie Noodling director Bradley] Beesley not too long ago premiered Okie Noodling II at the Marfa Film Festival (the film will play July 7 at the Alamo Ritz on a double bill with Summercamp!, Beesley's 2006 documentary made with Sarah Price)."

For the Vue Weekly, David Berry previews the DIY Generation series at Edmonton's Metro. Friday through Monday. Related: Josef Braun on The Guatemalan Handshake: "If [Todd] Rohal's next film works better than this one, it will likely be because his eccentricities are the icing on the cake rather than the cake itself."

Eric Kohn visits Dalí: Painting and Film (through September 15) and returns to Cinematical with thoughts and pix.

Brian Darr looks ahead to local goings on at Hell on Frisco Bay.

CineKink's in San Francisco from July 10 through 12.

Scott Kirsner announces: The Conversation. "The basic idea is simple: let's get together a really interesting group of people to talk about new technologies and the entertainment industry." October 17 and 18 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

"Here's an obvious statement: James Bond films are some of the most patently offensive, profoundly anti-feminist vehicles around." Tracy Moore in the Nashville Scene: "And yet, given the dearth of good solid female roles in the action movies out this summer, it's surprising that revisiting this batch of retrograde romps - playing each weekend through Aug 4 at The Belcourt - unearths a rare treasure trove of fascinating and damn-near complex women."

Londoners: Owen Hatherley has your next Kino Fist program. July 20.

Chicagoans: Check the CINE-FILE.

Once Upon a Time: Sergio Leone runs at the Aero Theatre in Los Angeles from July 24 through 27, and you know who's all over this one: Dennis Cozzalio.

Maysles Institute has opened a new theater in Harlem devoted to docs. And here's the calendar.

The New York Asian Film Festival rolls on through Sunday. Picking up from the last entry:

Adrift in Tokyo

  • "Adrift in Tokyo has the kind of low-key, effortless charm that most movies sweat for," writes David Austin. "It is a perfect example of what have been called 'hanging out' movies - movies where the pleasure is less about plot or story and more about spending time watching an entertaining group of characters interact." Also: Tokyo Gore Police and Dainipponjin. And also at Cinema Strikes Back, Jeff on Strawberry Shortcakes and Fine, Totally Fine; and on United Red Army.

  • Love on Sunday and Love on Sunday 2: Last Words "seem to me to have serious weaknesses on the scenario level, but they are beautifully directed," writes Dan Sallitt in the Auteurs' Notebook. "My guess is that Hiroki [Ryuichi] has enough prestige to exercise some control over his scripts, in which case I'd opine that his dramaturgical instincts aren't impeccable. But Hiroki is second to none in his ability to create a bemused, drifting ambiance to amplify his characters' philosophical melancholy."

"Having just spent three invigorating days in Niles watching crowds cheering as world-class musicians improvised brilliantly to films from the years between 1903 and 1917, I can report that silent films are alive and well." Mary B Scott at SF360.

Dawn Chan reports on the Provincetown International Film Festival for Artforum.

Ilya Tovbis looks back on Frameline32 for indieWIRE.

For the IFC, Stephen Saito looks back to several docs screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:07 PM

July 4, 2008

A "4th of July Weekend Read."

That it is, in many, many ways. "Finding," by Guy Davenport, by way of Wyatt Mason. The most obviously film-related bits surface about a third of the way in - but read on, see what else you find.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:07 PM

Film Comment. July/August 08.

Doomed Love Why do cinephiles regard Manoel de Oliveira so highly, you may find yourself wondering as you begin reading Jonathan Rosenbaum major piece on the "Classical Modernist" in the new issue of Film Comment. The weaknesses, after all, are laid out with level-headed honesty - until, nearly halfway in: "If he deserves to be regarded as a master - and I believe he does - his mastery belongs partially in an eccentric category of his own invention, comparable to that of Thelonious Monk as an idiosyncratic jazz pianist. And it's a mastery of sound and image that took shape fairly early - even though, as a director of actors, his foregrounding of artificial styles of performance doesn't always enhance the technical gifts of his players." Then the "asymmetrical shape" is considered; Oliveira's collaborations; and of course, the political and historical context of his work; before a list is drawn up and reconsidered.

Yasukuni screens tomorrow and again on July 10 as part of Japan Cuts, making Olaf Möller's overview of Li Ying's work all the more timely: "Is he a Japanese or Chinese filmmaker? Are his films fiction or documentary? His genius lies in the fact that the answer to each question is: both."

This is the issue that looks back at this year's Cannes, and online are overviews of the highs and lows according to Kent Jones and Richard Peña, while Jonathan Romney concentrates on one Out of Competition offering: "Vicky Cristina Barcelona offers no surprises but a few pleasures to tickle an audience that fancies itself tastefully cosmopolitan. The consensus response in Cannes was that the film saw [Woody] Allen recapturing some of the old sparkle. To an extent it does, if only the sparkle of a mid-price Cava. Compared to the stale draught bitter of his London-set Cassandra's Dream, that's something."

This issue's call for a distributor comes from J Hoberman: "In the City of Sylvia is pure pleasure and pure cinema."

And there are two online exclusives this time around, Nicolas Rapold's report from the Jeonju International Film Festival and a "blast from the past": Raymond Durgnat on O Lucky Man!, a piece from the January/February 1974 issue.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:22 PM | Comments (3)

Kabluey.

Kabluey In Kabluey, Scott Prendergast "assembles an assortment of unappealing characters, an exhausted setup (spiritual emptiness in McMansion land, ho-hum) and every conceivable anxiety-inducer known to late-00s Americans - joblessness, war, credit-card debt, menial labor, economic turmoil, live offspring - to pull off what may be the best evocation of contemporary alienation in a movie so far this year," writes Mark Holcomb in Time Out New York.

"The film's distance from factual reality oddly enhances its bleak underlying vision," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "It portrays a demoralized American work force fearfully going through the motions of life while waiting without much hope for things to get better."

"The landscape Predergast surveys is a familiar one, and though his isn't a detonative mind, his understanding of the body as image and form of branding, and fixation with the way people hide behind masks, enriches Kabluey with a striking ambiguity." Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Prendergast "about Kabluey's 'Eureka!' moment, hitting rock bottom before making the film, and getting over excited about his first trip to a movie theater."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:11 PM

July 3, 2008

Hancock, round 2.

Hancock To pick up from round 1: Hancock has taken some punches - okay, a lot of punches - but it does have its champions.

"Some superhero movies, like Iron Man, amuse us by making their superheroes all-too-human," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "Others - including a couple of my favorites in the genre, James Cameron's Terminator films and Bryan Singer's Superman Returns - emphasize the superhero's otherness, which makes him less similar to us than to the heroes and intercessors that have long populated the human imagination. Hancock starts out seeming a prime example of the former group - what could be more down-to-earth than a wino superhero? - but ends up solidly in the latter camp. That leap not only catalyzes the film's thrill-ride potential; it also leaves us with something to think about when the ride's over - an unexpected achievement that places it among the best of recent superhero movies."

Updated through 7/7.

"In a film marketplace where even the best superhero movies tend to do a lot of the same stuff - origin stories, winky self-reference, somber mythmongering, scenes set at charity balls - I really admire Will Smith and bad-boy director Peter Berg (The Rundown, The Kingdom) for trying something different here," writes Mike Russell. "Hancock has a surprisingly rude sense of humor, an improvisational vibe, immediate camera work and rawer-than-usual music on the soundtrack."

"[T]his is a movie that attempts to tackle very human issues by way of a very superhuman character," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "The themes most prevalent in Hancock are loneliness, isolation, loyalty, and commitment - but if you're paying close attention you'll catch some interesting ideas about racism, political correctness, and the importance of both morality and mortality. In some ways Hancock is a messy movie that goes in more directions then it manages to explore, but I'll take an overabundance of ideas over a lack any old day."

"Even by the standards of a maturing superhero genre, this is not a film for kids," notes Sean Axmaker.

"To cast the likable Will Smith in the lead role of the film and to release it at the Fourth of July - a hallowed tradition dating back to Independence Day - does not quite count as an idea unto itself, especially because, if in fact it were an idea, it would be negated by the folly of casting him in a role that thoroughly squelches his likability." Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader.

Armond White vs Will Smith Armond White's out to upset folks again. Here we go: "Smith can't escape the resonance of his singular black achievement, and this spectacle is an indubitable reflection of Obama's current ascension. It's what makes Smith's frivolity worth studying."

"Hancock isn't the only underachiever on the premises - the talented Berg settles for far less than he should," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "The movie's final shot finds Hancock fully brand-optimized, complete with costume and mascot, atop the requisite skyscraper. Maybe in the sequel, he can rebrand himself as funny."

"Initially, it seems like Hancock is going to have some fun with the superhero paradigm, but this dark, muddled and tedious noise machine winds up being an inferior copy of that genre's highlights," argues Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

"[I]t's a daring, even mildly challenging mixture for a superhero film, and while the pieces don't entirely add up, the puzzle is at least original," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

"Don't read anything else about Hancock before you see it," advises Joe Leydon in the Houston Chronicle. "Don't even talk to friends who take this roller-coaster ride before you do. Savor the surprises and enjoy the action before anyone spoils your fun."

Online listening tip. Ambrose Heron talks with Akiva Goldsman and Berg.

Updates, 7/4: "What went wrong? How can this big, expensive talent-laden movie possibly have gotten so bad?" asks Michael Wilmington. Also at Movie City News, Leonard Klady: "The problem with the script (and the film) is that it has a bad case of ADD dramatics." And David Poland offers a "Non-Spoiler Review" and a "Spoiler Review."

"I guess he had to come into being somehow, and this movie's explanation is as likely as most, which is to say, completely preposterous," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Still, Hancock is a lot of fun, if perhaps a little top-heavy with stuff being destroyed. Smith makes the character more subtle than he has to be, more filled with self-doubt, more willing to learn."

The Guardian's John Patterson riffs on the Smith/Obama thing.

Paul Brownfield profiles Jason Bateman for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 7/7: The latest addition to DK Holm's "Directors Project": Peter Berg.

"Peter Berg uses too much shakey-cam, edits incoherently, veers wildly all over the place in terms of emotional tone and can't seem to build up any momentum or dramatic tension for any appreciable length of time," writes Noel Vera, "yet the movie has enough of a subversive kick to be more interesting than Iron Man or the recent Hulk movie."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:50 PM

Afro-Punk.

Afro-Punk Festival For the Voice, Aaron Hillis previews the Afro-Punk Festival, running at BAM from tomorrow through Wednesday: "Among the screening highlights are self-explanatory doc portraits (A Panther in Africa, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple), auteur rarities (Larry Clark's 1977 jazz-man drama Passing Through, Jules Dassin's Up Tight!), and a sidebar honoring Renaissance man Bill Gunn (director of blaxploitation art-horror Ganja & Hess, and writer of Hal Ashby's The Landlord)."

Updated through 7/8.

For background, turn to Steve Dollar in the New York Sun: "Ever since he began screening his documentary Afro-Punk in 2003, former Brooklyn resident James Spooner has become a conduit for a generation that often feels stuck in a cultural divide. The 32-year-old filmmaker shot the music documentary out of a need both to connect with and expose a nation of folks like himself — fans of indie-rock and punk-inspired do-it-yourself culture who are often the only minorities in a minority culture."

At Hammer to Nail, Michael Tully braves a second viewing of Jonestown: "[N]ot a week has gone by when I haven't thought about [Stanley] Nelson's film." It "recreates, with frightening immediacy, a moment in history when evil arrived on Earth to destroy the hopes and dreams of so many well-intentioned, decent individuals."

Update, 7/4: At Hammer to Nail, Brandon Harris reviews Ganja & Hess, "the anti-Blacula, defiantly difficult and parochial, a vampire film in which the word itself is never used and its tropes mostly discarded. Ganja & Hess is jolting, jagged, lyrical, mythic and utterly unclassifiable, as avant-garde as the most independent film of today or any of the New American Cinema work from the 1960s or audacious studio films of the 1970s, with resonances one isn't likely to encounter ever again."

Update, 7/5: Afro-Punk "truly draws into question as much about race relations in modern America as it does about independent cinema or the craft of filmmaking itself," writes Evan Louison. "[I]t is as much about New York, and the art and skateboarding communities in the city as it is about the worlds it spawned from - those of punk music, resistant Black culture and independent film. This year's slate of films is no different."

Updates, 7/7: "Revisiting Uptight... is like opening a time capsule," writes Robert Cashill. "Some of what's inside has faded away, but much of it has a surprising, close-to-the-ground vitality."

Michael Tully picks out the highlights so far and yet to come.

Update, 7/8: Karina Longworth reports on a feisty Q&A following a screening of I'm Through With White Girls.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:06 PM

Bull Durham @ 20.

Bull Durham With Kevin Costner headlining Friday's concert marking the occasion, David Fellerath introduces the Independent Weekly's "Bull Durham turns 20" package: "Today's Durham is considerably different from the sleepy Southern city glimpsed in the movie released two decades ago - not least the team itself, which now performs at the AAA level, with many major league-quality players, in the much fancier Durham Bulls Athletic Park, to which the team relocated in 1995. The old Durham Athletic Park still stands, and our writer Adam Sobsey remembers the rough and tumble atmosphere of those days. Grayson Currin talks to one of the greatest players to wear a Bulls uniform, while Jessica Fuller tracks down people who were involved in the film's shoot, which took place in the late fall of 1987. And finally, GD Gearino, a longtime Raleigh resident, takes a dimmer view of the film's importance."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:26 AM

Wiseman wraps - and moves on.

Frederick Wiseman Interviewing the man himself, Leo Goldsmith wraps up Not Coming to a Theater Near You's month-long Frederick Wiseman special feature.

Meanwhile, Joe O'Connell reports in the Austin Chronicle that Wiseman's been quietly - very quietly - working on a film about a local gym and has already begun shooting yet another doc: "One of the film's female subjects ran into Wiseman on the streets of Paris recently, [gym owner Richard] Lord says. Wiseman is there shooting a doc on ballet and told her he expects to finish editing - usually the longest process in his observational style of filmmaking - after that."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:32 AM

July 2, 2008

"Rediscovered"! Metropolis.

Metropolis For film historians and cinephiles in general, this could easily be the story of the year. The ZEITmagazin has just posted at its site a preview of a piece running in tomorrow's edition that confirms the existence of the original version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. "The most important silent film in German history," they announce, "can, from this day forward, be considered rediscovered."

Frankly, I'm beside myself. In one of the first pieces I wrote for GreenCine - nearly six years ago now, long before there was a Daily - I profiled the diligent and talented folks at Alpha-Omega who had completed the most recent restoration. I've had an irrational thing for this seemingly irrational movie since I first saw it, oh, 20 years ago or so. But of course, what I saw back then was, at most, three-quarters of the version that premiered in Berlin in January 1927. The rest - cut by Paramount for Metropolis's run in US theaters - has long been written off as lost forever.

No more. The lowdown: In 1928, Adolfo Z Wilson, head of Terra, a distribution company, secured a copy of what Die Zeit is calling the "long version" (is it really Lang's original cut? I'll be buying the magazine tomorrow; more then) and took it with him back home to Buenos Aires. Manuel Peña Rodríguez, a film critic, then acquired the film rolls for his private collection, and there they stayed until he sold them to a national museum in Argentina in the 60s. A copy of these rolls then wound up at the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires.

Paula Félix-Didier, who's quietly relayed this sequence of events to Die Zeit journalist Karen Naundorf so that the story would break in Germany, took over direction of the museum this January. Félix-Didier's ex-husband heads the Film Department of the Museum for Latin American Art in Buenos Aires and he heard from a fellow who runs a Cineclub there that when he last screened Metropolis, he was amazed at how long the film ran on. That's when they delved into the archives and discovered the scenes no one believed would ever be seen again.

Die Zeit is also running a gallery of stills from the missing scenes. It'd be improper for me to simply translate the captions, but I can tell you what's up with each of these images. I'll keep it short, so some familiarity with the film will come in handy:

  • 1: Schmale (Fritz Rasp), Joh Fredersen's spy, follows Freder. The scene helps clarify what he's doing in the film in the first place.

  • 2: A master of ceremonies applies make-up to a young lady; the significance of this scene escapes me, to be honest, but fine.

  • 3: This is a big one, though. In the sequence in which the workers' underground city is flooded, children fight for their lives; for the first time, we can see that the water comes from the above-ground city.

  • 4: Maria flees; this should help explain why the workers fall for her doppelgänger, the Robot Maria.

  • 5: Maria, fleeing some more.

  • 6: And more.

The Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation will be working with the Archive in Buenos Aires to restore the rediscovered scenes and make them available to the public. Says the widely respected film historian Martin Koerber: "However poor the state of the material may be, the normal viewer will now be able to discern the original intention of the film with all its supporting characters and sub-plots. The rhythm of the film, too, will be revived."

Updates, 7/3: First off, the Magazin presents quite a package. There are several pages featuring stills from the newly rediscovered scenes; the story of the three film canisters containing them is retraced in detail; and in another piece, Rainer Rother, director of the Deutsche Kinemathek and Berlinale Retrospektive programmer, Anke Wilkening of the FW Murnau Foundation and restorer Martin Koerber discuss the value of the find.

On the site, however, nothing's been added other than a collection of critical reactions to Metropolis when it premiered. Movie City News, though, has noted that the FW Murnau Foundation has issued a press release in English.

I was pleased to see that the story made the news on state television last night; for the time being, though, I won't add much more here until I can get a sense of perspective, that is, decide how much and what to relay from the Magazin that would be of genuine interest to readers who haven't been quite as obsessed with this film as I have over all these years. In other words, I'm still a little too giddy for proper perspective.

I should note that , as Die Welt is emphasizing, we still do not have the absolute, complete version; Rother estimates that what's been rediscovered represents around 85 percent of what had been considered lost for good. Still!

Kate Connolly reports on the story for the Guardian while Peter Bradshaw comments: "New scenes may make more sense of the head-spinning narrative.... Or perhaps it will all just be more fascinatingly strange and perplexing than ever."

Updates, 7/4: Spiegel Online has translated David Kleingers's take on the discovery; he runs the German Film Institute's filmportal.de, which has a nifty page devoted to Metropolis as part of its section on Weimar Cinema.

Christiane Peitz talks with Volker Schlöndorff about the find for the Tagesspiegel. Also in German: Bert Rebhandl in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; and Welt Online talks with Rother.

Update, 7/5: The Frankfurter Rundschau runs a sobering report on the state of the copy found in Argentina. First, that's precisely what it is: a copy, 16mm, made as a "back up" of sorts to the 35mm nitrate original - which is still missing. Second, it's in terrible shape - but the FW Murnau Foundation has high hopes for the quality of the image that might be drawn from it.

Update, 7/7: Starting with Eisenstein's Bezhin Meadow, Ronald Bergan revisits the mysteries of other missing masterpieces.

Updates, 7/8: Enno Patalas has been working with Koerber and Anna Bohn on a reconstruction of the original cut, that is, a document of what the cut would look like without the newly rediscovered scenes. For the taz, Bert Rebhandl asks him how well the find and the expectations match up. The good news, for the sake of such work in the future: pretty well.

Ardvark notes at Twitch that Kino will release the restored-as-much-as-currently-possible version on Blu-Ray next year.

Update, 7/9: Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell post a whopping wrap-up of Il Cinema Ritrovato, the festival of rediscovered and restored films in Bologna. Among the highlights are notes from a briefing on what's known so far regarding this version: "Contrary to some reports, virtually all the missing scenes are present on the Argentine print, the single exception being a small portion at a reel end."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:20 PM | Comments (15)

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson Alex Gibney's Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson is a tender, even-tempered elegy to a writer who at his peak could ingest staggering (literally) amounts of drugs and alcohol and transform, like Popeye after a can of spinach, into a superhuman version of himself - more trenchant, more cutting, more hilarious than any political journalist before or since," writes David Edelstein in New York. "No one but Thompson succeeded in being at once so addled and so lucid - and after a while, tragically, neither did Thompson."

"Gibney eschews narrative conventions and switches point of view on a dime, creating a prism of interviews and episodes that gradually assembles into a compelling portrait," writes David Carr in the New York Times. "In his long-running fever dream about America and its abundant pathologies, the bald man, with the tumbler of whiskey and head full of Schedule 1 narcotics, captured not only a mood - your government is not your friend - but many realities of civic life, most notably that if candidates were willing to do what it takes to get elected, they would probably arrive in office corrupted beyond hope."

Updated through 7/4.

"More illuminating than McGovern campaign manager Gary Hart's acid assessment of Thompson's oddly romantic worldview - a black-and-white arena where politics is 'all fun, all amusing, all good-and-evil over-dramatizing' - is Pat Buchanan's fond remembrance," notes Jim Ridley in the Voice. "Still, shooting in the snarky vein of his Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room rather than the cold fury of his Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side, director Gibney relies too often on glib simplification. He offers up a vague anecdote about Thompson's early run-in with the Louisville police as if it were some sort of defining Rosebud, while skimming the last 25 years of Thompson's life in about 20 minutes of screen time. But if these are misdemeanors, Gibney's music montages are felonies: smirky pairings of golden oldies and stock-footage upheaval - a Social Unrest Classic Rock Weekend."

"[D]espite its resources and Behind the Music fade-out, Gonzo doesn't truly dig past Thompson's familiar mythos," writes Nicolas Rapold. "This is a common shortcoming among biographical documentaries (if not, ordinarily, Mr Gibney's), but the two-hour chronicle that is Gonzo is especially disappointing because, well, no one told stories about Hunter S Thompson better than Hunter S Thompson, who did so in the course of crafting genuine insights about his putative subject matter."

Also in the New York Sun: "'It actually speaks of him from within his era, showing the way he fought in his own time to take on the social system, the political system, and the world in general,' the artist Ralph Steadman, Thompson's longtime collaborator, said. 'It also gets that manic balance just right, showing how Hunter could go right to the edge, would push to the edge in hopes of shocking people, and then pull back at just the last second.'" From S James Snyder's conversation.

Joshua Rothkopf, writing in Time Out New York, finds it "a valuable reclamation of the political from the personal. Terry Gilliam and Johnny Depp (Gibney's enjoyably sober narrator) turned Thompson into a borderline clown for 1998's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; this documentary restores a fair measure of the intelligent (even feared) critic and author."

"Gonzo turns out to be the most absorbing film, fiction or nonfiction, I have seen this year," declares Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

Cathleen Rountree talks with Gibney for SF360.

Cheryl Eddy calls up Gibney for the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance and "Hunter S Thompson, 1939 - 2005."

Updates, 7/3: "A couple of passages aside, it is almost perversely straightforward in light of its unstable subject, a chronological march through the heavy 60s, the downer 70s and the post-Reagan blur with a dutiful assemblage of talking heads and archival footage," sighs Elbert Ventura at indieWIRE. "The historical and cultural insights are all textbook, the music choices Gump-esque (if I hear Jefferson Airplane playing over images of Summer of Love San Francisco one more time...). What saves the movie is the man himself."

"Overall, Gibney's film has the most fun as it focuses on the stories behind Thompson's early successes, including a clever recreation of moments from the actual Fear and Loathing road trip to Las Vegas with Mexican-American lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta (the Samoan 'Dr Gonzo' in the book) using actual audiotape from the trip recorded by Thompson," writes Bob Westal at Bullz-Eye. The film is "excessively loose and far from definitive - but the last thing Thompson would have wanted was the Ken Burns treatment."

"It's more Thompson-for-beginners than an exhaustive inquiry, but as introductions go, it's thorough and thoughtful," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

Aaron Hillis talks with Gibney for IFC; Sam Adams for the Philadelphia City Paper; Steven Boone for the SpoutBlog.

Update, 7/4: Phil Nugent begins another very fine entry with a look back at the beginnings of gonzo journalism:

Some innovators would have let this stuff into their work a dribble at a time, just to measure the effect and see how it was taking; Thompson dove in with both feet, and just to make sure that there was no misunderstanding about where his priorities were now, he wrapped up his report on the Kentucky Derby without bothering to mention anything about what had happened on the racetrack or who had won. (Thompson would later maintain that he had suffered paralyzing writers block, been unable to write the piece, and just sent in his notebook pages, and was wondering what he was going to do for a new career when word got to him that his editors at Scanlon's were bananas about what he'd sent and that he'd knocked one out of the park. It's a story I've always liked without knowing whether to believe; if it's true, Thompson, who could be a very sloppy, lazy writer, sure did keep a polished notebook. I sort of suspect that he wrote what he'd planned to write but did think that it might end his career if it didn't fly and came up with the writers block story in advance as a cover if things didn't go the way he hoped.)

"Thompson's creatively fallow years outnumbered his fertile ones, which can leave you feeling a bit deflated after two hours," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But at his best he was braver, funnier and more ruthlessly honest than just about any other magazine writer, and Gonzo confirms his place in the great American parade of cranks, renegades and sages - that is, in the best, most disreputable corner of our literary pantheon."

"Gibney succeeds in dispelling Thompson's cartoonish persona, returning the focus to his writing and celebrating its force and moral clarity," writes JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. "And some of the people interviewed are admirably honest in observing how Thompson betrayed his talent and let down his readers. Yet Gonzo shies away from assessing Thompson's legacy in our modern media landscape, where a degraded gonzoism has only added to the cacophony."

"Gonzo emphasizes that, for all his cynical rant, Thompson began as a genuine idealist who saw bright promise in the counterculture revolution of the late 1960s but who soured into despair even as his fame spread and his fortune increased," writes Joe Leydon in the Houston Chronicle. "He lived long enough to devolve into a walking-and-talking (though just barely) caricature, one ironically upstaged by a cartoon caricature (in the Doonesbury comic strip). But his friends and admirers persuasively argue in Gibney's film that he should have stuck around to bring his gonzo fury to bear on contemporary figures fully deserving of fear and loathing."

"While the figure of Hunter S Thompson may already be an overly familiar cinematic subject, what is remarkable about Gonzo is the amount of archival footage that has been included from all stages of his life," notes Stephen Snart at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "It's a testament to Thompson's character that even back when film was a more precious commodity, people seemed to know that if Thompson was in a room it was worth the expense of turning on a camera."

"The great Hunter S Thompson documentary has yet to be made, but there's a respectable draft - including a blueprint on what not to do - in Gonzo." Paul Constant in the Stranger.

Andrew O'Hehir quotes from "among the most lucid and penetrating passages of Thompson's entire career," the September 12, 2001 column for ESPN, and then talks with Gibney for Salon.

"This seems to me a very sad story about an essentially minor figure," grumbles Richard Schickel in Time. "Thompson's was not a life to celebrate (and Gibney, to his credit, does not do so). But there is an implicit approval in this film that makes me uneasy. But then, irrationality always make me uneasy."

"[I]t leaves you wondering, how was it that so many people liked this man who does not seem to have liked himself? And what about the hangovers?" asks Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Nick Plowman: "Gibney pushes the envelope, going a little over the edge, and in a sense, it is as though Thompson's spirit was infused into this fascinating arc detailing Hunter when he still thought he was invincible and when he later realised that he was only human, albeit an unusual one."

Online listening tip. Gibney's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:37 AM | Comments (1)

The Wackness.

The Wackness "The Wackness is a mix tape of clichés, with writer-director Jonathan Levine taking cuts from a dozen or more 'life-affirming' coming-of-age melodramas and setting them to the backbeat of NYC 94," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice.

Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine: "This is the same old Sundance-approved 'quirky' dramedy that's been sadly dominating American independent filmmaking for the past decade, only here ensconced in I Love the 90s nostalgia that can't even get the early Giuliani era halfway right in look or atmosphere."

Updated through 7/3.

For the New York Times, Charles McGrath profiles Levine, who "looks less like a movie director than the eager-to-please guy who fetches the director's coffee. He grew up on the Upper East Side and went to St Bernard's, Trinity and then Andover - a part of his résumé that he prefers not to dwell on. 'It really hurts my street cred,' he said."

Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore (IFC) talk drug movies.

Earlier: Craig Phillips and reviews from Sundance.

Updates, 7/3: "To attempt a story like this - about a young man's sexual initiation, heartbreak and disillusionment with the adult world that he is about to enter - is to sacrifice a degree of novelty," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Mr Levine tries to compensate with a combination of historical authenticity and low-key emotional sincerity." Overall, he "succeeds and fails in roughly equal measure."

For S James Snyder, writing in the New York Sun, "The Wackness is a peculiar and beguiling surprise, the cinematic version of one of those endless summer afternoons that line the median between adolescence and adulthood. It's also a work of expertly calibrated performances."

"[W]hatever writing or directing mistakes were committed by young filmmaker Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) are more than made up for by his first-rate casting and the exceptional performances he has elicited from his actors," agrees Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

"The Wackness' main draw is [Ben] Kingsley's giddily over-the-top performance as a pothead, and the film delights in showing Gandhi sparking a huge bong or making out with Mary-Kate Olsen in a phone booth," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Yet it's paced much more to [Josh] Peck's brooding wavelength, and like a lot of movies with passive protagonists, it inevitably goes slack."

Slate's Dana Stevens agrees: Kingsley's "unny, layered performance as the needy but endearing Jeff is the single best thing in The Wackness," whereas "naive, mouth-breathing Luke, who dominates virtually every scene, is the movie's most thinly drawn and least interesting character."

"Levine's emphasis on specificity - he goes to the trouble to rig up a bus that passes Luke with a Forrest Gump ad - nearly undoes his story's inherent universality," argues Matt Singer (IFC). "Luke's problems could manifest in any time period, and the best parts about The Wackness are the ones that could have been set a hundred years ago, or a hundred years from now."

"From the desaturated hues of its early and middle passages to the alabaster pallor of almost its entire cast, this movie is lily white, regardless of how many Nas, Biggie and Wu-Tang Clan songs can get stuffed into the final mix," notes Brandon Harris.

Armond White in the New York Press: "Midway through 2008, something surprising has happened: Two films with human dimension and artful expression - Adam Yauch's Gunnin' For That #1 Spot and Jonathan Levine's The Wackness - have flushed the toilet of summer movies. Neither is a special effects extravaganza, but they stir emotion by emphasizing the human scale of what movies can show. (See my mid-year round-up below.)"

"It's as if there's a great film waiting to be made about these people in that place and time, and The Wackness gets about, oh, 68 percent of the way there." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir introduces his interview with Levine.

Stephen Saito (IFC) talks with Levine and Peck.

Michael Ordoña meets Olivia Thirlby for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:28 AM | Comments (3)

William Holden: A Different Kind of Hero.

William Holden "[William] Holden shared the screen with such iconic American leading men as John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart, and the star easily held his own alongside the deliberate on-screen gravity of the former and the brittle cynicism of the latter," writes Bruce Bennett, previewing William Holden: A Different Kind of Hero for the New York Sun. "Yet of all of the male stars of his generation, Holden embodied the anxious doubts and sometimes outright lies that are the dark underpinnings of movie heroism. Looking over the list of films chosen by Film Society's estimable programmer, Kent Jones, it's interesting to consider how many of the pictures involve Holden's character defrauding those around him, and how many climax (or, in the case of [Sunset Boulevard], open) with his death." Today through July 15.

Updated through 7/3.

"The leitmotif of William Holden's career was compromise - from his very first leading (p)role as the working-class contender who ditches the violin for prizefighting in 1939's Golden Boy." Jim Ridley in the Voice: "In film after film - his best ones, anyway - his characters sold their souls, dealt with the devil, stirred impure thoughts in the innocent and impressionable, and looked out for No 1."

"He may do good, but it will come off as bad," writes Sheila O'Malley at the House Next Door. "He may do good, but he will never wish to be congratulated for it. Holden sticks his neck out for no one. His characters have a deep suspicion towards any group dynamic. He resists consensus politics. He stands apart. He observes, evaluates, holds his cards close to his chest. He is willing to come across as cold if that will preserve his integrity. This is quite a rare quality, not just in actors, but in anyone... and it is that which elevates William Holden above the matinee-idol 1950s movie star persona that could have trapped him completely."

The L Magazine's Mark Asch is appreciative and all, but also notes: "Given that the FSLC is giving a retro to a square-jawed specimen of American manhood who brought subtle shadings of complex psychological depth to mainstream Hollywood prestige and genre fare, and was in The Wild Bunch, I have to ask: can we please have a Robert Ryan retrospective soon? It's been a long time coming."

Update, 7/3: Michael Atkinson in top form at Moving Image Source:

Just as Bugs Bunny was always whom we would hope to be but Daffy Duck was closer to the luckless, selfish, short-sighted people we actually are, movie stardom has always been a voyeuristic switch-off between idealized transference and the recognition of our flawed selves. The glamorous and cool former has always crowded out the gritty, painful latter, but the popular career peaks of, say, Edward G Robinson, Dana Andrews, Judy Garland, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Diane Keaton attest to a spectactorship paradigm that verges on a realist empathic bond, a desire to connect, not to escape. Such is the nature of our intimate, carking, rueful relationship with William Holden, on the surface one of the Hollywood century's typical all-purpose leading men, but beneath it the keeper of poisoned secrets, and a living embodiment of America's postwar self-doubt and idealistic failure. He seethed with disappointment as a persona, and we all knew what he meant.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:08 AM

Japan Cuts.

Japan Cuts In the New York Sun, Martin Tsai argues that the lineup for this year's Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film "is reflective of how the country's film industry is grappling with its global reach while struggling to defend its home turf." Today through July 13.

The Voice's J Hoberman recommends catching United Red Army (and I'll second that), noting that "as the old radical [Koji] Wakamatsu is still barred from entering the US, the July 6 screening will be followed by a satellite Q&A."

Updated through 7/3.

Updates, 7/3: "What's most impressive about this year's Japan Cuts assortment is the enormous range and maturity of the filmmaking, along with the distinct sense that Japanese cinema continues to hew its own path," writes Andrew O'Hehir, introducing his coverage for Salon. "Yes, we live in a global information economy, and Japanese directors are influenced by both American and European film. But one could argue that the influences flow more from east to west these days, and a great many Japanese movies could have been made nowhere else." The focus of this entry: "[A]ny festival that could include films as radically different, and as marvelous, as Naomi Kawase's The Mourning Forest and Hitoshi Matsumoto's Dainipponjin (Big Man Japan) is worth noticing."

"Japan Cuts pays tribute to legendary director Kon Ichikawa who sadly passed away in February," notes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "Skip Shunji Iwai's flashy but creatively challenged doc A Filmful Life and check out The Inugami Family, Ichikawa's influential 1976 whodunit and chase it with Murder of the Inugami Family, his recent 2006 remake. Ichikawa may be gone but thanks to Japan Cuts' diligent programming, his presence remains as vitally inventive as it was 32 years ago."

Nicolas Rapold previews Yasukuni and United Red Army for the L Magazine.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:56 AM

Leonardo's Last Supper.

Leonardo's Last Supper "With a glint of a dagger and a blaze of celestial light, Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper burst into new life on Monday night after Peter Greenaway finally secured permission to reinvent the crumbling, 510-year-old masterpiece as a sound and light show," reports Robert Booth, who also talks with the filmmaker for the Guardian in a terrific audio supplement; also, a mini-gallery.

For the New York Times, Elisabetta Povoledo was among a "select few" to witness the multimedia performance: "Obscure details lost to time, overpainting and subsequent restorations were brought to the fore.... It was the second installment in a broader project in which he has harnessed the tools of the laptop generation to instruct what he has called a 'visually illiterate' society. The goal, he says, is to explore the potential interaction between '113 years of cinema and 8000 years of painting.'"

Online viewing tip. Peter Greenaway's official site has video.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:50 AM

July 1, 2008

Interviews. Guillaume Canet and Harlan Coben.

Tell No One "Hitchcock's 'Wrong Man' scenario gets an invigorating French update in Tell No One, a long-winded but gripping thriller based on American author Harlan Coben's bestseller," writes Nick Schager in Slant, reviewing "a film whose entertainingly fleet (and sometimes downright harried) pace... and enticing central mysteries deliver the tangy kicks one craves from juicy pulp."

With Tell No One opening on both coasts this weekend, James Van Maanen talks with Coben and actor-director Guillaume Canet about their César Award-winner.

Updated through 7/6.

"Halfway through the movie, I realized I was very happy that everyone was speaking French," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "The reason is simple: an American version of this material would have had too many explosions and far too much violence in general, and it would have been similar to thirty other thrillers made here during the past ten years." Instead, we find "a realistic social and working world where good-looking, intelligent, and articulate people find one another interesting. La belle France!"

"Maybe I just see too many plotless indie films where plausibility isn't an issue, or maybe this story demands an enormous leap into the improbable, but I was engrossed by Tell No One from end to end without believing a moment of it," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "It's a demanding film in terms of its intensity, mechanical complexity and underlying fatalism, but without remotely being intellectual."

"Like most French thrillers, it shows the influence of Hitchcock... or, at least, Hitchcock by way of Claude Chabrol," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "It also is occasionally reminiscent of John Schlesinger's Marathon Man, largely (though not entirely) because star François Cluzet (Round Midnight, plus several Chabrol films) so strikingly resembles the young Dustin Hoffman.... If there's a problem with Tell No One, it's that the plot becomes so complicated that, three days after viewing it, I'm already confused about which murder eight years ago was pinned on a random serial killer... or exactly who hired whom for some of the mayhem. I think it all ends up making sense, but I wouldn't swear to it."

"Veteran performers Nathalie Baye, Kristin Scott Thomas and Jean Rochefort lend their marvelously matured talents to three crucial characterizations in this intricate narrative jigsaw puzzle," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "I haven't enjoyed so much pleasurably intrigue-laden suspense in ages, and it is charismatically acted, too."

Erica Abeel talks with Canet for indieWIRE.

Updates, 7/2: "In the shortcut language of a movie pitch, Guillaume Canet's delicious contemporary thriller Tell No One is Vertigo meets The Fugitive by way of The Big Sleep," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "That is meant as high praise."

"Canet has covered his bases with enough swooping camerawork, narrative smoke-and-mirrors, and quick-sketched supporting characters for a dozen thrillers," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "Even if all of this demands a rather preposterous explanation, a wonderfully overblown coda, and a slightly overlong running time, it's still enormously fun to watch, the kind of film that Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to make, but which, in Canet's hands, looks almost laid back."

"Clocking in at 125 minutes, Tell No One comes with at least two plot twists too many, and a tell-all finale that practically merits its own intermission," writes Darrell Hartman in the New York Sun. "But otherwise, [Canet] strikes a near-perfect balance of suspense and raw emotion."

"Among the movie's many delights are the fluctuating rhythms of its pacing, an atmospheric volatility that sets off the doctor's blooming paranoia against his sunlit, leafy surroundings, and a terrific cast that includes Kristin Scott Thomas as a bitchy lesbian with heart and a quietly funny François Berléand as an obsessive-compulsive detective," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice.

"Despite a penchant for flashy and elaborate Parisian set pieces (a public park stake-out, an airport nail-biter, a beltway-crossing foot chase), this stylishly filmed action-mystery hybrid (and all the Césars – French Oscars – it won) is a testament to that country's ongoing love of all things American, a muscle-bound blockbuster running along the Seine wearing a 'J'aime Paris' T-shirt," writes Benjamin Sutton in the L Magazine. "Ultimately, class concerns end up carrying the film to its conclusion, and the opposition between our upwardly mobile hero and an aristocratic politician adds some populist satisfaction to the climactic payoff."

"It's a nightmare, all right, but always a plausible one," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "In the midst of another long, overheated summer at the multiplexes, this slightly subversive thought occurs to me; maybe we should sub-contract most of our thriller business to the French. From Claude Chabrol to François Truffaut (and beyond) they've shown a very entertaining respect for American crime and mystery stories. They see that the pressures crime places on otherwise peaceable citizens the opportunity to explore authentic emotions without sacrifice of suspenseful entertainment."

"As they say in the quote blurbs, 'It's a crackerjack thriller.' For once, they're right." Gary Dretzka talks with Coben and Canet for Movie City News.

Online listening tip. Ambrose Heron talks with Canet at FILMdetail.

Updates, 7/3: "How's this for a hook: tell everyone. Guillaume Canet's thriller... is the best movie I've seen this year." Marcy Dermansky

"An odd policier, Tell No One isn't without its rewards, but is also certainly not without problems," argues Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com.

"More is thought to be better in Tell No One, making the final twist-filled ending more convoluted than thoughtfully intricate," writes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "All the clues make sense when pieced together - but only on the surface."

"By and large, Tell No One is more interested in telling a knotty story than pondering its meaning, but in those rare deeper moments, Canet evokes how a tragedy can gather around a man and linger there, like a cloud of gnats," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

Canet's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Update, 7/4: "Yes, there are plot points in the film where you'll later go back and puzzle over how who knew what when, but trust me, you won't be thinking about that while Tell No One's running up on the big screen." James Rocchi at Cinematical.

Update, 7/6: Susan King talks with Canet for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:24 AM

DVDs, 7/1.

Mishima Paul Schrader's "triumph in Mishima, his most completely satisfying film, lies in creating a seeker who is aware of his own absurdity, and who is willing to embrace the ridiculous on his way to the sublime," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times, where he also reviews Framed, "among the last of the old-school films noirs" and "a poison-pen letter filled with bitterness, paranoia and despair."

Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights "will seem both familiar and disappointing to many of his fans," so, in the Los Angeles Times, Dennis Lim is recommending "Kino's five-film box set, which covers the first decade of his career (minus 1994's martial arts reverie Ashes of Time), from the brooding gangster love story As Tears Go By (1988) to the tempestuous breakup saga Happy Together (1997)." More on Blueberry from Michael Atkinson (IFC).

"Thirty years after its release, Invasion of the Body Snatchers remains not only stylistically but philosophically juicy," writes Annette Insdorf for Moving Image Source. "Like all of Philip Kaufman's adaptations - especially his subsequent masterpieces, The Right Stuff and The Unbearable Lightness of Being - it reveals an alert, smart humanism."

"The range of topics available to non-fiction filmmakers is virtually infinite, and yet to find an audience and a topic worth spending large sums of money and long stretches of time on, filmmakers need to seize on matters of clear public interest, whether because of their storytelling appeal or their importance to civic culture," writes Michael Z Newman. "The triumph of [Gary] Hustwit's film is that, surprisingly, Helvetica rises to this level so effectively and convinces even the design-naïve viewer of the huge significance of typography - a significance that increases as ordinary people become more involved in the production of visual media."

Sorry, Wrong Number "If Bogart was the king of noir, then surely Stanwyck was the queen," writes Steve-O at Noir of the Week. "Her powerful presence on screen made her the ultimate black widow in noir. Stanwyck's performance in Sorry, Wrong Number is so powerful the audience sympathy - unlike the radio drama - actually shifts to her not-so-bright would-be-killer husband played by the miscast Burt Lancaster."

Charles Bogle at the WSWS on Vol 4 of Warners' Film Noir Classic Collection and the years it spans, 1948 to 1955: "The betrayals of Stalinism, on the one hand, and the results of the postwar communist witch-hunts, spearheaded by the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, on the other, had ruinous consequences for American moviemaking. These consequences - the suppression of dissent and creativity; internal moral conflicts over one's duty to authority or to principle; the stifling, dispiriting sense of living one's life under surveillance - find various expressions in the collection."

"One common definition of a 'classic' work is that, every time you return to it, something new is visible," writes Bob Westal at Bullz-Eye. "This time, as a fan of Howard Hawks's 1959 'answer film,' Rio Bravo, I came in hyper-aware of Hawks's attack on Will Kane's tactics, even his manliness. But watching High Noon now, the criticism seems more off base than ever."

Francis Cruz on The Machine Girl: "There's no pretense of depth or meaning as each plot detail, each stylized setting and each introduced character are only there to serve one purpose: to turn gory deaths into laughter-inflicting spectacles. Sure, the movie exists primarily to mine into our collective depravity. However, such being it's only raison d'etre, it accomplishes it with enough careless enthusiasm and verve to make the experience of watching this trashy movie into one memorable ride."

"While volumes have been written about the look of Michael Mann's films, his dialogue is less frequently talked about: compact and economical, Mann's writing is perfectly matched to his images," argues Andrew Bemis. "Heat is slick, stylish and loaded with guns and fast cars, to be sure, but what's truly remarkable is its fusion of character and action - it's an 'action movie' in a way that louder, dumber, less skillfully crafted movies only claim to be."

Bill Douglas Trilogy "Few films have ever seemed quite so familiar at first sight," writes Lynsey Hanley, reviewing the BFI's release of Bill Douglas's autobiographical trilogy for the New Statesman. "Douglas conveyed the fundamental loneliness of a sad childhood (the one thing childhood is not meant to be) with the precision and conviction of someone who had never managed to shake off its effects." Earlier: Melanie McFadyean's talk with Douglas for the Guardian.

Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign-Region DVD Report: Margin For Error/A Royal Scandal": "This BFI two-disc set is quite the nifty package for the would-be Preminger completist who's not overly troubled by the varied vicissitudes of the current global economic situation."

Online eye candy; shahn finds Lubitsch's One Hour With You "over run with spectacular early 20th century design."

Online viewing tip #1. The trailer for the Oxford American's Best of the South DVD #2.

Online viewing tip #2. "The most notable DVD release of the week has to be the first season of Mad Men, writes Karina Longworth introducing a fan-made video that "specifically highlights Mad Men's Hitchcock allusions: the slate-gray, Madeline Elster-esque suit that Betty wears to therapy; Don's spying, here symbolized by his employment of a home movie camera like something out of a cross between Peeping Tom and Rear Window; and my favorite, Betty's fateful encounter with a flock of birds."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN), Monika Bartyzel (Cinematical), DVD Talk and Movie City News.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:58 AM

Mamma Mia!, round 1.

Mamma Mia! For the Guardian, Gwladys Fouché reports on last night's premiere of Mamma Mia! in London: "Hundreds of fans laid all their love on the movie's stars - including Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgård - as they walked the azur blue carpet, a reference to the movie's mediterranean setting. Leicester Square was further adorned with lemon trees, boungainvillea climbing over trellis arches and an orthodox-style church to recall Mamma Mia!'s Greek island setting, while the crowd waved Swedish flags and Abba songs were played on and on and on."

"They'll probably revoke my membership of the Straight Men's Sneering Association for this, but Mamma Mia! is actually rather wonderful," writes Hugo Rifkind in the London Times, which offers video from the premiere. "It is sharp, hilarious and so beautifully shot that you can almost smell the Ambre Solaire."

Updated through 7/5.

"No matter how many blockbusters there are, Universal Pictures' screen version of the global hit stage musical Mamma Mia! is the most fun to be had at the movies this or any other recent summer," announces Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter. "It's a delightful piece of filmmaking with a marvelous cast topped by Meryl Streep in one of her smartest and most entertaining performances ever."

Not so fast, counters Mike Goodridge in Screen Daily, labeling the film "merely a passably entertaining frippery... Indeed, it's a case of Thank You For The Music, as the infectious, decades-old ABBA songs on which the film is anchored are the only thing keeping it afloat."

"The plot, a neat mix of fairy tale and post-summer-of-love parable, is tailor-made for the screen, but [director Phyllida] Lloyd appears intimidated by her task," adds Charlotte O'Sullivan in the Evening Standard. "Streep looks especially uncomfortable, obviously having been told to act Big.... But then comes the moment where all the jarring elements gel."

"This season, gender specific films are the new black," blogs Lisa Marks.

Nigel Farndale talks with Brosnan for the Telegraph.

Update: "Watching Mamma Mia! is like attending a raucous family gathering around the karaoke machine," blogs Ben Child. "The guests squabble and hug and briefly bare their souls before lumbering up to the microphone when their big moment arrives. But here's the thing. It is this very quality - this game, amateur-night abandon - that eventually won me over." A nice quote from Dennis Potter follows.

Update, 7/2: Stuart Jeffries talks with Streep for the Guardian, where David Thomson riffs on her.

Updates, 7/4: Hugo Rifkind talks with Julie Waters for the London Times.

John Hiscock talks with Streep for the Telegraph.

Updates, 7/5: For the New York Times, Sylviane Gold meets writer Catherine Johnson, director Phyllida Lloyd and co-producer Judy Craymer.

"The four members of pop group Abba have attended the Swedish premiere of Mamma Mia!, the film which features 22 of their songs." The BBC has video.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:24 AM | Comments (2)