August 31, 2008
Shorts, 8/31."A few weeks ago, a group of Los Angeles Times writers and editors sat down to celebrate our celluloid city by selecting the 25 films from the last 25 years that best speak to the essential DNA of the Southland," writes Geoff Boucher. "We started with two simple ground rules: The movie had to communicate some inherent truth about the LA experience, and only one film per director was allowed on the list, a guideline that kept City of Angels specialists such as Michael Mann, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson from dominating." So here's what they've come up with; you can follow along, too, via a map. Rocket Video responds with a few alternatives and a list of the ten best LA docs. Also in the LAT: Scott Martelle reviews Rick Wartzman's Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Vince Keenan's just enjoyed Vampyres of Hollywood: "The novel by Adrienne Barbeau (yes, that Adrienne Barbeau) and Michael Scott (no, not that Michael Scott) suggests that many of the movies' brightest lights are in fact the undead. Funny how easy that notion is to accept." "I've mentioned from time to time the 'shot at a time' sessions I do at film festivals and universities, sifting through a film with the help of the audience," begins Roger Ebert. "Actually, it's something anyone can do, including you... I want to tell you how." Books and methods are recommended and then a slew of comments follows, with Ebert replying to several of them. "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is literally a Disneyfication (you wonder whether The Gas Chamber ride is being installed outside Paris)," writes Linda Grant. "How can we expect children to understand what we do not?" She's upfront about giving away the ending here, but I found the spoiler worth the read. Related: Mick Brown has a long talk with Vera Farmiga for the Telegraph. Also in the Guardian:
Venice, 8/31."At least one great movie can be guaranteed to emerge from the premieres at this year's Venice film festival," writes John Hooper in the Guardian. "Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thieves may not be new, but the version screened yesterday at the Lido had never been seen before. It was the result of six months of painstaking restoration and digitisation, which have saved for future generations of moviegoers a masterpiece that was in danger of being lost." Jean-Michel Frodon for Cahiers du cinéma on The Burning Plain and Jerichow: "In both films, you get the feeling of a lack of sincerity and spontaneity, you see TV fiction conformity which the screenplay tries to palliate by uselessly complicating the story, and the directing and acting are constantly overdone in each gesture, each emotion. We will refrain from attempting to draw a broader theory about this similarity, either regarding the contemporary world or current cinema." Also: "Zhang Ke Jia is present three-fold on the lagoon this year, even if he has no feature film in competition at Mostra." "The challenging work of Paolo Benvenuti has never been so beautiful." For Cineuropa, Gabriele Barcaro reviews Puccini and the Young Girl, while Natasha Senjanovic reports on the screening of Landscape No 2: "Part historical intrigue, part thriller, part sexfest, in the film, which [Vinko] Möderndorfer adapted from his eponymous novel, electrical appliance repairman Polde (Janez Hočevar) and his young assistant Sergej (Marko Mandić) break into a house of a retired general (Janez Škof) to steal a painting of one the mass graves of the many massacres of Nazi collaborators that took place in Slovenia at the end of WWII." "In Belgian director Patrice Toye's Nowhere Man, an apparently comfortably off and happily married man sees a raging house fire and on the spur of the moment walks into it in order to fake his death and disappear. The rest of film details the many ways he regrets that decision." Countering Ray Bennett's generally positive review in the Hollywood Reporter would be Eddie Cockrell's for Variety. Arifa Akbar reports in the Independent on reactions to Valentino: The Last Emperor - from its subjects. More from Geoffrey Macnab (Guardian), David Gritten (Telegraph) and Alissa Simon (Variety). Damon Wise and Nick James round up "Venice gossip" for the Observer. The Guardian and the Telegraph have got special sections going.
Fests and events, 8/31."Anthology Film Archives in the East Village has rescued and preserved Chafed Elbows and two more of [Robert] Downey's riotous but equally endangered early works, Babo 73 (1964) and No More Excuses (1968), with the support of the Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to film preservation," writes Stuart Klawans in the New York Times. "These time capsules of another era - which like capsules of a different kind can act quickly on the nervous system - will be shown at Anthology in a weeklong series beginning Sept 18, along with one of Mr Downey's most personal films, the never-released Moment to Moment (1975).... Martin Scorsese, who is on the board of the Film Foundation, asked, 'How could we even think of not preserving these films?' Interviewed by e-mail, he described the pictures as 'an essential part of that moment when a truly independent American cinema was born.'" "I am about to embark on seven straight weeks of cinematic discovery, an incredibly condensed period of time when I will sit through more films than most people see in a year. Toronto ends just as Independent Film Week begins, which overlaps with my beloved New York Film Festival, an event that ends just before the Hamptons International Film Festival kicks off.... How can you watch 100 films in seven weeks without going a little bit crazy? I wouldn't miss it for the world." Tom Hall previews "the films I am most looking forward to seeing (some for a second time) and writing about during my festival season." Darren Hughes, who'll be covering Toronto for Senses of Cinema (and yes, I'll have an entry on the new issue as soon as I can), lays out his schedule. "Respondents to our eighth annual Chasing the Buzz poll picked rebel opus Che as the movie they're most eager to see at the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs from Thursday through Sept 13," notes the Toronto Star's Peter Howell. Via Jeffrey Wells. At indieWIRE, Sylvain Verstricht files a dispatch from Montreal, where the World Film Festival runs through tomorrow. In the New York Sun, Bruce Bennett previews Cinematic Atlas: The Triumphs of Charlton Heston, running through Thursday. In the Auteurs' Notebook, David Phelps looks back on highlights from Japanese Screen Classics: In Honor of Madame Kawakita. Online listening tip. At Cinematical, James Rocchi and Michael Lerman look ahead to Toronto.
The Red Shoes @ 60.To mark the occasion, the New York Times has turned to its chief dance critic, Alastair Macaulay: "Melodrama! Kitsch! Ham! Entirely undistinguished choreography!" To be fair, further in he adds, "Even so, The Red Shoes remains a classic." The piece has infuriated the Siren no end: The movie is about a commitment to art that drives an artist to her grave, and [Michael] Powell's dedication to showing the incredible preparation that must go into a single performance is part of the movie's realism. I said realism and I meant it. The ultimate accomplishment of The Red Shoes is the way it combines the dream world of a ballet performance and the spiritual dedication to art, with the actual backbreaking work of the artist and the life sacrifices that ballet demands. Vicky's death scene is sneeringly described by Macaulay as "sheer Tosca" and "sheer Anna Karenina," as though either source is a hallmark of kitsch. Powell's memoirs, which Macaulay might greatly benefit from reading, remark on how the bloodiness of that scene struck the British critics as "bad taste." "The whole point of the scene," Powell countered, "was the conflict between romance and realism, between theatre and life." Indeed, that's the whole point of the movie. Further exploration? The Wikipedia entry on the film will take you all sorts of places.
Telluride 08.First, a couple of online viewing tips. The Auteurs present a "Tribute to 35 Years of the Telluride Film Festival," featuring, thanks, too, to Criterion, "a rotating selection of feature length films to watch in full screen and for free, as well as an exhibition of clips and trailers for all the films." Meanwhile, Matt Langdon's been rounding up trailers for this year's offerings. "While last year the festival showcased I'm Not There, Into the Wild, Juno and Margot at the Wedding, this year there are few to no American breakthroughs expected," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez. "Telluride's highly selective programmers typically screen the latest studio and Indiewood offerings, previewing some of the best autumnal roll outs, but the fact so many new American films didn't make the cut has insiders here anxious that new work in Toronto next week will be mediocre." Updated through 9/5. "Ah, the quick to judge are already in full force. The talk of the Telluride Film Festival right now is that the 20-minutes of footage shown from David Fincher's highly-anticipated The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is decidedly underwhelming. Or at least that's how some are feeling. Keep in mind it wasn't a straight twenty minutes from the film, but rather various scenes and footage stitched together. At best reactions seem mixed." The Playlist rounds up linkage. The SpoutBlog's Karina Longworth objects: "I'm in Telluride, and I hadn't heard this bad buzz - the handful of people I've spoken to who saw the show reel either last night or this morning had generally positive things to day, aside from some general skepticism as to what the film's reported two and a half hour final cut will look and feel and play like." More from Karina: "Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, who screened short films at Telluride in 2005 and 2006, brought their debut full-length work to the festival this morning. The 74-minute Helen was preceded by Joy, a 9-minute short featuring some of the same actors, settings and situations, which Lawlor described before the screening as 'a slightly more philosophical primer' for the feature. The filmmaking duo place both works within the context of their Civic Life series, 'community-based' films cast with local non-performers, in which the socio-economic issues relevant to modern England and Ireland are improbably but successfully folded into a pure cinema marked by long traveling takes, atmosphere in place of action, and a notable economy of speech." Also in the SpoutBlog: Kevin Buist talks with Mike Leigh about Happy-Go-Lucky - more on the film from Ryland Walker Knight - and Paul Moore reviews O'Horten. "The festival staff of nearly 750 includes 54 Bay Areas residents, amongst them filmmaker Barry Jenkins, whose first feature, Medicine for Melancholy, won the Audience Award at the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival last spring," writes Hilary Hart at SF360. "For six years, Jenkins has worked in the trenches at TFF as a 'schlepper,' most recently overseeing the set up and operations of the concessions. This week, he's stocking popcorn, hot dogs and soda, and next week his film plays at the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the top ten film festivals in the world. In the last year he's acquired an agent, received numerous awards and signed a distribution agreement with IFC Films, who will release Medicine for Melancholy nationwide in February. But as he said in the Telluride Daily Planet, 'There was no way I wasn't gong to Telluride. I love working (here).'" Jeffrey Wells is hearing good things about Jeff Goldblum's performance in Paul Schrader's Adam Resurrected. Kevin Buist talks with Goldblum about his "Media Diet" at the SpoutBlog. "Telluride is celebrating a great talent coming out of Kazakhstan this year, Sergei Dvortsevoy," writes Paul Moore in the SpoutBlog. "Although he's here with only his first feature film (which, incidentally, took four years to make), there's a slate of documentaries he's brought that the festival directors tout as 'must sees.'" As for his first narrative feature, Tulpan, winner of the Prize of Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year, "It's not just the performances that are enamoring, it's the sheer starkness of the environment." "One of the best things about watching a lot of movies for a living is that occasional joyous thrill of sitting in a darkened theater being overwhelmed by a film, and knowing immediately that, without a doubt, you've just seen something that will absolutely end up on your top ten of the year," writes Cinematical's Kim Voynar. "When that film is written and directed by a first-time director, it's even better, because you know you've just been witness to the start of a film career that promises to be something special. French novelist-turned-director Philipe Claudel's much-talked about freshman effort, I've Loved You So Long, which has its North American premiere last night here at Telluride following an award-winning showing at Berlin and a hugely successful run in France, is one of those films." And Cinematical's gathering its Telluride coverage under one link. JJ of As Little as Possible has caught American Violet and a remastered 70mm print of Baraka. Updates, 9/1: Let's start with Karina Longworth's report from a panel at the festival (and thanks for the mention, Karina), "Snip Snip: Are Cutbacks in Film Distribution and Criticism Affecting Quality Filmmaking?": "At Telluride, Annette Insdorf (Columbia University), Michael Barker (Sony Classics), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Scott Foundas (LA Weekly), Jonathan Sehring (IFC Films), Paul Schrader (Adam Resurrected) and Anne Thompson (Variety) tackle the question of the day: will both films and film criticism as we know them soon cease to exist?" Also at the SpoutBlog:
Telluride. Prodigal Sons."The other week, I saw a film I can't get out of my head," writes David Thomson, introducing Prodigal Sons to Guardian readers.
August 30, 2008
Chris Smith: American Original.American Movie is Chris Smith "doing what he does best: approaching folks on their own terms and turf, with an eye for everyone's squelch-resistant kernel of independence," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "American Movie and the director's four other films will screen at the Museum of Modern Art in a retrospective titled Chris Smith: American Original. The series spans from Mr Smith's 1996 debut, American Job, to his latest, The Pool, a fictional feature set in India that begins its premiere American run Wednesday at Film Forum." "The Pool... has a lyricism that is new to Smith's work," writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. "Shot with a handheld 35-mm camera that gives a fairy-tale radiance to the riot of colors on the city streets and in the lush gardens around the rich man's house, The Pool roots its fantasy in the details of daily life." Updated through 9/5. MoMA's series runs through Monday. Update, 9/1: For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Smith "about the challenges of shooting in India, directing actors whose language you don't speak, and his love of Pirates of the Caribbean. Updates, 9/2: "There is nothing quite like the subtle pleasure of close but seemingly casual observation in a medium that often forgets how much natural grace, levity, and melancholy exists in the spontaneous actions of human beings," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "The gentle, gradual unfolding of circumstances and characters in The Pool is a quietly stirring reminder of how it can be done." Its "rhythm is soporific, with the rich man's pool easily understood as a metaphor for privilege and the Portuguese-inflected soundtrack hinting to the region's colonial past," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "The film's saving grace, though, is Smith's refusal to reduce Nana's pool entirely to a symbol of attainment." Updates, 9/3: "In the manner of a Satyajit Ray film, The Pool avoids melodrama, the better to capture the texture of Venkatesh's vagabond life," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "At first The Pool suggests an inspirational fable in which a selfless older man rescues a youth from the streets. But just when you expect the film to turn into a predictable, rose-colored valentine to opportunity and hope, it goes to a deeper, more ambiguous place." "Descriptions of The Pool will surely reference neorealism and Satyajit Ray, though Smith's aesthetic amounts to practical handheld master shots and modestly lush cinematography emphasizing verdant foliage and the dusty haze of city streets," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "It's a style that evokes an unromanticized naturalism compared to the tourist brochure photography of, say, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but it's also in the service of a fairly elementary fable that even at 98 minutes feels long." More from Nick Pinkerton in the Voice, where John Anderson talks with Smith: "In hindsight, it seems like a fairly naïve idea to think we were going to go over and make the film in English..." For IFC, Aaron Hillis talks with Smith "about India, being classified as a documentarian, and what he thinks about Todd Solondz's on-screen condemnation of his best-known film." "What makes The Pool so special is how it uses such a seemingly simple framework to speak so profoundly about many different elements of human nature," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Without being forceful or pushy, Smith has produced a beautiful, tender film that thoughtfully addresses issues of adolescent yearning, universal poverty, and parental sorrow, without ever feeling like he's trying to speak so deeply. He lets these themes emerge from the inside-out, not the outside-in, using a direct, unadorned style to produce a work that is suffused with documentary-like realism and symbolic poetry at the exact same time. The Pool is a quiet marvel of a movie." Update, 9/4: "The value of a film like Chris Smith's The Pool becomes more tangible when you begin to imagine what a lesser filmmaker might have wrought from the same material," writes Michael Koresky for indieWIRE. "The Pool is an unostentatiously crafted work about the daily travails and aspirations of an Indian teenager working at a hotel in the Goan capital of Panjim to help support his family, who live in an impoverished nearby rural village, and who dreams of something better by enviously staring at a nearby wealthy man's shimmering backyard pool from his tree perch. It could have been either mawkish or too self-consciously aping of a particularly neorealist style; instead Smith avoids both modes of address, using an expressive, incisive, and merely observant camera that rarely, if ever, calls attention to itself." Update, 9/5: "The Pool doesn't seethe with class tension - or much tension at all, for that matter," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "It's a funny, sweet-natured humanist character piece that looks beyond such distinctions without entirely transcending them. Based on a short story by Randy Russell, who co-scripted with Smith, the film has a refreshing sense of proportion without seeming as determinedly minor or mannered as other indies. It's a vivid piece of sketchwork."
Venice. Shirin."Given the respect he enjoys as a modern auteur, Abbas Kiarostami's latest film is unlikely to be ignored but this outlandish work suggests that Kiarostami has abandoned narrative cinema for now, prefering instead to explore the more experimental extremes of cinematic language," writes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily.
Venice. Achilles and the Tortoise."It doesn't seem so long ago that Takeshi Kitano was one of the most revered figures in world cinema," writes Geoffrey Macnab for the Guardian.
Venice. The Burning Plain.The first round of reviews is almost perfectly split: a rave and a pan from the trades and a rave and a pan from the British papers.
Venice Dispatch. 1.Ronald Bergan assesses the Competition so far. Whenever I arrive in Venice by train and leave the station, I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz entering the land of Oz. Unfortunately, all the hacks at the Venice Film Festival are stuck on the Lido which, toute proportion gardée, is like Alcatraz for nearly two weeks from which we have no time to escape. Every day I look longingly over the water and see the buildings around the Piazza San Marco. As I'm on the International Critics' Jury (Fipresci), which has to judge the films in the main competition, I look just as longingly over at the other ostensibly more interesting sections - Horizons and the Critics Week. Until now I have seen six out of the 21 films we are obliged to see, therefore it is rather too early to assess the quality of the competion films as a whole, but so far so bad. It's strange how many of the films start promisingly and then tail off disappointingly. This was most manifest in Takeshi Kitano's Achilles and the Tortoise which begins with a delightful animated illustration of Zeno's paradox of the title. There follows an entrancing tale of a young boy fanatically obsessed by drawing and painting. He takes lessons from a master and befriends a simple-minded man with a tic, who can also not stop painting. Alas, just as I was placing it on a par with Im Kwon-Taek's Chihwaseon, this parable of artistic passion deteriorates into a broad comedy where the noble theme is degraded, echoing the phrase "Art is a hoax," expressed by a character at one stage. The painter in middle-age is played by Kitano with a self-amused air, and all the paintings, vividly realised and photographed, are by the director himself. There is a visual pleasure to be had from the paintings, whether original or pastiches of Picasso, Matisse, Miró or Warhol, so it is a pity that Kitano seems to be putting down both the character and the paintings. Both Barbet Schroeder's Inju, la bete dans l'ombre and Nelson Yu Lik-Wai's Plastic City are about foreigners in an alien land, the former about a French novelist in Japan, the latter about Chinese gangsters in Brazil. The Schroeder film begins with an extract from a patently bad Japanese supernatural movie which is then discussed rather seriously by the French writer, an admirer of the reclusive Japanese novelist on which the film was based. Gradually, however, the film develops exactly into the sort of genre thriller it seemed to be taking off. Former cinematographer Lik-Wai's Plastic City is grotesquely derivative of every Hong Kong and Taiwanese gangster movie over the last decades with added clichés from Brazilian gang warfare films set in the favelas. It is not only excessively violent but pretentious in that it feigns to making a point about the way greed is ruining the Brazilian rain forest. The best part of the film is a stunning credit sequence. If only it had ended there. Up to now, the selection has been slightly redeemed by Christian Petzold's Jerichow, though the plot is rather too reminiscent of The Postman Always Rings Twice and its variations, and Guillermo Arriaga's The Burning Plain. This is a first feature by the Mexican Arriaga, who wrote Alejandro González Iñárritu's first three feature films: Amores perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006) and, like those films, especially the last two, it has an intriguingly multi-layered interrelated plot playing cryptically with time and space. In a way, due in part to Arriaga, this kind of screenplay has become rather a trend. Nicely photographed by Robert Elswit on the US-Mexican border, it is played rather solemnly on one note by a cast headed by Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger. Despite the straight-jacket imposed on me by the main competion films, I couldn't resist straying into Abbas Kiarostami's Shirin, which is showing out of competition and to which I'll return in my next dispatch. Radical both in style and content, it has been, for me at least, the highlight of the Venice Festival, besides seeing 99-year-old Manoel de Oliveira, three of whose short films are showing here, standing up and waving his white hat and stick in acknowledgment of a standing ovation. - Ronald Bergan
How bad...?Sometimes the worst movies bring out the best in critics, and this Labor Day weekend offers plenty of opportunities for a few to cut loose. "Film critics never come home stinking of their honest labor, but the nearest equivalent is covering something like College, which leaves its stain on one's very humanity," writes Nick Pinkerton (Voice). More from Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Laura Kern (New York Times) and Nick Schager (Slant). Nathan Lee (NYT): "Disaster Movie, the latest disposable parody of disposable Hollywood movies, has a shelf life of about five minutes, tops, which may be slightly longer than it took to come up with most of its gags." More from Jim Ridley (Voice): "[T]his carpet-fouling mongrel of a movie no more deserves release than do anthrax spores." "Don't let the title fool you," warns Nathan Lee: "there's nothing generic about Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild! Written, directed and co-produced by Todd Stephens, this wretched gaysploitation number is, in fact, the worst gay sequel ever." More from Ed Gonzalez (Voice) and Eric Henderson (Slant). "Just going by the poster and the trailer, you could probably recognize Babylon A.D. as a bloated big-budget science fiction film," writes James Rocchi (Cinematical). "But after viewing the film, and with a few facts to put the film in context - like the fact 20th Century Fox didn't screen Babylon A.D. for critics, like the fact director Mathieu Kassovitz has already disavowed the film, like the numb dumb clang of every line of dialogue in it - you realize that Babylon A.D. is a bad, bloated big-budget science fiction film that doesn't even have the distinction of being memorably horrible or bravely idiotic or fascinatingly inept; it's simply an inert mass, a lump of product, a failure too expensive to simply discard." More from Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nick Schager (Slant) and AO Scott (NYT). "The BBFC has for the first time cleared the DVD release, with an 18 certificate, of the complete and uncut version of Caligula," sighs the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It certainly has archive value as a record of something fantastically terrible, a so-bad-it's-bad nightmare which could only have come from that era of stately art-porn."
August 29, 2008
Times and Winds in the UK."Times and Winds is a remarkable piece of work, conceived at the highest pitch of intelligence: it is a cinematic poem, replete with fear and rapture, and one of the best films of the year," declares the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Austerity is one of the qualities a viewer expects of any film set in a deprived Turkish mountain village where people are outnumbered by goats, life revolves around the imam's calls to prayer and a father expresses love for his son by beating him for five minutes rather than the customary ten," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "In this respect, and this respect alone, Times and Winds disappoints.... [T]his supremely confident picture from the Istanbul-born writer-director Reha Erdem breaks many of the usual art-house rules. It is poetic but also visually aggressive, and it runs on a punchy rhythm from the get-go." "Reha Erdem adds his name to those of Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Fatih Akin in the list of directors heading up the impressive recent revival of Turkish cinema," writes Wally Hammond in Time Out. "It's true that the conflicts of Turkey's poised situation - at a crossroads between Asia and Europe, tradition and modernity, secularism and religion - are reflected in the lives of its three pubescent protagonists - Omer, Yakup and Yildiz - as we experience the hardship and strictures of rural life through their variously troubled and subtly handled rites of passage. But Erdem's film is not essentially political, despite its pointed view of patriarchy - and sexism - shown in the plans, real and imaginary, of more than one of the boys to kill their respective fathers." "It is, at a guess, about life's relentless march, about death, rebirth, and the hollow limits of religion in the face of overwhelming nature," writes Kevin Maher in the London Times. "You have to see it to get it, but when you've got it you've got it for good." "[I]t's Erdem's unsentimental compassion towards his characters, his fidelity to the rhythms of their lives and the arcs of their imaginations, that gives this film its wondrous power and depth," finds the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. Earlier: Reviews from January.
August 28, 2008
Shorts, fests, etc, 8/28."[T]here are more than enough names to be going on with: Balanchine, Stravinsky, Koussevitsky, Toscanini, Stokowski, Kurt Weill and Rouben Mamoulian are only the most prominent," writes Clive James, reviewing Joseph Horowitz's Artists in Exile: How Refugees from Twentieth-Century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts for the TLS. "Horowitz provides biographical sketches for them all, each sketch studded with quotable illustrations. (Otto Preminger, hearing a group of his fellow émigrés speaking Hungarian, said, 'Don't you people know you're in Hollywood? Speak German.') The result is a rich assembly, an unmasked ball teeming with famous names, but you always have to remember - and our author, to his credit, never forgets - that in too many cases their attendance was compulsory, a fact which can lend a sad note to the glamour." Earlier reviews: Joscelyn Jurich (Bookforum), Phillip Lopate (New York Times) and the Economist. Jean Renoir in 1952, in a piece that ran in Films in Review: "I didn't want to stay put. But my compass was out of order. I couldn't find my direction. I am very proud of this. It means that I haven't lost contact with the actual world, with this strange, unstable world of the mid-twentieth century. Yesterday was Hollis Frampton day at DC's. "According to Nicholas Rombes, editor of the book New Punk Cinema, the main feature that associates New Punk Cinema with punk music is these films' do-it-yourself ethos, which suggests to the audience that anybody can make a film," writes Halim Cillov in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Rombes states that beginning in the 1990s a series of films from around the world began to emerge and became highly popular among mainstream audiences, films that challenged and radically revised many of the narrative and aesthetic codes that governed Hollywood fare." The Guardian's Ben Childs notes that Variety's Tatiana Siegel reports on the next film from Todd Solondz, "a companion piece, a 'quasi-sequel' as it were, to Happiness... The cast includes Demi Moore, Emma Thompson and Paul Reubens." "Alongside compulsive dives into the deep end of the nostalgia pool, the seemingly inexhaustible supply of television series on DVD presents a rare opportunity to indulge in sociohistorical hindsight (to say nothing of scrutinizing and justifying personal obsessions)," writes Marc Holcomb at Moving Image Source. "From such a vantage point, the private-eye/police detective shows that flourished from the mid-1960s through the late 70s offer telling insights into an era of intense cultural flux. Chief among these is the jarring isolationism of the TV dick milieu, best exemplified by Mannix, Ironside and Hawaii Five-0. Combined with their blinkered portrayal of the fractious social and political movements of the time, this reclusiveness positions these shows as monuments to alienated white male power." Fests and events:
Venice, 8/28."Cold Lunch - which opened Critics' Week at the Venice Film Festival - is the remarkable feature debut by Norway's Eva Sørhaug," writes Camillo de Marco. "Seemingly harsh (no director has ever dared inflict such a horrible end on a newborn baby, attacked by fierce Hitchcock-like gulls) but tinged with human empathy, Cold Lunch closes with a final chapter entitled 'Paradise regained.' Perhaps it's possible to emerge from Hell but it's difficult to escape from loneliness. Northern European films thus continue to tackle social issues with flashes of paradox." Also in Cineuropa, Gabriele Barcaro on PA-RA-DA, which has opened the Horizons sections and is "directed by Marco Pontecorvo (son of Gillo, legendary director of The Battle of Algiers), the acclaimed DoP known for his work with masters Francesco Rosi (The Truce) and Michelangelo Antonioni (Eros). Shot during nine weeks in Bucharest - with a spell in Paris, in the shadow of Beaubourg - the film retraces the human (and humanitarian) adventure of Franco-Algerian clown Miloud Oukili. In the early 1990s, the latter - who was 20 at the time - devoted himself to saving children and street urchins in the Romanian capital from a life of drugs and prostitution." In Screen Daily:
Venice. Jerichow."German director Christian Petzold continues his exploration of ambling lives a bankrupt society in the Venice Competition entry Jerichow, a strong film that further consolidates his reputation as one of Northern Europe's finest auteurs," writes Boyd van Hoeij in Cineuropa.
Telluride 08. Lineup."The 35th Telluride Film Festival has announced their lineup, and American helmers are tellingly absent." Variety's Michael Jones has the list and a few notes on films that aren't in and: "'Last year was one of the strongest for American film,' said co-director Tom Luddy. 'But this year I didn't get any calls from Warner Independent, Picturehouse, Vantage. They're gone.'... Though tight-lipped on this year's sneaks, Luddy characterizes them as 'medium to high profile.'" Tomorrow through Monday. Below: That fun widget.
Sukiyaki Western Django."I guess the premise of Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django goes something like this," proposes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "Given that the Japanese samurai film and the American (and/or European) western are fundamentally the same genre, and that Akira Kurosawa, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah were all drilling in the same well - and given that a lot of their movies were ripping off Shakespeare's plots in the first place, with less talking and more killing - why not boil up all those stories and elements and influences in the same pot and see what happens?" "Whether it's score-settling culture theft, a fever dream of interlinked Wild West mythology, or simply a company casserole of way-cool cinema, this delirious spaghetti eastern could only have come from the boiling brain of Takashi Miike, the prolific Japanese auteur whose spectacularly uneven films account for the lion's share of the past decade's most utterly batshit movie moments," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. Updated through 9/2. Grady Hendrix in Slate: Asian Westerns are hardly new. Korea's The Good, the Bad, and the Weird is playing Cannes and the Toronto Film Festival, and last year, Americans finally saw the release of Wisit Sasanatieng's Thai Western Tears of the Black Tiger. Japan's Nikkatsu Studios produced their own series of Westerns as far back as 1959, and the most popular movie ever made in Bollywood, Sholay, is a "curry Western." But the most influential international Westerns came from 1960s Europe when Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, and Alejandro Jodorowsky took the Western movie from America, filched some style and story points from Japan, blasted the genre with hard radiation, then sent it back to the States, both smarter and stranger, where it influenced everyone from Sam Peckinpah to Walter Hill. There's no way to get from the square-jawed, clean-shirt-wearing cowboys of John Ford's 1946 My Darling Clementine to the stubble-jawed, morally compromised cowboys of Clint Eastwood's 1992 Unforgiven without going through Italy. "This over-the-top Far East riff on over-the-top spoofs of already over-the-top Spaghetti Westerns succeeds only because Miike's superior realization saves what would have otherwise been another smug head lodged irretrievably up its own posterior," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "Backdrops of candy-colored sunsets and out-of-nowhere snow descending on a desolate graveyard impart a majesty only feigned at by lesser homages like Tears of the Black Tiger." "It should come as no great surprise that the first person we see onscreen in Miike's new film is Quentin Tarantino, lounging in a patently phony Western sunset landscape complete with cardboard Mt Fuji and hawk-calls and mission bells on the soundtrack - it all has the flatness of a David Hockney painting," writes Leo Goldsmith in indieWIRE. "Soon, with an unlikely swiftness, the paunchy American director gymnastically blows away some menacing Japanese heavies (spraying the two-dimensional backdrop with stage blood), before whipping up the movie's titular dish with a snake egg. This prologue (and Tarantino's campy, barely watchable performance) is mercifully brief, but it establishes the mood of the film: loud, jolly, bloodthirsty, and painfully esoteric." "[O]ccasional triumphs aside, Miike too often seems to be not so much reinventing the spaghetti western as simply contributing a middling entry to the genre," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "And even when it's going strong, Sukiyaki continually reminds us that it's nothing more than an occasionally clever bit of dispensable pastiche." Blake Ethridge has pix, production notes and lots o' links. Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto. Updates, 8/29: "For a while the weird color scheme and the tongue-in-cheek evocation of various traditions of popular cinema are amusing," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But long before the final blood bath arrives the movie has made its point, which is essentially that Mr Miike has a lot of energy and an extensive collection of DVDs." "It's not just the pleasure in recognizing convention, as that is no pleasure at all (in fact, that's how nearly all mainstream cinema survives and self-propagates)," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Rather, Sukiyaki Western Django takes the cues we recognize and ratchets up our smug acknowledgment of those cinematic conventions to such an absurd, extreme degree that one must laugh." "Mr Miike has chosen to burden his mostly Japanese-speaking cast with English dialogue pronounced phonetically," notes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "What begins as a bizarre artistic pothole becomes, over the course of 98 minutes, a conceptual impact crater of nearly unmeasurable depth." "In spite of a string of nifty gunfights where bullets land with a sickening squelch, Sukiyaki Western loses some of its appeal once the novelty of Miike's conceptual shenanigans wears off," writes Sam Adams at the AV Club. "Even good jokes turn into shaggy-dog stories when they run too long." "With probably just a little help from QT, Miike has managed the best Spaghetti Western knockoff in years," writes Jeffrey M Anderson in Cinematical. Tarantino's "scenes are excruciating but brief," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "The film's bad aftertaste, however, will linger on indefinitely." Update, 8/31: "[F]or all its hip posturing, there's something academic about it, as it runs through gestures whose coolness passed a decade ago," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "With its genre-bending pastiche and quotes from other films, it's a textbook example of postmodernism." Updates, 9/2: "Whatever its demerits, Sukiyaki has a virtue I've never associated with Miike: consistency," writes Vadim Rizov. "Grantly, it's mostly the consistency of stupidity and fanboy geeking-out, but I'll take it." Also at the House Next Door,John Lichman: "While it may prove Miike's visions are best handled with a stricter knife in the editing room, Sukiyaki Western Django is exactly the continuation you'd expect and desire from the guy who got famous by making 'Deeper, deeper, deeper...' the reason some people still uncontrollably flinch."
Online viewing tip. No End in Sight.Charles Ferguson's Oscar-nominated documentary No End in Sight, winner of the Documentary Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2007, "is being made available free to the public to reveal the facts about the Bush Administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq to voters concerned with the issues of national security and the adverse economic impact of the war when making decisions in this crucial election." The doc's got its own YouTube channel where, again, it'll be viewable for free from Monday through November 5. Ray Pride's posted the full press release at Movie City Indie. Earlier: Reviews from August 07.
August 27, 2008
Fests and events, 8/27."Of Time and the City is [Terence] Davies's first documentary, and it's a brooding, passionate, and often sardonic essay film that tributes the working class Liverpool of his childhood, and charts - with rueful adult hindsight - its cultural milieu," writes Doug Cummings. "Rather than tell the story of his family, he tells the story of his place, and the sights and sounds of Liverpool offer constant markers of his status as both insider and outsider: the devout, Irish Catholic schoolboy repressing his homosexual urges; the slum resident during the lavish coronation of Queen Elizabeth II; the devotee of passé love songs during the reign of the Beatles." The film screens today and tomorrow as part of DocuWeek Los Angeles; next stop: Toronto. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. "Because Mosfilm, the subject of the Museum of Fine Arts' Envisioning Russia retrospective, was the Soviet state production studio, any cross-section of its history lays out the entirety of Soviet film history — not only in its mainstream, but on its catapulting visionary fringes." A preview from Michael Atkinson in the Boston Phoenix. September 3 through October 23. A Four-Pack of Carpenter runs Monday through Thursday next week at BAM. Scott Foundas: [T]here are two ways of seeing [John] Carpenter: as a proficient genre director or as a kind of blue-collar shaman, waking us up to the all-too-real horrors of the modern world and its many threats to individuality and consciousness. He is what the late Manny Farber deemed a termite artist, nibbling away at the borders with his seemingly innocuous, low-budget quickies, unnoticed by most - which is, after all, the best way to stage a revolution." Also in the Voice: "Cinematic Atlas: The Triumphs of Charlton Heston, which runs Friday through September 4 at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, is a decidedly apolitical survey of Heston's oeuvre," writes John Anderson. "'The last thing I wanted to do was something political,' says Josh Strauss, the Film Society's programmer for the series. 'The idea had come up about three weeks before he died [in April of this year], and the concept was a week-long series of Heston films with a cult edge - Omega Man, Soylent Green." "Break out your go-go boots for this four-day flashback to Los Angeles' 1960s experience hosted by Dominic Priore, author of Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood." Dennis Harvey previews the series for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. At the Red Vic Movie House from tomorrow through Sunday. Dennis Harvey also has a piece at SF360: "Days and Clouds by director Silvio Soldini (Bread and Tulips), which plays the SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki starting August 29, is refreshing simply by virtue of approaching a subject common in the real world but too rare in fiction - that of downwardly mobile bourgeois - without condescension or melodrama. It's a quietly penetrating tale one could all too easily imagine happening to someone you know. Maybe it already has." "Frank Borzage's masterful romance History Is Made at Night (1937) screens this evening at 8 PM at University of Chicago Doc Films," notes JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. Toronto After Dark, running October 17 through 24, has announced its first eight titles and Mack's got 'em at Twitch. Mike Everleth has the Atlanta Underground Film Festival award-winners. "It's Sunday morning and Tilda Swinton is decked out in Clark Kent glasses, blue pyjamas and big fluffy slippers." For FilmInFocus, Alastair Harkness reports on the Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams.
Screenwriting, 8/27.In the run-up to Get Your Act(s) Together, the screenwriting workshop he'll be conducting in San Francisco on Saturdays, starting September 6, our own Craig Phillips has been posting screenwriting tips, which he's counting down here. Meanwhile, at the House Next Door, Tom Stempel, author of several books on movies, moviegoing and writing for film and television, presents the third column in his series, "Understanding Screenwriting." FilmInFocus runs an excerpt from The Making of The Big Lebowski in which William Preston Robertson's first question for Joel and Ethan Coen is, "What is the writing process like for you guys?" Screenwriters who blog: John August, Will Dixon, Alex Epstein, Jane Espenson, Lee Goldberg, Jill Golick, Lisa Klink, Ken Levine, Craig Mazin and Ted Elliott, Denis McGrath and John Rogers.
Venice. Burn After Reading.A first take from Ronald Bergan. Notes on other reviews will follow. Burn After Filming, more likely. Opening the Venice Film Festival tonight is another attempt by the Coen Brothers to enter the mainstream, trying to live down the time when their films were more personal, quirky and less commercial. Here the starry cast does their one-dimensional turn: George Clooney is the skirt chaser, an uncharming Cary Grant, Brad Pitt plays a bubble head gum-chewing gym trainer, John Malkovich is his irascible self. The women come off worse. Tilda Swinton and Elizabeth Marvel play two coldly intellectual cheating wives, a doctor and a children's author respectively, and Frances McDormand, the most irritating character, is so dumb she doesn't know the Cold War is long over. It seems that the Coens had so little confidence in their own convoluted plot, involving the CIA, that they make fun of it when an agent tries to explain the intricacies of the happenings to his superior. Despite some attempts at contemporary relevance, it really is a very old-fashioned juvenile farce, with elements of the 70s paranoia films, which except for the stream of "fuck"s, could have been made a few decades ago. Updated through 8/31. Burn After Reading was preceded by an extract from soon-to-be centenarian Manoel de Oliveira's new work in progress, From Visible To Invisible, whose one joke is more amusing than any of the many feeble ones in the Coen Brothers movie. Deliciously, even at 7 minutes, Oliveira has time for two long shots of a street in Sao Paulo, in which nothing much happens but sets the tone. - Ronald Bergan
The Guardian's Andrew Pulver offers an alternative take: "Clocking in at a crisp 95 minutes, Burn After Reading is a tightly wound, slickly plotted spy comedy that couldn't be in bigger contrast to the Coens' last film, the bloodsoaked, brooding No Country for Old Men. Burn, in comparison, is bit of a bantamweight: fast moving, lots of attitude, and uncorking a killer punch when it can." Meanwhile, we've got a contest going on at the main site. Updates: "[T]he Coen brothers revert to sophomoric snarky mode in Burn After Reading," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "A seriously talented cast has been asked to act like cartoon characters in this tale of desperation, mutual suspicion and vigorous musical beds, all in the name of laughs that only sporadically ensue. Everything here, from the thesps' heavy mugging to the uncustomarily overbearing score by Carter Burwell and the artificially augmented vulgarities in the dialogue, has been dialed up to an almost grotesquely exaggerated extent, making for a film that feels misjudged from the opening scene and thereafter only occasionally hits the right note." "The first film in the Coen Brothers' two-picture pact with Focus Features and Working Title is a smart urban screwball comedy about the perils of idiocy that uses its all-star cast to dazzling and often hilarious effect," writes Lee Marshall for Screen Daily. "A beautifully produced mix of spy story, US zeitgeist satire and relationship drama, Burn After Reading cons the audience into seeing depths – and Fargo parallels - that don't really exist. The consumate, near-throwaway ending sets the record straight: it's a feelgood comedy so enjoy the ride and don't take it all so seriously." In FilmInFocus, Nick Dawson looks back over the Coens' ouevre while David Parkinson examines Best Director Oscar followups in Academy history. Shane Danielsen at indieWIRE: "A comedy set in the world of espionage, constructed around an interlocking set of misunderstandings and misrepresentations, it has something of the accumulative, shaggy-dog structure of The Big Lebowski, the one of their films it most closely resembles. More amusing than actually funny, it's briskly-paced and well acted - Brad Pitt, in particular, is superb. The dialogue is sharp; it moves briskly. Still, something is missing." "This is the Coens' first self-penned original screenplay since The Man Who Wasn't There in 2001, and it has in common with some of their earlier pictures, specifically Raising Arizona and Fargo, a savagely comic taste for creative violence and a slightly mocking eye for detail," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "Carter Burwell's brilliant score is the most paranoid piece of film music since Quincy Jones's neurotic soundtrack for The Anderson Tapes - it's particularly well-judged as it brings a gravity to a collection of characters who we could otherwise dismiss as numbskulls and nincompoops. The attention to detail is impeccable: the Coens can even raise a laugh with something as simple as a well-placed photograph of Vladimir Putin... [W]hile the film carries the audience with its entertaining, if somewhat ludicrous, blend of high level espionage and ab-toning exercises, it would perhaps be more rewarding if we could like the characters as well as laugh at them." "It takes a while to adjust to the rhythms and subversive humor of Burn because this is really an anti-spy thriller in which nothing is at stake, no one acts with intelligence and everything ends badly," writes Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter. "The key thing is that every actor is riffing on his or her screen persona. The guys who pulled off all those casino heists, the smart-cookie South Dakota police officer, the stars of many Sundance films - yep, they're all idiots." "Burn After Reading is a terrific entertainment: fast-paced, inventive and relentlessly amusing," writes the Telegraph's David Gritten. "The Coens have taken a sledgehammmer to the notion, advanced in film after film, that espionage is a business pursued by grim-faced people blessed with total competence.... [I]t's far better than their most recent forays into comic terrain. In short, a fine, agreeable film to open a major festival." Update, 8/30: "With its coldly satirical tone, stylized dialogue and broadly drawn characters, Burn will feel like familiar territory for longtime fans, a return to Coen Country for Odd Men," writes Bruce Headlam in a profile for the New York Times. "Is Burn a deliberate return to form, a step away from being Very Important Oscar-Winning Filmmakers? 'It was nothing like that,' Ethan said. 'To tell you the truth, we started writing down actors we wanted to work with.'" Updates, 8/31: "The ultimate question, from this admirer of virtually all the brothers' work, from the early Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing to their previous Clooney collaborations O, Brother, Where Art Thou? and [Intolerable Cruelty], is a plaintive 'What the heck kind of film is this?'" Time's Richard Corliss: "As close to an answer as you'll get here is that Burn After Reading is an essay in the cocoon of ignorance most of us live in. It pushes the old form of movie comedy - smart people saying clever things - into collision with today's dominant model of slackers whose utterly unfounded egotism eventually worms its way into an audience's indulgence." "In Fargo, the Coens found the perfect balance between comedy and pathos, real life and the absurd, but in Burn After Reading (like in Barton Fink), the opposing forces never quite strike a balance," writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Auteurs' Notebook.
Venice, 8/27.The 65th Venice International Film Festival opens tonight with Joel and Ethan Coen's Burn After Reading. After that, as all the festival previews have noted, Hollywood's presence dries right up. Most blame - or credit, depending on their point of view - last year's writers' strike. Updated. "It can be argued that the dearth of studio pictures is a good thing," writes Stephanie Bunbury in the Age. Even so: "In recent years there has been a tectonic shift from Venice to the Toronto Film Festival, which starts a week later and overlaps by a few days. This shift has been particularly dramatic this year." Of the many factors at play, she decides, the crucial is "that while Venice is all about prestige, Toronto is about selling." "With fewer Hollywood releases in competition, this year's lineup of Golden Lion hopefuls provides a perfect opportunity for European cinema to maximise its international exposure," suggests Gwladys Fouche in the Guardian. Nick Vivarelli previews the festival for Variety, while Roderick Conway Morris has an overview of the Competition in the New York Times. La Repubblica has a special section devoted to the festival. In Italian. Earlier: "Venice 08. Lineup." Updates: More special sections: The Guardian and the Telegraph. The Guardian's Andrew Pulver considers the "sense of malaise" this year, at least "among the British contingent."
Day of Wrath."It's masterfully photographed and alive to the human complexity of its characters, but offers an unsparing view of their failures and their blindness. It's intensely erotic, although it depicts nothing more risqué than a young couple kissing. It brings a disturbing fragment of the distant past alive with vivid clarity, but also crackles with contemporary political relevance and ambiguous, symbolic depth. I'd be saving a spot for it near the top of my 10-best list if the movie hadn't been made 65 years ago." Andrew O'Hehir in Salon on the digitally restored edition of Carl Theodor Dreyer's Day of Wrath, opening for a week-long run at the IFC Center on Friday. Updated through 8/29. "A carefully composed movie of copious close-ups and silent-style performances, Day of Wrath unfolds not so much in a rural Danish village as in deepest Freudland," writes the Voice's J Hoberman before turning to a recent DVD release from Criterion: "The bridge between Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath, Vampyr is Dreyer's most radical film - maybe one of my dozen favorite movies by any director.... Vampyr is uncanny not because of its subject matter, but because of its utter strangeness as film." Nicolas Rapold on Day of Wrath in the L Magazine: "There are the seeds of Bergman, minus the strain, while Paul Schrader grouped Dreyer with Bresson in positing a 'transcendental' style. Though marking a tunnel-vision turn toward play adaptation, Day maintains cinematic bravura: a children's choir learning a hymn for the witch-burning, Anne peering through paned glass like the traveler of Vampyr, a slumped half-nude mass in a priestly torture chamber, Anne gliding across the room before her beloved. Like much of Dreyer, you keep returning to Day of Wrath in your mind and re-emerging." The IMDb links to nearly 40 more reviews. Earlier: "Criterion's Vampyr." (An aside to readers in Germany: While Tage des Zorns, opening this weekend, may translate as Days of Wrath, and though this film, too, is Danish, it ain't Dreyer.) Update: "Dreyer's non-traditional lighting schemes make the walls seem to glow, and the film's tonal juxtapositions - a forest-idyll scene includes wood for a witch's pyre; children sing as she burns at the stake - have an otherworldly quality," writes Darrell Hartman for Artforum. "'Abstraction allows the director to get outside the fence with which naturalism has surrounded his medium,' Dreyer once claimed. You could say that Day of Wrath is tailor-made for transcendence." Update, 8/29: "In billowing fabrics and whispering winds, God or Satan or the dead menace the living, yet the way the light falls on suffering and ecstatic faces suggests a higher, more clement power," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "But far more chilling than this spooky expressionism are the simple pans down scrolls invoking God's word and the state's judgments. It's as if Dreyer was at war with words, answering their punishing certainties and limitations with the humanism of light and shadow delicately applied. Dreyer invites you to find in his flesh and blood friezes something a lot closer to God than those murderous texts." "Yes, Day of Wrath is available in a characteristically pristine DVD transfer from Criterion, but Dreyer's peculiar and timeless cinematic gifts need to be appreciated via projector, not monitor," argues Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "I can think of few other movies whose central creative voice is at once so modern and yet so archaic. Confining that voice in any way - including reducing it to living-room casualness via video - sells Dreyer's medieval modernist vision short." "[T]he film comes off like an apocalyptic thriller, with faith, family, lust and ash swirling into a vortex," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "In 1943, most Danes saw their country's Nazi occupiers as the hypocritical witch-hunters, but Dreyer's work has proven detached from time, less about persecution than the preservation of dignity at great cost."
Traitor."Traitor, a somber, absorbing and only moderately preposterous new thriller written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff, manages an impressive feat of economy, condensing a vast and sometimes contradictory compendium of post-9/11 fears and anxieties into 110 swift minutes," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "In one sense, Traitor is precisely the kind of movie about global terrorism that everyone feared two years ago," writes Martin Tsai in the New York Sun. "The movie serves up the hottest potatoes in world politics as if they were freezer-packed french fries, filling blanks in the espionage-thriller formula with touchy subjects. One can almost picture Nachmanoff at a meeting with studio executives, pitching the film as United 93 meets Syriana meets The Bourne Identity. Indeed, Traitor is as formulaic as they come, even if it serviceably measures up to all of these predecessors in terms of sheer entertainment value." Updated through 8/30. "[Don] Cheadle, in movies like Hotel Rwanda and Crash, has become the go-to guy for roles that require bringing deep-rooted internal moral conflicts to the surface, and it's remarkable that he can play these parts so frequently without making them feel tired or programmed," writes Stephanie Zacahrek in Salon. "Cheadle is deeply attuned to the cerebral and the emotional; in fact, he seems to make no distinction between them." "Traitor is a movie about some of the most terrifying and inescapable facts of our times, and I walked out of it whistling and chewing gum," writes Steven Boone. "What's next? I could give you an intricate, sequence by sequence breakdown of why it is so forgettable despite its memorable performances and action cinematography, but I'm tired, man. Tired of writing the same review for each of Ho'wood's precision engineered attempts at serious fun." Also at the House Next Door, Lauren Wissot finds "the story concept (originating with executive producer Steve Martin!) is as complex and interesting as the script is clichéd and tedious." "To its credit, the movie moves swiftly and purposefully enough to briefly distract from its own hackneyed conventionality," writes Jonathan Kiefer. "But disappointments and doubts can't be held off for long." "If the chess metaphor around which most of the story seems to have been constructed around weren't facile enough, the laughably explosive conclusion to a series of mass terrorist attacks within the borders of the United States pretty much confirms Traitor as an intellectual and philosophical lost cause," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "The movie's first hour is well-done, but realism and insight go out the window as soon as Samir crosses the US border - oh so easily - to set in motion one last big terror plot, a plan that actually calls to mind the scheme from Don Siegel's far superior 1977 thriller Telefon, in which a rogue KGB agent travels across America activating deep-cover Russian agents," writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. "Nachmanoff has devised a nifty last-minute twist to the concept, but he appears to take little pleasure in the telling—almost as if he's embarrassed to be having fun with a subject as serious as terror." David Denby in the New Yorker: "The filmmakers, I think, got in over their heads and couldn't decide whether they were making an action thriller or a drama of conscience; they wound up flubbing both." "Problems aside, this is a good, twisty, absorbing work," argues the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips. "Today's global state of affairs has resulted in a handful of interesting films, ranging from the moving In the Valley of Elah and Stop-Loss to the satirical Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay to the metaphorical The Dark Knight," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "These are the exceptions, sadly, with most of the ripped-from-the-headlines movies being along the lines of the overwrought and dull Rendition and Lions for Lambs. Toss Traitor into the nice-try bin with these latter disappointments." Cristy Lytal talks with Guy Pearce for the Los Angeles Times. Updates: "Post-2001, the likes of TV's 24 and Sleeper Cell, and film's Jason Bourne franchise, have tapped into both our political climate and pop culture zeitgeist, into a globe-trotting, gun-toting fear of the here and there and always now," writes William Goss at Cinematical. "Jeffrey Nachmanoff's Traitor feels like the first film that has itself been directly spawned in the wake of those successes, as opposed to merely bolstered by it, and while it may overtake, say, Vantage Point in terms of plausible plotting and worldly knowledge, it remains a film that is good enough to grasp the bar and yet not quite enough to raise it." "Traitor is essentially two films," writes Nathan Rabin. "One is a superbly acted, suspenseful character study about a man whose faith pulls him in antithetical directions. The other is a much more generic, forgettable cat-and-mouse yarn about dogged G-men pursuing elusive prey." Annsley Chapman talks with Cheadle for Vulture. "It's easy to see why Cheadle wanted to play Samir," notes the Oregonian's Mike Russell. "Cheadle's face is basically a perfect delivery system for woe, sadness and gut-wrenching internal conflict. And Samir - a deep-cover operative trying to infiltrate the highest ranks of that terrorist outfit - has to make brutal Sophie's Choices roughly three times a day." Update, 8/28: Online listening tip. Cheadle's a guest on The Treatment. Update, 8/29: "When watching Traitor, the viewer is overcome by the weirdest urge: You want to will the movie to become better than it really is," writes Paul Constant in the Stranger. "But the fact is that Traitor is just not a good movie, and all the Cheadle in the world can't save it." Update, 8/30: "One of Traitor's tragic flaws is Hollywood's century old myopia, placing a shining minority citizen amidst a sea of his depraved brethren," writes Wajahat Ali in the Huffington Post. "The 'Good Darkie' then battles for the souls and minds of the 'Evil Darkies.' Cheadle's Samir is a devout Muslim whose religious discipline is displayed continuously and even admired by other characters. He prays five times a day; he fasts; he abstains from alcohol and so forth. Meanwhile, every other Muslim character seems transplanted from dated 80s action movies and True Lies."
August 26, 2008
Shorts, 8/26.At Midnight Eye, Tom Mes talks with co-editor Jasper Sharp about his new book, Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, while Sharp interviews Yoshihiko Matsui, "one of the towering figures of the 80s jishu eiga underground scene, alongside other familiar names including his early collaborator Sogo Ishii." Via Matt Dentler, Rolling Stone's chat with producer James Schamus about the film he and Ang Lee are working on: "'We've had some very intense movies,' said Schamus, who adapted the screenplay for Taking Woodstock from a book by Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte. 'This is about play and fun and has hopeful spirit.'" "The BBC's just-screened, rave-reviewed drama House of Saddam was billed as an ensemble piece but it was obviously going to triumph or be trashed on the strength of one role: the dictator himself," writes Rachel Schabi. "And the reviews for this character were effusive: critics described the performance as 'transfixing,' 'bombastic' and 'unnervingly charismatic.'... 'The minute I heard about it, I knew that I and no one else would play him,' says the Israeli actor Igal Naor." Not Coming to a Theater Near You's Nicholas Ray series picks up again, with Leo Goldsmith on The Lusty Men and Jenny Jediny on Johnny Guitar. FilmInFocus: "In this abridged extract from Burton On Burton, the definitive study of the director in his own words, editor/interviewer Mark Salisbury describes the inception of the Big Fish project and draws from [Tim] Burton an account of the personal circumstances that led him to want to direct the movie." Cullen Gallagher in Reverse Shot: La France inhabits a world of magical realism: songs are codes to pass by sentries, and bodies have an ethereal weightlessness that seemingly allows them to float (as when the whole band of soldiers take to the trees to hide from a passing stranger) or disappear (as when Camille, momentarily suspected as a spy, is able to slip through the circle of soldiers undetected while clouds obscure the moonlight). More than just blurring the line between realistic and fantastic, [Serge] Bozon uses these seemingly contradictory binaries as formal strategies throughout the film: the cinematic and the theatrical (tableau-style shots reminiscent equally of early cinema as the stage); the naturalistic and the artificial (by daylight the forest radiates unadorned beauty, while at night the deliberate lighting reveals the artistry of cinematographer Céline Bozon, the director's sister); and even the narrative seems to be divided into alternating daytime and nighttime scenes - the only distinction in what appears to be a never-ending journey. The most significant distinction (or lack thereof), of course, is one of gender: Camille passes as a boy, while the male soldiers sing of being a blind girl. "Watching Brideshead Revisited after Barry Lyndon is not terribly fair to the former," concedes J Robert Parks at Daily Plastic. Even so, he finds comparisons worth exploring. "During the late second-wave feminist movement in the United States and its slightly lagging reverberations in Europe, two films of female revenge premiered: I Spit on Your Grave (whose innocuous original title was Day of the Woman), a primal, graphically violent film that was lumped into the popular exploitation genre, and the Dutch film A Question of Silence (literally translated as The Silence of Christine M), an avowed feminist film with a very civilized veneer in which the murder at its center is never explicitly shown." Marilyn Ferdinand describes "the basic male/female dynamics at work in the narratives of these two films, ways the films have been understood, and ways to reframe narratives to accommodate more advanced ideas about gender roles." "Having gleaned how to use the tools of the effects craft while working for Dreamworks in the late 90s, where [Mark] Russell worked on such effects laden Steven Spielberg pictures as Amistad, Minority Report and A.I., he has quickly made a name for himself as someone who can deliver high powered special effects work for films outside of the studio system's auspices. This year he's had two fairly high profile successes, Alex Rivera's cyberpunk goes south of the border techno thriller Sleep Dealer, which was a favorite at Sundance this year, and Charlie Kaufman's forthcoming Synecdoche, New York, in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a theater director undergoing one mindbending mid-life crisis." Brandon Harris talks with him about his "Media Diet" for the SpoutBlog. Adam Hartzell at Hell on Frisco Bay on No Regret: "I excuse the melodrama because South Korean cinema has a long melodramatic history, and such allows this Queer film to nestle up nicely with the history of genre in South Korean film. And as Guy Maddin asked us at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival this year, give melodrama a chance, since it enables us to live within our dreams, often something we must suppress during the realities of our everyday." Adam Balm launches AICN's new column on sci-fi books. List: "Six Novels I Would Love to See Adapted into Films," from Kurt Halfyard on Row Three, and Flickipedia's got a back-to-school list. Online fiction tip. Steven Kaplan notes that painter and critic Peter Plagens's novel The Art Critic is being serialized on Artnet. Online viewing tip. Chris Marker's Guillaume Movie. Online viewing tips. Alison Willmore's got three full-length features for you.
Fests and events, 8/26."Baby boomers have a soft spot in their hearts for filmmaker and special-effects pioneer George Pal," writes Susan King. His movies are so humanistic in a genre that frequently passes by that element," noted director Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins). Wednesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is throwing a centennial celebration, George Pal: Discovering the Fantastic, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Dante hosts the event, which features a panel discussion with some of Pal's collaborators, including puppeteer Bob Baker and actors Barbara Eden, Ann Robinson, Russ Tamblyn and Alan Young." Also in the Los Angeles Times: "[Eddie] Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for taking one of the most notorious photographs of the war, capturing the horrific moment when a South Vietnamese lieutenant colonel executed a Viet Cong prisoner on the streets of Saigon in 1968," writes Steve Appleford. "The story of that picture and Adams's long career is the focus of the documentary An Unlikely Weapon, directed by Susan Morgan Cooper and screening through Thursday at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks as part of DocuWeek's 12th annual festival for theatrical documentaries in Los Angeles and New York." "Capturing Film History in the Making recently transferred from London's Getty Images Gallery to the exhibition space of the Walter Reade cinema at New York's Lincoln Center - apt enough for a show that celebrates transatlantic collaboration," writes Ben Walters in the Guardian. "A collection of photographs taken at Pinewood, Shepperton and Teddington, mostly in the 40s, 50s and 60s, it's a rum and variable grouping of the glamorous, the ordinary and the absurd." Through September 5. "Filminute is the international one-minute film festival that challenges filmmakers, writers, animators, artists, designers, and creative producers to develop and submit the world's best one-minute films." The festival runs throughout September. Previewing Toronto: Cinematical, TIFFReviews (with its Flickr and YouTube groups) and TOfilmfest. Blogging for the Guardian, Ronald Bergan finds that "the spirit of the [Sarajevo Film Festival] is one of co-operation among the ex-Yugoslavian nations. An example of the harmony is the Croatian-Bosnian co-production, Buick Riviera, directed by the Zagreb-born Goran Rusinovic, which won the main 'Heart of Sarajevo' award. There was nothing political about the decision to name it Best Film by a jury headed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, even though the best film was far and away Kornel Mundruczo's Delta, the Hungarian film shown in competition in Cannes."
DVDs, 8/26."[I]n the long history of the cinema, how many pictures, let alone boxing pictures, can have been based on a poem?" asks Jefferson Hunter. "The story of what Hollywood did with and to The Set-Up is complicated, as complicated and intriguing as [Joseph Moncure] March's poem itself, and as much a mixture of dogged fidelity with shabby betrayal, of keeping the faith with making a buck." Also in the 60th anniversary issue of the Hudson Review (via Perlentaucher / signandsight), Joseph Epstein (PDF): "Whence derived Fred Astaire's sublimity, his magic? That is the great, happy question at the center of this essay." "Big news today," announces Lou Lumenick: "20th Century Fox Home Video, which offered the Cinephile event of the 2008 with the release of Ford at Fox, will follow up with a box set devoted to Ford's contemporary Frank Borzage, a well-placed source tells me." Errol Flynn's "final western, the little-known Rocky Mountain, turns out to be a small discovery," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Like several westerns of the period, Rocky Mountain is defined by a very unwestern sense of claustrophobia and entrapment. With the slightest push, the picture would be a film noir, and its climax is appropriately somber.... The western, in its infinite richness, continues to yield surprises." "[However devilishly deceptive Please Vote for Me is or is not, it's too easy to accept the film's implicit proposition that democracy is impossible, and all political action becomes inevitably corrupted," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC, where he also reviews Primo Levi's Journey: "[Davide] Ferrario didn't seem to have any idea of what would come of the voyage, and the resulting movie is engaging amorphous and contemplative, folding in chunks of Levi's memoir (read by Chris Cooper) and simply observing the state of Eastern Europe as it is now, and as it both echoes and departs from Levi's experience of it during the last days of the war." "Look no further than Sun Chung's 1982 Human Lanterns for the grimmer side of the [Shaw Brothers'] interiors, where palatial sprawl and intimate village alleyways are given such a treatment of wide-angle lenses and handheld camera that the mise-en-scène becomes far too unstable and disturbing for a normal film, and actors and extras are less characters than ghosts stalking a set abandoned at night for demonic concerns." Daniel Kasman. Also in the Auteurs' Notebook, Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report": "It's not often that a Hungarian film from the mid-60s brings Richard Price to mind, but the universal truth that some methods of police work are eternal came home while watching Miklós Jancsó's 1966 [The Round-Up] set in a detention camp in 1869." "If A Tale of Springtime is generally interesting and enjoyable in its very Rohmer-like treatment of character and incident, it is less consistent on a cinematic level," writes Ed Howard. David Mamet's Redbelt is "the smartest, sharpest and most unashamedly pure melding of personal filmmaking and genre filmmaking since Walter Hill's Undisputed, another magnificent fight film," argues Sean Axmaker in the Parallax View. "Even with mediocre acting, earnest dialogue sometimes bordering on the heavy-handed, and predictable hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold asides, American Gigolo is still a fine slice of celluloid cheese, containing camerawork both sleek and fluid and that sexy sing-along anthem ('Call Me'!) complete with Debbie Harry's French coos," writes Lauren Wissot at the SpoutBlog. "Incidentally, I've always been a fan of male prostitutes as well. So why is it that I've never been a fan of this flick?" "Part Billy Elliot, part pint-sized Rushmore, part Gilliam-esque boosterism on the value of imagination amidst grim surroundings, Son of Rambow never finds its own voice, and generally fails to live up to its reckless promise," writes Bryant Frazer. "Still, the film has its charms, including an entertaining young cast." Noir of the Week: Where the Sidewalk Ends. DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, Richard Brody (New Yorker), Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk, Film Experience, Ambrose Heron, Vince Keenan, Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times), PopMatters and Slant.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom."The 1970s was a hotbed of scandalous art cinema, but Salò - unlike such X-rated shockers as Last Tango in Paris or In the Realm of the Senses - has not been tamed by the passage of years," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "If anything, there is a cruel, chilling timelessness to both its imagery and its logic. The shock hasn't worn off in the slightest. While Pasolini mingled the sacred and the profane in much of his earlier work, Salò exists in an utterly godless realm." "Today, Criterion has at long last rescued Salò from collector lust and paper-bag infamy via an authorized deluxe two-disc edition, boasting an immaculate transfer (the prior, short-lived legitimate release lost considerable picture quality in its film-to-digital journey) and a handful of accompanying short subjects that document the film's conception, production, release, and legacy," writes Bruce Bennett, who tells the story of the film's making in the New York Sun. "What no one involved could imagine was that Pasolini would not live to see his profoundly isolating, suffocatingly formalist, stomach-churning masterpiece alternately excoriated and lionized upon its release and for four decades afterward." Updated through 8/29. "Taking its inspiration in roughly equal measure from De Sade's novel, which is referenced in the film's subtitle, and Dante's Inferno, Salò repositions De Sade's atrocity by setting it in 1944 Italy, during the waning years of fascist rule under Hitler and Mussolini," writes Eric Henderson in Slant. "While its head is in WWII, its heart (or what passes for it) is most obviously concerned with mid-70s consumerism. Humanity, in Salò, has ceased to represent anything other than transaction. Mind, body and soul (but mostly body) are all up for sale. And theft." "By taking on what he perceives as the new, post-modern fascism - the notion of personal happiness achievable via consumption and the amassing of goods and material possessions - Pasolini lets no one off the hook," writes Bill Gibron in DVD Talk. "He is especially hard on those who play the victim. Throughout Salò, we see adolescents greedily partaking in the vices, enjoying aberrant sex, rape, random acts of violence, and mindless hedonistic indulgence. One of the reasons viewers will find this film offensive is not in its images. While intense, the concept of complicity is far more disgusting." See also: The BFI's special feature and Light Sleeper's roundtable discussion. Update, 8/29: Criterion's Kim Hendrickson explains why a bit of one scene is missing from the version they've released; and posts the clip.
Interview. Kentucker Audley.Exactly a year ago now, New York's IFC Center was running a series called The New Talkies: Generation DIY and, writing in the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth suggested a possible taxonomic distinction: "If Mutual Appreciation and Hannah Takes the Stairs are movies about the kinds of people who would watch movies like Mutual Appreciation and Hannah Takes the Stairs, [Kentucker Audley's] Team Picture, [Frank V Ross's] Quietly On By and, particularly, Hohokam, are about the kinds of people who consume the kind of culture that Bujalski and Swanberg's films feel like a reaction against.... Audley and Ross are at least as interested as their peers in the social dynamics of leisure, but in Hohokam and Team Picture, work life is as carefully drawn as recreation.... Team Picture is possibly the lowest-budgeted film on the New Talkies schedule, but at times Audley's long shots approach the painterly beauty of pastoral landscapes." Now Team Picture is the latest exquisite release from Benten Films and Vadim Rizov talks with Audley about the feature and the two shorts that accompany it on the DVD. Updated through 8/28. "Without putting too fine a point on it, Team Picture has a narrative that plays out like Antonioni in small city America," writes Peter Nellhaus. "Unlike many films that can can be assessed in one pass, I saw Team Picture once, let a couple of days pass, and viewed the film a second time. Team Picture is antithetical to what currently passes for mainstream filmmaking, and needs to be appreciated on its own terms." Related: Noralil Ryan Fores spoke with Audley for Short End Magazine last October. Updates: "Kentucker Audley's Team Picture is a portrait in lackadaisia; rambling, ambling, ramshackle, bashfully modest even as it stitches its intentions proudly onto its sleeve," writes David Lowery, who raises the question, "is it best to consider a film like Team Picture as a work on its own terms, and not distill it to a list of the ways it is or isn't like the films that it happens to vaguely resemble?... It's not so difficult to catalog the difference between those films and Audley's, but let's not split too many hairs: it's just as easy and, ultimately, perfectly valid to liken them. This is something I generally resist doing; I tend to argue for the autonomy of a given film. For once, though, I'd like to take the opposite approach and, perhaps taking a cue from its title, consider Team Picture in concert with its fellows." "On its own humble terms, Team Picture captures that moment in time between college (or should-be college) and full-blown adulthood," writes Michael Tully. "That it does so without feeling self-absorbed, whiny, or annoying is what makes it feel like such a special little gem. There are a handful of exchanges that had me laughing out loud with uncomfortable recognition." Update, 8/27: A plug and a story from the cinetrix. Update, 8/28: Online viewing tip. Over at Vulture, Bilge Ebiri posts Audley's short, And He Just Comes Around and Dances With You, "an intense, despairing look at obsession and the twisted nature of attraction."
August 25, 2008
Shorts, fests, etc, 8/25."Of all the husband and wife filmmaking teams to emerge throughout cinema history, clear a special place at the table for Frank and Eleanor Perry, who burst onto the scene in 1962 with the immensely successful David and Lisa and went on to make five more features and two short TV films before their divorce in 1971," writes Bilge Ebiri at Moving Image Source. "She wrote; he directed.... This oddest of marital and artistic alliances created some of the most sensitively drawn films of the 1960s - films that have not lost their power after all these years, even if they are rarely mentioned today." "You might... have expected a 'New Wave' to be a quick-burning phenomenon," writes Jonathan Romney in the Independent, but: "The New Wave directors stayed true to that imperative and avoided becoming relics. Their later work is generally as fascinating as the early breakthroughs: it's not a question of choosing between Godard's Alphaville (1965) and Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1990s), Rohmer's Claire's Knee (1970) and Triple Agent (2004). It's all part of the same long-term adventure, an achievement of marathon runners rather than sprinters. And it's not certain that the baton has yet truly been handed on." "[T]o reiterate an ancient division in film studies - as personified by the conflict between Sergei Eisenstein and Andre Bazin - what's truly unusual about Rambo is not what happens between the cuts, but what takes place in the span of a single shot," argues John Cline in Flow. "Although it would be necessary to make a more detailed study of the specific cameras and post-production techniques used in Rambo in order to verify my own speculative observations, my preliminary hypothesis is that the relative incomprehensibility of the shots themselves is related to the film's use of digital cameras. More specifically, I believe that the digital camera's pixelated recreation of the light reflected from an object and the particularities of the camera's focus lend themselves to what Gilles Deleuze called a 'movement-image' that is decidedly 'post-human.'" John Updike reviews Fred E Basten's Max Factor: The Man Who Changed the Faces of the World for the New Yorker. Let's cut to the movin'-on-up montage: For Douglas Fairbanks's sweaty exertions, Max invented "the first perspiration-proof body make-up" and then "devised the reverse - cinematic sweat - by simply combining equal parts of water with mineral oil." For M-G-M's production of Ben-Hur, he and his staff conjured up more than six hundred gallons of light-olive makeup to match the army of pale local extras to the darker extras already filmed in Italy. He conquered the persistent problem of lip pomade's melting under the hot studio lights by firmly pressing two thumbprints onto the actress's upper lip and then one thumbprint on her lower lip, thus single-handedly creating the sensational new look of "bee-stung" lips. For Joan Crawford, he created "the smear." Related online browsing: A portfolio of Max Factor ads from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Fests and events:
NCTATNY. Russ Meyer."Distinguishing Russ Meyer's Vixens for their power and not for their obvious and insatiable sexual potency is a reasonably futile endeavor, I realize, although this is precisely one of the many aspects of his career we intend to clarify over the course of the next few weeks, in which we will be reviewing each of Meyer's narrative films. And this notion of feminine power vis-à-vis objectified sexuality notwithstanding, there are other aspects of Meyer's career and work that mark him as a man of immense, if undervalued creative ingenuity." Rumsey Taylor introduces Not Coming to a Theater Near You's latest feature, Bosomania!: The Sex, the Violence, and the Vocabulary of Russ Meyer, hot on the heels of the ongoing The Mystic: The Films of Nicholas Ray. Updated through 8/31. The first review's a double and comes from Leo Goldsmith: "The Immoral Mr Teas and Eve and the Handyman dovetail as examples of Russ Meyer's early style of exploitation cinema: both were shot cheaply and quickly (the former for $24,000 over four days) with voiceover instead of live or synchronized sound; both are constructed as a sequence of loosely connected comic episodes; both exercise a tireless taste for double entendres; and both illustrate the persistent sexual preoccupations of 'modern man,' embodied in both films by proletarian protagonists.... What's interesting is that... each story has its own moral - or immoral, if you prefer - that is wholly distinct from that of the other film, at least on the surface." Update, 8/26: "Lorna was the first entry in what Russ Meyer deemed his Gothic period, which is characterized by stark black and white photography and highly fatalistic premises - the Grim Reaper, even, is summoned by the end." Rumsey Taylor: "The women remain as empowered here as they are in his other films, but their beauty is not an heroic asset; rather, beauty is a catalyst for hubris and selfishness. These films generally concern violence and moral retribution, but it is the women who are often the casualties, maritally and otherwise." Update, 8/27: "What makes Fanny Hill so interesting in Meyer's body of work is how well it plays it straight," writes Megan Weireter. "Although all the playfulness, the fun with editing, and the unceasing devotion to the hilarity of moral turpitude mark it unmistakably as a Meyer film, there's nothing particularly campy here - it's remarkably old-fashioned, though no less enjoyable for being so." Updates, 8/29: Andrew Schenker on Mudhoney: "Meyer's extraordinary film focuses its energy on outlining the distortions to healthy sexual congress that result from a possessive, insistently masculinized attitude towards carnality and, in channeling these perversions into that ultimate screen grotesque, Sidney Brenshaw, giving inimitable expression to the wretched extremes of debased sexuality." Adam Balz: "[R]egardless of the film's early reputation - as illicit pornography, despite its utter lack of any nudity or sex that isn't merely suggested or preempted - Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! has aged into a work of pure wonder - a beautiful animal in itself that, beneath its sexy and violent exterior, has a motive both eye-raising and wonderful." Updates, 8/31: "Not that I subscribe to cliché," writes Jenny Jediny, "but to find a Russ Meyer film primarily starring men feels like a glaring anomaly - 1965's Motor Psycho, starring a trio of leather-clad hoods who taunt, assault, and murder a few locals during a desert road trip before wandering into war veteran philosophy, is an interesting footnote in Meyer's filmography, especially in comparison to the cult classic, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, that it closely resembles in plot. The men simply aren't as interesting (or eye-catching) as women in a Meyer flick, but Motor Psycho does convey a humorous take on male incompetence that, while found in other Meyer movies, is predominant in tone here." For Andrew Schenker, Mondo Topless "proves somewhat of a letdown. Which is certainly not to suggest that the film is without interest, but simply to note that the imagery on display has a difficult time standing up to the puffed up rhetoric of the film's spoken text."
I Served the King of England."In filming the late Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal's I Served the King of England, Jirí Menzel (put on the international map by his 1966 prize-winning version of Hrabal's Closely Watched Trains) serves an audience with nearly no memory of World War II," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "Is that why its often cutely choreographed irony feels not only familiar and secondhand but trivializing?" "When the movie opens, the war is over, Communism is in place, and Díte (Oldrich Kaiser, who looks like Milan Kundera would if he ever smiled) is an old man just released from prison," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "Most of the film is occupied with flashbacks in which Díte, chastened by incarceration, reflects on the folly of his youthful ambition to become a millionaire - an ambition that, with the help of a comely German nationalist (Julia Jentsch), leads him down the SS path. Menzel constructs one lovely Conformist-inspired Art Deco set piece after another around the young Díte (Ivan Barnev) - e.g. a Nazi stud farm - but the whole is never more than the parts." Updated through 8/31. Menzel, notes David Denby in the New Yorker, "did not emigrate to this country, as Ivan Passer and Milos Forman, his fellow-directors of the Czech film renaissance, did. Staying behind, Menzel went through myriad ups and downs in the final twenty years of Communist rule (for a while, his work was banned) and developed, I would guess, a healthy sense of the absurd, which doubtless shaped his adaptation of Hrabal's material." "Menzel's touch is sprightly, lyrical, mischievously understated - his hero neither good nor evil but blessed (and cursed) by tunnel vision," writes David Edelstein in New York. "How could he have guessed what the Commies would make of his wealth - or that bad luck would be his redemption?" Earlier: Filmbrain. Update, 8/26: "[D]espite all its problems and compromises, England still points toward interesting possibilities in combining exaggerated folklore (what we might call in America the Paul Bunyanesque) with historical inquiry (Dite could be the optimistic flipside of Berlin Alexanderplatz's Franz Biberkopf)," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "At the very least, compared to a similarly whimsical outing like Liev Schreiber's version of Everything Is Illuminated, a typical post-Wes Anderson film whose self-conscious style completely drowns the thematic coherence of its story, Menzel's version of Hrabal's novel wittily and critically examines its historical subject - the infantile tendencies that motivate compliance with totalitarianism - and once in a while evokes the wonder other likeminded films completely overshoot." Updates, 8/27: "Though the film may be visually fanciful - as money rains down from the sky, a glowing halo of light shines behind a character's noggin, and Busby Berkeley-like precision enlivens the simple task of serving a banquet room - any preconceived notion that this is yet another historical epic with some magic realism thrown in must be quashed," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "Menzel's memorable flights of whimsy are the means, not the end; do away with the clever style and you're still left with a rousing picaresque of life's beautiful-sad ironies." "I Served the King of England ends up a curious combination of raunchy merriment and malignant undercurrents," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "At one point, a character asks if Czechoslovakia is going to war, and another character answers bemusedly, 'We Czechs never fight wars.' This is about as ruefully honest a confession as I have ever encountered in any national cinema." For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Menzel "through an interpreter about his connection with Hrabal's work, his decision not to work in Hollywood, and the time he beat a producer in front of a film festival audience." Updates, 8/29: "Growing up in a place that exchanged one totalitarian nightmare for another, who wouldn't be cynical?" asks Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "So busy looking out for himself that he fails to anticipate what should be obvious, Jan embodies the central European Everyman as an archetypal naïf protected by his own innocence, until reality arrives." "Menzel cites Chaplin and Fellini as his avatars, and both of those profoundly unfashionable influences come through in this grotesque and mysterious comic confection, more bitter than sweet," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It's a work radically out of step with contemporary American mores and styles; in a marketplace that ignores almost all foreign-language films in the first place, it stands virtually no chance. If this actually were 1968, the pipe-smoking sophisticates of Esquire and Playboy would be proclaiming I Served the King of England a nettlesome masterpiece. For whatever good it does this film today, I'll stick my pipe in my mug and agree." David Fear in Time Out New York: "Barnev's Keatonesque performance and the movie's comic eroticism keeps things light, at least until a few questionably blithe turns reduce complex issues to sex-comedy simplicity (WWII is depicted as part Holocaust, part hot Nazi fräuleins in a pool). Menzel's balanced serving of bitterness and breeziness, however, succeeds more often than it stalls; such an achievement was worth the wait." "A ribald black comedy about the perils of greed and apathy, the film has all the hallmarks of the Czech new wave," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "It's provocative, sexually frank, politically engaged, and loaded with historical absurdities and ironies." "[T]his sumptuous, almost musically orchestrated comic fantasy founders without a well-defined edge or, for that matter, a compelling lead actor," finds Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. Updates, 8/31: "Menzel's sensibility requires a delicate calibration of irony and dark humor; all too often, I Served the King of England settles for mere whimsy," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Rather than Menzel's best work, like his classic debut Closely Watched Trains, this film recalls dreck like Forrest Gump and Life Is Beautiful." "Like the atrocious The Lives of Others, I Served the King of England sentimentalizes evil; furthermore, Menzel's movie so neutrally presents the central character's complicity in evil - that is to say, the movie cultivates a tone of wide-eyed, nostalgic innocence for the most questionable acts - that I, without virtue of having read Hrabal's book, cannot quite tell what Menzel's aiming for." NP Thompson at the House Next Door.
More on Manny Farber.With last week's entry on Manny Farber about to slip off the front page, it's time for another. First and foremost, Girish describes how a discussion of Farber's work about two years ago shifted the general direction of his blog (and with it, the focus of the incredible community that gathers there). "Let me offer, as a small homage, ten reasons why I like Manny Farber." Far too modest, of course. That's a must-read list. Girish also notes: "In the 60s, Donald Phelps put together a Farber collection for his magazine For Now. It's available here." Updated through 8/28. "Farber's intense, collage-like paintings and his tangy prose (collected in Negative Space, expanded and reissued as Manny Farber on Movies) boast the quickness, spontaneity and bursting physicality of his favorite B pictures," writes Michael Sragow in the Los Angeles Times. "Reading Farber makes you realize anew all the sensations and bits of recognition that go into watching a real live movie." Sragow thinks back to 1971, when he and Farber helped "pick movies for the USA Film Festival.... [H]e knew I loved the work of his pal [James] Agee and could sense that I was in awe of him, Manny treated me as an equal." Update, 8/26: "Is it legitimate to begin an obituary by talking about personal appearance?" asks David Thomson in the Guardian. "I can hear Manny Farber growling that it is - if you get on with it. So Manny, who has died aged 91, was tall, lanky and comic looking. He might have played Popeye, or one of those old-timers in the Anthony Mann westerns he cherished.... He never raved. He was sometimes merciless in a put-down, and it is not that his taste was unerring - taste can't be: it is meant to be personal. You couldn't always tell if he liked a film or not. But Manny was the first person in English who wrestled with words to arouse the feelings produced by imagery on screen." Update, 8/27: "I don't think that rendering an Olympian opinion was crucial for him," writes Richard Corliss in a vital appreciation in Time. "It was more important to look at the work closely, tunnel into its rhythm and visual texture, then write it up, with special attention to originality of expression and sentence-solving, so that the reader can approach the finished piece with the same concentration, and expectation of rewards, as any work of art. 'I believe most of what I wrote,' Manny told [Leah] Ollman with a disconcerting blitheness, 'but I'm more interested in the elegance of the word and what it throws up at you.'" Updates, 8/28: "Farber called space 'the most dramatic stylistic entity' in film, by which he meant not just the literal way in which a movie uses the canvas of the screen, but also the psychological space traversed by the actors and 'the area of experience and geography that the film covers,'" writes Scott Foundas: In short, he wrote about movies as though they were art or architecture, in sentences packed with the tersely lyrical detail of an Anthony Mann setup. His way of seeing a film was one of active participation - an innate inability to look at any scene or shot without wondering why the actors were positioned the way they were in the frame, why the camera was placed where it was, why the lighting was just so, and whether or not the porch in an old Western movie would really have been built like that. The question of how deliberate these choices were on the part of the filmmakers was all but irrelevant. The elements were there, and, as in any work of art, they demanded to be grappled with. Also in the LA Weekly: Recollections from Kent Jones and Robert Walsh. Duncan Shepherd, a student of Farber's, and later, a friend and house-sitter, doesn't even have to revisit the piece he wrote in the San Diego Reader a few years ago to remember just a few of the many things he left out: How could I have overlooked the parade of cineastes drawn to the university by Manny's gravitational pull? - Rossellini, Franju, Godard and Gorin, Wenders, Herzog, et al., not to forget the critics Raymond Durgnat and Jonathan Rosenbaum. These were without question a valuable supplement to a film student's education, and Manny was more than amenable to setting them up in their personal forums. But in my recollection, Manny, who never had enough time to dissect a movie in a three-hour class, never ran out of angles of attack, never exhausted the possibilities of juxtaposition and rearrangement, would never give over his own class time to these luminaries. He suffered no doubts that the critic's voice was as vital as the artist's. "Farber's frankly macho, pugilistic style could be cruel and testy with films, filmmakers, and performers he loved (and get out of the way if he didn't love) but had everything to do with the way his insatiable intelligence dug into a whole movie as moment-by-moment, accumulating experience, scratching at its every feint, contradiction, and curlicue to unearth all its pleasures, whether intentional, unintentional, or unknowable," writes Spencer Parsons in the Austin Chronicle. "In a typically explosive 1966 piece titled 'The Subverters,' Farber penned not only the most direct and convincing broadside against auteurism that I could imagine but offered perhaps the most rewarding and exciting lens for looking at all movies, good and bad, focusing on the subversive nature of the movie experience, the flash-bomb vitality that one scene, actor, or technician injects across the grain of a film.'" Jonathan Rosenbaum posts a letter from Farber's wife, partner and collaborator, Patricia Patterson, to John Powers: "Manny was not a 'Conservative,' a 'Libertarian,' a 'Republican,' an anything.... Obama thrilled him and he fretted about his winning.... Manny thought Barack was a new Lincoln - one of the great ones."
DNC 08."So what, exactly, will be the role of celebrity during the week of the Democratic National Convention?" asks Ted Johnson for Variety. "The easy answer: Causes. In fact, outside the convention hall itself, it will be a veritable ComicCon of causes, as dozens upon dozens of events are slated throughout the week promoting everything from African poverty relief to the plight of war veterans to the world trade imbalance." Ted also blogs at Wilshire & Washington, the "intersection of entertainment and politics." Yesterday's question: "The industry is lining up behind Barack Obama, but one question seldom gets asked: Will he be 'good' for Hollywood?" 5280? The Denver magazine takes its name from the number of feet its city rises above sea level. And it'll be all over the Convention. Updated through 8/31. Michael Guillén previews the Impact Film Festival, running for three days starting today in Denver and then moving on to the Twin Cities for the Republican National Convention and running there September 1 through 4. Michael: "Discussions will include the national debt, fair trade, Hurricane Katrina, stem-cell research, homelessness, and global water politics. Films screening include Accidental Advocate, Battle in Seattle, The Black List, Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story, Flow, Freeheld, I.O.U.S.A., Kicking It, Robert Kennedy Remembered, Trouble the Water and 14 Women." David Carr, aka the Carpetbagger, that is, the New York Times' Oscar blogger, will be poking around both parties' conventions, but first: "Denver is large and still growing and clearly wants the convention to be a hit, but people are not interested in knocking the metaphorical manure off their boots. Yes, there are abundant business, culinary and artistic amenities, but Denver is still cow-town proud." David Leonhardt on "Obamanomics" in the NYT Magazine: "Depending on how you look at it, he is both more left-wing and more right-wing than many people realize." In These Times senior editor David Moberg is struggling with that. "Even after his breakout into national prominence, Obama has remained a largely unknown politician whose air of destiny can make him seem distant and opaque. Yet, by listening closely to his language, I think we can learn something about who he really is." In the New Republic, literary critic Andrew Delbanco reads Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. More DNC special coverage: The American Prospect (blogs), the Nation and the Guardian. And the Washington Post. Online viewing tip. "The biographical film has become a key component of political conventions. It may be crucial for Barack Obama." Jim Rutenberg for the NYT. The film by Davis Guggenheim (Inconvenient Truth) debuts
New York. Fall Preview.The fall season's actually supposed to wait for Labor Day, but who's not ready to stow away the capes and get to it already? Good news: Venice opens on Wednesday, Telluride on Friday. And New York's looking beyond. Many of its "Fall Preview" entries are brief - but welcome. "In the globe-trotting con-artist movie The Brothers Bloom, two lifelong grifters (Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) devise double-crosses so fabulously complex that they begin to lose track of where real life ends and the bamboozle begins," writes Logan Hill; he talks with Rachel Weisz, who "steals the film right out from under the brothers' noses." Updated through 8/30. There's a quick profile of John Hillcoat, who's directed an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road; Hill's chat with Josh Brolin about playing George W Bush in Oliver Stone's W; a guide to the season's male duos; a few questions for Catherine Keener regarding Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York; an even quicker talk with Benicio Del Toro (Che); a glimpse at Beverly Hills Chihuahua; a chart ("Vulture's Fall Recommend-o-Matic: Movies") and a briefly annotated schedule of September, October and November releases. "Last year gave us awards-quality glumfests like There Will Be Blood, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and In the Valley of Elah. It also gave us a severe case of clinical depression. Will we survive 2008? Or will this year's crop of movies be even more dour than last year's?" A prognostication from Dan Kois and Lane Brown in Vulture. Updates: More fall previewing: At Screengrab, Paul Clark, Andrew Osborne and Scott Von Doviak each pick three movies they're looking forward to and three they'll try to avoid. David Germain writes the AP's fall preview. The Playlist is previewing, starting with September and October. Update, 8/26: And the Playlist previews November and December. Updates, 8/27: Johnny Ray Huston opens the San Francisco Bay Guardian's "Fall Arts Preview 2008" package and writes up a big list of "50 ways to rep film this fall." Cheryl Eddy makes note of "10 big-screen release dates to remember - for better and worse." Noah Forrest previews September and October for Movie City News. In the New York Observer, Sara Vilkomerson picks seven films to look out for in September. Screengrab's Leonard Pierce picks three to look forward to, three to avoid and one wild card. William Speruzzi's "Fall 2008 Radar." Update, 8/30: The Washington Post presents its "Fall Books Preview 2008."
Catching up.With summer about to skid into fall, you might find this roundup of longish reads and hours of online viewing as a way to pass the last leisurely hours of the year; or maybe it's brain training, a back-to-school workout. Up to you. Either way, the June issues of two film journals have appeared online relatively recently, and we can start with Scope, where Martin Barker asks, "[W]hat senses of identity and community are summoned up in the process of watching and then discussing [Being John Malkovich]? And what light might this throw on how we think about the concept of 'art-house' audiences?" Dave Mann "analyses the crime series Colonel March of Scotland Yard (1954) which, though it has attracted considerable internet interest, has not yet achieved academic respectability." Andrew Hageman examines "the prospects of reading Mulholland Drive ecologically as well as the prospects for uncanny cinema to reveal the ideological limits of our ability to think about and represent ecology." Eric Dewberry argues that "Grizzly Man elicits the 'powers of the false,' blurring perceptions of reality and fiction and presenting multiple possibilities and channels for truth in its exclusive temporal form." Then there's the bulk of the issue, the section that sets Scope apart: 20 book reviews. Five relatively recent films are reviewed, followed by five conference reports. Scope has also expanded its archive. "After a long run of thematic issues Offscreen returns with a summer issue consisting of five essays covering an eclectic range of subjects spanning many National cinemas," announces editor Donato Totaro, whose own contribution puts forth the argument that The Happening, "while certainly flawed, is a return to form for Shyamalan, who uses an old horror/science-fiction theme - nature gone amok - to spin an entertaining double allegory: on the environment (which every critic has picked up on) and (less obviously) on the state of human communication in a society that is increasingly dependent on technologically mediated forms of communication." Daniel Garrett offers a brief history of Turkish cinema before turning to several recent films from the country; he also has a piece on The Visitor. The titles of Robert Robertson and Lindsey Rock's essay say it all; respectively, "Audiovisual Glass: Eisenstein and Frank Lloyd Wright on Light, Space and Music" and "From Cop Killer to Killer Cop: Black Masculinities in Jamaican Cinema." I've fallen behind on Offscreen in general. The May issue is devoted to Legend Films, "a company known for its cutting edge developments in digital film restoration, digital colorization, and theatrical color effects, and has recently ventured into the area of DVD production," while April is given to westerns and March to the 2007 edition of Fantasia, Montreal's famed genre film festival. New site on the block: Cult Media Studies, an "online community for the academic study of cult media." Online viewing tips. I can't believe I'm only just now looking into the collection of interviews at FilmCatcher. Just watch and listen to all these people talking on camera: Stephen Frears, Isabel Coixet, Brad Anderson, Joachim Trier, Louis Garrel, Jeanne Balibar and on and on and on.
August 24, 2008
Films in Review.Films in Review has relaunched its site: "For those of you just dropping in, we're the oldest film publication in the United States. The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures was formed in 1909 as a reaction against censorship in the new visual medium, and to a lesser or greater extent we've always stood for that. The Board's magazine has taken many forms, and even several names, over the decades. Films in Review has been its moniker for the last fifty." Recent items include Oren Shai's interview with Menahem Golan, nearing 80 now, as well as ongoing columns; the editors are also posting pieces from the "FIR Vault," such as Gene Ringgold's 1971 profile of Audrey Hepburn, James Robert Haspiel and Charles Herschberg's 1976 piece on "Jayne Mansfield's Starlet Days" and David Del Valle's 1996 talk with Curtis Harrington about James Whale.
August 23, 2008
Frieze. September 08."Two films literally changed my life. The first one made me decide to become a cinematographer and the desire to see the second one made me travel to New York, which became my home and where I later made my films." Babette Mangolte writes the "Life in Film" column for the new issue of Frieze. Her name may not be immediately familiar, but she's worked with Chantal Akerman and Yvonne Rainer and: "Over the past three decades, she has directed several non-narrative experimental films, as well as a documentary about the making of Robert Bresson's 1959 film Pickpocket entitled Les Modèles de Pickpocket (2003)." Oh, and those two films? Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera and Michael Snow's Wavelength. "We live in an age of virtuality, a time in which, as Guy Debord ominously foresaw in the late 1960s, 'life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.'" Amelia Jones on recent work by Lynn Hershman Leeson: "In such an age nothing could be more important than a practice like that of LH←→RB, an ongoing range of works that acknowledge and enact the spectacularized virtuality of our 'real' in and through the body." "In contrast to most projections - including [Bojan Sarcevic's] own early ones - Only After Dark comprises both films and mini-cinemas," writes Jennifer Allen. "Everything - the walls and the ceilings, the churning reels of the projector and the moving images glowing on the wall - becomes a surface." Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith on Steve McQueen and Hunger: "'The body as site of political warfare is becoming a more familiar phenomenon. It is the final act of desperation. Your own body is your last resource for protest. One uses what one has, rightly or wrongly.' If McQueen's quoted comments on the ethics of the Republican protest are understandably circumspect, his thoughts on its pragmatics are consistent with the tenor of previous work."
Shorts, 8/23."Sometimes the art and the criticism become inseparable," writes Jim Emerson: As much as I have loved Buster Keaton since I first laid eyes on him, I don't think I fully experienced him until I read Walter Kerr's chapters in The Silent Clowns. One of the most magnificent films I know, Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho Dayu, is forever reverberating off Robin Wood's consideration of it and Ugetsu Monogatari, "The Ghost Princess and the Seaweed Gatherer." (Wood taught me how to see Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie, too.) The Shining is a greater movie because of Richard T Jameson's unforgettable Film Comment cover story. Of course, the movie is what it always was, but Jameson's piece is a masterful interpretation - the way a musician's interpretation of composition can explore it so deeply and resonantly so that the composer and the interpreter, working in concert, fuse and become co-authors of a particular performance." "Johnnie To has reunited with Mad Detective actor Lau Ching-Wan on a picture titled Look, which To is obviously planning on sneaking through production before The Red Circle ramps up." Todd Brown has more at Twitch. Jonathan Rosenbaum posts five letters from Jean-Luc Godard to Rob Tregenza concerning Inside/Out, which "tell a fairly coherent story of their own—-specifically the story of the multifaceted activity of Godard as producer of Tregenza's third feature, which was shot in rural Maryland and which includes two actors from For Ever Mozart in its cast, Frédéric Pierrot and Bérangère Allaux." "It's tempting to call The Garden a story of innocence and experience, of evil corrupting paradise, but that would be doing a disservice to the fascinating complexities of a classic Los Angeles conflict and an excellent documentary that does them full justice," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Produced and directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, The Garden takes us behind the scenes into one of the most incendiary LA situations of recent times. That would be the fierce battle over a 14-acre community garden at 41st and Alameda streets known as the South Central Farm, a dispute that turned so bitter and protracted it is still going on." "A fundamental question facing serious filmmakers who want their movies to be seen is how unvarnished the reality contemplated by their films can be before audiences become alienated," suggests Stephen Holden, introducing "a checklist of 10 of the best art films in theaters this summer." Also in the New York Times:
Fests and events, 8/23.The Chicago Reader previews 40 Years After: Filming the '68 Revolution, running through Thursday. Related: "On a sweltering Chicago evening early this month, two 60s radicals - veterans of the '68 convention - gathered with a diverse crowd of journalists, progressive activists and students on the city's North Side to contemplate the past and future of the Democratic Party." For In These Times, Laura S Washington talks with Don Rose and Marilyn Katz: "Over dinner at Yoshi's Café, the two reflected on political lessons learned and previewed Obama's coronation in Denver." And, in the New York Times Book Review, Paul Berman: Norman Mailer's Miami and the Siege of Chicago "has just been republished with an admirably self-effacing preface by Frank Rich. I have read it anew, and it gives me the willies." Update, 8/25: A miniseries of photos from Tom Sutpen. BAM's Tribute to Richard Widmark runs Monday through Wednesday. Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun: "Like his contemporary, Robert Mitchum, Widmark had an easy way with the camera and did a lot with a little. But unlike Mitchum, Widmark's stock-in-trade characters personified the anxieties of leadership, love, lawlessness, masculinity, and the other boilerplate themes common to the genre pictures that both actors made. Mitchum was a cool, deep reservoir. Widmark was a riptide." Also in the New York Sun: The New York Korean Film Festival, on through August 31, "is delivering the latest offerings from Asia's most vibrant movie industry while they're still hot," writes Martin Tsai. "Indeed, 11 of the 14 titles to be screened are making either their international, North American, or American premiere at the festival." "Capturing the city as few other films could, LA Plays Itself (1972), [Fred] Halsted's first film, has come to be regarded as a classic within the genre of gay porn." William E Jones will be presenting the feature and the short Sex Garage (also 1972) at Light Industry in Brooklyn on Tuesday. For Artforum, he profiles the filmmaker. "With the Slamdance Film Festival turning 15 in 2009, the fest has announced they will be having a series of special events to celebrate," notes Jason Guerrasio at Filmmaker. "The first will be next month as they screen Steven Soderbergh and Christopher Nolan's Slamdance-debuted films, Schizopolis and Following." The Telegraph's David Gritten offers a quick preview of the Venice Film Festival. Wednesday through September 6. Twitch's Toronto 08 category is hopping with previews. September 4 through 13. "The 27th annual Vancouver International Film Festival will be held from September 25 to October 10, 2008." A preview.
Books, 8/23.Ronald Bergan is one of 3000 volunteers each reading a single page from Marcel Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu as part of Veronique Aubouy's ongoing project, Le Baiser de la Matrice, which'll eventually be 170 hours long: "In all, Aubouy has filmed 742 people since 1993, and yet only three volumes have been completed.... In a way, this could be considered the most successful attempt to film Proust's novel of time, space and memory, a landmark in 20th-century literature. Previous films have been bleeding chunks by directors having only dared tackle one volume such as Volker Schlondorff's Swann in Love (1984), Raul Ruiz's Time Regained (1999) and Chantal Akerman's The Captive (2000). Various others have tried to bring the whole novel to the screen, only to end in tears." Also in the Guardian: In his engaging review, Simon Callow writes that Ever, Dirk: The Bogarde Letters "remarkably reveals a fascinating, original and in some ways haunted man in shockingly unmediated form." And Louise Dean reviews Linn Ullmann's novel, A Blessed Child. Via Bookforum, Claudia Pummer on The Cinema of Werner Herzog: Aesthetic Ecstasy and Truth: "One of the most refreshing aspects of this study is that [Brad] Prager avoids situating Herzog solely in the context of the New German Cinema, taking into account that the director has long established himself outside this outmoded historiographical and national category.... It is rather unfortunate, however, that Prager never reflects critically on [auteur theory], since it seems to challenge his major argument of defining Herzog's work as a mode that defies the very conventions of a unifying aesthetic principle." "From the earliest days of cinema a fascination with Scottish historical themes fed the appetites of Hollywood." The Times of London runs an extract from Being a Scot by Sean Connery and Murray Grigor with a good swath on Alexander Mackendrick. Online listening tip. On Point on "the last Victorian, proto-feminist classic, Anne of Green Gables, at one hundred."
The Black List, Vol 1."A minimalist film, without narration and with very little on the screen except people talking, The Black List (which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year) derives its considerable energy and elegance from its subjects," writes Felicia R Lee. "[Elvis] Mitchell, the host of the new TCM interview series Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence and a former film critic for the New York Times, is never on screen. Rather, Mr Mitchell said, he and [photographer Timothy] Greenfield-Sanders played their hands behind the scenes." Updated through 8/25. Lee's piece is accompanied by clip featuring Chris Rock and features lots of quotage from Mitchell: "'What you tend not to see are films on black people radiating in the pleasure of their success and telling their stories,' he said. 'You come to the point whenever you see a black person on television, it's either a comedy or some tragic issue being spoken to. You wouldn't think that black people could get through a competently managed day, let alone being successful at it.'" You can suggest subjects for future volumes: Who's on Your Black List. Updates, 8/25: "With clarity and elegance, The Black List: Volume One presents portraitures of nearly two-dozen notable African Americans who share their own personal views on how they transcended racism and other hardships to become major successes in their chosen professions," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Taken together, these voices reflect the breadth and scope of the modern African American experience at its richest and most inspiring." Steven Boone talks with Mitchell and Greenfield-Sanders for Time Out New York.
Dare Not Walk Alone."The more things change, the more they stay the same for disenfranchised African-Americans in the historic city of St Augustine, Florida," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "At least that's the argument persuasively, if haphazardly, put forth by director Jeremy Dean's documentary Dare Not Walk Alone, which casts one eye back to the city's not-insignificant role in the 1960s civil-rights movement while keeping the other fixed on the communities of local blacks still living in virtual third-world poverty." In the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis finds Dean "makes a valiant attempt to juxtapose past and present, but his goal is consistently undermined by an execution so muddled it's almost unwatchable." At the Pioneer in New York through Thursday.
August 22, 2008
Movies About Movies Blog-a-Thon.All weekend long, at the goatdogblog. Your host will be Michael W Phillips Jr: "Entries are already pouring in, and I'm looking forward to a torrent of great posts on movies about the movie industry's favorite subject - itself."
Roberto Gavaldón.Roberto Gavaldón's "work was enhanced by savvy choices of collaborators, including the novelists Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez, the great cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, and the mysterious writer B Traven (author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), whose stories inspired a trilogy of Gavaldón's films," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. Wounded Pride, Simmering Passion: Roberto Gavaldon, a series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center today through Thursday, "[rounds] up nine of Gavaldón's best films in a weeklong retrospective that is consistently eye-opening." "Macario is a landmark in Mexican cinema; Lincoln Center says so, and so do I," announces Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "If I'm let down by the film's ending, it's because it retreats back to where it began: away from satire and back into the mystic, refusing to validate Macario's all-too-understandable impulses. It's like Ace in the Hole got garbled with a sincerely told folk tale, but the sheer audacity of the experiment makes it well worth attention."
Somers Town."What there is of Somers Town is mostly delightful," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "The picture originated as a promotional short by [Shane] Meadows for the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras, which is why the original idea is credited to Mother Vision - not a nun with media ambitions, but the TV and film arm of the advertising agency Mother London. The short was then expanded by Meadows and the writer Paul Fraser, but its origins are easily discernible, like an old wallpaper pattern visible beneath a new coat of paint." Updated through 8/25. "It's a slight, gentle, sweet-natured comedy shot in black and white, and blessed with a lovely performance from Meadows's great find, Thomas Turgoose, the teenage star of his previous film This Is England," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Turgoose has a natural flair for laughs... [H]e's a true likely lad, like a young James Bolam, or perhaps the standup comics Ken Loach recruited to star in his excellent, underrated rail privatisation drama The Navigators, from 2001. Remarkably, he is still only 16: I could easily imagine Turgoose being a stand-up comedy star in his own right." The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu finds it "a work of integrity, a touching piece of dream-cinema, an almost unquantifiably delightful film that revives the spirit and good humour of Carol Reed's A Kid for Two Farthings (1955)." Meadows "has made his best film to date." "What's striking about this Midlands storyteller is that he is able to explore the comic and tragic absurdities of small-town life in a populist, invigorating fashion, moving with swagger and ease from laughs to tears and back again," writes Dave Calhoun in Time Out. "He is good, too, at extracting performances from youngsters. Brotherly friendships are at the heart of his films, including this latest, which, owing to its slight knockabout feel and running time of barely more than an hour, should really be considered his fifth-and-a-half." "It is a genuinely pleasant watch," finds Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "However, it is never quite tough enough to convince entirely." "It's not the film's origins as a commercial that grate; indeed, aside from shots of the St Pancras spire and some on-train filming, Eurostar doesn't figure much," writes the Independent's Anthony Quinn. "What scuppers it is a dismal lack of drama." "It aspires to the new wave of London immigration thrillers by Stephen Frears (Dirty Pretty Things) and Anthony Minghella (Breaking and Entering)," writes James Christopher in the London Times. "But it's not cruel enough." Online viewing tip. Xan Brooks's review for the Guardian. Earlier: Mark Sinker in Sight & Sound and Neil Young's Somers Town page. Update, 8/25: The Observer's Philip French on the Somers Town area: "A number of significant films have been set there over the years, most famously the great Ealing comedy The Ladykillers (1955). Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa (1986) exploited the locality's reputation for sleaze. In High Hopes, the 1988 film with which Mike Leigh, a major influence on Meadows, returned to the cinema after a long absence, the hero's elderly mother lived in a backwater beside the old gasometers. Most recently, the district's bustling sense of change and renewal was the social dynamic for Anthony Minghella's final film, Breaking and Entering, the plot of which foreshawdaows the altogether slighter, more modest Somers Town." As for the Eurostar commission, "The phenomenon is not new. Ford paid for Karel Reisz's We Are the Lambeth Boys and Lindsay Anderson's Every Day Except Christmas, the Free Cinema films of the late 1950s that launched the British New Wave. It's better than Hollywood's current pursuit of lucrative 'product placement.'"
August 21, 2008
Shorts, 8/21."At the famous Cinecittà studios in Rome, shooting gets underway this week on 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup (36 Views from the Pic Saint-Loup), the new feature by seasoned director Jacques Rivette," reports Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. Jane Birkin and Sergio Castellitto headline the cast. Meantime, there's been a summertime update at Order of the Exile: Concerning the Films of Jacques Rivette; scroll down a tad for a guide to the five new additions. "This has got to be one of the strangest press releases to hit my inbox in many a long day." Anne Thompson passes along the announcement that Lars von Trier is ready to start shooting Antichrist in Germany with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. From Jeff Sneider's link roundup for Variety: "Apparently, Kevin Smith has seen Zack Snyder's Watchmen and he thought it was 'fucking astounding.' I have a friend at Paramount who also saw the film about a month ago and he called the 3-hour cut 'fucking amazing.' At this rate, every two-word review of the 2009 tentpole will be 'fucking (insert ultra-positive adjective here).' I for one, can't fucking wait." Related: Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay watches the "Watchmen Studio Grudge Match." The Canary Islands are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the cast and crew - and cash - for the remake of Papillon, reports Graham Keeley: "Robert Downey Jr has been tipped to take [Steve] McQueen's part as Papillon, while Philip Seymour Hoffman has been fancied to take Dustin Hoffman's role of Louis Dega, who plots with Papillon to escape." Also in the Guardian: Peter Jackson will be co-writing the screenplay for The Hobbit with Guillermo del Toro, reports Ben Child. "Skeptics unite: You only have to lose your inhibitions," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "That, in sum, is the underlying message of Bill Maher and Larry Charles's brilliant, incendiary Religulous, in which comedian/talkshow host Maher inquires of the religious faithful and finds them severely wanting.... [I]ts arrival shortly after the death of George Carlin - a profound influence on Maher's standup act and politics - suggests the kind of film Carlin might have made in his prime." "There may be academic couples luckier than NC State University film professors Marsha and Devin Orgeron, but there probably aren't many." Gerry Canavan counts the ways and then turns to their new books: "Marsha's book, Hollywood Ambitions: Celebrity in the Movie Age, is a journey through the Hollywood of the early 20th century, exploring what it was that attracted such diverse celebrities as Wyatt Earp, Jack London and Gertrude Stein to seek additional fame and audiences on the silver screen. Devin's Road Movies: From Muybridge and Méliès to Lynch and Kiarostami is a book about exactly that: a look at cinema's attachment to the myth of the road from Jean-Luc Godard to David Lynch." Also in the Independent Weekly, Grayson Currin talks with Brett Ingram about his company's new DVD release of Bruce Bickford's Prometheus' Garden and Neil Morris reviews Baghead, "well-made and genuine, yet also simplistic and unremarkable. That is just what its makers intended it to be." "When Frederick Wiseman is asked about the inspirations of his panoramic body of work, he doesn't tend to talk about other documentaries, but often mentions literature and drama." Nicolas Rapold talks with him for Moving Image Source. New from Film International:
Fests and events, 8/21.Cinema Purgatorio announces dates and times for NYC screenings of the Flaming Lips' Christmas on Mars. In general, they're taking place during the second half of September. Chicagoist Rob Christopher previews Facets' 40 Years After: Filming the '68 Revolution week-long series beginning tomorrow. Good city for it, too. "Developed to give filmmakers an opportunity to qualify for Oscar consideration by providing the theatrical platform necessary to be considered for an Academy Award nomination, DocuWeek opens Friday and continues through Aug 28 at the ArcLight theaters in Hollywood and Sherman Oaks," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "25 films featured in previous DocuWeek programming have gone on to garner Oscar nominations, with six winning the Academy Award, including Alex Gibney's 2007 film, Taxi to the Dark Side." And she previews highlights of this year's edition. "For The Circuit's first anniversary, we asked film festival vet Christian Gaines to ruminate on the State of Fests. In a two-part series, he looks at the unifying factor that makes them important and the different agendas that complicate them." Ed Gonzalez on the New York Korean Film Festival, running tomorrow through August 31: "A Korean film festival without the belligerent aesthetics and sketchy moral plans of Kim Ki-duk and Park Chan-wook is practically a badge of honor; one without the plaintive romanticism of Hong Sang-soo and sly genre deconstructions of Bong Joon-ho is like a winter without snow." Also in the Voice, Jim Ridley previews BAM's Tribute to Richard Widmark (Monday through Wednesday). "New York City's Film Forum will be screening both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II during a special three week engagement beginning September 12," notes Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "And yes, it's a big deal." Brian Brooks sends a dispatch from Sarajevo into indieWIRE: "There was a mix of both well-estabished and emerging folks, including local director Aida Begic, whose debut feature, Snow opened the 14th Sarajevo Film Festival over the weekend with great fanfare. Also joining the discussion [lon naturalism vs artifice in film] was fellow local Danis Tanovic, whose 2001 feature No Man's Land won the Oscar for best foreign-language film, Man on Wire director James Marsh, Stranded director Gonzalo Arijon (Chile), Jar City director Baltasar Kormakur and Israeli-German director, Lior Shamriz (Japan Japan)." With the Democratic National Convention less than a week away now, Peter Nellhaus has been running a series he calls "Cinematic Denver," while Anne Thompson notes that plenty of doc-makers are heading to the city that, as Kirk Johnson reports in the New York Times, "is hoping to declare its emerging artistic identity to the world next week." More on the docs from Mark Rabinowitz. Variety's Nick Vivarelli reports on the first round of titles announced for this year's Rome Film Festival. October 22 through 31. Also: "The Pusan festival unveiled a slimmed-down, more Asian-centric selection for the 11th running of its Pusan Promotion Plan project market," reports Han Sunhee. October 2 through 10. David Cox, back in London from Locarno, quite liked Kirill Serebrennikov's Yuri's Day, "a masterly treatment of the Moscow glitterati's hankering for the Russian soul that they've left behind in their country's primitive, frozen backwoods," but is otherwise rattled by "the more numerous specimens of Euro-arthouse endeavour that were grotesquely, unbelievably bad. No, actually a good bit worse than that."
Momma's Man."Considering that Azazel Jacobs, the director of Momma's Man, is the offspring of American avant-garde filmmaker extraordinaire Ken Jacobs, one would be forgiven for expecting his film to be more experimental and abstract than the seemingly conventional narrative that plays out," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Yet buried beneath the poignant clutter of this occasionally familiar stunted-youth-in-life-transition tale is a surprisingly complex, elegantly detailed meditation on creativity and artistic growth." Updated through 8/22. "Thirtyish guy - bit of a schlub but married, with a newborn baby - comes back from California to visit aging parents in New York and, overtaken by a mysterious lethargy, moves into his tiny childhood room. Momma's Man... is one of the sweetest, saddest stories Franz Kafka never wrote." So begins J Hoberman's review in the Voice, where, further in he notes, "Although my most vivid memories of Aza Jacobs are as the unnamed infant installed in a crib in a Johnson City apartment and called, for what seemed like a very long time, 'Mr Baby,' I've known his parents for nearly 40 years, going back to my undergraduate days at the State University of Binghamton, where Ken Jacobs impressed me as possibly the most brilliant film teacher in the world." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir introduces his interview with Jacobs: "It's the kiss of death for a critic to proclaim some young filmmaker the heart of a movement - 'mumblecore' seemed to evaporate as soon as it was named, and that's probably just as well - and that's not actually what I think about Jacobs. But he did graduate from the American Film Institute school with a cadre of peers devoted to low-budget filmmaking. Most notably these include Goran Dukic, who made Wristcutters: A Love Story, and Gerardo Naranjo, who co-wrote and starred in Jacobs' second film, The GoodTimesKid, before going on to make Drama/Mex and the forthcoming I'm Going to Explode, which will premiere at the Venice, Toronto and New York festivals next month. There isn't necessarily an aesthetic that ties those three filmmakers and their friends together, but arguably they're trying to follow the DIY maxim Jacobs applies to himself." Aaron Hillis introduces his interview for IFC: "The reason for our meeting [in December] was mostly professional, as Benten Films (a DVD label I run with film blogger Andrew Grant) had fallen in love with Jacobs' previous film, The GoodTimesKid, starring his real-life girlfriend Sara Diaz, I'm Going to Explode writer/director Gerardo Naranjo, and himself. (Benten will release The GoodTimesKid in early 2009, so let the shilling stop here).... Back in New York for the premiere, Jacobs spoke to me by phone from his childhood home and makeshift movie set — though to avoid repeating other recent interviews, we talked mostly about the Clash." For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Jacobs "about the intersection between truth and fiction in the film, not blinking for four months during post-production, and his childhood plan to save his family with pennies and magic rocks." "The son of an experimentalist, Jacobs fils understands the power of the unexpected - which is why the most moving moments in this unspoken love story come courtesy a wind-up toy, a corny pop song, glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to a ceiling," writes the L Magazine's Mark Asch. "Within its modest docudrama style, Momma's Man addresses universal experience as presumptuously as does a mainstream Pop epic," writes Armond White in the New York Press. IndieWIRE interviews Jacobs, too. Earlier: James Van Maanen's interview with Azazel Jacobs; and reviews from Sundance and David D'Arcy. Updates, 8/22: "With its few locations, small cast and limited budget, Momma's Man looks deceptively humble. But Mr Jacobs has succeeded at one of the most difficult tasks given a director, which is to make a character come alive through the filmmaking, not exposition." In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis now finds the film "more complex than the valentine to Mom and Dad I originally had it pegged as when I first saw it at Sundance." "The film doesn't indict society for turning a generation of males into oversize infants so much as dive headfirst into the confusion that causes such men to burrow into childhood 2.0," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "That you still walk away sympathizing with the pathetic Mikey is a testament to both Boren's close-to-the-bone performance and Jacobs; for a young filmmaker whose previous movie, The GoodTimesKid, suggested he was a precocious talent, this moody, pitch-perfect ode to immaturity ironically proves he's finally grown up." "Indie films about arrested adolescence have practically become a genre, but the way Jacobs avoids pat explanations for Boren's behavior - or any kind of forced catharsis - is so refreshingly low-key that it's easy to feel like Jacobs has reinvented the wheel," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Honestly, he hasn't, but Momma's Man is a welcome change of pace regardless." "Many months have passed since my first viewing of Jacobs's latest film, Momma's Man, yet I am more confident than ever in saying that no motion picture has ever pierced me so directly to my core." Michael Tully talks with Jacobs at Hammer to Nail. "If the movie is initially confusing, and then disturbing, what ultimately lends it poignancy is the art-versus-reality tug-of-war playing out right on the surface," proposes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "As Mr Jacobs's camera makes its way through the cluttered chaos of the apartment he inhabited as a child, it seems the director himself wants not only to wrap his arms around a life that no longer exists, but to grasp a fading filmmaking community - one pioneered in part by Ken Jacobs - that wants to push aside the machinations of 21st-century Hollywood in a bid to resurrect the independent spirit of New York City circa 1965." Online viewing tip. Tribeca talks with Ken Jacobs.
The Rocker."With a half-decent climax, the go-for-it parody The Rocker would have been pretty good bordering on good instead of just okay," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Despite his performance's (and the story's) derivativeness, [Rainn] Wilson's idiot enthusiasm is so aggressive that it eventually wears down one's defenses, and a host of NBC (and, specifically, 30 Rock) comedians sturdily contribute to the shenanigans, none more amusingly than Jason Sudeikis as a one-liner-spouting record label stooge," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "A wealth of creative talent, though, can't alter the fact that Rocker is merely a passable goof-off, and one less challenging or fun than a night spent playing Rock Band." Updated through 8/22. "[I]f The Rocker, directed by Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty), has its witty moments, the movie is encrusted in rock lore and stale attitudinizing borrowed from This Is Spinal Tap and School of Rock, each of which it shamelessly cannibalizes," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Most disappointingly, the music is tepid, mediocre pop pastiche... In its portrayal of a rock culture that was once synonymous with liberating self-expression, everything is secondhand and done by rote. Hip has become rigidly, thuddingly square." "Central to the film is the fallacy that yesterday's headbangers had a crazier (and therefore cooler) lifestyle than today's young musicians, and that the music was, if not better, more extroverted and vital," writes James Hannaham in Salon. "This concept facilely bumbles through the movie in a way that seems somewhat condescending to young audiences. Sure, collegiate twinks like Vampire Weekend have yet to crash their cars and OD on smack, but Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty's bad behavior, though of a different stripe, has kept the dream alive." "The Rocker, like Gilmore Girls, takes place in an alternate universe where MTV and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are relevant, and where a generalist, genre-free "rock" spirit covers all musical tastes, ambitions, and song styles," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "This sort of lame non-take on an area of human endeavor that in real life is an inherently partisan subject to both its practitioners and its fans would be considerably easier to stomach if The Rocker were more than mildly funny." "To those moviegoers who may have said they're sick of seeing Will Ferrell and Jack Black just keep doing what they do, well, OK then, here's somebody else doing it," notes Jonathan Kiefer. "Like its protagonist, the movie is sweet but slow and a little out of date. Given that their collective résumé includes The Simpsons and The Larry Sanders Show, it's hard to believe writers Wallace Wolodarsky and Maya Forbes couldn't come up with more pungent pop-cultural targets than Titanic and U2," writes Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times, where Christy Gros talks with Teddy Geiger. "A juvenile fairy tale that plays like the pilot for a Jonas Brothers sitcom on the Disney Channel, The Rocker comes off as something penned by an old dude who hasn't bought music since it was sold 'on records,' or ever met a music executive who wasn't a character in This Is Spinal Tap," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "This is sugary-sweet stuff—pop instead of rock." Eric Kohn in the New York Press: "Slapstick should be the redeeming quality that sustains The Rocker through its weaker moments, but Wilson’s stunts never build to greatness; they suggest a good idea or two and then move right along." "Sadly, nearly everyone's talents are wasted, or else used only in a couple of scenes," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "The exception is Sudeikis, who gets the film's best one-liners.... His delivery is impeccable, of course, but for some reason his character was written to be funnier than everyone else, too. He basically steals the show." Interviews with Wilson: Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Eric Kohn (Cinematical), Nathan Rabin (AV Club) and Aly Semigran (Philadelphia Weekly). Updates, 8/22: "It's a slave to formula, and it hits its marks satisfyingly enough to make for a pleasant time-passer, but Wilson and a loaded supporting cast are never as funny as they should be," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "The Rocker does not totally suck," Lindy West assures us in the Stranger. "Like most films devoted to the absurd kickassedness of rock, it's hopelessly derivative, but I've sat through worse moviegoing experiences than a secondhand Spinal Tap."
I.O.U.S.A."Both a handy election primer and a bowel-rattling cry of fiscal doom, I.O.U.S.A. is an Inconvenient Truth for the debt crisis, a plainly mapped and charted argument against our current economic course," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. But Robert Koehler, writing in the LA Weekly, isn't buying it: "Debt is not only not the evil Creadon's film depicts it to be, it's essential. Our current debts and deficits? No worries. One graphic that I.O.U.S.A. doesn't include is a national balance sheet of our assets and liabilities, which would illustrate that the former is more than double the latter. We're in the black, and a film this deep in the red isn't something to be scared of at all - or taken seriously." Updated through 8/22. "I.O.U.S.A. is surprisingly nonpartisan, blaming both sides for living beyond our means," writes Sal Cinquemani in Slant. "But as one interviewee states, the truth isn't liberal or conservative, and the reality of how the Bush administration has resurrected and compounded our nation's biggest bad habit is inescapable." "[Patrick] Creadon aims for the bemused but stern tone of Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth but only succeeds in scaring the shit out of us, with few practical solutions apart from vague commands to 'Wake Up America' and 'Demand Responsible Budget Control' writ large," writes Matt Prigge in the Philadelphia Weekly. Still, "Every American should see I.O.U.S.A. - provided they can't get the same information, and then some, from more rigorous sources." Earlier: Reviews from Sundance. Updates, 8/22: "Equal parts enlightening and alarming, I.O.U.S.A. highlights our unwise preference for short-term reward over long-term planning, a weakness not shared by the film's exemplary Chinese household, which saves more than half of its $10-a-day income," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "The movie's wrist-slapping tone, however, is softened by [former comptroller general David M] Walker's eloquence and [the Concord Coalition's Robert L] Bixby's rueful, self-deprecating charm as they trudge tirelessly from one town hall to another, urging Americans to save rather than spend. Good luck, boys: Suze Orman has been working on that for years." "If anyone can make this kind of grim subject material palatable to a mass audience, it'd seemingly be Creadon, whose breezy, enjoyable crossword-puzzle documentary Wordplay was a sleeper hit," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Though the filmmaking is playful at times, the film is essentially 90 percent message, 10 percent movie. Then again, sometimes a message is important enough to make other considerations seem irrelevant."
NYC Vigilantes."[F]rom Minutemen to lynch mobs to Castle Doctrines to United 93, vigilantism retains a privileged place in the anarchic American imagination," writes Nick Pinkerton. "The Anthology Film Archives series NYC Vigilantes is blessed by ample specimens of a now-endangered screen species: the Great Northeastern City Dude, a battered, had-it-up-to-here guy whose natural musk of stale bodega coffee marks his biological difference from the stubbly prettyboy with tie askance." For the New York Press, JR Taylor talks with William Lustig, whose Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2 and Vigilante will be screened in the series: "I always thought that when Vigilante and Death Wish played in Times Square, they were viewed differently than in suburbia. The audience had a different relationship to the people on the screen. These movies are Westerns, first and foremost. Back then, there was definitely a siege mentality for people living in urban environments. These were the gunslingers - Bronson, Robert Forster, Robert Ginty." Updated through 8/25. Tonight through Sunday; Cinema Strikes Back posts the program. Update, 8/22: "Picking up a Magnum is as sacred a duty in these pictures as taking up the cross," writes Robert Cashill. "Dirty Harry had set the tone for urban Westerns; in Death Wish, the gun gifted to architect Bronson by good ol' boy Tucson client Stuart Margolin is a talisman of the Old West, passed religiously into the Wild East for the benediction of the vigilante-to-be. Abel Ferrara's creepy Ms 45 (1981)... has the deaf-mute heroine Thana (for Thanatos, the Greek god of death) never at ease in society ('she was abused and violated... it will never happen again!'), putting on a nun's habit to consecrate her vengeance at a costume party. These movie avengers ride with the angels." Update, 8/25: Ms 45 "has an early Ed Koch era verisimilitude that is fascinating for New Yorkers and is built for maximum tonal dissonance - it puts movies like Neil Jordan's absurd, overly polished The Brave One to shame," writes Brandon Harris. "The iconoclastic director didn't disappoint when he finally surfaced after having skipped the intro Anthology expected him to do, delivering a nearly hour long Q&A following the 9:00 pm screening, during which, a grand total of three questions were asked - Mr Ferrara is his own material."
August 20, 2008
Richard Serra: Thinking on Your Feet.Richard Serra: Thinking on Your Feet screens tonight and Tuesday, September 2, at New York's Film Forum. Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun: "The film is nominally devoted to documenting the preparation and execution of The Matter of Time, a massive grouping of Mr Serra's signature steel walls, cones, and ellipses commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. It is directed with enthusiastic remove by the German filmmaker Maria Anna Tappeiner, who exhibits the same kind of deference for space and emphasis on meticulous construction as the artist's well-known work." Updated through 8/21. "While it's true that Serra can expound at length and in formidable terms about the 'load-bearing, tectonic concerns' of his art, he's also the kind of guy who can't help going with 'directionality' when 'direction' would suffice," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. "Ironically, after a little background on Serra's working-class upbringing (he even took a job in a steel mill) and a testimonial from Philip Glass, it's when Serra himself takes over - with sophisticated color commentary on his Guggenheim Bilbao exhibit - that the film's portrait of the artist loses focus." "Listening to Richard Serra talk about sculpture is like listening to Russell Crowe talk about acting: after a while you feel you're either in the presence of genius or the victim of an elaborate con," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Fortunately for both, their work speaks for itself." Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "The film ends welcomingly with Serra stating that he creates artwork that positions the spectator as the subject, but for those suspicious of modern art, the film's focus on Serra's obsession with symbolic iconography, the lexicon of geometric spheres, articulating spatial problems, and creating forms that have never been seen before in nature mostly confirms how closely entwined more modern contemporary-art practices are with intellectual wankitude." "Artists can sometimes ramble on a bit," concedes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York, "but Serra's process-centric comments are weirdly riveting. 'We start with the void,' he says, and you realize that his real subject is open space: the reshaping of the volume of a gallery and our movement through the tunnels his walls create." Updates, 8/21: "Tappeiner's reverence for her subject... leaves one hungering for a more complex engagement with Serra's art and its legacy," writes Artforum's Brian Scholis. "In sharp distinction from Louise Bourgeois, whose recent biopic at Film Forum was considerably more interesting than this film, Serra's art contains little of his own experience and therefore the omission of his personal life is somewhat justified," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "That said, it's this lack of a more candid connection in favor of modernist artspeak that keeps Thinking on Your Feet from transcending the category of DVD-bound artist documentaries into something more engaging."
How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken."Daniel Mendelsohn brightens the dour New York Review of Books like few other contributors," writes David Haglund, reviewing How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken for the New York Observer. "This is partly thanks to his subject matter: neither Iraq nor climate change but literature, theater and the movies. It's also thanks to his - not style, exactly; Mr Mendelsohn's a gifted writer, but the prose of his essays is less lyrical than that of his books, The Lost (2006) and The Elusive Embrace (1999). What distinguishes his criticism, rather, is a willingness to address not just the arts but their reception. He writes reviews as cultural commentary, and he's more or less mastered the form." In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Jason Shimai finds the book "excellent. But it lacks something I can't help wanting from the criticism I read, no matter how often some denunciation tries to shame the desire out of me. One of Mendelsohn's pieces even takes novelist and literary critic Dale Peck's 2005 review collection, Hatchet Jobs to task for indulging in the very thing I look for: bitchiness." "He has stimulating things to say about Noël Coward, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, Pedro Almodóvar and Ted Hughes's adaptation of Euripides's Alcestis, among many others," writes Richard Eder in the Los Angeles Times. "One of the strongest pieces disputes the universal judgment that Brokeback Mountain is about love in general, and not just gay love. Mendelsohn, gay himself, argues that on the contrary, it is precisely a gay tragedy. To believe that the 'normality' of the two main characters takes them beyond their gayness is to imply that gayness makes them something other than normal. Through all the variety, one theme recurs: the tendency of our interpreters to soften history and the art of the past by bending it to contemporary concerns." "Mendelsohn often begins his essays with examples from the Greek classics - Homer, Aristotle, Aristophanes - that accessibly illuminate the virtues and flaws of contemporary art," notes Craig Morgan Teicher in Time Out New York. "From there, he eases into masterful takedowns of puffed-up novels (The Lovely Bones and Middlesex); ambitious but ultimately failed films (Marie Antoinette and Troy); and overvalued, overconfident or overplayed writers (Truman Capote, Dale Peck and Philip Roth, respectively)." "This is an uncommon reader, on account of who and what he is and of what he knows," writes Martin Rubin in the San Francisco Chronicle. "To say Mendelsohn is steeped in the classic literatures of Greek and Latin is an understatement. He writes that he pursued his graduate studies in classics with 'an eye to a career in academia; instead I became a journalist.' It is a measure of our times that the academy, host to so much mediocrity, could have let such a genuinely inspired critic slip through its hands."
August 19, 2008
DVDs, 8/19.First things first: Robin Wood selects his "Top Ten Criterions." Now that's a list! Criterion's Eclipse label is releasing two films by Larisa Shepitko today and Dave Kehr's review in the New York Times is a must-read: "This was a generation that had turned its back not only on the great masters of Soviet montage (Eisenstein, Vertov, Pudovkin) but also on the oppressive tradition of Socialist Realism that had been imposed by Stalin and that survived, with only a few exceptions, well into the 1960s. Shepitko and her colleagues preferred elaborate long takes and composition in depth over the rapid, associative editing of the montage theorists, and they were far less concerned with questions of proper Socialist citizenship than with personal conscience and the fluctuations of that ultimate anti-materialist concept, the soul." Jonathan Rosenbaum addresses the "Potential Perils of the Director's Cut." "[B]ased upon the set of features released by Kino, [Lech] Majewski may be one of the most pretentious filmmakers alive and working," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC. "Or is he a visionary? What separates the two quantities, except taste and argument? When does Majewski's brand of rampaging, overtly symbolic experimentalism dip below the line of transformative art and into nonsense?... I was far from convinced until The Garden of Earthly Delights (2004), which is not only a deeply felt and artfully conceived tragedy, but a film that adopts a faux-home-movie strategy that effectively eliminates the possibility of Majewski's more indulgent tendencies." Also reviewed is Brand Upon the Brain!, "now paraded down the aisle in a Criterion tuxedo [and] prototypically essential [Guy] Maddin." A special two-disc collector's edition of Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter has been postponed, but Doug Cummings offers a fascinating sneak peek at what might be included in that package when it eventually sees the light of day. "Victor Sjöström was arguably the most important and influential Swedish director of his generation and The Outlaw and His Wife, a story of love and sacrifice at a devastating cost, is the director's masterpiece." Sean Axmaker for TCM. Meanwhile at the Parallax View, Sean gives us fair warning concerning the release of Orson Welles's Don Quixote. John McElwee has been savoring Lost and Found: The Harry Langdon Collection: "Watch his handiwork (plus extensive extras) and you'll come away transformed (or not), for Langdon, like beer and asparagus, is a thing for which one either acquires a taste or resolutely doesn't. Enthusiasm comes not in half measure for Harry. It's all or nothing." "Humphrey Bogart, compared with other 'icon' actors such as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, gives the Siren the most consistent thrill of pleasure, again and again, even in a relatively bad movie. This was brought home to her when she saw Dead Reckoning." Related: The Observer's Philip French on Bogart. Michael W Phillips finds The Cat and the Canary "so atmospheric and lively that it makes me doubly sad that its director, Paul Leni, made so few films - including The Man Who Laughs and The Last Warning - before he died in 1929 at the age of 45. Could his career have survived the talkie transition? It's tantalizing to wonder whether his version of Dracula, planned but never completed because of his untimely death and the return of his chosen star, Conrad Veidt, to Germany, would have been better than Tod Browning's stodgy, unimaginative potboiler, but after viewing this film, the answer is manifestly apparent - of course it would have been better." "All things, good and bad, must come to an end, and now this dire truth includes one of the best shows on British television, Foyle's War," writes DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "The three discs of Foyle's War: Set 5 are a valediction and a celebration, as well as a long goodbye." The latest additions to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Sonatine and Sexy Beast. John Adair on Sátántangó: "[T]he location of the call in the chapel lends the message a divine authority (not unlike the lengthy Ezekiel quotation in [Béla] Tarr's earlier Damnation). Judgment is coming. The people have left their faith in disrepair. And there is nowhere in this bleak and barren countryside to hide." Dina Iordanova on Dialogues with Solzhenitsyn: "This is yet another one of Sokurov's pensive and masterful documentaries that manage to come really close to the person that is being interviewed.... The film, commissioned by a Russian TV channel and shot in 1999 consists of two parts of about 90 minutes each, thus the total comes to slightly over three hours." Raquelle has the Noir of the Week: The Dark Corner. Online viewing tip #1. Karina Longworth at Shooting Down Pictures on Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract. This is a fun one, laced with clips from several sources besides Greenaway. See also Kevin Lee's extensive notes. Online viewing tip #2. AO Scott on Frank Capra's State of the Union. DVD roundups: Monika Bartyzel (Cinematical), Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk, Peter Martin (Cinematical), Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and Slant.
Toronto 08. Lineup."So here it is: The Full List," announces Darren Hughes at 1st Thursday, responding to news that the Toronto Film Festival has completed its marathon round of unveilings. The lineup for the festival running September 4 through 13 is now set. Updated through 8/21. "For me," Darren continues, "the biggest news is that Agnès Varda and Terence Davies will be participating in Dialogues.... I'm also happy to see Olivier Assayas, Kelly Reichardt, Samira Makhmalbaf and Ryan Fleck and Anne Boden among the last additions to the Contemporary World Cinema lineup." "What world premieres should we look forward to in this year's selection?" asks Anthony Kaufman. "Here's some educated guesses." Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog: "I've made some notes about films from this series of releases that I'm excited about - whether out of name brand obligation (the new Coen Brothers, for instance), word of mouth (such as a number of films I've missed at other festivals) or pure morbid curiosity (ie: the Paris Hilton documentary Paris, Not France)." "With his first slate of programming as co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival announced this morning, Cameron Bailey can take a quick breather before the 33rd edition of the festival begins two weeks from Thursday." Peter Knegt talks with him for indieWIRE. Girish sketches a first draft of his to-see list. Updates, 8/21: Peter Knegt has a little fun with his "Pre-TIFF Oscar Predictions." Going to TIFF? Darren Hughes and Larry McClelland have a map that may well come in handy.
The Baader Meinhof hoopla.If a studio in the US knows it's got a stinker on its hands, it simply won't show it to critics before dumping it in theaters on a Friday evening. That used to be a rare, desperate measure, but as studios realize that audiences are now swayed more by marketing than reviews, it's become an increasingly common practice. But it only works for a certain kind of film, a non-event movie like a B-level horror flick or a romantic comedy with a poster showing Matthew McConaughey about to take his shirt off. If a cone of silence were to descend on a film as big as, say, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex hopes to be in Germany - produced by Bernd Eichinger (Downfall, Perfume) and starring the country's top of the line: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Bruno Ganz, Nadja Uhl, Johanna Wokalek, Hannah Herzsprung and on and on - audiences would smell a rat. So Constantin Film and their PR agency, Just Publicity, are trying out a new tactic - and it's blown up in their faces. Updated through 8/25. In order to attend a preview screening this week of Baader Meinhof, journalists had to sign a contract with terms that, despite both companies' protestations, can only be described as unprecedented. The film opens on September 25; if a journalist writes about the movie or even speaksabout it with a third party - friends, colleagues, what have you - before September 17, a fine will be imposed: 100,000 euros, to be split between the journalist's employer and the journalist him/herself - personally. 50K each. In an August with little else going on in the entertainment biz, this one false move has kicked up precisely the sort of coverage it was meant to dissuade, rousing a formal protest from the Deutscher Journalisten-Verband and stories from Franz Baden in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Sonja Pohlmann in Der Tagesspiegel, Hanns-Georg Rodek in the Berliner Morgenpost and Die Welt and Volker Behrens in the Hamburger Abendblatt. Angriest of all is Rüdiger Suchsland, who writes in Telepolis (and I'm loosely translating on the fly here, so bear with me): Obviously, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex is a botched film. There's no other explanation for Constantin's loss of control and hysterical behavior. There's a fear that word of the poor quality of the film will get out. Evidently, the film is so weak that it can be damaged by a bad review or even a falsely phrased rave. Film critics may take pleasure, though, in the unintended result of Constantin's actions: The studio flatters them by lending them a power they rarely claim for themselves. In this light, then, film criticism is, after all, more than "spitting into the river from a bridge," as André Bazin once put it - a quote critics, with exaggerated modesty, are fond of referencing. These unloved journalists are clearly worth as much bounty as the RAF terrorists were once to the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA). The terrorists, too, were once worth 100,000 German marks - per head. While some journalists have gone as far as to call for a boycott of coverage of Baader Meinhof - not likely to happen - Suchsland argues for more. Publications and broadcasters should focus on Constantin and Just Publicity's audacity, he argues, and, now more than ever, run reviews well in advance of September 17, with the authors' identities protected by pseudonyms. And that's just for starters. Suchsland is pissed off. Update, 8/25: "[I]f Rüdiger Suchsland is right and the film proves to be a tank, then that's a shame for reasons other than the fortunes of the producers and PR functionaries," blogs the Guardian's Danny Leigh. "After all, despite their spectral hold over many imaginations - revenants of a time when a gaggle of petty criminals, magazine journalists and student cinematographers in crushed velvet and stolen BMWs could all but unhinge an entire liberal democracy - and various fragments of their story having appeared on screen before, the goal remains open for a definitive portrait on film more than 30 years after the disputed events at Stammheim Prison that left Andreas Baader and two of the gang's other principals dead."
Bresson, 8/19.Tomorrow, New York's Film Forum screens Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped and Pickpocket, about which the New Yorker's David Denby writes, "our responses bypass the usual affective mechanics of identification and empathy, settling instead on the contemplation of a soul in isolation." "Even by director Robert Bresson's exacting, idiosyncratic standards, his 1974 Lancelot du Lac is a peculiar film," writes Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook. "[W]hat the film builds to is a fragmented, unforgettable battle scene that, combined with the narrative elisions and 'unestablished' spaces that preceded it, perhaps represents the apotheosis of what Kristin Thompson calls Bresson's 'sparse parametric' style. And a coda that's a thoroughly pessimistic as anything in film, or any other art for that matter." Acquarello: "Based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's short story, White Nights, Robert Bresson's Four Nights of a Dreamer may also be seen as a paradigm for José Luis Guerín's In the City of Sylvia, capturing the romanticism of longing, the voyeurism inherent in an artist's gaze, and the creation of idealized memory."
August 18, 2008
Polanski @ 75.Since Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired premiered at Sundance in January, then trickled in and out of a few theaters, hit a few more festivals and aired on HBO, debates on the tragedies, transgressions and triumphs in the life of Polanski have rumbled on all year long - and there isn't, really, a whole lot to add now. Except, maybe: Happy Birthday?
Shorts, fests, etc, 8/18."[Kim] Novak was the top box office star three years running in the 50s," notes Stanley Fish. "Still, she is not usually mentioned in the same breath with the other major actresses of the period - [Elizabeth] Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner. She was not earthy like Gardner or icy like Kelly or Rubensesque like Monroe or raunchy like Jane Russell or perky like Doris Day. She was something that has gone out of fashion and even become suspect in an era of feminist strictures: she was the object of a voyeuristic male gaze." Earlier: Jonathan Rosenbaum. "[A]udiences' ironic appropriation of [Douglas] Sirk - apart from being, like, so 1990s - thwarts the nonironic acceptance on which basis alone the films can work (as I believe they work ideally) as emotional melodramas that remain detached from the assumptions of the society they depict," argues Chris Fujiwara at Moving Image Source. "Ignoring the detachment makes Sirk an idiot. Denying the emotion makes him a cynical mass-culture satirist." "For a couple of years now, I have resisted seeing Andrzej Zulawski's The Important Thing is to Love (L'important c'est l'aimer, 1975) a second time, because I was afraid that it wouldn't - couldn't possibly - live up to my recollection of it," writes Tim Lucas. But it's held up: "I like Zulawski's work more often than not, but this film I find the most spellbinding of them all, due in no small part to the central performance of Romy Schneider, without whose beauty at its core I suspect the entire zany, enraptured film might collapse like a house of cards." "No maudlin Behind the Music - but tinged with drama of a different kind - a new series of films is chronicling the seminal multimedia series 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering, which took place in October 1966 at New York's 69th Regiment Armory," writes Michelle Kuo for Artforum. "Led by Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver of Bell Laboratories, a group of artists and engineers banded together to collaborate on ten experimental performance pieces. They brainstormed, argued, and pulled all-nighters, producing an event that détourned existing technologies and aesthetic conventions. Critic Brian O'Doherty called it 'the major scandal, triumph, vision or nightmare of the season.'" Screens tonight and Wednesday as part of MoMA's Looking at Music series. Variety's Anne Thompson points to Entertainment Weekly's "20 Fall Movies We Can't Wait to See," passes along an early word or two on David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and notes: "Now is the time that the various Oscar campaigners are lining up behind certain studios and movies." Related online listening: Matt Singer and Alison Willmore. "Ricky Gervais has just finished writing the script for The Men at the Pru - a major feature film he describes as a cross between The Office and Mad Men." Arifa Akbar reports for the Independent. "The popularity of the AMC series Mad Men, about Madison Avenue in the early 1960s, is renewing interest in previous efforts on television and in movies to portray the advertising business," notes ad industry columnist Stuart Elliott, introducing a list in the New York Times: "What follows is a look back at 10 of those shows and films - some serious, some silly, all worth watching again." Paul Rennie traces the historical forces that led to a poster for Jean-Luc Godard's Made in USA. Also in the Guardian: Charlotte Higgins blogs from the Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams. At Twitch, The Visitor has a quick talk with Woo Ming Jin about The Elephant and the Sea. "Relaxed and genteel with a disarming smile and quick wit that strike you immediately upon meeting him, James Ponsoldt, the Athens, GA native who made a big impression at Sundance 06 with his tragically underseen Nick Nolte high school baseball umpire drama Off The Black, is a well-rounded guy." Brandon Harris talks with him about his "Media Diet" at the SpoutBlog. Bit of good news (praise for his cameo in Tropic Thunder, mostly) and lots of bad news has rained down on Tom Cruise lately. The Los Angeles Times' Rachel Abramowitz surveys the wreckage. "There were lessons to be learned this summer in terms of filmmaking, marketing, ticket sales, and film criticism." In the New York Sun, S James Snyder lists five he's "taking away from the summer of 2008." Mike Everleth has the lineup for the San Francisco Underground Short Film Festival: Friday at Midnight. Nick Bradshaw's been blogging from Locarno for the Guardian. Roundups in the German-language papers: Peter Claus (Berliner Morgenpost), Daniel Kothenschulte (Frankfurter Rundschau), Isabella Reicher (taz), Christiane Tilmann (Tagesspiegel) and Martin Walder (Neue Zürcher Zeitung). Offline viewing tip. Time art critic Richard Lacayo recommends Documenting the Face of America, tonight on PBS. Online viewing tip. The trailer for Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Online viewing tips. "Rock & Roll & Film & Fishing & Tripping," a collection of clips from Ted Hope, via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker.
Manny Farber, 1917 - 2008.Word is beginning to get out that painter and film critic (and in that order, as he would have it) Manny Farber passed away last night at the age of 91. Making the rounds for the Daily, hardly a day goes by without running across a quotation from or reference to Farber; today, it happens to be Evan Kindley, opening his piece on Nicholas Ray with a passage from the 1957 essay on "Underground Films." So where to begin. In 1999, Framework ran a special issue on Farber; Noel King's contribution is online. Duncan Shepherd wrote a fine appreciation of his friend and mentor back in 2006. Edward Crouse spoke with him in 1999, Leah Ollman in 2004. Doug Cummings in 2003 on Negative Space: "Reading it generates a potpourri of cinematic images mediated through the unexpected twists and turns of Farber’s imaginative language." And Glenn Kenny has just posted an appreciation. Before Girish offered his own thoughts on the landmark essay, "White Elephant Art vs Termite Art," in 2006, he noted, "Susan Sontag once said: 'Manny Farber is the liveliest, smartest, most original film critic this country has ever produced... [his] mind and eye change the way you see,' and Dwight Macdonald called him 'an impossibly eccentric movie critic whose salvoes have a disturbing tendency to land on target. I often disagree with him but I always learn from him.' I'm beginning to see just what they were talking about." "Farber's embrace of wise-cracking, tough-guy language and a scorn for the self-conscious 'pursuit of the continuity, harmony, involved in constructing masterpiece' (so that the 'assemblage becomes a yawning production of overripe technique shrieking with preciosity, fame, ambition; far inside are tiny pillows holding up the artist's signature, now turned into mannerism by the padding lechery, faking required to combine today; esthetics with the components of traditional Great Art') that almost borders on nihilism should not be mistaken for philistine thuggery," writes Phil Nugent at Screengrab. "Farber himself was a painter, often turning out canvasses inspired by his favorite films by Fassbinder and Sam Peckinpah." Ray Pride: From Negative Space: "Good work usually arises when the creators... seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn't anywhere or anything... It goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity." Farber's work is so rich with a love of the artist's process - "process-mad," he says - of the yeasty, yawping potential of rhetoric and style that it seems cheap to point out that the values he champions in the work of others shines like a beacon from almost every sentence he's put to page. At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth has found some very valuable linkage. Do go take a look. SF360 editor Susan Gerhard heard the news from Telluride co-director Tom Luddy; she's running Robert Polito's piece on Farber for the 2003 San Francisco International Film Festival catalogue, in which he quotes J Hoberman and Pauline Kael before noting himself: Farber once described his prose style as "a struggle to remain faithful to the transitory, multisuggestive complication of a movie image and/or negative space." His writing can appear to be composed exclusively of digressions from an absent center. There are rarely introductory overviews or concluding summaries, and transitions appear interchangeable with non-sequiturs. Puns, jokes, lists, slippery metaphors and webs of allusions supplant arguments. Farber wrenches nouns into verbs (Hawks, he writes, "landscapes action"), and sustains strings of divergent, perhaps irreconcilable adjectives such that praise can seem inseparable from censure, arriving at a kind of backdoor poetry: not lyrical, or routinely poetic, but original and startling. "Farber wasn't like other critics. He didn't proselytize and he didn't create systems. Rather, he articulated his idiosyncratic perception, which is to say: He had a sensibility.... My mantra when I began reviewing for the Voice was WWMD - like, what would Manny do? And, in a sense, it still is." J Hoberman revisits a 1981 appreciation. Jonathan Rosenbaum turns to a "very personal essay [that] was written in 1993" on "the greatest by far of all American film critics." Updates, 8/19: Girish is right: David Phelps's collection of passages is well worth spending some time with. "Farber established a tone, cleared a patch of cultural landscape, and filled it with more ideas, opinions, and attitude than a thousand reviewers and bloggers — not just in movies but in music, television, book, and art criticism too - will ever muster," blogs Ken Tucker for the Entertainment Weekly. "[I]f [James] Agee was the first great stylist, Kael the liveliest writer and [Andrew] Sarris - with his promotion of the auteur theory of directorial vision - the most influential, Farber may have been the most thrillingly, cantankerously intellectual," blogs Stephen Whitty for the Star-Ledger. "He was one of the last of the true nickle-plated originals whose rigor and resilience of character and sensibility was shaped by the Depression, a cussed individualism and intellectual independence that expressed itself in the sharp crack of his perceptions and convictions as they hit the page," writes James Wolcott. Zach Campbell: "It's easy to 'dissolve boundaries' between the 'false dichotomies' of 'high and low.' But Farber understood that truly dissolving boundaries doesn't mean consuming anything and everything with abandon (anyone can do that with ease, and The System prefers you to do it that way) but rather approaching art with a set of practices, time-tested, to make sense of certain configurations of the cultural terrain." "Film critic-turned-director Paul Schrader wrote for the LA Weekly Press starting in 1969. Although he was a self-avowed Paulette (he was literally mentored by Kael, who helped him get admission to the UCLA film school), Schrader was a longtime friend of Farber. In 1995, Schrader made a lovely short film, Untitled: New Blue, commissioned by the BBC, about a 1993 painting by Farber that Schrader owns and displays in his New York office." David Schwartz talks with Schrader for Moving Image Source. Jim Emerson quotes a passage from "White Elephant Art vs Termite Art" and commments, "Farber framed his essay as a 'this vs that' equation in order to prod and provoke. Art doesn't really fall so neatly into one category or the other. (In that respect you could say his argument is of the White Elephant variety.) But he challenges the prevailing rules and rouses you from the habits of tradition, doesn't he?" As Brian notes in the comments, Artforum has brought out Richard Flood's 1998 appreciation: I first learned of Farber's criticism about twenty years ago, at the height of my enthusiasm for the films of the B-movie producer Val Lewton, who assembled a kind of atelier for writers, directors, cameramen, an actors to churn out low-budget horror movies of extraordinary beauty and, time permitting, intelligence (including The Seventh Victim, I Walked with a Zombie and The Curse of the Cat People). A friend gave me a copy of the 1971 edition of Farber's Negative Space, a collection of his reviews which contains a brief obituary consideration of Lewton, written in 1951 for The Nation, and I became an instant convert, as much to the energy of the writing as to the writer's opinions, which were singularly cantankerous. "In Summer, 2005, the filmmaker Barbara Schock wrote a spirited piece for Filmmaker about studying film with critic and artist Manny Farber, who died on Tuesday," writes Scott Macaulay. "Mirroring Farber's rapid-fire thinking, Schock makes you feel like you're in his classroom as she writes about the man, his syllabus, and his teaching style." Schock: "Considered by many to have reinvented film criticism with his brilliant, electric prose, Manny had a similarly inventive - and tremendously entertaining - manner of speaking. In vivid, staccato sentences (sounding like a cerebral Edward G Robinson), he took a run at films. He was terse but rhapsodic; non-academic but deeply analytic. Drawing on a vast range of references to other art forms and with his keen grasp of the times, Manny always got at the guts of a film." "I feel it's a good a time as any to remember Christopher Petit's 1999 essay film/meditation on Farber, itself titled Negative Space," writes Doug Cummings. "My hesitations about Petit's film... probably say more about what I wish it provided rather than what it does - in general, I did find it stimulating.... Through the film's juxtapositions and his own Marker-like, musing narration, Petit is also adept at emphasizing Farber's 'ambidextrous' background - carpenter, critic, painter, teacher - a wide ranging experience with creative construction that helped produce his brilliant sensitivity to the way films are assembled, the idiosyncratic way each of their varied pieces work (or don't work) together. For this reason, Farber remains a favorite critic for cinephiles; his writing digs beneath the widely regarded surfaces of plot, character, and theme to ruminate on details of form or unexpected moments of fleeting cinematic pleasure." Updates, 8/20: "Farber's prose has a ruthlessness and precision that bespeaks hours bare-fist punching at the Royal portable and then slashing slivers with scissors and basting with paste an ever-more accomplished cut-up," writes Ray Pride in Newcity Chicago. "There may be leaves of Farber's uncollected work fluttering out there somewhere, but Negative Space remains rock-solid." "Mr Farber, a quirky prose stylist with a barbed lance, responded to film viscerally," writes William Grimes in the New York Times: "'He was up there in the Clement Greenberg category as a critic, but operating on a wavelength so unusual that he was hard to peg, which is how he wanted it,' said Kent Jones, the associate director of programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. 'He understood film in a very immediate way - he could see the plasticity of it, the beauty of film in motion, in a way no one else could.'" "He was, is, one of the supreme critics of the young film medium as well as a painter of wide, mysterious canvases, dispersed yet full of dense, messy detail: impossible, like Manny, to pull together," writes David Edelstein. "In the mid-90s, I would see him when he visited Pauline Kael, his friend of many decades. Their aesthetics diverged, but they adored each other anyway. They treasured each other's pugnacity, and they'd both found their voices in headier, more bohemian times - Pauline in San Francisco, Manny in Greenwich Village." Also, a 1994 profile, "A Painter, but Still a Critic." The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris quotes passages on Preston Sturges and Werner Herzog. Update, 8/21: Max Goldberg: "Paul Arthur and Manny Farber: we've lost two of our best." Updates, 8/22: "For Farber, what makes movies great is the same thing that made jazz America's enduring contribution to 20th Century music - the swing, the personal virtuosity, the knockabout ease that is a democratic culture's answer to aristocratic savoir faire." John Powers on NPR. Via James Wolcott, Carrie Rickey: When he arrived in 1971 at the University of California, San Diego to teach a course called "A Hard Look at the Movies" he stunned students (I among the freshmen) with his idiosyncratic lectures, an in-the-moment form of performance art surreal and penetrating as a Warner Brothers cartoon. To make us look, really look, at the medium, he ran films backwards, forwards, with and without sound. Often as he deconstructed an individual frame, the projector lamp would burn and melt the celluloid. We were dry sponges soaking up the ocean of films by Kenji Mizoguchi, Preston Sturges, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Raoul Walsh. Update, 8/23: "Like Lester Bangs, Farber was sui generis in a way that has since been brought into vivid relief by his imitators," writes Phil Nugent: Both men produced writing with too strong an electric current not to inspire imitators, but the music writers who tried to emulate Bangs's free-form writing and contrarian tastes usually settled for making an ugly mess, with none of the simple humanity and complicated moral seriousness that did so much to set Bangs apart from the pack. Fewer critics have attempted anything like Farber's writing style - maybe because they were quicker to find out than Bangs's imitators that it took a lot of hard work - but many tried to appropriate his tough-guy-in-the-peanut-gallery taste for hard-wired action flicks and Chuck Jones cartoons without betraying any sense that they understood the painter's eye and genuine set of aesthetic priorities that his taste grew out of. Continued here.
NCTATNY. Nicholas Ray."Architecture is the backbone of the arts, you know: if it is real architecture it encompasses every domain. The simple word 'architecture' can just as well apply to a play, a score of music, or a way of life." That's Nicholas Ray, as quoted in Jenny Jediny's introduction to the latest special feature at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, which begins in earnest today with Evan Kindley's review of They Live by Night, "a film of cave-like hideouts, low angles and heavy shadows, alternating with frantic forward motion." Updated through 8/24. Update, 8/20: "A Woman's Secret (1949), Nicholas Ray's second film, is arguably one of the most maligned and ignored films of his career," argues Cullen Gallagher. Also, Knock on Any Door: "Ray is able to elicit startlingly expressive performances from his actors (more expressive than in many contemporaneous films) that challenge any easy judgments from the audience." Update, 8/22: "Generally, Born to Be Bad has not been credited as a particularly noteworthy effort from Ray, except for the performance of actress Joan Fontaine as the femme fatale, a casting decision that was not even made by the director," writes Jenny Jediny. "However, Born to Be Bad is quite absorbing and entertaining as a mixture of noir and melodrama, the latter genre proving essential throughout nearly Ray's entire body of work." Update, 8/23: Ian Johnston on On Dangerous Ground: "What starts out as a hard-edged crime thriller, centred on the violent personality of detective Jim Wilson (a superb performance by the ever—reliable Robert Ryan - why wasn't he ever a greater star?), turns into something gentler and more introspective, namely the theme of how a violent, self-loathing man can be redeemed." Update, 8/24: "With such an enticing backdrop, it's hard to imagine that a film - particularly one co-directed by Josef von Sternberg and Nicholas Ray - could be anything less than stylish and enthralling," writes Thomas Scalzo. "And yet, at nearly every turn, Macao lets us down."
Trouble the Water."There is by now a rich, although unheralded subgenre of independent films - shorts and features, ranging from avant-garde tone poem to vérité docudrama - dealing with Katrina and its aftermath," writes Dennis Lim, introducing an overview of that subgenre in the New York Times. "Trouble the Water, which won the grand jury prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and opens on Friday, is one of the best reviewed of these movies. It is also perhaps the one that most shrewdly navigates a problem that to some extent bedevils all filmmakers who take on this fraught subject: how to reconcile their outsider perspectives with the experiences of those who lived through the hurricane.... The decision to give pride of place to [Kimberly] Roberts's raw first-person footage and to grant the Robertses a guiding role in the documentary was both generous and astute, a way for [Carl] Deal and [Tia] Lessin to avoid telling too much of the story across the divides of race and class." Updated through 8/23. "[W]hat happened to Kimberly Roberts and her husband, Scott, and her drowned uncle and her hospitalized grandmother left to die is right there on the screen - always in the present tense," notes David Edelstein in New York. "The Robertses ruminate bitterly on a country that directs its vast resources elsewhere - to Iraq, for example - but always end their exchanges with praise for the soldiers’ good works and thanks to God.... Trouble the Water is ineradicably moving." Related: Paul Tough's cover story for the NYT Magazine: "The city's disastrously low-performing school system was almost entirely washed away in the flood - many of the buildings were destroyed, the school board was taken over and all the teachers were fired. What is being built in its place is an educational landscape unlike any other, a radical experiment in reform." Earlier: Reviews from Sundance and Nick Schager in Slant. Updates, 8/21: "Fresh as a slap, the outrage of Katrina's mishandling comes flooding back in Trouble the Water, a documentary account so starkly surreal that at times it seems wrought from another century's folklore," writes Jim Ridley in the Voice. Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: In many ways, I think Kim Roberts's authorship, not just of her amazing storm footage or her music but of her life, is the true subject of Trouble the Water. We can have a "national conversation about race" until we all turn blue and keel over from boredom - Did we have it already? If so, what did we say? - but people like Kim and Scott Roberts don't generally have their own voices, or any other kind of autonomy.... Watching Trouble the Water last January at Sundance, in a theater packed with white folks in upscale ski garb - other than the Robertses, the only black person I'm sure I saw there was Danny Glover - was a peculiar, cathartic, almost explosive ritual. Say whatever you want to about the privilege and liberal guilt of that gathering. It's all true. Say that watching a movie in a Utah resort town with a bunch of people flown in from the coasts is an inadequate way to confront the horrifying legacy of Katrina, and that's true too. But that's how it felt. "Beyond the opening scene's shocking storm footage, Trouble the Water keeps its disaster voyeurism minimal..., focusing instead on its main characters' relentless optimism," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "Kim, Scott and another Katrina refugee, Brian, pack enough charm and personal redemption to make the shift entirely successful. Kim's discovery of her old rap EP and impromptu performance is a particularly eloquent scene, proving the survival of New Orleans' rich vernacular culture despite the indifferent city government's blind promotion of postcard-ready tourism as a means to top-down reconstruction. It's not the cathartic finale of your average monster movie, but it's about the happiest conclusion to be extracted from this never-ending disaster scenario." Simon Abrams in the New York Press: "Essentials differences aside, Trouble the Water could just as easily be a disaster movie for all of its frighteningly unreal images of demolished buildings and scurrying military units ('This is like a movie, man,' Scott says as if on cue). It's not, however, because the film's real monster is the faceless, crippling inaction that settled in after Katrina. Filmmakers Deal and Lessin hit the streets to reveal the horrifying stagnation that turned New Orleans' Ninth Ward into a colossal fuck-up: one that, to this day, as the film's perfunctory but chilling afterword reminds us, remains a glaring open wound." At indieWIRE, Michael Joshua Rowin admires the way the doc opens: But even more vital is Water's second half, a portrait of Kimberly, friends, family, and neighbors literally building from the ruins on the road from New Orleans and, once settled back in the city, fighting against the lures of street life by standing up for themselves and their disenfranchised community. This, even as Katrina gives them every opportunity to permanently flee the "bottom of the barrel." One moment in particular poignantly imparts such life-affirming tenacity: Kimberly discovering the rap demo she recorded and feared lost in the flood, rapping to the accompaniment of her own voice an emotional song about enduring hardship. The song is called "Amazin'" - a fitting one-word description of Trouble the Water. Updates, 8/22: "Ms Roberts, who often puts her faith in God but tends to take matters into her own capable hands, expresses little anger at the government," notes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "She isn't especially at peace with her country, just resigned, so much so that she almost shrugs when she delivers the movie's most devastating line, saying it felt as if 'we lost our citizenship.'... Save for some righteous indignation at the close, Trouble the Water makes its points without didacticism, perhaps guided by the Robertses, who are interested in surviving, not grandstanding." David Fear in Time Out New York: "Trouble the Water's political-made-personal power to invoke both Anderson Cooper levels of rage and the sense that hope springs eternal rests solely with its main subjects; if you don’t feel the latter when Kimberly defiantly raps about survival at the end, you have no heart." "Trouble The Water is infuriating in its depiction of helpless Americans getting left behind, and uplifting in the way it shows the Roberts putting their lives together, but it's also frustrating, because it lacks some focus," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. Time's Richard Corliss finds it "an endlessly moving, artlessly magnificent tribute to people the government didn't think worth saving." "Too much good cinema has sprung from Hurricane Katrina to label one of these works the definitive statement on the tragedy - When the Levees Broke, Kamp Katrina, Low and Behold, just to name a few - but after watching Tia Lessin and Carl Deal's Trouble the Water, it's hard not to place this film at the top of the list." Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. Update, 8/23: "Surviving the storm is only the first part - what follows is not much easier, a painful exodus from the ruined city, in and out of shelters to long lines at less than helpful FEMA headquarters, a relocation attempt to Memphis, and finally, for this one intrepid couple, a permanent return to New Orleans," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Through what seems like sheer strength of character, Kim and Scott are able to forge a hard-earned happy ending for themselves - and the film."
Hamlet 2."Hamlet 2 belongs firmly to Steve Coogan, which is fortunate since none of the film's supporting players prove to be the least bit memorable," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "And though it's rather difficult for a single talent to carry a successful comic enterprise, Coogan comes awfully close." In the New York Times, Charles McGrath profiles Coogan, "regarded by many as a comic talent and innovator on a level with John Cleese or even Peter Sellers." Updated through 8/25. "I've always had a soft spot for [director] Andrew Fleming (Dick), whose rhythms are less pushy than other American comedy directors, sometimes winningly, sometimes to the point of flaccidity," writes David Edelstein in New York. "This one is on the limp side but gets points for weirdness. Coogan's mopiness is oddly riveting. And the inspirational climax, a musical extravaganza in which Hamlet goes through a portal in time and joins forces with Jesus, is so god-awful it is very nearly inspired." At the main site, we're staging a little contest: "One (1) Grand Prize Winner will receive: a Sexy Jesus Doll and a Sexy Jesus Surfer Shirt; Five (5) First Prize Winners receive a Hamlet 2 Movie Poster and Bumper Stickers ('Rock Me Sexy Jesus' or 'Honk if You Love Sexy Jesus')." Earlier: James Rocchi in Cinematical. Updates: "Boasting a title more amusing than anything contained in its 90 minutes, Hamlet 2 concerns a failed actor-turned-high school drama teacher in Tucson, Arizona who, in order to save the school's theater program, stages the titular story," writes Nick Schager. "Coogan is given free reign to indulge in improvisatory buffoonery, and his pratfalling and verbal stupidity might have been brilliantly funny had Andrew Fleming's film (co-scripted by South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut scribe Pam Brady) found a way to suitably lay the groundwork for its premise." Capone talks with Coogan for AICN. Updates, 8/19: Paul Matwychuk talks with Coogan: Q: Let's close on a short question. Is Jesus sexy? SC: I'll take that as a loaded question. I mean, when you hear it in the film, it sounds like an error in judgment on Dana's part. But if you break it down and look at it, there will be people who will be offended by it - wrongly so. They will say you shouldn't apply that adjective to a religious figure. But that presupposes that "sexy" is an insulting, pejorative term, and I don't think it is. I would say that if you asked Michelangelo or Caravaggio if Jesus was sexy, he'd say He is. Is Jesus sexy? Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar seemed to take the attitude that he was. So I'd say, all in all, without being too controversial, in a certain way, probably yes. Q: Wow. That's a much more thoughtful answer than that question deserved. SC: You're very welcome. "Hamlet 2 has lots more in common with Tropic Thunder than just an August release date," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Both films feature the brilliantly funny Steve Coogan as a director who's in way over his head, and both films hit their comic targets with deadly precision, resulting in wall-to-wall laughs. Alas, both movies share the weakness of not giving us at least one character with whom an audience can empathize, and that's the little something extra that separates the comedy classics from the entertaining chuckle-fests. Still..." Updates, 8/21: "Hamlet 2 is chock-full of overscaled comic notions that probably looked better on paper than they play on-screen," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "But the movie works best as a vehicle for Coogan's slow-dawning humiliation, providing a constant stream of circumstances in which his mile-wide oblivious smile can incrementally creep downward at the corners, his eyes drooping with the too-late realization of his own unwitting jackassery." Josef Braun: The residual damage of childhood sexual abuse is here rendered as grounds for hilarity! Racial phobias in the classroom aren't so much put to rest as capitalized as a launch pad for shamelessly exoticized teenage lust! Yet, curiously, Hamlet 2 is also one of the most deeply conventional movies you'll see this summer. No less than mainstream feel-good movies like Pride, The Great Debaters or Mr Holland's Opus, one of several movies it makes fun of, Hamlet 2 is a textbook go-for-it movie, as well as a let's-put-on-show movie, religiously observant of every last trope these subgenres imply, from the kids who learn to believe in themselves to the wildly implausible love interest to the even more implausible über-triumphant denouement. It's entirely possible that Fleming and Brady intentionally adhered to the conventional model as a way of emphasizing the film's seemingly incompatible let's-offend-everybody comic sensibility, but that doesn't make it any less tiresome to watch all the pegs fall all too neatly into place. "There is an art to making an enjoyable lowbrow comedy, as bizarre as it may seem," writes Amber Humphrey. "It's the reason why deceptively dumb movies like Team America: World Police (2004) have achieved cult status and obscenely dumb movies like Hot Rod (2007) should never, under any circumstances be viewed - and incidentally, both were scripted (at least in part) by Hamlet 2 cowriter Pam Brady. There may be a fine line between stupid and clever, but the line that separates silly from moronic is just as - if not more - tenuous. Brady's good name is happily on the road to recovery, though, with this over-the-top farce. To quote Polonius from Hamlet 1, 'Though this be madness ... there is method in it.'" Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Kimberly Chun talks with Coogan. "Coogan will do anything for a laugh, and given how little he has to work with, he must," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "It's impressive that he can fill the screen, though he's still regularly upstaged by Catherine Keener in her specialty role as castrating spouse, never more inspired than when playing a scene with a margarita as big as a birdbath." "Tossing in Jesus, Einstein, Hillary Clinton and a gay men's chorus along with overblown production values, the play-within-a-movie offers a few silly chuckles where riotous laughter is called for, and gently trots out fish-in-a-barrel targets without actually daring to trample too many sensibilities," writes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "Like the film as a whole, it's a hit-or-miss affair that's too often funnier to describe than it is to watch." "[T]he movie is funny, but too nonchalant to satirize theatrical ambition, uptight administrators, or anything else," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. "But eventually, in a move telegraphed early and then dropped for a bit, Hamlet 2 becomes a sly parody of inspirational teacher pictures, particularly their solipsistic sense of healing." Armond White in the New York Press: "One of its best points - and one of the brightest movie moments of the year - is Elisabeth Shue's participation not just as herself but as a fortysomething Hollywood has-been. She redefines what 'celebrity' is worth and redeems herself." Mark Olsen talks with Fleming and Brady for the Los Angeles Times. Scott Tobias talks with Coogan for the AV Club. At indieWIRE, Eric Kohn talks with the players behind the $10 million buy at Sundance in January. Sean Axmaker talks with Coogan at the Parallax View. "There's nothing remarkable, or witty, or particularly engaging about Hamlet 2, a ragged comedy about a failed actor who tries to mount a science-fiction musical sequel to Shakespeare's tragedy in a Tucson, Ariz, high school," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "But at the movie's damp little heart there is a poignant truth: all actors' desperate neediness to win the appreciation and approval of the audience, which is anyone they meet.... Hamlet 2 is as needy as its hero - because it wants not to be probing or profound or even witty but, above all else, to be loved." FilmInFocus talks with Coogan. Updates, 8/22: Andrew Wright in the Stranger: "[E]ven if the film's level of invention sputters here and there, its star is really something to see, creating a gurning, fearless portrayal of Americanus idiotus that even Chris Elliott might envy. (I can think of no higher praise.) I could try to explain why Coogan's split-second imitation of Groucho Marx is the funniest thing I've seen in, like, months, but plotzing is a real risk." "Throughout Hamlet 2, there's a sense that Mr Fleming and Ms Brady hit upon their howler title and then counted on riffing and chortling their way to a strong finish," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Stuffed as it is with drama-class jokes (think Waiting for Guffman), that's not implausible. But Mr Coogan is better when he can work harder than this." "Oh, how often in Hamlet 2 does a too too solid joke melt, thaw, and resolve itself into doodoo!" exclaims Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "Hamlet 2 works so hard at being entertaining, in that quirky, Indie 101 sense, that it just grinds you down. It's the class you wish you could sleep through, taught by the guy who's convinced he's the students' best friend," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon, where Andrew O'Hehir talks with Coogan. "It all adds up to the kind of bad family entertainment likely to raise only a few eyebrows," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. Roger Ebert gives it three stars. "[T]he structure is there and the fuzzy boundaries between the tried-and-true and the outrageous never fully coalesce," writes Leonard Klady for Movie City News. "It's a scatter gun approach that's fitfully amusing; getting along on the character's good nature and limited abilities when the premise begins to flag." "Hamlet 2 is occasionally sloppy, with a finale so abrupt and incoherent that it feels like something is missing," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "But it's also pleasantly odd and truly funny, and it builds in strength as it goes along. Most of all, there's something queerly magnetic about Coogan, and he pulls us past the clumsiest stuff in the picture." Update, 8/25: A guide from Peter Bowen at FilmInFocus: "High School Musicals 101."
August 17, 2008
Shorts, fests, etc, 8/17."What has enabled superhero comic-book movies to blast into a central spot in today's blockbuster economy?" asks David Bordwell. His first order of business is to brush aside the zeitgeist notion; for the many reasons he lists, it simply doesn't cut it. In its place, he offers several suggestions "based on my hunch that the genre has brought together several trends in contemporary Hollywood film. These trends, which can commingle, were around before 2000, but they seem to be developing in a way that has created a niche for the superhero film." A nice followup to Kristin Thompson's second report from Comic-Con. Meantime, here come more superheroes. Ben Walters reports for the Independent. In the Los Angeles Times, John Horn looks back on a visit to the set of The Road: In adapting [Cormac] McCarthy's National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, [director John] Hillcoat and [screenwriter Joe] Penhall (as well as the actors and production team) toiled to weigh hopelessness against faith, the worst of humanity opposite the possibility of civilization. But for some, including one top distributor of specialized film who passed on the Nov 14 release, the cinematic version of The Road was ultimately still too bleak to appeal to moviegoers. So even as the filmmakers were ratcheting up the story's danger and despair, they also were pushing to make the movie as uplifting as possible, emphasizing its intrinsic father-son love story and promoting the notion that the Boy embodies some sort of messiah. Along the way, movie version also became much less a story about a post-nuclear catastrophe and more a tale of climate change and a dying planet. "47 after its premiere, Kent Mackenzie's The Exiles (1961) has finally returned to its iconic setting of Los Angeles," celebrates Doug Cummings, noting that its run at UCLA (through Saturday) "is being used to promote at least one historical tour of Bunker Hill. Although the new print premiered in Marseilles and New York City, you'll have to pardon Angelenos like myself if we act proprietary about the movie, rebirthed in the wider cinephiliac consciousness by CalArt's Thom Andersen, whose Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) claims, 'better than any other movie, [The Exiles] proves that there was once a city here, before they tore it down and built a simulacrum.'" "Mexican filmmaker Enrique Rivero on Saturday took home the top prize of Switzerland's Locarno Film Festival with his film Parque Vía, about a man who has put himself in voluntary seclusion," reports the AFP; here's the full list of award-winners. At Twitch:
De Niro @ 65.While "his current work can feel like something of a letdown," writes Phlip Horne in the Sydney Morning Herald, "From 1973 to 1984, every [Robert] De Niro film was a major event: we trusted him to break important new ground, and knew he had put so much of himself into these parts that they would be fresh and challenging discoveries." Horne holds out hope for Barry Levinson's What Just Happened? and: "After that, he's working again with Michael Mann on the hitman thriller Frankie Machine, and plans to reunite with Scorsese at least one more time. It seems the Taxi Driver is not yet ready to collect his bus pass." Updated through 8/20. Congrats in the German papers: Claudius Seidl in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Süddeutsche Zeitung runs a few photos. Online viewing tip. Quentin Tarantino in 1994 on De Niro, parts 1, 2 and 3. Update, 8/20: Nifty press release: Robert de Niro opened an exhibition containing 25 paintings made by his father at BBK in Bilbao. The exhibition has been curated by Martine Soria and will be on view through September 27. Grounded in European antecedents, specifically French, but unmistakably American in style, the paintings of Robert De Niro, Sr, represent one of the foremost achievements in painterly representation. De Niro's efforts to reconcile the real with the abstract through the use of brilliant draftsmanship, bold, Fauvist-inspired colors, and confident, gestural brushwork stand as one of the great achievements in postwar twentieth-century American painting.
August 16, 2008
Shorts, 8/16.When I got back to the keyboard a couple of days ago with a head full of London, one of the first online items to catch my eye would be Rachel Donadio's profile of Hanif Kureishi for the New York Times Magazine: "Kureishi is very much a product of London, Britain's centralized cultural capital, where he is able to move fluidly between the literary and film worlds in ways that would be difficult in the United States. And because England's film scene has lower financial stakes (and better state subsidies) than America's, Kureishi has been able to make emotionally ambitious yet modest-budget films whose unresolved, ambivalent endings defy Hollywood convention. He contains multitudes, and London suits them all." Girish on Sunday: "The question I've been rolling around in my head all week is: How do real and imaginary geographies interact in the movies? But before we go there, let me back up and set the stage..." "Hollywood's season of wanton destruction has reached its height, along with the season of subtexts so blatant they're super," notes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. "Are these not-so-hidden messages compelling and intriguing or just a good excuse for making things go boom? And what's wrong with boom, anyway?" Related: Salon's Stephanie Zacharek on "blockbuster fatigue." Then there's traxus4420 at culturemonkey: "Neoliberal assumptions (avowed or disavowed) are typical for the output of most mainstream cinematic and critical output these days, and it's usually not even worth mentioning in the individual case. I bring up superhero movies in this context because they're just so open about it. And yet a liberal media that would spend half the day spitting on Bush and the evils of multinational corporations can spend the other half hyperbolically puffing a movie that shares, in exaggerated form, the contorted view of reality demonstrated every day by these institutions, some of which produced the films." "This week Le Figaro's Brigitte Baudin described The Possibility of an Island as 'ridiculous' and 'catastrophic,' while Corriere della Serra's Maurizio Pollo wrote that it was 'of a quite exemplary tedium.' Others were less damning: the critic at El País reported that [Michel] Houellebecq had directed his first film 'with more enthusiasm than results.' The most surprising thing about Houellebecq's debut is that it is unlikely to offend anyone very much." Geoffrey Macnab has a long talk with Houellebecq. Also in the Guardian:
Books, 8/16.The Telegraph is running extracts from Ever, Dirk: The Bogarde Letters (parts 1 and 2; reviewed by John Carey for the Sunday Times), while the Independent runs extracts from Eleanor Coppola's Notes on a Life and FilmInFocus runs an excerpt from Simon Louvish's Mae West: It Ain't No Sin. For Granta, Roy Robins takes a quick look at how this year's adaptations are faring; in short, not too well so far, but there may be hope yet. The centerpiece of Robins's roundup is, naturally, Elegy. Molly Young: "I notice that the men on either side of me, both alone in the theater, are crying. They wouldn't get weepy over the book. The Dying Animal, like many of [Philip] Roth's novels, is brutal. The title change suggests the nature of the adjustments involved in bringing Roth to the screen: mainly, softening the pornographic into the erotic." Also in n+1, Nikil Saval on The Dark Knight: "Comic book films are not flexible adult forms, designed to provoke thought, but inflexible teenage forms, designed to elicit consent. Their fundamental constants - the crushing loneliness of feeling outcast, the performative fakery of adult life (cf. billionaire with busty ballerina) - serve to buffer every conceit that this childishly self-regarding nation has about its mission in the world." Streets of No Return: The Dark Cinema of David Goodis runs on at the Pacific Film Archive through August 23. Max Goldberg: In the simple take, film noir got its plots from 30s hardboiled fiction and its looks from German Expressionism. But this equation doesn't account for the fact that noir continued to have a literary pedigree into the 50s and 60s. When film historians say that film noir ended with Touch of Evil (1958), they are in large part speaking of the demise of a certain kind of studio assemblage (David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson and Janet Staiger end their survey The Classical Hollywood Cinema in 1960, two years after Welles's Tijuana noir). Goodis wrote much of his best work in this twilight era, and in tracing the many film adaptations of his work one comes away with a fascinating zigzag of noir's acclimatization to the new ghettos of art cinema, erotic thrillers, Euro-trash, and cable television. Related: Michael Guillén has extensive notes on the introductory remarks from series curator Steve Seid and essayist Mike White preceding the screening of Shoot the Piano Player. And Ryland Walker Knight finds that Jacques Tourneur's Nightfall and his earlier Out of the Past "make a fine pair precisely because they are so divergent (yet remarkably consistent)," while, writing about Nightfall at his own blog, Max Goldberg is "struck by the parallels to the Coens." Update: Michael Guillén's just added notes on the "Introductory Remarks By Curator Steve Seid and 'Noirchaeologist' Eddie Muller" preceding that Nightfall screening. Also at Moving Image Source, Mark Asch and Cullen Gallagher on Jim Thompson: Practically every book he wrote could be called The Killer Inside Me: depravity is innate, character is defined by thought more than action, and narration is generally first-person. Like most hard-boiled heavyweights, Thompson has frequently been adapted to the screen - and he wrote for it, penning The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957) for Stanley Kubrick and cashing TV paychecks throughout the 60s - but his notes from the underground present unique challenges. The cynical voices of Marlowe and Spade made it in pictures, all that crackerjack banter, but Thompson's characters mask their depths in social interactions. His unreliable narration grants us access to the subjective paranoia of his killers: the lens of their gaze blurs together the contortions of a diseased mind and the twists of a pulp plot, and we come to empathize with their nihilism. The problem of adapting this most interior of voices is the problem of all page-to-screen adaptations, writ monstrously large: how to flip them inside-out? And Andrew Tracy addresses the "need to historicize the strategies and devices that [Alain Resnais's] three most famous feature-length works - Hiroshima mon amour (1959), Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Muriel (1963) - deployed to such influential effect. Cinematheque Ontario's pairing of new prints of some of Resnais's official classics with a sampling of some of the maudit, rarely screened directorial efforts of the late Marienbad scribe and celebrated nouveau roman writer Alain Robbe-Grillet affords just such a chance, precisely because the diverging paths taken by the two necessitates an explanation - or an excuse - for the impact of their epochal one-off collaboration." Memory / Montage / Modernism: Alain Resnais & Alain Robbe-Grillet runs through Wednesday. Acquarello: "In Manoel de Oliveira, Randal Johnson's comprehensive and informative critical evaluation of the Portuguese filmmaker's body of work for the Contemporary Film Directors series, Johnson insightfully points out that the first 43 years of Oliveira's film career coincides with the repressive, right wing regime of António de Oliveira Salazar and Estado Novo, an era of severe censorship and authoritarian government that would lead Oliveira to complete only two feature films between 1931 and 1963. This cultural intersection provides the integral framework for deconstructing Oliveira's idiosyncratic and deeply personal cinema: an aesthetic that was equally forged by creative ideas on the essence of film form as it was by a humanist impulse and uncompromising moral - though not moralistic - stance." The opening paragraph of Lisa Fugard's review of Bret Lott's novel, Ancient Highway: Eleven-year-old Earl Holmes is mortified when he goes to his first movie, in a small Texas town in the early 1920s, and the usher rips his ticket in half. Surely it's confirmation that going to the "flickers" is a sin. But then he decides this "humiliation" is part of the ritual and slips into the darkened theater for Folly of Vanity with Billie Dove. Just three years later, completely in thrall to the silent screen, he's hopping a freight train for Los Angeles and the hardscrabble life of an actor. More from Lynell George in the Los Angeles Times. But also in this week's New York Times Book Review is Stacey D'Erasmo on A Blessed Child, the fourth novel by Linn Ullmann, daughter of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman. The story "concerns the mingled fates of three sisters - Erika, Laura and Molly - who are the daughters, by three different women, of Isak Lovenstad, a renowned gynecologist who in his old age lives alone on a tiny Swedish island called Hammarso, which bears at least a passing resemblance to Faro, the island where Bergman lived for much of his life and where he died in 2007." And in the paper: "Barry Feinstein, the rock 'n' roll photographer, was digging through his archives last year when he came across a long-forgotten bundle of pictures, dozens of dark, moody snapshots of Hollywood in the early 1960s," writes Julie Bosman. "And tucked next to the photographs was a set of prose poems, written around the same time by an old friend: Bob Dylan.... [A]fter languishing in storage for more than 40 years, the text and photographs will be published in November in a collection titled Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric: The Lost Manuscript."
Fests and events, 8/16."When Tilda Swinton announced plans for a film festival in her home town of Nairn in north-east Scotland, she said she wanted it to be the antithesis of the glitz and glamour of Cannes," reports Jonathan Brown for the Independent. "Swinton seemed relieved that the idea had taken root yesterday with all 140 tickets having sold out for the opening film, Peter Ibbetson, the 1935 classic starring Gary Cooper and Ida Lupino." The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams is open another full week. SXSW stays busy all year round. They've just issued their Call for Entries (deadline's December 12) and announced the winners of SXSWclick!, which, of course, you can watch now. "Freud is an unlikely touchstone for a feminist film - unless the doctor appears in costume as a punching bag - but Susan Mogul takes such incongruities in stride," writes Annie Buckley for Artforum. "The video artist and filmmaker's new feature-length work, Driving Men, teeters charmingly between art-house cinema and Hollywood flick, all the while provoking questions about the slippery nature of identity, memory, and subjectivity. Freud's ghost seems to haunt the film from behind the wheel of a shiny new convertible." Mogul will be presenting her film tomorrow evening at the Los Angeles Filmforum. The Melbourne International Film Festival has wrapped and announced its award-winners. Senses of Cinema posted reports from July 29 through August 10 and has collected a dossier on "Ozploitation."
August 15, 2008
Arthur Lipsett @ Anthology."Whenever film students romance unease, irony, or postmodern self-reflexivity by mating discarded footage to narratively irrelevant yet accidentally evocative audio, they are saluting the Canadian filmmaker Arthur Lipsett, whether they know it or not," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "Lipsett (1936 - 86), who is the subject of an essential retrospective at Anthology Film Archives this weekend, as well as an excellent documentary, Remembering Arthur, by the late filmmaker's friend and colleague Martin Lavut, also running at Anthology, did not invent the collage film, but he came close to perfecting it." "I first came across Lipsett's work at, of all things, a Godspeed You! Black Emperor show (I know, I know, but you were 20 once, too)," recalls Reverse Shot's mjr, "where instead of having an opening band GY!BE asked Jonas Mekas to present (and herald with a bugle) a small collection of Canadian experimental films, Lipsett's among them. Along with earlier viewings of Valse Triste by the now late Bruce Conner, Scorpio Rising by Kenneth Anger, and T, O, U, C, H, I, N, G by Paul Sharits, they were some of the first experimental films I ever encountered. As an impressionable young man they arrived as revelations, and Lipsett's films, Free Fall and his most famous work, Very Nice, Very Nice, stood out most disturbingly and, therefore, profoundly."
Jerry Wexler, 1917 - 2008.Jerry Wexler, the legendary record man, music producer and ageless hipster, died at 3:45 am today at the age of 91. Wexler was one of the great music business pioneers of the 20th century: as co-head of Atlantic Records from 1953 to '75, he and his partner Ahmet Ertegun grew the small independent R&B label into the major record company that it is today.... Because of him, we use the term "rhythm and blues" and we hail Ray Charles as "Genius" and Aretha Franklin as "Queen." We came to know of a record label called Stax and a small town called Muscle Shoals, Alabama. We witnessed the rise of Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers, and we care about a thing called soul. Ashley Kahn, Rolling Stone. Mr Wexler was something of a paradox. A businessman with tireless energy, a ruthless streak and a volatile temper, he was also a hopeless music fan. A New York Jew and a vehement atheist, he found his musical home in the Deep South, in studios in Memphis and Muscle Shoals, Ala, among Baptists and Methodists, blacks and good old boys. "He was a bundle of contradictions," said Tom Thurman, who produced and directed a documentary about Mr Wexler in 2000. "He was incredibly abrasive and incredibly generous, very abrupt and very, very patient, seemingly a pure, sharklike businessman and also a cerebral and creative genius." The title of Mr Thurman's documentary, Immaculate Funk was Mr Wexler's phrase for the Atlantic sound, characterized by a heavy backbeat and a gospel influence. "It's funky, it's deep, it's very emotional, but it's clean," Mr Wexler once said. Bruce Weber, New York Times. Online listening tip. A playlist from Rolling Stone (for those in the US).
Nicolas Roeg @ 80.His most recent film, Puffball, didn't exactly win over the critics, but one sentence in the entry for cinematographer and director Nicolas Roeg in Wikipedia, at least as it stands now, does rather neatly sum up his... significance: "Contributing to the visual look of Lawrence of Arabia [second unit] and Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death, and co-directing Performance, he would later become the guiding force behind such landmark films as Don't Look Now, Walkabout and The Man Who Fell to Earth." On his 80th, Rüdiger Suchsland talks with "one of the great under-rateds of world cinema" for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (and in German). See also: Lee Hill (Senses of Cinema) and Screen Online. Update, 8/16: "The Man Who Fell to Earth is the rare example of a perfect marriage of director, star and source material," argues Andrew Bemis.
Lolita and Madonna @ 50."When Lolita debuted in American book stores in August 1958, the 310-page novel, a wordy tome heavily dependent on the narrator's twisted and often poetic internal monologue, was already at the center of an international uproar about morality, social responsibility, and obscenity," writes Rodger Jacobs in a piece for PopMatters on Vladimir Nabokov's novel, Graham Vickers's Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov's Little Girl All Over Again and, of course, Stanley Kubrick's 1962 adaptation: Updated through 8/19. Despite the critical accolades that Kubrick's movie has received over the years, as an adaptation of the novel Vickers correctly refers to the James Mason/Peter Sellers vehicle as "a patchy misfire." On her own role as Lolita, [Sue] Lyon, who avoids interviews since retiring from acting in 1980, said at the time of the film's release: "I feel sorry for her. She's neurotic and pathetic and only interested in herself." Lyon, of course, is referring to Kubrick's own interpretation of Nabokov's character, not the titular heroine of Nabokov's novel. The two are distinct and polar opposites. Nabokov's own scenario, largely unused by the master filmmaker, was published as Lolita: A Screenplay by McGraw-Hill in 1974. In his foreword Nabokov wrote, "My first reaction to the picture was a mixture of aggravation, regret, and reluctant pleasure... I keenly regretted the waste of my time while admiring Kubrick's fortitude in enduring for six months the evolution and infliction of a useless product." As it happens, Madonna, whose first single, "Like a Virgin," lingered in the #1 spot on the US charts for six weeks in late 1984, and who'd make her film debut the following year in Susan Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan, turns 50 tomorrow. You can find plenty of relevant hoopla at the Guardian and a bit more in the London Times. Update, 8/19: In the Guardian, Aida Edemariam chastises Camille Paglia, Julie Burchill and Germaine Greer for turning on Madonna when she's actually "doing what they liked her for in the first place - going her own way, fighting her own fight, mores be damned."
Lindsay Anderson: Revolutionary Romantic.The series Lindsay Anderson: Revolutionary Romantic opens today at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and runs through August 28.
Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer."The great jazz singer Anita O'Day operated in some far-out be-bop realm of her own, a small kingdom of dingy nightclubs and brute-force trios where she flashed her sharp, pretty teeth and her knowing cartoon eyes while living on the edge of music and even consciousness," writes Dan Callahan, who, in his review of Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer at the House Next Door, recalls interviewing the woman herself in 2000. "Ms O'Day, who died two years ago at 87, invented a cool, dry jazz singing style that influenced many, most notably June Christy and Chris Connor," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "It was all about rhythm, improvisation and hip attitude. What repeatedly comes to mind when people invoke Ms O'Day is her feral, instinctive drive for freedom, both artistic and personal." Jim Ridley in the Voice: "A good deal livelier than the usual music-doc embalming, this worshipful tribute to jazz singer Anita O'Day - completed shortly before her death in 2006 by her then manager, Robbie Cavolina, and co-director Ian McCrudden - is rescued from its own adoration (and too-busy faux-50s graphics) by its subject: a tough cookie, racetrack devotee, and brassy raconteur who may be the least self-pitying reformed addict in the history of pop biographies." "Unfortunately, the barrage of accolades is so uniformly positive and the sluice of memories so identically appreciative and forgiving that the film assumes a retirement-dinner testimonial monotony that is at odds with O'Day's picaresque personal history and off-kilter bandstand charisma," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "As a work of cinema, the film is merely passable," writes Matt Noller in Slant. "As an educational document, it's a little more effective—its parade of facts and interviews probably won't be anything new to fans, but for a jazz - ignorant square like myself it was fairly fascinating - but as a tribute to its star, it's damn near essential." Earlier: Alan Vanneman remembers O'Day at Bright Lights After Dark.
Henry Poole Is Here."I have never before had a film simultaneously insult both my agnosticism and my Catholic upbringing," declares the Stranger's Annie Wagner. "Henry Poole Is Here is condescending toward believers, contemptuous toward disbelievers, and has the worst soundtrack in the entire history of cinema." "In the mawkish tradition of movies like Simon Birch, Wide Awake, August Rush and Hearts in Atlantis, Henry Poole Is Here is insufferable hokum that takes itself very, very seriously," warns Stephen Holden in the New York Times. Updated through 8/16. "Henry Poole cycles through so many indie film clichés - the dour, depressed loner nursing a dark secret, a motley group of outsiders that form an unlikely but loving surrogate family, a welcoming circle of mourning, a touch of twee magic realism, a tremblingly earnest alt-rock soundtrack - that it continually skirts self-parody," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "[Luke] Wilson travels an achingly familiar arc from drunken, sour loneliness and alienation to healthy engagement with the outside world, but this leaden, sluggishly paced film takes forever to get to its pre-determined destination and boasts a tone that runs the gamut from mournful to sad to melancholy." "[Director Mark] Pellington applies his message - the necessity of hope - a trifle thickly over the proceedings, treating the Christ image's magical powers with such reverence that you're almost set up to expect an M Night Shyamalan third-act switcheroo," writes Tim Grierson in the Voice. "What you're left with instead is a film that could have used some of the genuine intrigue of Pellington's thrillers to help offset the increasingly doe-eyed narrative." "It would be easy for a foreign audience watching Henry Poole Is Here to assume that America is composed solely of preachers and secularists, two camps all but unable to have civil conversations with each other," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "Maybe this is true in some communities across this country - and perhaps that's the polarized state of the nation that is painted by so many cable-news commentators - but for the majority of Americans, this is a film that will have no bearing on reality." "You see, God works in mysterious ways and since we have little power to interfere, it's best not to question him," explains Andrew Schenker in Slant. "Above all, the film suggests, it's best not to think." Earlier: Reviews from Sundance. Updates, 8/16: "Does it raise any interesting, life-changing questions?" asks Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "Sadly, no. The film is too bored and lackadaisical with its subject to change much of anything. It's too uninspired to be inspirational." Jeffrey Overstreet rounds up "a wide range of responses."
Interview. Ludivine Sagnier.A Girl Cut in Two is "a rich, textured divertissement from Claude Chabrol, a sinister master of the art, who, after a series of vague if invariably entertaining cinematic sketches, has returned to elegant tight form with an erotically charged, beautifully directed story of a woman preyed upon by different men and her own warring desires," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. That woman, Gabrielle Deneige, is played by Ludivine Sagnier, who, at 29, has already appeared in around three dozen features. James Van Maanen has a long, leisurely chat with her about working with Chabrol, Claude Miller, François Ozon and other directors; and about watching movies, French politics and whatever else strikes their fancy (they seem to have hit it off). Updated through 8/18. "As in his previous film, A Comedy of Power, Chabrol explores how a capable woman navigates a world that for all its advances remains stubbornly dominated by the whims of bourgeois male privilege. Its title notwithstanding, Girl doesn't cut as deeply in its class critique as A Comedy of Power, but it's the more satisfying film, thanks to Ludivine Sagnier," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "Both before and after her performance as the bewitching blond cipher of Swimming Pool, it was clear that Sagnier is among the most striking young actresses in contemporary French cinema, and one who's nearly certain to make the jump across the Atlantic at some point," writes Andrew O'Hehir, introducing his interview for Salon. "What makes Claude Chabrol's A Girl Cut in Two (2007) so trying is not that it's unsure of what it wants to be, but rather that it refuses to decide," finds Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "The French director is in his comfort zone here, coolly flinging mud at the upper crust under the guise of a Hitchcockian thriller (nice Vertigo in-joke, Claude) that runs more smoothly than a well-tuned BMW," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "But even if you know that Chabrol views suspense films as just a mechanism for his benign misanthropy, you can't shake the sense that he's going through the motions." "Chabrol has made a career out of savage class warfare, and A Girl Cut in Two fires off another bitter salvo," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. Earlier: Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot and reviews from Venice and Toronto and New York. Updates, 8/16: "'Tasteful' might be one way to describe Chabrol's style, but that doesn't account for the film's psychologically probing and ultimately unsettling effect," writes Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door, where Fernando F Croce interviews Sagnier. "Nothing is pushed, it's a notably chaste picture, reasonably faithful to the century-old case but at a discreet distance from the sensationalism of our own era, and likely to strike an audience primed for more as detached," writes Robert Cashill. "But that cautious remove is part of the Chabrol bloodline." Online listening tip. Sagnier is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show. Update, 8/18: "If anything, the older people seem to attract Chabrol more, despite his Charles-like fondness for young flesh; age has made them not wiser but more civilized and therefore, from his point of view, more corrupt," writes the New Yorker's Anthony Lane. "The director is 78 now, with almost 70 films under his belt. He remains as committed as ever to his twin duties of scourge and hedonist, yet I can't help wishing that he would, just once, cast off his own good narrative manners - do away with the irritations of a film like A Girl Cut in Two, which is never more than semi-plausible, and arrange his passions, as the elderly Buñuel did in That Obscure Object of Desire, into shameless, surreal anagrams of wit and lust."
August 14, 2008
Sight & Sound. September 08.That new issue of Sight & Sound I mentioned earlier today? It's online now, or at least a good bit of it is, starting with David Thomson's piece on Terrence Malick's Badlands and "the vital question of whether we are 'with' these kids or whether we are studying them - to which it's surely reasonable to reply 'can we try both?' For myself, I still love Badlands and feel haunted by its unlikely clash of immediate horror and long-distance wistfulness. But that's the problem we have to address." "In the four decades since Titicut Follies (1967) initially classed him with practitioners of Direct Cinema, [Frederick] Wiseman has gone far beyond that movement's oddly celebrity-oriented preoccupation with in-the-moment truth," writes Nicolas Rapold. "He has achieved his own form of realism in work of consistent richness and variety to produce films which are both social documents and great art." Updated through 8/17. "The Banishment continues the examinations of the family and of masculinity in crisis that [Andrei] Zvyagintsev began in The Return," writes Julian Graffy. "This is a story of greater moral complexity than that of The Return, but with greater ambition comes risk.... Above all the film's dramatic narrative twist is clumsily rendered. Intended to disorientate, it comes over as contrived." More from Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman: "The first 90 minutes of the film is a killer. The last hour dies on the screen before our eyes." Earlier: Reviews from Cannes 07. "One of the fascinations of stop-motion animation - the frame-by-frame movement of three-dimensional figures - is that each of its practitioners, from Ladislas Starewitch to Ray Harryhausen to Phil Tippett, has generated styles of movement and modes of storytelling entirely their own," writes Tim Lucas. "The same can be said of contemporary Japanese animator Kawamoto Kihachiro (born 1925), whose puppets borrow principles of construction from the likes of George Pal and Jiri Trinka yet somehow convey an illusion of life and breath found nowhere else in the history of this artform.... As an introduction to the filmmaker, The Exquisite Short Films of Kihachiro Kawamoto is dazzling but also unsteadying in its diversity." Hellboy II: The Golden Army is "not great [Guillermo] del Toro - the gleeful Mexican's filmography has so far glowed when he's adhered more feverishly to the morally stressed, ordeal-by-imagination realm of folk art (as in Cronos, The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth) than to graphic-novel jazziness," writes Michael Atkinson. "But it's unfair to bludgeon Hellboy II for the crimes of the culture it inhabits - it's a breeze to watch, undemanding of empathy, constantly inventive in its monsters and always ironic."
The Romance of Astrea and Celadon."[Claude] Chabrol's A Girl Cut in Two [more tomorrow] and [Eric] Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, both opening this week (after local premieres at the last New York Film Festival), are quintessential works, even though both are adaptations," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "While Rohmer takes on an 'unfilmable' classic text, Chabrol is an enthusiastic tabloidiste.... The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, a film which Rohmer has suggested will be his last, is a costume pageant that serenely conflates two - or perhaps three - historical periods. The source is Honoré d'Urfé's 17th-century pastoral romance, itself set in an imagined fifth-century Gaul; the feel, however, is oddly contemporary.... The movie's gravity has the effect of raising Rohmer's career-long concerns to cosmic heights." Updated through 8/15. "[E]ven though I much prefer Mr Rohmer's forays in the contemporary world from very oblique vantage points, I find his period spirituality very genuine, as if he is searching in the past for the roots of his intense identification with the trials and torments of his most memorable characters, particularly his gallery of beautiful and articulately opinionated women, unequaled in world cinema," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "[T]he movie has all the elements of a final testament even as it displays all the charming freshness of a first movie, or a home movie," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door: The last scene is a triumph of Catholic sensuality over sense, and it's hard to imagine a lovelier, more lyrically intense last moment to end a career on. Audiences might laugh at parts of The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, and perhaps the more acute of them will be able to make a case against this ode to romantic fidelity ("It's not realistic! There have never been men like Celadon! I'd rather laugh and booze it up and have sex with Hylas!") But Rohmer has always created a wholly convincing moral world of his own. If our own world cannot live up to it, or bears no resemblance to it, then that's our failure, not his. "If the connections between this detached, dreamy fable and Mr Rohmer's refined contemporary examinations of young love in Six Moral Tales are obvious, the characters in The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, pretty as they are, are historical phantoms with little flesh-and-blood substance," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "There are hugs and kisses galore but little actual desire." The film's "view of love is the far-sighted perspective of a die-hard moralist gazing at the foolish world from an Olympian altitude, or perhaps from another planet." "Rohmer's 5th-century-set story can be enjoyed for its own sake, but it also means to present basic, universal romantic conflicts—similar to those examined in Allegory of Love, CS Lewis's 'study in medieval tradition' that traced the complications humans experience back to their cultural origins," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "This almost mythological approach gives Astrea and Celadon startling relevance." David Fear, writing in Time Out New York, finds it "goes from mere bad choice to embarrassing clunker. While the director has never had a problem finding a pulse within historical pageantry (see Perceval or The Lady and the Duke), the book’s 5th-century landscape of nymphs, druids and lute-playing roustabouts is an ill fit for Rohmer’s strengths. Community-college theater troupes have rendered broad burlesques with more skill." "It's a film so embarrassingly quaint it's crying out for a parody called Not Another Medieval Movie," finds Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. At New York's Anthology Film Archives for a week starting tonight. Earlier: Reviews from Venice and New York. Update, 8/15: "Since the emergence of the French New Wave in the late 50s, Rohmer has been making sly, observant social-romantic comedies (Claire's Knee, My Night at Maud's, Pauline at the Beach) that are easy to watch but a lot less easy to categorize," writes Andrew O'Hehir at Salon. "You can read Astrea and Celadon as not merely a farewell to one individual's filmmaking career but a farewell to cinema itself and to the modern society that produced it."
Vicky Cristina Barcelona, round 2."The preplexingly titled Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Woody Allen's best film in years," announces Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Talk about damning with faint praise." "Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen's 39th film as writer-director, will do little to endear itself to the happily-ever-after crowd, or to those who consider acts of infidelity punishable by impeachment," warns the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas. "For the rest of us, however, Allen has crafted a wry and thoughtful film about the peculiar stirrings of the heart, which is certainly his most accomplished piece of work since Match Point, and his funniest in the eight years since Small Time Crooks." Also: An interview with Allen. Updated through 8/20. "Allen's latest film features a narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) who relays, in even tones, the tale of dishy twentysomething American friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), with opposite philosophies of life, and how their respective worldviews are tested over the course of a summer in Spain by a lusty painter (Javier Bardem) and his tempestuous, gun-toting ex-wife (Penélope Cruz)," explains New York's David Edelstein. "Given its particulars - Allen's creepy-old-man gaze, the subtext-free dialogue, the Michelin-guide tour of Catalan art and architecture, the predictable dramatic arc - Vicky Cristina Barcelona ought to have been an eye-roller. What a surprise that it's so seductive." "In the end, VCB doesn't come off as a mere touristic lark or by-the-numbers filmmaking exercise," writes Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. For him, the saving graces here are Bardem and Cruz: "Allen seems to have discovered something - like Columbus in reverse - in these two wonderful Spaniards." "Maybe enough people have already caught on to the tragedy of Cruz having lost the Oscar for her soulful performance in Volver and feel reparations are already in order - but if that's the case and all this hubbub is in the interest of justice, why not tout her superior performance in Elegy instead?" asks Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "But I digress. What else is there to say about Vicky Cristina Barcelona or Pan-Seared Misogyny in Hot-Blooded Balsamic Mediterranean Reduction that hasn't already been said about nearly every other shoddy film Allen has made this decade, from the director's absolutely contemptible views of female behavior to the 10-dollar words that he scarily jams into the mouths of his characters?" "I think Woody Allen has produced some work over the past 15 years (since the Soon-Yi 'scandal,' which more or less dovetailed with the consensus opinion that his 'best years' were long behind him) that is worthy of more serious consideration," argues Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "But even if I didn't think the movies deserved it, the sheer laziness that the movies seem to inspire in critics would almost give me enough incentive to passionately defend them." "Funny, intelligent, provocative and heartfelt, the film will remind moviegoers why they ever loved Woody Allen," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "A once-brilliant ear for pungent dialogue turned tin and out-of-touch is more understandable than a bored journeyman churning out mediocrities on vacation," sighs Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "You can't claim that Woody Allen's rapid rate of production doesn't show," agrees Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader. Still, here, the "half-baked aspect has its upside. In consequence of the cut corners and rushed development, a lot happens in only ninety minutes, and Allen can lay out on a broad canvas his vision of human discontentment and self-ignorance. He can lay it out as a pattern, not as an isolated instance." Allen "has proceeded through the years with more ups and downs, more ins and outs, more breakthroughs and breakups, and more hits and flops than that of any other director I can think of, from any period in film history," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Now in his 70s, he has managed to astound me by coming up with one of the most felicitously written, edited, acted and directed romantic comedies of his entire career. I may still give an edge to 1979's Manhattan and 1977's Annie Hall, but not by too much." "There has already been some criticism of the film's disconnect from the world the rest of us live in; that is, these people never seem to worry about money and rarely seem to work," notes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "The same could be said, of course, of all but the most consciously political comedies of the 30s and 40s; they're not supposed to reflect all the dull, quotidian stuff. Allen has never pretended to be reflecting the lives of the 'little people,' except, perhaps, in The Purple Rose of Cairo, which made a point of both the wonder and the absurdity of life up on the screen." "As Cristina, an anything-goes sexpot who entertains artistic pretensions, Johansson could be Brigitte Bardot dubbed with a flat American accent," notes the Stranger's Annie Wagner. "If you entertain the idea that she might be parodying herself, it's almost an interesting performance." Armond White in the New York Press: "For several decades, the media has praised Woody Allen's vanity as art. But next to a true artist like Rohmer, Allen's small-minded egotism - and laughable lack of craft - are pathetic." "[A]fter years of making neurosis a fun and accessible lifestyle, the director here taps into enough life-station-in-the-balance anxiety to keep this trip from being a total bust," finds Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Minor Allen, the movie is nevertheless cause for hope for those who insist on returning every year," writes Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out New York. Scott Tobias talks with Allen for the AV Club. Michael Ordoña chats with Hall for the Los Angeles Times. Earlier: "Elegy and Vicky Cristina Barcelona," Michael Koresky and reviews from Cannes. Updates, 8/15: "Although Vicky Cristina trips along winningly, carried by the beauty of its locations and stars - and all the gauzy romanticism those enchanted places and people imply - it reverberates with implacable melancholy, a sense of loss," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Mr Allen may be buoyed (like the rest of us) by his recent creative resurrection, but this is still the same glum clown who, after the premiere of Match Point, his pitch-black, near pitch-perfect 2005 drama, commented that cynicism was just an alternate spelling of reality. Ah, life! Ah, Woody!" "Allen began his career as a mildly acerbic comic entertainer, and at the moment it looks like that's how he's going to end it," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "It's literally difficult to believe that the person who made this picturesque, clueless, oddly misanthropic picture also made Annie Hall and Crimes and Misdemeanors." "I gave up on Allen long ago," grumbles Lawrence Levi at Nextbook. "In fact, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the first movie of his I've watched in over a decade. And nothing's changed: It's as blinkered and lazy as the 90s films I got sick of. And critics who haven't drunk the Woody Kool-Aid agree." But Steve Dollar, writing in the New York Sun, suspects "something has given him a genuine kick in the rear. Most likely, it's a pair of Spanish actors, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. Their embodiment of a smoldering carnality in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Mr Allen's latest film, could have been a facile cliché, but instead finds a sublime and eloquent comic release." Time's Richard Corliss: "I like the new movie, within reason; the question that nags at me is whether the film, appearing during this slow patch in Allen's career, is the beneficiary of our diminished expectations." "Shooting in Europe for the fourth time following Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra's Dream, Allen seizes on the chance to weigh American notions of love against the continent's more libertine spirit," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "He comes away with a witty and ambiguous movie that's simultaneously intoxicating and suffused with sadness and doubt." "It doesn't feel like a comeback, necessarily, but it does feel like a tentative and promising step forward," suggests the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. Vulture lists "Ten Woody Allen Sex Scenes Better Than the Ones in Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Online viewing tip. Lynn Hirschberg talks with Cruz for the NYT. Updates, 8/16: James Rocchi at Cinematical: "I felt, after seeing Woody Allen's latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the way I do after I've been to an excellent tapas restaurant; I'd been presented with a series of small moments of flavor and texture and presentation, some more pleasant than others, and while the overall experience didn't add up to a full meal, it was still a sincere pleasure." Also, interviews with the cast. "Allen's misanthropy and depressive worldview seem too persistent to be byproducts of a personality cultivated for public appeal," writes Zachary Wigon at the House Next Door. "No, the absurd level of fantasy inherent in a film like VCB seems indicative of the fact that the filmmaker wishes for a world where things could be better, prettier, nicer, sweeter - even if those things include arguments between lovers who might just kill each other." "[W]hat makes the film so sadly beautiful is Allen's treatment of Vicky and Cristina, two lovely young women enjoying those formative years that are now such a distant memory for the man directing them," writes Bryant Frazer. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a film with a pretty big heart, and it feels for the compromises people make in response to the looming terror that is the enormity of the rest of their lives." "If Vicky Cristina Barcelona is at times a wonderfully nuanced drama about love triangles and squares and other oddball shapes, it's a also a subtly funny film, built from a very different mold from earlier Allen comedies," writes Ed Howard. It "feels fresh and vibrant, mocking its droning literary narration while telling a tale that continually bursts beyond the borders of such staid explications." Jen Johans finds VCB "breezy, earthy, intoxicating, and frankly, sexy as hell." "If you like watching privileged beautiful people flitting from expensive homes to fancy restaurants to dazzling tourist attractions to plush hotel rooms and gala gallery openings, you're likely to find something to enjoy in this movie," writes Marcy Dermansky. "I was hoping for a guilty pleasure, but after watching Vicky and Christina drink their zillionth glass of wine, I had enough." The AV Club's Nathan Rabin and Scott Tobias present a Woody Allen primer. Michael Atkinson: "I'm frankly getting tired of being the kid in the crowd pointing at the emperor's bare-naked buttcheeks, but someone (besides Chicago Reader's JR Jones) has got to make the case for the achingly obvious: Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a sophomoric, cliched howler, so ludicrously bad in so many ways one doesn't know where to begin." Update, 8/20: "Mr Allen's typical alter egos are variations of the neurotic nebbish he has so often played," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Brainy, not brawny, they seduce with charm and wit, not physical magnetism. One reason movie critics heaped such lavish praise on his movies during the Annie Hall period was that so many of them were fuzzy-haired brainiacs like Mr Allen, living more in the mind than in the body.... When in his work have you seen a hookup in which a hunk and a babe make eye contact and fall into ravenous lovemaking?... Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the first Woody Allen film to infuse [his] lofty world with serious body heat."
Tropic Thunder, round 2."The Ben Stiller action-film parody Tropic Thunder is all over the map, but it's worth enduring the botched gags, formula plotting, and even the racism to marvel at the genius of Robert Downey Jr," writes New York's David Edelstein. "As much as Downey sends up the Shafts and Superflys, he respects the beauty and weight and potency of the archetype. He drops his voice an octave (at least) and what comes out is gorgeous. He really does make a damn fine Negro." "Overall and maybe inevitably, Tropic Thunder is uneven, and ultimately it's disposable, but what smug fun there is to be had from the notion that the whole overblown enterprise might be justified by this one formerly uninsurable actor's performance alone," agrees Jonathan Kiefer. Updated through 8/18. "Anyone walking into Tropic Thunder looking to be offended by Downey's minstrel turn will soon find that the movie is two steps ahead," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "His role is no one-note, let's-shock-the-audience race joke - it's a densely layered little study of American racial anxiety." "Downey transforms the cheap gag into a metacomedic coup," writes David Fear in Time Out New York: "He plays a ridiculously extreme thespian with an equally po-faced intensity. Watching Lazarus preach against the perils of going 'full retard' to win awards or bemoan how the n-word has held 'his people' down with such misguided gravitas, you can't help but admire Downey's dynamic act of comic jujitsu." "What's most notable about the film's use of blackface is how much softer it is compared with the rather more vulgar and far less loving exploitation of what you might call Jewface," notes Manohla Dargis. "Hands down the most noxious character in Tropic Thunder is Les Grossman, the producer of the movie-within-a-movie, who's played by an almost unrecognizable Tom Cruise under a thick scum of makeup and latex. Heavily and heavy-handedly coded as Jewish, the character is murderous, repellent and fascinating, a grotesque from his swollen fingers to the heavy gold dollar sign nestled on his yeti-furred chest. At one time Mr Stiller wanted to adapt Budd Schulberg's brutal satire about a Hollywood hustler, What Makes Sammy Run?, to the screen, a long dormant and now perhaps lost project that haunts this otherwise safe film like a wrathful ghost." Also in the New York Times, Dave Itzkoff talks with the movie's makers. "A parody of war movies and a pinprick in the helium balloon of Hollywood egos, Tropic Thunder caps a hectic summer of action films and star-driven comedies and is designed as a blend and a semiloving critique of both genres," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "The picture is savvy to the max, maybe to excess; but Stiller, who also directed and co-wrote the movie, surely figures that in the blogosphere age, no film can be too inside - it's where everyone is." "Over the years, a few genuine boundary-shattering comedies have managed to sneak out of the major studios: Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles was one, Borat another," notes the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas. "But more often than not, the most gleefully irreverent movies come from devil-may-care mavericks working on the margins of independent cinema - movies like John Waters's shoestring, shit-eating classic Pink Flamingos, or even, more to the point, the early (and largely forgotten) films of Downey's own father, Robert Downey Sr, whose 1969 Putney Swope imagined what might happen if a prominent Madison Avenue advertising firm were suddenly overtaken by militant blacks. Those movies had - and continue to have - more sting than anything in Tropic Thunder, which is ultimately just another movie about moviemaking, better than some (David Mamet's State and Main comes to mind), not as good as others (The Player, S.O.B.), occasionally willing to bite the hand that feeds it but more often content to merely teethe." "Tropic Thunder is ridiculous and deeply enjoyable, but it also flashes a mercilessly polished mirror at the 'prestige' products that the movie business so glibly feeds us in order to reflect glory back on itself," writes Stephanie Zacharek at Salon. "The picture also questions the way we congratulate ourselves for our appreciation of serious pictures and dedicated performances, as if, by applauding their quality, we might somehow be connected with some greater good. Movies can elevate us, helping us locate the best, most generous parts of ourselves. But that doesn't diminish the fact - as Tropic Thunder so painfully reminds us - that 'quality' movies are sometimes made by absolute assholes." For Godfrey Cheshire, writing in the Independent Weekly, this is "easily the funniest movie I've seen this year, a riotous high-octane side-splitter that delivers more laughs than a dozen standard studio comedies." "If only for making Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey funny for the first time since 1994 or so, Tropic Thunder would already qualify as an impressive comedic achievement," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "But actor-director Ben Stiller's satire of pampered Hollywood actors and out-of-control action epics mines humor from a wide variety of sources, resulting in a film that delivers wall-to-wall laughs even if, by the time it's all over, you realize you don't give a tinker's damn about anyone on screen." Also, a look back at blackface. "Hollywood's easy pickings, and making fun of it is what insiders do when they've emptied their arsenal," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "Tropic Thunder - which drops a bunch of actors into the wilds of Southeast Asia and shouts 'Action!' - doesn't stray far from convention, save for a little added gore, firepower, and star power worthy of its nearly $100 million budget." "It's the kind of summer comedy that rolls in, makes a lot of people laugh and rolls on to video," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "It's been a good summer for that; look at Pineapple Express." Michael Joshua Rowin picks it up from there in the L Magazine, noting that both films "prove the collegiate (and post-) white male hath asked and received - not one but two action movie satires featuring a who's who of comic dude icons (Stiller, Jack Black, Seth Rogen) blowing stuff up, imitating black guys and yelling 'Dude!' to the point of psychosis. Yes, the unsurprisingly similar films (they also share a couple of supporting actors, faceless gangs of Asian drug lords and a virtual void of female roles) make for a telling pair of white guy fantasies - though one too frequently misunderstands its genre and renders the fantasy an incoherent muddle, while the other's self-deprecating humor has the fantasy itself become the butt of the joke." Steven Boone in the SpoutBlog: "In a shot mournfully photographed by John Toll, [Nick] Nolte stares out at the jungle mists from a mountain perch and answers a query about a weapon with, 'I don't know what it's called, but I know the sound that it makes when it takes a man's life.' It's like, out of nowhere, ten seconds of Malick or Herzog." "Stiller's performance is easily the weakest element of Tropic Thunder," finds Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "Like his Zoolander character, he only has a handful of exaggerated expressions, and he cycles through them on cue. But it's easy to forgive him, given how thoroughly enjoyable Tropic Thunder is on virtually every other count." The Stranger's Andrew Wright finds it "offers a number of genuine laughs between the self-congratulatory waves. It's just good enough to make you wish it were better." "Ben Stiller used to be unafraid of pointed mockery, but nowadays he pulls his punches," argues Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. "His new movie, Tropic Thunder, just isn't funny." But for the Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten, "Stiller's barbs have not been this sharply pointed since his early-90s TV show." Armond White in the New York Press: "Look past Tropic Thunders misleading marketing campaign, and it's a movie about something director Ben Stiller well understands: the plight, insecurity and vanity of actors." As Emiliano de Pablos reports for Variety, Stiller and Downey Jr will be presenting Tropic Thunder at the San Sebastian Film Festival (September 18 through 28). Online viewing tips. Matt Prigge lists "Six Films Featuring Blackface" in the Philadelphia Weekly. Earlier: Round 1 and Glenn Kenny. Updates, 8/15: "More exhausting than funny, though it is often both, Ben Stiller's latest excoriation of ego wears you down with its smothering, pop-savvy cynicism. It's a movie with a lot of half-considered, riffed opinions about everything from the shamelessness of film actors to the international heroin trade," writes Justin Stewart at Stop Smiling. "The aim of its intent is regularly dead-on, but the execution is generally a mess... You walk out not having seen a movie — it never materializes." The New Republic's Christopher Orr notes that "Downey is not acting in blackface (except in the literal sense); he's playing a character who is acting in blackface. Anyone who fails to grasp this distinction should probably also conclude that playing Archie Bunker made Carroll O'Connor a racist." Further praise for supporting players follows, "Which brings us to Tom Cruise. Though his performance as tyrannical studio boss Les Grossman may not rise to some of the superlatives being tossed its way, it is eye-opening. Cruise is one of the more humor-phobic actors of his generation - his last major role in a straight comedy was in Risky Business, 25 years ago - but his profane, bullying Grossman is a delight. For years now, onscreen and off, Cruise has seemed like a bottle of barely contained crazy; now we know what happens when the cork comes out." "It might be a stretch to compare Tropic Thunder's profane, often graphically gross humor to Wilder's far subtler noir stylings in Sunset Boulevard, or the nihilistic portrait of coldblooded ambition in The Player," concedes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. "But in its own sophomoric, stupid-smart way, Stiller's portrayal of ego, pomposity and macho swagger manages to be just as on-point and subversive." Updates, 8/16: "After four directorial efforts, Stiller has yet to make a wholly satisfying picture," writes Elbert Ventura in Reverse Shot. "To be sure, there have been glimmers of intelligence and inspiration in his past films: the specter of derangement in The Cable Guy, the hilarious send-ups of celeb culture in Zoolander. (Reality Bites, his first movie, just plain bit.) But funny or incisive they may be in parts, not one can be called an unqualified success. Nor can his latest film, Tropic Thunder. Entertaining enough and yet fatally compromised, it's Stiller's best movie, for whatever that's worth—and probably the starkest reminder of the distance between his early promise and his current careerist track." "On the one hand, plenty of this movie is laugh-out-loud funny in a gleefully tasteless way," writes Paul Matwychuk. "And yet, at the same time, there's something oppressive about this movie, which wants to be a scathing satire about Hollywood excess at the same time that it wants to impress you with its own expensiveness." "Tropic Thunder was built on a mountain of increasingly irreverent R-rated cinema that takes in 30 years' worth of broken taboos and box-office records," writes Dave Itzkoff in the New York Times, introducing a quick history lesson: "For all the social conventions transgressed in the 1960s and 70s - in the standup routines of Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor, for example - the granddaddies of the gross-out genre didn't arrive in movie theaters until the late 70s." Updates, 8/17: The Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein: "My colleague John Horn has a good story in our paper today about how the nation's film critics have come to the defense of Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller's new Hollywood satire, which has been under attack from various advocacy groups of its frequent use of the word 'retard.'" Why hasn't Tropic Thunder done better at the box office? Robert Cashill has a few ideas - and then: "The main reason, I think, is that movies (and TV shows) about moviemaking are toxic." Similarly, David Poland. Update, 8/18: "Tropic Thunder is an uneven movie, but it's one of those comedies that, if its best parts work for you, you're liable to forgive it its dead patches because you're not likely to ever see anything quite like its best parts again," writes Phil Nugent, and towards the end: "Downey rocked the house in Iron Man; he managed to be a superb comic-book hero while keeping himself amused by taking jabs at his own bad-boy image, and he proved that he could, as they say in the boardrooms, carry a movie and open it big. It showed why he's a star. Tropic Thunder shows why he's a national treasure." "After the dazzle of the early scenes, something droops and flags in Tropic Thunder," writes the New Yorker's Anthony Lane. "As a jab at the movie business, Tropic Thunder is flailing and unfocussed, hardly in the league of The Player, and if you want an exposé of the combat movie, strewn with compromise and creative sacrifice, watch Hearts of Darkness (1991), about the making of Apocalypse Now. The Stiller of Dodgeball left the genre of the sports melodrama in tatters, but we can safely assume that the war film, after this assault, will live to fight another day."
Fests and events, 8/14.Hey, all. Back from a marvelous week far and away from it all and ready to roll again. The first order of business to catch up with is the lineup for the New York Film Festival. In London, I noticed that Clint Eastwood is on the cover of the September issue of Sight & Sound (in conjunction with the Eastwood season at BFI Southbank, running today through September 30), so we'll soon be hearing more about the festival's Centerpiece, Changeling - starting with Alex Cox in the New Statesman: "To me, all his directorial chops seem borrowed either from [Sergio] Leone or from his other mentor, [Don] Siegel." NYFF opens on September 26 with Laurent Cantet's The Class and closes on October 12 with Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which premieres in a couple of weeks in Venice (photos; scroll down a bit; via Anne Thompson). At indieWIRE, Brian Brooks has the festival's notes on each of its offerings, many of which have been harvested from this year's edition of Cannes. Darren Hughes is up for Toronto. "Because [yesterday] new films by two of my favorite living directors were officially announced (along with 19 other Special Presentations and 1 Closing Night Gala): Claire Denis's 35 Rhums and Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles." "Critters secretly hate us and are only waiting for the right moment to enact their revenge." Sam Sweet: "That's the underlying premise of the five films screening Saturdays in August as part of Cinefamily's series, Holyfuckingshit: When Animals Attack." Through the end of the month. Also in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas: "[Richard] Quine was no less adept at film noir and romantic melodrama - something audiences can see for themselves during LACMA's two-week Quine retrospective." Through Saturday. See, too, the remembrance from Philippe Garnier: "If Quine remains best known for his very successful comedies, there is a dark streak running through his work that stemmed from personal tragedies enough to make getting dumped by Kim Novak seem like a piece of cake." In the Independent Weekly, Neil Morris and Kathy Justice preview the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, running today through Sunday. "Tintin et Moi, a 2003 documentary based on 14 hours of interviews with Tintin creator Hergé, discusses the artist's evolution from right-wing Catholic propagandist to secular humanist and defends Tintin as a definitive graphic record of the 20th century," notes Brendan Kiley in the Stranger (more). Tonight at Northwest Film Forum. The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy previews Crossing the Border; tomorrow through August 21 at the Roxie. "As goes Imhotep, so goes Popoca, the titular walking deadster in Mexican horror pioneer Rafael Portillo's 1957 Attack of the Aztec Mummy (La Momia Azteca), which screens Friday evening as part of Mexic-Arte Museum's Aztec and Maya Revival exhibition," notes Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle. "Bruce Goldstein has programmed a fantastic five weeks of French film noir and thrillers, spanning 1937 to 2000, and playing from now through Sept 11 at Film Forum," Andrew Sarris reminds us in the New York Observer. John Woo's Red Cliff, China's most expensive film and biggest domestic box office success, will open the Tokyo International Film Festival, running October 18 through 26.
August 12, 2008
Dog Day Shorts: 8/12.
Max Goldberg on 99 River Street, which screens tonight at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley: "Noir hounds are accustomed to a certain amount of clunky dialogue and thin characterizations — which makes a fable like 99 River Street all the more startling for its streamlined morality. Underrated B-director Phil Karlson takes the well-trod story of a wounded prizefighter and crafts a psychological powerhouse every bit the equal of Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning Raging Bull (1980)."
Director Taylor Hackford (Mr. Dame Helen Mirren) will be making a biopic about legendary playwright Tennessee Williams. Tenn, reports Variety, "focuses on how Williams' tumultuous upbringing -- complete with a scornful father, depression, conflicts about sexuality and watching his beloved sister institutionalized and lobotomized -- fueled the conflict in such plays as The Glass Menagerie and the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire. [Financer Michael] Ohoven said the script was a close parallel to Capote, which turned the In Cold Blood author's relationship with two murderers into a riveting drama."
Tangentially related, Mary-Louise Parker, star of Showtime's darkly comic series Weeds, is heading to Broadway next January in a revival of Henrik Ibsen's famous play Hedda Gabler, which will be adapted by Christopher Shinn.
Andrew Johnston, Time Out New York's TV critic, writes on The House Next
Door about what Mad Men learned from another seminal TV show. "The Sopranos launched a golden age in American TV--Deadwood, The Wire, The Shield...you know the drill--but most of Chase's acolytes have been content to stick with relatively conventional serial narratives (even if shows such as The Shield took the serial in bold new directions by embracing the novel as thoroughly as Chase has the short story). Only [Mad Men creator Matthew] Weiner has seen fit to fully embrace Chase’s vision and offer a sort of fractal drama--one that contains conventional continuity, to be sure, but also one where the narrative model is layered rather than strictly linear, and in which it takes quite awhile (unlike with B5 or The X-Files, which wore their complexity as a badge of pride) to realize that the whole is more than the sum of its parts."
Glenn Kenny: "Turns out I'm one of those unhip sobersides who can't quite get with Tropic Thunder. But I think my reasons are valid." His whole review is over on The Auteurs Notebook: "Given the incoherence of its satirical aspirations (the film does end with a suggestion that everyone involved still loves this business we call show), and finally too scattershot to really make it as parody, Tropic Thunder is best appreciated as a goof. Provided you can stomach it." (So many different groups are now protesting various aspects of the film that I feel like I should see it to a) have an opinion, and b) see if it's satire or spoof. - ed.)
On IndieWire, Michael Koresky travels to Vicky Cristina Barcelona: "[Woody] Allen's seemingly unavoidable need to narratively underline extends to his choice of overlaying Vicky Cristina Barcelona with an omniscient male voice-over, which lends the film the emotional clarity of short fiction but also a nattering, collegiate stuntedness. It's understandable that critics would harp on this decision, as it's a fairly bald-faced ploy for some sort of distanced academicism that the film doesn't necessarily earn or require, but it's a shame that this example of Allen's rehearsed fussiness (he's done this sort of narration before, most successfully in the more coherently clinical dissection Husbands and Wives) distracts many from those moments where Allen actually is trying something different."
Great read: Elliot Gould talks to the Guardian's Ben Walters. Gould introduced his 1970 cult film Little Murders at a screening last weekend and tells Walters that Jean-Luc Godard almost directed it. "'He took me for a walk round the block,' Gould recalled. 'It was 57th Street, Carnegie Hall. He said, 'If my wife and children ask me to tell them I love them, I tell them to go fuck themselves.' I said, 'That's very strong, Jean-Luc, but I don't think I'm there yet.' The eventual director, [Alan] Arkin, apparently received an appreciative note about the film from Jean Renoir."
August 11, 2008
Isaac Hayes, 1942-2008.
Didn't want this to get lost in the shuffle. "A depressing weekend for great black artists," as Cinema Blend notes.
From the BBC:
US singer-songwriter Isaac Hayes has died at his home in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 65.
Police were called after his wife found him unconscious next to a moving treadmill. He was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Hayes, a flamboyant, deep-voiced performer, won an Oscar for the 1971 hit "Theme From Shaft."
He was perhaps better known to a younger audience as the voice of Chef from the hit cartoon show, South Park.
The cause of death was not immediately known.
Also on the BBC: John Wooler recalls his friendship with Hayes.
The Village Voice reposts a recent conversation with Hayes.
Interview. Lee Kang-sheng.In Help Me Eros, Lee Kang-sheng plays Ah Jie, who's racked up quite a fortune during the stock market boom in Taiwan - but who's now losing it all during the bust. The film "focuses on the man's desperate clinging to the few luxuries he has left while he drags himself through every day on a diet of sex, soft drugs and fantasies about the girl at the other end of the suicide helpline," wrote Ardvark at Twitch when he saw it in Rotterdam. "Definitely recommended." Michael Guillén asks Lee Kang-sheng, primarily know for his work in front of Tsai Ming-liang's camera, about how much of the story is based on his own life.
August 9, 2008
Bernie Mac, 1957-2008.
(I don't mean to sound crass, but it really isn't a good week for Bernies.)
Comedian Bernie Mac, known for his roles in films like "Guess Who," died Saturday morning at a Chicago hospital at the age of 50, the Chicago Sun-Times said.
The actor-comic, who had been hospitalized for pneumonia this month, died of unconfirmed causes at Northwestern Memorial hospital.
"It brought tears to my eyes because Bernie Mac has always been my all-time favorite entertainer and comedian. It pains me to have to report that," said Sun-Times columnist Stella Foster.
Mark Rawden on Cinema Blend: "He was a loud-mouthed, insensitive powerhouse of a comedian who brandished unpopular opinions around with a clunky ease. He stood up to political correctness, the inequalities of many racist club owners, and the absurdity of life itself."
More at Cinematical.
A little underrated: Mac's Mr. 3000.
August 8, 2008
Weekend (short) Shorts. 8/8.
Steve Erickson reviews What We Do Is Secret, the biopic of Germs singer Darby Crash.. "Many onlookers think Crash's shame about his sexuality and his inability to come out contributed to his suicide, a prospect What We Do Is Secret never even brings up. In fact, its depiction of his relationship with Henley is almost chaste; a spectator who knows nothing of Crash's life might think that he was also sleeping with the female manager wannabes who attached themselves to him vampirically... Yet the film's conventional nature doesn't hamper its depiction of the LA scene." More, from Film Threat's Eric Campos: "The Germs movie is finally here and it is a more than worthy tribute to one of punk rock’s largest heroes."
The Village Voice's Nick Pinkerton is not as pleased: "The worst kind of bastard adaptation, Secret subtracts without adding. Characters recite Crash's lyrics with scriptural reverence, but with no other clues, we'll have to trust the readers' proclamations of his 'genius.' What's not on-screen is the covert thrill of teenage self-invention, with all its lures and traps, promised by the title (from a Germs tune). That's what kept the Germs armbands circulating on a generation of weird kids, despite media indifference and cultural amnesia—and much of the reason that Darby Crash's story bears telling."
Andrew O'Hehir goes Beyond the Multiplex to look at Beautiful Losers, "Aaron Rose's alternately winsome and irritating documentary about the art scene that grew out of his Alleged Gallery on Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1990s."
Glenn Kenny wonders about people wondering about a rumored remake: "A couple of my esteemed colleagues have expressed slightly guarded enthusiasm over the extremely shaky prospect that Quentin Tarantino will direct [unmentionable] in a remake of Russ Meyer's 1965 exploitation classic Faster Pussycat...Kill! Kill!, but I can't say it pushes any of my buttons, personal or otherwise." I do wish QT would return to wholly original projects, but understand how much more time-consuming they can be.
In honor of Robert Downey Jr.'s role in Tropic Thunder, on SpoutBlog Christopher Campbell brings us 15 other Characters Who Unconvincingly Play Another Race, a list of roles that range from memorable to enervating.
In the new New Yorker (which isn't a Futurama reference), Richard Brody takes a look at Criterion's recently released Trafic: "The story, about a French automaker’s delegation en route to a car show in Amsterdam, evokes [Jacques] Tati’s constant themes—the confrontation of easygoing tradition and fast-paced technological modernity, and the uneasy intermingling of world cultures through travel and trade—but invests them with a new bitterness."
The Screengrab reviews an early Kieslowski film, by request. "Camera Buff lacks the ethereal quality that would distinguish most of Kieslowski’s later films, but given the oppressive regime under which he worked, perhaps that was for the best. Here, Kieslowski is largely concerned with telling one man’s story."
Useful new blog with potential; or, actually, a series of blogs, delineated by type of film gig (producer, script reader, assistant director, etc.), written by industry pros: Film Industry Bloggers.
Lastly, from MovieMaker's blog comes this intriguing bit of news: "Three of today’s most legendary moviemakers—Woody Allen, William Friedkin and David Cronenberg—are putting their own cinematic spin on the classic art of opera. Each is directing an exciting new production for the opening of the L.A. Opera’s 2008-2009 season." It is accompanied by a picture of Jeff Goldblum that is decidedly not from an opera (though it might make for a very interesting libretto).
Bernie Brillstein, 1931-2008.
Bernie Brillstein, a Hollywood talent agent, manager, producer and studio head who over half a century guided the careers of "Saturday Night Live" comedians and helped package a slew of TV and movie hits, has died. He was 77.
Brillstein died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Thursday night at a Los Angeles hospital, according to information provided Friday by Brillstein Entertainment Partners.
Starting in the mailroom of the William Morris talent agency in 1956, Brillstein moved up to become a Hollywood power broker famous for putting together TV and movie deals, often starring talent he represented and with himself as executive producer.
Among his many fine TV credits, Brillstein was executive producer of Mr. Show, The Dana Carvey Show and It's Garry Shandling's Show (why aren't either of those on DVD?) , and he also executive produced several of the better movies featuring SNL actors -- including Ghostbusters and The Blues Brothers -- as well as the documentary The Celluloid Closet.
Interview. Olivia Thirlby."When Juno exploded into the pop culture in 2007, it catapulted a young actress named Olivia Thirlby from the indie world's best kept secret into an overnight success," notes Sean Axmaker, introducing his interview. "Her performances in the ensemble drama Snow Angels and the coming-of-age dramedy The Wackness are enlivened by the same spunk and warm glow that made Juno crackle, but the dimensions are shaded in ways that dramatically differentiate these characters from the happy-go-lucky Leah. What's interesting is that both of these films were shot before Juno had been released. Which means that this young actress landed each role without any name recognition or public track record, but merely by the force of her auditions."
August 7, 2008
The Films of Azazel Jacobs.An intro, an email interview and a phone interview from James Van Maanen... When BAMcinématek presents The Films of Azazel Jacobs from August 11 through 15, attendees may just find their cinema sense expanded a notch. Jacobs, a tad short of household-word status at this point in his career, should find his reputation growing, post-fest, due to a preview screening (Friday, August 15, at 7pm) of his newest film Momma's Man, which Kino International is releasing theatrically the following week. Already the recipient of critical praise and word-of-mouth at various festivals, Momma's Man is the most interesting and accomplished of Jacob's three full-length films, which also include Nobody Needs to Know (Wednesday, August 13 at 4:30, 6:50 and 9:15pm) and The GoodTimesKid (Monday, August 11, at 4:30, 6:50 and 9:15pm). Other than the fact that Jacobs's films are made on a "zilch" budget, they have little in common in terms of style, content or theme. A fun game for inveterate film-lovers might be to discover what does unite Jacobs' oeuvre. There are a few things, I believe, but they may not be so readily apparent. Over the phone and via email, Jacobs proved to be pleasant, well-spoken (but in a just-folk kind of way) and seemingly attitude-free. In short, an interviewer's dream. In our email correspondence, Azazel put together such an interesting paragraph about each of his films - its raison d'etre, content and history - that I feel it only fair to include these now. I'm not sure that it matters much whether you read each prior to or after seeing the movie. Either way, they will add to your enjoyment and understanding.
James van Maanen: How old is the guy who made these three so-different movies? Azazel Jacobs: I am 35 now. I started writing the first full-length film, Nobody Needs to Know, in 1997, and started shooting it in 2000. You're the first Azazel I have known. Where did the name come from? My parents. But it's funny: Evidently, the name is a kind of curse word in Israel - the biggest curse word you can say. It has something to do with a fallen angel, the one that was kicked out of heaven. Whenever I meet Israelis and tell them my name, they're always shocked. Only Israelis? This doesn't happen with folk from other countries? Nope. Just with Israelis. You certainly got a starry cast together for your first full-length film: Emily Mortimer, Tricia Vessey, Norman Reedus! How did you manage this? I knew Tricia Vessey, and she was friends with Norman Reedus, so she got the script to him. And Emily was already a friend of mine. But this movie never had a theatrical release? It was pretty tough to get the film out there, so I wound up putting this one online. We finished it in 2003, when that whole bit-torrent thing was happening, so I put it up on the web for free. One particular site - legaltorrents.com - agreed to host it. It's been there for five years and gotten around 20,000 viewings between that and the sites that share with it. And then you moved on the The GoodTimesKid? We wrote that one in Flagstaff, AZ. In about 10 days. We had a good time writing it, but to actually film it, we realized that it would make our lives so much easier and cheaper if we just shot it ourselves and took the major roles. We filmed in downtown LA and the Echo Park area where we live. With Momma's Man, I am guessing that many people will want to know what it was like to work with your parents [Azazel's mom and dad actually play the "mom" and "dad" roles in the film]. Although instead of playing their son, you gave that role to Matt Boren, who was also one of the stars of Nobody Needs to Know. Whatever issues I think I have with my folks just isn't that compelling to me. So I felt that some other actor could work into my narrative better. Using another actor was something I felt like I could live with and work with for awhile. So Matt was really not playing a substitute for me. Is it the sight of someone else's child in the photograph that sets the main character back on track? Yeah, that's an important moment, but his seeing the wedding dress was also an important moment: Seeing something of value that he has not seen before. All these things are building up to the point where he has examined his whole life. What is next on your agenda? It's a gangster story; actually it's something else I have not done before. That's my intention: to keep myself on uncomfortable ground. I try to bring something very familiar into each project I do, even though the project itself may be unfamiliar to me. This film is about a couple who maybe are both gangsters and get further involved with gangsters. It's a love story - but a love story about a certain type of people. I definitely love Chandler and Hammett. So this is my chance to visit the set of things that have inspired me - a way of connecting with them. So how do you feel, overall, at this point in your career? So far, I have no regrets at all because each film I've made has led to the next one, and nothing has been expected of me - except to make the kind of film I can make. Which I really appreciate.
Earlier: Reviews of Momma's Man at Sundance and David D'Arcy.
The Olympics. Through film and beyond.
Renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou is General Director of the 2008 Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. "Seeing how China's 5,000-year history is so brilliant, we can't just give an overview or make it like a history class," said Zhang, of his 50-minute segment that crystallizes the nation's long history.
Leaving Fear Behind, a documentary on what the Tibetans think about the 2008 Olympics "premiered in Beijing under a lot of secrecy," writes John on ReelSuave. "The film is more of a series of interviews with Tibetans talking about how their culture had been increasingly pressurized. They also talked about the love they still share for their spiritual leader the [Dalai] Lama, and how the Olympics has done nothing to improve their livelihoods."
[Update: A screening of the film in Beijing was shut down by authorities.]
On Film.com, Sacha Howells offers up "Medals for Movies About the Olympics. What Comes Below Bronze Again?" Leni Riefenstahl may deserve to be "disqualified on account of evil" but it's hard to discount the film's historical importance (or her prowess as a filmmaker), chilling though it may be.
And along those lines, Kiwi journalist Chris Bourke watches the documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, "Because one thing these Olympics will have in common with those in Berlin of 1936 is that they will be spectacularly visual. China is a nation whose art direction knows no bounds: even Cecil B DeMille wouldn’t have tried to alter the actual atmosphere to get a better shot. The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles missed a grand opportunity, even with the sensibility of an actor in the White House; all I remember is Stevie Wonder at the nadir of his career, closing the show."
More in the New Yorker online from writer George Packer. (In a post sure to spark some debate.)
Bryce Zabel pits Without Limits vs. Prefontaine for his new Olympic-themed Smackdown. "Steve Prefontaine wasn't actually a legend to me, you see, because I was there when he was breaking all these incredible records."
Debuting at the Olympics: Let It Out, a film by Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern that "covers some of the most dramatic and poignant moments in Olympic history, and tells how those moments affected the lives of the athletes, their families and the fans who rooted for them." (From International Herald Tribune.) I assume because it's sponsored by Kleenex that it is presumably meant to be a tear-jerker. Or one may have allergic reactions to it. Either way, you're covered.
PS: Even better than the Olympics, if this doesn't cheer you up about world affairs, nothing will.
August 6, 2008
Interview. Guy Maddin."Finally, a [Guy] Maddin film that fully incorporates the homely comic-pathos of his essays and movie reviews," writes Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "In My Winnipeg, the Canuck filmmaker's punch-drunk dissolves and superimpositions aren't just cinematographic cake-frosting; they're visual portents and analogues of his seasick crawl through the past." With Brand Upon the Brain! out on DVD on August 12 (from Criterion, no less) and My Winnipeg still winding its way through US theaters, Brian Darr talks with Maddin about his hometown, aural landscapes, his library of 16mm prints, George Kuchar and that marvelous "dupey look." Meantime, Canadians Josef Braun and Paul Matwychuk have talked with Maddin recently, too.
August 5, 2008
Shorts, fests, etc, 8/5.Hey, all. This'll be the last "live" entry for about a week, as I'm off to London with the family. I've prepared a few entries to pop up here and there over the next few days, but otherwise, the Daily is now in the capable hands of Craig Phillips. He's got a lot on his plate, seeing to the main site, so be patient, kick back, enjoy the lazy hazy days of August - and see you again soon. "At her best, as in Alfonso Cuarón's Great Expectations (1998), [Anne] Bancroft remained technically proficient and frisky, yet her emotional fires had banked in a way that, say, Ellen Burstyn's have not," writes Dan Callahan, who goes on to highlight five performances at the House Next Door. "But if we look back at her performances from the 60s, they still retain their full power and often savage complexity." For his next project, "Hong Sang-Soo Goes HD, Ultra Low Budget." X explains at Twitch, where Todd Brown has the latest twist in the weird, sad tale of the making of Ong Bak 2: "Call me crazy, but I smell the end of a career." It's Joseph Cornell day at DC's. Fests and events:
DVDs, 8/5.Douglas Messerli reviews four films by Kon Ichikawa for nthposition, finding The Burmese Harp "implausibly rewarding," Fires on the Plain a "darkly comedic work, a tale which reminds one, at times, of Beckett's utterly confused and immobile figures," An Actor's Revenge "a legend that explores the complex issues of human sexuality more thoroughly than most films of the day" and watches, in The Makioka Sisters, "politesse... subtly transformed into bitter hate, as love quietly acquiesces to despair and pain." "Was there any film director who was at the same time both more British and yet more international in spirit than Michael Powell?" DK Holm reviews a handful of Powell and Pressburgers for the Vancouver Voice. Related: Billy Stevenson on A Matter of Life and Death. "Stuck in the summertime hell of superhero crapola and CGI migraines, it's not hard from where I stand (which is, frankly, still a state of bedevilment about how the typically abbreviated and overwrought non-storyness of The Dark Knight has so many educated viewers bamboozled) to find relief in the forgotten matinee fodder of a less bombastic time," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC. "This week, it's René Clément's rather delightful 1964 suspenser Les Félins (The Felines), titled here (after the American pulp paperback it was based on, by prolific noiriste Day Keene) Joy House. There's not much that's earth-shaking about Joy House (except perhaps Lalo Schifrin's pre-Jerry Goldsmith score). But it's a movie in a way movies haven't been in a long time: graceful, relaxed, fun-loving, unpretentious." Also reviewed is the "overlooked Hungarian film The Witman Boys." "The Tarantino Inglorious Bastards will certainly be longer, more detailed and more elegantly structured than the Castellari version," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Making movies hasn’t been this much fun for a long time now, one reason watching them may seem even less so." In Trafic, "Tati depicts highways as open wounds in flowering fields" even as he "is nonetheless transfixed by the sleek visual sublimity of modern life," writes Richard Brody in the New Yorker. Also briefly reviewed is Un Flic, in which "Melville's chilly manner turns sardonic as he vents pent-up bile." The Noir of the Week, parts 1 and 2: Bill Hare on Shadow of a Doubt. At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Aaron Cutler has a theory as to "why the American director Jim Jarmusch's debut feature, Permanent Vacation, proved more popular abroad than it did in the US. Jarmusch wrote the 1980 film, in a sense, in a European syntax, and shot it in a European style. It lacks both the narrative structure and Hollywood genre trappings of later (and admittedly, better) Jarmusch films like Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law and Broken Flowers; consequently, American viewers not already versed in Jarmusch's influences might overlook the film's hypnotic beauties and simply dismiss it as weird." Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report," now a regular feature in the Auteurs' Notebook: "Keith Uhlich's observation that the film ultimately possesses 'all the interior profundity of a wiffle ball' notwithstanding, [Love on the Ground] offers up a variety of pleasures, from the always tonic assuredness of Rivette's mise-en-scene to its illuminations of the film's two lead characters—or rather I should say its two lead actresses: Jane Birkin and Geraldine Chaplin." Online viewing tip. Elbert Ventura introduces a riveting video slide show of Robert Drew's JFK documentaries, Primary and Crisis (plus a few extras): "Stacked up against today's documentaries, which tend toward overweening subjectivity and strident polemics, Drew's movies seem like relics. Here, it seems, was the first gaze - the audience granted an intimate glimpse of their leaders, the subjects not yet trained to play to the cameras. Ironically, Drew's innovations would end up killing the very spontaneity he captured. The ubiquity of portable cameras, whose development Drew helped speed along, would eventually usher in the era of media-trained politicians." Related online viewing: Jackie's tour of the White House. Thank you, Mad Men - and Fimoculous. DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker (MSN), Paul Clark (Screengrab), Harry Knowles (AICN), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times), PopMatters and Slant.
Patti Smith: Dream of Life."The ambitious two-week run of Patti Smith: Dream of Life, beginning [tomorrow] at Film Forum, banks on the unconventional documentary's appeal to different audiences," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "For fans, it's a righteous, heartfelt trip through the mind of an icon and inspirational force. For the many bystanders who appreciate Ms Smith's important place in music history, it's a ruminative reminder from the woman herself of a larger literary context beyond being a 'rock poet.'" "Whether she wants it or not, Patti Smith now has a No Direction Home to call her own, except Patti Smith: Dream of Life is less documentary than reverie, a series of elegiac episodes from the life and mind of the fantabulous rock n' roll chanteuse and poetess," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. In the New York Times, Terrence Rafferty talks with director Steven Sebring about the story behind the film. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Sebring "about his epic documentary undertaking, the convergence of photography and cinema, and making a film with Picasso and Parker Posey." Earlier: Reviews from Sundance.
August 4, 2008
Shorts, 8/4.Great summertime tip from the House Next Door: "'The Books': At The Sheila Variations, Sheila O'Malley is doing daily excerpts from and commentaries on her vast collection of entertainment biographies." Amol Rajan reports from Plymouth on Tim Burton's preparations for his Alice in Wonderland: "Burton has chosen the western city because of the ease with which it will accommodate his plans for a Victorian setting. The only confirmed casting is the highly-rated 18-year-old Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska, who recently starred in HBO's acclaimed television psychotherapy drama In Treatment, who is lined up to play Alice." Also in the Independent, Kaleem Aftab talks with Isabelle Huppert. "As you'd expect from someone profiled by the New York Times and every indie film magazine known to mankind, [Andrew] Bujalski was hesitant to do another interview," notes Chicagoist Rob Christopher. "But in the end he agreed... on the condition that we talk about anything except his own films. It made for an interesting email exchange (we've kept his eccentric punctuation intact), and included discussions about summer reading, the pleasures of deep dish, and a mini-dissertation of Friday the 13th Part V." "Games cinephiles play" is a fun entry from David Bordwell that begins by drawing distinctions between cinephiles and cinemaniacs. "Now let me toss in my proposal for a double bill: 3 Godfathers (John Ford, 1948) and Amar Akbar Anthony (Manmohan Desai, 1977)." Girish wants to hear about your double bills, too. "Filmmaker Dominic Angerame, the executive director of experimental/avant-garde film distribution company Canyon Cinema, seems that rarest of artists: someone who can level-headedly run a business and keep it profitable, as well as create highly personal, dynamic art." Erika Young conducts an email interview with him for SF360. Robert Smithson's sketches toward a "Cinema Cavern" get Greg Allen musing on a "Truly 'Underground' Cinema." And he's got a followup entry on The Postman. Benoît Lestang "reportedly committed suicide over the weekend." Johnny Butane has the news at Dread Central: "Lestang was the lead effects artist on films ranging from Tell No One to City of Lost Children; from Brotherhood of the Wolf to The Diving Bell and Butterfly and most recently he did the effects for the French horror film Martyrs." And via Movie City News, a photo-heavy hommage. Paul Cronin's site for Sticking Place Films makes for a pretty intriguing browse; via Movie City News' pointer to his 54-page interview with Errol Morris (PDF). For Jonathan Lapper, it's high time we rediscovered Robert Walker. Ryan Gilbey talks with Brendan Fraser for the Guardian, where Paul Rennie takes a close look at the poster for the 1945 Ealing comedy Pink String and Sealing Wax. "The world certainly isn't wanting for hagiographies of 70s punk-rock trailblazers, but rarely has one felt as inauthentic as Rodger Grossman's feature debut, What We Do Is Secret," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. Online snapshot. The Invisible Ray at Shorpy. Not so much an online listening tip (though it's that, too) as a tip about some of the best listening online: The Save Segundo Campaign. Online listening tip. If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger... has Hitchcock and Truffaut talking about The Birds. Online viewing tip #1. Golden Fiddle has Haskell Wexler, DA Pennebaker, Joan Churchill, Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob discussing the nature of reality, taking pictures and then doing... what? with them. Online viewing tip #2. "Britain seen from above," at the BBC; probably not what you think it is and definitely worth a look. Via Andrew Sullivan. Online viewing tip #3. "Part sci-fi, part sex comedy, part art movie, The Fold interweaves stories involving a time-traveling geek with Aspergers Syndrome, an investigation by a Gaming Babes Magazine reporter, a sex cult guru, a right-wing CEO determined to remake history and a New Jersey hot tub salesman for whom things mysteriously start to go the right way. Online viewing tips. Underground Film Guide: The Videos.
Fests and events, 8/4."A hybrid of city symphony, travelogue, nature film, and personal essay, flâneur films are often distinguished by their use of personal, idiosyncratic narration and a comparably intimate scale of production," writes Livia Bloom, who then focuses on films by Louis Malle, Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman and Jean Vigo. Bloom has curated the series Strangers in Strange Lands: The Explorations of Great French Directors, which concludes
Interview. Steve Barron."No less a light than Steven Soderbergh (once upon a time the flag-bearer for independent American cinema) is on record as calling Choking Man 'everything an independent film should be,'" notes James Van Maanen. "If that kind of all-encompassing praise sounds difficult to live up to, not to worry. Steve Barron's film is plenty good and certainly worth its 83 minutes of your time. Though he was on vacation at the time, he was kind enough to answer a few quick questions via email." Besides the interview, James has a review of the film as well, at Guru. Earlier: Reviews from last November.
Elegy and Vicky Cristina Barcelona."Elegy is a spare, melancholy film that is so far in spirit from its source, Philip Roth's The Dying Animal, that I'm tempted to say we should abandon altogether the idea of adapting Roth," writes David Edelstein in New York. A few paragraphs later, he pauses and adds, "Reading back, I see this is a rather harsh review of a movie made with intelligence and taste. But taste - at least when it's this refined - is an obstacle to getting at the explosive hunger in every line of The Dying Animal." One of his problems: "[Penélope] Cruz does a hilarious turn as a hellcat in Woody Allen's upcoming Vicky Cristina Barcelona, so you can't blame her (or [Ben] Kingsley) for the glacial pacing of her scenes." The New Yorker's David Denby see both films quite differently (Elegy opens Friday; Vicky on August 15). He welcomes Elegy's pace: "The Spanish director Isabel Coixet works with candor, directness and simplicity. She isn't afraid of lengthy scenes of the two actors just talking to each other, mixed with lavish but respectful attention to Cruz's body, especially her bare chest, which is treated as one of the wonders of all creation." Updated through 8/5. The strength of Elegy for Denby, though, comes from Kingsley: "Of all the good actors who have adorned the middle-aged-professor films, including Michael Douglas (The Wonder Boys), Anthony Hopkins (The Human Stain), Jeff Daniels (The Squid and the Whale), Frank Langella (Starting Out in the Evening), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages), Dennis Quaid (Smart People) and Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Ben Kingsley... is the most formidable and convincing." As for Woody Allen's movie, "Cruz has never done anything like this: with her downturned mouth and wild black hair, she looks witchy and unbeautiful." But Denby seems to have enjoyed watching all the bodies in motion here: "[Javier] Bardem's natural-born lover - a painter, by trade - is as devastating as his natural-born killer in No Country for Old Men. He's almost criminally attractive.... The way the women play against Bardem is fascinating." Besides Cruz, these would be Rebecca Hall, "radiant one minute and neurotic, tense, and gloomy the next," and Scarlett Johansson, still "at a stage in which her sensuality is more developed than anything else in her personality, but that configuration works for her this time." Ed Gonzalez in Slant on Elegy: "The Spanish director gives an almost Wongian expression to the way people seduce one another, pondering the manner in which fingertips dance across the surface of things and Cuban-born Consuela leans against a wall, her ass teasing the hungry eyes of her ex-professor, David Kepesh.... Even when her angles and cutting begin to feel like too much dithering, Coixet never loses her sense of humor, succinctly acknowledging during in a great scene where BS literally kills a character that artists should stay as true to their art as men like David and George [Dennis Hopper] should to the sexual agency society tells them they shouldn't flex." Back in New York, Logan Hill profiles Kingsley and finds him "maddeningly and willfully vague about why he decided to play Kepesh, out of so many characters, so close to himself. 'I'm struggling to find a rational reason for this,' he admits. 'I don't think there is one.'" For the Los Angeles Times, Michael Ordoña talks with Coixet: "'People always talk about chemistry,' Coixet said. 'You cannot direct that. It clicks or it doesn't click. The first thing we shot was the scene where they were walking in the street, just shopping,' she said by phone from Spain. 'They walked exactly like a man who is proud to be with a younger woman and a woman who is just in love and mesmerized with someone. You could even feel that when we were looking at their backs.'" Earlier: Reviews of Vicky Cristina Barcelona from Cannes. Update: Glenn Kenny "was more than a little impressed with [Elegy] in spite of the fact that, while in many ways faithful to its source, it wasn't particularly Rothian. But the film... was nevertheless frank, funny, moving, and possessed a consistent but non-ostentatious intelligence that's extremely refreshing given our current cinematic situation. Both Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz gave performances that could creditably be called 'brave,' and I say that as someone who generally believes that characterization never truly applies.... Elegy does in fact forsake Roth's rawness from the title change on down. But, especially given the anti-adult bent of so many films these days, it provides ample enough rewards in exchange for it." PopMatters' Bill Gibron bids farewell to Woody Allen once and for all: "I'll gladly have cinematic egg on my face should this prolific 73 year old regain his aesthetic footing. Until then, I'll resign myself to the past. It's what any new divorcee would do." Updates, 8/5: For Alonso Duralde, writing at MSNBC, Elegy "feels like the first English-language narrative film candidate for my year-end best list. Sensitively directed by the talented Isabel Coixet - a Spanish director who's a master at somber, rainy-day-at-the-rocky-beach movies - the film spins its tale of love and loss in a way that feels simultaneously shattering and hopeful." Online listening tip. Ambrose Heron talks with Kingsley.
August 3, 2008
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1918 - 2008.Just hitting the wires in Germany is news that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, has died tonight in Moscow. Just two weeks ago, the AP's Hillel Italie announced that an "uncut edition of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle, a highly praised and controversial novel published 40 years ago and heavily edited because of its story of a Soviet prison camp, is finally coming out in English." In 1991, the novel was adapted as a television mini-series that DVD Talk's Preston Jones called a "sprawling, deliciously paranoid Cold War thriller that features an impressive cast and a grim, almost oppressive sense of late 40s Russia under Joseph Stalin's iron-fisted rule." Updated through 8/5. Updates, 8/4: "Mr Solzhenitsyn had been an obscure, middle-aged, unpublished high school science teacher in a provincial Russian town when he burst onto the literary stage in 1962 with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," writes Michael T Kaufman in the New York Times (which has a "Times Topics" page on Solzhenitsyn). "The book, a mold-breaking novel about a prison camp inmate, was a sensation. Suddenly he was being compared to giants of Russian literature like Tolstoy, Dostoyevski and Chekhov." This first novel would be adapted by screenwriter Ronald Harwood and director Caspar Wrede for a film starring Tom Courtenay. Michael Scammell, in his must-read obit for the Guardian, on Denisovich: "There had been nothing like it in the entire history of Russian literature. Solzhenitsyn had achieved the miracle of pleasing his country's leaders, its critically minded intelligentsia, and the broad mass of his readers. Moreover, his impact on foreign readers was almost as strong: within weeks his name was known all over the world." But of course: "Solzhenitsyn's fall from official grace was almost as precipitous as his rise." As Scammell notes earlier, "it was his devotion to revolutionary purity that was to prove his undoing." The BBC collects tributes. "In 1994, at age 75, a bearded, patriarchal Solzhenitsyn returned from exile to his native Russia, where he was welcomed as a hero, the prophet of the post-Soviet era," writes Lev Grossman for Time. "But he was never quite in step with the new Russia. To Solzhenitsyn, Russia meant the old Russia of the 19th century, a nostalgic, spiritual Russia of the soul. To Russians, Russia was something else - an increasingly Western and forward-looking and materialistic nation. But Solzhenitsyn remained hopeful that the coming centuries would bring with them a world where mankind's material and spiritual lives, our bodies and our souls, would be able to flourish together." "America was perhaps an ill-chosen destination for a man of Solzhenitsyn's stern moral temperament," notes the Telegraph. "If he had despised the heavy-handed Soviet rule, he came to loathe the West's 'smug hedonism' in almost equal measure. This view did little to endear him to the American media, which lost no time in transforming the dissident hero into a bigoted, anti-social ingrate.... Domineering and self-righteous, he was none the less a remarkable human being, a visionary, a crusader in the simplest sense, who was steered in his writing, as in his actions, by a deep sense of justice." In the London Times, Tony Halpin notes that the three-volume Gulag Archipelago, "which took a decade to complete, forced many Western sympathisers to revise their views of the Soviet regime." "If you are interested in historical irony, you might care to notice that any one chapter of Ivan Denisovich, published in Novy Mir during the Khrushchev de-Stalinization, easily surpassed in its impact any number of books and tracts that had taken 'socialist realism' as their watchword," remarks Christopher Hitchens in Slate. "The whole point about 'realism' - real realism - is that it needs no identifying prefix. Solzhenitsyn's work demonstrates this for all time." "On Monday, national leaders expressed admiration for Mr Solzhenitsyn, but there did not seem the kind of outpouring that arises when a beloved figure dies," reports Clifford J Levy for the NYT from Moscow. "The relatively subdued response raised the question of whether Mr Solzhenitsyn's life and work still resonate in a Russia that is far different from the Soviet Union it replaced." Updates, 8/5: In the NYT, Serge Schmemann recalls the writer's years in Vermont: "Joseph Brodsky, another great literary exile, once told me that writing poetry in Russian became difficult for him in America after the language ceased to surround him. Solzhenitsyn seemed to fear a similar fate - that any interest or involvement in his new surroundings would dilute his self-imposed, sacred mission of rescuing Russia." In Slate, Anne Applebaum recalls the impact of The Gulag Archipelago: "[N]o one who dealt with the Soviet Union, diplomatically or intellectually, could ignore it. So threatening was the book to certain branches of the European left that Jean-Paul Sartre described Solzhenitsyn as a 'dangerous element.' The book's publication certainly contributed to the recognition of human rights as a legitimate element of international debate and foreign policy.... In the end, his books mattered not because he was famous - or notorious - but because millions of Soviet citizens recognized themselves in his work. They read his books because they already knew that they were true." Spiegel Online rounds up clips from the German press (in English): "[E]ditorialists criticize the role the Nobel Prize winner played in his later life in pushing Moscow away from the West."
Shorts, fests, etc, 8/3.Michael Guillén points to TCM's elaborate site - seriously, spend a bit of time with this - for this year's Summer Under the Stars series, in which day in August is devoted to, yes, a different star. Tomorrow is Marie Dressler day, so Michael also talks with Matthew Kennedy about his biography. Has an uncut print of A Night at the Opera been found? Scott Marks looks into it. The thesis Michael Z Newman is exploring: "[T]he availability of films to own on videotape, disc, or computer file marks a transformation in the way audiences engage with the film text, and... this transformation makes the cult mode of film experience much more typical, more available to more viewers and to more movies." Stephanie Zacharek's review of Richard Brody's Everything Is Cinema: The Life and Work of Jean-Luc Godard has been bugging Ed Howard for a couple of weeks; now he takes her on. "Writing for my college paper, the Daily Texan, I gave 54 one of its only raves (its current Rotten Tomatoes score is a dismal 13%). My friends still tease me about it," admits Variety's Peter Debruge. "But I'd read about [Mark] Christopher's clash with Harvey Weinstein over which cut to release, had heard that Miramax was snipping a male-male kiss from the film, and I believed with my generous, closeted soul that a work of art was lurking somewhere on the editing room floor. Now I know... It may not be a masterpiece, but the film Christopher screened at Outfest, with 20-odd more minutes, couldn't have been more different from the neutered theatrical cut." "[Frederick] Wiseman's films have been influential, and not just on other documentarians," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "Milos Forman screened Titicut Follies before shooting One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Arthur Hiller and Paddy Chayefsky's The Hospital adapts sequences from Hospital. Stanley Kubrick borrowed liberally from Basic Training in Full Metal Jacket. It's no surprise that Wiseman's great films stand as such imposing touchstones. For anyone looking to make sense of modern-day America - its human institutions and social constructs - no other body of work comes close." At the House Next Door, Ted Pigeon considers recent comments by Salman Rushdie and notes that "his rendering of the novel in relation to film illustrates the discourse of dualisms that has shaped how we think about each of these forms." "'A film is like a battleground,' says Samuel Fuller, playing himself, in Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 Pierrot le Fou, one of 38 noirs in Film Forum's ambitious, entertaining, blood-and-doom-soaked series French Crime Wave, which begins Friday and runs through Sept 11," writes Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. "The line seems like a throwaway in that busy, demanding picture, but it resonates strongly in the context of this series because when the young French cineastes known as the New Wave went to war with their elders in the late 50s and early 60s, the crime film was, in many ways, the field on which the decisive battle was joined." Also in the New York Times:
Love and Honor."Veteran filmmaker Yôji Yamada closes his thematic trilogy about the last samurai and the end of traditional values with Love and Honor (2006), the most melodramatic of the three films," writes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "While its predecessors - The Twilight Samurai (2002) and The Hidden Blade (2004) - were about newfound responsibilities and blossoming love in a bygone era, Love and Honor is about the marital winter that follows autumnal courtship. Think Away From Her except with samurai instead of Oscar-baiting old folks." "Ostensibly, this is a samurai film but, with its changing-seasons-as-metaphor, as well as its teary close-ups, Yamada's latest owes as much to Douglas Sirk as Akira Kurosawa," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. At the Pioneer in New York through Thursday before moving on to the Angelika in Houston and Dallas.
Pineapple Express, round 1.Pineapple Express "just may be the Casablanca of Pot Comedies," proposes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "Or perhaps it's more like When Ultra-High Harry Met Super-Stoned Sally, but either way Pineapple Express showcases some of the funniest 'weed culture' insights since the arrival of Richard Linklater's fantastic Dazed & Confused - which I wouldn't call a full-bore 'pot comedy,' but it sure isn't shy about passing those joints around. Best of all, while Pineapple Express will absolutely appeal to both the casual and committed pot-smokers, it's also just a very funny buddy comedy / action flick parody that comes bearing the very unique stamp of director David Gordon Green." Updated through 8/5. This "inspired Seth Rogen / Evan Goldberg / James Franco / David Gordon Green / Judd Apatow collaboration will score big time," predicts Variety's Anne Thompson. "'I always thought Superbad would get made,' said Rogen at the Pineapple Express panel [at Comic-Con]. 'But this I never expected to get made. When I watch this stuff I am amazed.' Besides the fact that both Rogen and Franco are growing into leading man status, the revelation in the film is the third leg of the stoner trio, Danny McBride." "Putting a violent spin on the Superbad formula (envelope-pushing raunch plus unexpectedly sweet affirmations of male friendship), Pineapple Express emerges as a fitfully funny, tonally trippy but not entirely satisfying effort from the Judd Apatow comic fraternity," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "This is certainly one of the better-looking efforts to come off the Apatow assembly line, composed in crisp widescreen images by DP Tim Orr, whose poetic lensing in Green's previous films helped earn the director comparisons to Terrence Malick. But production values are somewhat beside the point when the movie in question is more Harold & Kumar than Badlands." "Green's feel for heightened naturalism gives the comedy an unexpected sheen (even the slapstick looks real) and the male bonding that develops between Dale, Saul and Red gives the film that characteristic Apatow sweetness," writes John Hazelton in Screen. In the New York Times, Mark Harris profiles Green: "And when he talks about the low-end movies he loves, he's not kidding. Nor is he smirking." "Smell that pheromonal whiff of bromance in the air?" asks Chris Lee in the Los Angeles Times. "It's becoming a pervasive stench in Hollywood with two bromantically themed movies coming out - I Love You, Man (due in January 2009) and the stoner action comedy Pineapple Express (which hits theaters on Aug 6) - as well as a Ryan Seacrest-produced television series in development for MTV that's actually called Bromance." "Funniest pot joke in a movie?" A few suggestions from the Philadelphia Inquirer's Carrie Rickey, via Variety's Peter Debruge. And on a somewhat related note, as the AP's Michael Weinfeld reports, "Now that their feud is up in smoke, Cheech and Chong are high on plans to reunite for their first comedy tour in more than 25 years." Stoners in the Mist is "one of the most offensive and outrageous pieces of anti-drug propaganda ever produced," argues Paul Armentano in High Times. Updates, 8/4: "There's a what-the-hell, nihilistic quality to all the doping and slapstick and gore that can be - depending on your mood and biochemistry - very appealing," writes David Edelstein in New York. "But Pineapple Express, unlike Rogen and Goldberg's triumphant last effort, Superbad, is a tad deficient in the human-feeling department. It's empty and formulaic, with plotting that's lazy even by stoner-comedy standards. Without all the yuck-o sight gags, it would be a huge bummer." Paul Matwychuk: "Anyone who's looking for them can spot the David Gordon Green touches throughout Pineapple Express - his spirit is there in the smeary, blurry freeze-frames that end several of the scenes; in dreamy slow-motion interludes like Seth Rogen and James Franco's bumbling trek through the forest or the montage of clumsy dance moves they perform in a back alley for a bunch of kids they've just sold some weed to; in all sorts of throwaway moments like the shot of the little girl in thick eyeglasses and a bathing suit watching Franco through a fence as he sits in a playground swing, sobbing his heart out as he wolfs down a cheeseburger." Update, 8/5: "It's largely thanks to Mr Green's chops, as well as blissful work by James Franco, that Pineapple Express rolls along winningly for quite some time despite its excesses," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. Update, 8/6: Sean Axmaker: "[O]ne of the most hilarious and engaging films from producer Judd Apatow's often inconsistent comedy factory, thanks to inspired dialogue, dynamite chemistry between Rogen and Franco and perfectly pitched stoner gags (undoubtedly the result of copious research)." Freaks and Geeks fans surely nod in agreement: "There are many things to like about Pineapple Express, an old-school action-comedy retooled as a stoner goof," notes the A.V. Club's Scott Tobias, "but Franco's return to humor is a cause for celebration, or at least relief that he's finally come back to us."
Tropic Thunder, round 1.Newsweek's David Ansen has seen Tropic Thunder and raves: "This raucous, low-down commentary on Hollywood filmmaking, war movies, narcissistic actors and the thin line between makebelieve and reality is the most giddily entertaining, wickedly smart and cinematically satisfying comedy in a season overloaded with yuk-'em-ups. If there's any justice, Thunder (which opens Aug 13) should be the breakthrough moment for [Ben] Stiller as a director." A career overview and profile follow. For Variety's Todd McCarthy, "Tropic Thunder undeniably provokes quite a few laughs, but of the most hollow kind. Ben Stiller's star-laden farce makes every effort to be outrageous as it pokes knowing fun at a troupe of spoiled, self-centered actors who get more than they bargained for making a Rambo-like rescue drama in Southeast Asia. Apart from startling, out-there comic turns by Robert Downey Jr and Tom Cruise, however, the antics here are pretty thin, redundant and one-note." "After a summer devoted to superheroes - indeed, Stiller's co-stars Robert Downey Jr and Jack Black played superheroes in Iron Man and Kung Fu Panda - how gratifying it is to experience a movie taking the mickey out of super-impossible heroics," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "It's by no means a perfect comedy - nor would you want it to be. Gags and stunts are all over the place, yet the film does de-Stiller-erize the essence of contemporary movie comedy even as it has fun with outrageously crude jokes." John Hazelton, writing for Screen, figures the movie "was probably more fun to make than it ultimately is to watch.... [W]hile Stiller tries to stop it from becoming a simple genre spoof, it does parody war classics including Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan. It's more successful, though, as an industry satire, poking fun at self-involved actors, grovelling agents, ranting moguls and even DVD format wars. The danger, of course, is that the in-jokes will be lost on audiences outside Los Angeles and other industry centres." Paramount faces "the delicate task of selling what may be the raunchiest comedy yet in a summer that has seen more than its share," reports Michael Cieply in the New York Times. Jeffrey Wells comments: "The film isn't raunchy at all; it's merely extreme."
August 2, 2008
Bright Lights. 61."Remember, when you're reading Bright Lights, you're not worrying about those little irritants like fascist takeovers that happen in the so-called real world," editor Gary Morris assures us. "So bolt the door, don your glad rags, snatch a smart cocktail, repeat your mantra ('Fuck it!') a few times, and get cozy with the sparkly new bauble that is Bright Lights 61!"
Yerevan Dispatch. 2.David D'Arcy follows up on this one. Although the Golden Apricot International Film Festival focuses on the international component of its program, the unique element of the event that marked its fifth year in Yerevan was its national focus. Where else would you see documentaries about Armenians and Jews facing the Nazis in the city of Kharkov during World War II? The Germans, hunting down victims through racial profiling, were often convinced that Armenians were actually Jews, whom they had been ordered to exterminate. The film Echoes from the Past looks at one case of Armenians who hid an escaped Jewish prisoner. Another doc, 1937 by Nora Martirosyan, examined the Stalinist purges in Armenia in the 1930s, in the shadow of Georgia, Stalin's homeland, by focusing on the fate of one political dissident. All this in Yerevan, a city that has only two functioning cinemas, in a country that makes one to two feature films a year, plus documentaries. Yet this picture could change. On the boards are Border, an observation of Armenia's relations during the war of the early 1990s with its neighbor and enemy, Azerbaijan, from the perspective of a she-buffalo. Another title is Chnchik, a drama about an "honor killing" of a pregnant unmarried Armenian girl by her parents. Should Chnchik ever be completed and released, its subject may be controversial in a country that wants to join the community of nations; on the other hand, honor killings have been a subject on the Armenian screen since films were first made there. This meager production will be amplified with the Armenian-language remake of the 1959 classic, Song of the First Love, financed by the Central Partnership, the huge distribution firm in Moscow which is run by Armenians. Among many other films, the Central Partnership is distributing Mermaid (winner of the international feature prize at Sundance 2008), the Russian feature by Anna Melikyan which will be distributed by IFC in the US. The American filmmaker Braden King is preparing the $2 million film Here, which he calls "landscape-obsessed road movie that chronicles the relationship between an American mapmaker and an expatriate art photographer who impulsively decide to travel together into uncharted foreign territory." Add to that mix films by diaspora Armenians like Atom Egoyan, Eric Nazarian (director of The Blue Hour, which played at the GAIFF), Hank Saroyan (nephew of the Armenian-American writer William Saroyan, whose centennial is this year) and Carla Garapedian (director of Screamers, the documentary about the Armenian Genocide with the band System of a Down), and you have rumblings of a critical mass. Yet even Hollywood at its height wouldn't be able to measure up to the sort of power ascribed to Armenian cinema by some Turkish writers making claims for the world mission and conspiratorial maneuverings of Armenian filmmakers. One Turkish Weekly piece, for example, devotes 31 pages, with footnotes, to exposing a conspiracy bent on feeding disinformation to the world, all of it disparaging Turkey and all originating in films being made by Armenians. Like so many "systematic" attacks on a subject, this marathon backfires, offering to those who can slog through it the names of Armenian films that they might want to check out. Denying mass murder as an official lie - which the United States endorses - is one thing; conducting a scholarly inquiry into a world conspiracy takes you deeper into the realm of fantasy. Other Turkish writers get more specific, investigating Armenian efforts to produce a screen adaptation of the 1932 bestselling novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, by Franz Werfel, about Armenians who hold out in a mountain siege by Turkish forces who outnumber them. Their thesis: that the events depicted in Werfel's novel never happened and, by extension, the genocide of 1915 never happened, either. See this site for details. For those who might not be aware, Turkey intervened in Hollywood in the 1930s, when Werfel's novel was as big as Gone with the Wind, and Werfel himself would soon flee the Nazis in Austria to re-locate along with many of his colleagues to southern California. MGM was eager to adapt it, given the novel's popularity worldwide, but the film was never made, thanks to relentless pressure from the Turkish ambassador to the US at the time, who was the father of the Atlantic record executive Ahmet Ertegün. Nor was Musa Dagh made when Atom Egoyan tried several years ago, as I reported on NPR, when that network had something of a backbone in its cultural coverage. The End of the Earth is a twist on the Robinson Crusoe story by the Iranian director Abolfazl Saffary. Sun-beaten and gaunt Hojjat has set up an outpost on a pile of scrap on a beach in southern Iran, in a place where he has arrived from northern Iran on foot that is officially called a Free Trade Zone. This beach is not glamorous for its remoteness and vivid beauty, nor is there much enforcement on the "free" end of things. Hojjat has come here to flee the world, but the world comes after him - soldiers, traders, a film crew (complete with a French director), a mullah with a mania for self-promotion, and a woman in need of his help after she flees a brutal husband. It's a parade that reminds Hojjat why he left civilization. We can assume that the civilization in this case is understood to be the Tehran regime. I was told in Yerevan by people associated with The End of the Earth that the film had been banned by the Iranian government for scenes with drinking and scenes that showed the mullah who visits Hojjat to be a vain fool. Otherwise, I was told, it would have been in Locarno last summer. Yerevan was its first major showing, although not its world premiere. Cuts were made, but the mullah comes out being no more respectable. Officials could not have liked that character, but he's in the film nonetheless. This feature has a spectacular look in its shots of stretches of bare sand under a harsh relentless sun. Hojatollahe Ghazvini Dadashi, the non-professional actor who plays Hojjat, couldn't look more quixotic in close-ups, shifting in his squinty mistrustful expression from hostility to incredulity and eventually launching into defiant speechifying when his unwelcome guests don't just leave. As striking as the landscape is, it won't make the tourist board happy. The implications of the story of man fleeing official constraints to live in such an unforgiving place won't be lost on the urban audiences who go to see films in Iran. That is, if anyone lets them see it. The remote location in Thomas Ciulei's new documentary The Flower Bridge is a farm in Moldova where a father raises three children, now that his wife is working abroad. Moldova is the poorest country of Europe. Its best-known exports are its people, most notoriously as sex workers, who are abused horribly and particularly vulnerable because of their illegal status. Thomas Ciulei (son of the theater director Liviu Ciulei) is probably best known for Asta e, his portrait of the Danube Delta, which premiered in Berlin in the Forum in 2001. Asta e, while in color, had a dark monochromatic palette that gave it a gloomy lyricism in its vision of the flat expanse of land and water where Europe's last leper colony can be found. You can see that same topography deployed into fiction in Delta, the new feature (at Cannes, in competition, this year) by the Hungarian director Kornel Mondruczo.
Earlier: Sean Axmaker on The Red Awn.