September 30, 2008

Jamie Stuart's NYFF46, part 2.

NYFF46P2.jpg

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

September 29, 2008

NYFF Podcast. Film Criticism.

Aaron Hillis and Andrew Grant begin this year's series of podcasts from the New York Film Festival by talking with a few of the participants in Saturday's panel, Film Criticism in Crisis?

NYFF Panel

I blather a bit, but things get interesting when Jonathan Rosenbaum and Film Comment editor (and panel moderator) Gavin Smith exchange views on the current state of things. For pix and quotes from all of the participants, see the filmlink blog's Amanda McCormick; for further reports, see James Van Maanen, Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door and indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez.

To download or listen to the podcast, click here.

Update, 10/3: "But is the Internet really the answer?" asks the L Magazine's Mark Asch.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:58 PM | Comments (8)

September 28, 2008

Short shorts, 9/28.

The Cinema of France "For this issue Offscreen casts its eyes on French cinema, both new and old." Featuring editor Donato Totaro on Inside (A l'intérieur) and a "Rebirth of French Horror"; Daniel Garrett on Jean Renoir: Interviews and The Rules of the Game, as well as Catherine Deneuve's diaries, Close Up and Personal and the collection, The Cinema of France; Jason Mark Scott on "Marital Discord and Film Making in Jean-Luc Godard's Le Mepris"; and Simon Laperrièrie's homage to Alain Robbe-Grillet.

"How The New Truly Free Filmmaking Community Will Rise From Indie's Ashes": indieWIRE runs producer Ted Hope's keynote address at at Film Independent's Filmmaker Forum.

"Bruce was irascible and lovable. There were times when he drove me crazy, and I know I wasn't the only one. But Eve and I loved Bruce and we weren't about to be driven away." John Yau offers a personal tribute to Bruce Conner.

Also in the September issue of the Brooklyn Rail: Tim Bracy and Elizabeth Nelson on Lou Reed's Berlin; Makenna Goodman on Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Lu Chen on The Edge of Heaven; Camila de Onis on WALL•E; Mary Hanlon on VH1's I Love Money; David N Meyer on Classes tous risques, Help Me Eros and The Furies.

As luck would have it, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex opened in Germany on the day I left for New York, so it'll be a few more days before I get to see it for myself. In the meantime, Neal Ascherson, the Observer's correspondent in Germany in the 60s and 70s, presents a fine and succinct summation of the background story and reaction to the film so far. See, too, a few pieces from the archive: May and June 1972 and a 1987 assessment of the impact of the RAF (as well as a review of Stefan Aust's book, on which the film is based).

Everybody Talks About the Weather... We Don't Related: "'Complicated' is the word I kept coming back to as I was trying to write this review of Everybody Talks About the Weather... We Don't: The Writings of Ulrike Meinhof," writes Johannah Rodgers in the Brooklyn Rail. "Of course, it may very well be the applicability of that adjective to both the writings and biography of Meinhof that explains not only the recent publication of a selection of her writings in English, but - more than thirty years after her death - the attention she continues to attract as an icon of, contingent on your point of view, political activism or terrorism."

For the Los Angeles Times, Lewis Beale talks with screenwriters about how very tough it is to adapt a good book - and Chris Lee profiles Toby Young as How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, based on his memoir, approaches theaters.

"Why does this novel have such a tenacious hold on the imagination, even of people who have never been to England or never visited a country house?" Christopher Hitchens on Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Also in the Guardian: Nicholas Lezard on David Thomson's Have You Seen...? and a few interviews: Will Lawrence with Jeff Bridges and Rebecca Greenstreet with Julie Walters.

Dana Stevens (Slate on Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story.

Charles McGrath profiles Kristin Scott Thomas for the New York Times.

Hannah Eaves (SF360) presents a guide to "free feature films on the web."

Local Sightings, "a film festival for the Northwest," runs October 3 through 8 in Seattle.

"In both an e-mail message and a telephone interview this week, [Sylvain] Chomet [The Triplets of Belleville] - who was fired as the director of [The Tale of Despereaux] more than two years ago - accused both the studio and the film's producers, Gary Ross and his wife, Allison Thomas, of using his designs and concepts in the movie without acknowledging his contribution. It is a claim the filmmakers strenuously dispute." Michael Cieply reports in the NYT.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:45 AM

September 27, 2008

Paul Newman, 1925 - 2008.

Paul Newman
Paul Newman, the Academy-Award winning superstar who personified cool as an activist, race car driver, popcorn impresario, and the anti-hero of such films as Hud, Cool Hand Luke and The Color of Money, has died. He was 83....

Newman worked with some of the greatest directors of the past half century, from Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston to Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers. His co-stars included Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and, most famously, Robert Redford, his sidekick in Butch Cassidy and The Sting.

The AP.

Updated through 10/4.

If Marlon Brando and James Dean defined the defiant American male as a sullen rebel, Paul Newman recreated him as a likable renegade, a strikingly handsome figure of animal high spirits and blue-eyed candor whose magnetism was almost impossible to resist, whether the character was Hud, Cool Hand Luke or Butch Cassidy.

He acted in more than 65 movies over more than 50 years, drawing on a physical grace, unassuming intelligence and good humor that made it all seem effortless. Yet he was also an ambitious, intellectual actor and a passionate student of his craft, and he achieved what most of his peers find impossible: remaining a major star into craggy, charismatic old age.

Aljean Harmetz, New York Times.

He sometimes teamed with his wife and fellow Oscar winner, Joanne Woodward, with whom he had one of Hollywood's rare long-term marriages. "I have steak at home, why go out for hamburger?" Newman told Playboy magazine when asked if he was tempted to stray. They wed in 1958, around the same time they both appeared in The Long Hot Summer, and Newman directed her in several films, including Rachel, Rachel and The Glass Menagerie.

With his strong, classically handsome face and piercing blue eyes, Newman was a heartthrob just as likely to play against his looks, becoming a favorite with critics for his convincing portrayals of rebels, tough guys and losers. "I was always a character actor," he once said. "I just looked like Little Red Riding Hood."

Newman had a soft spot for underdogs in real life, giving tens of millions to charities through his food company and setting up camps for severely ill children. Passionately opposed to the Vietnam War, and in favor of civil rights, he was so famously liberal that he ended up on President Nixon's "enemies list," one of the actor's proudest achievements, he liked to say.

Again, the AP.

See also: the Wikipedia entry and "Times Topics."

"If you're going to introduce a younger movie buff to the unique charisma of the Paul Newman – well, where do you begin?" Joe Leydon presents an annotated list of "movies to use while tutoring the uninitiated."

"Newman never stopped believing he was a regular guy who'd simply been blessed, and well beyond what was fair," writes Dahlia Lithwick in Slate, looking back on the founding of the Hole in the Wall Camp. "So he just kept on paying it forward. He appreciated great ideas for doing good in the world - he collected them the way other people collect their own press clippings - and he didn't care where they came from. Whether you were a college kid, a pediatric oncologist, or a Hollywood tycoon, if you had a nutty plan to make life better for someone, he'd write the check himself or hook you up with somebody who would."

Shawn Levy, whose biography of Newman will be published next fall, has a must-read appreciation in the Oregonian:

Fast Eddie Felson. Hud Bannon. Cool Hand Luke. Butch Cassidy. The guy in the race car. The guy on the salad dressing bottle. The blue-eyed dreamboat. The committed public citizen. The husband of a half-century. The father of six....

For a half-century, on screen and off, the actor Paul Newman embodied certain tendencies in the American male character: active and roguish and earnest and sly and determined and vulnerable and brave and humble and reliable and compassionate and fair. He was a man of his time, a part of his time, and that time ranged from World War II to the contemporary era of digitally animated feature films.... His career spanned eras, and he always seemed to be in step and in style.

"[B]eing a sex symbol and a great actor don't often exist within the same performer, but when they do, as in the case of Paul Newman, it's electric," writes Edward Copeland. "What's even more amazing about Newman, who has succumbed to cancer at 83, is that his sex appeal lasted well into his AARP years and his acting only seemed to get better as he aged."

"His performance in 1982's The Verdict is a rhapsody, the crown jewel of his career, and should be part of any acting school curriculum," argues JJ at As Little as Possible.

"Newman will live on forever in the movies. What an inarguably rich filmography he's left the audiences who loved him." Nathaniel R.

Esquire's running Scott Raab's May 2000 profile.

"For reasons I can't explain, Sweet Bird of Youth is the one movie starring Paul Newman that I've seen the most, along with Exodus." Peter Nellhaus.

Online listening tip. Beth Accomando on NPR.

Updates: "I don't think Mr Newman was ever as beautiful as he is in Hud," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT: "His lean, hard-muscled body seems to slash against the widescreen landscape, evoking the oil derricks to come, and the black-and-white cinematography turns his famous baby blues an eerie shade of gray.... He's superb in The Color of Money, gracefully navigating its slick surfaces and periodically scratching beneath them, playing a variation on what had by then in movies like The Drowning Pool (1975), Slap Shot (1977) and The Verdict (1982) become a defining Paul Newman type: the guy on the hustle who seems to have nothing much left but keeps his motor running, just in case." And there's an audio slide show, too.

In Vanity Fair: Patricia Bosworth's collection of reminiscences for the September 08 issue; and a slide show.

"Instead of leading his talent in weird and wayward directions, like Brando, or smashing it to pieces on a California highway at 24, like Dean, he just kept getting better, more comfortable in his movie skin, more proficient at suggesting worlds of flinty pleasure or sour disillusion with a smile or a squint," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "Then Newman did something really remarkable: He sustained that early promise for five decades."

"What was the secret to Newman's longevity?" asks Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "The fact that he always took the work seriously without ever doing the same to himself probably helped. A quick scan of his notable quotes at Wikipedia reveals one hilariously self-deprecating proclamation after another, such as 'I wasn't driven to acting by any inner compulsion. I was running away from the sporting goods business,' and 'The embarrassing thing is that my salad dressing is out-grossing my films.' Perhaps his side interests in directing theater and racing cars made him seem all the more like a screen legend - it's the ones who could leave the business at any time who seem to get the most respect."

"If ever there was a walking embodiment of liberalism at its best and in all its manifestations, it was Paul Newman," writes Bob Westal. "[H]e was as respectable a human being as the world of show business has seen. I'm an agnostic, but I'd still like like to think that, wherever Mr. Newman is, he'll get to watch the election returns. It seems a small reward."

"In a career studded with remarkable achievements, Newman's greatest work of art might simply have been his ability to lead a fulfilled life outside of the glamour of being an icon," writes Paul Harris in the Guardian, where Brian Baxter looks back over the career and Phil Hoad rounds up clips.

Ned Lamont, who ran unsuccessfully against Joe Leiberman in Connecticut in 06, recalls Newman's help. Via Movie City Indie.

"James Stewart once said that film actors give their audiences 'pieces of time,'" writes the Observer's Philip French. "While Newman's best pictures hang together as creative entities (there is a kind of perfection to The Hustler and to the western Hombre), as with other actors it is unforgettable moments and sequences that come to mind and revive memories of being moved to laughter, tears, reflection, self-examination."

"If I had to pick just one favorite Newman/Woodward film it would probably be Paris Blues," writes Kimberly Lindbergs. "Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier play American jazz musicians living in Paris whose lives are disrupted when two beautiful tourists (Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll) visit the city of lights for a two-week holiday..... [I]f you're interested in seeing Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward at their loveliest, I highly recommend seeking out the movie."

Robert Horton: "If anybody is near Port Townsend, Washington, Sunday afternoon and looking for a place to talk about Paul Newman, the Port Townsend Film Festival will be convening an impromptu panel on the subject - with Piper Laurie (Newman's Oscar-nominated co-star in The Hustler) and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne speaking on the subject; I will act as moderator. Time's 12:45, Sunday the 28th, at the PTFF Hospitality Tent."

AJ Schnack notes that two of the last films he worked on were docs (he narrated): The Price of Sugar and Dale.

"One of my earliest memories of Paul Newman outside of the movies was watching him on Phil Donahue debate nuclear proliferation with some Edward Teller type decrying Newman and anyone like him as wet noodle pinkos." Jonathan Lapper relates that memory.

Updates, 9/28: "I've interviewed hundreds of movie people during my journalism career, but rarely was I given the inside look that I got on those two racing weekends with Newman." And Jack Matthews would remain friends with him for years to come. Also at Movie City News, Leonard Klady: "Lightness doesn't quite get across what made him unique and calling him deft at his craft makes it sound much too facile. There may have been others that worked as hard at making it look like they were making it up as they went along, but offhand I can't think of anyone less studied and more committed to what they did."

"The actor was proudest, friends say, of his later Oscar-nominated roles in Absence of Malice, The Verdict and Nobody's Fool, in which he dug deep into the complex emotions of ordinary men struggling for dignity, justice or a sense of connection," reports Lynn Smith in the Los Angeles Times. "In 2003, he was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor for his last feature film appearance, as a conflicted mob boss in Road to Perdition. Two years later, at 80, he won an Emmy for playing a meddlesome father in Empire Falls. 'He's a majestic figure in the world of acting,' said director Arthur Penn, who worked with him in his early career. 'He did everything and did it well.'"

Joe Leydon's December 06 profile for Cowboys & Indians.

"He is undoubtedly in the top 10 of all-time great movie stars," writes Barry Norman in the Independent. "Whereabouts I don't know, but he was undoubtedly a great star. Unlike many of the great stars, though, Newman was a very, very good actor."

"[F]ew remembered Mr Newman the way his friend and neighbor did in Westport, a Fairfield County town of about 26,000." Manny Fernandez talks with AE Hotchner for the NYT.

Updates, 10/2: Robert Redford in Time: "Both of us were fundamentally American actors, with the qualities and virtues that characterize American actors: irreverence, playing on the other's flaws for fun, one-upmanship - but always with an underlying affection. Those were also at the core of our relationship off the screen."

"He knew what a fortunate and wonderful life he had led, and he was very willing to admit that," recalls Sam Mendes, who directed Newman in Road to Perdition, for New York. "That really lent him an aura of a minor deity to me. He had sort of ascended already. He felt at peace, like he'd come to terms with what he'd done in his life and his own mortality. I think some of that must have stemmed - though he never spoke about it - from his son Scott's premature death. Once you've lived through that, I don't think anything else really gets as bad. Even your own death."

"The Newman performances that honestly made the greatest impression on me all came in movies that, to one degree or another, challenged my perceptions of Newman the star (unflappable, virile, righteous, self-righteous) and what those perceptions meant," writes Dennis Cozzalio. "They all depended greatly on the actor's considerable charm, of course, but they were almost always also willing to make it harder for audiences to accept that charismatic quality blindly—they didn't mask the characters' amorality behind those blue eyes but instead used them to investigate it. And each of the roles on my list made either overt or covert connections to that beer-drinking, blue-collar bravado that seemed, to some of us in the audience who never knew him personally, closest to Newman himself."

"The space he invited viewers into was a kind of hyperlife, a state of sharpened attention and heightened vibrancy; if Paul Newman was in it, it was a Paul Newman movie, regardless of the size of his role," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "His best roles were the ones that acknowledged that quality of being not superhuman, but somehow extra human."

The New York Observer's Sara Vilkomerson talks with Robert Benton: "He was, I think, one the best human beings I've ever known... one of the most decent, the most honorable. He was extraordinary. Of course, he would be appalled if he could hear me calling him a saint. It would have ended our friendship."

"[T]he Siren is here to talk about Newman's acting, and to remind us that charm does not follow naturally from being handsome, nor does possessing that quality in life mean you can bring it to the screen. Consider Alain Delon, an excellent actor with looks so perfect they seem a cosmic joke, but resolutely uncharming in role after role. Think of George Brent, a well-loved man in Hollywood but often a limp screen figure. Look at Peter Sellers and Rex Harrison, despised by colleagues but the picture of charm in so many movies. Charm is a learned technique for an actor. Either you choose not to use it, as the Siren presumes Delon has chosen, or you can only bring it out when the stars align, like Brent, or you learn to project it despite your real personality. Newman seems to have been a wonderful man in real life, but that's irrelevant to his talent. The things he was able to bring to the screen came from his dedication to acting, not the Good Fairy Merryweather hovering over his cradle."

"He looked like something Donatello might have dreamed up, his eyes turned down just the slightest bit at the corners, his mouth perpetually ready for kissing," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Still, we all know that great-looking actors are a dime a dozen. The best of them are also informed by something that comes from inside, a mischievous spark, a sly sense of self-deprecation that suggests they don't take themselves all that seriously (even when they take their work very seriously). Newman had both the face and the spark, which may be why he grew into his beauty, not out of it."

"Great actors and great artists don't have to be role models in life to inspire you with their work," writes David Edelstein. "But when they are, they give a special kind of joy. The character of his life is everywhere in his work, in its lack of self-centeredness, in the way it radiated out. In sad days and sunny ones, Paul Newman bathed the world in blue."

From an impressive survey by Roderick Heath: "One of Newman's most perfectly relaxed and entertaining performances came in Mark Robson's Hitchockian romp The Prize (1963), in which he played party animal Andrew Craig, the youngest-ever Nobel laureate in literature whose challenging early works were commercial flops, forcing him to write trash and drink much."

Sheila O'Malley at the House Next Door: "I'm a bit overwhelmed right now, but I want to hone in on three specific roles (or moments) of Newman's because, first of all, they span his career (beginning, middle, end), and, second of all, they illuminate the Newman-ness of Paul Newman, that indefinable thing that makes a good actor specific, memorable, and alive under imaginary circumstances."

"At a moment when America feels angry and betrayed, when our leaders have forfeited our trust and jeopardized our future, we lost an American icon who stood for traits that have been in short supply in the Bush administration: shrewdness, humility, decency, generosity, class." Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

At Movie City News, Larry Gross recalls some of the great moments.

"While many of the recent tributes in his honor have contained their share of hyperbole and have perhaps made more out of Newman than was actually there, including assertions that the actor 'changed Hollywood,' these comments in themselves speak to the scarcity of such figures in the film industry today," writes Hiram Lee at the WSWS.

Online listening tip. Tom Ashbrook talks with Mark Harris (Pictures at a Revolution), Jeanine Basinger (The Star Machine) and Jack Beatty.

Update, 10/4: "He and I first met on my old daytime show, which he had discovered early and lent support to when people of his caliber didn't yet. He kept coming on through the years and was the ideal guest. He would be funny, Even silly. And, as easily, dead serious and even profound." And Dick Cavett's got video, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:29 AM | Comments (3)

NYFF. 24 City.

24 City "At a time when the other leading figures of Chinese-language cinema, including Wong Kar-wai and Tsai Ming-liang, seem fully committed to (or, in a few cases, trapped by) the styles and themes that made them famous, with each new film [Jia Zhangke] is adding new tools to his art in order to renegotiate his relationship to realism, and to make the quest for personal and national truth ever-renewing rather than predictable and monolithic," writes Andrew Chan in Reverse Shot. "His latest, 24 City, is a blend of documentary and fiction that omits some of the main tropes we associate with those genres, aspiring to neither vérité nor conventional plotting.... [W]hat begins as a straightforward oral-history project results in a rocky marriage between seemingly irreconcilable impulses, and a disorienting provocation on the sacredness of truth in the documentary form."

Compare this with Michael Sicinski's take: "Like advanced modern music or poetry, the cinema of Jia has by this point started to develop into a closed set of maximal values and a continual reorganization of the constituents of that set. Or, at least that's the distinct impression I get from 24 City, a work beyond reproach in every way but an almost geometrically lateral move from Jia's masterpiece Still Life."

"[O]ne of this film's biggest problems is that the actors aren't nearly as compelling as the real people," writes Ed Champion. "Here are the problems with this postmodernist trick: (a) if one objects to it, one is assumed to not be “in on the joke” and therefore not hep to the larger game that the film purports to play, (b) if one chooses to believe in it, then one is duped and the sufferings of the real people are considered trivial, and (c) if one discards it, one dispenses with a part of Jia's elaborate puzzle."

Mark Asch in the L Magazine: "[I]f Jia manufactures history so too does his country's image-conscious authoritarian government; and not only has the Chinese government rewritten history but they're also its original authors, as revealed in 24 City's tales of citizens uprooted by assignments to study, live or work in new cities (and the more subtle migratory pressure, now, of economic necessity). 24 City is a telling bit of journalism and an affecting elegy, yes, but it's also a movie about the making and remaking and ways of making things."

Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook on Jia's short, Cry Me a River: "The actors don't have much to work with and don't exactly work with it well..., but the way Jia constructs the world around them, the world they inhabit, and most importantly the world they travel through, really highlights why he is considered one of the world's best filmmakers."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and David D'Arcy.

Update, 10/3: "In its portrait of a culture on the verge of erasure with the advent of redevelopment and gentrification, Jia Zhang-ke's 24 City shares kinship with José Luis Guerín's En Construcción, reflecting the idea of a city built from the rubble of abandoned, forgotten histories," writes Acquarello.

Update, 10/4: Kevin B Lee in Slant: "What emerges in 24 City is a moving three-fold meditation: on the many stories of a bygone era, both epic and banal, that are bound to be left untold and forgotten; the many fictions woven - whether by the media, by our ancestors, or by ourselves - into our understanding of reality; and a dying ideology's legacy on how its people tell their stories."

Update, 10/8: Online viewing tip. Kevin Lee has video from the press conference.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:03 AM

September 26, 2008

Short shorts, 9/26.

John Dillinger "[T]he spirit of the last Depression truly hovers over us now and, as usual," writes John Patterson, "Michael Mann is ahead of the game in dredging its history and imagery for insights into our present pass. He has recently wrapped filming on Public Enemies, which promises to be the ultimate 1930s bandit epic, featuring the interlocking crime waves of John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum), Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) and Barker Gang associate Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi) over 18 heady and hectic months in 1933 and 1934." Also: Setting Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies alongside Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinéma.

And also in the Guardian:

Ryland Walker Knight (Auteurs' Notebook) on Jia Zhangke's Xiao Wu.

As for The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, see Sass Rogando: "An act of amazing proximity: Reflections on Olaf de Fleur Johannesson's Humanity Trilogy." Thanks, Peter!

"USC's School of Cinematic Arts, collaborating with Visions and Voices: The USC Arts & Humanities Initiative, is offering a three-day scholarly examination of the Duke titled John Wayne: Actor, Star, Icon, Trojan." Today through Sunday; a preview from Susan King in the Los Angeles Times.

"Even though his retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's BAMcinématek alludes to his 'mad obsessions,' Barbet Schroeder seems entirely measured and sensible." Steve Dollar talks with him for the New York Sun.

On Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell: Melissa Anderson (Time Out New York), Nathan Lee (New York Times) and Rosie Swash (Guardian).

I've Loved You So Long On I've Loved You So Long, the movie that's got everyone buzzing about Kristin Scott Thomas's performance: Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Nina Caplan (Time Out), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Derek Malcolm (Evening Standard) and Anthony Quinn (Independent).

The latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Songs from the Second Floor.

Goings on in Chicago: CINE-FILE.

Online viewing tip. "Everything I know about economics I learned from the movies," confesses Jim Emerson. "So when times get tough, I consult Preston Sturges. Here, I have condensed the financial wisdom of a lifetime into less than five minutes - all of it distilled from 1937's Easy Living."

Online viewing tips. The London Times' Kevin Maher's got clips illustrating his list of the "20 greatest movie partnerships."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:54 AM | Comments (3)

September 25, 2008

Short shorts, 9/25.

Synecdoche, New York The "Just like I pictured it..." edition. Your Daily blogger has landed in New York City. Cinematical's Erik Davis has a large version of that poster, by the way. So blogging of some sort will carry on through the next several days, but in what form exactly? We'll play it by ear. Meantime...

David Schwartz (Moving Image Source) talks with Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell about Howard Hawks.

Girish and DK Holm (Vancouver Voice) on film criticism.

Josh Rosenblatt (Austin Chronicle) on Fahrenheit 451. Related: Carolyn Nikodym (Vue Weekly) on banned books.

Robert Davis (Daily Plastic on Nathaniel Dorsky's Devotional Cinema.

Glenn Kenny (Auteurs' Notebook) on the "lesser" Busby Berkeleys.

Doug Cummings on Take Out.

Alison Willmore talks with Wayne Coyne about Christmas on Mars.

Festival previews: German Currents: New Film From Germaany (FilmInFocus, through Sunday), Edmonton (Vue; tomorrow through October 4), Chicago (Chicagoist Rob Christopher; October 16 through 29), SF DocFest (SF360's Susan Gerhard; October 17 through November 6) and Virginia (October 30 through November 2).

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

September 24, 2008

Shorts, fests, etc, 9/24.

Tim Lucas: Mario Bava "A good critic is someone who not only has a gift for fashioning an impressionable sentence or phrase, but also the depth and breadth of experience as a viewer to approximately assess a new film's standing by using an internal historical slide rule that runs the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous," writes Tim Lucas. "I really don't care how many John Ford movies a critic has seen; it tells me more if he or she knows as much about the lower registi on the keyboard. It tells me even more if their idea of the lower register is my idea of the middle register. Even Dante had to visit the many levels of his Inferno before he could lend language to his Paradiso."

"Everyone has an agenda when it comes to reviewing movies." Darragh McManus presents a guide to several reviewers who "don't just admit they have an agenda, they positively scream it out."

Also at the Guardian, Ben Child notes that The Godfather tops Empire's readers poll of the "500 Greatest Movies of All Time."

100 Monsters "I thought I'd share some thoughts about two of my favorite Japanese monster movies made in 1968, 100 Monsters aka Yôkai hyaku monogatari and Yokai Monsters - Spook Warfare aka Yôkai daisensô." Kimberly Lindbergs: "Both films were released the same year and a third Yokai Monster film called Yokai Monsters - Along With Ghosts aka Tôkaidô obake dôchû was later released in 1969. All three films make up an extremely entertaining trilogy of fantasy films based on Japanese folklore and legends."

Max Goldberg presents a "five-point look at Kino21's five-part war doc series, How We Fight: Conscripts, Mercenaries, Terrorists, and Peacekeepers." Through November 23.

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Dennis Harvey previews Psychotic and Erotic: Rare Films by Tinto Brass, running tonight and Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

The AV Club presents its "Second Annual Guide To The Fall Prestige Movies," parts 1 and 2. Related: The New York Observer's "Fall Preview 2008."

"In each episode of the mammoth 'Best Pictures From the Outside In' project, Mike (Goatdog's Movies), Nick (Nick's Flick Picks) and I have been viewing two Oscar winners, one from either end of the Academy's 80 years timeline, moving forwards and backwards simultaneously," writes Nathaniel R. "Today's double feature happens to star two very famous and prolific writers. On our trip forward we hit 1937's The Life of Emile Zola, a biopic cum courtroom drama set in France where Zola continually rocked the boat with controversial novels and politically crusading letters. On our trip backwards in Oscar time we've reached 1998's Shakespeare in Love, a romantic comedy cum theatrical love letter set in England when Shakespeare was making his name."

Human Desire "Audiences at the time thought of them simply as bad girls, but the UCLA Film & Television Archive is determined to salvage their reputations." Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "The archive's exceptionally interesting 12-film repertory series Cool Drinks of Water: Columbia's Noir Girls of the 40s and 50s shows that making their acquaintance is a pleasure for lots of reasons." Through October 26.

At Hollywood Bitchslap, Jason Whyte previews the Vancouver International Film Festival, opening tomorrow and running through October 10.

Andy Horbal rounds up goings on in Pittsburgh.

"This century, Ho'wood has traded in the cars for human flesh," writes Steven Boone at the SpoutBlog. "Now we watch people crash, burn and fall apart like flimsy chassis, still trying to pull something exhilarating out of something we can't fathom. The emphasis on 'improve, prosper, perfect' is all that matters, Americans."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Matt Wolf, director of Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, "bout his distinctive documentary approach, his plan to eat his way through Queens, and working in a gay coffee shop run by heroin addicts."

"The amazing truth about Queen Raquela is that she's constructed from clichés, infected by media-borne dictates of insipid faggotry that have, unfortunately, circled the globe and made near-insufferable creatures out of too many queers," writes Ernest Hardy, reviewing, of course, The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela. "The not-quite-amazing truth about this 'documentary' is that it's actually mildly engrossing, building to a final-act clash between First and Third worlds that is riveting and highly uncomfortable to watch."

Also in the Voice:

Shoot on Sight

  • Aaron Hillis on Shoot on Sight: "Named for the London police's secretive 'Operation Kratos' anti-terrorist tactics, which led to the wrongful killing of Brazilian national Jean Charles de Menezes just after the July 7, 2005, tube bombings, director Jag Mundhra's suspense(-less) drama oversimplifies the controversy by fictionalizing the victim into an innocent Muslim citizen." Also, Unspooled: "What could've been a poignantly humbling portrait of passionate young hopefuls confronting the harsh, masochistic realities of filmmaking is instead a whiny, woe-is-us postmortem."

  • Ella Taylor on Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story: "Just about everyone interviewed for Stefan Forbes's fascinating documentary about Lee Atwater - whether Democrat or Republican pols, African-American bluesmen or hardened reporters - ends anecdotes about the Republican strategist's dirty tricks with a titter that's either nervous or ambivalently appreciative."

  • Tim Grierson: "Nights in Rodanthe works so strenuously to satisfy its target audience's every desire that it's a minor surprise that the filmmakers didn't provide cashmere blankets, a snuggly pair of slippers, and a warm cup of cocoa for everyone entering the theater." More from Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

  • Michelle Orange: "Several ordinarily banal movies soldered into one amazingly bad one, Ripple Effect cannot be excused on the grounds of overweening ambition; its every contorted plot line and distended page of dialogue belie an averageness that glazes the cornea on contact."

  • Nick Pinkerton on Forever Strong: "It should come as no surprise to find that this paean to clean living, which might have been co-scripted by Carrie Nation, was brought to you by the Salt Lake City film industry. Should play well to church groups and niche sports enthusiasts waiting on the great life-affirming film about curling."

Mike Everleth has the lineup for Saturday's New Haven Underground Film Festival.

The WSWS' David Walsh talks with Chus Gutiérrez about Return to Hansala. Also: More from Toronto.

Steve Dollar talks with Lance Hammer about Ballast for the New York Sun.

Mother of Tears Ben Simington in the Auteurs' Notebook on the latest from Dario Argento: "'[D]espite flaws in The Mother of Tears, we are lucky to still bear witness to a maestro of horror who unmistakably thinks about perception of the world cinematically."

"Italian director Florestano Vancini, whose first film [Lunga Notte del '43] in 1960 won a Venice festival award, has died in Rome. He was 82." The AP reports. Via Movie City News.

The Film Panel Notetaker was all over Independent Film Week.

Online listening tip. Quite a party going on at the House Next Door.

Online viewing tip. Movies for the Masses interviews Panos Koutras and Joe Swanberg at the Athens International Film Festival, running through Sunday.

Online viewing tips. Eliza rounds up some "Great New Videos" for the CR Blog.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:44 AM

Back to Room 666.

Back to Room 666 An online viewing tip. V2 Cinema presents Gustavo Spolidoro's Back to Room 666: "What is the future of cinema? In 1982, in Cannes, Wim Wenders invited many moviemakers to answer this question. 26 years later, the question remains, but Wenders is now on the other side of the camera." So, too, is the ghost of Michelangelo Antonioni, and a few other wispy shadows as well.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:39 AM | Comments (2)

Silent Light.

Stellet Licht "The sun floods the wide sky in Silent Light like a beacon, spilling over the austere land and illuminating its pale, pale people as if from within," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "A fictional story about everyday rapture in an isolated Mennonite community in northern Mexico - and performed by a cast of mostly Mennonite nonprofessionals - the film was written, directed and somehow willed into unlikely existence by the extravagantly talented Carlos Reygadas, whose immersion in this exotic world feels so deep and true that it seems like an act of faith."

Updated through 9/26.

"Subject of a week-long retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, the Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas is part stuntmeister, part visionary - a post-Warhol impresario and trained diplomat who, flirting with fraudulence and often working without a screenplay, orchestrates conditions where nonprofessional actors are compelled to expose themselves, sometimes cruelly, on camera," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "As understated as it is, [Silent Light] is both deeply absurd and powerfully affecting."

"[I]nstead of the aggressive provocation of [Battle in Heaven] and debut feature Japón, Silent Light finds Reygadas meditating on sex, sin, absolution and the miraculous through a tender, even gentle portrait of impulsive human beings running up against society's unspoken prohibitions," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine.

Earlier: Reviews from last year's editions of the Cannes, Toronto and New York film festivals.

Updates, 9/26: "Richly individualistic movies still get made," writes Ray Pride. "They're out there. Rich history cannot but produce rich potential. Looking back and forward, as the British Film Institute turns 75, they asked seventy-five figures to comment on 'Visions for the Future'... Composer Michael Nyman advocates Carlos Reygadas's amazing Silent Light, which has begun a one-week run at MoMA in Manhattan, for being 'an extraordinary, transcendent meditation on love and religion.'"

"Silent Light provokes awe: not just for its sheer beauty but for the astounding leaps in seriousness and maturity that Carlos Reygadas has made since his previous film, Battle in Heaven, a noxious, chilly exercise in corpulent copulation," writes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "Opening and closing with majestic scenes of sunrise and sunset, Reygadas's third feature approaches grace."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:58 AM | Comments (2)

Obscene.

Obscene "On Nov 19 [Barney] Rosset will receive a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation in honor of his many contributions to American publishing, especially his groundbreaking legal battles to print uncensored versions of Lady Chatterley's Lover and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. He is also the subject of Obscene, a documentary by Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O'Connor, which opens on Friday at Cinema Village." For the New York Times, Charles McGrath talks with the filmmakers - and Rosset.

"Barney Rosset is a tragic hero," writes Michelle Orange in Voice, as this "very fine documentary make unstintingly and yet wistfully clear."

Updated through 9/26.

Earlier: Reviews from Toronto 07.

Updates, 9/26: "If you need another reminder that book publishing and New York City aren't what they used to be, you could do worse than to immerse yourself in Obscene." A recommendation from Andrew Hultkrans in Artforum.

"Obscene is a brief, pleasant time-killer that genially preaches to the choir yet, while it's always enjoyable, this review's readers should seek Grove books out first," argues Aaron Cutler in Slant.

"It's the story of a man who follows his own drummer - usually with rum and Coke in hand - and believes in 'nourishing the accidental,'" writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "We should all be grateful that he does."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:09 AM

The Lucky Ones.

The Lucky Ones "Three wounded US soldiers in The Lucky Ones, all traveling 'home' from Iraq, played by Michael Peña, Rachel McAdams and Tim Robbins, have almost nothing in common with one another except for their war service, yet they wind up getting entangled with one another for practical as well as existential reasons, sharing a rented car," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum. "Such a story (which [Neil] Burger coscripted with Dirk Wittenborn) easily could have slid into some form of sentimentality. But this never happens because the three lead characters keep surprising us - both in their lack of power and in the various ways they can bring limited empowerment to one another."

Updated through 9/26.

"Saying The Lucky Ones is the best film about Iraq yet is the proverbial damning with faint praise," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. "It's a 'well-made' film: Explosive emotional confrontations are deferred, the ending is purposefully unresolved, the camera-work deliberately unshowy. Thank goodness for all that - and the fact that a hashed-over war debate gets less time than one character's ED problem - but it's finally all too familiar."

"Sometimes... empty, contrived fantasies are just empty, contrived fantasies, as is certainly the case with this embarrassingly phony cross between Grace Is Gone, Home of the Brave and - believe it or not - Twister," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"[D]espite its screenwriting contrivances (there's even a third-act hurricane), despite the predictability of its tonal shifts from comic to dramatic, despite director/co-writer Neil Burger's refusal to take any political stance on the war - despite all that, despite even the hurricane and the jaunty score and the scene where Robbins locks the keys in the car, it's actually pretty watchable," writes Paul Matwychuk.

"What elevates The Lucky Ones is a trio of memorable performances," finds Louis Peitzman in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Capone talks with Burger for AICN.

Updates, 9/26: "Maybe sometime in the next decade, the Iraq War will get its Platoon or its Full Metal Jacket, but for now, we'll have to keep waiting for a memorably incisive, dramatically successful cinematic treatment - at least, from a fiction film (documentaries are, happily, another story)." Chris Wisniewski, indieWIRE: "Neil Burger's The Lucky Ones makes no effort to fill that void. Instead, it seems calculated to correct another, related problem: the anemic box-office of Iraq-themed films."

"Whether Neil Burger's The Lucky Ones will break the jinx is anyone's guess, but as a story it's more convincing and substantial than Stop-Loss or Home of the Brave," argues JR Jones in the Chicago Reader.

More from Robert Davis (Daily Plastic), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out New York), Laura Kern (New York Times), Nathan Rabin (AV Club) and S James Snyder (New York Sun).

Sean Axmaker talks with Robbins for the Parallax View.

Glenn Kenny finds it "a lovely, engaging piece that's best appreciated as a road movie/fable, because that's really what it is."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:58 AM

Russian Film Week.

David D'Arcy on the series wrapping today in New York, while a related event carries on in London through Monday.

Yuri's Day In Yuri's Day, which opened Russian Film Week last Friday at the Ziegfeld Theater, Liubov, an opera singer working in Vienna, drives to her hometown in rural Russia with her handsome peevish son in the back seat of her Mercedes Benz sedan. It's meant to be a reality check for the privileged young gentleman, yet there's not much with which to reconnect in the snow and fog. The cops barely do any work. Things unravel when the mother and son visit a vast monastery and young Andrei goes missing, and Yuri's Day becomes a mother's desperate search for the young man, taking us to the extremes of Russian rural life in its oft-caricatured harshness and brutality.

Yuri's Day and most of the films at Russian Film Week (there is a comparable series in London, with some of the same films, that runs through September 29) are not movies that are likely to see US distribution. They are well-attended by expatriate Russians, leading to the conclusion that the films play to Russian tastes, no matter how unusual these tastes might be.

You've seen much of Yuri's Day before, or read stories like it. The script couldn't be farther away from the blithe reflections of bored characters in plays by Chekhov. Director Kirill Serebrennikov takes a turn into sociopathology, as beautiful Liubov (Kseniya Rappaport), stranded in the provinces, takes refuge with a museum guard who is beaten bloody by a man every day - all represented as a logical part of small-town depravity. Liubov has deep roots here, we learn, and a criminal past of her own, which now has an operatic patina. Dressed in a fur wardrobe that deteriorates as the story unfolds, and singing from time to time in an alto voice that follows the movement of her lips, more or less, she ventures everywhere in this black hole of a town (a white hole in the snow, actually), which becomes a sociology primer for every urban Russia prejudice about provincial life. Ridiculed in a workingman's bar, scorned in a monastery where she thinks her son has fled, and surrounded by infected thugs in a prison for criminals with tuberculosis, she is accompanied on these rounds by a fatigued cynical detective. Once Liubov is in crisis, marked by predictable anguish, the little town becomes quite a metropolis of freaks, compellingly shot by Oleg Lukichyov.

Bear in mind that this isn't even the Gulag, but it's Everyman's Russia in vivid screen mythology. Add a mother's despair, a violent cocktail of alcohol and blood, and a cast of stock characters, and you have a picaresque melodrama - 137 minutes of it - that the Russian-speaking audience in the theater with me enjoyed.

Hitler Kaput! Just as unlikely to come to a theater near you if you're in the United States is the bawdy farce Hitler Kaput! (something tells me that they would have used Springtime for Hitler if that hadn't already been taken), which propels political incorrectness to new heights, or lows, depending on your taste. It's understandable that every country would like to cash in on its own version of The Producers, and Russians suffered disproportionately during the dark years of Nazi occupation. Who better to make dark jokes about that period, if your goal is to exploit this tragic time for comedy?

Marius Veisberg's film opens as a Jewish concentration camp prisoner, with striped uniform and yellow star, is hauled by a gang of Nazi executioners to a courtyard where the soldiers stand him up against a wall. In borscht-belt style, with a dash of Woody Allen, he tells the death squad that his doctor has urged him to avoid "any execution-related activities." They shoot him, nonetheless, and... they miss - this is a farce after all - but the shots create a hole in the form of the prisoner's silhouette in the wall, which falls through, opening into a room where - in case you haven't guessed - a shapely woman is taking off her clothes. And those are just the first few minutes.

In Veisberg's farce - which, he cautioned the audience before the screening, is not a "festival film," i.e., a movie of merit or artistic quality - Pavel Derevyanko plays Shura Osechkin, a Russian spy known as Shurenberg, who greases corrupt Nazi palms for just about everything as the war is nearing an end. The story is a vaudeville parade of crazy anachronisms, from rap emanating from the car that Shurenberg drives around Berlin (the shameless film is also a shameless promotion for Russian pop bands) to a Hitler salute contest, in which judges give scores, Olympic-style, to gymnasts who finish elaborate somersaults with "Heil Hitler!" When Shurenberg crosses back to Russian lines, with a beautiful blonde whom he's just rescued, one of the guards says: "They're lucky they're not Muslim." The audience was gasping in disbelief when it wasn't laughing at jokes that remind us that Russian satire is a lot darker than its American equivalent. Can you top this? Mel Brooks certainly can't. I'm sure that another Russian director will try.

Heavy Sand This being a Russian Film Week, there was gushing sentiment as well as black humor. A case in point was Heavy Sand, by Anton Barshchevsky, which saw its world premiere, excepting a screening in Israel, on Sunday night. The adaptation of the enormously popular epic novel by Anatoly Rybakov (Children of the Arbat), set in a Ukrainian town through the entire last century, is distilled from a series of even greater epic proportions that will run on Russian television. (The feature film runs from 1900 through the war years.) Once again, much of the action is seen through the eyes of an aggrieved woman, Rachel (Irina Lachina) a suffering Jewish mother, whose suffering just seems to worsen with the passage of time - not that this trajectory of pain isn't accurate. Cut down with choppy editing to almost three hours from a much longer series of episodes, it's pretty standard melodrama, just mercifully shorter than the TV saga.

- David D'Arcy

Posted by dwhudson at 12:43 AM

September 23, 2008

Cinema Scope. 36.

Manny Farber As editor Mark Peranson notes, the new issue of Cinema Scope is dedicated to Manny Farber, "the most important film critic of the 20th century," and features an appreciation by none other than Jean-Pierre Gorin.

Peranson's also recently completed, as in directed and produced, Waiting for Sancho, "a kind of experimental 'making of' the critically acclaimed El Cant dels Ocells (Birdsong/Le Chant des Oiseaux)," and the site's got a page with two paragraphs and a clip.

Other features: Jason Anderson on "Blindness and blindness" and Christoph Huber on "the melancholy mastery of Jean-Claude Van Damme."

Interviews: Violeta Kovacsics and Adam Nayman talk with Lisandro Alonso about Liverpool and Robert Koehler talks with Azazel Jacobs about Momma's Man.

Also: Scott Foundas on Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, Quintin on Kent Mackenzie's The Exiles, Richard Porton on Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, another round of "Global Discoveries on DVD" from Jonathan Rosenbaum and Jim Finn on why some of "the best festivals for films that opened up new, contemporary ideas of what cinema could be" are dying.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:05 PM | Comments (2)

Reverse Shot. 23.

Hou Hsiao-hsien "With the pleasures of the magnificent Flight of the Red Balloon still floating in our heads, we feel the time is right for a comprehensive look back at one of the best and most aesthetically important filmmakers of the past few decades: Hou Hsiao-hsien.... Wedding political filmmaking with a technique at once naturalistic and highly aestheticized, Hou has made films that wrestle, variously, and either directly or metaphorically, with personal and national histories, the struggles between Taiwan and Chinese nationalism, the encroachment of capital on an ever-evolving way of life, and, most recently, the legacy of cinema itself."

Reverse Shot editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert introduce the new issue, "Hou Hsiao-hsien: In Search of Lost Time." I'd love to give this issue in particular the usual Daily sweep, but I'm in crunch mode at the moment as I get ready to cross the Atlantic. You dive in, though, and I look forward to joining you when I get back.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:24 PM

Shorts, fests, etc, 9/23.

Mauricio Kagel "Despite his relative obscurity in the United States, Mauricio Kagel, who died in Germany last week at the age of 76, was one of the 20th century's great conceptual artists," writes Chris Dumas in Nextbook. "A composer whose assaultive music was categorized as 'classical' because record stores didn't know where else to put it, Kagel was an intellectual prankster and social provocateur on the grand, protean level of Marcel Duchamp - or Lenny Bruce.... In his short films (and one feature) for German television, he demonstrated a surrealist sense of dramatic illogic and a master's eye for visual form, coupling his propriety-shredding music with equally propriety-shredding images."

"Like a weird cinematic version of the Roll Chronicle of British kings, it sometimes seems that the GPO Film Unit stands at the head of the family tree of British film and television," writes Scott Anthony, introducing an "alphabetical introduction to an enduring, and highly unlikely, cultural legacy." The occasion: Love Letters and Live Wires: Highlights from the GPO Film Unit, at BFI Southbank through October 2.

Also in the Guardian, Michael Billington remembers David Hugh Jones, "an immensely distinguished director in theatre, film and television. Although latterly based in New York, he was a pillar of the Royal Shakespeare Company in a golden decade from 1968 and had a long association with Harold Pinter that led, in 1978, to a memorable BBC Play of the Week, Langrishe, Go Down, and, in 1983, to a film of Betrayal."

And: Timur Bekmambetov "is to take charge of a modern day "graphic novel-style" adaptation of Herman Melville's classic of brooding obsession on the high seas, Moby Dick," notes Ben Child, picking up and mulling over Michael Fleming's report for Variety.

Keira Knightley might play Zelda Fitzgerald, reports the BBC.

As a Film Comment online exclusive, Rob Nelson talks with director Lance Hammer about Ballast.

Terence Davies at San Sebastian Laszlo Kriston is having a grand time at the San Sebastian Film Festival. And, as he notes in a dispatch to indieWIRE, he's been watching films, too. Also, a roundup from Kim Adelmon: "What Was Hot This Summer at North America's Three Biggest Short Film Festivals."

More fests and events:

Ryland Walker Knight presents a "conjunction of quotations."

"Without a couple of recognizably fallible and ordinary men like Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon at its center, The Dark Knight would ultimately be nothing more than an exceptionally well-tooled and smartly-acted thriller," argues Chris Barsanti at PopMatters. More from John Adair.

"The way I see it, there are two main problems with distribution as it stands today: one, release windows, and two, online experience." Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo for Filmmaker.

Der Vorleser "Two titans of the indie film world are in a heated disagreement over distribution plans for one of the fall's biggest releases - a film that might not turn out to be a fall release at all." Steven Zeitchik in the Hollywood Reporter: "The Weinstein Co chief Harvey Weinstein and uber-producer Scott Rudin are in an intense back-and-forth over whether to release the Weinstein Co war-crimes drama The Reader in 2008 or wait until next year." As a reminder, the film is Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's bestseller starring Kate Winslet.

"This week DreamWorks and parent Paramount Pictures will begin the thorny task of unwinding their business ties, specifically as it applies to more than 200 movie projects in development at DreamWorks that are owned by Paramount," blogs the Los Angeles Times' Claudia Eller. Those projects will be of particular interest to Steven Spielberg and his associate Stacey Snider because the new DreamWorks, backed by India's Reliance ADA Group, will essentially open its doors with a bare cupboard. Some of the hoped-for movies have been in the works at DreamWorks for years, and would provide a valuable jump-start for the new venture."

For the Independent, Caitlin Graham rounds up the ten best places to study documentary filmmaking.

Online listening tip. Milos Stehlik talks with Richard Brody about his book, Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard.

Online viewing tip #1. Michael Moore's Slacker Uprising. Brian Stelter talks with him about it in the New York Times. Catherine Shoard is collecting critical reactions for the Guardian, where Ben Walters finds it "a disappointment that will give ammunition to those who see Moore as a self-aggrandising propagandist while contributing little of substance to the present campaign - one that threatens to put both 2004 and 2000 in the shade when it comes to duplicitous, culturally divisive campaigning."

Online viewing tip #2. From C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark: "In celebration of having just received via mail a copy of Amid Amidi's marvelously illustrated book, Cartoon Modern, I am posting one of the defining classics of modernist animation, Flebus (1957), directed and scored by Ernest Pintoff for the Terrytoons studio under the supervision of genius animator/designer, Gene Deitch."

Online viewing tip #3. Mike Everleth has the trailer for the ATA Film & Video Festival, running October 4 through 4 in San Francisco.

Online viewing tips. Via Fimoculous: At the Daily Swarm: "The Death of the Music Critic?"... and at Wired, Jake Swearingen presents "Six New Directors Who Are Making Music Video Cool Again."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:56 PM

NYFF. The Class.

"The Class [site], a French high-school drama that emerged as the popular underdog winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, belongs to the largely inspirational tradition of the classroom movie," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times.

The Class

"Sometimes the films in this category are odes to youthful rebellion - Jean Vigo's Zero for Conduct, Lindsay Anderson's If... - but more often (and certainly in the American iterations) they are celebrations of the charismatic, inventive pedagogue, as embodied by Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle, Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds or Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson. The Class simultaneously revives and undermines this longstanding genre." Downloadable from that same page in the New York Times is Manohla Dargis's interview with Laurent Cantet.

"Cantet's upward career trajectory has been odd enough," writes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door: "one of his major themes is negotiating capitalism while trying to maintain ethical integrity (which, admittedly, would probably be an easier sell right now, but still not all that sexy). It's strangely inevitable that Cantet would get around to a macrocosmic portrait of contemporary French society's startlingly diverse ethnic composition and try to report back on the state of the nation; he's nothing if not an earnestly liberal, political filmmaker. In that sense, The Class is his most ambitious film, even as it feels like one of his most modest."

"In 1999, Mr Cantet made Human Resources which parlayed a family scuffle into a labor dispute, with a white-collar son finding himself pitted against his blue-collar father. In 2001, with Time Out, Mr Cantet told the story of a man who neglects to inform his family that he has lost his job and slips down a spiral of fear, shame, and self-disgust. Four years later, Mr Cantet's Heading South examined the rift separating First World tourists and Third World sex workers, as white women of privilege traveled to Haiti and paid handsome men to be their sexual companions. Mr Cantet's films are piercing but also empathetic, reflective of a director intent on making a point but also open to the notion of loving his flawed characters." S James Snyder talks with him for the New York Sun.

"Because reflective of 2008 culture in more ways than one, The Class goes for documentary-realism by shooting with an unnecessarily shaky handheld camera zoomed in on a series of talking-head close-ups, but looks more like a glossy Apple commercial, with plastic white backgrounds, completely even lighting, and HD's well-detailed, flattened spaces (whereas last years NYFF sensation Silent Light owed less to Dreyer than to IKEA)." David Phelps in Slant: "As if Cantet and company could afford an expensive camera, but not a tripod? Formally worthless, The Class is, once again, just mediocre, pass-the-time TV; feel free to head to the toilet in the middle, read the comics, check your weight, grab a beer, and you won't miss a thing."

"What matters here is language. [Cantet] looks at how speech circulates and the relationship to power and authority, rather than a depiction of learning in the strict sense." For Dissidenz, Emmanuelle Mougne considers the film alongside Mariana Otero's La loi du collège (School Law).

The Class is Cineuropa's latest "Film Focus"; earlier, Fabien Lemercier noted that the film will represent France in the race for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Updates, 9/24: "[E]ven at its most scripted, Cantet's latest - boasting a clarity and consistency of vision that's as bracing as its naturalistic performances - is vigorous, incisive, immediate," writes Nick Schager.

"The Class ranks among the best classroom movies I have ever seen, and these include Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel (Der Blaue Engel) and Alf Sjoberg's Torment (Hets), from a screenplay by Ingmar Bergman," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "I mention these classic clashes between youth and authority because in a much subtler and more nuanced way, The Class is disturbingly contemporary in its reflection of a spreading anti-intellectualism among the youth around the world, and not just among the youth."

Updates, 9/26: "The Class isn't directly about civil unrest and French identity as a republican ideal, though these issues run through it like a powerful current, keeping the children and adults (and the filmmaking) on edge," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Rather, the director, Laurent Cantet - using a small team and three high-definition video cameras - keeps a steady eye on the children, these anxious, maddening little people flailing and sometimes stalling on the entryway to adulthood."

"It's a movie about the classroom not as a safe place isolated from the outside world, but as a place where disparate people from that outside world come together, with all the conflicts and revelations that that kind of messy mingling implies," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

"To date, I've gotten through roughly 71 percent of the Festival's main slate, and no film has affected me quite so deeply," writes John Magary at the Reeler.

"Realism is the mode du jour of international art cinema, so it's fitting that the New York Film Festival opens with Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or winner, "The Class," an exercise in naturalist mise-en-scene, improvisatory nonprofessional acting, and immediate handheld cinematography." Leo Goldsmith in indieWIRE: "These tropes should by now be familiar to audiences attending a festival that will also feature works by likeminded filmmakers such as Jia Zhangke and Kelly Reichardt (and hosted Hou Hsaio-hsien's and Lee Chang-dong's similar films last year). But Cantet's film impresses if even for the feat of credibly portraying the atmosphere of a classroom full of fourteen-year-old urban Parisians - with all of the adolescent storm and stress that such a petri dish would necessarily create."

"Quietly heartbreaking while maintaining both intimacy and reserve in its documentary aesthetic, The Class... is the most acomplished film about modern education since Frederick Wiseman's masterpiece High School," writes Brandon Harris at Hammer to Nail. "It is that all too rare movie that leaves our assumptions and prejudices thoroughly tested."

"The Class, while undeniably catering to middlebrow tastes, possesses reserves of humanity, especially in contrast to some of its patronizing brethren," argues Michael Joshua Rowin in Reverse Shot.

Update, 10/3: "If The Class were just meant as an antidote to the long course of ridiculous inspirational classroom movies, the shape it takes would be enough," writes Alison Willmore. "But Cantet's film is also resolutely evenhanded with the way its school's determinedly democratic processes can fail.... In the best way, it doesn't feel like a story at all."

Update, 10/4: "Complaining that a two-hour movie can't match the dizzying depth and cumulative force of an entire season of The Wire (see also Gomorrah) may seem unfair, but there's no denying that in its second half, as The Class's anecdotal nature gets overwhelmed by the question of whether certain problem students are worth 'saving,' the film moves into territory that David Simon and his crew handled with a great deal more complexity and finesse - in part because they didn't restrict themselves entirely to the school grounds." Mike D'Angelo at Filmcatcher, also featuring an a target="_blank" href="http://www.filmcatcher.com/interview_detail/110/520/">interview with Cantet.

Update, 10/25: "What The Class does extremely well (and with great subtlety) is to question the purpose and function of the education system, and the role it plays in the development (mental/social/etc.) of a child," writes Andrew Grant in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Though a work of fiction, The Class is a remarkably honest film, and one that portrays kids as neither precocious nor precious, nor as a mouthpiece for adult ideas and words. Though it (obviously) addresses issues about the French education system, there’s something surprisingly universal about it, and much of the film will resonate with any parent of a school-aged child."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:06 PM

DVDs, 9/23.

Cine Manifest "Hey kids, let's put on a Marxist film collective!" Jonathan Kiefer: "That, more or less, was a founding principle of Cine Manifest, the seven-member strong (and sometimes less strong) assembly of San Francisco filmmakers working from 1972 through 1978 to make politically potent movies that regular people could tolerate. Judy Irola's breezy personal documentary Cine Manifest... brings a fond, proud and wistful recollection of the group's formation and probably inevitable dissolution."

Chuck Tryon finds it "a solid contribution to understanding not only the broader histories of independent filmmaking and 1970s politics but also the narrower personal reflections and reassessments of those histories."

"What's become known as 'the Bill Douglas trilogy' - a brace of short features/featurettes made between 1972 and 1978 - is one of those rarely seen, rarely exhibited, distributively cursed legends skulking around the borders of the modern canon, revered by the few but largely ignored, and sprouting from a swatch of time in its national cinema when there was little else worth noting," writes Michael Atkinson at Moving Image Source. "Taken together as a single film, the trilogy may be the most concentrated and merciless act of family vengeance in cinema history."

The Ken Russell at the BBC set is "indispensible," but Tim Lucas notes that one film is missing: "Months of anticipation wasted, and my day is ruined."

Aki Kaurismäki's Proletariat Trilogy All three films collected in Aki Kaurismäki's Proletariat Trilogy "are delightful, on some level," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door. "They all involve people who work at low-level jobs: garbage-men, factory workers of all kinds, shop girls. In the second film, Ariel (1988), the heroine (Susanna Haavisto) begins as a meter maid giving out tickets, then progresses to jobs where she always seems to be cutting up disgustingly large sides of beef. Yet these movies don't feel like drudgery, maybe because they aren't in any way realistic; they take place in a tightly controlled world of their own. I've never been to Finland, but I'd be surprised to find even a vestige of Kaurismäki's grim, deadpan cuteness."

"Kaurismäki is still busy - both The Man Without a Past (2002) and Lights in the Dusk (2006) made it onto US screens - but it's his bursting work of the late 80s and early 90s that will be remembered, and not merely for their faded hipness," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC. "As expert in dry comic timing as Keaton, Kaurismäki is a cunning intelligence interrogating the empathic rhythms of moviewatching by way of Job tragedy and comatose vaudeville. Still, your experience is never preordained: watching a Kaurismäki movie, you may guffaw when no one else on Earth would, and vice-versa." Also reviewed: Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Shadow, "a mysterious and rarely discussed work, a lurking examination of collaborationism and resistance as it's expressed in an investigation into the identity of a dead man."

Silver Jew is out today. Director Michael Tully: "I think the reason many Jewish film festivals ignored us after requesting a screener is because the film isn't about Judaism as much as it is about faith and connection in a universal sense. I think the reason many other festivals didn't respond to the film is because it didn't have a clear-cut agenda. I think the reason some music fans may have been disappointed is because we avoided providing a historical context for David and the band. These are the exact reasons why I'm so proud of the film."

The Last Laugh "[E]pilogue aside, [The Last Laugh] can really best be understood as a horror story, the horror of a modernity that leaves behind the old and infirm and the horror of a world that places its greatest emphasis on outward tokens of significance, while everywhere effacing the importance of the individual," writes Andrew Schenker, reviewing Kino's "Deluxe Restored Edition" in Slant.

Cullen Gallagher at Not Coming to a Theater Near You on Häxen: "The religious power of the camera is commented on again in the final section of the film, in which [Benjamin] Christensen analogizes the supposed signs of witchcraft not only to symptoms of hysteria in contemporary medical practices, but also to star-crazed movie fandom."

Erich Keursten at Bright Lights After Dark on Moontide: "This is a great little piece of California neo-realist 'dream poetry' - something John Steinbeck might dream up after a night of opium smoking with his Cannery Row bum buddies."

Bill Hare has the Noir of the Week: The Third Man.

La Vie de Jesus Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report" at the Auteurs' Notebook is now the "Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report": "The Eureka!/Masters of Cinema series, an offshoot of the Masters of Cinema website, recently released a new version of Bruno Dumont's 1997 debut feature La Vie de Jesus on disc. In so doing, they issued a valuable corrective."

"Last Saturday, 9 to 5: The Musical opened in Los Angeles in preparation for its Broadway debut in April 2009," notes Megan Hustad in Slate. "Will a 30-year-old comedy about sexism in the workplace feel as period as Mad Men? Has consciousness raising turned into camp? The DVD of 9 to 5, released most recently in a 'Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition,' offers a chance to see how far we have - and haven't - come."

Jen Chaney in the Washington Post on the High School Flashback Collection: "John Hughes saved my generation. Maybe that sounds like hyperbole, but to the kids who struggled with their own particular brand of adolescent angst in the 1980s, Hughes's coming-of-age films served as the best kind of cinematic comfort food. Collectively, they reminded teens that it's okay to be confused, jaded, occasionally depressed and completely comfortable with eating Cap'n Crunch and Pixy Stix sandwiches for lunch."

"I can appreciate disturbing material employed for a purpose, but Cannibal Holocaust says very little as loudly and obnoxiously as possible," grumbles Andrew Bemis.

"Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) and Martin Scorsese's non-profit film preservation organization, The Film Foundation, have teamed up to release onto DVD beloved titles from the Sony catalog that have been out of circulation for years." Douglas Polisin has a few details at MovieMaker. Via the SXSW News Reel.

Do the Right Thing Online viewing tip. The NYT's AO Scott on Do the Right Thing.

DVD roundups: Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk, PopMatters and Slant.

And as always, keep an eye on the Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:44 AM | Comments (1)

Jamie Stuart's NYFF46 series begins.

NYFF 46: Part 1 At Filmmaker, Jason Guerrasio introduces the online viewing tip we've been waiting for: "In Jamie Stuart's first episode in his series of shorts on the 46th New York Film Festival, he invites us into his wild imagination while sitting in on press conferences for directors Laurent Cantet and Kelly Reichardt."

Earlier: Karina Longworth's appreciation of Jamie Stuart's work.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:27 AM

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration.

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration "The Godfather films remain the 20th-century answer to Shakespeare's plays of royal succession, with the twist that here Prince Hal grows up, not into Henry V, but Richard III." And in the New York Times, Dave Kehr has nothing but praise for the newly restored, "miraculously rejuvenated" versions of all three films, released today in Blu-ray and standard DVD editions as The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration. In a followup note at his site on Paramount's mistreatment of the original negatives, Dave Kehr also has "Before" and "After" screengrabs.

Ambrose Heron has put together quite an entry on the set. He's got clips from the extras and points to Bill Hunt's extensive backgrounder on the restoration in Digital Bits and to Stephanie Argy's piece in American Cinematographer.

Updated through 9/26.

As noted earlier, "The 'Coppola Restoration' Letters" that Glenn Kenny has posted are must-reads: Parts 1, 2 and 3; and a Postscript.

"Nearly all interiors are richer, more substantial. The blacks in such scenes are, if anything, blacker - certainly more solidly, less apologetically so." At DVD Beaver, Leonard Norwitz gets into the nitty gritty and posts a slew of screengrabs.

"The movie is back to its inky finest." Via Movie City News, Mike Snider tells a briefer version the story of the restoration in the USA Today, so if you're in a hurry: "A decade ago, Paramount stored all its Godfather film elements in a cold vault to help preserve them until a full digital makeover was possible.... Fast-forward to 2005: Coppola, looking to renew the preservation effort, wrote to Spielberg when DreamWorks was acquired by Paramount. Could Spielberg, who had been involved in restoring Lawrence of Arabia, spur on the project? It was an offer Spielberg could not refuse."

"[W]hat can I say? It's The Godfather." Jamie S Rich at DVD Talk: "Debates over the color palette aside, this restoration job cleans up the movies and makes them look brand new. Couple that with the fact that the already excellent extras now have a few new siblings to go with them, and this is, at last, the comprehensive Godfather collection cineastes have been clamoring for."

"Is it overkill to claim that The Godfather on Blu-ray is a sign of the format coming to maturity?" asks Sean Axmaker.

Screengrab presents a special Godfather edition of "That Guy!," their "sporadic celebration of B-listers, character actors, and the working famous."

Updates: At NewTeeVee, Chris Albrecht reports that the trilogy will be available as a digital download. Probably not the restored version. "The press announcement was pretty slim on details," he adds. Via the SXSW News Reel.

At Screengrab, Sarah Clyne Sundberg and Phil Nugent debate Part III.

New York's Film Forum is screening the restored Parts I and II through October 2.

Update, 9/24: At the Guardian, Ben Child notes that The Godfather tops Empire's readers poll of the "500 Greatest Movies of All Time."

Update, 9/26: "Essential in the truest sense of the word," insists Matt Noller in Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:15 AM

NYFF 08, 9/23.

NYFF 46 Last week's New York Film Festival-in-general entry is about to fall off the front page, so I'll pick things up here. First, take a look at this: the Film Society of Lincoln Center has launched the filmlinc blog.

Updated through 9/27.

"Take your pick of rant: the fondness for returning to previously featured filmmakers; the Cannes-upon-the-Hudson bent that draws deeply from that pre-eminent French showcase; the simultaneously obligatory and myopic geographic spotlighting, or just the wariness of alienating viewers with too many adventurous movies in a given year." Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun: "Though often overblown (or of interest to a precious few), some of these concerns do crop up with this year's roster, along with the usual outwardly mysterious absence of certain lauded films. But, despite all that, this year marks some identifiable steps toward getting some new names onto the foldout festival calendar."

Update: "In Praise of the Walter Reade Theater," Nathan Lee at WNYC's ART.CULT.

Update, 9/24: "The NYFF has an understandable interest in showcasing the highlights of the big three international festivals but, to my mind, a greater mission in showcasing those movies yet to land US distribution - and this year, there are many." Selection committee member J Hoberman previews the batch in the Voice.

Updates, 9/26: "The 46th New York Film Festival includes a striking number of features - among them some of the strongest and freshest films likely to be shown on Manhattan screens this year - that might be called semi- or quasi- or crypto-documentaries." AO Scott in the New York Times.

"In programming relatively few features (28 this year) - most of them drawn from the major European festivals in Berlin, Cannes and Venice - and in insisting on a pre-pop-culture vision of cinema as an art form, festival director Richard Peña and his staff have, perversely enough, proven to be shrewd table-setters for the fall film marketplace." Andrew O'Hehir's big preview for Salon.

"It has a decidedly French twist," writes Howard Feinstein at indieWIRE. "For one thing, 18 of the 28 features in this edition of the New York Film Festival bowed in Cannes in May. Four 'fully' French movies and eight co-pros with French backing are being screened. Given the weight of place, of site, in this year's crop, the latter frequently translates into product placement, aka 'embedded marketing,' not of Converse or Nike but of France itself - more economic exchange than organic inclusion."

"It's still small," notes writes John Magary at the Reeler," "still gives no awards and appoints actual working critics (!) to its selection committee. With its bones thrown to the black-tie opera set, it's skewed a little fancy. And it is, after 46 years, still the very best. For the New York Film Festival gives what all the best festivals give: Reverence."

"[I]t's tempting to look upon what is, by the increasingly popular 'more is more' programming standards of Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, and Tribeca, a comparatively small slate of 28 contemporary features as a reliable bellwether of global cinematic trends." Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun.

"The 2008 New York Film Festival comes after eight months of international film festivals that generally left critics disappointed," notes Steve Erickson in Gay City News, pointing out that there are, of course, nevertheless films in the lineup well worth catching.

Update, 9/27: Benjamin Strong has an overview in Fanzine.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:08 AM

Romy Schneider @ 70.

Romy Schneider The Sissi trilogy, a holiday season perennial on European television, is a happy if somewhat troubled marriage of the Heimat and history-as-pageant films of the postwar era in Mitteleuropan cinema. Romy Schneider would break with Vienna, then Hollywood, to become a Europudding icon - engaged to Alain Delon, working for the likes of Luchino Visconti - and then, the tragic end.

Little wonder Europeans love to hear the tale told over and again. Today, Schneider would have been 70 and, starting at least a week ago, tributes have appeared on TV and in magazines and the papers. For example: Andreas Conrad (Tagesspiegel), Lisa Feldmann (Welt), Regula Freuler (Neue Zürcher Zeitung), Cristina Fischer (Junge Welt), Claudia Lenssen (taz), Ralf Schenk (Berliner Zeitung), Christian Schröder (Tagesspiegel) and Werner Sudendorf (Welt).

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Michael Hanfeld reports from the Côte d'Azur - and the set of Romy, a biopic starring Jessica Schwarz.

An exhibition of portraits is on view at Opelvillen in Rüsselheim through December 28.

Update: Arbogast posts an appreciation.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:05 AM

September 22, 2008

NYFF. In the Realm of Oshima.

Come December, many lucky New Yorkers will likely look back on the New York Film Festival program In the Realm of Oshima as one of if not the major event of the year in film.

Nagisa Oshima

At Hammer to Nail, Nelson Kim offers a brief biography of the director known by most for a single film ("an excellent film, but something of a footnote to his major period: it's as if Godard were known only as the maker of Hail Mary") and previews seven of the 23 features:

Updated through 9/26.

These are the ones I'd consider essential viewing - but don't limit yourself to my picks: the retrospective is also showing several films that are nearly impossible to find in the US (including his first feature, A Town of Love and Hope). Nor should you stop at one or two and call it a day, convincing yourself that you've now "done" Oshima. Furiously self-reinventing, determined to avoid repeating himself or falling into cliché, he changed his style and mode of attack with each new film. As with the 60s films of Godard, to whom he's so often compared, the more you see, the more amazing the total achievement becomes. What's truly remarkable about his most fertile period isn't a single standout movie, or even two or three or four, but the body of work as a whole, considered as a continuous, restlessly innovative inquiry into the revolutionary potential of cinema.

As mentioned earlier, Film Comment is featuring online not only a piece on Oshima from its current issue but also three "online exclusives" taken from the archives. "Forty years ago Nagisa Oshima was one of the biggest names in world cinema, a brilliant modernist who made consistently electrifying films, each one radically different in form and style from the rest," writes Tony Rayns. "If he'd been French, he'd be as well known as Godard - and probably more influential.... [S]o the touring retrospective put together by James Quandt at the Cinematheque Ontario is an essential reassertion of his talent and importance."

The online exclusives: Rayns on In the Realm of the Senses, from the September/October 1976 issue, James Bouras on the censorship of that film (January/February 1977) and Chuck Stephens on Gohatto (November/December 2000).

Updates, 9/26: "With this once-towering figure almost in eclipse, it is hard to overstate the significance of In the Realm of Oshima, his first major retrospective in the United States in more than 20 years," writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. "The retrospective, which will travel to about a dozen other North American cities, is a labor of love for its curator, James Quandt of the Cinematheque Ontario, who has worked on it for 10 years, tracking down obscure print sources and negotiating a tangle of rights problems. In the context of an amnesiac film culture, it is also a heroic intervention, a bid to safeguard a master's place in the canon."

David Phelps in the Auteurs' Notebook:

His films, which, in both senses of the term, "forge" just about any style, can be seen as formalist fuck-yous to society; they're often inquests into the failure of Japanese politics and history on even the most personal level, from Cruel Story of Youth's goon teen hooligans, Nick Ray's rebels given murderous cause, to The Ceremony's affected aristocrats, strung with all the hypocrisies of a ruling class pretending it's not dead. Politics inevitably infiltrates the private sphere, as characters seek an outlet for their wrath, itself the product of a society that has, so much of the time, betrayed its members politically and then demanded they closet their worst inhibitions. The outlet is sometimes rape and sometimes suicide, but always, needless to say, some form of exploitation that only leads to more betrayals; if Oshima's characters are so frequently betrayed by their own class, whatever class it is, it's all they can do to find people exactly like themselves to hurt. Like the characters of Tati or Antonioni or Resnais or Kubrick from the same period, Oshima's rebels really just rebel against anonymity—only to find doppelgangers everywhere.

More from Simon Abrams in the New York Press.

Chris Fujiwara at Moving Image Source on The Man Who Left His Will on Film: "With its images of stagnation that bewilder, bore, and vaguely frighten the on-screen viewers (the young members of the revolutionary film unit), the film-within-the-film provokes, and makes clear, a crisis of representation. In the nothing-to-see of these images is the premonition of a near future when there is nothing to do: when the adversary can be located only with difficulty, because it permeates all levels of the society, and when making revolution is no longer meaningful, because, like Hegel's slave, one has given up one's death."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:39 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, fests, etc, 9/22.

United Red Army "It would be quite easy to go so far as to conclude that even though [Koji] Wakamatsu's filmography now includes several dozen accomplished works, United Red Army is without doubt his most complete, ambitious and overwhelming work to date," writes Rea Amit. "It was achieved only after a few years of flooding Tokyo with pamphlets requesting pledges of substantial sums of money to finance the project (signatories of these pamphlets included musician Jim O'Rourke, who composed the film's musical score, and film critic Inuhiko Yomota). In other words, we could say that the movie is a zenith in Wakamatsu's oeuvre, towards which he had been heading for a long time, far earlier even than the actual production process."

More new reviews at Midnight Eye:

  • Keith Fancher: "Satoshi Miki's Adrift in Tokyo is a difficult film to categorize. Is it a road movie? A city film? A buddy movie? A comedy? A drama? The short answer is: yes."

  • Bryan Hartzheim on Koreyoshi Kurahara's The Warped Ones, "a wrecking ball to what can be considered the indulgencies of the seishun eiga genre, an exhibition of the horrors of uninhibited youth taken to its carnal extremes and matched by a visual accompaniment akin to the abstract and improvised style of a Miles Davis score."

  • Again, Rea Amit: "Mandala is the mid part of [Akio] Jissoji's Buddhist trilogy which opened with This Transient Life (Mujo, 1970) and sealed with Poem (Uta, 1972). While each part shows a strong thematic commitment with several Buddhist ideas, each one is also cinematically and narratively unique in itself."

"Stephen Parr licenses film and video footage, and currently presents some of the best film screenings in town with his Oddball Films series.... Parr's work is currently being appreciated in the Bay Area Now 5 series at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in a screening of Euphoria this coming Thursday." Sean Uyehara talks with him for SF360.

More fests and events:

    Coney Island Film Festival
  • Mike Everleth has the lineup for this weekend's Coney Island Film Festival.

  • For the New York Sun, S James Snyder talks with Thom Powers, documentary programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival and organizer of Stranger Than Fiction, the series kicking off at the IFC Center tomorrow and running through November 25: "Having cultivated a loyal following of attendees and offered some filmmakers their entrée into the New York movie scene, Stranger Than Fiction is more than just a weekly film series; it's often a celebration of those unsung documentary films that Mr Powers wants to share with his friends and colleagues."

  • "[T]here still exist a number of severely depressed and abandoned towns scattered just outside the county lines of California's largest metropolitan areas," notes Catherine Taft in Artforum. "These sites - former boomtowns established around specific industries and occupied by laborers - are the subject of Lee Anne Schmitt's haunting new film, California Company Town." Premieres tonight at REDCAT in Los Angeles.

  • At the Evening Class, Michael Hawley previews the Mill Valley Film Festival, running October 2 through 12.

Acquarello: "Like Boris Lehman's autobiographical essay Looking for my Birthplace, Albert Solé's Bucharest, Memory Lost is a search for identity - the reconstruction of a past that has been lost in the shadows of turbulent history, exile, and parental silence."

"There is much to admire in José Luis Torres Leiva's The Sky, the Earth, and the Rain / El Cielo, la tierra, y la lluvia: the film's haptic Chilean landscapes, its textured aural compliments, a precise feeling for the region's unceasing winter precipitation and its metaphoric relation of class with the aforesaid deluge." Michael J Anderson finds fault but also "real filmmaking promise."

The Sea Wall "With his fourth narrative feature Un Barrage Contre Le Pacifique (The Sea Wall) boasting its world premiere at the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival, Rithy Panh adapts the eponymously-entitled 1950 novel by Marguerite Duras - a classic work of French literature - to make a compelling, sumptuous, yet politically astute film about his native country." And Michael Guillén interviews him.

"Marilynne Robinson's novel Housekeeping is virtually defined by its slow, swirling rhythms, but one of the first things that is apparent about Bill Forsyth's passionate, faithful film adapatation is that, as story telling, it starts out with a hop, skip, and jump; and although an idea of leisurely pacing is sustained throughout, the movie never dawdles, stalls, or grinds to a halt." Jonathan Rosenbaum posts his 1988 review.

In the Guardian, Paul Rennie offers historical context for the poster for Blow Up.

Vulture's got the complete list of Emmy winners. Nathaniel R live-blogged the evening. Commentary: Heather Havrilesky (Salon) and Alessandra Stanley (New York Times).

At the SpoutBlog, Brandon Harris asks Ry Russo-Young about her media diet.

Online listening tip. Vinyl Is Podcast #2: "Future calendar highlights, with Brian Darr."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM

Interview. Ferzan Ozpetek.

Saturn in Opposition "If you're lucky enough to have ever been part of a band of deeply close friends, then add writer/director Ferzan Ozpetek's new film Saturn in Opposition (Saturno Contro) to your must-see list immediately," wrote James Van Maanen when he caught the film as part of this summers Open Roads series of new Italian Films at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York.

It was then, too, that he got a chance to talk with the director about his work - and more than a little, too, about what the current administrations in the US and Italy are really after. Meantime, with Saturn in Opposition now coming out on DVD, you can take James's advice, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 PM

NYFF. Wendy and Lucy.

"Much like her last film, Old Joy, Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy is another slice of minimalist indie-Americana that has been receiving rave reviews since its debut at Cannes, particularly for Michelle Williams's stirring lead performance," writes Filmbrain.

Wendy and Lucy

"That I wasn't completely bowled over by the film has left me with an intangible sense of disquiet... While there's certainly much to admire about the film, I can't help but cling to the notion that there's something missing, and that it (at times) employs conventional tactics that weaken the work."

"Reichardt's artistry outweighs (or at least sufficiently counterbalances) her ambition to Say Something About Amerika," writes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "Reichardt's style clears the mind: dialogue is minimal - not artificially, just leaving Williams on her own - framings elegant and magisterial. I didn't realize how much I liked it until 20 minutes after it was over. The world Reichardt explores - the flat parking lots so close to the woods - is one I recognize. Reichardt's political ideas are easy to translate into words, and not necessarily good ones; what makes her film haunting is mostly ineffable."

"Like a few of the other very few good, visible, working American filmmakers (Van Sant, Jacobs, Hutton, Benning, Malick, maybe Kerrigan, not to mention lessers like Haynes, Penn and Gianvito), Reichhardt, in an age of globalization and gentrification, Starbucks and Walmarts, is obsessed with recovering hints of Americana: trains and campfires and hobos, marginalized migrants, the people, pioneers or nomads or both, who, as Woody Guthrie put it (and trains do), keep on keeping on," writes David Phelps in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Mythic folk figure or lonely dog-lover, Wendy is one of what, despite the absence of the new Dardennes film, looks to be a series of NYFF protagonists pacing constantly and tacitly, unable to communicate with a world and its rigid social order that're totally incompatible with their own private dreams and fears (see also, by all means: The Headless Woman, Tony Manero)."

"Absent any showy histrionics or mannerisms, [Williams's] performance makes painfully real Reichardt's depiction of everyday problems magnified by poverty into mini-calamities, exhibiting a measured grace that's matched by complementary beginning-middle-end tracking shots - of woman and dog playing fetch, of dog pound cages, and of dusk-dappled trees spied from a moving train - that encapsulate the film's emotional trajectory from contentment to sorrow to hopeful uncertainty." Nick Schager in Slant.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and Toronto.

Update, 10/4: Artforum's Brian Sholis interviews Reichardt.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:34 AM

Toronto and NYFF. Happy-Go-Lucky.

"On the outskirts of Mike Leigh's blissful Happy-Go-Lucky [site] lie child abusers, stalkers and supremacists, homeless, hairy troglodytes, school bullies, back problems, driving perils, and a series of crumbling relationships no amount of bourgeois BBQs and videogaming seem quite prepared to rectify (quite the reverse," writes David Phelps in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Happy-Go-Lucky

"[S]tarry-eyed heroine, Poppy (Sally Hawkins), takes driving lessons with a trait-by-trait carbon copy of Travis Bickle (Eddie Marsan). What's funny, if it's funny, is people's ability to take it all for granted and move on. Like so many comedies, Happy-Go-Lucky shows us how to accept the world, if not destroy it, as a terrible, terrible place."

"As an equal fan of Leigh's bleak early television work and his delightful Life is Sweet and Topsy-Turvy, I had High Hopes for his new film," writes Ella Taylor. "But despite the elfin charm of Sally Hawkins, who plays an elementary schoolteacher with a sunny outlook that repels all adversity, Happy-Go-Lucky struck me as another form of condescension to the lower orders, only in primary colors."

"Leigh and Hawkins may have overly conceived this eccentric schoolteacher, but it should be noted that they're dealing within the realm of fantasy—trying to show how hard it is for people to retain their essential goodness in spite of the indignities small and large that subsume their lives," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. Without certain "striking, borderline frightening scenes that sketch the girl's selfless devotion to others, it would have been too easy to write Happy-Go-Lucky as a lark. With them, the film soars."

"[F]or all its surface innocuousness, Happy-Go-Lucky builds to a climax that's at once utterly predictable and deeply moving," writes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "It kind of ruined my day. It works because the outlines are banal but the performances are phenomenally lived-in."

"Perhaps it all simply would have worked better as a musical," suggests Pacze Moj.

Stephanie Zacharek talks with Leigh about for Salon.

Earlier: Reviews from the UK.

Update, 9/23: "[T]he synthesis of gags and melodrama seems strained in Happy-Go-Lucky: much of the narrative trajectory, slight as it is, appears recycled from earlier, better Leigh films," writes Richard Porton in Cinema Scope. "[S]ince Leigh appears to have more affinities with his gloomier protagonists than with inveterate optimist Poppy, Happy-Go-Lucky, is, good intentions notwithstanding, a rather fraudulent and half-hearted enterprise."

Update, 9/24: "Leigh's portrait sporadically flirts with mushiness, yet melodramatics are avoided thanks in part to the director's restraint as well as, more fundamentally, to Hawkins' marvelously unpretentious performance, which initially seems destined for corny shtick but is imbued with disarmingly genuine heart that's made complicated and authentic by her sporadic flashes of seriousness and sadness," writes Nick Schager.

Update, 9/26: The filmlinc blog has some online viewing: Leigh and Hawkins at their press conference.

Updates, 10/3: William Georgiades talks with Leigh for the Los Angeles Times.

Online listening and viewing tips. Ed Champion talks with Leigh; Filmcatcher interviews Hawkins and Leigh, while IFC has video from the press conference.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:00 AM

Choke.

Choke "Adapted from a half-baked novel by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk, Choke chronicles yet another anomic antihero/narrator (Sam Rockwell, at 39 about a decade too old for the part) struggling against anomie amid abandonment issues," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "Choke makes its source material's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink absurdism broader, less expressive and cheaply reductive."

"The self-described cultists can talk amongst themselves about this movie's omissions and distortions of its source, but there's no question of its basic fidelity to Palahniuk's pet themes - particularly that memory and imagination, especially where trauma is concerned, are subjective and selective." Jonathan Kiefer.

Updated through 9/24.

"What wisdom does Choke offer to he who endures?" asks Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "'Sometimes it's not important which way you jump - just that you jump.' So the dirty jokes hide a heart of platitudes. Choke should be flung into the dumpster of preening, 'edgy' pop nihilism somewhere under Dexter and Clerks 2, and immediately forgotten."

This "is the first movie chockablock with nude women I've ever fought to stay awake at," notes David Edelstein in New York.

"Palahniuk didn't just write Choke - to a degree, he lived it." A profile from Simon Abrams for the New York Press.

At BlackBook, Ben Barna chats with director Clark Gregg, Rockwell and Palahniuk. Sample question: "If you could live inside any single cartoon, which cartoon would you want to live inside for the rest of your life?"

Earlier: Ed Champion and reviews from Sundance.

Updates, 9/24: "Gregg knows better than to try matching Fincher's gaga aesthetic choices, so he heads a hundred miles in the opposite direction by aiming for grungy authenticity," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "[T]he choice undercuts this very funny film once Choke's storyline exits the realm of the rational."

"It took a long time, but Sam Rockwell has finally become Edward Norton." Josef Braun explains.

"Rockwell could probably play a disaffected ferret like Victor in his sleep, but that easy believability is key, especially when he's forced to reckon with his attraction to nurse Paige (Kelly Macdonald)," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. "Their halting relationship is a highlight, a through-line that Gregg doesn't grasp with enough firmness. Instead, he celebrates Palahniuk's voice - something the author can do all by himself."

"What, then, is the appeal of Chuck Palahniuk's writing?" asks Paul Matwychuk. "The other day at the office, I wondered aloud who reads these books, to which my co-editor Fawnda Mithrush wearily replied, 'A whole lot of ex-boyfriends.'"

Mike Russell talks with Palahniuk for the Oregonian.

And Aaron Hillis talks with him for IFC.

"Palahniuk and Gregg, who has perhaps the film's funniest role as the theme park's strict taskmaster, both suffer the same flaw," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice: They explain and explain again the genesis of Victor's demons, to the point where the novel and movie play almost like parodies of novels and movies in which a character has to get in touch with his feelings in order to become a better man. Basically, Victor's gonna fuck himself crazy or fuck himself sane - yawn."

Another talk with Palahniuk: Lauren Wissot at the SpoutBlog.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:54 AM | Comments (1)

Miracle at St Anna.

Miracle at St Anna "Miracle at St Anna will doubtless be extolled by people who mistake [Spike] Lee's righteous clobbering for moral seriousness," writes David Edelstein in New York. "But compare any scene to Rachid Bouchareb's Indigènes (stupidly retitled Days of Glory in the US), in which Algerians - French citizens - fight for a country that gives them no rights: The storytelling is measured, the encounters glancing but rich, the violence more devastating for its restraint. Compare the Taviani brothers' sublime Night of the Shooting Stars, in which comedy bleeds into tragedy and the characters have so much stature you can't believe they're killing one another so absurdly. Lee's climax is part punishing bloodbath, part florid religious uplift, and the coda is so maladroit it's hard to believe anyone on-set could keep a straight face."

Updated through 9/27.

Noel Murray at the AV Club: "This pains me to write, because I'm a lifelong fan of Spike Lee's, and I think his recent run of films (25th Hour, Inside Man, When The Levees Broke) has been downright inspiring, but Miracle at St Anna is a botch of the first order, a movie that telegraphs its leadenness in its first 10 minutes, and departs two-and-a-half hours later having left behind maybe two or three memorable scenes."

"Lee's noble attempt to create a World War II drama with African American soldiers fails to create a compelling narrative, marred as it is by forced melodrama and a shoddy screenplay that sounds like some kind of second rate pulp novel from the 50s," writes Eric Kohn at the Jaman Blog. "The director undoubtedly qualifies as one of the finest American filmmakers of the last 30 years, but he might work better on his home turf."

"There are moments here where the film does not work, where you can feel the sharp needle of disbelief or dislocation puncture the film mercilessly, and there are other moments that are not only willing but indeed eager to look at big, challenging, relevant issues of race and power, war and justice, faith and failure," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "These moments - and there are many of them - not only speak to Lee's unwavering skill and commitment as a filmmaker, but also to the singular nature of his talent and will. When Miracle at St Anna falters, it's in the moments that seem like they could have been crafted by any other filmmaker; when Miracle at St Anna succeeds, it's in the moments that could only have been crafted by Lee."

Nicolas Rapold talks with Lee for the New York Sun.

Updates, 9/24: "Whatever Miracle at St Anna was intended to be - suppressed history revealed, a studio-era trench ensemble throwback, a war movie patchwork borrowing heavily from the kid-in-war subgenre - it fails rather spectacularly," argues Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine.

"Mr Lee has stretched his material in so many different directions that one is left with unacceptable levels of religiosity and sentimentality in the overall context of the naked brutality we have witnessed," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

"While the cast is uniformly excellent, it's worth highlighting [Matteo] Sciabordi's moving and underplayed turn - it's one of the best juvenile performances in recent memory," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "More's the pity, then, that those great moments are ultimately outweighed by the ones that don't work, all the way to the would-be tearjerking climax. Lee's creative passion is apparent throughout Miracle at St Anna, but the screenplay lets him, and the audience, down."

"[Y]ou may begin to wonder if Lee really initiated this project or if it only fell into his hands after Roberto Benigni proved unavailable." Scott Foundas in the Voice.

Quick updates, 9/26: "Spike Lee is awkwardly caught between nobility and pulp with his latest, Miracle at St Anna," writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. "The film plays minute to minute like a Sam Fuller-esque two-fister, but those minutes add up, incongruously, to one hell of a ponderous super-sized epic, overflowing with unnecessary subplots and punched up to inglorious heights of excess."

"[S]etting the record straight after so many years and so many movies is not necessarily a simple undertaking, and this film sometimes stumbles under its heavy, self-imposed burden of historical significance," writes AO Scott in the New York Times.

More from Jay Antani (Slant), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Brandon Fibbs (cinemattraction), Andy Klein (LA CityBeat), J Robert Parks (Daily Plastic) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York).

James Hannaham talks with Lee for Salon.

Updates, 9/27: "At two hours and 40 minutes, Miracle is as empty and hollow an 'epic' as they come." Michael Joshua Rowin for Stop Smiling.

"Spike Lee's Miracle at St Anna is an ambitious sprawl, a picture that's dramatically compelling in some places and plodding and didactic in others," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "It's also occasionally moving, even when it bends too close to sentimentality. Watching it, I got the sense that Lee had simply decided to pull out all the stops, to sink himself into one hell of a story - part World War II drama, part mystery, part meditation on what it means to fight for a country that might not give a damn about you - and see where it might lead him. Unfortunately, it leads him in circles. And yet there's enough vitality here to keep the picture going, even through the rough patches."

James Rocchi talks with Lee for Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:49 AM

September 21, 2008

Shorts, fests, etc, 9/21.

The Dark Knight Today's must-read: Jonathan Lethem has emerged from "the salt mine of a novel-in-progress" and finally caught up with the year's big movie. A single snippet won't do the piece justice, but here we go: "No wonder we crave an entertainment like The Dark Knight, where every topic we're unable to quit not-thinking about is whirled into a cognitively dissonant milkshake of rage, fear and, finally, absolving confusion."

Also in the New York Times:

  • David Foster Wallace "was the kind of literary figure whose career was emblematic of his age," writes AO Scott. "He may not have been the most famous novelist of his time, but more than anyone else, he exemplified and articulated the defining anxieties and attitudes of his generation." More from novelist Joshua Ferris in the Observer and Phil Nugent.

  • Disney's about to relaunch the Muppets, reports Brooks Barnes: "Instead of the take-it-slow approach, this time the Muppets are getting the 'Hannah Montana' treatment, being blasted into every pop-culture nook and cranny that the company owns or can dream up."

  • Terrence Rafferty talks with Fernando Meirelles about Blindness: "To make this movie in a spirit faithful to its source, a 1995 novel (of the same name) by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, Mr Meirelles had to resign himself to flying blind."

"[T]hese 'obit-defining' moments are the scariest part of our existence. No matter what we want to be noticed for, it's often something else entirely that defines our time on earth." Raymond de Felitta looks back on the life and work of his friend and mentor, Edward Dmytryk, who turned 100 on September 5. Why did that day go by "virtually unnoticed, unreported and un-cared about by even the hardest-core cinema buffs"? Raymond de Felitta is pretty sure he knows why.

For Artforum, Catherine Taft recently attended Taryn Simon's "Gagosian opening of An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, a project that painstakingly catalogues the hidden logistics of American culture during these 'violent times' (from avian-quarantine facilities and a US Customs contraband room to Braille editions of Playboy and the art collection at CIA headquarters). Surprisingly, the crowd of hip, affluent escapists didn't so much stand out against Simon's tell-all photographs as bring into stark focus a hunger for politicized images on (and about) the home front."

The Shock Doctrine "Michael Winterbottom and Road to Guantanamo collaborator Mat Whitecross are working on documentary The Shock Doctrine," reports Screen Daily's Chris Evans. "The film is based on a book by Naomi Klein which aims to expose what she calls 'disaster capitalism.' The theory is that neo-liberal capitalism feeds on natural disasters, war and terror to establish its dominance." Via Movie City News.

Oliver Stone's W. will open the Austin Film Festival (October 16 through 23). Jette Kernion has more. Speaking of Stone, Paul Kedrosky's got an amusing note on his recent chat with Alicia Mundy of the Wall Street Journal.

"Much like Michael Moore's Sicko, Critical Condition reminds us of the absurd choices people are forced to make in order to preserve their health," writes Chuck Tryon. "Get a paper divorce to reduce medical costs? Cross the border to get surgery at a significantly reduced cost? Take expensive pills or fall behind on your mortgage? While Critical Condition lacks the historical grounding that I found valuable in Moore's film (the history of HMOs, in particular), the film illustrates the degree to which so many health insurance organizations place profit over care, while also illustrating the fact that in the long run, we end paying more when people don't have adequate access to health care, not merely financially but morally as well." PBS, September 30.

For the Los Angeles Times, John Horn checks in with Diablo Cody to see how Jennifer's Body is coming along.

Alice Fischer talks with Matthew Goode for the Observer, where Philip French looks back on the career of Charles Laughton.

Online viewing tips. All from Jerry Lentz: Kenneth Tynan interviews Laurence Olivier; a BBC doc on The Third Man; and Cinema of Vengeance, a 1993 doc on martial arts in the movies.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:58 PM | Comments (6)

Venice, Telluride and Toronto 08. Indexes.

So here's how things shook out around here during the summer-turns-to-autumn rush.

Venice:

Roundups: 8/28, 8/31 and 9/3.

Ronald Bergan sent an early dispatch and then wrapped his festival; then there were the Lions and wrap-up of sorts: "Venice vs Toronto."

Telluride: Most coverage of the coverage of Telluride is collected in this entry, but a few films did score entries of their own: Flame & Citron, Prodigal Sons and Slumdog Millionaire.

Toronto:

Contemporary World Cinema:

Discovery:

Gala Presentations:

Masters:

Mavericks:

Real to Reel:

Special Presentations:

Vanguard:

Visions:

For openers, there was a guide on 9/4 to hubs of coverage.

Dispatches came in from Sean Axmaker (3 and 6), David D'Arcy (1, 5, 7 and 8) and Michael Sicinski (Wavelengths preview, 2, 4 and 9).

Many, many notes on many, many more films are gathered here.

Another entry's been "Wrapping Toronto."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:42 PM

Toronto 08. Mentions.

Toronto 08 Anyone following the Daily last year may remember that coverage of the coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival got way out of hand. There were complaints, and those complaints were justified. This year, I concentrated on keeping the clutter to a minimum by trying to keep a cool head: not throwing up an entry every time a film I was excited to hear about was merely mentioned, but instead, waiting until it seemed that, for whatever combination of reasons, an entry for any particular film was well and truly warranted.

Below, then, is a collection of notes that might have eventually become entries - but didn't. They're arranged alphabetically, by program, though I should immediately add that all notes related to the Wavelengths program have been posted as updates to Michael Sicinski's excellent preview.

Contemporary World Cinema:

Two-Legged Horse

Discovery:

  • "Matthew Newton's drama 3 Blind Mice is a film about Australian marines en route to Iraq, but the war these boys are heading into could be anywhere and backed by any kind of ideology, so timeless are the film's ideas about camaraderie and duty," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It's essentially a modern redo ofOn the Town, with ample fist fights in place of fancy footwork, a much more cynical attitude towards the notion of patriotism, and a completely credible sense of verisimilitude."

  • "Although the right influences are on display here (Tarr most of all but also a bit of Angelopoulos), although [Kornel Mandruczo] sustains an admirable formal rigor throughout the film, and although there are individual moments of knockout beauty, Delta is starving for a purpose," writes Darren Hughes.

  • "A rainy Monday night saw the world premiere of Gigantic, the debut feature by director Matt Aselton, who co-wrote the film with Adam Nagata," notes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. "Starring Paul Dano and Zooey Deschanel, with supporting work by John Goodman, Ed Asner, Ian Roberts and Zach Galifianakis, the film puts an oddball spin on what could be a much more conventionally told tale about a young man finding himself (there's a girl involved and not one but two quirky families)."

Lovely, Still

Gala Presentations:

  • "The fragrant aroma of magnolias is undercut by the distinct smell of mothballs throughout The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (with Bryce Dallas Howard) an admirably earnest but curiously flat attempt to film a long-unproduced scenario by Tennessee Williams," writes Joe Leydon.

  • Richard Eyre's The Other Man, with Liam Neeson, Antonio Banderas, Laura Linney and Romola Garai," is "just a twist-delivery machine, incapable of the emotion we humans call desire," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

  • "There's a familiarity to Pride and Glory [site] that, depending on your perspective, could be either horrendously tiresome or part of the charm," writes Eugene Novikov at Cinematical. "By all accounts it's a middling film, an overwrought and occasionally laughable corrupt cop drama that you've seen countless times. But for me, going back to this world of divided loyalties, broken oaths, outraged good guys, and 'we protect our own' machismo was like settling into a comfortable recliner. An extremely comfortable one, actually: Pride and Glory is moody, attractive and well-acted. I think director Gavin O'Connor intended it to be grim and upsetting, but at best it's pulpy entertainment, a highly watchable series of well-worn, well-executed clichés."

  • Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times on Public Enemy Number One (Part 1): "[Vincent] Cassel gives an incredibly charismatic performance, full of sex appeal and swagger, while [director Jean-François] Richet handles the action with aplomb, delivering some wonderfully tension-filled bank robbery and prison escape scenes. But the movie is undone by its willingness to wallow in every violent chapter of [Jacques] Mesrine's career." More from Scott Foundas: "While it isn't quite as DOA as some other starry, high-profile premieres at Toronto this year, The Death Instinct turns out to be a surprisingly paint-by-bullets gangster movie that relates Mesrine's exploits in enervating, one-thing-after-another fashion."

  • Who Do You Love "perfectly captures the essence of Leonard Chess," blogs the Los Angeles Times's Patrick Goldstein. "He was one of those great American entrepreneurs who discovered a new cultural form - urban blues - and did his best to both celebrate and exploit it to the hilt."

  • The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris talks with Scott Campbell about the experience of seeing his novel, Aftermath, which has yet to find an American publisher, adapted as Im Winter ein Jahr (A Year Ago in Winter), directed by Caroline Link.

Midnight Madness:

Acolytes

  • "Take a quick glance at the synopsis for Jon Hewitt's Acolytes [site] and you'll think you've got the film all figured out," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "Abused teens stumble across evidence of a killer and rather than calling the police opt to blackmail the killer into taking out their abuser. Seems simple, yes? Think you know where it's going, yes? You don't."

  • "I never thought I'd utter these words, but Jean-Claude Van Damme gives an exciting, impressive performance here, careening between action that leaves him breathless and comedy that leaves us laughing, revealing not only the timing and charisma that made him the action star we know him as but also a human side we probably had never imagined." James Rocchi at Cinematical on JCVD (site). More from Kevin Kelly at the SpoutBlog and Noel Murray and Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

  • "Martyrs [site], for those festival-goers who stay up for the naughty midnight screenings, is already proving to be legendary," reports Joshua Rothkopf for Time Out New York. Is director Pascal Laugier "a new Cronenberg? We'll see." More from Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

  • Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation (site) "offers some amusing and eye-opening tales about what happens to a film culture when government censorship relents and government grants are ripe for the plucking," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Suddenly an army of opportunists - some artists, some con men - grabs the money and runs.... Think of this as a vividly illustrated catalogue of astonishing smut."

Real to Reel:

  • "American Swing is a documentary about Larry Levenson, a former wholesale brisket distributor who in 1977 started Plato's Retreat, the legendary New York City nightclub where - for a mere $35 membership fee - ordinary couples could meet other couples and have free, uninhibited, often very public sex," blogs the Los Angeles Times's Patrick Goldstein. "The hip celebrities of that era had Studio 54, the punk rockers had CBGB's, but the bridge-and-tunnel crowd from Jersey and Long Island had Plato's Retreat."

  • "There will, one day, be an essential movie about Paris and her kind, a new La Dolce Vita," blogs Joshua Rothkopf for Time Out New York. "It will touch on everything: the lifestyle, the ravenous media hunger, the strange penchant for going commando. At root, it will analyze what Vanessa Grigoriadis called, in her Rolling Stone piece on Britney Spears, a 'disease created by fame, yet to be named.' Paris, Not France is not that movie." More from Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog, where she also talks with director Adria Petty, and Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

  • "By far the most entertaining movie I've seen so far is Jeffrey Levy-Hinte's Soul Power [site], which captures James Brown, along with BB King, the Spinners, the Fania All-Stars and so many more, at a 1974 music festival in Zaire, now Congo," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Originally planned to coincide with the Ali-Foreman AO ScottRumble in the Jungle, the concert was, as Soul Power makes clear, a logistical nightmare and an artistic triumph." More from Bob Turnbull.

  • Unmistaken Child "pulls back the curtain on the highly secretive process by which Tibetan Lamas are selected," notes curator Dave Filipi. "The film is visually stunning and is one of those rare films (not unlike Into Great Silence which we screened a couple of years ago) that truly exposes you to a culture or tradition you've never seen before."

Special Presentations:

  • "Easy Virtue, an adaptation of an early Noël Coward play, is a droll and witty delight, a superb showcase for its cast, and a return to fine form for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert director Stephan Elliott, who last turned in the unsettling but incomprehensible Eye of the Beholder nearly 10 years ago," writes Eugene Novikov at Cinematical. "Where most TIFF films seemed to glower at me from the screen, this one winked and smiled." More from the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik: "It's all an amazing exercise in creating something no one tries to create anymore. Still, one has to ask why there was a need for a movie like this when things like Netflix subscriptions exist or, for that matter, when a trip to the library would satisfy the cravings of even most ardent comedy-of-manners junkie."

Faubourg 36
  • "Paris 36 [site] tries to do a dozen different things, and does none of them well," writes Eugene Novikov at Cinematical. "But even that description may not be harsh enough, because it makes the film sound ambitious. It's not."

  • "By far the most unclassifiable picture to emerge from the 2008 Toronto Film Festival, and no less fascinating for it, Plastic City nominally follows and is about a Chinese father (Anthony Wong) and his adopted Japanese son (Jô Odagiri) as they try and uphold a business of selling fake designerware in a huge city in Brazil," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "But this is if 'follows' and 'about' were conventionally executed by [Nelson Yu Lik-wai] - who has made two movies previously and is best known as Jia Zhangke's cinematographer - and his fellow screenwriters, Fendou Liu and Fernando Bonassi. But Plastic City is as far from conventional in execution as is completely generic in its nominal attributes of rival gangster-like businesses, men brooding over ethics, family lineage, and retaliation, a strip club with a hooker going straight and a madame/singer dating the boss, jail time and government threats, corrupt politicians and new forms of business and gang warfare. If this sounds normal rest assured the movie is not."

  • "The only real blasphemies in Bill Maher's anti-religion documentary, Religulous [site] are that it's not terribly smart and only sporadically funny," writes Jim Emerson. More from Karina Longworth (SpoutBlog), Noel Murray AV Club) and Jeffrey Wells - and James Rocchi in Cinematical, where he also interviews Maher. In the Observer, Peter Beaumont reports that "Maher and director Larry Charles have been accused of misleading participants."

  • "Rithy Panh is a Cambodian-born filmmaker who pretty much knocked me flat at Toronto five years ago with his documentary S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine," blogs Joshua Rothkopf for Time Out New York. "Panh is back with a new film, the far more conventional The Sea Wall, from a novel by Marguerite Duras starring the steely Isabelle Huppert as a French colonialist fighting the power. Wish I could say I liked it more than I did (it's loads better than Indochine), but it did put me in mind of Panh's S21 and the fest's occasional, appreciated role as a home for the shocking."

Anonyma
  • The Playlist on A Woman in Berlin [site]: "Based on a banned and anonymous and shocking account of women who were mass-raped by the Russians that overtook Berlin in the spring of 1945, the controversial German film, that humanized these female Nazi supporters (and their Russian perpetrators), was a bleak and harrowing conclusion to TIFF, but a super powerful and piercing one."

Visions:

Posted by dwhudson at 12:13 PM | Comments (2)

Have You Seen...?

Have You Seen...? "David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film has never received the acclaim it deserves," argues Geoff Dyer in the Observer. "Everyone knows it's a great book about film, but the more thoroughly one studies it the more those two words - 'about film' - rankle. It's a literary achievement of vast, even ludicrous, ambition, stylistic brio and creative daring" and "a vicarious autobiography and commentary on its own composition." These days, of course, Thomson is everywhere. "Would he write better if he wrote less? Impossible to say. Like a workhorse-star of the studio system, he keeps slogging away, partly for the dough and partly, one suspects, to keep some looming dread at bay. So it didn't take too much arm-twisting to get him to sign up for another half-million-word tome on his top thousand movies."

Updated through 9/26.

Have You Seen...?: A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films "is crammed with insight and epigram ('The thing about Clint Eastwood's [Dirty Harry] is his tweed jacket') and, given that he has touched on much of this material before, it is remarkably free of recycling. Thomson is a jazz fan and he loves coming back to the standards, the classics of the medium, and improvising over them."

"Clearly designed as a book to be dipped into, most readers will find this singularly difficult to put down," writes Barry Forshaw in Crime Time.

Thomson will be discussing his new book at BFI Southbank tomorrow evening and at the Barbican to discuss Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be on Tuesday; he'll be at The Booksmith in San Francisco on November 12.

On a somewhat related note, there's a meme running around about films we have not seen. Sample entries: Joseph B, Bill (The Kind of Face You Hate), Dennis Cozzalio, Glenn Kenny and Bob Turnbull. Click on any of those names to see how the meme's spread so far.

Update, 9/26: Ambrose Heron talks with Thomson.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:20 AM | Comments (2)

Ivanov.

Ivanov "The perfect 10s for [Kenneth] Branagh's performance in the title role of Ivanov, a Chekhov play adapted by Tom Stoppard, prompted BBC2's Newsnight to ask whether Britain was entering a new golden age of theatre," reports David Smith. "Ivanov is the first show in a year-long season that the Donmar Warehouse is bringing to the Wyndham's Theatre, featuring Dame Judi Dench, Sir Derek Jacobi and Jude Law, who will play Hamlet under Branagh's direction. Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes are headlining at the National Theatre, Michael Gambon and David Walliams are about to open in Harold Pinter's No Man's Land, and the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, is such a hot ticket that when London booking opened the box office was taking 2,000 calls every second."

"This is a turning point for London theatre," agrees Susannah Clapp. "Ivanov was a canny choice of Michael Grandage's, the Donmar's artistic director.... It is one of the best ever dramatic portrayals of depression.... It's one brilliance of Tom Stoppard's light-on-its feet, ingenious but not too pleased with itself translation that Ivanov's condition - the thing that has turned him from being an idealist to a no-hoping no-hoper - is everywhere described and nowhere diagnosed. It's a sack on the back, it's a sulk, it's a melancholy which women want to cure. The mystery becomes part of its torment; it is constantly escaping, changing shape, never treatable."

Also in the Observer, Tim Adams talks with Stoppard about Russians and Czechs.

"Ivanov, the earliest play by Chekhov to receive a production in Russia, is not often revived these days," writes Paul Taylor. "But the title role - of a landowner in the mother of all mid-life crises - is notable in this country for the way it has lured two British stars back from the screen to their illustrious starting point, the stage. A decade ago, Ralph Fiennes played the part for Jonathan Kent at the Almeida. And now, giving a performance of extraordinary perceptiveness and human breadth, Kenneth Branagh has an almighty crack at Ivanov.... This is great acting, no question."

Also in the Independent, Kate Bassett: "Tom Stoppard's new English version is vivacious. Cheeky modern colloquialisms rub along with the fin-de-siècle Russian setting.... Branagh does not persuasively convey the numb lethargy of depression... Nonetheless, his flashes of irritability and tender warmth are startling."

Branagh brings "articulate melancholy to Tom Stoppard's punchy, witty, if overfree translation," writes Benedict Nightingale in the London Times. "Michael Grandage bolsters his reputation as an actor's director by getting fine performances from the (variously) ebullient, malicious and wanly affable topers played by Lorcan Cranitch, Malcolm Sinclair and Kevin McNally, but he's equally successful at evoking a tiny, mean-spirited world where the diversions are playing cards, exchanging scandal and making antiSemitic remarks. And the sum effect is so glumly comic you're left wondering how Ivanov could ever have been dismissed as minor Chekhov."

Ivanov has long been regarded "as the runt in the litter compared with the four great plays of Chekhov's maturity," notes Charles Spencer in the Telegraph. "Even Michael Frayn, who has probably forgotten more about Chekhov than most people will ever know, has described the play as 'possibly the most lowering thing Chekhov ever wrote.'... Kenneth Branagh is in magnificent form.... His cruelty, his weariness and his self-disgust are all unsparingly caught and yet Branagh also suggests the blighted beauty in the character that makes two women love him."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:11 AM

September 20, 2008

1968 @ Britannica.

2001 We've spent more than a little of 2008 marking 40th anniversaries - here at the Daily, too. See, for example, this, this, this, this, this and this. But wait, as they say: there's more. At the Britannica Blog, bestselling author Raymond Benson, a frequent contributor to Cinema Retro, the magazine dedicated to "Celebrating Films of the 1960s & 1970s," is going to spend two weeks counting down his personal top ten films of 1968. Starting with his #10 on Monday, he'll be considering one film each weekday through October 3.

A handful of bloggers - about two handfuls, actually - myself included, will be commenting on his choices (scroll down a tad), and we won't be alone. Comments are already stacking up, in part because if you guess Raymond Benson's #1 there may be a prize in it for you. I've made my guess plain enough; meantime here's a list few would've guessed up, I'll bet.

Update, 9/23: The choices so far: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (with Alan Arkin, #10) and Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (#9).

Posted by dwhudson at 2:08 PM | Comments (1)

Shorts, 9/20.

Late Spring "Ozu's name came up often last week at TIFF, most frequently in regard to Hirokazu Kore-eda's domestic drama, Still Walking, and Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum, which was directly inspired by Late Spring," writes Darren Hughes. "I watched Late Spring for the first time last night (yeah, I know) and had a grand time spotting the details that echo throughout Denis's film. Mostly, though, I was struck by just how strange a filmmaker Ozu really is, particularly in his cutting. It made me realize that I'm not so sure, exactly what we mean when we call a film 'Ozu-like.' (See Girish's 'Received Ideas in Cinema' post.)" Update, 9/22: Billy Stevenson.

David Bordwell considers "one of the most powerful weapons in the filmmaker's arsenal. A director can disarm our emotions through a single reaction shot."

"Sadly, the great Cuban film director Humberto Solás died from cancer on September 17th, aged 66," notes Catherine Grant. "There's a great and touching obituary by Latin-American film scholar and fellow filmmaker Michael Chanan in today's Guardian."

Luis Mandoki: "Brave truth-teller or cheap political shill? Los Angeles audiences will be able to judge for themselves when Fraude Mexico 2006 opens here theatrically Oct 10, following a sold-out screening this week at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival." Agustin Gurza talks with him for the Los Angeles Times. Also in the LAT, Jevon Phillips: "Loved Kung Fu Hustle, and Shaolin Soccer was an epic romp of martial arts fun, but now comes word that actor/director Stephen Chow will direct Seth Rogen and star opposite him as Kato in Columbia Pictures' The Green Hornet. for the Los Angeles Times.

"Oscilloscope Pictures has acquired North American rights to director Kurt Kuenne's Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about His Father, which played at Slamdance and the SXSW Film Festival." The Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Kilday, via the SXSW Newsreel.

Watchmen "A rapidly escalating legal fight between Warner Brothers, which has already shot Watchmen, and 20th Century Fox, which claims to own rights to the graphic novel on which it is based, is headed for trial in federal court in Los Angeles next January," reports Michael Cieply. "That is just two months before Warner is scheduled to release the film in the United States, while Paramount Pictures distributes it abroad."

Also in the New York Times:

  • "Taking Father Home, the debut feature of the Chinese director Ying Liang, is a poetic study of resolve and revenge," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "It is also a stunning introduction to a rare new talent." More from Cullen Gallagher at Hammer to Nail.

  • "The release of All of Us, a documentary about HIV/AIDS and African-American women in New York, is well timed given recent headlines about the alarming persistence of the crisis," writes Nathan Lee. "But this powerful, conceptually sure film is relevant beyond the concerns of the moment as both a model of documentary method and compassionate social filmmaking." More from Andrew Schenker in Slant.

  • "An Angolan word for encampment, 'quilombo' refers to the villages throughout Brazil originally founded by insurgent and fugitive slaves under desperate conditions," notes Laura Kern. "Leonard Abrams's documentary Quilombo Country is an up-close-and-personal look at the state of these villages today." Also: "Realistic performances and genuine emotions make Matthew Bonifacio's quiet charmer Amexicano much more than just another preachy treatise on illegal immigration." Related: indieWIRE talks with Bonifacio and writer Carmine Famiglietti.

  • "In the Kingdom of Malaria, inky clouds obscure the sun and loony scientists are rewarded for diabolical inventions." Jeannette Catsoulis: "There's scant reward, though, for sitting through Igor, an animated twist on the Frankenstein story that never sparks to life." More from Robert Abele (Los Angeles Times), Jeffrey M Anderson (Cinematical), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Nick Schager (Slant) and Megan Seling (Stranger).

  • Laura Kern on My Best Friend's Girl: "Kate Hudson loosens her wholesome screen image a notch in her latest star vehicle, a racy comedy, which aims to be tasteless (it often is) and romantic (it mostly isn't)." More from Alonso Duralde (MSNBC) and Eric D Snider Cinematical). And in the LAT, Josh Friedman argues that the movie got a load of free PR when co-star Dane Cook groused about the poster on his blog.

Australia Australians are hoping that Baz Luhrmann's Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman - "described as an Antipodean Gone With the Wind - will help revive their flagging tourism industry, reawakening interest in the country and promoting its landscapes as effectively as the Lord of the Rings movies did for New Zealand," reports Kathy Marks. "So excited are tourism officials that they have commissioned Luhrmann to direct a $50m (£22m) series of advertisements, which will be shown in Europe, the United States and across Asia next month, in the lead-up to the film's November release." More from Jeff Dawson in the London Times.

Also in the Independent: "The little-explored subject of 'go-fasters' - drug-traffickers who zoom in almost ostentatious convoys of three or four cars from Spain to large French cities - will be examined in a thriller movie and an autobiographical book to be published soon." Edward Fortes reports on Go Fast.

"Full of clowns and foolery, signifying nothing, Burn After Reading is as deliberately self-canceling a story as you would expect from its title, or from its setting in an imaginary Washington where no one is the least bit interested in government," writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation. "So let the Coen brothers tell me that life is absurd, that the world is fallen, that God is illusory but Satan (or Javier Bardem) is emphatically real. I can take it. But when they call me an idiot for listening, I get a little impatient." More from Justin Stewart at Stop Smiling.

The documentary O Lucky Man! will be broadcast on Radio 4 on Tuesday; its maker is John Harris:

Britannia Hospital

To understand the furies that threatened to define [Lindsay] Anderson's view of the world, the best place to begin is the last of the Mick Travis trilogy: Britannia Hospital, in which [Malcolm] McDowell turns in not much more than a cameo, and Anderson returns to the idea he used for If...: portraying an institution as a microcosm of British life, replete with its howling hypocrisies and air of post-imperial doom. Derek Jarman predicted the film "would finish Lindsay in the British film industry", and he wasn't far wrong: when it was shown at the 1982 Cannes film festival, the British delegation staged an organised walk-out.

Also in the Guardian: "[A]s much as I respond to the anti-religion of Luis Buñuel - i.e. Christ taking part in an orgy in L'Age d'Or (1930) - I can be enraptured by overtly Christian directors," writes Ronald Bergan. "Ordet (1955), directed by Carl Dreyer, who struggled for years in vain to make a 'Jesus film,' is an extraordinary expression of spiritual optimism and a testament to the absoluteness of faith.... But it took a homosexual Marxist to make the greatest screen version of 'the greatest story ever told' (or 'the greatest lie ever told' from an atheist's point of view). Applying neo-realist methods, Pier Paolo Pasolini takes Christ out of the opulent church and presents him as an outcast Italian peasant among real people in The Gospel According to St Matthew (1964)."

And Emma Brockes meets Bette Midler and Xan Brooks talks with Ben Stiller.

Screening in the UK:

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
  • David Jenkins in on The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: "Superior animé caper comedy with wit, energy and mad invention to spare in which time travel is used to soothe the emotional ills of a dynamic, if slightly dizzy-headed, young schoolgirl named Makoto." More from Phelim O'Neill (Guardian)

Dan Sallitt shares a few notes on David Lean.

Cineuropa's new "Film Focus": Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Lorna's Silence.

Jonathan Rosenbaum has seen Patti Smith: Dream of Life and is a little thrown off by how "my favorite punk star... modulates from angry iconoclast to contented Detroit housewife and back again with scarcely a bump."

Bob Cashill at PopDose: "Ten Fall Movies You Should See (Then Tell Me About) Before You Die."

New blogs on the block:

FilmInFocus goes "Behind the Blog": Sujewa Ekanayake.

Another Way to Die Online listening tip. Jack White and Alicia Keys's theme for Quantum of Silence, "Another Way to Die."

Online viewing tip #1. Ray Pride has Ben Kingsley as Minor Threat's Ian MacKaye.

Online viewing tip #2. Via Al Young at Twitch, Grzegorz Jonkajtys's short, Ark.

Online viewing tips. "On September 30, The Mindscape of Alan Moore is released on DVD, featuring an in-depth look at one of the most brilliant comic writers... ever?" Nick Confalone introduces a clip at Vulture, where Bilge Ebiri's got an award-winning "sweet little film from Britain, Lions Are Green, about a young colorblind boy who draws a green lion in class and gets called out for it."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:36 PM

Fests and events, 9/20.

Red Heroine "The opportunity to view Chinese silent film, in theaters or on video, is extremely rare," notes David Jeffers at the Siffblog. "Seattle International Film Festival and SIFF Cinema will present, this Sunday for one night only, a rare surviving episode of the Chinese serial, Red Knight - Errant: Red Heroine (1929)." With live accompaniment from Devil Music.

Osamu Tezuka: Movies into Manga runs at the Barbican in London through Wednesday, so Andrew Osmond introduces the artist to Guardian readers: "Historians of [Japan's] often garish and cartoony pop culture see him as the prime mover behind Japan's vast comic and animation industries after 1945. Tezuka reportedly churned out 150,000 comic pages in his lifetime (10 a day, without fail). He also created dozens of TV cartoons and cinema films. His iconic characters include Astro Boy (a little-boy robot superhero), Princess Knight (a swashbuckling girl disguised as a boy) and Jungle Emperor Leo (the first cartoon lion king)."

"Rashomon was not only the film that brought director Akira Kurosawa (and star Toshiro Mifune) to attention outside of Asia, but the first work by any Japanese filmmaker to make an international splash after World War II," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "So it's fitting that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is kicking off its Kurosawa retrospective with a restored print of this 1950 classic." The series runs through October 4.

San Sebastian Film Festival 08 Variety folks are reporting from the San Sebastian Film Festival, running through September 27.

The Telegraph presents its fall preview; and Sheila Johnston picks ten to catch at the London Film Festival. October 15 through 30.

At SF360, Jonathan Marlow, now Executive Director of the San Francisco Cinematheque (bravo!), offers "a quick wrap-up of the three September festivals (Telluride, Toronto, Venice) and the best of what I was able to catch between meetings."

"The Corto Cortissimo competition at the 65th Venice Film Festival early this September showcased twenty shorts over three days - some from starting filmmakers with the breeding of prestigious film schools, others from self-taught music video directors and others who were everything in between." An overview from Nicole Olivier in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Mile Klindo turns in the fourth part of the WSWS's coverage of the Sydney Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:54 AM | Comments (1)

September 19, 2008

Fraülein.

Das Fraülein "An intimate, elusive drama about the boundaries of friendship and nationality, Fräulein presents immigrant lives with significantly more empathy than detail," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "For some, though, the movie's narrative shorthand will be enough, its teasing snapshots of three disparate (and desperate) women difficult to shake off."

"[I]t seems disingenuous to call Fräulein a film when it's more like a glossy fashion magazine layout," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Like the upcoming Ballast, Fraulein almost entirely shuns backstory, coloring around the lives of its characters with ostentatious style (in this case, fuzzy-wuzzy visual vibes and music tailored to each character's generation) and hoping audiences won't mind filling in the blanks."

Andrea Staka "has previously written and directed one short and one documentary, and Fräulein, her first full-length narrative feature, is indeed short (barely 80 minutes, including credits) and most definitely has a documentary feel," notes James Van Maanen. "She understands the importance of brevity and gives us just enough information about her women to hook us and keep us on that hook. (Barbara Albert - Falling, Free Radicals - collaborated on the screenplay, along with Marie Kreutzer.)... The movie may not, finally, go where you'd prefer, but I doubt you'll be able to dispute its reality."

"The story of a free-spirited stranger warming the hardened heart of someone older and colder may be worn out... but Staka confidently breathes joie de vivre into the film's green-gray bleakness," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "Stylized with a recurring misty focus, the film's economically captured detail shots (gestures, expressions, caught moments) convey genuine sensitivity without the expected weepiness."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:20 PM

The Man from London.

The Man from London "[I]t is a strange disappointment," finds Ed Gonzalez in the Voice, "that [Béla] Tarr follows up his grandiose Werckmeister Harmonies, a bleak but bold metaphysical idyll to pre-millennium tension, with The Man from London, the almost trifling story of one man's guilt filtered mechanically through a funereal noir prism - a regression of sorts for our most Olympian of film auteurs."

In the L Magazine, Michael Joshua Rowin anticipates that disappointment: "Only two-plus hours and containing a lean noir plot drawn from Georges Simenon's same-titled novel, London's 'minor' status virtually guarantees it won't receive the same kind of love given to prior Tarr. Which is too bad, since it's nothing less than a triumph."

Updated through 9/22.

But for David Fear, writing in Time Out New York, "the movie is a textbook example of what happens when an ill-fitting combination of an author's work and an art-house giant's aesthetic creates nothing but a void."

Earlier: Reviews from last year's festival round: Cannes, Toronto and New York; and Michael Guillén's interview with Tarr in September 07.

At MoMA Monday through September 28.

Update, 9/22: "The movie is really about a manner of looking at things, exploring space in unexpected ways, meditating on qualities of light and the surface of objects," argues Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "It's as an object that The Man From London is best approached.... Mr Tarr's chilly tour de force is to be understood as art all right. Bloated, formalist art."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:19 PM | Comments (1)

Unrelated.

Unrelated "As if from nowhere, a first-time British film-maker has appeared with a tremendously accomplished, subtle and supremely confident feature, authorially distinctive and positively dripping with technique." The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw on Unrelated: "Writer-director Joanna Hogg learned her trade in TV, and this may look like a chamber piece at first glance. Actually, it's ambitious, big-screen stuff. Hogg has genuine cinematic artistry, and she has effortlessly absorbed what appear to be personal contacts, non-professionals and family friends into an intelligent and utterly involving film."

"With its overlapping conversations and contemplative moods, it feels significantly different from the British mainstream, clogged with romantic comedies, mockney gangster flicks and period adaptations," writes the Independent's Anthony Quinn. "It is not only its setting that aligns it with European cinema; it has to do with the luminous sense of space and the stillness of the camera. If Hogg can render the travails of a bunch of middle-class British holidaymakers a subject of interest, there's reason to hope she has some career in the making."

"Family, class, mortality, ambition, desire: most of the biggies are present and correct." Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman: "You can only be thankful that politics and religion aren't on the list, because Unrelated has tension to spare as it is." Even so, "There is a strain of wry humour in the portrait of the wealthy at play that recalls the social comedies of Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco)."

"[T]his is easily one of the most accomplished and unmissable new releases of 2008: a simple, supremely well-observed story of ordinary human emotions, with performances and dialogue that are, from the first scene to the last, painfully accurate and convincing," writes Neil Young. "The second cause for celebration: Unrelated is the first movie to appear under the auspices of distribution company New Wave Films. Such organisations are crucial for the survival and exposure of non-mainstream cinema, and their slate includes the latest by the Dardenne brothers and Claire Denis."

"Unrelated, in its understated, eye-catching fashion, is as arresting as any British debut feature since Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher and Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu.

"The story at first seems slight, and you wonder how it is going to be sustained," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "This is a drama that amounts to much more than the sum of its parts and, without doubt, is one of the best, and most original, British films of the year."

"Hogg displays a welcome desire to draw on global film influences and ignore the unwritten rules of what British cinema should or should not seek to achieve, especially in the realm of films about the monied and unsympathetic," writes Dave Calhoun in Time Out.

Four out of five stars from James Christopher in the London Times.

Kamera's Antonio Pasolini interviews Hogg.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:19 AM | Comments (1)

Jun Ichikawa, 1948 - 2008.

Jun Ichikawa
Japanese director Jun Ichikawa, 59, died after collapsing at lunch on Friday and being rushed to a nearby Tokyo hospital.... The morning of his death Ichikawa was editing his last film, buy a suit, which is skedded to preem on October 18 in the Japanese Eyes of the upcoming Tokyo International Film Festival.... His biggest prize winner... was Tony Takitani, a 2004 drama based on a Haruki Murakami short story about an introverted illustrator (Issei Ogata) with a fashion-crazed wife (Rie Miyazawa) that won the Special Jury Prize, Youth Jury Prize and FIPRESCI Prize at the Locarno fest, as well as many honors elsewhere, including a nom for Best Foreign Film at the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards.

Mark Schilling, Variety.

Update, 9/24: "No assessment of Ichikawa's work can ignore the influence of Yasujiro Ozu, whom the younger director idolised," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "What Ichikawa shared with Ozu was the intimate scale, understated humanism, economy of shot composition, low camera placement, deliberate pace - and the dominance of the family as a theme."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:59 AM

September 18, 2008

Shorts, 9/18.

Oxford American As part of a special issue of Oxford American on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast three years after Katrina (and of course, the issue arrives merely days after Ike), Derek Jenkins examines "a cinema of anger and indictment and senselessness but also beauty and humanity and even hope." In a category of its own would be When the Levees Broke. Spike Lee has "never made a more important film.... Countless films bob in the wake of this disaster, but future generations will likely find in the seven astonishing films featured here the most complete and useful records of that same harrowing story."

Allan Arkush (Rock 'n' Roll High School, NBC's Heroes) comments on his "Top Ten Criterions."

At Facets Features, Phil Morehart passes along all-time favorite films lists from Ken Loach and Fred Armisen.

Glenn Kenny: "The 'Coppola Restoration' Letters, Part Three; or, 'Friends of Italian Opera.'"

The film on the Siren's mind these says is Sweet Smell of Success and she "has spent all week with the low-down, lying snake that is Sid Falco":

Sweet Smell of Success

And he really is a heel. But in his single-minded desire to get ahead, he is also a piece of almost any New Yorker, except maybe the saintliest ones. (And if they're saints, what are they doing here?) He's pure ambition, and by that sin fell the angels. But the fall of Sid and JJ doesn't mean there aren't plenty behind them, knife in hand. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. What the song doesn't mention is that afterward you may not like yourself....

People who lived through this era of New York City loved it and speak about the 1950s like a long-dead first love. This may well be the best movie ever made about New York, capturing the city's Golden Age while it shows you a lining of pure lead.

Proteus is one of Doug Cummings's favorite documentaries of 2004: "It's a fascinating look at the work of 19th century artist-naturalist Ernst Haeckel (1834 - 1919) that is experimental film, historical summary, and philosophical meditation all rolled into one. Laboriously assembled by David Lebrun over the course of 22 years, it's a montage of etchings, sketches, and paintings (rephotographed and animated with narration, music, and sound effects) that positions Haeckel as the meeting point between the dominant worldviews of his day: scientific rationalism and Romanticism."

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

At the House Next Door, Tom Stempel takes a looks at another round of films from the screenwriter's POV.

"By the time Moving Midway - this lithe, alluring documentary with its at-times Altmanesque dialogue - draws to a close, the ghosts have turned in excellent performances alongside the living, and the folks of the undead past may as well have tromped right in and signed Charlie and Dena's guest book in the front hall." Bland Simpson in the Independent Weekly. And H Scott Bayer talks with Godfrey Cheshire for the New York Press.

Also in the New York Press, Eric Kohn previews the fall season in local art houses. More from Mark Peikert. Also, Armond White on the new At the Movies: "Ben Manckiewicz from Turner Classic Movies and Ben Lyons from the E! Entertainment channel are not film critics but were selected to play critics on TV.... But the surprise is that the Bens are truly refreshing."

Online viewing tip. As noted all over, the trailer's out for Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:13 PM

Fests and events, 9/18.

All My Good Countrymen "It is likely no coincidence that Anthology Film Archives' Vojtech Jasný retrospective will screen as the 40th anniversary of 'Prague Spring' passes," writes Nick Pinkerton. "A lesser-known player among prominent Czech artist-dissidents (Václav Havel, Milan Kundera, Miloš Forman, the Plastic People of the Universe), Jasný will forever be knotted up with the postwar history of his native land." Tomorrow through September 25. Update, 9/19: Nicolas Rapold (New York Sun).

Also at Moving Image Source: An excerpt from Richard Koszarski's Hollywood on the Hudson which tells the story behind and the critical reception of The Emperor Jones. MoMA's Hollywood on the Hudson: Filmmaking in New York, 1920 - 39 runs through October 19.

"Despite a sequence in which Daniel Okulitch, the talented singer playing the role of the overreaching Seth Brundle, gives the audience a full frontal, Howard Shore's opera The Fly, staged by David Cronenberg with a libretto by David Henry Hwang, is disconcertingly bland musical theater." Amy Taubin for Artforum.

In Screen, Jason Gray has an overview of the lineup for the Tokyo International Film Festival, running October 18 through 26.


Dennis Lambert / Of All the Things


Ted V Mikels - "who with his waxed white mustache and barrel chest looks like a cross between Salvador Dali and a big-rig trucker - belongs to that pantheon of American independent filmmakers that includes Ed Wood, Russ Meyer, Doris Wishman, Ray Dennis Steckler and John Waters," writes Matt Sussman at SF360. "He is of that certain breed of filmmaker solely dedicated to committing their unique vision to the camera, regardless of the stylistic conventions and working conditions of 'the industry' or accepted notions of good taste.... It is only appropriate that Mikels's life and work is being honored this weekend at the distinctly American forum for cinema's lone wolves: the midnight movie. Landmark Theater's Midnights at the Clay series is bringing Mikels to town, with his muse and partner Shanti, to screen his cult classics Blood Orgy of the She-Devils (1972) and The Corpse Grinders (1972) as well as Kevin Sean Michaels's new, John Waters-narrated documentary, The Wild World of Ted V Mikels."

In the Chronicle, Rob D'Amico welcomes the Bicycle Film Festival to Austin.

Films in Review digs into its archives and finds Candor Rex's piece on the 1958 edition of Cannes.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:54 PM

Toronto and Fantastic Fest. Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno Following screenings in Toronto and Kevin Smith's appearance at Independent Film Week, Zack and Miri Make a Porno officially opens Fantastic Fest tonight in Austin. Time to fire up an entry.

"The romantic comedy elements of Zack and Miri are by-the-numbers, but the romance is touching," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club, "and the scene where the two leads shoot 'the scene' takes some interesting turns, going from hilarious to something else. Maybe it's a case of grading on a curve, or maybe it has to do with Smith's return to underdog status after a decade of being beat up by irascible critics like myself, but I found myself really rooting for this movie by the end, and leaving the theater satisfied."

Updated through 9/21.

"[I]s the whole adult-industry shtick a dig at archrival PT Anderson's Boogie Nights?" wonders Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Either way, Orgazmo was funnier."

Online listening tip. Stephanie Zacharek talks with Smith for Salon.

Online viewing tip. Variety's Anne Thompson talks with Smith, too.

Updates, 9/19: In some ways a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland 'let's put on a show!' movie with lightsaber dildos instead of a barn, Zack and Miri feels like a semi-autobiographical portrait of a nerd who figures out how to be somebody by turning on other nerds for a living," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "There are even patches of dialogue that seem like they could have been lifted from Smith's days preparing Clerks... their pornographic exploits opened them up to 'a world of possibilities, where plain old people like us could do something special.' Could there be a plainer reference to Smith's own charmed career path from suburban comic nerd to God of Suburban Comic Nerds?"

"In a way, Kevin Smith has something in common with Tyler Perry," suggests Scott Von Doviak at Screengrab. "It's doubtful that either one of them is ever going to progress as a filmmaker, but their loyal fans don't really care. If you like Kevin Smith movies, this is probably one of the better ones. If you don't, rest assured Zack and Miri is no quantum leap forward."

Updates, 9/21: "Zack and Miri may be, like many recent rom-coms, a film with characters who've seemed to have avoided self-examination all of their lives, but it's also guiltily, endearingly sweet despite all of the attempts to cut the syrup with anal sex jokes," writes IFC's Alison Willmore. "Smith, you big softy."

At the SpoutBlog, Kevin Kelly talks with Smith.

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

Fantastic Fest 08.

Fantastic Fest 08 As of today, Fantastic Fest is off and running through next Thursday in Austin. The first item to mention is Jette Kernion's terrific guide to sources of "Last-Minute News and Info."

"The novice in search of enlightenment studies at the feet of the master," writes Joe O'Connell in the Austin Chronicle. "The wannabe horror filmmaker goes to Kim Henkel. That was exactly the path that led Austin's Duane Graves and Justin Meeks to make The Wild Man of the Navidad [site], a Texas bigfoot tale that arrives in Austin for Fantastic Fest, perhaps its perfect venue."

Updated through 9/24.

And again, Marc Savlov has your guide to the fest's films you can watch right now for free through Sunday, while last week's issue ran the big overall preview.

"Throughout Fantastic Fest, we programmers place little Easter Eggs of goodness and geeky joy." Harry Knowles tells a few secrets at AICN. Also: Massawyrm's must-sees.

Updates, 9/20: Twitch's Fantastic Fest 2008 category is picking up.

Wiley Wiggins is sending capsule reviews from his iPhone.

Updates, 9/21: "[I]ts standout quality remains that it's such a rowdy, jovial and mind-blowingly unceremonious good time, with filmmakers, talent and fans milling around the strip mall-centered headquarters, sipping pints of Shiner Bock during the screenings and taking off for excursions to eat BBQ and shoot skeet," writes IFC's Alison Willmore.

Matt Dentler's got pix.

The Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov has a fun roundup of the highlights so far.

Updates, 9/22 "Paprika Steen, the Danish actress best known for her roles in Dogme films like Festen, The Idiots and Mifune, is to die for in Ole Bornedal's horror-comedy The Substitute," writes Alison Willmore. "Like, she eats someone whole."

"It would be an exaggeration to suggest that JT Petty's The Burrowers goes miles deeper than the hastily-dug graves that play a central role in its plot, but it's nonetheless one of the more pleasant surprises of Fantastic Fest thus far," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Beautifully shot and tightly scripted, it's the rare Hollywood genre film (bought and paid for by Lionsgate) that's more concerned with human relationships and behavior than the mysterious supernatural forces that sets the action in motion."

Updates, 9/23: "The ongoing Fantastic Fest has announced this year's winners. The Japanese sci-fi horror Tokyo Gore Police took home the top prize in the AMD Next Wave competition, while the Audience Award went to the much-heralded The Good The Bad and The Weird. Let the Right One In took home the honor of Best Horror Feature." Matthew Odam has the full list at the Austin Movie Blog.

Online listening tip. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore report on "a rollicking good time."

"It's not hard for one to speculate the causes for Fantastic Fest's monumental amount of growth in the past year," writes Michael Lerman at indieWIRE. "Between the number of distributors that have opened up to releasing genre films and being noted publicly by Variety President Charles Koone as being one of the ten festivals that they love, Austin's premiere genre film expose, perhaps best known for world premiering last year's best picture nominee, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, has certainly broken out of the 'fanboy' shell and caught the attention of the outside world."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:57 PM

Ghost Town.

Ghost Town Ghost Town is "an occasionally effective mash-up of Ghost, The Sixth Sense and The Frighteners," notes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "If it sounds all so pale and predictable, it is."

It "doesn't do justice to the manifold gifts of Ricky Gervais," finds Slate's Dana Stevens. "Then again, giving Gervais the American star vehicle he deserves might be too much to ask. When he's performing his own material according to his own rules, Gervais is capable of comic sublimity.... Still, Ghost Town has inspired casting, a few memorable scenes, and enough laughs that mainstream US audiences may finally get the point of that doughy English guy with the pointy canine teeth and the high-pitched giggle."

Updated through 9/19.

"[I]f blockbuster screenwriter David Koepp's rom-com doesn't breach new territory, it finds small ways to revitalize familiar scenarios—specifically, by underplaying both its romance and its comedy, avoiding towering swells of sentimentality and attuning its tone to Ricky Gervais's snidely deadpan humor," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"[M]ild, amusing..." David Goldman in the L Magazine.

Joel Stein profiles Gervais for Time. There're a couple of minutes of video, too.

More interviews with Gervais: Rachel Abramowitz (Los Angeles Times) and Sara Carduce (New York).

Cinematical paid a visit to the set.

At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell revisits a host of "Allegorical Ghosts."

Online viewing tip. Michael Hogan talks with Koepp.

Updates, 9/19: "A latter-day hybrid of Topper and Blithe Spirit and a visual ode to autumn in New York, Ghost Town is a screwball comedy with no big surprises or hidden metaphors," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But if you comb through the ranks of recent Hollywood comedies that have tried to conjure the same mood of airy amusement, most of what you'll find are strained, witless duds that get mired in sentimentality like flies in molasses. As it draws to a close, Ghost Town tiptoes to the edge of that sticky mess, but it doesn't get caught there."

Charles Mudede in the Stranger: "Ghost Town contains two decent comic sequences (both involving a misanthropic English dentist, Ricky Gervais, and both happening in the first 30 minutes), one decent performance (again, the English dentist), zero new ideas, and less than zero cinema."

"Ghost Town is a rarity, a contemporary romantic comedy that honors the traditions of the genre without checking them off some plasticized list," finds Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "The picture is breathing, and alive, every minute."

"More a man who could win a woman's heart by tickling her funny bone, Mr Gervais's characters need time to work their conversational mojo, lest the target of their affection catch sight of a striking extra," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "And that's why Ghost Town, though a competent comedy, ultimately fails in the romance department: It shortchanges the dialogue and leaves Mr Gervais vulnerable to the charge that he's just not an entirely believable leading man."

"It takes an awful lot of effort for a contemporary comedy to win an audience back after opening with yet another 'Holy crap, that guy just got hit by a bus!' scene, but Ghost Town perseveres, and eventually emerges as a likeable time-waster, albeit more sweet than funny," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

In the Los Angeles Times, Jan Stuart enjoys watching Gervais "defying his own formidable unkemptness to make the case for himself as a successor to the slob-Romeo mantle of Jack Black. If Black can go the distance with Kate Winslet (as he did so charmingly in The Holiday), why shouldn't Gervais have a shot at Téa Leoni?"

"Because both Gervais and [Greg] Kinnear seem so urgent in their desires, and because Tea Leoni has a seemingly effortless humor and grace, this material becomes for a while sort of enchanting," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Telegraph's John Hiscock talks with Gervais.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:31 PM

The Duchess.

The Duchess "[F]or all its frisky high jinks, brocaded homes, and creamy bosoms, The Duchess is a tragedy about the terrifying vulnerability of even the richest women in a society that deprives them of property rights," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "As a tale of mature self-sacrifice, the movie would be almost unbearably moving were it not for [Keira] Knightley's insubstantial performance."

Updated through 9/19.

"Adapted from Amanda Foreman's biography [of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire], Saul Dibb's costume drama doesn't press too hard on the similarities between the heroine and her descendant Princess Diana, and for the most part avoids getting weighted down by the marble floors and golden chandeliers of 18th-century British courts," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Deprived of elements that might have given its powdered wig some darker roots, The Duchess feels rarefied next to Marie Antoinette, a more inventive chronicle of a young woman navigating personal freedom and historical determinism."

"In the hands of a filmmaker with an actual point of view - Sally Potter, say, or Mike Leigh - this could be a potentially inflammatory tale," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "But with British TV vet Saul Dibb (The Line of Beauty) at the helm, it's just a story about a woman who makes one mistake after another."

"Yes, she must choose between affection, fame and family - though it's impressive how Georgiana, like Sarah Palin, manages to be icon, political agent and supermom, without any visible help from a nanny - unlike The Duchess, which revels in the opulent lifestyles of the rich, famous and aristocratic, while bemoaning their repressive society too." Mark Asch in the L Magazine.

Sam Adams talks with Ralph Fiennes for the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier: Reviews from the UK and Toronto.

Updates, 9/19: "Like most costume dramas of this distaff sort, The Duchess wants you to pity Georgiana while also indulging in every luscious detail of her captivity," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "She may have a pimp for a mother and a bore for a husband, but just look at those verdant landscapes dotted with grazing sheep (no grubbing peasants), the fabulously ornamented gowns, leaning towers of wigs, palatial digs and troops of silent servants. (It's period-lifestyle pornography.)"

"[T]he young duchess (Keira Knightley) speaks in the soft Sloane tones more typically associated with Lady Di in her early years than with the Georgian grandee she is meant to be playing," notes Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun. "Meanwhile, Ralph Fiennes, in a subtle, show-stealing portrayal of the duchess's cold, buttoned-up, and older husband, manages to punctuate his performance with very specific hints of Prince Charles's lugubrious tics, mannerisms, and phraseology — hints that will make a British audience, at least, shudder or snigger, depending on mood."

"Only Fiennes comes out smelling like an English rose, turning the duke into one of his signature upper-crust reptiles," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "He deserves a sequel."

For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, Knightley "carries the weight of the movie around her effortlessly - and this is a rather slender girl to be bearing a historical parade float of this size."

"As directed by Saul Dibb (working from a script he co-wrote with the odd combination of Casanova's Jeffrey Hatcher and Anders Thomas Jensen of Denmark's marvelous After the Wedding), The Duchess is so handsomely done and so adroit at avoiding missteps that it's hard not to be content," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"Knightley's brand of muted iconoclasm has always been well-suited to just these kind of coach-and-corset movies, and as a result, the story of her character's fall from idealism to practicality becomes fairly moving," notes Noel Murray at the AV Club.

"As movies like this go — stately homes constantly arustle with the sound of lingerie falling gently to the parquet floors - it is quite a lively, and even occasionally a rather touching, piece," writes Richard Schickel in Time.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:10 AM

Elite Squad.

Elite Squad "As ambiguous in its accused fascist leanings as the original Dirty Harry - and yet as reflective of its homeland's domestic turmoil as America's cop dramas and Italy's poliziotteschi were in the 1970s - this latest pounding slice-of-thug-life thriller from Brazil packs the same cinematic firepower as City of God, only on the other side of the law," writes Jim Ridey in the Voice.

"Rather than interrogatory, Elite Squad is merely loud - it revels in its straw-man trustafarians, and lingers, in the guise of revelation, on underworld brutality and BOPE's badass full metal jacketed basic training," writes Mark Asch in the L Magazine. "Neither particularly fascist nor conscientious, Elite Squad is simply an audition tape, its 'urgency' piggybacked on a nation's abjection."

Updated through 9/19.

"[I]t bears a resemblance to viscerally exciting 70s urban thrillers like The French Connection, in which only the fascists could do what needed to be done," notes David Edelstein in New York. "[Director José] Padilha builds in checks and balances, scenes in which BOPE's bloodshed is genuinely disgusting. But he reserves his true loathing for the lefty college kids who denounce cops while smoking (and dealing) dope - unconcerned with the blood shed for their high. This makes criticizing the film's politics harder, because you don't want to sound like the creeps."

"Eloquent takes on Brazilian crime don't get much better than last year's pitch-perfect documentary, Manda Bala, which does a sensational job of placing blame on the country's government (although it exclusively focuses on kidnapping)," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "Less organized, Elite Squad nevertheless succeeds at putting the worst of the violent spectacles on screen, primarily through a series of nicely staged shootouts and torture sequences."

"[J]ust how realistic are these films' portrayal of life in the notorious Brazilian slums? Is it all gun-toting teenagers on glamorous hill-side backdrops?" A scorecard from David Tryhorn in the Guardian.

Updates, 9/19: "In classic exploitation flick fashion, Elite Squad, a relentlessly ugly, unpleasant, often incoherent assault on the senses from Brazil - and the baffling winner of this year's top prize at the Berlin Film Festival - wants to have its grinding violence and sanctimony too," writes Manohla Dargis, who summarizes the plot in the New York Times, before wrapping up with: "Bloody torture and bloodier death from cops and thugs ensue amid smeary, jittery camerawork and choppy edits that transform the visually disjointed, grim and dim spaces into confetti. Somewhere, Roger Corman is weeping."

"Though shot through with state-of-the-art, smash-and-grab camera pyrotechnics, pulsing music, and gangsta histrionics, Elite Squad is, at heart, a throwback to the kinds of cop-and-cowboy movies that American film producers seem to have given up on making in Hollywood," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "Like Ricky Tognazzi's similarly lean and stealthily retro 1993 Sicilian cop drama La Scorta, Elite Squad moves on its characters' adrenaline, not on the dubious artificial energy of the digital explosions, close-ups of cell phones and computer screens, and gravity-defying action set pieces that continue to elicit yawns in most Yankee cop movies."

"Does it create a moral stalemate to provide a sociological context for such desperate draconian measures, while simultaneously turning torture tactics into rush-ready sensationalism?" asks David Fear in Time Out New York. "Once the secondhand high of watching these psychos protect and serve wears off, you won't be any closer to an answer, either."

"The film itself doesn't do the glorifying; it's those that the film depicts that do, those who do so in order to survive in an extremely harsh and forbidding environment," writes Nick Plowman. The film is "all brawn, little brain and audaciously entertaining on the most mediocre level there is."

Online viewing tip. Padilha @ Tribeca.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:08 AM | Comments (2)

Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema.

Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema "Variety chief film critic and occasional documentarian Todd McCarthy (Visions of Light) has called Pierre Rissient 'the least known, most massively influential person in international cinema,'" notes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "Alongside the New York premiere of [Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema], MOMA is presenting a related series, From the Archives: A Pierre Rissient Selection, consisting of films championed by Rissient (including Ida Lupino's Never Fear and [Jane] Campion's The Piano), plus a rare theatrical screening of his own film, 1982's Cinq et la Peau."

Updated through 9/19.

In the L Magazine, Benjamin H Sutton finds the doc "particularly memorable for the amazing lineup of directors who weigh in on the titular movie buff's career. It's also a kind of wet dream for devout film fans everywhere: What movie buff wouldn't want to go from critic to art house programer to new director champion to Cannes emperor and Asian New Wave patron?"

"'He's like the yeast in the dough,' [Werner] Herzog says in Mr McCarthy's portrait," notes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "'He is a samurai warrior for the films that he loves,' enthuses Quentin Tarantino, whose Reservoir Dogs Mr Rissient championed at Cannes, setting the stage for Mr Tarantino's 1994 Palme d'Or win for his sophomore entry Pulp Fiction. [Clint] Eastwood simply dubs Mr Rissient, who has long championed the actor-turned-Oscar-winning-director, 'Mr Everywhere.' 'Clint always shows me his rough cut,' Mr Rissient said recently on the phone from Paris. 'Always. He called me three days ago. He wants to show me the first cut of his new film Gran Torino.'"

"From his beginnings as an influential distributor of movies in Paris to his roles as international fixer, consultant and editor, Mr Rissient is convincingly portrayed as a man who knows everything about every movie ever made; knows everybody, everywhere, who's doing anything of interest in the cinema; and whose taste is impeccable, influential and passionately defended." Nathan Lee in the New York Times, where, from that page, you can download AO Scott's interview with Rissient.

Earlier: A couple of reviews from Cannes.

Update, 9/19: "[I]t is likely he has had more influence on the world of good films in the last 60 years than anybody else," blogs Roger Ebert. "I tried to explain why in this article. Pierre says his role in many situations is to 'defend,' by which he means 'support,' the films and directors he approves. The Telluride Film Festival named one of its cinemas after him, and made T-shirts quoting him: 'It is not enough to like a film. One must like it for the right reasons.' That sounds like critical snobbery, but is profoundly true."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:24 AM

September 17, 2008

Shorts, fests, etc, 9/17.

Button Before J Hoberman's cover story for this week's Voice, "What We Learned about the Election in This Summer's Movies," boils down to a face-off between WALL•E and Heath Ledger's Joker, the fun stuff is all about the election of 1952.

At Row Three, Kurt Halfyard posts a PDF (scroll down): John S Nelson's "Noir and Forever - Politics as if Hollywood Were Everywhere."

Glenn Kenny's got more must-reading for us: "The 'Coppola Restoration' Letters, Part Two."

Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express, Superbad, and before any of them, "Quentin Tarantino's cinematic consecration of the country's new racial geography," Pulp Fiction: "It could be argued that these comedies don't pretend to represent all of black culture, and that the strand of black culture they do represent - as well as the prism of white envy through which it's represented - has long been ripe for parody," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. ""And, if one wants to take up the art-as-mirror stance, such entitlement is in a sense reflective of a cross-pollinated society where white people daily adopt black culture while excusing themselves from doing so with a great, showy wink. The dilemma is that this is virtually all that is represented of black culture in films not aimed at black audiences, and that's what makes the modern minstrel show so pernicious."

Excavating Taylor Mead "The Flower Thief kicks off Taylor Mead: A Clown Underground, a three-evening Joel Shepard-curated affair at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that moves on to the 1967 - 68 Andy Warhol mock western Lonesome Cowboys and concludes with William A Kirkley's 2005 documentary portrait Excavating Taylor Mead." Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "The first and last films are bookend - sort of - visions of a self-described 'National Treasure / If there were such a thing.' Mead is a great American movie star and poet whose stardom is a byproduct of his poetry and vice versa. Just as 2000's Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story reveals that Mead's rich-rebel-gone-Warhol-superstar peer Brigid Berlin is a master of monologue, Kirkley's documentary - and more directly, Mead's books - present a wilder-than-Wilde master of the aphorism."

More fests and events:

Annie Proulx is still being bombarded with letters from fans of Brokeback Mountain, reports Catherine Shoard in the Guardian. Proulx: "They constantly send ghastly manuscripts and pornish rewrites of the story to me, expecting me to reply with praise and applause for 'fixing' the story. They certainly don't get the message that if you can't fix it, you've got to stand it." Related: The New York Observer's Sara Vilkomerson on Proulx's new collection of stories, Fine Just the Way It Is, "which revisits the dusty prairie terrain of Wyoming and the flinty, hardened and somewhat desperate sorts who live there."

Back in the Voice:

  • "From the rural Sichuan countryside to the city of Zigong, Xu Yun travels to find the father he hasn't seen in years, and the teenage boy's confrontations with locals plays as a kind of fish-out-of-water comedy," writes Ed Gonzalez. "This is an inadvertent effect imparted via Taking Father Home's clumsy acting and aloof, sub-protozoan video image, which cheapen Ying Liang's true intent to seriously call out a government's inhumane policies."

  • "How effective are social-activist docs that don't entertain enough to captivate the non-converted?" asks Aaron Hillis. "Brooklyn filmmaker Emily Abt's well-meaning, pro-feminist doc offers little new insight in seeking to raise awareness that black women are disproportionately at high risk for HIV infection (the leading cause of death among those 25 to 34)." More on All of Us from Benjamin H Sutton (L Magazine) and Sara Vilkomerson in the New York Observer.

  • Kristi Mitsuda on Amexicano: "In terms of storyline, think The Visitor - except with an embrace of the platitudinous pitfalls that Thomas McCarthy's summer sleeper hit deftly avoids."

Quilombo Country

Christopher Orr (New Republic) and Ryan Wu rank the Coen brothers' films. Related Daniel Kasman on Burn After Reading: "As social criticism, submerged slightly in off-beat and off-hand genre, it actually is brisk, neat, intelligent, and awfully funny, with an emphasis on the awful."

Sean Burns previews the fall season for the Philadelphia Weekly.

Josh Levin in Slate on the rise of the R-rated trailer: "[I]t's apparent that the studios are still adjusting to the red-band universe: The aesthetics of the R-rated trailer remain up for debate. Which naughty bits should be thrown on the screen as an enticement, and which should be held in reserve for paying customers?"

Online viewing tip #1. "Brilliant Noise takes us into the data vaults of solar astronomy."

Online viewing tip #2. tank.tv.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:18 PM | Comments (2)

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers "For more than 25 years [Wayne] Wang, now 59, has reinvented himself time and again with apparent ease, zigzagging between America and Asia, big and small movies, safe bets and wild risks, insider and outsider status," writes Dennis Lim in a profile for the New York Times. In A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, "a Chinese widower arrives in an American suburb for an extended stay with his divorced daughter, who has lived in the States since college and who resents her father's intrusions into her private affairs. The Princess of Nebraska, which is being distributed free on the Web starting Oct 17 (youtube.com/ytscreeningroom), concerns a newer arrival, a young woman from Beijing attending a university in Omaha who has traveled to San Francisco to get an abortion. Both films are subtle updates of the immigrant story, revealing the complexities beyond the customary themes of alienation and assimilation."

Updated through 9/21.

Writing in the Voice, Aaron Hillis finds A Thousand Years "so buoyant and decidedly modest in tone and scale that you almost believe it might float away from the screen.... There's nothing earth-shattering going on here, but it's a film you'll want to befriend." Aaron also talks with Wang for IFC.

But Nick Schager, writing in Slant, finds it "so slender and unassuming that it registers only as a pleasantly forgettable triviality." What it's about: "Based on a short story by Yiyun Li (who wrote the screenplay) that has scarcely enough substance to warrant a feature adaptation, Wang's film explores the tense relationship between divorcé Yilan (Faye Yu) and her father, Mr Shi (Henry O), a former rocket scientist and communist 'true believer' who's visiting his daughter in America with the hope of helping her recover from her recent break-up.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Wang "about coming back to indie filmmaking, his attraction to making two movies back-to-back, and nearly choking watching Charlie Chaplin."

Update, 9/18: At indieWIRE, Leo Goldsmith looks back over Wang's career, and then: "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers thematically recalls the works of Ozu, though it's nowhere near as fastidious or formal as the Japanese director's work. Throughout the film, Wang's style is restrained to almost nil, but as in The Visitor (and, to an extent, Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers), it's refreshing to see a film so aesthetically chaste, one that always veers away from, rather than courts, the melodramatic, the emotionally pummeling, or even the socially urgent. Wang's new film is by no means for everyone - probably not even for this reviewer - but nor does it surrender to obvious fish-out-water laughs or heartstring manipulation."

Updates, 9/19: "There's a tonic simplicity to how it gets the job done, and if the film comes off as fairly conventional stuff, it nevertheless succeeds on its own modest, middlebrow terms," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times.

"How wonderful it is to see Wayne Wang in his element: the Chinese-American experience," writes Charles Mudede in the Stranger. "Wang is finally at home when he is directing a film about strangers in a strange land."

Online reading and/or listening and/or watching tip. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Wang.

Update, 9/21: Gary Goldstein talks with Wang for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:40 PM

Lakeview Terrace.

Lakeview Terrace "At first glance, it may puzzle followers of dramatist and occasional filmmaker Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, The Shape of Things) that the American stage's crown prince of psychosexual power plays and the post-coital mindfuck has opted to follow his universally mocked 2006 remake of The Wicker Man by working as a director-for-hire on a yuppies-in-peril thriller that seems about two decades past its freshness date," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "But peer beneath Lakeview Terrace's lurid, exploitation-movie surface and you will find a vintage LaBute proposition: a taut three-hander that explores the space between surface appearances and realities, between what people say and what they really think."

Updated through 9/19.

"Are we really supposed to stomach a thriller in which the root of all evil is intelligent black men in power who can't stomach, to the point of going full-on psychotic, the sight of a white man married to a black woman?" rages Nick Schager in Slant. "Apparently so..."

In the New Yorker, Anthony Lane muses on the star: "It comes as a shock to realize that, in three months' time, Samuel L Jackson will turn 60. We can't think of him growing old, just as we can't really imagine that he was ever young. He seemed to arrive on our screens full grown: ripe in mind and muscle, richly amused, and already in possession of his gifts."

"Jackson skirts the edge of going overboard with his portrayal, widening his eyes so much at times that you expect him to start foaming at the mouth and fulminating about 'race mixing' and 'miscegenation,'" notes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "If an actor this talented is going to slum it in hokey, over-the-top thrillers, I'd prefer he direct his anger at those mother-effing snakes on that mother-effing plane."

"When, with things on the verge of total disaster, the final secret is revealed, we realize that we have been masterfully manipulated, ostensibly for our own good," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "In these too often guileless days, even a little trickery can go a long way."

"The movie deserves credit for provoking discussion rather than simply inflaming racial paranoia à la Crash (2004), even if in the end it falters by reverting to the usual thriller clichés." Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

"The director's usual plot contrivances and false notes abound," sighs Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. Oh, and: "Labute's next project has already been announced: he will script a remake of a Truffaut film."

Mr Beaks talks with Jackson for AICN.

Updates, 9/18: "LaBute, like Jackson, isn't interested in brotherhood or understanding; he likes to irritate," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "This is LaBute's first time assaying black racism—a twist on his usual tweaking of misogyny, homophobia and generalized cruelty. That LaBute has nothing genuine to say about these social ills is what has won his acclaim; critics see their own fears and biases in LaBute's contrived theatrics."

"The first two-thirds of Lakeview Terrace feel like Marxist propaganda, the last third like capitalist propaganda, the whole thing like some sort of distinctly American nightmare, with some surprisingly curious politics and one hell of a dunderheaded narrative." Josef Braun.

Updates, 9/19: "Lakeview Terrace isn't literally about the [Los Angeles riots of 1992], but it's still one of the toughest racial dramas to come out of Hollywood since the fires died down - much tougher, for instance, than Paul Haggis's hand-wringing Oscar winner Crash," argues JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. "Its masterstroke is reversing the racial polarity of the [Rodney] King beating, making the cop black and the victim of his abuse white. At first glance this might seem like the ultimate dodge, relieving white viewers of any lingering guilt and lending credence to the Rush Limbaughs of the world. But by scrambling the typical power relationship Lakeview Terrace focuses our attention on power itself, and by plunging into the subject of black bigotry, still relatively taboo in mainstream movies, it gets us closer to the truth of bigotry in all its forms than we're liable to get watching another pious exercise in white atonement."

"Even while making a superb thriller, LaBute makes the film more than that," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "It deals with one of his themes, the difficult transition from prolonged adolescence to manhood, a journey Chris takes in the film."

"The hostility of a middle-age, middle-class African-American man toward a younger, more privileged, racially mixed couple is a potentially interesting subject, fraught with bitter history and complicated sexual politics," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But Bernie Mac did more with the topic in a few throwaway moments of the lamebrain comedy Guess Who than Mr Jackson manages in all of Lakeview Terrace.... Considered purely as a formal exercise, Lakeview Terrace is a passable piece of hackwork, with some adequately suspenseful passages and a few mild shocks near the end. But the psychological dimensions of the story are so risible, and its supposed insights into race and class so wrongheaded and ugly, that irritation trumps enjoyment."

"What more does Neil LaBute have to teach us about humanity that wasn't already apparent in his caustic 1997 debut feature, In The Company of Men?" asks Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "There's nothing wrong with a filmmaker having a misanthropic worldview, but LaBute's is an unusually narrow one, predicated on the notion that men are engaged in alpha-male one-upmanship and women are, if anything, even more diabolical.... So when LaBute pulls the grenade pin on racism and interracial relationships in Lakeview Terrace, viewers should know to duck and cover."

"However close to self-parody LaBute's output eventually became, the underlying venom at least set it apart from the norm," writes Andrew Wright in the Stranger, looking back on the oeuvre. "The new urban thriller Lakeview Terrace proves that—whatever the state of LaBute's once-blistering talents—he can now be counted on to make a studio picture more or less indistinguishable from anything else on the assembly line. (Um, yay?) It hangs together better than his last few, certainly, but don't call it a comeback just yet."

"Well shot but deliberately unstylish, with most of its characters briefly sketched instead of carefully painted, Lakeview Terrace is a platter serving up Mr Jackson's performance," writes Grady Hendrix in the New York Sun. "Considering the subject matter and his highly excitable character, he is given more than enough rope with which to hang himself. Instead, Mr Jackson delivers his most nuanced performance in nearly a decade, at least since 2000's Unbreakable."

"The upshot is that Jackson is in sync with the filmmakers' less inflammatory mission: working you up over an unhinged dude in a blue uniform rather than an angry guy with black skin." Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times.

Ben Kenigsberg in Time Out New York: "Neil LaBute didn't write this film, and it shows; the attempts to tweak racial stereotypes are undermined by the schematics of David Loughery and Howard Korder's screenplay - or perhaps the Hollywood committee-think imposed upon it."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:30 PM

Toronto. A Time to Stir.

A Time to Stir "The most vital movie I ended up seeing at this year's Toronto International Film Festival didn't have its first screening until the festival's final day and is, in the words of its own creator, not a movie at all but rather a piece of 'visual history,'" writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "At more than four hours, it also isn't finished yet... But even in its current form, Paul Cronin's A Time to Stir strikes me as a major film about the American Left, its splintering and factionalizing, and its still-flickering embers.... Wherever it ends up, this is a film that demands to be seen."

For Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago), this "was one of the more compelling documentaries shown in Toronto."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:17 PM

Appaloosa.

Appaloosa "There are so few westerns being made these days - last year's mini-resurgence, consisting of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and 3:10 to Yuma, notwithstanding - that it's tempting to give any filmmaker credit for being attracted to the genre in the first place," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Appaloosa, directed by Ed Harris (and adapted, by Robert Knott, from Robert Parker's novel), is just good enough that I wish it were better."

Harris "and his collaborators are playing it straight with a timeless male fantasy - horse, hat, six-shooter - a traditional approach that will please moviegoers like my dad and yours: men who walked out of No Country for Old Men puzzled, feeling like they'd been cheated out of a climactic gun battle between lawman and villain," writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. And by the way, Viggo Mortensen "steals this film by doing nothing much more than lean against doorways and bar counters."

Updated through 9/22.

"Unfortunately, the film quickly descends into a leaden panoply of squinting glares and cocked shotguns, not helped by Jeremy Irons's perfunctory bad guy or by corseted Renée Zellweger, who, as the perkiest frontier gal since Doris Day's Calamity Jane, is photographed to look considerably less fresh than such grizzled genre standbys as Lance Henriksen and James Gammon." Fernando F Croce at Slant.

The L Magazine's Mark Asch: "Stoic men hitch their dusty horses outside the saloons of frontier towns under big Western skies, while fiddle music plays - Appaloosa has the grammar of the Western down, making its ingrained sexism, racism and endorsement of macho unilateralism all the more potent reminders of why exactly we needed movies like There Will Be Blood or even The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

"The Western since Peckinpah has been a director's genre - think The Wild Bunch, McCabe and Mrs Miller, anything by Sergio Leone, Unforgiven, etc - and Harris doesn't have the chops," argues the AV Club's Scott Tobias.

Interviews with Harris: James Rocchi (Cinematical) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).

Update, 9/18: "Harris's steely blues-with-no-love-in-them recall his performance in Alex Cox's Walker," notes Armond White in the New York Press. "And Appaloosa needs Cox's style and wit. Check out Cox's Searchers 2.0, a modern-day Western, and the year's best undistributed film."

Updates, 9/19: "Appaloosa works best as a cunning, understated sex comedy," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "It's not a great western, and, as I've suggested, it doesn't really try to be. Some potentially interesting political themes - about what it means for a polity to privatize its apparatus of justice and security, about the relationship between righteousness and force - are left for other, more earnest pictures to explore. This one shows a square jaw and a steely gaze, but also a smile and a wink."

"[A]part from the pleasure of hearing Harris and Mortensen trade old-married-couple quips (like so many Westerns, it's really a love story between two men), there's little to distinguish Appaloosa from its legion of ancestors," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

"For a while, Appaloosa intrigues by not pressing hard on its various possibilities," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "Eventually, though, this state of limbo leaves the movie stalled on the launching pad."

"Unfortunately, Appaloosa doesn't finish great, or even very strong," writes Michael Wilmington at Movie City News. "Yet it's still an honorable effort by a moviemaker who knows his stuff and loves his work - and who should probably take another crack at this particular genre some day."

"Though the Oscar-winning Zellweger has been excellent when she matches up well with the roles she plays, this is not a part she connects to at all," finds the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan.

Update, 9/20: Alonso Duralde at MSNBC: "It's not a revision or a rethinking or a reexamination of the classic Western, it's just a very watchable story about two strangers who clean up a dirty town. And if that's what you're looking for, that's exactly what you're gonna get."

Updates, 9/22: "The Western has been stirring to life in recent years, not only because it offers an escape from the modern world but also because it offers an escape from modern movie technology," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "From the opening scenes, we know that Appaloosa won't be a fantasia in which the performers get tossed around by digital salad forks. Harris and his cinematographer, Dean Semler, shot the film near Santa Fe, and they calmly lay out a vast terrain of gray-brown buttes and valleys, with endless blue sky above. Harris respects the genre's pictorial grandeur, its regard for honor, its solemn conventions; this movie is grounded."

"[I]n its fidelity to western verities, Appaloosa may seem radical to today's viewers," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "At a time when images in all visual media bombard the brain, the western - the one original American film form - moves at the pensive pace of a European art film."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:29 AM | Comments (2)

Battle in Seattle.

Battle in Seattle "Flapping like a scarecrow in the wind, Battle in Seattle is too frantic to make more than a transitory impression, yet too responsibly hackneyed in its characterizations to achieve pure tabloid hysteria," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "In that sense, it's true to the actual event. The impression that the movie leaves is less what the French activist Yves Frémion termed an 'orgasm of history' than a hiccup. The world held its breath and moved on."

"[F]or all its good intentions and its inspirational advocacy for freedom of speech and assembly, Battle in Seattle remains a difficult film to get up and shout about," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "Approaching its subject with a neat idealism and packaging its political fervor in the most facile of forms, the film boasts a cast loaded with Hollywoods both new and old and wraps its message up with eye-rolling naivete."

Updated through 9/20.

Director Stuart Townsend's "refusal to frankly portray who the lead protesters were - namely, anti-government, anti-globalization, anti-capitalism activists - [leaves] the proceedings feeling whitewashed of any prickly elements that might interfere with the film's larger point that the WTO hurts more than helps the planet," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Even more than this lack of candor, however, Battle in Seattle is undone by unsubtle storytelling, its characters (earnestly embodied by the cast) devoid of dimension, and its creaky melodrama epitomized by a cheap attempt to manipulate through horrible tragedy."

In the Huffington Post, Brad Listi brings up an array of issues with Townsend.

Earlier: Sean Axmaker; and Andrew Hedden's interview with Townsend for Cineaste.

Updates, 9/18: As noted below, Jen Rogue with Andrew Hedden at Anarkismo: "Battle in Seattle lacks an awareness of a major theme of the protests, perhaps their most successful element: solidarity." Still, "For all its errors, Battle in Seattle provides a fun opportunity to return to the question of why the WTO protests represented such a massive victory, and what we as anarchists should focus on in our political work nearly ten years later."

Sean Axmaker talks with Townsend at the Parallax View.

Updates, 9/19: "Stylistically and polemically Battle in Seattle is a descendant of Haskell Wexler's much more complex 1969 movie, Medium Cool," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "But a drama is only as convincing as its characters. The people awkwardly forced together in Battle in Seattle are rhetorical mouthpieces tied to the sketchy plotlines of a so-so Hollywood ensemble movie. As in the much better written but equally schematic Crash, you can hear the machinery grind and squeak as the scales are balanced."

For Andrew Stuttaford, writing in, well, the New York Sun, this is "a ham-fisted, sanctimonious blend of leftist agitprop, by-the-numbers melodrama, and excruciating self-righteousness... If you are currently taking orders from Rage Against the Machine, Michael Moore or Naomi Klein, go and see it; for anyone else, this is one Battle you're going to lose." For the antidote to this take, see the Stranger.

Sara Cardace chats with Townsend for Vulture.

"Though his film is not a documentary, Townsend does a good job outlining the consequences of the labor, environmental, agricultural and patent-law issues at stake in the WTO negotiations," notes Brian Cook in In These Times. On the other hand, Townsend also creates characters "who are impossibly good: intelligent, kind, committed, moral and eminently reasonable. The problem isn't that such characterizations are untrue; the above adjectives would certainly fit the direct-action activists I've met. But, at various times, so might a few others: neurotic, intense, immature, petty, self righteous.... Worse than a crime against verisimilitude, this one-dimensional characterization is a dramatic mistake."

Update, 9/20: "What does it take to create real and meaningful change in the 21st century?" asks Townsend himself at Alternet.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:50 AM | Comments (1)

Toronto. Genova.

Genova "Genova is yet another Michael Winterbottom film featuring yet another stylistic turnabout - the director who gave us 24 Hour Party People, 9 Songs, Tristram Shandy, In This World, A Mighty Heart and The Road to Guantanamo now delivers an emotionally loaded domestic suspense story about an American family fraying at the seams in Genoa," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Winterbottom never figures out how to bring the movie to a proper and organic close. He's more interested in the journey than the destination. Good for him, but unfortunately in this case, only in theory."

"[W]hile if you asked me to name an actor synonymous with on-screen naturalism, I would not before now immediately name Colin Firth, he very convincingly envelops himself in the desperate fog of Sudden Single Father Syndrome," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Genova more than succeeds as a small, precise, personal picture with no larger ambition than to set a tragedy in motion and fully describe the way it feels for each member of a family of three to be mired in the fallout. What it lacks in grand aims it makes up in emotional honesty, and for those of us Winterbottom fans who were starting to get impatient with the filmmaker’s drift into political didacticism, it’s nice to see him return to making films about people."

"Genova gives us a warm, detailed glimpse of these people as they ebb and flow toward recovery," writes Eugene Novikov at Cinematical. "It loves them, and wishes them well, and wants to show them to us in their full and flawed humanity. It may end up going on the books as 'minor Winterbottom,' but 'minor-key' would be more accurate. It's a terrific small film, a lovable TIFF underdog."

"It may on the surface seem low key and even wispy (plot certainly takes a back seat to tone), but is powerful and professional work from a director at the top of his game," writes Kurt Halfyard at Twitch.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:16 AM

Virtual JFK: If Kennedy Had Lived.

Virtual JFK: If Kennedy Had Lived "At its best, counterfactual or 'virtual' history (to use Harvard historian Niall Ferguson's term), the exploration of what might have happened if history had not taken a certain turn, can be a fascinating intellectual exercise, a 'what if' that illuminates what did happen," writes Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun. "Unfortunately, Virtual JFK: If Kennedy Had Lived, which begins a two-week run at Film Forum [today], is neither fascinating nor illuminating."

Updated.

"Directed by Koji Masutani, this speculative, provocative, frustrating and finally unpersuasive historical gloss races quickly and all too lightly over the major political crises that John F Kennedy faced during his aborted presidency - Laos, Berlin, Cuba, Vietnam - in what may be the most aggressive big-screen shine job since Oliver Stone's much derided 1991 hagiography, JFK," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Virtual histories may be swell parlor games (What if Hitler had been a talented artist?), but from the evidence here they can be irritatingly reductive."

Virtual JFK "is an elegantly constructed if misleadingly titled class lecture, written and delivered by Brown professor of international relations James G Blight," notes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Kennedy was traumatized by the Bay of Pigs debacle and was thereafter, per Blight, the most pressured president in US history. Regarded by the military brass as a 'young punk' and taunted by Republican opponents as a wimp, Kennedy was put to the test six times and each time successfully avoided armed confrontation with the Soviets - at odds not only with the Pentagon, but also his own advisors."

Slant's Ed Gonzalez finds the doc "only striking when it shows footage of [Lyndon B] Johnson talking up how we needed to march toward the inevitable and fight evil so as to ward of a greater evil. Of course, even then the film doesn't tell us anything we shouldn't already know. Implicit here - 'the 800-pound gorilla in the room,' according to the film's press notes - is that George W Bush also took us down the wrong path. And that you should vote for Obama. But seriously. Duh."

"Less than a year after Kennedy's assassination, the now vilified Lyndon Johnson finally passed the Voting Rights Act," Benjamin Strong reminds us in the L Magazine. "Apologies to Masutani - and to Senator Obama - but you can't find a more virtual JFK than LBJ."

Update: Virtual JFK is "less a documentary than a sort of feature-length lecture, a growing trend in the political doc genre in the wake of An Inconvenient Truth," notes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "It's a subgenre that doesn't make for the most visually explosive cinema - Virtual JFK essentially consists of Blight's narration explicated by Kennedy press conferences and other archival footage, including some revealing taped conversations between Kennedy and his advisors. But despite his film's dryness, Masutani successfully sells a provocative, if one-sided, thesis that goes beyond unprovable 'What if?'s and takes on the more fruitful debate of how much a single man can effect the course of history."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:59 AM | Comments (1)

Toronto. Me and Orson Welles.

Me and Orson Welles Reaction to Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles is all over the map, so let's start with the positives, then dip - before coming back up again.

"The movie is a delight," insists Ben Kenigsberg in Time Out Chicago, "a thoroughly entertaining slice of historical fiction about a 17-year-old (Zac Efron) selected to play Lucius in [Orson] Welles's Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar.... The backstage intrigue finds a balance between celebrating the triumphs of ensemble work and depicting what it's like to take a back seat to a genius; the film has the idealism of most coming-of-age films, but cut with a bracing dose of cynicism, particularly when it comes the life lessons the main character learns from the Mercury's resident object-of-desire."

"Is there anything Linklater can't do?" asks Matt Riviera. "The versatile filmmaker's new comedy is a thoroughly entertaining ensemble piece full of effortless insights into theater, fame and ambition. Unfolding at a brisk pace in lovingly recreated 1930s Broadway, the film features a superb central performance by Christian McKay as Orson Welles. Claire Danes, Eddie Marsan, Ben Chaplin and James Tupper round out the terrific cast as the great director's famous collaborators. Branagh couldn't have done it better."

"Having always thought fondly of Richard Linklater's underseen and underrated 1920s bank-heist comedy The Newton Boys, I've been eager to see the versatile, Austin-based director take another stab at directing a period film," blogs Scott Foundas. "Unfortunately, after catching up with Linklater's Me and Orson Welles here in Toronto, I wish he hadn't."

"Had Linklater tossed out the 'Me' part and zeroed in on Welles and his creative process, he might have been onto something," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "As is, there's only glancing suggestions as to what made this Caesar so special, and a giant hole at the movie's center."

The Boston Globe's Ty Burr finds it "a good film that could have been great, stiff in the places it should have soared. Worth a look when it comes out, though, especially if you're a fan of the time and place."

"Wow," raves Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. Not so much for the film, but for McKay's performance, "shouting, gesticulating like a Shakespearean natural and supplying such basso profundo assholedom."

Jeffrey Wells agrees; and he's got a clip, too.

Blake Ethridge has pix and production notes.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:51 AM

September 16, 2008

Shorts, fests, etc, 9/16.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind The new issue of Acidemic Journal of Film & Media is devoted entirely to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

It's Kenneth Anger day at DC's.

"East Asian Auteurs" is the theme of the latest issue of Offscreen, featuring editor Donato Totaro on Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights, Edwin Mak on Jia Zhangke's Platform and Unknown Pleasures, Hwanhee Lee on Park Chan-wook's Oldboy and Peter Rist's conversation with Zhuang Yuxin. And then, breaking ranks, is Daniel Garrett with his piece on Eric Guirado's The Grocer's Son.

"A modestly budgeted western made by Leonard Goldstein Productions in 1954 (for a 1955 release by United Artists), Stranger on Horseback came in the middle of Jacques Tourneur's most neglected and perhaps most beautiful period: the years of declining prestige that followed the personal triumph of his favorite among his films, the elegiac and humane Stars in My Crown (1950)." Chris Fujiwara at Moving Image Source.

Wild Combination "Wild Combination, Matt Wolf's doc on the composer Arthur Russell, plays SF360 Film+Club on September 22, so SF360's running Amy Taubin's piece on the film from this summer's issue of Film Comment:

The last time I encountered Russell, whom I knew from my involvements with The Kitchen, was in 1991 on the downtown C train. As was his wont, he handed me his headphones so I could listen to a few seconds of the tape that he had probably just recorded. Then he asked me if I knew any filmmakers who might want him to write a score. I said that I couldn't think of anyone worthy, which was true but a bit cavalier. It wasn't until after he died and I had seen My Own Private Idaho that I realized how perfectly Russell's music would have meshed with Gus Van Sant's vision.

More fests and events:

  • "[A]lmost 60 years after Rashomon won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well as an honorary Oscar, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is premiering a restoration of the film Thursday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills," notes Susan King. Los Angeles Times "critic Kenneth Turan will host a discussion on Kurosawa before the screening."

  • "There are still more programs to come but the 2008 edition of the Sitges festival - the largest genre film festival in the world - announced both the competitive and non-competitive parts of their official selections today." Todd Brown's got 'em at Twitch.

  • "Starting with his 1961 short Ball's Bluff, where he first mused on a Civil War soldier, shot in the buttocks, who awakens in modern New York lost and alone, [Robert] Downey made six low-budget shorts of increasing notoriety, hilarity and formal sophistication that had an especially sharp eye for absurdities of the era's social and racial tumult," writes Brandon Harris at Hammer to Nail. "Robert Downey: A Prince, running through Thursday at Anthology Film Archives, has proven to be a heady and frequently hysterical journey through that particular stretch of Downey Sr's career."

Antimatter Underground Film Festival

"Here are 10 things about you 'professional' film critics that really frost our patooties." Finite jest from professional critic Kathleen Murphy at MSN.

"Preparing for Global Financial Apocalypse: Seven Lessons from the Movies." A list from Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog. Then, Christopher Campbell: "10 Movies to Watch When Feeling a Financial Crunch."

Online viewing tip. At the CR Blog, Patrick posts an Indian Nokia ad.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:06 PM | Comments (2)

DVDs, 9/16.

Speed Racer Paul Matwychuk has caught up with Speed Racer, "and to my great surprise, I found it every bit as thrilling and delightful as Dennis [Cozzalio] did. I'm quite frankly baffled by the critical drubbing it received, especially from someone like Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, who in the past has been one of the biggest defenders of Brian De Palma, whose ability to convey plot information through complicated visuals instead of dialogue has a lot in common with the Wachowskis' approach to storytelling in Speed Racer."

Talking with Francis Ford Coppola for the London Times, Ed Potton revisits Apocalypse Now. Meanwhile, Glenn Kenny has a fascinating update on how the restoration of The Godfather's been going.

"That's the thing about visceral cries of rage and despair: they don't have to actually make sense. Sometimes it's even better if they don't." In the Auteurs' Notebook, Glenn Kenny offers "Three Ways of Looking at Pasolini's Salò." He then follows up with a viewing of Freddie Francis's The Skull, the title referring to the Marquis de Sade's headbone. The film offers set pieces that "are among the most visually dynamic 60s horror has to offer, rendered very beautifully on a recent DVD release from Legend."

And then there's the "Monday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report," Identification of a Woman: "In this film, which seems in many ways a deliberate step back in scale and scope from the likes of Zabriskie Point and The Passenger, Antonioni's alchemy of alienation produces peculiar, haunting effects he never achieved before, and, after his debilitating 1985 stroke, would never quite be able to ring again."

Ordet "Ordet (The Word, 1955) was the first film by Carl Dreyer I ever saw," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum. "Almost half a century later, it's easier for me to see that the film poses an irresolvable challenge to believers and unbelievers alike - and that what drove me nuts as a teenager is far from unconnected to what makes me consider Ordet one of the greatest of all films today."

"Vimukthi Jayasundara's The Forsaken Land (2005) is a Sri Lankan ode to desolation, set in a dune-beset desert range and haunted by the memories and present-moment traces of war," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC. "There is less a story here than an unassuming, aimless ramble of images and incidents, and ample opportunities for the characters to brood at the landscape while thinking about things we haven't seen.... [O]nce the ellipses and silences add up, "The Forsaken Land" comes off as having an undeniable sense of suspended apprehension that seems to be evocatively Sri Lankan, of waiting both for the war to resume and for life, such as it may be, to begin again. What's that worth to you? Less or more than CGI explosions and costumed superheroes?" Also, "as cynical as I'd like to be about the new run of DIY, HD twentysomething shrug-&-hangout features (a world, you could say, where no one owns a bed, just a mattress), I still find myself appreciating the low volume and the 4-D characters and non-stories they offer. Andrew Nenninger's Team Picture (2007) is a new fave."

"Based on a popular radio series, [Chandu the Magician] could almost be the missing link between the great silent European crime serials (Les Vampires, Dr Mabuse, the Gambler) and their more modest American cousins, the Saturday matinee serials of Republic and Columbia," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. The release is part of the Fox Horror Classics Collection, Vol 2, which Jeremy Estes at PopMatters.

The 30th Anniversary Edition of Jaws "contains 13 minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes as well as an on-location featurette filmed on Martha's Vineyard for British TV on May 6, 1974," writes Masha Tupitsyn in Fanzine. "In light of these deleted scenes and outtakes, and given Jaws' infamous production history widely documented in a variety of forms, I've decided to revisit Jaws to reflect on the movie it could have been, and despite the now-included cuts, in an abstract way, still is."

If your queue's thinning out, a visit to Billy Stevenson's Film Canon may well fix that.

James Van Maanen's been sorting wheat from chaff.

Sean Axmaker at TCM on A Throw of Dice: "[Franz] Osten is a dynamic director with an eye for spectacular imagery and romantic visions and a gift for visual storytelling and energetic pacing."

Proteus Proteus "is a bewitching, cinematically fluent unification of scientific method and creative imagination," writes Jonathan Kiefer.

Ed Howard finds Hitchcock's Rebecca "as potent and haunting as its ghostly title character."

"The Grifters stumbles but, ultimately, the power of [Jim] Thompson's nihilistic vision of society as played out by its bottom feeders makes the film a memorable, repeatable experience," writes Marilyn Ferdinand.

"Brotherhood of the Wolf certainly has its share of fans and enough wacky genre-blending to interest any open-minded geek, but as the film's conspiratorial plot unfolds, it proves to be a surprisingly serious tale that could definitely have benefited from a much lighter directorial touch and some witty dialogue," writes Bob Westal at Bullz-Eye. Also, Reprise is "a witty and moving drama about young male friendships that steers an excellent middle course between traditional guy-movie macho male bonding and icky sentimentality."

"Maurice, a Merchant-Ivory production, is resolutely an example of British heritage cinema," writes Stephen Snart at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "But while it does reinforce British-ness and its ideal, it also offers one of the more frank and respectful depictions of homosexuality in 1980s cinema."

Nick Schager talks with Lou Adler about Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains for IFC.

"In what is believed to be an industry first, Paramount Pictures is bundling its upcoming home video release of Kung Fu Panda with a direct-to-video companion film and will release the package on a Sunday - November 9 - instead of the traditional Tuesday." Thomas K. Arnold, for the Hollywood Reporter.

The Quiller Memorandum Online viewing tip #1. For the NYT, Jeffries Blackerby introduces the trailer for The Quiller Memorandum: "[T]he movie feels relevant now, as much as a record of the making of modern Berlin as a celebration of sharkskin-slick 1960s style.... The drip, drip, drip of Harold Pinter's ingeniously banal screenplay, in which small talk sounds like mortal threats, further heightens the feeling of paranoia and ennui in the scarred and divided capital."

Online viewing tip #2. Also for the NYT, AO Scott revisits The Hudsucker Proxy.

DVD roundups: Monika Bartyzel (Cinematical), Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk, Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times), PopMatters and Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:59 PM | Comments (2)

NYFF 08, 9/16.

NYFF 46 The New York Film Festival's press screenings began on Friday. In a way, then, there are two NYFFs, the first being a sort of extensive virtual preview, as online critics rush their reviews to an eager readership, while the second - running September 26 through October 12 - is the more traditional affair, the one open to the public who may or may not be choosing which films to see based on what they've read in the morning papers (whose editors have held their writers' reviews in accordance with the official NYFF calendar) or on what they remember reading two weeks before or on what they've read online just a moment ago - in collections such as Slant's, which, of course, will be complete and handy and still online.

Updated through 9/22.

Does this mean there'll be two rounds of entries here at the Daily for each and every film screening at NYFF this year? Probably not. I'll be playing it by ear. But this entry's for gathering NYFF overview-like items, such as noting that Vadim Rizov is off and running at the House Next Door or that Daniel Kasman, who's already seen several of this year's crop in Berlin, Cannes and Toronto, nevertheless has a fine list of what he's looking forward to in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Updates, 9/18: "[B]ecause of the festival's anemic stats of exclusive films and the elitist trappings, I have begun to wonder: Who is the New York Film Festival - the city's most prestigious film fest - really for? And does it even need to exist?" Simon Abrams asks around for the New York Press.

ST VanAirsdale revives the Reeler to voice his well-argued objections to Abrams's piece in the NYP. Also, Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door: "Had I known the thrust of Simon's piece (which is provocative, surely, but which I largely disagree with), I wouldn't have responded the way I did; the festival is a good thing."

Update, 9/19: Filmmaker's postedJamie Stuart's teaser for the series of shorts he'll be working on this year - and a piece by Karina Longworth:

If traditional videotaped entertainment coverage tries to foster the illusion that the end user of an entertainment product has been invited to an intimate conversation with a filmmaker or star, Stuart's NYFF coverage constantly reminds us that there is an architect behind that fake conversation. It takes the all-seeing but allegedly impartial press conference eye and restores to it the intellectual agency and emotional response of the interested but skeptical viewer. Stuart’s NYFF dispatches are not quite filmmaking, not quite video blogging and not quite journalism, but transmissions from one brain inside the press hive, without phony objectivity, without bought-and-paid-for favor, without filters.

Update, 9/21: Not Coming to a Theater Near You opens its special section.

Update, 9/22: The Auteurs' Notebook indexes nine reviews of the festival's films.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:31 AM | Comments (1)

Criterion's Ophüls.

The Earrings of Madame de... "Le Plaisir (1952) is not the best of the three Max Ophüls classics Criterion is releasing today," begins Dave Kehr in the New York Times: "that would be The Earrings of Madame de... (1953), one of the greatest films ever made, and one of the most written about." Just as an example, when it screened for two weeks at Film Forum in March 07, I gathered the rapturous reviews here.

"The titular jewels of The Earrings of Madame de... provide not just the axis around which the film's elegantly darkening roundelay turns, but also a telling stand-in for the essence of Max Ophüls's art - an object of glittering surfaces which, through an astounding accumulation of passion, comes to embody devastating depths of feeling," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. As for Criterion's release, it's a "majestic package fit for the film that would make Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris swoon in unison."

Updated through 9/22.

DVD Beaver Gary W Tooze marvels at the bountiful extras: "What a package, what a film - strongly recommended!"

Le Plaisir Again, Fernando F Croce: "The beauty and Mozartian sense of visual musicality of his work enhance rather than detract from Ophüls's toughness, for, beneath the velvety suavity, the director's worldview could be as bleak, savage even, as those of fellow Teutonic masters Von Stroheim, Lang, Wilder and Preminger." On Le Plaisir: "Often palmed off as a minor work sandwiched between the clarity of theme of La Ronde (which critic Robin Wood correctly tagged a 'thesis' work) and the fullness of expression of The Earrings of Madame de..., it's nothing short of brutal when it comes to depicting the human desperation of glittering surfaces."

And back to Dave Kehr: "The frenzied resistance to the passage of time dramatized in the opening sequence gradually modulates into the becalmed, mature acceptance of the concluding episode: the essential theme of this great artist, here expressed with devastating purity."

"No other director has so touchingly conveyed the exquisite social graces that arise from the pursuit of animal lust," adds Richard Brody in the New Yorker.

"The film is a masterpiece of subtleties and although I'm a bit shocked at Criterion's slightly lesser image quality - I doubt many purchasers' systems would identify it to an overly extensive degree," writes Gary W Tooze. "The flickering was a bit off-putting although perhaps this is the best that can be done digitally barring a more advanced restoration."

La Ronde Now to Dan Callahan in Slant, who takes on La Ronde, "based on Arthur Schnitzler's cynical, sexual fin de siècle play.... Ophüls is never jaded, or cynical, as Schnitzler often is; he's a true romantic, and he covers a huge range of male and female types in La Ronde, from Fernand Gravey's formidable, hypocritical husband to Odette Joyeux's malleable gal, who cries,'Oh, that naughty champagne! The things it made me do!' after a lascivious private dinner." He regards Criterion's release as a "somewhat disappointing package of a truly lovely film."

La Ronde is "a tasty little pleasure," writes James S Rich at DVD Talk. "A social drama that lightly steps across class boundaries to look at the bedroom antics of a variety of characters, taking in both comic and tragic details at the same time. Max Ophüls's return to French cinema is a marvel of structure and design, its circular storytelling and creative eye breaking boundaries in entertaining, intriguing ways."

"I can't say I'm overwhelmed with the image quality but feel fully sated by the fantastic extra features which lean this toward being an essential DVD buoyed by the brilliance of the film," writes Gary W Tooze.

Updates, 9/18: Doug Cummings has seen the restored version of Opüls's Lola Montès that Rialto Pictures will be taking around the country starting in October - and approves.

"Letter From An Unknown Woman foregrounds the profound Romanticism that lurks behind Ophüls's wry social commentaries," writes Billy Stevenson.

Update, 9/19: "The fluid elegance of Ophüls's camera is so subtle, and so organic to the storytelling, that at times the apparatus seems to be attached directly to the viewer's psyche," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Ophüls's mise-en-scène (a much-abused film theory term that, if it exists to describe anything at all, exists to describe his movies) is formally staggering, but never clever for clever's sake. His best films - and these three rank among them - function equally as master classes in the craft of cinema and as grand entertainments."

Update, 9/21: "I would love to see his American films come out next," writes Sean Axmaker at the Parallax View. "Ophüls is less wry and removed in films like The Reckless Moment and Caught, less continental and more aware of class. He's also less coy about their emotional lives, more willing to let the characters open up and let their feelings out, even if it's just in a private, privileged moment. He's also more open in his exploration of the barriers between the public and private, the social face and the vulnerable person underneath, and the characters are more grounded in lives we can relate to. The sensibility is still there, but pulled in interesting directions that make a revealing contrast to his elegant European films. I'm not saying better, but it's a sensibility I find more interesting and complex the more I look into them."

Billy Stevenson on The Reckless Moment: "This haunting film translates Ophüls's fascination with an incommensurable, Romantic moment into a fusion of noir and domestic melodrama and, more specifically, into Lucia Harper's (Joan Bennett) anticipation of her husband's return from a protracted business trip - indelibly provisional, or even hypothetical, given the extent to which their economic security is predicated on his continued absence."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:20 AM

Toronto Dispatch. 9.

Michael Sicinski on the directions taken in this year's Toronto International Film Festival - and on Bruce McDonald's Pontypool. Notes follow.

Toronto 08 By way of wrapping up TIFF, there are a few housekeeping matters that require some attention. I don't wish to dwell on them. But yes, the first festival since the full assumption of power by the Bailey / Cowan team does send up a few red flags of concern. It's not just that the inclusion and exclusion of certain films based on premiere status clearly reflects a need, beginning to border on mania, to shed the old "Festival of Festivals" mantle in favor of a chimerical quest for world-class status, the anxious hope of finding that next new Thank You For Smoking or, um, Bella. Quality suffers under this scenario, and the just-announced date shift at Venice, which effectively moves that festival head to head with TIFF, will only make matters worse. Nevertheless, I personally found much more to like than to dislike this year, thanks to my editor's generosity in allowing me to avoid most of the high profile premieres. Others weren't so lucky.

Similarly, the scaling back of press screenings, and in the case of the now-infamous Paris, Not France, the cancellation of press screenings altogether, starts to give the impression - unintended, no doubt - that TIFF may see critics in the same way many studios now do, as a regrettable annoyance to be marginalized as much as possible. Now that the Paris debacle has unfolded, with a reportedly substandard, festival-unworthy DVD supplement unspooling as part of a Paris Hilton publicity stunt, one has to question the festival's motives, or its comical lack of guile. Has TIFF been had, or was it part of a mutual back-scratching media-whore arrangement unbecoming to all parties involved? (Given that glitz is a fact of life, and even the Real to Reel section cannot be expected to remain immune, why didn't the festival program James Toback's Tyson, a doc that would have provided a media event and, by all reliable accounts, is also a worthy piece of nonfiction cinema? As it is, this year's TIFF included pretty much every piece of 2008 celluloid with the Sony Classics logo except the Mike Tyson film. Very odd.) In any case, it's a good idea to reserve judgment while the new team finds its feet. But let's just say that 2008 was an off year, and that TIFF put some of its own odd imperatives ahead of providing the best that world cinema had to offer.

Having said all that, may I remind any and all disgruntled readers, who may think I am being unduly harsh or picking at microscopic nits, that criticism is, or should be, an act of love, and that I keep coming back to Toronto because despite its flaws and foibles, it is a festival I love quite dearly. The volunteer staff is second to none, the city is friendly and effortlessly navigable even in the pouring rain, and even its worst screening venues (those would be the Cumberland 4 Cinemas) are still a cut above those of most North American film festivals. Even when this or that individual selection is iffy, the Midnight Madness experience is a blast, and, on the (allegedly) opposite end of the cultural spectrum, Wavelengths is provided with the resources to debut a landmark new work such as Jennifer Reeves's When It Was Blue, which did, in fact, exceed all expectations. (Now, for some real fun, let's see Madness's Colin Geddes and Wavelengths's Andréa Picard attempt a co-presentation!)

Pontypool Although I was (sort of) joking with my hypothetical "Midnight Wavelengths" suggestion, it could be a place for certain films that fall between chairs, engaged in avant-garde ideas and monster-movie attitude in equal measure. After all, experimental cinema and cult films share a rampant devotion to their form that goes beyond entertainment, toward a kind of extra-cinematic identification. It's a kind of passion, for the films themselves, and for the community that develops around them. And so, for my final film under discussion, the future of love itself is on my mind. What kind of emotional investiture are we capable of making, when we feel as though our world and our person may be in jeopardy? No film I saw exemplifies this quite as much as Bruce McDonald's Pontypool. McDonald is one of Canada's leading filmmakers whose international profile hasn't been as high as it probably should be, and he has been enjoying a small renaissance lately, heralded by last year's Ellen Page film The Tracey Fragments. Now, with Pontypool, he solidifies the comeback.

Based on a novel which in turn became a radio play - the film displays this, to no detriment whatsoever - the film takes place during one late winter's morning, Valentine's Day to be exact, at a radio station in the Ontario hinterlands. Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie, a character actor in a commanding star turn) is an AM shock-jock apparently run out of Toronto on a rail. After catching wind of a bizarre riot outside a doctor's office in town, and a very disorienting visit from a local singing troupe, Mazzy and his two-woman crew (Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly) discover that a mysterious virus has overtaken the town, reducing the infected to mindless, chanting zombies.

Pontypool However - and spoilers commence here - this is no ordinary virus, and Pontypool is no ordinary zombie flick. The virus is transmitted in person, and over the phone. A Quebecois health advisory, en français, warns against speaking in English, and in particular the use of terms of endearment such as "honey" or "sweetheart." Once the virus takes over the cortex of the brain, a rhyme-based glossolalia gives way to the endless repetition of one word. In time, Mazzy, his producer, and the besieged doctor (Hrant Alianak) deduce that the virus is transmitted through the English language. Mazzy, given to quoting Roland Barthes in his jock talk anyway ("Trauma is a news photo without a caption"), recognizes that the only cure for the virus is the avoidance of sense, an active deconstruction within English, or what the Russian Formalists called "making [language] strange" through poetic devices. He saves Sydney the producer by recoding the word "kill" as "kiss," saying, "I'm going to kill you," and planting one on her. We all left Pontypool humming the same tunes. Language is a virus. Stop making sense.

Pontypool falls short of absolute genius, mostly because it is so resonant with intellectual ramifications it fails to explore. Instead, it abruptly ends, with no conclusion at all. But this "semiotic zombie film," as its correctly been called, has both a political and a socio-sexual dimension. Or, following the likes of Kristeva and Lacan, it shows the two to be one and the same. The compulsion to use language, or to allow language to use you, is a kind of internal colonization. Pontypool never names this, although it makes an implicit parallel to the colonization of French Canada by the Anglophones. But more than this, the zeroing in on terms like "sweetie" and "darling" on Valentine's Day is particularly suggestive. For Lacan, the most psychologically damaging form of language, that which puts our sense of Being most at risk, is what he called "empty speech." Lacan described empty speech as a series of worn-down tokens passed from person to person, gesturing toward meaning but actually bearing none. In this case, these terms of endearment are the hollow signifiers of "love" that are in fact stand-ins for the much more difficult work of active love, which, in Lacan's and Kristeva's philosophy, must always forge its own unique language. Pontypool calls on these heady ideas, with unrelenting wit and verve, without wearing its book-learning on its sleeve. Although certain aspects of its humo(u)r may be "too Canadian" to translate into a stateside release, I sincerely hope an adventurous distributor like IFC at least gets this wonderful film out on its VOD platform. It was a perfect way to end a less-than-perfect but always provocative TIFF.

- Michael Sicinski


Pontypool "The opening act of Pontypool is, without a doubt, the work of a master at play," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "McHattie is absolutely brilliant as Mazzy.... Pontypool ends up as a significantly flawed but nevertheless compelling and gripping piece of work built around a fascinating premise. Now if someone would just film an adaptation of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash."

"This is an absurdly delicious plot that shouldn't be spoiled," writes Chris Stults of the Wexner Center. "I'll just tease you by saying that you should imagine Roland Barthes adapting Orson Welles's War of the Worlds radio play."

That Pontypool "wears its brains on its sleeve, in no way makes it less of a thriller, or for that matter, a great actor showcase (McHattie tears up the screen)," writes Kurt Halfyard at Row Three. "Bruce McDonald and screenwriter Tony Burgess surprisingly inject a lot of playfulness along the way. As genre flicks go, Pontypool is the full package deal."

Jason Anderson talks with McHattie, Burgess and McDonald for Eye Weekly.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:18 AM | Comments (6)

September 15, 2008

Wrapping Toronto 08.

Toronto 08 There'll be a few more entries on individual films, a dispatch or two, a collection of notable odds and ends and, eventually, an index, but I thought it was high time to start gathering overall assessments. First stop: Michael Sicinski. Take your time.

Now then: "Hirokazu Kore-Eda's Still Walking, from Japan, was selected as the best film at the Toronto International Film Festival in a poll of film critics and bloggers conducted this weekend by indieWIRE." Eugene Hernandez has the full results.

Updated through 9/21.

"For all the talk of film-world collapse, with the fear and concern trailing the shuttering of distributors and further consolidation, it is so very crucial to be reminded that filmmakers all over the world are still using the feature-film model to make sense of life, to get under the skin of human beings, to make their very best effort to communicate to the rest of us what is at stake. Miracles happen, still, even at film festivals. Especially at film festivals." B Ruby Rich introduces her roundup at SF360.

More overviews: Kathleen Murphy (MSN) and Tom Charity (CNN).

Variety's Anne Thompson writes up an acquisitions scorecard.

"Worst film festival ever." A roundup of mini-roundups from Marc Weisblott in the Eye Weekly, via Movie City News, still updating its own Toronto portal.

Rob Nelson bumps into Al Milgrom: "My chance encounter with the driving force of the Minneapolis-St Paul International Film Festival has occasioned a chat about movies we've seen at the festival, and about the festival itself in relation to Milgrom's own, which will appear in its 27th annual edition come April."

Quick takes on lots of movies: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks (Pixel Vision), Jason Gray and Brian Owens (Film Experience).

Online listening tip #1. At Cinematical, James Rocchi and David Poland discuss, among other things, a few questions: "Which films got a boost out of Toronto? What's it like to work at the Festival as a journalist? How crazy is it to feel 'behind' in covering movies that may not open for at least another three months?"

Online listening tip #2. Karina Longworth and Kevin Kelly at the SpoutBlog.

Online viewing tip. "Eye Weekly's Jason Anderson and Adam Nayman host a salon with Variety's Robert Koehler, The Village Voice/LA Weekly's Scott Foundas and Cinema Scope's Mark Peranson and Andrew Tracy."

Updates, 9/16: For Girish Shambu, TIFF 08 "was marked by one conspicuous recurrence: films, often by reputed and challenging filmmakers, that took the viewer aback with a disarming accessibility." In Artforum, he offers his takes on "Claire Denis's lovely, lyric 35 Shots of Rum," Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Lorna's Silence, "an unabashed thriller, tense and suspenseful," Christian Petzold's Jerichow, " an icy, intelligent work that hums along satisfyingly on multiple levels," and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata: "For much of its duration, the film works in a keen and observant dramatic-realist vein - although with Kurosawa's wry sense of humor ever-present. But in the last thirty minutes, it takes an abrupt, auto-destructive turn that can either be praised as a rupturing, Surrealist gesture or bemoaned as a crazy, failed experiment."

"That phrase, though - 'a solid 7' - has stuck with me. It's a fair description, I think, of TIFF 08, in general." Darren Hughes presents "a quick breakdown of what I saw, more or less in order of preference."

Ben Kenigsberg's got a nice round up in Time Out Chicago; more on Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles in an upcoming entry.

Daniel Kasman indexes his coverage for the Auteurs' Notebook.

"Every festival goer makes his own festival and finds her own themes. Half way through this year's Toronto International Film Festival... it was clear that I'd accidentally scheduled movies about families." But Robert Davis ranks all the films he saw. Also at Daily Plastic: J Robert Parks's 9th day.

"Lingering in film festival-land during the final days is much like being the last guest at a party after the beautiful people have left, your host has passed out in the backyard, and you’re sifting through the ashtrays from smokeable butts, bleary-eyed, waiting for dawn." Josef Braun looks back on his last day.

At MSN: Kathleen Murphy on "one of the great pleasures of any film festival worth its salt: the opportunity to enjoy the amazing diversity of human appearance."

Updates, 9/17: "I took in a couple of dozen screenings," notes Girish. "Here's how the films stacked up."

"I'm far from finished writing about the films I've seen," prefaces Michael Guillén, offering a list of "my top ten favorite films and my five least favorite, both in descending order." There's a more list-making at Twitch, too.

In the Voice, Scott Foundas reviews three films that screened in the final days of the festival.

Updates, 9/18: David Walsh launches the WSWS series of reports.

"Scenes from the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival": Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle.

Josef Braun has a wrap-up in Vue Weekly.

"There are years when, with foresight and a little luck, you could see every best-picture nominee during Toronto's 10 days. This is not likely to be one of those years." Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper.

The Enzian Theater's Matthew lists his five favorites.

Update, 9/19: The SpoutBlog indexes its coverage.

Updates, 9/20: Joanne Laurier files the second report to the WSWS.

The Playlist indexes its coverage.

"After gorging on 30 films in 10 days, I've managed to write a post about 13 of them and still plan on cobbling my thoughts together on another 3," writes Bob Turnbull. "So that leaves 14 lonely films with nowhere to go... With TIFF all tucked away for 2008, I figure I'll take a stab at a few pithy comments for each one of them."

Update, 9/21: Row Three presents its "Big Ol' TIFF Round-Up."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:26 PM

Hounddog.

Hounddog "Writer-director Deborah Kampmeier was nearly run out of Park City, Utah, during last year's Sundance Film Festival after critics savaged her coming-of-age drama Hounddog, in which a 12-year-old girl, played by Dakota Fanning, is raped by a much older boy." Susan King talks with her for the Los Angeles Times.

"Few movies recover from such a hostile reception, especially a low-budget Southern-gothic tale set in 1959 about a 12-year-old motherless girl obsessed with Elvis Presley who seductively sings for a teenager in exchange for tickets to a concert of the King's," writes Julie Bloom in the New York Times. "But thanks to a radically different cut of the movie and the coffers of a new independent film company listed on the Nasdaq's over-the-counter market, Hounddog will finally make its way into 22 theaters across the country on Sept 19."

Updated through 9/19.

Hounddog "is not exploitive," argues David Edelstein in New York. "Not even close.... The focus of Hounddog isn't child-rape, any more than it's Elvis-worship. The movie is essentially an allegory - of subjugation and emancipation, of liberation through art. The vision is unsubtle but haunting."

"There's lots of talk about possession, emptiness and whites appropriating the blues, but none of it feels digested by the actual story," counters Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "That's because Kampmeier's hamfisted style, from her trite delineation of the spiritual and emotional lives of Southern classes to her obligatory pairing of apple and gloppy snake imagery, refuses to let Hounddog transcend the level of a cartoon or VC Andrews paperback."

Update, 9/16: "Kampmeier's handiwork has more in common with Lifetime movies for television than with child pornography," writes Leah Churner in Reverse Shot. "One hates to bring up continuity problems but in this case it seems the reediting is suspiciously bad, shuffled with a vengeance, as if to say, 'look what you've done!' to the world who wouldn't let Hounddog breathe."

Updates, 9/17: "Shot in mellow green and gold, Hounddog manages an engaging summer sweetness in its early scenes, as Lewellen plots to obtain a ticket to a local Elvis concert, but in the wake of the inadvertent betrayal that leads to her now-notorious rape (a sequence that, ironically, seems to have lost the horrific impact it needs), the film turns listless," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. "By the time Lewellen [Fanning] gets tutored in the white-girl blues by a band of magical Negroes, it has fulfilled its risible potential."

Alonso Duralde at MSNBC: "I have no idea what the unfortunate audience at Sundance had to endure, but I can attest that what's about to hit US screens is a laughably lurid, vulgar parade of barefoot children, Gothic stereotypes, and 'Fetch me a Co-Cola' dialogue you thought had gone out with God's Little Acre and Tobacco Road."

"Ms Fanning's performance alone makes Hounddog worth seeing," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

Update, 9/18: "Fanning's performance becomes part of Hounddog's undoing," argues Mark Peikert in the New York Press. "Instead of the giddiness we get from fellow young thespian Abigail Breslin or the prickly vulnerability of Jodie Foster back in her teen heyday, all Fanning gives us is a steely determination."

Updates, 9/19: "The problems that plague the movie land squarely with the writer, director and producer, Deborah Kampmeier, who has crafted a howler of a bad script, shows little affinity for working with actors and displays no visual sense behind the camera," argues Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times.

"'It's a hard world for little things,' Lillian Gish says of her pint-size charges in The Night of the Hunter, one of the most sympathetic portraits of kids under duress," writes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "It's harder still for Dakota Fanning, the creepily committed child actor whose willingness to please appears to have been grossly exploited by writer-director Deborah Kampmeier."

"Like many a Deep South saga before it, the movie believes in the curative role of the blues, the symbolic role of reptiles and the strictly supportive role of African-Americans," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "If anyone were going to be scandalized, it shouldn't have been the Catholic League and child protection advocates. It should have been the Humane Society and the NAACP."

"Ms Kampmeier has created a Southern Gothic tale in which the moral hierarchy has been inverted by attachments to religion, false righteousness, and wealth," writes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun. "But watching the world she has created fold in upon itself becomes unbearable."

"Pretty but overwrought, Hounddog doesn't deserve its infamy, nor does it merit being seen or remembered," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:21 PM

Shorts, fests, etc, 9/15.

Cahiers du cinéma While the world of finance wobbles - meaning, most likely, that sooner than we'd like to think, we'll all be wobbling, too - a handful of cinephiles has had its eye on a potential sale that will hardly register on any banker's concerns today but may well mean a great deal for what Dave Kehr calls the "Lost Continent of Cinephilia." Today's the day Le Monde was planning to decide what to do with Cahiers du cinéma, whose circulation has dwindled to 23,000 copies. Le Monde will sell, most likely, but to whom? According to the petition posted by Andy Rector, 90 percent of the Cahiers staff favors Thierry Wilhelm, "an investor in Mediart who wants to see the magazine continue to evolve as it has under Jean-Michel Frodon and Emmanuel Burdeau." For more background, run this piece by Frédérique Roussel in Libération through Google's translator. So far, I haven't found any news newer than than that. Update (9/16).

Bernard Rose considers Ken Russell to be "one of the greatest British directors of all time." But that didn't keep him from, by his own admission, stealing Russell's Beethoven project out from under his nose. 14 years after Immortal Beloved, Rose meets Russell to talk about, among many other things, the latter's newly reissued autobiography, A British Picture.

Also in the Guardian, Paul Rennie on the poster for Brian De Palma's Scarface.

Ekhrajiha "Director Massoud Dehnamaki's iconoclastic 2007 film, Ekhrajiha, or The Rejects, struck a deep chord among Iranians accustomed to seeing the war that transformed the country as a noble cause fought by pious Muslim recruits," writes Borzou Daragahi, who also notes in the Los Angeles Times that "such a less-than-holy depiction of the men who fought the 'War of Sacred Defense,' as the 1980s conflagration with Iraq is sometimes called, was groundbreaking."

"There is a rich tradition of moviemaking in this region," writes Paul MacInnes in the Guardian from Kazakhstan:

Its golden age came at the height of the Soviet era where directors like the Kyrgyz Tolomush Okeev or Uzbekistan's Ali Khamraev were first trained at the VGIK school in Moscow, funded by groups like Soviet TV, and allowed to flourish. Like so much else though, when the USSR collapsed so did the entire system by which films were made. Industries across the former Soviet Republics shrank and cinema was no exception. It is only in recent years that it has even begun to recover. So it was with great excitement that [the Eurasia Film Festival] was able open with a gala screening of Tulpan, a Kazakh movie that claimed the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes this year.

At the Evening Class, Michael Hawley previews French Cinema Now, running October 8 through 12 in San Francisco.

"What are 12 Movies I've Never Seen and Desperately Want to See?" A list from Dennis Cozzalio.

Angst essen Seele auf The votes are in and the Cinematheque presents the results: "The Top 5 Fassbinder Films."

"Philip Roth has no love for movies of his books," reports Hillel Italie for the AP.

"The Obama v McCain race for the White House has been run before - NBC's The West Wing pitted a charismatic, non-white Democrat against a maverick, experienced Republican." The BBC's Janette Ballard.

Online browser window shopping tip. Christie's Vintage Film Posters auction happens Wednesday. Via Looker.

Online listening tip. Vinyl Is Podcast launches.

Online viewing tip. Via Andy Rector (we come full circle), Godard's trailer for this year's Viennale. October 17 through 29.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:15 PM

Independent Film Week 08.

Independent Film Week "Every year around this time, as the city plays host to the annual IFP-sponsored gathering known as Independent Film Week, there is a great deal of discussion about the successes and challenges that have punctuated the previous year in the independent filmmaking community," writes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "In years past, conversations have focused on emerging genres, evolving technology, and the ever-expanding number of film festivals. But this year, as Independent Film Week rolls ahead through Thursday at multiple New York venues, the focus is a bit more global and the dialogues are a bit more intense."

Updated through 9/20.

"This morning Cartoon College producer/my soon-to-be-husband Josh Melrod and I picked up our badges and registered so now it's off to the races." Filmmaker Tara Wray (Manhattan, Kansas) is blogging for Filmmaker.

IndieWIRE's got a cordoned-off section going: Eugene Hernandez profiles Barry Jenkins, whose marvelously understated Medicine for Melancholy opens the event this evening, and Peter Broderick opens a two-parter: "Welcome to the New World of Distribution."

Andrew Grant notes that he and Aaron Hillis - together, they are Benten Films - are each on panels this year.

The Voice notes that Kevin Smith is there with Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Updates: Michael Tully has a rundown of some of the more interesting goings on at Hammer to Nail.

Kevin Kelly talks with Jenkins, too, for the SpoutBlog.

Updates, 9/16: "Dedicated to the theme 'Filmmaking 2.0,' the first weekday of Independent Film Week 08 explored changes emerging in the film business at FIT in New York City," report Brian Brooks and Eugene Hernandez. "Sundance's Geoff Gilmore spoke out about the state of festivals and imagined what such events might be like in a decade, while Rainbow Media chief Josh Sapan elaborated on his company's growing strategy to bring indie, foreign and doc features to home theaters via video-on-demand." Also at indieWIRE: Peter Broderick's Part 2.

Anthony Kaufman comments: "[W]hat's seemingly astonishing about VOD is [IFC President Jonathan] Sehring's claim that the gross dollar revenue ratio from VOD to theatrical is 2 to 1. That means a film such as This is England, for example, which made about $350,000 in theaters made another $700,000 on VOD.... Here's the downside: As Roadside Attractions's Howard Cohen told me, 'The lesson for us is if it has no life theatrically, then it has no life on VOD.'"

Todd Rohal: "We began our meetings right away yesterday (Monday) morning. We had a list of 15 companies to speak with over the course of 4 hours, rotating from one table to the next every 15 minutes. This is the core of the Emerging Narratives program - meeting and discussing our script with as many different people as possible."

Also at Filmmaker, Rodney Evans has an update on how things are going with the No Borders program.

Updates, 9/17: James Van Maanen's been "Watching new documentaries take shape during Independent Film Week."

Filmmakers carry on blogging at Filmmaker.

Updates, 9/18: Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay passes along an email from producer Ted Hope: "Ted ties a lot of stuff together here, knitting observations about the ground-level activism of independent filmmakers, broadband adoption in the US, the current election season and the macro-collapse of the global finance industry, which is in the process of being creatively destroyed as we speak."

This passage from David Lowery's report for Hammer to Nail leapt out Karina Longworth as well: "Most of the folks at Independent Film Week have projects in development. They're trying to attach producers, to find money, to build buzz, to find more money. We're only one day removed from Black Monday, but what a nice counter to all that downtown woe to see that the hustle and bustle of this insane business we're in is as strong as ever, and focused here to a hilt. Independent film seems to be an increasingly illogical business venture, and yet the drive to find those ever-diminishing means is stronger than ever."

At indieWIRE, Eric Kohn has another distribution model roundup.

Scott Kirsner has notes from his conversation with Robert Greenwald.

Updates, 9/20: "The savviest independent filmmakers showing a wide variety of works-in-progress this week at IFP's Independent Film Week Conference understood the importance of pleasing their audiences," reports Eric Kohn for indieWIRE. "On countless panels and ongoing discussions around town, members of the industry lamented the current state of affairs with familiar anxiety, discouraged because the current glut of product hasn't made things any easier. But when Kevin Smith took the stage last Sunday to mark the 15th anniversary of his own journey to IFP with Clerks, he insisted that filmmakers set on finishing their projects mainly need to focus on impressing anyone willing to invest. 'It doesn't matter if you have ten bucks or ten million bucks - your job remains the same," he said. "Making it with someone else's money is better.'"

Scott Kirsner: "The Numbers I'd Like to See from SnagFilms."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:52 AM

Toronto Dispatch. 8.

Aide-toi et le ciel t'aidera The Toronto International Film Festival may be over (indieWIRE's Peter Knegt lists the awards bestowed by various groups), but impressions are still coming. I'll be wrapping coverage of the coverage over the next few days, and here's David D'Arcy on films from France, Norway, Greece and Canada.

Aide-toi et le ciel t'aidera, translated as With a Little Help from Myself, is the latest film from François Dupeyron. It's a family drama, but not of the sort that the Disney folks would recognize. Dupeyron and his actors call it a comedy. You might also call it a banlieue film, a suburban film, since that's where it's set, but here we're talking about the working class suburbs of Paris. The film follows the Mousse family, who are black. "Follow" would be the right word here, because this film doesn't seem to have a beginning or an end. It's as if Dupeyron let us in on a certain period in the family's life, which will go on much longer, against what look like some major odds.

Aide-toi is not a documentary, although it looks like one much of the time. We enter the magnificently acted story as young pretty Christie is about to get married, yet as the wedding preparations are being made, father Georges reveals that he has gambled away the family's savings - not just the money for the wedding, but savings that were going to buy the Laundromat where his intrepid wife Sonia (Félicité Wouassi) works. So much for bootstrap entrepreneurship. After a fistfight over losing the cash with his teenage son Victor, Georges falls stone dead. The wedding goes on - this is a churchgoing family, although not one that Sarah Palin would be at home with - with Sonia forced to dance with her unsuspecting family and friends. In the meantime, she drops the body off at the apartment of an old Frenchman living in their housing project, played marvelously by Claude Rich. Georges is consigned to history as a no-good lout who abandoned his family. Given what he did with their money, this is entirely believable. And this is just the beginning.

Aide-toi et le ciel t'aidera Think of the comic and vulnerable sides of Anna Magnani in the 1950s, and Félicité Wouassi catches some of that in this portrait of managed family chaos in the endless blocks of public housing outside Paris. The camera hovers everywhere in the Mousse's apartment - kids get into trouble, bills go unpaid, a daughter gets pregnant, love creeps in here and there. These are the sorts of projects where youths whose families came from West Africa and Algeria burned cars and fought with cops. We don't see any of that or any of the other ghetto clichés (City of God, La Haine, in which Wouassi appeared, etc) that might be expected - the apartment is tastefully furnished, better than your typical lower middle-class flat. These characters are not stereotypes, and that's what keeps you guessing what will happen next. But we do see the family swelter through the heat wave of 2003. Without giving too much away, there's another death at those high temperatures that Dupeyron turns into comedy.

The reality we see here is too real for what we would expect from a reality show. While it's not a documentary, the script seems to have been distilled from lots of observation. Dupeyron makes sure that it's always dramatic, and never a descent into what the French call miserabilisme, no matter what the reality might actually be - here's a definition in French: tendance systématique à représenter la condition humaine sous ses aspects les plus misérables, i.e,  the tendancy to portray the human condition at its most impoverished. Like so many films in a festival the size of TIFF, this one seems to have missed much attention. What a shame.

O'Horten Another one that came and went quietly in Toronto was O'Horten, Bent Hamer's discreetly wry look at a railroad engineer beginning his retirement. The film is lighter than About Schmidt, which Hamer says he's seen and admired - retirement here, in the few days that we of it, is more bedazzling than sobering, more absurd than tedious. Hamer's point of departure is the end of 40 years of driving a train back and forth between the same two stations. Odd Horten (Baard Owe, whom you may have seen in The Kingdom and other films by Lars von Trier) is the driver, hence the title, his name and first initial, which makes it sound Irish. Once the job ends, with an odd ritual from railroad co-workers - everything is odd, befitting the play on words - Odd goes looking for some old friends and finds them either absent or dead. So he simply goes where happenstance takes him. Odd takes it all in with a Kaurismäki-style deadpan and cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund echoes Owe's expression with long shots that dwell on ordinary spaces. Hamer holds these shots that extra second or two it takes to get across the numbness of a man of routine who hasn't experienced new for the last four decades.

There was a truism in the 19th century art business that winter scenes don't sell, even by the finest of the Impressionists - this film is shot entirely in the winter. The other mantra is that old characters don't sell, either. Hamer, who produced, kept his budget low, around $4 million, and said that he promised his friends that he'd never make a film about old people again. It's a promise that he does not intend to keep: "I find it so interesting - to have actors like this is one thing - but also to tell a story about lived life. It represents so much more than just a situation of being a retired person and to be old. Usually you see these films referring to two years ahead of the main character and two minutes behind him."

El Greco O'Horten, which premiered at Cannes, is the story of a life that has not been mythologized. El Greco, on the other hand, Iannis Smaragdis's Greek/French/English bio-pic about the Greek painter who found fame in Spain, is a sumptuously costumed period saga, which begins with the young - and handsome - painter's early days in Crete, where the occupying Venetians have declared war on Cretan patriots. So we have young Domenikos Theotokopoulos (Nick Ashdon) branded as a rebel. He then goes to the metropol, Venice, where he chafes at studying with Titian, played as a grey-bearded sage by Sotiris Moustakas. Things aren't all bad. He has a passionate love affair, and learns a bit from the Old Master, whose reproduced work is shown in abundance. When a priest takes to his work, and informs him that Spain is where he should be working. Domenikos takes off for Toledo, where he becomes El Greco, and, with the help of lots of daggers, bodices, inquisitorial clergy, sex and remarkably modern fits of passion from the artist about the constraints placed on him and his work, a legend is born. The twist in the story comes when the priest who had admired his painting, Nino de Guevara (Juan Diego Botto), is promoted to head the dreaded Inquisition, and the cleric's apprehensions about executing anyone who doesn't fit the standard model of piety are overcome by his taste for power. The director and screenwriter must have seen The Agony and the Ecstasy and Pollock.

Of course, this is all meant to be taking place between 1541 and 1614 (surprisingly close to the dates of Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616), when artists, particularly those who painted the rich and powerful and decorated their buildings, worked almost entirely on commission, as El Greco certainly did. Romantic independence came later, although Velázquez, a generation younger, did start painting ordinary people in Spain. Let's not assume that anybody wasted too much time or money here on historical accuracy.

The film crescendos with El Greco's appearance before the Inquisition with the mother of his illegitimate child (among the many accusations is the charge that he is not married to her); this takes us to the Galileo model in the Hollywood formula - the creative spirit who must be true either to himself or to the authorities of an oppressive state. As many a studio head would put it, give the people what they want. According to Variety, some 650,000 people have gone to see the film in Greece so far. Watch for it on television in the US.

Lost Song Set in the present, Lost Song is anything but lavish. And it's on the margins of French-Canadian cinema; its director, Rodrigue Jean, is an Acadian from New Brunswick. Everything about his drama of a young married couple is spare - the story, the cast, the setting and the expression of emotions. Elisabeth (singer Suzie LeBlanc) and overworked husband Patrick (Patrick Goyette) have just had a baby, and have moved to what they hope will be a low-stress lakeside cottage where they can be helped by Patrick's mother, Louise, while Elisabeth prepares for her next vocal recital. But the sleep-deprived couple's baby cries incessantly, and he won't breast-feed, and Elisabeth starts hearing things in the crawlspace above that she thinks are animals - "les bêtes, les bêtes," she tries to explain. There's a slim headstrong girl in a house nearby, Naomi, whom the lonely Elisabeth befriends, but Jean's script doesn't fall into anything so easy as an affair that Patrick might have with her. Instead, he takes us into Elisabeth's growing and haunting post-partem anxiety. Naturally, the helpless baby is the victim, utterly at the mercy of another victim, his mother. By the end, the film that could have been a minimalist portrait of depression, with Elisabeth staring numbly at the four walls of her room, becomes a thriller. You're gripped as Elizabeth wanders through the woods, prey to the next mis-step. Rodrique Jean's deftly composed drama does not take the easy way out.

- David D'Arcy

Posted by dwhudson at 6:12 AM

September 14, 2008

David Lean @ Film Forum.

David Lean "Naturally, Film Forum's [David] Lean season includes his multiple Oscar-winning epics - The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Zhivago and A Passage to India - films in which the impermanence of human love, life, and scheming are celebrated in wide-screen grandeur," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "But the bulk of the two-week retrospective represents the result of a real-life effort to permanently preserve the director's early work, an effort that has been considerably more successful than fictional efforts to safeguard the bridge in Kwai, TE Lawrence's life, and Yuri Zhivago's 'paper thin' heart, as dramatized in the pictures themselves. Through a joint effort led by the British Film Institute, 10 of Lean's British-made, pre-road-show movies have been restored to a level of clarity that will likely extend their exhibition lives indefinitely."

Updated through 9/15.

"Brief Encounter and Summertime are always worth seeing again, and his three Ann Todd films deserve more attention than they have received," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door. "As for the rest, Lean took to looking out into vast expanses of desert, fields of flowers, windswept beaches, sets of caves and even the space beyond the sky, searching for existential answers that he was not equipped to give us and settling for overly composed pretty pictures instead."

For Cullen Gallagher, writing in the L Magazine, Summertime is "the director's underappreciated masterpiece. Katharine Hepburn plays a single woman who travels to Venice alone for a vacation, bringing along a bottle of whisky and a small movie camera. She spends the first half of the movie faking conversations with other tourists and visiting all the tourist hot spots, unable to make any sincere connection with other people or the landscape. Her alienation is unlike anything Lean had ever filmed before, and far more modern than anything to be found in Hollywood at the time - in fact, the closest relative to Hepburn's character would have to be Marie Rivière in Eric Rohmer's The Green Ray/Summer (1986), some three decades later."

"Maybe the signature shot of Lean's career is the long, long take of Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) approaching across the sands in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), an indistinct, heat-shimmery figure gradually coming into focus in the blinding desert sun." Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times: "That spectacular shot is, in a way, this filmmaker's career in miniature, progressing slowly, waveringly, from very small to very large, and demanding our attention at every stage. Lean, an Englishman to the marrow of his bones, was from the beginning an artist fascinated by both the small and the large, oscillating between his attraction to the one and his yearning for the other - between the domestic, you might say, and the imperial."

"What all these brilliant, seemingly disparate works have in common is the clarity and precision of Lean's filmmaking technique, as well as his steely resolve in using it to achieve poetic grandeur," writes David Ehrenstein for Artforum.

Earlier: Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook and Armond White in the New York Press. Also: "David Lean, 4/20" and "David Lean @ 100."

Through September 25.

Update, 9/15: "Lawrence of Arabia is a moment-of-truth moment for a lot of kids, because it's famous, fairly popular in revival (would I have been the rep-going freak I am without it? It's a one-movie argument for the importance of big-screen viewings), and the kind of widescreen spectacle you don't need actual human experience and interaction to respond to." But at the House Next Door, Vadim Rizov offers his takes on four other films in the series.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:32 PM

Shorts, 9/14.

Black Girl "While the tendency of critics and film historians to label the late Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene 'the father of African cinema' might seem slightly glib, even a casual assessment of recent African filmmaking confirms that the influence of key Sembene films such as Black Girl, Mandabi and Xala has indeed been far reaching," writes Richard Porton at Moving Image Source. "Perhaps the key to Sembene's complex appeal to filmmakers who continue to wrestle with his legacy resides in his dual focus on both the inequities of Western colonialism and the tendency of African elites to internalize the same colonialist mentality, replete with corruption and class stratification, which inspired a wave of liberation movements in the post-World War II era."

"Can it be coincidence that [Fatih] Akin, perhaps the most acclaimed director to emerge from Europe in this decade, is an artist whose background spans two cultures?" asks Godfrey Cheshire in the Independent Weekly. "And not just any two - the two that lie closest to the gaping fault line separating the West and Islam, site of this era's most challenging and crucial geopolitical drama.... Far more than Head-On, with its ragged, punk-rock energy, The Edge of Heaven cleaves closely to European literary models. It is, without an apology or undue self-consciousness, the most novelistic of recent movies."

Wolke 9 As Cloud 9 plays in Germany, signandsight translates Birgit Glombizta's interview with Andreas Dresen for the taz.

"Great documentaries survive as lasting stories of people, their environments, the forces that shape their lives," writes Barbara Kopple, introducing a list of her favorites at MediaRights. Via Movie City News.

"Don't think about a movie title too long." But David Bordwell does think about a whole lot of them, at least for a bit. Related: Bob Rehak on how floating 3D titles, particularly in Panic Room, "make us acutely uneasy by conflating two spaces of film spectatorship that ordinarily remain reassuringly separate: the 'in-there' of the movie's action and the 'out-here' of credits, subtitles, musical score, and other elements that are of the movie but not perceivable by the characters in the storyworld." Via Chris Cagle, who adds that he's "noticed a crucial shift in the title sequence that takes place sometime in the early-to-mid 1950s."

No, or the Vain Glory of Command "Inasmuch as Manoel de Oliveira's films convey what Randal Johnson describes as a cinematic hybridity that illustrates the amorphous nature of representation, No, or the Vain Glory of Command also reflects a temporal hybridity, where time is presented as a conflation of seemingly arbitrary, but integrally connected history," writes Acquarello.

"Writer-director Clark Gregg's adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's 2001 novel [Choke] has a number of things going for it," writes Ed Champion. "It has, first and foremost, the intriguing choice of Sam Rockwell cast as sex addict Victor Mancini." Still: "One cannot view Choke without being aware of Fight Club's imposing shadow." Gregg "doesn't quite have [David] Fincher's talent to properly translate Palahniuk's cartoonish riffs on reality to the big screen.... If a Chuck Palahniuk film adaptation cannot unsettle us, what then is the point of making it?"

Vulture's Joshua David Stein asks Slavoj Zizek why he finds The Dark Knight and Kung Fu Panda to be ideologically dangerous.

The Night of the Living Dead "One of the most fascinating things the reader learns about The Night of the Living Dead, a film that seems squeezed of new insights by years of exegesis, from the new BFI Film Classics edition by Ben Hervey, is the multitude of previously unknown, to me anyway, cultural influences," blogs DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "Among them are the paintings of Goya and others, especially Goya's Saturn Eating His Children, as well as, logically, the EC Horror Library, which director George Romero read as a kid in the 1950s."

Zach Campbell: notes on Jon Jost's Sure Fire, Irving Lerner's Murder by Contract and more.

Michael Douglas will play Liberace in Steven Soderbergh's biopic, reports Variety's Michael Fleming.

From Toronto, AO Scott discusses "the new American realists - or neo-neo-realists, or cosmopolitan regionalists, or whatever name we settle on once the wave has crested." But it's also "a global phenomenon, less a style than an impulse that surfaces, with local variations, from Romania to Kazakhstan, from Argentina to Belgium."

Also in the New York Times:

    The Glimmer Palace
  • Mike Peed reviews Beatrice Colin's novel, The Glimmer Palace: "Over the course of nearly half a century, as troops parade through Berlin and bread lines erupt into riots, [Lilly Nelly Aphrodite] is transformed, almost accidentally, from Tiny Lil, the unwanted baby, to Lidi, one of Germany's most celebrated film stars."

  • Sarah Lyall is rather taken with Daniel Radcliffe: "He has a catholic array of deeply held opinions - on sloppy diction, on whining actors, on male competitiveness, on the changing-of-the-guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, on the spelling of 'aluminum' - and in several conversations over the summer he was more than happy to disseminate them. But although he says his chatty forthrightness makes him 'an intensely annoying person,' it comes across instead as an endearing sign of post-adolescent normalcy." Equus opens on Broadway on September 25.

  • Joe Rhodes meets Bruce Campbell: "That he finds himself on a hit television series at the age of 50 - playing big-lug sidekick to Jeffrey Donovan on Burn Notice - is an unexpected windfall for the lantern-jawed Mr Campbell, best known as a horror-film hero since he starred in his childhood pal Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy in the early 1980s."

  • Mervyn Rothstein: "In Mandy Patinkin's world these days there are two tempests: Shakespeare's, in which he stars as Prospero at the Classic Stage Company, and the ever-raging one in his mind."

  • And: "Secrecy is equal parts history lesson, meditative essay, didactic poem and call to arms. If the movie follows no single thread of inquiry, nor sustains any argument or research in depth, it nevertheless explores some chilling corridors of the clandestine." More from Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York.

  • "There's no question that [Hava] Volterra has some fascinating ancestors - including Italy's first Jewish prime minister and the former New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia - and that The Tree of Life, despite an onslaught of dates and facts that often come too rapidly to be absorbed, offers an interesting history lesson about Jews in Italy since the 13th century," writes Laura Kern. "But there's also a prevailing sense of premeditation." More from Lawrence Levi in Nextbook.

The Little Red Truck
  • "Directed with a cheerful touch by Manish Acharya from a warm, insightful screenplay he wrote with Anuvab Pal, Loins of Punjab joins show-time antics to sociocultural commentary without reducing its characters, colorful as they are, to cartoons," writes Nathan Lee. Also, The Little Red Truck: "[I]f it sounds like the cutest thing in the history of cuteness, that's because it is. It would take a superhuman capacity for cynicism to resist the radiant optimism of the Missoula Children's Theater players and the unabashed pep of this joyful portrait." More from Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.

  • "Proud American, a series of dramatic vignettes about tolerance and can-do spirit, aspires to be inspirational, but suffers from its shameless, jackhammer-style manipulation," writes Andy Webster.

  • Jeannette Catsoulis: "Jewish mental patients and murdered Palestinians unite to solve the problems of the Middle East in Forgiveness, a mystifying mishmash of ghost story and group therapy." More from Matt Noller in Slant and Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

  • "Produced, written and directed by [Tyler] Perry, a one-man industry serving a niche audience that is primarily African-American, The Family That Preys doesn't worry about how it gets from A to Z," writes Stephen Holden. "There is no problem that a miraculous (and preposterous) plot development can't resolve in two minutes."

  • Neil Genzlinger on Greetings from the Shore. More from Guglielmo Anthony in Films in Review.

The Great Ziegfeld In the 9th episode of Best Pictures from the Outside In, Nick Davis, Michael Phillips and Nathaniel R discuss American Beauty and The Great Ziegfeld.

"Remember movies before the cellphone?" asks Zachary Pincus-Roth.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • "The representation in American movies of immigrants (and of two close relations, ethnicity and 'race') is practically as old as the movies themselves, from Birth of a Nation and Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant to Crash and Under the Same Moon," writes Reed Johnson. "Today, as mass immigration has evolved into a global phenomenon, a growing number of filmmakers in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as the United States are probing immigration's causes as well as its consequences for the lives of ordinary people."

  • Michael Ordoña reviews Surfer, Dude: "Yeah, there's a comma in there, presumably to imply something deeper than the disjointed mess it actually is."

  • James Marcus talks with Philip Roth about his new novel, Indignation.

Brian Gibson in the Vue Weekly on sex in the 21st century: "It was a long time coming, but at last the movies expose the red-blooded North American male becoming tragicomically aware of the wrinkles, flab and basic farce of the flesh, the flush of his desire paling into a trembling, white-cheeked joke."

Taylor/Burton "I recently stumbled across this fascinating description of Richard Burton's first meeting with Elizabeth Taylor written by Burton himself and borrowed from his book Meeting Mrs Jenkins (1966)," notes Kimberly Lindbergs. "I enjoyed reading it so much that I just had to share it."

A "brilliant new movie Die Welle (The Wave) serves as a warning of how simple psychological mind tricks can transform disaffected people into fascists," writes Johnny Dee. "Director Dennis Gansel, whose acclaimed Before The Fall was about the nazification of young Germans in the 1930s, felt compelled to make the film for several reasons. He was interested in the fundamental psychology of group pressure and he felt that Germans, especially young Germans, were becoming too blasé about the past."

Also in the Guardian:

Eraserhead A list from the AV Club: "The Old Cult Canon: 16 cult films that paved the way for the new cult canon." Related: In the Independent, Sophie Morris talks with David Lynch about the initial critical reception of Eraserhead.

Online browsing tip. The Collages of John Ashbery.

Online listening tip. NPR: Keith Brand on The Blob @ 50.

Online viewing tip #1. Survivors, a film by Errol Morris for Stand Up to Cancer. Via Movie City News.

Online viewing tip #1. For those in the US: Orson Welles's The Stranger is now viewable on Hulu. And a tip from Jerry Lentz: Welles's last interview, given two hours before he died.

Online viewing tips. Mike Everleth rounds up some "scary" video art.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:12 PM

Fests and events, 9/14.

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis "Susan Sontag, an early and ardent admirer, once called [Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis] 'the greatest writer ever produced in Latin America,' surpassing even Borges," notes Larry Rohter in the New York Times. "In his 2002 book Genius, the critic Harold Bloom went even further, saying that Machado was 'the supreme black literary artist to date.' Comparisons to Flaubert and Henry James, Beckett and Kafka abound, and John Barth and Donald Barthelme have claimed him as an influence." Machado 21: A Centennial Celebration runs Monday through Friday and includes screenings of Nelson Pereira dos Santos's The Alienist and A Missa do Galo on Thursday at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of Latinbeat 08.

At Moving Image Source, Dennis Lim looks back on this year's Robert Flaherty Film Seminar: "The sense of discovery comes not necessarily from encountering new work - though that's often the case - but more important, from stumbling on unexpected ideas and previously unnoticed connections."

John Tottenham previews The Tale of Eric Rohmer, running at LACMA through September 27: "The opportunity to catch these rare prints on the big screen should not be missed." More from Susan King in the Los Angeles Times.

Juxtapoz Back in the LA Weekly, Doug Harvey visits In the Land of Retinal Delights: The Juxtapoz Factor, on view at the Laguna Art Museum through October 5. One of many ways in: "Beautiful Losers - the show, the book, the movement, the movie - is probably the most acclaimed template for crossover between Lowbrow and mainstream, though its impact is more readily observable in the world of commercial graphic design than the Art World. Scene svengali Aaron Rose - whose Alleged Gallery in 90s Manhattan was the flash point of the BL submovement - has finally completed the documentary component of his marketing Gesamtkunstwerk, and it's actually very good. The artists mostly come off as nice folks, many struggling with the politics of their commercial success."

And back to the LAT: "There's no body of written evidence, no realpolitik smoking gun, to directly connect Henry Kissinger with Ines Kuperschmit," writes Reed Johnson. "But the former US foreign policy mastermind and the Argentine-born Los Angeles attorney both play intertwined, supporting roles in Juan Mandelbaum's haunting and disturbing documentary Our Disappeared (Nuestros Desaparecidos), one of 132 films that will be screened during the 12th annual Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival." The fest runs through Friday.

Monday night at the Brooklyn Independent Film Series: A program of shorts programmed by Michael Tully.

"[T]his year's Fantastic Fest will turn the Alamo's South Lamar locale into a genre-film-geek paradise that will prove, as if proof were needed, that the geeks have inherited the earth out from under Hollywood and gone viral on a global scale never before seen." A preview from Marc Savlov, including chats with Alamo founder Tim League and a few directors: Eduardo Sánchez (Seventh Moon; site), Eric Shapiro (Rule of Three) and Nicolás López (Santos).

Also in the Austin Chronicle: Anne S Lewis on Please Vote for Me, screening Wednesday at the Alamo Downtown.


You're Lookin' at Country


The Jackson Heights Film & Food Festival runs Thursday through September 21 and James van Maanen's got a preview.

For the Philadelphia City Paper, Shaun Brady gets a few words with Frederick Wiseman; on Sunday and Monday, Penn Cinema Studies will be screening "two of Wiseman's early, seminal films: Titicut Follies, the director's debut, which looks inside a prison for the criminally insane; and High School, a tract on enforced conformity shot at Philly's Northeast High in 1968. Wiseman will speak on 'Shooting and Editing a Documentary Film.'"

Londoners: Kino Fist returns on October 5.

In the Guardian:

James Danziger hits the New York galleries.

The Sheffield Doc/Fest (November 5 through 9) has its lineup lined up.

"Telluride is justly famous for the friendliness and efficiency of its staff - I should know since I am one of them," writes Timothy Sun at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "I must say, though, it was a mediocre slate this year, both in the audacity of the films and in the love audiences felt for them. There was no I'm Not There to rewrite our conceptions of cinema, nor a Juno to blast off the buzz machines; no Brokeback Mountain to take hold of the national discourse, no 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to announce a Palme d'Or and a New Wave. What we did have was a perfectly good year, with nothing mind-blowingly great or bad."

Posted by dwhudson at 11:28 AM

David Foster Wallace, 1962 - 2008.

David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace, whose darkly ironic novels, essays and short stories garnered him a large following and made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, was found dead in his California home on Friday, after apparently committing suicide, the authorities said. Mr Wallace, 46, best known for his sprawling 1,079-page novel Infinite Jest, was discovered by his wife, Karen Green, who returned home to find that he had hanged himself... Mr Wallace burst onto the literary scene in the 1990s with a style variously described as "pyrotechnic" and incomprehensible, and it was compared to those of writers including Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo.

Timothy Williams, New York Times.

Updated through 9/20.

Times book editor David Ulin was in New York City for a National Book Critics Circle Board meeting Saturday. "What was a party is now a wake," Ulin said as the news of Wallace's death circulated. "People were speechless and just blown away. He was one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years," Ulin said. "He is one of the main writers who brought ambition, a sense of play, a joy in storytelling and an exuberant experimentalism of form back to the novel in the late 80s and early 1990s," Ulin said. "And he really restored the notion of the novel as a kind of canvas on which a writer can do anything."

Claire Noland and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times.

"This is a terrible blow for American letters," comments Ed Champion, pointing to the ongoing discussion at Metafilter.

Updates: "I worked with Dave on three pieces for Premiere magazine," recalls Glenn Kenny:

"David Lynch Keeps His Head," which was nominated for a National Magazine Award and subsequently anthologized in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again; a consideration of Terminator 2 and the rise of "effects porn" that Premiere declined to publish and subsequently saw print in the in-house mag of the British book chain Waterstone's; and "Big Red Son," an account of the Adult Video News award that appeared in Premiere under the title "Neither Adult Nor Entertainment" and the dual byline Willem de Groot and Matt Rundlet. (It is in the book Consider the Lobster under its original title.) And yes, therein lies a tale. A few tales, really.

Right now, I don't have the heart to tell them. I will tell you that not only was Dave a genius and great, hilarious company, he was also one of the most stand-up guys I've ever met..... To learn tonight that he had taken his own life, it is just inconceivable to me. Inconceivable. I don't know how I can make that word register with the strength it needs to right now. Inconceivable.

For Time, Josh Tyrangiel collects "a few examples of his considerable skill."

Via Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay, John Seery in the Huffington Post: "Frankly I had a hard time keeping up with him - I thought he was always two or three chess moves ahead of me. But as the keen observer of the human condition that he was, he seemed to take into account his interlocutor's shortcomings and made gentle accommodations for them, without being patronizing. So we talked."

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth notes that "Wallace's collection of short stories Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is the basis of the forthcoming feature directorial debut from actor John Krasinski."

Jim Emerson passes along a short short story DFW told during his Kenyon Commencement Address in 2005.

"David Foster Wallace used his prodigious gifts as a writer - his manic, exuberant prose; his ferocious powers of observation, his ability to fuse avant garde techniques with old-fashioned moral seriousness - to create a series of strobe-lit portraits of a millennial America overdosing on the drugs of entertainment and self-gratification, and to capture, in the words of the musician Robert Plant, the myriad 'deep and meaningless' facets of contemporary life." An appraisal from Michiko Kakatuni in the NYT.

"One piece that always stuck with me was 'Host,' a profile of right-wing radio talk show host John Ziegler that the Atlantic Monthly ran in 2005," writes Chris Barsanti. "Being Wallace, it's nowhere near a simple feature. Instead the story not only presents a wonderfully complex and sympathetic portrait of what seems to be a profoundly unpleasant man, but one that digs with wonkish delight into the myriad details of what goes into making talk radio pop the way it does. Wallace also couldn't resist, being the serial digressor that he was, from including numerous footnotes and side notes throughout the piece."

"I initially labeled the book Infinite Pest, but this appellation proved to be a profound mistake. Fifty pages in, I became acclimated. The book hooked me.... He was, as some have overlooked, a world builder." A personal tribute, with footnotes, from Ed Champion.

"For all of its celebrated intellectual brilliance, Wallace's writing always resolved itself on the simplest, most human terms while still vigilantly guarding itself against the ever present threats of lazy thinking, sentimentality and, as he discusses in the Kenyon address..., our 'default thinking,'" writes Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker, pointing to the collection of reports, obituaries and remembrances at the Howling Fantods.

"A few weeks ago, I reread the beginning of Infinite Jest, and stupidly cursed right out loud its author, David Foster Wallace, out of jealousy, because I will never write - or even think - like he does in just the first few pages of what is the best novel written since I've been old enough to read," writes Joel Stein for Time. "[R]ead the soliloquy from Hamlet that gave Wallace's great novel its title. It is Hamlet's meditation on mortality, now tragically appropriate, that begins: 'Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio - a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred my imagination is!'"

"Perhaps someday we'll be offered an explanation for why David Foster Wallace took his life on Sept 12, but any reader can see how his fiction had, in recent years, moved into greater darkness," writes Laura Miller in Salon. "Infinite Jest, though 'sad' in accordance with its author's stated intentions, bubbled with humor and the sort of creative energy that is a kind of hope, the belief that, in the telling, the tale might redeem what is told. The story collection Oblivion, the last book of fiction Wallace published before his death, shows character after character flailing away at the impossible task of making life endurable."

In his bleak appreciation at AICN, Mr Beaks points to the piece on Terminator 2 that Glenn mentioned earlier: "Wallace was not blasting away at Cameron's spendthrift sci-fi because he loathed the man's movies; on the contrary, he was a fan. This fact alone elevated 'F/X Porn' above the petty squabbling of [Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth] Turan v Cameron: Wallace's supreme distaste for T2 had everything to do with Cameron betraying the terse, resourceful brilliance of T1 - and, in the process, pointing the way to a new, rapidly proliferating kind of soulless cinema."

Rex Sorgatz rounds up reviews, interviews and essays by or about DFW; and here's the NYT's "Times Topics" page.

Updates, 9/15: Granta gathers links.

"[O]n the small, strange, planet (or, more accurately, asteroid) inhabited by novelists doing their best to re-invent the novel, this is the death of Kurt Cobain," writes Julian Gough. "You are going to be reading agonised analyses of who he was, how he died, and why he mattered, in every books section of every newspaper, on every major anniversary of his death, for the rest of your lives. Well, OK, not for the rest of your lives, because newspapers won't have book sections in another six months. But you get the gist."

For those in Berlin: There'll be a modest memorial gathering at Saint Georges Bookshop on Wednesday evening at 8:30. No eulogies, no gnashing of teeth. Simply a series of short readings.

"He set the bar so dizzyingly high with each new piece of writing that I cannot imagine where he might next have taken his art; and it hurts that I will never know." Robert Potts. And Michael Carlson writes the Guardian's obituary.

FishbowlNY gathers links, including this, from Time's Michael Scherer: "For a decade at least, he has been one of our nation's greatest ongoing innovators of narrative journalism, of the magazine story, and a rightful heir to the golden age writers of old."

"His 2000 piece on John McCain is my favorite discussion of authenticity in politics," blogs Christopher Beam at Slate. "The driving question: When McCain tells you he seeks only to inspire Americans to serve a cause greater than their own self-interest - or, to update for 2008, when he says he'd rather 'lose an election than lose a war' - is he speaking the truth or mere hooey? In other words, is John McCain 'for real'?"

The Literary Saloon gathers tributes.

The NYT's Dwight Garner passes along a passage from Infinite Jest "that contains one of the best summations I know of Wallace and his gifts - the idea of a head that pounded like a human heart."

"It would be tempting to see his Wallace's body of work as a damning critique of the moral bankruptcy of capitalist culture," writes Michael Bierut in Design Observer. "But I'd maintain you can't come up with something like 'The Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster; unless you have some kind of empathy for the people who devise - and respond to - such things. Wallace turned the language of Powerpoint into poetry, and created a way of seeing depth in a shallow world."

I want to draw special attention to Ed Champion's roundup of comments from critics and fellow lit bloggers.

"David Foster Wallace began his review of John Updike's Toward the End of Time by classing Updike, along with Philip Roth and Norman Mailer, as 'the Great Male Narcissists who've dominated postwar American fiction.' The word narcissist isn't strictly disapproving there." Troy Patterson in Slate: "Of the three older writers, Wallace most closely resembled Mailer. Both earned their celebrity and electric esteem - becoming not just famous writers but author-heroes - on the strength of maximalist novels of ambition-announcing bulk and scope (Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, Wallace's Infinite Jest). And both produced nonfiction so bold and inventive as to surpass their achievements as novelists. As a journalist, Wallace... left American literature with a body of work as fine as any produced in America in the last two decades."

"One book I hope doesn't get lost in all the tributes sure to keep coming after Wallace's death this weekend is Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity," writes Andy Battaglia at the AV Club. "It's a non-fiction book about math at its most complicated and abstract, but Wallace winds his way through it like a guide eager to tug along anyone who would even consider the enterprise."

The Believer posts the full text of Dave Eggers's 2003 interview with Wallace.

"In memoriam." Harper's collects and posts Wallace's contributions to the magazine.

Updates, 9/16: "Nothing in his work will tell you what a sweet man he was," writes Verlyn Klinkenborg in the NYT. "He had the very rare gift - something he shared with Seamus Heaney - of carrying the greatness of his ability intact within him and never letting it obtrude upon his colleagues."

"Public deaths usually strike me with all the emotional force of the deflation of a giant Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloon," writes Sam Anderson for Vulture. "Wallace's death is the first that ever caused me a visceral reaction: It knocked the spiritual wind out of me - made me actually, shockingly, cry, and then choke up whenever I tried to talk about it. He was my favorite living writer, and the contest wasn't particularly close. (Judging by the appreciations blooming across message boards and newspapers, this is not a minority opinion.) In his best work he hit something like an ideal suspension of personality in text: He was the perfect hybrid of hilarious-serious, intellectual-colloquial, personal-formal, youthful-ancient. He understood, both instinctively and analytically, why literature still matters in an increasingly text-averse culture."

"Kurt Vonnegut, a novelist who practically begged to be put on suicide watch, thought that writing novels was a treatment for depression, if not an outright cure," notes Graeme Wood in the Atlantic. "Vonnegut somehow made it to life's finish line without taking a shortcut, whereas Wallace, sadly, did not.... I wonder whether we can decently consider Wallace's death a sign that the postmodern novel fails as a psychiatric remedy, where the merely comic novel does not."

"The publication of Infinite Jest in 1996 seemed to show up despair as a mistake," writes Benjamin Kunkel in n+1:

You didn't have to have read the book yet - and I didn't start until 1998 - to get a sense of historical, generational redemption. The few critics I trusted, plus the smartest people I knew in college, agreed that Wallace had done something amazing. When I finally read the book, it confirmed what before was mostly a set of willful, abstract premises: literature can matter as much now as ever; the age is no bar to greatness; even this world before our eyes can be represented in a novel....

The sentence of Walter Benjamin is inescapable: every great work of art really does simultaneously found and dissolve a genre. For me, as for a lot of other writers of our generation, Wallace offered liberation of a fairly precise kind. After the constrictions of minimalism and dirty realism, and against the aestheticism of someone like Nabokov, and beyond the chilly glare of our hero DeLillo, Wallace showed that you could write in a colloquial and informal register - the register in which we sound to ourselves like the people we actually are - without thereby cordoning off any part of your vocabulary or experience.

McSweeney's: "Below, we've begun a thread of memories of David Foster Wallace that will, we hope, be some kind of salve during this wretched and bewildering week.... If you would like to send a contribution - and it need not be beautifully written or profound - e-mail cmonks@mcsweeneys.net. New entries will be added to the top of the thread each day. This site will be devoted to his memory for the foreseeable future."

Update, 9/17: Slate gathers remembrances: Sven Birkerts, Jordan Ellenberg, Colin Harrison, Gerald Howard, Joyce Carol Oates, Martin Riker and Sean Wilsey.

Update, 9/18: "We strain now against the weight he leaves us." Chris Osmond and Will Layman in PopMatters.

Updates, 9/19: "This weekend, I propose you explore three very different forums for Wallace’s hard won, forgiving vision." Tips from Wyatt Mason.

Jared Roscoe, a former student of DFW's, at n+1: "In class, his self-effacement and self-presentation were comical - of course, he was self-conscious of that too."

Max Fisher has quite a roundup at the New Republic. Via Jeffrey Overstreet.

As a sort of expansion on Glenn Kenny's earlier post, Leon Neyfakh talks with him about working with DFW on pieces for Premiere.

Update, 9/20: "A fierce grammarian, deeply pop- and high culture-literate, he could also do maths and analytical philosophy, and could easily have vanished into what Gore Vidal once called the 'Research and Development' arm of American fiction," writes Christopher Tayler in the Guardian. "But he also knew about sadness and tennis and drug-taking, and by the 90s he'd become the de facto spokesman for a less emotionally arid brand of avant-garde writing."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:56 AM | Comments (4)

September 13, 2008

Sight & Sound. October 08.

Sight & Sound October 08 Ready for another symposium on the current state of film criticism? Just days after Cineaste's appeared online, we now have Sight & Sound's. Stop rolling your eyes: these actually make for a fine, complementary pair. Whereas Cineaste's is primarily concerned with the present moment and the immediate future, Sight & Sound's remarkable - and international - collection places ongoing debates in historical context. The magazine has "asked leading critics to choose the works of criticism which have had the greatest impact on them, inspiring them to become critics themselves, and which make a case for criticism as a minor art form in itself." One helluva weekend read.

Editor Nick James is upfront about his aims in his own contribution: "I'm going to restrict myself to considering the role of the critic in the UK. The twin advantages of this restriction are the fact that the UK suffers from a high degree of philistinism, so the issues stand out in greater relief, and that Britain was arguably the place where the modern idea of the critic was first formed."

Also online from the new issue:

Reviewing Ashes of Time Redux, Mark Sinker naturally first addresses the question, Why? "It may be that [Wong Kar-wai's] unspoken reason is that the structure of his first and more demanding edit was a tactical error if he was intending to capitalise on the unexpected cachet and momentum of the martial-arts film: if, that is, he wanted Ashes to reside in the same art-cult neighbourhood of House of Flying Daggers (2004) or Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983). Hence its new, more viewer-friendly and gorgeous form."

The Garden of Earthly Delights "The Handycam has produced its first masterpiece," announces Tim Lucas. "Shot entirely on a single Sony PD100 camera, held at different times by the director or one of its two principals, The Garden of Earthly Delights [site] is a kind of triptych, much like the 1503 Hieronymous Bosch painting (subtitled 'The Millennium') from which it takes its name." At his own site, Tim notes, "This is one of the most impassioned reviews I've written for my 'No Zone' column in S&S, but I feel very strongly about Lech Majewski's film."

It's Baltasar Kormákur's "skilled exploitation of the explosive possibilities of the Icelandic high-tech hall of secrets, alongside a sly, rather mordant assertion that historical isolation has bred an Icelandic national taste for taciturn stoicism (and sheep's head as fast-food) that makes one forgiving of Jar City's narrative shortcomings," writes Kate Stables.

"Brazilian boys just can't seem to hold on to their fathers," writes Paul Julian Smith. "Paolo Morelli's Rio-set City of Men featured a young dad who neglects his son while another youth searches for his missing father. Now Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, who share credits for direction of Linha de passe, tell a similar tale, but this time set in São Paolo, Brazil's less picturesque land-locked megalopolis. But if the plotline is familiar, the execution is arresting."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:28 AM

September 12, 2008

Eden Lake.

Eden Lake "Seriously bloody horrible in every particular, and uncompromisingly bleak to the very end, this looks to me like the best British horror film in years: nasty, scary and tight as a drum," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It is a violent ordeal nightmare that brutally withholds the longed-for redemptions and third-act revenges, offering only a nihilist scream and a vicious satirical twist in our perceived social wounds: knife-crime, gangs and the fear of a broken society."

"While Eden Lake poses uncomfortable, possibly unanswerable, questions about gang culture and the disappearance of respect, one detects a more ambiguous conflict being raised." The Independent's Anthony Quinn: "It's not just about the adult fear of children, it's about the middle-class fear of a violent underclass... Daily Mail scaremongering? Possibly. But formidably well-made, all the same."

Updated through 9/15.

On the other hand, Neil Young: "Having starred in one of 2008's finest British films - Shane Meadows's Somers Town - young Thomas Turgoose now finds himself at the opposite end of the quality spectrum. It's perhaps just as well that Turgoose - despite a misleadingly prominent billing in the opening credits - has so very little to do in writer-director James Watkins's thuddingly opportunistic, crassly exploitative horror-thriller Eden Lake. His is a very minor supporting role which involves a bare handful of dialogue-lines, but it's still painful to see the lad in a movie so unworthy of his talents."

"[I]t's never far off ludicrous," agrees the Telegraph's Tim Robey.

In the Evening Standard, Derek Malcolm admires the "the crisp and powerfully effective story-telling," but: "Later, the parents of the miscreants, when we finally see them, are characterised as lumpen chavs and, while one doesn't subscribe to the tenets of political correctness in such films, more care was surely required before playing so thoroughly to what looks like a massive dose of prejudice."

More from Nigel Floyd in Time Out and James Christopher in the London Times.

The IMDb gathers more reviews.

Update, 9/14: "Watkins's film is gory, relentlessly tense, and immaculately paced," writes James Dennis at Twitch. "He rarely lets the audience guess the next move, which leads to some truly shocking moments. Terrifying is a term all too frequently used in relation to horror movies, but here it seems almost an understatement."

Update, 9/15: Online listening tip. Ambrose Heron talks with Watkins.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:51 PM

Toronto Dispatch. 7.

Nothing But the Truth David D'Arcy on Nothing But the Truth and Laila's Birthday. Notes follow.

Nothing But the Truth, the latest film by former critic Rod Lurie (The Contender, The Last Castle, Deterrence) gives you the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent and the jailing of Judy Miller of the New York Times in one sucker punch.

The topical melodrama about press constraints and the price journalists and others pay for crossing the line is packed with stars - Kate Beckinsale plays the reporter who exposes Erica van Doren (Vera Farmiga) after an invasion of Venezuela, David Schwimmer is the novelist husband who resents her decision to go to prison rather than reveal her source, Alan Alda is the vain ineffective lawyer who pontificates about the First and Fifth Amendments as his client goes to jail, and Matt Dillon plays a driven by-the-book prosecutor who makes sure that she goes there. Lest I forget, Noah Wyle of ER plays the lawyer for Rachel's newspaper, and Angela Bassett is the editor who stands by her. And... the judge who puts her in jail is none other than Floyd Abrams, the prominent First Amendment lawyer, in what I think is his screen debut. (Perhaps that's why the pro forma cutaways to "real" journalism reporting the story feature Dan Abrams of MSNBC, Floyd's son.) It's a Dream Team, but let's not forget that a Dream Team is also on its way to losing the election for Barack Obama [Ahem... - ed.]. It doesn't make Washington look too good, but no one makes a movie to do that.

As other people have pointed out, this is the kind of moving picture roman a clef that used to be made for television, and should be shown there, if it's shown anywhere. Odd, because Lurie has been directing a lot of television these days. But the corporate-owned TV networks are too smart to get themselves into a debate over media ethics in which they might have to defend a journalist who does something that either annoys the White House or annoys the wrong voters.

But there really isn't much of that debate in Nothing But the Truth. Once the damage is done, and the identity of Erica van Doren is blown, the turgid plot eventually fixates on what happens to the children of accuser and covert agent, in child/parent conversations that could have come out of a cough syrup commercial. It's obvious that the White House is up to something here, but the implied plot from above seems to suggest that it's out to punish a leaker - but can't find the right one. That's what we thought was happening in the Valerie Plame case, until we saw that it was a White House plot from the very beginning to get revenge on the family of Joseph Wilson, whose op ed article in the NYT exposed the Iraq WMD mythology that got us into Iraq in the first place.

In this film, comprised of shots that you have seen before and speeches that you have heard before and prison fights that expose an intrepid journalist to the way that most people solve arguments, Lurie may be right about one thing. Venezuela is the next muscle-flexing conflict.

Laila's Birthday Things couldn't be more different in Laila's Birthday, in which Rashid Masharawi turns to everyday life to tell his story about a man and his family in a place that's usually associated with violence and the most extreme political invective.

Abu Laila (Mohammed Bakri) is a judge who is now driving a cab in Ramallah on the West Bank - it's not clear why this is, but it's assumed that one fact of life under occupation is that people without the right political connections either leave, or they work in jobs beneath their competence. It's his daughter's birthday, and we follow him through his work day. It's a simple structure; we assume the payoff will be in the details.

The work day is anything but normal, but normal may not be the right expectation for life under the Palestinian Authority under Israeli Occupation. Abu Laila is proud. He won't drive to checkpoints where Israelis detain cars indefinitely and those trying to cross the border are put through humiliating searches. He believes in obeying the law, which puts him at odds with everyone else we see blocking traffic or smoking where it's banned. He's shocked when the officials who tell him to come back tomorrow are expecting a shipment of new drapes for their offices - courtesy of the EU, no doubt - a gesture that seems to be meant to show their corruption. When he finds a mobile phone in the back seat of his cab, he takes it to the police station, where officers are so surprised by such a gesture that they suspect other motives. A bomb goes off when he stops to buy a present for his daughter on the way to returning the phone to his passenger. "Is it us, is it them?" people ask as they hide under tables in a café.

Masharawi mixes the reality of traffic jams and indifferent bureaucrats (they seem to be worse, the smaller the country) with the absurdity of "independence" under occupation. Jim Jarmusch and Abbas Kiarostami have used the taxi device as a way of putting a microcosm of experience on the screen. Laila's Birthday adds a Palestinian entry to that mini-genre.

- David D'Arcy


More on Nothing But the Truth:

Nothing But the Truth

  • As a bitchy, comic/melodramatic woman's picture on the order of All About Eve or The Women, Rod Lurie's Nothing But The Truth is wildly entertaining," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Unfortunatley for Lurie, I think it's probably supposed to be a serious political parable about This Fix We Find Ourselves in Now.... Nothing But the Truth was the most fun I've had at Toronto this year, but I get the feeling that it probably shouldn't have been."

  • "Beckinsale is excellent - she's an appealing, empathetic actress who skillfully avoids the melodramatic possibilities of the material," writes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "Farmiga's also great - sexy, confident, and, finally, in a scene in which she learns that her own colleagues are turning against her, heartbreaking. Ultimately, though, their skillful performances can't save this picture."

  • "Where are the juicy details of Rachel's trenchant muckraking finesse, the stuff that got her into the slammer in the first place?" asks Eric Kohn at Jaman Blog. "That's where the real movie hides."

  • "Lurie might be too headstrong, with ideas that are loftier and more advanced than his ability to express them," writes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "It takes great skill to address political and ethical matters without getting preachy, and Lurie has not quite mastered that. But you can overlook an occasional soapbox moment or clunky speech when it's contained in a thoughtful, mature drama like this one."

Update, 9/21: "A former painter and installation artist, the 46-year-old Gaza-born filmmaker Rashid Mashawari (Curfew, Ticket to Jerusalem), a veteran of 20 features and documentaries, has made one of the revelations of this year's Toronto festival, Laila's Birthday, something of a road movie through his adopted city of Ramallah on the West Bank." Howard Feinstein talks with him for Filmmaker.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:15 AM | Comments (1)

Toronto Dispatch. 6.

Sean Axmaker on The Hurt Locker, The Brothers Bloom and Adam Resurrected. Notes follow. Updated through 9/18.

Toronto 08 It hasn't escaped anyone's notice that the American line-up at TIFF 2008 was singularly lacking in heft and ambition. Just a year after such challenges and delights as No Country for Old Men, Into the Wild and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, not to mention the sheer fun of Juno, the absence of almost any American film striving for something with courage and conviction and evocative storytelling to match is, to say the least, a disheartening sign for a festival that is supposed to launch the Oscar season.

There was The Wrestler, which came late, straight from a Golden Lion win at Venice, a film which I missed at its sole, sold-out press screening (thanks to the entwining factors of illness, insomnia and spotty wi-fi in my hotel, I was out-of-touch with the Venice buzz and had no idea its pedigree had shot up in the ensuing days since I arrived and became one of the scores of folks shut out), but what I heard from those who did see it suggests a minor film with major pleasures, adored for its simplicity and sweetness.

There was Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, which I wrote about earlier and is indeed a beautifully carved-out picture in the InDigEnt style by a veteran talent refreshing his creative juices after a long fallow spell. Apart from his concert films, we've been waiting a long time for Demme to get his groove back and this may be it, a film that looks nothing like his past work but creates a living, vibrant sense of community unseen in his work in decades.

The Hurt Locker But the only American film I saw that really sank its teeth into something and never let go was Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. It will likely be described as her take on the Iraq war drama, which is accurate to a point. It follows the final days in the rotation of a bomb disposal unit (the days count down with each mission) with a new cowboy team leader, Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), a real maverick who steps up to a bomb like a gunfighter in an old western showdown, tough and swaggering and on his own terms. He doesn't follow the rules and he treats every bomb like a challenge he refuses to back down from, even when the intelligence expert on the three-man team, Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), counsels him that he's vulnerable to snipers. James simply tosses the headset and assumes his teammates will watch his back, scanning the windows and the roofs for any potential gunman, which, in a busy urban street surrounded by apartment buildings and open roofs, can be myriad. In one stand-out sequence, a desert stop to help out some the private soldiers (led by Ralph Fiennes) back from a bounty hunt becomes an ambush. It's the closest the film gets to a classic war movie: they become a team centered by James, who serves as spotter to Sanborn on the precision long-range rifle and gives verbal support to the less-steely Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) watching their backs. So many war movies get the chaos of battle and the suddenness of death; Bigelow is just as interested in the stillness, the patience, the importance of waiting until you have some certainty that there is no one else out there waiting to kill you. These guys do their jobs, trust one another to stay vigilant, and team leader James, earlier seen as just a maverick without rule, shows himself to be an authentic leader and a crack soldier.

This may be the same sun-bleached Iraq of dusty dirt streets and open deserts we've seen in other Iraq war films, but it's a different kind of movie. Bigelow's handheld camerawork roams like a spotter's eyes, always surveying, always getting another look, and the cuts are shifts of perspective that both keep you off-balance and give a sense of how vigilant they are. Bigelow shows us the way they must view the world to stay alive and demonstrates that the quote by Chris Hedges that opens the film, "... war is a drug," is not all about thrill. It's about the need, not to kill, but to what you do. Jeremy Renner is remarkably effective as James, a man of action in the manner of a Howard Hawks hero: he's defined by what he does and how he does it, not what he says. There's no political message here, nobody questioning their mission or arguing policy. More than anything, Bigelow is interested in how these men go about their work, because the how is the difference between going home at the end of the rotation in one piece or not.

The Brothers Bloom You can't get much different from Bigelow's unforgiving portrait of men in war than The Brothers Bloom, the second film from writer/director Rian Johnson. After the almost color-leached images of his high-school noir Brick, Johnson puts more brightness in his palette and more spring his step for this con-man fantasy about stories and storytelling. In a way, each con is a little play, a piece of living theater by elder brother Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), who "writes cons like Russians write novels, full of story arcs and symbolism," to give his younger brother Bloom (Adrien Brody) the role of the romantic leading man, a part he's is too paralyzed to play in real life. Not that there is much real life in this bright little comedy, from the bouncy backstory of orphan brothers perfecting their craft as mischievous kids with brimming imaginations to the globe-trotting con that sweeps their current mark, madcap but lonely New Jersey heiress Penelope (Rachel Weisz), into some very improbable scrapes and escapes. Oh yes, there is also their "fifth Beatle," Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), an explosives expert who lets her nitro do the talking for her (her silent comedy performance is hilarious).

It's a charming fantasy of a con movie that is less interested in the well-played con than the colorfully executed idea of a con. It's a film with more ideas than it can successfully juggle, and it doesn't really make sense, but it does have a good time playing out its stories. Weisz plays Penelope as a real screwball heroine, all gumption and impulse and eager abandon, another dream girl to fall into Bloom's arms and a romance with an expiration date: when the con is over, so is the stage romance. Stephen scripts Bloom as a tragic anti-hero, but Penelope, as much a storyteller as Stephen and a playactor as Bloom, does some improvising of her own (in true screwball fashion), and she just may be the rewrite he's been waiting for.

Adam Resurrected In Paul Schrader's Adam Resurrected, Jeff Goldblum plays Adam Stein, once a celebrated cabaret clown in Germany, broken in the camps by the Nazis, and now (circa 1961) the most popular inmate at a sanitarium for damaged holocaust survivors in the middle of the Israeli desert. He was made to play the dog for his camp Commandant (Willem Dafoe) while his family was marched to the gas chambers, and now he becomes both repulsed and fascinated when he finds a boy in the hospital who believes he is a dog: a heaven-sent opportunity for Adam to break through his own torment by saving this child.

I wanted to like Schrader's previous film, The Walker. Both films yearn for a stronger hand, a more discerning eye, a more careful sculptor of performances than Schrader seems able to provide these days. Schrader, who didn't script the film, never gets past the surface of overt symbolism and dramatic convenience and his compositions are slack and unfocused. He appears to have lost the vitality that found less literal, more visceral expressions for his ideas and Goldblum, while charming and dapper and restless as Adam, never communicates the pathos and the tragic torment beyond his armored surface of reflexive charm and surface affectation. Yes, he's locking his grief and torment in and all other emotions out, but we never feel anything terrible and combustible inside. Coming from the director of Affliction, a film pulsing with rage both subsumed and unleashed and shot with a cold intensity that hones in on all that increasingly uncontrollable fury, it's all the more puzzling. Without the lifeblood of a man's experience coursing through the character and the film, the danger and heartbreak remains just another theory debated by his doctors.

- Sean Axmaker


First, a mention of previous entries: The Wrestler, Rachel Getting Married and The Hurt Locker.

More on The Brothers Bloom:

The Brothers Bloom

  • "It's the sort of unapologetically self-conscious movie that requires a little generosity but also rewards it," writes JR Jones for the Chicago Reader. "Johnson is a witty writer, and he does a lot more with the camera here than he could afford to with Brick. Strangely, though, The Brothers Bloom seems less novel than its predecessor, which actually used the noir mythology to comment on the ruthlessness of high school kids. The Brothers Bloom is every bit as quirky and literate, but without the earlier movie's edge, it kept reminding me of Wes Anderson's comedies (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou). One Wes Anderson is enough for me—though, given the choice, I'd rather have another of him than another Michael Bay."

  • James Rocchi, writing at Cinematical, finds it "a magic trick of a film; the second it's over, you want to see it again so you can try to catch how you were tricked, but you also want to see it again so you can return to the joy and wonder of being wrapped up in the nimble, deck-shuffling hands of a born showman." James also interviews Weisz.

  • "It would be unfair to tag the film with the hubris of Guy Ritchie's Revolver because it seems clear that Johnson was aiming for a whimsical light-hearted touch, but the film unfortunately does share glossy posturing and pseudo intellectual chest thumping whilst simultaneously lacking any desired emotional (or intellectual) payoff," writes Kurt Halfyard at Twitch.

  • Bob Turnbull caught the Q&A with Johnson, Ruffalo, Brody and Weisz: "I can certainly understand why people go to the star studded events - it can provide a good deal of surprises and entertainment. I just wish I could say the same for the movie itself."

  • Brick "was one of my favorites of 2006," blogs the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "This, by contrast, is a full-on sophomore work, woozy with filmmaking ambition and abandon yet lacking the chops to back it up."

  • "It's hard to make a movie about the existential trials of a man who feels like a character in a story without getting pretty meta and even a little cutesy-poo, so if you're not up for a movie that features a woman who 'collects hobbies' (for example, juggling chainsaws on stilts), an Asian sidekick who only knows three words of English (apparently 'campari,' 'fuck' and 'me') and an opening Ricky Jay narration in rhyming verse, then The Brothers Bloom is definitely not for you." Warns Noel Murray. Also at the AV Club, Scott Tobias: "Films can have a strange alchemy sometimes: All the elements can be in place and the whole thing can still blow up in your face."

  • Jeffrey Wells finds it "a sumptuous but impossibly silly and logic-free jape in the vein of... frankly, the movie it most reminded me of was the 1967 Casino Royale, which still reigns as one of the emptiest wank-off movies of the mid to late 60s."

More soon on Adam Resurrected.

Update, 9/13: "Adam Resurrected is an out-and-out stinker, and I'm sorry to say it." Still, James McNally has audio from the Q&A.

Update, 9/18: Kevin Kelly talks with Rian Johnson for the SpoutBlog.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:25 AM

Righteous Kill.

Righteous Kill "Oh, if only Robert Aldrich were alive!" exclaims Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The pulpmeister of the horror lollapalooza What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? certainly knew how to build a grand showcase for his corrugated divas (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford), while the hapless Jon Avnet hasn't a clue what to do with his (Al Pacino and Robert De Niro). In Righteous Kill these two godheads of 1970s cinema go macho-a-macho with each other - furrowing brows, bellowing lines, looking alternately grimly serious and somewhat bemused - in a B-movie (more like C-minus) duet that probably sounded like a grand idea when their handlers whispered it in their ears."

Updated through 9/14.

"The novelty of watching De Niro and Pacino team up wears off pretty quickly," warns Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "These men probably still have great performances left in them, but they look silly trading Quentin Tarantino-inspired riffs on Underdog - a cartoon they probably wouldn't have been watching when they were twentysomethings, when it first aired - and roughing up suspects like 50 Cent (credited as Curtis Jackson), as if engaged in a two-man war on the young."

"Thankfully, even though the film's script, by Inside Man writer Russell Gewirtz, plays to the cheap seats, Mr Pacino keeps his post-Scarface tendency toward implosive, bizarrely out-of-touch histrionics under wraps - at least, until the last reel," writes Bruce Bennett in the New York Sun. "Mr De Niro, who has lately squandered his somber on-screen gravitas by appearing frozen in the same strained, wincing, dyspeptic semi-smirk whether playing in a comedy or a drama, for the most part remains nearly expressionless.... In their primes, Messrs De Niro and Pacino could have played these parts in their sleep. Now well out of their prime, they appear in some scenes in Righteous Kill to be doing just that."

"At least these two aging virtuosi of the Method don't altogether submit to the temptation of mailing in their performances," offers Gene Seymour in the Los Angeles Times. "And they seem comfortable enough in each other's company on-screen to make you wish there were more scenes that allowed them to just kick back and riff. It'd be a lot more enjoyable than watching the movie strain for clarity - or cleverness."

"[T]his serial killer thriller and rabidly macho buddy cop caper bristles with conflicted ambitions toward making something that's both smart and base, a genre work for the sleaze-hungry and the beard-strokers alike," writes Josef Braun in the Vue Weekly. "I'm actually impressed how relatively well it works, even if it all inevitably evaporates under the heat of its own sketchy conceit."

"[T]here's a lot more to these two performers than barely concealed rage, well-wrought angst and occasional bouts of scenery munching." At Bullz-Eye, Bob Westal lists "20 of their more obscure performances showing that, thespian demigods or not, these two guys from New York City are also two versatile entertainers."

Online viewing tip. The Guardian has a couple of minutes with De Niro and Pacino and everybody else. Junket stuff, but hey.

Updates, 9/13: "[T]his is a film that missed its moment," argues Richard Corliss in Time. "Instead of the meeting of maestros at the top of their form, Righteous Kill has the feeling of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds facing off for the first time in an exhibition game. It's like Old Timers' Day at the Motion Picture Home."

Nick Schager in Slant: "Unlike Heat, which cannily amplified tension by keeping the stars apart, De Niro and Pacino here share countless scenes together but don't develop anything more than a clichéd cop-duo rapport, due in part to an ungainly script light on taut sequences and overstuffed with clunky red herrings - like De Niro giving bad-girl lover Gugino the rough sex she needs, which means he must be a violent nutcase! - that are made more graceless by Jon Avnet's direction."

Online viewing tip. De Niro and Pacino read off the "Top 10 Reasons I Like Being an Actor" for David Letterman. At Defamer, via Movie City News.

Update, 9/14: "It's not that Righteous Kill is despicably awful - and heck, compared to 88 Minutes, Pacino's previous collaboration with director Jon Avnet, it's a work of art - but the movie is so dreadfully by-the-numbers and predictable that comparing it to a TV cop show would be an insult to TV cop shows," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:31 AM

Towelhead.

Towelhead "As with American Beauty, that culturally regressive lump of tackiness disguised as a sober-minded state-of-contemporary-society treatise that won Ball a screenplay Oscar, Towelhead (which debuted at Toronto under the title Nothing Is Private) means to provoke, to hold up a mirror to a suburban America riddled with sexual deviance and puritanical hypocrisy," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Rather, all it manages to reflect is [Alan] Ball himself - his obsessions and hang-ups haphazardly mashed up into a lopsided narrative that, though based on a novel by Alicia Erian, plays like a litany of his movie fetishes."

Updated through 9/13.

"[D]oes the film's allusive, almost intelligent end justify its abhorrent means?" asks Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "A kissing cousin of Todd Field and Todd Solondz, Ball suffocates audiences with a guttersniping view or suburban life, a Haggassian act of exploitation that misrepresents even the most fundamental modes of human interaction."

"Set during the first gulf war, in a spanking-new, upscale housing development on the outskirts of Houston, Towelhead is a crude but scathing portrait of suburban life," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times, where he also notes: "The movie is a barely disguised hate letter to southern Texas."

"Ball, who can't conceive of human motives beyond the hypertrophic, smutty sexuality that's his stock in trade, primly divides his characters into avatars of Sick Repression or Healthy Liberation," observes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice.

"In presenting this multi-themed tale of a young girl's percolating sexuality and the firestorm it sets off, Ball struggles to find a precise or convincing tone," writes Gary Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "As a result, the actors, committed as they all are, often appear to be operating in their own individual universes rather than as part of a cohesive whole. To be fair, juggling the story's pitch-dark humor, emotional land mines, sociopolitical checklist and biological bluntness would be a tough act for even the most seasoned filmmaker."

"Even [Summer] Bishil's emotionally naked performance gets lost amid Ball's insistence on rubbing our faces in ugly behavior without offering a counterbalance of insight," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

"Towelhead is the worst movie of its kind since Little Children," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "It's another adaptation of a trendy novel's contrived cynicism ('smartness' in mediaspeak). It's another examination of the horrors of American suburbia and the superiority of a protagonist who represents a target demographic or a politically correct victim."

"Much as with Crash - and Ball's script for the overrated American Beauty, another Oscar-winner - the themes come first and the characters are manufactured in service of them, not the other way around," notes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

For Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, this feels "like a well-acted and well-intentioned after-school special, a long way from the vividness and texture of Ball's television work."

Benjamin H Sutton, writing in the L Magazine, finds it "mobilizes more issues than it can tackle intelligently."

For MovieMaker, Aaron Hillis talks with Ball about the film, "our society's sexual double standards and how the film almost ended up with a tamer title."

KJ Doughton talks with Ball for Film Threat.

Updates, 9/13: Bishil's "performance is the truest thing in a movie that, for all its good intentions, feels thoroughly phony and mildly embarrassing, like an extended PSA about inappropriate touching," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "[T]he script is densely and fussily novelistic, packed with foreshadowing and metaphor and painstakingly highlighted 'themes.' Put it this way: When a white kitten named Snowball shows up, you just know he's going to symbolize something."

"It's a big month for Alan Ball," writes Matthew Debord in his profile for the Los Angeles Times. Besides Towelhead, there's the new HBO series, True Blood, "about vampires in Louisiana and the mortals who are both repelled and fascinated by them, now that the princes and princesses of the night have come out of the coffin and walk among the living, thanks to the invention of a Japanese synthetic-blood beverage, sold in six-packs. As it turns out, there are good vampires and bad vampires. Actress Anna Paquin is stuck in the middle, as Sookie Stackhouse, a psychic heroine retained from Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries books, the source material for the show."

At the Parallax View, Sean Axmaker talks with Ball.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:24 AM

Moving Midway.

Moving Midway "The critic Godfrey Cheshire narrates his penetrating first film, the documentary Moving Midway, and his point of view is always right there on the surface," writes David Edelsein in New York. "At the same time he's telling a story (brilliantly), he's thinking through it, testing its underpinnings, opening it up to history and analysis and divergent perspectives; and both strands - narrative and critical - come together with hardly a seam."

Updated through 9/14.

Actually moving the ancestral home "occupies the middle portion of the movie and turns it momentarily from an ambling first-person rumination into something like Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Like many white Southerners, the current generation of Hintons has a nostalgic, sentimental relationship to the past, and a wary, ambivalent attitude toward modernity. At the heart of Moving Midway is the desire to preserve that warm, respectful sense of tradition and continuity while at the same time looking clearly at the less noble realities of history and making some attempt to rectify them."

Cheshire's "subject is precisely the self-aggrandizing illusions about race, class, and identity that have shaped the self-image of Southern landed gentry, stoked by Hollywood movies from Birth of a Nation through Gone With the Wind to the television series Roots," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Cheshire's mission is to show that slavery and its sustaining ideology were institutionally and constitutionally 'unkahnd.' Mission accomplished, but for all its subversive intent, the tone of Moving Midway is no more bitter or hopeless than that of the forgotten side of the family."

"Cheshire's intelligent reflections on Midway's legacy and his honest conversations with a long-lost African-American cousin make for some fascinating sociological voyeurism," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "But as with a lot of first-person docs, a certain amount of indulgence soon creeps in; for a movie about the concept of home, Moving Midway has a nagging tendency of resembling little more than a home movie."

"Ross McElwee with more sociopolitical powerpoint," suggests Mark Asch. "[T]he whole clan tries so hard to be nice; you really want the genteel multicolored family reunion be a hopeful scene of Southern reconciliation, and not just smiling for the camera and insisting 'our slaves were treated well.'"

Jeremiah Kipp talks with Cheshire for Filmmaker.

Updates, 9/13: "With the increasing homogenization of the landscape, the dying out of antiquated notions of Southern identity (as still articulated by Cheshire's 79-year old mother) and an increasingly prevalent understanding of the South as, in the filmmaker's words, a 'multi-racial culture' (which can no longer be contained by the simple black/white dichotomy), comes the foreseeable end to such regrettable myths as that of the glorious plantation," writes Andrew Schenker. "Whatever the negative effects of cultural homogenization, there is at least this one positive to be found. In the end, this may be the true lesson of Cheshire's remarkable film."

Online listening tip. At the House Next Door, appropriately enough, John Lichman, Vadim Rizov and Keith Uhlich talk with Godfrey Cheshire.

Updates, 9/14: "Arguably, Cheshire could have made his movie stronger by digging a little deeper, but it's asking a lot of a good North Carolina boy that he try to capture on film a racial dust-up at his cousin's party with his mama on the premises," writes Phil Nugent. "As it is, the movie feels warm but not exactly cozy. Like this year's presidential campaign, it draws much of its fascination from what goes unsaid."

"If it doesn't match the accomplishments of Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg or Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself, to some extent it synthesizes them," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Cheshire's sensibility is more prosaic than Maddin's flights of fancy, but he does include a ghost in his family history."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:17 AM

Flow.

Flow Irena Salina wants Flow "to do for the world water crisis what An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change," notes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE. "While the facts revealed in the documentary, as conveyed in interviews with numerous activists and scientists, are not exactly stunning revelations - or maybe at this point I'm just unsurprised by tales of apathetic governments or corporate greed trumping concerns for public welfare - it manages to bring to light an issue which merits more attention but often gets lost amidst headline-grabbers like global warming and oil shortages."

Updated through 9/13.

"We're using up the planet's water too fast, and very soon oil wars will be replaced by H20 battles," notes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. "Salina's argument trends alarmist - is it really necessary to call water 'blue gold,' per activist/author Maude Barlow's formulation? - but generally rings true."

"Salina's astonishingly wide-ranging film is less depressing than galvanizing, an informed and heartfelt examination of the tug of war between public health and private interests," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Naming names and identifying culprits (hello, World Bank), Flow is designed to awaken the most somnolent consumer. At the very least it should make you think twice before you take that (unfiltered) shower."

"Like Patrick Creadon's recent national-deficit downer, I.O.U.S.A., Flow: For the Love of Water skips right past depressing on its way to apocalyptic," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

"Technically unremarkable (even ugly in certain low-quality video sections), the immediacy of Irena Salina's topic overwhelms her film's aesthetic shortcomings," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "No point in repeating the exhaustive stats and examples laid out throughout Flow, let's just say they're very convincing and depressing."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Salina "about activist filmmaking, falling foul of Nestlé, and working for the young Orson Welles."

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance.

Updates, 9/13: "Jumping back and forth between various issues, facts and local news stories as if in search of a coherent thesis, the director offers up a call-to-arms against bottled water conglomerates that, in its structural sloppiness, feels like a high school student's tossed-off research paper," writes Nick Schager in Cinematical.

"This movie was made to shake up viewers, and it does just that," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Although there are no monsters or boogeymen onscreen, at times Flow is scarier than most standard horror movies."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:11 AM

Christmas on Mars.

Christmas on Mars "Many rock bands have a moment when they flirt with cinema, but the best efforts are not slick productions like Purple Rain or The Wall," writes Andy Webster in the New York Times. "They're more like the Monkees' Head, say, or Led Zeppelin's Song Remains the Same: endearingly ragged projects, destined for cult status. For the Oklahoma group the Flaming Lips, that movie is Christmas on Mars."

"Seven years in the making and shot on home-built sets in the band's back yard in Oklahoma City, [Mars] is finally getting released - sort of," notes Jürgen Fauth. "In a characteristically unpredictable move, the film will begin an underground tour of offbeat venues around the country next week at the KGB Kraine Theater, a retrofitted Ukranian Socialist Social Club in New York.... Christmas on Mars works hard to convince you it's a freaky, freaky freak-out, but the strangest thing about the film is how dull it is."

Updated through 9/13.

"For all its vaginal hallucinations and nativity, it's mainly pregnant with pauses that too frequently suck all the fun/oxygen out of each scene, like some art-film parody," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "And where are the songs? Neither an underground space musical like the undervalued The American Astronaut nor an art-damaged elegy like Daft Punk's Electroma, the intensely reverberating, surround-sound score seems appropriately intergalactic, yet unmarried to the imagery. As a Lips completist, it's at least worth enduring for its homegrown resourcefulness, all General Electric stoves and found industrial objects, but that's the thing about experimentation: Sometimes it's destined to fail."

Update, 9/13: "[I]t's basically as weird as you'd hoped," Isaac Butler assures us in Vulture. "It's probably best if you follow the instructions the Lips give you at the beginning of the film: laugh, cry, be happy, be sad, have sex, and smoke pot while watching it."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:04 AM

September 11, 2008

Toronto Dispatch. 5.

Witch Hunt David D'Arcy on two docs in Toronto.

Witch Hunt [site] isn't about the FBI hunting communists. It's an inquiry into the prosecution of alleged sexual abusers in Kern County, California, in the city of Bakersfield, where an ambitious District Attorney was elected in 1982, and seems to have found that a campaign against "child molestation" would fuel his rising political career. It did just that. The problem was that alleged molesters didn't commit the "molestation," even though they were convicted and spent years in prison - one of them, 20 years.

The documentary by Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, executive produced by Sean Penn, follows the scandal through the eyes of these parents, all of whom were cleared. They describe being arrested and tried, and found guilty on the basis of testimony from their children. It turns out that the children and other neighborhood kids were questioned illegally by investigators, and that they said almost anything that investigators wanted to hear. It worked.

Witch Hunt John Stoll, a local contractor, did 20 years in prison, where child molestors receive a special kind of prison justice once they're inside. We don't hear about what these victims faced behind bars, but "molestation" might not be far from what happened there, too. Stoll and others who never stopped claiming their innocence were set free when it came to light that prosecutors concealed evidence from them, and children who testified recanted. The earnest film, in a rudimentary style packed with archival tape, examines how this happened. Politicians found that the public could be rallied with the fear that child molesters were among them, and accountability went out the window. The newspapers fueled the flames and interrogators operated with impunity. The jurors clearly fell for it all, although we never hear from them.

Unfortunately, we don't hear much from law enforcement here, either, except from officials, some of whom are still in power, who say that things got out of control. The District Attorney who led the prosecutions, Ed Jagels, is still in office, and has been uninterruptedly since 1982. Why he hasn't been prosecuted is a question that the film doesn't answer.

Parallels with Patriot Act interrogations aren't drawn. Perhaps they are too obvious to be necessary. Yet it's now clear that suspects were rounded up on the basis of the most minimal suspicion, and held with impunity - in Iraq, in the US, and wherever the CIA operated. They had (and have) fewer rights than the accused in the trials examined in Witch Hunt. As we've seen, the prosecutors in the war on terror have been able to act with impunity.

Killing Kasztner Earlier in the week, I told a colleague in the industry that I was going to see the Kasztner documentary. "I didn't know there was a film at the festival about Kevin Costner," he said. He was not alone. Even young Israelis often don't know about the Hungarian Jew Rezso Kasztner (also called Rudolf or Israel Kasztner) who negotiated with the Nazis (even with a Adolf Eichmann) to save more than 1600 Jews from extermination by organizing a train that transported them to safety in 1944. This was at a time when Germany had invaded its former ally, Hungary, and deportations of Jews from outside Budapest were sending 12,000 Jews to near-certain death every day. Stigmatized by a smear campaign as a collaborator after the war for not having saved more Jews, Kasztner (born in 1906) was murdered by right-wing militants in front of his Tel Aviv home in 1957, after the Israeli government lost a libel case brought against his detractors. Killing Kasztner tells his story.

While there are still some gaps in the knowledge of Kasztner's exact role in his negotiations with the Nazis, he did save lives, more Jews than any other Jew during the Nazi Era, the film argues. But the right-wing opposition in Israel saw him as a traitor willing to make compromises with the enemy (as they viewed David Ben Gurion, the Israeli prime minister who negotiated with colonial powers to create Israel), and Kasztner became the symbol of the Jew who would negotiate instead of pursuing total victory. What his options really were in Nazi-occupied Hungary is another question.

Documents shown in the film indicate that an offer was made by the Nazis to the Allies that Jews would be spared in exchange for 10,000 trucks. It never happened, yet Kasztner's train did take its passengers to safety, in spite of a bizarre detour in Bergen Belsen, the dreaded concentration camp. Survivors tell the story. So do members of Kasztner's family, who want him vindicated and recognized in the many Holocaust museums and memorials in Israel. Today there is only one monument to Kasztner in Israel, and it is practically disguised to avoid controversy. He was almost invisible in a museum devoted to Hungarian Jewry.

Rezso Kasztner Kasztner's story is complicated. Two books about him were recently published. The Israeli government lost the libel case against amateur tabloid journalist and Kasztner-hating stamp collector Malchiel Gruenwald, a two-year battle (1953 - 55) which ended in an acquittal for Gruenwald and a ruling by the judge that Kasztner had "sold his soul to the devil" for not alerting Hungarian Jews to the fate that awaited them upon deportation. The decision became a fait accompli after documents showed that Kasztner, after the war, had written to war crime prosecutors and asked for leniency for Nazi officials with whom he had negotiated the train's passage. One of those Nazis, Kurt Becher, was an official whom Kasztner has paid more than $1 million, about $1000 per Jew. Historians interviewed testify that bribery turned out to be a more effective way of saving lives than resistance. Perhaps Kasztner was on to something.

In 1957, a right-wing militant, Ze'ev Eckstein, who had been an informer on his right-wing friends for Shin Bet, military intelligence, shot Kasztner with a pistol (which misfired at first) as Kasztner ran from his car toward his house. Eckstein claims to have fired two shots, although he suggests coyly that a third bullet heard that night killed the man. Eckstein and two accomplices from the fiercely anti-Labor opposition were convicted, and did a mere 7 years in prison. It's not clear whether Shin Bet knew about the killing beforehand, or even had a role in it. Perhaps more will shake out once the film premieres in Israel in October.

The Kasztner case still inflames tempers in Israel. The killing of Yitzhak Rabin shows that right-wing murder can still certainly happen there, and not just to Palestinians. At two hours and ten minutes, and with extended detailed testimony from a largely unrepentant Ze-ev Eckstein, who gives a step-by-step account of the shooting, the film takes you through a mini-history of Israel's contentious early days, and into debates have not been resolved. Expect Killing Kasztner to fuel those fires on the festival circuit after Toronto.

- David D'Arcy

Posted by dwhudson at 7:55 AM | Comments (3)

Vancouver 08. Lineup.

Dragons & Tigers The online guide to the lineup for this year's Vancouver International Film Festival, running September 25 through October 10, is live and browsable. Many will want to head straight to the Dragons & Tigers series, the "largest annual exhibition of East Asian films outside Asia," programmed by Tony Rayns and Shelly Kraicer, and featuring this time around: 27 international premieres, 18 North American premieres and one Canadian premiere.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:02 AM

Toronto Dispatch. 4.

Michael Sicinski on Che, Il Divo, Wendy and Lucy, 7915 KM and Dernier Maquis. Notes on all these films follow. Updated through 9/14.

Che Does postmodernism have a future? Are we "post" it? That, if you'll permit me, is the general tenor of this post, wherein I briefly consider a few of this year's films which, to varying degrees of success, are dealing with some of the dead ends of what we used to call politics. Postmodernism, in a sense, called into question the very concept of a "political cinema," since the status of the social sphere was as problematized and deconstructed as the idea that artworks could in some way affect that sphere. If, for example, Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers represents the apex of a fully confident, activist political cinema, and a film such as Oshima's Death By Hanging demonstrates the potentials of modernist counter-cinema firing on all intellectual cylinders, inquiring into the political realm while undermining cinema's own truth claims, then Von Trier's Dogville could be said to show one of the highest achievements of a postmodern political cinema, one in which the terms of the debate, "cinema" and "politics," can no longer be considered stable, known quantities.

Generally we can characterize the problem in a few chief tenets: a deep anxiety about the ability of images to truthfully represent the world; an incapacity to identify a world outside "textuality," broadly conceived; a disintegration of hierarchies of all kinds; and an abandonment of the concept of truth in favor of rhetoric, argumentation and narrative as guarantors for meaning and legitimacy. These questions have high stakes for the future of political cinema, of course, since they impinge not only on the aesthetic realm - what characterizes a legitimate art object - but the sphere of political thought as well.

So, where are we now? Is this a new phase for either cinema or politics, or do we find ourselves in the death throes of older, worn-out forms? A few of this year's films provide troubling answers. Without a doubt, this year's grand test case for the future viability of any form of large-scale political cinema, if not for outsized American auteur cinema in general, is Steven Soderbergh's Che. Divided into two full-length films, each slightly over two hours, Che could be the ultimate sinkhole for our day, a giant leftist vacuum into which someone's money vanished without a trace. How can this film even exist, and who is its presumed audience? To Soderbergh's credit, there seems to have been little consideration of this question. I would like to be able to weigh in passionately on the debate around Che, but the sad truth is, there's little onscreen to justify passions in either direction. Its champions have claimed that the bold dialectical structure, first showing the rise of Ernesto Guevara (Benicio Del Toro) as a leader in the triumphant Cuban revolution, and then showing the demise of his troops, ideas, and eventually his person in the failed Bolivian adventure, results in a deeply critical, intellectual project. Soderbergh's achievement, some have claimed, is that the valor and worth of Che's ideas, and the full-blooded romance of his early success, is gradually taken away, so that we are left, in a sense, in a post-Guevara world. That is, Soderbergh has created, depending on the interpreter, an internal leftist critique of the degeneration of Guevara's project, or a rise-and-fall lament. (This can even be seen formally in the film, since the first half, The Argentine, is in widescreen, and the tragic second half, Guerrilla, reduces aspect to near-televisual claustrophobia.)

Che On the other side of the aisle are those who find the film a travesty, since it allegedly drains Che of all romance, all power, presenting his travails in a flat, declarative, perversely anti-dramatic mode. In fact both camps have some points to make, and that's because in the end Che is a giant muddle, a perfectly watchable docudrama that is in fact flat and declarative, and does adhere to the rise and fall trajectory, but does so with such even inflection as to produce very little beyond history-buff engagement. There seems to be some question as to the relative accessibility of this film. Personally, I found that I could hook into it without caring, partly since I know the material quite well, but Soderbergh's style and approach is anti-everything. No discernible personality, no clear take on the subject, no avoidance or deployment of Hollywood technique. For a time, the film's lack of distribution (a matter now resolved, apparently) resulted in talk that Che would become an HBO miniseries, and as I watched I found the film entirely suited to that format, alongside John Adams or another such plodding, anonymous effort. Even when Soderbergh deliberately breaks the glass surface for a joke, like Guevara's attendance at a New York cocktail party, or a strange genre riff like the final, bizarrely B-Western shootout in a Bolivian village, these moments stick out as glitches in the system rather than thought-provoking formal strategies. There is more genuine political outrage (to say nothing of revolutionary joy) in the throwaway dice-factory uprising scenes in Ocean's 13 than in all 260 minutes of Soderbergh's Che Guevara film. And so, as a piece of political cinema for our age, I find Che an "interesting failure" only in theory, not in terms of the results. It isn't fascist, as one major critic has claimed. Fascism requires clear aims, marching orders. Che leaves its viewer in a miasma of deadening procedure. It is not even an apolitical film about Che, which would certainly say a great deal about our times. It obviously believes in what it's trying to do, but cannot convey that ideological conviction in any meaningful way. Ultimately, Che is hermetic, even autistic.

Il Divo To my mind, the new film by Italy's Paolo Sorrentino is a far more interesting failure. Il Divo is a portrait of titanic Italian politician Giulio Andreotti, although the film strives to be a portrait in negative space. Not only does Sorrentino avoid depicting Andreotti uttering certain of his infamous quips, such as "Power wears out those who don't have it" or his reply, "Of which?," when told that the government was investigating the Mafia and that as its representative he'd need to speak to the press. Such restraint is admirable, and certainly nothing we'd expect from Sorrentino based on his previous work. (I confess, I've only been able to watch The Family Friend and The Consequences of Love in small bursts. I find Sorrentino's slam-bang, dipsy-doodle, Oliver Stone-cum-Coens approach in these films to be migraine-inducing, as well as just plain hideous.) But more to the point, Sorrentino depicts Andreotti as a kind of absent center around which political mega-power practically organized itself, as if, in the man's own words, it were the Will of God. This is the joke, of course. There's nothing holy writ about Andreotti's rise, which is the result of manifold social forces and key players, all of whom Sorrentino thrusts onto the screen in rapid succession, as if to simultaneously demystify the halls of power - it's just a bunch of thugs and Mafiosi - and boggle our minds all at once.

Il Divo Part of the problem, though, is that Sorrentino wants to play this for black comedy and he frequently overplays his hand. Virtually no mention of Il Divo fails to cite Toni Servillo's passive, awkwardly in-turned performance as Andreotti, and while it is the crux of the film's rhetorical operations base, I submit that it ultimately doesn't work. Servillo's Divo becomes a kind of cartoon, with his exaggerated, stooped gait and hands clasped in tight priestly fashion as he waddles through the halls of high government. (Yes, I've seen Andreotti, and he's not that much like Droopy the Dog.) If we place Il Divo in its proper lineage of recent valiant but inadequate cinematic stabs at the second half of the Italian century, Il Divo holds its own alongside Nanni Moretti's The Caiman, a film which couldn't even bear to countenance Berlusconi in the end, and the best of the lot, Marco Bellocchio's Good Morning, Night, which cast Andreotti's frenemy Aldo Moro as a sacrificial lamb before forces well beyond his comprehension. Il Divo has a smart agenda. It designates Andreotti as a kind of functional non-person, continually framing him as though he were part of the vaulted ceilings of the Parliament building, both pillar and shadow. But Sorrentino, a true postmodernist, can only face the banality of bureaucratic evil (or, if you prefer, the evil of bureaucratic banality) with ludic bemusement. (The film ends, tellingly, with that Euro-anthem of barely articulated emotional ambivalence, Trio's "Da Da Da.") Moretti and Bellocchio are leftists largely impotent before history, but they still insist that it bears the gravity of a tragedy. Sorrentino, meanwhile, sees only farce.

One major contrast between so-called modernist and postmodernist political strategies, both in terms of artistic representation and more traditional forms of direct action, has been in the different ways that each discourse locates power. While modern forms usually look to the nation-state or to some form of direct revolt against it, postmodern strategies have been described (by theorists such as Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre and Guy Debord) as "tactics," a set of smaller, more human-scaled gestures that may actually prove to be a more effective way of shifting power relations in the long run. Whether or not this is god political science, this year's TIFF seems to demonstrate that it makes for better filmmaking. While the Che Guevara and Giulio Andreotti films are ambitious but deeply flawed, other films on display show far more modest goals and achieve them.

Wendy and Lucy One such film is Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy, a poetic realist portrait of a young drifter (Michelle Williams, in what I suspect will be an Oscar-nominated performance) and her dog, breaking down in a small Oregon town en route to some seasonal fishery work in Alaska. (By the looks of her clothes and bank account, I doubt Wendy Carroll is the type of person Gov Palin wanted wandering into her great state anyhow.) A film of tiny moments and instantaneous, unplanned decisions that reverberate in crushing ways, Wendy and Lucy is the rare American film focusing on a no-income female itinerant. Although far more stylistically subdued that the nerve-fried films of Lodge Kerrigan, Reichardt's work shares with Kerrigan's a penetrating concern with marginal individuals who are slipping through the cracks and going down for the count right before our eyes. Wendy shoplifts, gets nabbed by a self-righteous young store employee (John Robinson), is booked and held, and loses her dog as a result. A few times Reichardt overplays her hand somewhat. (When store clerk Andy announces, "If you can't afford dog food, you shouldn't have a dog," or when Larry Fessenden turns up to deliver a menacing homeless-guy soliloquy, the film loses its sure footing.) But Reichardt's careful, sensitive work with Williams results in a gut-level, affective politics. The painful conclusion hurts because of its social inevitability, and because Wendy and Lucy has made us care about the human being whose basic dignity is being erased for no reason other than a $2,000 shortfall.

Another very impressive Toronto film, and a quite different model for "small" politics, is Nikolaus Geyrhalter's documentary 7915 KM. Although it might seem unfair to group a documentary alongside fiction films in terms of possible models for political cinema, Geyrhalter's film is a special case. Unlike many of today's documentaries (and, by the looks of things, unlike much of this year's Real to Reel slate), Geyrhalter is as deeply concerned with cinematic aesthetics as he is with his factual subject matter. In fact, 7915 KM demonstrates the degree to which form and content must be considered inextricably linked for any advanced notion of documentary to succeed. The film follows the path of the Dakar Rally, a yearly off-road race down the northwest coast of Africa. Geyrhalter's crew visited towns and villages along the path of the race after the racers had already been through, usually finding that the crazy Europeans and their fast cars had torn up local roads, acted disrespectfully to the local citizens (in one case, even to a young, somewhat Euro-identified Senegalese woman who participated in the race security crew), and that the whole event cuts an oblivious swath through some of the most inhospitable, and most politically contested and war-torn sections of the region. But beyond this, Geyrhalter takes this somewhat random linear organization as an opportunity for an open, patient form of cinematic listening. Much of the film consists of strikingly composed interviews in which local citizens hold forth on matters of concern, from their own personal work histories, to their religious practices, to their views on Europe. "How rich must the Whites be that they can just drive around all day," one man in Mali observes.

7915 KM But what makes 7915 KM remarkable - easily one of the three or four best features I've seen in the festival - is its fragmentary, cumulative approach to contemporary geopolitics. It is a ground-level project that also attempts to engage with its African subjects with a renewed, self-critical humanism. The film doesn't gaze at "the Other," nor does it try to make its subjects appear "just like us," nor does it throw up its hands and abjure the work of cross-cultural understanding altogether. Instead, Geyrhalter uses his determinedly Western framework - the cinematic apparatus, a highly stylized aesthetic approach, the deep space of the Renaissance perspective - to demonstrate distance from his subjects, but a meeting in difference, a mutual listening and engagement. Had Geyrhalter simply turned on a camcorder and walked around, all the same old unconscious habits, for filmmaker and spectator alike, would most likely come rushing to the fore. Instead, 7915 KM insists on its status as a Western construction, but one that provides a small subset of Africans with a megaphone, to say nothing of a place inside a project of handsome polyethnic portraiture. Geyrhalter's globalist approach owes much to the late Johan van der Keuken, and perhaps as well to certain works by Harun Farocki. This is especially evident in the film's concluding moments, when Geyrhalter lowers the boom. After detailing the wild exploits of wealthy Europeans and Americans traipsing all over the Sahara at will, we see a group of Senegalese refugees trying to make it to Europe by boat. They are intercepted by a European Coast Guard vessel, because not just anyone can move freely about the world.

Finally, a few words about a feature that has been growing in stature in my mind ever since I saw it on the first day of the festival. It's one of those small films that too often gets lost in the shuffle, and I hope that others get the chance to see it, since I think it not only deserves a wider audience but has the potential to kick off a whole new chapter in our ongoing debates about the futures of political cinema. The film is Dernier Maquis, by a second-time director and actor from Algeria named Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche. The film is about a trucking and shipping yard in a banlieue of Paris, where virtually all of the employees are Arab or African Muslims, to the extent that one non-Muslim employee, Titi (Christian Milia-Darmezin) not only converts, but performs a bathroom self-circumcision. Maquis is largely comic (one gag involves Titi trying to get workmen's comp for the self-snip) and episodic in structure, but eventually a dominant throughline emerges. The yard boss, an Arab called "Mao" (Ameur-Zaïmeche) swindles his employees, fails to pay them overtime, but placates them by building a makeshift mosque in an abandoned hotel lobby behind the site.

Dernier Maquis Part of what is hard to grasp about Dernier Maquis, at least at first, is that it is a deeply unfashionable political film. It is optimistic, and takes a rather hardline Marxist approach. First of all, the film's visual style is dominated by searing, Soviet / Chinese red to an almost ludicrous degree. The yard is filled with stacks upon stacks of empty pallets, all painted bright red, like some mobile, homemade minimalist sculptural installation. The workers even spend time repainting the pallets. And within these permeable walls, a specter is haunting these men, and it isn't Muhammad. In no uncertain terms, religion is the opiate of the workers in this scenario, but we're not necessarily prepared to see it, because in this case, the opiate Ameur-Zaïmeche decries is Islam. (Mao even installs his mealy-mouthed right-hand man as the imam.) What's more, when Mao downsizes the mechanics because the auto shop is costing him too much money, we see these three men barricade themselves inside the yard, calling on others to strike. Most do not, but by the end of the film, we see that the men have humiliated Mao, and are using the forklifts to move the iconic red pallets into position as a bulwark. In short, Dernier Maquis is a return to an unreconstructed, unapologetic pre-postmodernist Socialism in cinema. The crazy thing is, it's been so long that I barely even recognized what I was seeing. Ironically, from a political perspective, the festival began with a great promise that it's been struggling to recapture ever since.

- Michael Sicinski


More on Che:

  • "As an aggrandized history lesson, a primer in revolutionary philosophy, and a study of the effect of varying environments on guerilla tactics and strategies, these four hours of film sweep along engagingly and - in my estimation - quite brilliantly," writes Michael Guillén. "Their importance should be a given; though I don't anticipate Americans will be so generous. The revolution may never truly be televised; but, Soderbergh has done an admirable job of rendering it cinematically."

  • "I found Che fascinating," writes Noel Murray, "but as with The Good German, Bubble, Solaris and several other recent Soderbergh films, I also found myself wondering frequently whether it needed to be made. The visceral, gut-level connection just wasn't there for me, and without it, the string of wilderness shoot-outs became something of a chore. A chore worth performing, but a chore nonetheless."

  • Also at the AV Club, Scott Tobias: "Che is more compelling in theory than as an actual moviegoing experience: The action is disjointed, confusing, and never for a moment dramatized, and the second half, in particular, literally goes nowhere."

  • "What's impressive about Che has little to do with the running time, because Soderbergh himself doesn't feel the pressure of it," writes Eric Kohn at the Jaman Blog. "The film moves at a brisk pace, rarely drags and never gets too preachy, but the filmmaker doesn't try to make an epic out of it. Instead, we feel the strain of time as a device that evokes the duration of Che Guevara's influence during his lifetime, much like David Fincher used the device to evoke the reign of terror caused by a serial killer in Zodiac."

  • Variety's Anne Thompson reports on why Che's North American rights have gone to IFC Films rather than 2929 Entertainment's Magnolia Pictures.

  • Earlier: Amy Taubin in Film Comment and reviews from Cannes.

Il Divo: Reviews from Cannes.

Wendy and Lucy Wendy and Lucy:

  • "Presenting her film at the AMC theater in Toronto, Reichardt explained that she and coscreenwriter Jonathan Raymond began working on the story after listening to the conservative backlash and 'contempt for poverty' that immediately followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005," notes the Chicago Reader's JR Jones. "Some commentators, she recalled, couldn't fathom the idea that you can't escape a storm zone if you're too poor to own a car. In her movie, Wendy has no safety net whatsoever - no job, no insurance, no assets except for her beater. She's one mishap away from falling through the cracks forever, and in its haunting finale, Wendy and Lucy recalls no less than Mervyn LeRoy's classic Depression-era drama I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932)."

  • A "small gem," Chris Stults of the Wexner Center assures us.

  • Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

7915 KM: "Geyrhalter's film suffers from the same problem that plagued his previous documentary, Our Daily Bread - while the filmmaker's widescreen tableaux are sometimes visually poignant, Geyrhalter's documentary imagination is lacking," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Dernier Maquis: Reviews from Cannes.

Update, 9/13: Jim Emerson on Che: "I can't think of another American film quite like this in its scope, ambition, or detailed, nuanced portrayal of politics in action - though parts triggered memories of Gillo Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers and a few films by Bernardo Bertolucci.... Despite its length, Soderberg's opus is consistently engrossing, not some kind of endurance test.... I thought once again of that memorable line of Pauline Kael's, from her review of Bertolucci's 1900: It makes most other movies 'look like something you hold up on the end of a toothpick.'"

Update, 9/14: "Despite the rigorous, structuralist approach Soderbergh employs to sidestep the incense-burning pitfalls of the standard Hollywood biopic," writes Fernando F Croce for Slant, "and despite many stylistic marvels and Benicio del Toro's drugged-tiger performance, this is a work of intelligent fastidiousness rather than vivid inspiration. No other biopic would dare overlay El Comandante's Tolstoy quotes on a brutal skirmish, but who knew such bold experimentation could be so... academic?"

Posted by dwhudson at 2:36 AM

Able Danger.

Able Danger "Able Danger's various generic elements and ambitions, while successful on their own, resist melding into a successful pastiche; perhaps the invocation of September 11 for the vaguely satirical purpose of tweaking conspiracy crap like that found in Zeitgeist: The Movie (an Internet film that, like [director Paul] Krik's recent 'Be Kanye' ads, went mega-viral last year) proves too preoccupying for such a winking, if well-made, film." Michelle Orange in the Voice.

"Krik references film noir, rustling up some heavies and hardboiled patter here and there," notes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Ironically, the connection is intriguing, given the wartime stew of anxieties that originally fostered the movies that came to be known as noir; Krik's two main riffstones come from either end of the lineage, The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Able Danger isn't our equivalent, nor is it nearly as engrossing, but it does have a snazzy credit sequence fashioned out of a quotation from the neocon Project for a New American Century."

Updated through 9/13.

"Krik would prefer if we all compared his feature-length debut to the practically minimalist The Parallax View, but Able Danger is really a hipster version of Soderbergh's inane The Good German - all talk and effusive style," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

"Taking its title from a secret Pentagon program, Able Danger toggles between murky digital video and even murkier fake surveillance film," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "And though like-minded theorists may ascend from their basements to rally round its muddled premise, this debut feature from the writer and director Paul Krik (who also goes by the name Dave Herman) is a classic example of too much foot-in-mouth and not nearly enough tongue-in-cheek."

Earlier: Krik lists his favorite conspiracy movies at Filmmaker.

Update, 9/13: "The cynicism this movie taps into is as old as Watergate and as new as Sarah Palin, but so too are the stylistic influences Kirk draws on to fashion this rather straightforward conspiracy tale," writes Brandon Harris at Hammer to Nail. "While he's primarily drawing on the the aesthetic qualities of post-war B-cinema, he also owes a significant debt to the Darren Aronofsky of Pi here, with his harsh, low-budget black-and-white New York being traversed by an increasingly unhinged, physically threatened outlaw intellectual.... Krik's thriller is clearly a product of our unsettled age."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:35 AM

September 10, 2008

Shorts, 9/10.

Bob Dylan and Philosophy "Dylan's many identities illustrate a Buddhist conception of life sustained not by things (bodies, memories, or souls) but interconnections among them. Since those interconnections extend to each of us and our particular points of view, [Todd] Haynes's kaleidoscopic Dylan becomes even less a filmmaker conceit and more an accurate representation of the truth about identity." At PopMatters, George Reisch introduces a passage from Peter Vernezze and Paul Lulewicz's "'I Got My Bob Dylan Mask On': Bob Dylan and Personal Identity," collected in Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Thinking).

At SF360, Michael Fox talks with Scott MacDonald about his book, Canyon Cinema: The Life and Times of an Independent Distributor.

Craig Keller spots a few "correspondences" between B Kite and Chris Petit's reviews of Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard.

An illustrious swarm is gathering: look at all those guest bloggers at FilmInFocus.

Videodrome "You know you've been really busy/distracted when someone has to remind you that you actually have two books coming out in a given month." Tim Lucas previews The Book of Lists: Horror and Videodrome.

"I'm telling you, unless we wake up, we're gonna lose this frickin' thing," warns Adam McKay at the Huffington Post.

Trying to get a grip on the surreality of the moment? Jon Taplin's got a movie recommendation.

Wes Anderson's planning a remake of Patrice Leconte's My Best Friend, reports Michael Fleming for Variety.

In the Guardian, Simon Hattenstone talks with Richard Attenborough; Maya Jaggi with Tom Stoppard; Ryan Gilbey with James Franco; Daniel Tapper with Albert Maysles; and Laura Barton with Eddie Redmayne. Also: Paul Rennie on Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg's poster for Battleship Potemkin.

Princess Aurora "It is obligatory to mention the filmography of actress Pang Eun-jin before we discuss the debut of director Pang Eun-jin," writes Adam Hartzell. "She was the bespectacled part of the adept pairing of female characters that Park Chul-soo presented in 301, 302 and Push-Push.... Actress Pang was part of the group of creatives who introduced me to South Korean cinema and she is part of what's kept me there ever since. I was prepped to temper any hopes I might have had anticipating director Pang's debut feature, Princess Aurora., so I wasn't disappointed when I first saw it at the 8th Women's Film Festival in Seoul, I just wasn't impressed." Also at Koreanfilm.org, Kyu Hyun Kim: "As an avid fan of horror genre, I would have loved to report to you that [Death Bell] handily overcomes bad word of mouth and production troubles and single-handedly restores the faith in K-horror. Not a chance."

At the House Next Door, Tom Stempel considers more recent screenplays.

Still rolling at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: Bosomania!" The Sex, the Violence and the Vocabulary of Russ Meyer and The Mystic: The Films of Nicholas Ray.

For the New York Times, Melena Ryzik talks with Beastie Boy Adam Yauch about "pursuing his cinematic interests with a new division of his company, Oscilloscope, which acquires, produces and distributes independent movies." Upcoming releases include Flow and Wendy and Lucy. Also, a couple of not exactly film-related items worth noting nonetheless: Julie Bosman on the Booker shortlist; Patricia Cohen pays a visit to Maurice Sendak; Michael Kimmelman on the Metropolitan Museum's new director.

In the Voice:

Forgiveness
  • "Told with the tumbling urgency of the deeply personal, the story of Forgiveness, Udi Aloni's portrait of an American-Israeli soldier in crisis, is notable mainly for its attempt to avoid the guiding grooves of the post-traumatic military narrative," writes Michelle Orange.

  • Ella Taylor on The Tree of Life, in which: "Throbbing with midlife crisis after a brush with cancer, Los Angeles–based electronics engineer Hava Volterra journeys to Italy in search of deep background about her late father, a physicist."

  • And Jean Oppenheimer on another doc, Secrecy: "Most chilling is the former CIA station chief who defends secrecy on the grounds that it 'allows us the latitude of action to use methods that are not necessarily consistent with our values as a nation.'" More from Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine.

"The scariest movie of 2008 so far is, quite possibly, Dorothy Fadiman's Stealing America: Vote by Vote, a stomach-turning look at election irregularities that stretch back as far as 1996, with a special emphasis on the über-fishy goings-on in Ohio circa 2004." Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

s Cineuropa's new "Film Focus": Rumba.

An annotated list at Stop Smiling: "Three Indispensable Expat Films."

A list from the AV Club: "I see you: 18-plus films that make a point of turning viewers into voyeurs."

Online viewing tip #1. Martha Rosler talks about her work in the New York Times.

Online viewing tip #2. Stevie Wonder, performing "Superstition" on Sesame Street in 1972. Wow. Via Jason Kottke.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:53 PM

Fests and events, 9/10.

Fantastic Fest 08 "The Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest have announced that five feature films and six shorts will be streamed online via the BSide community, in their entirety, from Sept 14 - 20." The Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov has details.

"If this year's Toronto International Film Festival had a subtitle, it could be 'When Good Directors Go Bad,'" proposes Scott Foundas. "At least that's what it has felt like around here as one anticipated new film after the next by some of the world's name-brand auteurs - the Coen brothers, Spike Lee, Jonathan Demme - has laid a less-than-golden egg. And the younger directors one had harbored high hopes for? They've crashed and burned, too." For more on the fest so far, see Cheryl Eddy and Jesse Hawthorne Ficks in the San Francisco Bay Guardian or tickle yourself with the fury of Rex Reed in the New York Observer. Meantime, Robert Davis lists his favorites so far.

But for now, back in the Voice, J Hoberman: "Before his son and namesake grew up to be the edgiest Hollywood actor of his generation, Robert Downey enjoyed a small measure of celebrity as the edgiest indie cine-satirist of his. Downey, whose early work is showcased this week at Anthology Film Archives, is the missing link between the 'sick' cabaret humor of the early 60s and the considerably wilder countercultural gross-out burlesques that John Waters began making as the decade ended."

More from Bruce Bennett, who, in the New York Sun, notes that the series sets "a promising precedent for the fiscally challenged yet indispensable local theater responsible for exhibiting these twisted and brilliant early films and shepherding them back from the brink of decay."

Related: Nelson Kim on Putney Swope at Hammer to Nail.


Ray Pride: Away


"Audiences visiting the Whitney's film and video gallery this summer have been privy to an ample and diverse program of artist-curated screenings." For Artforum, Federico Windhausen previews the program for the weeks ahead.

"Film Forum, in association with the British Film Institute, is launching a long overdue two-week, 16-film retrospective, Sept 12 to Sept 25, of David Lean's lushly directed, written, and acted works." A preview from Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

Mike Everleth has the lineup for the Sydney Underground Film Festival, running tomorrow through Sunday.


Midnight Circus


"With enthusiasm for the state of independent filmmaking as well as enthusiasm for activism in both the US and the world, the Mill Valley Film Festival introduced its 31st program to the press Tuesday morning at Dolby Labs." Susan Gerhard reports at SF360. October 2 through 12.

Noting that passes are now available, Chicagoist Rob Christopher's anticipating the Chicago International Film Festival, running October 16 through 29.

Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise as would-be Hitler assassin Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, will open in Germany on January 22 - too early for the Berlinale, so there go those rumors. The Netzeitung reports (in German).

Posted by dwhudson at 2:37 PM

The Women.

The Women "For [director Diane] English, The Women is undoubtedly (and mysteriously) a labor of love, but for Warner Brothers, its 2000-screen rollout is a cynical calculation that the same female audiences who turned out for The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City - starved of decent movies actually made for them - will choose to waste their hard-earned money on this dull and pedestrian bit of moviemaking instead of, say, contributing it to Hillary Clinton's debt relief," writes Chris Wisniewski in Reverse Shot. "This is the same brand of cynicism that landed everyone's favorite hockey mom on the national Republican ticket: women will be so happy to see themselves finally represented, on the stump or onscreen, that they won't really care about the substance of what they're seeing - the candidate doesn't have to be worthy; the movie doesn't have to be good; they simply have to be."

Updated through 9/15.

"Trailing negative buzz and a revolving door of A-list talent since its inception in 1994, Diane English's pudding of a remake of George Cukor's wicked 1939 satire of Manhattan socialites isn't so much incompetent as it is hopelessly tame and muddled," writes Ella Taylor.

"Point by point, writer-director Diane English has rethought the original in a seemingly intelligent way, and she provides three-dimensional roles for Candice Bergen, as [Meg] Ryan's mother, and Cloris Leachman, as her housekeeper, in parts that would have been mere token bits in most other films of this sort," writes Dan Callahan in Slant. "But English fails miserably when it comes to redoing Joan Crawford's shop girl role for Eva Mendes. The dramatic tension in Cukor's movie came from Crawford's identification with her working-class character, which is what made her a star in the proletarian 30s. In imperial 2008, however, Mendes, who has potential as an actress aside from her amazing looks, is treated as The Help, a sexual cartoon. Similarly, Debi Mazar's manicurist has none of the dumb-broad heart revealed in Dennie Moore's gossipy original; the young working-class women in this movie are treated with total disdain and contempt."

Henry Stewart in the L Magazine: "In the pre-war original, the heroine declares, 'My husband and I are equals!' In the 21st-century update, Meg Ryan, in the same role, boasts, 'I could suck the nails out of a board!' You go, girl?"

"[D]espite English's many fumbles, the movie earns points for at least trying to address a few issues beyond man-crazy shopaholic nirvana, and these ladies do, sometimes quite touchingly, look out for one another," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "All told, I'd rather spend time with these Women than with Carrie Bradshaw and co."

"Ms English has her feminist heart in the right place, and she mixes races and sexual predilections to populate Mary and Sylvie's circle with possibilities that the lily-white straight damsels of the movie 30s never imagined existed," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "This contemporary broad-mindedness is admirable, but not sufficient to compensate for the lack of comic friction."

At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell lists the "10 Worst Updates of 1930s Classics."

Updates, 9/12: "[I]t's a film that makes you wonder what someone with Michael Bay or Oliver Stone's subtlety might have done with it," writes Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon. "The weirdest element of the film, though, isn't its fevered pitch. It's that these smart, successful, got-your-back best pals don't even notice they're living in a dystopian nightmare where men are invisible."

"If The Women had managed to give its various impulses some kind of coherent shape or tone, it might be worth arguing about," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "As it is, the movie wanders and wallows, stumbling toward screwball before veering in the direction of weepiness and grasping at satirical urbanity along the way."

English "seems to want to convert her version of the play into a tract for our times; you know, something about the difficulties of having a family and a career simultaneously," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "But that does not address the piece's fundamental problem, namely that it is not now and never has been funny. Or even human."

"For his take on The Women, Cukor presented a stiff drink; the battle of the sexes writ large and verbose, with the less interesting gender left out completely," writes Chris Barsanti in PopMatters. "By comparison, English's version of this film barely nudges from its Martha Stewart interiors, exchanging insights for platitudes; it's a cup of lukewarm tea, without even a biscuit on the side."

"For all of SATC's failings, it at least had dialogue that could conceivably be heard on Fifth Avenue," notes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "Unsteadily directing for the first time, English (a creator of Murphy Brown) also wrote the screenplay, sucking all the venom and verve out of Anita Loos and Jane Murfin's adaptation of Clare Boothe Luce's play and trading it for Oprah-lite homilies, group hugs and, astonishingly, testimonials by the cast after the end credits roll."

"English's Women looks indifferent and sometimes purposefully ugly, presenting its stars - most of whom have achieved 'women of a certain age' status - as flatteringly as pasta salad in a deli counter," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

"The Women isn't a great movie, but how could it be?" asks Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Too many characters and too much melodrama for that, and the comedy has to be somewhat muted to make the characters semi-believable. But as a well-crafted, well-written and well-acted entertainment, it drew me in and got its job done."

"This new version of The Women fails to celebrate its characters as women," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "It patronizes the C-list cast of Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler and Candice Bergen as politically correct pawns."

"If this had been released two weeks ago, I wouldn't have been as distracted trying to force it into a political allegory," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "The moment I saw Mendes, I thought, 'Sarah Palin!' ... influencing Stephen (the electorate?) against his best interests (Mary, the Democratic Party), who must reconcile with Sylvie (Hillary Clinton) after a betrayal. Or something. There's probably nowhere to go with that."

Kenneth Turan: "It's hard to say what's sadder, that The Women's intended audience had to wait 14 years for a film like this or that that long wait has been almost for naught." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Abramowitz profiles Ryan.

Update, 9/13: Erica Abeel talks with English for IFC.

Update, 9/14: At MSNBC, Alonso Duralde recalls "1956's The Opposite Sex, a disappointing attempt to inject men, music and Metrocolor into George Cukor's 1939 classic The Women.... Despite some amusing supporting performances by Dolores Gray and Joan Blondell, The Opposite Sex was a box-office bomb and was relegated to footnote status in film history. And yet, it's still better than the 2008's The Women, a film that tries so desperately to make the original 'modern' that it invalidates its own existence."

Update, 9/15: "Strange to say, Cukor's version is scarcely more seductive," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Unlike his other dramas of fine living, such as Dinner at Eight (1933) or The Philadelphia Story (1940), it leaves you in a bad mood, resentful of its characters. Depression audiences, lofted from their cares by the son et lumière of Katharine Hepburn flaring up at Cary Grant, may well have felt their noses being rubbed in it by the twitterings of Rosalind Russell and Norma Shearer in The Women, and so it is with their modern counterparts."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:41 PM

London 08. Line-up.

LFF 52 For the Guardian, Ben Child previews the London Film Festival: "The annual event, which kicks off on October 15 with the world premiere of Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon, about David Frost's famous TV interviews with the disgraced US president, will this year feature a record 15 international premieres."

Of course, since the full name of the festival is "The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival," I should point to Ben Hoyle's overview in the Times as well: "The full programme, announced today, also boasts... 189 features and 108 shorts drawn from 43 countries."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:13 AM

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains "The missing link between punk and riot grrl wasn't a band or even a fleeting subgenre, but an amazing 1982 Paramount music-biz satire that was never properly released, seen only on late-night cable, crappy bootlegs, and at art-house revivals. That mistake will finally be mended when Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains hits DVD on September 16, its borderline-obsessive cult following all but guaranteed to expand virally. Have we mentioned it costars two Sex Pistols, a founding member of the Clash, and an underage Diane Lane in a see-through top?" Aaron Hillis tells the would-you-believe story behind the movie in Spin, which has also posted a mini-doc introduced by John Pierson.

For more, see Gary Morris in Bright Lights, Filmbrain and LAist's report on Sunday night's screening at Cinefamily with Lane on hand. By the way, the DVD features audio commentary from Lane and co-star Laura Dern, who, when they were Stains, were all of 15 and 13, respectively.

Update, 9/16: Nick Schager talks with director Lou Adler for IFC.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:50 AM | Comments (2)

Toronto Dispatch. 3.

Toronto 08 And this one comes from Sean Axmaker.

Many of the films that most captured my affections at TIFF this year revolve around family, notably extended family reunited for a special occasion:– a holiday, a remembrance, a celebration. Four filmmakers in particular created rich tapestries of these familiar yet elusive collective organisms, examining how the past reverberates through the immediacy of the present, even when we think we fully understand that past.

The most mercurial and vibrant and cinematically exciting is Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale (Un Conte de Noël), which premiered at Cannes and makes its North American debut here. Directing with an even more restless energy than he showed in Kings and Queen, Desplechin sketches out a family tragedy, the untimely death of a first-born, that precedes the story by decades and then only overtly references it a few times, even as the shadow of that death hovers over the film: in the cancer that family matron Junon (Catherine Deneuve) has been diagnosed with, in the fragility of her teenage grandson Paul (Emile Berling), and in the odd sibling dynamics that have caused eldest daughter Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) to, in effect, legally separate herself from her brother Ivan (Mathieu Amalric, in a mesmerizingly manic-depressive performance).

A Christmas Tale "Henri is the disease," she tells us in one of the film's direct address monologues, but perhaps the disease is in the blood - the same disease that killed Joseph at age six, the same disease that will eventually kill her mother (even with a bone marrow transplant, which will only give her a few more years; they have the mathematical formula to prove it!), and maybe the same disease that haunts her own son, Paul. For whatever reasons, Paul seeks out his outcast Uncle Henri and invites him to the family Christmas he's been banished from for five years; this helps stir up quite a holiday nog, complete with a brutal little brawl and a bit of adultery that may come some way to smoothing over a few emotional rough patches.

Desplechin marks the passing days over the Christmas holiday, but the film itself roams back through flashbacks, detours through old secrets and plays with clues that don't always lead you to a solution. This is neither a farce of dysfunctional collisions nor a family drama where dredging up past sins and misunderstandings leads to teary reconciliations. It's about the messy space inhabited by loved ones who will never know or understand everything about each other (or, for that matter, themselves) and may never overcome their own (rational or irrational) impulses and emotional reflexes. Some mysteries are never solved and some revelations are never explained, and it's beautiful. Messy, yes, and sometimes a little oblique, but always pulsing with human life in all its irrationality.

Summer Hours Next the to the sprawling two-and-a-half hours of A Christmas Tale, Olivier Assayas's Summer Hours (L'heure d'ete) is like a miniature, a small film of small dramas in the scope of large lives. Mortality once again hangs over the story of a family estate and its art treasures. Family matriarch Helene (Edith Scob) has preserved the country home of her famous painter uncle as a tribute to him, complete with works by French masters on the walls and rare pieces of furniture and glassworks, and she drills into her eldest the list of valuables that need be accounted for and, if necessary, sold off when she dies. Frédéric (Charles Berling), who lives nearby in Paris, can't bear to see the home broken up and sold off, but with his sister (Juliette Binoche) thriving in New York and younger brother (Jérémie Renier) settling in China, the holiday family home no longer has the same meaning to any of them, let alone their children. The film moves from one decision to another and the arguments that inevitably ensue and it's not all that subtly engineered. Still, there's a generosity of understanding and a warmth of character to it all; this is a gentle look at the way the ties to the past lose their hold as one generation gives way to the next, and it closes with a pair of sequences that alone would recommend the film: one that takes you through the Musee D'Orsay, from the workshops through to the galleries, and a final scene that recalls Assayas's brilliant early feature Cold Water, but with the angry, rebellious destructiveness replaced by a warm communal celebration.

Still Walking The death of an eldest son frames and almost defines Hirozaku Kore-eda's Still Walking as a family gathers to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the death of Junpei, who drowned saving a child swept off the nearby beach. There's plenty of blame and disappointment to go around. The father (Yoshio Harada), once the local doctor and still eager for the honorific title in forced retirement, had put all his hope in Junpei taking his practice. His youngest, Ryo (Hiroshi Abe), now 40, has "rebelled" by becoming an art restorer, and married a young widow with a child to boot. The daughter is a chatty diplomat; her husband dozes or goofs with their children during the family rituals. Mother is the unappreciated host, but even she can't hide her disappointment in a grandchild that doesn't honor her family blood. There are no confrontations here; they endure the slights and the weather the discomfort, like a necessary negotiation, and once in a while a genuine connection is made, outside of obligations and expectations, out from under the shadow of Junpei's death, when they can just be family. Kore-Eda is marvelous with these little moments, observing the reverberations of discomfort around the table at a family meal after a thoughtless remark or a bitter rebuke, sensing the polite distance the parents keep from Ryo's widowed wife, or simply watching the still life of a family at rest. And the film offers a quiet line that can tie all three films together: "Even when people die, they don't really go away."

Rachel Getting Married In fact, that sentiment could extend to Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, which brings an extended family together for a happier occasion and stirs it up with the self-involved presence of younger sister Kym (Anne Hathaway, who is really quite good at being utterly disagreeable). On leave from rehab but not yet recovered or used to not being the center of attention, Kym constantly and blatantly grabs for the spotlight - you can almost hear the grinding of teeth when she turns a toast into a comic monologue on her twelve-step disasters - and a slew of unresolved issues are churned up, which isn't quite the wedding gift that sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) was hoping for. The script by Jenny Lumet hits the expected conflicts and collisions right about where you expect them to show up, but Demme goes for the handheld InDigEnt look here, a first for the director, and the way he lets the digital camera roam through long takes and big ensemble scenes lends it all an authenticity. What he brings to the film is an inclusiveness, a sense of community and relationships that define characters we may only meet once. An extended wedding party dinner, full of speeches and elaborate toasts, could have felt unending; Demme makes it feel like family in the best ways, with a generosity of spirit flowing from friends and relatives. And while it's no surprise that Demme would have great music for his film, it's all part of the same community: every piece of music arises from the guests (among them Robyn Hitchcock) and radiates out to create an atmosphere of joy and celebration, always on the verge of being yanked away by Kym's next outburst.

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

September 9, 2008

Toronto. Still Walking.

"I lost track of the number of times I smiled or laughed in recognition during Hirokazu Kore-eda's latest film entitled Still Walking," writes Bob Turnbull.

Still Walking

"It's a gentle laughter to be sure, but it's very real and honest."

"This is exactly the kind of film - quiet, modest, untroubled by ambitions of importance - that risks being lost in the news media shuffle," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "And yet it is so completely absorbing, so sure of its own scale and scope that while you're watching it the rest of the world fades into irrelevance."

"After the widely panned Hana, Kore-eda returns to the quality he established with Nobody Knows and After Life," writes J Robert Parks at Daily Plastic. "The film's joys, of which there are many, revolve around the universal elements of family. Even though Still Walking takes place in contemporary Japan, you'll recognize your own parents, your own siblings, your own children and nieces and nephews. The way families love and bicker, the way they laugh and tease.... The atmosphere of Ozu permeates the film, though Kore-eda has little interest in adopting the master's style. Instead, it's the quietness and the movie's humanity, along with a few visual motifs, that make the connection."

"Between this film, Rachel Getting Married and Summer Hours, it's been quite the fest for subtle dramas about the ties that bind until they sting," writes Noel Murray. "Particularly noteworthy is the performance of Kirin Kiki as the sweet-faced matriarch, constantly making food or handing out gifts, while also making some of the most inadvertently cruel comments of anyone in the family."

Also at the AV Club, Scott Tobias: "That it's set almost entirely in a single household makes it seem cramped and airless, and Kore-eda's one stab at poeticism (warning: symbolic butterfly) lands with a thud. Better direction and a few fewer endings, and this one might have been a masterpiece."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:47 PM

Toronto. Treeless Mountain.

"For lovers of both the whimsical freeform and bittersweet intimate films of Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Tortoro and Grave of the Fireflies, for instance), there will be a lot to love in So Yong Kim's semi-autobiographical childhood film Treeless Mountain," writes Kurt Halfyard at Twitch.

Treeless Mountain

"It makes a finely articulated plea for the rejuvenating aspects of simple living over urban malaise; but more importantly, it is a showcase for the fragile dignity of children."

Updated through 9/10.

"As with In Between Days, Kim tapped into her past for her sophomore film, though she hasn't let memory distort her perspective," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "This is one of her greatest gifts as a filmmaker. In Between Days and Treeless Mountain are both deeply personal works, yet they never reek of autobiography. After having attended countless film festivals for the past several years, it is refreshing to discover a young writer/director who seems to have been born with a natural ability to balance filmmaker objectivity and emotional subjectivity so effortlessly."

"An autobiographical feature about two tiny girls sent to live with distant relatives by their caring but insolvent mother, Treeless Mountain is a sparse but incredibly moving film about love turning to longing turning to resentment, and if I as a total outsider could barely hold back tears whilst watching it, I can only imagine the strength required to pull such a story from one's own life and throw it up on a screen," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Hands down, the thing that makes Mountain a Toronto must-see is the performances, which are all the more impressive considering the fact that the film's two young stars are non-actors."

"Treeless Mountain suffers some in comparison to Hirokazu Kore-Eda's poetic, heartbreaking Nobody Knows (which has a similar premise), but it's still hard to watch these sad, cute little faces as their world falls apart and not get a little torn up about it," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "And Kim's aesthetic is arguably more effective here than it was in her debut, as she makes plastic toys look like talismans and adult faces look almost mythical in their kindness or indifference. At times, Treeless Mountain feels like a fairy tale without the magic."

Update, 9/10: "The triumph here is that, where Kore-eda's [Nobody Knows] played the same note, the same story again and again for its long run-time, Kim So Yong's second film... finds both freshness and solace in literally keeping the focus tight on the children," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "It is structured by ellipses between day-to-day events - the ingenuity of barbecuing and selling grasshoppers to neighborhood children so that the sisters can fill their being a highlight - and kept strong by the two girl actresses."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:21 PM

Toronto. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist "isn't quite the assault to the teen romance genre that Juno was, and that's both good and bad," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

"Michael Cera's Nick, Kat Dennings's Norah, and their assorted pals drift fluidly between irony-as-defense and taking both themselves, and the idea of love, very seriously. The result is a film that's much more of a traditional teen romance, but also a more honest one."

"Although technically just another studio movie making the obligatory festival rounds before its theatrical release in October, the movie has roots in the independent film community, being the sophomore effort of director Peter Sollett, whose debut feature, Raising Victor Vargas, became a major indie success story just a few years ago," writes Eric Kohn at the Jaman Blog. "It's the sort of movie that proves a young, ambitious filmmaker doesn't have to compromise his creative integrity once faced with commercial pressures; instead, he grooves with them at his own pace."

"[T]here are logic holes in it, and lulls, and moments that seem devoid of sense, to be sure, but there are also moments in where Cera or Dennings will smile and your momentary doubts and disagreements are washed away and your head is filled with a sense of gladness, not despair, that you're watching our young, happy hipster heroes on screen," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist combines the shaggy-dog sprawl of an early John Hughes film with the blunt talk and softly-rounded feelings of the Apatow comedies, and if it did not have leads as charismatic and tonally correct as Cera and Dennings, it would be very close to dead in the water; however, since it does, it isn't."

"Nick and Norah has a good soundtrack, naturally, but its failure to supply much in the way of unexpected incident or witty conversation makes it a huge missed opportunity, and a real disappointment," finds Noel Murray at the AV Club.

Kenneth R Morefield at Looking Closer: "I'm suspicious of any person or film that tries this desperately to tell me that: a) they are having a good time; b) they are in love; or c) really, really liking the same band is a better foundation for a relationship than actually knowing the other person."

Robert Abele talks with Cera and Dennings for the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 9/15: At the SpoutBlog, Kevin Kelly talks with Cera.

Update, 9/18: At the SpoutBlog, Kevin Kelly talks with Sollett.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 PM | Comments (1)

Venice and Toronto. Rachel Getting Married.

"For my money, [Rachel Getting Married] is a case of a great director redeeming a slightly uneven script (by Jenny 'Daughter of Sidney' Lumet), which is most interesting when exploring the dynamic between two sisters - one who's negotiated a fragile rapport with her family (Rosemarie DeWitt) and the other (Anne Hathaway), a recovering addict, who's returning to the clan on bad terms," writes Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago.

Rachel Getting Married

"[A]bove all, it's a supremely inclusive film. Whatever contrivances it falls back on, the movie sends you out on a high."

"It sounds like a carbon copy of last year's Margot at the Wedding (bitter pill returns home in time to spoil sister's nuptials), but where that film was small, pale, and poisonously acerbic (and appallingly funny, I thought), Rachel sprawls with music and forgiveness, extending gentle humanism and multi-culti chic to each of its characters," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "In other words, it's a Jonathan Demme movie, and the first recognizable such animal in a number of years."

"I can see how it might been seen as some as a less pretentious sister of Margot, but only because it deals with characters that are, well, less pretentious," writes Peter Knegt.

"[T]he film belongs to Anne Hathaway," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "It's remarkable that, given how deeply unsympathetic and self-obsessed her character is for much of the film, Hathaway manages to make her so likeable. It's the kind of wedding - all mawkish self-written vows and inappropriate use of Neil Young - that would drive the most saintly guest to drink and drugs. The urge to self-destruct in a rain of pills and vodka constantly flickers across Hathaway's face, and the camera captures everything in her huge, bruised eyes and angry storm of hair."

"But Rachel Getting Married is hardly a one-woman show; Bill Irwin has a few great moments as Kym and Rachel's father; DeWitt manages to capture both sibling rivalry and sisterly compassion, petty jealousy and rough-hewn forgiveness; as Kym's mother, Debra Winger, much like Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People, plays a person both cut off from her feelings and captured in the grip of them," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "On the groom's side, [Tunde] Adabimpe is stalwart as Sidney, while Mather Zickel gives a funny, charming, loose performance as best man Kieran, who has more in common with Kym than just a big role in the ceremony."

"Demme pays tribute to Altman with the style of real-life over-talking, silence, and open ends that he has never really emulated before combined with his personal aesthetic of music, wild but loving characters, and unexpected performances that change careers," writes David Poland.

"I won't claim that Rachel Getting Married is a perfect film, but that doesn't matter to me in the slightest," writes Chris Stults of the Wexner Center. "There is such an abundance in this film that to say that two or three tiny moments don't work or seem overly written is miserly. And this is a film that fosters forgiveness."

"Cinema is littered with stories of addiction and family dysfunction - movies like Sherrybaby and The Celebration were bandied about in comparison to this no-frills, kitchen-sink melodrama - but few are as warm, incisive, and emotionally devastating as this one," writes Scott Tobias. Also at the AV Club, Noel Murray: "[S]o much about this movie is so goddamned beautiful that I was pretty much a wreck by the last half hour."

Updates, 9/10: "[I]it's hard to overstate Demme's achievement with this powerful narrative," blogs Eric Kohn at Jaman.

Noah Forrest talks with producer Neda Armian at Movie City News.

Update, 9/17: Kevin Kelly talks with Demme and Hathaway for the SpoutBlog.

Update, 9/18: And Kevin Kelly talks with Rosemarie DeWitt.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:44 PM

Venice and Toronto. Les Plages d'Agnès.

"Les Plages d'Agnès, a gentle, softly whimsical memoir-like reminiscence on video, pulls at strands of cineaste Agnès Varda's life, from her movies to her childhood, from her husband (filmmaker Jacques Demy, who died in 1990), to her photography and art exhibits," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Les Plages d'Agnès

"No ordinary biopic or autobiographical documentary, Varda's video, like her character, is sweet, smart, off-hand, and comical."

"[I]t's only half way through the film that she gets to her introduction to the world of filmmaking and when she does, she's less interested in the language and history of film and her own contribution in it and more in the people she was close to, particularly Demy, and the political causes she committed to," notes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily. "This feels like the work of an octogenarian who wishes to be leave those close to her a well rounded self-portrait to remember her by."

"Honored this year at Venice with the Glory to the Filmmaker award, Varda proved an early blurrer of fact and fiction, as she reminds us, in her pioneering New Wave opus La Pointe courte." Variety: "The Beaches of Agnes is a similarly oddball mix that may strike some as overly whimsical but should delight the filmmaker's many fans."

Update, 9/20: "Varda has assembled a fascinating documentary; a wind-shifted mirror which creatively reflects her own fascinating personage. With generous candor, she responded to her TIFF08 audience about her latest creative endeavor." Michael Guillén transcribes the Q&A.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:28 AM

Venice. Vegas: Based on a True Story.

"This no-budget, digitally shot parable from Iran-born writer-director Amir Naderi has a long fuse and a tragic payoff," writes Time's Richard Corliss.

Vegas: Based on a True Story

"Disdaining dramatic filigree, Naderi reveals the consuming obsessiveness of addiction, as Eddie [Mark Greenfield] pursues the American dream of prospecting for gold in his own backyard. If you have ever shared that dream, that disease, [Vegas: Based on a True Story] could bore into your gut."

Writing in Variety, Ronnie Scheib finds "a film of such single-minded desolation that it recalls Victor Seastrom's account of elemental madness, The Wind, as a destructive force rips through a family in precarious remission from full-blown addiction. Naderi's stated goal, to wed his more experimental recent work to a strong narrative throughline, has been realized with a vengeance."

"There's a promising idea for a film here, but the heavy-handed Vegas labors every point well beyond audience tolerance: that Eddie can't control his impulse to gamble, that Tracy [Nancy La Scala] is a control freak, that the land and house are fated to be wiped out by greedy obsession," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "This kind of story cries out for a strong, experienced cast which might have kept it from dramatically flat-lining."

"Once - and if - the viewer gets past the film's deliberately ugly feel, there's a pretty powerful story in Vegas that has resonance on several levels," writes Fionnuala Halligan in Screen Daily. "This is a film will undoubtedly have - and deserves - a life; the question is where?"

Posted by dwhudson at 9:06 AM

Burn After Reading, round 2.

Burn After Reading "Either you get, agree with and derive enormous delight from dry misanthropic humor... or you don't," writes Jeffrey Wells. "And it's the genius of Burn After Reading, [the Coens'] latest, to offer another serving in a way that may seem slight or irksome to some, but it is in fact - I mean this - a major satirical meditation about everything that is empty, wanting, sad and hilariously absurd in these united and delusional states of America."

Updated through 9/14.

"Burn After Reading is a deft little piece, directed with a straight face and performed with a roiling comedic energy that matches brio with precision," writes Jim Emerson. "That's what makes it funny. Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography, Carter Burwell's score, Roderick Jaynes's editing (yes, we all know that's a pseudonym) could proudly serve any modern espionage picture. All serve a ridiculously plotted absurdist farce, which is what the best spy stories usually boil down to, whether they're comic or tragic."

"It's basically a one-joke movie - thin stuff," writes David Edelstein in New York. "But the Coens juggle their genre tropes nimbly; they're like birthday-party clowns for cinephiles.... Burn After Reading plays as if it was great fun to make - maybe more fun than to see."

"The Coens have often worked out their private sense of amusement and disdain onscreen," writes David Denby in the New Yorker: "in the baffling gangster jargon and reversals of loyalty in Miller's Crossing; in the bizarrely punitive disasters that beset the left-wing-prig screenwriter in Barton Fink; in the openmouthed idiocies of the three escaped cons in O Brother, Where Art Thou? In those movies, one could detect the brothers laughing at a world of fools who never understand what's happening to them and mess everything up. But it's hard to sense much laughter behind Burn After Reading."

"The Coens may treat their characters like puppets, but the delight they take in working with such gold-plated actors is palpable - equaled only by the lip-smacking relish the cast takes in bringing this colorful menagerie of nincompoops to life." David Ansen in Newsweek.

"I can't pretend this movie is anything less than a slight, broad comedy, and I imagine that many people will find it too mean-spirited and trifling after the Coens' Oscar-winning adaptation of No Country For Old Men," writes Noel Murray. "Me, I thought it was frequently hilarious and brilliantly constructed, with a script that adds and subtracts elements exactly when necessary." Also at the AV Club, Scott Tobias: "The Coens have made many funnier films than Burn After Reading (though John Malkovich, as a belligerent laid-off CIA agent, is a hoot), but here it's the plotting that pays off in spades."

"Burn doesn't aim for the poetic subtlety of No Country or the goofy generational statement of Lebowski," writes Eric Kohn at the Jaman Blog. "Instead, the Coen brothers have doodled in the margins of their acclaimed careers, presenting a wild send-up of America's mangled security procedures and the West's revitalized fear of it."

"I would rank it up there with my two favorite Coen films, Fargo and O, Brother Where Art Thou?," writes Kim Voynar. Also at Cinematical, James Rocchi: "[T]he pleasure of seeing the big ensemble cast bite down hard on small parts until the juice drips down their chin is dry, funny and rich."

Paul Matwychuk and Michael Hingston of SEE Magazine discuss the film.

Eugene Hernandez explains himself.

Kevin Kelly chats with Pitt at the SpoutBlog.

FilmInFocus offers some behind-the-scene photos snapped on the set. Also: Jason Guerrasio talks with Will Russell and Scott Shuffitt, founders of Lebowski Fest and authors of I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, and What Have You.

Earlier: Reviews from Venice.

Updates, 9/10: "Say this for the Coen aesthetic: There's nothing these boys can't hold up to ridicule," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Still, ethics more than aesthetics demand that a successful Coen film - namely The Big Lebowski - include at least one minimally sympathetic link on its chain of fools. [George] Clooney's amiably rancid charm doesn't quite serve; hence, Burn After Reading is a comedy without consequences."

"Burn After Reading may not have the sparse majesty of No Country - it may not go out of its way to tell you that We Are Getting Deep Up In Here - but in its own way its even more brutal assignation of moral confusion," argues Karina Longworth in the SpoutBlog.

"It's fair to call it a grim farce about vanity in an age of constant surveillance, but that might imply more ambition than does the movie itself," writes Jonathan Kiefer.

Burn "strikes me as one of the most willfully awful movies I've ever seen," declares Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "What makes it even worse is that every one of the 'name' performances - George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton - seem determined to best each other in projecting the idiocy of their caricatured middle-aged losers."

"[W]hat might have been a searing parody of contemporary Washington comes off instead as slight - a Me and You and Everyone We Know for misanthropes," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine.

Updates, 9/12: "Jerry Lewis has made a brilliant career out of playing stupid, but you never feel as if he loathes his disorderly orderlies because they're slow on the uptake," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The Coens in turn have made their careers with impeccable technique and an exaggerated visual style - they sure love their low-angle shots and traveling cameras - but it's a wonder they keep making films about a subject for which they often evince so little regard, namely other people."

"[I]t's entirely possible that Burn After Reading is some multifilm concept comedy - that No Country for Old Men was a feature-length diversionary tactic from the Coens' strategy of trying the patience of their most dedicated admirers," suggests Richard Corliss in Time. "They started with that aimless farce The Ladykillers and bring the geste to fruition with their latest enervating caper. If this is so, they've managed a pretty complex joke, and it's on you. Too bad it isn't funny."

"Part of the problem is a plot twist two-thirds of the way through that abruptly changes the tone from devil-may-care lark to nihilistic joke," argues Slate's Dana Stevens. "I've written before on the Coens' sadism toward their audience. The brothers' penchant for pulling out the rug from beneath our feet and then snickering when we fall down was what kept me from giving myself over to the otherwise powerful No Country for Old Men. A similar tactic undercuts the momentum of Burn After Reading; when something awful happens to one of the few characters worth rooting for, the energy simply rushes out of the movie."

"The film is hilarious in patches, shocking in patches, utterly convincing in patches and close to brilliant in patches," finds Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "As with the much-laureled No Country for Old Men, the Coens seem to be Mixmastering themes and elements of their earlier films; there are traces of Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Blood Simple in the DNA of Burn After Reading. But those comparisons aren't likely to benefit this work of lightweight inside-the-Beltway misanthropy, which possesses neither the morbid, cinematic gravity of their better crime films nor the absurd delirium of their best comedies."

"[T]he transition from Oscar-winning masterpiece to this mess is especially depressing," sighs David Fear in Time Out New York. "Burn After Reading is a disposable lark, and it's treated by the filmmakers as such; Forget After Seeing would be a far more honest title."

"No classic for old Coen fans, their new film... is nonetheless a perfectly enjoyable yarn," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "It's a little like observing mice in tutus and tuxedos scurrying their silly ways through a maze, and, well, you couldn't ask for better choreographers."

"Burn doesn't look like comedies - especially those with such antic performances - are supposed to look, all bright light and reflective surfaces," notes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. "It isn't edited that way, either. The Coens leave just enough air around their punch lines to give the movie a deadpan feel, as if reminding us that some jokes are funny right up the point that they're not."

"[T]his is about as dark and nihilistic as comedies are allowed to get before the laughter dies bitterly on your lips," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"This is not a great Coen brothers' film," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Nor is it one of their bewildering excursions off the deep end. It's funny, sometimes delightful, sometimes a little sad, with dialogue that sounds perfectly logical until you listen a little more carefully and realize all of these people are mad."

"[W]hatever emotions are built up in the film's first two-thirds make the abrupt, goof-off ending feel that much more like a slap in face for even caring," writes Josef Braun in the Vue Weekly. "My advice would be not to bother caring, but still see the movie. It's pretty slight, adds up to very little, but nonetheless features enough inspired non-sequiters to entertain."

"It's like finding the current American condition unexpectedly reflected in a funhouse mirror. You may first resist the forced archness (an all-star, Oscar-rich cast cavorting like they don't know any better), but something's poignant in all this anarchy - even though the Coens never go for pathos," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Expert satirists, the Coens leave modern absurdity in suspension. Burn After Reading pulls an enormously bold switcheroo: It evades the title's implied political parody - that hideous Borat shtick of laughing at others - to suggest that the most ridiculous, laughable Americans are ourselves."

"Burn's land of the perpetually deluded works as an amusing place to visit, but an even better place to flee," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

Updates, 9/13: "Complaining that the Coen Brothers can be a little too smart-alecky is like bitching that de Sica was excessively humanistic: more than a little obvious, and completely beside the point," argues Glenn Kenny. "They am what they am, and putting aside the proposition that there's some moral/ethical prerogative to privilege humanism over smart-aleck-ness, how well you'll appreciate/enjoy these filmmakers' works depends on how readily you're willing to key into (which doesn't necessarily mean agree with) their perspectives. For myself, I found the Coens' latest, Burn After Reading, to be their most perfectly constructed live-action-cartoon film since Raising Arizona."

"A convoluted plot about misplaced documents is supposed to provide hilarity, but generic jokes about internet dating, automated phone systems, and daytime television aren't my idea of fun," writes Jürgen Fauth. "With nobody to care for and nothing at stake, Burn After Reading goes through its paces in fits and starts, lurching through scenes in which nasty, stupid people get increasingly nasty and stupid, with predictably violent results."

The Coens are "not just messing with you; by taking their last film's most significant criticism and making it even more noticeable, they're also making fun of themselves, and that idea of self-parody reverberates through every frame of their latest movie," argues Matt Singer at IFC.

"Tonally, Burn is something of a mess," writes Bill Weber in Slant. Still, "The jokey wrap-up of the film sees nearly all the principals' fates summarized or foretold by a flummoxed pair of intelligence higher-ups (David Rasche and JK Simmons) who've shrugged their way through developments surrounding the Cox disc ('Get back to me... when it makes sense'). While this smells of recurring Coen misanthropy, as a state-of-the-union punchline, it'll do; as obsessed as you may be about your serial fucking, cosmetic surgery or future in consulting, you're a few accidents away from having it all checkmarked away in a bureaucratic Olympus."

At the SpoutBlog, Kevin Kelly chats with Tilda Swinton and a bit longer with the Coens themselves.

Update, 9/14: "[O]ne gets the impression that with just a few cuts, the film could be a gut-busting laugh riot or a taut bit of suspense," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "What actually wound up on screen, however, feels like all and none of the above at the same time."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:39 AM | Comments (2)

Venice and Toronto. The Hurt Locker.

"The Iraq war, which dominated last year's Venice in films such as Redacted and In the Valley of Elah, returned in the most anticipated of the last films shown this year," writes Nick James in the Observer.

The Hurt Locker

"But Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, a taut, intimate war movie about a three-man bomb disposal squad, was not enough to redeem this weak festival. Despite a 'war is hell' gloss and terrific street atmosphere built by really excellent acting, camerawork and editing, it could pass for propaganda."

But for Time's Richard Corliss, "The Hurt Locker is a near-perfect movie about men in war, men at work. Through sturdy imagery and violent action, it says that even Hell needs heroes." Bigelow "has paraded her adroitness with complex stories about oddball characters in two curious subgenres: Near Dark (1987) was the all-time teenage vampire love story, Point Break (1991) the all-time surfer-heist movie. The scriptwriter, Marc Boal, is a journalist for Rolling Stone, the Village Voice and Playboy, which ran a story that Paul Haggis expanded into the sharpest of last year's Iraq-related dramas, In the Valley of Elah. These two filmmakers have pooled their complementary talents to make one of the rare war movies that's strong but not shrill, and sympathetic to guys doing an impossible job.

"Just when you think the battle of Iraq war dramas has been fought and lost, along comes one that demands to be seen - if you can handle the raging adrenaline," writes Peter Howell in the Toronto Star.

"Often gripping at a straight thriller level, but increasingly weakened by its fuzzy (and hardly original) psychology, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, centered on an elite US bomb squad in Baghdad, doesn't bring anything new to the table of grunts-in-the-firing-line movies," writes Derek Elley in Variety.

For the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen talks with both director and screenwriter. Boal: "The most important distinction that was in our minds is that none of the [Iraq war] movies that have come out so far, or were in development when we were in development, were combat movies. They were all either political polemic, or they were home-front, domestic dramas. And we felt what distinguished us was nobody was really doing the in-the-trenches, soldier's-point-of-view kind of classic war film. To me, that's a big point of difference."

Update, 9/10: Scott Foundas: "Bigelow's film may not be, in formal terms, as radical and innovative a work as Brian De Palma's Redacted, but it's nevertheless a unique and worthy addition to the canon of cinematic texts about the Iraq campaign - the first, I think, that really tries to understand what motivates the men (and in Bigelow's army, there are only men) who join a volunteer military in times of war. It also happens to be a first-class piece of visceral action moviemaking."

Update, 9/12: Online viewing tip. Anne Thompson talks with Bigelow.

Update, 9/13: "As in HBO's recent mini-series Generation Kill, the focus in The Hurt Locker is hard-earned, strict military realism, in terms of both style and the candid, straightforward, episodic narrative," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Anything outside the professional activity of these three men pales in meaning and, sadly for the film, in conceptualization and execution, when compared to the swift, expert evocation of their turbulent, highly exposed, and tightly team-reliant action in the field."

James Rocchi, writing at Cinematical, finds it "an assured, confident, swaggering piece of moviemaking that manages to not only evoke every war of the 20th century but also, despite the claims by makers and some reviewers that it's an 'apolitical' film, speaks very specifically to the Iraq war."

Update, 9/17: Kevin Kelly talks with Bigelow for the SpoutBlog.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:08 AM | Comments (2)

DVDs, 9/9.

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis "All [Jack] Smith ever wanted was to create a new world for himself, separate from the mundane, ugly and unjust world he saw around him, and if we know his name today, it's because he largely succeeded," writes Michael Atkinson. "Mary Jordan's documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis (2007) is, for a new generation with heretofore unprecedented access (on DVD) to the entire legacy of experimental film, a smashing introduction into the world of mid-century, iconic DIY rooftop moviemaking, where penniless idiosyncrats could become world famous with a borrowed camera, some thrift-store accoutrements and the will to transgress."

Also reviewed is It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, "one of the great masterpieces of American television, a waist-high autumnal idyll like no other, and as evocative of a preteen universe - a place where Halloween has epochal significances, if it's always difficult to figure out exactly what they are - as any film made in English."

And also at IFC: "Produced by [Jamie] Kennedy and directed by Michael Addis, Heckler is a deeply personal and often funny doc about the relationship between performers and their critics, right down to heated confrontations between Kennedy and his online eviscerators. The film features a surprising gamut of talking heads: comedians like Patton Oswalt and Kathy Griffin make sense, as do directors like George Lucas and Uwe Boll, but who would've suspected to hear from Christopher Hitchens, Larry Flynt and Jewel in the same film?" Aaron Hillis talks with Kennedy about hecklers and other critics.

Road House "It it weren't shot entirely in a studio, and instead strayed onto some actual sunlit locations, Road House would probably qualify as a film soleil, i.e., a 'noir' with brighter settings and a modern moral complexity," writes DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "Like Leave Her to Heaven, it has a woodsy bucolic setting, this film set in an unnamed state not far from the Canadian border.... [D]espite being a melodrama, Fox still made sure that the film looked great (it's shot by Joseph LaShelle who did a lot of Preminger and Wilder films) and art directed by Maurice Ransford and Lyle Wheeler, who create an expansive restaurant - dance hall - bar - bowling alley complex unlike anything you've ever seen, and which partakes of the lushness of post war expansionism. Bowling alleys have a surprisingly robust history in film noir. Modern times, however, are surprisingly more noirish, as we mostly bowl alone."

"The best reason for buying a Blu-ray player right now is Warner Home Video's high-definition version of How the West Was Won, a film made 46 years ago in the highest-definition moving picture medium the world had seen: Cinerama." Dave Kehr sketches a history of the process and its challenges in the New York Times. "The images are so crisp as to feel almost unreal; the depth of field seems dreamlike, infinite, with the blades of grass in the foreground as sharply in focus as the snow-capped mountains in the distant background."

"Andy Warhol once said, 'Sometimes I like to be bored, and sometimes I don't. It depends what kind of mood I'm in.' My mood could be called Sunday night, and Joy House bored me in exactly the right way." Vince Keenan.

The Lovers "Along with Truffaut's 400 Blows and Godard's Breathless (both released a year later, in 1959), [Louis Malle's] The Lovers is the most extraordinary of early New Wave films, and the first to set out the basic style," writes Mark Gross in Films in Review.

Glenn Kenny's "Monday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report" in the Auteurs' Notebook: "In anticipation of the Film Forum retro, I dipped back into a splendid Region 2 box set from British outfit itv, the 9-disc The David Lean Collection."

"Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's Klassenverhältnisse (Class Relations) adapts a posthumously published but unfinished Franz Kafka novel known as Amerika - a title given to it by Max Brod after Kafka's death," notes Dave McDougall in the Auteurs' Notebook. "The Filmmuseum DVD edition makes good on its billing as a study edition."

"As a home movie, even the butchered Don Quixote has transcendent moments," writes Gary Giddins in the New York Sun.

Primary, Crisis and Faces of November: Kimbeley Lindbergs watches "history unfold in a way that is often more thought-provoking and honest than many modern documentaries."

The Fall "Watching Tarsem Singh's The Fall made me hate Guillermo Del Toro all the more for consistently locking me within plot-driven, petty geek-boxes of marketable fantasy," declares Will Lasky. "In contradistinction, Tarsem documents a visual universe that seems flung together and bereft of the structural, tonal gravitas and authorial control that Oscar loves." It's "a careful artwork that doesn't advertise its own gravitas. Perhaps that's the definition of a cult classic." More from David Lowery at Hammer to Nail: "How to wax ecstatic about Tarsem Singh's The Fall without merely praising the broad strokes of his imagery?"

Also at the House Next Door: "Gosh, though, I really do admire the art of Bruce Nauman, and I really do hate the movie about his artwork." Jeremiah Kipp on Bruce Nauman: Make Me Think.

"Dark City wasn't officially based on a Philip K Dick story, but it's closer in spirit to Dick (in books like Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, Time Out of Joint and A Maze of Death) than any of the official adaptations." The LA CityBeat's Andy Klein reviews the new director's cut, both the plain vanilla DVD and Blu-ray editions.

"Black Narcissus stands as a powerful exploration of what it means to live a life of distinctively Christian faith." John Adair.

"Given the fascinating, often troubled history behind the production, I had hoped the DVD extras would dish a little dirt, or at least provide new insight, into how Bright Lights, Big City got made," writes Jen Chaney in the Washington Post. "Other than a commentary by cinematographer Gordon Willis, who at least acknowledges that the original director, Joyce Chopra, was fired and eventually replaced by Jim Bridges, there is only brief mention of the problems that plagued the project. And no one even bothers to note that filmmaker Joel Schumacher and Tom Cruise were attached to Bright Lights for quite a while before both moved on to other things."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, Charlie at Cinema Strikes Back, DVD Talk and Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:19 AM

Nights at the Opera.

Gianni Schicchi Woody Allen's debut as an opera director seems to have come off well enough. For the Los Angeles Opera's new production of Puccini's trilogy of one-acts, Il Trittico, William Friedkin, an old hand at this, has directed the first two, Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica, while Allen's taken on the third, Gianni Schicchi. The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini finds Allen's work to be "a cleverly updated and inventive staging of the popular comedy, marred only by a regrettable directorial liberty at the end."

On the following day, Tommasini took in The Fly, based on David Cronenberg's 1986 remake of the 1958 B-Movie. As you'll have heard by now, Cronenberg directs; David Henry Hwang's written the libretto, Howard Shore, the music: "[D]espite the inventive staging and all-out efforts of an admirable cast - especially the courageous performance of the Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch as Seth Brundle, the obsessed scientist who morphs into the hideous creature he calls Brundlefly - The Fly is a ponderous and enervating opera, and the problem is Mr Shore's music."

"Just about any subject is ripe for opera," writes Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times. "The film world and lyric stage have been influencing and stealing from each other since the days of silents. Brundlefly is no less reasonable a character for musical amplification than Rigoletto.... I'm sorry to have to agree with the French critics who saw The Fly first and began the string of bad buzz jokes. The premiere was two months ago in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet, which co-commissioned the work. The reaction was unkind.... I am at a loss to understand why The Fly has turned out so dreary, despite the inclusion of sex, nudity, puppetry and athleticism."

Back to Puccini. Friedkin's one-acts constitute "a pair of smart, beautifully crafted, beautifully designed and beautifully performed productions that gave grit, grandeur and even a hint of class to old-fashioned melodrama," writes Swed. "Meanwhile, the self-deprecating Allen, who described himself to the Times recently as 'not the greatest choice in the world' to direct an opera, turned out to be the greatest choice in the world for the comic conclusion to Trittico."

Also in the LAT, Chloe Veltman watches Amy Tan coach singers in the run-up to Saturday's premiere of the San Francisco Opera's production of The Bonesetter's Daughter: "Five years ago, when this 56-year-old, Bay Area- and New York-based author embarked on the process of transforming into an opera her book about an American-born Chinese woman's relationship with her aging immigrant mother and ghostly Chinese grandmother, little did the first-time librettist imagine that she'd be working directly with the singers. 'I had no idea how opera was made,' says Tan, best known for her candid excavations of mother-daughter relationships in such bestsellers as The Joy Luck Club (she also co-wrote Wayne Wang's 1993 film adaptation) and The Kitchen God's Wife. 'I was mystified by the process.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 1:14 AM

September 8, 2008

Fests and events, 9/8.

Sam Peckinpah "[Sam] Peckinpah is an American maverick who makes Clint Eastwood look like John McCain," writes Andrew Hultkrans for Artforum. "His legion of imitators - has there ever been a director whose style has been so shamelessly, and shallowly, lifted? - mistook the bloodshed for bloodlust, deep melancholy for cheap comedy. For every Martin Scorsese, there's three or more pale riders - Quentin Tarantino, John Woo and Robert Rodriguez, say - whose balletic orgies of violence go no more than skin deep." Sam Peckinpah: Blood Poet runs at Harvard Film Archive through Friday.

"On Friday, the annual Flaherty Seminar will arrive for the first time at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a special three-day presentation of works," notes S James Snyder in the New York Sun. "The series, titled The Age of Migration, promises to explore 'how hybrid documentaries, video Web logs, and personal narratives have become vehicles which collapse physical distances and connect people to their homelands and their histories.'"

Robert Downey: A Prince, a revival of early work from Downey Jr's father, runs at the Anthology Film Archives from Friday through September 18. Ed Halter talks with Downey for Moving Image Source.

The All-seeing Eye It was Pierre Bismuth who came up with the original idea for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and he co-wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay with Charlie Kaufman. In the Guardian, Jessica Lack talks with him about his latest collaboration with Michel Gondry, The All-seeing Eye (the hardcore-techno version), on view at the BFI Southbank Gallery from September 12 through November 16. Lack: "Set in a bourgeois Parisian apartment, the camera slowly scans the object d'art scattered around the flat, from moose head to pot plant. The soundtrack comes from Eternal Sunshine played on a TV and Kirsten Dunst as Mary can be seen amiably intimidating the lovelorn Andy. As the camera rotates things start to disappear. First the books on the shelves, then the kitchen, then the scene out of the window until all that is left is a white cube."

Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door on Shoot the Piano Player, screening at Film Forum through Thursday: "[O]ut of all the rep options open to NYC residents this week, it's the easiest to attend and one of the most essential.... [W]ith a spangly new print and subtitles that do their (sometimes endearingly awkward) best to keep up with a dense selection of slangy song lyrics and Gallicized translations of already archaic American slang, it's pretty much an optimal viewing experience." More from filmmaker Chris Anthony Diaz.

At Filmmaker, Paul Krik, whose Able Danger opens in four cities, Thursday - that's right, 9/11 - lists his favorite conspiracy movies.

Independent Film Week, September 14 through 19, will open with Medicine for Melancholy.

Agustin Gurza previews the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival for the Los Angeles Times. September 12 through 19.

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

Venice and Toronto. The Wrestler.

The Wrestler First order of business: "In the first major buy of the Toronto International Film Festival, Fox Searchlight won an intense all-night bidding war for Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which days before had won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Fest. Searchlight acquired US rights for about $4 million." Variety's Anne Thompson has details.

Scott Foundas "had the chance to see Aronofsky's film earlier this summer during the selection screenings for the New York Film Festival (where it will be the closing-night gala on October 12) and again last week in LA, in a finished version that included the original song Bruce Springsteen has written for the end credits.... Aronofsky's film is no more just about wrestling than There Will Be Blood (the last American movie about which I felt this much enthusiasm) was a user's guide to oil drilling. Or, on second thought, maybe The Wrestler is all about wrestling - provided you take that to mean both the sport itself as well as what goes on outside the colored ropes, when the conquering hero returns to his dressing room and begins to grapple with those slippery questions of identity, self-worth and mortality that weigh heavy upon all men's souls."

Updated through 9/12.

"All praise to [Mickey Rourke], and to Darren Aronofsky for casting the actor and directing him to turn a standard fiction into quirky, coherent behavior," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "But the movie itself is pretty bad. My own anticipation sank with the opening credits: 'Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood." That list spelled out the plot: damaged veteran, middle-age girlfriend, young daughter. The Wrestler never rose above fight-movie bromides, never disspelled my gloom."

"Employing repeat handheld following shots, Aronofsky subtly and skillfully imagines the life and times of Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke), a wrestler 20 years past his prime, living in a trailer park who still performs body blows in small arenas for a few bucks at a time," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "While the backstage antics of the professional wrestlers planning for their bouts are as funny as they are revealing, Aronofsky credibly stages the fights, which are both amusing and grotesquely violent.... We've seen much of this before - once renegade, now over-the-hill protagonist tries to reconcile with his past and present (there's one effective, direct nod to Raging Bull). But in its evocative depressed New Jersey milieu and Rourke's sad tour-de-force performance as a man literally bloodied and beaten down, The Wrestler is a strong and intimate work that should go far."

"So what's The Wrestler about?" Eugenio Renzi opens a discussion before closing the Cahiers du cinéma Venice journal, noting, "The film pleased the critics as much as the public. It is both a popular film and an auteur film."

Alison Willmore rounds up more reviews and linkage.

Updates, 9/9: "Many have already written about the parallels between Mickey Rourke and the swaggering, scarred wrestler he plays - early success, fame and notoriety, a series of mis-steps and mistakes taking it all away bit by bit as the years advanced - and the charge Rourke's own rise and fall offers a filmmaker like Aronofsky looking to explore ruin and redemption." James Rocchi at Cinematical: "But don't believe the hype - or, more importantly, look past it; if a complicated, messy personal life were all it took to deliver a great performance, Paris Hilton and OJ Simpson would have more Oscars than Katharine Hepburn. Rourke's work as Randy is physical, invested, powerful and sprawling - but it's also quiet, sad and hauntingly wounded, too.... The Wrestler is one of the most grimly exciting, magnetically repellent movies we've had in a long time; it's flat-out one of the best American movies of 2008."

"[I]t would be easy to imagine The Wrestler playing on the Hallmark Channel," writes Jim Emerson. "All they'd have to do is letterbox it, bleep some words and pixellate some nipples. You might have liked it better when it was called... Tender Mercies, or Atlantic City or [your title here]."

"All in all, a fine movie, and so what if Wallace Beery played pretty much the same part in 1931's The Champ?" asks the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "He won an Oscar doing it, and what Rourke does here is worthy of awards as well. I never thought I'd type those words, but time and movies are funny things."

"[T]his movie has its milieu down cold," notes Noel Murray at the AV Club, "from the under-filled small-town arenas that host the after-market wrestling circuit to the upbeat 80s metal and seedy strip clubs that form the foundations of the hero's habitat."

Update, 9/10: Online listening tip. James Rocchi talks with Aronofsky for Cinematical.

Online viewing tip. Variety's Anne Thompson has a good talk with Aronofsky, too.

Updates, 9/12: "Compared to Aronofsky's past work, The Wrestler is normal incarnate, trading in the symmetrical, controlled rigor of the filmmaker's last two films for a semi-convincing handheld, gritty-blue lower-class aesthetic, and lets Rourke reap in the pathos of a character who is so good-hearted and warm it is hard to believe his dead-beat reputation," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Solid, earnest, and of some interest, Aronofsky's film nevertheless risks nothing other than the accusation of industrial safety; but if this is what a film compromised to make a bid for a more complex and personal work looks like, there really is little to object to."

Geoffrey Macnab profiles Rourke for the Independent.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:22 PM

Cineaste. Fall 2008.

Cineaste Fall 08 A new issue of Cineaste is always good news, but this time around there's one blaring headline item that'll be newsiest for most Daily readers: "Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet: A Critical Symposium." The Editors explain what they're after in conducting their survey of nearly two dozen critics, some of whom have made their widely respected names primarily in print, others of whom are read and appreciated almost exclusively online, and then add: "We hope that we can also finally put to rest some of the hoarier accusations (often made by ignorant print critics) that Internet criticism is riddled with amateurs who are diluting once-vibrant print standards. While bad writing and sloppiness are all too common in both print and Internet criticism, the list of affiliations in our symposium convincingly drives home the point that, for reasons of both economic necessity and choice, the distinctions between print professionals and online amateurs are loosening, and at times becoming indecipherably fuzzy."

Updated through 9/13.

Andrew Grant has already done a fine job of laying out the issues at hand and mapping many of the participants' stands on them. I just want to add a word of thanks to the Editors and to many of the participants for their generous recognition of the Daily and to note that the conversation will go on - online, of course, but also at this year's New York Film Festival, where I'll have the honor of taking part in the panel "Film Criticism in Crisis?" on September 27.

Marco Abel's longish piece on the "Berlin School" may not be as newsy as all that, but it's an extraordinarily valuable contribution to film criticism in English: "[T]he label has unquestionably become part of the daily vocabulary of German film critics—so much so that discussions of the merits of individual films are often subordinated to considerations of them as examples of this school. That this de-singularization is something neither filmmakers nor more adventurous film critics are particularly fond of is understandable.... I still think the label remains useful because it enables the description and even advocacy of a cinema that otherwise finds itself ignored by a mainstream press more concerned with the latest box office numbers than with challenging its readers to seek out films that actively try to re-envision what German cinema could be(come)." You may remember that Abel interviewed Christian Petzold for the last issue.

Interviews:

  • "All of [William] Klein's films reflect his deeply political, profoundly independent-minded sensibility, but they have done so in unmistakably diverse ways." Jared Rapfogel.

  • Andrew Hedden: "Battle in Seattle may yet prove the same with its audiences - and as Stuart Townsend explains in the following interview, inspiration is clearly his intention."

Military Intelligence and You!
  • "Given that Dale Kutzera is a self-proclaimed admirer of classical Hollywood, one should not be surprised to learn that his feature-film debut, Military Intelligence and You!, mixes a wartime satire with actual clips from 1940s war films featuring the likes of Alan Ladd, Ronald Reagan and William Holden," writes Doug Cunningham. "The surprise is that the clips don't come from Hollywood films. Instead, Kutzera has unearthed training films produced by the US Army Air Forces First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU), a World War II military organization that recruited hundreds of talented studio artists, including actors, directors, and writers, and put them in uniform for the war effort."

"How could a film stir such conflicting emotions - and from exactly the opposite sources where one might expect them?" Karen Backstein on Elite Squad.

"The twin poles of contemporary cinema - the realism of duration, human consciousness and actual place on one end, and the fantasy of CGI, comic-book perspective, with its anyplace-at-all-but-this on the other - might not seem at first blush to suggest a shift beyond where it all began, with the Lumières and Méliès," writes Robert Koehler, who goes on to define what differentiates these seemingly opposing approaches. Then: "It was between 1957 and 1960 when, in Los Angeles, Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers and Joseph Strick made The Savage Eye (1960), John Cassavetes shot most of Shadows (1959) and, most importantly, Kent Mackenzie made The Exiles. And Mackenzie's film, more than most, is a study in the cinematic twin poles made manifest on screen, since he applies an absolutely rigorous realism to every moment and detail, while casting a sympathetic look at a group of people trying to escape from the humdrum of their daily lives."

"The Visitor is a film about accidental encounters and life-changing incidents," writes Isabelle Dupuis. "Although its bold ambition is to examine the personal repercussions of the US government's increasingly stringent crackdown on illegal immigration in the post-9/11 era, in the end, it is best remembered for its portrayal of a man who gradually opens up to the world and finds new meaning in life."

Love Unto Death "[T]he current neglect of [Alain Resnais's] oeuvre as a whole is scandalous," declares David Sterritt. "I hope the situation will start to change now that Kimstim and Kino International have released four neglected Resnais films from the 80s - one flat-out masterpiece, one near masterpiece, one beguiling misfire, and to round out the series, the most God-awful movie he ever made."

"The release of three of Ozu's silent films on English subtitled discs is a landmark moment in film history, even if it means that most of his thirty-four silents, along with those of most of his Japanese colleagues, remain unavailable," writes Catherine Russell. "These three films offer a glimpse of Ozu's early career, and they also offer remarkable insight into the social milieu, the anxieties, and the challenges facing working- and middle-class families during a period of rapid modernization."

Festival reports: Cynthia Lucia and Richard Porton on Tribeca and Richard Porton on the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival.

And book reviews:

  • Thomas Doherty on Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood: "Wry, production-wise, and hot-wired to the A-list artists, [Mark] Harris is a beguiling tour guide to a sputtering industry forced to retool and recast by a-changing times."

Screening Modernism
  • "In , Fellini's acerbic critic, Carini, complains that cinema (in 1963) lags 50 years behind the other arts," notes Diane Nemec Ignashev. "In Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema, 1950 - 1980, András Kovács offers a new take on how cinema not only caught up, but also 'found itself in a distinguished cultural position within Western culture, with filmmakers able to consider themselves the eminent representatives of Western culture.'"

  • Robert Gardner's Making Dead Birds: Chronicle of a Film "is not a book as we know it," writes Tom Cooper. "Rather this is an arrangement, both cubist and linear, of early 60s perspectives, documents, reflections, and communiqués about the making of a landmark 'sea change' film."

Update, 9/13: Peter Nellhaus ponders the concept of "film culture."

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

Anita Page, 1910 - 2008.

Anita Page "Anita Page, an MGM actress who appeared in films with Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford and Buster Keaton during the transition from silent movies to talkies, has died. She was 98." The AP reports.

"Page had successfully made the transition from silent films to talkies with The Broadway Melody [1929], the first '100% all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing' movie," notes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. By that time, "Page was receiving more than 10,000 fan letters a week, including reportedly more than 100 from Benito Mussolini, who asked her to marry him."

See also: the site and the Wikipedia entry.

Updated.

Update: "Hollywood history records a lot of ways women have dealt with possessing world-class looks," writes the Self-Styled Siren. "There are those who find it a cross from the beginning, test people constantly to make sure it isn't affecting every interaction, and wilt when they find it usually is. Others profess great disregard for their beauty but use the hell out of it all the same. Then there are the women who never bother to conceal how much they love being stunning, and flaunt it like a gambler's winnings. So firmly did the ravishing Anita Page belong to that last group that even after time had done its damage, she scarcely seemed to notice, retaining the ways and prerogatives of a beauty even as she approached the century mark."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:19 AM

September 7, 2008

Toronto Dispatch. 2.

We last heard from Michael Sicinski a few days ago, when he previewed the Wavelengths program. Now the festival's off and running - and so is he.

Toronto 08 This brief dispatch comes after three complete days of the Toronto International Film Festival, where some, rather prematurely I think, are already grumbling that 2008 is an off year for TIFF, if not world cinema in general. Granted, at this point there's quite a lot riding on Toronto, since the results are already in from Berlin (disastrous), Cannes (feh), and most recently, Venice (not quite as bad as Berlin, but just about). There's also a lot of carping about which films have been excluded from this or that festival line-up, Toronto's included. I don't mean to make myself sound like a mere observer to this bitching and moaning, and I'll have a lot more to say about it after Toronto is over. But given the fact that the other festivals have bellyflopped, one gets the sense that the press corps is sniffing around for a hidden gem. Save us, TIFF!

So far, my sampling of the films by younger directors has been, to put it mildly, a mixed bag. The worst film I've seen in a walk, Jagor Gardev's Zift [site], is the sort of anti-art film sure to make a certain stripe of North American straight-to-video distributor whip out its checkbook, but it has no place in a film festival predicated on anything resembling good taste. Think Guy Ritchie-style laddishness with Ostalgia, a kind of post-Communist hangover film laden with unreconstructed misogyny. A number of other films, actually have had me replaying that Beastie Boys line in my head: "This disrespectin' women has got to be through." Films which are presumably exploring the interior worlds of characters mired in either typical adolescent-boy urges or woman-hating midlife crisis bullshit are proving to be incapable of staking out any directorial or writerly distance from their protagonists or subject matter.

Acne Sometimes you hear certain critics complain that this or that filmmaker isn't "generous with [his/her] characters." Well, be careful what you wish for! Federico Veiroj's Acné is an unfunny Uruguayan-Jewish comedy about Bregman the insensitive sensitive rich kid whose parents are divorcing, who borrows money to treat his friends at the brothel, and thinks about going to a kibbutz because "Israel's got tits." Veiroj is so enamored with the Bregman character (he was also the focus of his debut short, As Follows) and the young actor who plays him, Alejandro Tocar, that he will let the film stand or fall on cutesy American Pie charm and smarm. (Sample gag: guys sullenly wait for their turn at the whorehouse, like they're at the dentist. Ah, it's so hard out there for a pimple.)

Kristian Levring's Fear Me Not operates in a completely different register but arrives at very similar conclusions. No Dogme 95 here, it's all chilly pseudo-Haneke as Mikael (Ulrich Thomsen) a bureaucrat puttering around the house after taking a rest leave, begins a clinical trial of an anti-depressant. There are odd side effects, and the trial is cancelled, but Mikael surreptitiously keeps taking the pills. Soon he's standing up to his quite lovely but allegedly ball-busting architect wife (Paprika Steen, stranded here) and spooking their daughter (Emma Sehested Høeg). A crypto-remake of Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life but without the wit or the compassion, this film purports to have Mikael's sexist bully in its crosshairs but fundamentally ends up corroborating his viewpoint. Fear Me Not? Oh, no. Be afraid...

Now onto the good stuff.

Jerichow The most pleasant surprise thus far has been Jerichow, the latest film from Germany's Christian Petzold. While word out of Venice was quite strong on this one - in fact, it has generally been cited as one of about four films in the Competition lineup that had any real business being there - I still wasn't prepared for the phenomenal leap forward that this new film represents in Petzold's filmmaking. I should point out that I've been a bit of a skeptic regarding Petzold. While I have appreciated his two previous films, Ghosts and Yella, for their intellectual agenda and Petzold's rigorous style, particularly his ability to transform natural landscapes in the former East into vacuum-sealed, surrealistic non-spaces, I also found those earlier films rather obvious in their aims. By contrast, Jerichow finds the director now capable of fully occupying his character's emotional worlds while also, when necessary, maintaining a critical distance. This distance is no longer clinical; we're no longer watching specimens under glass.

As some reviews have already noted, Jerichow is in essence a reworking of a specific film noir classic, one that I will refrain from naming to avoid needless spoilers. (You can find the information elsewhere quite easily.) We have a love triangle between Thomas (Benno Fürmann), a petty thief looking to start over, Ali (Hilmi Sözer), a wealthy Turkish immigrant Thomas meets by chance, and Laura (Nina Hoss), Ali's attractive German wife. Ali operates a chain of snack bars but has his driver's license revoked due to a DUI, and hires Thomas as a driver. Soon they become friends, but the attraction between Thomas and Laura, natürlich, is instantaneous. As with Yella, but to far greater visceral impact, Petzold plays with semi-misdirection. That is, it's never clear that either he or the film is actively trying to deceive you in the manner of classic Hollywood plots. Rather, Jerichow layers the typical structure of the noir onto the seething, unspoken resentments created by years of German racism against immigrant Turks. This could have been clunky and artificial but, due in large part to Sözer's heartbreaking performance as Ali, Petzold is able to turn our sympathies and our entire history of spectatorial identification inside out. Certain anomalies that may look like flaws at first, like some shockingly florid trysts and especially some highly wooden acting by Hoss and Fürmann, gradually reveal themselves to be integral weapons in Jerichow's emotional and political arsenal. The result is a film that picks up the Sirkian project from Fassbinder in a way that seems, for the first time, completely logical, as though we've finally found the heir apparent. In any case, I doubt I'll see a finer film this year than Jerichow.

Another very pleasant surprise, and certainly sure to be a festival highlight for me, was Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool. As with Petzold, Alonso is a major figure in world cinema who has come to prominence in the past decade, and as with Petzold, I've never been as fully convinced regarding Alonso's project as many of my peers. I've admired aspects of La libertad and to a much greater extent Los Muertos, but it seemed to me that the Argentinean director's style was often at odds with itself. A certain austerity and avant-garde sense of control was either undone by, or unsuited for, films that had a Romantic streak and an uncontainable primeval force. With Liverpool, Alonso has achieved a new confidence and a sense of purpose that has lost none of its mystery despite having become as clear as crystal.

Liverpool

At the center of Liverpool is Farrel (Juan Fernandez), a shipworker and a drunk who appears to have left his frozen hometown and his family behind many years ago. In the opening scenes, Alonso shows us something rather new in his world - a worker in the confines of a world almost completely manmade. True, we see the ocean rushing by, but the presence of Farrel in his steel bunk or working the boiler room provides a claustrophobic and also a comforting, cradling new environment for an Alonso protagonist. Compositions can settle around the figure without undue agitation, and the ship's hull allows for totally new qualities of light that have previously been absent in Alonso's work, such as the collision of fluorescent and incandescent bulbs at dusk as Farrel offboards the ship to begin the journey home. The obviousness of Alonso's structure here, from an enclosed metallic world into an open, snowy landscape, takes nothing away from the visual and spatial experience that Liverpool creates within this structure, and in fact, as with many avant-garde projects, Alonso's benefits greatly from the imposition of this objective shape.

Alonso's previous films have all featured non-professional actors, and while many of the people who populate Farrel's old village are clearly played by non-pros, I am not at all certain about Juan Fernandez. His bearing throughout the film as Farrel is also something that strikes me as radically new in Alonso's cinema. He is more expressive of interior psychology, of the toll the years of guilt have taken. The film itself has the objective movement of a spatial rearrangement, from seascape to rough, unkempt landscape, but Farrel's downbeat quest provides something additional, a level of narrativity that the landscape itself seems to reject. Whether or not Fernandez is a professional actor, his comportment and even his face and body represent a certain phenotype of the art-cinema male. He looks like Jean-Pierre Leaud and Vincent Gallo. As he finally arrives home, Farrel discovers that - corny, I know - "you can't go home again," but more than this, that there is a rhythm of life in the village that is more in keeping with the rest of Alonso's cinema than Farrel or the nautical world he came from. So, one of the things that is most fascinating about Liverpool is that it is a subtle self-examination on Alonso's part, a dialectical rethinking of his own project. Many have praised Liverpool for being a more conventional film than La libertad or Los Muertos, but this misses the point a bit. Farrel, as the agent of that conventional narrative thrust, is ultimately outcast. He isn't just a drunk or a bad father; he also brings with him a certain self-consciousness and artifice that, in the best of circumstances, we call art, and in the worst of times there's often no space for the life observed rather than lived. But as the final shot indicates, we, the characters, and Alonso have been changed for having undergone this quest. Liverpool is certainly a far more difficult film than Jerichow, and in the current unfavorable distribution climate, it'll be a tough sell. But I sincerely hope more viewers get the chance to see it. It is one of the year's best films, and ought to cement Alonso's place in world cinema's top echelon.

Dorsky @ Views The Wavelengths section premiered two new works by Nathaniel Dorsky, Winter and Sarabande, which will fortunately screen again in October as part of Views from the Avant-Garde. While all of Dorsky's work demands and rewards repeat viewings, these new films took me somewhat by surprise since they reflect a subtle shift in Dorsky's imagemaking, one for which I wasn't quite prepared. The films have taken their time seeping into my mind and I am starting to gain a toehold with them, I think. But these comments should be taken as highly preliminary and speculative, if not outright scattershot. One of the hallmarks of Dorsky's filmmaking in the phase that began with Triste and, to some extent, may have ended with the magnificent Song and Solitude, has been a meticulous montage style that actively worked against ideational associations or, in many cases, obviously formal or abstract ones. Instead, each shot in a Dorsky film always seemed determined to retain its individuality and absolute presence on the screen. It wasn't there to move you ahead or refer you back to an "elsewhere" in the film, but to co-exist as a unique intensity of light, color and shadow. Within this overall scheme, of course, patterns and themes emerged, and there was always a discernible logic as to why any given series of individual shots comprised a single film. Recalling Arthur Peleshian's theory of "distance montage," Dorsky's editing would keep obvious correspondences apart while yielding a broad, total impression that unmistakable expanded in the consciousness of the attentive viewer. Active intuition, rather than logical assemblage, was the primary spectatorial faculty these films requested.

Sarabande

Winter and Sarabande function somewhat differently. Although this is a crass simplification of the two films, it is nonetheless fair to say that Winter is a study of the bisection of the frame by diagonals, while Sarabande takes the previous film's color palette into a realm of heightened movement, specifically focusing on twisting and torquing forms as they reflect and diffract light. Within avant-garde film production, centering one's film on such abstract forms as perceived in the world is a grand tradition, but it's one that up to now Dorsky seemed to have actively abjured. Certain shot combinations within Winter recall the finest films of Ernie Gehr, which of course is some of the highest praise I can dole out. I do not think that these new films are fixated on abstract structure. Like Gehr's films, they are too alive, too attentive to what's happening in the world around them. But it does seem that Dorsky is perhaps no longer working so assiduously to avoid the perception of structures, or suppress their emergence. Likewise, there are singularly stunning reds and greens, or layered multiple reflections, but more than in any of Dorsky's previous works there are not singular standout shots in Winter and Sarabande. Rather, they function as all-over compositions with a relatively stable timbre and pitch. This was an instance when Dorsky's admiration for Ozu and Bresson, two modernists dedicated to construction from elements of equal weight, struck me as important for accessing his own work.

Sarabande

Winter is, as you might expect, a film largely characterized by blues and grays; however, from the opening shot Dorsky shows us an aspect of the film's treatment of light that will recur at frequent but irregular intervals. Against black shadows on pavement, a short diagonal shaft of hot sunlight draws and undraws itself on the right hand side of the frame, presumably as an unseen door opens and closes. Winter is frequently about intensities of light characterized by their fragility or near-disappearance. Although like all of Dorsky's work, the film is firmly material and unshackled by needless metaphor, the jagged diagonals did strike me as somehow apposite as an objective correlative to the snowless San Francisco winters, a sharp, biting cold you cannot really see. This is only my interpretation, of course. But reducing Dorsky's films to narratives and symbols is always to miss the point and to undercut their power. On the other hand, as is often the case with Dorsky's work, there is a bone-dry wit at work. One shot in Winter features a poodle cocking its head, another variation on the diagonal but one with concrete resonance. And at the conclusion of both films, Dorsky provides a radical departure from the rhythms and forms to which everything up to that point had been getting you accustomed. In Sarabande a series of sunlit blossoms begins vibrating, the stillness of the camerawork suddenly shattered. At the conclusion of Winter, the varied images in depth give way to a compact montage sequence featuring beads of rain on a black car hood, glinting in the sun. The multiple views and angles of this flat field, bedecked with jewels of light, was gorgeous and immediately called to mind the paintings of Ross Bleckner. Dorsky follows this, by the way, with a flattened, perpendicular shot of windows and a wall, about the least diagonal thing one could photograph. There's not only a clear sense of play at work here, but (please pardon the expression) an "exit strategy," the indication that Dorsky has taken us somewhere and is easing us back into a more neutral visual world.

In my next dispatch, I'll have something to say about Hirokazu Kore-eda's new film, Still Walking, another pleasant surprise, although one of a slightly lesser order. In the meantime, it is a film I definitely recommend. Cannes' rejection of it has less to do with quality than the fact that Kore-eda committed a cardinal sin against that festival's ground rules. He made a comedy.

- Michael Sicinski


(Forgive me for stealing a couple of images, Danny.)

Posted by dwhudson at 4:19 PM | Comments (11)

Fall previews. NYT, LAT, etc.

The New York Times' preview of what we might as well call the Serious Season opens with a profile from Dennis Lim:

Wendy and Lucy

"Michelle Williams has an Academy Award nomination, the open adulation of major filmmakers and a résumé that is striking in its worldliness and creative ambition. But if her career has seemed to progress almost inconspicuously, it is partly because of its introspective bent - small movies, subtle performances - and partly because it has lately existed in the shadow of her personal life." And there's an accompanying slide show; this fall, she'll be seen in - besides the tabloids - Synecdoche, New York and Wendy and Lucy.

Updated through 9/12.

"The current line on independent film, depending on who's doing the spinning and why, is that it's dead, in crisis or at least in trouble." But is it, asks Manohla Dargis, if all we mean by that is that the major studios are chopping off their specialty arms? "If all the studios followed the lead of Time Warner and got out of the indie film business, it might help a film like Ballast find its way into the larger world, though that's no guarantee. And perhaps that's the wrong way to look at it. Guarantees are for washing machines, after all, not art, and films like Ballast and Wendy and Lucy don't need big distributors, a mass audience or a Spirit Award to prove their worth."

Ballast

More from AO Scott on what the hell is going on. Last year, movies from the specialty divisions "were sent out into a brutally competitive marketplace, a Hobbesian battlefield of each against all. Competition may be healthy, but in this case the odds of winning seemed to grow increasingly long as the victories became pyrrhic." And now: "Will there now be fewer? Would that be a bad thing?"

The Los Angeles Times' fall preview isn't easy to find, but you might start with the photo gallery.

In the Boston Globe's fall arts preview, Wesley Morris and Ty Burr spot a trend in the slate of upcoming movies: "If this summer showed us a grim future (thank you, WALL-E and Batman), fall wants to bring us a happy past. The ultra-serious or super-dark dramas that regularly populate fall lineups have been replaced with lots of starry Hollywood entertainments that either are set in the past or feel like throwbacks. If levity doesn't completely abound, it's certainly easier than usual to find - there's more glamour, too." Also: Leslie Brokaw looks ahead to the local festivals.

With Dave Kehr's amazing release schedule in the NYT as a guide (the September page may or may not be online, but here's October, November and December), and without going the overly thorough route, here are some of the highlights of the season that leap out at first glance:

This Friday, September 12:

Righteous Kill

Wednesday, September 17:

September 19:

  • Amexicano. Ronnie Scheib in Variety: "Constantly unpredictable yet totally organic, this low-key tale of an improbable friendship between an out-of-work Italian-American and a young Mexican illegal alien in Queens maintains an engaging, even keel through bumpy tonal shifts that would derail most indie outings."

Battle in Seattle

September 26:

Choke

October 1:

October 3:

Religulous

October 8:

October 10:

Happy-Go-Lucky

October 17:

What Just Happened?

October 22:

October 24:

Let the Right One In

October 31:

November 7:

November 14:

A Christmas Tale

November 19:

November 21:

November 26:

Australia

November 28:

  • Slumdog Millionaire. From Danny Boyle. Reviews from Telluride.

    December 3:

    December 5:

    Frost/Nixon

    December 10:

    December 12:

    Doubt

    December 19:

    December 24:

    December 26:

    The Secret of the Grain

    "The New Season," an "Arts & Leisure" package in the NYT, previews much more than movies, of course, and there's a piece from theater critic Ben Brantley that'll be of interest to film folk: "Broadway, it seems, has eclipsed Playboy as the place to make Hollywood pay attention. There was a time when female movie stars who felt they were being ignored by the industry took off their clothes for Hugh Hefner's magazine. Now they brush up their Shakespeare - or Schnitzler or Miller - and hit Gotham. Of course if you can manage to be naked while appearing in a production with cultural cachet, as [Nicole] Kidman did [in The Blue Room], then you're really in business."

    For the NYT, Charles Taylor and Stephanie Zacharek preview the season in DVD releases.

    The LAT also has a preview of books coming out this season.

    Online viewing tip. Karen Durbin talks about the performances she's highlighting this season.

    Now then. A couple of weeks ago, I posted an entry, "New York. Fall Preview," and kept adding to it for about a week as other previews appeared. I'll do the same here, though, who knows, a package of some sort might pop up that'll need an entry of its own.

    Updates, 9/8: Time's "47 Things to See, Hear, and Do This Fall."

    Guardian critics pick their highlights for the season in the UK.

    Update, 9/9: Bill Gibron introduces the PopMatters preview bundle.

    Update, 9/12: The Chicago Reader posts its "Fall Arts Guide 2008."

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:27 PM
  • Books, 9/7.

    Reagan: The Hollywood Years "To fully understand Reagan the man," Marc Eliot writes in Reagan: The Hollywood Years, "one must also understand Reagan the actor... how the characters he played... led him to create the persona he inhabited that eventually served as the God-like narrator of General Electric Theater, the forerunner to his greatest role of all, the president of the United States." Newsweek's David Ansen does the quoting in his admiring review: "The passages devoted to Reagan's movies are the least interesting part of what turns out to be a fascinating portrait of an amiable, unflappable young careerist who hitched his wagon to two of the most powerful men in Hollywood," Jack Warner and Lew Wasserman. "Many of Eliot's insights come as no surprise, but his ultimate point is hard to contest: Reagan became a great actor only after his acting career came to an end."

    In a single entry, Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell offer an invaluable online supplement to Film Art.

    "Polanski has lived for his work, and it is by his work that he must be judged," argues Jonathan Yardley, reviewing Polanski in the Washington Post. "It is a pity that there are so many stains on his record, but there are few stains on his films. In this fine biography, [Christopher] Sandford gives those films the praise they deserve, and he is fair as well to Polanski the man."

    For the San Francisco Chronicle, Eddie Muller reviews The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, Erased: Missing Women, Murdered Wives and Tech-Noir: The Fusion of Science Fiction and Film Noir.

    "[Manny] Farber's essays are almost brattily smart, alluring and written in a style thankfully impossible to copy," writes Justin Stewart in an appreciation in Stop Smiling. "For good or bad, I gain more appreciation for the kind of cinematic coddlers and able showoffs he usually disdains. But Farber on fire can rile a reader up for or against a movie, or just thrillingly conflict one, like almost no other. Never a 'final word' kind of critic, he vitalized the discourse with unique insight and bomb-throwing verbal panache."

    Mr Hitchcock "The appeal of Hitchcock to the theorist and historian of film is impossible to overstate. To study him is to find an economical way of studying the entire history of cinema." For the TLS, Paula Marantz Cohen reviews Richard Allen's Hitchcock's Romantic Irony, Quentin Falk's Mr Hitchcock and Donald Spoto's Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies.

    "Robert Giroux, an editor who introduced and nurtured some of the major authors of the 20th century and who rose to join one of the nation's most distinguished publishing houses as a partner, making it Farrar, Straus & Giroux, died Friday in Tinton Falls, NJ. He was 94." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times. Related: a frustrating anecdote excerpted from Al Silverman's The Time of Their Lives: The Golden Age of Great American Publishers, Their Editors and Authors.

    The Los Angeles Times previews the books to be released this fall.

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:16 AM

    "Venice vs Toronto."

    Venice "Venice is on the move," reports Wendy Ide, who, in the London Times, presents the title to this entry. "The festival's artistic director Marco Mueller has revealed that the dates of next year's Venice Film Festival will shift to coincide with those of the Toronto Film Festival - a declaration of war. There used to be an understanding that the two festivals could share key titles. It looks as if that age of collaboration is over and the battlelines are being drawn to vie for the big films."

    "As if to prove that good things do, indeed, come to those who wait, Venice on its penultimate day delivered three of its strongest films," writes Shane Danielson at indieWIRE. "It was a pity, then, that almost no one was left to see them, having by then left the Lido with their minds already made up about this year's festival." The films: Darren Aronofsky's Golden Lion-winner, The Wrestler; Philippe Grandrieux's Un Lac; and Sylvie Verheyde's Stella.

    Updated through 9/8.

    In the Observer, Sight & Sound editor Nick James rounds up his impressions of several films that screened at the tail-end of the festival. Also: "Venice gossip" from Damon Wise.

    Also from Venice, Boyd van Hoeij sends impressions of a slew of films into the Auteurs' Notebook.

    Time's Richard Corliss on Smog: "One startling discovery was this 1962 film, directed by Franco Rossi.... It's a fascinating document of LA dolce vita, and of a city emerging from its legend, as seen by wise foreign eyes. Smog was the brightest surprise of this year's Biennale."

    A few thoughts from Mick LaSalle as he made his way back across the Atlantic: "The Europeans have to collaborate with American distributors in figuring out how to market their work in the United States, to ask themselves what is it about their product that is missing in our market. Too often foreign films are advertised for their similarities to American films. But that's precisely the wrong stategy. If they're the same, then who needs them?"

    "Why didn't anyone warn me that the city would break my heart?" asks Salon's Toronto 08 The AV Club's Noel Murray and Scott Tobias saw nine films slated for TIFF even before they arrived in Toronto, "and we've written them up, posting in descending order from highest-rated to lowest-rated."

    The Los Angeles Times opens a special TIFF section.

    The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Cheryl Eddy is in Toronto.

    "Opening night films aren't easy - especially when they have to be Canadian," write the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik and Borys Kit. "So we should go easy on Passchendaele, the movie (pronounced 'Passion-dale') that kicked off the festivities north of the border Thursday night (and a movie which also happens to be the most expensive project in the history of Canada).... [I]t's a wartime romantic melodrama with scenes (and a score) of such schmaltz it sometimes makes The English Patient look like a PBS documentary.... Still, the film's third act picks up quite a bit; the action scenes, which show artillery fire devolving into hand-to-hand combat, flirts with Saving Private Ryan intensity." More from Scott Foundas. And Bruce Kirkland talks with director Paul Gross for the Toronto Sun.

    "[A]fter a year of labor strikes and company retrenchments, the event may turn out to be yet another marker of film industry turmoil." Anthony Kaufman in the Wall Street Journal on Toronto. Then, Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay: "I ran into another sales agent who asked, 'Have you seen the Wall Street Journal article? It's another 'sky is falling' piece." This one's by Lauren AE Schuker and Peter Sanders and Scott comments on the key graphs before pointing to Scott Kirsner's comments as well.

    "Warner Brothers, oddly enough, has turned out to be the festival's Big Daddy," writes Michael Cieply in the New York Times. "The studio that brought you The Dark Knight and managed to shake up the indie world by folding its specialty units New Line, Warner Independent and Picturehouse in the course of a year, is all over Toronto's schedule with pictures, several of them salvaged from operations that are being shut down."

    "How to plan my Toronto schedule when there are a few dozen movies screening every day and I want to keep from knowing much of anything about them before I see them, so that I can (as much as humanly possible) avoid preconceptions, false expectations, artificial festival 'buzz,' and other distractions that have little or nothing to do with what's on those screens?" wonders Jim Emerson.

    AJ Schnack is tracking docs.

    Matt Mazur blogs for PopMatters.

    Updates, 9/8: "Venice is over," sighs Agnès Poirier - with relief, evidently. "The awards have been given, the red carpet has been rolled up. Now we can say it: this was a terrible festival. Critics may squabble over many things, but on this they are united. This year's Venice was one of the worst, certainly the worst of the last ten years."

    "What overall assessment can we give of the controversies, the attacks, and the critiques that were rampant in this year's festival?" asks Eugenio Renzi, wrapping the Cahiers du cinéma Venice journal. "Regarding the films, they seem to have been unfair, and given under false pretext."

    Posted by dwhudson at 8:56 AM

    September 6, 2008

    Venice 08. Awards.

    The Wrestler "Hollywood outsider Mickey Rourke capped his big screen comeback on Saturday when The Wrestler, in which he plays a lonely, washed out fighter, won the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice festival," report Mike Collett-White and Silvia Aloisi for Reuters. "Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the moving tale poignantly echoes Rourke's own troubled life in and out of the boxing ring and film studio, and critics are tipping the star for an Oscar nomination early next year."

    So here's the announcement, which reads nicely: "The Venezia 65 Jury, chaired by Wim Wenders and comprised of Juriy Arabov, Valeria Golino, Douglas Gordon, Lucrecia Martel, John Landis and Johnnie To, having viewed all 21 films in competition, has decided as follows..."

    And it's Aronofsky, of course, who'll collect the Golden Lion, though the sentiment for Rourke will be understandable to some. Then:

    And a Jury "comprised of Abdellatif Kechiche (President), Alice Braga, Gregory Jacobs, Donald Ranvaud and Heidrun Schleef, has unanimously decided to award the Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film to Pranzo Di Ferragosto by Gianni Di Gregorio.

    More awards: Lav Diaz wins the top Orizzonti (Horizons) prize for Melancholia. Then there are the Corto Cortissimo and more associated or "Collateral" awards.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:40 PM | Comments (3)

    RWF biopic.

    Rainer Werner Fassbinder Marco Kreuzpaintner (Trade, Krabat) aims to start shooting a film based on the life of Rainer Werner Fassbinder early next year. He's currently writing a screenplay with Harry Baer, who worked with Fassbinder both in front of and behind the camera. The Frankfurter Rundschau has the story: an actor, who'll play RWF from the age of 17 through to the director's death in 1982 at the age of 37, has been "found," but Kreuzpaintner isn't ready to reveal the name just yet.

    But here's what could make the production a controversial one from the get go: Kreuzpaintner's also working "closely" with Juliane Lorenz and the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation. You may recall that it was only last summer that a hellacious storm was kicked up over complaints regarding what many see as Lorenz's stranglehold on RWF's legacy; there were also accusations that she's reshaping it to her own benefit. Some enterprising German journalist might want to look into exactly what sort of role Lorenz is playing in the making of this biopic. For now, we have the thoughts of Kreuzpaintner, 31, on what this film's to be about, as told to the FR. A few excerpts:

    "I've asked myself how it can be that the most important German director, for us, since the Second World War hasn't himself received the cinematic recognition he deserves. I want to show the wildly driven man who was more talented than all the others in his time - a man who, in a country as conservative as the Federal Republic was in the 70s and 80s, was able to bring international recognition to German film again for the first time.... This is going to be a big biopic - though I don't really like the word. Much of the story will deal with Fassbinder's youth, which many don't know much about and which was spent for the most part in Cologne. The arc then stretches across those great days in Munich and to his frenetic downfall.

    "Fassbinder will not be portrayed as the maniac or the people-destroyer. For me, the key lies in Fassbinder's own words: 'I only want you to love me,' which he also used at the title of a film. This great desire for love in Fassbinder - which at times would find perverse expression; in his work, but also at times in wonderful ways - is the theme of my film.

    "The film should contribute toward Fassbinder attaining the love he always yearned for. Even though everyone now refers to him as one of the greats, we can't forget that, when he was alive, he was one of the most widely discussed but also hated people. He was anything but loved."

    Well. I'm sure Kreuzpaintner doesn't want to turn RWF into a teddy bear, but still, a little skepticism may be in order. And maybe I'm nuts, but the first image that came to my mind when I stumbled across this story is Frank Giering as RWF. Only, he's way too old to play a kid of 17.

    Posted by dwhudson at 12:10 PM | Comments (4)

    Toronto Dispatch. 1.

    Via three films, David D'Arcy checks in on contemporary Brazil and China.

    Last Stop 174 It's easy enough at a film festival to find a film commenting on another film, or in the case of Bruno Barreto's Last Stop 174, a dramatic feature inspired by a documentary film (Jose Padilha's anatomy of a spectacularly public and self-dramatizing bus highjacking, Bus 174), which in turn asks probing questions about the socio-economic and racial roots of that crime.

    After seeing Bus 174, you found yourself asking whether there was much left to know about crime in Rio that Padilha's exhaustive cinematic inquiry hadn't unearthed. Barreto takes you back to those characters - a street kid, son of a murdered mother, and the mother who thinks that he's the son who was torn from her arms by the drug dealer to whom she owed money. He reconstructs a young man's life of crime that led to a coke spree, which in turn led to the brazen act of commandeering a city bus. It's surprising that a film about a crime of such operatic audacity doesn't have a soundtrack. Is Barreto rejecting what might make his film so obviously Brazilian?

    Barreto also rejects the gestural music video style of City of God, even though the film script is by that film's screenwriter, Braulio Mantovani. After Last Stop 174 screened for the press and industry in Toronto, I heard one writer gripe about the film's homage to neo-realism in a scene that has a child shaking from what looks like an epileptic fit - which turned out to be a scam to set up a robbery of the poor soul who took pity on the shaking kid. Some things never change. I liked the neo-realist touch and the echoes of American 1970s crime dramas.

    What strikes you about Barreto's drama set on the Rio streets is the close proximity of extreme poverty and extreme wealth, and the racial divide between poor blacks and rich whites. Every film about street life in Rio seems to have a panoramic shot that reveals the social topography of the city - Last Stop 174 is no exception - with the rich in gleaming high-rises along the seaside, and the poor in improvised houses, precariously perched on the hillsides that ring the town. How can the high crime rate be such a surprise, or for that matter, the fact that the prison for young men is almost completely black?

    Back in 2002, George W Bush had a meeting at the White House with the president of Brazil and asked his guest whether there were blacks in Brazil. No kidding. (He clearly hadn't watched the World Cup, but this was the guy whose father was astonished on a visit to a supermarket to see an electronic scanner.) Could any Brazilian ask as uninformed a question about the United States? Bush would do well to take a look at a melodrama like Last Stop 174. It might give him a hint about what could be happening on the other side of Washington DC, where the poor folks live.

    24 City Poor folks speak wistfully about a factory facing demolition in 24 City, Jia Zhang-ke's hybrid Chinese documentary that premiered at Cannes and is showing at the TIFF. Factory 420, which had produced airplane engines, has been relocated and its site, sold to real estate speculators, is being converted to a new district called 24 City. We see the demolition of the old factory; most of those who speak in the film are either former workers who have been displaced or retired, or actors who tell similar stories. The director's previous film, Still Life, looked mostly at the landscapes as the camera ranged horizontally through territory that was to be covered by the rising waters of a dam or covered with the ugliest constructions that were funded by new wealth.

    This time, Jia Zhang-ke concentrates on people, filming them in long static shots more typical of the contemporary still photography that fills commercial galleries these days. Testimony is nostalgic, sometimes tearful, when former workers talk of the days when the factory flourished, even though working conditions were dangerous and pay was minimal. Underlying these memories was a fear of the future among those pushed aside to clear its way, and a sense that money dominated everything else for the generation pushing the old one into rest homes where they sing and play cards. Funny how we didn't hear much about any of this during the Olympics, when the workers from the provinces who built the Bird's Nest stadium were sent forcibly out of Beijing. (See my article in the Wall Street Journal about a satirical painting depicting the Bird's Nest in ruins that was prevented from entering China for an exhibition during the Games.

    The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World You can see another side of that consumerism in The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World, by Weijun Chen, which looks with a flat digital perspective at a vast eatery that can serve 5000 people. Food was scarce during communism, especially in the early days, we are told, and eating well is payback for all those years of hardship - at least partial payback. The film takes us into a wedding celebration - the groom has just paid more than $10,000 to the bride's family for her hand in marriage.

    But there's more than craven consumerism here, as there is with any dialectic. The kitschy restaurant that resembles a huge fortified palace is run by a woman who would not have had such authority when China was really a communist country. Was it worth it? Just ask the people who eat the 200 snakes that the restaurant serves every week.

    Hunger by Steve McQueen is playing at the same festival with The Biggest Restaurant. More about that film in the next dispatch.

    - David D'Arcy

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:09 AM | Comments (1)

    Venice Dispatch. 2.

    Venice With just hours to go before the Lions are presented, Ronald Bergan looks back on a few highs and lows. There'll be more soon on many of these films in future entries as well as a sort of Venice-to-Toronto roundup.

    As can be seen from the reports on these pages and elsewhere, the circus moved on from Venice to Toronto a few days ago after George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Charlize Theron and other Hollywood celebrities left Venice to publicize their movies elsewhere. Most of the hacks who left halfway through the Biennale were only out to seek glamour, not art. Mind you, there was not very much of either at this year's Biennale.

    The Sky Crawlers Let's start with the bad news in order to end on a more positive note. The selection of the films for the main competition could be described as eclectic (eccentric?) to say the least. To select one Japanese animation feature was acceptable but two seemed excessive, especially as neither merited inclusion. I'm always complaining that most films are made for 12-year-olds, but the cutesy-cutesy Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea seemed to be aimed at 5-year-olds, though the animation was as technically expert as one expects from a Hayao Miyazaki film. The other one, Mamoru Oshii's The Sky Crawlers - a curious, ridiculously long flying epic that seemed to be influenced by British RAF films - had no sequence that could not have been in a non-animation film, which I suppose was its pointless aim.

    There was also no excuse for including Werner Schroeter's Nuit de chien (dubbed "Merde de Chien"), an embarrassingly bad and dated futuristic drama, or a dreadful commercial Italian sex "comedy," Il Seme della Discordia, unless it was to please Berlusconi, whose film company, Medusa, produced it.

    Rachel Getting Married The American entries were respectable, but rather too familiar, and none of them broke even an inch of new ground. Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, another in the genre of dysfunctional family get-togethers, had a redundant last 30 minutes, an indulgent home video of the wedding celebrations. Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (dreadful title) showed how our brave troops are defending freedom in Iraq. Far too close to today's reality for comfort, it is the sort of film, despite Bigelow's protests, that John McCain would approve of. Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, though rather too reminiscent of boxing movies like Champion, The Set-Up and Fat City, nevertheless had a magnificent performance from Mickey Rourke, who seemed to draw on a lifetime of experience to play the ageing, washed-up pro wrestler of the title. Finally, Amir Naderi's Vegas: A True Story, was a riveting study of gambling, addiction and obsession, topics dealt with less schematically, however, in films such as Jacques Demy's La Baie des Anges.

    Gabbla

    More adventurous was Patrick Mario Bernard and Pierre Trividic's L'Autre, with aspects of early Resnais and Polanski, with a strange William Wilsonian story of a woman jealous of her doppelganger; Semih Kaplanoglu's Milk, another fine Turkish movie, with an original sense of episodic narrative, which moves easily between the realistic and surrealistic, from the sequential to the episodic; and Tariq Teguia's Gabbla (Inland), an Algerian film that shows lonely figures in an unfriendly landscape, where silence is eloquent, while making a poignant non-didactic political statement about the desperate migration of people from third world countries. The film almost made one pronounce this year's Venice Festival a success.

    - Ronald Bergan

    Posted by dwhudson at 9:02 AM | Comments (1)

    Senses of Cinema. 48.

    L'aventure moderne "Utopian narratives often imply a before and an after, an Eden and après, so to speak," write editors Rolando Caputo and Scott Murray, introducing the new issue of Senses of Cinema. "We borrow from Bernardo Bertolucci's 1964 film its title, Before the Revolution (Prima della rivoluzione) - itself borrowed from Stendhal - to group together a number of texts centred on the years leading into May 1968 and its immediate aftermath.... [T]hese texts are imbued with the 'human factor' more so than the political - even if, by May 68, the personal had become political, and especially for a figure like Jean-Luc Godard, for whom, by then, an idea, an ideology, trampled over feelings and emotions."

    Sally Shafto introduces two texts she's translated, the first from Antoine Bourseiller, "one of the best-known theatre directors in France," the second from his stepson, Christophe Bourseiller, an actor who has since become a widely admired "author of some thirty works, including an excellent biography of Guy Debord and a history of the French Maoists.... The styles of the two Bourseillers could not be more different: while Antoine's account is highly romantic, Christophe's tone is down-to-earth, bordering on the acerbic. Together they form not only a diptych of Jean-Luc Godard, revealing conflicting aspects of his personality, but also a portrait of a changing France in the 1960s."

    From Roland-François Lack, "Vivre sa vie: An Introduction and A to Z."

    The Zanzibar Films and the Dandies of May 1968 Patrick Deval "came of age in the 60s as a devoted cinéphile," write Maximilian Le Cain and Fergus Daly, interview they find "timely for at least two reasons. First, there has been much recent interest in the Zanzibar phenomenon thanks largely to Sally Shafto's book, The Zanzibar Films and the Dandies of May 1968. More recent, Re:voir has released a number of these films on DVD, including an indispensible double bill of Acéphale and Héraclite l'obscur."

    Lisa K Broad, too, looks back to the mid-20th century: "As theories of quantum mechanics were increasingly elaborated, disseminated and accepted, the classical story of the universe and what could be known about began to appear as no more than a compelling work of fiction." She argues "that the temporal scheme that [Alain] Robbe-Grillet employs in his film La Belle Captive is in many ways equivalent to the [new] 'Many Worlds Interpretation' in that the film seems to represent a number of distinct possible realities."

    "The inherent flexibility of the grotesque is vital to an understanding of its role in Ford," argues Phil Wagner. "The director's 'grotesques' span diverse generic terrain: the animalistic anti-hero of the political thriller, The Informer (1935); the demonic prison-guard in the historical drama, The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936); the monstrous banker in Ford's immortal Western, Stagecoach (1939); and many more. The grotesque æsthetic is a window into many of the unresolved contradictions in Ford's work – especially, the uneasy juxtaposition of the tragic and the comic and mankind's perpetual battle with an unruly inner beast."

    Combining "formal transparency" and "subjective interactivity," notes Derek Jenkins in a close reading of Backyard, Ross McElwee "discovered that he could simultaneously untangle his misgivings about both the South and autobiographical film by acknowledging those problems indirectly. His 'self-reflective complexity,' one that registers several layers of autobiographical and social meaning in every image and interaction, is confronted with humorous irony, a benign duplicity that gives way to the revelatory power of vérité while bypassing the posture of objectivity."

    Land of Promise Richard Armstrong on the British Film Institute's DVD box set, Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930 - 1950: "In the post-war decades, the society addressed so earnestly and paternalistically by such documentarians as John Grierson, Humphrey Jennings, Paul Rotha and Basil Wright in the 1930s and 1940s was already breaking down into a political, racial and gendered multitude of individuals and interest groups, lending the promise enshrined in these films a faintly naïve, even forlorn air."

    "I met Pierre Rissient on what I think was his first visit to Australia." Geoff Gardner looks back on a friendship and generally has good things to say about Todd McCarthy's Man of Cinema: Pierre Rissient, though he does feel that one spicy detail ought to have gone blipped out.

    Another recollection: Scott Murray on Sydney Pollack.

    I've mentioned the Ozploitation dossier in some earlier entry, but there you go; there are also, of course, new festival reports, book reviews and annotations on films - and two new names for the Great Directors database: Ralph Beliveau and Randolph Lewis induct Alex Cox; David Minnihan, Ang Lee.

    Posted by dwhudson at 4:08 AM

    September 5, 2008

    Fests and events, 9/5.

    World's Coolest Movie Star Jean Gabin "came to Hollywood during World War II but, unlike countrymen Maurice Chevalier and Charles Boyer, failed to catch on with American audiences," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "Author Charles Zigman is hoping his massive two-volume biography of the actor, aptly titled World's Coolest Movie Star, will give Gabin the respect that has eluded him in the US. This weekend at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre, Zigman will autograph his book and introduce Gabin films which vividly demonstrate the breadth and depth of Gabin's talent."

    Via Michael Jones, news of the full Fantastic Fest lineup. September 12 through 25.

    With a week-long run of Shoot the Piano Player, Film Forum wraps its French Crime Wave series. The film "boldly set cheeky antics alongside downcast regret, darting chases next to chatty strolls, and grim art-house melodrama beside loosey-goosey hand-holding," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "It's hard to imagine who besides Truffaut could have pulled it all off, and made every moment so compulsively watchable as to induce instant cinematic nostalgia." More from Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York.

    Updated through today: "Telluride 08."

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:49 PM

    Shorts, 9/5.

    Art Review: Julian Schnabel That shot of Julian Schnabel on the cover of the September issue of Art Review? Snapped by Benicio Del Toro. Related: Martha Schwendener on Calvin Tomkins's Lives of the Artists in the new issue of Bookforum, where Catherine Morris reviews Being Watched: Yvonne Rainer and the 1960s by Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Yvonne Rainer: The Mind Is a Muscle by Catherine Wood and Feelings Are Facts: A Life by Yvonne Rainer.

    Michael Powell's last work, The White Swan, was intended to be a five-hour biopic based on the life of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. In the Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen tells the story of an immensely troubled production, thanks to several road blocks the Soviet Union threw in his way, and notes that a fully restored version may be broadcast in Japan, Europe and the US.

    Chris Smith's The Pool and Chris Eska's August Evening open today, "and both belong to an intriguing current of American realistic filmmaking that has coalesced over the last few years in the lower-budget realms of independent cinema," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Like most realistic cinema of the last 60 or 70 years, they derive from a quasi-Christian, quasi-Marxist urge to minimize cultural difference and argue for the essential equality of human lives and aspirations."

    "The more we saw... at both the multiplex and the art house, the more we realized that the 'mainstream' movies with queer content or subtext were just as thought-provoking as (though more discouraging than) their out-and-proud indie and foreign cousins. So what did we learn on our summer vacation?" At indieWIRE, Michael Koresky and Chris Wisniewski followup on their first installment of their Queer Cinema Notebook.

    Ruggles of Red Gap "Midway through the 1930s Leo McCarey, the maestro behind the early shorts of Laurel and Hardy, started making feature-length masterpieces," writes R Emmet Sweeney at Moving Image Source. "From 1935 to 1939 he directed Ruggles of Red Gap, Make Way for Tomorrow, The Awful Truth and Love Affair. It's an astonishing run, but the first two features have long been unavailable on home video, their reputation surviving through the tantalizing words of critics and McCarey fans like Robin Wood and Dave Kehr.... The French releases of Make Way and Ruggles on DVD this past June, on the BAC Films label, are a cause for both celebration and reevaluation."

    "More and more small movies get misplaced theatrically, but in the parallel universe of DVD (versus the cinema and festival releases touted by critics), where a larger number of eyeballs are available, several worthy titles have hit the street," writes Ray Pride, reviving his column at Movie City News: "Here's an interview with writer-director Steve Conrad about The Promotion; a talk with writer-director Ira Sachs and lead Chris Cooper about Married Life; a brief video excerpt from an interview with longtime partners, Son of Rambow writer-director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith, as well as shorter notes on Gypsy Caravan, The Counterfeiters and Irina Palm."

    "Inspired by Neil Young and Radiohead, Michael Moore will release his new film online and for free," reports Jake Coyle for the AP. "The film, Slacker Uprising, follows Moore's 62-city tour during the 2004 election to rally young voters."

    "Guillermo del Toro is now booked through 2017. And maybe beyond." Michael Fleming has details in Variety. Also: "Columbia Pictures is getting serious about scaring up a new installment of its blockbuster Ghostbusters franchise. The studio has set The Office co-exec producers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky to write a script for a film designed to bring back together the original cast of Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson."

    The Monster of Florence And also in Variety: "Tom Cruise and United Artists have acquired rights to serial-killer thriller The Monster of Florence, with Cruise attached to produce and possibly to star, according to Douglas Preston, author of the bestseller." Nick Vivarelli reports.

    Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl... Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards "is set to be the most star-studded war film since Terrence Malick's 1998 movie, The Thin Red Line. Jonathan Dean reports for the Independent.

    New blog on the block: TrustMovies, from frequent Daily and Guru contributor James Van Maanen.

    The latest FilmInFocus "Behind the Blog" interview: the cinetrix.

    The latest in Not Coming to a Theater Near You's series Bosomania!: The Sex, the Violence, and the Vocabulary of Russ Meyer: Adam Balz on Common-Law Cabin, Rumsey Taylor on Good Morning and... Goodbye!, Leo Goldsmith on Vixen! and Katherine Follett on Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers!.

    "Set up for pathos, Momma's Man is also a formal tease that both flirts with and renounces the personal essay," writes Ella Taylor. "In his minimalist, indie-fringe way, director Azazel Jacobs (now there's a name, taken from a Biblical devil of sorts, for a boho child) double-dares us to make something or nothing of the fact that he cast his own parents, Ken and Flo Jacobs, an experimental filmmaker and a painter, in the film, and shot it in their cluttered apartment, a Miss Havisham state of chaos filled with books, disembodied dolls' heads and the moving parts that fuel Dad's abstract creative impulses." Also: Anthony Kaufman talks with Azazel and Ken Jacobs.

    And also in the LA Weekly: Scott Foundas assesses the summer. So, too, does Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader.

    Vue Weekly: Baghead "Baghead could have been made in response to criticisms of mumblecore," writes Steve Erickson in the Baltimore City Paper. He finds it "far more ambitious than Hannah Takes the Stairs or Quiet City. In fact, it bites off more than it can chew, aiming to synthesize an indie-scene satire, a portrait of romantic manipulation, and a horror film." Meanwhile, in the Vue Weekly, David Berry talks with the Duplasses.

    "It is no sin to go out gracefully, in some faraway dream of the mind," writes Nathan Kosub in Reverse Shot. "But life is much farther away in The Romance of Astrée and Céladon than it used to be for Eric Rohmer, and ultimately, in light of so many bright examples, too far away for me."

    "Maybe De Niro is too much associated with aloofness now, while Pacino is too ingratiating," concedes David Thomson. "If you look ahead, can you really resist De Niro in Michael Mann's Frankie Machine, or Pacino playing Salvador Dalí in Dali & I? Come to that, are you really going to forgo the pleasure of seeing these boys sip each other's coffee together in Righteous Kill - especially if one of them turns out to be the killer?" Related: In the New York Sun, S James Snyder takes "a look back at where the years have taken these two titans of cinema since Heat."

    Back in the Guardian:

    Moving Midway Nicolas Rapold talks with Godfrey Cheshire about Moving Midway, "which uses a chronicle of the move [of his family's ancestral home in North Carolina] to explore the history, the myths, and, in a sense, the family bonds that can tie a nation together." Also in the New York Sun: S James Snyder talks with Alan Ball about Towelhead. So, too, does Scott Tobias for the AV Club.

    For the Telegraph, Sheila Johnston talks with Dennis Gansel: "'My grandfather was in the Wehrmacht, a big supporter of Adolf Hitler, and my father was a 1968 anarchist. Christmas dinner at our house was always explosive,' says the 34-year-old director. His two last features dealt with Nazis and the Red Army Faction. The Wave is another typical - even stereotypical - German subject, with an improbable, highly melodramatic premise."

    In the Austin Chronicle, Wells Dunbar talks with Melissa Leo about Frozen River.

    "[T]here are the Pixar movies you like and the ones you fall in love with," writes Elise Nakhnikian at the House Next Door.. "And for me, the best are the ones that shake off the constraints of the natural world, like a dog drying off after a dip."

    "How atrocious is the comedy Everybody Wants to Be Italian?" asks Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Let me count the ways." Also: "Had Jorge Ameer, the writer and director of The House of Adam, aimed for high-flying camp instead of low-rent earnestness, his movie might have stood a fighting chance. As it is, this mopey tale of a love that dare not speak its name is no more than an inept wallow in closeted torment."

    "There was a time when Hampstead's Everyman Cinema was the very epitome of the art-house and repertory fleapit.... But something has changed. Once home to Kieslowski and Tarkovsky, it was showing the likes, last month, of Hellboy II and The Dark Knight." Yo Zushi tracks a trend in the New Stateman: "'Indulge' is the motto of the new Everyman, which takes no half-measures when it comes to comfort."

    A Charlie Brown Christmas "Bill Melendez, the animator who gave life to Snoopy, Charlie Brown and other Peanuts characters in scores of movies and TV specials, has died. He was 91." The AP reports. Reverse Shot's robbiefreeling has an appreciation; Ray Pride has a bit of related online viewing.

    Online zooming tip. How Star Wars Changed the World at Wired, via Coudal Partners.

    Online viewing tip #1. AO Scott on Claude Chabrol's Les Biches.

    Online viewing tip #2. The trailer for Gus Van Sant's Milk, with Sean Penn looking mighty promising.

    Online viewing tip #3. "Here at CR, we get sent dozens of music promos every week.... Refreshingly, a new video by Up The Resolution for Ninja Tune act, The Cinematic Orchestra - entitled To Build A Home - avoids clichéd music video formulas. Instead it combines beautiful cinematography with a talented cast of actors and an emotionally harrowing story line. The film is also unusual in that the soundtrack consists of two, rather than the usual one, track..."

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:10 PM

    Film Comment. Sept/Oct 08.

    Che Rounding up this year's Cannes for the last issue of Film Comment, Amy Taubin noted that "The only film that had my adrenaline pumping beginning to end was Steven Soderbergh's marathon two-part Che." Now for the new issue, introducing a conversation with the director she forges into a telling of the epic's making, she argues that "Soderbergh's own will - to shape every aspect of this project from conception to release - is palpable in Che, the film that places him in the ranks of the masters."

    Pablo Suárez on The Other: "Dealing with much the same questions as his debut film Just for Today, [Ariel] Rotter's latest confirms the arrival of a singular sensibility." The film screens at the Walter Reade on September 17 and 18 as part of the Film Comment Selects series and Latinbeat 2008, opening today and running through September 25. Martin Tsai previews Latinbeat for today's New York Sun.

    Chris Chang calls out for a distributor for a film by another Argentine, Pablo Fendrik: The Mugger.

    "No film captures the glittering, zombified world of yé-yé pop royalty with as much style as Marc'O's 1968 musical Les Idoles," writes Sam Di Iorio. "Think of it as an all-singing, all-dancing missing link between the melancholy pop fantasy of Godard's Masculin-Féminin and the aerial views and blank screens of Guy Debord's Critique de la separation."

    In the Realm of the Senses "Forty years ago Nagisa Oshima was one of the biggest names in world cinema, a brilliant modernist who made consistently electrifying films, each one radically different in form and style from the rest," writes Tony Rayns. "If he'd been French, he'd be as well known as Godard - and probably more influential.... [S]o the touring retrospective put together by James Quandt at the Cinematheque Ontario is an essential reassertion of his talent and importance." Three related online exclusives: Rayns on In the Realm of the Senses, from the September/October 1976 issue, James Bouras on the censorship of that film (January/February 1977) and Chuck Stephens on Gohatto (November/December 2000).

    Laura Kern: "Vampire lore, which has held its ground within pop culture since the creatures of the night's fangs were first bared even pre-Bram Stoker, and has been enjoying a distinct upswing of late, rarely comes across as inspired and alive as it does in Tomas Alfredson's exquisitely crafted Let the Right One In, written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, adapted from his own bestselling novel."

    Paul Fileri has an onine viewing tip: "Launched in June, Europa Film Treasures has quickly vaulted to the top ranks of online video-on-demand ventures spearheaded by moving-image archival institutions. As such, it takes its place alongside such valuable destinations as the Library of Congress's American Memory site, the British Film Institute's YouTube channel and the UbuWeb Film & Video resource."

    Posted by dwhudson at 5:51 AM

    Toronto and the UK. RocknRolla.

    RocknRolla "Though it's likely to be hailed as a partial return to form after the disastrous reception accorded to Revolver and Swept Away, RocknRolla seems unlikely to refloat Guy Ritchie's reputation back to the levels he enjoyed after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000)," writes Neil Young. "It's a predictably slick, glossy, flashy thriller - with comic overtones - set in present-day London (touted as the imminent 'financial and cultural capital of the world') competently but unexcitingly recycles ideas and scenes long-familiar from a sub-genre that dates back to The Long Good Friday."

    "With its cheeky wit, non-PC provocations, cock-eyed class-consciousness and cheerful irreverence it could be the closest thing to Ealing comedy we’re offered these days," offers Wally Hammond in Time Out.

    Updated through 9/8.

    "Don't expect any new tricks," warns Tim Robey in the Telegraph. "Every character will still be introduced with a trademark flourish, lest our attention wander for a second. There will be an aggressive voiceover hinting at grand schemes gone haywire: this time it's a five-minute disquisition on hedge funds and London's property boom, which is so tragically 2007 (and tedious) you half expect a cameo from Tony Blair. Random outbursts of violence will be accompanied by a deafening increase in soundtrack volume. Without all the noise, you might be aware of half the audience snoozing.... What, though, is a rocknrolla?"

    "That title of Mr Guy Ritchie's new featcha. Means geeza. Or mobsta. Top bruisa. In his London manna. Sad to say, the film's a shocka. A right depressa. Bit of a dispirita. For this directa, it ain't exactly a departcha." The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw turns in another one of those one-star reviews he's known for.

    "Ritchie is handy with the whiplash editing that makes fast-cutting almost subliminal, and his three-second sex scene between Gerard Butler and Thandie Newton - a neat montage of groans, swoons and zips - made me laugh," admits the Independent's Anthony Quinn. "But his writing skills just aren't up to scratch, evidenced in set-piece monologues of inexcusable banality. His fortitude under critical flak is admirable, and his self-confidence unbelievable, but RocknRolla is the same old shaggy-dog story with a slightly different variety fleas."

    "Tom Wilkinson plays Lenny with wonderful comic venom," concedes James Christopher in the London Times. "But there is no disguising that he is a standard-issue villain in an absurd Guy Ritchie thriller."

    Writing in Variety, Joe Leydon, who's caught the film in Toronto, where it screens this morning and next Saturday, calls RocknRolla "a cleverly constructed, sensationally stylish and often darkly hilarious seriocomic caper. Marginally more restrained than his attention-grabbing breakthrough efforts... his new pic proves just as aggressively exciting while zigzagging through an intricate maze of plots and counterplots, dirty deals and double-crosses."

    "The film is heavily indebted to Trainspotting, plus the entire works of Scorsese and Tarantino," writes Charlotte O'Sullivan in the Evening Standard. "To describe the violence as cartoonish is an insult to cartoons."

    Update: "In the same way east Germans nostalgically recall the good old days of the Iron Curtain, I've been wondering recently if Guy Ritchie's movies were really as bad as all that," blogs Steve Rose in the Guardian. "I was prejudiced against him, as are many others out there. Not without reason, but he's an easy target, what with his gossip-friendly marriage, his mockney airs, his lad-mag values and most of all, his success. He's been mercilessly, albeit amusingly, sent up by the likes of Adam and Joe, Harry Enfield, The Fast Show, you name it, and yes, his films have many, many deficiencies, but I'm going to come out and say it: he's not without his qualities as a filmmaker."

    Todd Brown at Twitch: "Though RocknRolla never quite reaches the same giddy heights that both Lock Stock and Snatch hit in their key moments it certainly isn't for lack of trying and, on the flip side, RocknRolla is a far more confident and self-assured film than either of its predecessors. So while the peaks may not be as high the valleys certainly aren't as deep, either, the end result being a film that ends up ranking somewhere between Ritchie's debut and sophomore effort. And that ain't a bad place to be at all."

    Update, 9/8: "At least in Lock, Stock..., the audience wanted the likable geezers to escape a gangland beating," writes the Observer's Jason Solomons. "Here, there's no humour and no sympathetic characters in a black hole of tedium, outmoded, flashy camera moves, yobbishness and mockney nonsense. Most distastefully, the work is riddled with issues about gayness, public schools and immigrants, with no directorial distance or judgment implied."

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:47 AM

    Toronto and the UK. The Duchess.

    The Duchess Anyone planning to catch The Duchess in Toronto on Sunday or Monday may (or may not) want to take a peek the decidedly mixed reviews in the British press as the film opens in the UK today.

    First, a quick introduction from Dave Calhoun in Time Out (five out of six stars): "If you've seen the posters for The Duchess, you'll know that they recall the marital woes of another Spencer, Princess Diana, born two centuries after Georgiana (Keira Knightley), the young noble whose tempestuous marriage in 1774 to William, Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) is the subject of this intelligent and beautifully crafted Gainsborough-inspired costume drama from British director Saul Dibb."

    Updated through 9/8.

    The Independent's Anthony Quinn is also enthusiastic: "Dibb, working with a script adapted from Amanda Foreman's best-selling biography, understands the meat-and-drink of the genre - grand perspectives, social colour, formal propriety - yet never loses sight of the human drama."

    "What is frustrating is that the movie does not give Knightley much of a chance to show the progression of her character," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "We need to see Georgiana develop as a person, see her grow up, grow old even. Frankly, this doesn't happen, though I sensed that Knightley could have achieved this, had the script and direction allowed it."

    "The trouble with being Ralph Fiennes is that, on a good day, firing on all thespish cylinders, you tend to make everyone around you look completely rubbish," writes Kevin Maher in the London Times. Here, "Fiennes is on punishingly good form, a dazzling cynosure surrounded by stiff gestures and self-conscious poses."

    "There's no bite or edge to this narrative," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "[I]t's just another vaguely emancipatory costume affair in which the themes ('Freedom - in moderation?'), the baddies ('Give me a son, do as I say,' blusters William à la Don Corleone), and the drama (news of an unexpected baby is followed by a crash of thunder!) lack complexity or subtlety. Knightley looks woefully, painfully thin throughout. It's hard to listen to what she's saying when all you want to do is feed her chips."

    "The director, Saul Dibb (Bullet Boy, The Line of Beauty), is capable of sounding comic or tragic notes with a single edit, but he shows a loss of nerve by soaking the film in Rachel Portman's score, or cramming in endless close-ups," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "These decisions betray a concern that the audience won't respond to characters who tend to be either victims or cold fish, or both."

    Online viewing tip. Following a clip, the Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Dibb.

    Updates, 9/8: "The much put-upon actress succeeds marvellously here, in the best, most complex and attractive performance of her career," writes the Observer's Jason Solomons. "Although viewers might be distracted by the splendour of her corsets and feathers, her hairpieces towering above her like Amy Winehouse after electric shock therapy, Knightley skilfully turns Michael O'Connor's exquisite costuming to her advantage." Even so: "You can't help but look at all that money on screen and wish it were being spent pushing talents like Saul Dibb and Keira Knightley into a brighter, more distinctive future rather than wallowing in the faded, foppish glories of the past."

    For the New York Times, Barbara Kantrowitz talks with Foreman about the Diana parallels.

    Esther Walker profiles Knightley for the Independent.

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:06 AM

    September 4, 2008

    Fests and events, 9/4.

    Wild Style "Cinefamily's monthlong hip-hop film retrospective Word Is Born: Hip-Hop at the Movies, 1979 - 1984 places certified b-boy classics (Wild Style, Beat Street, Style Wars, Breakin') alongside cool and illuminating rarities that are the true jewels in the series," writes Ernest Hardy in the LA Weekly. "As an added bonus, there will be postscreening DJ sets from the likes of West Coast cult legend Arabian Prince and LA's own international b-boy (and co-owner of Stones Throw Records), Peanut Butter Wolf. If there is one 'don't miss' title in this smart, ambitious survey (curated by programmer Gabriele Caroti), it's the 1984 documentary Beat This! A Hip-Hop History (screening on September 25)."

    "With only a couple exceptions (most notably Francesco Vezzoli's self-obliterating Marlene Redux: A True Hollywood Story!), [The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality and the Moving Image] takes itself as seriously as a graduate student certain he's discovered something new when he hasn't," writes Tyler Green. Through Sunday.

    Room for Thought "The adjacent installations of computer-generated video by Swiss artists Alexander Hahn and Yves Netzhammer currently on display at SFMOMA require more time than most to reveal themselves," writes Michael Fox at SF360, "and it's the rare visitor who sticks around that long. Are the peripatetic hordes missing out on some fantastic secret of the universe? I daresay no. Yet I consider it my public duty to encourage anyone who checks out the show in its last month to slow down their meter and get on its rhythm." Through October 5.

    In the New York Press, Armond White previews David Lean: Ten British Classics, running at Film Forum from September 12 through 25. The series "reveals one of the strongest, most impressive careers in movie history (his final six films conclude the series). Perfectionist Lean was a giant; only small-minded moviegoers would miss this retrospective."

    In the Austin Chronicle, Josh Rosenblatt previews The Third Wave: Contemporary German Cinema. Tuesdays through October 14.

    Mike Everleth has the lineup for the 10th Hi Mom! Film Festival, running tomorrow and Saturday in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, NC.

    Turns out, David Fear has been blogging from Venice for Time Out New York all this time. More from Venice: A big roundup from Shane Danielson at indieWIRE; and the Telegraph's David Gritten talks with Uberto Pasolini about Machan.

    The Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival, running September 11 through 14, has announced its lineup.

    The Fly Online listening tip. "He's one of a handful of film composers - alongside Hans Zimmer and Ennio Morricone - to have attained some measure of celebrity for his work," writes Thomas Rogers, introducing his interview with Howard Shore for Salon. "Recently, the 61-year-old Shore has begun experimenting with new venues for his music, both high- and lowbrow, creating a full orchestral score for Soul of the Ultimate Nation, a multiplayer online role-playing game, and transforming The Fly into an opera, his first. The opera, which uses elaborate costumes, visual effects and gore to enhance Shore's slow-building music, opened in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet in July. (David Henry Hwang wrote the libretto, [David] Cronenberg directed and Plácido Domingo conducted.) On Sept 7 it will debut in the United States at the Los Angeles Opera."

    Posted by dwhudson at 3:25 PM

    Toronto, 9/4.

    Toronto 08 "The Toronto International Film Festival, which opened its 33rd edition on Thursday, is many things to the 100,000 or so cinephiles who each year make it the premier movie bash in North America," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "TIFF, as it's known, is a gourmand's glut of international product, a one-stop shop for documentaries, a gallery for experimental films. To sustain the pride of the locals, there's also a barrage of Canadian movies.... For slim, tanned Hollywoodians, and the press who stream into Ontario from three continents, TIFF is seen as the launching pad for films that have eyes on the Academy Awards. So do the movies' largest luminaries."

    Lots of mini-sites to explore: The Globe and Mail, indieWIRE, Toronto Life, the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star and Variety.

    Cinematical opens its coverage with a clip from Picasso & Braque Got to the Movies, produced and narrated by Martin Scorsese. More TIFF tags, already buzzing: the SpoutBlog and Twitch.

    They're there and blogging: Jim Emerson (scanners), Scott Foundas (LA Weekly), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago), Eric Kohn (Jaman), Lou Lumenick (New York Post), James McNally (Toronto Screen Shots), the Playlist, David Poland (Movie City News), Anne Thompson (Variety) and Jeffrey Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere).

    More: 1st Thursday and TIFFReviews.

    Etan Vlessing introduces the Hollywood Reporter's special report.

    Why has Paris Hilton cracked down on Paris, Not France, Adria Petty's doc attempting to "explore the Paris phenomenon and how it defines this moment in culture," forcing the festival to limit screenings to just one? Karina Longworth looks into it at the SpoutBlog.

    A special issue of Now.

    Peter Knegt oversees indieWIRE's "Insiders Guide" to "Eating, Drinking and Shopping in Toronto."

    Posted by dwhudson at 2:57 PM | Comments (2)

    Mister Foe.

    Mister Foe "Making drastic changes to a novel while adapting it for the screen is one thing, but doing so when the novelist is a close friend can induce new levels of anxiety," writes Bilge Ebiri in the new issue of Bookforum. "Scottish director David Mackenzie found himself in that situation when he decided to tackle Peter Jinks's acclaimed Hallam Foe, an offbeat story about a young Peeping Tom's decidedly odd journey to self-knowledge.... 'Peter's being a friend of mine was one of the reasons I considered doing his novel as a film,' Mackenzie says, adding dryly: 'But the thought that your good friend is about to have their work ripped up in front of them is also a bit awkward.'"

    "It's a pity the third act takes a pop-therapeutic nosedive, yet for most of its running time, Mister Foe works its maladjusted mojo into something truly unsettling and uniquely twisted," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

    Updated through 9/8.

    Vadim Rizov in the Voice: "David Mackenzie has jokingly claimed this as the capstone of his 'sex trilogy' (2003's mostly celebrated Young Adam and 2005's mostly ignored Asylum preceded it), a threesome (har) of films extrapolating a single idea: In Mackenzie's world, wholesome sex is a possibility for other people, but never for the (anti-)hero, whose couplings are always the sublimated expression of something else. What makes Mister Foe such unlikely fun, though, is [Jamie] Bell's accomplished smart-ass routine and Mackenzie's blithe attitude toward taboos."

    "Suggesting an extended music video, Mister Foe is all fancy camera angles, clipped editing and dialogue that is either twisted for the sake of being twisted ('I want to suck the dick of the last guy who fucked you,' says Kate [Sophia Myles] to Hallam, fantasizing that he's queer) or announces itself as being "psychological" without ever being deep," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

    "In his attempt to make the audience sympathize with Hallam, Mackenzie uses the cheapest trick in the book: attempting to give the audience a link into his head with a manic soundtrack," notes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "Apparently hearing Hallam’s angst in song form adds complexity to his character by highlighting otherwise unseen aspects of Mackenzie’s sweeping camerawork."

    Brent Simon talks with Myles for Vulture.

    Updates, 9/5: "[I]f the extremity of Hallam's temperament tests the limits of our sympathy as well as our credulity, Mr Bell's ability to seem by turns sweet and scary prevents us from losing interest entirely," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "So does Mr Mackenzie's success in translating Mr Jinks's prose into an atmosphere that is both gritty and picturesque. He infuses the examination of Hallam's emotional disorder with enough macabre and comical touches to prevent Mister Foe from sliding into the clinical sensationalism of the case study."

    "Mister Foe could have been hatched by the Quirky Indie Hit Simulator," writes Steve Dollar, outlining the plot in the New York Sun, before giving in: "One thing leads to another and, well, the story unfolds as awkwardly, illogically, and inevitably as such things happen in these kinds of movies."

    Bell's "performance has a multifaceted vitality to it, equal parts wounded puppy dog and plucky fighter, and might have carried [Mister Foe] were it not for the fact that the film doesn't treat its subject as a real person, but rather as a term paper-ready vessel for narrative themes of voyeurism and Freudian longing," writes Nick Schager at Cinematical.

    Updates, 9/8: "Stylistically buttressed by an opening credits cartoon reminiscent of Juno, a bludgeoning wall-to-wall indie soundtrack, quirky comic relief (including a wacky fellow concierge played by Ewen Bremner), and perfunctory over-editing, Mister Foe is middle-of-the-road dreck that manages no more than timid Freudian pop psychology and audience-pandering cop outs," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Reverse Shot.

    "Mister Foe may not be entirely original or entirely successful, but it's definitely fun to watch," finds Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "[T]he enjoyment in Mister Foe flows more from its foulmouthed wit and from the often dazzling cinematography of Gilles Nuttgens than from its ludicrous plot. As in Asylum, Mackenzie's passion for brooding, rotting, half-ruined Victorian architecture sometimes throws the characters into the shade."

    Posted by dwhudson at 1:20 PM

    August Evening.

    August Evening "August Evening may not be on par with the work of Yasujiro Ozu, but the late Japanese master's influence can be felt in the patient rhythms and thematic preoccupations of Chris Eska's film about an undocumented Mexican farmhand in San Antonio, Texas named Jaime (Pedro Castaneda) who, along with his widowed daughter-in-law Lupe (Veronica Loren), moves in with his ungrateful biological kids after the sudden death of his wife," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

    "There are stories that depict how resilient family bonds are in times of duress, and those that reject such rosy ideals to show how tenuous even blood relationships can be, but first-timer Chris Eska's Spanish-language drama (and Spirit Award winner for Best Feature Under $500,000) quietly and bittersweetly validates both notions," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice.

    Updated through 9/8.

    "Unlike Tom McCarthy's The Visitor, a meek tale of struggling immigrants in NYC, August Evening doesn't need a nebbishy white character for the audience to feel close to the material," notes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "With lyrical interpretations of impoverished lifestyles and transcendent visual motifs based around the Zen of the countryside, August Evening evokes both Killer of Sheep and Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light, but it's not quite as audacious."

    "One can say that not all that much happens in the course of the small, humble scenes that form the lives of these modestly alien presences in our midst, but Mr Eska and cinematographer Yasu Tanida have fashioned an exquisite tapestry of the materially unencumbered, one that drives the narrative forward at every turn," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "August Evening is infinitely more absorbing and entertaining than we had any right to expect from such simple and undemanding creatures."

    In the L Magazine, Benjamin H Sutton finds that "Eska's border neorealism often plays more like a melodrama - whose machinery is alternately slowed and sped up by the ennui and displacements of migrant work and limited citizenship - than a straight-forward 'issue movie.' Eska's characters have an inner life whose mere backdrop is the perpetual tension of being without status in a country where one is only valued insofar as one can work."

    IndieWIRE interviews Eska.

    Updates, 9/5: "As the movie inches along, its virtues turn into faults," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Its elliptical style leaves unanswered questions, the pace begins to feel choppy, and the lyrical pauses become a recurrent tic. In the later scenes, any of which would have made a satisfying ending, your patience is exhausted."

    "The opening sequence, which emphasizes the visceral nastiness that underpins every American breakfast and fast-food meal, is effectively detailed by director Chris Eska's agile handheld camera, a device that works with purpose in focused instances in which the film resembles an existential tone poem," writes Steve Dollar in the New York Sun. "Otherwise, it's a distraction that only makes one wonder why so many recent movies with Mexican themes insist on the shaky cam. Do we need a remake of Amores Perros every year? Does prompting a need to ingest Dramamine convey a greater sense of emotional truth?"

    "Ultimately, what Eska doesn't take from Ozu is more important than what he does," writes Sam Adams at the AV Club. "His use of handheld video has none of Ozu's formal rigor or compositional beauty, which makes its longueurs feel more distended than poetic.... The unforced ease of the performances make August Evening an intermittent pleasure, but its images aren't strong enough to sustain its undisciplined length."

    "With a maturity that belies his years - and a production that belies its budget - Eska has delivered an insightful meditation on the mysterious nature of family bonds by asking a particularly complicated question: how is it that we often connect with others more easily than our own children/parents?" Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail.

    Update, 9/8: Karen Durbin in the NYT on Castaneda's performance.

    Posted by dwhudson at 7:06 AM

    Save Me.

    Save Me "Robert Cary's Save Me is hardly the incendiary, ripped-from-the-headlines passion play that a short description of it might imply," writes Michael Koresky for indieWIRE. It "isn't a teeth-bared addition to the culture wars; surprisingly docile and rigorously even-handed in its portrait of a New Mexico Christian sexual 're-education' house for men, Cary and screenwriter Robert Desiderio are not courting controversy as much as curiously surveying a state of mind."

    "The film's major problem," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant, "is its difficulty in extricating the very real problem of drug addiction from the 'problem' of homosexuality... To what degree do the filmmakers view clearly irresponsible behavior to be intrinsic to the gay lifestyle and if their concern is in wrestling with the consequences of sexual repression inherent in contemporary Christianity, why do they complicate their film with an auxiliary issue whose implications they aren't prepared to explore in any kind of depth?"

    Updated through 9/5.

    "American History X meant to condemn white supremacy, and Scarface (1983) tried to demonstrate that tragedy inevitably follows a life of crime, but both films more effectively promoted (unintentionally?) the quasi-romantic lifestyles and philosophies they intended to denounce," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "Similarly, Save Me comes to reject (partially, anyway) its anti-homo rhetoric, but it has reveled in it too long to change course convincingly.... Save Me's homo hating is offensive, but its cowardice is despicable."

    "Save Me's plot sounds like a ripped-from-the-headlines gay play circa five years ago, but the film itself subverts expectation," writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. "[T]hough Save Me never quite surmounts its schematic scenario, scene by scene, beat by beat, it's pretty damn good."

    "While it’s TV-drama simple, Save Me's frankness about sexual/religious conflict gives both partying and faithfulness their due - avoiding TV sensationalism or Brokeback Mountain sanctimony," writes Armond White in the New York Press.

    Updates, 9/5: "Save Me has a lot of heart but little nerve and no surprise," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times.

    "[T]he film's clear preference for the gay story line undermines its narrative," argues Meghan Keane in the New York Sun.

    Posted by dwhudson at 6:58 AM

    Ping Pong Playa.

    Ping Pong Playa "After a string of documentaries, including In the Realms of the Unreal, and an Academy Award win for Best Documentary Short, Jessica Yu makes an unlikely, deceptively slight narrative feature debut with Ping Pong Playa," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "What's perhaps most surprising about the film, however, is that Yu (who has also directed a fair amount of television drama) is actually quite adept as a comedy director."

    "Ping Pong Playa proves that Chinese-Americans are not immune from the national stunted-adolescence crisis currently plaguing white comedy protagonists," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Yu's film, a 180-degree tonal shift from her previous Protagonist, diligently retreads Adam SandlerNapoleon Dynamite territory."

    Updated through 9/5.

    "[I]t's not half-bad," finds Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Frantically paced, littered with cute kids, and overstuffed with split screens and a rap score, Ping Pong Playa angles a little too hard for tween attention, but there's no resisting the movie's antic affability or its irreverence, even with Chris's [Jimmy Tsai] unavoidable progression toward the mature appreciation of his roots."

    "By this point, we've seen so many movies about the underdog, the Big Game and the rescue of the family honor, that it's almost impossible to tell that kind of story with a straight face," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "Which is what makes Ping Pong Playa such a surprising treat - this low-budget comedy keeps its tongue in cheek while simultaneously making us actually care about who wins the tournament."

    "Its mobile-phone-market visual and narrative aspirations aside, Ping Pong Playa's most compelling aspect is director-coscreenwriter Jessica Yu's versatility," writes Mark Holcomb in Time Out New York. "Though she's best known for a contemplative 2004 doc portrait of artist Henry Darger, Yu's interest here is adamantly in the realms of the disposably frivolous."

    Cheryl Eddy talks with Yu for the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

    Michael Ordoña talks with Tsai for the Los Angeles Times.

    Updates, 9/5: "Ping Pong Playa is a bright, nimble diversion, a quick-witted picture that's fast on its feet," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times.

    "The primary difference between Ping Pong Playa and, say, Step Brothers, is that Ms Yu's film tries sincerely for family-comedy status, or maybe TV rebroadcast, with its look and feel," writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Sun. "If its brand of amiable ethnic humor hits the spot, then 96 minutes of the routine should be a breeze."

    "[A]side from the casting and the location shooting, there's not much to distinguish Ping Pong Playa from Ladybugs or The Mighty Ducks," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club