October 31, 2008
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/31."In its secular, commercialized form, Halloween is an entirely playful holiday, and [Valerie and Her Week of Wonders], one of the most rapturous and peculiar artifacts of late-60s/early-70s Czech cinema, is also one of the most bouyantly playful of all fantastic films," writes Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Thing is, when it comes to scary movies, everybody's an expert - and curiously enough, the experts all seem to agree." So Salon's Andrew O'Hehir sees the need for two lists: "My first list is a kind of Halloween-horrorbot consensus, drawn from agglomerating numerous lists for points of agreement.... Then there's the second list, which although it's got several popular choices, is a bit more personal, a bit more arty, a bit more adorably idiosyncratic, a bit more Beyond the Multiplex, a bit more Sarah-winkin'-atcha." "The Movie Morlocks Pick Their Favorite Scary Movies." And part 2. "Nearly every week, DVD labels like The Weinstein Company and Lionsgate flood the market with horror movies, some of which had short theatrical runs, some of which played festivals, some of which aired on cable, and some of which are strictly straight-to-DVD." Noel Murray introduces the AV Club's extensive guide, "From Asylums to Zombies: In Search of a New Horror Classic." Lots of clips, plus they've "discovered at least two movies - one American, one Italian - that should be at the top of every horror fan's 'to watch' list." Not Coming to a Theater Near You wraps its "31 Days of Horror." Jonathan Lapper presents his "Kill Fest Finale." James Van Maanen has more "news from NYC's Anthology Film Archives: Its Halloween program will be a special midnight screening of Ken Russell's The Devils, with Big Ken himself present to answer your questions about this - and a lot else, we hope - his most revered (and loathed) movie." "The Playlist Gives It Up For The Best Horror Films Of All Time." At the Film Experience, JA lists five favorite "Monsters of the Aughts." Adam Ross lists the "10 Best 'Treehouses of Horror' Tales." "The good news about the recession is that we can look forward to some great horror movies," writes Anne Billson. "The fright genre has traditionally flourished in straitened times. Weimar Germany, the Great Depression and the 1970s oil crisis all coincided, not so coincidentally, with new waves of innovative, inventive nightmare visions that hold up a mirror to their eras just as much as the po-faced social-realist dramas of the day." Also in the Guardian:
Shorts, 10/31."A work of obvious affection, even adoration, what might surprise readers most is how Scorsese By Ebert emerges as a work of profound identification," writes S James Snyder for Time. "Long before they ever met each other, these two were kindred spirits. Scorsese's films spoke with a tone that Ebert had never heard before, and Ebert was Scorsese's champion well before the director became a household name." And Ebert's running an excerpt on The Last Temptation of Christ. "As if faintly anxious about requiring extra justification, both Marina Zenovich's recent documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, and Christopher Sandford's new book, Polanski: A Biography, flash their credentials early and often," writes Jonathan Kiefer in the New Haven Review. "As it turns out, Sandford's formerly sealed court transcripts aren't any more revelatory than Zenovich's familiar ones are cinematic. Yet neither of these new journalistic endeavors seems superfluous, and we're left to decide whether in the final analysis that's to Polanski's credit or our shame." Films in Review runs William K Everson's 1990 appreciation of Michael Powell. The Guardian's running Simon Callow's fine forward to Out at the Movies A History of Gay Cinema in which he explains why Four Weddings and a Funeral features "[p]erhaps the most important moment in the film from a gay perspective." Related: Kamera's Antonio Pasolini talks with author Steven Paul Davies. Also:
Studs Terkel, 1912 - 2008.Author-radio host-actor-activist and Chicago symbol Louis "Studs" Terkel died today at his Chicago home at age 96. At his bedside was a copy of his latest book, P.S. Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening, scheduled for a November release.... It is hard to imagine a fuller life. A television institution for years, a radio staple for decades, a literary lion since 1967, when he wrote his first best-selling book at the age of 55, Louis Terkel was born in New York City on May 16, 1912. "I came up the year the Titanic went down," he would often say. Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune. Updated through 11/6. Updates, 11/1: "In his oral histories, which he called guerrilla journalism, Mr Terkel relied on his enthusiastic but gentle interviewing style to elicit, in rich detail, the experiences and thoughts of his fellow citizens," writes William Grimes in the New York Times. "Over the decades, he developed a continuous narrative of great historic moments sounded by an American chorus in the native vernacular." A big salute from Time Out Chicago. "[A]s a suburban Chicagoan growing up in what was still a very working class metropolitan area, I could very well have learned and retained the narrower horizons that many of my relatives and neighbors had," writes Marilyn Ferdinand. "Studs gave me the kind of civic, social, and cultural education I probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere else, and he may be responsible for my highly eclectic and ecumenical tastes. I got that education over nearly four decades listening to The Studs Terkel Show, a talk radio show broadcast live at 10 a.m. (and rebroadcast at 10 p.m.) for an hour or thereabouts (Studs never watched the clock, nor was he made to by station owners Bernie and Rita Jacobs) on WFMT-FM, Chicago's Classical/Fine Arts station." Updates, 11/3: [W]ithout Mr Terkel's radio program, which was broadcast daily between 1952 and 1997, and without his books of oral history - including one that won him the Pulitzer Prize - it is difficult to imagine that National Public Radio would have evolved in the way it did, or that Ken Burns could have made oral history into a cinematic tradition," writes Edward Rothstein in the NYT. "Just dip into some of the imposing volumes of oral history, in which Mr Terkel took on the social world of the 20th century - Hard Times, The Good War or Working - and you are amazed at the range of people who spoke with him about the Depression, the Second World War or the world of the workplace: the bookmaker and the stockbroker, the carpenter and the washroom attendant, the mayor and the supermarket cashier. Mr Terkel anticipated the academic movement of recent decades to tell history from below - not from the perspective of the makers of history but from the perspective of those who have been shaped by it." AJ Schnack passes along thoughts from documentary filmmaker Steven Bognar: "Before NPR or This American Life, Studs Terkel innovated the long-form, in-depth interview with non-famous people.... He was among the first of us, and the best of us." Online viewing tip. "Studs was a friend of Facets for over 30 years," writes Phil Morehart. "An avid lover of cinema, he often presented and discussed his favorite films at Facets Cinematheque, including classics Body and Soul, The Blue Angel and The Grapes of Wrath (watch Studs and critic Michael Wilmington discuss The Grapes of Wrath at Facets here). And another online viewing tip, this one from Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog: Studs Terkel talks about his participation in Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool. At Movie Morlocks, suzidoll recalls working at Facets and watching Terkel and Wilmington introduce the films in their series. Then: Studs's appreciation and love of the performing arts comes through in The Spectator. Terkel himself is "the spectator" of the title - a person who appreciates watching movies and plays and thinking about what they have to offer. He was utterly remarkable in the depth of his personal knowledge on almost any given subject; he not only talked with an actor or writer about their careers, but he often asked them about something nonrelated. The person being interviewed would offer his opinion or insight on this unrelated subject, which was both informative about the topic and revealing of the celebrity himself. At other times, the conversational tone in the interview made it easy for the interviewee to open up and tell a little-known story about himself or recall a painful memory. Terkel's interviews were exactly how you imagine conversations should be among people of great intellect or talent. Updates, 11/6: For the NYT, David Gonzalez takes a look at Terkel's legacy in the Bronx. Esquire runs Cal Fussman's talk with Terkel.
Fests and events, 10/31.Sidney Gilliat, "who died in 1994, is one of the unsung heroes of British cinema, an extraordinarily versatile figure who wrote and directed riproaring thrillers, satirical comedies and home-front social dramas," writes Geoffrey Macnab, prepping Guardian readers for the season at BFI Southbank opening tomorrow and running through December 11. Steven Henry Madoff for Artforum: "Evidence of the ineffable in the particular form of fellow feeling is everywhere present in the curiosity and affection that Rirkrit Tiravanija displays in Chew the Fat (2008), his loosely constructed film memoir of the working lives of his close circle of friends—a group of artists who rose to critical attention in the 1990s: Angela Bulloch, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno, Elizabeth Peyton and Andrea Zittel." Screens as part of theanyspacewhatever, on view at the Guggenheim through January 7. "The Rome International Film Festival (RIFF) is drawing to a close," and Boyd van Hoeij hits the highlights for indieWIRE. "So Many Festivals It's Almost Scary." Brian Darr rounds up Bay Area goings on. The Chicago Underground Film Festival "continues Friday through Sunday, October 31 through November 2, with screenings and - as part of its new partnership with the Independent Feature Project Chicago - workshops and panel discussions for indie filmmakers," writes JR Jones in his overview for the Reader, which is also tracking the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema (site; through Monday) and the Chicago International Children's Film Festival (site; through Sunday). David Fear in Time Out New York on Hell Drivers (1957), screening at MoMA from tomorrow through November 7: "[Cy] Endfield's tale of tough guys under pressure isn't top-tier, though it is unjustly neglected; like its antiheroes, the film moves at a full-throttle pace and hugs the curves remarkably tightly." Online listening tip. On the Leonard Lopate Show, "Film preservationist and accompanist Serge Bromberg tells us about some rediscovered silent films, being screened in Treasures from a Chest, a curated program celebrating 100 years of animation. Bromberg provides live piano accompaniment and commentary." Tonight and tomorrow. Online viewing tip. Like Craig Keller yesterday, Ronald Bergan is mighty impressed with Godard's trailer for the Viennale.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father."Kurt Kuenne's Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is the most shattering documentary since Capturing the Friedmans," writes Marshall Fine. "Kuenne takes an intensely personal topic and pulls the audience in, until they are as emotionally invested as he is in the story he is telling." "For sheer technical prowess alone, Dear Zachary is one of the best works of sheer film editing since Oliver Stone seemingly broke the mold in JFK," writes Erik Childress at Hollywood Bitchslap. "Like that film, Dear Zachary unfolds like a masterful thriller that still nevertheless loses respect for the wake its tragedies have left.... Dear Zachary is one of the best documentaries you will see and it may actually be the best that I've ever seen." Updated. "[I]t's extraordinary to finally see a film worthy of comparison to Errol Morris's seminal The Thin Blue Line arriving two decades later," writes Martin Tsai in the Voice. "[I]t easily trumps any thriller Hollywood has to offer this year." "I can safely say that in all my years of cinematic escapism, this is the first time a movie has made me want to commit an act of murder," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not." "Not merely a tribute to a by-all-accounts great guy, the epistolary Dear Zachary doubles as an engaging news piece; it triples as a cutting critique of the Canadian justice system’s bail procedures, extradition laws and child-custody practices," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "In an era surfeited with cheaply produced DV-and-iMovie documentaries, Dear Zachary stands out as the work of a true filmmaker." "At once a personal documentary about the murder of his best friend and a polemical rant against the Canadian justice system for coddling a dangerous sociopath, it wants to provoke outrage," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Though the movie has been shown at Slamdance in Utah and other festivals in the US, the target audience for Dear Zachary, says Kuenne, is the Canadian voting public, which he hopes will change the bail and extradition laws in Canada after seeing the movie," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Kuenne "about his emotional journey while making the film, the importance of laughter, and how his film saved a 15-year-old's life." At the SpoutBlog, Brandon Harris talks with Kuenne about his "Media Diet." Noah Forrest talks with Kuenne for Movie City News. And indieWIRE interviews Kuenne, too. Updates: "The common refrain when describing Kurt Kuenne's documentary Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is that you shouldn't - that the shocking events that occur over the course of the film should blindside audiences as much as they blindside the filmmaker and his subjects." Alison Willmore at IFC: "But you wouldn't be watching Dear Zachary if it were merely the film Kuenne first set out to make." "Personal documentaries rarely operate under the aesthetic and narrative rules of horror films, incorporating shocking Shyamalan-esque twist endings, but Dear Zachary: A letter to a son about his father does, so it's fitting that Oscilloscope are beginning its roll out on Halloween," writes Karina Longworth. "In its title and initial structure, Dear Zachary sets up a foundation which it knows it's going to pull out from under us, and that makes it every bit as emotionally manipulative as a studio film." New York's David Edelstein is pretty rattled. If you're touchy about spoilers, he's got a few right up front, not only for Dear Zachary but for other films as well. You could, though, slip in around the middle, leading to: "A scant five minutes after the film ended, I emailed Kuenne: 'What at present is the status of Justice Gale Welsh? Has she commented on the case? If there is someone still alive who ought to be "brought to justice" on the occasion of the film's release, it is her.' I considered writing a letter ('Dear Canada...'), then decided to save my fury for this review. Dr Doucette got his comeuppance, but Welsh endures. I want her disbarred, disgraced. I want her... There, you see? This is the immensity of the feelings this movie evokes, lynch-mob feelings, because there is no end to the grief, no way of filling the hole."
Splinter."Exactly what a B-movie should be, Toby Wilkins's resourceful Splinter uses its limited means to its advantage, the film so focused on keeping terror at a fever pitch that it has scant time for needless exposition or elaborate narrative complications," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Buoyed by solid ensemble work, some yuckily effective special effects, and a script that subverts genre convention by having its characters do smart things instead of stupid ones (mostly), Splinter earns our respect while delivering 82 minutes of lean, mean fun," writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. "The situation is fairly basic and doesn't have the psychological or sociological nuance that distinguishes similar scenarios in George Romero's Living Dead movies," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "But even though the characters conform to every expected stereotype, the acting is reasonably convincing. And the monsters travel light, unburdened by allegorical baggage. What are they supposed to be? I don't know. Just really gross and scary, I think." "Must it mean anything?" asks Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "Not especially, but it would help.... If the minimart hadn't been so well pressurized by last year's The Mist, this indie would seem a touch more creative. Instead, it's a pesky hangnail, easily removed with tweezers." "[I]ts creature design and visual effects are both convincing and sparingly employed, and the mostly single-location setting is admirably resourceful," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club But the film lacks that spark of originality or humor or thematic resonance that might have elevated it from forgettable genre time-passer to something more lasting."
One Day You'll Understand."Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai doesn't seem to have a career so much these days as a mission," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "It would be difficult for this ambassador of his nation's cinema to break away from Capital-t Topics at this point, but his lugubriousness as a filmmaker indicates that he believes in his own cause as much as his admirers do.... And this one-man film warrior has finally, with his latest, One Day You'll Understand, made his first explicit fictional work of Holocaust remembrance. While its intimacy occasionally brings out some memorable pocket-sized moments, the film is still burdened with Gitai's dry art-cinema tactics and narrative didacticism." Updated through 11/2. "Jeanne Moreau's remarkable face has been carrying movies both great and not so much for the past 60 years," writes Adam Nayman in the Voice. "Amos Gitai's latest falls into the second category, though the blame can hardly be placed on its octogenarian star." "In under 20 minutes of screen time, Jeanne Moreau supplies One Day You'll Understand with an otherwise absent emotional weight of reconciliation to the anguished history of WWII France," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "One Day You'll Understand contains no great revelations or surprises, but rather is suffused with a quiet glow of sympathy and enlightenment," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Its narrow scope and calm demeanor are signs of its seriousness and integrity." "As with 2000's Kippur, Gitai invigorates the narrative drawn from Jérôme Clément's autobiographical novel with a tactility that extends to location-shoot barriers (interior walls become featured players) and revelatory ambient sounds," writes Mark Holcomb in Time Out New York. "The effect beautifully underscores the film's thesis that memory is physical in basis and limited as moral compass." "Compared to Claude Miller's stirring A Secret (Un Secret) last year, Mr Gitai's film is a minimalist treatment of the deadly French collaborationist and anti-Semitic frenzies during the German occupation from 1940 to 1944," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "The casting of 80-year-old Jeanne Moreau, that eternally winsome temptress of cinema, in the role of Rivka, provides much of the raison d'être for the project. It is only the latest manifestation of the deep respect the French cinema has always shown for its aging actresses and actors." "One Day You'll Understand is as slow-paced as Gitai's films usually are, and the characters are as typically one-dimensional, existing primarily to embody a problem or a point of view," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "But the film is also steeped in deep sorrow, and when Moreau breaks down crying on Yom Kippur while trying to explain herself to her grandkids, One Day reaches an emotional level well above Gitai's typical remove." Update, 11/2: "I don't think One Day You'll Understand is by any stretch Gitai's best work - if you haven't seen his Israeli masterpieces Kadosh and Kippur, start there - but no living filmmaker has his extraordinary formal command of the medium, and he produces half a dozen scenes here that are among the best I've seen in any motion picture all year," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon.
My Name is Bruce."Most Bruce Campbell performances come equipped with campy self-awareness, so My Name is Bruce - a film in which Campbell (directing as well as starring) sends up himself, his crummy oeuvre and monster movies in general - immediately seems redundant," writes Nick Schager in Slant. Aaron Hillis in the Voice: "With a high-camp villain that seems to have escaped from Bubba Ho-tep, slapstick scares à la Evil Dead, and Ted Raimi playing three different roles, the only things missing from this unfunny Campbell love fest are a passable script, Sam Raimi's inventiveness, and a level of sophistication beyond nose-picking and ass grabs." Updated through 11/6. "My Name is Bruce is filled with awful, recycled jokes like the sight of two rugged miners in Brokeback Mountain mode growling, 'I can't quit you,'" sighs Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "It ridicules Asians for confusing r's and l's. The fact that My Name Is Bruce knows what it's doing doesn't mean its funny." Somewhat related, Todd Brown notes at Twitch that Don Coscarelli hopes to make his Bubba Ho-Tep prequel, Bubba Nosferatu, after all - but without Campbell. Ron Perlman may take the role of Elvis instead. And Todd points to Quint's interview with Paul Giamatti as the source of this tidbit. Update, 11/2: Brent Simon talks with Campbell for the Vulture. Updates, 11/4: "It was a relief to discover that My Name is Bruce is a bundle of good cheesy fun," writes Jette Kernion at Cinematical. "The gags tend to work, the storyline is eye-rollingly ridiculous but rarely dull, and Campbell is at his lovably jerky best." And she interviews Campbell. And for IFC, Aaron Hillis talks with Campbell "about awkward fans, harvesting his lavender, and why he thinks the Three Stooges are funnier than the Marx brothers." Update, 11/6: Shaun Brady talks with Campbell for the Philadelphia City Paper.
Nosferatu the Vampyre.The IFC Center in New York is reviving Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre through Tuesday. "Between the hordes of stowaway rats that accompany Dracula's arrival, and a town-plaza dance of folly by doomed survivors (a Herzog addition), it's like being present at the birth of a medieval legend," writes Nicolas Rapold in the Voice. "Rather than a remake, Herzog saw Nosferatu as a reconnection with German culture, reaching past the Great War to an earlier age (scoring to Wagner, playing up the silent-era look of Isabelle Adjani as Lucy)." "You can love this movie without having to admit it's merely an okay version of Dracula." Joshua Rothkopf explains in Time Out New York.
October 30, 2008
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/30."It was 70 years ago today - October 30, 1938 - that Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre traumatised American radio listeners with their brilliant adaptation of The War of the Worlds," John Coulthart reminds us. He wrote about the program last year; this year, he revisits the closing passage of Howard Koch's 1970 book about the play, The Panic Broadcast. More from Scott Marks. "Haunting is a form of un/knowing. The 7th issue of Forum engages with haunting and related concepts such as the uncanny, spectrality and the trace by looking at a variety of different texts and contexts." Via Catherine Grant. "For those of you planning a Halloween viewing party, the staff of Filmmaker has compiled thoughts on seven films guaranteed to generate chills." "The 25 Greatest Horror Films of All Time," Screengrab's latest list. "Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess is an oddity, often maddening, frustrating, fascinating, riddled with both flaws and beauty, and bursting with revelations," writes Flickhead. "Just a few years into the 21st century, Olivier Assayas wrote in the Village Voice: 'Cronenberg's visionary Videodrome is the most important film of this generation. Time has only reinforced its audacity.'" Sean Axmaker: "It's been 25 years since David Cronenberg's first masterpiece drilled its mutant images into the minds of unsuspecting audiences, and Videodrome is as contemporary and relevant as ever." Lynda Pratt in the Times Literary Supplement: As Marilyn Butler so acutely observed, Frankenstein is "famously reinterpretable. It can be a late version of the Faust myth, or an early version of the modern myth of the mad scientist; the id on the rampage, the proletariat running amok, or what happens when a man tries to have a baby without a woman." Yet the very familiarity of Frankenstein means that its complex pre- and post-publication textual history is often overlooked, and the actual process of composition of a fiction so centrally concerned with creation ignored. The novel's textual instability is explored in the impressive introduction to Charles Robinson's new edition. His honorable aim is not to give us another text of the novel we know - or think we know - but to strip away nearly two centuries of revision and appropriation in order to return to what he describes as the "original" Frankenstein. At Movie Morlocks, an appreciation from Moira Finnie: Dwight Frye's "extraordinarily indelible performances, blending the grotesque, the poignant and the funny in his characterizations in classic horror movies of the 30s have always fascinated and repelled me. He was particularly memorable as the benighted Renfield in Dracula (1931), and as Fritz, the pitiable hunchbacked dwarf in Frankenstein (1931) who retrieves a defective brain for the monster, and as Karl who assists Colin Clive and Ernest Thesiger in the highly amusing burlesque in Bride of Frankenstein (1935), all of which helped to make these now nearly 80 year old “entertainments” memorable and fresh to this day and each of which confirmed his typecasting. Perhaps Frye played such parts too well, for he never quite escaped them." "As every horror fan knows, any successful idea merits a sequel," writes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "So it should come as no surprise that last year's Exhumed Films 24-Hour Horror-Thon has, one year later, spawned the inevitable Part 2. Exhumed added a bigger-and-better gimmick: Straddling the switchover to daylight-saving time, the noon-to-noon event will this year be a 25-hour marathon." Saturday to Sunday. For IFC, Stephen Saito has "asked some of the best in the [make-up] business to pick their favorite horror creations." "You may have noticed that Halloween falls on a Friday this year, and you may also have noticed that this would be a way bigger deal if you were still in college." Assuming you're not going Trick or Treating - or to a party - but to a movie, Jesse Hassenger offers "a quick rundown of your spooking options" in the L Magazine. "The best kinds of horror films aren't at a theater near you, leaving the horror buff with two options: Go the arthouse route or indulge in nostalgia, a manipulative but essential part of the horror fan's experience." Simon Abrams in the New York Press: "On the one hand, adventurous filmgoers determined to tough it out with (shudder) new films have some pretty good options, like Let the Right One In, an uncommonly good Swedish vampire teen romance and Splinter, a supernatural slasher pastiche. On the other hand, NYC filmgoers have a number of terrific older standards (depending on one's acquired tastes) at their disposal, from a week-long run of Rosemary's Baby at the Film Forum (Oct 31 - Nov 6) to two midnight showings of A Nightmare on Elm Street at the Landmark Sunshine (Oct 31 & Nov 1)." "As a fishing and horror film fanatic (two separate endeavors, I assure you), I can't help but think during this Halloween season about films featuring sadistic anglers, horrific sharks, and torturous fishing trips," writes Chris Justice at PopMatters. "[P]erhaps this is the year of the Television Great Pumpkin," suggests Reverse Shot's cnw, who then turns to an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Online scrolling tip. Not really film-related, but fun nonetheless: The Idolator's guide to horrorcore. Online listening tip. "Tim Burton's cult stop-motion film [The Nightmare Before Christmas] turns 15 this year, and as previously reported a motley crew of indie and goth-pop acts have recorded covers for an updated soundtrack called Nightmare Revisited," notes Stereogum. Via the Playlist. Online viewing tips. Trailers at Twitch: Die Schneider Krankheit and Pontypool.
Fests and events, 10/30.Minnelli's Melodramas runs at the Harvard Film Archive through tomorrow. "Diverse as they are, the [Vincente] Minnelli melodramas share this common ground: their mise en scène of excess and release happens inside what looks like a blandly normal and conventional framework," writes Chris Fujiwara at Moving Image Source. "If their social criticism gets redirected to a relatively safe area, defined by plots that hinge on renunciation and retrenchment, the very obviousness of this displacement - the fact that it was felt to be needed at all - acts as a form of criticism." "No director seems less likely to inspire consensus than the late Stanley Kubrick, who would have turned 80 this year.... Over the next six weeks, The Belcourt presents the entire Kubrick feature repertoire - including a free, likely never-to-be-repeated showing of his 1953 debut Fear and Desire, the film he hoped would stay hidden." Five writers for the Nashville Scene argue the case for one Kubrick each. Tomorrow through December 15. "The London film festival comes to a close this evening with a showing of Danny Boyle's much-fancied new film Slumdog Millionaire," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "For me, this has been an accessible, stimulating festival, richly and inventively programmed.... I think it is the best I can remember for a while. And this is because I consciously set out to find and (where I could) blog about some left-field films. I hoped for serendipitous discoveries and, as it were, news-bulletins from creative minds around the world. El Cielo, la Tierra, y la Lluvia - or The Sky, the Earth and the Rain - by the 33-year-old Chilean filmmaker José Luis Torres Leiva is a case in point." More from Henry Barnes and Jack Arnott. "Opening at the Roxie this Friday, Christmas on Mars extends a long, lately rising number of narrative features made by musicians," notes Dennis Harvey at SF360: They've always run a gamut from the terrible (Bob Dylan - please stop making movies! Prince - please don't go back to making movies! Madonna - just leave cinema alone! It hates you!!!) to the inspirationally oddball (a wide range encompassing Neil Young, Yoko Ono, Sun Ra, Frank Zappa, Rob Zombie and R Kelly, to name just a few). Such crossovers should be encouraged, simply because filmmakers coming from other media (think Miranda July or Julian Schnabel) often bring fresher ideas to the table than your average film-schooled Hollywould-be who's been primarily shaped by movies, movies and more movies. As one might expect, the [Flaming Lips'] maiden contribution lands firmly on the quirky/pleasurable rather than pseudo-quirky/excruciating end of this scale. Carole Zabar's Other Israel Film Festival, running Nov 6 to 13 at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan "is not to be confused with the 23rd Israel Film Festival, which... runs through Nov 13 at the Clearview Cinema, on Broadway at 62nd Street," notes Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times. "Ms Zabar's festival, in its second year, focuses specifically on the experience of Israeli Arabs, which makes it somewhat less mainstream and certainly more of a hard sell to its core audience, New York Jews." Josh Rosenblatt preps Austin Chronicle readers for Avant Cinema 2.3: In Honor of Conner, a one-night-only retrospective of films by Bruce Conner. November 5. Migrating Forms, which has grown out of the New York Underground Film Festival, has issued a call for entries. The deadline's December 1. Marilyn Ferdinand wraps the Chicago International Film Festival, while, blogging for the Chicago Reader, Pat Graham looks back on the highlights. Online viewing tip #1. Craig Keller offers a close reading of Godard's trailer for the Viennale. Online viewing tip #2. "Wunderkind Nik Fackler's feature film Lovely, Still, premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival." FilmCatcher: "We gave Nik a Flip Camera and sent him out to document his business of going to parties, doing interviews, being celebrated and hanging out with the crème de la crème of the indie world."
Jean-Daniel Pollet."Although he is sometimes associated with the nouvelle vague (he was one of the six filmmakers Barbet Schroeder chose to produce for his 1965 omnibus film Paris Vu Par...), Jean-Daniel Pollet was both older and more independent from mainstream cinema than Chabrol, Truffaut, Godard, et al." Philippe Garnier in the Voice on a filmmaker "who may be just as little known in his home country as he surely is abroad, despite the efforts by Jonathan Rosenbaum and others to herald his works. This makes the five programs offered by Anthology Film Archives' Unidentified Filmic Objects: The Films of Jean-Daniel Pollet all the more compelling." Very much looking forward to this series: Daniel Kasman (Auteurs' Notebook) and James Van Maanen. Tomorrow through Wednesday.
Countdown to Nov 4."I'm David Bordwell and I approved this message." He's noticed that "the terminology of Big Theory in the humanities has trickled into journalism and politics" and "the term that has gotten the most play is 'narrative.'" Tear your eyes away from FiveThirtyEight or whatever else you've got open in that other window and spend some time with this entry. Besides the candidates' books and a slew of other touchstones, David Bordwell eventually turns to American Stories, the infomercial the Obama campaign ran last night and "a gift to the film analyst." For more on that, see Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog and Heather Havrilesky in Salon. Updated through 11/4. "John McCain was featured prominently in my documentary film Why We Fight," writes Eugene Jarecki, beginning a story that explains why he feels "compelled to share a cautionary tale of my own firsthand experience with the Straight-Talk Express." Also at the Huffington Post, Danny Elfman tells the story behind Our Greatest Fear. For the LA CityBeat, Andy Klein reviews "The Presidential Election 55. Written and directed by Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Alan Greenspan. With Barack Obama, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Joe Biden and the electoral college. Opens Tuesday countrywide." Having just launched People in the Middle for Obama, Errol Morris visits the Living Room Candidate to trace the history of "real-people political ads." Also in the New York Times:
Auteurs. Rossellini."Like most directors associated with the post-war neo-realist film movement out of Italy, [Roberto] Rossellini - whose films Rome, Open City (1945), Paisan (1946), and Germany Year Zero (1948) are canonical masterpieces of the era—is rarely popularly remembered for his films outside of the 1940s," writes Daniel Kasman, looking ahead to a season of potentially relevatory releases on DVD. "If anything, Rossellini's didactic works, including [The Taking of Power by Louis XIV] and other such masterpieces as Blaise Pascal (1972) and later works on Socrates, St Augustine and Descartes clarified that perhaps Roberto Rossellini was the only director working - or perhaps had ever worked - in neo-realism. These are films where realism did not mean use of non-professional actors, or social-realist narratives, or location shooting, or the many other textbook qualities commonly ascribed to the movement, but rather, in the words of New York Times critic Manohla Dargis, they were movies that attempted to present the world, unadorned." Also in the Auteurs' Notebook, Zach Campbell on Dov'è la libertà...? (Where Is Freedom?, 1954) and Era notte a Roma (Blackout in Rome, 1960): "Dov'è la libertà works out the same basic problem that animated Rossellini's much more 'serious' Europa '51 (aka The Greatest Love) made just before - that is, what becomes those whose adherence to a commonly held good leads them, logically, to a destination with which society cannot make sense?... Though comedic, the film rummages through the moral and historical rubble of postwar Italy in a sense analogous to the literal rubble of Italian cities in neorealist cinema." And: "Though [Era notte a Roma] is in many ways a retread of earlier material, its camera style beckons ever-so-mildly to the films that Rossellini would start making a few years later - the late historical telefilms, four of which will come out on R1 DVD courtesy of Criterion/Eclipse very soon."
AFI Fest, week 1.Tonight, "AFI Fest, now in its 22nd year, will open with the world premiere of Doubt, starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times, but as Scott Foundas explains in the LA Weekly, just over a week ago, this was not the plan. The story behind the withdrawal of The Soloist from that opening night slot (the film's been bumped to March) is good fun, but "the real value of any festival is measured not by, but, rather, in-between opening and closing night.... And on that account, this year's AFI Fest can be deemed a triumph even before the first foot of film has been exposed to a projector's bulb." Along with its "comprehensive guide to more than 40 AFI Fest titles," the LAW features: Updated through 11/5.
October 29, 2008
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/29."Maybe you didn't realize it - I didn't until too late - but October 12, 2008 marked the 25th anniversary of the publication of [Michael J] Weldon's magnum opus The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film," writes Rob Gonsalves at Hollywood Bitchslap. "This monolith of cult, exploitation, classic, mondo, and just plain cool films became the gold standard by which all other such compilations would be judged - the schlock-cinema equivalent of The Trouser Press Record Guide, left atop coffee tables in slacker dens everywhere for friends to lose themselves in.... Weldon, with the help of Ballantine Books, legitimized the low, the weird, the obscure, the greasers and sluts and punks of celluloid." "Horror buffs are probably already familiar with the name Stephen Romano. After all, he scripted the first segment ever for Showtime's Masters of Horror series (Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, directed by Don Coscarelli) and his short story collection The Riot Act drew lavish praise from the likes of John Skipp and Joe R Lansdale. Now Romano is poised to break out with Shock Festival, an illustrated fictional history of 101 exploitation movies, all of which were concocted by Romano himself." Pete Vonder Haar talks with him for Film Threat. "Though undoubtedly intended to honor the film's iconic status as a classic chiller, Film Forum's decision to start its week-long revival of Rosemary's Baby on Halloween in some ways diminishes Roman Polanski's achievement," argues Tim Grierson. "Sure, it's one of the finest horror films ever made, but 40 years after its premiere, Rosemary's Baby (adapted from Ira Levin's 1967 novel) plays more like an unnerving commentary on our still-sexist society than it does a traditional scare flick." More from Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. Back in the Voice, Nick Pinkerton finds Passengers to be "a kind of declawed, inside-out Final Destination - with none of the sense of showmanship, and all the looming malice of a mawkish condolence card." And Luke Y Thompson reviews Saw V: "The method to the madness of the traps turns out to be quite clever, but the rewriting of Saw mythology is the slasher equivalent of revising Star Wars so that Greedo fires at Han Solo first." "On the grand scale of horror franchises which have progressively pillaged their brilliant origins, the Hellraiser series is right up there with Halloween and Saw," writes Ben Child. "A series of seven increasingly rushed sequels have followed the Clive Barker 1987 classic which introduced the world to the demon Pinhead. Yet studio Dimension have at least been taking their time over plans for a series reboot: they announced yesterday that French horror ingenue Pascal Laugier is to become the third director to take charge of the project." Also in the Guardian: "I'd like to think that the stereotype of lots of boys in black zombie T-shirts is finally going away. They're not the majority any more." That's Adèle Hartley, founder of Edinburgh's Dead by Dawn horror film festival, in Wendy Roby's piece on "the female hunger for horror." More "Great Pumpkins" at the Reverse Shot Blog: "Meet Me in St Louis, that big old slab of female-centric Americana, contains perhaps the century's greatest cinematic evocation of Halloween, outpacing even John Carpenter's sharp visualization of that most dreaded suburban twilight 34 years later," argues robbiefreeling, who's also got an entry on the Night Gallery episode, The Cemetery. Plus, Nathan Kosub on Pumpkinhead. "Nature, Nurture and the Guilty Parent in Bride of Frankenstein (Whale, 1935) and Young Frankenstein (Brooks, 1974)," an entry from Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Mother of Tears is just good enough to hope that [Dario] Argento has another classic up his sleeve, but bad enough to realize what an unlikely bit of alchemy that would be," writes Andrew Bemis. James Rocchi: "Susan Sontag told us about disease as metaphor; with The Fly, Cronenberg gave us an incredibly potent ultimate expression of that idea." Robert Horton revives his 1984 "appreciation of a horror duo by Joe Dante and John Sayles," Piranha and The Howling. At the SpoutBlog, Lauren Wissot argues that Daughters of Darkness is the "Sexiest Vampire Movie Ever." Matt Singer carries on listing at IFC: "Puddy In Their Hands - Ten Old Movie Makeup Jobs That Hold Up, Part II." "Halloween in the Time of Cholera," a photoset from Steve Chasmar via Coudal Partners. Online viewing tip. Via Jerry Lentz, the trailer for The Mind Snatchers, starring Christopher Walken.
Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback."A true tall tale that unfolds like the Great Unwritten Cold War Rock Novel, Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback traces how a beat-crazy combo formed by five bored US soldiers stationed in West Germany in 1964 evolved into an ambitious, time-sanctified art-punk project," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "One of the featured points is that the band's two German, art-school-trained manager-conceptualists, Walther Niemann and Karl-H Remy (neither interviewed here), were primary in defining the group's grudging aesthetic and jingle-repetitive lyrics," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Before being drilled into Bauhaus sternness by the brainy Teutons, the Monks were a good-but-one-in-a-thousand bar band called the Torquays - afterward, they were wearing tonsures and barking down the Vietnam War." Updated through 10/31. Opens at Anthology Film Archives on Friday; for more pullquotes and the trailer, see the site. Update, 10/31: "Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback, an ambitious but unfocused documentary by the filmmakers Dietmar Post and Lucía Palacios, bids to immortalize this short-lived if influential group," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "The case is compelling - the Monks had an amazing sound that anticipated the avant-garde pop of the Velvet Underground - and a little hysterical: one of the band's admirers claims that the social upheavals of 1968 would have happened two years earlier if everyone had been listening to the band."
Teuvo Tulio, coast to coast."The Finns called him their Valentino, the 'Wild Bird' of the national cinema." J Hoberman in the Voice: "BAMcinématek is using the more prosaic Master of Melodrama. But to judge from the four-feature sampling that begins Monday, director-writer-producer-actor Teuvo Tulio (1912 - 2000) is a cinematic 'found object' as ferocious as South Korea's outlaw genre artist Kim Ki-young (subject of a recent Walter Reade retro) or the Mexican maestros of the cabaretera who may someday get their due." Cullen Gallagher previews these "four masterpieces of melodrama, all made between 1938 and 1946," in the L Magazine: "Paradise and innocence lost are Tulio's preoccupations, and his characters are invariably naive girls who are turned wayward and wanton by corrupting men. But within this paradigm, Tulio expresses a sexual and moral sophistication that surpasses anything made in Production Code-era Hollywood." The series runs through November 24, overlapping with Discovering Teuvo Tulio, running at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley from November 15 through December 4. Related: "How did Theodor Tugai turn into Teuvo Tulio?" at the Finnish Embassy. And a Finnish tribute.
Milk premiere."The guests came to the Castro Theatre on Tuesday dressed in Levi's and designer dresses, '70s-chic velvet jackets and drag-queen heels and glitter," reports Steven Winn for the San Francisco Chronicle. "It looked like a glamorous early start on Halloween, but actually it was a Hollywood affair complete with a red carpet and a who's-who invitation list. And, it was all devoted to a sold-out, one-night-only, world-premiere benefit screening of Milk, the hotly anticipated new film about the life, times and tragic death of controversial San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk." Seen at the scene: "Vote No on Prop 8" signs, Mayor Gavin Newsom, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, Sean Penn, who plays Milk, and his wife, Robin Wright Penn, Josh Brolin, who plays assassin Dan White and director Gus Van Sant. Not seen: the inside-baseball-level controversy over Focus Features' release strategy. Updated through 10/31. Yesterday, CEO James Schamus responded to the Hollywood Reporter article and blog entry speculating up a couple of reasons why Focus may be "hiding" the film. In a letter indieWIRE editor Eugene Hernandez posts in full at his blog, Schamus shoots back to the Reporter, "That's a pretty serious charge, especially made by a reporter who did not call us to get his facts, so to speak, straight." In short, the film hasn't screened at festivals yet because it hasn't been ready in time. What's more, "We determined early on that the only appropriate place for the world premiere of Milk was San Francisco." Nathan Lee, blogging for WNYC, notes that he "saw it twice in order to write a feature story in the upcoming issue of Film Comment, and was politely asked not to publish, post, or otherwise publicly broadcast my critical take on the movie. But so what? That strikes me as a perfectly professional agreement to make, given that I saw the film for a particular assignment. And the notion that there's anything worrisome about Milk not premiering at a big awards-season player like the Toronto Film Festival is both silly and small-minded." And he's still not reviewing it; but he does add that "it's impossible to watch Milk and not see the Obama narrative reflected in ways that are both stirring and unnerving. Were Milk already in theaters and chewed over by the media, it would have been sucked into the election discourse like everything else - and likely raised the subject of political assassination in ways that no one much wants to contemplate." Updates: "In a private comment, a young gay writer appropriately labeled the film "our Malcolm X" following a recent screening of the film," writes Eugene Hernandez. "Indeed, at times Milk evokes early Spike Lee more than the recent work of Gus Van Sant. The emotional tug of the movie is impossible to resist, especially for queer viewers challenged to openly embrace their history. By the end of the film, when a staged candelight vigil seamlessly blends into footage of the actual silent march in memory of Milk, many in the theater were crying. Extended applause followed as the credits rolled and the lights came up at the Castro." "Sean Penn gives an Oscar lock performance of power and subtlety that ranks with the best of his career," writes David Poland. "[T]onally and aesthetically the film falls somwhere between [Good Will Hunting and [My Own Private Idaho]," suggests the Playlist. "Yes, it's certainly Gus Van Sant's most classical and straight-forward work since the aforementioned Boston prodigy drama, but Milk is executed without sacrificing his signature stamp - there's subtle and little flourishes of his creative filmmaking touches that we haven't seen since his Drugstore Cowboy and Idaho days." Claudia Eller reports on the premiere for the Los Angeles Times. Kristi Turnquist was there, too, for the Oregonian. Updates, 10/31: Producer William Horberg has notes and photos from the premiere. Via Movie City News. From Guy Adams's report for the Independent: "The new film features a scene in which Penn enjoys a long French kiss with his co-star, James Franco. In a recent interview, Franco revealed that shortly after the scene was shot, Penn text-messaged his former wife Madonna saying: 'I just popped my cherry kissing a guy. I thought of you, I don't know why.' The singer texted back: 'Congratulations!'"
British Independent Film Awards. Nominations."Hunger, the debut film by artist Steve McQueen about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, has been nominated for seven British Independent Film Awards. Turner Prize-winner McQueen's film has more nominations than The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley, and Happy-Go-Lucky, the latest movie from Mike Leigh." Sherna Noah has the full list in the Independent.
October 28, 2008
Shorts, 10/28.Gus Van Sant's Milk premieres tonight at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. The Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik thinks Focus Features is "hiding it" and lays out a few possible reasons. Meanwhile, Shawn Levy points to Borys Kit's story in the Hollywood Reporter on Fox Searchlight picking up Van Sant and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's next project, an adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Related online viewing. Black has directed two Web ads for Republicans Against 8 and Ted Johnson's got them. Ray Pride's having a hard time taking Belá Tarr's plans for his next project seriously. "The International Documentary Association announced their nominees for their annual awards today," notes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "The five features to get the nod are Kassim the Dream, Stranded, Man on Wire, Young@Heart and Waltz With Bashir." Catherine Grant presents an extensive roundup - text, audio, video - on Atom Egoyan's Adoration. Scott Macaulay's latest entry at Filmmaker is full of sorely needed levity: "Zizek and Henri-Levy on Kusturica." "Before standardizing the topography of noir with Murder My Sweet, Edward Dmytryk made the nervy little "coming home from the war" film Til the End of Time," writes Erich Kuersten at Bright Lights After Dark. "A lower budgeted cousin to William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives, Dmytryk's film walks and whispers where Wyler's marches and sings." "How Will Recession Affect the Entertainment Biz?" asks Rebecca Winters Keegan in Time. Lots of online listening today, for whatever reason:
DVDs, 10/28.Terrence Malick "has been trying to forge a new way to express concepts other films don't dare approach," writes Bilge Ebiri. "Sometimes these attempts come off as clichéd, but that may also be because he is, in effect, portraying a failed human attempt to give voice to something that cannot be named or spoken." Then, echoing Malick's own comments on Heidegger, "if Malick resorts to his own peculiar language, it is because ordinary cinema does not meet his purposes; and it does not because he has new and different purposes." Also at Moving Image Source, Michael Atkinson relates the "possibly apocryphal tale" of a slightly, somewhat, maybe even vastly different version of The Thin Red Line that no one except Malick has ever seen: "How much does authorial intention matter? Does it make a difference that perhaps the film's current form isn't what Malick finally wanted? Does the possibility of Malick crafting the film as almost a defiant nose-thumbing, after he'd wanted to make a more traditional movie, affect how we see the film? If a director's cut ever surfaces (there's an online petition for its release, with over a thousand names), will it be less Malickian? Or more so? Would it be a better film, or less distinctive, less poetic? Which one would be the 'real' film?" Related offline reading: The Thin Red Line, a volume in Routledge's Philosophers on Film series. More Michael Atkinson, here reviewing Flight of the Red Balloon for IFC: "Let's begin by dumping the unhelpful category 'minimalism' - Hou [Hsiao-hsien] films, as with Ozu's and Tsai Ming-liang's and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's and Abbas Kiarostami's and Carlos Reygadas's, can hardly be summed up as having relative dearth of material within them; usually, they are spectacularly rich and sometimes inexhaustible. As viewers in this rigorous corner of film culture - the cinema of real time and actual space and mysterious unseen forces - we help drive the bus, we are not merely passengers. (As J Hoberman wrote about Flight of the Red Balloon, the new Hou film 'encourages the spectator to rummage.') Hou is very much the paradigm's Renoir, its master of lyrical sympathy." There's also a new 20th Anniversary Edition of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Atkinson finds the whole project to be "both a sophomoric trifle, an official codification of amateur real-life couch potato heckling and a bottomlessly fascinating avant-garde process by which forgotten films are repurposed and reinvented, given a new layer of text and mocked in their helpless void." In the Eclipse set Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women, "All of his major creative phases are covered," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times: "the romantic, Expressionist-tinged work of the silent and early sound periods; the politically engaged work of the postwar period, influenced by Italian neo-realism; and the final creative surge of the 1950s, in which a distanced, contemplative tone conveys an infinite solicitude for human suffering, balanced by a sense of its insignificance in the cosmic order." Josef Braun reviews Aki Kaurismäki's Proletariat Trilogy, which "wasn't originally intended as such, and indeed, their themes, like the ubiquitous rock and roll performances, always happening somewhere in Helsinki's bars, can be found in many other Kaurismäki movies. But they do share certain remarkable similarities that reward consecutive viewing: their quiet tributes to the haggard dignity and, in two out of three cases, redeeming solidarity of the working class; their endlessly playful interweaving of old Hollywood genre conventions, homages to Sirk, Ray and Hawks, into what would seem an ill-fitting aesthetic; and the use of starkly lyrical opening sequences constructed from images of hard work, sequences that instantly beguile and set the tone every time out." Cullen Gallagher, writing at Hammer to Nail, finds an antidote to Juno in Billy the Kid. John McElwee revisits both versions of The Killers. Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume 6, features "an entire DVD devoted largely to "patriotic" cartoons from the World War II era in which, among other things, Bugs Bunny impersonates Joseph Stalin, viewers are encouraged to buy bonds and an animated Adolf Hitler invariably gets whacked on the head with a mallet," notes Jen Chaney in the Washington Post. More from Glenn Kenny. For the Wall Street Journal, David Propson celebrates the "Lubitsch Touch" in To Be or Not to Be. Via Movie City News. Paul Matwychuk enjoys Bright Lights, Big City "for its time capsule qualities." Online viewing tip #1. From the cinetrix: "Warhol's screentests are being released on DVD in early '09 with a Dean and Britta score." Online viewing tip #2. Via Fimoculous, the trailer for the Justice doc A Cross the Universe, coming out on DVD on November 24. DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker ("Halloween 2008 edition"), Monika Bartyzel (Cinematical), Paul Clark at Screengrab, John DeFore (Austin Movie Blog), Ambrose Heron, Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and James Van Maanen ("Two Wheat, Two Chaff"). And of course, as always, the Guru.
Fests and events, 10/28.The L Magazine's Mark Asch: "Far from Vietnam is a movie from 1967 that's screened, watched, discussed, far less than you'd think it would be given that it's directed by Jean-Luc Godard (at the height of his formalist Marxist influence), the poetic documentarian Joris Ivens, the livejournalist of the French New Wave Agnes Varda, the American-in-Paris photographer William Klein, the modernist-chic time traveler Alain Resnais, the New Wave also-ran Claude Lelouch (there were always a bunch of second-tier directors attached to these kinds of projects), and the mercurial international man of semiotic mystery Chris Marker." Tonight at Light Industry. "When It Was Blue, Jennifer Reeves's new 16-mm film performance with live musical accompaniment, will be presented at the Kitchen in New York this week, marking the culmination of a work that took more than four years for the artist to create." Ed Halter for Artforum. "A big shout out to the Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art and Australian Cinematheque for programming five George A Romero zombie films for this forthcoming Halloween weekend." Ben Goldsmith also notes that GoMA's Out of the Shadows: German Expressionism and Beyond rolls on through November 30. "Where there has been much focus on the formal qualities of film production and the evolving nature of film criticism, in my opinion not enough attention has been paid to reception studies and the sociocultural dimensions of global cinema as reflected through film festival culture, in contrast - let's say - to the sociocultural dimension of online discourse about film studies, which lately has begun to remind me of a high school popularity contest," writes Michael Guillén. "With transnational aplomb, the current issue of Film International (Vol 6, Issue 4) is a specially-themed issue on 'Genre Films & Festival Communities' that seeks to redress that oversight. This issue has been indispensable in helping me articulate my continuing position within this cine-phenomenon." "Never a stranger to the silly side of rock 'n' roll, the Sound Unseen Music and Film Festival will wrap up its ninth year on Thursday night with Anvil!, a documentary portrait of the titular Toronto headbangers that's almost too funny - too Spinal Tappin' - to be true," writes Rob Nelson. "Simply crafted but powerful and involving, veteran Burkina Faso director S Pierre Yameogo's new Delwende, which opens this Friday on the SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki, shows an isolated society still vulnerable to superstition," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. Peter Nellhaus takes a first glance at the lineup for this year's Denver International Film Festival, running November 13 through 23.
Online viewing tips. "The Portable Film Festival is excited to announce the launch of its showcase of the extraordinary work of British video maverick, Woof Wan-Bau. Beginning Monday October 27th, www.portablefilmfestival.com will feature five of this London based director's innovative music videos and short films."
October 27, 2008
Shorts, 10/27."The desire for escapism that accompanies rough financial times is real, but boom times are also followed by painful and protracted cultural hangovers, and cultural hangovers are all about artistic reckoning." Carina Chocano: "When good times give way suddenly to bad (or, in this case, when bad times give way suddenly to worse), fashion, materialism and excess suddenly become suspect. The arts revert temporarily (until there's money to be made again) to the starving, the angry and the ugly. There's something cathartic about this - the nihilism of film noir, punk rock, the 'pathetic aesthetic' of the early 90s constitute a jubilant 11th hour yawp against unreflective hedonism in boom times." You almost have to wonder if Chocano knew this piece would be one of the last, if not the last she'd write for the Los Angeles Times. As Anne Thompson notes, the paper cut 75 jobs in Editorial today, and Chocano's is one of them. "'Cinema' is, or I should say was, a thing of the 20th century." Via Movie City News, director George Sluizer (The Vanishing), delivering the Variety Cinema Militans Lecture in Utrecht last month: "The film d'auteur died recently with the death of Bergman and Antonioni.... Should we be nostalgic about the avant-garde filmmakers and essayists of the 20th century? No. Their way of filmmaking is now past history: very seldom today can we see films that remind us of the craft of 'direct visual storytelling,' cinema that produces images that in principle need no explanation with words. Cinema is ruled by other media: television, DVDs and the Internet, and whatever is invented next." "On the Subject of Regrettable Searching - Body to Body, the Filmed Body," by Nicole Brenez, via Mubarak Ali's entry on films by Ben Russell. "[U]sually, I see over 125 movies a year. In 2008, I've seen 14. And with the exception of one (Tell No One), they have all been less than stellar." Gabriel Shanks sympathizes with Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast, who's watching much more television these days than movies. "[W]hen we speak about the impact of influential works in art cinema, whether it's Citizen Kane or the original Breathless, we're speaking more about the quality of the response than about the quantity of respondents," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum. "However personal some of its origins might be, David Holzman's Diary is in fact a great work of synthesis summarizing the very notions of the film director as subject (and therefore as superstar) and the camera as tool of self-scrutiny that the 60s film explosion inspired. And its ambiguities about the various crossovers between documentary and fiction remain as up to date as the films of Kiarostami." In the Cinema Echo Chamber, Evan Louison talks with Celia Maysles about Wild Blue Yonder, which documents her struggle to learn more about her father, David Maysles. "It was one of the most controversial films of the 70s: an English-language biopic of the prophet Muhammad that was bankrolled by Gadafy and went on to trigger a fatal siege ahead of its US premiere. Now The Message could be set for a grand return to the fray courtesy of a 21st-century Hollywood remake." Xan Brooks reports in the Guardian, where Sarah Dempster offers a guide to the British costume drama. Plus, a birthday gallery riffing on Teddy Roosevelt, "the first real movie president." For the Independent, Jonathan Romney talks with Terence Davies on the eve of what turns out to be the wonderfully successful premiere of Of Time and the City in the city itself: Liverpool. Anthony Quinn talks with him, too. For the London Times, Tom Charity talks with Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, the director and writer of Slumdog Millionaire. Emily Nussbaum meets "the dread paparazzo of his era - not the only one, but certainly the most famous, the most dogged": "Our culture has a wishful habit of turning every punk maniac who lives long enough into a wise old man, all the danger leached away by nostalgia: Norman Mailer, Iggy Pop, Roman Polanski. Ron Galella isn't like that. He looks like an Italian grandpa, but his eyes are cagey. He's proud. He's blunt. He's a little bit frightening." Also in the Observer, Stephanie Merritt talks with Toby Jones and Philip French glances back over the career of Robert Mitchum. Dina Iordanova reviews the Romanian film, The Outlaws, "a great example of the adventure-cum-history films that were produced in Eastern Europe in the 1960s." "1234 is perhaps the nicest film I've seen for years, a gentle, modest, airy Brit flick centering on a budding musician," writes James Dennis at Twitch. At AICN, Capone talks with Mike Leigh about Happy-Go-Lucky. So does Paul Matwychuk; and he reviews the film, too. For the Los Angeles Times, Geoff Boucher asks Christopher Nolan about the success of The Dark Knight (it's nearing the $1 billion mark worldwide) and the various political readings of the film. Related: Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes report that, "After years of giving plenty of running room to independent film companies or studio art house divisions that set the pace with critic-friendly but limited-audience films like last year's No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, this year the major studios are pushing some of their biggest crowd-pleasers into the thick of the awards race." Including, of course, The Dark Knight. Also in the New York Times: "Steven Spielberg actually stammered a bit in trying to explain his erstwhile business partner's departure," reports Michael Cieply in the NYT. "No, Mr Spielberg said, he really did not know why [David] Geffen was parting ways with DreamWorks after 14 years." Via MCN, Bilge Ebiri reports in New York that the Two Boots Pioneer Theater "will most likely close at the end of the month." Ray Privett, who programmed the theater's offerings from June 04 through March 08, comments. "A measure of how well Disney succeeds at reclaiming its heritage and how the two animation cultures [of Disney and Pixar] coexist will be tested when Bolt opens in theaters Nov 21," report Claudia Eller and Dawn Chmielewski in the Los Angeles Times. "Disney's new computer-animated film is the first entirely overseen by Pixar's creative guru, John Lasseter, and tech whiz Ed Catmull, who took charge of Disney Animation after the acquisition." Meanwhile, for Time, Carla Power explains "How High School Musical Conquered the World." Today's "Mad Men Mondays" column at the House Next Door is written by Matt Zoller Seitz and is "dedicated to the memory of House contributor, Time Out New York editor and regular Mad Men recapper Andrew Johnston, who passed away Sunday, Oct 26 at age 40, following a long battle with cancer." "Milton Katselas, director, writer, painter and noted acting teacher at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, has died," writes Scott Marks. "He was 74. During his twenty-plus year tenure at the Playhouse, Katselas's pupils included George Clooney, Alec Baldwin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jenna Elfman, Jeffrey Tambor, Giovanni Ribisi, Doris Roberts, Tom Selleck and many others." Gerard Rocco Damiano died this weekend at the age of 80. Richard Corliss for Time: "With Deep Throat and his second film, Devil in Miss Jones, Damiano launched the 1970s movie craze of porno chic.... Because of Deep Throat, the hardcore movie became a must-see item for the glamorati, a topic for serious debate in newspapers and magazines (including Time; see the 1973 article 'Wonder Woman') and a fun date for ordinary couples who'd never seen a sex movie." Online viewing tip. The Guardian's Xan Brooks talks with Nanni Moretti.
Fests and events, 10/27."As in Venice last month, the program of the Rome International Film Festival (RIFF) is heavy on locally produced films and lacks international star power," writes Boyd van Hoeij at indieWIRE. "Though Venice blamed the writers' strike and the fact that many films simply weren't ready in time, Rome had already indicated that it wanted to focus more on local films after new director Gianluigi Rondi took over from Goffredo Bettini as the head of the festival earlier this year." Also in Rome is Gabriele Barcaro, who reports in Cineuropa on When a Man Comes Home (trailer), "a rather autobiographical title for the new film by Thomas Vinterberg." And Timothy M Gray, writing for Variety's Circuit: "You gotta love any fest that schedules The Baader Meinhof Complex, High School Musical 3 and Michael Cimino lecturing about dance sequences in movies." "The San Francisco Film Society and Pacific Film Archive - both in collaboration with the Instituto Italiano di Cultura - are bringing Italy to the Bay Area via the 12th edition of New Italian Cinema running mid-November at Landmark's San Francisco Embarcadero Center Cinema and PFA's Moments of Truth: Italian Cinema Classics [runs] late November through December." A preview from Michael Guillén. "Celebrating the powerful visuals of wide-gauge film, next year's Berlin Intl Film Festival's Retrospective sidebar will screen nearly two dozen works shot in 70 mm film, including rarely seen classics from the Soviet Union and East Germany as well as Hollywood epics such as David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, William Wyler's Ben-Hur and Joseph L Mankiewicz's Cleopatra." Ed Meza has details in Variety; for more, turn to the release. Richard Linklater and Todd Haynes will speak at SXSW in March, reports Michael Jones. Also speaking: IMDb founder and VP Col Needham and Stanley Kubrick producer Jan Harlan. Jette Kernion wraps up the Austin Film Festival for Cinematical. For those who read German, today Film Zeit gathers reports from the just-wrapped Hofer Filmtage and a preview of the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film, opening today and running through Sunday.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/27.Robert Horton on Rosemary's Baby: "The weird denizens of the Bramford and the unforgettable Dr Sapirstein are all played by Hollywood characters whose heyday was the 1930s and 40s: Elisha Cook, Jr, Sydney Blackmer, Ruth Gordon, Patsy Kelly and Ralph Bellamy.... Their identifiability as golden-age movie folk lends a touch of the fantastic, as though they constituted a movie colony looking for a pair of actors to play the leading parts in their (literally) diabolical plot." Hollywood Bitchslap: "As a group with a wide range of tastes, coupled with not a little knowledge of the horror genre, our staff would like to share a few of our more eclectic horror favorites that might not make the cut of a 'classic,' but nevertheless have found appreciation amongst our legion of reviewers, any of which we would easily recommend you exhume for a happy Halloween." Mark Kermode in the Observer on The Mist: "If Frank Darabont's sleeper prison favourite The Shawshank Redemption was a film about hope, then this similarly Stephen King-derived monster movie is its (equal and) opposite - a film about utter hopelessness." A list at the AV Club: "I vant to suck your broccoli: 23 unusual vampire variations." "I've decided to approach The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which has been written to death, from the angle of the documentary that was made about it in 1988 (and later remastered onto dvd in 2000) called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait - Revisited," writes keelsetter at Movie Morlocks. "My reasoning for this is simple enough, I think The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is genuinely horrifying, in part, because of authenticity, and [Edwin] Neal (and his Chain Saw faimly) talk about this in the Family Portrait doc." For Newsweek, Sharon Begley looks into why about 90 percent of Americans believe, to some extent or other, in the paranormal. Still charged with the general spirit of Toronto After Dark, Bob Turnbull lets Kevin Tenney's Brain Dead off the hook. Twitch is still posting reviews from the festival as well. Also catching up: At Hollywood Bitchslap, William Goss looks back to Fantastic Fest. Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore: "For this Halloween week IFC News podcast, we look at the various professions and day jobs movie killers have before and during their turn to murder - everything from doctor to carnival clown - before celebrating our 100th episode, Jackie Chan-style, with violent outtakes from podcasts past." Online viewing tip. Thrill the World, Austin: On Saturday, 881 people broke a world record by doing that zombie dance in sync to Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Gondrys, 10/27."Michel Gondry Filming Top Secret Project In Williamsburg," reports Caroline Stanley at the new blog on the block, Flavorwire. Gondry's also got a relatively new site, which'll be selling a new DVD collection of videos ("not in stores!") and a new book coming out from PictureBox this weekend, You'll Like This Film Because You're In It: The Be Kind Rewind Protocol. Online viewing tip. MoCCA '08 With Michel and Paul Gondry, documenting the father and son's appearance at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, where they presented their comic works, We Lost the War but Not the Battle (Michel) and Crazy Town (Paul). Update, 10/29: Michel Gondry's page at the dangerously distracting MTV Music.
PopMatters. Night of the Living Dead @ 40."Recognizing the everlasting importance of Night of the Living Dead to popular culture, PopMatters is proud to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of [George] Romero's landmark film with this very special, and very frightful, special feature." There are to be 30 articles in all from "some of the most eminent and distinguished horror film scholars" and the series launches today with a brief (and humble) introduction by Romero himself and another by series editor Marco Lanzagorta: "Romero's film revolutionized the horror genre with its depiction of gruesome violence combined with incisive social commentary that reflected the turbulent cultural and political climate of America during the late 1960s." Updated through 10/31. "Like the reputations of many horror films before and since, Night of the Living Dead became a celebrated object on the basis of the controversy that surrounded its release," argues Mark Jancovich. "Every film in the horror genre leading up to Night of the Living Dead offers some kind of release, a resolution to the terror, and this catharsis is what adds the element of delight to our experience of them," writes Kelly Roberts. "Romero had his influences, like every artist, but his great innovation was to rip away this delight, this false hope, and replace it with an even deeper terror. The radical politics that he says 'crept in through the back door' of his debut heightens the discomfort and the realism, but for me what makes it so scary is fundamentally personal: It's that the people you know, the people you love the most, might turn against you in the most inhuman manner imaginable—by becoming inhuman; and that you might suffer the same fate; and that, even if you somehow escape this living death, you might become a beast through fear of becoming a beast." "Romero's interpretation of the zombie myth created an archetype perfectly modeled for the modern world," argues Tim Mitchell: "a threat to both individuals and society that grows out of an inexorable need to consume. While Romero's second zombie film, Dawn of the Dead (1978), is most often thought of as his commentary on consumerism, the narrative logic of his zombies that began in Night of the Living Dead make it the first horror film to portray mass consumption as an unstoppable plague." "More than just a cult favorite, George A Romero's debut, Night of the Living Dead, dovetails right with American film history," writes Matthew Sorrento. "The film showed up just after the benchmark year, 1967, when the mainstream success of Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate urged Hollywood to revolt against its own established myths." "Even without zombies, the farmhouse's vast, lonely exterior connotes dread, so the inside should suggest the opposite, amplifying the importance of the interior's potential as a safe haven." Chris Justice: "When the inside only compounds the horror, Romero's farmhouse shatters the illusion of our most trusted institution: the American home is as dangerous as the evil outside its walls." While it's not part of the series, PopMatters is also running George Reisch's piece from The Undead and Philosophy: Chicken Soup for the Soulless: "Romero's zombies have fortified the shopping mall they took over in 1978's Dawn of the Dead and are making quick inroads to politics and global economics." Update: Robert Horton (no relation to PopMatters, as far as I know) presents a "on the least appreciated Romero zombie picture," Day of the Dead. Updates, 10/28: "On our second day celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, PopMatters offers six articles that explore some of these theoretical frameworks," writes Marco Lanzagorta. "These essays attempt to give a rationale as to why, after so long, Night of the Living Dead continues to provide a frightful and nightmarish viewing experience." Online viewing tip. The New York Times' AO Scott revisits the film, too, finding it's got "one of the great opening sequences of all time." Updates, 10/29: Marco Lanzagorta introduces today's batch of "six articles that discuss issues related to race conflict and phallic control." "The genius of Night of the Living Dead is that it doesn't stop at merely making you fearful of dead people who want to eat you... it wants you to doubt eveything." Richard Harland Smith at Movie Morlocks: "It makes you cynical, but rather than hardening you into slate it reduces you to jelly, makes you useless like the character Barbra (played by Judith O'Dea), who sinks into a kind of catatonia by the half-hour mark. Like Barbra, we can do nothing but look on as 'this incredible story becomes more ghastly with each report' and the world falls apart around us." Updates, 10/30: Day 4: "In 'Victim or Vigilante, the Case of the Two Barbras,' Prof Cynthia Freeland discusses Night of the Living Dead in relation to its 1990 remake.... Prof Linnie Blake compares Night of the Living Dead to its latest official sequel, Diary of the Dead.... In 'We're coming to get you, Barbra,' Ian Chant argues that the real villains in Night of the Living Dead are not the zombies, but the selfish people trapped by a situation they cannot comprehend.... In 'Decade of the Dead,' Michael Curtis Nelson provides a detailed analysis of the zombie nightmares created in the new millennium.... On the same pessimist note, in '1968 is Undead' Timothy Gabriele carefully explores the juxtaposition of 1968 vs 2008 through Night of the Living Dead.... Finally, in 'I See Dead People' Marco Lanzagorta argues that the influence of Night of the Living Dead goes far beyond the horror genre." "Is there really a connection between zombie movies and social unrest?" asks Annalee Newitz at io9. "We decided to do some research and find out. The result? We've got a line graph showing the number of zombie movies coming out in the West each year since 1910 - and there are definite spikes during certain years, which always seem to happen eerily close to historical events involving war or social upheaval." Via Movie City News. Update, 10/31: Marco Lanzagorta introduces the final round: "In strong contrast to the previous installments of this collection, these articles offer a more personal perspective of the everlasting influence of Night of the Living Dead."
Zack and Miri Make a Porno."Kevin Smith's movies may not have a lot of artistry - to update an old review of Chasing Amy, he's now directed eight feature films without ever losing his amateur status - but they do have tremendous faith in art," writes Paul Matwychuk. "The most appealing aspect of Smith's career has always been the way this overweight minimum-wage slave from New Jersey, without any Hollywood connections, managed to film his way out of poverty and obscurity on the strength of nothing but gumption, self-confidence, and a tremendous flair for dick jokes. It's tempting, then, to look at Smith's latest comedy, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, as a kind of disguised autobiography." Smith's "predicament is just one part of a larger problem facing many filmmakers in the field of R-rated comedy," writes Dave Itzkoff in the New York Times: "It is nearly impossible for them to make their pot-smoking, breast-baring (but heartfelt!) movies without in some way encroaching on the raunchy (yet tender!) turf that [Judd] Apatow already owns." Updated through 11/2. "[H]ats off to him for being savvy enough to go for a piece of the Apatow action!" David Edelstein in New York: "Too bad he doesn't rise to the occasion." "Zack and Miri Make a Porno doesn't offend as much it disappoints, revealing yet again in Smith a distinctive voice with little to say and, even worse, one willing to sacrifice rarer talents (a feeling for emotive wavelengths) in favor of the ones (pothead in-jokery, hipster hostility) that pad the walls of fanboy cultism." Fernando F Croce in Slant: "The characters may be able to get off on camera, but viewers hoping for an expansive collision between the sensibilities of director and star will end up with blue balls." "Reached by phone on the set of the Judd Apatow-directed dramedy Funny People..., Seth Rogen sounded pretty much exactly like the potty-mouthed, pop culture-spouting slacker he plays on film: dropping f-bombs, talking pornography and Star Wars in equal measure and admitting his willingness to do full-frontal nudity in Kevin Smith's latest movie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno," reports Chris Lee for the Los Angeles Times. That scene didn't happen, by the way. As for The Green Hornet, to be directed by Stephen Chow, "We're rewriting it right now with a lot of Stephen's notes and ideas. We wanted a director to come on and bring his own sensibilities to it." Interviews with Smith: Jason Guerrasio (Filmmaker) and Peter Sobczynski (Hollywood Bitchslap). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto and Austin. Update: The Playlist finds that the "soundtrack has some decent tunes on it. Sort of." Update, 10/28: Alonso Duralde retraces the careers of Smith and Apatow at MSNBC. Updates, 10/29: "Amiable and engaging in person and a filmmaker for whom comic and movie nerds so desperately want to root, Smith makes two kinds of movies," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice: "romantic comedies and bromantic comedies, with Chasing Amy - his one legitimately great movie - the crossover hybrid hit. They're all decidedly conventional affairs, save for the detours into gross-out juvenilia that, the older Smith gets, seem less sincere and feel more like pandering to the audience that goes to his movies solely to walk out with a couple of lines they can quote to each other on the ride home." "Smith's reliance on the same old reference-heavy raunch is a classic case of overcompensating; he's a Jersey loser-jock embarrassed by his sentimental streak," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "[I]t's a lovely, naughty little movie that allows writer-director Kevin Smith to indulge his twin penchants for scatological sex talk and heartfelt slacker romance" and "a laugh-packed and tenderhearted tale that explores the accidental crossing of the line between having sex and making love," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "[I]t's hard to imagine this film succeeding on any level without Mr Rogen and Ms Banks as the leads," writes Sara Vilkomerson in the New York Observer. "The two of them share a natural chemistry, and while the film has some clunky moments and a couple of beats-off jokes leading up to the, um, climax of the film, when Zack and Miri inevitably get together (in quite an unusual fashion), the movie takes a surprising turn from the somewhat crass to heartwarming." More interviews with Smith: Erik Davis (Cinematical) and Sean O'Neal (AV Club). Updates, 10/31: "'I don't know bleep about directing,' Smith once confided to me. 'But I'm a bleeping good writer.'" Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times: "He is." "The movie wants to insist that pornography is a jolly, innocuous pursuit, but also to take refuge in a sincere, romantic traditionalism that is antithetical to the cynical, often playful sexual ethos of pornography," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The 'porno' remains unfinished, and so does Zack and Miri, having - like most pornography, interestingly enough - thrown away an imaginative premise to get down to predictable, mechanical business. It's as if Mr Smith were a plumber who knocked at your door and then, against all reasonable expectations, insisted on fixing the sink." "Think of it as When Harry Fucked Sally," suggests Hank Sartin in Time Out New York. "The fact that Smith is just about my age, has a sense of humor that's oddly in touch with mine, and has a background that's eerily similar to my own means I'm always rooting for the guy to succeed," concedes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "And I think his latest comedy is about to help him succeed big-time." "I'm afraid there's no one to blame but writer-director Kevin Smith if viewers walk out of Zack and Miri never wanting to have sex again," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "A cult figure among the Adult Swim crowd, Smith has always been better at the foulmouthed and frankly sophomoric (Clerks, Mallrats) than the wistful and sincere (Chasing Amy, Jersey Girl). This movie ups the ante in both categories; it wants its audience to guffaw at dick jokes and swoon over the perfect kiss. That combination of raunch and heart isn't impossible to achieve - at his best, Apatow can pull it off - but it requires a nimbler pen and a sweeter soul than Kevin Smith brings to this movie." For Noel Murray, writing at the AV Club, "it's nice to be able to break from the ritual of Smith-bashing for a change and say that his latest movie, Zack And Miri Make A Porno, is honestly enjoyable." "At 38, the grand old man of raunch talk has figured out how to make a movie that's sweet, funny and (a little) sexy," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "Zack and Miri isn't a movie about making a porno; it's a movie about making movies," writes Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly. "Smith sees an extension of himself in Zack, whose slovenly existence springs to life only once he discovers his passion for filmmaking." Oh, and: "One person saves Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Elizabeth Banks." "For all the potty-mouthed dialogue, gross-out gags, general licentiousness and rampant supporting role nudity gleefully strewn throughout Zack and Miri Make a Porno, this finally feels like a blithely puritanical tale, limpid, shackled to tired convention and extolling an emotionally juvenile foundation for love," argues the Vue Weekly. "It's too bad the movie doesn't have the balls to back up its risqué concept with any new insight into love or relationships," sighs Paul Constant in the Stranger. "I found potty-mouth fatigue setting in pretty quickly," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "The actors, game in every way, at least try to give the appearance of being casual and spontaneous: Banks, in particular, is always fun to watch - her eyes have that great, demented gleam. And Rogen is simply Rogen: At some point he's going to have to play something other than the schleppy, average guy who lands the gorgeous babe, but his comic timing is certainly adequate for this kind of material." "Both High School Musical 3 and Zack and Miri Make a Porno set out to corrupt our youth," warns Armond White in the New York Press. "The Disney film, second sequel to the 2006 cable TV and CD blockbuster, aims capitalist tripe at unsuspecting teenagers, while Kevin Smith's extended sex skit trashes whatever is left of adult romantic innocence." More interviews with Smith: Chris Lee (Los Angeles Times) and Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle). Update, 11/2: "How does a man who has no idea how to frame or light a shot, or structure a screenplay, or write a convincing conversation, or direct actors continue to be a mainstay of indie cinema?" asks Elbert Ventura in Reverse Shot. "Perhaps the charge is unfair, as I haven't been his most diligent follower. After 1999's Dogma, an ugly, lame, and utterly stupid movie inexplicably hailed by some, I gave up on Smith, the goodwill left over from 1994's Clerks - a revelation for this teenage New Jerseyan new to film geekdom - all exhausted. But if Zack and Miri Make a Porno is anything to go by, I've missed nothing."
The Universe of Keith Haring."Christina Clausen's The Universe of Keith Haring will please those who are familiar with the artist and moderately enlighten those who wonder who painted the mural that temporarily stands on Houston and Bowery," writes Nick McCarthy in the L Magazine. "It's a nicely packaged, if not completely inspired, hagiography of 80s East Village artist-turned-tragic international art-star Keith Haring." "Like Andy Warhol, whom he revered and later befriended, Haring was the visual artist as social phenomenon, connecting the gay scene to hip-hop, Madonna to museum culture, the democratic street to the rarefied art world." Nathan Lee in the New York Times: "If his story is only marginal to the history of art, it looms large in the cultural history of our time, which Haring (who died of AIDS in 1990, at 31) saw far too little of." Updated through 10/31. "[T]he film looks to Haring as an artistic role model for his preternatural talent, of course, but also for his infectious lust for life that had him as committed to social activism and teaching children as to his latest painting," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "What made Haring a visionary was not his marketing savvy (though that was a bonus gift picked up from the 'King' himself, Andy Warhol), but his work's demonstration that art could be daring, fun, and accessible, all at once. Which makes it all the more tragic that Haring died of AIDS at the age of 31 in 1990. There's not a lot of drama in Universe, but when the end comes it's devastating, leaving only the memory and muse of Haring to keep alive the monumental body of work that was only just begun." "I lived in Manhattan during those years, and his youthful energy surely made the city a better place," writes Brian Miller in the Voice. "Today, his art holds up less well on museum walls than as cheerful hospital murals - instruments of healing, Haring believed. Maybe that's ironic, or maybe we just live in unhealthier times." At Slant, Aaron Cutler argues that Universe "is content to slide on hagiography and shortchange cultural critique.... Though the film does a decent job of conveying Haring's Manhattan lifestyle, a scene dominated by young, bohemian queers and bisexuals, and one in which he hung out with figures like Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol and Madonna, it turns grating when the filmmaking style tries to compete with its content." "Christina Clausen offers a profile as quickly and easily consumed as any of the bright, plastic merchandise at the Pop Shop," writes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "Haring's art may be simple, but an homage to him needn't be." Update, 10/28: Mary Lyn Maiscott talks with Clausen for VF Daily. Update, 10/31: "Recent documentaries about New York avant-garde artists Andy Warhol, Ray Johnson and Jack Smith have emphasized their otherness, and how they struggled to find a social niche even in a city as nurturing to weirdoes as NYC," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "But Warhol and company were in many ways products of the 50s and 60s; The Universe Of Keith Haring looks at one of the quintessential 80s artists, and how the scene changed by the time he emerged. Unlike his forerunners, Haring was fully engaged with the world around him."
Slingshot."It's tempting to deem Slingshot's petty crimes on sweltering shantytown backdrops a Filipino version of City of God," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "But where Fernando Meirelles charted the power dynamics within Rio's favela-bound community of drug dealers and thieves, Brillante Mendoza devotes equal time to the larger forces keeping the populace on the run." "If anything, Slingshot is a political film that doesn't really care for politics," writes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "Mendoza worms his camera through the church doors and around corrupt politicians as they fail to bribe Quiapo's residents—but only for the sake of touching a raw nerve that he strips right before the viewer's eyes. With its gritty but gorgeous visual style, Slingshot confirms Mendoza's status as a provocateur with talent and ambition to burn." "Someone appears to be running, crying, stealing, getting beaten up or delivering the blows in every scene, while the cameras seemingly operate themselves," writes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "Yet Tirador isn't a gratuitous tour of the abject: Mendoza lightens the tumult with funny bits, including a lost set of dentures and an unfortunate incident with a zipper, and expresses a nonpatronizing admiration for the film's hustlers and thieves.... Mendoza's talents and instincts are unassailable but are most evident when he tempers his tempests." "Can't-stop-won't-stop Filipino director Brillante Mendoza lets his voluminous storytelling urges run amok in this abject slum roundelay, an ADD cousin to his bustling-with-family but warmer Serbis," writes Nicolas Rapold in the Voice.
Ben X.Ben X: "The best movie I've seen about teen angst since Donnie Darko comes from Belgium?" wonders Brian Miller in the Voice. "It's also the best film about a bullied teen with Asperger's Syndrome that I've seen from any country, and its blurred life-into-vidgame fantasy sequences makes it seem doubly topical." Director Nic Balthazar's "aesthetic is ugly, aloof, maddeningly literal and unimaginative," finds Slant's Ed Gonzalez, "but at least the visual excess of the film is on par with the histrionic bullying Ben is subjected to and the hilarious revenge he gets at the end - a corny guilt trip unsurprisingly scored to Sigur Rós." "Trapped behind a ceaseless, urgent monologue and wildly darting eyes, Ben is a symphony of agonized alienation," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Yet however representative of the chaos in his head, the film's relentlessly paranoid aesthetics come off more as a formal exercise in social dissonance than an empathetic study of human suffering." Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher talks with Balthazar.
October 26, 2008
Fests and events, 10/26."Sergey Dvortsevoy's Tulpan was awarded the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix at today's conclusion of the 21st Tokyo International Film Festival." Jason Gray has a full report at Screen Daily and lists a few more highlights of the festival at his blog. The Chicago International Film Festival rolls on through Wednesday, but the award-winners have been announced; Ray Pride's got 'em. Meanwhile, at Hollywood Bitchslap, Peter Sobczynski presents his "Brief and Not-Entirely-Complete Guide" to Week 2. And again, follow the festival via Chicagoist, Cine-File, Marilyn Ferdinand and the Reader. Meanwhile, Mike Everleth has the lineup for the Chicago Underground Film Festival, running Wednesday through Sunday.
Filmmaker. Fall 08.Let's open this entry pointing to the new issue of Filmmaker by noting that a good chunk of a conversation editor Scott Macaulay led in August regarding the current state and immediate future of independent film is online (the full text is, of course, in the print issue). The participants: Josh Braun, Matt Dentler, Ira Deutchman, Ted Hope, Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy. "With this year's release of Steven Soderbergh's double feature Che, the long-awaited Red One camera proved itself in the field, but the device presented new challenges to the director and the team at Technicolor in postproduction." Brian Chirls outlines the ways those challenges were met before turning to a second case: "This summer, director Arin Crumley took a different approach, leading a crew of 25 into the Nevada desert with three Red cameras to shoot As the Dust Settles, an 'auto-documentary' covering the experiences of a dozen filmmakers at the Burning Man festival." Updated through 10/27. Travis Crawford has seen parts of The Road, John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel and "it actually does look really, legitimately good - as in, great.... The Road is an undeniably harrowing work (in both mediums), yet it's far from gratuitous in that its darkness has a mirror of emotional light: a love story between father and son, as Hillcoat describes it. 'The material doesn't shy away from the worst aspects of humanity, yet what's unusual about it is that it also has a sentimental love story at the heart of it, in a world that's dark and brutal although believable.'" The title of Jon Reiss's piece: "My Adventure in Theatrical Self-Distribution, Part 1; Or, how I 'invented' the two-month window and spent six months wanting to kill myself every day." Scott Macaulay talks with Scott Kirsner about his new book, Inventing the Movies: Hollywood's Epic Battle Between Innovation and the Status Quo, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. "It speaks to Charlie Kaufman's influence as a screenwriter that his name functions as its own genre. Like Robert Altman, Woody Allen or Quentin Tarantino - other filmmakers whose last names are commonly used as adjectives - the term Kaufmanesque conjures narratives that reconfigure the way we perceive time, consequence and even reality." James Ponsoldt talks with him about Synecdoche, New York. "If you are talking about a filmmaker who tackles sociopolitical topics and taboos in a sensationalistic style with good ol' gay sex, then you might be speaking of Bruce LaBruce," writes Mike Plante, introducing his interview. "With roots in zines, photography and every film format ever created, LaBruce has established a style that is slick yet defiantly lo-fi. In LaBruce's sixth feature film Otto; or Up with Dead People, Otto is a disaffected gay teenager who gets bit by a zombie. A wanna-be revolutionary casts him in her politically laced zombie film, only to start a documentary about Otto. LaBruce attaches the zombie genre to today's MySpace reality-TV world, obsessed with documenting moments instead of experiencing them; except with enough sex, gore and humor to make you sit up in your seat. Strand Releasing opens the film in November." Jason Guerrasio spoke with Kevin Smith "before he premiered [Zack and Miri Make a Porno] at the Toronto International Film Festival about courting [Seth] Rogen, his latest tussle with the MPAA and his first foray into horror." Heather Chaplin: "A little game called Braid caused nearly as much sensation in the gaming world this year as Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV and Will Wright's Spore - and this considering that Braid was made by one man on one man's savings with no original thought of mass distribution. People were so excited about Braid before the game even launched that one games journalist called the year before 'the pre-Braid era.'" And Filmmaker's got a DVD roundup, too. Update, 10/27: Jason Guerrasio announces a new digital edition of the magazine and points to a sample.
Vancouver Dispatch. 2.Sean Axmaker looks back one more time to the Vancouver International Film Festival. Yes, VIFF ended two weeks ago, and yes, I'm late, but I owe it to the festival to get in one last piece so I can cover just a few of the North American premieres in Vancouver's indispensable Dragons and Tigers line-up of Asian cinema. What I appreciate about the selection is that it's focused on capturing early works and films that engage the state of their local cultures. They aren't necessarily the greatest works coming out of the country, but they are a snapshot of the film culture and an early look into the work of directors who very likely grow into major filmmakers. Of the 50 programs (feature films, documentaries and programs of shorts), plus bonus short films playing in front of films, well over half were shot and/or presented in some video format, many of them on what appears to be consumer or pro-sumer formats. Just like the micro-budget boom in the US, it's opened up filmmaking to a lot more filmmakers, and just like in the US, the results vary by ambition and talent. Format is no measure of quality. Case in point: Tropical Manila, a shot-on-video production set and shot in the Philippines from South Korean director Lee Sang-Woo. In the realm of dysfunctional families, this is perhaps the most disturbingly screwed up. The Korean father, counting down the days before he can return home, treats his Filipino wife like a hooker at best and livestock at worst. The mixed race son hates his father and identifies himself only as Filipino; with such a role model for Korean identity, it's no wonder. It's a brutal film and the filmmaking is equally brutal, explicit in some scenes (Lee is not shy about chronicling degrading sexual experiences or private bodily functions with point-blank directness) and circumspect in others (the father is a former gangster running out the calendar on the statute of limitations in Manila, a fact that local Korean audiences may pick up from clues but is nowhere explained for the rest of us). It's also very exacting in its imagery and its editing, which is jarring and brutal in its own right. Lee foregrounds the emotional brutality that the father exercises on his wife and his son and churns up the humiliation and anger that simmers under the grim expression of the increasingly defiant son. After all these years I still haven't warmed to the look of video productions, but here it adds a stark, naked quality to the imagery. Less effective is Blink, a Philippines production set in the slums of the Quiapo district of Manila. It opens with a promising mix of "documentary" footage of people on the streets and the narrative drama of Ambet, the hustler and small-time petty thief and go-between who looks after his little sister and lives in an abandoned building. Director Ronaldo Bertubin drives through Ambet's petty scams and his increasingly dangerous turn as guide to a freelance videographer with a headlong momentum and a restless camera that seems unsure exactly where it should be (an acquaintance chalks it up to a director who doesn't know how to frame a shot, and the haphazard compositions tend to support the observation). But for all the details of the street level petty crimes and scams, it's elementary storytelling in the tradition of the overheated Filipino slum melodrama, with thin characters sketched in broad brushstrokes wandering through an increasingly generic crime story. The smeary video images, with blown out whites and oversaturated colors, doesn't lend any realism to the melodrama. Ying Liang's Good Cats is a slackly directed chronicle of an educated young man in Sichuan, China, content to play flunky to a building developer who operates a lot like a gangster. It's kind of cool when, at certain points in the film, a portion of the screen lights up to reveal a rock band that launches in to a song, and there's a genuinely startling moment when we fleetingly see what looks like a body fall past a window in a high-rise stairwell. The way the camera holds on that otherwise vacant stairwell, the window hauntingly looking out onto an empty blue sky, creates a tension out of our need to know exactly what we saw. But otherwise it loses the tension in lazily constructed and shot scenes and the fuzzy visuals of consumer video equipment. The most interesting aspect of the familiar story of a young man working in the cracks of legitimate entrepreneurship is the portrait of a boom economy collapsing as foreclosures rise and credit dries up. Now that sounds familiar. With Yin Lichuan's Knitting, we move out of the scrappy video production into the realm of films made on film, but remain in the culture of young folks leaving rural villages and scrambling to find their place in the burst of capitalist entrepreneurship in the urban centers of China. Knitting focuses on an uneasy romantic triangle sustained as much by opportunity and necessity as by emotion, maybe even more. It's not like we see any real chemistry between Chen Jin, a guy hustling any job he can get, and his girlfriend Li, a small town girl in vision and ambition. When Chen's old girlfriend, Zhang, comes swaggering into their cheap apartment and into their lives and makes Chen a partner in her mercenary schemes, Li's back is up and Chen is utterly oblivious. Or he simply doesn't care. The film rambles on but it is an interesting look at particular subculture of the poor trying to carve a living out of the city: rural young trying to make their mark in the urban world, Northerners looked down upon by the Southern city folk, outsiders who band together for comfort and support even if they don't really like each other. From South Korea, Kim Tae-Kyun's Crossing is a much bigger film, in scope, in ambition and in budget. This is ostensibly a social drama about the poverty and deprivation and political repression of North Korea and the horrors that happen when a man tries to cross into China to get medicine for his pregnant wife, dying of tuberculosis caused by malnutrition. His plight is turned into political theater and the family left back home suffers for it, not that Kim is any less manipulative in his storytelling. This is politics as melodrama and Kim wrings every last emotional drop with lingering shots on suffering faces and weepy music played on audience heartstrings. There's no denying his skill as he plays every setback for emotional impact, but for all his efforts to show the human condition as a victim of political posturing on both sides of the border, it ultimately comes off as a different kind of propaganda. Yang Ya-Che's Orz Boys from Taiwan belongs to another genre, the fantasies of boys who get into trouble as a way of escaping lives of emotional abandonment. The inseparable schoolboys are nicknamed Liar No. 1 and Lair No. 2 by an exasperated principal and the names stick so firmly that even family takes to calling them No. 1 and No. 2 from that point on. As of the film's screening at VIFF, Orz Boys (the title refers to a particular emoticon of surprise or wonder - you might translate the title as "Wonder Boys") was a rare Taiwanese-born film hit in Taiwan. It's easy to see why. While it's bright and funny and full of personality, it also has poignancy that is only seen in the details and never directly addressed in speech or moral. No. 2 has been left by his father in the care of a single grandmother, who is none too happy to be playing parent once again, while the older No. 1 is practically orphaned. His father is mentally incapacitated, a wandering crazy-man who is harmless and utterly incapable of caring for his son, and his mother living and working abroad, or so the boy says and we take it on faith. Maybe because the alternative is harder to deal with. But Yang never wallows in their hardship and never stops to make a social cause speech. He focuses on the humor of their survival skills - pranks, cons, games, flights of fantasy - where they have, for however long, fleeting control of lives without an anchor. For all their bad behavior (which is, at is worst, thoughtless rather than malevolent), I was won over by them, because of their loyalty and their imagination and that spark of being kids that is so alive in them. The story takes some sad turns, but the film itself is always keyed into their energy and what they do to persevere. One last note: VIFF's festival trailers are traditionally among the best and most clever in North America. The festival website has links to all of them if you'd like to check them out or revisit favorites. They're spot on and have terrific comic timing, but more than that, they are obviously the work of film lovers and festival veterans who manage to both spoof and celebrate excesses, the frustrations and the rarified personality of film festival culture. And the trailers can still be seen here. The VIFF 2008 award winners can be found here. - Sean Axmaker
October 25, 2008
Shorts, 10/25.John Patterson comes close to making the argument I've been haranguing friends with for months now: Since the Iowa caucuses at the very latest, this marathon presidential campaign has been, hands down, the movie of the year: "[T]he campaign is so filled with U-turns, red herrings, cliffhangers and serial climaxes that one barely needs go near the multiplex for white-knuckle entertainment. Just keeping up with Palin's alter egos - the French populist Pierre Poujade and Australia's Pauline Hanson in politics; Tracy Flick, Marge Gunderson, Peggy Hill (and Tina Fey's spoof) in fiction - is enough to set your mind reeling. And movie references are ever near at hand." Also in the Guardian, Jon Savage: By the late 70s, deepening recession and spiralling unemployment had pitched Britain into uncharted waters. There was the threat of fascism, the rise of the new right, a pervasive mood of decay and riot. Youth bore the brunt of these conditions: the first to be sacked, the last to find jobs, exploited and/or victimised by adults and government. Music and pop culture was one of their only sources of hope and inspiration, and it was pursued with a fanatic determination. So within a three-year period, [[films such as Franco Rosso's Babylon, Jubilee, The Music Machine, Quadrophenia, Rude Boy, The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle, Breaking Glass and Take It or Leave It] were able to explore punk, disco, the mod revival, reggae and dub, synth pop, and 2 Tone. At the same time, they were mostly shot on location, mapping a capital city of dark corners, queasy neons and blasted bombsites. And:
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/25."One of the downsides of being a horror movie fan for over 40 years is that, by this point, I've pretty much seen it all," writes Richard Harland Smith. "I cut my teeth on the Universal monster movies, grew up with the Hammer horrors, schooled myself with the Corman Poes and paid my dues with the Italian gialli and the American slashers before branching out to the terrors of Asia, Indonesia and India.... And then life throws you a curveball. Such is the case with Dr Renault's Secret (1942)." Also at Movie Morlocks, morlockjeff: "While it obviously borrows elements from Tod Browning's The Devil Doll (1936) and Dead of Night (1945) and even throws in a ratty-looking zombie for good measure, Curse of the Doll People also looks ahead to such scary-for-their-time chillers like the made-for-TV Trilogy of Terror (1975) with Karen Black being stalked by a Zuni warrior fetish doll. But the thing that places this South of the border horror in nightmare territory are the dolls themselves." "Hammer has arisen from its cinematic crypt and after a 30-year absence once again stalks the land, intent on thrilling and terrifying a new generation." David McKittrick reports in the Independent. Robert Horton opens a week-long Halloween series by telling the story behind the making of Tod Browning's Freaks - and it's reception over the years. "The blend of melodrama, MGM gloss, medical grotesquerie, and early-sound ambiance is uncanny. Even its technical flaws add to the effect: the tinny soundtrack, the sometimes creaky line readings..., the dream-like lapses in continuity: just before one tense sequence fades to black, there's a frightening, shivery shot of Randian lurking under a wagon, which logically must be from the climax but is inserted at this earlier moment. It's absolutely eerie, and it absolutely works. Take from Freaks what you will, but no movie has ever crept like this one. "Usually at this time of the year, we launch our annual 'Great Pumpkins' Halloween-week series with something like a state-of-the-art assessment of the horror film," blogs Reverse Shot's robbiefreeling. "For 2008 we're hard-pressed to find anything worthwhile to say.... This year, for my first pumpkin, I rewatched an old chestnut, and I'll be damned if it didn't reveal nearly everything that's missing in horror today. John Landis's An American Werewolf in London has a reputation as a horror-comedy, a dubious category that would soon be replaced by the broader Ghostbusters template (chuckles more important than scares) and which now has been taken over by the cheap sub-Hot Shots drek in the Scary Movie franchise. Yet while Landis's film is certainly noticeably tongue-in-cheek, its occasional laughs are not intended to deflate or detract from the horror. Miraculously, the chuckles and the shocks stand side by side proudly." "Italian horror did not begin and end with giallo, but it certainly put the genre on the map and influenced the direction of Italian horror (as well as, among others, Spanish and French horror) for decades." At the Parallax View, Sean Axmaker presents an annotated list: "Thirteen Landmarks of Italian Horror; or, There's Always Room for Giallo." John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick "is best known today through the garish distortions of the Hollywood adaptation - a pity since it's one of Updike's most ambitious works, a brilliant counterstatement to his masterpiece, the Rabbit Angstrom cycle, our age's one great serial epic, with its intertwined themes of adultery, death, family strife and social discord." Sam Tanenhaus finds the sequel, The Widows of Eastwick, "predictably ingenious... At 76, he still wrings more from a sentence than almost anyone else. His sorcery is startlingly fresh, page upon page." More from Elaine Showalter, who notes in the Washington Post that throughout the history of American letters "literary witches have represented our culture's attraction to, and fear of, female sexuality, empowerment and creativity," and from Christopher Taylor in the Guardian. Back in the New York Times:
Fests and events, 10/25."Two domestic terrorist dramas from Germany are part of the line-up at the Rome International Film Festival," notes Boyd van Hoeij at Cineuropa: "the big-budget action drama The Baader Meinhof Complex and the intimate Long Shadows. Both look at the Red Army Faction (RAF), though the latter is more concerned with the consequences of the RAF." "On October 29th, the new Temporäre Kunsthalle will open in Berlin, making the city even more of an international art mecca," notes Marisa Olson at Rhizome. "Their inaugural exhibition features four ambitious multi-channel video installations by Berlin-based artist Candice Breitz." With the exhibition Gainsbourg 2008 on view at the Musée de Musique in Paris through March 1, the Independent's John Lichfield tracks the rediscovery of Serge Gainsbourg "by young people in his home country as one of the few truly original musicians that France produced in the classic years of pop and rock." Jason Gray posts another roundup from the Tokyo International Film Festival, which wraps tomorrow. Steve Dollar hits the highlights of the Sitges Film Festival for Paste - and goes into more detail at his 24xps. "It's hard to believe that it's already three years since Susan Oxtoby came down from Canada to join the Pacific Film Archive as senior curator," writes Michael Fox, introducing his interview for SF360. "As the director of programming at Toronto's Cinematheque Ontario since 1997, and a curator before that, Oxtoby organized a veritable flood of filmmaker retrospectives from GW Pabst to Rithy Panh, national cinema overviews, thematic series (such as Film and Architecture, Dante and the Cinema and The Sound of Silent Cinema) and special events." "Why is MirageMan, with its rather minimal plot and ultra low budget, possibly my favourite film of Toronto After Dark?" wonders Bob Turnbull.
October 24, 2008
Undercurrent. 4."In his analysis, [Robin] Wood compared Cruising to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) and Richard Brooks's Looking for Mr Goodbar (1977), and this corpus was founded on a gnawing ambiguity: was the incoherence of these texts, their dynamic contradictions, voluntary or involuntary, crafted or merely symptomatic?" Adrian Martin in the new issue of Undercurrent: "The cinema of William Friedkin presents, in fact, a richly ambiguous borderline case within contemporary American cinema. Rather than evoking Scorsese and Brooks, one might place Friedkin's work within a certain cinema of hysteria that includes auteurs like Oliver Stone, Mike Figgis, Adrian Lyne, Tony Scott and Zalman King - or, further back, Ken Russell." By the time Manny Farber died, he "had become a writer no one didn't like, a figure of American culture like Johnny Cash or Philip Guston who all thinking people agreed was excellent, unmatched, etc." Now that a summer of mourning has turned to a new season, AS Hamrah argues that we might do well to look at some of Farber's "quirks." For example, "He loves the extra adjective: 'Every Hitchcock-style director should study this picture if he wants to see really stealthy, queer-looking, odd-acting, foreboding people.' And as for his great distinction between dreaded 'white elephant art' and admirable 'termite art,' has anyone noticed how close his definition of white elephant art is to his definition of a 'minimal underground classic'?" Even so, "Despite his assessment of it, he speaks to us from a great period in film history, roughly the Raoul-Walsh-and-Wavelength era, a time he captured like no one else. He stopped writing about two seconds before Star Wars came out, a real shame but understandable. Only his students know what he thought of films made the last 30 years." Spur der Filme: Zeitzeugen über die DEFA "offers extracts from some 400 hours of interviews conducted with the most prominent personalities of the East German cinema world, and, in healthy contrast, also with those who did not reach East German movie prominence or lost this status because they fell into political disgrace," writes Oskar Holl. "The book is therefore a perfect almanac for anyone who wants to look behind the scenes of the unique art and politics of filmmaking in the GDR. Spur der Filme (Traces of Films) is exemplary in the manner in which it points out how closely linked the realms of culture and politics were, and continue to be, in this part of the world." "Time in [Peter] Watkins's films is like the time that Walter Benjamin, in the 14th of his 'Theses on the Philosophy of History,' qualified as 'not homogeneous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now.'" Chris Fujiwara: " In Section XVI of the same essay, Benjamin argues for the necessity of 'the notion of a present which is not a transition, but in which time stands still and has come to a stop.' A perfect description of Watkins's procedure in La Commune, and a perfect description of the goals of the members of the Union des femmes shown in the film, who seek to break their identification with their work and liberate time for themselves. In Edvard Munch, The 70s People and Evening Land, time explodes... he ambiguity that Watkins cultivates from his earliest films achieves its fullest form in The Freethinker and La Commune." Also: "Is The Dark Knight, as it might appear, a right-wing film in favor of unbridled State power, or does it view the issues it raises more ambivalently?" "To my mind, much of Warhol's art is as daring and beautiful as it is witty and, yes, original," writes David Sterritt. "But one of its most appealing strengths is its capacity to open up thought and debate on an enormous variety of fronts, from the merits of particular works to the theoretical import of terms like 'style' and 'content' and 'originality' itself. Warhol's best achievements, from the early Coke bottles to the stunning self-portraits and monumental Mao pictures of his late career, are forever oscillating among multiple levels of meaning and interest, rewarding both the casual gaze in the gallery and the deeper ideas prompted after you leave. As an art dealer interviewed in [Ric] Burns's [Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film] says of the 'simple' soup cans, 'They're complicated in their implications.'" Fergus Daly on Nicole Brenez's Abel Ferrara: "Fundamentally for Brenez, it is the twin forces of anger and love that drive Ferrara's films. They are 'symbolic bombs that dynamite the shadows in an effort to hollow out a space for love.' In short, anyone looking for an answer to the question "how are we to understand the present?" might well find they are more moved by this book than by any other in a very long time." Adrian Martin finds it "a pleasure to read and re-read this relatively short (114 page) book about acting in cinema. Published in Wallflower's admirable 'Short Cuts' series, [Film Performance: From Achievement to Appreciation] lives up to the aims of the list: it provides a clear, economical introduction to an aspect of cinema which, in this case, is everywhere evident (and, indeed, celebrated), but so rarely discussed in rigorous, analytical terms. But Andrew Klevan, a gifted writer, does still more than this: although fairly quiet on the polemical front, his book offers itself as an example of a new kind of criticism, descriptively rich and poetically suggestive." In response, Klevan takes "the opportunity to reflect upon the age-old matters of text/context - and related matters of intention - as I have experienced them in my own work, and to explain the reasoning behind a form of philosophical criticism."
Das Kapital: The Movie?"'He's back,' the Times warned its readers on Tuesday over a portrait of Karl Marx. Not only are sales of his masterwork Das Kapital booming, but the virus of the newly fashionable revolutionary has, it seems, spread to the heart of the capitalist camp: the French president Nicolas Sarkozy has had himself photographed leafing through its pages while Marx's analysis of capitalism has been hailed by everyone from the German finance minister to the Pope." But for Daily readers, Seumas Milne skimmed over the newsiest item in the Times scare-piece: "And - are you ready? - director Alexander Kluge is making a movie out of Das Kapital." Actually, that film has already been made, has screened in Vienna and will be out on DVD next month. Updated through 10/28. In Die Welt, Eckhard Fuhr, noting that Kluge is picking up on Sergei Eisenstein's never-realized plans, has a few details on the project: "We can expect a robust montage of conversations with the likes of Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Peter Sloterdijk, Dietmar Dath or Sophie Rois, clips of everyday life, reenactments starring Helge Schneider and much more." Eisenstein und Marx im gleichen Haus (Eisenstein and Marx in the Same House) is the first of three parts of Nachrichten aus der ideologischen Antike (News from Ideological Antiquity), which premiered at the Stadtkino Wien on October 10 and will be released by Surkamp as a set of three DVDs with an essay by Kluge on November 17. All in all, an intriguing prospect, even if nowhere near as sensational as the Times would have its readers believe. Update, 10/28:
October 23, 2008
Shorts, 10/23."One of the most spectacular episodes in the early lives of the writers who went on to become the novelists and poets of the Beat Generation is coming to the screen," notes Shawn Levy, who's very much looking forward to the Christine Vachon-produced Kill Your Darlings, which tells that story. Next week, Criterion releases the collection 10 Years of Rialto Pictures, so Glenn Kenny "recently spoke with Bruce Goldstein, the repertory programmer for New York's Film Forum and a co-founder of Rialto, about the company's beginnings, high points, and why the box contains the titles it does." "Are there filmmakers, scattered around the world, who nevertheless seem to share certain close affinities?" asks Girish. "One example might be the trio of Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurismäki and Wim Wenders." Michael Guillén talks with Albert Serra and Mark Peranson about Birdsong. "Rare is the film that embodies a certain hysterical style while dealing with hysteria as its actual subject," writes Dennis Cozzalio. "But in the late 70s, a trio of movies written by the young screenwriting team of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale did just that - I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) and Used Cars (1980), directed by Zemeckis, and 1941 (1979), directed by Steven Spielberg, are among the best comedies of their generation, serving up a classically framed, goosed-up examination of American obsession, desire and panic." Gomorrah, you'll remember, is based on the book by Roberto Saviano. In openDemocracy, Geoff Andrews lays out five ways in which the book is "groundbreaking." The life of Jacques Mesrine, "Parisian super-criminal is to be retold in an epic two-part biopic, the first tranche of which opened in French cinemas yesterday to widespread critical acclaim and not a little controversy." Lizzy Davies reports on Jean-François Richet's Mesrine: L'instinct de mort. Also in the Guardian:
Fests and events, 10/23."Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, a 90-minute piece by the video artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, tracks the great French-Algerian soccer player Zinedine Zidane during the course of a single match," writes J Hoberman. "Gordon's previous work - the famous 24 Hour Psycho installation, which slowed Hitchcock's thriller to a glacial crawl; his superimposition of The Song of Bernadette over The Exorcist - served to monumentalize ephemeral moments. Zidane does the same, to lesser effect." More from Cullen Gallagher (L Magazine), Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail) and Bill Weber (Slant). At BAM from Friday through October 30. Back in the Voice: "News From Home/News From House is the 2006 installment in Amos Gitai's documentary series that also includes House (1980) and A House in Jerusalem (1998)," writes Martin Tsai. "Revolving around property that once belonged to a Palestinian family and was later taken over by Israelis, the films juxtapose the Israeli and Palestinian diasporas by tracking the original owner's descendants, the construction workers, and the current occupants over the years." Screens at MoMA as part of Amos Gitai: Non-Fiction, running Friday through November 2. Mitchell Leisen "displays rare versatility as a director, moving fluidly from melodrama to screwball, pastoral to noir, often within the same film," writes David Cairns at Moving Image Source. "With retrospectives at San Sebastian in 2000, Edinburgh in 2006, and now at the Cinematheque Française, Leisen's renaissance may finally be upon us, long overdue but still timely." Through November 2. "XYZ are proud to present A Lecture by John Bock. The Lecture will take place on board a city bus that will travel through the streets of downtown Athens, on Wednesday, October 29th 2008.... The Lecture by John Bock will be followed by a Retrospective of films by the artist, from October 30th to November 5th 2008, at Mikrokosmos Cinema." Susan King in the Los Angeles Times: "It's getting to the point where there is such a plethora of film festivals in Los Angeles that if you miss one, another will be on the horizon in a nanosecond. And this week is no exception." James C Taylor in the LA Weekly: Frederick Wiseman's "evenhandedness combined with his eye for unforgettable vérité scenes - a young female physician trying to get an elderly immigrant to discuss his urinary problems, patients singing 'Santa Maria' in the hospital's chapel - is what makes Hospital still relevant and engrossing today, and should keep it that way, regardless of the future of health care in America." At REDCAT tonight at 8. For SF360, Robert Avila reviews "Robb Moss and Peter Galison's deliberative, atmospheric and engrossing documentary, Secrecy, receiving its theatrical premiere this week as part of a new San Francisco Film Society initiative, SFFS Focus: Investigative Documentary."
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/23.Kathleen Murphy presents an "Alternative Horror Movies Consumer Guide" at MSN; also via MCN, Tom Lynch in Newcity: "Has the abundance of visual gore harmed the genre?... It's shocking, the lack of memorable horror films made since 2000; I've seen my share, and scanning a list of each one that hit theaters, I'm amazed how many of which I completely forgot existed." For Vue Weekly, David Berry previews this weekend's Deadmonton Horror Film Festival. "The Gay Bed & Breakfast of Terror delivers on its title, with less subtlety," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. "On the one hand, Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman is the everyday portrait of a woman living her life, watching wedding videos, going to the pool, meeting a lover, driving her young niece around, washing her hands, picking up flowers, and so on," writes David Phelps. "On the other, it's a horror-noir straddling two rival strands of the genres: the nice anti-hero with the dark secret buried in the past that threatens to be unearthed (Out of the Past; so many of Hitchcock's double entendres that the speaker means one way, and the guilty hears another); and, in a more supernatural vein, the paranoid anti-hero perceiving visions and intimations nobody else believes in, yet which will vindicate her when it's too late (Invasion of the Body Snatchers; The Exorcist; any number of Twilight Zone episodes, etc)." Also in the Auteurs' Notebook: Daniel Kasman and David Phelps's first question for Martel is, "Is your film a horror movie?" In the Philadelphia City Paper, Shaun Brady talks with Edward Pettit about the upcoming local screenings of The Pit and the Pendulum and Tales of Terror. "Ramzi Abed's The Devil's Muse, the thriller about an aspiring actress obsessed with the Black Dahlia and the serial killer who wants to mutilate and cut her in half, is having a week-long run in Los Angeles at the Engine Theater from Oct 23 - 29 as part of Halo 8's Films That Kill festival," notes Mike Everleth. "There are plenty of opportunities to Get Your Cinematic Ghost On here in Chicago," and Dan Mucha rounds 'em up at Facets Features. A list from Kevin Kelly at the SpoutBlog: "Teen Screams: High School Horror Stories." At the Parallax View, Robert C Cumbow presents a "list of 13 movie scores that stand out as landmarks in the honorable tradition of writing music designed to scare the pants off the movie viewer." "Why do we wonder where our mind goes when the body is dead?" asks Jesse Bering in Scientific American. "Shouldn't it be obvious that the mind is dead, too? And yet people in every culture believe in an afterlife of some kind or, at the very least, are unsure about what happens to the mind at death. My psychological research has led me to believe that these irrational beliefs, rather than resulting from religion or serving to protect us from the terror of inexistence, are an inevitable by-product of self-consciousness. Because we have never experienced a lack of consciousness, we cannot imagine what it will feel like to be dead. In fact, it won't feel like anything—and therein lies the problem." Online gazing tip. At Twitch, Swarez points to a new poster for Death Takes a Holiday. Online browsing tip. "Vintage Japanese movie-monster anatomical illustrations," via Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow. Online viewing tip. Fred Ambroisine talks with producer Michele Yeh about Taiwan's first slasher movie, Invitation Only. Via Todd Brown at Twitch.
Let the Right One In."For Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, the eyes have it - that scary quality just right for horror," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "So when Alfredson set out to make the eerie film Let the Right One In, about the friendship that develops between two adolescents - one of whom happens to be a vampire - he didn't watch any horror movies for inspiration. Instead, he studied paintings to see how they used 'eye-to-eye contact,' he says. 'I studied Renaissance painters; one, called Hans Holbein, has a very strange way of dealing with eyes.' Alfredson was especially taken with Holbein's 1538 painting Edward VI as a Child. The prince, Alfredson says, 'is looking outside the frame and under it. It's very strange and very scary.'" Updated through 10/29. "The coming-of-age story and the vampire tale may seem like an odd pairing, but Alfredson draws the film's sustaining tension out of the inverse relationship between the intractable power of vampirism and the impotent sufferings of youth," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "From the opening moments, in which the screen is overtaken by silent, softly falling snowflakes that, with their lovely morbidity, might as well be leftover sprinkles from the closing lines of James Joyce's The Dead, to an underwater climax as gory as it is hushed and idyllic, Let the Right One In means to push the contemporary vampire film into an ambitiously poetic realm," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Alfredson mostly fulfills his charge, even if many of his techniques are borrowed from a trendily wan art-house aesthetic that relies too heavily on tight framing and oppressive close-ups (why are so many directors today scared of a good old-fashioned medium shot?) and a moodily melodramatic score that could have come straight from the plunked piano of Thomas Newman (American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption). Yet for every cliched move, there is an abundance of memorable images in this drab fairy tale of tween vampire love." "Though many of the traditional paraphernalia of the bloodsucking genre are present and accounted for in Tomas Alfredson's movie - teeth sink into necks, windows must be boarded lest the vampire expire in the light of day - this is a vampire movie like no other," writes Newsweek's David Ansen. "Horror is not the objective." "Aside from a few gory, sticky scenes that were maybe meant to satisfy the vampires among us, the horror of Let the Right One In isn't horrible at all," writes Genevieve Yue in Reverse Shot. "Instead it fades to the background, surprisingly calm and even, in a sense, dully ordinary. Alfredson sets his film in what he calls 'a country that keeps going despite everything,' and it's here that we might understand the story as a metaphor after all, a vision of contemporary life driving inexorably forward, not without memory but without time to reflect." "Let The Right One In has won numerous awards at various festivals and has received a great deal of press - many describing it as among the best vampire films ever made," notes Bob Turnbull. "Thing is, it isn't really a vampire film... It's much more the story of a young 12 year old boy learning how to relate to the people around him (his mother who smothers him, his father who wants to be buddies, the bullies at school, etc) and in particular his new neighbour Eli who is also 12 and a girl. Well, on the outside anyway..." "The title refers to the lore that vampires won't cross your threshold unbidden, but Let the Right One In picks and chooses codes from the myth without getting hung up," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "And what's most surprising, perhaps, is how easy Alfredson makes it all seem, at a time when few seem capable of a fresh take on horror." "[T]he audacious sound design - the silence of snow broken by faint sounds of a child breathing or eyelashes fluttering; the dense, vividly impressionistic noises of the vampire feeding - and wise performances from [Kare] Hedebrant and (especially) [Lina] Leandersson infuse the film with a low-key naturalism that allows for maximum believability," writes Elena Oumano in the Voice. Updates, 10/24: "[W]hile Mr Alfredson takes a darkly amused attitude toward the little world he has fashioned with such care, he also takes the morbid unhappiness of his young characters seriously," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Both are achingly alone, and it is the ordinary fact of their loneliness rather than their extraordinary circumstances that makes the film more than the sum of its chills and estimable technique." "Let the Right One In has been described as a beautiful love story, and it's true the movie is something to look at," writes Carina Chocano in the LAT. "Alfredson has an uncommon gift for composition that, rendered through Hoyte Van Hoytema's limpid cinematography, is reminiscent of Flemish painting. This is what it would look like if Vermeer had ever decided to make a bloody horror movie. While the beauty is undeniable, the love part is dubious." "Once Alfredson reveals that yes, there's a monstrosity in our midst, the director proves that he can yield poetry from the grammar of fright flicks," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "Sequences we've seen dozens of times before - jugular snacking, gravity-defying scurrying, nocturnal raids on snoozing bloodsuckers - are rendered with macabre wit and superlative dread." Steve Dollar talks with Alfredson for Paste; Kristin McCraken for Tribeca. "About once a year, a filmmaker succeeds at creating truly idiosyncratic genre fare, employing all the tropes of a standard stock of classics (such as giant monsters in Bong Joon-ho's The Host) and working with them to create a stirring, original vision," writes Michael Lerman at Hammer to Nail. "This year, the well-deserved prize goes to Tomas Alfredson for his gentle depiction of child vampires in Let the Right One In." Update, 10/27: "Some genre buffs may be disturbed by the fact that the 'rules' of vampire existence in this universe are never fully explained, and neither is Eli's back story," notes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Where is she from? How and when did she become a vampire?... We learn about Eli exactly as Oskar does, and perhaps instinctively he knows enough to leave certain questions alone. She can fly, she has amazing and horrifying powers, she isn't exactly a boy or a girl, she can't come inside unless she's invited (hence the title) and she loves him. That's enough." Update, 10/29: For IFC, Aaron Hillis talks with Alfredson "about child actors, how technology has crushed the Swedish film industry, and what makes him feel especially naked."
Pride and Glory."Every movie faces a few obstacles on its journey to the screen. But Pride and Glory has been beset by almost every plague imaginable short of locusts: The Sept 11 terrorist attacks, a rival police movie that knocked it off the schedule, Nick Nolte's bum knee, the collapse of a movie studio, the indifference of another, three release dates and even a fight over a studio executive's actor brother." John Horn tells the story in the Los Angeles Times. "That generic title won't help in a few months when you're staring at the DVD and trying to place it, wondering when this movie came out and whether you saw it at the time and thought it any good–or instead determined, correctly, to save it for a rental," notes Jonathan Kiefer. Updated through 10/29. At Slant, Nick Schager finds it "serviceable but clichéd..., fixated as it is on the attempt of an NYPD detective, Ray Tierney (Edward Norton), to maintain allegiance to both his personal and professional families, which - given that his father (Jon Voight), brother Francis (Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell) are all fellow officers - amount to the same thing.... Pride and Glory's commentary on law enforcement vice and decency - as well as its positioning of women as the arbiters of, and impetuses for, moral clarity - is far less immediate and realistic than its gritty aesthetic and tone would have one believe." "[B]y the end of the film's first 10 minutes, the audience knows precisely who's who and who's up to what and how this is gonna end," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "Which leaves 120 more minutes to fill - or three weeks, whichever comes first. How ironic that a movie filled with police officers should end up feeling like a hostage situation." "Superbly modulated and thrilling in its subtle intensity, Pride and Glory admittedly doesn't break any new ground," writes Peter Martin at Twitch. "Perhaps I've seen one too many disappointing theatrical releases lately, but Pride and Glory strikes me as one of the finest dramatic films of the year." s "Director-writer and co-writer Gavin and Greg O'Connor (sons of an NYPD cop) present an Irish clan whose men in blue either tacitly accept or actively indulge moral corruption and greed," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "[T]he O'Connors take their criticism incredibly far - something only possible under cover of crime genre conventions - before the predictably recuperative conclusion." "Pride and Glory, with smashing direction and fine performances, says nothing we don't already know, or think we know, from years of feasting on TV and movie cop dramas," writes Malcolm Azania in Vue Weekly. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Gavin O'Connor "about growing up in a policeman's family, his personal approach to filmmaking, and drinking raw eggs after seeing Rocky." Sara Carduce talks with Emmerich for New York. Updates, 10/24: "Pride and Glory, which sat on the New Line Cinema shelves for a few years, is not especially good, but there is enough rough artistry in Mr O'Connor's direction to make you wish the film were better," writes AO Scott in teh New York Times. "He has a good sense of the city's wearying, exhilarating energy and an impressive ability to pull off arresting visual compositions in close quarters. Many of the indoor scenes have a raw, dangerous intimacy that keeps your attention even when the dialogue tumbles toward cliché." "If the cop-assigned-to-probe-his-family premise doesn't give away pretty much everything that comes next, the great, gushing torrents of exposition emanating from the characters' mouths should do it," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "A plodding, formulaic police drama bathed in bluish light, Pride and Glory displays very little of either." "A hackneyed, clichéd muddle about a good cop torn between his responsibilities to his family and his duty to uphold the law no matter the consequences, Pride and Glory would have felt second-hand and overly familiar even if it were greenlit in 1937 as a vehicle for Humphrey Bogart and Edward G Robinson," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Redemptively, the actors throw themselves into some daringly ugly moments, particularly Farrell, who threatens a drug dealer's infant with a hissing steam iron," notes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "Your crowd will gasp, as it might when Voight uncorks a beautifully boozy Christmas toast, a reminder of the brash intimacy this movie could have used more of." Update, 10/25: "Although the acting is top-notch and much of the narrative carries a gritty resonance, the movie feels so retro at times, so pre-1980s, that you half-expect Popeye Doyle to come swaggering across the screen, still wearing his porkpie hat, still looking for The French Connection," writes Dan Barry in the NYT. "For all its occasional scandals and never-ending internal strife, the department. remains one of the finest law-enforcement agencies in the world, and those officers in the passing patrol cars are black and white, Hispanic and Asian. Still, these familiar story lines, especially about the Irish and about loyalty-protected corruption, endure." Update, 10/29: Peter Sobczynski talks with Gavin O'Conner for Hollywood Bitchslap.
I've Loved You So Long."Once settled into the [I've Loved You So Long's] tone, I swung three-for-three on my plot twist predictions," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "You shouldn't be able to do this at a movie you didn't write yourself." Agreed. Even so, I've been mildly startled to come across a couple of reviews in which those twists are evidently assumed to be so predictable that there's no reason to avoid spoiling them. I've snipped around those passages, but, for what it's worth, consider yourself warned. "The 'tradition of quality,' EU edition," continues Nick Pinkerton: "a 'literary' plot kept on a tight leash, flashes of cultural credentials, congratulatory humanism, and anesthesiac inserts of people looking grim on public transit. Still, [Kristin] Scott Thomas's translucent portrait of a lady is good enough to make you believe she's rummaging through mislaid feelings in real time - seeing her dazed and ruffled after her afternoon fling with a cafe drageur, I half believed I was watching a Masterpiece." Updated through 10/29. "I've Loved You So Long is a modestly satisfying tale of sisterly love weighed down by a history of family betrayal and mendacity," finds Ella Taylor in the Voice. Novelist, teacher and first-time director Philippe Claudel "seems bent on making I've Loved You So Long as softly inoffensive as the beloved French lullaby from which it takes its title." "For a first film, Mr Claudel's I've Loved You So Long is an unusually mature piece of work with none of the usual indulgences of the novice director," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "He has made a grown-up film for our troubled time, and created a beautiful rapport between two gifted actresses." Laura Winters profiles Claudel for the New York Times. Michelle Orange talks with Scott Thomas for IFC. Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher interviews Claudel. Updates, 10/24: "The film, in the end, turns away from the Dostoyevskian implications of Juliette's crime and its expiation," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "A revelation comes near the end that is both tremendously moving and a bit disappointing, in the way that the solutions to great mysteries frequently are. This turn does not diminish the accomplishment of Ms Scott Thomas's deep, subtle and altogether stunning performance, but it does alter the scale of the movie, turning it into a more manageable, less existentially unsettling drama. Which is a relief, I suppose, but also a bit of a letdown." "Much like the recent Rachel Getting Married, Claudel's film grapples perceptively with the depth of family ties, which have the power to withstand obstacles that would—and perhaps should—tear any other relationship asunder," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "[I]t is Scott Thomas's work on which the success of the picture depends and she does not fail it," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "Indeed, she gives a truly great performance. It's never easy for an actor to sustain our sympathy when a role is grounded in radical passivity." "Her role nearly screams 'awards bait,' but Scott Thomas is a deft enough performer not to outact [Elsa] Zylberstein," notes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "I was a fan back in her luminous romantic lead days, with mid-90s films like Four Weddings and a Funeral and The English Patient, but here the 48-year-old actress goes deeper than she has ever before, letting her cheeks sag, her bright eyes fade and her lips pout," writes Aaron Cutler in Slant. "I've Loved You So Long will be overrated, but because of Thomas it's a gift nonetheless." "I've Loved You So Long is the kind of film America's moviemakers have all but given up on," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "An example of the French tradition of high-quality adult melodrama, conventional in technique but not story, this thoughtful, provocative film is slow developing because it's all about character, about the tricky, fragile relationships that make us human; about, if you really want to get down to it, the reclamation of a soul." Brent Simon talks with Scott Thomas for Vulture. Erica Abeel talks with Claudel for indieWIRE. Update, 10/27: David Edelstein in New York: "The film is a tease, with a cheat of a final disclosure, but Philippe Claudel's direction is both probing and delicate, and Scott Thomas's face, even immobile, keeps you watching, searching for hints of her character's past, unable to blink for fear of missing something vital." Update, 10/29: Peter Sobczynski talks with Claudel for Hollywood Bitchslap.
Presidents, 10/23."Harrison Ford, who played a US president fighting airplane hijackers in 1997's Air Force One topped a list of fictional movie presidents people would most like to lead the US, according to a poll released on Thursday by AOL's Moviefone.com Web site." Jill Serjeant reports for Reuters. #2 (and she's got the full list): Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact. Via Joe Leydon, Daniel Craig: "Obama would be the better Bond because - if he's true to his word - he'd be willing to quite literally look the enemy in the eye and go toe-to-toe with them. McCain, because of his long service and experience, would probably be a better M... There is, come to think of it, a kind of Judi Dench quality to McCain." "It's not often that you can get t-shirts designed by major figures of world cinema," notes Doug Cummings, "and even less often for a better cause: Chris Marker invokes his trademark character, Guillaume-en-egypte, for Barack Obama at Wexner Center for the Arts." "Obama tugs at the imagination in such a way as to make other storylines seem plastic," writes Max Goldberg. "Four years ago the left was rallied more by a movie (Fahrenheit 9/11) than an actual candidate; now people just seem baffled by another cinematic recitation of GW's sins. Oliver Stone's frenzied style of psycho-historiography may be well-suited to #43, but his countermyth isn't this season's top ticket. One political film that has been humming in my mind watching Obama's campaign is John Gianvito's Profit motive and the whispering wind." "[W]ith W., Stone has accomplished something I would've thought impossible: He made me feel sorry for this miserable son of a bitch." Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. More from Nathan Gelgud (Independent Weekly), Andrew Schenker and David Walsh (WSWS). "I can't take much more of this," writes Larry David at the Huffington Post. "Two weeks to go, and I'm at the end of my rope." John Rogers follows up a couple of recent entries with "Hollywood Conservatives: The Thoughtful Post." "The latest issue of Tales From the Crypt (inspired by the 1950s EC Comic of the same name) features Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin wielding a hockey stick at the Crypt's storytelling inhabitants," notes C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark. Online viewing tip. Ted Johnson has Ron Howard's (and Andy Griffith's and Henry Winkler's) Obama endorsement for Funny or Die. Online viewing tips. From Coudal Partners: "Talked about this morning and now in the queue to see again soon: the trailer for Bob Roberts. And here's one of his campaign commercials." Also: Radar's collection of current campaign ads from across the country.
Austin Chronicle. Shock + AFF.Marc Savlov talks with "Austin author, artist, and screenwriter Stephen Romano" about Shock Festival: One Hundred and One of the Strangest, Sleaziest, Most Outrageous Movies You've Never Seen, an "homage to movies such as The Undertaker and His Pals and a surrealistic masterpiece of alternate-universe journalism that's so detailed and so full of heart (good, bad, black, or bleeding - take your pick) that you may think it's real. But it's not. It's a book. A big book, 350-plus pages of sideswiped faux-cinema history, that tells the sordid story of a forgotten group of fringe-dwelling filmmakers - 'forgotten' chiefly because they're totally fictional - whose unrepentant bad taste and surprising genius are comparable to and indeed based on such real-world mavericks as American International Pictures' Roger Corman, Samuel Z Arkoff and James H Nicholson; Full Moon Pictures' Charles Band; and Italy's Luigi Cozzi." And another conversation in the Austin Chronicle: "Plenty of artists and graphic designers had a hand in helping Stephen Romano bring Shock Festival to life, but none was more important to the project than the book's art director, Tim Bradstreet, an Eisner Award-nominated artist whose cover work for Marvel's The Punisher, Vertigo/DC's Hellblazer, and, yes, even the cover of Iron Maiden's A Matter of Life and Death has made him one of the most respected and prolific artists in his field. He's also the co-founder (with actor Thomas Jane) and creative director of Raw Entertainment." Meanwhile, the Austin Film Festival wraps today and the Chronicle's got the jury award winners, snappy quotes from filmmakers and capsule reviews:
October 22, 2008
Interview. Charlie Kaufman."It was my only job for the last five years and I need to have a job! I need to pay my mortgage and the economy is falling apart! What's the world going to be like in two years when I'm done with my next script? Is anyone going to want it? Is anyone going to buy it? Do I even want to put it out there because people have been so mean? A million stupid things are paralyzing me from writing. But it's what I like to do! I like to put something in the world that I feel is honest from my vantage point. That's the kind of decent thing to do in the world. To give people what you think is honest because, otherwise, you might as well be selling soap. In fact, you are selling soap! I don't want to do that. I'm not in that business. I've got to just jump into something and make it about what I'm interested in again. But there's pause. There's always pause at this point." Yes, that would be Charlie Kaufman. In conversation with Jonathan Marlow. And so, this'll also be an entry on Synecdoche, New York, and it'll pick up where this one leaves off. "If you traveled the length of John Malkovich's medulla oblongata, hung a sharp left at the desk where Beckett's Krapp recorded his last tape, and walked through the adjoining door of the interstellar hotel room at the end of 2001, you might end up somewhere in the vicinity of Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York - a two-hour, loop-de-loop thrill ride so deep into the eternal gloom of its writer and (first-time) director's spotted mind that the Kaufman-scripted Adaptation seems, by comparison, a sun-drenched landscape epic." Scott Foundas in the Voice: "Like that film, Synecdoche is a partly confessional, partly satirical investigation into the creative process - and the notion (or the absurdity thereof) that art can lead to understanding." "There is little precedent, cinematic or otherwise, for Synecdoche, New York," writes Michael Joshua Rowin. "Sure, early on in his directorial debut, maestro screenwriter Charlie Kaufman namechecks Kafka to prepare us for the increasingly claustrophobic surrealism that engulfs author-surrogate Caden Cotard (a phenomenal Philip Seymour Hoffman), while the character's psychotic, Borgesian obsession with artistic fidelity to real life is approached with the same matter-of-fact bemusement as Buñuel - this isn't entirely unfamiliar territory, at least to begin with. But as it becomes more and more frustrated in its attempt to reconcile personal entropy with creative perfection, Synecdoche proves that even from the ingenious, hilarious and, clearly, tortured mind of the man who might be this country's greatest current contributor to the art of storytelling, it is like nothing else we've quite seen." Also in the L Magazine: Nicolas Rapold talks with Kaufman. For IFC, Aaron Hillis talks with Hoffman "over espresso and cigarettes about his neuroses, the future of theater and the doppelgängers he's met." "If a seasoned filmmaker created a work as funny, moving, perplexing, thought-provoking, poignant and powerful as Synecdoche, New York, that alone would be reason for exultation," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "The fact that this little gem - both intimate and epic, cerebral and emotional - marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman makes the achievement all the more worthy of celebration." The Montalbán Gallery in Los Angeles presents Small Miracles: The Paintings of Adele Lack through Sunday, notes Michael Jones. Adele Lack is played in Synecdoche by Catherine Keener. Updates: "To describe any of the performances in Synecdoche, New York as deadpan presumes comedic intent that may exist on the page - and in effect - but every line is delivered sincerely, and every scene plays out as life or death," writes Eric Hynes at indieWIRE. "As director, Kaufman doesn't have the whimsical or ironic touch of [Michel] Gondry or [Spike] Jonze, making Synecdoche, New York a much heavier affair. Wherever they stand in the funhouse, regardless of absurd dress or situation, Kaufman's actors sell the truth of each particular moment. As a result, and seemingly against all reason, Synecdoche, New York has a crashing emotional power." "William Horberg, exec producer of Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, has a blog, and in today's post he compares his first reading of Kaufman's script - in one of those annoying 'you have to read this in two hours and then hand back immediately to a bonded messenger' sittings - to his first assignment at script coverage back in 1986." And Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay responds with a recollection of his own before segueing into a paragraph from an upcoming interview with Kaufman. Updates, 10/23: "The directing debut of Charlie Kaufman, our most celebrated screenwriter since Quentin Tarantino, is a reliably Kaufman-esque experience," writes Elbert Ventura in Reverse Shot: "incurably neurotic, relentlessly clever, extravagantly weird. But it is also his most morose, most obsessive, and, with the exception of 2001's Human Nature, least fun work. A diffident invitation to crawl into its maker's addled psyche, Synecdoche, New York is a downer that resonates as much as it repels." The film "is impeccably acted, inventively designed, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and often devastatingly sad," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "It was also still such a mystery to me after two viewings that I found it hard to trust my own vocabulary to describe what the experience of watching it is actually like. But [in The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert] Burton, rambling on 400 years before the fact, seems to nail it, or at least part of it: a life where the madness of creativity and the madness of love/lust are constantly exchanged for one another, to the point where [pleasure] from either is unattainable. But it's also about the fear of death, the impossibility of romance in the absence of longing, the instinct to project our desires on to others and to seek answers about ourselves in mirror images. In other words, as theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) says of his own life's work, 'It's about everything.'" "An exhilarating authorial confession of loneliness, regret, misery, fear of death and illness, self-doubt, time, space and all other concerns under the moon and stars, it's the story of man wracked by external pustules and internal maladies," writes Nick Schager. "Limited its aims most certainly are not, a sad-sack fictionalized profile that takes a leap down the rabbit hole and morphs - like all of Kaufman's scripts, a point articulated by Caden's early, knowing question, 'Why do I always make it so complicated?' - into a morosely self-aware funhouse of foibles, hang-ups and the (potentially futile) search for comprehension of one's inherently twisted, contradictory nature through artistic invention." Jürgen Fauth finds it "an overambitious meta-narrative about a director producing an overambitious meta-narrative. From the punny title to the bitter end, Synecdoche, New York is driven by its creator and main character's desperate attempts to address the grand themes - art, love, life, and death. The one self-referential twist that Kaufman didn't intend: both the play-within-the-movie and the movie itself are disastrous failures."
Being John Malkovich." And so on. Armond White in the New York Press.More interviews with Kaufman: Michael Guillén, Liz Ohanesian (LA Weekly) and Brent Simon (Vulture). "'Oh, God almighty,' said Hope Davis when asked to describe the film..." Michael Ordoña meets her for the Los Angeles Times. Updates, 10/24: "To say that Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York is one of the best films of the year or even one closest to my heart is such a pathetic response to its soaring ambition that I might as well pack it in right now." But the New York Times' Manohla Dargis doesn't; she backs up and starts again and eventually makes her way here: "It's extravagantly conceptual but also tethered to the here and now, which is why, for all its flights of fancy, worlds within worlds and agonies upon agonies, it comes down hard for living in the world with real, breathing, embracing bodies pressed against other bodies. To be here now, alive in the world as it is rather than as we imagine it to be, seems a terribly simple idea, yet it's also the only idea worth the fuss, the anxiety of influence and all the messy rest, a lesson hard won for Caden. Life is a dream, but only for sleepers." The film " recalls the Jorge Luis Borges story in which the imperial cartographers make a map of the empire so detailed and true-to-life that it takes on the exact dimensions of the territory and ends up covering it entirely," notes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times (as does Manohla Dargis, by the way). "Jean Baudrillard famously inverted the story to illustrate his idea about the 'precession of simulacra,' a postmodern condition in which the representation of something comes before the thing it represents, breaking down the distinction between representation and reality completely. No doubt Kaufman... had both in mind when he outlined the contours of his sprawling, awe-inspiring, heartbreaking, frustrating, hard-to-follow and achingly, achingly sad movie, which might have just as well have been called Being Charlie Kaufman or, better yet, Being Anybody." "Synecdoche, New York is a very sad movie for two reasons," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. "First off, the story, about a theater director who's sucked into the vortex of his own impossible artistic ambitions, is unremittingly bleak, making for one of the most depressing nondocumentary films you're likely to see, well, ever. But secondly - and in the long run, more movingly - Synecdoche is sad because it's a constant reminder, a ghostly double, of the great movie it could have been." "The obvious inspiration is Federico Fellini's 8½, in which Guido, a moviemaker with director's block, is beset by memories and fantasies as he dodges all the women in his life, from mother to wife to whore to mistress to muse," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "Kaufman has constructed a most devious puzzle, a labyrinth of an endangered mind. Yet it's one that - thanks in large part to a superb cast, led by Hoffman's unsparing, sympathetic, towering performance - should delight viewers who both work the movie out and surrender to its spell." At the AV Club, Scott Tobias talks with Kaufman and then writes, "For this master of mindfuckery, Synecdoche, New York probably qualifies as a magnum opus, since it essentially multiplies Adaptation by an exponential factor and thus grows into a snarling, ungainly beast of self-reflexive absurdities. It's a movie that doesn't just benefit from repeat viewings but practically requires them, though Kaufman, for all his brilliance, fails to make the prospect as inviting as it should be." "A note is struck in Synecdoche, New York - perhaps the one that commences Jon Brion and Deanna Storey's smoky-'n'-sad after-hours ballad 'Little Person,' which closes writer/director Charlie Kaufman's latest dive into the gaping, unforgiving maw of existence." Keith Uhlich at UGO: "The tone, always in a morose minor key, remains unvaried for a good two hours until Brion and Storey grant the proceedings (over a blessed fade-to-white) some retrospective resonance. Not to say that the previous 120 minutes of poseur artistry (begetting 4 minutes of genuine invention) is improved so much as given a finish (an elating flourish) it doesn't deserve." Chris Barsanti at PopMatters: "It's performance art as civilization-annihilating Godzilla, the play that ate Manhattan, a theater of life that makes theater of the absurd seem like little more than art school fun and games." "Kaufman's latest (which he also directs, haltingly) has its tenterhooks planted in the warm, fuzzy heart of comic neuroticism," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "[I]'s all essentially a picture of buzzy, NPR-listening domesticity." "If ever there were a movie to make a critic throw up his hands and mutter, 'It is what it is,' this is it (what it is)," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "There are some notable differences between his approach and those of his previous directors, differences which also make it a tougher film to experience." Via Movie City News, Rex Reed, the John McCain of movie critics: "I have hated every incomprehensible bucket of pretentious, idiot swill ever written by this cinematic drawbridge troll. But nothing that has belched forth from his word processor so far prepared me for a bottom feeder like this." Online listening tip. Kaufman's a guest on Fresh Air. Online listening and/or reading tip. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with Kaufman. Steve Dollar talks with Kaufman for Paste: "It's been said that he enjoys doing interviews as much as a cat enjoys a bath, but once he gets going, he responds at passionate length, his straightforward replies gradually becoming more anecdotal—even though he guards against inquiries into his private life. 'I try consistently to test the water further each time I write something. I felt like I was doing that this time. There is decidedly nothing cute in this movie. No cute contrivance or reveal that makes it OK, that allows you as an audience to escape and get out, to say, "Oh, look how clever it is." This movie doesn't do that. It doesn't give you that. It leaves you there at the end where it leaves you.'" "One of the most interesting aspects of Synecdoche, New York is the way that it so thoroughly displays Kaufman's signatures (meta-narrative, dark humor, fumbling relationships, deadpan weirdness, melancholy, the conviction that being married to Catherine Keener would be kind of miserable) without employing his usual killer hooks, like an eight-minute pop song without a chorus," writes Jesse Hassenger for the L Magazine. Howard Feinstein talks with Kaufman for indieWIRE. Online viewing tip. Ted Zee has Kaufman and Hoffman on Charlie Rose. Update, 10/25: Via Movie City News, ST VanAirsdale at Defamer: "Charlie Kaufman's directing debut Synecdoche, New York is the most inaccessible, challenging, infuriating, stupefying, heartbreaking film of 2008. It's also the best American movie we've seen this year, and as noted here this morning, it's required viewing this weekend for anyone who wants to be on our good side. Or history's good side, for that matter - and here are five reasons why." "Charlie Kaufman's new picture is either his 2001, or his Lady in the Water," writes Justin Stewart for Stop Smiling. "Several days after seeing it, I'm still not sure where on that epic measuring stick it notches. It has the pleasures and pitfalls of any far-reaching movie/album/book that goes 'all the way,' its maker through wearing 'kid's gloves' and ready to give it 'everything he's got.' A risk of great pretension is inevitable in the gambit, and the resultant work typically encourages overrating by its admirers and shrill underrating by detractors. A stubborn wallowing in excessive morose self-pity, the staleness of some of the visual gags, and an incoherent, draggy last third ensure Synecdoche, New York as no Finnegans Wake, but its undeniable heady crackle and persistent curiosity leave no doubt that it's something more than his Use Your Illusion." For Scott Von Doviak, this is "the most ambitious, challenging, frustrating and thrilling American movie since I'm Not There... maybe even since Mulholland Drive. Those two films are good points of reference, actually; if you hated them both, Synecdoche probably isn't a movie for you." Updates, 10/26: Rachel Abramowitz talks with Kaufman for the Los Angeles Times. Online listening tip. "It's safe to say that you are an idea man. So I must ask you: to what degree do you worry about an idea?" Ed Champion talks with Kaufman, too. James Ponsoldt talks with Kaufman for Filmmaker. Updates, 10/27: "With so much screen time being allotted to Caden's bad marriage and pustular health problems, his majestic production doesn't get going properly until the second half of the film, and by then we don't care enough (worse still, we don't know enough, such is the vagueness of its guiding rubric) to mind whether it triumphs or flops," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Compare Dennis Potter's great mini-series of the 1980s, The Singing Detective, and you will see much the same setup - a wry leading man with a skin disease, inspired by a furious creative itch - rendered with unstinting vigor.... If you want to show a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, go right ahead, but give that hour all the life you can." "It's a film full of ideas so ambitious and astounding, that the final product could certainly never meet its full potential (much like the film's characters themselves)," writes Matt Dentler. "That said, it comes closer than it should, and ultimately succeeds as a powerful and resonant near-masterpiece." Online listening and viewing tip. At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth has video of Kaufman being overrun by dogs as Kurt Anderson interviews him for Studio 360. Updates, 10/28: Ben Walters for the Guardian: "[S]ynonymous with both ambition and indifference, novelty and decadence, the Big Apple has always tempted dreamers to bite off more than they can chew. If I can make it there, the song goes, I'll make it anywhere, and it's a deliciously Kaufman-esque leap to have Caden resolve literally to make it there - to make a New York within New York. It's neither surprising nor unsatisfying that his project proves too much to bear; and yet, being inexhaustible, irreducible and ultimately unattainable, it does justice to its subject all the same." Walter Chaw talks with Kaufman for Film Freak Central. Updates, 10/29: "How to describe the films of Charlie Kaufman... Ingmar Bergman with laughs?" C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark: "Close, but that makes Kaufman sound too much like Woody Allen, a useful comparison maybe, but one that deemphasizes an essential aspect of Kaufman, his fascination with time and memory. And Kaufman is far more tied to Surrealism/Theater of the Absurd than Woody ever was. I'd prefer to say Kaufman is Woody Allen filtered through Alain Resnais." Andrew Sarris, writing in the New York Observer, understands "that some viewers will consider the film the worst they have ever seen, while others will judge it to be one of the best of the current crop of attractions. I find myself somewhere in the middle, impressed by its originality, but depressed by its lack of coherence and narrative flow." "Re-reading what I wrote about other films written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), I see that I've compared his work to origami pieces, and I still think that's apt." Bryant Frazer: "You can lose yourself in their multifarious layers and folds - and sometimes, when imprecise fingers and thumbs finish modeling the creature, the thing doesn't really match what you saw on the instruction page."
Fear(s) of the Dark."A collection of superbly wrought black-and-white animated vignettes, Fear(s) of the Dark trades in disturbing youthful memories and ghastly tactility," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Produced by six exceptional French graphic artists, this concise, creepy compilation isn't truly terrifying, its aim being not to deliver jolt scares but, rather, to generate a mood of ominous unease." One of the contributors, Charles Burns, is also "one of the most solid pillars of the domestic graphic novel world," notes Chris Barsanti at Film.com. His is "the most plot-driven of the film's stories..., a Twilight Zone-esque account of a lonely young student's infatuation first with bugs and then with the flirtatious woman in the library. The two prove not to mix well in a body-invasion scenario straight out of the Cronenberg playbook. Burns's lush black-and-white artwork has a dramatic starkness that gives it the feel of a lost 1950s B-movie, all mashed up with the adolescent alienation and violent sexuality that's permeated his graphic novels like Black Hole." James Van Maanen chats with him. Updated through 10/24. "While Burns works in high-contrast monochrome, Richard McGuire and Michel Pirus utilize it even more beautifully in their inescapable haunted-house tale, a chestnut rendered lyrical and abstract through wordless storytelling and a white-on-black canvas," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "Samurai ghosts, 18th-century demon dogs, and a childhood remembrance also figure into the film, each entertaining if not particularly scary, while the single sore thumb - a recurring bit in which contorting polygons dance to a woman's monologue of her sociopolitical fears—plays like an innocuous Agnès Varda parody." "Shot in luminous whites, pulsing blacks and gorgeous grays, the stories explore sexual insecurity, rural superstition and sociopolitical anxieties with an inventiveness that's seldom scary but never less than mesmerizing," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "As in any episodic movie, the quality varies from moment to moment," writes Chicagoist Rob Christopher. "But stylish pictorials and evocative sound design impressed us throughout." Online viewing tip. Erik Davis has clips at Cinematical. Updates: In the L Magazine, Henry Stewart finds Fear(s) to be "the sort of Gorey- and Addams-esque creepery that Tim Burton pastiches for a living. Animated by an impressive list of international illustrators, the film, like Persepolis (also French), has the look of a Barnes and Noble Graphic Novels section set into black-and-white motion." "Traditional horror fans may find few hair-raising moments in Fear(s) of the Dark, and even comics enthusiasts may consider it a mixed bag," writes Nicole Rudick for Artforum. "But if mundanity makes your skin crawl, don't watch this before bedtime." "Though it seems that in animation it's easier to convey an 'idea' of fear to an audience than impart in the viewer fear itself, the film nevertheless pleasantly lodges in the brain," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Like the famed 60s compilation Spirits of the Dead, which wisely saved Fellini's astonishing Toby Dammit for its just-desserts course, Fear(s) of the Dark sends us out on a high, low note." "As a whole, Fear(s) has the experimental feel of people trying things out in somebody else's laboratory and hoping that the results will mesh," writes Phil Nugent at Screengrab. "A minor work that draws on some major talents, it seldom achieves anything like the obsessive charge that some of these artists have been able to generate with their work on the printed page." Update, 10/23: "As a holistic experience, Fear(s) of the Dark feels at odds with itself, torn between highlighting its contributors' distinct voices and enforcing an artificial unity," writes Simon Abrams. Also in the New York Press, Brian Heater talks with Burns. Update, 10/24: "These stories are frightening, but they contain few shocks or flinches; they're deeper and more psychological, more about adult anxiety than pure terror," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "They're more likely to impress animation buffs than scare horror fans, but around Halloween time, adults are likely to appreciate scary entertainment with more on its mind than a simple, shallow 'Boo!'"
Stranded: I've Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains."Because the story has already been told in Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, the 1974 best seller by Piers Paul Read, and retold in its 1993 screen adaptation starring Ethan Hawke, why again?" asks Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "The short answer is that in Stranded, all 16 of the survivors, now middle-aged, tell the story in their own words. Since many of those words are eloquent, the assumption must be that their thoughts and impressions are the distillate of years of contemplation." "The film is an awkward amalgam of talking head interviews, recreations, and original footage of the survivors' reunion with their families at the site of the tragedy, and while certain moments are memorable in their poignancy and mysteriousness, Stranded mostly achieves a flat, dull, and too-conventional depiction of its fascinating subject," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "Stranded proves that even the most epic, otherworldly survival story can be made boring." Updated through 10/25. Director Gonzalo Arijón "hardly glosses over the cannibalism, but his focus is instead on the spiritual fortitude and feelings of holy communion that allowed these Catholics to carry on for ten weeks under the most despairing of circumstances," notes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. "At its best, Stranded embraces the contradictions that make this story about the will to live both a tragedy and a triumph." "Stranded is the rare movie less complex and interesting than its press kit," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. Updates: "Mr Arijon is a respectful chronicler and tastefully stays away from the sensational aspects of the story; he concentrates on the survivors' feelings of guilt and on their current families (many of whom traveled to the crash site, too)." Sara Vilkomerson in the New York Observer: "By the time the film gets to the inevitable eating of the bodies of the crash and avalanche victims, all of the 16 struggle to put into words their feelings, and in the grand scope of the horrors they endured, this small piece of the retelling is much less important than their struggle to understand why they survived when others didn't." "The film's care in telling the story... produces a real sense of condemnation for the invasiveness of the media after the survivors return," notes Micah Towery in Slant. "It highlights the abnormal intrusion of it all, that reporters would act as a social police who also thrive on the giddiness of sensationalizing the survivors' plight." "[W]hat these men recount is nothing less than a Herzog-worthy Rescue Dawn-esque journey - just when you think you’re saved the next circle of hell opens," writes Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door. Update, 10/23: "[I]ntimate, terrifying and positively riveting," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "One way of explaining Stranded is that Arijón's after not just the objective facts of what happened and when, which are dramatic enough, but also the subjective reality, the psychological and physiological desolation of the experience." Update, 10/24: This is "the definitive version" of the tale, argues Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Stranded pays the proper respect to those who didn't make it, by focusing on the generations spawned by those who did." Update, 10/25: Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher talks with Arijon.
Changeling.Angelina Jolie "doesn't perform in Changeling; she resolutely presents herself to the audience for admiration," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The main attraction in [Clint] Eastwood's two-fisted snake-pit weepie is the spectacle of Jolie's steely self-possessed suffering. As she lost her husband to Islamic terrorists in A Mighty Heart, Our Lady of Humanitarian Narcissism here endures another dreadful fate: losing her child to a mob of knaves, know-nothings, and psychos, even as she's persecuted by the entire state institutional apparatus of California." "Its ingredients are the stuff of gothic nightmares: a kidnapped child, a sane woman incarcerated in a mental institution, a serial killer who slaughters young boys," writes David Ansen in Newsweek. "The sensationalistic aspects of Changeling are not, however, what really interest Eastwood. Though the true, shocking story it's based on has enough melodrama to sustain a season of soap operas, Eastwood's classical repose lifts this lurid tale to a different level." Updated through 10/24. "As a piece of filmmaking, Changeling is both impressive and monotonous," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "The trouble with period movies made by talented craftsmen who are serious about authenticity and consistency is that no one wants to mess up the shots.... I wish that Eastwood and the writer, J Michael Straczynski, had pushed deeper into the perverse strangeness of their story." "Audiences will be forgiven for reaching for their coats and then putting them down again over and over," observes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC; "everytime you think this tune is done, there's another 38 bottles of beer on the wall. Part of the skill of telling a true story is knowing what parts to leave out, but Straczynski and Eastwood apparently figured we'd all find every last jot and tittle of this tale as fascinating as they did." "A print afterword to the film tells us that the leadership of the Los Angeles Police Department was removed in the aftermath of the Christine Collins scandal, and reforms were enacted to protect citizens' rights," notes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Yet, a few years later on the Los Angeles calendar, Roman Polanski and Robert Towne's Chinatown (1974) shows us an LAPD as corrupt as ever. Still, Chinatown now stands out as one of the great American films, whereas Changeling doesn't and probably never will." David Edelstein in New York: "The way Eastwood shoves Jolie's suffering in our face is like a threat to the Academy: 'And the Oscar will go to...' She's a great actress. She doesn't need his domineering chivalry." "Eastwood is more at home with less passionate stuff," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine; "in the background there's John Malkovich as a crusading pastor, and it's fun to watch his unsmiling righteousness, once pitted against Clint in 1993's In the Line of Fire, flipped into a force for good. Even better are the procedural sequences without Jolie, detailing the ins and outs of this strange case with Eastwood's unfussy confidence." Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and New York. Updates, 10/23: "The primal horror of this premise - a stranger is suddenly delivered to your home with the bland assurance that he's a member of your family - could have made for a movie as frightening as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and as psychologically astute as Gaslight, the 1944 film in which Charles Boyer slowly convinces a perfectly sane Ingrid Bergman that she's going mad," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. Instead, Changeling settles for middlebrow uplift and handsomely conventional melodrama." "By some unaccountable phenomena, Clint Eastwood's Changeling resembles a Spike Lee movie," suggests Armond White in the New York Press. "With Changeling (2008) poised for her Oscar consideration, I've found myself on an Angelina Jolie jag lately," writes Flickhead. "She was once compared to Brando for her remarkable capacity as eye magnet and changeling, and you could take her visceral performance in Gia (1998) as proof. Before that she was in Foxfire (1996), where her tough drifter could be seen as a young incarnation of the fallen manipulator she'd later play in Girl, Interrupted (1999)." Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher interviews Jason Butler Harner. "[T]his bustling, complex picture is hobbled by something neither an Academy Award-winning director nor a seductive star can overcome: miscasting," argues Richard Corliss in Time. "With flaring red lipstick on a face that hasn't seen much time in the California sun, and with a grieving matched in severity only by her will to learn the truth, Jolie is supposed to be a regular working mom who rises to meet the challenge of dreadful events. The actress is capable of many things, but being ordinary isn't one of them." Online listening tip. Eastwood's a guest on Fresh Air. Updates, 10/24: "To watch [Jolie] trace Christine's harrowing emotional passage - a series of flights from anxiety to terror, from grief to rage, pausing occasionally at calm defiance or tremulous hope - is to witness an undeniable tour de force of screen acting," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "It insists on being regarded as a great performance and may, indeed, be mistaken for one." "This is, to put it mildly, a fantastical story, the kind of dark, absurdist allegory that we might have expected to ooze from the pen of Kafka," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "It is also, remarkably, a true (or at least trueish) story, as the film announces in its opening moments. But it is not enough to declare such improbable material historically accurate and leave it at that. It is Eastwood's burden to make it feel true, to overcome our skepticism at its innate outlandishness, and in this, Changeling is a singular failure. Scene after scene, twist after twist - and this is a film of many twists - rings false. I have been a fan (and defender) of Eastwood for as long as I can remember, but Changeling is a genuine stinker." "Eastwood's film works best as a thorough - and sadly timely - depiction of what happens when a government institution decides that adhering to an official narrative is more important than discovering the truth," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "[F]or a director who knows how to balance histrionics with a lack of sentimentality (see Mystic River), Eastwood is unable to modulate tone or performances here," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "No one's perfect, not even our last totem of tough-yet-tender American cinema classicism. But that doesn't excuse such erratic storytelling." "Eastwood's telling of this story isn't structured as a thriller, but as an uncoiling of outrage," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "It is clear that the leaders of the LAPD serve and protect one thing: its own tarnished reputation." Eastwood's "five-film, five-year run, from Mystic River in 2003 to this film today, has been the most consistently powerful and affecting force on the American movie scene," argues Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "To see this film is to understand both how fragile and how essential our hopes for decency and truth are in a world that must be made to care about either one." "As for Changeling's classicism, well, if portentous shots of menacing hatchets and crumbling cigarette ashes and characters being startled by the rap of a judge's gavel are what pass for no-nonsense cinematic storytelling today, fine," writes Jonathan Kiefer. "Why not then just go all the way with yet another of Eastwood's own soporific, melodically benumbing piano-tinkle scores to top it all off? Oh, right, he did."
October 21, 2008
Shorts, fests, etc, 10/21."Chuck Palahniuk is fast becoming Hollywood's favorite author," notes Ben Child. "The Fight Club writer's novel Haunted looks set to become his fifth book to be adapted for the big screen.... Belgian filmmaker Koen Mortier, who made his directing debut on last year's unorthodox comedy Ex-Drummer, will take charge of the cameras and write the screenplay for Haunted." Twitch's Todd Brown most definitely approves this matchup. Related: Hiram Lee at the WSWS on Choke. Also in the Guardian, Ben Walters: "Plenty of movies divide opinion, but few provoke punch-ups. Abrasion and awkwardness, however, are the stock in trade of Frownland, a micro-budget 16mm endeavour that took more than five years to bring to the screen." Looking for a good book? Catherine Grant's found several. And they're online. And free. FilmInFocus runs an extract from Brian De Palma and Quentin Tarantino's 1994 conversation about violence in the movies. "There's nothing overtly strange about [Arthur Russell's] music, except it's ethereal without entering the more recognizable realms of psychedelia or new age (and intimate without qualifying as conventional singer/songwriter fare)," writes Kathy Fennessey at the Siffblog. "It's accessible, in other words, but not commercial. And there you have it: the kiss of death. You also have the makings of a cult artist, and that's where Wild Combination begins..." "Melancholia is most probably [Lav] Diaz's most difficult film for the lone reason that Diaz affords little or no comfort to his viewers," writes Francis Cruz. "There is very little humor to the film and the story, grounded by philosophies and ideas that might be too personal or hard to grasp, branches into different and sometimes convoluted directions. However, as with most of Diaz's films, the reward of completing one is not in the pleasure of sitting through eight hours of his trademark black and white aesthetics and seemingly endless ramblings and conversations, but in the lingering and often valid points that Diaz would have you digesting and exploring for a far longer period of time." Cullen Gallagher, writing at Hammer to Nail, finds Erik Poppe's Troubled Water to be "an arresting probe into morality and forgiveness that leaves one stunned not only by its emotionally stark performances, but also by the film's complex, musical structure that quietly underlies the narrative and binds everything together." "In his acclaimed film Why We Fight, documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki takes a hard look at the militarization of modern America and what it says about our priorities as a nation. His new book, The American Way of War, continues this line of investigation in greater depth, tracing the rise of the military-industrial complex from its origins under FDR, Truman and Eisenhower all the way to its disproportionate influence over contemporary politics and policy, culminating with the Bush administration." Christopher Bateman talks with him for VF Daily. I've dropped this in the latest W. entry, but it should be noted here, too: "This week, Slate is featuring a conversation about George Bush's presidency, prompted by Oliver Stone's film W. Participants are Oliver Stone; Bob Woodward, author of The War Within; Ron Suskind, author of The Way of the World; and Jacob Weisberg, author of The Bush Tragedy." John Rogers's "Not-So-Gentle Post" on Hollywood conservatives follows the "Gentle" one. The Dallas Video Festival has been around for 21 years, but for the first time, this year's edition, slated for November 6 through 9, will be coming at you via iTunes as well. More fests and events:
NYFF. Junkets Dispatch. 2.We're in luck: Vadim Rizov's got one more round for us. Here was the first. Film: Tulpan
Time & Date: Tuesday, October 7, 2:55
Moderator: Scott Foundas.
Subject: Sergey Dvortsevoy, co-writer/director.
Attendance: Disheartening. Tone: Incredibly intense. Three-and-a-half minutes into the conference, after revealing the film took four years to shoot, Dvortsevoy announces, "I think only crazy people can make this type of film." This is the first of many statements that make me want to nominate him for Werner Herzog Jr status, along with stories about filming in dust storms and trying to avoid getting bitten by camels. It helps that Dvortsevoy's accented English isn't Russian-tinged, as you'd expect, but oddly Teutonic. Highlights: Much has been made of an incredible 10-minute shot of a sheep giving birth; Dvortsevoy confirmed that the actor in question had never given birth to a sheep before. (They had to try it twice: the sheep died the first time.) We learn that the name "Tulpan" means "tulip," which is helpful. Someone asks the standard question about how the film was received in its country of origin. But the country in question is Kazakhstan, which raises the specter of something no one wants to mention, but which is clearly not a joke for Dvortsevoy, given that he's made a film about poor, crude regional shepherds. "I've shown the film in Kazakhstan two times, one time in Astana, the capitol, in a Eurasian film festival, and then five days ago in Almaty. There was a special screening for people of power, some local chiefs, and also for audience. The first time we screened it, we showed it to 1,500 people and the reaction was very good. But people from power said, 'It's awful. It's even worse than Borat.'" This is not a joke, despite the eruption into laughter. "They said, 'Why do you show this poor life? Why do you present Kazakhstan like a poor country?... Why do you show this steppe? Please present Kazakhstan as a modern country. We have a lot of cities, we have a lot of buildings.'" Fortunately, the wife of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Sara Nazarbayev, loved it, saying, "It's like my childhood." So there's hope yet. Best Q&A Smackdown (non-Mike Leigh category): Someone asks about the potential symbolic import of the cucumbers carried around by one character, since they're ostensibly the only green thing in the film. Since Dvortsevoy has repeatedly talked about his semi-documentary, on-the-fly filming techniques and emphasized a literal-minded approach to everything, this is not a wise question. "Yes. And?" says Dvortsevoy. "But I think also the grass is green? With cucumbers, that was also improvisation, because once I met a guy who sold cucumbers there." Film: Let It Rain
Time & Date: Wednesday, October 8, 11:55 am
Moderator: Kent Jones.
Subject: Agnes Jaoui, co-writer/director.
Attendance: Fairly hearty. Tone: A little lugubrious (just like the movie), because Jaoui insists on avoiding a translator's services and speaks in halting French instead. Highlights: Jaoui offhandedly reveals that this most leaden and stereotypically bourgeois of French dramas was originally conceived as a fairy tale, of all things. "At the beginning, Mimouna [Mimouna Hadji, playing the mother of Jamel Debouzze and the faithful servant of the family Jaoui's character belongs to] was dusting the house." And then somehow a genie would appear from the dust and grant wishes, which she compares to Aladdin. This seems even more ill-advised than what's on-screen. Otherwise, there's not much in the way of revelation: unsurprisingly, Jaoui works closely with her actors and is inspired by Woody Allen. Someone asks a long question about how "political" the film is (i.e., one character is a feminist who has her core beliefs shaken and Debouzze gets to deliver one monologue about racism). Jaoui takes it like a Gallic stereotype: "The family is a lot like society." She gets this close to saying "Everything is politics." She has an oddly interesting take on The West Wing, which she believes would be impossible to make in France because "we are so much more cynical about our leaders.... For me, it's the most interesting series to understand the difference between American and European politics." She goes on to complain that her generation started out as optimists and now wants to "make more money and have less problems," which makes her "afraid," which is especially resonant, since this conference is taking place during a huge recession. Most Fawning Question: "It's amazing to me how you put out what are definitely comedies of manners, but you do imbue them with cross-currents of political stuff. It's an incredibly subtle balance. How do you keep that balance? It must be difficult." Jaoui answers about trying not to be too demonstrative, but I'm not even sure how this qualifies as a question. Film: Tokyo Sonata
Time & Date: Thursday, October 9, 3:20 pm
Moderator: Kent Jones.
Subject: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, co-writer/director.
Attendance: Underwhelming. Tone: Extremely polite on all sides. Regardless of his movies, Kurosawa is as mild-mannered and thoroughly precise in his attempts to answer questions as most Japanese directors. Highlights: Asked how the film's title relates to the structure of an actual piano sonata, Kurosawa is first flippant, then flips it around in an unexpectedly rewarding way. "The truth is that I didn't place a lot of weight on the concept of sonata. It's a movie that unfolds in Tokyo, and there's piano music at the end, and Tokyo Sonata has a super-nice ring to it. I'll try to think a little more deeply about that." Give Kurosawa credit for perfect comic timing: he stops for the translator to get that out, everyone chuckles, then lets fire the second part. "I did look up what sonata means, and I understand that it's three or four separate pieces of music that form one coherent whole. My film has four central characters, and each of them unfolds in the world independently, and then from time to time they come together to share a meal." Kurosawa doesn't think that his film is funny (it is, frequently), but has no problem with people who do, sort of: "I didn't set out to make a comedy in any way, but for those who find certain scenes funny, please feel free to laugh." However: "It really depends on the country and the screening, though. In Japan, practically no one laughed. For some reason at Cannes, people found it hilarious in places that were wildly inappropriate. I mostly prefer a sort of sweet chuckle." Kurosawa also revealed his frustration with distributors who would pigeonhole him as a genre guy: "I love horror films and I know I've made a lot of them, but I don't consider myself a horror specialist.... That's not how I'm perceived in Japan. I'm part of a group of several other directors who try our hands at many different kinds of film. It's not perceived as strange that I'm making a film that's not horror.... There have been some films in the past that I didn't make as a horror film, but the distributors decided to call it a horror film because it was going to be easier to sell. Frankly, that gives me pause because I didn't make it as a horror film." Example: "Doppelganger. If anything, I would call that a comedy action-movie. It had nothing to do with horror, but it was marketed as horror." This explains a lot; it may be time to re-evaluate all those lukewarm reviews. Kent Jones is curious: does this mean Pulse wasn't a horror film? "Unfortunately, Pulse was a total horror film." Stupidest Question: None! The great thing about a Kurosawa film, even one as relatively straightforward as this one, is that it's always so mystifying that there are no stupid questions. Everyone wins.
DVDs, 10/21.For IFC, Michael Atkinson reviews 1965's Paris vu par... (Six in Paris), a "New Wave experiment for producer Barbet Schroeder - six filmmakers, six arrondissements, cheap 16mm cameras, non-pro actors: go.... [T]he coalescent upshot of Paris vu par... is as both a fascinating time capsule (at a moment when, according to Rohmer in the DVD's liner notes, 'Paris is being destroyed') and a New Wave primer, prioritizing the fleeting textures of life over story, and making the real places in which characters find themselves epically vital." Also: Lewis Milestone's Arch of Triumph (1948), an unjustly neglected romantic epic of postwar Hollywood (from a novel by Erich Maria Remarque), set in a 1939 Paris awash with refugees of the rising Nazi machine. The film glowers and broods like a noir on barbiturates." Related: The Observer's Philip French on Ingrid Bergman. "A chamber piece abetted by one of Ryuichi Sakamoto's loveliest scores as it gradually drifts from narrative into a labyrinthine reverie, Taboo distills a kind of troubled poetry that ultimately asks if beauty is tied to evil and if desire is connected to death," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum. "Yet far from imposing these and related hypotheses as if they were foregone conclusions, the film is content to ponder them from a careful distance, letting the cherry blossoms fall where they may." The Parallax View runs a 2002 piece from Kathleen Murphy: "A friend once described [Max] Ophuls's elegant cinematic excursions as 'tracking eternity'; it is the director's famously long, complex, beautiful tracking shots - and the power of his lovers' emotions - that carry them (and the willing viewer) out of time. In The Earrings of Madame de..., Ophuls's masterpiece, that inexorable, voluptuous camera movement constitutes the film, a life, the transformation of a beautiful woman from ornament to essence. Madame de... 's pilgrimage ends in an empty cathedral, architecture which rises up to eternity." For his "Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report" in the Auteurs' Notebook, Glenn Kenny watches the Masters of Cinema release of Georges Franju's Judex, which "plays beautifully... and is accompanied by the usual distinguished array of extras - not to mention a whole other feature film, Franju's minor but entertaining [Louis] Feuillade-inspired Shadowman." Bob Westal on Rear Window: "Simultaneously a devilish entertainment and a big-hearted work of art, my personal all-time favorite film from one of the three or four best directors of all time is as funny as it is suspenseful to the point of being terrifying - while also managing to be sexy, romantic, and poignant." "After some fellow fliers mocked Gus Grissom (Fred Ward) following his landing mishap, test pilot extraordinaire Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) silences them by saying, 'It takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially when it's on TV.'" Edward Copeland: "It takes a special kind of filmmaker to make a film as great as The Right Stuff, even if Philip Kaufman has never come close to equaling it again 25 years later." Online viewing tip #1. Bryant Frazer takes a "look at the shopping-mall car chase from The Blues Brothers, including some of the recent history of the Dixie Square Shopping Mall." Online viewing tip #2. The NYT's AO Scott on Sullivan's Travels. DVD roundups: Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk, Ambrose Heron, Peter Martin (Cinematical), Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times), PopMatters and Slant.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/21.David Gordon Green's next project will be "a horror thriller based on a comic book miniseries," notes Eric D Snider at Cinematical. "It's called Freaks of the Heartland, and it's a six-part story published in 2004 by Dark Horse Comics (Portland represent!) about a boy in a small town who must protect his younger brother from people who view him as a monster. There's a good chance the townsfolk are right about the monster thing, however, and it apparently applies to some other local children, too." "Andy Fickman has made a deal with Roseblood Movie Company and Twisted Pictures to godfather four remakes from RKO's horror heyday, including three that were produced by horrormeister Val Lewton," reports Michael Fleming in Variety. "The remake properties are the Jacques Tourneur-directed I Walked With a Zombie (1943); the Robert Wise-directed Bela Lugosi-Boris Karloff starrer The Body Snatcher (1945); the Mark Robson-directed Karloff starrer Bedlam (1946); and the John Farrow-directed Lucille Ball-John Carradine starrer Five Came Back (1939)." Via Merrick, who's got clips from the originals at AICN. "Halloween usually brings a crimson tide of horror movies on DVD, and this year is no exception." Featured in Dave Kehr's roundup for the New York Times are Albert Lewin's 1945 adaptation of Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray, "a handsome, A-level production" and Terence Fisher's Two Faces of Dr Jekyll, "a 1961 revisionist version of Robert Louis Stevenson's tale." (For more, see Jeffrey M Anderson at Guru.) Then: "Though clearly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 Psycho, [Seth Holt's] Scream of Fear is closer to Orson Welles in its baroque visual design and delight in style for style's sake." And finally, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre "lacks the moral and philosophical dimensions of George Romero's no less notorious Night of the Living Dead of 1968: the curious genius of Chainsaw lies in its relentless superficiality and literalism. It speeds by in a blur of unsettling, sometimes sickening images, and does not come to a conclusion so much as suddenly spit out the spectator, bringing the awful ride to an end. Still actively imitated today (the Saw films are only its most obvious descendants), this little drive-in movie has won its place in American culture. Deal with it." "Tim Lucas's excellent Studies in the Horror Film: Videodrome (2008, Consortium Book/Millipede Press) is at last in print, and it's essential reading for any and all devotees of David Cronenberg and/or Videodrome in particular," announces Steve Bissette. "This is a brilliant dissection of the collaborative creative process at work." Tim Lucas notes that Bissette "has some strong opinions on the subject of what he sees as my ratification of 'pejorative terminology' - in this case, my identification of Videodrome as a conceptual granddaddy of the subgenre we know today as 'torture porn' - and I'd like to take a moment to respond to this." At WNYC, Nathan Lee recommends The Strangers, "a lean, mean little home invasion thriller" and a prime example of the "domestic siege subgenre": "It's the horror genre par excellence for troubled economic times, and it's given us a some superb recent examples." Mike Everleth reviews a slew of shorts that screened at the recent Spooky Movie Film Festival. "Suzzanna, the Queen of Indonesian Horror, died on October 15 at the age of 66," notes David Austin at Cinema Strikes Back. Online viewing tip. Erik Davis: "Cinematical reader Kirby sent in this pretty hilarious video called MACs vs PCs, which takes the popular rivalry to the streets in a short film that's a mix between West Side Story and The Evil Dead." Online viewing tips. "20 ghosts in varying shades of real" at DC's.
Rudy Ray Moore, 1937 - 2008.Rudy Ray Moore, the self-proclaimed "Godfather of Rap" who influenced generations of rappers and comedians with his rhyming style, braggadocio and profanity-laced routines, has died. He was 81.... "People think of black comedy and think of Eddie Murphy," rap artist Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew told the Miami Herald in 1997. "They don't realize [Moore] was the first, the biggest underground comedian of them all. I listened to him and patterned myself after him."... The heyday of his fame was in the 1970s, with the release of Dolemite followed by The Human Tornado, Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-in-Law and Money Hustler. Jocelyn Y Stewart, Los Angeles Times. The world is a lesser place without Rudy Ray Moore. His passing reminds us that we have a duty to push harder and crazier in these stagnant times, and to realize that the craziest artists may be unexpectedly entertaining people just as hard as they are provoking them. Ed Champion. Frankly, all modern minority comics, as Spike Lee once said, can kiss Rudy's rather ample rump - two times!... One trip through his original oeuvre (not counting movies where he made cameos, or worked in a less than superstar capacity) provides glimpses into a guy whose personality was all about fun and fuckin' - hopefully both at the same time. He only got medieval when the man — or some other manufactured version of the cancer known as the Caucasian - came down on him. Then the prerequisite pull top can of Me Decade whoop ass was opened up on anyone who didn't see eye to eye with this sub-genre Superfly. Bill Gibron, PopMatters, 2005. See also: the site and the Wikipedia entry.
October 20, 2008
Shorts, 10/20."Well, you know the bad news, and we are all left to wonder at how the last serious depression went on the worst part of 10 years and was only finally dispelled by a war," writes David Thomson. "Then there is the good news. The last time there was such a depression, the place once known as Hollywood produced I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Footlight Parade, My Man Godfrey, Man's Castle, Mr Deeds Goes to Town, The Grapes of Wrath, Dead End, Our Daily Bread and City Lights.... How will it be this time?... You only have to look at the films the US mainstream has made in this century so far to know that we lack the talent or experience that will count." Also in the Guardian: "The life of the Chinese film director Xie Jin, who has died aged 84, would make an excellent movie in itself, reflecting the turbulent history of his country in the 20th century," writes Ronald Bergan. "He shone brightest among those contemporaries who emerged after the establishment of the people's republic in 1949 and was one of the few directors to continue to make films during and after the cultural revolution. It was not an easy ride." "On a recent Sunday, members of an extended Jewish clan, most of them Brooklyn-born, gathered at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in lower Manhattan, to watch a movie about their family. The movie was not a compilation of old wedding films or aging, ketchup-tinted bar-mitzvah footage but a screening of Edward Zwick's new feature, Defiance, which opens in December." In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik relates the amazing story the film tells before returning to the descendants of the Bielski brothers, who spear-headed a series of encampments in the Belarusian woods which "included libraries, nurseries, and clinics" where nearly 1200 Jews remained out reach of the Nazis in WWII. "Shooting gets underway today in the Dreux area on L'arbre et la forêt (The Tree and the Forest), the fifth feature by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau," reports Fabien Lemercier for Cineuropa. "The duo's latest work - TV drama Born in 68 [trailer] - will be shown on Friday, October 24 on Arte in its original version: two 100-minute episodes. The cast for L'arbre et la forêt includes seasoned actors Guy Marchand (Inside Paris [trailer]) and Françoise Fabian (5x2 [trailer]), alongside Belgium's Yannick Renier (Private Lessons [trailer]), Sabrina Seyvecou, François Négret, Catherine Mouchet, Jacques Bonnaffé and Sandrine Dumas." From the earliest urban legends to the latest computer games, Americans have embraced fantasies of the city's destruction as 'a reaffirmation of New York's greatness,' said Max Page, a professor of history and architecture and the author of a new book called The City's End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears and Premonitions of New York's Destruction." Sam Roberts in the New York Times: "'We destroy New York on film and paper by telling stories of clear and present dangers, with causes and effects, villains and heroes, to make our world more comprehensible than it has become,' writes Professor Page, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst." "Those who have spent the last three or four years following the parallel production nightmares of Fanboys and 5-25-77 would be excused for assuming that all films involving teenagers and early cuts of Star Wars films are cursed." At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth summarizes both nightmares before turning to the world premiere of the second, now called '77, at the Hamptons Film Festival: "But don't get too excited yet - it's still not finished." Also: A transcription of a conversation among Jameel Jaffer, Alec Baldwin and Naomi Wolf that preceded a screening of The End of America. "Me Cheeta is a truly terrible idea for a book," writes Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer: "the cover is lousy, the first chapter lame, the entire conceit of a memoir written by a chimpanzee - Cheeta from the Tarzan films and the oldest chimp alive - stomach-churningly cute. And, as it turns out, it's also the best celebrity memoir you'll read this year, and it's not even a memoir. Or only ostensibly: it's actually a rather joyous satire on Hollywood's Golden Age, with Cheeta its simian F Scott Fitzgerald." Guy Savage has the Noir of the Week: "Directed by Reginald Le Borg, and based on the novel by crime author Max Catto, Bad Blonde throws Barbara Payton into Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye; she hadn't expected believable circumstances but in such an alien environment, she seems wildly out-of-place. She's the best thing in the picture: sensual, cruel, unprincipled and viciously trampy, she pulses with passion and lust amidst a motley assortment of males who don't know how to handle her." For Newsweek, Ramin Setoodeh talks with Kevin Smith about Zack and Miri Make a Porno. "The conditions of rural life you present in The Longwang Chronicles are quite harsh, quite brutal. Are they typical of China's countryside?" The WSWS's David Walsh talks with filmmaker Li Yifan. "Mr Blackwell, the acerbic designer whose annual worst-dressed list skewered the fashion felonies of celebrities from Zsa Zsa Gabor to Britney Spears, has died," reports the AP's Bob Thomas. "He was 86." Online listening tip #1. Nathaniel R talks with Boyd Van Hoeij about the race for the Best Foreign Film Oscar and with Joachim Trier about Reprise, "working with non-actors, writing as metaphor, Norway, and even a meeting with Jeanne Moreau." Online listening tip #2. "Kim's Video, the venerable New York City store famous for its massive, esoteric and not always legal collection of movies as well as its judgmental staff, is shutting down its rental business." Matt Singer and Alison Willmore: "This week on the IFC News podcast, we look at the legend of Kim's, the decline of video stores in general, and, with it, the passing of the fabled video store clerk turned self-taught director." Online listening tip #3. At the New Yorker: "In this week's issue, Kelefa Sanneh writes about the political parodies of Saturday Night Live, and David Denby writes about Oliver Stone's W. Together, they discuss the pleasures and perils of political impersonation." Online viewing tip #1. At the DVblog: "Rather fetching art-work-over of Godard's great film Alphaville, by Kurt Ralske." Online viewing tip #2. David Phelps has found Bruce Conner's Vivian.
Fests and events, 10/20."In its third edition spread over four days from November 13 - 16, 2008 at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema, with special live events at the Apple Store and the Ninth Street Independent Film Center, the San Francisco Film Society presents the San Francisco International Animation Festival (SFIAF), which celebrates 'one of the most fertile, creative and productive forms of artistic, experimental, commercial and industrial media.'" A preview from Michael Guillén. Noel Vera offers an overview of the 10th Cinemanila International Film Festival, running through October 29. Catherine Bisley has an overview of New Zealand's traveling Italian Film Festival in the Lumière Reader. All over the Austin Film Festival: the Austin Chronicle and the Austin Movie Blog, naturally. "Documentaries and their cinema verité cousins were the strongest part of the Bangkok International Film Festival this year." A report from Nick Palevsky in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Lance Hammer's Ballast led the 18th Annual Gotham Independent Film Award nominations, which were announced this morning by IFP." Peter Knegt reports for indieWIRE, where he also lists the winners of the Middle East International Film Festival's Black Pearls. Also: "Norwegian director Erik Poppe's Troubled Water and Japanese director Megumi Sasaki's Herb and Dorothy won big at the Hamptons International Film Festival," reports Brian Brooks. Mike Everleth has the award-winners from the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. The WSWS's David Walsh files a third report from the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/20."It's October again and time for accounting another year of horror film releases on DVD. The crop's been down, owing partly to diminished disc sales overall, and the fact of known quantity chillers being offered up in past seasons. We've pretty nearly dredged the lake." Nevertheless, John McElwee finds a few highlights for the season, thanks mostly to the little studio that could - "My policy dictates that whatever is good in Hammer mitigates all that isn't" - and an event honoring a very special face: his wife "says I ignore household matters but am vitally interested in what Boris Karloff might have said on some street corner back in August 1933, to which I reply, Well, what did he say?" Speaking of whom. Observer film critic Philip French has chosen his five "scariest films" and at the top of the list is Frankenstein, whose director, James Whale, comes in for special praise from Jonathan Lapper, too: "Now that man could direct." "FRANKENSTEIN Night! features clips, trailers, and scenes from celebrated (and un-celebrated) Frankenstein movies, stitching together a show of about three hours." Ray Privett has details. October 27. And of course, it's a screening of Frankenstein that sparks Ana's imagination in Victor Erice's Spirit of the Beehive, "a strangely textured, hauntingly beautiful and seductively slippery film of seemingly always fading autumnal light, mirrored images and enveloping enigma," as Josef Braun puts it. "Not unlike The Curse of the Cat People, its insight into child psychology through the examination of traumas that adult eyes never fall upon bridges the magical thinking of early childhood and the melancholy observation of movies that look to the past for knowledge of the present. It's somehow a fairy tale, a tone poem and a political allegory all at once. In short, its unforgettable, and not to be missed by anyone with a tolerance, much less a desire, for the sublime that lays in the shadows of the inexplicable." Also: "It is for me one of those genuinely inexhaustible movies, and, though its violence pierces me only more deeply as time goes by, I find myself returning to it more than any other. Psycho, newly released on a special edition two-disc set from Universal, with a beautiful new transfer and unusually good supplements, has that crystalline character of something that yields new or richer readings or sensations with every handling." "Toby Dammit is a genuinely apocalyptic whirlwind of a movie," writes Steve Bissette. "As his name asserts, Dammit is damned and in search of repose, respite and rest - but there's none to be found in Fellini's dizzying metropolitan inferno, as nightmarish as any ever burned into celluloid. From the clutter of claustrophobic studio spaces which are either overlit or draped in chintz, to the spare, fogbound twilight realms of the fateful, seemingly aimless final journey, Fellini is a brilliant cartographer of civilization on the brink of utter collapse." Via Tim Lucas. "I'm wondering if anyone has any superior horror films or recent discoveries they'd recommend?" Doug Cummings has a few suggestions himself, but he's looking for more. Eric Campos presents Film Threat's thorough overview of this weekend's Hollywood Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Film Festival. At Twitch, Collin Armstong talks with Zack Parker about Quench. Time Out lists "Ten friendly ghost movies." Online browsing tips. Boing Boing's David Pescovitz points to Ray Villafane's "insanely intricate pumpkin carvings." Also: Chris Berens, artist at work.
London 08, week 2.The London Film Festival opened last week and runs through to the end of the month. How's it been going so far? The Observer's Jason Solomons hits a few of the highlights, while the Guardian's Xan Brooks looks ahead, with recommendations for the second week: "Might I recommend Tony Manero...?" Updated through 10/25. James Dennis at Twitch on Mike Figgis's new film: "A one page treatment formed the basis of the shoot, the bare bones of a plot, allowing the dialogue to be improvised on location with the lead actors cast just two days prior to the off. On returning to London Figgis wasn't really sure what he had; a documentary, a love story, or something else completely. On watching Love Live Long, the answer is all of the above and much more." Related online viewing: Figgis talks about camera phones for the London Times. Also in the Times, Igor Toronyi-Lalic talks with Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones's Diary) about Incendiary: "Based on a novel by Chris Cleave, it tells the story of a working-class London mother played by Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) who loses her husband and child in a terrorist attack on the Arsenal football stadium. A far cry from rom-com froth, you may think - though there is a bit of rumpy-pumpy with Williams's suitor, Jasper Black (Ewan McGregor). But, as with Bridget Jones, Incendiary plugs straight into the zeitgeist: in 2001 it was sexual neurosis, today it's terrorism." More from Sheila Johnston in the Telegraph. Back in the Times, Ed Potton talks with Nick Moran about Telstar, the film he's directed and co-written about Joe Meek. Flame & Citron "is a reminder that the Nazi rampage through Europe left the continent with a horrible legacy of destruction and waste, and also with a horrible, and not entirely suppressible memory of collaboration," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It could even be argued that the urgent need for ever closer European union that followed the war, particularly driven by the French and the Germans, was partly explained by a kind of denial, the need to explain away the ineluctable fact of collaboration." "It was inevitable that Australian actor-writer-director Matthew Newton would end up in show business," writes Stuart O'Connor in the Guardian. "As the son of Australian television royalty Bert and Patti Newton, Matt is a household name in Australia, but still relatively unknown outside his home country. That's set to change if he keeps making films of the calibre of Three Blind Mice, which is screening at the London film festival this month." Jonathan Rosenbaum recommends Terence Davies's Of Time and the City (site). Update, 10/23: Online listening tip. The current edition of Film Weekly comes from the festival. Updates, 10/25: The Guardian's Xan Brooks previews the final week. James Mottram in the London Times on James Gray's Two Lovers: "With [Gwyneth] Paltrow at her most alluring, it barely matters that the premise is pure soap opera; a dry cleaner caught in a love triangle."
Brooklyn Rail. October 08."Defining the end points of the continuum of fine art/popular culture, performance artist Mark Tribe's Port Huron Project and actor cum Charlize Theron paramour cum director Stuart Townsend's Battle in Seattle highlight every (should be) obvious parallel between today's wars and corporate oligarchies and those of yesterday," writes Sarahjane Blum. "Both The Port Huron Project and Battle in Seattle offer guilt trips of the highest order, and we should learn a thing or two hundred from the anti-war icons of the Vietnam era, and the thousands of protesters who stopped 1999's World Trade Organization. But if politically engaged filmmakers keep focusing on how little ground has been won, will we lose sight of how much ground has been lost?" "David Lean is a filmmaker with many prehistoric virtues," writes Lu Chen. "Clearly a sort of a materialist, Lean vests in rich, elaborative visual details and displays a strong belief in assuring their solidity, be it the perfect sunset or the right look of a corn field in 1910s Russia. Only he has proved able to visualize the dark, web-filled Satis House of Miss Havisham with its full gothic splendor or make the cruel grandeur of the Burmese jungle or Arabic desert imaginable on the western screen." "Ballast is a whole work, that elusive merging of style and content wherein each fuels the other and neither calls more attention to itself," writes David N Meyer. "Like Bresson, so many of the most affecting moments are rendered in pure cinema - no literary work could capture the tiny but profound moments that [Lance] Hammer and his cast achieve." Mary Hanlon: "What separates The Fabulous Stains from many cult films are its superior aesthetic qualities, its all star/ rock star cast, and, well, the fact that it went on to inspire many, many female garage bands in the 1980s with its ground breaking-style - numerous riot-grrrl bands cite The Stains as a seminal inspiration." "In Elegy, Isabel Coixet creates a sensually lush adaptation of Philip Roth's inert and insipid story The Dying Animal," argues Camila de Onís. "The film reveals a tone, rather stilted at first, that slowly seeps into the psyche. Elegy conveys a maturity that Roth's novel lacks, and a pathos that he transparently strived for but could not achieve." "Let's stipulate at the outset that Burn After Reading doesn't match the exultant wigginess of The Big Lebowski, the dark poetry of No Country for Old Men, or the cold-hearted perfection of Fargo," writes Tessa DeCarlo. "It's a lesser work in the Coen canon, a diversion rather than a masterpiece. But it's a neatly crafted, exuberantly mean-spirited little diversion, and what's not to like about that?" Heidi Howard: "Cecelia Condit's work... creates a poetically ironic narrative that engages the viewer in a psychological puzzle full of paranoia, sensation and joy." Also: Ben La Rocco on Raha Raissnia, Thomas Micchelli on Leigh Ledare, both John Yau and Claudia La Rocco on John Ashbery's Collages: They Knew What They Wanted and Ellen Pearlman on Art and China's Revolution (through January 11).
NYFF 08. Index.The New York Film Festival is one of the most thoroughly covered events of each movie year - at least online, and certainly on a per-film basis. For all the obvious reasons: It's in New York, a city thronged with writers working for media old and new, and some simply for themselves. Most importantly, the festival is a vital measure of the year so far, just before Hollywood rolls out its awards season contenders. Not a complete measure, of course - many would like to have seen, say, the new Claire Denis in the lineup - but here's what we've got:
NYFF. Bullet in the Head."It may seem a bit hackneyed to start a review with a question, but this film undoubtedly requires it: can there be movies that are only good after they are seen and not while watching them?" Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook: "Bullet in the Head is nothing but a frustrated viewing, an experiment for the spectator, but one without a point. But afterwards there is an appeal to it, I admit, its sneakiness - irritating in execution - becomes conceptual and more stunt-like in retrospect, the viewing all done with and forgotten in its dullness, and mostly just the curious idea surviving." "There's virtually no dialogue (two words are spoken towards the end) and almost all the sound we hear is ambient: traffic noise, birdsong, background chatter," explains Evan Kindley at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "The film is shot like surveillance footage, recording the movements of an unnamed man around the Spanish city of San Sebastian." Updated. "[Director Jaime] Rosales has described his film as being shot 'like a wildlife documentary,'" notes IFC's Alison Willmore, "except that wildlife documentaries cut to the exciting bits, while Bullet in the Head sets out deliberately to bore you with the mundane details of the life of what at first seems to be a normal guy. You wouldn't know it from the film, but the events are based on an actual incident in which three ETA members shot two policemen in an unplanned encounter." "We see characters talking behind windows, across the street, at the other end of a restaurant, and at pay phones," adds Ed Champion. Strangely enough, nobody in this movie seems to own a set of blinds or drapes. Which strikes me as damn curious and damn convenient... [T]here was an audible hiss from the critics when the credits rolled. And while I'm not a guy who likes to fall into critical consensus, I will admit that the hissers had a good point." "Are they talking about money? Love? Murder?" wonders Jürgen Fauth. "It's bound to sorely test the patience of anyone who isn't willing to supply their own answers." "To be sure, Rosales forces us to take a closer look at the everyday and to reconsider the nature and provenance of filmed images," writes Leo Goldsmith in Reverse Shot. "His means of provoking such thought, however, brings nothing new to the table - indeed, his is a painfully old-fashioned trick, a game played many times before, by far more thoughtful filmmakers with greater commands of and ideas about their medium." "[I]t's hard to see Bullet in the Head as anything more than a choose-your-own-adventure exercise which - by so completely, and ineffectively, placing the storytelling onus on viewers (fill in the blanks however you like, any explanation applies!) - makes one urgently crave what its title promises," writes Nick Schager. "This shit ain't deep, essentially the equivalent of a news story where the facts are still forthcoming, and if you think Rosales is seriously out to toy with the movie-going audience's need to know the truth, I'm guessing you probably have a taste for Russian Roulette," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. James Van Maanen talks with Rosales about the different ways Bullet has been received in different countries and about the director's very ambitious plans for his next project. For Vadim Rizov, writing at the House Next Door, this was "the first movie I've walked out on in five years." Updates: The film "effectively negates the idea of fostering dialogue on domestic terrorism, creating instead a murky and underformed correlation between silent witness and moral complicity," writes Acquarello. Online listening tip. Evan Davis talks with Rosales at the filmlinc blog.
NYFF. Serbis."To my knowledge, Serbis is the first film to equate third-world life in the late capitalist era to squatting in a rundown porn palace," writes Kevin B Lee in Slant. "Mike Judge, who predicted in Idiocracy that Starbucks will one day sell handjobs, would feel thoroughly validated to see the goings on in the Family Theater, the last of a Filipino theater chain run by a family that's as defunct as its business.... Absurdly comic and harrowingly explicit, Serbis feels too surreal and conceptual to be taken as docu-verisimilitude, but it needn't settle for such conventions when every frame is alive, breathing dank sweat and sighing desperation. This house of sin and cinema runs by its own rules." Updated. "When craft fails and a script is mostly a shamble of ideas, it is the details of a film that can catch fire," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Why does this pornography theater also have an unadvertised restaurant-in-miniature working out of the family's own kitchen table? I have no idea, but it's the kind of information - random, strangely gratifying, and rooted in the small things of life - that makes a film like Serbis tolerable." "I found it to be a bore and longed for a William T Vollmann book," writes Ed Champion. "The film's problem is not just that we have nobody to really care about, but that there is simply no contextual investigation into the realities that keep these characters toiling in a porn theater." Not so for Jürgen Fauth: "Through some emphatic magic of cinema, what should be sordid and revolting (and apparently shocked critics in Cannes) somehow becomes inviting. Like the streets that surround the theater, Serbis teems with life." Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update: "Revolving around the titular theme of service - from city's past history of entertaining locally stationed American servicemen (an idea that is reinforced in the appearance of biracial characters in the film), to the Pineda family's continued dedication to the movie house despite personal conflicts and petty jealousies, to young men hustling gay patrons in its dark aisles - [director Brillante] Mendoza parallels the plight of the Pineda family with the dilapidated movie theater," writes Acquarello. "Framed against recurring images of interconnected, labyrinthine stairs, the juxtaposition reflects the constant struggle between old world values and harsh economic reality, dignity and survival, culture and commercialism."
NYFF. Let It Rain."The insidious nature of racism and marginalization that underpins the discourse in It's Hard Being Loved by Jerks also surfaces in Let It Rain [site], Agnès Jaoui's third (and lightest) ensemble collaboration with screenwriter and actor, Jean-Pierre Bacri," writes Acquarello. Akiva Gottlieb in Slant: "Let It Rain is certainly no departure for Jaoui and company; it's another less-than-caustic battle of the sexes set among the comfortable and brilliant, with plenty of verbal jousting but little political frisson. Even when Jaoui and co-star Jean-Pierre Bacri's script hits upon the evergreen conversational lightning rods of gender and class inequality, its characters end up sounding frivolous." Updated through 10/22. Writing for Stop Smiling, Michael Joshua Rowin finds that Let It Rain "is the platonic ideal of a mediocre 'French film': light drama, light jokes, light light, all in the service of thinly sketched portraits of dull bourgeois dealing with love and loss and blah blah blah." Online listening tip. Film Comment's Paul Brunick talks with Jaoui. Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher interviews Jaoui. Update: "Navigating the rocky straits of the serious-minded comedy, Let It Rain maintains a breezy tone while hinting at deeper concerns," writes Eric Hynes at Reverse Shot. "Such comedies are always tricky endeavors, as too much levity squanders efforts at gravitas, and self-importance stifles laughs. For every film that succeeds in mining comedy for serious Chekhovian pathos (Rules of the Game, Crimes and Misdemeanors), there are films like the contrived, schmaltzy Life is Beautiful, or the justly forgotten Mel Brooks goes homeless knee-slapper Life Stinks. On the whole Let It Rain manages just fine. If its balanced approach occasionally has the feel of compromise, of a middle course overly plotted to avert danger, the film nevertheless exudes a warm, world-weathered integrity." Update, 10/22: "Why does it feel so complacent?" asks Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "I mean sure, I'm not immune to the charms of this genre - Olivier Assayas's Late August, Early September is about as fine and moving an example as there is - but between the predictability and the lack of pizazz, I'm just not sold."
October 19, 2008
Synecdoche, New York, round 1."As the Oscar-friendly writer of Being John Malkovich (nominated), Adaptation, (nominated) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (won) [Charlie] Kaufman has already earned a significant amount of acclaim," writes David Carr in the New York Times. "Driven by the concept of a synecdoche - roughly, a part representing the whole — he takes one man's fear of irrelevance and drapes it across a vast landscape of human concerns.... On the telephone in San Francisco just before an all-night flight to Spain, Mr Kaufman was happy to talk about anything, except what [Synecdoche, New York] 'means.'" "Imagine The Truman Show rewritten by Samuel Beckett and directed by Luis Buñuel and you'll get some idea of what Kaufman is aiming for here," suggests Ambrose Heron. Updated through 10/20. Jonathan Rosenbaum finds that "it seems more like an illustration of his script than a full-fledged movie, proving how much he needs a Spike Jonze or a Michel Gondry to realize his surrealistic conceits."
Victoria Large at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "It follows the travails of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Caden Cotard, a regional theater director who is suddenly bestowed with a Macarthur Foundation Genius Grant and sets out to create a piece of theater that's entirely honest, a part that signifies the largest of wholes - life, love, death, everything. Especially death.... It's a heavy film and a long one, and it's absolutely exhausting."The final sequence is as inexplicably cathartic as the ending of INLAND EMPIRE," writes Chicagoist Rob Christopher. "This is an aggressively intelligent and bizarre puzzlebox comedy that'll have you questioning the nature of reality as you exit the theater." "No doubt, it's got some great ideas," writes Mark Haslam at Vinyl Is Heavy, "ideas about space and time which seem natural to film; but they're not put together in any cohesive way. Things are jumbled, uneven. Leaving the theater, I couldn't escape the thought of what would've been if Kaufman had given things more time, allowed the form to unfold itself, gradually over time, so that we feel time slipping away from us as it slips away from Caden, so that the approach of the film's end really is that gradual approach of Death." "I have never had as emotional a reaction to any of the thousands of movies I have watched in my lifetime as I had to Synecdoche, New York." Aaron Dobbs writes an open letter to Charlie Kaufman. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update: "The artistic psyche has never been more joylessly explored," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant, but: "Synecdoche is a reminder of what a dead-end brilliant screenwriting conceits can be when left by themselves on the screen.... Freed from the influence of collaborators, Kaufman wallows in his thematic fixations like a dieting matron lunging at a box of bonbons." Updates, 10/20: "This epic dream play with its leaps through time and space, its characters and shadow characters, poses a momentous question: Uh... well... I'm not sure what question the movie is posing. The answer, though, is definitely 'Death.'" David Edelstein in New York: "The best thing to do with one's spatial-temporal bewilderment is get over it and go with the free-associational flow: Synecdoche, New York cannot be diagrammed." Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher interviews Kaufman. At VF Daily, Jim Windolf tries interviewing Kaufman as Brian Lamb. Continues here.
Abu Dhabi Dispatch. 2.David D'Arcy, from the festival that wraps today. With the huge number of Indians working in Abu Dhabi - doing everything from building the endless number of new towers 24 hours a day to arranging shipments of money earned by those many workers back to the subcontinent - you would think that there would be a growing market here for Indian films, especially since there are unprecedented funds in India to produce and promote them. Not yet, says Basant Kumar Patil, the Bangalore-based businessman and actor who produced Galubi Talkies, which saw its first screening outside India at the Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi this week. Perhaps the Indians here are too busy working. There are film clubs, Patil said, but it's a long way from a commercial market, although Abu Dhabi seems determined to change that - not just for Indian films but for cinema in general. Like so much in this place where cranes hover all over the metamorphosing landscape and the noise of earthmoving equipment can be heard throughout the night, it is a work in progress. Yet Galubi Talkies was one of a number of discoveries at MEIFF, not least because the story by the feminist writer Vaidehi adapted for the screen in this film by Girish Kasaravalli takes on a case history involving the effects of the rising global role of the Arabian Gulf (and places like Abu Dhabi). Kasaravalli's film tells a modern moral tale, set in a fishing community on the southwestern coast about a decade ago, at a time when India and Pakistan went to war, in an old-fashioned visual style that you could find in regional Indian films 30 years ago, or even before. Galubi, which means "rose," is a Muslim mid-wife in a mostly Hindu village. Her job brings her into the most intimate contact with the women whom she serves. They trust her with their children, the most treasured things in their lives. Yet when conflicts arise over a threat to fishing posed by a ship funded by "Gulf money" that can operate in deeper water than the simple local boats, Galubi becomes a ready target of hostility from young Hindu men whom she literally brought into the world. It makes you think of Yugoslavia, although the few village battles in Galubi Talkies don't rise to the level of violence that you saw in the Balkans or in the vicious anti-Muslim massacres in Danny Boyle's Slum Dog Millionaire. This is more than a story about the persecution of minorities. You could say it's also about the persecution of the majority in India: women. Calm, warmhearted Galubi (veteran actress Umashree, in an endearingly natural peformance ) is a film fan, so much so that her husband Moosa has left and taken up with another woman. Galubi solution is a get a television and bring it back to her isolated village. (In fact, the isolation of the place is indicated by the language in the film, Kannada, which is only spoken in a small section of the coast. The recently released film is showing in India with English subtitles.) The television, which draws the women and children of the village to watch with Galubi (and brings back her husband), takes on an odd unexpected role, but a logical one, given the story's circumstances. It's not the stultifying idiot box that the boob tube has become in the US, western Europe, and so many other places. Nor is it the numbing destroyer of community. It helps bring people together - to a point. Villagers who have never traveled see a broader world. Women who live in virtual slavery with their husbands become aware of other opportunities out there. In Galubi Talkies, television doesn't change the world, but it does bring parts of the world to uneducated people who are locked into village life. Kasaravalli's film takes the story far beyond the village, as fishermen who work for one boat-owner are lured away by another contractor, a Muslim whose better far-ranging boat has been bought with money earned by workers in the Gulf. The solution to the conflict, which has economic and environmental consequences, is to blame it on the Muslims. Clearly the film shows the pointlessness of rallying communities against each other - the Muslim characters tend to be fatalistic about local resentment. Is the message here that the Hindu men might not have acted so rashly if they only watched more television with their wives? The film is long, more than two hours, with a deliberate pace that will feel slow to viewers accustomed to Bollywood's Hindi musicals from Mumbai or to the internationalization of India at the throbbing sensaround decibel-level by Danny Boyle and the many who are likely to follow his example once Slumdog Millionaire cracks the western market, as many expect it to. Cinematography by S Ramachandra goes for the tactile village scale rather than anything panoramic. You see immediately that this is a coastline that couldn't be farther away from Club Med, but one that's confronting globalization nonetheless. -David D'Arcy
October 18, 2008
Shorts, 10/18.Darren Hughes points to a "great post at Unspoken Cinema about Tsai Ming-liang's latest project, a film commissioned by the Louvre that will star Lee Kang-sheng, Laetitia Casta and Jean-Pierre Leaud!" Tsai blogs, by the way. The Vulture, the other day: "Not long after we ran a post this morning on The Road's probable delay, John Wilson, one of our intrepid New York interns, helpfully e-mailed to inform us that not only was the movie screened for the first time in New York last night, but also that he'd been there. Cinematic Happenings Under Development has already run one scathing report from the screening, evidently from a hater who never read the book..., but according to Wilson, it's very good and doesn't look too far from completion." Gus Van Sant's Milk has been "drawing attention as an early contender in the coming Oscar race," reports Michael Cieply. "Hollywood insiders and others have been startled by [Sean] Penn's picture-perfect rendering of [Harvey] Milk, a politician who was at once gawky, ambitious and unforgettable to those whose lives he touched. 'Sean's portrayal of Harvey is so beautifully right,' Cleve Jones, a Milk friend who is played in the film by Emile Hirsch, said in a phone interview." Even so, "studio marketers are wrestling with an inherently political film at a time when audiences have been wary of them." Also in the New York Times:
Fests and events, 10/18."For its 13th year, the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival is running with a light 'homo horror' theme, actualized in the fest's camp-slasher trailer and carried out via screenings of choice queer-friendly horror flicks," writes David Schmader in the Stranger. "These films range from scrappy new works (Jason Davis's Scab, about hot young bloodsuckers) to hall-of-fame hits like 1983's The Hunger (starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and homoerotic wine spillage) and 1985's A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (hyped as the most gay-subtext-ridden horror flick in history)." Today through October 26. "Singer Nick Cave will announce this year's Turner Prize winner," reports the BBC. December 1. "The San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, which begins this weekend, is featuring the director of two films that had a tremendous effect on me when I saw them at previous SF DocFests," writes Adam Hartzell at Hell on Frisco Bay. "The director is Melody Gilbert and the two films are Whole and A Life Without Pain, part of a retrospective of Gilbert's work at this year's festival."
Online viewing, 10/18."Well, the day has arrived." Variety's Anne Thompson made Wayne Wang's The Princess of Nebraska available before its arrival in the YouTube Screening Room. "Something of a companion piece to Wang's recent Magnolia Pictures release A Thousand Years of Good Prayers - both films are based on short stories by Chinese-born writer Yiyun Li - Princess of Nebraska is an angrier, darker, messier film with an ambiguous and not exceedingly likable protagonist," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "I'm a longtime admirer and acquaintance of Wang's, but I really dig this movie." Variety has the trailer for Dear Zachary. Updated through 10/19. Grand Wheel. Chuck Tryon: "After getting several recommendations from bloggers I trust, I took some time out yesterday to watch Frontline's The Choice 2008, a PBS documentary about the two major candidates for president (the program is available online), and like Agnes, I think this is a great example of the value of public broadcasting." And keep up with all the current political ads at the Living Room Candidate. Kimberly Lindbergs introduces a clip: "If you're a Brigitte Bardot fan I highly recommend picking up the latest Cinedelic Book/CD compilation simply called BB Brigitte Bardot. Owen Hatherley has Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler's Manhatta. The cinetrix has two for you. Creative Review's got the winners of the 2008 UK Music Video Awards and clips galore. Update, 10/19: "You can say what you want about the revolutionary aspect of Wayne Wang releasing his film, The Princess of Nebraska, on YouTube," blogs Matt Dentler. "However, a true unprecedented aspect is the fact that AO Scott has reviewed the film this weekend for The New York Times. When's the last time this great paper ever reviewed a new release that wasn't opening in a theater in Manhattan?" What's more, "Over at the San Francisco Chronicle, G Allen Johnson takes an in-depth look at the Princess release strategy." But wait, there's more: John Jurgensen's "survey of the latest and greatest in bringing feature films to online audiences" for the Wall Street Journal.
Books, 10/18.Mark A Vieira has an undisputed eye for beauty, especially the glamorized beauty of Hollywood's golden studio era," writes Michael Guillén. "A portrait photographer, film historian, and the author of four previous volumes - Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits, Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood, Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic and Greta Garbo: A Cinematic Legacy, all published by Harry N Abrams, Inc - Vieira graciously forwarded me his latest Abrams publication, Hollywood Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg and the Rise of M-G-M, and I've been admittedly ensorcelled by Vieira's stunning selection of previously unpublished photographs and his informative and revelatory commentary." "Now we have the long-called-for companion to David Thomson's A Biographical Dictionary of Film, first published in 1975 and throughout its various editions the most seductive, infuriating, and influential reference book ever written on the movies." Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic: "Have You Seen...? - a by turns astringent and gushy appraisal of 1,000 movies made from 1895 to 2007 - is, for better and worse, something of a muddle. Whereas the lyrical and bullying, ardent and Olympian, minutely detailed and defiantly impressionistic Dictionary, with its closely packed, tightly printed, double-columned pages, aims toward the comprehensive, this work discriminates in what it includes and what it doesn't - but does so using several different and somewhat contradictory criteria." David Thomson himself reviews Joseph Epstein's Fred Astaire, "a very readable and glowing 50,000-word portrait, notwithstanding Epstein's determination not to subject Fred to rough cross- examination or prolonged background scrutiny.... [A]n Astaire virgin might do better to spend the $22 on a DVD of Top Hat or Swing Time or even Silk Stockings.... Better still, the fan or the inspired newcomer needs to hunt down John Mueller's Astaire Dancing (1985), a big volume that analyzes (with frame enlargements) his every dance number on film; there we learn that in the years at RKO, the Astaire-Rogers films more than doubled in cost without showing the same expansiveness in income. I stress that because it's clear from Mueller's book - though not much explored by Epstein - that Astaire (and his choreographer, critic, stand-in, friend, shadow, Hermes Pan) really made these films." Also in the New York Times:
Quantum of Solace, round 1.Geoffrey McNab notes that Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster has "talked about Bond as if the secret agent was a latter day Hamlet - a character who beneath his hard shell is vulnerable and repressed. The way he explores the tortured psyche of cinema's favorite spy isn't through lengthy dialogue sequences - it's through action. There is something desperate about Bond. [Daniel] Craig plays him with a gimlet-eyed intensity that makes his first turn in the role in Casino Royale seem lightweight. David Arnold's rousing score seems to be driving him on.... Quantum of Solace doesn't seem like a major entry in the Bond canon. Well under two hours long, it's shorter and more frenetic than most of its predecessors, and an often-jolting experience to watch. Loose ends about. What it does have, though, above all, is vigor. The franchise hasn't run out of juice quite yet." Updated through 10/24. Also in the Independent, Macnab offers a "brief history of the Bond villain," while James Mottram profiles the new Bond girl, Gemma Arterton, Charlotte Cripps chats with Roger Moore and Alicia Keys looks back on the good time she had making "Another Way to Die," this film's theme tune, with Jack White. "What makes Marc Forster's film such an intriguing watch is that this is the first of the 22 Bond movies where the plot flows organically from the last instalment, and Quantum of Solace looks a far stronger picture for this rare continuity," writes James Christopher. Also in the London Times, which has opened up a special section devoted to the movie:
October 17, 2008
DVDs, 10/17."Independent filmmaker and underground music aficionado David Markey's films include 1991: The Year Punk Broke (1992) and the Los Angeles punk Super 8 cult classics The Slog Movie (1982), Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984), and its sequel Lovedolls Superstar (1986), all of which represent a unique record of the punk scene in Southern California throughout the 1980s and 1990s." And he's picked his top ten Criterions. "Six years before their best known work, the film Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go, 1987), was completed, the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss created their first equally charming and humorous films: The Point of Least Resistance (1981) and The Right Way (1983)," writes Lauren O'Neill-Butler for Artforum. "These 16-mm gems make plain the correspondence between the shared nature of their collaboration, which began in the late 1970s, and the broader teamwork necessitated by the medium." Two Films by Peter Fischli and David Weiss is now out from Icarus Films. The latest addition to Scott Tobias's "New Cult Canon" at the AV Club: Irréversible. Glenn Kenny "just got the first six MGM/UA Blu-rays of the James Bond series: Dr No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball, Live and Let Die, For Your Eyes Only and Die Another Day. My aesthetics (and nostalgic leanings) being what they are, I'm most concerned with the Connery Bonds, and I have to say I'm really pleased." "There is only this; all else is unreal." Matt Zoller Seitz in Time Out New York: "The explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) has spoken that line in all three versions of Terrence Malick's The New World: the original, 150-minute 2005 theatrical cut (not available on DVD); the 135-minute theatrical recut (New Line, $14.98), and the latest incarnation, Malick's 172-minute extended cut. Each time Smith utters the line, it resonates differently, thanks to the changes wrought by the filmmaker - the length of certain scenes and shots, the rhythm and structure that Malick and his editors impose upon the material, and the transitions between sections (this release breaks the film into titled chapters)." "Revisiting it years later, I'm able to respect and understand the debt that Silverado owes a hundred films that have gone before - from the Sergio Leone shootouts to the John Ford vistas, the Anthony Mann morality and the Howard Hawks sense of structure - and yet it doesn't feel like a hollow pastiche." James Rocchi: "It feels like a movie made by people who love what they love and want us to love it, too." Two films by Lino Brocka are just out on DVD and Noel Vera reviews them: Tatlo Dalawa, Isa (Three, Two, One, 1974) and Ang Tatay Kong Nanay (My Father My Mother, 1978). Criterion's Curtis Tsui on the upcoming release of Chungking Express: "The prospect of producing 'yet another disc' of writer/director Wong Kar-wai's 1994 effervescent pop cinema classic was a little daunting.... To add to the pressure, Chungking was slated to be one of our first Blu-ray editions." It's Mike Phillips's turn to have Nick Davis and Nathaniel R over to his place: "The 11th episode of Best Pictures from the Outside In takes us sailing through treacherous waters, filled with icebergs and taxmen, animated eyebrows and accidental explosions, and (I'm guessing) finally some serious disagreement among our panel members. In 1938, four years after It Happened One Night, Best Picture went to another Frank Capra film, You Can't Take It With You, the overly madcap tale of love in the midst of Capra's traditional battle between free spirits and hidebound plutocrats. In 1997, maritime disaster struck when Titanic, the fraught tale of love aboard the world's largest metaphor raked in a kadillion dollars and won a kadillion Oscars, including Best Picture." Online listening tip. Aaron Aradillas talks with David Poland about the Ultimate Matrix Collection.
Rita Hayworth @ 90.Rita Hayworth would have been 90 today and, to celebrate, you might turn to her Wikipedia entry, where you'll find, naturally, the biography and so forth, but also pointers to a fan site, Albin Krebs's 1987 obituary for the New York Times and - most fun of all - Susan Stamberg's 2002 NPR report on the story behind that famous pin-up. In the German papers, Anke Westphal revisits Only Angels Have Wings for the Berliner Zeitung and Die Zeit offers a photo gallery.
Coppolas, 10/17.First, an online viewing tip. "Jaman is pleased to offer The Conversation, Francis Ford Coppola's award-winning 1974 paranoia masterpiece starring Gene Hackman." Gordon Coates has seen the 289-minute work print of Apocalypse Now and reports in the Guardian: "Scenes that, with expert editing, would become tense and compelling simply drift along aimlessly, interesting only to anoraks for the extra line of dialogue here and there. There are, however, gems amid the mass of footage, which leave the viewer wondering how Coppola could have taken the scissors to them." "WTTW National Prods has partnered with Roman Coppola's Directors Bureau to launch Mission to Planet 429, a mixed-media comedy adventure series for kids 6-9 debuting at MIPCOM this week," reports Ryan Ball for Animation Magazine. "The property will be available as a series of 104 11-minute episodes or 52 half hours for US public television and other media platforms worldwide in 2010." For the International Herald Tribune, Suzy Menkes talks with Sofia Coppola about her new fashion line: "The shoes are elegant and comfortable. And when they go on sale next spring, after a launch party in Tokyo in December, they will show another facet of the quintessentially cool pop culture icon." "Livonia's Madonna University has landed director and actor Christopher Coppola - the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola and brother of actor Nicholas Cage - for its faculty," reports John Smyntek in the Detroit Free Press. "He's an adjunct assistant professor in the broadcast and cinema arts program." Earlier: "The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration."
Return to the Scene of the Crime."Autumn's the season, it seems, for reinvented memories - didn't I just review Ashes of Time Redux? - and avant-garde pioneer Ken Jacobs's latest, Return to the Scene of the Crime, is doubly so for containing revisitations within a revisitation." Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "Of course, Tom, Tom the Piper's Son, Ken Jacobs's 1969 feature that turned a 1905 Biograph Studios short inside out, isn't a 'crime'; patience-testing, maybe, but certainly not an offense against humanity," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "Yet the avant-garde filmmaker had indeed returned to the scene, and he's found new elements to be mined and manipulated." Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook: "From the abstract movements of clothing in grainy black and white, the plastic metamorphosis of film frames digitized and filling in the gaps between the frames to create a new kind of animated film, to such more conventionally cinematic, or at least theatrical pleasures as underscoring short film's open framing that lets a crowd of people and characters wander in and off of dramatic space, the video is structured in 13 parts that look at film in at the very least 13 very different ways. Return to the Scene of the Crime, like some kind of ideal film viewer, sees the moving image as a bountiful expression of nearly everything that life encompasses." Ken Jacobs: Filmmaker Extraordinaire runs at MoMA through October 24.
Azur and Asmar."Two new films set a new bar for digital animation," writes Doug Cummings: "Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues (which I saw at the REDCAT earlier this week) and Michel Ocelot's Azur and Asmar (a 2006 film released on DVD in the UK that opens in New York City on Friday).... Influenced by Persian miniatures and Renaissance paintings, Ocelot visualizes [his] film through highly decorative backgrounds filled with intricate textures; the digital tools are used to increase the details, filling fields with thousands of carefully drawn flowers or the hallways of palaces with ornate tapestries that frame the action like illustrated manuscripts.... The effect is one that's closer to a handsome storybook than a mainstream CGI film, lending the narrative a significant degree of visual enchantment." "With its delicate, fairy-tale bones and layer of politically conscious muscle, Azur and Asmar is a sleek and yet slightly unwieldy animal," writes Michelle Orange in the Voice. "Azur's hybrid appeal should be one of its strongest selling points but proves its weakest: The lessons of cultural intolerance are pitched simply enough for children to understand, yet the execution lacks the schmoozy wit and splashy visuals to keep them entertained; adults will find the elegant combination of cut-out and CGI animation bewitching but the thematics unsubtle, at best." "Despite a stiffness of movement that suggests an upscale take on the cutout animation of South Park, the movie has a terrific flair for arabesque patterning, a gemlike luminosity of surface and a handsome, classical cast of mind," finds Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "[T]he director integrates visual elements and techniques drawn from medieval illuminations and Arabic art, including painstakingly rendered mosaics and architectural details," writes Elisabeth Vincentelli in Time Out New York. "As the film foreshadows how religious fundamentalism crushed both this art and scientific research, Ocelot honors both light and enlightenment." "[T]he familiar learning-through-travelling trajectory is simply updated with PC details," finds Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "In the end it's admirable to be offering us something different from the usual irresponsible drivel, but Azur would have benefitted from more stylized animation, nuanced writing and a competent cinematographer's insightful eye."
The Secret Life of Bees."From its attention-grabbing B-movie beginning, The Secret Life of Bees, a family drama based on the bestselling novel by Sue Monk Kidd, chugs pleasantly into a television special tailored for the crossover female market, while dropping tantalizing hints that it has more on its mind than a benign tale of substitute mothering across the color line," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. Richard Corliss in Time: "Bees is another entry in the long tradition of books and movies about whites being nurtured and schooled by the example of the black underling. (You've heard of Huckleberry Finn? Gone With the Wind?)... Can a time-capsule movie like this one have any resonance today? Can it find an audience to nurture in the old, noble, now-discredited Hollywood traditions? I hope so, because adapter-director Gina Prince-Bythewood has made an honorable movie, wonderfully attentive to the skills of its excellent cast, that turned this devout cynic into a believer." Updated through 10/20. The story "unfolds in a sentimental, honey-glazed land that vaguely resembles South Carolina in 1964," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "It would be wrong to say that the troubles of that time and place have been wished away - on the contrary, the movie begins with a scene of horrific domestic violence and includes child abuse, a racially motivated beating, suicide and the threat of a lynching - but from the opening voice-over to the final credits, every terror and sorrow is swaddled in warm, therapeutic comfort. The film insists so strenuously on its themes of redemption, tolerance, love and healing that it winds up defeating itself, and robbing [Sue Monk] Kidd's already maudlin tale of its melodramatic heat." "I get why Dakota Fanning keeps getting offered these motherless waif roles in Southern-fried melodramas," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Those saucer eyes, that lunar pallor, the Georgia accent, the guts to rat her hair into a dull mat and skulk around in shabby rooms that scream my-daddy-drinks. What I don't get is why she keeps taking them." "[I]mperfect movies sometimes have more life to them than the most painstakingly executed pictures do, and The Secret Life of Bees is a case in point," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. It "might have been alternately titled The Not-So-Secret Power of Women: Sometimes the movie hammers on the stereotype of the strong black woman a little more heavily than it needs to. But Prince-Blythewood (whose credits include the 2000 Love & Basketball) knows that her performers are her real secret weapons, and together they keep the picture from becoming unbearably messagey." A "Bradley effect" at the box office? John Horn floats the possibility, adding, "The Secret Life of Bees provides a perfect test case on the mainstream appeal of a highbrow movie partially anchored by black stars.... Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo.... In part because its primary story unfolds in the home of three black sisters (and is set in 1964), the movie took seven years to get made, its makers say." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Ordoña talks with Okonedo. "Once Okenedo exits the story (good riddance to one of those saintly retard clichés), Prince-Bythewood sticks us with singers reading cue cards," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Problem is, their prompters are full of cornball sentiments about love, self-respect and beekeeping to make honey, the family business." "As a parable of hope and love, it is enchanting," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Should it have been painful, or a parable? Parable, I think, so it will please those who loved the novel." "Though the template may be noxiously familiar, The Secret Life of Bees does, at least, give its black characters roles more involving than that of psychic wet nurse," finds Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "There's a lot of Oprah's Book Club-style healing going on in the film, with family secrets brought to light and hard hearts being softened, but Prince-Bythewood and her cast find moments of honesty amidst the personal growth," finds Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. The film "recalls The Color Purple both in plot particulars and in the way it moves the action to that flower-filled wonderland," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. "It's unabashedly soft and sentimental, in its soft-pedaled tragedies as well as its uplift." Updates: "The Secret Life of Bees falls into a loose, annoying subgenre of movies I'm going to call 'Ya-Ya Sisterhood Bullshit.'" Mike Russell lists the attributes. "It's authentic treacle," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. "Or, rather, as long as we're using the metaphor of a sticky sweetener here, authentic honey, like the high-quality product harvested by the movie's trio of beekeeping sisters." Update, 10/20: "Moviedom's reluctance to veer from the safe bet has only grown as costs have increased," writes Brooks Barnes in the NYT. "With the stakes high, many studio executives worry that films that focus on African-American themes risk being too narrow in their appeal to justify the investment. Hollywood has nonetheless shown a willingness in recent years to bank more heavily on African-American actors and themes."
October 16, 2008
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/16."This Saturday night [Tim] Burton will be at the Scream 2008 Awards at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, an event that in just its third year has become a signature event in sci-fi, comics, fantasy and, yes, horror, which was is its original mandate but is now just part of its genre cocktail. Burton is getting something called the Immortal Award and the Scream people boldly say that Burton has 'contributed more to the genres of fantasy, sci-fi and horror than any other filmmaker of his generation,' and there's certainly an argument to made that they are completely right." The Los Angeles Times' Geoff Boucher talks with Burton about Alice in Wonderland and: "Is there a plan yet on Dark Shadows, based on the vampire soap opera, also set to star [Johnny] Depp? 'Oh I don't know. Take one at time, you know? It's something I'm interested in of course. Definitely. But I'm going to start shooting this one first!'" "As [RJ] Jamison's book [A Hard Act to Follow] makes clear, [Grayson] Hall's genius stroke in Dark Shadows was deciding to play her scientist character as if Hoffman was secretly in love with vampire Barnabas Collins, a facet that wasn't explicated in the script," notes Johnny Ray Huston in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "This week's Shock It to Me! Film Festival spotlights Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis's movie offshoots of the one-of-a-kind gothic soap opera, 1970's House of Dark Shadows and 1971's Night of Dark Shadows." "The third annual Spooky Movie Film Festival is finally upon us, or more appropriately, upon the good people of the Washington, DC area," notes Mike Everleth. "Think the presidential election is scary? Then just get a load of these films! The fest already had a preview night, but the main event will run Oct 16 - 19." "[F]or some of us, there will not be a greater film festival in North Carolina this year than the fifth annual Escapism Film Festival at the Carolina Theatre this weekend," writes Zack Smith in the Independent Weekly. "Exactly why has to do with Swedish vampires, Australian splatter films and a very long fight over a pair of sunglasses." "Zombies have invaded the internet," writes Eric Kohn in a report on artificial reality games (ARGs) for indieWIRE. "Earlier this year, two separate attempts to create user-generated narratives about outbreaks of cannibalistic living dead launched into cyberspace, but each one approached the concept from a vastly different angle. Lost Zombies, which started in May, asks users to submit footage with 'proof' of zombie outbreaks, which will be compiled into some semblance of a documentary feature. Nation Undead, a more streamlined project that gives people specific guidelines but more options for the material they can submit, went live earlier this year." Saw: The Ride? Yep. Leonard Pierce, who reads this as "one more step towards the ultimate humilation, degradation and sad, slow death of the human race," has details at Screengrab. "The Austrian artist Alfred Kubin (1877 - 1959) began his career just as Freud released The Interpretation of Dreams," writes Karen Rosenberg in the New York Times. "Accordingly, the Neue Galerie's Alfred Kubin: Drawings, 1897 - 1909 is replete with the terrors of the freshly analyzed psyche. Monsters, demons and mythical beasts roam free; humans abandon themselves to bestial impulses. Done in black-and-white pen, ink and spray on heavy paper used for cartography, Kubin's drawings map the shadowy corners of the unconscious." At Twitch, Swarez points to some new scary posters. Online contest. "Young Friends of Film and Film Comment will scare you out of your wits this Halloween with special screenings of the spine-tingling classics The Man Who Laughs on Thursday, October 30, and the underappreciated haunted house masterpiece, The Changeling, on Halloween. Tell us about your favorite scary movie for your chance to win tickets, a DVD and incalculable fame on the filmlinc blog!" Online viewing tip. "Fair warning: Man is not an easy film to watch," writes Bilge Ebiri at Vulture. "Myna Joseph's stark story of a young girl's almost obsessive fascination with her older sister starts off quiet and uncomfortable, and becomes even more so as it progresses.... Be afraid. But in a good way." Online viewing tips. Trailers at Twitch: Camino, a potentially eerie religious drama from Spain; the Thai horror film Coming Soon; Maurice Devereaux's "apocalyptic horror film" End of the Line; the new red band trailer for Let the Right One In, "one of the very best films of the year and arguably one of the finest vampire films ever made"; and a batch of Ozploitation trailers: "Vampire flick Thirst, magical thriller Dark Forces (originally released as Harlequin), cult horror title Strange Behavior (scripted by Oscar winner Bill Condon), and scifi action flick Syngenor." Um...
Fests and events, 10/16."Appreciating Miklós Jancsó as Hungary's greatest living filmmaker means first accepting that there is almost never anyone to care about in his films, only nameless pawns locked in the toxic rituals of power and war," writes Lance Goldenberg. "Jancsó has proven himself a prolific and eclectic auteur over a career spanning nearly six decades, but the four films featured in LACMA's indispensable retrospective are cut from much the same, sublime cloth, together constituting a holy pantheon upon which the director's formidable reputation largely rests." Tomorrow though October 24. Also in the LA Weekly, David Thomson: "[L]et me direct you to UCLA, where October is devoted to the real treasure house of David Lean - the early pictures, the small stories he made (though two are from Dickens) before epics filled his dreams. I have a hunch that in the next hundred years of Lean studies, these are the films that will rise in value. It's a fascinating story." Through October 26. "Andrzej Wajda is not only Poland's greatest filmmaker but one who, throughout his long career, has demonstrated a remarkable knack for making movies that double as political events," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The Walter Reade's Truth or Dare: The Films of Andrzej Wajda is the most complete retrospective an American institution has ever given the 82-year-old director." Friday through November 13; and again, Anthology Film Archives will be screening Wajda's television work from October 24 through 28. Hoberman also notes that the "DV documentary Red Art accompanies and also explicates the Asia Society's current comprehensive survey of Maoist socialist realism, Art and China's Revolution." "Showcasing eight films over eight months, Best of Tora-san highlights the second longest-running series in history; a series that spanned 48 films in total, 46 of which were made by series creator Yôji Yamada." Simon Abrams in the New York Press: "Yamada, who is most well known States-side for his superb samurai trilogy the starts with The Twilight Samurai (2002), co-wrote and directed all but the third and fourth entries, making the series a paradoxically personal and financially monumental creator-owned, studio-produced franchise. They're like a cinematic, creator-owned sitcom, so they're pretty much the same movie, told 48 different times in 48 different ways." At the Japan Society, starting tomorrow. The L Magazine's Danielle DiGiacomo previews New York's DocFest, opening tonight and running through October 27. Tony Curtis's memoir American Prince sparks a whopping entry from Michael Guillén, who reflects a bit on Some Like It Hot and notes that there'll be a tribute to Curtis as well as a mini-retrospective in the Bay Area. "Finding Northadelphia is a part of a program at Youth Empowerment Services (YES), a non–profit organization dedicated to youth from all over the city who've dropped out of school or are otherwise unemployed." Matt Prigge checks out the film, screening Friday, and the program for the Philadelphia Weekly. Mike Everleth has the lineup for this weekend's Denver Underground Film Festival. Strange Illusion screens Sunday as part of Chicago's Doc Films series, but the Reader's Pat Graham just doesn't get all the hullabaloo over Edgar G Ulmer. The San Francisco Bay Guardian's Johnny Ray Huston looks back on the Vancouver International Film Festival. More from Joanne Laurier at the WSWS. Online listening tip. Wexner Center for the Arts Film/Video curators discuss a season of overtly political films.
Chicago 08, 10/16.The 44th Chicago International Film Festival opens this evening with Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom (Rachel Weisz'll be there, too) and runs through October 29. The Reader's JR Jones notes that the weekly is "pleased to increase our critical coverage of the festival this year," and opens a big, browseable package. At Hollywood Bitchslap, Peter Sobczynski presents "A Brief And Not-Entirely-Complete Guide" to the first week, while, breaking it down day by day, Erik Childress suggests a schedule for you. Steve's got an overview at Film Damaged. Meanwhile, Marilyn Ferdinand's been reviewing films for a couple of weeks now, Chicagoist Rob Christopher tackled a batch the other day and Ray Pride's got recommendations in Newcity. Updates, 10/18: Gabe Klinger is blogging from the festival at CINE-FILE. Time Out Chicago's got whopping guide, too.
Edie Adams, 1927 - 2008.Edie Adams, an actress, comedian and singer who both embodied and winked at the stereotypes of fetching chanteuse and sexpot blonde, especially in a long-running series of TV commercials for Muriel cigars, in which she poutily encouraged men to "pick one up and smoke it sometime," died Wednesday in the West Hills section of Los Angeles. She was 81... In the 1960s she took her talents to the movies, appearing largely in supporting roles in battle-of-the-sexes films including The Apartment (1960), with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine; Lover Come Back (1961), with Doris Day and Rock Hudson; and Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), with Mr Lemmon and Carol Lynley. She was part of the enormous ensemble - including Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Spencer Tracy, Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney and Ethel Merman - in Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and she played the wife of a ruthless presidential candidate (Cliff Robertson) in the screen adaptation of Gore Vidal's political drama The Best Man. Bruce Weber, New York Times (via Tom Sutpen). In Playbill, Robert Simonson recalls "a multi-talented actress who put her shapely figure, comic instincts, and clear, Juilliard-trained singing voice to good use by creating the roles of Eileen Sherwood in Wonderful Town and Daisy Mae in Li'l Abner." See also: Wikipedia.
NYFF. Tokyo Sonata."Tokyo Sonata [site; UK] is a film of a profound sadness, not peppered lightly across the picture's surface, but wedged so deep into its marrow that it's impossible to shake off," writes Andrew Schenker. "A thoroughgoing critique of the demands of patriarchy in contemporary Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's film unfolds not as political tract, but as affecting family drama, a balancing act that impresses through its skillful subsuming of abstract thematics into the particularities of individual lives." "After a retreat to the atmospheric and spectral Loft and Retribution that reinforce Kiyoshi Kurosawa's reputation as a horror filmmaker, Tokyo Sonata continues in the vein of his idiosyncratically personal (and arguably, more interesting), yet equally unsettling films that began with Bright Future," writes Acquarello. Updated through 10/22. "That Kurosawa masks his social critique in ghostly, vague affectation often gives him the tag of Abstract Auteur, though compared with willfully obscure directors like Lucrecia Martel and Claire Denis, he's far more digestible," writes Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot. Tokyo Sonata "moves away from his recent forays into toying with horror and sci-fi conventions, but it's no less generic. Playing off the Japanese domestic drama, even seemingly purposely referencing Ozu in its title, Tokyo Sonata applies the trademark Kiyoshi Kurosawa tactics (hazy character motivations, eerily alienating mise-en-scène) to distract from an essentially straightforward narrative. Surely this is a film of immense misdirection, but Kurosawa's always been something of a trickster, and Tokyo Sonata tricks us in an occasionally edifying way: it makes us look so closely at recognizable people—in this case one urban family living in quiet malcontent—that they become unfamiliar, only to then remind us that they were not all that different from us in the first place." Michael J Anderson and Lisa K Broad argue that the film "caps what has been a very strong year for new Japanese cinema in New York.... In Tôkyô sonata, Kurosawa challenges the Japanese male, the stability of the familial unit, the economic health according to which many of its institutions have been re-orientated and Japan's (seemingly) diminishing place on the world stage. While Adrift in Tokyo (the Japanese family), Dainipponjin (its cultural mythology and the status of the male) and Fine, Totally Fine (again the family and also the more universal subject of maturation) all address topics of Japan's institutional health and self-image, no film this year can claim the comprehensiveness and ambition of Tôkyô sonata's diagnosis." "Kurosawa's narrative is, superficially, nothing particularly unique, a deadpan depiction of modern disconnection filtered through the lens of a nuclear family's slow disintegration," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "But as with much of his work, it's the means to the end that are profound, his indirect aesthetics creating palpable unease, as if reality had imperceptibly, and yet fundamentally, shifted slightly to the right or left, leaving everything cockeyed and unstable." "Kurosawa's sonata, lacking the vocals of a proper cantata, dares to show us our own voiceless world," writes Ed Champion. "Without our identities, we're reduced to pretending that things will work out, bandying about in service sector jobs, and ignoring the heartfelt passions that can be readily observed in others. This film is a damning indictment of humanity's position in the present age." For Alison Willmore at IFC, "the indirect social critiques of Pulse and Bright Future are far more resonant than anything in this subdued and stale offering." Kevin Kelly talks with Kurosawa for the SpoutBlog. Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher interviews Kurosawa. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update, 10/17: Daniel Kasman talks with Kurosawa in the Auteurs' Notebook. Update, 10/20: Online viewing tip. Kevin Lee has video of the Q&A with Kurosawa. Update, 10/22: "Tokyo Sonata is as crisp and latently menacing a film as [Kurosawa's] ever made," writes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "It's pure sensual pleasure, and what it's 'about' is irrelevant to me."
October 15, 2008
Mary.Dennis Lim watches Abel Ferrara shoot a doc during the Feast of San Gennaro ("a blur of continuous motion but a lot more in control than he lets on"), notes that Mary, opening Friday at Anthology Film Archives, "is simply the most direct expression of spiritual crisis in a filmography riven with Catholic notions of guilt and redemption," offers a bit of background on the director before turning to the future: "Mr Ferrara said he is energized by his recent documentary experiments, which have given him new ideas to use in his fiction.... He rattles off a list of feature possibilities: a 'Catholic western' inspired by The Searchers, a present-day Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a prequel to King of New York." Updated through 10/18. For the Voice's J Hoberman, Mary is "an anguished metaphysical roundhouse that leaves the wildly erratic filmmaker sitting on the floor while paradoxically affording his most cogent outing in several years.... Tightly framed and tightly wound, Mary is a claustrophobic, incandescent, nutty 83 minutes with everyone in the cast teetering on the ledge of madness." "Released belatedly, Mary turns out to be this season's most ambitious American film, a serious inquiry into the tenability of religious faith in a culture spiritually impoverished by the very technology that would spread the gospel," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine. For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Ferrara "about religious films, Jesus as a revolutionary figure, and why Werner Herzog 'can die in hell.'" Online viewing tip. you are in heaven, and you are in hell - in the Cinema Echo Chamber. Evan Louison goes out with Ferrara, walking New York, talking religion. Updates, 10/16: "Within the first fifteen minutes of Mary director Abel Ferrara has already folded five layers of reality onto one another," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. Two paragraphs follow, and then: "Going to such lengths of exposition in describing a film serves only to showcase just how far Abel Ferrara - one of the most, if not the most marginalized of contemporary American directors, cruelly and unjustly - will go to craft his art. I purposefully say the word craft because this director, perhaps - again - more than any other American working today, immediately strikes the novice viewer as precisely craftless, a series of nearly dissonant shifts in tone and dramatics from scene to scene, and within scenes too. Dialog can ring clunky as a mismatched set of barbells; style can flare up for expressionistic tremors only to simmer down in awkwardly matched shot/reverse-shot conversations. In a word, the man's films are cinematically aggravating. But this is praise - strong praise, in the context." "I waited for a call from Ferrara so we could speak about the screening," sighs H Scott Bayer in the New York Press. "And waited. After waiting a day and a half, I was too stressed to care. Then, at 10 minutes to midnight on Friday night, a call came in from a sympathetic journalist with Abel's elusive cell. 'Call him right now, he's ready to talk.'" By then, all Bayer could muster was four questions. Updates, 10/17: "As with many of Ferrara's best films, it varies its tone almost willfully, as though resentful of the possibility that his film might be mistaken as great by those who prefer their movies to slide down their throats without friction," writes Eric Henderson in Slant. "Mary isn't exactly a smart film, but it's a bluntly instinctive one." Mary "is a weepy slab of overheated Gothic kitsch that shamelessly piggybacks on Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ and the controversy it engendered. Steeped in candlelight, with leaping shadows and ominous rumbles, it also conjures garish memories of The Exorcist sequels and the heavy-breathing nonsense of The Da Vinci Code," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "[Juliette] Binoche and a pre-Oscar [Forest] Whitaker deliver earnest performances, but Ferrara is stifled," finds Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out>. "Even New York, the city he loves, lacks character." Nathan Rabin talks with Matthew Modine for the AV Club. Update, 10/18: "In Mary, Abel Ferrara throws a lot of information at the viewer in a little amount of time and most of it's not without interest," writes Andrew Schenker. "But amidst all the film-within-a-film formal play, interviews with real life theologians, interpolated television footage of Middle East unrest, and earnest discussions of personal faith, the central throughline boils down to little more than a story of a man coming to accept a personal engagement with Christ and vowing to live a better life when confronted with tragedy. Yet even this story, intellectually dull where much of the film is stimulating, gets over on the heightened intensity Ferrara brings to its presentation and the impassioned emoting of Forest Whitaker."
Filth and Wisdom."Considering that everything she does is subject to tabloid scrutiny, I can't help but respect the courage it took for Madonna to make, and then show to the public, a film as honest, unpolished, and staggeringly naive as Filth and Wisdom," writes Eric Hynes at indieWIRE. "In every respect the work of an amateur, this is I'll figure-it-out-as-I-go filmmaking, by turns exciting, tedious, disarming, and god-awful. By all accounts, Madonna approached Filth and Wisdom with appropriate degrees of humility, wonder, and experimentation - albeit with an actual budget and accomplished associates - and for all I know she's now set to make a mature film. But unlike the school kid or backyard Spielberg, her flawed first try is coming to a theater or VOD box near you. Somehow I think she'll persevere. And, unlike the vulnerable greenhorn she resembles here, she'll remain unscathed by reviews such as this one." Updated through 10/17. "Filth and Wisdom seems of a piece with her previous work, in that it's in some way about Madonna herself hiding behind borrowed aesthetics," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Madonna gets the bulk of her borrowed essence from her star, Eugene Hütz, lead of gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. The clumsy brilliance of Filth and Wisdom is the way it wraps material that's clearly personal to Madonna in the irresistibly goofy trappings of Hütz's Joe Strummer-of-the-Eastern Bloc persona and performance style. For fans of Hütz and his band, Filth has the makings of an instant music-movie classic." "[T]here's an undeniably funky charm and abiding can-do spirit to this loose-knit portrait of three London flatmates trying to make their way in the world," finds Scott Foundas in Voice. "Message to the director: Don't quit your day job just yet, but in the category of multidisciplinary artists moonlighting as filmmakers, I'll take you over Julian Schnabel any day." Anthony Lane has cleverly decided to review this one alongside RocknRolla, the new film from Guy Ritchie, who, as you may have heard, was married to Madonna as recently as Monday, when the current issue of the New Yorker appeared. Soon, as you may have heard, he won't be. At any rate: "What vexes me most about Filth and Wisdom is the economics. Madonna has been a global star for decades. She has amassed a fortune, much of which presumably remains intact. She can't have spent all of it on jodhpurs and conical bras. So why, when it came to launching herself as a film director, did she limit her budget to $365.23?" "Some of this material has an offhand (if amateurish) charm, like a poor man's Me and You and Everyone We Know, but the script lacks focus, attempting to make an ensemble out of thin supporting characters," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. For IFC, Aaron Hillis sits down with Hütz "to yak about the film, politics, perversions and mustaches." Brian Brooks profiles Madonna for indieWIRE. To hear Matt Dentler tell it, the party after the premiere must have been something else. Updates, 10/16: Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher talks with Hütz. "In between some genuinely fun songs, Madonna and co-writer Dan Cadan treat the viewer to a cookie-cutter fairy tale plot and a series of sermons and sound bites from Hütz that sorely lack spontaneity and wit," writes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "[F]or all its narrative and aesthetic shortcomings, it's not half-bad," argues Nick Schager at Cinematical. "Certainly, Madonna tackles what she knows, which in this case is a collection of related stories linked by the overriding message that no profound knowledge can be attained without degradation first being experienced, a sentiment the Material Girl has been pushing in one form or another at least since 1992's Erotica and its infamous companion tome Sex. If embracing your inner skank is the path to enlightenment, then Madonna must now be the Dalai Lama. And yet despite the juvenile maxims spouted by Eugene Hütz... and the sometimes blandly functional cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones, there's raggedy charm to this misshapen film, a genuine, enticing verve that helps overshadow the dull leadenness of Hütz-spouted platitudes like his title-explaining gem, 'Without filth, there is no wisdom.'" "Here at the Screengrab," writes Phil Nugent, "we have an irregularly scheduled feature known as 'Forgotten Films,' which we use to discuss beloved, or at least interesting, movies that seem to have fallen through the cracks of moviegoers' memories. But what about those films that, while deservedly forgotten, will never be forgotten enough for some people's liking? Films that, in addition to sucking like a Hoover and a half, can only serve to represent the sore spots that their makers would much, much rather they'd never booked into theaters and charged admission? To inaugurate what we suspect will be an even more irregularly scheduled feature devoted to these very special films, today we exhume Guy Ritchie's Swept Away." At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell lists "10 Musicians-Turned-Filmmakers." Updates, 10/17: "Filth and Wisdom is a ridiculously easy target, but it also creaks and strains with more ambition than most mainstream throwaways that just recycle the usual guns and poses," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Not that Madonna has gone in for originality, which isn't really her thing: rather, instead of repurposing a genre, she has riffled through the art-house catalog for inspiration, as evidenced by the film's intentionally grubby visual texture, jumpy editing, direct-address commentary, freeze frames and other tricks. Although the somewhat rough visual style doesn't feel especially organic or natural for a director who has built a slick international brand with mind-blowing calculation, it does keep you interested from scene to scene, which is a more generous compliment than it might seem." "There's an all-in-good-fun tone about Filth and Wisdom (which was written by Madonna and Dan Cadan) that means it never becomes actively disagreeable, although Madonna may not be as much in control of its jokiness, or its wistfulness, as she thinks she is," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "To be generous, there's something touching about Madonna's commitment to tired Eurocinematic tropes; her movie is the furthest thing from corporate," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "But for a world-famous icon, she's got a lot of living to do before film two." "If [Madonna] needs to justify the Sex book by charting her own contrived path from filth to heavenly wisdom, that's fine," concedes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "But she should do it on her own time."
What Just Happened?"Jaw-droppingly arcane and dripping with self-regard, Barry Levinson's tedious excuse for a Hollywood caper asks us, as if we haven't been asked a thousand times before, to pity the poor movie producer—in this case Art Linson, adapting his own memoir about trying to get good movies made in bad old Hollywood," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Begging for sympathy, What Just Happened? invites only schadenfreude." "The moments in the film that feel most truthful are the fictionalized parts, and the ones that feel most outlandish are the ones in which real actors make appearances in the fictionalized world," writes Micah Towery in Slant. "Not well crafted enough to be satisfyingly postmodern (like Adaptation. or Being John Malkovich), nor well framed enough to be a film-within-a-film (like Singing in the Rain), What Just Happened? suffers some of the same problems as Stranger Than Fiction. It uses postmodern devices to set up a story and then loses them along the way when it tries to bring the film to a satisfying conclusion." Updated through 10/18. "It remains to be seen whether audiences will have the time or the inclination, just now, to sympathize with the stresses that beset a Hollywood producer and his pals," notes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Levinson has assembled a fine field of actors, no question, but the going is too easy for them underfoot; movies about movies are old ground, and what could be sweeter - cozier, even - than trampling on the follies of your trade, knowing that nothing will ever change?" "Bruce Willis provides the film's best moments as a parody of himself, but De Niro's performance as an irrelevant has-been is the closest What Just Happened? comes to true industry insight," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "What Just Happened? is a doodle, but its aura of dread seems earned," finds David Edelstein in New York. Marshall Fine interviews Levinson and De Niro. Susan King talks with cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine and with Levinson about Stéphane Fontaine, who, the director says, has "an ability to 'have a great sense of intimacy without letting the style dominate the narrative. It is a wonderful blend.'" Update, 10/16: "Every joke in Tropic Thunder, The Player, The Muse, I'll Do Anything, even HBO's Entourage is sharper, more incisive and funnier than those in What Just Happened?," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Anyone who sees this movie without reading this review will repeat the title endlessly." Updates, 10/17: "It is now routine for movie-world insiders to send up their own vanity and self-absorption by reproducing it with just enough exaggeration to make the rest of us feel like insiders too," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "It's not a bad feeling - just, at this point, a little empty and ritualistic." "[T]he surprise is how sympathetic Ben [the producer played by De Niro] manages to be, considering what he does for a living," writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times. "Even more surprising, by that measure, is that the movie's second-most sympathetic character is the agent. But maybe 'sympathetic' is taking it too far. Rather, by the end, you know how he feels: queasy, clenched, weirdly exhilarated." "[T]he picture is more self-congratulatory than it is vicious, or even illuminating, and it dawdles when it needs to crack along at a clip," finds Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "Unfortunately, it barely musters the cleverness to accidentally satirize itself," finds Paul Constant in the Stranger. "Julia Phillips's famous autobiography was titled, You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again," Roger Ebert reminds us in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Barry Levinson and Art Linson will. At this point, if you're going to make a film about Hollywood greed, hypocrisy and lust, you have to be willing to burn your bridges. There's not a whole lot in What Just Happened? that would be out of place in a good SNL skit." "[T]he script is sharp, and the ensemble cast a treat," finds Ben Walters in Time Out New York: "Stanley Tucci and John Turturro offer sleazy-neurotic support, Sean Penn and Bruce Willis send themselves up nicely, and Michael Wincott impresses as a prima donna Brit director." "Happened deviates greatly from Linson's winning little book in its particulars, but retains its sustained melancholy mood of low-key existential dread and dyspeptic wit," finds Nathan Rabin at the AV Club - where he also talks with Levinson. "At the end of a serious film about the movies, even a bone-dry satire like The Player, we're supposed to walk away remaining a bit mystified as to the way that world works, as if it's beyond and above both the constraints and the moral codes of 'real life,'" writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Old Hollywood reinforced its structuring lies by making movies which pushed the tacit understanding that us mere mortals would be out of our league if ever asked to operate under Hollywood's dark laws. What Just Happened? doesn't feel like a serious film, but that's not necessarily a reason to not recommend it. The reason to not recommend it is that it has no concept of that sense of mystery, and without it, it feels like there's nothing at stake." Updates, 10/18: "There are two funny sequences - one involving Ben and Kelly's therapist, the other at the Cannes Film Festival - but just about everything else in What Just Happened? feels safe, familiar, toothless," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Not even De Niro's best comic performance in years (as a truth-impaired producer), or great turns by Turturro (as a profoundly neurotic agent) and Robin Wright Penn (as one of De Niro's exes) - or even Willis (as himself) throwing a hissy fit - can save this one," writes Lawrence Levi for Nextbook.
Frontrunners."The great American student-government election: teenagers exposing their fragile egos to public ballot-box rejection and spending a small fortune on poster board, all for the possible distinction of assigning Homecoming subcommittees and allocating school funds for a laminator." Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "This is the stuff of which Frontrunners is made." Director Caroline Suh "shows herself ever-happy to settle for the shallow rewards of pop documentary. Depending on your level of fatigue with The Other Campaign, this may be good enough." "To its credit, Frontrunners doesn't strive to generate more suspense than the situation merits, which isn't much," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Politically and emotionally, the movie's thermostat remains at medium cool." Updated through 10/17. "In following Stuyvesant's presidential elections, Caroline Suh's Frontrunners is less a documentary version of Alexander Payne's Election and more a junior version of Primary or The War Room," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "Thus what one student half-mockingly refers to as 'Stuyvesant High School for gifted young men and women such as ourselves' isn't so much a Manhattan microcosm of the American electoral process as one small scramble amongst the best of the best, each of them trying to better their chances of admission to Harvard and to secure their future among the elite.... So, when George blasts 'Baba O'Reilly' from a jukebox while handing out election propaganda to prospective voters, the irony is clear: Stuyvesant is not a teenage wasteland at all, but a bountiful pasture of Ivy Leaguers-to-be." Writing in the L Magazine, Nick McCarthy finds the film to be "a politically relevant but sociologically inept doc... Frontrunners is neither edifying nor provocative; it's a simple, connect-the-parallels documentary with an expiration date of November 5th." Update, 10/16: "Everyone here is elite, and yet each student is also a child in the last phase of social innocence," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "That was also the charm of John Hughes's classic teen movies Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller's Day Off that have been twisted into acquisitive fantasies. The marvel of Frontrunners comes from watching potential movers-and-shakers who don't quite know themselves yet." Updates, 10/17: "For the most part, what happens in Frontrunners doesn't matter much," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "These are privileged teens bound for good schools no matter what happens, and they all seem mature enough to handle a loss. But what makes the movie fascinating is the particulars of the campaigns, from the way the candidates consider how to choose a running mate that will appeal to the right cliques, to the way they discuss exactly how a win would improve their chances to get into a top college. In the end, their main concern is how to be outstanding in a field overrun with bright flowers." "To reflect the current political climate, these students would need to mount vicious smear campaigns and repeat talking points that insult the intelligence of their electorate," notes David Fear in Time Out New York. "Frontrunners is a decent chronicle of one small-scale local runoff; expect anything more, and you’ll feel like you’ve just entered the spin zone." "The film operates on two important levels, both of which tell us all we need to know about the state of our democracy," writes Tom Hall at Hammer to Nail. "First, the film presents us with a field of candidates, each of whom we implicitly support because we recognize that they are kids, that we would like to see each of them have the opportunity to succeed and reach their goal of becoming a leader. There is something inside of us that loves a leader, that is inspired by seeing someone seek the office. We don't question the office, we merely judge those who seek it. Second, when we are left with the choice between Hannah and George, it's surprising how both candidates tickle a different part of the American dream."
W., round 2.Before picking up where we left off, that is, the first round of reviews and related profiles, interviews and so on, I've just got to note that Kevin B Lee and Matt Zoller Seitz have launched a series at Moving Image Source: "Oliver Stone's George W Bush biopic W., opening October 17, is his latest foray in a genre that has yielded some of his most memorable work: the political biography. The four Stone films examined in this series of video essays - Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Nixon and Alexander - dramatize conflicted relationships between highly driven individuals, their heroic ideals, and their service to the nation-state. They amount to cinematic battlefields where sophisticated ideas and recreated events are intensified (or at times, blown away) by expressive camerawork and editing schemes. To bring histrionics into history may seem a dubious project, but in Stone's hands, it brings an urgency and vitality to his subjects that few filmmakers can match." Updated through 10/21. "W. may be less frenzied than the usual Oliver Stone sensory bombardment, but in revisiting the early 00s by way of the late 60s, this psycho-historical portrait of George W Bush has all the queasy appeal of a strychnine-laced acid flashback," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Hideous recreations of the shock-and-awful recent past merge with extravagant lowlights from the formative years and early career of America's most disastrous president (crudely played by Josh Brolin, often in tight close-up). Familiar faces seem to deliquesce before our eyes. It's unavoidably trippy, but does anyone, other than the perpetrators, really need to relive this particular purple haze?" "W. is the sort of movie we can't help but evaluate in part by comparing its actors to the public figures they impersonate and trying to determine whether the performances transcend impersonation," notes Jonathan Kiefer. "On that score it's a mixed bag: from Thandie Newton, in a creaky, sketch-comedy-grade caricature of Condoleezza Rice; to Jeffrey Wright, so scene-stealingly good as a deeply concerned Colin Powell that you almost wish it was his movie (rather in the way you might once have almost wished it was his administration). James Cromwell imbues George Bush senior with dignity and humanity, and of course Josh Brolin does his own spot-on, mission accomplishing heckuva job as the titular Shrub." "There are times when you've got to wonder if this young century that no longer feels young anymore, more specifically the eight years that have followed that famously fraudulent 2000 presidential election, hasn't been some sort of prolonged bad dream from which America and all the rest of us are about to wake from with one wicked-ass hangover," sighs Josef Braun. "W. arrives in theatres just in time to greet the appointment of a new American president - though the film might be best viewed as a melancholy parting gift for the outgoing one." At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell lists the "10 Best Political Passion Projects." Updates: "Oliver Stone's sincere, willfully myopic portrait of our sitting president is a maddening experience that for many will be akin, on the what's-the-point scale, to Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Rather than revive his previous compulsion towards outré explanation and stylistic mood-setting, Stone maintains the straight-ahead mode of his last film, the family-centered, hero-worshipping melodrama World Trade Center." "Brolin is almost as close to the original as the tremendous Tina Fey is to Sarah Palin," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "He is the linchpin of what seems like a conscious effort to make the 43rd president something more than a Michael Moore caricature." For the Vulture, Brent Simon talks with Jason Ritter about playing Jeb Bush. Once again, Kevin and Matt at Moving Image Source: "If Born on the Fourth of July was Oliver Stone's retaliation against the mythography that governs the minds of Americans, JFK was an all-out offensive to reclaim the truth of one of America's most tragic events." Updates, 10/16: "[E]ven though Stone can't resist the occasional lapse into cartoonishness, W. winds up being a thought-provoking examination of a crucial turning point in American history," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "Whatever your preconceived notions, W. manages to be both exactly what you thought it would be and something else entirely. Which, ultimately, makes it like every politician who ever existed." "For an administration that initially was very tight-lipped and on-message, the Bush presidency has yielded an abundance of memoirs by insiders ranging from former White House aides to generals and diplomats. Each offers unique glimpses of the president." In the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada presents "An Extremely Abridged History of the George W Bush Presidency." W. is "Stone's liveliest film in years," writes Scott Foundas, introducing his interview with the director for the LA Weekly. "How is it that the least popular and possibly worst chief executive in American history has inspired no lasting impersonations?" asks Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "Josh Brolin's performance... will have little competition for best imitation of the 43rd president. Even the innocuous Gerald Ford was better served by Chevy Chase's pratfalls. But as I survey the past eight years, not many funny, memorable, or pointed TV or movie parodies of George W. Bush come to mind." "The hard work of Stone's new film about George Bush - that uses the synecdoche title W. - is to avoid impertinence and rebuild the concepts of fairness and empathy while examining the Bush enigma," argues Armond White in the New York Press. "Stone gives real suspense to this process: First, he surmounts the class snobbery implicit in Bush-bashing (the opening baseball stadium scene emanates from Bush's imagination of his own ambition and personal challenge). Then, he looks past the undeniable mistakes in Bush's life journey (time-shifting from Bush's college years to his presidency) in order to portray his soul." Online viewing tip. "As the weight of his eight years becomes fully felt in the slumping present, the question needs to be asked: Is Bush the buffoon the best Hollywood can do?" At Slate, Elbert Ventura introduces a video slide show. "Rightly or wrongly, one does expect an Oliver Stone film - especially an Oliver Stone film about an American president - to say something, to make an argument, to reveal something we didn't know or to advance a theory that's so out-of-nowhere that it seems to momentarily stun before it sparks a heated dialectic," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "W. doesn't. Its entertainment value (which is not inconsiderable) is based fully on a kind of laughter of recognition. 'Look,' it wants us to say. 'Josh Brolin is walking just like George W. Bush walks!' 'Look! Richard Dreyfuss is smirking, just like Dick Cheney smirks!' It all makes for a strangely shallow, self-congratulatory viewing experience: catching one reference after another makes you feel so smart that you only vaguely realize that the film isn't actually engaging your brain." Scott Tobias talks with Stone for the AV Club. "It's hard to know what went wrong with W.," blogs David Edelstein. "Maybe Stone wants to change his image as a rabble-rouser and show his critics he has become more reflective and responsible. (He had his own daddy issues, reportedly.) But his greatest attribute - and I say this as someone whose least favorite film of all time is Natural Born Killers - has always been a lusty, blowhard showmanship. In the midst of these tumultuous times, in the midst of this tumultuous election, Stone has delivered his most tepid film." Kevin and Matt today at Moving Image Source: "A sprawling amalgam of Death of a Salesman, Citizen Kane, Freudian psychoanalysis, and 50 years' worth of headlines and transcripts, Nixon feels less like a biography than an autobiography, colored by Nixon's paranoia and self-loathing." "What if, instead, Stone had made a movie about the administration of President John McCain?" wonders Scott Von Doviak at Screengrab. "Stone and his screenwriter Stanley Weiser could have cooked up a juicy, paranoid fantasia of a potential McCain Era in American history, supplemented by flashbacks from McCain's actual colorful past. It would be a similar movie in many ways; as Tom Dickinson writes in the fascinating Rolling Stone cover story 'Make-Believe Maverick,' McCain and Bush were both youthful fuck-ups with daddy issues, the major difference being that 'George W Bush was a much better pilot.'" Updates, 10/17: "History is said to repeat itself as tragedy and farce, but here it registers as a full-blown burlesque," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. W. "says nothing new or insightful about the president, his triumphs and calamities. (As if anyone goes to an Oliver Stone movie for a reality check.) But it does something most journalism and even documentaries can't or won't do: it reminds us what a long, strange trip it's been to the Bush White House." "Neither satire nor biopic, the film is a kind of secular pageant, enacting with dogged literality the well-known stations of the cross of Bush's life," writes Slate's Dana Stevens: "the 40th-birthday hangover-turned-religious-conversion! The near-asphyxiation by pretzel! Mission accomplished! "Is our children learning?" The moments scroll up the screen like the song titles on one of those greatest-hits collections advertised on TV. The movie is done in the broad strokes and primary colors that are Stone's trademark - lest you've forgotten JFK, this is not a filmmaker of nuance - but the net effect is both satisfying and strangely cathartic to watch." Also, Timothy Noah: "The life and presidency of George W Bush were an Oliver Stone movie well before the director of JFK and Wall Street arrived on the scene. W. merely records that unassailable fact." The New Republic's Christopher Orr: "It's a film that seems pitched at an almost unimaginably thin cross-section of viewers: those who follow politics closely enough to catch its constant self-conscious references, but not closely enough to recognize it as a shallow, ham-fisted portrait." "The grandeur of Stone's finest 90s efforts combined imposing aesthetic flair, exhaustive research, and a strong sense of myth, legacy and nation," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Those qualities are in minimal supply throughout this misshapen film, which aside from a striking sequence in which the director cuts from the eyes of Dubya to those of a Jesus painting to those of Bush senior (James Cromwell) - thereby relating Dubya to the approving/disapproving gaze of competing paternal figures - employs a conventional aesthetic that furthers the impression that creative ingenuity was a casualty of release-schedule concerns." "There's nothing overtly or even subtly disreputable about Oliver Stone's W., which is exactly what's wrong with it," argues Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "I admit that my hopes were probably too high: In these twilight days of the George W Bush administration, I find my anger intensifying rather than abating, and I was hoping W. would be a more cathartic exercise than it is." "Had Stone realized he was making Dr Strangelove, W. might have been an absurdist hoot, but that would require the sort of dramatic choice he stubbornly resists making," suggests Scott Tobias in the AV Club. "One might feel sorry for George W at the end of this film, were it not for his legacy of a fraudulent war and a collapsed economy," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The film portrays him as incompetent to be president, and shaped by the puppet masters Cheney and Rove to their own ends. If there is a saving grace, it may be that Bush will never fully realize how badly he did. How can he blame himself? He was only following God's will." "There is a restraint about W. that is both pleasing and effective," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "There are reasons to smile in this film, but not nearly as many as you'd think. Instead the message is that what has happened to this country is no laughing matter." "Stone hasn't been ambitious or exhaustive enough," argues Michael Wilmington. Also at Movie City News, Leonard Klady: "W. is, frankly, more Shakespeare than History Channel or Biography. Though the filmmakers are loath to paint the saga as tragedy, its hero is tragic." "Stone searched for an inner life within a public figure who's only scrutinized in opinionated sound-bite punditry; endeavors this even-handed and entertaining shouldn't be misunderestimated," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "The story necessarily winds up without a natural ending, since the train wreck is still happening (and cleaning up the tracks is likely to take longer than either Bush's life span or my own)," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "But Stone and Weiser suggest that somewhere in the shallow depths of Bush's consciousness lurks the knowledge of his abject failure... and worse." James Rocchi in Cinematical: Weiser's best contribution - which Stone and Brolin bring to life in a rich, haunting way - comes in the moments scattered through the film with George W Bush alone in a baseball stadium. At one point, he's reveling in the roars of a crowd that isn't there; in another, he races to the back wall to make a lucky catch; finally, in the film's final moments, Bush is ready in the outfield, hears the crack of the bat and races back to field the hit, even though it never comes. Perhaps Oliver Stone did rush this film; perhaps it could have benefited from a few years of perspective instead of a few weeks. But then we wouldn't have the perfect timing of that deftly turned closing image: W. opens in theaters as an election looms, as American mega-capitalism chokes on its own arrogance and greed, as dead American soldiers are still being offloaded from transports in flag-draped coffins far from the view of the press and the general public (and Iraqi civilians simply die far away). What started as parody and comedy builds to a haunting final moment thanks to Stone, Weiser and Brolin, and in W.'s final seconds it is not just George W Bush who's waiting for the ball to drop, it is all of us. "My benchmark for shuffled iconography is, and may forever be, Robert Coover's dazzling novel about Vice President Richard Nixon called The Public Burning, a novel whose continued relevance would be depressing if the book weren't such a fun read," writes Robert Davis at Daily Plastic. "Coover's fictional Nixon spends much of his time thinking about the similarities between his life and Julius Rosenberg's, an inspired biographical braid that presumably required Coover to spend a year or two inside the heads of real people. How can we ever repay him? I don't think Oliver Stone has spent much time inside the head of George W Bush or the heads of his other characters.... On a good night, you'll find five minutes on The Daily Show with better intuition and funnier jokes than the whole of W." Alison Willmore at IFC: "We're still too close for fictional takes on our two terms with number 43 to be anything more than knee-jerk - controversy-courting fantasies about assassination or limp lampoonery - but W., hurried pointlessly into theaters before the election, affects having distance and perspective that isn't there. In 20 years, it'll be just another mediocre biopic." Kevin and Matt at Moving Image Source: "[I]f Nixon is about how one man tried and failed to impose his will upon history, Alexander is also a story of a failure. But in the words of Ptolemy, 'His failure towered over other men's successes.'" The Austin-American Statesman's Chris Garcia talks with Cromwell. "Abraham Lincoln is remembered as one of Griffith's worst films because of its stilted dawn-of-the-talkies dialogue and staging, but I found it to be at least as dynamic and diverting a political cartoon as Oliver Stone's latest historical tossed salad," writes Steven Boone at the SpoutBlog. "Kill the sound and you'll catch some signature Griffith moments of visual play, like the montage of marching boots, cavalry and cannons assembling for war in an insane rush. His whip pans to visual punchlines pack as much wit and electricity as John Ford's. Griffith's legacy lies in these scattered contributions to film grammar and the art of historical pageantry, not his politics or historical accuracy. Oliver Stone is staring at a similar, enviable fate." Updates, 10/18: "With Bush's presidency drawing to a close, W. gets the first pop culture crack at judging his legacy - and lands a woefully soft punch," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot. "What Stone and Weiser fail to recognize is that Bush's pratfall of power wouldn't be so remarkable if it didn't so conspicuously mirror America's increasing conformity, proud isolationism, and unashamed mediocrity." "Instead of a hatchet job, Oliver Stone delivers a rush job," writes Scott Marks. "[B]y taking real moments and reconfiguring them in artificial ways, Mr Stone has created something Texans who saw Mr Bush close-up will recognize as a remarkably accurate portrait," argues Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News. Via Nikki Finke. Updates, 10/19: "American presidents make for fascinating, puzzling, infuriating characters," writes Jim Emerson. "We like to see them in Shakespearean dimensions: like Hamlet, Henry IV, Richard II... or maybe Bottom. But comparisons are often enlightening. The W. this country barely re-elected (if that's the proper term) in 2004 bears some terrible similarities to the Nixon re-elected (in a landslide) in 1972. Both were on the verge of being 'found out,' and both would suffer unprecedented public scorn and disapproval." Craig Mclean profiles Brolin for the Independent. "By far, the film's greatest asset is its cast, who for the most part truly embody the political celebrities they're playing," writes Ed Howard. Update, 10/20: "[T]he expanded director's cut of Nixon (recently released on DVD) looks stronger than ever as a portrait of an intelligent, capable man (Anthony Hopkins) rotting from the inside," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "In W., however, George W Bush (Josh Brolin) comes off as a grinning frat boy who covers his easily bruised feelings with swaggering bravado. Even if the real Bush is as simple as that (which I doubt), he's still a lousy movie character - an inadequate protagonist in his own life story." Updates, 10/21: "This week, Slate is featuring a conversation about George Bush's presidency, prompted by Oliver Stone's film W. Participants are Oliver Stone; Bob Woodward, author of The War Within; Ron Suskind, author of The Way of the World; and Jacob Weisberg, author of The Bush Tragedy." Writing for Time, S James Snyder finds Stone's Official Film Guide to be "a compelling companion piece to the film, suggesting that many of the behind-closed-doors moments in W. may not be that far-fetched after all."
NYFF. Chouga."Tolstoy's Anna Karenina honed to a deadpan highlight reel, Darezhan Omirbayev's Chouga turns the epic melodrama of cross-country fidelity and infidelity into a languorous, essentialist series of almost-mysterious, always-fated romantic movements," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "The psychology so beloved by the novel is minimized down to looks in the film, major events and feelings like courtship and inner unrest rendered as minimally as a terse conversation on a couch and a brief look down, then away." "A film devoid of frenzy, Chouga, inherits the same themes and devices of Dziga Vertov's great frenzy-film, Man with a Movie Camera, in which every shot is mediated, and the human eye and camera-eye are, for the most part, exchangeable." David Phelps in Slant: "For like Vertov's characters, Omirbaev's almost seem to operate as cogs in a systematized world." "[N]ot even the talented and literary-minded Bernard Rose could make a worthwhile Karenina in 1997," notes Ed Champion. "Perhaps Anna Karenina is, like Don Quixote, not really intended to be adapted. And while the fates have tilted against those tilting at windmills (including Orson Welles and Terry Gilliam), they have kept a more laissez-faire with regard to this Tolstoy masterpiece. Filmmaker Darezhan Omirbaev, however, has no such qualms attempting to beat the rap with Shuga. With the deck firmly stacked against him, he tries to tackle Tolstoy in a mere 90 minutes, which is the creative equivalent of the All-England Summarize Proust Competition.... And I think it's safe to say that Omirbaev's film did not cut the mustard with me." "At times, Chouga reminded me of Aki Kaurismäki's own deadpan Dostoyevsky adaptation, Crime and Punishment, both for its minimal aesthetic style and flat affect," writes Damon Smith for FilmCatcher. "But there is a gentle poetry to Omirbaev's personal vision that creeps into the bleak, color-bleached public spaces and modestly well-appointed homes that house his gallery of lovelorn and sexually dissatisfied characters." "Darezhan Omerbaev is apparently one of Kazakhstan's leading masters, which, granted, isn't a terribly helpful thing to say," notes Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "Chouga is, in all probability, the most deadpan thing I've seen all year. I'm not sure why you need Tolstoy to make a deadpan comedy, but here it is anyway." "Chouga manages to stay intriguing, in part because of unique choices - a sudden pan to the window sill, undue attention paid to a son's video game and the falling snow - and a luminous lead performance by Ainur Turgambaeva," finds Jürgen Fauth. Update: "Omirbaev's distilled aesthetic - oneiric sequences that equally allude to internal conflict and creative impulse, disembodied framing of hands and feet that evoke Robert Bresson's cinema, and elliptical, de-dramatized action - proves especially suited in reflecting the sterility of the city's cultural transformation through the image of lavish, but idiosyncratically forbidding spaces represented by the cosmopolitan world of opera houses and luxury passenger trains," finds Acquarello. Update, 10/17: "Cinema - its real and ersatz versions - is as much a subject of Chouga as are the tragedies and epiphanies of romantic love," writes Leo Goldsmith in Reverse Shot. "Omirbaev does more than simply transpose Tolstoy's work from late 19th-century St Petersburg to early 21st-century Kazakhstan. Like his forebear, he employs the tragic dalliance between Anna and Vronsky (in this case, Chouga and Ablaï) to look deeply at the shallowness of the upper classes. But he does so... with an interest in modern Kazakhstan's newly consumerist society and particularly the visual culture on which it feeds." Update, 10/25: "Chouga is a masterful distillation of the great novel's characterizations and themes," writes Eric Hynes for Stop Smiling. "In constant dialogue with the nineteenth century text yet immersed in the bourgeois urbanity of a post-Soviet society on the rise, Chouga shows how patriarchy persists in permitting male passions and is intolerant of women's."
Abu Dhabi Dispatch. 1.David D'Arcy watches the capital flow - and a doc. The festival runs through Sunday. The Middle East International Film Festival opened on October 10 just more than a month after the announcement in Toronto of the ambitions of Imagenation Abu Dhabi, a wholly owned subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media Company, whose stated aim is "to develop, finance and produce content for both the global and Arabic language markets." There could be some punch behind that statement of purpose - $1 billion over the next five years "in the creation of both full-length feature films and digital content." It gets you wondering. Where were these backers/funders when Dreamworks or the various Warner distributors were in trouble? Already there is a deal with Participant Media (with Middle East stories like Standard Operating Procedure and Syriana under its belt) for $250 million to finance a slate of feature films - more money for a company that is already bringing capital to the table - which is reported to be for production and P&A "for 15 to 18 feature films which will entertain while raising awareness of issues that inspire social change." Another partnership, announced at the MEIFF, was with National Geographic Entertainment to finance 10 to 15 films over the next five years that "that will deal with people's relationship to the world, their environment and encourage different cultures to come together." The National Geographic deal is part of a broader initiative to launch a Media Content Creation Zone, involving partnerships between Abu Dhabi and the BBC, CNN, Random House, Harper Collins and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The critical mass approach aims at training local media professionals (is that what journalists are called now?) and producing content in and for the Arab market. Press materials foresee growth in that market to be in double digits over the next five years - all of which is reflected in the real estate ad construction boom here which has fifty-story buildings sprouting like tall weeds everywhere. Another part of the media project, branded twofour54 (Abu Dhabi's coordinates), is to produce more and "more accurate" content dealing with the Middle East, eventually by locals trained here. You can assume that any such plan has Al-Jazeera in nearby Qatar in the crosshairs. Al-Jazeera is already up and running, to put it mildly. So twofour54 is a work in progress that has just begun. If the starving media firms of the West were hungry for any such deal a month ago, they are desperate for it now, given the recent credit crash - which we might know more about if newspapers hadn't been laying off their business reporters over the last few years.
NYFF. The Northern Land."The rarefied and mostly impenetrable The Northern Land is hardly the first film from 59-year-old Portugese filmmaker João Botelho," notes Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot, "but for most of us on these shores it might as well be.... Botelho's film will remind devoted festivalgoers at times of Rohmer (The Lady and the Duke's digital backdrops to fussy historical drama), Rivette (forthrightly artificial play-acting), Raul Ruiz (affected Proustian time-collapsing), Maddin (its opening moments, surrounded by irises, appear as though glimpsed through a kinetoscope), and most markedly the director's fellow countryman and preeminent cinema centenarian Manoel de Oliveira, with whom Botelho seems to share a penchant for a discursive meta brand of filmmaking." "A mist-covered mountainous landscape, rustling hoopskirts, and familial secrets cluster together in João Botelho's at best perplexing, but mainly lackluster film The Northern Land, the director's interpretation of Portuguese writer Agustina Bessa-Luís's novel," writes Jenny Jediny at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Drawing from a sensuously emphasized account of personal histories and ghosts of forgotten ancestors, The Northern Land aims to unravel the seemingly intricate mystery within a family tree, and also engage its audience in its labyrinthine method of storytelling. Unfortunately, the film falls far short in both of these ambitions." "[I] seems a film whose time has come and gone in its own creation," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "[T]he very medium that both enables and eases the video's production fundamentally cripples its aesthetics: digital video plus historical costume pageantry plus heavily stylized theatrical lighting results only in the look of actors on a stage in front of us playing dress up." Ed Champion finds it "beautiful in the same way that a particularly striking postcard purchased at Duane Reade is beautiful. The people who inhabit this film are not beautiful. Nor are they particularly interesting."
Goings on. San Francisco.First, to those in the Bay Area: Brian Darr has a huge roundup of upcoming series and events. For SF360, Michael Fox talks with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman: "The Oscar-winning duo is moving down the road with Howl, an unflinching drama that revisits Allen Ginsberg's seminal mid-50s poem and subsequent obscenity trial." Updated through 10/16. "America may be super-fucked in many ways, but we'll never be short on weirdos, nor will documentary filmmakers ever tire of recording their antics. DocFest's 2008 slate is roughly three-fourths devoted to the United States of Oddballs. And why not? Seriously, it's fascinating stuff." Cheryl Eddy opens the San Francisco Bay Guardian's package on the festival opening Friday and running through November 6. She also talks with the founders about this biggest edition yet. "Midway through I'm Like This Every Day, friends of underground musician Peter Stubb debate whether or not Stubb is actually a werewolf," notes Erick Lyle. "Such is the unverifiable quality of Stubb's legend." Earlier: Michael Hawley's DocFest preview for the Evening Class. Back in the SFBG: "From its explosive opening sequence, in which an Iraqi village endures a surprise attack from insurgents, Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss' documentary Full Battle Rattle could be placed alongside Gunner Palace (2004) or The Ground Truth (2006) as another vérité-style portrait of daily life 'on the ground,'" writes Matt Sussman. "It's when the smoke clears and an ice cream truck pulls up that we realize something's amiss." Screens Friday. Update, 10/16: "The extreme, the strange, the silly and surreal all have big seats at the SF DocFest table," writes Dennis Harvey in his overview for SF360.
NYFF. A Christmas Tale."Arnaud Desplechin doesn't so much direct movies as conduct marathons," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "Packed with frantic gestures, free-associative allusions and titanic meltdowns, his films are unwieldy, bracingly omnivorous creatures—as exhilarating as they are exhausting. A Christmas Tale [site] crams enough drama in its preamble (sibling rivalry, deaths, a family's history of illness) for two or three productions, and that's just the backstory for this sprawling yet intimate portrait of a tension-cracked familial get-together." "Returning to the recurring themes of parental alienation and surrogacy of La Vie des morts, Playing 'In the Company of Men' and Kings and Queen, A Christmas Tale is a quintessential Arnaud Desplechin film in its ingenious, heady collision of disparate, often contradictory, yet integrally interconnected forms," agrees Acquarello. "The French Cinema Now revival screening of Arnaud Desplechin's rarely (if ever) seen first feature film Life of the Dead (La vie des morts, 1991) was a welcome meditation on the presence of the oak in the acorn," writes Michael Guillén in San Francisco. "It proved to be a perfect companion piece to A Christmas Tale for prefiguring many of the themes and methods expressed more fully in Desplechin's critically-acclaimed recent work, including a family gathering pulled into the gravitational field of the death horizon via an attempted suicide." Michael's also got notes from the Q&A with Desplechin following the screening of A Christmas Tale. "Watching the spirited and melancholy A Christmas Tale is like listening to the somber transcendence of 'Silent Night' (with a dash of Vince Guaraldi)," writes Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot. "Even those minor threads and beats that don't cohere or convince... at least function well rhythmically - like little riffs in Desplechin's overall freeform creation. Imminent tragedy and bumbling slapstick buffer each other, cynicism and poetic optimism... exist side by side, cradled in harmony, all through the night. It's Christmas, and families are on the mend; people are on the verge of some greater understanding of themselves and each other. At least until New Year's." "A Christmas Tale is the French cinematic equivalent of a cozy, okay in its own right, but there isn't really a mystery and there certainly isn't an able sleuth to delve into the modest behavioral conundrums kept ever so slightly at bay," finds Ed Champion. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and, from Toronto, Sean Axmaker. Update: "Each in succession, the curiosities of A Christmas Tale burst from the surface of the film, almost incapable of containing themselves, their passions, their disappointments, their awkward eruptions of alcoholic rage and familial resentment," writes Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Desplechin's characters - with their many moods and emotions, problems and intrigues - are difficult to contain, a family of exuberants and melancholiacs; drunks and despots; healers and romantics; mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters.... Each character stakes his own narrational claim over their part of the tale." Update, 10/20: Online viewing tip. Kevin Lee has video of the Q&A with Desplechin. Update, 10/22: Online listening tip. Film Comment's Andrew Chan talks with Desplechin.
LFF. Frost/Nixon."As well as creeping impatience, there is a weird sense of deja vu watching the talky, inert drama which opens tonight's London film festival - about David Frost's legendary TV interviews in 1977 with the disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon." The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "Its screenwriter, Peter Morgan, gave us The Queen, starring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and Helen Mirren as the monarch. Now, once again, Sheen plays a media-savvy and weirdly depthless figure facing off against a shrewd, but wounded head of state.... Frank Langella rolls over Sheen like a tank in a way that Nixon failed to do with Frost in art or in life." Updated through 10/16. The London Times, co-presenter of the festival, doesn't have a review of Frost/Nixon (site) posted yet, but does have a sort of promotional package. Director Ron Howard recalls the moment "I knew what I wanted my next film to be." Ben Hoyle talks with Frost, who "has seen the film twice and thinks that it is 'brilliant.' However, he regrets that 'to build up the underdog thing,' Peter Morgan's script downplays what was already a distinguished television career before the interviews." And Tim Teeman, who finds the film "as electrifying as the stage version," interviews Langella. Updates: "Howard's hands-off direction makes for an oddly bloodless viewing experience, with a lot of talk standing in for any fresh perspective (or frankly, much of a perspective at all) on the events," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. "To be honest, we could have seen this coming. It's difficult to think of a director less-suited to take on the intricate, minutiae-obsessed writing of Peter Morgan than Howard - a director who, even in his finest films, has always been interested in the big picture first, with characters serving history rather than the other way round." Via Jeffrey Wells. "As someone who was a huge admirer of the London stage production back in 2006, I had concerns that many of qualities that made it work so brilliantly on stage could be ironed out for the big screen," writes Ambrose Heron. "However, it is to the film's great credit that director Ron Howard and Morgan (who wrote the screenplay) have not only preserved the insight and charm of the play but made it work in a different medium." "Like the other election year release about a modern Republican president, W., this one isn't out to 'get' its much vilified subject as much as it tries to cast him as something of a tragic victim of his own limitations and foibles - tragic for the perpetrator and his country alike," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Recreating the role for which he won a Tony Award last year, Langella doesn't instantaneously convince as the 37th president the moment you first see him, in the wake of Nixon's resignation in disgrace on Aug 9, 1974 - the voice seems a bit langorous, the mannerisms a tad forced, his features a shade Mediterranean. But over the course of the piece, the many facets of the performance merge into an impeccably observed characterization of a man whose accomplishments, intellect and aggressive use of power never entirely overcame an abiding inferiority complex and propensity for self-sabotage." For the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt, this is "less a political movie than a boxing film without the gloves.... In this corner is a wily master politician who knows every trick of spin and manipulation to overwhelm an opponent. In that corner is a glib British talk show host, selected by members of the Nixon camp who sense that a softball interview with this lightweight nonjournalist might sufficiently rehabilitate Nixon so he can return to public life. However, this approach must overemphasize Frost's playboy aspect while ignoring the fact he was a Cambridge graduate, a host and producer of the hugely popular political satire TV show called That Was the Week That Was and had interviewed major political leaders on British TV. OK, he's no Mike Wallace, but Frost is a far cry from the carnival performer he at times acts like in Frost/Nixon." And the London Times has now posted a review. "Ron Howard turns this contest between Michael Sheen's playboy and Frank Langella's marvellous old creep into one of the most compelling cinema waltzes I've yet seen," writes James Christopher. "The build-up to the final confrontation is an absolutely electric piece of cinema, not least because there are vertiginous moments where history is being reminted before your eyes.... The surprise, perhaps, is how much sympathy Howard's film generates for Langella's broody, tight-arsed, antihero." Howard "is often seen as a middlebrow director, even a bland one. But his unostentatious approach proves just right for this project," argues Sheila Johnston in the Telegraph. Updates, 10/16: "While Frost/Nixon has its problems, attracting awards attention for Frank Langella isn't one of them," writes Fionnuala Halligan for Screen Daily. "[T]he actor doesn't deliver an impersonation or a caricature – he looks nothing like Nixon, nor does he sound like him. He rightly treats Morgan's script as a gift to an actor and runs with Tricky Dicky as far as he can go." "In one way, film is the perfect medium for a drama that ultimately hinges on a single close-up when, after all his evasions and self-deceptions, Nixon finally accepts guilt for his role in the Watergate scandal," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "Nixon, played with real gravitas and pathos by Frank Langella, is suddenly seen at his most vulnerable. His face is a map of conflicting emotions. Seen on a big screen, this moment has a power that would be hard to match either on stage or TV. However, the rest of the film rarely matches this sequence in either its intensity or its simplicity." Online viewing tip. The Guardian opens a video report on the premiere night with a clip from the actual interviews. Clips from the film, red carpet interviews, etc, follow.
October 14, 2008
Shorts, 10/14.The AFP reports that the Le Monde Group is in negotiations with Phaidon, which bills itself as "the world's leading publisher of books on the visual arts," regarding the sale of Cahiers du cinéma. Claudette Colbert "had a seamless sort of technique which she learned through years on the stage in the twenties, and that technique is what makes her both a bit predictable and finally a little mysterious," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door. "A new biography of the star has just been published, Claudette Colbert: She Walked in Beauty, by Bernard F Dick, and I read it eagerly; unfortunately, instead of clearing up some of Colbert's mystery and giving us a sharper picture of her as a person and an actress, this biography creates nothing but confusion." "He's already been banned from China after his film Seven Years in Tibet upset the communist authorities," notes Ben Child. "Pretty soon it's likely Jean-Jacques Annaud won't be too popular in certain parts of the subcontinent: the Oscar-winning French director's next project looks likely to be the terrorism thriller Kashmir, set in the disputed region on the border of India and Pakistan." Also in the Guardian, Lizzy Davies: "It was billed as the big-budget film that would bring hope and prosperity to one of Paris's most notoriously troubled suburbs. But shooting of Luc Besson's From Paris with Love, starring John Travolta, has been cancelled after 10 stunt cars were set alight during a night-time rampage." The Deutschland 09 project is now officially on. Inspired by Deutschland im Herbst, a 1977 omnibus film for which eleven directors associated with New German Cinema each addressed some aspect of the standoff between the government and the Red Army Faction, 09 will offer twelve takes on the present moment. Der Tagesspiegel's got the list of contributors: Fatih Akin, Wolfgang Becker, Sylke Enders, Dominik Graf, Christoph Hochhäusler, Romuald Karmakar, Nicolette Krebitz, Angela Schanelec, Hans Steinbichler, Isabelle Stever, Tom Tykwer and Hans Weingartner. If all goes as planned, the world premiere will take place at the Berlinale in February. Kimberley Jones and Josh Rosenblatt are debating screenwriters at the Austin Chronicle's Picture in Picture. "William Claxton, a photographer of the famous who used his charm to lure jazz musicians from their dark, smoky natural habitat to pose on sunny beaches and carousels, then made stunningly intimate images of legendary loners like Steve McQueen and Frank Sinatra, died on Saturday in Los Angeles," writes Douglas Martin. "He was 80." Online viewing tip #1. "You want to take a quick trip through cinema history?" asks Todd Brown. "Not a lot of better places to start that Quebecois filmmaker Olivier Asselin's Un Capitalisme Sentimental." Twitch has the trailer. Online viewing tip #2. From Ambrose Heron: "George Stroumboulopoulos of CBC's The Hour interviews James Cameron about his career and they also discuss his upcoming film Avatar." Online viewing tip #3. The trailer for the Arts Engine Ten Year Anniversary Collection. Online viewing tip #4. The NYT's AO Scott on the seductive powers of Wall Street.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/14."[A]t least of the films I've shot, I have the feeling it might be the best." That's Park Chan-wook, as quoted by X at Twitch, where s/he's got what we know so far about "his 'priest-turns-vampire' requiem," Thirst. Tim Lucas wasn't sold on TrueBlood at first, but he's since "enthusiastically warmed to its well-thought-out imagining of a near-future world in which vampires and the living attempt to coexist." Rocket Video's Jeff Miller lists his "100 Favorite Creepy Movies of All Time." "The cause of the virulent plague of the walking dead varies," notes Kevin Buist at the SpoutBlog. "Everything from spiritual curses, viruses, chemical weapons, and alien microorganisms have been used to explain the origin of zombies." He then considers "the real-world evidence behind some of these threats, and which ones you should be most worried about." If you'll be in Chicago for the run-up to Halloween, Dan Mucha got loads of suggestions at Facets Features. The Dead Channels 2008 Audience Awards go to Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In (Best Feature Film) and Richard Gale's The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon (Best Short Film). Online viewing tips. Ten trailers for The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, via Movie City News.
Fests and events, 10/14."In all seriousness, Of All the Things is a spectacularly strange ride," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail, "a story so preposterous that it can't be anything but true. Or, to put it another way: if you tried to make a fictional feature out of this material, no one would believe it. It screens tonight as part of the IFC Center's Stranger Than Fiction series, hosted by Thom Powers, and though Powers has always chosen interesting work, when placed directly underneath the series' title, Of All the Things might be his most appropriate selection of all." Pusan International Film Festival, which closed on Friday with a gala screening of Yoon Jong-Chan's I Am Happy and the announcement of jury and audience awards." At indieWIRE, Doug Jones has the list and quick takes on several of the films he caught there. For the Evening Class, Michael Hawley previews the San Francisco Bay Area's Arab Film Festival, running Thursday through October 28. Chicagoist Rob Christopher has begun posting reviews of films to be screened at the Chicago International Film Festival, running Thursday through October 29. Saturday, November 1, will see a special pre-election screening of Jesus Politics: The Bible and the Ballot at the Cantor Film Center in New York. The first Brazilian Film Festival of Vancouver runs October 22 through 26.
NYFF. Tulpan + Interview. Sergey Dvortsevoy."A folk tale disguised as a documentary, Sergei Dvortsevoy's Tulpan appears something like actual reality, half-planned and half-found," writes David Phelps in Slant. "Long handheld takes of dust storms and emerging tornados and lightning storms in the ostensibly uninhabitable Betpak Dala desert region of Kazakhstan find, somewhere in the foreground, a story of a few farmers walking among their sheep and huts, whose goal seems less to cultivate the land than protect themselves from it.... If Flaherty's films are about people who have ingeniously learned to adapt, Dvortsevoy's is about those who never will." David D'Arcy talks with the director of the winner of the Prize of Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year. "Though Tulpan deals with unfulfilled longing, family tension, and the yawning abyss between city lifestyles and the hardships of surviving the steppe, perhaps the film's true subject is the antithesis of man and nature, and its once-viable resolution in pre-agrarian society with the symbiosis between human and animal needs," writes Damon Smith for FilmCatcher. "When Asa assists a helplessly pregnant ewe at the emotional climax of the film, this on-camera live birth feels at once like an intoxicating revelation - and a paean to a vanished time we've lost all meaningful connection to, at least in the developed world, perhaps forever." "Mainly known for four short observational documentaries, the director captures the world of the Betpak-Dala in astonishing natural and ethnographic detail in his first fiction film, making what initially seems to be a place of unvaried flatness into a surprisingly dynamic setting, with camels, sheep, and brush dotting the landscape and dust clouds swelling in grey-yellow-lavender skies." Leo Goldsmith in Reverse Shot: "After 100 minutes with Dvortsevoy's film, one feels that one has lived with these characters for weeks, and that the demands and aspirations of their lives are not so very far from one's own." "Tulpan is a natural symphony disguised as a sweet-natured folktale," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "As the conductor, Dvortsevoy controls the most unruly elements of nature - weather, animals, and children - as if they're puppets on a string. Under his directorial wand, actual dust tornadoes spin, lightning strikes to perfection, a camel performs a choreographed chase, a goat comforts a man with a kiss on the lips, a baby chases after his uncle then stops to play with a turtle, and a sheep gives birth on cue. It's a daring feat, but Dvortsevoy pulls it off." "Dvortsevoy is as adept at grand scale filmmaking as silent intimacy; indeed, much of the power of the film comes from making the small as epic as the vast landscape that contains it," writes Timothy Sun at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Toward the end, when harsh reality has killed Asa's dream of marrying his tulip, he quietly draws a flower in the sand, a picture as ephemeral as the dream itself. Dvortsevoy shows us this image suddenly and nonchalantly, as if his roving camera had just happened upon it. Its beauty and simplicity is literally breathtaking - the gasps I heard in the audience made it seem like Peter O'Toole had just blown out the match and we cut to a 70mm shot of the desert." Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher interviews Dvortsevoy. Update, 10/15: "Tulpan may have plenty of spectacular shots of Mars-like countrysides, and others in which the chaos of children and puppies and camels wander into and out of a wide shot like the most miraculous choreography, but mostly it's a small story of family and of bending your dreams to fit with what you actually have," writes Alison Willmore at IFC. Updates, 10/20: "Dvortsevoy captures the human comedy intrinsic in the characters' defiance of their fates, finding quotidian grace in the simple act of survival and natural community," writes Acquarello. Online viewing tip. Kevin Lee has video of the Q&A with Dvortsevoy. Update, 10/25: Eric Hynes for Stop Smiling: "Broad-shouldered, big-hearted, covering endless earth under a giant sky - forget about slice of life, Tulpan is the whole pie."
DVDs, 10/14.Sam Green, co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Weather Underground, breaks his silence at All these wonderful things: "As depressing as this whole Bill Ayers thing has been, I am hopeful about one thing, and that is that I don't think that it will work. It was pathetic enough when Hillary trotted this shit out, but today, with the financial meltdown and all the other real issues that we're facing, I just can't see how this desperate, bankrupt ploy by McCain and his VP-pick will turn things around." "Was A Face in the Crowd another of those films they just couldn't handle on first-run (along with Ace in the Hole, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, and others) or are historians selling us a bill of goods that folks were too dumb then to get it the way we do now?" asks John McElwee. "Wishful modern thinkers say A Face in the Crowd touched a nerve in 1957. My indication is that it simply tanked, but not from lack of trying." "With its two-dimensional figures and flattened perspectives, the Walt Disney classic Sleeping Beauty imitates the look of an illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages, but its bright, buzzing colors - aquamarine, chartreuse, magenta, goldenrod - are unmistakably those of midcentury America." Dave Kehr in the New York Times: "It's as if a Book of Hours had been crossbred with an Amana appliance catalog. Those colors practically soar off the screen in the new Blu-ray version of Sleeping Beauty that Disney released last week, making it the first of this studio's perennials to appear in that new, high-definition format." Somewhat related: In the Guardian, artist Jake Chapman argues that "Bambi is the corrupter of innocence." "During an era in which class barriers were every bit as unbridgeable for most people as they are today, the notion of a magical form of class mobility in which music and love ultimately counted for more than money was irresistible to an audience that couldn't afford luxuries," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum. "Making fun of itself throughout, [Rouben Mamoulian's 1930 musical] Love Me Tonight revels in the sort of absurdities that such a fantasy entails." "It took the French to recognize noir for what it was, and, in the personage of pulp archangel Jean-Pierre Melville, to transform the noir paradigm into a full-on dark night of existentialist tribulation," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC. "The two Melvilles to get newly, ravishingly Criterionized, Le Doulos (1962) and Le Deuxième Souffle (1966), are studies in the famous genre's evolution from haphazard Zeitgeist to the expressionistic poetry of modern alienation." Also: The Last Laugh "plays like a parable on service industry exploitation, a downsizing nightmare, and thus it is not far from Kafka, or from modern American society." If you had to choose one single indispensable DVD, what would it be? PopMatters asks 30 people - and you. "Moontide (1942), one of three new releases in the ongoing Fox Noir series, and a major discovery for most of us, was a proto-noir especially informed by European tastes," writes Josef Braun. "Fritz Lang was its first director before the more utilitarian Archie Mayo took over, and Lang's moody aesthetics remain very much intact." "Giant steps are being taken in the English-speaking cinema world to help us poor audiences finally get to see the many, many masterpieces of human vivacity and emotion created by French director Maurice Pialat," writes Daniel Kasman. "That the work is currently being done over the pond by the Masters of Cinema DVD company in Region 2 and not here in the US in our neglected region is a blessing obviously mixed but optimistic: the films look great, and this is the only place we will get to see them subtitled in English." Also in the Auteurs' Notebook, Glenn Kenny on Police: "It's fascinating to watch as Pialat's film, which was conceived as a sort of star-studded comeback for the director (his prior picture, À nos amours, while acknowledged as a classic today, did poor business in France) evolves from a kind of procedural into a typically probing and painful study of loneliness and rage." "One of the net effects of sitting through [Ozploitation doc] Not Quite Hollywood is that it made me want to immediately see every single film they featured that I haven't seen already," writes Moriarty at AICN. "And while I was at the festival, I mentioned that to Don May, owner and poobah of Synapse Films, a great DVD label that I've written about at length here over the years. He smiled and said, 'I've got a ton of those films coming out.'" A DVD roundup. Robert Davis at Daily Plastic on Richard Attenborough's Chaplin: "[I]s [Robert] Downey Jr who makes the film more than a regrettable footnote; thanks to his out-of-band contribution, it's a regrettable footnote with an asterisk that reads 'outstanding performance.'" "Monty Python clearly owes a lot to this team." Susan Stewart on The Best of... What's Left of... Not Only... but Also..., a collection of the remaining eight episodes of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook's late-60s show for the BBC. Steve-O's double feature at Noir of the Week: The Bank Job (2008) and Armored Car Robbery (1950). Online viewing tip. Bryant Frazer takes a "look at a crucial 'dream sequence' from Ingmar Bergman's Persona, drawing on ideas in the book Mindscreen by Bruce Kawin and putting it in context with the rest of the film." Online contest. "The Unusual Times' 50 Favorite Films Featuring Freaks and Oddities DVD Giveaway." DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, Monika Bartyzel (Cinematical), Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk, Ambrose Heron and Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times). And of course, keep your eye on the Guru.
October 13, 2008
Shorts, fests, etc, 10/13.For the London Times, Nicola Graydon talks with Tony Curtis about American Prince, "a rollercoaster of a book in which he's brutally frank about his childhood, his affairs, stardom, drug addiction, depression, women and sex. Lots and lots of sex. It's a romp through Hollywood's golden age, when Curtis, with his thick, black hair and cerulean eyes, practically invented celebrity as we know it." "I need to find a way to wind them all up and set them going in the first episode - in Dickens's novel we don't even meet Little Dorrit until around page 70. In fact, Dickens spends his first chapter in a dungeon in Marseille, with Rigaud, a French wife-murderer, and Cavalletto, an Italian smuggler, who have nothing to do with anything yet. How perverse is that?" Andrew Davies on the adaptation to be broadcast on BBC1 at the end of the month. Also in the Observer, Christopher Goodwin previews a politically charged season at the movies (on a similar note, Guy Adams in the Independent) - and: "Ah, October," sighs Rachel Cooke. "A month for cranking up the central heating, pulling on your best knitwear and gazing... no, not at the burnished, falling leaves, but at the great piles of celebrity books that, seemingly overnight, have appeared in your local bookshop. I wandered into mine and it was like walking into the green room backstage at the Baftas, only with the obvious advantage that the famous names staring up at me could not actually speak." "If I took the many film books I have, from the general movie history books to biographies to those dealing with specific genres, and ranked them according to what I learned from them, The Haunted Screen, by Lotte Eisner, would easily be in the top three." Jonathan Lapper explains. "Call it 'There Will Be Hamburger Phones': More than 20 years after American independent cinema entered its latest Golden Age, what started as a fiercely autonomous cinematic response to Hollywood and its dominant genres has become a genre itself. And like all genres, the indie aesthetic is rife with its own versions of the hackneyed conventions, tired tropes and cliched themes that weigh down the most predictable action spectacle or by-the-numbers rom-com." Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post, via Sujewa Ekanayake. Gabriel Wardell has details on two books you might be interested in: Chris Holland's Film Festival Secrets: A Handbook for Independent Filmmakers and Heidi Van Lier's Indie Film Rule Book. The Return of the War Room airs tonight on the Sundance Channel. Brian Stelter, also in the New York Times: "Watching the [original War Room] 16 years later... a viewer can't help but wonder why the campaign allowed cameras at all. [DA] Pennebaker's theory: 'If you find somebody who's doing something really interesting, and he's good at it, and he knows he's good at it, they kind of want to have that memorialized.'"
Guillaume Depardieu, 1971 - 2008.Guillaume Depardieu, the son of Gérard Depardieu, died earlier today at the age of 37. The cause of death was named as pneumonia, which he'd contracted three days earlier in Paris' Raymond Poincare hospital. The Guardian. The star of Bertrand Bonello's De la guerre (Of War) and Versailles currently showing in cinemas was known for his rebellious streak.... Guillaume had starred alongside his father for the first time in director Alain Corneau's Tous les matins du monde (All the World's Mornings) in 1991. Father and son would later be seen together in two television movies, even though they were locked in a difficult relationship. The AFP. Updated through 10/17. Every gesture counts, every last glance has weight, the trembling of [Jeanne] Balibar's upper lip is an expression of inner turmoil and Depardieu's brooding heralds untold disasters. Ekkehard Knörer, reviewing Jacques Rivette's Ne touchez pas la hache in February 2007. The news breaks in French: Isabelle Regnier in Le Monde; a timeline in L'Express; and the AFP. Updates, 10/14: "Depardieu contributed an English-language commentary to the 1999 Fox-Lorber DVD of Pola X," writes Glenn Kenny. "If it was saddening to listen to when Depardieu lived, it's doubly so now. He is halting, shy, self-deprecating (always), full of nervous laughter, unfailingly honest, spectacularly intelligent. And, it is quite clear, deeply unhappy.... Rest in peace." "Sadly, his death came at a time when he had emerged from the shadow cast by his father as a compelling actor in his own right," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "'Thanks to Rivette,' he said, 'I have begun to believe in cinema again.' He also began to believe more in himself, working on several interesting films such as La France (2007) and De la Guerre (2008), and was shooting a film in Romania with the resonant title of L'Enfance d'Icare (The Childhood of Icarus), when he fell fatally ill. He is survived by his six-year-old daughter by his ex-wife and, of course, by his imposing father, with whom he was reconciled at last." Update, 10/15: " When you're the son of Gérard, it is certainly easier to get calls from producers, but you're forever compared to papa," writes Gwladys Fouché for the Guardian. "It's hard to overstate how huge Gérard Depardieu is in France.... [H]e's Brando, Pacino and De Niro rolled into one, the actor who has dominated French movies since the mid-70s. However bad the movie he is in - and by God he has been in numerous stinkers - French film fans still adore him. He is a national treasure, or as we say in French, un monstre sacré - a sacred monster. How do you compete with that? You don't." Update, 10/17: The BBC reports on the funeral.
Jamie Stuart's NYFF46, part 4."In Jamie Stuart's final episode from his New York Film Festival series, Mickey Rourke reflects on the bad time in his career while Jamie learns the present is the best place to be," notes Filmmaker's Jason Guerrasio. As noted earlier, Ann Hornaday's talked with Jamie for the Washington Post.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/13."Quarantine delivers the heebie-jeebies with solid acting and perfectly calibrated shocks," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Cleverly working his claustrophobic setting (and the adapted script from the Spanish movie [REC]), [John Erick] Dowdle keeps the action tight and the injuries nasty." More from John Rogers: "It's been a damn long time since I've been in a packed theater where people screamed their asses off and cheered/fist-pumped/went NUTS when the survivors fought back." Joe Leydon finds it "a modestly inventive and sporadically exciting horror flick predicated on the idea that whiplash pans, inconstant focusing and other faux cinéma vérité embellishments can refresh even the moldiest of zombie-movie tropes." "Dowdle manages a few nice shocks and some neat moments of pitch-black gallows humor, but Quarantine nevertheless feels awfully familiar, and it grows less convincing with each passing moment," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "At its worst, it abandons realism entirely and flirts with gory kitsch." "Neither [REC] nor Quarantine have any goal in mind beyond scaring the audience senseless," writes Paul Matwychuk. "[T]he monsters aren't metaphors for any unconscious terrors, there are no political points being made about governments depriving citizens of their civil rights. These two movies are scare machines, pure and simple. But there's a place at the multiplex for a well-constructed scare machine, and [REC] (and, to a lesser extent, Quarantine) got the audiences I was with worked up into a state of giddy, babbling excitement the likes of which I haven't seen in a long time." "There is an expression in French for anything that doesn't live up to it's hype," writes Simon Laperriere at Twitch. "We call it a pétard mouillé, which translates as a wet firework. This is exactly what Pascal Laugier's Martyrs is." Online viewing tip. Tim Lucas: "This link will take you to a YouTube audience video of Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni performing 'Suspiria' onstage in Toronto with ex-Goblin keyboardist Maurizio Guarini's band Orco Muto, in 2007." Online viewing tips. Matt Bradshaw rounds up lots of scary trailers at Cinematical.
October 12, 2008
Film Quarterly. Fall 08.Another one via Girish: "In the fall of 1958, fifty years ago, the inaugural issue of Film Quarterly was published," writes editor Rob White, "and it is fascinating to revisit those first years, when the European New Wave cinemas generated a scintillating critical energy in a pioneer magazine. Antonioni proved to be particularly galvanizing; almost the entire fall 1962 issue was given over to Ian Cameron's 58-page study of the filmmaker's work. 'Antonioni's role in the cinema seems to me a fundamental one,' wrote Ernest Callenbach, introducing the feature, though not a party line." And founding editor Ernest Callenbach looks back over half a century: "Please indulge me in a succinct summary of the situation in early 1958. In London, the august journal Sight and Sound, already decades old, seemed to have a monopoly on top-level English-language writing about film. In New York, Film Culture fiercely devoted itself to independent, avant-garde cinema. In Paris Cahiers du cinéma, inspired by André Bazin and a legion of ciné-club people, brought a unique kind of polemical intellectual energy to film, nagged on the left by the lively Positif. In the US, we had Films in Review, a tiny magazine featuring lengthy filmmaker career summaries and many brief reviews." And that, of course, is just the beginning. Take a look at those covers, too. "What was the state of film criticism in English-speaking countries in the 1950s?" Geoffrey Nowell-Smith: Basically, there wasn't any. There were writers (Manny Farber, Parker Tyler, for example) but there were few outlets for sustained critical writing in books, magazines, or newspapers. Instead there was reviewing - lots of it.... Then Breathless came out, and L'avventura. Reviewers struggled to cope." As for today, "there is once again little space for film criticism as I understand the term." "For twenty years, [Adam] Curtis has been crawling through the vast archive of the BBC, demystifying the follies of empire to humorous and often chilling effect," writes Mark Sinker. "For whatever reason, of all Curtis's series [The Living Dead: Three Films About the Power of the Past] is currently the hardest to find; it may also be the richest expression of how he views the world, and his own role." "Dexter's true theme is arguably what Freud called 'the psychopathology of everyday life,'" writes JM Tyree. "What happens when one fails to 'Enjoy!' life as much as television commands?"
¿Qué es el cine moderno?Adrian Martin has a new book out, notes Girish, and yes, it is in Spanish: ¿Qué es el cine moderno? (What is Modern Cinema?). "It was launched last week at the Valdivia film festival in Chile. At Quintin and Flavia's blog La lectora provisoria, here are two posts by Adrian: his book launch speech, and his talk on film criticism." Girish also reproduces the table of contents for the collection, pointing to English-language versions of a handful of pieces online. Gonzalo Maza has an anecdote about showing the book to Adrian Martin for the first time; non-Spanish-speakers'll want to run that last paragraph through Google's translator.
NYFF Podcast. Tony Manero.Tony Manero has turned out to be both Aaron Hillis's and Andrew Grant's favorite feature at this year's New York Film Festival. Wrapping their series of podcasts, Aaron and Andrew talk with another fan of the film, Time Out New York critic David Fear. To listen or download, click here. "A magnificently deranged study of overboard pop-culture fandom and authoritarian rule's destructive effect on its citizenry, Tony Manero vigorously rubs one's face in the horrors of life under Augusto Pinochet," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "The center of director Pablo Larraín's social-realist nightmare is Raúl (Alfredo Castro), a corpse-gaunt 52-year-old obsessed with Saturday Night Fever, a film he constantly attends and plans to stage..." Updated through 10/13. "The point of Tony Manero is a relatively facile one, even though it's the most subtle political indictment in years; it gradually becomes clear that, however sociopathic he may be, Raul's an angel compared to the random round-ups and executions of Pinochet's army." Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door: "But director Pablo Larraín sets this up so subtly that it's never troublesome; it's surely a legitimate point, just one well-worn by cliche. What's important is the texture, which could be straight 1978. Grain prevails; everything exists in the same fucked-up analog patina as Manero's well-worn tapes, the subtitled prints playing at the local theater, the dirt and brown of everything, the overall beigeness of the damn film. Overt jokes trade with nervous laughs and provocations so outrageous they stop being offensive and start being pure jaw-droppers." "For those not temperamentally inclined to celebrate uncompromising cine-machismo for its own sake, however, this is pretty thin gruel, deeply unpleasant without ever coming within spitting distance of enlightening," writes Mike D'Angelo at FilmCatcher. Michael Tully, writing at Hammer to Nail, is going to have to catch this one again: "The mere shock of the tone caught me off-guard, thrilling me viscerally but leaving me unable to dive into the film's many subtexts: political suffocation, cultural deformation, the murderous attraction of cinema." Online viewing tip #1. Filmcatcher interviews Larrain. Online viewing tip #2. Kevin Lee has video from the press conference. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Update, 10/13: "Larrain has created a totally unique film, a brutal black comedy that brings personal and political disgrace into homologous ignominy," writes Tom Hall. "I can't stop thinking about it."
NYFF. Views from the Avant-Garde."One of the highlights from the Views from the Avant-Garde program was veteran experimental filmmaker, Ernie Gehr's New York Lantern, a painterly, intuitive, and unexpectedly political three-part composition (as demarcated by three distinct musical scores) assembled from black and white and color tinted vintage photographs taken around New York City at the turn of the century," writes Acquarello. Also, a few words on Bruce Conner's America Is Waiting and more short notes on the series. Updated through 10/15. Ed Halter for Artforum: "'Avant-gardes have only one time; and the best thing that can happen to them is to have enlivened their time without outliving it.' Guy Debord throws down this critique near the end of his last film, In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (1978), a 100-minute Niagara of images stolen from cinema and magazines, détourned into illustrative counterpoint for an anti-masscult philippic interwoven with autobiographical self-reflection.... Encountering Debord's words today, as they further an elaborate military analogy spoken atop footage from a cinematic depiction of the Crimean War, it is impossible not to reinterpret his language now as an autodestructive maneuver, deftly undermining his own twenty-first-century legacy as academic commodity in the nostalgia trade of May '68 philosophical memorabilia. Yet this week's context also raises the question of what constitutes avant-garde film as it enters its second century." More on the Debord:
NYFF. Night and Day."Following his most even-handed exploration of male-female sexual conflict in Woman on the Beach, Hong Sang-soo hurtles full-bore into the subjectivity of the horny man with Night and Day," writes Kevin B Lee in Slant. "For what it's worth, few films more knowingly illustrate the lust and confusion of the male mind." "There's an eerie feeling in Night and Day similar to that of Agnès Varda's Le Bonheur - that human beings can be completely disposable and replaceable to some people, though this doesn't necessarily mean these people are unfeeling," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Reverse Shot. "Expanding and enriching his themes with layered motifs and images, filming in a straightforward style that makes the simplest pan or zoom an exclamation mark, Hong Sang-soo has never more disarmingly realized his bleak, sardonic view of male desire than in Night and Day." For Michael J Anderson, the film "furnishes incontrovertible evidence that rumors of Eric Rohmer's retirement have been greatly exaggerated. As the third film made by an Asian master in the past two years to engage directly with French film history - along with Hou's Flight of the Red Balloon and Johnnie To's Sparrow - Hong's latest dispenses with the Korean director's trademark two-part, 'twice-told' structures for Rohmer's diaristic narrative pattern, replete with dated intertitles that are graphically-identical to those utilized in the director's 1986 masterpiece, The Green Ray/Summer. Indeed, Rohmer's Marie Rivière starrer represents one of Night and Day's most conscious sources with its initial August in Paris locale, protagonist Seong-nam's (Kim Yeong-ho) propensity to sob, and most significantly, object of desire Yu-jeong's (Park Eun-hye) declaration - following a framing emphasizing the late-day sun - that she now knows her feelings. Of course, contrary to Rohmer's work, Hong fixates on a male lead." "In a way, Night and Day continues the narrative bifurcation of Hong San-soo's earlier work while converging towards Luis Buñuel's late period films in conflating reality with sublimated desire," writes Acquarello. "While evoking the perceptiveness of an Eric Rohmer comedy, Night and Day also suggests a loose kinship with Chantal Akerman's identically titled (and, not coincidentally, most Rohmerian) film, creating an interchangeable pattern of nights and days as a metaphor for dislocation, romantic uncertainty, and malleable identity: an ambiguity that is perhaps best reflected in Sun-nam's awkward encounters with a North Korean student, where the competition not only reflects a national consciousness over who is Korean, but is also a reminder of his glaring incongruity in a community of young people." Glenn Kenny, writing in the Auteurs' Notebook, is reminded of "Eustache's The Mother and the Whore. Only minus the lost idealism, and filtered through some vintage Woody Allen. For this is, in fact, one of Hong's most laugh-out-loud hilarious films, largely on account of the hapless Kim, who seems constitutionally incapable of doing or saying the right thing at any given time." "Even when his narrative introduces a bit of symbolism (a baby bird in an airport terminal, Sung-nam's arm-wrestling with a North Korean), the mood remains relaxed and artless," writes Nick Schager, "the film progressing with an engrossing spontaneity that's epitomized by magnificently understated direction which – employing natural lighting, and navigating literal and emotional space via attentive pans and zooms - makes it seem as if the camera's gaze is mirroring that of a human's eye." "Programmer loyalty seems the only explanation for the inclusion of Night and Day, a meandering, bloated bore from the South Korean director Hong Sang-soo," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Patience with Hong depends on patience with the following things: clumsy misogyny, drunkenness, misguided love, misguided obsession, bad-idea sex, repetition, sluggishness, melancholy, confusion, narcotized will and lots of sleeping." John Magary in the Reeler: "The days burble by on the shoulders of a passive brand of bad judgment. The films are a lot funnier than I'm making them sound." Update, 10/14: "Not sure the film needed to run well over two hours, given its fundamentally anecdotal nature, but so many of those anecdotes are priceless that I'm not much inclined to quibble," writes Mike D'Angelo at FilmCatcher. Updates, 10/15: "In this film and his previous one, Woman on the Beach (2006), Hong seems to be moving away from the audacious narrative trickery of his earlier work, with its doublings and repetitions and time-jumps," writes Nelson Kim at Hammer to Nail. "Here we get straightforward realism, but for a couple of brief dream scenes, one merely humorous, the other more serious in what it implies about Sung-nam's deepest desires. The film ends with a camera-tilt up into the clouds in one of Sung-nam's paintings, as Beethoven's Symphony No 7 soars on the soundtrack - a brief vision of tranquility and transcendence. But down here on the ground, things are still a sad, sorry mess." For Alison Willmore at IFC, this "feels a lot like spending two and a half hours in the company of someone unendingly unpleasant if amusingly pathetic." Update, 10/17: "I think that Night and Day is Hong's best film, and I'm worried that no one is going to notice," writes Dan Sallitt. "There's been a quiet style shift in Hong's recent career, and I think the new forms are coming together into something special." Update, 10/27: "The latest in a long line of emasculated protagonists, Sung-nam is certainly the most negative manifestation of masculinity yet in Hong's filmography," writes Cullen Gallagher at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Sung-nam is spared no embarrassment or pity as he fumbles his way into unwanted relationships with women: his forcefulness is repellent, not to mention his unwavering thickheadedness."
October 11, 2008
Frieze. 118.Duncan Campbell writes the "Life in Film" column for the new issue of frieze: "Firstly, I'd like to pay my dues to John T Davis. Davis was born in Belfast. His first experience of filmmaking came via a chance encounter in 1966 with DA Pennebaker, who was on a Belfast street, camera on shoulder, recording Bob Dylan for his film Don't Look Back. Having previously considered a career as an art teacher, Davis decided there and then that filmmaking was for him." Also in the October issue: Mary Ellen Bute "is today less well known than other early film animators such as [Len] Lye, Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling or Oskar Fischinger," notes Melissa Gronlund, "and this exhibition of her early 35mm films at Sketch, transferred onto DVD and shown on 12 simultaneous projections in the gallery space, was a rare event.... Rather than painting or scratching directly on film, Bute used cartoon animation as well as the filming of a variety of inventively used household items - combs, coffee, colanders - to create her visual abstractions. She was particularly interested in mathematics and science, expressing their formal propositions in filmic form, in addition to her renderings of music." "Even before you enter the Kunstverein Freiburg's large, darkened exhibition space housing the Bulgarian-born Turkish artist Ergin Çavusoglu's solo exhibition Place after Place, you are confronted by a the soundtrack of Midnight Express (2008), which sounds like it's from another era," writes Michael Hübl. "The show's central work, on the other hand, the video installation Point of Departure (2006), thrusts the exhibition into the modern age." Hannah Feldman notes that critics tend to "lump" Julia Meltzer and David Thorne "into the recently fashionable genre of art that obsessively dwells on confusing the line between fact and fiction. This is too bad, as the work and the issues it addresses exceed this limited and limiting duality." Lawrence Weschler's Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin "may be not just the best biography of an artist out there but also one of the best books on contemporary art-making, recording the transcendence and introspection of working in isolation and the foibles of collaboration," writes Eugenia Bell. Seth Price's "work turns on a narrative reflecting in on itself," writes Polly Staple. "For all its up-to-the-minuteness, it becomes suddenly old-fashioned because America is strangely old-fashioned and nostalgic, reflecting in on itself, at once repressed, neurotic and primitive.... It's a fairly voracious but straightforwardly aspirational tale of free-market capitalism and cannibalism." James Trainor talks with Barbara Bloom about her web-based project, Half Full - Half Empty and Dominic Eichler interviews Wolfgang Tillmans.
Shorts, 10/11."I come from Portugal, but I have not spoken Portuguese in years. I am proud of this, even though I have never learnt to speak another language properly. I suppose you could say that makes me feel twice as Portuguese." So begins Raúl Ruiz's just published In Pursuit of Treasure Island, described as "a prelude and a continuation to Raul Rúiz's film, Treasure Island," and a "follow up, or rather, a pursuit of Stevenson's novel." From the December 1951 issue of Films in Review: Herman G Weinberg on Hans Richter. The Parallax View runs Richard T Jameson's 1974 piece on Chinatown for Movietone News. Kimberly Lindbergs pages through the new issue of Cinema Retro. "[I]n a lot of movies the physicality, the action, the fighting, is the point of the film, not a useless garnish put in to appeal to the masses while the classes can ponder the subtext," argues Grady Hendrix. "For many Hong Kong movies, the actions are the emotions. The brutality of the action in Tsui Hark's The Blade, the physical bond between childhood friends Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao and Jackie Chan in Dragons Forever and even the fight choreography in Ashes of Time - these movies cannot exist without the action. It isn't a kitsch distraction... it's the point." Via Jason Morehead. "[M]any of those (especially males) who obsess on the 'meaning' of 'Orson' are actually looking for ways to negotiate their own narcissism and fantasies of omnipotence," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum. "It's part of the special insight of Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, which premiered last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, to perceive and run with this aspect of the Welles myth, which is already implied in its title.... There's general agreement that Welles was self-absorbed. But one way of distinguishing mythopoeia from biography is whether or not his other distinguishing traits - such as his compulsive self-criticism (which could sometimes be even more severe than the charges of his detractors) and his desire to compensate for his self-absorption with certain forms of charm and generosity - are factored into the portrayal. Me and Orson Welles (film and novel) is intermittently attentive to the latter but completely oblivious to the former." Also for Moving Image Source, Miguel Marias: "I see [Paul] Newman the filmmaker as a sort of unconscious missing link between the 'lost' (or 'injured') generation of Nicholas Ray, Elia Kazan, Richard Brooks, Joseph L Mankiewicz, Robert Aldrich, John Huston, Otto Preminger, Vincente Minnelli, Joseph Losey, Jules Dassin, Robert Rossen, Abraham Polonsky and Orson Welles, and a more 'modern,' less plot-driven American cinema whose few truly daring representatives, from John Cassavetes, Shirley Clarke or Kent Mackenzie to Michael Cimino, Abel Ferrara or Charles Burnett usually did not last in full or free activity very long." Joshua Land in Time Out New York: "The latest in a boomlet of explicitly antipatriarchal African art movies to reach American shores, Delwende bears a passing resemblance to the great Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene's 2004 swan song, Moolaadé, in its deliberate pacing, lightly stylized performances and strong feel for the rhythms of contemporary village life, where young men in baseball caps may be seen carrying out ancient customs. But later scenes, in which Pougbila searches the homeless encampments of Ouagadougou - filled with outcast older women - for her mother, seem to unfold in another Africa entirely, its residents caught between merciless tradition and noisy, congested modernity." "If it's true that a lot of people are getting their news from late-night comedy shows, they get a bracingly blasphemous brew from [Bill] Maher, who pulls no punches, and not just because HBO is where you get to say 'fuck' as much as you want." A profile from Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "By day, [John] Young builds Web sites in West Chester, but by night he organizes the much more old-school, slightly clandestine Guerilla Drive-In." A profile from Sean Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "Longer-running than the presidential campaign and more surreal than Sarah Palin's candidacy, The Reader saga added yet another bizarre chapter late Thursday," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik. "The Weinstein Company confirmed that Scott Rudin has severed ties with the pic - which means he won't be involved in the post session that Stephen Daldry and editor Claire Simpson are currently engaged in and likely won't be credited as a producer on the movie." What's more, "Rudin's departure hardly means an end to the drama." "Surely it's a twisted sign of further progress that Germany would help pay for a blood-spurting anti-Nazi revenge fantasy, but some party-poopers feel otherwise." Lawrence Levi comments on Assaf Uni's report for Haaretz on the debate in German papers on the German Film Fund's contributions to Quentin Tarantino's budget for Inglorious Bastards. A still from one film sparks an association with another, After Dark, My Sweet, conjuring a world of memory in Ray Young: "This sleepy adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel I've never read found no audience upon its release except for those miscreants hip to its boozy SoCal élan. Rachel [Ward] played Fay, and Jason Patric portrayed an ex-boxer/mental patient named Collie. The two of them, their manner, overall appearance, wardrobe, speech and lifestyle look as if it were all patterned after my interpretation of Janet and what passed for our 'relationship.'" "Wow. There are seven Christopher Walkens on stage." Lisa Marks tells the story behind All About Walken. Also in the Guardian:
NYFF 08, 10/11.How to spend the New York Film Festival's last weekend? John Magary has recommendations at the Reeler. The Nation's letting non-subscribers see only a bit of Stuart Klawans's NYFF dispatch, but even just that bit's very much worth noting: Updated through 10/17. When the full effect hit, about twelve hours after I had seen his 24 City at the New York Film Festival, it occurred to me that Jia Zhangke must now be the most important filmmaker in the world. Whether he's the most inventive, entertaining, moving, thoughtful or visually enthralling is another question. I think he might well be in the running in all those categories; but among other first-rate filmmakers, he clearly surpasses everyone in the scale of his subject matter, which is nothing less than the biggest economic, social and physical transformation taking place in the world today, in the most populous of all countries. When you see the earth from outer space, it's said, the only visible human artifact is the Great Wall of China. When the early twenty-first century is someday viewed from a comparable distance, the main artifacts to be seen may be the films of Jia Zhangke. More from Michael Joshua Rowin for Stop Smiling: "Jia Zhangke seems to be entering a new phase of his fascinating career with 24 City, a documentary/fiction hybrid that reworks the director's signature techniques and strategies to stunning and self-critical effect." And more entries on individual films are on the way. Earlier NYFF-in-general entries: 9/16 and 9/23 and 10/3. Update, 10/12: "Commissioned by Filmmaker magazine, and with a love for the quirky detail, [Jamie Stuart] has brought a poet's eye to festival junkets, news conferences and sundry rituals of ballyhoo, creating off-the-cuff observational essays that vividly capture the nexus between art, absurdity and celebrity." Ann Hornaday talks with Jamie about a shot in the third episode of NYFF46. Update, 10/13: The Playlist indexes its coverage. Updates, 10/14: Ben Walters looks back on the highlights for the Guardian. "In what's become an annual tradition, the Film Society's own Ron Savin pens a tribute to the many films that appeared on the festival roster. While there are about twenty years worth of 'Tales,' Ron reports, this is the first edition to appear on a blog." Updates, 10/15: "FilmCatcher's Damon Smith looks back at interviewing the directors of the NYFF." Nathaniel R posts his big wrap-up. Update, 10/17: FilmCatcher wraps its coverage.
Fests and events, 10/11."The only thing, perhaps, that has prevented [Andrzej] Wajda from becoming the sort of art-household name that Fellini and Bergman and Antonioni became is that his style, unlike those of his more famous contemporaries, is changeable, unsettled, hard to define. You never know quite what to expect from a Wajda picture." The occasion for Terrence Rafferty's career assessment in the New York Times is Truth or Dare: The Films of Andrzej Wajda, running at the Film Society of Lincoln Center from October 17 through November 13. "And a week later Anthology Film Archives chimes in with a five-day series of half a dozen films made by Mr Wajda for Polish Television Theater, none of which have been shown in the United States before." "Documentaries rarely get confused with horror films, but Andy Abrahams Wilson's Under Our Skin has the singular ability to inspire nightmares," writes Michael Fox, introducing his interview with Wilson for SF360. "This elegantly crafted film is a far-ranging portrait of the underreported epidemic of Lyme disease, and the health care community's underestimation of the disease's effects and treatments." He also talks with Marilyn Mulford about Archaeology of Memory; both docs are screening at the Mill Valley Film Festival. At the Evening Class, Michael Hawley previews San Francisco's Doc Fest, running October 17 through 30. The Documentary Doctor, Fernanda Rossi, author of Trailer Mechanics: A Guide to Making your Documentary Fundraising Trailer, will be conducting workshops in San Francisco this month. She takes a question at SF360. The cinetrix rounds up Boston area goings on. "[A]utumns in London offer a run of cinema-led Latin American events that are at once eye-opening, and transporting." An overview from Demetrios Matheou in the Guardian. Marilyn Ferdinand is previewing films that'll be screening at the Chicago International Film Festival, running October 16 through 29. Online listening tip. "Eliot Grove is the founder and director of the Raindance Film Festival, which is the UK's largest independent film festival." And Ambrose Heron interviews him. The festival runs through Sunday.
October 10, 2008
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) 08, 10/10.Twitch's Todd Brown is at Sitges, and he's been busy as hell. He talks with King of the Hill director Gonzalo Lopez, who's got "two productions gearing up in North America and a third in Spain"; notes that Let the Right One In has won a "Golden Melies Award as the Best European Genre Film of the year"; that IFC's picked up AJ Annila's horror film Sauna; and he reviews Monster X Strikes Back, Fumihiko Sori's Ichi, Agnes Merlet's "chilling new possession film" Dorothy, Ryu Seung-Wan's Dachimawa Lee, Albert Arizza's Ramirez, Nicolas Lopez's Santos and The Embodiment of Evil, "a shocking, potent reminder that the creative blood still runs strong in [Jose Mojica] Marins's veins." "Were my expectations lowered by decidedly mixed reviews for Dario Argento's 'return,' or were those who had seen Mother of Tears last year or in its theatrical release anticipating the equal to Suspiria, still Argento's best film?" wonders Peter Nellhaus. "Either way, Mother of Tears is for me a better film than I Can't Sleep or The Card Player, and Argento's best film visually since The Stendhal Syndrome." "Evilution is a fun, slickly-produced knock-off of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later," writes Mike Everleth. "In something like an annual tradition, the Two Boots Pioneer theater devotes the month of October to classic creep-out cheapies and more recent DIY gorefests," notes Mark Asch in the L Magazine. "Despite having previously established my feelings about this weekend's Quarantine," writes William Goss at Cinematical, "I must confess a new willingness to give it a fair shot later tonight. Regardless, this week's Cinematical Seven is all about first-person horror movies, with a couple of oh-so-subjective stipulations." Online viewing tip. Jonathan Lapper's Killing Me Wetly.
Nights and Weekends."What's bold one day becomes blasé the next, and the sub-subgenre known as mumblecore had no sooner been declared cinema's lo-fi savior than people started sharpening their knives," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "The result: We've seen a few emerging talents (viva Aaron Katz!) and suffered through a lot of twentysomething filmmakers who mistake solipsism for insight. The jury is still out regarding which category Joe Swanberg fits in, and his latest collaboration with the Julie Christie of no-budget indies - actor, cowriter and codirector Greta Gerwig - doesn't clear up the matter. There are elements of this relationship drama that reflect both what these homegrown, handmade miniatures have to offer and what makes them unbearably grating." Updated through 10/12. "[I]f Nights and Weekends distinguishes itself from other films of its kind (and of its admittedly white, urban, yipster demographic), it is because of its surprisingly structured depiction of this relationship and its many private rituals and performances, which the film's unforgiving style continually strips bare," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "The subject of the movie is the gulf between persona - how people project an idea of who they are to others - and true self," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "The problem with the movie is that James and Mattie exhibit little but shallow, infantile neurosis, with next to no hint of a complex - or even legible - inner life." "If Cassavetes's films inspired future filmmakers with their DIY aesthetic, then Swanberg and Gerwig's efforts seem calculated to discourage enthusiastic amateurs from getting anywhere near a camera," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "Everyone thinks their bull sessions with their friends are fascinating, but Nights and Weekends serves as ample proof that unless you can structure these conversations into coherent chunks of exposition, then these sessions are just bull, plain and simple." "Looking beyond the squirmy exhibitionism, let's allow that the filmmakers' project is basically a good one: trying to create situations that dial up elusive, little-seen emotional frequencies (a/k/a The Truth) and catch them on camera," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "But this packaging of facile recognition as The Truth can be awfully close to flattery, reinforcing a ghettoized and meager idea of reality." "It's a masterpiece of subtext and suggestion, abounding in subtle symbolism," argues Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "And though the romantic dissolution loses steam in the middle, it's only because the film's inexhaustible authenticity organically sinks into distressing melancholy. Soured relationships on film are rarely so painfully credible." Earlier: A podcast, Aaron Hillis's talk with Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig. Updates: "Mattie and James are more often emotionally naked than physically naked, though frequently these times overlap," writes Dave McDougall in the Auteurs' Notebook, "since sex and desire are so frequently moments of vulnerability (in Nights and Weekends, elsewhere). This exploration of the interpersonal elements of desire is one element of the 'anthropological' aspect of Nights and Weekends. One reason I admire the films lumped together as 'Mumblecore' is this anthropological aspect. For all of their aesthetic differences, they tend to share an interest in vernacular realisms that share the realistic mannerisms and cadences of life as its lived by my peers, the privileged solipsism of young optimistic city-dwelling liberal-arts grads, and uncertainties about the tiny worlds in which they live." Karina Longworth in the SpoutBlog on Greta Gerwig's big weekend: "Gerwig hasn't resisted the suggestion that the roles she plays grow out of who she is, but Nights and Yeast add two disparate but fully realized characters to her repertoire. Yeast is, for some, an endurance exercise; for me, it's a comedy, and on the contrary, it's the comparatively gentle but fundamentally flawed Nights and Weekends (on which Gerwig is billed as co-writer/director alongside Swanberg, and co-producer alongside Swanberg, Anish Savjani and Dia Sokol) which tries patience. If the latter shows Gerwig pushing a character way beyond adorable, it often feels like an exhausting exercise for all involved. It's her work as Yeast's only semi-relatable comic relief that throws up a middle finger at the ingenue concept, literally." Sara Carduce talks with Greta Gerwig for Vulture. Update, 10/11: "Nights and Weekends knocked me out when I saw it last March at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas; I wrote at the time that it offered exactly the “prickly, flawed, urgent SXSW experience I'd been waiting for." Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "[T]his is a movie that people will react to strongly, in both directions. Swanberg is a brave and ambitious young filmmaker who's been taking chances, and taking his lumps, in public. I think Nights and Weekends is the movie where his talent, and his earnest Cassavetes-meets-Spike Lee-on-IM searching, begin to find a mature expression." Update, 10/12: "How is this a film?" asks Michael Sicinski. "Why are people making it, apart from the narcissistic thrill of seeing oneself projected really big up at the IFC Center? Why are otherwise rational filmgoers playing ball with this art-annulling process? I just want to pound my head against a desk, and then weep as Cinema is slowly interred to an already-waterlogged grave."
Breakfast with Scot."Welcome to the gay family film," writes Rachel Abramowitz in the Los Angeles Times, "as mild and sweet as anything out of the Disney empire. [Breakfast with Scot] stars Ed's Tom Cavanagh and Angels in America's Ben Shenkman as the gay couple, who aren't technically married but might as well be, and Noah Bernett as their new child. The movie is certainly topical, given the newfound media prominence of hockey parenting and, of course, the recent legalization of gay marriage in California and the resulting battle with Proposition 8, this year's ballot proposal that would ban same-sex marriage in the state." "We've seen endless variations of this formula before, but Breakfast with Scot offers less insight into the strain a child's sexuality has on a parent than I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Eric and Sam are practically eunuchs, and a better story might have connected Eric's desire to butchify Scot with his own feelings about his sexual identity, but the film doesn't really go there, just settling on Eric's predictable rejection and ultimate acceptance of Scot's particular gayness." "The odd man out is Shenkman, whose character never gets a bonding scene of his own, and instead is made to stand dutifully by as his partner corners the kid's love, even during the big let's-be-a-family finalé," writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. "Ignoring one half of the parental unit is a disconcerting misstep in an otherwise sharp little movie." "For its courage to address a ticklish subject with warmhearted humor, Breakfast with Scot, adapted from a novel by Michael Downing, deserves a light round of applause," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. Still, it's "really an extended sitcom in the Will and Grace mode. Eric and Sam, a sports lawyer, might as well be straight roommates for all the affection they display, even when alone. The impulsive little peck that Eric dares to plant on Sam's lips at a party late in the movie comes across more as an expression of terror than as a sign of his imminent liberation from internalized homophobia." The film's "strangely affecting storyline is given added weight by casting the straight Cavanagh as Eric," argues Mark Peikert in the New York Press. "[W]hile the usual tale of love conquering prejudice unfolds, what separates Breakfast with Scot from the usual gay indie film pack is Eric's internalized homophobia."
City of Ember."The exasperated rumble of dying machinery - to our pampered ears, the sound of civilization ending - is the aural backdrop of City of Ember, a grim fantasy about a cloistered subterranean metropolis that wants to be both a kids' adventure and a dystopian finger-wag," writes Robert Abele in the Los Angeles Times. "That director Gil Kenan's second feature - following the snappy motion-capture animated film Monster House - never quite succeeds as either is a shame for all the dazzling craftsmanship brought forth from its production team." Updated through 10/11. "To watch the talents of Saoirse Ronan, the brilliant young actress from Atonement, being wasted in the science-fiction juvenilia of City of Ember is to be reminded that a powerful performance needs an equivalent screenplay," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "In City of Ember, she has nothing to work with." "Lit only by electric lamps and marked by crumbling brick, leaking pipes and all manner of ingeniously constructed devices (made up of cogs, pistons and wire), Ember is a superbly crafted environment, recalling not only the dreamlike nocturnal landscape of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's City of Lost Children but also the self-contained, sub-aquatic art-deco setting of last year's superlative videogame Bioshock," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Adapted from Jeanne Duprau's novel by Edward Scissorhands writer Caroline Thompson, this seriously entertaining film celebrates the idea that, despite their elders' complacency, the young will find the strength to imagine a better future for themselves," writes Nigel Floyd in Time Out. "[T]he film's unwillingness to sugarcoat the book's dark world or talk down to its juvenile audience is as admirable as it is rare," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Ember is seldom riveting, but it's consistently compelling, and its uncompromising literal and metaphorical darkness renders its climax enormously satisfying." The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "This is a by-the-numbers fantasy adventure for teens: five parts Terry Gilliam to one part Fritz Lang." "[T]o be fair, City of Ember would probably entertain younger viewers," writes Roger Ebert in the Sun-Times, "if they haven't already been hopelessly corrupted by high-powered sci-fi on TV and video. It's innocent and sometimes kind of charming. The sets are entertaining. There are parallels in appearance and theme to a low-rent Dark City." "Alas, for all the rich production values and well-known cast, City of Ember falters because of both a very ordinary screenplay and dramatic detail that turns around as if there was no tomorrow," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "You admire the way it looks but it is a penance to get through." Christopher Campbell lists "10 Underrated Bill Murray Roles" at the SpoutBlog. "I've been a fan of Jeanne DuPrau's Ember book series for several years now, having found them to be a great blend of post-apocalyptic dreariness and steampunk tomfoolery, and all in a young adult book," writes Kevin Kelly at the SpoutBlog, but the film is "sadly not the Ember adaptation I'd been hoping for." Updates, 10/11: Alonso Duralde at MSNBC: "[M]oviegoers are advised to read the novel and skip the flick." Jette Kernion talks with Kenan for Cinematical; Quint for AICN.
October 9, 2008
Fests and events, 10/9.'"There are currently two fantastic art exhibitions in Los Angeles that cinephiles won't want to miss, both offered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences," notes Doug Cummings. "I've already written about Frédéric Back: A Life's Drawings in Hollywood (through November 1st). The second is Akira Kurosawa: Film Artist in Beverly Hills (through December 14th)." Leslie Caron, "who was discovered at 19 by Gene Kelly to star opposite him in 1951's An American in Paris, will be discussing Gigi on Friday with critic Stephen Farber at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The evening culminates with a screening of a new digital restoration of Gigi. Susan King talks with her for the Los Angeles Times. Also: an overview of David Lean: Ten British Classics, at UCLA through October 26. Carole Lombard "was one of the great funny girls of the Depression era," writes Steve Vineberg in the Boston Phoenix, "as witness the five features in the Brattle's upcoming series Carole Lombard: No Dumb Blonde (October 18 - 23). Her compact but pointed face, the soft blond crown of hair, the sleek, elegant frame that satin and silk and lamé either clung to or dripped off, all made her a 30s icon - the billboard for her 1936 film Love Before Breakfast is at the center of one of Walker Evans's photographs." "Six in Paris (1965) is a collection of vignettes filmed by the era's leading French directors and produced by Barbet Schroeder, who, with Eric Rohmer, had formed the production company Les Films du Losange three years earlier," writes Artforum's Brian Sholis. "Tricks, cons, romantic vicissitudes, all set against the kinetic backdrop of the City of Light: The six shorts are certainly emblematic of New Wave style, but not of Schroeder's career as a whole." Tonight at BAM. "AFI FEST 2008 has announced its full lineup with honors going to actress Tilda Swinton and helmer Danny Boyle. Boyle will be feted after a screening of his latest film, Slumdog Millionaire while Swinton gets a career achievement honor." And Michael Jones has the full list. Doug Cummings posts a few thoughts.
Sight & Sound, Times. LFF 08.The full title of the event that'll be the talk of the town in London from October 15 through 30 is The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival. And now, both entities are presenting big editorial packages to whip up Vorfreude: the BFI's Sight & Sound and the London Times. Times editor James Harding: "We at the newspaper love film, in all its parts: the art of it, the glamour of it, the entertainment of it, the business of it, the science of it and the humanity of it. This year, the feeling is mutual. By some happy accident, this year's selection of the world's best films will also excite people with an interest in the news." The paper's also offering a free guide to the festival as a downloadable PDF, while critic James Christopher lists ten must-sees; S&S adds 20 more (in addition to the films covered in features we'll get to in a moment). Updated through 10/16. "This year's festival marks the 12th that I've been involved with, and my sixth as artistic director." Sandra Hebron writes up a list of "ten things I've learned since I started." And there's accompanying video. "What does it take to get your film ready for the festival?" Chris Pambrun asks "Britain's hottest movie-making talents." Ok, film by film, in alphabetical order:
NYFF Podcast. Scott Foundas.Aaron Hillis and Andrew Grant have all sorts of questions for Scott Foundas, film critic for the LA Weekly and Variety, and New York Film Festival selection committee member. First, of course, is the story of how he wound up on the committee. Next: What's the process? Are decisions unanimous? And which films would he most recommend catching, now or whenever possible? To listen or download, click here.
Austin Chronicle. AFF 08.Opening up the Austin Chronicle's Austin Film Festival preview package, Kimberly Jones finds lots to laugh about: "Hitting every shade of funny from sunshine-silly to black, blacker, blackest comedy, exhibits A through C: award recipients such as The Office's Greg Daniels and film director Danny Boyle (who found sick, hilarious stuff in a junkie's toilet bowl dip in Trainspotting), the festival's indie-oriented Comedy Vanguard sidebar, and sneak looks at Hollywood films such as possible sleeper hit Bart Got a Room and Oliver Stone's long-awaited biopic W., which by definition is surely as much a comedy as a tragedy." The film festival runs October 16 through 23; the conference runs through October 19 and will be focussing on screenwriting; hence Jones and fellow Chronicle critic Josh Rosenblatt's scheduled "Film Fight III: Writers in the Movies." Also in the Chronicle: Raoul Hernandez previews I Married a Witch: Fredric March's Comic Curse, the Austin Film Society series running October 21 through November 18.
Nobel. Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio.The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2008 has been awarded to the French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization." What a banner year for French culture. Laurent Cantet's The Class wins the Palme d'Or and opens a French-tinged New York Film Festival; the San Francisco Film Society launches its first annual French Cinema Now series; and New French Films will be screening next month at BAM. Meanwhile, Michel Houellebecq has debuted as a feature director (with The Possibility of an Island), Bernard-Henri Lévy carries on his campaign to become the contemporary Alexis de Tocqueville and President Nicolas Sarkozy stows away the bling and grabs the reins of the EU Presidency to actually get stuff done. Bravo. Updated through 10/10. Updates: "Though his name will elicit more than a few shrugs, he's fairly well-represented in English translation, and we'll try to help you sort through some of that later in the day." The Literary Saloon has already done some digging, too. Meantime, anyone following the feuilletons and other culture pages knows that a mild, some might say silly controversy has been brewing over the Prize in the last few days. Scott McLemee for Inside Higher Ed: Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, recently told the Associated Press that the literary culture of the United States is too mass-media oriented and cut off from the rest of the world. "The US is too isolated," he said, "too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining." The last Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to a US writer was given to Toni Morrison 15 years ago. An obvious implication of Engdahl's remarks is that things will remain that way for a while yet. How valid are Engdahl's criticisms? Are there tendencies in U.S. culture that negate his perspective, or particularly grievous ones that confirm it? What American author seems an obvious candidate for the Nobel? Those were the questions I posed by e-mail to a range of writers, critics, translators, and scholars. The Guardian has more in its special section on the Nobel Prize for Literature. Entries on past Prize-winners: Doris Lessing (2007), Orhan Pamuk (2006), Harold Pinter (2005; more) and Elfriede Jelinek (2004). TLS opens a special section on Le Clézio. "Among Mr Le Clézio's most recent works are Ballaciner, published in 2007 and described by the prize committee as 'a deeply personal essay about the history of the art of film and the importance of film in the author's life, from the hand-turned projectors of his childhood, the cult of cinéaste trends in his teens, to his adult forays into the art of film as developed in unfamiliar parts of the world.'" Alan Cowell opens a "Times Topic" for the New York Times. "The sound of America's literary journalists searching Wikipedia en masse is deafening," notes Lev Grossman in Time. But: "Le Clézio's literary output and his blend of fiction and ethics - he took up environmental causes long before they entered the collective consciousness - have made him one of the most popular writers in France. As far back as 1994, a poll by a French literary magazine found Le Clézio listed as the greatest writer in the French language." The Literary Saloon has "rounded up quotes from the (English) reviews of a few of his books. Far from comprehensive - he was widely reviewed in the 1960s and 70s - but it's worth noting that the recently translated texts have hardly gotten any review-coverage in US or UK newspapers and non-trade magazines." Updates, 10/10: Via Granta, a translated interview with Le Clézio conducted by Tirthankar Chanda for Label France. "[T]he fact that Le Clezio and Elfriede Jelinek of Austria have the prize is not entirely down to geopolitical score-settling," argues Mark Lawson in the Guardian. "The key lines in yesterday's citation were that reference to "departures" and "adventures" in the French writer's work. Winners have, especially in recent years, been those who represent some kind of formal innovation... In contrast, the greatest contemporary Americans operate, though at remarkable levels of poeticism and psychology, in traditional forms. By the definitions of the Nobel committee, which likes its novels to be really novel, the prize that Roth or Updike might win has already been claimed, in 1976, by Saul Bellow." signandsight translates a few reactions in the German-language press.
NYFF. The Windmill Movie.We begin with David D'Arcy's take (see also the entries on Waltz with Bashir and Gomorrah); others follow. The Windmill Movie is the film that Richard P "Dick" Rogers wanted to make, and tried to make, for much of his life. It's an autobiography, assembled from footage and papers that Rogers left behind, by Alexander Olch, a former Harvard student who financed his archaeology of his former teacher by designing neckties that are sold at the finest department stores in New York. Updated through 10/11. The recurring image in The Windmill Movie is a shot of Rogers, with a camera in his hand, looking and shooting himself in a mirror. A cliché, says Rogers, in typical Wasp self-disparagement, but like most annoying clichés it contains some truth. Rogers was short and balding, a prodigiously charming golden-tongued talker, which made him a popular teacher. He was a Wasp with mocking scorn for his tribe, whom he filmed and satirized relentlessly in the green and boozy Hamptons sanctum of Wainscott. He loved women, and talked about them constantly, if the film produced by his widow Susan Meiselas is an accurate reflection. He was also a merciless critic of himself, sometimes sounding like a goy version of Woody Allen. He reminds you that he didn't buy his own house in Wainscott - he inherited it. He also reminds you that he was not Steven Spielberg. It bothered him, but it won't bother you. Rogers died of cancer in 2001 - a melanoma on his foot that, left unattended, spread throughout his body and made the last years of his life a struggle. The Windmill Movie is the story of an unfinished film from an unfinished life. There wasn't much that was sentimental about Rogers. His humor seems to have been too uncontrollable for that. What he didn't film and dissect, he discussed and ridiculed. It all seemed good-natured, an achievement in itself when you saw where Rogers came from. Olch's documentary is a collage of footage from Rogers's black hole of a personal archive, with a narrative drawn from diaries that Rogers left behind. The third-person story is still deeply personal, once intended to become a dramatic film, with Cynthia Nixon playing Meiselas and Wally Shawn playing Rogers. Olch scuttled that approach in favor of putting Rogers's own voice at the center. It was the right decision, reached after years of trial and error. Rogers was quite a performer. And quite a filmmaker. At the New York Film Festival, Olch's documentary was preceded by Quarry, a 1970 film of 12 minutes by Rogers. In black and white, the film begins with tactile shots of rocks and water in a abandoned quarry outside Boston where teenagers came to swim, smoke and drink beer. Then the camera moves to the human landscape, with kids talking about all sorts of things, including wisps of conversation about Vietnam, where some had served. (There are even a few sailors in uniform, sitting on the rocks.) You feel the indolence of youth here, and the fleeting nature of it. The film ends with chalk writings on the rocks, some bold, others faded, a reminder that if any of these inscriptions can be read ten years from now, they will be faint and barely visible. It's a letting go that Olch echoes in his film about Rogers coming to terms with his own life ending early. We hear at the beginning, when Rogers talks about growing up in Wainscott, that he had "strong erotic memories of falling in love with people's mothers," who spent the summer at the beach while the men stayed in Manhattan and worked. Perhaps that erotic attraction to older women had something to do with his own mother, seated in a mink coat on a June day on a Wainscott lawn and attacking her son. She could have been a model for a character in some Americanized Monty Python sketch. Rogers had a thing for Jewish women; and he must have been a hell of a charmer, given his looks. You hear that from his friends, most of whom were interviewed and then kept out of the film by Olch, who wanted his own kind of narrative. The poignant, tender film lacks a section about Dick Rogers as a teacher - odd, given that the director was his student at Harvard, and given Rogers's long tenure there, beginning in the days when Sundance didn't exist, before there was a film school at every university. Nor do we see much footage from the many documentaries that Rogers shot for hire, which were commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other groups, which people drawn to Rogers will have to seek out in other places besides this film. No doubt they will now. Word is that The Windmill Movie could play in theaters in the spring. - David D'Arcy
"Imagine Doug Block's laceratingly personal 51 Birch St as compiled by his next-door neighbor and you'll have a sense of the overall experience of The Windmill Movie," writes Jeff Reichert in Reverse Shot. "Rogers may be our avatar, but Olch's never far from our consciousness, weighing in via voiceover on the process of culling through the mountains of raw footage, the problems of negotiating the material with the filmmaker's widow with her own agenda at his side, and his place in relation to this thorny new work, an amalgamation of approximating Rogers's intents and Olch's mediating influence. As such, we feel less like we're watching the older filmmaker's life story than sitting over Olch's shoulder as the zips through images on a monitor, trying to guess at some sense of order. It's sticky, and the problems with The Windmill Movie 0 and there are many - almost zero out what makes the film interesting in a landscape of American documentary that has grown unnecessary safe and formulaic." "It's a reconstructed depiction of a contradictory artist and man, an act of memory preservation and facilitation whose eloquence, largely free of pat analysis, captures the messy, paradoxical emotions that often remain irreconcilable to the grave," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Quarry says more in 14 minutes about the American climate in the late 60s then all the Summer of Love montages set to 'White Rabbit' combined," argues Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door. "Rogers begins with a black-and-white abstract formalism anticipating the work of Peter Hutton - or at least the dazzling silvery textures of last year's At Sea, of which I wrote that a 'desaturated shot of black-and-white waves forming patterns so dense and shimmery... seems like if you stared long enough, a secret 3D image might pop out.' Where Hutton holds the shots, Rogers gives you time to just start appreciating the ripples of slightly disturbed water before it's on to the next shot: sensory overload.... It's present-tense history, and it's gorgeous." Update, 10/11: For Stephen Snart, writing at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, "a central problem of the film [is] that Olch seems uncertain about what degree of involvement he wants to have in the text. As it is, he wavers somewhere between participant and ghostwriter. This criticism is not designed to charge Olch of failing to meet unachievable expectations, like making the material as emotional for the audience member as it is for those involved or recording narration as mellifluous as Werner Herzog's. Rather it is to attest to the power of the mode of the cinematic autobiography itself."
NYFF Podcast. Changeling.Rallying to the defense of Clint Eastwood's Changeling [site] are Mike D'Angelo and Glenn Kenny; arguing the case against it are Andrew Grant and Aaron Hillis. To listen or download click here. "Why this film was chosen as the Centerpiece for the 2008 New York Film Festival is beyond me," grumbles Marcy Dermansky. "Changeling opens - as did George Romero's Land of the Dead - with a semi-ironic use of an old-time Universal Studios logo, hearkening back to lionized days of old from a present-tense vantage point," writes Keith Uhlich for UnderGround Online. "The joke of it is that the sentiment, in both cases, is a pose. Like Romero with Land, Changeling director Clint Eastwood is as lost with where movies came from as with where they are - his film (based on the late-20s/early-30s era true story of Los Angeles-residing mother/martyr figure Christine Collins) is a rootless jumble of tones and plots, a desiccated nowhereland, like something waiting to be feasted on by Stephen King's ravenous Langoliers." "Before we get to Changeling, here's a quick recap of Clint Eastwood's 38 years as a director." And that's where Leo Goldsmith goes for two generous paragraphs at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Then: "I rehearse all this at length because it helps me in some way to account for the origins of Changeling, Eastwood's new film, and a work of cinema so poorly conceived and executed, so crudely constructed in nearly every way, so slick, false, and tasteless, that its provenance is otherwise difficult to comprehend." "Bad Clint Eastwood movies tend to play like parodies of good Clint Eastwood movies, and his latest, a loose dramatization of the Wineville Chicken Murders and the accompanying media blitz and police scandal that rocked Los Angeles in the late 1920s, is almost a bigger muddle than Flags of Our Fathers," finds Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "There are three or four movies competing for attention within Changeling, and unfortunately for Clint Eastwood, they're all equally dreadful melodramatic drivel," writes Nick Schager. "I'm frankly fascinated that this film wasn't made sooner; the inherent sensationalism of such a story (serial murders, police corruption, false imprisonment) seems like an elaborate ready-made thriller." Tom Treanor at the filmlinc blog: "Eastwood has a careful eye for the newly-burgeoning Los Angeles of the early 20th century (evidenced by an opening flyover shot of the tree-lined suburbs and contrasted by an analogous closing shot of the bustling city proper); the film is wonderfully consistent in its setting and demonstrates a dazzling command of 1920s/1930s period detail. Jolie's performance is admirable; her mega-stardom (thankfully) does not corrode her character, and she crafts Christine Collins without the abject ferocity one would typically expect of an 'Angelina Jolie' performance." "Changeling, embalmed by Ms Jolie's waxworks performance and a sepulchral production design, adds no luster to Mr Eastwood's reputation or the festival's," writes Manohla Dargis. "It will doubtless earn Ms Jolie another shot at an Oscar." Also in the New York Times, Stephen Holden: "Changeling often feels more like a Ron Howard movie (Mr Howard, one of its producers, was set to direct at one time) than like an Eastwood film, because it doesn't simply press your buttons, it hammers them," writes in the New York Times. "This is, after all, a Clint Eastwood movie," offers the L Magazine's Mark Asch: "it's going to uphold traditional storytelling values in a way that reminds us what's important (accessibility, mostly) about understated, stylistically conservative mainstream cinema." Nathaniel R "really wanted to love Changeling" but "I just couldn't find much to root for." Online viewing tip #1. The Guardian has video of Jolie and Eastwood. Online viewing tip #2. IFC has video of the press conference. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
Updates, 10/10: "After the (relative) moral relativism of Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Clint Eastwood's Changeling is the Star Wars of the woman's weepie," writes David Phelps in the Auteurs' Notebook: "stark sides of good and evil and a sweet, innocent piece of play-dough caught between them to be molded into a fighter to save the universe. This is movie-as-claptrap-contraption, in which a perfect mother's victimization by vainglorious bureaucrats and loony killers serves as audience victimization as well, 90 minutes of masochism to enable another hour of catharsis.""Trudging forth with an ominous gait, haunted from the outset by its own narrative and formal inevitability, Changeling is a musty lament for something long gone - a lost child perhaps, but more so this sepulchral cinema of quality." Eric Hynes in Reverse Shot: "Watching it, one can only try to locate whatever semblance of life remains, then tramp the dirt down." Brandon Harris finds Changeling "simultaneously calculated and engrossing.... Sure the entire thing stinks of Oscar bait, its too long, it artificially reassures us of the power of justice and it doesn't live up to the other masterful works of Eastwood's late period, but the 78-year-old filmmaker newest work contains some genuinely terrific minuate (Manny Farber would have called it Termite Art), notably John Malkovich's performance, Tom Stern's moody camera work and the entire sequence in which Collins, after claiming the found child is not hers, is harassed and ultimately detained by the LAPD, who forced her into an illegal internment in a brutal women's mental institution." Update, 10/17: Rachel Abramowitz has a longish backgrounder on the crime itself in the Los Angeles Times.