November 29, 2008

Shorts, fests, etc, 11/29.

Histoire(s) du cinéma "Whatever else it may be, Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma (now available on DVD from Artificial Eye) does not resemble the afternoon bill at the old Plaza or the new Cineplex," writes Michael Wood in the London Review of Books. "This is a man who is making a video work that is a sort of successor to the cinema as an art form, as well as an act of mourning for it. But he sees the art form itself only in its old purity, the New Wave that died without getting old. There is a reason, then, for trusting the images rather than the text, and Godard is right to speak as fondly as he does of montage."

William Friedkin: "Those of us who made films in the 70s were not following the zeitgeist: we shaped it."

Also in the Guardian:

  • Richard Price's introduction to the Everyman's Libary edition of collected works by Richard Yates, including, of course, Revolutionary Road: "His deft and miraculously weightless prose was Shaker-simple, a levitation act of declarative sentences, near-neutral observations and unremarkable utterances, as if the author were as powerless as the reader in controlling the destinies of his characters - the slow-motion train wreck of the lives to come, the soul-killing self-realisations that will invariably be their lot. In part, the beauty and the genius of his voice lies in how its gently inexorable tone so eerily mirrors the muffled helplessness of the characters."

Nervous Magic Lantern

Michael Tully announces the winners of the inaugural round of Hammer to Nail Awards: "In order to get the fairest and most comprehensive result possible, we asked H2N's current roster of expert contributors to submit their own top ten lists that fit within the following parameters: American narratives (shorts or features) made for under one million dollars that either premiered or received some form of a theatrical release in 2008."

Descrizioni di descrizioni For the TLS, Ian Thomson reviews John David Rhodes's Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini's Rome and Descrizioni di descrizioni, a collection of Pasolini's journalism from the 70s: "Pasolini's Rome was not an aesthete's fantasy, Rhodes argues convincingly, but a real place recorded on celluloid with a gritty 'news-reel' immediacy. Accattone, a work of astounding sensory realism, unfolds amid junkyards and rubbish tips near Pietralata borgata. It remains one of the great works of post-war Italian cinema, a film whose documentary verismo influenced Martin Scorsese as well as the young Bernardo Bertolucci, who was at that time Pasolini's assistant cameraman."

Did Franz Kafka ever see Nosferatu? Might he and FW Murnau have crossed paths in the Tatra Mountains? Peter-André Alt explores the possibilities in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (and in German).

"The CelebCult virus is eating our culture alive, and newspapers voluntarily expose themselves to it," writes Roger Ebert. "It teaches shabby values to young people, festers unwholesome curiosity, violates privacy, and is indifferent to meaningful achievement. One of the TV celeb shows has announced it will cover the Obama family as 'a Hollywood story.' I want to smash something against a wall."

"The fantastical demons that beset Benjamin Christensen's career-defining Häxan may have gone into hiding for the Danish director's second film made in Hollywood, Mockery, but they are not entirely absent," writes Cullen Gallagher at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "They've worked their way into every inch of Christensen's characters, corrupting their morals, perverting their intents, and plaguing their souls."

David Bordwell: "Before he became Fairbanks, he was Doug, the relentlessly cheerful American optimist. This star image was created very quickly, in films and in public events that made him seem the nicest guy in the country. His manic energy came to incarnate the new pace of American cinema, and his films helped shape the emerging precepts of Hollywood storytelling."

"An increasingly common strategy in what I'll call, as a convenient short-hand, the middle-brow art film, the delayed revelation of past event is a highly problematic approach," writes Andrew Schenker. "This structuring device saves for the film's conclusion the full disclosure - either through dialogue or through visual reenactment - of a formative event in the characters' lives about which the audience knows some, but not all, the details. There are two variations to the approach: in one, which generally relies on dialog, the chief function is the imparting of a key piece of information to the audience. In the other, of which Fearless' ending stands as an example, and which relies wholly on reenactment, the audience already knows most of the factual details about the event and the filmmaker's aim is to wring emotion from the viewer by forcing him to experience the moment of tragedy along with the character. Both approaches betray an unpleasant degree of arrogance on the filmmaker's part."

The Purple Rose of Cairo At the House Next Door, Dan Callahan selects five films starring Mia Farrow, who "may still look as frail and defenseless as Rosemary, but this is a woman who knows how to play hardball to get what she wants. Her queasy public life is always going to take precedence over her work in films, but let's not forget her achievements in that area, especially in the movies that Woody Allen built around her in the 80s."

"Salvatore Maira's amazing work Valzer (The Waltz) is such a quietly spectacular achievement that I am flummoxed as to why a film this smart and timely has not seen, at least briefly, a commercial run," writes James Van Maanen.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with The Secrets director Avi Nesher "about the quiet revolution depicted in The Secrets, his 'fluke' of a Hollywood career and the time he nearly gave up on the movies."

Kevin Lee on Luchino Visconti's Sandra of a Thousand Delights: "[A]t best this is a puzzling transitional work, with outstanding gothic atmospherics to recommend it."

In the Independent:

The Italian Job

  • "'Hang on a minute, lads. I've got a great idea,' is still one of the greatest pay-off lines in British cinema," writes Andy McSmith. "It was uttered by Michael Caine, playing the London villain Charlie Croker, immediately before the credits rolled on the 1969 heist classic, The Italian Job. But for 40 years, no one has known what that 'great idea' could possibly be, until yesterday, when Sir Michael revealed there was another ending."

  • Previewing the London African Film Festival (running through December 7) for the Independent, Keith Shiri contrasts Hollywood's depictions of Africa with the ways the continent comes off in its own films.

  • Gaynor Flynn talks with Sigourney Weaver.

Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook on The Collector's Choice: The Films of Budd Boetticher: "These are very much adult Westerns. Which concept, notionally, some Hardcore Western Fans would sneer at. But the maturity itself is... unobtrusive. Avoiding ostentation is key to winning any Hardcore Western Fan's approval."

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

Andy Klein previews the holiday season for LA CityBeat. Also: "Is Hollywood recession-proof?"

"The threat of an actors' strike in Hollywood takes on a somewhat surreal aspect when the global economy is collapsing around our ears." Michael Gubbins in Mediaville.

"[T]here is always a bull market in ego, and the movie business will be celebrating the 81st annual Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb 22, at the Kodak Theater with or without your consent." David Carr sets the stage as he prepares the return of the Carpetbagger.

Also in the New York Times:

Whatever Happened to Sex in Scandinavia?

"Bruce LaBruce's latest, most adventurous skin flick, Otto, or Up with Dead People (2008), which tracks a fetching young melancholic zombie (played with turgid aplomb by first-time actor Jey Crisfar) on his journey of self-discovery, is not quite a 'zombie porn,' as I'd previously heard it billed," writes David Velasco for Artforum, "though a more suitable appellation eludes me."

Rachel Abramowitz profiles Meryl Streep for the Los Angeles Times.

For FilmInFocus, Richard T Kelly lists the "Top Five So-Called 'Turkeys' That Are Actually Terrific."

"US playwright William Gibson, whose The Miracle Worker documented the story of deaf-blind student Helen Keller, has died in Massachusetts aged 94." The BBC reports.

Online gazing tip. John Coulthart has "Cocteau's sword."

Online browsing tip. Alan Woo's Pie "aims to create an incredibly simple and concise baseline of comparison of films trough one particular trait: colour." Via Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay.

Online listening tip. Via Thomas Groh, Mashed in Plastic, an album of David Lynch mash-ups.

The Nation: Sean Penn Online viewing tip #1. Sean Penn explains why he felt compelled to travel to Venezuela and Cuba to meet and interview Hugo Chávez and Fidel and Raúl Castro for the Nation.

Online viewing tip #2. Ekkehard Knörer has Chris Marker's Subway Jigsaw.

Online viewing tip #3. "It should come as no surprise, really, that Lukas Moodysson's Mammut - or Mammoth as it will be known in English - seems to have very little in common with the Swedish director’s previous films Container and A Hole In My Heart," writes Todd Brown, introducing the trailer at Twitch. "Really, that much was guaranteed the moment that Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams were cast in the leads."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:12 AM | Comments (1)

November 28, 2008

Fests and events, 11/28.

Berlinale "The 59th Berlin International Film Festival will open on February 5, 2009 with the world premiere of the British-German co-prodution The International. Directed by Tom Tykwer (Perfume, Run, Lola Run) and featuring a star-studded cast, the action thriller traces the criminal business transactions that finance war and terror."

Meantime, Berliners are invited to take a trip Around the World in 14 Films. Through December 6.

"Under the auspices of the Harvard Film Archive and the Goethe-Institute Boston, Stefan Drössler, director of the Munich Film Museum, is bringing Orson Welles the Unknown to the HFA," notes AS Hamrah. "The line-up includes three of Welles's least-available features and two evenings of fragments from unfinished works and rare programs he made for TV." Tomorrow through Monday.

Also in the Boston Phoenix, Michael Atkinson previews Dream Catcher: The Films of Karen Shakhnazarov, "whose career stretches back to the 70s but who only now, in the Putin years, is being recognized as one of Russia's signature voices." Wednesday through Saturday.

"Stan Brakhage's approximation of what it's like to see as a child, drawn from years of footage of his own children, is nothing as crude as a literal re-enactment of a child's point of view, but something much more vivid and disturbing," writes Kevin Lee. Scenes from Under Childhood screens tomorrow evening at Anthology Film Archives.

Dolly and the Inkspots "The London African Film Festival in December provides a rare opportunity to see a series of old pictures from South Africa," writes Gillian Slovo in the New Statesman. "The films offer a wild, occasionally hilarious, and often infuriating reminder of the myths and realities of the old South Africa. This is film noir territory, appropriately captured in black and white: double-breasted, broad-hatted gangsters and drunken intellectuals sit in illegal shebeens; Dolly and the Inkspots, that ubiquitous 1950s band, with their white canes and top hats, croon endlessly in low dives." Tomorrow through December 7.

"On Saturday, Dec. 6 at 8:00 p.m. in New York City, the Film-makers' Cooperative will be holding their annual end-of-year benefit screening of new work in their catalog," notes Mike Everleth. "Films, food and wine will be on hand. The event will take place at the Millennium Film Workshop."

In the Guardian, Nick Bradshaw looks back on the highlights of Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:03 PM | Comments (1)

"Terror masala."

Mumbai Meri Jaan Eerie timing. Seetha Narayan's piece "Terror masala" appeared in the Boston Phoenix on the very day that a militant group staged its deadly coordinated attacks in Mumbai: "Bollywood films' various depictions of terrorism are hardly naive, and their well-intentioned hyperbole is the very thing that makes them palatable. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and present a world of physical exuberance, family bonds, fights, love, anger, tears, and speechifying. The terrorist, emerging in a sea of such strong emotional currents, is not a particularly scary bogeyman. It's all very well to humanize the terrorist, but why does Bollywood do it, and is it a good idea?"

Posted by dwhudson at 1:31 PM

Lists, 11/28.

Rat-Trap "While polling our contributors for their choices of the best films of 2008, we also asked them to nominate their choice for the DVD of 2008," note the editors of Sight & Sound. "The reasons given varied: some contributors simply welcomed the chance to see a favourite film again, while others based their choice on how well thought out and realised the DVD package was. As our results show, DVD distributors like Masters of Cinema and the BFI in the UK, and Criterion in the US continue to lead by example in this regard; a special mention must also be given to the UK's Second Run label which, on a perilously limited budget, continues to rescue wonderful films like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Rat-Trap and Marketa Lazarova from obscurity."

"DVD sales might have slumped recently, but you'd never know it from the super-duper collectors' editions and cunningly packaged boxed sets coming out this season, each seemingly more lavish than the last." Dave Kehr presents a list of "some of the most notable film-on-DVD releases, ranging from seasonal favorites through discs for the most dedicated cinephile."

Also in the New York Times: the 100 Notable Books of 2008; Michiko Kakutani's and Janet Maslin's 10 favorite books of the year; the art and architecture critics' favorites; children's books; and the music critics pick the classical recordings of the year.

Philip Horne and Serena Davies pick the "best DVDs of 2008" for the Telegraph.

"The great advantage of shopping for DVD packages as gifts is that the range of titles and of price is so huge." A guide from Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat.

The Times Literary Supplement rounds up writers' picks for the best books of the year.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:04 AM | Comments (3)

November 26, 2008

Shorts, 11/26.

You, the Living "Writer-director Roy Andersson's You, the Living (Du levande, 2007), which as of the date of this writing remains unreleased in the US, represents the 65 year old Swedish filmmaker's second feature this decade, following his superlative 2000 release Songs from the Second Floor." Michael J Anderson: "For this author, the somewhat qualified, if not mixed response to the earlier film made for one of the new decade's biggest surprises, inasmuch as Songs... - a mixture of Luis Buñuel and Tativille namesake Jacques Tati resulted in one of the finest Swedish films since Ingmar Bergman's late masterworks (namely his 1982 Fanny and Alexander and 1984's After the Rehearsal). Whether or not You, the Living equals the earlier film's stature... it minimally qualifies as a major work of the European fin-de-siècle cinema."

In the New York Times:

"[F]or all its literary sacrilege, [Baz] Luhrmann's [Romeo + Juliet] still proves more valuable than Rome & Jewel, writer-director Charles T Kanganis's soapy, contemporary LA-set adaptation, which reworks the dialogue entirely into an interracial hip-hop musical," warns Aaron Hillis in the Voice.

Cookies & Cream "Cookies & Cream, directed by Princeton Holt, is one of the strongest - well made, generally effective - ultra low budget debut feature dramas I've seen in several years," writes Sujewa Ekanayake.

"Criterion's Blu-ray of Chungking Express is a revelation," writes Glenn Kenny. "It should thrill cinephiles and tech wonks in equal measure."

"It's difficult to oversell the delights of [Fanfan, la Tulipe]. particularly during the film' first hour or so," writes James Van Maanen.

Scott Green's got another big anime roundup at AICN.

Masters in Criminal Justice lists the "Top 100 Crime Movies of All Time."

Online listening tip. Aaron Aradillas talks with Leonard Matlin about Disney treasures.

Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher talks with Alan Rickman about Nobel Son.

Online viewing tips. Eliza rounds up "Great New Videos" for Creative Review.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:51 AM | Comments (5)

Fests and events, 11/26.

Il Posto Max Goldberg previews Moments of Truth: Italian Cinema Classics for the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Realism is often used as a cover to smuggle ideological biases into narrative, but a movie like Open City (1945) still draws a bracing connection between an economy of means and a strong moral imperative.... Among the PFA's selection, I dote most on Il Posto (1961), an ethnography of adolescence that summons vast stores of quotidian melancholy from a backdrop of workaday drudgery." Saturday through December 21.

Roman Polanski has made quite a splash at the Turin Film Festival, reports Neil Smith for the BBC.

"When Art, Sexuality and Religion Collide, What is the Role of a Film Festival?" AJ Schnack comments on the Prop 8 fallout.

Urgh! A Music War "BAMcinématek's Punk 'n' Pie series is more a study in late-20th-century Brit dandyism than rawk, but anyone interested in pop history will learn something from music-video director Derek Burbidge's Urgh! A Music War (screening on November 29)." Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. More from Steve Dollar.

"Cairo may well be a jumble of contrasts, as the old cliche has it, or it could be a comfortable sum of its many parts - I wouldn't know," concedes Paul MacInnes in the Guardian. "It's a conurbation of up to 20 million people and, as such, it might take more than a flying visit to the banks of the Nile to work it out. What I can say, though, is that the Cairo international film festival (CIFF) and the films it showcases seem to render uncannily the awkward gap between cinema and the real world it hopes to represent."

"This weekend, I attended two out of three Frisco programs put together by experimental film writer/teacher/interviewer/programmer extraordinaire Scott MacDonald, in town for the first time since the publication of his book Canyon Cinema: the Life and Times of an Independent Film Distributor." Brian Darr: "He proved to be, not unexpectedly, a very affable, approachable, and of course knowledgeable guest host at the 9th Street Independent Film Center where the legendary film distributor's Canyon Cinema's offices are currently located, and where the first two screenings were held."

Online listening tip. "The Wexner Center's Chris Stults and Dionne Custer discuss the upcoming Zoom: Family Film Festival."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:33 AM

November 25, 2008

Shorts, 11/25.

"George and Mike Kuchar have had productive, ongoing careers long after their initial burst of notoriety as forerunners of the New York underground film scene in the late 50s and 60s," writes Michael Fox at SF360.

George and Mike Kuchar

"If there is any justice in this world, next year's release of Jennifer Kroot's documentary It Came from Kuchar will launch the twin brothers on an equally improbable third act."

Andrew Grant has been devoting a lot of thought - and study - to Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York over the past few weeks and now follows a first entry with a second that explores the possibility of Carl Jung's influence on the writer-director.

"I'm guessing this parallel has been drawn by some sharp word-jockey already," Josh Modell, but forges on anyway at the AV Club: "SNY is a movie - a fantastic movie - about a guy who spends his whole life and inordinate amounts of money trying to create art that is 'true' and 'honest.' Chinese Democracy is an album made by a guy who didn't seem to blink at the idea of spending more than a third of his life (read that again - a third of his life!) and untold millions to make it exactly the way he wanted to."

The Reader "Stephen Daldry's The Reader is a stilted, distasteful, self-consciously literary and very depressing cross between The Door in the Floor and The Night Porter that hardly seems worth the agita that Harvey Weinstein created by forcing Daldry and co-producer Scott Rudin (who took his name off the flick) to complete the film in time for a Dec. 10 opening rather than waiting for next year," blogs the New York Post's Lou Lumenick. At any rate, Cinematical's Erik Davis has the new poster.

"Per tradition, the International Documentary Association has announced most of its winners for next Friday's gala awards ceremony (while saving the unveiling of the top prize for the big night)." AJ Schnack comments on one notable winner and one notable loser.

"Saying that he feels the US film market has become 'barren,' Paul Schrader, the writer of classics Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, is packing his bags for Mumbai, India, to write and direct the Bollywood action movie Extreme City." Steven Zeitchik for the Hollywood Reporter.

Trenton Truitt and Ben Child in the Guardian: "Despite being responsible for Japan's most successful film of all time, Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki is known as something of a recluse. But he has made a rare foray into the limelight to criticise the rise of nationalism in his home nation and to call for increased measures to improve the environment."

For the Los Angeles Times, Geoff Boucher lists "12 upcoming remakes of Hollywood sci-fi classics."

Drew Morton offers "Brief (P)reviews of Oscar Season Fodder" at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

Must Read After My Death

"When Morgan Dews's grandmother Allis died in 2001 at the age of 89, she left behind a vast family record: Fifty hours of audio recordings, 201 home movies, and more than 300 pages of personal documents, all related to her life as a wife and mother. Culled from that material, Must Read After My Death is a heartbreaking portrait of an outwardly unassuming American family." Adam Balz at Not Coming to a Theater Near You.

"David Pike's unsettling short flim, Red Door, has a modern, slick look, but with a completely charming anachronistic bent," writes Mike Everleth.

Kevin Lee on Jacques Feyder's 1935 film, La Kermesse héroïque (Carnival in Flanders): "This lavish farce about a 17th century Belgian town whose women openly welcome Spanish invaders when their cowardly male counterparts go into hiding is a classic model of the ebullient pacing and jaunty eroticism that's long been associated with French comedic cinema."

David Cairns: "Secrets of Sex may actually be the weirdest film I've reviewed here - the weirdest thing about it being that it's seemingly intended to fulfill some sort of commercial purpose. Antony Balch is hereby inducted posthumously into Shadowplay's LEGION OF UBER-HEROES."

Online listening tip #1. Ed Champion talks with Christoper Plummer.

Online listening tip #2. "DIY Filmmaking in an Indie Apocalypse," a panel moderated by Karina Longworth.

Online viewing tips:

Hausu

  • The trailer for Hausu (House), via Grady Hendrix, who notes that this 1977 curiosity is "just one of a number of Asian movies that ultra-Eurocentric Criterion has acquired over the years but never released."

  • Jennifer MacMillan's Pieridae.

  • "Filmmaker Ian Caney, co-producer of King Corn, and director of the forthcoming The City Dark, and Emily Bolevice, a teacher and freelance photographer, have created a lovely video op-ed for the New York Times," notes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay.

  • "Yeast, Mary Bronstein's award-winning debut feature, is now available via Amazon VOD," writes David Lowery. "A highly concentrated shot of misanthropic estrogen on the one hand, an unbelievably shrill exercise in cinematic effrontery on the other, the film exceeds its meager origins and production value through sheer abrasiveness - and, too, a very finely tuned wit. Indeed, I was prepared for the film's successive induction of cringes, but what surprised me was the almost cathartic delight that emerged from all that friction. This is a very, very funny movie."

And then, "20 Brilliant Kinetic Typography (Motion Typography) Videos" at Dzine, via Coudal Partners.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:06 PM

Fests and events, 11/25.

The Dust of Time "The big news at Thessaloniki was the world premiere of the 73-year-old [Theo] Angelopoulos's new film, The Dust of Time," writes Ronald Bergan for the Guardian. "The film, a Greek-German-Italian-Russian co-production, mainly in English, and featuring such stalwarts of European art cinema as Bruno Ganz, Michel Piccoli and Irene Jacob, with American Willem Dafoe in one of the main parts, seemed to have all the makings of a Europudding. At least a Europudding made by a master chef. Though not all these fears were allayed, it is difficult not to be impressed by Angelopoulos's complex work."

Acquarello has begun previewing films from this year's Spanish Cinema Now series, running December 5 through 24.

"Richard Raddon, the director of Film Independent's LA Film Festival, has ankled his post." Michael Jones has his statement. Tim LaTorre has background at indieWIRE; Karina Longworth comments at the SpoutBlog.

"Kill Your Timid Notion is a festival of experimental film and performances that takes place in Dundee, UK," notes Mike Everleth. "However, in November and December, the fest will be touring around to London, Bristol and Glasgow."

David Poland picks two IDFA favorites.

Ilya Tovbis has the Starz Denver Film Festival award-winners. Also at indieWIRE, Eric Kohn reports on last weekend's Futures of Entertainment conference at MIT.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:41 PM

DVDs, 11/25.

Bottle Rocket "The coincidental releases this week of a pair of cult staples - Freaks and Geeks (in a deluxe 'yearbook' set) and Bottle Rocket (in a Criterion edition) - make for an intriguing compare-and-contrast exercise," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "Since these early efforts, Judd Apatow and Wes Anderson have emerged as the twin kingpins of misfit man-child comedy." Related: "Owen and Luke Wilson's mom is apparently a pretty kick-ass black-and-white photographer and she documented tons of the Bottle Rocket boys adventures." The Playlist samples the work of Laura Wilson.

"Five years down the line, All the Real Girls retains its position as one of the most visually distinctive American independent films produced," writes Vadim Rizov at Screengrab. It may also be "one of the most influential films of the decade."

Jonathan Rosenbaum on Chris Marker: "[G]iven the vicissitudes of Marxist causes over most of the 20th century as well as the span of his travels, second and third thoughts are an essential part of the process of sorting things out. It's a private activity in some ways, yet one that he feels moved to share openly with an audience, at least within certain parameters. That's why it qualifies as a first-person cinema..., exemplified above all by Sans Soleil (1982), his testament and his masterpiece."

Langsamer Sommer & Schwitzkasten "One of the crucial figures of Austrian cinema was Canadian: John Cook (1935 - 2001), self-confessed 'Viennese by choice' made only four films in his adopted country, which have achieved nearly mythical status in Austrian film circles." Christoph Huber at Moving Image Source on the occasion of the release of Langsamer Sommer & Schwitzkasten, a two-disc collection of four films from Edition Filmmuseum.

Craig Keller on Cindy Sherman's Office Killer: "So what makes it something more than a 'sly satire'? - This film that subverts its own delivery, that satirizes the 'sly satire', is, after all, trafficking in arch-subtle distinctions." Related: Sherman has a show at Metro Pictures (through December 23), reviewed by Jerry Saltz for New York. Steven Kaplan comments.

Andrew O'Hehir introduces his interview with William Friedkin for Salon: "To claim that Friedkin must be a homophobe, or [Mart] Crowley a self-loathing gay, for creating such a bitter, strange and angry work is to misunderstand everything about The Boys in the Band - its context, its subject, its meaning. In fairness, I should add that contemporary gay audiences and artists seem to have embraced the film. In a mini-documentary on the DVD, playwright Tony Kushner describes The Boys in the Band as a profoundly influential masterpiece, and I think he's right. If it isn't quite the Invisible Man of gay culture, it might be the Native Son."

The Man with the Golden Arm Marilyn Ferdinand explains why she comes down so hard on The Man with the Golden Arm: "I'm not here to defend [Nelson] Algren and his place in literature - only the integrity of his vision and the respect that it ought to have received from [Otto] Preminger. Instead, the director chose to make a Hollywood picture with Hollywood stars and a Hollywood ending. He could have done that with hundreds of books. He chose The Man with the Golden Arm because he wanted to blow a raspberry at the Production Code - it's just that simple. He, like so very many other producers and directors, had no use for the lives Algren felt worthy of notice."

Speaking of Preminger: Fernando F Croce in the Auteurs' Notebook: "Preminger's 'big issue' works are often compared unfavorably with his earlier noir classics. Like Exodus and The Cardinal, Advise & Consent showcases a scope that may be too broad for genre fans who prefer the seductive ambiguities of Laura, but, also like the other late pictures, it remains scrupulously sensitive to the human frailties that made their subjects controversial to begin with. As the country begins a new political chapter, it should be valued as a reminder that, even in well-oiled machines, there are people caught between the gears."

Michael Atkinson at IFC on Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World: "The film won't turn casual filmgoers into die-hard Herzogians; what they will find is the most poetic and idiosyncratic of Discovery Channel documentaries."

Chungking Express "is among Wong [Kar-wai]'s most exciting films and is an early precursor to the expressive odes to romantic longing that have come to define his work." Matt Noller in Slant.

Damnation Spurious posts Karrer's monologue from Béla Tarr's Damnation. Via wood s lot.

Glenn Kenny: "This week's DVD report asks the burning question, 'Why do you have to go to Japan, figuratively speaking, to get a Blu-ray of Minnelli's great An American in Paris?" At the Auteurs'."

Via James Wolcott, Dennis Perrin offers a guide to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3, "840 minutes of great television, special features, interviews, and entire segments that the CBS censors clipped from the original programs.... Among the many things you notice while moving through the discs is just how tight the Smothers Brothers were and remain as a comedy team. Their timing is sharp, their chemistry undeniable."

"Originally a three part story aired in 1964 as part of Disney's Wonderful World of Color, and a bit later as a theatrical film elsewhere in the world, Dr Syn is very much in the Robin Hood and Zorro mode, with a wee bit of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde thrown in," writes DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "Part of Disney's commercial cunning is to reduce the need for a love interest, which is sloughed off onto secondary characters (Eric Flynn, Jill Curzon), leaving Dr Syn a dashing yet unencumbered heroe, sexy for boys without being sexual."

Ed Howard: "Bell, Book and Candle is a fanciful, charming, lightweight love story, a low-key comedy about magic and love, and whether there's really any difference at all between the two."

The Merchant of the Four Seasons "The Merchant of the Four Seasons reveals what Fassbinder called his preference for 'truth-telling over story-telling,'" writes Steve Garden in the Lumière Reader.

Thomas C Renzi, author of Cornell Woolrich from Pulp Noir to Film Noir, has the Noir of the Week: Fear in the Night. "As a faithful adaptation, [Maxwell] Shane's film works extremely well."

Online viewing tip. The NYT's AO Scott on Babette's Feast. Related: Kevin Kelly's list of "Five Food Movies" at the SpoutBlog and more Thanksgiving movies from suzidoll at Movie Morlocks.

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, DVD Talk, Jürgen Fauth & Marcy Dermansky, Flickhead, Ambrose Heron, Harry Knowles, Movie City News, Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and Slant.

And as always, the Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:31 PM

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold "By coincidence, two Martin Ritt films are being released on Tuesday by two different companies," notes Dave Kehr in the New York Times: "the 1965 anti-thriller The Spy Who Came In From the Cold arrives from the Criterion Collection in a typically well-appointed edition, and the 1972 family drama Sounder comes in a bare-bones version from Koch Vision.... Like so many filmmakers who racked up awards and earned sterling reviews during their careers, [Ritt] seems to have been forgotten by history, perhaps because his movies were so deeply embedded in the times in which they were made. They draw on or react against contemporary events to such a degree that, once their contexts have been taken away, they no longer mean what they once did." Spy "means less without its popular foil. Released the same year as Thunderball, the fourth of the phenomenally successful James Bond films starring Sean Connery, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold consistently positions itself as a rebuke to the glamorous, action movie ethos of the Bond films: no fancy gadgets or bikini-clad beauties here, only a pinched and dingy universe in which the moral compass spins without direction."

Updated through 11/29.

"Espionage was such a gift to cinema," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC: "once ordinary urban locations became electrified with international import, and the criminal schmucks of noir became romanticized existentialist figures, lost in the patterns of political force like mice in a maze. No movie better pegs this vibe than The Spy Who Came in from the Cold."

"I just saw it for the first time, and what can I say?" Josef Braun: "I'm startled. Ritt, who also made Hud (63), Hombre (67) and Norma Rae (79), may not have a reputation as a master stylist, or even a master of anything in particular, but here, in collaboration with cinematographer Oswald Morris, production designer Tambi Larsen and editor Anthony Harvey in particular, he produced something of marvelous texture and specificity. It's transfixing."

The question the film poses, argues Jamie S Rich at DVD Talk, is "does it mean anything at all to be out there fighting the Cold War, or do the wheels just continually grind on? Meaning vs meaninglessness is of the utmost importance. The lead cloak-and-dagger man of the film, British covert agent Alec Leamas (Richard Burton), is regularly asked to state his beliefs. He says he has none, be it in God or Karl Marx or Santa Claus, and the answer is always met with skepticism. One of his enemies, the Communist agent Fiedler (Jules and Jim's Oskar Werner), even goes so far as to ask how a man can sleep at night without some kind of philosophy to keep him warm."

"Burton's acting style has been attacked many times over the years, but in the right role, he can be tremendously effective," writes Clark Douglas at DVD Verdict. "I'm not sure that I have ever seen a better performance from Burton than the one he gives here."

"Another excellent Criterion release of a classic film - placed in their higher price tier... but worth every penny." Gary W Tooze at DVD Beaver.

Online viewing tip. "The sex, used and abused by nations." Criterion has the trailer.

Update, 11/26: "Ritt perhaps goes too far in capturing the somber, heady tone of [John] le Carré's novel, losing some suspense as a result," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "But he and Burton get the dry wit of le Carré's work just right; many of the film's best lines are pressed through Burton's perpetual fatigue, like 'If ever I have to break your neck, I promise to do it with a minimum of force,' or 'She offered me free love. At the time, that was all I could afford.' The Spy Who Came in from the Cold introduced a new spy archetype: the man (almost) without a country."

Update, 11/29: "Ultimately, the film collapses under its own unilluminating gravitas; its dreariness becomes not an antidote to Ian Fleming's flash, but its broken-mirror reflection." Still, Fernando F Croce, writing at Slant, finds this to be a "fabulous package for a frigid Cold War chestnut."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:43 PM

John Michael Hayes, 1919 - 2008.

John Michael Hayes
The screenwriter, who died on November 19 at age 89, had a remarkable career. The highlight was easily the four consecutive films he wrote for Alfred Hitchcock in the mid-1950s: Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, To Catch A Thief and the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. This remarkable run led to a falling out with Hitchcock; in Hayes's words, "we parted because I was being too identified with him." Hayes would make out just fine on his own, receiving an Academy Award nomination for his adaptation of Grace Metalious's Peyton Place and writing the script for Butterfield 8.

Vince Keenan.

It was Mr Hayes's idea to add sly romantic banter - even a love interest at all - to Rear Window (1954), which he helped transform from a slender Cornell Woolrich short story into what many critics regard as a masterpiece of suspense.

Adam Bernstein, Washington Post.

On later films, such as Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969), where the scripts had run into trouble, Hitchcock's personal assistant, Peggy Robertson, suggested calling in Hayes. Not one to swallow his pride, Hitchcock ignored her advice.

The London Times.

See also: The site, the Wikipedia entry, Chris Wehner's 2002 interview for Screenwriter's Monthly and Charles LP Silet's assessment for Film Reference.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:25 AM | Comments (2)

The New Criterion.

Criterion With what might be taken as a nod to Chris Marker (whose pseudonym is believed to have been nabbed from a Magic Marker), a nifty orientation video featuring Jason Polan is the best guide imaginable to the new Criterion Collection site, built with the help of their friends, the Auteurs. There isn't much to add to that video for now. Watch it (it only takes four minutes), then start exploring. You'll find much, much more to watch along the way, too.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:38 AM | Comments (8)

November 24, 2008

Shorts, 11/24.

Chronicle of a Summer "This week, immersed in the world's leading documentary film festival, I am reminded how important docs are to me and pondering how that passion emerged." Along with a big IDFA , Eugene Hernandez sends a list of "A Dozen Must See Docs" into indieWIRE.

"Auteurism had Andrew Sarris. Abstract expressionism had Clement Greenberg. Punk rock had Lester Bangs. Where is the equivalent voice for today's documentary scene?" Thom Powers has a few ideas as to where they might yet be found - and offers a "few words of advice" to those who might step into the void.

The Guardian's Danny Leigh has decided "that if a film has any aspiration at all to being 'punk' then it cannot be about a band - any more than surrealist cinema can be represented only by biopics of Dalí and Breton."

Frank DiGiacomo in Vanity Fair:

Deep Feeling

Written and directed by Darnell Martin (I Like It Like That, Their Eyes Were Watching God) and produced by the film division of record label Sony BMG, Cadillac Records is actually one of two movies filmed this year that depict the rise of the Chicago blues and its musical spawn—rock 'n' roll and soul—via the lives and loves of the black artists and white record men at one of the most innovative and influential independent labels in modern music history: Chicago-based Chess Records, home to not only [Chuck] Berry but also Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, Bo Diddley, Little Walter and dozens more. The second film, tentatively titled Chess, is directed by Jerry Zaks, best known for his Tony-winning work on Broadway (House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation), and though the films cover overlapping territory, Cadillac Records can claim bigger star power. In addition to Mos Def, the picture stars Beyoncé Knowles, Jeffrey Wright, Adrien Brody and Emmanuelle Chriqui. (The cast of Chess includes Alessandro Nivola and Robert Randolph.)

Related: Logan Hill profiles Jeffrey Wright for New York.

Tatiana Siegel reports that George Clooney and Vera Farmiga have signed on to Jason Reitman's next film, Up in the Air, based on Walter Kirn's novel

Je t'aime... moi non plus Also in Variety: "Universal is bringing one of France's most iconic singer-songwriters to the big screen with Serge Gainsbourg (vie heroique)," reports Ali Jaafar. "Project will be the debut feature for helmer Joann Sfar, a celebrated graphic novelist. Eric Elmosnino has been tapped to play the chanson, as famous for his distinctly European lifestyle and glamorous lovers, who included Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, as he was for penning such hits as 'Je t'aime... moi non plus.'"

Billy Elliot: The Musical opened a little over a week ago and director Stephen Daldry was readying tweaks for US audiences while completing work on The Reader. How did he do it? John Horn reports in the Los Angeles Times: "Daldry would cut the film from 7 am to 1 pm, rehearse the musical from 1 pm until 5 pm, grab a couple more editing hours before his 8 pm curtain, and then do the same thing all over again the next day."

"It's often tough to watch Wendy and Lucy without thinking about [Heath] Ledger, especially since the melancholy film is about losing your best friend," writes Ramin Setoodeh in Newsweek. "Celebrity has obviously colored an actor's art from the beginning of the Hollywood star system, but it's different now, too. For all we heard about, say, Elizabeth Taylor's love life, we never saw daily, even hourly, pictures of Liz and their child just after her husband, Mike Todd, died in a plane crash. 'It's such a funny line to walk as an actor,' [Michelle] Williams says. There's some great quote I think Dustin Hoffman gave when he was doing The Graduate: "The more you know about me, the harder my job is."'"

For Flavorwire, Ben Hart talks with Aasif Mandvi - yes, that guy from the Daily Show - who's co-written and stars in 7 to the Palace, and the film's director, David Kaplan.

Jürgen Fauth: "Awards screeners are starting to come in hard & fast now, so here's a hectic (and almost certainly incomplete) roundup of movies I've watched these last few weeks."

Mike Everleth, working on a series about the underground film scene in the 70s, puts together "a collection of rough data of films, filmmakers and significant events happening in 1972."

That same year, Henry Porter had a "brush with what was certainly part of the delinquent Baader Meinhof cousinhood," and it's kind of a fun story. As for The Baader Meinhof Complex, it "is said to be part of an attempt by Germans to demystify the trauma of their recent history, but in fact the film does almost nothing to show why they killed more than 30 people, nor does it help with any explanation of fanaticism in general."

Also in the Observer, Carole Cadwalladr has a long talk with Mickey Rourke about The Wrestler and his "bracing 15 years in the wilderness," while Vanessa Thorpe profiles Angelina Jolie.

Henry May Long "The Talented Mr Ripley by way of Somerset Maugham, Henry May Long is a drama about two men, Henry May and Henry Long, set in the upper crust and under belly of 1887 New York City.... Randall Sharp, the film's writer and director, had been directing theater for 26 years when she decided to make the film. She runs, along with the co-star and producer of the film Brian Barnhart, the Axis Company in New York's West Village." And Alicia Van Couvering talks with her for Filmmaker.

Josef Braun talks with Jirí Menzel about I Served the King of England.

The Boston Globe's Michael Paulson is "intrigued by [Danny] Boyle's dance with faith in film." So he calls up the director to talk about Slumdog Millionaire specifically. Related: Todd Martens talks with MIA for the Los Angeles Times.

Shawn Levy elucidates the difference between Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

"Will latter-day noiristas ever come to embrace [Ross] Hunter's signature Fashion Noir?" wonders John McElwee. "He had a determinedly superficial concept of what movies should be.... His was the sensibility of a movie fan turned loose to make the sort of movies other fans dreamed of seeing."

News From Home Dan North: "I wouldn't want to suggest that [Chantal Akerman's] News from Home 'simulates' alienation rather than formalises its effects... Alienation, in the form of a calm detachment, may be one of the affective states incited by the film, but it also builds up a critique of the very possibility of direct, autobiographical communication."

"The folks currently backing 3-D insist things will be different this time around, that improved digital technology on both the production and projection ends will make 3-D stick," writes Bruce Handy in the New York Times. "Nevertheless, there's a cautionary tale lying in the historical record, which shows just how meteoric, how stunningly Sarah Palin-like, was 3-D's original rise. And fall."

Quoting Olghina di Robilant, Peter Popham reports that many Romans didn't take kindly to La Dolce Vita when it premiered 50 years ago: "We were furious with him because it wasn't a decadent city. Fellini, who comes from Rimini, based the film on gossip. He wasn't yet part of the city's life - he was like a maid looking through the keyhole." Also in the Independent: James Mottram interviews Paul Bettany.

Call for submissions. "To coincide with recent remarks made by Béla Tarr, that his next film may be his last, Unspoken Cinema Journal is delighted to dedicate its inaugural issue to the uncompromising Hungarian master."

Online listening tip #1. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss "the things this year that have made us feel grateful, from the beleaguered but always passionate critical community to a fantastic DVD release and an actor whose recent work continues to surprise and impress us."

Online listening tip #2. Ed Champion interviews Alex Beckstead, who's produced and directed Paperback Dreams, "the story of two landmark independent bookstores and their struggle to survive."

Online viewing tip #1. At the DVblog, A Man & A Woman from "from the very funny, very talented Kelly Mark."

Online viewing tip #2. Julian Sancton's been enjoying the Monty Python channel at YouTube and writes it up for VF Daily.

Online viewing tips. From the filmlinc blog: "'I'm going to go baste the turkey and hide the knives' - 10 cinematic signs your family is not that dysfunctional."

Online listening and viewing tips. Another big roundup from Catherine Grant: "Online Film Audio-Commentaries and Video Essays of Note."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:59 PM

Fests and events, 11/24.

Robert De Niro / Tribeca Film Festival "Robert De Niro has launched a Middle East version of the New York Tribeca Film Festival, to be held in the oil-rich state of Qatar next year," reports the BBC. More from Al Jazeera.

"The Discovering Latin America Film Festival or DLAFF starts this Thursday in London, and there's a very particular reason for booking tickets," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "This festival is to showcase a remarkable film which when first shown at Cannes was variously jeered at for being a boring muddle, or hailed as compelling and inspired. Every time I think about it, I drift further into the latter category. Even if it isn't a work of genius, I'm inclined to say it's the work of a genius, or at the very least one of the most talented filmmakers in the world. The film is La Mujer Sin Cabeza, or The Headless Woman, by the 41-year-old Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel."

"Humor may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the citizens of North Korea, a country known mostly for militant anti-Western propaganda, chronic food shortages and an internationally isolated government pursuing nuclear weapons." Malte Herwig in the New York Times: "And yet audiences at the 11th Pyongyang International Film Festival here clearly enjoyed themselves this fall during screenings of Western dramas and comedies, occasionally even erupting into riotous laughter."

Rania Richardson wraps up the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, award-winners and all, for indieWORE.

Matt Dentler: "10 Things I Liked About the Denver Film Festival."

Ray Pride's report on Sheffield Doc/Fest has got lots of pix: parts 1 and 2.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:52 PM

Australia, round 2.

Australia "An unwieldy stab at an old-fashioned movie epic, Baz Luhrmann's Australia is corny, implausible, well intentioned and even somewhat enjoyable in its own way, at least for a while," writes Dan Callahan in Slant.

"Australia is a deliberate throwback to David Lean-esque historical romantic epics, replete with classic Hollywood's favorite bigoted trope: the mystical dark-skinned native," writes Nick Schager. Nullah [Brandon Walters] is an insufferable and offensively racist creation, and his presence - as well as repeated Wizard of Oz references employed because, well, Australia is known as Oz, and there's some underlying theme about home and, um, Oz ends in z just like Baz? - inevitably, irrevocably reduces Australia to grade-A old-tyme claptrap."

Updated through 12/1.

"To truly appreciate the disappointment of Baz Luhrmann's Australia is to also appreciate how terrific his previous three films are," argues Eugene Hernandez.

New York's David Edelstein: "It's several types of primitive melodrama - cattle-drive Western, war picture, anti- racist message movie—whirred together, burnished with state-of-the-art CGI, and blessed with dialogue that defies parody."

Earlier: Round 1.

Update, 11/25: The New Republic's Christopher Orr writes an open letter to Luhrmann: "You have a problem, and the first step toward solving it is recognizing it: Despite your manifest gifts as a filmmaker, you can't do tragedy. And you need to stop trying."

Dana Stevens in Slate:

It's a mystery to me how Baz Luhrmann continues to be regarded as a director worth following. A long time has passed since I've regarded his lush, loud, defiantly unsubtle output with anything but dread. In Australia, his new romantic-epic-Western-protest-war drama, Luhrmann's dedication to cliché has become so absolute, it starts to verge on a kind of genius. There's not a single music cue that isn't obvious (swelling strings to indicate heartbreak, wailing didgeridoo to signal aboriginal nobility). Nary a line of dialogue is spoken that hasn't been boiled down, like condensed milk, from a huge vat of earlier Hollywood films (Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Out of Africa, and various John Ford cattle-drive pictures being the most obvious referents). But to marvel at the purity of Australia's corniness isn't to imply that the movie functions as so-bad-it's-good camp, or guilty pleasure, or anything else involving aesthetic enjoyment. Audiences without a vast appetite for racial condescension, CGI cattle, and backlit smooches will sit through Australia with all the enthusiasm of the British convicts who were shipped to that continent against their will in the late 18th century.

"Moviegoers who respond well to oversized theatrics, visual style and breathless promises of great stories to come will already be in love with the movie, five minutes in," writes Nathaniel R. "I know because I do and I was."

Updates, 11/26: Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "A pastiche of genres and references wrapped up - though, more often than not, whipped up - into one demented and generally diverting horse-galloping, cattle-stampeding, camera-swooping, music-swelling, mood-altering widescreen package, this creation story about modern Australia is a testament to movie love at its most devout, cinematic spectacle at its most extreme, and kitsch as an act of aesthetic communion."

"Luhrmann's magpie hunting and pecking from the Hollywood spectaculars that fed his imagination through a childhood in rural Australia is invigorating and fun," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "But there are simply too many of them crammed into Australia, and the result is mostly a woodenly derivative melding of 40s maternal melodramas, oaters, and World War II actioners."

"Luhrmann - the good-crazy Luhrmann - has a taste for lavish spectacles, and he places an elaborate set piece smack in the middle of Australia that, as I watched it, made me believe the movie had completely recovered from its wobbly beginning and would only get better," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Boy, was I wrong: The second half of Australia, Luhrmann's attempt to pull off a wartime weeper, is so aggressively sentimental that it begins to feel more like punishment than pleasure. I left Australia feeling drained and weakened, as if I'd suffered a gradual poisoning at the hands of a mad scientist."

"[T]his is his Epic Movie," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine.

"Have you seen everything Australia has on offer a dozen times before?" asks Richard Schickel in Time. "Sure you have. It's a movie less created by director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann than assembled, Dr Frankenstein-style, from the leftover body parts of earlier movies. Which leaves us asking this question: How come it is so damnably entertaining?"

"Australia is clearly a labor of love, and a matter of national pride. It is also a bit of a mess," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "I must confess that I might have been harder on Mr Luhrmann's film if I had not remained entranced by Ms Kidman ever since I first saw her in Phillip Noyce's Dead Calm in 1989; in my opinion, she has lost none of her luster in the 20 years since."

"Many people have wondered why Luhrmann didn't just make another musical, given that Hugh Jackman has proven a fine stage performer and has yet to sing on film?" notes Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical. "The material is already heightened and artificial; it would have been a perfect match. My guess is that Luhrmann had his eyes on the prize, rather than on the film."

"Australia hurries to get nowhere, finding and losing momentum amidst the jutting cliffs and endless plains," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "Only one sequence, a long cattle drive through harsh terrain, works on its own terms. The rest alternates earnest grappling with Australia's troubled racial history, half-earned mysticism, and a surprisingly perfunctory romance between Jackman - charming as an Outback-sculpted man in his element - and Kidman, who never quite loses the cartoon Katharine Hepburn veneer of her character's first appearance."

"A wildly ambitious, luridly indulgent spectacle of romance, action, melodrama and revisionism, Australia is windy, overblown, utterly preposterous and insanely entertaining," finds the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday.

"Luhrmann is a certified magician - see Romeo + Juliet or Moulin Rouge," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "But here he seems stymied or cowed by the task of encapsulating his nation's character into a narrative, and his inventions are repeatedly subordinated to mechanical plotting. It feels like an old-fashioned movie epic, yes, but never a top-shelf one."

At SF360, Dennis Harvey presents a "tourist's guide to Australia on screen."

Updates, 11/28: "Luhrman's absurd, cliché-ridden filmmaking ought to be a jailable offense," argues Armond White in the New York Press.

"With one running thread recalling The Wizard of Oz, Luhrmann seems to suggest that the story's more outlandish elements - the cartoonish performances, simplistic good vs evil characterizations, wide-eyed mysticism - are interpreted through a child's eyes," writes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper. "But the director's ADHD-addled approach doesn't allow for one single perspective, fracturing the POV into a fly's-eye-view prism. The insect similarities are apt - the experience of watching the film is akin to staring at an ant farm, a maze of ceaseless, but ultimately fruitless, activity."

Updates, 12/1: "Australia is a valentine not only to the nation itself but to its cinema, with the presence of old hands like [Bryan] Brown, [David] Gulpilil and Jack Thompson and shout-outs to classics like My Brilliant Career and We of the Never Never," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "It's as big and bold and unabashedly old-fashioned as anything since Titanic, and as with that film, you'll forgive its excesses and revel in its sweep."

"I felt finally sickened by Australia, a film which tries far, far too hard, and proves that rather than having an ironic glint in its eye and a magician's touch to its spectacle, it's pure, unadorned, interminable, elephantine kitsch," writes Roderick Heath. "Good moments peer occasionally through a morass of the insensible."

"Silence and a steady camera, I think, could have produced in moviegoers an awe comparable to that which David Lean evoked with Lawrence of Arabia," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "But Luhrmann imposes his own restlessness on the unyielding terrain."

Australia "suffers, as Luhrmann's works do, from preconceived expectations and wild shifts in tone and mood," writes Gabriel Shanks. "But for any true fan of movies, Australia is a wildly enjoyable experience, reconstituting some of the great traditions of the art form in engaging, unexpected ways."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:35 PM

Amsterdam Dispatch. 1.

The International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) rolls on through Sunday. Here, David D'Arcy offers first impressions of three films.

IDFA 08 This year, IDFA looks like an alumni gathering, as it welcomes back an army of veterans, from Peter Wintonick (whose latest film is made with his daughter) to Anand Patwardhan (here with Father, Son and Holy War from 1994) to Henny Honigmann, with a look at her home town through the eyes of some of the less-powerful. In El Olvido (Oblivion), Honigmann asks a selection of people from her native Lima what it is that they remember, both fondly and bitterly. The key to any movie is casting, and if you can call Honigmann's choice of interviewees casting, then she has done it magnificently. These are people who tend to be called ordinary, and Honigmann shows that they are anything but that in their observations of their lives and, beyond that, of Peru. This series of meetings with Lima natives first shows you that being "from" this city of eight million, most of whom struggle to survive, is being from the countryside and coming to the city out of necessity. Fond memories almost always are of family. Bitter ones are of the sacrifices made when family is uprooted.

Part of surviving is pretending, acting as if serving the privileged is normal, as we see in a class of waiters in training, and we hear from the bartender Jorge Kanashiro. Politicians are friendly, we're told, but none of them merits much more respect than that from those who have served them drinks or food, or who have repaired their briefcases. Kanashiro, a warm and polite man, recalls one arrogant politician who returned from decades overseas to be the country's finance minister. He gives the bartender two soles and asks him to go out and buy every daily newspaper. Kanashiro points out that just one newspaper costs more than that, and notes that the request was an indication of how effective this official would be. Here is the finance minister, after all. Another man who speaks to Honigmann makes the presidential sashes that are worn when a new president of Peru swears to God and the "Holy Apostles" that he will uphold the constitution. He notes that in the country's colorful history, a bandit who would swoop down on the city in robbing sprees was actually president for one day. And today's politicians?, Honigman asks. "Bandit is too good a word," the man says.

El Olvido As in much of Latin America, children in Lima perform for tips at traffic lights. Two young sisters turn cartwheels and then walk between cars to collect coins which they bring back to their mother, who sits at the side of the road nearby. It looks effortless, but then we hear that the oldest of what were four daughters was doing just that when she was run down by a car that went through a red light. She died after ten days in a coma. We never see where the family lives. It may be right there on the side of the road.

Life for everyone in the city was regulated - if that word isn't to gentle - when the Shining Path in the 1970s began a campaign of violent intimidation of rural villages and bombings in the cities like Lima. Toward the end of that period, Peru suffered an economic collapse and its currency was deeply devalued. Mauro Gomez, who operates a "clinic for bags," tells Honigmann that the devaluation that cleaned out his savings hurt him far more than political terrorism. He still has not been able to buy inventory to put on his empty shelves.

As in all of Honigmann's films, there is a tenderness for the people who are taken for granted, and a sense of discovery when you hear them speak. Caution: she only shows people whom she likes here, which may make you wonder why Peru has been such a place of violence and inequality if everyone is so warm and caring, and perceptive. That said, she knows when to shoot a close-up (and she also knows how to negotiate the traffic in Peru to shoot her young gymnasts), and the camera reveals as much about her characters as their testimony. She visits their homes. Some live with dirt floors, others in austere cinder-block shells. And these are far from the poorest of the poor, but people who have held jobs all their lives, making the privileged comfortable.

In the Holy Fire of Revolution Much less cinematic than Honigman's tour of Lima was a documentary In the Holy Fire of Revolution by Masha Novikova, whose crew toured Russia in late 2007 and early 2008 as it accompanied the presidential campaign of Garry Kasparov. The former chess player has been a prominent voice in opposition to the consolidation of power by Vladimir Putin, as other voices have either dropped out or been eliminated - in the case of journalists like Anna Politkovskaya, murdered. (Kasparov and his wife and small child are shown with bodyguards, wherever they go.)

Kasparov's coalition with the volatile and undisciplined National Bolsheviks never came close in its bid to challenge Putin, a reminder of the pitfalls of alliance-building in the minefield of Russian politics, but it alerted anyone paying attention to the rollback of freedoms introduced after the fall of the Soviet Union. The two-hour film is filled with details on how a political campaign is conducted in Russia - or prevented from being conducted. Shot in the unspectacular close-to-the-ground style of television journalism - no surprise, since the filmmakers seem to have been either running to catch up with Kasparov, or running away from police who broke up his rallies - the film may have a chance to be seen on European television, if it isn't already viewed as having been overtaken by events. (The movie wrapped before Russian troops invaded Georgia in the summer.) Russian television is more of a challenge as the doc's examination of media bullying reflects.

In the Holy Fire of Revolution It wasn't enough that Kasparov and his alliance came nowhere near threatening the Kremlin electorally. (Putin, then and now, seems to have convinced a majority of voters that his crude authoritarianism and militarism, the very approaches that Kasparov opposed, are just the signs of leadership that the country needs.) The threat posed (or perceived) by the mere fact that the Kasparov campaign was raising questions about political corruption and strong-arming attacks on freedom of expression led Putin to retaliate. First came a cold shoulder from mainstream television, intimidated into following the Kremlin line. Then there were violent assaults on Kasparov supporters when they assembled publicly. Eventually, Kasparov and his inner circle were arrested and thrown in jail for organizing an illegal demonstration. Thanks to some press freedoms that have survived in Russia, the camera was in court to witness a charade that seemed right out of the Soviet era: the bureaucratic verdict from a judge who agreed with the government's charges that a presidential candidate had organized an illegal political assembly.

Watching Kasparov's brave campaign to remain in the public eye challenging Putin, "a brutal dictator," you think that the campaign against it by the police could have been worse. Remember the old line, in the gulag, about "Comrade Stalin, what a nice man, he could have had us shot?" Given the Kremlin's campaign against critics, the miracle here may be that Kasparov is still walking the streets.

Yodok Stories Putin may be taking Russia backward into what looks, for some, like the dark days of Soviet rule, but he's no Kim Il-Sung, leader of North Korea until his death in 1994, when he was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il - at least not yet. If what you've already heard about North Korea isn't troubling and unbelievable enough, Yodok Stories takes you into a domain of a particularly systematic sadism, even by the standards of the Kim Il-Sung clan. The subject here is the network of concentration camps in the North, which came to the attention of the director, Andrzej Fidyk, who, in an earlier film, Carnival, looked at a huge managed spectacle - a government rally in Pyongyang that had been rehearsed for a year. Fidyk's approach to this film is nothing if not novel. He tracked down some of the rare escapees from the network of camps, from which accused enemies of the state and their families almost never walk out alive.

One of those survivors is a theater director, Jung Sung San, whose parents were killed in Yodok, also known as Camp 15, the only prison in the system from which inmates are released. They put together a musical about the camps, based on testimony from Jung Sung San and from a wider circle of camp alumni, with a woman who escaped through China, and a former guard who also escaped. The conditions they describe make the places sound as if Hannibal Lector were in charge - public executions, starvation in solitary confinement, murder of parents on front of children, life terms to people heard making the most innocuous comments about the family of Kim Il-Sung (and there couldn't be an easier target for jokes). For those lucky enough to escape to China, conditions there were so difficult (amid fear of being reported and returned to certain death) that Korean women banned from working became prostitutes to survive. The documentary begins as the staging of a premise concocted by Fidyk (questionable, perhaps, for a documentary), and becomes much more in the hands of the stage director who is now part of a Christian sect that sends air balloons with leaflets across the border. The testimony of former prisoners describes conditions so extreme that you can't imagine them in a musical. Yet what could be turned into kitsch is haunting - the drama draws you closer to the unspeakable.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:51 AM

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, round 1.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button represents a richly satisfying serving of deep-dish Hollywood storytelling," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "This odd, epic tale of a man who ages backwards is presented in an impeccable classical manner, every detail tended to with fastidious devotion.... Due to its history-spanning structure, blank-page title character and technical sleight of hand, the film Benjamin Button most recalls is Forrest Gump, but in a good way; it is entirely possible to dislike the 1994 smash and embrace this one, which resists every opportunity for mawkish and sentimental displays. Still, it is no coincidence that Eric Roth wrote both of them, and Roth - who followed many other writers, including credited co-story author Robin Swicord, in trying to crack the long-gestating project - has veered far from the specifics of F Scott Fitzgerald's 1921 short story."

Updated through 11/26.

Button "ultimately fails to cohere as the epic tragedy it wants to be," finds Screen's Mike Goodridge. "[A]s you might expect from David Fincher, Button is far less accessible than the blockbusting syrup-fest that was Gump; its deadpan, surreal tone is more reminiscent of Big Fish, Amelie or the John Irving adaptations Hotel New Hampshire and Cider House Rules.

"If you turned Benjamin Button around and, following both the conceit of the movie and the trajectory of its main character, watched it from end to beginning, you'd wind up with the same assessment as if you watched it the normal way: really strong, a little saggy, really strong." Steven Zeitchik, blogging for the Hollywood Reporter.

Earlier: Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

Updates: "I will say right now, and it pains me to do so, this is not the film everyone wanted it to be," blogs Matt Dentler. "It might be the film some wanted it to be, but the film that it is, is a safe and shallow bet. Benjamin Button takes a potentially scarring and jarring subject - mortality - and makes it a pedestrian Hallmark card."

"It may pack a more powerful punch the older you are and the more people you have lost," suggests Anne Thompson. "In that case it will score with the Academy, who will also recognize the skillful filmmaking on display."

The Playlist rounds up more reviews.

Updates, 11/25: "It sure didn't get up my nose the way Gump did," writes Glenn Kenny, "partially because of its disinclination to social commentary, and partially because it's so damn cinematically attractive that it's kind of difficult to resist on that level - but make no mistake, it's just as much of a simpering crock."

"I highly recommend the film and assume Brad Pitt has an Oscar nomination ensured for his work here," writes Drew Morton at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

Update, 11/26: "I confess that I've grown less tolerable of Hollywood 'whimsy; in the last decade... a personal aversion that I first noticed, coincidentally, while watching Forrest Gump in the mid-90s," writes Gabriel Shanks. "But if I've got to suffer through movies awash in easy moralizing and pat answers to life's complexities, I'd much rather do so in the company of Fincher and Pitt, who seem to share my distaste enough to try to reconstitute and recontextualize it. Good or bad, that's an incredibly admirable achievement."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:50 AM

Milk, round 2.

Milk "While not up there in the annals of transformation with Robert De Niro's poundage or Daniel Day-Lewis's palsy, Sean Penn's smile lines in Milk are a wonder," writes David Edelstein in New York. "They're not crinkles, they're furrows; they seem to stretch all the way down to his soul. As the gay activist Harvey Milk, who was shot to death in 1978 along with the San Francisco mayor, George Moscone, the volatile Penn is unprecedentedly giddy. There's anger in his Milk, but it never festers - it's instantly channeled into political action."

Updated through 11/28.

"In making this movie, [Gus] Van Sant is forced to wrestle with the assorted pieties built into three high-minded genres," writes David Denby in the New Yorker: "not just the bio-pic but also the fallen-martyr saga and the social-protest statement.... Van Sant wants to tell the political story accurately and in detail, but Milk is anything but starchy.... Some sort of sexual mischief is almost always playing out around the edges of the action, and, at the center of the picture, Milk comes across as an idiosyncratic man, a rule-bound New York Jew who finds his calling in the beautiful and sensually relaxed Mediterranean-style city. The gay leader becomes a superb pol with a human-rights agenda, and the movie offers a mildly subversive suggestion: attracting the electorate is not all that different from picking up a young man in the subway. Charm, persistence, and articulate passion are required for both."

For the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Abramowitz talks with Van Sant.

Earlier: Round 1 and a special issue of the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Updates: "We can speculate all we want about the caginess of Milk's promotional campaign, whether the film's clear-headed sense of protest could have been used to fight Proposition 8 in California had Gus Van Sant's biopic about Harvey Milk been released, say, a month or two earlier, but Milk himself wouldn't have wanted us to dwell on what could have been." Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "Instead, he would have urged us to focus on what lies before us, and if Van Sant's film gets anything right, it's the manner in which it acknowledges and celebrates the slain activist's social, spiritual foresight, his fierce desire for change and refusal to be dogged by defeat, his understanding that his day in the sun would eventually come."

Nick Schager: "From its loving portrait of 1970s San Francisco (its outrageous fashions treated nonchalantly and its story free of the usual period-music montages) to its even-handed treatment of Milk's assassin, city government colleague Dan White (Josh Brolin), Milk engenders engagement through unfussy directness, a quality that also allows its piercing present-day parallels - Milk's repeated calls for 'hope,' and his fight against a California proposition aimed at criminalizing homosexuality - to resonate with the force of a ten-ton hammer."

"The movie revisits a pivotal and still-relevant era in Bay Area history and, more so than last year's Zodiac, deserves to be seen and discussed by local filmgoers," writes Michael Fox for SF360. "I interviewed Van Sant and the young screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who are collaborating next on an adaptation of Tom Wolfe's Haight-Ashbury-fueled The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the day after the film's star-studded premiere at the Castro Theatre."

For the Oregonian, Kristi Turnquist talks with James Franco and Gus Van Sant.

IFC's Alison Willmore talks with Rob Epstein about The Times of Harvey Milk.

Update, 11/25: "Some are likely to view Van Sant's movie as a crushing rejoinder to Prop 8, others as an Obama allegory, and then there will be those who see it simply as a flawed but expertly assembled biopic," writes Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE. "Each viewer's reaction to Milk will likely depend on his or her political orientation and investment in its subject; when a film speaks so directly to its culture and its moment - even if its timeliness is coincidental - how could it be otherwise?"

"Penn manages to get some energy going in his public speeches, especially when he's riling up a crowd in the Castro, the gay area of San Francisco where Milk served as unofficial Mayor and then elected official, and he has nice moments of physical schtick that involve subtle, queeny eye flares and dainty hand gestures," writes Dan Callahan. "Penn even reaches for Brando-esque tragedy in the last scenes, but the straightforward corniness of the script foils all his actorly nuances."

Also at the House Next Door, Lauren Wissot: Milk "is mainstream filmmaking at its finest and a perfect wedding of subject matter to director. For Milk, like Van Sant, was a former 'radical' who learned to work within - even to embrace - the system, stealthily turning it to his advantage. What Milk is to extremist activists like Larry Kramer, Van Sant is to fellow filmmaker Todd Haynes - no longer a director of experimental art in the moving picture medium, but a maverick of the mini majors."

And via the House, Marshall Fine looks back: "Watching Gus Van Sant's moving new film, Milk, I was shocked to see a tiny piece of my own personal history - the face of a person whose very name had embedded itself in my life more than 30 years ago - appear on the screen, along with Sean Penn and the rest of the terrific cast. There she was: Anita Bryant, speaking out about 'the homosexual agenda.'" Parts 1 and 2.

For IFC, Aaron Hillis talks with Van Sant "about Harvey Milk's philosophy, Proposition 8's bittersweet effect on Milk, and how his film resembles The Godfather."

The Oregonian's Shawn Levy finds "Van Sant's personal stamp all over it. There's Harris Savides's cinematography, which imposes grit and realism on the picture and keeps it from slipping into fantasy or reverie. There's the spectacle of a makeshift community of outsiders banding together as a family (in this case, the friends and activists who bolster Milk's career). And there is extraordinary acting all around, from veterans of proven caliber (Sean Penn, Josh Brolin), to younger players who haven't fully realized their potential (Emile Hirsch, James Franco), to famous amateurs cast with eerie aptness (producer Howard Rosenman, artist Jeff Koons). For a big movie, it's homey: an unmistakable quality of every film Van Sant has ever made."

"I hate, hate, hate bio-pics," begins Drew Morton at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope, but "I found Milk, like Che, to provide a refreshing take on the genre."

Updates, 11/26: Milk "is the best live-action mainstream American movie that I have seen this year," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "This is not faint praise, by the way, even though 2008 has been a middling year for Hollywood. Milk is accessible and instructive, an astute chronicle of big-city politics and the portrait of a warrior whose passion was equaled by his generosity and good humor. Mr Penn, an actor of unmatched emotional intensity and physical discipline, outdoes himself here, playing a character different from any he has portrayed before."

"Gus Van Sant has never been a risk-averse filmmaker, but he directs his Harvey Milk biopic so carefully, there might be a Ming vase balanced on his head," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The quintessential 21st-century Gus Van Sant movie has been a boldly experimental death-trip. Elephant and Paranoid Park both fractured chronology, Gerry and Last Days distended duration, but all revolved around young protagonists whose mortality was never less than self-evident. Milk, too, has a doomed protagonist, but what's experimental here is Van Sant's faith in the old-fashioned vérités: Content trumps form as communal solidarity redeems individual sacrifice."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir remembers the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, coming just nine days after the mass murder-suicide in Jonestown "as the second half of a traumatic double whammy - a regionally and culturally specific version of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor":

There are an awful lot of things to say about Milk, and it's a film that, for anyone who knows the history of these events, will bump into a bunch of questions it isn't remotely equipped to answer.

Milk was never going to be just another movie, and in a season marked by the simultaneous election of our first black president and the enactment of a gay-marriage ban in California, it's in danger of becoming primarily a symbol or a statement, and not a movie at all. (For instance, there is an announced boycott of Cinemark theaters showing the film, because of the chain owner's purported anti-gay politics.) But let's say the simplest things first: This is an affectionately crafted, celebratory biopic about a sweet, shrewd, hard-assed, one-of-a-kind historical figure. And they can just FedEx the Oscar to Sean Penn's house right now, so that we don't have to listen to his acceptance speech.

Milk "is an elegantly constructed, emotionally volatile piece of storytelling, which combines agitprop how-to with classic tragedy," writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. "It begins with the death of the hero foretold and ends with a proper mix of pity, terror, and catharsis - the whole schmear, as Harvey might have said. At its center is the most life-embracing performance Sean Penn has given since his irresistible, star-making turn as Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).... I can understand how one might see Van Sant's barely carnal representation as a cop-out, but since I'm not keen on seeing people fucking their brains out on screen, I really didn't mind. Rather, I chalked it up both to sensibility (Van Sant's movies are modest even when they're most desirous) and to a political strategy akin to Harvey's, when he cut his hair and donned a suit before beginning his campaign for public office."

"The real Harvey Milk's lanky stance, queeny mannerisms and honking Noo Yawk accent aren't just fodder for a typical Oscar-friendly dead celebrity impression - they're pushing this actor out of his gloomy old comfort zones," writes Sean Burns. "There's such a feeling of playfulness and joy in this performance, I dare say Sean Penn hasn't been this much fun to watch since Fast Times at Ridgemont High or at the very least Carlito's Way.... Milk is nothing if not an impassioned plea for tolerance and acceptance, and as such, logic dictates that the film should play as a conventional crowd-pleaser." Also in the Philadelphia Weekly: Matt Prigge's list of six "mainstream American films with an openly gay lead character."

"[T]he cast of reenactors often look like they've been edited into the liberally used stock footage through the miracle of reverse shots and close-up inserts, like Raymond Burr in Godzilla, King of the Monsters! or something," grumbles Mark Asch in the L Magazine. "This was shot on location?"

"There's nothing terribly wrong with Milk, it's just that its celebration of a culture and a neighborhood, its valentine to the early days of gay rights activism, is mostly more conventional than compelling," finds Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"Look for Penn to scoop up mad awards-season praise, all the more deserved if his inspiring turn fires up a new generation to follow in Milk's footsteps," writes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

"FilmInFocus looks at the people who dedicated themselves to Milk's cause and find out what happened to them following Milk's tragic death in 1978."

"[I]f in the end the film's accidental timing helps to speed along the current fight for equal rights, that's a good thing," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "But if such real-world issues weren't on the table - if the film wasn't being asked to do triple-duty as biopic, Oscar contender and teaching tool - I wonder if the life and death of Harvey Milk is something that should have been tailored for mass consumption if it means tailoring the story to fit the pre-existing biopic mold?"

"[W]hy did the movie leave me so cold?" Christopher Orr asks out loud in the New Republic. "Largely, I suppose, it is a question of belatedness. Milk was murdered 30 years ago. The exceptional The Times of Harvey Milk won the Oscar for Best Documentary 24 years ago. The Dead Kennedys recorded their Dan White-themed 'I Fought the Law (and I Won)' 21 years ago. Yet, all this time later, after the world has shifted under our feet, Hollywood wants us to applaud its courage for finally - finally - telling this story? Really?"

Online viewing tip. At FilmInFocus, Jenni Olsen introduces her new short: "The visuals of 575 Castro St. (the play of light and shadow upon the walls of the Castro Camera set for Gus Van Sant's Milk) hearken back to those gay short films of the 70s: The films that passed through Harvey Milk's hands to be processed and developed."

"Milk, for all its admirable qualities, doesn't transcend the problems inherent to biopics; it loses some of its power to the same lumpy conventionality that scotches most cinematic attempts at portraiture," finds Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"Milk resonates with uncanny depth, faithfully representing a bygone era while subtly tapping into the current one," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post.

"It's full of inspiration and aspiration, but at the same time, it never kids itself - or us - about the tricky, twisty ways of modern American urban politics," writes James Rocchi at Cinematical. "It's a sincere plea for equality that doesn't ignore the challenges of prejudice and fear. It celebrates past victories and speaks to current struggles; it mourns devastating losses and is still a hymn to hope.... Milk is adult and intelligent in ways many films are not, and it's rousing and enthralling in a way few films are. It's a minor miracle of sheer film making joy and determination, and one of the best American films of 2008."

"Milk's death was not just a tragedy for gays in San Francisco," writes Gary Barlow for In These Times. "In his rise to power, he also became a champion for the city's Chinese-Americans, union workers, the elderly and people being squeezed out of their neighborhoods by developers, speculators and downtown corporate interests. With much to say in a two-hour film, Black's script manages only to hint broadly at these aspects of Milk's career." Still: "'It's not my election I want, it's yours,' Milk once said. 'It will mean that a green light is lit that says to all who feel lost and disenfranchised that you can now go forward. It means hope and we - no - you and you and you and, yes, you, you've got to give them hope.' He did, and the film not only reminds us of that hope, it also rekindles a bit of it for a new generation. There could be no better tribute to Harvey Milk than that."

Jeffrey M Anderson caught the world premiere in San Francisco "and Van Sant, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, and actors Penn, Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch and Alison Pill assembled the next day for a group press conference, rather than individual interviews. Greecine sat in on the event and recorded Brolin's typically boisterous comments."

Van Sant and Black "pull off something very close to magic," writes Dana Stevens. "They make a film that's both historically precise (allowing for a few compressions and ellipses, Milk follows the same arc as Randy Shilts's biography The Mayor of Castro Street) and as graceful, unpredictable, and moving as a good fiction film - that is to say, a work of art."

Also in Slate, Dennis Lim: "Amid all the ruminations about Milk's eerie relevance and the talk of life mirroring art mirroring life, two questions have come up repeatedly: How does Proposition 8 change the meaning - the symbolic significance as well as the real-world function - of Milk? And if the film had found an audience early enough, could it have made a difference?"

For Time, Richard Corliss looks back to when the "dominant pop culture certified homophobia":

And when a film did take a compassionate approach to homosexuality, the mainstream press could pounce on it with cavalier ignorance and captious contempt. A review of the British drama Victim, about a barrister fighting the law that made homosexuality a criminal offense, took offense at the movie's "implicit approval of homosexuality as a practice. ... Nowhere does the film suggest that homosexuality is a serious (but often curable) neurosis that attacks the biological basis of life itself. 'I can't help the way I am,' says one of the sodomites in this movie. 'Nature played me a dirty trick.' And the scriptwriters, whose psychiatric information is clearly coeval with the statute they dispute, accept this sick-silly self-delusion as a medical fact." The review, headlined, "A Plea for Perversion?", appeared in the Feb 23, 1962, issue of Time magazine.

"As a history lesson, Gus Van Sant's bio pic does a fine job," writes Marcy Dermansky. "As an engaging narrative, despite Penn's appealing performance, Milk is less successful."

Milk is "a dispassionate piece of work that I suspect will have the firebrand emotion it so sorely lacks foisted upon it by preached-to choirs and blubbering bleeding hearts stoked by the passage of Proposition 8 and its ilk," writes Keith Uhlich for UGO. "Bad art serves no one, but the reach for significance is often enough to proffer a pat-on-the-back and an affirmative nod, as if 'attempt' and 'achievement' were suddenly synonymous terms of action."

"If you live in a city or town with a gay neighborhood large enough for its own theater, see it there," suggests Sheerly Avni at Truthdig. "After the credits roll - and yes, you'll stay through the credits, weeping and clapping - take advantage of the fact that for a minute Milk will have done for that crowd what Harvey Milk did for the Castro district: help transform a group of isolated individuals into a community. Scan that community for cute strangers. Smile, strike up a conversation, and then invite them back to your place to share some cheap merlot and watch the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, by Robert Epstein... because these two films belong together."

And for indieWIRE, Peter Knegt talks with Epstein.

Updates, 11/28: "[T]he lion's share of credit for Milk's success belongs to star Sean Penn, whose devotion to the film helped secure its production, and whose performance in the title role is a major accomplishment: quietly amazing, simultaneously lived-in and spontaneous, his best ever." On the same page with David Schmader's review for the Stranger is a piece from Eli Sanders: "The cold fact is that gay-rights advocates, for all their outrage and action after Prop 8 passed, were not able to successfully implement the simple lessons of the Milk-led victory over Prop 6: Talk to your opponents, win over as many of them as you can on the merits of your argument, and, because you'll never win them all over, do everything in your power to expand your urban base and drive your core supporters to the polls."

JR Jones in the Chicago Reader: "By capturing Milk as a person, the movie helps all viewers empathize and find common cause with him; by observing Milk as a politician, it offers activists a practical lesson in the use of power 30 years after his death."

David Ehrenstein talks with Van Sant for the LA Weekly.

"[T]his movie was really about two gay men and the journey between them," writes Andrew Sullivan. "The two gay men are Harvey Milk and Dan White. The two gay men are Barney Frank and Ted Haggard. The two gay men are Tony Kushner and Larry Craig. The two gay men are Frank Kameny and Roy Cohn. And as the years have passed by and HIV churned the gay world as powerfully as plagues and wars often do, these polarities were complemented by any number of variations in between. What I've tried to express in my life is that there is a part of both these traditions within me and within most gay people."

"Let's pace Milk with each stage of Van Sant's career." Armond White in the New York Press.

"The struggle, in case you need reminding, is long," writes Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader. "The struggle continues. However useful as pep rally or memorial service, though, the film comes up short as drama, relying altogether too much on Position Statements, Slogans, Bromides, primarily through the protagonist's stump speeches and a serialized in-the-event-of-my-death tape recording that ties the narrative together."

Milk "serves both the man and the mythology dutifully," writes Gabriel Shanks, "but more importantly, it tells its tale artfully, finding operatic resonance in Milk's populist crusades and exploring sexuality with sensitivity (while not, it should be noted, leaving out the actual sex)."

"The movie represents a giant stride back [for Van Sant] in the direction of conventional filmmaking, both in terms of cinematic style and its approach to historical truth," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:42 AM | Comments (2)

November 23, 2008

Cargo. And film criticism in Germany.

Cargo Before I tell you anything else about Cargo, here's an online viewing tip: Lav Diaz. Because the interview's in English, and of course, because Diaz is a lively and intriguing talker.

Now, admittedly, just about everything else at this important new site is in German, but you may well be interested in knowing a bit about it even if you can't read it. For one thing, Cargo will appear as a magazine: 96 text-heavy pages on thick paper. The first issue will be available on the Berlinale's opening day, February 5. And there's a blog, of course.

Each week, films opening in Germany are rated by half a dozen of the country's most respected critics; the overview of the year so far is a bit thin at the moment, but that's because the site launched just a few days ago - pretty much in conjunction, as it happens, with a one-day conference, "In the Net of Possibilities: Film Criticism in the Age of the Internet," held by the Union of German Film Critics.

As the first to speak, Ekkehard Knörer - a frequent contributor to the indispensable Perlentaucher and to German papers such as die taz as well as one of the four editors behind Cargo (and at the moment, its busiest blogger, too) - pretty much laid out the parameters of the discussions that would follow. He began by recalling a debate that flared up, both online and off, about three months ago in Germany that'll ring familiar bells to Daily readers in the States. In short, Josef Schnelle, a critic and once head of the Union himself, had just slammed blogs and bloggers in a piece for the Berliner Zeitung. You know the drill: They're not to be taken seriously in the first place, and worse, they're putting professional critics who do know what they're doing out of work. While Schnelle steered clear of a German translation of "snake-hipped word-slingers," he did turn to another American critic for back-up, quoting liberally from Richard Schickel's 2007 anti-blog op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

Any acrimonious residue of the debate that ensued seems to have dried up and blown away well before the conference on Thursday. If those who spoke or participated on panels - critics who write primarily for print (Gerhard Midding, Berliner Zeitung and epd film; and Hanns-Georg Rodek, Die Welt), the online critics (Frédéric Jaeger and Sascha Keilholz, critic.de; Michael Baute, new filmkritik; and Ines Walk, moviepilot and Film Zeit) and those who work in both old and new media (Volker Pantenburg, new filmkritik, Jungle World, kolik.film; and Thomas Groh, filmtagebuch and Splatting Image) - are representative of current film criticism in Germany as a whole, and I believe they are, then the Germans have already raced through all the arguments on both sides and laid down their weapons.

At the risk of oversimplification, I'd say that the general mood on Thursday was not unlike the one that prevailed at the Film Criticism in Crisis? panel held in New York in September; it's a "good news, bad news" situation. The bad news is obvious. As ad revenue evaporates, newspapers and magazines are cutting staff or shutting down altogether. I have a note here quoting someone on one of Thursday's panels as saying that there are now, in all of Germany, only about two dozen writers employed as full-time film critics left. (I may well be wrong about this; if someone reading this - Ekkehard? Thomas? - needs to correct me, please do.) At any rate, all of us on both sides of the Atlantic are still wracking our brains to come up with an economic model that'll keep film criticism an open option as a viable occupation.

By now, the good news is just as obvious. New technologies have made it possible not only for countless fresh and passionate new voices to be heard (and yes, of course there's also a lot of crap out there, but Sturgeon's Law applies everywhere) and for these voices to find each other, commune, exchange insights and so forth, but also for experimentation with new forms of criticism (such as Kevin Lee's video essays, RougeRouge and so on). The difference between the German and American scenes is that, unfortunately, in Germany, there's a little less of the good news going on.

It's not that anyone's calling for more blogs, necessarily; but Ekkehard points out a need for German counterparts to the communities that gather at, say, Dave Kehr's or Girish's places or at the House Next Door. None of us know why this might be, but, a few days before the conference, I did suggest to Ekkehard that this has long been the case, back on through the days when, in the run-up to the dotcom boom of the late 90s, venture capitalists and observers of "cyberculture" alike were wondering which of the "three C's" would eventually prevail: content, commerce or community. Stepping back even further, I recalled watching Michael Palin's Around the World in 80 Days; in the US, he gets on a train and the camera pokes around inside a dining car, moving from face to face - all of them talking. Palin watches a bit and then says something to the effect of: "America is a nation of performers." Yes, eight years of Bush's foreign policy aside, we are, by nature, a talkative bunch, eager to make friends. We also have to keep in mind that online communities thrived in the States long before there was such a thing as a World Wide Web. By the time the Internet really caught on in Germany, most Germans first saw it in the form that most resembles the old top-down, one-way media.

The conversation in Berlin differed from the one in New York in one further small but notable aspect. None of us have any silver bullet solutions for the "bad news" side of things at the moment, but Thierry Chervel, speaking not so much as a film critic but as founding editor of Perlentaucher, and filmmaker Christoph Hochhäusler (Milchwald) both floated variations on the notion of some sort of governmental support. That'll strike many as a typically European fix, but governments here have traditionally played a larger role in the media and arts than in the US. After all, there were no privately owned television broadcasters in Germany until the early 80s; perhaps more interestingly, German filmmakers have often looked enviously at France's system of subsidizing its film industry with a tax on movie tickets. But as the lines blur between professional, freelance, amateur and just-for-the-fun-of-it film critics, funneling financial support to an increasingly indefinable cluster would seem, to me at least, to present a bureaucratic nightmare.

What's more, whatever solutions are eventually found probably won't last. As Hanns-Georg Rodek observed on Thursday, the ground's not going to stop shifting anytime soon. We're in the middle of a transformational phase that'll carry on for not just years, but likely for generations.

Meantime, if you do read German and you're interested in learning more about what went down on Thursday in Berlin, Thomas Groh has the most complete roundup I've seen yet.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:34 AM | Comments (7)

November 22, 2008

Shorts, 11/22.

Sinatra in Hollywood Jonathan Yardley reviews Sinatra in Hollywood for the Washington Post and notes that author Tom Santopietro's "enthusiasm is admirable, but no one who knows Sinatra's films is likely to find it infectious or persuasive. Yes, Sinatra did appear in a remarkable variety of movies and roles, and occasionally - especially in On the Town, From Here to Eternity, Suddenly and The Manchurian Candidate - he was very good, but of those 71 movies, these four are the only ones likely to be of much lasting interest. Unlike most actors, who come to the movies without reputations and are able to shape their cinematic identities over time, Sinatra came to Hollywood a full-blown celebrity, one of the most recognizable people in the country if not the planet, and he spent the rest of his movie career playing himself, which is to say that his movies may be varied in subject, mood and theme, but the character whom Sinatra plays in them is always Frank Sinatra."

For the San Francisco Chronicle, Reyhan Harmanci talks with Stefan Kanfer about his biography Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando.

Wellesnet and Penny Blood collaborate to present generous excerpts from Harvey Chartrand's interview with Orson Welles's late cinematographer Gary Graver.

Paracinema "The new issue of Paracinema Magazine has just become available and it's a doozy!" exclaims Kimberly Lindbergs.

AO Scott looks over what's left of the fall season and finds The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Adam Resurrected, The Reader, Valkyrie and Defiance: "The near-simultaneous appearance of all these movies is to some degree a coincidence, but it throws into relief the curious fact that early 21st-century culture, in Europe and America, on screen and in books, is intensely, perhaps morbidly preoccupied with the great political trauma of the mid-20th century. The number of Holocaust-related memoirs, novels, documentaries and feature films in the past decade or so seems to defy quantification, and their proliferation raises some uncomfortable questions. Why are there so many? Why now? And more queasily, could there be too many?"

Also in the New York Times, Michael Cieply sees a "conundrum" facing Focus Features as gay rights activists draw Milk into their protests against California's Proposition 8: "How do they honor their movie hero's feisty brand of confrontational politics without being consumed by them? To join the fight could turn off some of the viewers Focus needs to make Milk a broad-based hit. But to sidestep it might disappoint a core audience that has begun to see the film as a rallying point." Related: Kirk Faulkner at FilmCatcher on why this whole idea of boycotting Sundance is "just crazy-town." And in Variety, Ted Johnson considers a few lessons the No on 8 campaign might have learned from Harvey Milk.

The Advocate "Oscar-winning documentarian Rob Epstein recently had a chat with The Advocate, about his legendary documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk," notes Matt Dentler. Of Cinetic. Who have made the doc available on Amazon VOD.

More Milk: At FilmInFocus (the studio's zine and blog collection), Peter Bowen interviews Gus Van Sant and Joshua Gamson examines "how integral music - and dance music in particular - was to gay movements in Milk's time."

Tilda Swinton is heading for 50, and having it all without having compromised one iota. Crazy, she says. Unimaginable. 'What's gone wrong?' She grins. 'It's all gone badly wrong.'" A profile from Simon Hattenstone. Also in the Guardian, Rosanna Greenstreet interviews Steve McQueen.

The Barefoot Contessa? Scott Marks suggests: "For a superior take on Hollywood talent in exile, visit Vincente Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town, his sordid 1962 followup to The Bad and the Beautiful."

"The Anderson Tapes is underrated in Sidney Lumet's resume," writes Larry Aydlette. "It deftly balances paranoia thriller, heist flick, character comedy and romance. You'll want to eat it up."

Greaser's Palace "Christian theology refers to Christ as being simultaneously divine and human, a dual nature known as the hypostatic union," writes David Carter at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Greaser's Palace deviates from Christian theology on practically every issue it addresses but manages to create a hypostatic union of its own."

"Expectations do the darndest things," writes James Van Maanen. "A supposed 'classic' [Le Doulos] can leave you cold, while a little trifle like Garden Party, which ought not to rate too high on any scale, manages to surprise and entertain while providing a sometimes silly but very pleasant 90 minutes."

"One of the greatest, most inventive creators in all of filmdom was Chuck Jones," writes Marilyn Ferdinand. "In 1965, during his fruitful later years with MGM, Jones created an illustrated literary adaptation running approximately 10 minutes that won him his only Academy Award. The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics showed the kind of sophistication that Jones and his frequent codirector Maurice Noble used to appeal to both children and adults."

Flickhead owns up to enjoying The Gamma People, "a quasi-science fiction, quasi-political quasi-comedy from Warwick Films," and points to Wrong side of the art, a fun collection of horror, sci-fi, exploitation, cult, trash and B-movie posters.

"The area of South Delhi known as Hauz Khas village is a window-shopper's delight, a haven of quiet but expensive arts and antiques shops, restaurants and galleries," writes Andrew Buncombe in the Independent. "Nothing beats diving into one of the shops that specialises in the promotional posters for Hindi-language movies. These posters - vibrant, powerful, often amusing - represent art and advertising combined in one."

"[T]he fact that DVD sales have basically stayed flat should be seen as something of a triumph," argues James Surowiecki, who not only sees that "the flattening out and eventual decline of DVD sales had to be completely anticipated" but also doesn't see Blu-Ray coming to the rescue.

Online listening tip #1. Listen to a Movie, via Cinematical's Erik Davis.

Online listening tip #2. Nathaniel R talks with Jenny Lumet and Rosemarie DeWitt about Rachel Getting Married.

Online listening tip #3. Aaron Aradillas hosts a two-part Back by Midnight special devoted to The Sopranos: Parts 1 and 2.

Online viewing tip #1. Ted Hope presents the trailer for "Our New Film!," Adventureland.

Online viewing tip #2. Peeping Tom: A Very British Psycho.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:06 PM | Comments (14)

Fests and events, 11/22.

Heeb Film Festival The Third Annual Heeb Film Festival runs today and tomorrow in New York and Lawrence Levi has a few recommendations in Nextbook.

Also in New York, the Macedonian Film Festival runs for two more days; FilmCatcher's Damon Smith has an overview.

"Perhaps no director is quite as under-the-radar termitic as Howard Hawks (the only director in the current Manny Farber series at Lincoln Center to be represented in two separate programs, His Girl Friday and Scarface, both playing this weekend)." Miriam Bale at the House Next Door. Update, 11/23: Miriam notes that two films by Raoul Walsh have also screened in the series.

"For the fourth consecutive year Filmmaker Magazine will present its nominees for the Best Film Not Playing at a Theatre Near You at MoMA, in prelude to the announcement of the winner at this year's Gotham Awards," writes Brandon Harris, who then offers plenty of linkage related to many of the films screening in the series running through Monday.

"Punk 'n' Pie, an awfully named but well-programmed UK punk retrospective at BAMcinématek, gathers ten features and documentaries from the thirty-plus years since the class of '77 first stuck a pin through the queen's nose and pilloried Tory and hippie culture alike with equal ire." An overview from Andrew Hultkrans for Artforum. Through November 30.

The Touch "The Touch is Ingmar Bergman's orphan film," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. Elliott Gould, who appears in the 1971 film with Bibi Andersson and Max Von Sydow, "believes it's a masterpiece. Still, he adds, 'for whatever reason, and that was Ingmar's prerogative, way after the fact in his autobiography The Magic Lantern, he dismisses the picture. I think it possibly was somewhat of an embarrassment to him in relation to letting another world come in that couldn't care less about how brilliant he is...' Tonight, UCLA will screen the print at the Billy Wilder Theater, and Gould will discuss the film with LA Confidential writer-director Curtis Hanson, who is chairman of the archive."

"[T]he Pacific Film Archive's month-long survey of his lesser known work, A Dirty Dozen: The Films of Robert Aldrich should be as fun and worthy and illuminating as it is to imagine how challenging it would be for today's marketeers to extract selling-point slogans from those movies' reviews," writes Jonathan Kiefer for KQED. Through December 20.

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam runs on through next Sunday; for coverage, see indieWIRE's Brian Brooks and Eugene Hernandez and David Poland.

Quickie previews in the Guardian: Andrea Hubert on the 7th Discovering Latin America Film Festival (Thursday through December 7) and Phelim O'Neill on the 11th Festival of German Films (Friday through December 4).

"I've already mouthed off about The Contenders, the muddled, irrelevant new film series at MoMA," blogs Nathan Lee at WNYC. "My beef is twofold. First, it's dispiriting to see MoMA capitulate to awards-season hype.... Second, their choices are generally predictable and unadventurous.... As a corrective, I'm going to propose my own alternative program of 2008 highlights."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:14 AM

November 21, 2008

NYT Magazine. "Screens."

NYT Magazine: Screens "What will happen, in the age of iPod, DVR, VOD, YouTube and BitTorrent, to the experience of moviegoing, to say nothing of the art of cinema?" asks AO Scott in the "Screens" issue of the New York Times Magazine. His answer: "The digital age may well turn out to be a golden age of cinephilia, with a wider variety of movies available for viewing in better conditions than ever."

"A new distribution-and-display technology is nudging the book aside and catapulting images, and especially moving images, to the center of the culture," argues Kevin Kelly. "We are becoming people of the screen."

"Why is it so hard to find out what movies you'd like?" That's the question Clive Thompson pursues in his interviews with programmers competing to improve Netflix's Cinematch recommendations program, in both his article and in its accompanying video. Whoever hits on a way to improve results by 10 percent wins a million bucks. A few teams have hit 9 percent. But now they're stuck.

30 Rock "is, like most of the deeply funny and cutting-edge comedies of the last few years, a bold experiment in narrative," argues Ross Simonini. "Avant-garde literature gave America its first tradition of subverting narrative, but what was once a wild experiment in language has become an accepted counterpart to our Internet culture, where digressive Googling and link-clicking are a way of life. The dusty sitcom has caught up to the modern mind."

"There is hardly a public space left - a bar, a gym, the dentist's office - that hasn't been vanquished by some kind of screen. Now, let's say I've got something to sell. This multiplicity of screens would seem to be a good thing, wouldn't it?" Jack Hitt moderates a roundtable of creative marketing types.

Emily Gould asks 12 "writers, directors and bloggers" (among them, Darren Aronofsky and David Byrne) to "describe the year's most memorable clips, scenes, shows, videos and computer graphics."

Virginia Heffernan profiles Virgil Griffith, who "likes to think of himself as a superhero of online anarchy: a 'disruptive technologist.'"

"Any format is a good format for meditation," David Lynch tells Deborah Solomon.

Lynn Hirschberg talks with Jennifer Aniston; Ruven Afanador snaps the pix.

Jeff Johnson deals with his mother's Collapse addiction.

Edward Lewine talks with game designer Will Wright about his RL home.

A slide show: "These images of kids playing video games were created by Robbie Cooper, a British photographer who employed a Red camera - a very-high-resolution video camera - and then took stills from the footage."

As if, a decade after its last season, Seinfeld didn't have enough die-hard fans, Sony's looking to court a whole new generation of fans, reports Rob Walker.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:59 PM

Shorts, fests, etc, 11/21.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird "The Good, The Bad, The Weird won a total of four prizes at the 29th Blue Dragon Film Awards ceremony which was held Thursday evening in Seoul, Korea." Han Sunhee reports for Variety Asia.

"Watching [The Curious Case of Benjamin Button], occasionally I actively loathed it, but mostly I just felt genuinely disappointed that it seemed so lacking in genuine feeling," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "I'm a realist - I understand that the masses will probably go the other way on this one, and I won't begrudge them that. But as a critic, it is my job to clearly state, for the record, what ignited that loathing and disappointment."

Twitch's Todd Brown notes that Johnnie To is a very, very busy man and points to Grady Hendrix's question of the day: "So what's up with Johnnie To's obsession with old French actors?"

Volkswagen is one of the Berlinale's major sponsors, but as the car company reviews its expenditures in light of the current financial crisis, it may pull back - or out altogether. Peter Zander reports in the Berliner Morgenpost.

Timecrimes' "plentiful complications aren't necessarily unique (at least for anyone familiar with Philip K. Dick), but they're given corkscrew verve by taut plotting and correspondingly fleet, no-nonsense direction that – even when unable to keep the film's domino-ing developments wholly surprising – place a premium on compact, clever, vigorous genre thrills," writes Nick Schager.

"Break out the laudanum: It's time for some totally 1880's retro, courtesy of period melodrama Henry May Long." Nicolas Rapold in the Voice.

Pulp "My first film, Get Carter, was a hit in 1971," writes Mike Hodges. "In 1972, my second feature disappeared." Following the story behind Pulp, "It was to be another 16 years before I managed to rustle up my next 'lost' film. This was Black Rainbow, an original script, written on spec... Big in Japan? It was news to me. Trouble is, I don't live in Japan."

Also in the Guardian, Kirsty Scott interviews Robert Carlyle and Anne Billson finds "the most tasteless DVD cover ever" and Cath Clarke reviews 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris and Manoel de Oliveira's Belles Toujours.

And Demetrios Matheou looks back on the Amazonas Film Festival: "Here we are, 150 filmmakers and journalists from all over the world, congregated in a luxurious hotel, fed succulent fruits with impossibly beautiful names - the cupuacu, caju, abacaxi, the pupunha and the jambo - and connected to intravenous drips of caipirinha, looking across the inky-black waters of the aptly named Rio Negro, the river that will take us into the Amazon. Here we are, ostensibly, to discuss the end of the world. That is to say, the environment."

Magda Szabo: The Door "István Szabó is currently working on his European co-production, The Door, which will start shooting next summer," reports Fabien Lemercier for Cineuropa.

"When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt negotiated with People and other celebrity magazines this summer for photos of their newborn twins and an interview, the stars were seeking more than the estimated $14 million they received from the deal," reports Brooks Barnes. "They also wanted a hefty slice of journalistic input - a promise that the winning magazine's coverage would be positive, not merely in that instance but into the future." (New York's Logan Hill has a little fun with this story.) Also: "DVDs propel profits these days, and there is a creeping dread in [Hollywood] that buyer interest is plummeting as the global economic crisis worsens."

And also in the New York Times:

  • "It is foolish to expect an actor to work miracles, but for longtime moviegoers the name Sissy Spacek over a movie title promises that the film will have a core of integrity, at least in the scenes in which she appears," writes Stephen Holden. "And when Ms Spacek speaks her clichéd lines in the mediocre screenplay of Lake City, a movie that has delusions of high seriousness, her plain-spoken delivery lends them a resonance that is not in the written words." More from David Fear (Time Out New York), Ed Gonzalez (Slant), Noel Murray (AV Club), Michelle Orange (Voice), Mark Peikert (New York Press) and Andrew Sarris (New York Observer).

  • "Plugging the same two actresses into different Sapphic scenarios may be a valid filmmaking strategy but it can be an extremely boring one," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "When we last saw Sheetal Sheth and Lisa Ray (in New York and Los Angeles, that was just two weeks ago) they were playing would-be lovers in The World Unseen. Now they're back to continue making eyes at each other in I Can't Think Straight yet another weightless confection from the writer and director Shamim Sarif." More from Jim Ridley (Voice), Nick Schager (Slant) and Chris Wisniewski (indieWIRE).

  • "Pour Your Body Out (7534 Cubic Meters), a site-specific installation by the Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, is arguably the first project to humanize - and feminize - the [the Museum of Modern Art's second-floor lobby] atrium," writes Karen Rosenberg. "Incorporating high-definition video projections, music and specially designed furniture, it creates a womblike comfort zone in a building full of right angles. 'The concept was not to destroy or be provocative to the architecture, but to melt in - as if I would kiss[architect Yoshio] Taniguchi,' Ms Rist says in a behind-the-scenes video at moma.org." More from Andrew Goldstein in New York's Vulture.

  • "Irving Gertz, a prolific though often uncredited B-movie composer whose melodies haunt a spate of pictures with words like 'Hell,' 'Thing' and 'Creature' in the titles, died on Nov 14 at his home in Los Angeles," reports Margalit Fox. "He was 93."

"Details of a revealing interview with Beatles guitarist George Harrison have come to light after 40 years," reports Georgie Rogers for the BBC, adding that Martin Scorsese, who's working on a doc about Harrison, has expressed interest.

Andre Bazin In the third part of his series on Andre Bazin, Dan North revisits an old argument: "Bazin doesn't want to stem the flow of auteurist criticism - he just wants to divert its course."

"Jean-Daniel Pollet's oeuvre is weirdly divided into chilly, precise art films and lowbrow sentimental comedies," writes Dan Sallitt in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Hard to think offhand of another filmmaker with a similar split personality."

Frank Borzage's literary adaptations of the 30s are a varied bunch, often having to do with recent or current political events, and always showing Borzage's ability to transform his material into the kind of romantic and spiritual fables he preferred." David Cairns on A Farewell to Arms; and more.

"Days and Clouds, which was completed in 2007, contains a story that might have meant nothing to an American audience a year ago but means everything to us today," writes Charles Mudede in the Stranger. More from Robert Horton.

"[T]he juxtaposition of vampire lore and mundane reality is especially powerful in the Swedish import Let the Right One In," writes JR Jones in the Chicago Reader. "Set in a dank suburb of Stockholm, it proves once again that horror stories can be even more frightening when exposed to a little daylight."

Lesley O'Toole talks with Reese Witherspoon for the Independent.

Online browsing tip. The full Europeana will return soon (10 million hits an hour on opening day overwhelmed it yesterday), but for now, a taste.

Online listening tip. At the House Next Door: Holly Herrick, Eric Kohn, John Lichman, Vadim Rizov, Michael Tully and Keith Uhlich.

Alois Nebel Online viewing tip #1. "A much loved and acclaimed graphic novel by Czech collaborators Jaroslav Rudiš and Jaromír 99, Alois Nebel is getting the feature film treatment in its native land with first time director Tomáš Luňák at the helm," notes Todd Brown, introducing the teaser at Twitch.

Online viewing tip #2. For New York's Vulture, Bilge Ebiri introduces Michael Dudok de Wit's award-winning Father and Daughter: "This wordless, minimalist, beautifully animated eight-minute fable, about a girl who watches her father leave and continues to wait for him, is one of the most powerful things we've ever seen."

Online viewing tip #3. "Video essay for 932 (73). Nicht versöhnt oder Es hilft nur Gewalt wo Gewalt herrscht / Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where it Rules (1965, Jean-Marie Straub) featuring commentary by Richard Brody." Also at Shooting Down Pictures, more from Kevin Lee: "Only 50 minutes long but requiring at least two or three viewings to grasp, the debut feature of cinema's most dynamic husband and wife directing duo is quite possibly the most daunting and demanding work of the 60s New Wave." Screens Sunday and Wednesday at the Walter Reade in New York.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:59 PM

Were the World Mine.

Were the World Mine "The least one could ask of a wish-fulfillment fantasy film is a little buoyancy and breeziness," writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "Yet for all its good-natured intentions, Tom Gustafson's Were the World Mine, in which a put-upon small-town gay teen converts his hopelessly straight town (including his corn-fed jock crush) to the pink team with the help of a magical, squirting purple pansy, is a mostly leaden affair, suffering as it does from a lack of realization and clarity."

"The filmmakers flirt with preciousness, but their often thrilling flights of creative fancy hinge on creating an insular vibe that's very much in keeping with that of [A Midsummer Night's Dream]," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "And though they seem to overstate the prejudices of the people around Timothy (even his mother at one point gripes about needing to come out of her own closet), the film understands itself as a fantasy of escape that, like Shakespeare's lush artwork, hopes to both rouse the senses and one's conscience."

"Beneath a trite imagining of what would happen if raging homophobes suddenly turned gay (most, apparently, would become mincing stereotypes), the film articulates some age-old but still pressing truths about bigotry (Prop 8, hello), social justice, and romantic longing," writes Ernest Hardy in the Voice. "When the film narrows its focus from big questions addressed through overly broad strokes and instead zooms in on one-on-one interactions and the emotional power of a well-made musical sequence, it taps into a winning sweetness and poignancy."

"This small, endearing film... has already won a number of awards, including outstanding narrative feature at Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival," notes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "In its giddiness, Were the World Mine echoes High School Musical 3 right down to featuring balletic choreography on a basketball court.... Like its Disney counterparts, it operates on the assumption that the movie musical is a world unto itself in which ordinary rules of logic don't apply. One thing doesn't have to lead to another, and not everything need be explained. Movie-musical magic makes up the difference."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:35 AM

Special.

Special "Written and directed by Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore, Special puts an indie spin on the current Hollywood vogue for moody superhero psychodrama," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "Or looked at another way, it puts a Hollywood spin on the indie vogue for tales of solipsistic man-boys. Either way, it doesn't quite go far enough as psychological study or cultural commentary."

"Special concerns a lonely, undistinguished parking ticket attendant and comic-book fan named Les (Michael Rapaport) who agrees to participate in a clinical trial for a drug called Special and, subsequently, begins developing superpowers," explains Nick Schager in Slant. "Or at least he thinks he does, as the drug (designed to suppress 'self-doubt') soon amplifies his own fantasies - of being powerful, important, brave, somebody - to the point of making him outright delusional."

Updated through 11/22.

"Rappaport's befuddled sincerity has never registered so poignantly, but given its singular premise, for the film to waste an easy opportunity to satirize vigilante do-goodery and pharmaceutical dependence is, well, villainous," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice.

Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "With its ironic take on heroism and a dreamy music score by Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval, Special recalls a minor-key Donnie Darko, but its vision is much more limited, and it sinks into Indiewood cliché whenever it reaches for profundity. But many people will see themselves in Rapaport's half-crazed stab at greatness."

Mark Holcomb in Time Out New York: "[S]implistic moralizing played this straight is a hard pill to swallow - particularly when it's coated in oppressive, masochistic self-righteousness."

"Special has a tragic core, but not an entirely dour one," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press. "A great genre film dissects authentic problems without attempting to supplant them. Reasonably enough, Special belongs to that category with the rest of Magnet's 'Six Shooter Series.' The release strategy makes a lot of sense for this intelligently curated collection. Each title in the series either upends genre expectations (such as Special and the recently released Swedish vampire coming-of-age tale Let the Right One In) or reduces them to their primal states (the sleek time-travel thriller Timecrimes and Splinter, in which a carnivorous, parasitic beast attacks an abandoned gas station)."

Update: IFC's Matt Singer writes the "Five Rules for Making an Indie Superhero Movie."

Update, 11/22: "Special is good enough in various particulars that its token theatrical release - nearly three years after its Sundance Film Festival debut - is more than slightly bittersweet," writes Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door. "The 'superhero-as-fragile-martyr' theme is nothing new, but Haberman and Passmore go beyond any easy elitist outs."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:30 AM

Les 100.

100 Films Writing for the Independent, John Lichfield is naturally a little rattled by Cahiers du cinéma's latest list of the best 100 films ever made: "Most are American. Many of them are French. None are British. There are German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Indian and Japanese films on the list established by Les Cahiers du Cinema but not a single film made in Britain since the cinema industry began just more than a century ago." Cahiers editor Jean-Michel Frodon "said that the absence of British-made movies was 'striking' but not deliberate. 'It does not reflect an anti-British bias. It is simply the result of the individual choices of 76 people in the French industry.'"

The Telegraph is frustrated as well.

At any rate, a festival celebrating the top 100 opened Wednesday in Paris and runs through July 6. For the rest of us, there are plenty of trailers and clips.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:11 AM | Comments (2)

November 20, 2008

Shorts, 11/20.

Taxi Driver John Coulthart remembers Belgian artist Guy Peellaert, who died this week: "Peellaert's work was very visible in the 1970s, especially his book of rock star portraits, Rock Dreams, a ubiquitous pop culture item along with Roger Dean's Views and Alan Aldridge's psychedelic whimsy.... [B]ut much of the work in Rock Dreams seemed garish and awkward. Far more successful was Peellaert's painting for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, undoubtedly commissioned on the strength of his earlier work but superior to nearly everything in his book."

Dennis Cooper's posted a "rare 1978 interview with 16 year old Antoine Monnier about his experiences making Robert Bresson's The Devil Probably (1977)."

"[I]ncredibly, as Afghanistan sinks back into the anarchy which became its natural state these past 29 years, Afghan filmmakers are producing movies of international quality, turning out pictures which prove - even amid war - that a country's tragedy can be imaginatively recreated for its people." Robert Fisk reports for the Independent.

Dead Ringers "Like big hair and padded shoulders and Wham!, the films of the 1980s are apparently something to be ashamed of," writes David Bordwell. But "you can make a good case that the 1980s gave America a burst of first-rate films and remarkable new talent," and he offers "some assorted, more or less objective reasons to consider this decade as making a remarkable contribution to US film history."

In an excerpt, David Thomson explains why he's put together Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films. Also in the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas talks with Catherine Deneuve.

"Ebert cracks wise over the bludgeoning banter between he and Gene Siskel through the years as a way of getting into his history of body image," notes Ray Pride. "Like many recent entries in his blog, there are zigs, zags and fruitful diversions, and the 2,500 words may be his most adventurous yet."

The Siren lists "Ten Things I Love About Old Movies."

"Although established forms of narration across national cinemas are always in a state of transition, a particularly striking dichotomy between mainstream continuity style and marginal art cinema has become increasingly apparent in recent years. The disparity has primarily emerged in the relationship between speed and editing, and now calls for a closer examination of the binary extremes of 'fast' and 'slow.'" Matthew Flanagan in 16:9, via Girish, who's looking for a few good cinema-related biographies.

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

Films in Review is running Rob Edelman's 1979 piece on Paul Robeson.

Michael Atkinson at Moving Image Source: "How to watch Hal Roach's Our Gang comedies and why."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir wonders how WALL•E became a "hit with something approaching a cult following among cinephiles, hipsters and bloggers."

The Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov talks with Jean-Claude Van Damme about JCVD.

"Why Quantum of Solace is indefensibly bad." Eric Kohn argues the case. Meanwhile, Glenn Kenny considers "how James Bond lost his sense of humor, while the ever-astute Daniel Kasman contemplates the indifference of Bond. It's all pretty high-toned! Check it out at the Auteurs' Notebook."

For IFC, Aaron Hillis talks with Josh Koury about We Are Wizards.

The National Book Awards were presented last night; Motoko Rich reports in the New York Times.

"Scientists may have less to cringe about when they go to the movies, if a new initiative designed to foster cooperation between scientists and the entertainment industry is successful." David Shiga reports for New Scientist.

Heeeeere... we... go... Rex Sorgatz opens his collection of "2008 End-of-Year Lists."

Online wow. "Salt Lake City Drive-In," snapped by JR Eyerman for LIFE in 1958.

Online listening tip. Ambrose Heron talks with Ari Folman about Waltz With Bashir.

By the Bluest of Seas Online viewing tip #1. At Shooting Down Pictures, Nicole Brenez comments on By the Bluest of Seas.

Online viewing tip #2. At AICN, Merrick has the trailer for Henry Selick's Coraline, based on the novella by Neil Gaiman.

Online viewing tips. Twitch's Todd Brown has a trailer and teasers for Cem Yilmaz's AROG and a French vampire flick, Sodium Babies.

Online listening and viewing tips. Brian Sholis has plenty.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:34 PM

Fests and events, 11/20.

Coleen Fitzgibbon: Internal Systems Holly Willis in the LA Weekly on Coleen Fitzgibbon: Internal Systems: "The history of smart, feminist, experimental films has been sadly neglected; this program represents the brilliance waiting to be revisited." Sunday at 7 pm.

"Everyone knows the [John] Boorman hits," writes Steve Vineberg in the Boston Phoenix: "Deliverance, Excalibur and Hope and Glory - but fine pictures like his neo-Shakespearean comedy Where the Heart Is (1990) and the political adventure Beyond Rangoon (1995) opened and closed without leaving a trace. Boorman has a distinctive visual style - he loves wide, wondrous, prismatic landscapes - and he's drawn to material that interrogates institutions; in his early career he also loved mythology and pop philosophy. But his instinct for subversive visions has made him risky and usually kept him far from the mainstream." John Boorman's Primeval Screen runs through Monday.

"To understand Jerry Lewis the performer, simply rewatch a handful of his sixty-odd films," writes Ed Halter for Artforum. "But to understand Lewis the thinker - the theorist, even - it's useful to dig up a copy of his 1971 book, The Total Film-Maker, a primer in Lewis's own concept of auteurism, containing a cogent study of film comedy. Here, Hollywood's spastic, saccharine goofball reveals himself to be a Siegfried Kracauer of the wisecrack, a Georges Bataille of the banana peel." And again, Peter Bogdanovich will be talking with Lewis on Saturday at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

Secret Sunshine The San Francisco Korean American Film Festival happens this weekend and Brian Darr and Adam Hartzell both recommend Secret Sunshine.

Basil Tsiokos, who stepped down from his position as artistic director of Newfest: The New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Film Festival, offers "some thoughts about the state of LGBT film festivals and about non-profit film organizations in general in this difficult economy." Also at indieWIRE: Rania Richardson's dispatch from the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and lya Tovbis's from the Starz Denver Film Festival.

For the Austin Chronicle, Josh Rosenblatt previews More Than Buenos Aires: Film Renaissance in Argentina, running Tuesdays through December 23.

Rooftop Films is accepting submissions for its 2009 Summer Series.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:07 PM

November 19, 2008

Shorts, 11/19.

Jess Franco The Spanish Academy of Art and Cinematographic Sciences will present the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Goya Award to Jess Franco, notes Robert Monell. Via filmtagebuch.

"After winning the grand prize at the Montreal World Film Festival and the bid to become Japan's submission to the best foreign film category in the Oscars, Okuribito [Departures] is fulfilling the promises of its ad copy to become the best film of the year." Marie Iida at Néojaponisme, via Jason Gray.

"I can't think of one book or article by any American or English academic film writer of the last 25 years that I've read and would re-read today," AS Hamrah tells Ricky D'Ambrose in the Tisch Film Review. "If a lot of film critics write like grad students auditioning for trade papers, a lot of academics write like technical writers who love gossip columns." Via the cinetrix.

Violence "Through countless cinematic detours in his enormous body of critical theory he has become one of the sharpest, most engaged writers on movies we have, so maybe it's no accident that the theoretical tool he employs with relentless perfectionism is the very same tool most often used by the crack screenwriter: the good old-fashioned reversal." Josef Braun opens a review of Violence: "Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek writes both dynamically and profusely, and he's never met an assumption he didn't feel the urge to overturn, a paradox he didn't desire to give a thorough workout. He isn't a shrewd contrarian so much as an intellectual showman - and I say this with the deepest admiration." Related: Adam Kirsch's fierce dressing down in the New Republic; Zizek in the London Review of Books on Obama and the financial meltdown.

IndieWIRE's Brian Brooks and Eugene Hernandez report on the launch of the IFC Media Project, a six-part series created by producer Meghan O'Hara (Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko).

At the OUPblog, Thomas Hischak, author of the Oxford Companion to the American Musical notes the similarities between the High School Musical series and "the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland 'let's put on a show' Hollywood musicals of the 1940s" and observes that "what is most amazing about the High School Musicals is that young audiences do not laugh at this wholesome and unrealistic view of high school; they embrace it. It is the ultimate fantasy for a generation too embarrassed to admit they still like all the other Disney fantasies that they grew up with."

Fanfan La Tulipe "Directed by the venerable Christian-Jaque, Fanfan La Tulipe plays like an extension of its protagonist's personality. It's so pleased with its own ability to be charming that all other concerns fall away," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "Christian-Jaque became a favorite target of the French New Wave, perhaps in part because of that urge to please without any hidden agenda. Still, it seems unfair to pick on a movie with no greater ambition than entertainment, when it makes good on that ambition so thoroughly."

"The film's rude asides about product placement and the profit margins of scandal ('Especially in America!') give [Lola Montès] continued currency, but it's Ophüls's remarkable use of the still nascent CinemaScope technology that makes the restoration a must for the big screen," writes Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. More from Jonathan Kiefer and Ryland Walker Knight.

Derek Jarman's Blue "defies critical judgement as much as it does rigorous analysis," writes Andrew Schenker; "as a final testament, it confirms for all time the joys of artistic invention; as a work of cinema, it is thrillingly, maddeningly sui generis."

For the Chicago Tribune, Sara Olkon catches up with the stars of the 1994 doc Hoop Dreams: "[William] Gates, the reserved one, has become an authoritative force who leads a church in the Cabrini area. He is married with four kids. [Arthur] Agee, a spirited charmer, doesn't have a regular job but is launching a line of Hoop Dreams apparel. He has five kids by five different women." Via Jason Kottke.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir looks over the shortlist of contenders for the Documentary Feature Academy Awards and finds "the same old docu-Oscar problem: It might be a marginally stronger list than last year's, but there's still way too much cinematically dubious spinach, and too many excellent films got left behind." More from AJ Schnack: "There will be no outraged commentary this year." Part 2.

The Order of Myths Last month, Margaret Brown took The Order of Myths on a whirlwind 9-day tour. All these wonderful things runs the first part of her diary.

"Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, currently playing for however long it lasts at the Fox Theater in downtown Portland, is the most depressing movie ever made," alerts DK Holm for the Vancouver Voice. "As long as you know that going in, you might actually enjoy the experience."

"A lot of the time, movies are our escape from the world, but good movies - or, rather, great movies - don't offer us escape from the world but rather new perspectives on it," writes James Rocchi. "So, in the hue and cry after Prop 8 passed, I found myself revisiting Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes's 2002 film that not only looks like a 1950's Douglas Sirk melodrama but also, more importantly looks at 1950's film, and the 1950's, with an unflinching, unblinking and clear eye."

"Leaving aside the many meretricious or fanciful biopics of composers (I exempt Straub-Huillet's The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, 1968) or films about musicians, there have been few instances of celluloid characters actually listening to classical music," blogs Ronald Bergan for the Guardian. "Unfortunately, most of these efforts have been less than successful."

Kevin Kelly talks with Angus MacLean, who's directed BURN•E, a short included as an extra on the WALL•E DVD. Also at the SpoutBlog, a conversation with Danny Ledonne about Playing Columbine: A True Story of Video Game Controversy; and Christopher Campbell lists "10 Tips for the Unemployed from 1930s Movies."

"[A]cross the world's second biggest economy, bookstores from Hiroshima to Hokkaido are preparing for what they expect to be the publishing phenomenon of the year: Das Kapital - the manga version." Leo Lewis reports for the London Times.

Thomas Kilpper is calling for a lighthouse for Lampedusa.

Ctrl.Alt.Shift Competition: "Ctrl.Alt.Shift challenges young filmmakers to tackle poverty and global injustice issues for the chance to work with the likes of Noel Clarke, Shynola and Saam Farahmand.

Call for participation: "Almaz isn't just a film - it's also an exploration of a new way of making films."

Online browsing tip #1. "Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google."

Online browsing tip #2. Visual Movie Reviews via Jason Kottke.

Online listening tip. Nathan Lee talks with David Lynch about that Lime Green Set.

Online viewing tip #1. Scott Kirsner talks about "Hollywood's love-hate relationship with new technologies" at Google HQ.

Online viewing tip #2. The trailer for Soft Skull Press's new edition of The Wizard of Oz, illustrated by Graham Rawle.

Online viewing tips, round 1. The DVblog presents a "sampling of videos from Les Filmistes Associés, a group of French filmmakers who create short films on a different theme each month."

Online viewing tips, round 2. Brandon Soderberg's "Music Video Round-Up" at the House Next Door.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:24 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 11/19.

Mary and Max "Two years ago Sundance opened with a Brett Morgen's animated doc Chicago 10, and it's just been announced that the upcoming iteration of the festival (only 57 days to go!) will kick off with more animation," notes IFC's Alison Willmore: "Mary and Max, a claymation drama, is the feature debut of Australian director Adam Elliot, who's otherwise known for a spectacular set of claymation shorts that includes Harvie Crumpet, which won the 2003 Best Animated Short Oscar."

Free Films Made Freely: The Experimental Cinema of Paolo Gioli is a one-hour program happening tonight at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Writing for Artforum, Jason Anderson notes that Gioli's "tactics have included creating collages of found footage, abrading and painting on leader, and, most infamously, constructing pinhole cameras from bread loaves and seashells. Closely related to his experimental photographic work (which has already wended its way into the collections of MoMA and the Centre Pompidou), the often dazzling results comprise an iconoclastic and prescient body of film work that's only now coming to wider attention."

The New Year Parade "For the third year running, MoMA's Department of Film, in association with IFP and its quarterly publication Filmmaker, screens the five nominees for the Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You award." Tomorrow through Monday. And Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay is asking "each of the filmmakers to send me a short statement about the relationship of their film to the world, filmmaking or otherwise, around them." So far, he's run answers from Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues) and Tom Quinn (The New Year Parade.

"Thanksgiving is a time for wholesome family togetherness," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "All the more reason, then, to get your sex on Holiday Heat, a pre-Turkey Day celebration of retro sleaze." Tomorrow through Saturday.

Ed Halter: "This Saturday, November 22, I'll be part of a mini-symposium at EAI called Expanded Video."

Riverglass "With physical nature as his muse, Andrej Zdravic doesn't capture beauty in the mundane but in the microcosmic," writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice; "for more than three decades, the Slovenian-born film and sound artist has proved that hypnotic elemental poetry can literally be found under a rock (or underwater, over the clouds, et al)." The Films of Andrej Zdravic runs at Anthology Film Archives from Friday through Sunday.

"The Ballerina Ballroom of Dreams - Tilda Swinton and Mark Cousins's heavenly film festival, which was held in Nairn this summer - is to travel to Beijing," reports Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian. Related: Peter Knegt has a good long talk with Swinton at indieWIRE.

At Twitch, Rodney notes that Jasper Sharp, author of Behind the Pink Curtain and co-founder of Midnight Eye, will be speaking on "The History and Development of Japanese Pink Film" in London on December 3 as part of the BFI's Wild Japan season.

"Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of some of Kenneth Anger's most recent short films - hosted by Mr Anger himself." C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:48 PM

Twilight.

Twilight "Adapted from Stephenie Meyer's bestselling novel, which contains trace elements of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, not to mention a few archetypally ancient supernatural overtones, Twilight is billed as 'a modern-day love story between a vampire and a human,' and not to be confused with Let the Right One In, the novel-based modern-day love story between a vampire and a human set in Sweden, or True Blood, the novel-based modern-day love story between a vampire and a human set in Louisiana," writes Jonathan Kiefer. "Twilight's the one set in rural Washington, with Edward (Robert Pattinson) the vampire and Bella (Kristen Stewart) the human.... Having honed her rapport with transgressive-curious shy girls and ruby-lipped pretty boys in Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, respectively, [director Catherine] Hardwicke has no trouble fetishizing the forever young. But in qualifying herself for Twilight, she seems also to have let her basic scene-building skills become stunted." And as for "the screaming girls of Twilight fandom": "a) yes, it probably is the most important thing about this movie and b) social phenomena are as hard for journalists to resist as fresh-smelling humans are for vampires."

Updated through 11/25.

"Security was so stringent at the press screening, not even Roger Ebert got off easy," writes Chicagoist Rob Christopher. "Cell phones had to be turned in prior to admittance and everyone was wanded. So has all the expectant frenzy been worth it? In our view, Twilight may not be the movie everyone has been anticipating. And that's entirely a good thing."

"So you have your against-the-odds teen love, your woman in peril, your vampires and your cult following, but Twilight frenzy still has the capacity to shock." David Carr reports in the New York Times on the PR campaign in the malls of America.

Thomas Rogers talks with Hardwicke for Salon.

Nikki Finke's got pix of people camping out in front of a Hollywood theater, notes that the soundtrack's #1, the trailer's breaking online viewing records and so on and so forth.

Eugene Novikov lists seven of the "Best Horror Romances" at Cinematical.

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

Online viewing tip. Variety's Anne Thompson interviews Pattinson.

Updates: "I saw the picture last night and I'm not supposed to say anything," blogs the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "Well, too bloody bad: I thought it was terrific fun and beautifully crafted, acted with credible passion but also with a charming wink. And if the studio wants to get hissy over that, they shouldn't hold their breath waiting for me to retract it."

"In the 17-million-copy land of Twilight, the calling card isn't blood and fangs, but the exquisite, shimmering quiver of unconsummated first love," writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. "By that measure, the movie version gives really good swoon."

"Give us a fucking break. This embargo nonsense is out of hand," grumbles the Playlist, pointing to Jeffrey Wells - "[W]hat publicist would be upset if a guy like myself, an unregenerate adult-movie, classic-movie, indie-movie, Pasolini-admiring, Kubrick-worshipping fan who hates sitting next to giggling groups of women in cocktail bars - what if a guy like me said that this sucker works? Because it does" - and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips's "talking point or two in lieu of a review."

"Most television fantasy if more effective," writes Jeffrey Overstreet. "A single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even Moonlight has better dialogue and stronger characters. Heck, Dr Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog is more substantially romantic than this."

Updates, 11/20: "Defiantly old-fashioned, the film wants viewers to believe not so much in vampires as in the existence of an anachronistic movie notion: a love that is convulsive and ennobling," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "Bella could be any Hollywood heroine in love with a good boy whom society callously misunderstands. She's Natalie Wood to Edward's James Dean (in Rebel Without a Cause) or Richard Beymer (in West Side Story). Cathy, meet Heathcliff. Juliet, Romeo.... The movie's core demographic is so young, its members may not know how uncool this tendency has become. But for them, uncool is hot."

Writing in Variety, Justin Chang finds all this "a disappointingly anemic tale of forbidden love that should satiate the pre-converted but will bewilder and underwhelm viewers who haven't devoured Stephenie Meyer's bestselling juvie chick-lit franchise."

But for Screen's Mike Goodridge, it's "a highly effective adaptation with an intoxicating blend of breathy romance and mild horror which will be must-see viewing for teenage girls. Faithful to the novel in almost every narrative detail, filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke nevertheless infuses the film with its own visual personality courtesy of the atmospheric northeastern landscapes and the spot-on casting of her young lovers."

Twilight "propels to the center of Hollywood a studio known for obscurities like P2, a horror movie set in a parking garage, and Sex Drive, about a loser who works in a doughnut shop," reports Brooks Barnes in the New York Times. "'It's the first time a little engine that could has come along in a while, and that's getting the attention of people who never thought twice about Summit,' said Tara S Kole, a partner at the entertainment law firm Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown, which represents clients like Steven Spielberg and Mary-Kate Olsen. 'Summit has obviously played this very smart in the marketing, but the smartest decision was noticing the property in the first place,' Ms Kole added."

Gina McIntyre talks with Hardwicke for the Los Angeles Times.

"You could also say that Twilight... triumphs because girls are turned on by boys who are bad for them," writes Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix. "Or because all outsider adolescents want to believe they're not really losers, they're of superior breed. Mainly, though, the movie works because Hardwicke and her soon-to-be-iconic leads take the sex and death and immortality hokum that's as old as Bram Stoker and make the undead live again."

"The feminist critique of the Twilight phenomenon (see this astute reading by Laura Miller in Salon) points, quite rightly, to all that's reprehensible about the Twilight universe," notes Dana Stevens in Slate. "As a life lesson for teenage girls, Twilight (excuse the pun) sucks. As a parable for the dark side of female desire, it's weirdly powerful."

Dan Kois introduces a "spoiler-filled slideshow" at Vulture: "28 Reasons That Twilight the Movie Is Better Than Twilight the Book."

"If only Twilight were more like its spiritual inspiration, Romeo and Juliet, then at least its lovebird protagonists would eventually wind up taking an eternal dirt nap," sighs Nick Schager in Slant.

"Someday a filmmaker will figure out how to shoot intelligence as seductively as a good smoldering look between pretty teens. Until then, we remain at the cusp of darkness." Rob Davis has a pretty good bullet-pointed list at Daily Plastic, too.

James Rocchi talks with Stewart for Cinematical.

Updates, 11/21: Twilight is "a deeply sincere, outright goofy vampire romance for the hot-not-to-trot abstinence set," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "[T]his carefully faithful adaptation traces the sighs and whispers, the shy glances and furious glares of two unlikely teenage lovers who fall into each other's pale, pale arms amid swirling hormones, raging instincts, high school dramas and oh-so-confusing feelings, like, OMG he's SO HOT!! Does he like ME?? Will he KILL me??? I don't CARE!!! :)" Also, an audio slide show, "Biting Passion," a look back on vampires past.

"While the DVD revolution has its merits - for some, the big advantage is not having to rub shoulders with actual human beings in a movie theater - there are certain movies that need to be seen with a crowd," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "If you care about pop culture at all, you owe it to yourself to see Twilight... with an audience full of teenage and preteen girls.... I think I need to see it again in a critic-free zone, if only to experience, once again, the wave of embarrassed titillation that rippled through the crowd when the movie's vampire heartthrob, Edward Cullen... strode into view, a vision of erotic suspended animation."

"What's with all the rule-rewriting? And why are vampires always crowing about it?" Christopher Beam offers a history of a slippery mythology in Slate.

Roger Ebert gives Twilight two-and-a-half out of four stars.

"Twilight is one of those films that falls squarely into the category of 'it's pretty good for what it is,'" writes Kim Voynar at Movie City News, "by which I mean that, while it's not likely to end up topping critics' end-of-year lists, and I wouldn't hold it up against Oscar-caliber material, for the audience it's serving, and the material being adapted, it does its job pretty well."

"While the movie attempts to find an compelling middle ground between gothic supernaturalism and teenage romance, it usually winds up stumbling into the inane territory implied by both descriptions," writes Genevieve Koski at the AV Club.

"I am not now nor have I ever been a 13-year-old girl," confesses Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, "but Twilight made me wish I could be, at least for a couple of hours, the better to appreciate a movie that has been targeted to that demographic with the delicious specificity of a laser weapon."

Hardwicke's "earnest, moody approach to Stephenie Meyer's tremendously popular novel may be just the thing for the 14-year-old girl in all of us," writes Hank Sartin in Time Out New York.

"Twilight may not add up to much more than the sum of its parts, but those parts can be mighty entertaining, especially when handsome Edward (Robert Pattinson, oozing uncertain charm) is whooshing through the woods with plucky Bella (Kristen Stewart, self-assured and determined) on his back," writes Peter Martin at Cinematical. "Still, the romance at the heart of the book has been shorn of some of its heart in the translation to the big screen, sacrificed on the altar of a broader demographic. Readers of the book could feel somewhat shortchanged by the relentless emphasis on forward momentum rather than romantic fantasy; the flip side is that newcomers can enjoy the whirlwind pace and the brooding, ominous atmosphere, and everyone can revel in the spectacle of flying vampires playing a pinball version of sandlot baseball."

"In the final analysis, Hardwicke has shrewdly made a film that will appeal to the audience that could make or break it," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "But there's little here to win over those of us without dog-eared copies of Twilight under our beds."

"[D]oes it work purely as a vampire movie?" Eric D Snider at Cinematical: "Oh, heavens, no. Noooooo. This is not a vampire movie. This is a somber teen romance that happens to have some vampires in it."

Alicia Van Couvering talks with Hardwicke for Filmmaker.

At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell takes "a look at the many vampire love interests that literature and cinema have given us over the years in an attempt to find out their sexy secret."

Online listening tip. An AV Club roundtable.

"Meyer's prose is skimmable, but her dialogue hits all the right beats; experiencing these two beautiful creatures' enforced sexual suppression on the page made me feel like I was 17 again," blogs David Edelstein. "But Twilight the movie is cautious, a sort of Tiger Beat-ified Twin Peaks. In its undercooked way, though, it's enjoyable."

More "Cinematic Predecessors of the Vampire Renaissance," this time from Mike Rennett at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

"It may be no world classic, but Twilight is better than expected, and probably better than it needed to be, considering its built-in audience and inevitable sequels," writes Robert Horton. "The ending leaves no doubt of future bloody adventures."

Update, 11/22: Twilight is "the first book that seemed at long last to rekindle something of the girl-reader in me," writes Caitlin Flanagan:

In fact, there were times when the novel - no work of literature, to be sure, no school for style; hugged mainly to the slender chests of very young teenage girls, whose regard for it is on a par with the regard with which just yesterday they held Hannah Montana - stirred something in me so long forgotten that I felt embarrassed by it. Reading the book, I sometimes experienced what I imagine long-married men must feel when they get an unexpected glimpse at pornography: slingshot back to a world of sensation that, through sheer force of will and dutiful acceptance of life's fortunes, I thought I had subdued. The Twilight series is not based on a true story, of course, but within it is the true story, the original one. Twilight centers on a boy who loves a girl so much that he refuses to defile her, and on a girl who loves him so dearly that she is desperate for him to do just that, even if the wages of the act are expulsion from her family and from everything she has ever known. We haven't seen that tale in a girls' book in a very long time. And it's selling through the roof.

Also at the Atlantic, a bit of online viewing. "Caitlin Flanagan brings a camcorder and a savvy 14-year-old girl to a premiere of the new vampire movie."

"Ultimately, Twilight is silly and melodramatic and hard to dislike in much the same way as its target audience, with a distinctly teenage sense of tragedy," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "Before you know it, Bella is begging Edward to make her a vampire too, so they can be together forever. Evidently she has already forgotten the multitude of graduation caps lining Edward's wall, the fruits of the eternal 17-year-old's need to matriculate and re-matriculate every few years. Repeating high school on and on into infinity - now that is truly the fate of the damned."

Update, 11/25: Kathleen Bell and Paul Matwychuk discuss the movie and the pop cult phenomenon.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:27 AM

Carole Lombard.

Carole Lombard "Mobilizing a heart-shaped face that might have been carved from alabaster were it not quite so elastic, oversized eyes that flicked from wide-open innocence to heavy-lidded allure, and a voice that, though velvety on command, more often gushed forth in a high, tinkling rush, Carole Lombard seemed to play with the properties of celluloid as if they were finger paints." In the Voice, Hazel-Dawn Dumpert previews the Film Forum series running from Friday through December 2.

"An earthly deity of the silver screen, she was more than just blonde and beautiful - she also possessed a quick wit and daffy lunacy that remains unsurpassed over 70 years later," writes Cullen Gallagher in the L Magazine.

Updated through 11/22.

"Lombard's career took a very long time to hit its stride, but soared to the heavens once it did," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

Earlier: Steve Vineberg in the Boston Phoenix.

Update, 11/20: "In at least seven movies, all of them comedies with serious undertones, the exuberant Carole Lombard became emblematic of the whole screwball comedy genre of the 30s, and she passed into folklore with her marriage to Clark Gable and her early death in a plane crash in 1942, at age 34." A terrific appreciation from Dan Callahan at the House Next Door.

Update, 11/21: "'Marvelous girl - crazy as a bedbug' was the great director Howard Hawks's considered assessment of Carole Lombard, the young leading lady of his raucous 1934 farce, Twentieth Century, which made her a star," writes Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. "Hawks was no mean connoisseur of female marvelousness - he later performed similar star-making services for Lauren Bacall, in To Have and Have Not, and Marilyn Monroe, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - and 1934 was a very good year to be a crazy girl on screen. During the Depression everybody was at least a little deranged, and movie audiences liked to take their doses of comedy in the form of giddy, helter-skelter romantic farce, the style known, then and now, as screwball. Carole Lombard, blond, beautiful and fearless, was the pre-eminent screwball of her mad, desperate time."

Update, 11/22: Bruce Bennett for Stop Smiling:

The accepted orthodoxy in American film history is that the advent of the talkies and the cumbersome soundproofing and microphones that came with it sent the late period silent film's sophisticated visual storytelling back to the film grammar stone age. It was, we're told, principally the efforts of visionary camera stylists like Alfred Hitchcock and dialogue masters like Howard Hawks that toppled the tyranny of sound film's technical encumbrances. The Hawks and Hitchcock entries in the series, the justifiably revered Twentieth Century, and the curiously overlooked Mr and Mrs Smith respectively are both breezily modern, immensely entertaining comedies showcasing their directors' gifts for gracefully break neck comic escalation in Hawks' case and sharply defined narrative point of view in the Hitchcock film.

But film history always appears willing to leave the actor out of the equation when adding up how movies endured the transitional years from silence to sound. Innovation and evolution in cinema storytelling was and still is shepherded on the backs of performers.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:35 AM

SFBG. Milk.

SFBG: Milk "Would Milk, the movie, have helped defeat Prop 8?" asks San Francisco Bay Guardian editor Tim Redmond in a special issue devoted to the film and the political legacy of Harvey Milk. "Nobody knows. But the movie is inspirational, and with any luck will carry the message of Milk's life to the masses."

"Pair an effusive and extroverted, larger-than-life politico like Harvey Milk - complete with community-forging charisma, panoramic outlook, and labyrinthine City Hall machinations - with a reserved, perpetually-outside-looking-in independent, à la director Gus Van Sant?" Kimberly Chun meets the director.

Updated.

"The movie raises a lot of issues that are alive and part of San Francisco politics today," note Steven T Jones and Tim Redmond. Also, "while Milk hews pretty closely to reality, some of the people who lived through the story say a few key pieces are missing."

"And so Harvey Milk came into my office, at the start of his political career, looking like a well-meaning amateur." SFBG founder Bruce B Brugmann looks back on the five-year-long relationship between the weekly and the politician.

"People have pointed fingers until they're blue in the wrist at the various perceived missteps of the No on 8 campaign," writes Marke B. "But a campaign is only as good as its participants - if the queer community can organize a 300-city mass protest around a viral e-mail, as we did Nov 15, then why didn't Harvey's lessons on how to effect political change sink in earlier? Of course I have a theory."

"As a programming move, the Roxie Theater's decision to screen Rob Epstein's classic 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk is both a no-brainer and a bit of casual brilliance," writes Johnny Ray Huston. "It's a no-brainer because of Milk mania. It's a little stroke of genius because this great documentary's return, one week before the theatrical premiere of Gus Van Sant's feature at the Castro, provides plentiful compare-and-contrast opportunities for all those wise enough to know that they need to see both."

Updates: At the SFBG blog Pixel Vision, Marke B supplements his piece in the printed issue with an interview with artist Leo Herrara, who's been addressing Milk's iconic status in his work.

Online listening tip. Paul VanDeCarr at FilmInFocus: "'Out of the Bars and into the Streets' is an audio walking tour about Harvey Milk and the rise of gay power in 1970s San Francisco."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:05 AM

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 "For most of the world, I suspect, the year 1968 signifies upheaval, revolution, power to the people, Vietnam and My Lai, Paris in flames, Martin and Bobby, Nixon versus Humphrey," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Another great rivalry played out that year in the form of a college football game. And while it seems absurd to include such a picayune event in the annals, the filmmaker Kevin Rafferty makes the case for remembrance and for the art of the story in his preposterously entertaining documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, preposterous at least for those of us who routinely shun that pagan sacrament."

Updated through 11/21.

"This may or may not be the greatest instance of college football ever played," writes J Hoberman in the Voice, "but Brian's Song, Jerry Maguire and The Longest Yard notwithstanding, Rafferty's no-frills annotated replay is the best football movie I've ever seen: A particular day in history becomes a moment out of time."

"It's kind of amazing that a film about a sports game where the final score is in the title could be so suspenseful, but Mr. Rafferty manages to pull it off," writes Sara Vilkomerson in the New York Observer.

"Daisy-chained commentary and ample game footage (succinctly called by the late Don Gillis) comprise the film's entire contents, and if you can stomach the crushing indulgence of it all, the game's turnabout is indeed a doozy," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine.

"Rafferty's interview style is relentlessly anti-Errol Morris," notes Paul Brenner at Filmcritic.com. "Rather than floating backgrounds behind his subjects, Rafferty settles upon interviewing the ex-players in their kitchens and dining rooms, bric-a-brac and coffee makers usually behind them. Most of the key players on both teams put in their two cents, including Yale Bulldogs Mike Bouscaren (the defensive captain who 'was out hellbent for destruction') and quarterback Brian Dowling (who hadn't lost a game since the 7th grade and gained fame forever as B.D. in Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury comic strip), as well as Harvard Crimsons Vic Gatto (the halfback who reveals that the players took over the Harvard team 'in the spirit of 1968') and offensive guard and later Big Star Movie Actor Tommy Lee Jones, who recalls humorous anecdotes involving himself and roommate Al Gore."

Writing in the New Yorker, Richard Brody finds the film to be "a fascinating feat of cultural archeology."

Updates: "Rafferty, who was a Harvard undergrad at the time, renders the game a vivid and compelling experience even if (like me) you're not from the Northeast, didn't go to an Ivy school and don't give a crap about football," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Social significance? I don't know about that. But Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 is a ripping good yarn, like a Fitzgerald short story rewritten by John Updike, with an uproarious, impossible Hollywood ending."

"The players' smarts and honesty is a non-fan's salvation," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 paints college football not as epochal warfare but as a pastime with room for serendipity. Falling on a game-changing fumble, a Crimson back recollects, 'I just couldn't believe how simple it was.'"

Updates, 11/21: "'It was just a football game,' one interviewee sighs." David Fear in Time Out New York: "Harvard Beats Yale 29–29 ends up being just a football-game doc; the grace the movie displays in re-creating that match, however, still makes it a winner."

"Rafferty's play-by-play structure compromises the depth of his subject, as he attempts to make history entertaining," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "The antique green-toned TV footage is fascinatingly archaic, but the B&W inter-titles reveal a weak attempt at supplying drama (unlike [Adam] Yauch's [Gunnin' for That #1 Spot], which pointed toward an exhilarating new view of sports as anthropology). Rafferty's compromise is understandably affectionate, but it winds up an unwitting promotion of aristocracy."

"Harvard Beats Yale takes its own significance as innate, and rarely strives to be anything more than one long anecdote," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "It's good to meet these men and hear their stories, and get some sense of what it was like to go to school at two of America's enduring institutions during a time when the aristocracy was out of favor. It's only a sense, though, not a deeper understanding."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:03 AM | Comments (1)

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon).

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) "Some 23 years in the making, Ellen Kuras's first film as a director is a portrait of Laotian refugee Thavisouk Phrasavath," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) is also a haunting flashback to the lush green and fiery orange phantasmagoria of wartime Indochina."

Updated through 11/24.

"Through eloquently broken English and with an almost poetically minimal use of language, Thavisouk expresses the personal effects of political and cultural turmoil amid warfare so effectively that the viewer becomes enraptured in his headspace," writes Rob Humanick in Slant.

"A non-polemical rebuttal to the Palinheads tired of apologizing for America, The Betrayal shows there's still plenty to be sorry about," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "The title's 'betrayal' is double: America's wartime betrayal of Laos and the U.S. government's post-bellum betrayal of the refugees: it sets up mother and eight children in a two-room tenement, shared with a Cambodian family of six, in a neighborhood addled with gang violence, with a bag of rice and no pot to cook it in."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Kuras "about her epic career-spanning project, bribing Laotian officials to get stock footage, and her childhood memories of Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur."

And Jason Guerrasio talks with Kuras for indieWIRE.

Updates: "[T]his world-class camerawoman has made a handmade document of a global-political story concentrated down into a single, extraordinarily intimate portrait, in which the 'bigger' issues are mirrored but ultimately dwarfed by domestic tragedy," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

"One of the strongest features of the film is that, for all the betrayals along the way, large and small, the viewer never loses sight of the bigger picture: the many events at work that shape what happens to the family." James Van Maanen: "Consequently blame is apportioned more justly and forgiveness is perhaps possible, if haltingly."

Updates, 11/21: "The subjects addressed in The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)... could hardly be more enormous: war, revolution, the abandonment of a nation and the scattering of its citizens." AO Scott in the New York Times: "But the film, though it includes old news clips of the war in Laos and of American presidents discussing that country's fate, is distinguished by an intimate mood and a lyrical tone. It is quiet, contemplative and impressionistic, which makes the story it has to tell all the more powerful."

"Unlike Carl Deal and Tia Lessin's Katrina doc Trouble the Water, which includes footage shot by its subjects, The Betrayal avoids the taint of opportunism, writes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York; "Kuras and Phrasavath become collaborators in telling his story. Though Kuras may erase her involvement too much (press notes reveal that she and Phrasavath met when she was looking for a Lao tutor), she remains ever vigilant about the code of the most compassionate documentarians: Never betray your subject."

"More than anything, The Betrayal is a cinematic essay about family and loss and home, one that's ironic and elegiac in tone and requires some patience," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "In blending home movies, newsreel footage, cinéma-vérité observation and Phrasavath's occasional, rueful narration, the filmmakers have created a shimmering, absorbing experience that's both specific and general, both concrete and abstract. It's about one Laotian family in Brooklyn and about almost every immigrant family everywhere in the country, about the allure of America and its often ugly reality."

"The title of The Betrayal refers to three different treacherous acts, each of a varying combination of personal and political significance for the family of Laotian subject Thavisouk Phrasavath." Following a few spoilers, Michael Joshua Rowin notes in Reverse Shot that "joy is tempered by a smoldering rage at the unchecked injustices of history... as well as lingering hurt caused by the disloyalties of one's flesh and blood that prevent a full restoration of family. Kuras and Phrasavath convey these feelings while uncovering the personal cost of political betrayal, their (self-) portrait operating successfully on multiple planes of emotion and awareness."

Update, 11/24: FilmCatcher interviews Kuras.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:01 AM

November 18, 2008

Shorts, 11/18.

Where the Wild Things Are This time AICN's infamous exclamation marks are right on the money: "Moriarty Sits Down With Spike Jonze For Huge Unfettered Where the Wild Things Are Interview + Exclusive Debut Photos!!"

For BU Today, Robin Berghaus talks with Gerald Peary about writing for the Boston Phoenix, teaching at Suffolk University, curating the BU Cinematheque and about his recently completed documentary, For the Love of Movies: The History of American Film Criticism. Via the Chicago Reader's JR Jones.

"On Saturday and Sunday, in cheerful defiance of the wild-fires that gridlocked much of southern California, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer held its first press screenings of [Valkyrie], which co-stars Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Izzard," reports Guy Adams in the Independent. "The result was a double triumph. Not only were a handful of industry reporters present able to scotch dark rumors about [Tom] Cruise's German accent (in the event, he does not attempt one), they also gave the film almost shockingly positive reviews."

Four Flies on Grey Velvet "If you know anything about the cinema of Dario Argento, 'the Italian Hitchcock,' you'll likely be familiar with the relationship of his third feature film Four Flies on Grey Velvet (4 Mosche di Velluto Grigio, 1971) to the phrases 'neglected,' 'rare' and 'impossible to see,'" writes Richard Harland Smith at Movie Morlocks. "The third and final entry in Argento's so-called 'animal trilogy' (which began with the brilliant The Bird with the Crystal Plumage/L'uccello Dalle Piume di Cristallo in 1969 and continued with the less-than-brilliant but nonetheless enjoyable Cat O'Nine Tails/Il Gatto a Nove Code the following year), Four Flies was distributed in the United States by Paramount. Following disappointing box office and a spate of discouraging reviews (Roger Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times hatchet job not only panned the film as 'badly dubbed and incoherent' but credited the direction to Dario Argento's producer father Salvatore), the film was withdrawn and has languished in the vaults ever since. That is... until now." Look for a DVD release in February.

In the London Review of Books, Tim Parks explains why Gomorrah, the book, has "an appeal that goes far beyond a specific interest in Italy or organised crime." And yet Gomorrah, the film, is "disappointing. Often it has a perfunctory, box-ticking feel." What's more, "The film makes clear that Saviano's book would not be so interesting without its author's visceral, obsessive concern, and his consequent vulnerability."

In Foreign Policy, Jerome Chen lists "five missions we'd love Agent 007 to tackle." Via Bookforum. As for Quantum of Solace, for Eileen Jones, "the central problem seems to be [that] the filmmakers themselves don't seem fascinated by physical movement in the world; they shoot and cut filmed action in such a way as to render it oddly inert."

"Until recently, Israeli film was insular, hemmed in by the restrictions of a tiny market for the Hebrew language, the Arab boycott in the Middle East, and a domestic audience that preferred dubbed movies from America," writes Linda Grant in the Guardian:

My Father, My Lord

Last year, however, Israeli cinema experienced an annus mirabilis. Four films - Jellyfish, The Band's Visit, Beaufort and My Father, My Lord - swept the international film festival awards. This was all the more remarkable because two of the four had nothing to do with Middle East politics. The films coming out of Israel in the past two or three years have reflected both the complex fissures in Israeli society and a sense of internal pessimism and unease after the collapse of the Oslo Accords, the start of the second intifada and the 2006 Lebanon war. It was not that Israel had lacked political filmmakers; it had lacked the audiences in Israel and abroad who wanted to see their work. Since the end of Oslo, there has been a sense, as Israeli novelist David Grossman says, of Israel retreating from its hope for itself as a "normal" country, propelled back into being what he calls "a big story". It is this new mood that Israeli cinema is reflecting.

"Who Will Quit Hollywood Next?" asks Logan Hill at New York's Vulture, where he's collected quite a list of recent sayonaras.

"Something died in the movies when TV, wide screen, and the New Wave film made the bit player expendable." That Manny Farber quote gets FilmCatcher's Damon Smith thinking in the filmlinc blog.

"The movie world has been fretting for years about the collapse of stardom," writes Michael Cieply in the New York Times. "Now there are growing fears that another chunk of film architecture is looking wobbly: the story. In league with a handful of former Hollywood executives, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory plans to do something about that on Tuesday, with the creation of a new Center for Future Storytelling."

"Ostensibly framed as a postwar melodrama that loosely evokes Leo McCarey's Love Affair in its story of a shipboard encounter between two emotionally unavailable people, Joseph Morder's L'Arbre mort is also a tone piece that seeks to reconcile the space between love and death, history and memory, documentary and fiction," writes Acquarello.

Sita Sings the Blues At the SpoutBlog, Brandon Harris talks with Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues) about her "Media Diet."

At Koreanfilm.org, Duncan Mitchel recommends Ahn Seul-ki's Five Is Too Many.

"The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have named 15 films that made the short-list in the Documentary Feature category for the 81st Academy Awards, whittling the number down from a record 94 that had originally qualified," reports Brian Brooks at indieWIRE, where he's got the list.

Online listening tip. At the House Next Door: Mike D'Angelo, John Lichman, Vadim Rizov and Keith Uhlich.

Online viewing tip #1. Via Alison Willmore, Michael Tully's Silver Jew - in full at Pitchfork for one week only.

Online viewing tip #2. David Poland talks with Mickey Rourke about The Wrestler... and much more.

Online viewing tip #3. FilmCatcher interviews Arnaud Desplechin.

Online viewing tip #4. At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth has Noah Baumbach's SNL short featuring Paul Rudd, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:43 AM

Fests and events, 11/18.

Jerry Lewis Jerry Lewis's "great originality as a filmmaker lies in his art of multiplying segmentation or segmenting multiplicity so as to produce a spiraling disorder that leads miraculously to a reassertion of order (as in the endings of The Family Jewels, Which Way to the Front?, and Cracking Up [1983]). His films take place in zones of indeterminacy and combinatorial freedom." Just one of the many observations in Chris Fujiwara's piece for Moving Image Source adapted in part from his forthcoming book on Lewis - who will be talking with Peter Bogdanovich on stage at the Times Center in Manhattan on Saturday, an event sponsored by the Museum for the Moving Image.

"In his overlapping careers as a historian, a curator, a teacher and a critic, Scott MacDonald has arguably done more than anyone to champion the American experimental cinema," writes Michael Fox, introducing his interview at SF360: "MacDonald will introduce a quartet of shows honoring the films and makers of Canyon Cinema beginning Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22, at the Ninth Street Independent Film Center, followed by a San Francisco Cinematheque show Sunday, November 23, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and a Pacific Film Archive program Tuesday, November 25."

JX Williams "Noel Lawrence, formerly of San Francisco's Other Cinema, is holding two new screenings in Los Angeles this week," notes Mike Everleth, who's got all the details on the new edition of Experiments in Terror (tomorrow) and an evening of work by JX Williams (Saturday).

"Nursery University the new documentary about the cutthroat, only-in-New-York, ritualized frenzy involved in getting 2- and 3-year-olds into nursery school, had its New York City premiere before a packed audience on Saturday evening as part of the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival at the American Museum of Natural History," writes Sewell Chan in the New York Times' City Room. "As Susan Dominus wrote in her Big City column last week, the film depicts New York City parents as a 'fascinating anthropological subculture,' fitting for a festival that included films about the Kwakwaka'wakw people of British Columbia and the Nangalala people of Australia's Northern Territory."

The Guardian's Ben Walters reports on Lebowski Fest in New York; plus, photos from Kentucky.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:13 AM | Comments (1)

DVDs, 11/18.

David Lynch Lime Green Set Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times on the David Lynch Lime Green Set: "The retail price of $179.95 might seem steep for 10 discs, with only four feature films among them. But for Lynch cultists, it's the trove of supplemental esoterica - in particular, one tantalizingly labeled 'mystery disc' - that will be the main attraction."

"I just can't often get my head around [Japanese pop culture], or see the opportunity to try, or track what kind of creative idea spawned something like Pokémon or Sailor Moon or the tentacle-rape epic Urotsukidoji or Satoshi Kon's Paprika or gold-plated poop-shaped cell-phone trinkets, or take you pick." Michael Atkinson for IFC: "I think Minoru Kawasaki, the cheapskate Japanese pulp satirist semi-extraordinaire, shares my bafflement, and has converted it into derision."

"DW Griffith, one of the most celebrated figures in American film, is probably the only silent-movie director whose name is known to the general public," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "And yet, as a new boxed set from Kino, Griffith Masterworks 2, reminds us, he is still underappreciated, with much of his work waiting to be rediscovered."

Dr No "Dr No was more than just the first entry in a successful film series," argues Roderick Heath: "it came at a point when a new type of pop culture was colonising the cinema screen."

"Generally speaking, the explosive pairing of Elvis with Ann-Margret is the reason that Viva Las Vegas is one of Presley's most well-liked movies," observes suzidoll at Movie Morlocks. "Her charisma with Elvis is unmatched by that of any other leading lady in any of Elvis's musicals."

"With Tropic Thunder, [Ben] Stiller is moving beyond the confines of his own identity to ridicule a group of people different from him," writes Simon Augustine for FilmCatcher. "The feat takes wit and humanity. He has the former, but not the latter."

"Diary of a Lost Girl was shot only a few months after the premiere of Pandora's Box and shares many of the earlier film's thematic and stylistic features," writes Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Again, [GW] Pabst gives us a critique of bourgeois society, although now it's made even more explicit. The [Louise] Brooks character Thymian, while very different from Pandora's Lulu - for one thing, her character in the early scenes is one of virginal innocence corrupted - still becomes in Pabst's hands a force of sexual allure that blazes through the film, casting an array of weak males into the shadows. And in Diary Pabst further develops his rich realist style, one that allows for the expressionism of extremes of character and actions but is grounded in the physical details of the world he is observing, the rooms and staircases, the doorways and windows, the exteriors of street or beach, the interiors of bourgeois home, chemist shop, reformatory, or brothel."

The General "The General is a peephole into history and by any definition an uncannily beautiful film," writes Gary Giddins at Slate. "Indeed, for a first-time viewer, I would emphasize the beauty over the comedy."

"With a star-powered trio of Roberts (Ryan, Mitchum and Young) sharing the one-sheet for a film noir produced by the studio that helped define the post-war style, Crossfire really should be a lot better than it is," finds Scott Marks. And then there's Flying Leathernecks. Nicholas Ray "possibly undertook the project in part as a preemptive defense against HUAC who viewed him as a left-leaning, Tinsel Town liberal. They were right, of course, but Ray never went down for them. Undoubtedly Ray and Robert Ryan, both leftist liberals, locked horns with the Duke and his favored GOP co-star Jay C Flippen. Sadly, very little of their off-screen tension found its way into the finished product."

What kept 7 Men From Now "buried for almost 50 years"? John McElwee tells the tale.

Josef Braun:

Kid Galahad

Nicky Donati (Edward G Robinson) handles fighters, a vocation that allows him to pull the puppet's strings with one hand while collecting the take with the other. They pass through cities, living out of hotels, shrugging off the coming and going of small fortunes, Nicky and his partner Fluff (Bette Davis), while Nicky's beloved mother (Soledad Jiménez) and sister Marie (Jane Bryan) are cloistered in the countryside and the convent respectively, away from the mugs, bon vivants and hangers-on. From Fluff, too. So at the heart of Kid Galahad (1937) is a man with a double life, a more forgiving existence if you need to seriously bend your ethics and still be able to look ma in the eye.

Glenn Kenny's Lovely Wife on the early Our Gang shorts: "This is like watching someone else's fever dream." Meanwhile, Glenn's "Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report" in the Auteurs' Notebook this week is on the Sean Connery-Sidney Lumet collaboration, The Offence.

Online viewing tip. The NYT's AO Scott on The Grapes of Wrath, "the most topical movie for right now" and "a very sophisticated piece of filmmaking. It's not propaganda; it's art."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk, Ambrose Heron, Noel Murray (LAT), the New Yorker, PopMatters, Slant and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail).

Posted by dwhudson at 8:42 AM

Ennio De Concini, 1923 - 2008.

Ennio De Concini Just click on his entry in the IMDb. Pretty astonishing. But Italian screenwriter Ennio De Concini wasn't merely prolific; after all, he won an Oscar for his screenplay for Divorce Italian Style and wrote for the likes of Michelangelo Antonioni, Mario Bava, Raffaello Matarazzo, Duilio Coletti, Riccardo Freda, Clemente Fracassi and Mario Camerini.

Following a long bout with illness, Ennio De Concini died yesterday at the age of 84. La Stampa broke the news; here's the latest, in Italian, from Paolo Festuccia.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:20 AM

Revolutionary Road, round 1.

Revolutionary Road "Subtly affecting, director Sam Mendes's Revolutionary Road plays like a more mature and considered version of American Beauty, his Oscar-winning tale about the nagging disillusionment eating away at the heart of suburbia," writes Tim Grierson in Screen Daily. "Based on Richard Yates's acclaimed 1961 novel about an unhappy East Coast marriage, the film inevitably suffers from some similarity to other recent domestic melodramas, notably star Kate Winslet's Little Children. Nevertheless, a strong cast, led by the much-touted reunion of Titanic stars Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, guides a nuanced story with much to say about married life's emotional blind alleys."

Updated through 11/19.

"Literature, movies and social commentary have all been down this road many times before, stressing the conformism of 50s upper-middle-class life, the emotional sterility of the suburbs, the hypocrisy of attitudes, the sexism, et al," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "What keeps all these too routinely accepted views safely in the background here is the stinging emotional truth that courses through the novel and, to a significant extent, the film, thanks especially to the electric, fully invested performances by the two leads. Frank and April are like a 20-years-younger George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? who have yet to achieve an unstated equilibrium in their epic tug of war."

"Justin Haythe's script and Sam Mendes's direction hew closely to Richard Yates' 1961 novel," notes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "Which means it fails to escape the novelist's misogyny and contempt for anything suburban. The phrase seized upon in both works is 'hopeless emptiness.' It's apt."

"'We were very interested to let it go and see where it went. I was like, "If you want to smash me up, OK, you want to smash me up,"' said Winslet at a Q&A session which followed a screening of the film in Los Angeles at the weekend," report Ben Child and Jeremy Kay for the Guardian. "'We're old friends and we know where we can go with each other,' agreed DiCaprio. 'She will let me strangle her until she literally passes out in the scene.'"

Update: "It's a pretty splendid film, far and away the best Mendes has made," argues Glenn Kenny. The story "is great stuff for actors, and the cast makes the most of it.... As for Mendes, he lets the material and the actors do much of the work for him. He doesn't altogether eschew cinematic flourish, though. Working with ace cinematographer Roger Deakins, he tends to favor long takes here, but rather than aspiring to the fluidity of Ophuls/Preminger/Kubrick, he does his own thing with them - having a non-Steadicam-ed handheld keep up with Frank's impotent, enraged pacing around the house, or holding one character in focus with the background blurred, then shifting the focus to the other character for the remainder of the shot. It all works well, save for one overly pretty shot near the very end, by which time I was inclined to let him have his way."

Updates, 11/19: "Mendes definitely warms up the book," writes Anne Thompson. "The movie offers some possibility of hope for the rest of us. It lives and breathes."

"Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet drive the film with outstanding performances, Roger Deakins cinematography is top notch, and the material remains faithful to the timeless novel, while retaining an edge and highlighting issues that still exist today," writes David Benjamin at the Playlist. "Growing up in Connecticut, I remained impressed throughout at the level of detail paid to replicating the dynamic of a state that really hasn't changed much since the 50s... It's a terrific film and one that is likely to rank among the year's best."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:18 AM

Mickey @ 80.

Mickey Mouse "Mickey Mouse turns 80 years old today, and there's not a gray hair on him." Claire Suddath offers a brief history and points to Time's 1937 cover story on Walt Disney.

The Kansas City Star has a timeline.

Online browsing tip. A gallery in the Guardian: "[J]oin us going around the world in 80 Mickeys. Your host: Disney scholar Neal Gabler who traces Mickey's evolution from from Chaplin-eque imp to gallant swashbuckler to anodyne Everymouse."

Online viewing tip. In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Bernd Graff's got Mickey's official debut, Steamboat Willie.

Update: Catherine Grant's rounded up many, many more resources.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:18 AM | Comments (2)

November 17, 2008

Australia, round 1.

Australia "In what has to be the most hyped and self-consciously local film since 1984's The Man From Snowy River, the anxiously anticipated Australia is not a bad film," writes Jim Schembri in the Age. "But it's far from a great one, and certainly not one destined to be a classic. That's not to say it won't be popular, possibly wildly so.... The film is fine, and never boring but, boy, is it overlong."

"It's a movie with a message, but [Baz] Luhrmann provides the audience with no shortage of thrills, from a cliff hanger cattle stampede to the bombing of Darwin," writes Claire Sutherland for the Herald Sun (via Lou Lumenick and Jeffrey Wells). "[Nicole] Kidman and [Hugh] Jackman are perfect together, Jackman's broad speaking drover a perfect foil to Kidman's snooty English rose."

How and why did Hugh Jackman become a star in the first place? Matt Dentler floats a playful theory.

Updated through 11/23.

Updates, 11/18: "Like his earlier films Strictly Ballroom, Romeo+Juliet and Moulin Rouge, Australia shows Baz Luhrmann as a very theatrical director," writes David Stratton in the Australian. "He has a great eye for compositions and the film is beautifully shot by Mandy Walker, but there's theatricality about the film which is a bit off-putting at the beginning.... The film is not without flaws, it's not the masterpiece that we were hoping for, but I think you could say that it's a very good film in many ways. While it will be very popular with many people I think there's a slight air of disappointment after it all."

"It has every Australian cliché you could hope for, from kangaroos and Nicole Kidman to aborigines going walkabout and, yep, Waltzing Matilda," writes Anne Barrowlcough in the London Times. And yet "Luhrmann's long-awaited, and over-budget epic Australia manages, against the odds, to avoid turning into one big sunburnt stereotype about Godzone country. Instead, in what turns out to be a multi-layered story it describes an Australia of the 1940s that is at once compellingly, beautiful and breathtakingly cruel."

Updates, 11/20: "With Australia, Baz Luhrmann has fearlessly gone for the biggest, lushest goal he could imagine - a romantic, old-fashioned epic to stand beside Gone With The Wind," writes Frank Hatherley in Screen Daily. "Though it fails to reach such Hollywood heyday heights, Australia's combination of high adventure, awesome landscapes and panting passions is sure to bring out romance-starved adult audiences - probably skewing female - when the film's international roll-out starts in Australia and the US on November 26."

"Embracing grand old-school melodrama while critiquing racist old-fashioned politics, Baz Luhrmann's grandiose Australia provides a luxurious bumpy ride," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy; "like a Rolls-Royce on a rocky country road, it's full of bounces and lurches, but you can't really complain about the seat. Deliberately anachronistic in its heightened style of romance, villainy and destiny, the epic lays an Aussie accent on colorful motifs drawn from Hollywood Westerns, war films, love stories and socially conscious dramas. Some of it plays, some doesn't, and it is long. But the beauty of the film's stars and landscapes, the appeal of the central young boy and, perhaps more than anything, the filmmaker's eagerness to please tend to prevail."

"Despite some cringe-making Harlequin Romance moments between homegrown Hollywood stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, the 1940s-set Australia defies all but the most cynical not to get carried away by the force of its grandiose imagery and storytelling," writes Megan Lehmann in the Hollywood Reporter. "And, yes, there are kangaroos."

It's "well done for what it is, assuming that you like old-fashioned Hollywood movies of the sort they do not make anymore," writes Variety's Anne Thompson.

"We all know Luhrmann is no fan of naturalism, but Australia is a manifestation of magical reality by a very gifted madman-auteur," writes Jeffrey Wells.

Update, 11/23: John Horn has a long talk with Luhrmann in the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:14 PM

Shorts, 11/17.

The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle Chris Stangl completes The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle.

With Quantum of Solace, which just saw the biggest opening weekend ever for a Bond movie in the US and is still doing very well indeed internationally, director Marc Forster "presents us with a new phenomenon in the James Bond films, a Bond at odds with the United States, who risks his career to save Evo Morales's leftist regime in Bolivia from being overthrown by a General Medrano, who is helped by the CIA and a private mercenary organization called Quantum," notes Juan Cole. "In short, this Bond is more Michael Moore than Roger Moore." Via Movie City News.

For Gabriel Shanks, "Quantum is a quintessential chapter in the Bond franchise, marvelously mixing style, action, sex, and dramatic tension in fantastical proportions."

Pinocchio "Guillermo del Toro's developing with the Jim Henson Co a darker version of the Pinocchio fairy tale as a stop-motion feature." And Variety's Dave McNary traces the history of Pinocchios past.

Film Threat presents this year's edition of "The Frigid 50: The Coldest People in Hollywood. Unlike those other lists that brown-nose their way into some pampered celebrity's good graces, the Frigid 50 is a written declaration of who or what in Hollywood needs a reality check, detailing the least-powerful, least-inspiring, least-intriguing people in all of Tinseltown."

"Killer Films partners Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler have sold 50% of the company to VC fund GC Corporation." IndieWIRE sums up what's known so far. Related: Vachon is one of several people quoted in iW editor Eugene Hernandez's reflection on the "Battle for Marriage Equality and the Intersection with Indie Film."

"Valkyrie has turned into a test not only of [Tom] Cruise's career durability, but of MGM's determination - with new ownership, and under the chairmanship of Harry E Sloan since 2005 - to be taken seriously as a producer and distributor of the kind of risky event films that define a major studio," report Brook Barnes and Michael Cieply in the New York Times.

Catherine Grant presents "links to out of copyright or otherwise legally scannable books that have been collected and archived" by the Internet Archive.

We All Loved Each Other So Much Kevin Lee on We All Loved Each Other So Much: "There's about as much - or rather, little - insight into the historical period covered here as there is in Robert Zemeckis's Forrest Gump (TSPDT rank #577) - both films share the trait of interpreting historical developments in terms of moral shortcomings among individuals caused by their selfishness and ignorance. Fortunately [Ettore] Scola and company infuse their simplistic overview with enough witty, knowing dialogue to keep the proceedings engaging."

Nick Davis hosts another round of Best Pictures: From the Outside In, this time featuring a discussion of Gone With the Wind and The English Patient.

"I just gave a lecture on Lawrence of Arabia, and it is David Lean's centenary," notes Robert Horton. "That's my excuse for reprinting this article, published in Film Comment (editor: Richard T Jameson) Sep/Oct 1991. Just one caveat from today: the political stuff in Lawrence is much stronger than I give Lean credit for in this piece."

"Aryan Kaganof's SMS Sugar Man has either the dubious or celebratory distinction - depending on your point of view of these kinds of things - of being the first feature film shot entirely on a cell phone, specifically the Sony Ericsson W900i," writes Mike Everleth. "Given the film's strong sexual content, Sony probably won't be championing the film any time soon. But, in their absence, I will."

"With Salim Baba, Tim Sternberg crystallizes what makes cinema such a paradoxically beautiful thing (and in only 14 minutes, at that, adding to the film's refreshment)," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail.

Chuck Tryon offers his first impressions of Sujewa Ekanayake's Indie Film Blogger Road Trip.

"The good news is that, despite delivering the expected frosty alienation of its namesake, Antarctica features enough sweat-laden sex scenes to thaw three meandering romantic dramedies," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant.

The Beatles "40 years later, the impact of the Beatles' self-titled 'return to rock' stands as a statement of a disenchanted group trying to have fun while slowly fracturing. The PopMatters staff celebrates this undeniable achievement with a five day, song-by-song, side-by-LP side breakdown of the entire White Album."

"Baird Bryant, 80, a documentary filmmaker and cinematographer who made his name on edgy films such as Easy Rider and the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter, died Thursday from complications after surgery at Hemet Valley Medical Center in Hemet," reports the Los Angeles Times.

Online browsing tip. Carabaas's collection of vintage photos of Hollywood stars, via Coudal Partners.

Online listening tip #1. Nathaniel R talks with Sally Hawkins about Happy-Go-Lucky.

Online listening tip #2. Vinyl Is Podcast #6: Waltz With Bashir.

Online viewing tip. At Twitch, Kurt Halfyard has the trailer for Stingray Sam, which "looks to be a serialized project that is shaping up to a full feature for Sundance 2009" from Cory McAbee (The American Astronaut).

Online viewing tips. David Byrne and Philip Glass in 1986 at the DVblog.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:30 AM

Fests and events, 11/17.

Voices of Light Michael Guillén tells the story behind Voices of Light, an oratorio based on Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc by Richard Einhorn which will be performed tonight at the Castro in San Francisco and again on Sunday in Berkeley. And he interviews Mark Sumner, director of the UC Choral Ensembles.

"There are a number of obvious reasons why the Film Society might choose to show Some Came Running at Wednesday night's Frankly Celebrating: A Sinatra Salute, their tribute to Frank Sinatra's career in Hollywood," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Vincente Minnelli's teeming CinemaScope melodrama turns 50 this year, and even if it wasn't the best of Sinatra's films (and in my mind, it is), Minnelli's tendency towards stylistic overstatement provides the perfect contrapuntal showcase for his star's non-actor naturalism. It also opens up multiple points of conversation, from the rise of the Rat Pack to Sinatra's own complicated identity as a man's man who got his start singing love songs to swooning girls."

"Rather than Manny Farber's all-time favorites or something like that, your selections for the Film Society program seem somewhat organic, like a conversation you're having with Farber through these films." Eric Hynes opens Reverse Shot's conversation with Kent Jones. Through November 26.

Bolero "With immaculate timing, Film Forum has scheduled a series of Carole Lombard films: the perfect response to recession, depression, and other ills, whether of the economy or the soul." Anthony Lane. Also in the New Yorker, and also quite briefly, Hilton Als on Ivo van Hove's stage adaptation of John Cassavetes's Opening Night - at BAM from December 2 through 6.

Sending in reviews from the Starz Denver Film Festival: keelsetter at Movie Morlocks and Peter Nellhaus. Through Sunday.

David Schisgall took his film Very Young Girls to the Sheffield Doc/Fest and looks back on the experience at All these wonderful things.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:49 AM | Comments (1)

Bolt.

Bolt "An Incredible Journey or Homeward Bound updated for the superhero era, Bolt is an OK Disney animated entry enhanced by nifty 3-D projection," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "The first inhouse feature from Disney Animation since Pixar guru John Lasseter took over the studio's creative reins, this tale of a canine forced to overcome his superdog complex and learn to become a regular pooch bears some telltale signs of Pixar's trademark smarts, but still looks like a mutt compared to the younger company's customary purebreds."

"Setting the dimensional stage with an extended action sequence that shows off the fresh technology, the story-within-the-story kicks in revealing TV superdog Bolt ([John] Travolta) to be unaware that his villain-chasing studio environment is really all make-believe," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Michael Rechtshaffen.

Updated through 11/21.

"Yes, this is The Truman Show with talking animals," writes New York's David Edelstein. "It's a fascinating trend: state-of-the-art Hollywood fantasies pegged to the notion that state-of-the-art Hollywood fantasies are our chief impediment to being 'real.'"

"As a visual development artist for Walt Disney Animation Studios, Mark Walton normally toils far from public view," writes Brooks Barnes for the New York Times. But he's "the unlikely voice of Rhino, an overweight, television-obsessed hamster who is shaping up to be the film's breakout character. (Sorry, Bolt.)"

For AICN, Capone talks with Susie Essman, who "plays a stray New York cat named Mittens, who is as tough as nails even though she's declawed."

Updates, 11/19: "As I laughed my head off, I wondered what it means that children's movies have become the playground for Hollywood's self-loathing," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Yet the self-mockery in Bolt is gentle and affectionate, and there's something touching about the yearning for ordinary life and decency that, to judge by its ubiquity in films for the nominally innocent, plagues those who live and work in the realms of the unreal."

"One can forgive a Disney cartoon for having predictable plot beats, but Bolt exists in a strange plane regarding what it expects kids to understand about show business," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "On the one hand, it throws around gags about boom mikes, method acting, agents and writers' pitches that assume its young viewers came out of the womb reading Entertainment Weekly; on the other, we're supposed to willfully forget everything we know about how TV is actually made.... It will make a preferable alternative to a third viewing of Beverly Hills Chihuahua or High School Musical 3, but it's nowhere near the level of any of the Pixar titles or of last year's underrated charmer Meet the Robinsons."

Bolt "further proof that Pixar's greatest strength doesn't derive simply from Lasseter's (admittedly vital) imagination but, instead, from its collaborative environment of uniquely creative minds," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Still, from its colorful, dexterous animation - given a high-gloss shine and depth by 3D effects that, mercifully, don't resort to stuff-jumping-off-the-screen gimmicks - to its combination of humor and pathos, Bolt is perfectly amiable but rarely brisk, with neither its premise nor its execution quite inspired enough to elicit more than faint admiration."

Updates, 11/21: "While artisanal Pixar touches abound in the exquisitely detailed animation, the story shows some signs of repurposing and committee work," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Bolt's situation is a bit like Buzz Lightyear's in Toy Story - he must learn that what he thinks of as his true identity is an artifact of make-believe - and a lot like Lightning McQueen's in Cars.... But if Bolt... does not quite rise to the level of bona fide Pixar masterpieces like Wall-E, Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, it does manage to be frisky, funny and inventive enough to engage the attention of grown-ups as well as children."

"Bolt is just too knowing; it keeps reminding us, loud and clear, of how culturally savvy it is," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Bolt, with its numerous winks and nudges, reminds us how attuned we are to the falseness of pop culture, which isn't the same thing as connecting us with its truths."

"[F]rom the moment Bolt sticks his head out the window of a speeding truck and feels the breeze of freedom and free will, the picture snaps to life and instantly acquires heart (Lasseter's favorite movie organ)." Richard Corliss in Time: "Of course each character gets to show a heroism all the more special for being displayed without special effects. Indeed, Rhino's climactic declaration of purpose - that 'All my dreaming has prepared me for this moment' - might be the motto, not just of this very satisfying film, but of the Disney-Pixar animators. They're smart kids who dream for a living."

Megan Seling in the Stranger: "The only gripe I have is this: If you're going to make a movie 3-D, make it fucking 3-D. I want to see shit flying at my face. I want to be ducking and jumping and screaming and doing all that stuff you're supposed to do when watching a 3-D movie. Don't just make the grass look a little closer to me than the dog. That's boring."

"At the end of the day, Bolt is a sweet Disney family film, but Lasseter's oversight has made it smarter than it otherwise would have been," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

"For the first time in years, it feels like Disney has done its namesake proud," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

"[P]ure Pixar lite," finds Stephen Garrett in Time Out New York.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:46 AM

Interview. Gonzalo Arijon.

Stranded "If there are a lot of good scenes in a film, there must be a lot of good scenes that are out of the film. It's about miracles. In a very modest way, I think I made a miracle film, because I believe in miracles."

David D'Arcy talks with Gonzalo Arijon about his documentary Stranded: I've Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains.

More recent interviews with Arijon: Chris Lee (Los Angeles Times) and Mara Math (San Francisco Bay Guardian).

Posted by dwhudson at 1:03 AM | Comments (1)

November 16, 2008

Shorts, fests, etc, 11/16.

Alfred Hitchcock David George Menard "hypothesizes that Hitchcock's formal method is constituted of a distinctive worldview that reflects a uniquely chaotic universe, one based on a romantic ideal that somehow gets distorted." And you'll also want to scroll down to the bottom of that page and read "About David George Menard."

Also in the new issue of Offscreen: Editor Donato Totaro on Paz Encina's Paraguayan Hammock, Alessandra M Pires on Patrice Chéreau's Gabrielle and Daniel Garrett on Tarsem's The Fall.

Michael J Anderson and Lisa K Broad on Nathaniel Dorsky: "This is not cinema as painting but cinema as itself in the truest sense - a cinematic flatness."

The Chicago Reader's JR Jones explains the No Milk for Cinemark! campaign.

"Film Independent, under scrutiny for the personal financial contributions of LA Film Festival director Rich Raddon in support of California's gay marriage ban (Prop 8), has issued a statement," and Michael Jones has it; David Poland tells the story behind it.

Hansel and Gretel "Compare the balance of Twilight Zone eeriness, and sweet visual palette in Im Pil-Sung's Hansel & Gretel to the simple vulgarity of Terry Gilliam's Tideland (out of Canada), or the handsome flatness of Krabat (out of Germany) to see what sort a re-envisioning of a Grimm tale is possible," writes Kurt Halfyard at Twitch. "I cannot call Hansel & Gretel a perfect film. Far from it. There are some major stutters resulting from questionable pacing and structural choices. Yet handsome production design, talented children actors and a willingness to take the story to some dark places make the lengthy running time and directorial excess well worth the trip."

"It may seem like a cheat - or inevitable - that the heroes of the first mainstream Bollywood movie to feature gay characters are just pretending, but the decent-hearted comedy Dostana deserves credit," writes Rachel Saltz. "It irreverently normalizes a topic that has been virtually absent from screens in India (where gay sex is still technically illegal), and does so using contemporary Bollywood's best not-so-secret weapon: star power. Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham are the unembarrassed A-listers who play Sameer and Kunal, a nurse and photographer thrown together by real estate lust." Related: "[P]revious attempts to portray homosexuality in Indian cinema have faced protests, not from the censors but mainly from rightwing Hindu fundamentalists," reports Anil Sinanan in the London Times.

Also in the New York Times: "In a way," writes Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times, "the extremely peculiar film series called Punk 'n' Pie, which begins Friday at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn, demonstrates pretty conclusively that punk remains, three decades later, defiantly resistant to definition, still pogoing so furiously that the camera can't quite keep it in focus." Related: Stuart Husband talks with Malcolm McLaren for the Observer.

Being Lincoln "Whether he's seen as the man who drove Old Dixie down or an infallible Great White Father, the strong opinions people have about Abraham Lincoln only intensify when his facsimile appears in the flesh," writes Jim Ridley in the Nashville Scene. "In the lighthearted documentary Being Lincoln: Men With Hats, which screens at the Belcourt next Wednesday - the 145th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address - [Elvis] Wilson delves into a nationwide subculture of men who dress, re-create and comport themselves at public appearances as Lincoln."

"These are heady times for French film, which seems finally to have found a new voice after many years spent emerging from the long shadows of the Nouvelle Vague and battling the influence of Hollywood," writes the Observer's Jason Solomons. "French films are taking center stage around the world and the names of French directors are once again rolling off the tongues of cinephiles: [Laurent] Cantet, Abdellatif Kechiche, Olivier Assayas, Agnès Jaoui. Is this the start of a new New Wave?"

Also in the Observer, Philip French's latest "screen legend": Trevor Howard.

"Contrary to popular belief, the German Film Star referred to in the song is not Klaus Kinski, Curd Jürgens, Jürgen Prochnow or even Marlene Dietrich." The story behind the tune.

"After the big screen entertainment of Heaven's Door last week, I suggested Tom Mes have his first pink cinemagoing experience," recalls Jason Gray. "And so, a few nights ago we met on Ikebukuro's west side and headed for the CineRoman along the tracks (see my August 5th entry)."

Thom Ryan comes across an intriguing story that might have appeared in the New York Re-Inquirer on December 21, 1951.

Katherine Graham: Personal History "HBO is developing an untitled film about the life of Katharine Graham, who took the reins of the Washington Post and led the paper during the Watergate investigation that brought down the Nixon administration," reports Variety's Michael Fleming. "Joan Didion is writing the script, and Laura Linney is circling the project to potentially play Graham."

FilmInFocus runs an extract from Peter Cowie's 1994 biography of Francis Ford Coppola.

Kimberly Lindbergs: "After watching countless thrillers over the years I'm not often surprised by a movie anymore, but Charles Crichton's exceptional film The Third Secret (1964) really caught me off guard and impressed me with its compelling storyline and dramatic cinematography."

And: "If you live in New York or will be visiting the area on November 25th, you won't want to miss the US Premiere of the French pop musical spectacular, Les Idoles (1968). Cinebeats has teamed up with New York's Film Society at Lincoln Center and together we're offering one lucky reader a FREE pair of tickets to see the film on November 25th and attend the fabulous yé-yé afterparty where DJs J Tripp, Melody Nelson, and the Film Society's own Gabriele Caroti will spin French psychedelic 60s pop."

Paul Matwychuk revisits six films made for less than $30,000 and asks, "Which of these films got the most aesthetic bang for their buck?"

"As more and more economists compare the nation's current financial crisis to the Great Depression of the 1930s, it begs the question - will the movies be as good?" For MSNBC, Alonso Duralde surveys a "Golden Age."

On Dangerous Ground "Made (reluctantly) by RKO and produced (reluctantly) by John Houseman, who had a relationship with [Nicholas] Ray that preceded the director's time in Hollywood, On Dangerous Ground found life with the support of star Robert Ryan and a script Ray wrote with AI Bezzerides, whose novels had earlier served the bases for the films They Drive by Night and Thieves' Highway," writes clydefro (site) at Noir of the Week. "The result was a quintessential Nicholas Ray film, one that allows for playing within the margins while still doing so at his own rhythms. It's structured into two entirely different story segments and comes complete with a bold score by Bernard Herrmann that disorients as much as it thrills."

"John Wayne was always right, Larry Fine was always wrong, and Robert Ryan was always, always troubled," notes Scott Marks in a review of Bad Day at Black Rock.

"Films like Gianni Amelio's acclaimed Lamerica (Italy, 1994) subtly present old and new colonial-type hierarchies and political compromises that affect the lives of the ordinary people who appear as the film's protagonists," writes Dina Iordanova. "The underlying postcolonial dynamism may not be overtly manifest in cinematic texts, yet it can easily be revealed in the process of closer analysis, especially in films like this one, featuring migrants that have been set on the move as a consequence of the radical social shifts of 1989."

"The profound trick of C Karim Chrobog's documentary War Child, which won the Cadillac Award at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, is that by meeting and following Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier turned successful rap artist, the terror and inhumanity of Darfur and Sudan become vividly real in this young man's fascinating, horrifying, tragic, and ultimately inspiring life story," writes Elisabeth Donnelly, introducing her interview with Jal for Tribeca.

The Third Annual Heeb Film Festival happens this coming Saturday and Sunday.

In the Los Angeles Times, John Horn reports on "the high-stakes legal tussle surrounding the movie version of [Watchmen] - a film that holds great creative and financial promise but is now being overshadowed by a bitter copyright-infringement lawsuit that threatens Watchmen's distribution."

In the Independent, Andrew Johnson gets a few quick words with Wayne Kinsey regarding his book Hammer Films: A Life in Pictures.

Online listening tip. Nathan Lee talks with Kent Jones about Manny Farber.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:18 AM | Comments (2)

Brooklyn Rail. Nov 08.

Andrzej Wajda "Over the course of 50-plus films, [Andrzej] Wajda has delved into difficult, painful and politically revealing issues in Poland's history," and Alan Lockwood talks with him about Katyn and his pre-1989 productions for Polish television.

This year's New York Film Festival "ran into trouble when it reached out too eagerly to Hollywood, but otherwise presented a true omnibus, a comprehensive report from the world - the entire world - of movies." A roundup from David N Meyer.

"Known best by the name of a character he portrayed on record, film and in nightclubs - Dolemite - [Rudy Ray] Moore's death represents the end of an era, the Chitlin Circuit days of roadhouses and inner city nightclubs, places where respectable citizens just didn't go." A remembrance from Brother Cleve.

"Charm School is VH1's new shameful display and exploitation of a posse of skanky cougar-strippers with pink streaks in their hair scratching each other's eyes out while wearing next to nothing, or, if its elimination night, sexy schoolgirl uniforms with white thigh-highs." And Mary Hanlon actually liked Rock of Love.

"Without [cinematographer Robert] Richardson's unconventional lighting and multiple camera angles on one scene, W. is as dry in style as it is in substance," writes Melina Neet.

"Rachel Getting Married deals with how dysfunction can hurt and how it can charm," writes Camila de Onís. "The film's underlying optimism is infectious."

Girl Boy Girl "Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT LeRoy is a short but tedious read, punctuated by frequent mentions of famous admirers and friends whose soulless clinging to JT for the 'authenticity' he provided is only matched by [Savannah] Knoop's and [Laura] Albert's unapologetic exploitation of their need," writes Sierra Feldner-Shaw.

"The opening of EMPAC (Electronic Media Performing Arts Center), a 200-million-dollar, 220,000-square-foot glass, steel, and cedar building is a massive step forward in developing the intersection of technology, media, and the performing arts," reports Ellen Pearlman. "Its wizardry includes such one-of-a-kind technical innovations as an adjustable fabric ceiling, a 70-foot fly tower, computer-controlled rigging and my personal favorite, a circular metal floor coil underneath each patron's seat that remotely adjusts heating and cooling to the individual's body temperature. Digital media has always been the reluctant stepchild of visual arts. Part of the reason has been the enormous computing power necessary to seamlessly present work outside of small computer screens or laboratory test sites. EMPAC put its money where its mouth is and wired more than 800 inputs into RPI's CCNI supercomputer, the seventh biggest in the world and the largest at any American university."

"Summer's over, but Rothko (Tate Modern), Bacon (Tate Britain), Warhol's television and films (The Hayward), and new Gerhard Richters (Serpentine Gallery) have all arrived in London." A dispatch from Sherman Sam.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:50 AM

November 15, 2008

Sight & Sound. Dec 08.

The Baader Meinhof Complex Of the pieces collected so far in the entry on how The Baader Meinhof Complex is playing in the UK, the one I'd recommend most is Philip Oltermann's for the Guardian on the intense dialogue between German culture and the Red Army Faction throughout the 70s and early 80s. Andrea Dittgen's article for the new issue of Sight & Sound, then, might be read as a companion piece, with its quick rundown of RAF-related films that have appeared in the following years and its brief summing up of German reaction to this one.

Manoel de Oliveira "is certainly a great director, although in a singular way. Critics have compared him to the likes of Buñuel and Dreyer, yet his films remain outside the canon. Wilfully uncommercial and hard to see outside festivals, these eccentric works can be elusive even at their least obscure." A chronological guide from Jonathan Romney.

To Get to Heaven First You Have to Die The first two features of Tajikistan's "most distinctive auteur," Djamshed Usmonov, "The Flight of the Bee (1998, co-directed with the Korean Min Hun) and Angel on the Right (2002) were low-key comedies of manners in whicha schoolteacher and an ex-convict, respectively, tried to achieve harmony with their local communities in general and female relatives in particular," writes Michael Brooke. "Parts of his third feature To Get to Heaven First You Have to Die suggest a similar tone and narrative trajectory, but it's sparer, bleaker and much more unsettling; more reminiscent of Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End (1970) and Krzysztof Kieslowski's A Short Film About Love (1988)."

"For all its epic pretensions and grandeur, How the West Was Won is really just a Debbie Reynolds movie with some whopping guest stars," writes Tim Lucas. "One supposes the film's continuing popularity is a matter of 'you had to be there, then', and it's perhaps most entertaining when viewed with its informative, nostalgia-driven audio commentary activated."

"Hurried into production by Ridley Scott after the unpredicted success of American Gangster, Body of Lies is a feverish adaptation of the novel by Washington Post journalist David Ignatius," writes Roger Clarke. "The story is mainly set in Jordan, and though Scott's visual dynamism is very much upfront from the beginning, the script by William Monahan (The Departed) is too often marred by clumsy expositions, weak dramatic constructions and a general lack of anything resembling emotional punch."

Kate Stables on Choke: "Rather like Victor's innumerable sexual episodes, this is a quick and dirty movie - it was shot in three weeks, and it looks like it - but [Clark] Gregg's light touch and actor-led approach compensate in some measure for the rather everyday visuals and flashback-spattered structure."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:53 AM | Comments (2)

November 14, 2008

Shorts, 11/14.

LA CityBeat "Tom Graeff managed to helm only one feature film from immaterial idea to general release," writes Ron Garmon in a cover story for LA CityBeat. "Out of the hundreds of low-budget science fiction movies released in America during the early Cold War, Teenagers from Outer Space (1959) is one of a relative handful with any kind of life outside period camp or low-rent irony." Documentary filmmaker Jim Tushinski is working on a biography and has issued a call for "any information, correspondence, memorabilia, tips, or suggestions that you think Jim should know about": "Low-budget auteur, gay liberation pioneer, eccentric rabble rouser, religious fanatic sent to save the world - Tom Graeff was all of these. Unknown in his own lifetime and largely forgotten today, Graeff's fascinating, doomed journey is the ultimate Hollywood story - filled with ambition, delusion, sex, scandal, hope and failure."

Glenn Kenny previews what looks like a very strong contender for DVD release of the year, Murnau, Borzage and Fox, a 12-disc box set. Also: "For all their differences, Day For Night and Irma Vep make an exemplary double bill."

"After a constructive screaming match, the sequence was deleted," recalls Frederic Raphael in his review of Ever, Dirk: The Bogart Letters for the Times Literary Supplement. The film at hand is Darling, which, of course, Raphael wrote: "There is nothing unusual about such cosmetic excision; editing is of the essence of film. Dirk's own life was no less prudently tailored; the scissors were applied to whatever might fail to be fetching. In his letters, spasms of conceit were trimmed with comely self-mockery, self-pity served with a twist. That most of them were addressed to ladies suggests that the sex was his preferred constituency, provided that it remained at a remove."

Somebody In Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando, Stefan Kanfer "portrays Brando as a man at war with himself: self-loathing, self-destructive and self-sabotaging," writes for Time.

"Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman's meditation on (amongst other things) death, failure, despair, heartache, the dualism of art and life, and the process of individuation is nothing short of a masterpiece. With traces of Jungian and Buddhist philosophy throughout, it's clearly a deeply personal, subjective work that somehow maintains a healthy objectivity, and avoids the expected narcissism from a work of this nature." Andrew Grant opens a two-part investigation.

Meanwhile, Kimberley Jones talks with Kaufman. Also in the Austin Chronicle: "Try, if you can, to imagine a world in which three of the silver screen's most iconic ingenues - silent siren Louise Brooks, 40s femme Veronica Lake, and fanboy B-goddess Sandahl Bergman - never existed." Marc Savlov: "A nightmare scenario, right? (And curious, isn't it, that all three came into existence on the same day - Nov 14?)"

"David O Russell is in talks to direct Matthew McConaughey in The Grackle, a raucous comedy for New Line," reports Variety's Michael Fleming.

More up-n-coming news:

Killing Yourself to Live

"A documentary, more than two years in the making, about President-elect Barack Obama's campaign is gathering significant interest from international distributors just days after being picked up in the United States by HBO," reports Brian Stelter. "A team of directors and editors backed by the actor Edward Norton is furiously editing the untitled project."

Also in the New York Times:

The Dukes
  • "The Dukes wants to be the Big Deal on Madonna Street of doo-wop nostalgia, Italian-American division," writes Stephen Holden. "As this shambling, cornball heist comedy - in which the members of a one-hit-wonder vocal group from the early 60s conspire in 2007 to rob the gold from the safe in a dental laboratory - plods along in its sloppy, joshing way, it tastes like pasta sauce that has sat on the shelf long after the expiration date on the can." More from Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nick Schager (Slant) and James Yu (L Magazine). And IndieWIRE interviews director Robert Davi; so does Bilge Ebiri for New York.

  • "Not even the august presence of Maximilian Schell can dispel the odor of fusty smut that clings to House of the Sleeping Beauties, a clammy meditation on sex, death and the endless fascination of unclothed innocence," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. More from Bryant Frazer, Kristi Mitsuda (indieWIRE), Vadim Rizov (Voice), Nick Schager (Cinematical) and Andrew Schenker (Slant). And indieWIRE interviews director Vadim Glowna.

  • "The kitchen-sink drama has fallen out of favor lately, elbowed aside by flashier fare," writes Jeannette Catsoulis. "One welcome corrective to this trend is Eden, a picture so modest and minor-key that the emotional bruise it leaves may take days to develop."

  • Neil Genzlinger: "War Child, a documentary about the hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal, is a bit ragged and repetitive, but certainly this young man's life is amazing proof that one person really can make a difference." More from Aaron Hillis (Voice).

  • "Discredited by the medical establishment but passionately defended by its followers, who claim it can cure cancer, the Gerson therapy is based on fundamental principles - eschew meat and processed foods - that are scarcely provocative in this age of slow-food chic," writes Nathan Lee. "Nor would they seem to warrant a feature-length infomercial as rhetorically saccharine as The Beautiful Truth." More from Tim Grierson (Voice).

  • Oh, and that whole business about Sarah Palin thinking Africa's a country rather than a continent? A hoax. And Fox News, MSMNC, the New Republic and the Los Angeles Times were all taken in. The "leak" came from McCain "advisor" Martin Eisenstadt, who is, in fact, a fictional character created by filmmaker Eitan Gorlin and Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish. Richard Pérez-Peña reports; and the SpoutBlog's Karina Longworth comments.

Antarctica Michael Koresky on Yair Hochner's new film: "Antarctica is unapologetically horny, even as it wears its romanticism on its sleeve." Also at indieWIRE's Brian Brooks profiles Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black; plus, an interview with On Broadway director Dave McLaughlin and producer Lance Greene. And Eugene Hernandez and Peter Knegt discuss this year's awards contenders.

"Despite an ironclad studio embargo threatening to turn all violators into backwards-aging old-man babies, reviews for Sunday's first-ever screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button have started to appear on blogs," notes Lane Brown at Vulture. "How are they? Mixed!"

"Joshua Brown's debut narrative feature, Altamont Now, is one of my favorite films of the year," writes Mike Everleth, introducing his interview. "It's an hilarious and exhilarating movie about a young punk rock superstar who, along with his poseur cronies, drops out of society to take over an abandoned nuclear missile silo and launch a youth apocalypse."

David Bordwell considers the usefulness of Charles Barr's notion of "gradation of emphasis."

"[I]t's not far-fetched for a movie lover to think that Obama's rise was prepared—if not predicted—by Soul Man." Armond White argues the case in the New York Press. Nathan Lee comments.

FilmInFocus opens a package on another "Movie City": Washington DC.

"[T]he story of the CIA's involvement in Hollywood is a tale of deception and subversion that would seem improbable if it were put on screen," writes Matthew Alford. "[A]ltering scripts, financing films, suppressing the truth - it's worrying enough. But there are cases where some believe the CIA's activities in Hollywood have gone further - far enough, in fact, to be the stuff of movies." Did they off a screenwriter? Anyway, also in the Guardian, David Thomson on Julianne Moore and Ryan Gilbey interviews Fernando Meirelles; so, too, does Rebecca Davies for the New Statesman.

The Quiet Man "To truly understand The Quiet Man - its structure, its world, and its appeal - it is important to understand how John Ford created a time out of time, his own Brigadoon," argues Marilyn Ferdinand.

"Kemal Atatürk: a drunkard and bon vivant?" asks Daniel Steinvorth in Spiegel Online. "To mark the 70th anniversary of the death of the founder of modern Turkey, [Mustafa] reveals some of the more profane traits of the national hero - enraging devout Kemalists and sparking suspicion of an conspiracy plot from abroad."

For the Philadelphia City Paper, Shaun Brady talks with graphic artist Charles Burns about Fear(s) of the Dark.

Ken Russell lists his "ten formative influences" in the London Times.

James Mottram talks with Philip Seymour Hoffman for the Independent.

Films in Review runs Oscar A Rimoldi's 1985 piece on John Garfield.

"Watching The Godfather today is like watching Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) in 1972." Time's passing is weirding out Jason Kottke.

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth talks with Todd Sklar about Range Life, "which is shepherding four truly independent films to 20+ cities in North America."

What are "cine-scabs"? "[M]ovies or movie scenes that get on your nerves, that annoy, grate, embarrass... but which you nonetheless watch and watch again, nursing your conflicted emotions as you would a Château Pétrus you bought with your own money or scratching at them as you would the crust on an old wound," explains Richard Harland Smith. "Everyone has their own cine-scabs and here are my picks..."

Is it too early to get the year-end lists rolling? Not for the New Statesman, which has asked a slew of critics to nominate the bests books of 2008.

"Five years ago, we named 'Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,' by Gay Talese, the greatest story Esquire every published. Here, as we close out our 75th anniversary celebration, are the top seven, with several republished online in their entirety for the first time ever."

"Stanislaw Rozewicz, film director, producer and mentor to a generation of Polish filmmakers, died Nov 9 in Warsaw," reports Michal Chacinski in Variety. "He was 84.... In his quiet, coldly poetic films, he showed soldiers as ordinary men willing to perform their duties simply because it is their job, while at the same time stressing how unprepared they were for the atrocities and depravation war brought. This fit into the larger topic of his films - the observation of how men behave when facing evil and the question of how film can present the reality of moral choices without resorting to artificial overdramatization."

Negative Space Online listening tip. Kent Jones and Phillip Lopate discuss Manny Farber on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online viewing tip #1. At New York, Bilge Ebiri's got Ilya Chaiken's Blackout.

Online viewing tip #2. Thomas Groh has the Fine Brothers spoiling 100 movies in less than four minutes. Amusingly. You've been warned.

Online viewing tip #3. At Shooting Down Pictures, Jonathan Rosenbaum compares John Ford's The Sun Shines Bright to Carl Dreyer's Gertrud.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:53 PM | Comments (2)

Fests and events, 11/14.

Burden of Dreams In a week-long retrospective, Film Forum begins screening features and shorts by Les Blank, 26 films in all, tonight. Brian Sholis offers an overview of this "capricious body of work" at Artforum.

As part of the Arthur Penn retro at Anthology Film Archives, Night Moves screens Sunday, Tuesday and November 23. Kevin Lee: "Arthur Penn's contribution to the mid-70s Hollywood revival of film noir reflects all of the bitter disillusionment and vertiginous, disempowering truth borne by the fallout of Watergate on American society."

Just as the debate over whether or not to boycott the Sundance Film Festival simmers down (it takes place in Utah, home state of the Mormons, who did so much to ensure passage of California's insidious Proposition 8), David Poland's passes along word that Alan Stock, CEO of Cinemark, gave $9999 to the "Yes on 8" campaign - and Cinemark, notes David, "owns the Holiday Village Cinemas, where many of the press screenings are during Sundance." Related: "The Daily Beast's Kevin Sessums talks to David Geffen, Darren Star and others fuming about Prop 8."

Alexander Shiryaev Alexander Shiryaev, whose work will be shown for the first time in the UK at the Encounters Short Film Festival, running Tuesday through November 23, "has proved to be one of the true pioneers of stop-frame animation," writes Peter Lord, co-founder of Aardman Animations, in the Guardian. "More importantly, Shiryaev was a wonderful, natural animator."

"Cinefamily's series of vintage 'homemade horror' is a welcome reminder of the passion and ingenuity dedicated amateurs used to invest in the lowest of low-budget genre product," writes Christoph Huber in the LA Weekly. Saturdays through the end of the month.

Peter Nellhaus is posting reviews of films he's caught at the Starz Denver Film Festival, which runs through November 23.

For SF360, Dennis Harvey previews the New Italian Cinema series in San Francisco. Sunday through November 23.

New Films From Italy In the Los Angeles Times, Susan King previews Tyrone Power: Everybody's Darling Boy, running this weekend at the Egyptian Theatre. Also, New Films from Italy tops a roundup of other local goings on.

Kevin Langson sends a dispatch from the 3rd I: San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival into Pixel Vision.

Driving Media is an exhibition of work by Nam June Paik on view at the WRO Art Center in Wroclaw, Poland, from November 25 through January 21.

Mike Everleth has the Chicago Underground Film Festival award-winners.

At indieWIRE, Agnes Varnum looks back on the Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:27 PM

The Baader Meinhof Complex in the UK.

The Baader Meinhof Complex "With its initial emphasis on fast cars and faster women, political rhetoric and posing, it's perhaps not surprising that The Baader Meinhof Complex, directed by Uli Edel and written and produced by Bernd Eichinger (Downfall), has been accused of glamorising terrorism," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "But this is not the case. Eichinger's screenplay scratches under the surface of the key players in the Red Army Faction (RAF) - Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) - and finds unexpectedly little."

It's "a sprawling, episodic and interminable 70s period drama, ploddingly comparable to Steven Spielberg's Munich," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "All the cliches and hairstyles are present and correct.... There are hairy guys and hippy-chicks in astrakhan coats, and what with the homemade explosives, the free love and the chants of Ho-Ho-Ho Chi Minh, it looks like Dr Alex Comfort's The Joy of Terrorism."

Updated through 11/19.

"I'm not sure what questions the makers of The Baader Meinhof Complex were addressing, but these might have been among them," suggests the Independent's Anthony Quinn:

[H]ow far was Germany's recent Nazi past to blame for the rise of the Red Army Faction? How did a small group of radical left-wing students of the 1960s turn into one of the most feared terrorist units of the 1970s? What was the nature of the disputes that eventually split apart the RAF, and what resonance does their legacy have today? Any one of these questions might have been a useful co-ordinate by which to plot a narrative, and it is perfectly likely that in the course of writing the screenplay Bernd Eichinger (who wrote and produced the great Downfall) considered all of them.

But it turns out he hasn't answered any of them.

"The questions [the RAF] asked of German society, the violent tactics they employed, and the sheer length of their campaign (only in 1998 did they formally dissolve) have fascinated many artists, from painter Gerhard Richter and avant-noise band Atari Teenage Riot, to filmmakers such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge and Edgar Reitz who, with eight other directors, made the probing omnibus feature Germany in Autumn (1978)," writes Sukhdev Sandhu. "What's distinctive about Edel and Eichinger's treatment of the subject is its tone. It edits and packages the Red Army Fraktion (RAF) for a post-Run Lola Run or The Counterfeiters German generation that it assumes will not relate to historical violence in the sober, anguished fashion that characterised earlier treatments."

Also in the Telegraph, Sheila Johnston talks with Stefan Aust, the former Spiegel who wrote (and recently updated) the book the film is based on (Aust is also, with Eichinger, a co-screenwriter), and with Andres Veiel, who made the documentary Black Box BRD in 2001: "The two films are polar opposites, too. Black Box BRD is a contemplative, in-depth portrait of two individuals; The Baader-Meinhof Complex is, in Eichinger's words, 'a tough, fast-moving, urgent, breathless piece of movie-making. We didn't want to go into psychoanalysis.'"

"The challenge for Edel is how to render this story of idealism curdling into carnage without making it a Hammer of the Gods-style account of the wildest rock band ever to wield Kalashnikovs instead of Rickenbackers," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "It's one he doesn't overcome. Until now, he has been the go-to guy for sane studies of traumatic experiences (Christiane F., Last Exit to Brooklyn). The problem with The Baader Meinhof Complex is not just that every shoot-out or bank heist is brilliantly choreographed, but that the accompanying material does nothing to complicate or question the thrill we derive from those sequences."

"At two and a half hours, it's a risky, if laudable, strategy to outline a decade-long chronicle of events - arson attacks, bank raids, assassinations and kidnappings - without adopting, or privileging, a fully developed character with whom the audience can relate to or identify," writes Wally Hammond in Time Out. "As an action-packed pageant of events it is excitingly demonstrative and provocative, but as human drama it proves a mite too enigmatic and unyielding."

"Does [the film] glamorise terrorism?" asks Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "I think not, though it skates fairly near the edge at times. What it certainly does is remind us that understandable causes are sometimes driven into impotence and thus pushed towards an escalating violence that those who espouse them never imagined. That's why this impressively mounted and thoroughly researched film is so watchable, whatever one's views about its fanatical participants."

In September, Mark Olsen moderated a Q&A with executive producer Martin Moszkowicz and filed a brief report for the Los Angeles Times.

And as Cineuropa notes, this is Germany's entry in the Oscar race.

Updates, 11/15: "The 1962 'Oberhausen Manifesto' which launched the New German Cinema of Fassbinder, Herzog and Wenders, didn't sound all that dissimilar to the mission statements of the Red Army Faction," notes Philip Oltermann in a fine overview of the culture at the time: "the filmmakers called for a critical engagement with Germany's National Socialist past and its ongoing social ills, favoured realism over escapism and championed the direct action of the auteur over the laboured democratic process of the studio system. The title of the press conference at which the manifesto was launched had iconoclastic swagger: 'Daddy's cinema is dead.' Yet the idea that all German filmmakers of the 1970s were somehow 'pro-terror' is a myth. If anything, the opposite is the case."

Also in the Guardian: The RAF were "the world's first celebrity terrorists," blogs Kirk Leech. "They may have become the embodiment of radical chic, but they were no threat to the German state or anything to romance. One of the truths that the film reveals is that outside of their proclivity for guns and bombs, the group shared many of the prejudices of mainstream left-liberal opinion, then and now."

Update, 11/18: The Observer's Philip French: "The careers of Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof inspired one of the finest German pictures of the post-war years, Margarethe von Trotta's The German Sisters (1981), about the lives of the daughters of a stern Protestant minister from the 1950s to the late 1970s.... Anyone seeing The Baader Meinhof Complex should look out for von Trotta's subtle film, but they'll find it a very different experience." As for Baader, "What makes this such a powerful movie is the factual nature of the exposition and the refusal to make easy judgment."

Updates, 11/17: "It's terror porn, good terror porn and, of course, just what we want," writes David Cox in the Guardian. "Should we feel anxious that our appetite is somehow abnormal, we're assured that, at the time, one in four young Germans openly expressed their support for the Baader-Meinhof gang."

"This is overwhelmingly the story of the Red Army Faction as rock stars, and in that it is a film that would have far more appeal to halfwitted sub-Jim Morrison cocksman Andreas Baader than it can speak about the Shakespearian tragedy of Ulrike Meinhof, intellectual and mother turned deluded, if utterly eloquent bomber," writes Owen Hatherley:

It also marks another incredibly technically accomplished and politically and morally all-over-the-place triumph for the new New German Cinema, after Hitler worrying about having to poison his dog (Downfall), bet-hedging Ostalgie (Good Bye Lenin! - and I was successfully emotionally manipulated by that one, I can tell you) an insufferable but beautifully shot tale of intellectuals saving the world from totalitarianism (The Lives of Others), and more sexy middle class revolutionaries, this time contemporary and non-violent (The Edukators). All are fascinating for being popular, populist non-Hollywood films that nonetheless are rampant with Hollywood tropes, from sentimentality to many, many big explosions. It's an odd phenomenon, which can't quite be dismissed or hailed as yet.

Update, 11/19: Online listening tip. Ambrose Heron talks with Eichinger.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:09 AM

November 13, 2008

Bookforum. Dec 08 / Jan 09.

Bookforum "An antitechnological, antirational, and antimodern modernist, Andrei Tarkovsky was, with Bresson, Dreyer and Brakhage, one of 20th-century cinema's great solitary figures." So begins J Hoberman's consideration of the reception of Tarkovsky's work then and now (with a particular emphasis on Andrei Rublev), by way of a review of two volumes for the new issue of Bookforum: Nathan Dunne's anthology Tarkovsky and Robert Bird's "dense, devoted appreciation" Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema.

Cormac McCarthy's "poetic, minimalist style has been called biblical by some; needless to say, finding a cinematic correlative has not been easy." Bilge Ebiri talks with John Hillcoat about adapting The Road and then turns to the matter of the two Sherlock Holmes movies in the works. Guy Ritchie's features Robert Downey Jr as a detective just as prone to action as he is to deduction; and Judd Apatow's producing the other film, with Sacha Baron Cohen as Holmes and Will Ferrell as Dr Watson: "Readers and viewers could be forgiven for thinking that the competing Holmes reinventions indicate a newfound Hollywood irreverence toward Conan Doyle's character. But a quick glance at Holmes's legacy on film suggests otherwise. 'The idea of the movies trying to be truthful to the Holmes character is pretty laughable,' says Leslie Klinger, author of The Life and Times of Mr Sherlock Holmes, John H Watson, MD, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Other Notable Personages and editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

Weimar Cinema "Promiscuity and male anxiety, medieval witchcraft and state-of-the-art special effects, displaced class struggle and visionary utopianism, doppelgängers, vampires, and golems - these are the hallmarks of German cinema between 1918 and 1933, a period bracketed by the abdication of the Kaiser and the rise of the Führer," writes Gerd Gemünden, on his way toward arguing that Noah Isenberg's anthology Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era "is the volume on this fascinating era of international film history."

"So this is the climate the pornography scholar finds herself in nowadays," writes Laura Kipnis: "Porn isn't just culturally ascendant, it's triumphal. In response, [Linda] Williams has written a book that tries to reimagine the terms of sexual explicitness, moving from porn to a larger - though contiguous - playing field. Screening Sex is a wide-ranging history of sex in the movies, a vast enough subject, but Williams also wants to link the progression of cinematic images to shifting conditions of sexuality and gender over the past century. And she's devised a multilayered theoretical model to describe how moviegoers learn about sex from movies, which in turn conditions sexuality and changes the kinds of sexual experiences people have, which in turn influences the commercial production of sexual images. This is, needless to say, an ambitious project."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:44 PM

Jean Seberg @ 70.

Jean Seberg: Breathless Had she not committed suicide in 1979 following a smear campaign against her conducted by the FBI and the miscarriage that likely resulted, Jean Seberg would have turned 70 today. Die Zeit marks the day with a collection of photos.

Back in March, Film Threat's Phil Hall spoke with filmmaker Garry McGee about his biography, Jean Seberg: Breathless, which, writes Hall, "presents a complex and often tragic portrait of an extraordinary woman whose great talent, intelligence and sincerity was never truly appreciated in her lifetime."

See also: the Wikipedia entry.

Update: An online viewing tip from Jerry Lentz, the trailer for Jean Seberg: American Actress.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:15 AM

November 12, 2008

Shorts, 11/12.

Scarface Nation "In the polymathic new book, Scarface Nation, Entertainment Weekly culture critic (and former New York film critic) Ken Tucker tracks the making of the film - and the ubiquitous influence of this 'great shallow masterpiece' through Scarface shower curtains and video games, porn, comic books and pajamas - which Tucker sometimes wears, to his wife's consternation." Boris Kachka "talked to Tucker about the reluctant reminiscences of [screenwriter Oliver] Stone, director Brian De Palma and star Al Pacino - three white guys' who to this day still don't understand their flick's enduring relevance." Update, 11/13: Louis Bayard has a brisk and entertaining review of Scarface Nation in Salon.

"New production and finance shingle Werc Werk Works has announced the cast for director Todd Solondz's latest film - the yet to be titled, part-sequel/part-variation of his 1998 film Happiness," reports Peter Knegt for indieWIRE. "The cast includes Allison Janney, Ciaran Hinds, Charlotte Rampling, Shirley Henderson, Michael Lerner, Michael Kenneth Williams, Paul Reubens, Paris Hilton and Chris Marquette."

"The Weinstein Co has acquired worldwide film rights to the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play August: Osage County and will produce a feature adaptation," reports Variety's Michael Fleming.

Pamela Pettler (Corpse Bride, Monster House) has written a screenplay based on Monopoly - yes, the board game - which'll be directed by Ridley Scott. The Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik has more.

Defiance "In trying to add a new chapter to the long history of films made about the Holocaust, Defiance can barely move a narrative muscle without bumping into another, better movie that covers some of the same ground," writes Tim Grierson in Screen Daily. "Based on the true story of three Eastern-European brothers who led a ragtag army of fellow Jews to fight back against the Nazis, this action-drama from director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai) is weighed down by muted performances, an unsparingly solemn tone and an overall lack of creative spark." More from Todd McCarthy in Variety and Michael Rechtshaffen in the Hollywood Reporter.

James Rocchi at Cinematical: "Younger audiences will ignore Last Chance Harvey like a an overdue bill notice in the post, but if you've been around the block of life a few times - on the bus or under it - you'll find that it wins you over, bit by bit, in no small part thanks to the mix of effortless charm and contemplated sincerity [Dustin] Hoffman and [Emma] Thompson bring to their work; the whole film has an air of lightweight gravity to it, and [writer/director Joel] Hopkins may not be swinging for the fences, but he knows just how to swing and hit for a solid double."

Anne Thompson: "One of my industry spies has emailed me an early review of David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt as the man who ages backwards."

"Of all the wars, the first world war seems the most emblematic, and the one which probably lends itself best to cinematic treatment," writes Ronald Bergan. "As no other war seemed as futile, it was easier to make convincing anti-war statements. Yet, paradoxically, great films on the subject have been few and far between since Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion (1937), a paradigm for all subsequent films on the subject. Only Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) can be mentioned in the same breath as the films of the 1920s and 1930s."

Also in the Guardian: "Terence Davies's Of Time and the City, Steve McQueen's Hunger, Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir and Alex Gibney's Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson "are harbingers of a revolution in cinematic history because - even as Hollywood blockbusters do - they champion and exploit newly discovered technologies to express their ideas, only on tiny budgets," argues producer Don Boyd. "All four of these films were produced with digital cameras and digital editing equipment; their directors have taken a deliberate decision to move out of any creative comfort zone. Why is this happening now? Because the internet is radically destroying the film industry's editorial tyranny, in much the same way that the printing press diluted and destroyed the power of the priesthood in medieval Europe."

"Ford is one of the great artists of cinema. Not only because of the composition and the light of his shots but more deeply, because he shoots so quickly that he makes two movies at the same time: a movie to ward off time (stretching his stories out of fear of ending) and another to save the moment (the moment of the landscape, two seconds before the action)." Steve Erickson posts a translation of Serge Daney's 1988 piece on She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

Tobruk The Czech film Tobruk offers insight into "the republic's fascinating if checkered relations with the Middle East, in particular, Egypt," writes Eric Walberg in the Al-Ahram Weekly.

Melissa Gronlund caught the Halloween screenings of Kenneth Anger's latest videos, Ich Will! and Uniform Attraction and writes for Artforum, "gone were the Aleister Crowley occultism and rich, decadent symbolism the now-81-year-old filmmaker deployed in such classics as Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) and Scorpio Rising (1964), which was also screened. Instead the recent work carried forward, a little thinly, Anger's interest in the eroticism of masculine subcultures, made manifest through found footage and military propaganda rather than via the extraordinary ceremonies, rites, and pageantry the filmmaker orchestrated in his earlier work."

"Something of a companion piece to Manoel de Oliveira's No, or the Vain Glory of Command, João Botelho's brooding and atmospheric Quem és tu? similarly explores the intersection of history and myth, empire and subjugation in its exposition on identity, nationhood, fate, and repression," writes Acquarello.

"It was over 36 years ago, in Cannes, that I first encountered the singular cinema of Pere Portabella, a revelation that came via his second feature, Vampir-Cuadecuc." An introduction to the work of a filmmaker all but unknown in the US from Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Kevin Lee on By the Bluest of Seas: "The crowning achievement in the mercurial career of Soviet director Boris Barnet, this simple story of a love triangle between two shipwrecked sailors and the beach blonde darling of a fishing village exemplifies a kind of film that could only have been made at the dawn of the talkies, when cinema had to rediscover its vision at the same time that it discovered its voice."

Scott Feinberg gets Baz Luhrmann to answer a set of "big questions" about Australia.

Also in the Los Angeles Times: "Joe Hyams, a former Hollywood columnist and bestselling author of books ranging from biographies of Humphrey Bogart and James Dean to a popular tome on Eastern philosophy, has died," reports Dennis McLellan. "He was 85."

Institute Benjamenta "Seven years ago I watched the Quay brother's first feature length film, Institute Benjamenta at 5AM before I headed off to a day of my Junior year of high school," writes Magick Mike. "I thought it was perfect then. Last night, seeing the film for probably the 10th time, I still think it is."

At Roger Ebert's place, Virginia Madsen looks back on playing the Dangerous Woman in Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion.

"Sexy is generally not a word associated with the collaboration of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, who have undeserved reputations as prim and wooden, respectively," writes Saul Austerlitz at Moving Image Source. "Nonetheless, their movies from the late 1950s and early 1960s - with suggestive titles like Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back - are reminders of the charm and resourcefulness of the comedies of the late studio era. Day and Hudson were a midcentury-modern Hepburn and Tracy, enjoying the thrill of the chase, and the battle of wits, more than the comfort of being happily settled."

"China's leading lady Gong Li, best known in Britain for her role in Memoirs of a Geisha, is being accused of treason by her irate countrymen for becoming a Singaporean citizen," reports Clifford Coonan for the Independent.

The New York Observer's Sara Vilkomerson previews "the 12 must-sees" of the holiday season, while Christopher Rosen's already looking ahead to 2009.

Nathaniel R lists "Ten Reasons Why Velvet Goldmine Trumps I'm Not There."

Minority Report For Wired, Brian X Chen lists "Six Real Gadgets Minority Report Predicted Correctly."

"Semantic tagging and the tracking of user behavior for the future implementation of an 'intelligent web' were the two big take-aways from this month's Web 3.0 conference in Santa Clara." A report - and a primer - from Hannah Eaves at SF360.

"No matter what metric you choose, aXXo is BitTorrent's biggest name," writes Josh Levin in Slate. "The editor of the blog TorrentFreak, a 28-year-old from the Netherlands who goes by the nom de Web Ernesto, says that his weekly chart of the 10 most pirated films on BitTorrent is essentially a compilation of aXXo's latest releases."

New blog on the block: The Rocchi Report.

Online listening tip. "Film Comment's Evan Davis talks with the Film Society's own Kent Jones about the legacy of Manny Farber."

Online viewing tip #1. FilmCatcher interviews Dennis Hopper.

Online viewing tip #2. Hillman Curtis's Circles, via Coudal Partners. They've also done a commercial for David Byrne and Brian Eno's Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.

Online viewing tip #3. Screengrab's Leonard Pierce has John Belushi's screen test for Saturday Night Live.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Karsten Meinich falls in love with London all over again.

Online viewing tips, round 2. Catherine Grant presents a guide to free (and legal) films immediately available.

Online viewing tips, round 3. The Guardian has "three exclusive clips from the UK [Dark Knight] DVD of [Christopher] Nolan and his cast talking about Batman, the Joker and Harvey Dent, Gotham's crusading district attorney." Also, Laura Barnett has the Hours' video for "See the Light," starring Sienna Miller and art directed by Damien Hirst, and Jason Solomons talks with Terence Davies.

Online viewing tips, round 4. Sea Orchestra, a commercial for United Airlines, and it's making of, via Jason Kottke.

Online viewing tips, round 5. Architekturclips, via Architecture in Berlin.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:13 PM | Comments (1)

We Are Wizards.

We Are Wizards "Considering that it focuses on a group of extreme Harry Potter fans, We Are Wizards ostensibly treads Trekkies territory, though mercifully, this slight documentary is less a look-at-the-nerds freakshow than a portrait of the means by which JK Rowling's popular fantasy series has inspired others' creativity," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"The bulk of the movie is given over to the musicians, an engagingly geeky cross-section ranging from seven-year-old hellions to aging Gen-X-ers with kids of their own, who expound on the glories of the boy wizard or pound out Potter-obsessed power-pop (loosely modeled after the sweetly naive anthems of Jonathan Richman)," writes Lance Goldenberg. "Ignore the scattershot approach... and there's considerable pleasure to be had in spending time with these bizarre enthusiasts."

Updated through 11/14.

"Harry Potter is an audience-participation friendly commodity," writes Dana Keith in the L Magazine, "and when Warner Brothers, the production company behind the film adaptations, tried to put the kibosh on the fan sites, threatening lawsuits, the fan community fought back with an embargo against all things Harry Potter except the books (they had no quarrel with author JK Rowling). Though the film is vague in the actual outcome of the consumer strike ('we didn't get everything we wanted, but we got enough'), Harry Potter sites are still up and running and the importance of the fan recognized."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with director Josh Koury "about the cult of Harry, his dual role as both filmmaker and film programmer, and getting into fights as a pizza boy."

Updates, 11/13: "No matter how distorted the franchise may become with merchandising or legal battles or a fan's reinterpretation, the books have become a part of the cultural landscape, something that's never really examined in We Are Wizards," writes Mark Peikert in the New York Press. "A better approach would have been one that focused less on a child's home movies and performances and more on why he's on stage singing about an imaginary wizard."

"I know plenty of smart people who enjoy the Harry Potter stories, and there could be, at extremely generous moments, a certain side of me that would consider giving them a shot," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "But not as long as there are movies like We Are Wizards, and not as long as there exist the Harry Potter-crazed subjects who comprise this painful documentary's meretricious survey of kitschy fandom."

Updates, 11/14: Koury "has actually latched onto so many subjects in this 79-minute movie - fandom as an act of creation, intellectual property rights in the Internet age, conglomerate bullying - that he can't get a real grasp on any of them," writes Manohla Dargis.

For IFC, Matt Singer lists "Five Documentaries About Nerd Culture."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:07 PM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 11/12.

Berlinale 09 "The Scottish actress Tilda Swinton will be President of the International Jury at the Berlinale 2009."

As Mario Ruiz reports at the Huffington Post, Mormans funneled $19 million into the effort to pass Proposition 8, the Californian ballot initiative aimed at banning gay marriage. That's "nearly four out of five dollars raised." And, as you'll have heard, they won. It's likely that you've also heard that calls have been issued for a boycott of the Sundance Film Festival, which, of course, takes place in Park City, Utah. IndieWIRE editor Eugene Hernandez talks with filmmakers and others who find the idea absurd.

The Museum of the Moving Image salutes Ben Stiller tonight. Chief Curator David Schwartz: "So what is behind this constant impulse to satirize show business, to make fun of the industry that provides Stiller's livelihood? The answer, beyond the surface of the sheer entertainment value of his movies (and Stiller's films have earned nearly two billion box-office dollars) is that he sees show business as the perfect arena in which to explore, in amplified form, many of the neuroses of modern life."

Head "Tonight, the American Cinematheque's 60s-centric Mods and Rockers series will present a 40th anniversary screening of Head, featuring [Peter] Tork and [Davy] Jones, plus other cast and crew members, in person." For the Los Angeles Times, Susan King talks with a few of the players about its making.

Focus on Johnnie To runs at the Australian Center for the Moving Image in Melbourne through Sunday; Michael Bodey talks with To for the Australian. Via Movie City News.

The L Magazine's Mark Asch has some fun telling readers about Pordenone Silent Film Tuesdays at BAM.

Arthur Penn "as once a filmmaker uniquely synchronous to What's Happening, his work a countercultural March of Time." Nick Pinkerton previews an eight-film retrospective at Anthology Film Archives running Friday through November 23. Related: Steve Dollar talks with Penn about Mickey One.

Also in the Voice, Vadim Rizov notes that the New French Films series at BAM, running tonight through Sunday, features "two essential nights of undistributed films," Mia Hansen-Løve's feature debut, All Is Forgiven and Jacques Doillon's Just Anybody. More from the L Magazine's Mark Asch.

The Monks' "hard little pellets of avant-pop would be later considered by some "an early form of heavy metal," though Monks more closely anticipated the likes of the Contortions and Devo," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Incredibly, they were doing this stuff in 1965." Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback "is a great 60s flashback, as well as a comeback saga of sorts. Original Monk bassist Eddie Shaw will be in attendance at the Red Vic's opening night shows." Friday through Monday.

Code 46 "On Monday, November 24, I'll be hosting a live interview at the Barbican in London with director Michael Winterbottom, for a special screening of his film Code 46," notes Geoff Manaugh. "This is part of an ongoing series called Architecture on Film, curated by the Architecture Foundation. The purpose of the event is to talk about film and architecture - or, in this case, cities, urban design, memory, science fiction, landscape, globalization and the built environment. As you can see from the list of locations used for the film's production, Code 46 is very well-traveled, stitching together urban - and exurban - environments from London, Shanghai, Dubai, Hong Kong, and even the deserts of Rajasthan."

Filmsight asks Matt Ravier about directing Australia's Possible Worlds: Canadian Film Festival, running November 27 through December 2.

"Bestselling author, heroin addict and all-round beat generation visionary William S Burroughs is to be the subject of two decidedly unseasonal Christmas exhibitions," notes Laura Bennett in the Guardian.

The Independent wraps the Sheffield International Documentary Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 PM

Wild Style.

Wild Style "Barely cooled off from all the burning, the cellblock-bare, Krylon-coated South Bronx of Charlie Ahearn's Wild Style [site] is the kind of urban wilderness spoken nostalgically of by people who only moved here post-Giuliani," writes Mark Asch in the L Magazine. "It's the city as blank canvas - or maybe metal-sided 6 Train, to be tagged in Day-Glo bubble letters - from which springs graffiti and hip-hop culture, represented by Ahearn's friends Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy."

Updated through 11/14.

"The acting is often laughably stiff, but that's part of the charm of a film whose real value is as a time capsule unlocked." In the Voice, Ernest Hardy finds "an artful vibrancy that remains undiminished."

David Gonzalez talks with Ahearn for the New York Times.

At Film Forum from Friday through November 20.

Updates, 11/14: "[I]t deftly reflects the thin line between inspiration and appropriation by white artists," notes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "But the film wasn't made to suggest that Gotham was one big rainbow coalition - its sole purpose was to celebrate the genius of hip-hop's founders."

"Commentators now refer to the film as a 'time capsule,' but that phrase, with its implication that something long vanished has been unearthed, isn't quite accurate," writes Nelson Kim at Hammer to Nail. "Wild Style is still in the air, all around us. It's part of the foundation of the building every hip hop lover calls home."

"In [its] charmingly ragged way, Wild Style celebrates the persistence of street-level ambition, insatiable creativity, and youthful passions in the face of hostile (the cops) and exploitative (media) forces," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:10 AM

A Christmas Tale.

A Christmas Tale "Arnaud Desplechin is a cinema maximalist," writes J Hoberman in the Voice: "A Christmas Tale feels like all 12 days of seasonal merriment, and then some. This comic, ultimately touching family melodrama, shown last month in the New York Film Festival, is a heady plum pudding of a movie - studded with outsized performances and drenched in cinematic brio. The concoction is over-rich, yet irresistible."

"Mercurial, multifarious, and burgeoning with detail, A Christmas Tale builds upon the manic catharses of Desplechin's last feature, Kings and Queen, to create a holiday movie in extremis, in which death, disease, and mental illness cozily share the table with music, religious pageantry, and romantic and familial love," writes Leo Goldsmith for indieWIRE. "Assembling a veritable who's who of French cinematic royalty (Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni), contemporary French-movie stalwarts (Hippolyte Girardot, Melvil Poupaud, Anne Consigny), and Desplechin's repertory players (Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, Jean-Paul Roussillon), the film creates an expansive portrait of the Vuillard family, its divergent mythologies, its power struggles, and its histories of mental and physical illness."

Updated through 11/17.

"Arnaud Desplechin makes movies that play like epic novels built out into live-sized pop-up books," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "Virtually Cubist in their multi-faceted narrative complexity, they cast such a spell that they're almost interactive. When you watch a Desplechin film, you can smell perfume and feel bass shaking a room, and you feel the burden of each character's long-simmering loves and resentments as if they were your own. Beyond surround sound, it's surround space, surround time, surround life."

"Is A Christmas Tale a masterpiece?" asks David Edelstein in New York. "Maybe. I have to play with it longer. It's certainly Desplechin's most accessible film, in part because its dysfunctional-family-holiday-reunion genre is so comfy and its palette so warm.... Desplechin might be the most earnest ironist alive."

"Like his countryman Christophe Honoré (Dans Paris, Love Songs) - and, of course, their New Wave forbears - Desplechin undercuts the grave subject matter with a playfulness of form," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "He has a knack with actors, and for up-close, liberated filmmaking, but he has little sense of how to fit the pieces together."

"A Christmas Tale is a film experience to be seen and savored for its exquisite delineation of human feelings and foibles," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

"A Christmas Tale brilliantly captures the melancholy and familial recrimination that, for some people, is as much a part of the holiday season as fruitcake and egg nog," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

For IFC, Aaron Hillis talks with Desplechin "about he film's distinctly American genre, why Michael Mann fascinates him and Angela Bassett's derrière."

For FilmInFocus, Tom Hall talks with Desplechin about "the role that film has played in his own development as an artist."

Eric Hynes talks with Desplechin for Reverse Shot.

For the L Magazine, Nicolas Rapold "recently spoke with the utterly warm and friendly filmmaker."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and New York; and "Klawans on Desplechin" and Desplechin's conversation with Deneuve for Film Comment.

Updates, 11/13: "[B]y all means, go to A Christmas Tale, forewarned and forearmed with a working knowledge of Bergman, Rohmer, Truffaut, The Royal Tenenbaums and Home for the Holidays, as well as a batch of European poets, playwrights and philosophers you probably haven't read in a long while," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "They're all in there, and you can spend the movie decoding to your little hipster's heart's content - or you can sit back and absorb, knowing that Desplechin asks of his audience only an open mind and a receptivity to constant redefinition of the situation."

"Why is Desplechin worshipped by the gatekeepers of contemporary film culture?" ask, yes, Armond White in the New York Press. "The answer is annoyingly apparent in A Christmas Tale, where Desplechin glamorizes a haute-bourgeois French family, serving up domestic banalities with more than a soupçon of intellectual loftiness."

Updates, 11/14: "Mr Desplechin has a positive genius for making his carefully structured tales seem breathless and aleatory, as if any given film were plucked almost at random from dozens of other possibilities," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The result, in the case of A Christmas Tale, is a movie that is almost indecently satisfying and at the same time elusive, at once intellectually lofty - marked by allusions to Emerson, Shakespeare and Seamus Heaney as well as Nietzsche - and as earthy as the passionate provincial family that is its heart and cosmos and reason for being."

"I can think of no other filmmaker who simultaneously bewilders and moves me in the way French director Arnaud Desplechin does," writes Stephanie Zacharek. "As I watched his latest picture, A Christmas Tale - its French title is Un conte de Noël - I felt the same degree of wariness and trepidation as I did watching his previous feature, the equally wondrous Kings and Queen (2005): Am I really understanding what's going on with these characters? Is any of this really connecting? Only to realize, in the seemingly uneventful thunderclap of the last sequence, that everything has come together with perfect clarity - and that I want to burst into tears."

Also in Salon: Andrew O'Hehir interviews Desplechin.

"A Christmas Tale revels in the dense, layered backstory it has created for its central family, worshipping the legends of the Vuillard history as giant moments imbued with Significance and Meaning," writes Zachary Wigon in the Auteurs' Notebook. "However, as the film goes on, we realize that there is nothing remarkable about these stories... It's true that the way the film approaches the story is far more important than the story itself, but the film's formal approach can only sustain itself for so long before its magic wears off. This is true for any film. And as Desplechin should know, when the magic wears off is when the movie should end."

Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York: "The secret to the success of A Christmas Tale, for all its fatalism, is how closely it reminds you of other cozy cinematic gatherings: A spiky harpsichord burbles on the soundtrack like in The Royal Tenenbaums; Bergman's Fanny and Alexander isn't far from mind, or even Home Alone, when a major character goes missing (not for long) in the snowy third act."

"It seemed to me as I left the theater that A Christmas Tale was a little too jumpy for its own good, with too many characters and plot points hastily interwoven," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "But I've come think that it is faithful to its essential purpose, which is to disprove the Tolstoyan dictum that unhappy families are each miserable in their own ways. We do see something instructive about ourselves in this melodramatically grumbling group."

"It's the definition of a film meant to be admired more than loved, but Desplechin's fierce intelligence and uncompromising sense of character come through, as does some of the sharp wit and stylistic flourishes left over from his last film, 2004's Kings and Queen," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "Nothing can sound more familiar, or more banal, than the subject of A Christmas Tale, yet nothing could be more energizing, more captivating, more pure pleasure on screen than the passionate, evocative experience that has resulted."

Online listening tip. Deneuve is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"A Christmas Tale doesn't synthesize everything Desplechin's been working on since 1991's La Vie Des Morts - how could any one film capture the scope of Desplechin's relentlessly schizophrenic interests? - but it's the most coherent alchemy of Morts, My Sex Life and Kings and Queen we're ever likely to get." Vadim Rizov at the House Next Door: "It's not dilution; it's clarity."

Online viewing tips. Karina Longworth gathers clips from other Deneuve performances.

"Esther Kahn: Notes on the Beloved Object" from Dan Sallitt.

Updates, 11/15: "A Desplechin movie, like life, is a collaborative enterprise, and so along with [cinematographer Eric] Gautier, and frequent cowriter Emmanuel Bourdieu, credit's due to his editor, Laurence Briaud, who in interviews the director has credited with helping him find the best parts of varied performances, and 'creating this sort of free, jazz space.'" Mark Asch for Stop Smiling: "Never knowing where the next shot might come from is how Desplechin - whose production company is called Why Not Productions - can use a cut-out puppet show or direct address for exposition, or punctuate a scene with iris effects, freeze-frames, split-screens, deadpan long shots or melodramatic high-angles, black-and-white stills (his family, all actors, have grown up on camera, making for an ample photo album). The filmmaking is a state of flux; so are the lives."

"Yes, this is another nutty family film (seen Rachel Getting Married?), but Desplechin has made certain his delicious cast understands its individual roles to perfection," writes James Van Maanen.

"[I]t's Desplechin's most sober and controlled film so far," writes Steve Erickson at Gay City News. "Less promisingly, it also marks the first time he's repeated himself."

Update, 11/16: Graham Fuller talks with Deneuve for the Los Angeles Times.

Update, 11/17: "Watching A Christmas Tale, with its bursts of old movies, dregs of empty bottles, lines from books, and fragments of half-forgotten conversations, is like getting to know a family other than your own by leafing through its scrapbooks and laughing at its photograph albums, while it bickers in the next room over stuff you may never understand," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:07 AM

John Powers on Star Wars.

Death Star "Perhaps because of its fantastic nature, the Death Star has never been recognized as an essential work of minimalism - but it is one. Its destruction has never been acknowledged as a turning point for modernism - but it was one."

Time for another entry devoted to a single article. Not only because, with "Star Wars: A New Heap, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Death Star," John Powers once again draws provocative lines between a film and a parallel art world, but also because Triple Canopy's presentation of the piece rivals even the best print magazine design had to offer in its heyday.

By the way, if you'll be in Brooklyn on Friday, you might want to know about Triple Canopy's evening at Starr Space.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:17 AM

Slumdog Millionaire.

Slumdog Millionaire "A gaudy, gorgeous rush of color, sound and motion, Slumdog Millionaire, the latest from the British shape-shifter Danny Boyle, doesn't travel through the lower depths, it giddily bounces from one horror to the next," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "A modern fairy tale about a pauper angling to become a prince, this sensory blowout largely takes place amid the squalor of Mumbai, India, where lost children and dogs sift through trash so fetid you swear you can smell the discarded mango as well as its peel, or could if the film weren't already hurtling through another picturesque gutter."

Writing in the Voice, Scott Foundas finds Slumdog to be "an almost ridiculously ebullient Bollywood-meets-Hollywood concoction - and one of the rare 'feel-good' movies that actually makes you feel good, as opposed to merely jerked around.... Like so many of the Bollywood melodramas it stylistically apes, Boyle's film is unapologetically pop, even as Boyle himself seems to be at once inside and outside the idiom, embracing it while winking slyly at our collective need for escapist fantasy."

Updated through 11/17.

"The over-reliance on MIA nods to where Slumdog Millionaire is coming from," writes Eric Hynes for indieWIRE. Boyle "and British screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) approach their indigenous Indian locales and characters as though components of some pop diaspora, equating wild flower with root.... Like a deep-pocketed club owner or talent manager, Boyle sells Mumbai - or the hip Anglo vision of it - as the new hotness. And pace the title, he's slumming his way to millions."

"Slumdog Millionaire is fantasy yet its hyperactively effervescent (if still personal, intimate) portrait of both ingrained social barriers and altruism's ability to demolish them is genuine and sweet," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "And although these qualities occasionally falter during some overly broad comedic wrong notes, the film nonetheless possesses a gripping aesthetic and emotional dynamism that can only be expressed, finally, via prototypical Bollywood dance-choreography pageantry."

"Slumdog Millionaire is dazzling entertainment," writes Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine. "If it's only that, and not quite up to the director's absolute best, it's because Jamal [Dev Patel] and Latika [Freida Pinto] have the simplistic relationship of a silent movie couple - sweet, earnest, torn apart by fate - and not the messy chemistry of true love."

"I suspect that Slumdog Millionaire will turn out to be one of Mr Boyle's most successful films precisely because the varied parts don't cohere as smoothly as they are supposed to in the ideal well-made film," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

For Alonso Duralde, writing at MSNBC, this is "a movie so compelling and, ultimately, upbeat, that it left me grinning wider than anything I've seen in ages."

Louis Peitzman gets a few words with Boyle for the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Online viewing tip. David Poland talks with Boyle, Patel and Pinto.

Earlier: Reviews from Telluride and Toronto.

Updates: "Throughout his still-young film career, director Boyle has shown a knack for locating joy in the unlikeliest of subjects, whether heroin addiction (Trainspotting) or zombie epidemic (28 Days Later)," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "With Slumdog Millionaire, this gift blossoms fully, and the result is one of the very best films of the year."

"Boyle is a smashing director, and I mean that literally," blogs David Edelstein. "He smash-cuts from shot to shot, scene to scene, chase to chase.... But he's brilliant at what he does, at the kind of hyperkinetic, every-shot-a-grabber filmmaking that many attempt and few bring off. Even with the arty lighting and tricky focus and canted angles, the action is fluid, the momentum headlong. Slumdog Millionaire is his liveliest fusion of style and content since Trainspotting."

"True to its roots, Slumdog ends with a chastely rapturous kiss and an all-out dance number, composed by Bollywood deity AR Rahman," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "Despite its elements of brutality, this is a buoyant hymn to life, and a movie to celebrate."

Rachel Abramowitz talks with Beaufoy for the Los Angeles Times, where Kenneth Turan calls Slumdog "the best old-fashioned audience picture of the year."

New York's Logan Hill talks with Rahman about his score.

Online listening tip. Rob Davis talks with Boyle at Daily Plastic.

Andrew O'Hehir introduces his interview with Boyle for Salon: "For all the fantastical tangents and attention-grabbing cinematography of his films - who could forget the journey into 'the worst toilet in Scotland'? - he's an old-fashioned tale-spinner with a penny-dreadful novelist's eye for the gory and the grotesque."

Peter Sobczynski talks with Boyle for Hollywood Bitchslap.

Updates, 11/13: "There hasn't been a social drama this decadently over-hyped since City of God," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Lurid, chaotic and maudlin, Slumdog suggests a Baz Luhrmann version of Oliver Twist."

Ella Taylor profiles Boyle for the LA Weekly.

"Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is a stylish, ingeniously constructed bit of hokum, a sparkling trinket of a movie that's as implausible as it is irresistible," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "As a matter of fact, this film's implausibility is exactly what makes it irresistible. In this post-globalization update of a Horatio Alger tale, all a boy needs to rise to the pinnacle of success is true love, a pure heart, and a run of luck so extreme it can only be karma."

"I wish Danny Boyle had the nerve to trust his audience to take a genuine dose of feel bad with his feel good," writes Marcy Dermansky. "According to Beaufoy's script, the lovely Latika had become the prized possession of a Mumbai gangster, but the movie never deals with the rape this almost certainly entailed."

Erik Davis talks with Boyle for Cinematical.

Update, 11/14: "With its stock characters and often outlandishly contrived plot, Slumdog Millionaire could easily be relegated to the category of cinematic stunt, a penny dreadful for the postmodern age," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post. "But even at its most superficial and floridly overheated, this chai-fueled tall tale retains its appeal, largely because of Boyle's fluency with the medium he so obviously loves."

"The film's surface is so dazzling that you hardly realize how traditional it is underneath," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "But it's the buried structure that pulls us through the story like a big engine on a short train."

"Slumdog Millionaire features the simplest story Boyle has ever told, which may explain why its many pleasures are so pure," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

Cheryl Eddy talks with Boyle for Pixel Vision.

"Danny Boyle's a hack, but a very special kind," writes Vadim Rizov in the Auteurs' Notebook. "He can never transcend his screenplays, which is too bad because he seems to have no discrimination in picking them out."

Update, 11/15: "Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Slumdog Millionaire is that, despite the director's strenuous denials, it could well be a Bollywood film, 'almost an homage to the 70s masala potboiler' of Indian cinema, the film's co-director, Loveleen Tandan, called it." Somini Sengupta in the New York Times.

Update, 11/17: "Strictly speaking, there are no surprises in this movie, and most people will be able to predict, within the first ten minutes, roughly how the last ten will pan out," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "What is surprising is the unembarrassed energy that Boyle devotes to his pursuit of the obvious; there's nothing wrong with the formulaic, it would appear, so long as you bring the formula to the boil."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:47 AM | Comments (1)

November 11, 2008

DVDs, 11/11.

Christmas on Mars James Van Maanen talks with Rick Gershon of Warner Bros Records about The Flaming Lips' Christmas on Mars: "They do many unusual things: They produced their own coffee table history book last year, about the first 20 years of their career. They did this independently and then we put it out thru WBR. We were just helpers on it. With this movie, it's a similar scenario. The Lips did most of the financing and everything else. They did this completely and entirely on their own."

And for PopMatters, Drew Fortune interviews Wayne Coyne.

"With their loose, loopy rhythms and start-and-stop pacing, the early-to-middle-period Our Gang films seem to resist the conventional constraints of storytelling," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "They shake off narrative in favor of a documentary-like texture - here are the real streets and storefronts, brand-new bungalows and refuse-strewn empty lots, of a still semi-rural Culver City - combined with strange, surrealist gags and bursts of anarchic, slapstick violence." Also reviewed is the 1943 hit This Is the Army: "Directed by Michael Curtiz, the film was based on a touring stage production, featuring actual soldiers (some 350 appear in the movie), that was conceived by [Irving] Berlin as a money-raiser for the Army Emergency Fund. After you've seen Kate Smith belt out 'God Bless America' and heard the tiny Berlin warble his way through 'Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,' you'll be ready to write a check yourself." More on that one from the New York Post's Lou Lumenick.

"Seven Men from Now (1956), The Tall T (1957), Decision at Sundown (1957), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), Westbound (1959), Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960) are all still shockingly unique, realistic, weathered, fatalistic and never less than adult," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC. "Looking at them anew, they remain quietly revolutionary, but, insofar as it matters, the achievement seems to be not only [Budd] Boetticher's, but a fortunate meeting of minds between the director, his aging star Randolph Scott, their producer Harry Joe Brown and screenwriters Burt Kennedy and Charles Lang. The films are not notable for directorial flourishes, but for a subtle, cohesive vision of humanity and community."

And Sean Axmaker wants to see more Budd Boetticher on DVD: a wishlist at the Parallax View.

The recently released edition of How the West Was Won is "worth revisiting," argues Keith Phipps at Slate, "as a cinematic curio but also as a clue to what the future might hold for IMAX."

Missing Missing tells a "story that is, of course, about an American, one of just a handful of foreign victims, something you can't help but weigh against the thousands of Chilean nationals, so many still among the disappeared," writes Josef Braun. "But somehow this is what makes Missing (82), the American debut of writer/director Costa-Gavras, made for Universal, showered with Oscar nods, work in its very particular way."

In the New Yorker, Richard Brody notes that, for John Cassavetes, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie "was an artistic breakthrough that set the stage for his daringly personal later works."

The subject of Glenn Kenny's "Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report" this week is Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro (): "This is a picture that hammers a chord of desolation almost as constant as that of Godard's Weekend, a picture not coincidentally from the same year."

"Sukiyaki Western Django is another one of those films where [Takashi] Miike is working from a well-worn template, juicing things up and stacking reference upon reference without creating a new vision," writes Bryant Frazer. "Tarantino's presence on screen is a too-clumsy reminder that the Kill Bill movies covered much of this same ground with more ingenuity and heart."

"I first saw Queen of Outer Space (1958) as an 11-year-old sci-fi crazed tyke, but even then found it tedious," writes Flickhead. "Alas, I was too young to savor the hootchie mama decadence."

The Boys in the Band Glenn Kenny on The Boys in the Band: "That [Leonard] Frey didn't do more, and better, work on the big screen is staggering to me; he was clearly a character actor of the first stripe."

"I wanted to look at the new Blu-ray Disc release of Story of O (out this week from the Canadian company Somerville House) for two reasons," begins Bryant Frazer. "First, I'm interested in what happens to obscure and cult films as they make their way to the new high-definition formats, and this French sexploitation drama from the mid-1970s certainly qualifies. Second, I know that while Story of O has some kind of literary pedigree (a sort of de Sade pastiche written under the pen name Pauline Réage, the novel broke significant ground for erotic fiction as well as bondage fetishists), the film version in particular has long been a pervy grail of softcore cinema - knowledgable viewers of a certain sexual inclination find this mix of epic skin flick, softcore potboiler, and S&M psychodrama to be in a class of its own."

Bill Hare has the Noir of the Week: Anthony Mann's Border Incident.

"Youth Without Youth is a fascinating folly," writes Matt Riviera. "Is it really that bad? Yes and no."

"One of the funniest movies I've seen in a while." Vince Keenan, briefly but notably, on OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.

"Vanishing Point remains a powerful, explosive film," writes Ed Howard.

Online browsing tip. Kimberly Lindbergs's David and Lisa Flickr gallery: "The film is beautifully shot by director Frank Perry and features some truly impressive black and white cinematography from Leonard Hirschfield. There's a wonderfully surreal aspect to the film's eye-catching dream sequences and the melancholy mood of the institution is underscored by the use of stark shadows and startling bursts of light."

Online viewing tip. The NYT's AO Scott's Veterans Day pick: Patton.

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk, Ambrose Heron, Harry Knowles, PopMatters and Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:34 PM

November 10, 2008

Shorts, fests, etc, 11/10.

Last Chance Harvey "A star vehicle fashioned around the chemistry between Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, Last Chance Harvey is a gentle story of late bloomers falling in love over a summer weekend in London," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen Daily. "While it has it charms, mainly in the actor pairing, it is otherwise unremarkable and easily forgotten - such an old-fashioned picture it could have been made in the 70s, with George Segal and Glenda Jackson starring." You know, on some evening or other, this'll be just the movie. More from John Anderson in Variety and Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter.

"Required Reading" at the filmlinc blog: "Who was Manny Farber? Film bloggers respond."

"After 'intense' discussions with officials at 20th Century Fox, [Baz] Luhrmann agreed to rewrite the final scenes [of Australia] to keep alive [Nicole] Kidman's love interest, played by Hugh Jackman," reports Richard Luscombe. Because, after all, if Titanic proved anything, it's that audiences won't stand for a heroine's lover dying.

Also in the Guardian, Barack Obama "isn't the black president of the movies; this is a character no one foresaw and scripted in advance," argues Mark Ravenhill; and Ronald Bergan remembers producer John Daly.

The Devils "Dateline: Halloween 2008, New York City. Cineastes, libertines, and connoisseurs of the weird all took a break from their revelry to attend a special midnight screening of director Ken Russell's notorious masterpiece The Devils, with Mr Russell himself in attendance." And Jeff took notes for Cinema Strikes Back.

"Shortly after I posted my review of Tokyo Sonata," writes Ed Champion, "I was contacted by screenwriter Max Mannix out of the blue. While Mannix was putting the finishing touches on his forthcoming film adaptation of Barry Eisler's Rain Fall (which he also directed), he graciously agreed to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions via email. For full effect, if you missed the Bat Segundo podcast with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, you can listen to it here. Tokyo Sonata is set for US release on March 11, 2009."

"I first heard the name of René Vautier from Erwan Moalic, the powerhouse behind the remarkable film festival in Douarnenez, a true community-based festival dedicated to working class audiences and featuring films on ethnic and other minorities (in existence since the 1970s)." Dina Iordanova: "I was asking Erwan if he could please identify what was the ideological influence that had informed the establishment of the Douarnenez event, and he named Vautier, whom he described as a hugely important but little known and widely-suppressed Breton filmmaker."

Kevin Lee on The Sun Shines Bright: "Often cited as John Ford's favorite film, this turn-of-the century period piece about folksy Judge Priest, the de facto patriarch of a sleepy Kentucky town, at first seems hopelessly dated with its unrepentant nostalgia for a Confederate society whose implicit bigotry enables a cavalcade of dubious stereotypes, not least of which is the embarrassing jigaboo schtick of African American cultural albatross Stepin Fetchit as Priest's servant. But on formalist terms, this may very well be one of Ford's most perfect achievements."

Dead Snow "While visiting in Os, Norway, I was honoured to be invited by the producer Kjetil Omberg to see the Norwegian Nazi Zombie flick Død Snø in a private screening," writes Iron Sky director Timo Vuorensola. "I've been following the film actively ever since I heard about it through Twitch because, well, it has Nazis, zombies and it's from Scandinavia." To cut to the chase, the film "stands proudly as one of the great examples of Norther horror wave that's going strong right now (with Sauna and Let the Right One In)."

"I enjoyed and was moved by Milk, and I didn't find its conventionality to be problematic," writes Glenn Kenny. "In fact, I found it entirely apt.... [W]hat this picture is, if you'll pardon the phrase, a straight-across-the-plate pitch to midcult audiences fond of event films and potential Oscar contenders. It explicitly posits the gay rights struggle as a civil rights struggle, and uses a cast of charming movie stars to make its case."

New French Films, running at BAM from Wednesday through Sunday, "brilliantly highlights the multiple tendencies at play in contemporary Gallic movies," writes Howard Feinstein at indieWIRE. "Most important, the BAM show includes what is, for me, the finest film of the past year, Tunisian-born Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain, which was ignored at Tribeca."

More fests and events:

3rd I

At PopMatters, Matt Mazur talks with Kristin Scott Thomas and Philippe Claudel about I've Loved You So Long. KST is also a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"Kurt Kuenne's documentary Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is many things - a tribute to a murdered friend, a historical record for the deceased's child, a portrait of near-unfathomable love and devotion, and an evisceration of a country's judicial and child protective services systems," writes Nick Schager. "It's also a manipulative, tearjerking thriller that, functioning as a sustained, anguished primal scream, is as emotionally devastating as any film, fiction or non-, released this year."

"With critical plaudits and advertising dollars flowing to Hulu, the popular online hub for television shows and feature films, YouTube finds itself in the unanticipated position of playing catch-up," report Brad Stone and Brooks Barnes in the New York Times. Today, "YouTube will move forward a little, announcing an agreement to show some full-length television shows and films from MGM, the financially troubled 84-year-old film studio." And Saul Hansell compares the services.

You may have seen that Alphabet Meme running around out there. Marilyn Ferdinand takes it a step further by writing a few notes on each of the films she's chosen. Andrew Schenker links to reviews (by other writers) of the films on his list.

Miriam Makeba "Miriam Makeba, the South African singer known to fans worldwide as 'Mama Africa' who became an international symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle, died early Monday after performing a concert in southern Italy," reports the AP. "She was 76." Related: Catherine Grant presents a list of "some good (mainly South) African cinema web-links follow."

Online browsing tip. Kimberly Lindbergs notes that the English version of Ishiro Honda's site is now up.

Online listening tip #1. From Tom Sutpen: "Steven Bach discusses the life, times and cinema of Leni Riefenstahl; the only woman on earth to give Dr Goebbels a hard time (read that however you wish) and live to tell the tale."

Online listening tip #2. Vinyl Is Heavy, and so is Synecdoche, New York.

Online viewing tips. Jerry Lentz's YouTube playlist, "The Best in Acting!"

Posted by dwhudson at 1:24 PM | Comments (1)

Rouge. 12.

My Budd Once again, Manny Farber. This time it's the new issue of Rouge, with an impressive six-part special section that opens with Donald Phelps's piece for the issue of For Now he edited in 1969 and closes with a piece from Farber himself, "Seers for the Sleepless," written in 1951.

In between are Jonathan Rosenbaum's 1983 essay comparing and contrasting Farber's work as a painter and as a film critic; in a similar vein, Bill Krohn in 1998 on the painting My Budd ("As far as Farber on Boetticher is concerned, this picture may be all we ever get"); a 1986 piece from Patrick Amos and Jean-Pierre Gorin, also on the Auteur series; and a newly revised 1999 piece from Rouge co-editor on Adrian Martin: "[I]f Farber wishes neither to possess a film nor give it undue momentousness, what does he seek instead?"

Vinzenz Hediger argues that "archives have now become an important driving force in the global media economy"; his concern "is with the shape and dynamics of cinematic memory in the age of digital video technologies, with a special focus on European cinemas."

Anthology Film Archives comes up in Stefan Grissemann's conversation with Jonas Mekas, of course, but there's also this: "I do not know any film publication today that has any intensity, anger, passion, obsession."

André Habib has quite a long talk with Péter Forgács.

Between the Images

Harun Farocki's recent work "seems fully a part of that dominant trend in recent visual arts designated most handily by Nicolas Bourriaud as 'postproduction,' a trend characterised by the persistent reuse, quotation and refunctioning of pre-existing works of art and prerecorded materials," writes Christopher Pavsek. "Though Farocki's recent works have an implicit leftist air about them - be it the product of their emphasis on particular content or the after-effect of Farocki's own reputation as a long-time political filmmaker - one wonders nonetheless about the significance of this move to the museum and whether or not it heralds a retreat from the principles of engagement that influenced Farocki's films and videos well into the 90s. Or, rather, does it reflect a change in the status of the social world and its images?"

The note that follows Jean-Pierre Coursodon's piece says it all: "This is a translation, by the author, of an essay originally published in the December 2007 issue of Positif. Just as Tanner on Tanner is a sequel to a much longer series, the essay is a sequel to a much longer piece on Tanner '88 also published in Positif (November 1988)."

Similarly, the note that precedes Gilberto Perez's: "This article on Fahrenheit 9/11 was written in the summer of 2004, when the film came out. That was before the November election, which the film was intended to influence, though the article was to have appeared after the election. It was written for a quarterly journal, The Yale Review, whose regular film critic I had been for nearly a decade. But The Yale Review declined to publish this article. I offer it for reading now, in the midst of another Presidential campaign whose outcome is uncertain." Not any more, of course, but revisiting the debates of 2004 lends to an understanding of why Barack Obama (who has a cameo in Coursodon's piece) won.

With Mark Rappaport's piece, alongside David Cairns's for Moving Image Source, the rehabilitation of Mitchell Leisen is well underway.

Yvette Bíró on The Edge of Heaven: "In this intricate and original film [Fatih Akin] is capable of using rough, wild, unusual building blocks for a deliberately conventional, formulaic story."

First on the Moon "No wonder that mock-documentary has been finally appropriated by Russian filmmakers." Julia Vassilieva on Alexei Fedorchenko's First on the Moon.

"Why have there been so many documentaries about fish and fishermen?" As Alan Wright demonstrates, the question is anything but frivolous.

"Does cinema really need to retain a sense of original sin in order to achieve moral gravity?" asks Kent Jones. "We need to trust in our own intellects rather than in systems of thought, to stop thinking in terms of moral-aesthetic hierarchies... This kind of pluralistic approach to film criticism is one of the side benefits of the blogosphere, in which, under ideal circumstances, informality often leads to a looser approach to aesthetics."

With an open letter, Juan Pablo Miranda remembers Guido Mutis (1934 - 2008), director of the Valdivia International Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:44 AM

Wrapping AFI Fest.

AFI Fest "'What a week this has been,' AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival Artistic Director Rose Kuo said as the introduced Sunday's festival awards presentation at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood," reports Peter Knegt for indieWIRE. "'Just over a week ago, we didn't know what [AFI's] opening film would be, or who would be leading this country.' But without a doubt (and with Doubt), AFI Fest, and the American people, have come to a decision. And regarding AFI Fest's 2008 awards, that decision fell on to Frederico Veiroj's Acne, which won the Grand Jury Prize for narrative feature, and Kief Davidson's Kissim The Dream, which won both the Grand Jury Prize for documentary, and tied for the documentary Audience Award."

On Friday, he spoke with Anthony Fabian about Skin and with Mo Perkins about A Quiet Little Marriage.

The LA Weekly's guide to the final weekend is still an interesting browse, and it begins with Afterschool; Anthony Kaufman profiles director Antonio Campos.

"Finally, Lillian and Dan gives the impression of having been made in a vacuum, conceived without influence and then delivered, squinting, into the fluorescent world around it," writes Lena Dunham at Hammer to Nail. "Naked and trembling, it was then subject to placement in any number of cinematic subcultures. But to regard this film (as I suspect some might be inclined to do) as just another DIY flick about awkward post-grad love would be to completely miss its brutal and complicated charm."

Doug Cummings presents "a list of some of the films that will have upcoming screenings or distribution in Los Angeles."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:05 AM

Morricone @ 80.

Ennio Morricone Happy birthday, Ennio Morricone!

To celebrate, you might revisit Robert C Cumbow's piece on the concert Il Maestro himself conducted early last year.

Morricone is "far and away our greatest living film composer," writes Tim Lucas in a birthday tribute. "I would like to use this occasion to discuss my own lengthy prowl through the Maestro's back catalogue in search of music that, for me, would be capable of rivaling the unforgettable shock of my initial introduction to his work."

Updated.

Congrats in the German papers: Ulrich Amling (Tagesspiegel), Wolfgang Sandner (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) and Peter Zander (Welt).

And here's his site.

Update: Dennis Cozzalio, who, of course, blogs at Sergio Leone and the Infield Rule, sends birthday greetings.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:33 AM

Quantum of Solace, round 2.

Quantum of Solace Picking up from round 1: "I miss the erudite, bon vivant Bond, but [Daniel] Craig is a 007 for an earthier, edgier age," writes David Edelstein in New York. "Quantum of Solace is the most cynical of the 007 films, stopping well short of The Dark Knight (the champion popcorn-movie downer) but acidic enough to ask: How can even the most resolute spy make a dent in our despair?"

For Jonathan Kiefer, Quantum "feels like a misfire.... The real problems most likely have to do with the direction. That's from Marc Forster, currently well-established as a maker of art-house fare that tends toward the slushy (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner), and perhaps simply out of his element here.... Quantum of Solace is a mean little movie, grim and single-minded, without the pleasure or mischief that has made Bond so endearing or contemptible depending whom you ask."

Updated through 11/16.

"The title is too frail by far," finds Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Someone should have called it 'Total of Wreckage.' Or 'Batter of Ram.'... The truth is that one thing alone lends gravity to Bond, and tethers him down to our shared earth, and that is the actor who plays him. This is where Craig and Connery score, and where the others lag behind. Quantum of Solace is too savage for family entertainment, but, as a study in headlong desperation, it's easier to believe in than many more ponderous films."

Meantime, Quantum's been scoring admirably at the European and Chinese box office, as Pamela McClintock reports for Variety.

The AV Club lists "13 fictional spies made possible by James Bond."

Updates: At the SpoutBlog, Kevin Kelly lists the "Cheesiest Lines from Bond Movies."

Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore: "On this week's IFC News podcast, we look at the reinvention of the James Bond character in franchise reboot Casino Royale and the new Quantum of Solace, including what's worked, what hasn't, the shadow of the Bourne films and whether in updating the franchise and the character the new film has done away with too many of the things that made Bond Bond."

Updates, 11/12: "How fascinating is it that 2008's two most inconsolable, borderline psychotic movie heroes are Batman and James Bond?" asks Sean Burns. "[W]hat lingers after Quantum of Solace, besides the urge to whack the director over the head with a rolled-up newspaper, is the sheer pitilessness of its outlook. As in The Dark Knight, there's a deeply dismaying sense of a world without rules and nobody looking out for us save for that damaged, sadistic maniac who's ostensibly the hero. I guess escapism ain't what it used to be. Our childhood idols grew up and got mean." Also in the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge lists "Six thrillers with unusually anguished heroes."

"The second outing for this renovated, revitalized Bond, beautifully embodied in the battered physique and wounded near-menace of Daniel Craig, is the shortest, sharpest, and most devastating entry in the long-running franchise," argues Josef Braun.

"[I]f Casino Royale marked a return to greatness for the Bond franchise, Quantum of Solace represents a return to adequacy," counters James Rocchi at Cinematical.

"Craig's second outing as Bond is as frustrating, sloppy, and brusque as its predecessor was engaging, sleek, and unhurried," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice.

"I've been revisiting the Sean Connery Bonds lately, on widescreen projection, where the immaculate detail and lush photography of airports, country roads, mosques, and Ealing Studio interiors come alive." Erich Kuersten at Bright Lights After Dark: "But what I am really noticing is the full greatness of Connery's multi-leveled performances."

Updates, 11/13: Online listening tip. Melissa Anderson and Nathan Lee "rank the Bonds by butchness, give shoutouts to Eva Green, Dame Judi Dench, and Amy Winehouse, plus a smackdown on director Marc Forster and a report on the screening room shenanigans of the legendary CondeNastopussy herself, Anna Wintour."

"The totality perhaps meets the fundamental requirements of action and pace, hurtling forward with only the briefest of pauses and coming in at a tidy hour and three-quarters," writes Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader. "As a likely result of that, it can seldom make time for the preparation that would give the action scenes sense and import. They are little more than turbulence. And the underlying split personality still remains: Why bother to infuse the Bond character with a greater air of reality if he's going to continue to be allowed the acrobatics of a Jackie Chan?"

"In essence, the charge to revive the Bond films is a search for its own 'quantum of solace' beneath the patina of glitz and brand marketing," writes Neil Morris in teh Independent Weekly. "For all its strengths, this latest effort tries to have it both ways. Instead, Quantum of Solace is further proof that oil and water just don't mix."

"Recent action pictures like Xavier Gens's Hitman have already stolen the series' chic, just as the Indiana Jones films have usurped its fun," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Craig takes Bond beyond fun. Quantum offers the in-process restructuring of a pop myth."

"Quantum of Solace plays almost like a feature-length epilogue to its predecessor, and the novelty of the franchise reboot hasn't so much worn off as been squandered on a scenario lacking in genuine thrills and long on ill-advised navel-gazing," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "The recent Spider-Man and Batman smashes set the dismal course; now the Bond fantasies have joined the trend of pulp gone pretentious."

Updates, 11/14: "Is revenge the only possible motive for large-scale movie heroism these days?" asks AO Scott in the New York Times. "Does every hero, whether Batman or Jason Bourne, need to be so sad?... The Sean Connery James Bond movies of the 1960s were smooth, cosmopolitan comedies, which in the Roger Moore era sometimes ascended to the level of farce. With Mr. Craig, James Bond reveals himself to be - sigh - a tragic figure."

"From its hyper-edited, incoherent opening sequences to the dreary monotony of Bond's revenge kick, Quantum of Solace is one brutalizing bummer of a ride, a chain of increasingly explosive fight scenes strung together by bits of talky exposition," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post.

"Quantum's plot is strictly second-rate, the kind of generic evil-tycoon-hatching-a-diabolical-plan story that the franchise rolled out with such depressing regularity in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "And Amalric, who demonstrated his gifts in last year's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, disappointingly makes a less memorable impression as a Franco-corporatist monster than Michel Lonsdale did in Moonraker.... Yet despite such disappointments, there is solace in Quantum, and its name is Daniel Craig."

In the New Statesman, Ryan Gilbey notes that Quantum and Steve McQueen's Hunger opened on the same day in the UK, and you know what? "[S]hould you get your kicks watching limber male bodies being smashed, bashed, brutalised and pummelled in forensic close-up against a backdrop of implicit criticism of the British government, you could plump for either picture and still come up trumps."

"Part of the thrill of the last film was the breath of fresh air it introduced to the tired concept of Bond, as created in the Connery films, sucked dry during the Moore years, and somewhat freshened in the four Brosnan episodes," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "There is plenty of room for more exploration of Daniel Craig's brutal, nearly humorless Bond, but Quantum of Solace doesn't really expand on Casino Royale so much as it resolves that film's dangling plot threads. So closely are the plots related that this might better have been called Casino Royale 2: The Revenge."

"Craig is the scrappiest of all Bonds, but he's also the most tender," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "And Quantum of Solace is best when director Marc Forster allows his star the latitude to explore emotions that, until Craig stepped into the shoes of the character, we didn't know Bond had. In fact, Quantum of Solace contains one of the most moving sequences I've seen in any Bond movie - including the devastating ending of Casino Royale - an emotionally exquisite Pietà that's the kind of thing you get when you allow your actors to carry a scene quietly and instinctively."

"[N]ow that the audience has adjusted to the notion of Bond as a tormented brute, we're starting to remember what drew us to this series in the first place: exotic locations, nifty surveillance technology, creative villains, and babes with ridiculous names." Dana Stevens in Slate: "In short, we're drawn by fantasy, pleasure, and fun, none of which figures on the to-do list of the new James Bond nor of the movie's director, Marc Forster."

"Don't ever let this happen again to James Bond," admonishes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Quantum of Solace is his 22nd film and he will survive it, but for the 23rd it is necessary to go back to the drawing board and redesign from the ground up. Please understand: James Bond is not an action hero!"

"The sense of barely submerged emotions coupled with Craig's nonchalant, smoldering brutality gives life to all the old cliches," writes Noah Berlatsky in the Chicago Reader. "The car chase, the boat chase, the foot chase through crowded streets, the walk through the desert in evening clothes—he plays them all with unnerving directness."

"Reprising every element that made Casino interesting - particularly a tone set by its star's unsmiling face - Quantum of Solace lacks the shock of the new," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "It also has trouble sustaining the appeal of the old.... Yet it still feels like the right Bond for the time."

Quantum "has only two built-in audiences: those who follow Daniel Craig, and those who follow James Bond," writes Jen Graves in the Stranger. "For everyone else, rent Casino Royale."

Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out New York: "Much has been made of the absence of Bond's signature quips, but there's something else that's absent: interest."

The LAT's Susan King meets Mathieu Amalric.

By the way, Mathias Raabe is reporting for the Netzeiting that the great designer Ken Adam (Goldfinger and six other Bond films) doesn't like the new Bond one bit. "The humor's all gone," he says.

"It's brisk and shiny, partially smart and frequently flashy; it's got loads of chases, escapes, fights, and explosions, as well as a game cast and a leading man who really sells the physical stuff," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical. "The plot is nothing more than your standard 'angry spy on a mission' hoo-hah, but it works well enough to support the sport and the spectacle... so why is it that Marc Forster's Quantum of Solace also feels like a missed opportunity, kind of an also-ran, and sort of a day late and a dollar short? Oh that's right. Because this is supposed to be a James Bond movie."

Quantum "fails precisely because it continues to treat James Bond, the character, as a matter of utmost gravity, and assumes that action sequences thrill primarily for the fact of their existence," argues the L Magazine's Mark Asch.

Screengrab lists "The Best & Worst James Bond Films of All Time!"

Jason Sperb rounds up the Bond Blog-a-Thon at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

Updates, 11/15: Online listening tip. At Cinematical, James Rocchi and Spout's Kevin Kelly talk Bond.

"After the massive paradigm shift of Casino Royale, there's not lots of new ground for Quantum of Solace to uncover. But as an adrenaline-packed example of the new-paradigm Bond, it ranks with the legendary franchise's finest entries," finds Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

For Tribeca, Kristin McCracken talks with Forster and new Bond girl Olga Kurylenko.

Updates, 11/16: "Quantum of Solace isn't frivolous or cheesy, but it isn't all that much fun either," writes Newsweek's David Ansen. "Craig is still the right guy for the job, but for his boiling-on-the-inside performance to work, he needs more to play with. He's doing a dark character study in a movie that rarely stops to catch its breath. Couldn't he have been allowed a little of the superspy's rakish charm?"

"[T]he unfortunate failure of Quantum of Solace certainly can't be ascribed to an overdose of capital-s Seriousness, the Paul Haggis-ized shout-outs to rapacious corporate greed - embodied in the faux-environmentalist kingpin Dominic Greene, warping Mathieu Amalric's endearingly froggy features into malevolent mode - undernourished Bolivian peons, and US governmental connivance with dictators and terrorists notwithstanding." Andrew Tracy in Reverse Shot: "To paraphrase Stanley Kauffmann, such frills are just serious enough to be entertaining, not enough to be serious. Where the film fails is in a regrettable abandonment of the (ever more surprising in hindsight) narrative integrity of Casino Royale, and in a sidelining of the brawny enigma that that first 'reboot' (bloody word...) took as its obsessive focus and fascination."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:29 AM | Comments (1)

November 9, 2008

Film Comment. Nov/Dec 08.

Catherine Deneuve November 14. That's this coming Friday, and a glance at the new issue of Film Comment - one eye on a print copy, with Catherine Deneuve on the cover, the other eye on the online exclusives - immediately reveals why this is a red letter day for New York cinephiles: Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale opens at the IFC Center and Manny Farber, 1917 - 2008, a series curated by Kent Jones, begins its 13-day run.

Online, Desplechin's conversation with Deneuve is the full, uncut version. Among the many topics touched on: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; Repulsion ("That's the film I feel I helped make"); "I definitely prefer Tristana to Belle de Jour!"; the many directors she's worked with, American actors, tough choices and - well, Desplechin makes this quite a fun read.

Regarding Manny Farber, FC runs two interviews from its archives: Kent Jones's from the March/April 2000 issue and Richard Thompson's with both Farber and Patricia Patterson, from the May/June 1977 issue. On a somewhat related note (at the very least, Kent Jones would be the overlap here), the full transcript of the Film Criticism in Crisis? panel at this year's New York Film Festival is also online.

Milk "Milk is the first movie [Gus] Van Sant has made about adults since Psycho (98)," writes Nathan Lee. "And perhaps it's more accurate to say that the biopic, like the remake, is a reflection or simulacrum of preexistent figures. Milk is clearly motivated by getting its story and message across with maximum clarity. No Béla Tarr abstractions here, no Leslie Shatz soundscapes - and no major improvement over The Times of Harvey Milk except insofar as talented movie stars enacting a colorful historical drama command attention, and this movie deserves it. It's the straightest thing in Van Sant's career, not unlike Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain."

"[B]oth Seventeen and Demon Lover Diary are positively crucial to documentary film history," argues Rob Nelson. "That's in no small part for what these two pioneering films share: a raw, pungent sense that the 70s killed the 60s, that law and order would be here to stay (Seventeen's first words are a home-ec teacher's orders to 'be quiet and sit down'), that the kids who manage to survive will, like the two films, be sent to detention (and won't go quietly)."

Chris Chang on Tulpan: "Rare is the film that captures a landscape and way of life with such veracity, intensity, and poetic empathy."

Paul Fileri talks with Daniel Stuyck and Ross Wilbanks to get the story behind Order of the Exile, the invaluable site devoted to Jacques Rivette.

Huillet/Straub Collection "Arnold Schoenberg composed his monumental 12-tone opera Moses und Aron during the years 1930 through '32." Online, Allen Shawn is given space to elaborate on the significance of the work before turning to the film at hand: "In 1973, six years after making their extraordinarily beautiful Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet produced a film version of Arnold Schoenberg's great work (which has now been issued on DVD). As they had in the Bach film, the Straubs sought to strip their cinema bare of anything that could be seen to deliberately dramatize the story, establishing with exquisitely subtle, mathematically plotted camerawork and formalized direction, a visual counterpoise to Schoenberg's complex score."

Elisabeth Lequeret on The Secret of the Grain: "[Abdel] Kechiche may subscribe to Renoir's 'Everyone has his reasons,' but here he shoots the action with a nervous tension that's more evocative of Pialat.... In France, Kechiche is often compared to Marcel Pagnol: both undoubtedly share a rare understanding of the degree to which daily speech, much more than language, forms the basis of community."

The furor over Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ "must have induced some anxiety of influence in [Abel] Ferrara," suspects Paul Brunick. "The unexpected conceptual coup of Mary was to turn all these speculations back on themselves: a film-within-a-film structure (meta!) explores the personal and public fallout from the production of a revisionist biblical epic. Call it post-Scorsesean, if you must, but no amount of category-crunching could rescue this film from its own mediocrity."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:55 PM | Comments (1)

Bright Lights. 62.

Bright Lights 62 "Fritz Lang's Metropolis can best be described as a myopic dystopia," writes Norman Ball in the new issue of Bright Lights Film Journal. "In the aftermath of pathologic greed - prophesied by Ezra Pound - what third way looms on the horizon? It's possible we may muddle through a protracted Gramscian interregnum before a cohesive new system forms in the vacuum. As for Metropolis, it ends on a rather treacly note, everyone living blissfully mediated ever after. The same assurance hardly exists for a present-day world of biologic agents, suitcase nukes, and recalcitrant greed. Still, one can hope."

"We secularists, who have long since abandoned progressive propaganda for fluidities far more anarchic than Bakhtin would ever prescribe, still persist under the culturalist spell of cinema - for the dream projections cinema affords are all our American dystopia can manage." Well, this snippet barely scratches the surface of Andrew Grossman's essay on Prokofiev and Bakhtin, modernity and polyphony and more, but it's a sentence that certainly leapt out at me.

John Calendo on Vanity Fair's spread of reenactments of stills from Hitchcock's films in the February issue: "The reader... will understand my sense of - is violation too strong a word, or titillation too frivolous? - confusion then, confusions plural, when I saw film moments I grew up on, eerie Hitchcockian mise-en-scenes whose hypnotic power can still grab me today, even after a lifetime of multiple viewings, reimagined into something rich and strange, a Mashup for the ReMix Generation, a sort of race-record cover version, with very pretty, very clean personnel - and no soul."

Leon Morin, Pretre "There are films about relationships affected by tragedy and those about relationships that - tragically or otherwise - never seem to get started," writes DJM Saunders, setting a wandering train of thought in motion. "Before looking at a few modern examples of the latter, I'll begin with a mid 20th-century masterpiece reminiscent of the best work of Dreyer, Bresson, Fassbinder and, latest addition to the pantheon, Lars Von Trier." That would be Jean-Pierre Melville's Leon Morin, Pretre.

Lesley Chow argues the case for a "phenomenon" and "a mysterious and searching fantasy, with an almost total belief in legend": "It may not be useful to look at Wolf as a [Mike] Nichols creation, except to marvel at the conviction with which he depicts the primitive - he's one of the least misty directors around. Yet, of all places, the film is set in the power circles of New York - in rich offices and estates, all viewed with such apparent distrust that it's as if Nichols had never known what it was like to be inside."

Thomas R Britt addresses "the apparent excesses of three films that have gained a reputation for shocking the sensibilities of their audiences through indeterminate formal constructions and the presentation of exaggerated violent and sexual content. These sometimes difficult films don't form a concrete generic group, but they do share a thematic through-line: David Lynch's Lost Highway, Gaspar Noé's Irreversible and Takashi Miike's Visitor Q are all variations on the Orphic myth, with reactive heroes hurtling toward death as a means of reconciling the ruptures between them and their objects of desire."

The Impossible David Lynch "Lacanian academe Todd McGowan jumps on the Lynch analysis bandwagon with The Impossible David Lynch," writes Erich Kuersten. "For my part, I snapped this up immediately, having become a true McGowan fan after his excellent The End of Dissatisfaction: Lacan and the Emerging Society of Enjoyment."

"Masaki Kobayashi, the director who formed the closest alliance with him, pinpointed [Tatsuya] Nakadai's ability to embody qualities of Japan's older, pre-World War II generation and its younger postwar generation, bridging a vast gap in experience and values." An appreciation from Imogen Sara Smith: "Dividing his time between stage and screen, contemporary and period films, he has alternated naturalism and stylization, camera-oriented minimalism and heightened theatricality.... Like Hollywood's new postwar men (Clift, Brando, etc), he offered a multifaceted, ambivalent masculinity far from monolithic wartime ideals."

Also: "[T]he mask was more than a cinematic strategy; it expressed a particular mode of being: a mode of reticence, stoicism, secrecy. An immobile face was as necessary to the movie tough guy as his fedora and his gun. Dana Andrews was one of Hollywood's masked men, and even more than bigger stars like Bogart, he was the quintessential 1940s man."

"In recent years, [Norma] Shearer has become the object of a small but very devoted cult following which views her as a sort of stylish underdog, and she remains a lightning rod of critical controversy." An assessment from Dan Callahan: "Marie Antoinette was her apex, and the few films she made after it are a rather melancholy tying up of loose ends."

Damon Smith talks with Catherine Breillat about The Last Mistress and her next feature, Bad Love: "I wrote it precisely and uniquely for Naomi Campbell."

Art in Cinema "Reading the more or less official correspondence of a film programmer might seem dull, revolving as it must around the search for films and information, the negotiation of rental rates, and the critical evaluation of screenings and audiences," writes Irina Leimbacher. "But Scott MacDonald's Art in Cinema: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society, like his previous book on Amos Vogel's Cinema 16, offers clear proof to the contrary. Indeed, Art in Cinema's collection of epistolary and curatorial documents creates a captivating portrait of one of America's earliest film societies and the San Francisco avant-garde film and art scene in the late 1940s and early 50s. Like so much of MacDonald's work, it is an essential contribution to American avant-garde film history."

Jon Lanthier finds in the criticism of Manny Farber "an admirably modernist gamble: there's the distinct possibility of exasperating the audience, but also the hope of unshackling the writer from a polarizing, and eventually inconsequential, opinion. What we're left with is more a critical experience than a critical assertion — prose that actually simulates the schizophrenic love/hate cycle of watching and emotionally processing a movie. In other words, criticism as an art and not a science, as it should be."

Also, Burn After Reading is "the only screwball comedy to leave all of its characters either moderately satisfied or dead."

More reviews of recent releases:

  • "I've written many words about America in the pages of Bright Lights, trying to explain its past, its politics and its people through the lens of contemporary film - an explanation I desire for myself as much as for any readers." Matt Brennan on I'm Not There: "But perhaps this is emblematic of Dylan's fans and the filmmakers who follow him, searching for a story, a way of creating coherence and order from what Joan Didion once called 'the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.'"

  • "With Italian horror cinema maestro Dario Argento's Mother of Tears (2007) comes not just the end of the 'Three Mothers Trilogy' that all Argento fans have been waiting for, but the end of filmmaking as we know it; or as Argento knows it, the apocalyptic cave-in of horror cinema's symbolic common language." Erich Kuersten: "In short it is, by any stretch, a stinker."

  • "Today a resounding work of art seems improbable if not impossible, but despite all the trends against it, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a work of art that dazzles while it intrigues," writes Tony Macklin. "[L]ike Bergman's influence on Woody's stark Interiors (1978), Jules and Jim is a potent source."

Description of a Memory

"Ascenseur pour l'échafaud is a fantastic period piece, but I wasn't knocked out by either the script or the performances, or anything else, except the soundtrack," writes Alan Vanneman. "Miles Davis always had more attitude than talent, in my opinion, but I gotta admit, Paris at night in black-and-white with Miles on the soundtrack? It's a perfect fit."

Also: "If anyone had asked me, in the year 2000, to pick a director likely to come up with a highly wrought, $90 million, neo-Kubrickian, neo-Hitchcockian meditation on the perils of abyss-gazing, it wouldn't have been Robert Zemeckis." But then along came Cast Away.

Robert Ecksel looks into how Goethe's Faust "served as a springboard for one of the signature films of the 1960s, John Frankenheimer's harrowing Seconds."

Portland Lesbian and Gay Film Festival Festival reports: Lesley Chow on this year's Melbourne International Film Festival and BL editor Gary Morris on the 2008 Portland Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and Portland's 2008 Queer Documentary Festival.

"Warner Home Video has simultaneously released two two-disc special edition DVDs of MGM's musical fables An American in Paris (1951) and Gigi (1958), titles ripe for the kind of digital repolishing their cousins Meet Me in St Louis, Singin' in the Rain and The Band Wagon have already enjoyed," writes Matthew Kennedy. "Revisiting the All Singing All Dancing classics sometimes feels like a walk among dinosaurs, which is not always a bad thing. In fact, it may invite contemplation on the very devolution of society. Did movies once really have this much grace, craftsmanship, musical wealth, gentle wit, devout elegance?"

Then come Gordon Thomas's DVD roundup (The Italian, Traffic in Souls, Privilege, Wings, The Ascent, Tropical Malady, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and J'Accuse) and Gary Morris's "Little Stabs of Happiness (and Horror): Affinity, La Corona, Cthulhu, Hair: Let the Sunshine In, Lolita, The Nutty Professor, Renaissance Village, Rock Bottom, In Search of the English Folksong, Summer Heights High and War Dance.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:57 AM | Comments (1)

Shorts, fests, etc, 11/9.

Peter Watkins A screenwriter friend recently introduced Atlantic contributing editor Michael Hirschorn to the films of Peter Watkins: "When I expressed amazement at the uncanny way his films, most of them dating back to the 60s and 70s, presage the contemporary cultural and political landscape - from Fox News to The Daily Show, from reality TV to the coverage of the Iraq War - my friend responded, 'Now you know the secret source. All things come from Watkins. All.'"

"I don't remember the first time I saw Two-Lane Blacktop." Phil Nugent and the read of the day:

I wish I did. Instead, I just remember all those early, early mornings when I realized that I was going to get to see it again. On mornings when my mother happened to be home, I watched it in a dark living room, with the sound turned down way the fuck low, lying on my belly an inch or two from the set. When I had the place to myself, I'd kick out the jams, watching it with the sound up and the lights on, reacting to the commercial breaks by rushing to my bedroom to play one song from whatever drooling punk record I was especially taken with at the time and performing a frantic, epileptic-like ritual that I told myself was not wholly unlike dancing, then switching the stereo off and rushing back to the TV just as Al Scramuzza, patriarch of New Orleans's Seafood City and one of the most endearingly maladroit pitchmen ever to insist on doing his own commercials, was wrapping up his testimonial to the freshness of his crawfish.

"Milk will be the timeliest movie of the year," predicts Mike Rennett at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope. "Kristopher Tapley even suggests that an earlier release of the film may have swayed Californians to vote against Prop 8."

"William Kentridge: Five Themes, a comprehensive survey of the contemporary South African artist's work, will premiere at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) on March 14, 2009."

El Verdugo Kevin Lee on El Verdugo (Not on Your Life): "The highest debut placement within last December's update of the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? list of 1000 greatest films was this corrosively black comedy by Luis Garcia Berlanga, the long-suffering subversive of Spain's Franco regime."

"Reviewing a film like Go Go Tales is a bit of a losing proposition in some ways, because much like certain ultra-stringent works of the avant-garde, the films of Abel Ferrara, when they're really 'on,' exemplify a good many traits that are going to sound like flaws to the unconvinced," writes Michael Sicinski. "Go Go Tales is Ferrara's best film in years, although this in itself is a bit misleading."

"Bad Lieutenant is a rare contemporary American film in that it wallows in the grimy, pulp details we associate with absorbing crime dramas - drugs, violence, sexual threat, decadence of the soul - yet sets up an oddly plaintive and simple finale in which a doomed man redeems what is left of his eroded soul with a single, anonymous act of kindness." Simon Augustine at FilmCatcher.

To Save and Project: The Sixth MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation runs through November 16 and Friday and Saturday sees screenings of Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler's 1921 film, Manhatta, a "resolutely modernist work, [which] with its Cubist perspectives and percussive rhythms, most likely was, in the words of the film historian Jan-Christopher Horak, 'the first avant-garde film produced in the United States,'" notes Dave Kehr.

Also in the New York Times:

  • "[I]t's not surprising that the debate has heated up over who, or what, in arts and entertainment presaged Barack Obama's election as president," writes Tim Arango. "But one idea seems to be gaining traction, and improbably it has Bill Cosby and Karl Rove in agreement: The Cosby Show, which began on NBC in 1984 and depicted the Huxtables, an upwardly mobile black family - a departure from the dysfunction and bickering that had characterized some previous shows about black families - had succeeded in changing racial attitudes enough to make an Obama candidacy possible."

  • Dave Itzkoff profiles Joel Hodgson of MST3K.

  • Deborah Solomon talks with Ron Howard for the Magazine.

Doubt "The considerable integrity and strength of John Patrick Shanley's play prevail despite a questionable central performance in Doubt," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Stepping back behind the camera for the first time since his misguided Joe Versus the Volcano in 1990, Shanley capably retains the power of his study of unsubstantiated moral convictions gone tragically awry, and the extensive opening up of his four-character, 90-minute 2005 Pulitzer and Tony Award winner adds in social context what it loses in sharply focused intensity.... The film's one iffy element, oddly enough, is [Meryl] Streep." But as Karen at the LAT's Gold Derby notes, Cherry Jones, who played Streep's role on Broadway more than 700 times (and whom McCarthy praises) disagrees. Furthermore, Karina Longworth quite likes Joe Versus the Volcano and notes, too, that she's far from alone. At any rate, more on Doubt from Brent Simon (Screen Daily) and Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter).

"[T]he movies of Tennessee Williams (1911-83) suggest that film isn't a director's medium after all," argues Wyatt Mason. "The Pulitzer prizewinning American dramatist - who never directed a film - is credited as writer, co-writer, re-writer or adapted/translated writer of more than five dozen. To watch the best of them is to encounter a commandingly consistent vision. Although scores of people directed - including Elia Kazan, Richard Brooks, John Huston, George Roy Hill, Sydney Pollack and Sidney Lumet, talents of divergent temperament and taste - out of such unruly heterogeneity emerged Williams's singular, overarching sensibility. More than anyone before or since, he made film a writer's medium."

Also in the Guardian: Amy Raphael interviews Kelly Macdonald and John Patterson riffs weirdly on what's made the Red Army Faction glamorous while Islamist terrorists just aren't.

Je Veux Voir "never pretends or aspires to be anything beyond what it is-a document of two actors [Catherine Deneuve and Rabih Mroué] going on a drive down a somewhat melancholy road," writes Gary Dauphin in Bidoun. "There's a great, bracing honesty in that simplicity, but there is also attendant risk."

Stefan Kanfer in City Journal on Fred Astaire: "[Joseph] Epstein understands the importance of Astaire not only as a terpsichorean but as a musician. Though the performer's vocal range was narrow, he could 'sell' a song because it was never 'his voice alone but the rhythms he felt in his body that meshed so beautifully with the work of these songwriters.'" Via Bookforum. And And American Heritage is running an excerpt from the book.

Bat-Manga! "At the peak of the 1960s Batman craze, Shonen King, a weekly manga anthology, licensed the rights to publish its own Batman and Robin tales in which the Dynamic Duo brawled with aliens, mutated dinosaurs and immortal villains. But the yearlong run of stories was never collected in Japan nor translated into English... until now." As Yvonne Villarreal reports, Chip Kidd will be at Meltdown Comics on Wednesday to sign copies of Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan.

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • "The General, newly re-released by Kino International in a restored and expanded two-disc DVD edition, represents [Buster] Keaton at his absolute best," writes Sam Adams. "Inspired by an incident drawn from the early years of the American Civil War, the movie is, in essence, one long chase scene, with Keaton's Rebel engineer first pursuing and then pursued by a group of Northern spies attempting to stage a sneak attack on Confederate forces. (Keaton thought 1927 audiences would resent a movie that made the South the villain.)"

  • "[John] Abraham and [Abhishek] Bachchan, both strapping matinee idols, have built their careers playing sensitive lovers and good sons, but in their upcoming film Dostana (Friendship) they are breaking with tradition, risking their carefully cultivated screen images and testing the sensibilities of Bollywood audiences," writes Anupama Chopra. "Dostana, which will have its worldwide theatrical release Friday, is the first big-budget mainstream Bollywood film to feature gay protagonists."

  • John Horn has a long talk with Danny Boyle about making Slumdog Millionaire.

  • "Did you hear the one about the Jewish basketball legends?" asks Gary Goldstein. "No, that's not the intro to a Jackie Mason joke or fodder for a Mel Brooks movie, but the basis of the perception-altering new documentary The First Basket, opening Friday in Los Angeles."

  • Susan King talks with Robert Conrad about The Wild Wild West.

The Independent is blogging the Dallas Video Festival - and Paul Harrill's "David Lowery's fantastic trailer for the festival."

"Groundhog Day - I'd love to come up with a pitch like that, but we never do. Our films just aren't pitchable." Jonathan Romney meets Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri. Also, the Independent asks playwright and screenwriter Sharman Macdonald about raising Keira Knightley.

"Bush was, I believe, the grandson of Richard Nixon in many ways," writes Oliver Stone. "Now I genuinely hope that Obama can be the heir to John F Kennedy, who was a great spirit and to whom very strong goodwill was granted. I felt that in 1960 and I feel it now with Obama."

Also in the Observer:

Scott Walker

Marcy Dermansky on The Guitar: "Amy Redford's film, written by Amos Poe, is divorced from reality. If you find out that you are dying, I don't recommend the path Melody takes. Chances are you won't transform from a little gray mouse to a gorgeous butterfly. Nonetheless, the movie - a fairy tale - pleases enormously."

Online viewing tip. "Coming soon to digital outlets near you from Cinetic Rights Management, will be famed photographer William Eggleston's legendary 1973 documentary piece, Stranded in Canton." Matt Dentler's got two clips and notes that "Eggleston's body of work is also getting the retrospective treatment from now until late January, at the Whitney Museum, in an exhibit called William Eggleston: Democratic Camera - Photographs and Video, 1961 - 2008."

Online viewing tips. Relaunched: CineVegas Shorts Online.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:47 AM

Synoptique. 12.

Crash "Sensational and extravagant emotional appeal - here comes our first thematic edition on (you know you love it) melodrama," writes editor Amanda D'Aoust, introducing the new issue of Synoptique and a collection of related pieces from the archive.

Lindsay Peters offers a "comparative analysis of Crash, Babel and Syriana as contemporary political network narratives in dialogue with the properties of classical melodrama and Jeffrey Sconce's concept of the 'smart' film which grew out of the American independent filmmaking trend of the 1990s."

Flightplan, Bunny Lake is Missing (Joe Carnahan's remake is due next year) and The Forgotten: "[W]hat can we learn about the discourse surrounding issues of maternity and paternity through these films?" asks Sylvain Verstricht. "Unfortunately, even though their stories take place in a recent social context, they reiterate detrimental conceptions of parenthood that are centuries old: that family is the woman's concern; that biology ensures that mothers are more intimately connected to their children; that women give life and men destroy it; and that, as such, men are the most expendable in the family structure."

And Anne-Louise Lalancette's piece on Stella Dallas and its 1990 remake, Stella, is in French.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:54 AM

November 8, 2008

EFA. Nominations.

European Film Awards "Two Italian films, Matteo Garrone's Gomorra (Gomorrah) and Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo, lead the pack at this year's European Film Award (EFA) nominations. Both films have five nominations each and premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival before their releases at home."

Boyd van Hoeij has the full Cannes-heavy list at european-films.net.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:55 AM

November 7, 2008

Shorts, 11/7.

India Song At Moving Image Source, Adrian Martin marvels at the DVD for India Song, "which deserves its reputation as [Marguerite] Duras's greatest cinematic work: every single shot in the film - some of them lasting several minutes, it's true - gets its own chapter! Moreover, each chapter number comes with a reproduction of the corresponding page in Duras's very literary découpage (in French) of the piece." Just an example of the "world of possibilities that has scarcely been touched by the producers of DVDs, even among the most distinguished and scholarly labels."

"The Oscars academy has restored a rare print of a controversial film by India's famed director Satyajit Ray that was banned by Indian censors for glorifying monarchy in a Himalayan kingdom that acceded to India," reports Sujoy Dhar for Reuters. "Made in 1971, Sikkim was about the Himalayan redoubt of the same name ruled by the Chogyals before it acceded to India in 1975 amid some criticism that New Delhi had browbeaten its tiny neighbor. China opposed India's claim on Sikkim until 2005."

"John Landis is getting back in the saddle with a clutch of feature projects in the pipeline," reports Ali Jaafar for Variety. "First up will be Burke and Hare, a true-life black comedy about the two eponymous grave-robbers in 19th century Edinburgh." And then there's "Ghoulishly Yours, a biopic of Mad magazine and EC Comics publisher William Gaines; The Bone Orchard, which the helmer describes as a Western with Chinese vampires; and The Rivals, based on the Restoration play by [Richard Brinsley] Sheridan."

Vince Keenan revisits Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance, "a borderline-camp frenzy of purple prose, Byzantine plotting and gay panic."

Un homme qui dort is "A lettriste of almost preternatural power and erudition, [Georges] Perec not only mastered pretty much every literary form he tackled, he invented a number of new (and daunting ones)," writes Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Perec's 1967 novel Un homme qui dort is, by Perecian standards, a relatively straightforward work - its most noteworthy stylistic feature is its unfailingly beautiful use of the second person singular.... In the early 70s Perec and his friend Bernard Queysanne, a filmmaker whose experience had heretofore been as an assistant director, teamed up to make a film of the book. While much of the film's narration—which comprises the entirety of the film's verbal content; there is no dialogue—is taken directly from the novel, Perec jettisoned the book's linear structure in favor of, Bellos explains, 'a mathematical construction....' It's this structural sophistication that makes the 77-minute film so peculiarly compelling."

And while Glenn gets the Guardian's Danny Leigh thinking about what is and what isn't "unfilmable," Denis Seguin reports that "Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie's panoramic 1981 allegory of the birth of modern India, is heading for the big screen. Deepa Mehta is to direct and co-write the adaptation with the author, and the film is expected to start production in 2010.... With its bravura mix of historical events and inventive flights of fancy, the 650-page novel has long been seen as unfilmable." And Emma Pearse talks with Mehta for New York.

Also in the Guardian:

Salesman
  • Death of a Salesman, "which premiered in 1949, nailed once and for all the idea of the travelling pedlar as a perfect vessel for the American dream," writes Andrew Pulver. "If you want a genuinely Millerian cinematic experience, the best way to go is to get hold of Salesman, a 1968 documentary made by Albert and David Maysles, along with Charlotte Zwerin. Though the Maysles are best known for their hippy-era music docos Monterey Pop and Gimme Shelter, as well as the opaque weirdness of Grey Gardens from 1975, Salesman stands as the movie where they really found their voice as leading American proponents of the 'direct cinema' aesthetic."

  • "It's unlikely to go down as the best Bond ever, but Quantum of Solace wins hands down when it comes to best architecture," argues Steve Rose. Then he turns to the earlier films and notes that the "association between evil and modernism runs through many Bond movies."

  • "What is indie cinema?" Richard Vine asks Tilda Swinton, Michael Winterbottom, Paul Andrews Williams and Quentin Tarantino.

  • "Every now and then, every national or local film theater reckons it's time for another season of 'Jazz and the Movies,'" writes David Thomson, but "there may be a deeper, rhythmic bond between film and jazz that surpasses the silly screenwriters' notion that jazz is 'hot' or 'cool' or ripe for melodrama. I'm thinking about a season that digs into that deeper resemblance, and the wandering soul of improvisation."

  • Peter Bradshaw on Easy Virtue: "A Noël Coward adaptation needs some brittle wit, but this is about as brittle as a month-old piece of parked chewing gum." More from Wendy Ide (London Times), Trevor Johnston (Time Out New York), Derel Malcolm (Evening Standard), Anthony Quinn (Independent) and Tim Robey (Telegraph).

  • And a call for votes: "it's the Guardian First Film and First Album awards!"

Roderick Heath on Citizen Kane: "The fact that Rosebud still has multiple meanings as a symbol is once again a denial of simple resolution, part of what [Joseph] McBride called the 'constant ironic undercutting of the audience's search for a solution.' Such meditations invest the film's 'attack on the acquisitive society' (as Welles described it for Cahiers du Cinema in 1966) with force beyond simple political morality. It's an enquiry into the degree to which any human is shaped by circumstance, and left unshaped, into free will itself."

Simon Louvish: Chaplin FilmInFocus runs an extract from Simon Louvish's forthcoming book, Chaplin: The Tramp's Odyssey.

"The literary version of having a movie-critic friend intent on convincing you that there's a movie of which you've never heard but must see, The B List offers up mostly irresistible essays by the National Society of Film Critics about their favorite guilty pleasures." A review from Mae Anderson for the AP.

"Antonio Banderas is in talks about playing the lead role in a forthcoming Salvador Dalí biopic, sparking a rivalry between the Spanish actor and another Hollywood giant, Al Pacino, who is playing the surrealist painter in another film," reports Chris Green. "Meanwhile, Robert Pattinson will also play Dalí in a third film, Little Ashes, which will chronicle the artist's early life and development."

Also in the Independent:

  • Rachel Shields on another three-for-all: "As the woman who popularised the little black dress, the trouser suit and bobbed haircuts, [Coco] Chanel's style legacy is unrivalled, and now, her personal narrative is up for grabs, with three biopics of the great designer currently either completed or in the pipeline."

  • "Turks venerate Ataturk, the founder of the republic and architect of arguably the most successful social modernisation program of the 20th century," writes Nicholas Birch. "How much they really want to know him is questionable, however, judging from the furore that has erupted since a new documentary on his life was released in cinemas last week. Directed by Can Dündar, a leading documentary-maker with an until now spotless secularist record, Mustafa is the first Turkish film to emphasise the private side of the man whose stern features preside over public buildings across the country."

  • And Gill Pringle interviews Russell Crowe.

Jason Guerrasio checks in on five independent films currently in production. Also in indieWIRE, Eugene Hernandez: "Amy Rice and Alicia Sams' untitled documentary about US President-elect Barack Obama has been acquired by HBO. Produced by Edward Norton and his company Class 5 Films, Stuart Blumberg and Bill Migliore, the film was made with unique, exclusive access to Obama even before he began his historic campaign."

"Serious-minded Americans traditionally love to idealize the French movie industry, but as French cinephiles tend to see it, it's their own filmmakers, unlike those in the United States, who shy away from tackling head-on tough issues like contemporary French politics, scandals and unrest," writes Michael Kimmelman.

Also in the New York Times:

The World Unseen

"Declan Recks's Eden, with a script adapted by Eugene O'Brien from his own play, is the latest from the producers of the exhilarating Once, and that, along with a couple commendable acting turns from Aidan Kelly and Eileen Walsh as Billy and Breda Farrell, an Irish couple with two kids who find their marriage stagnating after a decade, is pretty much all it's got going for it," writes Lauren Wissot in Slant. "Simply put, Eden is like knockoff Leigh or Loach, unfocused kitchen-sink realism." More from Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

Gun Work Tim Lucas introduces new books from Video Watchdog contributors: Tom Weaver's I Talked with a Zombie and David J Schow's Gun Work.

In the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Matt Sussman meets kino21 founders and organizers Irina Leimbacher and Konrad Steiner, while D Scot Miller talks with Medicine for Melancholy director Barry Jenkins.

Roy Frumkes runs his 1997 Films in Review interview with Kenneth Anger.

"I've lost count of the number of times I've seen Battleship Potemkin over the years; familiarity with Eisenstein's editing patterns probably does lessen the impact of those classic sequences as much as I still appreciate them." Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "But what really struck me with this viewing (particularly in a version that looks this good) was the film's less remarked-upon moments of moody lyricism."

Darrell Hartman revisits A Woman Under the Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie for Artforum.

Vue Weekly: Operation Filmmaker For Vue Weekly, David Berry talks with Nina Davenport about Operation Filmmaker.

In the Houston Chronicle, Joe Leydon talks with Carl Deal and Tia Lessin about Trouble the Water.

Bilge Ebiri talks with Wayne Coyne about Christmas on Mars for the Vulture. So does Phoebe Greenwood for the London Times.

At Movie Morlocks, Richard Harland Smith talks with Larry Blamire about The Lost Skeleton Returns Again.

"B-movie maestro Al Adamson explored many genres when he was churning out films in the 60s and 70s including horror, blaxploitation and sexploitation," writes Kimberly Lindbergs. "Satan's Sadists (1969) was his early entry into the biker genre which became extremely popular during the late 60s. Adamson made Satan's Sadists in just one week on a shoestring budget and it shows. But if you're in the mood for some good b-grade biker fun, the movie is worth a look."

Martyn Palmer profiles Leonardo DiCaprio for the London Times, where Kevin Maher talks with Martina Gedeck about The Baader Meinhof Complex.

Rumba Cineuropa's new "Film Focus": Rumba.

"As a relatively responsible movie-going parent, I've always been curious as to how much of an influence our children's responses to the movies we take them to works to color our own," muses Dennis Cozzalio. Also, thoughts on Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Let the Right One In.

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

"Whatever you say about filmmaker Michael Moore, we should consider ourselves blessed to have such a professional agent provocateur running amuck in our national media circus, raising the heartland's consciousness and making the fat cats furious," argues Michael Atkinson in In These Times, though he is disappointed in Slacker Uprising.

"More Charles Burnett than Hughes brothers, Ballast is a tone poem that joins the landscape of the Mississippi Delta, where natural beauty and ex-urban ugliness mingle without prejudice, to a calibrated catharsis that will cause three souls adrift to shift course," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly.

Synecdoche, New York For Sam Adams, writing in the Philadelphia City Paper, Synecdoche, New York is "an aggressively bewildering conceptual sprawl that defies easy, and perhaps any, explanation. It sucks in the world like a black hole, letting nothing emerge. Its center is dense, but its pull is irresistible." But for the Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns, it's "all too meta and deliberately wretched to leave much of a mark."

More from Roger Ebert: "Like Suttree, the Cormac McCarthy novel I'm always mentioning, it's not that you have to return to understand it. It's that you have to return to realize how fine it really is." And more from Stuart Klawans in the Nation.

Tom Stempel's 10th "Understanding Screenwriting" column is up at the House Next Door.

How's Twilight going to do at the box office when it opens on November 21? Probably pretty well, and maybe even very, very well. Variety's Anne Thompson explains. Related: Ambrose Heron talks with Cam Gigandet.

"One of India's most respected filmmakers, BR Chopra, who was behind a string of classic movies released in the 1950s and 60s, died Wednesday," reports the AFP. "He was 94." More from the AP and the BBC.

Online listening tip #1. "One of the few bright spots in a bleak year for movie distribution has been the launching of The Film Desk, a micro-releasing outfit founded by BAMcinematek programmer Jake Perlin." Nathan Lee talks with him for WNYC. Related: David Fear in Time Out New York and Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook on The Wild Child.

Online listening tip #2. The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Ari Folman about Waltz with Bashir.

Online listening tip #3. An all-classics edition of the SpoutBlog's "Film Couch."

Online viewing tip #1. Dennis Cozzalio has Pablo Fernandez's "little gem of animation," Hollywood.

Online viewing tip #2. Jamie Stuart's In Spring is back online. On a related note, Jamie's written a letter to Roger Ebert, "Bless me, father, for I don't get Scorsese."

The 39 Steps Online viewing tip #3. The 39 Steps for free at Jaman.

Online viewing tip #4. New York's Bilge Ebiri introduces a short by Kurt Kuenne (Dear Zachary), Rent-A-Person, "a business epic in miniature" and "a hilarious musical pastiche about a young, lovesick men's-room attendant who decides to become a visionary entrepreneur."

Online viewing tip #5. The cinetrix has a teaser for Tara Wray's Cartoon College, noting, too, that Manhattan, Kansas will be out on DVD on November 18.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Amanda McCormick lists a "Top 10 song-film matches."

Online viewing tips, round 2. "Dominick Dunne is not everyone's idea of a great writer - much less a reliable journalist - but he's terrific company, and he sure does have a story to tell," writes JJ Berzelius, introducing a series of clips at the Daily Beast. "The new 85-minute documentary After the Party leaves out vast chewy chunks of that story, and the lacunae really show - but no matter. This is an improbably riveting, improbably touching movie, and even if you've never read the compulsively readable Dunne - or, alternatively, never read him without a giant dollop of skepticism - you will come away cherishing him."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:39 PM

Fests and events, 11/7.

Reeling 27 The Chicago Reader reviews the highlights of the Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival, running through November 16.

Andy Horbal notes that the Three Rivers Film Festival opens tonight and runs through November 22.

Jonas Mekas has helped curate an exhibition of his work at Cologne's Museum Ludwig, opening tomorrow and on view through March 1.

Ingmar Bergman's Monika screens Sunday and Monday at the Red Vic in San Francisco. Dennis Harvey at SF360: "[Harriet] Andersson, who would erratically work with Bergman over the next three decades, was this movie's breakout sexpot star. But [Lars] Ekborg, dead from cancer just 15 years later at age 43, provides its soul."

Turin Film Festival This will be Nanni Moretti's second year as director of the Turin Film Festival (November 21 through 29) and, as Nick Vivarelli reports for Variety, the program he's unveiled includes a complete retrospective of the work of Roman Polanski (including his advertising spots). Polanski, who recently appeared with Moretti in Quiet Chaos, personally supervised the retro. Among the jury members is Jonathan Lethem, whose review of Roberto Bolaño's 2666 for the New York Times Book Review is a recommended read.

"Unlike most celebrations of Israeli filmmaking, [the Other Israel Film Festival] seeks to focus specifically on stories of the multiple non-Jewish Arab ethnic groups living in Israel, who make up 20 percent of that country's population." An overview from Holly Herrick at Hammer to Nail.

At PopMatters, Michael Buening looks back on this year's New York Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:57 PM

Joni @ 65.

Joni Mitchell Just stumbled across Larry Aydlette's entry noting that Joni Mitchell turns 65 today. He points to Deno Lao's place, where he's collected "65 lyrical moments from Joni Mitchell songs."

Jim Fusilli recently called up David Crosby and had a pretty fine conversation about her for the Wall Street Journal. He also talks with Wayne Shorter about her work in the 80s.

Not film-related? But of course it is. Just ask Jim Emerson.

At any rate, here's the site to browse.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:13 PM | Comments (4)

Otto, or, Up with Dead People.

Otto, or, Up with Dead People "One of the more disciplined entries in the [Bruce] LaBruce oeuvre, [Otto, or, Up with Dead People] is sexy and silly in just the right proportions, a cult item with a real heart - albeit one that tends to get torn from the rib cage and munched on by naked men conversant in the philosophy of Herbert Marcuse," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. And he comments further at WNYC.

For Aaron Hillis, writing in the Voice, this gay zombie movie is "an explicit blend of blood and blowjobs that might've seemed more acidic two decades ago at the start of his no-budget career - or maybe Nick Zedd's."

"Otto is garlanded with as much sex, blood, leftist dogma and real-life porn stars (the Teutonically ravishing Marcel Schlutt, in fine fettle) as you'd expect from the filmmaker whose last movie, The Raspberry Reich, spawned the immortal catchphrase 'the revolution is my boyfriend,'" writes Eric Henderson in Slant. "But despite the fact that the main character is a twink zombie who eats roadkill and cock in about equal measure, LaBruce's empathetic twist is that gay sex does not in itself imply a political statement, at least not so far as Otto is concerned."

"The wit, smarts, cinephilic references and hot man-on-man action that made 1995's Super 8½ (LaBruce's best film) and 2004's The Raspberry Reich (his last feature) exemplars of punk-porn polemics are only intermittently evident here," finds Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York.

"Otto is plenty uneven, but considering the material it's also consistently fresh and inspired," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine.

Peter Knegt profiles LaBruce for indieWIRE.

Earlier: Reviews from Sundance.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:47 AM | Comments (2)

Gardens of the Night.

Gardens of the Night "Recovery time is recommended after seeing Gardens of the Night, a harrowing, obliquely told story of kidnapping and forced child prostitution that conjures a world entirely populated by predators and prey." Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "Written and directed by Damian Harris (Deceived, Bad Company), who researched the subject for a decade, Gardens of the Night has a ghastly air of authenticity."

"Ostensibly an exposé of the very real problem of sex slavery and its lifelong consequences for its victims, the film, despite Harris's tasteful elisions of potentially graphic depictions, plays more like a borderline exploitation film, with its young lead, Ryan Simpkins, continually placed in harm's way," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "Harris may play coy with explicit provocation, but he strings the viewer along with a series of suggestive details and unsavory situations that everywhere maintain grim interest and invite a certain voyeuristic complicity in the audience."

Updated through 11/8.

In the Voice, Ed Gonzalez finds it "a dubiously long 'Stranger Danger' sketch that pushes way beyond the limits of taste and reason."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Harris "about his long quest to make the movie, his transition into indie filmmaking, and his dream project, Spartans."

Update, 11/8: Harris's "dedication to getting the details right... doesn't save his film from missteps typical to stories about such topics, as the tendency to exploit lurid material for dramatic purposes is something he can't avoid," writes Nick Schager at Cinematical. "Still, as a serious-minded attempt to trace both the literal and psychological means by which abductors carry out their plots, Harris's tale is not wholly without merit and, with regards to its portrait of kid-snatcher Alex (Tom Arnold), occasionally flirts with complexity."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:45 AM

Klawans on Desplechin.

Arnaud Desplechin "'A film by Arnaud Desplechin': signature or brand?" asks Stuart Klawans in the Nation. "The question comes to mind because A Christmas Tale is less breakneck than Kings and Queen, less unforeseeable than Esther Kahn, less disputatious (I guess that's the word) than My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument. There's less risk-taking in it and more of an impression that a masterful filmmaker is permitting himself liberties - including the right to resolve the story perfunctorily, literally with a coin toss. (Talk about flippancy.) I excuse everything on the grounds that Desplechin is exercising a self-assurance he's earned."

Klawans approaches Desplechin from another angle in Nextbook, where he argues that he's "contemporary cinema's most Jewish non-Jewish director."

Updated through 11/8.

Earlier: Tom Hall's profile for indieWIRE and an everything-so-far-type collection of reviews of A Christmas Tale, which opens at the IFC Center on November 14, following the conclusion of the current series Every Minute, Four Ideas: The Films of Arnaud Desplechin.

Update: Hey, Michael Guillén's got an interview with Desplechin.

Update, 11/8: "[H]is films are giddy with cinema, brimming past the point you think they should reach for only to delight you with more, more possibilities and more actual delights, more concrete details to complete the picture," writes Ryland Walker Knight at the House Next Door. "Like Truffaut, whom he acknowledges as monumental and inspirational, Desplechin makes films that look simple at first but (pace Kent Jones) take on a protean charge, eager to move into something new, to grab hold of a moment, if briefly, before rushing forward."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:26 AM

November 6, 2008

Fests and events, 11/6.

Robert Breer "In all of his dazzling work, [Robert] Breer sends you tumbling head over heels along trajectories of meaning, as images and ideas take shape and then evaporate, offering in the end nothing less than a philosophy of being in constant flux," writes Holly Willis. The series Moving Figures: The Animated World of Robert Breer is split into three parts, with Breer attending each screening: REDCAT (Nov 10), UCLA (Nov 15) and the Los Angeles Filmforum (Nov 16).

Also in the LA Weekly, Lance Goldenberg on The Labyrinthine Worlds of Alain Robbe-Grillet, running through December 15.

At indieWIRE, Kim Adelman talks with award-winning animator Don Hertzfeldt about his ongoing national tour.

Vue Weekly picks out the highlights of the Global Visions Film Festival, opening tonight in Edmonton and running through Sunday.

Mike Everleth has the lineup for "the one-night only short film screening series Los Angeles as a Character, which will take place Saturday Nov 15 at 8:00 pm at the Echo Park Film Center."

The Wild Child The Wild Child opens tomorrow for a week-long run at Film Forum. "Taking The 400 Blows to another level, François Truffaut's 1970 feature considers a child who is literally wild, with the filmmaker himself starring as an 18th-century country scientist molding his charge in civilization's image," writes Nicolas Rapold in the Voice. "[K]eep in mind, he dedicated the film to his most frequent actor-collaborator, Jean-Pierre Léaud, whom Truffaut taught the language of cinema," adds Nick McCarthy in the L Magazine. Related: Noah Forrest at Movie City News: "I actually physically ache when I think about how we never got to witness how advancing age would have affected his filmmaking style and the subjects he chose."

In the Auteurs' Notebook, Glenn Kenny looks back over "21 Years with Asia Argento." A bit more from Benjamin Strong in the Voice. BAM's series, Asia Argento: Sexy, Scary and Often Naked, runs through Sunday.

"The 2008 American Film Market started yesterday," notes Kristin Thompson. "Like the film festivals at Cannes, Toronto, and, increasingly, Berlin, the AFM is one of the major places where independent and foreign-language films get sold. Distributors from all over the world come to sell their products and to buy the films that they will release at home. It seems a good occasion to look at what effect the folding-in of New Line Cinema into a unit within Warner Bros early this year has had on the international independent film market."

"Robert Sarnoff was as surprised as anyone when the Queens International Film Festival - yes, there is one, opening its sixth annual series at a hotel near La Guardia Airport on Thursday - chose him as a featured filmmaker." Anne Barnard talks with him for the New York Times.

Boston Jewish Film Festival "Are we finally detecting the first gurglings of an overdue Israeli New Wave?" asks Michael Atkinson in the Phoenix. "It's hard to tell just yet, but in any case this year's Boston Jewish Film Festival catalogue is rich and surprising." Through November 16.

"Founded by Carole Zabar (yes, that Zabar) with Israeli Arab filmmaker Mohammad Bakri, the uneven grab bag of films (mostly documentaries made by Israeli Jews) that is the Other Israel Film Festival adds up to a study in the ambivalence of rural communities condemned to perpetually divided loyalties," writes Ella Taylor. Through November 13.

Also in the Voice, Nicolas Rapold: "A few days ahead of the release of Danny Boyle's Mumbai-set Slumdog Millionaire, the eighth annual [Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival] arrives with a grab bag of US premieres." Through Sunday.

"On Monday, November 10, Rooftop Films returns to the halls of Chelsea market for a free screening of 10 amazing independent animated films chosen from Rooftop Films' 2008 Summer Series and our library of shorts."

A few nights on the Museum of the Moving Image's calendar: Mira Nair and Suketu Mehta in person tomorrow; Jerry Lewis in conversation with Peter Bogdanovich on November 22; and an evening with Dennis Hopper on December 4.

San Francisco Animation Festival

Michael Hawley previews November for San Franciscans: "With seven significant festivals tripping over each other in mid-month and some truly great rep and art house programs on the way, there'll be no choice but to take a deep breath and soldier on."

Also at the Evening Class, Michael Guillén has extensive notes on Munich Film Museum director Stefan Drössler's lecture on Lola Montès.

"On the basis of The Song of the Scarlet Flower (1938)..., I'm guessing that we should all pay close attention to the Teuvo Tulio retrospective, at BAM every Monday in November," writes Dan Sallit. "At the same time as the Tulio retro, there's a series of historic Finnish films screening over the next few weeks at Scandinavia House."

In the Los Angeles Times, Susan King rounds up local goings on.

Another local roundup: The Philadelphia City Paper, where you'll also find Kathryn Lipman on Christmas on Mars.

Opium War "Two of the biggest tragedies of recent history, the Afghan war and the Balkan war, are at the heart of the two films that won top honours at the Rome International Film Festival," reports Cineuropa. The Golden Marc'Aurelio Award goes to Siddiq Barmak's Opium War, "an excellent film with surreal and ironic overtones..., while audiences, voting through an electronic system at the end of screenings, chose Résolution 819 by Italy's Giacomo Battiato."

The Global Lens film series premieres tonight on Link TV.

Online browsing tip. "With a season of his plays at the Tron in Glasgow and a retrospective of movies at the BFI Southbank in London, Tennessee Williams is hotter than ever." A photo gallery at the Guardian.

Online viewing tip. "Curing the Vampire is a group of interview films, commissioned by Tate Intermedia in Great Britain, with very real, vital people who combat 'vampiristic irresponsibility' on an international level," writes Glen Helfand, describing Lynn Hershman Leeson's new project for SF360. "The subjects work in science, music, culture, technology, and media activism and include Gilberto Gil, Tropicália musician and Brazil's Minister for Culture [and this is the interview that's online]; human rights activist and writer Elena Poniatowska; Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, credited with having identified 'the aging gene'; and Lawrence Lessig, the mastermind behind Creative Commons.... Presented in four short episodes, released on the Tate Modern's website, the group presents a quartet of vampire-busters, their targets being the energy drain of evil corporate and corrupt governmental agencies—or what the director terms 'Greed and selfishness carried to extremes.'" Also taking part: Tilda Swinton.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:00 PM

John Leonard, 1939 - 2008.

John Leonard
With sadness we learn of the passing of John Leonard, incomparable critic and mentor to many, supporter of books and writers new and not so new, long time New York Times Book Review editor and critic, and a founding member of the National Book Critics Circle.

Jane Ciabattari at the Circle's Critical Mass, where she collects Leonard's thoughts on "a lifetime of reading and reviewing" and archives of his reviews.

Updated through 11/11.

When John had edited the Nation's books section, with his wife Sue, from 1995-1998, it was a haven for young writers: New Yorker editor Emily Eakin, New York Times film critic AO Scott, London Review of Books editor Adam Shatz (who also edited the Nation books section for a time) were all published by John Leonard. He was a rare champion of the untested and new; he encouraged where others might have scoffed.

Hillary Frey, New York Observer.

More from Ed Champion, Emily Gordon, Scott McLemee and New York, where Leonard reviewed television.

Updates, 11/7: "Leonard was famous for putting Don DeLillo's second novel, End Zone, on the cover of the Book Review, for running a long, multi-title review essay of books on Vietnam by Neil Sheehan that was the first salvo of the newspaper's increasing criticism of that war, for championing the work of African-American, Asian and women novelists like Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston." Laura Miller in Salon: "He helped give Pauline Kael her start at Pacifica Radio in Berkeley. He won the National Book Critics Circle lifetime achievement award in 2006. He was one of the few critics whose essays merited publication in several hardcover collections. And he was also the guy whose TV column you'd turn to in the back of New York magazine every week, wondering if that new one-hour drama on Fox had anything to recommend it. To say John Leonard was a reviewer at heart is to pay a great compliment to a profession that currently seems to be limping toward an undeserved obsolescence."

"As a critic, Mr Leonard was far less interested in saying yea or nay about a work of art than he was in scrutinizing the who, the what and the why of it," writes Margalit Fox in the NYT. "His writing opened a window onto the contemporary American scene, examining a book or film or television show as it was shaped by the cultural winds of the day." And she samples a "single sweeping paragraph" from a 2005 piece on James Agee:

Not every photograph ever snapped of James Agee caught him between pulls on a bottle or puffs on a cigarette. It only seems that way because the journalist/critic/novelist/screenwriter drank and smoked himself to death at 45, in 1955, at a time when postwar American culture conflated art with martyrdom and manhood with excess. Think of the poets lost to lithium, loony bins and suicide, the jazz musicians strung up and out on heroin, the abstract expressionists who slashed and burned themselves. Delmore Schwartz, Charlie Parker and Jackson Pollock pointed the way for Jack Kerouac, James Dean, Truman Capote, John Berryman, Elvis, Janis and Jimi. Like the Greek warrior Philoctetes, hadn't they been allowed to play so brilliantly with their bows and arrows because they suffered suppurating wounds? So the iconic image, emblematic and self-destructive, was the Shadow Man - a Humphrey Bogart, a JD Salinger, an Edward R Murrow, maybe even an Albert Camus. Agee, with his cold blue eyes, his thick dark hair and his handsome hillbilly Huguenot hatchet face, belonged on this wall of tragic-hero masks, at least till he inflated like a frog, from drinking alone in a Hollywood bungalow, and got kicked out of the 20th Century Fox studio commissary because he smelled so bad from never taking a bath.

Slate runs Meghan O'Rourke's 2003 assessment of Leonard's editorship of the NYT Book Review.

"Leonard, as good as he could be as a writer, was much, much greater as an appreciator - a genuine talent that too often goes underappreciated and unfulfilled." So argues Phil Nugent.

Updates, 11/8: "I keep John's books close at hand because they teach me how to read other books, and also because they remind me why I write." AO Scott in the NYT: "'I'd say we either relate our profession to the world we live in or we have no more ethics than a can of Spam,' he declared in the introduction to This Pen for Hire, his first collection of reviews and essays. He was referring specifically to those of us who make our livings at criticism, but for John criticism was only secondarily a career. It was a vocation, a passion, an ecstasy, a way of life."

"[H]e remained not merely sensible and passionate but revelatory," writes Ken Tucker at Best American Poetry:

No one else could review a travel documentary with a sentence like this, a glorious example of one of Leonard's signature devices - the list-sentence that becomes in itself a form of criticism: "We wandered with a shopping list - Greek light, German sausage, Russian soul, French sauce, Spanish bull, Zen koans, hearts of darkness, the blood of the lamb, and a double-knuckled antelope humerus from Oolduvai Gorge. We'd rub our fuzzy heads against the strange, and see if something kindled." We'd rub our fuzzy heads against the strange - that is poetry as much as it is criticism, and Leonard spun it out without warning, without ostentation, but like a newspaperman on deadline delivering a staggering gift.

"You can hear Leonard's voice rippling through Emily Nussbaum's e-mailed reminiscence," notes David Edelstein:

"John's signature move was what my friend Laura Miller called 'the cascade,' a wild, ramshackle, electrical spill-off of references to everything on earth, from Freud to Darwin to literary allusions to political idioms - a poetic and outrageous technique that imbued a Whitmanesque enormity to any art he was exploring."

For New York, from 1984 until two weeks ago, that art was television, and if he saw it too often as a piece of 'furniture we look to as a cure for loneliness,' as something that 'ambushed [us] into sentience,' if he didn't approach it with the same headlong passion as, say, the novels of Don DeLillo or Toni Morrison (whom he accompanied to Sweden when she picked up her Nobel), he was wired to experience its possibilities. He could sing the tube electric.

"This weekend, I propose you spend some time with three reviews by Leonard." Wyatt Mason has links to the first two, and then: "For Harper's, Leonard mastered the form that Guy Davenport had made seem inimitable, the short essay that could cover a range of seemingly heterogeneous New Books and make of them a single, insightful whole. There are 71 of Leonard's monthly columns freely available to you, but his editor at Harper's for the past six years suggests you begin with his September 2008 column. What Leonard wrote of the last Michael Chabon novel applies equally to what he wrote below: 'it works so well we want it to go on forever.'"

Update, 11/11: Salon's Andrew Leonard:

Writers write, he told me, when I was pondering my own career choices as a wayward youth. Writers write. If you don't have a passion for the act of writing, if you don't resonate to the chimes of words banging about in your head or on the page, you might as well not bother. In his opinion.

All this past weekend, in the shower, on airplanes, watching college football with my sister (my father was a fan), making small talk with New Yorkers come to honor his memory, that invocation, writers write, has tolled in my own head. The clangor intimidates. As has been noted many times in the outburst of obituaries and memorials that my father's death incited, my father treated words as if they were gems in the hands of a crazed master jeweler. Every noun, verb and semicolon fit into place with absolute precision and sparkled immaculately in the light, but there were so many and they were all so excited! A baroque profusion; a tsunami without a ripple gone awry; a memory palace and a labyrinth.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 PM

Pray the Devil Back to Hell.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell "Some political documentaries suffer from overselling the urgency of their agenda," writes Tim Grierson in the Voice, "but director Gini Reticker's Pray the Devil Back to Hell nicely underplays the significance of its subject - the 2003 nonviolent protest by thousands of Liberian women that brought down warlord president Charles Taylor."

"Unlike many would-be inspirational docs, Pray the Devil Back to Hell does in fact amaze with its tale of against-all-odds accomplishment," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Shooting simply on video and with limited archival resources, Reticker's goal is basically to spread the word about an underreported momentous piece of history. But even by just stating the facts, Pray the Devil is politically provocative. It presents, first, a country's self-destructive, male-led martial course righted by women; and second, the viability of peaceful protest under the most unforgiving circumstances."

Updated through 11/12.

"[I]t's finally the ever-present sense that 'peace is a process' requiring persistent vigilance that gives this doc's uplift its necessary measure of tough, sober pragmatism," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"One fascinating aspect of the Liberian Peace Movement was the newfound unity of women, both Christian and Muslim, in a common cause," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "Much remains to be done, of course, to repair and rebuild the society and economy of Liberia from decades of turmoil. Still, as of 2008, a tentative beginning has been made in what now emerges as one of the very few political crises in the world that’s on the path to an eventual solution with a modicum of fairness and justice for all."

Elisabeth Donnelly talks with Reticker for Tribeca.

Update, 11/7: "Uplifting, disheartening, inspiring, enraging - the mind reels while watching the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, even as the eyes water, the temples pound and the body tremble," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Even those who think they know the story of modern Liberia may be surprised at what they discover."

Update, 11/12: "At 72 minutes, Reticker's film moves briskly, yet this respectfully restrained approach does nothing to diminish the film's power," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "While Pray the Devil Back to Hell is certainly a celebration of women, first and foremost, it also works on a more universal level, proving that a strong enough display of love and hope, no matter the race or sex, can get guns to lie down and die."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:29 PM

JCVD.

JCVD "Shown in the market last May at Cannes, Jean-Claude Van Damme's JCVD garnered a surprise critical cult," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Audiences, midnight or otherwise, may never warm to this low-budget whatzit, but Van Damme's self-reflexive turn gave movie journalists plenty to mull over. Had Belgium's contribution to international kick-sock-pow cinema been hanging out with Belgium's most famous filmmakers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne? Or pondering the paintings of René Magritte?"

Updated through 11/8.

"[I]n JCVD, Jean-Claude doesn't play an Iraq war vet named Phillip Sauvage, or a border patrol agent named Jack Robideaux, or even a NATO operative named Jacques Kristoff," explains Grady Hendrix in Slate. "Instead, he plays a washed-up, B-list action-movie star named Jean-Claude Van Damme.... While the movie is a dizzying meta-maze, JCVD also follows the Van Damme formula: An underdog with a ridiculous name must overcome incredible odds to kick people in the face and save the day. And in JCVD, the onetime action star with a ridiculous name does save the day (in a manner of speaking), kick people in the face (in a manner of speaking), and overcome incredible odds: the mess he's made of his own life."

"The fourth wall is long since broken, pecked to oblivion by a thousand winks, and there's no longer anything revelatory in acknowledging cinema as a mediated spectacle," writes Mark Asch in the L Magazine. "Reflexivity is just a reflex, a knee-jerk, and JCVD signposts its reduction with genre-junkie inside joking and past-expiration-date curtain-raising on the nature of fame."

Online listening tip. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore: "It takes a special brand of self-awareness and sense of humor to play yourself in a film (we're not just talking novelty cameos) - on this week's IFC News podcast, we look at other examples, from self-mythologizing hip-hop artists to self-depreciating art house stars."

Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher talks with director Mabrouk El Mechri.

Updates, 11/7: "With the star looking puffy and played out, and with so many references to his off-screen philandering and drug use, the movie bears comparison to Mickey Rourke's turn in The Wrestler, which like JCVD played the Toronto Film Festival, and which opens in the US next month," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "But JCVD is sharper, crueler, way funnier than The Wrestler. The movie is a vision of the wages of fame that's part parody, part exposé, part justification."

Dennis Lim calls up Van Damme, who's cancelled a trip to New York in order to take care of the dogs he's adopted in Bangkok. "It might be odd to think of Mr Van Damme, a veteran of steroidal exploitation cinema and a virtuoso of the bone-crunching split kick, as an old softie, but it is also perfectly consistent with the image overhaul implicit in his latest vehicle, JCVD."

Also in the New York Times, AO Scott: "[A]s a foray into self-mocking, self-aggrandizing career rehabilitation, JCVD shows some promise and holds some interest. It would hold more if Mr Van Damme were not so fundamentally lackluster a celebrity, with a string of negligible movies to his name. While the filmmakers - and the star himself - gamely make fun of this legacy of mediocrity, they cannot quite escape it."

"A decade ago, such a film would be inconceivable for a bankable star like Van Damme, but the new century has left him floundering in straight-to-DVD purgatory, and JCVD finds him in a mood to laugh it off, and in the process, perhaps reinvent himself," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Granted, there are some effective, often hilarious bits of flashback - like the DVDs and Van Damme karate moves listed as evidence against him at the custody trial - but save for a remarkable single-take monologue directly to the camera, the film's self-reflexive moments disappear. And once that happens, JCVD looks too much like the recent duds from which Van Damme hopes to extricate himself."

"No one can blame the star for wanting to test his range, except that JCVD proves he was wise to emphasize physicality over versatility," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

Update, 11/8: "Frédéric Benudis and Christophe Turpin's script is struggling so hard to be a morally ambiguous 70s Americana crime saga that A) it's really hard to figure out what's actually happening, and B) when you can figure it out, it doesn't make any sense," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "That's too bad, because Van Damme's remarkable performance - I say this in all seriousness - comes pretty close to redeeming the picture's murky and overly complicated artistic intentions."

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

Repo! The Genetic Opera.

Repo! The Genetic Opera "A week late for Halloween and 31 years after The Rocky Horror Picture Show," notes the Voice's J Hoberman, Repo! The Genetic Opera "arrives, wearing the cloak of midnight madness - not to mention black lipstick, cut-rate rococo threads, and all the accoutrements for life in a blasted necropolis. Based on a campy sci-fi/horror rock opera first staged in Toronto in 2002, Repo! is also an offshoot of the slash-mash-gash Saw franchise that's made gazillions for Lionsgate - it's directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, youthful helmer of Saws II, III and IV. No diabolical torture machines here, unless you read Repo! as a cautionary essay on the perils of the credit economy."

Updated through 11/8.

"With junky comic book-paneled sequences, musical numbers marked by graceless, strident tunes and generic chunk-chunk guitars, and a goth style drenched in gore, Bousman's rock-opera plays like a spastic, semi-incoherent extended music video for Type O Negative by way of Evanescence," writes Nick Schager.

"A helpful shortcut for negotiating the heaps of texts in this modern world: all attempts to give something familiar or antique a self-consciously edgy, gritty makeover can be, de facto, written off as terrible. Reassuring American songbook standards ('Over the Rainbow,' 'What a Wonderful World,' etc) performed in breakneck pop-punk style? Terrible. Movies set in centuries past where actual rules of comport are ignored and everyone acts like frisky undergraduates with ruffled collars? Terrible. Steampunk? Terrible, terrible, terrible." In short, for Nick Pinkerton, writing at indieWIRE, Repo! is "a cloacal sludge of Guignol, compared to which watching The Apple is a cultural experience on par with hearing Rigoletto sung at the old La Fenice."

"Cleverly conceived but poorly executed, this grab-fest of pop culture allusions doesn't have the narrative depth or musical style to make good on its promises," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine.

"From the milieu to the characters, everything registers as a conceit, with the story building annoyingly to a blood feud that is more literal than Shakespearean," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Predicated on scant rhymes and loads of lame repetitions, the songs sound as if they were ghostwritten by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Give me torture porn any day."

"With an open ending that blatantly hopes that the audience will shell out their greenbacks for a sequel, Repo! tries very hard to rise to prominence as the work of a more edgy [Joss] Whedon clone," writes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. "By making [Anthony] Head the star of his show, Bousman clearly wants his cult to overlap with Whedon’s but fails to successfully splice his genres of choice together because of his piss-poor storytelling abilities."

Updates, 11/7: "Granted, there is a measure of originality in conceiving a horror-inflected rock opera on scientific and political themes, and no film starring Paris Hilton as a marginalized heiress whose poorly grafted face slides clean off her skull is entirely without its guilty pleasures," writes Nathan Lee in the New York Times. "But when you live by the song, you die by the song."

"The film is bad - not good-bad, tacky-bad or fun-bad, just plain awful and nearly unwatchable," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times.

"[C]omposer Terrance Zdunich skulks around as the quasi-narrator 'Graverobber,' Broadway's Sarah Brightman steals the show as a blind opera singer, and characters break into pummeling, industrialized ballads with names like 'Zydrate Anatomy,'" writes Sean O'Neal at the AV Club. "Oh, and Joan Jett pops up for a guitar solo, just because. It's remarkable that none of this proves exhausting, considering that Repo! rarely pauses to catch its breath."

IFC's Matt Singer lists "Five Flicks That Aspired to Cult Status."

For Filmmaker, André Salas talks with Bousman "about the twists and turns of getting his quirky horror musical made and into theatres."

Update, 11/8: Dave Itzkoff talks with Bousman for the NYT.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:19 AM | Comments (1)

Soul Men.

Soul Men "As we get used to saying 'President Barack Obama,' let's think about what that means, culturally," writes Jonathan Kiefer:

For instance, what does it mean for the African-American movie director Malcolm D Lee and actors Samuel L Jackson and the late Bernie Mac? Soul Men, their most recent creative adventure together, is a musically righteous but otherwise crass, nostalgic and mediocre feuding-buddies-on-the-road movie, best summed up by the simpering white-boy acolyte who phones the eponymous heroes' manager from said road to report, 'They say motherfucker a lot, but they're really nice guys.'

Updated through 11/7.

It's a sly, funny line - and, of course, the truth - but not quite the enlightened, 'post-racial' comedic vernacular we've been promising ourselves. Come to think of it, damn if that line doesn't sorta sound like the soft bigotry of low expectations.

"It's unjust that Sam Jackson has had a more prosperous film career playing the same superficial, surly character ad infinitum while Mac's varied, deep-rooted, good humored portrayals in The Players Club, Life, Pride, Mr 3000 and TV's The Bernie Mac Show left his career marginalized," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "This meant that Jackson's ludicrous, obstreperous stereotype became a Hollywood institution, appealing to racists of all shades. It feels good to see Mac cuss that goblin back to hell."

"The end-credit sequence where Mac recites a moldy bit of doggerel about Charlie Chan's dick before an audience of extras has more joie de vivre and organic humor than the rest of the whole desperate enterprise," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes (briefly playing himself), to whom the movie is dedicated, have had their genuine soul posthumously obscured by this slapstick misfire."

"The film dulls out in the home stretch as screenwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone employ increasingly silly side turns to delay Floyd and Louis's arrival in New York," writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. "It could be said, too, that the visual style of director Malcolm Lee (Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins) rarely matches the energy of his performers, but no matter: Mac and Jackson carry the show—particularly Mac, who's at his crackly, cranky best here. As swan songs go, Soul Men is pretty sweet."

"The plot outline for Soul Men could fit comfortably on a single note card, with room left over for a grocery list and a few phone numbers," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "A road-trip rip-off of The Sunshine Boys infused with soul music and vulgar, misogynist humor, this dreadful film marks a sad end to the distinguished careers of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes."

The film "has upset Grammy-winning singer Sam Moore, who claims it is a thinly-veiled portrayal of his career in the soul duo Sam & Dave." Guy Adams reports in the Independent.

Michael Ordoña talks with Affion Crockett for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 11/7: "Soul Men casts the best possible leads in the worst possible movie," growls Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

"Soul Men is driven by the volatility of Louis and Floyd and by its savvy, affectionate exploration of the history of R&B," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The movie's nostalgia for the old days of soul is playful and relaxed, but - in contrast to, say, the pious and misguided Dreamgirls - its grasp of the relevant musical idioms is meticulous."

"The enjoyment you derive from Soul Men... may be directly related to your love for 60s/early-70s soul music, most particularly the Stax/Volt sound out of Memphis," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "Which is my way of saying: This may not be a great movie, but I still couldn't help falling in love with it."

Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times: "You want a good time? Soul Men will provide it. You want to say goodbye to Bernie Mac? He wants to say goodbye to you."

For Jeffrey M Anderson, writing at Cinematical, "Mac is at the top of his comedic game."

"While we're mourning the dearly departed, we should also be concerned about the future," writes Melissa Anderson in Time Out New York. "What does it say about how bleak things are for black actresses that Mac has more post-Soul Men projects than [Sharon] Leal?"

"Soul Men isn't a fitting goodbye for Mac," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "It's a shame Mac didn't have a more solid career in movies, but at least he found his share of success on TV. And in Soul Men, often dressed in dapper, fluid trousers and crisp fedoras, he looks so handsome, and so vital, that it's hard to believe he's gone."

At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell lists "10 Great Performances Released After a Star's Death."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:21 AM

Douglas Fairbanks.

Flicker Alley's Fairbanks There's a Douglas Fairbanks revival going on, notes Susan King, and she counts the ways in the Los Angeles Times:

  • Tonight in Beverly Hills the academy will screen a new print from New York's Museum of Modern Art of his 1927 silent film The Gaucho.

  • A new book, Douglas Fairbanks, by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta, which looks at the life and times of one of cinema's first action heroes, is just out from the University of California press.

  • On Dec 2, Flicker Alley will release a new DVD set featuring 11 Fairbanks films, including the restored 1917 A Modern Musketeer which had long been considered lost.

Meantime, Reuters reports that the personal autograph book kept by Mary Pickford, Fairbanks's second wife, will be auctioned in a couple of weeks. Among the more than 120 names collected: HG Wells, Thomas Edison and Benito Mussolini.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:09 AM

Carthage Dispatch.

Ronald Bergan looks back on a festival of Arab, African and world cinema.

Carthage Opener The trees in the majestic Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis are filled with hundreds of chattering birds, gathering as in the Hitchcock film. Below in the cafes, people are chattering. There is a dissolve and we see the people as birds. The cafes are full. It is late October and it is warm. The theaters are also full, sometimes with chattering people, but always attentive and enthusiastic. It is the 22nd year of the Carthage Film Festival, held every second year since 1966. As befits a country once ruled by Dido, the tragic Queen of Carthage, this year, for the first time, the director of the festival is a woman, the Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha.

If her goal was to offer the Tunisian public and international visitors a panorama of Arab and African cinema, then she succeeded triumphantly. The festival also offered a cure for Anglo and Euro Centricitis. (One warning for those planning to go in 2010: French is essential because many of the films had no English subtitles.) The official competition consisted of 18 films from countries as widespread as South Africa, Algeria , Egypt, Cap Verde, Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia. In addition, there were homages to Youssef Chahine and Ousmane Sembene, both of whom died fairly recently; an impressive Turkish and Algerian retrospective; and a section of documentaries entitled Palestine: Against Forgetting.

Apart from the main juries, one of which included the French star Emmanuelle Béart, there was a jury of children in their early teens, earnestly discussing the films, taking copious notes and excitedly running around in my hotel. They gave their prize to the Algerian film Masquerades, a first feature directed by Lyes Salem. This was not surprising as it was one of the rare comedies among rather too many solemn movies.

The winner of the Golden Tanit (Tanit is a Phoenician lunar goddess, the patron goddess of Carthage) was veteran Haile Gerima's Teza, already shown in competition in Venice, where it won the Special Jury Prize. Long, stately and somewhat academic, it tackles some thorny political issues through the eyes of its protagonist, a doctor who returns home to Ethiopia after years of exile in Germany. The return home is a constant theme in many African films, used as a means of gaining a perspective on the country.

The Salt of the Sea This was attempted by Faro, Queen of the Water, directed by Salif Traore, which views the superstitious rituals and ancient prejudices in Mali from the more advanced viewpoint of a returnee. The Palestinian film, Annemarie Jacir's The Salt of the Sea [site], starts off strikingly before becoming too schematic, with a woman returning from the USA to occupied Palestine to reclaim her grandparents' property confiscated by the Israelis, and being humiliated by the Israeli authorities.

The film claims to be the first fiction feature directed by a Palestinian woman. Another first was Cap Verde, Mon Amour, being the first feature made in Cape Verde. (I confess that I had to look up where it was. For those as ignorant as me, it is a group of islands, formerly Portuguese, off the West coast of Africa.) Made on a shoestring by Ana Ramos Lisboa, it showed some promise though it got bogged down in melodrama and its simplistic social message, something which infects many films of the continent. However, didacticism in films is understandable in countries struggling to feed and educate their people.

La Maison Jaune A film which escaped these traps was the ingratiating Algerian movie, Amor Hakkar's The Yellow House [site]. With gentle humor and subtle melancholy, it tells of a poor farmer's journey in his Lambretta Wagon (reminiscent of The Straight Story) to fetch the corpse of his soldier son killed in a road accident, and his attempts to cheer up his wife. With The Yellow House and Tariq Teguia's remarkable Inland (Gabbla), the FIPRESCI winner at Venice, Algeria is once again in the front line of Arab and African cinema.

- Ronald Bergan

Posted by dwhudson at 1:57 AM | Comments (2)

November 5, 2008

Mapping a Journey: The Films & Videos of Robert Frank.

Frank Films "Swiss expat Robert Frank, who revolutionized American photography in the 50s with unromanticized studies of outcasts in a lost and lonely country, is best known in the world of cinema for two movies: one famous, the other infamous." Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine: "Quintessential Beat film Pull My Daisy (59), co-directed with Alfred Leslie, expresses that movement's jazzy ecstasy in Jack Kerouac's sardonic, absurdist multi-character narration and its story of [Allen] Ginsburg, [Gregory] Corso and [Peter] Orlovsky seeking 'holy' kicks."

Updated through 11/7.

"Anthology's comprehensive retro Mapping a Journey: The Films & Videos of Robert Frank (November 7 - 16, coinciding with the artist's 84th birthday) could hardly begin anywhere else," notes J Hoberman in the Voice. Then: "Me and My Brother, which Frank re-edited in the late 90s, is the weightiest item in his oeuvre, but, for my money, he came into his own as a filmmaker with the first-person Conversations in Vermont (1969), which concerns his ambivalent confrontation with his adolescent children." And the infamous one? "Frank's legendary and usually restricted Rolling Stones documentary Cocksucker Blues (1972) is scheduled for two rare screenings."

Updates, 11/7: "The images in The Americans, first published in 1958, have the deceptively casual quality of snapshots despite their compositional harmony and occasional purposefully skewed framing," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "A newly transplanted Swiss Jew, he was pitching himself as a poet of the American quotidian. The restlessness and the poetry permeate the must-see 10-program retrospective, Mapping a Journey: The Films & Videos of Robert Frank..., which makes an argument for Mr Frank as one of the most important and influential American independent filmmakers of the last half-century."

Artforum runs J Hoberman's piece on Frank from the April 07 issue.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:58 PM | Comments (1)

Michael Crichton, 1942 - 2008.

Time: Michael Crichton
Best-selling author Michael Crichton, who wrote such novels as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park and created the popular TV drama ER, has died at 66, his family said today. Crichton, a medical doctor turned novelist whose books have sold more than 150 million copies worldwide, died 'unexpectedly' Tuesday in Los Angeles after a private battle with cancer, his family said.

Reuters.

The New York Times' ArtsBeat has the full family statement and reaction from Steven Spielberg. Also: a "Times Topic" collection.

See also: The site and the Wikipedia entry.

Updated through 11/9.

Updates: "He became a filmmaker himself and scored a hit with his first theatrical feature, the delightful Westworld (1973), a pre-Jurassic Park highlighted by Yul Brynner's pre- Terminator android take on his iconic Magnificent Seven gunslinger," writes Robert Cashill. "He brought his medical training to bear on 1978's creepy Coma, improving on Robin Cook's novel, and giving Genevieve Bujold a memorably plucky heroine part. 1979's The Great Train Robbery was a successful switch to period, and a favorite con-man picture of mine, with Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down deft in the leads."

"Crichton was never a literary stylist, but his skills as a storyteller were enormous," writes Lev Grossman for Time. "His oeuvre is among the most-filmed of any author in history. Crichton also had an amazing knack for wringing emotional drama from hard science. His novels plunge fearlessly into arcane scientific realms where lesser writers would fear to tread - nanotechnology in Prey, genetics in Next. He courted controversy ardently: he wrote about sexual harassment in Disclosure and the expanding Japanese economic hegemony in Rising Sun (back in 1992 when that was an edgy topic). Most infamously he attacked the theory of global warming in State of Fear."

"As a writer he was a kind of cyborg, tirelessly turning out novels that were intricately engineered entertainment systems," writes Charles McGrath in the NYT. "No one - except possibly Mr Crichton himself - ever confused them with great literature, but very few readers who started a Crichton novel ever put it down."

Slate runs Bryan Curtis's 2004 assessment of the author.

Updates, 11/6: "Crichton was a paradox in action: a successful crank, a showman with graduate degrees, and a creative force who, when it all clicked, made us high on apocalypse." The Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

"His accomplishments play like a greatest hits compilation in the main mediums - literature, film, television - he worked within," writes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "But... one fears he will be remembered for his more contentious nature than his artistic accomplishments."

Update, 11/8: Online listening tip. On Point remembers Crichton.

Update, 11/9: "For some fans... grief was tempered by disappointment," writes Dave Itzkoff in the NYT: "To them, the author of State of Fear and Next, Mr Crichton's last published novels, was not the unparalleled prognosticator of The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park. What they expected from Mr Crichton was his honoring the unspoken understanding that exists between readers and writers of speculative fiction: the reader will suspend disbelief as long as the writer starts with basic scientific fact before weaving his science fiction. With these last two novels, they concluded that Mr Crichton, in his warnings of perilous futures, had violated the pact."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:56 PM | Comments (2)

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas uses the viewpoint of childhood naïvete to critique the absurdities of the Holocaust," begins Andrew Schenker in Slant. "Problem is, these absurdities should already be pretty clear to the modern viewer, so such an approach seems, at best, misguided."

"In adapting Irishman John Boyne's acclaimed young-adult novel, writer-director Mark Herman (Little Voice) draws beautifully modulated performances from his two child actors, who navigate a full range of emotions from wonder to betrayal to guilt," writes Chuck Wilson in the Voice. "In the end, their characters meet a fate so absurdly melodramatic that I cringed. A moment later, it occurred to me that the finale might just devastate - and educate - middle- and high-school-age audiences themselves only a little less naive than Bruno, who could do worse than have this earnest, well-made film be their first Holocaust drama."

Updated through 11/9.

"As in much of Life Is Beautiful, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (both are Miramax films, it must be mentioned) witnesses the Holocaust from the point of view of a child, here eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the German son of a loving mother (Vera Farmiga) and a cold Nazi officer (David Thewlis, imbuing a likely caricature with multiple dimensions)," writes Michael Joshua Rowin for indieWIRE. "Going against everything that would make it derivative of Life Is Beautiful, most of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is surprisingly unsentimental and sober enough to put off complete denouncement of its intentions; but the ending raises questions serious enough to make one reconsider."

"[Tthe film develops in a delicate manner that is optimal for introducing the atrocities of the Holocaust in an uncompromising but measured mode," writes Stephen Snart in the L Magazine. "However, the film's shocking and crushing conclusion strikes me as unnecessarily cruel toward the viewer in a Lars Von Trier sort of way."

Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher talks with Farmiga.

Updates, 11/7: "See Bruno run. See Bruno see a farm," and so forth, from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "See the Holocaust trivialized, glossed over, kitsched up, commercially exploited and hijacked for a tragedy about a Nazi family. Better yet and in all sincerity: don't."

"There are plenty of subjects - old yellow hunting dogs, spirited folk bravely facing cancer - that can be easily milked for maximum pathos," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "But you've reached rock bottom when you start milking the death camps... I realize that at least in vague terms, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is defensible as a tale of hope and friendship in the face of unspeakable and inhuman horror. And Herman takes great pains to keep the proceedings as tasteful as possible - which makes it worse."

"The premise is unquestionably strained, as Butterfield's ignorance becomes more and more unlikely, but from the striking cinematography to the nuanced characters to the refreshingly original approach to the time period, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has enough going on that it doesn't have to pull too hard on such a slender thread," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

"The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is not a great film at the level of art (or cinema), but a great film at the level of its concept," argues Charles Mudede in the Stranger.

"The film's two levels - metaphoric and nitty-gritty - don't mesh until the devastation of the closing sequence, which both indulges in and transcends melodrama," writes Sheri Linden in the Los Angeles Times.

Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher talks with Thewlis.

Brent Simon talks with Farmiga for New York.

"I don't think I've seen - at least since equally offensive concentration camp fable, Life Is Beautiful - a movie so reliant on human stupidity to achieve its effect, so totally dishonest in its insistence on that quality (which it presents as innocence) to achieve its narrative goals," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "I don't know if a movie as simpleminded and emotionally shameless as this one definitively proves that fiction is not a suitable vehicle for the consideration of crimes as vast as the Holocaust. But it will do until the next historical travesty comes along."

Update, 11/8: "[T]he larger problem of the Holocaust movie glut is the frequent reliance on the duality of good and evil," writes Lawrence Levi at Nextbook. "Nazis are evil. Jews are, for the most part, good. The reduction is simplistic, unrealistic, and dull. There are, thankfully, exceptions - The Counterfeiters, for instance, or The Pianist - that explore the challenge of behaving morally under extreme conditions."

Update, 11/9: Susan King talks with David Hayman for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:48 PM

Financial crisis: advice from the dead.

George Bailey "It would be nice to think that if George Bailey had been around in September, the United States government could have saved itself $700 billion, Iceland could have averted near bankruptcy, and the rest of the world could have avoided another trillion dollars in bailouts and the prospect of a deep and long recession," writes Edward Rothstein in the New York Times. He's referring, of course, to Jimmy Stewart's character in It's a Wonderful Life who forgoes his dream of seeing the world to take over Bailey Brothers Building & Loan Association, which he sees, as Rothstein puts it, "as a form of social welfare institution.... As it has turned out, of course, both George's charitable dream in which banks would cuddle with their communities and avoid foreclosures and Potter's dream of profit-taking maneuverings unhampered by other considerations collapsed under the unrealistic weight of their fantasies a few weeks ago." Trust evaporated. "Liquidity turned solid; credit froze."

Rothstein then turns to Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice: "Written at a time when Elizabethan England was being transformed by European trade and its own growing international ambitions, the play can even seem to be about how to create trust in a tumultuous marketplace." Next up: Trollope.

"Saul Bellow's description of market speculation in Seize the Day or Don DeLillo's account of a financial meltdown seen through the eyes of a currency trader in Cosmopolis are compelling in their own way," writes Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in the Telegraph. "But there are good reasons why it is Dickens to whom we should now return. The centre around which the Victorian age revolved and Dickens's combination of ambition and anxiety make him unmistakably our contemporary. And not only can we find parallels in his novels with the current crisis, we can also learn from them how to survive and triumph over it." Via the NYT's Ideas.

Rex Sorgatz: "I sure wasn't expecting to see Derrida invoked in the financial crisis debacle in this week's New Yorker!"

Posted by dwhudson at 11:28 AM | Comments (1)

Role Models.

Role Models "Let us now praise Paul Rudd," begins Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "While this leading man seems to eschew the usual off-screen antics that put performers on the public's radar, Rudd dependably brings a dry, intelligent wit to movie after movie. Whether in comedy classics (Clueless, Knocked Up) or clunkers (Over Her Dead Body), he has quietly accumulated an impressive résumé of engaging, entertaining performances. With Role Models, he may suddenly find himself getting the attention he has largely avoided, because his work here is at a game-changing level for a young actor."

Updated through 11/7.

"In every way, this is just another formulaic romp about two selfish slackers getting their priorities rearranged by a couple of kids—instead of breaking new ground, it polishes it with sandpaper." Robert Wilonsky in the Voice: "But [co-writers David] Wain, [Ken] Marino and Rudd pull it off because theirs is a funnier, brainier, bawdier brand of feel-good... and because you can never go wrong with a climactic, foam-padded sword fight set to Kiss."

"Wain doesn't mimic Judd Apatow's sweet-and-smutty recipe," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Wain's story is in search of nothing except the next ribald one-liner and, mercifully, the good slightly outweigh the lame, with Rudd and [Seann William] Scott forming a suitably well-matched duo - one glum, miserable and droll, the other upbeat, horny and dumb - and the script filled out with amusingly stupid homoerotic turns of phrase."

Capone talks with Rudd for AICN.

Updates, 11/6: "In its loose, ramshackle, gleefully profane first half, Role Models suggests School of Rock with Tourette's, or the original Bad News Bears without the baseball," suggests Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "But in its inferior second half, the laughs subside and valuable life lessons begin in earnest."

"The post-boomer generation has been flummoxed by its unearned adolescent privileges," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Stuck crashing weddings - a degraded metaphor for what used to be called rebellion - they have a difficult time articulating their own principles. Hollywood hasn't helped by catering to this immaturity, but Role Models flips that script."

"Role Models never quite takes off into the comic stratosphere, but it gives you a few good laughs... and it doesn't do anything to annoy you the rest of the time," writes Paul Matwychuk.

At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell lists "5 State Skits That Should Be Movies."

Robert Abele profiles Christopher Mintz-Plasse for the Los Angeles Times.

Online viewing tips. Tribeca presents "5 More Reasons to Love Paul Rudd."

Updates, 11/7: "Especially after Kevin Smith's emotionally stunted Zack and Miri Make a Porno, it's nice to see a dirty-minded romantic comedy (is there any other kind of romantic comedy these days?) in which the sweetness doesn't seem slapped onto the raunch like bad store-bought icing," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Role Models may not set its sights very high, but it comes by its emotional payoff honestly."

No, it "isn't as uproarious as it pretends to be," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "[E]verything feels a little too much like business as usual."

"[F]or the crowd-pleasing finale, in which the players don Kiss makeup for a final battle, Role Models pours sugar and cream on everything and turns it to mush," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

"How much are you willing to suffer for a Paul Rudd fix?" asks David Fear in Time Out New York.

But for Roger Ebert, this is the "kind of comedy where funny people say funny things in funny situations, not the kind of comedy that whacks you with manic shocks to force an audible Pavlovian response."

Mark Olsen profiles Wain for the Los Angeles Times.

Online listening tip. Noah Forrest talks with Wain for Movie City News.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:17 AM | Comments (1)

Politics & Movies Blog-a-Thon.

Politics & Movies Blog-a-Thon Jason Bellamy is hosting the Politics & Movies Blog-a-Thon, which runs through Sunday - and you're invited to join in. As he wrote in his announcement, "The parameters are these: Your post must deal with politics and movies. Simple as that. If that means you write an appreciation of a political-themed drama like The Candidate, perfect! If that means you analyze a documentary like No End in Sight, that's great, too. If instead you want to dive into the deeper political themes of a blockbuster like The Dark Knight, be my guest. Politics and movies are the essential ingredients. Go forth and be creative." Entries are rolling in.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:17 AM

Stages.

Stages "The phrase 'divorced couple' sounds like an oxymoron, but there's really no other way to describe Roos (Elsie de Brauw) and Martin (Marcel Musters), the Dutch ex-spouses whose table talk dominates Stages, an oblique, intermittently intriguing film by Mijke de Jong," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "For these two the line between love and hate is not so much thin as crooked and blurry. Their habitual affection for each other is obvious, but also frequently indistinguishable from mutual contempt."

"For the chamber drama Stages, which has been giddily referred to by some as Scenes from a Divorce, director Mijke de Jong employs a fractured style to match the personalities of its characters, but this synchronicity isn't so much heartfelt as it is solipsistic," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant.

Updated through 11/8.

"De Jong's technique of filming conversations with the camera latched onto one character for minutes at a time is both disorienting and almost suffocatingly intimate," finds Michelle Orange in the Voice. "The mutual contempt of Martin and Roos, in particular, is presented as intimacy writ toxic; they are at once total strangers and completely disgusted by how well they know each other."

"Like another recent Northern-European release, Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In, Stages' aesthetics amplify the unspoken implications of its narrative," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "In contrast to loud Americans like Paul Thomas Anderson - whose There Will Be Blood shouts its mythic themes from the rooftops - De Jong whispers the epic implications of middle-class narcissism across a cozy restaurant table. The result isn't just more heartwarming and tasteful, it's infinitely more effective."

Update, 11/6: "Like [John] Cassavetes and [Woody] Allen, de Jong leans hard on her actors to provide the nuance absent from the triple-underlined dialogue, and de Brauw and Musters are definitely up to the task," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "De Brauw in particular conveys the whole story of her failed marriage in the way she winces at Musters' dinner order. But typical of Stages' approach, what seems fresh at first quickly becomes overly familiar. One expressively acted, intimately photographed scene may feel like a tour de force. Eight is overkill."

Update, 11/8: "No doubt Stages is too much in the mode of Bergman's Scenes From a Marriage or Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance to reach beyond a big-city art-house audience, but it's an extraordinary achievement by a director to watch," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:09 AM

"Let us summon a new spirit."

Obama in Chicago An online viewing tip. President-Elect Barack Obama's speech in Chicago, November 4, 2008.

At Slate, Daniel Politi sums up reaction in the dailies.

Meanwhile, though Obama's probably not going to have a lot of time for movies right now, when he's ready, Xan Brooks has a few recommendations in the Guardian.

Updated through 11/6.

Updates: Online scrolling tip. The Big Picture.

Online browsing tips. Michael Sippey collects news site screenshots and a visualization of last night's speech; Daily Kos has today's front pages; Jonathan Horowitz (Vulture).

Film bloggers comment on the moment: Andrew Bemis, Rob Christopher, Matthew Clayfield, Edward Copeland, Roger Ebert, Filmbrain, Robert Horton, JJ, Ryland Walker Knight, Joe Leydon, Kimberly Lindbergs, Looker, David Lowery, Scott Macaulay, Pacze Moj, David Poland, Nathaniel R, Yair Raveh and the Siren.

"That Dylan, reluctant American spokesperson for at least 44 years, uttered anything on the subject of change during his first-ever U of M concert was itself proof positive of new history in the making." Rob Nelson reports.

Update, 11/6: Online viewing tip. The last week of the campaign in two minutes, from Slate.

Online smile. James Israel's got one.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:25 AM

November 4, 2008

DVDs, 11/4.

The Films of Budd Boetticher Let's face it, not too many of us are thinking about movies today. On the other hand, if the excitement's starting to get to you in an unhealthy way, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir is here to help - with a list, naturally: "You need diversion, mon ami. You need some powerful cinematic methadone to get you through the next several hours. We're not talking quality cinema here, at least not necessarily. We're talking some truly suspenseful shit, a movie-drug high strong enough to keep you off the Internet and disassociated from the outside world for a few hours, until the so-called real results come in."

With The Films of Budd Boetticher coming out today, the Parallax View is running a series that includes Sean Axmaker's introduction to the filmmaker, an overview of his career, a composite interview conducted between 1988 and 1992 and Richard T Jameson's appreciation of 7 Men From Now. Update, 11/6: Sean runs his interview with screenwriter Burt Kennedy.

Don DeLillo in the Guardian on Barbara Loden's Wanda: "A volatile man, a suggestible woman. The film itself is complex and strong, with shifting insights into character and with comic moments so well embedded in the frame they nearly elude notice.... This film worked against the grain of its time. The central characters are not rebels against the system or victims of the system. He is a stickup man of the old school, only rendered more deeply and played with more desperation than such characters tend to be. She is a lost soul but not a dead one and the writer-director doesn't attempt to enlarge the character by giving her an attitude toward the world that lies beyond the tight spaces she has wandered into."

Team Picture "Team Picture might be blissfully devoid of melodramatic incident, the kind of empty noise celebrated by the film-going public at large, but it tells a story and works within the established rules of narrative, cinematic and otherwise," writes Brian Pera in Fanzine. "Its true masterstroke is coming at story in a different way, making its audience conscious of narrative and the neediness we have for it."

James van Maanen talks with Andrea Staka about her award-winning Fräulein, which he reviewed back in September.

Gregory Peck's "gift for combining emotional distance and moral compassion is best represented by his most famous role, the transcendently decent small-town lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Peck's Oscar-winning performance is naturally the centerpiece of The Gregory Peck Film Collection, a handsomely produced boxed set from Universal Studios Home Entertainment."

No Mercy, No Future Michael Atkinson for IFC on Billy the Kid: "Simply put, as we're forced to immerse ourselves in Billy's daily struggle rather than ignore him like we might if we found ourselves behind him in line at McDonald's, he becomes more than just a kid with a handicap - he becomes an iconic figure, a walking, talking representation of adolescent traumas." Then: "Existentialist parallels bubble up helplessly, too, watching Helma Sanders-Brahms's No Mercy, No Future (1981), the latest film of this internationally renowned German filmmaker's oeuvre to be DVD'd by Facets. The fiery, dogged, despairing feminist voice of the New German Cinema, Sanders-Brahms is an all but unknown figure here, despite having had a few of her films distributed to American theaters. Deep into her career she remains an unrepentant New Waver, montaging and jump-cutting and metafictionalizing all over the place."

"Filmmakers as diverse as Abbas Kiarostami and the Dardenne Brothers may make pointed use of some of the central features of the form, but with [Ramin] Bahrani it never amounts to more than an act of uncritical appropriation," argues Andrew Schenker. "Which is not to suggest that Bahrani's films are unpleasant to watch. If anything, given their grimy milieus, they go down too easy."

Ed Howard on T-Men: "Any other director, saddled with such a self-evidently mediocre script, would simply churn out the kind of moralistic low-budget gangster pieces that thrived on the lower half of double-bills in the 40s. Instead, [Anthony] Mann and ace cinematographer John Alton crafted an often-stunning piece of art from this crude foundation, cramming the film with gorgeous visual effects and even subtly working against the film's propagandistic agenda."

Planet of the Apes "[P]erhaps the question shouldn't be why is Planet of the Apes a great film, but how the heck did they manage to make 4 successful sequels out of such depressing material?" That's Joseph Failla, with whom Glenn Kenny saw the original when both were nine years old.

Cinema16's next collection, World Short Films, will be out in a couple of weeks and the London Times' Wendy Ide has a preview. Via Movie City News.

"It's easy to say 'war is hell,'" writes Chris Barsanti at Filmcritic.com. "But somehow, the men and women whom Ken Burns and co-director Lynn Novick interviewed for his quietly shattering 15-hour World War II documentary series The War convey that sentiment, in all its ugly terror, in a mostly quiet and humble manner that is ultimately more unsettling than all the superlatives and adjectives one could hurl at such a world-engulfing event."

For Flickhead, Original Sin is "something akin to a very long, silly and boring perfume commercial," while The Hoax is "amusing but insubstantial."

Roy Frumkes has decided it's never too late for a Halloween DVD roundup for Films in Review.

Hangover Square is the Noir of the Week.

Online viewing tip #1. Bryant Frazer takes a "look at scenes from John Carpenter's satirical alien-invasion movie They Live, released four days before the 1988 presidential elections and relevant to this day."

Online viewing tip #2. The NYT's AO Scott revisits The Candidate.

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, Paul Clark (Screengrab), John DeFore (Austin Movie Blog), DVD Talk, Ambrose Heron, James van Maanen and Peter Martin (Cinematical).

And of course: The Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:41 AM

November 3, 2008

Shorts, 11/3.

Sink or Swim Ed Howard has selected the Film of the Month for November: Su Friedrich's Sink or Swim.

Craig Keller has images from the film Jean-Luc Godard's working on, Socialisme.

"[E]ven though the new German film The Baader Meinhof Complex runs two and a half hours and is based on an account of the gang's rise and pitiful fall by the respected historian Stefan Aust, no one should go to the movie looking for enlightenment as to who the Red Army Faction's members were or what were the forces that shaped them," blogs Ella Taylor. "As directed by Uli Edel (Last Exit to Brooklyn), it's mostly a cheesy action picture that measures the gang's passage from protest to terrorism in stuff getting blown up by the pound."

United Red Army "Kôji Wakamatsu's United Red Army is a docu-drama (or if you prefer to be academic about it, jitsuroku eiga, the Japanese term for films that mix documentary and fiction elements, prevalent in the 70s, and often about the yakuza and other gangs) about the titular Japanese extremist leftist paramilitary group," writes Francis Cruz. "Most intriguing is how [Wakamatsu], despite his actual experiences supporting the group and its activities, directs the film with a cool detachedness.... United Red Army's investment in factual consistency, mixed with Wakamatsu's purposeful emotional ambivalence towards his subject matter and the multitude of characters, creates an atmosphere of alluring unsteadiness, which the film banks on to carry its audience through the three hours."

"Song of the South's 'controversy' in 1972 was largely imaginary," writes Jason Sperb. "[T]he construction of sympathetic Disney defenders who were finding ways to both appropriate and resist the film's problematic depiction of racial relations. However, that is not to say that Song of the South, in other ways, passed through the 1970s unscathed. The film that was controversial in the 1970s was Song of the South's angry reimagining, Ralph Bakshi's live-action mixed with animation satire, Coonskin (1974)."

"I continue to find it astonishing that a film as important as Jacques Tati's Parade continues to be ignored and unrecognized as a radical statement, even after the recent rediscoveries of all his other features," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum, introducing his 1989 review.

"Without claiming that films don't have value in themselves and that you're not enriched simply by watching a film, part of the fun of being a film nerd is participating in the film community (thank you, Internet!) by reading, writing, sharing, interacting." Hence, Pacze Moj's notion of a "practical" canon outlined in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Adrian Martin considers what might be needed from "the film magazine of the future"; via Girish.

Vanity Fair: Kate Winslet "Isn't She Deneuvely?" is the title of Krista Smith's profile of Kate Winslet for the December issue of Vanity Fair. And there's an accompanying slide show. Related: Anne Thompson passes along a friend's impressions of The Reader.

"Critics aren't expected to review Bond films so much as test-drive them," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "In that spirit, here's a quick rundown [on Quantum of Solace], on a scale of 0 to 10. Opening credit sequence: 5..." Related:

  • The BBC reports that Quantum "has broken box office records on its opening weekend in the UK - taking £15.5m in three days, according to early figures."

  • Jason Sperb's update at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope on the long-running Bond Blog-a-Thon.

  • And at the SpoutBlog, Kevin Kelly has a list of "007 Bond Parodies: A Stirred, But Not Shaken History."

Easy Virtue Considering that Alfred Hitchcock directed a silent 1928 adaptation of Noël Coward's play Easy Virtue, John Patterson wonders "what certain other Coward adaptations might have looked like had they been directed by Hitchcock." Also in the Guardian, Paul Rennie on the poster, title sequence - and the suits! - of North by Northwest.

"After months of deal-making turmoil, the elaborate, two-film Tintin series planned by the directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson may find its financiers in a partnership being forged by Sony Pictures Entertainment and Paramount Pictures." Michael Cieply reports.

"The death of Robert Altman in 2006 left a gigantic hole in American cinema," writes Paul Matwychuk. "I can think of no higher praise than to say that in its generosity of spirit and its appreciation of the complexities of human behaviour, Rachel Getting Married is the most Altmanesque film anybody has made since."

For Variety, John Burlingame talks with John Barry about ten of his scores. Via Movie City News.

"A filmmaker's dream of building a Hollywood-style studio in the northern part of South Africa has been blocked after a passionate campaign by the local Khoi-San community," reports Ian Evans in the Christian Science Monitor. "Residents of the remote and desolate town of Pella say they do not care about the millions of dollars promised or the prospect of A-list celebrities flying in on private jets and instead wanted to keep their 'sacred' scrubland, which was won in battle by their forefathers."

"A midnight Halloween screening of Night of the Living Dead was the final show for the beloved downtown playhouse that specialized in outrageous, bizarre, and other truly independent cinema," writes Rania Richardson. "What's your Pioneer Theater story?" asks ST VanAirsdale. Mike Everleth comments.

Marshall Fine presents a "modest proposal (to end TV as we know it)."

John Daly "John Daly, the British-born producer of 13 Oscar-winning movies including Platoon and The Last Emperor who helped launch the careers of many A-list directors and actors, has died," reports the AP. "He was 71." Via Movie City News. Joe Leydon comments.

Online browsing tip. The Shaw Brothers Reloaded collection of movie flyers. Via Coudal Partners.

Online listening tip. Mike Leigh's a guest on On Point.

Online viewing tip #1. As his contribution to Liberty Mutual's online Responsibility Project, Grant Heslov has made the short film Tony - and explains why.

Online viewing tip #2. Raymond De Felitta's found Hollywood Rhythm, "shot in 1934 and purporting to be a behind the scenes look at how a popular song was constructed for a movie musical in the early 30s (though it is in fact entirely staged and bears no resemblance to what we now think of as 'behind the scenes')."

Online viewing tip #3. Jason Morehead's got Hitchens vs Wilson: The Teaser Trailer.

Online viewing tip #4. Bergman and the Theatre. Thanks, Jerry!

Online viewing tips, round 1. Nicholas Carlson lists "10 Embarrassing Product Placements" for Silicon Alley Insider. Via Fimoculous. Related: Stephen Bayley in the Observer on the product placement in Quantum of Solace.

Online viewing tips, round 2. i heart photograph's collection of YouTube art, via Jason Kottke.

Online viewing tips, round 3. Via Mark Frauenfelder, who posts a segment with Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, several episodes of USA Arts.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:19 PM

Fests and events, 11/3.

2 by Arnaud Desplechin Every Minute, Four Ideas: The Films of Arnaud Desplechin runs at IFC Center from Wednesday through November 13 (and A Christmas Tale opens the next day). Tom Hall talks with Desplechin for indieWIRE.

This Sunday at Light Industry in Brooklyn: Pedro Costa introduces Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's Too Early, Too Late. Via Kim West's review of Capricci's release of In Vanda's Room in France on DVD and its accompanying book (176 pages!) at Artforum.

"Filmmaker has been a big fan of Asia Argento - as an actress and a director - over the years," writes Scott Macaulay, "and on the occasion of her BAM retrospective, Sexy, Scary and Often Naked: Asia Argento, which [opened Saturday], I thought I would throw up some links to our coverage of Argento over the years." Through Sunday.

Hiroshi Teshigahara's Antonio Gaudí screens through tomorrow at Film Forum. Nicholas Rapold in the Voice: "The buildings narrate their architectural distinction well enough by themselves, from the pinnacles of La Sagrada Familia tapering to heaven like an ecclesiastical Emerald City, to the curvaceous honeycomb façade of the Casa Mila apartments."

"As a collaboration between visual artist Pierre Bismuth and Michel Gondry, the exhibition The All-seeing eye (the Hardcore-techno version) at London's BFI Southbank runs until November 23, 2008. Paola Noè asked Michel Gondry to tell Flash Art how he became one of the most popular directors in the contemporary art field." Earlier: "Gondrys, 10/27."

Northwest Film and Video Festival "The oldest (and frequently best) of the tidal wave of film festivals that annually swamps our town is back this week," writes the Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "The Northwest Film and Video Festival has been mounted by the Northwest Film Center for 35 years now, and it continues to blend the works of experienced filmmakers and newcomers from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and other points in the region." And he picks out a few highlights. Friday through November 15.

Dan Sallitt rounds up a handful of notable events taking place in NYC in November.

Adrian Martin files a dispatch from the Brisbane International Film Festival for the Fipreschi site and it is, as Girish notes, "much more than a film festival report; it smuggles in a sustained reflection on crying in cinema."

Todd Brown has the Toronto After Dark award-winners at Twitch.

Michael Guillén looks back on the Arab Film Festival.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:11 PM

Books, 11/3.

Deconstructing Sammy For the Los Angeles Times, Rich Cohen reviews Matt Birkbeck's Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness, and the Mob: "Sammy Davis Jr was the epitome of the artist as brilliant naif" and "a hero for our times, a personification of the current American Dream, living in a mansion owned by the bank, short the mortgage but certain he can dance his way out. As Sinatra sang, 'Riding high in April, shot down in May.'"

The Self-Styled Siren sparks a chorus of horrified gasps with an anecdote taken from "Kate Buford's fine biography Burt Lancaster: An American Life."

"Steve Roden found a 1981 interview with Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray at the flea market," notes Greg Allen. "He transcribed a bit onto Airform Archive, starting with an encounter Ray had with the 1913 Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore."

Disintegration in Frames "Pavle Levi's insightful and well-argued book, Disintegration in Frames: Aesthetics and Ideology in the Yugoslav and Post-Yugoslav Cinema examines the evolution of the national Yugoslav and regional post-Yugoslav cinema within its shifting political and cultural landscape," writes Acquarello: "initially, in the context of individual expression under the repressive government of Josip Broz Tito, then subsequently, as a reflection of ideologically motivated historical revisionism that sought to reinforce the myth of deep seated ethnic conflict and selective representation as a means of defining national identity through the artificial creation - and consequently, justified persecution - of the other."

FilmInFocus runs an extract from Helen de Winter's What I Really Want to Do is Produce: Top Producers Talk Movies and Money in which JoAnne Sellar describes working on George Sluizer's Dark Blood: "So we went off to Utah, and shot there for six weeks, all of the location stuff. Then we came back to LA to spend three weeks shooting interiors that we had built on a stage. We had shot one day in LA, and then on the first night River Phoenix died."

Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films "is a big, glorious, infuriating and illuminating mess," writes Charles Matthews in the Washington Post. "You'll be happiest with it if you're on [David] Thomson's wavelength, that is, if your favorite directors include Renoir, Hawks, Welles, Hitchcock, Sturges, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Antonioni, Bergman. You'll be less happy if you prefer Ford, Wilder, Lean, Woody Allen, Scorsese, Kurosawa or Fellini, all of whom he finds wanting in one way or another. Thomson acknowledges what he regards as their best work, but even then his preferences can be startling. He thinks, for example, that Otto Preminger's Exodus is better than Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. His favorite Allen film is Radio Days, which he calls 'a masterpiece.' Annie Hall, on the other hand, he regards as "disastrously empty." Related: John McMurtrie talks with Thomson for the San Francisco Chronicle.

And Michael Fox has a long talk with Thomson for SF360.

Zombie Movies "Better, more current, and cheaper than Peter Dendle's infamous Zombie Movie Encyclopedia, [Glenn] Kay's Zombie Movies captures the satire, the fear, the politics, and the humor of both classic and modern horror flicks," writes Justin Dimos at PopMatters.

"The Right Stuff is now best read as an elegy - a remembrance of vanished times," writes Robert Winder. "It describes a place and a mood that have crashed and burned."

Also in the Guardian: Roberto Saviano's "book, Gomorrah, has inspired an award-winning movie that is Italy's candidate for an Oscar," writes John Hooper, introducing his interview. "But the number of his bodyguards has increased to five and now he can only be contacted within Italy by telephone. It took 10 days to arrange. Even then, it didn't happen at the appointed time."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:49 PM | Comments (1)

Milk, round 1.

Milk "Milk, written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Gus Van Sant, is the first great film to look at civil rights from the perspective of the gay movement," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "The subject, of course, is the late, charismatic San Francisco gay activist and politician of the 1970s, Harvey Milk, played with extraordinary depth and wisdom by Sean Penn. Milk resists bumper-sticker identifications: Yes, it's a biopic, a love story, a civil rights movie and sharp political and social commentary. But it transcends any single genre as a very human document that touches first and foremost on the need to give people hope."

Updated through 11/5.

"Van Sant has always gravitated toward transgressive outcast characters, and none of them traveled so far from the margins into the status quo, or had such convulsive impact, as the real-life Harvey Milk, a New Yorker who, at 40, moved to San Francisco and broke down a significant sociopolitical barrier before being assassinated by a disturbed fellow politician," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "[W]hile Milk is unquestionably marked by many mandatory scenes - the electioneering, outrage at conservative opposition, tension between domestic and public life, insider politicking, public demonstrations, et al - the quality of the writing, acting and directing generally invests them with the feel of real life and credible personal interchange, rather than of scripted stops along the way from aspiration to triumph to tragedy. And on a project whose greatest danger lay in its potential to come across as agenda-driven agitprop, the filmmakers have crucially infused the story with qualities in very short supply today - gentleness and a humane embrace of all its characters, even of the entirely vilifiable gunman, Dan White."

Screen Daily's Mike Goodridge finds Milk to be "Gus Van Sant's most conventional film since Finding Forrester - but far superior.... Penn gives one of the most likeable star turns of his career as Milk, a performance filled with passion, humanity and humour which should firmly lodge him in contention for best actor awards. Emile Hirsch is terrific as his young supporter Cleve Jones, [Josh] Brolin fine as the damaged Dan White, Diego Luna appropriately shrill as Milk's unhinged lover Jack Lira and James Franco touching and strong as Scott Smith, who left Harvey when his career became all-consuming. Just as engaging as the film's scenes of activism and protest is its evocation of time and place. From the awful hairstyles to the moustaches, the flairs to the ghastly blouses, Milk offers a delirious insight into San Francisco of the 1970s."

Sam Adams profiles Franco for the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier: "Milk premiere."

Update, 11/5: Milk is far better than I was expecting it to be," writes Variety's Anne Thompson. "It had been described to me as small, political, an acting vehicle for Sean Penn. It's far more than that.... It reminds us of how far we've come, in a short time, and how far we still have to go."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:23 AM | Comments (1)

Frieze. Nov/Dec 08.

Frieze Nov/Dec 08 Clio Barnard writes the "Life in Film" column for the new issue of Frieze, and it's a rich and wide-ranging entry, spiked with clips from Performance, Invocation of My Demon Brother, The Gospel According to St Matthew and Rashomon.

John Waters's "head-on, crud-slinging, no-holds-barred approach to trash is a canny strategy for squaring up to the double standards of a society where transgression is rated and stratified according to arbitrary distinctions," writes Sally O'Reilly, reviewing This Filthy Life.

Bettina Brunner on new work by Margaret Salmon: "In Guns Trilogy the representation of the soldier's domestic actions has the quality of a nostalgic, rather melancholic home movie, yet his story is the most disturbing. Talking about his experiences in the Vietnam War, which included an encounter with a little girl holding a hand grenade, he tells us about his decision to kill her. There is a grim logic in his words when he says that she was going to die anyway and that the question was whether or not she would take him with her. Michel Foucault, who noted how wrong it is to believe there can be no violence in a world of reason, springs to mind here."

A "Case Study": Daria Martin and her two new films, Harpstrings and Lava and Minotaur.

Not Quite How I Remember It The recent exhibition Not Quite How I Remember It "unexpectedly managed to complicate realist documentary through formal disruptions that defamiliarized the past in order to reframe the present," writes Benjamin Carlson.

Devika Singh views recent video and photography by 25 Indian artists collected in Still Moving Image.

"No singer has masochistically revelled in the way that romance lured the lover out beyond the pleasure principle more than [Magazine's Howard] Devoto, who would confess that he had ‘a need for agony that he had to subdue,'" writes Mark Fisher. With clips.

Also: Adrian Searle talks with Richard Serra, Jerome Boyd-Maunsell remembers David Foster Wallace and Dan Fox explains the "content crunch."

And, as noted earlier, Daniel Tapper talks with Terence Davies about Of Time and the City.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:23 AM

November 2, 2008

Observer Film Quarterly.

Observer Film Quarterly "When I ask how it feels to be a living legend of male iconography, he laughs - a throaty chuckle that sounds like the crackle of tinder burning." Yes, Elizabeth Day has met Clint Eastwood.

Also in the Observer Film Quarterly: "How peculiar that the name we have given to one of cinema's most intangible appeals for our approval is 'chemistry,' when there is nothing in the least bit scientific about it," writes Ryan Gilbey. "The next few months will see studios and distributors going into overdrive as they launch the movies on which they are pinning their Oscar hopes, and a good deal of these will stand or fall on whether or not audiences warm to the partnerships at the center of them."

Killian Fox asks Miranda July about the films that have meant most to her and with Baz Luhrmann about Australia. Also, a round up of "the potential classics that fell foul of fate."

Focusing on Waltz with Bashir, Lemon Tree and To See If I'm Smiling, Gali Gold previews the UK Jewish Film Festival, running November 8 through 20.

Trainspotting

"Whatever happened to funny at the pictures?" asks Jason Solomons. Also, a talk with Danny Boyle: "The special feeling I remember about Trainspotting was that holy grail of when your own people go to watch their own films."

A quick preview of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: "[T]he first US screenings reportedly left viewers in tears and it's already being tipped for Oscars glory."

Philip French lists his "top ten scenes in lifts."

Rachel Getting Married has Charles Gant thinking about sibling rivalries in the movies; and there's an accompanying list.

My Winnipeg Meanwhile, in the paper, Philip French recommends Of Time and the City and Hunger, Mark Kermode celebrates the release of My Winnipeg on DVD in the UK and Jason Solomons looks back on the highlights of the London Film Festival.

James Purton reviews William S Burroughs and Jack Kerouac's And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, a "barely encrypted roman à clef" which tells the story that'll be retold in Kill Your Darlings.

Anthony Holden reviews For You, an opera by Michael Berkeley with a libretto by novelist Ian McEwan.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:34 AM

Artforum. Nov 08.

Artforum November 08 Why is R Buckminster Fuller on the cover of the new issue of Artforum? Because, as editor Tim Griffin explains, the "issues in play" now - "energy-related, economic, environmental - are enmeshed in questions of sustainability, ephemeralization, and cross-disciplinary negotiation that Fuller took as his fundamental subjects more than four decades ago." Selections from the cover package online: Sean Keller, Thom Mayne and Michael Wang.

Manny Farber's "combination of media was unique not only in that the writing and the painting were equally important to him, but that there were so many similarities of approach and subject and preoccupation between them, although they were quite separate pursuits," writes Luc Sante. "For one thing, the paintings give clear instructions to anyone perplexed as to the way to read the essays: You start anywhere and end up anywhere."

Hartmut Bitomsky, "who is currently working in grimy Berlin after a long stretch teaching cinema in sunny California, has created a work engineered to feast on the anxieties of tidy-minded Teutons," writes Bruce Sterling. "Dust is his meditative, polymorphous essay on the pulverized: that which remains formless, invasive, unprunable, and uncategorizable. Bitomsky's dust is not mere meaningless bits of fluffy gray trash, but an itchily anal Freudian antisubstance that pours in through every crack in the German psyche."

Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space "As scholar Ivone Margulies has argued, '[Chantal] Akerman's boldness as a filmmaker lies in her charging the mundane with significance,'" writes Malcolm Turvey. "In Akerman's films, as in Alfred Hitchcock's, drama is to be found everywhere beneath - indeed on - the surface of quotidian reality if one only looks closely enough, and her use of space and time forces the viewer to pay careful attention to the commonplace. She is thus heir to the tradition of dedramatization pursued by directors such as Roberto Rossellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. Dedramatization does not mean the absence of drama."

And you'll have to turn to the print issue for Greil Marcus on Mad Men, Amy Taubin on Waltz With Bashir, Steven Nelson on Djibril Diop Mambety and James Quandt on Lisandro Alonso.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:14 AM

November 1, 2008

LAT. Holiday Sneaks 08.

The Spirit While the New York Times holiday movie package is presented pretty much as it appears in Sunday's paper, the Los Angeles Times' Holiday Sneaks 08 and Holiday Movie Sneaks pages (why both? why not!) are structured like portals: outlines of lists. Click on Revolutionary Road, for example, and you'll find a bloggish string of relevant stories dating from February to the end of last month.

Here, though, is what's new today, starting with Geoff Boucher's conversation with Frank Miller about The Spirit, "the superhero film that Miller hopes will complete his unlikely transformation from comic-book artist to successful movie director, a career path that did not seem possible even at the start of this decade."

Gina McIntyre talks with Twilight's young stars, Robert Pattinson, Kellan Lutz and Nikki Reed.

"Director Seth Gordon describes making his first studio feature, Four Christmases, as a 'baptism by the River Styx. It was crazy.'" Susan King: "The film, opening Nov 26, went into production last December right in the middle of the writers strike, so no changes could be made to the script. Then cast and crew were worried about the fate of the film when it was learned that its distributor, New Line, would be closing up shop and folding into Warner Bros."

Bolt, Madagascar 2, Tale of Despereaux

Also, a chat with Disney story artist Mark Walton about Bolt, another with Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa co-director Tom McGrath, another with The Tale of Despereaux producer Gary Ross and another with director Adam Shankman about "the Adam Sandler movie that moms are actually going to want their kids to see" (says Shankman), Bedtime Stories.

Sam Adams talks with James Franco about Milk: "'Reading the script, I knew that one of the major functions is to be the supporting boyfriend, what in a straight movie would be the supporting wife role,' Franco said, grabbing a cigarette on the terrace of Manhattan's Bowery Hotel, a copy of Vladimir Nabokov's Despair close at hand. 'For a female actress, maybe that would sound like, "Oh, no, another supporting wife role." But I've never been offered that part.'"

Slumdog Millionaire John Horn tells the story behind the making of Frost/Nixon - plus, a few words with Danny Boyle about Slumdog Millionaire.

Lisa Rosen talks with Jennifer Aniston about Marley & Me.

Michael Ordoña talks with Baz Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman about Australia - and with Edward Zwick about Defiance, starring Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell, who play "three adult brothers, farmers and sometime troublemakers reluctantly transformed into guardian - and avenging - angels."

Also, a backgrounder on Quantum of Solace.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:57 PM

Remembering Andrew Johnston.

Andrew Johnston With the help of Matt Zoller Seitz and many others posting remembrances, I'm only now just beginning to get to know Time Out New York film and TV critic Andrew Johnston, who died on October 26 at the age of 40 after a years-long battle with cancer.

"Andrew gave me my first paying job as a magazine editor last year," notes Matt at the House Next Door, where Johnston contributed dozens of pieces on Mad Men and The Wire. He also evidently lent a helping hand to Mike D'Angelo, Bilge Ebiri... "Many, many more working critics have their own versions of these anecdotes. They all end the same way: Andrew gave me my start."

Joshua Rothkopf at Time Out New York: "He rolled up his sleeve to reveal a new tattoo on his shoulder, the colors still hot and flush. Looking closely, I saw it was a quote from Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven: 'Deserve's got nothing to do with it.' Squinting his eyes, Andrew had the resolve to go wherever this disease would take him. And in my heart, I feel that he beat it."

"[T]he thing I remember best about Andrew was the enthusiasm he projected as a writer." Victor Morton: "He had more of a fan's sensibility and a populist taste than many of us. (The year he was chairman, Lord of the Rings 3 won the New York Critics top honor - which helped it build the momentum that ended with a historic Oscar sweep.) Andrew was the kind of guy who loved gushing to you about what he loved, rather than ranting to you about what he didn't. That sort of personality was a welcome and sometimes needed antidote to the worldwise sang-froid that some of us are prone to, myself definitely not excluded."

For more, see Karina Longworth and David Poland.

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

NYT. Holiday Movies.

Halloween may be just hours dead and buried, but the New York Times is already looking ahead to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Day the Earth Stood Still, A Christmas Tale

Dave Kehr has a terrific piece on the journey The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is making from the F Scott Fitzgerald story through to its opening on Christmas Day.

A Christmas Tale, the new feature by the French director Arnaud Desplechin, is haunted by the ghosts of holiday movies past - and not just the ones you'd expect," writes Dennis Lim. The film "owes a debt to Ingmar Bergman's autobiographical magnum opus, Fanny and Alexander, which opens with one of the most famous Christmas gatherings in movies. 'It's a film I know by heart,' Mr Desplechin said in an interview last month while in town for the New York Film Festival. Another spiritual forebear, he said, was The Dead, John Huston's quietly majestic version of the James Joyce story, centered on a dinner party to mark the feast of Epiphany. A newer reference point: Wes Anderson's Royal Tenenbaums, a Christmas movie only in name, but, like A Christmas Tale, a family drama about the allure and danger of a family myth."

Scott Derrickson's The Day the Earth Stood Still, opening December 12, gives J Hoberman the opportunity to revisit the original and its reception in 1951: "The movie exudes topical hysteria; paranoia is palpable, and the spectacle of the nation's capital under martial law seems all too probable."

While we're looking back, five "Insiders" pick their holiday favorites, and there's an accompanying slide show: Who'll be watching what this season?

Australia, Frost/Nixon, Quantum of Solace

"The Australian director Baz Luhrmann has compared the story of an uptight but headstrong aristocrat and a scowling but super-hot cattle driver, thrown together by fate in his new film, Australia, to the unlikely riverboat romance in The African Queen," writes Eric Wilson. "Truth be told, the adventure may have more in common with a bigger ship, perhaps the Titanic. There's the grand period wardrobe - the epic yarn begins just before World War II - and an unexpected disaster at the end." And there's a slide show: "The Look of Australia."

Besides a clip from the original interview and a trailer for the film, there's a cute little sliding bar illustration accompanying Sylviane Gold's piece on the making of Frost/Nixon. For more, see the London Film Festival entry.

"It took two years of high-level negotiations to arrange a meeting with Daniel Craig." But Sarah Lyall's got her interview. For more on Quantum of Solace, click here (middle of the page) and here.

Defiance, Revolutionary Road, Twilight

Terrence Rafferty talks with Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg and director Catherine Hardwicke about why they're sticking very, very close to Stephenie Meyer's book.

Once again, Karen Durbin's selected "Five Attention-Getting Turns," performances to watch out for. Roll the clips: Freddy Rodriguez in Nothing Like the Holidays, Alison Pill in Milk and Francois Begaudeau in The Class. Durbin's other two: Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road and Alexa Davalos in Defiance.

Charles Taylor and Stephanie Zacharek highlight some of the most notable DVD releases of the coming months.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:58 AM