December 31, 2008

Lists and awards, 12/31.

Everlasting Moments Hey, all. We've got the bubbly on ice here in Berlin and we're about an hour away from popping the cork. 2009's going to be a rough one for all of us, but let's do what we can to make it a year to remember - in a good way, of course. Aaron Hillis has some great things in store for GreenCine Daily and I'll see you over at IFC tomorrow.

"Swedish veteran director Jan Troell's Everlasting Moments received the highest number of nominations - eight - for the Guldbagge awards, Sweden's national film prize," reports Jorn Rossing Jensen for Screen.

Harry Tuttle indexes a year of "Crisis" in film criticism.

IndieWIRE editors run their own and industry insiders' top tens.

Criticwatch 2008: Erik Childress presents an astoundingly well-documented round of awards for the "Whores of the Year." Also at Hollywood Bitchslap: Peter Sobczynski's "Worst Films of 2008: Another Boll-Free List!"

The Lumière Reader "The Lumière Reader's film editors and contributors select the movies that mattered in 2008."

"I think between our toilet economy and the general pessimism in the air, there seems to be a free-floating dread seeping into movies." Sean Burns and Matt Prigge discuss the films of 2008 in the Philadelphia Weekly.

"Going to the movies isn't just fun and games. If you pay attention, you'll also get quite an education. While some of the facts we picked up at the theater in 2008 may seem to be of dubious value, you can be assured that if you saw it on the movie screen, it's 100 percent true!" Filmcritic.com presents "What We Learned at the Movies in 2008."

"More than ever, ambition in Hollywood has become a wage-slave in an Oscar-hungry boutique, trading desperately in the Christmas build-up and abandoning the rest of the year, like the Romans did their empire, to hordes of ravening cinematic barbarians. I saw some of the best films I've ever seen in the past twelve months - trouble is, they were all from last year." Still, Roderick Heath finds a few 2008 releases worth noting.

"There's certainly no shortage of ideas about the films and film trends of 2008 from the select crew of Bay Area filmmakers, critics and industry pros SF360.org polled for our Year-in-Film series," notes editor Susan Gerhard. Also, the "Top unreleased films" of the year.

Ballast "Notwithstanding Robert Downey Jr's performance of the year in Tropic Thunder, my favorite films of '08 tended toward the spare and simple, winning me over with eloquent reticence." Jonathan Kiefer's #1: Lance Hammer's Ballast.

"In 2008 I conducted nearly 60 interviews!" Michael Guillén looks back on ten of his favorites.

Michael Hawley's #1: Jaime Rosales's Solitary Fragments.

"2008, the year of death, decay and the wisdom of the beautiful loser. The year movie stars examined their own mortality and fading beauty via their on-screen personas (Brad Pitt, Mickey Rourke and Clint Eastwood, who managed to be as cute as Sarah Silverman while delivering his racial humor - I'm still wondering if that was his point - and I'm still fond of his weirdly toned movie.) The year Heath left us and Mickey came back and Robert Downey Jr became a superhero." By this point, you may be suspecting that Kim Morgan's #1 movie of the year is The Wrestler.

Glory at Sea The standout in Michael Tully's enormous list for Hammer to Nail: Benh Zeitlin's Glory at Sea.

David Lowery looks back on the "Ones to Remember."

Zach Campbell offers "a few words on a film that I've chosen from what I saw during each month of this calendar year. These are not necessarily the best or most interesting films I saw in each given month. They're only meant to to pique curiosity, direct attention to interesting films, or perhaps vent a little snark."

Topping James Rocchi's ten: Steven Soderbergh's Che.

Ambrose Heron goes alphabetical.

"The retrospectives in 2008 were the highlight of the year for me," writes Acquarello: "filling the gaps from the idiosyncratic cinemas of such diverse filmmakers as Jean Eustache, Manoel de Oliveira, Teuvo Tulio and Nagisa Oshima, and discovering the richness of some national cinemas from the 'other' Europe, such as Slovenia and Romania." Also in the Auteurs' Notebook:

  • David Cairns: "I barely seem to have seen any new films this year - I did vaguely 'keep up' by seeing stuff on DVD from the year before, but most of my explorations have been archaeological in nature."

  • Harry Tuttle: "If the Film Criticism Crisis of 2008 taught us anything (new), this would have to be the inadequacy of audience's habits and critics' duty. Not a viable profession."

  • Zachary Wigon: "Hunger (Steve McQueen) is one of the best films I have ever seen."

Earlier: Round 1.

Filmmaker's "Year in Review" series picks up again with entries from Mary Glucksman, Jason Guerrasio and Scott Macaulay. Earlier: Round 1.

Synecdoche, New York At Screengrab, Paul Clark and Leonard Pierce agree at least on the best film of the year: Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York.

Bob Turnbull agrees, too, and he's got a slew of other lists to boot.

Topping Chicagoist Rob Christopher's list: Sarah Polley's Away From Her.

Josef Braun: "There are indeed more than ten films listed in my... best of, but I did manage at least to contain them all in ten groupings."

"With the elimination of a competing format, 2008 saw the establishment of the backwards compatible Blu-ray (BD) system as the high-end subset of the DVD format," writes Doug Pratt, introducing his "Top Ten DVDs and BDs of 2008" at Movie City News. "While it is less flexible and does not offer significant improvements in supplementary features (except enhanced interactivity and an ability to connect with other fans of a title online), the BD's sound and picture advantages are spectacular." His #1: the Blu-ray release of The Dark Knight. Also, Noah Forrest's #1: A Christmas Tale.

The AV Club lists the "Best DVDs of 2008." #1: The Films of Budd Boetticher.

Matt Dentler lists his "10 Best Festival Experiences of 2008."

More top tens at AICN: Capone (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Massawyrm (Frost/Nixon).

The Playlist's "Worst Films of 2008."

Tina Daunt lists the "Top 10 moments in 2008 celebrity activism" for the Los Angeles Times.

Nitesh Rohit recalls the highlight of "a year in the life of an Indian cinephile."

The Fall Amie Simon's #1 at the Siffblog: Tarsem's The Fall.

At IFC, R Emmet Sweeney lists the "Five Greatest Pratfalls of 2008."

Rex Sorgatz is wrapping up his almighty list of lists, but here's the fun one: the most notable blogs of the past year.

Ed Champion's been writing up the best books of the year all over the place.

In the New York Times, Ben Schott presents a quiz, "118 questions, and a fiendish election table, on the incidents, accidents, hints and allegations that defined 2008."

Tops and flops auf deutsch: Film-Dienst, new filmkritik and zitty.

More on the music of 2008: The Art of Memory, MS Smith and Bobby Solomon.

Online listening tip. Robert Horton's been taking calls.

Online listening and viewing tip. DJ Earworm mashes up "the Top 25 hits of the year, according to Billboard Magazine, arranged into a four and a half minute song."

Online viewing tip. Razia Iqbal looks back on the year in the arts for the BBC.

Online viewing tips. "It's hard to pick the 'best' videos of the year. There are so many reasons that they can be good," writes Mike McIntee at the UpTake. "So I've picked several based on my own categories."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:57 PM | Comments (3)

Voice-LA Weekly. "Film Poll 2008."

Voice / LA Weekly "All hail Andrew Stanton's WALL•E - even us!" J Hoberman: "Sometimes, the movies really are universal. And so a major studio's mainstream, multiplex, mega-million-dollar-grossing, Oscar-friendly 'summer movie' resoundingly won the ninth annual Village Voice-LA Weekly poll of (mainly) alt-press critics, named on 35 of 81 ballots.... Not just the winner on points, WALL•E was also the movie about which critics felt most strongly.... That can only be quantified by the PassiondexTM - a form of data-crunching developed with a nerdiness worthy of WALL•E."

Topping J Hoberman's own list is The Flight of the Red Balloon: "In its unexpected rhythms and visual surprises, its structural innovations and experimental performances, its creative misunderstandings and its outré syntheses, this is a movie of genius."

"2008 was that rare year in which critics and audiences saw eye to eye on at least two of the year's best films, with The Dark Knight and WALL•E sitting pretty on many '10 best' lists while also ranking among the year's five highest-grossing releases," notes Scott Foundas:

Does that mean Hollywood is getting better, or Indiewood merely worse? I'd propose that the verdict is out on the former and all but in on the latter, with the majors and mini-majors (those that are still in business) having effectively laid claim to the most promising indie talent (such as Christopher Nolan) and given them surprising creative freedom, while the one-time fertile terrain of true American independent cinema has turned depressingly fallow. If anything, all that the flash-in-the-pan hipster "movement" disaffectionately known (by those who knew it at all) as Mumblecore seems to have left in its wake is an unexpected nostalgia for those would-be Andersons (Wes or PT), Soderberghs and Tarantinos whose somewhat livelier brand of navel-gazing set the tone for the previous decade of Sundance follies.

And his #1's a tie between Jia Zhangke's Still Life and Wang Bing's Fengming: A Chinese Memoir.

Ella Taylor names Waltz with Bashir as her #1: "If ever there was proof that psychic agonies are not always best represented by realism, it's Ari Folman's soulful animated documentary about the deferred torment of former Israeli soldiers, himself included, who witnessed the massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian Phalangists in the Sabra-Shatila refugee camps in 1982."

2008 finds independent filmmakers "stranded, as distributors cinch their wallets, exhibitors look vainly for indie success stories, and marketing costs continue to skyrocket in a flatlining economy," writes Jim Ridley. "Even so, a few models suggest ways to reboot or reroute a system that filmmakers and programmers agree needs fixing. In a year that has seen a few narrative features opt for self-distribution - director Randall Miller's Bottle Shock (which earned a respectable $4 million); the indie comedy Last Stop for Paul; Ronald Bronstein's way-underground whatsit Frownland - perhaps the most illustrative example of current conditions is Lance Hammer's Ballast."

Will 3D save the movies? Jeffrey Katzenberg thinks so. Robert Wilonsky reports.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:55 AM | Comments (2)

SFBG. "The Year in Film 2008."

SFBG "As 2008's year-end pieces roll across the blogosphere, one encounters the alluring titles and stills of films which won't reach the Bay Area for months," writes Max Goldberg in his piece for the San Francisco Bay Guardian's "Year in Film 2008" package. "Against this tempting tide, I turn to the faint echoes of those undistributed movies which lingered in mind long enough after their festival screenings to become pliable to memory." His top ten's in alphabetical order, though he does linger quite a while on John Gianvito's Profit motive and the whispering wind.

Johnny Ray Huston's #1: Sarabande, "the time and place where [Nathaniel] Dorsky's devotional cinema reaches the sublime. This country priest of a film critic may be misreading the signs, once again, in making such a claim - but so be it."

Cheryl Eddy looks back on the year in bromance: "Bros before hos, always - but hos are still in the equation, and are indeed a key component of any bromantic relationship. Returning to Pineapple Express: the subplot about Seth Rogen's high school girlfriend was the film's weakest link, in kind of the same way Step Brothers was only funny when Will Ferrell and John C Reilly were together onscreen, and it was pretty clear that no chick at the end of any road trip could match the BFFF ['best fuckin' friend forever'] bond in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay." Her #1: Milk.

"If Obama and Milk succored with romantic promise and possibility, the stumbling close of the Bush years and his party's latest last-ditch follies provided the bitterest laughs, with doses of unexpected sympathy for the devil," writes Kimberly Chun, who, in lieu of a top ten, offers "Five for Flesh, Fantasy and Fighting."

"2008 sucked for movie musicals," notes Louis Peitzman. "While 2007 offered Hairspray, Sweeney Todd and Across the Universe, 2008 gave us Mamma Mia!, High School Musical 3: Senior Year and Repo: The Genetic Opera. Is it too late for re-gifting?" Still, topping his list of "Ten Guilty Pleasures" is HSM3.

Dennis Harvey lists his "16 Horrible Experiences at the Movies" (#1: Over Her Dead Body), "Best Performances Most Likely to Be Overlooked" and a top 25. #1: Battle for Haditha.

Topping Kevin Langson's list is The Edge of Heaven, but he dwells on his #8, Slumdog Millionaire, whose "character types and arcs are not new by any stretch of the imagination, but it is quite rewarding, amidst all the pleasure of rich visuals and suspense, to witness the victory of a dignified, perspicacious member of the underclass."

Matt Sussman stays indoors with the best DVDs of the year. His list: "Top Ten Leading Ladies (In No Particular Order).

More "Top 10s and More" from Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, Michelle Devereaux, Barry Jenkins and... more.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:57 AM

December 30, 2008

Moving Image Source. "Moments of 2008."

United Red Army "Moving Image Source launched in June 2008. To commemorate the end of our first year, we invited contributors and colleagues, as well as some of our favorite writers and artists, to select their moving-image moment or event of 2008 - anything from an entire movie or TV series to an individual scene or shot, from a retrospective or exhibition to a viral video or video game."

It's quite an honor to be part of a round of contributors that includes the likes of Guy Maddin, Jonathan Rosenbaum and many others, and I'm doubly wowed by the Museum's posting of the trailer for Koji Wakamatsu's United Red Army alongside my entry.

Update, 12/31: Part 2 features contributions from Todd Gitlin, Ed Halter, Jonathan Letham and many others.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:08 PM

Registry, Notable DVDs and Dave Kehr's top ten.

Murnau, Borzage and Fox This year's round of 25 films to be added to the National Film Registry was announced this morning, "bringing the total number of titles on the list to the nice round figure of 500," notes Dave Kehr in an entry which also points to his piece in the New York Times on the "Notable DVDs of 2008" and features his own "alphabetical list of the best movies I saw in the last twelve months."

Regarding the Registry, Dave Kehr notes that "the annual lists have increasingly moved beyond the borders of Hollywood narrative filmmaking to include avant-garde, independent, documentary and sponsored work"; in the NYT, he argues that "DVDs are the primary force keeping film history alive." Murnau, Borzage and Fox is, of course, the "big one for 2008."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:07 PM

Boston Phoenix. Lists.

Boston Phoenix Peter Keough "invited some of my highly respected colleagues at the Phoenix to send me their ten best lists (and worsts, if so inclined)."

Michael Atkinson's #1: Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg; Tom Meek's: Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World; and Gerald Peary's: Chris Smith's The Pool.

Earlier: Peter Keough's own list.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 AM

December 29, 2008

Shorts, 12/29.

Building a New China "The recent issue of UCLA's Asia Pacific Arts Magazine has a timely new feature on: 'Social Change in Asian film,'" writes Edwin Mak in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Change in politics and social life has been reflected in film from the earliest days of cinema. And it is by pure thematic coincidence that I have recently been re-watching and discovering more classics of the 1930s Chinese leftist film movement (Zuoyi dianying yundong). Its status as a truly unique movement in film history should be given its due."

"Classic Hong Kong and Japanese action scenes were 'expressionistic' in the sense that their larger-than-life balletics and aerobatics amplified recognizable (if extreme) possibilities of the human body," writes David Bordwell. "The result was a carnal cinema, in which shooting and cutting aimed to enlarge and prolong graceful movement. By contrast, Hollywood action scenes became 'impressionistic,' rendering a combat or pursuit as a blurred confusion. We got a flurry of cuts calibrated not in relation to each other or to the action but suggesting in their flurry a vast busyness. Here camerawork and editing didn't serve the specificity of the action but overwhelmed, even buried it."

"Yoji Yamada, the veteran helmer who has become one of Japan's most consistent exports, will crank up his new pic Younger Brother (Otouto) in Jan," notes Mark Schilling in Variety. "After four period pics, including the 2004 Academy Award nommed The Twilight Samurai, Otouto will be Yamada's first contemporary drama in ten years."

Phil Nugent explains why he does not understand why Stanley Kauffmann, who's been reviewing movies for the New Republic since 1958, "should have turned out to be the one with the monopoly on job security."

Naked Lens "Typically, books on the history of American underground filmmaking follow similar timelines and trajectories and include a previously established canon of films and filmmakers," writes Mike Everleth. "However, Naked Lens, Jack Sargeant's survey of how the Beat literary movement influenced the avant-garde film world, gleefully veers off of the well-trodden path to take a fresh look at old classics and welcome new faces into the fold."

"More than any of his peers [Jim] Carrey makes explicit the need and narcissism that are at the anxious heart of comic performance," writes Dennis Lim. "Implicit in his always-on obnoxiousness is a poignant vulnerability.... In I Love You Phillip Morris, set to have its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next month, his character is a cop turned con man who unexpectedly falls for his cellmate, played by Ewan McGregor. The prospect of Mr Carrey playing gay inspires a mix of exhilaration and dread. Will he be vulgar and regressive or flamboyant and transgressive? From this paragon of contradiction, perhaps the best we can hope for is all of the above."

Also in the New York Times:

  • Jesse Green reports on the Bridge Project, "a new classical repertory company created by [Kevin] Spacey, [Sam] Mendes and Joseph V Melillo, executive producer of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Designed to promote and embody the ideal of international, or at least trans-Atlantic, theater, the project aims to exploit the interpretive potential of artists with different backgrounds working together for many months, rather than merely dropping in for a few weeks on the West End or Broadway, waving as they pass."

Quark
  • Looking back on The Star Wars Holiday Special and "a much shorter but no-less-cracked 1977 takeoff from Donny and Marie, Frank Decaro notes that these "appealingly tasteless artifacts live on in bits and pieces on YouTube, waiting for the unlikely day that the Force - that is, the seemingly unamused George Lucas - lets them see the light of DVD. Until then there is Quark: The Complete Series, Buck Henry's failed outer space sitcom, whose recent release on DVD by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment was greeted largely with disbelief - although not displeasure - by cult TV aficionados, who never imagined the day would come."

  • Vivien Schweitzer reports on "recent soundtracks written and performed by classically trained musicians who are finding new outlets for their talents in the booming video game industry.... The field has also attracted major film composers like Danny Elfman, Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer." Related, and via Momus: John Lanchester in the London Review of Books: "It seems clear to me that by the time my children are adults, video gaming will be a medium whose importance and cultural ubiquity are at least as great as that of film or television. Whether it will be an artistic medium of equivalent importance is less clear.... The next decade or so is going to see the world of video games convulsed by battles between the moneymen and the artists; if the good guys win, or win enough of the time, we're going to have a whole new art form."

Steven Shaviro: "I finally caught up with Abel Ferrara's 2005 film Mary: it was the one Ferrara feature (excluding his pre-Driller Killer pornos) that I had never seen before. Needless to say (at least for me, since I have expressed my enthusiasm for Ferrara before, and also, long ago here), it's amazing." Related: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on in the Tisch Film Review on Go Go Tales, "a world steeped in shadows that obscure faces, overcast by ethically questionable actions. Sometimes we're monsters, sometimes we do the right thing."

Nothing Happens Also in the TFR, Ricky D'Ambrose interviews Ivone Margulies, author of Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday.

"If you watch several Holocaust films back to back, as I did recently (during the most wonderful time of the year, no less), you start to notice patterns," writes Ben Crair. "In fact, by my count, there are really only five basic Holocaust plots. Forthwith, Slate's taxonomy of the genre." Related: The brouhaha brought about by the happy-ed-up Holocaust memoir Angel at the Fence reminds Wyatt Mason "of that obscene farce about which I wrote recently, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas."

"The Easy Life's ambivalent worldview may lack the singular formal curiosity of Antonioni (whose L'Eclisse is the target of the film's biggest punch lines) or the carnivalesque lyricism of Fellini," writes Kevin Lee, "but the way it mixes equal parts hipper-than-thou wisecracks, mainstream morality and tasty dollops of la dolce vita may account for its mass appeal."

James Mottram talks with Steven Soderbergh not only about Benicio Del Toro's performance as Che but also about other performances of historical figures, such as Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I and Bruno Ganz as Hitler in Downfall.

Also in the Independent: Rachel Cooke talks with Debra Winger about Rachel Getting Married and her new book, Undiscovered, "a collection of brief essays and poems with illustrations of doors and windows by her friend, the famous tightrope walker Philippe Petit."

Brandon Harris talks with Lynn Shelton (My Effortless Brilliance and, heading to Sundance in a couple of weeks, Humpday) about her media diet.

Alejandro Adams argues the case for Tuya's Marriage.

John Patterson in the Guardian: "'Gimme a double bourbon, a soda back, none o' your Tejano bullshit and get lost.' That's Warren Oates's idea of calmly ordering a drink in the mythic, phantasmagoric Mexico of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, which leads the BFI's Sam Peckinpah retrospective this week. No wonder he dies in the end. It's amazing Oates lasts as long as he does."

Latest bio-entry at Movie Morlocks: suzidoll on Milos Forman.

TV stamps

"Folks who grew up as television came of age will delight in a 20-stamp set included in the Postal Service's plans for 2009 recalling early memories of the medium," reports Randolph E Schmid for the AP.

"The test of a truly original play may lie in its resistance to becoming easy fodder for films," argues Charles McNulty in a blog entry for the Los Angeles Times on Frost/Nixon and Doubt.

"Amália Rodrigues, the singer who made Portugal's hauntingly melancholic fado music famous worldwide, is drawing big crowds again - to see a controversial film about her life." Alison Roberts reports on Amália for the BBC.

Peter Sobczynski talks with Darren Aronofsky about The Wrestler for Hollywood Bitchslap.

"What about crimes against art and what should be viewed as Mr Cialella's heroic act?" Scott Marks comments on the guy who shot a father who'd been blabbing with his son throughout The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

"I wonder if we are living in the End of Days," writes Roger Ebert. "I do not mean that in a biblical sense. I mean that we seem to be irrevocably screwing things up."

Launching memes: Adam Ross ("New Year Movie Resolution") and Harry Tuttle ("Where is Film Criticism heading to?").

Online gazing tip. "Current Wexner Center Media Arts Residency Award recipient Guy Maddin recently sent us a few screen grabs from his current project which will premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January," notes Dave Filipi. "The work will be presented as a large public projection as part of an 'Urban Screens' initiative that includes Mexican director Carlos Reygadas among others." That top snap of Isabella Rossellini will likely remind you of two films at once, right off the bat.

Scene Behind the Scene Online browsing tip #1. In a slide show for the New York Times, Kathryn Shattuck talks with photographer Mary Ellen Mark about a few of the photos she's shot on film sets collected in the book Scene Behind the Scene and on view at the Staley-Wise Gallery starting January 9.

Online browsing tip #2. "British Avant Garde Film Graphic Art 1966 - 1985," via Mike Everleth.

Online viewing tip. The BBC looks back on the life and career of Paul Scofield. Thanks, Jerry!

Online viewing tips. Matt Bradshaw rounds up four notable new trailers at Cinematical.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:02 PM

Lists and awards, 12/29.

La Question humaine Acquarello introduces her list of "Favorite Films of 2008" (plus Honorable Mentions and Discoveries) by revisiting her top two: "During the introduction for the screening of La Question humaine, Nicolas Klotz talked about the film in the context of a 'trilogy of modern times' with La Blessure (my favorite film of 2005) and Paria - a means of taking a step back to examine the state of our humanity some one hundred years after the mechanization and technological advancement ushered by the Industrial Revolution. In a sense, Jia Zhang-ke's 24 City poses the same fundamental question at a time when the soul of the state-run factories - its community of displaced, obsolete workers - is being dismantled in the name of modernization, where structural steel and antiquated machinery are salvaged for scrap material destined to shape the landscape of a new China, while the workers who once inhabited their spaces are discarded. Like Klotz's film, 24 City is also searching for the traces of abandoned humanity within the murkiness (or rather, pollution) of history."

SF360 editor Susan Gerhard: "As has been our habit, we asked a variety of critics, programmers, exhibitors and filmmakers about their favorite films of the year." And throughout the week, there'll be more: "[W]e also asked them what trends are affecting them most, what technology has helped them along, and what films we've all been missing."

Dana Stevens goes alphabetical at Slate.

Frozen River From Michelle Orange at IFC, "The Recession Jam... is a list of films that provide a little company for your misery, a little escapism for those that prefer it, and a couple of laughs, if you can manage them through your broke-ass tears."

Matt Riviera presents way more than a top ten (#1: A Christmas Tale); he's also got the "Top 5 documentaries," a string of bests in his own categories (many thanks for one of those, Matt), "10 moments of cinema which I can't (and won't) get out of my head" and nods to 10 actors under 30.

Following his list of the Top 25 Films of 2008 and a collection of "dream world" nominations and awards ("they don't entirely follow Oscar category ways"), Peter Knegt looks back on how 2008 played out for him, personally.

"After the embarrassment of riches that was 2007, the cinematic year of 2008 was closer to being just a plain embarrassment," writes Peter Sobczynski, introducing his list of "the 10 best films of 2008, along with a list of the 10 runners-up" at Hollywood Bitchslap. His #1: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Scott Weinberg's decided how he wants to look back over the highlights of the year in horror: "I love chronological order. My life, for example, is lived chronologically, and I wouldn't have it any other way." Also at Cinematical, Eugene Novikov's list of seven "Overlooked Indies of 2008" Elizabeth Rappe's list of the seven "Best Ensemble Casts of 2008."

The Dark Knight Topping Harry Knowles's list at AICN: Let the Right One In; and Father Geek goes for The Dark Knight.

At PopMatters, Bill Gibron lists the "Top 10 Films of 2008 That You Never Heard Of." Actually, you'll have heard of his #1, [REC], but a good handful of the others were new to me.

Alex Billington lists the "19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2008" at FirstShowing, "a hand-picked selection of the best independent and mainstream feature films that were either quietly dumped by studios, ignored by audiences, or just not marketed well enough."

At Screengrab, Andrew Osborne's #1: Young@Heart. And Scott Von Doviak's: Synecdoche, New York. Also: the "Top 10 Unwatchables of the Year."

"Today I'm feeling more magnanimous than usual and have made a list that runs to a baker's dozen," writes Leonard Klady at Movie City News. "Ironically, only a handful are films that I consider truly distinguished but the rest fall a rung below and spill over the obligatory minion that has become the standard."

Nathaniel R begins his review of the year with a look at a handful of "Over-Appreciated Films" and the grand opening of his "2008 Cinematic Hall of Shame."

In Bruges Vince Keenan picks five favorites and notes that "not only are none of these films year-end prestige releases, all five are already on video. You could watch 'em tonight if you wanted. In fact, you should." Also listed are "A Half Dozen Thrillers That More People Should Have Seen."

"Looking over the past year's standout DVDs I see two interesting trends," notes Josef Braun: "a steady stream of compelling westerns and fresh opportunities to appreciate the astonishing presence and emotional dexterity of the great actresses of Hollywood's studio era—sometimes both in the same title."

At the Parallax View, Sean Axmaker lists the "Essential DVD Debuts of 2008.

Kyu Hyun Kim offers a list of "Favorite DVD/Blu Rays of 2008."

Sweeneyrules at Rocket Video goes for Man on Wire before listing favorites (and least favorites) in several other categories.

Chicagoist Rob Christopher lists "10 Movies We Wish We'd Seen This Year."

"It was a very vigorous year indeed and, best of all, rich in surprises," writes Jonathan Romney in the Independent, where Nicholas Barber recalls a few more notable moments.

In conjunction with his other 2009 Blog Project, "which will document the 10th anniversary of all the great films from 1999," Jason Sperb lists the best American films of this decade.

"If there was ever a new year mixed with both misery and hope, it is this one," blogs Anthony Kaufman. "Many of us have high expectations for President Barack Obama, an economic turnaround and an indie film biz able to resurrect itself via new distribution models, but man, were the last 12 months a downer or what? Always a glass-empty kind of journalist, I took a moment to look back at my key articles of the year, and what they say about the state of things."

In the Independent: "Books of the Year: An all-star line-up of writers give their verdict on 2008's best."

Stuart Elliott in the New York Times on the year in advertising: "The best-laid marketing plans of mice and men - or Mad Men with mice - proved no match for a historic presidential race and an enormous financial crisis."

Doonesbury "Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House." From Cullen Murphy and Todd S Purdum (with Philippe Sands) in Vanity Fair: "The threat of 9/11 ignored. The threat of Iraq hyped and manipulated. Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. Hurricane Katrina. The shredding of civil liberties. The rise of Iran. Global warming. Economic disaster. How did one two-term presidency go so wrong? A sweeping draft of history - distilled from scores of interviews - offers fresh insight into the roles of George W Bush, Dick Cheney, and other key players." All together now: Worst. President. Ever.

Online browsing tip. The New York Times presents "2008: The Year in Pictures."

Online viewing tip. In six minutes, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, Andrew Pulver, Catherine Shoard, Xan Brooks and Kira Cochrane look back over the year in film.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Matt Bradshaw picks the seven best trailers of 2008 at Cinematical. More from Paul Clark at Screengrab.

Online viewing tips, round 2. The "Best Political Comedy of 2008" at the Daily Beast.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:59 AM

Fests and events, 12/29.

Bigger Than Life Richard Brody in the New Yorker on Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life, screening for a week at Film Forum starting tomorrow: "The sight of such deep-seated demons being liberated makes repression look downright appealing." Related: "The Mystic: The Films of Nicholas Ray" at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. Update, 12/31: More from Cullen Gallagher (L Magazine) and Scott Foundas (Voice).

"In 2009, Swiss director Alain Tanner will turn 80 and all the young men born in 1976 who inherited the first name Jonah (from his film Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000) will be 33," writes Françoise Deriaz at Cineuropa. "To celebrate the filmmaker's long and successful career - which ended with Paul s'en va (Paul Is Leaving, 2003) - the French Cinémathèque in Paris is hosting a complete retrospective of his works from January 14 - February 15."

Now in its 14th year, the Berlin & Beyond series at the Castro brings new films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland to San Francisco. At the Evening Class, Michael Hawley previews the lineup and Michael Guillén takes a close look at Revanche. January 15 through 21.

The New Zealand International Film Festivals roamed the country for about half the year and the Lumière Reader is picking out the highlights. Tim Wong has the overview, while Steven Garden focuses on eleven films that remain unreleased and the Edward Yang retrospective.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:20 AM

Defiance.

Defiance "[W]hen my childhood friend Clay Frohman suggested we make a Holocaust-theme film based on Nechama Tec's book Defiance, I groaned, 'Not another movie about victims,'" recalls Edward Zwick in the New York Times. "'No,' he said, 'this is a story about Jewish heroes. Like the Maccabees, only better.' The triumph of the three Bielski brothers, Tuvia, Zus and Asael, who fought the Nazis in the deep forests of Belarus and saved 1,200 lives, was unlike anything I had ever read about that dark time. Rather than victims wearing yellow stars, here were fighters in fur chapkas brandishing submachine guns. Instead of helplessness and submission, here were rage and resistance."

Updated through 12/31.

"Can no one stop Ed Zwick's reign of mediocrity?" asks Nick Schager. "Zwick's trademark talk-explosion!-talk-gunfire!-talk template is at this point so set in stone that his latest could have been directed by any second-unit director, though there's little about this reality-fashioned-into-fantasy 'true story' - aside from leading man Daniel Craig's participation - that might reasonably entice aspiring auteurs."

"The problem with Defiance is that it so quickly becomes a bore," writes Edward Copeland. "When it gets to fighting scenes, especially the climactic battle, it looks like Zwick merely restaged his melees from Glory and The Last Samurai with actors in costumes from a different era."

The L Magazine's Mark Asch notes that the "action-movie cut and newsreel-like stock is a merging of two styles of film rhetoric that are mutually exclusive: fiction shaped for effect and reaction, and truth starkly presented for its moral urgency. So, um, bullshit."

"Zwick has crafted over two hours of repeatedly bad ideas," writes Lauren Wissot in Slant. "There's a mechanical, running-the-extras-through-their-paces kind of feel to the director's heartless filmmaking; the action-fighting Rambo motif is wearying; and the empty, clichéd platitudes that pass for screenwriting - like 'Our vengeance is to live!' and 'Every day of freedom is like an act of faith' - are cringe-worthy, as is the requisite, sad-sounding, violin score that accompanies them."

Kim Voynar, at least, finds something nice to say at Movie City News: "Where so many films tend to beat the audience about the head and shoulders with boulder-heavy exposition that spells out everything inwrenchingly contrived detail, Defiance allows the brothers to speak for themselves in a real and honest way; because of this, the relationship between Tuvia and Zus is one of the film's greatest strengths."

Updates, 12/31: "Defiance presents itself as an explicit correction of the cultural record, a counterpoint to all those lachrymose World War II tales of helplessness and victimhood," writes AO Scott in the NYT. "This is a perfectly honorable intention, but the problem is that, in setting out to overturn historical stereotypes of Jewish passivity, Mr Zwick (who co-wrote the screenplay with Clayton Frohman) ends up affirming them. His film furthermore implies that if only more of the Jews living in Nazi-occupied Europe had been as tough as the Bielskis, more would have survived. This may be true in a narrow sense, but it also has the effect of making the timidity of the Jews, rather than the barbarity of the Nazis and the vicious opportunism of their allies, a principal cause of the Shoah."

"[I]f there's one instance of the road to perdition paved with fat budgets and good intentions, it's Defiance, or, as I prefer to call it, Custersky's Last Stand in Belarus," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "There is at least one audible theme directed at the State of Israel: Should a Jew seek vengeance, or save lives?... And lest it be unclear in the text, Zwick elaborates in the production notes: 'It's a story that compels us to ask ourselves: What would I have done in those circumstances?' This is a question well worth asking in an age when we cluck passively while genocides rage all around us, though it's hard to see how it's addressed in Defiance. Zwick goes on: "And in that way, I think, it becomes a deeply personal experience [emphasis mine].' In what way? That we are all, by extension, victims of the Nazis?"

"It's too bad that Zwick didn't feel secure enough about what's best about Defiance - the film's action-packed scenes of armed resistance against Nazis fighting in Russia - and found himself trapped in another archetype, that of the serious, self-aware, Important Holocaust Drama," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

"Over the course of several projects, particularly the recent Blood Diamond, Zwick has become quite proficient at crisply done action sequences, and the frequent fire fights and killings in Defiance have a powerful effect," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Whenever Defiance departs from the harsher realities of its story, however, when it leaves behind the particularity of its story and deals with the generic, it risks trafficking in the kind of earnestness and sentimentality it is better off without."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:11 AM | Comments (1)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, round 3.

Vanity Fair: Cate Blanchett For a Vanity Fair cover story on Cate Blanchett, Leslie Bennetts "encounters a Hollywood anomaly: a star who doesn't do drama offscreen... and whose latest role, as Brad Pitt’s soulmate in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, has her focused on aging and death." And there's an accompanying slide show.

"Hollywood set its sights on Fitzgerald as early as 1920," writes Susan King. "In the last 88 years, there have been myriad film and TV adaptations of his short stories and novels. Some worked, but many others strayed badly off the mark, perhaps because the novelist's poetic language and singular sensibility are difficult to duplicate on screen."

Updated through 12/31.

Also in the Los Angeles Times,Michael Ordoña talks with Taraji P Henson, who plays Queenie, "the proprietor of a New Orleans seniors home at the end of World War I who takes in an abandoned infant with the physical characteristics of an 80-year-old man."

"If you plan to visit New Orleans within the next few days," notes Joe Leydon, "you might want to pay a visit to The Clover Grill - featured prominently in a key scene in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - before tourists start flocking there in search of Brad Pitt."

Earlier: Robert Davis and rounds 1 and 2.

Update: "When Hollywood [had] the actual, still-living Fitzgerald nestled in its bosom, it may not have been able to overcome its natural aversion to the aura he then had as a washed-up failure - an aversion that Fitzgerald shared, and that may have contributed to his physical deterioration as much as the fast living and his alcoholism." Phil Nugent at Screengrab: "But it still loved his stories about scandal and blighted romance among the rich and the beautiful: it rushed to turn them into movies when they were hot off the presses and then, after his death, was quick to reconceive them as nostalgic odes to a vanished time."

Update, 12/31: The Great Gatsby may well be the "most reliably unfilmable novel of the 20th century," argues Xan Brooks, "if only because it looks so straightforward, so reassuringly high concept when it is actually a fiendish will-o-the-wisp; a deadly honey-trap for all but the shrewdest, most sensitive filmmaker."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:51 AM | Comments (2)

December 28, 2008

Ann Savage, 1921 - 2008.

Detour
Veteran actress Ann Savage may have passed away on Christmas Day, but she will forever remain immortal in the hearts of movie buffs for her indelibly acidic portrayal of the ultimate film noir femme fatale: Vera, the hard-bitten hitchhiker who makes a bad situation infinitely worse for a hard-luck loser in Edgar G Ulmer's Detour, arguably the scuzziest great movie ever made. You can hear Savage talking about her role in that classic B-flick here.

Joe Leydon.

See also: AJ Schnack, focusing particularly on Savage's role in Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, and the Wikipedia entry.

Updated through 12/29.

Updates, 12/29: "Shot in less than a week on a budget of $20,000, [Detour] would develop a reputation as one of the most febrile and unforgettable noirs ever to come out of poverty row," notes Phil Nugent at Screengrab, "and Savage's Vera would take her place in the history of the genre as one of the all-time greatest mistakes ever made by a man on the road, a woman who attaches herself to [Tom] Neal's doomed antihero like a virus. (It was the fourth and final movie that she made with Neal, who in 1965 would be tried for the murder of his wife and convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He died in 1972.)"

"I have to wonder if she realized just what a big mark she left on film," writes Quint, who gathers some online viewing at AICN. "She must have as IMDB has her being saddled with accolades over the past few years, including being named one of the Top 10 all time villains for her femme fatale turn in Detour by Time Magazine."

Dave Kehr recalls several memorable performances in other films.

Chris Garcia pulls out a 2004 interview with Savage he conducted for the Austin American-Statesman.

"Ms Savage made it easy on film historians," writes Scott Marks. "Instead of forcing us to memorize dozens of titles, Ann Savage achieved immortality in one role. And never has a phone cord been put to better use. Hope you finally made it to Miam-uh, Vera!"

Posted by dwhudson at 3:01 PM | Comments (1)

Cinema Scope. 37.

Revanche "As one of the direst and most depressing seasons of tedious holiday Hollywood product comes to a limp head, we present another issue of Cinema Scope that tries best to ignore most of that, and instead reflect on the films that mattered on the festival circuit (and, some, beyond) these past few months," writes editor Mark Peranson.

Most North Americans will be unfamiliar with the work of Austrian filmmaker Götz Spielmann, notes Robert Koehler: "Without the benefit of retrospect, there would be no way to fathom that with Revanche Spielmann has achieved a major artistic breakthrough; but even without having his past work in one's back pocket, it's clear that Revanche also marks something crucial to European film at this time."

Argentina, Brazil, Mexico. "And now it appears that the next big thing is coming from Chile." Quintín on Tony Manero: "It's not the scenes by themselves that bother me, nor the ugly handheld camera work, with an excessive amount of close-ups that make things look uglier. The problem with the film is the lack of purpose behind all the efforts from the filmmaker, the crew, and the cast. This resembles all too well the efforts made by the film's characters to be part of a Hollywood fantasy."

"Even by experimental/avant-garde standards, [Jennifer Reeves's] When It Was Blue is a rush," writes Michael Sicinski. "And so, while watching the film for the first time, I felt an acute, though indefinable, anxiety both about and from the piece, and only now do I think that I'm at least beginning to grapple with some of the formal parameters that stoke this feeling."

"Organically constructed and impressively humble, Our Beloved Month of August shows the fantastic, mythic elements present in everyday life, and the mundane realities present in filmmaking, presenting the two as links in a neverending chain of dominoes - and goddamned if, against all odds, it doesn't all come together." Mark Peranson interviews Miguel Gomes.

Tulpan Adam Nayman talks with Sergey Dvortsevoy: "In its best moments, Tulpan seems like a particularly poetic piece of vérité, and this isn't any surprise for those who have followed the observational documentaries made by the Moscow-schooled filmmaker - Paradise (1996), Bread Day (1998), and Highway (1999), and In the Dark (2004)."

"On the periphery of the peripheries are alternative cinemas, one case in point being Chinese independent cinema," writes Shelly Kraicer. "Emily Tang's second feature, Perfect Life, is the most accomplished of this current crop of Chinese films."

Andréa Picard explains how "my first and as of yet only mock interview - a staggering 45 minutes of tremulousness, disbelief and unease amidst a rapid-fire exchange of ideas, memories, provocations, denunciations, poetry recitations, confessions, self-recrimination, and perhaps a healthy dose of fiction to temper the booze and smoke" - with the late Guillaume Depardieu, no less - came about.

It should be fairly clear by this point that Jonathan Rosenbaum has not actually retired. He's as busy as ever, only he's doing what more of what he actually wants to be doing. And recently, that's entailed bopping all over the world, making "Global Discoveries on DVD."

Encarnação do Demônio "'With this film I seem to have been successful,' says a visibly satisfied José Mojica Marins a few days after the midnight premiere of his magnificent comeback film Encarnação do Demônio at the 2008 Venice film festival." Christoph Huber (along with Vera Brozzoni, Markus Keuschnigg and Olaf Möller) meets a legend.

Andrew Tracy on Synecdoche, New York: "Where Bergman's introspection pushes outward, [Charlie] Kaufman's attempt at grand statement falls flat on its own diminutive premises. If any charge of disingenuousness need be levelled at Kaufman, let us at least grant that it's of an inadvertent variety."

"As much as it's a gay manifesto, Milk is a screed in favor of city governments that honour neighbourhood interests over corporate ones," writes Johnny Ray Huston. "Amid a new presidency, the US could stand to look at SF. Especially since California's recent Prop 8 battles are an echo of Milk's Prop 6 story, and Barack Obama's liturgy of change is influenced if not inspired by Milk's idea of hope.... For all his achievement and charisma, Harvey Milk is also a way for the regionally focused [Gus] Van Sant to snuggle up to his unrequited love, Hitchcock."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:59 AM

December 27, 2008

Lists and awards, 12/27.

A Christmas Tale "This was an exceptional year for documentaries and an unusually strong one for foreign-language releases, but in my judgment pretty tepid for American indie narrative features," writes Andrew O'Hehir, introducing his list for Salon. "I'm not as sold on the whole low-budget American realism wave as some critics and filmmakers are." His #1: A Christmas Tale: "Even I think this is too predictable: the reigning champ of European art film at the top of the list. But just go and see Arnaud Desplechin's home-for-the-holidays flick, which brings together a bitterly divided family in the uncharismatic northern French city of Roubaix (the director's hometown), and tell me it's not a masterpiece."

Matt Riviera: "Not the best films of the year. In some cases, not even in the top 100. But these are my most memorable film watching moments of 2008."

At Screengrab, Paul Clark lists his "Favorite Movie Moments" and Phil Nugent adds comments and clips to his alphabetical top ten.

The BBC gathers some of "the most memorable quotes from the world of entertainment uttered during 2008."

Screen indexes its reviews of "the key films of the year."

Rolling Stone rolls out its "Best of 2008" package.

Guardian Review readers chime in on their books of the year; so do Daily Beast contributors.

The Literary Saloon rounds up half a dozen "Year-in-review articles."

Rex Sorgatz, keeper of the list of lists, names his top 35 albums of 2008.

Online listening tip #1. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo discuss the films of the year.

Online listening tip #2. James Rocchi and Kris Tapley discuss all this year-end list-making.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:56 AM

India's 2008.

Outlook 08 "Amitabh Bachchan slept with a gun." Also speaking out on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai have been Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, who recently blogged, "There is an Islam from Allah and very unfortunately, there is an Islam from the mullahs." Anupama Chopra in the Los Angeles Times: "This impassioned, unflinching outburst is rare for Bollywood.... [D]espite its cultural clout, Bollywood has largely been an insular, apolitical space":

But the terrorist attacks, which claimed 164 lives (plus those of nine gunmen), have forced the film industry to abandon its customary neutral stance. In blogs, media, petitions and peace marches, Bollywood has come forward to denounce the attacks and demand better governance. Most significantly, many leading Muslim stars who until now rarely delved into the controversies of religion have condemned the attacks as "un-Islamic." They have, as Gyan Prakash, professor of history at Princeton University put it, "reclaimed their religion." In an interview, actor Anil Kapoor, now appearing in Slumdog Millionaire, called the attacks "a tipping point," adding: "I think things will be different now."

Ramachandra Guha opens a special New York double issue of Outlook India, "Thank God It's Over": "For the citizens of India, the calendar year 2008 was marked and scarred by the malign activities of Islamic fanatics, Hindu bigots and linguistic chauvinists; by the arresting of the onward march of the Indian economy; and by cyclones and floods. This listing probably overlooks some other nasty things that took place this past twelvemonth. But even the incomplete evidence offered above begs the question - was this the worst year experienced by India (and Indians) since the country was founded?"

Of course, the movies of the year are revisited, too, in a special photo essay.

Infinite thØught is currently coming at us from India:

[A]s extreme as the economic disparity between the techno-elites and the crippled men who beg at car windows may be, the sweet smell of aspiration is everywhere: in every advert for a new apartment block, in each boast for the speed of broadband connection on signs by the side of the road, in every school promising to teach you e-knowledge and business English. But why not? Although India will suffer as everyone will from the dire outcomes of all the combined Ponzi-schemes of the Anglo-American financial imaginary, they are buffered slightly by a more old-fashioned kind of economic morality that says don't borrow too much more than you can pay off, don't have too much personal debt, don't lend to people who won't be able to return the cash. Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger darkly invokes the figure of the India entrepreneur, all dynamism and techno-affirmation, but it's still relatively difficult in India to borrow money or employ people against the promise of financial pixie dust. Besides, if 70% of your population lives on 20 rupees a day, it's going to be hard to intricate them into a web of complicated mortgages and large personal debt.

"As Quantum of Solace shows us, the radical Muslim clerics and ex-Mujahideen don't have a monopoly on the human technology of harnessing the anger of the young for their own, cynical purposes," writes Gleb Sidorkin in the Tisch Film Review. "Before going into the psychological similarities between Bond and his handlers and Ajmal Amir Kasab and the militant masterminds that recruited, trained and dispatched him, I want to mention another striking similarity between the two killers: their use of gadgets."

As for those blogs mentioned up at the top, here are Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan. I've looked for Shah Rukh Khan's, but can't figure out which of the many that claim to be really are.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:37 AM | Comments (1)

Spanish Cinema Now. 12.

Flores de Luna James Van Maanen wraps it up. Meantime, I don't understand the logic behind the comment down here. Are these entries blocking your view of the others? Please: Read what you want, don't read what you don't. Besides, other festivals and events have chalked up a far greater number of entries, as if it were the count that mattered.

Last year's Spanish Cinema Now devoted a large chunk of its time (something on the order of 7¼ hours) to a Spanish television series about the country's Civil War, made up mostly of propaganda from both sides of the fence. The program was grueling in more ways than one (that many hours of propaganda, no matter which side you're on, can reduce you to a gibbering idiot). I recalled this TV series, off and on, as I watched what was perhaps the best program in this year's series, a documentary entitled Night Flowers (Flores de luna). In just two hours, with nearly every minute entrancing and vital, filmmaker Juan Vicente Córdoba takes us into the community of El Pozo del Tio Raimundo, often referred to simply as El Pozo and now one of Spain's more famous/infamous areas.

What makes the movie so special is the manner in which its director enfolds us into his story of this little district near Madrid, making it redolent of so much of Spain's history over the past 70 years until it becomes, not simply a microcosm of the country itself, but a kind of representation for neighborhoods worldwide that, over the decades, have risen, fallen and then risen again. Córdoba begins by introducing us to three generations of families that lives in El Pozo: high-school age children, their parents and grandparents. The kids are working, not very happily, on a school project that involves the history of their community. As the older members of the family offer their own two cents - history, reminiscences, opinions - we're off and running.

The director weaves his many interviews around the history of the place and a particular Catholic priest - Jose Maria Llanos - who had been a confidante and "teacher" of Generalissimo Franco, and, after coming to El Pozo to take stock and help out, seems to have been converted to the side of the poor and needy. (I wish more of Spain's priesthood had followed suit - and sooner, too.) At times during the two-hour documentary, it seems as though an entire movie could be devoted to Father Llanos alone. In any case, the movie offers a most interesting history, leading up to the 50th anniversary of the good father's involvement in the community.

The viewer sees El Pozo in its early, no-indoor-plumbing days, and its later stages, as things first improve and then slide into drug use and AIDS, during the 70s and 80s. What a joy it is to see the community flowering again in the 90s and 00s, even though its young people seem much less interested in it, as often happens when people grow lazy during "good times." One of the most interesting sections involves a group meeting between the generations about how best to handle an upcoming celebration. Each group wants what it wants, and getting the youngsters to actively participate takes some doing. Later, we see the results of this, and it's yet another cause for celebration - even if, toward the finale, we note the young generation's lack of commitment to further education coupled with its embrace of what looks to be some possibly dead-end jobs. Still, it ain't over till it's over, and we live in hope for these kids and their parents. (The grandparents' generation seems delighted - deservedly so - with what it has been able to accomplish.) Although shown only once at this years' SCN, and earlier this year's San Sebastian film fest, Córdoba's splendid documentary would seem a natural for Spanish television and might make a good fit for any documentary fest or American cable/public television audience that can handle subtitles.

Spanish Cinema Now This 12th dispatch brings to a close my coverage of this year's Spanish Cinema Now series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. I'm sorry to hear that "david," in a comment after the 11th, finds Spanish cinema not worth a dozen entries. I disagree, and here's why. I have found, after years of attending, first a few, then a few more, then finally all of the films in the FSLC's European festivals (French, Italian and Spanish), that this is the only way in which I can be sure to see the best of each fest. (Yes, I could report only on those films I found to be especially good, but why slight the others just because I wasn't enamored?) Basing my attendance only on the program's description of the film, or on the film's director or cast, offers absolutely no guarantee of making the right choice(s). Nothing short of plunking down in the seat and watching the films in question does the trick.

This year, I would never have guessed that Suso's Tower (from the Javier Cámara retrospective), My Prison Yard, One-Armed Trick and the documentary Night Flowers would be my "don't miss" movies. (I'd already seen Torremolinos 73 and Talk to Her; if you haven't, consider these "don't miss" titles, as well.) Reviewing the better films ASAP might have given a few more people the opportunity to see three of the four films (the documentary, unfortunately, received only a single screening), as well as others I liked less but still found worthwhile. Overall, most of these films were worth a visit.

Three of the four genre films on display (Before the Fall, King of the Hill and Timecrimes) were smart - but fortunately not slick - examples of very dark apocalyptic, chase thriller and sci-fi films. ETA terrorism got two kicks in the head, both worthwhile, though neither proved classic: Everyone's Invited (great title!) and My Father's House. The fragile Spanish family was all over the place - in Pudor, Pretexts, Ashes from the Sky, Railroad Crossing, Hard Times, Fiction and elsewhere. And wonderful Spanish actors kept popping up and up and up - not only in the retrospective devoted to seven of Cámara's movies, but via Raúl Arévalo in Blind Sunflowers and My Prison Yard; Ana Wagener in My Prison Yard and Rated-R; Celso Bugallo in Pudor and Ashes from the Sky; Candela Peña in Rated-R, Torremolinos 73 and My Prison Yard; and Francesc Garrido in One-Armed Trick and Pretexts.

More than anything else, I think, I try to cover these fests because few other critics are doing so and certainly not in any festival's entirety. Acquarello brought her insight and intelligence to several of the Spanish films but beyond this, I saw no coverage from any of the print critics and little from bloggers. The FLSC's French fest gets ample coverage but, again, almost no critics, with the exception of the Times' stalwart Stephen Holden, bother too see all the films. As to the Italian films in Open Roads: again, little to no coverage. I do not buy for a moment that either Spain's or Italy's filmmakers deserve this treatment. The output of any country's movies is always a mixed bag: A few of the choices may stink, but plenty of the films are worthwhile, and some much more than that. The bottom line remains: You can't know which are which until you've seen them.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:15 AM

December 26, 2008

Shorts, fests, etc, 12/26.

Barbara Steele "David Ehrenstein presents... Barbara Steele Day" at DC's.

Yesterday, Peter Nellhaus wished Hanna Schygulla a happy 65th.

"Sometimes I despair." No one remembers Groucho's best lines anymore, laments Paul Krugman.

"Of writing books about Charlie Chaplin there is no end, and much study of them is a weariness after the flesh. But this wonderful work is different." Martin Sieff reviews Stephen Weissman's Chaplin: A Life for the Washington Times.

Seventies British Cinema "One of the best surprises in my overstuffed post box this week was a couple of copies of Robert Shail's new edited collection Seventies British Cinema," writes Dan North. "This book doesn't deny the prominence of crap movies in 70s Britain, but it does take them seriously as historically interesting cultural products."

"In 2001's Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2001), [Jack G] Shaheen examined more than 950 Hollywood feature films and concluded that only 12 portrayed Arabs positively," writes Steve G Kellman in the Texas Observer. "His new book [Guilty: Hollywood's Verdict on Arabs after 9/11] is a sequel, an analysis of the same topic after September 11, 2001, when Arab terrorists attacked the United States. To update his study, Shaheen viewed films produced since 9/11. Although he finds that 29 of these present favorable images of Arabs, he concludes that 'The total number of films that defile Arabs now exceeds 1,150.'"

Also via Bookforum, Joel Stein in the Los Angeles Times: "How deeply Jewish is Hollywood?... The Jews are so dominant, I had to scour the trades to come up with six Gentiles in high positions at entertainment companies.... As a proud Jew, I want America to know about our accomplishment. Yes, we control Hollywood. Without us, you'd be flipping between The 700 Club and Davey and Goliath on TV all day.

Charlton Heston And also in the LAT: "Charlton Heston wants to know what I think of his Macbeth?" Nicholas A Salerno, professor emeritus of Victorian literature and film studies at Arizona State University, recalls a chat he can still hardly believe. Related: Anthony Giardina remembers Heston in the "Lives They Lived" issue of the New York Times Magazine.

Again, back to the LAT: "Yen Tan's Ciao is a revelation, a minimalist work of maximum effect," writes Kevin Thomas. "It is determinedly understated and consistently expressive, beautifully composed yet never studied."

"Che's role at La Cabana shortly after the 1959 revolution touches on one of the stranger moments from my time working at the Paris Review with George Plimpton." Helluva story from James Scott Linville in Standpoint.

Preston Sturges "I'll just go ahead and say it: Without Preston Sturges, modern movies wouldn't be funny." For the New York Press, Eric Kohn previews Essential Sturges, running at Film Forum through January 1. More on "the Shakespeare of screwball comedy" from Jason Jude Chan in Fanzine; and in the Auteurs' Notebook, David Cairns supposes that rights issues keep Remember the Night from being an It's a Wonderful Life-grade Christmas classic.

More fests and events:

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes Kevin Lee on The Art of Vision: "In some ways, Stan Brakhage's 4-plus hour magnum opus isn't so much an epic of experimental cinema as the most intensely comprehensive horror movie that hardly anyone has seen." Also: "In terms of scale, Murder by Contract is a modest chamber piece compared to The Killing's multi-character symphony, but it cuts deeper into the same heart of male self-destructiveness underlying its most outrageous aspirations." And: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes: "This gently naughty poke at Sherlock Holmes's emotional life and sexual proclivities reveals an inner desolation in its title character (Robert Stephens) that amounts to the most touchingly humanistic portrait of a human being in all of Billy Wilder's work."

"Cory Arcangel's work has almost always played on the logic of the joke in its construction," writes Ed Halter, introducing his interview for Rhizome.

"What better way to celebrate Christmas than to begin filming another mini-masterpiece, God willing?" asks Ken Russell in the London Times. "Yes, my latest biographical romp, Bravetart vs the Loch Ness Monster, began filming last Sunday at the stately Walhampton School, a couple of miles up the road from my home in Lymington."

At the House Next Door, Zachary Wigon talks with Antonio Campos about Afterschool.

Susie Boyt's "My Judy Garland Life is the literary equivalent of one of those Tudor multi-roasts in which a goose is stuffed with a duck, a guinea fowl, a partridge and a quail," writes Frances Wilson in the TLS. "This is a memoir inside a biography inside a novel inside a play inside a meditation on hero worship, loss and excess. The result is a veritable feast, but we might savour most what Judy has taught us about loss: 'its memory and its anticipation lie at the heart of human experience,' and one's sense of it can be reduced by total immersion."

Marley & Me "Even dog lovers may want to take Marley & Me to the pound," writes Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post. "Based on the best-selling book by John Grogan, which chronicled his life with a large, lovable and deeply neurotic dog, Marley & Me proves the obvious: Not every book has a movie lurking in it." More from Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Stephen Holden (New York Times), Robert Horton (Herald), Jim Ridley (Voice), Nick Schager (Slant), Betsy Sharkey (LAT), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).

"New Year's Eve movies are responsible for perpetuating some of the most pernicious, ridiculous, self-defeating myths in our collective unconscious," argues Josh Rosenblatt in the Austin Chronicle, where Kevin Kelly talks with David Hare about adapting The Reader. Related: James Rocchi talks with Reader director Stephen Daldry for Cinematical.

"The Wrestler's very much first-time dramatic script by Robert D Siegel - and direction by the newly vulnerable Darren Aronofsky - is tailored so gently to [Mickey] Rourke's bloated abdominals and lifted face that the punch-drunk pussyhound redeems even a climactic allegory positing him as both George W Bush and Jesus H Christ," writes Mark Asch in Stop Smiling. More from Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Dennis Harvey (San Francisco Bay Guardian) and Christopher Orr (New Republic). And Michael Guillén interviews Aronofsky.

"With every review I read of Doubt, I get the nagging feeling that I've seen a different film," writes Sean Axmaker in the Parallax View. "I wonder of having seen the stage play is preventing viewers from actually seeing the film."

"[I]n a shift to make fans of highbrow horror cheer, studios are starting to concede that torture as entertainment has run its course," writes Brooks Barnes. If My Bloody Valentine 3D scores, the next big thing, then, may well be, yes, 3D.

Pageant Also in the New York Times: "Pageant goes behind the scenes, dreams, breakdowns, freakouts, sequins, glitter and fabulous falsies of the Miss Gay America pageant, an annual competition for female impersonators who are every bit as dedicated (and hysterical) as mainstream beauty queens," writes Nathan Lee. More from Martin Tsai in the Voice.

"The SAG Strike for Dummies" - a helpful FAQ from John Lopez at VF Daily.

Tim Lucas: "A posting by Lee Peterson at the Mobius Home Video Forum reports the sudden death of exploitation cinema expert, fanzine publisher, 42nd Street projectionist and actor Bill Landis from a heart attack." More - and more links, too - from Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay.

Online viewing tips. The Observer's Jason Solomons interviews Baz Luhrmann, but Mark Kermode's take on Australia is a whole lot more fun.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:33 PM

Lists and awards, 12/26.

Happy-Go-Lucky "I first saw Happy-Go-Lucky in Berlin last winter, and I loved it so much, and with so few reservations, that I thought surely a second viewing would reveal some cracks," writes Stephanie Zacharek of her favorite film of 2008. "No dice. Mike Leigh's story of an exceedingly cheerful North London schoolteacher - played by Sally Hawkins, in the finest performance of the year - is an intimate masterpiece, the kind of picture that's so effortlessly multilayered that it's in danger of being called 'light.' 'Luminous' is the better word."

At MSN, Richard T Jameson and Kathleen Murphy present "Moments Out of Time 2008: Images, lines, gestures, moods from this year's films."

"[T]he distinction of the best American narrative film of the year belongs to Michel Gondry's evidently-undervalued Be Kind Rewind." But neither of Tativille's writers, Michael J Anderson and Lisa K Broad, put it at the top of their lists. Anderson's #1 and Broad's #2: Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman. Broad's #1 and Anderson's #2: Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata.

"This year I've taken things down to my top 25 - getting it down to ten would've been far too painful - chosen by a completely random and arbitrary process that basically boiled down to my really, really liking it." Todd Brown, alphabetically, at Twitch.

"Last week, just before everyone powered down for the holidays, we asked FilmCatcher staff, curators, and contributors for their personal thoughts on one movie that made an impact or that brought the most pleasure this year."

Topping Peter Keough's list in the Boston Phoenix: Waltz with Bashir.

Silent Light Time Out New York's critics chime in with bests and worsts: Melissa Anderson's #1: Silent Light. David Fear's: Happy-Go-Lucky. And Joshua Rothkopf's: The Wrestler.

Shawn Levy introduces a batch for the Oregonian: an overview of what it's like to digest 500 of the 800 new films that screened in Portland this year; the list (in alphabetical order); and odds and ends: individual top tens, worsts, double bills and the underrated.

Cinematical lists the "25 Hottest Things in Movies 2008."

"All in all, the year in docs was, like our very culture, disparate and spread thin in identity." An overview from Aaron Hillis at IFC. "Critically acclaimed films like Trouble the Water, The Order of Myths and Up the Yangtze were little seen outside of New York, LA and a handful of festivals, and some of 2008's finest docs (my first thoughts point to Guest of Cindy Sherman, Anvil! The Story of Anvil and In a Dream) have yet to see the light of theatrical distribution."

"At Participant Media, Bryan Stamp worked on a number of notable docs this year, including Errol Morris's Oscar shortlisted Standard Operating Procedure and two films that are sure to be seen more in 2009 - Food, Inc and Pressure Cooker." And he looks back on some of his favorite nonfiction films of 2008 at All these wonderful things, where AJ Schnack interviews Patrick Creadon (I.O.U.S.A.).

Encounters at the End of the World The cinetrix travelled far and wide to put her list together. Her #1: Encounters at the End of the World.

At the top of Aaron Dobbs's list: Synecdoche, New York.

Kevyn Knox's list goes to 14 - plus a special mention. His #1: Synecdoche.

Finding The Curious Case of Benjamin Button at the top of Kent Jones's list for Sight & Sound (PDF) has given Robert Davis pause.

A Christmas Tale tops Nathan Gelgud's ten.

Sean Axmaker put the Murnau, Borzage and Fox set at the top of MSN's list of the year's best DVDs.

Tokyo Sonata The Japan Times: "In carefully ordered rankings for Japanese films and no particular order for the rest, we bring you the best films of a year that is steadily drawing its curtains closed." #1: Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata.

"The Oklahoma Film Critics Circle has announced its third annual list of awards for achievement in film, giving top honors to Slumdog Millionaire as the year's best motion picture."

At the SpoutBlog, Michael Lerman lists what he argues are the "Most Misunderstood Films of 2008."

More actresses: Dennis Cozzalio and Bob Westal. Marilyn Ferdinand's moving on to actors, though.

Joe Bowman is listing, listing, listing.

"Screen looks at some of the key issues for the international film industry in 2008." Parts 1, 2 and 3.

In the Washington Post, Jen Chaney lists "2008's eight most memorable DVD moments, a collection of extras and overall releases that kept me glued to that couch cushion, happy to be entertained, enlightened and far, far away from a treadmill."

David Kamp writes the epitaphs for Vanity Fair's "Hall of Infamy, 2008."

Matthew Smith introduces City Pages' package of profiles of "some of the year's most inspiring musicians, writers, visual artists, dancers, filmmakers, and more."

Skidelsky: Keynes Art critic Jed Perl has a terrific list of his favorite books of the year. Also in the New Republic, John B Judis presents a "Crisis of '08 Reading List": "As capitalism itself - or at the least the vaunted miracle of the free market - becomes problematic, the left is poised for an intellectual comeback. So here are four topics and some books to read about them, plus a few articles, from someone who learned economics by reading and rereading Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy's Monopoly Capital."

Vulture gathers its greatest hits and favorite posts.

Online browsing tip. "The Year in Michael Musto."

Online scrolling tip. Get the Big Picture selects the "Best Movie Posters 2008." Via Coudal Partners.

Online listening tip. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore "wrap up the year with a look at our best-ofs, an offering of worst-ofs and biggest letdowns and a round-up of the films we're most looking forward to in 2009."

Online viewing tip. Robert Horton hosts an hour-long conversation with Kathleen Murphy, Andrew Wright and Jim Emerson about the best (and worst) films of the year.

Online viewing tips. "Only one thing happened in 2008, and that was that stupid finally went out of style on November 4 when we elected Barack Obama to be the 44th President of the United States of America," writes Northwest Film Forum children's programs director Liz Shepherd. "It was a nail-biter, a cliffhanger, a grand opera and one very long Google search to get there. It was a year of hope and change and YouTube. Could any of us have survived without these clips?"

Posted by dwhudson at 12:08 PM

Interview. Ari Folman.

Waltz with Bashir "Waltz With Bashir is a memoir, a history lesson, a combat picture, a piece of investigative journalism and an altogether amazing film," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Directed by Ari Folman, an Israeli filmmaker whose struggle to make sense of his experience as a soldier in the Lebanon war of 1982 shapes its story, Waltz is by no means the world's only animated documentary, a phrase that sounds at first like a cinematic oxymoron. Movies like Richard Linklater's Waking Life and Brett Morgen's Chicago 10 have used animation to make reality seem more vivid and more strange, producing odd and fascinating experiments. But Mr Folman has gone further, creating something that is not only unique but also exemplary, a work of astonishing aesthetic integrity and searing moral power."

David D'Arcy talks with Folman about what makes an animated film vital long after its technical wow-effect wears off.

Updated through 12/29.

"Although it can be highly explicit in detailing war's horror, Waltz with Bashir is mainly concerned with the recollection of trauma," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Linking the slaughter of the Palestinians to the experience of Folman's parents in Auschwitz, the filmmaker's analyst-friend points out that 'the massacre has been with you since you were six.' In its final convulsive minutes, Waltz with Bashir goes to graphic news footage—breaking the subjective spell with the full, awful weight of TV images that constitute collective memory."

"Memory is always an unreliable witness, which is why this plunge down the PTSD rabbit hole needed to be animated," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "It's the only medium that can do Folman's excavations justice, exposing both his repressed recollections and the collective denial of a nation. The coup of the film is that by the time clarity hits - tellingly, via actual, real-life images - the shame has become everyone's: Israel's, Folman's, yours, mine. Even before that revelation, however, Waltz with Bashir has already left an imprint. It is, in a word, unforgettable."

"How does one avoid overly aestheticizing violence when using animation?" asks Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot. "By its very design, the new film by Ari Folman... invites serious questions of representation, not least because the narrative is told from behind thick layers of computer-generated cartoon imagery. That Folman, working ostensibly within the narrative boundaries of documentary, manages to circumvent nearly every one of these ideological and aesthetic concerns testifies to his intelligence, compassion, and sophistication as an artist."

"Thoughtful, wrenching, and uniquely beautiful, Waltz with Bashir more than lives up to the hype that's been building since its Cannes debut in May," writes Chris Wisniewski for indieWIRE.

"Move over, Romania," advises Darrell Hartman in Interview. "Israel is the new breakout national force in world cinema."

Waltz "plays out as one of the most profoundly explosive animated documentaries I have ever seen, and is clearly one of the best pictures of the year," declares Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

"Like the pack of wolves bearing down during the opening credits, the pressure is on to be impressed with Waltz with Bashir," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine, "not just for its visual flair but its openly critical view of Israeli foreign policy. Folman's belated exposé of atrocities committed in a Palestinian refugee camp may be politically correct, but it's also banal."

"The trouble with Bashir's extraordinary technique," finds Tasha Robinson at the AV Club, "is that it lacks the confrontational realism of live footage; the extreme stylization of the animation can be distancing, making it hard to relate the images to real events and people."

More talks with Folman: Steve Erickson (Film & Video), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon) and Ella Taylor (LA Weekly).

Online listening tip. Folman is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Earlier: Reviews from New York.

Updates, 12/29: "[D]espite some lively moments of absurdist whimsy (the titular sequence in which a shell-shocked soldier pauses in a dangerous no-man's land, firing off random rounds from his Uzi, shuffling around in odd dance-like bursts), the sharp, inky animation which both distances the viewer from the horrific war-time events and creates its own moments of unexpected beauty and Folman's shrewd understanding of the way in which memory (fails to) operate, Bashir comes off more as sketch than completed project," writes Andrew Schenker.

Folman "has made a movie so unusual that it overflows any box in which you try to contain it," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Call it an adult psycho-documentary combat cartoon and you're halfway there.... You could argue that the film has no business forging such beauty out of savage facts. What comfort is it to the relatives of the Sabra and Shatila victims, you might ask, that a few conscripts who stood by and did nothing are now free to articulate, and even to lyricize, their internal pain? My suspicion is that Folman is all too aware of that charge."

"Some filmmakers use images of slaughtered women and children for cheap shocks; others are more scrupulous, but so literal-minded that our defenses fly up," writes David Edelstein in New York. "It has taken an animated film to go where live-action dramas and even documentaries haven't—to tickle our synapses and slip into our bloodstream."

Susan King talks with Folman for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:35 AM

Last Chance Harvey.

Last Chance Harvey "Even when they're walking uneven shoulder to shoulder and hitting their professional marks note for note, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson don't make a lot of sense as a screen couple," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "But there's something irresistible about watching two people fall in love, even in contrived, sniffle- and sometimes gag-inducing films like Last Chance Harvey, which means that when he looks at her and she looks at him, there's a good chance that they won't be the only ones in the theater falling for all the hokey lines and shy glances."

"Can a heartwarming meet-cute as unambitious and overtly sentimental as Last Chance Harvey be simply too nice to get beat up on by anyone other than the coldest of bastards?" asks Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "Besides being old pros who could elevate such schmaltz in their sleep, Hoffman and Thompson - despite the 20-plus years between them, and her graceful restraint in contrast to his creepy assertiveness - have a genuinely sweet chemistry, which is the exact and only reason to seek this one out."

"Like any fairy tale, it assumes an audience who can identify with its characters, who can enjoy vicarious satisfaction when the unlikely comes true or when knots come magically untangled," writes Eric Hynes for indieWIRE. "But there's a gap between pleasing and pandering to an audience, and one needn't belong to that audience to smell the difference."

"Unbearably scored to within an inch of its bippity-boppity-booing life, the film follows Harvey, a commercial jingle impresario played by Dustin Hoffman, to London as he clumsily negotiates run-ins with friends and family on the eve of his estranged daughter's wedding," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "By film's end, Harvey is ready to live even as you're ready to die."

"It's mildly refreshing that Last Chance Harvey isn't tween-minded, but that doesn't mean this adult rom-com is smart, funny or moving," sighs Nick Schager

David Goldman in the L Magazine: "Sure, there are picturesque shots of London, and Hoffman and Thompson try to bring this story to life, but despite a few touching moments there's little for them to work with - no witty banter, no memorable supporting characters, and a script so lackluster director/screenwriter Joel Hopkins (Jump Tomorrow) couldn't even come up with a decent father-daughter confrontation."

"This is the 38-year-old Hopkins's second movie, and the themes that began in his first, 2001's Jump Tomorrow, flow through it, although guided by a far more confident hand," writes Betsy Sharkey, the new film critic for the Los Angeles Times. "Jump caught Thompson's eye and the two talked - a conversation that led Hopkins to write the role of Kate for the actress. There were hints of what a teaming of Thompson and Hoffman might look like in 2006's Stranger Than Fiction. Within a few short scenes, they anchored each other, creating a balance, an organic rightness, that made you hunger for more. It is a promise largely realized in Last Chance Harvey. And while there are some false notes along the way, when Kate asks, 'Shall we walk?,' follow Harvey's lead and say yes."

"If there's one reason to sit through Harvey when it turns up on cable (or on that trans-Atlantic flight), it's the always-watchable Thompson, who somehow makes us believe that someone who walks, talks and looks like Emma Thompson could be starved for male companionship," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

"In these times of institutionalized bad manners onscreen and off, it is refreshing to see a movie smoothly returning to an age of courtesy and courtliness leavened by wit and genuine sincerity," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

Rachel Abramowitz talks with Hoffman for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:33 AM | Comments (1)

Bedtime Stories.

Bedtime Stories "Bedtime Stories, starring Adam Sandler, is a great example of how a sweet, simple pitch can be tugged in so many directions by competing desires that it gets ripped to shreds," writes James Rocchi for Redbox. "The film's set-up, for example, establishes Sandler's character - but it's boredom on a stick for any kids in the audience. And the computer-generated hamster will make kids laugh - or, based on how often director Adam Shankman cuts away to it, that's the desired effect - but it'll repel grown-ups who want the saucier, sassier Sandler they know from films like Billy Madison and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Bedtime Stories is made to have something for everyone, and winds up offering very little to anybody."

"While no one was expecting the live-wire daring of Punch-Drunk Love or even You Don't Mess With the Zohan, the Adam Sandler who shows up in Bedtime Stories is that most unnecessary of movie-star guises: the benign family-comedy guy," sighs Tim Grierson in the Voice.

"Adam Sandler is at that difficult age," notes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Now 42, he's too old to continue with the bungling, man-child shtick of yore, yet too young to transition to old-fogey infantilism."

"After sitting through this fractious fairy tale, we feel as plucked as a Christmas goose," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "[I]f Shankman was aiming for The Princess Bride's mix of fantasy, facetiousness and romance, or even the meta-fable sprawl of Stardust, he missed it by a mile."

"A handyman at a luxury hotel that, in its initial motel incarnation, was owned by his father (Jonathan Pryce), Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler) is asked by his grating killjoy sister (Courteney Cox, naturally) to babysit his niece and nephew, a chore to which he first grudgingly agrees and then wholeheartedly embraces once he discovers that the bedtime stories he invents for them each night are coming true," explains Nick Schager in Slant. "Typical of the entire enterprise's sloppiness, the reason for these magical circumstances is left fuzzy (it has something to do with Skeeter's imaginative father and wishing)."

"Sandler's laziness, sloppiness, and cynical pandering are all over Bedtime Stories, and it turns what's intended to be a graceful intersection of fairytale whimsy and real-world slapstick into an ugly, head-on collision," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"[W]atching Bedtime Stories is about as delightful as peeking into your Christmas stocking and finding it empty except for a few lint-covered peppermints," writes Jette Kernion in Cinematical.

"There's a surface liveliness to the movie, but it has that plasticky Disney quality and lack of real heart," finds the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw.

"With Bedtime Stories, Sandler continues his winning streak of appealing and humane comedies," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Maybe it was seeing how PT Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love (2002) went wrong (turning whimsy into dark paranoia) that convinced Sandler how movies ought to entertain."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:31 AM

Spanish Cinema Now. 11.

Another pair from James Van Maanen. Previously: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

Ashes from the Sky The Walter Reade Theater saw more genre-film excitement as the Spanish Cinema Now series drew to its close. Couple this with a narrative tale about environmental activism that quite literally prefigured the following day's top story in the New York Times, and you've got a knockout double bill.

"Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards" read the Times headline for its Christmas Day front page story about how the Tennessee Valley Authority has played down the risks of what may be the nation's largest spill of coal ash, despite questions about its potential toxicity. The previous day, I'd watched a charming grandfatherly type with some interesting paternity issues (Celso Bugallo, who also played the grandfather in SCN's Pudor) go up against the powers that be: city fathers, a large corporation and even one of his own relatives over the toxic coal ash that's been falling for decades - contaminating everything from newborn cattle to produce, water, and the fertility of some of its male population - on his town of Valle Negrón.

In director/co-writer (with Ignacio del Moral and Dionisio Peréz) José Antonio Quirós's Ashes from the Sky (Cenizas del cielo), the environmental becomes political and personal. When his van breaks down mid-trip, a travel writer (Scotsman/Spaniard Gary Piquer) finds himself drawn - first out of need, then interest and finally desire - to a local family. Through this character, who acts as our surrogate, we learn all about the town, its people and problems. No one is demonized and yet the problem - a polluting power plant - is made clear, as are the various forces struggling for control of a situation that never should have occurred. Once in place, however, the plant has become almost impossible to subdue.

To their credit, the filmmakers understand the enormous frustration some of the locals (farmers in particular) feel and suggest alternatives ranging from the peaceful to the violent - without condoning the latter. They also understand how jobs (the plant is one of the area's major employers) figure into the mix. As with any good story, however, it's the characters who rule. There are even a couple of hot sex scenes (two of the actresses here are rather profoundly endowed), and a little male full frontal.

An unusual mix, Ashes from the Sky won an award for best environmental film at the 2008 Tokyo International Film Festival. In its relatively quiet manner, the movie offers at least tentative hope, while admitting the enormous difficulties at hand. It's the kind of film that, once seen, you will remember well but, due to our current economic climate and usual paucity of foreign fare, will probably not have the opportunity to see again. In short, it's another example - and a very good one - of why Spanish Cinema Now matters.

The King of the Hill A movie that you may have the chance to see theatrically, or at least on DVD (the Weinstein Company has picked it up), King of the Hill (El Rey de la montaña) is also one of the most disturbing films in the "thriller" genre that I can recall. Because this year's SCN is rather heavy on genre films (thriller, horror, apocalypse, sci-fi - not to mention prison and terrorism), most of which seem to offer a massive dose of hopelessness, it is difficult not to take this as a comment on the Spanish (maybe European, maybe the whole of western culture) experience at the moment. If not, then coincidence is very heavily at play.

Directed and co-written (with Javier Gullón) by Gonzalo López-Gallego, this is the kind of film that demands to be seen before it is read about (and spoiled). It is bleak. Very bleak.

But because I want to write about it, I must warn you - Spoiler Ahead! - even though I will try to be as subtle as possible in my spoilage. King of the Hill is a "chase" movie that takes its title, appropriately enough, from an old and pretty well-known children's game. It is solidly in the tradition of recent dark European scare films such as Ils (and its crappier and uncredited American remake, The Strangers), Calvaire, À l'intérieur and Frontière(s) - though without anything like the gore quotient of the latter two. That it comes from Spain, the country that also gave us ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? is not, I think, coincidental. Finally, it is yet another variation on one of this genre's favorite - and seminal - film, The Most Dangerous Game.

Interestingly enough, King of the Hill made its debut well over a year ago at the 2007 Toronto film fest. That it has taken this long to "arrive" is, I think, both a tribute and a slap-in-the-face to the darkness at its center. Boasting a very small cast (I counted only seven speaking roles/visible faces), the film grabs you within a couple of minutes (via sex) and then again barely a couple of minutes later, with a bullet. By the finale, when our "hero" asks the question (really more of a plea) "What is this about?" be prepared to go begging. You'll learn something of the answer but not much. The rest will be left to your imagination - which is always more scary than any explanation. I put "hero" in quotes above because, by the end, you can barely use that term for the character played (as usual, very well) by Argentine actor Leonardo Sbaraglia, who lends the film his enormous sensual appeal, talent and willingness to take on all kinds of projects. María Val Verde compliments Sbaraglia well as his nemesis-turned-companion, and Pablo Menasanch, as the younger of two policemen, has the best moment of all. Wounded atop a rocky slope, his face contorted in terror and questioning, he mirrors perfectly what viewers and characters alike are in for from this dark, nasty and unforgettable little thriller.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:37 AM | Comments (3)

December 25, 2008

Eartha Kitt, 1927 - 2008.

Eartha Kitt
A family friend says Eartha Kitt, a sultry singer, dancer and actress who rose from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality, has died. She was 81....

Kitt, a self-proclaimed "sex kitten" famous for her catlike purr, was one of America's most versatile performers, winning two Emmys and getting a third nomination. She also was nominated for two Tony Awards and a Grammy.

Polly Anderson, AP.

See also: the official site and the Wikipedia entry.

Updated through 12/29.

Update: "Ms Kitt, who began performing as a dancer in New York in the late 40s, went on to achieve success and acclaim in a variety of mediums long before other entertainment multitaskers like Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler," writes Rob Hoerberger in the New York Times. "With her curvaceous frame and unabashed vocal come-ons, she was also, along with Lena Horne, among the first widely known African-American sex symbols. Orson Welles famously proclaimed her 'the most exciting woman alive' in the early 50s, apparently just after that excitement prompted him to bite her onstage during a performance of Time Runs, an adaptation of Faust in which Ms Kitt played Helen of Troy."

Updates, 12/26: "In the 20s and 30s, other non-white American stars - Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, Nina Mae McKinney, Anna May Wong - had left their homeland with its crushing racial roadblocks, to find work and acclaim on the continent," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "But they were in the middle of their careers, and never matched their European eclat back home. Eartha was just starting hers. And in postwar America, the movies, Broadway and cabaret were more welcoming to black performers, especially ones with a touch of aristocratic or sexual exotica: Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte and Eartha - not Keith - Kitt."

"Even today it's difficult to imagine an entertainer, upon an invitation to the White House, having the guts to use the occasion to directly confront the administration." Ted Johnson recalls the famous incident at a luncheon hosted by Lady Bird Johnson.

"[I]t wasn't until I interviewed Eartha Kitt at the 1982 Toronto Film Festival that I learned what a wuss I truly am when it comes to serious imbibing." Joe Leydon's got a great story to tell.

Online viewing tips. Rosie Swash gathers two clips for the Guardian and Bob Westal's got four more.

Updates, 12/27: "It is no accident that Ms Kitt's seesawing career reascended during what has been called the new gilded age, now suddenly behind us," writes Stephen Holden in the NYT. "Especially in the 1970s age of feminist consciousness, the very term 'gold digger' was considered offensive, along with 'cat fight,' 'chick' and a whole dictionary of sexist slang that has since roared back into style. For a while at least, Ms Kitt's catwoman persona seemed a nostalgic, camp artifact. That persona is a complicated mixture of ingredients. Ms Kitt's early years in Europe were a crucial formative factor. Marlene Dietrich's imperious femme fatale, Josephine Baker's exotic expatriate, the emotionally exacerbated cry of Édith Piaf and even the voice of Maria Callas could be detected in her singing."

"By chance, I spent Christmas Eve at an Olvera Street restaurant, where the entertainment included LA's marionette master Bob Baker and his matchless puppets," writes Reed Johnson in the Los Angeles Times. "One number had Baker pulling the strings of a larger-than-life-size pink female pussycat, purring out one of Kitt's signature tunes, 'Santa Baby.' The kids loved it. The adults smiled. It was sexy and fun, naughty but nice. Which is to say, it was pure Eartha Kitt."

Update, 12/29: "There have been many attempts to describe Kitt's extraordinary voice," writes Adrian Jack in the Guardian. "Kenneth Tynan got it wrong when he spoke of her vibrato, for she hardly used it. Although she cultivated a tremor for special effect, her pitch was remarkably clean, and she would bend it, very often sharp, with slow deliberation. She said she understood everything her voice could and could not do."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:13 PM | Comments (1)

Harold Pinter, 1930 - 2008.

Harold Pinter
The Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, one of the greatest playwrights of his generation, has died. Pinter, who was suffering from cancer, died yesterday aged 78.

Haroon Siddique, Guardian.

The death of Harold Pinter comes as a great shock. We all knew, of course, that he had endured a succession of illnesses ever since 2000. But there was a physical toughness and tenacity of will about Harold that made us all believe he would survive for a few more years yet. Sadly, it was not to be....

Updated through 12/31.

Pinter's contribution to drama was immense. He had a poet's ear for language, an almost flawless sense of dramatic rhythm and the ability to distil the conflicts of daily life. I believe his plays, from The Room in 1957 to Celebration in 2000, will endure wind and weather. Indeed many of them already, such as The Birthday Party, The Homeconming and No Man's Land, have the status of modern classics. Pinter was also, of course, a highly political animal, as evidenced by his later plays, his crusading articles and speeches and his famous Nobel Lecture which brilliantly skewered the lies surrounding US foreign policy.

Michael Billington, Guardian.

See also: HaroldPinter.org and the Wikipedia entry.

Updates: "In more than 30 plays... Mr Pinter captured the anxiety and ambiguity of life in the second half of the 20th century with terse, hypnotic dialogue filled with gaping pauses and the prospect of imminent violence," write Mel Gussow and Ben Brantley in the New York Times. "Along with another Nobel winner, Samuel Beckett, his friend and mentor, Mr. Pinter became one of the few modern playwrights whose names instantly evoke a sensibility. The adjective Pinteresque has become part of the cultural vocabulary as a byword for strong and unspecified menace."

"Among contemporary dramatists Harold Pinter holds a unique place," writes the London Times. "Few, if any, have so lastingly and so profoundly influenced fellow playwrights — not just in this country but beyond.... David Hare wrote that Pinter never offered audiences 'the easy handhold with which they might be able to take some simplified view of the events on stage,' and that 'it is this willingness to say "take it or leave it" which finally makes his work so inimitable.'"

"The plays were usually set within the confines of a room," notes the Telegraph, "seedy in his earlier work but increasingly elegant later. His dramas brought into confrontation a variety of persons, from vagrants and prostitutes to middle-class married couples and self-proclaimed poets, in circumstances bordering on violence or menace and in language that was precise, elegant and often very funny.... But what gave distinction to all Pinter's writing for the stage and screen was its fascinating opacity. The curtain would rise on a realistic, domestic situation but within minutes the truth about it - and whatever might be gleaned of the people in it - would be called unconsciously into question by their statements."

"Pinter's best-known, early plays have been filmed, but, perhaps because they depend so much on the heat and dazzle of live performance, getting the transition from stage to screen to take has often proven problematic," writes Phil Nugent in Screengrab. "But Pinter's strongest impact in movies came through screenplay adaptations of others' work - and he did a surprisingly large number of them, especially as his standard of living improved. Among the ones that stand out are his adaptation of Penelope Mortimer's novel The Pumpkin Eater for Jack Clayton's 1964 film, and the first of his many collaborations with the director Joseph Losey, The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967), both starring Dirk Bogarde. He also wrote Losey's 1970 The Go-Between and prepared a script for a film based on Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past for which Losey was never able to obtain funding; it was published in book form as The Proust Screenplay, and eventually adapted to the stage."

"He earned two Oscar nominations for adapted screenplay," notes Edward Copeland. "One for adapting the novel The French Lieutenant's Woman and one for adapting his own brilliant play Betrayal. The story about a romance told in reverse chronological order starred Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley and remains one of my favorite films. It even inspired the great backward Seinfeld episode called 'The Betrayal' where a character was named Pinter in further homage."

Ed Champion pays tribute Pinteresquely.

Updates, 12/26: "Pinter radically altered and energized the traditional dynamic of the stage," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "It was no longer simply the place where people spoke; it was where not speaking could be far more suggestive, dangerous, theatrical, eloquent. Like Beckett, he renounced the flossy rhetoric of such postwar playwrights as Christopher Fry and Jean Anouilh for a back-to-basics starkness - a two-men-on-a-stage simplicity that Aeschylus would have admired."

"Although he expressed the views of a pacifist, Pinter wrote as if he held his finger on the pin of a grenade," writes Peter Marks in the Washington Post. "Violence of some nature was never out of the realm of possibility, even in his quietest plays. For Pinter was a connoisseur of subtext, of letting a story unfold on a living room set while a more savage one simmered in the crawl spaces of the mind. His characters routinely rattle each other with what never gains utterance."

James Wolcott quotes a fine passage from Simon Gray's The Last Cigarette.

"The death of this most anti-Establishment member of the Establishment was announced just as the whole country, so it seemed, was settling down to the most conventional of our festive meals," notes the Independent. "What is more, Pinter's broadcast obituaries preceded the day's great set-piece, the Queen's Christmas message, by a mere couple of hours. As someone in the business of staging and upstaging, he could hardly have done better for theatricality."

Also, former literary editor Robert Winder: "Among his more famous accomplishments - the vivid and original theatre, the world-spanning production schedule, the screenplays, the political fury, the Nobel Prize - there is a fraternity of cricket-lovers who will raise a glass and remember him for other things: the tenacious innings, the warm letter of congratulation, the implacable raised finger."

Granta gathers linkage.

Online viewing tip. Dan Callahan and Kevin Lee on The Go-Between.

Update, 12/27: "His writing for cinema covered a remarkably wide spectrum," writes Geoffrey MacNab after picking out a few notable performances, too, for the Independent. "He scripted thrillers, costume dramas and one very overwrought sci-fi yarn (the ill-starred adaptation of Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale.) He even directed a film, a 1974 adaptation of Simon Gray's play Butley starring Alan Bates as an academic whose life is coming apart at the seams."

Updates, 12/28: "A great dramatist? Maybe. But also slippery one," argues Nick Cohen, who also argued with Pinter face-to-face over the years. In the Observer, he recalls their opposing positions on Saddam vs the Kurds and Milosevic vs just about everyone but the Russians. "I know you should never judge artists by their politics. Pinter's double standards and defences of tyrants may not stop history seeing him as a great playwright any more than Auden's support for communism and Yeats's flirtation with fascism in the 30s stopped them being great poets.... Pinter's darkness was a part of his greatness. He could dramatize men's will to dominate and their betrayals so well because he knew them both too intimately."

Also, Susannah Clapp: "What makes Harold Pinter important - exhilarating as well as frightening, generous as well as premonitory - is that he showed the peculiarity and richness of everyday language. He made us listen to ourselves more closely."

And Richard Eyre: "[B]y the age of 18 I had seen only two professional productions: Hamlet at the Bristol Old Vic and Much Ado About Nothing at Stratford. Then I saw The Caretaker and I felt something like Berlioz encountering Shakespeare - 'coming on me unawares, [he] struck me like a thunderbolt,' to which he added 'and at this time of my life I neither spoke nor understood a word of English.'"

Update, 12/29: "Pinter will be remembered for doing what postmodernism claims you can't do any more: create a complete and consistent imagined world." David Edgar in the Guardian.

Updates, 12/31: "Family and close friends of playwright Harold Pinter have gathered to say farewell at a private funeral," reports the BBC.

"The theatre is a large, energetic, public activity. Writing is, for me, a completely private activity; a poem or a play, no difference. These facts are not easy to reconcile." The Guardian runs an extract from a speech Pinter gave at the National Student Drama festival in Bristol in 1962.

Also, half an hour of online listening. "A few months before his death, Harold Pinter was interviewed by actor Harry Burton at the British Library to commemorate the donation of his archive. In this edited version of their conversation, Pinter reminisces about his years in rep theatre, talks about his relationship with his father, discusses his poetry - and explains why not everything Alan Ayckbourn says about him is true."

FilmCatcher's Damon Smith revisits "Peter Hall's nervy, studiously faithful adaptation of The Homecoming (1973), which Pinter scripted. One of the finest American Film Theatre productions of the 1970s, it's also one of my all-time favorite stage-to-screen adaptations, as it seems both organically rooted in the squalid decay of Edward Heath's Britain and, through Hall's exquisite editing and shot composition, eminently cinematic too."

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

Bruno S. "Mamatschi."

Kaspar Hauser I had no idea. Accompanied by what may well be the perfect online viewing tip for this Christmas, Michael Kimmelman's portrait of Bruno Schleinstein is a haunting heart-warmer. Or is it a tender admonishment?

During the 1970s Bruno was the star in two remarkable Werner Herzog films, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Stroszek, in which he occupied the roles of damaged characters so completely and genuinely, so uncannily, that it was never quite clear how much he actually understood about what use was being made of him by the director. His performances were riveting, but he was obviously not well mentally, and even as he came across in his own way as knowing, he was at the same time simply being himself, and the question hovered: How much was fiction, how much reality?

Then he dropped down the memory chute.

Not after this piece, appearing, after all, in the New York Times. Bruno S now performs in Berlin at "the Stadtklause, a cozy wood-paneled dive near the remains of the Anhalter Bahnhof, the grand railway station torn down after the war." And today: "'He will take his accordion and his bells and go around the houses, and one of the songs for sure will be "Mamatschi,"' Bruno announced. 'Because this will touch people.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 3:13 AM | Comments (3)

December 24, 2008

A very merry.

A Charlie Brown Christmas "The friction between the rock of Jesus and the hard place of cruel, quotidian living is perhaps central to the appeal of Charles Schulz's Peanuts, and certainly to the Christmas special. The nativity comes to us swaddled in such cynicism that it seems hand-tailored for the lapsed evangelical." Joseph "Jon" Lanthier on A Charlie Brown Christmas.

"[F]or Christmas, there is a pervasive compulsion to summon reserves of tolerance, generosity, congeniality and child-like upbeat-ness, and we go to extraordinary cultural lengths to make it happen. Hence, the phenomenon known as the Christmas movie, all of which serve as narrative windows into that edenic space where cold hearts are warmed, charitable love dawns on the greedy, and, most of all, the childhood memories and the purest notions of home become easier to grasp and hold." Michael Atkinson and Laurel Shifrin introduce an annotated list.

Updated through 12/25.

"This may be obvious for some, but because I saw all the canonical Christmas films on VHS or DVD, I struggle with the notion that a good holiday film can actually play in theaters," writes Dan Jackson in the Tisch Film Review. "Up until last month I thought it was impossible. Then Arnaud Desplechin proved me wrong."

At Movie Morlocks, highhurdler offers a list of "Classics, Contemporaries, Shorts and Full Length Features to get you through the Holidays."

Dave Hill in the Guardian on the remake of Miracle on 34th Street: "I can't recall the year we first watched it all together, but it's become a tradition for as big a bunch of us as can be arranged to snuggle down at some point during the Christmas build-up and once again soak up John Hughes's adaptation of the original story, directed by Les Mayfield. It's soppy, sweet, funny, cute, completely absurd, casts Jane Leeves of Frasier fame as an ally of the villain, contains a walk-on by Allison Janney who became CJ Cregg in The West Wing and a soundtrack burst from Aretha Franklin that always makes me weep."

Also: "Christmas movies come in four basic varieties: the cuddly, the cloying, the cretinous and the cute," growls Joe Queenan.

In the Philadelphia Weekly, Matt Prigge lists "Six Films Incidentally Set During Christmas."

Updates, 12/25: Dennis Cozzalio presents "Professor Kingsfield's Hair-Raising, Bar-Raising Holiday Movie Quiz."

To "all those who are willing to bend the rules to make a holiday brighter, the Siren dedicates this story. It's from Anita Loos's completely charming book about her relationship with silent stars Constance and Norma, The Talmadge Girls."

The doors are all open now on Alonso Duralde's "Christmas Movie Advent Calendar."

At Cinematical, Jette Kernion presents seven ways to watch A Christmas Story.

In the Washington Post, Jen Chaney presents her "Third Annual Unconventional Holiday DVD List."

Online viewing tip #1. Ambrose Heron's found a "Christmas Movie Montage."

Online viewing tip #2. Sally Cruikshank's "Blue Blue Blue Xmas."

Online viewing tip #3. Joe Leydon's found Santa Claus, circa 1898: "Just three years after Auguste and Louis Lumière unveiled their cinématographe in Paris, British film pioneer GA Smith made this extraordinary short. As Michael Brooke writes for the British Film Institute, Santa Claus 'is a film of considerable technical ambition and accomplishment for the period.'"

Online viewing tips. At Screengrab, Phil Nugent's got Wladyslaw Starewicz's The Insects' Christmas (1911) and The Junky's Christmas (1993), "a twenty-minute claymation short directed by Nick Donkin and Melodie McDaniel... based on a William S Burroughs story from the 1989 collection Interzone that Burroughs read aloud on the Hal Willner-produced CD Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales."

More Christmastime browsing and viewing: David Cairns, Jonathan Lapper, Kimberly Lindbergs and Phil Nugent.

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

L Magazine. Top Tens.

The L Magazine "The best film to grace our theaters this year, Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon is, in its clean, well-lighted long takes, weightless and grounded, frantic and placid, modern and timeless, Eastern and Western, and cheaper than therapy," writes editor Mark Asch, opening a package of top tens in the L Magazine.

More lists to be read at leisure over the holidays: Jesse Hassenger (Snow Angels), Nicolas Rapold (Still Life), Michael Joshua Rowin (Synecdoche, New York), Henry Stewart (Synecdoche), Benjamin Strong (Profit motive and the whispering wind) and Benjamin H Sutton (probably Happy-Go-Lucky).

And Cullen Gallagher looks back on ten "cinematic spectacles that either can’t be replicated in the comfort of your own home, or wouldn’t be the same on DVD."

See also the L Magazine's "Best Albums of 2008," a review of the year in theater and Paddy Johnson's picks for the highlights of the year in art.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:55 AM

Fests and events, 12/24.

Rotterdam 09 At Twitch, Ard Vijn has news of an interesting project the International Film Festival Rotterdam is cooking up: Films to be made by Nanouk Leopold, Carlos Reygadas and Guy Maddin for three very, very, very large outdoor screens.

"Sternberg had Dietrich, and Godard had Anna Karina - malleable, mysterious subjects whose faces eagerly absorbed the light their directors shone upon them. Preston Sturges had William Demarest." Jim Ridley: "Of the 10 features in the Film Forum's Essential Sturges, running Christmas Eve through New Year's Day - roughly the time frame encompassed by the wistful Barbara Stanwyck-Fred MacMurray gem Remember the Night - the ex-pug and former vaudevillian shows up in eight, and his combustible presence is so key to their speed, spirit, and tone that they're unimaginable without him."

Also in the Voice, Nick Pinkerton on Dave Fleischer's Hoppity Goes to Town, also at Film Forum from tonight through January 1.

Colin MacCabe in Criterion's Current on Opening Bazin, a conference held a couple of weeks ago in Paris: "The Yale event was extraordinary not simply for the eminence of the critics gathered, both from France and America, but for the striking fact that almost all of them had done considerable original research for the event, many in the archive of Bazin's complete writings that Dudley Andrew has established at Yale. The picture that emerged at the conference was of a thinker whose fundamental engagement with the nature of cinema makes him an essential reference point as the cinema finds new forms, both in museums and on the Internet, while remaining the key crystallization of value in the entertainment industry."

"Gabe Klinger, one of the heads of the non-profit that's put the event together, Chicago Cinema Forum, asks me to help him fix his bowtie. Today is Manoel de Oliveira's 100th birthday and Gabe intends to make an announcement. [Michael] Almereyda is standing at the back of the room as people trickle in. He has a gentle voice; a listener, a watcher, as Paradise will suggest." Ignatiy Vishnevetsky in the Tisch Film Review.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:24 AM

Valkyrie, round 2.

Valkyrie Both the New Republic's Christopher Orr and Slate's Dana Stevens begin their reviews with a run-down of the long and troubled run-up to Valkyrie's release, finally happening tomorrow. "The movie still fails by the standards of $100 million Hollywood star action vehicles, and by the standards of World War II Oscar-bait epics," writes Orr. "But by the standards of anticipated career-crushing trainwrecks, it's pretty good."

As Stephen Metcalf "suggests in his glorious reading of Tom Cruise-as-market-bubble, the notion of the stolidly perky Cruise playing a one-eyed, one-handed would-be Hitler assassin is just inherently funny," writes Dana Stevens. "Given all these obstacles, Valkyrie comes off surprisingly well.... For a thriller with a thoroughly foreordained outcome, Valkyrie does a pretty good job at making the viewer's palms sweat. Especially so soon after the tedious pieties of The Reader, I'm not sure I want more from my Nazi holiday viewing than that."

Updated through 12/29.

"Director Bryan Singer drums up some tension around the actual attempt (via explosive)," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "But that's 15 minutes at most in the middle of a movie you realize just moments in was probably doomed to be a flat, pompous bore even before shooting started."

"Singer's first non-superhero picture in a decade is more respectful than the Nazi-themed (and underrated) Apt Pupil; indeed, it initially strains for portent, as if running on excess gravitas from his serious but sly X-Men movies." Jesse Hassenger in the L Magazine: "Once the conspiracy gets going, though, Valkyrie settles into swift B-movie territory: kinetic pans and meaningful glances abound in a sort of super-retro Mission: Impossible, and bonus suspense mounts over how the coup must inevitably fall apart. Valkyrie doesn't have many layers... but its pulpy defiance is crisp, succinct, and oddly satisfying."

"Valkyrie's across-the-board miscasting (and accompanying one-note performances) doesn't do the story any favors," writes Nick Schager in Slant, "but then again, neither does Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander's script, which skimps on character relationships and motivations - aside from implausibly casting every other Nazi party member as a closet Hitler hater - in favor of configuring the tale as a straightforward thriller."

"Even when saying goodbye to his wife and kids for a final time, Stauffenberg never seems like a man for whom there's anything at stake - maybe missed dinner reservations." Robert Wilonsky in the Voice: "Valkyrie feels like another installment in the never-ending franchise - not just the action-movie one, but the Tom Cruise one. Like the operation itself, it's a good idea - just not well-executed."

"[T]here's a gaping hole at the center of Valkyrie, and his name is Tom Cruise," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "He's the only actor in the film not doing either a British or a German accent... and he spends every moment on screen glowering and purring angrily. The actor appears lost without being able to launch his usual charm offensive, and whatever dark sides that Oliver Stone was once able to plumb from this performer seems nonexistent. If only his work here had an ounce of the nasty pleasures of Cruise's Tropic Thunder cameo."

Similarly, Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York: "When Valkyrie tightens the screws like a poor man's Munich, it's decent enough. But what I wouldn't have paid to see the Cruise of Tropic Thunder pull off another brilliant cameo, raging in his bunker behind the button mustache."

"I have a theory," offers Amie Simon at the Siffblog: "if you're aiming to create a great film with all German characters - maybe filling your cast with famous Brits (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp - and... Eddie Izzard) and putting an American (not just any American actor - the Tom Cruise) in the starring role is not the wisest move."

As alternative or complementary viewing, Joe Leydon recommends Hava Kohav Beller's Oscar-nominated documentary The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Inside Germany, 1933 - 1945.

Earlier: Round 1.

Updates, 12/25: "Mr Singer appears to have taken cues here from Black Book, Paul Verhoeven's World War II romp, but he's too serious to make such vaudeville work," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Stauffenberg, who hated Hitler but worshipped the Reich, sacrificed himself on the dual altar of nationalism and militarism, which makes him a more ambiguous figure than the one drawn in Valkyrie. He's a complex character, too complex for this film, which like many stories of this type, transforms World War II into a boy's adventure with dashing heroes, miles of black leather and crane shots of German troops in lockstep formation that would make Leni Riefenstahl flutter."

"A man who is struggling to take down the old order." Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post: "It's hard to know whether this film is channeling Nietzsche or L Ron Hubbard. Those who harbor dark fears of Scientology may want to watch the details closely: Does the film downplay von Stauffenberg's Christianity or acknowledge it in passing? Does it equate the conspirators with some kind of secret order with cult-like tendencies? Or is all of that entirely too much to read into a Tom Cruise film?"

"Valkyrie can't decide if it wants to be a sturdily constructed modern-style thriller (McQuarrie also wrote Singer's first big hit, The Usual Suspects) or an old-timey suspense entertainment packed with movie conventions," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Singer throws in a little from Column A and a little from Column B, and not all of it works."

"[T]he film is a minor Christmas miracle," argues the Oregonian's Michael Russell: "It succeeds on its own terms, despite the gossip hounds' best blood-sniffing efforts, and dares to be an entertainment rather than a statement."

No, counters Nathan Rabin at the AV Club: "Despite its potential to be a turkey for the ages, Singer's blandly proficient historical thriller is fatally forgettable."

Updates, 12/26: James Rocchi talks with McQuarrie for Cinematical.

"I never once (for a second) 'bought' Tom Cruise as a grizzled, burnt-out, one-armed German army officer in the new wartime thriller Valkyrie," writes Scott Weinberg at Cinematical, "but because he's a movie star who knows how to carry a flick, he still anchors the tale with a strong and crisp screen presence. And while, yeah, it is a little distracting to hear high-ranking German soldiers speaking with American, British and Irish accents, the simple fact is that Valkyrie is a very slick old-school-style adventure movie. In some ways it feels like a perfectly enjoyable mid-50s war movie that's been re-made with only the finest in modern cinematic technology. The plot is pure potboiler, but the look is grade-A Hollywood."

Updates, 12/27: Rachel Abramowitz talks with McQuarrie, Cruise and Singer for the Los Angeles Times.

Michael Russell interviews McQuarrie.

Update, 12/29: "You knew it would be bad, and it is," writes Fox News film critic Roger Friedman in a piece that's taken many by surprise. "I'm more concerned that Valkyrie could represent a new trend in filmmaking: Nazi apologia."

"It's silly to expect 'necessariness' from any movie, and there's no crime in handsomely assembling a moving diorama of a fascinating historical event," writes Justin Stewart in Reverse Shot. "Effective 'thrillers with import' that avoid proselytizing might be only a master's game; successes from Army of Shadows to Munich show how skillfully it can be done. Singer's not there yet, obviously; his film is closer to Enemy at the Gates or Hart's War. His treatment of the 20 July Plot of 1944 is as slick and vapid as The Usual Suspects. It's Apt Pupil meets X-Men and probably exactly what he was hired to make."

New York's David Edelstein doesn't seem to be aware of the historical background of the animosity between Germany and Scientology, but fine, he gets to crack his little joke. Then: "Valkyrie doesn't whip you up like that Jewish vigilante avenger picture Defiance, but in this season of throat-grabbing Holocaust movies, its gentlemanliness is most welcome."

"Character acting is, of course, one of the four things that the British still do supremely well, the others being soldiering, tailoring, and getting drunk in public, but you can have too much of a good thing, and there were points in Valkyrie when I felt that I was watching a slightly outré installment of the Harry Potter series," writes Anthony Lane, and the New Yorker lets it slide.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:00 AM | Comments (1)

Theater of War.

Theater of War "In his inspired, inspiring essayistic documentary Theater of War, the filmmaker John Walter jumps from art to history and politics and back again, from the theater of the streets to the theater of the stage, without pause," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "That makes the movie, which follows a Public Theater production in Central Park of Bertolt Brecht's epic play Mother Courage and Her Children, tough to summarize, which is part of its appeal. Because while the movie is about a particular staging of Mother Courage, it is also about the war in Iraq, theater (and bicycle riding) as social protest, the necessity and futility of art, and the agonizing human failing that Mother Courage gives voice to in 'The Song of the Great Capitulation.'"

Updated through 12/25.

"For anyone interested in the continuing relevance of theater in a society dominated by momentary electronic impulses, in the responsibility of artists in wartime and in the greatest anti-capitalist, anti-government, antiwar and anti-romantic playwright of the 20th century, Walter's cool, capable, stimulating exploration is a must," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. A "great strength of Theater of War is that, in the spirit of its subject, it gets you thinking about a lot of questions not easily answered. How and why did Brecht's plays, constructed to combine popular culture and the avant-garde, become the exclusive province of the left-wing intelligentsia?... And after his courageous defiance of Nazism and McCarthyism, why did Brecht accommodate himself so readily to the communist regime in East Germany?"

"Meryl Streep is arguably America's greatest living musical-theater actress," writes James C Taylor in the Voice. "Anyone who saw the two-time Oscar winner shamelessly mug and prance through the mindless movie musical Mamma Mia! earlier this year might call me certifiable, but those who caught her Mother Courage in Central Park two years ago would probably agree."

"Walter tries not only to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle spirit of a zeitgeisty staging in its formative state, but also tries to enrich it with a crib-notes portrait of the original production, Brecht's personal history, the specter of Nazism, the legacy of the Hollywood Ten, the pallid political mood of Bush II America, and the nature of motherhood," writes Eric Henderson in Slant. "It's almost as though Walter is trying to back up one commentator's point that Mother Courage is the finest theatrical work of the 20th century by connecting it thematically to basically everything else that happened in the 20th century, which isn't necessarily advisable when Brecht purposefully decontextualized his work, divorcing it from contemporary events and instead setting it during the Thirty Years War."

James Van Maanen has "had a good, long talk with Mr Walter."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Walter "about convincing Meryl Streep to let him film her, working in the tradition of Citizen Kane and Rashomon, and making a film version of Moby Dick with real whales."

At Film Forum through January 6.

Updates, 12/25: "The Streep material alone would be enough to recommend Theater of War," writes Chris Wisniewski in Reverse Shot, "but Walters has also included a few terrific sequences in which he reconstructs scenes from the play by cutting among rehearsals, footage from the 2006 production, and voiceovers from the original Berlin production starring Brecht's wife, Helene Weigel, illustrated with photographs of the show. These brief scenes achieve something Walters's talking heads never manage: while respecting the historical specificity of 1949 Berlin and 2006 New York, they reveal Mother Courage and Her Children's relevance to both moments. Streep describes the play as 'a living thing…an organism.' And it's then, as Walters jumps between decades using Brecht as his guide, that this is made thrillingly palpable."

Noel Murray at the AV Club: "While Theater of War contains a few direct, empathetic moments - like [Tony] Kushner describing how Mother Courage changed his life when he read it in college, or Streep explaining that she sees her role in theatrical revivals to be 'the voice of dead people' - Walter would rather we care about the ideas this film raises, not the people we meet. Which is very Brechtian, to be sure, but not always so engaging."

Posted by dwhudson at 5:00 AM

The Secret of the Grain.

The Secret of the Grain "French cinema is alive and well in 2008 (Ryan Werner, rejoice!)," writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail, "as evidenced by several high profile releases that have made their way into American theaters: Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale, Laurent Cantet's The Class, Guillaume Canet's Tell No One and Philippe Claudel's I've Loved You So Long. For my money, the year's best French offering isn't one of those titles. It's Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain. At two-and-a-half hours, The Secret of the Grain unfolds with a Cassavetes-like disregard for conventional cinematic time; here, scenes are extended beyond their normal length to create a more lived-in and realistic air. Kechiche's gritty fable isn't just a refreshing antidote to the much more common, artificially optimistic cinema that treads similar narrative terrain. It is also a poignant family drama convincingly set inside France's ever-changing cultural borders, as well as a profound universal commentary on the curse of being poor and uneducated in this, or any other, era."

Updated through 12/27.

"Mr Kechiche started out as an actor and has established himself, after directing three features (La Faute à Voltaire and L'Esquive before this one), as one of the most vital and interesting filmmakers working in France today," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "In The Secret of the Grain he immerses us in the hectic, tender, sometimes painful details of work and domesticity. The camera bobs and fidgets in crowded rooms full of noisy people, so that your senses are flooded with the warmth and stickiness of Slimane [Habib Boufares] and Souad's [Bouraouïa Marzouk] family circle. The scenes, though they feel improvised, at times almost accidentally recorded, have a syncopated authenticity for which the sturdy old word realism seems inadequate."

"It's not a perfect film, but perfection requires an organization that would instantly betray the racially-crowded French-Tunisian lineage, along with its past, present, and future matriarchs," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "The film is a rarity becoming increasing more common: a surreptitious creation myth crafted to inspire pride in even the most diverse and elusive of ethnic identities."

"There's no question that Kechiche's film was massively popular in France (where it swept most major categories in the Césars, or French Oscars, last year) partly because it depicts the Arab immigrant experience in a country currently wrestling with the meaning and cost of multiculturalism," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But an even better reason for the popularity of Secret of the Grain is that it's a movie that's so damn French, about people who've become so damn French, couscous and all."

"There's an inordinate amount of table-setting, but everything comes together in the end - French attitude, family melodrama, heavy drinking, mad Maghreb rhythm," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The Secret of the Grain escalates into visceral allegory with an abandon and cruelty that seem positively Romanian."

Writing in indieWIRE, Leo Goldsmith finds Secret to be "a curiously lopsided film that begins as an unassumingly naturalistic drama, then suddenly waylays the spectator with a third act that is, in succession, hair-raising, annoying, preposterous, and finally enervating.... Kechiche earns a lot of good will in the first part of the film, building a lot of sympathy for Slimane and his family, but his slow implication of the audience in the outrageous fortunes of the final act works against the first half's carefully measured humanity."

"[T]he movie's loose structure - a 20-minute time-out for a massive dinner isn't considered tangential - turns this ensemble piece into something more than a savory family drama," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "Whether or not the restaurant opens is beside the point; it's Kechiche's living, breathing portrait of a second-generation immigrant culture that's The Secret of the Grain's real success story."

"Grain recalls Ramin Bahrani's New York miniatures, but while elliptical Bahrani fills in the margins, Kechiche magnifies them," writes Mark Asch in the L Magazine. "In 150 minutes, Grain doesn't pack more scenes than a shorter movie, just longer ones: going face-to-face with voluble characters, Kechiche stokes family tension, then simmers it down. You've never seen such a suspenseful meeting with a loan officer; Grain's a naturalist epic from the land of Zola."

Earlier: Reviews from Venice in 2007 and from the UK this June.

Update, 12/25: "The Secret of the Grain is more complicated than it sounds, less geared toward uplift than in revealing the fault-lines within this sprawling, multi-generational family and between their immigrant culture and their French hosts," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

Update, 12/27: Steve Erlanger meets Kechiche for the NYT: "He did not want to do 'a movie on some community,' he said. 'It's what's universal in this family that interested me,' he added. 'What I really wanted to describe was a social milieu and a family we can find in all the families of the world: all the secrets, the affections, the heart-wrenchings, the treachery are things we find in every family.'"

Posted by dwhudson at 3:36 AM | Comments (1)

December 23, 2008

Frieze. Jan 09.

frieze "Politics clearly dominated cinema in 2008, and one of the most interesting developments was the emergence of animation as an apt medium to tackle issues such as war and totalitarianism," writes Electric Sheep editor Virginie Sélavy, introducing her list of the best in film for the new issue of frieze. Further down that same page is Die Zeit film critic and editor Katja Nicodemus's overview: "Sitting in the cinema, one sometimes has the wonderful feeling that, even after over 100 years of movie-making history, this art form is still capable of constantly reinventing itself." High up on both lists: Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir.

Alice Twemlow's review of the year in design features a bit of online viewing, a promo for the BBC's coverage of the Beijing Olympics, "a beautiful display of animation gymnastics created by musician Damon Albarn and graphic artist Jamie Hewlett, of the virtual band Gorillaz.... Thanks to the gorgeous art direction, great music and a compelling narrative, the animation is wry and wistful rather than goofy."

The year in art: best biennials and survey shows, group shows and solo shows.

Close-Up "19th-century microscopy, camera-less film and photography, body-mapping (inside and out), Surrealism and Conceptualism make strange bedfellows, conjoined by the subject of close observation in science and art," writes Michelle Cotton. "Close-Up makes rare connections between material, both contemporary and historical, identifying scientific or pseudo-scientific strategies at play in the formulation of imagery by artists in print and on screen."

Christian Jankowski "has, with increasing frequency, smuggled his productions into existing mass-media formats such as television shows and movies," writes Burkhard Meltzer. "When, for example, German filmmaker Lars Kraume asked to use several ideas from Jankowski's work in the film Viktor Vogel: Commercial Man (2001), the artist cleverly bartered 'ideas for camera time,' allowing him to 'borrow' well-known actors from the existing set and ask them for their views on art (Rosa, 2001).... For the new, drily titled work Dienstbesprechung (Briefing, 2008) Jankowski acted as the mediator of his proposal for individual members of the museum staff to swap roles."

Daniel Trilling and Frances Morgan select the best CDs, reissues and such and "the year's most compelling work in the field of extreme music."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:20 PM

Brooklyn Rail. Dec 08 / Jan 09.

Brooklyn Rail Theodore Hamm explains why the governor of Alaska is Brooklyn Rail's "Person of the Year 2008. Yet the frightening prospect that her book deal, celebrity, and the appeal she holds for her party's base will keep her in the spotlight for years to come is why we must not refer to her by name. We can only hope it is soon forgotten."

Bollywood's "recent trend towards realistic crime films (reflecting the volatile high-crime rate of Mumbai) has ushered in a new wave of Indian cinematic hysteria. Director Apoorva Lakhia, a rising star of this new generation of filmmakers, combines brutal frankness with explosive action." David Wilentz talks with him about Shootout at Lokhandwala.

If you're worried about the state of film criticism, it could be worse. Just ask Dore Ashton.

Williams Cole talks with Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath about Betrayal, "an epic documentary infused with an artistic cinematographer's eye that tells the story of Thavi and his family on their journey from their home in Laos after the turmoil resulting from the US military involvement in that country during the Vietnam War era."

Che: A Graphic Biography "The latest installment of Che-inspired popular art is veteran cartoonist Spain Rodriguez's Che: A Graphic Biography, a frenetically-paced account of the South American revolutionary's life," writes Nisa Qasi. "Armed with iron-clad principles and an enduring love for the 'little guy,' Ernesto 'Che' Guevara jackboots his way through these pages with the moral urgency of a missionary. But don't be fooled by the title - this Che is every bit the comic-book superhero as Rodriguez's other ass-kicking Marxist, Trashman."

Phong Bui interviews Pipilotti Rist.

Following up on last month's interview with Andrzej Wajda, Alan Lockwood tours the filmmaker's homeland: "While it may be possible to view Poland strictly in its current, robust guise, it's perhaps more instructive and accurate to see it through the layers and ambiguities that resonate everywhere in a nation where such an important portion of its history was annihilated so recently."

"Let the Right One In manages to weave a classically formal coming of age story into the iciest, yet most heartfelt, vampire film in some time," writes Sarahjane Blum.

Cocksucker Blues "Robert Frank, the iconic, influential 20th Century American street photographer/filmmaker, not only questioned and reshaped the photographic style of postwar America, shattering its wholesome image and revealing an honest portrait of American life, he also created one of, if not the greatest, rock and roll films of all time." Mary Hanlon on Cocksucker Blues.

"Slumdog Millionaire gave me the perfect experience of what Roland Barthes calls 'cinematographic hypnosis.'" Lu Chen explains.

"The emotional and physical hardship that a lack of money forces upon someone, and the scattered ambitions that Americans are wooed and then trapped by, form a key aspect of Kelly Reichardt's overarching investigation," writes Camila de Onís. "Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy examine yearnings for independence that are both financial and personal."

Frost/Nixon is "neither an indictment nor an exoneration, but an eloquent exploration of the interplay of personality and power, wants and needs, integrity and ambition," writes Tessa DeCarlo. "It's beautiful, disciplined, consummately well-acted, and unexpectedly moving."

Doctor Atomic Those familiar with Jon Else's Wonders Are Many may be interested in Ellen Pearlman's take on the Metropolitan Opera's production of John Adams's Doctor Atomic.

Similarly, for Talk to Her fans: Emily Macel on Pina Bausch at BAM.

From David N Meyer, a DVD roundup: Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Deuxieme Souffle, 10 Years of Rialto Pictures and Olivier Assayas's Irma Vep.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:30 PM

Filmmaker Year in Review.

Filmmaker The other day I noted that Peter Bowen was kicking off a series of reflections by Filmmaker editors and contributors. I should have recognized right off that this series would need its own entry.

Updated through 12/24.

Karina Longworth considers the exciting and terrifying developments in independent film that keep her up at night. David Lowery comments - within the context of an entry celebrating the availability of Frank V Ross's Hohokam on DVD.

James Ponsoldt's favorite film of the year is Milk and Noah Harlan wants us to remember Jake Mahaffy's Wellness.

Brandon Harris: "It's becoming clearer and clearer that most people making films with their investors hard earned dollars should start distributing and promoting the films of more gifted filmmakers and building communities everywhere (not just Manhattan and a small sliver of Brooklyn) in which sophisticated film appreciation is a given, not an oddity, instead of indulging their own narcissistic impulses to make their own pictures in order to build a truly sustainable (and diverse) film culture."

Updates: Howard Feinstein's favorites, "in no particular order: Alexandra; The Secret of the Grain; Silent Light; Times and Winds; and Still Life."

"Like many others, I do not think that the films released in 2008 can compare with the embarrassment of riches of 2007, but considering how exceptional last year was for cinema it seems a little unreasonable to complain too much," writes Nick Dawson. "And honestly, how could anyone find fault with a year when exceptional movies like Silent Light and Synecdoche, New York reminded us of the transformative power and almost limitless potential of cinema?"

Updates, 12/24: Alicia van Couvering throws down, Damon Smith lists ten and recalls "three indelible, goose-bump-raising sequences" and Brian Chirls invents a few new categories, e.g., "Best Foreign Film About Food That I Saw at a European Festival Of Which No One I Know In the States Has Ever Heard: Estômago."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:46 PM

iW. Critics Poll 08.

The Flight of the Red Balloon "Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Flight of the Red Balloon topped indieWIRE's annual survey of more than 100 North American film critics," announces editor Eugene Hernandez. "It was named best film of the year and Hou was singled out as best director in a survey of 105 critics." Looks like now would be a good time to go back and revisit Reverse Shot's recent special issue on Hou.

What's interesting about this year's edition of iW's poll - a reincarnation of sorts of the one originally conducted by Dennis Lim for the Village Voice in 1999 - is that the frontrunners have nailed their positions pretty firmly. The point spread seems wider than it is in Film Comment's poll of critics (and hence, probably mentions as well). Here, Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale is a clear second, with spot #3 far behind. Thing is, WALL•E and Wendy and Lucy are in a tight tangle for that one.

Topping the list of Two Hundred and Fifty undistributed films is Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman. Anthony Kaufman sorts through the long tail.

As part of the package, a slew of comments from the voters fall under headings such as "Rants on the state of film and film distribution, circa 2008," "Hollywood and politics" and "Feelings and moments to remember."

And finally, a little something to do over the holidays: Browse the individual ballots and sort through the complete results.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:30 PM

DVDs, 12/23.

My Father My Lord / Takva: A Man's Fear of God "Outside of most neighborhoods in most American and European metropoli, you can hardly throw an Orwell paperback without hitting and infuriating a narrow-minded fundamentalist," writes Michael Atkinson for IFC, "and I suppose how you measure the attack-mode nuts of David Volach's My Father My Lord (2007) and Özer Kiziltan's Takva: A Man's Fear of God (2006) depends on how strenuously you feel the press of 'extreme tradition' (my phrase!) in your own life. The movies seem from a New Yorker's perspective to go gently, though with firm conviction, for the throat, while in Israel's Haredic communities, and in Turkey's Muslim enclaves, the films might inspire fiery damnations aplenty. Or none at all."

Death Proof is now out in an "extended and unrated" Blu-ray edition and, for the New York Times, Dave Kehr takes a look: "Tarantino resists easy ideological readings, confounding politics with visual pleasure (how beautiful these high-speed chases and slow-motion collisions are) and confounding pleasure with revulsion (and how appalling the consequences, particularly when enhanced, as they are in the unrated version, by some horribly graphic special effects). Zoë - the name of the character as well as of the performer - may represent an ideal of female empowerment, but she's also a domineering figure of male fantasy, right out of a Russ Meyer movie (the 1965 Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, to be exact)."

"The movies that came in the immediate temporal wake of Michael Powell's '59 [Peeping Tom] and Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 Psycho, which continuously tested/took advantage of the shifting mores and increasingly permissive production standards of their time, retain a particular, shall we say, charm," writes Glenn Kenny in his "Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report" for the Auteurs' Notebook. "So it is with Twisted Nerve, a 1968 effort from British filmmaking team Roy and John Boulting."

The Third Man For Interview, Jason Jude Chan watches the latest round of Blu-ray releases from Criterion; as for The Third Man, "Criterion's transfer approaches the beauty of bygone celluloid - its jaw-dropping richness is like luxurious whole milk after a life of the skimmed stuff." More from Matt Noller in Slant.

Michael Tully offers an overview of Wholphin No. 7 at Hammer to Nail.

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, DVD Talk, Mark Kermode (Observer) and PopMatters.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:06 AM

Spanish Cinema Now. 10.

James Van Maanen follows up on earlier dispatches: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

Fiction As the director/co-writer (with Tomàs Aragay) of one of my favorite dark ensemble pieces, In the City, Cesc Gay is a filmmaker whose work I'd prefer not to miss. So the belated American debut of his and Aragay's 2006 film Fiction (Ficció), via the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Spanish Cinema Now series, was a must-see that did not disappoint. His life-like pacing (some might call it slow; though for me it's real) results in a gift for capturing the moment - lots of them.

Like In the City, Fiction is another ensemble piece, but more tightly focused on a much smaller ensemble. It tells the story of a filmmaker (the magnetic Eduard Fernández, also seen in this series' Before the Fall) who's gone off to the country to visit old friends and perhaps make some headway on a new script. His host is played by Javier Cámara, whose retrospective (including this film) is one of the highlights of this year's series. The bond between these men and their several friends and relations forms the heart of the movie, particularly one new relationship that develops along the way.

Things happen - some major, some minor - but none of these events are handled in a manner at all similar to how most filmmakers might approach them. We never really know where things are headed, and this is another factor that makes Gay's work so lifelike and surprising. His entire ensemble (including the children, one of them very young) does fine, moment-to-moment work, and his capturing of the beauty of the Spanish mountains and countryside - in sun, shade or storm - is simply beautiful, as are the gorgeous locations. As to the women in the cast, while all give good performances, the meatiest role goes to Montse Germán (also seen in this series' My Prison Yard), and she is very fine indeed.

The ending of the film put me in mind - oddly, I admit - of the wonderful French romantic comedy Shall We Kiss (which is to be released here in 2009 by Music Box Films). The two movies could not be more different in tone or style, yet both come up against one of life's more persistent problems/temptations: how to handle sexual attraction when one or both parties are committed elsewhere. The way in which these two films approach, play with, and resolve this question are so rooted in the culture of each country that they're practically primers on French and Spanish behavior. Which is preferable? I can't imagine living without either. Fiction screens again, Tuesday, December 23 - tonight! - at 8:15 pm.

Essence of the Fair Last Saturday, SCN offered a rather special program of Avant-Garde Shorts - perhaps a tad more avant-garde than some of us might have wished, since none of these shorts were subtitled. Although this rendered the mid-section of the program relatively worthless for us non-Spanish-speaking listeners, the first and last of the shorts contained almost zero dialogue but some terrific visuals. So, two out of six made the 69 minutes at least bearable.

The program kicked off the a delightful and very early piece of stop-motion visuals called The Electric Hotel (El hotel elctrico) by Segundo de Chomón from 1908, in which husband/wife travelers check into the hotel of the future where one's luggage unpacks itself and much else magically happens to make life easier. Until, as so often occurs with Con Edison and elsewhere, problems with the electricity set in. This "short" short proved a perfect way to begin the afternoon, but then the lack of subtitles took over.

The following four films - Ernesto Giménez Caballero's The Essence of the Fair (Escencia de verbena) from 1930; An Announcement and Five Cards (Un Annuncio y cinco cartas) from 1937 and The Fakir Rodriguez (El fakir Rodriguez) from 1938, both by Enrique Jardiel Poncela; and Sabino Antonio Micón's The Story of a Bottle (Historia de una botella) from 1948 - were all so top-heavy with dialogue that little understanding of what was going on seemed possible.

This left the final film, 1958's Fire in Castillo (Fuego en Castillo) from Jose Val del Omar to carry the torch for the avant-garde. With only perhaps two lines of dialogue but some breathtaking photography, lighting and design centering on the religious sculpture of the city of Valladolid, the movie did more than deliver. Accompanied by a surprisingly contemporary musical score, this almost shocking film managed to introduce something that looked very much like torture porn into the cinematic vocabulary long before the Hostel or Saw franchises, let alone the Bush administration, made it au courant. One could not help but wonder if Mel Gibson managed to view this one before creating his tortured Passion. Simply for the first and final offerings in this program, I'm glad to have braved the winter storm to attend.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:08 AM

Auteurs' Notebook. Writers' poll.

Auteurs' Notebook Writers' Poll The Auteurs' Notebook is conducting its first annual writers' poll, in which each contributor presents a released-in-the-US top ten, an anything-goes top ten and then they're cut loose: "explanation, rant, annotation, or anything else that occurs to them about their film viewing in 2008." Stepping up to bat so far: Ryland Walker Knight ("my movie years continue to become defined more by the 'old' films I saw rather than the 'new'") and Neil Young (The Wrestler tops both of his lists).

Updated through 12/29.

Update: "[I]t looks to me as if world filmmaking is continuing its long display of strength across a variety of film cultures," writes Dan Sallitt. "Even the American art cinema is showing signs of taking root, and we are seeing the occasional American entertainment film that is successfully inflected by art-film qualities."

Update, 12/25: "For the past several years I've relied on the Berlinale, which takes place in early February, as a gauge of what to expect for the remainder of the year," writes Andrew Grant. "It's been a remarkably accurate instrument thus far, particularly in 2008 which was lackluster at best.... From the arthouse to the multiplex I found myself coddled more than challenged, and I'm convinced we're in the midst of a global will to mediocrity."

Updates, 12/26: "José Luis Guerín's En la ciudad de Sylvia, my favorite film this year, is, among other things, a sort of crystallization of cinema," writes Fernando F Croce. "Not so much Godard's old 'boys taking pictures of girls' definition (though that certainly plays into the film's use of voyeurism), but a distillation of the medium as a synergy of spaces, faces, and emotions. And time."

"Compiling a Top 10 list of films that enjoyed at least a one-week theatrical run in the US offers a frustrating glimpse into the current state of distribution," notes Darren Hughes, who puts Still Life at the top of his.

Updates, 12/29: Edwin Mak: "What strikes me in reviewing my selection is how many entries were touched by the moralistic - only the deliriously entertaining genre twister Sparrow and absurdist wonder that is The Sun Also Rises escape this category - offering one angle on looking back at this year's film."

Vadim Rizov puts A Christmas Tale at the top of his list and then adds "an alphabetical list of 10 terrific older movies I saw in pretty much pristine condition for the first time this year that are shamefully underknown and not available, as of right now, on Region 1 DVD."

Posted by dwhudson at 4:01 AM

Revolutionary Road, round 3.

Revolutionary Road "Let's put it plain," begins Andrew Tracy in Reverse Shot: "in any sane world, Revolutionary Road would be laughed off as a joyless embarrassment before we moved on to more pressing business. Yet while this latest Oscar-baiting turkey will doubtlessly find its ultimate fate in the critical memory hole, the reason for the season demands that we speak of it as if it deserved serious consideration; as if this is a case of 'flaws' in an otherwise worthy whole. Make no mistake, though: this is folly of a grand order, though any potential glee one might take in skewering it is deflated by the ruthlessly enervating experience of sitting through it."

Updated through 12/27.

Nick Schager, writing in Slant, finds the film to be "a dispiriting bust as both an adaptation and (to a slightly lesser degree) as a standalone film, betraying [Richard] Yates's book in fundamental ways and turning what once stood as a textured parable about the American Dream into a shrill, shallow series of Important Speeches and theatrical histrionics."

"Revolutionary Road is only partially Sirkian," writes the Siren. "Charles Peguy said the only tragedy was not to be a saint; in Revolutionary Road the tragedy is to discover that you are not an artist. Like Sirk, in David Thomson's phrase, 'social decorum smothers love and lovers;' unlike Sirk, in this movie an individual doesn't stand a chance.

"While Yates's depiction of suburban life is nightmarish enough to exceed the worst fears of Jane Jacobs's devotees, Revolutionary Road is far more than a complacent takedown of the 'burbs," argues Adelle Waldman in the New Republic. "It is in fact less an anti-suburban novel than a novel about people who blame their unhappiness on the suburbs."

Peter Knegt has a good long talk with Mendes for indieWIRE.

Earlier: Rounds 1 and 2.

Updates: Jeffrey M Anderson, writing for Cinematical, finds the film to be "both relentlessly grim and nearly pointless."

"Being that it's at once an embarrassing failure and an unignorable success, it's a bit of a shock that Sam Mendes's Revolutionary Road has thus far been received with fewer vitriolic open letters and impassioned defenses than shrugs of measured praise," writes Karina Longworth in the SpoutBlog. "Certainly the best work Mendes has ever produced for the screen, Revolutionary Road works (on the level that it does work) as a showcase for performances: big stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are probably at the top of their game, a star-making performance is registered in less than a handful of scenes from Michael Shannon, and, in the ultimate nagging old lady role, Kathy Bates reminds us why she is the greatest living nagging old lady in all of cinema."

Updates, 12/24: "Revolutionary Road isn't a great movie - it lacks the full, soul-crushing force of the novel - but what works in it works so well, and is so tricky to pull off, that you can't help but admire it," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice. "By no means an easy candidate for adaptation, Yates dwells in the shadow area between people's conscious and subconscious selves, between the faces they show to the world (and even their spouses) and the ones they see when they look in the bedroom mirror at night. To fully grasp Revolutionary Road is to understand that two people can be at their most alone when they are together - and Mendes, whose American Beauty rendered a similar investigation of suburban anomie as a gallery of over-the-top comic grotesques, willingly goes there. Where the earlier movie was easy to brush off, this one gets under your skin: It is to Mendes's great credit that Revolutionary Road will likely lead to some tense moments between many a young couple on their drive home from the cinema."

"It's a textbook example of a well-crafted movie, beautifully shot, impeccably acted, and structured like an elegant three-act play," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. "So why does the movie feel as pleasantly deadening as the midcentury Connecticut suburb where it takes place?... Maybe this movie's curious emptiness has to do precisely with the actors' appeal, their matinee-scale beauty and charisma."

"Where Road should evoke the slow burn disintegration of romantic idealism," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine, "it instead plays as a series of Actor's Studio sessions in 'lives of quiet desperation' histrionics (then why so loud?), losing detail (a barely-there subplot involving a neighbor smitten with April) and compensating with bombast (Thomas Newman's overbearing score) - compared to, say, Mad Men the action contains little room for devastating subtleties. Some punches land - April's rejection of her husband as 'just some silly boy who made me laugh at a party' - but more frequently they whiff at both universality and resonance, leaving Road as hollow as the Wheelers."

Update, 12/25: "This is a movie about two people in pain; the last thing they need is for Mendes to turn his cool camera on them." Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "But that's all Mendes knows how to do. He's a clinical director, and whatever feeling he puts into a movie is measured out in careful quarter-teaspoon increments. Some people would call that restraint, but I always get the feeling that Mendes, whose background is in the theater, believes deep in his heart that movies are the lesser art form."

"Justin Haythe's unpardonably distilled screenplay 'adaptation' manages to whittle away all that was interesting within Yates's book," writes Ed Champion. "It is, like the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, a dull and literal winnowing of a literary masterpiece.... It's a pity that this film never dares to trust its audience and speed up its pace through natural beats and a meticulous attention to human behavior. If it had, it might have come close to understanding the welcome, thunderous sea of silence at the heart of Yates's novel."

Alonso Duralde at MSNBC: "The characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet spend the film screaming about the other's flaws, and I unfortunately found myself agreeing with both of them - both the protagonists are thoroughly mediocre, uninteresting people, and I never figured out why I was supposed to care about the fate of either of them."

"Both director and cast keep the familiar journey intense, but after capturing the death of love in those opening moments, the rest of the film too often feels like a study in dissection," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

Michael Ordoña talks with Michael Shannon for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 12/26: "Revolutionary Road is the kind of great novel that Hollywood tends to botch, because much of it takes place inside the heads of its characters, and because the Wheelers aren't especially likeable and because pessimism without obvious redemption is a tough sell," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It's hard to think of many directors who could do it justice: Nicholas Ray, who in films like On Dangerous Ground and In a Lonely Place conveys an intimate acquaintance with twinned despair and self-loathing, might have made it work, and perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson."

"[T]he movie keeps see-sawing between strict fidelity to the book's delusion-busting and Mendes's innate desire to pose his actors as startlingly lifelike mannequins in a Macy's display window, or find the most beautiful possible way of shooting brute ugliness," writes Howard Hampton for Artforum. "When the time comes to stage April's big hemorrhage scene, every shaky footfall is microscopically choreographed, the blood looks to have been measured out with a sterilized eyedropper, and the symbolic stain on her dress is bathed in radiant picture-window sunlight."

Update, 12/27: "Her grandfather was Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront), and her parents are screenwriter-directors Nicholas Kazan (Reversal of Fortune) and Robin Swicord (Little Women, Memoirs of a Geisha)." For the Los Angeles Times, Susan King talks with Zoe Kazan, who plays "saucy young secretary Maureen Grube."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:53 AM

December 22, 2008

Interview. Laurent Cantet.

The Class "The tendency of cinema now is to be more and more connected to reality. If you look at the selection of films at the Cannes Film Festival this year, it was obvious. I think it is because the world in which we are living is more and more complex. It is becoming difficult to find a place in this world where you can ask these questions. Cinema provides a good place to ask these questions."

That's Laurent Cantet, talking with Jonathan Marlow about, among other things, his Palme d'Or-winning film, The Class.

Also talking with Cantet recently: FilmCatcher (video) and Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, New York and just the past few days.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:31 PM

EW. "Best & Worst of 2008."

EW: Best & Worst of 2008 "Years from now - yea, unto eternity - all who love movies will rank WALL•E among the medium's most profound, subtle, sophisticated, and gorgeously inventive specimens, ever," writes Lisa Schwarzbaum of the film she's put at in the #1 slot in her top ten for Entertainment Weekly's "Best & Worst of 2008" special double issue. Her worst, by the way: The Women.

Owen Glieberman goes for The Wrestler. Darren Aronofsky "strikes a chord of noble-loser heartbreak as surely as the heroes of On the Waterfront or Rocky did." His worst: Speed Racer.

I don't think I've noted yet, though many others have, that Stephen King's put together a pretty ecclectic top ten. His #1: The Dark Knight.

In the "Legacies '08" section: Mel Gibson remembers Heath Ledger, Martin Scorsese on Paul Newman, Rick Moody on David Foster Wallace, Robert Redford on Sydney Pollack, Bob Newhart on Suzanne Pleshette, Brian Williams on Tim Russert, Nigel Lythgoe on Cyd Charisse, Val Kilmer on Charlton Heston, Gene Hackman on Roy Scheider, Bill Maher on George Carlin, Robert "RZA" Diggs on Isaac Hayes, Jude Law on Anthony Minghella, Stephen King on Michael Crichton, Bea Arthur on Estelle Getty, Carol Burnett on Harvey Korman, Pete Townsend on Bo Diddley, Rainn Wilson on Gary Gygax, Joe Haldeman on Arthur C Clarke and Tim Gunn on Yves Saint-Laurent.

Ken Tucker ranks the movie DVDs (#1: The Films of Budd Boetticher) and TV DVDs (#1: Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog). His best TV show: The Colbert Report.

Adam Markovitz lists the "Most (and Least) Stylish Movie Characters of 2008" - #1: the cast of Sex and the City - yikes.

The quotes of the year are quick fun, and there's video to go with all of this - which I've spotted via Lane Brown's entry at Vulture, where he notes that the magazine has finally tweaked its parent company's nose for pulling that nasty surprise this summer: moving Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to next summer the day before EW's fall preview issue came out with Daniel Radcliffe on the cover.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:17 AM | Comments (3)

Shorts, fests, etc, 12/22.

James Benning For Kino!, Neil Young reviews James Benning, "a measured, copiously-illustrated text that combines the scholarly and analytical with the anecdotal and playful as it navigates the reader through Benning's dauntingly large work... Overall it's an unmistakeably enthusiastic paean to Benning and his films. And, as I've more than once described in print Benning as probably the greatest of all living filmmakers, I'm not exactly outraged or dismayed by such a reverent approach - although the writers' enthusiasm does take on a somewhat hagiographic tone after a while."

Also: Christoph Huber talks with Jean-Claude Van Damme about JCVD.

Order of the Exile: Concerning the Films of Jacques Rivette announces a wintertime update: "Just as the holiday season is kicking into full gear, a compact update of vintage Cahiers essays and a suitably wintery addendum to Andreas Volkert's expanding photo essay on Le pont du nord, La rose dans le caniveau: Magic in the streets of Paris. While one could disengenously chalk it up to dumb luck within our editorial pipeline, the pairing of 'The Essential,' 'The Genius of Howard Hawks' and 'Mizoguchi Viewed From Here' hits on a number of interesting threads running through Rivette's critical and filmic body of work."

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image's Focus on William Klein runs from January 22 through February 1. Adrian Martin: "William Klein is a remarkable figure in film history, a law unto himself, ultimately beyond (while overlapping with) many movements and trends." Via Girish.

Nagisa Oshima "Four Oshima features pretend objectivity, each differently; three of them concern artists to undermine it." From a series by David Phelps in the Auteurs' Notebook:

Diary of a Shinjuku Thief is filmed in shaky 16mm as handheld newsreel flipping events every ten or fifteen minutes, but turns out to rhyme sequences in their ritualization: they're all staged. The Man Who Left His Will on Film, done mostly in smoother 16mm, hints at a Borgesian labyrinth in which everyone is being filmed all throughout, the subjects of a documentary we're watching, but demonstrates the censoring Christian's worries more overtly, that people find personal resonance and meaning wherever they look (as in Diary, if every shot is mediated by some invisible presence, the shots not only seem more objective, severed as they are from their subject, but seem more subjective, tied as they are to someone's vision). Dear Summer Sister, which doesn't follow artists beyond the usual Oshima folk singer or two, is breezy travelogue that nevertheless ends up in brisk, Seurat-like abstractions, with a few plastic red accoutrements of civilization (a couple chairs, a tent) planned neatly against a beach as, appropriately and as usual, artificial civilities crumble. And Shiro of Amakusa mounts its camera and militias, clogged in traffic of men, run to battle in congested jog, as the frame slowly yields thousands of men to a single one.

Also: Pleasures of the Flesh is Oshima's "rare 60s foray into simpler pleasures of plotting."

Buddenbrooks Heinrich Breloer's adaptation of Thomas Mann's first novel, Buddenbrooks, opens in Germany on Thursday. Reviews so far have been, for the most part, lukewarm at best; some, though - e.g., Ekkehard Knörer and Bert Rebhandl in Cargo and Richard Oehmann in Telepolis - are blasting away at Breloer with both barrels.

Lizzy Davies's piece on Buddenbrooks for the Observer is not about the film, but about the event: "Published in 1901, the book is a European classic that charts the rise and precipitate fall of a middle-class merchant family from Lübeck, whose younger generations squander the wealth amassed by their prudent forefathers. No one could have predicted the uncanny timeliness of its revival. The contemporary parallels of the book have undoubtedly struck a chord with a society in the grip of a recession and questioning the values of spendthrift capitalism."

Also: Miranda Sawyer profiles Yoko Ono and Philip French's latest "screen legend" is Gary Cooper.

"[L]ately, when I've sought escape from the daily flood of cultural novelty (and the daily grind of economic bad news) by slipping an old favorite into the DVD player, I've been confronted with a disconcerting jolt of reality." In the New York Times, AO Scott focuses particularly on It's a Wonderful Life, The Grapes of Wrath and Sullivan's Travels. "It was in the 1930s that the movies' hold on the popular imagination solidified and grew, and the marvelous monster known as the 'studio system' took shape. It's easy to forget just how new the cinema still was back then, and how uncertain its fate. When the stock market crashed in October 1929, sound film was younger than YouTube is now.... However much has changed since the 1930s, it still seems that in hard times people go to the movies. But why? To confront their troubles or to escape them? This may be the wrong question and the either/or phrasing too simple."

NYT Magazine: PSH Also, Lynn Hirschberg profiles Philip Seymour Hoffman for the Magazine.

Stephen Metcalf on Tom Cruise: "I can't name another American icon who has been so popular, and for so long, and yet so hard to like, and for so long.... But note a curious fact about his career: It maps perfectly onto the 25-year bull market in stocks that, like Cruise, is starting to show its age. Nascent in the early 80s, emergent in 1983, dominant in the 90s, suspiciously resilient in the 00s, and, starting in 2005, increasingly prone to alarming meltdowns. For both Cruise and the Dow Jones, more and more leverage is required for less and less performance. Place Cruise next to Nicholson, Newman and Tracy, and he is a riddle. Place him next to Reagan, and he is not so confounding at all."

Also in Slate: Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagan looks back on the life of Jean Shepherd, who wrote and narrated A Christmas Story, focusing particularly on the radio days, spanning from the late 50s to 1977: "He was definitely a grown-up but he was talking to me—I mean straight to me, with my 12-year-old sensibility, as if some version of myself with 25 more years worth of life experience had magically crawled into the radio, sat down, and loosened his tie. I was hooked."

Mädchen in Uniform Kevin Lee on Mädchen in Uniform: "The film's once-controversial status as anti-authoritarian, proto-feminist and ultimately pro-lesbian is by now a non-starter; more troubling is the glaring subtext of pedophilia that remains largely unaddressed. All the same, this is a landmark work, blessed by a stylistic rigor that serves its subject matter perfectly."

"Who'd have thought James Bond would make his stateside debut in America's dustbowl?" John McElwee tells the story of the launch of a franchise. Related: Jason Sperb figures Thunderball is the series' all-time box office champ.

"Not only persuasive in its argument, that Victor Fleming was one of the unsung titans of his era, [Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master] also makes for a fascinating case study in how power was acquired, wielded and lost during the 1930s and 40s," writes S James Snyder for Time.

"Algerian director Lyes Salem's Masquerades and Korean/American director So Yong Kim's Treeless Mountain took top nods at the Dubai International Film Festival, capping the event's fifth year," reports indieWIRE's Brian Brooks. Related: Fionnuala Halligan for Screen: "Undoubtedly, Masquerades marks Salem out as a talent we'll certainly be seeing more of; and if his next work is as genial as this, the pleasure will be all ours."

The Guardian runs a Reuters story on the quiet, all but under-the-radar return of cinema to Saudi Arabia following a three-decade ban.

Focusing on how Scientology recruits young unemployed actors in Hollywood, Ian Halperin offers a sneak peek at his book Hollywood Undercover in the Independent.

Driving with My Wife's Lover "Korean actor and theater director Park Kwang-jung, who starred in Driving with My Wife's Lover died of lung cancer Dec 15 in Seoul," reports Han Sunhee in Variety. "He was 46."

If you'll be in New York on January 6, you might consider spending 24 hours at the Guggenheim.

Online listening tip. Ambrose Heron talks with Alex Gibney about Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S Thompson.

Online viewing tip. David Poland talks with Matteo Garrone about Gomorrah.

Online viewing tips, round 1. A seasonal roundup from the Guardian's Kate Stables features... William S Burroughs?

Online viewing tips, round 2. Danny Boyle and Darren Aronofsky talk shop; and Cinematical points to other, scattered parts of the conversation as well.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:53 AM

Lists and awards, 12/22.

Let the Right One In At the top of David Ansen's list for Newsweek: Let the Right One In.

"The 'Cyber-Horror Elite' Have Spoken." Again. Following last month's poll of "32 cyber-horror notables," leading to a list of the "Top 50 Horror Films of All Time!," the Vault of Horror has conducted another: the "Top 25 Horror Films of the Modern Era!," which is to say, since 1990. Via Scott Weinberg, who presents his own ballot of 30 at Cinematical. #1 at the Vault: The Descent. Scott's #1: Let the Right One In.

"Most of the films I found most resonant speak to our times by avoiding the subject." Peter Bowen is the first in a series of Filmmaker editors and contributors to post a list.

"That Was the Year That Was" as it was for Kathy Fennessy at the Siffblog: the Tops, Runners-Up, Top Documentaries and Top DVDs.

Vampyr DVD Savant, whose "interest is purely from the disc collector's point of view," picks the "Most Impressive Discs of 2008." His #1: Criterion's release of Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr. Earlier: a July roundup.

Ambrose Heron lists the "Best DVDs of 2008" chronologically, as they were released in the UK.

There's a tie at the top of Paul Matwychuk's "list of the 10 best (plus six runners-up)": Happy-Go-Lucky and Synecdoche, New York.

For Tribune, Neil Young lines up a UK top ten and then adds notes on best performances, the under- and overrated, a handful of worsts and "special mentions for the year's best Film Festival Premieres: a trio of masterpieces which delighted audiences at Bradford (programmed by yours truly), Edinburgh and London respectively. Ron Lamothe's The Call of the Wild and Jeon Soo-il's With A Girl of Black Soil remain, depressingly, in distribution-limbo - but Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, one of the top half-dozen movies of the decade, is set for UK release in mid-January."

The list of "1000 Greatest Films" at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? "has undergone its annual upgrade. It is now based on 1,825 critics/reviewers' and filmmakers' top-10 lists, culled from many sources. Additionally, we have also factored in over 900 magazine polls, film institute polls, and many other polls of interest. The net effect of all our fine-tuning over the last twelve months is that a total of 96 films have debuted or re-entered our list and, of course, 96 films have dropped out."

Mad Men Michael Z Newman lists his faves - tunes, imagery, what have you: "And the short version of what follows is: my favorite thing of '07, Mad Men, is also my favorite thing of '08." But like Girish, you'll want to read the long version. Earlier: a July roundup.

"You might reasonably assume from the outside, or even from the inside, that an article about the state of independent film in 2008 is going to be a tale of gloom and woe." But what Salon's Andrew O'Hehir discovers as he talks to Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, Dennis Doros, co-founder of Milestone Films, Marcus Hu, president of Strand Releasing, among others, is that business has actually been pretty good. "If anything, the apparent collapse of the mid-level Indiewood sector has opened up the marketplace for smaller, leaner, cinephile-oriented distributors like Strand, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2009."

You'll remember that AJ Schnack has been interviewing the filmmakers behind some the year's most notable documentaries. His most recent interviewees: Jeremiah Zagar (In a Dream) and Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze).

Mary Poppins "The sad truth is that 'family movies' have become an anachronism thanks to the fracturing of the modern movie marketplace," writes Mark Kermode in the Observer, where he offers a list of remedies for our fractured times, a family films top ten.

The AV Club lists "42 holiday entertainments that don't make us want to claw our eyes out with rage."

Roger Ebert refries a slew of movies with some of his hottest pans.

Pitchfork takes a leisurely walk through the "50 Best Albums of 2008"; Matt Dentler picks his top 30.

Vince Keenan lists his "Favorite Novels of 2008."

An announcement from Andrew Sullivan: voting for the Daily Dish Awards begins now.

'Tis the season. No one's flush this year, but if the spirit grabs you, do keep Art Fag City in mind.

Online viewing tip. Mark Kermode's best of 2008. His #1: Terence Davies's Of Time and the City.

Posted by dwhudson at 6:59 AM | Comments (1)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, round 2.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button "David Fincher would seem, in terms of temperament, an unlikely directorial choice for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an era-spanning epic whose sweeping, poignant romance doesn't seem a natural fit for a digital-era auteur whose films are generally typified by cool, sleek, exacting meticulousness," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "And yet that measured, distant disposition is, in fact, what prevents his latest from sliding into the mawkishness for which it so often seems destined."

Paul Matwychuk: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells an incredible story, and yet I found myself oddly unmoved by any of it, held at arm's length by David Fincher's surprisingly impersonal direction, the overly episodic, narration-heavy script, the fussed-over production design, an opaque central character, and a tiresome framing story set, bewilderingly, in a New Orleans hospital in the hours before Hurricane Katrina. To steal a metaphor from Mad Men, the film is a gold violin: it's beautiful, but it doesn't make any music."

Updated through 12/26.

"For a melodrama concerned with emotional pain, this fairy tale favors formal trickery over human connection to a fault," agrees David Fear in Time Out New York.

Brad Pitt "isn't bad (his noncommittal performance might even appeal to some people, who can project on him what they will), but he lets opportunities slide that other, physically inventive performers would kill for," writes David Edelstein in New York. "It's too bad that I can barely remember the movie after only a week."

"Last year it felt as if I was the only person in the world that disliked Zodiac, and now I feel like the only person in the world - at least in my critical circle - willing to rally behind the flawed but enthralling The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," blogs Ed Gonzalez.

The original story is "a snarky little tale about a man born old who ages backward - that [F Scott] Fitzgerald whipped out, probably mainly for the cash," writes Robert Koehler in Variety. "To build a Movie as Big as the Ritz out of such a trifle is only part of the reason why the development of Benjamin Button consumed two decades and involved at least two screenwriters' best efforts, more than a few directors and the patience of producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, as well as former Paramount topper Sherry Lansing, for whom this might represent her last major legacy to the studio she oversaw."

"Although nearly every major Hollywood movie of this size and budget is still made on film, Button, except for some high-speed and underwater sequences, was shot digitally on high-definition Thomson Viper cameras directly to hard drive, without ever touching tape, then captured into Final Cut Pro for editing." Joe Cellini talks tech with Fincher for Apple. Via Movie City News.

The Los Angeles Times profiles Fincher.

Jane Housham offers a quick take on Fitzgerald's story in the Guardian.

Earlier: Round 1.

Update: "In something like the way Fincher's Zodiac, too, was defensibly overlong in order to convey the procedural tedium of investigative police work, this film also uses time as a narrative tool, if only to steep us in wistful awareness of its irrevocable passage," writes Jonathan Kiefer. "It is at once more affecting than its source material and more affected."

Updates, 12/23: "Screenwriter Eric Roth is no doubt hoping that you won't notice how many of his ideas from Forrest Gump have made it into his adaptation," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "And even fans of that earlier film may find themselves overburdened; Gump director Robert Zemeckis isn't exactly known for his light touch, but next to Button man David Fincher, he's practically Ernst Lubitsch."

In Slate, Juliet Lapidos considers Fitzgerald's decision to send Benjamin Button to Harvard.

"This technically dazzling, decades-spanning fable is a more tenderhearted reflection on humanity than Fincher has allowed himself before," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "Whether it leaves you enchanted or indifferent may prove a matter of taste. But it's a fascinating and accomplished gamble that again asserts Fincher as a major talent whose limits are still unknown."

"Rendered with make-up and motion-capture technology, the man-child Benjamin is a technical and expressive miracle. (Between him and WALL•E, two of the most affecting movie characters of the past year were CG creations.)" Elbert Ventura in Reverse Shot: "The premise also makes us more attuned to the development of personality. As he grows older, Benjamin develops an appealing wryness and wary alertness, even as he retains a cautious detachment bred by years of being different. Passive yet affecting, Pitt's performance may be his best non-comic turn yet.... The movie itself is a curious case: What to make of a movie of equal parts beauty and banality, imagination and hokum? Fincher's captivating spell lingers after the movie's done—but the disappointment of what could have been lingers longer."

Updates, 12/24: "[W]here Gump actively trivialized history," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice, "Benjamin Button effectively ignores it: Although Benjamin briefly exchanges fire with a German submarine during World War II, and Hurricane Katrina makes a cameo toward the end, this movie about a white baby raised by a black adoptive mother during the inglorious years of the Jim Crow South never so much as addresses race once.... It was just last year that Fincher delivered a great film, also three hours, on the subject of time. But whereas in Zodiac the passing years wrap around the characters like a vise, catching them up obsessively in a single, distended moment, in Benjamin Button the ravages of time are trumped by a kind of eternal, undying love that mere physics is at a loss to contain. And Fincher, try as he might, scarcely seems able to buy into Roth's brand of Harlequin-romance hokum."

"You make allowances for the odd Gumpy screenplayism because of Fincher's intensity, the exquisite production design, and the film's tidal tugs," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine: "besides the imperfections of love, there's the reversal of roles with loved ones over the years, the counterpoints with youthful America (across two postwars), even Pitt's own flickering star. Bonus: ideal as a double feature with Coppola's Youth Without Youth."

"At its best, it is evocative and affecting," writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr; "at its worst, an exercise in sentimental portraiture - and the line between the two tendencies is not always a clear one."

"This vision of two lives criss-crossing as they ebb finally achieves a profundity the rest of the movie strains for, but it comes about two hours and 25 minutes too late," finds Dana Stevens in Slate.

"May I be permitted to retitle The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as The Mystifying Multimillion-Dollar A-Listing Exercise of Destroying an Intriguing if Minor F Scott Fitzgerald Short Story with Oscar-Caliber Sentimentality?" asks Kimberly Chun in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Updates, 12/25: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, more than two and a half hours long, sighs with longing and simmers with intrigue while investigating the philosophical conundrums and emotional paradoxes of its protagonist's condition in a spirit that owes more to Jorge Luis Borges than to Fitzgerald," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "And the puzzles it invites us to contemplate - in consistently interesting, if not always dramatically satisfying ways - are deep and imposing, concerning the passage of time, the elusiveness of experience and the Janus-faced nature of love."

"Maybe what's most affecting in Benjamin Button has less to do with the story or the acting than with watching a filmmaker stretch in a new direction, trying things he isn't fully comfortable with and doesn't exactly know how to pull off," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Nothing in Benjamin Button happens casually or without a reason. And maybe that's why, even though it offers us much to marvel over, it sparks little magic: The effect, ultimately, is one of applied whimsy."

"[W]hen all the dazzling visuals have subsided, when audiences are left with the movie's tagline ringing mawkishly in their ears and puzzled thoughts about what they just saw, they might be forgiven for concluding that they didn't see much of anything," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post.

"Zen gives us the parable of the master who points to the moon, and the student who looks at the master's finger," writes James Rocchi in Cinematical. "Fincher, Roth, Pitt and Blanchett have all, in their way, made a film of true sincerity and (ironically enough in light of its technical achievements) real simplicity; resting your gaze on the film, without directing it onto the things it encourages you to look at, seems like staring at the pointing finger."

"At times, particularly in the film's unavoidably heart-tugging final hour, Fincher's visual mastery and Pitt's charisma almost compensate for a gimmick in search of a meaning," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

"Though Hollywood suits have been trying to make it for decades," notes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not a project that cries out to be filmed. Now that it's finally been turned into a major motion picture, complete with megawatt stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, you have to wonder why everyone bothered."

Updates, 12/26: "The movie's premise devalues any relationship, makes futile any friendship or romance, and spits, not into the face of destiny, but backward into the maw of time," argues Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. "According to the oddsmakers at Movie City News, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is third among the top five favorites for best picture. It may very well win. It expends Oscar-worthy talents on an off-putting gimmick. I can't imagine many people wanting to see the movie twice. There was another film this year that isn't in the 'top five,' or listed among the front-runners at all, and it's a profound consideration of the process of living and aging. That's Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. It will be viewed and valued decades from now. You mark my words."

"I suspect I already prefer it to all of Fincher's other films, with the possible exception of Se7en," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum. "It took me a while to warm to the weird premise and some of the grotesqueries it involves, but I think part of what impresses me is how nervy it is in playing out the poetry of the conceit for all that it's worth and letting all the social-historical elements - from two world wars to Hurricane Katrina (and not overlooking the degree to which it sidesteps all the racial issues) - take a back seat to the love story."

"The charge commonly leveled against Fincher (especially with last year's almost sociopathically chilly Zodiac) is that he lacks heart," writes Paul Constant in the Stranger. "This isn't a capital crime for a director, of course: Stanley Kubrick did just fine without any messy sentimentality getting in the way. Benjamin Button feels as though Fincher is swaddling himself in sentimentality and homespun wisdom to prove his humanity. It's an awkward, unconvincing fit."

"Pitt is the film's calm center, and he brings more nuance than one might think possible to a character living an unimaginable life," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "Blanchett is perfect as always, despite the thanklessness of the role."

Reed Johnson profiles Pitt for the LAT.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:12 AM

December 21, 2008

Robert Mulligan, 1925 - 2008.

Robert Mulligan
"Robert Mulligan, who was nominated for an Academy Award for directing the 1962 film classic To Kill a Mockingbird died Saturday at his home in Lyme, Conn. He was 83.... His first film, Fear Strikes Out, was released in 1957 and told the story of mentally ill baseball player Jimmy Piersall, played by Anthony Perkins. Mulligan directed 19 more films, including Summer of '42, The Other and Same Time, Next Year before capping his career in 1991 with Man in the Moon, featuring actress Reese Witherspoon in her movie debut.

Claire Noland, Los Angeles Times, via Dave Kehr.

Updated through 12/23.

[To Kill a Mockingbird] - which won three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck, and earned Mulligan his only Oscar nomination - had an immediate and lasting impact.... But the director's heart, here as in so many of his films, was with the Finch children. If Mulligan had an abiding interest, it was troubled youngsters on the cusp of discovering themselves by confronting the world around them."

Richard Corliss, Time.

See also: The January 2005 special issue of the Film Journal devoted to Robert Mulligan.

Update: "The director worked in just about every genre except the epic - what links all his films together is a kind of intimacy, achieved largely via a camera that seeks to establish a strong link between the viewer and a particular character," writes Glenn Kenny.

Updates, 12/22: Flickhead on Summer of '42: "It may not be Mulligan's best film - it may not even be that good a film at all, to some people. But I'll be forever in Mulligan's debt for all it contains, especially Michel Legrand's music."

Phil Nugent in Screengrab on Mockingbird: "The project could have easily ended in disaster, but instead it wound up as one of those movies now seems to have been made for the express purpose of showing up on AFI lists" and gave Peck "a Lincolnesque aura for the rest of his life and career. The movie is also notable for including the screen debut of Robert Duvall as the brain-damaged redneck boogeyman Boo Radley, a character that Duvall, lucky for him, was able to step away from in later roles."

Edward Copeland on Same Time, Next Year: "[E]ven now, decades after I first saw it, if I catch it on TV, I have to watch it until the end."

"Though best noted for his country credits he never left the city far behind," writes Robert Cashill: "1960's The Rat Race, with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds slumming for showbiz work, 1963's Love with the Proper Stranger, with Steve McQueen trying to do the right thing by Natalie Wood as she considers an abortion, the frank teacher saga Up the Down Staircase (1967), and the lusty Bloodbrothers (1978), with Richard Gere in an early part and Marilu Henner as the self-admitted 'town pump,' all poke at the teeming underbelly of Big Apple life."

"Robert Mulligan will probably not be remembered for his discernible visual style," writes Scott Marks. "His films may all look different, but there is a consistency of themes that make him an unmistakable auteur."

Update, 12/23: "Mulligan was one of the new wave of American moviemakers who emerged from the heyday of postwar television, enjoying initial acclaim but erratic subsequent careers," writes Brian Baxter in the Guardian. "Together with Sidney Lumet, Martin Ritt, John Frankenheimer and others, he maintained an uneasy balance between commercialism and personal works, often missing out on critical attention."

"If some critics took Mr. Mulligan to task for lacking a strong or consistent directorial vision, others praised his narrative ability and his fealty to the source material of his films," notes Margalit Fox in the New York Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:47 PM

December 20, 2008

Shorts, fests, etc, 12/20.

Ken Jacobs / Jack Smith For Artforum, Lauren O'Neill-Butler previews a series of films Ken Jacobs shot in the late 50s and early 60s featuring Jack Smith; Jacobs will be on hand at the Anthology Film Archives tonight for the second and final round of screenings. More from the L Magazine's Mark Asch and a lot more from Reverse Shot's mjr.

The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club is well and truly established now.

The lineup's set for Berlin & Beyond: New Films From Germany, Austria & Switzerland, running January 15 through 21 in San Francisco, and Michael Hawley takes a look.

The Berlinale announces the first six titles in its Perspektive Deutsches Kino program, plus: "29 of its total 49 screens are being equipped with digital cinema servers for the upcoming festival."

The Great Gatsby "F Scott Fitzgerald's seminal novel The Great Gatsby may have been describing the iniquities of the Jazz Age just before the country slid into the Great Depression but the award-winning Australian director, Baz Luhrmann, yesterday said Fitzgerald's story resonated with the economic excesses of today," reports Arifa Akbar in the Independent. "So much so, that he is set to make a modern version of the novel, which will allude to the present financial crisis that has brought to a grinding halt the bling-laden consumer culture that was spawned in the 1980s and 1990s."

"I am about to make a statement about ethnic Catholicism and if you don't like what I'm saying I'm ready to accept your challenge to step outside." Angela's Ashes author Frank McCourt in the Daily Beast on Doubt: "Here's the statement: Had this film been set in an Italian parish setting in the Bronx, or anywhere else, it would have been a different story. [John Patrick] Shanley has written about Italians (Moonstruck) and he knows their priorities: drink your wine, eat your pasta, make love to your wife or anyone's wife and if there is a hell, well, what the hell. The Irish? That's another story, and Doubt limns the particular joylessness of Irish Catholicism." Related: Michael Guillén talks with Viola Davis.

Marshall Fine prompts another one of those must-read entries from Phil Nugent.

"I don't know if Sidney Lumet ever read the work of the architectural critic Ian Nairn - given that Roger Ebert is a fan, it's not too unlikely - but his 1972 film The Offence seems to pick up on one of his critiques of the post-war New Towns." Owen Hatherley elaborates.

A Cottage on Dartmoor "Two surprises lie in store in a viewing of A Cottage on Dartmoor," writes Ian Johnston at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "One is the discovery that an unknown British silent film (to me) should prove to be such a delight, a finely-crafted and visually inventive example of silent cinema at its height. The other surprise is that this should be the work of Anthony Asquith, the son of a British Prime Minister (as everyone likes to mention, in order to stress his upper-class origins) who is known today as a solid practitioner of mainstream products from the days when Britain actually had a properly functioning film industry."

The Tale of Despereaux "is a pleasantly immersive, beautifully animated, occasionally sleepy tale," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.. "The main difference between the source and its adaptation is that while the book exudes charm, the movie leans toward cute, a substitution that largely speaks to the influence of Disney on animation." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Robert Horton (Herald), David Jenkins (Time Out), Anna King (Time Out New York), Sheri Linden (Los Angeles Times), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Tim Robey (Telegraph) and Tasha Robinson (AV Club).

"Perhaps the best thing that can be said about My Name Is Bruce is that Bruce Campbell has in fact appeared in worse movies," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times, where Gina McIntyre talks with him. Campbell, that is. Also, Kenneth Turan on Gomorrah, "a vividly panoramic film about a pitiless world of criminality."

Britain's Independent: "Sir Ian McKellen's performances in Shakespeare's tragedies will be a highlight of Christmas television this year. So why does he get no pleasure from watching them?"

In the Guardian, Marina Hyde tosses off a few good laughs in the face of Tom Cruise and Valkyrie; Nicole Kidman and Australia; and "Nunchuk Holmes: A Guy Ritchie Movie."

SNL 4 Dennis Perrin looks back on SNL: The Complete Fourth Season: "Gilda Radner performed at an inspired level, her comedic gifts shining in sketch after sketch. She remains perhaps the most natural cast member SNL ever featured (along with Eddie Murphy), and no matter the material or character, Gilda made it work and work well. There's a warm energy to her performances, even when she played Candy Slice, the drunk, drugged out punk singer based loosely on Patti Smith. Candy Slice is rude, obnoxious, barely cogent, yet in Gilda's hands, she's also vulnerable and somewhat sweet. It's as if Judy Miller, Gilda's energetic little girl character, grew up to become queen of CBGB."

Online viewing tip #1. Sujewa Ekanayake posts the first nine minutes of his doc-in-progress, Indie Film Blogger Road Trip.

Online viewing tip #2. David Phelps has the trailer for Three Resurrected Drunkards in the Auteurs' Notebook.

Online viewing tip #3. A promo spot from Jamie Stuart: "Production Designer Bill Groom on Making Milk's San Francisco Real."

Online viewing tips. "As masterful as Frank Langella's performance is in Frost/Nixon, powerfully capturing the former president's shabby grandeur, his Richard Nixon is a shadow of the real thing. Or more accurately perhaps, it is the shadow of a shadow." David Schwartz, Chief Curator at the Museum of the Moving Image and the Living Room Candidate, elaborates - and illustrates with clips.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:22 PM | Comments (1)

Lists and awards, 12/20.

Unrelated "The Guardian First Film award became a titanic struggle between Control, Anton Corbijn's Ian Curtis biopic, and the eventual winner, Unrelated, directed by Joanna Hogg," reports Andrew Pulver. Earlier: A round of reviews in September.

"Blind Sunflowers, Jose Luis Cuerda's film adaptation of the Alberto Méndez novel, has received 15 nominations for the 23rd Goya Awards, the Academy of Arts and Cinematic Sciences of Spain announced this morning." Vitor Pinto for Cineuropa: "Spain's Oscar entry will also compete in the main categories - including Best Film, Director, Actor (Raúl Arévalo) and Actress (Maribel Verdú)." Earlier: James Van Maanen on the film's recent screenings in the Spanish Cinema Now series.

For the Independent, Charlotte Cripps and Kat Ekrami asks the likes of Danny Boyle, Gurinder Chadha, Ken Loach and many others to talk a bit about their favorite films of the year.

My Winnipeg IFC's gathered all their lists in one big entry and, as it happens, both Matt Singer and Michael Atkinson have placed Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg in their #1 spot. Alison Willmore goes for Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale, "one of the few [films of this year] that felt truly electric, the dysfunctional family gathering chestnut filtered through an insanely cinematic prism, a far richer, larger-than-life Gallic one-upping of [Jonathan] Demme's uneven and staunchly naturalistic Rachel Getting Married."

Time Out London film critics each name three "Films of the Year," the "Best Film Without Distribution," the "Worst Film of the Year" and the "Reissue of the Year."

Ryan Gilbey looks back on 2008 and ahead to 2009 for the New Statesman.

Few will be surprised to find Synecdoche, New York in the #1 spot on Andrew Grant's list, but there may be a surprise or two in the remaining nine.

Synecdoche, New York Another #1er for Synecdoche: MSNBC's Alonso Duralde.

Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light tops M Leary's ten.

Jürgen Fauth puts Steven Soderbergh's Che at the top of his list.

Anne Thompson's #1: Andrew Stanton's WALL•E.

Roger Ebert lists the "year's best foreign films (I hope they play in your state)."

The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan: "[W]hile slots two to 10 will be listed alphabetically, I'm going to depart from my usual practice and name a clear No. 1 film: Danny Boyle's exhilarating Slumdog Millionaire."

Added to the Awards Scoreboard at Movie City News: the Las Vegas Film Critics (Frost/Nixon) and the Florida Film Critics (Slumdog Millionaire).

Kung Fu Panda The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu and Tim Robey put Kung Fu Panda at the top of their list: "It's this year's Ratatouille." Also: best performances, best lines, ten casting catastrophes and the ten worst films of the year. In that category, the London Times goes a little overboard, listing the "100 Worst Movies of 2008."

The Evening Standard rounds up the "Best DVDs of 2008."

The latest quiz at the Guardian: "Have you been paying attention to the world of film in 2008?"

Jim Emerson lists the "Dogs of the Year." No, seriously - actual canines. With pix.

Thom Powers, programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival and the Stranger Than Fiction series: "In an effort to add some variety to the deluge of 'best film' lists, I've approached the exercise a bit differently. In chronological order, here are my favorite personal documentary memories from the year..."

Andy Horbal keeps "a copy of the '100 Greatest Films I've Never Seen' handy for those times when I don't know what I want to watch." And he shows us his "current Top 10."

Ed Howard lists the "best films of the 1980s."

Movie Morlock Richard Harland Smith presents "12 movies to get you through the Holidays!"

Blake Ethridge looks back on a year of wallpapering our desktops.

"Nearly every movie with dreams of Oscar has a publicist - or several publicists - making its case not to audiences, but to the 6000-plus members of the Academy, as well as various guilds, and anybody else who hands out prizes in the Hollywood awards firmament. Sure, every movie studio has publicists, but these independent awards publicists are specifically brought in to turn celluloid into gold." Dan Kois reports in the Washington Post on what it is they do, exactly. Via MCN.

Online scrolling tip. The Big Picture's "2008, the year in photographs (part 3 of 3). Earlier: parts 1 and 2.

Online listening tip. Nathan Lee: "For the second part of my critics roundtable with Melissa Anderson, film editor of Time Out New York, and AO Scott, film critic of the New York Times, we start with a discussion of Momma's Man, Azazel Jacobs' touching micro-indie about a young man caught up in the mysterious gravity of his parent's life and legacy." Earlier: Part 1.

Online viewing tip. David Carr talks with the New York Times' Manohla Dargis and AO Scott about how much or how little influence on the Oscar race they might have.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:55 PM

Spanish Cinema Now. 9.

My Prison Yard James Van Maanen, who's just posted an interview with Mar Flores, Félix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso of Rated-R, has a recommendation for you. And there's only more more screening for this one, too: tomorrow evening.

Isn't there something just too juicy for words about women-in-prison movies? God, the opportunities for camp, melodrama, hot lesbian sex, and, well, you fill in the other thrills. After you've done the filling, watch My Prison Yard (El Patio de mi Cârcel), which will screen again at NYC's Walter Reade Theater this Sunday, and be thoroughly chastened. Here's another film making its debut late in the Spanish Cinema Now series, like Suso's Tower, that is so completely humane and honest that it effortlessly wipes the floor with many of the movies that have preceded it. (And, yes, it does offer some violence and lesbian sex.)

My Prison Yard, from director/co-writer (with Arantxa Cuesta) Belén Macias, most reminded me of the 2005 American documentary Shakespeare Behind Bars, which dealt with a special theater production program using male inmates of a Kentucky prison. Macias's movie, as did last year's SCN offering Septembers by Carlos Bosch, deals with a women's prison and the positive uses of performing. Opening with a bank robbery gone bad (in a manner as peculiar as it is believable), Ms Macias tracks the prison life of one of the two robbers (Verónica Echegui, from this year's My Father's House), along with that of maybe a dozen other prisoners, some of the guards, and the prison warden. There are no heroes here, except perhaps one of the prison workers, beautifully played by the amazing Candela Peña (Princesas, Torremolinos 73 and this year's Rated-R), who organizes a theater workshop in which the inmates can perform. There are no villains here, either. Both prisoners and guards have their problems and peculiarities, but no one goes beyond the bounds of believable behavior, as violent as things sometimes become.

The through-line of the movie is exemplary. Exposition is buried within dialogue that's crisp and real; scenes are generally short but bursting with information and life. In 99 minutes, including credits, we live along with a group of characters we come to understand and care for immensely. Also in the fine cast are Raúl Arévalo (Blind Sunflowers), Nuria Mencia (La Soledad) and Ana Wagener (Rated-R). The end credits tell us that the film is based loosely on an actual prison theater workshop. Actual or not, it hardly matters, as the movie offers all the reality we need. As in life, things don't work out for everyone, and the tears you may shed by the end (for both the living and the dead) are earned. My Prison Yard is the only film I've attended in the series so far that produced spontaneous applause from the sparse crowd in attendance. Catch the next (and last) screening - Sunday, December 21, at 6:10 pm - if you possibly can because, as with so many of the movies brought to us by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, you never know when you may have the opportunity to see them again.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:15 PM

Books, 12/20.

NYT Book Review: Christopher Plummer "Now that [Christopher] Plummer has published In Spite of Myself: A Memoir," writes Alex Witchell for the New York Times Book Review, "it is the most welcome of surprises to discover that this actor writes and reports almost as well as he acts.... [F]or anyone who loves, loves, loves the theater, not to mention the vanished New York of the 1950s and 60s, [this] is a finely observed, deeply felt (and deeply dishy) time-traveling escape worthy of a long stormy weekend."

"[M]y interest in the screen career of Susan Strasberg inspired me to finally acquire copies of her two books, Bittersweet and Marilyn and Me, both works of autobiography." Tim Lucas: "I've read them both now and, while I was very pleased to discover that the personality captured in these capably written books was bright and resourceful and good company, it was disconcerting to find out how frustrated, unhappy and tense she was for so much of her short life. These books make the reader want to reach out to comfort someone who is no longer there."

"Reading Stefan Kanfer's excellent new biography of Marlon Brando, Somebody, reminds me of one adventure that isn't there: my own trying to secure Brando's memoir for Random House during my time as president and publisher." Harold Evans in the Daily Beast.

The Guardian offers a quick roundup of reviews of Christopher Bigsby's Arthur Miller and Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking - and Chris Petit races through a roundup of his own: Kanfer's Somebody, Tony Curtis's American Prince, Dennis McDougal's Five Easy Decades: How Jack Nicholson Became the Biggest Movie Star in Modern Times, Michael Deeley's Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies, Roger Moore's My Word is My Bond and Sinclair McKay's The Man with the Golden Touch: How the Bond Films Conquered the World.

San Francisco Noir A "case can be made that San Francisco, that foggy, Spanish-flavored city by the sea, is perhaps the ultimate noir town, and that argument has been argued convincingly by Nathaniel Rich in San Francisco Noir: The City in Film Noir from 1940 to the Present, a fascinating piece of scholarship that is as much travel book as film essay." Scott Macaulay talks with Rich for FilmInFocus.

Walter Addiego on Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master: "Where the book really sings is in [Michael] Sragow's enterprising descriptions of movies and scenes. These are inspired segments where his writing is reminiscent of his capsule reviews that still appear in the New Yorker." Also in the San Francisco Chronicle: lists of the 50 best nonfiction and fiction and poetry and "Notable Bay Area" books of 2008.

Boyd Tonkin and Katy Guest pick the "20 best books of the year" for the Independent, where Susie Boyt reviews "an enchanting coming-of-age story," Robert Kaplow's Me and Orson Welles without mentioning that Richard Linklater has filmed an adaptation.

Ian Irvine picks the New Statesman's "Books of the Year 2008."

The London Times' "books of the year" package is kinda huge.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:46 PM

NYT. "The Year in Culture."

Happy-Go-Lucky "At the risk of sounding stoned on hope, I offer the following heresy: The movies are fine. Sometimes they're great; occasionally they're magnificent." Opening with an exchange from Happy-Go-Lucky, which appears on both her and AO Scott's list of the "Top Movies of 2008," and then listing many of the reasons to be concerned about the state of the art, Manohla Dargis tries on something new: "There is, of course, perverse pleasure in ending the year with an angry rant, as I have proven in the past, if only to myself. But given the clanging of so much bad news, I thought I would try a change of pace. I'm not sure if optimism becomes me, but it sure feels nice."

Particularly within the context of her piece and the two critics' conversation (podcast) that accompanies the New York Times' big "Year in Culture" package - in which they spontaneously decide that "hope" is the word of the year - this position really isn't as pollyannaish at it might at first seem.

AO Scott whittles his list of ten down to movies that "are not all expressions of optimism, but they are all about the obligations, responsibilities and accidents that bind people together, within and across formally constituted families and communities. And they are also about the refusal to give up, to give in to darkness or despair." And earlier, discussing some of the box office superheroes and awards season hopefuls, he notes that "somehow all this messianism and overblown superheroism rings false, both within individual films and out here in the rumpled, stressed-out, hopeful, uneasy world where movies live. Who will save us? Whom should we kill? These don't strike me as the most useful questions right now, and they are generally not the kind posed by the films I found most challenging and interesting this year, which in general were less concerned with moral abstractions than with ethical predicaments."

"In a disappointing year for serious American movies, two television series, AMC's Mad Men and Showtime's Brotherhood, far outshone in truthfulness and complexity most of what American filmmakers created for the big screen," begins Stephen Holden, who tops his list with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:48 AM | Comments (1)

December 19, 2008

Onward.

GreenCine / IFC.com Continuity. That's what I want to emphasize first and foremost as I carry on blogging solid right here at GreenCine Daily, on through December 31. Then, without skipping a beat, I'll carry on blogging solid, starting on January 1, at IFC.com. (My blog at IFC will be here.) Of course, over the holidays, things may be a little quieter news-wise, but I'm sure the year-end lists will keep on coming, and I'll be on top of them.

Naturally, the blog will keep on evolving. Thinking back over the five and a half years I've been at this, I remember, for example, that I began, for whatever reason, with a "no reviews" policy. News, think pieces, new issues of film journals, the works - just no reviews. Eventually, of course, I realized that it's often in reviews that critics stake out positions, start and finish off arguments, or even crack their best jokes. Now entries on current releases and revivals in theaters, on DVD or elsewhere are an essential part of the constant flow.

So where's that flow flowing? I would guess that, in the long run, as we become just as proficient with our video and audio editing programs as we have been with our text editing programs, there'll be a lot more online viewing and listening to point to. In the short run, we'll keep experimenting with the still relatively new means of publishing available to just about everyone. Fads (e.g., Blog-a-Thons) will come and go, but community-building - the very core of the Internet since long, long before there was such a thing as the World Wide Web - will go on thriving, whether we call it social networking, Web 2.0 or whatever else the marketeers dream up for us in the future.

Keep an eye on GreenCine Daily. It'll be rebooting in 2009 with Aaron Hillis at the helm (more on that shortly) and I'm excited about some of the ideas in the works. Meantime, happy holidays, everybody. Me, I've gotta get back to work.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:59 AM | Comments (34)

Moscow, Belgium.

Moscow, Belgium "Charming comedies about unlikely romances ship out of Hollywood like genetically modified soybeans, so it seems a little unnecessary to import them here, as well," writes Leo Goldsmith at indieWIRE. "Moscow, Belgium, a fleet-footed May-December comedy that won hearts at Cannes Critics' Week and the European Film Awards, may seem unnecessary (but then again, Belgium has defied the odds before - this is the country that gave us Jean-Claude Van Damme when we least needed another hero). The film has no name-stars (Barbara Sarafian's only big credit is Peter Greenaway's 8½ Women), a no name-director (most of director Christophe Van Rompaey's prior credits are in Belgian TV), and a decidedly un-picturesque setting in the titular working-class Ghent neighborhood. But, damn it, the film is charming - and most likely this is due to its very lack of these and other qualities most commonly associated with Hollywood's iterations of the genre."

"The clichés are firmly in place, no question," concedes Nicolas Rapold in the Voice, but "Moscow, Belgium leaves you feeling less offended and dirty-feeling than the evidence suggests."

"The movie's steady attention to detail lends it a texture rarely found in films about domestic life," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "Its eye and ear for the particular and for what is left unsaid in tense conversation is unerring.... Here and there, especially in a recurrent post office motif, Moscow, Belgium is too tidy. But even then it is psychologically accurate."

"[T]he copious flaws smack of pure Hollywood drivel," finds Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "Of course, independent near-masterpieces have been forged with even less attractive raw material, but the triteness of Moscow, Belgium seeps through from macro to micro, leaving no detail untouched."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:50 AM

It's a Wonderful Life in 2008.

It's a Wonderful Life When I saw it for the first time in the early 80s, evidently around the same time Wendell Jamieson did, I was already a convert to Hollywood's classic era, but the friends I sat with in that Austin theater were most definitely not. They were there because it was assigned viewing, and they weren't happy about it. These were still the days when one sided with the rebels against the remnants of the old studio system. But what a watershed, Road to Damascus experience that night turned out to be; none of us left the theater with dry eyes.

Updated through 12/24.

"It's a Wonderful Life is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams," writes Jamieson in the New York Times, "of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife.... I haven't seen it on a movie screen since that first time, but on Friday it begins its annual pre-Christmas run at the IFC Cinema in Greenwich Village. I plan to take my 9-year-old son and my father, who has never seen it the whole way through because he thinks it's too corny. How wrong he is."

Rob Christopher will be watching it in Chicago, Joe Leydon in Houston, where he'll be seeing it on the big screen for the first time. Lucky man - take a look at the bank run scene in "high quality" for a taste of what's in store for Joe.

Rob Mackie has a brief note on the DVD in today's Guardian.

Earlier: AO Scott in the NYT; and much earlier, last year's "It's a Wonderful Blog-a-Thon" and the 2006 entry.

Update, 12/21: "[T]he film asks us to consider how family, community, duty and responsibility to one's fellow human beings is what characterises a person's worth," writes David Wilson for the Guardian. "Not piety or religious observance, but the struggle with the mundane and the banal, and the desire to create a self in the ordinariness and chaos of the practicalities of the everyday. I watch It's A Wonderful Life every year because that message needs to be repeated - time after time - and certainly just as often as Come All Ye Faithful, for it is that message that reminds us to do what we can to make this world a better place, rather than accepting our lot and waiting for God."

Update, 12/23: "Entire books have been written about It's a Wonderful Life," notes Leonard Pierce in Screengrab, "But one thing worth mentioning is that how terrifically effective the entire cast is: at a time when the star system was in full swing, Capra and his collaborators (which included script doctors in the uncredited form of Clifford Odets and Dalton Trumbo) populated Bedford Falls with an entire star system of great actors and actresses, many of them character types who gave the performances of their careers in the film. The entire cast seems to take their acting cues from the oversized yet surprisingly natural performance of Jimmy Stewart, who had to be talked into playing the role - his first since returning from a traumatic tour of duty in WWII."

Update, 12/24: For the Guardian, Paul Rennie takes a long look at the poster.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:57 AM | Comments (4)

Film Comment. Top 20s.

Wendy and Lucy Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy rises to the top of one of the most illustrious polls conducted each year. The filmlinc blog is offering a sneak peak at the results of Film Comment's new poll of critics: the top 20 films that saw a release in the US in 2008; the top 20 that didn't (Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman is the clear frontrunner here); and the list of participants (quite an honor roll).

Back to that first top 20: Interesting to see how tight the race is among the top five. Following Wendy are Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon, Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale, Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, Andrew Stanton's WALL•E and Jia Zhangke's Still Life.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:08 AM | Comments (1)

December 18, 2008

Shorts, 12/18.

Flying Down to Rio "On 22 December 1933, RKO released Flying Down to Rio and introduced the world to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers," writes David Parkinson in FilmInFocus. "They only danced together for a couple of minutes. But audiences instantly recognized their unique chemistry and, 75 years later, they are still the most iconic dance team in screen history."

Murnau, Borzage and Fox "might be the most lavish, cinema-worshipful video package ever assembled, situating 12 features, two lost-film "reconstructions," and a dissertation's worth of scholarship in the kind of expansive gift case you expect for a champagne cognac," writes Michael Atkinson in Moving Image Source. William Fox "could be said to have passionately conceived, through Murnau, a new American Expressionism, romantic and natural where the German version had been so grim and architectural. For a few years, he succeeded. Murnau may be seen as the presiding seminal force in this scenario, but clearly the hero of the era was Borzage, who took the dreamy, multilayered Sunrise palette and infused it with human complexity and romantic seriousness."

Escape Artist "The rap against Victor Fleming and John Sturges is that they were competent and perhaps even skilled directors who lacked the imagination and grace that elevates craftsmen into artists," writes Michael Fox at SF360. "Michael Sragow's Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master and Glenn Lovell's Escape Artist: The Life and Times of John Sturges, both splendid new biographies by film critics with local ties, expressly aim to reestablish their subjects' reputations. They hit that mark with varying success, but provide so much pleasure for even a casual moviegoer that it scarcely matters."

"It's vexing that Sebastian was yanked from [Michael] Powell's grip, because it would have been his second big collaboration with Leo Marks, who wrote Peeping Tom," writes David Cairns in the Auteurs' Notebook. "In the event, Powell had Marks's sprawling script rewritten by Gerald Vaughan Hughes, before his own ejection from the director's chair. Although producing was not really Powell's forte, he did get the script developed to near-perfection. One of Sebastian's great pleasures is the acreage of skewed dialogue."

Films in Review runs William K Everson's 1974 piece on the film preservation program at 20th Century Fox.

David Bordwell on Ashes of Time Redux: Wong Kar-wai "seems to have taken to heart his central theme of the transient moment, the fact that love can be extinguished at any instant. So why not change your films to match your mood today? Further, like Warhol, he seems to enjoy prodigality for its own sake."

Daniel Frampton, author of Filmosophy, "has also come to be of those (nowadays) very rare authors who have succeeded in founding a significant school of thought," writes Catherine Grant, who presents "some hot, hot, hot filmosophical links."

LA Weekly: Clint Eastwood For the LA Weekly "Holiday Film 2008" package, Scott Foundas interviews Clint Eastwood, who "will allow that, more often than not, those people he chooses to visit are haunted figures with dark and even dangerous pasts, men who have done or witnessed things no man should do or see." Related: Karina Longworth finds Gran Torino to be "most fun when it's working on the level of performance art, and much of the time, it resembles an art school take on an insult comic's one-man show."

Also in LA Weekly:

LA Weekly: Michelle Williams

Nikki Finke talks with the new film critic for the Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey: "Maybe it'll be an absolute disaster. But I think I've got a good mind, and I think I know film. In any case, I'm thrilled and could not be happier."

"In the second chapter of his book Gaming: Essays on Logarithmic Culture, NYU Media Studies prof Alexander Galloway tries to trace the transition between the analog cinema of the past and the all-digital cinema of today's video games," writes Gleb Sidorkin in the Tisch Film Review. "While I agree with Galloway's general assessment that 'video games and film are influencing and incorporating each other in novel ways,' when looking at specific works of art it is important to step back from the new media euphoria and see the broader historical trajectories in which these formal issues have played out."

The Futurological Congress "Waltz With Bashir director Ari Folman is going from past Middle Eastern wars to future global utopias." Steven Zeitchik in the Hollywood Reporter: "The director has acquired rights to 'The Futurological Congress,' a short story from science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, and intends to write the screenplay and shoot the movie as a live-action/animated hybrid." Related: Erica Abeel talks with Folman for indieWIRE.

At Hammer to Nail, Michael Tully writes an open letter to Sam Mendes: "You castrated Revolutionary Road."

In the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries has a little fun with a study "by psychologists at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University who claim that romantic comedies make viewers unrealistic about relationships. They found that fans of films such as You've Got Mail and While You Were Sleeping often fail to communicate with their partners effectively. They didn't understand that marriage is not bliss, but a 24/7 nightmare in which your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to keep the thing from becoming a car crash. Let us disabuse these fans with sequels."

Anne Thompson talks with Emma Thompson about Last Chance Harvey, her adaptation-in-progress of My Fair Lady and the sequel to Nanny McPhee.

Emma Pearse talks with Franka Potente, who's "starring as an earnest Cuban guerilla and lover to Benicio del Toro's hairy, brooding Ernesto Guevara in Steven Soderbergh's two-part, four-plus-hour epic, Che, which opened last week. Potente spoke with Vulture from 'fucking dark' Berlin about working with Soderbergh and her upcoming book on fitness for slackers."

"Kirk Douglas, the square-jawed hero famed for saving the world, getting the girl and in moments of toga-clad inspiration declaring 'I am Spartacus!' has a new string to his bow - as MySpace's oldest celebrity blogger." Guy Adams reports for the Independent.

The Yellow Handkerchief is "a gentle, low-key road movie, centering on the eternal need to love and to trust, suffused in the humanist spirit that has won its veteran producer, Arthur Cohn, three Oscars," writes Kevin Thomas. Also in the Los Angeles Times: Mark Olsen meets The Reader's David Kross.

Nathan Gelgud in the Independent Weekly: "I'm in awe of A Christmas Tale, but I don't want to stand in silence, marveling over it; I want to break wine bottles and hoist strangers on my shoulders to celebrate it."

Messiah of Evil Tim Lucas: "Code Red, the exciting cult video label, has made my Christmas by announcing on their blog that the first-ever widescreen release of Willard Huyck's Messiah of Evil is currently being readied for DVD release next May or June."

"Released in 2000, The Way of the Gun looked like - and it was certainly sold as - a wacky post-Tarantino flick, fast-talking sing-song ping-pong dialogue and adrenalized Mexican standoffs that actually take place in Mexico," writes James Rocchi. "It's actually far, far better than that, if you're tough enough to take it."

S*P*Y*S is an "uneven spy spoof" and "was panned by critics when it was originally released and it's not hard to see why the movie has received a lot of negative press," writes Kimberly Lindbergs, "but I still think S*P*Y*S has a few things to offer potential viewers who are looking for a few laughs."

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

Tom Stempel analyses another round of screenplays at the House Next Door.

Jonathan Lapper is calling on you to join a club.

McDonagh: Argento New blog on the block: "Maitland McDonagh is the author of Movie Lust, Filmmaking on the Fringe, The 50 Most Erotic Films of All Time and the definitive auteur study Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento." And she blogs.

Online listening tip. At the House Next Door, Peter Debruge, John Lichman, Vadim Rizov, Michael Joshua Rowin, Andrew Schenker, Keith Uhlich, ST VanAirsdale and Lauren Wissot discuss: "Film Critics in Peril on a Cliffhanger!"

Online listening tips. Ryland Walker Knight and Daniel Coffeen present Vinyl Is Podcast #8, while Ry and Brian Darr give us #9.

Online viewing tips. The SpoutBlog's Kevin Kelly finds "Eight Free Classic SciFi Movies To Ring Out The Old Year."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM

Spirit, Knight, Watchmen.

The Spirit "A slain cop is resurrected as a masked crime-fighter in The Spirit but Frank Miller's solo writing-directing debut plunges into a watery grave early on and spends roughly the next 100 minutes gasping for air," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "Pushing well past the point of self-parody, Miller has done Will Eisner's pioneering comicstrip no favors by drenching it in the same self-consciously neo-noir monochrome put to much more compelling use in Sin City.... If this summer's The Dark Knight raised the bar for seriousness, ambition and dramatic realism in the comicbook-based superhero genre, The Spirit reps its antithesis: Relentlessly cartoonish and campy, it's a work of pure digital artifice, feverishly committed to its own beautiful, hollow universe to the exclusion of any real narrative interest or engagement with its characters."

Updated through 12/25.

"Why So Serious?" For Newcity Chicago, Ray Pride surveys the offerings of the season and finds himself returning to The Dark Knight: Christopher Nolan "felt a mood and forged a dark and sufficiently ambiguous series of metaphors for contemporary ills that pro- and anti-vigilante interpretations are equally convincing. Even though everyone's seen it, it may be the most apt holiday movie."

"Watchmen could very well sound the death knell for superhero cinema as we know it," writes Daniel Steadman in Seven: "when faced with this dark, brutal tale of public disorder, international conflict and the threat of global terrorism, men in tights shooting webs or lifting planes begin to look a little preposterous."

Updates, 12/20: "Three years after Sin City, the technique of imposing actors on animated backdrops is wearing a little thin," writes Screen's Mike Goodridge. "Miller is a visionary when it comes to imagery and design, but the dark, dreary setting of Central City sometimes overwhelms The Spirit. Whereas Sin City kept the audience visually distracted with multiple storylines, this film demands that the audience stay in one murky visual milieu for a not-short 108 minutes, and it tests the patience.... Having said that, Miller's script is run through with a wry sense of humour which gives the film some buoyancy, and his actors gamely engage in the noir mood, throwing out one-liners and sexual innuendo with gay abandon."

Paul Matwychuk is amazed, and not in a good way, at "the sheer awfulness of Miller's script, which makes one terrible, inexplicable choice after another.... I had the same relationship with The Spirit that Kif from Futurama has with Zapp Branigan: it seems like every 40 seconds or so, it comes out with something so stupid I can't help but shudder and make an audible little groan of dismay."

Kevin Maher meets Eva Mendes for the London Times.

Update, 12/21: "The House Next Door's Keith Uhlich says that [Samuel L] Jackson is going through his Joan Crawford phase, complete with bulging eyeballs and obsessively sticking to his actor tics," notes Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. "If that's the case, then Jackson has hit a rock bottom with The Spirit that's comparable only to Crawford's appearance in Trog. If I'm highlighting Jackson's performance as the Octopus, grand mastermind of evil, perhaps it's because he's the only presence on screen that genuinely registers."

Update, 12/23: Geoff Boucher profiles Gabriel Macht for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 12/24: "[T]he movie's so full of nods to comics and their creators (from DC Comics founder Harry Donenfeld to artist Steve Ditko) that the fanboys will find room in their heart to forgive the desecration," writes Robert Wilonsky in the Voice. "Everyone else won't care at all."

But writing in the L Magazine, Henry Stewart finds The Spirit to be "a playful and self-conscious story of jewel heists, magic potions and disposable goons, pitched at children (or, adults' sense of childlike escape), that deals in mock-Chandler voice-overs and the stylized dialogue of 30s radio programs. It's the bat-tithesis of Christian Bale brooding, a welcome respite from the often extremist Comic Books Are Serious position dominating the public discussion. Just because they can be doesn't mean they always have to be."

Update, 12/25: "Miller's script lacks the mythic echoes and the human vulnerability of the best of the recent superhero films," writes Sean Axmaker in the Parallax View, "and his direction lacks the humanizing touches that can pull an audience into an unreal world. This world remains flat and distant, a tipsy balance of Miller's brand of two-fisted pulp exaggeration with slapstick action and camp flourishes that can't decides if it wants to be taken seriously or not. It might have looked good on paper, but then this isn't a paper medium. It's cinema, and for a man schooled in the differences by Eisner himself, you'd think he's have taken the lesson to heart."

In the New York Times, AO Scott wonders "why, somewhere in the middle of The Spirit, Samuel L Jackson and Scarlett Johansson arrive on screen decked out in swastikas and jackboots. Nothing in the logic of the film explains it, but then, to use the phrase 'the logic of the film' when talking about The Spirit may be to take the 'oxy' out of 'oxymoronic.'"

"The Spirit ran in the Sunday sections of newspapers through 1952, and it's revered (for good reason) by comic book fans to this day," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "You can't blame Miller for wanting to adapt it to the big screen. But while Miller certainly has a strong visual sense (as a comic book artist, he knows how to compose beautifully within the frame), he's clueless about movement and pacing, and his actors seem to have no idea what's going on, either."

"As a babe-delivery system, The Spirit is a rousing success," notes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "In every other sense, it's a pronounced failure."

For Josef Braun, "this hermetically sealed world that eschews what some of us love about movies: actual places, sunlight, spontaneity, interaction, evocations of sensual experience."

"Gone were Eisner's primary colors, replaced by muddy and amateurish black-and-white visuals with digitally added snow that never seemed to stick," writes Ed Champion. "The Spirit was so bad that it made Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy look like a masterpiece."

For the SpoutBlog's Kevin Buist, this is "an elaborately stylized train wreck."

"Eva Mendes gives the movie a mild jolt as Denny's childhood flame Sand Saref, now an international thief with a thing for plunging necklines," notes Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times. "But even comic-book characters need souls, and Miller's have none."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:44 PM | Comments (3)

Lists and awards, 12/18.

Momma's Man Let's start with an online listening tip. For WNYC, Nathan Lee talks with Time Out film editor Melissa Anderson and New York Times film critic AO Scott about the contrast between the magnitude of social, political and economical events in 2008 and the "micro" feel of the year's movies.

"When it comes to end of year top tens, I find the undistributed lists far more interesting (and useful) than the standard ones which, naturally, have a lot of overlap." Andrew Grant lists his top ten undistributed films of 2008. His #1: Roy Andersson's You, The Living.

Glenn Kenny posts a "conversation starter," 21 favorite films of 08 "in what I will call vague order of preference." His #1: Jacques Rivette's The Duchess of Langeaise.

Che At AMC News, James Rocchi puts Steven Soderbergh's Che at the top of his "10 American Fiction Films in Wide Release" list.

Anna Bak-Kvapil presents the second half of the Tisch Film Review's list of the "Top 10 Repertory Films of 2008." And once again, here's part 1.

At IFC, Matt Singer and Alison Willmore list "2008's Most Covetable DVD Box Sets."

Slumdog Millionaire scores six nominations from London's Critics' Circle. Archie Thomas, who's got the full list at Variety, notes that three films follow with five nominations each: Frost/Nixon, Happy-Go-Lucky and Hunger.

WALL-E "I dropped out of the Chicago Film Critics Association last year, partly because I was so frustrated by the bovine timidity of its year-end awards," blogs the Reader's JR Jones. "Announced this morning, the 2008 awards are more of the same." At any rate, WALL•E wins best picture, best original screenplay, best animated feature and best original score.

As more ballots appear in indieWIRE's poll of critics, Tom Hall elaborates on his.

Cartoon Brew's Jerry Beck's working on a new book and needs your help selecting the "100 Greatest Looney Tunes."

An "alternative Top 10"? Marshall Fine explains.

Online eeek! The Smoking Gun collects its "2008 Mug Shots of the Year."

Online scrolling tip. The Big Picture's "2008 in photographs (part 2 of 3)." Earlier: Part 1.

Online listening tip. Fred Kaplan samples the "Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2008" at Slant. Meantime, the Music Club has convened: Ann Powers, Robert Christgau and Jody Rosen discuss the best of the best.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:00 PM

Fests and events, 12/18.

Austin Underground Film Festival For the Austin Chronicle, Josh Rosenblatt talks with Austin Underground Film Festival founder Andy Gately about some of the films screening tomorrow.

Wavelength "has been laughed out of the cinema and lauded as a minimalist masterpiece, yet [Michael] Snow seems relatively unfazed," writes Jessica Lack in the Guardian. "In fact he decided to title his new exhibition Yes Snow Show for that very reason. 'The curator asked me if I could suggest a title for the exhibition and it became Yes Snow Show,' he says. 'I like it because it contains the possible extreme reactions, positive and negative, to my work. Perhaps it'll encourage discussion.'" Through February 1 at the BFI Southbank Gallery.

Online listening tip. Laugh and Live: The Films of Douglas Fairbanks runs at MoMA through January 12. Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta, co-authors of the biography Douglas Fairbanks, are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online viewing tip. In anticipation of Scorsese Classics, running at the Walter Reade in New York from December 26 through 31, the filmlinc blog's Amanda McCormick posts The Big Shave.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:40 PM

The Class.

The Class LA Weekly's Ella Taylor on The Class: "As in Human Resources and the devastating Time Out ([Laurent] Cantet seems most at ease in the workplace, which may be why Heading South, about sex tourism in Haiti, is his only misfire), he builds thickly detailed experiential worlds through which he slowly leaks the pressing problems of our age - unemployment, downsizing, and now, in The Class, the changing meaning of education in a multiracial, heavily immigrant environment, where the very idea of a unifying culture has all but broken down. If that sounds dry, it's anything but."

Updated through 12/22.

"In all, The Class is a prime document of French post-colonial blues, though its relevance to American urban education could not be any greater if it had been made in the Bronx or Trenton or South Los Angeles," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "I would be surprised if this brilliant and touching film didn't become required viewing for teachers all over the United States. Everyone else should see it as well - it's a wonderful movie."

"It's all designed to flatter the middle-class art-film audience's patronizing attitude toward the Third World," argues Armond White in the New York Press.

Interviews with Cantet: Erica Abeel (indieWIRE), Elisabeth Donnelly (Tribeca), Phil Nugent (Screengrab) and Stephen Saito (IFC).

Craig Phillips notes that the screenplay's free to download.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and New York.

Updates, 12/20: The Class "exemplifies the anti-Oscar aesthetic," writes Dana Stevens in Slate:

It's an unsentimental slice-of-life story, shot on digital film with a cast of unglamorous unknowns. What few moments of suspense it has to offer are almost entirely language-related: Did he really just use that word? In what sense did he mean it? And what purpose does the imperfect subjunctive serve, anyway? Yet The Class is also one of the few films this year that I'd recommend without reservations to just about anyone. If you've ever sat in a classroom (or stood in front of one), if you're interested in thinking about race, social class, language, loyalty, work - oh, let's just say life - this unassuming movie will nail you to your seat.

"One of the several remarkable things about this austere and masterly movie - which may remind cinephiles of the calm clarity and seeming simplicity of the French master, Robert Bresson - is that [François] Bégaudeau is playing a version of himself, in a screenplay of his own devising that is in turn based on a novel that he also wrote." Richard Schickel in Time: "It is hard to think of another film more tightly autobiographical than this one. It's even harder to think of other films that build so gripping a narrative out of a string of comparatively minor and disparate incidents."

"Three of the last five Palme d'Or winners have been documentary-style dramas," notes Darrell Hartman in Interview. "In addition to The Class, there's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days... and the Belgian drama The Child, which won in 2005.... Ken Loach's Irish-nationalist drama The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which won in 2006, doesn't exactly look like a documentary, but it does come from one of cinema's foremost practitioners of social realism. Fahrenheit 9/11, the 2004 winner, is the odd one out - ironic, considering it's a documentary."

"[D]uring the second half's institutional breakdown, the movie truly comes alive, casting off any To Monsieur, with Love aspirations and turning into something much more complicated, chewy and real," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

Heading South "found [Cantet] shading too far into lefty didacticism, but The Class commits itself so fully to its semi-documentary style that there's no space for editorializing," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

Update, 12/22: "Rather than To Sir with Love, it recalls British director Ken Loach's brand of leftist social realism," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "Of the four films Laurent Cantet has made, three center around the workplace (or its absence, as in his 2001 masterpiece, Time Out.) Like his debut Human Resources, The Class examines the way people exercise power over each other in a charged environment."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:45 PM

Yes Man.

Yes Man "That stink emanating from the vicinity of Yes Man is desperation - specifically, that of Jim Carrey, who with this Peyton Reed-helmed comedy both cops to his dramatic forays' imprudence and attempts to right his career's downhill slide by unimaginatively rehashing Liar Liar," writes Nick Schager in Slant.

"'And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself' isn't just a line from A Visit from St Nicholas - it's how I felt about Jim Carrey's performance in the new comedy Yes Man." Alonso Duralde at MSNBC: "Having been annoyed by his antics in many of his recent outings - take Fun with Dick and Jane, please - the world-class mugger dials it down and delights in this breezy (if somewhat formulaic) flick."

Updated through 12/25.

"This is the fourth film directed by Raleigh's own Reed, who - since his debut teen charmer Bring It On - has been making films about manipulative, immature adults," notes Nathan Gelgud in the Independent Weekly. "Down With Love got most of its energy from the unbankable conceit of tossing off a Doris Day-Rock Hudson trifle. Reed's last movie, The Break-Up, concerning the disintegration of a relationship between two unlikable bores, derived a weird kind of zeal from the fact that Reed's serious direction was out of proportion with the film's ineffective content. This led a friend to accuse The Break-Up of "thinking it was (Woody Allen's) Husbands and Wives.' Unfortunately, Yes Man's cinematic approach is not at risk of being mentioned in the same breath as that of Husbands and Wives. It's doubtful anyone would even mention it in the same breath as that of When Harry Met Sally."

Armond White in the New York Press: "Right now, Carrey's career is more troubled than Mickey Rourke's - an avoidable point in the gag about custom-made celebrity look-a-like cakes. Carrey looks at the Mickey Rourke cake and in Yes Man's best line worries, 'I hope it doesn't taste like Mickey Rourke."

"Just say no," advises Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader.

Updates, 12/20: "Physical comedians age in dog years, and Jim Carrey is panting heavily," writes Josh Levin in Slate. "If you find Carrey's latter-day mien too depressing to bear, perhaps it's best to think of Yes Man as a Zooey Deschanel vehicle. Despite being forced to inhabit a character infused with Garden State levels of quirkiness... Deschanel keeps things light and frothy as Carrey flails away."

"The role of Mr Carrey's romantic counterpart is never an easy one, given his manic energy and the childish narcissism that is the basis of his shtick," notes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Only Kate Winslet, engaging with a more subdued incarnation of Mr Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has been able to distract him from himself."

"Watching Yes Man was, for me, a completely joyless experience," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "I just can't take pleasure in seeing Carrey fall, figuratively or literally. His particular brand of mugging and physical shtick drove some people crazy right from the start, but I used to delight in his pinpoint timing, in the effortless ballet of his rubbery limbs. Carrey is astonishing in Dumb & Dumber, a poo-humor masterstroke. At the time, there was no one like him, and even now, there's still no one like him - but his distinctiveness no longer matters. With Yes Man, Carrey has bled the well dry, doing everything he knows how to do, over and over again, just to prove that he still knows how to do it. It's exhilarating to see brilliance in a comic; but by the time you start smelling it, the game is over."

"Everything's so apathetic that the movie feels like a shrug, and even Flight of the Conchords' Rhys Darby, phoning in a sad Ricky Gervais impersonation, can't get a laugh out of this dreck," writes Paul Constant in the Stranger.

"Carrey can turn in strong performances, but sincerity and humility just look like more poses pulled from his bag of funny faces," observes Keith Phipps at the AV Club.

"We couldn't summarize Yes Man better than Carrey did on the Tonight Show on Tuesday, when he purported to fall asleep and offered this précis between snores," notes Richard Corliss in Time: "'Carl Allen is a guy who doesn't engage in life. Then he decides to say yes to everything, no matter how silly or deranged it is. Critics are calling it a panacea for our dark times we're living in.' In a little swipe at the competition, Carrey said of Yes Man, 'It's the only movie this weekend where nobody dies in the end.'"

"Jim Carrey works the premise for all it's worth, but it doesn't allow him to bust loose and fly," writes Roger Ebert. "When a lawyer must tell the truth and wants desperately not to (even pounding himself over the head with a toilet seat to stop himself), it's funny. When a loan officer must say 'yes' and wants to, where is the tension?"

Yes Man is actually based on a book - by Danny Wallace, who tells the story of the adaptation from his POV in the Guardian.

Update, 12/25: Online listening tip. Ambrose Heron talks with Danny Wallace.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:41 PM

Spanish Cinema Now. 8.

The Sixth Sense Today's entry from James Van Maanen. Earlier: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Last Saturday afternoon, the Spanish Cinema Now series offered a one-time-only screening of one of the "damned" Spanish silent films. No - this was not very early Visconti. Rather, as the gentleman Jose Maria Prado, director of the Ministry of Culture, Spain, who graciously and informatively introduced the film explained, "damned" was the expression (and a good one I'd say) for films that - for whatever reason - failed to ever find a theatrical release. Many of these may still languish in vaults somewhere, I suppose, but now, at least, we've had the opportunity to see The Sixth Sense (El Sexto Sentido).

Nearly 75 years later, M Night Shyamalan's formula - a bit of boredom followed by a surprise twist - has nothing on this enchanting and funny movie that, at just over 70 minutes, combines a budding boy-wins-loses-wins-girl romance with the tale of a professor who professes to have found a way to capture - not just life but truth! - via moving pictures. Comedy, philosophy and depression follow - and all because of a deadbeat dad who demands to go to the bullfight. How do you say plus ça change in Spanish?

The movie, written and co-directed (with Eusebio Fernández Ardavín) by Nemesio M Sobrevila is full of fun and the occasional avant-garde detail, moment or idea. Maybe these, more than anything else, relegated the film to its "damned" status. (Or else Catholic Spain of 1929 was not quite ready for the bizarre connections the movie gamely makes.) Adding immensely to our enjoyment of this silent flick was the live piano accompaniment provided by Carolyn Schwarz.

Railroad Crossing One of the SCN's more unusual and stylistically serious films is young Catalan filmmaker Pere Vilà i Barceló's Railroad Crossing (Pas a nivell). It took me a while to get used to the grainy, slightly-unfocused visuals, as well as to rarely being able (for the first half hour, at least) to get a good, close look at the main character, who seems intensely alone. I thought he had just graduated from something comparable to our high school, but the program notes informed me that it was university.

This character, Marc, played with a near-placid stoicism by a tall, good-looking and rangy young actor named Marc Homs, seems to have no friends and only a cursory connection with his family and co-workers. He's a major "loner" in the making. We see Marc at home, at work, vaguely propositioning a prostitute, masturbating in the shower, even being forced into learning dance steps from his grandmother - all with the same fogged-glass exterior that manages to hide any feeling, if indeed much feeling exists. Then, in one very strong scene, we see it.

This scene, together with some other moments in the movie called to my mind last year's La Soledad by Jaime Rosales. But Railroad Crossing is nowhere near as accomplished a work, though it shows promise and a welcome rigor. Toward the end, Marc even seems to have made a connection - two, actually - that might induce some positive feelings. In both cases, the camera remains so far away from the event that we can't really tell. Then he and we go back to his daily routine which is beginning to bore us as much as it bores him. Suddenly, in the midst of an odd, perhaps first-time event, the movie ends. I will be interested in watching this filmmaker's further career, even though I occasionally had to pinch myself to stay awake during this, his first full-length film. Railroad Crossing screens again Sunday, December 21, at 4:15 pm.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:23 PM

Sam Bottoms, 1955 - 2008.

Sam Bottoms
Sam Bottoms, a film and television actor who played the role of California surfer-turned-GI Lance Johnson in Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, has died. He was 53.

Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times.

The younger brother of Timothy Bottoms, with whom he made his film debut in The Last Picture Show (1971), went on to a number of high profile gigs." Lance "could have stepped out of a silent film, as unflappable as Buster Keaton as all hell breaks loose around him, unscratched by calamity due to an essential, almost holy simplicity that strips him of desire and renders him bulletproof. His tragic "stumble-minded" character in The Last Picture Show isn't so fortunate... and yet he's the happiest of the lot, even up to the moment of his senseless death.

Arbogast.

Posted by dwhudson at 11:26 AM

SAG. Nominations.

SAG "The members of the Screen Actors Guild recently took a short break from calling for the replacement of their union's leadership to vote on those which they felt were the year's best performances," writes Lane Brown, who's got the full list at Vulture. "SAG's awards are typically a more accurate Oscar predictor than most of the other meaningless ones you've been hearing about lately." Doubt leads with five nominations; Milk and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button follow with three each.

Updates: Commentary: David Carr, David Poland, Anne Thompson and Jeffrey Wells.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:55 AM

Time Out New York. "The year in film, A to Z."

Time Out New York: A to Z A fun feature from David Fear and Joshua Rothkopf.

For example, "A is for Asia Argento," "B is for bloodsucking teens" ... "S is for self-distribution" and so on, all the way through to "Z is for Zachary."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:37 AM

December 17, 2008

Lists and awards, 12/17.

The Lawrence Jordan Album "Our official 'B-movie' distribution stream - straight-to-DVD releases - grows in number and variety every year, as fewer films can be, or at least are, affordably shown theatrically than ever before," writes Michael Atkinson at IFC. "Here're my favorites from this year, the movies that first saw American screens (big or small) on digital video in 2008, be they brand new or decades old." His #1: Lawrence Jordan's Sophie's Place.

Jürgen Fauth presents "a highly subjective list of ten great unreleased films I saw at the four festivals I was lucky enough to attended this year - Berlin, the Hamptons, New York and Tribeca. Let's hope they'll make it to a theater near you soon." His #1: Koji Wakamatsu's United Red Army.

"While the rest of the Internet-verse is prepping their 2008 Best Ofs, Favorites, and Annual Excuse for Lists, Exploding Kinetoscope, counterproductive as always, proudly presents its Favorite Films of 2007."

"In a nice change of pace from the predictable rotation of best picture winners happening around the United States, the Toronto Film Critics' Association named Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy best picture of the year, in addition to honoring its star, Michelle Williams, as best actress." Peter Knegt reports for indieWIRE.

As the ballots keep rolling into indieWIRE, Karina Longworth adds a few notes to hers at the SpoutBlog.

Man on Wire AJ Schnack's launched a series of interviews with "some of the year's top nonfiction filmmakers." So far: James Marsh (Man on Wire) and Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (Trouble the Water).

Dreaming up "categories that you might not see elsewhere," Noah Forrest awards the first round of Frenzies; also at Movie City News: Houston Film Critics' choice for best picture, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and the Dallas-Ft Worth Critics's choice: Slumdog Millionaire.

In the New York Observer, Sara Vilkomerson's got ten and Rex Reed lists his bests and worsts.

Northwest Film Forum's David Hanagan: "For all you sprocket heads out there, here are my top ten Kodak 16mm film stocks for 2008."

Time: Person of the Year 2008 Guess who's Time's Person of the Year 2008. Steven Spielberg on one of the runners-up: "On the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008, 2 billion TV viewers and thousands in attendance in the now famous Bird's Nest were treated to an unforgettable spectacle at the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games. Behind it all was the creative genius of Chinese film director Zhang Yimou."

Online scrolling tip. From one of the best new blogs of the year, the Big Picture's "2008 in photographs (part 1 of 3)."

Online viewing tip. "Kermodean Highlights from 2008."

Online viewing tips. Kevin Lee's "5 Best Music Videos of 2008" at the SpoutBlog.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:51 PM

Nothing But the Truth.

Nothing But the Truth "Despite an intriguingly familiar title and a story that hinges on a journalist at a powerful newspaper who is jailed for refusing to name her source, Nothing But the Truth has nothing to do with you know what or who," writes Manohla Dargis in, well, you know where. "To be honest, I was looking forward to watching a movie about Judith Miller, the former reporter from the New York Times who in 2005 was jailed for contempt of court after she refused to cooperate with a grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Wilson (a k a Plame) as an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency.... I'm not really sure what [Rod] Lurie, whose previous films include The Contender, an exploration of female political power and its threat, believed he was saying in this new film. Nothing but the Truth has nothing much at all to do with the historical record, which wouldn't be bad if it offered something persuasive and worthwhile in return, like a reckoning of journalism and its abuses."

Updated through 12/20.

"Rather than Iraq and the nonexistent WMDs that Miller helped persuade the world were an imminent danger, the trigger is a would-be presidential assassination that, blamed on Venezuela, precipitates a US attack on Caracas," writes writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "After secret agent Erica Van Doren (Vera Farmiga) apparently leaks the information that the Venezuelan connection is bogus, journalist Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) scoops the world by identifying Van Doren as a spook. Adding to the fun, both women are soccer moms, whose kids attend the same DC school. The actresses are otherwise well-matched - sanctimonious Beckinsale is coltish yet stubborn; faintly ironic Farmiga tough but girlish."

"Lurie could rightly be accused of oversimplifying a knotty case to score points for embattled journalists, but goodness knows, the field could use a boost," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "But mostly, Nothing But the Truth operates a lot like Billy Ray's Shattered Glass and Breach, offering up the sort of no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes docudrama that's in short supply these days."

"The film easily could have gotten saddled with liberal polemics and pedestrian plot twists, but Lurie's focus is on lean, intelligent storytelling while keeping his righteous anger worked seamlessly into plotting and character development," writes Jay Antani in Slant.

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Lurie "about his roots in political life, the sudden collapse of the film's distributor, Yari Film Group, and his next project, a remake of Straw Dogs."

Earlier: David D'Arcy from Toronto.

Update, 12/18: "While my moviegoing companion dismissed Nothing But the Truth as 'a steaming pile of dung,' I felt compelled to defend the movie's odder moments, even as I simultaneously recognized it as a deeply flawed political drama," writes Ed Champion. "Beneath Nothing But the Truth's implausible and pleasantly preposterous politics beats the half-hidden heart of a perfectly respectable exploitation film."

"Instead of the tired national security vs freedom of speech debate, it'd be great to have a dialogue about the implied contractual nature of the Bill of Rights, about how our Founding Fathers likely expected some reasonably responsible behavior on the part of its citizenry in return for these rights carved out from the government." Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE: "This kind of complexity doesn't make for easy or exciting cinema, and ignoring a real, hard civics lesson is an obvious choice for a political thriller. This is Lurie's right. But that doesn't mean we need to like the results."

"Previously known for potboilers whose tone was just shy of hysterical (The Contender in particular), Lurie here takes a welcome step back from hyperbole," writes Chris Barsanti at Film Journal International. "He's produced a crisply shot drama that takes a tangled knot of issues and plays them out with a reasonable amount of realism."

Updates, 12/20: "Lurie spins off into invention like a Law & Order writer on deadline, scrambling the issues so thoroughly it's no longer clear what, if anything, the movie is meant to address," writes Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times.

Brent Simon talks with Beckinsale for Vulture.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:05 PM

Seven Pounds.

Seven Pounds "Seven Pounds is approximately two hours long, and it spends almost the entirety of that time hiding its premise from you, and wondering why Will Smith is behaving so strangely," writes Paul Matwychuk. "The answer turns out to be both stranger and more banal than you expect. By the standards of normal human behaviour, Smith's plan is nuts - involving identity theft, all sorts of creepy, passive-aggressive stalker behavior, and a climactic bathtub scene that really has to be seen to be believed - but by the standards of 'uplifting' Hollywood dramas, the self-sacrificing saintliness of Smith's motives is depressingly familiar, especially if you've already seen movies like Pay It Forward, The Bucket List or Reign Over Me."

Updated through 12/20.

"Two years ago nearly to the day, Will Smith and Italian director Gabriele Muccino released The Pursuit of Happyness, one of the most underrated of recent Hollywood movies, which starred Smith as a single father navigating a hand-to-mouth existence on the streets of San Francisco." Scott Foundas in the Voice: "Writing at the time, I praised the film for Smith's superb performance and for its willingness to honestly address the social and economic realities of America's underclass. Watching Smith and Muccino's latest collaboration, Seven Pounds, I marveled (to paraphrase the great Jermaine Jackson) that something so right could go so wrong."

Muccino "seems to think he's in Ingmar Bergman territory, but he's actually made the longest, most dour episode of My Name is Earl imaginable," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC.

"The film plays like an exercise in annoying the viewer, deliberately confusing not for any meaningful purpose, but merely because if any of our questions were answered in a timely fashion, there wouldn't be any movie left," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly.

"The most morbid feel-good movie of the season, Seven Pounds takes the notion of self-sacrifice and pushes it beyond an act of nobility into the realm of a last-chance suicide mission," writes Jeremiah Kipp in Slant. "While I can't bring myself to give away the revelations of Smith's character, which are the entire reason this film exists, I can say that the film is about giving of one's self to the last drop of blood. The result is a pretty looking, sugarcoated Hollywood confection that won't bring itself to admit that it's about a ghoul dancing on the edge of his grave."

"Though the heavyness sometimes turns into heavy-handedness, particularly in the film's central romance between Will Smith's martyr and Rosario Dawson's victimized girl-next-door, overall it's an impressive, often moving, work about penance and sacrifice," finds the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik.

Allison Samuels talks with Smith for Newsweek.

Updates, 12/18: "A glib, charming movie star - but resourceless actor - Smith must think scrunching-up his face and looking worried for two hours shows serious concentration and emotional gravity," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Apparently, he is unaware of the ways that movies and movie stars communicate depth and sincerity."

The film "soon turns from an intriguing investigation of morality and grief into an exercise in maudlin excess," writes Cindy Fuchs in the Philadelphia City Paper.

Interviews with Dawson: Brent Simon (Vulture) and Chris Willman (Los Angeles Times).

Updates, 12/20: Before clicking on Stephanie Zacharek's name, you should see Salon's editor's note: "This review contains spoilers, from the first sentence on. Seriously." Since I'll very likely never see this movie - ever - I read on, and I did find a sentence safe to cut-n-paste here: "As holiday heartwarmers go, Seven Pounds is so unintentionally ghoulish, it makes Black Christmas look like It's a Wonderful Life."

"Frankly, though," writes AO Scott in the New York Times, as if in response to SZ's first sentence, "I don't see how any review could really spoil what may be among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made. I would tell you to go out and see it for yourself, but you might take that as a recommendation rather than a plea for corroboration. Did I really see what I thought I saw?"

"I will not offer a review of this film, as that would be a waste of the little time we have together in this review space," begins Charles Mudede in the Stranger. "But to those who do watch Seven Pounds and see its shocking 'revelation,' I want to offer this reading or decoding of its narrative: The movie is about the death of the black male."

The Oregonian's Michael Russell:

As DK Holm recently pointed out - citing examples ranging from James Cagney to Steven Seagal - "actors can be just as much the auteurs behind their films as directors." This seems especially true of male stars prone to action roles: Why, despite a rotating roster of directors, is Mel Gibson always getting tortured? Why does Tom Cruise have a long streak of films in which he learns a vocational skill or wears a mask? Why is Seagal always playing guitar and yakking about the environment? Why is Harrison Ford always rescuing his wife and holding up his Index Finger of Doom?

We can now definitively add to this list Will Smith - who in Seven Pounds continues the lonely-messed-up-savior streak he started with I Am Legend and Hancock.

"Having, with The Pursuit of Happyness, already proven himself capable of bringing raw sensitivity to mawkish material, there was modest reason to hope that Smith might again pull off the same feat in his second collaboration with that film's director, Gabriele Muccino," writes Nick Schager at Cinematical. "No such luck. Seven Pounds is misguided mush from the moment go, a deliberately muddled bit of inspirational pap that masks its inherent silliness with structural obliqueness and, worse still, affords Smith scant opportunities to infuse his character with authentic humanity."

For the New Republic's Christopher Orr, this is "a dour, morally beclouded film that confuses generosity and grief, self-abnegation and self-annihilation."

"The trick of Seven Pounds, a k a Extreme Makeover: Will Smith Edition, is that it takes the most self-serving redemption conceit imaginable and converts it into a tale of Christ-like sacrifice and grace," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "It's a con job that feels like a precisely attenuated work of art, elegantly weaving flashbacks and ellipses into the story in an effort to conceal how shamelessly manipulative it is in the end. And as always, Smith comes out a winner."

"The message of Seven Pounds (other than, Don't text-message while driving) is that even the most depressive person can find a way to make other people happy," writes Richard Corliss in Time. "If that doesn't sound like a movie to buoy your Christmas spirit, ask yourself this: How often do you sit through a film's closing credits so you have a little private time to wipe away the tears?"

Posted by dwhudson at 1:58 PM

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man "Imperative to catch on the big screen, Stephen Kijak's Scott Walker: 30 Century Man opens today for one week only at the IFC Center in New York." NP Thompson at the House Next Door: "There are other fleeting, theatrical engagements in the offing for early '09 before this documentary, long denied to American audiences though it did smashingly well in the UK, settles onto DVD. But having first seen it 18 months ago in a real movie theater and then again last week on my laptop, I can state with certainty that Kijak's collage-like approach to recreating 1960s pop music history, and tracing its influence through the subsequent decades, loses something in immediacy and intimacy on the small box. And the abstract visualizations that Kijak devises - soft-focused, delicately hallucinatory mosaics in orange and gold that feel all of a piece with Walker's era and sensibility - cry out for the widest panorama."

Updated through 12/20.

"To say that Walker is to pop music what Joyce was to literature perhaps implies undue import, but the comparison is helpful in that one must allow oneself to listen to, and enjoy, The Drift in the same way one might read, and enjoy, Ulysses," writes David Lowery in Hammer to Nail. "Stephen Kijak provides a fine point of entry with his documentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man... For all its biographical accounting, 30 Century Man is at its best when Kijak follows Walker into the studio to observe the process behind The Drift."

"To its credit, 30 Century Man is seriously focused on defining and promoting appreciation for the music itself," writes Leah Churner in Reverse Shot. "Much of it is organized into a 'listening party' format, in which various musicians are shot in close-up as they hear recordings of Walker's music, providing commentary and some interesting facial expressions: David Bowie, Sting, Brian Eno, certain members of Radiohead, Ute Lemper, Damon Albarn and Allison 'electroclash' Goldfrapp, who praises Walker for 'not hiding behind fashion or rhythm.' The long span of releases from the Walker Brothers' first single, Pretty Girls Everywhere (1965), to Tilt (1995) provides plenty of conversational fodder.... I thought 30 Century Man would provide some kind of an experiential inroad to his persona, something persuasive and winning - a hook, in short. I forgot hooks are for pop songs, not trips to Hell. Smell you later, Orpheus."

IndieWIRE interviews Kijak.

Update, 12/18: Diedrich Diederichsen in Artforum:

Walker's own take on his artistic persona is evident in his songs, with their homages to Pier Paolo Pasolini and Jean Genet and their evocations of physical violence and primal distress, but his legend is one of involuntary periods of silence, of losing his first audience and never finding another, of the clash of avant-garde ambitions with the world of pop music, and of the soul of Xenakis trapped in a boy-group body. This legend was surely not willed, let alone deliberately constructed, by Walker himself—which makes it all the more powerful....

We do not find out anything about Walker's view of the world or what drives him in Kijak's film, however. What we are dealing with here is a fan dedicated to presenting his hero as a visionary genius.

Update, 12/20: "In a movie that avoids examining Mr Walker's personal history, there are hints of a man struggling with chronic depression and problems with alcohol, but they are only hints," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "No major personal relationships are mentioned or even alluded to. The music speaks for itself. And the fragments offered from Mr Walker's albums Tilt, from 1995, and The Drift, from 2007, accompanied by abstract visual designs, are, in a word, haunting."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:50 PM

Spanish Cinema Now. 7.

Suso's Tower More from James Van Maanen; previously: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Related: Acquarello on Casual Day, "a serviceable, if slight and pedestrian take on the inherent fallacy of team building exercises that serve only to reinforce institutionalized power structures and exploitive relationships."

One of the consistent surprises of the Spanish Cinema Now series (in fact of all the FSLC's individual European "country" fests) is that you simply cannot tell via the program which film might be a must-see. Case in point: Tom Fernández's Suso's Tower (La Torre de Suso), which is part of the Javier Cámara retrospective. My favorite so far - and by a long shot - the movie seems as good an example of intelligent mainstream moviemaking as I've seen in this festival. To describe the plot would simply put you off, so I'll simply say that Fernández, in his first full-length feature as director/writer, has taken the "big" themes - life, death, sex, love, friendship, family, failure and success - and whipped them into a singularly edifying story that handles these often weighty topics with such a light but certain touch that you'll give over to laughter, thought and tears without a moment's undue prodding.

The writing here is very classy indeed: little exposition so that all we see and hear of character and past events flows naturally. While I am sure that Mr Fernández has a lot more to learn about filmmaking, I must say his choice of visuals works so well that I'd have to view the movie again before getting at all picky. He has also cast his film exceedingly well. Cámara is wonderful (no surprise), and he is surrounded by actors who all give their somewhat typical characters (mom, dad, best friends, ex-girls and so on) such precise and individual characteristics that they become full-bodied, fascinating people in no time at all. Perhaps the quirkiest and most charming is an ex-tryst whom our hero cannot remember (he was drunk at the time), played wonderfully well by Malena Alterio, who possesses such keen intelligence, wit and - most important - patience, that I think women of all stripes, feminists to fundamentalists, will embrace her as their own.

There is so much to ponder about these lives as the movie moves along (and afterwards): the meaning of success, failure and our ability to grow and change. Male friendship, as much as any of the other subjects at hand, is given a most interesting workout. I find it strange that, with all the films made for the male market - action, sports, thrillers, sci-fi and more - that we see so little of this. Suso's Tower gives us a chance to fill the gap. It screens again Friday, December 19, at 6:30 pm.

Mofetas In my interview with young Spanish filmmakers Javier Gutierrez and Nacho Vigalondo, both mentioned how, when you make short films in Spain, you are much more heralded and appreciated than when you attempt a full-length feature. After seeing my second year of Spanish shorts at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Spanish Cinema Now series (titled Shortmetraje), I'm not surprised. Every filmmaker in this 101-minute program is worth seeing and several are worth much more: Their contributions probably herald new moviemakers from whom we'll soon be seeing full-length features (which will, of course, be promptly be ignored by the Spanish film-going public).

In fact, three of the shorts seem like they're already a feature just waiting to be made: the 11-minute Skunks (Mofetas) by Inés Enciso that offers a look at two young "illegals" trying to get from Africa to Spain; Lightbourne (Alumbramiento) by Eduardo Chapero which details in 15 minutes a family's watch during their mother's last night; and the program's 13-minute shining light, A Walk (Paseo) by Arturo Ruiz Serrano, in which we watch as two men help a third learn to declare his love for a woman. The particular large event surrounding this smaller one - and the time in which it takes place - comes clear as this beautifully realized short progresses. It could easily constitute the beginning, middle or end of a wonderful full-length movie.

Married Heterosexuals (Heterosexuales y casados), another longer short (19 minutes), offers a look at a modern relationship gone awry, concluding with a very funny and perhaps sadly possible route that more of our current couplings might, unfortunately, take. With tighter control over dialogue and narrative, Vicente Villanueva might just make the move into a smart and timely feature film. Another quarter-hour fiction that moves fast and furiously over a wealth of characters and events is She Lies (Miente), in which a beautiful young immigrant woman's gift for her younger sister sets off a chain reaction of major proportions. Of all the pieces in the program, this short is already so close to a full-length film in terms of everything except its running time that I can't imagine that its director, Isabel de Ocampo, won't make the actual feature film sometime soon. The only short that left me cold (and even here I can appreciate the visuals) was the 14-minute Line of Flight (Linea de Fuga) by something/someone called Tronk, full of noise, light and "partying" to little effect.

Animation is well-represented via two shorts of wildly divergent style and content. The five-minute Berbaco, from the animation workshop at Arteleku, simply offered up designs, patterns and shapes that morphed interestingly and beautifully from one thing into another. The Attack of the Killer Kritters (El Ataque de los Kriters asesinos) from Sam Orti Marti proved a wonderfully funny combo of Claymation, monster movie and telenovela satire. With visuals that were clever, funny and on target, these nine minutes sped by with giggles aplenty from the audience. Shortmetraje screens again Thursday, December 18, at 9 pm.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:37 PM

Sight & Sound. Jan 09.

Sight & Sound: January 09 Like lists? How about 50 critics' worth, spread out over 76 pages, downloadable as a nifty PDF? "We have chosen to make much of 2008 because it seems such a watershed moment for cinema criticism and reviewing," writes Sight & Sound editor Nick James. "In crude terms for film quality, the year has already had the raspberry in these pages. But collectively our contributors beg to differ.... So how is it that in the so-called 'critics crisis' year (which happens also to be credit-crunch year, and endangered-arthouse-distribution year) the critics want to recommend so much?"

Also in this new issue:

Tim Lucas on The Quare Fellow (1962), based on a play that'd been a hit in Ireland a few years before: "It's a loose and overly sober adaptation that is nonetheless worth seeing for Sylvia Syms... While almost everyone else pitches their performance at an overly earnest, virtually sloganeering level, making the film as much an anti-capital-punishment pamphlet as an entertainment, Syms imbues her scenes with the sense of danger and wrenching human ambiguity the picture needs to function as compelling drama."

"Stretches of The Man from London may hint that [Béla] Tarr is caught in a... creative impasse..., but the peculiar pleasures of his cinema are still to the fore," writes Michael Brooke.

Tim Robey on Summer: "The beckoning pull of memory shapes Kenny Glenaan's third feature, after the made-for-TV Gas Attack (2001) and the Simon Beaufoy-scripted Yasmin (2004).... The film's main virtue is economy - there's hardly a wasted shot."

"Asif Kapadia's 2001 debut feature The Warrior remains one of the most singular and adventurous enterprises in recent British cinema: a dazzling fusion of traditional Indian imagery with martial-arts action and the stylised starkness of the Sergio Leone Western." Jonathan Romney: "Far North is nothing if not adventurous and shows the same thirst for exploration that made The Warrior such a stirring anomaly."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:12 AM

AV Club. "The year in film 2008."

AV Club "We all agreed that 2007 was a peak year in the new millennium, offering up such instant, diamond-cut masterpieces as No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Zodiac, among others." This year, the five film reviewers for the AV Club have had a harder time of it; 2008's been a mixed bag, to put it kindly. "Only the #1 choice on the Master List appeared on all five lists, and #2 topped three of the five lists.... To reflect this lack of group-think, we've instituted a new category called 'Outliers' that calls attention to some of the unheralded films that appeared on one list and no others."

So topping the Master List is WALL•E; Outliers and individual ballots follow, featuring categories such as "Most pleasant surprise" and "Future Film That Time Forgot": Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, Tasha Robinson and Scott Tobias.

Update: The AV Five discuss the year that was.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:47 AM

Paul Schrader.

Blue Collar Even as the awards season elephants stampede on and on, Adam Resurrected is still out there somewhere and, starting today, Film Forum is screening a new print of Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which we'll get to in a moment.

But first, to Detroit, with FilmCatcher's Damon Smith: "Hearing about the Big Three's travails got me thinking about Paul Schrader's 1978 hard-hat drama Blue Collar, in which three Detroit assembly-line workers (Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto), disgruntled at management and feeling the pinch of economic down times, hatch a break-in plot at the office of their union local, whose president is a tin-eared bigwig in cahoots with the mafia. Disillusionment was rampant in the oil-poor, inflationary era of Jimmy Carter, and Schrader's directorial debut, co-written with his brother Leonard, is a sullen and cynical underdog film that seems to carry a single, univocal message to the American factory worker: You're fucked."

Updated through 12/20.

"Schrader identifies his 1985 Mishima as a thematic cousin to Taxi Driver, the screenplay he'd written a decade prior," notes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "Both works accomplice self-mythologizing isolationists who write as though sharpening knives. Schrader applied ultra-formalist technique to later biopics of the kidnapped Patty Hearst (captors in anonymous silhouette-play) and TV star Bob Crane (imperceptible erosion into handheld breakdown), but it's Mishima's diagrammatic structure that most perfectly suits its subject, defined by his will to harmony."

Mishima Soundtrack "Schrader holds his nerve and creates his most formally disciplined work, its textures made more shimmering by the Philip Glass score," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "A final, enraptured flourish from the age of the Hollywood auteur."

"The visual whimsy of the adapted fictions ultimately gives way to the harsh realism of Mishima's final act of protest: ritual suicide." Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine: "As Schrader heaps the character's layers one atop the other, though, this violent, shocking and meticulously plotted outcome begins to seem less an eccentric artist's great folly and more like a conflicted intellectual's poetic way out of a charged personal and political contradiction."

Earlier: the Adam Resurrected roundtable.

Update: "Mishima clocks in at exactly 120 minutes, and is presented, as the title tells us, in four chapters: 'Beauty,' 'Art,' 'Action' and 'Harmony of Pen and Sword.'" Evan Kindley at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Each of these, with the exception of the last, is further subdivided into three sections which are intercut with one another: a straightforward narrative of Mishima's life from childhood up to maturity, a reenactment of the author's infamous final day, and compressed adaptations of three of his novels. This last device is Mishima's real innovation; while it seems like an obvious enough idea, I can't think of another biopic that makes such extensive and imaginative use of it."

LA Weekly: Schrader and Goldblum Update, 12/18: Chuck Wilson introduces an interview for LA Weekly: "Opposites attract, which may explain why actor Jeff Goldblum, best known for playing outgoing, hyperkinetic brainiacs (The Fly, Jurassic Park), decided to make a film with master screenwriter-turned-filmmaker Paul Schrader, whose signature characters - Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle, Raging Bull's Jake LaMotta - are brooding introverts (and not always the smartest guys in the room)." The film, of course, is Adam Resurrected.

Update, 12/20: "In a less competitive year, Jeff Goldblum would have had a shot at an Oscar nod for his performance in Adam Resurrected, in which he plays Adam Stein, a mental patient irrevocably haunted by his Holocaust survival," writes Gary Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. "This original drama is less glum than it might sound, thanks to Goldblum's spirited, go-for-broke portrayal and director Paul Schrader's distinctive translation of Noah Stollman's script (based on the controversial novel by Yoram Kaniuk)."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:04 AM

Interview. Darren Aronofsky and Marisa Tomei.

The Wrestler "The Wrestler may be plenty visceral, but it's no more a sports movie than professional wrestling is a competitive sport," writes J Hoberman. "Chronic over-reacher Darren Aronofsky's relatively unpretentious follow-up to the ridiculous debacle that was The Fountain is all about showbiz. It's also a canny example. You want to make a comeback saga, you get a washed-up star—in this case, Mickey Rourke, for whom, as Scott Foundas reported in a Voice cover story, Aronofsky and screenwriter Robert Siegel conceived the movie."

Jeffrey M Anderson talks with Aronofsky and Marisa Tomei.

Updated through 12/22.

"The news that Ms Tomei plays a stripper may make you roll your eyes - it may, for that matter, make them pop out of your head - but her job is more than an excuse to get exposed flesh other than Mr Rourke's up on the screen," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Randy and Cassidy (it's not her real name, either) are both performers, both expert at faking something the customers desperately want to believe is real. The wrestlers don't really hate one another, and the stripper doesn't really love you."

"There must be a cerebral component to the way Rourke approached becoming the aging wrestler at the center of this film, because otherwise I doubt he'd have been able to so deftly navigate the character's expansive emotional arc while still nailing all the jokes," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "But this performance goes way beyond the brain, or the precision with which Rourke transformed his appearance, or even the naturalism with which he performs the wrestling choreography. This is a performance that seems to start and end in the cardiovascular system, making everything Rourke actually does seem effortless. As if he's just breathing it."

Aronofsky "crafted cruelly effective moments - images that stick hard and wane only over the long run - in both Pi and Requiem for a Dream, but my overall sense of his films thus far has been of film-school hypermasculinity run amok," writes Jeff Reichert for indieWIRE. "It may sound paradoxical to suggest that Aronofsky's not a terrible filmmaker even though he's made a series of unnecessarily brutal, intellectually lacking movies, but this is about exactly where he leaves off: visually gifted, intensely visceral, and with about the most lame-brained narrative and aesthetic instincts this side of Guy Ritchie. One need only spend a few minutes with The Fountain to see the effects of cinematic ego gone wild; one need spend even less with the weary, credibly inhabited The Wrestler to see what happens when unbridled creativity gets productively boxed in by a few well-considered limitations."

"Allusions to Christ are everywhere," notes David Edelstein in New York; "the stripper talks about the carnage in The Passion of the Christ. Is Aronofsky being tongue in cheek? I don't think he's ever tongue in cheek."

Andrew Schenker: "The Wrestler's at its best when it focuses on the physical - the surprisingly graceless in-the-ring pounding, the post-bout doctor exam, Rourke's heavy breathing whenever he walks - or when it positions its central figure as a fish-out-of-water in a particularly dismal suburbia - dishing out potato salad behind the counter of a supermarket deli, his strings of blond hair absurdly done up in a sanitary net."

"Here, finally, is a film that, through its very intimacy, touches on love, money, dreams and death in a way that will pile-drive you through the mat," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York.

"Aronofsky once again insists on degrading his characters, but this time, to our relief, he also shows them compassion," writes Benjamin Strong in the L Magazine.

In the Guardian, Robert Tait reports on how The Wrestler has become the "new target in Iran's long-running grievance about its negative portrayal in popular western cinema."

Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto and New York.

Updates: "There's an extra thrill that comes from loving a movie you thought you were going to hate," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. "The idea that Rourke, an 80s sex symbol coming off 20 years of Bukowski-esque dissolution, had this in him makes a crazy sort of sense. That Aronofsky had it in him is a rebuke to the complacency of viewers who, like me, thought they had his number."

"It hasn't been easy for Mickey Rourke fans over the last 15 years." So begins a longish, career-encompassing reflection from Sheila O'Malley at the House Next Door. Somewhere in the middle, having recounted the rockiest years: "What a spectacular and self-inflicted fall from grace." Then: "It is not my place to ponder why Mickey Rourke did what he did to his beautiful face. I have some theories. We've all got theories. They are, ultimately, irrelevant. What struck me, in watching his performance in The Wrestler, is how he consciously references us back to those old performances."

"Rourke's work in the film transcends mere stunt-casting," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC; "his performance is a howl of pain that seems to come from a very real place, and it's a potent reminder - as was his compelling role in Sin City a few years ago — that even if Rourke has made a mess of his career, his talent remains intact."

"Rourke never lost the power to excite every pore of someone's consciousness with the way he speaks and holds the intensity of the entire story in his hands when he does command our attention," writes Evan Louison in the Cinema Echo Chamber. "He just lost interest. We bored him as audiences and so he proceeded to bore us back. He is still boring us. Only now he is boring a small hole straight into the backs of our skulls so our feelings seep out and we ask ourselves the question that this film begs we ask, that is really the only connection with his other work: 'If all this can be survived, what is there that cannot be survived?'"

At the AV Club, Noel Murray finds it "hard to imagine a better director for a story of wrestling and its discontents than Darren Aronofsky, who emphasizes the barrenness and chill of the story's wintry suburb-scapes. Early in The Wrestler, Aronofsky goes overboard with the Dardennes-style follow-shots, holding on the back of Rourke's head more for affectation's sake than to enhance the mood. But Aronofsky also helpfully lingers over the lurid details of combat theater - the razors, the barbed wire, the staple guns, the faint whine of feedback from an old hearing aid - and gives what might've been just another thinly plotted, often obvious indie melodrama a thick shot of viscera."

"The Wrestler is at its best when it's between the ropes" but "starts to get clumsy when it leaves the arena," writes Adam Nayman in Reverse Shot, where he recalls "a moment that silenced the sold-out audience on the final morning of the Toronto International Film Festival: a literal leap of faith that gives a fetching tingle of understatement while simultaneously hammering home the point like a double-axe handle to the back of the head - which is also a pretty good description of The Wrestler, come to think of it."

"The Wrestler doesn't add up," finds Kenneth Turan. "It's constructed with great care around a lead performance that is everything it could possibly be, but the picture itself is off-putting and disappointing." Also in the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen profiles Aronofsky and talks with Rourke.

Kristin McCracken talks with Rourke for Tribeca.

Bilge Ebiri talks with Aronofsky for Vulture.

Updates, 12/18: "Darren Aronofsky has made a literal-minded parable about suffering and mankind's miserable existence," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Aronofsky inflicts as much pain on the audience as self-flagellating Ram Jam does when brutalizing/mutilating himself in and outside the ring."

Keith Phipps talks with Aronofsky for the AV Club.

Updates, 12/20: Aronofsky's "previous films - Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain - have been stylistically goosed up, with lots of flashy gimmicks and attempts at thematic profundity," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "In The Wrestler, he plays it straight, giving us a clear, linear narrative, interrupted only by one intercut flashback. The step away from pyrotechnics becomes him."

Michael Guillén interviews Tomei.

Screengrab lists "Cinema's Greatest Comebacks."

Online listening tip. Aronofsky is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online viewing tip. Mark Kermode looks back on Rourke's career.

Update, 12/22: "Darren Aronofsky's talent is obvious, but until now his gifts haven't included the ability to make a consistently satisfying film," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "That said, The Fountain, his third film, struck me as a step forward. While ridiculous in many respects - a friend said that it looks like a Yes album cover come to life - it nevertheless tells a heartfelt love story in sci-fi guise. Its New Age overtones are often silly, yet they're preferable to Aronofsky's attempts to give the audience a collective panic attack in Requiem for a Dream. The Wrestler is another step forward for Aronofsky, one that continues to bring some emotional substance to his work."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 AM

December 16, 2008

Shorts, 12/16.

Strangers "Strangers (Chuzhiye), was released last month in Russia with the slogan, 'The most topical movie of the year!' - presumably in reference to Russian-American tensions in the wake of the war in Georgia." Cathy Young for the New Republic: "A bizarre mix of over-the-top agitprop and equally over-the-top melodrama, Strangers is indeed quite topical in its own way - for what the movie itself and the events surrounding it reveal about the state of Russian culture and attitudes toward the United States. But what it reveals is not what you might expect - and probably not what the creators of this film expected, either."

"Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin is taking personal charge of progress in the development of the country's film industry, after a new government advisory body was set up Monday," reports Nick Holdsworth. "Putin - who will chair the new 'government council on the progress of domestic cinematography' - will 'personally supervise' government initiatives aimed to help support film industry development... One experienced Russian film industry professional told Variety: 'As usual, nothing good will come of it.'"

"Is it possible that a certain type of circulation through the festival circuit can keep an excellent film away from the eyes of entrepreneurial producers who shop around for re-make material?" asks Dina Iordanova, reviewing Sergei Bodrov Jr's Sisters. "Evidently yes. Otherwise I cannot imagine how a little gem like this one has not yet been re-made in Hollywood, provided it has everything one takes, and more, for a perfectly shaped tense psychological crime thriller."

Offering a taste from his own contribution, "Pedro Costa's Vanda Trilogy and the Limits of Narrative Cinema as a Contemplative Art," Darren Hughes announces the publication of Faith & Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, edited by Kenneth Morefield.

"The Holocaust is a serious subject," writes Nick Schager at IFC. "And November and December is serious subject matter time in Hollywood. No surprise, then, that every awards season sees its fair share of dramas set in and around WWII concentration camps. But even in light of this predictable pattern, 2008 has, to put it diplomatically, lost its freakin' mind."

"There's nothing like the urgency you get from World War Two films made during that conflict. Imagine how they played to audiences still in doubt as to its outcome." John McElwee on Flying Tigers and Across the Pacific.

"Roger Ebert is becoming an honorary life member of the Directors Guild of America," reports the AP.

Victor Fleming Jeanine Basinger reviews Michael Sragow's Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master: "By the end of the 1930s Fleming was the director MGM 'could trust with everything,' a 'ruthlessly efficient fixer of faltering productions.' He was the logical choice to take over two problematic MGM projects: The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, an MGM release of a David O Selznick production. In both cases Fleming had to 'assume command of a formidably complicated and expensive production that had already started shooting.' The enormous success of both those movies ultimately placed Fleming in the shadows.

Also in the New York Times: "We support our union and we support the issues we're fighting for, but we do not believe in all good conscience that now is the time to be putting people out of work." So reads a petition urging Screen Actors Guild leaders to call off a vote slated for next month on whether or not to strike. Among those who've signed: George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron and Matt Damon. Brooks Barnes reports.

Elizabeth Drew in the Huffington Post on Frost/Nixon: "The film's plot is a contrivance; its telling is so riddled with departures from what actually happened as to be fundamentally dishonest; and its climactic moment is purely and simply a lie."

"The scale of the disaster that is Baz Luhrmann's Australia is gradually becoming apparent." Germaine Greer takes us on a historical tour, tearing the movie apart, limb by limb, all along the way.

Also in the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries talks with Steven Soderbergh about Che, Ronald Bergan remembers Beverly Garland and a bit of online viewing: Xan Brooks talks with Emma Watson about life after Harry Potter.

Back to Che for a moment: indieWIRE has video of Soderbergh responding to those calling out "Murderer!" at a recent NYC screening; and David Poland talks to Benicio Del Toro. And VF Daily's John Lopez considers Che's Oscar campaign.

Absolute Beginners The new Film of the Month at the Club: Absolute Beginners.

The Siren passes along a fun passage from David Hemmings's Blow-Up and Other Exaggerations.

Acquarello on Mamoru Oshii's The Sky Crawlers: "Based on the serial novel by Hiroshi Mori, the film is a brooding and densely philosophical exposition into the nature of love, war, memory, aging, and identity."

Michael Guillén talks with Pablo Larraín about Tony Manero and with Yen Tan and Alessandro Calza about Ciao.

For indieWIRE, Jason Guerrasio checks in on five independent films currently in production.

Anne Thompson reports that Peter Morgan will be making his directorial debut with the third film in his Tony Blair trilogy. Following The Deal (Blair and Gordon Brown) and The Queen (Blair and E2), The Relationship will focus on "the intimate relationship between Blair and [Bill] Clinton between 1997 and 2000." And yes, Michael Sheen will play Blair again.

Also in Variety, Michael Fleming reports on an adaptation of Nancy Horan's novel, Loving Frank, based on an affair Frank Lloyd Wright had with a married client. Actually, both were married, with children, at the time.

The Playlist has news of who'll be composing scores for a couple of upcoming films: Alexandre Desplat for Terrence Malick's Tree of Life and Brian Eno for Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones.

Notorious For the New Yorker, Ben McGrath profiles "Jamal Woolard, aka Gravy, an oversized, unheralded rapper from Brooklyn who was shot in the rear - possibly by a member of his own oversized entourage - outside the radio station Hot 97, two and a half years ago," and will be appearing "as the lead in Notorious, a bio-pic about the late rapper Notorious B.I.G., which opens next month."

"Scott Hamilton Kennedy's The Garden starts hopefully enough, as it introduces us to America's largest community garden, a green oasis of natural life thriving amidst the hard cement sprawl of South Central Los Angeles," writes Michael Tully in Hammer to Nail. "But then reality arrives to remind us what America is really about. Politics. Money. Self-interest. You can try, but you can't escape it. Especially if you're poor and brown."

"The visceral joys of the silent B-Western are on full display in Just Tony," writes Cullen Gallagher at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "Saloon brawls, wild stallions, ten-gallon hats, breathtaking desert ranges, gunfights, fistfights, races, chases—and even a love story to boot."

In Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas, and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends, John Leguizamo "talks mad shit about all the random-ass characters he's played," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. "Reading Leguizamo's slangy, casual book is like spending a couple of hours drinking beer with the author."

"According to court papers filed by his daughter," notes Joe Leydon, "Peter Falk suffers from Alzheimer's disease and dementia and is no longer competent to run his own life. The news, I must admit, makes me want to me take a second look at one of the actor's more recent films, Checking Out (2005), which now seems, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, uncomfortably prescient."

"Horst Tappert became one of Germany's few television stars to gain a loyal international following thanks to his role as the stubborn police inspector in the long-running police series Derrick. He was 85." Deutsche Welle reports. More from Arbogast.

Online thingie. The customizable SnagFilms widget.

Online gazing tip. "Cinefamily's calendars are always visually striking and the film descriptions are equally evocative even if, given their highly eclectic programming, I often go through extremes of enthusiasm or indifference when browsing their schedules from week to week. (Which is probably a good thing.)" Doug Cummings admires Chris Ware's artwork for the November/December calendar, a tribute to Ozu's Tokyo Story.

Online listening tip #1. From the New Yorker: "In the Winter Fiction Issue, Zadie Smith writes about comedy and her family. Here she talks about her father's love of Fawlty Towers and Spike Milligan, her brother, who performs standup under the stage name Doc Brown, and the difference between comedians and novelists."

Deadwood Online listening tip #2. A Back by Midnight double feature on Deadwood, parts 1 and 2.

Online viewing tip. "[I]f you know the films of Carl Dreyer," writes David Bordwell, "you must look at this mini-movie. It was created by Henrik Fuglsang, the Danish Film Institute archivist at work on a massive website devoted to Dreyer."

Online viewing tips, round 1. From Ekkehard Knörer, two by Joann Sfar and one by Chuck Jones. And a collection of clips from Robert Gardner's Screening Room, a series of conversations with filmmakers (e.g., Hollis Frampton, Jean Rouch) that ran on a local Boston channel from 1972 to 1981.

Online viewing tips, round 2. How It Should Have Ended, via John Rogers, who posts the site's version of an ending for Lord of the Rings which would've tidied things up quite a bit.

Online viewing tips, round 3. "Iraq Shoe Tosser Guy: The Animated Gifs." Xeni Jardin's gathering them at Boing Boing.

Online viewing tips, round 4. The Creepy Christmas advent calendar, via Alicia Van Couvering at Filmmaker.

Posted by dwhudson at 4:02 PM

Lists and awards, 12/16.

Frontier of Dawn One of a handful of critics polls that really matter is indieWIRE's, and this year the ballots are being published as they come in. Karina Longworth presents an annotated, slightly expanded version of her list of the "Best Undistributed Films of 2008" at the SpoutBlog. Her favorite of the bunch: Philippe Garrel's Frontier of Dawn.

"For those unfamiliar with the Skandies, my annual survey o' cinema, now in its (gack) 14th year, you can find the procedural-historical lowdown here, the 2007 results here, and results for previous years about 2/3 of the way down my main page." Mike D'Angelo: "Here, then, are the group's estimation of the best films that premiered during 2006 but failed to secure New York distribution (and hence eligibility for the Skandies proper, which has a two-year window) by the end of 2008."

Added to the Movie City News Awards Scoreboard since yesterday alone: the San Francisco Film Critics go for Milk and Gus Van Sant, the San Diego Film Critics for Slumdog Millionaire and Danny Boyle. The Southeastern Film Critics Association picks Milk, followed by Slumdog; the St Louis Film Critics pick The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Phoenix Film Critics? Slumdog.

The Austin Chronicle's Kimberley Jones has the Austin Film Critics Association's list. They like Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight.

At Daily Plastic, Robert Davis considers James Quandt's top ten: "In short, his list - whether he intends it to or not - fights the year-end canon, the list of films anointed by an amalgam of year-end lists to achieve a brief and (we often discover later) unwarranted degree of attention."

"The Toronto International Film Festival Group (TIFFG) announces Canada's Top Ten feature and short films for 2008."

At Bright Lights After Dark, Erich Kuersten names his "Top Ten (Male) Performances of 2008."

The Happening The AV Club picks the "worst films of 2008." The Happening, by the way, only scored the #2 spot. Their #1 is simply too horrible to contemplate.

Kurt Halfyard lists "Five Character Actors to Celebrate" at Twitch.

The Movie Banter lists "the top movies about making movies."

Tom Tomorrow offers a "wholly subjective and thoroughly incomplete look back at the year that was" in This Modern World.

Slate editors and contributors pick the "best books of 2008."

At Regret the Error, via Jason Kottke: "Crunks 2008: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections."

Online viewing tip. David Carr muses on the Oscar race, Best Picture category. The minute and a half features a surprise guest.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:04 PM | Comments (3)

Fests and events, 12/16.

SXSW 09 The SXSW Film Festival will open on March 13 with I Love You, Man, "a hilarious new comedy from John Hamburg (Along Came Polly, co-writer of Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, Zoolander), [starring] Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and Rashida Jones." The Austin Chronicle's Kimberly Jones notes, too, that "the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that SXSW is now recognized as an Oscar-qualifying venue for the short film category."

"The Homage of the 59th Berlin International Film Festival will be dedicated to Maurice Jarre, the renowned French film composer and winner of multiple Academy Awards."

For Chicagoist Rob Christopher, the highlight of the 25th Annual Music Box Christmas Show, running from Friday through December 24, will be - what else? - It's a Wonderful Life.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has unveiled the lineup for its fourth annual winter event, four features running from noon on into the night on February 14 - Valentine's Day.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:46 PM

DVDs, 12/16.

Herzog Shorts Collection 2 Michael Atkinson for IFC on White Dog: "[B]eing put off by [Sam] Fuller's smacked-face style means missing the brute power of his metaphors and the audacity of his dialogue with society." Also reviewed is the Herzog Shorts Collection: Volume 2: "What's interesting... is how consistently throughout Herzog's career as a documentarian he has sought out people who almost by definition have no knowledge or interest in who he is, or, often, why he's filming them. Is that why he chooses them as his subjects? Is it an anti-narcissism, or a utopian desire for savage innocence? When is someone going to write a good biography of this myth-heavy man?" Amen.

Speaking of Fuller, though, Glenn Kenny's "Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report" for the Auteurs' Notebook this week is on Verboten!, Fuller's "statement on Nazis, their war crimes, and the post World-War-II occupation of Germany."

Dave Kehr in the New York Times on Criterion's new Blu-ray releases, in particular, Bottle Rocket: Wes Anderson, "in this early film, does something he can't bring himself to do later: he shows us the realization, in Dignan's eyes, that he has been living in a dream world, and reality has belatedly arrived to claim its price (with interest)." More from Matt Noller in Slant.

Online viewing tip. The NYT's AO Scott on the 1951 version of Dickens's A Christmas Carol, "also a horror movie, and a pretty scary one."

DVD roundups: Sean Axmaker, Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk, Ambrose Heron, Peter Martin (Cinematical) and Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times).

And, as always, the Guru.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:17 PM | Comments (3)

MSN. Ten top tens.

msn MSN collects ten ballots from ten reviewers; then Dave McCoy does the math and presents the collective list: each film is briefly considered by one of the vote-casters:

  1. Sean Axmaker on A Christmas Tale.

  2. Kim Morgan on The Wrestler.

  3. Dave McCoy on In Bruges.

  4. Richard T Jameson on The Edge of Heaven.

  5. Don Kaye on Let the Right One In.

  6. Gregory Ellwood on The Dark Knight.

  7. Jim Emerson on Pineapple Express.

  8. David Fear on WALL•E.

  9. Kathleen Murphy on Wendy and Lucy.

  10. James Rocchi on Slumdog Millionaire.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:44 PM

Spanish Cinema Now. 6.

Casual Day More from James Van Maanen and the Spanish Cinema Now series, running through December 24. Previously: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. On a related note, do see Acquarello on The Naked Years (Los Años Desnudos) and The Sixth Sense.

According to the IMDb, Casual Day is the first film by Max Lemcke (he was cinematographer on the 2004 film Bem-Vindo a São Paulo). This can cut two ways: The movie is something of an accomplishment for a first-time filmmaker; yet, little wonder it's so flawed. Both assessments would be on the mark. From the program description provided about the film, a viewer might expect something similar to The Method, Marcelo Piñeyro's bright, black comedy about applying for a position at a famed multinational firm. While the company at the center of Lemcke's movie appears to be privately owned, this does not make the nastiness or betrayal any easier to take.

Unlike The Method, which was full of wit, daring and surprise, Casual Day telegraphs almost everything it has to say so far in advance that, by the end, you may be humming, in disbelief, "Is That All There Is?" The owner of the company is a nasty piece of work posing as Mr Good Guy; his second in command is a bully; employees are either frightened sheep or sleazy camp-followers. Every underling is complicit is his or her own downfall, and hanging on to supremacy is the name of the game. And the games - literal and figurative - that are played along the way provide some fun but little that we have not seen elsewhere.

As a dyed-in-the-cotton (it's lightweight and less itchy) leftist, I usually embrace movies that detail abuse of power in our capitalist society. But in this case I didn't buy most of what I witnessed. Even though - and here we get to the good stuff - Lemcke has assembled a fine cast, all of whom do their usual "pro" job - from Luis Tosar (Take My Eyes) as the bully, Juan Diego (Your Next Life) as the boss, Estíbaliz Gabilondo (Traumalogía) as the best friend, and Javier Ríos (new to me) as the boyfriend. The excellent Marta Etura (Nobody's Life) opens the movie with an absolutely terrific scene that lays out much of what lies in store - though we don't know this yet. Oddly, her scene with Ms Gabilondo is so rich and immediate, full of subtlety, humor and the bizarre, that the rather plodding and obvious tale that follows seems almost a waste.

Enloquecidas Spanish comedy is so far served rather poorly by this year's festival, which in the past has offered delights from Alex de la Iglesia and Joaquín Oristrell. To add to the disappointment of Chef's Special comes an even stranger brew: Crazy aka Desperate Women (Enloquecidas) from Juan Luis Iborra. During most of the movie, I was certain that this must be the director's first experience at handling a movie camera or writing a script, so lame seemed what appeared on screen. But no: When I looked up Iborra's resume, I found he had written and directed a number of films I'd very much liked - including one of my favorite romantic comedy ensembles, Km.0. (On that movie, Iborra worked with a co-writer/director, Yolanda García Serrano, and this may be what made the difference.)

His new film provides roles for several of Spain's popular older actresses: Verónica Forqué, Concha Velasco and Asunción Balaguer, as well as for some attractive younger ones like Silvia Abascal and one red-hot male, Iván Sánchez. Everyone does what's necessary for the job, and there are even a few genuine laughs along the way, though I swear, they may have you wondering if the writer/director was even remotely involved in producing them - so quiet and unlike most of his film are these odd moments. (The best comes as Ms Forqué, clad in an S&M leather hood, simply sits, her eyes darting nervously, in the back seat of a car.)

Mr Iborra's plot, co-written with Antonio Albert, has to do with plants, public works, real estate, love and an older couple (the movie's oddest characters) who become involved in the goings-on. I generally enjoy Ms Forqué and some of the others on view, particularly Ms Velasco, and they come through with their reputations still intact. The program notes inform us that Crazy's costume designer, Pepe Reyes, won an award for his work, which led me to believe that we would see some eye-poppingly fun attire. No: He simply clad his leading ladies, several of whom are in their weight-gaining years, in attractive (and what some of us call) "forgiving" garments.

Even given its lax style and wit, Crazy proved more enjoyable for me than did Chef's Special. The latter I now realize is less an example of mainstream Spanish moviemaking that it is an elongated version of mainstream Spanish television. The former, at least, in its pedestrian manner, seems more like a sfilm.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:39 PM

Liv Ullmann @ 70.

Liv Ullmann: Lifelines Actress and director Liv Ullmann turns 70 today. A few days ago, she wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe, and she might appreciate it if this is how we begin:

As the global financial and economic crisis continues to throw countless numbers of people out of work, millions of refugee women and girls in developing countries continue to toil at a task that is not only arduous but extremely dangerous: collecting firewood to cook meals for their families.

For thousands of these impoverished women and girls, gathering firewood is more than a vital chore - it is often a matter of life and death. By doing what many of us achieve by simply turning on a stove, refugee women and girls regularly fall victim to rape, assault, theft, exploitation, and even murder....

Updated.

It is time to get beyond firewood. The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children - an organization that I helped found nearly 20 years ago - has begun a worldwide drive to explore alternative fuels and cutting-edge energy technologies, such as clean-burning fuels, fuel-efficient stoves, and solar cookers. Working with UNHCR and the World Food Program, its goal is to reduce the violence by promoting the development of safe alternatives to firewood.

Honors and congrats in German: Andreas Kilb in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Alexandra Stäheli in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung; and Die Welt.

Back in December 2007, the Self-Styled Siren reflected on a passage from Ullmann's autobiography, Changing.

See also: Bergmanorama, Stephan Cox's interview with Ullmann in 2001 for Salon and Wikipedia.

Updates: For Criterion's Current, Peter Cowie recalls the times he's spent with Ullmann - 1968, then 1972, then: "Flash forward to December 2004. The European Film Awards in Barcelona, and a conference on the craft of acting in European cinema. Liv delivers the keynote address - a magnificent, eloquent speech that for months afterward would be cited by actors and critics alike. 'In my profession as an actor,' she said, 'my material is the life I am living and the life I am watching, the life I am reading about and the life I am listening to.'"

"She's truly one of the greatest of them all, and nearly as formidable a director as she is an actress," writes Josef Braun.

Posted by dwhudson at 5:55 AM

December 15, 2008

Fests and events, 12/15.

Slamdance "The Slamdance Film Festival will celebrate its 15th Anniversary in 2009 with 86 short films in four different competition categories - documentary, narrative/experimental, animation and music video, which is new this year." Peter Knegt's got the list at indieWIRE.

"Another year of inspired film and video programming at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts comes to a close next weekend with Sonic Youth: Sleeping Nights Awake," notes Michael Hawley. "Entirely shot by high school students working under the guidance of Project Moonshine, the film documents a July 4, 2006 Reno concert by everyone's favorite post/punk/noise/avant/alt rock band."

"As part of Hungry Ghost, the [International Film Festival Rotterdam] plans to transform the old photography museum into a ghost house of sorts, with each room designed by a different Asian horror director," notes Ard Vijn at Twitch. January 21 through February 1.

69

69 runs throughout all next year at the Northwest Film Forum.

"Went to Harry [Knowles]'s (AICN) BNAT X over the weekend and with its dazzling display of 3D became one hell of a powerhouse and showcase for the future of cinema and the theatrical film going experience," writes Blake Ethridge. "I haven't had much exposure at all to what animation has been cooking up with using 3D or horror films, but the overall take I have is that it will give film productions an incredible new palette to work with and very very exciting ways to capture and thrill audiences."

"Now in its third year, the Hola Mexico Film Festival is far from running short of novelties and surprises." An overview from Jake Wilson in the Age. Today through December 21 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:51 PM

Slant. "2008: Year in Film."

Slant Magazine "[W]ith a few notable exceptions, both Hollywood and indiewood largely ceded groundbreaking terrain to foreign and nonfiction filmmakers," writes Nick Schager, introducing Slant's "Year in Film" collection of lists. Following an overview of notable developments since the last go round, he puts Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York at the top of his list.

Ed Gonzalez's #1 is Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, a "Dogme film with an Altmanesque soul." And there are lists, too, from Bill Weber (Still Life) and Andrew Schenker (The Duchess of Langeais).

Update, 12/20: Andrew Schenker annotates his list.

Posted by dwhudson at 12:45 PM

Midnight Eye, 12/15.

Tony Takitani Jun Ichikawa "was anything but a nostalgist," writes Mark Schilling. "Like his cinematic heroes, including François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, as well as the inevitable Ozu, he was interested in revealing human truths behind seemingly ordinary and everyday surfaces, minus the sentimentality and melodrama endemic to Japanese 'humanistic' films." Dying at a Hospital (1993) is "Ichikawa's masterpiece," and Schilling screened it in Udine in 2004: "After the screening, and accepting congratulations from fans who faces were as tear-streaked as mine, Ichikawa and I walked out of the theater. 'I just make films that make people cry,' he said with a sigh not entirely ironic. By this time he had finished the film that most of the world would come to know him for - Tony Takitani (2004)."

Also fresh at Midnight Eye:

  • Roger Macy on Still Walking: "There is never a moment when we are not anxious to know more of what fuels each character's resentments. [Hirokazu] Kore-eda is a marvellous director of actors and a true heir to the rich tradition of family dramas in Japanese cinema." Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.

  • "It is not Takashi Miike that has changed, but the industry around him." Tom Mes before turning his attention to Miike's latest: "[T]hose who manage to hang on for those first 60 minutes... will be rewarded with a most spectacular and enjoyable second half that serves up a mixture of sci-fi disaster movie and romance that finally makes God's Puzzle the movie Andromedia should have been."

  • "I had never previously thought of Kon Ichikawa and Mikio Naruse as sharing the same muse, but in [novelist] Aya Koda they certainly did," writes Roger Macy. (Naruse's Flowing is based on Aya's novel.] "And, even as a Naruse devotee, I'd have to concede that Ichikawa's Her Brother is, visually and aurally, a much more advanced film."

Hiroshi Shimizu
  • "Hiroshi Shimizu is a director who has frequently been singled out for his undeserved neglect in the west." But now, as Roger Macy points out, Shochiku has released two box sets in Japan - eight films in all, with English subtitles: "These are careful transfers of a standard that does justice at last to a master craftsman.... Introspection Tower is the last of the four 'children' films in the [second] set, made at the end of a period when he had been in favour and was given the resources to make these bright, skilfully woven films."

  • Makoto Shinkai's 5 Centimeters Per Second is "an eloquently told, and beautifully realised tale of bittersweet first love and the disappointments that come along with it," writes Paul Jackson.

And there's a new book review, too. In the "long-awaited" Kitano Takeshi, Aaron Gerow "presents Kitano as an almost schizophrenic personality," writes Tom Mes, "made of two distinct personas: the director Takeshi Kitano and the comedian Beat Takeshi. Two personalities that are usually at odds, sometimes at war and occasionally in harmony. Both straight man and buffoon, Kitano forms a one-man manzai act."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:21 PM

Lists and awards, 12/15.

Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films "Another year, another ton of DVDs to process: an impossible job, as always, and a job now further complicated by Blu-ray editions," writes Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas. "I have asked our contributors to select only their Top 5 picks, with domestic and import titles fair game." Results vary delightfully, though there is one overall winner, the Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films.

Nathan Lee's posted his top ten at WNYC. His #1: Jean-Luc Godard's Une catastrophe.

Jerry Schatzberg's Puzzle of a Downfall Child tops the Tisch Film Review's "Top 10 Repertory Films of 2008."

Mike Everleth on his movie of the year: "Altamont Now is a major blast in every sense of the adjective. It's a totally fun, hilarious ride as well as a massive over-the-top assault. It's a film that punches you in the face and drags you deep into the center of the mosh pit where it keeps you until the final encore. It's all that and a new modern-day underground film classic.

The AFI picks its top ten movies and TV shows of 2008.

Kristopher Tapley posts the Boston Society of Film Critics list of winners and runners-up. Best Picture's a tie: WALL•E and Slumdog Millionaire.

Movie City News has, well, news of another round of critics' awards: the New York Film Critics Online (Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire), the Alliance of Women Journalists (ditto) and the Women Film Critics Circle (Best Movie About Women: Changeling; Best Movie By a Woman: Frozen River).

Peter Knegt's got the list of nominations for the Chicago Film Critics' Association Awards; leading with six apiece are Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight. Also, the winners of the "always eccentric" Satellite Awards.

"So what does it all mean?!?" asks Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "None of these groups have a particularly fool-proof track record when it comes to predicting Oscar glory, but the blanket of praise for Slumdog seems to have already lent the film an air of inevitability in a year otherwise lacking in films that everyone can get behind. Which is annoying for those of us who think Slumdog is a servicable crowd-pleaser which has been way over-praised."

The AV Club's latest list: "21 unnecessary film sequels that are great anyway."

Online browsing tip. The Guardian's critics lay out their "worst movies of 2008" in a photo gallery.

Online listening tip #1. Matt Singer and Alison Willmore at IFC: "From the year's greatest comeback and its most tragedy-tinged triumph to underappreciated turns in comedies and foreign films, we salute 2008's great moments in acting."

Online listening tip #2. Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot discuss the Sound Opinions "Best Albums of 2008."

Online viewing tips. "The best (and very worst) of AdFreak, 2008," via Coudal Partners.

Posted by dwhudson at 9:54 AM

Spanish Cinema Now. 5.

James Van Maanen picks up where he left off; previous entries: 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Blind Sunflowers Another in the Spanish Cinema Now retrospective of the work of actor Javier Cámara, Blind Sunflowers (Los girasoles ciegos), directed by José Luis Cuerda, has been adapted by Cuerda and Rafael Azcona (from the famous book of stories about Spain under Franco by Alberto Méndez). As this year's submission from Spain as a possible nominee for Best Foreign Language film, the movie carries some additional it-better-be-good baggage. Good it is, though not great. While its canvas initially appears to be wide - encompassing church, military, educational system and the politics of the time (around 1940) - its story focuses almost exclusively on the members of one family and the two churchmen involved with them, one closely, the other not so.

I have heard that the filmmakers elided content from several of the stories in the book (which I have not read) to form the plot of the movie, and this may account for some of the trouble: the tangential feeling you get from the subplot involving the daughter and politically "dangerous" son-in-law, for example. Although this is important to the story, its telling is alternately haphazard and heavy-handed, as are many of the scenes that advance the plot. So instead of purring along on its journey, the film often clunks.

On the plus side are the performances, story and theme. Cámara is as subdued here as I have ever seen him: His character is in hiding from the authorities, so this makes ample sense. His wife, thought to be his "widow," is played by the trustworthy Maribel Verdú (Y tu mamá también and last year's Seven Billiard Tables) and, as the young priest-in-training who finds himself attracted to Verdú, Raúl Arévalo (DarkBlueAlmostBlack and a regular from last year's SCN) tries his hand at a character different from anything I've so far seen him attempt. This role, which represents Spain (its youth, Church, and manhood), is the key to the film's thesis, symbolism and plot - and if Arévalo does not nail it, I suspect this has more to do with the problems of the screenwriting and direction than of this very good actor's abilities. He himself is never unbelievable, although some of the moments the filmmakers hand him come pretty close.

Arévalo plays a young, would-be priest just returned from the Spanish Civil War (the Church, heavily pro-Franco, sent many of its novitiates to serve on the Fascist side), and he is clearly guilt-ridden by what he had seen and done. Given some nicely-worded claptrap from his mentor in the Church and sent on his way, he begins a journey that becomes the film's, too. This young man's wants and needs thrust him into conflict with Church law until, like all good religious hypocrites, he manages to be a fine example of Spanish Catholicism under Franco by blaming someone else.

The film rarely raises its voice and its pacing remains even, moderate. This is both a help in avoiding melodrama (well, mostly) and a hindrance, in that it gives us time to consider other ways of moviemaking that might have worked better. Yet there are no deal-breakers here. By film's end, you'll have experienced a relatively simple tale of life under the dictator that offers a dark view of how the Church, education, politics and police all conspired to silence Spanish dissent. Blind Sunflowers screens again Thursday, December 18 at 4:15 pm.

Pudor Due to a tight schedule and the vagaries of the NYC transit system, I arrived a few minutes late to David and Tristán Ulloa's very interesting film Pudor. Nevertheless, I genuinely enjoyed Pudor; perhaps the Ulloas will forgive me. I've seen Tristán Ulloa many times as an actor (Km.0, Sex & Lucia, You Shouldn't Be Here and, at last year's SCN, Mataharis), but this is my first view of his and his brother's directorial abilities. They're impressive.

The Ulloas have taken the modern family drama and given it their own spin, which involves a degree of dysfunction (is anyone surprised?), possible extra-marital affairs for the grown-ups and school problems for the kids. But there is a third generation, too: the grandparents, one of whom has just died, leaving the widower to his own devices. "Ghosts" play an interesting role here, but not in any scary way. This subject, as all the others that the brotherly team tackles, is done with an interesting twist that makes it psychologically, symbolically and - most surprising of all - realistically sound.

The writers/directors have assembled a crack cast, most of whom I don't recall but - after Pudor - hope to see soon again. If the situations covered are fairly typical, the details of each character's life the Ulloas choose to show are consistently on-target. And their hand-held camera-work is fluid and graceful rather than jerky and off-putting (the cinematography is by David Omedes, who also shot Pretextos and Chef's Special from the current SCN series). If the parent's finale, despite the best efforts of the two actors, falls a bit into melodrama, both their situations have earlier proven so compelling that I think we can forgive the over-reaching. (The Ulloas also open up a Pandora's Box via the manner in which they handle the husband's secretary, whose behavior runs the gamut and then some). The youngest child's final foray into "ghostland," however, is handled remarkably well. Pudor screens again Wednesday, December 17, at 1:30 pm.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:54 AM

Revolutionary Road, round 2.

Revolutionary Road "Richard Yates's 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road, is far from the kind of property that typically becomes a big Hollywood movie, especially one starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in their first post-Titanic outing together." It is, after all, "among the bleakest books ever written." But of course, it is a big Hollywood movie now, and Charles McGrath tells the story of how that's come about in the New York Times.

"Revolutionary Road is, in part, a portrait of a marriage. But it is also a dissection of personal failure, of what happens when we disappoint ourselves, when we end up on the road we never meant to travel. As you might imagine, the view from that road, when one really stops to look, is very bleak indeed." And Sara Vilkomerson gathers more opinions, too, for a New York Observer cover story.

Updated through 12/20.

"Poor Kate Winslet, wasted in another trite evocation of suburban soul-suck," blogs Ed Gonzalez. "She's good in this, especially during her many smackdowns with an uneven Leonardo DiCaprio, but it's sad watching her earthy acting mode rub up against Sam Mendes's high-falutin' style, which consists almost entirely of slowly zooming into and out of people and their Eames furniture."

"Mendes and Winslet push DiCaprio to places he has never been," writes David Edelstein in New York. "At the height of her fury, April flays Frank, and both the character and the actor have nowhere to hide. DiCaprio loses his sure balance, his control, and has never been more vulnerable or electrifying: Winslet has forced him into the moment.... Is Winslet now the best English-speaking film actress of her generation? I think so."

The film "is honorably and brutally unnerving," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "Yet it may suffer, as only an awards-season movie can, from the illusion that pain and art are the same thing."

Observer Review: Sam Mendes Gaby Wood's profile of Mendes for the Observer Review opens with an actually pretty amusing anecdote about his directing Winslet and DiCaprio in a sex scene. Then, right away, we learn that he's up to his ears: he's rehearsing two plays in New York - The Winter's Tale and Tom Stoppard's new translation of The Cherry Orchard - and putting the finishing touches on his next film, Away We Go, written by Dave Eggers and his wife, Vendela Vida.

And Rachel Abramowitz profiles Mendes for the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier: James Wood on Yates in the New Yorker, and of course, round 1.

Update: "If Sam Mendes's film version of Revolutionary Road reminds me of anything it is William Wyler's films of Henry James and Theodore Dreiser, The Heiress (1949) and Carrie (1952)," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door. "Wyler has no strong point of view as a film director; like Mendes, he's basically there to serve the material and the actors, but when the material provided is as strong as James and Dreiser and Yates, and the actors are well-matched with their roles (who can forget the gasp-worthy intensity of Laurence Olivier's George Hurstwood in Carrie, or Ralph Richardson's Dr Sloper in The Heiress?) it's fine to simply get out of the way."

Updates, 12/20: "DiCaprio launches himself into terrific Nicholsonian rages with Winslet; they both seem secure as performers and it's tempting to think of this as the Titanic generation's graduation." Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York: "The movie is occasionally prestigey (it's time to put composer Thomas Newman out to pasture), but no film featuring Bug's ferocious Michael Shannon, as a neighbor's mentally disturbed son who has weird insights, could be confused for mere Oscar fare."

Kira Cochrane talks with Winslet for the Guardian.

Via Movie City News, Stewart O'Nan in the October/November 1999 issue of Boston Review: "The Lost World of Richard Yates." And David L Ulin revisits the novel for today's Los Angeles Times.

"To live in a suburb, to be 'suburban': these may be pejorative words across the western world, but nowhere have they been pronounced more fiercely than in the world's most suburbanised country, the US." Ian Jack in the Guardian.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:48 AM

December 14, 2008

Shorts, 12/14.

James Schamus: Carl Theodor Dreyer's Gertrud Doug Cummings posts a big Carl Theodor Dreyer, pointing to the Danish Film Institute's new Dreyer site, a work-in-progress; reviewing James Schamus's Carl Theodor Dreyer's Gertrud: The Moving Word: "As you might expect from a professional dramatist, Schamus is particularly sensitive to Dreyer's attitudes on adaptation, especially his commitment to the authority of a text, an original text (like the transcript of Joan of Arc's trials, or the real woman - Maria von Platen - who inspired Gertrud's playwright) and the inspirations as well as restrictions, even oppressions, that arise from written source materials." Also: Notes on "the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864 - 1916) and his influence on Dreyer." Doug wraps it all up with an online viewing tip: video analyses of Hammershøi's portraits at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Alain Resnais "is a very dapper man," reports Criterion's Lee Kline, who's just returned from Paris, where he's been working on a release of Last Year at Marienbad. And he shares some notes on warming up the image and on why there'll likely be two soundtracks, one restored, the other not.

Via the House Next Door: Mike D'Angelo's columns for Esquire, from April 2004 through July of this year.

"If artists depend on angst and unrest to fuel their creative fire, then at least in one sense the 43rd presidency has been a blessing.... Newsweek asked its cultural critics to pick the one work in their field that they believe exemplifies what it was like to be alive in the age of George W Bush." In the package, then: Joshua Alston on Battlestar Galactica, Marc Peyser on American Idol, Peter Plagens on Jeff Koons's Hanging Heart, Jennie Yabroff on Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Evan Thomas on Black Hawk Down, David Ansen on Borat, Lorraine Ali on Green Day's American Idiot, Jeremy McCarter on Caryl Churchill's Far Away and Lisa Miller on Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life.

Tokyo Sonata Michael Guillén talks with Kiyoshi Kurosawa about Tokyo Sonata.

"[PG] Wodehouse was 49 when he arrived in Los Angeles," writes Tony Staveacre, who, in the Independent, shares some recently rediscovered screenwriting work Wodehouse did in the 30. "The English writer created a stir at the studio on his first day, by insisting on walking the 12 miles from his home to Culver City. 'Even the hookers don't walk in LA!" his producers warned him.'" Related: Google Books offers a preview of PG Wodehouse and Hollywood: Screenwriting, Satires and Adaptations.

"A generation before Baz Luhrmann unleashed Australia upon a lucky nation of the same name, bonzer box office boffo was made by They're a Weird Mob, the tale of a hapless Italian immigrant who finds himself bamboozled by the 'strine' lingo and crude culture of mid-century Sydney." In the Age, Greg Burchall tells a story behind one of the lesser known Michael Powell films.

Stephen Vider in Nextbook on Harold, "the birthday boy of Mart Crowley's 1968 play The Boys in the Band," and of course, William Friedkin's 1970 adaptation: "Harold may not be entirely at ease with either his sexual or religious identity, but he refuses to downplay or mask either - that phrase 'Jew fairy,' barely a pause between, acknowledges bigotry and persistent self-loathing at the same time it defies both.... However Harold might actually feel about himself, his humor provides a crucial mode of resistance and resilience - a way of accepting and performing identity while still holding it at a critical distance. One can see a similar strategy on display in Portnoy's Complaint or the stand-up of Lenny Bruce, as well as the camp humor of later gay artists such as John Waters, Charles Ludlam and even Tony Kushner."

Andrew Tracy in the Auteurs' Notebook on Berlin Alexanderplatz: "[W]here Döblin offers an almost cinematic range of sensory experience with his kaleidoscopic novel, Fassbinder, several artistic generations later, wants instead to delve into the psychological realm which had long been the novel's province and the cinema's ambition."

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Camera "The Belgian novelist Jean-Philippe Toussaint is frequently, if anachronistically, grouped with early cinematic masters like Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati," writes Tom McCarthy. "Reading the opening sequences of Camera one understands why.... "That Camera should have waited 20 years to find an English-language publisher is scandalous. That the wonderful Dalkey Archive has taken on the task is unsurprising." And the Dalkey Archive runs Laurrent Demoulin's 2007 interview with Toussaint.

Also in the New York Times:

  • Philip Gefter pays a visit to a legend: "No one has had a greater influence on photography in the last half-century than the Swiss-born [Robert] Frank, though his reputation rests almost entirely on a single book published five decades ago. While he has produced other volumes over the years and made 31 films and videos, all roads in his career lead back to this masterpiece, The Americans, an intimate visual chronicle of common people in ordinary situations drawn from several trips he made through his adopted country in the mid-1950s."

  • "Herbert, a mad, messy and frequently amazing epic from India, features many of the qualities you expect from Bollywood: garish verve, dizzy excess, punishing duration, wild leaps in narrative tone and structure." Nathan Lee: "But that's the simple part.... This is, rather incredibly, [Suman] Mukhopadhyay's first film, and it exhibits the passionate, more-is-more abandon of an artist bursting with welcome (if exhausting) enthusiasm onto the scene."

  • What Doesn't Kill You "tells a good story well, and in the process quietly says a little something about what it means to look at the American dream from the bottom up," writes Manohla Dargis. "Because [Mark] Ruffalo approaches his roles like a character actor instead of a star - he slips into his films, doesn't take ownership of them - it can be easy to take him for granted. We shouldn't. Mr Ruffalo is one of the greatest actors working in movies right now, and each performance is a gift." More from Nicolas Rapold (Voice), Nick Schager (Slant) and Gabriel Shanks.

  • Nothing Like the Holidays is "an efficient home-for-Christmas ensemble comedy trimmed with plastic teardrops," writes Stephen Holden. "The only distinguishing characteristic of this mildly agreeable variation of a worn-out formula is that the boisterous family under examination is Puerto Rican, and the screenplay includes a smattering of Spanish." More from Leah Churner (Reverse Shot), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out New York), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nick Schager (Slant), Eric D Snider (Cinematical) and Scott Tobias (AV Club). Related: Capone talks with Freddy Rodriguez and Luis Guzman for AICN.

  • "In the last few years Hindi films have become slicker and faster, full of dizzying camera moves and blink-and-you'll-miss-it editing," writes Rachel Saltz. "How refreshing, then, to settle into Rab Ne Bana di Jodi (A Match Made by God), a love story that has a different pace and feel than the recent crop of action thrillers."

  • More book reviews of likely interest to Daily readers: Thomas Mallon on Annie Leibovitz at Work and Douglas Wolk on Art Spiegelman's Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!, Dean Haspiel's The Alcoholic and David Heatley's My Brain is Hanging Upside Down.

  • Ethan Bronner talks with Ari Folman about Waltz With Bashir.

  • "Van Johnson, a film actor whose affable charm and boyish good looks helped turn him into a major Hollywood star during World War II, died Friday in Nyack, NY," reports Aljean Harmetz. "He was 92." More from Robert Cashill, Edward Copeland, Glenn Kenny, Joe Leydon, Scott Marks, the Self-Styled Siren and Bob Westal.

Leo Goldsmith remembers Xie Jin at Moving Image Source: "As his films were all made under the aegis of state-controlled film studios and released with the imprimatur of government censors, his career offers something like a lesson in Maoist historiography - didactic, contradictory, and mercurial. During this period - from the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, to the brutal oppression of the Cultural Revolution, to the social and economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping's regime and beyond - Xie's accomplished melodramas alternately extolled, endured, and criticized the political and economic vicissitudes of his country."

In FilmInFocus, five San Franciscans on their city and the movies: Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy; related online viewing: My Josephine), Graham Leggat (San Francisco Film Society), experimental/documentary filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt, Rob Nilsson (9@Night) and playwright Amy Freed.

Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy recalls the day he dreamed up Slumdog Millionaire: "I am lost in the maze of alleys in Mumbai's Juhu slum, a network of dark passages a few feet across, pierced by arrows of sunlight. In these canyons I stumble across dogs, chickens, water pipes, open sewers and thousands of families. Everywhere I go, I am pursued by two dozen grubby Indian kids all pointing and laughing at my pink, sunburnt face. 'Hey, Mr Bean, you hot?' says a 10-year old troublemaker. (One is either Mr Bean or Rambo to these children, and it didn't take them long to make their decision.)"

Also in the Guardian:

Alexander Ahndoril: The Director

"Set in a dystopian metropolis bathed in shades of amber and blue, Rachel Samuels's retro-noir Dark Streets feels like a labor of love, the kind that blinds as well as inspires," writes Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times. "The movie, drawn from Wallace King's adaptation of Glenn Stewart's play, drips with style, but it's all flourish and no reveal." More from Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Tim Grierson (Voice), Eric Hynes (indieWIRE), Michael Russell (Oregonian), Nick Schager (Slant) and Scott Tobias (AV Club). And indieWIRE interviews Samuels.

Back in the LAT, Susan King talks with Rod Lurie about Nothing But the Truth; Michael J Ybarra with Matteo Garrone about Gomorrah.

Christopher Plummer: In Spite of Myself Christopher Plummer has a new memoir out, In Spite of Myself, and Jeff has a good long talk with him at Movie Morlocks.

"Having failed to win the Congratulations For Not Dying Yet award for Venus at the 2007 Oscars, Peter O'Toole soldiers on," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "In Dean Spanley, set in an early-20th-century England of fog and frost, the 76-year-old actor wears a look of livid, bug-eyed amusement, and his silver locks seem metallic against his puce skin.... The picture is essentially a triangle of dotty but deeply felt performances. [Sam] Neill is the revelation." The third: Jeremy Northam as Henslowe, son of Horatio Fisk (O'Toole). More from Philip French (Observer), Wally Hammond (Time Out), Derek Malcolm (Evening Standard) and Tim Robey (Telegraph).

In an obituaries issue of the Observer Magazine, Terry Gilliam remembers Heath Ledger:

In terms of his acting, it still rankles with me that he's dead because he would have been streets ahead of anyone else in his generation. He just kept getting better and better. He was fearless. On [The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus], he was improvising all the time and it was better than what we had written. I don't normally encourage that kind of improvisation, but in a sense I felt Heath was writing this film. He was an incredibly funny performer when he wanted to be - his comic timing was just extraordinary - and then he could break your heart the next minute.

Also: "I think it is clear from his work that Anthony Minghella had a great heart," writes Jude Law. "His subtle understanding of people is what makes his interpretation of souls so engaging in his work."

And Ronnie Wood remembers Bo Diddley: "His sound, which has been described as the devil moving his furniture, still turns me on today."

In the Observer Review, Ajesh Patalay argues that, "When it comes to web series, Hollywood can't afford not to be ahead - particularly given how quickly viewing habits are changing as a growing number of consumers view content online." Among those trying their hands at the new format are Ashton Kutcher (Blahgirls) and Stephen Colbert (Children's Hospital). "Also in the pipeline are projects from Josh Schwartz (creator of Gossip Girl and The OC), the Coen brothers and film directors Bryan Singer and David Lynch. In the United States, all the leading studios have digital arms (including HBOlab, Warner Bros' Studio 2.0 and Sony's Crackle) which produce spin-off web series from mainstream shows (such as The Wire and Gossip Girl) as well as original content."

And Philip French looks back on the career of Ava Gardner, while Vanessa Thorpe reviews a new biography, Arthur Miller: "Christopher Bigsby's lengthy, sympathetic study contains electrifying new perspectives on its subject."

Rolling Stone: Brad Pitt For Rolling Stone, Mark Binelli visits Brad Pitt on the set of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. The first round of the conversation, about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, naturally, is online; for the rest, you'll have to borrow a copy. Related online viewing: The Playlist has Wes Anderson's Tati-inspired Brad Pitt-starring ad for a Japanese phone company.

"The story behind the making of Delgo is heartwarming and inspiring," writes Peter Martin at Cinematical:

Fathom Studios, based in Atlanta, Georgia, has been creating commercial computer animation for more than ten years. When they decided to produce their own feature-length narrative film, they did it completely independent of the Hollywood studio system. They labored long and hard with a much smaller budget and a much smaller staff than the animation behemoths. They bravely posted "digital dailes" throughout production, a kind of progressive, online series of "making of" snippets. They recruited a slew of actors with name recognition - Freddie Prinze Jr, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Val Kilmer, Malcolm McDowell, Louis Gossett Jr, Michael Clarke Duncan, Burt Reynolds, Chris Kattan and the late Anne Bancroft in her last performance - to voice the characters.

If only the film as a whole was as dramatic and lively as the behind-the-scenes story.

More from Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times) and Luke Y Thompson (Voice).

"Kim Basinger, what's happened to you?" asks Sara Vilkomerson. More on While She Was Out, also in the New York Observer, from Andrew Sarris.

"If you could cut all the music from Where God Left His Shoes, you might actually have a solid family drama," suggests Matt Noller in Slant. More from Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and Stephen Snart (L Magazine).

"When I moved to the United Arab Emirates, I thought I knew what censorship meant," writes Craig Courtice, who then describes for Artforum how four months in Abu Dhabi have effected him in surprising ways.

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: "Tim Jones of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has some good commentary on the news that the MPAA has asked Obama to spy on the entire Internet, and to establish a system where being accused of copyright infringement would result in loss of your Internet connection (and your VoIP line, your access to your university, your lifeline to your parents in the old country, your means of participating in civic life, your means of fighting your parking ticket, etc etc etc)."

Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide. Via Movie City News.

What's Glenn Kenny doing in Popular Mechanics? Talking HD, naturally. "The piece contains a lot of interesting information about how your Blu-ray sausage is made, if I may say so myself, and also delves into the differing philosophies involved," he notes at Some Came Running. And there's a list, too: "20 Must-Have Blu-ray HD Epics."

The End Online browsing tip. "You know, at heart, that the movies are truly another version of magic when you recognise the emptiness, the feeling of desertion, at the end of every film. Where did they all go? And why can't we go with them?" David Thomson in the Guardian on The End, a Flickr photo set from Dill Pixels.

Online listening tip #1. Tom Ashbrook talks holiday movies with Ty Burr and Claudia Puig.

Online listening tip #2. A roundtable at the House Next Door commemorating the one-year-anniversary of Preston Miller's Jones.

Online viewing tip #1. From Jason Kottke: "Just Like the Movies is a short film by Michal Kosakowski that samples footage from movies that were made prior to September 2001 to recreate the events of 9/11."

Online viewing tip #2. FilmCatcher talks with Steve McQueen about Hunger.

Online viewing tip #3. Nathaniel R's promo for StinkyLulu's third annual Supporting Actress Blog-a-Thon, happening January 4.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:27 PM

Hard Times.

Hard Times "Now is probably not the right time to enter the world of film criticism, but don't tell that to aspiring pundits," writes Peter Debruge in Variety. "Even as the professional ranks implode, young writers are expressing their passion by any means necessary." Among those he's talked to for this piece: Keith Uhlich, Vadim Rizov, Kristi Mitsuda, Michael Koresky, Karina Longworth, Dennis Lim, Eric Kohn, Nick Pinkerton and Aaron Hillis.

Also in Variety, David Mermelstein talks with the elders about the state of criticism and the industry itself: Joe Morgenstern, Richard Schickel, Andrew Sarris, Kenneth Turan and Stanley Kauffmann.

"I don't think film criticism is dead. What makes me sad is that so few people even know what it is. But that's something that hasn't changed in 30 years." Jim Emerson comments on the threats critics who've reviewed The Dark Knight unfavorably have been facing.

"Indie distribs are falling," reports Michael Jones, "And falling in threes. This week saw First Look, Peace Arch, and now the Yari Film Group - all hit by declining fortunes and, in two cases, lawsuits."

"Another piece on the demise of our favorite art form, this time titled 'The Death of Indie Film as a Business Model' and found at Mike Curtis's HD for Indies blog," notes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay. "It's all there - the Gill speech, overcrowded theaters, uninspiring films, the high cost of marketing, piracy, the high cost of film school, the Darwinian acquisitions environment."

"When the going gets tough, the tough supposedly get going," writes Holly Million at SF360. "The real question is, where exactly do they go? Well, if they are indie filmmakers looking to raise money for their films, they had better go to individual donors. And when they go, they had better do so strategically, that is, armed with a thoughtful, well-crafted plan of action."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:30 AM | Comments (3)

Fests and events, 12/14.

International Film Festival Summit "At the International Film Festival Summit in Vegas on Monday, Variety's Anne Thompson sat down with Sundance senior programmer Trevor Groth and Telluride co-director Gary Meyer for a panel titled 'The Art and Philosophy of Curating a Film Festival.'" Michael Jones shares his notes.

More from Basil Tsiokos in indieWIRE: "The three-day event drew festival organizers from all over the US, as well as a few international colleagues as a professional forum to discuss a wide range of issues relevant to this small but specialized subset of the film industry, from practical considerations of sponsorship, marketing, ticketing, board development, and programming, to more far-reaching philosophical explorations of the role of film festivals for audiences and for the film industry as a whole."

Dispatches at indieWIRE: Brian Brooks from the Dubai International Film Festival and Jason Guerrasio from the Bahamas International Film Festival.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test "During the Q&A at the end of Tom Wolfe's 40th-anniversary discussion of his gonzoid Merry Pranksters travelogue The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Wolfe was asked about his opinion of Gus Van Sant's forthcoming film adaptation," writes Andrew Hultkrans for Artforum. "Wolfe replied, 'Films that try to capture trips - hallucinations - always fail miserably.' As counterexamples raced through my mind - David Cronenberg's Videodrome, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, hell, the Monkees' Head - I found myself thinking, 'Polite, laudatory conversations for the NPR set at Symphony Space aren't exactly a freezer bag of 'shrooms, either.'"

The Firemen's Ball screens off and on at BAM through December; for Vulture, Bilge Ebiri talks with Milos Forman.

As part of the Rouben Mamoulian season at BFI Southbank, his 1931 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde screens through January 1. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw finds it to be a "gripping revival." More from Philip French (Observer) and Tom Huddleston (Time Out).

Posted by dwhudson at 8:59 AM

Lists and awards, 12/14.

A Let's start this round with Catherine Grant's "A-Z of Favourite Scholarly Film and Moving Image Blogs."

"Daily Plastic wasn't around last year," writes Robert Davis, "but with any luck this will become our tradition: we're going to dig into a number of year-end lists that we find interesting, one by one, day by day, and we'll examine not what they've left out (which will be covered implicitly by our own year-end lists) but by what they've included. It's '2008 in Negative,' not negative as an attitude but negative as a bas-relief." First up: Roger Ebert.

"The producers of the Academy Awards are counting on a mutant wolverine who is People magazine's reigning Sexiest Man Alive to inject some desperately needed razzle-dazzle into their annual telecast," reports Brooks Barnes in the New York Times. "Hugh Jackman, the Australian actor known to film audiences for playing a furry comic-book hero in the X-Men movies, will be host of the 81st incarnation of the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Friday. ABC will broadcast the awards show on Feb 22." And in the Los Angeles Times, Mary McNamara suggests "Ten ways to make the Oscar telecast good TV."

"Continuing this year's awards season coverage in indieWIRE, editor-in-chief Eugene Hernandez and assistant editor Peter Knegt chatted via instant message about the ever-evolving race. Topics for this installment include discussions of the recent bombardment of awards announcements, from the Golden Globe Award nominations to the Los Angeles Film Critics' Association and New York Film Critics' Circle's picks to the European Film Awards."

New York's David Edelstein offers his takes on nine Oscar contenders.

Videohound lists the "Ten Best Movies of 2009 - That's Right, 2009." Via the SXSW News Reel. Related: Cinematical posts pix from a handful of Warner Bros' 2009 releases.

The Guardian's poll of 20 of its writers is now complete. Their #1: No Country for Old Men. It opened in the UK early this year, but 2008 really has been that kind of year. Their #3: There Will Be Blood. #7: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. #8: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. And the Guardian gathers all its list on one handy page.

The Observer's Philip French puts Appaloosa at the top of his ten, while Jason Solomons hands out the "Trailer Trash" awards ("Blokes of the year," etc).

Adam of Northwest Film Forum posts a top ten.

Larry Aydlette lists his "Favorite Things of 2008."

"Van Heflin never became a big star because he was too honest an actor." Dan Callahan picks "5 for the Day" at the House Next Door.

Tim Lucas lists his 20 favorite actresses. Adam Ross has 25; MS Smith sticks with 20. Marilyn Ferdinand goes alphabetical and comments on each of her 20 - just like Arbogast. David Cairns's approach: "Twenty actresses whom I would always be glad to see in a film, although I have no real desire to 'do' them."

The Year in Ideas "Welcome back to the Year in Ideas issue." The New York Times Magazine: "For the eighth year in a row, we have compiled an alphabetical digest of ideas, from A to Z (almost), that helped make the previous 12 months, for better or worse, what they were."

"Universal, definitive, objective and final: The best 10 records of 2008." Says Momus. Who, by the way, is looking back at his early work and giving away music. "The Angels are Voyeurs," for example: "I think people might have been surprised to hear this song, after looking at the sleeve (and the label) and expecting something more dark, more rock. This is a crisp, light, tight cabaret song sung in an articulate whisper. It doesn't really sound like anything else in late 80s British pop. The conceit of the song is a sexualized take on Rilke's idea of the 'watcher angel,' which had just been used as a central motif in Wim Wenders's film Wings of Desire. These angels are not so benign, though: they maintain a sadistic distance, and they're as excited by the possibility of our self-annihilation as they're aroused by 'our cleverness, our nakedness.'"

A collection at the AV Club: "Celebrity guests on the year's best albums," a followup to the staff's own choices.

Donald Richie picks three titles for the Japan Times' collection of "Best of Asia" books in 2008.

Online browsing tip #1. The best of Book By Its Cover, 2008.

Online browsing tip #2. "Vanity Fair's Year in Pictures," parts 1 and 2.

Online listening tip from Nathaniel R: "Joe of Low Resolution, Nick of Nick's Flick Picks, Katey of Cinema Blend and myself gab about last week's mad rush of precursor awards and nominations."

Online viewing tip. Cartoon Brew begins counting down the "Twelve Animated Days of Christmas."

Online viewing tips. Linking to clips, the London Times lists the "20 Best Christmas Movies."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:49 AM

December 13, 2008

New York. The first 30 years.

New York: Mailer-Breslin A weekend online browsing tip via Fimoculous: Google Books is now hosting a digital archive of the first 30 years (1968 through 1997) of New York. As you bumble around in here, not everything that catches your eye will necessarily be related to cinema, of course, but I've plucked out a few cover stories of likely interest that are:

New York: Jimmy Carter New York: Ronald Reagan New York: Bill Clinton

Posted by dwhudson at 3:57 AM

December 12, 2008

Berlinale 09. Competition, round 1.

Berlinale 09 The Berlin International Film Festival has announced a first batch of ten films screening in the Competition section, though many will not actually be competing.

World premieres:

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

International premieres:

Also screening out of competition will be Stephen Daldry's The Reader (more here) and - really? - Harald Zwart's Pink Panther 2, which may bring Steve Martin to Berlin, I'm guessing. At any rate, as previously announced, the festival will open with Tom Tykwer's The International on February 5 and run through February 15.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:54 AM

In the City of Sylvia.

In the City of Sylvia "In the City of Sylvia is pure pleasure and pure cinema," writes J Hoberman. "The fifth feature by Catalan filmmaker José Luis Guerín (shown once at the 2007 New York Film Festival) celebrates the love of looking, while placing a crafty minimalist spin on the Orpheus myth."

In the New York Times, Nathan Lee finds Sylvia to be "a frequently hypnotic, if sometimes irritating, meditation on the act of looking. What women will make of this picture - the sine qua non of chic, formalist exercises predicated on the 'male gaze' - I can't presume to guess.... The rigorously geometric cat-and-mouse sequence that follows is more irksome, both for the all-too-obvious debt to Vertigo (and the many highbrow stalker films it has inspired) and for the sense that Mr Guerin has stopped making a movie and has started advancing a proposition that's he's obligated to complete."

Update, 12/13.

"To allegorize the man's search is certainly possible, but considering the anonymity of the city, the abstraction of the search, and the incredible, lucid, and devastating interactions he eventually has with the city's women after his ardent, almost too-fixated stalking, it would be a disservice to the simple, sublime artistry of In the City of Sylvia to tie it down to a static, stable meaning." Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook: "The film's vision of life, of cinema, and of life as cinema—as searching for recognition, reclaiming memories, furrowing through a tumult of incredible sounds and visions to find that meaning so personal to the viewer—is one that lucidly, powerfully, and mournfully rejects the satisfaction of such concreteness."

"There's a faint air of enchantment here, in the Grimm Rhineland facades of Strasbourg, the 'missed connections' longing, an encounter on the tram... that abstractly recollects the trolley of Murnau's Sunrise," writes Nick Pinkerton in indieWIRE. "At times this can all threaten winsomeness, thanks in part to [Xavier] Lafitte's achingly stereotypical 'pale poet' vibe - the well-molded face, dandyish vest, sculpted tousle. But Guerin's fable sometimes elegantly traces the outlines of an inchoate feeling."

"Bound for a slot in countless cinema studies curricula because it puts film theory into practice, the near-plotless and dialogueless In the City of Sylvia alternates endlessly between views of subject and object, the gazer and the gazee," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "It's like cinema as people-watching on a lazy summer afternoon."

Natasha Braier is "one of the best cinematographers at work today," writes James Van Maanen, and her "work is probably the most important element in Mr. Guerín's movie; the quiet precision with which she captures every object simply blew me away (she makes even the inside of an auto-bus, below, look special), yet this is nothing like the necessarily showy, ground-breaking cinematography, she gave us in Glue."

Online viewing tip. "I recently received the film on DVD, and have watched it about six times in the past few days," writes Filmbrain. "Yes, it's that good. As a gift, I thought I'd share 5:30 of the film with you."

At Anthology Film Archives through December 18.

Earlier: Ryland Walker Knight, Jennifer Stewart and Kevin B Lee exchanged thoughts and linkage in April. Parts 1, 2 and 3.

Update, 12/13: "Guerín ultimately points up his character as a potentially unsavory voyeur (though also perhaps a hopeless romantic)," writes Andrew Schenker, "but only by entering the sensory headspace of this questionable young man have we been able to experience such richly satisfying moments of aesthetic immersion."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:44 AM

Bettie Page, 1923 - 2008.

Bettie Page
"Bettie Page, the brunet pinup queen with a shoulder-length pageboy hairdo and kitschy bangs whose saucy photos helped usher in the sexual revolution of the 1960s, has died. She was 85.... A cult figure, Page was most famous for the estimated 20,000 4-by-5-inch black-and-white glossy photographs taken by amateur shutterbugs from 1949 to 1957.... Decades later, those images inspired biographies, comic books, fan clubs, websites, commercial products - Bettie Page playing cards, dress-up magnet sets, action figures, Zippo lighters, shot glasses - and, in 2005, a film about her life and times, The Notorious Bettie Page.

Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times.

See also: The Bettie Page Memorial and the Wikipedia entry, a portal leading to a sprawling network of fans.

Updated through 12/15.

Update, 12/13: "To look at these photographs is to enter another world," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "I don't think for a minute it was a more innocent world, but it was one in which sexualized images of women, even trussed up in rope, seemed somehow, well, charming. I'm sure there are plenty of women and some men who would disagree, saying that one generation's erotica is another's pornographic exploitation. But the sheer volume of images that wash over us now have blunted our sensibilities, I think, and made us less alive to the beauty, the poetry and the mysteries of the naked body."

"Bettie was rich Corinthian leather to connoisseurs of specialized, subterranean erotica — the kind that showed women, dressed in black undergarments and stockings, and pumps with six-inch heels, getting spanked, trussed and gagged. But primly; this was the 50s." Richard Corliss in Time.

"I never met her, but I've talked with people who knew her fairly well (including one of her lawyers), and she was apparently just as sweet and charming in real life as she appears in her photos, with a delightful Southern drawl that most of us never heard." C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark.

Michael Carlson recounts her life story in the Guardian.

Online listening and viewing tip. Via Thomas Groh, a playlist at Midnight Radio,

Update, 12/15: "Call it 'naughty naiveté' or 'innocent wantonness,' but Bettie Page definitely helped ease an unsettled conservative America into a more open and honest discussion of desire," writes Bill Gibron at PopMatters. "While her photos and films may have stayed the private shame of many a man (and woman), they've since become a symbol of what was brewing beneath the surface of prim and proper society. Without demand, there would have been no legend."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:50 AM | Comments (3)

Spanish Cinema Now. 4.

El truco del manco James Van Maanen has more from New York's ongoing Spanish Cinema Now series.

Did I know anything about Spanish hip-hop prior to viewing the surprising, vivid, funny and moving One-Armed Trick (El truco del manco) from Santiago Zannou (director and co-writer with Iván Morales)? Hell, I know almost nothing about American hip-hop. Yet for my money this small-in-scope, wide-in-appeal movie gets so much right that I feel more up on Spanish rap than I'd ever have imagined possible. Okay, maybe not on the rap itself. But Zannou gives us more. We discover the partially-paralyzed-since-childhood young man known as Cuajo (Juan Manuel Montillo). We see meet friends and family, a very mixed bag, and watch him beg, borrow, steal and bulldoze his way into setting up a production studio for musicians - and himself - to use.

Along the way, he must work with a gang lord, a none-too-helpful brother and a best friend who's a drug addict with an alcoholic father. If this sounds like the movie is "piling it on," I must tell you that, in execution, all of it seems quite like day-to-day life in this particular Spanish barrio. And because the main character is so real - angry, hopeful, frustrated, foolish and smart (often all at once) - what unfolds seems shockingly close to "as it is." The young waitress for whom our "hero" falls hard is attracted instead to his very sexy best friend; his mom tries to be kind but clearly favors his younger, more "normal" brother; and his antics and constant finagling, lying and cheating turn everyone off, as much as his very real life force turns them on.

The look of the film belies, I suspect, a small budget; the widescreen compositions are often glorious, even while they are detailing ugliness. And the combination of music, drama, elation and near-tragedy is surprisingly moving, particularly the finale. We've seen these stairs several times already, but never with the power they now accrue. The result is something like resignation made bearable by love.

My Father's House Another in the current and long march of movies that detail the effects of ETA terrorism in the Basque region of Spain, My Father's House (La Casa de mi padre) is directed by Gorka Merchán and written by Iñaki Mendiguren. As did Todos Estamos Invitados, shown earlier at this fest, the movie does not offer much hope for the Basque situation. I would say that it tries to present both sides of the issue, but it is difficult to countenance terrorism when the targets seem to be either chosen randomly or to have relatively little blood on their hands.

The film begins as a lovely family reunion that then grows darker, scene by scene. The Basque version of hand ball known as pelote plays a big part in the story; otherwise, the roughly 95 minutes is devoted to unearthing the history of a family divided but trying to find some sane middle ground. The performances are excellent, as would be expected from pros such as Carmelo Gómez and Emma Suárez as the visiting parents and Juan Jose Ballesta (El Bola, 7 Virgins and, from last year's SCN, Doghead) and Verónica Echegui, as the younger generation. (As an actor, Ballesta grows stronger, more mature with each new performance.)

In an interview with Jaime Rosales about his new Bullet in the Head, which also deals with the ETA and terrorism, this exceptional writer/director mentions trying to find a new paradigm for films that would bring the audience in touch with life via films that reach them in a different, more meaningful way. (I don't think Bullet manages this, but Rosales is trying.) I feel fairly certain that Rosales would consider My Father's House a film of the old school. It reminds us that the conflict still exists and, by focusing on a terrible injustice (perhaps somewhat one-sided), aims to convince us - and them - that it must be stopped. My Father's House plays again on Sunday, 12/14, at 8:15 pm.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:45 AM

December 11, 2008

Shorts, 12/11.

Crash "In retrospect, Crash appears to be the best film from Cronenberg's weakest period - post-Dead Ringers to pre-Spider, writes Tim Lucas - "but, as brilliant as it sometimes is, it cannot meet the book's greatness even halfway. But there is something about it that tempts one to imagine that it will play even better on the next viewing - and, in some ways, this hope holds true.... My retrospective interest in the film led me to belatedly acquire [Iain Sinclair's book, Crash], which I can enthusiastically recommend, especially to Ballard fans."

NILFs and more: "Since, in this economy, nobody wants to spend what little money he has on an unenjoyable Holocaust movie, Vulture has devised a fail-safe, flowchart-based guide to help determine which is right for you." Related: Aileen Gallagher talks with Jason Isaacs (as in, "'Hello' to Jason Isaacs") about Good.

Oliver Stone's next project? A doc on Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Ali Jaafar reports in Variety.

"Ben Stiller is set to replace Mark Ruffalo in Greenburg, a comedy-drama Noah Baumbach is writing and directing." The Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik has more.

"There are entire national cinemas, like West Germany's post-war output, consigned to the recycle bin of history," writes David Cairns in the Auteurs' Notebook:

Alraune

It's here we find the last films of Siodmak, Dieterle, Pabst; and Edgar Wallace adaptations, so lurid they glow in the dark; and remakes, remakes, remakes!

Alraune, released stateside as Unnatural... The Fruit of Evil, is a warmed-over 1952 version of a creepy novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers, already filmed four times, twice in 1918, and again in 1928 and 1930. Both latter versions starred Brigitte Helm, Fritz Lang's 'virgin star' brought to buzzing life by the electrical apparatus of Metropolis.... A strange nymph like Helm was perfect for this twisted yarn, but the 1952 version suicidally casts a big, rangy, emphatic woman who radiates sturdiness and good health. And she would have to be called Hildegard Knef, a name with the allure of a hockey puck. It's impossible to imagine this galumphing gal driving men to their deaths, except perhaps by physically overpowering them. This leaves an echoing chasm in the film's centre, which all the bad dubbing in the world can't fill. But there are compensations.

Kristin Thompson explains how Das Weib des Pharao would become "a turning point in Lubitsch's career."

"Did Graham Greene invent film noir?" asks the Guardian's Andrew Pulver. "I've always secretly hoped the answer was yes. It would be fitting that Britain's miserable, morally conflicted poet of the third-class railway compartment could be established as the prime mover behind the darkest, nastiest and sourest cinematic style of all - rather than bullish American wordsmiths of the James M Cain and Dashiell Hammett stable."

Movie Morlock moirafinnie celebrates Agnes Moorehead.

Le Pont du Nord "Le Pont du Nord is Jacques Rivette's mystery without a solution, a thriller without a plot, a modern-day Don Quixote/Sancho Panza tale that transforms the streets of Paris into a giant board game, a maze spotted with mysterious traps, puzzling clues, and chance encounters." Ed Howard.

"One can see why [Lars] von Trier found the antirealism of Europa - and its allusions to Fassbinder, Godard, Bergman and American film noir - a dead end." Steve Erickson for Artforum: "What could he have accomplished if he'd continued to plumb this vein instead of devoting himself to tales of female martyrdom drawn from Carl Theodor Dreyer and Roberto Rossellini? Despite its frequent evocations of the Holocaust, Europa is astonishingly playful, an exciting quality - and one missing from most of von Trier's subsequent work." More from Mike Kanin in the Austin Chronicle.

Kevin Lee on The World According to Garp: "Heralded in its day for its audacious envisioning of an American social landscape ravaged by dysfunctional sexuality - featuring an aspiring single mother who impregnates herself upon a dying soldier's genitalia; a transsexual [gasp!]; and a feminist society who protest violent rape by cutting their own tongues off - John Irving's 1978 picaresque now reads like a hysterical (in both senses of the word) male vision of the burgeoning feminist movement. Not much is different in George Roy Hill's 1982 movie version, except that the absurdist imagery no longer drifts along the cooing flow of Irving's prose, but rattles and jerks from one set piece to another."

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

Chip Kidd's "latest book is Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, which collects a series of previously unseen manga starring the caped crusader." Louis Peitzman in Pixel Vision: "In a phone interview, I spoke to Kidd about Batman's culture shock, the bitchin' Batmobile, and how to pronounce 'manga' without sounding ignorant."

"Deadpan, detached and seeming a bit lonely, Bill Murray is NYC's most unlikely new party guy." Sarah Horne gathers sightings for Page Six Magazine.

Via Ted Johnson, perhaps the shortest entry ever at the Huffington Post: "More than one commentator, including our own Jason Linkins, has compared Gov Rod Blagojevich's obscenity-filled wiretapped conversations to the profane poetry of a David Mamet play. So we asked Mamet for his take on Blagojevich."

Robert Cashill and Edward Copeland remember Robert Prosky, 1930 - 2008.

Online thingie. The DVD Beaver Toolbar, via Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Online scrolling tip. Via Ted Zee, Smashing Magazine's "40 Exquisite Independent Film Posters."

Online browsing tip. The "brightest British young hopefuls," as chosen by Total Film, recreate their favorite screen moments; Alice Jones introduces the next wave of acting talent from Britain.

Online listening tip. The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Eran Riklis about Lemon Tree.

Online viewing tip. Before this cover version well and truly wears out its welcome (and I say this as a big Pet Shop Boys fan and a moderate admirer of Sam Taylor-Wood), do watch the video. James Seo's got it.

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

Fests and events, 12/11.

Werner Herzog at the Pompidou Center "On the occasion of a complete retrospective of Werner Herzog's films at the Pompidou Center, in Paris," noted the New Yorker's Richard Brody yesterday, Le Monde published, today, an interview with the director, which contains the following unpleasant response to a question from the critic Jacques Mandelbaum: 'You're usually counted, alongside Werner Schroeter or Rainer Werner Fassbinder, among the directors who launched the new German cinema in the 1960s and 70s. Do you agree with this?'" The answer is a bit rattling, too.

Susan King rounds up local goings on for the Los Angeles Times.

A new print of Milos Forman's The Firemen's Ball screens at BAM for a week starting tomorrow. Eric Kohn in the New York Press: "Forman lovingly parodies all dysfunctional systems with much pomp and fanfare. It's an outlook that sums up his entire career, from the earlier hit Loves of a Blonde (which also features the comically-inspired imprecision of horny old men) to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (another clever potshot at self-interested authority figures)." More from Dan Jackson in the Tisch Film Review: "The Firemen's Ball has the distinction of being a film with a back-story that is at times more interesting than the film itself."

FilmCatcher's Damon Smith has been scanning the shorts programs slated for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival and notes that "two smart, young Indiewood actors are taking a seat in the director's chair": Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet.

The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF) "may be in need of money, but its staff and board are already making significant changes to next year's festival (which will take place Sept 8 - 13). Clay Smith reports. Also in the Austin Chronicle, Anne S Lewis tells the story behind In a Dream, screening Wednesday.

"What can you take from some of these films, except a paralyzing hopelessness?" Gerald Peary looks back on the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) in the Boston Phoenix.

Online viewing tips. "Cinematical reader DJ S pieced together this list of available trailers for a whole bunch of Sundance films."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:09 PM | Comments (2)

Lists and awards, 12/11.

Doomsday Nathan Lee lists "five under-rated films that deserve your love - or laughs, or incredulity..."

"IFC Films' Keaton Kail has been so kind as to pass along the following endearingly obsessive spreadsheet he's put together ranking the year's films by their mentions in critic top ten lists."

The Guardian's arts critics mull over the highlights of the year while the film writers carry on their top ten countdown.

Marshall Fine lists his "best (and worst) of 2008." His #1: Revolutionary Road.

With her 20 actresses, the Siren detonates the comments bomb. Jonathan Lapper puts his "Dames in Frames." Bob Turnbull explains his approach before finally taking off. Kimberly Lindbergs's list goes to 23.

Kim Voynar for Movie City News: "And the Nominees for Best Actress Should Be..."

Shawn Levy, author of King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis, is "moved and brightened by the news that he will be receiving the Jean Herscholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars ceremony in February." Peter Knegt comments: "Alright, yes... He does that telethon every year and he's the king of muscular dystrophy-related goodwill. But he's also a bigot."

Cartoon Brew co-editor Jerry Beck picks "not only my personal favorites of the year - but [they] will remain favorites of mine for years to come."

Brett Michel presents a "heroic holiday DVD and Blu-ray gift guide" in the Boston Phoenix.

Online viewing tip. At Boing Boing, Xeni Jardin has the "Most Awesome Viral Videos of 2008, curated by Videogum."

Posted by dwhudson at 3:01 PM | Comments (1)

Goldstein and Dargis.

LA Confidential "It's an open secret in indie Hollywood that no one wants Manohla Dargis to review their movie, fearing that the outspoken critic will tear their film limb from limb," blogs the Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein. "What causes so much fear and loathing in the filmmaking community about Manohla's work as a critic isn't her blunt appraisals but her seeming lack of empathy for the challenge of tackling difficult material."

My first reaction: Since when has empathy for the filmmaker - varying degrees of the stuff, too, evidently depending on the nature of the project s/he takes on - been part of the critic's job description? Turns out, I'm not alone.

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth writes: "It's almost as if Goldstein is advocating for a kind of affirmative action for art (or, at least, artsy) films: all pictures may be on a level playing field in Manohla's eyes, but a certain type of picture should be given special consideration for at least trying to be art, even if it fails.... [I]f he's actually suggesting that critics should allow 'empathy' for the architects of blatant awards bait to temper their judgements, then this might be his harshest anti-criticism statement yet."

Adds IFC's Alison Willmore: "Dargis is a critic I've found comes across sharper in out-of-context phrases than in the opinion expressed in each review as a whole, which may also be why studios are averse - so pullquote unfriendly!"

Posted by dwhudson at 2:29 PM | Comments (2)

Valkyrie, round 1.

Valkyrie "After a long takeoff, Valkyrie finally takes flight as a thriller in its second half but never soars very high," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Bryan Singer's long-awaited account of the near-miss assassination of Adolf Hitler by a ring of rebel German army officers on July 20, 1944, has visual splendor galore, but is a cold work lacking in the requisite tension and suspense. This second production from Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner at United Artists will do better than the first, Lions for Lambs, but is a decidedly odd choice for Christmas Day release."

Updated through 12/16.

"Working against the known outcome of this plot, director Bryan Singer - reunited with his The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie and his writing partner Nathan Alexander - manages to maintain suspense and involvement in the unfolding conspiracy." Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter: "With such World War II movies as Defiance and Good also on tap this month, there is no doubt the Nazis continue to provide fodder for movie producers. How great the fascination among moviegoers is another question."

"Apart from an opening air attack sequence, Valkyrie is fundamentally a film about back-room plotting, not big-stroke action," writes Brent Simon for Screen. "There are a few striking visual markers - uncradled phones and slamming typewriter keys - that hint at building tension, but Singer also misses key opportunities to inject a little energy and visual flash into the story, as exemplified by a clumsily-staged arrest sequence late in the film. Valkyrie at times feels emotionally constrained, too invested in speechifying."

Earlier (and recommended): Rob Davis in Daily Plastic.

Via filmz.de, you can - if you read German, that is - follow the bizarre saga of the Cruise family's adventures in Germany, beginning in the fall of last year: the villa, the visit to the Scientology center, the remodeling of an entire floor of the Hotel Adlon, the injuries and reshoots, the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung's weird and icky embrace and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's completely off-the-wall argument that Tom Cruise will save Germany in the eyes of the world.

Update: "The problem with Valkyrie is really simple," argues David Poland: "it was a terrible idea when they started and nothing that a large group of very talented people did could overcome the core problem of this story. It's a movie about a vain loser that doesn't want to be about failure."

Updates, 12/13: "'This was my shot at a small movie, and I blew it,' Mr Singer said with a laugh during a Thanksgiving week visit to New York. 'Maybe I just discovered I'm a big-movie guy. Even when I was making Usual Suspects, which I shot in 35 days for $6 million, I had to have this giant boat, this police car, explosions, all that stuff. No matter what the circumstances are I tend to amplify.'" Mark Harris on Valkyrie's making in the the New York Times.

"Valkyrie is a well-made, entertaining thriller that had me on the edge of my seat in its second half," blogs Variety's Anne Thompson. "It's old-fashioned, in the sense that Hollywood used to make more movies like this: straight-ahead, engrossing World War II action dramas that pit an alliance of noble heroes against pitiless Nazi villains."

Update, 12/14: Online viewing tip. Cruise on The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos: "Find out what Tom Cruise has to say about Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall, his role in Tropic Thunder and Scientology!" Thanks, Jerry.

Update, 12/15: "Last night, at the discussion following the 92nd Street Y's Reel Pieces premiere of Valkyrie, Tom Cruise was asked no fewer than three times about how his eye patch affected his performance as the movie's Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg." Lane Brown reports for Vulture.

Update, 12/16: Spiegel Online gathers reactions to Valkyrie in the German press.

Posted by dwhudson at 7:08 AM

Manoel de Oliveira @ 100.

Manoel de Oliveira "When Portugal's Manoel de Oliveira turns 100 on Friday, the world's oldest filmmaker will be doing what he loves most: shooting a movie - in this case his 46th feature-length film." The AFP reports.

Online viewing tip. Marco Lemos talks with Oliveira for euronews.

Cahiers du cinema offers a pictorial salute.

Updated through 12/13.

Congrats in the German-language papers: Walter Haubrich (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Claudia Lenssen (taz), Josef Nagel (Neue Zürcher Zeitung), Hanns-Georg Rodek (Welt) and Jan Schulz-Ojala (Tagesspiegel).

See also: Scott Foundas (LA Weekly, March), Randal Johnson (Senses of Cinema, 2003) and Jonathan Rosenbaum (Film Comment, July/August).

Updates: Flickhead gives us "a discussion between Oliveira and Jacques Parsi, who worked on several of Oliveira's scripts, aiding in the French translation and dialog on Party (1996), Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo and O Princípio da Incerteza (2002). For Je rentre à la maison (2001), Parsi worked on the screenplay and played a small role. Conducted for its presskit, the two men discuss Je rentre à la maison, sex, Buñuel and James Joyce."

"What makes Oliveira unique, is that he is not only the oldest living working director, but that his films have retained their quality," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian.

Michael J Anderson: "For those who are less familiar with the director, let me direct you to a series of posts that I have dedicated to Oliveira during my three-and-a-half years writing for this site."

Update, 12/13: Wim Wenders wishes Oliveira all the best in Die Zeit (and in German).

Posted by dwhudson at 6:24 AM | Comments (2)

Globes. Nominations.

A Golden Globe Among the surprises to be found in the list of the Golden Globe nominations are frequent appearances of the titles In Bruges and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Still, Variety's added them all up and finds that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has come out on top, at least in the big-time categories.

Awards night is Sunday, January 11, and it will happen this year. Last year, you may remember, the writers' strike reduced the evening to a curt press conference (which many films fans discovered they actually preferred). This time around, it's the actors who may go on strike. Globes Night is safe; Oscar Night, not so much.

Updated through 12/13.

Related: S James Snyder runs through a brief history of the Globes for Time.

Updates: "What can one say? The town drunks are at it again." David Poland makes a series of predictions as to how all this will play out.

"Even though the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the widely ridiculed club that holds the awards, is neither really foreign nor press, I've always found that vaguely xenophobic," blogs Julian Sancton for VF Daily. "Then again, given the bizarreness of their nominations, announced this morning, the conventional wisdom holds."

"Universal, Miramax and Paramount/Warners are heaving huge sighs of relief that the Golden Globes rewarded Frost/Nixon, Doubt and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with five nominations apiece," blogs Anne Thompson. "The three films had been virtually overlooked by influential critics' groups in LA and NY this week.... [A]lthough the Globes saw fit to only recognize Sean Penn's performance in Gus Van Sant's very American and very political Milk (which won best film from the NYFCC), that should not hurt its overall awards chances. Nor would this group be particularly drawn to a fable beloved by both American moviegoers and critics, The Dark Knight. And Gran Torino's masterful, reflexive performance by actor/director Clint Eastwood is more likely to play to the Academy than the HFPA."

"How do we know this is the Golden Globes and not the Oscars?" asks the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Because Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr got supporting actor nominations for their scurrilously funny turns in Tropic Thunder, while James Franco is over in the Best Actor, Musical or Comedy category for his charmingly hapless stoner in Pineapple Express."

"Hollywood will focus as much on what was shut out, and there were several surprises." Brooks Barnes ticks off a few examples for the Carpetbagger. More from the Bagger himself, David Carr.

The Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik lays out "a few subplots that jumped out at us (along with Terrence Howard's tie), from the podium at the Beverly Hilton this morning."

Jürgen Fauth and Marcy Dermansky are happy to see those nominations for In Bruges.

Update, 12/13: "Congratulations on your strong showing this morning. What were you doing when you found out?" Lane Brown gets in touch with Harvey Weinstein: "I was on the set of Nine in London, making a movie with Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz, and Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard and Judi Dench. It was very fun to be clapped by your cast and Rob Marshall, the director, so the whole, you know, everybody broke into spontaneous applause when we got Best Comedy and Best Drama."

Richard Corliss for Time: "Members of the New York, LA and DC groups are actual movie critics... The resumés of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are a little more obscure."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:04 AM | Comments (1)

December 10, 2008

Shorts, 12/10.

Valkyrie You'll be reading (or skimming, or ignoring) many, many reviews of Valkyrie in the coming weeks, but I'd bet good money that none will make you laugh as heartily as Robert Davis's at Daily Plastic will.

"Scott Foundas, the film editor at LA Weekly and the Village Voice, emailed me the other day to say that 'your predictions about the Los Angeles Times' film editor Tim Swanson have turned out to be more than true' and to complain that what Swanson is doing at the newspaper 'strikes me as the death of film criticism in a nutshell.'" So Nikki Finke asked Scott Foundas to elaborate. And so he has.

Los Angeles Times Related (and recommended): Roger Ebert's blistering commentary on the Tribune Co's filing for bankruptcy. Via Movie City News.

"[W]ho, to you, are the 'essential' American movie reviewers, past or present?" asks Nick Davis, and he has his reasons.

"Jay and Mark Duplass are abandoning the mumblecore movement for Hollywood." That's how Christopher Campbell sees it in the SpoutBlog. "And not only will they work with a bigger budget, they've also acquired an Apatow-appropriate cast featuring John C Reilly, Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei. The untitled comedy (formerly called Safety Man) will have us believe that Tomei actually birthed Hill and still looks as good as she does."

Somebody "Stefan Kanfer's new biography of Brando, Somebody, is an antidote of sorts to the unsavory and voyeuristic 1994 biography written by Peter Manso, who focused on the actor's personal difficulties - his eccentricities, his many affairs and his often capricious behavior - in voluminous and unseemly detail." Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times: "Mr Kanfer, who wrote an estimable biography of Groucho Marx in 2000, focuses here on Brando's work, and while the reader may wish that he'd devoted more space to pivotal films like Streetcar, Waterfront, The Wild One and The Godfather and less space to such forgettable ones as Sayonara and The Ugly American, he does a solid job of describing Brando's preparation for various roles and evoking the often tortuous route such projects took on their way to the screen."

"What is stardom if not to sell a recognizable brand?" asks Jason Sperb. "Stardom, stars themselves, are commodities, as what is stardom if not an attempt to sell a new product through a pre-existing brand? With this is mind, it should not be terribly surprising that so many of the prominent characters in PT [Anderson]'s films which are performed by established stars are also, sometimes literally, salesmen. Mackey sells self-help books. Egan sells plungers. Plainview sells oil. Horner sells sex (while both Diggler and Mackey sell male heterosexual fantasies). Stardom, according to writers such as [Richard] Dyer, is also about performing a certain life, a certain work ethic, as a model for its audience. PT's stars make that mechanism explicit. They are not a sales pitch disguised in and through a narrative character - it is pure sales pitch."

"'I'll plug anything into the DVR that has Constance in the cast,' said Karen last week, and the Siren agrees with her.... The Siren has now seen six Constance Bennett movies in the past two months and feels ready to offer some thoughts on her abilities."

Kevin Lee on La roue: "Even in its present 4 plus hour cut, it can be an uneven slog at times, as [Abel] Gance lingers on moments until they creak with significance. But there's no denying his all-embracing ambition in bringing as many forms of cinema as he can conceive: from grimy working class realism to cliffhanger action to costumed fantasia interludes to moments of avant garde abstraction."

"A drunkard's lament. A bluesman's wail. The mischievous grin of children. A carnival geek's chicken act. Seething with images of the mundane and transmundane, photographer William Eggleston's lost film Stranded in Canton is an extraordinary exegesis on the ordinary. After 35 years on the museum and midnight movie circuits, Stranded has finally been given a proper DVD release by art publisher Twin Palms." Erik Morse in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

The Marathon Family "Appropriately, Slobodan Sijan's The Marathon Family opens with footage of the assassination of Yugoslavia's King Alexander I," writes Adam Balz at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "As the King's motorcade proceeds down a crowded street in Belgrade, a sudden commotion erupts around his car. Soon we see his lifeless body lying in the street, blood pooled around his head; Louis Barthou, the French Foreign Minister and a fellow passenger, is slumped over in the backseat, also shot. It is 1934, and through this soundless, black & white footage we've witnessed more than just the end of the 'January 6 Dictatorship': this is the death of silent film."

For the Independent, Ian Burrell reports on the Microwave project, which aims to see ten British films produced for £100,000 each by 2011: "The first Microwave film, Mum&Dad, due out on Boxing Day, will be shown in selected cinemas and available on DVD, as a download and as a movie-on-demand from Sky Box Office, an unprecedented synchronised multi-platform release."

Anthony Kaufman: "Recently, I spoke with Baz Luhrmann, David Fincher as well as Dark Knight filmmaker Christopher Nolan for this Variety article, 'Three filmmakers widen their canvas.' What's fascinating is not simply how the studio - or studios, plural, in some cases - gave the directors as much leeway as they did, but how each director stayed true to the independent maverick that lives inside each of them."

"What does Barack Obama mean for black cinema?" asks Salim Stephenson. Also in Seven, Jess Chandler: "As more and more filmmakers search for alternative means of funding and distribution, the internet may provide a final haven with documentaries leading the way in the inevitable progression of digital media."

John Magary talks with Arnaud Desplechin about A Christmas Story for the Reeler.

"It's possible that Europa, long considered an exercise in arty excess, may in fact be [Lars] von Trier's most personal film." Nicolas Rapold explains in Nextbook.

Let the Right One In "Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, 2008) is a new Swedish horror film of many distinctions, one of them being that it was based on a Swedish horror novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist," writes Tim Lucas. "The writer, whose book has been translated into English, reportedly moonlights or daylights as a stand-up comic and his writing would seem to confirm the theory that every comedian is a closet tragedian."

Brad Pitt will be starring in George Miller's adaptation of The Odyssey. "But it seems Brad Pitt hasn't had his fill of epics," notes Ben Child: "he's agreed to play an explorer searching for a mysterious Amazonian civilisation in The Lost City of Z, according to Variety.... 'This is a terrific opportunity to do something entirely different for me," said director James Gray, better known for brooding east coast dramas such We Own the Night and The Yards."

Also in the Guardian: "Brokeback Mountain and Victim are both given a starring role in a new book about the history of gay cinema," writes Guy Dammonn. "Following a rather gushy preface by Simon Callow, author Steven Paul Davies displays a well-judged queer eye for numerous ostensibly straight films, showing on a movie-by-movie basis how gay and lesbian sensibilities find themselves reflected throughout the history of modern society's love affair with celluloid." And the book is Out at the Movies: A History of Gay Cinema.

Herbert "Suman Mukhopadhyay's Herbert is what happens when Godard's influence comes to India 40 years too late," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice. More from Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine.

For FilmInFocus, Kaleem Aftab walks 7.5 miles through London, taking in various locations that've appeared in the movies.

"Even at his most pastoral, Sokurov’'s spiritual temper is more aligned with a humanist reverence for love, simplicity, endurance, and the liberating wonder of art, which Sokurov frequently celebrates (most profoundly in Russian Ark, 2002) as the life-affirming embodiment of hope and meaning." Steve Garden in the Lumière Reader: "Of all his films, the one that arguably comes closest to a ‘mystical’ view of existence is Mother and Son (1997)."

Alvaro Vargas Llosa in the New Republic on Slumdog Millionaire: "I cannot think of a movie that the residents of Mumbai, traumatized by the recent series of terrorist attacks, would find more inspiring than this one."

The Spirit

Lars von Törne talks with Frank Miller about The Spirit in the Tagesspiegel (and in German).

Rob Spence is having a camera installed in his eye socket. Priya Ganapati reports for Wired. Thanks, Jerry!

Online listening tip. Carrie Fisher talks about her new memoir, Wishful Drinking, on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Online viewing tip #1. The cinetrix has Sofia Coppola's 1996 debut, Lick the Star.

Online viewing tip #2. A two-minute intro to a new movie recommendations site, Clerk Dogs.

Online viewing tip #3. The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with Alex Gibney about Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S Thompson.

Online viewing tips. "The BBC reports that British animator and TV show creator Oliver Postgate has passed away at age 83," notes Amid Amidi. "He's responsible for TV series like Ivor the Engine, the Clangers, the Pogles, Noggin the Nog and Pingwings (which I wrote about on the Brew last year)." And he's got a couple of clips. Catherine Grant gathers linkage; more remembrances are gathered in the Guardian.

Online viewing and fiddling around tips. The New York Times launches Conversations and TimesWidgets.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:14 PM | Comments (6)

Fests and events, 12/10.

Pressure Cooker "Pressure Cooker was perhaps my favorite film at this year's Woodstock Film Festival," writes Reeler ST VanAirsdale. "The documentary will be presented at IFC Center as part of the Stranger Than Fiction series' ongoing Winter Specials. And 'special' is about right: Directors Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker spent a school year observing no-nonsense culinary arts instructor Wilma Stephenson and her class at Philadelphia's Frankford High, following the funny, sublime interweaving of their kitchen educations with the challenges of growing up in South Philly."

"The 'other' Canada, French-speaking province Québec, suffers no inferiority complex when it comes to filmmaking," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "Québec Film Week, which starts tonight, offers five days and eight features at the Opera Plaza that encompass the best of recent Québecoix moviemaking—plus one archival flick generally considered the entire nation's greatest feature ever."

"Gianni Amelio has been tapped to replace Nanni Moretti as topper of the Turin Film Festival in a move that consolidates the status of the small but prominent indie event." Nick Vivarelli reports for Variety.

Tumbl "Regional film festivals that lack broad name recognition or established Hollywood ties are slogging through the global financial crisis, adapting in ways large and small as donations dwindle and corporate sponsorships dry up," reports Eric Tucker for the AP. "Some are shortening their events, planning screenings in libraries and community centers instead of renting out theaters and showing DVDs instead of actual film print to save on shipping costs. And some have not survived: the Jackson Hole Film Festival folded this fall after failing to raise enough money to continue operating."

Bank of America Cinema takes the alphabet meme to a new level. The Chicago Reader's JR Jones explains.

"The Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow (GCCC) is presenting its first offsite project with a giant video installation on the top of Moscow's Mosenergo building opposite the Kremlin. The installation, Moscow on the Move, is running for 24 hours a day until 22 December 2008.... Featured artists include AES+F, Artavazd Peleshan, Doug Aitken, Fischli & Weiss, Douglas Gordon, Chris Marker, Alexander Kluge, Sarah Morris, Pipilotti Rist, Cao Fei, Yang FuDong, Philippe Parreno and Agnes Varda."

"The coming of sound to the cinema was both a curse and a blessing," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "Many of the first talkies were dialogue-dominated play adaptations, with stilted acting and a stationary camera and microphone. Rouben Mamoulian, one of the most inventive of Hollywood directors, made sound a blessing." The Mamoulian season runs throughout December at BFI Southbank.

"The five African films screened at the 32nd Cairo International Film Festival, which finished last Friday, brought African cinema to Egyptian audiences and gave a glimpse of the often magical mix of drama and comedy, documentary and fiction, for which African cinema has become famous." Gamal Nkrumah reports in Al-Ahram Weekly.

Online browsing tip. The Guardian samples The Godfather Family Album: "An exhibition of Steve Schapiro's images from the book will be on show at Hamiltons Gallery, 13 Carlos Place, London W1, from February 25."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:38 PM

Lists and awards, 12/10.

Ivan's Childhood "Dave Filipi is the film and video curator at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. He has been a fan of the Criterion Collection since the days when laserdisc was king." And it's his turn to pick a Top 10.

"Today saw the release of the annual Black List, an index of the year's best-liked, not-yet-produced screenplays. To compile it, more than 250 film executives were polled and each script had to be mentioned four times to warrant inclusion." And Lane Brown's got the List in full at Vulture.

Cartoon Brew co-editor Amid Amidi lays out his "personal picks of the year. I make no claim that these are the best of 2008; these are only the things that I enjoyed most during the past year."

The New Republic's Christopher Orr tracks the "Worst Cinematic Trend of the Year."

Darren Hughes has 20 more actresses for you.

You've seen the Washington Area Film Critics Assocation's picks; Christian Hamaker has the full list of nominees.

Granta contributors name their "Books of the Year."

Foreign Policy lists the "Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008." Via Jason Kottke.

Reminder: Rex Sorgatz's list of year-end lists is already very, very long - but organized well enough that you can find what you're looking for.

Online viewing tip. Cinematical's Erik Davis has "40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:19 PM

The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The Day the Earth Stood Still "These days, if there's a go-to movie star for handsome-but-expressionless, it's got to be Keanu," writes Jonathan Kiefer, and to fully appreciate the assertion, you need to read his first two paragraphs, a breezy introduction to the Kuleshov Effect:

Plus, as history has shown, you put him in a straight black suit, hook him up to some electrodes on occasion, liken him both to Christ and to a fish out of water, and he'll hold that camera's attention like - well, like the Earth's standing still. Call it the Keanu effect.

Updated through 12/15.

That's right: I am saying that the cheesy new Keanu Reeves remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, however utterly unnecessary and half-assedly realized and anticlimactic it may be (quite, it's fair to say), is also, in fact, a model of the true and absolute essence of cinema. I am offering a way to really appreciate this film, if only you can open your mind.

"The problem with this new The Day the Earth Stood Still isn't so much in the execution of director Scott Derrickson, who pulls off quite a few compelling sequences and, best of all, doesn't screw around too much with Klaatu's giant robot Gort (at least until Gort suddenly turns into a cloud of tiny robot insects that arbitrarily eat whatever the plot calls for)." Luke Y Thompson in the Voice: "No, the problem here is that there are no big ideas: The original Day was both a condemnation of Cold War military paranoia and an allegorical Christ tale, with Klaatu dying for our sins before being resurrected and ascending into the heavens, warning that he'll be back with the apocalypse if humanity doesn't shape up. There are plenty of ways to bring similar themes into play here: Klaatu as Bush figure, perhaps, invading because of our weapons of mass destruction?"

"As a time-traveling high school dude in the Bill and Ted movies, Keanu Reeves blazed a path through the great expanse of Western civilization, with detours to heaven and hell for good measure," writes Dennis Lim. "In the Matrix trilogy, he was Neo, the One, the hacker turned messiah who uncovers the underlying reality of our reality. More recently, in A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater's rotoscoped adaptation of the Philip K Dick novel, he played a drug-addled narc who slips among identities with the help of a high-tech 'scramble suit' and brain-frying hallucinogens. Reeves now continues his career-long tour of the otherworldly by assuming one of sci-fi's most iconic roles."

Meantime, you'll have likely heard that Keanu Reeves has signed onto 47 Ronin, evidently more of a retelling than a remake, with an emphasis on fantasy and, of course, action. Michael Fleming reports for Variety.

Back in the Los Angeles Times, Geoff Boucher on the slew of upcoming remakes of sci-fi classics.

"Hollywood is still in thrall to its sci-fi Golden Age screenwriters of the 1950s, some of whom were not hacks, but talented writers on the studio payroll." FilmCatcher's Damon Smith, too, looks ahead to that round of remakes.

Patrick Barkham talks with Jennifer Connelly in the Guardian.

Glenn Kenny revisits the original: "Watching the film today, one can conceivably mourn both the cozy-looking past of the American 50s and the never-to-be realized future that Klaatu represents."

Update: Eric Kohn passes along a see-to-believe press release.

Updates, 12/11: "Mushy-headed pap about love's indescribable majesty and busy, amateurish landmark-destruction sequences... are the predictable, guiding order of this Day," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "As for Keanu, the actor proves he's got a mean blank stare, which is no more exciting than a bare wall and yet still more compelling than the pitiful computer-generated effects used to create Gort, a rubbery creation that seems weightless, cartoony, detached from his surroundings, and thus part of a different film. If only he were so lucky."

Felecity Barringer reports in the New York Times on a recent screening at the California Institute of Technology: "They came because they were interested in seeing if the movie got the science right (mostly yes, the experts agreed), and if professed worry about climate change is influencing scripts (sort of), and if it is true that movie scientists have a higher risk of mortality than those in other celluloid professions (yes, one study says)."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "The Hillary-a-like defence secretary in The Day the Earth Stood Still [Kathy Bates] is a queasy throwback to the 90s, when we saw loads of Bill Clinton facsimiles on the big screen: attractive-ish, middle-aged white commanders-in-chief who were very much in the Bill mould, and flatteringly cast in romantic action-hero roles.... So will there be a surge of Obamas in the cinema? Maybe. But I suspect that there are plenty of people in Hollywood who will think that whatever's happened in the real world, in commercial and entertainment terms, a black president is still too 'urban' an idea."

"The entire spectacle could be easily confused with some ghastly, Roland Emmerich-produced hybrid of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow - only more skilled at product placement than plot development." Neil Morris in the Independent Weekly.

"It's a religious impulse, perhaps, this desire to be visited by some colossal vision, illuminated by some transcendent Word, chastised and threatened with awesome punishment. There's a desperate longing for oblivion blended deftly into this entertainment." Josef Braun on the original.

Online browsing tip. Dan Kois presents "Vulture's Complete Field Guide to the Facial Expressions of Keanu Reeves."

Online listening tip. Ambrose Heron talks with Derrickson.

Updates, 12/13: Day "must be the worst major release in what may be the most disastrous year in recent Hollywood history," writes Richard Schickel in Time.

"Honestly..., I wouldn't care about the tacked-on ecology lesson if the movie were any damn good," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "Unfortunately, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a jumble of spare parts and leftover dialogue, as if it had been assembled out of unused bits of every movie where an unknown whatzit threatens our way of life and the government goes into full institutional pants-crapping panic mode. I don't even mean E.T. or Close Encounters, although there are dim echoes of both to be found here. More like Outbreak or the TV version of The Andromeda Strain or that movie where Bruce Willis collides with the Earth."

"What did poor [Robert] Wise do, incidentally, to deserve such treatment?" asks Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. "His chilling horror masterpiece The Haunting was already put through the meat-grinder with an effects-heavy 1999 remake, and his thriller The Andromeda Strain was revisited with ill results in a SciFi Channel re-do earlier this year. What next - a hip-hop reinterpretation of The Sound of Music? (Granted, Queen Latifah could totally tear up 'Climb Ev'ry Mountain,' but still...)"

"After WALL•E and I Am Legend and the dozens of apocalypse flicks since the last Day the Earth Stood Still we can surely do better," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Even Klaatu looks bored and distracted, much as he did back when we knew him as Neo."

"[I]t lacks the courage of any convictions," argues Tasha Robinson at the AV Club; "the crisis that brings Keanu Reeves (smartly cast as a robotic, almost-emotionless, only-sorta-human construct) to Earth is laid out in the vaguest possible terms. For a film that takes so much joy in the minutiae of military weaponry and response, the new Day the Earth Stood Still is irritatingly broad and mumbly about why the human race might need to die."

Ellen McCarthy profiles Connelly for the Washington Post, where Ann Hornaday argues that Day is "not a complete failure."

"As a flashy big-budget distraction, Stood Still is adequate overall - rarely above, occasionally below - and often familiar in its spectacle. As a remake, it's equal parts missed opportunity and half-hearted update. Neither is worth standing up for, and the sum total is barely worth sitting still for," writes William Goss at Cinematical, where Eugene Novikov lists the seven "Best Sci-Fi Remakes."

Joe Leydon:

The muddled remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still is pretty lousy - you can read my Houston Chronicle review here - but I must I admit that, while enduring a press screening earlier this week, I found myself fascinated each time Kathy Bates appeared on screen as an aggressively authoritative US Secretary of Defense. Throughout this lavish but lumbering "reinvention" (yeah, right) of the 1951 sci-fi classic, Bates's Sec Regina Jackson more or less single-handedly commands all branches of the US military (and the combined police departments of, oh, I dunno, maybe three or four states) in an all-out campaign to kill or capture the stolid extraterrestrial (played, stolidly, by Keanu Reeves) who's threatening to save the Earth by annihilating earthlings. It's not that Bates gives such a great performance. (Chalk it up as just another grab-the-paycheck turn by another under-employed Oscar-winner.) But I couldn't help wondering: Why is the Defense Secretary giving all the orders while the unseen President and Vice-President hide out in undisclosed locations?

"[S]tupendously dull," declares the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "The lights are on at the top of the spaceship, but there's no one at the controls." Xan Brooks is just as disappointed, but says so via video.

"This contemporary remake of the science-fiction classic knew what it was doing when it cast Keanu Reeves, the movies' greatest stone face since Buster Keaton, as a perplexed alien whose first words on Earth are, 'This body will take some getting used to.'" Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times: "When you want distant and disconnected, Reeves is your man."

"Why couldn't Al Gore have directed this instead?" asks Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York.

"Though it's as full of political and historic subtext as any genre film ever made, you don't have to understand any of it to appreciate the 1951 original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still," writes Bob Westal at Bullz Eye. "The first major Hollywood film to posit a benevolent, if also authoritarian, alien visitor, is best known as the source of eight of the most memorable nonsense syllables to ever emanate from Hollywood: 'Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!' But its DNA has infected vast sections of the sci-fi universe, influencing innumerable friendly alien movies, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and The Iron Giant."

Update, 12/15: "The new Day is just as didactic as the old one while lacking all of its fun," writes Josef Braun.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:55 AM

New York Film Critics' Circle. Awards.

Milk The New York Film Critics' Circle has been posting the results of their voting as they move from category to category; hyper obsessives may have spent the last hour or two constantly refreshing this page, while laid back obsessives browse past winners, clicking all the way back to 1935.

At any rate, we now have this year's winners: Milk wins Best Picture, Best Actor (Sean Penn) and Best Supporting Actor (Josh Brolin); Happy-Go-Lucky's fared well, too, picking up Best Director (Mike Leigh) and Best Actress (Sally Hawkins).

Updated.

Updates: For the Hollywood Reporter's Steven Zeitchik, Happy-Go-Lucky's "potential resurgence" is the big story here.

The New York Post's Lou Lumenick counts the votes - in all categories.

AJ Schnack comments on Man on Wire's wins in New York and Los Angeles.

Posted by dwhudson at 10:03 AM

Timecrimes.

Timecrimes "It seems somewhat fitting that David Cronenberg should be slated to remake Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "After all, it was Videodrome, the Canadian auteur's 1983 what-is-reality mindfuck that set the pattern for several generations of cinematic headtrips of which Vigalonda's film stands as the latest example. But in Timecrimes, the director seems as intent on launching a Hitchcockian exploration into the ethics of looking as he is on mining the territory of the contemporary puzzle picture, even as his narrative spins off into a myriad of directions and repeatedly forks back on itself."

Updated through 12/15.

"Timecrimes feels like it wants to be a picture about the prison of predestination, but instead its middle unfolds as a vain celebration of Vigalondo's cleverness," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "The movie, thankfully, is only deceptively uneven though; Vigalondo knows where he's going, even if it doesn't always feel like it."

Jim Ridley in the Voice: "[E]ven though Vigalondo's obvious direction lingers over every carefully arranged tile in the toppling-domino plot - hey, you think that cryptic squiggle on the calendar actually means something? - there's still some sinister amusement in watching them stack and fall."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Vigalondo "about time travel movies, playing Norman Bates in a spook house, and his love for the films of Rob Zombie."

Susan King talks with Vigalondo for the Los Angeles Times.

At the SpoutBlog, Brandon Harris asks Vigalondo about his media diet.

Earlier: James Van Maanen and reviews from Sundance.

Update: Timecrimes "makes its temporal loop-de-loops easy to follow while producing something thoroughly mind-bending and, what's more, successful as an entertaining thriller," writes Michael Joshua Rowin at indieWIRE. "Vigalondo's brilliant stroke is in telling the same story three times, the first time leaving mysteries unsolved, the second time solving them, and the third time going back over familiar ground to reveal even more mysteries."

Updates, 12/11: Timecrimes "is that rarest of films: a movie about mystery that remains impenetrable even after its hand is played," writes Simon Abrams in the New York Press. It's "the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure story."

James Van Maanen talks with Vigalondo and Before the Fall director F Javier Gutiérrez.

Updates, 12/13: "[W]hile it isn't that hard to stay a step or two ahead of Timecrimes," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club, "the movie is still a nifty little genre piece, an old-fashioned science-fiction mind-game with a healthy dollop of 'Oh, the irony.' Vigalondo throws in a few good twists, some of which are genuinely unpredictable, and though the film as a whole could be funnier and scarier, it couldn't be much zippier."

The film's got many taking another look at Primer, Damon Smith among them:

Most time-travel films position their protagonist (usually a man) to arbitrate a moral crisis created by a disturbance in the time-space continuum, an aberrant circumstance prompted by some selfish motive (love, greed, glory, hubris, scientific curiosity) on the part of one or several characters. In the case of Primer, Abe and Aaron are not mad tinkerers at all, but factotums of corporate industry, ultra-productive rationalists committed to '36-hour days' who ultimately run up against the limits of their own emotional and psychological endurance as extended-time voyagers. The film is just 77 minutes long, and the jargon-heavy dialogue can at times obscure the relevance of key scenes, but these are minor flaws in an otherwise suspenseful, ingenious iteration of the time-travel genre.

"Proof positive that a naked hottie and whiz-bang pacing can disguise the most gaping narrative cracks, Timecrimes makes sci-fi lemonade out of low-budget lemons," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times.

Online listening tip. Ed Champion talks with Vigalondo.

Online viewing tip. FilmCatcher interviews Vigalondo.

Update, 12/15: "Cronenberg has a cool intelligence that might be right for this material, but there aren't the kinky psychological layers to the situation that I would think would need to be there for Cronenberg to truly be interested in the project," writes Paul Matwychuk, speculating on the probable remake. "Timecrimes is very much a screenwriting exercise right now, and not much more - although the ultimate fate of the naked girl is something Cronenberg might be able to develop into something nicely disturbing."

Posted by dwhudson at 7:50 AM

Gran Torino.

Gran Torino "Like many characters Clint Eastwood has played in his six-decade screen career," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice, "Walt Kowalski is a man outside of his own time - a man who senses on some deep, inarticulable level that he has outlived his own usefulness. He's a little bit of 'Dirty' Harry Callahan, brandishing his disgust (and his firearm) at the unsightly blemishes of a value-less society; a little bit of Million Dollar Baby's Frankie Dunn, the rundown boxing trainer who's been as much of a disappointment to himself as to his estranged family; and more than a little bit of Unforgiven's Bill Munny, the has-been gunslinger haunted by the sins of his past but unable to refuse one last ride in the saddle. And much like those movies, Gran Torino (which Eastwood directed from a generally superb script by newcomer Nick Schenk) is about what happens when circumstance hurls Walt Kowalski into direct conflict with the present.... Above all, it feels like a summation of everything he represents as a filmmaker and a movie star, and perhaps also a farewell."

Updated through 12/14.

"Eastwood's portrayal of Walt echoes a career capper of his predecessor John Wayne," writes Bill Weber in Slant, "but rather than the self-parodying True Grit it's the similarly mournful The Shootist (directed by Clint mentor Don Siegel). If Gran Torino's climactic showdown is the erstwhile Dirty Harry's last as a leading man, conducted with a strategy at the polar opposite from the Man with No Name's, it's a final lament that the way of the gun is a guarantor of self-destructive pain."

"In short, Eastwood applies some interesting formalist strategies (he uses light to perpetually convey the feeling that his character has absolutely nowhere to go but up) to material that's pitched at the broad level of an 80s culture-clash comedy, and if the result isn't a masterpiece, the artistic friction on display here is delirious to behold," blogs Ed Gonzalez.

"There are apparently few greater pleasures than watching Clint Eastwood as a get-off-my-lawn Detroit retiree growl dated racial slurs to one and all in his sunny suburb," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "Walt is also evidently a Dirty Harry fan (Eastwood even allows his defiance to seem slightly loony), introducing a shifting of gears recalling his superior A Perfect World."

"Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino... caps his career as both a director and an actor with his portrayal of a heroically redeemed bigot of such humanity and luminosity as to exhaust my supply of superlatives," begins Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer.

Update: Via Craig Phillips, the Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein talks with Schenk, who'd never written a feature film before:

Schenk says he wrote the script, using a pen and a pad of paper, sitting at night in a bar called Grumpy's in northeast Minneapolis. It was a good release for Schenk, who was holding down a series of day jobs, driving a fruit truck and doing construction work. "I just scribbled away every night," he told me. "The bartender there is a friend, so sometimes I'd ask him questions about where I was going with the story as I was writing. When it came, the words just came. One night, I knocked off 25 pages right there in the bar."

Updates, 12/11: "Mr Eastwood bought the script in February, then shot the movie over the summer at a guerrilla filmmaker's pace, finishing in 32 days. The fast clip, Mr Eastwood said, helped him with the Hmong members of the cast, most of whom had never acted and many of whom didn't speak English. 'I'd give them little pointers along the way, Acting 101,' he said. 'And I move along at a rate that doesn't give them too much of a chance to think.'" Bruce Headlam meets Eastwood for the New York Times.

"To insist that Eastwood's trite, B-movie storytelling is classical requires an excessive regard for junk," argues Armond White in the New York Press.

Updates, 12/13: "Twice in the last decade, just as the holiday movie season has begun to sag under the weight of its own bloat, full of noise and nonsense signifying nothing, Clint Eastwood has slipped another film into theaters and shown everyone how it's done," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "This year's model is Gran Torino, a sleek, muscle car of a movie Made in the USA, in that industrial graveyard called Detroit. I'm not sure how he does it, but I don't want him to stop. Not because every film is great - though, damn, many are - but because even the misfires show an urgent engagement with the tougher, messier, bigger questions of American life."

"[I]f the film is a standard-issue redemption saga, it's also one of significant, deceptive weight, in large part because its preoccupation with the burden and self-destructive ramifications of violence is given acute resonance by Eastwood's presence," writes Nick Schager in Cinematical. "Despite a lower-middle-class urban setting and his cranky geriatric self positioned front and center-frame, Eastwood explicitly casts Gran Torino as a Western (or, rather, neo-Western), and not simply because it includes a few weapons-drawn standoffs and vicious cross-cultural tensions. Gunslinger Walt may live next door to Thao and his plucky sister Sue (Ahney Hur), but he's the strange outsider who figuratively waltzes into town and rights the wrongs of an aggrieved, fatherless clan, who in turn embrace him as their paternal guardian."

"[U]ntil Gran Torino starts rumbling headlong toward its tone-deaf, self-serious ending... it's often enjoyable, satisfying and funny," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "'I have more in common with these gooks than I do with my own family,' Walt says in the movie's most telling line, although he doesn't have to spell it out, given that his own kids and grandkids clearly believe that, just because they're white Americans, everything should be handed to them. Gran Torino, whatever its flaws are, is a movie about what America looks like now, and it posits that the work of living amicably together is sometimes hard but always worth it."

"Walt Kowalski, a just-widowed Korean War vet with a grudge against his Hmong neighbors, is Eastwood's furthest venture yet into the comic possibilities of his flintier-than-thou persona," writes Slate's Dana Stevens.

"The movie is ludicrous, but Eastwood's consistency is poignant," writes New York's David Edelstein. "He has an agenda and sticks to it."

"As topical and urgent as anything he has ever made, it perhaps comes as no surprise that Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, a film that serves as both an elegy for the past and a reckoning for the future from an American movie icon who is only a couple of years from octogenarian status, is some kind of American masterpiece," writes Brandon Harris.

"Eastwood plays a man from another era, and the film around him often feels similarly out of time," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "For what's reputed to be his final acting role, Eastwood has crafted an old-fashioned melodrama, but one in service to a story about changing times, which makes it a far more interesting film than the sum of its squints and snarls."

"Where is Sam Fuller when we need him most?" asks Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "The problem, a somewhat depressing one, is that Eastwood has grown into a director who thinks he's superior to his mentors."

"Gran Torino is, in tone and style, about as far from its predecessor as you can get," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat: "it's arguably a better film than Changeling; certainly it's a film with more obvious pleasures."

"The notion of a 78-year-old action hero may sound like a contradiction in terms, but Eastwood brings it off, even if his toughness is as much verbal as physical," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Even at 78, Eastwood can make 'Get off my lawn' sound as menacing as 'Make my day,' and when he says 'I blow a hole in your face and sleep like a baby,' he sounds as if he means it."

Update, 12/14: "I hope Eastwood at least gets a nomination for the song he sings over the closing credits, if only so that he can perform it during the telecast," writes Paul Matwychuk. "Actually, Eastwood should sing all the nominated songs - that may be the only way I could make it through that Miley Cyrus song from Bolt."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:51 AM

December 9, 2008

Lists and awards, 12/9.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button / Milk "Milk and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tied with eight nominations apiece in the 14th Broadcast Film Critics Association's Critics Choice Awards." Dade Hayes has the full list at Variety.

MCN's "Awards Watch" is beginning to pick up speed.

"The Best Media Offerings of 2008." An unadorned list from Drew Morton at Dr Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

The Playlist picks the "Most Disappointing / Most Overhyped Films of 2008."

20 favorite actresses from Nick Davis, Flickhead, Ed Howard, Nathaniel R and Peter Nellhaus.

"Best FYC Ad Ever?" asks Peter Knegt. Could well be.

At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell lists the "10 Most Romantic American Films of the Past 10 Years."

At Salon: "Some of our favorite authors weigh in on the best reads of 2008."

Ed Champion picks his "Top Ten Books of 2008."

Online listening tip. "The Books of '08" on On Point.

Online listening tips. Moka's Top 10 Albums 2008.

Online viewing tips, round 1. Ekkehard Knörer's favorite music videos of the year.

Online viewing tips, round 2. "Drugged! The top 50 trips in movies." At Den of Geek, via David Pescovitz at Boing Boing.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:38 PM

DVDs, 12/9.

The Dark Knight "[I]f you make the leap to consider The Dark Knight on its own terms - that is, as essentially an innovation, an unprecedented, aesthetically bizarre and revolutionary interpretation of the superhero tale - then these elements are not so much flaws as factors contributing to a fresh re-telling of the story of Batman and Gotham City." Simon Augustine at FilmCatcher: "That is, the film is a purposely impressionistic telling of a classic pop-culture myth. It takes big risks, but they are calculated, and not at all arbitrary. The jumbled, catch-as-can form of The Dark Knight's narrative, in which fights, characters, and themes pass by too quickly to grasp completely - serves a crucial thematic purpose: it is meant to lend itself to the moral turpitude at the story's philosophic heart."

"Great caper movies, of which James Marsh's Man on Wire is one, are ultimately movies about stolen moments of ecstasy, in which the stars temporarily align to make the impossible possible, all the while rendering pedestrian notions of property and moral judgments about crime inapplicable," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

Brave New York / Sway Mike Everleth on Brave New York/Sway: "While the structure [Richard] Sandler imposed on the clips is not easy to discern, the real narrative drive of each film is the excitement of wondering what wild shit you're going to see next."

Michael Atkinson at IFC on Flow: For the Love of Water: "There's nowhere to hide: [Irena] Salina visits every continent but Antarctica, and finds one devastated crisis after another, indigenous peoples in South Africa or India or Michigan whose natural sources for potable water are being quickly wrecked. And why? It's not a global warming issue, for once; the red-handed varmints are the same silk-suited, prevaricating corporate bastards we see burned in cinematic effigy in film after film, or any discourse that seeks to explain why the poor starve, why the environment is toxic, why the economy is bleeding, and why war machines bomb civilian cities.... Make them pay. Make them pay."

Criterion runs the manifesto Lars von Trier sent out with Europa.

This Sporting Life "Lindsay Anderson's first feature film, This Sporting Life, remains a defining achievement of the British New Wave," writes Brian Wilson. "It aptly exemplifies that movement's preoccupation with social realism, as well as the ideological concerns shared with the Angry Young Man movement in British literature and theater. Although ostensibly centered upon the story of a struggling rugby player, the film actually reveals itself as a complex cinematic portrait of failed relationships and human despair." Also in Film International, Anton Bitel on the Masters of Cinema releases of Georges Franju's Judex and Nuits rouges, Deirdre Devers on the original Wicker Man and Mike Leader on Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park.

When, in 1959 and 1960, "the Big Three of the Western film world - AMPAS, the Golden Globes, and the Cannes Film Festival - named Black Orpheus Best Foreign-Language Film, Best Foreign Film, and Palme d'Or winner, respectively, they most certainly got it right," argues Marilyn Ferdinand.

"The Mystery of the Leaping Fish is an absurd, utterly bizarre farce, an unlikely silent film whose hero is the drug-addicted and wildly incompetent detective Coke Ennyday (Douglas Fairbanks)," writes Ed Howard. "This weird little short has an impressive pedigree, featuring the writing talents of none other than Tod Browning (!), an uncredited DW Griffith (!!), and prolific intertitle scribe Anita Loos, whose soon-to-be husband John Emerson directs. It's hard to know why all this talent needed to be concentrated in one place, though, since the film is basically a really silly, hilarious one-man show with a succession of physical gags designed to suit its star's strengths."

James Rocchi's latest "Retro Rental":

Without a Clue

Looking back at the last few weeks of this column, I noticed a slight trend going on: Richard Nixon, the Great Depression, inequality in the 50s and the here-and-now, ruined romances, the heartbreak of monsters - as the kids might say (or, actually, as the kids would have said 10 years ago), all downers, man. All downers. Part of that is environmental as the days get shorter and the nights get longer, part of that is second-hand disgruntlement over our modern age, and part of it is just soaking up the bleak, brutal "importance" of Oscar season like milk picks up strong flavors in the fridge. But, really, I need a laugh. You probably need a laugh. And so I give you one of my favorite forgotten comedies, a brilliant piece of stupid-smart literary revisionism called Without a Clue.

"Chungking Express is my favorite of Wong [Kar-wai]'s work, but that's not the main reason I devoted a chapter to it in Planet Hong Kong. I think it's an important film historically. In the context of Hong Kong cinema, it was as much a breakthrough as was Days of Being Wild, but its offhandedness made it seem more innocuous." David Bordwell elaborates.

"These days, the only thing hipper than liking Wes Anderson is hating Wes Anderson," writes Lena Dunham at Hammer to Nail, reviewing Criterion's release of Bottle Rocket, which includes "the short film that gave birth to Bottle Rocket. This black-and-white seedling reminds the viewer that everybody, even the slickest stylists, had to start somewhere. In fact, the less formally rigorous Anderson is nothing short of endearing. But I don't have a problem with what he's evolved into either."

"One of the most provocative, problematic, and eye-popping films in Antonioni's oeuvre, 1970's Zabriskie Point is a film that grows riper for reassessment the further it gets, temporally, from the counter-culture milieu in which it was set and made and which it seemed to utterly fail to 'get' at the time," writes Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Freed from the demands for verisimilitude that seemed built into the project at the time, it's mutated into something less awkward, more enigmatic.... So the Region 2 DVD of the film from French Warner, the first official DVD release of the film, ought to be a cause for celebration and some of the above-mentioned reassessment. No freaking dice, alas."

Shintaro Kago "Shintaro Kago is probably one of the most, um... disturbing? Talented? Bizarre? Vomit-inducing? Best? manga creators in Japan." And, as Grady Hendrix notes, he's been making movies you can buy here.

Out now: Volume 13 of the Journal of Short Film.

Online viewing tip. AO Scott in the New York Times on It's a Wonderful Life.

DVD roundsups: Sean Axmaker, Paul Clark (Screengrab), DVD Talk, Grady Hendrix, Ambrose Heron, Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times) and Slant.

Posted by dwhudson at 3:23 PM

Wendy and Lucy.

Wendy and Lucy "At this point, it's not a stretch to say that [Kelly] Reichardt has positioned herself as a major American filmmaker," writes Adam Nayman in Reverse Shot, "no matter how many times critics - even sympathetic ones - describe her films as 'minor.' Certainly, they're produced in a minor key - Reichardt is a congenitally understated director, and good for her - but at the same time, Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy resonate with anger at a country that allows people to slip through the cracks (she says her initial inspiration for the project came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and suggestions from conservative pundits that the displaced residents of New Orleans might have worked harder to avoid their fate) and encompass a wide and nuanced spectrum of attitudes, ideas, and contradictions: the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest as a locus of both loneliness and self-discovery; the possibilities of Kerouacian escape against the harsh realities of what it means to be 'on the road'; the slow, steady erosion of counterculture idealism in a bitterly divided America."

Updated through 12/14.

"Waylaid by car problems on the suburban fringes of the city, Wendy and her dog, Lucy - previously seen in a small role in Old Joy and here elevated to star status alongside a gloriously subdued Michelle Williams - face an increasingly dire financial situation," writes Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE. "Reichardt, working from a script co-written by Jon Raymond and based on his short story, attentively chronicles a life held together by little more than duct tape as it slowly comes apart.... At times so understated its impact seems almost imperceptible, Wendy and Lucy possesses a striking capacity for emotional expansiveness that patiently unveils depths of profundity."

"It ties into current economic fears and the question that many people must be entertaining these days: if the very worst happened to you, just how bad could that get?" Phil Nugent in Screengrab:

Just as religious conservatives are sometimes quick to react to movies that explore religious themes in ways that offend them of being blasphemous, knocking a movie like Wendy and Lucy for being unimaginative and sentimental and shameless can get you accused of complacency, of not being aware that there really are people in straits as desperate as those that Reichardt's heroine falls into.... Whether they were fiery protest melodramas like I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang or romances like Man's Castle or sporty comedies, the best Hollywood Depression movies made audiences of all social and economic classes feel close to people living out hard luck stories by making them smart and funny and resourceful enough that viewers wanted to identify with them. Old Joy encouraged intelligent viewers to identify with that self-pitying part of themselves that made them want to feel that their best years were behind them and all hope was lost, and if you have the price of a ticket, Wendy and Lucy can only make you feel, 'There but for the grace of God...' Letting your anger turn to rue can make for both ineffectual politics and dull movies."

"Williams is best-known for her Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain, but she has done wonderful work in many small films (Land of Plenty, Me Without You), and she's wonderful, too, in Wendy and Lucy," writes Marcy Dermansky. "She gives a vanity-free performance, clad in the same cut off shorts and blue zippered hoodie through the film.... In an 82-minute film where little happens, Williams is always interesting to watch."

Interviews with Reichardt: Karina Longworth (SpoutBlog) and Ryan Stewart (Slant).

Peter Knegt talks with Williams for indieWIRE.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, Toronto and New York.

Updates, 12/10: "The Northwestern setting might put you in mind of a story by Raymond Carver, whose clean-lined prose has something in common with Ms Reichardt's reserved and attentive shooting style," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "At first glance Wendy and Lucy looks so modest and prosaic that it seems like little more than an extended anecdote.... But underneath this plain narrative surface - or rather, resting on it the way a smooth stone rests in your palm - is a lucid and melancholy inquiry into the current state of American society."

"Trembling throughout on the verge of a tearful breakdown, but far too dignified to allow her character to choke up, Williams delivers a sensationally nuanced performance that, were it not so resolutely undramatic, would constitute an aria of stoical misery," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Spare, actor-driven, socially aware, and open-ended, Wendy and Lucy has obvious affinities to Italian neorealism. Reichardt has choreographed one of the most stripped-down existential quests since Vittorio De Sica sent his unemployed worker wandering through the streets of Rome searching for his purloined bicycle, and as heartbreaking a dog story as De Sica's Umberto D. But Wendy and Lucy is also the most melancholy of American sagas."

"If 2009 really brings with it the second coming of the Great Depression, then Reichardt is all set as its cinematic poet laureate," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. "As Wendy moves among the train-hopping punk kids, can-collecting homeless people, deranged bums and marginally employed service-sectorites of this particular American nowheresville, the filmmaker captures a nearly operatic range of defeat and desperation.... Reichardt is a tremendously conscientious filmmaker, and not out to torture the audience. Yes, this is a fraught and agonizing story, but the way it ends, although heartbreaking, is absolutely right."

"Though it's a testament to Reichardt's deft storytelling skills that she and co-screenwriter Jonathan Raymond make Wendy her own worst enemy and not just a martyred victim of the System, there's little conflict within this character to allow Wendy and Lucy to achieve the melancholic grandeur of Old Joy, a subtle fable about drifting friends that contains universes," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine. "W&L is not 'not about anything' (quoth a friend who brushed the film aside) but it's also, as Adam Nayman has written, 'ultimately... about a girl and her dog,' and doesn't expand much outward."

Jason Jude Chan talks with Reichardt for Flavorwire; so does Kristin McCracken for Tribeca.

Online listening tip. Williams and Reichardt are guests on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Alison Willmore talks with Reichardt at IFC.

"Wendy and Lucy... is the American cousin to the Dardenne brothers' L'Enfant," writes Lauren Wissot at the House Next Door. "Like the Dardennes, Reichardt is interested in studying the intricacies of everyday life for those living on the margins - and society's cold indifference to their very existence."

"Reichardt has an excellent sense of proportion: She doesn't try to do too much, but what she does do is fully realized," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

Bilge Ebiri talks with Reichardt for Vulture.

Update, 12/11: "Wendy and Lucy is a work of self-conscious manipulation, in which Reichardt filters out the cinema's subjectivity and personalism in order to intensify the viewer's sympathy with a cipher," argues the New Yorker's Richard Brody. "The ostensible objectivity of Reichardt's meticulous naturalism is a device that she uses to portray a sliver of physical reality as the whole truth; her rejection of psychology as well as of cultural context plays false and reeks of demagogy."

"Wendy and Lucy plays to me like a small-town noir film from the 1970s," proposes Matt Dentler, "but without any violence or exclamation. Instead, it's as if all the moments of heightened action and noise, were pulled out of the final product. Imagine Billy Jack without the kung-fu, or Walking Tall without the criminals. Stylistically, Wendy and Lucy feels like one of these films, except the hushed moments on introspection are all we see."

For James Van Maanen, this is "the most wrenching love story of the year (maybe several)."

"There are foils and fairy godfathers along the way, but the overall impression Reichardt creates is of a cold, hostile world as immune to individual suffering as the Depression-era America of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? or The Grapes of Wrath," writes Felicia Feaster in the New York Press.

Update, 12/13: "It's possible to think of Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy as the anti-Slumdog Millionaire," suggests Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times. "Where Danny Boyle's flashy fantasia offers economically depressed audiences a miraculous distraction from their daily woes, akin to the MGM musicals that flourished during the Great Depression, Reichardt's haunting, mournful film engages the texture of a life in which money and hope are equally thin on the ground."

Old Joy "managed profundities that few filmmakers accomplish in a career," writes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "Wendy and Lucy does work, like a sad ballad for the must-love-dogs crowd, but feels disposable. It's a minor disappointment from a major artist."

Zachary Wigon talks with Reichardt for the Auteurs' Notebook.

Update, 12/14: Mark Olsen talks with Reichardt and Williams for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:35 PM

Irma Vep.

Irma Vep Back in November, Glenn Kenny compared and contrasted Irma Vep, out now in a "splendid, new DVD edition" from Zeitgeist, with Day for Night: "Truffaut's film is largely about moviemaking as a microcosm for life itself, while Vep is largely about the cinema (and the cinema icon) as a cynosure of desire." He noted, too, a connection with "Rainer Werner Fassbinder's acidly funny 1971 Beware of a Holy Whore," namely, Lou Castel. Now, Glenn has a good long talk Olivier Assayas.

"Drawn in by 'the radiance she exuded through her beauty and sovereignty,' [Assayas] made Irma Vep (1996), the filmic host for René's [Jean-Pierre Léaud] doomed remake, as both a study of persona and a love letter to a genuine star - and he wrote the above quoted homage before [Maggie] Cheung became his wife." Josef Braun:

Updated through 12/15.

"Such a guiding principal, a cinema of transcendent fascination with feminine image and being, aligns Irma Vep with the French New Wave and Jean-Luc Godard's celluloid adoration of Anna Karina, and with the cinema's earliest feats of actress-director collaborations, such as those of Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich. This is very much in keeping with Assayas's approach overall, flush as it is with the buzzy life of film sets, with its effervescent brio, with Assayas's willingness to invoke and reinvent aspects of the movies in order to find his own voice. Irma Vep is among the most pleasurable works of cinephile cinema."

"Not unlike Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express, Assayas' breathless and supercool movie was made as a break between more ambitious (and duller) projects, and he employs a similar garage-band style of moviemaking: pick up the equipment and don't look back." Michael Atkinson for IFC:

[Cheung's] most triumphant scene, and the film's creepy, mysterious heart, has Cheung attempting to connect with her role as the night-lurker Vep by going on a midnight prowl across the Paris rooftops alone, stalking through the shadows and down hotel corridors in skin-tight black leather and heels, eavesdropping on strangers and even thieving their jewelry. It's mesmerizing - a visual bridge of urban anxiety and poeticized voyeurism - and because Cheung is so sympathetic, it's suspenseful, too. Soon thereafter, Léaud's meta-Godard is replaced by Lou Castel's laconic meta-Chabrol, and the entire affair explodes into a visualized seizure, the literal effect of movie-drunk psychosis on celluloid. Kudos across the board.

"One thing in common with many of Olivier Assayas's films is the bumping of cultures and languages in the jet-hopping global stew of a modern world," notes Kurt Halfyard at Twitch. "Irma Vep mixes in cultural appropriation, recycling of icons and even some sexual confusion into the mix to form one of the most satisfying satires in years."

Update, 12/15: Eugene Kotlyarenko for Interview: "Irma Vep borders on a collage film, collecting scenes from the original Les Vampires, footage from Cheung's real, action-packed Hong Kong past, dailies from the Assayas's shoot, video from a hilarious on-set publicity interview with Maggie, an excerpt from a vintage French political film, and an experimental rough cut, all mixed with what one might call 'the actual film.' The complete film holds together wonderfully, due to Assayas' incessantly fluid camera, which moves between different crewmembers - on sets, during dinner, and at raves - with a whimsical dexterity, reminiscent of Altman's best."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:23 PM

LA Film Critics. Winners.

WALL-E Sushi "The Los Angeles Film Critics Association has named Disney/Pixar's WALL•E the best picture of the year, marking the first time in its history that it has given its top prize to an animated film," reports Justin Chang, who's got the full list of winners and runners-up in Variety. "Danny Boyle took the directing award for Fox Searchlight's Slumdog Millionaire. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, a Warner Bros release, was the runner-up for both pic and director."

Update, 12/10: "Passions run high at any critics gathering, the LAFCA being no exception." A report from the Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein's "spies in the room."

Posted by dwhudson at 1:40 PM | Comments (1)

Roundtable. Adam Resurrected.

Adam Resurrected Reviewing Adam Resurrected for Screen, David D'Arcy noted that the "Holocaust is a new subject for director Paul Schrader, a Calvinist from Michigan, who infuses drama and physical comedy into Yoram Kaniuk's matter-of-fact tone in the novel. Yet the subject is not entirely foreign. As with the protagonists of Taxi Driver and Affliction, Adam Stein is consumed by grueling inner turmoil - in this case, by the guilt of a survivor whose family perished. Schrader navigates this emotional territory effectively."

At the main site, David talks with Schrader, Kaniuk ("one of the most innovative, brilliant novelists in the Western World," as the New York Times has put it) and producer Ehud Bleiberg about the challenges of adapting a novel Susan Sontag once compared to the work of Gabriel García Márquez.

Updated through 12/16.

"There's no joy to be had in enumerating the shortcomings of Adam Resurrected," writes Eric Hynes at indieWIRE. "But in most respects the film just doesn't click: tone stumbles and fumbles meaning, dialogue meanders above uneven visuals, and scenes herk and jerk, frustrating momentum. An arrhythmic quality might well evoke the literary source (which I have not read), but Paul Schrader's feature is no better for it."

"At once overstuffed and underimagined, Adam Resurrected is an intermittently fascinating, often indifferent mess of a picture, a film that has occasional moments of overwhelming power and many more that leave the viewer completely cold," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "Still, with so many films that make 1940s Germany look as delightfully quaint as Victorian England, it's refreshing to see a movie that doesn't betray the memory of the six million through the cheap comforts of historical distancing. If nothing else, the legacy of the Holocaust feels very much alive in Schrader's picture."

"Adam Resurrected has a slackness that makes one think Paul Schrader had to actively try to maintain interest in his project during production," finds Nick Schager.

Updates, 12/10: "The torturer's greatest art, so it is said, is to make his victims go on torturing themselves - for life, if possible," writes FX Feeney in the Voice. "That certainly seems the fate of Adam Stein (Jeff Goldblum), a Jewish comedian of genius in prewar Berlin, who is unable to save his family when the Nazi genocide overtakes them and only survives a concentration camp himself by becoming the literal pet of the camp's Commandant (Willem Dafoe).... Goldblum is ideally, even blazingly suited to such a role - it is hard to recall when, if ever, a part has asked more of his actorly gifts - and his scenes with Dafoe in the concentration camp are painful in the best sense. Where Fellini made ecstasy contagious, Schrader is after much darker vistas - the mystery of how good men fail, and condemn themselves. One cannot recommend this film strongly enough."

"Though Adam Resurrected may sound like an odd approach to a Holocaust movie, it helps to think of it as a film concerned more generally with survivor guilt," writes Benjamin H Sutton in the L Magazine. "How does one reintegrate a world millions of others were unjustly erased from? Grappling with his place in a post-Holocaust world, Goldblum is alternately delightful, terrifying and sorrowful, and his doggy-style sex-play with nurse Gina Grey (Ayelet Zurer) is all three at once."

"The Adam-Klein synergy constitutes the dominant dramatic relationship in the film, because of the Goldblum-Dafoe high-voltage acting electricity," writes Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer. "If I have made the movie seem a bit insane, I must admit that I have only scratched the surface of its massive strangeness. Still, I can tentatively recommend it if only because there has never been anything like it in the history of cinema as far as I can remember."

Update, 12/11: Online viewing tips. FilmCatcher interviews Jeff Goldblum and Paul Schrader.

"Once upon a time, Goldblum was a talented, versatile actor," writes Mark Peikert in the New York Press; "but over the years he's gradually morphed into one of the more mannered supporting performers in American film. His stylized line readings, with sudden gasps for air in the middle of his dialogue, is as easily recognizable (and mockable) as Christopher Walken's more imitated speech patterns."

Updates, 12/13: "On paper, Paul Schrader's mind-meltingly odd new film, Adam Resurrected, sounds disconcertingly like The Day the Clown Cried, the notorious unreleased Jerry Lewis monstrosity about a clown who leads children into the gas chambers at Auschwitz." Nathan Rabin at the AV Club: "Actually, to give Schrader and co-conspirator Jeff Goldblum full credit for their lunatic ambition, Adam may be even crazier than Lewis's comedy-drama... Yes, Resurrected has the potential to be not just awful, but a crime against cinema, taste, and solid judgment. Not being offensively terrible consequently counts as one of the film's strongest virtues."

"Mr Goldblum's tour-de-force performance, alas, is not enough to transmit a steady emotional current through the movie," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

Lawrence Levi talks with Goldblum for Nextbook.

Online listening tip. Ed Champion talks with Schrader.

Updates, 12/16: Bilge Ebiri talks with Goldblum for Vulture.

Online listening tip. Schrader's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:12 AM | Comments (2)

Murnau, Borzage and Fox.

Murnau, Borzage and Fox "They formed the most unlikely of cinematic triumvirates, but for a few years in the waning days of the 1920s and the early 1930s, Hungarian-born movie mogul William Fox and directors Frank Borzage and FW Murnau pushed the language of moviemaking to a high art," writes Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. "This week, 20th Century Fox Studio Classics is releasing a lavish new DVD boxed set, Murnau, Borzage and Fox, which features 12 films made by the directors at the studio, a new feature-length documentary and two coffee-table books of photographs from the films in the collection."

Updated through 12/11.

"Turning from the grand, sweet allegory of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), FW Murnau unknowingly had only three more films in him before his tragic, early death," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Between that most excellent of films - perhaps the greatest ever made - and the director's partial collaboration with documentarian Robert Flaherty, Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931), Murnau's 1930 film City Girl tends to be lost. Much smaller than Murnau's first film in America, and much less dramatically esoteric and unexpected than his last film (and not inspiring the mystery of one of the most missed of missing films, 1928's 4 Devils), City Girl in such a context proves what should be an axiom for cinema: it is not what is being filmed but how one films it that is all that matters." Also, a series of stills, a run through the wheat.

"It's great to see Fox embracing its studio heritage with such scholarly dedication and serious financial commitment," writes Dave Kehr in the New York Times. "Only Warner Brothers has done anything comparable, and Fox has perhaps gone a bit further in releasing these sets [previously: Ford at Fox], comprehensive anthologies devoted not to genres or to stars but to major authors in the field of motion pictures.... Borzage's eternal theme - that romantic love transcends all physical circumstance, with a force like that of religion - is developed in 7th Heaven through elaborate camera movements that would probably not have been conceivable without Murnau's example.... Sunrise was a succès d'estime, but 7th Heaven was a major popular hit, thanks no doubt to Borzage's almost magical ability to spin an aura of warmth and spiritual exaltation around his lovers."

"Although, overall I am quite thrilled with the package as a whole - I do have some reservations." And Gary W Tooze lists them at DVD Beaver. Still, the ultimate verdict: "This is essential for cinema and DVD fans alike."

Earlier: Glenn Kenny.

Update: "What's seen and experienced in Borzage's numinous universe is often so ratcheted up in intensity, so pregnant with his stylized ideas of sin or salvation and stations in between, that your nerve-endings may start to sizzle." The Parallax View runs a piece Kathleen Murphy's written for an issue of Steadycam devoted to Borzage.

Updates, 12/10: "Howard Hawks, William Wellman and John Ford all learned from Murnau, but the Fox director arguably most affected by Murnau's presence on the lot was Frank Borzage, an already-excellent storyteller fascinated by human faces and transformative romance." Noel Murray at the AV Club: "Because Fox let Murnau define his studio's style, the first Academy Awards ceremony was largely dominated by three Fox films: Borzage's 7th Heaven and Street Angel, and Murnau's Sunrise."

"Lazybones is an exemplary Borzage picture - its solidity of construction matched by an almost breathtaking delicacy of feeling," writes Glenn Kenny in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Borzage was an actor himself, and every performance here is a small miracle."

Updates, 12/11: "Murnau's more famous name and scandalous death are linked to sell Borzage's more obscure reputation," asserts Armond White in the New York Press. "Borzage remains Hollywood's last great forgotten filmmaker."

"Not everything that Frank Borzage filmed was a masterpiece, but this lesser work is still very entertaining." Peter Nellhaus watches the pair on Disc 11, After Tomorrow and Young America.

Posted by dwhudson at 1:32 AM

December 8, 2008

Shorts, 12/8.

Icons of Grief "[I]t could be argued that we need more art historians writing about movies and fewer literary critics who operate from the model of narrative fiction. And a potent suggestion of what art historians could offer us is found in a highly original study of the B films of producer Val Lewton, practically all of which were made during World War 2." Jonathan Rosenbaum on Alexander Nemerov's Icons of Grief: Val Lewton's Home Front Pictures.

"Film criticism, it seems to me, is the hardest place to get any serious critical footing." Wyatt Mason, who's tried his hand at it, explains.

"Because Revolutionary Road became the decade's great, terrifying indictment of suburban surrender, [Richard] Yates's stories are often likened to John Cheever's," writes James Wood, "but they are closer to JF Powers's: the same richly restrained prose, luxuriously lined but plain to the touch; the same anxious comedy; the same very cold, appraising eye; and the same superb ear for the foolish histrionics of speech. Out of the apparently diplomatic conformity of mid-twentieth-century American realism—the sort of style that made short stories commercially salable—bursts the monstrous ego of Yates's male characters, smashing all the eggshell niceties." Related: Via Anne Thompson, Timothy Dumas on Yates in Westport Magazine.

The Wrestler Also in the New Yorker: Anthony Lane on The Wrestler: "The pathos of personal ruin is an established trope, and the trick, as demonstrated by John Huston in Fat City and by Martin Scorsese in Raging Bull, is to stop it from sliding into the sentimental. [Darren] Aronofsky doesn't always succeed in this, and there are lines in Robert D Siegels script that wave their symbolic purpose in the audience's face.... But the movie, like its hero, manages to yank itself back into shape, and that, it strikes me, is mostly due to [Mickey] Rourke."

"De'Angelo Wilson should have had an inspiring story of his own," begins a report from E! Online. "On Nov 26, the Antwone Fisher actor was found dead in the back room of a Los Angeles business. Wilson, 29, hanged himself."

Online listening tip. Ryland Walker Knight, Mark Haslam and Jennifer Stewart discuss Milk. Related: Tony DuShane talks with Gus Van Sant for Mother Jones.

Online viewing tip #1. Ray Pride has three minutes of Ingmar Bergman talking (in English) with Dick Cavett.

Online viewing tip #2. "Man in Space was a short film made by Disney about the possibility of putting humans into space," writes Jason Kottke. "The film was first shown in 1955 and features several prominent scientists of the day, including Wernher von Braun."

Online viewing tips, round 1. At Twitch, Todd Brown has a trailer that's... well, it can't be ignored: Chandi Chowk to China. Then there's Yatterman: "No doubt about it, I love me some kid-friendly Takashi Miike."

Online viewing tips, round 2. "James Parker dissects two of Jim Carrey's most unnervingly subversive onscreen moments, and contrasts them with a scene from the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day." These three videos accompany Parker's piece in the December issue of the The Atlantic, "The Existential Clown," via Matthew Clayfield, who clips this bit:

Jim Carrey

Movie after movie finds Carrey either confronting God ("Smite me, O mighty Smiter!" he roars in Bruce Almighty) or enacting, violently and outrageously, some version of the dilemma identified by the Spanish existentialist José Ortega y Gasset - that man, as he exists in the world, is "equivalent to an actor bidden to represent the personage which is his real I."

[...]

All of which would be the sheerest philosophical prattle if Jim Carrey didn't so consistently, as a performer, embody these various propositions. Here, buzzing in his shoulder sockets, is the struggle for authenticity; there, warping his tongue, is the torment of becoming. At his most Carrey-esque, he is always trapped mid-metamorphosis, wrestling visibly with the sort of transformative inner pressure that in another context would produce a superhero - or a man-size cockroach.

Online viewing tips, round 3. "One of the films that [Edward] Dimendberg considers as a pivotal moment 'in the history of encounters between highways and the cinema' is Hartmut Bitomsky's 1986 film Reichsautobahn. The film, a 'juxtaposition of excerpts from Autobahn film footage, photographs and paintings from the 1930s, and the director's voice-over narration' creates 'new modes of perception and representation.' If we understand these cinematic images of highways and other forms of conveyance infrastructures as representations of centrifugal space, this begs another question: what does this space sound like?" Enrique Ramirez posts a collection of Kraftwerk music videos.

Posted by dwhudson at 2:10 PM

Fests and events, 12/8.

The Warlords "The Hong Kong historical drama The Warlords was the big winner Saturday night at the Golden Horse Awards, considered the Chinese-language equivalent of the Oscars," reports Peter Knegt. "Starring Jet Li, the film took home awards for best film and best director Peter Chan. Another big winner was Wei Te-sheng's Cape No. 7," which won best Taiwan film of the year, Taiwan director of the year, and best supporting actor for Ma Ju-lung."

Also at indieWIRE, Brian Brooks has the list of shorts, 96 in all, that'll be screened at Sundance in January.

"One industry insider recently complained to me that 'independent film has effectively made itself a niche of a niche,'" blogs Anthony Kaufman. "Given that Sundance is the biggest 'brand' for an indie film, what does it say that few people were interested in seeing the most buzzed-about 'Sundance products' from last year's festival, whether Ballast, Momma's Man, Trouble the Water or even Hamlet 2, for that matter? It certainly doesn't inspire confidence going into Sundance '09."

"One of our recent joys has been digging into the relatively new and frequently awesome blog of Hot Docs programmer Sean Farnel, particularly last month as he was sending nearly daily dispatches from a non-stop tour of European documentary festivals." AJ Schnack pulls together some highlights.

Michael Hawley launches film-415 with an overview of Quebec Film Week, running Wednesday through Sunday. More from Adam Hartzell at the Evening Class.

Cries and Whispers The IFC Center is screening Cries and Whispers this weekend; for the New Yorker's David Denby, it's "a radical masterpiece of an almost punitive intensity."

The cinetrix has tips for those in New York and Boston. More from Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

"Italian auteur Nanni Moretti has parted company with the Turin Film Festival after two years in the hot seat as the event's artistic director." Stuart Kemp in the Hollywood Reporter: "The Italian press was filled with speculation over Moretti's successor at the prominent Northern Italian festival with Gabriele Salvatores, Roberto Benigni and Giuseppe Tornatore all being talked about."

Posted by dwhudson at 2:01 PM

Lists and awards, 12/8.

Slumdog Millionaire "The Washington DC Area Film Critics have added more heat to the Slumdog Millionaire awards juggernaut, awarding four prizes to the film including Best Film and Best Director." Anne Thompson has the full list and David Carr comments: "It's not an influential bunch, but influence is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about indicators of prevailing winds. One-by-one, the other contenders have come and gone, impressing to be sure, but none knocking filmgoers back in their seats. And that's what a best picture does."

Related: "Combining Alejandro González Iñárritu's skittery stylistics, Fernando Meirelles's conception of slum life as an aesthetic wonderland and his own unhealthy reliance on calculated sentiment," writes Andrew Schenker, "Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire (co-directed by Loveleen Tandan) manages to synthesize most of the unfortunate cinematic strategies of the contemporary globally 'aware' movie." Earlier: November reviews.

WALL•E Time's "Top Ten Everything of 2008" package naturally includes movies. "Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz in The Reader" tops Richard Corliss's list of the "Top 10 Movie Performances," female category. Best Male: "Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight." And his #1 movie is WALL•E.

"How many movies from 2008 will bear revisiting in later years?" asks Anthony Lane, blogging for the New Yorker. "That is the test, and it is dismaying to recall how few productions passed it." So: "All hail WALL•E." Does Defiance top David Denby's list? He names it first, and nine more movies tumble after, and not in alphabetical order.

"After exhaustive polling of 20 of the Guardian's film writers, we have the results: the best films of the year as judged by our critics. We'll be revealing two of the top 10 each day from Monday December 8 to Friday December 12."

Che "Absolute Best, Richest, Most Resonant and Rib-Sticking" for Jeffrey Wells: "Steven Soderbergh's Che (and fair warning to anyone planning to perversely name this film as one the year's worst - i.e., this is an aesthetically untenable viewpoint, and you will be called out on this)." You know, I'm kind of with him on this one.

The Black Balloon has swept the Australian Film Institute Awards.

In the wake of "the sad death of the PG-rated kid-oriented adventure film," Todd Brown puts together a list of essentials: "You Gotta Start 'Em Young."

Salon presents "the 10 most pleasurable fiction and nonfiction reading experiences of the year."

Online viewing tips. Kevin Lee starts a countdown: "Top Ten Videos of 2008. #10 (User Generated Content Day)."

Posted by dwhudson at 10:54 AM

Slamdance. Features lineup.

Slamdance "The Slamdance Film Festival has announced programming for its 15th anniversary festival, taking placing January 15 - 23, 2009 in Park City, Utah," writes Peter Knegt, introducing the full lineup of features at indieWIRE. "The festival will screen about 100 films, including 29 features. Twenty of those will screen in the narrative and documentary feature categories, which is strictly devoted to films without domestic theatrical distribution and budgets under $1 million, from first-time feature directors."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:39 AM

Spanish Cinema Now 08. 3.

Once again, James Van Maanen. Earlier installments: 1 and 2.

Before the Fall There is much talk of late about the rise/resurgence of the Spanish genre film, and this year's Spanish Cinema Now series is full of examples. In fact, on paper, the entire fest almost seems a mix of as many genre movies as possible: terrorist, horror, apocalypse, time travel, mystery, thriller, prison and probably more (I haven't nearly seen all the films yet).

Three of these genre films made their debut over the weekend: [REC], which I covered in a previous entry; Before the Fall (Tres Dias, or Three Days is its more appropriate original title), which tackles the apocalyptic genre (and several others concurrently!); and Timecrimes (Cronocrímenes), which adds - with shocking economy, in all senses of the word - some new twists to the sci-fi genre.

In person, F Javier Gutiérrez, writer/director of Before the Fall seems such an effortlessly sweet, kind and charming young man that seeing his film after speaking with him came as quite a shock: This is one dark, ironic, ugly movie. Yet it deals with positives such as growth and redemption (part of the irony, perhaps?), presenting its version of the apocalypse tinged with generic borrowings from the thriller, the serial killer (children are his target, of course) and the revenge movie - among others (did I also mention it's a love story?). That this smash-up succeeds on any level is miracle enough; that it was made on a small budget and yet features some brilliant, low-key, special effects that topped (for me) most of what Hollywood has given us this year makes the movie a don't-miss event. Even though it doesn't really work.

I say this because, for me, the movie's end-of-the-world setting finally renders its thriller/killer, kids-in-danger, non-hero-to-the-rescue hi-jinks pointless. To his credit, Gutiérrez is asking a good question: Do goodness and caring matter much when the end is so near? Yes, he answers, but gives us that answer in a manner that is supremely ugly, full of anger, hatred, violence and blood. The walk-outs I saw as the movie headed toward its conclusion attest, I think, that - for some - the end did not justify the means. The love story, in particular, barely exists: we get only a touch at beginning, middle and finale with no sense of the woman as a character, and so its use becomes merely symbolic. In what may be the film's biggest irony, the "family" that is finally safe and together becomes the film's final, very dark joke.

Yet there is so much good here that Before the Fall demands a viewing from anyone interested in the current state of filmic storytelling. Plot-wise, Gutiérrez knows his way around lots of genres. He blends his special effects seamlessly into the whole, making them by turns beautiful, shocking, surprising and frightening. Visually, the movie is mostly a treat (the fine cinematography is by Miguel A Mora). Gutiérrez has written fine dialogue and works well with his actors (including the great Eduard Fernández and don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-him Antonio Dechent). He draws good performances, too, from the four children, who range from around five to an older teen. Like a kick in the head that leaves you seeing those beautiful whirling stars (and then you learn you've got a concussion), Before the Fall is scarily memorable. Whether it finally or fully works for you, you'd be crazy not to give it a chance. It screens again Tuesday, December 9, at 1:30.

Timecrimes Timecrimes is a horse of quite a different color and, because its plot is so simple yet intricate, I don't really want to say much for fear of giving away its surprises. There are many of these, but most surprising is how very little money was spent - this is probably the least expensive film most of us will have seen all year. And we will be seeing it, for unlike [REC], remade as Quarantine, or Before the Fall (which is, as you read this, being considered in Hollywood for a remake), Timecrimes, distributed in its original language by Magnolia, opens this coming Friday at NYC's Landmark Sunshine Cinema, and soon, I presume, in other cities as well.

The look of the movie is cheap, too, though hardly inappropriately so. It has a cast of only four, anchored by a terrific performance from Karra Elejalde (Visionarios, Los Sin Nombres, Nos Miran) who manages to go from schlubby hubby to... well, it's better I not give anything away. The locations are absolutely minimal and there are practically no special effects, at least as we have come to understand this term - which has got to seem rather strange in a sci-fi film. For me, this movie most resembled the wonderful Primer, though it's not nearly as involved or intellectual. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo (who also plays the key role of "enabler") has kept his screenplay rather simple but extremely clever.

As in any movie that depends on a repetition of events to score its points, even at 88 minutes, I could have done with a bit more tightening so to avoid that bit of boredom that comes with "reliving" a few too many scenes. But mostly, the film speeds ahead, offering a couple of hugely suspenseful scenes and enough initial mystery to keep us fascinated and then enough tension, once we know what's going on, to finish its job. Along the way, as should any good genre film, the movie troubles us with some interesting questions: If you have managed to actually be in two places at once, can you also be both good and evil? If so, what might you be capable of to insure your well being? As often happens in films of this type, you may be slightly troubled by the chicken-or-egg theory, but I think you'll also be delighted by Vigalondo's thesis (at least I think this is it): Inaction is often a better choice than action.

Timecrimes screened only once during the festival, but as I say, New Yorkers at least can see it starting Friday.

Pretextos I don't think that Sylvia Munt's new film Pretexts (Pretextos) is a genre piece (unless that genre might be the "thinking-woman's movie") but it offers some unusual pleasures. I don't find anything particularly pejorative about the term "women's film" or "chick flick": This simply means to me that the subject (and often the cast) will appeal more to female than male audiences. Pretextos has some implied violence (against oneself) as it tells its stories of a theater director and her doctor husband (a fine job by Ramon Madaula of 53 días de invierno) undergoing a marital crisis that appears to be rather long-term and the particular problems of a caregiver/nurse who works under the husband at some sort of geriatric hospital.

This encompassing situation allows Ms Munt (who has directed, co-written - with Eva Baeza - and assumed the lead role) to explore theater, life and their overlap, as she tries to bring her production of Chekhov up to performance level. She also shows us the much sadder and less-fulfilled life of the insomniac nurse, played very well by Laia Marull (of Take My Eyes), who has a special relationship with the son of the doctor and director, who is himself obsessed with sounds and the recording of them. (If my précis of the film sounds all-over-the-place, Ms Munt has managed to keep her movie accessible.)

In the supporting cast is the wonderful actor Manuel Alexandre, seen on these shores last summer in Elsa & Fred. At the age of 91, he appears to be in his prime and is, as usual, a pleasure to watch. Francesc Garrido (Smoking Room, The Sea Inside, Caravaggio), as the sexually available, often-pickled actor in the theater piece, also gives a subtle, engaging performance. I enjoyed Pretexts, even if I am not entirely certain of the filmmaker's intentions. Her movie is never less than professionally handled, and her subjects - health (mental and physical), aging, marriage, life and art - resonate. It screens again Monday, December 8, at 2.

I was able to speak at length with both F Javier Gutiérrez (Before the Fall) and Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes) at a couple of points during the festival and hope to have interviews with both directors posted on TrustMovies in the next few days.

- James Van Maanen

Posted by dwhudson at 8:11 AM

Doubt.

Doubt "A passionate liberal priest goes toe-to-toe with an inflexible, authoritarian mother superior in John Patrick Shanley's theatrical barnburner Doubt," writes David Ansen. "Shanley, directing his own work, throws in a few cinematic flourishes—he's big on tilted angles—but they only reinforce Doubt's theatrical nature." Also in Newsweek: a conversation with Shanley and Meryl Streep.

"Shanley's film is nowhere near as sophisticated as his play," writes Gabriel Shanks; "on screen, Doubt's visual metaphors become grossly overstated, and the claustrophic tension that is natural in theatre is lost on celluloid. In overblown scene after scene, there are raised eyebrows, furtive glances, and longer-than-usual stares; at times, the story's cruelty is woefully blunted by the screenplay's careening tendency to wallow and indulge. In short, Doubt should have been a great film. And it's my sad duty to report to you that it's not."

Updated through 12/13.

"Casting Philip Seymour Hoffman as the priest is a radical error," argues Dan Callahan in Slant; "it feels like almost a perverse bit of sabotage. For the all-important scene with the mother to work, the priest needs to be a charming, seductive man, something Hoffman refuses to attempt; the role needs a Russell Crowe, or a Jeff Bridges. As it stands, we can only cringe at his character's sodden duplicity and hope that his head will someday explode with all his pent-up anguish; I cannot be alone in my wish to never have to endure Hoffman having a noisy, self-indulgent tantrum in close-up on screen ever again. Conversely, Amy Adams is perfect as the young, trusting Sister James, while acting students are sure to marvel at Meryl Streep's portrayal of Sister Aloysius, a watchful, red-eyed mother hen who knows she has to bluff and resort to dirty-pool tactics to get rid of this force of evil in her midst."

Nick Schager: "Doubt works so diligently at setting up a scenario where truth can't be definitively ascertained that its concluding argument about the universality (and reasonableness) of doubt - and the danger of rigid conviction - feels somewhat artificially inviolable, the filmmaker stacking the deck in favor of uncertainty to a degree that makes his final argument feel too easy."

"I didn't know you could hiss, groan, and murmur at the same time, but Streep can do anything," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "She is, of course, wasted on this elephantine fable; if only Doubt had been made in 1964, shot by Roger Corman over a long weekend, and retitled Spawn of the Devil Witch or Blood Wimple, all would have been forgiven."

David Carr talks with Shanley for the New York Times.

Mick Brown talks with Streep about Doubt in the Telegraph.

Updates, 12/9: "Had Shanley - whose only previous directorial effort was the odd cult comedy Joe Versus the Volcano - entrusted his play to surer hands, Doubt might have been the dramatic powerhouse the playwright obviously wanted it to be," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "But he certainly got close, and that counts for something."

"It's a fine story, a great cast, and some wickedly impressive dialogue," blogs Matt Dentler. "As a feature film, though, it doesn't offer up more than a great foursome of performances."

"Given the strength of the source material and the pedigree of its cast and crew, Doubt may be the ultimate low-risk, high-reward prestige product, and it would be wrong for me to suggest that Shanley has produced anything less than a gripping piece of work," writes Chris Wisniewski at indieWIRE. "Despite its many virtues, though, Doubt is also bloodless. Handsome, well played, and oddly forgettable, it never manages to live up to the promise of its big ideas and heady speeches."

Updates, 12/10: "In a hyperreactive news culture increasingly ruled by caffeinated bloggers who prize speed of coverage over the search for evidence," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice, "any movie that questions public rushes to judgment wins points going in. But Doubt is only marginally, and tendentiously, about moral uncertainty—it's more about the sins of a nosy old biddy who pulls out all the stops when going through the official channels of a male-dominated Catholic Church would get her nowhere. With its bristling topicality, ritzy cast, and the added bonus of Roger Deakins's gracefully bleak cinematography, Doubt is being squired around town as prime Oscar bait. But in Shanley's hands, it only looks deep."

Nick McCarthy in the L Magazine: "First, the good: the camera gives Shanley the ability to close-up on intense, one-on-one argumentation (even if Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the priest Sister Aloysius accuses of child molestation, and Streep still scream as if they are trying to reach the audience member in the last row) and the ensemble's expressive faces (Viola Davis deserves credit for employing the most effective use of dripping snot since The Blair Witch Project). Unfortunately, the camera also gives Shanley the freedom to cram in dozens of transparent techniques which range from unsuccessful to embarrassing."

Ed Gonzalez: "I like how Streep localizes her character's rage (and possibly her resentment for having lived a life beneath a nun's habit) entirely in the face and eyes, but the whole time I felt as if I were trapped inside an elevator (even when Shanley hilariously opens out the material to the projects near the school where the story takes place) with every member of the National Board of Review."

James Rocchi talks with Shanley for Cinematical.

Update, 12/11: "Streep in her black bonnet and Hoffman with his meticulously parted hair and long, clean fingernails are never quite believable," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "Shanley hasn't mastered the histrionic power evident in Ronald Neame's near-classic theater-to-film movies The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Tunes of Glory - duologues which were also sociological time capsules."

Updates, 12/13: "Ms Streep blows in like a storm, shaking up the story's reverential solemnity with gusts of energy and comedy," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The performance may make no sense in the context of the rest of the film, but it is - forgive me, Father - gratifying nunsense.... Mainstream moviemaking... insists on clear parameters, tidy endings, easy answers and a world divided into heroes and villains, which may help explain why Mr Shanley's film feels caught between two mediums and why Ms Streep appears to be in a Gothic horror thriller while everyone else looks and sounds closer to life or at least dramatic realism."

Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "Doubt is an intentionally fuzzy movie, and those who respond to it will inevitably use its intentional smudginess as a defense, claiming that we're not supposed to walk away from it with any reasonable certainty: We're not supposed to know who's gay and who's not, who may or may not be an abused kid. We're only supposed to know that Sister Aloysius is one superbitch from hell - on that score, neither Shanley nor the outlandishly one-note Streep leave any doubt."

Streep's "performance stops the movie from becoming another trapped-in-amber adaptation is beyond a shadow of a you-know-what," writes David Fear in Time Out New York.

"It's a filmed play that feels like exactly that," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Doubt would be my recommendation for the movie to see with your parents during this year's holiday visit - not because priestly pedophilia is a hallmark of the Yuletide season, but because this is the kind of film that sparks long conversations: Not 'Thumbs up or thumbs down?' but 'Did he do it?' and 'Should she have pursued him?' and that first of all religious and epistemological questions: 'How can we ever know?'"

"[I]t took me a while when it was over to stop shaking," writes New York's David Edelstein. "It's the dramatist's business to sow doubt, to set down points of view that can't be reconciled, and Shanley makes visceral the notion that one can be right but never absolutely right, that doubt might be our last, best hope."

"The film doesn't go far enough to transcend its stage roots, yet the few stylistic chances it takes - mainly in the form of tilted camera angles - are distracting in the extreme," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "Yet its failings as cinema aren't enough to obscure the richness and thematic breadth of the material, which astutely examines issues of faith, justice, hypocrisy, change, and, yes, doubt within the Catholic Church."

"Part psychological thriller, part character study, Doubt is finally a lucid, sharply observed taxonomy of hierarchy, offering an absorbing look at how often power shifts and changes hands within rigidly stratified institutions," writes Ann Hornaday for the Washington Post.

"As many movie fans know by now, the prologue to last summer's Tropic Thunder features some brilliant spoof trailers, including one for a phony film called Satan's Alley (which won the 'coveted Crying Monkey Award at the Beijing Film Festival')." Jeffrey M Anderson at Cinematical: "Better seen than described, it's a brilliant deconstruction of every pompous award-hungry film that comes out in December. The trailer for John Patrick Shanley's Doubt looks a lot like that, but if I've learned one thing this year, it's to not trust trailers. Happily, the real Doubt is a great deal sprightlier, cleverer and more powerful than its dreadful promo would suggest."

Stephen Saito talks with Shanley for IFC "about the trickiness of adapting modern plays into films and the parallels between Doubt and the recent presidential election."

Posted by dwhudson at 6:40 AM

New York. 2008 Culture Awards.

New York 2008 Culture Awards "So let us now praise Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight by saying that we were thrilled to witness perfectly controlled pieces of work by actors who knew exactly how to calibrate what they were doing." New York picks its favorites in dozens of categories, and for all the praise lavished on those two gentlemen, the "Best Performance By an Actor," they decide, is actually a different pair: Kate Winslet's turns in Revolutionary Road and The Reader.

Topping David Edelstein's list of the "Top Ten Films" of the year, though, is Rachel Getting Married. And here's the gateway to all the magazine's "Culture Awards."

Posted by dwhudson at 12:44 AM

December 7, 2008

Che, 12/08.

Che "It was nearly a decade ago that Steven Soderbergh and two partners, actor Benicio Del Toro and producer Laura Bickford, first discussed making a long, ambitious film about revolutionary Che Guevara," begins Lauren AE Schuker in the Wall Street Journal (via Movie City News):

It soon became apparent, however, that they were perhaps the only people in Hollywood willing to gamble on a four-hour epic made largely in Spanish.... Funded largely by foreign backers after the Hollywood studios passed, Che will open as a 257-minute film on Dec 12 and play for a single week in New York and Los Angeles; then, in January, IFC will reissue the epic as two separate two-hour films at theaters across the country before also releasing it on video on demand. Mr Soderbergh's struggles to get the film funded and released are signs of the mounting financing challenges facing filmmakers in today's Hollywood.

Updated through 12/13.

"In the piece I wrote about Che: Argentine, I described the inability of the first half of this epic to stand alone and, in Soderbergh's language, the strong 'response' necessary from Guerrilla to fully answer The Argentine's 'call'." Martha Polk, blogging from Santa Fe: "Well, answer it did. For as much as The Argentine is a perfect climb, Guerrilla is a terrifying plummet and, as I had imagined (with the help of Amy Taubin and Steven Soderbergh's words), the two films only make sense when read together."

Anthony Kaufman has a good long talk with Soderbergh at indieWIRE.

Terrence Rafferty runs through a swift primer on revolutions as depicted on screen, focusing particularly on Russia, France and Cuba, and then:

Che Guevara was literally the embodiment of the romantic notion that unyielding dedication and unceasing struggle could achieve the liberation of all the world's oppressed, and this is such an attractive idea that one may prefer not to dwell on his humorlessness, his rigidity, his icy ruthlessness. Most revolutions are necessary, most end up betraying the ideals they claimed to represent, and most revolutionaries are at least mildly sociopathic. "Revolutions attract crazies; it's a well-known fact," the French leftist filmmaker Chris Marker says in his brilliant documentary essay The Last Bolshevik (1993). But he says it sort of tenderly.

For a NYT Magazine cover story, Roger Cohen visits Cuba on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the revolution:

The End of the End of the Revolution

Turning west along the seafront that first gusty day, I encountered a strange sight that summoned the United States from its tenebrous presence: a phalanx of poles, topped with snapping flags displaying a five-pointed Cuban star against a black backdrop, bearing down on the eastern facade of a boxy concrete-and-glass structure that houses the US Interests Section in Havana. The flag barricade was put up to block an electronic billboard on the side of the building. In 2006, US officials put political slogans on the billboard; it now transmits news not other wise accessible to Cubans.

This seafront tableau is laughable: the United States unreeling red-lettered strips of unread news into a sea of black flags and defiance. It captures all the fruitless paralysis of the Cuban-American confrontation, a tense stasis Barack Obama has vowed to overcome. Diplomatic relations have been severed since 1961; a US trade embargo has been in place almost as long; the cold war has been over for almost two decades. To say the US-Cuban relationship is anachronistic would be an understatement.

But changing it won't be easy.

Online viewing tip. #1. Soderbergh tells Ray Pride about working with the Red camera.

Online viewing tip #2. A clip from Che at the WSJ.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and New York.

Update, 12/8: Benicio Del Toro has brought Che to Havana and Carl DiOrio is there for the Hollywood Reporter: "The 30th annual Latin American Film Festival of Havana - or more simply, the Habana Film Festival - features 114 competing films from 14 countries in the region and elsewhere. But Steven Soderbergh's Che has been a publicity gift to the fest this year as the centerpiece of its noncompetitive special screenings, and its topliner was on hand to introduce the four-hour-plus film."

Updates, 12/9: The Playlist has a couple of nifty images from the roadshow flyer: "If it isn't obvious already, this epic is certainly going to make our top 10 list of 2008."

"Che is by no means a breezy sit, but no matter what your politics, it's a bracing tonic in a season of flaccid Oscar bait," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

"It's important to remember that Che was not the only finely chiseled guerrilla worth making a movie about." Interview's Lucy Madison offers "a quick roundup of other revolutionary must-sees to keep you red-hot through the winter."

Updates, 12/10: "The Motorcycle Diaries and 20th Century Fox's long-ago debacle, Che!, were made to capitalize on the Guevara myth," writes J Hoberman in the Voice; "each, in its way, served to infuriate either Che's enemies or his fans. By contrast, Soderbergh's epic is neither romantic nor even particularly partisan. While the real Che may be (or may once have been) cool, the filmmaker's attitude is way cooler. Whatever heat star and co-producer Benicio Del Toro brings to the title role, Soderbergh's project is to search for the technocrat, which is to say, himself, in the original revolutionary rock star.... At its best, Che is both action film and ongoing argument. Each new camera setup seeks to introduce a specific idea - about Che or his situation - and every choreographed battle sequence is a sort of algorithm where the camera attempts to inscribe the event that is being enacted."

Nicolas Rapold talks with Soderbergh for the L Magazine.

Updates, 12/11: "Forget the anxiety of influence," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Reverse Shot: "Steven Soderbergh's anti-epic Che is haunted from first frame to last by the anxiety of legend.... There's probably no other 20th-century political figure, and symbol, as widely recognized and less understood than Guevara, and the gap between image and person is so wide that Soderbergh's seemingly courageous decision to address it by being oblique and indirect leads him to the very place he wishes to avoid: mystification."

"Out-perversing Gus Van Sant's Milk, Soderbergh makes a four-hour-plus biopic about a historical figure without providing a glimmer of charm or narrative coherence," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "One can't accuse Soderbergh of pandering to feel-good piety because Che proudly resists sentimentality about people's power, distribution of wealth, Marxist theology, radical chic or morbid celebrity."

Mark Olsen profiles Benicio Del Toro for the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 12/13: "This is a very long song composed in about three notes," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "Its motifs are facial hair, tobacco smoke and earnest militant bombast.... In honoring the myth of Che as a kind of macho Marxist superman in whom thought and feeling, action and theory, passion and discipline are united, Mr Soderbergh and Mr Del Toro (a producer of the picture as well as its star) remove him from the realm of ordinary human sympathy.... Che, in other words, is epic hagiography."

"Soderbergh has effectively pissed off left-wing critics, right-wing critics and a certain number of mainstream viewers who just wanted a conventional, psychological-realist biopic," writes Andrew O'Hehir, introducing his interview for Salon. "Instead, Che is something closer to the naturalistic novel or documentary journalism."

David Fear: "Soderbergh hasn't made the definitive cinematic statement as to who this man was, but he has pulled off something equally compelling: a meta-exploration about what it took to create a Marxist revolution and construct a marketable leftist messiah." Also in Time Out New York, John Sellers talks with Del Toro.

Richard Corliss:

Some people will question screenwriter Peter Buchman's narrow focus on two military campaigns - the successful rebellion that led to the taking of Havana, Guevara's disastrous operation in Bolivia nine years later - while ignoring Che's role in mass executions in Cuba after the revolution and his ill-advised adventures in West Africa (where Egypt's Nasser correctly predicted Guevara would be coming in as Tarzan among the natives). Others will wonder at the odd lack of dramatic incident among all the warfare. But you really can't argue with Buchman and Soderbergh about the movie they didn't make; a viewer must accept that they meant these to be bold strategies, and judge what's on the screen.

Our judgment is that the two-part Che is a halfway movie: too expensive (reportedly $61 million) to be relegated to art houses, too stiff and forbidding to appeal to any part of a mass audience.

Also in Time: "Behind the Scenes on the Set of Che," photos by Alex Harris and Bill Bamberger.

"The political realities of his legacy can be endlessly debated, but in this flawed work of austere beauty, the logistics of war and the language of revolution give way to something greater, a struggle that may be defined by politics but can't be contained by it," writes Sheri Linden in the Los Angeles Times.

"Soderbergh portrays Guevara as a man who, having seen the damage done by the powers running Latin America, is comfortable only when working to topple the system," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "The film keeps a fascinated focus on what it takes to stay committed to that aim."

More interviews with Del Toro: Sheila Johnston (Telegraph) and Chris Sullivan (Independent).

Posted by dwhudson at 9:46 AM

The Reader, round 2. And Holocaust movies as "one of Hollywood's most unlikely staples."

The Reader "I respectfully request a moratorium on Holocaust films." Stuart Klawans in Nextbook: "By continually replaying and reframing and reinventing the past, these movies are starting to cloud the very history they claim to commemorate. Call it the law of diminishing returns - or call it a paradox that mirrors the Torah's famously self-contradictory commandment at the end of Parshat Ki Tetze, concerning the people who were the prototype of Nazi Germany: 'Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget.' Very soon, with Holocaust movies, we'll need to forget if we want to remember."

"[T]he Holocaust movie is one of Hollywood's most unlikely staples in any season," writes Annette Insdorf. "They are still as much a product of their times as of their historical inspiration.... What's remarkable about this year's releases is the acknowledgment that we no longer need the neat Hollywood ending."

Updated through 12/13.

Also in Newsweek, David Ansen: "Bernhard Schlink's The Reader was a terse, morally complex, erotically charged novel that examined the impact of German guilt on the generation born after the Holocaust. Director Stephen Daldry (The Hours) and playwright David Hare have taken up the challenge of turning this double-edged, cerebral book into a film, and it's not surprising - movies being better at the visible than the internal - that the eroticism trumps the moral complexity."

In the New York Times, Ariel Kaminer tells the story of an adaptation that "required a series of increasingly complex translations over the course of more than a decade: from German to English, from a book to a film, from Europe to America, from a solitary meditation to something that could fill theaters, and from its original cultural context to something international - ultimately to return it home, the same, and yet changed."

Earlier: AO Scott on this year's Holocaust movies; and of course, round 1.

Updates, 12/8: "In a risky move, Daldry chose to screen the completely finished version of The Reader for the first time at Manhattan's 92 nd Street Y, at Columbia professor Dr Annette Insdorf's premiere film series, Reel Pieces," writes Matt Mazur in PopMatters:

The venue is also a vital Jewish community center, where the topics of empathy, and even sympathy, for a Nazi war criminal were bound to provoke a divisive reaction amongst the audience, many of whom were old enough to possess a living memory of World War II's atrocities.

On the street following the screening, I overheard some elderly audience members having a strongly-worded conversation about Winslet's character and they seemed deeply offended that such sensitive treatment would be given to a Nazi collaborator. Others in the audience questioned Daldry (who was, in turn, questioned by Insdorf following the film), about whether or not he believed all guards at the camps were like Hanna. "This is one story about one guard," he carefully answered, noting that Insdorf, one of the world's leading Holocaust film scholars, advised him on all dubious matters, and that her book, Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust was an important reference while shooting.

Ah. So that's why Newsweek asked her to write that piece.

"[W]as there really no one, from the fierce new wave of German filmmakers, prepared to dramatize the Schlink?" asks Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. "Or did they feel, as I did, that it was pernicious from the start - a low-grade musing on atrocity, garnished with erotic titillation? Imprisoned for life, Hanna must read to herself, but are we really supposed to be moved by the thought - or now, in Daldry's film, by the sight - of an unrepentant Nazi parsing Chekhov? That is not culturally nourishing; it is morally famished."

Gabriel Shanks finds The Reader to be "unquestionably the smartest, most engaging, and most important film of the season."

"Daldry and Hare's film has the stately polish and thoughtfulness that's come to define award-courting season, a sort of faux-highbrow atmosphere whose measured deliberateness, when matched by intense star turns, implies prestige," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "Yet even a minor peek underneath this elegant surface reveals clunky conventions and superficial shorthand dramatizations, both of which are delivered with self-important sophistication intended to mask the fact that the affair is no more graceful or profound than your average Hollywood mediocrity."

Kate Winslet's Hanna "recounts inhuman actions with a blank, almost childlike matter-of-factness, the idea of 'just following orders' not as an excuse but as a matter of unquestioned responsibility to a job," writes Sean Axmaker. "Winslet's performance in these scenes is unsettling and unexpected because it carries no sense of moral responsibility and no remorse. The film leaves it up to us whether it's because she doesn't feel remorse, or because she doesn't dare allow herself to even consider the issue lest she is unable to live with the answer. One would hope that, come Oscar time, the Academy would favor this more fearless and ambiguous performance to that of Revolutionary Road, though I find both films more calculated than expressive of anything beyond their own self-conscious pedigree."

Update, 12/9: For IFC, Aaron Hillis talks with Daldry "about today's decline in literacy, the children's film he'd like to make, and why The Reader shouldn't be considered a Holocaust movie."

Updates, 12/10: "Paradoxically, Mr Hare's apparent attempt to deepen or underline the novel's ideas about the past informing the present, by kinking up its linear chronology with flashbacks, proves crippling: scrambling the time frame, so that the story repeatedly points to the past, only exposes the deep vein of self-pity that runs through the novel, flattening Mr Schlink's already unpersuasive bid at generational soul-seeking." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "You could argue that the film isn't really about the Holocaust, but about the generation that grew up in its shadow, which is what the book insists. But the film is neither about the Holocaust nor about those Germans who grappled with its legacy: it's about making the audience feel good about a historical catastrophe that grows fainter with each new tasteful interpolation."

"Sidestepping the usual Auschwitz-camp footage and unfolding mostly in a dingy bedroom and a provincial courthouse, The Reader strives to honor Schlink's restraint and his struggle to avoid cliché," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "But like many narrative filmmakers who walk on their tippy-toes when dealing with the Holocaust, neither Daldry nor Hare seems eager to make the material his own. Add to their timidity a pack of production troubles - including a distracted director who was simultaneously working on the Broadway version of Billy Elliot, two feral executives (Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin) scrapping publicly over the release date, and the death of two beloved producers (Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack) during production - and it's not hard to see why the movie version came out such a flat, respectful pudding."

Daldry "has once again made the kind of movie that's designed to leave you feeling virtuous rather than truly engaged," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "It's hard to hate The Reader: It's a perfunctory piece of work that takes no chances, and it features some good performances. But I wonder if anyone will truly love it, either. It courts approval, not passion; you can applaud it without having to remove your gloves."

"Obviously made with Oscar - and only Oscar - in mind, The Reader is chockablock with some of the most absurd 'prestige' moments I've ever seen in a motion picture," blogs Ed Gonzalez.

"Like other recent successful films about emotional repression (2005's Brokeback Mountain and the forthcoming Revolutionary Road, for instance), The Reader is most moving precisely in its rigorous restraint, directorial and performance-wise," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

"[W]atching Daldry try to tuck the horrors of Nazi Germany into neat little hospital corners made for a singularly unsatisfying (however tidy) experience," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.

Erica Abeel talks with Daldry for indieWIRE.

Online listening tip. Ralph Fiennes is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

"The story dares to hint at a certain smugness in the attitudes of its victims, which is something we are not at all used to in movies of this kind," writes Richard Schickel for Time. "And as a romance, at times feverish and other times grim, the film works surprisingly well. There's something gripping about the relationship between this ill-assorted pair, and something touching about the way events beyond their control or understanding reach out to blight their lives."

"[M]y self-proclaimed cinematic omnivorousness reaches its limit when it comes to those end-of-year Miramaxian prestige pictures directed by people like Scott Hicks, Anthony Minghella, and Stephen Daldry," writes Paul Matwychuk:

Your Cold Mountains, your The Hourses, your Shines, your Snow Falling on Cedarses.... The actors' accents and costumes are usually impeccable - noticeably impeccable, in a way that makes you feel you'd be remiss not to comment on them approvingly. Not to paint with too wide a brush here, but they tend to be movies favoured by the daily newspaper reviewers but rejected by critics writing for film journals and websites. It must baffle many newspaper readers to hear someone pan a movie like The Hours, especially since the negative response tends to be based not on the specific story of the film or the performances, but a rejection of the film's entire aesthetic - an aesthetic whose primary goal, after all, is to impress moviegoers with the film's very excellence of quality.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that The Reader... is not my kind of movie.

"The economy that marked Bernard Schlink's novel about moral impasses and emotional dysfunction amongst two generations Germans in the decades after the Holocaust goes untranslated," writes Karina Longworth in the SpoutBlog. "Daldry spoonfeeds feeling through score, he gives us long, indulgent sex scenes with an oft-naked Kate Winslet, years too young for the character she plays, draped in improbably golden light. And yet, within the wrappings of a film clearly, carefully calibrated for Academy favor by a distributor who couldn't be in greater need of such recognition, The Reader's unwillingness to clean up the ambiguities that sit at the core of its source surprises. Its classiness gives way to a refreshingly messy, even tawdry honesty about the role of morality in memory."

David Kross's "and Winslet's intense performances and Daldry's deliberately placid control of tone make the material work as a love (and hate) story as well as a metaphor," writes Tasha Robinson at the AV Club.

Tribeca has a filmmakers roundtable.

Updates, 12/11: "Both [Mark] Herman's The Boy with the Striped Pajamas and Daldry's The Reader feature ill-considered accents..., vanilla Europudding casts, and, oddly, both focus squarely on the effects of the Holocaust not on the Jews, but on the Germans." Jeff Reichert in Reverse Shot: "And both have found homes stateside with the Weinstein Company, obviously making a play for year-end dominance with fare they've made their business stewarding. Luckily for Brit-nationalism, one could argue that both films, by the very character of their financing and production, efface their creators' origins (and imprints) almost entirely.... The problems of The Reader rest not so much in its execution... Rather, the film betrays a remarkable lack of intellectual sophistication."

"Daldry still can't admit to sensuality, yet he has the audacity to pretend a philosophical allegory," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "By the time The Reader lays on Jewish guilt ('Not that illiteracy is a very Jewish problem,' says Lena Olin as a wealthy Park Avenue Holocaust survivor) the calculation of sex, morbidity and piety becomes risible if not offensive."

"[T]hough The Reader costars the gifted Ralph Fiennes and gives a lot of screen time to a young actor named David Kross, it is Winslet's haunting performance that gives the film what success it has," argues Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times.

Updates, 12/13: "The conventional Hollywood narrative always ends in the hero coming to some understanding of his own flaws. Uplift, you may say, is built into the contract," writes David Hare in the Guardian. "But Hanna, at the author's own insistence, reaches no real understanding of what she has done. You may even argue that no understanding of such extreme crimes is even possible. How, then, was anyone to embark on a movie in which one of the two principal characters essentially learns nothing?... It isn't possible in the course of a short article to get across just how tortured the path has been from reading the novel to finally sitting in front of a fresh-struck print of the film. All films are hard, but this one was harder than most and, as it turned out, crueller."

Kevin Kelly talks with Hare at the SpoutBlog.

"The Reader is not the first movie to portray a Nazi sympathetically, but it may be the first time a Nazi has been portrayed sympathetically without doing a single redeeming thing," writes Willa Paskin in Nextbook. "The line between understanding why someone does horrible things and absolving her for them is a fine one, but The Reader operates as if it doesn't exist. There is a difference between a reason and an excuse. It should go without saying, but apparently does not, that neither illiteracy nor blindly following orders is an excuse - or even a reason - for killing."

"Who would have thought a movie about a beautiful, frequently naked female Nazi could be so dull?" asks Dana Stevens in Slate. "Yes, Kate is grubbing for an Oscar this year with the near-simultaneous release of two Important Dramas (this and Revolutionary Road). But she may be the finest actress of her generation, and (unlike her only real competitor, the other Cate) she's also a five-time nominee who's never won. I say give her the gold guy already, Academy, if it means so much to her. Maybe it will free her up to stop acting in movies like this."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:37 AM

Shorts, 12/7.

Screening the Past So there's an awful lot of reading to catch up with, including, via Girish, an almost overwhelming new issue of Screening the Past (which might call for a bookmark to return to over the upcoming holidays) and: "Adrian Martin's new column at Filmkrant takes up an issue that is being hotly debated in film studies: should films be studied as self-sufficient artworks or as objects that possess meaning only when examined within their social and historical context?"

"Offscreen returns with a bag of essays that can be loosely collected under the banner of the cinema of the fantastique."

Another new issue: M/C Journal.

More? The Siren's got another fine roundup.

"The recurring imagery of turbulent waters in Teuvo Tulio's films reflect a kinship with early Norwegian (and more broadly, Scandinavian) cinema in the use of rugged landscape as a metaphor for the paradoxical nature of the human condition." Acquarello on Song of the Scarlet Flower and The Way You Wanted Me.

The Chaser "In The Chaser, viewers' expectations are constantly confounded," writes Matt Riviera. "By the end of the first nerve-jangling act for example, the killer our 'chaser' thought he'd never catch is already in police custody. The narrative engine changes from the search for a perpetrator to the search for evidence, and eventually to the search for Mi-Jin, who's alive but trapped in the killer's lair. Later still, in a vicious, I-never-thought-it-would-happen moment, the film shifts gears yet again, taking a turn into an even darker night where redemption comes only at a steep price."

From Newsweek's "Holiday Movies" package:

"Australians love going to the movies, buying between $10 million and $12 million worth of movie tickets a week," reports Jim Schembri in the Age. "But how much of that goes on local fare? The figures vary from 4 per cent in a good, Happy Feet-blessed year, to a laughable 2 per cent in an average year, to a downright dismal 0.9 per cent this year.... After 35 years and an investment of about 1.5 billion taxpayer dollars, Australian cinema still occupies only the margins of the marketplace - something starkly reflected by the 'major' films nominated for this year's AFI Awards."

Jerichow "The US distribution rights to Christian Petzold's Jerichow have been acquired by The Cinema Guild," reports Peter Knegt at indieWIRE.

"Deepa Mehta first met Salman Rushdie three years ago when friends of hers invited the author to an advance screening in New York of her film Water, the film that went on to an Oscar nomination. The avid reader (Mehta) and the exuberant cinephile (Rushdie) immediately hit it off, and over subsequent months, the two became fast friends." In the Globe and Mail, Gayle MacDonald lays out their plans for an adaptation of Midnight's Children. Via Movie City News.

"Béla Tarr's impressively steely [The Man from London] (a mere doodle at 140 minutes, compared with the same director's 450-minute Sátántangó) played at Cannes a year and a half ago, but is only reaching cinemas next week," writes Ryan Gilbey. "Similarly, Otar Iosseliani's bittersweet comedy Gardens in Autumn was made in 2006, scheduled for release here in 2007 and is finally arriving in the last days of 2008. What's the hold-up? Well, both films are distributed by Artificial Eye, which tends to schedule its predominantly arthouse releases with pernickety care rather than casting them cruelly into the marketplace."

Also in the Guardian:

Julia

  • Peter Bradshaw on Erick Zonca's Julia: "Like Cate Blanchett, [Tilda] Swinton always looks just too superbly authoritative and grand for this sort of role, yet she certainly brings to it her distinctive, interplanetary charisma." Related: Ryan Gilbey profiles Swinton for the New Statesman.

  • Also, Jacques Maillot's Rivals "is an enjoyably rich, gamey stew of crime and family betrayal."

  • John Patterson explains to British readers "what makes the release of Gus van Sant's Milk, a passionate, big-budget portrait of San Francisco's first openly gay elected official, so serendipitous in its timing."

  • on The Children: "A relentless mood of rising hysteria fuels this British horror film, as the children of two families brought together for a quiet Christmas turn into adult-attacking mini-murderers." Related: Xan Brooks captions a gallery of photos: "Kindergaaarghten: The scariest children in film."

  • Cath Clarke on Summer: There are all-round excellent performances in this East Midlands drama." More from Charlotte O'Sullivan (Evening Standard).

  • Also, The Girl in the Park: "This ought to be dazzling: a Pulitzer-winning playwright behind the camera, Sigourney Weaver at her most actorly and Kate Bosworth bringing a touch of It Girl shimmer. But while there is a lot to like in [David] Auburn's tightly focused film, it never fully pulls together." More from Jason Solomons (Observer) and Wendy Ide (London Times).

  • Plus, a talk with Sam Neill.

  • "As Hollywood struggles through the recession, studios are hoping that a full-scale cinematic onslaught over the Christmas season will bounce the movie industry out of the doldrums," reports Dan Glaister.

  • Ronald Bergan remembers screenwriter John Michael Hayes.

Varieté Kevin Lee on EA Dupont's Varieté: "One of the seminal works of silent cinema, this love-triangle melodrama among vaudeville acrobats was lauded by no less than the likes of Jean Mitry and Gilles Deleuze for infusing German expressionism into the norms of classical film grammar (i.e. shot/reverse shot and subjective-objective cinematography)."

David Walsh talks with Mike Leigh for the WSWS.

Elaine Lipworth talks with Nicole Kidman for the Independent.

Interviews at the AV Club: Steven Hyden with Ray Wise and Noel Murray with William Friedkin.

Brandon Harris interviews A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy director Dennis Dortch, and then, at the SpoutBlog, asks him about his media diet.

"My love for Jess Franco definitely clouds any objective opinion I have about his work, but I truly believe that The Rites of Frankenstein (aka Les Experiences erotiques de Frankenstein, 1972) is one of the director's most surreal and interesting efforts," writes Kimberly Lindbergs.

The Movie Morlocks have been on a Disney kick lately.

"Will Inkheart become the next Harry Potter?" asks James Rampton in the Independent.

Rob Lurie tells Adam Liptak a story about Oliver Stone storming over to him on the set of Nothing But the Truth: "'He puts his beefy fingers around my neck,' Mr Lurie recalled, 'and said, "Don't turn Judy Miller into a hero."' It was at that moment, Mr Lurie said, that he realized just how tough it would be to separate his film from its real-life roots."

Also in the New York Times:

Polanski

Nick Davis has been updating his Flick Picks.

Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! "has become the most profitable, most sung-along to, most life-enhancing, generally most record-breaking film and DVD event in British history," and it's troubling Catherine Bennett: "If reservations about Mamma Mia! have yet to be formally accepted, in medical circles, as a symptom of female sexual dysfunction, there appear to be few doubts among its millions of supporters about the dodginess of any woman who discovers herself to be immune to its life-affirming effects. Or as the poet once put it: 'Hail to thee blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert...'"

Also in the Observer, Jason Solomons meets Samuel L Jackson, Philip French considers the career of Jean Gabin and Mark Kermode rounds up the latest DVD releases in the UK.

"Paul Benjamin, who died this week at the age of 70, was a character actor in the all but lost tradition of classic Hollywood comedies, the missing link between the likes of Mischa Auer and Franklin Pangborn and the counterculture improv theater of the 1950s and 60s," writes Phil Nugent at Screengrab.

Glenn Kenny bids farewell to Nina Foch and Beverly Garland - and wishes Bettie Page well.

"For anyone working in the Internet video industry, walking into the Revision3 studio is a little like stumbling into Xanadu (Khubla Khan's, not Robert Greenwald's)." Hannah Eaves explains at SF360.

Darren Hughes has relaunched Long Pauses. Do take a look.

Online browsing tips. "Four interesting film sites and blogs have crossed my screen in the last few days," notes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay.

Online listening tip. Movie Geeks United! celebrates the 25th anniversary of Brian De Palma's Scarface.

Online viewing tip #1. FilmCatcher interviews Ben Kingsley.

Online viewing tip #2. Lynn Hirschberg talks with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes for the NYT Style Magazine.

Online viewing tip #3. The Art Newspaper launches a .tv channel.

Online viewing tip #4. From Damon Smith: "Although the naughty bits from Turkish Delight are to be found elsewhere online (and there are plenty), here's a great meta-clip of some memorable scenes."

Online viewing tip #5. Amir Motlagh's Plain Us "offers a quiet meditation on the challenges of coming home," writes Chuck Tryon. "Much like minimalist fiction, Motlagh's film tells us a lot through fleeting conversations and offhand gestures."

Posted by dwhudson at 9:31 AM

Lists, 12/7.

Sight & Sound: Best of 2008 Ambrose Heron offers a sneak peak - the top ten, that is - of Sight & Sound's poll of 50 critics, who've each named their five favorite films of 2008. In the #1 spot: Hunger.

"In these hard times, you deserve two "best films" lists for the price of one," writes Roger Ebert. "It is therefore with joy that I list the 20 best films of 2008, in alphabetical order."

James Quandt's top ten for 2008 appears in the latest issue of Artforum - but not online. So Girish helpfully offers fairly snipped excerpts.

"Kyle Smith and I often disagree, but we both choose Danny Boyle's brilliant Slumdog Millionaire as the best movie of 2008 today in [the New York Post]," writes Lou Lumenick. "On the Post's website, both of our lists, and a list of five notable performances, appear at the bottom of our annual year-end discussion."

Nathan Lee: "Herewith are the five most overrated films of the year."

Responding to Jürgen Fauth's list of the "Most Disappointing Movies of 2008," Karina Longworth adds "the five movies that I'd put in the 'missed opportunity' file."

Robert Horton had a fine, relaxed time the other night discussing the movies of the year with Kathleen Murphy, Jim Emerson and Andy Wright.

Posted by dwhudson at 8:20 AM | Comments (1)

Fests and events, 12/7.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde "In the BFI's very welcome restoration of Rouben Mamoulian's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde from 1931, there are many happy discoveries - not least the sheer sexiness of this version of the Stevenson story, something generally put aside until the mid-90s and Stephen Frears's neglected Mary Reilly, but that's another story." David Thomson in the Guardian: "In a way, Mamoulian was the Scorsese of his day: a rare, somewhat mannered "genius" from Tiflis, the director of the original stage production of Porgy and one of the most inventive directors in the first years of sound." The Rouben Mamoulian season runs through the end of the month at BFI Southbank.

The Chicago Reader previews the highlights of the Festival of New French Cinema, running through December 14.

In the New Stateman, Rachel Aspden talks with a few of the artists whose work is featured in Iran: New Voices in Film and Video Art, just about wrapping up now at London's Barbican.

"We in the States rarely get the opportunity to see examples from the Québec film industry, which is why San Franciscans can be so grateful to the San Francisco Film Society, with the assistance of the Québec Government Office in Los Angeles, for putting together the Québec Film Week from December 10 - 14th (yes, it's not technically a 'week') at the Opera Plaza Cinemas." A preview from Adam Hartzell at Hell on Frisco Bay.

Austin Underground Film Festival Mike Everleth has the lineup for the Austin Underground Film Festival: Friday, December 19.

Carl DiOrio is sending dispatches to the Hollywood Reporter from the 30th annual Habana Film Festival, running through December 12: 1 and 2.

"The Found Footage Festival is just what it says it is," writes David Schmader in the Stranger: "a collection of film and video clips culled from random sources (thrift stores, flea markets, Dumpsters) and presented by curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, childhood friends from southern Wisconsin turned freelance humorists in New York City. In advance of the Found Footage Fest's one-night-only return to Seattle's Central Cinema [and that was Thursday], I chatted with cofounder/cocurator/cohost Nick Prueher about the inspirational power of McDonald's training videos, the deal-breaking creepiness of Steve Vai's biggest fan, and the benefits of communal viewing of crap."

"Looking at the [British Urban Film Festival] programme, my first thought was that they'd missed a trick by limiting the films to Britain," writes Kaleem Aftab in the Independent. "The urban genre is home to some of the best emerging artists around the globe.... Although there was much to admire, I couldn't help feeling that the festival was still struggling to find its own voice."

Posted by dwhudson at 8:09 AM

December 6, 2008

Books, 12/6.

The Ingmar Bergman Archives "The Ingmar Bergman Archives presents no less than the totality of Bergman's life work," writes Mick LaSalle. "As such, it's not a book to be read just once, but rather it's a companion for a lifetime's worth of viewing." It's also "a big book in every way, first of all physically. It weighs 15 pounds. The pages are 12 inches high and 16 inches wide. There are 592 pages, with four columns of print on each page. The paper is high quality, heavy and glossy, ideal for photographs, and there are hundreds of them - production stills, portraits and reproductions from Bergman's notebooks." Also in the San Francisco Chronicle is Mick LaSalle's talk with Peter Cowie, author of Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography, among many other books, about working with Taschen on this "gigantic tome."

AICN's Harry Knowles has news on an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, to be written by Alex Garland and directed by Mark Romanek.

"We don't talk a whole lot of books in these pages - appropriately enough since we're a film site and not a book site - but every now and then I just have to make an exception." Todd Brown at Twitch: "And, you know, it's cold and blustery and snowy outside - perfect reading weather, in other words - and everybody's out shopping anyway and I just so happen to have stumbled across the most remarkable new author that I've found in ages, so what the hell. Got a geek on your list? Pick up a copy of Nick Harkaway's The Gone Away World. Heck, get one for yourself."

This is the weekend the major US papers run their books supplements' year-end bests lists: the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and, as you've seen, the New York Times. Plus, Jennifer Schuessler posts a fun "Top Ten Top-Ten Lists." But there are new reviews as well.

Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric

Charles McGrath (NYT), for example, considers "a series of 23 poems [Bob Dylan] wrote in the early 1960s to accompany a collection of Hollywood photographs by Barry Feinstein. Either half of this collaboration would be worth having, but combined, under the quizzical title Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric they add up to one of the oddest coffee-table books to come along in a while." Carolyn Kellogg (LAT) has a bit more on that one.

George Perry's "entries are the meat-and- potatoes of [You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros Story], [Richard] Schickel's, the gravy," writes Stephanie Zacharek (NYT}: Even if Schickel hammers a little too relentlessly on his own enthusiasms (his championing of Eastwood, in particular, sometimes approaches fetishization), he is at least refreshingly nonobjective, and that means something in a world where a shocking number of people believe criticism should be 'objective.' Schickel is unafraid to apply critical thinking to history - which is, after all, part of a critic's job - and he has the guts to venture some heretical ideas, among them his assertion that Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo is superior to John Ford's The Searchers (He's right.)"

"For all the disappointment people may say characterizes Welles's career, and no matter how much he may be regarded as a study in talent misguided or overindulged, I flip through Orson Welles at Work and think, oh, if we could all fail so well," writes Nick Owchar (LAT).

Make 'Em Laugh Orli Low (LAT) on Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America: "This kaleidoscopic time machine is broken into six broad categories: the exaggerated physical movements of slapstick (think Buster Keaton, Lucille Ball); satire and parody (Mel Brooks, Tom Lehrer); and domestic comedy (Burns and Allen, The Simpsons) - as well as delineations of three character types: wiseguy (Jack Benny, Eddie Murphy); the outsider (Harold Lloyd, Andy Kaufman); and groundbreakers (Mae West, Richard Pryor) make up the framework of this wide-ranging volume."

Bruce Handy (NYT) turns in a lively review of Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films: David Thomson "likes a good argument, and makes one well, but in this book, at least, he's working more in the mode of a lively dinner party guest than a re-education camp counselor; he's not going to pummel you into submission the way Pauline Kael would.... Louis Menand, writing in the New Yorker a few years ago, said of The Whole Equation, 'Thomson's subject is not, strictly speaking, the history of the movies'; his subject is 'the history of caring about the movies.' I think that's true in essence of most of Thomson's work — he's one of our great enthusiasts."

Also of probable interest to Daily readers: Toni Bentley (NYT) on Casanova: Actor Lover Priest Spy, Neil Genzlinger (NYT) on The Elvis Encyclopedia, Kathryn Harrison (NYT) and Jonathan Yardley (WP) on The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits and Alan Light (NYT) and David L Ulin on The Clash, an oral history of the band as told by its members.

When Frankie Went to Hollywood "As a committed Sinatra fanatic, I had totally dismissed his film career as being largely unrelated - in fact, irrelevant - to his career as a singer," writes David J Shippey for Film International. "Karen McNally's book When Frankie Went to Hollywood: Frank Sinatra and America Male Identity has changed all that."

FilmInFocus runs an extract from Soundscape: The School of Sound Lectures 1998 - 2001: a conversation with David Lynch.

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has been following reaction to the recent settlement between Google and book publishers regarding out-of-print but still-copyrighted books.

And the Economist<