Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: September 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NYFF Day 5 - Notes on A Corte do Norte and Summer Hours (L'Heure d'été)

by Tony Dayoub

Today, I saw the visually sumptuous Portuguese language film, A Corte do Norte, by João Botelho. It stars the incomparably beautiful Ana Moreira in an intergenerational family drama where she plays five different women. The cinematography by João Ribeiro is a chiaroscuro delight of vivid colors set against dark backgrounds.

The film itself left me a little cold. With flashbacks and flashforwards further confused by Moreira's multiple roles, it was a little hard to follow what was going on. Judging by the press conference after the film, Moreira and Botelho seemed a little perplexed themselves. Botelho says he adapted it pretty faithfully from a famous Portuguese novel by Agustina Bessa Luis. But he admits having to eject some of the philosophical undercurrent to simplify the plot. Moreira said she had to turn to Botelho often in order to get clarification regarding the differences between each of her characters. The languid pace of the film adds a hypnotic effect to the wonderful visuals. But something was definitely lost in the translation.

I also caught a great new film by Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep), Summer Hours (L'Heure d'été). This was a truly moving and witty film about family, art, heirlooms, and the sentimental values attached to them. I'll have a more extensive review of the film up before it screens tomorrow.

Below is a schedule of tonight's festival events. More information can be found at the festival's web site.

NYFF – Festival main slate film
OSH – NYFF Sidebar: In the Realm of Oshima

ZT – Ziegfeld Theatre, 54th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues
WRT – Walter Reade Theater, 65th St. between Amsterdam and Broadway, upper level

Tuesday, Sept. 30
4:30 The Sun’s Burial (OSH/WRT)
6:00 Tony Manero, with Love You More (NYFF/ZT)
6:20 The Catch (OSH/WRT)
8:30 Night and Fog in Japan (OSH/WRT)
9:15 The Northern Land/A Corte do Norte, with Surprise! (NYFF/ZT)

A Corte do Norte is playing at the 46th New York Film Festival, at 9:15 p.m. tonight only, at the Ziegfeld Theatre, 141 West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019, (212) 307-1862

A Corte do Norte Photo Credit: FF Filmes Fundo / Film Society of Lincoln Center

L'Heure d'été Photo Credit: IFC Films / Fortissimo Films / Film Society of Lincoln Center

Monday, September 29, 2008

NYFF Days 2 thru 4 - Notes on Che and a Panel

by Tony Dayoub

Just a short post today since I'm on my way to the Film Forum downtown to catch the restored print of The Godfather Part II. I saw The Godfather there last night and it looked fantastic. Though the Forum does have an appropriately grungy vibe in most cases, I can't say it suits the Godfather films so well, as I was discussing with two fellow film aficionados today, Ron Henriques of Latino Review, and Glenn Kenny from Some Came Running. I'm sorry the venue isn't as vast and palatial as the Ziegfeld, in midtown Manhattan, is. There, we saw an exciting film today, that will no doubt prove to be controversial. It was the full 268-minute version of Steven Soderbergh's Che.

I went with my knife sharpened, I must admit, to the screening. As a first generation Cuban American, I am constantly disappointed to see Ernesto Guevara idolized by the entire world despite some of the atrocities he committed in the name of the Cuban Revolution. I also think the Cuban Right is too quick to ascribe villainous qualities to what I think was simply a misguided idealist. After reading Kenny's review when he first saw the film at Cannes, where despite liking it he stated:

[The film's] structure very conveniently elides the period wherein Che, as effective co-head of Castro's Cuban government, presided over mass executions, the persecution of homosexuals, the ruination of the island's economy, the ill-fated alliance with the Soviet Union, and so on.
I was fearful that Soderbergh would present the same heroic perspective on Guevara that previous stories have. The director was to appear at a press conference after the film, and I was prepared to hit him with some questions. The movie even looked to be living up to my expectations at the intermission, when only the first half of the film had been screened.

But after seeing the second half, I find that my fears regarding this were unfounded. Soderbergh portrays a complex Che in line with what I feel the individual to honestly be, and Benicio Del Toro is terrific in the part. I want to give some honest thought to this significant movie before I write my review, so I'm going to post it on the day of its screening, October 7th.

Other than that, I attended an interesting panel discussion on the current state of film criticism, this past Saturday, which I'll talk about more fully in the upcoming days, once I can squeeze some time in my schedule. And I will be posting a three-part Godfather series under the Seventies Cinema Revival placard (which seems to be experiencing some success) in the next few weeks, after I get through the new Blu-ray set released last week.

Below is a schedule of tonight's festival events. More information can be found at the festival's web site.

NYFF – Festival main slate film
OSH – NYFF Sidebar: In the Realm of Oshima

ZT – Ziegfeld Theatre, 54th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues
WRT – Walter Reade Theater, 65th St. between Amsterdam and Broadway, upper level

Monday, Sept. 29
4:30 A Town of Love and Hope, with Diary of a Yunbogi Boy (OSH/WRT)
6:00 I’m Gonna Explode, with This is Her (NYFF/ZT)
6:15 Cruel Story of Youth (OSH/WRT)
8:15 A Town of Love and Hope, with Diary of a Yunbogi Boy (OSH/WRT)
9:15 Tony Manero, with Love You More (NYFF/ZT)

Photo Credit: Wild Bunch / Film Society of Lincoln Center

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Movie Review: Voy a Explotar - A Clumsy Fusion of Childhood Daydreams and Violent Rebellion

by Tony Dayoub

Gerardo Naranjo's anti-establishment drama, Voy a Explotar, explores the relationship between two young non-conformists, Román (Juan Pablo de Santiago) and Maru (Maria Deschamps). Román is the son of a corrupt right-wing politician (Daniel Giménez Cacho). His mother died in a car accident that may have been caused by his father's driving after drinking. Maru is a lower-middle class student who drinks herself into blackouts. She is being raised by a single mother (Martha Claudia Moreno) who can't figure out why her daughter has grown to be so disobedient of late.

They meet when the nihilistic Román, new to Maru's school, stages a performance that consists of him standing onstage on a chair with a noose around his neck, and pretending to hang himself. Shocking the parents and schoolmates in the audience, he also manages to awaken the listless Maru from her reverie. She is the only one who claps. Soon, the two misfits forge a relationship, and make a pact to escape from their dull lives in a stolen VW bug, and head toward Mexico City. They only make it as far as Román's rooftop, where they hide in plain sight, setting up a tent, and only venturing inside the house when they need food or a shower, while they send their parents on wild chases to the countryside looking for the "missing" pair.

Naranjo (Drama/Mex) plays with the conventions of the "lovers-on-the-lam" genre, but not successfully. There are clumsy mood shifts between the romantic daydreaming of the young lovers, the political statements regarding the resurgence of the right in Mexico, and the borderline slapstick reactions of Román's father as he pretends to care about his boy's disappearance when he really only cares about how it affects his image in front of voters. The politician even tries to sneak in an airing of a soccer match, while Maru's mother frantically worries about her disappearance. Naranjo does display obvious talent, as his movie demonstrates that he is well-versed in cinema. But a film that tries to fuse echoes of Wes Anderson's lyrical Rushmore with Quentin Tarantino's True Romance is tough to buy into.

The best reason to see the Voy a Explotar is for Naranjo's brilliant casting of the two novice actors, de Santiago and Deschamps. They bring a whimsical quality that is atypical in this movie genre. Sissy Spacek had the quality in her role, as Holly, in a forerunner to this film, Badlands. Like Holly, the two lovers in Explotar don't quite grasp how horribly awry their plan to live outside of the grid can go. At least de Santiago's Román, the more idealistic of the two, doesn't. Deschamps's downturned eyes betray a darker soul. As the movie heads towards its inexorable heartbreaking finale, one gets the feeling that she is fully aware of how this will end up, but would literally rather die than live in the world she inhabits now.

Voy a Explotar/I'm Gonna Explode is playing with a short, This is Her, at the 46th New York Film Festival, at 9:00 p.m. tonight, and 6:00 p.m. tomorrow, at the Ziegfeld Theatre, 141 West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019, (212) 307-1862

Photo Credit: Canana / Film Society of Lincoln Center

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

by Tony Dayoub

As he got older, he only got more beautiful. His steely blue eyes took on a special glint as his hair grayed. Years before Brad Pitt came onto the scene, even a middle-aged Paul Newman had a six-pack that was the envy of most men. And when his physique started to decline, as it does for us all, his cocky voice took on a smoky, gruff quality that denoted a world-weariness, which he put to good use in some of his later films, like Fort Apache, The Bronx (1980), The Color of Money (1986), and most recently, Cars (2006).

According to Eric Lax, his biographer, Newman's looks got in the way of his career early on. Often finding himself up for the same roles as his Actors' Studio contemporaries, James Dean and Marlon Brando, Newman was having some trouble standing out. Too good-looking for Dean's roles, and resembling Brando a little too closely, his film career was slower to start. But Broadway had no trouble putting him to work, where he debuted in the original production of Picnic. After a stumble in his first film, the ill-suited costume drama, The Silver Chalice (1954), he recovered nicely, playing boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1958).

Movie Review: Happy-Go-Lucky - Hawkins and Leigh Are Walking on Sunshine

Happy-Go-Lucky is a new comedy by the usually darkly sober realist, Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies). The film, about a refreshingly happy schoolteacher named Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is curious in how unconventionally it creates story tension. Rather than internalize it within its main character, it externalizes it by contrasting Poppy's unrelenting good-natured spirit with a society plagued by cynicism. When we first meet Poppy, she is riding her bike through town while the film credits roll. She smiles a lot, waving at people we're certain she doesn't even know. She stops, locking her bike against a guardrail, and visits a children's bookstore. She tries striking up a conversation with the store clerk, who doesn't respond. She continues to try, while the befuddled clerk tries to figure out, as do we, what is wrong with this lady. She soon leaves the store, never giving in to the clerk's ill mood, only to find that her bike has been stolen. While most of us would lose our cool then, Poppy laughs about how she "never got the chance to say goodbye", and looks at it as an opportunity to learn to drive. Poppy's driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan), is her antithesis, a dour conspiracy theorist that believes the world is run by Lucifer's agents, and that people of color are the devil's footsoldiers. It is in his scenes with her, that we are able to fully appreciate how difficult it is to sustain the happiness that she promotes. Scott is obsessive, bitter, devoutly religious, and a product of an unhappy childhood, we soon learn. As we see Poppy at her job, spying one boy bullying others, we connect the boy with Scott, realizing that Poppy is perfectly positioned to be someone who can actually change the future by professing her philosophy. While some may wonder whether this character may start to grate after 2 hours, Leigh is brilliantly able to get us past Poppy's surface to the person within. In one key scene in the film, Poppy encounters a homeless man. The man (Stanley Townsend) is an imposing bear, with a gentle demeanor that speaks in non-sequiturs. The scene is unusual because of the dark surroundings Poppy has ventured into, and for a moment, the viewer feels dislocated. It is as if the she is now in another of Leigh's darker films. The threat of this gentle bear suddenly losing his head and attacking Poppy is implied throughout, as he stands a little too close to her, changes directions often while he paces near her. It is then that one realizes how brave it is of Poppy to be so happy in a society where the danger of violence, physical or psychological, is always so close. And what a brave performance by Hawkins (Layer Cake). The role is easily one that could become a trap for an actor. She would be correct in fearing typecasting as a result of her strong performance in this role. But the complexity she brings to the performance, especially when she finally confronts Scott about his growing fearful intensity, is such that I think it will bring her Oscar accolades. Happy-Go-Lucky is playing at the 46th New York Film Festival, at 6:15 p.m. tonight, and noon tomorrow, at the Ziegfeld Theatre, 141 West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019, (212) 307-1862 Photo Credit: Simon Mein/ Courtesy of Miramax Films / Film Society of Lincoln Center

Friday, September 26, 2008

NYFF Day 1 - Notes on Happy-Go-Lucky and Voy a Explotar

by Tony Dayoub

NEW YORK - Today is opening night of the 46th New York Film Festival. Tonight's film is Laurent Cantet's Entre les murs, winner of the Palme D'Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. It is definitely an auspicious premiere for one of the most important film festivals in America. Tickets are sold out, but you might still squeak in if you can brave the rain in the no-show line.

I caught a screening of the latest by Mike Leigh (Topsy-Turvy), Happy-Go-Lucky, featuring a fascinating performance by Sally Hawkins (Vera Drake). Her character, Poppy, is a rare one in cinema, an unfailingly happy and optimistic one. Despite all manner of obstacles modern society presents her with, she unswervingly manages to keep her spirits up. While at first, this may seem difficult to sustain in a film - after all, drama is about conflict - Leigh takes a character without internal tension, and externalizes it instead. The conflict is created by Poppy's optimism and the disparity it creates with her circle of friends, family, and in fact society itself. I highly recommend you catch this one in one of its two weekend showings, and I'll have a detailed review of it up by tomorrow morning.

Voy a Explotar is a Spanish language film by Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo. My feelings are mixed on this one. I like the two young non-actors that Naranjo cast as the leads, Juan Pablo de Santiago and Maria Deschamps. Deschamps in particular shows an introspective quality that goes beyond what inexperienced performers usually are capable of. Naranjo lets them down by telling a story that is distractingly uneven in tone. The movie's two young paramours hide from the world because of their anarchic desires to rebel. Against what? Everything, pretty much. But the broad manner in which their parents are treated by the filmmaker leaves the viewer unsure as to what exactly is trying to be said. My review of this one will be up on Sunday, in time for its first show that night.

Below is a schedule of the events through Sunday. More information can be found at the festival's web site.

NYFF – Festival main slate film
OSH – NYFF Sidebar: In the Realm of Oshima
SE – Festival special event

ZT – Ziegfeld Theatre, 54th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues
AFH – Avery Fisher Hall, Broadway and 65th Street
WRT – Walter Reade Theater, 65th St. between Amsterdam and Broadway, upper level
KP – Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, 65th St. between Amsterdam and Broadway, 10th Floor

Friday, Sept. 268:00 OPENING NIGHT: The Class, 128m (NYFF/AFH)

Saturday, Sept. 2711:00am Cruel Story of Youth, 96m (OSH/WRT)
12:00 Hunger, 96m (NYFF/ZT)
1:00 PANEL: Film Criticism in Crisis? (SE/WRT)
3:00 24 City, 112m (NYFF/ZT)
3:00 A Town of Love and Hope, 62m, with Diary of a Yunbogi Boy, 24m (OSH/WRT)
4:45 Night and Fog in Japan, 107m (OSH/WRT)
6:15 Happy-Go-Lucky, 118m (NYFF/ZT)
7:00 Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, 94m (OSH/WRT)
9:00 Pleasures of the Flesh, 90m (OSH/WRT)
9:30 Wendy and Lucy, 80m, with Cry Me a River, 19m (NYFF/ZT)
midnight In the Realm of the Senses, 110m (OSH/WRT)

Sunday, Sept. 2812:00 Happy-Go-Lucky (NYFF/ZT)
12:30 The Man Who Left His Will on Film, 94m (OSH/WRT)
2:30 The Sun’s Burial, 87m (OSH/WRT)
3:15 Wendy and Lucy, with Cry Me a River (NYFF/ZT)
4:30 Empire of Passion, 106m (OSH/WRT)
6:15 Hunger (NYFF/ZT)
6:45 Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, 122m (OSH/WRT)
9:00 I’m Gonna Explode, 106m, with This is Her, 12m (NYFF/ZT)
9:15 Taboo, 100m (OSH/WRT)

Happy-Go-Lucky Photo Credit: Simon Mein/ Courtesy of Miramax Films / Film Society of Lincoln Center

Voy a Explotar Photo Credit: Canana / Film Society of Lincoln Center

Thursday, September 25, 2008

NYFF Update

by Tony Dayoub

I apologize for being absent from these pages these past few days, but I've been coordinating my trip to New York for the film festival, which starts tomorrow. As some of you know, Denise and I have a 2-year-old son, and we're expecting another one in early November. So leaving her alone was not really an option. My mom graciously agreed to fly in and help (who am I kidding.... she'd give anything to spend time with her grandson). So in addition to coordinating all my activities in NYC, I was busy leaving everything ready for the rest of my family.

Unfortunately, this also means I won't be able to catch every movie at the festival, since I had to limit my time up there to 8 days. As you saw in the post last week, what a wonderful line-up they have this year. So I'm endeavoring to concentrate on films that my site would normally focus on, and hope to include some surprises.

Here's a list of some films I'll hopefully get into:

Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler
Clint Eastwood's Changeling
Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky
Steven Soderbergh's Che
Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time Redux

Of course, these are the notable ones from mainstream directors, I also hope to bring you some other lesser known but no less important film coverage in the days ahead. There's a panel entitled Film Criticism in Crisis? that I will be covering, and a sidebar on Japanese director Nagisa Oshima that should also prove interesting.

The coverage should include some atypical weekend posts, as well as multiple daily posts. Otherwise, you might see the odd non-festival review pop up should there be any down-time for me. There should be plenty of coverage to see here in the next two weeks, so keep coming to the site often.

Gotta get to the airport. See you soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Movie Review: Burn After Reading - Snapshot of Our Sad State of Affairs

by Tony Dayoub

The Coen Brothers' latest Burn After Reading is a movie I've been meaning to get around to reviewing. I saw it on opening weekend, and my knee-jerk reaction was a less than enthusiastic response to the film. But I couldn't blame the film or the directors for failing to meet expectations set by its marketing people. I decided to wait a week, to allow the film to reveal itself to me. And if you've seen the film, you might be surprised at what my thoughts are.

Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is a low-level CIA analyst who resigns after being demoted for an alleged drinking problem he denies. Turns out he's pretty much a lush. And why shouldn't he be. He has trouble adapting to the monotony of daytime TV. He has little to fill his tape recorder with as he dictates his memoirs (or as he calls them, "mem-was"), and his marriage to the ice-cold Katie (Tilda Swinton) is slowly disintegrating.

Katie is demanding even of Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), a married federal marshal who has a peculiar side project he's working on in his basement. See, Katie is on her way to ending her relationship with Osborne, a move Harry's been pushing for until it becomes reality. A paranoid serial philanderer, Harry usually goes for unavailable women, to keep it simple. But his m.o. has backfired this time. And when he goes on his 5 mile runs, he senses someone following him. Could it be Linda and Chad?

Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) are two gym instructors who have found a misplaced disc with Osborne's private information. They decide this is their ticket to fortune, and try blackmailing Cox. But Cox refuses to play their game. The two amateur spies are not holding anything of value to anyone but Cox, as they soon discover when they try selling the info to the Russians. But Linda, who is banking on extensive cosmetic surgery to lift her spirits, is determined to see her plan through. And Chad, a Type-A thrill junkie, is definitely along for the ride.

My immediate reaction was that this was no Raising Arizona, to be sure. The movie trailers promised a madcap comedy in the vein of that movie or The Big Lebowski. This was anything but. First of all, the film is more of an ensemble piece than the ads indicate (Pitt and McDormand are definitely not the protagonists). Carter Burwell's score is an exceedingly melodramatic one, a sort of espionage-tinged counterpoint to the inanity of the goings-on. It sets the mood for a kind of shell game where the Coens put one in the uncomfortable position of trying to figure out if we're watching a comedy, who the hero is (there isn't one), and what is so important about the disc in question that leads to all this mayhem.

Credit the Coens for their deceptive use of the disc as the ultimate MacGuffin. The directors use the mayhem incited by Cox's disc to explore the current sad state of the human condition. The Coens have reached a nadir in their estimation of humanity. Not one person in this movie is exempt from being self-absorbed, ridiculously unintelligent, or exceedingly greedy. Fargo, at least, had the surprisingly crafty Chief Marge Gunderson (also McDormand) one could root for. Even the darker No Country For Old Men, had Sherriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a decent man one could relate to. But the only characters that one may be able to sympathize with in Burn are the CIA Greek chorus played by David Rasche and J.K. Simmons, and even they show signs of limited intellect.

Don't take this the wrong way. I'm now convinced this may be one of the Coens' most successful and subversive movies. It is the absolute perfect way to explore themes that reside in our current collective consciousness. In a world where the righteousness of our wars are questionable, our constitutionally protected right to privacy has been squashed, and our financial markets are on the verge of collapse, what is a more apt allegory than this laughable story. Just like all the characters in this film, our political leaders are pointing fingers, watching their backs, and attempting to cover their asses from culpability. Pitt's performance may seem like it belongs in another movie's. But doesn't our president's conduct also seem that way, too?

Years from now, when we get to the end of our current state of affairs, and take a look back to sort it all out, we'll be the Greek chorus wondering how it happened, and what it all ultimately meant in the greater picture. And just like the two CIA officers, we'll probably share the same exchange:
CIA Superior: What did we learn?
CIA Officer: Uh...
CIA Superior: Not to do it again.
CIA Superior: I don't know what the fuck it is we DID, but...

Friday, September 19, 2008

The 46th New York Film Festival: Schedule for September 26th - October 12th

by Tony Dayoub

The 46th New York Film Festival opens Friday, September 26th. It has an interesting slate of films, and I'll be in the Big Apple next week to cover it. For more information, click on the links I provided. Feel free to ask me about anything more specific in the comments section below.

Otherwise, here's a schedule and a press release:

46TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL, SEPT. 26 - OCT. 12Complete public schedule announced

NEW YORK, Sept. 5, 2008––The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced the complete public schedule for the 46th New York Film Festival today. The Film Society’s annual showcase of the current state of contemporary filmmaking will run Sept. 26 to Oct. 12, while the official sidebar, In the Realm of Oshima, continues to Oct. 13. The majority of festival screenings will be at the Ziegfeld Theatre, 54th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues. Opening and Closing Night screenings will take place at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, while several special events, panels and the popular HBO Films Dialogues will be at the Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater and in the adjacent Samuel B. & David Rose Building at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse.

As previously announced, the festival with open with Laurent Cantet’s The Class and close with Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. Clint Eastwood’s Changeling is honored as the festival’s Centerpiece. The HBO Films Dialogues will recognize the remarkable careers and skills of festival favorites Aronofsky, Jia Zhangke, Wong Kar-wai and Arnaud Desplechin. Special events include filmmaking Martin Scorsese presenting a Technicolor screening of Pandora and the Flying Dutchman; Alloy Orchestra on stage with the New York premiere of their newest score, accompanying The Last Command; a variety of special panels that will examine current film criticism and discuss issues raised by the films It’s Hard Being Loved by Jerks and Guy Debord’s In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni; and other events.

Presented by the Film Society, the annual New York Film Festival showcases new works by both emerging talents and internationally recognized artists, including numerous New York, U.S., and world premieres.

The 46th New York Film Festival is sponsored by Chopard, The New York Times and Sardinia Region Tourism. Additional support from illy caffè; HBO Films; 42 Below Vodka, Maxell; and Wines from Spain. Participating sponsors include Stella Artois, Technicolor, agnes b., the Film Foundation and American Express Preservation Screening Program, and Kodak. Special thanks to Cineric; Dolby; CTS; Josephina; O'Neals; The Park Lane Hotel. Trailer courtesy of Bunker New York and Nuncle. The 46th New York Film Festival is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center was founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international cinema, to recognize and support new directors, and to enhance the awareness, accessibility and understanding of film. Advancing this mandate today, the Film Society hosts two distinguished festivals. The New York Film Festival annually premieres films from around the world and has introduced the likes of François Truffaut, R.W. Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Godard, Pedro Almodóvar, Martin Scorsese, and Wong Kar-Wai to the United States. New Directors/New Films, co-presented by the Museum of Modern Art, focuses on emerging film talents. Since 1972, when the Film Society honored Charles Chaplin, the annual Gala Tribute celebrates an actor or filmmaker who has helped distinguish cinema as an art form. Additionally, the Film Society presents a year-round calendar of programming at its Walter Reade Theater and offers insightful film writing to a worldwide audience through Film Comment magazine.

46th New York Film Festival, Sept. 26 – Oct. 12Complete public screening schedule

NYFF – Festival main slate film
OSH – NYFF Sidebar: In the Realm of Oshima
VAG – Views from the Avant-Garde
SE – Festival special event

ZT – Ziegfeld Theatre, 54th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues
AFH – Avery Fisher Hall, Broadway and 65th Street
WRT – Walter Reade Theater, 65th St. between Amsterdam and Broadway, upper level
KP – Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, 65th St. between Amsterdam and Broadway, 10th Floor

Friday, Sept. 268:00 OPENING NIGHT: The Class, 128m (NYFF/AFH)

Saturday, Sept. 2711:00am Cruel Story of Youth, 96m (OSH/WRT)
12:00 Hunger, 96m (NYFF/ZT)
1:00 PANEL: Film Criticism in Crisis? (SE/WRT)
3:00 24 City, 112m (NYFF/ZT)
3:00 A Town of Love and Hope, 62m, with Diary of a Yunbogi Boy, 24m (OSH/WRT)
4:45 Night and Fog in Japan, 107m (OSH/WRT)
6:15 Happy-Go-Lucky, 118m (NYFF/ZT)
7:00 Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, 94m (OSH/WRT)
9:00 Pleasures of the Flesh, 90m (OSH/WRT)
9:30 Wendy and Lucy, 80m, with Cry Me a River, 19m (NYFF/ZT)
midnight In the Realm of the Senses, 110m (OSH/WRT)

Sunday, Sept. 2812:00 Happy-Go-Lucky (NYFF/ZT)
12:30 The Man Who Left His Will on Film, 94m (OSH/WRT)
2:30 The Sun’s Burial, 87m (OSH/WRT)
3:15 Wendy and Lucy, with Cry Me a River (NYFF/ZT)
4:30 Empire of Passion, 106m (OSH/WRT)
6:15 Hunger (NYFF/ZT)
6:45 Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, 122m (OSH/WRT)
9:00 I’m Gonna Explode, 106m, with This is Her, 12m (NYFF/ZT)
9:15 Taboo, 100m (OSH/WRT)

Monday, Sept. 294:30 A Town of Love and Hope, with Diary of a Yunbogi Boy (OSH/WRT)
6:00 I’m Gonna Explode, with This is Her (NYFF/ZT)
6:15 Cruel Story of Youth (OSH/WRT)
8:15 A Town of Love and Hope, with Diary of a Yunbogi Boy (OSH/WRT)
9:15 Tony Manero, 98m, with Love You More, 15m (NYFF/ZT)

Tuesday, Sept. 304:30 The Sun’s Burial (OSH/WRT)
6:00 Tony Manero, with Love You More (NYFF/ZT)
6:20 The Catch, 105m (OSH/WRT)
8:30 Night and Fog in Japan (OSH/WRT)
9:15 The Northern Land, 122m, with Surprise!, 18m (NYFF/ZT)

Wednesday, Oct. 16:00 A Summer Hours, 103m, with Ralph, 14m (NYFF/ZT)
6:30 FREE PANEL: The Place of Oshima (OSH/WRT)
9:00 Shiro of Amakusa, The Christian Rebel, 100m (OSH/WRT)
9:15 Waltz with Bashir, 90m, with I Don’t Feel Like Dancing, 7m (NYFF/ZT)

Thursday, Oct. 24:30 Shiro of Amakusa, The Christian Rebel (OSH/WRT)
6:00 Waltz with Bashir, with I Don’t Feel Like Dancing (NYFF/ZT)
6:30 Pleasures of the Flesh (OSH/WRT)
8:40 Band of Ninja, 100m (OSH/WRT)
9:00 Summer Hours, with Ralph (NYFF/ZT)

Friday, Oct. 34:30 Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, 98m (OSH/WRT)
6:00 Gomorrah, 137m (NYFF/ZT)
6:30 In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, 100m (VAG/WRT)
9:30 Four Nights with Anna, 87m, with Pal Secam, 14m (NYFF/ZT)
10:00 In the Realm of the Senses (OSH/WRT)

Saturday, Oct 411:15am Lola Montès, 115m (NYFF/ZT)
12:00 The Warmth of the Sun, 100m (VAG/WRT)
2:30 Night and Day, 144m (NYFF/ZT)
3:30 Andrew Noren, 101m (VAG/WRT)
6:15 Ashes of Time Redux, 93m, with Dust, 7m (NYFF/ZT)
6:30 Nathaniel Dorsky, 70m (VAG/WRT)
8:45 Bruce Conner tribute, 89.5m (VAG/WRT)
9:15 CENTERPIECE: Changeling, 140m, with Wait For Me, 3m (NYFF/ZT)
midnight Ashes of Time Redux, with Dust (NYFF/WRT)

Sunday, Oct. 511:15am CENTERPIECE: Changeling, with Wait For Me (NYFF/ZT)
12:00 Time of the Signs, 84m (VAG/WRT)
3:00 Four Nights with Anna, with Pal Secam (NYFF/ZT)
3:00 Craig Baldwin, 123m (VAG/WRT)
4:00 HBO FILMS DIALOGUES: Wong Kar-wai (SE/KP)
6:00 The Windmill Movie, 80m, with Quarry, 12m (NYFF/ZT)
6:00 still wave, 102.5m (VAG/WRT)
9:00 Gomorrah (NYFF/ZT)
9:00 James Benning, 112m (VAG/WRT)

Monday, Oct. 66:00 Afterschool, 106m (NYFF/ZT)
6:00 The Last Command, 88m (SE/WRT)
8:30 The Last Command (SE/WRT)
9:15 The Headless Woman, 87m, with I Hear Your Scream, 11m (NYFF/ZT)

Tuesday, Oct. 74:30 Sing a Song of Sex, 103m (OSH/WRT)
6:00 Che, 268m (NYFF/ZT)
6:40 Violence at Noon, 99m (OSH/WRT)
8:45 Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (OSH/WRT)

Wednesday, Oct. 84:30 Death by Hanging, 117m (OSH/WRT)
6:00 The Headless Woman, with I Hear Your Scream (NYFF/ZT)
7:00 Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (OSH/WRT)
9:00 Afterschool (NYFF/ZT)
9:00 Sing a Song of Sex (OSH/WRT)

Thursday, Oct. 94:30 Dear Summer Sister, 96m (OSH/WRT)
6:00 Tokyo Sonata, 119m, with Love is Dead, 17m (NYFF/ZT)
6:30 Boy, 97m (OSH/WRT)
8:30 Three Resurrected Drunkards, 80m (OSH/WRT)
9:00 Tulpan, 100m, with Deweneti, 15m (NYFF/ZT)

Friday, Oct. 102:00 Three Resurrected Drunkards (OSH/WRT)
3:45 Kyoto, My Mothers Place, 50m, with 100 Years of Japanese Cinema, 52m (OSH/WRT)
6:00 A Christmas Tale, 150m (NYFF/ZT)
6:15 Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, 122m (SE/WRT)
9:00 Max mon amour, 98m (OSH/WRT)
9:45 Let It Rain, 110m, with Unpredictable Behaviour, 5m (NYFF/ZT)

Saturday, Oct. 1111:15am A Christmas Tale (NYFF/ZT)
1:30 HBO FILMS DIALOGUES: Darren Aronofsky (SE/KP)
3:00 Chouga, 91m, with Gauge, 9m (NYFF/ZT)
4:00 Death by Hanging (OSH/WRT)
4:30 HBO FILMS DIALOGUES: Arnaud Desplechin (SE/KP)
6:00 Tulpan, with Deweneti (NYFF/ZT)
6:30 The Day Shall Dawn, 87m (SE/WRT)
9:00 Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (OSH/WRT)
9:15 Tokyo Sonata, with Love is Dead (NYFF/ZT)

Sunday, Oct. 1211:15am Let It Rain, with Unpredictable Behaviour (NYFF/ZT)
1:00 It’s Hard Being Loved by Jerks, 119m (SE/WRT)
2:30 Bullet in the Head, 85m (NYFF/ZT)
4:30 The Man Who Left His Will on Film (OSH/WRT)
5:15 Serbis, 90m, with Maybe Tomorrow, 12m (NYFF/ZT)
6:30 The Ceremony, 122m (OSH/WRT)
8:30 CLOSING NIGHT: The Wrestler, 109m, with Security, 13m (NYFF/AFH)
9:00 Dear Summer Sister (OSH/WRT)

Monday, Oct. 132:00 Taboo (OSH/WRT)
4:00 Kyoto, My Mothers Place, with 100 Years of Japanese Cinema (OSH/WRT)
6:30 Empire of Passion (OSH/WRT)
8:45 Taboo (OSH/WRT)

All times p.m. except where noted

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

TV Review: Sons of Anarchy - Richly Layered Biker Show Should Spawn a Cult Following

by Tony Dayoub

Sons of Anarchy follows SAMCRO, the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original Charter. Charlie Hunnam stars as Jax Teller, Vice-President of SAMCRO, and son of original founder, the late John Teller. His mother Gemma (Katey Sagal) married Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) one of the original members of the club, and now, its president. SAMCRO is a close-knit group with a deep love for family, but they primarily make their money from illegal gun-running. The law turns a blind eye to SAMCRO's activities because they keep their home base, the fictional town of Charming, free of drugs. This brings them in conflict with rival gangs such as the Latino "Mayans", and the white supremacist "Nords" led by Ernest Darby (Mitch Pileggi), who both want to bring meth to Charming. With ambitious new Deputy Hale (Tayler Sheridan) keeping an eye on them, the club has their hands full.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Seventies Cinema Revival: The Boys From Brazil

by Tony Dayoub

Ira Levin, author of such high concept novels as Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives gave us an interesting bit of science fiction with his novel The Boys From Brazil. The 1978 film adaptation attracted no small amount of talent. Starring film greats Sir Laurence Olivier (Wuthering Heights) and Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird), and directed by the once great Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton), the film is a guilty pleasure that has stood up surprisingly well thirty years later.

A frail looking Olivier, who had only two years prior played a sadistic Nazi torturer in The Marathon Man, now plays a Simon Wiesenthal-like Nazi hunter named Ezra Lieberman. Tipped off by young Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg in a very early role) that the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele (Peck) is alive and well in South America, Lieberman chooses to dismiss the man as a crank. For Lieberman, this is not new information. But when Kohler disappears after uncovering a meeting between Mengele and some of Hitler's top officers (one played by James Mason), he decides to investigate. Starting from Kohler's preposterous premise, that Mengele and his associates plan to assassinate 94 civil servants throughout Europe and North America, Lieberman goes on to discover a much more frightening conspiracy.

Mengele has implemented a plan, years in its formulation, to create another Hitler. Through cloning, and attempts at duplicating the Nazi leader's family environment (hence the assassination plans, since Hitler's civil servant father died when he was only 13), Mengele hopes at least one of the offspring will become the Führer of a Fourth Reich.

Lieberman starts grasping what is occurring at a gut level. This after he visits two unrelated women (played by Rosemary Harris - of Spider-Man fame - and Anne Meara - Ben Stiller's mom), in different parts of the world, whose husbands met an untimely death, and finding that their sons (Jeremy Black in multiple roles) look identical, while bearing a strong resemblance to Hitler himself.

Levin based his novel on extrapolations he made of some facts regarding Mengele, for example, his fondness for hideous experiments with children, particularly twins, during his tenure as Chief Medical Officer in Auschwitz, where he was known as the "Angel of Death". Another example was the plot point based on rumor that Mengele was hiding in South America, a rumor later proven to be true when Mengele died in Brazil in 1979.

Schaffner brings the same epic yet gritty flavor to the movie that he was known for in films like The War Lord (1965), Patton (1970), and Papillon (1973). Like in Papillon, which starred two film giants, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, he benefits here from the tension created between Olivier and Peck. One feels the world turning topsy-turvy in Brazil just as it did in Schaffner's earlier sci-fi classic, Planet of the Apes (1968). Add to that, a wonderful score from Jerry Goldsmith, who collaborated with him so successfully in Apes, and you've got a thriller that flirts with, but never falls into parody. Listen to the score:

Peck is especially impressive as a black-hearted villain that so perfectly embodies the basest evil found in humanity. Well-known for his ability to portray decent human beings such as Mockingbird's Atticus Finch, Peck brings a particular exuberance at the chance to play such a role reversal from the parts he's been known for in the past. His ferocity is on display in the final confrontation between Lieberman and Mengele. Anyone who thinks you can't have a suspenseful fight scene between two elderly men has not seen this film. Olivier and Peck grapple on the floor while barking dobermans surround them, ready to attack the fight's victor. But Peck's vicious streak is most evident in the scene where he attacks a crony at a Nazi banquet, for failing to assassinate one of the men he's been assigned to. When the henchman's wife starts wailing in fear, Mengele growls, "Shut up, you ugly bitch!"

With other notable actors such as the legendary Uta Hagen (she taught both Pacino AND De Niro), Denholm Elliott (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers), and Michael Gough (Batman), the film should be of interest to young performers.

At the Oscars, Olivier was nominated for Best Actor, Goldsmith for Original Music Score, and Robert Swink for Film Editing (the 123 minute film moves at a brisk pace).

A remake by New Line Cinema, to be directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), was in the works for 2009, but with New Line folded into Warner Bros., the production is now in question.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Interview: Shirley Manson on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

by Tony Dayoub

If you're a fan of the Terminator movies, then you might be looking forward to the newest entry in the franchise, Terminator Salvation. Scheduled to open in the summer of 2009, it's the first of a trilogy starring Christian Bale as the messianic John Connor, savior of Earth's future. With McG (Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle) helming the latest entry in the resilient franchise, however, the film is a bit of an unknown quantity.

Far more dependable, fans have found, is the TV spinoff, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, currently in its second season. Creator Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds) has won geeks' hearts by adhering closely to the Terminator mythology, despite the challenges of keeping plots straight with time travel in the mix. He's also supplied us with some notable casting surprises including the career redemption of Brian Austin Green (Beverly Hills 90210), who has finally joined the regular cast this year as Derek Reese, brother of the time-traveling hero Kyle played by Michael Biehn in the first film. But this year's biggest surprise has to be the casting of rock star Shirley Manson, lead singer of Garbage, as Catherine Weaver, CEO of ZeiraCorp, and as revealed in the climax of last week's episode, a T-1001 model Terminator.

Manson is excited to add actress to her resume, but keeps it all in perspective. "I know there is a lot of criticism whenever a musician steps into acting, and whenever an actor steps into music, and I understand where that comes from. I’ve certainly been guilty of being very suspicious myself of people who have done crossovers." Regarding her fellow actors, she says, "They all have their different styles and techniques they bring to their craft and they’ve all been very helpful. Richard T. Jones [Agent Ellison on the show], in particular, is sort of my main man on screen because we spend a lot of time together, and he’s been incredibly patient and generous with me. He’s given me some tips along the way, and I really have been very blessed by having him around because I’m sure it must be very annoying to have some upstart musician come in who really knows very little about the craft of acting. I’ve been very lucky."

When I asked her if she's had any scenes with the rest of the regular cast yet, she said, "We have not crossed paths yet, on screen." But she looks forward to doing so, maybe in a stunt scene of some kind. "I have noticed that all the terminators on the show want to meet the other terminators, we’re always making hints that it would be great fun to have us all take our super powers against each other."

You wouldn't think that being the most advanced Terminator out there is a drawback.But for an actor, it might be limiting. "I fear that I am so sophisticated that I don’t even need to fight. That’s my problem, that’s the problem with being at the top of your series, a top of the range model, I don’t know if she needs to get her hands dirty, which might be the only downside to my character." Like any good actor, though, Manson is doing some extracurricular prep, just in case. "I’m sort of … action and I would love to do something like that, but whether I’ll get to, I don’t know. I do know my trainer has started having me box a lot more in the off chance they’re going to ask me to do some stunts. Who knows?"

Is Manson going to give up music to turn to acting full time? "I feel like I’ve really been bitten by a bug, and I find it really exciting and very challenging. It reminds me of being little, when you get to play in the sandbox, or in your Wendy house or playing with dolls, there is something really innately childish about it, but also as a result, really thrilling and exciting." Fans of the singer don't have anything to worry about, though. "I’m still working on music. Obviously, I’m not a huge lead in the show so I have plenty of downtime too, despite some of the crazy hours we work. I’ve been working all year on stuff and continue to do so. I have a lot of material, I’m intending actually to go in and start recording some of the songs live, next month, so we’ll see if I manage to pull it off."

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles airs Mondays at 8:00 p.m. on FOX.

Stills provided courtesy of FOX Broadcasting Company.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Movie Review: Cthulhu - A Repulsion for the 21st Century

by Tony Dayoub

Cthulhu is an innovative low-budget horror film that discomfits one with its rawness. Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's "Shadow Over Innsmouth", it is the first film by director Daniel Gildark. Filmed throughout the northwest, it is a moody chiller with some gay themes stirred in. In many respects, the insular world of the island where the film takes place reminds me of the apartment in Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965). It's a lonely world that reflects the main character's turmoil with his repressed sexuality.

Russ Marsh (Jason Cottle) is a college professor who left his sad past behind when he left his island hometown off the coast of Oregon. Returning for his mother's funeral, he reunites with his sister Dannie (Cara Buono), childhood classmate Susan (Tori Spelling), and Mike (Scott Green), a onetime flame, who is now divorced, working as a tow truck driver. His father, the Reverend Marsh (Dennis Kleinsmith) is also seeking to reconnect. Is it just because of his hope that Russ will join his New Age cult, or is it because of something even more sinister?

Cthulhu is the monstrous high priest of the mythical Old Ones, horrible aliens that ruled the Earth before we ever set foot on it. It is said that to see him is to go insane. Think of the giant, horrific monster that crosses the heroes' path, in The Mist (2007), as they head down the highway in the climax. Its presence can be felt throughout this dark film, as Russ starts piecing together the townspeople's connection to the legend of the Old Ones. But are the foreboding events that affect him signifiers of the apocalypse, or something deeper in Russ's psyche?

Just as Carol's repressed sexuality affects her sanity in Repulsion, Russ's turmoil over his own homosexuality may be affecting his. Indications of this are demonstrated in several ways. The most obvious are the vehement arguments between him and his dad. The Reverend seems to want Russ to join his cult in part to "cure" him of his sexual inclination. His ambivalence regarding heterosexual desire is personified in the sexy Susan, who with her paraplegic husband, are hoping to have Russ father their child, by force if necessary. And his tryst with Mike midway through the film is explained away as more of a nostalgic attempt at recapturing their youth, than a direct admission of their love for one another. At least it's explained away by Mike, but Russ isn't forceful in arguing against that explanation.

Recurring imagery bolsters this theory. First we see Russ, with long hair, gazing at his reflection in the mirror, shaving his head when he is unhappy with what he sees. When Russ sees his reflection again, it is in a mystical cascading waterfall that seems to unite our world with Cthulhu's. This time, Russ is more accepting of his reflection, reaching towards it as pictured above. When he sleeps he has nightmares regarding a stone cudgel that seems to be associated with his father's cult, and ties them to ritual sacrifices to Cthulhu. He even awakens to find the phallic cudgel in his bed, momentarily driving him mad with fright. The subtext finally becomes explicit when Russ must make a climactic decision between following his father's way of life or loving Mike.

Gildark's Cthulhu is a unique addition to the many Lovecraft adaptations, and an admirable indie worth checking out.

Cthulhu is in limited release and opens today in Atlanta, Portland, and Seattle. It opens in Denver on 9/26.

Still provided courtesy of Regent Releasing.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

DVD Review: Cool Hand Luke - Classic Is Worth Revisiting For Its Strong Cast

by Tony Dayoub

Stuart Rosenberg's Cool Hand Luke (1967) is out this week in a beautiful deluxe edition. It is an amazing film worth revisiting, and for me, an overlooked classic I've only now had the opportunity to watch. Though the spotlight is on Paul Newman, in what is possibly his most iconic lead role (in a career filled with other roles of arguably equal stature), the big surprise for me is its supporting cast.

There are the three standouts. One is, of course, George Kennedy as Dragline, the oafish leader of the motley Florida chain gang. Winning a deserved Academy Award for this role, it saddens me that he became better known for his continuing appearances in both the Airport and Naked Gun franchises. Dragline is the camp's teller of tall tales, spreading the myth of Luke's rebellious nature with little regard for the man's relatively frail humanity. Then there's the prison's Captain, played by Strother Martin (The Wild Bunch). With one line, "What we've got here is... failure to communicate," Martin became the answer to a movie trivia question. But with little screen time, he is still able to make his insidious presence felt throughout the film. Morgan Woodward (Dallas), is the third, playing the evil guard Boss Godfrey, known to the chain gang as "The Man with No Eyes" for his propensity to hide behind mirrored sunglasses. Godfrey speaks only one or two lines in the entire film, even shooting his rifle more often than that. But Woodward grimly hovers over the gang like a vulture, ready to swoop in at the first sign of weakness.

The film's charm, though, rests squarely on the shoulders of Paul Newman at his most roguish. His Luke is not out to topple the status quo like McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). Luke simply carries a death wish ever since his return from the war, where he was an ill-suited hero who, despite winning numerous citations, never made it past buck private for his insubordination. Newman lets us see the frail ego behind the bluster in a scene where he has a final visit from his mother (Jo Van Fleet) before her death. His determination to escape, prompted by his captors' decision to keep him "in the box" during his mother's funeral (so he won't get any ideas), is motivated primarily by his self-destructive streak. While inspiring to his fellow prisoners, it is really a continuation of the downward spiral that landed him in prison in the first place. But he sure looks like a handsome devil while he goes down in flames.

Luke encourages his friends to overcome their oppressors by example. Whether its serving as the sacrificial lamb in a wager concerning whether he can eat 50 eggs in 1 hour, or hurriedly tarring a road so that the chain gang will have two hours of free time in the day left over to relax, Luke inspires the inmates to consider optimism as their biggest weapon against the jailers.

Run down the cast list and you'll find others who would go on to fame in TV or cinema. There's Luke Askew (Easy Rider) as Boss Paul, Joe Don Baker (Walking Tall) as Dynamite, J.D. Cannon (McCloud) as Society Red, Clifton James (Live and Let Die) as Carr, Wayne Rogers (TV's M*A*S*H) as Gambler, Ralph Waite (The Waltons) as Alibi, and Anthony Zerbe (The Matrix Reloaded, The Omega Man) as Dog Boy. Better known to the public are two future stars, Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet, Easy Rider) as the mentally disabled Babalugats, and Harry Dean Stanton (Big Love, Alien), here credited as Dean Stanton, as Tramp. Director Rosenberg smartly filled out the cast with strong character actors, allowing each to make his role distinct in a relatively short amount of time onscreen.

Owing to the relationship they developed in this film, Newman and Rosenberg would go on to collaborate in three more films before Rosenberg would receive renewed acclaim for films like The Amityville Horror (1979) and The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984). Stuart Rosenberg died last year at the age of 79.

Cool Hand Luke is now available in a Deluxe Edition on standard DVD and Blu-ray.

Still provided courtesy of
Warner Home Entertainment.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Blu-ray Review: The Fall - Visually Stunning Story by a Film Magician

by Tony Dayoub

There are those that subscribe to the notion that film should be a purely visual art medium, and lament that movies ever made the transition into sound at all. When you see The Fall, a work of such stunning beauty, it is easy to see why. Unlike my usual reviews, the feeling I got watching this film is better expressed through its visuals.

The movie follows a little girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a Romanian staying for a time at a hospital in Los Angeles circa 1910s, as her fractured arm heals. There she meets Roy (Lee Pace), a crippled stuntman. Despite her broken English, they develop a relationship as Roy tells her a fantastic story of five legendary heroes and their quest to vanquish the evil General Odious. As the story unfolds, so does the mystery behind Roy's injury, and the nature of his friendship with Alexandria.

The scale of the film is both small, in the intimate relationship between the two hospital patients, and grand in Alexandria's epic imaginations of Roy's simple story. Here is a photo that illustrates the feeble size of the participants in relation to their surroundings.

The director, Tarsem Singh, is best known as the MTV VMA-winner behind the fascinating video for R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" (1991). To cult film audiences he is better known as the director of the much maligned The Cell (2000), his only other full-length feature to date. Say what you will about that film, one can't deny it is an equally impressive film visually. Some of the imagery in The Fall is reminiscent of images from the earlier film.

Tarsem undeniably knows the impact of silent films and their visuals, as the final montage in The Fall attests. But dialogue and sound are equally important in the film. The language barrier between Roy and Alexandria subtly affects the narrative of Roy's story. Having just shot a western, stuntman Roy is clearly referring to a Native American in his story, when he explains why one of the heroes covers his eyes in the presence of a woman after having lost his squaw. But young Alexandria hears "Indian", and envisions this instead:

The Fall is stunningly told by not just a filmmaker but a film magician. It is a fable about the power of story to heal, transcend differences, and unite.

The Fall is available on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Stills provided courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Seventies Cinema Revival: McCabe & Mrs. Miller

by Tony Dayoub

Perhaps it was the disillusionment with Vietnam, or the revolutionary assault of American society by it's younger generation that led to the marked change in film from the sixties into the seventies. One thing is certain, westerns had up until then been the dominant genre in American film. And as the realities of the civil rights movement, anti-war movement, and feminism started encroaching on our lives, movie audiences started turning their back on these, and other "fantasies" that existed in American film.

Musicals were dying at the box office... just look at Doctor Dolittle (1967) as Mark Harris discusses in his excellent book, Pictures at a Revolution. War movies were becoming less Dmytryk's Back to Bataan (1945), and more Boorman's Hell in the Pacific (1968). Even John Ford was redefining his own depiction of Native Americans with the extremely sympathetic take in Cheyenne Autumn (1964), his last western. With Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah now becoming the torchbearers of the genre, cowboys were taking on a distinctly antiheroic role. The time had come for an outsider, like Robert Altman, to subvert the western, which he did in McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971).

Altman was by no means a young novice when he hit it big with M*A*S*H (1970). Already well into his forties, he had made a few less than notable movies like Countdown (1968). And like Peckinpah, he had been a prolific TV director, having directed some of the popular shows of the day, like Route 66, Combat! and Bonanza. But M*A*S*H was the first indication that he was destined for more than the journeyman directing he had done thus far. Ostensibly about the Korean War, Altman admitted that the reason it was such a hit was because it really spoke of Vietnam at a time when few other films were. And while it had many of his hallmarks, like the overlapping dialogue, ensemble cast, and naturalistic approach to shooting, his unique style arguably didn't solidify until McCabe.

The film opens to the haunting sound of Leonard Cohen singing "The Stranger Song" as a man enters frame left riding a mule in the constant drizzle of an unmistakeably northwestern town called Presbyterian Church. It is a mining town slowly drifting into modernity with the building of a church. The man enters Sheehan's, a bar where he sets up a game of poker, introducing himself as John McCabe (Warren Beatty). When the proprietor, Paddy Sheehan (Rene Auberjonois), asks him if he's "Pudgy" McCabe, the man who shot down Bill Roundtree with a Deringer, McCabe doesn't deny it. He just grins as Altman zooms into his gold-toothed smile.

As the myth of McCabe the gunfighter starts spreading, he starts to promote a new enterprise, a prostitution camp. Attracted to the new endeavor, Mrs. Constance Miller (Julie Christie), an opium-addicted madam, arrives in town. Mrs. Miller is the only one to see through McCabe's phony facade to the hard-drinking, charming con-man hidden beneath. She bids to go into business with McCabe to turn the camp into a luxurious brothel. The establishment of the brothel, and the church, accelerates the town's development, bringing both the God-fearing and the corrupt together to form a community.

Soon, the Harrison Shaugnessy Company, in the form of a man named Sears (Michael Murphy), comes calling on McCabe to buy his business. McCabe's response, "Well, Sears, I'm Roebuck. Who'd you leave minding the goddamn store?" McCabe's folksy humor falls on deaf ears, as does his haggling for a greater bid when Sears shows interest in buying McCabe out. Sears leaves, and his company sends out three hired gunmen, a British giant named Butler (Hugh Millais), a kid, and an Indian half-breed, to kill the brothel owner.

When Sheehan tells Butler how McCabe is really the outlaw "Pudgy" McCabe, Butler says, "That man never killed anyone in is life." But as he trudges through the snow, hunted by the gunmen, McCabe has an ace up his sleeve that brings that denial into question, a Deringer pistol.

Altman spends the first hour of the film setting up the house of cards on which McCabe, and Presbyterian Church, is built on. The legend of McCabe is given a lot of credence in the iconic style used to shoot his entry into town. Vilmos Zsigmond's then innovative soft focus cinematography creates a warm, nostalgic, almost historic mood. The haunting Cohen folk songs, heard throughout, serve the same mystical function as a Greek chorus, commenting on the tale and enhancing its archetypal relevance to traditional myths. The silence McCabe adopts when interrogated about Bill Roundtree plays into our expectations of western outlaws and their stoicism when referring to killing.

But once Sears and his company appear, the film shifts into a second hour where Altman explodes the western myth. The outlaw hero, McCabe, is visibly shaken by the quiet departure of Sears. The sun-dappled greenery of the northwest turns into a bleak snowy landscape. When questioned about a gun he carries, an innocent young cowboy (Keith Carradine) explains how he wears it mostly for show, and doesn't know how to shoot it. Goaded into unholstering the gun by one of the hired guns, he is brutally murdered while atop a bridge, falling into icy water, and demolishing the cliche of the honorable gunfight on a dusty street.

Altman's style is never more evident than in this film. His penchant for naturalism comes to the fore in this film, which was shot chronologically as the town was erected. The early scenes are abundant with overlapping dialogue, designed to confuse one's opinion of McCabe. But as his backstory becomes clear, so does the soundtrack, until almost the only sound heard in the climactic 20 minutes is that of snow falling. The cast consists of several actors that had been or would become part of his repertory, including Auberjonois, Murphy, Carradine, John Schuck, Bert Remsen, and Shelley Duvall. And like in M*A*S*H, he uses the setting to reflect his personal views, here the formation of a society.

Altman acknowledges the unimpressive plot in his commentary for the film's DVD. A stranger comes into town and gets together with the hooker-with-the-heart-of-gold to defend the town from a gunslinging kid, a giant, and a half-breed. But he isn't as interested in the cliche plot as he is in what fuels each character's motivation. He is cognizant that societys evolve much the same way the town does in this film, through the push and pull of conflicting moral extremes, as represented by the church and the brothel. Big business generally comes in once the pioneering has been done by the little man, and may sometimes use unethical means to push him out.

Despite just an average box office gross at the time of its release, McCabe & Mrs. Miller has become a cult favorite. It's influence can still be felt today in films as recent as Michael Winterbottom's The Claim (2000) and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (2007).

This entry first appeared on Blogcritics on 9/7/08.