Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: October 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

DVD Review: Stuck - Film's Title Ironically Addresses Director Stuart Gordon's Once Promising Career

"Stuck is a horrifying film. But I don't know if I would say it's a horror film, because it has really nothing to do with the supernatural. It's really about people, and what people will do to each other, which can sometimes be much more terrifying than anything vampires or werewolves might be up to." - director Stuart Gordon in a featurette included on the DVD Stuart Gordon's latest, Stuck, was recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray. It is inspired by the true story of a young health-care worker who hit a homeless man with her car and parked the car in her garage with the man still lodged in her window, where he slowly bled to death days later. The film represents Gordon's best chance at branching out past the horror genre. But instead of outgrowing his conventional take on stories like this, Gordon decides to stick to familiar ground. Brandi Boski (Mena Suvari) works at a nursing home, as we find out from the clever and amusing opening credits, a slow motion overview of Brandi passing out pills to her elderly patients while a rap song plays over the scene. Her tight, cornrowed hair telegraphs her white trash existence. And in fact, she is overjoyed to hear she is being considered for a promotion that may help her leave filthy octogenarians' diapers behind. So she celebrates that night in her usual way, popping a complimentary hit of E from her dealer boyfriend, Rashid (Russell Hornsby), at the local club while getting a little buzzed on alcohol. Getting behind the wheel in her state may not be a good idea, but she decides to anyway, heading home to meet her boyfriend for a night of drug-and-alcohol-fueled sex. Tom Bardo (Stephen Rea), a recently laid-off project manager, hasn't had much luck finding a job, and now loses his apartment as a result. Bureaucratic dead ends he faces at the unemployment office gradually reveal the passive nature of the man. He is not strong-willed or clever enough to get people to break out of their routine to help him in his job search. So he ends up on the street, a broken man, absorbed in his own self-pity. The paths of our dual protagonists literally collide when Boski hits Bardo driving home from the club. Bardo gets stuck in the windshield, bleeding and semi-conscious. Boski, showing little remorse, is so obsessed with making sure nothing gets in the way of her promotion, she decides to cover-up the incident, stowing the car, and Bardo, in her garage. Her lack of conscience is further illustrated by her subsequent action, having sex with Rashid in her home while Bardo bleeds to death just outside. Had the film's narrative followed the true life story, we could have had a perverse Cronenberg-like take on the dichotomous existence led by Boski after the accident. The real nurse let the man bleed to death, and then, scarily, went to work as a caregiver every day. She would have gotten away with the death had she not brought up the accident while joking with friends. If the movie hewed closely to this account, we could have seen the gradual disintegration of a person's good judgement and conscience in a coolly detached way, while cutting away to the homeless man, the creeping hopelessness of being saved slowly engulfing him. This could have been a significant turn in the career of horror master, Gordon (Re-Animator), who is better known for his unsubtle attraction to B-movie-type gore. But, at this point, the film departs from the real-life event. It instead makes Bardo more of a traditional hero, desperately trying to save himself, actively working his way out of his predicament. Gordon falls prey to his own predilection for blood, basking in the gooey excess brought about by Bardo's attempts to escape. When we arrive at the film's climax, it's a full-out gore extravaganza, with the half-dead Bardo battling a crazed Boski in her garage, with another dead body nearby, while surrounded by flames. Stuck, a film that looked like his last best chance to transcend the genre-bound conventions he often employs, is not bad. It's just disappointing because of how much more it could have been. The film's title ironically addresses the state of director Gordon's once subversive and promising career. This entry first appeared on Blogcritics on 10/30/2008.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Movie Review: Breakfast with Scot - Gay-Themed Family Drama Beneftits from an Honest and Dynamic Approach

Now playing in Atlanta, Breakfast with Scot is an astute and appealing family drama that realistically depicts some of the challenges that face a gay male couple rearing a 12-year-old boy. Directed by Laurie Lynd (Queer as Folk), the film has been playing the festival circuit for awhile, and is notable for being the first gay-themed film to have the approval of the NHL, and more specifically, the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose name and logo are used in the film. It stars Tom Cavanagh (Ed) and Ben Shenkman (Angels in America) as Eric and Sam. Eric, a former hockey player for the Maple Leafs, is now a sportscaster who keeps his homosexuality in the closet. Sam, an attorney, is much more open about his sexuality. When an ex-girlfriend of Sam's flighty brother, Billy (Colin Cunningham), dies of a drug overdose, she leaves her son Scot (Noah Bernett) in his charge. But with Billy down in Brazil pursuing another in a long succession of get-rich-quick schemes, Sam and Eric decide to take the boy in until Billy returns. Scot turns out to be flamboyantly effeminate in his behavior. For Sam, who is comfortable with his sexuality, this is not as big of a problem as it is for Eric. Eric fears that even being seen with Scot will call attention to his homosexuality. Ostensibly, he thinks this may interfere with his ability to get into the locker room for interviews. But in reality, it is striking a nerve, as he has never fully dealt with his own identity as a gay man in what is considered to be a "macho" career. And then there's Scot. How can Eric be a role model to Scot, who is still learning to find his way through the onset of puberty, if he hasn't defined who he is to himself and the people around him? In the pivotal role of Eric, Cavanagh is excellent, walking the fine line between demanding surrogate dad, and sensitive role model to Scot. He can be infuriating when he disassociates himself from the boy for acting out in ways that highlight his own insecurities. When Eric runs into his boss at an ice rink while on an outing with Scot, the boss sees the boy twirling on his skates, and asks who that is -to the viewer, obviously impressed with the youngster's abilities. Eric acts as if he doesn't know the boy, mistakenly honing in on what he senses as his boss' disapproval. Eric can be sympathetic also, like when he admits to Sam that he just doesn't want Scot to go through the same kind of alienation he went through growing up. Director Lynd also balances some of the heartwarming feel he gives the movie with some stark realism. There are scenes, such as one where Scot makes pancakes for breakfast - shaped like a T - for the T missing from his name, that are so cute they border on cloying. But Lynd also shows the reality behind Scot's situation in a scene where he makes it perfectly clear to the viewer, his eavesdropping surrogate dads, and a young friend, that he is completely aware of how his mom died. Breakfast with Scot is a family drama that is both dynamic and honest, benefiting greatly from the depiction of a healthy gay couple, and the reality of the challenges they face raising a kid. Breakfast with Scot is in limited release. Still provided courtesy of Regent Releasing.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

DVD Roundup: Music Fans Have a New Film Outlet to Look to

The Weinstein Company’s Miriam Collection has quietly been carving out a niche market, putting out some films and documentaries aimed at music fans. A couple of months back they released a documentary (which first appeared on PBS on American Masters), Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, about the folk legend. Just recently I caught a few of their other noteworthy offerings. Lou Reed's Berlin is a concert film by director Julian Schnabel . It captures Reed as he performs his 1973 album, Berlin, live for the first time, backed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, at St. Ann’s Warehouse, in Brooklyn, New York, in 2006. The depressing album, a commercial failure in the U.S. during its initial release, has grown to be considered one of Reed’s best, if still least accessible. It tells the story of a couple on a downward drug-addled spiral. Schnabel shoots it as if Reed were one half of the couple, now older and performing a requiem for Caroline, its ill fated other half, occasionally superimposing grainy home-movie-like footage of actress Emmanuelle Seigner, whenever referring to the woman. If you’re a fan of Reed’s you’ll definitely be drawn in. But for those unfamiliar with his cutting songs, this may not be the best performance to introduce Reed by. However, the three additional songs he performs at the end of the film, not on the Berlin album, are pretty impressive. Starting with a truly showstopping performance of “Candy Says,” in which Antony of Antony and the Johnsons provides a heartbreaking backup vocal, then gliding into “Rock Minuet,” before ending with “Sweet Jane,” the DVD may be worth purchasing for those final 20-minutes alone. Control is the debut film by former rock photographer and video director Anton Corbijn. The biopic covers the last seven years in the tragic life of Ian Curtis, lead singer of the short-lived but influential Joy Division. The screenplay is based on his wife Deborah’s book Touching from a Distance, and depicts the singers epilepsy, his affair with Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), his estrangement from Deborah (Samantha Morton), and his eventual suicide which the film implies may have been due to depression caused by the huge amounts of prescriptions he had to take to quell his seizures. Newcomer Sam Riley remarkably revives the ghost of Curtis in his strong performance. Not only does he capture the external haunted blankness of the man, but he vividly gyrates about the stage in his concerts as the real-life Curtis was distinctly known to. And the actors perform all of the music themselves while still doing the original band justice. Control’s stark black and white cinematography, coupled with the tableau-like mise-en-scène, evokes the old photographs Corbijn himself took of the group in their brief heyday. The film may also be the first I accuse of being too accurate in its storytelling. It occasionally gives the sense of the players going through the motions with a dispassionate inevitability. This might be the point, though, as Corbijn recreates the same blank sterility that one feels in the aura of mystery surrounding Curtis, a talented man lost too soon. For a warmer look at the band, the documentary, Joy Division, makes for a great second-bill of a double feature. Director Grant Gee speaks to all of the surviving band members, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris, about many of the same anecdotes that appear in Control. There are live performances throughout, as well as an interview with Annik Honoré about the time she spent with the band and late singer, Curtis. Covering their time together from the early days, when they were known as Warsaw, to Curtis’ suicide on the eve of their first American tour, and their reformation as the group New Order, Joy Division fills in the blanks that Control leaves open. It is an electrifying assessment of a band whose time in the public eye was fleeting yet significant. Stills provided courtesy of Genius Products and The Weinstein Company.

Monday, October 20, 2008

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek - Speculation on What to Expect

I know, it's been awhile since my last post. Sorry, but it couldn't be helped. I had been fiercely ill all week, trying to prevent passing it on to my pregnant wife and our 2-year-old. Posts might start getting spotty from this point until the end of the year, because our baby is due within the next two weeks. But I'll post here as often as I can with some pretty interesting stuff. First up, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, due out May 8, 2009. There are some spoilers ahead, so be forewarned. Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek was sci-fi's hopeful beacon during its three season run in the turbulent late sixties. In the Watergate-era it became a hit in syndication, always hinging on the dynamic between the hotheaded maverick, Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and the cool, cerebral, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), both tempered and moderated by the thoughtful but decisive Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner). As someone who has been a Trekkie since close to the day he was born, I am happy that Abrams, the writer-producer behind Felicity, Alias, Lost, and now Fringe, is the producer and director behind the new Star Trek film. He did a somewhat credible and underrated job bringing Mission: Impossible III (2006) to the screen, steering it back to the grittier, duplicitous espionage tales of the original series, and away from the over-the-top action stylings of John Woo's M: I-2 (2000). With his TV writer's penchant for strong character moments, and his producer's knack for honing in on the spirit of whatever show he is working on, director Abrams might be the strong managerial hand needed to revitalize the long stagnating Trek franchise. The emergence of George Lucas' Star Wars, in the late seventies, transformed what we expected out of a science fiction epic from visionary to fantastic. No longer could Trek's morality tales hold the interest of young viewers, or even old. Trek would need to spice it up with modern visual effects, and more action to compete with Star Wars. While it managed to do that to some degree in the continuing movie adventures of Kirk and his crew, subsequent spinoffs (four of them) never quite captured the first one's rhythm, with each growing stiffer and more stately than its predecessor (Deep Space Nine is the exception, and probably the closest to the original Trek in spirit and tone). Even Abrams has admitted more of an affinity for Star Wars than Star Trek. But he brought in his M: I-3 writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, both well-versed in Trek lore, to reinvigorate the moribund franchise. Orci and Kurtzman also know how to renew excitement in sci-fi stories once thought to only appeal to only their cultish fans, as demonstrated in their script for the hit film Transformers (2007). In Trek's case, it means retaining its action-adventure spirit and its optimistic philosophy of our future, casting young actors that evoke the spirit of its original cast, and starting with their never-before-seen first adventure, thus giving a new audience a fresh look at a story that has always been saddled with an intimidating amount of continuity without jettisoning it completely. Like politicians eager to win new voters, but unwilling to scare off their base, there is enough here to have this flick fit in with the original's continuity, for long-time fans like myself. The film begins with this man, a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana), who lives in the Next Generation era where, last we left it, the Romulan Star Empire had started making peace offerings to our heroes' Federation. This rapprochement was, in no small part, due to Vulcan Ambassador Spock (still Nimoy), now in his hundreds, and his efforts to unite the two factions. Nero, presumably angry at the weakening of the usually hardline Romulans' lust for power, decides that the root of his empire's misfortune lies in the first human to ever defeat them, Captain Kirk. He decides the answer is to go back in time to destroy Kirk before he ever becomes the hero he is destined to be. While the famous Enterprise's appearance has yet to be revealed, one can see in the picture above that Abrams is following on his impulse to amp up the visual effects, with a look at the U.S.S. Kelvin, helmed by Captain Robau (Faran Tahir), where Kirk's father, George (Chris Hemsworth), supposedly serves. Here it is in battle, maybe trying to stave off one of Nero's attempts to eliminate James Kirk... before he is born? Once the elder Spock gets wind of Nero's plan, the only person he can look to for help, and trust to keep the timeline safe, is... young Spock (Zachary Quinto). But young Spock hasn't yet learned to control his emotional human half, as seen above in his violent outburst towards Cadet James T. Kirk. On an icy planet, Cadet Kirk (Chris Pine) bails out from a pod with the Enterprise's call letters emblazoned across it. Is this part of a training exercise? Reportedly, Spock and Kirk are brought into conflict because of Kirk's infamous resolution to the "Kobayashi Maru" exercise that measures a cadet's strength of character in a no-win situation. Kirk famously cheated his way to being the only cadet to ever win that situation, a decision that he would pay the price for many years later. Is Nero the unwitting catalyst that, paradoxically, may have initially brought the famous Enterprise crew together in the first place? Cadet Kirk with the rest of his future crew on the U.S.S. Enterprise. From left, Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Kirk, Scotty (Simon Pegg), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Kirk taking his familiar seat on the bridge of the Enterprise, with "Bones" at his side, Spock at his post, and Sulu at the helm. Notice the female officer wearing the familiar miniskirt of old. There will be cameos by some prominent actors as famous Trek characters. Spock's father, Ambassador Sarek is played by Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire), with Winona Ryder (Girl, Interrupted) playing his mother, Amanda Grayson. Kirk's mother, Winona, is played by Jennifer Morrison (House). The Chief of Starfleet Academy is played by Tyler Perry (The Family That Preys), and the Enterprise's previous captain, the doomed Christopher Pike, is played by Bruce Greenwood (I'm Not There). Abrams' film seems to look promising to the top brass at Paramount Pictures. The film was due out this Christmas, but was pushed back to the lucrative summer season where they expect it to bring in even more money at the box office, even against the Hugh Jackman X-Men spinoff, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which opens the same weekend. With the bleak economic and political landscape we currently face, and the dawning of perhaps a new era in political leadership, the visionary and hopeful future presented by Star Trek may just be timely enough to soar to new heights. More Star Trek coverage: First Look: J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Star Trek Week Begins Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 1 (1966-67) Movie Review: Star Trek (2009) Star Trek Podcast, Part 1 Star Trek Podcast, Part 2 I'd like to thank some of the sites that served as sources for this post, primarily, Ain't it Cool News,, UGO,, and Stills courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Take the Oscar Challenge

Dean Treadway of filmicability threw down the gauntlet. He challenged Movieman0283 at The Dancing Image, Sarah at Sarahnomics, T.S. at Screen Savour, Jose at The World's Best Films, and myself, to pick a "Best Picture" for each year that the Academy Awards have been around that we would have given the Oscar to instead. While film buffs like us are always arguing the relative inadequacies of the Academy's ultimate decisions, I have to say, this isn't as easy as it looks. Distilling one year's worth of films into one clearly defined "Best Picture" has been difficult for some years (1974), easy for others (1941), and in some cases, near impossible in an "Are-these-my-only-choices?" kind of way (1943). I generally selected films that I felt were influential, whether for good or for bad, moved the medium forward somehow, represented the time in which it was released, and may have been a significant work in the director's filmography. Truthfully, my biggest problem with the list is that it reflects where my deficiencies lie. Since I thought it only fair to list films I've actually seen, there are many types of films underrepresented in this list. I could stand to watch more Japanese, Indian, and foreign cinema in general. I am sadly lacking knowledge of some of the world's best directors' films, like Bergman, Fellini, Godard, Kurosawa, and Satyajit Ray. I should see more silents, or more films pre-1940, period. What I won't apologize for are any films I picked from 1967 on. I know this period well, and I can defend any of these... including Point Break (1991). I'm not going to tag anyone because of how enormous a task this proved to be for me. So read this, and share your thoughts, or create your own list, and I'll be happy to link to it here. 1927: Sunrise, dir. F. W. Murnau 1928: La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc), dir. Carl Theodor Dryer 1929: Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), dirs. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí 1930: All Quiet on the Western Front, dir. Lewis Milestone 1931: Frankenstein, dir. James Whale 1932: Scarface, dir. Howard Hawks 1933: Extáze (Ecstasy), dir. Gustav Machatý 1934: It Happened One Night, dir. Frank Capra 1935: The 39 Steps, dir. Alfred Hitchcock 1936: Modern Times, dir. Charles Chaplin 1937: La Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion), dir. Jean Renoir 1938: The Adventures of Robin Hood, dir. Michael Curtiz 1939: La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game), dir. Jean Renoir 1940: The Philadelphia Story, dir. George Cukor 1941: Citizen Kane, dir. Orson Welles 1942: Casablanca, dir. Michael Curtiz 1943: Shadow of a Doubt, dir. Alfred Hitchcock 1944: Double Indemnity, dir. Billy Wilder 1945: Roma, Città Aperta (Rome, Open City), dir. Roberto Rosselini 1946: It's a Wonderful Life, dir. Frank Capra 1947: Black Narcissus, dirs. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger 1948: Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thieves), dir. Vitttorio De Sica 1949: The Third Man, dir. Carol Reed 1950: Sunset Boulevard, dir. Billy Wilder 1951: A Streetcar Named Desire, dir. Elia Kazan 1952: Singin' in the Rain, dirs. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen 1953: Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear), dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot 1954: Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai), dir. Akira Kurosawa 1955: The Night of the Hunter, dir. Charles Laughton 1956: The Searchers, dir. John Ford 1957: Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal), dir. Ingmar Bergman 1958: Touch of Evil, dir. Orson Welles 1959: Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows), dir. François Truffaut 1960: Psycho, dir. Alfred Hitchcock 1961: Plein Soleil (Purple Noon), dir. René Clément 1962: Lawrence of Arabia, dir. David Lean 1963: 8 1/2, dir. Federico Fellini 1964: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, dir. Stanley Kubrick 1965: Per Qualche Dollaro in Più (For a Few Dollars More), dir. Sergio Leone 1966: Blowup, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni 1967: Point Blank, dir. John Boorman 1968: 2001 : A Space Odyssey, dir. Stanley Kubrick 1969: Easy Rider, dir. Dennis Hopper 1970: Il Conformista (The Conformist), dir. Bernardo Bertolucci 1971: McCabe and Mrs. Miller, dir. Robert Altman 1972: The Godfather, dir. Francis Ford Coppola 1973: The Exorcist, dir. William Friedkin 1974: The Godfather Part II, dir. Francis Ford Coppola 1975: Barry Lyndon, dir. Stanley Kubrick 1976: Taxi Driver, dir. Martin Scorsese 1977: Star Wars, dir. George Lucas 1978: Days of Heaven, dir. Terrence Malick 1979: Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola 1980: Raging Bull, dir. Martin Scorsese 1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark, dir. Steven Spielberg 1982: Blade Runner, dir. Ridley Scott 1983: The Right Stuff, dir. Philip Kaufman 1984: Once Upon a Time in America, dir. Sergio Leone 1985: Brazil, dir. Terry Gilliam 1986: Blue Velvet, dir. David Lynch 1987: Fatal Attraction, dir. Adrian Lyne 1988: Spoorloos (The Vanishing), dir. George Sluizer 1989: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, dir. Peter Greenaway 1990: Henry & June, dir. Phillip Kaufman 1991: Point Break, dir. Kathryn Bigelow 1992: Malcolm X, dir. Spike Lee 1993: Carlito's Way, dir. Brian De Palma 1994: The Shawshank Redemption, dir. Frank Darabont 1995: Heat, dir. Michael Mann 1996: The Long Kiss Goodnight, dir. Renny Harlin 1997: The Ice Storm, dir. Ang Lee 1998: Out of Sight, dir. Steven Soderbergh 1999: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, dir. Jim Jarmusch 2000: Unbreakable, dir. M. Night Shyamalan 2001: The Royal Tenenbaums, dir. Wes Anderson 2002: Hable con Ella (Talk to Her), dir. Pedro Almodóvar 2003: Swimming Pool, dir. François Ozon 2004: I ♥ Huckabees, dir. David O. Russell 2005: Munich, Steven Spielberg 2006: Children of Men, dir. Alfonso Cuarón 2007: There Will Be Blood, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Monday, October 13, 2008

Director Steven Soderbergh on Che, Part 2

In Part 1 of this discussion, Steven Soderbergh spoke of the logistics of making and presenting his latest film, Che, starring Benicio Del Toro as revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The full question and answer session covered a lot of ground. Here in Part 2, we conclude the discussion, as he gives us his take on the real-life Che and his ideology. On Soderbergh's impression of Che before he took on this project: "I think like most people in this country, I first heard Che’s name in history class at school, when you would get that sort of quick sketch of the history of Cuba. One of the great things about having this job is that, more often than not, I get paid to educate myself. A lot of the details of the Cuban Revolution, obviously, were not known to me. I thought that it was basically all Fidel. I didn’t know anything about these other groups that were trying to do the same thing. "My idea of Che was from those images of him, near the very end of the Cuban Revolution, with the beret and this cast on his arm. I had no idea about this transformation from being the medic to becoming a leader. I think the thing that I learned about him that was interesting to me was what a hard-ass he was. Talking to the people that fought alongside him, one of the doctors that he fought with also had a great quote. He said, 'You had to love him for free.' He just described how uncompromising he was. Most people wanted to be in Camilo [Cienfuegos]’s column, because he was fun. Che was just a very, very strict disciplinarian, and there was no moment where he sort of dropped the ideology, even in a certain personal one-on-one situation. A lot of people found him sort of cold and distant. So Benicio and I talked about that, a lot. That he really only reserved the warmer side of his personality for when he was in the doctor mode. When he was in the sort of leader-comandante mode, he was really, really harsh. I can understand why. The stakes are pretty high." On research regarding Che: "If you’ve read about Che at all, if you go to the bookstore, there’s an entire wall of Che material. There’s a lot to go through. We tried to get through all of it. We spoke to everyone who’s still around, and willing to talk, that fought with him, and knew him. And research can be… I think J.G. Ballard once said, 'Research is the refuge of the unimaginative.' There were times when I thought he was absolutely right. We were just overwhelmed with information. "As Jon Lee Anderson [author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life], who was one of our consultants, said at the press conference in Cannes, 'Look, there’s a billion Ches. He means something different to everyone.' And at a certain point, we, the core creative team, just had to decide what to use and what not to use. Frankly, a lot of it was by exclusion. I went in with more of an idea of what I didn’t want to do than what I wanted to do. At least that’s a start. I mean, you can begin to shape it a little bit. "I was trying as much as I could to avoid scenes that I thought were too typical. I didn’t want to have the scene where somebody says, 'Hey, why do they call you Che?' Or, you know, him in battle and his hat blows off, and he runs over and picks up a beret. I didn’t want to do that, so that helped, too. "We’d find these crazy little stories. One of our favorites we found very late in one of the memoirs written by the Acevedo brother, who we see at the end of the film driving the car to Havana. Che stops him and says, 'Turn around.' We found that story very late in the process. It’s such a perfect Che scene, a perfect expression of who he was, so I was always on the lookout for scenes like that." On Che as a political film: "I believe that any movie that accurately presents anyone’s life, or any situation; any movie that’s not a fantasy; that isn’t just a pure entertainment; any movie that makes an attempt to show things the way they are, is to me, by definition, a political film. Whether you’ve made a cop movie or whether it’s Erin Brockovich, any movie that attempts to look at things in a straightforward fashion, and not polish it up, I think you could argue, is a political film. Obviously, these are political films, in the sense that there’s an ideology that’s being expressed. But that isn’t what drew me to it, ultimately. "I’m obviously not a communist. As I said to someone a couple of weeks ago, there isn’t even a place for me in the society that Che was trying to build, literally. In Man and Socialism in Cuba [sic], he says, 'There is no great artist who is also a true revolutionary.' He didn’t have a lot of use for the kind of stuff that I do, and I think personally, he probably would have hated me. But again, I can still look at him, and find him one of the most compelling political figures of the last century. I do think the ideas are fascinating to debate, and to look at in the context of the world we live in now. "One of the things that was interesting to me about the Cuban Revolution is that is the last time you’re ever going to see a revolution like that, fought. That’s what I call the last 'analog' revolution. Today, that would have been over in two weeks. Technology just makes it impossible to fight a revolution the way they did, as we see even seven or eight years later. That doesn’t mean revolutions don’t happen. I’m just saying I don’t think they’re ever going to happen that way again. That was kind of interesting, to make a period film about a type of war that can’t really be fought anymore." On Cuba today: "As far as what’s going on in Cuba now, I think that the relations between [our] two countries… I don’t think we’ve been very smart in how we’ve played this. I think there are other moves that could have been made, on our part, to make a dialogue more inevitable. I’m still stunned that this embargo is still going on. It’s just shocking. It doesn’t seem to make much sense. It’s my personal belief that if you wanted the embargo to end, and you wanted to see some change there, you should flood them… There’s nothing like exposure to new ideas to get people thinking about new ideas. So in fact, our policy is the opposite of what I would be doing." On Che's ideology: "I don’t think the economic policy that flows from Marxist-Leninist doctrine works. I don’t think it works. That’s a core principle of his belief system... I don’t think you can build an economy that’s going to function when you base it on this ideology. It’s an ideology that worked in a very specific place, in a very specific time, in an industrialized situation. Mostly it works on paper because as soon as you start adding human beings to it, it falls apart. Do I support his ideas when a system is in place in which profit is only possible through the exploitation of the weak and the poor? I’d say, yeah, I want to see that eradicated. But his methodology, and his economic belief system, I don’t think work." Click here for Part 1 of Soderbergh's discussion. Still provided courtesy of Getty Images.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Movie Review: The Wrestler - An Ode to Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke triumphantly returns to the screen in the best role he's played since... Marv in Sin City (2005)? Well, that wasn't so long ago. Yet it seems that every time Rourke continues to impress us with a tour-de-force performance, as he does in Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, he is hailed as the "Comeback Kid," when in fact, he's never gone anywhere. One look at his filmography confirms this, as he has had at least one film, if not more, released every year since his debut in 1979, except for the years 1993 and 2007. True, they frequently aren't movies you would see in the year-end top ten lists. But like Marlon Brando, the quirky and mumbling Rourke is a performer that never fails to fascinate in any number of variations on the tough guy persona he usually imbues with the soul of a child. In The Wrestler, he plays fading superstar Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a veteran of the sport that though filled with showboat antics, may actually be more punishing than similar gladiatorial displays out there. Robinson moves through his humble life, struggling to collect his cut of the gate; having trouble making ends meet; and deluding himself into thinking he is actually connecting with a stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), which he frequents. Oblivious to the destructive toll the matches take on his aging body, it is only after a particularly brutal rematch with the Ayatollah (Ernest Miller) that he gets a warning sign. Suffering a major heart attack, he is forced to retire, and it is then that we see what few prospects Robinson has. He lives alone in a trailer park. He has no family save for his now grown daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), who won't talk to him. Is it only a matter of time before he has to risk returning to the ring? Aronofsky's skill as a storyteller continues to grow. Gone is the film-school vibe of his first film, π (1998). The visual gimmickry of his overrated Requiem for a Dream (2000) is harnessed to better use here, as in one scene where he crosscuts between Robinson as he prepares for a match, and Cassidy psyching herself up for her next dance. Both self-destructively chase down the money no matter what the physical or psychological cost to each. The Wrestler expands on the promise the director displayed in the misunderstood The Fountain (2006). Like in that film, Robinson risks all to sustain the connection to someone he loves, despite the inevitability of his self-destruction in doing so. But here the emotional core is not lost in the sci-fi pyrotechnics of the earlier film. The Wrestler is a variation on the film noir subgenre, the fight movie, which only serves to underscore the parallels between Robinson and Rourke. A rising star in the eighties, Rourke's bad decisions, like interrupting his career to venture into the world of boxing, interrupted his ascent. Noxious behavior in his personal life, which included arrests for spousal abuse, and a DUI further illustrate his penchant for masochism. His newfound vigor in returning to acting is evident in his portrayal of Robinson's climactic attempt to recapture the glory he once garnered in the ring. Rourke's iconic performance is both powerful and touching. Like Brando, who was always ill at ease with his handsome looks, Rourke has shown signs of the same. The onetime pretty boy now has a face scarred by reconstructive surgeries after the beatings inflicted in boxing. And Robinson's bloodied visage evokes previous roles in which Rourke has taken safe harbor, away from his looks, like Marv in Sin City, or John Sedley in Johnny Handsome (1989). These ugly bruisers both hid a secret child-like soul, the same way Robinson does. In one scene, Robinson's loneliness prompts him to step outside his trailer home, and invite a neighbor kid to play a wrestling game on an outdated Nintendo. When the child loses and politely decides to leave, Robinson is embarrassed that not even a rematch can entice the boy to stay. The Wrestler should go down as one of this actor's landmark roles, but don't call it a comeback. He's always been around, even if we haven't always been looking. Darren Aronofsky will discuss The Wrestler at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, October 11th, at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, located on the tenth floor of the Samuel B. and David Rose Building, 70 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, New York, 10023; $16 The Wrestler is the Closing Night film at the 46th New York Film Festival, and is playing at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, October 12th, at the Avery Fisher Hall, 70 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, New York, 10023; $40 This entry first appeared on Blogcritics on 10/9/2008. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight / Wild Bunch / Film Society of Lincoln Center

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Director Steven Soderbergh on Che, Part 1

After the recent press screening for Che, starring Benicio Del Toro as revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, director Steven Soderbergh gave a captivating discussion of the film. This was no easy feat given that we had started seeing the film at 10 a.m. and hadn't finished it until about 3 p.m. with only one 20-minute break for lunch. His discussion was so interesting, I've left most of it intact. Today, I present Part 1 in which he discusses the logistics of making and presenting the film. On what interested Soderbergh about the story of Che: "The making of this film was so extended. We started talking about it when we were working on Traffic… Producer Laura Bickford, Benicio and I started talking about it. That’s eight years ago. And what I found… why you said yes... That reason changes… during the course of the film. "It really wasn’t until the films were finished… around the time of Cannes, that I realized what they were really about to me, or what they really meant to me, was this issue of engagement versus disengagement. That every day in our lives, on a personal level, on a community level, on a local level, we are making a decision about how engaged we want to be, or how disengaged we want to be. Do we want to participate, or do we want to observe? I realized that what was compelling about Che to me was once he made the decision to engage, that he engaged fully... You have to remember he also was an atheist. A lot of times when you have figures that can sustain this sort of level of engagement, they attribute it to a higher power, or there’s some other element that they can call upon. He didn’t have that, or at least he expressed it in terms of only being concerned with what people are doing to each other here." On financing Che: "All I can say is I’m glad I’m not looking for money right now. It was complicated, but we knew it would be. I mean look at it. It took a couple of people sticking it out for a long time, and just believing in the ultimate commercial viability of the brand of Che. That’s the weird paradox about this guy. "Here is the icon of Marxist-Leninist economic ideology, and you stick his face on anything and it sells. It’s a very weird situation. And I believed if we could just get this thing made, that ultimately it would find enough of an audience to get its money back. The amount of money we had dictated a pretty strict shooting schedule. "We had 39 days for each part. To put that into context of something else that I’ve made, that’s fewer days than it took me to shoot the first Ocean’s film. So we had to move very, very quickly. There are aspects of that I really think are great. And there are aspects of it that are difficult to accept. But we didn’t have any choice. "Wild Bunch, which is a French sales and production company, and Telecinco, which is a very large Spanish television and film production company, both came in. Wild Bunch has been there since the beginning, and Telecinco came in a couple of years ago." On the logistics of shooting Che: "We had a ten day gap between the two shoots. We shot part two first, and we shot it backwards, so it was confusing. As far as casting goes, look, I was trying to stack that thing with as many well known people as I could. I put a lot of calls out. I think a lot of people see the movie, and don’t even know it’s Matt [Damon, as the American missionary]. I wasn’t really worried that it would pull them out of the film, because they were supporting characters. They didn’t carry the film on their shoulders. I was absolutely looking to cast it up. I had to. "Unfortunately, as an American, I’m not allowed to shoot in Cuba. We made many trips there that were licensed through the state department. So at least we got a look at where events actually took place. Bolivia, we were able to shoot in. Part one was shot in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and New York, obviously. Part two was Bolivia and Spain. We shot all over Spain in some very remote areas. As it turned out we had somebody working on the film who grew up in La Higuera [the Bolivian town where Che was executed]. We built that La Higuera set in the top of this mountain in the middle of nowhere. When he came to the set he was stunned. He said, 'It’s exactly where I remember growing up.' Our production designer, Antxón Gómez, did a really great job." On the aesthetic differences between the first part, The Argentine, and the second part, Guerilla: "I was trying to find a very simple way to create a different sensation for each part. The wider frame, what I consider to be a more 'Hollywood' format, I felt was more appropriate for the Cuban Revolution because it really had the trajectory of the classic Hollywood war film. 82 guys start out. Then they’re down to 12. It looks like they’re not going to make it, but they do. Everything that needs to go right goes right. They get all the breaks, and I obviously wanted it to have more of a traditional Hollywood aesthetic, including the music and the cutting. "In the second film, I want it to feel less settled where you felt that the outcome was not clear, even from the beginning. So I use the 1:85 frame which is a little less wide, and went all handheld. Gradually through the second part, the camera finally starts to get closer to him, until he’s in the schoolroom, and we end with the biggest shot of him in the film, which is the last time we see him. It seemed to me a very simple way of sending a different message to the audience about what each part was going to feel like." On the English dialogue voice-over used over Del Toro's Spanish dialogue in the New York sequence: "It seemed organic to me, because we used the actor who was his interpreter following him around in New York. It seemed appropriate to use that idea to continue hearing this guy translate Che. More importantly, there are sequences in which he is speaking, in which I do not want an English speaking audience to be reading. I want them to be able to watch the images, and hear the words, without having to read, especially during, for instance, the Battle of El Uvero, where he does the Tolstoy quote. I’ve seen the film with English subtitles. You cannot watch both things at the same time. You just can’t. That’s the reason I did it. I felt by bringing in his New York interpreter at least it was in line with this conceit of the interview, or the idea of this series of interviews that Che is doing throughout his New York trip." On Che's time in Africa, which is not covered in the film: "If this film makes a $100 million, I’ll make the third one [tongue-in-cheek]. We talked about it. The story of Che in the Congo is absolutely fascinating. We actually sort of sketched an idea for a very small film that would take place in the Congo, and in Prague, where he went after fighting in the Congo, to lick his wounds, and write a very self-critical book on what happened in the Congo. The answer is that we didn’t have enough money to do that. Also, it’s a fascinating chapter, but it didn’t really fall into the kind of bookend idea that we ended up with. "When the film was first being developed, it was only about Bolivia. And it was a little more than halfway through the process of working on that, that we decided Bolivia doesn’t really make a lot of sense unless you’ve seen Cuba. Because you keep wondering, why doesn’t he quit? It’s going so badly. You have to see what happened in Cuba to understand why he still thought they were going to pull this off. "So it grew from one manageable film into one giant film. Overseas it’s going to be split in half. So we just couldn’t fit that in. We read all that material, and in fact, there was a quote from one of the African rebels that fought with Che, Victor Dreke, which was fantastic. He said, 'Che would rather face a bullet than reality.' And that’s a perfect description of him I think." On the 268-minute roadshow version vs. two films: 'Here’s our plan, currently. Whenever the movie enters a specific market, New York, L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, that for one week, on one screen, you can see it like you just saw it. There will be a specially printed program with the credits for both films. We’re referring to that as the roadshow version, the way they used to do in the fifties and sixties. "Yeah, sure, I think that’s the ideal way to see it. It’s a lot to ask of someone to throw away an entire day. I guess my only argument is, cinematically, we’re making a demand on the audience that’s very similar to the demands that Che made on the people around him [tongue-in-cheek]. It’s a big commitment, and it requires a certain kind of personality to want to experience it like that. It was certainly designed that way, so that you could get the full effect of the kind of call and response between the two parts." [Update]: Part 2 of Soderbergh's discussion has been posted. Still provided courtesy of Brooklyn Bridge.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Movie Review: Che - Soderbergh's Take on Guevara Is Surprisingly Even-Handed

by Tony Dayoub

In the 8 days since I saw Che, my already high estimation at the sheer audacity of its director, Steven Soderbergh, has only grown. To take such a polarizing leftist figure, and dedicate over 4 hours of Spanish language film to him, despite its audience being primarily made up of a populace that is slightly right of center, is courageous enough. But to do it in such a way that experiments with traditional narrative structure, as he does in Che is bold and not just a little quixotic given the state of cinema today. The version premiering at the New York Film Festival tonight is the “roadshow” version. That is to say, it’s a 268-minute version with a 30 minute intermission between the two parts that make up the film, The Argentine, and Guerilla.

The first part, The Argentine, follows Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Benicio Del Toro), the famous Argentinean Marxist, as he rises up the ranks of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary army in Cuba to eventually lead his own column of troops. The film climaxes with the decisive Battle of Santa Clara, which Che’s troops won, and led to the flight of Cuba’s president, Fulgencio Batista, in January 1959. This portion of the film is told in color, with black-and-white flash-forwards to Che’s December 1964 visit to the United Nations framing the central story.

The Argentine is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with smooth Steadicam tracking shots. If you pair that with the heroic depiction of Guevara and the Cuban revolutionary cause, the film comes off as a very traditional Hollywood war epic. As a viewer, you are placed in the position of rooting for Che, and if you were to only see this part of the film, an objective viewer could find it to be biased on the side of Guevara’s legendary status as a countercultural hero.

Soderbergh paints a quite admirable picture of Che as a political leader and warrior. Guevara, a doctor by profession, is at the fore when it comes to bringing basic healthcare to the poor guajiros living in Cuba’s rural areas. He is dedicated in his pursuit of deserting soldiers who steal and rape in the name of Fidel’s revolution.

The second part, Guerilla, is a very different experience from the first. It follows Guevara in his abortive attempt to foment revolution in Bolivia in 1967. Where the first part has a mainstream flavor, a la Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Guerilla has a more circumspect and abstract view towards Che and his cause. Guerilla is shot mostly with handheld, grainy Super 16mm. Alberto Iglesias’s melodic inspirational music of the first part gives way to a darker minimalist tonal score for the second part. Tonally, it has more in common with the subjective nightmare depicted in Apocalypse Now (1979), where the greater objective of the mission is sacrificed to the basic directive of simply surviving.

Guevara is rarely shown to speak, and in fact, the viewer spends less time with him than looking at him through the eyes of his comrades. Hoping to duplicate his success in Cuba, he tries following the same rulebook in his warfare. But infighting and disloyalty within his ranks, and from the local leader of Bolivia’s Communist Party, Mario Monje (Lou Diamond Phillips), contribute to the breakdown of his organization. Where in The Argentine, Che’s well-reported asthmatic condition is treated as an interesting oddity in the leader, in Guerilla its continued resurgence throughout his campaign is a metaphor for the wheezing implosion of his cause.

Midway through Che, I, a first-generation Cuban American, was disappointed that so much of Guevara’s darker aspects had been ignored. While I believe the Cuban Right is too quick to ascribe villainous qualities to what I think was simply a misguided idealist, I am constantly disappointed to see Che Guevara idolized by the entire world despite some of the atrocities he committed in the name of the Cuban revolution. I was fearful that Soderbergh would present the same heroic perspective on Guevara that previous stories have. The film 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 part of the film, 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 Del Toro is terrific in the part.

Seeing the film’s two parts presented together helps the film attain what Soderbergh refers to, in the succeeding press conference, as a "call and response" quality. Che's persistence in the lost cause of the Bolivian revolution is rationalized by his near-impossible success in the Cuban revolution. Filmically, to show the "darker" Che and his executions of dissidents, homosexuals, etc. would have been to tip one's hand storywise as to the downward stubborn, and isolated, spiral Che travels on in Guerilla. Besides, like in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), there are enough references to the darker side of this "hero" to present what I thought was a balanced picture. Indeed, there are multiple references to the executions at La Cabaña after the Castro’s victory, primarily in scenes depicting protesters during his UN visit. And his famous homophobia is also referred to, when he calls a deserter no better than a maricón, (the English equivalent would be the expletive, faggot).

But I have to disagree with Soderbergh on this format for presenting the film. I think the film plays better, as two films not one. The films are so stylistically distinct from each other, one classic, the other more formal, and have very few characters that carry over from each other for more than a few minutes. Maybe with their recent rerelease it's all The Godfather (1972) films on my mind of late, but The Argentine reminds me of Coppola's first part, building up Che the "hero", with Guerilla reminding me of Coppola's second part, tearing Che down to some extent, while also serving to deepen the experience and story of the previous part.

Soderbergh hopes to release the film in each major market in its entirety for at least a week, before breaking it up into the two separate films, The Argentine and Guerilla, to be released in January and March, respectively. I don't have enough confidence in the average moviegoer to expect them to commit to a 4-hour presentation. Like in the two parts of The Godfather, what I saw was a very commercial first half, and a very "arthouse" second half. As edited, I feel there is a structural problem with making it one film. The first half has a "call and response" of its own with the UN framing sequence. That is one editorial decision that is not stylistically duplicated in the second half. Are there any other long-form films out there with a similar conundrum that I'm forgetting?

I like the long-form, don't get me wrong, and wish Che could be shown that way. But the reality is that I think it will reach a greater audience the other way. And besides both films being bold and exemplary of Soderbergh's abilities, I think The Argentine could have a real shot at success if marketed correctly, which might lead to interest in the more difficult Guerilla.

Che is playing at the 46th New York Film Festival, at 6:00 p.m. tonight only, at the Ziegfeld Theatre, 141 West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019, (212) 307-1862

This screening will include a 30-minute intermission.

Photo Credit: IFC Films / Wild Bunch / Film Society of Lincoln Center

Monday, October 6, 2008

Movie Review: Hounddog - Flawed Film a Tough Sell for Fans of Fanning

Hounddog is Deborah Kampmeier's controversial film starring Dakota Fanning. Set in fifties-era Alabama, the story follows Fanning as precocious young Lewellen as she tries to rise above her bleak family life through Elvis Presley's music. She lives in a rundown house with her Daddy (David Morse), an alcoholic who is by turns loving and abusive. Her mom passed away some time back. Living just down the way, her maternal grandmother, Grammie (Piper Laurie) is protective and means well, but is religious and a strict disciplinarian to the extreme. Occasionally, Lewellen finds a kindred spirit in a wounded woman (Robin Wright Penn) who spends time with her dad. But the mysterious woman is never around long enough for Lewellen to connect. Her only stable connection is to a neighbor's caretaker, Charles (Afemo Omilami), who tries to foster the child's nascent talent for singing by introducing her to the blues. The controversy arises out of one central scene late in the movie. Hearing of Elvis' upcoming concert in town, Lewellen and her friend, Buddy, try desperately to gather enough money to go. But the price she pays ends up being a tragic one. The young girl is dared to perform an Elvis song for an older boy who promised to pay money for her performance, but subsequently rapes her instead. Kampmeier (Virgin) seems to be sincere in depicting the cycle of abuse that Lewellen is subject to, whether physical from her dad, psychological from Grammie, or sexual from this teenager. But the film's uneven tone often trivializes the emotional devastation. The movie is shot in such a way that one doesn't know whether we are supposed to feel a certain nostalgic affinity for the old South, or horror at the conditions Lewellen lives in. At times, it seems to be trying to echo the classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) in its depiction of an young girl's loss of innocence in a Gothic Southern locale. This is no Mockingbird, though. The inverted archetypes are often presented in a ham-fisted way. One example is Charles's assertion that the snake is a dangerous animal that can be exploited for positive use in remedies. This ties into Charles' African American identity. Rather than conforming to the racist views of blacks prevalent in Jim Crow South, Charles is a kind, nurturing man who seems more educated than the whites that surround him, both in the secrets of medicine and the human soul. This overreliance on Charles' mystique has the opposite effect of what I believe the director's intent was. It reduces Charles to a two dimensional figure akin to Yoda rather than a fully-formed human being. There are similar stereotypes throughout the film. Morse's abusive Daddy is reduced to a Lennie-like slow-witted hulk after being struck by lightning(!?). Laurie's Grammie recalls the zealot she portrayed in Carrie (1976), albeit a much milder version. The mysterious woman played by Penn is a cipher, hollow on paper with only the emotional complexity that an actress like Penn brings to the role. A sure sign of the lazy writing is the lack of an attempt to even name these characters. One could argue that they represent archetypes. But it really just smacks of trite cliches. Dakota Fanning's performance is excellent. She is engaging, and sympathetic in what is her first mature role. The now teenage Fanning may have been attracted to the character by her desire to expand her career opportunities. But I suspect that viewers will find it difficult to see their favorite child performer in such harrowing circumstances. Jodie Foster had some success transcending her child actress persona by playing an underage prostitute in Taxi Driver, but she was only a featured performer, not the star. This let viewers off the hook from feeling like voyeurs to an inherently lurid spectacle. And truthfully, even Foster had to drop out of the limelight for awhile to reset viewer's perceptions of her. Hounddog would be a tough sell under normal circumstances, but it's an even tougher one given its many flaws. Hounddog is currently in limited release and will be in theaters across the country on October 10th. Still provided courtesy of Empire Film Group.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Movie Review: Changeling - Good Performances Elevate Eastwood's Latest Film

If I hadn’t been made aware before I saw Clint Eastwood’s Changeling that it was based on a true story, I would have thought it was another fantasy from the fertile imagination of screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5). The unlikely story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie), and her search for her missing son, is packed with real-life reversals that are truly stranger than fiction. Jolie’s typically fine performance grounds the story as much as anything can. But the film loses its focus as the plot twists pile up. Much of the reason for that lies in the propensity for multiple climaxes in Eastwood’s films. Straczynski conceived the screenplay after months of research into this little-known L.A. crime story. Collins reported her son Walter missing to the L.A. police hours after his disappearance. The overworked and corrupt L.A.P.D. didn’t act until after the customary first 24 hours. After frustrating weeks of searching, they find the boy, reuniting mother and son, except… the boy is not her son. Pleading to the cops about the mistake, police captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) denies any error. The last thing the embattled police force needs is another instance of bad publicity. So he tries to convince Mrs. Collins she simply doesn’t recognize her son after the ordeal he’s gone through. She goes to the press armed with proof of the boy’s mistaken identity, leading Capt. Jones to have her secretly committed to a psychopathic ward, promptly silencing her accusations. Eastwood directs the entire cast to fine performances. Jolie is sympathetic as the put-upon Mrs. Collins, but appropriately stubborn in pursuing the truth about her missing son. Half-convinced that she might not be recognizing the boy as her son, she displays equal parts horror and anger at the impostor’s deception when she discovers him to be circumcised after the boy slips in the bathtub and calls out to her. Also strong is Michael Kelly (Broken English) as the honest Detective Ybarra, who indefatigably searches for Walter, and other missing boys who are linked to a dust-bowl farm in the California desert. He brings a noirish touch to the character befitting its period L.A. setting. Jason Butler Harner (The Good Shepherd) is a mixture of twitchy politeness and soulless perversion as the accused serial killer, Gordon Northcott, who may be the sociopath responsible for Walter’s disappearance. John Malkovich as Gustav Briegleb, a reverend who allies himself with Mrs. Collins, Colm Feore (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) as the Police Chief James E. Davis, and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) as Mrs. Collins’s fellow hospital patient, Carol Dexter, round out the cast. The film starts running into trouble when the subplots and story reversals start to overwhelm the central story of Walter’s disappearance. For instance, Mrs. Collins’s incarceration and the pre-feminist ramifications connected to it take center stage for a long time. She discovers that other women who have inconveniently spoken out against the police have also been confined to her ward under a provision called Code 12. Then, for a time, the film becomes a neo-noir like tale of a black-hearted man forcing a boy to be an accomplice in child murders, in scenes that are evocative of Ulu Grosbard’s True Confessions. Then it’s a courtroom drama, when the police are finally forced to confront their follies. Like in other films by Eastwood, the climax becomes a bit messy. Mystic River comes to mind, where once vigilante justice had been carried out on what may have been the wrong criminal, the film takes an additional 20 to 30 minutes to wrap up. In Changeling, each subplot is allowed to build so grandly, that when they arrive to their respective dramatic payoffs it has a strange effect. That is, each successive climax eclipses the previous one, so that the end of the film starts feeling interminable. Every time you start getting up from your seat, you realize you’re anticipating the finale before it’s arrived. This has the effect of elevating each subplot melodramatically, undercutting the power of the central storyline of a boy’s disappearance. Ultimately, I was disappointed with Eastwood’s melodramatic presentation of a story that is sensational unto itself. Changeling is worth a look for its performances, but it is a deeply flawed film. Changeling is the Centerpiece of the 46th New York Film Festival, and is playing at 9:15 p.m. tonight, and 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, at the Ziegfeld Theatre, 141 West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019, (212) 307-1862 Photo Credit: Tony Rivetti Jr., Property of Universal Studios / Film Society of Lincoln Center

NYFF Day 7 thru 10: Notes on Lola Montès and Ashes of Time Redux

Well, I'm back from New York, but that doesn't mean Cinema Viewfinder is. We've still got lots of coverage to take us through the end of the festival, including reviews of two incredible films, Che and The Wrestler. I also have some Q & A's with director Steven Soderbergh, and Mickey Rourke coming your way. And I'll try to keep up with the Film Festival schedule, highlighting special events when appropriate. Director Wong Kar Wai is in town to discuss Ashes of Time Redux. I caught the screening and it's a nice version of the film. But honestly, I was a bit under the weather when I saw it, and don't feel like I can give it a proper critique. So I still recommend you catch it. Apparently it's only screening twice today (times are below). Then go listen to the always very cool Wong at the HBO Films Dialogues discussion tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. For my part, I promise to have a review up soon, when it opens nationwide. This weekend brings the start of the 12th Annual Views from the Avant-Garde series, which actually started last night, and continues through tomorrow. This morning, at 11:15 a.m. is the Spotlight Retrospective of Max Ophuls's Lola Montès (1955), starring Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook, and Oskar Werner. The new restoration is a sight to behold. For more information, here's a link. And tonight is the first screening of the festival Centerpiece, Clint Eastwood's Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie. My review is posted above. Despite my problems with it, it's worth your time. Below is a schedule of this weekend's festival events. More information can be found at the festival's web site. EVENT TITLES NYFF – Festival main slate film VAG – Views from the Avant-Garde SE – Festival special event SCREENING LOCATIONS ZT – Ziegfeld Theatre, 54th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues 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 Saturday, Oct 4 11:15am Lola Montès (NYFF/ZT) 12:00 The Warmth of the Sun (VAG/WRT) 2:30 Night and Day (NYFF/ZT) 3:30 Andrew Noren (VAG/WRT) 6:15 Ashes of Time Redux, with Dust (NYFF/ZT) 6:30 Nathaniel Dorsky (VAG/WRT) 8:45 Bruce Conner tribute (VAG/WRT) 9:15 CENTERPIECE: Changeling, with Wait For Me, (NYFF/ZT) midnight Ashes of Time Redux, with Dust (NYFF/WRT) Sunday, Oct. 5 11:15am CENTERPIECE: Changeling, with Wait For Me (NYFF/ZT) 12:00 Time of the Signs (VAG/WRT) 3:00 Four Nights with Anna, with Pal Secam (NYFF/ZT) 3:00 Craig Baldwin (VAG/WRT) 4:00 HBO FILMS DIALOGUES: Wong Kar-wai (SE/KP) 6:00 The Windmill Movie, with Quarry (NYFF/ZT) 6:00 still wave (VAG/WRT) 9:00 Gomorrah (NYFF/ZT) 9:00 James Benning (VAG/WRT) Lola Montès Photo Credit: Rialto Pictures / Film Society of Lincoln Center Ashes of Time Redux Photo Credit: Lau Wai Keung and Chan Yuen Kai © 1994, 2008 Block 2 Pictures Inc., Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics / Film Society of Lincoln Center

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

NYFF Day 6 - Notes on The Wrestler and Waltz with Bashir

Yeah, that's Mickey Rourke up top, looking every inch the battered and beaten has-been many had written him off as. Except his fantastic performance in Darren Aronofsky' s The Wrestler, which I caught today should change all that. There is a survivor's spirit within Rourke that Aronofsky taps into which is perfectly in line with other such performances he's given in his career, whether before the abuse he received during his sojourn into boxing - as in Johnny Handsome (1989) - or after - as in Sin City (2005). Don't have time to get much deeper than this, but consider it a preview to my full post on the film, and perhaps a separate post regarding some really interesting comments he made after the screening. I'll have those up next week, when The Wrestler closes the festival. Playing tonight and tomorrow is Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir, an imaginative and unique take on the documentary. It has real-life interviews dramatically presented in an animated format that recreates the subjective experience of the 1982 war in Lebanon as seen by Folman, and other fellow soldiers. I didn't have the time for a complete review today. One is definitely forthcoming. This film is very important in many ways and should definitely be experienced on the big screen. Below is a schedule of the events for today and tomorrow. More information can be found at the festival's web site. EVENT TITLES NYFF – Festival main slate film OSH – NYFF Sidebar: In the Realm of Oshima SCREENING LOCATIONS ZT – Ziegfeld Theatre, 54th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues WRT – Walter Reade Theater, 65th St. between Amsterdam and Broadway, upper level Wednesday, Oct. 1 6:00 A Summer Hours, with Ralph (NYFF/ZT) 6:30 FREE PANEL: The Place of Oshima (OSH/WRT) 9:00 Shiro of Amakusa, The Christian Rebel (OSH/WRT) 9:15 Waltz with Bashir, with I Don’t Feel Like Dancing (NYFF/ZT) Thursday, Oct. 2 4:30 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 (OSH/WRT) 9:00 Summer Hours, with Ralph (NYFF/ZT) Waltz with Bashir is playing at the 46th New York Film Festival, at 9:15 p.m. tonight, and 6:00 p.m. tomorrow, at the Ziegfeld Theatre, 141 West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019, (212) 307-1862 The Wrestler Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight / Wild Bunch / Film Society of Lincoln Center Waltz with Bashir Photo Credit: Ari Folman and David Polonsky, © 2008, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics / Film Society of Lincoln Center

Movie Review: L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours) - Family Legacies in Today's Globalized Society

by Tony Dayoub

L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours) is a French language film about a family whose matriarch, Hélène (Edith Scob) passes away rather suddenly. Her children, Frédéric (Charles Berling), Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), and Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) all loved her, and each other. But our globalized society keeps them apart. With Adrienne's job in New York, and Jérémie's in China, Frédéric is the one who must assume responsibility for her estate. The house, in the family for generations, must now be sold, reluctantly by Frédéric, and Hélène, niece of a famous artist, had amassed quite an art collection, mostly through inheritance, as well.

One of the byproducts of globalization is the impact it has had on families and art, as we see in this film. Assayas examines the way the house and these art objects hold not only economic value, but sentimental value, for the family, particularly for Frédéric, who is more rooted in France than the other siblings. The other siblings, though still attached to these, are conscious of their inability to transport them into their far-flung new lives abroad. And even the intrinsic value of the pieces, and the house, as historical objects dissipates when removed from the context of the family relationships to the items. This is evident when the committee at the Musee D'Orsay, the museum which takes in the collection, starts to examine each item divorced from the family context, and in the greater context of whether it will attract interest to the collection or not.

Frédéric is the linchpin in the story. He represents the intergenerational crossroads of the family. For him, the family history and roots in France are the most important. We see this in his affection for two Corot paintings that he wants to pass on to his children. We also see that in his mother's recognition that he should be the caretaker of her legacy. But it is most evident in the spiritual inheritance he has left his daughter.

The teen is arrested midway through the film for shoplifting and possession of a small amount of drugs. She doesn't seem to be a criminal type, just participating in carefree shenanigans. When she has a huge party at her grandmother's now empty house, our perception of her as an ignorant youth doesn't change. But in a moment alone with her boyfriend, in the field by the house, she cries as she speaks of a memory of her and Hélène picking fruit there. She realizes that this field which her grandmother said she would pass on to her father, then to her, and on to her children, is leaving the family's dominion. And we have hope that even in the next generation of "global" babies, some sentimental value will still be cherished.

L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours) is playing at the 46th New York Film Festival, at 6:00 p.m. tonight, and 9:00 p.m. tomorrow, at the Ziegfeld Theatre, 141 West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019, (212) 307-1862

Photo Credit: IFC Films / Fortissimo Films / Film Society of Lincoln Center