Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: August 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

UPDATED: Rosenbaum Sticks His Head in the Sand Responds

Over at the esteemed Jonathan Rosenbaum's site, he posts "Some Afterthoughts about Tarantino," a sequel to his previous post on Inglourious Basterds where he accuses the director of creating a "film that seems morally akin to Holocaust denial." In today's post he states:
I’m waiting for any of the enthusiasts for Inglourious Basterds to come up with some guidance about what grown-up things this movie has to say to us about World War 2 or the Holocaust — or maybe just what it has to say about other movies with the same subject matter. Or, if they think that what Tarantino is saying is adolescent but still deserving of our respect and attention, what that teenage intelligence consists of. Or implies. Or inspires. Or contributes to our culture.
Well, maybe he wouldn't have to wait so long if he opened the comments section on his site, and allowed some feedback. Or maybe he'd get some insight if he read some quite eloquent defenses of the film in the reviews and accompanying commentary at Dennis Cozzalio's SLIFR, Jim Emerson's Scanners, Greg Ferrara's Cinema Styles, Glenn Kenny's Some Came Running, or Bill R.'s TKoFYH , sites where intelligent debate by the film community is not only welcome, but thrives. Maybe Mr. Rosenbaum could find the guidance he seeks by looking up these discussions, instead of looking down at the rest of us. UPDATE: Mr. Rosenbaum was gracious enough to clarify some of his controversial comments at his site in a postscript to his original post, and in the comments section here (below), at Bill R.'s site, and at Bright Lights After Dark (maybe elsewhere, but these were the only sites I was aware of).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

by Tony Dayoub

"We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. They will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us, and the Germans will not be able to help themselves from imagining the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands, at our boot heels, and the edge of our knives. And the Germans will be sickened by us, the Germans will talk about us, and the Germans will fear us. Nazis ain't got no humanity! They need to be destroyed." - Lt. Aldo Raine

Happy Monday everyone. Hope you all had a great weekend. Let's get down to some way overdue business, and discuss the big movie this weekend, and perhaps this year, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. I saw it at noon on Friday, but held back on discussing it here for two reasons. One was my desire to contemplate the film a little longer than I usually do with other movies because it is complicated enough to merit such pondering. Notice I say complicated, not profound... more on that later. The second reason is because I plan on discussing it in toto, spoilers included. So anyone who hasn't seen it, please skip the rest of this post, go see it (requirement: you must see it in a theater), and come back once you have. Trust me, whether you end up liking the film or not, this is one flick that every movie lover should add to their lexicon.

Basterds is a World War II triptych with three protagonists: Nazi S.S. Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) a suave snake who has earned the nickname of "Jew-Hunter" for his ability to ferret out Jews hiding throughout occupied France; Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) is a young French Jew who manages to escape Landa's clutches before he massacres her family; and Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is the commander of a band of Jewish soldiers, nicknamed "the Basterds" by the Germans for the brutal retribution they carry out against them, always leaving scalped Nazi corpses behind. Eventually each protagonist's storyline crosses paths in curious ways, even if they themselves don't always meet, until synchronicity strikes at the end of the film, with Shosanna exacting her revenge on the Nazi elite at a movie premiere in a theater she owns, which also happens to be where the Basterds have decided to wipe out Hitler and his goons.

Much has been made of Tarantino's highly fictitious postmodern Holocaust revisionism for, as some say, irresponsibly playing fast and loose with facts and casting the former victims as vengeance seeking "perpetrators" no better than their Nazi executioners. However, unlike the recent District 9, which tries to trick the viewer into passivity by deceiving him with the faux-documentary look at Apartheid, Tarantino clearly instructs us from the beginning to look at Basterds as an alternate history, a fantasy, by beginning the movie with the words, "Once Upon a Time... in Nazi-occupied France..." He continues to encourage a dissociation from any reality by rooting his story in the history of film versus the history of the world. For instance, most if not all of the soundtrack is made up of musical cues from other films (and anachronistic ones at that). David Bowie's theme from Cat People (1982) is heard as Shosanna "gets into character" before the climactic movie premiere. Italian Western themes are also ubiquitous. And I just about had a heart attack after I heard the "Bath Attack" theme from Sydney J. Furie's B-movie, The Entity (1981), when Shosanna is reunited with Landa midway through the film. Truth be told, I might feel differently about the "exploitation" of the subject if I had any Holocaust survivors in my family. But I don't. And from my perspective, it doesn't look or feel like Tarantino is being disrespectful of the historical facts.

Instead, by inverting the players in his drama, Tarantino is simply presenting this violent parable as a reframing of history to highlight the ease with which genocide occurred, calling into question whether the complicity and collaboration by many Germans can truly be justified by the loyalist fervor that was promoted by the Nazi propaganda machine. In this case, it is the audience that is complicit in the cathartic joy of vengeance, cheering the "Bear Jew" (Eli Roth) when he whacks one Nazi soldier with a baseball bat, delighting at Bridget Von Hammersmark's (Diane Kruger) rage-filled dispatch of a young soldier after a personal insult, and reveling in Shosanna's laughing visage onscreen and aflame as the theater burns with the Nazi High Command locked inside. Tarantino is creating an alternate propaganda here. This last image of the burning theater more than anything recalls the evil of the gas chambers (its setting accusing moviegoers, us, of participating in the same celebration of killing the Nazis did), and any pleasure we take in the film's climactic destruction of the Germans complicates our usually automatic dismissal of any justifications heard in the past by Nazi apologists who say they were swept up by the populist frenzy at the time since we, the viewers, are also guilty of the same.

It just may be that some critics are right in accusing Inglourious Basterds of luridly exploiting a horrid chapter in humanity's history. But at least it does so without hypocrisy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Forget about the Avatar trailer...

I mean, weren't all of you a little underwhelmed by the teaser for Cameron's new movie? Like this is what he waited 12 years for technology to catch up to his vision for? So he could make a CGI movie that doesn't even look like an A-list Pixar movie but more like an also-ran from Dreamworks? So instead I bring you another trailer that unspooled yesterday. Yes, it's from a troubled movie that's been pushed back twice, now. But you can't deny that this is a heckuva teaser. Check it out after the jump.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Playtime (1967)

God bless Criterion for reissuing Playtime on Blu-ray. This visual Where's Waldo? for movie watchers depends on the clarity that only Blu can offer, due to French director Jacques Tati's decision to shoot in 70mm and avoid anything but wide-angle shots. The third in the series of films starring Monsieur Hulot, a forerunner of the far inferior but better known Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson), starts to minimize the character's footprint on the story, allowing other characters to initiate the gags in a virtual cityscape constructed by the production solely for use in the film. For director Tati (who also plays Hulot), Playtime is also a natural progression from his previous movies in that they all have a preoccupation with the effect of encroaching modernity on a romanticized past. This isn't immediately apparent in his earlier films, but even in L'ecole des facteurs (1947), there is the implied pressure of speed on the country postman Tati plays due to the conceptual invasion of air mail into his territory. By the time Hulot is introduced, as an agent of chaos in Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953), the idea of technology disturbing the serenity of nature (in this case, a secluded beach) is brought closer to the foreground. In the next Hulot film, the charming Mon Oncle (1958), the incongruity between the modern Parisian suburbs and the quaint Old World Paris is the basis of the central plot, where by the end of the film one is a spectator to the demolishment of Hulot's enchanting neighborhood. In Playtime, the complete takeover of any recognizable Paris has already occurred. As the near plotless movie begins, a group of American tourists are by turns impressed with and disappointed by the modernization of Paris. All that's left is one little old flower lady to evoke the Paris of postcards, as even a famous landmark like the Eiffel Tower is reduced to a cameo in a reflection on a building's glass door. This time, even the comical Hulot is being crowded out to the sidelines, spending most of the film looking for his new employer in a maze of architecture that constitutes his new workplace. Tati utilized the film's scope and depth of field to pack each shot with so many visual gags (his films have very little dialogue) that it is impossible to catch them in one viewing. The Blu-ray enhances the possibility of being able to appreciate it fully in the best way one can short of seeing it the way Tati originally intended. And though this is a reissue from Criterion, it is not simply a port-over from the original disc (Update: My mistake... apparently it IS a port-over from a disc Criterion reissued in 2006; I was comparing the Blu-ray to my copy of Criterion's 2001 DVD). The film has been restored, and there are considerably more special features that go into some depth about how Tati, an affable comic but a despotic director, gambled his fortune on the making of this unusual film. These include a behind-the-scenes documentary called Au-delà de "Playtime," a rare BBC interview with Jacques Tati near the end of his life, an essay by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum (who once worked as a script consultant for Tati), and more. Ultimately, Playtime failed upon its release because it was ahead of its time, forever relegating Tati to the category of "mad genius" for overreaching. But Criterion's new Blu-ray is a treasure to modern film buffs who are ripe for a reassessment of this visual oddity.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

Loathe as I am to find myself in the same camp as Armond White, I have to agree with him that District 9 is one overrated piece of crap. Yes, you may be wondering how I can slap this movie down so hard after I praised Terminator Salvation so vociferously earlier this year. Consider this, however. McG doesn't try to fool anyone into believing his Terminator sequel is anything but a blustering sci-fi action piece created simply to entertain. Taking a movie on its own terms is how I decide what's good and what's not. In this case, District 9 plays that deceiving bait-and-switch where it looks like we might be getting an intelligent science fiction allegory concerning apartheid by a promising young South African director. Instead, what starts out as an intriguing exploration into race, degenerates into an extremely conventional action movie. Shot in a faux-documentary style meant to trick you, the viewer, into thinking the film is going to attempt a measure of credibility, District 9 begins by following Wikus Van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a paper-pusher promoted by the weapons company he works for to handle a dangerous eviction of illegal aliens confined in the titular slum inside Johannesburg, South Africa. Only these are not just your traditional cross-the-border-illegally kind of aliens. They're the come-from-outer-space kind of aliens. Van de Merwe's company, MNU, secretly hopes to confiscate the alien weapons and reverse-engineer them to make them work in human hands, something that has eluded them thus far. MNU gets lucky, at the expense of Van de Merwe, when the dumb bureaucrat gets sprayed with an unknown alien liquid he finds in one of the ramshackle huts the aliens reside in. The liquid initiates a metamorphosis in which the man starts slowly turning into one of the disturbing bug-like beings. The upside is the newly hybridized Van de Merwe is now the only non-alien on Earth that can operate said weapons. How long do you think it is before MNU wants to reverse-engineer him? Soon we have MNU mercenaries hunting down the poor guy, who has to hide in the very slum he was evicting aliens from, avoiding crazy Nigerian voodoo gangs (at their most racially stereotypical) that think they can gain the alien "secret power" by eating alien organs, and... well you get my drift. One big action thriller mess put together out of leftover science-fiction/horror/fantasy parts like a giant Frankenstein monster. And why does the second and third act feel like a sausage stuffed with movie byproducts? The clue lies in how the obviously talented director, Neill Blomkamp, got the opportunity to make this film. According to the L.A. Times, the film came about after producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) failed to save his Halo project from falling apart, a film Blomkamp was slated to direct. He felt so bad for Blomkamp that he decided to expand the novice director's short film Alive in Joburg into a feature-length movie, this movie, as a consolation. Much of what one glimpses in this short is the foundation for the best parts of the film, the earlier sequences that delineate an interesting parable about racism familiar to many who lived during apartheid, South Africa's abolished policy of segregation of its nonwhite people. But one cannot watch the rest without being drawn into playing a game I like to call, What Sci-Fi (or related genre) Story Are They Stealing From Now? Here are some examples: giant spaceship hovering over city...V (1983); segregation of aliens parallel to real-life aliens... Alien Nation (1988); machete-wielding voodoo gangs threatening the hero... The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988); bug-like aliens as the underdog in a war with humans... Starship Troopers (1997) (an allegory done first and better by that shining beacon of restraint, the lunatic Paul Verhoeven); protagonist on the run from the military... The Incredible Hulk; human becoming a bug... take your pick, Kafka's Metamorphosis or Cronenberg's The Fly (1986). Are science-fiction fanboys so starved for quality movies that they must rally behind this shit to hold up as an example of the profundity of the genre?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Movie Review: $9.99

Tatia Rosenthal's thoughtful debut feature, $9.99, is a stop-motion animated collection of interconnected stories based on the work of Israeli author Etgar Keret. The title refers to the price of a mail-order book that Dave Peck (Samuel Johnson) purchases called The Meaning of Life. And through Dave, his family, and his neighbors in an apartment building in an unnamed city, the film does indeed reflect on both the major and the minor details that give life its significance. The movie begins with an arresting incident. Take a look:
Recognize the voices? The homeless man is voiced by Geoffrey Rush (Shine), and the other man is Jim, Dave's father, voiced by Anthony LaPaglia (TV's Without a Trace). This shocking incident propels Jim, his sons, and everyone whose lives they touch on an introspective journey that is often humorous, mostly quiet, and occasionally revelatory. The animation does have a distancing effect, allowing one to experience the movie as a detached observer more than an engaged participant. This is not entirely unwelcome given the ruminations sparked by the story. In some respects, $9.99 is reminiscent of Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's Smoke (1995), an indie set in a Brooklyn tobacco shop that also followed the daily travails of the store's manager (Harvey Keitel) and patrons (William Hurt, Forest Whitaker, and more). Like that film , its insights are subtle. Its points are argued gently. And one only feels the greater impact of its revelations upon reflection later, much like the characters onscreen. $9.99 is in limited release, and opens locally tomorrow at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive NE, Atlanta, GA 30308, (678) 495-1424. Still and video clip courtesy of Regent Releasing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The 47th New York Film Festival

Press Release:
NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2009 September 25 – October 11 Entire Slate Announced Opening Night: Alain Resnais’ Wild Grass Centerpiece: Lee Daniels’ Precious Closing Night: Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces NYFF Returns to the Fully Renovated Alice Tully Hall
NEW YORK, August 11, 2009––The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today the entire slate of the 2009 New York Film Festival. The 47th edition will open with the U.S. premiere of Alain Resnais’s Wild Grass (Les herbes folles) and close with Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos). This year’s Centerpiece will be Lee Daniels’ Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. The Festival returns this year to its renowned home, Alice Tully Hall, beautifully restored and renovated with superb, state-of-the-art sound and projection. In addition this year’s festival will include two Masterworks series from China and India. The 17-day NYFF highlights the best in international cinema, featuring the top films from around the world. The selection committee chose 29 films from 17 countries by celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new independent directors. “I think this year’s slate is diverse, fresh and compelling”, said Richard Peña, Program Director of the Film Society and Chairman of the Selection Committee. “It’s been a great year for many directors who have already achieved acclaim and you can see that in some of the works of masters returning to the Festival. But the slate includes several exciting new voices, launching who we believe will become major new filmmakers that deserve world attention.” The New York Film Festival begins a new chapter in the renovated Alice Tully Hall which The New York Times called “sparkling.” “The Film Society contributed financially to the renovation of Alice Tully Hall so that in addition to being a world class performance hall, it will be a world class showcase for films with state-of-the art sound and projection”, said Mara Manus, Executive Director of The Film Society. “It will provide New Yorkers and the New York Film Festival with an incredible venue which will be wonderfully appreciated by filmmakers and audiences alike.” This Year’s Selections: A Film Society veteran, legendary French auteur Alain Resnais returns with Wild Grass, his 10th film selected for the New York Film Festival. His film Muriel appeared in the first New York Film Festival in 1963. And recently, Private Fears in Public Places showed at the 44th edition of the Festival in 2006. On the fiftieth anniversary of the French New Wave and fifty years after his groundbreaking debut with Hiroshima Mon Amour, Resnais delivers a career-crowning masterpiece with Wild Grass, a delightful roundelay based on Christian Gailly’s novel The Incident, about the fate-altering ripples triggered by a seemingly ordinary purse snatching. The purse belongs to Marguerite (Resnais regular Sabine Azema), a dentist who moonlights as an aviatrix. Its contents are retrieved by Georges (André Dussollier), a married man who soon finds himself infatuated with the purse’s owner, even though he hasn’t actually met her yet. Add in a couple of keystone cops (hilariously played by Mathieu Amalric and Michel Vuillermoz), some dizzying aerial acrobatics, and the glorious widescreen camerawork of cinematographer Eric Gautier and Wild Grass becomes a uniquely playful meditation on coincidence and desire that suggests Resnais, at age 87, is truly in his prime. Wild Grass is a Sony Pictures Classics release. Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Lee Daniels’ Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, marks the first time the American director has been at the Festival. In his astonishing adaptation of Sapphire’s 1996 novel, Daniels unsparingly recounts the horrific life of Clareece “Precious” Jones, an obese, barely literate 16-year-old living in late ’80s Harlem who’s sexually abused by both her father and mother. But Precious is not just a tale of endless abjection—it’s also an exhilarating celebration of a young woman’s determination to free herself from the pathologies surrounding her, guided by a teacher who senses her innate talents. Without a trace of easy, unearned sentimentality, Precious might be the most spirit-affirming movie of the year. Bringing this raw, uncompromising material to the screen, Daniels has assembled a remarkable cast: Paula Patton as Precious’s devoted teacher, Mariah Carey as a tough yet compassionate welfare officer, fearless newcomer Gabourey Sidibe as Precious, and—most memorably—Mo’Nique as her monstrous mother, which won the actress a Special Jury Prize at Sundance. Precious is a Lionsgate release. Also no stranger to New York audiences, and a true NYFF favorite, Pedro Almodóvar’s newest, Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos), marks his eighth film in the New York Film Festival. (Seven of these have either been Opening Night, Centerpiece or Closing Night selections.) Broken Embraces tells the story of a blind screenwriter, living and working under a pseudonym, who learns of the death of a powerful industrialist, triggering a flood of memories that encompass a tale of naked ambition, forbidden love and devastating loss. Moving from Madrid sound stages to the volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands, Almodóvar takes us on a candy-colored emotional roller coaster that barrels from comedy to romance to melodrama to the darker haunts of film noir—with even a salute to the “Making Of…” film along the way. Penelope Cruz has never been better, nor more ravishing, and she’s ably aided by Lluis Homar (Bad Education), Blanca Portillo (Volver), and a wonderful newcomer to the Almodóvar stable, Rubén Ochandiano. The luscious cinematography is by Rodrigo Prieto (Amores Perros, Brokeback Mountain). Broken Embraces is a Sony Pictures Classics release. Rounding out the 2009 slate, The Film Society welcomes a group of well-established alumni back to the New York Film Festival with new features, including Marco Bellocchio (Vincere), Catherine Breillat (Bluebeard), Claire Denis (White Material), Manoel de Oliveira, (Eccentricities of a Blonde), Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon), Jacques Rivette (36 Views of Saint-Loup Peak), Todd Solondz (Life During Wartime), Lars von Trier (Antichrist) and Andrzej Wajda (Sweet Rush). New directors to the Festival include Maren Ade (Everyone Else), Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass), Zhao Dayong (Ghost Town), Samuel Maoz (Lebanon), Raya Martin (Independencia), Joao Pedro Rodrigues (To Die Like A Man) and Sabu (Kanikosen). This year the NYFF introduces Masterworks which will feature works from India and China. • “Re-Inventing China: A New Cinema for a New Society, 1949-1966” • “A Heart as Big as the World: The Films of Guru Dutt” Both series will screen at the Walter Reade Theater. In addition, this year’s Spotlight Retrospective will be Victor Fleming’s beloved favorite, The Wizard of Oz, for its 70th Anniversary presentation in a brand new high definition restoration. The 2009 New York Film Festival was programmed by five critics and curators. Richard Peña, Selection Committee Chair and Program Director at The Film Society; Melissa Anderson, Freelance Critic; Scott Foundas, Film Editor and Chief Film Critic for LA Weekly; J. Hoberman, Senior Film Critic at The Village Voice and Visiting Lecturer at Harvard University; and Dennis Lim, Editor at Moving Image Source and Freelance Critic joined forces to hand-pick the 29 features that make up the main slate. Presented by The Film Society, the annual Festival showcases new works by both emerging talents and internationally recognized artists, including numerous New York, U.S., and world premieres. Last year’s slate lived up to the festival’s reputation as a distinguished arbiter of the best in contemporary cinema, screening Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner The Class and the Academy Award-nominated films The Wrestler, Changeling, and Waltz with Bashir. Sponsors: The Film Society receives generous, year-round support from 42BELOW, GRAFF, Stella Artois, Illy Caffè, The New York State Council on the Arts, and The National Endowment for the Arts. The 47th Annual New York Film Festival is sponsored by HBO Films, The New York Times, and Kodak. Since 1969, The Film Society of Lincoln Center has brought great films from all genres to American audiences. Year round, The Film Society offers Hollywood premieres, film classics, the best in foreign cinema, and cutting-edge independent films. Our two renowned film festivals attract global attention: The New York Film Festival which is in its 47th year, and New Directors/ New Films which is presented in conjunction with MoMA. The prestigious Chaplin Award is awarded by The Film Society. Recipients have included Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. It also offers definitive examinations of essential films and artists to a worldwide audience through Film Comment magazine.
New York Film Festival 2009 September 25 – October 11 Main Slate
OPENING NIGHT Wild Grass / Les herbes folles Alain Resnais, France, 2009; 113m The venerable Alan Resnais creates an exquisite human comedy of manners, mystery and romance with some of France’s – and our – favorite actors: Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Almaric. A Sony Pictures Classics release. CENTERPIECE Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire Lee Daniels, USA, 2009; 109m Precious is sixteen and living a miserable life. But she uses all the emotional energy she possesses to turn her life around. Director Lee Daniel’s audacious tale features unforgettable performances by Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. A Lionsgate release. CLOSING NIGHT Broken Embraces / Los abrazos rotos Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 2009; 128m Almodóvar’s newest masterwork is a candy-colored emotional roller that barrels from comedy to romance to melodrama to the darker haunts of film noir and stars his muse, Penélope Cruz, in a multilayered story of a man who loses his sight and the love of his life. A Sony Pictures Classics release. 36 Views of Saint-Loup Peak / 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup Jacques Rivette, France, 2009, 84m The legendary Jacques Rivette returns with an elegiac look at the final days of a small-time traveling circus. Antichrist Lars von Trier, Denmark, 2009, 109m Surely to be one of the year’s most discussed films, Lars von Trier’s latest chronicles a couple’s efforts to find their love again after a tragic loss, only to unleash hidden monsters lurking in their souls. An IFC Films release. The Art of the Steal Don Argott, USA, 2009, 101m Bound to be controversial, this intriguing account of the travails of the legendary Barnes collection of art masterworks and the foundation set up to protect it raises vital questions about public vs. private “ownership” of art. Bluebeard / La Barbe Bleue Catherine Breillat, France, 2009, 78m Two sisters reading Charles Perrault’s 17th century tale of perhaps the first “serial killer” becomes a meditation on the enduring fascination with a character who has served as inspiration for countless novels, plays and films. Crossroads of Youth / Cheongchun’s Sipjaro An Jong-hwa, Korea, 1934, 73m The oldest surviving Korean film, this recently-rediscovered masterwork will be presented with live musical accompaniment as well as a benshi (offscreen narrator). Eccentricities of a Blonde Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/France, 2009, 64m One hundred years young, director Manoel de Oliveira returns with another gem: a wry, moving tale of a pure if frustrated love adapted from a novel by Eça de Queiroz. Everyone Else / Alle Anderen Maren Ade, Germany, 2009, 119m The ups and downs, joys and jealousies, frustrations and fulfillments of a young couple on a summer holiday provide the premise for this brilliant meditation on modern coupling. Ghost Town Zhao Dayong, China, 2008, 180m A revealing, one-of-a-kind look at China far away from the glittering urban skylines, this portrait of a contemporary rural community in China offers extraordinary insights into everything from the role of religion to gender relationships to the place of social deviants. Hadewijch Bruno Dumont, France, 2009, 105m A young woman searches for an absolute experience of faith—and in the process grows increasingly distant from the world around her. Independencia Raya Martin, Philippines, 2009, 77m Maverick director Raya Martin offers a kind of alternative history of the Philippines and its struggle for nationhood in this stylized tale of a mother and son hiding in the mountains after the US takeover of the islands. Inferno / L’Enfer Serge Bromberg, France, 2009, 100m A film buff’s delight, Serge Bromberg film resurrects the surviving footage of Clouzot’s aborted, experimental film L’Enfer, revealing a slightly mad but beguiling project that will always remain one of cinema’s great “what ifs.” Kanikosen Sabu, Japan, 2009, 109m Kanikosen is a highly stylized, stirring, manga-flavored update of a classic Japanese political novel, with labor unrest aboard a crab canning ship evolving into a cry of a younger generation aching to break the bonds of conformity. Lebanon Samuel Maoz, Israel, 2009, 92m Debut director Samuel Maoz takes us inside an Israeli tank and the emotions of its crew during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Life During Wartime Todd Solondz, USA, 2009, 96m Preparing for his bar-mitzvah, a young man must deal with his divorced mother’s prospective fiancé as well as rumors that his own father is not really dead. Min Yé Souleymane Cissé, Mali/France, 2009, 135m A work of startling originality, Souleymane Cissé’s first film in over a decade insightfully and incisively chronicles the dissolution of an upper-middle class African marriage. Mother/ Maedo Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 2009, 128m Convinced that her son has been wrongly accused of murder, a widow throws herself body and soul into proving his innocence. Kim Hye-ja in the title role gives perhaps the performance of the year. Ne Change Rien Pedro Costa, France/Portugal, 2009, 103m A shimmering valentine, Costa’s latest is less a portrait than a kind of visual homage, to the artistry of actor and singer Jeanne Balibar. Police Adjective / Politist, adj. Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 2009, 115m Discovering a teenager with hashish, a young policeman hesitates about turning him in. But his supervisor has other ideas in this beautifully acted, provocative modern morality play. An IFC Films release. Room and a Half / Poltory komnaty ili sentimentalnoe puteshtvie na rodinu Andrey Khrzhanovsky, Russia, 2009, 131m Former animator Andrey Khrzhanovsky combines scripted scenes, archival footage, several types of animation, and surrealist flights of fancy to create this stirring portrait of poet Josef Brodsky and the postwar Soviet cultural scene. A Seagull Films release. Sweetgrass Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, USA, 2009, 105m This breathtaking chronicle follows an ever-surprising group of modern-day cowboys as they lead an enormous herd of sheep up and then down the slopes of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana on their way to market. Sweet Rush / Tatarak Andrzej Wajda, Poland/France, 2009, 85m Celebrated master Andrzej Wajda returns with a bold, experimental work that juxtaposes a story about a terminally doctor’s wife rediscovering romance thanks with a heart-rending monologue written and performed by actress Krystyna Janda about the death of her husband. To Die Like a Man / Morrer como um homen Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal, 2009,138m This touching, finely-etched portrait follows Tonia, a veteran drag performer confronting younger competition and her boyfriend’s demands that she undergo a sex change. Vincere Marco Bellocchio, Italy, 2009, 129m Mussolini’s “secret” marriage to Ida Dalser, afterwards completely denied by Il Duce, along with the son born from the relationship, becomes the springboard for this visually ravishing meditation on the fascist manipulation of history. An IFC Films release. White Material Claire Denis, France, 2009, 100m A handful of Europeans try to make sense of—and survive—the chaos happening all around them in an African country torn apart by civil war. The White Ribbon / Das weisse band Michael Haneke, Austria/France, 2009, 144m The Palme d’Or winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, this is a starkly beautiful meditation on the consequences of violence—physical, emotional, spiritual—in a northern German town on the eve of World War I. A Sony Pictures Classics release. The Wizard of Oz Victor Fleming, 1939, USA, 103m The 70th Anniversary of the timeless classic, presented in a spectacular newly-restored edition makes the film a new experience even for those who practically have it memorized. A Warner Bros. release.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Brutally Honest Blog Blustering

Hey readers, this is your chance to let me know what you like or dislike about Cinema Viewfinder. The LAMB has selected me for their next Brutally Blunt Blog Blustering in which you can critique my blog in as brutally honest (yet respectful) a manner as you want to. The LAMB just asks that you leave your comments anonymously so I won't get mad at you. But I'd love to hear what you like or don't like. So by all means, please let me know here.

Wonders in the Dark's Eighties Poll

The guys over at Wonders in the Dark are asking readers to submit their top 50 films for the eighties. Some folks have said they had trouble coming up with a fifty films. However, maybe because I grew up during this period, maybe because American film was coming off of its grandest era in the seventies, I found it difficult to keep it down to just fifty. And I definitely can't rank them in anything but alphabetical order. Those interested in my list can find it in the comments section for the site.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Movie Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

See the picture above? That's Sienna Miller in the leather as the Baroness. Her costumes are the best thing about this movie, if you must know. And knowing is half the battle.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

John Hughes

Not many directors become household names. Kubrick is one. Hitchcock is another. Lynch is a third. They of course belong to the pantheon of directors who are known to the public by just one name. But then there's a second tier known to the masses by their full name, and that name usually connotes a subgenre of a sort, the way Michael Mann's name evokes "stylish thriller". For people of my generation, John Hughes was such a director, his name before a movie title implying that the film would be a teen comedy. And though I'd be the last to elect Hughes to any pantheon, one can't escape that his short filmography captured the wit and wisdom of misfit teens, outsiders with who his young audience identified, and portrayed them far more realistically than they had been in the eighties teen sex comedies that preceded his arrival. A writer for the hallowed National Lampoon Magazine, the story which got him onto the staff, "Vacation '58," was the basis for his script for National Lampoon's Vacation (1983). A year later he was directing repertory actor Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, and a year after that he was producing, writing and directing The Breakfast Club. The film's cast, which in addition to Ringwald included other recurring players in his repertory (like Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy), would come to be known as the Brat Pack, as would other actors of that generation that associated with them simply by extension. The Breakfast Club became his calling card for a long time because it presented Generation X's disaffected youth quite sympathetically. Rather than side with the cool kids, Hughes empathized with the geeks, outsiders, delinquents, and goth girls. And what teen couldn't relate to a misfit during their own awkward state of development? It was only natural that he would cap off this series of teen comedies with Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), a movie where the roles are reversed and the geek (Matthew Broderick) is finally the cool kid. After the minor success of Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), several abortive attempts to direct films outside the high school milieu, and great success in producing the highly lucrative Home Alone movies, led him to retire from the Hollywood grind, occasionally writing scripts pseudonymously for several comedic pictures including Maid in Manhattan (2002) and Drillbit Taylor (2008). He died today at the age of 59. Recommended Films - The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Planes, Trains & Automobiles

The Best Films of the 00s: 2000

We are fast approaching the end of the 2000s, and it's time to look back and assess what memorable motion pictures should be showcased as the best this decade has had to offer. I've contributed several posts to Ibe Tolis' Film for the Soul and his Counting down the Zeroes project. But in the lead up to the end of 2009, I want to take the time to give you my 10 best for each year. I'll probably tackle a different year every two to three weeks, list my ten in alphabetical order, and offer a few brief insights into why I feel each film belongs on my list (unless I already wrote a review for it, in which case, I'll simply link back to the review). For those who are just dying to know what movie I consider to be the very best for each year, just take a look at the photo I lead into each article with and that should tell you. In January, I'll post my ten best for 2009, culminating with a follow-up announcement of my 10 best films for the decade. And that list won't necessarily feature one picture from each year. And now, the best films of 2000... Before Night Falls, director Julian Schnabel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, dir. Ang Lee - A departure for Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain), for many Americans this film was an introduction to the beauty of the wuxia martial arts genre. Lush and romantic, the movie featured world famous actors Chow Yun-Fat (Hard-Boiled) and Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies), relatively unknown here until this picture, and introduced audiences to Zhang Ziyi (Memoirs of a Geisha), the deceptively delicate yet strong-willed actress. Extra points go to Lee for his insistence on presenting the story in Mandarin. High Fidelity, dir. Stephen Frears - Surprisingly relatable (never been that into John Cusack) film that connects because of its verisimilitude. Cusack stars as record-store owner Rob, who is dealing with the fallout of a major breakup from the wonderfully genuine Iben Hjejle as Laura. Features an actually hilarious Jack Black, as Barry, on the cusp of becoming a mainstream jackass. What guy of Rob's generation hadn't made a mix tape for the object of his love? What collector doesn't order and reorder their collection (in this case, record albums) based on any number of things beyond the easy title or artist? Or spontaneously try to put their life into quantifiable OCD-like lists like Rob's "Top 5 Most Memorable Breakups" or Barry's "Top 5 Records to Play on a Monday Morning?" And it's the only film ever to feature a cameo (with dialogue) by Bruce Springsteen. In the Mood for Love, dir. Wong Kar-Wai - One of the most romantic movies ever made, Wong's film picks up on the tiny details that make love soar, like the shared experience of pain whispered in the late hours of the night; the longing to reach out and touch the one you are in love with; the stolen glances between a couple who bond over the infidelities that their respective spouses have participated in, yet are unwilling to commit themselves. The ineffable quality of forbidden love wafts around this film with more potency than it ever has for the master of modern romance. Memento, dir. Christopher Nolan - I've gotta admit... when I first saw this film with its conceit that every successive scene actually takes place BEFORE the previous one, it didn't strike me as clever as much as it did gimmicky. But seeing it again and again has changed my mind. For one thing, it places you in the same frame of mind as its protagonist, Leonard (Guy Pearce), a man who suffers from a form of amnesia that only lets him remember things that happened in about the last ten minutes. Most impressive though is how the movie plays when seen in chronological order, a hidden feature on the Special Edition DVD. This gives you a whole new take on how sympathetic one should actually be towards Leonard. Now, that is clever. O Brother, Where Art Thou? dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen - In this tongue-in-cheek adaptation of Homer's The Odyssey with a great bluegrass soundtrack, George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson play fugitives from a chain gang hiding in plain sight as musical group the Soggy Bottom Boys. With well-placed references to cinema (title refers to a film within a film in Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels), Greek mythology (John Goodman's one-eyed Big Dan is a stand-in for Homer's Cyclops), and Southern legend (the Soggy Bottom Boys' guitarist is found standing at a crossroads, where he claims to have sold his soul to the devil in return for his musical skill, like the legendary Robert Johnson), this enjoyable romp has enough to entertain on many levels. Traffic, dir. Steven Soderbergh - Though flawed, Soderbergh's movie is an epic for our time. Focusing on the Mexican front in the war on drugs, it still also proves to be timely. A who's who of fine actors (Don Cheadle, Albert Finney, Michael Douglas, Luis Guzmán, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones) isn't enough to distract from what is a spectacular breakout performance by that year's Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor, Benicio Del Toro (Che), as an incorruptible Mexican police officer caught alone behind the lines. And any film that gives a role to the underappreciated Steven Bauer (Scarface) gets points in my book. Unbreakable, dir. M. Night Shyamalan Wonder Boys, dir. Curtis Hanson - Michael Douglas (Wall Street) at his most appealing, playing a quirky college professor struggling to regain the success that he had achieved early in his life. Now he faces a divorce, an affair with his boss's wife, and can't finish his second novel. Nice little movie by Hanson (8 Mile) that got lost in the shuffle after his success with L.A. Confidential (1997). You Can Count on Me, dir. Kenneth Lonergan - An actor's showcase for all involved (the ensemble cast includes Laura Linney, Matthew Broderick, and Jon Tenney), but most especially for Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac) as wayward brother Terry. His performance, if not his character's name, conjures up images of Brando in On the Waterfront (1954), and lives up to the comparison. Playwright Kenneth Lonergan's directing debut. Mr. Lonergan, where's your follow-up movie? For more of this continuing series, click here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

De Palma Blog-A-Thon

I would like to invite anyone and everyone to participate in the upcoming Brian De Palma Blog-A-Thon I am hosting here on September 7 - 16. A fascinating auteur to some, and a figure of derision to others, this controversial director has been accused of plagiarism as often as he has been hailed for his artistry. So I welcome any entries, be they positive or negative. Send your contributions to me here, please. And if you choose not to submit a piece, I ask that you at least help me promote this event at any respective websites you may own. I am happy to accept entries from anyone. And I can provide JPEGs like the one pictured above upon request. Hope to have all of you participate in some way.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Movie Review: Funny People (2009)

Is Judd Apatow willing to gamble on his wife's acting ability at the expense of his own stratospheric success? That's the question I kept asking myself after the wonderful first half of his newest movie, Funny People, a film which represents Apatow's attempt to move his films in a more mature direction. Even by including some of his repertory performers like Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) and Jonah Hill (Superbad), and adding Adam Sandler (who proves the dramatic ability he displayed in Punch-Drunk Love was not a fluke) Apatow deftly manages to maintain an engrossing drama from going off the rails into his usual sophomoric, yet superior, humorous territory for at least this portion of the movie. Make no mistake, lest you leave the theater disappointed. Despite its broad cast of stand-up comedians and its setting in the corresponding milieu, Funny People is a drama. Sandler plays George Simmons, a stand-up comic who hit it big in the movie business. After being diagnosed with a terminal disease, he looks back at his life and wonders what it would have been like if he hadn't been so arrogant and selfish. George cheated on Laura (Leslie Mann), the only woman that ever loved him, leading her straight into a marriage and family with Clark (Eric Bana), a lout with the same tendencies to philander. George barely speaks to his parents and sister. And he has no friends outside of the cynical acquaintances he hangs out with in the stand-up world (all played by familiar comedians as some version of themselves). So George decides to get an assistant who will serve him as writer, friend, and confidant; a younger, more naive version of himself that he can hopefully steer away from the abyss he now faces: Rogen's Ira Wright. For the first hour and a half, the premise unfolds quite naturally, which is a first for a movie set in Apatow's high-concept universe. Rogen and Sandler's characters bond over their shared love for comedy, their desire to do right by people, and even over Apatow's customary dick jokes. Sandler plays George close to his heart, with early video of Sandler's comedy routines helping to give one the sense that this is a thinly veiled version of Sandler himself being opened up for all to see. It's the first time one sees the emotional burden of age lying heavy on this comedian usually known for his man-child performances. And he carries it well. Rogen shows a respectable deference to his comedic antecedent, Sandler. He wisely plays Ira as more of an optimistic sounding board and straight man than the antic misanthrope he often portrays. Ira is more often the butt of the joke than the instigator of it. And yes, there are plenty of jokes in this drama, which is to be expected in a film titled Funny People. But one should also expect an implied irony in the title, as an all-out comedy so named would otherwise invite even more criticism than this one is already receiving. So Funny People is a drama nonetheless. I could tell by all of the people in my theater walking out midway through the movie when things get even more serious with the introduction of Leslie Mann, Apatow's wife, into the mix. As Sandler and Mann's characters grow closer, the film turns into a family drama. Sandler questions whether this is the life that he should be living, with Mann and her two daughters. He feels justified in disrupting her relationship with the brutish Clark because of the man's infidelities, despite having perpetrated his own in his previous relationship with her. Todd McCarthy's review in Variety seems to put equal parts of the blame on both the script and Leslie Mann's performance for Funny People coming up short in its second half. I disagree. Funny People's storyline may turn but it does so organically, never feeling forced. The tonal shift the movie takes, and the complex emotions that the situation calls for demand a lot from an actor, and Sandler is up to the task. But Mann isn't. Yes, she is funny enough in bit parts in Apatow's previous efforts, but here she lacks the dramatic range to make us sympathize with her character's quickly shifting circumstances. Another irony since her Laura is a former actress who lost out to Cameron Diaz when both were up for The Mask (1994), and Bana's Clark implies it was for the same lack of ability. So please keep Mann in the supporting tier of your next film Judd because any blame for Funny People's second half derailing lies squarely on her shoulders, and on yours for casting her in a significant role in a movie that will unfortunately now be relegated to the interesting footnote section of your filmography.