Thursday, October 29, 2009

Antichrist Reviewed at The Cinematheque

When I first saw Antichrist (a Lars von Trier film!!) at this year's NYFF, the press screening was punctuated with a plethora of hisses and guffaws.  Why do people hate this movie so?   Beats me.  Sure it's pretentious and condescending and pretty fucking arrogant, but c'mon guys, it is Lars von Trier afterall - what the Hell did you expect!?  Anyway, I think the film is brilliant, not in spite of its pretentiousness and/or arrogance, but because of it.  Bravo you mad mocking maestro you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Almost back, but a sidenote first...

I know this is not cinema related but I had to share (and this is a very bold statement considering) the best NY Post cover EVER.  Here it is.

Anyway, Go Yankees, and I will be returning to my regular critical duties sometime in the next few days.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Be Back Soon.....

Off the proverbial radar for this week and week-end.  Will return Tuesdayish with reviews of Antichrist, Where The Wild Things Are, Amelia, The Baader Meinhof Complex, Law Abiding Citizen, Still Walking, as well as my contribution to The Italian Horror Blog-a-Thon over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies, a blog review of Coppola's misbegotten and miopic mini-masterpiece (sorta!?) One From The Heart (which I have finally seen, my thoughts on Kiss Me Stupid (a contribution to The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club over at Illusions Travel by Streetcar), my last (kinda late) report from this year's NYFF on their fantastic Guru Dutt retrospective and much much much more.  Okay, this won't all be arriving the second I return, but it is all coming next week.

And one more thing before I go:  GO YANKEES!!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bright Star Reviewed at MovieZeal

Jane Campion is one of the most delectable filmmakers working today.  In much the same vein as Michael Powell or Nick Ray or Peter Greenaway, Campion's films are likely to devour you with their visual sensuality and deeply textured romanticism.  With this as my prefacing thought, I sat down and watched the auteur's seventh film, Bright Star.  My views were not changed.  Bright Star is a tragically gorgeous work of cinematic art.  I may sound a bit pretentious but to hell with whatever one may think.  It's my party and I'll cry pretentious if I want to.  You can't stop me.  Anyway, the film is sensual and beautiful and you should check out my review (my fifth review for the website MovieZeal) to read many more pretentious bon mots about the film. 

Read my Review of Bright Star at MovieZeal.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)

"There was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforward there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray." - Jean-Luc Godard

I watched Johnny Guitar last night and all I have to say is - let the gushing begin.  Seriously, Johnny Guitar is what cinema was and still should be.  Combining Ray's unique talent for visually luscious filmmaking with a genre redefining of the western - Ray's film can be quite ambiguous when it comes to who is wearing the white hat and who the black - dialogue that is beautifully over the top and a not-so-veiled stand against McCarthyism and Hollywood blacklisting.  And on top of all that - Joan Freakin' Crawford!

The film that Truffaut once called "Hallucinatory Cinema", Johnny Guitar is almost magical in its approach to what film is (and again, still should be).   Watching it on the big screen (as I finally did after years of adoring it sitting on my couch in my living room) one is mesmerized by each and every frame of this sexy, delicious, ravenous piece of film history.  Nary a false note is heard - a thing that can be said of only about six or seven films of the thousands and thousands and thousands ever made.  And on top of all that - Joan Freakin' Crawford!

Derek Malcolm of The Guardian said of the film, "This baroque and deliriously stylised Western, along with Fritz Lang's Rancho Notorious and Raoul Walsh's Pursued, proves it is possible to lift the genre into the realms of Freudian analysis, political polemic and even Greek tragedy."  Amen brother.

Other westerns of the time delve deeper than the typical genre-specific Hopalong Cassidy territory of the earlier mode - The Searchers is a Freudian masterpiece for sure and the films of Anthony Mann (and to a lesser degree Budd Boetticher) have stretched the ideas of right and wrong to whole other ballparks - but it was/is Johnny Guitar that puts them all to shame, not only in its sheer gorgeousness of set, costume and photography, its brilliantly subversive screenplay ("written" by Philip Yordan as a front for blacklisted writer Ben Maddow) and/or its richly textured (and verging on camp) performances but also in its power to transcend even the very cinema Godard spoke of and become one with the gods so to speak.  Hey, I told you I was going to gush!

And on top of all that - Joan Freakin' Crawford!  A comeback of sorts, Johnny Guitar, no matter how masculine the western genre typically is, is whole heartedly Joan's picture to win or lose.  The film's tagline reads: "Gun-Queen of the Arizona Frontier ! . . . and her kind of men !!!"   The auteur theory aside for a moment - after all this is really Nick Ray's picture to win or lose - it was Crawford who bought the rights to the novel by Roy Chanslor and put the whole kit and kaboodle in motion in the first place and it was Crawford who was taking a chance on reinventing herself.

Derek Malcolm (again) said of Crawford, "What she does in the film transcends either camp or melodrama. It's like watching a legend at work throwing off her previous baggage and gaining a new acting skin."  Perhaps this was the last of her great pictures (though her bloody duet with gal pal Bette Davis a few years later may beg to differ) but nonetheless, Malcolm's words ring true.  We won't even bother going into her on set feud with costar Mercedes McCambridge (wasn't there always one of these?) or the divaesque insistence on having all her close-ups filmed in studio where the lighting could be better staged.  After all, it's Joan Freakin' Crawford - what would one expect?

Sure, there may be flaws (you didn't think I could really be uncritical did you?) but someone once said (it may have been Truffaut, not sure) that every movie has flaws and it is in these flaws that is born something special.  Okay, I may have made that up, who knows, but it is something to believe in. Film lovers are sick people (Truffaut really did say that!) and that can be proven in the fact that we, the aforementioned sick film lovers, can love a film not in spite of its flaws and blemishes but because of them.  Sick.

But for now, let's forget all the critical and analytical mumbo jumbo and end on a much simpler note.  To quote Johnny Guitar himself (see, it's not all about Joan after all) - "There`s only two things in this world that a real man needs.  A cup of coffee and a good smoke."  Fin.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Whip It Reviewed at The Cinematheque

I suppose one shouldn't expect the world from a coming-of-age roller derby movie directed by Drew Barrymore, and in fact, the world is exactly what we do not get with Whip It.  Yet, from its somewhat Godardian opening title, the film was already giving more than this critic expected.  Quite fun and full of a slew of amiably bravura performances - especially from Juliette Lewis and Marcia Gay Harden - Whip It actually managed to surprise me a bit.  

My review - at my main site, The Cinematheque - mentions (or perhaps harps on) the fact that there is absolutely nothing new in Whip It.  What you see is what you get.  But the performances, as well as a certain genre giddiness, make the film worth more than the sum of its parts.  Or would that be the sum of its parts are greater than the whole?  Who knows...

Zombieland Reviewed at The Vigilant Monkey

It was delayed a few weeks due to some computer issues over at Vigilant Monkey, but here it is - my review of Zombieland.  Fun and frivolous - full of bloody popcorny laughs - but overall a little less than what one would hope for from the genre.  Perhaps movies such as 28 Days (and Weeks) Later, Shaun of the Dead, Zack Snyder's Dawn remake and (of course) the original Romero classics (and his newer work - his Land of the Dead got unfairly maligned by critics!) have raised the bar a bit higher than Zombieland can jump, but a fun ride nonetheless.  Plus, to watch Bill Murray - even for just five minutes - is worth any price of admission you would be worried about.

The Red Shoes Coming to Film Forum

When future generations, or perhaps when alien lifeforms come to Earth, a hundred, a thousand, a million years from now and ask, "what is music?", we will play for them Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  When they ask, "what is art?", we will show them Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.  When they ask, "what is poetry?", we will read to them from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese.  When these future travelers ask us, "what is cinema?", we will show them The Red Shoes.

Perhaps a bit on the overdramatic flair side of things, but one can not be expected to hold back when faced with the opportunity to see one of the greatest films ever made on the big screen - and in a restored 35mm print at that.  Scorsese called the Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger film the most beautiful technicolor film ever made - and he ain't kiddin' boy.  And now here it is, coming to Film Forum for a two week run November 6 - 19, so excuse the hyperbole.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Informant! is Reviewed at The Cinematheque

Okay, okay, I'm really late on this one.  I saw the film waaay back on September 20th and here I am on Oct 13th finally posting my review (that I actually wrote on October 3rd - but who's counting?).  So sue me, I procrastinate.  Anyway, the film in question is Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! (exclamation point by auteur!).  Sort of a formalist experiment, Soderbergh's new film is yet another different avenue the eclectic auteur has taken in his career.  An experiment many have not well enjoyed it would seem.  One woman, upon leaving the theatre, was overheard by my lovely wife commenting on how she did not like Matt Damon in the movie.  "Why does he have to look like that?  Why can't he just look like himself?" was her query.  Ummm, he's an actor and he's playing a character?  Actually the film has been blown off by many critics and regulars alike, but there is no need to talk on the subject here when my review is anxiously waiting over at The Cinematheque.  

Read my review of The Informant! at The Cinematheque.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

NYFF 2009: Chadi Abdel Salam's Al Mummia

Now I know that when it comes to cinema there is more (much much more) that I have NOT seen than I have.  Glaring omissions in my film history knowledge.  Filmmakers such as De Sica (Bicycle Thief, one of my favourite films, aside), early Ozu and Douglas Sirk immediately come to mind.  So much to see and only a finite space to do so, but I am trying my damnest to catch up.  There are those filmmakers I know a lot about - Godard, Fellini, Nick Ray, Chaplin - and others I could write a book on - like my upcoming book on the cinema of William Wellman (would be publishers please take note) - but still the inevitable gaps are still there.  Recently discovering Dorothy Arzner and Glauber Rocha, and about to go round the bend on Guru Dutt, I am filling these gaps nicely.

Yet even knowing my shortcomings, and knowing there are films I must still see and study, sometimes, and quite unexpectedly, comes along a film discovery that blows one's proverbial mind.  A couple years ago it was Charles Burnett's sublime neorealist urban tragedy Killer of Sheep.  Today it is Chadi Abdel Salam's Al Mummia (The Night of Counting the Years, aka The Mummy).   The film, made in 1969, is considered one of the greatest Egyptian films ever made.  Another notable gap in my personal film history knowledge is Egyptian Cinema by the way.  The film was recently beautifully restored by the Cineteca di Bologna in conjunction with Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation, and made its (re)debut at this year's Cannes Film Festival.  Richard Pena's praising piece in Film Comment over the Summer made it an almost sure thing that it would put in an appearance at this year's NYFF - and here it is, in all its glory.

Telling the story of a tribe living in the shadow of Egypt's past and the waning days of antiquity the film is a marvel to experience.  The movie follows two brothers, members of the Hurabat tribe and would be heirs to the tribe's throne.  After their father's death they find out that the tribe has been surviving by secretly selling antiquities from desecrated Pharaonic tombs. This arrogant piracy by the elders of the tribe shames the brothers, and they refuse to take part, putting their lives in dire jeopardy from the elders of the tribe.  

Filmed primarily at either dawn or dusk, Salam's film takes on an almost ethereal quality.  The photography, with its stunning heightened colouring and muted palette, along with the subtle editing and meandering, yet quickened pace gives the film a visual mythology all its own.  Blending the past with the present (at least the present of the film's 1890's setting), Al Mummia is like an ancient artifact unearthed from its own long buried tomb and given its day in the light only to have its public mystified by its almost unearthly strangeness.

One can only hope that the film will see more light of the day - or dark of the theatre I suppose - when it gets a release later this year or next.  Hope hope hoping.

Anticipating the Italian Horror Blog-a-Thon

Seasonal happenings are going on over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies - or at least they will be soon.  Kevin J. Olson, the fine proprietor of that fine cinematic blog will be hosting the Italian Horror Blog-a-thon starting October 19 and running through til All Hallows Eve.  The basic idea is to watch and discuss the best (and worst!) of the Italian Horror genre.  

I am looking forward to discussing such films as Bava's Bay of Blood and Black Sunday and the super stylized films of Argento.  There are also many films of this ilk I have not yet seen - an oversight I shall remedy this month.  All links to those participating in the Blog-a-thon, along with my own contributions, will be posted here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World, beginning October 19. 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Peter and Vandy Reviewed at MovieZeal

Over at MovieZeal you can read my latest review.  It's for the teeny tiny indie film Peter and Vandy.  Overall the film is getting either dissed or dismissed by most critics.  I seem to be one of the few who didn't totally write it off.  Taglined with "a love story told out of order" and debuting at Sundance just hours after the similarly styled (500) Days of Summer, the film has perhaps gotten some unfair criticisms. 

Sure, the film is far from perfect and it seems a bit lazy at times, but Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler make it work in their most lackadaisical way.  A disarming movie - not as hip as (500) Days nor as gut-wrenching as Flannel Pajamas (its two closest relatives) - and if nothing else, a charmingly low rent experimentation in cinematic rhythm.  Ah well, I am used to being off center in my likes and dislikes (the oft-critically-maligned, or at the very least, loved-or-hated - nothing inbetween - Watchmen, Tetro and Antichrist are all on my top ten list for the year).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Three New Reviews at The Cinematheque

Two Germans and an Italian walk into this blog.  No this isn't some strangely timecentric joke from a Tarantino film, it is a listing of my three latest reviews posted over at The Cinematheque.  

First up is the German film Cloud 9 (my review can be read here).  You know, the one about old people having sex.  This sexagenarian love triangle movie may set off a sort of ick factor in many viewers, especially in today's youth-driven market, but truth be told, it is a rather intensely tragic love story - no matter the age.  It is able to hold its own - and then some - against any of the so-called romances coming out of Hollywood lo these many years.

Second up is another German film but this time the praise isn't quite so high.  Well-meaning and quite controversial (and I usually love such a thing) is this new comedy about Hitler and the Holocaust.  Mein Fuhrer (my review can be read here), an audacious mineshaft of a movie, is the first German-born comedy on the subject.  It is not nearly as heinous as Roberto Begnini's reprehensible Life is Beautiful but that didn't stop it being denounced by many for its touchy subject matter.  As far as I am concerned, if anything, the film did not go far enough.  Director Dani Levy had a chance to push the envelope so to speak and create a groundbreaking film (the two leads are more than capable of pulling it off as well) but instead took the (semi) safe route and chickened out.

As for the Italian in our little threesome here, Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo (my review can be read here) is a Kubrickian anti-biopic about Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti - one of the most feared men in all of Italian political history.  Loud and brash, Il Divo plays as arrogant antithesis to the typical biopic clogging up the multiplex waves every Oscar season.  The film also acts as an orgasm of art in a way - exploding its political fable all over its audience in a cataclysmic eruption of cinematic chutzpah.  Take that! 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story Reviewed at MovieZeal

Michael Moore is one of those filmmakers - one of those people in general - who are either loved or hated by the masses.  He is a blunderbuss, bombastic badger of sorts, but then that is exactly what he needs to be to get the attention pointed toward his important films.  Many rightwingers blow him off as a fat lying pinko commie and many Dems don't like him because they believe his antics make liberals look bad.  I suppose I have thought that too, but after watching his latest, Capitalism: A Love Story (and I love that title dammit!), I have come to the conclusion that he is doing exactly what he should be doing. 

I have also noticed that his latest film is also his most Godardian.  You may not think Jean-Luc Godard when you think of Michael Moore, but believe me - it is there.  I go into relative detail in my review of the movie over at MovieZeal.  So go ahead over and read my review of Capitalism: A Love Story at MovieZeal and then watch the movie and see if you don't notice the Godardian influences in his filmmaking style.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Jennifer's Body Reviewed at The Cinematheque

Just posted my latest review over at The Cinematheque.  It is for the Megan Foxxed teenage-girl-as-monster movie, brilliantly titled Jennifer's Body.  That may seem a rather facetious brilliantly, but the simplistic title does sum up the underlying theme of the movie.  Typical horror movie appearance aside, Jennifer's Body, written by that horsefly with a stripper's pole, Diablo Cody, is an updating on many of the same motifs splayed out in De Palma's Carrie.  By the way, am I the only one that has noticed Jennifer's Body is about a girl possessed by the devil and it was written by someone named Diablo?  I guess so.  Anyway, enough babbling.  Go ahead and read my review if you're interested in what else I spout off about on the subject.