Monday, August 16, 2010

Line-Up for the 48th Annual New York Film Festival!!

While less skewed than last year's festival, The 48th New York Film Festival once again went with big art house names, but in a response to their last year fiasco, have went decidedly for stars for their big hitters. While The Social Network and The Tempest had already been announced, promising stars like Justin Timberlake, Helen Mirren, and Russell Brand, the closing night selection is another American hard-hitter, Hereafter, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Matt Damon. 

This shouldn't be too much of a surprise—Changeling was the Centerpiece two years ago, and the Film Society just completed a full retrospective on Eastwood. It has not been announced whether this will be a world premiere It will be a US Premiere, meaning the film might show up at London or Venice? This is still a strong launching pad for Warner Bros and another Eastwood Oscar campaign.

As for the rest of the fest, the five films I called shoe-ins were certainly chosen, and a few of the other like-lys as well. We've got Godard (chances of showing up: 0% Film Society has announced a critics panel instead), Kiarostami, "Joe," Leigh, Richardt, and Assayass (who doesn't love sitting for five hours of cinema?). Two flicks from Romania, both which showed up at Cannes (including Christi Puiu's follow-up to The Death of Mr. Lazerescu). Inside Job, the second film from Fullbright scholar Charles Ferguson—whose No End in Sight is a particularly excellent doc. 

Some of the rest are either black holes in my film knowledge or simply black holes due out by people like Scott Foundas and Richard Pena. We'll find out more about them when the official press release comes out later today (Film Society gave the NYTimes the early peek, as always). Until them, start your cinephelia salivating!

UPDATE: Two retrospectives have been announced—Fernando de Fuentes's "Revolution Trilogy" and the films of Masahido Shinoda (If you haven't seen Pale Flower, you are really missing out)

FINAL UPDATE: I checked with the Film Society on how Film Socialisme will be present—The subtitles are not actual translations, but put into dialogue similar to how Native American speak in Westerns. Richard Pena has confirmed (via FilmLinc's Twitter!) that it will be "same print as Cannes & subs an aesthetic element for Godard...if sometimes frustrating for non French speakers." For those who don't speak French, let's get to a class soon!

Opening Night: The Social Network (David Fincher, USA)
Centerpiece: The Tempest (Julie Taymour, USA)
Closing Night: Hereafter (Clint Eastwood, USA)


Another Year (Mike Leigh, United Kingdom)
Aurora (Cristi Puiu, Romania)
Black Venus (Abdellatif Kechiche, France)
Carlos (Olivier Assayas, France)
Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy)
Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland)
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, USA)
Le Quattro Volte (Michaelangelo Frammartino, Italy)
Lennon NYC (Michael Epstein, USA)
Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine/Germany)
Mysteries of Libson (Raul Ruiz, Portugal/France)
Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois, France)
Oki's Movie (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
Old Cats (Sebastian Silva, Chile)
Poetry (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea)
Post Mortem (Pablo Larrain, Chile/Mexico/Germany)
Revolucion (Mariana Chenillo, Fernando Embecke, Amat Escalate, Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo Garcia, Diego Luna, Gerardo Naranjo, Rodrigo Pla, Carlos Reygadas, Patricia Riggen, Mexico)
The Robber (Benjamin Heisenberg, Austria/Germany)
Robinson in Ruins (Patrick Keiller, UK)
Silent Souls (Alexei Fedorchenko, Russia)
The Strange Case of Angelica, Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal)
Tuesday After Christmas (Radu Muntean, Romania)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul "Joe," UK/Thailand)
We Are What We Are (Jorge Michel Grau, Mexico)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Was With That Credit Sequence In "The Other Guys"?

Spoilers for The Other Guys

            The Other Guys, which I reviewed last weekend on my website, is the latest collaboration from director-writer Adam McKay and superstar Will Ferrell. The film is decently funny—some jokes work better than others—especially when it is less plotted and action focused (unfortunately that is the all we’re given in the last half hour).
            However, one thing has stuck out for many viewers, which has been put online, which is the film’s credit sequence. In the plot of The Other Guys, Ferrell and Mark Whalberg are a couple of idiot cops who basically stop a corrupt Wall Street banker (Steve Coogan) from stealing the pension of the New York Police Department. Mr. McKay has said he chose this as his villain because he thought it was more timely than another drug dealer or Russian terrorist.
            Yet if to make intentions clear, in the credits, we are given a number of financial facts that relate to how Wall Street has crippled Main Street. We are told how a Ponzi Scheme works, the increase in CEO pay over the last decade, and how the money each American spent on the bailout could fly us around the world.
            I have no issue with putting this material in the film—its something all Americans should know, especially with Primary season in full motion. But does it belong in a McKay-Ferrell comedy? Perhaps if the film had been more political throughout, and had taken a real eye to Wall Street—Instead, these credits feel like a band-aid over a bigger problem. They are essential viewing though, so check them out below: 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

'Enter the Void' Plans on Giving Acid Trip without Health Costs

            Fans of shock cinema can start getting excited today as IFC Films released the trailer for Gasper Noe’s latest, Enter the Void. The film, which originally played in Cannes 2009 (though has been edited slightly since then), is a highly ambitious film in the cinematic front, and wildly ethereal. The film follows a boy named Oscar for forty minutes, all shot from his point of view (including a drug hallucination) until he is shot during a drug deal gone wrong in Tokyo. But then we follow his soul, traversing through buildings and memories, friends and enemies, and what culminates to be a little violence and a lot of gratuitous sex.
            Having seen the final cut, I don’t want to give a full review here, though I will say that the cinematic achievement can’t really match the thematic grounding for the film. Noe is always pushing boundaries—many cannot forget the nine minute rape sequence in Irreversible—and this film certainly asks a lot from its viewers, and some will find it rewarding, while others will dismiss the film. If you are looking for something trippy though, Noe will certainly put you in good company.

            Judge for yourself below, as well as the film’s extremely intense and ridiculous credit sequence:

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Inception Continued: Dreaming Reality

Spoilers for Christopher Nolan's Inception Follow

            In what will hopefully be the last words I have to write about Inception (which is false considering my upcoming study on Christopher Nolan’s philosophy as embedded in the final choices and perceived realities of his protagonists), there has been one particular criticism of the film that has slightly baffled me. While I am not the film’s most championed supporter, I find this particular “fault” in the film slightly strange. The argument is best summarized by A.O. Scott in his New York Times review

“But though there is a lot to see in “Inception,” there is nothing that counts as genuine vision. Mr. Nolan’s idea of the mind is too literal, too logical, too rule-bound to allow the full measure of madness — the risk of real confusion, of delirium, of ineffable ambiguity — that this subject requires. The unconscious, as Freud (and Hitchcock, and a lot of other great filmmakers) knew, is a supremely unruly place, a maze of inadmissible desires, scrambled secrets, jokes and fears. If Mr. Nolan can’t quite reach this place, that may be because his access is blocked by the very medium he deploys with such skill.”

“It's all so neatly organized! In other words, not dreamlike at all. Just disappointingly flat, sterile, cold, rational. If a filmmaker is going to dream, the challenge is to dream big, to show us things in ways we haven't seen before, not to simply regurgitate indifferently executed clich├ęs from action pictures and heist movies: car chases, kidnappings, gunfights, interrogations, elevators, ski chases…”

            Both these critics, who are among many, point to the fact that Christopher Nolan gives us a dream world, and the decided to not explore it, something that David Lynch would never do. The dreams, whether inspired or not, are purportedly grounded in something that could exist in the real world. The car chase through LA is cold and dreary, the hotel, at least before the world starts shifting, is plain, and the snow fortress may have an interesting design, but its nothing out of the ordinary. The worst of it is the area called “Limbo,” where apparently all of the universe’s unkempt dream space is stored. When Cobb and Adrianne arrived there, it is quite massive—skyscraper after skyscraper after skyscraper…and that’s about it. No cosmic designs in the sky, nothing floating around, simply a big mound of cement.

            However, I think we need go back to Inception’s own inception, and the starting idea. If we can consider what was the idea that inspired Nolan to make this film, which can be difficult considering how muddled the film is thematically, one idea keeps coming back: how do establish the difference between dreams and reality? I think if we consider that idea, along with what Nolan does with the mise-en-scene of his film, there are some quite radical revelations. Instead of giving us something out of this world, Nolan takes his cues from Michael Mann's often ultra-realistic films, and attempts to show us a dream world that we can believe in. In Inception, the goal of Cobb’s team is to trick the dreamer, and thus the viewer, that they are not dreaming. Which is why the dreams look real.

            Nolan seems to be taking cues from the philosophy of quantum physics: even the most random things are bound by specific rules. Everything in the universe that we know follows logic. So why are dreams so different? Is our subconscious unhinged or do we simply think it is not bound by this universe? Nolan takes these notions by creating what can only be described as “dream logic,” attempting to understand how our dreams could function. He lays on blunt ideas, uses his made-up scientific jargon repeatedly, giving us rule after rule in his dreaming. 

            Thus the look of Inception—the cold, dreary, almost dead-less look, is one of order. If Nolan deserves praise on a thematic level, it is because he goes against the typical rule of how dreams should be. He bounds them to their realistic existence. What I hope Nolan is going for is not the already crackpot notion that our reality may just be a dream, but the opposite, that dreams are simply another for of reality, and thus of existence.

            However, this thematic and philosophical idea, the problem that Scott and Emerson find an issue with, is problematic for its own reasons. The layers of exposition take us away from exploring these notions, and when things should start getting crazy, as dreams “collapse” and the subconscious of different characters collide, Nolan sticks to his rules. He’s not willing to take it to the extreme and sticks to what he knows. This is why Limbo is so disappointing—we know that this world could be anything, where Cobb and Mal had full control of anything they could create, and instead they make a plain metropolis that is as cold and meticulous as anything else in the film.

            Nolan, for all his spectacle, is too rational of a filmmaker. He constrains himself to genre tactics, and his ideas are thus buried and have to be extracted. Cobb explains early in the film to his father,” "It's the chance to build cathedrals, entire cities, things that never existed -- things that couldn't exist in the real world," but Nolan has no interest in what can’t exist, only what can. Nolan thus is so bogged down in his rules that thematically, Inception is either point blank or not really saying much. While I have defended the decision of Nolan to explore the dreamscape as a form of reality, I think that is where the imagination stops and reality begins. 

           I repeat what I said in my original review—the more complicated Nolan's films have becomed, the less thematic relevance has been built in. There is a lot to discuss in Inception ("I swear I saw the totem fall!" or "You didn't see the shot of Cobb and Mal's hands when they were old?"), but none it leads to the same discussions that one would have about films that Nolan is reaching for: say 2001 or Blade Runner. Which is why reality for Nolan is a gift and a curse. He creates something truly original, but then again, we've seen it all before.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

No Laughing Matter: The Death of the Romantic Comedy

The Bounty Hunter

           New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd used her column today to address an issue that is not exactly ground breaking, but one that seems to pop up every few years or so. When are we going to get a good romantic comedy. The article is a discussion between her and the young writer Sam Wasson, who’s book Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. follows the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
            Dowd asks Wasson, “Where are new Sturgeses and Lubitsches?” and Wasson replies with some modest remarks for Jason Reitman but ultimately a fallen hope for anything close to a great romantic comedy in the future. The two drop movie titles like hot cakes: He’s Just Not That Into You, The Bounty Hunter, Knight & Day, all terrible movies (or at least I’ve been told about the formers, while my review of Knight & Day was not in any way pretty) that try and be smart and funny romantic comedies. Dowd and Wasson point to one important factor that is a key reason why this matters: Any man can sit down in front of Bringing Up Baby or even Annie Hall and enjoy it. Sit me down in front of The Proposal? I’ll be out of my seat in ten minutes or less.
            Although the article is not as informative as it is an interested read, Wasson makes one point that I think really defines the downfall of the romantic comedy: “Back in the days of one-foot-on-the-floor, wit was the best (and only) way to talk about sex.” Sex, as anyone with a brain knows, sells, and sells damn well. In the era of the Production Code, you couldn’t show sex, so you just included everything but. In Stanley Cavell’s famous book Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarraige, the famed scholar basically argues that famed screwball comedies are often about characters returning to their married states, thus guaranteeing your ending will be one thing and one thing only: sex. Sure you can’t show it, but your audience will walk away satisfied.
The Proposal
            So when the MPAA took over and Bonnie & Clyde gave us our sex up front, a new formula is born. This formula can be broken down into four stages: The courting, the coitus, the fallout, and the return to coitus. The move changes everything—now our sex appears in the middle of the film, which means our stars need to show more skin at some point, which means the notions of beauty change.
            Here’s one thing I have never understood: the spectacle of the body. When I watch a film, I rarely notice the beauty of the star beyond the fact that she is beautiful. Sometimes it is gratuitous (Megan Fox in both Transformers films), but beauty for me doesn’t signal a break in the film or a distraction (One exception gets me every time, and that is Christina Hendricks on Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men, who uses Joan’s sexuality is very careful ways).
            The idea thus for studios, is this: people want to see these two hot bodies come together. The situations are irrelevant. The sex is the important point. Thus, today’s standard romantic comedy. The reason there is no one focusing on dialogue the same way Frank Capra and Preston Sturges did is there is an idea there is no need to. The Proposal made huge money last summer at the box office, and Valentine’s Day did extremely well last February. When there is a flop, its not the film, it’s the star.
            Woody Allen used to be a savior, simply because his film’s have never depended on the sexual appeal of the star to sell them, though he has often cast very beautiful people and then put them in ugly situations. When Harry Met Sally does a similar thing, and its writer Nora Ephron, has come closest to giving something slightly fresh, such as the romance people Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci in Julie & Julia. Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right is a gold mine compared to other films, but that itself is independent flare.
            However, when we consider the majority of romance films, its not a pretty site. Wasson writes, “The question is, will there be a backlash? A renaissance? I don’t think people realize how dire the situation is. I mean culturally, emotionally, the whole idea of romance is gone, gone, gone.” The majority of the problem is not the studios, its because we are not asking for smart comedy. We would rather watch Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock go through the motions.
            Studios thought it was a revelation when Inception did well at the box office. Do people really want smart (at least at a surface level) entertainment? But Christopher Nolan’s film is just a blip on the radar. Next summer will be Thor, Pirates 4, The Smurfs in 3D, and order will be restored. To say that the romantic comedy, if it next few iterations perform poorly, could go through a renaissance is only wishful thinking. Thankfully, Netflix Instant Watch is not going anywhere. 

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

NYFF Predictions: Hollywood Vs. Cannes

Helen Mirren in The Tempest

With the announcement only about a week away, its time for some educated guesswork on what will be at this year’s New York Film Festival. Richard Pena and crew have already made two off-key announcements: the festival will open with David Fincher’s The Social Network (aka “The Facebook Movie”) and the centerpiece selection will be Julie Taymour’s The Tempest, which has an all star cast led by Helen Mirren in the title, now gender-bending role.
            The two choices make for interesting news because NYFF has been known to stick away from big stars in favor of international and more obscure pictures, but this caused a series of backlashes last year. Both The Social Network and The Tempest seem to show either outside pressure on the committee or the committee itself, which has now added ex-Vareity film critic Todd McCarthy, has decided to stick more mainstream. The decision also might be effected by the lack of Cannes films desired. This festival was not well received, and although certain films will sure make the NYFF cut, I’m sure the lack of dynamic films has caused the committee to search toward Hollywood films. As always, there are sure to be a handful of Asian and Latin American autuers as well.

So below are my picks for what we will probably see next week:

For Sure In

Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami: Kiarostami is beloved by NYFF and his most mainstream picture to date, at least due to the fact that the film is in English and stars Juliette Binoche, should make it an easy contender.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Like Kiarostami, the Thai director better know as “Joe” is a staple at the festival, and NYFF has had the Palm D’Or winner at the festival for as long as I can remember.
Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy

Film Socialisme, Jean-Luc Godard: If the committee does include a bunch of America star studded pictures, I could see the backhand coming with Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film, which exploded at Cannes like no other due to its simply confounding nature. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Film Socialisme is featured with other classic Godard films to highlight his 50 years in cinema.

Carlos, Olivier Assayas: NYFF is never afraid of epics; Che played two years ago, and all three parts of the Red Riding trilogy last year. Add to the fact that Olivier Assayas is a stape at the festival, and the film is much more accessible than his past films, and you’ve got a guaranteed entry.

Another Year, Mike Leigh: The British auteur is another NYFF favorite, though I could see this one being skipped over for something either less obscure, or perhaps more obscure. Most likely the committee will invite him for another run at the fest.


Poetry, Lee Chang-dong: This Korean film won best screenplay at Cannes this year, and although it did divide some critics, Lee is the kind of auteur that the committee revels behind. It seems like the kind of film a critic like Scott Foundas would champion.

The Housemaid
Housemaid, Im Sang-Soo: Richard Pena is a huge fan of Kim Ki-young’s original 1960 film, as well as Korean cinema in general, so I have a feeling he will try and push this onto the committee.

The Strange Case of Angelica, Manoel de OliveiraL Now at 101 years old, NYFF always seems to crave the latest film by the world’s oldest director.

Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance: This very well received indie-film starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling could make its way to Lincoln Center. I could see this being the equivalent to Precious last year where it’s the film’s performers that influence the committee.

Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt: Richard Pena has championed Ms. Reichardt’s last two films, especially Wendy and Lucy, which is why her latest indie-drama, again with Michelle Williams, should make the cut.


Miral, Julian Schnabel: Mr. Schnabel might have made it with his last film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but Miral, which stars Freida Pinto as a Palestinian woman, might be either too mainstream or too political to attract the same attention this time.

The Illusionist, Sylvain Chome: NYFF 2007 closed with the animated film Persepolis and I see no problem in bringing Sylvian Chome’s follow-up to The Triplets of Belville, which features a lost screenplay by Jacques Tati.

Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life
Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky: If there is another American auteur that NYFF has championed, it is the director of The Wrestler (NYFF 08 Closer) and The Fountain. His new film, a thriller set in the world of New York ballet, might be the kind of dark yet mainstream picture NYFF is hoping to add this year.

Start Praying Now

The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick: Malick’s fifth film, which deals with the beginning of time as well as a family drama starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, has skipped over Cannes, and then Toronto and Venice. I’m sure NYFF would love the attention, but chances are slim on this very special film that Malick will refused to be rushed on. 

Monday, August 02, 2010

TV Review: 'Rubicon' Takes It Old School

Sundays at 9PM ET on AMC

            The symbol that drives the first two hours of the new show Rubicon on AMC is a four-leaf clover. A symbol that is meant to represent luck, the characters of Rubicon, most notably Will Travers (James Badge Dale), see it as it’s opposite: the beginning of a pattern, a highly constructed one at that. Rubicon is not about luck or coincidence; it’s about looking past those and finding the real conspiracies. The new television series is meticulously plotted, and the clues our not hidden in the back code of computers, but in crossword puzzles and typewriters.
            Rubicon, so to say, is old school. Since September 11th, a number of shows have made their way into pop culture by using big vast conspiracies at their hearts: Lost, 24, Flashforward, and more. But these are just hooks to keep viewer glued to episodes without anything of meaning. Fan boys pour over clues without ever considering the thematic meaning. Rubicon is detailed, but not for its plot—it’s about atmosphere in this show. It takes conspiracies as its main game and the people who pour over them. The show, created by Jason Horwotch (Medical Investigation) but being run by Henry Bromell (Homicide: Life on the Streets), sucks you in with its deadening look and quiet tone. There’s a train crash in the first hour, but besides that, it’s really a lot of quick-paced dialogue that might take two or three listens for the viewer to catch up with the characters. The intensity from Rubicon derives not from shocking twists that don’t make sense; it’s from the process of watching heroes figure it out on their own.
            The show takes place in a small warehouse in lower Manhattan that houses the American Progress Institute, a think tank that processes all the other information that the CIA, NSA, and FBI take in. The crew look for the patterns. In one early scene, our hero, Will, takes a look at four seemingly unrelated countries with his twitchy co-worker Miles (Dallas Roberts). “They were all part of the Roman Empire. They all spend less that 5% of their GDP on their military,” Will says without taking more than a second to think it out. While the rest of his crew might turn out to be unfortunate cookie-cutter characters (The new girl, the snarky big shot, the caring secretary), none of them seem to be jumping for joy, they all enter this world dreary and depressive. Will, who lost his wife and child on 9/11, is the most reserved of the bunch, which allows him to concentrate and be the best at his position.
            The real action of Rubicon begins when Will brings a series of crossword puzzles to his boss and closest friend, David (Peter Gerety). The same four clues appear in seven different newspapers, and Will is convinced it means something. David dismisses it, but brings it to his boss (a particularly creepy Christopher Evan Welch), and then ends up in a train crash the next day. Will, after some sulking (which will probably be a recurring theme), takes his position, and decides to investigate those crosswords closer. A subplot also brewing includes Miranda Richardson, who begins investigating the mystery behind her husband’s suicide, who is in someway connected to Will’s creepy bosses.
            Some might call Rubicon an emotionless and dreary series, but the first two hours are engrossing because it doesn’t try and suck you in with gimmicks. It’s quiet and never flashy. Bromell has cited the Sydney Pollack and Alan Pakula thrillers of the 1970s as inspirations, and in many ways, this feels like All The President’s Men. No one has a computer in their offices—they simply stare at paper after paper, trying to connect dots however they can. I’m not sure whether Rubicon can sustain its momentum, since it has little to begin with, but I’m fascinated by its visual structure and languid pacing. It also seems to take a step back and look at our obsession witgh obsession itself. Looking at these people, seeing how meticulous and little their works is, and how it can add up to nothing, is a frightening idea. Is this how dead we are inside? Will finding that last clue really bring us the satisfaction we’ve been craving all our lives? Rubicon makes us want to believe in the conspiracy, but it seems like its also willing to question it at the same time.
AMC might have another winner, along with Breaking Bad and Mad Men, to add to its dedication to quality TV (and Paul Darabont’s zombie apocalypse show The Waking Dead looks quite good as well). Rubicon not in a rush to get anywhere fast. While other series are in a rush to pour you with too much information, it seems like it will let us sizzle in the details for as long as it wants, and let us have contemplate not only the puzzles, but why we enjoy breaking them so much.