Sean Hutchinson – CriterionCast Mon, 13 Nov 2017 05:24:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sean Hutchinson – CriterionCast 32 32 Sean Reviews Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy [Theatrical Review] Sat, 24 Jan 2015 14:00:32 +0000 The Duke of Burgundy

When the credits on a movie include a “human toilet consultant” then you know what follows isn’t going to be especially “normal.” Director Peter Strickland’s gorgeously strange and sensuous The Duke of Burgundy is a striking and densely layered portrayal of a sadomasochistic relationship between two women, which may sound off-putting, but it all boils down to one of the most unique love stories you’ll see onscreen this—or any—year.

Each day, in an unknown year and an unnamed European locale, two women follow a series of predetermined gestures, lines, and actions in a large gothic mansion. What we see is an intricate game of submission and domination, performance and roleplay, mostly involving Evelyn (the younger, soft-spoken maid played by Chiara D’Anna) being sternly reprimanded and subsequently “punished” by Cynthia (the older, middle-aged owner of the mansion played by Sidse Babett Knudsen). Sometimes these punishments result in Evelyn simply being told how worthless she is, but other times the punishments result in instances like Cynthia taking Evelyn behind closed doors off-camera into the bathroom to, um, well, let’s just say the tinkling of liquid heard isn’t coming from the faucet.

What makes The Duke of Burgundy resonate isn’t the assumption that the performative routine going on before us—which is astutely portrayed by the precise and meticulously controlled performances of D’Anna and Knudsen—is just a repetitive and kinky gimmick, but rather that the performative aspects are portrayed as an honest and essential part of the dynamic of this and every other romantic relationship as a whole. It’s like a BDSM version of Certified Copy, or a more vivid extension of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

Filtered through the outwardly strange fetishistic behaviors of this otherwise tender and loving couple (maybe the farthest thing from what could be accepted as an orthodox relationship between two significant others) we’re meant to recognize in ourselves how we also behave. Despite all outwards appearances what we see is us, and we’re invited to address in ourselves who is submissive, who is dominant, and how much that really matters once the thrill is gone.

The feminine vacuum that Cynthia and Evelyn work within (there are no men in the entire movie and about 99% of it takes place inside the mansion walls) created by Strickland is molded even further when we realize that Evelyn is the one with all the power. She’s the puppetmaster pulling all the strings and conducting what goes on between the two, and her deepening desire for control is the crux of the entire film. For however essential Cynthia is to Evelyn, Evelyn’s enthusiasm to explore these scripted procedures even further becomes the thing that causes Cynthia to gradually back off and question their once inseparable bond. It’s a metamorphosis overtly implied by the characters being surrounded by countless specimens of moths and butterflies neatly tacked against the walls in cases throughout the house (both characters happen to be amateur lepidopterists).

Those unwilling to look a bit deeper may find The Duke of Burgundy languishes a bit too much in its slow-burn weirdness, yet those that give themselves over (in a sense we’re no longer voyeurs but participants in the movie) will be wrapped up in its undeniable and eerie eroticism. It’s probably the most downright sexy movies I’ve seen in a very long time, and there’s nary a naked body or overt sexual act throughout the entire runtime. This gets at why the movie is so effective. The Duke of Burgundy captures you, and emphasizes in its fetishism what is both seen and unseen. In any circumstance you won’t be able to look away.

Sean Reviews Monte Hellman’s The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind [Criterion Blu-ray Review] Wed, 10 Dec 2014 14:00:27 +0000 ShootingRide1200x630

One of the greatest things the Criterion Collection has done lately—besides putting out an absolutely gorgeous book which any of your are more than welcome to buy me for Christmas—is to beef up the movies in their western genre. Just like any of the themes of movies they have to explore in the collection, you have your undeniable classics like Ford’s Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine, your notorious entries like Howard HawksRed River or Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, and you have some solid titles like the Delmer Daves double feature of 3:10 to Yuma and Jubal to round it out.

But it’s safe to say that there are no westerns in the Criterion Collection like Monte Hellman’s The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind. Strike that, there aren’t many westerns period that are like Hellman’s pair of revisionist films that came towards the end of the tumultuous 1960s. Both films, which feature similar casts, were shot back to back, and were apart of a two-for package deal by infamous producer Roger Corman, carve out a unique niche in the genre for Criterion. In fact, Hellman’s The Shooting is considered the first in the sub-genre of so-called “acid westerns,” which laid contemporary 1960s counter-culture ideologies over the classic tropes of the western.

Make no bones about it, The Shooting is the undeniable star of the package and is the glorious antithesis of most of the westerns in the collection. A twisting and intentionally confounding minimalist tale about a mysterious woman (played by Millie Perkins) who leads a bounty hunter (played by the inimitable Warren Oates) and his companion (played by the innocent, Leave-It-To-Beaver-esque Will Hutchins) on an equally mysterious revenge mission in a desolate landscape, the film plays out like an old west version of an Antonioni film or Waiting for Godot (in fact, “Looking for Godot” might have made an intriguing alternate title). Much of the specifics about why she’s leading them, why they follow her, and what they’re looking for is left up in the air, but the motivations for each are found embedded within the rich text of this strangely magnetic movie.

As with most of the best Modernist art, the specifics aren’t the point, and it’s the eerie and elliptical journey populated by vividly realized characters that make the movie. Oates saunters through each scene, pulling the audience in, while Perkins’ steadfast and unsettling presence does the same despite seemingly turning the audience away with her character’s steely resolve. A young Jack Nicholson’s appearance later in the film as a black-clad sharpshooter hints at his later magnetism as an actor, even when his entire part involves him showing up and challenging Oates. He’s written simply as a literal embodiment of forces that haunt the others and it’s still one of the highlights of the movie.

Ride in the Whirlwind is the definite companion piece of the release, both hinting at some of the more abstract details from The Shooting but still encompassing a more straightforward western narrative. A trio of cowboys (including Jack Nicholson as the more junior member of the group) are mistaken for a similar group of outlaws (led by Harry Dean Stanton) who infamously rob stagecoaches, and must hide from a group of vigilantes out for justice. Millie Perkins features again—in a completely opposite role—as an innocent farm-girl who must unwittingly house the cowboys in her mother and father’s farmhouse as they hide out.

The fact that the film is more straightforward almost plays to its detriment when taken alongside The Shooting, whose essential function seems to be subverting and toying with genre tropes. But Ride in the Whirlwind offers a great little revisionist western when taken on its own merits. With a script by Nicholson, the story plays with themes of youth and memory, and while it doesn’t attempt to garner lofty literary comparisons like The Shooting, Ride in the Whirlwind makes for an equally gritty and engaging alternative.

It seems The Shooting/Ride in the Whirlwind isn’t a flashy release that a ton of people have been waiting for, but it’s an intriguing one that nevertheless deserves to be found by fans of the genre. Both films question the American mythologies of the western—there’s definitely no John Wayne here—but still include themselves nicely within the genre as well. They’re movies meant for people to wander into just as the characters themselves wander through the desolate and mountainous western landscapes that populate each film. Their layered and nuanced studies reward multiple viewings, and they’ve been among the best surprises that Criterion has released this year.

The surprises continue on into the special features as Criterion has put together some nice supplements for context. Criterion producer Curtis Tsui’s comments at the most recent Wexner talk about how the Collection attempts to tell a story with each film has really effected the way I look at each release, starting with The Shooting/Ride in the Whirlwind. The light but informative commentaries on both films, the interviews with many of the actors and filmmakers, and the really brilliant Warren Oates video appreciation by critic Kim Gordon leave you with a better understanding of this great little double feature without making it seem laborious or didactic. You’re there with Millie Perkins as she recounts basing her Ride in the Whirlwind performance on a chicken, bumbling with Will Hutchins as he talks about late nights with a young Jack Nicholson, and side by side with Hellman and Roger Corman as they recall Corman’s hilariously unorthodox filmic practices.

The only gripes with the supplements can be found with something there and something not. Hellman’s interview with actor Harry Dean Stanton lasts a puzzlingly short 3 minutes. I think we can all agree than any interview under 5 minutes should either be scrapped or tacked on somewhere else even if it doesn’t involve someone as awesome as Harry Dean Stanton. In short, I wish there was more there. The other gripe belongs to the conspicuously absent Jack Nicholson, who has showed up in Criterion releases before, but for nothing conducted by Criterion themselves. Perhaps he was too busy at a Lakers game to offer a few words, but now that I think about it even 3 minutes of Nicholson talking about these movies would have been tantalizing enough.

As I said, these two phenomenal releases deserve to be discovered if you haven’t seen them before like me, and until they’re uploaded to the Hulu Plus page I’d say it’s a solid choice for a blind buy if you’re a western fan. If you have seen the two pictures already then Criterion has—as always—done good bringing them to the masses.


Sean Reviews Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria [NYFF 2014] Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:00:00 +0000 Clouds of Sils Maria

As far as enigmatic movies go, Olivier AssayasClouds of Sils Maria is among the most mainstream, and that definitely isn’t a bad thing. Compared to something like the Dardenne Brothers’ misstep, Two Days, One Night, Assayas’ film uses its star power and the real-life connotations of its subject matter to tell an outwardly casual story that has deep sub-textual ramifications. Vague and guarded when it needs to be, it also manages to be equally melodramatic and external when it wants to be, making for a sly meta-commentary on broad themes like desire, womanhood, obsolescence, waning sexuality, and the bitter pull of Hollywood.

Anchored by two delicately confrontational performances by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart (the latter finally proving she’s more than just a barely-interested tween icon), Clouds of Sils Maria marks a brilliant and moody return to the similar themes Assayas explored in 1996’s Irma Vep. Binoche is Maria Enders, an over-the-hill former French film icon who is approached to star in the remake of the movie that launched her storied career a few decades earlier. Called “Maloja Snake,” the film is a sort of sexual tete-a-tete between an older businesswoman and her dynamic young female secretary who enter into a volatile lesbian affair. Fans of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant will see more than a few the similarities here. Enders ostensibly burst onto the scene playing the precocious secretary—a role that haunts her and preoccupies her memory till this day—but the filmmakers for the remake want her to now reinterpret the older role of the has-been, which was previously performed by a co-star who died in a car accident a year after the original movie was released.

Riding along on Enders’ coattails is her assistant Val (Stewart) who goads Enders into thinking about, and then accepting the new role. The two run lines together, and argue about what each perspective represents to them and the characters. The mirroring and co-dependency between real life and the fiction in the film are not hard to miss. Assayas wrote the 1985 film Rendez-vous, which launched Binoche’s career, and the film-within-a-film conceit works on the film’s obsession with the passage of time and how such a simple thing could effect the vitality of actresses both at the start and in the twilight of their careers.

Much like Binoche’s turn in Abbas Kiarostami’s similarly-meta Certified Copy, the film uses its magnetic leads to seductively pull the viewers in to the film’s mysterious and open-ended psychological underpinnings. Just as you think you’ve got things figured out—insofar as the film needs to be “figured out at all—it seems to dissolve into elliptical directions punctuated by a series of elegant fade-outs that transition us from scene to scene. It is a film that always seems just one step ahead and you’ll gladly let it lead you wherever it wants to go.

Past versus present, real life versus performance, Clouds of Sils Maria blurs the lines between the blurred lines to create a mesmerizing drama of oblique emotions and gorgeous visuals. Its dreamlike quality lulls you into its grasp, and even when it may over step its welcome to become too on the nose it’s still worth keeping up with. Olivier Assayas remains one of the most vital voices in cinema today, and Clouds of Sils Maria is ample evidence of his artistic genius.


Sean Reviews Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner [NYFF 2014] Fri, 17 Oct 2014 14:00:34 +0000 Mr. Turner

At a certain point—however unconventional it is—a biopic needs to key you in to why exactly the subject it’s depicting is important enough to warrant the biopic you’re watching in the first place. A lot of times these sorts of films overdo it with an overwhelming hagiography that portrays the myth instead of the human being (something like Jobs comes to mind), while others manage to undercut the legend to tell a nuanced story that nevertheless remains fiction (something like Lincoln comes to mind). But what if we get a biopic with neither? Instead of giving us a biographical story that portrays an important figure that tells you their significance you just get a very plain film that just so happens to feature someone who is important. This is how I feel about director Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. Neither overwrought nor subtle enough to tell the story of the great British painter J.M.W. Turner, it is a film that never bothers to get down to the business of making us appreciate the person it’s telling a very long story about, even on a character-based level.

Spanning the late 18th century Georgian period into the 19th century Victorian period, the film shows the curmudgeonly painter’s day-to-day life living with his ailing father and homely housekeeper in London, sometimes showing wealthy patrons his next scrawled out work to be bought up and sometimes showing his repetitive jaunts out to stay with a pleasant innkeeper whose rooms along the Margate shore offer perfect painterly views for inspiration—all the while showing his idiosyncratic and anti-social behavior. Other than that, sadly, there’s not much more there to anchor the story on, and we move from scene to scene without it ever latching on to a real narrative base.

Part of it hints at the fluidity of the creative spirit, but not really, and other parts address the intellectual misgivings about the true nature of art, but not really. This sort of free-form structure is Leigh’s wont, and could have made for an interesting mirrored exploration given the similarly semi free-form style in Turner’s own work, but none of it lands. Instead, Leigh falls back on his usual humor-based antics showcasing the foibles of everyday British culture, but rather than, say, a working-class family getting the laughs it happens to be this famous painter and the weird people he encounters. This kind of method is observational and, again, could have worked, but what’s onscreen never really becomes worth observing.

Timothy Spall’s portrayal of Turner is interesting if not a bit of a caricature. Much has been made of the way he grunts his way through the movie, and though it begins as a humorous little tic it soon becomes annoying, mostly because it’s the only thing that Spall chooses to use to truly define the character. The rest of the cast basically comes and goes without a whiff of consequence. Marion Bailey, who plays Turner’s landlady and eventual mistress, makes the biggest impression besides Spall, though it remains unbearably slight. We never get a sense of who her character is and why she would latch onto Turner other than the fact that he turns up every so often for room and board. Things, and people, just kind of happen, and I realize the argument can be made about how this reflects truth and the way real life functions, but you don’t see people making biopics about any old person walking down the street now do you?

The best thing to say about Mr. Turner is the cinematography, which, in a movie about a landscape painter, had to be near-perfect or the entire thing would have come crashing down. Cinematographer Dick Pope captures the countryside and the interiors of the film with a tendency towards flat but lively framed tableaux, positioning the figures themselves in the same palette as Turner’s own scenes. Many of the exteriors early on are nothing short of sumptuous to look at, leading me to believe that maybe an entire movie of these sorts of arrangements would have sufficed.

It’s frustrating when an artist you appreciate is represented in such an inconsequential way like this. Even if he wasn’t recognized in his lifetime as the legendary painter he is seen as today, the methods of J.M.W. Turner still need to come across in a movie about him somewhere and Mr. Turner enigmatically leaves those sorts of things out. He gives us even less. As far as biopic go, you need to feel the need for the biopic in the first place, and Mr. Turner a movie that barely leaves a lasting impression.

Sean Reviews Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night [NYFF 2014] Tue, 14 Oct 2014 13:00:47 +0000 Two Days One Night

Simplicity is the name of the game for the Dardenne brothers, or, more specifically, outward simplicity. Because however naturalistic and easy to describe the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are they all seem to simmer with raw emotional complexity just below the superficially categorized working-class aesthetics of their exteriors. It works in most cases—Rosetta, La promesse, et. al—but with their new film, Two Days, One Night, the brothers manage to fall prey to their celebrated simplicity a bit too easily. Instead of letting the film’s straightforward story be the foundation for a deep-seated and generous subtext—which, regardless of what I say, many people will still find present here—the film instead fades into repetitive motions that render it relatively insubstantial.

The premise—if you didn’t get it already—is simple: Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a factory worker in the industrial port town of Liège in Seraing, Beligium who has learned that she is about to be laid off due to downsizing measures at the factory. Her potential termination was made by 16 of her co-workers who were forced by vote to choose between keeping her on the workforce or each getting a €1,000 bonus. Only two people voted in her favor, and it is now up to her to sway the rest of the crew’s votes over the weekend (hence the title) to keep her job after she organizes a second vote to garner the additional seven votes needed to keep her position.

Cotillard’s pill-popping character is a fragile, emotionally wrought woman on the edge, and Cotillard herself is, unsurprisingly, the best thing the film has going for it. From what is revealed, the audience infers that Sandra has had both minor clashes with particular co-workers in the past and a recent mental breakdown that has kept her away from the job for an inspecified period of time, making the majority of her colleagues skeptical of her proficiency. Her and her line-cook husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) have just managed to pull themselves off welfare to care for their two children, and the loss of her already meager income will put the family in even more dire straits.

Like a pared down and unadorned version of Norma Rae, Sandra resorts to tracking down each of her workmates by going door to door, asking for their confidence in her abilities and to keep her job. Early on the scenes have that patented downplayed Dardenne authority to them, with Cotillard balancing her character’s timid emotional state with a sobering sincerity. Sandra isn’t asking for pity, but rather for her co-workers to just put themselves in her shoes.

The movie soon tries to keep up a tempo, hopping with Sandra from person to person, and the anticipation of their responses—running the gamut between outright cruelty to kind-hearted empathy—becomes the main draw of much the film. But it doesn’t seem to develop any further from there, and that moment by moment tempo soon loses its rhythm as much of the blue collar commentary that makes up the very small portion of meat on the bone is swallowed up by the film’s own casual reluctance to actually say something.

Despite the lack of real substance, Two Days, One Night still manages to carry with it a magnetic air of compelling drama that never embellishes, and most of it is due to Cotillard. And yet even though she elevates the material with her mere presence it is still problematic. I should clarify so as to not contradict what I’ve previously said—Cotillard herself isn’t problematic, but rather the idea of Cotillard is problematic, mostly because having a quote/unquote movie star of her caliber in this role is a distraction for the kind of story being told. Granted, Cotillard’s name in the credits guarantees the widest exposure of any Dardenne brothers movie to date (and this is from two guys who have won boatloads of awards, including the Palme d’or) but something tells me if they went their normal route and cast a non-actor or less known actress it would have strengthened the film’s overall message of powerful austerity.

This again points to the film’s main problem—does the film progress beyond the basic human story of us sympathizing with a person in trouble, or do we really care about Sandra getting her job back because we care about her character specifically? Or do we care about her simply because it’s Marion Cotillard, that actress from those other movies that you saw one time? Some will say a swift yes to all three, but I’d wager a just as swift no. Two Days, One Night certainly trims itself down in order to tell a simple story, but it may be at the cost of signifying a deeper understanding of the story itself.


Sean Reviews Albert Maysles’ Iris [NYFF 2014] Sat, 11 Oct 2014 06:15:29 +0000 Iris

For over half a century, documentarian Albert Maysles—usually in collaboration with his brother David—has chronicled the iconoclasts, the eccentrics, the weirdos, and the identities of human beings in the most earnest and direct way a man with a movie camera possibly can. Now Maysles—without David, who died of a stroke in 1987—soldiers on to continue that direct method of cinema with his portrait of Iris Apfel, the outspoken style icon and so-called “Rare Bird of Fashion” who in her 80s and into her 90s took the fashion world by storm.

Her flamboyant techniques and maximal chic aesthetic is matched only by her highly entertaining and hilariously brusque personality, which makes it easy to see why Maysles chose to capture her on film in the first place. Yet Iris isn’t only about a legendary and stylish nonagenarian. Instead, Maysles frames his brief film of Apfel’s story as a celebration of a prolific life, and a commentary about mortality and the ways in which a true one-of-a-kind can leave an everlasting impression.

Apfel, with her gigantic round-rimmed glasses and mountains of resplendent but simple fashion accessories, is truly an individual, and the film embodies a similar character-based kookiness found in Maysles’ 1975 classic Grey Gardens. But instead of the type of solemn links to history and family that earlier film carries with it, Iris keeps things fairly straightforward and enjoyable.

Talking heads like Harold Koda (the head of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Intitute), designer Dries Van Noten, and photographer Bruce Weber chime in to put Iris and her gigantic personality into perspective for viewers. Personally I had no idea who Apfel was, and Maysles does a wonderful job of providing context on top of character moments, like when Apfel oversees a makeover even at Loehmann’s department store or when she takes a trip to Harlem with designer Duro Olowu to haggle prices on the various wild looking garments she comes across.

The foundation of the film, however—besides her newfound celebrity—is her relationship with her 100-year-old loving husband, Carl, who always sticks by her like a dynamic duo sidekick and serves as an alternate canvas for Iris’ ostentatious fashion trends (one great scene involves Iris’ appearance on Martha Stewart’s talkshow, and Carl pointing out that Iris bought his outrageous velvet paisley trousers). Maysles’ keen eye finds the heartfelt rhythm and eccentricities between the two that point towards the universal, elevating them as human beings contrasting the mythmaking at play throughout the movie. You get the obvious sense that theirs is a relationship that was meant to be, and the strength of their love is retold through memories of the origins of their successful garment business called Old World Weavers, an endeavor that made them rich beyond their wildest dreams and let them jet-set across the world, sparking Iris’ fascination with fashion.

What’s great about Iris is that it seems like an unnecessary and simple story on the surface, but Iris herself injects enough compelling beats into her own story that the film never registers as anything but fascinating. Whenever she takes a moment to reflect it’s always with a biting humor, especially when the subject of death wades through the film. She is someone who confronts her own mortality by pushing it out of the way, and staying resolute in her already complete and accomplished life. Iris is a relatively small film, but what it truly has to say about the way we are makes it a rich and endearing entry into Maysles’ already complete and accomplished career.

]]> 1
Sean Reviews Alain Resnais’ Life of Riley [NYFF 2014] Tue, 07 Oct 2014 23:30:54 +0000 Life of Riley header

Life of Riley—adapted from playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s play of the same name—is legendary French filmmaker Alain Resnais’ final film, and yet it has enough joie de vivre throughout to suggest that it isn’t so much an end to a more than 60-year career as it is a representative celebration of the ways in which the filmmaker experimented and played with form throughout his entire life. Known by Criterion collectors for his more dour and austere films like Last Year at Marienbad or Hiroshima Mon Amour, here Resnais ebulliently frees himself from the constraints of story and solemn configurations to produce a freewheeling, intentionally stagey comedy that will still most likely not win over any newcomers. Instead, Life of Riley’s ethos is a steadfast Resnais study in metatextual comedic behavior that embraces its own kookiness about a twisty tale of plucky marital turmoil.

Save for a few repeated insert shots done on location and a set of pen and ink illustrations that intercut the action, the film is set entirely within the confines of a group of soundstages meant to stand-in for England’s Northern countryside. The exaggerated sets—most of which are simply painted and dressed with cardboard cutouts of shrubbery or other objects in the foreground—are a bit off-putting at first due to their obvious theatricality, and the simple repetition to mark the passing of time may be tedious to some. But the affected scenery slowly blends into the proceedings as viewers are able to settle down and accept the not-so-merry band of characters darting in and out of scene after scene.

Those hyperactive characters are comprised of a group of three couples, all amateur thespians that are apart of a community theater performance of Ayckbourn’s own real-life 1969 farce, “Relatively Speaking.” Kathryn (played by Resnais’ effervescent wife and frequent muse, Sabine Azema) and her stuffy doctor husband Colin (Hippolyte Girardot), find out their close friend, the Godot-like titular character George Riley who never appears onscreen, is dying of terminal cancer. They soon tell George’s best and oldest friend, the smug businessman Jack (Michel Vuillermoz), and his fretful wife Tamara (Caroline Silhol) of the troubling news. Jack is so distraught that he drops out of the play, and the two ladies soon suggest George as his replacement, a puzzling proposition until we find out the two women have other reasons to keep the dying man company. The last couple is George’s estranged and fragile wife Monica (Sandrine Kiberlain) and her new beau, a retired and sometimes volatile farmer named Simeon (Andre Dussolier).

Vuillermoz, whose Jack is swiftly pushed out of his stern quotidian life, brings a real tenor to the character that grounds him beyond the melodrama, but it is Azema’s firecracker of a character is the highlight here. To watch her become more and more absurd like a busy bee who’s suddenly found a bounty of honey it a great delight.

Each high-strung character spends the film buzzing around Riley’s invisible narrative nucleus, and is forced to reexamine their relationships with each other that Resnais meticulously frames in both the expansive performative spaces and intimate close-ups. For the more immediate shots, the characters are dropped into an even more artificial background of a blank white surface covered in criss-crossed black lines that suggest something like Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book-inspired Pop art.

The artificiality of the film itself and the histrionic dialogue tend to always serve the characters themselves, but the experimentation does seem over the top at times if not a bit unnecessary. Why not just put on a theatrical run of the play in a playhouse somewhere instead of relying on such techniques that seem like a better fit for the stage? Still, there is something to be said about the film’s playfulness and the buffoonery it values above any other expectations you may have for it. The fact that the plot is wrapped up without very much trouble isn’t bothersome because the movie moves with a magnetic levity, and is never too overbearing with its thematic elements.

The fact that Life of Riley ends with a funeral is appropriate not only for the story but also—morbidly enough—for Resnais because it offers itself as a sincerely fond farewell. The characters go their separate ways into the ether and you get the sense that Resnais has too. He’s left an indelible mark on international cinema, and to see him continuously experimenting all the way until his final outing is a fitting end to that hugely important body of work. His final film may seem too insignificant and pointlessly theatrical to some, but others will find its lightheartedness an enjoyable and affirming time after the lights have gone up.


Sean Reviews Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language [NYFF 2014] Thu, 02 Oct 2014 07:43:07 +0000 language1200x630

It’s nothing new to say that Jean-Luc Godard is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in cinema history. His films have influenced countless filmmakers the world over, and his contributions to the Nouvelle Vague have attracted numerous imitators since his inimitable debut, Breathless, was released in 1960. But his track record for the last, oh, I don’t know, twenty-five years or so hasn’t been met with the same fanfare as most of the standard favorites.

Fans of Breathless, Band of Outsiders, Vivre Sa Vie, or even Masculin Féminin won’t find much of interest to latch on to, as the latter part of Godard’s career has mainly been peppered with the kinds of stuff only reserved for the most ardent philosophical admirers, film festival committees, and hopelessly snooty film students looking for deep cuts to cite in their thesis/sound smart in conversation. In a way, Godard has outlasted his notoriety simply by being the revolutionary he began his career as, and despite outward appearances he really doesn’t have much more to say in a cinematic sense, even when the prospect piques a playful interest like with his new movie Goodbye to Language.

That playfulness mostly relies on the fact that Goodbye to Language is in 3D, a characteristic usually saved for the next blockbuster Marvel movie to rake in the dough that nevertheless has become a method for master filmmakers (Scorsese with Hugo, Wenders with Pina, and Herzog in Cave of Forgotten Dreams to name but a few) to consider a heretofore unexplored dimension in their already-mastered medium. And who better to explore 3D than the devilish jump-cut king himself, someone who has tricked and deconstructed cinema before our very eyes even back with those standard favorites?

It turns out the 3D is almost the only thing to like about Godard’s Goodbye to Language, which is another in a long list of frustrating latter-day Godard pictures that depend on fragmented narrative and outdated Maoist pontificating to get its point across. What that point is? I’m not sure, and I don’t think Godard even knows or cares either. Anybody who says otherwise is—pretty laughably—grasping for straws. But don’t fret! If listening to an unseen narrator expound seemingly endless philosophical declarative sentences, or watching someone do so while taking a shit, is your thing then this is definitely your movie.

By its very nature Goodbye to Language is intentionally challenging and charmless. Even the title challenges you. Watching this movie is not an easy task both literally and figuratively. Figuratively because the schizophrenic scraps of narrative we get—a couple fighting in their apartment, strangers browsing a table of used books, a man arguing with someone on his cell phone, Godard’s own dog wandering aimlessly in the woods—remain impossible to parse. It’s literally challenging because the only thing the scenes have in common is that they form sort of glitchy mismatched collage with the audio purposefully cutting out at random times and disorienting dialogue seemingly subtitled at will over dreadfully over-saturated digital frames. Sometimes the screen will abruptly cut to black, other times one speaker will blare startling music and the other is completely silent. It’s vomit-cinema because most of it seems to be unexpectedly spewed all over.

Despite some lovely 3D imagery—including a womanslowly dipping her hand into water causing floating ripples that sway the frame—the most kitschy experimentation Godard pulls off is splitting the 3D so two images on the screen can only be seen depending on which eye you use to see it. This may sound appealing, but before you go commending Godard for breaking down even newer barriers just remember that it’s nothing more than kitsch with a wow factor rather than a technique that substantially contributes to the pseudo-philosophical ramblings the film has to offer.

Those that praise the film for the way it shows the breakdown of communication—possibly the only and most tenuous thesis statement anyone could squeeze out of this movie—don’t consider the way that even in disorder should there be a sense of order. Instead of a solid foundation of those pseudo-philosophical ramblings, which could have added up to something even in their randomness (the medium is the message after all), there are only flimsy strands of intellectual pap that come across as if an over zealous college freshman got ahold of Mao’s Little Red Book and began erratically shouting passages in their dorm hallway at 4 in the morning.

To Godard, contemporary cinema and modern life are a distraction, but his movie that portrays his opinion is more of a grueling and unbearable exercise than a viable execution of fairly interesting critical subject matter. Godard’s vaunted status in the latter part of his career is like when awards ceremonies give out gratuitous lifetime achievement awards to someone because that person allegedly never received the recognition they deserved. It’s ironic because Godard himself shuns all awards and appearances, and that type of attitude comes across in Goodbye to Language. Before he was a grumpy guy who actually had something to contribute to cinema, and now maybe he’s just too grumpy for everybody and everything…except his dog.


(The trailer is NSFW)

Sean Reviews Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young [NYFF 2014] Wed, 01 Oct 2014 13:00:24 +0000 While We're Young header

Coming off of the cinematic breath of fresh air that was Frances Ha, one would assume that director Noah Baumbach would be rejuvenated. It’s not that he had to recover, just that his collaboration with co-writer and star (and girlfriend) Greta Gerwig seemed to take material that Baumbach was already comfortable with and give it a brand new refreshing spin instead of him retreading the same Woody-Allen-but-sadder territory. With its celebration of the flawed but endearing spirit of youth, a surprisingly charming lead performance by the normally languid Gerwig, and Baumbach’s own trademark dry wit it seemed like a perfect shift to a new chapter in his career. But instead of using Frances Ha as a springboard, Baumbach has missed the mark completely and suffered an embarrassing face-plant with While We’re Young, a painfully unfunny movie that goes against nearly everything Baumbach stands for.

The set-up is pure Baumbach. A crotchety—and rich—Manhattanite documentary filmmaker (Ben Stiller, playing the Baumbach surrogate, which is now a thing) struggling to finish his 8-years-in-the-making film and his beautiful—and successful—wife (Naomi Watts, playing an egregiously underwritten character) face the anxieties of their 40s. The only friends they seem to have are a pushy Upper West Side—and also rich—married couple (the husband is bizarrely yet likeably played by Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys) with a newborn child who pressure them into getting their lives together, settling down, and facing middle age. Instead of doing so, Stiller and Watts’ characters meet and befriend a young Brooklyn hipster couple played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried who embody all the joie de vivre that left their own lives and relationship years ago.

It is a simple and terribly mainstream concept of coupling comedy that, in the hands of someone as clever and biting as Baumbach, should have given the director the opportunity for his first broad comedy hit. Instead, the tone-deaf narrative and thematically empty characters throughout go nowhere, with the movie turning on its own plot and ultimately seeming like a phony imitation of what a good Baumbach movie can be.

Driver’s character Jamie is an aspiring documentary filmmaker, and implores Stiller’s character Josh to take him under his wing and show him the cinematic ropes. The obvious compare-and-contrast story beats come and go, and the two end up matching lightning quick wits as these types are wont to do in a Baumbach movie. But nearly all of the exchanges between them are cheaply peppered with a series of uncharacteristically glib (for Baumbach) references to cultural signifiers in the forms of various examples of art, music, restaurants, and films. Instead of these mediums serving the narrative and the specific characters, like in Kicking and Screaming, here they flow freely from the characters’ mouths without any concern for why mentioning so many of them should mean something.

The rest of the scenes meant to amusingly point out the specific generational differences between the couples are overly simplistic and all fall flat. Jamie has a cool fedora, why not have Josh try to get a cool hat too and just look goofy? Watts’ character Cornelia can’t dance, so why not have her join a hip-hop dance class with Seyfried’s character Darby and awkwardly try to bump and grind? Jamie rides a hip road bike everywhere, why not have Josh fumble around on his own vintage bicycle while trying to ride through Manhattan?

These scenes only reach a tenuous level of comedy, hinting at a sense of slapstick from Stiller that never really fits and remains repetitive if anything. We get it, they’re trying to be young but their middle-age insecurity always gets the best of them. These random scenes—the worst of all being an over-long and stale scene involving a new age ritualistic ceremony where the characters take a plant root in order to puke up their impurities—try so hard to be funny, and yet they lack any real reason for being in the movie besides showing how ostensibly wacky it is for people in their 40s to be doing something like that.

From there, the film takes a bizarre turn and abandons any sort of levity set up in the first half’s contrasting foundation. Jamie gloms onto an idea for a documentary allegedly involving a long lost acquaintance from high school that he soon finds out is suffering PTSD from his tour of duty in Afrghanistan. Cornelia, and her legendary documentarian father (Charles Grodin, playing a sort of Albert Mayles-type elder statesman of documentary cinema) agree to produce the movie, and with Josh in tow the group leaves all baby-talk or anxiety about aging behind for an unusual and wildly uneven second half about—for some reason—finding truth in cinema.

What this has to do with the initial themes of the movie I’d like to know, because the emotional denouement of the film, which takes place at a gala ceremony celebrating the career of Grodin’s character (with Maysles’ own Experiment on 114th Street standing in for the characters’ work) involves Josh pitifully confronting Jamie not about his own fearfulness in the face of this much younger and cooler man, but whether or not Jamie lied about the reality of the subjects in his documentary. It left me scratching my head about whether I was watching the same movie that started once the lights went down.

I was angry when the credits rolled for While We’re Young. Not because it’s a bad movie, which it is, but because I know Baumbach could do so much better. Instead of empathizing with youth in the way he normally does, Baumbach instead relies upon flippant critiques of the way he thinks young people behave as if he were the old man next door to you in your apartment building yelling at you to turn your music down because it’s too loud. What happened to the Baumbach from Kicking and Screaming with his biting and ironic finger on the pulse of the sophomoric yet winsome ideals of young people? What happened to the Baumbach from Frances Ha who accepted the flaws of youth and getting old in the face of a life that doesn’t want you to change? I don’t really know what the Noah Baumbach of While We’re Young wants you to believe because it’s such a mess. Ultimately it says nothing more than anybody below 30-years-old is unsophisticated and artificial, and everybody over 30 is a whiny insecure jerk who will have to happily rely on their trust funds to get them through a tough day of living the good life on the Upper West Side. I usually couldn’t say that Noah Baumbach is out-of-touch with what it means to be young, but this movie is clear evidence that he’s out-of-touch with what it means to be both young and old, and that’s a pretty unfortunate place to be.

Sean Reviews David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars [NYFF 2014] Tue, 30 Sep 2014 13:00:39 +0000 MTTS_00870.NEF

David Cronenberg is a director whose early career was primarily known for an exceedingly graphic scene of a man’s head exploding, but lately he’s favored using a more intellectual (dare I say, heady?) approach to the madness. This doesn’t mean, however, that in his last three films he’s lost his edge. A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis, and now Maps to the Stars are all equally scathing in their subject matter—be it psychology, capitalism, or Hollywood. He just didn’t need someone’s head to explode to prove his enigmatic point. Cronenberg’s films are enigmatic because throughout his entire career he’s intentionally left audiences asking, to varying degrees, “What was that all about?” while still being able to connect with a wide range of those audiences on a visceral level, which brings me again to Maps to the Stars.

Both visceral and superficial, enigmatic but completely topical, Cronenberg’s newest film makes its point outright while still reserving some of the moody atmospheric weirdness from the director that we’ve come to know and love. Though it doesn’t present itself that way, Maps to the Stars is among his most grotesque films (it also happens to be extremely funny) simply because it presents human beings themselves at their very external worst.

The initially confusing web of an ensemble begins with the LA-arrival of Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), with her elbow-length gloves and shoulder-length hair partially hiding burn marks that are gradually explained later, after a long period of being away. She tells her limo driver (a small but appropriate cameo by Robert Pattinson) that she’s in town to visit family, and instead of doing so promptly gets a job as a “chore whore” (a personal assistant) for a washed-up movie star named Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). Segrand is the daughter of a beloved movie star who died in a fire very young (Sarah Gedon), and happens to be pursuing the role in the remake of a movie her mother made famous. To subdue her anxiety she visits her cheesy new-age guru Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), who along with his wife Christina (Olivia Williams) must deal with their 13-year-old son Benjie (Evan Bird) who is the star of a nearly $1 billion-grossing franchise called “Bad Babysitter,” and who is also a foul-mouthed, energy drink swilling drug addict in recovery.

It’s a lot to take in, but the film unfurls the salacious details surrounding its characters well, focusing mostly on why Agatha is in town, who her parents are, and the coincidence of why both Agatha and Segrand’s mother were “touched by fire,” with a devilishly satirical abandon. What will strike many Cronenberg fans the most is just how funny it is, with jokes that name drop everybody from Chuck Lorre, to Paul Thomas Anderson, to the Dalai Lama all encompassing a seething and darkly comedic portrait of a culture in decline.

In the world of Maps to the Stars there is no sincerity, and only the most shallow and opportunistic people survive. Moore’s performance in particular as the ditzy and collagen-injected has-been is the film’s standout. Cronenberg’s Los Angeles is a place where the creative impulse is driven by how many awards could possibly be won or how many zeroes come after the dollar sign. These are unbalanced people constantly looking to be validated in whatever form comes their way.

As soon as the narrative places are set, Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner gleefully and hauntingly bring it all crashing to the ground. Havana begins seeing visions of her mother who constantly reminds her that she’ll never be as good, and Benjie witnesses similar hallucinations of a sick young girl he visited at the hospital at the movie’s beginning who he finds out has since died (despite the fact, as the movie humorously points out, he sent her an iPad mini). These apparitions are never fully explained, but are thematically linked to both the potential schizophrenia of the glamorous life and the actual illness itself.

It is a ghostly turn that will be off-putting to some, but those who realize that the characters and Hollywood itself are constantly fearing their past will be able to find convincing narrative connections. Similarly discouraging are the hints of incest peppered throughout which, other than adding further twisted details into these already sordid matters, lets Cronenberg do what he does best and explore and question human sexuality in all of its unsightly forms.

Maps to the Stars works the most when specifically focusing on its singular themes. Only when it tries to blend them does it tend to come across as clumsy or hollow. And though the film may not strike many as a groundbreaking piece of work it is still a fierce achievement this late in the 71-year-old’s career. Instead of focusing on telepathic killers or psychoplasmic children, he’s resigned to making some of us look in the mirror to see something even more horrific. It’s only then that Cronenberg gives us a choice. If we like what we see, then burn, Hollywood, burn.

Sean Reviews David Lynch’s Eraserhead [Blu-Ray Review] Mon, 29 Sep 2014 13:00:09 +0000

Describing a movie as “unlike anything you’ve ever seen” is often misleading. At some point the film you’re talking about is at least tangentially related to something else in terms of its overall aesthetic or particular details, and the phrase itself is rendered meaningless. And yet when describing Eraserhead, the debut feature of director, artist, musician, author, and weirdo of the highest order David Lynch, saying that it is unlike anything you’ve ever seen actually seems to be true. It’s a testament to Lynch’s unique vision and the way he has remained a singular creative force in many mediums for nearly four decades. His ability to conjure twisted yet recognizable worlds in his movies has allowed him to flirt with mainstream cinema moreso than any other auteur of his experimental ilk.

Sadly, Lynch has indicated he might be done with filmmaking as we know it—his last proper feature film was 2006’s Inland Empire—but Criterion’s new edition of Eraserhead is an obviously perfect way for audiences to go back to the beginning; back to Lynch’s dream of dark and troubling things. This release has done the best thing a Criterion edition could possible do: make you appreciate the film even more.

Eraserhead is a movie made almost entirely of a kind of surreal nocturnal atmosphere. To ask for an explanation of what the movie is about is a fool’s errand, and quite obviously takes away from the experience of the movie itself. In this case, being inexplicable is part of the point. It’s weird, it’s repulsive, it’s hard to understand, and David Lynch wanted it that way.

This is, admittedly, a difficult experience for some viewers who aren’t used to dealing with being spoon-fed storylines. But would letting you know that the movie predominantly deals with themes regarding Lynch’s own impending divorce at the time and the anxiety about the birth of his daughter really make you like it more? Would explaining that there actually is a fairly straightforward narrative showing the main character sleeping with another woman to deal with the collapse of his already tenuous relationship really allow those viewers to understand it better?

Here the symbolic must stand in for plot, and even then the symbolism might not entirely add up. What sets Lynch and his films apart is that not adding up isn’t problematic. Broad swaths of tone and mood take precedence over story beats or any kind of adherence to a strict narrative structure. Eraserhead could have been twenty minutes long or two hundred minutes long and it wouldn’t have made any difference. This kind of intentionally open-ended scenario is something that Lynch has done for most of his career, and even the nascent nature of Eraserhead shows this from the get-go.

Anchored by Jack Nance’s delicate, almost Chaplin-esque and childlike performance, Eraserhead finds the beautiful in the grotesque. Its DIY creepiness somehow adds to its appeal, and the haunting black and white photography—which, with Criterion’s release, has never looked more strange and better—mixed with its exaggerated sound design filled with industrial white noise makes for an evocative film; one that is filled with indelible imagery that is, well, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

For a director’s first film in the Collection, this edition is surprisingly packed to the brim with supplements, each giving great insight on the almost 6-year process of getting the film made without forgetting Lynch’s own distinctive touch. The lack of any scholarly visual essays about the movie belies the very point of the movie itself, so their exclusion is perfectly understood. Otherwise each supplement is oddly broken up by year.

Starting off with what seems to be the film’s first theatrical trailer in 1977 it then moves into a 17-minute interview with a fresh-faced Lynch and director of photography Frederick Elmes filmed on location in 1979 for a UCLA TV production class; a 1982 trailer featuring Lynch sitting on a couch with Woody Woodpecker dolls and introducing the film for midnight screenings at the Nuart Theatre; a 1988 excerpt from Cinéma de notre temps of Nance and Lynch driving around the film’s locations; footage from 1997 of Lynch, Nance, and actress Charlotte Stewart and assistant Catherine Coulson (who appears in Lynch’s short film The Amputee and went on to be the Log Lady in Twin Peaks) revisiting the AFI stables where the production set up shot for the multi-year shoot; an 85-minute making of film from 2001 by Lynch called “Eraserhead Stories” which basically features Lynch himself recounting the entire history of the making of the film, including his beginnings as a student at the AFI; and finally a series of contemporary interviews by Criterion from 2014 featuring Coulson, Stewart, Elmes, and Judith Anna Roberts.

The more prominent supplements as a whole tend to cover much of the same ground, but the stories that come up about the family of people it took to make the film more than makes up for any redundant bits. Plus, Lynch is an endlessly interesting guy and anything he says tends to be as weirdly endearing as it is entertaining.

Aside from the interview booklet and the six short films, all previously available on Hulu and newly restored in 2K for this release (most of which are fascinating, but should be reserved for only the most ardent of Lynch fans), the release also features a three-step TV calibration process in order to make the film look picture perfect. On top of this, and with many other home video releases of Lynch’s movies, there are no chapter stops, and even Criterion’s nifty Timeline feature is missing as a way to specifically experience the film as a whole. It should also be mentioned that there is an alleged defect in the “Lynch-approved” version of the film in this initial release. At about 1:05:54, there is a blank black screen where a reaction shot of Nance should be. The glitch was apparently from the original camera negative they used for the restoration. The folks at Criterion haven’t made a broad announcement yet, but if you own the disc already and want a replacement they recommend e-mailing with subject ERASERHEAD REPLACEMENT to get a corrected version “in a couple of weeks.” Unfortunately there aren’t any further specifics, and hopefully Criterion gets on that soon.

Either way I’ve personally been waiting for Lynch to be included in the Collection for a very long time. He’s someone who has blazed his own trail in American cinema, and to leave him out of the Criterion ranks any longer would be a gross oversight. Love him or just be weirded out by him, David Lynch is—or was, considering his unspecified now-8-year absent from the silverscreen—one of the most fascinating filmmakers of the late 20th century. He is finally in the Criterion Collection, and there isn’t a better choice for that first time than Eraserhead.

in stock
11 new from $19.99
4 used from $25.00
Free shipping
Last updated on November 27, 2020 11:41 pm

Sean Reviews David Fincher’s Gone Girl [NYFF 2014] Sun, 28 Sep 2014 13:00:03 +0000 GONE GIRL header

The first rule about Gone Girl, especially if you haven’t read the book, is don’t talk about Gone Girl—or at least try not to spill all of its secrets at once. It’s true, trying to talk about Gone Girl  without giving too much away is a difficult task—especially for a reviewer like me who doesn’t want to spoil all the fun—considering the way it expertly uses its central mystery and its fascinatingly devastating aftermath to draw you in and subvert your every expectation. This is a David Fincher movie after all, so to expect any less would be foolish, and yet this latest mesmerizing adaptation of a bestselling mystery potboiler, following his underappreciated 2011 film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has many precise twists and turns (and even some laughs), all adding up to one of the best psychological thrillers since, well, that last Fincher movie.

Anchored by the two phenomenal core performances of Ben Affleck and the revelatory Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl is not so much a straightforward whodinut chronicling the disappearance of a housewife in small-town Missouri as it is a chrystalline dissection of the grand performative aspects of modern American marriage with deliciously pulpy bits peppered throughout.

On her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne (Pike) goes missing, and the case against her suspiciously aloof husband Nick (Affleck) begins to mount against him with a clue here, an affair there, some stereotypical red herrings, and the growing media firestorm whose tawdry TV personalities pilfer his personal tragedy for its own sensationalist agenda. What’s brilliant about Gone Girl (which was skillfully adapted by writer Gillian Flynn from her own book) is that the movie manages to keep its secrets from the audience just as much as it keeps them from the characters themselves. Unreliable narrators, the holding back of dramatic irony, and a surprisingly swift pace despite its 149-minute runtime should keep even the most ardent armchair gumshoe guessing until the movie punches you in the face with a few major narrative turns that Hitchcock would have loved. Pike, it should be noted, is a blonde.

Hitch-favorites like Vertigo and Rebecca are obvious influences, as are other thriller classics (Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique primarily springs to mind, and maybe even Jonathan Demme’s Richard Harris adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs), but Fincher—ever the auteur—makes the potentially trashy Gone Girl his very own. Detractors—if there are any—will call this middle-of-the-road territory for Fincher, yet in the hands of a lesser director the material would have almost undoubtedly been mishandled with a schlocky sense of melodrama. Instead, Fincher allows the perversities and dark themes within the narrative bubble to the surface while playing up the superficially lurid details.

Without giving too much away, one can say that Amy Dunne can thus be added to the, ahem, murderer’s row of previous vampiric Fincher protagonists liked Mark Zuckerberg or Lisbeth Salander, characters who deny any sympathy from the audience yet still remain undeniably the most interesting aspects of the respective worlds they inhabit. Pike, with her initially breathy and overtly detailed voice over and performance, plays a delicate balance and then pulls the rug right out from under you. To say any more would risk lessening one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. As for Affleck, his casting as a smarmy deadbeat husband for the audience to graft their own predetermined sense of love or hate on top of the character himself is a genius move. Once suspicions rise or fall, Affleck takes hold of his own empathetic reins and lets the audience decide what they want to think until they’re forced to confront them about halfway through the movie. The supporting roles, including the potentially suspect casting of actors like Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris, also expertly play with audience expectation even further. If there is such a thing as a perfect cast with outward appearances indicating otherwise, Gone Girl definitely has it. It is but another example of the movie’s amazing use of bait-and-switch.

Fincher’s latest film is quite a love story. It is one that takes a microscope to public and private personas within relationships with an acerbic wit, and questions the narratives we allege ourselves to made of. All is spectacle. Trust, deceit, manipulation, and understanding—according to Gone Girl these become threads used to weave your own tragedy even with the one you love till death do you part. There are no heroes or villains here, rather just those who tell themselves they are one or the other. It’s up to you to decide.


]]> 1
Sean Reviews Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem [Theatrical Review] Sat, 20 Sep 2014 15:11:09 +0000 The Zero Theorem header

I feel kind of bad for Terry Gilliam. Not because his new movie, The Zero Theorem, is bad (which it isn’t), and not because I think he’s a bad director (which he isn’t). I feel bad for Gilliam because he occupies a certain exclusive group of creative people whose lofty ambitions unnecessarily outweighs their talent. Terry Gilliam is the type of guy who is so bursting with energy, ideas, and new ways to look at the world that sometimes people are either not on the same wave length yet to enjoy whatever he puts out or willfully ignorant of the message.

I should say that Gilliam isn’t overly didactic in his message, whatever it may be. That message is usually nestled in the weird and wonderful cinematic worlds that emerge from the mind of this auteur in ways that are perhaps only matched by the idiosyncratic creations of someone like Wes Anderson. But where Anderson’s twee creations skew towards the self-deprecating and the nostalgic, Gilliam has a decidedly sinister bent; one that takes a close look at the world we live in and posits how far down we could potentially fall. Gilliam’s last few movies may have attested to the fact that he is a struggling genius who may be too far gone, and yet The Zero Theorem perhaps purposefully harkens back to his most celebrated directorial effort (Brazil) as a way to comment on the changing contemporary digital age and man’s individuality within an increasingly connected world.

Christoph Waltz plays Qohen Leth, a loner programmer in the not-too-distant future who crunches numbers for a massive conglomerate called Mancom. Leth waits around after his work day is over for a phone call he thinks will tell him the meaning of life, and as he becomes increasingly paranoid at work about missing the call he puts in a request to his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) who must tell the omnipresent boss named “Management” (in a little cameo by Matt Damon) that Leth will be more productive working from home. Leth is then given the task of solving the titular “Zero Theorem,” a mysterious and legendary mathematical formula that allegedly posits the world is meaningless. He holes up in an old converted cathedral he has turned into his home and must crunch massive amounts of data culled from every worker at the company in order to solve the equation.

All of the bureaucracy and technology is but a place setting for Gilliam to run wild in this quasi-dystopian future filled with constant personalized advertisements, people glued to their phones or tablets or screens, and the emerging reality of virtual experiences. This sort of message never becomes heavy handed, mostly because of Waltz’s equally hilarious and sad performance as Leth, but also because the subject matter is squarely within Gilliam’s wheelhouse.

This obsession with work and finding meaning is cleverly and unobtrusively updated from Brazil’s analog-inflted metropolis to Leth’s confined corner of the world that is defined by almost complete digital immersion. Whatever human interaction Leth has is met with awkwardness and an uneasy tension. Eventually with the help of Management’s son Bob (Lucas Hedges) and an Internet call girl named Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) he begins to trust the validity of companionship and the interactions between people by seeing the reality of the connections and disconnections all around him.

The second half of the movie tends to amble, and maybe gets into too much pseudo-philosophical rambling that never really adheres to the film’s solitude versus digital globalization themes set up in its first half. But even when it stretches on a bit too long, Gilliam’s madcap world is still a devious delight to be in, all the way down to its painfully ironic ending—an ending, I might add, that few besides Gilliam could get away with.

The Zero Theorem isn’t so much a return to form or a re-hashing of old ways for the director. Instead it is a program update, a way to bring those isolating feelings of technological progress and hollow human identity he meant to get across in 1985 with Brazil into the 21st century. It isn’t as grand a statement or tragedy as Brazil, but this spiritual successor still gives its audiences a lot to chew on. Mostly it makes me think that maybe I don’t feel so bad for Gilliam after all.


Sean Reviews Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también [Dual-Format Review] Fri, 29 Aug 2014 15:00:53 +0000 Tambien Header

It’s almost been a full five years since Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también was announced to be included in the Criterion Collection, and back then that same IFC Films announcement proclaimed many other great films that were apart of the deal. Titles like Gomorrah, A Christmas Tale, Hunger, Che, Following, The Secret of the Grain, and Everlasting Moments came and went, rightfully taking their place among the other classics in Criterion’s lineup. Yet with each passing year, and each passing New Year’s drawing, no matter what happened Cuarón’s modern classic seemed to quizzically fall by the wayside. I guess he was just too busy wrapping up the multi-year production on his Academy Award winning potential modern classic Gravity to give the film that put him on the map any attention. But all that is no matter, the film has finally been given a dual format release and ranks among the more solid packages from Criterion this year.

Y tu mamá también is perhaps the best Nouvelle Vague film not made by anyone associated with that venerable touchstone of French cinema. While not as radical as many of those New Wave films (also, tellingly, it’s not French), Cuarón’s film is imbued with just as much wildly adolescent energy and political subtext as anything Godard ever did in his heyday (Cuarón and his brother, co-writer Carlos Cuarón used Godard’s Masculin féminin as a kind of influence), but what separates Y tu mamá también from the rest is its forthright acceptance of the tumultuousness found in those energies and its embrace of life and love.

The two leads—Tenoch (a perfectly snotty rich kid played by Diego Luna) and Julio (a perfectly jaded social climber played Gael García Bernal)—are on the cusp of adulthood, and only through taking a potentially futile journey to a fake beach that both of them ostensibly make up will their jilted lives suddenly be affirmed through experience and sexual awakening. Getting there doesn’t make it a sense of understanding, but rather the realization that they don’t have all the answers to life despite thinking they do. Along with them on that journey is the fragile and worldly Luisa (a stately Maribel Verdú), a woman who pulls both friends together who must also reluctantly confront her own life in the same way. There is a sly grace at which the true nature of Luisa’s plight unfolds which warrants multiple viewings, but not in a mind-bending Memento sort of way. The film itself subtly works over the layers of each character, using the road trip as the catalyst.

What makes the movie so memorable and why it works better than it sounds isn’t just the excellent rapport and hilarious squabbles between the core three—or the surprisingly sensual love triangle—but rather the film’s greater sense of scope. Numerous times the unnamed narrator (an uncredited role by Sólo con tu pareja actor Daniel Giménez Cacho) pulls away from the action to comment on the greater context of the story we’re watching, be it a lower class worker’s death that causes a traffic jam early on or remarking on an eventual bacterial outbreak caused by a group of pigs that ransack the groups’ camp at the end. The most subtly heartbreaking example of this is a fleeting moment where the upper class Tenoch notices a road sign from the car for the small village where his working class nanny was born. These seemingly random asides do more than just give us an idea of the bigger world outside the journey. Instead they transcend the cliché of “place as character” to give us a vivid snapshot of Mexico onscreen and in the characters’ lives for posterity. They are multi-faceted visual memories.

Couple this with the equally wandering and sun-drenched fluid motion of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera and the equation turns out to be something truly special. The eye of the camera—flecked with sunlit lens flares—strolls in a way that not many films can pull off, and even when shots meander into empty rooms Cuarón and his cinematographer make sure it means something to the narrative—a delicate feat that seems less easy to do the more you think about it.

After five years of waiting, Criterion has put together a fairly packed release replete with features that primarily cover the film’s production. One feature, split into two sections each titled “Then” and “Now,” offers onset interviews during the production and contemporary recollections of the film from all those involved. “Then” is fairly straightforward, and is more interesting because it portrays everybody as fresh-faced and holding nothing back in this obviously invigorating experience as it was happening. “Now” gets into more appropriately retrospective territory and also some of the inspiration behind the screenplay by Alfonso and his brother Carlos. There’s even a pretty great anecdote about how they came up with the Charolastras and their manifesto. Another on-set doc, carted over from a previous DVD release, takes an interesting route with more wry commentary by Cacho who proceeds to make fun of everybody onscreen while also staying fairly informative.

The most bonkers extra is a small featurette with philosopher, cultural critic, and certifiable madman Slavoj Žižek who talks about the political context within the film. At times random, the intellectual reading of the film is definitely illuminating if you didn’t pick up on many of the techniques Žižek talks about already. But if you have a solid take on the film then it mostly functions as a curiosity about Žižek himself who can’t seem to sit still or stop touching his nose. Still, the academic reading never seems dry and is definitely worthwhile.

A surprisingly strong special feature included here is a short film called You Owe Me One, directed by Carlos Cuarón. It doesn’t necessarily have any real connection to Y tu mamá también, but it does bend the same sexual politics of the feature film in a more comedic light. I always love when Criterion included other features or short films tangentially related to the bigger release, and this one is definitely one of the better ones I’ve seen, if not the funniest. Also tacked on are some trailers and a few pretty superfluous deleted scenes, which were thankfully—and obviously—deleted from the final film.

Cuarón’s breakout hit is finally in its right place in the Criterion Collection. It’s a wild breath of fresh air that appropriates its own influences and speaks volumes within its own context, and yet it is the simple story of two boys and a woman on a road trip together. There’s not much more to it than to say that Y tu mamá también is truly one of those special movies you either get or don’t. I definitely get it and its celebration of cinema and the sometimes-untamed wonders of the ups and downs of youth. It may not be the flashiest release, and it sure did take awhile to get to us, but Y tu mamá también is definitely worth your time in an already packed year of Criterion greats.

Tambien Cover

Sean Reviews David Mackenzie’s Starred Up [Theatrical Review] Wed, 27 Aug 2014 08:18:19 +0000 Starred Up header

In the storied cinematic history of dreary British prison dramas, David Mackenzie’s new film Starred Up may be the best to come along in some time. Meticulously chronicling the transfer of a young convict named Eric (played with a brilliantly unstable ferocity by relative newcomer Jack O’Connell) to an adult prison facility, the film’s brutal look at how the self-destructive 19-year-old must learn to navigate the unpredictable and harsh realities behind bars is a sobering and stirring portrait of men being pushed past the breaking point. The anti-authoritarian’s troubles are equally compounded by the emergence of his estranged father (Ben Mendelsohn), himself a convict at the new prison, and Eric’s inclusion in an inmate anger management group led by a volunteer psychotherapist (Rupert Friend) with his own demons simmering below the surface. It is a bleak look at the small ways in which prisoners seek to both literally and mentally transcend their own suffocating incarceration.

Mackenzie’s approach to the material is a no-frills policy, many times letting the camera simply follow inmates around cell blocks in level steadi-cam movements or delicately framed static shots that stress the claustrophobic nature of the prison—despite the prisoners’ relatively easy way of moving about freely—while also conveying a sense of the inter-prisoner politics between groups. Who is friends with who and what person rolls with what group is of tantamount importance within the prison setting, and in a bizarre way the film feels like an authentic National Geographic documentary about these strange and violent beings in their natural habitat. Yet the focal point usually sticks to O’Connell, who handles the volcanic persona of Eric with an exhilarating, bi-polar performance that is equal parts bottled-up restraint and explosiveness.

The film’s adroit handling of the influences orbiting Eric, and the interplay when one of those influences crash against him, is where it truly shines. The heaviest orbit is Mendelsohn’s character Neville, Eric’s father and the ostensible second in command within the prison’s internal hierarchy. I’ll rue the day when Mendelsohn gets to play a light and affable character because he’s made a brilliant career out of playing the ultimate skeevy-type, though here his role borders on a remarkably complete transformation.

Neville is someone who has been completely molded by the prison environment, and when a beacon from his outside life in the form of Eric disrupts that existence it threatens to take the whole prison down with them. The film never makes the mistake of falling into cheesy father/son squabbles—this is genuinely deep-seeded hate at play that is nevertheless based in those family ties but representative of so much more. The acute subtlety in Mendelsohn’s acting is extraordinary—just watch his face alone—and is an obvious contrast to O’Connell’s outburst of raw energy. But make no mistake, when Neville is forced to snap, like a violin string pulled too forcefully, he does, and it makes for some of the best moments of the film.

The other orbit is Ruper Friend’s character Oliver, a well-meaning volunteer at the prison who tries to assimilate Eric into his anger management group against the wishes of the prison’s administration. Again the film widely sidesteps any cheesy, touchy-feely methods of approaching these psychoanalytic scenes and goes full bore into the uneasy tensions between Eric and the other inmates where tempers flair. Friend does his best at not becoming a clichéd savior, but rather approaches the character as an equal to Eric, as if Oliver could be a potential future version of Eric or vice versa. What each seeks is a sense of belonging above all else, and the film does a brilliant job of conveying that each person literally has no other option.

These vignettes don’t merely shift to one or the other, but instead constitute a narrative cauldron that stirs the scenes altogether to see what comes out in the end. Thankfully what does come out in the end is a searing portrayal of prison life mixed with the personal stories of this group of exceedingly fascinating characters. It may not be the easiest or most lighthearted movie to watch, but Starred Up is a powerful film that rewards those willing to give themselves over to its turbulent and not-so-pretty ways.

Sean Reviews Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Insomnia [Dual-Format Review] Fri, 15 Aug 2014 15:00:06 +0000 InsomniaHeader

I’m not sure why it is, but whenever Criterion announces their new slate each month the Blu-ray upgrades are always a bit of an initial personal letdown. My knee jerk reaction, which nevertheless continues on seemingly with every monthly announcement, is why dwell on the old when you can bestow the coveted Criterion Collection stamp of approval upon countless other unheralded cinematic gems out there? With their upgrade of Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Insomnia, I finally fully understand the imperative need to revisit, remaster, and restore the older titles in the Collection, even if nobody is immediately clamoring for them.

Skjoldbjærg’s enigmatic thriller is a murder mystery surrounding Jonas Engström (a steely blank but spot-on-perfect Stellan Skarsgård) a psychologically haunted and morally grey Swedish detective called to a perpetually sunny small town in northern Norway to investigate the puzzling murder of a 17-year-old girl. Like all of the best and most intricate murder mysteries, this slow burn story doesn’t depend too much on the whodunit details, and reveals otherwise key points like the identity of the killer fairly early on. Instead, the psychological exploration of those unknowingly pulled together by the orbit of the morbid incident itself reveals the story’s true narrative weight, transcending clear cut good and evil to create a unique point within the many similar detective stories that have come before and after it.

Initially the basic subtext suggesting the indistinct nature of good and evil seems relatively redundant considering the detective genre itself, but Skarsgård and Skjoldbjærg focus their attention on making Engström’s unnerving detachment and personal demons the film’s singular factor. He’s a man who is completely individualistic, almost heartbreakingly so to the audience willing to go along with him, and what’s worse is that Engström himself knows it and can’t really do anything about his faults besides dig himself deeper.

Along with its sometimes-disorienting camerawork or flashes with the surreal, the film’s stark white backgrounds and cold bluish tint (filmed in Skjoldbjærg’s hometown of Tromsø, Norway) provide the perfect canvas on which to paint the ill-fated mystery. It not only plays into Engström’s increasingly overwhelming inability to fall asleep during the 24-hour sunlight above the artic circle, but also the utter isolation of the character’s total being both inside and out. The only true acting we get is from Skarsgård’s piercing eyes, and his performance is perhaps only really done through those windows to the soul. It seems no matter where his character flees, his own reprehensible actions inevitably catch up with him, and even when he seems to absolve himself in both slight or major ways—like when he attempts to strike up a friendship with an innocent receptionist at his hotel or plainly solving the entire mystery by deducing the identity of the killer—his actions never fully exonerate him from past and present sins.

Skjoldbjærg’s Insomnia seemed like an outlier at spine #47 nestled in between bigger names like Kurosawa and Fellini, and to a certain extent it is, but being the outsider among such esteemed company shouldn’t dissuade one’s initial opinion as it did mine. Rediscovering Insmonia has been one of the best surprises of the Collection for me this year, mostly due to the release’s total revamp, and my hope is that people will take a shot and rediscover it too because it is definitely worth it.

The look of this film is among the most important aspects about it, and the 4K digital restoration is probably the best thing to happen to the film since its original release; the previous one was sorely lacking in the quality department. The film is stylistically blank on purpose, and having that crystal clarity does away with any muddiness that would hide that ingenious directorial choice. It brings the flat solitude of the characters to the forefront and basically makes the film itself better to experience.

The package is otherwise light on the special features, but anything more than what’s included would have been overkill. First up is a 20-minute conversation between Skjoldbjærg and Skarsgård that begins on a jovial note between the two collaborators and then segues into a brief history of the sometimes-troubled production for the first-time director. The stoic Skjoldbjærg—who was the first Norwegian to attend the National Film and Television School in London—recounts his equal mix of arrogance and confidence in tackling his first feature, and the fact that he purposefully surrounded himself with many veterans to make up for any of his obvious flaws. Skarsgärd’s seemingly candid take on his experience—like when he admits that he originally hated the script—is surprising, but it transitions into truthfulness when you realize his perspective is from someone who has only seen the movie twice (the second time for the interview itself). Overall the interview is enlightening if not a bit awkward.

Both short films included with the release, made while Skjoldbjærg was a film student, are surprisingly excellent additions. Both are tangentially related to the main feature in mood and aesthetics but gripping in their own right. The solemn Near Winter tells of a young Norwegian man returning home to an isolated farm with his English girlfriend only to find something is wrong with his hermit-like uncle who lives there and who is prepping for the coming winter. It’s the more measured of the two, and has a real discomfiting sense that fits nicely with the bucolic, almost Tarkovskian, photography of the Nordic lanscape.

The second short, and the one more similar to Insomnia, is Close to Home. Itself a kind of detective story or police procedural, the film is instead told from a suspect’s point of view, and is about a man who offers to help out a young woman thrown out of a nightclub while he is walking home one night. Later we find out that she has been raped, but it is initially left unclear to the audience whether the suspect did it or not, making us call into question our own understanding of the film’s twisting perspectives. It’s a clever and twisted little film that took me by surprise in the best way, and reminded me of the knowing grittiness of early Christopher Nolan films (Nolan actually went on to remake Insomnia in 2002 starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams).

Other than the trailer and an essay by critic Jonathan Romney (one that skewed so close to my own reading of the film that I hesitated to even write this review so as not to just blatantly reiterate what he says), the other notable detail about the release is the art design. The Criterion website’s thumbnail doesn’t do it any justice whatsover, and along with the ingeniously designed inside booklet the package is one of those perfect examples of Criterion covers that are undeniably linked to the movie they represent. Check it out in person and you’ll know what I mean. It’s one of the best of the year.

I was surprised by Insomnia, firstly because I kind of wrote it off before even seeing it again, but mostly because it is an expertly made downbeat thriller that anticipated similar Nordic-set detective stories that seem to be more and more popular nowadays. It’s hard sometimes to get lost among the embarrassment of riches that Criterion lets loose month after month, and Insomnia may have fallen easily out of view for many people. But don’t be fooled, it’s a great release that I hope is rightly rediscovered.


52nd NYFF Announces Main Slate Thu, 14 Aug 2014 05:49:06 +0000 NYFF 52 header

Aside from the incredible Opening, Centerpiece, and Closing Night selections (David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, and Alejandro Gonzalex Iñárritu’s Birdman, respectively), the Film Society of Lincoln Center just announced the Main Slate selection for this year’s New York Film Festival and it does not disappoint.

The 30 features in the Main Slate also happen to feature some Criterion Collection heavy hitters as well. Below is the complete Criterion-related list:

Gone Girl

David Fincher, USA, 2014, DCP, 150m

David Fincher’s film version of Gillian Flynn’s phenomenally successful best seller (adapted by the author) is one wild cinematic ride, a perfectly cast and intensely compressed portrait of a recession-era marriage contained within a devastating depiction of celebrity/media culture, shifting gears as smoothly as a Maserati 250F. Ben Affleck is Nick Dunne, whose wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing on the day of their fifth anniversary. Neil Patrick Harris is Amy’s old boyfriend Desi, Carrie Coon (who played Honey in Tracy Letts’s acclaimed production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) is Nick’s sister Margo, Kim Dickens (Treme, Friday Night Lights) is Detective Rhonda Boney, and Tyler Perry is Nick’s superstar lawyer Tanner Bolt. At once a grand panoramic vision of middle America, a uniquely disturbing exploration of the fault lines in a marriage, and a comedy that starts black and keeps getting blacker, Gone Girl is a great work of popular art by a great artist. A 20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises release.

The Blue Room / La chambre bleue

Mathieu Amalric, France, 2014, DCP, 76m

A perfectly twisted, timeless noir, Mathieu Amalric’s adaptation of Georges Simenon’s domestic crime novel also tips its hat to Alfred Hitchcock/Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. A country hotel’s blue room is the scene of erotic rapture, but the adulterous man (Amalric) and woman (a boldly sexual Stéphanie Cléau, co-author of the script with Amalric) who meet there have different visions of their future. She is more obsessed than he, and his misunderstanding of the madness in her desire will destroy him and all he holds dear. Amalric’s direction is brutally spare, as is his performance of a man caught in a vise—a situation of his own making. The classic aspect ratio (1:33) and Grégoire Hetzel’s turbulent, insistent score heighten the sense of entrapment. Léa Drucker as the deceived wife and Cléau as the desperate mistress make strong impressions, but Amalric, who has the most eloquent eyes in contemporary cinema and uses them here to convey lust, guilt, bewilderment, and the dawning realization that he is a pawn in a malignant game, is unforgettable. A Sundance Selects release.

Clouds of Sils Maria

Olivier Assayas, Switzerland/Germany/France, 2014, DCP, 124m

Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a middle-aged actress who soared to stardom in her twenties in a play called Maloja Snake, in which she created the role of a ruthless young woman named Sigrid who engages in a power game with her older boss. Now an established international actress, Maria is considering the role of the older woman in a heavily promoted revival, with an infamous young superstar (Chloë Grace Moretz) as Sigrid. Maria and her savvy personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) prepare for the production at a secluded spot in the Swiss Alps, in a series of stunning scenes that are the beating heart of Olivier Assayas’s brilliant new film. What begins as a chronicle of an actress going through the paces of celebrity culture (fashion shoots, official dinners, interviews, Internet rumors) gradually develops into something more powerfully mysterious: a close meditation on time and how one comes to terms with its passage. An IFC Films release.

Goodbye to Language / Adieu au langage

Jean-Luc Godard, France, 2014, DCP, 70m

The 43rd feature by Jean-Luc Godard (and the only film at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival to get a round of applause mid-screening), Goodbye to Language alights on doubt and despair with the greatest freedom and joy. At 83, Godard works as a truly independent filmmaker, unencumbered by all concerns beyond the immediate: to create a work that embodies his own state of being in relation to time, light, color, the problem of living and speaking with others, and, of course, cinema itself. The artist’s beloved dog Roxy is the de facto “star” of this film, which is as impossible to summarize as a poem by Wallace Stevens or a Messiaen quartet. Goodbye to Language was shot, and can only be truly seen and experienced, in 3-D, which Godard has put to wondrous use. The temptation may be strong to see this film as a farewell, but this remarkable artist is already hard at work on a new project. A Kino Lorber release.

Horse Money / Cavalo Dinheiro

Pedro Costa, Portugal, 2014, DCP, 103m

Since the late ’90s, Pedro Costa has devoted himself to the task of doing justice to the lives and tragedies and dreams of the Cape Verdean immigrants who once populated the now-demolished neighborhood of Fontainhas. Costa works with a minimal crew and at ground level, patiently building a unique cinematographic language alongside the men and women he has befriended. Where does his astonishing new Horse Money “take place”? In the soul-space of Ventura, who has been at the center of Costa’s last few shorts and his 2006 feature Colossal Youth. It is now, a numbing and timeless present of hospital stays, bureaucratic questioning, and wandering through remembered spaces… and it is then, the mid ’70s and the time of the Carnation Revolution, when Ventura got into a knife fight with his friend Joaquim. A self-reckoning, a moving memorialization of lives in danger of being forgotten, and a great and piercingly beautiful work of cinema.

Life of Riley / Aimer, boire et chanter

Alain Resnais, France, 2014, DCP, 108m

Adapted from Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking, Life of Riley, the final work by Alain Resnais, is the story of three couples in the English countryside who learn that their close mutual friend is terminally ill. Yet the story is only half the movie, a giddily unsettling meditation on mortality and the strange sensation of simply being alive and going on, feeling by feeling, action by action. The swift, fleeting encounters between various combinations of characters (played by Resnais regulars André Dussollier and Sabine Azéma—the director’s wife—along with Michel Vuillermoz, Hippolyte Girardot, Sandrine Kiberlain, and Caroline Silhol) take place on extremely stylized sets, and they are punctuated with close-ups set against comic-strip grids, and broken up by images of the real English countryside. Funny but haunting, Life of Riley is a moving, graceful, and surprisingly affirmative farewell to life from a truly great artist. A Kino Lorber release.

Maps to the Stars

David Cronenberg, Canada/Germany, 2014, DCP, 111m

David Cronenberg takes Bruce Wagner’s script—a pitch-black Hollywood satire—chills it down, and gives it a near-tragic spin. The terrible loneliness of narcissism afflicts every character from the fading star Havana (Julianne Moore, who won the Best Actress Award at Cannes for her nervy performance) to the available-for-anything chauffeur (Robert Pattinson) to the entire Weiss family, played by John Cusack, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, and Mia Wasikowska. The last two are brother and sister, damaged beyond repair and fated to repeat the perverse union of their parents. And yet, in their murderous rages, they have the purity of avenging angels, taking revenge on a culture that needs to be put out of its misery—or so it must seem to them. Cronenberg’s visual strategy physically isolates the characters from one another, so that their occasional violent connections pack a double whammy. An eOne Films release.

Mr. Turner

Mike Leigh, UK, 2014, DCP, 149m

Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner is certainly a portrait of a great artist and his time, but it is also a film about the human problem of… others. Timothy Spall’s grunting, unkempt J.M.W. Turner is always either working or thinking about working. During the better part of his interactions with patrons, peers, and even his own children, he punches the clock and makes perfunctory conversation, while his mind is clearly on the inhuman realm of the luminous. After the death of his beloved father (Paul Jesson), Turner creates a way station of domestic comfort with a cheerful widow (Marion Bailey), and he maintains his artistic base at his family home, kept in working order by the undemonstrative and ever-compliant Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson). But his stays in both houses are only rest periods between endless and sometimes punishing journeys in search of a closer and closer vision of light. A rich, funny, moving, and extremely clear-eyed film about art and its creation. A Sony Pictures Classics release.


Abel Ferrara, France/Belgium/Italy, DCP, 87m

Pier Paolo Pasolini—filmmaker/poet/novelist, Christian, Communist, permanent legal defendant, and self-proclaimed “inconvenient guest” of modern society—was an immense figure. Abel Ferrara’s new film compresses the many contradictory aspects of his subject’s life and work into a distilled, prismatic portrait. We are with Pasolini during the last hours of his life, as he talks with his beloved family and friends, writes, gives a brutally honest interview, shares a meal with Ninetto Davoli (Riccardo Scamarcio), and cruises for the roughest rough trade in his gun-metal gray Alfa Romeo. Over the course of the action, Pasolini’s life and his art (represented by scenes from his films, his novel-in-progress Petrolio, and his projected film Porno-Teo-Kolossal) are constantly refracted and intermingled to the point where they become one. A thoughtful, attentive, and extremely frank meditation on a man who continues to cast a very long shadow, featuring a brilliant performance by Willem Dafoe in the title role.

Time Out of Mind

Oren Moverman, USA, 2014, DCP, 117m

We are in an apartment from which the tenant has been evicted. Junk is piled everywhere. A man, sleeping in the bathtub, is awoken by the maintenance crew. He is forced onto the streets, and into a series of realizations that gradually materialize over the unending days that stretch to infinity: that he must find clothing to cover himself, food to eat, liquid to drink, a bed to sleep in. And we are simply with him, and with the sound and movement of the city that engulfs him and makes him seem smaller and smaller. As George, Richard Gere may be the “star” of Oren Moverman’s new film, but he allows the world around him to take center stage, and himself to simply be: it’s a wondrous performance, and Time Out of Mind is as haunting as a great Bill Evans solo. With lovely work by Ben Vereen as George’s one and only friend and Jena Malone as his estranged daughter.

Two Days, One Night / Deux jours, une nuit

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy, 2014, DCP, 95m

The action is elemental. The employees in a small factory have been given a choice. They will each receive a bonus if they agree to one of them being laid off; if not, then no one gets the bonus. The chosen employee (Marion Cotillard) spends a weekend driving through the suburbs and working-class neighborhoods of Seraing and Liège, knocking on the doors of her co-workers and asking a simple but impossible question: will you give up the money to let me continue to earn my own living? The force of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s new film lies in the intensity with which they focus on the second-by-second toll the situation takes on everyone directly affected, while the employers sit at a benign remove. In Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes take an urgent and extremely relevant ethical inquiry and bring it to bold and painfully human life. A Sundance Selects release.

And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Among the non-Criterion related films playing, I’m most looking forward to Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, Hong Sang-soo’s Hill of Freedom, and Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden. What is everybody else itching to see immediately?

For a full list of all the Main Slate selections, visit the NYFF website here. Be sure to check back at CriterionCast for more NYFF52 news!

BAMcinématek Announces Les Blank Retrospective Thu, 07 Aug 2014 13:00:07 +0000 lesblankframed

On the heels of the three-film outdoor screening they recently put on in Brooklyn Bridge Park for this year’s BAMCinemafest, the BAMcinématek has just announced a 17-film retrospective of the films of legendary documentarian and ethnographer Les Blank.

The series runs from September 2nd to September 10th, and all the films will be presented in newly restored DCPs from Janus Films, which means that a Blank box-set from the Collection might be coming down the pipe very soon.

Among many of the filmmaker’s works, the series features the likes of Always for Pleasure, The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins, Burden of Dreams, Dry Wood, Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, God Respects Us When We Work But Loves Us When We Dance, The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists, Spend It All, A Well Spent Life, and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe—all of which are also available on Criterion’s Hulu Plus channel. But who am I kidding, if you’re anywhere near Brooklyn you should get yourself to BAM to see these truly unique works coupled together on the big screen.

Also showing is Werner Herzog’s epic Fitzcarraldo, whose doomed production is chronicled in Blank’s aforementioned Burden of Dreams.

Below is the full schedule:

Tue, Sep 2:

5:30, 7:30, 9:30pm: Dry Wood + Spend It All

Wed, Sep 3:

5:30, 7:30, 9:30pm: Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella + Hot Pepper

Fri, Sep 5:

2, 6, 9:50pm: Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking + Always for Pleasure

4, 8pm: Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe + In Heaven There is No Beer?

Sat, Sep 6:

2, 4:15, 9:45pm: Burden of Dreams

6:30pm: Fitzcarraldo

Sun, Sep 7:

2, 6:30pm: God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance + Gap-Toothed Women + Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers

4:30, 9pm: The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins + A Well Spent Life

Wed, Sep 10:

5:30, 7:30, 9:30pm: Sprout Wings and Fly + The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists

Check the BAMcinématek website here for tickets and further info.

Paramount Picks Up Rights to Scorsese’s Silence Wed, 16 Jul 2014 18:00:57 +0000 Scorsese silence

Following last year’s scandalous The Wolf of Wall Street it looks like Martin Scorsese will have another awards season release on his hands in 2015 from Paramount Pictures.

The studio is in talks to acquire distribution rights to Scorsese’s dream project, Silence, to be released in November next year.

The film, an adaptation is Shusako Endo’s novel of the same name, is about two Jesuit priests who face persecution as they attempt to spread Christianity in 17th century Japan. The film is written by Gangs of New York screenwriter Jay Cocks and features a pretty stacked cast that includes Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Ken Watanabe, and Adam Driver.

If you don’t feel like waiting until 2015 you can get a head start and check out director Masahiro Shinoda’s adaptation—also called Silence—of Shusako Endo’s novel on Criterion’s Hulu Plus page here. Or watch it below.



Source: Deadline

BAMcinématek to Hold Month-Long Chris Marker Retrospective Wed, 16 Jul 2014 17:00:59 +0000 chrismarkerframed

From August 15-21 the BAMcinématek will hold a retrospective of the work of late French mind-bending multimedia auteur Chris Marker, anchored by a new DCP restoration and North American theatrical premiere of his 1996 film Level Five (which just happens to feature a nice little cameo by Japanese director Nagisa Oshima).

The retro will include his greatest hits like La Jetée, Sans Soleil, and Le Joli Mai, but will also feature lesser-screened works like his three hour film collage A Grin Without a Cat and his portrait of director Andrei Tarkovsky, One Day in the Life of Andrei Aresenevich.

This will be a much-deserved retrospective of an oftentimes elusive director. As far as I know most of these films are difficult to find or hard to come by on home video, so if you’re in or around Brooklyn it’ll be quite a treat to see some of these on the big screen.

A full lineup is below:

Fri, Aug 15

2, 4:30, 7, 9:30pm: Level Five

Sat, Aug 16

2, 7pm: Far From Vietnam

4:30, 9:30pm: Level Five

Sun, Aug 17

4:30pm: Le Joli Mai 

2, 8pm: Level Five

Mon, Aug 18

4:30, 9pm: Level Five

7pm: A Letter From Siberia, Sunday in Peking

Tue, Aug 19

4:30, 9pm: Level Five

7pm: The Battle of the Ten Million

Wed, Aug 20

4:30, 9pm: Level Five 

7pm: Be Seeing You, Class of Struggle, 2084

Thu, Aug 21

4:30, 7, 9:30pm: Level Five

Fri, Aug 22

5, 6:30, 8, 9:30pm: La Jetée, Statues Also Die

Sat, Aug 23

2, 4:30, 7, 9:30pm: Sans Soleil

Sun, Aug 24

2, 8:30pm: The Last Bolshevik

4:30pm: A Grin Without a Cat

Mon, Aug 25

7:30pm: Description of a Struggle, Valparaíso

9:15pm: One Day in the Life of Andrei Aresenevich, The Train Rolls On

Tue, Aug 26

7:30, 9:15pm: Prime Time in the Camps, The Sixth Side of the Pentagon, The Embassy

Wed, Aug 27

7:30pm: Bestiary, Les homes de la baleen, Three Cheers for the Whale

9pm: The Koumiko Mystery, Matta

Thu, Aug 28

7, 9:15pm: Remembrance of Things to Come, If I Had Four Dromedaries

Check back at the BAMcinématek website here for further information.

Sean Reviews Bernardo Bertolucci’s Me and You [Theatrical Review] Fri, 11 Jul 2014 23:57:22 +0000 Me and You header

In a few ways, Bernardo Bertolucci and his new film Me and You reminds me a lot of Roman Polanski and his latest films. They’re relatively small affairs, much different than their previous high profile releases that dotted the ‘60s or ‘70s, and are personal statements made by world-renowned auteurs who seem to actively chuckle at the thought of the phrase “The twilight of my career.”

Me and You—about a 14-year-old misunderstood loner who hates school and whose mother has sent him to a psychotherapist, causing him to hideaway with his older half-sister in his building’s nearly-empty basement—is Bertolucci’s first film in over ten years (and his first film in Italian in 30 years). The gap in time was caused by a debilitating illness that left the director not only wheelchair-bound but also in a deep sense of depression. It is, therefore, obvious to make a connection between the boy, Lorenzo (played by actor Jacopo Olmo Antinori, who seems like he stepped right out of a Pasolini film), and the director himself. They’re both isolated—both intentionally and not—and intense observers of the world around them who use that isolation as both a gift and a curse. The film itself, however slight and opposite of Bertolucci’s previous epics like The Last Emperor or 1900, is a refreshing and volatile late entry in the director’s storied career.

The true star of the film is Tea Falco as Olivia (Lorenzo’s half-sister), the disrupting factor in Lorenzo’s reclusive experiment. She needs a place to stay, she needs a place to kick her drug addiction, she needs a place to mull over her future in a world that’s given her the short end of the stick. At times tender and at others unpredictable, she throws Lorenzo’s carefully planned out new existence into disarray like a tornado whipping everything up and out of order.

People may find the film boring simply because nothing much goes on, though Bertolucci is obviously putting more into the interactions than the action, which gives the film the feel of an intimate stage play. Antinori holds his own against Falco even when he acts insufferable towards her, but such fickle behavior is what gives the film a small spark of life. The pair aren’t friends, but they sort of try to be and they’re not strict siblings but they try to be that too.

It is thus a movie about coming to understand, maybe not the bigger picture of life but to try and understand the things that are right in front of you in the now.  It is another story of youth in an endless cinematic string of stories about youth (see: the homage to the last shot of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows in this film’s last shot), and while it isn’t groundbreaking, Bertolucci’s film does offer up a great little chamber piece that gets the job done whether you’re a 14-year-old outcast, a 73-year-old film director, or anything in between.

Sean Reviews Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love [Dual Format Review] Sat, 07 Jun 2014 08:00:45 +0000 Like Someone in Love Header

With a film like Like Someone in Love, it’s difficult to compose your thoughts into an intelligent and insightful reading simply because it is able to perform such a subtly extraordinary sleight of hand—cinematic or otherwise. It is perhaps one of the most conversely simple yet emotionally substantial films I have ever seen, and one whose meaning will tend to change depending on whom you ask. After watching the film myself, my girlfriend asked me what it was about and I could give her no less than an hour-long answer if I tried, and yet I could tell you right now—all in one sentence—that it’s about an interaction involving a young female prostitute and an elderly male professor in Yokohama, Japan who end up further entangled in the volatile emotions of the girl’s jilted boyfriend following the previous night’s enigmatic encounter. On the one hand it is outwardly simplistic, but on the other it is a wellspring of philosophical and sentimental feelings that play out behind a steadily unraveling plot. In short, it is an Abbas Kiarostami movie through and through.

The raison d’être in Kiarostami’s four-decade body of work so far is the mischievous divide between seeing, believing, and being, whether it involves a pseudo-documentary about man impersonating a prominent film director in Close-Up or two apparent strangers strolling—and driving—through the Italian countryside only to reveal a potentially unsaid history between the desensitized pair in Certified Copy. His films ponder the ultimately unknowable but delicately familiar interactions of the human spirit, a spirit that tends to define identity as if such a fundamental label were as fluttery and insignificant as gossamer but extraordinarily important nonetheless. The main thing to remember about Kiarostami’s movies is that they don’t operate on the pretense of a futile twist or a gotcha moment, but rather they let their expressionistic reality wash over you organically. They are working on you as much as you are working on them.

Some will presuppose that a movie like this will be boring simply because they have to do a bit more than just watch it, and those people (God bless them) would be right themselves, but Kiarostami’s tendency for long takes and enigmatic narratives should do the complete opposite of bore those willing to exist with the characters. Such a readiness to participate unveils an essential part of Like Someone in Love—that of movement and repose, of stillness and disruption. Kiarostami seems to be saying that such a back-and-forth is indicative of life in the modern world—typified by the film’s portrayal of constantly shifting connections between old and new generations—and that the way we live our lives is defined by an existential seesawing characterized by such disruptions. Such subdued turmoil could be as simple as a phone call cutting a conversation short, a shrewd disagreement between two people, or unexpectedly meeting someone you haven’t seen in a very long time. On the other hand, that turmoil could be present in very complicated situations such as a daughter’s intentional absence in a family, or the death of a loved one.

The core meeting between Akiko (the young girl, played by Rin Takanashi) and Takashi (the elderly professor, played by Tadashi Okuno) takes on a surreal quality while presenting an outwardly normal conversation. We must solely gather important information from objects themselves like photos or the piles of books strewn about his apartment, but also from reactions in conversation or the subtlest of glances. Perhaps the best dramatic moment in the film is a slow exhale by Takashi after Akiko declines his invitation to sit down for dinner. Part of the film is all about expectations by the characters within and the audience themselves. Whether Takashi decides to sleep with Akiko is a narrative fulcrum that lesser directors would agonize over or strain to emphasize, and yet Kiarostami lets it play out as normal. We expect it to be a point of dramatic importance, but instead it emphasizes the banal—but important—emotions and movement of everyday life.

Criterion’s release, like the film itself, is deceptively simple. Aside from the trailer and the sometimes overly-theoretical essay by film scholar Nico Baumbach, the sole supplement is a forty-five minute documentary on the making of the film made by Kiarostami himself. But instead of throwaway fluff, it’s rather an essential continuation of the film itself. We see Kiarostami—shooting footage with a small digital camera—interacting with the actors and fleshing out scenes by imploring them to do whatever they would do as if the situation were happening to them in real life. Numerous times throughout the doc we are reminded that the actors haven’t seen a completed script, followed by Kiarostami’s implication that the script itself was only ever an outline from which he would mold the story in collaboration with his actors. Another essential part of the doc is the fact that Kiarostami doesn’t speak Japanese, and the suggestion that he made the film in a language he doesn’t understand in order to separate the emotional heft of the story from any sort of comfort that the limitations of language could somehow ruin. Funny enough, when directly asked why he set the film in Japan, Kiarostami responds saying, “Sushi.”

It’s almost meaningless to say a movie rewards multiple viewings, and it would be restrictive to say that multiple viewings of Like Someone in Love would somehow make you understand it better. Instead, multiple viewings of Like Someone in Love will simply allow you to follow the characters again and again, and in turn will naturally reveal the volatile emotions at play within human desires through these characters. The film is admittedly not for everyone, but those who are at least interested in Kiarostami’s masterful explorations of appearance versus reality will find as much or as little here as they want.

Like Someone In Love

Sean Reviews Mark Robson’s Home of the Brave [Blu-ray Review] Sat, 07 Jun 2014 07:04:04 +0000 Home of the Brave header

1949’s Home of the Brave—recently restored and released on Blu-ray by Olive Films—purports to be the first motion picture of its kind to address racism in the military, specifically during World War II. Actor James Edwards plays Moss, a sensitive but intelligent African-American military engineer who joins up with a recon squad made up entirely of white men (one of whom is his college buddy Finch, played by Lloyd Bridges) who must go on a mission to survey a small island held by a small outfit of Japanese forces during the War, but soon racial tension between the men boils over, calling into question Moss’ ideas of loyalty and courage during wartime.

For the most part the film delivers on its promise of portraying an unwavering look at the unspoken—and sometimes institutionalized—racism that pervaded American culture even when we were fighting a war to combat the very notions that breed racism itself. But while watching it in a modern context one can’t help but admit that the film tends to seem like a mere artifact of its own time, one whose overall impact may be unfortunately weakened because of the extraordinary strides our country has taken to turn the ugly tides of racism since its release. To downplay the film’s commendable representation of racial turmoil—not to mention two fine performances from Edwards and Bridges—would be foolish, but at a certain point the cinematic merits of the film must be called into question, and unfortunately Home of the Brave doesn’t offer much else.

The film—written by High Noon-scribe Carl Foreman, produced by Stanley Kramer, and adapted from a play by Arthur Laurents—is fashioned using a sometimes-clumsy flashback structure, convoluting itself when a simply told narrative would have sufficed. We learn first that Moss has been shell-shocked from the mission and has been rendered paralyzed, and then circle back to the mission’s recruitment—which includes some troubling casual racism lobbied at the engineer recruit by the very men he’s agreed to help out—but why? Other flashbacks, such as Bridges and Edwards building camaraderie while playing on the same basketball team in college, are narratively important, but its main circular structure doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially when it relies on Moss’ army shrink to shoehorn in bizarre pseudo-science exposition for what amounts to the film’s big emotional payoff.

Then there is the drama, which, again, is utterly important when thinking about it in a historical sense of representation itself, but becomes middling and one note in a thematic sense as the film progresses. The message to be had in the film is an obvious one: racism is bad, and don’t be a racist. It’s frustrating to think that the filmmakers couldn’t push the themes a bit further in order to make their emotional resonance more complex, or maybe I’m just missing the point that having the themes present at this time in 1949 were massively significant enough and the film is but a small building block that sparked a need for more evocative films like it.

Overall the film tends to veer into military melodrama despite its serious subject matter, which to some will be a bit over the top—especially considering some of the egregiously stilted acting from the supporting cast—but others will see the story between Moss and Finch as the real emotional kernel of the film. When it sticks to their story, surrounded by the action of the mission, the film shines. It’s only when it pushes towards sensationalizing certain aspects of the story for paltry tear-jerker moments that it shows its middling colors. Home of the Brave may not seem like much now, considering how far we’ve come, but its true significance lies in its very existence because it was brave enough to bring such serious issues to the big screen.

Home Of The Brave

BAMcinemaFest to Include Free Outdoor Screenings of 3 Les Blank Films Tue, 20 May 2014 15:00:43 +0000 lesblankframed

Three films by documentarian Les Blank—who sadly passed away last year at the age of 77—will screen for free during this year’s BAMcinemaFest in Brooklyn Bridge Park on June 19th.

The short series, entitled “Yum, Yum, Yum!”, includes Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (Blank’s documentary love letter to garlic), The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (a musical portrait of the eponymous blues musician), and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (Blank’s documentary about filmmaker Werner Herzog, well, eating his shoe).

Tasty snacks will be provided by Smorgasburg starting at 7pm and live music will kick off at 8pm. The screenings will begin at sundown.

The three-film set will act as a precursor to a larger Les Blank retrospective that will take place at BAMcinématek later this year. No details on that have been announced, but we’ll let you know any information once it’s released.

For more information about the incredible lineup for this year’s BAMcinemaFest, click here.

Also, if you can’t make it out to Brooklyn on the 19th next month, you can always just stream the three films on Criterion’s Hulu Plus page or below.




Director Andrea Arnold Lines Up Next Feature Film Tue, 20 May 2014 14:00:45 +0000 Andrea Arnold header

Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights director Andrea Arnold will direct a film called American Honey for her fourth feature film.

The film, which will be her first to be shot in the U.S., is a “road movie [that] centers on a runaway teenager selling magazine subscriptions around the U.S., who gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard-partying, law-bending and young love.” Arnold also wrote the screenplay.

Arnold’s already esteemed pedigree includes BAFTAS and Jury Prizes at Cannes for Fish Tank and her feature debut Red Road, and her last film, Wuthering Heights, played in competition at Venice.

From the very limited looks of it, this film seems like it will be an interesting continuation of the same exploration of the woebegone female protagonist in Fish Tank, but the added details about America and what Arnold will do with those themes will be what to look out for.

In the meantime, Arnold is the head of the Critics’ Week Jury at Cannes this year so look for more news on that soon. Also, you can check out her debut short film Wasp—which won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film—below.



(Source: Variety)

Lars Von Trier Is Going To Detroit Fri, 16 May 2014 12:00:43 +0000 vontrierframed

What does a guy do after making an explicit four-hour film about a woman’s complete sexual history? Move to Detroit, that’s what.

The always-interesting Nymphomaniac and Antichrist director Lars von Trier will pen a straightforward (insofar as von Trier can be straightforward) horror film tentatively called Detroit for fellow Danish director Kristian Levring. Levring’s newest film—entitled The Salvation that stars Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, and Jonathan Pryce—will premiere out of competition at Cannes this year and was produced by von Trier’s Zentropa.

Speaking to Danish magazine Soundvenue, Levring explained that the new project came about because the director kept pestering von Trier about it for years: “I’ve always thought that Lars would be able to do a fantastic horror movie, and I’ve told him so many times throughout the years, and in the end he said: ‘I want you to stop talking about it, so I’ll write it for you instead.'”

Von Trier is only a month into the writing process, but Levring elaborated by going on to say “It’s about a man fighting his inner demons,” and later that “It’s real horror. Of course, there is a psychological aspect, but it’s a real horror movie. That’s what we’re aiming for, at least.”

No word on whether that included genital mutilation or any more mystery planets crashing into earth.

Stay tuned to CriterionCast for more details. In the meantime, check out von Trier’s Breaking the Waves which was just released on Criterion last month, or watch his earlier films The Element of Crime and Europa on Criterion’s HuluPlus channel now.

Source: Indiewire

A Hard Day’s Night Returns to Theaters on July 4th Weekend Fri, 09 May 2014 01:00:27 +0000 harddaysnightheader

After the absolutely stacked Criterion release of A Hard Day’s Night on June 24th, Janus Films will release director Richard Lester’s Beatles classic in more than 50 cities—including at New York City’s Film Forum, Los Angeles’ The Cinefamily, and San Francisco’s The Castro Theatre—over the July 4th weekend for a theatrical run.

The film will be screened in the Lester-approved 4K restoration created by The Criterion Collection with a 5/1 sound mix produced by Giles Martin at Abbey Road Studios. The restoration premiered at a sold-out event last month at the TCM Classic Movie Film Festival.

Peter Becker, president of the Criterion Collection and a partner in Janus Films said, “Nothing beats seeing this film on a big screen in a packed house with the new restoration looking and sounding so good. A Hard Day’s Night sweeps you along on a tide of pure fun, but it’s also one of the must-see wonders of the modern cultural world. The sheer energy and charisma of the Beatles is irresistible, and Richard Lester’s cinematic style is just as infectious. It’s the perfect multi-generational summer night at the movies, and we’re incredibly excited that so many theaters have already committed to show it on July 4th weekend all across the country.”

Check back at Janus Films to see if the film will play at a theater near you.

]]> 2
Cannes 2014 Classics Lineup Includes Criterion Favorites and More Fri, 09 May 2014 00:00:33 +0000 Cannes 2014

This year’s Cannes Film Festival runs from May 14th to the 25th, and their Cannes Classics lineup—meant to “delight audiences of today with the memory of cinema”—includes many Criterion-related titles. Strangely enough, this is the first time that no 35mm prints of the films will screen for a Cannes Classics slate—all will screen in DCP 2K or DCP 4K.

They are:

PARIS, TEXAS by Wim Wenders (1984)

Awarded by the President of the Jury Dirk Bogarde and handed out on stage by Faye Dunaway, the Palme d’or of Paris,Texas is thirty years old. Wim Wenders will be back on the Croisette (besides his selection at Un Certain Regard with THE SALT OF THE EARTH) with a new print of PARIS, TEXAS.

HD Transfer done at Deluxe Laboratory in New York, supervised by Wim Wenders, and Spirit Scan made at the German laboratory CinePost Production. Digital transfer made by Criterion.


A presentation by Shochiku studio. 
The digital restoration was performed in by 4K Shochiku Co., Ltd. under the supervision of Takashi Kawamata, cameraman of Nagisa Oshima. The film will be distributed in France by Carlotta.

WOODEN CROSSES (LES CROIX DE BOIS) by Raymond Bernard (1931)

Presented by Pathé and the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux – Pathé.
The film was scanned and restored in 4K by the laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata Bologna. Restoration carried out by Pathé.

OVERLORD by Stuart Cooper (1975)

A restoration presented by The Criterion Collection (New York).
HD Digital transfer supervised by director Stuart Cooper from a new 35mm fine-grain master. Mono sound now in 24 bits.

ANGST (LA PEUR) by Roberto Rossellini (1954)

Within the framework of the Rossellini project, a restoration made in 4K by L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna.
Cannes Classics has been welcoming since 2011 the ambitious Italian project, The Rossellini Project, from the collaboration between Instituto Luce Cinecittà, Cineteca di Bologna, CSC-Cineteca Nazionale and Coproduction Office (in charge of international sales).

Print restaured by the Cineteca di Bologna with L’Immagine Ritrovata collaborating with the Istituto Luce Cinecittà, CSC-Cineteca Nazionale and Coproduction Office.

BLIND CHANCE (PRZYPADEK) by Krzysztof Kieślowski (1981)

A presentation by the Polish Film Institute.
Restoration carried out in 2K with the color framing supervised by the director of photography.

THE LAST METRO (LE DERNIER METRO) by François Truffaut (1980)

Presented by MK2 and the Cinémathèque française with the support of the French and American Fund on the occasion of the thirty years of François Truffaut’s passing away.
The original negative was scanned in 4K and restored frame by frame by 2K Digimage laboratory. Restoration and color framing were supervised by DP Guillaume Schiffman.

DAYBREAK (LE JOUR SE LEVE) by Marcel Carné (1939, 1h31)

Restoration 4K presented by Studio Canal.
Work on the images made by Eclair, sound restored by Diapason in partnership with Eclair.

JAMAICA INN by Alfred Hitchcock (1939)

A presentation of the Cohen Film Collection LLC.
Digital restoration in concordance with the BIFI made in 4K by 4K RRsat Europe – Ray King and Anthony Badger Finishing Post Productions Ltd – Jason Tufano and Marc Bijum.

THE BITCH (LA CHIENNE) by Jean Renoir (1931)

Film presented by Les Films du Jeudi and the Cinémathèque française with the support of the CNC and the help of the Fonds Culturel Franco-Américain (DGA – MPA – SACEM – WGAW).
Restoration in 2K (from a 4K scan) made by Digimage Classics and sound restoration by Diapason.


A presentation of the International Olympic Committee.
The film was digitally restored in 4K from the original film elements for the International Olympic Committee by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging and Audio Mechanics in Burbank, USA.

by Federico Fellini (1963) 

Restored by Gaumont and Eclair will be screened as the opening film of the Cinéma de la plage to give an echo to the poster of the 67th Festival de Cannes and pay a tribute to Marcello Mastroianni.

25th Anniversary Screening of Do the Right Thing to Close This Year’s BAMcinemaFest Thu, 08 May 2014 23:00:11 +0000 dotherightthingframed

BAMCinématek recently announced the full lineup for this year’s BAMcinemaFest, including the opening night selection of Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood (more info on that screening here) and a Centerpiece screening of Bong Joon-Ho’s new film, Snowpiercer.

Their closing night event, however, will be a 25th anniversary screening of director Spike Lee’s seminal 1989 film Do the Right Thing, featuring a Q&A with Lee and members of the cast and crew including Danny Aiello, Bill Nunn, Giancarlo Esposito, and more. The screening and event will be shown on the Steinberg Screen at the BAM Harvey Theater, a cinema this writer couldn’t recommend enough (I saw a screening of The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II there and it was absolutely gorgeous).

Even further, the screening will kick off a 12-day retrospective of Lee’s films that will also commemorate the 15th anniversary of the BAMcinématek itself, which launched in 1999 with a similar retro of Spike Lee joints up until that point. More info about this retrospective will be announced soon.

You can also get more information about the full BAMcinemaFest lineup here.

Sean Interviews The Double Director and Co-Screenwriter Richard Ayoade Thu, 08 May 2014 04:00:33 +0000 The Double header

Writer, actor, and director Richard Ayoade has done it all and, surprisingly, kept an unfairly low profile. His first feature film was 2010’s Submarine, a hyper-aware coming-of-age dramedy that made a small splash in indie circles. His second feature, The Double, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska about a man whose doppelgänger shows up at his office without anyone else seeming to notice, played in March at this year’s New Directors/New Films and will be released in theaters this Friday on May 9th (You can read my review of the film from the ND/NF here). I sat down to talk with him about his influences, the concept of the uncanny, Eisenberg’s talented range, and why Dostoyevsky is as funny as an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

SH: Well first off, I thought the movie was great, and to start off I wanted to get a better sense of the genesis of the film. I know the idea to make the movie began with co-screenwriter Avi Korine who wrote a first draft, but when did you join the project and when did you decide during that collaborative process that it would be your second directorial feature?

RA: Well I first read his script in 2007, I think, before we filmed Submarine. We filmed Submarine in 2009, so I had only maybe just started writing Submarine and I met Avi when I was doing this music video for Vampire Weekend. So I was in America and I could afford to go to Nashville [where Korine lives] which wasn’t too crazily expensive, and we talked about it and I had some ideas about how to restructure certain things and he did another draft. I probably started to re-get involved in two-thousand and…gosh maybe it could have been 2010 and maybe I read the script in 2008? But yeah, it was awhile and took a long time.

Actually yeah, the film [Submarine] came out in 2010 so I was kind of working on it from after I met Avi—and he was doing the absolute bulk of it initially—and then I wrote a draft, and then he came to England and we wrote one together. That was kind of the best period—the period where we made the most progress in cracking it properly. And after that I would sort of write it and it started to come together as a shooting script as it were. But Avi always came to the shoot, and it was really great working with him. I hope to work with him again.

And when did you first read the Dostoyevsky novella the movie is based on?

After I read Avi’s script. I just had it as a sort of trophy book on my shelf, so I hadn’t read it before. I knew it comes together with “Notes from Underground” or “The Gambler,” so it’s one of those kind of things, you know? It’s hard to follow the book. It has a weird ending and it’s written in a kind of—I’m not sure what the literary term is—it’s, um, sympathetic third person? It flips in and out of his consciousness and out of reality. I guess in a way primarily we took the premise, but we didn’t kind of—there’s no satirical attack on bourgeois values or anything. I guess the film ended up being more of a romantic story, a love story of a character who can’t get over himself and is obsessed with Mia Wasikowska’s character, and the double intercedes in that way. Whereas in the book it’s primarily about his work, which didn’t feel enough—you know, the idea of going mad because he doesn’t get promoted seems…

And you added things like the mother.

Yeah, yeah.

So correct me if I’m wrong, but I think specific influences play a big part in your films—which is not to say they’re unoriginal. I mean to say that you can take specific examples of influence—like the Georges Delerue music or Jean-Pierre Melville posters in Oliver’s room in Submarine, or the kind of dead-end bureaucratic humor of Terry Gilliam’s films in The Double—and apply them to your films. So is influence something you’re overtly conscious of when making your films, or how intentional do you like those influences to be?

I guess it’s part of why you’re interested in it at all. I don’t know, but for me I just wouldn’t know it existed but for seeing films. That kind of purity is impossible in a way unless you’re D.W. Griffiths or something. As in probably the reason you’re interested in it is because you saw films and you liked them, and they made you feel a certain way. I remember something that Stanley Kubrick said which was that probably a truly original mind wouldn’t be able to work in film because it’s a classical medium now. There’s a grammar that’s been established. Like a reverse shot pattern is a bigger copying trope than anything else where you go, “You can shoot this person and then reverse 180 and shoot that other person.” It’s so weird that that even works—the idea that you could cut between two angles that would be impossible to discern from any point of view. I mean what is that?

I guess it’s just fundamental?

Yeah, and you just go, “That’s real.” But if you do a track zoom then that’s Hitchcock. So, in a way, for me it’s kind of inescapable. The things that you really like are there all the time, and also certain subjects already this far in have their masters. If you’re into suspense I imagine Hitchcock is going to become involved. If you’re into, I don’t know, comedy and you have no knowledge of Chaplin then something’s gone wrong. I guess there are these touchstones, but also there’s another level where characters themselves—particularly in the case of something like Submarine—are aware of cinema. I remember really loving Kevin Williamson and the first series if “Dawson’s Creek.” I was obsessed with that series because…

Like how Dawson was obsessed with films and Spielberg and all that?

Well yes, but also because it was one of the first things where people watched films and talked about them, and to me it wasn’t meta. It just felt right. That’s what my friends and I would talk about. We’d watch films and go, “Did you see that?” and wanted to be like the people on TV, and it felt really great. I loved it, and so in Submarine we wanted to have someone who saw their life as if they were in a film, and so that sort of thing particularly became important for that one.

Well that’s something that I appreciate about your two films so far, is that they both outwardly embrace that sort of thing.

And the New Wave too. I love how they managed to embrace all those influences. It’s something like every writer after Hemingway has got a bit of him in them. They just can’t go back in some ways.

Yeah, yeah exactly. So, switching gears a bit—in the past in interviews in things you’ve graciously said you’re not good at acting, but to me you’ve uniquely shifted between small British panel shows, to something like a big Hollywood movie with Ben Stiller, and then to directing music videos and films. Is their one thing you prefer or do you enjoy being able to do all of those things? Obviously talented people have the ability to be multifaceted, but I appreciate the way you cover all of those things.

Certainly with something like this you aren’t doing it on your own by any means.

Of course.

I’ve got sort of a complete infrastructure of all these great people who I’m cannibalizing the talents of, but I suppose I feel the greatest aptitude for writing or directing. [Jokingly] It’s pretty difficult when working with people like Jesse and Mia to think you’re particularly an actor [Laughs]. You know, they really can do it, and I’ve never thought of myself as an actor. I’ve been in things and I’m grateful to be in things and I’ve enjoyed it, but I probably find performing easiest when I’ve written it simply because it’s already something internalized. But, you know, it’s really hard to act. No directors become actors despite the fact that it’s better paid and there’s more recognition. You know, Fincher is not becoming an actor, whereas a lot of actors can direct pretty well.

It’s just a very particular ability that’s to do with your physiognomy—like how easily your face can be read. It’s like a balletic ability that you really need to be working on all the time, and I really feel like a kind of gentleman amateur [laughs], you know, coming up to town for the day. So, yeah, but with the thing I’m probably most know for performing-wise, Graham [Linehan, creator of The IT Crowd] is a really good writer and it plays to a limit in my range that’s appropriate for that.

I wanted to say that “tone” is something that’s come up a lot about The Double in interviews that I’ve watched or read. I think it’s strange that people are so surprised about it because I think even parts of Submarine operate in a darkly comedic or surreal place. So instead of specifically asking about tone I wanted to ask about the concept of “The Uncanny”…


…the Freudian concept that something can be both familiar and alienating at the same time, and how you went about creating that specific atmosphere for the film or whether it was simply evident in the source material.

It partially is, but I guess things—um—like this isn’t something that we thought about while making it but there’s a good Slovoj Žižek piece on Lost Highway [directed by David Lynch] and in it he says that one of the things that is—I think Lost Highway is brilliant, like really weird. I remember reading two-star reviews for Lost Highway and thinking “This is insane,” and you say, “How could it be better,” you know, “This is ridiculous.” But he said about it, which I think is really true, is that you have the conscious and subconscious treated equally without any differentiation between their respective realities. So it’s not like you have this and then something underneath it, they’re both just side-by-side. So a scene where the Mystery Man says, you know, “I’m at your house,” is treated as normally as someone ordering a cup of coffee. It’s not like, “This is weird,” and suddenly we have creepy music and the camera pushes in. It’s done in the same way. In fact [Lynch] is more likely to have weird music over someone just drinking a coffee and it not being odd.

So there’s that element where people don’t respond, in a way, to confirm something being strange. There are no reaction shots to something being odd or, say, when Simon is in the old peoples’ home in the movie and there’s a thing where he says the price hike seems unfair, and the man behind the desk just goes, “Yup, seems a bit unfair.” It’s just someone not responding in a way that you’d expect and not feeling the situation as you’re feeling it. Ordinarily that person would go, “Oh, I’m sorry,” but he just feels none of the awkwardness you feel he ought to be experiencing. So it creates a strangeness in that it looks like a regular scene, but there’s something wrong and something isn’t operating as it ought to.

Well that sort of plays into my next question because I was curious…

[Publicist says to begin to wrap-up]

…I was curious as how sort of daunting it was to try to get humor out of something like Dostoyevsky that someone would might not immediately think is funny? Is it a matter of zeroing in on those awkward moments to maybe give the audience permission to laugh? Because I find the fundamental conceit of the movie—a double of you that no one around you notices is your double—is just absurdly funny.

I think he is funny. Dostoyevsky is deliberately funny. There are very few writers who don’t use humor and it’s weird when someone doesn’t. You know, something like “Notes from Underground” is like a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. In that book someone bumps into the main character at a bar and doesn’t notice him, and he feels so slighted that he decides that he’s going to bump back into that person, so he tries to find the appropriate time to track him down and he dresses up in his best clothes in case there’s a scandal, but the person he bumps back into doesn’t notice him. You know, this is a Larry David situation, and Dostoyevsky, as a writer, seems brilliantly able to get into those petty moments where people get angry over trivial and silly things. I think because it’s Russian literature and it’s in the canon it seems as if it’s weighty and big, but he has endured because he’s interested in people and their foibles and the small things. Very rarely is he loftily engaged with huge geo-political matters. It’s all quite personal.

[Jokingly] Basically I think he has a long Russian name so people think it’s all quite serious, but, like, it’s no more serious than Woody Allen would be if he were “Allen Konigsberg” the great dramatist.

[Publicist motions to wrap it up]

Alright, well if that’s it…if I could just ask one more question because I wanted to mention Jesse Eisenberg. I could go on and on, but he’s such a unique sort of actor in terms of his range—he mostly reminds me of Dustin Hoffman…

Yeah, that’s completely what we said. Either Dustin Hoffman or Jack Lemmon.

I was curious because he plays both sides of Simon and James so well and so distinct that I was curious if you found it difficult to find someone, or even think about finding someone, who could do both sides of one personality like that?

Well he was the only person we thought could do it in terms of his age, and, you know, someone who didn’t just rely on physical transformation to differentiate character. He always feels like—people always think of him as playing himself even when he’s playing vastly different characters. Dustin Hoffmann and Jack Lemmon have that ability as well in that attitudinally and by their emotional attack they’re completely different. So even in the edit on a still frame you could immediately tell which character Jesse was playing, and that’s major in a photo to know which it was when they’re dressed the same, with the same haircut, and with the same lighting. You could just immediately know, and yeah I can’t think of anyone around that’s better than him at the moment.

Great, I think that’s it. They really want me to wrap it up now.


Sean Reviews Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur [Tribeca Film Festival Review] Fri, 02 May 2014 06:00:08 +0000 Venus in Fur header

If he keeps on the same track with his next movie, Roman Polanski will have carved out a pretty nice late-period trilogy of chamber pieces in his storied career. Following 2011’s Carnage, a film adaptation of playwright Yazmina Reza’s stage play God of Carnage about prickly Brooklynites played by Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly whose petty squabbles escalate into a delightfully buffoonish mix of mouthing off, Polanski is back with a new film Venus in Fur. Much like Carnage, this film is an adaptation of a stage play (of the same name by playwright David Ives) and the main action takes place all within one setting. Whereas Carnage’s theatricality became evident because of its cinematic reworking and thus possibly detracted from the need for such an adaptation, Venus in Fur is essentially unrepentantly theatrical through and through, making it a cheekily layered minimalist film of vibrant energy, wry humor, and clever subtext that is perhaps the best among Polanski’s recent output.

Mathieu Amalric is Thomas, the frustrated writer/director of a new Parisian stage adaptation of the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novel Venus in Furs to be produced in a small ramshackle theater off the Champs-Élysées. Tired of churning through terrible auditions to find the right actress for the female lead Wanda, Thomas all but gives up before a disheveled but mysterious woman named Vanda (played by Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski’s real-life wife) shows up to audition for the part. Initially she is unfamiliar with the play and admits to not being prepared, but Thomas gives her a chance anyway. Soon she strangely runs through the play verbatim, and the split between reality and fiction, performance versus actuality begins to blur. The sexually tinged power dynamics of the tête-à-tête between the two begins to unfold.

The film would fall apart if the two characters (the only two in the entire film) weren’t believable, or if the slippery nature of their knowing performances weren’t as deftly handled as Amalric and Seigner manage to make them. It’s a film that hinges on the reconciliation between the ability to recognize histrionics and the ability to carry the concept out, and Seigner’s firecracker of a performance hits every mark. The way she is able to turn the narrative tables for both Alamric’s character and the audience with a winsome look, a giggle, or a glance is an absolute delight.

Of course Polanski’s staging and direction much be mentioned. The old-but-still-kicking veteran has perhaps learned to sheer away certain tendencies that displayed the theatrical shortcomings in Carnage, and instead makes the rapid but contained movements of the two characters and the Karostami-esque meta-narrative in Venus in Fur among its strengths. One could dig deeper into the story and see a little bit of Polanski in the Thomas character—a frustrated and slightly aging playboy director caught up in his own creation. Whereas Thomas gladly submits to the exploration of sexual identity found in the material because he’s a broken person, Polanski is emboldened because he submits to the way in which his previous films inform this one with some of the same subject matter. This is to say that for however much this wouldn’t superficially resemble a quote/unquote “Polanski film,” it most definitely is, and he succeeds.

People will say that this movie is slight in comparison to the greatest hits in Polanski’s career, but if only they’d look deeper they’d see a director with such an assured hand that suggests he doesn’t care about the greatest hits. Polanski is admirably doing his own thing because he’s earned the right to do his own thing, and if it’s churning out adaptations of stage plays then that’s fine with me. If they’re all as good as Venus in Fur then Polanski is most definitely not out of gas one bit.

Sean Reviews Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer’s The Freshman [Dual-Format Review] Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:00:34 +0000 freshmanframed

It’s a wonder that we get to see nearly 100-year-old films fully restored in the most pristine condition possible. It’s one of the basic joys of being a Criterion collector. It’s also a wonder that most of these 100-year-old movies still resonate despite the enormous time gap whether they’re Chaplin’s masterpieces or a rediscovered gem like Paul Fejos’ Lonesome. And then there are the Harold Lloyd films whose gag-heavy features put the laughs and the heart at the forefront—films like The Freshman.

Specifically, The Freshman is a movie of American youth in the 1920s filtered through Lloyd’s inimitable Glass Character personality; a story that meant specific things in its time period but one that’s also able to reach across the decades and achieve a hilarious universality that I believe to be unrivaled among “The Big Three” silent comedy stars (Lloyd, Chaplin, and Keaton). The description for Criterion’s release of Safety Last! couldn’t say it any better: “Chaplin is the sweet innocent, Keaton the stoic outsider, but Lloyd—the modern guy striving for success—is us.” Simply put, Lloyd’s comedic presence is a cinematic breath of fresh air. His films are little pieces of celluloid jubilation that could make my worst day a little bit better. They’re magical.

The Freshman was Lloyd’s highest grossing and most popular film. It’s simple premise, described by Lloyd himself as “a boy had an obsession to be the most popular student in college and went about it in the wrong way,” is indicative of the types of silents Lloyd and his collaborators Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer produced. His plucky Glass Character is a prototypical American go-getter, someone who perpetually doubts himself but is always open to learning the profoundly simple but simply profound conviction that you must always believe in yourself. Just as he wanted to make it in the big city in Safety Last!, his innocently naïve character wants to make it in college as the most popular student. It’s hilarious in itself that the view of college in the film has absolutely nothing to do with academics. His earnestness despite being made fun of behind his back is what immediately latches us to the character, and Lloyd’s wonderfully sincere performance—which has perfectly wrought shades of both comedy and drama—is what solidifies the picture.

The Freshman, however, is not a thrill picture in the vein of Safety Last! despite both of their rousing final scenes. Instead of the entire story building upwards to a monumental conclusion, in The Freshman we’re given a fairly normal arc filled with sharply crafted gags that deftly build upon themselves to comprise the whole. Nowhere is this more evident than the film’s “Fall Frolic” scene, a scene that I find to be the best in the entire film—even more than the football denouement. Lloyd’s character is so hapless that we’re aching to give him help at the same time we’re aching for the comedy to gain momentum to its faultless conclusion with our protagonist as the punchline.

Despite everything told, The Freshman is not my favorite Harold Lloyd film. Its disparate parts seem to be found in more significant places in other Lloyd comedies. The budding romance with Jobyna Ralston’s forlorn cigar counter girl is well done here, but is executed better in The Kid Brother. Even though the plot of The Freshman is more even-keel than most, there’s nothing that could beat the wonderfully absurd Girl Shy, the ramped up thrills of Safety Last!, or thethen-big-budget zaniness of Speedy. However, the implementation of the gags in The Freshman is where it scores points for me. Though the climactic football scene can’t match the shear inventiveness of other Lloyd films, the fact that you don’t need to even know the rules of football to find it uproariously funny is testament to its genius alone.

As with their release of Safety Last!, Criterion has packed the release of The Freshman to the gills with supplements both old and new. It goes without saying they know how to do these old silent comedies right. First and foremost is the commentary featuring film critic Leonard Maltin, film historian Richard Bann, and Harold Lloyd archivist Richard Correll. This jovial track, ported over from a previous non-Criterion release, is as exuberant as the film itself with each contributor chiming in on historical and cinematic context, personal anecdotes, and general appreciation to boot. The accounts by Correll in particular—himself a sort of human Harold Lloyd storybook—are some of the best given his once-removed relation to the bespectacled comedian. He pops up again in a conversation with film historian Kevin Brownlow, himself a treasure trove of silent-era tidbits and trivia. Out of the whole conversation, the anecdote about how Brownlow first met Lloyd is the best bit, and positively charming. The other new special feature is a visual essay by by Lloyd author John Bengtson, who showed up in the supplements of Safety Last! as well. The essay, on the film’s California locations, is a bit stale but is a fascinating look at the economic ways they shot and maneuvered around old Hollywood and elsewhere.

My favorite supplements are with Lloyd himself, be they the on-camera intro he gives for the clip-heavy Harold Lloyd’s Funny Side of Life, the brief but cheeky appearance on What’s My Line?, or the great footage from a Delta Kappa Alpha tribute to Lloyd, with Steve Allen, Delmer Daves, and Jack Lemmon. It’s exhilarating just hearing the man himself, but to hear how gracious and erudite he is even in the smallest clips makes me appreciate his genius even more.

The icing on the cake are the three newly restored Lloyd shorts: The Marathon, An Eastern Westerner, and High and Dizzy. It is a habit Criterion has been doing for awhile with these old silent comedies, and one that I think is absolutely essential to round out the work of the stars themselves. An Eastern Westerner is my favorite if only because it shows the normally humble Lloyd starting out as a stuck up rich boy sent to the west by his family to straighten his Jazz-Age ways out. High and Dizzy, despite being phenomenal in its own right, should have been included on the Safety Last! release simply because of its obvious status as a thrill picture precursor.

Lloyd is my favorite out of “The Big Three” because of what that blurb from Safety Last! said. He’s us, he’s me, he’s someone who I can empathize with and enjoy more than the other two. This release of The Freshman continues what is shaping up to be a perfect tribute to and representation of the best comedic actor of the silent era. Harold Lloyd stands above the rest.

FilmLinc Announces Complete Rainer Werner Fassbinder Retrospective Tue, 22 Apr 2014 06:39:23 +0000 Rainer Werner Fassbinder header

Fans of German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder who live in the New York area have quite the treat on their hands in 2014. The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced part one of a comprehensive two-part series highlighting the complete works of, works inspired by, and works that inspired Fassbinder called “Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist.” The majority of the films will be screened on 35mm. 

The first part of the series runs from May 16th to June 1st and includes almost all of his work leading up to 1974, and will be anchored by an exclusive one-week run of a restored print of Fassbinder’s film The Merchant of Four Seasons. Other highlights of Part I include all of the titles in the “Early Fassbinder” Eclipse set (Love is Colder Than Death, Katzelmacher, Gods of the Plague, The American Solider, and Beware of a Holy Whore), Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, World on a Wire, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, and Effi Briest.

The second part (to screen in November with a complete lineup TBD) will include his films from 1974 through 1982.

Dennis Lim, FilmLinc’s Director of Programming said of Fassbinder, “In some ways, the time is always ripe for a Fassbinder retrospective. More than three decades after his death, he still looms large, a widespread influence and a singular force. His films are undimmed and untamed by the passage of time—more than that, many of them seem more vital than ever these days.”

As if that’s not enough, the films in Part I of the retrospective inspired by and that inspired Fassbinder’s work include Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (which will be blu-graded on Criterion on June 10th), Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven, Ulli Lommel’s Tenderness of the Wolves, François Ozon’s Water Drops on Burning Rocks, Jean-Marie Straub’s The Bridegroom, the Commedienne, and the Pimp, and Albert Serra’s Cuba Libre.

For a full schedule of Part I, click here.

Steven Soderbergh Cuts His Own Version of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate Tue, 22 Apr 2014 06:32:28 +0000 soderbergh-header

You’ve got to hand it to Steven Soderbergh, even when he’s fake-retired he seems to have a lot of time on his hands. First he cut together a seamless mashup of both the Alfred Hitchcock and Gus Van Sant versions of Psycho, and now over on his blog “Extension 765” the director posted his own edit of Michael Cimino’s 1980 film maudit Heaven’s Gate he calls “The Butcher’s Cut. Cimino’s own unwieldy runtime of 216 minutes has been trimmed to a comparatively brisk 108 minutes, and, among other things, excises the entirety of the film’s original Harvard-set prologue.

Using his editorial nom de plume post, “Mary Ann Bernard,” at the end of the post Soderbergh explains, “As a dedicated cinema fan, I was obsessed with Heaven’s Gate from the moment it was announced in early 1979, and unfortunately history has show that on occasion a fan can become so obsessed they turn violent toward the object of their obsession, which is what happened to me during the holiday break of 2006. This is the result.”

There is no embed of the edit that Soderbergh calls “immoral and illegal,” so you’ll have to head over here to check it out.

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood to Open BAMcinemaFest 2014 Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:00:48 +0000 Boyhood header

BAM announced recently that the New York premiere of director Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood will open the sixth annual BAMcinemaFest being held June 18th to the 29th in Brooklyn, NY. The film originally premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film festival to ecstatic reviews, and also competed in the main competition of the 64th Berlinale where it won the Silver Bear for Best Director for Linklater and was also nominated for the festival’s Golden Bear top prize.

“Shot over the course of 12 years from 2001—2013, this sprawling portrait of American family life follows its young hero (Ellar Coltrane) as he makes his way from childhood to his early college years. As time drifts by, he learns to navigate his relationship with his divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette), tests the waters with various forms of rebellion, and discovers a passion for photography.”

Gabriel Caroti, director of BAMcinématek, said of the film, “We are ecstatic and honored to open BAMcinemaFest with Boyhood, another bold achievement by Richard Linklater and a film with the emotional power and aesthetic ambition of American independent cinema at its best. Linklater is a pioneer and a strong influence on countless young filmmakers today, and Boyhoodis the perfect way to unveil our sixth edition of the festival—a showcase for these emerging artists.”

The complete festival slate will be announced soon, but check back at the fest’s official site here for updates.

Abdellatif Kechiche To Follow Up Blue is the Warmest Color with The Wound Fri, 18 Apr 2014 19:30:51 +0000 Abdellatif Kechiche header

Controversial director Abdellatif Kechiche has announced he will follow up the equally as controversial Palme d”or winner Blue is the Warmest Color with The Wound. Known as La Blessure in French, the film will be adapted from a novel by author François Bégaudeau (known better to cinephiles as the author, screenwriter, and star of the 2008 Palme d’Or winner The Class).

The source material chronicles one summer in the life of a fifteen-year-old-French boy in 1986, but Kechiche will reimagine the story to take place in Tunisia. The film looks to have a late-August production start date, and though there is no cast in place as of yet I think it’s safe to say that Blue is the Warmest Color stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos won’t be on board following Kechiche’s allegedly less-than-stellar treatment of his stars on the set of that award winner.

To tide yourself over until then, Blue is the Warmest Color is available to stream on Netflix Watch Instantly here.

Source: The Film Stage

Hulu Renews Criterion Contract Wed, 16 Apr 2014 20:51:16 +0000 crihulu

In a reassuring move for all us Criterion fans, Hulu has renewed its licensing agreement to keep the 800-plus Criterion Collection titles right where they are for Hulu Plus subscribers for the time being. Specifics weren’t disclosed, only that it is a multi-year deal.

A lot of talk on the podcast recently was devoted to why Criterion wasn’t steadily updating the page, and what that could mean considering they seemed to only be experimenting with adding streaming selections to iTunes and Amazon Prime. But all that was for naught.

On top of unloading the entire twenty-five film Zatoichi saga to Hulu Plus and, with the renewal announcement, the recent Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, director Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. They also rounded out Michelangelo Antonioni’s informal trilogy with La Notte.

I couldn’t be happier with the renewal. For some reason I’ve been burning through a lot of Criterion titles on Hulu recently, and to suddenly have that convenience taken away—at $7.99 per month no less—would be quite a cinematic travesty. This does however put the kibosh on any ideas of Criterion adopting a similar subscription service to be housed on their own site, but Hulu seems to be letting them do their own thing and hopefully this amicable announcement means giving the cinephiles of Criterion even more autonomy.


Source: Variety

MoMI Plans Massive Mizoguchi Retrospective Wed, 16 Apr 2014 20:46:31 +0000 Oharu Header

Fans of the great Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi will have quite a treat on their hands next month should they live in or around the New York City area. In partnership with the Japan Foundation and the National Film Center in Tokyo, New York’s Museum of the Moving Image will hold a thirty-film series of Mizoguchi’s works starting on May 2nd and concluding on June 8th.

The retro—the first such series in North American in nearly twenty years—will include rare titles imported from Japan but will also feature some of Mizoguchi’s greatest cinematic achievements. All films will be screened on celluloid with the majority in 35mm and some in 16mm prints.

Among the very rare films that will be screened include Mizoguchi’s earliest surviving work, Song of Home, with live musical accompaniment by Makia Matsumura; Oyuki the Virgin, an adaptation of a short story by Guy de Maupassant which also inspired John Ford’s Stagecoach; Straits of Love and Hate, singled out by critic Tony Rayns as one of Mizoguchi’s best; and The Lady of Musashino.

Others looking for the greatest hits can see Ugestu, Sansho the Bailiff (which will be introduced by film scholar David Bordwell), Utamaro and His Five Women, The Life of Oharu, Osaka Elegy, and Sisters of the Gion among many more in all their celluloid glory.

David Schwartz, Chief Curator of the Museum, said “For anyone truly interested in the art of cinema, the Mizoguchi retrospective is essential, a very rare opportunity to see his remarkable body of work.” The series was co-organized with Aliza Ma, the Museum’s Assistant Film Curator.

More information, including a full schedule and showtimes, can be found here.

Sean Reviews Roman Polanski’s Tess [Dual Format Review] Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:00:17 +0000 Tess header

Tess is an unfairly overlooked gem in the filmography of director Roman Polanski, either because its release was clouded by the infamous sexual assault scandal that defined the director in many peoples’ minds since the sensationalized story first broke nearly four decades ago or because people seem to think that supposedly staid, big budget historical adaptations just don’t fit within the radical purview of the worldly auteur.

I’d be fairly inclined to rest on the latter because this majestic and superficially old-fashioned film, which when you sit back and absorb it is a beautifully rendered pastoral work of art, is unlike much of Polanski’s work up until that point. But the truth of the matter ostensibly lies with the troubled former. I’m not going to cloud this review with Polanski’s personal life, but the two are inexorably linked to a certain degree. Yet taken on its own merits Tess is—despite the nominations and awards it garnered upon release—Polanski’s most unsung film, and one that Criterion has artfully brought back to be enjoyed and genuinely reevaluated.

The film, adapted by Polanski, Gerard Brach, and John Brownjohn from author Thomas Hardy’s classic 1891 novel “Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” is about a young and beautiful peasant girl named Tess Durbeyfield (Nastassja Kinski) who finds out that she and her family may have an ancestral connection to a rich landowning family named the d’Urbervilles. When she is reluctantly sent to investigate the claim, she learns that the once illustrious family name holds no real meaning, as a nouveau riche mother and son named Alec (Leigh Lawson) have purchased the d’Urberville name and rights. But quickly, the snively Alec takes a liking to the impressionable and pure Tess, and sets up events that will cause her to abandon her family and take up with a well-to-do dairy farm apprentice from a respectable family named Angel Clare (Peter Firth) that may be her tragic true love. But Tess’ past may ultimately come back to haunt her.

All this talk of being completely unique in Polanki’s oeuvre is admittedly a bit off. Thematically, Tess can be summed up alongside Polanski’s other films that weave in and out of the subject of female sexual identity as well as the role of the oppressed and repressed. It’s the foundation of films like Repulsion, most definitely Rosemary’s Baby, and even pops up in Cul-de-sac and Knife in the Water. But whereas Mia Farrow or Catherine Deneuve seem to be in direct, outright confrontation with these themes, the antiquated form of Tess leaves those concerns to be muted in clever ways as to make a more rich and narratively inconspicuous film altogether. It’s not so much that those other films are somehow overly obvious, but rather that the subject matter delineated the punishing behavior put upon and present in the previous female leads, and perhaps Tess’ source material allowed Polanski to subdue those methods for something more appropriately novelistic.

Tess herself, much like Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, is burdened by a history from which she is trying to escape, and yet she has no idea just what that history entails. In the film’s case, her lost personal history gives way to the larger societal norms of religion, pride, and most importantly her female sexuality. It’s so interesting to me that here the entire plot hinges on the potentially melodramatic concepts of maidenhood and chastity, and that these plot points with so much weight are taken for granted in the plots of the contemporary-set films of Polanski. For some it may just be an apparent contrast, but to me this sort of narrative experimentation or shift on Polanski’s part is what makes Tess so special.

Yet nowhere is this sense of being exceptional more evident than in the fascinating and startlingly confident lead actress, the then-newcomer Nastassja Kinski. Polanski’s casting of the German actress as an English peasant girl is potentially ill advised, and yet Kinski’s other-ness plays perfectly into Tess’ very misplaced identity. Kinski’s English accent wavers at first, betraying certain vocal sounds for her native accent, but her performance slowly wins you over in a mesmerizing sort of way. She is as inconspicuous as the narrative itself, and her reassuring poise is the absolute backbone of the film. Leigh Lawson’s performance as Alec is suitably nasty, especially considering the way Lawson plays the character as if Alec actually believes what he does to Tess and in his general demeanor to be well within his aristocratic rights.

But the film’s other stunning performance, besides Kinski, is Peter Firth’s Angel Clare. Aside from being inherently engaging because of the character’s unique urge to move between societal circles, Firth manages to make the flawed character its emotional core even when you can’t help but hate him. He and Kinski elevate the story past the mere classical setup of the love triangle. They play the parts with enough of a modern emphasis to make their plight matter to present-day audiences, but they never betray the importance of the source material and the way it maneuvers the resolute selfhood of each character.

For the set, Criterion has poured an exhausting amount of material into the mix, which isn’t strictly apparent at first. With many of the supplements clocking in at nearly an hour apiece, we get to enjoy the methods behind the majestic cinematography and impeccable production design all over again. But with so much material there, there is an inevitably frustrating amount of overlap. Points Polanski makes in the South Bank Show supplement are carried over again in the Cine Regards piece, and the three part making-of programs by Laurent Bouzereau —while utterly fascinating at times—reeks of the slick superficiality of much of his other work. However interesting it might be, I think costume designer Anthony Powell mentions the fact that he made Tess’ dress the color of dried blood at least five times. This sort of repetition mixed with the lengths of each supplement sort of brings them down a notch.

The most puzzling inclusion is the “Once Upon a Time…Tess” doc, which gives us the same type of talking head approach as the rest, but insists on staging the making of the film from a specifically historical background. At one time Roman Polanski will be onscreen talking about how difficult it was to shoot scenes in the Brittany countryside, and then it will abruptly cut away to a narrator talking about the political and social upheaval in France at the time.

And yet I wouldn’t really get rid of anything, mostly because of some of the absolutely wonderful anecdotes peppered throughout. My particular favorite is early on in the South Bank Show when Polanski is recounting the way he was first drawn to the cinema, and how his sister wouldn’t let him leave the movie theater as a little boy in Lodz so he was forced to urinate in his seat. It’s gross, but weirdly unforgettable.

Among the many great things that Criterion does is that they always do a great job of reminding you about movies that you may have missed. Tess, with its resolute performances, stately cinematography, flawless design, and assured direction, may not be Polanski’s most recognizable films, but it certainly may be his most accomplished. The film is dedicated to Sharon Tate, Polanski’s wife who was tragically murdered, who allegedly gave the director the book to read the last time he saw her. If anything, the film stands as a wonderful personal dedication, but also an unjustly overlooked work by an often-misunderstood filmmaker.

Sean Reviews Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin [Theatrical Review] Fri, 04 Apr 2014 23:00:26 +0000 Under The Skin header

I had a tough time thinking up what to say at the start of this review of Jonathan Glazer’s new film Under the Skin. It isn’t so much that I have nothing to say about it, but rather that I found it difficult to adequately articulate in a simple introduction how incredible the film truly is. It’s one of those instances where a film sweeps you up and sort of catches you off guard because of its mood, its method, its aesthetic, and it’s total abstract being that you can’t help but want to talk about it with anybody close enough to you with ears, and yet you have absolutely no idea where to start.

For some context—my most recent experience of this, other than Under the Skin, was Shane Carruth’s stunning and tragically lyrical Upstream Color, which came out last year. That film, much like this one, begs to be experienced rather than plainly talked about because the impact of its true essence is invariably lost at some point from the screen to the page. Glazer has made a haunting and evocative film of twisted beauty, an anti-sci-fi/horror reflection of human nature and outsider loneliness that struck a beautifully subversive chord with me—one that I or any of its viewers won’t soon forget.

The film’s premise and the way Glazer shot most of it may sound like an off-putting and schlocky gimmick, yet the director was wise enough to let the mesmerizing stillness of the story flourish in the face of mere narrative and technique. Scarlett Johansson (in quite possibly her best and most measured role) ostensibly plays an alien who takes human form in a cheap wig, ruby lipstick, fur coat, and acid washed jeans whose sole purpose is to drive around a drab and dreary Scotland preying on unsuspecting men. While monitored by another vaguely threatening alien watcher who is outfitted in deliberately space-suit-esque motorbike gear, she brings her victims back to a spatiotemporal void and casts them into oily amniotic fluid until their bodies rapidly decompose. Trust me, the execution of this premise is gimmicky sci-fi insofar as 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Man Who Fell to Earth are gimmick sci-fi, which is to say it’s quite possibly the farthest thing from it.

In order to capture her interactions with these men, Glazer cooked up a candid camera-type scheme where small cameras were hidden throughout the van to let Johansson-in-disguise interact in real-time with unwitting participants. The ruse absolutely never comes across and a stunt, instead giving her character the freedom to analyze and inspect her human targets with an unbelievably fascinating authenticity. The biggest kudos go to Johansson, whose outward charm masks an underlying danger that she handles with a perfectly understated poise. It’s a performance made out of a sincere glance or a knowing affectation. She both flawlessly embodies the femme fatale identity and takes advantage of its implications in a role rich with gendered subtext that’s sure to incite the minds and desires of many an intellectual.

Johansson’s unnamed alien intently wanders and silently ponders her unknown nocturnal landscape, only gradually gaining an uneasy feeling of empathy towards her prey. Possibly my favorite detail, at least as an American viewer, are the nearly impenetrable Scottish accents from the other cast members which lend an even more otherworldy quality to our planet than what’s already there.

Who are these beings and why do they act like they do anyway? Glazer never makes a definitive statement in his film about what it means to be human, but rather conveys a sense of yearning in trying to understand it. Under the Skin subtly presents perhaps the ultimate feeling of being the Other, the outsider, someone who is detached from the world and coming to terms with the indiscriminate—and sometimes fatal—peculiarities or susceptibility of humankind.

Its aesthetic patience and mysteriously engrossing tempo imbues the film with a sense of mundane voyeurism that peels away once Johansson’s character begins to consciously challenge her enigmatic duty in the face of human experience. She’s observed humankind under a microscope and is steadily transfixed by what she sees. This unnerving feeling is helped immeasurably by Mica Levi’s jarringly pulsating score, which, in context, further disorients viewers with an unusual dissonance reminiscent of Jonny Greenwood’s piercing score for PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.

Glazer’s path has been a strange one. After the roaring British gangster flick Sexy Beast in 2000 he settled on the lilting fairy tale Birth in 2004, and allegedly spent the last ten years trying to properly crack into Under the Skin and get it to the screen. Thankfully Glazer is a determined guy because the film is worth the wait, and I don’t want to jinx it, but even if it takes him another ten years to make another film I’d gladly wait for it. Under the Skin is truly something special, and I still have no idea where to begin talking about it.

Sean Reviews Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Vols. I & II [Theatrical Review] Wed, 26 Mar 2014 19:00:40 +0000 Nymphomaniac header

One wonders whether Lars von Trier prefers being a provocateur to being a filmmaker, or whether or not he thinks those two labels are mutually exclusive. He’s made an entire career out of cleverly thumbing his nose at the audience within the realms of his films and in real life, successfully creating something of a completely unique circus-like atmosphere surrounding himself and whatever he comes up with. Make a movie about the end of the world? Sure. How about I throw in some genital mutilation and talking foxes in a horror movie about the inherent pessimism of the human spirit? Yeah, why not. What about a four-hour epic chronicling the complete sexual life of one woman? Sounds intriguing enough.

He’s a guy whose mantra starts out with a small kernel of an idea that’s bound to piss at least someone off, and then runs wild from there. It’s an admittedly reductive look at someone’s filmography, but it isn’t too off the mark when you boil it down. Occasionally his confrontational method and the essential ugliness found in his films works, but sometimes, like in Nymphomaniac, the idea is much more compelling than the heavy-handed, narratively simplistic, and conceptually superficial realization.

Essentially one story broken into two nearly arbitrary halves, the film tells the tale of Joe (von Trier’s recent actress-of-choice, Charlotte Gainsbourg), a self-professed nymphomaniac who we find beaten and bloody in an alleyway before she’s soon discovered and comforted by a hermitic intellectual named Seligman (von Trier veteran, Stellan Skarsgård). They soon retire to his unadorned apartment and engage in a series of conversations about her ignominious deeds narrated in a somewhat distracting monotone by Joe herself and revealed over the course of eight cinematic chapters spanning her entire life. Every now and then the prudish Seligman—later drolly revealed to be a virgin—interjects with dry academic commentary, which is basically the only way he knows how to try to comprehend what he’s hearing.

The narrative technique von Trier’s uses between Joe and Seligman has been likened to Socratic dialogues where two characters discuss moral and philosophical problems to ultimately arrive at some sort of legitimate ontological truth, and on the surface it’s a fairly apt comparison, yet their conversation predominantly veers towards frustrating and overly obvious metaphors and allusions instead of genuine philosophical concepts that actually engage with the film’s themes. One of the most egregious examples is the oddly dumb metaphor comparing the men that Joe and her friend try to fuck on a train to catching fish swimming in a stream. Otherwise, one can’t simply mention things like the Bible, Jesus, Andrei Rublev, the Fibonacci Sequence, Bach, Beethoven, and—bizarrely enough—James Bond and have it be discourse, and yet the film masquerades these asides as if they are a meaningful part of the whole.

Anybody who claims that they can find an intelligent connection between them all are desperately grasping at straws, and anybody who suggests that the second volume of the film somehow answers the shortcomings of the first are either willfully ignorant of what they saw onscreen or engaged in the same clinical provocation as von Trier.

If anything, the film is a highfalutin’ mouthpiece for von Trier’s own ideas masked behind the overtly sexual subject matter. Whenever Seligman speaks it comes across as a random page out of LvT’s diary, or something that he just needed to get off his chest so he decided to throw an intellectualized version of that personal history into the script. Any overarching statement about sexuality or female agency is merely a secondary characteristic to von Trier’s grander statement about being misunderstood via his art. Most of it, though, is suffocatingly didactic and seems tenuously associated with Joe’s problem.

But Joe doesn’t see her “problem” as a problem. By “problem” I mean the destructive and cynical sexual power she wields on others and herself. She begins the film by saying outright that she’s a bad human being, and then proceeds to not change from there. It isn’t necessarily sex as a normal impulse versus sex as a perversion to her. The normal impulse is the perversion. Sure she goes through a slight shift—the split between the two halves happens when volume one ends with Joe losing the ability to orgasm and volume two basically deals with the unorthodox ways she tries to accept it but craves getting it back—but the frustrating tendency the film has in defining Joe’s steadfast defiance—or even heroism—clouds any moral judgment one could have other than that von Trier means to say there cannot be any moral judgment at all. If it takes this long to come to such a simplistic—and nihilistic—conclusion then it would seem the whole thing is in vain.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t taken with the film, it does strangely invite a magnetic flurry of interpretation. Some of the best movies, after all, are the ones that you could talk about forever even though you didn’t really like them. The whole affair seems to be von Trier’s definitive treatise on loneliness and the ultimate destructive power of the body, and that at least is the most engaging part. Joe’s desire for any fundamental emotion leads her to many, many sexual extremes, and it just so happens that such behavior is in her nature. She can’t change not because she won’t change, but simply because she can’t—this sounds dumb on the page, but it’s true. This degradation of the body is akin to the non-political aspects of something like Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, another film whose controversial provocation still shocks people till this day. But where Pasolini’s button-pushing seems necessary to the thematic elements of the film, Nymphomaniac just wants to push buttons and see what sticks. Furthermore, Joe’s immovable disposition makes the movie itself as haplessly obdurate as she is.

Shia LaBoeuf and his terrible half-British/half-Australian accent aside, the film does feature a surprisingly effective ensemble. Skarsgård’s Seligman offers some darkly silly beats, leading me to believe that this is von Trier’s best shot at a sex comedy because how else are we to understand some of the inherent ridiculousness in all those scenes? Uma Thurman’s brief, unhinged appearance in one of the early chapters as a wife whose husband leaves her and their three sons for Joe nearly steals the entire movie. Jamie Bell, who features in the film’s most off-putting chapter, also pulls off the extremely difficult task of making a male dominatrix seem slightly human and maybe even a little boyishly charming.

Gainsbourg’s older Joe tends to be so desensitized that she barely registers—this is most likely on purpose—but newcomer (no pun intended) Stacy Martin as young Joe is the mad center of the film’s first half. This isn’t to say that the copious amounts of nudity and sexual acrobatics her character takes part in somehow makes her a “brave actress” for “putting herself onscreen” or something like that that some out of date critic would say. No, what makes Martin the best part of the film is that she’s able to make Joe’s unprincipled actions strangely compelling. If only she didn’t crumble under the weight of the rest of the film’s shortcomings from there.

It’s an exhausting endeavor to sit through four hours of film and come up without much to hold on to, especially in a movie like this which ostensibly claims its capital-I importance based on all of its intellectualized excesses. I just found that it wasn’t worth all that if we’re left with any of von Trier’s insubstantial main points. Yes it’s something of the absurd that compels us to love or lust, and some people buy into that and some people don’t. As with all of von Trier’s provocations there is a certain assemblage of aesthetic beauty in the imagery up onscreen, but this time around I think I’ll just quote one of Joe’s lines and say “I think this is one of your weaker digressions,” because I couldn’t agree with her more.

Sean Reviews Richard Ayoade’s The Double [New Directors/New Films Review] Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:00:38 +0000 The Double header

In only his second directorial effort on a feature film, Richard Ayoade has managed to surpass the assured hand of his whimsically sharp debut film Submarine and create a completely engrossing world about the absurdist foibles of identity and love with The Double. Adapted from—surprisingly—a Dostoyevsky novella and co-written by Avi Korine (Harmony’s brother), Ayoade’s film is about Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), a lowly government clerk stuck in a bureaucratic dead-end in a nocturnally ominous dystopian nowhere who pines after his equally forlorn but irrevocably spunky colleague Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), and who one day is surprised to notice an exact doppleganger named James Simon (also played by Eisenberg) working in his office without anybody seeming to notice.

Whereas Simon’s subdued outcast represents the Freudian Ego, James is the unrestrained and outwardly successful Id. Ayoade’s keen sense of wit and deft direction lifts this psychologically dark comedy above other sophomore efforts and cements him as a multi-faceted talent to remain watching out for.

Ayoade populates his schizophrenic tale of two of the same person in a skewed analog future of bulking computers and hopelessly creeky technology, as if somebody in a Communist country in the ‘50s predicted what an overly tactile future would look like and got it completely wrong. Its pencil-pushing drabness recalls the design and demented irony of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or David Lynch’s Eraserhead, while the film’s main central conceit explicitly recalls other literary precedents besides Dostoyevsky like Kafka or Gogol. The weighty influences and philosophical implications may sound off-putting to some, but Ayoade and his actors find loads of humor within the awkward chaos of the absurd, especially when the titular double shows up and turns Simon’s world upside down.

Eisenberg—our modern equivalent of the twitchy yet controlled enigma of someone like Dustin Hoffman—is able to pull off the two distinct halves of the same person with a jocular ease, sometimes playing tragicomic beats so well against himself as Simon and James in the same scene that it’s easy to forget he’s the same actor. At times Mia Wasikowska approaches falling into the normal Manic Pixie Dream Girl traps, and one could say that her character is slightly underwritten, but skeptics would be hard pressed not to admit that she’s the soul of the film and projects a sunny exuberance throughout a film that is quite effectively shot completely at night.

The rest of the charmingly unconventional cast features cameos and appearances by nearly everyone who was in Submarine (Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Yasmin Paige, Craig Roberts, Paddy Considine), and is rounded out by new and old additions to Ayoade’s idiosyncratic troupe (Chris O’Dowd, Chris Morris, Wallace Shawn, Phyllis Somerville, Cathy Moriarty, and James Fox). It’s a testament to Ayoade’s ability as a director that all of the actors seem like essential pieces to the Kafkaesque whole, and add to the uncanny nature of the story’s inherent comedy and weirdness.

If you know who Richard Ayoade is then you know he’s a bit of a renaissance man. As an actor, writer, and director he’s been able to stretch his experience via television, music videos, and most importantly his films. It’s behind the camera where he seems to be most comfortable, and that’s evident throughout The Double because of the way that it settles into its own self-confident mode. It’s consciously in a dialogue with its influences to make something conversely unique, which is a theme that works for the film itself, the characters within in, and for Ayoade himself. He can basically do it all, and do it all very well in his own way, and the only trajectory I see for him is to keep being his delightfully unique self. If that happens, we’re in for some truly special cinema.

]]> 1
Sean Reviews Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel [Theatrical Review] Sat, 15 Mar 2014 03:30:28 +0000 The Grand Budapest Hotel header

I seriously don’t understand the people who cherry-pick between the Wes Anderson movies they like and don’t like. This isn’t to say that Anderson himself lacks originality between projects or shows some kind of limited range, but rather that he is perhaps the most singular American auteur whose distinct aesthetic provides the unifying lifeblood of each movie he makes. Comments like “this is the most Wes Anderson of Wes Anderson movies” are regularly leveled at him as if it were a bad thing, but such “criticism” is rendered meaningless because of Anderson’s resolute (or stubborn, depending how you view things) habit of sticking to his own unique sense of the world—or his world. He’s the type of guy you need to be completely for or against, because anything in between just makes you look silly.

And now comes The Grand Budapest Hotel, a confectionary caper of the highest order that is at times his most fun and most solemn film; one filled with a seemingly unrivaled cast of colorful characters (including but not limited to Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Ketiel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and newcomer Tony Revolori) and bygone eras that never were but could have been. In short, Wes Anderson is eight feature films into his career and he’s made his best yet.

Told in a nested-narrative structure, the film begins in the present day as a teenage girl approaches a cemetery memorial to “Author,” the writer of a book she carries called “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” She begins reading a chapter and we are told the story within the book by Author himself, chronicling the time in the 1960s he encountered the crumbling hotel’s elderly owner, Zero Moustafa (in this timeline played by F. Murray Abraham), who then tells the Author the story about how he came to own the then-illustrious hotel and the unwilling adventure he once had with its dandy of a concierge, Monsieur Gustave H. (the delightfully charming Ralph Fiennes).

The potentially confusing narrative shifts are handled by superficially changing aspect ratios—widest for the more contemporary scenes and the boxy Academy ratio for the older ones—but handled even more deftly by superb art direction that subtly conveys historically relevant details like the drab, Communist inspired façade of the hotel in the 60s and the wonderfully ornate pre-WWII splendor of it in its prime. As a man whose films are known for their meticulously beautiful design, The Grand Budapest Hotel offers up what are the most beautiful and most dynamic designs.

The film’s sense of the progression and regression of time also carries on the fascinating theme of storytelling for Anderson’s oeuvre. When his films haven’t been outright performative (Rushmore) they’ve always had a novel approach both literally (The Royal Tenenbaums / Fantastic Mr. Fox) and figuratively (The Life Aquatic), and yet Grand Budapest cleverly pulls together all of those narrative intricacies into the funniest histrionic observations about the passage of time and memory I could think of. For every heartfelt dramatic beat Anderson’s script sets in, there’s almost always witty aside or screwball scenario to move the plot along. And yet this isn’t to say that the film is all plot and nothing more substantial—another tiresome criticism endlessly thrown at Anderson with every film he makes—in fact these seemingly unrecognizable characters give us a tragic sense of sincerity despite the artifice.  They are fully realized people and yet still fall within Anderson’s idiosyncrasies.

Anderson has given us a fairy tale, and yet it resonates in its relation to real life on top of the sharp characterization. The encroaching specter of something resembling World War II pervades the adventure and provides a dramatic weight never before seen in an Anderson film.

Wes Anderson is an all or nothing type of auteur. You either give yourself over to his cinematic feasts of creation or you nitpick until your gripes become meaningless. Luckily for us people who are willing to go with the flow, Anderson has continued to challenge and mold those sensibilities to new heights, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is pretty high up there.

Sean Interviews Programmer Caryn Coleman for Nitehawk Cinema’s Angelo Badalamenti Mini-Retrospective Wed, 05 Mar 2014 00:00:20 +0000 Badalamenti header

Starting tomorrow night, with a special screening of David Lynch’s Lost HighwayNitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, New York kicks off the third installment of their series “The Works,” this time in celebration of the career of composer Angelo Badalamenti. Perhaps best known for that eerily catchy Twin Peaks theme, the series will highlight the wide range of Badalamenti’s idiosyncratic oeuvre by screening other films that also feature his music including Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children, Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, Yaron Zilberman’s A Late Quartet, and Stephen Shainberg’s Secretary. I had a chance to talk to one of Nitehawk’s film programmers, Caryn Coleman, about the series, Nitehawk, and about Badalementi himself.

Can you tell me a little bit about what you hope to capture with each installment of “The Works”? Do you hope to do more multi-media stuff like the “a place both wonderful and strange” performance that is going along with the Lost Highway screening?

As an ongoing series, The Works is intended to provide a very focused look at an influential person in cinema (writers, directors, actors, editors, composers, etc) in order to contextualize their career in some way. The people we select for these mini retrospectives are all those who are quite significant to us (Nitehawk’s film programmers: myself, John Woods, and Max Cavanaugh) that they warrant being honored.

The multi-media performance with “a place both wonderful and strange” is a perfect collaboration for our Lost Highway event screening that will launch The Works – Angelo Badalamenti. It’s always very important for Nitehawk to offer special experiences such as bands, introducing guests, and Q&As to accompany our programming. Because of this, should other similar performances fit with our upcoming figures in The Works, we’ll definitely be integrating them.

Here’s an easy one, why Angelo Badalamenti? For the first two installments of “The Works” Nitehawk explored a filmmaker with Brian DePalma and an actress with Karen Black. What about Badalamenti and his music made you think that a mini-retrospective of his work was worth putting on?

The three film programmers at Nitehawk tend to gravitate towards an interest in cult personalities and this definitely comes through in The Works. For instance, the retrospective on Karen Black came about not only because she had become someone important to me personally but because she was an incredibly talented actress who had surprisingly never had a retrospective series devoted to her. The diversity of her filmic work meant we could show a real range of movies, from Easy Rider to Burnt Offerings, and that’s the similar appeal to Angelo Badalamenti. He, like Karen, is someone who audiences “know” without knowing that they do. The theme to Twin Peaks is legendary but to realize that he’s scored a real range of films seems to be an incredibly important thing to acknowledge.

I definitely get that Badalamenti hasn’t ever been a widely or overtly celebrated musician, and has always had a bit of an surreptitious allure to him—though now that I think about it he did do the score for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. What do you think makes his music resonate with so many people without becoming an outright mainstream composer?

It’s the same thing that makes him a good composer: his work succeeds because it enhances a film it’s made for without becoming overbearing. Badalamenti’s scores establish a psychological landscape that integrates so seamlessly into what the audience sees on-screen that, while leaving a lasting impression, isn’t separate from the narrative.

As we’ve hinted at, Badalamenti is primarily known for his work in creating the haunting soundscapes of some of the iconic works of David Lynch, and though you’re screening one of Lynch’s unsung gems Lost Highway as a part of the series, why didn’t you go with more obvious choices like Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me? Was it simply a question of print availability? Also, do you prefer to screen films in retrospectives like this in 35mm?

Since Badalamenti is so well known for his collaborations with David Lynch, I only wanted to include one of those films in the series in order to highlight the breadth of his work. It seems to be the perfect time to start looking at Lost Highway again as, you’re right, it often gets overlooked by the tentpole Lynch films. But with it’s non-linear narrative, nightmarish dreamscapes, and parallel worlds, it’s Lynchian through and through. Print availability wasn’t a factor in choosing Lost Highway however, for me as a programmer, I love screening 35mm prints and there are certain films I feel should absolutely be seen that format. That said, it’s as important for the movie to be seen period so available formats are typically part of all of our programming conversations.

Do you think that diversity throughout his work is one of the reasons why Badalamenti is such a renowned figure for cinephiles?

Yes, I do think so. It’s staggering when you look at his body of work that includes Inside the Actor’s Studio, Cabin Fever, The Beach, all the Lynch classics, and then quietly beautiful films like A Late Quartet, The Straight Story, and A Very Long Engagement. And yet they all remain very Badalamenti. It’s like I said before, the scores he creates become the film so, therefore, people who love cinema love Badalamenti.

Most of his scores seem to combine a sort of ethereal mix between kitschy 50s Americana and foreboding dread. That seems like such a contradiction, but he makes it work somehow. Why do you think that is?

Few things go better together than horror and America. Angelo Badalamenti’s music has somehow tapped into the American psyche that reflects our darker side and I think that audiences inherently respond to that.

Though I run the risk of sounding clichéd when I say I personally prefer Badalamenti’s work with Lynch, what is your personal favorite score from his filmography? What is your favorite out of the films screening during the series?

For me, the score to City of Lost Children is stunningly original, but his work with Twin Peaks (the series and Fire Walk with Me) holds a particular place in my heart because I obsessively listened to those soundtracks when they first came out. Badalamenti’s work with Julee Cruise is still one of my favorites. As for my favorite film, I may have to say either Cabin Fever or Secretary—again, two movies that tap into the uncomfortable territory of imperfection in American society.

Who—if anyone—might be a close contemporary of Badalamenti in terms of film composers? Do you see anyone else sort of taking over his mantle or is he a singular artist?

I would put Badalamenti in the same realm as someone like the legendary Ennio Morricone and Carter Burwell. Like Morricone, he’s so unique that I don’t know if anyone will take him over.

Nitehawk is such a unique cinematic experience for New Yorkers. Is there anything else on the horizon you can tell us about that Nitehawk may be putting on in terms of series or events?

Yes, we have some great programming coming up in 2014! First, our next program in “The Works” will be looking at Kurt Russell in June and that’s sure to be a lot of fun. We’ll also have exciting events with talent for our monthly “Music Driven” and “Art Seen” series along with “Live + Sound + Cinema” (upcoming performances include Mad Max and Fantastic Planet with Morricone Youth). Then at midnight we have our sister programs, “Nitehawk Nasties” and “Nitehawk Naughties,” with the 2014 Naughties screening early 1970s porn chic cinema. “The Deuce” also serves up a monthly dose of cult cinema and history while our “Film Feasts” (The Life Aquatic, Anchorman) serve up thematic menus during the movie. This is all in addition to our monthly themed brunches, midnights, and special “One Nite Only” events. There’s always something going on here so I would absolutely recommend checking out our website!


Trailer: THE WORKS – ANGELO BADALAMENTI from Nitehawk Cinema on Vimeo.

Paolo Sorrentino To Shoot New Film In May Starring Michael Caine Tue, 04 Mar 2014 22:00:11 +0000 Sorrentino and Servillo header

Fresh off an Academy Awards win for Best Foreign Language Film for The Great Beauty, Variety is reporting that Italian director Paolo Sorrentino has lined up his next project and star.

The project, entitled In the Future, is described as “an intimate drama about the friendship between two old people.” One of those people will be actor Michael Caine, marking his first cinematic outing with Sorrentino, and only the second time the Italian director has made a film outside his home country after his 2011 film This Must Be the Place starring Sean Penn. No word on whether the second old person will be Toni Servillo, Sorrentino’s longtime collaborator and the star of his Oscar winning film. The new film begins shooting in May and will get a planned late 2014 release in Italy.

The new film will also allegedly be a “fresh start” and a ”small, intimate film” as opposed to the broad, panoptic splendor of The Great Beauty. It’s a diametric tendency that Sorrentino hinted at in my interview with him last year (please check that out here if you haven’t already).

Also, be sure to pick up a copy of the Criterion release of The Great Beauty when it drops later this month on the 25th.

Alain Resnais Passes Away At 91 Tue, 04 Mar 2014 21:15:34 +0000 alainresnaisframed

What do you say when one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time passes away?

Following an absolutely groundbreaking sixty-six-year career, Hiroshima mon amour and Last Year at Marienbad filmmaker Alain Resnais passed away in Paris last Saturday. His final film, Life of Riley, recently premiered at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.

Despite being about ten years older than French directors like Jean-Luc Godard or Francois Truffaut, Resnais was often lumped in with the Nouvelle Vague movement in the 1960s. Resnais seemed to belong to a much broader wave of Left Bank intellectualism than his French cinematic brethren and, with Hiroshima mon amour, introduced Modernism to the cinema the likes of which—in this writer’s opinion—hasn’t been matched since.

Read the New York Times’ impassioned obituary here, and if you’re in the New York area definitely try to make it out to the Film Society where they are screening a newly restored 35mm print of Marienbad for one week only in honor of Resnais. Info and showtimes can be found here. His films Mon Oncle d’Amerique and Night and Fog are streaming on Hulu Plus and his penultimate film, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, is streaming on Netflix.

Rob Reiner to Receive Film Society’s Chaplin Award Tue, 25 Feb 2014 22:00:48 +0000 SPINAL TAP header

The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced that actor and This is Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner will be this year’s recipient of their annual Chaplin Award. On April 28th he’ll be awarded at a star-studded gala attended by notable guests who will honor the director, producer, actor, and political activist with movie and interview clips spanning his entire career.

Ann Tenenbaum, The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Board Chairman said of Reiner, “He has brought some of the most enduring and entertaining films of recent history to the screen, from iconic cult-classic comedies to powerful dramas that together illustrate an amazing range and body of work. As a director, writer, actor, and producer, we welcome him to the list of other master multi-hyphenates who have been prior recipients of the Chaplin Award Tribute.”

Perhaps most well known for movies like The Princess Bride, Reiner’s most recent directorial effort was the 2012 drama The Magic of Belle Isle, but he can more recently be seen in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

The Annual Award Gala began in 1972 when the Little Tramp himself, Charlie Chaplin, returned from exile to the U.S. to receive the award which has since been renamed in his honor. Previous recipients include a who’s who of Criterion-related names such as Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Laurence Olivier, Federico Fellini, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, James Stewart, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas, Sidney Poitier, Catherine Deneuve, Barbra Streisand.

Click here for more info.

New Print of František Vláčil’s Marketa Lazarová to screen at BAMcinématek Tue, 25 Feb 2014 21:00:20 +0000 Marketa Lazarova header

For a one-week-only run from February 28th to March 6th, BAMcinématek is screening a newly struck 35mm print of Janus Films’ restoration of director František Vláčil’s haunting 1967 modernist masterpiece, Marketa Lazarová.

I reviewed the release for the CriterionCast when is was released on Blu-ray last June, and to say the least it hit me like a ton of bricks. With its surreal imagery, jarring editing, and evocative imagery it was billed by Criterion as an “experimental art film,” and was named by many as the best Czech film ever made. It’s certainly something.

If you find yourself in Brooklyn for a week and want a mesmerizing and wholly unique cinematic experience, then definitely find some time to head to BAM and see it. It’s one of those movies that needs to be seen on the biggest and widest screens possible.

For more info on tickets and showtimes click here, and check out some footage from the beginning of the film below.


Fallon’s Tonight Show Features Intro Directed By Spike Lee Tue, 18 Feb 2014 18:45:50 +0000 spikeframed

Last night, late night host Jimmy Fallon took over the reins of The Tonight Show in studio 6B at Rockefeller Center in New York—the first time in forty-plus years it’s been broadcast from the Big Apple. The show went pretty well for a first run, with Jimmy welcoming guests like Will Smith, U2, and a whole slew of people who bet him a hundred bucks he would never ever host The Tonight Show.

But the whole shebang began with a new title sequence directed by the prototypical New Yorker, the one-and-only Mr. Spike Lee.

Check out the sequence from the Do the Right Thing director below along with the entire premier episode! Be sure to tune into the new Tonight Show weeknights at 11:35EST, and stay tuned here for info on Lee’s upcoming Kickstarter-funded film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.

Teaser Poster and Synopsis for Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria Debut Online Tue, 11 Feb 2014 14:00:23 +0000 Olivier-Assayas-framed

Here’s the first look at the teaser poster for Carlos and Summer Hours director Olivier AssayasClouds of Sils Maria, starring Juliette Binoche, Chloe Moretz, and Kristen Stewart (via The Film Stage and HeyUGuys).


At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is asked to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous twenty years ago. But back then she played the role of Sigrid, an alluring young girl who disarms and eventually drives her boss Helena to suicide. Now she is being asked to step into the other role, that of the older Helena.

She departs with her assistant (Kristen Stewart) to rehearse in Sils Maria; a remote region of the Alps. A young Hollywood starlet with a penchant for scandal (Chloë Grace Moretz) is to take on the role of Sigrid, and Maria finds herself on the other side of the mirror, face to face with an ambiguously charming woman who is, in essence, an unsettling reflection of herself.

The IFC Films release is still without an official US release date, but it’ll probably debut late this year or early 2015. It’s also expected to premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

In the meantime if you want to brush up on your Assayas, both Carlos and his last film, Something in the Air, are available to stream on Netflix, and Summer Hours is available to stream on Amazon Prime.