Archive for May, 2010

 © 2010 by James Clark

      In La Dolce Vita, Fellini had surprised himself on getting embroiled in a campaign outstripping his well-developed cinematic resources. He could only hope that hefty swatches of well-tuned narrative playing themselves out in weird emotional shock and abuse could serve to deliver a concrete complement to a thematic architecture speaking to uncharted sensual exigencies. (Subsequent pyrotechnics did not exactly attain to heart-stopping revelations.)

    Fifty years later, in Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton, cultivating the same unforgiving terrain, a land in the meantime becoming an obsession (a recurrent nightmare) to Jacques Demy and David Lynch, found himself equipped with technical wonders he was not slow to appreciate and apply with gusto.

    Particularly like Demy, Burton, through many years, has not impressed the market as a figure apt to get Geiger counters hopping. So, on undertaking a vaguely Lynchian makeover of Lewis Carroll’s beloved (and, that is to say, harmless) antidote to too much mathematics, he was, so to speak, in all-red attire, strolling into an enclosure of bulls (bulls, though, quite prepared to pay for their shot, in great numbers). The deprecation greeting his effort cannot but remind one of Demy’s being stigmatized for life (perhaps forever) as “that French idiot trying to make MGM musicals.” This turmoil, mother’s milk to the aforecited intrepid, attaches one with special adhesion to Johnny Depp’s fey “Mad Hatter,” smiling and speaking with gossamer and secretly supercharged glee and melancholy, very much like Delphine Syrig’s “Lilac Fairy” getting things done in Demy’s “fantasy,” Donkey Skin (1970). (The Hatter takes such an exhilarating deep breath in ushering a unique protagonist into her role of dragon slayer; the Lilac particularly rises to the occasion in steering a high-maintenance princess away from the very poor idea of agreeing to marry her father.)  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Spain 2002 112m) DVD1/2

Aka. Hable con Ella

Nothing is simple

p  Esther Garcia  d/w  Pedro Almodóvar  ph  Javier Aguirresarobe  ed  José Salcedo  m  Alberto Iglesias  art  Antxón Gómez  cos  Sonia Grande

Javier Cámara (Beningno Martin), Dario Grandinetti (Marco Zuloaga), Leonor Watling (Alicia), Rosario Flores (Lydia González), Geraldine Chaplin (Katerina Bilova), Mariola Fuentes (Rosa), Paz Vega, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Cecilia Roth,

At the time of its release, response to Almodóvar’s truly unique personal drama was rather mixed.  Those who liked it loved it, while others were more lukewarm, perhaps driven away by a plotline that could be read as a little creepy by many.  Perhaps they expected, even wanted, another All About my Mother, his previous success.  Talk surprised everyone, as it was furthest from his earlier kitsch than any of his films had been, and was in every way a complete departure. 

            Two men, Marco and Benigno, happen to sit together at the ballet one evening.  Marco doesn’t notice Benigno, but he himself is noticed.  Marco is next seen watching a TV programme on which a female bullfighter, Lydia, is questioned about her love life and storms off.  He decides he wants to interview her for a magazine, meets her in a bar and, after an impromptu rescue from her house involving a snake, becomes a close friend of hers.  Sadly, Lydia is put into a coma after an accident in the bullring, and Marco stays loyally at her bedside and, while at the hospital, meets Benigno, who is a nurse at the hospital catering for another comatose patient, Alicia, who has been in a coma for four years.  The two men’s loyalty to their unconscious charges brings them close together and changes their lives forever. (more…)

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by Joel Bocko

#66 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.

Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is a top Stasi agent, not the kind whose flashy skills and pride draw attention to himself, but the kind who quietly and methodically does his job, never questions authority, and seems to actually believe in the principles he operates under – or at least has never given them enough thought to really object. Then again, it’s hard to tell; the very reticence which makes him an ideal snoop and a hard-to-read interrogator means that we can’t quite be sure what’s going on in his mind: is he a loyal soldier, or merely someone who knows his place? German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s debut film, the 2006 winner for Best Foreign Film, The Lives of Others is about Wiesler’s slipping grasp on his own stoic rigidity, internal and consequentially external as well. The suggestive title conflates state-sanctioned snooping with sympathetic voyeurism, and indeed as Mühe spies on a bourgeois artist couple, playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), his impassive surveillance gives way to emotional involvement – eventually one will have to give in to the other. Village Voice critic J. Hoberman has astutely noted the similarity to Wim Wenders’ seminal Wall- era Wings of Desire, writing, “No less than Bruno Ganz’s empathetic seraphim, Wiesler longs to be human.” Indeed, after listening in on a robust lovemaking session, Wiesler orders himself a home visit from a busy (and buxom) prostitute; though perhaps physically satisfying, it doesn’t quite scratch the spiritual itch Wiesler has been developing. Perhaps more telling is an encounter on an elevator just prior. A little boy, bouncing a ball casually asks Wiesler if he’s “really Stasi”; asked if he knows what this even means, the boy inadvertently informs on his father’s bilious characterization of the secret police. “What is the name of your f-” Wiesler stops himself, and pauses: “…of your ball?” The little boy chuckles and runs off, not knowing how close he came to turning the old man in. And Wiesler probably wonders what possessed him to show mercy, a quality he may not even have realized was within his power until now.


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by Allan Fish

(Senegal/France 2004 124m) DVD1/2

Protection, protection

p  Ousmane Sembene  d/w  Ousmane Sembene  ph  Dominique Gentil  ed  Abdelattif Raiss  m  Boncana Naiga  art  Joseph Kpobly

Fatoumata Koulibaly (Collé Gallo Ardo Sy), Maimouna Hélène Diarra (Hadjatou), Salimata Traore (Amasatou), Dominique Zeida (Mercenaire), Mah Compaore (Doyenne des Exciseuses), Aminata Dao (Alima Ba), Rasmane Ouedraogo (Ciré Bathily), Bakaramoto Sanogo (Abdou), Ousmane Konaté (Amath Bathily), Modibo Sangaré (Balla Bathily),

It was back in the 1960s when Ousmane Sembene first came to prominence with his seminal work Black Girl.  For over forty years, in spite of the talents of Youssef Chahine, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Shadi Abdelsalam and Souleymane Cissé, he remains the one director on the African continent referred to as great.  Moolaadé was his thirteenth and last film, and he was 81 when it came out.  One has to admit that one would be hard-pressed to think of a better film directed by a octagenarian, and yet is it a truly great film?

            In truth, it probably falls just short, and yet at the same time it has a power to it that is rare in these most shallow of times.  Many critics have fallen over themselves to praise it in desperate hope of seeming to be supportive of future directors from this long cinematically-undiscovered continent, and some of his earlier films – such as Xala and Guelwaar – though fine, are not as great as his devotees would have you believe.  As with Iranian cinema, often the simplicity of the tale is both its greatest virtue and its greatest drawback.  And just as with that country, if one had to choose one film to represent this continent, you could do no better than pick this, for various reasons described above, but also because it truly does make you think, a commodity now all too rare. (more…)

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Guess the Pic

Guess away. And Stephen, since I know you’re an animation buff, give everyone else at least a day or two head start…

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by Sam Juliano

     He is often referred to as the most accomplished living lyricist in the musical theatre.  Some consider him much more than that.  Many feel his stature is perfectly conveyed in the lyrics of one of his newest songs:

    ‘You have something to believe in/something to appropriate, emulate, overrate/ Might as well be Stephen, or to use his nickname: God!”

     Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday sparked a wave of celebrations including a new Broadway revue at the Studio 54 in Manhattan appropriately named Sondheim on Sondheim, which is actually part revue, part video documentary and the glorious talking head complicity of Mr. Sondheim himself, who speaks to the audience on a large moving panel onstage relating amusing anecdotes about the writing process, and imparting a plethora of biographical information that underscores his ascendency in the musical ranks.  Conceived and directed by longtime collaborator James Lapine, who worked with Sondheim on Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods and Passion, the show presents a non-chronological look at the great composer’s career, making good on Sondheim’s promise to “jump around a bit” and include what mattered most to him (and his public) over the decades.  (more…)

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Godard and Truffaut in new documentary ‘Two in the Wave’ at Film Forum

Jordan Kaplan, Scott Raker and and Jacques Roy in the Bard's 'King John' at Medicine Show Theatre

by Sam Juliano

     With the 2000’s countdown nearing the half-way point, it is projected that the project will conclude sometime in late July, at which point ‘genre’ polls will launch, chaired by Jamie Uhler (with the Olson brothers), Bob Clark and Stephen Russell-Gebbet.  Uhler and company will consider the ‘greatest horror films of all-time’, while Clark will tackle science-fiction and Russell-Gebbet will explore the most accomplished animated films.  Rules and duration for each of these polls will be determined by each respective chairperson.  While ‘yours truly’ will assume the chairmanship of the ‘Best Musicals’ poll, the site is still looking for volunteers to navigate the planned ‘Greatest Westerns’ polling, the ‘Greatest War Films’ balloting, and a few others being considered.

    Welcome home Tricia and Troy Olson, and their adorable daughter Madelyn, and Best Wishes to Dan Getahun, who is scheduled to tie the knot this coming week in Minneapolis.  And here’s to Marilyn Ferdinand on her upcoming birthday celebration in the Windy City.  At Living in Cinema, Craig Kennedy was chosen as a model for an inspiring grammar school teacher in Los Angeles, who assigned her students a film reviewing project.  Dave Hicks is almost ready to commence with his new ‘Greatest Directors’ series at Goodfellas, Jeffrey Goodman has some fantastic interview-discussions up at The Last Lullaby on the progress of his new film Peril, and continuing series on Jean-Pierre Melville and William Wellman move forward at The Long Voyage Home and Movie Classics, with Donophon and Judy Gaeter at the helm.  And of course, Dee Dee is winding down her interview at Darkness Into Light with Tony d’Ambra on the ’31 Most Essential Noirs.’

     Another busy week in and around Manhattan was enhanced by some gorgeous spring weather in the high 70’s and low 80’s that reminded us the dog days of summer are around the corner.  Lucille and I managed two theatrical shows (the second one with Broadway Bob, who had seen the first earlier in the year) on Thursday and Saturday nights:

     SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, which boasts two Tony Award nominations for Barbara Cooke and Vanessa Williams, is a high tech lovefest of venerated songwriter Stephen Sondheim, that showcases unreleased songs and a survey of his ultra-successful career.  Sondheim speaks to the audience on large panel projection, while the talented cast negotiated his timeless compositions (review above the MMD here).  The Studio 54 is a grand place for such an extravagent revue.

     KING JOHN is unquestionably Shakespeare’s most rarely-performed work, but the well-respected ‘Guerilla Shakespeare Project’  which enjoyed sold-old houses for their previous The Two Noble Kinsmen utilized some creative staging and nine performers to draw some interesting parallels with the greed and corruption in contemporary society with a portrait of the monarch often referred to as the ‘worst’ in British history.  While the cramming of history into a two hour time frame makes for a challenging sit, the play contains some beautiful lines, and the acting here by nine performances is quite impressive, as is the hip set design and Jordan Reeves’ direction and choreography.  The Medicine Show Theatre, tucked up on the third floor of a delapidated former warehouse, was uncomfortably hot and stuffy, a lamentable fact that completely turned off Lucille and Bob, but I weathered this difficulty myself.

     I saw three films theatrically:

     Two in the Wave *** 1/2  (Wednesday evening) Film Forum

     Please Give ****  (Friday evening) Montclair Claridge Cinemas

     Shrek Forever After  ***   (Saturday afternoon)  Edgewater multiplex (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 2005 81m) DVD1/2

Hey you

p  Wes Anderson, Charlie Corwin, Clara Markowicz, Peter Newman  d/w  Noah Baumbach  ph  Robert D.Yeoman  ed  Tim Streeto  m  Britta Phillips, Dean Wareham  art  Annie Ross

Jeff Daniels (Bernard Berkman), Laura Linney (Joan Berkman), Jesse Eisenberg (Walt Berkman), Owen Kline (Frank Berkman), David Benger (Carl), Halley Feiffer (Sophie Greenberg), Anna Paquin (Lili), William Baldwin (Ivan),

Noah Baumbach’s third film isn’t an easy one to like.  None of the characters are likeable and some of them are downright dislikeable, making you cringe one minute and want to slap them the next.  That Baumbach makes such a dysfunctional bunch, especially the central quartet who make up the Berkman family, is no small feat. 

            The Berkmans live in a fashionable part of Brooklyn in 1986.  Father Bernard is a self-regarding egotist who has written one successful book but nothing since and settled into a mundane life as a college tutor.  His wife Joan has recently taken up writing for literary journals and is becoming successful, much to the chagrin of Bernard, who still sees her as inferior.  They have two children; the elder, Walt, is a would-be intellectual who dotes on every pompous syllable uttered by his dad, and younger brother Frank is just entering puberty, is very much his mother’s child (she calls him Pickle) and rebels by masturbating in school and leaving his semen smeared on books in the library and on the locker of a girl he secretly fancies.  Divorce is on the cards, and a separation is prompted by Joan’s admittance to an affair, leading to Bernard’s moving out and a joint custody order put on the two kids, each of whom resents to going to one of the parents.  Meanwhile, a 20 year old college student moves in with Bernard and Walt, and while she fancies her tutor, Walt fancies her.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(China 2000 140m) DVD1

Aka. Guizi lai le

Welcome to Rack Armour Terrace

p  Jiang Wen, Dong Ping, Zheng Quangang  d  Jiang Wen  w  Jiang Wen, You Fengwei, Shu Ping, Shi Jianquan, Xing Liu, Li Haiying  ph  Gu Changwei  ed  Zhang Yifan, Folmer Weisinger  m  Ciu Jian, Xing Liu, Li Haiying  art  Tang Shiyun

Jiang Wen (Ma Dasan), Jiang Hongbo (Yu’er), Teruyuki Kagawa (Kosaburo Hanaya), Yuan Ding (Dong Hanchen), Chen Qiang (‘One Stroke’ Liu), Cong Zhijun (grandfather), Zi Xi (Liu Wang), Li Haibin (Me), Kenya Sawada (Inokichi Sakatsuka), Cai Waidong (Er Bozi),

It’s a fair assumption to make that, if one was to ask your average film buff what was the last great film shot in monochrome, most people would immediately mention Schindler’s List.  Other films since have used black and white effectively, most memorably Memento, yet my answer to that question would be something quite different.  The last great monochrome film was Jiang Wen’s Devils on the Doorstep, but how many people know it?  In France the film is well-known, thanks to its Cannes release (and award) in 2000 and relatively frequent showings on television, but in Britain it was never shown, either on the cinema, DVD or television, and it took until 2004 for the film to get a DVD release in the States.  Even then, however, the film is still unrecognised as one of the masterpieces of modern Chinese cinema, and indeed, cinema in general. 

            Set in the last months of World War II, in 1944-45, Devils tells the tale of Ma Dasan, a Chinese villager in Japanese occupied Manchuria who one night, while in the middle of a clandestine sexual encounter with his beloved Yu’er, is awoken by a knock on the door from a man who, when asked who he is, simply replies “me”.  On letting him in, the visitor holds a gun to his face and drags in two prisoners.  The man is a member of the Chinese resistance to the captors, and his prisoners are a Japanese soldier and a Chinese translator collaborating with the Japanese.  ‘Me’ tells Dasan to interrogate them and that he will be back to collect them.  When he leaves, Dasan is terrified of his predicament, an unenviable one which could see him branded a traitor from either angle.  His fellow villagers plead with him to kill the prisoners, but his fear of ‘me’ prompts him to keep them alive, at great risk to his security. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 2008 98m) DVD1/2

Buy N Large – your very best friend

p  Jim Morris  d  Andrew Stanton  w  Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon  story  Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter  ed  Steven Schaffer  m  Thomas Newman  art  Ralph Eggleston

Fred Willard (Shelby Forthright, BNL, CEO),

VOICES BY:- Ben Burtt (WALL-E/M.O.), Elissa Knight (EVE), Jeff Garlin (Captain), John Ratzenberger (John), Sigourney Weaver (Ship’s Computer), Kathy Najimy (Mary), Kim Kopf (Hoverchair mother),

OK, imagine that C3-PO wasn’t gay and R2D2 was female.  Er, maybe not.  OK, start over.  He adored Hello Dolly, he idolised it out of all proportion.  No, no, no…this isn’t Antz, go away, Woody.  Deep breath…now, imagine that the Earth was no longer populated by humans.  Imagine that it was approximately seven hundred years into the future, and all the humans have long since departed on Operation Recolonize.  That’s better…here we go.

            Wall-E (Waste Allocation Lift Loader (Earth-class), is a small robot who has spent the seven centuries since mankind’s departure form earth doing what he was programmed to do; compress the garbage and waste materials left behind into easy to stack cubes.  He’s been doing it for so long you can imagine how bored he is.  His only company is a cricket, and his only pleasures are finding weird and wonderful things – Rubik cube, light bulbs, gnomes, a VHS tape of Hello Dolly – in amongst the debris and taking them back to his shack.  One day, out of the sky, a space ship descends and a smart, white assumedly female droid which hovers and doesn’t touch the ground, is left behind.  She’s called EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), and she’s here to forage for signs of life to take back to the mother ship where the humans are living awaiting the time to return home.  Wall-E has never seen anything so lovely before and, as much out of loneliness as out of love, follows her everywhere.  Eventually, she befriends him, but on the point of Wall-E becoming a very happy robot, the mother ship returns and takes her with it, but Wall-E, in desperation, hitches a lift and so begins the adventure of his life. (more…)

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