The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of February 6

6 February, 2015 (09:53) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

Shin Sang-Ok

Dictatorships have always understood the power of film, and made efforts to use it to their own ends. But even in the sordid history of such relationships, Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea stands as an outlier. In an excerpt from his book on Kim’s kidnapping and forced employment of South Korean actress Choi Eun-Hee and director Shin Sang-Ok, Paul Fischer recounts their surreal encounter with Kim as, surrounded by murals of his own film productions, the despot apologizes for their rough treatment (“there have been lots of misunderstandings”) and lays out the propaganda role they will play. (“So I was thinking—yes, only in my head—my intention was, well, I hadn’t talked to anyone about this… I thought, what people have mastered Western skills that we don’t have here… who could come here to produce something with my support?”) And while the Sony hacking drama—if indeed it can be placed at the feet of North Korea, as the US has claimed—suggests things haven’t gotten any better since Kim’s death, there is some cold comfort that his successors still seem to believe that films matter. Mark Seal has the fullest portrait yet of what was going on inside the studio from the first curious computer screens to the sick-making moment when the extent of the hack became clear. Via Longform.

Not that police states are the only place where you have to watch your back. The ending of Seal’s piece, with executive Amy Pascal embattled but holding on, took all of two days to become out of date.

Spinning off a series at the Film Society at Lincoln Center, Violet Lucca surveys New York’s independent (the point very much being that they had to be) black filmmakers of the late ‘60s-early ‘70s, including such innovative creators as Madeline Anderson, Bill Gunn, St. Clair Bourne, and the towering William Greaves, of whom Bourne claimed if the movement “were to be symbolized by a band… would be the bass.”

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Film Review: ‘The Duke of Burgundy’

5 February, 2015 (19:41) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna

Tough call if you’re a movie marketer: Do you sell The Duke of Burgundy as a story of a professor who specializes in the study of moths and butterflies, or a tale of a lesbian S&M role-playing relationship? Of course this is a trick question, because this movie is both. It has plenty to interest lepidopterists and kinksters alike.

The film is mostly set in and around a beautiful old house in the countryside (Hungarian, though the film’s in English). We first meet the professor, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), as she cruelly bosses around Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), a younger woman who appears to be her maid. It turns out this ritual of humiliation is not only mutually accepted, but mostly dictated by Evelyn, who enjoys being punished.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Mommy’

5 February, 2015 (19:37) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Anne Dorval and Antoine-Olivier Pilon

Some movies want to wear you down—an approach that seems logical for, say, a World War II tank picture like Fury. It’s not so obvious why Xavier Dolan’s award-winning Mommy seeks the same effect. This 139-minute domestic drama is a tornado of emotional (and sometimes physical) fury, with occasional joys sprinkled throughout. But man, is it a chore to watch. Dolan, a 25-year-old French-Canadian filmmaker, burns through ideas and situations with the urgency of youth, a blazing rush that creates a sometimes-exciting mess.

Much of the film’s fire comes from a teenager, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), who suffers from extreme ADHD and acts out in violent ways. He’s home with his single mother, Diane (Anne Dorval), who can’t handle him—no one could.

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Film Review: 2015 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Short Films

5 February, 2015 (19:33) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

‘Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1′

The law of averages tells us there must be years in which cheerful, silly efforts are nominated in the best documentary short film category. This is not one of those years. Released to theaters in anticipation of the February 22 Academy Awards ceremony, these five shorts—screening in two programs—serve up serious issues and personal essays. Whatever their subject matter, the category is critical for getting attention focused on short films that would otherwise struggle to find a venue for exhibition.

The nominees are longish, as short films go, with the briefest clocking in at 20 minutes. That’s White Earth, one of two U.S. films in the group.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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People Who Need People – ‘To Have and Have Not’

2 February, 2015 (08:09) | by Richard T. Jameson, Essays, Film Reviews, Howard Hawks | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 40, April 1975]

She brought the bottle to his room and then he took the bottle to her room and now she has brought it back to his room without anyone having had a drink so far. He cocks an eye at their mutual pretext and remarks, “This is getting to be a problem.”

The line gets a laugh. And as you laugh at it, you can’t quite say why you’re laughing, but you know you’re laughing at a number of things at the same time. It’s more than two people getting set to play a love scene. It’s two people laughing at themselves for going through all this ritual to get at the scene, and it’s also two people digging the ritual and digging themselves for having set it up. It’s two canny actors, who are also people, enjoying and capitalizing on the happy fact that they are playing about the same scene they’d be playing anyway if there weren’t a camera crew standing around. It’s also Howard Hawks and his redoubtable extra-dialogue man William Faulkner and Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall—only recently Betty Perske, unknown fashion model—laughing at the way they’ve just said “Screw it” to the whole bothersome notion of following a scenario.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

For it must have been after the shooting of the second stage of the bottle’s progress that Bacall said—as James Agee recorded for Time and posterity—”God, I’m dumb.” Hawks asked why and she said, “Well, if I had any sense I’d go back in after that guy.” Hawks had to agree and that’s the way they went.

To Have and Have Not, then, is firstly and most durably a movie about the making of this particular movie. In his enormously suggestive book Movie Man, David Thomson has remarked that, with Hawks as with Jean Renoir, one so often has a feeling that the director and some friends of his have got together and, simply because they happen to be phenomenally talented people in the same line of work, made a movie. While there are moments implying breezy, spontaneous improvisation in virtually all Hawks pictures, no other has such an all-pervasive sense of a floating party where a couple of particular people keep bumping into the fact that there’s something lovely about each of them and something cosmically joyous about the two of them together.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 30

30 January, 2015 (09:53) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links, Seattle Screens | By: Bruce Reid

Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle

“For more than 30 years, people bought movie tickets to watch Hackman take charge. He was a molder of men: Hackman taught Redford how to ski, DiCaprio how to shoot, and Keanu how to play quarterback. As the culture’s perspective on Great White Males changed, so did cinema’s view of Hackman. If you want to chart how attitudes about power shifted in the late 20th century, Gene Hackman movies are a good place to start. His filmography unfolds as a treatise on how authority is established, then corrupted, then dissolved.” Steven Hyden does a fine job singing the praises of Gene Hackman, and that incomparable mix of gruff professionalism, emotional directness, and curmudgeonly twinkle that’s kept him most people’s default choice for our best actor more than a decade into his retirement. Via Rachel Handler.

“Given the comparable quality and quantity of Mann’s Westerns, and despite these outlying generic visits that bookend his career, to know Anthony Mann the filmmaker is to know the Anthony Mann Western. For without having found the genre within which he could most evidently express his stylistic and thematic concerns, Mann may not have developed into the unique filmic artist he became, and the Western as an ever evolving form would not have entered one of its key transitional phases as it did.” Jeremy Carr examines how Anthony Mann’s sophisticated embrace of Western tropes—landscapes, rifles, revenge, Stewart (by the time he was done with him at any rate)—led to exemplars of their genre that are also works of unmistakable individual authorship.

If one genre has defeated Martin Scorsese time and time again it’s documentary, his efforts in which tend to portraits marked by bland, unruffled admiration, if not outright hagiography. So what kind of control freaks must the Clinton camp be to scuttle his documentary project on Bill?

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Film Review: Black or White

30 January, 2015 (08:30) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Jillian Estell and Kevin Costner

Have you noticed that Kevin Costner gives good speeches? He deftly handled his classic “I believe in …” speech in Bull Durham and his courtroom summations in JFK. He recently got a lifetime achievement award at the Critics Choice Awards, where he spoke pointedly about remembering to be grateful. His Oscar acceptance speeches for Dances with Wolves were pretty good, too.

Costner must like having writer-director Mike Binder create roles for him, because Binder likes to write speeches. Ten years ago in The Upside of Anger, Binder gave Costner a juicy part, and there’s more talk on tap in Black or White, their new collaboration. This time out, the speeches just about wreck it. Or they would, if the movie weren’t already on a wobbly track.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Film Review: Two Days, One Night

29 January, 2015 (05:32) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Marion Cotillard

There is only one situation in Two Days, One Night—no subplots, no vast canvas. But filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (The Kid With the Bike) need only this one situation to somehow speak of the entire world and what it means to be human in the early 21st century. The situation is this: Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has been on medical leave from her workplace, owing to depression. She has a low-level job in a manufacturing plant in Belgium. She’s ready to go back to work, but management has decided to cut her position. According to labor laws, her 16 fellow employees can vote to keep her on the job—but the boss has offered them each a 1,000-euro bonus if they agree to lay off Sandra. She has a weekend to plead her case to each co-worker.

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Film Review: When Evening Falls on Bucharest, or Metabolism

29 January, 2015 (05:27) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Bogdan Dumitrache and Diana Avramut

Movies about moviemaking don’t come much drier than this new one from Romania. It has the usual elements of backstage stories—the director is sleeping with a cast member, professional rivalry rears its head, the movie’s gone over budget—but When Evening Falls approaches these things in an extremely off-center way. We never do see the film set (although the closing sequence takes place inside a makeup trailer that is presumably near the shooting), and the only actual footage we glimpse is from the director’s endoscopy. He’s been suffering from gastritis and . . . oh, it’s hard to explain.

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Review: Race with the Devil

28 January, 2015 (08:05) | by Rick Hermann, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Rick Hermann

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

After witnessing a satanic episode of black rites and human sacrifice in some out-of-the-way Texas campsite and then trying in vain to get some action on the matter from the local police force, Peter Fonda remarks to Warren Oates, “Frank, they’re trying to screw with our brains.” Fonda’s face is dead earnest as he delivers the line, which seems like some wildly misplaced throwaway from a grade-Z science fiction flick, invested with about as much foreboding as an order for ham and eggs. It may be significant that he doesn’t say anything like, “They’re trying to fuck with our heads,” which might be edging a little too far in the direction of counter-kultcha lingo; after all, we don’t want to alienate anybody out there who might actually be getting off on Race with the Devil—an apt title indicating Starrett’s dual concentration on spooks and chases. Like a liberal politician, “screw with our brains” is restrained even in its most daring affectations of looseness, and its timidity is only accentuated by the ex-hip aura of Fonda, who’s getting a little older and a little safer than the free-spirited threat to conservative lifestyles Captain America represented in Easy Rider.

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Videophiled: The mad passion of ‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell?’

27 January, 2015 (15:31) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Why Play HellWhy Don’t You Play in Hell? (Drafthouse, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital), Sion Sono’s filmmaking freakout about making a movie in the midst of a Yakuza war, is actually far more insane than that description suggests. For one thing, it takes almost 90 minutes to get to that filmmaking part and the sheer absurdity of the plotting twists and motivations that get us there are beyond rational explanation, which is part of the fun. The scenes leading up to it are a mad collision of gang war, teen runaway tale, revenge movie, star-crossed romance, wrong man nightmare, and movie club dream come true for a spirited, tunnel-visioned filmmaking collective. By the time the warring sides are ready for their close-ups, it has become a quest where the gang fight is less about territory than choreography and the sword-wielding soldiers on both sides (because katanas are much cooler than guns) are more conscious of their image than their tactics. It’s all about looking good for the camera.

Sono channels the yakuza madness of Seijun Suzuki and the driving energy and chaotic creativity of Miike Takashi at the height of his powers. The characters are driven by obsession and emotion, not logic, and Sono stirs it with a hearty dark humor and a juvenile, morality-free passion for moviemaking. Even the flashbacks and narrative detours are the equivalent of production numbers and set pieces, small scale bloodbaths as imagined by Busby Berkeley for the Yakuza Follies. Blood spurts in geysers (some of them fountains of liquid, others spattered across the image with CGI, and one scene of candy colored streams of cartoon rainbows) and limbs fly, and in the middle of it scurries a Bruce Lee knock-off in a “Game of Death” yellow tracksuit swinging a sword or windmilling his nunchucks like it’s a playground game.

This is pure midnight movie, all energy and whimsy and cartoonish displays of violence with yakuza soldiers dressed as samurai swordsmen. It’s hard to tell if this is an attempt at commentary on the slippery ethics of representing violence on film and blurring the lines between reality and representation, or simply Sono giving in to the same unchecked enthusiasm of his absurd filmmaking crew. Their amateur zeal is played for laughs, yes, but Sono’s appreciation for such passion is clear. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? has its own cracked logic but is largely free from any discipline that would focus its wild energy. That could be a warning to some viewers and an invitation to others. Follow your instincts accordingly.

In Japanese with English subtitles, with a 22-minute press conference with Sion Sono conducted at a Tower Records in Japan plus a 24-page booklet and 11×17 foldout poster. The Blu-ray also features a bomus Digital HD copy for download.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

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Review: Day of the Locust

26 January, 2015 (08:46) | by Rick Hermann, Film Reviews | By: Rick Hermann

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

Maybe one of the reasons I don’t much care for the John Schlesinger film of Day of the Locust is an attitude towards his characters—Nathanael West’s characters in this case—which he has avoided in other films. In Sunday Bloody Sunday there was no overt judgment, no condescension towards his people, and in fact the film’s openness was a way of questioning the successfulness and validity of relationships between people whose strengths were admirable and whose weaknesses were sympathetically portrayed. Even in Midnight Cowboy there was the redeeming love and friendship between Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo that gave some value to an ugly world. But in Day of the Locust Schlesinger handles his characters as though at the end of a long stick, turning irony into a cruel form of entrapment by making them seem so bereft of normally human characteristics that we wonder how they could ever possibly rise above their bathetic gropings and mutual fear and hatred of each other.

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Videophiled: ‘Adua and Her Friends’

25 January, 2015 (06:39) | Uncategorized | By: Editor

AduaAdua and Her Friends (Raro / Kino Lorber, Blu-ray) are prostitutes from a Rome brothel attempting to take charge of their own lives after their place is shut down in the aftermath of Italy’s Merlin Law, which ended legalized prostitution in 1958 (the film was released in 1960). Adua (played by Simone Signoret), a veteran of the life, has a plan to open a restaurant as a front for their own little brothel in the rooms upstairs and her friends—cynical and hot-headed Marilina (Emmanuelle Riva), naïve and trusting Lolita (Sandra Milo), and practical Milly (Gina Rovere)—pitch in for the purchase and start-up and fake their way through running a real business. Adua may be a dreamer but she has a lot invested in this project. She’s the oldest of the four and, as anyone familiar with the films of Mizoguchi will attest, life on the streets isn’t forgiving of age. But what really charges up the film is the feeling of accomplishment and ownership as they work their way through each problem and, almost without noticing, create a successful business out of the restaurant.

For all the stumbles along the way, director Antonio Pietrangeli and his screenwriting partners (which includes future director Ettore Scola and longtime Fellini collaborator Tullio Pinelli) don’t play the disasters for laughs but rather a mix of warm character piece and spiky social commentary. It’s not simply that their pasts follow them around but that the Merlin Law has actually made things worse for women, whether they remain in the life (without any legal protections) or attempt to transition into another career. Palms need to be greased and officials cut in on the business; they haven’t even started up and they’re already paying off a pimp. And no, it’s not Marcello Mastroianni’s Piero, a charming hustler who hawks cars and woos Adua, who enjoys engaging in a romance that she gets to define for a change. He’s a pleasant distraction and something of an ally, but he’s better at looking out for himself.

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Videophiled: Liliana Cavani’s ‘The Skin’

24 January, 2015 (06:35) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

SkinThe Skin (aka La Pelle, Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), directed by Liliana Cavani in 1981 from the novel by Curzio Malaparte, is ostensibly a war drama, set during the American liberation of Sicily from the Fascists, but it’s really about the politics and economics of occupation. As the Allied forces (led by Burt Lancaster’s General Mark Clark) roll in, the Americans are as busy with public relations opportunities (Clark wants his Fifth Battalion to get the glory for the liberation) as with local issues, for which they defer to Curzio Malaparte (Marcello Mastroianni), an aristocrat and former Fascist who switched allegiances and fought the Fascists in Spain.

There’s not a lot of grace in Cavani’s direction—she seems occupied simply corralling such an enormous international production—but then it’s not a graceful subject. This isn’t about war, it’s about civilians caught between invading powers and soldiers in their downtime, and Cavani enjoys the chaos of this world in upheaval without letting us lose our way through. She takes us to the streets and apartment houses where the flesh trade cashes in on the new occupying army and to the heart of the Sicilian mafia, which negotiate a ransom for German POWs they’ve kidnapped (they want to get paid by the kilogram and have been stuffing them with pasta to fatten them up). True to form, the gangsters treat American military like just another syndicate.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 23

23 January, 2015 (10:49) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

Ava DuVernay

“The problem is the six major studios that dominate the box office, the entertainment chatter and the popular imagination. Their refusal to hire more female directors is immoral, maybe illegal, and has helped create and sustain a representational ghetto for women.” Manohla Dargis lays down her sharpest attack yet on what’s become a preeminent concern, the grotesque lack of diversity on both sides of the camera. A supplement features relevant quotes from women filmmakers Dargis has talked with about the issue, from Tina Gordon Chism’s world-weary defense of intersectionality (“I think the best primer for being a woman director is being a black woman, because it’s the same feeling that you get when you go into a room that underestimates you.”) to Barbra Streisand’s matter-of-fact callout of double standards (“What’s wrong with bossy? It’s O.K. for a man.”).

More evidence that old prejudices die hard, as Anne Helen Petersen samples the current resurgence (which she traces to a 1994 profile of Chloë Sevigny) of the It Girl, a “limited, limiting” moniker that’s done no woman any favors since Clara Bow.

“The story of New York cinephilia is the story of Vogel’s successes and failures, of his accurate and futuristic view of the cinema to come as well as of the doctrinal assumptions that got in the way—ideas that have, amazingly, been belatedly resurgent among today’s critics and that, in their way, resist the very current of appreciation that he sought to inculcate.” Spinning off from a read of Be Sand, Not Oil: The Life and Work of Amos Vogel (edited by Paul Cronin), Richard Brody identifies Vogel and his experimental-film oriented Cinema 16 as the source of one stream of midcentury cinephilia, the other being the Parisian New Wavers, and does a dazzling job contextualizing both, showing how their contradictory goals merged to make our current cinema—and its critics.

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