Friday, September 30, 2011

New York Film Festival 2011: The Loneliest Planet and Dreileben


Tonight the New York Film Festival officially gets underway with lavish opening-night gala screenings of Roman Polanski's latest film, Carnage.

I won't be there, being that, even for members, getting into gala screenings at this festival can cost someone up to $50—hardly a cheap proposition! And alas, I had to miss the press screening for it, because this year I'm not taking any days off from work for them; instead, I find myself having to go to morning screenings and arrive to work just a bit late (though don't worry, my boss has so far been totally okay with this, provided I give her advance notice and all).

I have been able to see some other good films playing at the festival so far...and my reviews for two of them are finally up at The House Next Door—those of Julia Loktev's latest film The Loneliest Planet; and Dreileben, a trilogy of made-for-TV German films featuring three different directors offering different perspectives on the same crime. The links for both reviews are embedded on the individual film titles.

So go on, read 'em and then comment, why don'tcha?

There is plenty more to come, of course. "Watch this space," as they say here on the Web...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From One Filmmaker to Another: Abbas Kiarostami's Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003)


Amidst my attempt to balance New York Film Festival coverage for The House Next Door with my day job and even the occasional night out at the movies, this was published recently: a piece I wrote about Abbas Kiarostami's experimental 2003 film Five Dedicated to Ozu as my contribution to the site In Review Online's near-complete retrospective of the legendary Iranian filmmaker. Enjoy, and then by all means, go check out the other articles in this exhaustive series!

Hopefully my New York Film Festival reviews—or, rather, the two I've completed so far—will be going up soon (the festival starts on Friday).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, Sept. 19, 2011-Sept. 25, 2011

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Another week, another barebones artistic consumption log.

My workload for The House Next Door's New York Film Festival coverage was a bit larger than I had expected (I requested a lot of titles—basically, just about every film screening I thought I could make—and got a lot more than I anticipated), and already I feel like I'm on the verge of falling behind! So once again, I didn't have much time to annotate this week's log as I usually like to do, prioritizing work on a review over commenting on stuff I saw over the past week. But hey, I'll end up writing extensively about a good portion of it anyway, and it'll be published on a forum for a wider audience to see—so you all have that to look forward to. (Of course, I'll try to post links to those reviews on this blog as they go up.)

For now, though, I just want to say right here: I know Sleep No More—the fantastically inventive and immersive theater piece/art installation/adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth being staged on a few floors of the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea here in New York—is super expensive, ranging from $75-$95 depending on when you go. But you all owe it to yourselves to go, if you're in the area. It's a truly amazing, one-of-a-kind experience, and I think the sheer novelty of it is enough to justify the extra expense. Read this New York Times review to get an idea of what you're in for.

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)


New York Film Festival 2011 (all films screened at Walter Reade Theater unless otherwise noted):
The Loneliest Planet (2011, Julia Loktev)
Le Havre (2011, Aki Kaurismäki)

Dreileben trilogy:
Beats Being Dead (2011, Christian Petzold)
Don't Follow Me Around (2011, Dominik Graf)
One Minute of Darkness (2011, Christoph Hochhäusler)

Andrew Bird: Fever Year (2011, Xan Aranda)

Drive (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn), screened at Regal Union Square Stadium 14 in New York

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952, Vincente Minnelli), screened at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y.


雪在燒 (1987, 黃鶯鶯) [umpteenth listen]

Kronos Quartet: Awakening: A Musical Meditation on the Anniversary of 9/11, performed at BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Sleep No More (2011, Punchdrunk), experienced at The McKittrick Hotel in New York

Monday, September 19, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, Sept. 12, 2011-Sept. 18, 2011

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Alas, I ended up not being able to find a whole lot of time to do much beyond coming up with little tweet reviews of all the films I saw in Toronto during the recently finished Toronto International Film Festival. I will eventually write something about at least some of the films I saw at the festival; hell, I may even write about the experience itself, which was overall pretty awesome.

For now, though, this latest log will once again consist only of titles...especially now that I have the upcoming New York Film Festival to suck more time away from writing about TIFF 2011. There are a lot of titles, though, for what it's worth.


Toronto International Film Festival 2011:
Albert Nobbs (2011, Rodrigo Garcia), screened at Winter Garden Theatre
You're Next (2011, Adam Wingard), screened at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24
Faust (2010, Alexander Sokurov), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Shame (2011, Steve McQueen), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Damsels in Distress (2011, Whit Stillman), screened at Elgin Theatre
The Moth Diaries (2010, Mary Harron), screened at Scotiabank Theatre
Alps (2011, Yorgos Lanthimos), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sleeping Beauty (2011, Julia Leigh), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Lovely Molly (2011, Eduardo Sánchez), screened at Ryerson Theatre
Invasión (1969, Hugo Santiago), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Love and Bruises (2011, Lou Ye), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
A Simple Life (2011, Ann Hui), screened at Scotiabank Theatre
The Turin Horse (2011, Béla Tarr), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Outside Satan (2011, Bruno Dumont), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Take Shelter (2011, Jeff Nichols), screened at Scotiabank Theatre
Good Bye (2011, Mohammad Rasoulof), screened at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24
The Other Side of Sleep (2011, Rebecca Daly), screened at Jackman Hall
Himizu (2011, Sion Sono), screened at Scotiabank Theatre
From Up on Poppy Hill (2011, Goro Miyazaki), screened at Scotiabank Theatre
The Deep Blue Sea (2011, Terence Davies), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Life Without Principle (2011, Johnnie To), screened at Scotiabank Theatre
That Summer (2011, Philippe Garrel), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Pina (2011, Wim Wenders), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox

Monday, September 12, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, Sept. 5, 2011 - Sept. 11, 2011

TORONTO—I'm knee deep in Toronto International Film Festival screenings, so I haven't much of a chance to add my usual commentaries to this latest artistic consumption log. But I didn't want to neglect this weekly feature here you all are.

In skeleton, all the art I've consumed in the past week (commentaries to come later...maybe):

Seven Chances (1925)


Seven Chances (1925, Buster Keaton), screened at Film Forum in New York
The Navigator (1924, Buster Keaton), screened at Film Forum in New York

The Wrong Man (1956, Alfred Hitchcock), screened at Film Forum in New York

Toronto International Film Festival 2011:
The Artist (2011, Michel Hazanavicius), screened at Elgin Theater
Into the Abyss (2011, Werner Herzog), screened at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24
Goodbye First Love (2011, Mia Hansen-Løve), screened at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24
Gerhard Richter - Painting (2011, Corinna Belz), screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Chicken With Plums (2011, Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud), screened at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24)
Take This Waltz (2011, Sarah Polley), screened at Ryerson Theatre
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011, Sean Durkin), screened at Ryerson Theatre
Crazy Horse (2011, Frederick Wiseman), screened at AMC Yonge & Dudnas 24
UFO in Her Eyes (2011, Xiaolu Guo), screened at Isabel Bader Theatre


Young Americans (1975, David Bowie)
Station to Station (1976, David Bowie)

親愛的小孩 (1985, 蘇芮) [second listen]

Friday, September 09, 2011

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: An Introduction

TORONTO—Two whole years after I first resolved to one day attend the Toronto International Film Festival, I am finally here in this bustling town, gearing myself to see 29 films in the next 10 days, and basically inundate myself with cinematic discoveries.

I'm not here under the most ideal of circumstances. I would have preferred to have attended the festival as a member of the press, if only so I could pretend, for 10 days, that I had somehow moved up in the world and was actually working on the same level as some of the "big dog" film critics I admire so much. Maybe I should have just said "fuck it" and tried to apply for press credentials even without a more "official" affiliation than this here blog (I had always assumed this blog wasn't good enough to be taken seriously). (Why am I always so reluctant to take those kinds of risks?) In any case, this year one of my roommates offered up a spot in a suite he had reserved, free of charge, in Toronto; combine that with an offer to split a 50-ticket package with a friend of his, and I finally decided that I couldn't pass up this opportunity to finally attend one of the biggest film festivals of the world, money be damned.

So here I am. Either I keep on regretting what this experience could have been, or I can just forge ahead and make the best of it now that I'm here. I'll do the latter. And I'll certainly try my best to update you all on the films I see here in Toronto as the festival goes on.

Besides, once I come back from Toronto, I then have the New York Film Festival to look forward to—and at least, for that hometown festival, I'll be once again covering it for Slant Magazine's The House Next Door. After a summer in which I pretty much allowed my professional life to dwindle to near-nothingness, I could certainly use the infusion of work.

Stay tuned for more dispatches from the Toronto International Film Festival, dear readers!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Small Triumphs

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—When you're stuck in a less-than-wholly-stimulating job, it's worth basking in the small triumphs.

Case in point: Remember those "skybox refers" I briefly discussed in this post from last year? Yesterday, I wrote this one for a story about a paper publisher who had recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection:

Maybe half an hour after I write that thing and see it cleared, one of my superiors comes up to me and asks me if I was the one who wrote it? "Yeah," I say in a slightly guarded voice, expecting to hear some criticism. "Good job," the editor proceeded to say. "We decided to change the headline of the story to that one."

On a day in which I was feeling especially crappy about things (not helped by the minor ruckus I caused when I inadvertently "spoiled" a supposed big plot point of the TV series Breaking Bad for a bunch of newbies at work, some of whom hadn't even heard of the show), hearing this compliment had the effect of brightening up my entire day.

Apparently I still am capable of stretching my creative muscles at this "job" every once in a while!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, Aug. 29, 2011 - Sept. 4, 2011: "Art Bender" Edition

NEW YORK—Is there such a thing as going on an art bender? Because that's the way I'd characterize my recently ended Labor Day weekend! In three days, I saw six films (one of them four hours long—without intermission, mind you), two live musical performances and a stage play, with a fair amount of fine dining and drinking thrown in, plus a lot of sleep deprivation in between it all. Hey, no rest for the weary art consumer, right?

Below, then, are the results of that art bender, with my usual brief commentaries. As I'm heading to Toronto at the end of the week to attend my first-ever Toronto International Film Festival, I suspect this weekend is merely a prelude to the longer bender I'm about to embark on.

Do the Right Thing (1989)


Handsworth Songs (1987, John Akomfrah), screened at Film Forum in New York
I hadn't heard a thing about this hour-long documentary/essay film from the Britain-based artist-group the Black Audio Film Collective before seeing this on Tuesday night at Film Forum; all I knew going in was that a) it was being programmed by Light Industry, a Brooklyn-based project devoted to screening little-known classic and contemporary visual and audio work, and b) it was screening at a time and evening I could actually make! So I went...and I was thoroughly bowled over by it. A stimulating mix of sensuous visual poetry and sober sociopolitical analysis, Handsworth Songs takes a dialectical approach to exploring the factors that lead up to the race riots that engulfed Handsworth, a suburb in Birmingham, U.K., in 1985. It's a lot to absorb in one viewing; luckily, it's on YouTube, for all of you who are curious (because the user who uploaded it disabled embedding, here is a link to the first part of it).

Tabloid (2010, Errol Morris), screened at IFC Center in New York
My short take on it says it all.

Red Desert (1964, Michaelangelo Antonioni), screened at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y. [second viewing]
Oddly enough, I found this, the legendary Italian filmmaker's first color film, even stranger and more elusive on this second viewing than I did on my first, on the Criterion Collection's gorgeous Blu-ray edition; its psychological depths are still mysterious and near-impenetrable. Its painterly visual splendors and sense of aimless drift remain as haunting as ever, though—even more so on a big screen, in the new 35mm print I saw on Friday. (I previously wrote about the film here, by the way.)

Love Exposure (2008, Sion Sono), screened at Cinema Village in New York
This is the four-hour film I referred to earlier...and what a riveting four hours it is, bursting with thematic ambition and narrative audacity, all of it building up to a surprisingly moving conclusion that essentially confirms that, in a surreal world gone seemingly mad with religious extremism and adolescent romantic/sexual longings...well, "all you need is love," as The Beatles famously sang. Actually, Sono's epic puts more much more meat onto the bones of that time-honored sentiment...but anyway...this was about as mindblowing an experience as I hoped it would be based on everything I had heard about it since it screened to great acclaim in New York two years ago at the New York Asian Film Festival. (It's screening two more times until it leaves Cinema Village on Thursday.)

Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis), screened at Landmark Sunshine Theatre in New York
Yes, it's true: I hadn't seen this generational classic before seeing it at a midnight screening Friday night at Landmark Sunshine Theatre. Or, more accurately, I had seen only certain sequences before seeing it theatrically on Friday night. But yes, it's a blast, and a legitimately great film. Now can everyone stop expressing incredulity at the fact that I hadn't seen this in full 'til this weekend? Please?

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950, Otto Preminger), screened at Film Forum in New York
Laura (1944, Otto Preminger), screened at Film Forum in New York [second viewing]
Laura is still as wonderful as ever...but in some ways, Otto Preminger's later Where the Sidewalk Ends—also featuring (a markedly older-looking) Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney—is even better. At the very least, this brooding urban Crime and Punishment seems less bound by genre requirements than Laura, with its endlessly twisty plot, occasionally does.

Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee), screened at Museum of Modern Art in New York
Yet another major cinematic blind spot that I finally filled in on Sunday (and, alas, I had to sacrifice seeing Abbas Kiarostami's complete Koker trilogy at Walter Reade Theater to do it; my lack of sleep was finally getting to me that morning). Yes, it's a masterpiece. No, it most certainly is not the call to violence that critics like Joe Klein feared at the time; apparently those critics were blind to the dialectical aspects of Spike Lee's rigorously even-handed treatment not only of the racial issues he pointedly raises, but even of the characters themselves. (Mookie, the pizza-delivery boy Lee plays, may be the one that starts the climactic riot, but that doesn't automatically mean that character and that action speaks for Lee himself.) If nothing else, it remains a master class in impassioned but fair-minded political filmmaking that never forgets the human figures populating its grand and energetic canvas. (Take note, Paul Haggis.)

Apparently my week in film-watching began and ended with race riots (Handsworth Songs at the beginning, Do the Right Thing at the end). Just felt like pointing that out to y'all.


Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 "Pastorale"/Schubert: Symphony No. 5 (1971/1980, Karl Böhm & Vienna Philharmonic) [second listen]
The Beethoven—one of symphonic literature's most glorious hymns to nature—made for fitting listening in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, especially considering that its fourth movement is intended to be a musical depiction of a thunderstorm, and the finale its joyous, peaceful aftermath.

Pin Ups (1973, David Bowie)
Diamond Dogs (1974, David Bowie)
Neither of these are close to the level of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars or even Aladdin Sane, but I did enjoy listening to them. Pin Ups—a collection of covers of a bunch of cherished tunes from the 1960s—is especially interesting, to me at least, for Bowie's quicksilver changes of vocal style from cut to cut. Apparently he was willing to be a chameleon not only across albums, but within them.

The more I listen to Bowie's music, the more fascinated I become by him, even when he's at less than his best.

Dapp Theory, seen at Blue Note Jazz Club in New York
Michael Driscoll, seen at The Scratcher in New York
One's a jazz group that features atonal harmonies and beat poetry; the other is a folksy-ish, introspective singer-songwriter. Both live gigs featured friends of mine I know personally, so I don't feel I can say a whole lot about 'em here; conflict of interest, you know. I would urge you to at least give Dapp Theory a listen (the group has a couple of records to its credit); I found their sound thrillingly unique, and am looking forward to listening to their recorded output.


Follies (1971, Stephen Sondheim), performed at Marquis Theatre in New York
The more Sondheim shows I see live, the more I'm convinced that a) I should just prioritize seeing his musicals over anything else; and b) he may well be the only composer that wrote any musicals that are still worth a damn today. Certainly, very little I've seen live has matched Sondheim's theatrical wit and mature emotional insight. This searing look at faded glories and middle-age disappointments is no less witty, tuneful and affecting than his earlier masterpiece Company, but man, that "Loveland" climax—in which the romantic battlefield of its two main couples is transformed into an extravagant fantasy landscape in which they are all allowed to articulate what they are seemingly unable to express in reality—is something else entirely. Follies is currently in a limited run at the Marquis Theatre with a cast featuring Bernadette Peters (good) and Jan Maxwell (even better) as the two lead female characters; it's a fantastic production, worth seeing for those looking for real quality Broadway theater.

The Select (The Sun Also Rises) (2011, Elevator Repair Service), performed at New York Theatre Workshop in New York
There are pretty much only one or two sets in the Elevator Repair Service's version of Ernest Hemingway's classic 1926 novel; changes of mood and locale are suggested mostly through lighting and sound effects, imaginative blocking and Hemingway's own words. Unlike Gatz, the group's nearly eight-hour version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby that they performed in New York last year (and which they're bringing to Princeton, N.J. in December; I've already procured my ticket), The Select presents only choice selections from Hemingway's novel, with these selections presented more or less verbatim from the text. What the Elevator Repair Service's adaptation adds, though, is a dreamlike memory quality to The Sun Also Rises that suggests what inspired Hemingway to write this sad, wistful story in the first place. Plus, the near-minimalist approach encourages a level of theatrical invention that sometimes enhances the text and sometimes merely calls attention to itself.

If you know the book well, The Select won't necessarily enhance your understanding of it...but as an illustration of the source material, it's uneven but often vivid. And that last line of dialogue is still as devastating on stage as it was on the page. (It's running at the New York Theatre Workshop through Oct. 9.)

Friday, September 02, 2011

Short Take: Tabloid (2010)


In tackling the notorious "case of the manacled Mormon" in his new film, veteran documentary filmmaker Errol Morris puts Joyce McKinney—the woman who made all the headlines in the British press when she, as they reported it, kidnapped a Mormon named Kirk Anderson, chained him to a bed and proceeded to rape him—in the front and center of his Interrotron to tell her side of the story. On the surface, this sounds like a strategy that should yield revelations about the human being behind the sensational headlines...and I suppose the gambit works, if only to reveal the woman at the center of this nutty sex scandal to herself be locked into some of her own illusions (delusions?) about Kirk, about love, about celebrity.

But man, what a force of personality McKinney is! She so thoroughly believes in her own take on events—that, for instance, Kirk Anderson fully consented to the sex they had during those three days—that she can't help but hypnotize us, perhaps in spite of our better judgment. (Perhaps her magnetism pulverized Morris, too, in a sense: Tabloid is notably free of his usual reenactments. Who needs 'em, with McKinney as vivid a storyteller as she is?) This is not to say that Morris is completely taken in by her story, as evidenced not only in the handful of other voices offered (two British tabloid reporters, a Mormon, a Korean doctor) but in Morris's visual approach, which not only embodies a tabloid-like aesthetic, but also uses that similarly sensationalistic style to occasionally undermine and contradict McKinney's story, going so far as to suggest underlying societal causes for the illusions she still harbors. (Did 1950s media present that idealized an image of romance, family life? It, at the very least, seems to be one that McKinney bought hook, line and sinker.) And yet, for this viewer at least, Morris generally stays on the right side of the empathy/condescension fence; he's too fascinated by this creature to make her a target for easy mockery (though that's not to say he doesn't sometimes find her funny).

So this is not a film in which one should expect the truth of what really happened in the so-called "Mormon sex in chains" affair to come out; after all, we do get only one side of the story, ultimately. And yet that inherently limited perspective is perhaps the point of Tabloid. If Morris intrepidly seeks the truth of a muddy situation in a film like The Thin Blue Line (1988), in Tabloid he is content to simply muddy the waters of what we think we know about a given situation and the parties involved. In the end, the truth, such as it is, remains stubbornly outside of Morris's grasp—and for such a lurid and outrageous story, that may be the most unsettling thing of all.