Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Ghostly Splendor of Rouge

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—I initially had a whole long blog post planned for Halloween regarding the taste for cheesy horror flicks, most of them made during the 1980s, that I cultivated in my younger years of cinephilia—years in which I went to a local video store and went straight to the horror section to gawk at some of the wonderfully freaky and creepy VHS box art on display, such as this...

...and this...

...and this:

Alas, I found myself surprisingly busy with assignments both within and outside of work as last week progressed, and my weekend was so packed with activity (and so wonderful, in ways I will explain in probably more than one post later) that I just never found the time to work on that post as much as I had wanted.

And now it's Halloween.

So perhaps next year at this time, I will delve deeply into the beginnings of my cinephilia through the horror genre (of which the above posters give a taste). This year, though...allow me to grace you all with a particularly haunting and evocative image from one of the best cinematic ghost stories I've ever seen:

This image comes from the unsettling climax of Stanley Kwan's wonderful 1988 film Rouge, in which the divine Anita Mui (of whom faithful blog readers will know I have quite the fondness for) plays Fleur, a prostitute who, in the 1930s, makes a suicide pact with a wealthy and rebellious son, Chen (Leslie Cheung), and follows through with it...and then returns as a ghost roaming modernized Hong Kong looking for the man who promised to kill himself for their love.

In the first half of the film, Kwan gets a lot of mileage out of the ways he contrasts past and present Hong Kong, with Fleur seen reacting in a bewildered fashion to how much the region has changed since the '30s; she is seen, at one point, marveling with confusion at how her old bordello has turned into apartment housing. In addition, he puts a great deal of emphasis on the modern-day couple (Alex Man and Emily Chu), both of whom work at a newspaper, that eventually helps Fleur track down her beloved; he contrasts the more mundane ways they express their love for each other with the intense (naive?) romanticism underpinning the passion between Fleur and Chen in the 1930s. These literal and visual contrasts suggest a surprisingly thoughtful and resonant secondary theme in Rouge: the ways modernization has affected not only physical locations, but traditions and behaviors over generations.

Rouge, though, is, first and foremost, a deeply romantic ghost story, mixing in elements of historical drama and detective procedural in its surprisingly ambitious brew. And then [possible spoiler ahead] we get to the resolution of this supernatural procedural and discover what really happened—or, rather, what didn't happen—to Chen...or, more precisely, what he didn't allow to happen. And Fleur's bloody but unbowed reaction to her realization—and Chen's own realization of the great love he has spurned—leads to an ending that, I think, can rank proudly alongside another great Asian ghost story, Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu (1953), in its genuinely haunting evocation of deep personal loss intertwined with an alternately uplifting yet tragic sense of people moving on from said loss, whatever the cost to others.

And really, who else in '80s Hong Kong popular culture, at least, could portray "bloody but unbowed" better than Anita Mui? At the time, perhaps, one would not have thought that Mui had it in her to play an essentially submissive character, at least on the basis of the flamboyantly sensual persona she cultivated as a pop-music superstar. Yet here she is in Rouge, exuding all sorts of delicately shaded yearning while nevertheless maintaining an inner strength that ultimately gives her the power to disappear into the night, in the image above, heartbroken but with her dignity fully intact.

Rouge may not be "scary" in the sense that it jolts you out of your seat and shocks you with over-the-top sequences of gore...but, in its visual splendor (courtesy of Bill Wong's beautifully evocative and graceful cinematography) and thematic and emotional depths, it carries a far greater, longer-lasting power than any number of gory 1980s slice-and-dice flicks that caught my eye back in my formative years.

Happy Halloween!

P.S. Rouge is available from on a region-free DVD from Fortune Star.

P.P.S. As usual with most Hong Kong productions in the 1980s, Rouge features a pop song that itself became a hit. This one, sung by Mui herself, is particularly lovely (it plays at the end of the film):

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Link for the Day: A Look Inside My Place of Employment!

NEW YORK—If any of you are curious as to what the interiors of the office at which I work look like...well, look no further!

Photo credit: Albert Vecerka/ESTO

Last week, one of my co-workers showed me this article from a recent issue of the magazine Architectural Record, which evaluated the architectural worth of the design of the Dow Jones offices in the News Corp. building located in midtown Manhattan. I'm not as up on architecture in general as I should be (this despite all the time I spent reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead when I was in high school, LOL), so the article itself is of interest to me personally only insofar as it offers a fresh way of looking at the environment in which I work five days a week.

For the most part, though: Look at the pictures! That's where I work! Isn't it cool (imagine me saying that with John Travolta/Broken Arrow inflections)? Doesn't it remind you, at least in part, of 2001: A Space Odyssey with a pinch of Blade Runner?

(By the way: I posted this last week on my Facebook wall and my Twitter feed, so this is probably old news for those who follow me on both social-media platforms. But I meant to post the link on this blog as well, and am only now getting around to sharing it with the rest of world. 'Cause I'm sure there are some people out there who don't go on either Facebook or Twitter. Wherever they are...well, here you go.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

On the Verge of Cracking Open: David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990)


Last year, I impulsively blind-bought a copy of the complete Twin Peaks "Definitive Gold Box Edition" DVD set, mostly because it was on sale for about half its MSRP. Until my Yellowstone/Grand Teton vacation at the end of August this year, though, I had only watched the first four episodes, including the 90-minute pilot, over the span of, oh, maybe a year? So, considering that I was going to be stuck with the rest of my family in a vehicle for days to go back and forth, I decided to see as much of the rest of the series as possible in the oceans of free time I had.

I'm still not quite done with the series yet (as of last night, when internet-connectivity troubles led me to watch its 27th episode, I'm three episodes and a feature film away from being finished with Twin Peaks in general). My point in bringing up Twin Peaks, though, is that the series—or, at least, one characteristic of the series, one that could be considered a characteristic of David Lynch's style in general—kept popping up in my head as I saw, for the first time ever, his still-divisive 1990 film Wild at Heart at a special 20th-anniversary screening at IFC Center last Monday evening (Barry Gifford, the author of the book on which Lynch based his film, was in attendance).

Wild at Heart was released in between the first and second seasons of Twin Peaks, so for many audience members, this was their first exposure to Lynch's sensibility freed from network-television taste standards. An acquaintance on Twitter recounted to me his experience seeing the film on opening night: According to him, many audience members walked out right after its opening scene, in which Sailor (Nicolas Cage) beats Bob Ray Lemon (Gregg Dandridge) to death in gruesomely extended fashion.

There were no walk-outs at the screening I attended, but there were snatches of laughter as Lynch forced us to witness Sailor beating his victim past any point of rational moral boundaries. At first shocking, the sequence becomes horrific and then somehow becomes oddly comic, especially once Sailor collects himself, assumes his Elvis Presley-like pose again and points menacingly at Lula's mother Marietta (Diane Ladd), who may or may not have ordered the hit in the first place.

Are we meant to take his outburst of violence seriously, or does Lynch—as Roger Ebert, for one, claimed in his dismissal of the film—deliberately defuse its horror for the sake of "parody"? I would submit that perhaps this lack of a sure emotional response is precisely the point; in Lynch's singular cinematic universe, comedy and horror often intermingle in ways that can confuse the hell out of all of us.

Twin Peaks certainly demonstrated this, time and again, in many ways. For now, I'll zero in on one moment I remember most vividly off the top of my head.

[SPOILER ALERT for those who have not yet watched or heard anything about Twin Peaks or Wild at Heart]

The series's 16th episode—the one that follows the horrifying revelation that Laura Palmer's father, Leland, under the influence of a mysterious force named Bob, was behind his daughter's murder—features a scene that encapsulates this emotionally complicated approach. (I realize that the episode wasn't technically written or directed by Lynch; this particular episode was written by Scott Frost and directed by Caleb Deschanel. But Lynch's intuitive, emotionally generous, exuberantly surreal sensibility is never too far behind even when other hands are conceiving and directing individual episodes.)

Throughout the second season up until this point, we have seen Leland (Ray Wise) every once in a while randomly break out into bizarre song-and/or-dance numbers, in a seemingly overcompensating attempt to convince everyone that he is actually adjusting to life without his precious daughter better than he actually is. But now that we have gotten an idea of the real source of Leland's strange outbursts, his latest, and scariest, iteration of this strange tendency is infused with an extra sense of menace.

But there is also a dark sense of humor to the scene, emphasized by composer Angelo Badalamenti's layering of reverberation-heavy big-band music atop familiarly foreboding low-register synthesizer chords—a moment of musical scoring that is almost Charles Ives-ian in its impact. It's as if the music, all by itself, invites us to ask: Do we laugh at the absurdity of Leland's actions, or do we gasp in horror at the depths of depravity that said absurdity conceals? Twin Peaks always generated a lot of its frisson from similarly bold juxtapositions of humor and disturbing drama, but rarely quite so explicitly, to the point where the laughter positively dies in your throat.

Wild at Heart swims more freely in such a brazen mixing of styles and tones. When, for instance, we see a dog walking out of a just-stuck-up bank with a human hand in its mouth (an image that recalls a similar moment in Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo), are we meant to laugh at such perversity, or be appalled? One suspects that Lynch aims to evoke both pitch-black comedy and cold-hearted awe at nature's seeming indifference to man's troubles in the space of a single shot. Or what about a climactic appearance of the Good Witch of the North to Sailor in a near-death vision? The moment—surprising but carefully prepared for—gets one of the film's biggest laughs, but on an emotional level, it seems, in light of what the experience inspires the character to do at the end, meant to be taken at least somewhat seriously?

Screengrab courtesy of DVD Beaver
If nothing else, the whole film could be seen as an "is-David Lynch-serious-or-isn't-he" balancing act. On its surface, the film seems populated with wacky grotesques, all encouraged by Lynch to push the limits of caricature. Lula's overcontrolling matriarch, Marietta, is a case in point; Lynch has encouraged Diane Ladd to overly stylize her character's selfishness and malevolence so that her villainy, rather than any sense of inner good intentions, comes off as mostly cartoonish rather than threatening. (If the film's occasional Wizard of Oz invocations are any indication, Marietta could be seen as its Wicked Witch of the West.)

But it's not just the film's gallery of colorful supporting characters that get in on the act. As Sailor and Lula, Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern play their lovestruck characters in an outsize manner—with Cage, especially, pushing the Elvis Presley mannerisms to the edge of self-parody—that might initially strike some viewers as merely condescending. Are these actors inviting us to mock the characters they're playing? And yet, even as some of the ways they express their love for each other might seem comical at first, underlying it all is a genuine devotion to each other, one that Cage and Dern, for all their (no doubt director-encouraged) overplaying, manage to convey with a soulfulness that peeks through the exaggerations. For Sailor and Lula, the ground underneath them seems to constantly be on the verge of cracking open, as their love is severely tested by one obstacle after another; just as their place in this cold, cruel world seems to be perpetually in doubt, so does Lynch mirror that sense of constant unease in the way he plays around with style and tone in this film. (The title, in that respect, is completely apt.)

And yet, Sailor and Lula somehow manage to persevere despite it all...and it is in the film's final 10 minutes that Lynch reveals the deeply romantic heart that has been beating underneath this danger-fraught picaresque. The end credits play over Sailor and Lula standing atop Lula's car, with Sailor crooning "Love Me Tender" as the camera does a slow, intoxicating circular pan around them. Silly? Sure. But, to this viewer at least, it's also blissfully touching and, above all, completely earned after all the crap they've gone through in the course of the film.

When it comes to David Lynch—not only in Wild at Heart, but arguably more pronounced in experimental recent features like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, where scenes of sometimes nutty humor coexist with images of startlingly intense psychological terror—we often find ourselves laughing so we don't have to cry, whether in rapturous joy or infinite sadness. Far from being sophomoric, though, such complex emotional responses strike me as a healthy response to life's inevitable ups-and-downs. Without a sense of humor, however twisted, perhaps we'd all go insane.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Boxing the World Away


Well, hey, which bored-with-his-current-line-of-work wannabe film journalist wouldn't jump at the chance to interview legendary documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman? That was my line of thinking when the opportunity to do so pretty much fell into my lap last week, and that is the basis for my latest contribution to The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog, posted today on the heels of the release, starting tomorrow at IFC Center, of his latest film, Boxing Gym (2010). Putting aside my slight dissatisfaction with the way this came out (mostly because I don't think I asked very interesting questions to begin with), I hope that a) you do go see this movie, which, as I noted here, was one of my favorite films of this year's New York Film Festival; and b) this piece sheds some kind of extra light on the film and the process behind making it.

P.S. As far as Frederick Wiseman films go, I've really only seen three of them: this one; his previous film, La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (2009), which I reviewed on this blog here; and High School (1968). (Alas, so far I've completely missed out on the Museum of Modern Art's ongoing Wiseman retrospective; there are two more months of it left, though, so maybe I'll try to fit in one or two more before the series ends.) On the basis of those films, though, and on the basis of this phone interview with him, I am starting to wonder if Wiseman isn't, after all, the documentary filmmaker of my dreams. As he himself said, no, his films are not necessarily objective—no work of journalism is, really, however much that may be the aim. But they are far more observational and fair-minded than seems to be the norm in documentaries these days, with blatant agenda-driven filmmaking (anything by Michael Moore, for instance; or even Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, to a certain extent) and "is-it-real-or-is-it-fake" stunts (Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop, Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman's Catfish) seemingly hogging all the attention. Wiseman may not judge other documentary filmmakers based on their approaches, and I myself try not to...but I have to say, given the choice between Wiseman's humane exploration and Moore's near-bullying (if sometimes genuinely thought-provoking) partisanship, I know instinctively which approach I personally prefer. But that could just be the journalism student in me speaking.

In any case, I look forward to seeing more of his work, in one capacity or another.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Great Moment in Joke Candidacies: The Rent is Too Damn High

NEW YORK—New Yorkers have probably been buzzing about this all night and all morning long; still, this is just too good (read: too hilarious) not to share with the rest of the country.

From last night's New York gubernatorial debate, one of the great moments in recent joke-candidacy history, courtesy of Jimmy McMillan, stealing the show, George Clinton-esque facial hair and all, as the candidate for the Rent Is Too Damn High party:

Well, hey, for many New Yorkers, rent is too damn high. He speaks truth!!!

What else is too damn high? Student-loan debt? Credit-card debt? Movie-ticket prices? The possibilities for joke political candidacies in this mold are endless!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Spontaneous Combustion...of Fun in New York

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—One thing about living in New York that I'm really enjoying so far is that I find it easier to plan my days—my weekends, especially—in a far more spontaneous manner than I was able to do having to commute back and forth to central New Jersey.

Every time I came into New York on a weekend while still living in East Brunswick, I always felt a need to immaculately plan beforehand: what I was doing, where I needed to go, when I needed to get to certain places, and (perhaps most importantly) when I needed to leave in order to be able to get back home. Sure, there was always a bit of room to maneuver even within such a carefully worked-out schedule...but most of the time I always felt constraints hanging over my head preventing me from being able to fully enjoy everything the city had to offer.

It's a different ballgame for me now as a New York resident...and this weekend was a case in point.

At the beginning of the day, my Friday looked to be a fairly humdrum one: one trip to the movies in the works, but otherwise not much else in the way of friendly gathering or even flat-out partying. But then, that morning, an old friend from East Brunswick posted a status update on Facebook alerting her friends that she would be at a bar in the Meatpacking District to celebrate her (super-belated) 25th birthday, and I decided it would be nice to make some time to reconnect with her there. And later in the day, thanks to a friendship I had struck up recently with someone who works at Brooklyn Academy of Music, I found myself in possession of a free ticket to a performance at BAM that evening of a new opera by composer Evan Ziporyn entitled A House in Bali. If I wasn't living in New York, there was probably no way I could have attended that House in Bali performance on such short notice. (The opera is fascinating musically, a bit less electrifying literally, but overall totally worth my time.)

In short, a quiet, sober Friday night suddenly turned into a far more wide-ranging, adventurous (and fairly drunken) one. Oh, and thanks to the free ticket as well as a couple of people at the birthday party being nice enough to pick up my tab on the drinks I consumed, I ended up spending only about $17 that evening ($7 of which was spent on a ticket to see Olivier Assayas's wonderful 1991 feature Paris at Dawn, also at BAM).

It was a similar story on Saturday. After a thrilling double-bill of Rififi (1955) and Touchez pas au grisbi (1954)—both of which I had never seen before, at least in full—at Film Forum, I met up with a friend at a bar on 28th and 7th, and we ended up going up to Central Park to check out the new Tavern on the Green, now reconfigured as a more modest visitor center and food court. Then, during our dinner, my friend mentioned a place even further uptown that served good dessert, and so we ended up spending some time there as well (I gorged on gelato and a piece of super-chocolate cake). Everything that happened after the two films was planned on-the-fly. And whereas, as a New Jersey resident, I probably would have been careful not to spend so much money on subway fare, now that I finally have a reason to purchase an unlimited MTA fare card, I feel free to explore all over the city with abandon. (I spent a bit more money on food than I had hoped on Saturday, but I think the $6 I spent on that double feature made up for things at least a bit.)

Earlier this year, when I was still deciding whether to take the plunge and finally move to New York, a co-worker of mine said to me, "You of all people need to be here." Boy, how right he was. The possibilities, the convenience, the seemingly endless sense of discovery: Maybe one day, my romance with New York City will end...but for now, we're still in the honeymoon phase, as far as I'm concerned.

P.S. Perhaps later in the week, I will find time to say more about the films I watched this weekend. For now, though...I have a phone interview with legendary documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman to prepare for later today.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Living In—and For—the City: My First Month in New York


The doors to my apartment building, on the left
It's been a little over a month since I moved into my new apartment here in Crown Heights, and thankfully, I have survived that first month with my well-being fully intact.

I say "thankfully" because, for a day or so after I officially moved all my stuff into the apartment, I suddenly found myself seriously questioning my decision to live in this particular neighborhood. That brief bout of self-doubt came as the result of a message I received from a friend of mine on Facebook after I officially changed my location on my profile to "Crown Heights, NY"; in that message, she not only informed me that she had just recently moved out of the area after two years, but also proceeded to recount horror stories about things that she witnessed or heard about: people being robbed and mugged; young kids shooting guns in the air, etc.

A synagogue at the intersection of the Eastern Parkway and Kingston Avenue
For a couple of days, this Facebook message positively haunted me. I was fully aware of the racially charged riots that took place between the black and Jewish communities in Crown Heights in 1991 before I looked at the apartment in which I now reside, so I certainly had my misgivings from the outset. But then, on a sunny Friday evening in August, I and one of two potential apartment-mates met with the resident who had put up the listing in the first place (she was still going to be living there, but she needed to fill the three other rooms in the four-bedroom apartment, since the rest of them were moving on); sat in the park right across the street; talked to one or two of the residents in the building next door; and in general found myself liking what I saw and heard. I mean, it's across from a park, I reasoned to myself. There are lots of families here. Surely it can't be that bad. And then, when that one potential suite-mate dropped out of the apartment hunt and the other took a look at the apartment on his own, he came to the same positive conclusions. If two people like this same potential living space so much, I reasoned, then there must be something special about it... (Did I mention the $700-a-month rent?) 

But then, with this friend's Facebook warning, I began to second-guess myself: Was I naive in making such assumptions? Did I fail to do enough research before agreeing to this? For about a day afterward, I obsessively searched for information about living in Crown Heights on Google, and I was not encouraged by much of what I read. Based on various online forums and articles I encountered, Crown Heights seemed to be placing fairly low in "safe-to-walk-at-night" rankings (right alongside its neighbor to the north, Bedford-Stuyvesant, in that regard), and some of these respondents openly expressed disbelief that people would even think about living in the area. What had I gotten myself into? was the question that kept ringing my head that day, and the feeling in my heart was heavy.

Walking down Kingston Avenue
As you can see,'s been a little over a month, and I'm still alive and kicking. I keep to myself while walking home from the subway, I don't carelessly flash money and valuables around, and I certainly don't try to invite trouble by associating with shady-looking people I might see on the street. That is not to say that trouble might not present itself to me in the next 11 months living in this area...but I mean, what can I do now, right? The only thing I can do is be careful, or at least as careful as I usually am when walking on any city street at night.

My room. Purty, ain't it?'s all a part of living on one's own, isn't it? Handling such troubles, or potential troubles, by yourself? So far, I really am enjoying this whole living-on-my-own thing: making my own decisions on finances, doing my own grocery shopping and laundry, and the like. It's been years since I've felt this kind of liberating independence. Even at Rutgers for my undergraduate-college years, I still felt like I was on training wheels, so to speak; my parents were paying most of my tuition, and I was so close to home that I often found myself just going home most weekends. Well, for the most part, the training wheels are off here in Brooklyn, and I'm flying solo: no parents paying rent for me, no close proximity to home (though admittedly, home still isn't that far away). For once, I find myself perilously close to feeling like a real adult!

And I don't think I'm doing too badly for myself so far. Sure, I probably spent far more money last month than I should have...but I figured I'd be spending a lot in my first month getting whatever supplies I needed to help settle myself in, and that, starting next month, I'd make a stronger effort to budget myself as much as possible. Because of my desire to save as much as I can, I've been less intense about keeping up my usually rabid moviewatching habits on weekends; I have errands I need to take care of every weekend, so if such sacrifices have to be made, I will make them.

That said, I'd like to think I haven't completely cut myself off of high—and low—culture here in New York because of my newfound frugality. My first Friday night as a New York resident, for instance, found me at, in this order: a housewarming party thrown by the residents on the first floor of my apartment building; a horror-movie-themed bar in Park Slope witnessing two pole dancers gyrating while I knocked down a mug of beer with a fellow film critic; and then, also in Park Slope, the birthday party of a friend of one of my roommates', at which I knocked down more alcohol and got fairly buzzed from the experience.

On the higher end of the cultural scale, however, I did visit Brooklyn's Light Industry for the first time ever to see a couple of little-seen Maysles Brothers documentary shorts (one about IBM, the other about Truman Capote and In Cold Blood); and a couple days later—pretty much on a whim, actually—I finally witnessed a very fine live performance of Gustav Mahler's majestic Sixth Symphony, with Alan Gilbert directing the New York Philharmonic, at Lincoln Center. (Thanks to a membership to the Gustav Mahler Society of New York that I had completely forgotten I had, I was able to save quite a bit on rear-orchestra seats.)

Oh, and now that I don't have to worry about getting picked up by family members every night to get home, I can stay out late even on weekdays if I wanted to do so! And I've taken advantage of that. Just last night, I decided to go check out Michael Mann's 1981 debut feature Thief at Film Forum—playing as part of the theater's "Heist" series—at an 8:30 p.m. screening after work; I probably wouldn't have even bothered to try to see such a late show if I was still living at home in central New Jersey. (It was totally worth the time, too. Judging by the film, Mann had mostly solidified his vision in his creative game; the seeds for his 2006 Miami Vice, with its swooning romantic fatalism, were planted way in advance.)

The fact that I now live close enough to be able to take advantage of all the New York City has to offer culturally is enough for me to conclude that I made the right choice in moving...whatever dangers my neighborhood may pose.


Oh, and also, there's this:

To my surprise, my mother—who had been skeptical of my decision to move from the outset—has not been calling me constantly to see how I'm doing. In fact, she's done the opposite: She has embraced email and (to a lesser extent) text messages, and is keeping in touch with me electronically, sending me about one email a week to keep in touch.

In one of her more recent emails, she dropped these lines:

I miss you. I have learned to let you kids go for you to grow [emphasis mine]. I hope you eat your 3 meals properly. It is important to respect your body. I know you are learning to do so. Hope everything is going smoothly with you. God bless you.

I have to admit, I felt a sense of vindication at reading that, at least for the moment. That is exactly what I've been trying to get her to understand.

That said: Sorry, Mom, but I have a feeling that saving $500 a month, as you (constructively) challenge me to do, might be near-impossible right now considering my salary...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New York Film Festival 2010: It's a Wrap!


And with this wrap-up with my two estimable House Next Door partners-in-crime Aaron Cutler and Elise Nakhnikian, my New York Film Festival 2010 experience comes to an end. I think my contributions to the piece constitute a serviceable summary of what I observed and marveled at during the festival, so I'll let that speak for itself.

I may try to add brief thoughts on other films at the festival that I didn't cover for The House here on this blog; we'll see if that comes to pass. For now, the only thing I'll say is: Naturally, I'm already chomping at the bit to do something like this all over again—possibly even earlier than next year's New York Film Festival. (Maybe next year I'll try to subject myself to the super-intense Toronto International Film Festival experience, as I was originally intending to do this year?) For at least two full weeks of the recently completed four-week festival-screening cycle, it felt liberating being among fellow cinephiles, sharing our enthusiasm for the latest and brightest in this great art form; the sense of camaraderie over the course of those weeks was quite intoxicating. Seeing great (or even not-so-great) films and interacting on a daily basis with fine people: I certainly wouldn't mind, you know, doing something like this on a regular basis!

But now, back to reality...

New York Film Festival 2010: The Hole (2009)


Well, it looks like I found time to write about Joe Dante's entertaining 3D horror adventure The Hole after all! It ain't a great film, and the 3D doesn't exactly add anything in particular to the experience. Nevertheless, it's good, clean fun—and, at times, it's genuinely menacing. Read my fuller thoughts here...if you dare!

Monday, October 11, 2010

An Attempt at Workplace Humor, Courtesy of Yours Truly

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—The following exchange took place today on the sixth floor of the News Corp. building between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m

Is it Thursday yet? [Side note: Thursday is her last day of the work week—as is mine]

Sorry, it isn't.

Is it close to Thursday yet?

Depends on what you mean by 'close.' If you just go by how many days it is 'til Thursday, then yeah, it's pretty close. But if you go by how many hours it is 'til it officially becomes Thursday...then that might seem like a really long time.

Well, my boss cracked a smile at that, at least...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New York Film Festival 2010: Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)


Unless I miraculously find enough time tomorrow to bang out a full-length review of the feature I saw last night, Joe Dante's new 3D film The Hole (2009), my review of Chilean-born filmmaker Raúl Ruiz's latest film, Mysteries of Lisbon (2010), will most likely be my final New York Film Festival review for The House Next Door (with closing remarks still to come). It's a beauty—the film, of course, not my review. (Although, if you think my review is beautifully written, then, you know, I won't complain...)

The Hole, by the way, is reasonably enjoyable in a refreshing old-school suspense-horror way, and it makes decent use of the now ubiquitous 3D technology—not surprising, given that Dante made the film expressly for 3D in the first place. Plus, as has been evident in previous films like, say, his "It's a Good Life" segment from Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), he does seem to have a knack for accurately depicting how kids and young adults interact with each other.

Overall, it's a fun little flick. Whether I'll offer up any more words on it, we shall see...

Saturday, October 09, 2010

New York Film Festival 2010: Old Cats (2010)


Old Cats may not be much as cinema, but its clear-eyed, empathetic understanding of the agonies of aging and the frustrations of familial relations is nevertheless worth noting and celebrating.

That's the clincher I wrote for my latest New York Film Festival post at The House Next Door, a review of Old Cats (2010), a Chilean comedy-drama that overcomes its general lack of compelling cinematic qualities to become oddly moving. By all means, read the rest of my review...but that line basically summarizes my overall reaction to the film, which is, I think, worth seeing.

Second-to-last (I think) blog post at The House, methinks...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

New York Film Festival 2010: Meek's Cutoff (2010)


My latest New York Film Festival dispatch for The House Next Door is a review of Kelly Reichardt's latest film, Meek's Cutoff—and it is by far the longest thing I've written so far about any film I've seen at the festival. I wish all of that length was put in the service of saying how awesome I think the film is...but, alas, I can't quite join in the chorus of praise with which the film has been showered, especially ever since it was voted as the best film of this year's Toronto International Film Festival in an indieWire poll last month. I hope the review gives you all a good indication of where I'm coming from in my skepticism—and, of course, I welcome responses anyone might have to the points I raise.

By the way: In case any of you didn't know, I am in the home stretch of New York Film Festival coverage. The press-screening cycle comes to a close tomorrow (the festival proper ends Sunday night with Clint Eastwood's Hereafter), and I have three or four dispatches left to file for The House. And that is that; concluding remarks about the experience as a whole to come after the festival is officially over. Short version, for now: If only I could do this kind of thing on a regular basis!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Image for the Day: The "Autumn Is Here" Edition


Just because it finally actually feels autumn (last week, despite it being officially autumn, there were days that felt as humid and muggy as a regular summer day), and the first thing that popped into my mind when thinking about autumn was the beautifully resigned final shot of Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949). There's not only a literal chill in the air in that shot, but a human one—fitting for a noir about the depths of human evil and the wreckage that lies in its wake.

I just hope I don't experience such a chill this fall!

Monday, October 04, 2010

New York Film Festival 2010: Ruhr (2009)


I had never seen a film by avant-garde filmmaking legend James Benning until seeing his latest film, Ruhr (2009), on Friday night as part of the New York Film Festival's Views from the Avant Garde sidebar (which ran from Thursday to Sunday, I believe). I fell so much in love with the film that I decided, after some initial reluctance, to offer a few words about it as part of The House Next Door's ongoing NYFF coverage. So here it is.

I do hope this gets some kind of theatrical release in the near future; it's that damn good. In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting an opportunity to acquaint myself with Benning's previous work; if they're half as enlightening and beautiful as Ruhr, then he may well be on his way to taking a place in the pantheon of filmmakers important to me personally.

Friday, October 01, 2010

New York Film Festival 2010: Inside Job (2010)


And not soon after I put my "catch-up" New York Film Festival post here at my blog, my review of Charles Ferguson's excellent new documentary Inside Job goes up at The House Next Door. If nothing else, if any of you needed a clear, easily comprehensible explanation of what those blasted credit-default swaps and collateralized-debt obligations are, you will find it in this film.

New York Film Festival 2010: Playing Catch-up

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—My apologies, readers; I've gotten so bogged down with New York Film Festival stuff (in addition to a few socializing detours) that I haven't been able to find time to update My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second...until now.

So, as my way of catching up, here are a few links to recent New York Film Festival dispatches published at The House Next Door:

Film Socialism: review here
Aurora: review here
Black Venus and Post Mortem: reviews here

Not included among these links are reviews of my two favorite films of the festival so far, Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. I caught up with both after I was forced to miss their respective press screenings Tuesday of last week; Kiarostami's film I caught at a smaller press screening on Monday night, Apichatpong's at its public screening on Saturday.

That was a fun experience, by the way, watching Uncle Boonmee at that public screening. First of all, I was able to score $10 rush tickets, half the price of a regular-admission ticket; even better, I got a seat all the way in the first row of the Alice Tully Hall auditorium! (Some people don't like sitting all the way in the front, but generally I don't mind; in this case, it allowed me to be better able to completely immerse myself in Apichatpong's wondrously surreal imagery and bask in its amazingly evocative sound design. I felt like I was staring up at an IMAX movie in complete awe.) And secondly: Apichatpong was there to discuss the film with film critic Melissa Anderson. I was so enthralled by the experience that, after the Q&A was over, I went up to him on the stage and asked for an autograph.

He obliged! Thus...

Maybe someday this will become very valuable? (I would have taken a photograph of him, but I didn't have my camera on me, and the camera on my cellphone doesn't seem to have the ability to turn off the flash.)

Anyway, I hope to write about both Uncle Boonmee and especially Certified Copy—an intellectually dense yet deeply moving achievement—in the near future. (Those two, Manoel de Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelica and Olivier Assayas's Carlos would probably constitute the highlights of my festival experience so far.) In the meantime: Tonight I will finally be introducing myself to the work of avant-garde filmmaker James Benning through his latest work, Ruhr, playing in a program of its own at the festival's Views from the Avant-Garde series going on throughout this weekend. It's about time I delved more deeply into experimental cinema, methinks!