Monday, March 31, 2014

kinda like being there: Cheap Thrills @ Cinema Village w/ Pat Healy q & a, March 29, 2014

Cheap Thrills was screened at Cinema Village in Manhattan this weekend with introductions and q & a’s with Pat Healy. At this screening, he rushed into the theater to make a few quick remarks just as the theater lights had dimmed. Appropriate, perhaps, as Healy had previously left an indelible mark of unease on viewers in a nearly 80% off screen performance as the discomfiting caller in Compliance.

The movie was something akin to punk rock with its no frills budget, efficient story telling, and agitating themes. It is also rather adrenalizing; a story that builds in intensity right up to its conclusion.

Healy returned to the moderately attended theater (I was heartened to see a rather larger crowd lined up for its second screening of the night) for a q & a conducted by actor Kevin Corrigan who’s been in numerous productions: Superbad, Pineapple Express, Buffalo 66 as the unforgettable ‘Rocky’ (thanks, imdb!) and most notably (if you’re me) Tom Scharpling’s video for The New Pornographers’ ‘The Moves.’

Highlights included talk of the virtues of watching the movie in a theater as opposed to at home and the film's ultra low budget shooting conditions; it was shot over the course of just 2 weeks. Healy also discussed a cathartic experience in which performance of one of the film’s more harrowing scenes released an untapped reservoir of emotional expression.

It can all be seen below. Photos courtesy of Mondocurry and Chocko. Video courtesy of Chocko.

CHEAP THRILLS continues its run at Cinema Village in Manhattan and begins its run at Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers on Friday, April 4.

A Higher Cost For Some Than Others in CHEAP THRILLS

There is an extremely high consciousness of class disparity. A regular topic of conversations both private and public is on the reality of some having an enormous amount of wealth while others have comparatively little. Unemployment is on the rise and the cost of making ends meet is as high as ever. Meanwhile, a societal appetite for entertainment has not diminished in the slightest. A segment of the population finds themselves bored with fiction as they gobble up reality based content, either produced on television or beamed directly onto the internet, in which events are more unpredictable and an often lingering possibility of dire consequences for the real participants is present.

This is the backdrop of the perhaps perfectly timed release of independent film CHEAP THRILLS.  It is a tense, focused exploration of a scenario in which the ultra rich, whose extravagant and unchallenged lifestyle leaves no source of titillation except for playing god with others, engage with those near the other end of the spectrum, for whom a job means the difference between providing a home for one’s family or not. The result is a brash, darkly humorous, and riveting tall tale that takes place in a 24 hour span of time with an intensity that rarely lets up.

The protagonist Craig, played by Pat Healy (the infamous caller in Compliance) is a would-be writer working in an auto service shop to support his wife and infant son. Their home is a picture of happiness that is soon disrupted when Craig finds a final eviction on the door of his family’s modest apartment and is later fired from his job. Craig stops by a bar where he happens upon an old friend, Vince, who has headed down a much different path, one which involves flirtations with the wrong side of the law as a regular part of his job. As the two forge an uneasy catching up, they are joined by an atypical couple, Colin (David Koechner) and Violet. Violet is quiet with a model-like beauty. The fedora-wearing Colin has an over the top, carnival barker like quality, with which he flaunts about a large amount of cash and a seemingly infinite generosity.

In the midst of a coke and tequila fueled exchange of pleasantries, the order of business quickly becomes offers of Colin‘s cash in exchange for the performance of juvenile tasks by Craig and Vince: “50 dollars to the first to down this shot of tequila; 200 dollars to whoever can get the girl at the bar to slap him in the face.” The setting changes to the couple‘s exotic home, the acts become increasingly outlandish, and a disturbing power struggle ensues with each participant guided by their needs and relation to one another. Craig’s sudden unemployment and Vince’s feeling of being slighted by yet mentally tougher than Craig factor into the course of things.  

Even without the socioeconomic context, the story is crafted skillfully with well-placed reveals about the true nature of some characters, and the past relationship of others. Visual details are also purposefully left out only to pack an extremely potent punch when they are shown.  While the dares, or challenges, that are front and center in the story hold a shock value both humorous and repulsive, they are always connected back to the relationship between Craig and Vince. The dynamic between them is more complex than it first appears. These are not static characters, and it is a huge credit to Healy for guiding us through the shifts in Craig’s psyche with such an adept physical performance.

The film ends with a moment of pause worthy and potentially anger inducing imagery. It’s rife with meaning without pointing fingers or explicitly pushing an agenda. CHEAP THRILLS reflects the current social condition by simply telling a great, and yes often times outrageous, story. That’s definitely more than a little thrilling.

CHEAP THRILLS continues its run at Cinema Village in Manhattan and begins its run at Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers on Friday, April 4.

Me on twitter = @mondocurry

Jerry Lewis on David Susskind's Open End (1965)

Back in 1965 Jerry Lewis sat down with producer and talk show host David Susskind. According to the packaging the interview occurred after both were suffering from some professional setbacks, Lewis’s TV show had failed and Susskind's brand of anthology shows weren't being watched. The interview occurred as part of Susskind’s legendary Open End program.

The David Susskind show was always considered one of the high point of TV interview programs. Susskind’s interview stayed away from fluff, except when he aimed for fluff, and always got to the heart of the matter being discussed or to the soul of the interviewer. Susskind always knew his subject and always knew the right questions to ask. If you went on Susskind’s show you were going to be asked thoughtful intelligent questions of a sort that no one is doing these days. Any interview done by Susskind was at least worth trying simply because you weren’t going to get the same old same old.

I am not a Jerry Lewis fan. I can admire much of what he does, but I don’t always like it. The silly stupidity of his humor wears thin quickly for me. On the other hand the stories of his battles with former partner Dean Martin and his trips through Hollywood have fascinated me. More simply put I find the man himself more interesting than his work.

The DVD of Susskind’s interview with Lewis is a two part affair running about 100 minutes. Not really a discussion of Lewis’s films the interview instead focuses in the man, his life, family, beliefs, and his working methods. It’s a look into the mind of a man who has unfairly become a kind of a joke.

For me the interview is a revelation. Lewis the wild man of comedy is found to be a deadly serious man who knows what he wants and what he believes. He lays out his life story and his feelings with a strangely cold precision that is both inviting and a bit off putting. It’s clear that there is a mind behind the madness. At the same time listening to Lewis talk about refusing to let anyone dance with his wife is kind of scary. I like that Lewis is aware of his foibles and can explain them. I also like that Lewis aware of his changing attitudes as revealed by his views on religion.

This is a super talk, it’s the exact opposite of pretty much every interview you’ll have seen in the last 20 years where people try to be up, flashy, light and engaging. Instead this is just two guys sitting in chairs and talking. They aren’t superficial, they really talk about things on a deeper level than anyone would dare to now. I mean would anyone openly talk about their prejudices today?

This is a great disc. While you may not wan to own it it is something that is worth renting or streaming.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

20,000 Days on Earth (2014) New Directors New Films 2014

I may be one of the few Nick Cave fans who doesn't particularly enjoy 20,000 Days on Earth. On its surface, I should enjoy this film by directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard since it's beautifully lensed and combines a number of elements I like: it's about music, it's about myth-making, it's about creative impulses, it's about its own construction, it's about the persona/person split, it's about songwriting and prose writing, it's about Nick Cave. And yet watching it, I felt alternating moments of hot and cold, getting hooked by some scenes while feeling distanced by others; in other words, I don't like the album 20,000 Days on Earth, but boy does it have some great tracks on it.

The film blends fiction and reality as it chronicles the 20,000th day in the life of Nick Cave, the legendary frontman of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and the earlier spastic post-punk outfit The Birthday Party. (It's multiple days on earth, not just in-real-life given the time required for production, but even in the-reality-of-the-film since Forsyth and Pollard use concert footage, studio footage, and rehearsal footage as flashbacks.) Nick Cave is both character and caricature; this is a profile about Nick Cave and the idea of Nick Cave. As David Foster Wallace wrote about John McCain in the piece “Up, Simba” (aka the book McCain's Promise), “profile” is a pretty good word for this: “one side, exterior, split and diffracted by so many lenses there's way more than one man to see.” There's the idea of the rock star life and also the guy in the studio who has to record the music, there's the serious writer at his typewriter and the pizza-lovin' family man with his pizza-lovin' kids, there's the thoughtful artist engaged in essential solitude and the demigod who pulls all attention to his being on the stage; and there's the interior life of Nick Cave (both person and persona) expressed in voiceover, covering his thoughts on the writing process, counterpoints in songcraft and lyrics, and the creation of fictional worlds and fictional people to populate them. The second shot in the entire film seems to encapsulate this notion of the multi-faceted individual: it's a recreation of a shot from The Man Who Fell to Earth in which David Bowie (on the note of the person/persona split) looks at himself in various bathroom mirrors.

When a song hits you, it hits you in ways that sometimes go beyond language, which is what happened at times with 20,000 Days on Earth. Seeing Nick Cave on stage commanding a crowd is great, with his little pomp and little strut, the badass persona in full effect. The same goes for a performance of “Higgs Boson Blues” with the rest of the Bad Seeds, in which something that feels organic and intuitive unfolds on screen as Cave prompts sudden surges in volume and intensity from his fellow musicians. Even chunks of Cave's narration early on when he's talking about his creative process hold an intriguing power to them, like when he's punching away at his typewriter and describing his method of storytelling, which serves as a kind of meta-commentary on the way the film presents its material.

The coldest parts of 20,000 Days on Earth are the ones that feel the most calculated. On his 20,000th day, Nick Cave drives to his therapist, who's actually a music journalist rather than a therapist. What Cave talks about is fascinating (an enduring early sexual memory, his dad), yet the presentation is less like therapy and more like an interview. Add to that the adoring smile on therapist's face, as if he's less a helper and more of a fan or hanger-on, and that whole section of the film feels like unintentional hagiography. The same goes for a trip to the fictional Nick Cave Archive, which is like a library special collection for the oddments of his career. It's a funny idea for a bit, but then it becomes hagiographic in a way I found grating, self-satisfied, and even self-absorbed (i.e., the Malkovich-in-his-own-head moment from Being John Malkovich). I'm pretty sure it was meant to be more amusing and playful. And then Nick Cave's voiceover becomes overbearing, stating the obvious or pretentious or overwrought rather than the profound; worse, it often states too much when the film says far more and says it much better without the text. This is particularly true of a sequence that closes the film. The experience of the music and the imagery is far more meaningful than the closing words (or any closing words).

I think my aversion to part of the film has a lot to do with what feels intuitive vs. what feels calculated. In her review of Carlos Saura's The Garden of Delights, Pauline Kael noted a distinction between “instinctive Surrealists” and “academic Surrealists.” Instinctive Surrealists present images from “the hidden and unadmitted” whereas academic Surrealists present images that are “impeccably planned to be 'surreal.'” Kael adds: “When [Saura] brings a pig into a house, it's not something dirty being released from the unconscious, it's an emblem and an homage. We are not shocked by Saura's academic surrealism, we 'appreciate' it.” In 20,000 Days on Earth, there seems to be an intuitive hybridity and an academic hybridity. I'm on fire for the intuitive hybridity (i.e., the scenes that are artificial but feel real) and icy about the academic hybridity (i.e., the scenes that are calculated and feel calculated through and through).

There are two sequences that exemplify this intuitive/academic split, and they're both about the same topic: Nina Simone's stage persona/stage presence. On the academic side, Nick Cave tells his fawning therapist about Nina Simone on stage. What he says is interesting, but how it's presented made me less intrigued. On the intuitive side, Nick Cave is having lunch with bandmate Warren Ellis, and Ellis describes exactly what Cave talked about. This scene with Ellis comes after the scene with the therapist, but even knowing the story, it feels more alive here, more organic, more like an intuitive bit of hybridity that reveals some essential and as-yet unseen facet of Nick Cave via Warren Ellis via a story about Nina Simone. Ellis then goes on to talk about Jerry Lee Lewis taking the stage, and the enthusiasm by both Ellis and Cave are barely contained. We watch them not like a studio audience, not like obvious cinematic voyeurs, but like flies on the wall or people who happened to pass by the kitchen and hung around the doorway because what we heard was fascinating. This is all such a jarring counterpoint to the staid and prim nature of the therapy scene.

I can appreciate what was attempted in those scenes of carefully planned artifice, and yet appreciation is not necessarily the same as enjoyment. It's me comprehending the thought process behind a conscious decision. But in lots of art, especially music and writing and film, it's the intuitive, spontaneous moments that grab me most--and which 20,000 Days on Earth does have--because they exist outside of being merely comprehended.

Nightcap 3/30/14-A rambling piece about why I'm not bothering with directors I've never liked

I recently saw A Field in England and was truly confused by what people saw in it.

The film is set during the English Civil War and has several people forcibly helping one to their number find a treasure. What the treasure is best left revealed in the film. The structure of the film is perhaps generously considered rambling, however it was clearly influenced by the magic mushrooms the characters eat. Yes they and we go tripping thanks to a wildly manipulated sound track and strobing visuals.

I don’t think the film adds up to much.

Then again I don’t think any of director Ben Wheatley’s films add up to much (Kill List made no sense to me even if I saw what he was getting at and Sightseers petered out in the final third when I realized there was only one way to go). I know some people feel as I do, but on the other hand I know a good many of you love Wheatley’s films because when I tweeted that I was done with him, a good number of people let me know that me giving up was good riddance to bad garbage. Apparently I wasn’t needed in the club.

That’s fine, I don’t need to be in the club. I can just save time by crossing off any future films from Wheatley off my list to see (with one exception he is doing a JG Ballard adaption which I will try since it’s Ballard). The idea of crossing directors off my list to see is somehow liberating. It wonderfully frees up a good amount of time that can be used to find films I will like. I’m using it at Tribeca where I’m skipping Kelly Reichardt’s film Night Moves because I never really warmed to her other films which I found emotionally distant to me. and with 100 other choices I’ll try something else.

Before you balk and remind me that I’m a film writer and that I should see everything, I will counter to say why should I bother with something I know I’m going to write up negatively? Worse why should I approach films where my prejudices are going to be out and unconcealed? I will not give the film a fair shake- maybe down the road I’ll try the films (say after a friend tells me it will be different this time) but until I can give them the fair shake I’m staying away. It’s kind of like not seeing a film because the hype is too great- For example I’ve been told the Hangover films are amongst the funniest ever made by so many people I won’t watch them until I can see them for themselves and not something that I think should make be die with laughter.

Truth be told I’m at a loss to explain the love many of my fellow writers have been throwing around for various films and directors of late. I keep reading reviews that make me wonder what films they saw because the wonder they feel for certain films- say at New Directors New Films where A Spell to Ward off Darkness or The Story of My Death got glowing reviews. To me they were sleep inducing bores filled with pretensions. People really liked them? I mean genuinely liked them and not pretended to like them because they could then seem to be elitist and above the multiplex?

Far be it for me to forcibly suggest what is good or bad or who should make a movie, but I really have to wander how it is that someone like Story of My Death director Albert Serra can find an so much love abroad when he’s apparently not known at all in his home country. One piece I was reading in connection to the recent screenings of Story said he has no audience at home. While great artists frequently don’t speak to the home crowd there was something about the piece that made me think it was less not knowing who he was and more they just don’t like his films. It makes me wonder why he is hailed, as I’ve seen in some reviews, as the crown jewel of his film industry when no one really sees his films.

Crown jewel? What were the other films like? How can anyone make that claim when odds are they haven’t seen more than the smallest fraction of any countries output.

Sometimes I think critics and writers give filmmakers a pass for showing some intelligence. In Story we have long philosophical discussions, but while that may increase the intelligence of the film to some degree it still doesn't mean its a good film or anything more than a glorified sleeping pill.

I know it will come back to haunt me but sometimes I wonder what planet some writers are from. I'm sure that they feel the same way about me with my championing some of the sleaze that I think is good, But for me film has to engage me emotionally which is something that some people who are too cerebral some times forget. Directors like Serra, Wheatley, Reichardt and some others I'm giving up on worry too much about making a point rather than touching a heart.

Life is to be experienced not thought about.

Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart (2013) NYICFF 2014

Mathieu Malzieu has co-directed the film version of his novel/concept album for  Luc Besson's Europa Films and the world has gotten a little more whimsical (Actually Malzieu also wrote the script, the music and in the original French version did the voice of Jack)

The plot of the film has Jack being born on the coldest day ever. Its so cold that his heart freezes and is replaced with a cuckoo clock. He will be fine if he never touches the hands, keeps an even temper and never falls in love. Unfortunately on his first day out in the world he promptly falls in love with a mysterious girl who sets his life on the path of finding her again.

Looking like a brighter Tim Burton film, this is a film with great set pieces and magical moments that occasionally seems to be missing something. Plot points are brought up and dropped,  background (Jack's love's family background) is not fully explained and things seem to not quite linked together. I got the sense that the filmmakers knew the story way too well to tell it so anyone one coming in blind would get it all. This isn't to say its a bad film, rather its to say that its a good film with great moments.

To be honest I don't see the point of reviewing the film. This is a born cult classic that people are going to either be rapturous about or not. Hell the story already has had how many reiterations?

Truth be told the English cast is great, the songs are wonderful, and the bits are great. Whats not to love.

I would like to ask, what the hell is Jack the Ripper doing in this film?

Co- Director Stephane Berla was at the screening and there was a Q&A afterward...actually after he took video of the crowd for Malzieu back home.

Berla is a charming man and he answered lots of questions, some of which I remember.

The end is what ever the viewer wants it to be.

the film took six years to make. Its all computer animated done in the style of stop motion

The references to Don Quixote were the result of one of the song's used in the French Version as well as the casting of Jean Rochefort as Georges Melies

Pictures from the Q&A can be found here

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Nightcap Extra 3/19/14: random bits

Because the night cap piece I’m putting up tomorrow doesn’t lend itself to having additional bits attached to it I’m just posting a quick piece with a couple of bits and Randi’s links

If you’re tired of Festival coverage you’ll be happy to know that this week is going to be a whole bunch of non-festival films. Some of the reviews have been kicking around a while as a result of us wading more and more in festival coverage. After the off week fortunately or unfortunately we’ll be wading back into festival coverage with some pieces on films playing Art of the Real at Lincoln Center. Our coverage is going to be a little odd because of how it all came together and some problems that were encountered along the way. After that we’ll be running three weeks of Tribeca coverage.

Our Tribeca coverage is well underway. As this posts I should be about 8 films deep into the festival. That should leave another 80 or 90 to go. We’re still working out coverage with everyone so I have no idea how many films/events ect we’ll end up with. I’ll let you know closer to time.

Just a heads up- over the last couple of weeks I’ve been watching a lot of short films many of them have been super. In the interest of highlighting the form I’m going to be running a whole month of short films as the films of the day come August. The write ups will feature films available on line or screening at festivals.

I know August is long way off but I still have about ten slots to fill. Since I tend to watch the shorts in between other things I see them in spurts. I figure I should have enough titles to fill out the month by then- if I get it done sooner I’ll run it sooner. (It’s not the run time of the film that’s the problem, the problem is that writing up short films is difficult since you don’t want to spoil the compact nature of the tale)

If you have any short suggestions let me know

And we're ending , as always with some links ala Randi
Help Catch 22 get made
A tribute to the actual Great Escape
Lost footage from Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings has surfaced
Radiolab on The War of the Worlds
On the Ecuadorian War of the Worlds that left 6 or 7 people dead
The BBC's 10 Greatest Movies Never Made
Banned Films and the Box Office

Patema Inverted (2013) NYICFF 2014

FromYasuhiro Yoshiura the director of TIme of Eve, come Patema Inverted a trippy science fiction film about the world, literally turning upside down for some people.

In the years after an experiment to harness gravity as a means of energy went horribly wrong, some people live what we would call right-side up, while other people live the opposite way and when they fall they fall up into the sky, this group has retreated into the bowels of the earth and never venture to the surface.The Surface world is a quasi-religious civilization that wants to keep things earth bound, and to eradicate the sinners who fall up. One day when Padema is exploring she falls to the surface where she meet Age, a boy who wants to fly. The meeting sets in motion a clash of worlds that will change everything

Wild crazy film messes with your sense of reality over and over as the POV shifts repeatedly so we see the world from the various characters point of view. Its brilliantly done in a way that only movies, and animated movies can do. Its a visual masterpiece that must (no really) must be seen on a big screen.

While the story of the clash of worlds has been done to death, the visuals carry the film for 99%  of the film. It doesn't hurt that the film sets up a rich world, or worlds (3 or 4 at least) that bleed off the screen and make you want to go explore in them.

If there is any flaw in the film, its the final couple of minutes which made me wonder what exactly I was seeing.

Momentary final reservations aside this is one to track down, especially if you like mind game films.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Aunt Hilda (2013) NIYCFF 2014

Jacues-Remmy Girerd the man behind the Oscar nominated The Cat in Paris, Mia and the Magoo, and Its Raining Cats and Frogs falls on his face with one of the most annoying films of the last five years, an eco-rant that will turn even the staunchest conservationist to the other side.

The plot has the evil Dolores, who runs the Doro corporation using genetics to modify plants in order to make super crops to make her fortune. When one of her scientists, and boyfriend of Hilda, discovers a super crop he backs away since he senses something is wrong. His assistant, hoping to make a name for himself finishes the project and almost destroys the world- leaving only Hilda to stop the destruction.

Beautifully animated film with a style that harkens back to the style of the 1970's and The Point, some Film Board of Canada films and the work of Australian Paul Williams, this is a great film to look at. Its a real treasure.

The problem is that environmental message is as out of control as the  plant in the film and it's more a radical screed then a narrative film. I agree with Girerd's position on the environment and modified plants, but to be perfectly honest I was ready to join the other side. This movie abused me and I felt like I was being hit over the head with a sledgehammer for its entire run time. Its clear that Girerd knows the work of Paul Williams who dealt with many environmental and social issues in his films, but where Williams could balance the story with the lecture Girerd can't. He's screaming at the top of his lungs and you turn off.

I walked out. It was too painful to watch.

I met several families after the screening on Saturday as I went in and out of the films that followed and it seemed as though the kids liked it but the parents echoed my sentiment.

If given the chance I'd skip it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Help get:Catch 22: based on the unwritten story by seanie sugrue made

Earlier today I got an email from a friend of Unseen Films asking if I’d help spread the word on an upcoming new thriller called Catch 22: based on the unwritten story by seanie sugrue. The film is using Kickstarter in order to finish up it’s financing.

Here’s what the press release said:

"Five life-long, hard-lived friends come to from a debauchery-filled day of celebration alongside an unexplained dead girl. What are friends for?'"

Catch 22: based on the unwritten story by seanie sugrue ,is a feature-length thriller that explores a number of the darker sides of the human condition - betrayal of loved ones, substance abuse and addiction, rape, murder - and ultimately whether real friendship and love takes precedence over all that life throws at you. Catch 22 is heinously dark at every step of the way, just as life can be.
Talent attached to project: Al Thompson( The Royal Tenenbaums, A Walk to Remember), Phil Burke(AMC Networks’ Hell On Wheels) and (adult film star)Charmane Star.

We have an unique Kickstarter campaign where we are approaching financing and distribution in unorthodox fashion - making the extended director's cut of the film available for pre-sale beginning March 25, 2014 via Kickstarter.

For more information on Catch 22:
Kickstarter preview:
Video lookbook (conceptual footage only, not footage for our film):
Production comany :

I only know as much as you do, however I suggest that if you can spare a little cash you throw some of it towards this production. Why? Because Lisa, who steered this Unseen’s way has been a proven track record of being associated with some truly great films. If she’s involved then the film is worth taking a look at. I’m not being facetious here there are certain PR people who tend to be associated with good things and as such anything they send me goes to the top of my pile. Lisa is one of them.

Yes I will be kicking in, just as soon as payday comes around. Do yourself a favor and get in on the ground floor and get yourself a copy of the Director’s cut while you can….and if you have more money get yourself a walk on role.

And if you can’t do it now, not to worry I will be reminding you between now and April 30 when the campaign ends.

Come on you know you want to- there’s no catch just for looking…

A few words on She's Lost Control (2014) New Directors New Films 2014

It's all about Brooke Bloom who plays Ronah, a sex surrogate working and living in New York. Bloom who is on screen the whole time gives a really good performance as young woman navigating through her life and becoming undone by one of her patients who is both a puzzle and asks pointed questions that make her rethink everything.

How you react to the film is going to depend on how you feel about the pace of the film which is very slow. We are in Ronah's head space and we see things through her eyes and her perceptions. We watch as she interacts with her clients, her boss, the people in her building and her brother. Things meander along until things begin to really (kind of) come apart  in the last third or so.

I'm going to be completely honest and say some where around the 45 minute mark I stopped caring. I loved Brooke Bloom's performance but I wasn't getting anything out of the film as a whole. The film is largely a chamber portrait of a young woman in NYC but the drama of a lot of it seems artificial, espically as it goes on. Her client John who begins to spiral her seems out of place with everyone else in the film and on a certain level the pair should have met in another film. Additionally the whole thing about the leaking pipes goes from a nice piece of NYC life to something amped up to just help turn the screws late in the game. I would have loved to have seen the film just go to the end as a slice of life with all the drama.

Probably the best way to describe it is to say despite having a great performance from Brooke Bloom that hopefully can act as a calling card, after a certain point I got bored and wanted to stop watching. Actually I tuned out and started to write about other things in my notebook.

If you want to see a great performance or like Inde chamber pieces that are forcibly about something give it ago otherwise stay away.

The film plays March 29 at Lincoln Center and March 30 at MoMA. For more information go here.

(And apropos of nothing- for some reason the film had me very aware that it meets the Bechdel test)

Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac (2014)


I’m trying to determine what Lars von Trier was getting at with his four hour (five and a half hour in its full version) Nymphomaniac. Is he making a serious film? Is it a put on? Why does he think it’s a story worth droning on about for so many hours?

For me the film, the story of a woman named Joe and her exploits, is real mixed bag. There are moments of great power mixed in with a lot of really dull and highly pretentious crap. None of it seems real with all of the characters seeing cold (well except for Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd), sets that are sets and dialog that is as obviously constructed as they come (It reminded me of some of Nicholson Baker’s trash). My overriding reaction was to laugh at the film and the thought that the film was being taken seriously by many people.

Actually I don’t think it’s being taken seriously, so much as people need to justify why they are watching a film about sex. They can’t let it be known that they were really looking for the titillation of watching celebrities get it on-even dully.

And it is dull. It’s so dull that it becomes boring. Why couldn’t have von Trier made a film about sex and never showed it? Not showing sex for four or six hours-that would have been daring.

Despite my mixed reaction to some of von Triers other films I really can’t fathom what he’s up to with this film. It plays more like a child trying to be grown up by saying dirty things rather than by the man who made Melancholia, Antichrist, Breaking the Waves or Dogville. I also have the suspicion that he thought by having tons of star he could make the film seem like it’s about more than it is.

Full disclosure I never made it all the way to the bitter end. I got so only far into the films before I started to jump forward in five minute increments in the stream (yes I paid to see this on Amazon). Somewhere in the second film I just closed out the window and went to bed. I simply didn’t care.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga (2013) New Directors New Films 2014

There was a strange thing that happened while watching Jessica Oreck's The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga. I was initially resistant to what Oreck was attempting. The film is something of a hybrid documentary, weaving images of contemporary life in Eastern Europe with a semi-animated retelling of the Baba Yaga folktale (which I first heard as a child as Joanna Cole's Bony-Legs). While filled with immaculately lensed images of the wilderness--there are some remarkable shots where reflections of trees in water and the reflected verdure are indistinguishable; or where the woods seem both majestic and menacing--Baba Yaga initially kept me at a distance even as it made its initial thesis about nature and society. The film first seemed like a formal exercise, and I was as discomfited by it as those peasants in folktales who get lost while picking mushrooms for supper.

But slowly as the film's shape emerged, I found myself wrapped up in what Oreck was doing with narrative and image. I was fine getting lost where she was going because along this ramble was a rich panoply of ideas. Baba Yaga is a wander through the woods of history, making observations on contemporary Eastern Europe and then bleeding those observations into the folktale of Baba Yaga. (The reverse is true as well, but more on that in a bit.) It's a work of cultural briolage, mixing ethnographic concerns, different narrators, different narratives, different texts, and finding in these disparate elements a broad notion of Eastern Europe in contradiction, in agreement, in collusion, in flux.

Baba Yaga starts with ideas of nature vs. society, namely how man tries to tame the fear of the unknown in nature by creating communities and towns--it's told to us in text, and then it's shown to us in these idyllic visions of agrarian life. The documentary makes an intellectual inversion partway through, revisiting the initial nature/society split. Now the reverse is true, or at least has become true--in taming nature, mankind has made a new alienating wilderness in the city, and it is here that humanity is increasingly isolated and unknowable to himself/herself. And so we go back to nature (which is history, culture, folktales, family, rituals, the past and the foundations of society) to reconnect with what is ultimately human. Later as we linger through the ruins of Pripyat (an abandoned town outside of Chernobyl), the whole notion of nature/society seems apocalyptic and yet reassuring. Humanity may ruin the world, but nature will win out in the end. But even that is too easy a read of the images, and the collision of so many ideas results in multiple meanings that can be read into sequences such as this scene in Pripyat, or another in a cemetery in the forest where all the headstones have been grown over as if they were just rocks.

This brings me back to the Baba Yagga folktale itself, which Oreck uses as a kind of central framework for the larger shape of the film. The animation is more like moving storybook illustrations, with shifting foregrounds and backgrounds to create an illusion of depth. The tale is told in sections with breaks, and each break in the story designates a return to modern day Eastern Europe to explore a different sort of cultural practice or ritual. We begin to notice how cultural history works in both ways--the past creeping up in the present, the present causing reconsideration of the past. In retelling the Baba Yaga tale, Oreck riffs on the legend, adding a mysterious military conflict to the mix as a way to acknowledge the concerns of the 20th century. And yet this oppressive government and militaristic element is shadowy and supernatural in a way akin to the witches of the distant past (the government is referred to only as They, some kind of iniquitous other, some kind of man as unknown, an invention of society that's become as malevolent as a force of nature).

The whole of the documentary is concerned with these sorts of tensions of modernity and the past and how their relationship is never fixed. All the while, the present finds bits of its own past always in the moment, and conversely the past traditions themselves are adapting in a way to remain relevant to future generations. The past seems to continually return in some way. History is a wood from which humanity cannot help but be confined, but the woods are not necessarily bad places.

So just when I felt that The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga would be merely interesting, it became this unresolvable and intellectually and formally fascinating work about history and ritual and story. It's more like an essay than a documentary per se, and Oreck never makes any of the larger points too overtly, or at least the film doesn't seem so overstated. There's a fine sleight of hand in the documentary's construction that allows the audience to find the meaning in the associations and connections of these ideas and images. It's not a documentary for all audiences, but I think patient filmgoers with a taste for W.G. Sebald and other writers who ruminate on history in a unique fashion will find a lot to consider in The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga.

Also please note: I have had a lot of coffee today.

A few words on Fish & Cat (2013) New Directors New Films 2014

Experimental film telling a time fragmented story concerning several going to a kite flying festival and colliding with a backwoods restaurant that served human flesh.

I'm going to be honest here and say I don't know what I make of the film. I think the most honest description of the film is that it's an interesting attempt at doing something different.  The trouble is that  the dialog is not natural and very much theatrical with some bits full of formal dialog and other bits having characters commenting on what we are seeing with a voice over.

It doesn't help that the film was done in one long  take which results in long periods where people are simply walking through the woods and an odd framing of action and characters. Events that should be taking place elsewhere are played out in the forest or by the lake.its not bad as such, rather it comes off as stage play that they've tried to open up but somehow misstepped.

The real sin is that this film is way too long. Running around two and a quarter hours the film seems to go on and on, with a large portion of the trouble coming from the single take requiring that we wander around until we get to the next place where something happens.  I turned off and stopped caring.

Unless you like interesting attempts you can try it, I'd take a pass.

The film plays March 27 and 28

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Salvation Army (2013) New Director New Films 2014

Based on director Abdellah Tal's own novel, Salvation Army tells the story of Abdellah,  a young man who leaves his family home to engage in random trysts with various men. The trysts are a means of escape from the unhappiness of his home life. The film then jumps ahead ten years...

I wish I hadn't read anything about the film since doing so set up a  false expectation that got knocked down pretty quick. The material on the film talks about it being about a young gay man's awakening. It is, but the film actually speaks to a larger audience. This isn't a gay film, its a film about a person who feels like an outsider. The feelings are universal. Watching the film I could to relate to the feelings of needing an escape.

The early part of the film is a wonderful look at Abdellah's life. There is a tactile nature to it where we feel not only the emotion but other things. We're in his house, and on the trip. We can almost smell and taste and feel it all physically. The e is the often repeated motif of washing that runs through the film. People wash themselves and each other. The sequences are extremely intense and frankly almost sexual in nature. Its rare that any film makes one feel as this one does...

Or does for the first hour or so.

At the point the film hits say the 55 minute mark it all implodes. Leaping a head to 10 years the film loses focus. Now we are with an older Abdellah. He is involved with a professor, but something has happened between them things aren't right. The film jumps through time and place and is extremely disorienting as the film rushes to a conclusion as if the director ripped out whole chapters from his novel and tossed them aside. We are thrown into the relationship between the two men with no explanation. Things happen then there is a shift to Geneva after more months have passed.  He's too early for classes, he meets the professor and there is a confrontation that means what exactly?

The real head scratcher of the final 25 minutes is the singing of the song that ends the film, what is it and what is it suppose to mean? The print I saw did not subtitle the lyrics so that the words, which clearly meant something to out hero, are lost. What is in them that provokes his reaction?

For me this odd choice not to reveal the lyrics completely sank the film.

To be honest I loved the first hour of the film. I thought it was great, and I was ready to hail it as one of my finds of the year. However as soon as the film lept ahead it became the wrong sort of obtuse, not explaining how we got here, nor giving us enough to work out what its suppose to mean (and I mean that on a level more than just missing lyrics)

Talk about crash and burn.

The film plays March 27th at Lincoln Center and March 28th at MoMA. Details and tickets can be found here.