Wednesday, October 29, 2008

London Film Festival: Waltz with Bashir

First, a note on obvious messages from God. Taking a break from the festival rotation but not straying too far from my movie-junkie habit, I decided to take advantage of London release dates and swing in for a late matinée of the festival phenom. Gomorrah. 45 minutes in, I was liking the movie but decidedly not loving it—given this material, I want some formal and visual finesse—but I had bigger problems. For the first time in at least five years, I had to go to the bathroom during a movie. I will do anything, I will twist in my seat or silently kick my feet or whatever to get out of doing this, even if the movie is long or boring, and even if it means sprinting out the door after the credits finish rolling. But it couldn't be helped. So up and out I go, feeling immensely guilty for this 60 seconds or whatever, and then, immediately as I walk back into the theater, Gomorrah burns up in the projector. In fact, the city of London experiences its first October snowstorm in over 70 years, which knocks out the cinema's power, which kicks on the emergency generator, which surges so powerfully that all three prints burn in their separate theaters at exactly the same time.

Clearly, I will never pee during a film again. Please let me know if there is any other possible way to interpret this paranormal sequence of events.

Happily, I was able to use the extra hour and 20 minutes that suddenly stretched before me to wrestle with Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir, which has emerged from the last eight days of festival-hopping as the least vivid film in my imagination, even though I liked it better than most, and even though the whole point of the film is to resist amnesia and score a big point for personal and cultural memory. I have tried in my review to explain what I like about the film but also what I question about it and why I think it's not lasting well with me. Nick Schager's reservations about the film are stronger than mine are, at least at the moment, but it's not impossible that I'll wind up close to where he is, and I think he makes some very smart points.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

London Film Festival: Quantum of Solace

Because not every festival movie is full of lowering skies and Arvo Part and Hobbesian behavior, and because Quantum of Solace ranks handily above a lot of the "serious" fare that I've seen so far in London. Review here, with somewhere between a Code Yellow and a Code Orange spoiler advisory. I don't give up any big ghosts, but you might want to be hanging on every precipice of micro-revelation, as I was.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

That's a Lot of B's...

...but in case you're wondering, at least at this moment, I'd say Waltz with Bashir > Quantum of Solace > Wendy and Lucy > Che: The Argentine. But I'll have more to say about all of that.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

London Film Festival: Delta

Still plugging away here in London, still comparing notes constantly with Tim, and suddenly finding my way into more and more substantial films, with the unlikely duo of James Bond and Che Guevara to follow in just a few hours. I can't say that Kornél Mundruczó's Cannes prize-winner Delta is up to the level of what I saw yesterday or of what I hope to be in for today (at least with the Soderbergh), but it's a better movie than its worst habits, glaring though they are, might have led me to think before I pondered it for another two days. Here's that review, with short words on the alliterative trio of W., Waltz with Bashir, and Wendy and Lucy to follow shortly. (A.O. Scott offers a fetching little scribble about Delta here, and I agree with every point he names, including his half-embarrassed appreciation for this half-intolerable movie.)

I will not, however, be finding anything more to say about Philippe Grandrieux's A Lake, the kind of morose and self-important slog where homely and barely-lit actors say things like "No one has dominion over the wind!" before shedding a single tear. I dozed off too often during A Lake to give it a fair grade (Tim, having a similarly snoozy-hallucinatory experience of this soporific clunker a few rows back, gave it a D–), but my standing line about the movie is that it makes Bruno Dumont look like Stanley Donen.

On a completely unrelated note, except insofar as anyone who has sat through a slow and brutal poem like Delta or an bloviating ordeal like A Lake deserves a spot of psychedelic cheer, I cannot possibly recommend this YouTube bonbon highly enough. Congrats for reaching the end of this post, and thanks for following my festival courage; I assure you that I myself am not dying in this town, and in fact can see quite clearly why Virginia was so batty about London:

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

London Film Festival: Genova, The Possibility of an Island, and Let's Talk About the Rain

The festival experience is starting out beautifully, with oodles on offer and efficient organization and careful projection and big, appreciative crowds. I've never seen so many people in a theater for a James Gray or a Michael Winterbottom film. There were more paying customers at a weekday afternoon screening of The Possibility of an Island, Michel Houellebecq's fantastical, philosophical, theoretical smorgasbord of hogwash, than there were at my evening showing of Tropic Thunder last month in Chicago. I wish the actual movies had been better so far: in addition to Island, which I lay into here, I had a disappointing experience with what I hoped was a sure thing, Michael Winterbottom's grieving-family drama Genova. Winterbottom and regular producer even popped up like gophers after the screening to answer the questions of an almost all-student audience, which would have been a transporting experience for a fan like me if Genova had anything to say or if Winterbottom even now seemed sincerely invested in what he'd created.

Ah, well. The beginnings of festivals are the easiest parts, because the general excitement level is still so high that you can stomach your share of mediocrities. And truth be told, lesser works by Gray or Winterbottom are still illuminating about the medium and dotted with memorable grace notes. And blazing, idioglossic trash like The Possibility of an Island is impossible to conceive under almost any other circumstances, unless Ursula K. Le Guin and Slavoj Žižek dropped a little acid and made a filmed homage to an Iron Maiden album cover. Who would want to miss that?

P.S. Another esteemed director, another subpar product. Is it turning into a curse? Agnès Jaoui puts a foot wrong, for me, by putting her feet so safely and modestly right for a lot of other people. This screening of Let's Talk About the Rain at least drummed up some laughter and warm applause of a kind I hadn't heard in the last 36 hours, but it's the definition of a movie that you wouldn't want to write home about. Next up at bat: Oliver Stone.

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Chicago Festing, London Calling

In my dream life, I would have posted about a week ago to herald the approach of this year's Chicago Film Festival, easily one of the highlights of my moviegoing year. The festival opened on the 16th of this month and extends its enormous, diverse, and exciting programming all the way through the end of the month.

After trumpeting this occasion, I would have fluffed my own feathers a bit and shouted with joy about my biggest news of the fall, which is my first-ever trip to England to attend and cover the 2008 London Film Festival, which also comprises a bevy of new work by artists from around the world, some names more familiar than others, some titles already big buzz-hits and awards magnets from Cannes and Toronto and Venice. I used all my best soothsaying abilities to convince the BFI to accredit me as an official journalist for the fest and to persuade Northwestern to subsidize my trip, in the service of my research and of future classes I can teach with an expanded global sweep.

So, let's pretend that October had been less frenetic and that I actually did inform you of these two thrilling events in a more timely fashion—since, as it happens, I'm already in London, where I'm spending my two-week trip with the heroic and debonair Tim R. of MainlyMovies (and, by day, of the Daily Telegraph). I've never been to England before, so the last 24 hours have been a delicious comination of party, blur, and dream come true.

Truant though I was in providing advance word about these trips, I have been uncharacteristically diligent in chronicling my adventures. Because the festivals are virtually simultaneous, I had to leave Chicago only a few days into the CFF, but the two screenings I caught more than made up for the truncated stay: Erick Zonca's transfixing and ambitious Julia (reviewed here), starring Tilda Swinton in one of her best and certainly least typical performances, and Lance Hammer's Ballast (reviewed here), a poetically affecting drama in the vein of David Gordon Green, though a bit more intimate with its characters.

My first London screening was less auspicious, I'm sad to report, though a subprime James Gray film is still a solid way to spend an evening. Here is my shorter write-up of his latest, Two Lovers, with Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow.

And now, stay tuned for reports on new work from Kelly Reichardt, Oliver Stone, Danny Boyle, and Steven Soderbergh, a rare old jewel with Gloria Swanson, and whatever else is fit to print from London!

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy

Well, things have already gotten more interesting since I published The Fifties a few weeks ago. Conceding some grotesque misfires, the broadly inept Hamlet 2 unquestionably the worst of them, I was extraordinarily moved by Trouble the Water, then richly entertained by Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys, and then coaxed out of my early skepticism toward Rachel Getting Married. All three movies will furnish fond memories at year's end... and that would be true even if the "competition" weren't shaping up so grimly. Sitting through preview trailers is becoming an endurance trial lately, given how bad they are for some of the ersatz big-ticket items. Frankly, I'm more excited to track down some winter and spring releases I missed in theaters, like Snow Angels and In Bruges and The Band's Visit, than I am to spend time with a lot of the Turkey Day and Yuletide menu items. But I've been wrong before, oh so many times: just last year, I couldn't wait for the turgid Youth Without Youth and expected Stephen King's The Mist to be a lump of coal. If Tyler Perry didn't already prove it, I really don't know what I'm going to like till it comes around. But I know what I expect to like, or at least what I'm excited about...

Che, Hunger, Milk, The Wrestler

A Christmas Tale, Wendy and Lucy, Ballast, The Secret of the Grain, Happy-Go-Lucky

Waltz with Bashir, Synecdoche, New York, The Class, I've Loved You So Long, Quantum of Solace

Changeling, Let the Right One In, Nothing But the Truth, Slumdog Millionaire

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Appaloosa

W., Defiance, The Reader

Doubt, Australia, Frost/Nixon, Last Chance Harvey, Revolutionary Road, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Brothers Bloom, Gran Torino, The Duchess, Valkyrie

Ashes of Time Redux, Body of Lies, Good, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Passengers, The Secret Life of Bees, Seven Pounds, Soul Men, The Tale of Despereaux, Yes Man

Twilight, Transporter 3, Pride and Glory, Four Christmases, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, RocknRolla, Marley & Me

The Spirit, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Max Payne, Bolt, Bedtime Stories, What Just Happened?


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Seeing through '68-Colored Glasses

Raymond Benson's Best of 1968 Countdown ended last Friday with the pretty unimpeachable choice of 2001: A Space Odyssey, an April '68 release in the United States. Can you imagine anything that mind-blowing coming out in April these days? I mean, even more mind-blowing than Smart People?

Raymond's list is Raymond's list, but as several commenters noted, it's basically the same list Leonard Maltin or Leah Rozen would have picked to commemorate that year. Granted, 1968 sported so many classics that have endured for multiple generations; it's hard, in the face of 2001 and Rosemary's Baby and Once Upon a Time in the West to avoid a consensus-type list. But, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter? Yellow Submarine? The Producers? Even, as much as I adore it, The Lion in Winter?

I still have a ways to go as a 1968 completist. My first compensatory stop obviously needs to be Lindsay Anderson's If..., but I also feel the pain of missing Paradjanov's The Color of Pomegranates, Alea's Memories of Underdevelopment, Straub & Huillet's Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black, Pennebaker's Monterey Pop, and Bertolucci's Partner... plus some fun-sounding trash like Russ Meyer's Vixen! and Barry Shear's Wild in the Streets, both of which await me at my hometown public library once I'm back from this trip.

Again, 1968 is a great enough year that I'll give a shout-out to a list of ten runners-up for my own list. These would be John Cassavetes's Faces, the one movie I really hate to leave off, then Salesman, The Thomas Crown Affair, Planet of the Apes, and Lonesome Cowboys, followed up by Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day, The Lion in Winter, Bullitt, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Pretty Poison. I'm about halfway through Emile de Antonio's important Vietnam War documentary In the Year of the Pig, which has some eye-opening and some repulsive footage, but it isn't tightly structured enough to crack this list of honorable mentions, I'm guessing.

Even better than all of those are these, my own Top Ten of 1968, at least so far. Make your own feelings known in the comments!

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