Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Live from New York

With so much writing/blogging/opining about the 45th annual New York Film Festival last week, I thought I'd wait it out and actually see a few movies before chiming in. The time has come. No more lying down, like the protagonist of Korea's Secret Sunshine, pictured above.

For all my nitpicking and grumbles about the Festival--you'd think I was living in Bombay, so long it seems to take to get my advance order information mailed to me here in Brooklyn--once I'm there, I want to see everything, or at least more than I signed up for. But that's hard, given Drama Desk playgoing this year and the comforts of domesticity, and I need to remind myself that in those years when I did see a dozen or more selections my eyeballs were fried by about Week Two and my body sore from the uncomfortable seats at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall.

With Alice Tully getting a needed makeover I've been at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall the last two or three days. It's a little cumbersome to negotiate from the lobby of the Time Warner Center, but the elevators are wide and the uniformed attendees nothing if not efficient in getting audience members to their seats (I miss the old lady who directed me right or left countless times in my 12 festivals past; was that Alice Tully?). We were up in the balcony (the $16 "cheap seats"; the price has doubled since 1994, not that I'm complaining, much) on Saturday and I was down below in the orchestra last night. I'm pleased: The acoustics, a problem at Alice Tully, are excellent, the seats and legroom fine, and the screen well-positioned for viewing at varied angles in a more intimate house. I've seen concerts there but never a film, and it works as a supplemental venue, one that I hope serves as a template for the in-progress Lincoln Center renovations.

The final (or "final") cut of Blade Runner, which we saw Saturday night, was a good test of Rose Hall's capabilities. The sightlines were good and the multichannel sound clearly separated even way up in the rafters. "A hundred little changes" have been made to accompany this definitive version, according to restoration producer Charles De Lauzirika, supplementing the macro additions and deletions made in 1992. Joanna Cassidy's digitized participation in her own death scene is the most notable, and it's done seamlessly, as is the revoicing of the whole, strangely out-of-sync Abdul Ben Hassan sequence by Benjamin Ford, Harrison's son. Also, Rutger Hauer's climactic dove release, under clear blue sky in the past, now unfolds in a properly matching background, and assorted crewmembers caught by the camera have been removed. It all plays more smoothly than the 1992 release, with the unicorn sequence and the ending now entirely organic to the picture, and every image with magnificent, tactile textures.

The new cut plays New York's Ziegfeld starting this Friday and is a must-see there, or at other theaters it may turn up at. It comes out on DVD Dec. 18, individually or as part of a heavily annotated 25th anniversary five-disc collection, so you can see the film's evolution version to version. The DVD of the 92 release is now pretty much a coaster, or a piece of chipped heirloom china that you keep for nostalgia but never again use or display. All I need is the 82 International cut, which augmented the Domestic version, and this one, but Warner Bros is really going the extra mile for cultists. I still don't buy that Ford's Deckard is a replicant, which is more a case of director Ridley Scott trying to get the unicorn back in the barn once the door had shut than anything concrete in the film, but you can speculate more easily on the notion now.

Earlier on Saturday we saw Ira Sachs' Married Life, a more plot-driven film from the director of languid Forty Shades of Blue (2005), with Rip Torn, and The Delta (1996). An adaptation of a noirish novel, rewired for wry comedy, the film stars Chris Cooper as a solemnly unemotional businessman (not dissimilar to his closemouthed spy in Breach) planning to bump off wife Patricia Clarkson, to spare her the pain of losing him as he canoodles with a platinum blonde Rachel McAdams. The film is dryly narrated by Cooper's best friend, Pierce Brosnan, who injects himself into the proceedings. Sachs needed to stretch and the game cast helps him extend his reach; Brosnan, in particular, is finding his niche in indie cinema, where Clarkson continues to reign. The film doesn't quite come together but it's better, and certainly less cynical, than generally dismissive notices in The New York Times and Variety might suggest. And sartorially it does for 1949 what Mad Men does for 1960; we need to start wearing good hats again.

Last night I saw Secret Sunshine, this year's mystic/religious entry, in the vein of The Apostle (1997) or, more closely, 1996's Breaking the Waves. Bereft after the death of her husband, Shin-ae (Do-yeon Jeon, winner of the best actress award at this year's Cannes) relocates to his hometown, with their son in tow. Further tragedy causes the young widow to whole-heartedly embrace Christianity, but there are subsequent reversals and turnabouts that test her newfound faith in an absorbing if somewhat leisurely paced drama adapted and directed by Chang-dong Lee. Jeon has the manner of a storm cloud about to burst and negotiates her character's trials fluidly; perking up her melodrama is Kang-ho Song, the oafish father from The Host, who is terrific as her bumbling would-be suitor and a strong advertisement for the simple pleasures of a secular life. With the Rush Hour movies out of gas someone should cast Song, a familiar face as well from Park Chanwoook pictures such as the likeminded Lady Vengeance, in a cross-cultural cop buddy picture.

I'm only seeing two more pictures, Brian De Palma's Redacted and the Japanese drama I Just Didn't Do It at Rose Hall at the festival, which concludes Oct. 14. Other films I might have seen are opening soon anyway, or so I comfort myself But I have caught a few of the selections at screenings.

Opening commercially in October, Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is an effective blood-and-thunder crime thriller that, along with last year's underrated Find Me Guilty, signals that the sometimes dormant filmmaker, now 83, is far from finished. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, whose recent stage work has awakened greater capabilities as an actor than I thought he had, are thoroughly convincing as brothers who share more than just an interest in implacable father Albert Finney's jewelry store proceeds, which they plan to steal. Nothing goes right and Kelly Masterson's relentless script takes a turn into near-Greek tragedy, which the film can't quite sustain; the final developments beggar belief, and a fetching Marisa Tomei, as a femme sort-of fatale, is stranded by indecisive screenwriting. And Finney's inability to close his eyes or mouth, like a doll with pop-up features that can't snap back into place, is aggravating. But this slick, sick picture, with a gallery of supporting rogues including Brian F. O'Byrne, Amy Ryan, and Michael Shannon, is largely satisfying.

Like Married Life, artist Julian Schnabel's latest film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is also better than I had heard. There would seem to be no movie in Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby's 1997 memoir of his near-complete impairment from a stroke, which left him a locked-down state save for his left eyelid, with which he tirelessly, laboriously, heroically composed his account via blinking. But Schnabel and writer Ronald Harwood have found one in his immobile perception, a point of view that the film expands on via flashbacks (the gifted Mathieu Almaric plays Bauby unsentimentally) and dream sequences. The stuff of life is what flavors the piece beyond usual disease-of-the-week heart-tugging; an early sequence where Bauby's uselessly occluded right eyelid is sewn shut is completely terrifying, and Max von Sydow has two terribly wrenching scenes at Bauby's father, sidelined by age. (The actor, who has seemed older than God since The Exorcist, is a comparatively youthful 78.) That Bauby favored pretty ladies in his life and work gives the movie a little Euro eye candy, too. Much of the visual impact, however, comes from cinematographer Janusz Kaminiski, who uses (and reuses, with sometimes detrimental results) the same congested, high-contrast palette for his Steven Spielberg pictures; Schnabel has gotten him to open up, and the film is bathed in a warm sheen that encourages depth perception.

Riding the coattails of Pan's Labyrinth, which may explain its otherwise inscrutable selection, Juan Antonio Bayona's ghost story, The Orphanage, is one of the year's more insubstantial offerings. Belen Rueda is effective as a young mother trying to convert a country house into a children's care facility, sidetracked by echoes from the past and bumps in the night. It's not a bad picture, but it's not much more than efficient in its modest genre aims, which would make it a winner at the overstuffed Tribeca Film Festival but renders it an also-ran at Rose Hall.

No comments: