Friday, August 28, 2009

Popdose: Taking Woodstock

Is Ang Lee's celebration of the spirit of '69 far out? Find out, man. Pictured in their hippie regalia are Kelli Garner, Demetri Martin (playing Elliot Tiber, whose string pulling saved the day when a neighboring community backed out of the event), and Paul Dano.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Popdose: Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection on DVD

Mothra headlines the U.S. DVD release of a trio of Toho terrors, today on Popdose.

Perfect casting

I always thought Hope Davis would be perfect casting for Hillary Clinton, and so did the makers of The Special Relationship, a sort-of followup to The Queen which focuses on Bill (Dennis Quaid? Hmm?) and Hill and Tony, played for the third time and presumably unto death by Michael Sheen. If this works out I'd greenlight an entire biopic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RIP Dominick Dunne

This reminiscence says it all. I've missed his Vanity Fair columns, which struck exactly the right tone whether he was in high or low society; the magazine has lost a crucial, defining voice. And The Boys in the Band, Panic in Needle Park, and Play It as It Lays, all of which he produced, are good films, emblematic of their time. He rolled with a tumultuous life.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Fall issue of Cineaste, online and on sale

The new issue is online and on newsstands, wherever newsstands still exist. On our site look for interviews with Bertrand Tavernier (In the Electric Mist) and "Yes Man" provocateur Andy Bichlbaum, reviews of the documentary Forbidden Lie$ (airing on Showtime this Friday night, and featured on the cover) and The Exterminating Angel on DVD, and the proverbial much, much more.

Popdose: Adventureland on DVD

Superbad's Greg Mottola returns with a semi-autobiographical dramedy set in a Pittsburgh amusement park in the summer of 1987. But is it a thrill ride?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A new look

Two or more years after everyone else updated their Blogger layouts, I've finally caught the wave. Now with a Facebook Badge and "followers," as if I'm some sort of deity. But no Statcounter, and my links have blurred. Will have to figure out where all that went as I adjust to the change myself.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One-eyed hacks

OK, Fritz Lang, John Ford and Nicholas Ray aren't hacks, but I couldn't resist the lame wordplay, as Anthology Film Archives premieres a series devoted to one-eyed auteurs. It's an amusing idea for the dog days of summer, when everyone's a little cockeyed from the heat. Those monocles and eyepatches were certainly intimidating, sending an unambiguous message about who was in charge of the set. My Cineaste colleague Jared "Jed" Rapfogel gets a well-deserved shout-out in the Onion article. What next: One-armed auteurs? One-legged auteurs? In any event, Lang has his eye--and only one eye--on you.

Trouble in District 9

New York Press critic Armond White is lambasted every week for this or that offense to film criticism. I rolled my eyes not long ago when White, who praised The Hurt Locker, immediately took it back, calling the movie "severely overrated"--just because a majority of critics happened to applaud it, too. So very juvenile.

But he has a point about District 9, in a negative review that outraged fanboys (out for blood again after their persecution of Dark Knight heretics like myself last summer). Cleverly concocted by South African-born filmmaker Neill Blomkamp and screenwriter Terri Tatchell, the film (which references numerous others but has its own beat) is a set in a Johannesburg-erected shantytown for stranded aliens and the apartheid-like friction that arises. It seems to start in the 80s, when actual apartheid was stlll in force, which the movie doesn't really deal with. Apparently, hatred with the alien "prawn" trumps the real-life racial divide.

That was one sticking point. But what bothered me was the use of Nigerians as the film's whipping boys. The Nigerian characters, who live among the prawn, exploit them mercilessly, even eating them to gain their unearthly powers. Granted that Nigerians don't have the best rep in the world, particularly among anyone who's fallen for a get-rich-quick Internet scheme generated from the country. But I kept waiting for at least one of the Nigerians to show a different, more magnanimous side--which, OK, is an easy way out to excuse the uncharitable portrayals that have come before, one often used to disguise or minimize racism, sexism, and any other "isms" in the movies. But it never comes.

I suppose Blomkamp could be praised for sticking to his guns--maybe he's exaggerating the historical enmity between South Africa and Nigeria for effect. But it negates the movie's premise of tolerance. It makes the prawn the victims of another outcast minority and a few rotten apples in the South African system, as if they and not apartheid itself are the villains. It's questionable, doubly so given the (thin) charges of racism leveled at the film's producer, Peter Jackson. Perhaps it's a case of taking the filmmaker out of South Africa, but not taking the South Africa out of the filmmaker.

There's this to chew on. I'm not satisfied, though. I guess I'll never entirely trust a white South African who says "not me" regarding apartheid to tell me about the "reality" of race and ethnicity in the country. More and more the movie seems to yearn for the good old days of apartheid, which maybe, to hear Blomkamp tell it, weren't so bad as what came after it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cary Grant at BAM

Just three days left to see him on the big screen, which fit him like a glove. Including a personal favorite from that banner year, Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939). Meanwhile, a nice appreciation of him from The House Next Door.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Since I went away

The dumbness of American movies and moviegoers is hotly debated. I finger the culprit: the infantilizing PG-13 rating, introduced 25 years ago this month. (Pictured is Taken, a slippery-slope "hard" PG-13.)

Hang on to those VHS tapes and laserdiscs: The end of classic catalog releases on DVD is near. Though Sony has has an exemplary year it certainly feels that way as banal new releases definitively take over. I have issues with the Warner Archive, but not so many that I don't hope every studio introduces its own alternative.

RIP John Hughes. I can't say I was all that crazy about him; he prided himself on working fast and the lack of discipline showed. (And I hated the smug Ferris Bueller's Day Off, a favorite of right-wingers like Dan Quayle.) But he captured a certain zeitgeist that rippled through my college years, and had the good sense to depart Hollywood when the well ran dry. (My Wisconsin visits tend to be death trips for directors: Bergman and Antonioni died the last time we went, in 2007.)

Resnais, Almodovar, and--Daniel?--headline the New York Film Festival, which returns to Alice Tully Hall for its 47th year.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is due to fete Natalie Wood, who is somewhat underrated almost three decades after her passing, this week. Dyan Cannon and Elliott Gould should be good fun at the Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice screening.

IFC Films has a number of indies available on demand but you should really see the hilarious In the Loop at a theater.

We're off to see the Wizard--this time in hi-def--on Sept. 23. Vacation, incidentally, allowed me to read Michael Sragow's fine biography of its director, Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

RIP Budd Schulberg

On the Waterfront alone would a great screenwriter make. But an On the Waterfront plus A Face in the Crowd makes for legend in a debased business--and all the wiser for having just a handful of credits in the field. (I wish I had seen the rare Wind in the Everglades at Film Forum last week.) A TV version of What Makes Sammy Run is next in my Netflix queue. But I really should read the book.

Brits and other bad guys

Paraphrasing Lloyd Bridges in Airplane!, I picked the wrong week to go on vacation. At Anthology Film Archives, Maniac director and DVD maven William Lustig is screening some gritty gems from the 70s, many of them unavailable on home video, that killer of retrospective programs. Pick hits include The Outfit (1973), with Robert Duvall and Robert Ryan, Elliott Gould and Robert Blake as cops in Busting (1974), and Tommy Lee Jones in the Vietnam-infected Rolling Thunder (1977).

I hope to see some of Film Forum's "Brit Noir" series upon our return. If Film Forum hauling out Dr. Strangelove every other week makes series like these possible, I'm all for it. Most of these are new to me, but the well-cast Hell Drivers and a villainous Peter Sellers in Never Let Go on the weekend of Aug. 21-22 make for an exciting double feature. The series is practically an homage to hell driver Stanley Baker, whose two-fisted career bears closer examination. And any exhumation of the so-called "British Marilyn Monroe," Diana Dors (including her Ruth Ellis-ish turn in Yield to the Night) is worth the price of admission.

Monday, August 03, 2009

RIP Harry Alan Towers

I'm not sure the schlockmeister made more than a handful of good films in what appears to have been a colorful life, but he kept a lot of aging actors in work and made them right up to the end, which counts for something. One of the better ones--1969's Manfred Mann-infused Venus in Furs, with his wife Maria Rohm--probably surprised a lot of sleepy late-night TCM viewers with its nudity and aura of salaciousness when it aired a couple of weeks ago. That film, and Towers' other collaborations with the also furiously prolific director Jess Franco, were the highlights of a career better remembered for dealmaking than filmmaking, trumpeted by big ads in Variety back in the day. But I also liked Anthony Perkins' attempt to out-Psycho Psycho in the super-sleazy Jekyll and Hyde story Edge of Sanity (1989).

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Daily dose of cinema returns

Well, that was fast. No sooner had he departed IFC then the tireless cinematic chronicler David Hudson returned with The Auteurs Daily, a somewhat Twittery version moored to the promising site. I don't tweet, but it looks as if I don't have to. Just happy to have it back.