Monday, February 22, 2010

Another Year . . .

Yes, this blog is a year older. I wish I could say I had something planned to celebrate. The best I can do is to eat a large pile of cheeseburgers in a salute to the news that Ronaldo -- the Brazilian one, not the skinny one at Real Madrid -- has announced his retirement.

Gluttony aside, allow me to direct your attention to my latest raft of verbiage for Jewish Week. There's the semi-annual film preview, with something old, something new and something pale blue. If that doesn't whet your interest, you should also see the list of other film events for the spring.

And you should take a gander at my piece on the Film Comment Selects series. I haven't had the time to see much of what is on offer, but the two films I covered are both worth a look.

I know I promised to say something about the Red Riding trilogy. First, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed all three films and if it is possible and your mind and backside can stand it, by all means see them in a single sitting. A lot of the work's power comes from the cumulative effect, which I suspect will be severely dissipated if you spread out the experience over three or more days. Those of you who know me will understand that it is not faint praise if I say that the three films are on a par with the best of the dark British TV procedurals, things like The Vice, Wire in the Blood, Waking the Dead, Murphy's Law and Prime Suspect. Believe me, in our house that's high praise. I think Anand Tucker's contribution, the last of the trio, is the weakest, partly because of the necessity of tying up loose ends, partly because the film suffers from somebody's need to provide a redemptive ending, which Tucker positively feasts on. (Surely you didn't expect subtlety from the director of Hilary and Jackie and Leap Year?) To be absolutely fair, though, it's not a disgraceful ending to the trilogy. And the first and second films, by Julian Jarrold and James Marsh, respectively, are dark, brooding neo-noirs that seem to have a much better grip on the tone of the original noir than their American counterparts. (Don't get me started on the failures and dishonesties of the neo-noir; that's an extremely long essay for another time.) At any rate, all three films are worth seeing, especially if American re-makes are in the works. (No names attached yet, but I shudder to think who could be involved. One thing for sure: the three British films have brilliant original scores and make minimal but highly effective use of period music; you can count on the opposite being the case in any American re-make. Gotta squeeze them cash cows till their udders bleed.)

Friday, February 05, 2010

A Quick Additional Note on Ajami and a Very Important Retrospective



Just got an e-mail about a special screening of Ajami, to which I want to draw your attention. The Other Israel Film Festival, of which I have written frequently, is presenting a special evening at Film Forum featuring a showing of the film and a discussion of the state of Israeli cinema as depicted therein on February 15 at 6:30 p.m. If you were planning to see the film anyway -- and you should -- here's an opportunity to do so while helping out a worthy film event. Advance tickets can be purchased here; the special discount price attached to this offer is only good for advance tickets.

(And I can't believe I actually used the word 'therein.')

Elsewhere in town, hold some days and evenings free in early March. The Museum of Modern Art is presenting a mid-career retrospective of the films of Jia Zhangke beginning March 5. Jia will be attending a Monday night event, the star of The World, Zhan Tao will introduce a showing of that excellent work, and the program will include all of Jia's films to date. In little mor than a decade, with only eight features and a half-dozen shorts to his credit, Jia has re-invented Chinese cinema. At a time when Zhang Yimou can honestly say with a straight face that he is still an independent director -- as if the maker of the odiously Stalinist apologia Hero were some kind of dissident -- it is nothing less than thrilling to see work like Jia's and be reminded what a really beautiful risk-taking and fearless film looks like. I hesitate to recommend any of the films to the exclusion of the others, but if you can only see a few, you should definitely get to Platform, The World and Still Life. The last is a sublimely contemplative and deeply felt work, a stunning rebuke to the Chinese leaders who preach fealty to the past while destroying material reminders of it.

A Busy Fortnight

Well, we've been a busy boy lately. Lots of Jewish-themed goodies in town, so you can find me all over the place at Jewish Week. This year's Oscar-nom Israeli-Palestinian film Ajami is definitely worth a look; my review is here. The 14th annual New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival has a strong slate of documentaries. And Anthology Film Archives has resurrected the rarely shown Susan Sontag docu about Israel, Promised Lands. In some ways, the last is the most interesting, for reasons I note in my review.

Then there's the rest of the film world. As usual, I'll skip anything that has Luc Besson's name attached to it, but the Red Riding trilogy is quite an interesting experiment, rewarding in all sorts of ways that I'll talk about later today.