Thursday, August 28, 2008

New? Nu?

A couple of Friday openings tomorrow that I've written on for JWeek. First, My Mexican Shivah, a farce that doesn't quite work as farce. And I Served the King of England, the latest from Jiri Menzel, another farce that is quite funny for about a half-hour, then goes horribly wrong. That one can be found here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Momma's Man

Momma's Man is the new feature from Azazel Jacobs, a rather dark comedy of considerable charm that was one of the highlights of this year's New Directors/New Films program. My review can be found here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back With a Vengeance (?)

Okay, I'm not going to make any absurd promises about keeping up with this thing -- as you well know, those are futile. But I will make something more of an effort. Lots of goodies to offer you in this posting, at any rate.

First, my review of the new Woody Allen, for Jewish Week. The film is dire and in some ways, although it is better than Cassandra's Dream, it is successful in the most uninteresting manner, a clumsy recycling of old themes, characters, attitudes.

Second, allow me to direct your attention to a review by the estimable Donald Richie of a new English version of a key Japanese monograph on Kenji Mizoguchi, of whom we have spoken in the past.

One of the nicer surprises of last winter, a documentary about a dying Yiddish theater (is there any other kind?), has resurfaced in Queens. Yiddish Theater: A Love Story, directed by Dan Katzir, is playing at the North Shore Towers Cinema (270-10 Grand Central Pkwy., Floral Park). For information, phone 718-229-7702. My review of the film can be found here.

Finally, to end on a somber note, the great Manny Farber passed away earlier this week. Farber, who was 91, was one of our great film critics, a radical thinker who influenced so many of us. I never had the pleasure of meeting Farber, but I did have the rather unusual experience of passing along to him my take on the 1974 or '75 New York Film Festival; I was visiting Greg Ford when his telephone rang, it was Farber on the line and I ended up relaying my quick impressions of the films that had been screened already from Greg to Farber. Well, as Odets writes in The Big Knife, we all need a cause to touch greatness, and that must have been my moment. The best introduction to Farber is to read his writing and look at his paintings. However, for a quick-and-dirty take, you ought to check out the obit posted at GreenCine Daily.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A New Month, a New Batch of Problems

So I'm getting ready to post to this blog and when I get to the dashboard page there's a message saying that the proprietors think it's a spam blog. They should be so lucky. Actually, there were apparently a large number of such false alarms and management was quite gracious in their apologies. Of course, this means that I can't use this as an excuse for not posting.

Moving right along, there's a new film review of mine at Jewish Week, on the painless little Brit comedy Sixty Six. Space didn't permit me to note that a lot of stuff that I found charming and/or funny in the film will go right past American audiences -- the supporters' rosettes, some of the class indicators, a few very well-disguised inside football jokes, the sight of Bobby Charlton with a full head of, well, a lot more hair than he has now anyway. I can't recall if the film includes the most famous call in British sports broadcasting ("They think it's all over . . . well, it is"), the soccer equivalent of "Havlicek stole the ball!" or Russ Hodges 16 iterations of "the Giants win the pennant" or Al Michaels "Do you believe in miracles." I suppose a London audience would notice immediately but that close to the end of the film I was probably thinking about my deadline.


I'm not in the habit of recommending books I haven't read. Of course, the wonderful Rev. Sydney Smith said that reading a book before reviewing it was a mistake, because "it prejudices one so." But I am a follower of Scott Kirsner's blog, CinemaTech (you can see the link in my blogroll), which covers the new technologies and how the affect the film industry, so when he announced the other day in his blog that his new book was coming out, my ears pricked up. The book, Inventing the Movies:Hollywood's Epic Battle Between Innovation and the Status Quo, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, I was excited. A history of the American film industry as told through its love-hate relationship with new technologies? There couldn't be a better time for such a book than right now, and Kirsner is someone who will have intelligent things to say on the subject. Officially the book isn't available yet -- it's not on Amazon -- but in reality, there's a link from his blog to the distributor, and I've already ordered my copy. (Heck, maybe I'll write about it after I've actually read it.) Anytime you have an opportunity to buy a book from someone other than a large chain store or on-line Goliath, you're doing a good deed for some undercapitalized David.


John Gianvito's Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, which opened Friday at Anthology Film Archive, is brilliant for about 52 of its 58 minutes. It feels like a more overtly political version of a James Benning landscape film, an odyssey across the United States to show us plaques, memorials, gravesites, etc. of great American radical activists, the kind of people who seldom get memorialized in this country. We see Sojourner Truth's grave and George Jackson's, signs indicating the location of Shay's Rebellion and the Homestead Strike; there must be a hundred of these sites in the film, in roughly chronological historical order. And we hear the faint rustling of the wind in the trees, that element that Jean-Marie Straub said was present in silent film but missing from sound movies. (Straub would undoubtedly enjoy this film.) Most of these memento mori are in various states of disrepair, indicative not only of our neglect of many aspects of American history, but also of the inexorable work of nature on human-made objects. Gianvito underlines this secondary theme with a series of shots at the end of the journey, situating one of the last sites on an overgrown traffic island (if memory serves); through the leafy green trees we can see across the street and there is, lo and behold, the Golden Arches.

If the film ended there, it would be a bitterly funny comment on how far we have come from the colonial period. But Gianvito, understandably and even correctly I think, wants to end on a more affirmative note. He cuts to footage of one of the protests in NYC at the Republican Convention. These people are clearly part of the lineage that produced the nearly forgotten agitators for peace, equality, women's rights, abolition of slavery and other noble causes.

If the film ended there, it would be one of the most powerful and physically beautiful films I've seen this year.

But it doesn't. Instead, we get something like five solid minutes of shaky hand-held footage of protest rallies for many praiseworthy causes, with an almost deafening cacophony on the soundtrack. By ending the film this way, Gianvito turns it from a subtly worked out and highly intelligent political statement into a shrill bumper-sticker. I saw Profit Motive at Tribeca this spring and I must say that I haven't been more depressed by a cinematic lost opportunity all year. By all means, go see the film at Anthology, where it is playing through August 7, but you might want to leave a few minutes before the final credit crawl begins.

Tribeca 3: Pride in the City

Tribeca has always been a film festival that focused on diversity and inclusion, from its beginning in 2002.  This year has been no exceptio...