I was going to write an opening to talk about the 46th Annual New York Film Festival and to put it in some sort of framework. How the festival runs from September 26- October 12 and how the screening schedule and tickets can be found online. How Lincoln Center is under construction and how awesome seeing these films at a gigantic, classic theater like the Ziegfeld will be. (Most of the press screenings are at the Walter Reade Theater which is damn good in my book. Luckily, we got to see Che at Ziegfeld, so I can say first hand that the Ziegfeld owns.) How 16 of the 28 films selected come from the Cannes Film Festival, and ponder why so many people see this as a bad thing. How the press screenings are a totally different festival experience, and how lucky I am to be a part of the experience to begin with. Alas, it seems like most of the coverage is saying the same thing and since I am late in writing about some of these films (a few have already shown at the festival and are not showing again), I figure I might as well just write about the movies and save my ruminations on the festival for my festival wrap up entry. Let’s do that, eh?
As I am late into writing, I’m not going to go through the films in the order I saw them, which was my original plan. This first entry has a film I saw on the first day of screenings, nearly two weeks ago, and a film I literally saw today. While these films do have a common characteristic, don’t expect it from future entries. At four films, France has the most films of any country at the festival this year, so when I started writing it seemed appropriate to write about them together. I’ll try and create a flow between the films in future entries, but the broad taste in world cinema that the New York Film Festival displays it becomes increasingly difficult. So, let’s just talk about the movies. There are some good ones, maybe some great ones, and, sure enough, some films that I didn’t/won’t respond to. Still, it’s a lot of fun to stumble into a theater at 10 AM trying to remember which films it is I am about to see. (Seriously. I went into a screening last week knowing that there was something I meant to see. I thought it was Hong Sang Soo’s Night and Day. Then starts the Mexican teen crime-ish film I’m Gonna Explode. Not exactly the same thing. Everything is a blur!) Anyways, I promised not to blab and now I’m doing just that. On with the movies!
Laurent Cantet’s The Class, the Opening Night Selection of the 46th New York Film Festival and winner of the Palm d’Or at this years Cannes Film Festival, reworks the typical classroom drama in a very refined way yet remains just as crowd pleasing as the ever popular, sentimental American classroom film. Starring a real teacher with his actual students all from the same school in France, teachers, students, and administration all play fictionalized versions of themselves that is enhanced by Cantet’s handheld digital camerawork. Although The Class creates an insane amount of nervously excitable classroom energy, a truly magnificent achievement, it is safe and breezy even in the most dire of situations. While the film’s inspired fact/fiction hybrid makes everything more authentic, even in the film’s most heavily scripted situations, The Class is a little too self-satisfied to be as affective in really analyzing the never-changing problems of globalization, cultural diversity, and power “between the walls” (the original French title of the film and the autobiography on which it is based) of a school. This makes it sound like I didn’t like The Class very much, which, believe it or not, is far from the truth. There is just a difference between the inciting and provocative foreign films that I tend to prefer and ones that are a little more standard are are highly likely to be Best Foreign Film Oscar nominees. The Class is France’s Official Entry for the Oscars with good reason. Still, I wish it would have taken more risks given its subject matter and willingness to experiment with this genre.
The same could be said for Arnuad Desplechin’s latest film A Christmas Tale, a showcase of top notch filmmaking and acting, but ultimately disappointing in that it isn’t nearly as interesting or complex (at least on first viewing) as the other Desplechin films I have seen. Junon (Catherine Deneuve) is the family matriarch whose comically separated family is forced to reunite when she announces her life threatening illness. Inevitably, this event conjures up unhappy memories of the death of their young brother Joseph who died of leukemia when he was six. Fear not, French comedy lovers! This sweeping 150 minute film is full of life, spunk, and Bravura that crowds will eat up. Despite all it has going for it, A Christmas Tale is relatively slight. One character asks the question “Who has time to take life experience seriously?” With it playful mood and wild shifts in tone, addressed directly in its oftentimes brilliant score, A Christmas Tale wants to lighten the aura of death and enjoy the memories and experiences that each of us has. It is all too typical material for Desplechin to take on and is less focused in its fancy-free attitude to sustain itself for the lengthy running time. A Christmas Tale features, without a doubt, great filmmaking and acting. It’s just that when you expect gold and get myrhh, it can be a little disappointing.
Still, Desplechin’s film is a masterpiece compared to Agnes Jaoui’s Let It Rain, a film that desperately wants to be funny, only in the most human of ways. Let It Rain, as well as Jaoui’s 2005 feature Talk To Me (that, for the record, I also found vastly overrated), will satisfy the 50+ crowd, but I think most everyone else will find it inane. I don’t want to be too snarky here, but I think if you close your eyes and imagine a typical, petty French family comedy then you would likely imagine everything that happens in Let It Rain. The film does have some very honest, well done moments, most of which involve Mimouna Hadji, the only non-professional actress in the cast who plays the family’s maid and is Jaoui’s family’s maid in real life. Still, Let It Rain confronts many issues in this very tactical screenplay, but is mostly dull and rarely comes across as authentic.
So, is all lost for French cinema at this year’s film festival? Just when it looked like there would be no great French film this year, Olivier Assayas sweeps in to save the day with his magnificent Summer Hours, another French family film (can there ever be too many???) but the only full-fledged drama of the bunch. Assayas, ever the modernist, penned the script shortly before the death of his mother and admits that the film probably wouldn’t have been written post-her death. Although this extratextual bit of information doesn’t necessarily give the film more emotional weight, Summer Hours still seems more significant given that fact. Evaluating the value and worth of historical family objects, Assayas says that he wanted to reformulate the family genre by changing the focus from how to acquire certain things from family histories into how we let go and get rid of these objects. Ravishing filmmaking and cinematography aside, Summer Hours is quietly devastating and extraordinarily powerful in the way it shapes each character and highlights the difficult problems each has with family in a globalized modern world. However, Summer Hours makes clear that no matter how far you are away from where you come from, the separated loneliness can be felt just as strongly at home. Moreover, the film reflects the changing moods, attitudes, and memories of different eras and generations within given spaces. Just like a gallery space (Summer Hours was commissioned by the Musee d’Orsay), the space of the home can shift just as dramatically depending on who and what is in it. Summer Hours is not to be missed.
by James Hansen
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Wow, it has been a busy month! Between attending press screenings for the New York Film Festival, researching/reading/writing for my MA Thesis, working 30 hours a week/weekend, and working for Columbia University Seminars, I have been swamped and am, for the first time ever, finding myself unable to balance all I have going on and what I need to do. Of course, Out 1 is really what I want to spend the most time with, but my longer writing has dwindled. This should end soon with a slew of posts covering the films from NYFF (I plan on seeing all of the new films and will catch up on the repertory titles soon, as they all open in NYC in the next month). Amidst my busy-ness, I totally forgot to thank The Dancing Image for using us as a source of inspiration for his Holy Grail entries, which have spawned quite a following and response around the blogosphere. Despite mentioning me as a source of inspiration, I never actually made my list of films to be added to the ever-growing list of holy grail films. So, at long last, here they are!
For longtime followers of the site, some of these titles will look familiar from our All I want For Christmas series from last Christmas. However, many of the titles are new and even though I have seen one of these films since the initial Christmas list (that being Oliveira's Doomed Love, a film I traveled to the National Gallery of Art in DC just to see), I thought it should be included as it is not on the list from any other blog thus far. Thanks again to The Dancing Image for citing us as a source of inspiration. If you haven't checked out his site yet, it is quickly becoming a must-visit on a daily basis. I hope these titles can get added to the complete Holy Grail list that is being compiled!
One final note...as I haven't seen 11 of these 12 films yet, I don't really have much to say about them other than that I have read about them and would do backflips to see them. Better start training to do that now...
24 Hour Psycho (Douglas Gordon)
L’Amour Fou (Jacques Rivette)
Beauty #2 (Andy Warhol)
*Corpus Callosum (Michael Snow)
Doomed Love (Manoel de Oliveira)
Dyn Amo (Stephen Dwoskin)
Inquietude (Manoel de Oliveira)
Khrustalyov, My Car! (Alexei Gherman)
NOEMA (Scott Stark)
Shit Film (Martin Creed)
Under Satans Son (Maurice Pialat)
Any/All Dardennes Brothers film pre-1996
Sunday, September 28, 2008
To keep you all interested while I attempt to catch up on writing about all the films I have seen at NYFF thus far (expect my first entry in the next couple days...I've been sick and have fallen WAY behind on writing) here is a trailer for British video artist Steve McQueen's first feature Hunger which won the Camera d'Or at this years Cannes Film Festival and will show at the festival this week. I saw the film at a press screening last week, but you'll have to check back later this week for my second NYFF Entry to hear what I think. Oh, the anticipation!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Like the proverbial velvet bag of precious stolen jewels, getting a grasp on exactly what constitutes a heist film is more slippery than one might imagine. Since the first luckless thieves with ambitions too big for their britches stumbled upon the ultimate score in John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950), the heist movie has thrived as a sub-genre of the crime film, one that is nearly universal in its concept (are there any places where people don’t steal shit?) and which found a particularly comfortable home in French cinema, becoming one of America’s most influential cinematic exports.
But qualifying a heist film as a pure heist film is messy business – and we all know the key to a successful score is precision. A true heist picture is about process, not success. Planning, preparing, practicing – and let’s not forget double-crossing – are the essential elements of a memorable heist movie. Sometimes, this process reveals itself as well-paced foreplay, building up to a climactic procedural (which usually goes wrong).
Alternatively, the pre-thieving can also be used to conceal preparatory information as a mystery, keeping the audience in the dark before sneaking up and slyly saying, “You’ll never guess what I just did.” The forethought is the fetish in the heist film, regardless of the time of revelation. It is a genre of curiosity (Who? What? When? Why? Where? How?), with varying emphases on each query and varying proclivities for depicting desperation, humor, betrayal, existential tragedy, and, most of all, absolute cool.
I tried to maintain a good mixture of iconic classics, revisionist works, and modern standouts in my list, so there should be something for everyone. If you don’t find your favorite amongst the following then either A) I haven’t seen it, or B) I don’t like it quite enough – either way, you should leave a comment and rep for your most beloved burglars.
1. The Films of Jean-Pierre Melville [Bob le flambeur (1956), Le Doulos (1962), Le Deuxième soufflé (1966), Le Cercle rouge (1970), Un Flic (1972)]
Okay, so I’m cheating a little bit with my first pick. If I didn’t, this list would be unfairly overpopulated with films from the master of heists: proto-French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville. With deftly defined archetypal characters and a unique stylistic flair, Melville created a collection of the most influential heist films, working in the genre more frequently than any other filmmaker (though Soderbergh may overtake him). Melville’s laconic, no-nonsense heroes – played by the likes of Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo – confront their criminal missions with an almost religious solemnity and seriousness. His films are imbued with a quiet intensity that churns in crescendo just below their calm, collected surfaces, boiling over during dramatic robbery sequences.
Melville’s most celebrated heist films are Bob le flambeur and Le Cercle rouge, and deservedly so, as they are certainly his best. The great director’s stamp on the genre is undeniable: Bob le flambeur has been remade by Neil Jordan as The Good Thief (2002) and was heavily influential on Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut feature, Hard Eight (1996), while Le Cercle rouge is in the process of being remade by Hong Kong director Johnny To with a cast featuring Liam Neeson and Orlando Bloom – preserving Melville’s larcenous legacy.
A lasting influence on the films of the French New Wave and many others, including the next movie on this list, Melville’s oeuvre represents the absolute apex of the heist genre.
2. Reservoir Dogs (1992) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Perhaps most noteworthy about Tarantino’s much revered post-modern robbery-gone-haywire flick is that it is a heist film in which the actual heist is omitted. An undercover cop amongst the ranks of a group of would-be thieves (referred to as Mr. White, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue, etc.) foils their diamond robbery, leading to a bloody whodunit clusterfuck that involves the surviving members of the group attempting to piece together what went wrong while hiding out from the police in a warehouse.
A non-linear film with loads of flashbacks and a decidedly elliptical mode of storytelling, Tarantino’s oddly-titled masterpiece is a violent, stylish, witty movie in which the big job is invisible and the preparation is presented after the failed robbery, filling all of the detailed planning, particularly that of the undercover policeman, with an inescapable sense of doom.
A cultural cornerstone as memorable for its lengthy discussion of tipping waitresses as it is for its infamous ear-slicing scene, Reservoir Dogs is a film whose freshness and energy is still palpable over 15 years later.
3. Rififi (1955) dir. Jules Dassin
Directed by then-blacklisted American filmmaker Jules Dassin after having fled the U.S. for France, Rififi is a seminal heist movie that established many of the tropes that would come to be associated with the genre: the rag-tag team of specialized experts, the use of exact models and practice rooms to hone efficiency, the commitment to pulling off “one last job,” and the breathlessly tour-de-force breaking-in sequence.
Adapted from a racy French novel by Auguste le Breton, the film follows the aging Tony le Stéphanois as he corrals a team of seasoned criminals in order to cap his delinquent career with a high-paying jewelry store send-off. A very brutal, unrelenting film, Rififi expands the novel’s short heist scene into a 32-minute, totally wordless set piece that comprises over one-quarter of its runtime. Shockingly, the safecracking and breaking-in techniques used in the movie were so effective that Mexican authorities had to ban the film in their country because so many thieves were successfully using methods borrowed from Rififi. While the film may not be the most sensational of all heist movies, its dedicated attention to realistic detail distinguishes it from nearly all of its counterparts.
4. Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Ocean’s Twelve (2004), Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) dir. Steven Soderbergh
Since 1996’s Out of Sight, Steven Soderbergh has proven himself to be the much-needed Viagra of the heist film, and his Ocean’s trilogy represents the genre’s 6-hour boner. Everything is in full effect with this trio of stealthy stories: the hugest stars, the richest pay offs, the most implausibility, the largest production budgets, the trickiest plans, and the funniest self-referential humor.
Soderbergh’s films inject 70s suaveness and outsider playfulness into the overblown Hollywood aesthetic, emitting an ultra-hip, super-sleek, often ridiculous vibe that comes across as nothing less than charming. Riffing off of the debonair cool of the original 1960 Lewis Milestone-directed “Rat Pack” flick, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, et al, epitomize the modern heist hero – always collected, always one step ahead, always keeping the audience guessing. Exercises in style and flamboyance, the Ocean’s films are not only entertaining, but also valuable in that they got the heist movie its groove back, introducing a whole generation of moviegoers to the alluring world of breaking and entering.
5. Bottle Rocket (1996) dir. Wes Anderson
A heartfelt, offbeat, independent comedy, Bottle Rocket is certainly an anomaly in the heist genre. Absurd and touching, the film is filled with characters that would go on to be mimicked and copied in numerous indie films of the past decade, while serving as a jumpstart to the movie careers of Luke and Owen Wilson, as well as whimsical writer-director Wes Anderson.
With a more hair-brained series of schemes than any other heist film in my memory (what do you expect when the plans are concocted by a mental patient and a guy who robs his parents?) Bottle Rocket presents what happens when amateurs pretend to be pros. A lighter yang to the heavy yin of 1, 2, and 3 on this list, the film pleases with its surreal silliness, expanding the dominion of the heist film from the hardboiled to the hysterical – even throwing in a bit of romantic comedy. Worthy of the praise of crime film maestro Martin Scorsese, who called it one of the top ten films of the 90s, Bottle Rocket is an essential and unusual entry in the heist film canon.
by Brandon Colvin
This article original appeared in Rise Over Run Magazine.
Monday, September 22, 2008
I don't know if anyone else out there watched the Emmys tonight. I don't really watch much TV, other than Mad Men and some of Bravo's reality shows, but I like watching awards shows to feel like I am up with what is going on. This, however, falls into a whole different category. Josh Groban sings classic TV theme songs. I thought I would share it, in case you missed it. Maybe I'm just being cynical in regards to Groban's status with the Oprah crowd (YouTube the video of his surprise appearance on Oprah if you haven't seen it...HYSTERICAL). Still, am I the only one who finds this utterly bizarre?
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Hey everyone! Before I start my coverage of the New York Film Festival, whose press screenings started this week and I am lucky enough to be able to attend, I wanted to hear from all of you about what kind of coverage you would like to see. Although doing individual reviews of all the films I see will be quite impossible (there are 28 features in the main slate and I plan on seeing most of them), I am happy to aim to do more of individual reviews if that is what you all would rather see. Please vote in the poll as soon as possible, as I have already been to three screenings and am going toa fourth this afternoon. The first post of my coverage should be up on Friday. Also, feel free to look at the lineup online and request specific reviews that you would like to see. I'd be happy to oblige to writing about some of the films you most want to hear about.
Thanks to everyone in advance for voting! I just want to make sure that we target the site to your interests and make the festival coverage as solid as possible, without giving away everything before some of the films open up nationwide.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Updating the 1975 Roger Corman cult film Death Race 2000 and building on the premonitions of Network and The Running Man, the new Death Race places the viewer in a strange predicament between unwanted involvement and blood thirsty consumerism. On the one hand, assuming you are actually in the multiplex, everyone becomes inherently involved in the morally and politically corrupt “watch until they drop” mentality that most self-conscious liberals (including, from the looks of other reviews, most professional film critics) distance themselves from. On the other hand, Death Race constructs itself not only as a film, but, oftentimes, as the actual online event where hits, and our pulses, go up as prisoners continue to die in increasingly violent ways. Problematic? Maybe. But you’ve got to wonder at some point, in the midst of this 90 minute action sequence, who the hell cares?
Jensen Ames, an ex-con framed for the murder of his wife, is sent to Terminal Island where the most popular sport on the planet takes place: a car race where inmates kill one another for victory, promised freedom if they can win four races. Ames, a former driver, begins piecing together the mystery when he is offered the chance to drive as the masked Frankenstein, who won three races prior to his death at the hands of Machine Gun Joe. The public doesn't know that Frankenstein is dead, and he keeps the pay-per-view ratings soaring for the evil people behind the prison. Death Race puts its chips all-in, lights the chips on fire, and taunts the audience to do the same. In a film with hysterically egregious PBR product placement, constant machine gun fire out of hummers, semis, and Mustangs equipped with flamethrowers, napalm, and rocket launchers, all there to increase the varying possibilities of destruction, not to mention that Joan Allen (!) is the evil henchwomen behind it all, its not so hard to do. The shit doesn’t just hit the fan in Death Race...it bitch slaps it.
by James Hansen
Saturday, September 13, 2008
One of the trailers I have really been anxious to see. Does it have Oscar written all over it? Or will it suffer from being so obvious that Oscar is written all over it?
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
With its win at Venice and purchase to Fox Searchlight, Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler is quickly becoming one of the most anticipated films of the New York Film Festival and the winter film season. In honor of this, we might as well get the hype going by having a new poll! You just have to pick your favorite of the Aronofsky's three previous films (unless you don't like any of them or love them all, in which case I won't make you pick.) We can use the comments section of this post to discuss your selection. In case you haven't seen it, Jim Emerson has a review of sorts up on his site. Well worth checking out, as well as the rest of his coverage of the Toronto Film Festival. Now let's get the hype and some discussion going!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I was on my way to writing a DVD of the Week for this week, but just came across a nice piece on some strange film noirs at Erich Kuersten's Acidemic blog. Both works feature early filmmaker Ida Lupino. I liked the post and recommendations so much that I will defer to that as the (honorary) DVD of the Week selection for Out 1. The specific post can be found here, although the entire site is worth browsing and keeping up with, if you aren't already.
Monday, September 8, 2008
The first (and hopefully last) film ever rated PG-13 to focus on a Playboy bunny who moves into a sorority and sluts up some outsider (aka- smart) misfit (aka- ugly) wanna-be co-eds (who isn’t?), The House Bunny is likely the most ineptly edited, written, and directed comedy of this year. Far too long at a mere 97 minutes, The House Bunny is a funny premise, if naive and simple minded, that could easily work as a guilty pleasure, stupidly entertaining movie. Alas, the wealth of material for comedic fodder goes underutilized as it returns time and again to boobs, wet t-shirts, and disastrous makeover jokes. Gum in the hair, water-padded bras, and virgins, oh my! At least it shows for certain that young girls who are beautiful on the outside can be beautiful in the inside, as long as the advantage to short dresses and shit tons of make up can do.
Saving the film from the total bottom of the modern comedic barrel, narrowly avoiding the likes of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigalow and The Man, are the performances by Anna Faris and Emma Stone (and the amusing cameo from Hef.) Faris is in the midst of a solid comedic career, typically playing The Clueless Blonde, by investing herself in her characters, no matter how simple they seem, most notably in last year’s underappreciated stoner comedy Smiley Face. Stone, the beautiful and talented young actress from Superbad, has a similar look to Lindsay Lohan, although much prettier and without the few hundred personal missteps. Stone hasn’t been in very many films yet (nor very many good ones) but her potential, at least in my view, is huge. Even in the midst of disastrously long scenes put together with very little inspiration (especially the terribly long 20 minute opening expositional scene with Shelley's storybook and her time spent at the Bunny Ranch) Faris and Stone stand out and keep The House Bunny (barely) watchable.
by James Hansen
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Hello all! Out 1 got some exciting news today, hearing officially that we are accredited for the New York Film Festival! This means you can expect a lot of reviews and articles about the festival here over the course of the month. Press screenings start September 15 with Cannes winner The Class and Kelly Reichardt's much anticipated Wendy and Lucy (ok, maybe no one else is anticipating it much, but I loved Old Joy and hear even better things about this.) Although I may get bogged down in all of the different movies, I will try and focus on the film without distribution, assuming that we will likely cover the more recognizable names when the are officially released in a couple months.
Apart from festival excitement, there is plenty to do film-wise in New York this month. Now, I know that there is always something to do, but you can continue reading this post for some of the film premieres and other events going on, mostly at MOMA. A few of these were at the 2007 NYFF and are finally getting "proper" releases and others are classics that are always worth seeing again, or for the first time, in theaters. It is going to be a really, really great month to be in New York (and one that will surely make many of you non-New Yorkers jealous.)
Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures (w/ Scorpio Rising on Sep. 13 at MOMA; Sep 6-7 at Anthology)
Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives (September 17-19)
Bela Tarr's The Man From London (September 22-28)
Carlos Reygadas Retrospective (including the official US premiere of Silent Light, my favorite film from the 2007 NYFF and, with this public screening, I can (finally) heil it as one of the best of 2008; alongside the retrospective is a screening of Dreyer's Ordet which very much inspired Silent Light)
Dreyer's Gertrud (September 25 and 28 at MOMA)
Hope to see some of you at these screenings!
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Roger Corman’s satirical horror film, A Bucket of Blood (1959), presents an oftentimes disturbing and always hilarious parody of 1950s Beatnik culture. A young philistine, Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), is transformed into a Bohemian icon after he covers his landlady’s dead cat in sculpting plaster to hide the fact that he accidentally killed it but then has the plastered cat mistaken for a work of art. Pressured by the assumption of his creative genius and a growing reputation in the high-falutin’ café cliques, Walter moves to human figures and quickly turns homicidal in the name of preserving the haunting appearance of death described in his “sculptures” and continuing his artistic success. Scripted by Corman’s fellow B-movie master Charles B. Griffith, this surprising film lampoons cultural pretension and makes a mockery of upper-crust artsy types, shooting an arrow through the heart of the 1950s San Francisco zeitgeist.
Full of laughs and campy shocks, the film is a one-of-a-kind mixture of technically proficient filmmaking, witty humor, and macabre conceit. It’s the sort of film that might feel at home alongside Mary Harron’s American Psycho (1999) – in fact, the two would make an excellent double feature. Both films are wonderfully and unusually entertaining and provide scathing insights into social phenomena integral to understanding a certain period in American culture. What American Psycho does for 80s yuppies, A Bucket of Blood does for 50s hipsters.
by Brandon Colvin