Here are the details for the next set of films shown as part of the 2009 Rooftop Film Series. I'm especially excited by the new work from Cory McAbee - his first feature, The American Astronaut, is a must see. Hope some of you out there can make it!
Fri, June 5
Trapped Inside the Machine (short films)
A fun, frantic, fantastical program of films about losing your grip on
reality, and reality losing its grip on the world.
Venue: on the roof of the Open Road Rooftop
Address: 350 Grand Street @ Essex (Lower East Side, Manhattan)
8:00PM: Doors open
8:30PM: Sound Fix presents live music
11:30PM - 1:00AM: Open Bar at Fontana's (105 Eldridge St), courtesy of
More info and purchase tickets at :
Sat, June 6
Stingray Sam (Feature length film)
A dazzling six-episode musical-western comedy that takes place in
outer space, written, directed by and starring Cory McAbee, the
creator of The American Astronaut. The filmmakers will be in
attendance. Watch a trailer at
Venue: on the roof of the Brooklyn Tech
Address: 29 Fort Greene Place (Fort Greene, Brooklyn) MAP
8:00PM: Doors open
8:30PM: Sound Fix presents live music
More info and purchase tickets at :
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
by Chuck Williamson
If award prognosticators are to be believed, this year’s Cannes Film Festival was little more than a two-horse race between Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon and Jacques Audriard’s A Prophet. Of course, the Palme d’Or ultimately went to Haneke, but Audriard’s film nonetheless sent shockwaves through the croisette and became a festival sensation. The film went on to win the Grand Prix and, according to Indiewire, was unofficially named the festival’s top-rated film by critics. With this post-festival buzz in mind, I think it would be a good time to revisit Audriard’s last film, which I believe might be one of the best films of the decade: The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005). Loosely adapted from James Toback’s little-seen cult oddity Fingers (1978), the film mixes two-fisted pulp with haunting mediation, pulsing with nervy, near-volatile energy but pausing long enough to capture the tortured romanticism and artistic longing of its protagonist.
Filled with grainy, handheld camerawork and jagged, arrhythmic editing, The Beat That My Heart Skipped visualizes the tense, broken-down Parisian underworld where Tom (Romain Duris), a low-rent thug working for his sleazy slumlord father (Niels Arestrup) as a brutal enforcer and debt-collector, seems predestined to follow the family legacy of crime and corruption. But when a chance encounter awakens his long-dormant aspirations of following his deceased mother’s footsteps and becoming a classical pianist, Tom soon finds a means to channel his rage into music—and soon finds himself struggling between familial duty and artistic fulfillment. Featuring blistering, hyperkinetic action interspersed with quiet moments of introspection and development—not to mention a charismatic, irrepressible lead performance from Duris—The Beat That My Heart Skipped is an intoxicating cocktail that remains a singular cinematic experience.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
by Brandon Colvin
Detached, cynical, and sleek, multitasking auteur Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience locates within the upscale escort industry the urbanized ennui and pervasive isolation of a culture engaged in a self-destructive obsession with superficial transaction and endless commodification. Soderbergh – who produced, directed, wrote, photographed, and edited the film on a miniscule budget – cuts to the metaphorical heart of contemporary American society by centering The Girlfriend Experience around a high-class prostitute, Chelsea (controversially played by hardcore porn actress Sasha Grey), whose daily routine consists of a series of vapid sexual encounters, distant social performances, and stoically willful exploitations, all taking place within the glossy modernized environs of jet-black limousines, expensive hotels, and fashionable apartments. Using mostly non-professional actors playing roles very similar to their actual lives – reminiscent of Bresson’s theories on performance and “models” – The Girlfriend Experience is as stylistically detached from its subject matter as its characters are from their own lives, employing obstruction, monotony, and muted drama to emphasize the disconnected banality of exchange rates, investment opportunities, and self-marketing.
Swirling with the hushed political and economic anxiety of its setting (just before the ’08 presidential election), Soderbergh’s film tracks Chelsea and her live-in boyfriend, Chris (Chris Santos), a physical trainer who struggles with the reality of Chelsea’s line of work, as they navigate through what seems like a perpetual stream of bullshitting businessmen and power-centric professionals. There is no sincerity – only straight-talk alternating with double-talk, both being equally impersonal. The two lovers are the only characters in the film that even appear to genuinely grasp for anything that might be emotionally substantial, attempting to disrupt their hollow routines for a chance to recover themselves and their lives. Their actions, however, are futile, and the film is haunted by an aura of understated disappointment, an inability to transcend calculated transactions for something spontaneous, something fulfilling – something real. Ironically, despite its lack of sincerity, The Girlfriend Experience feels heartbreakingly factual, no doubt due to its fantastic casting and effectively uninvolved style.
Soderbergh’s decision to cast his actors as themselves is really what makes the film come to life. Delivering their lines with a humdrum sense of normalcy and ordinariness, The Girlfriend Experience’s character are believable to the point of being nearly uninteresting. Their selfishness and self-consciousness are so utterly self-centered that one feels an understandable lack of sympathy for them, any sense of concern coming from sheer proximity and duration. This, of course, is Soderbergh’s aim, to expose the meaningless pattern of their lives for what it is – a series of self-serving manipulations. Who better understands this than the economists, stockbrokers, CEOs, and sexual performers themselves? Even if they don’t communicate this consciously, the actors’ authenticity lends a certain believable automatism to their performances, epitomized wonderfully in Chelsea’s monotone voiceovers recounting the matter-of-fact details of her encounters with various clients, transforming sexual pleasure into a disinterestedly recited laundry list.
The fractured and languid visual rhythms, distanced framings, and antiseptic locales of The Girlfriend Experience accentuate the film’s sense of unconquerable detachment. Soderbergh’s editing style throughout the film alternates between rapid, impressionistic successions of architectural, connective shots and lethargic long takes of conversations and mundane behavior, all of which are repeatedly joined by dialogue sound bridges and a brilliantly low-key score. Reflections, lighting fixtures, metallic surfaces, and skyscrapers are featured in most of the fleeting quick cuts, establishing the cold mood of shallow sleekness and formulating a disorienting landscape, a clashing mish-mash of indistinguishable urban settings and painfully modern design. The film’s slow scenes are even more evocative of The Girlfriend Experience’s banal tone, lingering with bored attention to the pathetic events of Chelsea’s life and imparting a feeling of empty tedium to her circumstance, as well as to that of those around her.
Nearly every shot in The Girlfriend Experience exudes the distanced quality of Chelsea’s life. Featuring mostly medium and long shots that are almost always obscured by foreground objects or in which the characters are out of focus/frame, the film’s compositional approach is removed, like visual eavesdropping, but more a result of the walls erected by the characters to sequester themselves from real contact and connection than any sort of sly attempt at observational realism on Soderbergh’s part. The detached editing patterns and distant shot compositions combine with the minimalist design of the various domiciles and locations to give the film the overall ambiance of a mildly occupied airport. Repeatedly throughout the film, the somber sounds of Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports seem as if they would provide the perfect soundtrack to the clean-lined, impersonal, public isolation that dominates much of The Girlfriend Experience. Indeed, the characters talk and talk but communicate very little, their real feelings coming through only in brief moments between financial concerns. Tragically separated from one another by their self-interested obsessions with preserving a certain affluent lifestyle, the characters are as alone as strangers casting glances across a row of seats in the waiting area of sleepy terminal.
Friday, May 22, 2009
by Brandon Colvin
In the wake of the recent Cannes tumult over his apparently incendiary horror film/Strindbergian chamber drama/brutally ironic comedy, Antichrist, Lars Von Trier has proclaimed himself (with a certain amount of sarcasm) the “greatest filmmaker in the world” – a controversial statement from the man who might be cinema’s most outrageous enfant terrible. My favorite Von Trier film, however, isn’t as transgressive as his Dogme and Dogme-esque films (Breaking the Waves (1996), The Idiots (1998), Dancer in the Dark (2000)) or his experimentations with the stage and artifice (Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005)). Instead, Europa (1991) – the last film in Von Trier’s early trilogy also containing The Element of Crime (1984) and Epidemic (1987) – is a film that presents a classical Hollywood aesthetic wrapped in a Kafkaesque dream, a film that Entertainment Weekly fittingly described as “one part Casablanca, two parts Eraserhead.” Astonishingly, Europa actually lives up to its pedigree.
Finding the Danish auteur operating in a more robustly traditional mode of cinematic storytelling, Europa unravels the twilight reality of a surreal post-WWII Germany as American neutralist Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr) takes a job as a sleeping car conductor on the Zentropa railway via the nepotistic actions of his uncle, a former Nazi. Photographed in vigorous and precise black-and-white, Leopold’s journey into the twisted circumstance of a defeated, yet defiant Germany is complicated by his romance with Katharina Hartmann (Barbara Sukowa), a relationship that plops him in the middle of an entanglement with a group of nationalistic terrorists known as the “Werewolves” and plunges Leopold into a power struggle that coaxes him out of his pacifistic complacency. Receiving less attention that many of Von Trier’s later, more abrasive works, Europa is disappointingly underrated (despite its recent Criterion release) in Von Trier’s oeuvre, and is relatively unseen considering its availability. I would advise queueing it up on Netflix to tide you over until Antichrist hits the states. I promise that by the time Max Von Sydow finishes his opening narration, you will be utterly hypnotized.
Monday, May 18, 2009
by Chuck Williamson
For James Toback, Mike Tyson has always been a paradoxical figure: a tough, taciturn bruiser, bigger-than-life but broken-down, snarling with cold menace but slinking into shadows, spouting tough guy rhetoric while riffing on Greta Garbo’s character from Grand Hotel: “I vant to be alone.” He bristles with piss and rage, chewing scenery and swinging fists—but at the same time, these extended cameos hint at a vulnerability and ennui that can only be erased by anonymity and the erasure of celebrity. Black and White (1999), for instance, tracks Tyson down in a back corner, lost in a melancholic isolation that ignites into brutal, homophobic violence when a fey, lisping Robert Downey, Jr. badgers the pugilist with celebrity-obsessed come-ons; his role in When Will I Be Loved (2005), meanwhile, gives us a Tyson attempting to break away from fame’s manacles by reconstructing the self through the unconvincing pseudonym of “Buck from Minnesota.”
Now, with Tyson, Toback pulls “Iron” Mike out of the periphery, promoting him from bit player to major performer. But the film grafts onto its threadbare “rise-and-fall” narrative the same ambiguities and anxieties that characterized the heavyweight in those previous films. Throughout his pained, discursive confessional, Tyson alternates between macho discourse and wounded contemplation, howling tirades and choked-back tears. While the film’s prolonged interview goes through the biographical checkpoints—starting with Tyson as an insecure, troubled youth taken under the wing of trainer Cus D’Amato and concluding with the downward spiral of sex, drugs, and ear-biting—its chief attraction is not narrative but psychological. The film’s structure—where Tyson’s authorial voice competes with fragmentary montage and interspersed footage—cuts through the thin veil of objectivity and attains, instead, a more personal, psychological truth where the viewer is asked to fill in textual gaps and infer meaning from a tangled discourse.
Tyson is at its best when it mines these cracks and contradictions—and many of these moments come from the rambling, sometimes contradictory nature of the boxer’s monologue. When discussing the match that won him the heavyweight championship, for instance, Tyson intersperses the epic—a play-by-play analysis of the match—with the pathetic—a personal recollection of the inflamed gonorrhea he had contracted the night before but was too ashamed to be treated for. In another sequence, Tyson berates his former manager Don King as a “slimy, reptilian motherfucker” who leached onto his fame, only to come to the sad conclusion that he may have been a leach himself. At times, even the film’s formal elements visualize these ambiguities. One of the film’s most powerful moments mixes archival footage with collaged soundbites, overlaying empowered tough talk with the anxious—even fearful—mutterings of being scared before every fight; the conflicting words and images collide and coalesce, highlighting the elusive and contradictory nature of its subject. In several scenes, Toback fragments the images through multi-paneled split-screens while Tyson’s offbeat, outsider-poet lyricism loops and overlaps over the soundtrack. The film patches together, from the fragments of memory and narrative, an unstable, incongruous image of Mike Tyson that is both fascinating and multi-layered.
This does not mean that Tyson does not overstay his welcome. At times, his presence can be suffocating—particularly when Tyson’s unchallenged misogyny and predilection for cliché occasionally hijack the film. Tyson’s discrediting of Desiree Washington’s rape allegations—she’s the “lying whore,” he’s the helpless victim—is but one instance where Tyson’s troubling views on women reduce our interest in him; it does not help that this is one of the few subjects the film chooses to gloss over and take at face value. Even worse, Tyson eventually stuffs its final act with feel-good treacle and convenient clichés, allowing its subject to wallow in an assortment of family-first, love-conquers-all banalities better suited for Hollywood biopics. By allowing Tyson to construct his own narrative conclusion, the film ultimately devolves into cheap, sentimental claptrap where redemption and happiness can be attained through—what else?—the love of a child.
Or does it? In the film’s final shot, Tyson leers at the camera and delivers, without irony, a groan-worthy denouement: “My past is history, and my future’s a mystery.” But instead of cutting away, the camera pushes in for an extreme close-up, lingering long on Tyson’s sickly face as he wheezes and gasps. Even to the end, the film seems content to show us the cracks beneath Tyson’s façade.
Friday, May 15, 2009
by James Hansen
With the Cannes Film Festival starting up this week, I think it is a good time to look back at maybe the most notorious film shown at Cannes this decade. Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny, a film that seems to be talked about more than actually seen, premiered at Cannes, unfinished, in 2003 at a running time of 118 minutes. Though that version has not been seen since Cannes where it was shredded by critics, the 93 minute final version of The Brown Bunny, released in theaters in the US in 2004, is both a beautiful and profound exploration of self imposed guilt, isolation, and wounded masculinity. That The Brown Bunny takes the form of a road movie, where a melodramatic path to self discovery is a must, and inverts the methodology in such an effective manner is a credit to Gallo’s direction, editing, and performance. His sly, somber glances, whether on the bike or sitting at a table, are heartfelt and devastating. Underscored perfectly by the spare, low key sound design, The Brown Bunny is not a controversial one trick pony. It’s a great American film.
For those of you who think this must be some sort of trick, I assure you it is not. It may still be a divisive film (although I am still slightly baffled why other than its use of real sex, which some find objectionable), but one that, at the very least, is worth actually being seen. If you watch The Brown Bunny with an open mind, rather than pigeon holing its depths by dismissing it as the movie where Chloe Sevigny actually gives Vincent Gallo a blow job, you’ll find an inspired, intricate piece of work worthy of high praise.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
by James Hansen
Already a successful attempt to resuscitate a dormant franchise, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek moves the series back to square one for a new generation of fans. Lest ye Trekkies get offended, desperately grappling for your nostalgiac memories of something that can never be replaced, Abrams makes plenty of unnecessary nods towards the franchise’s past, while firmly moving it onto new, if infinitely more conventional ground. Star Trek shows that Hollywood may not be comfortable with a complete reboot, as the hackneyed script by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman confuses itself by attempting to justify the new franchise’s very existence by pitting it alongside, yet in an alternative reality (2009) than, the series’ first reality (1960s/70s/Vietnam/Cold War era). Perhaps cries of heresy would have arisen if there was no recognition of what Star Trek has already been, but Star Trek (2009) feels befuddled when it starts making referents to its own past that it uncomfortably accepts while it wishes it could deny more completely.
And yet. AND YET.
Star Trek is an abundant success as an action movie and a launch for a modern cinematic franchise. Abrams, ever present as a television power, shows big screen confidence that was absent in his directorial debut Mission Impossible 3. Perhaps a credit to his development with the large canvas of Lost, Abrams’ uneven yet oftentimes dazzling TV series, Star Trek is commanding, loud, and aggressive, all the while remaining visually coherent even if it is a bit haphazard at times. Abrams and cinematographer Damien Mindel clearly want to keep things moving in and out of action sequences, as the camera spins, turns, pans, and tracks as much during both the Enterprise’s assault on Nero’s ship as it does when Spock’s rejects his position from an organization that sees his human side as a drawback. Oftentimes, the camerawork really does nothing other than draw attention to itself ¬– a sure sign of Abrams’ sophomoric direction. Still, the sharp editing (not a synonym for rapid) from Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey layers the action and maintains a visually vibrancy. Though it can’t do much to save large scenes that should have been removed entirely (the script really is the major pitfall, as Joe Schuster as thoroughly explained), there is enough spunk amid some mishaps to make the new Star Trek very alive.
What takes Star Trek beyond being another pretty decent action movie are the terrific, charismatic performances by the young cast. Chris Pine, as Kirk, and Zachary Quinto, as Spock, display the kind of chemistry missing from tech-driven franchises and show flashes of deeper characters beyond what is given to them by the script. While Trekkies undoubtedly know these characters inside and out before they are even seen on screen, there is little information given about who they are – another sign of the movie’s confusion of having one foot in the old series and one foot way out. Luckily, the supporting performances, especially from Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin, are polished, lively, and fun. They provide the support that Pine and Quinto need to carry Star Trek past its weaknesses and to a surprisingly effective high.
And yet. AND YET.
I wonder how well this movie actually serves a legendary series and franchise like Star Trek by means of restructuring the entire product. Without ignoring the original series completely, something fans of the series and the makers of this movie clearly don’t want to do, what direction is the already successful new Star Trek franchise headed in? And do Trekkies out there even care? Is everyone happy enough to see the much beloved characters reunited? Or should there be a stronger desire for some political and social aspects that seem so central to “the Original” to remain embedded in the series? As someone with little connection to the series, perhaps I’m actually the target audience for this – the next generation of fans – and I’m perfectly happy to see a well made, space opera action series. Is that what Star Trek is? Was? Should be? Should I be dreaming of hours of content on the sociopolitical aspects of Vulcan planets? Because, Trekkies, with Abrams at the helm, those days are long behind you. While some may argue this was merely a set up for content to come later, Star Trek, as a uber-mainstream $70 mil opening weekend franchise, isn’t going to suddenly be interested in politics. If anything, the only things that will increase are the recognizable names in the cast, the budget, and the number of explosions, fight scenes, and unnecessary time travel. Perhaps everything new should be accepted as existing in an alternative reality, as the plot of Star Trek (2009) suggests. I’ve got no problem with that. But what does that do to Star Trek (1966- present)? Is this a good Star Trek movie, or just a good movie? Or either? Does it matter? Maybe not. But I suspect if Abrams doesn’t get new Star Trek on some firmer ground next time around, fans, new and old, may be wishing Star Trek lived long and prospered in their nostalgiac minds rather than on the stage its headed towards.
But hey, it’s still a good movie, right?
Friday, May 8, 2009
by James Hansen
Christian Petzold's stunning new work Jerichow opens in New York and LA next week, so why not take this week to catch up with his last feature Yella (I know I've been meaning to). That way you can all go into Jerichow with some form of Petzold background. Yella took a long while to get a commercial release in the US, likely because Petzold's name has yet to embraced by American audiences, but I suspect Jerichow could (and should) do just that. (Expect a full review sometime next week, but let me be a blurb whore and go ahead and call it one the best films of the year). Alas, Yella did get a well deserved release and was pretty well received. So, while it may not be earth shattering, its a solid movie and Petzold is certainly a director worth paying attention to.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
So, I don't usually do posts like this, but I was researching a movie today that I'm supposed to be writing on soon for Film For The Soul's Counting Down The Zeroes Project and ran across this poster for Code Unknown, which made me think of another poster and movie with [perhaps] similar ideas behind it, at least from the reviews I've read. Anyone else weirded out by this? Or am I stretching for the sake of stretching?
Reverse Shot recently
stole Brandon from us discovered how awesome Brandon was which led to this review of Wolverine. I don't know if I'm allowed to post the whole thing here or not, so, for lack of knowing, I at least wanted to let everyone know so they have the link. Good work, Brandon!
Monday, May 4, 2009
FRIDAY, MAY 15, 8pm ALL AGES
This is What We Mean By Short Films with Musical Guests Cymbals Eat Guitars
Venue: The Open Road Rooftop Project
Address: 350 Grand Street @ Essex (Lower East Side, Manhattan)
8:00PM: Doors open
8:30PM: Sound Fix presents live music by Cymbals Eat Guitars
11:30PM - 1:00AM: Open Bar Fontana's (105 Eldridge St), courtesy of Radeberger Beer.
Tickets: $9 at the door or online at going.com
Ticketing Link: http://newyork.going.com/event-592057;Rooftop_Films_Opening_Night_2009
The Rooftop Films 2009 Summer Series returns for our 13th season, screening every weekend from May 15 -September 20. This summer, Rooftop will host more than 40 unique outdoor events, featuring programs of new, independently produced films from around the world paired with New York’s best and brightest musical acts. We’ll be in more than a dozen spectacular outdoor locations around New York City and anticipate over 25,000 attendees throughout the summer.
On Friday, May 15 the Rooftop Films Summer Series opens with the shorts program, “This is What We Mean by Short Films” at the Open Road Rooftop above New Design High School (Lower East Side). These are the movies that define the short film as a genre—quickly clever but profoundly rich, packed with hard-hitting humor and long-lasting poignancy.
Before the films, Sound Fix presents Cymbals Eat Guitars. The Staten Island rockers have been getting a lot of attention for their first self-released album Why There Are Mountains and were just named "Best New Music" by Pitchfork And after the films, everyone in attendance is invited to the Rooftop Films after party at Fontana's where we will be serving complimentary Radeberger Pilsner until 1 AM and hanging out with the filmmakers and the band.
Friday, May 1, 2009
by Chuck Williamson
One of Britain’s last silent films, Piccadilly visualizes the metropolitan space as pure modernist spectacle—a twisted knot of kinetic energy and abstract fragmentation—but also presents that same London milieu as a bisected heteropolis, a location defined by its impenetrable racial, cultural, and spatial boundaries. Mixing social realism with fluid formalism, Piccadilly weaves into its skeletal plot an examination of cross-cultural relations that belies its narrative simplicity. Set in the smoke-filled parlor rooms and jazz-clubs of London’s West End, the film establishes these spatial barriers almost immediately, crosscutting between the restrained, respectable, antiseptic dance-hall of the upper-classes and the cavernous, carnivalesque, near-decayed scullery—where Shosho (Anna May Wong), a sultry immigrant dishwasher, gives a wild, erotic dance performance. Eventually, Shosho catches the attention of the club impresario, Valentine (Jameson Thomas), and not only supplants dance diva Miss Mabel (Gilda Gray) as the club’s main attraction, but also the love interest of her benefactor. From here, the plot twists into backstage politics, sexual triangles, and—of course!—a unexpected murder.
Make no mistake—for most, the primary attraction of this film will be the luminous presence of Anna May Wong, who functions in the film as an alluring, sexually frank alternative to those cloistered Brits. But like Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box, Wong infuses into her performance a dash of mystery and ambiguity, transforming her potentially one-dimensional pleasure-seeker into an elusive and isolated figure who is both defined and destroyed by her desires. For Wong, a single sensuous gaze comes loaded with an infinite number of meanings, and the viewer cannot help but be mesmerized by her mere presence. It is a riveting, sumptuous performance that, under different circumstances, could have turned her into a cinematic icon.