29 September 2008

Tuesday Weld, Where Have You Gone?

Play It As It Lays – dir. Frank Perry – 1972 – USA

When Sony Pictures Classics re-released Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger in theatres back in October of 2005, Los Angeles Times writer Carina Chocano remarked that its release was “a stark indictment of what film culture has become.” Stating that The Passenger was “a night at the movies, in 1975,” the film stood as a sad reminder of the last great period of Hollywood cinema. Technically, The Passenger wasn’t a Hollywood movie (it was co-produced by Italy, France and Spain), but for all intensive purposes, it at least recalled the period when Hollywood made challenging films for adults. Frank Perry’s adaptation of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays wasn’t a rousing success for audiences or critics when it came out in 1972, but watching it now, it wasn’t just a case of missed connections but of a sad elegy of what used to be.

It would seem fitting that Play It As It Lays was, on the surface, an exposé of glamorous disillusionment through the story of Maria Wyeth (the wonderful Tuesday Weld), an actress with an existential crisis. My friend Bradford described the certain shock of going into a film like Play It As It Lays with contemporary Hollywood on the mind. “’They expect me to discern?!’ you catch yourself thinking, and then chide yourself for doing so.” Perry never allows for easiness in his vision just as Didion never allows for it in her material. The elliptical editing, reminiscent of some of Nicolas Roeg’s finer work, feels so alarming and so fresh, transporting the viewer into situations in medias res.

Universal, notorious for either holding onto films or unaware of their holding of rights, has yet to release Play It As It Lays on DVD, and I wouldn’t expect it any time soon. If it’s hard to imagine a film like this being financed and released by Hollywood today, it’s probably harder for the studios to understand why a film like this is so important and so tragically missed in the hearts of true film lovers.

25 September 2008

Le Tourbillon

La ronde - dir. Max Ophüls - 1950 - France

Yikes. All excitement I had for Criterion's recent release of Max
Ophüls' La ronde came to a screeching hault within the first five minutes. Having seen Roger Vadim's 1964 remake prior, I hadn't expected the Barbarella director to almost mirror Ophüls' film, or perhaps more accurately Arthur Schnitzler's play. So when things played out nearly identically, I think I'd done myself a disservice by seeing Jane Fonda/Anna Karina version before this one. But that wouldn't be as self-punishing as if I hadn't realized what Vadim did right that Ophüls' didn't. Yikes indeed.

La ronde, thus, becomes hindered by the presence of Anton Walbrook as the "Raconteur," the guide through the film's circular structure, grimacing slyly through the sequences and addressing the audience in delicate mannerisms and the occasional lousy song. I found my skin crawling up my arms every time he winked-and-nudged onscreen, conjuring up more of the theatrical apparatus than the cinematic realm. For what purpose does he serve the film? His entire character is thankfully wiped clear of Vadim's version, allowing for the action to flow in more of a sweeping action, keeping the action swift... and if Vadim succeeded over Ophüls in any way, it would have to be here. And "here" is crucial.

I feel a tad reluctant to admit that the fascinating structural examination of bedfellows worked better in Dean Howell's liberty-taking Nine Lives, from 2004. It uses the same approach, following one character through their "romantic" coupling and then following that person's partner as they move to the next person. Nine Lives uses the format in most devestating manners, achieving everything that it should from the lay-out, crafting a haunting, mysterious glimpse into these nine lives. Of course, I'll take Richard Linklater's brilliant Slacker over all three, but it's strange that a little-seen queer film from four years ago proved a better exploration than the works of two respected French auteurs. Yikes.

On connaît la chanson

New Yorker has just announced the DVD for Alain Resnais' musical/comedy Same Old Song [On connaît la chanson], for 9 December. The film stars André Dussollier, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Sabine Azéma, Agnès Jaoui, Lambert Wilson and Jane Birkin; it also walked away with about a hundred Césars when it was released in 1997.

24 September 2008

Previous 10: 24 September - Sex and Shitty

In defense of my inclusion of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and Young@Heart on the top list, I have this to say. For Miss Pettigrew, I found myself charmed beyond the film's shortcomings; for Young, the film was too entertaining and endearing for me to judge it any other way. Yeah, some critic I am defending movies for being "charming," "entertaining" and "endearing." Fuck. Derek is not astounding by any means, and I've heard a lot of people left the film disappointed, but it worked as a nice time capsule for Jarman's work and provided a nice outlet to hear Tilda Swinton speak. And, really, I have nothing to say about Sex & the City, so don't ask. And, yes, Another Gay Sequel may be well on its way to being the worst film of 2008, sliding just past Drillbit Taylor and What We Do Is Secret in my book.

La Crème

Derek - dir. Isaac Julien - UK - Kino - with Tilda Swinton, Derek Jarman

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - dir. Bharat Nalluri - UK - Focus Features - with Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace, Shirley Henderson, Ciarán Hinds, Mark Strong, Tom Payne

Yella - dir. Christian Petzold - Germany - Cinema Guild - with Nina Hoss, Devid Striesow, Hinnerk Schönemann

Young@Heart - dir. Stephen Walker - USA/UK - Fox Searchlight

Les Autres

Alexandra [Aleksandra] - dir. Alexandr Sokurov - Russia/France - Cinema Guild - with Galina Vishnevskaya, Vasily Shevtsov

Doomsday - dir. Neil Marshall - UK/USA/South Africa/Germany - Rogue Pictures - with Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell, Craig Conway, Adrian Lester, Lee-Anne Liebenberg, Alexander Siddig, Sean Pertwee, Nathalie Boltt

The Plans of Man - dir. Rachael BernSousa - UK/USA - Cinequest - with Dean Loxton, Adriane Denia, Will Edenzor, Oneshin Aiken, Amanda Fullerton

Sex and the City - dir. Michael Patrick King - USA - New Line - with Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Chris Noth, Jennifer Hudson, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis, Willie Garson, Mario Cantone, Candice Bergen

The Bad

Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild! - dir. Todd Stephens - USA - TLA Releasing - with Jonah Blechman, Jake Mosser, Jimmy Clabots, Aaron Michael Davies, Euriamis Losada, Perez Hilton, RuPaul, The Lady Bunny, Stephanie McVay, Will Wikle, Amanda Lepore

Polar Opposites - dir. Fred Olen Ray - USA - here! Films - with Charles Shaughnessy, Beth Grant, Tracy Nelson, Ken Barnett, Kieren Hutchison

22 September 2008


Severin in the UK is set to release Roman Polanski's elusive What?, or Diary of Forbidden Dreams as it is sometimes known. The film stars Marcello Mastroianni and Sydne Rome. The disc streets on 20 October.

Facets, New Yorker, Weinstein, IFC in Dec

The Weinstein Company has announced a release of the British horror film Eden Lake from director James Watkins, who just wrote the script for the upcoming sequel to The Descent, for 30 December. IFC has also announced that Christopher Zalla's Sangre de mi sangre will be out on 16 December.

New Yorker has announced three short documentaries by Werner Herzog for 9 December. The films include The Dark Glow of the Mountains [Gasherbrum - Der leuchtende Berg] (1985), Ballad of the Little Solider [Ballade vom kleinen Soldaten] (1984) and Precautions Against Fanatics [Massnahmen gegen Fanatiker] (1969).

Facets will release another film from both Alexander Kluge and Helma Sanders-Brahms. Artists in the Big Top: Perplexed [Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos] will join Facet's releases of Part-Time Work of a Domestic Slave and Yesterday Girl for Kluge, just as My Heart Is Mine Alone [Mein Herz - Niemandem!] will join The Future of Emily, Germany Pale Mother, No Mercy No Future and Under the Pavement Lies the Strand for Sanders-Brahms. Facets will also be releasing Jean-Claude Brisseau's Céline on 23 December.

And I've heard from the grapevine that Criterion will release The Exterminating Angel this February. Could be a rumor, but that's all I got.

21 September 2008

Girlfriend Is Better

With BFI's Region 2 release of Michelangelo Antonioni's The Red Desert set for 20 October, could this mean that a US release is on its way? It's been an eternity since the Image disc went out of print, and it's not like that disc was pristine by any means. And while we're speaking Antonioni, why not throw Zabriskie Point, Identification of a Woman (which was released by Mr. Bongo Films in the UK this summer) and a re-release of Beyond the Clouds and La notte in the mix? I'll be happy with just Red Desert though. Does Criterion own the rights?

Tattoos of Ships, Tattoos of Tears

Alexandra [Aleksandra] – dir. Alexandr Sokurov – 2007 – Russia/France

Maybe I’ve watched too many films, but I often can get a whiff of what a director’s steppin’ in early into a film, which is why when a director deviates from these expectations, I overexcite myself. Unfortunately, Alexandra is rather easy to decipher. Throughout the film, I kept thinking, “this film would probably make a good music video for CocoRosie’s ‘Beautiful Boyz.’” Yeah, Alexandra has a paint-drying pace and most of its color is washed away, but there are some illuminating sequences, particularly when Sokurov cuts from grouchy Alexandra’s (Galina Vishnevskaya) wandering around the military base to the faces of the young Russian soldiers. When Alexandra sticks to being an enigmatic portrayal of war pawns, it’s a whole lot more fascinating than Alexandra’s pleases for her grandson to find a wife and leave the army. To many, Alexandra was all about its star, opera singer Vishnevskaya, but for me, her presence did little other than irritate, which maybe was the point. Maybe.

Forgive Them, Father, for They Are Gay

Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild – dir. Todd Stephens – 2008 – USA

Why is it that when gay cinema rears its ugly head, it’s always so much more blinding to the eye than heterosexual cinema? I could probably cite a number of “straight” films more inept than Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild, but it seems that when gay films fail, they’re more likely to be seeped in venom and puss. Another Gay Sequel is as bitchy as you’d imagine it to be, so bitchy in fact that writer/producer/director Todd Stephens eclipses his finer attempts at satire with a sassy huff that’s more akin to a gum-chewing Valley bimbo (do those still exist?) than the sting it so wishes to create. For starters, only one of the original quartet of homos returned for the second outing, allowing for the character’s mother to make a jab about how “some actors’ agents think that doing two gay movies in a row might make people actually think that they’re gay.” This would be all fine-and-dandy if it didn’t seem so cross, or if it weren’t followed with the nelly fag Nico (Jonah Blechman) remarking, “they’re much cuter than I remember.” And, shockingly, even more hollow of caricatures than I remember. The jock, the hot nerd, the all-American college boy and the queen are all there, at least in sketches.

What makes Another Gay Sequel even more appalling than its last outing is not its weird sexual agenda in which only attractive, hairless young boys are allowed to have sex and out-of-the-ordinary sexuality is treated as bottom-of-the-barrel comedy; it’s the rampant racism and sexism that makes Another Gay Sequel so irredeemable. If one is to accept the terms of this gay fantasia in which gay is attributed as the inverse of heterosexuality and the roles are reversed to the point where heterosexuality is nonexistent, it’s still a tough pill to swallow when you look at the whitewashing of the whole endeavor. One line, which would have worked in a sharper movie, has RuPaul, the emcee of the Gays Gone Wild Competition, defending one of the prizes, a trip to some rundown city in New Jersey, as having wonderful potential “if the gays can finally get rid of the blacks.” But wait! RuPaul is the only black person in the whole movie. And if we’re staying on the equal opportunity wagon, how come only two characters, Nico’s mom and the high school bull dyke, are actually played by women, and how come they only make an appearance in the opening scene?

For a film that relies so heavily on a strange history of iconic female figures in cinema, it’s terribly condescending to wipe your film clean of any… vagina. I’m sure if the female anatomy were ever mentioned in the film, it’d make the quartet squeal. With references as broad as Heathers, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, 10, Splash and Mommie Dearest, the film bites the hand that feeds it, in the same vain of the original which finds much of its humor looking down on 90s gay cinema. Replacing the room for females or blacks instead are the likes of gay porn stars, reality TV personalities and the despicable Perez Hilton, who’s about as funny as a dirty sock. Either Another Gay Sequel is one of the nastiest (in all the ways it doesn’t try to be) films I’ve ever seen, or it’s the most scarily accurate depiction of the racist, sexist, ageist state of young gay America. Either way, there’s no cause for celebration here.

16 September 2008

From Cannes, With Love

Have you been wondering what’s become of all those films you were reading about back in May when the Cannes Film Festival was underway? Since neither you nor I could attend, it can tend to be a bit disappointing discovering films that we probably won’t be able to see for months or, as is sometimes the case, even in over a year. For both of our benefits, I’ve done my research and found out where all of the In Competition titles stand in their post-festival limbo. I hope this provides helpful, and I intend to do the same for this year’s Venice and Toronto, even though they contain a bunch of duplicates and even though neither fest seemed to impress much of anyone. I will also take a look at some of the more notable out-of-competition films from Cannes.

Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness, the opening film of the festival, was only one of two In Competition films that had a distributor going in (Miramax). The film, which stars Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael García Bernal, Alice Braga and Danny Glover, will be released on 6 October in a cut different from the one that premiered to some pretty lousy reviews at Cannes. The new version received a similarly mixed reaction at Toronto.

Atom Egoyan’s Adoration, which stars Arsinée Khanjian, Scott Speedman and Rachel Blanchard, was the other, getting picked up by Sony Pictures Classics a few weeks before the festival began. I had initially read that Sony was planning a fall release for the film, but their website now states that the date is to be announced. No doubt the film’s negative reception didn’t help, though I have to believe it’s better than Egoyan’s last film, Where the Truth Lies.

Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich and Amy Ryan, was produced by Universal and will begin its limited run on 24 October.

Laurent Cantet’s Entre les murs, the Palme d’Or winner this year at Cannes, was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics with the bland title The Class. It opens on 12 December in New York and on Christmas in Los Angeles, so if you don’t live in either city, you’ll probably have to wait until January.

IFC Films picked up Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah (Gomorra), winner of the Grand Prix, just after the festival wrapped, though no date has been set. You may notice with the way the market has been lately Sony Pictures Classics and IFC Films pretty much have first dibs on all the notable international titles (which, in my book, makes it all-the-more disappointing when they do occasionally release pedestrian films).

New Yorker purchased Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Three Monkeys, which took home the Best Director Prize. No date has been set, but I wouldn’t expect them to get the film out there until sometime next year.

Paolo Sorrentino’s biopic of Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti Il divo, winner of the Jury Prize, is still without a distributor, although there’s still a chance that it may get one soon as it also played at Toronto this year. Il divo played in Italian theatres just a few days after its premiere and will be released theatrically in France and the UK around January through Studio Canal and Artificial Eye, respectively.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Le silence de Lorna (Lorna’s Silence), which won the Best Screenplay award, should be out this winter from Sony Pictures Classics. The film, which stars Jérémie Renier, was released in August in France through Diaphana Films and will hit theatres in the UK in November through New Wave. Keep in mind though, as there is no firm date set, that we may have to wait until 2009, as SPC took just as long to put out the brothers’ L’enfant, which won the Palme d’Or in 2005.

Steven Soderbergh’s epic four-plus-hour-long two-parter Che finally found a home, after leaving Cannes with no takers, in IFC after its North American premiere in Toronto. Che won the Best Actor prize for Benicio del Toro.

Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas’ Linha de Passe, which won the Best Actress prize for Sandra Corveloni, is also still without US distributor. It will, however, hit theatres in the UK on Friday through Pathé.

Kornél Mundruczó’s Delta appears to be without a distributor just about everywhere. It was one of the least popular films at this year’s festival and may simply remain one of the ever-unpopular “festival movies.”

Jia Zhang-ke’s 24 City, which stars Joan Chen, was picked up by The Cinema Guild recently. They will be releasing it sometime in the first part of 2009.

Philippe Garrel’s La frontière de l’aube, which stars his son Louis, is also without distribution outside of its native France, where it will hit theatres on 6 October through Les Films du Losange.

Pablo Trapero’s Leonera, or Lion’s Den, has no US buyers, though it has a December release date in France from Ad Vitam and an UK distributor through Halcyon Pictures; no date is set for the UK.

Lucrecia Martel’s La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman) is still without any takers in the US, although it has a March 2009 date set in France through Ad Vitam. The film will also screen at this year’s New York Film Festival.

Eric Khoo’s My Magic will be in French cinemas this November, but no buyers from the UK or the US have been secured.

Wim Wenders’ The Palermo Shooting, another low-rated entry this year, has a November date set for Wenders’ native Germany, but nothing has been set for the US. The German theatrical release may be a different version than the one that screened at the fest, but I couldn’t find any further details. The Palermo Shooting stars musician Camino, Dennis Hopper, Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Sebastian Blomberg, as well as Milla Jovovich and Lou Reed as themselves.

Regent Releasing and here Films acquired Brillante Mendoza’s Serbis and plan to release the film sometime this year.

After numerous months without a distributor, Sony Pictures Classics finally took hold of Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest and Hope Davis. The film opens in New York and LA on 24 October. No dates have been set for either the UK or France.

As a result of lack of outside interest, James Gray’s Two Lovers is going to be released through Magnolia in early January. The film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini and Elias Koteas, will be released by Wild Bunch in France in November.

Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale (Un conte de Noël) was one of the first acquisitions of the festival, finding its home with IFC, who will have it out in time for Christmas on 14 November. BAC Films released in the film in France just days after the festival. Among many others, A Christmas Tale stars Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, Chiara Mastroianni, Hippolyte Giradot and Melvil Poupaud.

And finally, Ari Folman’s animated Waltz with Bashir will open in the US the day after Christmas through Sony Pictures Classics.

Criterion, Griffith, Maggie Cheung and Patti Smith

Criterion has announced their titles for December, which is their slow month of the year: Lars von Trier's Europa (aka Zentropa) and Samuel Fuller's White Dog. Europa will return to its original title, after Miramax was forced to retitled the film as it bared to similar to Agnieszka Holland's Europa Europa, which was made just a year prior. Europa stars Barbara Sukowa, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier, Eddie Constantine and Max von Sydow as the narrator. White Dog showcases your dream team of Sam Fuller directing Kristy McNicol.

Kino has announced a series of D.W. Griffith films set for 18 November. The set includes Abraham Lincoln (1930), The Struggle (1931), The Avenging Conscience (1914), Sally of the Sawdust (1925), and Way Down East (1920), as well as the short film Edgar Allan Poe (1909) and a documentary from 1993 entitled D.W. Griffith: Father of Film.

In other news, Zeitgeist is releasing one of my favorite films of all time, Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep, on 9 December. The film was previously available in a shitty transfer from the early days of Fox Lorber; Maggie Cheung stars as herself, along with Jean-Pierre Léaud, Nathalie Richard, Arsinée Khanjian, Alex Descas, Bulle Ogier and Lou Castel. Palm will have the documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life available on 13 January. And finally, HBO will release a box-set of The Wire, arguably one of the finest television programs ever, on 9 December.