Seattle International Film Festival 2012 During the closing days of the 25-day SIFF, some colleagues and I sat on a jury for a competition of American independent films which have yet to find distributors. One always expects to find some good films in any competition, but brilliant work is hard to come by. Yet a brilliant movie was on the bill, a movie of stylistic control and profound humanity.
Keith Miller’s Welcome to Pine Hill opens with a white guy walking his dog on a Brooklyn street. Whether through intention or accident, he is in an African-American neighborhood where he is confronted by a reasonably large black man, who claims the dog is his and that the white guy stole it. What follows is a deceptively simple conversation that is a mini-masterpiece in cross-cultural misunderstanding, each dog lover talking past the other until they finally realize that they are telling their truth own truths to one another. The white guy who is played by director Miller agrees to pay the black guy $250, the dog’s original price. (READ MORE...)
City of Lights/City of Angels 2012 This year’s COLCOA, Los Angeles’s annual glimpse of contemporary French movies, had a significant similarity to last year’s: Both featured masterworks by Benoît Jacquot. 2011’s Deep in the Woods (Au fond des bois) was an example of the filmmaker’s occasional forays into the psychological extremes of female sexuality. This time out, Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux à la reine) follows an equally acute, though less provocative line.
Léa Seydoux, a typically sexually alluring Jacquot leading lady, stars as Sidonie, a servant in the court of Louis XVI who has managed to rise to the position of lectrice, or reader, to Queen Marie Antoinette (a lectrice is just what you’d think, a servant who saves her mistress from the problems of near illiteracy). Sidonie is extremely ambitious; she wants to join the queen’s closest circle and enjoy a life of privilege and luxury despite a background that makes that impossible.
Jacquot spends a lot of time following Sidonie as she makes her way through the back corridors of Versailles. Perhaps uniquely among the palace’s residents, Sidonie is able to note the exactitude of class differences (even differences within the classes), how these differences are meant to support the monarchy, and how she might use those differences to her advantage. (READ MORE...)
• Legong, Dance of the Virgins From the mid 1920s well into the 1930s, American and European audiences had a well nigh insatiable appetite for films set in the South Seas whether they be features, documentaries, or travelogues. One of the most outstanding examples turns out to be a recent rediscovery, Legong: Dance of the Virgins, made by the French adventurer and international socialite, the Marquis Henry de la Falaise.more
• I'm Going Home Nonagenarian Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira has been enjoying one of the most extraordinary careers in cinema history. After a directing career that went through fits and starts, he settled down into his productive years in his 70s and has been producing a steady stream of provocations, curiosities, and masterpieces ever since.more
Cure Despite the fact that it left audiences rapt and creeped out at the 1998 Toronto International Film Festival, and then again at Toronto in 1999, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure never hit with American audiences when it managed a small release in the United States a few years ago. That might be because the only Japanese movies that make it through the “free-trade” barriers that keep most foreign films out of the U.S. are either some of Beat Takeshi’s or the grotesquely violent and sadistic chop-‘em-ups that have developed a cult following.more
Douglas Sirk Auteurist critics have embraced the whole of Douglas Sirk’s work for at least 35 years, an intellectual clinch first marked by the filmmaker’s entry in Andrew Sarris’s "The American Cinema 1928-1968." Summer Storm, A Scandal in Paris, There’s Always Tomorrow, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life these have been long acknowledged as unadulterated masterpieces. But celebrating Sirk was a more hazardous venture than, say, fêting Samuel Fuller...
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The Peter Panning of Steven Spielberg (Reprint / 1992) - The "Panning of Steven Spielberg" ran as a two-part series in consecutive issues of Film Comment in 1992. I dont see any reason to back off either the general premise that an analysis of Hook reveals Spielbergs central preoccupations in his films up to that point or the individual analysis of movies.
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• Cosmopolis David Cronenberg’s films have displayed such a hardnosed consistency over so long a time, that it is remarkable how rarely his movies project any sense of repetitiveness. And though there is a definite Cronenberg “feel” to his films, he has never made an excessive commitment to a particular look. This, perhaps, may be due to his choice of perennial collaborators – composer Howard Shore, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, editor Ronald Sanders, costume designer Denise Cronenberg – who operate at such a high creative level themselves that they are as loathe to settle for artistic reflex as he is.
• The Dark Knight Rises Director Christopher Nolan is the latest incarnation of an all too familiar figure in cinema, the maladroit filmmaker who, perversely, is celebrated as particularly skillful and polished. This phenomenon extends at least as far back as Stanley Kubrick, is never supported by a scintilla of evidence, and is regarded as beyond argument by its fierce, unseeing proponents.
• Moonrise Kingdom
For some time now, writer-director Wes Anderson has been making some good movies (Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums) based on the simple, common problems which assault eccentric people with as much force as they do, well, “regular” folks. This success is partly based on avoiding what Claude Chabrol called “big subjects,” notions that overwhelm the proper human scale to which movies should aspire.
• The Amazing Spider-Man What is most amazing about this opening episode of the Spider-Man do-over is that anyone had the temerity to call it amazing. This is simply a typical big-budget studio feature, marketed in the usual way (IMAX! 3-D!), and bad in the ordinary way.
• Safe and the Avengers Settling for an examination of a movie’s sociological or political significance usually represents the failure of a critic or a movie. For the critic, it means turning away from the inside of a movie and looking at the outside. As for the movie, well, it usually means there is no inside to speak of.
• Prometheus Most of the words spilled over Ridley Scott’s remake/sequel/prequel (take your pick; it doesn’t matter) of Alien have to do with its efficacy as a reiteration or as a stand-alone sci-fi horror movie. But both movies are ruthlessly manipulative, devoid of internal logic, and utterly dependent on surprise penetrations of the frame lines from off-camera for “boo!” effects.
• Kim Novak Interview
I interviewed Kim Novak in 1996 on the occasion of the re-release of Vertigo (1958)in a newly restored version. At age 63, she was friendly and bright and though there are a few statements she made that sound like sour grapes in cold print, those remarks were delivered with an objective tone which made them seem more matter-of-face than bitter.
• 1986 INTERVIEW WITH SAMUEL FULLER IN BOSTON As it pretty much says in the article, this interview was conducted over Thai food in Boston in 1986. At the time Fuller was in his second eclipse. The first had ended when auteurists celebrated the uniquely bold language of his movies. Unfortunately, the wave of enthusiasm had broken just about the time The Big Red One came out in a truncated version. No one except the usual critical minority raised a hue and cry when White Dog was nearly put down for good by Paramount. Luckily, the college film groups, museums and cinematheques of the world maintained their interest throughout. Hence my dinner with Sam.
• Clint Eastwood On November 19, 2003, Clint Eastwood sat down with Henry Sheehan for an interview at his offices at Warner Bros. more
• THE OTHER TWENTY PERCENT The specialty divisions of the major studios aren’t what they used to be. In fact, some of them aren’t at all. This past May, Warner Bros. which is about as big as an entertainment conglomerate can get shuttered its two boutique houses, Warner Independent Pictures (Good Night and Good Luck) and Picturehouse (La Vie en rose). This was only a short while after Warners had closed down another outpost of its empire, New Line (Lord of the Rings). Similar operations at other majors are still open for business, but in most cases their lists of releases are shrinking.
• Million Dollar Question SPOILER ALERT: The following contains major revelations of surprise twists in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, including the ending.
The difference between criticism and journalism showed was revealed under a particularly bright light in a February 5 column by the Los Angeles Times’s Tim Rutten. Rutten writes under the heading “Regarding Media,” and while many sins are committed in the daily press under the guise of journalistic dissection, Rutten is not one of the offenders. Maybe that’s why I felt so personally disappointed by this column. more
• Too Hot To Handle Determined to prove that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, has prevailed upon the distributors of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 to change a quote in the movie’s ad. The quote, as it happens, is from Richard Roeper, and read in its original form, “Everybody should see this movie.” more
All About Henry Sheehan Henry Sheehan, past president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, has been a professional film critic for over 25 years and has been published in Film Comment, Sight and Sound, the Chicago Reader, the Boston Globe, and LA Weekly. Since 1986, he has been based in Los Angeles, where he currently appears as a regular panelist on KPCC-FM’s "Film Week," an hour-long live discussion show broadcast Friday mornings from 10am to 11am. "Film Week" can also be heard on KPCCs web page.more
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