Archive for February, 2010

The 2010 Romanian Film Festival

February 26, 2010

I’m pleased to direct you to the Facebook page for the 2010 Romanian Film Festival, which is going down March 18-20 at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. As I alluded to yesterday, they’ll be showing “Police, Adjective” (which is, of course, playing at the Play Circle tonight and on Saturday night); personally, I’m just as excited to see some films I’ve never even heard of before—and there’s no shortage of those. Anyway, much, much more information is available on the Festival’s Facebook page, so do head there.

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Lamenting wasted talent

February 26, 2010

I’m not sure how my DC colleague Todd Stevens does it but he’s got three articles in today’s paper, one of which is a column addressing the not-so-latent anti-intellectualism at work on that wonderful forum of news and commentary, “Fox & Friends.” (I wonder whether anyone involved with said show is familiar with Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s gutter-scraping and unapologetically gay 1975 film “Fox and His Friends”…)

But what I’m really interested in is his review of the new Kevin Smith cop comedy, “Cop Out.” The following passage is worth excerpting:

[…] worse than the painfully awful story is the nearly tragic waste of talent. Smith has gained a well deserved cult following with films like “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy,” but where those films prospered with Smith’s nerd-friendly stylized dialogue, Smith merely took the director’s chair here, and the script feels woefully lifeless as a result. If not for a brief cameo by Smith’s frequent collaborator and bromantic partner Jason Lee, it would be hard to tell this was a Kevin Smith film at all.

Like most other former teenagers, I too was smitten with “Clerks” once upon a time. I haven’t revisited Smith’s first wave of films in a while, but given how obnoxious and casually homophobic “Clerks II” was, it’d be interesting to see whether I need to revise my largely positive memories of them. But I’m not so sure Smith’s contributions to those films as their director deserved much praise in the first place; as Todd says in his review,

[…] it’s still an incredibly sad sight to see a man who once made a generational touchstone like “Clerks” using some friends and a few grand make something as conventionally bland as “Cop Out” just for the payday.

Anyone familiar with les politiques des auteurs would tell ya that great directors find ways to make even lousy material do backflips and cartwheels. Considering the amount of control directors wield over the selection and development of scripts nowadays, the fact that they’re working within a system is shoved into the background, thrown into relief by the supposed immensity of their talent and the authorial authority they possess during pre-production, production and post-production. Stud directors of Hollywood’s bygone eras like Douglas Sirk and Jacques Tourneur could take preposterous scenarios and make from them something irrepressibly interesting; the system necessitated their choices to direct certain scripts but the brilliance of their imaginations and the chemistry of their collaborations ensured that those scripts weren’t transformed into limp, lifeless films.

There’s something to be said for the potency of individual talent, but there’s also something to be said for, as André Bazin put it, “the genius of the system.”

Just three more weeks…

February 25, 2010

… until the 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival announces its schedule on its stylin’ new website and in the Isthmus. If the hints that J.J. Murphy has been dropping are any indication, the event will be just as head-spinningly stacked as ever.

For the record, I don’t recommend trying to hold your breath until March 18. You’ll either fail or die.

Seeing and time

February 25, 2010

This week I was feelin’ a bit more philosophical than usual, for better or worse; this is reflected in my latest column, which can be found in today’s edition of the Daily Cardinal. My subjects include the distinction between cinephilia and casual fandom, the myth of time commitment and the age-old question of “how many movies is too many movies?”—of course, this is all just a very indirect way of me thinking aloud about why I watch so many films on my lonesome. Next week I promise a return to matters more pertinent, probably involving “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”‘s run at Sundance Cinemas this weekend.

Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 2/24

February 24, 2010

A good one by the New Yorker’s Richard Brody (from a post on the critical reception of “Shutter Island”):

A critic invoking reality is like a politician invoking God—if insincere, it’s demagogy; if sincere, it’s dogmatism. (I’m sure that I’ve relied on that critical crutch at times, too.) Reality is as much a psychological and an emotional construct as it is a social, political, or material one. In movies, it’s often evoked as persuasively by special effects as by documentary-style photography. Indeed, Edelstein, in the same article, praises Jacques Audiard’s direction of “A Prophet (Un Prophète)” in those terms: “Audiard’s camera is extraordinarily intimate: The boundaries disappear between the real and the surreal.” He could have said, more accurately, “between the physical and the mental,” but the word “real” has an implicit political point—it’s a normative term that suggests the virtues of authenticity and truth. Actually, “Shutter Island” is instantly a part of reality, even if no such island, no such asylum, and no such characters as those depicted in the movie exist. A movie isn’t a mere reflection of reality but, more important, an expansion of it, [my emphasis] and that’s what lots of viewers are seeking and getting from this one.

Word up. I’m much more interested in seeing “Shutter Island” after having kept tabs on the critical melee it has inspired. (The film’s trailer is, for me, like garlic to a vampire).

“Police, Adjective” at the Play Circle

February 24, 2010

Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you that something like this might happen: Corneliu Porumboiu’s excellent “Police, Adjective,” which I’ve addressed both on here and in the Cardinal, will be screening at 9:30 this Friday and Saturday nights at the Memorial Union’s Play Circle Theater.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure (and I have to assume that very few have), “Police, Adjective” is more than deserving of a good long look. A month ago I said the film “is like an episode of ‘Law and Order’ written by a tag team of Jim Jarmusch and Ludwig Wittgenstein”; seeing as how I haven’t watched it again since I wrote that column, I stand behind my description.

And if you won’t be able to catch one of the two screenings this weekend, worry not: This won’t be your last opportunity to see “Police, Adjective” in a Madison theater this semester. Alright, I’ve said too much. End transmission.

Tolerable Americana

February 23, 2010

I’m pleased to present my latest collaborative review with Anthony, of the MMoCA’s most recent exhibit, “Apple Pie: Symbols of Americana in MMoCA’s Permanent Collection,” in today’s edition of the Cardinal. The exhibit is conceptually busy and makes for a genuinely engaging walk-through. The featured works sometimes harmonize and at other times shout each other down contrapuntally, probing the questions of national identity and historical memory with a vitality and a contrarianism achieved from the free play of tensions present all over the gallery’s walls. “Apple Pie” definitely deserves a visit.

P.S. Yes, the article contains two typos: first, it’s “Elliott Erwitt,” not “Elloit Erwitt” (this one’s on me); second, “Larry Clark’s photo-portraits of strung-out, shiner-sporting solitaries staring across the gallery…” should reading “Larry Clark’s photo-portraits of strung-out, shiner-sporting solitaries stare across the gallery…” I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me/us.

Heads-up re: TCM, 2/22

February 22, 2010

Neither I nor my family has anything to do with Lloyd Bacon’s “The Fighting Sullivans” (1944), which TCM is showing tonight at 8:45; but who knows, maybe it’s kind of good in its own right. It almost goes without saying that Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” (1934), which TCM is showing at 10:45, is worth a gander if you’ve never seen it before. Watch for the sneakily striking compositions at the very beginning of the film, before Clark Gable’s and Claudette Colbert’s characters meet. “It Happened One Night” isn’t often referred to as a pictorial masterpiece, but the images in question are unquestionably strong stuff.

Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 2/22

February 22, 2010

From Louis Menand’s article on the contemporary debate concerning psychopharmacology in this week’s issue of the New Yorker:

The decision to handle mental conditions biologically is as moral a decision as any other. It is a time-honored one, too. Human beings have always tried to cure psychological disorders through the body. In the Hippocratic tradition, melancholics were advised to drink white wine, in order to counteract the black bile. (This remains an option.)

Fear and trembling, shuttering and stumbling

February 22, 2010

(I would’ve posted this earlier but for whatever reason the Daily Cardinal’s website wasn’t jiving with my computer this morning.) In today’s edition of the DC you’ll find my colleague Katie Foran-McHale’s review of Martin Scorsese’s latest, “Shutter Island.” Katie is quite right to point out how Scorsese’s work tends to invite the “auteur” label, yet it’s worth adding that, because Scorsese is as committed to the study and preservation of film history as any artist working in the medium today, he evokes that always-loaded label somewhat self-consciously, almost openly.

It’s no coincidence that Scorsese’s stylistic ancestors are figures like Jean Renoir, Michael Powell, Jacques Tourneur and Orson Welles; while he doesn’t necessarily mimic their signature techniques and preoccupations, he certainly emulates the authorial willfulness that first led viewers to infer that a film is made by somebody rather than a collective of somebodies.

But Scorsese also has the habit of working with actors who are nearly as if not more well-known than he is. That his films never lose their aura of having been envisioned and actualized by an individual genius is a testament to Scorsese’s adeptness at assuming the figure of the mainstream auteur, which is, of course, an increasingly endangered (and inherently illusory) species.