Tuesday, May 22, 2012

anthony lane on the avengers

The first scene is set in an undesignated patch of outer space, where some masked moaner yaks on in a rich and threatening baritone. I couldn't understand a word until he asked, 'The humans - what can they do but burn?' If he is referring to our cooking skills, this is grossly unfair, for we can also poach, broil, gently simmer, and steam en papillote. . . .

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is a tall, well-spoken megalomaniac who bears a magic spear, although, for anyone who enjoyed Hiddleston's spry and convincing turn in Midnight In Paris, the world would appear to be at the mercy of F. Scott Fitzgerald with a monkey wrench.

One of the failings of Marvel - as of other franchises, like the Superman series - is the vulgarity that comes of thinking big. As a rule, be wary of any guy who dwells upon the fate of mankind, unless he can prove that he was born in Bethlehem. . . . I remember the joy of reading Dvid Thomson's entry on Howard Hawks, in A Biographical Dictionary of Film; the principle underlying Hawks's work, Thomson argued, was that 'Men are more expressive rolling a cigarette than saving the world.' All movies thrive on the rustle of private detail - on pleasures and pains that last as long as a smoke - and there has been nothing more peculiar, in recent years, than watching one Marvel epic after the next, then sifting through the rubble of gigantism in search of dramatic life. . . .

Come the climax, Thor tosses his mallet, Iron Man hurls energy pulses from his palms, while Captain America waves his slightly underwhelming shield, and, not to be left out, Black Widow repels invading aliens through the sheer force of her corsetry. . . .

The New Yorker, May 14, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

damsels in distress

Big Whit Stillman fan. So how is it that I completely missed DAMSELS IN DISTRESS when it played Vancouver, after so long a wait since THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO? And not a video store or second run movie house in sight. Alas. It's a fallen world.

"It may be that, as a follower of Whit Stillman, you would like your man to branch out a little, and to direct a 3-D spectacular about ectoplasmic aliens waging nuclear vendettas against the U.S. Marine Corps on the naked streets of Detroit. If so, you must wait a little longer. His new film, like its predecessors, contents itself with a closed and rarefied world - in this case, the campus of Seven Oaks college, home to a bunch of floral friends. There is Violet, heather, Rose, and Lily, and they look down with fond despair on the rest of mankind, especially the male of the species. Not much happens: lovers are acquired and dropped, aromatic soaps are sniffed, and students give voice to complete sentences of a kind scarcely heard in modern cinema. Stillman has not lost the power to bewitch; in the confident reach of his artifice, in the unembarrassed hues of his decor, and in his willingness to enroll his dweebish characters in old-style song and dance, he has delivered his most ludic and peculiar project to date." The New Yorker

ludic | playful in an aimless way: the ludic behavior of kittens 
(I didn't know either)

Friday, May 18, 2012

july 10 | margaret on dvd

In a year when I've seen so few movies, it may be no great distinction that MARGARET is far and away my favourite. But I suspect that in any movie-going year, it would still have that distinction. In spite of, and more often because of, its idiosyncratic McKee-defying structure, I was smitten with this film. I was taking a fiction course with Loren Wilkinson, and thinking about how a novel feels and works, with its "carrier bag" full of observations, diversions, side events and irrelevancies, compared to the concision and plot-centredness of plays and movies. And it struck me that MARGARET allowed itself to wander, to include things that had no real plot function, but which served to build out the world of the character, to make a wider sense of the life she was living in, with all the quotidian detail and non-consequential events that fill any real life. There was a loose-limbed quality to the film I found beguiling and enveloping. I lost myself in its expansiveness, I moved in the way you move into a new home or a neighbourhood, the way you can sometimes move into a novel.

So I rejoice find MARGARET coming to a DVD player near me. And, like Brody, I rejoice that there's an even bigger world to settle into this time around.

Richard Brody, The Front Row
(film blog of The New Yorker), May 15 2012

It’s great news that Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret” will be coming to DVD (and Blu-ray) on July 10th (at first available solely from Amazon), and that, in addition to the two-and-a-half-hour version of the film that was released theatrically last fall, the set will feature a three-hour-and-six-minute extended cut by the director, which will give us more of “Margaret” to love. I devoured the released version like cake, despite having the sense that some subplots that crop up toward the end of the film went by rather fast, offering less of a look at the protagonist Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) in her intimate moments and fewer of the lyrical urban-landscape grace notes that adorn the rest of the film.

Unless one has just returned from a year in Antarctica, it’s impossible to have avoided reports about the long script that Lonergan wrote, the long cut that existed at some point, the conflicts that arose in the course of editing, and the delayed and diffident release. None of this matters to understanding the great and distinctive beauty of the film, or to its ascension to its legitimate place in the history of cinema (though of course it matters practically and, doubtless, emotionally, to Lonergan and his cast and crew, whose just recognition for making this masterwork has come unduly late), but it sets the imagination ranging in aesthetic lust for what else might be there.

I wanted “Margaret” to last longer; I simply wanted more. Yet strange things do happen when alternate versions of a movie appears. I saw Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” the weekend it was released, in 1984—in a two-and-a-quarter-hour version, which proceeded chronologically, starting with its characters’ childhood, and which, as a result, offered one of the great coups de cinema of my experience: the decades-long leap that reveals the character called Noodles as an old man. Little did I know that Leone had shown it at the Cannes Film Festival several weeks earlier in a nearly four-hour cut that featured an intricate flashback structure. And when, several years later, I finally got to see, at MOMA, that longer version, I was thrilled by its fullness and yet dismayed that the flashbacks eliminated the late-in-the-movie leap. (Leone’s original version was even longer—two hundred and sixty-nine minutes—and this version will be premièred at this year’s Cannes festival, which opens tomorrow.)

Every version has its delights and its significance. The haste that marks the latter part of “Margaret” also conveys a sense of implacability, a feeling of experience accelerating under pressure. (And, though I’d be surprised if there should turn out to be a drastic difference in structure between the released version and the extended one, surprises are exactly what to expect from artists of Lonergan’s calibre. I interviewed him about the film earlier this year; his remarks are full of fascinating surprises.) There’s nothing to match the exhilaration of a first discovery and the affection that attaches to a film as first seen (though the story behind the released version of Jean Vigo’s “L’Atalante“—which, for its original release, was altered even unto its very title—is cautionary), yet I fully expect to revel in the longer cut of the film and to view, repeatedly, new material with gratitude and with love. Not only is “Margaret” finally coming to DVD, but thirty-six more minutes of it are en route; it’s a joy to anticipate and to announce.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

we have a pope

If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing twice.  Check out Saving Grace - not the dope-growing Saving Grace from 2000, and not the angel-redeems-jaded-cop Saving Grace TV series (2000-2010), but rather the Pope-on-the-lam Tom Conti vehicle from 1985.

We Have a Pope
(2012, Italy, Nanni Moretti)

"A new man is elected to the throne of St. Peter, but Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli) was hardly the expected choice, nor, it appears, does he want the job. On the contrary, he is in anguish, refusing to greet the faithful from the balcony, and thrown into a befuddled semi-silence. A psychoanalyst — played by the movie’s director, Nanni Moretti — is brought in to help the stricken Pope, although the film fights shy of that promising setup. Instead, the patient escapes, wandering Rome unrecognized, and falls in with a troupe of actors who are presenting a production of Chekhov—the implication being that performance itself can have a therapeutic effect. (On the other hand, it is precisely the prospect of a constant public role that oppresses the Holy Father.) Meanwhile, the shrink remains in the Vatican, coaching the Cardinals to play basketball; it’s too slight and charming a conceit to carry much force in the story, and some Moretti fans will be taken aback by the mildness of the whole enterprise. Yet the drama is framed with great elegance, and, in the pathos of Piccoli—an old man as harried as a child—we feel how weighty and stifling the robes of state must be. In Italian." Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

Richard Brody, also writing for The New Yorker, doesn't see the film as "mild" at all...

"The lag time in the distribution of foreign (and, for that matter, American independent) films is a matter of concern — as with Nanni Moretti’s We Have a Pope, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival last May, and is finally opening today [Apr 6] in New York and Los Angeles (and will be available next Wednesday [Apr 12] on nationwide video-on-demand). ... Melville escapes from the enclave and wanders through Rome. What he discovers is nothing special — a world full of ordinary people doing ordinary but noteworthy things. Beneath its silken cloak, Moretti’s film is a wildly anarchic, furiously radical criticism of the Catholic Church. There’s no criticism of any particular church doctrine or mandate; rather, Moretti takes on the church as an institution, suggesting that it’s grotesquely hypocritical, even a betrayal of Christian faith, to run a church without being in the habit walking in the street and getting dog shit on your shoes. He challenges the notion of a church that is run from a palace and that functions like a regressive corporation that, with its arcane and rigid laws, does everything possible to keep its highest officials insulated from the world to which they presume to minister." Richard Brody, The New Yorker

Monday, May 07, 2012

paul rudnick | the ultimate french film

"French culture remains unmatched. Our films include rollicking farces, searing documentaries, and quietly explosive investigations of family life. In these films, to avoid vulgarity, nothing happens, and none of the actors' faces ever move. French filmmaking has recently reached a peak with the almost entirely silent Oscar-winning movie The Artist. True cineastes say that the ultimate French film will be a still photograph of a dead mime."

from Vive La France
by Paul Rudnick
The New Yorker, March 26, 2012

Saturday, May 05, 2012

may 10 | an encounter with simone weil

One soul foodie spotted this flick among the multitudinous doxa festival offerings.

An Encounter with Simone Weil
Julia Haslett, USA, 2010, 85 mins
Thursday May 10 | 3:45 PM | Pacific Cinémathèque
doxa web page

"After losing her father to suicide when she was 17 and subsequently witnessing her brother’s depression, filmmaker Julia Haslett develops a curiosity for French writer Simone Weil (1909 – 1943). Weil’s cause of death at age 34, listed as self-imposed starvation at the height of World War II, remains as controversial as her political writings today. Haslett is struck by this line written by Weil: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” It resonates deeply with her and becomes a catalyst for her actions. With 24-hour news reporting on the worsening political and economic conditions of millions around the world Haslett’s curiosity soon turns into a life-changing obsession. She journeys out to the places that Weil lived and worked, searches out key people in Weil’s life and even conjures up an actress to play Weil’s alter ego. Haslett pieces together a picture of who Weil was and the reasons that led to Weil’s loss of faith in revolutionary politics and, ultimately, in life itself. As her brother’s depression worsens, Haslett’s search becomes even more urgent. This critically acclaimed film melds contemporary and historical references, the personal and the universal, into an astonishing story about what it means to bear witness to suffering, both near and far." smiley films

"An Encounter with Simone Weil tells the story of French philosopher, activist, and mystic, Simone Weil (1909-1943) -- a woman Albert Camus described as "the only great spirit of our time." On her quest to understand Simone Weil, filmmaker Julia Haslett confronts profound questions of moral responsibility both within her own family and the larger world. From the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War to anti-war protests in Washington DC, from intimate exchanges between the filmmaker and her older brother, who struggles with mental illness, to captivating interviews with people who knew Simone Weil, the film takes us on an unforgettable journey into the heart of what it means to be a compassionate human being." linestreet.net

Weil's wikipedia entry provides a sense of her spiritual life:
"Weil was born into a secular household and raised in "complete agnosticism". As a teenager she considered the existence of God for herself and decided nothing could be known either way. In her Spiritual Autobiography however Weil records that she always had a Christian outlook, taking to heart the idea of loving one's neighbour from her earliest childhood. Weil became attracted to the Christian faith from 1935, the first of three pivotal experiences for her being when she was moved by the beauty of villagers singing hymns during an outdoor service that she stumbled across during a holiday to Portugal.

While in Assisi in the spring of 1937, she experienced a religious ecstasy in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli—the same church in which Saint Francis of Assisi had prayed. She was led to pray for the first time in her life as Cunningham (2004: p. 118) relates: "Below the town is the beautiful church and convent of San Damiano where Saint Clare once lived. Near that spot is the place purported to be where Saint Francis composed the larger part of his Canticle of Brother Sun. Below the town in the valley is the ugliest church in the entire environs: the massive baroque basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, finished in the seventeenth century and rebuilt in the nineteenth century, which houses a rare treasure: a tiny Romanesque chapel that stood in the days of Saint Francis—the Little Portion where he would gather his brethren. It was in that tiny chapel that the great mystic Simone Weil first felt compelled to kneel down and pray."
She had another, more powerful, revelation a year later while reciting George Herbert's poem Love III, after which "Christ himself came down and took possession of me" and, from 1938 on, her writings became more mystical and spiritual, while retaining their focus on social and political issues. She was attracted to Roman Catholicism, but declined to be baptized; preferring to remain outside due to "the love of those things that are outside Christianity". During World War II, she lived for a time in Marseille, receiving spiritual direction from a Dominican friar. Around this time she met the French Catholic author Gustave Thibon, who later edited some of her work.
In 1942, she travelled to the United States with her family. Weil lived briefly in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. She is remembered to have attended daily Mass at Corpus Christi Church there, where the Columbia student and future Trappist monk Thomas Merton was later to be received into the Roman Catholic Church. Long believed not to have sought baptism, there is now evidence, including a claim from a priest who knew her, that she was baptized shortly before her death.