Last night watched the very dark, slow-paced, and atmospheric thriller Night Moves by acclaimed American indie director Kelly Reichardt at the Paramount. I am always intrigued by her films; especially the ways in which they increasingly twist cinematic genres (western, suspense, mumblecore) in order to speak toward the manifold problematic aspects of contemporary society. In this film, environmental activism of the sort treated in the formidable documentary If a Tree Falls on the Earth Liberation Front gets a sharply critical take, along with glimpses of eco-fundamentalist idealism, new age materialism, recreational camping, and organic farming. Night Moves features a great trio of actors (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard) with strong cameos and support (Alia Shawkat, James LeGros). There’s a terrific interview with the director on the Tribeca Film Festival site: “The shit the BPs of the world are doing is way more radical than anything in the movie—but you know, that’s all legal. So there’s all these different levels of what’s radical. I think the film is asking, if their actions are not the right response to the state of things, what is?”
Artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard (of whom I am a big fan) have made a very stylised, visually compelling, and thoroughly watchable film on musician Nick Cave, which was screened last night at the New Zealand International Film Festival. It’s been called a “pseudo-documentary” and indeed it is highly staged, beautifully shot, and if improvised, draws a great deal on Cave’s writings, notes, and friendships with such people as his longtime collaborator Warren Ellis, who at times almost steals the film, as when he recounts witnessing the erratic performative antics of Jerry Lee Lewis and Nina Simone. If Cave seems to almost camp up his persona (would one expect any less?) he is also insightful, articulate, and utterly romantic when discussing his artistic goals: “It’s about what lies beneath the surface of reality, like the humps of a sea monster. The goal in music and performing is to tempt that monster to the surface.”
It's so great to know that the great actor Don Cheadle will be portraying Miles Davis in an upcoming film that he's also directing. Cheadle has been using Indiegogo to crowdfund this film, which has been in pre-production stages since 2008. "Miles Ahead" has just met its funding goal, which hopefully will speed up the process of getting this terrific project completed. You can check out the campaign site here. Open for a coupla more hours folks in case you want any of the perks or to support this worthy venture.
I recently watched the extremely watchable but extremely violent dystopian/class-struggle/sci-fi epic Snowpiercer and read an engaging critical analysis of the film posted over at Unemployed Negativity entitled "Hijacking a Train: Revolution and its Limits in Snowpiercer." A cool read.
I've just watched the recent, riveting documentary The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz on the visionary programmer and political activist who died by his own hand last year after inordinate persecution by the US government. The film is by turns inspiring, frustrating, engaging, and deeply saddening. It's significant to mention both that it will be screened at this year's upcoming New Zealand Film Festival and that the Creative Commons version of the film is freely available for streaming and downloading from the Internet Archive. A must watch for anyone interested in the pursuit of civil liberties, social justice, the freedom of information, and technical innovation.
Here are three of director Tim Burton's earliest (and best) short films from the 1980s: Vincent, Frankenweenie, and Hansel and Gretel. Enjoy!
Ralph Fiennes is one of the very best things about Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) as amidst the finely wrought, exquisitely cluttered, and utterly claustrophobic production design, Fiennes’ existence as an entirely human, ably comic actor shines through, much as a number of Anderson’s favoured actors have done in the past: Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson. All three have cameos in the new film, as does Harvey Keitel, a kind of placeholder to bring to mind his more substantive roles in the once-heralded Postmodern filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s films of the 1990s. But what over the top graphic violence (influenced by Sam Peckinpah) and burlesque sexuality (influenced by Russ Meyer) is to Tarantino, a kind of twee childish cartooned diorama is to Anderson (think stop motion holiday animations of the 1970s, H.R.Pufnstuf and the other creations of Sid and Marty Krofft—and yes, for now, I do think The Fantastic Mr. Fox is Anderson’s deserved claim to fame.) At one point I thought that Anderson’s affectations devoid of affect recalled Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. novelist Daniel Handler) but this would do a real disservice to the Wildean wordplay and depth of Handler’s literary works for (actual) children. As in Anderson’s previous films, cinematic in-jokes and anachronistic pop culture references abound: the always watchable Jeff Goldblum, who once played seminal American comedian Ernie Kovacs in an old biopic briefly appears as a lawyer named “Kovacs;” Willem Dafoe, a brilliant actor does yet another turn as a vampiric villain —something he previously did in a far better film Shadow of the Vampire (2000); Adrien Brody pounces about like a silent movie heavy with high pompadour, long coat, and dastardly moustache. While the Marx Brothers once upon a time used an imaginary locale called Fredonia as the setting for their amazingly funny yet horrifically prescient anti-war film Duck Soup, Anderson's film set in some fictitious Mitteleuropa ostensibly inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, seems only to harbour the goal of anti-reality, a kind of floating magical kingdom that's stylistically more satisfying than (recent) Disney, but ultimately rather empty. A maker of fine patisserie in the film creates terrifically scrumptious-looking concoctions of meringue, marzipan, biscuit, and icing, to which the dandy Fiennes is addicted. My partner shrewdly observed that watching the film resembled consuming those cakes, i.e. likely delicious yet solely a dessert. For such an acclaimed (and often over-hyped) filmmaker, who has indeed created lush and intriguing bits throughout his body of work, it would be interesting to see him finally create a substantial dinner.
Here's a link to a feature-length 1999 documentary entitled Dial H for Hitchcock on the films and legacy of director Alfred Hitchcock. Whatever your opinion of this complex and problematic figure it's unlikely that there are any other directors whom one can learn more from in relation to suspense, action, plot, horror, narrative, and the often underrated significance of anticipation.
Blank City (2011) is director Céline Danhier's clip and interview-rich documentary on the downtown New York scene of the early 1980s. It features lots of time capsule imagery and comments by a host of infamous participants, including Jim Jarmusch, Debbie Harry, Steve Buscemi, John Waters, John Lurie, Lydia Lunch, Richard Kern, Thurston Moore, Fab 5 Freddy, Amos Poe, and James Chance. A bucketload of arty excitement and now-vanished filth.
Pull My Daisy from 1959 is one of the most important films of the mid-twentieth century. For many decades it was likely written and read about more than seen, though YouTube has a few versions floating around. Co-directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, it features many of the key figures of the so-called "Beat Generation" including the poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Striking also in terms of Frank's camera work and Jack Kerouac's seemingly spontaneous and utterly memorable narration. ("It's early morning in the universe...are cockroaches holy?...Is baseball holy?") In just under 30 minutes, the era is summed up in a rich visual and aural time capsule. The film is in my opinion, better to watch than read about so I will stop here, although I will highlight this link in which musician and filmmaker John Cohen writes about a reissued book of the film, as it is very insightful.