Festivals & Awards
A fest opening dispatch that includes thoughts on the Opening Night film, Noah Baumbach's White Noise.
A fest opening dispatch that includes thoughts on the Opening Night film, Noah Baumbach's White Noise.
As soon as I heard that Jordan Peele's debut feature had the plot of an edgy indie romantic comedy but was in fact "a horror movie," I knew it was going to be terrific. There was just no way it couldn't be. I rarely feel this confident about a film sight-unseen, but as a longtime fan of Peele, it seemed clear that he knew exactly what his movie was about a deep level. "A black man meets his white girlfriend's parents for the first time; it's a horror movie" is the kind of pitch that might earn a delighted "I'm down, brother!" chuckle from the father of said white girlfriend, a brain surgeon played by Bradley Whitford who tells the hero Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) that he would vote for Obama a third time if he could. But for all its laughs, both subtle and broad—and for all its evident familiarity with crowd-pleasing yet grimly clever '80s horror comedies like "They Live!", "Fright Night," "Reanimator," "The People Under the Stairs," "The Hidden," "Child's Play" and other movies that people in their 30s and 40s saw multiple times at dollar theaters and drive-ins and on cable—"Get Out" is no joke. It made all as much money as it did because everyone who saw it, including the ones who only went because everyone else they knew had already seen it, instinctively sensed that it was observing this moment in American history and capturing it, not just for posterity's sake or for perverse entertainment value but as monument and warning.
For the second in his ongoing series, filmmaker and blogger Scout Tafoya looks at the remarkable Cannes Film Festival of 1968, when the festival came to a screeching halt in the face of real-world upheaval. (Check out his amazing look at Cannes 1960 here.)The complete transcripts:Part 1
The first two "Terminator" movies were to me what "Star Wars" was to previous generations. Every kid wanted to be Eddie Furlong. The prospect of having a badass mother who didn't freak out when you grabbed a gun was overwhelming. On top of that young John Connor had his very own Terminator to command!! When I first watched those movies it was the violence of the first film, the special effects of the second and the time travel paradox of both that kept me up most nights in awe. I must've watched them a hundred times and I still give them credit for kicking off my interest to science fiction and the many mind boggling philosophical ideas that come hand in hand with the genre.
Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn discovered the following Danish designers "Monstrum" who make extraordinary playgrounds for children. I think they're the stuff of dreams, whatever your age. Indeed; behold the Rahbek kindergarten in Frederiksberg, Denmark, and Monstrum's first playground...
The Rocket and The Princess Tower! "Just like a set design, a playground must have an inspiring front that attracts children, and a functional backside with climbing, sliding and relaxing options. The idea of the playground is to combine a girl's mind with a boy's approach into one big common playground. The princess tower consists of three floors, and the rocket has two floors. From the top floor of the Rocket, you can slide down the 6 m long double slide together with an astronaut friend." (click to enlarge.)
Hollywood has the same problem with the Oscars that the Republicans are having with their primaries. They can't seem to agree on a candidate with a broad appeal to the base. All nine Oscar finalists were, like Mitt Romney, good enough to be nominated. But none of them appealed to average multiplex moviegoers, just as it's said Romney doesn't appeal to the GOP base.
Making lists is not my favorite occupation. They inevitably inspire only reader complaints. Not once have I ever heard from a reader that my list was just fine, and they liked it. Yet an annual Best Ten list is apparently a statutory obligation for movie critics.
My best guess is that between six and ten of these movies won't be familiar. Those are the most useful titles for you, instead of an ordering of movies you already know all about.
One recent year I committed the outrage of listing 20 movies in alphabetical order. What an uproar! Here are my top 20 films, in order of approximate preference.
The two most important things that can happen to you in a mainstream movie are being killed and having an orgasm. Sometimes in facial close-ups it's hard to tell one from the other. When Pauline Kael saw that wall poster in Italy saying "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," she sensed she was onto something.
It's a wrap for the 2010 Muriel Awards, but although the winners have been announced, there's still plenty of great stuff to read about the many winners and runners-up. ('Cause, as we all know, there's so much more to life than "winning.") I was pleased to be asked to write the mini-essay about "The Social Network" because, no, I'm not done with it. (Coming soon: a piece about the Winkelvii at the Henley Gregatta section -- which came in 11th among Muriel voters for the year's Best Cinematic Moment.)
You might recall that last summer I compared the editorial, directorial and storytelling challenges of a modest character-based comedy ("The Kids Are All Right") to a large-scale science-fiction spectacular based on the concept of shifting between various levels of reality/unreality -- whether in actual time and space or in consciousness and imagination. (The latter came in at No. 13 in the Muriels balloting; the former in a tie for No. 22.) My point was that, as far as narrative filmmaking is concerned, there isn't much difference. To illustrate a similar comparison this time, I've used a one-minute segment out of "The Social Network" (Multiple levels of storytelling in The Social Network). You might like one picture better than the other for any number of reasons, but I find their similarities more illuminating than their differences:
[This resurrected piece is my contribution to the Steven Spielberg Blogathon co-hosted by Adam Zanzie (Icebox Movies) and Ryan Kelly (Medfly Quarantine). Originally published in the (pre-home-video) December, 1982, issue of The Informer, a monthly publication of the Seattle Film Society, when I was just a wee lad, barely a quarter-century old.]
"E.T." is a universal film -- and I'm not just talking about the MCA company that released it. Steven Spielberg's latest celluloid fable is fast on its way to becoming the most popular movie ever made. Yet, unfortunately, critical attention has been focused primarily on the phenomenon of "E.T." rather than on the cinematic merits of the movie itself. So much has been said about "E.T." as an extraordinary entertainment, a masterfully orchestrated work of childlike wish-fulfillment, that people seem to have overlooked the fact that it's also -- dare I say it? -- a rich and resonant Work of Art. Perhaps Spielberg is too unassuming, too unabashedly populist in his style and (overt) subject matter to make critics sit up and take notice of what he's doing from shot to shot.
Nevertheless, "E.T." is connecting with millions of people worldwide -- and for good reason. Like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Spielberg's other masterpiece about intergalactic harmony and understanding (and perhaps the largest-scale abstract/experimental film released by a major Hollywood studio since Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."), "E.T." is above all about contact, about the very nature of communication, and the system of signs we human beings have created to bring ourselves closer to one another: spoken language, gestures, symbolic objects, physical contact -- and any combination of the above.
The ad slogan for "Close Encounters" (hereafter referred to as "CE3K") was "We Are Not Alone," and both that film and "E.T." are about alienated individuals who try to break out of their isolation, who struggle to bridge the void between themselves and others. Perhaps the best way to get to the heart of these movies is to take a look at some of the ways Spielberg's characters communicate with (or fail to reach) each other -- and how Spielberg uses cinematic technique to bring film, characters, and audiences, into contact.
Spending almost two hours with the relentlessly drunk character is not a pleasant thing at all, and it is also not easy to watch the man who chooses to abandon himself to his own hell. He is almost near at the bottom. All he can do is moving further to the final destination he has been reaching for. He still has some fancy about getting out of his torment, but it only reminds him that he has already crossed the line. He screams out of frustration near the end of the movie, "It's not possible -- not in this world!"
John Huston's "Under the Volcano"(1984) poignantly looks at one of the bleakest states of mind. This is a sad portrayal of a man struggling with his addiction and the agonizing contradiction resulting from it. As one character in the movie says, no one can live without love, but he cannot accept it even if he has desperately yearned for.
The movie is mainly about one unfortunate day of the former British consul Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) who has been stuck in Cuernavaca, Mexico. According to him, he resigned his post for himself, but that may be not true considering his present state. He is a drunkard going through the final stages of alcoholism where the drinking is necessary for getting "sober." He says he can deal with his addiction ("Surely you appreciate the fine balance I must strike between, uh, the shake of too little and, uh, the abyss of too much"), but his abstinence is just the brief moment of looking at his glass. His body soon craves for alcohol, he frantically searches for the bottle, and, after satisfying the need, he passes out.
I do not know what Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme" does because I haven't had the opportunity to see it. But the initial reviews from Cannes are, incredibly, the same ones he's been getting his entire career -- based in part on assumptions that Godard means to communicate something but is either too damned perverse or inept to do so. Instead, the guy keeps making making these crazy, confounded, chopped-up, mixed-up, indecipherable movies! Possibly just to torture us. Many approach the films themselves as though they are puzzles designed to frustrate (and to eventually be "solved"), then they blame Godard for not doing a better job of solving them himself because they're too hard. Herewith, a sampling of New York Times reviews over the years. Just about any of them could be about any of Godard's movies -- and, positive or negative, some are noticeably more perceptive than others. A key with the "answers" (who wrote what about which film) is at the bottom.
1. Mr. Godard sometimes makes his storytelling more difficult than it needs to be.
2. And neither can Mr. Godard make us understand why the wife in his drama suddenly tells him she has contempt for him and decides to leave. Has she lost faith in him? Is she bored? Or is she just fed up with watching him wear his hat all the time?
Evidently, Mr. Godard has attempted to make this film communicate a sense of the alienation of individuals in this complex modern world. And he has clearly directed to get a tempo that suggests irritation and ennui.
Fifty years ago, the Palme d'Or winner at Cannes was Fellini's "La Dolce Vita." More every year I realize that it was the film of my lifetime. But indulge me while I list some more titles.
The other entries in the official competition included "Ballad of a Soldier," by Grigori Chukhrai; "Lady with a Dog," by Iosif Kheifits; "Home from the Hill," by Vincente Minnelli; "The Virgin Spring," by Ingmar Bergman;" "Kagi," by Kon Ichikawa; "L'Avventura," by Michelangelo Antonioni; "Le Trou," by Jacques Becker; "Never on Sunday," by Jules Dassin; "Sons and Lovers," by Jack Cardiff; "The Savage Innocents," by Nicholas Ray, and "The Young One," by Luis Bunuel.
And many more. But I am not here at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival to mourn the present and praise the past.