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The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R


 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Monday
Sep122011

Small Screen Season

Nathaniel. Home again from a relaxing weekend offline. My last for the next six months as it's all prestige movies and Oscar hoopla from now until March.

I've had a lot of fun writing up True Blood during the summer (finale writeup tomorrow). I have no intention of turning the blog into The TV Experience but a little variety never hurt anyone and I might add a briefer small screen column -- possibly with guest bloggers on occasion-- or maybe just continue with the odd "TV at the Movies" episode. I'm cancelling HBO when True Blood ends. Why? Budget reasons and a clear lack of interest in their slate of original programs. I never thought I'd say the latter but it's too man-centric for me now, as if their entire programming directive is "get me more SopranosEntourages ... literally. put them in period garb or relocate the action. whatever". I miss the Sex & The City / Six Feet Under / Sopranos days when the network felt more equal opportunity thrilling and more original ... as if their goal was to corner every market that was demanding quality television. The point: I have a lot of DVR openings now given cancellations, loss of interest in longrunning shows, delays, etcetera... so I may take a deeper looker (offline) at the new season offerings -- which basically start tomorrow with RINGER -- than I normally do.

Christian Borle, Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston in SMASH (2012)

The new show I'm most interested in is Smash, the first television series (to my knowledge) that's ever used Broadway musicals as its topic. In one of those daydream fantasies where one imagines oneself a tv creator this is always the topic I dreamed up for MY series that I would direct and produce (fantasizing remember... I do neither of those things). I imagined just such a show so many times. I wish they had gone with Broadway musical stars in the major roles (it'll be weird that Glee uses more of them given the respective topics) but Katharine McPhee (from American Idol) has a good voice and I'm intrigued to see how Oscar winner Anjelica Huston will fare in the key supporting role -- can she finally win the Emmy that's eluded her for the past 22 years despite frequent nominations?

But Smash doesn't premiere until 2012 so here are some shows I'm considering sampling -- which usually means just the first episode unless it's very intriguing --  primarily chosen for topics or actresses I like. As I do. 

CLICK AHEAD FOR THE LIST AND READER POLLING -- I'm curious about your watching habits from none to too much.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Sep122011

TIFF: Ludivigne, Fassy and Glenn

Paolo again. Despite some minor screw-ups and nervous breakdowns, here I am to report on TIFF Day 4, which brought more polished kind of movies than the ones that I've seen in the past three days.

I saw Christopher Honore's Beloved as a recommendation by the TIFF Twitter account because I said that my two favourite movies were A Streetcar Named Desire and Do the Right Thing. Now I wonder what they would have said if I wrote that my top two are The Conformist and The Big Sleep.

Beloved begins with a sequence of a Roger Vivier boutique where its customers try out the heels that the shop sells. Different colours, skins, anything a girl wants. A young shop employee named Madeleine (Ludivigne Sagnier, recently interviewed right here) steals a pair and by wearing it she's mistaken for a prostitute. That's only one of the things that are difficult to swallow here, prostitution treated as something that Madeleine can get in and out of. Also incredulous is her daughter Vera (Chiara Mastroianni) turning a gay man (Paul Schenider) straight, the opposite of what happens in Honore's Love Songs where a straight man turns gay. Honore  tackles the fluidity of human sexuality in his films, as characters deal with being guilty of or the victims of infidelity. It's very open to, say, the Freudian nature of love where parents see their lovers within their children. Madeleine embodies that ambivalence and, since this is an Honore film, she occasionally sings these issues out.

The joke, of course, is that the adult version of Madeleine has to played by Mastroianni's real life mother, Catherine Deneuve and thus the younger Madeleine has to copy the older actress's younger self. The scenes set in 1964 make the comparison slightly unconvincing, but the non-linear film fast forwards into the late 70's to better results. It's scary how Sagnier nails Deneuve's essence, and it's not just the former's hair doing all the work. There's this snark that both have, this sexy cynicism that mirrors one with the other. Now if anyone can explain to me what the Prague Spring and 9/11 really have to do with these women's love lives...

Now there's my favourite movie forever this day, Steve McQueen's Shame. His previous work Hunger succeeds in making its audience marvel at his aesthetics in those film's first few minutes. Shame doesn't do this (at first) making the shots and the characters' actions within the frame more cyclical. It almost scares us into thinking that the movie will just be protagonist Brandon (Michael Fassbender) waking up and ignoring his sister Sissy's (Carey Mulligan) needy voice messages for a hundred or so minutes.

It's not until the entrance of the supporting cast that the film is humanized. Shame & Albert Nobbs after the jump.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Sep112011

TIFF: Alois Nebel, Good Bye and anticipation for Fassy

Amir, reporting on my third day at TIFF. It wasn't as exciting as the first two, though I did get to talk to two directors, Jason Reitman and Mohammad Rasoulof, in person. Reitman wasn’t promoting a film, but only walking around the Bell Lightbox building – his father, Ivan, donated the land on which the festival’s home is built – and Rasoulof, who I’d assumed was detained somewhere in Iran had gained permission to leave and promote his film in person. The fourth day is bound to get better with a premium screening of Steve McQueen’s Shame on the plate but for now, let’s get to yesterday’s films.

The big one was Alois Nebel, a much anticipated Czech animated film by first time director Tomas Lunak. You might remember Nathaniel highlighted the film among his sixteen suggestions too but sadly, it did not live up to my expectations at all. I must admit however, the black and white rotoscope animation is absolutely gorgeous too look at. The filmmaking team has spent years creating this beautiful imagery from live-action footage they filmed in 35 days and the result of their work is a collection of stark images that puts you right in the atmosphere of the film. Equally impressive is Alois’ edgy and moody sound work which as Lunak explained, has taken just as much time to materialize as the film.

Alois Nebel is about the eponymous train dispatcher at a border town whose humdrum life is changed with the entrance of a strange mute man to the small community he lives in. It’s a revenge story that has roots in Czech’s involvement in World War II and the Cold War but these roots are unfortunately the film’s biggest problem for me. I was actually a bit relieved to find out during the Q&A session that I wasn’t alone in my confusion about the back story... 

Alois Nebel

More after the jump ... plus Best Actor anticipation

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Sep112011

TIFF: Norwegians and "Goons."

Paolo here. I've never made a secret that ever since watching that Lars von Trier film, it's been my goal to see TIFF movies that are pretty gross (I say last year's was Aronofsky's Black Swan but most would say Bruce LaBruce's LA Zombie). If the three films I saw today were combined, there would be more abject and nudity to rival all else. Oh, and these movies have some bad parenting too.

Apparently John 'Johnny Rotten' Lydon is making cameos now, appearing in and producing a movie called Sons of Norway. His younger self has a big presence and influence in the evolving characters, as young Nikolai watches the legendary rocker on television, the latter pretending to know about what 'punk' or what anything means. Nikolai is surrounded by people who have their own definitions of the musical movement, like his Communist/Dadist inspired father or a leather jacketed young man who fancies himself as a band's singer, recruiting Nikolai on lead guitars.

What I do like about it is how Nikolai's exposure to punk weaves in and out of a tragedy that befalls his mystically gifted mother instead of the latter causing the former. Most movies portray youths participating in antisocial behaviour as either a product of a bad generation or a family, and he is both. His mother couldn't have stopped him from listening to this kind of music and supports him, actually. His father also can't be bothered to be a good parent after being distraught, letting his son tend to the house. The movie is jus as easily about their father-son relationship, the former occasionally speechatizing his way to defend his son.

Why is this movie 'gross?' The answer... plus two more films after the jump.

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Sep102011

One Fassy, Several Cups.

Jose here.

Earlier today the 68th Venice Film Festival came to an end. Awards were given out to what seem to be some strange choices (gotta love when quriky jury members choose the most obscure people, no?)
with the Golden Lion (Best Picture) going to Alexander Sokurov's Faust

Just yesterday, our awesome correspondent from Venice mentioned how people expected this one to win and yet it doesn't even show up in the critical consensus. That must've been a dark horse if there ever was one. Apologies to the actual Dark Horse which came out empty handed.

The complete list of winners:

Golden Lion - Faust (Alexander Sokurov, Russia)
Silver Lion for Best Director - Shangjun Cai for Ren shan ren hai/People Mountain People Sea (China)
Special jury Prize - Terraferma (Emanuele Crialese, Italy)
Volpi Cup for Best Actor - Michael Fassbender for Shame (Steve McQueen, UK)
Volpi Cup for Best Actress - Deannie Yip for Tae jie (A simple life) (Ann Hui, China, Hong Kong)
Osella Award for Best Screenplay - Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou for Alps (Greece)
Osella Award for Best Technical Contribution - Robbie Ryan's Cinematogrpahy from Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, UK)
Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Acting Newcomer -  Shôta Sometani in Himizu (Sion Sono, Japan)

Perhaps the most significant thing about this festival, besides having given Fassy his first big acting award (he's just been around in the maninstream for a couple of years but it feels like decades, no?) might be that it probably won't line up in any way with Oscar. After all, when's the last time the little golden guy paid any attention to a two and a half hour long reimagining of Faust with Russian subtitles? In the festival's long history only two Golden Lion winners got into the Oscars' Best Picture lineup - Brokeback Mountain and Atlantic City - both of them lost.  The most "influential" awards here might be the Volpi Cups; in the past decade we've seen the likes of Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven), Helen Mirren (The Queen), Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) and Colin Firth (A Single Man) repeat their nominations during the long awards season.

Dear readers across the ocean, should we be on the lookout for any of these movies when they are released here? How did you like our Venice coverage this year? How many acting awards did you think Fassy had won by now?

Saturday
Sep102011

TIFF: Shedding Light on "Urbanized."

The best way for a film audience's eyes to light up is to produce vivid images on the screen. Gary Hustwit, director of documentaries like Helvetica and Objecitified now brings us Urbanized about urban planning around the world. It has an opening montage, despite being at least four shots long, that absolutely rivals or even betters the ones in Woody Allen's movies, because it depicts different and more rustic angles on certain landmarks. The Kremlin as seen on the background from a nearby bridge, the foreground populated by young people including one wearing an I ♥ NY shirt. A close-up of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, as silver and white as the rising moon. Unlike Allen, these visions are devoid of tourist-y romantic schmaltz.

The movie took me on a grand tour. It concentrates less on the touristy areas and more towards where the residents live and move around, these spaces depicted more magnificently than any monument. It brought out my nerd-like fascination of watching how Bogota has chosen buses over subways and trains or where Copenhagen has arranged the city's old streets to accommodate certain types of vehicles. It also shows how the depopulation and devastation of certain American cities can break the audience's heart more than the squalor in third world slums like those in Rio. This film isn't just composed of shots of city streets and the structures that line them, as the camera shows interviews of mayors, urban planners and advocated who are candid about their predecessors and each other.

Too bad it doesn't keep this momentum throughout the film but it does stick to its mission. Like most documentaries about worldwide trends, it inevitably has to show statistics about populations flocking to different cities throughout history and its effects on those areas with this kind of alarmingly increasing density.

The movie can also be criticized with heavy-handed leftist leanings. I saw it with an insufferably liberal audience that clapped whenever bikes or Jane Jacobs were mentioned. It tries to be more fair and balanced by including the voices that advocate 'unpopular' city building like the neglect in Mumbai, Niemeyer's 'spacious' method that he used in Brasilia, the sprawl in Phoenix and the anti-environmental renovations in Stuttgart. The film runs the risk of preaching to the choir, despite its beautiful realism.

Saturday
Sep102011

TIFF: Spending time with auteurs, illegal immigrants and jailed filmmakers

Hi everyone. Amir here, making my debut on The Film Experience with some festival news from the Great White North.

It was interesting – as it is every year - to see the usually quiet Toronto turn into a total frenzy and the usually laid-back Torontonians line up on the streets to see their favourite stars (which so far has included the likes of Bono, George Clooney, The Goz and Brad Pitt). The greying chilly weather didn’t stop the festivities on the first day and it was only fitting that my festival experience started on a happy note as well with the screening of Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre.

Le Havre

The film centres on an unlikely friendship between Idrissa, a teenage African illegal immigrant and Marcel, an elderly French shoe shiner in the titular harbour in France. As the police forces search around the city to find “the missing boy”, Marcel (Andre Wilms) hides Idrissa and tries to find a way to reconnect him with his mother in London.

Kaurismaki doesn’t deal so much with the socio-political implications of illegal immigration. Instead, he wraps the issue in layer after layer of dry humour and his particular brand of absurdist comedy. Aided by his impeccable comic timing and the terrific deadpan wit of his leading man Andre Wilms, Le Havre makes for a delightful two hours at the theatre.

This is not the type of film that you can read much into. Not to say that there’s no depth, but what Kaurismaki sets out to do is to charm, not to make a statement, and he succeeds at that. Even more charming than the film was Wilms himself, who showed up in person for a Q&A (having clearly indulged in generous amounts of alcohol backstage) and managed to equal his character’s deadpan line delivery with remarks like “French Rock ‘n Roll is like English wine” in reference to a lengthy scene with French rocker Little Bob.

Despite Wilms’ terrific performance, the highlight of the film for me was Jean-Pierre Darroussin’s hilarious turn as the sympathetic inspector Monet whose costume was right out of a Pink Panther movie and his inexpressive face was a perfect fit for this role. At the end of the day, I imagine this is a film everybody will like, but few will love. If you get a chance to see it though, don’t pass up.

This is not a Film

The second day’s experience was bitterer, though no less entertaining as I watched This is not a Film, the experimental film by Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi and documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Panahi is one of Iran’s most important filmmakers and a Venice Golden Lion winner who is now under house arrest for political reasons. Though his situation has stirred much controversy for the vague basis of his charges, he is still serving his 20 year ban – one that includes prohibitions on filmmaking, screenwriting, giving interviews and leaving Iran – and waiting to hear the final verdict on a proposed 6 year jail sentence. Under these extreme circumstances, Panahi sets out to expand his creative limits.

Mirtahmasb takes his camera inside Panahi’s house and films him as he reads and re-enacts his final screenplay in his living room, mapping out the film on his rug “Dogville style” and visualizing the story for the audience. For a society that is reserved about their personal lives to the point of impenetrability, This is not a Film is a major revelation. It’s unprecedented in Iran to see a documentary that goes so intimately inside someone’s house to show him have breakfast, take care of his pets or even get out of bed in their underwear and hang about the bedroom.

What, I imagine, is more appealing to a universal audience is that this film is one of the best made about the creative process, one that shows the passion filmmakers feel for their craft and the energy they put into it. Panahi tears up as he watches behind-the-scenes footage of his old films and even resorts to filming things with his iPhone just for the heck of it. That a ban as long as twenty years can’t stop him from planning a future film is only a testament to how much he loves cinema.

The film isn’t short on symbolic imagery either and while the final shot of the film might be too on-the-nose for some, the extensive intermittent footage of Igi, Panahi’s pet Iguana is subtler and more provocative. As the iguana moves around the house and overcomes endless obstacles on its way without ever giving up, it’s hard to miss the allegory of Panahi’s patience in the roughness of the Iguana’s scales and his restraint in its seemingly pointless quest around the house.