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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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2014
Mixed Media on Fruit, 9"x1½"

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Entries in film festivals (197)

Tuesday
Jan212014

Sundance: Puccini Goes Avant-Garde

Sundance coverage continues with Glenn on "The Girl from Nagasaki"

Avant-garde cinema isn’t for all audiences. The Girl from Nagasaki proves that it’s not for all directors, either. For whatever virtues Michel Conte has as an artist and a photographer (of which I am unfamiliar), filmmaking may not be of the same league. His debut feature, co-directed alongside his wife Ayako Yoshida, is a wild re-interpretation of Puccini’s famed Japanese-set opera, Madame Butterfly that dissolves into an assault of seemingly meaningless imagery; an experimental, visually symphonic and unfortunately misjudged piece of cinema.

Taking the story of Cio-Cio San and her breakdown at the absence of her American soldier husband and father of her child, Conte’s film at least fails while attempting something bizarrely different. Sadly, in his effort to turn the table on the conventions of narrative film, he has crafted a sort of Frankenstein’s Monster with bits and pieces grafted from the likes of Peter Greenaway, Tarsem Singh and Alejandro Jodorowsky and yet which lacks the profound power found in those artists’ works and compositions. Including crucifixion and BDSM fetish imagery, performance art and meta stylisation, it can’t help but feel like a confused hodge-podge of ideas that never form into a compelling whole.

Beginning with what appears to be a (admittedly impressive) visual effects company demo-reel of the explosion of the nuclear bomb over Nagasaki, it’s worth it as a work of intriguing technological ideas – and in 3D no less – but Conte falls too often into the sort of ridiculous embellishments that people mock experimental cinema for. I’m not sure what the director was trying to say with repetitive sequences of Geisha women rolling around in slick paint, but I assume he got the idea from a fashion photography layout. At the opposite end, a sequence involving David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is particularly laughable for its bonkers and obvious use of symbolism. By the time Cio-Cio’s descent into mental breakdown occurs in the third act there is little to distinguish it from the rest of the movie.

Unlike some of the giants of avant-garde cinema like Luis Buñuel’s kinetic and disturbing Un Chien Andelou, Bruce Conner’s own nuclear bomb montage Crossroads, or Sidney Peterson’s The Petrified Dog, Conte’s film wears out its welcome all to quickly around the time Christopher Lee (!!) emerges amidst a dinner party of faceless Japanese geisha mannequins. The images, some intoxicating and beautiful, rarely feel as if they hold any weight or new insight into the tragic operatic tale. I’ve had Malcolm McLaren’s delicious 1984 “Madame Butterfly” in my head ever since seeing it, and at only six minutes long it still proves to be a radically more satisfying twist on the Puccuni original than The Girl from Nagasaki

Grade: C-
Distribution: Unlikely, although even whilst disliking the film I would applaud anybody for taking it on board. 

Monday
Jan202014

Sundance: Mark Ruffalo is a Bipolar Bear

Sundance coverage continues with Nathaniel on Maya Forbes' "Infinitely Polar Bear"

Remember when people used to dump on Silver Linings Playbook for reducing mental illness to cutesy romcom obstacles? That! Only this time the drubbing is fully earned. A disclaimer before we begin: I am preternaturally disposed to enjoy Mark Ruffalo's Ruffalosity in any of its varieties or sizes so I queued up for Infinitely Polar Bear, despite my gut instincts warning me away. (One must always be weary of star vehicles at indie festivals because a famous face alone can win a movie a prized festival slot. If a movie made by unknowns and starring unknowns gets into a festival there's generally more reason to hope that it got there on pure merit.)  [more...]

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Saturday
Jan182014

I Lose It For Lanyards

If it were socially acceptable I would fashion entire outfits only out of press badges for festivals. All the festivals.

In homage to that gold amex dress from the 1994 Oscars. Or for other totally valid reasons. 

Glenn, Michael and I have arrived in Sundance and as you read this, we're all watching movies, different ones. I'm starting with a Norwegian film called Blind and then maybe an African film called White Shadow. We'll see what happens and bring you coverage from the snowy slopes. Utah is as beautiful as ever, with mountains and blue skies and bright moons and the rest of it though this year looks to be 100 times less snow-covered than my last Sundance trip in 2010. I may even be able to see the movie theaters as I approach them this year, instead of wandering into snowbanks, hoping a dark screening room is on the other side.  

Friday
Nov152013

AFI Fest 2013 Part 2: Danny Kaye, War Movies and Nebraska

Anne Marie concludes her AFI adventures. Nathaniel picks up the baton tomorrow. He's running behind as per usual!

At the midway point of AFI Fest, I experienced what I’m sure many film festival-goers experience at some point: fatigue. The films were Great with a capital G, which meant that while many were truly great films they were also very heavy and in most cases very, very depressing. (Dear Academy, please nominate more comedies!) Nevertheless I persevered, and started Day Four with a little light comedy.

Get it? Got it! Good

Day 4 Part 1: The Court Jester - Sometimes you just need Danny Kaye singing tongue twisters in Technicolor to start your day. If I ever write a list of Greatest Swordfights In Film, Kaye’s comic fight with Basil Rathbone will definitely make the list. And for you Old Hollywood actressexuals, there are not one but TWO actresses: The always lovely Glynis Johns plays Kaye’s love interest, and the devilishly fantastic Angela Lansbury in villainess mode plays the selfish princess.

Day 4 Part 2: Omar - Let’s get this out of the way right now: Adam Bakri is a very, very handsome man. (He also favorited one of my tweets. Heeeeey Adam!) However, there’s more to life than being really, really ridiculously good-looking. This latest film by Hany Abu-Assad, Palestine's Oscar submission this year, doesn’t court as much controversy as Paradise Now did in 2005. Omar is a Romeo and Juliet love story, an espionage thriller, and a drama, all of which make the political message about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians more palatable. Omar would give any Hollywood thriller a run for its money, but the human story and the realities of life of the West Bank give the film raw power.

Day 5: Nebraska - This was my favorite film of the festival. Hollywood has a love affair with Middle America this year, but Alexander Payne’s new film stands out from the rest. Bruce Dern is best known for his big, showy performances (memorialized at AFI Fest by a typically exuberant introductory speech / clip show by Quentin Tarantino). However, as the reticent Woody Grant, Dern is subtle, sad, and sincere. Undoubtedly Dern will get a Best Actor nomination, but I’m also rooting for June Squibb as his foul-mouthed Catholic wife. Though the overall tone of the film is melancholy (aided by a simple score by Mark Orton and beautiful black and white cinematography by Phedon Papamichael), occasional moments tip towards comedy and almost into parody. Maybe I love it so much because it reminds me of my own family. I’m not sure. I do know that it was effective enough to make me momentarily forget my new home and get nostalgic for the Great Plains instead. That takes some serious filmmaking skill.

Day 6: Lone Survivor - I’m not sure how to comment on Lone Survivor as a film, because as an experience it was really difficult for me to watch. It was, however, an extremely effective war movie. Last year, Zero Dark Thirty gave us a celebration of the incredible skill and commitment the men and women in the American armed forces. This year, Lone Survivor builds a similar memorial to the Navy SEALS, but with a radically different outcome. [Titular Spoiler Ahead]  A brutal 33 minute-long gunfight between four SEALS and a Taliban army is the focal point of the film, and all but one SEAL (played by Mark Wahlburg) are killed [/Spoiler]. The goal is to put the viewer on the ground with the SEALS, and director Peter Berg succeeds. Lone Survivor is bloody, loud, and patriotic.

Day 7: Like in Genesis, this was my day of rest. I’d planned to see Her, but happily for Spike Jonze (though unhappily for me) the line for the film wound around the block and then some. As I walked to the train station, I vowed like Nathaniel at TIFF that I will do better next year. The little that I saw I loved, and next year I will know how to plan: more than just one schedule, pack protein bars and water, arrive two hours early for any Spike Jonze-affiliated movie, and find more time to write. All in all though, I had a wonderful time seeing some movies I’d looked forward to and some way outside my comfort zone. What a week! AFI Fest 2014 here I come!

Friday
Nov152013

AFI Fest 2013 - Part 1 Disney, Actresses, and Accidents

I would like to personally thank Anne Marie for being an awesome L.A. tour guide, personal GPS, and screening companion during my week long trip. Here's her first of two roundups from the festival that just wrapped. I'll have more to say myself over the weekend - Nathaniel

Walt courts Mrs Travers for the hand of Mary Poppins in cinematic marriage

Last week AFI invaded Hollywood Blvd for the 2013 AFI Fest, a free film festival presenting a handful of buzzworthy features and old classics. Though it may not be the largest festival in Los Angeles, it is one of the flashiest given the star-studded evening galas and tributes, and it made good use of the newly renovated and renamed TCL Chinese Theater. This, my first festival on the job, saw me running up and down Hollywood Blvd like a film-obsessed Alfred P. Doolittle yelling, “Get me to the Chinese on time!” By the time I’d wiped the glitter from my eyes and caught my breath, I’d seen 9-ish movies in 7 days. Not bad for a neophyte with a day job! Here’s what I saw:

Day 1: Saving Mr. Banks - A Disney movie about a Disney classic is going to be heartwarming and sweet in all the ways you’d expect. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks have delightful chemistry. Considering how long we’ve been missing these two (am I the only one who feels like Emma Thompson’s been mostly absent since at least An Education?), having both Thompson and Hanks triumphantly return together in the same film is a Disney-manufactured miracle. Nathaniel actually chatted with Emma Thompson and Colin Farrell, so he can fill in the rest.

Day 2: August: Osage County - I saw the play in 2008, and I’m still wondering if that helped or hurt my viewing of the film. Tracy Letts blessedly adapted the play to the screen, so the biting language that made the original so good remains intact. There’s a definite nomination in store for him. Of course the most buzz surrounds the actresses: Meryl is Meryl is Meryl so enough said there. Continuing this year’s trend of strong performances from actresses I don’t usually like (the first being Sandra Bullock in Gravity), Julia Roberts gives her best performance in a long while. I think that fact is what might be overshadowing Margot Martindale buzz-wise, which is unfortunate because Martindale rips through her role like a tornado on the prairie.

Julianne & Juliette at the AFI premiere

As for the sisters: I was partial to Julianne Nicholson, while Nathaniel seemed to prefer Juliette Lewis. One thing on which we both agreed was that nobody does the film festival dress like Juliette. Hot. Damn.

Day 3 Part 1: Cleo From 5 to 7 - The Godmother of the New Wave Agnes Varda was AFI Fest’s honored icon this year. Here's more on her pre-screening interview. But I would like to take this opportunity to say again that Cleo From 5 to 7 remains a masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it already, watch it while you’re waiting for the rest of these movies to open.

Day 3 Part 2: Out of the Furnace - The second film by Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper is a relentlessly bleak portrait of the death of smalltown America. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck play two blue-collar brothers, one imprisoned for a mistake and the other out of the army and into illegally boxing for money. Both play their parts admirably (assisted by Zoe Saldana and Forrest Whitaker) but are overshadowed by the shockingly terrifying Woody Harrelson playing a sociopathic redneck. Harrelson’s performance, as well as haunting desaturated cinematography and gritty production design, made this a movie that stuck with its audience after the film ended.

Day 3 Part 3: When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism - A happy accident led me to this film by Romanian writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu. I stood in the wrong line, and was surprised to find myself watching a movie perfectly suited for people who are on their fourth movie in twenty-four hours. When Evening Falls… is a simple movie framed in unbroken master shots: a fictional director and his lead actress discuss nudity in film, eat together, have sex, and argue over a single wordless scene they’re supposed to shoot the next day. The motivations of the scene are so constantly debated back and forth - why would she eavesdrop coming out of the shower? why does she put on clothes? - that the audience is primed and waiting. Eventually, the much-debated action happens in reverse - the director steps out of the shower to eavesdrop on her - and the audience comes to its own conclusion. As concept films go, this is the simplest I’ve watched in a while, and I appreciated it for its simplicity.

Thus concluded the first half of AFI Fest. Old Hollywood and New in Part 2!