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Entries in NYFF (71)

Monday
Sep292014

NYFF: Seeing Isn't Believing in 'Maps to the Stars'

The New York Film Festival has begun. Here's Glenn taking an alternative look at David Cronenberg's divisive Cannes winner 'Maps to the Stars', now a confirmed 2014 contender.

Digital filmmaking has a lot to answer for – much of it good, but a lot of it bad. Its biggest crime, however, may be eradicating David Cronenberg of style. It’s as if the transition of celluloid to digital, which coincided with his swing away from merely a cult name-brand director to one whose films, at least briefly, appeared to be targeting a somewhat more acceptingly mainstream audience (A History of Violence and Eastern Promises certainly), weakened his eye for visual storytelling. Not only is Maps to the Stars a surprisingly ugly film in terms of its garish lighting, messy blocking, and lethargic, bulky transitions, but it’s a distressingly amateur in one in terms of simple camera placement and editing.

Much was made of Matt Zoller Seitz’s plea for film writers to discuss form in more detail. “Form is not just an academic side dish to the main course of content”, he said last year, and while I am not sure what Seitz’s opinion is on Maps to the Stars I can’t imagine he would be too thrilled.

more... 

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Monday
Sep292014

NYFF Surprise! While We're Young: Or, The Kids Are All Wrong

Our NYFF coverage continues with Matthew Eng on this year's surprise screening -- which was less of a secret than usual this year, continually hinted at by the NYFF themselves, even spoiled ahead of time by IndieWire...

Ben Stiller & Naomi Watts star in "While We're Young"

Noah Baumbach is showing his age.

Not that this is the first time, mind you. Anyone who stuck through his exquisitely harsh and thus totally divisive Greenberg will surely remember Ben Stiller’s crusty, titular protagonist sourly announcing to a party full of fuzzed-out twentysomethings, “I hope I die before I end up meeting one of you in a job interview.”

There’s something instantly more pronounced about Baumbach’s evident unease towards the current generational divide in his latest adult dramedy, While We’re Young, in which Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star as Josh and Cornelia, a deceptively comfortable urban couple who are surprised to find themselves befriended and seduced by Jamie and Darby, a married pair of kind-eyed, porkpie-wearing, Bushwick-dwelling hipsters, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. What starts as a casual, multi-generational friendship soon transitions into something more consuming, as Josh, a struggling documentary filmmaker whose sophomore follow-up has taken ten years to finish, finds himself both aping and inspiring Jamie, who just so happens to be an aspiring documentarian himself. [more...]

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Sunday
Sep282014

NYFF: Whiplash: The Passion of the Drummer

The NYFF coverage continues. Here's Michael on Oscar buzzing Whiplash...
 

Terence Fletcher is a notoriously demanding music teacher whose go-to story is about how Charlie Parker got a cymbal thrown at him by drumming great Jo Jones when Parker choked onstage at a jazz club as a teenager. To hear Fletcher tell it, that public humiliation was the impetus for Parker to dedicate himself to his craft and become the jazz legend known forever as Bird. Knowing this about Fletcher, it’s little surprise that freshman Andrew Neyman’s gets a metal chair thrown at his head for the crime of being off tempo on his first day on drums as a member of Fletcher’s elite studio band. 

To be clear, that’s thrown at his head, not near his head. Damien Chazelle’s blistering Sundance smash Whiplash makes it clear that this is not the story of a hard-assed but wise teacher who applies tough love to coax the best out of his students. Fletcher’s behavior crosses the line quickly and often. His “lessons” are often little more than playing interrupted by slurs, slaps, and cruel mind games. It’s as if he learned how to teach by watching Alec Baldwin’s Glengarry monologue on a loop. 

To Fletcher, there is no such thing as too far, because any student capable of greatness needs someone like him to test his or her mettle against. [more...]

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Sunday
Sep282014

NYFF: At Odds Over 'Two Shots Fired' and 'La Sapienza'

The New York Film Festival has started, and here is Glenn on a pair of films from Argentina and Italy, 'Two Shots Fired' and 'La Sapienza'.

As film lovers, and especially as film critics, we like to think we view films from a purely neutral place without bias or prejudice. That feeling of going into any film with a blank slate of emotions, taking films on a case by case basis where there’s the possibility of liking literally anything that gets thrown our way. It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s as far from the truth as you could get. Whether it’s an actor or a director, a genre or even a region, sometimes there are things we just do not like or respond to as viewers. I freely admit to there being many personalities whose presence in front or behind a camera I find a struggle and while the the quality of the material they have to work with can fluctuate, sometimes you just have to admit that somebody or something is not for you.

Such was the case after seeing Two Shots Fired and La Sapienza two film with seemingly in common. The Argentinian and Italians films do share, however, a style. This certain storytelling aesthetic that aims for faintly quirky, film’s that trade in an excessively dry, often tangential, random humor that is delivered in monotone voices by a cast that sound more like they’re doing a table-read for a badly scripted soap opera. The actors’ robotic body movements suggest a disconnect between character and emotion, but which ultimately does more to distance the viewer from the film than anything else. When a character gets to express actual emotions in the same way a real human would it’s positively elating.

In Martín Rejtman’s Two Shots Fired, I liked a late-in-the-runtime turn of events that sees the return of a character who disappeared after the opening sequence. Sadly it goes nowhere as characters shrug it off and carry on with their lives as if the entire enterprise was for nothing. Eugéne Green’s La Sapienza has more virtues, which make its weaknesses even more disappointing. Its photography is suitably lush and the many, many shots of beautiful Italian architecture are gorgeous to behold, but the story that runs around them is like slowly watching life be drained out of a painting. Such rich possibilities are never taken advantage of.

 Both films’ arch sensibilities kept me at arm’s length from engaging with them in any way. They sit in between stylistic minimalism or flamboyant visual expressiveness, utilizing none of the virtues of either. I had similar issues with Greek “weird wave” titles like Dogtooth and Attenberg, but found much more of interest in their stories and visual storytelling to still be more or less on side despite other quibbles. I found the Argentinian and Italian films incredibly hard to latch on to; this emotional coolness (or detachment, whatever you like to consider it) leaving no hook for me to hang on to. Given how few notes are in their registers, if you don’t ‘get’ them from the start you’ll be at a loss for the duration.

Two Shots Fired screens on Monday Sep 29 (8.45pm) and Tuesday Sep 30 (3pm).
La Sapienza screens on Saturday Sep 27 (3pm) and Sunday Sep 28 (12.15pm).

Saturday
Sep272014

NYFF: J.K. Simmons Holds Courts, Boosts Supporting Actor Bid

"I guess I was a professional musician. I got paid tens of dollars," J.K. Simmons shrugged, getting the first of many big laughs at the press conference for Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. He was being grilled about his music background (he studied classical music in college) and what he brought to his big big role in this crowdpleasing drama. Whiplash is about the sweaty bloody foul-mouthed, humiliating and combative relationship of Andrew, a talented drummer (Miles Teller) and his sadistic mentor, Professor Fletcher (Simmons).

The movie is muscularly directed by Chazelle, like he's got as much to prove as Andrew (he'll direct another music related film next) and edited for maximum razzle-dazzle as if syncopated to the double time jazz rhythm -- or any other rhythm, really, that Fletcher demands during grueling rehearsals. Often stopping the action to scream "Not my tempo!" 

Whiplash than sometimes gives off the illusion that it's directed from within, as if the film is continually queued by, responding to, or enraged at Fletcher's barked orders, precise time signature hand movements, and threatening in-your-face closeups. The illusion than is that Professor Fletcher is demanding the movie conform to him, rather than the movie inviting him to be its antagonist.  

At the press conference the 59 year old actor was also the star of the show. In this case he had no competition for the spotlight. Miles Teller wasn't there and the film's young director was stuck in traffic allowing J.K. the bulk of the press conference to himself. Though his face is familiar from a long career of well received supporting roles he doesn't usually get this much of the screen (or stage as it were) all to himself. He took the opportunity to keep the press laughing, faux-mock his young co-star for being too busy "working" to be there with him, and for not making the short with him which was used to raise interest and funding for the movie (the short, which was a huge hit at Sundance in 2013, co-starred Johnny Simmons, no relation, who J.K. complimented adding that his take on the Andrew character was much different than Teller's work). J.K. reserved most of the good-natured teasing for his director who he continually referred to as an "adolescent" or "child". When the 29 year old director arrived toward the end of the event, and the questions began to flow his way, Simmons burst out laughing when a reporter began his question with the formal "Mister Chazelle..." 

A true scene stealer, that J.K. Simmons.

J.K., Damien, and Miles on set

It was deeply moving for me to work with musicians of that calibre and relive that part of my youth after having taken so many left turns in my career. It was really fun to work with musicians every day at work and/or scream at people which are two of my favorite things."

But for all his joking he managed to slip in thoughtful responses to questions, emotional hooks, and admitting that he wasn't sure how to unpack some of the provocative questions the movie raises about teaching and pushing people to greatness. This juggling act should serve him well in the quest for Oscar gold. The crowd was stunned to hear that they shot this tense intimate movie in just 19 days, a tiny blip in the amount of time they've spent promoting it since. As you'll recall the film premiered to rapturous response at Sundance 2014 and finally hits theaters in select cities on October 10th. Count on J.K. Simmons to spend the first two months of 2015 on red carpets and with cameras trained tightly to his face on Oscar night.

Friday
Sep262014

NYFF: Gone Girl's Gone Wild

Tonight marked the opening of the 2014 New York Film Festival with the world premiere of David Fincher's Gone Girl -- here's Jason's take on the film.

In the deeply darkly funny world of Gillian Flynn's bestselling murder mystery Gone Girl, Nick and Amy Dunne's wedding vows are like cliffhangers or dares - in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, I do... she does, he does... what exactly? All manner of unspeakables, it turns out. The book's at its sharpest as a ghoulish fun-house mirror reflection of deranged marital compromise - the hollowing out of our interior spaces for the exterior presentation of platonic ideals; a jack-o-lantern propped on the front porch with a pumpkin pie in the oven, all is pretty and home and sugar and spice on the windowsill... save that horror show, smashed glass coffee tables, mopped blood, behind closed doors. And what happens when the nightmare tumbles out into the street for all the world, and all the world's cameras, to see? Who pulls the mess back in once its spilled, and how...

David Fincher's Gone Girl is at its best when it has everybody grabbing their pails and their shovels and frantically trying to scoop up those spilled Humpty Dumpty pumpkin guts and make sense of it. For a two and a half hour movie it's shockingly spry on its feet, bouncing from Clue One to Clue Two in its own emotional kind of scavenger hunt, trying to piece together the What Went Wrong And How, and in its finest moments it vibes on a surprisingly loose Coen-esque sense of danger - as the sharp tools in the shed try to stay one step forward and find themselves in up to their necks, there's fun to be had in their catch-up, watching games change and rules rewritten mid-play.

[more...]

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