Movie City Indie Archive for December, 2005

Always let it keep rolling: Terry Malick talks in OK

Reporting in from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Susan Albert of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise catches up with a Terrence Malick Q&A after a screening of The New World: “Mike Bush, local chiropractor, wife Cathy, and two children, Trinnie and Madison, attended the preview because “we are art people and we have to be entertained…. We came to hobnob,” he said…. Malick’s wife Alexandra welcomed the audience… She credited Malick’s parents, Irene and Emil Malick of Bartlesville, who were in the audience, as the reason for the screening.
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“Later, at Theater Bartlesville, Malick said, “I knew it would have a slow, rolling pace. Just get into it; let it roll over you. It’s more of an experience film. I leave you to fend for yourself, figure things out yourself… I film quite a bit of footage, then edit… Changes before your eyes, things you can do and things you can’t. My attitude is always let it keep rolling… There’s a good many pictures I’d like to make, we’ll see how many I’ll be allowed to make…” [More at the link.]

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Foundas finds foreign film foundering

in LA Weekly, Scott Foundas chooses the best movies that didn’t play Los Angeles in 2005: Robert LePage‘s The Far Side of the Moon; Claire DenisThe Intruder; Marco Bellochio‘s My Mother’s Smile; Adam CurtisThe Power of Nightmares: the Rise of the Politics of Fear and his The Century of the Self; and Theo Angelopoulos‘ epic The Weeping Meadow.
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“The set pieces in The Weeping Meadow—including the flooding of an entire village Angelopoulos had constructed from scratch for the filming—are remarkable, but above all, the movie feels like a summary of everything Angelopoulos has done, and a renewal. As Eliot said, “In my beginning is my end.” And vice versa.”

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World’s oldest cinema reopens in Beijing

China Daily’s Beijing Weekend reports that the oldest cinema in the world has reopened: “Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Chinese [movies, Daguanlou Cinema], running 102 years since it opened in 1903, has just been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest operating movie theatre. With an investment of 5 million yuan (US$620,000) from the government and the support of China Ancient Architecture Research Centre, the cinema has regained its original look from the 1900s. It is like travelling between the past and present as visitors step into the century-old cinema. Though there is still that “new smell” in the new renovated theatre, people can easily find themselves lost down memory lane. Yellow glazed glass, black and white posters, long gowned ushers and richly ornamented corridors all take people back to the times of a century ago. “We just want to rekindle people’s interest in the old cinema,” said Wang Zhanyou, the 12th manager in the long history of the cinema: “Because in the last few years Da Guanlou has sustained losses,” he sighed.” [More history and anecdotage at the link.]

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Peter Howell says it's over and it makes him sad

While Toronto Star’s Peter Howell has a 2005 top 10, he’s sounding the knelliest of death knells for the cinema-going experience: “We may look back on this year as the beginning of the end of movie-going as we know it. I’m referring to the magnificent ritual of the past century, whereby film lovers congregate in dark public auditoriums to gaze upon a silver screen reflecting wondrous images. I see this rite changing dramatically, and it saddens me.
This might sound alarmist, and I wish it were simply that. But technological and cultural innovations of the past 12 months have pointed the way to a revolutionary future for the movies, one that few could have envisioned until recently. Watching a film is fast becoming a hermit’s pursuit.”
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After a stretch musing on the iPod, Howell writes, “Traditionalists who demand a larger screen may well opt to stay in their basements, viewing a DVD on a new high-definition TV, because the cost of turning your abode into a bijou is rapidly dropping. How many times have you heard people say in the past year that they’d prefer to stay home and watch a movie on DVD, because the quality is so good, the price is right and they don’t have to put up with the cost, the noise, the ads and the rude patrons found in cinemas?… The century-old habit of going out to the movies could become a cult pursuit indulged in by the nostalgic, much like the people who gather for antique car shows. And the films that do get shown in public theatres will either be blockbusters like King Kong or sentimental reissues of Casablanca and other classic fare. Independent and foreign films will be virtually shut out. The vast middle ground of popular entertainment will have been ceded to the single end-user, huddled in a basement or coffee shop.”

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Tony gets a bony in Movie Club: logrolling in our Times

There will be time to read the rest of A.O. Scott’s Thursday Movie Club contribution, but it does open with a forbidding hedge of gentlemen-well-met that would not be out of place over premium beers after a Manhattan evening screening:
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“I’m agog at the range and erudition of the three previous posts, which I don’t hope to match. I would happily spend the next week—the next six months—studying and annotating Jonathan’s list. Reading it reminded me of why I love your books, Jonathan—”Essential Cinema: Of the Necessity of Film Canons” is the one I’ve been reading most recently. It is possible, in the book as in that roster of 24 movies, with its witty juxtapositions and exemplary cosmopolitanism, to discover not just a universe or two of taste and sensibility but also portals that lead into politics, spirituality, and every conceivable realm of human experience. Which is what movies are uniquely and almost miraculously able to offer, but perhaps too rarely deliver.
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In fact, I did scroll down a little, and I like this: “…DVD and other technologies have, potentially and in fact, liberated cinephilia from the parochial confines of New York and a scattering of college towns. We are approaching an almost Borgesian situation in which a global, virtual cinematheque will be available at the spin of an iPod wheel or the click of a mouse. The softness of the domestic box office and the looming possibility of “day and date” home video and theatrical releases have been discussed mostly in terms of potential effects on the movie industry. A corollary question that has not been raised sufficiently is what effect the eclipse of theatrical exhibition and the proliferation of available titles for home consumption will have on film culture.” [Much more from the panel at the link; the Scott pic is from the Times, the Rosenbaum from this Argentinian movie site.]

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indieWIRE foreign pic poll and gamy grosses

29 crickets and programmers chirp in indieWIRE’s ” fourth foreign-language film survey”. Amid the results, compiler Anthony Kaufman sounds this sad, sour note about the poll’s topper: “In a slow year for foreign language films at the box office, few of the survey’s top films broke [$1 million]. Kings and Queen—which not only was voted best film, but star Emmanuelle Devos was a widely popular favorite in the best actress category—made a paltry $290,000 in theaters after 30 weeks in release.
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Look at Me was the highest grossing top-rated film, at roughly $1.7 million, while 2046 was not far behind with nearly $1.5 million in ticket sales. The rest failed to crack the $1 million mark.” [Pictured: Rois et Reine's Mathieu Amalric; Disclosure: I was one of the 29 who voted.]

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Live free or indie: NH's Lars Trodson challenges NY's Tony Scott

A. O. Scott‘s recent paean to the death of “howler” movies gets a gauntlet thrown down by Lars Trodson in New Hampshire’s Seacoast Online: “A.O. Scott and his peers may feel they see representative regional cinema at the big film festivals. But the idea that the best of the best of these independent films will eventually surface at these festivals, by the way, isn’t always true… This is a difficult and tricky point to make[, but] the idea of film festivals is to celebrate the best, not the worst, so the filmmaker who is wildly off base in his first few tries but has ambition and talent isn’t really going to get seen…. Can the film critic of the New York Times get out of the office and go to film festivals such as the New Hampshire Film Expo? … He should… How many more reviews can you squeeze out of a product that you have no real interest in any more, A.O. Scott?
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“This was certainly an implicit message in your “Howlers” essay about the status of Hollywood and in other reviews you write. In your review of Casanova, you wrote: “So I sighed and sank down in my seat, preparing for a long, perfumed ride to Prestigeville.” About the latest Jennifer Aniston movie, you write: “I suppose Rumor Has It could be worse, though at the moment I’m at a loss to say just how.” You sound tired, tired, tired…. Getting out to the heartland of movie-making is certainly not as glamorous as watching films in New York City. You’ll have to sit in dingy auditoriums, suffer through too many conversations with young filmmakers… stay at a hotel that’s uncomfortable and take part in conversations that are howlers in their own right… In the process, you will see some films that, in all their glory, in all their howling glory, may revive your interest in the state of film-making today. Because there will be a moment, maybe just one, but it will be there nonetheless, inside the “train wreck, the catastrophe, the utter and complete artistic disaster” — as you so aptly described these bad films — where you’ll not see just abject failure but also a glimpse of a Scorcese, or a DePalma, and then you’ll know it was worth the trip. So get out of the office. Come see us up in New Hampshire some time.”

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Original Chen: Harvey goes back on Promise

In another odd shift, coming after postponing platform releases of Transamerica and Mrs. Henderson Presents until the new year, Weinsteinco drops Chen Kaige‘s Promise, reports Variety’s Ian Mohr. “Last May, the Weinstein Co. pacted for North American rights to Chen Kaige’s film, with plans to release it under the title Master of the Crimson Armor.” Pic opens Friday in Los Angeles for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run.” But sales rep Etchie Stroh‘s Moonstone Entertainment and China Film Group will handle that as well as its US, UK, Australian and South African releases with partners to be named. Mohr suggests the pic got in the way of Weinsteinco’s other Oscar designs, and quotes H. Weinstein, “We have thoroughly enjoyed working together for the past seven months and have reached an amicable decision to part ways on Master of the Crimson Armor.”
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Adding to the confusion, there’s Chen’s 121-minute Chinese hit, with the scissored US version clocking in at 97 minutes. “The Crimson Armor title has been jettisoned, and both versions will screen under the title The Promise. While the longer version is the Oscar hopeful, the shorter version is nominated as a foreign film contender at the upcoming Golden Globes. Revised version includes a new beginning and a modified ending to reshape the pic for Western tastes… Pic is expected to take in $16 million-$25 million in its homeland.”

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Home for the holidays: Family Stone's Thomas Bezucha

From the LaPorte County Herald-Argus News comes the tale of Family Stone writer-director Thomas Bezucha visiting mom in Beverly Shores, Indiana. Writes Catherine Lafrance, “Bezucha was in Beverly Shores visiting his mother, Suzy Vance, for the Christmas holiday. Sitting in his mother’s home, looking at the lake, Bezucha said he enjoys visiting northwest Indiana, calling the area “incredibly rich.”
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“I’ve been coming here every summer since the early ’70s,” he explained…” Gushes Lafrance, “The actors’ pride in the film has extended into their own adulation of Bezucha as a writer and director.“Diane and Sarah Jessica are like den mothers,” he said with a laugh. “They go out of their way to mention my name during interviews.” Bezucha accepts the negative reviews he’s gotten, saying the movie “can be a little divisive… Some people have really hated it. But that’s when you know you did a good job.”

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Grain of the VOICE: film crickets put 2005 to bed

A prime highlight of the VOICE year-end movie crickets’ poll is when contributors hone their anti-bourgie cred and press gobbets of caffeinated contrarianism, sultry snobbery and juicy, injudicious phrasing into the mix. Bangkok-based expat Chuck Stephens, who has a naughty one I won’t quote, seldom disappoints. But here’s a personally triumphalist one from his East: “A History of Violence and Land of the Dead are a pair of potent reminders as to why I won’t live anywhere near North America anymore.” Other choice entries in this seventh edition: NYPress’ Armond White spearing the Squid and the Whale: “The almost unbelievably biased critical response in favor of the dreadful Squid and the Whale is proof of what happened when the educated and privileged classes moved into positions of power. They usurped cultural savvy as their own provenance the way they also gentrified neighborhoods—turning the movie theaters into cultural slums. A friend exclaimed that he wouldn’t want to live next door to the people in The Squid and the Whale let alone watch a movie about them.”
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Philly City Paper’s Sam Adams on 2046: “More than a year after its Cannes debut, 2046 finally snuck into theaters. Everyone I know already owned the DVD, but many declined to watch it, an act of fetishistic denial perfectly in tune with Wong’s universe.” Plus, this from NYC freelancer Saul Austerlitz: “Caché was so diabolically effective in large part due to the production design. The couple’s apartment was a bourgeois intellectual’s idea of paradise, all modernist furniture, overstuffed bookshelves, and recessed lighting. You could practically hear critics salivating as they pictured their own dingy walk-ups.” Sweetly, concisely, Boston Globe’s Wesley Morris takes on one of the most cavalier of cavils against Brokeback Mountain: “Stonewall, Harvey Milk, Fire Island, Edmund White, John Waters, and Andy Warhol are all going on simultaneously with Ennis Del Mar’s loneliness. But gay culture can’t save him. Gay culture doesn’t know he exists. The idea of his “choosing” to live (and presumably die) alone in that closet of a trailer with two shirts in the middle of nowhere is tragic. It all hails from Annie Proulx, but Ennis is a man after Edith Wharton’s heart.” [My ballot is here.]

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Cannibalizing the crickets: Weinsteinco's Wolf-ish ploy

In Wednesday’s New York Times, advertisements for Wolf Creek lead off with heavy verbiage from Earl Dittman of “Wireless Magazine” (which is also a Website-less magazine): TERRIFYING! A thriller that takes fear to another level.” (The lack of an exclamation point at the end of the last phrase casts modest doubts on its authenticity.) Premiere and the New York Post are also weighted. Wolfy0079.jpg But Weinsteinco’s Dimension Films pulls a fresh variation on an old trick, quoting Darren Bousman, director of Saw II with the banal “An edge-of-your-seat thriller!” but also in-house directors Robert Rodriguez (“As real as horror gets!”) and Quentin Tarantino: “John Jarrett delivers a performance that’s destined to go down as one of the greatest film heavies of the last 25 years!” Rodriguez and Tarantino are collaborating on a Dimension-Weinsteinco effort called Grindhouse; the star of Tarantino’s segment is reportedlyJohn Jarrett. (Nothing to see here, move along, keep moving.)

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Niche bitch: Foundas on foundering films

In a dauntingly articulate entry in Slate’s year-end Movie Club, Scott Foundas (in conversation with David Edelstein, Scott Foundas, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and A.O. Scott) addresses a number of pics and stats (especially Munich), and makes these painful points about the current state of audiences for independent film: “As David Ehrenstein pointed out in an excellent and scrupulously researched LA Weekly article earlier this year, champagne corks now pop in distributors’ offices if a foreign-language picture crosses the $500,000 mark at the U.S. box office, while most foreign titles don’t manage to gross even one-tenth of that amount. I wish I could say the depressing news stopped there, but it doesn’t. Independent American films—by which I mean the real thing and not the pseudo-independents produced by the studio-owned subsidiary divisions—are hardly faring any better… Debra Granik’s superb Down to the Bone (with its award-winning lead performance by Vera Farmiga) took nearly two years to find a distributor and has earned all of $25,000 since opening in limited release one month ago, while Lodge Kerrigan’s equally excellent Keane (backed by a relatively larger marketing campaign) has barely squeaked past $33,000. And what we critics say scarcely seems to matter. Both Down to the Bone and Keane had stellar reviews (as, for that matter, did The Intruder; Good Morning, Night; and The Weeping Meadow), yet taken together, all five films didn’t attract as many moviegoers over the entire courses of their runs as flocked to Brokeback Mountain in its first week on a single Los Angeles screen…
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“When Happy Here and Now—a Michael Almereyda film [pictured] I like even more than his William Eggleston documentary—finally opened in Los Angeles after three years on its distributor’s shelf (and after repeated extolling of its virtues in print by myself and other critics), it grossed $700 in its first (and only) weekend, which sort of gives a whole new meaning to the term “niche audience.”

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My year, at length: Miranda July

Miranda July says good-blog to all that, ending her Me and You and Everyone We Know blog, while offering up the tallest image of the week at the very least, a vertical ribbon of her 2005 experiences.
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[Yes: she remembers to thank Mike Mills.]

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Sheetal that and more: Looking for women in Comedy in the Muslim World

“In the summer of 2004, American Comedy Actor and Film Director, Albert Brooks, steeped out of the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi braving the summer heat,” writes Bollywood Reel’s Bhuvan Lall. “An hour later, he announced he had applied for permission to shoot a Hollywood comedy in India.” But Bhuvan is more interested in Sheetal Seth.
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“Hollywood actress of Indian origin Sheetal Sheth plays Maya, Albert Brooks’ chirpy assistant in the film. She is today one of the most popular actresses among the young NRI directors in USA. Her work in NRI films like American Chai, ABCD and Wings of Hope have resulted in several awards.” Bhuvan notes, “Sheetal was born the middle child, and grew up on the East Coast playing sports and dancing… She has also been offered leading roles in Indian films but is still looking for a meaningful part.” Variety, Bhuvan writes, “described Sheetal as an eye catching pretty person who beams like a ray of sunshine.”

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Chinese checkered: revenues up, ideas down

China’s film industry revenues increased $150 million 2005, writes CRI Online’s Tu Yun, to $US600 million from 260 movies. “The two latest movies—The Promise, a martial arts epic directed by mainland director Chen Kaige and Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles, a family film directed by Zhang Yimou that puts emphasis on artistic merit—are currently screening… Tong Gang, director of the Film Bureau of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, said that these two films have significantly boosted the domestic film market… Nevertheless, experts say the lack of good screenplays, shortage of funds, unnecessary modifications as well as high ticket prices and other issues still remain the bottleneck for China’s movie industry.”

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Movie City Indie

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DEADLINE: How does a visualist feel about people watching your films on a phone or VOD?
REFN: It depends on what kind of movie you make. We had great success with Only God Forgives on multiple platforms in the U.S. Young people will decide how they see it, when they want to see it. Don’t try to fight it. Embrace it. That’s a wonderful opportunity. We’re at the most exciting time since the invention of the wheel, in terms of creativity because distribution and accessibility have changed everything. A camera is still a camera whether it’s digital or not; there’s still sound; an actor is an actor. Ninety-nine percent of what you do is going to be seen on a smart phone – I know this is the greatest thing ever made because it allows people to choose, watching what you do on this format or go into a theater and see it on a screen. That means more people than ever will see what I do, which is personally satisfying in terms of vanity. But you have to be able to adapt, to accept things in different order and length than we’re used to. We are in a very, very exciting time.
~ Nic Refn to Jen Yamato

DEADLINE: You mention Tarantino, who with Christopher Nolan and a few other giants, saved film stock from extinction. To him, showing a digital film in a theater is the equivalent of watching TV in public. Make an argument for why digital is a good film making canvas.
REFN: Costwise, it’s a very effective way for young people to start making movies. You can make your movie on an iPhone. It’s wonderful seeing how my own children use technology to enhance creativity. For me it’s a wonderful canvas. Sure, I love grain in film. I love celluloid. But I also like creativity. I like crayons, I like pencils, I like paint. It’s all relative. Technology is more inclusive. A hundred years ago when film was invented, it was an elitist club. Very few people got to make it, very few people controlled it and very few people owned it. A hundred years later, storytelling through images is everyone’s domain. It’s ultimate capitalism. There are no rules, and no barriers and no Hays Code. Where does this go in another hundred years? I don’t know but I would love to see it.
~ Nic Refn To Jen Yamato