Movie City Indie Archive for June, 2007

[LOOK] Ending Zabriskie Point (1970, ***)

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MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI’S ZABRISKIE POINT is often cited as one of the greatest follies made by a great filmmaker, but have any of those writers watched it lately? While its 1960s youth-culture-on-the-run-story, with echoes of Kent State (credited to Antonioni, Sam Shepard, Tonino Guerra and Claire Peploe) is often blunt and the acting wooden, it’s one of the most striking uses of light and space in a filmography built upon such concerns. Take the last scene alone, an explosive 10-minute fantasia of the end of consumerism. Sometimes I think it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, just for how it looks and sounds, and not even for any of its many meanings. You know Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry have seen it; there’s a shared understanding with Antonioni of objects and space, the concreteness of objects within not-fully occupied spaces. A character imagines a modernist house on a hill, and all its furnishings, exploding in extreme slow motion, detonating again and again. It maybe be one of the greatest fuck-you endings ever, but who’s the “fuck you” to? The audience in 1970? James Aubrey’s craven administration of MGM? The youth movement? Acquisitiveness itself? Narrative? Me when I saw it 22? You? Me watching it today? You seeing it this week? Someone who recalls their own flipbook of recollection of first exposure to images of fluttering destruction on 9/11? You can watch the closing scene here as well as the original trailer, “where a boy… and a girl…. meet… and touch… and blow their minds… Zabriskie Point… How you get there depends on where you’re at,” the amusingly dated promo goes. A folly, to be sure, but its photography, boldly colored and concrete, also borders on abstraction, a dislocated gaze upon practical and temporary things. Explosive. Cue the Floyd. [Ray Pride.] (Zabriskie Point shows at Siskel in Chicago June 29 at 6pm and July 1 at 3pm.)

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Indie returns Wednesday

Greens

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Andy Jones

Andy%20Jones3.jpgDavid Poland IM’ed me a few hours ago with the news that entertainment journalist Andy Jones died after a heart attack during a screening of A Mighty Heart at the Arclight last night. I let that soak in for a bit and just now read David’s quick appreciation of Jones. I don’t have much to say, except that whenever Andy and I crossed paths in the years I’ve known him, mostly in Los Angeles, it was always a pleasure to see this exuberant man walk into the room: he listened well, he laughed better. Gabby without cattiness, he flirted with the world like it deserved to be flirted with. It’s Friday night: I really wish I weren’t going to spend the rest of the evening thinking about how many of our acquaintances, friends, peers, get taken for granted. But they do. Dammit. [Poland’s 1999 nod to Jones and his influence is here.]

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Talking technique with Michael Winterbottom about A Mighty Heart (2007, ***)

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM’S FIFTEENTH OR SO FEATURE, with a reported $16 million budget, distributed by Paramount Vantage, the arthouse arm of the larger company, is a star vehicle for Angelina Jolie, but also not a star vehicle.
Drawn from the memoirs of Marianne Pearl, the widow of Wall Street Journal investigative staffer Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) who jolie_65478_7j58.jpgwas executed in 2002 after being kidnapped in Pakistan over his reportage and for being Jewish as well, A Mighty Heart allows Jolie to disappear into a buzz of fact and confusion, of investigation and concern and perplexity. Winterbottom likes to drop viewers into the midst of a world, like a restless documentarian might, and cleanly yet somewhat obliquely offer up all the information we need, as in recent pictures like the futurist fever dream of Code 43, (2003); the rock-show-and-sex 9 Songs (2004); the hybrid doc-fiction of The Road to Guantánamo (2006) and the refugee’s odyssey of the stunning In This World (2002). (He shares a knack for detail and instants of behavioral authenticity demonstrated through work with directors like Michael Mann: here is a world, do you see it?)
The 46-year-old Winterbottom started working with cinematographer-camera operator Marcel Zyskind with the guerilla shoot of In This World, and has worked with him on seven films since, largely with handheld DV cameras, including here. No rehearsals, masters or close-ups, just takes that mostly ran the length of a scene, shot mostly in natural light, in the sequence they happened historically from Pearl’s disappearance through the weeks of mystery after. Winterbottom claims not to even call action or set any sort of blocking marks for the camera, often guiding Zyskind by touches and grabs of the shirt.

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Portraits: Eagle Vs. Shark, You Kill Me, A Mighty Heart

Taika Waititi


Taika Waititi, director of Eagle Vs. Shark.


John Dahl

John Dahl, director of You Kill Me.

Michael Winterbottom


Michael Winterbottom, director of A Mighty Heart.


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Garrulous claptrap: Day Watch (2006, ** 1/2)

tarkovskian_607.jpg (Denevnoy dozor) With Day Watch, Russian writer-director Timur Bekmambetov accelerates the garrulous claptrap of the first entry in his post-Soviet vampire trilogy, Night Watch Imagine the carnage of the climax of Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces, but for over two hours. Imagine Moscow laid waste to destruction more nihilist than Roland Emmerich’s 1990s dreams of ruin like Independence Day. Bekmambetov’s visual and storytelling flourishes are beyond baroque, as furiously inventive as Guillermo del Toro, but with less control and lyricism. Yet this slab of magical miserablism, of moral and literal verdigris, also functions as synecdoche of sorts for Putin-era mayhem of a decaying, decadent society of grime, slime and cash, a time of authoritarian chaos that sees the wanton imprisonment and even murder of oligarchs, journalists and motley adversaries? The only answer: burn it to the ground, siege Moscow like a latter-day Leningrad. Another culture, another capitalism: it’s plain that the movie is very Russian, and surely holds more resonance back home with its growls, barks and muttering of dialogue, or the identity of famous guests at a party, and the relentless product placement. (A slightly more esoteric reference: the incomprehensible battle between the two vampire factions is adjudicated by a pair of Andrei Tarkovsky look-alikes who lean on canes with mirroring gestures.) While Bekmambetov repeats his oft-inspired, always amusing play with the English subtitles—a hard knock at a door causes a word to shake; when someone yells “Bastard!” while breaking a plate, the letters shatter—his willingness to be full-tilt incomprehensible may be his greatest strength. The end credit sequence is terrifically bold. (The Russian trailer is below.) [Ray Pride.]

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[LOOK] "Good Morning, America" correspondent attempts to explain what journalism is to Michael Moore



Didn’t anyone tell Michael Moore not to talk back to his betters? Bad Harvey! Bad.

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[LOOK] Cursing the darkness: re-ending The Sopranos



Somebody asked for it…

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[LOOK] Ain't that America for you and me? Tommy Chong vs. MSNBC



Somehow, this brief clip functions as self-critique: the best criticism of modern media is to display modern media. Is there a reason that cable news ratings are so low? What on earth did this woman expect this man to say to her? And: why was there live coverage of Paris Hilton being escorted to jail? This splitscreen image is pretty remarkable for its intense vacuity, suiting the segment anchor. “Did you smoke anything today?”

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[LOOK] The Marx Bros. in color



Twenty seconds of Technicolor behind the scenes of Animal Crackers. [Via Leonard Pierce at Screengrab.]

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Don't Stop -: About a cut

YOU KNOW SOMEONE’S BEEN THINKING when they manage to come up with a simple cut that surpasses anything you could do with the image itself, and with the inspired final scene of “The Sopranos,” is David Chase really the first person use Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” to create a parallel to Samuel Beckett’s novel, “The Unnameable”? Don't Stop.jpg(“Where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”) Heady stuff. I don’t get the television critics who are wailing this morning, like Mary McNamara in the L.A. Times and Charlie McCollum of the Mercury News. At least Heather Havrilesky, as you’d expect, has her shit together, in the best read I’ve seen, over at Salon. “Just like the rest of us. Going to hell in a red leather booth, with Journey playing in the background.” Not quite “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” but fine nonetheless.

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Four Eyed Monsters (*** 1/2)

Not a review, but a link to Arin Crumley and Susan Buice’s sweet, restless, strangely charming movie, on YouTube for the rest of the week.


LOOK: Superbad and the red-band trailer



As the opening card of the trailer warns, Superbad has an R rating for “pervasive crude and sexual content, strong language, drinking, some drug use and a fantasy/comic violent image — all involving teens.” Consider yourself warned.

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Movie City Indie

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“A shot is a story. A shot on its own should be a piece of a story. Which is why I talk a lot about watching films, even the films we’re working on, with the sound off. Just to analyze how the film works, because a film should work for an audience without any sound. The biggest problem I see is that someone may have a superficial understanding of what a shot is propositionally, but they don’t have an understanding of how all of these shots are part of a family that needs to connect, and so you’ll get something that’s like a sentence arranged poorly with six nouns in a row. That surprises me, because I think that’s something that can be learned. Some things can’t be, but that can. It’s a grammar. In a classroom I could walk somebody through the difference between a sequence in which the filmmaker has a deep understanding of how images connect, and someone who doesn’t. It’s not really an intellectual process. Some people are just born with it and are just sort of savants at that deep mathematical understanding of shot construction.  I’m better than I used to be, but there are some people I’m just never going to catch. Spielberg. His staging ability. I’m never going to catch him. But when you’re trying to figure out how to get better—I’m not competitive in the sense of looking around at other filmmakers and comparing myself to them. What I do have to think about in trying to navigate myself through a career is: what can I get better at, and what do I have that I can enhance that somebody else doesn’t have?”
~ Steven Soderbergh

“It’s not going to be huge. He and I had been corresponding for a while. When I finally met him, he said, ‘We should collaborate.’ When John Ashbery says that to you, you don’t say when, you just say yes. It has not been easy to conjure this out of nothing. Sean Price Williams and I spent time with him, and it will appear on FilmStruck before the year is out…. I have figured out how to streamline things. I still have dreams of making movies with bigger budgets, and they might be considered to have more of a voice in pop culture. I don’t want to let go of that. I also realize that you grow up a lot of your life with wishful thinking and waiting. I have figured out ways to avoid doing that. I am working on a bigger movie about Nikola Tesla, set in the past, so it is not an easy film to make. I am also working on an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s ‘White Noise.’ That seems more likely to catch fire.”
Michael Almereyda Steps It Up