When I started The Reeler in June 2005, my primary goal was to establish a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about New York City cinema. If you are even a casual reader of this site, you will know that I have a ways to go before achieving that not-quite-modest aim. That said, such ambitions require a healthy curiosity, a bit of insanity and more than few dice rolls, all of which I am set to engage as I prepare to relaunch The Reeler this week as an independent Web site.
Launching Friday, Sept. 29, TheReeler.com will still feature all the bloggy fabulousness you have come to know and love (or at least put up with). Additionally, you will find news features, profiles, reviews, festival information, party coverage and event listings–all settled into their own separate, easy-to-find sections. The focus remains the same: to bring you the latest news and trends from New York film culture, from the DIY world to the city’s biggest premieres. As with everything good in life, it will begin as a work-in-progress, but a challenging, necessary one with only the best of intentions.
As such, it is important that I take a moment to thank David Poland, whose magnanimity and support have provided the basis for much of my professional growth over the last year. Contributing to the discussion at Movie City News has been a profound learning experience for me as a writer and film fan in general, and I continue to be grateful for that opportunity. Thanks also to my MCN colleagues Laura Rooney for her patient technical prowess and to the brilliant Ray Pride for his unceasing encouragement and influence; it has long yielded a tremendous impact on this site.
Of course, I owe my biggest debt of gratitude to you, my faithful readers, who I hope will join me Sept. 29 at TheReeler.com. Thanks a million for keeping me in mind (and in your bookmarks), and I look forward to seeing you again soon. For now, however, I must sign off. This fledgling-media-empire business is exhausting.
For reasons I shall disclose to you sooner or later, this is going to be a short day for me. In the meantime, I’d like to refer you over to a pair of interesting discussions that should unfold on the blogosphere for a while to come:
–Over at Hollywood Elsewhere, editor Jeffrey Wells has once again laid out his severe distaste for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, this time using the occasion of Judith Thurman’s piece in the New Yorker to back up his claim that the film is “for the most part despicable.” Having not yet seen it, I will withhold judgment either way, but that is not stopping a lightning storm of commenters from scorching the site with varying degrees of effluvium and opprobium. If you are procrastinating on getting back to work this bright Monday morning, this is another potentially pleasing way to kill some time.
–And over at the AV Club Blog, Scott Tobias asks with modest wonder why the American indie movement is not turning out more microbudget work like Mutual Appreciation and Old Joy. Maybe I am not the best person to ask–I could take or leave either film–but Tobias respondents have some scintillating ideas of their own. And as of this morning, their relative antipathy may surprise you.
OK, so maybe this has something to do with the Reeler Karma I was talking about last week, or maybe, again, it is just the the rich getting richer: Lewis Beale, whose essay last month on cinema’s Jewish babe renaissance is the most popular post ever published on this site, is slated to take part in the paradoxically titled “Dream Jobs: Covering the Arts” panel tonight at 6:30 at Hunter College. Admission is free, and I certainly encourage any young ‘uns out there to drop in.
As an illustrious film journalist and adjunct lecturer in Hunter’s film and media department, Mr. Beale represents the rational grain of salt to his fellow panelists’ benign critical insularity; while Jeremy McCarter (NY Magazine), Pia Catton (NY Sun), Elisabeth Vincentelli (TONY) and Jim Farber (NY Daily News) will all bring warm, encouraging winks for the underclassmen, here is hoping The Professor will keep it real about publicists, editors, journalism school and the enduring power of writing about Semitic starlets. And maybe throw in a note or two about a little New York film blog that would possibly symbolize a dream job if its editor ever slept.
Follow your own dream to the jump, where you will find all the event details.
A few of this week’s worthwhile cinematic goings-on around New York:
–I would like to think that there is such a thing as Reeler Karma, and that it blesses all of those who have ever contributedto or simply been kind to this blog. So when I heard about one-time guest writer Josh Horowitz’s Q&A with filmmaker Neil LaBute(right) tonight at the Astor Place Barnes and Noble, I thought, “There you go, score another one for Reeler Karma.” In actuality, though, Horowitz interviewed LaBute and something like 30 other filmmakers for his book The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker, so really, I got nothing. On the other hand, LaBute has never written here, and you can bet the Wicker Man second-guessing will be shattered-glass shrill. So who knows? The point is that you should go check out the discussion this evening at 7. We can figure out this karma business later.
–Call me contrarian, but I would like to go against conventional critical wisdom this weekend in recommending you check out All the King’s Men and avoid Old Joy. Neither film is especially bad nor especially good, but each lists farther than they desrve to either side of the hype spectrum. King’s Men, adapted by Steven Zaillian from Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel, takes its dueling meditations on idealism and power far too seriously (composer James Horner’s “soaring” score induces diabetic shock in people over 55) yet eventually comes into its own as kind of a fascinating, beautiful, A-list accident. Sean Penn is hammy but serviceable; Jude Law is better than anyone wants to admit, lest they lose ground in the tastemaking circle jerk of Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a tad difficult to follow, but hardly difficult to enjoy.
–Not so for Kelly Reichardt’s latest, Old Joy, which has left hard-to-remove come stains on seats at Sundance, New Directors/New Films and now in limited release at Film Forum. Daniel London and Will Oldham star as Mark and Kurt, longtime friends who pair up for a weekend in the woods only to discover they have nothing in common. In her readings of landscape and faces, Reichardt captures spatial and structural dynamics that her story just cannot support; even at 76 minutes, the film exhausts its premise and tension less than halfway through. Anyway, Yo La Tengo will join Reichardt to discuss the film after tonight’s 8:15 screening, which is sold out online but might have a ticket or two remining at the box office if you go down there, like, an hour ago. Trust me–you can wait.
—Richard Sandler‘s documentary work arrives in Williamsburg this weekend, with five of his films–often shot over the stretches of years or even decades–screening until Sept. 27 at Monkey Town. The Guggenheim Fellowship-winning work includes the street-preacher portrait The Gods of Times Square, the subway chronicle Sway and Sandler’s 12-years-in-the-making glimpse at East Village gentrification, Brave New York. Programs run nightly at 7:30 and 10:30.
Wherein your bleary-eyed editor is hauled away in an ambulance, pants shat from dementia while bellowing URL’s and story ideas he never got to this week:
—Reeler Pinch Hitter Eric Kohn is finding a nice little zone over at the New York Press, including this week’s cover story on Michel Gondry. However, knowing what we know know about the Press’s sterling editorial reputation, maybe you would rather read the extended dance remix of the profile over on Kohn’s blog. Part reported profile, part critical analysis, part loopy psychotherapy–indeed, like most anything connected to Gondry.
–CHUD’s Devin Faraci passes along an aggrieved dispatch from the Brooklyn set of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry: “You know your neighborhood is going to hell when Adam Sandler is filming his new movie there.” Of course, it can always be worse; Jodie Foster could come around some morning and hide your car.
–Unsung NYC cinema hero Brian Geldin has a fabulous little resource at MySpace called The Film Panel Notetaker Blog. I kid you not, and thank God: Geldin not only hits up all the film events, speeches and discussions the rest of us are too lazy to attend, but he actually passes along detailed notes of all the important points and exchanges that arise. It’s basically Cliff Notes for Gotham’s film-snob set, and as such, is indispensible–all the more so this week considering his dedicated coverage of the IFP Market. I am in there somewhere, pre-dementia, not that I made any sense then anyway. Read on and enjoy.
–And all of the sudden, around the city, film reviewers are asking their mothers for rides to the dry cleaners: The New York Film Critics Circle Awards dinner is slated for Jan. 7; the voting takes place Dec. 11. Get. Excited.
The quadriplegic rugby documentary Murderball, which I cherish and regard as the best documentary of 2005, was back in the news this week as director James Mangold was linked to the development of a narrative adaptation. I could not quite make head or tails of any of this until I caught up Thursday with Murderball co-director Henry-Alex Rubin, an old friend, colleague and disciple of Mangold’s from their days studying film at Columbia University in the mid 1990s.
“I would say that Dana (Adam Shapiro, Murderball‘s other co-director) and I are pretty hopeful that it’s going work as a complement to the movie rather than be a replacement for it,” said Rubin, who served as Mangold’s second unit director on Cop Land and Girl, Interrupted. “That’s one of the reasons we both decided to go with Jim, because he seemed excited to make something that would work alongside it as a companion piece.”
While TMZ reported last week that Mangold had acquired the life rights to Murderball subjects Mark Zupan (above), Joe Soares and Chris Igoe–out of whose truck Zupan was flung in the accident that paralyzed him–Rubin was reluctant to detail any story hints or specifics before Mangold had even written the script.
“I think Dana and I both agreed that we would stay out of it and let James do whatever he wanted,” he told me. “Dana and I put him in touch with Mark Zupan, and they met, and they get along. And we’ll let them do whatever. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mangold at some point asked us our opinion, but I think the only way to really feel OK about doing something is just to give it to someone else completely. We made our film, and it represents the truth to the best of our knowledge emotionally and chronologically onscreen. Now Mangold is following a diferent process, which is trying to get the truth of the emotions that preexisted, which is going to be challenge, but which Dana and I had nothing to do with, because we weren’t there. It’s really all about Chris Igoe and Zupan, and hopefully they’ll all be collaborating.”
Rubin, who attended this year’s IFP Market as a Documentary Completion Award juror, is presently casting his upcoming film Bridgewater, a blend of doumentary-style and fiction storytelling about a group of friends returned from a tour in the Iraq War. Rubin cites another chief influence, Flight 93 and Bloody Sunday director Paul Greengrass, as an influence this time around, but he reserved his strongest praise for Mangold.
“I’ve always been sort of obsessed with ways of capturing reality and truth and putting it on film, and Jim has continuously opened my mind as to how to tell a story well,” Rubin said. “I’ve mostly been at the mercy of reality making documentaries for 10 years, but on the side, I was always working on his films. I got a window into a world of fiction that I wouldn’t have necessarily gotten otherwise. Dana and I tried hard to make Murderball look and feel like a fiction film, and it was because of Jim that I even knew how to put together shot lists and storyboards. He’s influenced me tremendously.”
I know you missed me, but I insisted on a 24-hour moment of silence following the news of Sven Nykvist’s passing to collect my thoughts and get on with life. First stop: The IFP Market‘s Awards Luncheon down in the East Village. I had missed basically the entire week of panels and films connected to this year’s event, but sending me an invitation promising a $1 million feature financing giveaway to a lucky indie filmmaker is like jamming a photo of Ed McMahon’s face in a retiree’s mailbox. I may have been late and a little disconsolate over my lost Swedish love, but fuck if I’m missing that.
New to the Market in 2006, the Chrysler Film Project–a partnership between Silverwood Films and, well, Chrysler–awarded the big money to Derek Cianfrance, a Brooklyn-based, Sundance-alum director whose script Blue Valentine had previously run into a series of delays–if “series of delays” is the euphemism we are using these days for “a decade.”
“I’ve been working on my film for like nine-and-a-half years–hustling it, trying to get it going,” he told The Reeler after the awards’ ritualistic Giant Fake Check ceremony. “It’s been set up like three different times, and in that time of waiting, you prepare. So I’m prepared. I’m ready to go. I feel like I’ve been in the gym training and I’ve been hitting that punching bag a million times. Now this is my shot at the title, you know?”
And how! Cianfrance said Valentine –based on the director’s short Lately There Have Been Many Misunderstandings–is about the juxtaposition of a couple’s happy past with its tenuous future and the prospect of a non existant future. “The physicality of youth versus young adulthood,” he explained. “More of a cerebral time of being trapped inside your head. It’s all about how when you’re young, you have an opportunity to become anything and you make decisions and choices and become something. These people are trying to become something, and it’s different than what they thought they would have been.”
Casting now and partnering with producers Jamie Patricof and Alex Orlovsky of Hunting Lane Films (Half Nelson) and executive producers @radical.media, the filmmaker is prepping now for a month of pre-production and a tentative mid-November shooting date. He said he has his eye on a location in Central California, where he will attempt to relay “a place we’ve never seen before on film.” Whatever, kid, dream big, just make sure everyone drives a Chrysler.
Meanwhile, I also got a word in with IFP executive director Michelle Byrd, who recalled Cianfrance’s project rolling through IFP’s No Borders program years ago. She noted the Chrysler sponsorship’s derivation from the brand’s former Million Dollar Film Festival competition.
“Basically, IFP is interested in any opportunity that takes an individual who’s interested in putting some money into an independent film and figuring out how we serve as a conduit,” Byrd told me. “With Chrysler, we were pitched an opportunity to get involved not in an IFP program, but something they were doing.” With the Fledgling Fund Awards for emerging Latino filmmakers and socially conscious documentaries, Byrd said, the goal was to coordinate with burgeoning indie-film godmother Diana Barrett to “create a grant specific to her needs.”
And then it was over. I should have a little more from the market tomorrow, including a visit with one of 2005’s great breakthrough filmmakers and a recap of that panel I skidded through so gracelessly. At least that is the plan; I must will it done. Sven would have wanted it that way.
The event’s other winners follow after the jump.
Sven Nykvist, 1922-2006
I am not sure how many of you have attained the high honor of attending this year’s IFP Market, but if you happen to be at the Puck Building today between 3:15-4:15, stop in for a panel discussion addressing the benefits of online social networking for filmmakers. I will be there winging it alongside AOL’s Karina Longworth, iKlipz’s David Dinerstein, Shooting People’s Ingrid Kopp and moderator Brian Brooks of indieWIRE. I do not know why they asked me to join them; I have a feeling it’s a set-up, perhaps for an assassination attempt or for Karina to pull my chair out from under me as I sit down. Anything is possible with the exception of me having a clue about this stuff, so join us and heckle away. You paid for it.
The absolute must-read item of the day is over at Nerve’s movie blog ScreenGrab, where editor (and filmmaker) Bilge Ebiri offers a fist-sized grain of salt for readers of last week’s Village Voice piece trashing the Pioneer Theater as “a veritable assembly line of disgruntled ex-employees and associates since it opened in 2000″:
Here’s the real problem with (Jessica) Winter’s article: By dissing the theater in passing, she refuses to acknowledge that The Pioneer of today is very different from The Pioneer that opened in 2000. “The article does not differentiate between the Pioneer Theater before the current administration and the Pioneer Theater of the last two and a half years,” says (Pioneer programmer Ray) Privett, who started in mid-2004. “My time has been a time of reform, response, clarity, paid bills, and good care for prints, at severe odds with the preceding administrations. I got bills paid that were incurred before my time… Sometimes everyone is disappointed by how much money comes in, but no one misrepresents anything, and we pay out according to the deals made beforehand even when it is clear we have not cleared our own overhead. Sometimes, even in my era, we’ve paid out a little late. Guilty. But we pay out according to the deals cut beforehand. I’ve probably booked films from 800 sources in the time I’ve been here. Ask any of those sources whether we’ve paid out according to the deals made beforehand. Any of them. If anybody has a problem, tell them to call me.” …
This may seem like a lot of hullabaloo over a few small grafs in a much larger article about much bigger matters. But when we’re talking about small businesses like The Pioneer, ones that don’t have big marketing budgets and rely on customer loyalty and community to thrive, this sort of thing really hurts, and can irreparably damage reputations. More importantly, she is just plain wrong. I’d say her facts were wrong, except that she doesn’t actually present any facts against The Pioneer.
I guess there is enough disclosure here to go around a couple of times: Privett has hosted several of the programs in my blog’s screening series; Winter just last week (on the morning her piece came out, in fact) declined my invitation to contribute criticism to The Reeler; I have several colleagues and friends who have screened work at the Pioneer, etc. What can I say? It is a small town. But because it is small, misrepresentations like the Voice’s are all the more egregious and irresponsible. Winter’s sources’ allegations would have been easy enough to check out; at the very least, the author could have solicited and received a candid response from Privett within an hour. I know this because I have done it. A lot.
I have also had to think about how or if I should respond to this myself, ultimately determining the essential bottom line: Nobody in this small town is more supportive of local independent filmmakers than the Pioneer. Period. It eschews cliques, it welcomes communities (witness the turnout to this week’s A Cantor’s Tale engagement), it offers diverse programming and it modestly goes about its business making neither claims to greatness nor excuses for failure. Like Ebiri said–it is a small business. It struggles. And if Winter’s piece helps its sources sink the Pioneer, I hope her next bit of writing is 800 or 900 letters of apology to New York filmmakers and filmgoers otherwise alienated or ignored by the theater’s aloof mainstream neighbors. New York needs this place to not only endure, but also thrive.
But do not send her your address yet; the Pioneer is hanging in there. In any event, however, this is more than bad reporting–it is a betrayal. And really, the Voice should be ashamed.
I know how hormonally atwitter some of you get at the mere sniff of awards season, and I resolved this year not to judge those at the core of the obsessive Oscar hype machine too harshly for simply following a benign (and monetized) genetic glitch. But recent awards-show developments in New York even have me licking the glass with anticipation. To wit:
6th HIGH TIMES STONY AWARDS SCHEDULED FOR OCT. 24 AT BB KING’S IN NEW YORK
WEEDS, GRANDMA’S BOY AND ENTOURAGE RECEIVE THE MOST NOMINATIONS
The Stonys return to BB King’s for High Times’ 6th annual awards presentation celebrating the years’ highest and stoniest movies and TV shows. Showtime’s marijuana-friendly series Weeds received eight nominations, including Best TV Series, Best TV Actress, Best TV Actor and Stoner of the Year. HBO’s Entourage snagged four.
The Adam Sandler-produced comedy Grandma’s Boy leads all movies with six nominations, including Best Stoner Movie, Best Actor in a Movie, Best Pot Scene in a Movie, and Best Song in a Movie or TV Series. Haven with four nominations, and A Scanner Darkly and Stoned with three each are the other front-runners in the movie categories.
“It’s been a strong year for stoner TV shows and drug-related movies,” says Stonys executive producer Steve Bloom. “Our objective is to highlight the best and most accurate stories and portrayals. And have a good time doing it.”
I am sure you will recall (wait–no you won’t) The Reeler’s coverage of the 2005 Stonys, the first such “annual” event in three years, perhaps most notable for James Toback’s genius acceptance speech for Harvard Man (“The bong, Dad. Always the bong.”) and Sony Classics co-president Tom Bernard (above) standing in for prizewinner Philip Seymour Hoffman. This year’s fun takes place Oct. 24, with comedian Doug Benson and hip-hop/weed icon Redman co-hosting (Redman will also perform a set after the awards show).
Of course, as an old-school heroin guy, I am often inclined to look upon the Stonys as a little too lightweight for my taste. But with nominees like Pusher III, Half Nelson, Brick and even Michael Tully’s Cocaine Angel (nominated for Best Unreleased Film, a true feather in the cap if ever there were one), I have to say I might actually have horses in the race–I am officially emotionally involved. So I guess you know where I will be Oct. 24; look for coverage here.
The full list of Stony nominees follows the jump.
The Reeler Screening Series resumed Monday night at Makor with a well-attended sneak preview of the documentary Jesus Camp, followed by a chat with filmmakers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing. I noted to Grady that the last time she and I had talked–shortly after the doc’s Tribeca triumph last May–she was still a little apprehensive about how Jesus Camp might fare in the distribution game. Four months later, as Magnolia Pictures prepares to release the film in New York (and after an intial limited release throughout Middle America), the filmmakers have attracted an international following based on its unprecedented look at an evangelical Christian summer camp for kids.
“It was important to Heidi and I to get it in front of the public before the midterm elections,” Grady said during the Q&A. “We thought that it was a conversation that was not only long overdue, but this is a good time to have it–right now. Magnolia were on the same page with that, fortunately, so its opening here in New York on Friday, then onto about 40 cities. It’ll be fun.”
I also asked Ewing about her own anticipation on the cusp of her film’s New York opening. “I’ll probably eat my hat a couple of years from now, but right now I feel like this is the hardest movie that I will ever work on in my life,” she said. “But who knows? There’s always time. It was extremely draining and a hard movie to make for reasons that are probably obvious to you here. And it was so heartening to have a big response at Tribeca and to have Magnolia behind the film. There were several distributors interested, and certainly the vision that Magnolia had–they were glad to have our input, and we’re all on the same page in trying to get this movie out as far and wide as possible. Something interesting is happening: We’re all attempting to get evangelical Christians in seats to see the movie, and it’s not just a marketing ploy or financial thing–we really would like to bring evangelical Christians into this conversation. Otherwise, it really was for nothing.”
So, to recap: Jesus Camp opens Sept. 22 at the Angelika and at the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square (!), and I cannot recommend it highly enough. And, speaking of recommendations, the Reeler Screening Series continues this evening at 6:30 at the Pioneer Theater with the exquisite New York drama Heights; director Chris Terrio will drop in afterward for a discussion and an afterparty to follow. Check out the jump for more information about this terrific film, and please do stop in.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple of deadlines to untie from around my neck. I will catch up with you Wednesday.
What with festivals, markets, premieres and all the big changes headed this site’s way in the next month, I am getting my last will and testament ready for my survivors lest the G-forces shred me on the run. I should outlast the strain for at least a few days, which implies that tonight’s Reeler Screening Series preview of the trenchant, terrifying documentary Jesus Camp will unspool with nary a hitch.
Directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing will be in attendance at Makor to discuss their work and take your questions. I pledge to stay out of the way where possible. Tickets are still available at Makor’s Web site; $15 is a minor price to pay for the film’s fine brand of shock, awe and anguish, and the 7:30 start time allows you a little while after work to be alone with your old self before the doc’s subjects–Evangelical Christian camp leader Becky Fischer (above) and her flock of child proselytizers–capture your heart. And break it.
Find all the pertinent time and location specifics following the jump; I am praying mightily to see you there.
Looker editor and Film Snob godhead Lawrence Levi recently spent what appears to be 284 pages too many with David Thomson, whose latest critical biography to rattle down the assembly line, Nicole Kidman, earned not just a few sniffs in last weekend’s New York Times Book Review:
His obsession clouds his thinking. He seems offended, even hurt, that Kidman would stoop so low as to do a commercial for Chanel No. 5 or go seminude in an Italian GQ spread when she was already an Oscar winner. He clucks disapprovingly about her choice of lovers; they don’t “seem especially substantial or rewarding,” possibly because “she meets only famous or half-famous people.” He imagines the non-obsessed will want to hear his bizarre fantasies about casting Kidman in remakes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and François Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid, or his dream — recounted over three excruciating pages — about stumbling across his beloved in a Paris brothel. (She’s wearing “a very revealing white brassiere, a size or two too small,” as she cavorts with a Gestapo officer and an “elderly Chinaman.”)
Wait a second–I cannot tell: Are you shaking your head or just shuddering? At any rate, go wash your hands, grab a biohazard suit and get a peek at a few more squirm-worthy Thomson bons mot at the Book Review.
UPDATE: Also check out Levi chatting about Thomson and Kidman about two-thirds of the way through this podcast with NYT Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus.
A few of this weekend’s worthwhile cinematic happenings around New York:
—MoMA’s Huston family fête continues this weekend with a pair of decade-spanning double features. First up on Saturday is The African Queen, screening in vintage, restored Technicolor and preceded by the mind-blowing WWII combat short The Battle of San Pietro. Morally ambiguous and violent enough to be banned by the US Army, the film was later enthusiastically received for its realism and earned director John Huston a bump in rank up to major (left). (Bonus: Walter Huston’s stirring narration.) Next, it’s a John/Angelica/Danny trifecta on Sunday, when John’s last film, The Dead, screens with its making-of documentary, John Huston and The Dubliners.
–Learn something this weekend with Skip Elsheimer, who storms Anthology Film Archives Sunday night with selections from his 18,000-title collection of educational films lost and found. The program promises a dated introduction to percussion instruments, an industrial safety video loaded with fake gore and a “proto-Claymation dental hygiene film [that] goes awry with talking teeth, a tooth decay demon and a food-group hoedown.” That’s it–I am skipping late Mass.
–Also on Sunday, the show-offs at the Film Society of Lincoln Center kick off their Next Generation of Film series with an appearance by legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman. No specific film is scheduled to screen; rather, Wiseman will discuss a set of clips from films such as Titicut Follies and The Garden with you and yours. And before you get too deceived by the “Next Generation” tag, expect, in fact, future programs including Monte Hellman (Oct. 14), Paul Schrader (Oct. 22) and Martin Scorsese (November date to be determined). Not that you will hear me complain.