Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Road - Movie Review

By Moira Sullivan

Films with apocalyptic themes are showing up of late, so add The Road to the list. Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, we are taken to some distant future where the sun never shines. Kind of like Scandinavia during the winter. Those wall-to-wall grey clouds with no patchwork greet everyday, an everyday with rain and wind and the earth hurling up violently in some kind of repulsion to the poisons in the atmosphere. There are few survivors and with food scarce some revert to cannibalism. The Road shows how crime and greed develop from cataclysmic occurrences and the dark paths that some choose in order to survive. Viggo Mortensen plays "Man", Charlize Theron is "Woman" and Kodi Smit McPhee is "Boy". The breakup of the nuclear family is one of the consequences of a disaster that has no name, or explanation. Kinship takes on new meaning. The man and the boy and the woman try to survive and the woman gives up first for the story is about father and son, scavenging for food, for shelter, protection from the elements. In a cameo role Robert Duval plays "Old Man", hardly recognizable and showing how versatile he is as an actor. Though there are rougher edges to the novel it is still a difficult cinema experience. Viggo Mortensen is compelling as a father trying to shelter his boy, and who carries a gun with only a few bullets. And it is nothing you want to see a child experience but Kodi Smit McPhee endures and his bravery and optimism balances out his father’s diminishing faith. This is not a film where it gets worse and then better, it’s a film that gets worse with one question, how bad can it get? It is implied that we have destroyed the balance of nature and that the earth is in the throes of dying. It is something to think about with the environmental crisis that is real and immediate.

© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/25/09
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Scenes of Love and Murder: Renoir, Film and Philosophy - Book Review -

By Moira Sullivan

Colin Davis’s Scenes of Love and Murder: Renoir, Film and Philosophy combines the author’s interest in Jean Renoir’s greatest films from the 1930s such as Le Règle du Jeu - The Rules of the Game with some of the ideas of the American philosopher Stanley Cavell. Cavell’s philosophical reading of film is a current fashion in academic studies. But whether or not Renoir had philosophical ideas as a filmmaker is left up to the spectator. According to film theorist Peter Wollen, underlying structures such as philosophy is something that can be decoded in film. According to Davis, Renoir believed that the artist was the source of his or her creations, as he said so in Ma Vie et Mes Film, (My Life and My Films) “I dream of a craftsmen’s cinema in which the author could express himself as directly as the writer through his books or the painter through his pictures”. Even so, as Davis points out. a film has other influences, for example Renoir’s The Human Beast was adapted from a novel by Emile Zola and there are also actors, producers and technicians that contribute to film. It is a collaborative process.

The first chapter of Scenes of Love and Murder is devoted to different philosophical approaches to film, such as the work of Giles Deleuze, Wittgenstein and Aristotle. One of the main points of inquiry is whether or not film “thinks”, which is what Stanley Cavell believes. Subsequent chapters take up Renoir's greatest films: those previously mentioned and others such The Grand Illusion, and The Crime of Mr. Lange.

Stanley Cavell believes that film exists in a state of philosophy that it is “inherently self reflexive”. One of the examples used in the book comes from The Grand Illusion and the 15 minute scene where two escaped prisoners, Marechal and Rosenthal, take refuge in a farmhouse where a widow lives with her daughter Elsa. Despite the fact that Marechal does not understand German, he is able to communicate with Elsa. In this meeting Marechal and Elsa form a bound strong and blissful so much that they seem to reside in Eden, despite language difficulties. When they depart, Marechal says if he were to look back, he would not be able to leave. Davis calls this meeting with "the other" a comparison to how Lot’s wife looks back upon the destruction of Sodom. Another example that Davis studies is why Renoir’s famous film is called The Rules of the Game. What is obvious,according to Davis, is that society is dictated by a set of senseless rules that must be obeyed. As Cavell puts it, by “a rule intoxicated society”. But even so it is not clear in the film what the rules actually mean or what they are. This seems to be part of the philosophical terrain, inherent in Renoir films, according to Davis.
Scenes of Love and Murder is an interesting study for those interested in Stanley Cavell, but also thought provoking in terms of the examples taken from the films of Renoir.

© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/18
Movie Magazine International

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Italian Cinema at the San Francisco Film Society - Special Report

By Moira Sullivan

The San Francisco Film Society New Italian cinema program, now in its 13th year, will screen from November 15-22.
All of the directors of the films will be present for the screenings. There are four films by Marco Risi and his latest film will be presented on opening night - Fortapàsc. In English this means Fort Apache, a violent part of Naples. The film is about the life of the journalist Giancarlo Siani who was murdered for writing about mobsters such as Valentino Gionta and clashes between clans.
The Sicilian Girl by director Marco Amenta tells the story of a young girl who testifies against the mafia after her father and brother are executed. On closing night November 22, Vincere by Marco Belluchio will screen, a film in an innovative opera form with newsreel footage about Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the mother of Benito Mussolini’s illegitimate child and her tragic love affair with the Fascist dictator (Filippo Timi). ( Note: a review of this film and an interview with one of the actors Francesca Picozza will be featured in an upcoming Movie Magazine show in January upon the theatrical release of the film.)
Sea Purple directed by Donatella Maiorca is the story of a woman who falls in love with her best friend Sara in 19th century Sicily and in Different from Whom? by Umberto Carteni, a gay-rights advocate campaigns to be mayor in a conservative town. PA-RA-DA by Marco Pontecorvo features non-professional child actors in a touching story about a French street clown who travels to Bucharest to bring cheer to orphanages, three years after the Ceausescu dictatorship is overthrown. And a provocative family drama is the subject of Claudio Giovannesi’s The House in the Clouds.
As a preview from the series, Lecture 21 by Alessandro Baricco is an enchanting music film to be screened on November 20. An Italian-English co production, it features John Hurt as Professor Mondrian Kilroy. A rebel lecturer beloved by students, a few recall one of his most memorable lectures about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. In the opening scene a coffin is being transported on ice by a group of skaters. The lecture is then brought to life where we follow the life of Anton Peters (played by Noah Taylor) who tries to convince a group of villagers of the importance of the symphony who think Beethoven was washed up as a musician. Barricco’s form provides us the opportunity to explore this great work of Beethoven with anecdotes of the piece, and details such as how the composer would bang the piano when composing music so that no one would steal the music he couldn’t hear, how the piece was received at the time, and various aspects of the composition. There are cuts back to the students who remember the lectures of Mondriano Kilroy and the professor himself at poignant moments of the lecture and in conversation with one of his students Marta. The fact that this lecture is so skillfully brought to life convinces us that it was indeed something one really missed, as the student Marta recalls, she heard it three times.
The San Francisco Film Society Italian cinema program truly promises an exciting lineup.

© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/11/09
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Visual Acoustics - Movie Review

(click any image to enlarge)

By Jonathan W. Wind

Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Visual Acoustics is the story of Julius Shulman, the world’s greatest architectural photographer,who died in July of this year. Shulman photographed nearly every well known architect's creations, beginning in the early 1930s.

Such luminaries as Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and Frank Gehry created the modernist architectural movement, centered in Southern California. In the 1950s and 1960s Shulman's iconic images showed the rest of the nation the mystique of Beverly Hills and the “Southern California lifestyle.”

Modernism draws on the formula that form follows function meaning that the form of a building or object should be foremost based upon the function or purpose for which it is intended. Interestingly, though this would seem to always makes good sense, often there are aesthetic issues, the form of an object and its intended purpose is not by itself a entire design solution. If only the film itself had followed this formula. Shulman is shown as shallow and doddering, vain about his accomplishments and connections.

Shulman's single point perspectives epitomized the pure beauty of Southern California's modernist movement and brought its iconic structures to the attention of the American public. Each image seems to command the light and shadow around it. A naturalist, educator, lifestyle propagandist and commentator on urban form he once said "every part of a persons life is based on an architect's presence." The movie features Shulman revisiting homes he photographed decades ago including the Kaufmann House by Richard Neutra, and an elegant angular glass house by Pierre Koenig perched high in the Hollywood Hills.

Shulman himself does come off well in this film. Depicted as hyper, narcissistic and dismissive, the director films only a shell of person. Early in the film there is a brisk stop-animation chronology of his influences, friends, relations, and students. It goes by quickly, explaining the roles of no less than 20 people in two minutes, it feels like padding for a movie that is unmistakably for the post modernist "in the know" crowd. Director Eric Bricker skims over Shulman's life, showing him as stubborn, but somehow free of discord, the ends don't match up.

Visual Acoustics won the Mercedes-Benz Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and several other film festival awards. Director Eric Bricker once turned his focus toward film and television production where he worked with such notable talent as Jerry Seinfeld, and his inspired "show about nothing," translating that ethic into full blown documentary style.

Even as a historical documentary I found this film unbearable. Poorly photographed and edited, with forgettable droning music, I needed to pinch myself to stay awake. If you are an architect, a photographer, or any combination thereof, this movie might educate you of your roots, but for me as a slice of entertainment or edification it left a dry aftertaste.

© 2009 - Jonathan W. Wind - Air Date: 11/04/09
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

21st Cineffable Film Festival, Paris - Special Report

By Moira Sullivan

The Cineffable Lesbian and Feminist Film Festival continues to excel in bringing to Paris an excellent program of international documentaries, features, and shorts, including experimental and animation. This year the audience awarded best feature to Rain, by Maria Govan of the UK and the Bahamas. The film is about a young girl who goes to live with her drug addicted mother after her grandmother dies, and sets her hopes on becoming a champion runner. Best documentary went to the U People, by Hanifah Walidah, an exceptional music video about 30 women and transmen of color in Brooklyn. Short films that won audience awards include Canadian Claudia Morgado Escanillas' No Bikini won best short about a young girl who experiences seven years of bliss posing as boy so that she can swim without a top. In Melanie McGraw’s Pitstop from the US a young girl is accidentally left behind at a gas station and becomes inspired by the woman who owns it who encourages her to take photographs.
Women gather for four days when Paris is on holiday for Toussaint, All Saints Day. To the story there was an attempt to bring Halloween to France several years agon, which never got off the ground. Attendees from all over the country and around the world are able to attend 73 screenings. A festival committee of 11 women chose the films this year from 0ver 200 applicants and provides a diversified program with various subjects that reflect lesbians around the world. The process is democratic and also highly tuned to the needs of women, even if women raise strong concerns about the images of the filmmakers.
But Cineffable tries to accommodate as many voices as possible, making a special effort to bring in low budget film by women who do not have commercial distribution. In an exclusive interview to Movie Magazine from two of the filmmakers present at the festival here now is Maria Galindo, director of the Bolivian documentary Amazones, and Elena Garcia- Oliveros director of experimental shorts from Spain including El Psicohospitalito.

© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/04/09
Movie Magazine International