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Coming Up In This Column: The Reader, Milk, The Day the Earth Stood Still, two Librarian films, but first...

Milk

Fan Mail: As usual, the discussion among the readership on Novak and Vertigo was fascinating, especially the nuances of the actor-director relationship that several commenters got into. Now if I can just train you all to look at the writer-actor and writer-director relationships with the same kind of nuance... I do agree with "Tom" that I do not want to turn this into the "Kim Novak Channel." Fifty years ago when Novak burst on the scene about the same time I burst into puberty, I would have loved to have spent all day thinking about Novak, but time passes and things change.

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TAGS: understanding screenwriting


After the War When A Million Movies a Minute, a distributor specializing in short documentaries, asked if I wanted a copy of their inaugural release After The War: Life Post-Yugoslavia (a two-and-a-half hour compilation of nine short films from five filmmakers from five countries) I said sure, figuring it was high time, in this post-Milosevic world, to expand my knowledge beyond Kusturica. Here's what I discovered.

Cowboys In Kosovo (Netherlands)

Simultaneously deadpan absurd and deadly serious, Corinne van Egeraat's Cowboys In Kosovo is a film Jim Jarmusch might want to option. A man who waited out the war in Holland returns home and reconnects with his four brothers by—of all things—reenacting classic westerns. Turns out that though new American movies had been banned in Kosovo for decades, John Wayne and his brethren were a childhood staple for these now grown men, who don real cowboy hats and fake guns and play out scenes from The Magnificent Seven and Shane in-between candid interviews about actual wartime gun slinging. It's as sweetly surreal as an Aki Kaurismäki film, but only when one brother says that a toy gun is the shadow of a real gun (and "where there's a shadow, there's a tree"; another that "killing or getting killed comes down to the same thing,") does the extent of these men's experiences (two of them tortured, another a soldier in the Kosovo Liberation Army) and the simmering sense of genocide at the heart of their "cowboys and Indians" gameplay truly hit home.

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TAGS: a conversation with haris, a father a son a holy ghost, a million movies a minute, after the war: life post-yugoslavia, corinne van egeraat, cowboys in kosovo, i don't know where or when or how, images from the corner, it's only mine, Jasmila Zbanic, ravens, red rubber boots, roberto forns-broggi, sheila sofian, the house of wisdom, zelimir gvardiol


Meet Depressed

Meet Depressed

My reaction to the announcement that David Gregory would be the new host of NBC's flagship Sunday morning political hour, Meet the Press, was not unlike my response to the news that he would be replacing Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews for MSNBC's primetime election coverage earlier this year. In short: ugh. It's not that I think an obvious partisan like Olbermann or an aggressive commentator like Matthews should be anchoring straight news, but Gregory's brand of milquetoast reporting is only slightly more incisive and compelling than the giggly, vanilla style of coverage doled out by Anderson Cooper every night on CNN.

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TAGS: david gregory, dick cheney, meet the press, tim russert


The Wind of the Night

L'enfant secret (1979), J'entends plus la guitare (1991), and Les Amants réguliers (2005) all made me want to kill myself, a feeling that, I've been assured by the Garrel faithful, is entirely to the point. They're three of the most torturous moviegoing experiences I've had (if boredom was a continent without end, it would be a Garrel joint), but something's kept me coming back to the writer/director's filmography—if only as well-spaced opportunity presents—hoping to make a connection.

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TAGS: catherine deneuve, immediate impressions, philippe garrel, the wind of the night


Liverpool

For every project finished there are numerous others abandoned or left incomplete. The podcast below (one of the longest ever recorded for The House, and so broken up into three parts) took place this past September in the apartment of Travis Mackenzie Hoover, toward the end of the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. In addition to Travis and myself, the group consisted of critics Fernando F. Croce, Daniel Kasman, Adam Nayman, and Andrew Tracy (see bios at entry's end for their venues; click on film titles above podcast embeds to view some of their work). The goal, as had been the case with a similar podcast conducted in 2007 for Zoom In Online, was to wrap up our individual TIFF experiences—to compare and contrast, to argue (sometimes heatedly), to state our cases, as any critic must, even if only to stand alone.

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TAGS: adam nayman, andrew tracy, daniel kasman, fernando f. croce, keith uhlich, toronto international film festival, travis mackenzie hoover


Stainless StyleNeon Neon's curious Stainless Style seems to have been slightly overlooked (over here, at least; it was a Mercury Prize nominee in the UK); if nothing else, it's some of the most flawless '80s pastiche I've heard (I don't do Chromeo). The convincingly New Wave vocals come from Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys, who proves, oddly, to sound exactly like someone who would have had one hit single sometime in 1983. The music is done with Boom Bip: Casio keyboards make tinny choruses, abetted by electronic drum pads and handclap machines. Beyond production tricks and aping long-discarded structures, opening instrumental "Neon Theme" has a Liquid Liquid-style bassline with Gary Numan synths and chord progressions; on "Racquel," Rhys straight-facedly says "Shine on!" to end choruses. If you like unashamedly artificial '80s synthpop creations ironically ambivalent about their hedonistic connotations, you should probably hear this.

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TAGS: clipse, David Byrne and Brian Eno, everything that happens will happen today, in rainbows, indie 500, los campesinos, neon neon, paper trail, radiohead, road to till the casket drops, stainless style, t.i., we are beautiful we are doomed


Antonio Campos

When you're young, you absorb pop culture and imagine what it will be like when you grow up, when your contemporaries will be the ones appearing on screens, singing through the radio and winning awards in televised ceremonies. Famous people are always older people and the media speaks to you, not for you. And then one day you get hit by something and you realize that your life is starting to make it into that very same realm of media; your moment in time is starting to crystallize. I was born in 1986. When I saw Antonio Campos' Afterschool at MoMA toward the end of November, I felt like extremely specific experiences in my own life, extremely specific opinions I hold, had been thrown back at me through the prism of cinema like never before. My ideas about my generation had been vindicated, and Afterschool was the proof. I was watching a serious feature film by a director who began at NYU's film school a mere two years before I did. My contemporaries were starting to join in the chorus of media that assaults us all.

Campos, who is now 25, worked on the script that became Afterschool throughout college, and had begun it earlier. He has said that it grew along with the times. Indeed. As Mike D'Angelo perhaps famously (time will tell) ended his review of the film, "this is how we live." Afterschool follows Robert (Ezra Miller), a high schooler at a prep school in (presumably) New England, who unwittingly witnesses and videotapes the death by drug overdose of the school's most popular girls, a pair of twins. Already having a difficult time at school, Rob is asked to help direct a memorial video to screen at a ceremony for the girls. The entire film is bathed in the glow of consumer-digital-and-video-technology-as-social-inhibitors-and-anomie-machines familiar from key works by Michael Haneke, Atom Egoyan, and David Cronenberg, among others. However, Campos' presentation of this realm creates a portrait of technology's relationship to social interaction and the understanding of oneself that resonates more strongly than in the works of the aforementioned filmmakers. This film could only have been made by a 25-year-old, a filmmaker who is among the first generation to truly live and breathe social networking and video-clip websites, as well as the Internet in general, while still in one's developmental stages.

The following conversation between Campos and myself was conducted with a laptop computer taking up the countertop space between us, imposing itself on our conversation.

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TAGS: afterschool, antonio campos, ezra miller


Auto Bailout

This week I did something that I rarely ever do: I took the bus into work.

The mass transit infrastructure for the Detroit area is relatively lean compared to that available in other large U.S. municipalities. One reason for this is because the population has spread away from the city in an organic, rather than linear pattern, designing a logical system is all but impossible. The other more obvious reason is that Detroit is, after all, the "Motor City." The idea of personal car ownership is baked into our DNA. Per usual, my bus carried no more than fifteen other passengers.

Outside, knocked over by high winds from the day before, holiday decorations adorning the front of people's homes were left tossed about. Given the hard knocks Michigan has endured in the last few years that shows no signs of letting up as 2008 closes, there was something particularly apropos about the sight of dozens of Santas laying face down in the snow. One could call the regional dread that has resulted from the uncertain fate of the U.S. automotive industry palpable. But, at this point, a more apt description of it would be ubiquitous.

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TAGS: 8 mile, andrew sullivan, auto bailout, clint eastwood, eminem, general motors, gran torino, michael moore, michigan, roger and me, united auto workers


Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

Good Evening Hot Chocolate City!

Lucky Episode 13 means many things. Mainly, we recorded it two weeks ago and it has to do with Wendy and Lucy, Mishima and the suicide of Seaquest DSV star Jonathan Brandis.

Dark discussions aside, we once again prove that you can charm your way onto the podcast by offering us work or calling us respectable—much like Evan Davis (Film Comment) did when he told us we were pioneers or something. Drunk on whatever paint thinner it is I buy from Whole Foods, I assumed it would be a great idea to bring him on* and show him how to conduct an Award Winning Podcast** in preparation for his roundtable Clint Eastwood discussion featuring Karina Longworth, Ed Gonzalez, Kevin Lee, Kent Jones, Evan and Akiva Gottlieb. (Link here.)

So listen onward and we'll talk to you kids later in the new year, when we set in stone our ungodly look back at the year that was—or something. Anyway, the general takes on things like Wendy ("The prettiest movie I ever saw this year. Next to Speed Racer."—John Lichman, THND) and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters ("Uh, awesome."—John Lichman, THND) are good and we devolve into some inane conversation about movies having a soul.

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TAGS: evan davis, hnd at grassroots, keith uhlich, mishima: a life in four chapters, wendy and lucy


Doubt

John Patrick Shanley's play struck me, in its initial run, as a superficial exploration of human foible, "entertaining" in a very debased sense of that term for the ways in which it simulated (rather than stimulated) thinking. Whether Father Brendan Flynn did indeed molest young, black, probably gay altar boy Donald Muller is the work's hot-button hook. The real sparks come from watching Flynn and the cold-as-ice principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier circle around each other like beasts of prey, the former maintaining his innocence, the latter convinced (despite lack of absolute evidence) of his guilt.

Shanley's choices are easy, too transparently dichotomous; even the blurring of the perspectival lines can be boiled down, with little cerebral effort, to "Did he?" or "Didn't he?". It's not unlike a particularly gory bout of Pay-Per-View boxing, except here the punches are verbal and the match ends in an ambigui-obvious draw. Shanley closes Doubt on a note of self-conscious uncertainty, satiating the intellectual bloodlust of the theatergoing intelligentsia in much the same way P.T. Barnum induced his paying customers to gaze goggle-eyed and gratified upon the non-existent Great Unknown. Pulitzer!

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TAGS: brían f. o'byrne, doubt, edward albee, immediate impressions, john patrick shanley, joseph foster, meryl streep, philip seymour hoffman, the goat or who is sylvia?







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