The House


The Return

There's been a hole in the blogosphere for the past few weeks, though judging from a good number of the reactions at the IFC Daily (the second incarnation of the invaluable GreenCine Daily), not many people were aware that Daily curator David Hudson had continued publishing his link-collating passion project. So I've been told, most just thought that GreenCine (now a features, interviews and reviews site under the stewardship of Aaron Hillis) had changed its mission statement, and when they finally found out (too late) about Hudson's all-too-brief tenure at IFC, they were understandably distressed. Where else could cinephiles go to find out what was worth reading on an overcrowded World Wide Web? We have our answer today, and Hudson prepared us for it, dropping some hints in the final IFC Daily post about "dreaming up a new format and, if all goes according to plan,...rolling [it] out slowly in two phases at an entity that'll be named when that entity's good and ready." And now it's ready.

The venue is The Auteurs, specifically the Notebook section overseen by Daniel Kasman. Hudson's first entry is up in which he explains the new lay of the land. So head on over there and bookmark the hell out of it. Let's help make this third version a permanent Daily fixture. To David: Great to have you back, sir, and best of luck!

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TAGS: daniel kasman, the auteurs


By now the departures of Lorna's Silence from the Dardennes brothers template have been well-documented: The partial abandonment of the filmmakers' trademark following shots, the switch from super-16 to 35mm film, the reliance on crime-drama plotting, even the introduction of a few seconds of extradiegetic music. Since its debut at Cannes last year, the Dardennes' latest has seemed to get it from both sides, damned simultaneously both for the above-mentioned changes—particularly the heavier reliance on narrative, seen in some quarters as a move towards the middle—and for being yet another closely observed, tension-riven drama about a working-class character stuck in a set of precisely defined social circumstances and seeking some sort of redemption—in other words, another Dardennes brothers film.

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TAGS: alain marcoen, Arta Dobroshi, jean-pierre dardenne, jérémie renier, l'enfant, luc dardenne


God's Land[Editor's Note: The following is the seventh in a series of on-set reports by producer Jeremiah Kipp on God's Land, a feature film written and directed by Preston Miller, whose previous feature, Jones, was covered by The House Next Door here (review), here (interview), and here (podcast).]

Days Nine & Ten

The heart of the film is in the domestic scenes between the husband and wife. While I feel the point of view of God's Land is from the child, Ollie (Matthew Chiu), it's the conflict between the parents that sets everything in motion. The father, Hou (Shing Ka), was a successful doctor and gave everything away to join this cult—which has relocated its members to suburban Garland, Texas—and his wife, Xiu (Jodi Lin), is a non-believer. The key scenes we are shooting over the weekend involve testing the marriage. One of the scenes involves the two of them in bed: The husband is trying to sleep, the wife wants to speak with him about the past, how they met, the time Hou met her father and felt so uncomfortable because he didn't know what to say, and also to get him to talk about how she was the most beautiful woman in school, a beautiful flower in a sea of "frumpy bespectacled weeds." It's one of the scenes we used for the auditions, and I always found it to be incredibly poetic and beautiful, as well as tense—not to mention familiar. I think guys have a habit of rolling over and going to sleep when women want to talk. "Just go to sleep," Hou mutters, "or at least let me sleep!"

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TAGS: arsenio assin, god's land, jackson ning, jodi lin, matthew chiu, preston miller, shing ka


RepulsionIt's hard to know how to take Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965) at this point, and not just because of the inescapable echoes and resonances it sets off relating to his own grotesque, tragic life. The film has often drawn comparisons to Hitchcock, and that's apt, for its blond protagonist, Carole (Catherine Deneuve) is both object and subject as she slowly starts to lose her mind in a grotty London flat. There are several moments when Polanski's camera stares voyeuristically at Deneuve in her see-through nightie, like a peeping tom, or like one of the men in the movie, both real and imaginary, who see her in purely sexual terms. Is Polanski implicating himself and his camera in the assorted violations that bring Carole to the brink? Not really. Suffice it to say that there are several curious visual choices that let us know he's working mainly from his subconscious; in one of the scenes where Carole imagines a man raping her, Polanski's camera pans down her nude body and finally comes to a stop on the sole of her foot, which looks as wrinkled as the faces of the women Carole serves as a manicurist.

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TAGS: catherine deneuve, repulsion, roman polanski, the criterion collection


Ulrich Seidl

[A retrospective of Ulrich Seidl's work begins today at Anthology Film Archives.]

In the early '60s, Pauline Kael—fed up with the newly-ordained cinematic holy trinity of Last Year At Marienbad, La Dolce Vita and La Notte, refusing to recognize them as part of any zeitgeist she'd find relevant—wrote an essay mocking what she dubbed the "Come-Dressed-As-The-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties" genre. In Ulrich Seidl's Europe, the sick soul of the EU heads straight for the discotheque without bothering to get dressed up first. Antonioni said he focused on the rich simply because they had the most time and leisure to act out the problems he was interested in; for Seidl, it's the poor, dispossessed and unredeemable that have come to stand in for Europe, and the dance-floor is their commonest intersection point. 2001's Dog Days begins with a violent near-fight, as dumbass Mario (the appropriately named Rene Wanko) threatens to beat up anyone with the temerity to look at the stripper dance his girlfriend is performing; the eponymous subjects of 1999's Models spend most of their evenings writhing in the light, their faces captured in small spotlights, their pale eyes and faces as unnerving as any J-horror wraith; 2007's Import/Export has alienated thug Pauli (Paul Hofmann) catatonically dancing his ass off for no one in particular.

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TAGS: animal love, anthology film archives, dog days, import/export, ulrich seidl


This is the fifth and final installment in a series of Moving Image Source video essays on Michael Mann, whose new film, Public Enemies, opened July 1. To read a transcript of the video's narration, click here. For links to more episodes, click here. To read MZS's review of Public Enemies at IFC.com, click here.

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TAGS: crime story, michael mann, museum of the moving image


Madeline Kahn Madeline Kahn was as close as you come to a universally loved performer, a unique comic one-off, like Beatrice Lillie, and her early death in 1999 brought forth a lot of collective mourning, not only for what was lost, but for what might have been. After starting off strongly in several films for Peter Bogdanovich and Mel Brooks, Kahn faltered with a series of disasters that derailed what should have been a major career. These weren't any ordinary bad films, but notorious flops like Bogdanovich's you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it At Long Last Love (1975) and atrocities like Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1982) with Jerry Lewis. As a little kid, I can remember sneaking downstairs past my bedtime to watch her television sitcom, Oh Madeline, which lasted only a season; I must have been drawn to it because I had seen her singing with Grover on Sesame Street. She never gave less than her best, but her roles got smaller in films as she got older. Kahn turns up very briefly, and delightfully, as Martha Mitchell in Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995), but her bad luck with larger roles remained consistent; what can anyone do with a film as abjectly awful as Nora Ephron's Mixed Nuts (1994)? Finally, before her death, she landed on a successful TV show with laidback Bill Cosby in which she played "the eccentric neighbor," as if she was just a thinner version of Edie McClurg.

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TAGS: 5 for the day, blazing saddles, judy berlin, Madeline Kahn, paper moon, what's up, doc, young frankenstein


My Health Care Plan Doesn't Cover Wigs...or Chemotherapy

The fear-mongering attempts to "break" Barack Obama and his health care reform agenda, or at least delay it and therefore its momentum, are flimsy at best. Desperate to paint any kind of reform of the wasteful and immoral private health insurance industry as either socialist or inadequate, the right has asserted that a "government option" would result in "rationing" while at the same time saying it would make it impossible for private companies to compete. The government's ability to run a deficit aside, you'd have to be politically dishonest or insane to hold those two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Another main argument against reform is the fact that universal health care in other countries isn't perfect. Critics often cite long wait lists to see specialists or receive care, and Americans don't wait for anything, damn it. More times than not, these are the very same people who patriotically, if not nationalistically, trumpet the Union's near-perfection and ability to accomplish anything to which it sets its collective mind. I admire that kind of optimism, but it seems to wither at the first sign of a challenge to the status quo. Why can't the U.S. show Canada, France, and all of those other allegedly socialized nations how to do it, and do it right?

The most inane argument against reform, however, is that it will reduce the quality of coverage and access to care. Following last night's presidential news conference on health care reform, Bill O'Reilly quietly and calmly rang the bell of panic about private medical records being kept "on a disk" in Washington, D.C. (Cue scary music.) Government bureaucrats, as he and others on the right who oppose reform claim, will decide who gets care, when, and for what. In the wake of an administration that sanctioned secret spy programs and tapped the phones of its own citizens, privacy is indeed an important issue in 21st century America. But right now the private medical records that O'Reilly is so concerned about are being kept "on a disk" in the offices of a health insurance company, the bureaucrats of which decide who gets care, when, and for what.

I am one of the 253 million Americans who are "insured." A few years ago, a visit to my primary care physician for a simple physical led to nearly two years of those very bureaucrats refusing to make payments based on all sorts of technicalities, after which they claimed to have paid their contractually obliged minimum reimbursement, but which the administrator at my doctor's office said she never received. I spent hours over the course of several months attempting to resolve the situation because communication between the two inept parties was practically nonexistent. It was an arduous, infuriating, and exhausting situation—and I wasn't even sick.

Due to perpetually inflating premiums, I was recently forced to downgrade from what my current insurance company likes to call its "Preferred HMO," a plan that is "preferable" only to their "Basic HMO." There's a small pool of PCPs, hospitals, laboratories, and specialists from which to choose, co-payments are high, and coverage is limited. A quick glance at the summary of exclusions reveals that the plan does not cover ambulances, casts or crutches, hearing aids, infusion therapy (which is, according to the National Home Infusion Association, "prescribed when a patient's condition is so severe that it cannot be treated effectively by oral medications"), preventative care or counseling (an essential element of waste reduction and health care reform), second opinions, and wigs. Yes, wigs. Luckily, that item isn't such a big deal, since the plan doesn't cover chemotherapy either.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

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TAGS: bill o'reilly, health care, hmo, underinsured


HometownsThe Rural Alberta Advantage, Hometowns: Emo for the masses! I am, generally speaking, not crazy about yelpy kids singing things like "All these things will pass and the good ones will last" and "I never want to feel this again," but The Rural Alberta Advantage are a very good band who've given my inner emo a reason to peek out; their craftsmanship and musical intelligence makes their endless teen summer a guiltlessly fun thing to soak in. I always hated Bright Eyes' quavery self-indulgences, so I'll take Nils Adenloff's generic nasal attack (Neutral Milk Hotel's 500th heir) any day as far as Saddle Creek stuff goes. Half of this is expert break-up stuff: "Don't Haunt This Place" and "Sleep All Day" prove there's nothing like a cello to make you feel especially justified in your lugubriousness. With no bass, the band gets its drive from drummer Paul Banwatt, who goes heavy on rapid high-hat attacks; whether aided by electronic beats (on opener "The Ballad Of The RAA") or not, the kit's got almost no dynamic range, just an artificially compressed range of forceful attack. (On "Drain The Blood," Banwatt seems to be going so fast he might as well be aided by Tilly And The Wall's tap dancers.) The band name's no joke: there's a pleasing geographical specificity to the lyrics, occasionally pulling them out of generic white 20something malaise and into the realm of melancholy Candian-ness (an acquired taste, but one well worth acquiring). Prime example: "Frank, AB" is a histrionic love ballad ("I'll hold on to your touch 'til they find the bones of us" etc.), but it's also from the perspective of two people buried in the Frank Landslide of 1903, so it's indulgent without being overly indulgent. I dunno why liking this so much bothers me more than, say, the smooth sounds of Elizabeth And The Catapult (see below)—I fear reverting to my teen years, I guess—but I'm effectively sucked into the RAA's sad, mopey (well-crafted!) world as long as this album lasts.

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TAGS: Elizabeth and the Catapult, fol chen, got nuffin, hometowns, indie 500, living thing, part i: john shade your fortune's made, peter bjorn and john, primary colours, spoon, taller children, The Horrors, the rural alberta advantage


Countdown

Actor and avid sailor Sterling Hayden once said that no film has ever really captured the true essence of sea travel. On the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, it occurs to me that the same thing could be said about cinematic depictions of space travel. For the most part, movies set in space use it as a backdrop for stories about aliens or Earth threatening phenomenons (or Earth threatening aliens). Even if you discount schlock flicks about hot women on Venus or the Star Wars/Star Trek genre, it's hard to find a space movie that focuses on the mechanics of the journey itself.

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TAGS: 5 for the day, apollo 13, countdown, destination moon, marooned, the right stuff







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