They live and die by night: David Lowery’s second feature, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” is a muted whisper of flash and filigree in a Texas-outlaw-couple-fable-cum-triangle, envisioned in crepuscular beauty. A dim juke, a dark barn, an unlit road: It’s nighttime in this part of Texas, in this dream of some Texas past. Some Sundance viewers found ready comparisons to Terrence Malick’s early films, but more than Malick, “Saints” seethes with the sparse parsing of Cormac McCarthy, the fated trajectory of trudge in Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” the intimately tactile character of Claire Denis’ many movies. Like a roster of American movies of the 1970s, these are crooks and lovers and cops who can’t seem to make it right. The main title is calligraphed as if in walnut ink on faded parchment, but this is not the time of pioneers, but instead, the 1970s, maybe, possibly, indeterminate, a time of boxy, elongated vehicles and limited vistas. In the town of Meridian, Texas, in hill country, Saints’ romantic triangle between outlaw Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck), his wife Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara), and local sheriff Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) is also a fugue for a bastard who’s tangled up the lives of others. Backstory is minimal. Moments, gestures tell all. Read the rest of this entry »
Nitrate film, which movies used to be exhibited on, was flammable, explosive, prone to rot, unstable. 35mm celluloid as we still know it today is one of the most stable of preservation media. Yet the film industry is rapidly shifting to digital formats, much to its likely sooner-than-later regrets. Are you old enough to have a few three-and-a-half-inch floppies on a shelf in the closet? Eight-inch Wang floppies? Take just the quickest moment to think of how you might go about recovering the data and you’ve got an idea of what the film industry will face in coming years. Read the rest of this entry »
(36 vues du Pic Saint Loup) Are characters ever offstage in movies by Jacques Rivette? The 81-year-old French director’s 2009 “Around A Small Mountain,” runs hardly eighty beautifully edited minutes, and its slightness resounds against his lifelong fascination with acting and role-playing. The two-and-a-half hours of “Va savoir” (2001) or the nearly thirteen hours of his 1971 “Out 1: noli me tangere” are deeply embedded in the gentle play of grown-ups who have either run off to join the circus, or who are, in fact, the circus, failing in small towns along the picturesque mountain roads of the Pic Saint Loup region of France. Jane Birkin is especially striking as the ringmaster of all the affairs. They’re ghosts, ghosts ever in touch with life, like the characters in Robert Altman’s last film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” knowing that angels are not of this life. But they’re also artists, and their process, creating and improving their circus gags for increasingly small audiences, provide the movie’s modest momentum. The last shot placidly observes as a full moon is slowly occluded by glaucous clouds: the clouding of sight, memory, the pulling of a final curtain. With Sergio Castellitto, André Marcon, Jacques Bonnaffé, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Hélène de Vallombreuse, Tintin Orsoni, Vimala Pons, Mikaël Gaspar, Stéphane Laisné. 84m. (Ray Pride)
“Around a Small Mountain” opens Friday at Siskel. A trailer is below. Read the rest of this entry »
Life’s a grind, but it’s better than the other option, right? The lovingly bruised “Audrey the Trainwreck” is a melancholy meditation on early-onset adulthood, told through the interactions of two young depressives who may be tumbling toward a relationship, characters adrift in their own ways, hoping for love, or perhaps just a little reassuring simplicity. Chicago writer-director-editor Frank V. Ross’ fifth feature is freighted with the heightened ordinary and his comedic and dramatic instincts are wrapped in a rare concern for the lowered expectations of the modern middle-class. “I can say I’m not afraid of anything, because there’s a lack of options,” one character says; the observation is dry, even though it’s coming from a resigned place in her heart. Ross’ most intriguing pattern is how the everydayness of the jobs and pursuits are interrupted by bits of conflict and violence or unexpectedly apt humor. (In life and in drama, inertia needs to be punctured.) The violence is, well, funny. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Richard Curtis is happy even if you’re not.
“I’m a great believer in happiness,” says the 53-year-old writer of “Blackadder” and “Notting Hill” and writer-director of “Love Actually” and “Pirate Radio” on a Monday stopover in Chicago the day after his birthday. “And, if like me, you’ve had a happy life and you can try and portray it and send people out of the cinema joyful, that’s a great thing. And I don’t think at all that happiness is sentimental, or unrealistic. All over the world, there are people who are having fun with their friends, falling in love, having a good time, loving rock ‘n’ roll, and only about two places in the world are there serial killers planning to murder single mothers in apartment blocks. For some reason or other, when you have these absolutely gruesome things, they’re called searingly realistic, but they happen only once a decade. Whereas if you make a movie about friends falling around and people losing their virginity, that’s called unrealistic. Whereas, it’s happening millions of times in every city around the world. I’m interested in talking about that stuff.”
Curtis’ latest confection, “Pirate Radio,” (called “The Boat That Rocks” in its twenty-minute-longer British release) celebrates an era in the 1960s when British pop music was breaking out while broadcast radio remained staid and stuck-up. Entrepreneurs imported Australian and American deejays and moored them offshore, with pirate stations beaming the latest sounds to a grateful nation. Read the rest of this entry »
Director Ang Lee trips lightly for gentle comedy on upstate New York counterculture. In 1969 the poster read: “Woodstock Music & Art Fair presents An Aquarian Exposition in White Lake, N.Y.; 3 Days of Peace & Music.” Longtime Ang collaborator James Shamus adapts the 2007 memoir “Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, A Concert, and A Life” by Elliot Tiber (with Tom Monte). The screenplay makes passing though telling mention of the Stonewall Inn riot and does not follow Tiber’s life after the so-called Woodstock Nation decamped. While Robert Altman could have made an ensemble docudrama about this communal, collective fest, Lee and Shamus center on Elliot Tiber (comedian Demetri Martin), a boyish tourism booster who offers his summer festival permit to Woodstock’s organizers. Read the rest of this entry »
Brit TV director Armando Iannucci (“The Thick of It” and “Alan Partridge” shows) and his co-writers launch a ripping satire of U.K. and U.S. apparatchiks who bumble the allies towards war in the Middle East. Neither “Blair,” “Bush” nor “Bin Laden” are ever named in “In the Loop,” which was shot in London, D.C. and New York City in the spring of 2008. Here the madcap spinning and scheming unfolds at lower echelons of officials with “assistant” in their titles, plus their callow aides and cynical advisers. Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), Minister for International Development, blathers on the radio about diarrhea and the “war against preventable diseases.” When the interviewer segues to war in the Middle East, Foster answers, “Personally, I think that war is unforeseeable.” Read the rest of this entry »
Call it “Another Wedding.” Jonathan Demme’s most successful fictional feature in many, many years, “Rachel Getting Married,” nods toward Robert Altman’s multilayered, cast-heavy ensemble enterprises with largely lovely results. The center around which all conflicts inevitably revolve is Anne Hathaway’s Kym, the freed-from-rehab older sister of Rachel. Sallow, sullen, with hair chopped in a severe pageboy, verbal, aggressive and passive-aggressive beyond belief but very near truth, you just want to hug the damage out of her. (Wrong choice.) Kym is a user, abuser, perceptively written, brilliantly performed. There are only a few false turns: gratifyingly, as the sputtery paterfamilias of the Buchman clan, Bill Irwin turns in the best performance I’ve ever seen him give; usually, he’s all parentheses, brackets and a loudly mimed susurrus of self-congratulatory smugness, which comes out here only in an unbearably long and aggravating scene where he and his future son-in-law compete in a crowded kitchen over who knows how best to fill a dishwasher. Jenny Lumet’s original script is rich with delicate strokes of human behavior, and the wealth of these privileged Connecticuters of no apparent profession is never questioned, nor is the lack of spoken racial commentary by the assembled. An obnoxious argument was begun this week by one online blogger who insisted that the film trafficked in some sort of racism by having the characters get along without commenting on difference; there are at least a half-dozen deft touches missed by this observer, who is likely too old at this point to go out and make his own movie full of manufactured conflict. A single instance that battles against this perception, as Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt) is about to marry an African-American played with shy charm by TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe: Rachel and Kym’s mother is played by Debra Winger, a majestic and all-explaining presence in her few scenes, but their stepmother is played by Anna Deavere Smith. “Rachel Getting Married” is about contemporary haute bourgeois failings between generations, not the kind of vicious racism emerging in the last thirty days of the presidential campaign. Afterwards, a colleague wondered how much a wedding party of that extreme—Robyn Hitchcock is a wandering troubadour—might cost. How many million dollars was the movie budgeted for? That would be the precise, enormous figure. The final, sustained take under the closing credits is one of the simplest, most affecting portraits of uxorial desire I’ve ever seen in a movie. It holds grace. A cameo by the 82-year-old Roger Corman, as a wedding party guest kneeling behind a small video camera, will pass most viewers by, and tickle those who know he and Demme’s history. 113m. (Ray Pride)
When “Cookie’s Fortune” was released, I interviewed Robert Altman and Charles Dutton together, and I asked something Altman was game for, but which led Dutton to widen his eyes as if I’d said something unspeakable and to say with wonderment, laughing, “Man!” Question: what’s the difference between a young director’s movie and an old director’s movie? In the case of 70-year-old Jiri Menzel’s “I Served The King of England,” almost nothing. While known for his 1966 Oscar-winning “Closely Watched Trains,” Menzel has continued to work in the Czech Republic, unlike his peers Ivan Passer and Milos Forman, who emigrated and brought their quirky perspective into other cultures. “I Served The King of England” is surely speckled with Czech-specific jokes that are missing to the outside viewer, but its absurdist, lovingly choreographed portrait of one man’s Forrest Gump-like passage through large patches of twentieth-century Czechoslovakia, adapted, like “Trains,” from a piece by Bohumil Hrabal, still leaves a lingering smile. Menzel’s lead, Ivan Barnev, is short on charm, but the movie’s chronicles of the character’s life as a waiter, manages to weather intermittent flatness. Menzel is also unabashed in his love for putting women on display, and a sex scene with a Hitler fetish is appropriately odd amid the general air of whimsy. An opportunity to interview Menzel at a festival in Thessaloniki was canceled on account of a cold, but afterward, he was as affable in passing as this movie is serenely daffy. 118m. (Ray Pride)
Even after seeing “Man on Wire” three times, at Sundance, as the triumphant closing night of the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri and back in Chicago, I’m ready to see it again: just about any place. It’s far and away my favorite film commercially released in 2008 to date.
James Marsh’s telling of the 1975 high-wire act between the two tallest high-rise buildings on Earth, the then-incomplete World Trade Center, by wirewalker Philippe Petit, rises above the classification of nonfiction into simple joy. As I wrote after Sundance, “With its black-and-white recreations, the movie often has the urgency of a heist thriller, and comes to resemble a dissection of the conspiracy of a clandestine cell of terrorists, yet the ultimate act, buoyed by an insistent score drawn from Michael Nyman’s back catalog, grows immensely, illogically, beautifully thrilling. Beauty need not apologize, but sometimes requires fingerprinting. When the film took its second nod on closing night, Petit suggested, ‘Keep moving mountains, keep growing wings, keep dreaming.’”
The English-born Marsh’s earlier films include the nonfiction “Wisconsin Death Trip” and the southern Gothic “The King.” The re-creations, I say when we speak, fit into the “crime narrative” he describes the film as. Each of the players is introduced in a studio setting—“Kind of like a mugshot, yeah,” Marsh chimes in. “You remember that wonderful scene in Robert Altman’s film, the Chandler adaptation, ‘The Long Goodbye’? With Elliot Gould. It was a touch of that brilliant sequence early on where he’s mug-shotted when he’s taken downtown to be interrogated. I think I had seen that film shortly before I started working on ‘Man on Wire,’ so that’s probably where that idea came from. But then I had to set up these formal, complicated [backgrounds] of these bohemians and office workers. But for the purposes of this story, this adventure, they’re criminal conspirators. And it felt like a playful way of signifying this, like ‘The Usual Suspects.’”
The high stylization comes together pretty rapidly from the beginning and I’d held my breath from the start, audiences will know what the film is about, but in the world of the movie, you don’t know it’s the Towers yet, but the style shows it’s a criminal offense, it’s an assault, an assault of performance-art terrorism, in a way. That’s what I infer as a viewer, and the film seems to fall more on the side of the heist format. I’m sitting there, thinking, of all the grievous insults, these buildings had at least one beautiful assault against them.
“Of course I was very aware of that,” Marsh says. “There is some moviemaking in that. If fact, since you’ve seen the movie a couple of times, you’re probably glimpsing a blueprint of the World Trade Center early on in that opening sequence, which, as you say, sets up a kind of, something’s going on, people are getting together, they’re up to no good. They’ve got a plot against something. Obviously, there are sort of morbid dimensions to it and we were deliberately playful about it. But of course I was aware of some of the obvious underlying connections with later events. The idea was not to show your hand too much, or to be too crude about it, but of course, a bunch of foreigners hanging around a New York monument, photographing it, examining it for its possibilities for a spectacle, it’s all implicit in the story. One doesn’t have to try too hard. If you tell the story, that’s just going to come off of it. I think it would have been a mistake to go any further with it.”
It seems less discretion or being tasteful than a canny artistic choice to never speak of the fate. It’s in everyone’s mind. “Exactly, yeah.” It’s a meta-thing, you don’t need it. “Yeahhh. I think everyone will have a slightly different response on that level, to a lesser or greater degree. Y’know, quite frankly, what is it that one would show you at the end? How would we do it? The last thing you want to do is to confuse these two events even as you rightly point out, there are interesting kinds of implicit parallels and some of the imagery, even, of people looking up. One is the inversion of the other. During Philippe’s walk, you see people looking up with joy and awe and wonder. And you see the kind of imagery with very different and much more disturbing expressions around 9/11 and the terrible disaster there. It was a very easy choice to make going, a defining choice. Going into the project. There was a little pressure from producers who say, ‘Should we get Philippe to give us his views?’ And I’m saying very clearly, no, I don’t think I’m ever going to do that. The last thing you want is repeat imagery that for me is already been repeated and cheapened and diminished and exploited as well. The other thing about what happened on 9/11 has been exploited by politicians in a particular kind of way. The whole thing is so ugly and foul and vile and we lost innocence in New York City. There’s something about New York in the seventies that was far from innocent, but this [bold act] was possible at that time. We have lost something. You can’t barrel through JFK anymore with a bow and arrow in your suitcase!”
“Man on Wire” opens Friday at Landmark Century and Renaissance.