Reeler Archive for June, 2006

Screening Gotham: June 30-July 2, 2006

A few of this weekend’s worthwhile cinematic goings-on around New York:
–You should know going into Andrew Berends’ Iraq documentary The Blood of My Brother (opening today at Cinema Village) that the film takes itself almost too seriously to bear. But if you will allow me, I intend that as a compliment. Rather than reiterate another 90 minutes of counteracting platitudes from Americans and Iraqis thrown together by war, Berends walks into the maw of the insurgency and just rolls tape. His overriding conceit tracks Ibrahim, a young Iraqi whose life implodes following his brother’s death at the hands of coalition forces. Split between his family responsibilities and a febrile drive for revenge, he considers joining the Shia uprising. But while Ibrahim hedges, Berends follows the ragtag Medhi Army into and out of mass protests, funerals, prayers and, ultimately, gun battles with American tanks and helicopters.

Medhi Army fighters from Sadr City take up arms in The Blood of My Brother (Photo: Andrew Berends)

The tone and action supercede the icy cynicism of The War Tapes or mournful revelation of Control Room; it is the first Iraq doc I have seen in which death permeates every frame. That said, The Blood of My Brother is not quite a great film–it reflects a cloying political self-consciousness at times when it should let its director’s hard-won images speak for themselves. But to the extent Berends reveals danger as the only sense more resonant than hopelessness, you pretty much have a waking nightmare on your hands. And fair warning: Animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture.
–On a lighter, trashier note, the Pioneer is reviving Showgirls for one final June screening. I would elaborate on what a treat this is, but I doubt I can say it better than good old Jeffrey the projectionist (via Pioneer’s MySpace page):

Ladies, mention this mySpace blog post and get discounted admission. BITCHES TO THA FRONT. BITCHES TO THA BACK. BITCHES ALL AROUND BITCHES SMACK SMACK SMACK. I don’t know what that means, but it’s okay. You know what, anyone can just come and mention this mySpace blog and get discounted admission. That’s how we roll: GENEROUS.

Rumor has it that “discounted admission” means $6.50 instead of the regular $9. Which, you have to admit, is a small price to pay for such date-ready debauchery.
–You knew that last week’s rainout would not enough to break the spirits of the gang behind the Billyburg Short Film Festival, which unspools this evening with host Michael Showalter (Stella, The Baxter) presiding. Films include Braden King’s music video Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Horses and the 2006 BSFF Best in Show, Baby Eat Baby–“a film about war and truth starring nude babies and people made of clay.” Assuming you survive, an afterparty featuring live music by Japanther follows.

Reeler Link Dump: Catastrophically Slow News Week Edition

These pre-holiday industry standstills always inspire an acute sense of underachievement around Reeler HQ. What better way to work through the blahs than with a lightning round of fluff and flummox from the poor bastards whom the long weekend left behind?
–The latter part of Charlize Theron’s “three or four for them, one for me” work cycle appears to be coming due. As The Reeler noted in January, Theron is reteaming with Picturehouse honcho Bob Berney to produce and star in the drama The Ice at the Bottom of the World, and now she has roped Alan Parker out of his post-Life of David Gale exile to direct. Still no word on when shooting will begin, but it might be a while yet: Theron needs time to get suitably skeevy for her role as a heroin-addicted single mom, and Parker has to find a suitable back-up and complete a 12-step program for unrelenting hackery before insurers will underwrite the project.
–Some Massachusetts screenwriter has accused Jim Jarmusch of ripping off the idea for Broken Flowers. A million relieved Jarmusch fans sigh mightily and redirect their disappointment to the Boston area. (Via Cinematical)
–Sydney Pollack is ready for his close-up. Make that close-ups: Cingular Wireless evidently thinks enough of him as a pitchman that he will appear in a new spot advising moviegoers to silence their mobile phones. Meanwhile, Pollack and Sidney Lumet will be the subjects of tributes at this year’s Deauville Film Festival, and Anne Thompson notes that Pollack is co-producing (with Anthony Minghella) the next film by the Devil Wears Prada team of Aline Brosh McKenna and David Frankel (who are, in Thompson’s priceless words, “beavering away on their next chick lit adaptation”). We should all be so busy this time of year.
–Fuck this NYPD press credential; the next time I want to crash a film set, I am borrowing the neighbor’s kid.
–Speaking of Parker and Pollack, neither make the cut in Dave Kehr’s lament for aging auteurs posted this week on Slate:

The new MBA masters of Hollywood push seasoned (and proportionately expensive and hard to handle) talents aside in favor of inexpensive and pliable young filmmakers straight from Sundance or the film schools. I want to see Walter Hill’s Rio Lobo and I want to see John Milius’ 7 Women—but where is the studio that would finance them, when Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) and J. J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III) are available?

I don’t know about you, but I am a big fan of Kehr’s paeans to entitlement. Last month’s blog screed condemning publications where “experienced critics are being kicked out in favor of glorified interns” was a little more glass-shatteringly melodramatic, but this new one has an irreproachable bitterness that only a seasoned veteran can summon and sustain. Not yet 30 myself, I am grateful for the influence, and I hope that someday my prose is as alienating to my next generation of readers as Kehr’s is to his own–those Sundance filmmakers in particular. Ryan Fleck? Goran Dukic? Carlos Reygadas? Hilary Brougher? Rian Johnson? Ramin Bahrani? Kelly Reichardt? Fucking hacks.

Synergy Showcase Redux: 'Prada' Consumes Page Six

It turns out in the end that I was wrong about the New York Post’s esteemed critical apparatus lionizing The Devil Wears Prada and launching an early “for your consideration” campaign in Meryl Streep’s name. We all know that would require a modicum of taste that the Murdoch-tabloid vacuum swallowed long ago. But no such barriers could ever inhibit the dramatic deluge of Fox’s Prada house advertisements that literally wallpaper Page Six today. No fewer than six ads accompany a mostly tepid day for gossip, including a short video teaser, an expanding photo gallery and a pink-and-white background that inspires a succession of Valentine’s Day flashbacks–that is, if your Valentine was a blind Web designer. The page-topping Walter Cronkite item earns bonus points for head-exploding irony.
Sadly, Cindy Adams’s garish flag-licking and Liz Smith’s random casting notes escaped the Prada makeover themselves. It figures–those bitches are always pulling rank when the mothership needs them the most.

Reeler Screening Series Continues With 'Half Nelson' at BAM; 'Outsider' Q&A Skedded For Pioneer

Big news on the event front: The Reeler Screening Series that successfully launched last month with Lodge Kerrigan’s film Keane continues in August at BAM with a special preview of Ryan Fleck’s superb Half Nelson. Featuring Ryan Gosling as a drug-addled Brooklyn schoolteacher who develops a strained friendship with one of his students (Shareeka Epps), the film has earned steady accolades since its premiere at Sundance last January; it made its New York bow at this year’s New Directors/New Films festival, and ThinkFilm plans an Aug. 11 release.
But Fleck and co-writer/producer Anna Boden will be on hand in Brooklyn a few days early to discuss the film and take your questions. So save the date: Wednesday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m. Tickets will available on BAM’s Web site soon; rest assured I will let you know when.
I will also be dropping by the Pioneer Theater Aug 2. to moderate a discussion and Q&A following a screening of The Outsider, Nicholas Jarecki’s documentary about iconoclastic filmmaker James Toback (check out the related Reeler podcasts from earlier this month). Both Jarecki and Toback will be in attendance, and I will try to stay out of the way as the anecdotes and insights cascade from the front of the room. Tickets are available now at the Pioneer’s Web site.

And Now, Award From Our Sponsor: LAFF Gives 'Gretchen' Gold-Plated Stack of Target Cards

As rusty a taste as reading about the The Dawn Hudson Starfuck-a-Thon leaves in my mouth, I have to hand it to the Los Angeles Film Festival for presenting its–ahem–Target Filmmaking Award to Steve Collins. The writer/director took home $50,000 in Cherokee dress pants and three-for-$9.99 detergent cash for his nifty debut feature Gretchen, which garnered a little less-affluent New York acclaim a while back as the opening-night title in this year’s Rooftop Films series.
IndieWIRE editor Eugene Hernandez reports that Collins’ acceptance speech included this wince-inducing cry of gratitude: “Thank you very much. I’ll go shop at Target now!” Ha. What the poor guy doesn’t know is that Hudson and Film Independent have added to an “Executive Producer: Target” credit to Gretchen‘s first reel and provided the $50,000 for Collins to reshoot key scenes to feature that white dog with the Target logo over its eye. Anything left over can go to lobbying the chain to carry the film in its DVD departments. If there is anything the LAFF has taught us, it is to think outside the box, if not the box store.

No Vacancy as 'Motel' Opens For Hometown Crowd at Film Forum

In sports, observers commonly throw around the phrase “playoff atmosphere” to describe any regular-season game or event that acquires the urgency and intensity of a must-win postseason contest. The phenomenon usually results in a sold-out venue crammed with whooping, rabid fans, and a winner who navigated a grueling gantlet of other games just to get to this one–but must hope nevertheless that there are more to come.

The Motel writer/director Michael Kang (far right) faces the Film Forum crowd with cast members (L-R) Jeffrey Chyau, Samantha Futerman and Alexis Chang (Photos: STV)

The same thing happens in cinema–or at least it did Wednesday night, when Film Forum took on a “festival atmosphere” for the opening night of Michael Kang’s sweet, miniscule indie The Motel. Kang and virtually his entire cast crammed into the front of the theater following the 8 p.m. screening, facing a packed house and disbursing Motel swag as though the film was back in its Sundance ’05 element. Another hundred viewers queued in the lobby awaiting the 10 p.m. screening. On a weeknight.
The spoiled among us know it really is the only way to watch a movie: when the intimacy of the setting compounds that of the film. Or even that of making the film, according to Kang. “I got really lucky,” he told the crowd during the Q&A..”I mean, I think it was partially because we were shooting on location–we were up in Poughkeepsie five days a week, and so we all became really close. It wasn’t just the cast. It was the cast and the crew.”
That quality penetrates most of The Motel as it spies on 13-year-old Ernest Chin (Jeffrey Chyau), a rotund Chinese-American boy growing up at his family’s skeevy hourly-rate motel. His first-generation mother (Jade Wu) runs the joint and her kids’ lives with a wounded pragmatism, conflating the transgressions of her willful, daydreaming son with those of her delinquent customers. Ernest withdraws to the company of Christine (Samantha Futerman), an older girl for whom he harbors an unrequited crush, but is just as frequently bullied by an Anglo kid (Conor J. White) who exploits Ernest’s ethnicity and living conditions as testaments to his permanent disadvantage.
The Motel is not about permanence though. It is about transit–from child to adult, from one culture to another (and back), all the way down to the ritual of learning to drive. Only after the impulsive Korean hustler Sam Kim (Sung Kang) checks in to the motel does Ernest find the social and emotional outlet his adolescence demands. But even as Sam sees his own immaturity reflected in Ernest, the glimpse is momentary; puberty compels Ernest to root out the authenticity in his surroundings, leaving Sam as a shell of the father figure and best friend he aspires to be. Ernest is all but forced to exorcise the man from his life and his home.
“My parents divorced when I was young,” said the filmmaker Kang. “So there was kind of an absence of a male role model, and I think I was kind of exploring that. The character of Sam Kim came from me asking what kind of knowledge and wisdom could I give to a child, and I realized it was absolutely nothing. I have no good information, and so I personified that in Sam Kim.”
And as the film ambles through its 76 minutes, you cannot help but appreciate the efficiency and effect of Kang’s other tiny catharses. He eschews melodrama for a kind of weighted whimsy (Sam and Ernest leaping around a rural road shouting “I want to be happy!”) and broaches assimilation only inasmuch as the motel represents a humane (if low-rent) cosmopolis. Sexual frustration seemingly permeates every moment of Ernest’s days, yet it never inspires the cynicism that afflicts Christine, Sam, his mother or the roiling spectrum of sleaze that obscures his home. This thematic triumph alone–not to mention Chyau’s exquisite work toward accomplishing it–makes for flashes of transcendent cinema.

At Wednesday’s premiere, Chyau (right) downplayed the praise. “As everyone else said, it’s just that Mike had us really bond together as a family,” said Chyau, a native New Yorker whom Kang cast after auditioning 200 kids. “So really everything onscreen and offscreen, we were just having fun with it and not worrying whether the movie made it or not. Because making the film was worth it overall, even if it doesn’t sell for a single penny.”
Kang blanched, then smiled. The hometown crowd cheered. The pressure was off. It only felt like a festival.

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The Reeler Will Return Thursday…

…with coverage of writer-director Michael Kang’s coming-of-age film The Motel (opening today at Film Forum). Recommended viewing for Wednesday: The Manhattan premiere of the Staten Island Film Festival’s documentary quasi-sensation The Staten Island Catapult, which unspools tonight at 7 at Anthology Film Archives. Or really, just find an air-conditioned room and watch anything you want.

DIY Sensation 'Four Eyed Monsters' Set to Attack Theaters in 15 Cities

The buzz surrounding local filmmakers Susan Buice and Arin Crumley’s microbudget cause celebre Four Eyed Monsters has found momentum in repeated notations at indieWIRE, festival flourishes at Slamdance and South by Southwest, strong word-of-mouth and, last fall, the full-blown NY Times feature treatment. Really, though, their self-promotional prowess precedes them, and as Buice and Crumley prepare Monsters for a two-day, 15-city run as part of indieWIRE’s Undiscovered Gems series (starting tonight at Cinema Village), their Web site remains pretty much at the cutting edge of grass roots.

New York, NY – Cinema Village

Tuesday June 27th @ 7:30pm | Wednesday June 28th @ 7:30pm
Buy Tickets | Print B&W flier | Directions | Who is attending
Trailer | Video Podcast

To wit:
–A video invitation to this week’s screenings, including an animated map directing New Yorkers to tonight’s afterparty at Pioneer Bar;
–Copy-and-paste-ready HTML code for you to include on your own site or blog (see above), or to manufacture fliers for distribution in Tulsa, Tuscon or wherever else the Gems series unspools;
–The widely reported collection of video podcasts documenting the making of and subsequent distribution headaches afflicting Monsters;
–A page where visitors can request stickers for planting all over their hometowns.
Visitors can also request updates for upcoming screenings or (eventually) downloadable copies of Monsters. In the meantime, attendees at tonight’s Cinema Village screening can exchange their ticket stubs for a free drink at the party, but pretty much anyone is invited to drop in. And after all the effort they put in to get you there, you would have to block of ice where your heart is to pass it up. Or at least have a really, reeeeeeally great excuse.

Box Office Insider Roger Friedman Has Well-Placed Doubts About 'Superman' Take

I am surprised to find I do not have that much to say about Superman Returns, the most anticlimactically (and antiseptically) boring summer blockbuster I’ve seen in some time. The $200-million-plus budget buys 157 minutes of inorganic momentum–all the staggering visuals you could ever want, but almost no human moment so indelible as to anchor the spectacle in memory. Which would be fine if escapism was all director Bryan Singer cared about. Alas, a back catalog of accomplished indies giving way to spiritualized superhero tentpoles indicates otherwise; as Manohla Dargis said in her typically peerless review, “It’s hard not to think that Superman isn’t the only one here with a savior complex.”
Really, though, I find myself less interested in critical approximations of Superman Returns than I am in box-office forecasts–specifically that of noted industry sage Roger Friedman, whose Magic 8-Ball responds “Chances not so good” to his breathless inquiries about the film’s expected weekend windfall:

(W)hile the juries are still technically out, here are some things to chew on: As of last night, Moviefone, which measures interest in all current releases, listed Superman Returns second to Adam Sandler’s Click. The Sandler film grossed a huge amount over the weekend, $40 million, so its listing could be a carryover from that enthusiasm. Still, one would have hoped for SR to be listed at No. 1 by Moviefone fans.

Also, according to, none of the “early” shows tonight have sold out. And none of the regular shows scheduled for Wednesday, the real opening day, have sold out either. By now, a real phenomenon of a film would likely have at least one or two shows crossed off on Moviefone, indicating an impending monsoon of fans. Of course, that’s New York. In Hollywood, two shows are sold out for tonight — one at Mann’s Chinese Theater and the other at The Grove.

Leave it to Friedman to get under the skin of this story: Not only is there no “impending monsoon of fans” against which area multiplexes must batten down the hatches, but Moviefone is officially established as the oracle of “interest in all current releases.” Indeed, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. are likely cracking the gin early this morning, wondering what miserable twist of fate would relegate them to second place on Moviefone (in New York, natch) after such a torturous 20-year revival of the Superman franchise. Suicide notes are trickling out of the marketing department’s shared printers as I write this, and like Goethe following The Sorrows of Young Werther, Friedman sits in shadowy repose somewhere in the Fox building wondering who will ever invite him to another premiere. It is the tragedy of the prophet.
But enough of that. Lest walk-up moviegoers, in fits of existential crises, suddenly question their own interest in Superman Returns, they are still entitled to show up tonight and all week, for that matter. I am sure they will have plenty of company, and whatever Warners execs survive the Friedman Crash will be able to stash the razor blades, at least until 2009.

Bogart Gets Street, "Brass on a Wall" For Childhood Home on Upper West Side

I hate missing events like this, but I guess it was on the Upper West Side, and God knows why anyone goes there, even when some ambitious video store owner ropes the city into renaming a block of West 103rd Street after the stretch’s most famous native son, Humphrey Bogart.
Manny Fernandez had the pleasantly anecdotal story yesterday in The Times:

This city usually greets the naming of a street with a collective yawn. But the official unveiling of Humphrey Bogart Place was something else entirely, part block party, part film symposium, part history lesson.

About 150 people gathered for the ceremony, and a hush of nervous excitement fell over the crowd when, at 11:56 a.m., the chairman of the city’s Housing Authority, Tino Hernandez, politely asked the people standing behind him to make room for the woman walking up the sidewalk.

She was the event’s special guest, Bogart’s widow, Lauren Bacall. A cheer rose from the audience. She looked elegant in a black suit, elegant and dry, with their son, Stephen Humphrey Bogart, by her side.

“It certainly was surprising,” she told the crowd of the honor, standing in front of her husband’s boyhood home. “Bogie would never have believed it.” …

Ms. Bacall had tears in her eyes. “It’s emotional for me because I loved Bogie very much,” she said. “I was married to him and we had a very lovely life together. It was much too short. It’s emotional.”

“And we love New York,” her son added.

“But,” she replied, “we love Bogart more.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, notes that Movie Place owner and fellow uptowner Gary Dennis lobbied the City Council after logging 1,000 signatures on a petition, finally succeeding in scoring “a piece of brass on a wall” (as Bacall described it) for Bogart’s childhood brownstone that is now a public housing site. Good on him, I say; at least this city film enterprise did not require mass car removal.

Intelligence Agency: ICM Rep Packages New Lumet Film For Studios That Cannot Be Bothered

A loyal reader well-acquainted with my eyelash-fluttering history with director Sidney Lumet alerts me to the latest about his new project, the New York-based crime drama Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. And although Hollywood Reporter stalwart Martin Grove does not really have the details you may be seeking vis a vis the plot (hand clap for IMDB), he does provide a fairly engrossing account of how A) Lumet maneuvered his interagency contacts to assemble a dynamite ensemble cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Albert Finney, Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei and B) such packages comprise farm teams for studios too overextended with tentpoles to develop their own projects:

With Dead, for instance, none of the film’s principal stars is an ICM client, but director Sidney Lumet … is represented by ICM. “Jeff Berg has represented Sidney Lumet for many, many years,” (ICM exec Hal) Sadoff said. “Sidney wanted to do this project. (Co-producer) Michael Cerenzie developed the film for several years and came to us to help put it together and find a financier for it. We were able to help close all the actor deals. We were able to bringing in financing and it’s going to shoot in about four weeks in New York.” …

Looking ahead, Sadoff is encouraged about the prospects for packaging: “The industry is in a state of change and it’s more common to have these independent movies financed outside of the studio system. I think you will (see more of this in the future). We don’t have a set number (of films to package annually), but we’re continuing to build a team and it’s a very important part of the agency going forward and I think it’s an important part of the industry. You know, the studios are co-financing movies (with various funds and private equity investors). Almost every film on their slate is co-financed today.

I guess the overriding question is how much more exclusive this makes the independent film market in the long run. If Fox Searchlight or Paramount Vantage or Picturehouse can drop $7 or $8 million on the next Lumet or P.T. Anderson or Sofia Coppola picture (among God knows how many others) without getting its hands dirty with actual development or even P&A in some cases, how long before the mini-major industry outsources the bulk of its content this way? How long before it trickles down to the festival circuit, where independently financed (and crafted) work with A-list stars budgeted at $10-$15 million vie for premieres and dominate transactions everywhere from Toronto to Tribeca? Will a distributor like Focus take a chance on something like Brick if it can wait and see how it likes advance footage of John Waters’s new film?
Of course, the directors have to want to play ball, but it’s an obvious win-win if they can work without studio meddling while distributors can just shop for finished projects year-round. The losers are potentially the little guys who will still land Sundance berths–Stephanie Daley, Writscutters: A Love Story, The Talent Given Us–but face a messy self-distribution climate spearheaded by Netflix, Truly Indie and, before you know it, iTunes. At any rate, wherever Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead lands, rest assured that Yari Film Group will not be beating Lumet’s work within an inch of its life this time around.

Synergy Showcase Underway with Post, 'Prada'

The forthcoming release of The Devil Wears Prada has yielded a substantive media bounty over the last week, from Ginia Bellafante’s lovely expert testimony in The Times to Logan Hill’s sort-of-arousing Anne Hathaway profile in last week’s New York Magazine to Jeffrey Wells outlandish quasi-crit at Hollywood Elsewhere: “Without Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci’s performances, this very carefully measured girl movie set in the never-jangled world of a big-time fashion … would be okay but only that. But with them — because of them — it’s savory as hell at times.” (Excellent observation: Two of the three leads make the film work. It’s like, “Without Faye Dunaway and William Holden, Network would just be Peter Finch shouting.”)
But I digress. You really must check out the Prada parade’s sprawling incursion into the New York Post–the corporate sibling of Fox 2000 and, apparently, the unofficial Devil Wears Prada marketing arm in the days leading up to the film’s June 30 unveiling. Choose your pleasure, or collect the whole set:
–Post fashion editor Serena French has the details on the supposed $1 million wardrobe, including a $12,000 handbag and $445 shoes;
–French again, outlining the rules that govern fashion-magazine assistantship. As I noted at the top, Bellafante’s more intimate Times reflection is the “I Survived” gold standard here, but this is the Post, after all, and you could certainly do worse for your 50 cents;
–Danica Lo tallies up the factual liberties revealing Prada‘s exotic yet “flabbergasting” inattention to detail. For example:

“Assistant Andrea is better dressed than most full-blown editors I know,” says Diane Salvatore, editor-in-chief of Ladies’ Home Journal. “If I had an assistant who was dressed that well, I would assume she was involved in an online identity-theft scam.” …

For the rare formal function, the luckiest (and slimmest) may in fact be allowed to select a gown. Andy borrows a black Galliano for an industry gala – an oddly conservative choice, says More magazine beauty and fashion director Lois Joy Johnson, who coached actor Stephanie Szostak for her role as editor Jacqueline Follet, (Runway magazine editor Miranda) Priestly’s Euro-chic arch-rival. “The assistants look like they are on their way to a prom.”

Fuck. That. I am soooooooo waiting for the DVD.
–A twin bill of features touting Prada fashion stylist Patricia Field (above, with Streep), including Linda Stasi’s afterthought linking Field to the resurgence of “That Girl!” couture and Serena French yet again profiling Field, who has all kinds of praise for the Prada gang while throwing fistfuls of shit at Warner Independent’s The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing;
–And finally, who can forget perhaps the year’s most brilliant Page Six item (even better than Richard Johnson copping to drunken driving)?

Anne Hathaway says Stanley Tucci was a real hands-on guy when they made The Devil Wears Prada. “He would just smack me in my boob and elbow me,” Hathaway told journos at the New York premiere. “If you’re a girl, you know that hurts, so, after about the fourth time, I finally said: ‘Stanley, can you please stay away from my t – – s?’ He got really flustered and said: ‘What do you expect? You’re flinging those melons around like it’s harvest season.’ “

Expect Cindy Adams to leap in with a frothy-mouthed succession of sentence fragments and ellipses any day now, while Roger Friedman prepares to attribute the film’s genius to its “fearless send-up of Vogue editor Anne Winter [sic]” and Lou Lumenick’s blinding grand finale reportedly promises the long-rumored six-star rating system that was not quite ready for X-Men: The Last Stand. Come on, Rupert–give the gang a raise.

Screening Gotham: June 23-25, 2006

A few of this weekend’s worthwhile cinematic happenings around New York:
–Indulge me for a second: Remember when Quentin Tarantino made transcendent cinema rather than just staple his brand name on any half-assed genre exercise or trash label that came calling? More specifically, remember Reservoir Dogs? Imagine (maybe some of you were there): He walks into Sundance pretty much penniless almost 15 years ago and blows up every screen in town with this insanely graphic, profane (and derivative, sure) macho-gunplay chamber drama. He gleefully alienates everybody but his peers and endorses movie violence to the good-liberal contingent that cannot believe what it just saw. He loses the Grand Jury Prize but gains almost instant cult immortality. His partnership with Miramax is born. For better or worse, we are talking about possibly the last seismic moment of the independent film movement–and it barely even made it to theaters. Now the Sunshine is bringing Reservoir Dogs back with midnight showings tonight and tomorrow, which, no doubt, will put that anniversary DVD to shame even as it conjures a wrenching nostalgia for the day when “Quentin Tarantino presents” meant something. All right, I am done.
–I hate having to put choices like this to you, but cruel fate insists: Film meets rock twice Saturday night as MoMA’s Douglas Gordon: Timeline exhibit features an appearance by Gordon and Chicks on Speed, while the Continental (near Astor Place) hosts Eamonn Bowles’s barnburning quartet The Martinets. Talk about tough calls: “Chicks On Speed urge you to come overdressed to this ‘living sculpture,’ where they will perform their new Eurotrash hit single ‘Art Rules’ for the very first time,” MoMA’s Web site tells visitors. Meanwhile, you know Bowles better as the boss at Magnolia Pictures, at least until his reckless, concussion-inducing stage abandon lands him in the hospital. I think you know where my allegiances lie, although I admit these decisions never ever get any easier. Now they are yours. Sorry.
–If you have not yet checked out the New York Asian Film Festival, quit fucking procrastinating and go. This weekends highlights include the Grady Hendrix-endorsed Funky Forest: The First Contact, the Ram Gopal Varma-produced Ab Tak Chhappan and the Miike-directed fantasy The Great Yokai War, and the festival finally goes multitheatrical with schedules at Anthology Film Archives and ImaginAsian Theater. Click will still be there next weekend, I promise.

Reeler Podcast: 'Great New Wonderful' Director Danny Leiner

I cannot remember exactly what I said in my introduction to my podcast interview with The Great New Wonderful‘s director Danny Leiner, but I vaguely recall intoning something about its alchemy of mourning and irony as well as the more conspicuous chemistry of an ensemble cast fusing the film’s five story threads. Which is totally abstract, I know, but so is Wonderful, which follows its storylines through the emo-cultural haze of post-9/11 New York–mostly without specific reference to the date and its tragedy.

Piece of cake: Danny Leiner coaching Maggie Gyllenhaal on the set of The Great New Wonderful (Photo: Juliana Thomas / First Independent Pictures)

Instead, Leiner and screenwriter Sam Catlin posit the attacks’ first anniversary as a barometer of middle-class anxiety. Beyond an unspoken dread of the calendar once again reading Sept. 11, the characters in Wonderful seem stunned by the reality that the day changed everything and nothing. “Are we happier?” Olympia Dukakis’s reticent, routinized hausfrau seems to wonder. “Are we safer?” wonder a pair of Indian bodyguards whose own emotions represent their worst enemies. “Have we grown?” asks an ambitious pastry chef (Maggie Gyllenhaal) desperately scaling the professional ranks. “Do we still know each other?” is the question that plagues a 30-something married couple struggling with their violent, asthmatic 10-year-old son, while Tony Shalhoub’s droll therapist confronts his patient with the query 9/11 provoked in all of us: “Do you even know yourself?”
All important questions, of course, even if, in the end, Wonderful‘s implications are a bit too fragile to effectively spread this thin (you almost sense that were it not for the priceless Stephen Colbert cameos at its center, Leiner might have cut the frazzled-parents storyline). Shalhoub and Gyllenhaal’s sangfroid case studies generate much of the film’s momentum; in particular, the latter’s exchange with cake competitor Edie Falco exquisitely frames the New Yorker’s immediate post-9/11 dilemma of balancing hard-driving nature with banal, disingenuous unity. In Dukakis’s case, her loveless marriage and discreetly roving eye seem too easy a metaphor for life’s brevity; it is not until her heartbreak provokes her to rage that Leiner calculates the opportunity cost our institutions (brick-and-mortar and otherwise) impose on individuals.
It might have taken 9/11 and its aftermath to get Leiner and Catlin to evaluate such phenomena, but their emphasis on character effectively sidesteps exploitation and gimmickry. It also lightens the viewer’s emotional load: They probably could just as easily remove the sporadic shots of a WTC-less Lower Manhattan and title cards featuring the anniverary date, and the film would still present an essentially engaging, bittersweet model of New Yorker malaise. Yet with the attacks and their subsequent wars so heavily anchoring the 21st-century experience, their inclusion–however allusive, abstract or flawed–reflects a risk worth taking. And, for that matter, worth viewing.
Anyway, I guess this is an exceedingly long-winded, inefficient way of saying that Leiner has his own ideas about all of this, and he talks about them with me right here. Thank you for listening.
RELATED: Great New Wonderful Premiere Has its Cake and Eats it Too (June 21, 2006)

Legal Effort: Winterbottom, 'Guantánamo' Meet the ACLU in New York

The Reeler’s Thursday night rounds began at IFC Center, where director Michael Winterbottom stopped by after a preview screening of his new docudrama The Road to Guantánamo (opening today in New York). Presented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the invitation-only event brought in attendees from New York’s legal and human-rights-advocacy communities; the evening culminated in a panel discussion featuring Winterbottom, a trio of lawyers and, via iChat from Great Britain, the trio of young men (a k a the “Tipton Three”) whose Guantánamo incarceration ordeal inspired the film.

Two-thirds of The Road to Guantánamo‘s Tipton Three–Shafiq Rasul and Ruhel Ahmed (Asif Iqbal was en route)–join IFC Center panelists (L-R) Gitanjali Gutierrez, Steven Watt, Michael Winterbottom and Anthony Romero live from England (Photo: STV)

Short of recounting the basic plot (four British Muslims travel to Pakistan for a wedding, then go to Afghanistan for some reason immediately after 9/11; one goes missing while the other three are rounded up and shipped to Guantánamo for interrogation and torture at the hands of American oppressors; they are released without charges two-and-a-half years later), I do not have a lot else to say about Winterbottom’s film that has not been articulated already by critics Stuart Klawans and David Edelstein. In a nutshell, Winterbottom takes his subjects’ stories at face value, placing viewers in the odd position of keeping one eye on their bullshit meters and one eye on the heinous abuses onscreen. The director consciously plays with facts–not revealing a character’s criminal past until he needs it as an alibi, for example, or not daring to ask what breach in common sense compelled the men to visit Afghanistan on the eve of American bombing–while meticulously assembling interviews, re-enactments and news footage that outline a severe case against the conditions of his subjects’ detention.
I mean, obviously, yeah–torture and detention without due process are indisputably wrong. But I am equally certain that the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was the only defensible American military campaign of my lifetime. Call the intervening nuance what you will: blaming the victim, healthy skepticism, fence-straddling, etc. All I know is that Winterbottom trades context and narrative for excess and stridency, and his film is the worse for it.
So anyway, there were Winterbottom and the Tipton Three–Asif Iqbel, Shafiq Rasul and Ruhel Ahmed–joined by the ACLU’s Anthony Romero and Steven Watt and the Center for Constitutional Rights‘ Gitanjali Gutierrez. Regrettably, between the roomy echo and their thick British accents, I could hardly make out any of the young men’s comments. But between extended bits of his fellow panelists’ preening, lawerly self-congratulation, Winterbottom squeezed in a few details about Guantánamo’s impact since its acclaimed debut last February at the Berlin Film Festival.
“To be honest,” Winterbottom said, “for most of the screenings abroad, Ruhel, Shafiq and Asif have been there and I haven’t. But when we showed it it Berlin, I think up to that point none of them had their pictures in the papers and none of them had talked to journalists very much. And it was a huge cinema, and when they came up on stage, there was a massive standing ovation. For me as a director, it was the most moving moment or event of my professional career. For these people who had been through all the stuff they had been through, to see them finally get some kind of support from people was brilliant. So I hope from that point, they realize how powerful their statement has been for people watching the film.
“In a way, what attracted me to making the film is that it has a happy ending,” he continued. “Asif gets married finally, Shafiq gets married, Ruhel’s married. It’s like, despite everything that’s happened, they get on with their lives. But for 460 other people, they’re still there. And that’s the idea of making the film: to remind you that there are 460 other indivdual stories that all could be made into films.”

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon