Thursday, March 25, 2010

Amazing! In the last few days, a lot of friends have been awfully busy: their blogs are just filled with goodies.

Michael O'Sullivan ( has written about his favorite Kay Kendall, as well as wonderful little travelogues on Kerry and on Rhodes, complete with enticing photos. Joe Baltake ( has written about Robert Altman's "H.E.A.L.T.H." and Hilary Brougher's "Stephanie Daley"; Kevin Lee ( has written a little report about the Berlinale, and (surprisingly) his conclusions were the same as mine, in that he found the most exciting items at this year's festival to be the Yasujiro Shimazu films, and the Forum Expanded installations.

Reading all these people, i feel like there are really a lot of possibilities for fresh perspectives on the arts, especially movies.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

BBC News has some disturbing images of the demonstrations in Bangkok where people have spilled blood as a protest on the current government. This morning, there were reports on the cyclone hitting Fiji; this is the third catastrophic storm Fiji has had since January, and the images are just so sad.

CNN had a lot on the scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church; Christianne Amanpour devoted her show to trying to figure out why the Catholic Church is so culpable in this matter. Now, BBC News has a little segment on Haiti and how the entire prison system has been destroyed in Port-au-Prince. And (of course) when the prisons fell apart, the guards ran for their lives, and the prisoners just ran.

The various discussions on the abuse scandal in the Irish Catholic Church brings me to "The Lovely Bones". I went to see it this afternoon (i probably would have given it a miss, but it was playing here and at least two people said it was interesting), and i understand why Peter Jackson was attracted to the material; there are similarities to "Heavenly Creatures" in that there are all these fantasy sequences and a horrific act. In "Heavenly Creatures", the fantasies lead up to the horrific act; in "The Lovely Bones", the story begins with the horrific act, and then there are all those fantasy sequences. That may seem to be a quibbling detail, but it's not: the story arc in "Heavenly Creatures" gradually builds, the apprehension is a slow process, the initial fantasies are exhilarating. But in "The Lovely Bones", the movie starts to seem unbalanced as the fantasy overwhelms the painful narrative.

Though i didn't think it worked, i was glad i saw "The Lovely Bones" and i think it was an honorable try by Peter Jackson. Jackson's problem is that he has developed this extraordinary technical mastery, especially in regards to CGI and special effects, but what is it good for? The meeting of Jackson's technical skills (and the skills of his amazing crew of special effects artists in New Zealand) with the mythological narrative of J.R.R. Tolkein was a match made in heaven, but now what?

And some material may, in fact, be intractable. Something similar seems to have happened with Michael Winterbottom's "The Killer Inside Me", rather reminiscent of Wittgenstein's dictum, "Everything that can be thought can be thought clearly, everything that can be said can be said clearly, but not everything that can be thought can be said." That is: some books deal with extreme subject matter, but when a movie shows you some of these things, is it appropriate for viewing?

It's hard to explain. For example: i remember watching Oshima's "In the Realm of the Senses" and getting thrown out of the framework of the movie whenever the sex got really graphic, yet i can watch porn with no problem. What's the difference? But there is a difference, and that difference made me uncomfortable watching "In the Realm of the Senses".

Can everything be made into a movie? But doesn't it depend on the way it's made?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sometimes, when i log in, i wind up reading the blogs that i follow: Reid Rosefeld's "Speedcine: My Life As a Blog", George Robinson's "Cine-Journal", Joe Baltake's "The Passionate Moviegoer", Arthur S.'s "This Pig's Alley", Michael O'Sullivan's reviews and comments, Iain Stott's "One-Line Film Reviews". And there are other blogs and online sites: IndieWire, Carrie Rickey's blog, Anne Thompson's blog. After a certain point, you just start reading and it's very enticing, and i often feel that i don't really have anything to add.

I have to say: i loved Arthur S.'s analysis of Kiju Yoshida's "Kaigenrei", it's a wonderful close reading of that film, but he's done a similarly detailed critique of Fuller's "Run of the Arrow". Joe Baltake's round-up of the March offerings on Turner Classic Movies begins with his tribute to Ginger Rogers, as he notes, she was always more than just Fred Astaire's dance partner, but one of the most accomplished comediennes of the 1930s. Reid Rosefeld has been having fun lately, and his latest missive about plagarism in film criticism is hilarious.

George Robinson noted this year's IRA Awards; i'm sorry that i had to miss it, but an ocean is a lot to cover. And i didn't hand in a ballot, because i'm a little tired out in terms of the best of 2009.

But i wanted to commend Michael O'Sullivan on his review of the Tom Ford film "A Single Man"; Michael is very clear abouit the changes that Ford has wrought on Christopher Isherwood's original, but Michael also explains how this is an interpretation, and why he considers it a valid interpretation.

Now i'm watching CNN, reporting on the current problems in Haiti as the country tries to rebuild. Now there's a report on the damage done by the nor'easter: parts of Connecticut still have no electricity, power lines are down, it's very dangerous as the live wires remain a possible source of shock or fire.

Sports news has been abuzz about David Beckham's injury and the fact that he won't be able to play in the World Cup.

I've got to start getting focused on writing, but i also want to see a lot of movies. This weekend i saw "Crazy Heart" and i do understand the accolades for Jeff Bridges's performance.

But today was a little insane: snow and winds during the afternoon. If it just rained, maybe i could deal with it, but snow? Again? When does it stop?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Another earthquake? Woke up to BBC News reporting on a 6 earthquake in the eastern part of Turkey. The aftershocks brought more damage. Haiti, then Chile, now Turkey. In a horrible way, there is a sense of becoming inured to the devastation.

The election in Iraq seems to point to the possibility of political (as opposed to military) solutions to the division of that nation. But the point is: why was there US military action in the first place? What was the goal? What did the Bush administration hope to achieve?

Of course, even the BBC news had a big wrap-up of the Academy Awards; the telecast got mixed reviews (to put it mildly), but most people seemed to agree that something historic had happened. But the focus was on Kathryn Bigelow. However, that was only part of the story. Not just that a woman won as Best Director, but that an African-American won for Best Adapted Screenplay. This was (in all the years of the Academy) the first time that black talent behind the scenes (writer, director, producer) was actually acknowledged. So: Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director for "The Hurt Locker" and Geoffrey Fletcher for Best Adapated Screenplay for "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire". It's funny how the screenplay win was overlooked in the rush to judgement re: a woman winning Best Director.

This is also one of the real problems with show business: this oversimplification of the complexity of the whole picture. I remember talking to an African-American writer-director, who was expressing his frustration at the way that, as the actors have gained more clout in the industry (Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Samuel L. Jackson) there hasn't been a concurrent commitment to black writing, directing and producing talent. Oprah Winfrey, for example, is one of the most powerful women in show business, as well as consistently the richest woman in show business. Yet she has rarely produced any project where she has sought black talent. Even on "Beloved", she wanted the imprimatur of white talent, so she hired Jonathan Demme to direct. Now, i think that, given the enormous complexities of the work, Demme did an honorable job, and "Beloved" is actually a credible film. But my point is: when Lee Daniels was trying to set up "Precious", he had no access to Oprah (or Tyler Perry). Only after the film was completed and was shown at Sundance, did Oprah and Tyler Perry step in to lend their names for support. Which (of course) was enormously important, and helped to raise the profile of the movie, but they could have been involved at an earlier stage and it would have made the production a lot easier.

But "Precious" is out and actually made money and a lot of people have seen it, and Mo'nique has won just about every award you could win, and Geoffrey Fletcher has won a few awards for his screenplay. The reason i'm so adamant about this nurturing of talent is that i've done that: when i've been on grant panels, when i was "support staff" (i.e., basically volunteering) at the IFP, when i was asked to consult for foundations, i've been very conscious of trying to find people of color, women, lesbian and gay talent. And the money in the nonprofit art scene gets smaller and smaller, and yet there are people who could help, yet they don't.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The weather in Europe has taken a turn for the worst: there has been gale force winds and torrential rains in Portugal, Spain, and France; France has declared a national catastrophe. And now the cold is creeping into Germany (again) with the temperatures dipping close to freezing by the weekend. Plus freezing rain and light snow. The storms in western France is reported as responsible for over 50 deaths; people were caught by surprise when the storm hit in the middle of the night. Plus pictures from Frankfurt show how the winds have ripped through parts of that city, which is why the airports were closed for a while. Oh, well...

BBC News just ran a little interview with Tomm Moore, the director of the animated feature "The Secret of Kells" which was a surprise nominee for Best Animated Film. There were clips, and it certainly looks good.

Eugene Hernandez sent a ballot about the Independent Spirit Awards and the Acadeny Awards: those of us who are listed on the critics page of IndieWire are invited to give our opinions on the awards, i.e., who we think will win, and who we think should win. The New York Times started to do that a few years ago. (Is it true that the New York Times film critics are still not allowed to participate in the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics? How is that possible, when Andre Sennwald and Bosley Crowther were stalwarts of the New York Film Critics Circle for decades, and Sennwald was one of the people who started the organization, and they were the primary New York Times film critics of the 1930s and 1940s?) I'd like to participate, but i feel as if i haven't seen enough. In categories like Costume or Set Design: i'm not sure i've seen anything that was nominated in some of those categories. And i don't (as a rule) see animated features. Not because of any antipathy, but because i never get invited to those screenings. I wind up seeing animated features on TV or when they're released on DVD.

Did i miss something or did A.O. Scott, Manohla Dargis and Stephen Holden already do their Academy Award round-up? Though i think it's amusing (i always think it's amusing), the Academy Awards really have nothing to do with me, and i don't really pay attention. In the past few years, Larry and i got out of the habit of watching the telecast. It's usually tedious, and so much of the telecast is inane, and we preferred watching "The L Word" (which was usually on opposite). We were a niche market (and proud of it). The Independent Spirit Awards started to get bogus as well; i liked it when it was just people gathered in a tent on the Santa Monica beach, getting drunk and saying outrageous things. But as "independent" films and Hollywood films really overlap now, some of the irreverence has seeped out of the Spirit Awards.

But i won't know, because they've moved the awards to Friday night (rather than Saturday afternoon) and so it seems as if Film Independent is trying to go for a more formal atmosphere, but i won't be able to see it. Not in Berlin, anyway.

I got a series of e.mail notifications from the IFP: there's a new website, logging in is different (new passwords, etc.) and everyone has a new membership number. But no one answers the question: what is happening at the IFP? Michelle Byrd is supposed to have left as Executive Director, but has that post been filled, or are they still involved in the search process? Certainly, the members have not been given any indication.

The BBC business news reports that Australia is now the fastest growing economy in the Asian market. Well, that's good news, and i hope that people i know in Australia are able to take advantage of the current boom.

The Euro continues to stall as the US economy shows signs of recovery.

Watching the footage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Chile has been wrenching: it's really like something out of a dystopian science fiction movie. When the earthquake hit in Haiti, the footage was mostly of the devastation, and also of the rescue efforts. CNN, in particular, covered the disaster in terms of rescue and recovery. But in Chile, the devastation is severe (though, so far, the death count is not nearly as overwhelming as in Haiti), but the desperation, the fear and the anger seem to be primary.

It's very frightening.

However, for entertainment, i did watch the closing ceremonies from the Winter Olympics. Two immediate thoughts: it certainly seemed endless; is everybody Canadian? Even Neil Young showed up. One of the only ones missing from the lineup seemed to be Joni Mitchell. Another Canadian missing was Christopher Plummer (after all, they did have Michael J. Fox, Catherine O'Hara and William Shatner). Have to admit: the final hockey match between the US and Canada was a nailbiter. And the Olympics provided hours of entertainment, and, yes, this year, even curling seemed to be exciting. And you had to admire the Norwegians for wearing those pants! Even the New York Times made a note of those diamond-patterned red pants.

Also on the news was the flooding that has taken place in parts of Europe, specifically Spain and Portugal. That, plus the instability of the economic situation (Greece being a country under financial duress right now) are not exactly signs of the robust outlook which many predicted for Europe just before the Christmas holidays. The news footage of Lisbon under water, with so many houses flooded, was very sad.

The weather is expected to be grey and wet for the next few days... but at least, it's not expected to be freezing! That's such a relief.