Wow. Another week just flew by, and here were are with an even larger selection of new and/or worthwhile films opening in our fair city. Oh sure, you wouldn't know it from the three major Hollywood releases coming out this weekend, but there's still plenty of potentially interesting fare. Not that I'm actually managing to get to anything. The list of personal "must-sees" is increasing faster than I'm actually seeing anything. Of course, this week I simply haven't had the time; or rather, I've tried to be a bit more responsible and use my time getting things done rather than putting them off. I've only been partially successful.
I also have so far only seen one film this week, and it wasn't Broken Flowers, 2046, Darwin's Nightmare, Junebug, 9 Songs, Murderball or March of the Penguins -- and I'm just about the only person I know who hasn't seen the last of those yet. But I'm literally anxious about seeing all six of those films. I just haven't had time. And I don't know when I'm going to either because starting tomorrow night, I suddenly have a crazy schedule of Fringe Festival shows to endure. But that's a topic for another post.
For now, the week ahead is chock full of cinematic goodies, both new and old, and a bunch of stuff that's probably worth skipping too. I mean, I really would love to see everything, and if I had the time, I would happily go sit through The Skeleton Key, Four Brothers and even Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, but really the only interesting thing about these three films is whether or not any of them will be able to knock of The Dukes of Hazzard from the box office perch. There are however several new smaller films that I'm definitely interested in catching -- especially Grizzly Man and Pretty Persuasion -- plus one must-see doc, A State of Mind.
Skeleton Key is getting pretty below average reviews even as it features a ridiculously compelling cast. (Kate Hudson running around in underwear may be enticing, but with a cast which also includes John Hurt and Peter Sarsgaard, cute Kate is just about the least interesting element.) Meanwhile, John Singleton hasn't actually made a really good movie since Boyz N the Hood, and Four Brothers doesn't look like it's about to break that streak, although it is my bet to take the box office crown with somewhere around $20 million. (And I've got a whole rant just raring to bust out of me about Singleton and his holier-than-thou ego. Yeah without you there's no Hustle & Flow. Thanks. Maybe you should stick to producing and stop bitching about Hollywood.) And finally, do I really need to say anything about Deuce Bigelow? I can't remember the last time I saw a trailer for a supposed comedy that was so unfunny.
So let's look towards (some) brighter pastures:
A State of Mind is a fascinating documentary ostensibly about life in North Korea currently playing at Film Forum. Unfortunately, it can only play through next Tuesday, and I don't know that it will transfer anywhere else in the city (although I'm sure there's a PBS playdate in its future). It also played at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Director Daniel Gordon and his BBC crew was given unprecedented access to filming in what is likely the most closed, totalitarian society on Earth, a place where it almost seems as if time stopped back at the end of the Korean War. The film doesn't judge the citizens of North Korea, even as it obviously knows that we will. It follows the training of two young girls preparing for the Mass Games, one of the largest regular events in North Korea which through its combination of large gymnastic spectacle is a supposed symbol of sublimation of the self for the good of the group, a/k/a the communist ideal. And the spectacle of the performance is, in fact, quite spectacular.
The people in the film, though, to our Western eyes seem like brainwashed cult members, which I suppose to at least some degree they are. The constant adoration for "The Great Leader" and a desire to please him above all things is the main noticeable element second only to their hatred for the USA, who is always referred to as "the US imperialists." The family doesn't seem troubled by the single government-run television station or even more intrusive the single government-run radio station piped into their apartment which they can turn down but never off; they do seem concerned, however, by the threat of "US imperialist attack." It is interesting, though, to see a society that was so destroyed primarily due to US bombs in a war that very few people here even think about anymore. Vietnam is our national post-WWII tragedy. Wait, we also helped create the problems on the Korean Peninsula? Aw, crap.
A State of Mind certainly has a few flaws. For instance, it makes note that people who actually live in the capital city of Pyoungyang have it better than those who live outside it. So what does that mean for the rest of the country? Are they required to watch the Mass Games on TV much as everyone in the city seems to be mandated to participate -- either actively or as spectator -- in the regular national celebrations? Or are conditions outside Pyoungyang so horrible and poverty-stricken, that not only does nobody have a TV, they're basically just left completely on their own. (Even in this communal atmosphere, the somewhat contradictory notion of "self-reliance" is the number one virtue in North Korean society.) I really don't know much about North Korea, and if I based everything on A State of Mind, then I would have to assume that the rest of the country is either empty or just like Pyoungyang.
Still, with everything going on in the world today, this very dangerous little corner of the globe is one to which we all need to pay attention, and this film is certainly a compelling starting point. Of course, upon leaving the theater, you might find yourself humming, "America: fuck yeah!.
Grizzly Man is the latest documentary from noted German filmmaker Werner Herzog. It's the unbelievable tale of Timothy Treadwell who spent years living (and from his perspective protecting) the grizzly bears in Alaska only to tragically be mauled, killed and eaten (not necessarily all in that order) by one of them in 2003. Herzog is a master at telling stories of characters following their obsessive personalities down dark and dangerous paths, and Treadwell seems to fit that mode. Kudos to distributor Lions Gate for doing an interesting promotional push for this film: last night there was an entire feature about Treadwell, and indirectly the film, on ABC's Primetime Live, and later in the evening I saw a promo on MSNBC about a similar segment planned for tomorrow on one of their talking head shows.
Pretty Persuasion seems to be a film that might divide opinion. On the one hand comes an effusive appreciation for its dark and potentially mean-spirited humor from the likes of New York Times critic Stephen Holden while others like Time Out's Darren D'Addario and EW's Lisa Schwarzbaum seem to see it as simply a mean-spirited and even misogynistic wannabe successor to the all-time great teen outcast black comedy Heathers. When I saw the trailer, I said to myself, "Hmmm, it's like Heathers meets The Crucible set in an American Beauty world with maybe a wee bit of To Die For -- that could be interesting. We'll see ... I hope.
The Goebbels Experiment is a documentary placing the focus on not Hitler but instead on the mastermind behind the propaganda that successfully helped catapult Hitler and the Nazis into power and kept them there. Thank god so many sociopaths keep diaries. In this case, Joseph Goebbels kept one for more than two decades, and this film, opening today at the Quad Cinema examines the life and "career" of Goebbels through his own words, brought to life by the great Sir Kenneth Branagh.
Asylum is another film that played at >Tribeca this year. Natasha Richardson stars as a bored wife stuck living in the psychiatric asylum her husband runs, eventually having an affair with one of his more potentially dangerous patients. Patrick Marber, who last adapted Closer, tackles this script from the novel by Patrick McGrath for director David Mackenzie. Mackenzie's last film was the gloomy sexual drama Young Adam. Asylum seems like it covers much of the same ground as Young Adam -- disgruntled wife falls lustfully for mysterious and/or potentially dangerous young man -- and I'm not sure whether that makes me want to see Asylum more or less. Young Adam was a film full of atmosphere and mood but not much else. Will Asylum be the same?
What the hell happened to John Dahl? In the late-80s/early-90s, he made a succession of three fantastic, small, intimate, dark, brooding, noirish, crime dramas: Kill Me Again, Red Rock West, and the best of them, The Last Seduction. But it's been all downhill from there starting with Unforgettable (a misnomer if there ever was one), Rounders and, worst of them all, the absolutely pointless, horrible Duel-wannabe Joy Ride. Now comes, The Great Raid a big-budget World War II drama that's been sitting on the shelf for two years and is finally getting a release now during this August down-time simply because the Weinsteins want to get rid of it before they depart from Miramax. All advance word indicates this is a big bore. I wish I could have some faith again in Dahl who for a brief time was on my must-see-all-he-does list, but I don't, and this doesn't provide much hope for a reversal.
The Century of the Self is a four part, four hour documentary of this social history from BBC producer/director Adam Curtis looking at how the idea of the self, especially in relation to the theories of Sigmund Freud, has helped influence everything in our daily lives. Cinema Village is showing the series in two parts, with the first two hours on one screen and the last two on another.
Last and there's a very good chance least is Chaos, which proudly bills itself as "the most brutal film ever made." The "story" apparently is the depiction of the kidnapping, torture and gruesome murder of two college-aged women by four crazies in the woods. The director, David DeFalco, a former WWE wrestler, seems to believe his film may be brutal but that it depicts "a real and unfortunate part of life that is as fascinating as it is disturbing." OK, you stick with that. I'm probably going to stay away from the Two Boots Pioneer.
And so there's the problem. Sure the overall selection of new might be a little bit uneven, but there is still enough of interest to keep one occupied. And then if you move to the repertory circuit: oy, once again, there just isn't time.
Good news if you haven't gotten down to Film Forum in order to catch the consistently sold-out engagement of The Conformist -- the run has been held over through Aug. 23. If you get to Film Forum and find The Conformist sold-out still, however, you might want to check-out some 1940s popular kitsch by catching the double feature of Cobra Woman and The Gang's All Here, two great examples of what was the epitome of popular entertainment in WWII America -- big casts, splashy technicolor, and, in the case of the latter, elaborate musical numbers, all brimming with an inherent patriotism. As much fun as this double-bill might be, you should certainly try for the Bertolucci first.
I am woefully ignorant of Milestone Films, but thankfully I have Lincoln Center and The Walter Reade Theater to depend on. This week, they're paying tribute to Milestone with "Dedication of Discovery: 15 Years of Milestone Films" featuring four of the distributors features. I'm most curious about the 1972 anti-war doc Winter Soldiers, but all four are enticing.
Once again, you could find worse places to spend this weekend than at Anthology Film Archives who continues their "Tribute to Kino International". Saturday features two of Buster Keaton's best: at 2 PM Steamboat Bill Jr. followed at 4 PM by The General. Then on Sunday, you can start your day at 2 PM with the absolutely brilliant documentary Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography, which is really a must for any film lover. The rest of the day brings masterpieces by three of cinema's all-time greats: at 4 PM Vittorio De Sica's neo-realist classic The Bicycle Thief; at 6, the film that truly made Marlene Dietrich a star, Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel; and capped off by Federico Fellini's cinema-altering personal memory magnum opus, 8 1/2 at 8:15.
Time Out featured a story this week about the best places in NYC to hang out while stoned. While they properly mentioned the Friday/Saturday regular midnight movies at both the Two Boots Pioneer and the Landmark Sunshine -- although they did leave out the newest entry, the IFC Center -- the best place to go stoned this Saturday at midnight is definitely the Paris Theatre where they'll be screening the all-time great stoner movie classic, Pink Floyd: The Wall.
The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria continues itsRaoul Walsh series, but the highlight the must-see this weekend is the Ingmar Bergman classic Wild Strawberries on both Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 PM.
Bamcinématek continues its series celebrating the Shaw Brothers Studio, with two must-sees of the Hong Kong Kung Fu film genre: Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan on Saturday and Golden Swallow on Sunday.
Next week sees some interesting programming around town too. Especially on a jam-packed Monday night. If it's not too horrid outside, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton go at each other even bigger than normal as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is projected onto the gigantic Bryant Park screen.
If you'd like something a little more intimate (and less humid) on Monday, head down to the IFC Center for "Movie Night with David Gordon Green" at which the director of George Washington and, in this case maybe more importantly, Undertow hosts a double-bill of two of his favorite films. Surprisingly, the obvious primary influence of Terence Malick isn't involved, but the night does feature two lesser-known classics of '70s cinema, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and Jeremiah Johnson.
If you've already seen The Aristocrats or you just want to see one of the all-time great comedians and social commentators, swing by the Center for Jewish History on Monday at 7 for Lenny Bruce: Performance Film. Bruce's second-to-last live appearance captured on film is less stand-up than commentary slam as he reads court transcripts and other allegations from one of his obscenity trials and responds to them in a rant.
And finally next week, Makor presents its "Desert Island Film Festival" featuring films selected by a vote of the Makor audience. The results aren't particularly surprising: Monday features Citizen Kane, Tuesday has Casablanca, followed on Wednesday by The Godfather and then screening Manhattan on Thursday.
Hopefully I'll fit in something in between Fringe shows. Luckily, the next two weeks show some better prospects with two big releases that actually deserve your attention: the hysterical The 40 Year-Old Virgin and the brilliant The Constant Gardner. But they'll have to wait for some other posts.