Radio Micropsia - Episodio 15

Por Radio Nacional (FM 93.7), domingos de 20 a 22hs.
O por internet, entrando por aquí.

Predicciones para el Oscar, algo de nueva música (Two Door Cinema Club, Broken Bells, Lonelady, Shearwater, Lightspeed Champion), un repaso del Festival de Berlín, las críticas de las películas recientes, ciclos, shows, conciertos y tal vez algunas cosas más en mi regreso a Micropsia después del viaje a Berlín. Con Jorge Belaunzarán.

For love of 'Where the Wild Things Are,' director Spike Jonze goes long (Los Angeles Times)


By Dennis Lim

February 28, 2010

Spike Jonze's adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are" turns the slimmest of books -- 10 sentences, 18 pictures -- into a feature-length film. This feat of expansion is perhaps all the more surprising when you consider the director's track record -- in music videos, skate videos, short films, commercials and various off-the-cuff goofs and larks -- as a miniaturist par excellence.

"Wild Things," out on standard and Blu-ray DVD this week, is only Jonze's third feature in a decade, and it's clearly a labor of love. In fleshing out the adventures of young Max (played by newcomer Max Records), Jonze and co-screenwriter Dave Eggers preserve the mysterious sense of delight and danger that defined Maurice Sendak's 1963 children's classic. The furry wild things, undifferentiated in the book, are given names and personalities, and brought to life through an elaborate process combining puppetry, digital animation and voice work.

But as labor-intensive as it was, "Wild Things" is hardly the only project that has been occupying Jonze since 2002's "Adaptation." While the industry norm dictates that filmmakers graduate from calling-card shorts to feature-length assignments, he continues to work and thrive in the short form. Within the last few months alone, he has premiered two new shorts every bit as inventive as "Wild Things."

"We Were Once a Fairytale," available on iTunes, is a 12-minute collaboration with a self-spoofing Kanye West, who plays "Drunk Kanye" rampaging through a club and eventually purging the demonic rodent in his stomach. (Produced before last September's MTV Video Music Awards, it now seems to presage West's notorious outburst.) The half-hour "I'm Here," a lovely, dark-edged story of the fraught romance between two robots, overshadowed most of the features at Sundance last month.

It's fitting that a true appreciation of Jonze's sensibility requires a familiarity with his shorts, videos and promos, which mainly circulate online. A born prankster, a descendant of the silent slapstick comedians, a master of the high concept, he was a YouTube artist before the fact. (There is one DVD compilation of his music videos, dating from 2003. The Museum of Modern Art in New York organized a retrospective last fall -- Jonze came up with the show's tongue-in-cheek title: "Spike Jonze: The First 80 Years.")

He's no one-trick auteur -- serving a wide range of bands and corporate taskmasters requires flexibility -- but Jonzeian hallmarks are discernible through almost all of his work: absurdist humor, a melancholic streak, the ability to commit with a straight face to an outrageous high concept. (Jonze has worked with more or less the same team of collaborators on big and small projects alike: cinematographer Lance Acord, production designer K.K. Barrett, editor Eric Zumbrunnen.)

"Wild Things," often interpreted as a story about the childhood id, is a logical fit given Jonze's taste for anarchy. A founding member of the "Jackass" crew (he appears as Gloria, a saggy, naked nonagenarian, in the second "Jackass" movie), he also directed the spooky kids-run-amok video for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Y Control" and a controversial 2005 spot for the Gap that ends with the comprehensive trashing of a store.

The most vivid scenes in "Wild Things" are also the most physical: the rough-and-tumble brawls and dirt fights. In keeping with his skate-kid roots, Jonze is usually at his best when communicating his sheer love of movement. Think of the lead character's Dance of Despair and Disillusionment from "Being John Malkovich" or the ecstatic choreography in the videos for Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet" and Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" and "Praise You."

Another side of Jonze -- the sensitive documentarian -- can be glimpsed in "Tell Them Anything You Want," a portrait of Sendak co-directed with Lance Bangs and out this week on DVD from Oscilloscope. Deftly edited down to a brisk 40-minute near-monologue from several interviews with Sendak at his Connecticut home, the film shows the author -- bleakly, amusingly and very movingly -- reflecting on his childhood, his homosexuality, his books and, most of all, his obsessive morbidity, which he traces to seeing a newspaper photo of the dead Lindbergh baby.

Precedents can be found in Jonze's earlier work: his shorts on Al Gore (then a presidential candidate) and the rapper Fatlip are equally intimate. Even in films squarely focused on others, Jonze's presence is felt. Revealing plenty about their subjects, they say almost as much about the filmmaker's easy rapport with them.



"Un profeta", la gran ganadora de los Premios Cesar

Meilleur espoir masculin
Tahar Rahim (UN PROPHETE)

Meilleure actrice dans un second rôle
Emmanuelle Devos (A L’ORIGINE)

Meilleur scénario original
Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit (UN PROPHETE)

Meilleure adaptation
Stéphane Brizé, Florence Vignon (MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON)

Meilleur son
Pierre Excoffier, Bruno Tarrière, Sélim Azzazi (LE CONCERT)

Meilleure photo
Stéphane Fontaine (UN PROPHETE)

Meilleure musique
Armand Amar (LE CONCERT)

Meilleur premier film

Meilleur acteur dans un second rôle
Niels Arestrup (UN PROPHETE)

Meilleur court-métrage
C’EST GRATUIT POUR LES FILLES (Claire Burger et Marie Amachoukell)

Meilleur espoir féminin

Meilleur film documentaire
L’ENFER D’HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT de Serge Bromberg et Ruxandra Medrea

Meilleur film étranger
GRAN TORINO de Clint Eastwood

Meilleur montage
Juliette Welfling (UN PROPHETE)

Meilleurs décors
Michel Barthélemy (UN PROPHETE)

Meilleur réalisateur
Jacques Audiard (UN PROPHETE)

Meilleurs costumes
Catherine Leterrier (COCO AVANT CHANEL)

Meilleur acteur
Tahar Rahim (UN PROPHETE)

Meilleure actrice
Isabelle Adjani (LA JOURNEE DE LA JUPE)

Meilleur film

Totaux :
LE CONCERT : 2 César
A L’ORIGINE : 1 César

‘Bourne’ Team Takes a Chance With Iraq War (The New York Times)

February 28, 2010


NO one doubts that “Green Zone” comes with what Adam Fogelson, the chairman of Universal Pictures, calls an action movie “pedigree.” The film, which opens across the country on March 12, stars Matt Damon and reunites him with Paul Greengrass, the director who brought a propulsive visual style to “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” And television ads and trailers promise plenty of suspense, firepower and, of course, fighting in close quarters.

But while “Green Zone” looks and moves much like a Bourne sequel, it also comes with a significant strike against it as a commercial proposition: It’s a movie about the Iraq war, a subject that has proven to be a recipe for box-office disappointment. Set in Baghdad in the chaotic early days of the American occupation, “Green Zone” dramatizes the fruitless hunt for weapons of mass destruction and climaxes on the first night of full-blown insurgency in Iraq. And the film isn’t shy about its politics. “Green Zone” is not an apolitical view of soldiers struggling to survive a grinding war, but a conspiracy thriller that directly addresses the possibility that the war might have been a huge scam, and a botched one at that.

Mr. Greengrass filmed “Green Zone” in Morocco, Spain and England in 2008, and was essentially done editing and scoring the film six months ago. That Universal is releasing it now has led to speculation that it is nervous about recouping its $100 million investment. Speaking on the phone from the Vancouver Olympics last week, Mr. Fogelson said that the studio could have released the film late last year, but doing so might have created the impression that the studio was hoping for Academy Award nominations. “We believe that this is a piece of entertainment, and we want the audience to view it as such,” he said.

Even so, Universal is clearly grappling with the contradictions inherent in presenting a popcorn film about a war that is still going on. “There’s no science as to when the right moment to do this is,” Mr. Fogelson said. But, he added, “this film would benefit from more time,” and said that the further away from the worst days of the fighting the film was released, the more comfortable people would be with the idea of enjoying a thrill ride with such serious undertones.

Mr. Greengrass, a burly, professorial 54-year-old, decided soon after “The Bourne Supremacy” came out in 2004 that he wanted to find some way to address the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraq war, what he called “the twin drivers of our lives right now and for the foreseeable future.” “United 93,” a docudrama about the downing of the fourth plane hijacked that day by Islamist terrorists, was his first response. “Green Zone” is Mr. Greengrass’s conscious attempt at marrying “United 93” with the “Bourne” movies — a sort of “Bourne in Baghdad.”

“There was a Bourne audience who loved what Matt and I did — something about the attack, the tone, the style, the contemporaneousness of it, the urgency of it,” he said. (Mr. Greengrass said he injected “ripped-from-the-headlines” elements, like waterboarding and rendition, into those films.) “And obviously, at the heart, they loved — you know, forget me — they loved seeing Matt being physical but very morally driven. It spoke to, I think, moral renewal, which I think is what Bourne’s all about.”

Mr. Greengrass, who said he’s well aware that “people don’t come to the movies on a Saturday night in large numbers for a lecture, or a sermon, or to hear my views on anything, frankly,” explained that he wanted to tell a story about the invasion of Iraq because there was something “incredibly disruptive and turbulent about that decision,” adding: “It stretched all sorts of bonds, it overstretched sinews. It felt desperately, desperately rending and uncomfortable, as if some great disturbance, toxicity, discomfort was the result.”

He added: “This hugely difficult process by which we ended up going to war there, only then to find that the reason that we went to war was not true, left a huge legacy I think — a legacy of fear, paranoia and mistrust. And so that really was where I wanted to put ‘Green Zone.’ Can I create a thriller with the ride, and the drive and the urgency and the economic clarity of Bourne-type storytelling — can Matt and I do that — and invite the Bourne audience back to the sort of inciting moment of what begat Bourne world?”

In a sense the British-born Mr. Greengrass is returning to his roots by diving into political controversy. He began his career as an investigative journalist and, after he made the transition to filmmaking, honed his frenetic visual style making small-scale dramas that recreated real events. On films like “Bloody Sunday,” which re-created the 1972 outbreak of violence during a Catholic civil-rights march in Northern Ireland and used the careening camerawork that has come to be his signature, he said, he was learning to “express the ragged reality of how interacting human beings look and feel when under stress.”

Mr. Greengrass, who said he feels a kinship with David Simon (“The Wire”), another former journalist creating dramas based on close observation of real life, explained that intensive research informed the version of Baghdad he presents in “Green Zone.” Working with Brian Helgeland, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “L.A. Confidential,” his team spoke with former soldiers who were involved in the fruitless hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Both the director and the screenwriter described the book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone,” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post, as important to their work making the backdrop against which their thriller unfolds feel as authentic as possible.

Mr. Helgeland said that before he wrote the film, “I tracked down and reread all of Judith Miller’s early reports from Iraq.” Ms. Miller, a former reporter for The New York Times who was criticized after the invasion for articles that seemed to help the Bush administration make its case, was embedded with one of the Pentagon’s teams searching for weapons of mass destruction in 2003, when “Green Zone” is set. Mr. Damon’s character, Captain Roy Miller, is the leader of one of those teams and at one stage in the film he confronts a female reporter for a New York-based newspaper (in this case The Wall Street Journal) and asks her how she got her reporting so wrong.

The sense of urgency that imbues all of Mr. Greengrass’s films is present in “Green Zone,” and it’s clearly related to the unorthodox way he shoots them. On a snowy April morning in 2008, at a racecourse outside London standing in for Baghdad’s airport, two hand-held cameras rolled simultaneously, capturing Mr. Damon’s Miller and his team. Mr. Greengrass explained that his technique was to say to his camera operators and actors, ‘I’m going to direct this with you as if this is a live event.’ ”

“I hope that when it works,” he added, “you get this sense of extreme emotional intimacy and sort of performed truthfulness with an extreme sense of captured reality.”

Of course, despite how gifted the star, the director and the writer of “Green Zone” are at entertaining audiences, Hollywood studios are not known for persuading audiences to digest difficult truths along with their popcorn. Iraq-theme films like Paul Haggis’s “In the Valley of Elah” and Brian De Palma’s “Redacted” flopped at the box office. Even “The Hurt Locker,” despite tremendous reviews and a best picture Oscar nomination, has taken in less than $13 million in the United States.

For reassurance Mr. Greengrass points to the great thrillers of the 1970s, which worked as popular entertainments even when they dealt with serious issues. “If you said, ‘Let’s do a film about heroin addiction and the heroin trade in New York in the ’70s,’ that would’ve automatically conjured up ‘Depressing, I don’t want to go there.’ But when you say, it’s ‘The French Connection’ and it features great characters, a compelling story unfolding at pace, with action, then you go, ‘Yeah.’ ”

Mr. Greengrass admits that he’s still not quite sure if his bold experiment will come off, but he said he is eager to find out. “The central proposition that I began with will only really be answered when the movie opens,” he said. “You know, will that audience come to this film and find it every bit as cinematically rewarding as ‘Bourne’? Will they take that step? I think they will, actually, but I don’t know.”

Drinking Blood: New Wonders of Alice’s World (The New York Times)

INSTEAD of Wonderland, it’s Underland. Instead of Alice as a bored but clever child, we get Alice as a 19-year-old rebel and warrior, dispatching the monstrous Jabberwocky with a magic sword. Disney’s second rendering of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy, in other words, is a world apart from both its 1951 cartoon version and the original Victorian-era text.

Directed by Tim Burton, “Alice in Wonderland,” a 3-D blend of live action and animation that opens Friday, is meant as a contemporary, subversive take on a cherished story. With the 20-year-old Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, who had a breakout role in the first season of HBO’s “In Treatment,” as Alice, it begins with an unwanted marriage proposal before veering off into Underland, where Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen await.

Since “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass,” were first published nearly 150 years ago, Alice’s tale has been retold in many versions and many media, including as a musical, anime, video game and more than a score of film and television adaptations. But for Mr. Burton the very abundance and familiarity of the material “in the subconscious and in the culture” was an incentive — not a deterrent — to take it on.

“I’ve seen mostly everything, but there’s never been a version for me that particularly works, that I especially like or that blows me away,” he said this month in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “It always ends up seeming like a clueless little girl wandering around with a bunch of weirdos. And the fact that there was no one definitive version was helpful. It’s not like the Disney cartoon was the greatest. So I didn’t feel that pressure to match or surpass.”

Linda Woolverton, the film’s screenwriter, had a similar attitude. She said that when she began her script, she “did a lot of research on Victorian mores, on how young girls were supposed to behave, and then did exactly the opposite.” As she put it, “I was thinking more in terms of an action-adventure film with a female protagonist” than a Victorian maiden.

“I do feel it’s really important to depict strong-willed, empowered women,” she added, “because women and girls need role models, which is what art and characters are. Girls who are empowered have an opportunity to make their own choices, difficult choices, and set out on their own road.”

That emphasis on self-esteem and moral uplift has long been characteristic of Ms. Woolverton’s work — and of Disney itself. Originally a writer for children’s television programs like “Ewoks” and “Teen Wolf” and also the author of a pair of novels for young adults, she wrote the screenplays of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” and also contributed to “Mulan,” all for Disney.

Thus the river of tears that a confused Alice cries in Carroll’s original text upon arrival in Wonderland has been written out of the story. “I couldn’t have her break down like that,” Ms. Woolverton said. Similarly, a drawing by John Tenniel, the illustrator who worked with Carroll, showing a boy fighting the dragonlike Jabberwock, as it was first called, was transformed into an image depicting Alice in action.

This “sisters are doin’ it for themselves” reading of Alice also comes with a coda, one that seems inspired more by Joseph Conrad than by Carroll. Refusing to marry, Alice instead decides to prove her mettle by shipping out to a trading post her father’s company plans to open in a China that, under force of British arms, has just been compelled to legalize the opium trade, cede Hong Kong and allow its citizens to be sent abroad as indentured servants.

“We’re not that concerned about being historically accurate in a film like this,” said Richard D. Zanuck, one of the movie’s producers. “It’s a piece of entertainment where you have a heroine off to another adventure at the end, and unless I’m wrong, people of all nationalities will just enjoy it as an entertainment and not try to interpret it.”

Disney’s “Alice” follows closely on the heels of a Pynchonesque Syfy channel version in which Alice is a martial arts instructor who comes to the rescue of her boyfriend, who has been abducted by the White Rabbit conspiracy and taken to a Wonderland that has been turned into a casino.

Carroll scholars say that new readings like that and Mr. Burton’s film are to be expected, given that Alice and her story are so malleable. “The books are a kind of Rorschach test, a screen onto which people project their own ideas,” said Jenny Woolf, author of “The Mystery of Lewis Carroll,” a biography published this month. “They are like a verbal cartoon, full of characters who are vivid but little more than sketches.”

In the 1960s that led to psychedelic readings of Alice, exemplified by Jefferson Airplane’s hit song “White Rabbit” and by a much-praised 1966 BBC production, directed by Jonathan Miller and with music by Ravi Shankar, that has just been released as a DVD. In the 1970s a pornographic “Alice” was also filmed, and more recently there was “American Magee’s Alice,” a video game set that features a revenge-minded Alice confined to an insane asylum, with a second installment possibly due in 2011.

“What is really interesting about the recent versions is that they are all a little violent,” said Jan Susina, author of “The Place of Lewis Carroll in Children’s Literature” and a specialist in Victorian culture who teaches at Illinois State University, noting that the goth-and-gore singer Marilyn Manson also has a film project in the works in which he plans to play Carroll. “Since each generation and culture puts its own gloss on the story, that suggests something about our culture.”

Rated PG, this second Disney version of “Alice in Wonderland” has some dark and ominous undertones, both in its look and its story line, that were absent in the cartoon version. Even before Alice becomes a combatant in a Manichean struggle between good and evil, dressed in armor and drinking her vanquished foe’s blood to return to her natural state, she walks across a moat filled with heads to infiltrate the Red Queen’s castle.

“You know, the original piece was considered very dark and is scary for a lot of children who are reading it,” Mr. Zanuck said. “If we had made it for a G rating, we would have wrecked the original story. But you’ll notice that there’s no sense of blood or gore at all, even when she chops off the dragon’s head at the end, and that there’s a magical feeling to it.”

Though Mr. Burton has made many films with fantasy elements, dating back to “Beetlejuice” (1988) and “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), “Alice” is the first of his films made for 3-D. But in contrast to the current blockbuster “Avatar,” which was filmed with 3-D cameras, Mr. Burton used 2-D cameras during the shoot and then converted the footage to 3-D in the postproduction phase.

James Cameron, the director of “Avatar,” has criticized that choice, which can on occasion produce images that seem flatter or not quite as crisp as the technique used in “Avatar.” Without mentioning Mr. Cameron by name, Mr. Burton defended his decision.

“People can take whatever sides they want, but I did it the way I thought was best for this project,” he said. “We didn’t want this to be a movie that took 10 years, and when I saw the difference and looked at the time frame we had to do this movie, it didn’t make sense to do it” with 3-D cameras.

Mr. Burton also said that he sees his version of “Alice in Wonderland” as primarily a lark, surreal and comedic but essentially benign. “I kind of went out of my way to not make it too dark,” he said, adding that his attitude was “Let’s not veer off into that; let it be what it is.”

Over the years the impact of “Alice in Wonderland” has been felt in other works of children’s literature that have also been turned into movies, ranging from “The Wizard of Oz” to C. S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia.” So it is hardly a surprise that references to those worlds seem to pop up in the made-for-2010 version.

“I’m influenced by all of that, from Greek myths all through Narnia and ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” Ms. Woolverton said. “Ultimately it comes down to good and evil in this world, a sense that there are people who represent the positive and those who have fallen into a dark, more evil value system. That is something that goes to Bruno Bettelheim. But I also think that if you’re going to tell a tale that goes to a dark place, you have to bring your audience out again.”


For Your Consideration: Predicting The Animated, Foreign & Doc Feature Winners (IndieWire)

By Peter Knegt

Before next week’s final pre-Oscar column that intends to run down each and every category for your prognosticatory pleasure, this very last category-by-category batch edition of “For Your Consideration” takes on the three non-Best Picture best pictures, where the alleged best in animation, documentary, and foreign filmmaking fight for the Academy’s often debated stamp of excellence. While the expanded-to-ten best picture category did allow for one example of the generally underacknowledged trio to make the cut (Pixar’s “Up,” which became the second animated film ever nominated after 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast”), dreams of a first-time doc nod or a rare foreign addition never ended up materializing. So both will have to settle for their specific categories, which as per usual received their fare share of complaint-friendly omissions (docs “The Beaches of Agnes” and “Mugabe and the White African,” for example, and foreign favorites like “Summer Hours,” which wasn’t even eligible to begin due to the Academy’s in-need-of-revision submission rules). But this article is not intended as a bitch session. It’s here to predict the winners, whether we’re happy with the nominations or not.

Best animated feature and best documentary both appear to have very significant frontrunners and its probably very safe to say Pete Docter’s “Up” and Louie Psihoyos’ “The Cove” are headed for wins in those categories. In addition to “Up”‘s best picture nomination, the film has won animated kudos from the Annies, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Critics Choice and PGA. That’s a pretty strong combination, even if - unlike the past two years - Pixar’s offering is not the only film winning animated laurels. Both “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Coraline” have managed a few kudos, most notably for “Mr. Fox” in its dual New York and Los Angeles critics prizes. That said, upsetting “Up” seems like a pretty tall order.

The same goes for “The Cove,” which also has a truckload of accolades heading into Oscar night. The DGA, PGA, National Board of Review, LA Critics, Critics Choice and Cinema Eye Honors all vouched for the dolphin slaughter exposé, in addition to dozens of awards on the festival circuit earlier in the year. The film that took the second most precursors - “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” - didn’t end up making the Oscar cut, leaving Robert Kenner’s very well-received (and much more profitable) food industry investigation “Food, Inc.” as “The Cove”‘s only considerable competition.

The one category of the three that does offer some significant suspense, though, is foreign-language film. Its particular voting system - which is restricted to “active and life Academy members who have attended Academy screenings, or other exhibition, of all five motion pictures nominated for the award” - makes for a voting block of often older members and has in the past given us some of Oscar night’s biggest upsets. Last year, for example, Japan’s “Departures” seemingly came out of nowhere to topple both “The Class” and “Waltz With Bashir.” Both “The Class” and “Bashir” were released by Sony Classics, though I suspect the distributor will be snubbed this time around. It’s releasing what are arguably the three main contenders here - France’s “A Prophet,” Germany’s “The White Ribbon” and Argentina’s “The Secret In Their Eyes.” “Prophet” and “Ribbon”‘s dual nomination really mirrors the “The Class” and “Bashir”: two Cannes Film Festival favorites that were very well received critically Stateside. And while “Ribbon” in particular has taken home quite a few precursors (Golden Globe, Chicago critics) and definitely has the momentum heading into the awards, it is seeming more and more like SPC’s third candidate is heading for the win.

“The Secret in Their Eyes,” directed by Juan José Campanella, details an Argentinian federal agent as he tries to solve a murder. It has a twisty narrative that comes together quite powerfully in the end, and is probably a much easier film for Academy members to digest. The violence of “A Prophet” and the unconventionality of “The White Ribbon” are both traits that have long proved problematic for the Academy. “Ribbon”‘s Palme d’Or win and strong buzz could very well help it buck that trend, but I’d say “The Secret” ends up sneaking in over it.

Best Animated Feature
1. Up 80%
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox 10%
3. Coraline 7%
4. The Princess and the Frog 2%
5. The Secret of Kells 1%

Best Foreign Language FIlm
1. The Secret In Their Eyes (Argentina) 42%
2. The White Ribbon (Germany) 38%
3. A Prophet (France) 12%
4. Ajami (Israel) 5%
5. The Milk of Sorrow (Peru) 4%

Best Documentary Feature
1. The Cove 70%
2. Food, Inc 17%
3. Burma VJ 6%
4. Which Way Home 4%
5. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers 3%

Brutal Attraction: The Making of Raging Bull (Vanity Fair)

‘It was Bob’s film,” says Irwin Winkler, the producer of Raging Bull. By which he means that it was Robert De Niro’s driving passion, long before it became Martin Scorsese’s common-consent greatest work. At the time—the late 70s—no one could understand what the actor saw in the life story of Jake La Motta, the brutal, yet curiously masochistic, middleweight boxing champion from 1949 to 1951, who may have been bull-like in the ring but was often more raving than raging when he was just trying to live his life.

I’m not certain that De Niro himself could, at the time, have fully explained his obsession with what was nominally a biopic and nominally a boxing picture, but was not quite either one. It had something to do, he now thinks, with “the primal emotions” the film trafficked in. He felt that if an essentially middle-class movie audience could be induced to empathize with these marginal, emotionally ignorant, and screechingly inarticulate people—La Motta, his wife, and his brother—it would be a good, discomfiting, perhaps even instructive experience.

He also believed, more certainly, that the only man who could possibly make the movie was his closest friend, Marty Scorsese. This, in turn, means that, when we’re talking about how Raging Bull came into being, the drama is not centered on its sets or in its editing rooms—that part was relatively easy. The real story took place in offices, restaurants—even in a hospital room and on a balmy Caribbean island. Essentially, it was all about Mobilizing Marty. To Thelma Schoonmaker, the film’s editor, the project was “a great gift of friendship” on De Niro’s part. But for the longest time it seemed anything but that to the director, who was then passing through what was surely the greatest crisis of his professional life, wondering whether he would make another film of any sort, let alone one as challenging, as enigmatic, to him as Raging Bull.

At this point, in 1978, Scorsese and De Niro were, in the former’s words, “like brothers.” As adolescents they had had a nodding acquaintance when they were members of rival (but peaceable) Lower East Side gangs. As adults they had made Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and New York, New York together. By now, they were capable of finishing each other’s sentences, though sometimes there were no sentences to finish; they could communicate with nods, gestures, and fleeting facial expressions.

They were not, however, communicating very well over the proposed film’s source material, Raging Bull: My Story, an autobiography La Motta had cobbled together with the help of writer Joseph Carter and boyhood friend Peter Savage. It was not much of a book, even by the primitive standards of sports bios, circa 1970. But Savage was also an acquaintance of De Niro’s and had sent him a copy, and the actor somehow perceived subtexts—maybe even a sort of rough sublimity—in it. At some point De Niro resolved to meet La Motta and sought him out at a strip club on New York’s Seventh Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets. “He was in charge of security there,” De Niro says, then pauses and laughs: “Well, really, he was the head bouncer.” The actor’s first impression was of an old fighter “doing battle with his weight”—a battle that De Niro would himself famously fight when he had to gain some 60 pounds to do the film’s later sequences (and then lose them after they were finished). By this time La Motta was truly a fringe figure. His last fight had been in 1954; he nominally stayed in the public eye doing stand-up routines in clubs as well as a one-man show reciting Shakespeare, among other literary sources, for audiences who came for the spectacle of seeing a roughneck make a fool of himself.

Scorsese just couldn’t understand De Niro’s enthusiasm for this story. Mardik Martin, who was a friend of Scorsese’s from N.Y.U.’s film school and co-author of the Mean Streets screenplay, thinks that, at this point, Scorsese had done no more than riffle through the book. Born in 1942, the director had been a little kid (and already a committed movie geek) when La Motta was at the top of his game. “I didn’t know anything about boxing,” Scorsese says. “It was always one angle on TV or in the movie theaters, where they’d show the fights on the weekend. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. It was sports, which took me out of the picture.” Still, he agreed to help develop the project with De Niro, though without much passion or focus.

Factors aside from an allergy to sports contributed to Scorsese’s inattention. There was, to begin with, the New York, New York problem. Released in 1977, it was a strange hybrid of a movie, partly a lavish tribute to the big-scale MGM musicals of the 1940s and 50s, partly an improvisatory love story tracking the combative relationship between a saxophone player/band leader (De Niro) and his songstress (Liza Minnelli). Its mixture of styles and intent reflected Scorsese’s own mixed motives. Some days he wanted to be an old-fashioned Hollywood genre director; some days he wanted to be an auteur on the more modern European model. What this picture taught him was that you couldn’t be both at the same time. It was scorned by critics and audiences alike. Worse, there was in its reception an implication that Scorsese, until then generally considered the most gifted director of his generation by the cinematic cognoscenti, had received a deserved comeuppance—an opinion fueled to a degree by gossip about heavy drug use and messy emotional dramas on the set.

If anything unambiguously good came out of New York, New York, it was the relationship Scorsese forged with Irwin Winkler, who proved to be a remarkably patient and supportive producer, even though he had his own unexpressed doubts about what had been a rather hubristic enterprise. At the time Raging Bull was first being discussed, his company, Chartoff-Winkler, was coming off Rocky, a mighty, Oscar-winning—and surprise—hit. United Artists was pressing for a sequel, so, as Winkler puts it, “we had some heat with them.” He thought that if Chartoff-Winkler could come up with a script for Raging Bull while playing hard to get regarding Rocky II they could force the studio to do both boxing films. Martin, by that time, was working for Chartoff-Winkler as a story editor and consultant, and the company assigned him to write a screenplay based on the La Motta book.

Scorsese paid scant attention to his efforts. Drained and exhausted by New York, New York, he had immediately taken on The Last Waltz, a complicated concert film and music documentary about the breakup of the rock group the Band, which further depleted his strength. It’s within this context that, instead of taking the 1978 Labor Day weekend off, he decided to attend the Telluride Film Festival, high in the Colorado Rockies.

The air is thin in Telluride; it is not an ideal locale for a lifelong asthmatic—especially a physically and mentally exhausted one. Scorsese more or less collapsed there, and immediately on his return to New York he collapsed again and was taken to a hospital, bleeding from every orifice. His condition was life-threatening; his girlfriend at the time (eventually his wife), Isabella Rossellini, had to leave the country for work and later told Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls—a history of Hollywood in the 70s—that she did not expect ever to see Scorsese alive again. The doctors told him that he had no platelets in his blood, the result of an interaction between his asthma medicines, other prescription drugs, and the cocaine that he then regularly abused. They told him that he was in imminent danger of a brain hemorrhage. They pumped him full of cortisone and ordered total bed rest.

In time, he began to recover, at which point De Niro visited him in the hospital. Like La Motta, Scorsese had touched bottom, and the actor judged his friend was ready to hear yet another pitch for Raging Bull. He was right. “I couldn’t understand Bob’s obsession with it, until, finally, I went through that rough period of my own,” Scorsese recalls. “I came out the other side and woke up one day alive … still breathing.” Says De Niro, “Mostly I told him to do it or not do it, that we had to get real. That was the ‘Come to Jesus’ moment.” And De Niro was not going to take no for an answer. He says that if Scorsese had rejected this new overture “I’d have found some other way to get him to do it.”

Fighting as if He Didn’t Deserve to Live

At this stage, no one envisioned the film’s unique look, tone, or structure. Raging Bull would turn out to be—as its great cinematographer, Michael Chapman, calls it—an opera, in the verismo tradition of Cavalleria Rusticana (portions of which can be heard on the soundtrack) and Pagliacci. “The boxing sequences would be the arias,” Chapman says, contrasting with the very simply shot family sequences, which reveal the La Mottas to be “Italian peasant people who just happened to have been moved to the Bronx.” Probably De Niro saw the redemptive elements in La Motta’s story, but he was thinking largely in terms of its powerful melodramatic possibilities. These people are, of course, uneducated, but they are not stupid. It is just that they have no governors on their emotions, so they scream and hit a lot as they express those primal emotions. More important, they have no capacity to think ahead, to imagine the consequences of their acts.

De Niro had played such a character for Scorsese before—his Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, bopping cheerfully, anarchically, to his doom. Scorsese, indeed, goes as far as to say that Mean Streets and Raging Bull are “really the same movie.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, and probably not something that consciously occurred to De Niro at the time. He was thinking about Jake’s masochism, for example—his capacity to take brutal beatings without ever being knocked down and then somehow rally and K.O. an opponent who was ahead of him on points. Scorsese likes to quote the inscription on a folk-art painting he was once given: “Jake La Motta fought as if he didn’t deserve to live.” More significantly, there was his lunatic jealousy about his wife, Vickie, which drove him to beating her and his brother, Joey, who he imagined were having an affair. These were scarcely novel emotions in our dramas; what was novel was the screaming pitch—and the physical violence—with which De Niro imagined their being expressed.

By the time of De Niro’s hospital meeting with Scorsese, Mardik Martin had written at least one draft of the screenplay, with very little input from Scorsese. Everyone recalls it as quite conventionally chronological: boyhood, adolescence, triumphant and then defeated young manhood, and finally some sort of almost inarticulate redemption. There was good stuff here—La Motta had been put in the ring by his father when he was a kid, with the money he picked up in these unsanctioned bouts helping to pay the family’s rent—but somehow it didn’t sing. And besides, Scorsese had a distracting obsession of his own: The Last Temptation of Christ, which he had wanted to make since Barbara Hershey had pressed the novel on him when they were shooting Boxcar Bertha for Roger Corman in 1972; he thought it was time to make another push for this unlikely project (which he would end up making nearly a decade later).

Even so, Scorsese found himself intermittently drawn to Raging Bull. Michael Chapman points out that in the 1940s and early 1950s boxing was much more central to popular culture than it now is, that the leading fighters were major celebrities that the young Scorsese would have been aware of. That would have been especially true of La Motta, whose six fights with Sugar Ray Robinson—he won only one of them—form one of the legendary sporting story lines of the era. The young Scorsese must have had some awareness of what La Motta meant to people of his class—especially the Italian portion of it.

Then, too, there were obvious Marty Moments in the screenplay. Martin recalls, for example, describing one of the boxing sequences to Scorsese. He knew of the director’s boyhood love of Biblical epics, so he said, “Think of them as gladiators, fighting in an arena packed with people. Then think of them exchanging blows, and the sweat and the blood flying all over the place, onto their tuxedos, their mink coats.” Martin adds, “That got him excited.” Scorsese also found himself thinking about his grandparents—immigrants who had never really adapted to their adopted country’s customs. “All they could do was have some dignity and respect within the neighborhood,” he says. “They were just lucky to get where they were.” In their mute endurance he saw an analogy to La Motta’s noisier misery. Weren’t the feelings he was expressing—about the nature of manhood, and womanhood, about honor and the obligations to bloodlines—as primitive as theirs but much more visibly expressed?

Martin tried a draft that melded Jake’s story with anecdotes drawn from Scorsese’s family history and his experiences growing up in Little Italy. This draft displeased De Niro and it was discarded. So was Martin—somewhat to his relief since, after three drafts, he felt he was written out on this project. Scorsese and De Niro then met with the writer and director Paul Schrader at Musso & Frank Grill, on Hollywood Boulevard. The occasion was not entirely relaxed. Schrader had written Taxi Driver, but after it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes the film became, as Scorsese puts it, “a Scorsese–De Niro picture, you know. These things get a little touchy at times.” More important, Schrader’s career as a writer-director was flourishing. He had just done Blue Collar and Hardcore and was about to start American Gigolo. He was a very busy guy, but he agreed to give the director and the actor six weeks and not a minute more. And he delivered just what they needed: “He started the picture right in the middle,” throwing out the backstory, Scorsese says. And he started it on a perfect note, with La Motta yelling at an earlier wife for her failure to cook a steak to his exact specifications. In Schrader’s draft she was pregnant and La Motta began beating and kicking her. The violence of that scene was scaled back later—it was too raw a way to begin any movie, and the scene, in the finished film, plays almost comically over the top. But its most important element remains: an unseen neighbor repeatedly shouting “You animals” at them.

Remember that epithet. This may be the only movie the theme of which—La Motta’s unacknowledged struggle for some sort of human redemption—is adumbrated by an offscreen voice. But if Schrader had saved the show, he had not perfected it. “It was a cold script,” says Irwin Winkler. Scorsese and De Niro met with Schrader at least two more times in New York, where he gave them a lot of useful advice—the best of which was to go forward on their own.

Not a Wanker

De Niro suggested a period of total isolation and immersion—no phones, no distractions of any kind. They chose the La Samanna resort, on St. Martin, in the Caribbean—a complex of separate villas. They shared one of them and installed a young assistant in another nearby. She was Gloria Norris, a recent Sarah Lawrence graduate who had worked with Scorsese’s pal Brian De Palma on his early picture Home Movies. Better still, her grandfather had been a fight promoter in New England, so she was no stranger to the boxing world. She brought “tons” of books along to help them with research. She remembers De Niro rising early to run along the beach. She remembers him and Scorsese talking out the script scene by scene in the mornings. She remembers Scorsese writing up the new material on yellow legal pads in the afternoons. She remembers “his handwriting was bad, so he’d have to read some of it out to me. It was full of profanity, and he’d get embarrassed saying those words to me.”

After that, Norris would retreat to her typewriter, and De Niro and Scorsese would sometimes head out in their Jeep to dinner in one of the several extremely good restaurants on the island. “It was total concentration,” Scorsese recalls. “Everything was done at that little table with that silly cabana umbrella and we’re looking out at the ocean.” “Everything” was three complete passes through the script over a period of several weeks.

One important thing they accomplished was to combine two characters—La Motta’s brother, Joey, and a close friend, Pete Savage. The latter finally disappeared entirely from the script. Another much-wrestled-with aspect was the emotional climax. This occurs when La Motta, retired from the ring and owning a nightclub in Miami, is arrested on a morals rap, accused of providing under-age girls for his customers, and ultimately loses everything: his money, his club, his wife. Tossed into jail—his struggle with his guards is as physically intense as anything that takes place in the boxing sequences—he finally reaches the low point of his life. Completely isolated, with no place to turn, no inner resources to summon, he begins to masturbate—in Schrader’s script, that is.

Scorsese thought that was “interesting.” De Niro was more dubious. He just couldn’t think of La Motta as a wanker. But his masochism—that was another matter. The actor had shown an alternative idea to Scorsese once before in New York: getting up and banging his head and his fists against the wall, a brutal act of self-punishment. But the director had been insufficiently focused. Now, on St. Martin, De Niro brought up the idea again. And demonstrated it again. This was another kind of self-abuse, full of a sort of coiled anguish that would really hurt De Niro when, eventually, they shot the sequence. “When I looked at it there [in St. Martin], I saw the scene,” says Scorsese. “I saw the shot—what you see in the film. A number of times I wished I had a camera. I would’ve shot it immediately.”

There are a lot of words in Raging Bull, but there are only four that really count—“I’m not an animal”—muttered in that jail cell in a tone so choked that you can barely hear them. Until that moment, Jake is, as the title implies, just an animal, without any real consciousness, any sense of morality or mortality. Now, in some primitive way, he achieves that knowledge. It’s not a blinding revelation; sainthood is not suddenly on offer for him. But he is, as Scorsese says, “more accepting of himself. He’s more gentle to himself and to the people around him.”

That is to say, he’s more of a Catholic figure. Almost everyone knows that as an adolescent Scorsese briefly aspired to the priesthood and that his adult life has been marked by spiritual questioning, spiritual longing. De Niro came from a much more secular background, but like Scorsese he was an Italian-American formed by the same, well, yes, mean streets; he too knew something about the longing for grace by people who had no words to express that longing. Scorsese says, “It’s the old line from The Diary of a Country Priest,” the Georges Bernanos novel about a clergyman who utterly fails to redeem his greedy, ungodly parish yet dies absolved: “God is not a torturer. He wants us to be merciful with ourselves. And Jake kind of gets there.”

But inexplicably so. Looking back on the film’s writing process, we can see that the entire effort was to strip this story down to its primal elements, to reveal states of being, not states of mind. The controlling idea was never to step back and explain anyone’s behavior; it was to plunge the audience into it, to make us feel, viscerally, every blow Jake La Motta delivered or absorbed in the ring and outside of it. The 40s and 50s, for example, were a period when Hollywood discovered Freud. Picture after picture, as Scorsese puts it, “explained that this guy did this because of that. But you can’t explain any human being with one Freudian term. I said, ‘Let’s take all that out. I don’t want to do any of that.’”

Another significant change in the script was suggested by Michael Powell, the great English director (The Red Shoes, Peeping Tom), whom Scorsese had adopted as a sort of consigliere. At the end of the film we find La Motta in his dressing room, running lines as he prepares to go onstage for his one-man show, An Evening with Jake La Motta. These included some Shakespearean passages, which he had actually done in his act—Bronx accent and all. All wrong, said Powell. Reality be damned, it’s going to sound false on the screen. De Niro proposed the “I coulda been a contender” speech from On the Waterfront, which Scorsese immediately bought: “That was our iconography, not the Globe Theatre.” And it’s an oddly touching monologue coming from La Motta, who had been more than a contender and was now something less than one.

You Can Go Home Again

The less Raging Bull explained, the more Scorsese was drawn to it. He returned from St. Martin completely committed to the project. Moreover, he derived two bonuses from his island idyll. One was a full return to physical well-being. The weeks on St. Martin, he says, were “sort of like a spa, like 81D2.” More important, the film began a process of reconciliation with his own past, from which he had become estranged during his years of Hollywood strivings. “Raging Bull meant something new to me. I said, ‘Wait a minute—I can’t deny who I am or where I came from.’ And so I embraced my parents again. They became part of my life in the films. My father’s in Raging Bull. My mother started acting in a lot of the films. They became people who were on the set to help me remember who I am and where I came from. I was harboring a lot of anger and I think it just explodes in Raging Bull.”

But not as a white and blinding fireball. It’s typical of very potent movies that we tend to remember their most explosive scenes—in this case the vivid carnage in the ring, the cringe-inducing scenes of domestic violence. They often blot out sequences of a different, indeed contradictory nature. I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but if you re-encounter Raging Bull today, after a long absence, you will find it far more tender than you remember—even, at times, rather sweet-spirited. The picture would not work if it did not contain expressions of the authentic yearning Jake and Vickie felt for each other in their courtship and in the early days of their marriage. For instance, the scene where he first seduces her is almost silent—and faintly comic, too, as he pours cold water down his pants to cool his ardor. But it motivates the rest of their story.

Gloria Norris agrees with that reading. She stayed with the picture after St. Martin, continuing her research, and as production proceeded she also saw a more compassionate tone seeping into the film. Some of this doubtless derived from the conciliatory mood that overtook Scorsese. Some of it arose from his contentment with the people he had gathered to make it. Like the writers (credited and uncredited), most of the cast and crew had worked with him before, and the outlanders recruited to the film partook of their mood. This was, more so than on most movies, a band of brothers functioning efficiently and harmoniously—with a couple of sweet sisters added to the group: the actress Cathy Moriarty and the editor, Thelma Schoonmaker.

Of the newcomers, Moriarty and Joe Pesci are the most visible. The latter was known to Scorsese from a comedy act he had with Frank Vincent (who also appears in Raging Bull), in which the pair parodied comedy teams, but it was his appearance in a short film that Scorsese had screened that won him the job. He had the right spirit for Joey—loyal, excitable, trying to discipline his ever wayward brother. Pesci was also instrumental in bringing Moriarty to the film. He and Vincent had first seen her in a photo from a disco beauty contest in Mount Vernon, New York, and Cis Corman, who was the casting director for the film, also became a supporter. In due course a screen test was arranged at a small New York studio. Irwin Winkler was among those present, and when Moriarty did her scene, he says, “we just looked at each other. We didn’t even print the takes.” They simply agreed, on the spot, that the part was hers. As with De Niro and Pesci, she achieved a rare quality—a curious sort of guilelessness, something that narrows the distance between “performance” and “reality” to paper-thin dimensions.

Achieving that quality in Raging Bull’s visual presentation required considerably more artifice. The most basic (and radical) choice Scorsese made was to shoot in black and white. Michael Chapman approved: “In those days boxing was always in black and white—on television, in Life magazine.”

Scorsese had also studied all the classic boxing pictures, and was troubled by the fact that for the most part the camera was stationed outside the ring. The one exception he noticed was Robert Rossen’s Body and Soul, of 1947. Rossen had sometimes placed his cameraman, James Wong Howe, on roller skates to achieve an unprecedented (and so far unduplicated) intimacy with his boxers. Scorsese wanted to get that effect, sans roller skates, which meant, in the end, placing the camera on a dolly. Normally the floors on which dollies roll are concrete or wood. But a boxing ring is much softer—in order to cushion knockdowns. “Imagine pushing dollies on that surface,” says Chapman. “Those dolly grips really earned their money.” So, too, did the camera operators, for Scorsese wanted to change the speed at which the film was running through the camera without cutting. “There was just no mechanics for it,” says Chapman, so he had an operator adjusting the frames-per-second setting on the camera from 24 to 48 to 120 and back again “on the fly.” For Chapman, Raging Bull was “the last great 70s movie.” He’s speaking in a largely technical sense. This was a movie that took traditional, mechanical techniques to their limit—by the 90s, digital techniques, created far from the set on computers, would replace the kind of work he was so laboriously doing on set. He doesn’t quite say it, but he strongly implies that there is a correlation between the kind of hard physical labor that went into Raging Bull and the muted, almost strangled humanism of its message.



"Alicia en el país de las maravillas", de Tim Burton (primeras críticas)


The films of Tim Burton are not so much released as laid on, staged and mounted like lavish masked balls. The interiors are opulent and the tables piled high with all manner of intoxicating delicacies to eat and drink. With Alice in Wonderland, the director may well have outdone himself.

Burton's latest pitches its heroine headfirst on a return trip down the rabbit-hole. At the bottom, Alice runs across murderers, madmen and dragons, but proceeds to treat them all with the same wry acceptance, reasoning this is her dream so she can therefore behave as she pleases. It is an attitude that Burton clearly approves of. The books of Lewis Carroll may have provided his underpinning and inspiration, but he sets about Wonderland with a giddy irreverence. It is his film and he can do what he likes.

Newcomer Mia Wasikowska (a dead ringer for the young Gwyneth Paltrow) plays our lissome Victorian heroine, now nudging 20, who returns to wrest Wonderland from the clutches of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and deliver it back to the White one (Anne Hathaway). Along the way, she meets her old forgotten friends, who initially fear they may have been landed with an impostor ("the Wrong Alice"). If the plot sounds like a rehash of Steven Spielberg's Hook (in which Robin Williams played a middle-aged Peter Pan), rest assured that the similarities are merely cosmetic. Alice in Wonderland is lighter and more playful, juggling its themes of fairytale good and evil until the colours blur.

If anything, Burton appears more enamoured of his turbulent supporting characters than the insipidly beautiful Alice. Johnny Depp gives a lively performance as the cracked and clownish Mad Hatter, while Bonham Carter's Red Queen proves a strident, capricious delight. Staring imperiously from an oversized, computer-generated head, the queen manages the unlikely feat of being at once utterly grotesque and alarmingly sexy.

Alice in Wonderland whisks 3D live action with animation, antique storybook illustrations with the aesthetics of an 80s goth video. Does it amount to anything more than a dizzy whirl? Well, possibly not. Here is a film in which the art direction eats the magic cake and swells to giant proportions, while the script drinks from the magic vial and shrinks away to insignificance. But no one ever looked to Burton for nuanced human drama and stately character development. Instead, we turn to him for flamboyance, spectacle and a benign whiff of madness. Alice in Wonderland provides all that in abundance. It is a glorious feast for the senses that fades away when the credits roll, leaving barely the trace of a hangover.


By Kate Muir/The London Times

Never have toves been so slithy or a film so brillig. Tim Burton’s spectacular reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, which has its royal premiere in London tonight, takes Lewis Carroll’s famous Jabberwocky poem and makes it a 3D - epic for the next generation.

Traditionalists may quibble with Burton’s gothic ride through the Alice books, but his hallucinogenic humour is true to the originals. Plus, you don’t get a cast any better than this. The standouts are Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen with a bulbous head and a venomous tongue, using a live pig as a footstool, and Alice herself, played by the Australian actress Mia Wasikowska with frowning confidence, and not a drop of soppiness.

The characters may be familiar but the plot deviates insanely from the original. Down the rabbit hole, Alice still finds the "Drink Me" potion and varies from six inches to 20ft tall, attends the Mad Hatter's tea party and confronts the Red Queen, but Burton brings Alice's dream closer to his more-favoured nightmares.

Each scene offers a British luvvie in phantasmagorial disguise. Alan Rickman voices the caterpillar, and perhaps inevitably the Cheshire Cat speaks with the smug voice of Stephen Fry. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are a digitally-manipulated Matt Lucas, and Paul Whitehouse is the disturbed March Hare, prone to throwing crockery. And the squeaky dormouse, who pokes out the Bandersnatch’s eyeball with a needle, is our very own Barbara Windsor.

Unfortunately Johnny Depp has too much of Willy Wonka lingering about him as he plays the Mad Hatter, who is promoted to a modern buddy role with Alice. His madness, perhaps induced like his red hair by mercury once used by hatters, is indicated by his breaking into a gruff Scottish accent. Anne Hathaway’s character as the White Queen was, said Burton, based on Nigella Lawson. This running joke becomes clear in the lipsmacking potion scene.

The creepy fantasy landscapes and kooky costumes have gestated brilliantly on Burton’s famous drawing board, but 3D effects superimposed after filming seem unnecessary. The miraculous beasts and lurid tropical flowers could have come from Avatar.

Carroll probably never saw Alice as an action-adventure movie with huge battle scenes between red and white armies. Yet John Tenniel’s original illustrations percolate through the film, and the Jabberwock is a near facsimile - except its eyes light up.

The Frumious Bandersnatch is more worrying. No longer worth shunning, the beast has been turned by Disney’s Imagineers and into a cute, growly brown-spotted monster. Ditto the Cheshire cat, who resembles a grubby Garfield, no doubt next to be seen in ToysRus.

Commercial considerations have also made Alice 19 years old, for the all-important teen market. Burton lets her break the Victorian mould and become an empowering, feminist figure as she puts on some Joan of Arc armour, grabs the vorpal sword, and roars “off with your head” at the Jabberwock. In all, a fantastic film that gets curiouser and curiouser.

"The Hurt Locker" bajó de cartel o el fracaso de las películas nominadas al Oscar

Alguien que en el diario hace la guía de fin de semana me pregunta: ¿Y “Vivir al límite”(“The Hurt Locker”) donde la dan? No la encuentro por ningún lado”. Yo, pensando que se trataba de una lectura apurada, reviso. Y no está. Voy a un listado que me llega por email de todos los filmes en cartel. Nada. Tampoco. Desapareció. Con sólo tres semanas en cartel, la película de Kathryn Bigelow, la máxima candidata al Oscar, desapareció del mapa. ¿Qué pasó?

De entrada, es claro, la película no funcionó como esperaba su distribuidora. Arrancó más o menos bien tras salir al ruedo dos días después de las nominaciones, pero se fue a pique y hasta el miércoles –día en el que, caramba, se levantó de cartel- había llevado sólo 97 mil espectadores. Hablo con la distribuidora. Me dicen que prefirieron sacarla, esperar la ceremonia del Oscar y los premios que todos creen que ganará y reestrenarla allí a ver si consiguen insuflarle algo más de vida y que no se muera antes de llegar a destino.

Rarísimo, ¿no?

Pero esto no termina acá. Sigo mirando las cifras de Ultracine de las películas nominadas al Oscar y estrenadas en las últimas semanas. OK. Avatar es un exitazo, pero eso excede la cuestión de los Oscar. Sigamos...

En las diez primeras la única que tiene alguna nominación y que anda bien es “Invictus” (188 mil espectadores), pero casi no está en la carrera por el Oscar más que en algún rubro perdido.

“Vivir al límite”, lo dije, estaba en el puesto 14° y se tomó un... descanso.

“Precious/Preciosa” está 15° y con 37 mil espectadores. Puede ganar, en el mejor de los casos, un Oscar a la actriz de reparto, pero eso no cambiará mucho las cosas.

“Amor sin escalas”/”Up in the Air”: romance, George Clooney, etc, etc. varias nominaciones. Está en el puesto 19, con 165 mil espectadores, poco y nada para la que tal vez sea una de las más comerciales de las películas nominadas al Oscar. Si gana algún premio (¿guión adaptado?) tampoco cambiará: la peli no pasa los 200 mil.

“An Education/Enseñanza de vida”: tres semanas, puesto 20, cayó un 58% respecto a la semana pasada. Total de espectadores hasta el momento: 34.600. Y no va a pasar los 50.

Ni hablar de “Nine” (60 mil espectadores en cuatro semanas) o “La joven Victoria” (40 mil). Solamente “Up” y “District 9”, estrenadas antes del circo del Oscar, funcionaron bien.

En tanto, en el Top Ten acumulan y acumulan espectadores cosas como "Percy Jackson", “Old Dogs/Papás a la fuerza”, “Sherlock Holmes”, “Valentine's Day” y “El hombre lobo”.

Históricamente la temporada del Oscar servía en la Argentina para estrenar títulos de un poco más de riesgo y conseguir cierta repercusión comercial más grande que la habitual. Ahora no. Ahora, más bien, parece todo lo contrario. ¿Será que todo el mundo piensa que el Oscar es algo en donde sólo compite “El secreto de sus ojos” y se olvidaron que hay también otras películas y otros premios dando vueltas? ¿Se está acabando el espectador del Oscar o están viendo las pelis truchas en sus casas?

Eso, ¿qué está pasando?

Critic's notebook: 'Shutter Island' as a new-music haven (Los Angeles Times)



The trailers at the cineplex the other day included the usual summer blockbuster suspects showing off their special effects -- one cartoonish morph after another after another. Every soundtrack was loaded down with the same super-deep, but sonically shallow, electronic bass. I wasn’t sure what felt more depressingly manufactured: a deserted and alienating L.A. Live, where I happened to be, or the expensive nonsense in the nearly empty new Regal Cinema, which boasts very big subwoofers.

Then “Shutter Island” began, and yet more bass. But this time it was the sound of a foghorn, and it had the rich, compelling texture of music. It was music. It was also a real, old-fashioned foghorn. Out of this sonic relic grew French horns, as if they had been there all along struggling to get out. The misty Boston harbor was on the screen, compelling and mysterious as a painting by Turner. I was transported. Music, sound effects and cinematography joined to evoke a sense of place and mood as only they can in great cinema and only, these days, when Hollywood looks the other way.

That opening music turned out to be Ingram Marshall’s haunting “Fog Tropes.” The 1981 new-music classic found its way onto the screen thanks to the famed singer, songwriter and guitarist Robbie Robertson, who was music supervisor for “Shutter Island.” And Marshall’s wonderful piece, which was a hit of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s recent West Coast, Left Coast festival, is only the beginning of a remarkable and gratifying collection of classic avant-garde scores Robertson has assembled for Martin Scorsese’s new, and I think mostly misunderstood, film.

You certainly wouldn’t know it from the awful album cover – which looks like your typical schlock horror film soundtrack recording – but Robertson’s two-CD set of music from “Shutter Island,” released by Rhino, proves to be an excellent compilation of short pieces by John Cage, John Adams, Morton Feldman, György Ligeti, Lou Harrison, Alfred Schnittke, Max Richter, Nam June Paik and that otherworldly Italian, Giacinto Scelsi. Brian Eno, Mahler and Dinah Washington also find their welcome way into the mix.

How did this happen?

After seeing the film, I reached Robertson on the phone. He explained that he has been a fan of these composers for decades. In fact, he said that sometime around 1969, in his years as a member of the Band, he was so moved when he first heard Penderecki’s disturbing “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” that he began a correspondence with the Polish composer, and they became musical friends.

As for “Shutter Island,” Robertson said, “the opportunity to show off these brilliant composers really makes me feel good.” It has been something he’s wanted to do for a long time. “I’d always thought Cage’s ‘Root of an Unfocus’ ” – which is for prepared piano – “would be great in a movie. And when Marty sent me the script, this is just where it went.”

That script is, on the surface, a psychological thriller, and it is being obnoxiously marketed as a scare-athon. The reviews have been, as they say, mixed, with the music thought of as melodramatic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Robertson says he wanted something that didn’t sound like typical film music and it is the boldness of these composers that appealed to him. “In the back of my mind was the thought, why don’t we have some geniuses who could really amplify the emotional ideas?”

At first, Roberston says, this notion threw even Scorsese -- whose relationship with Robertson began with the 1978 documentary of the Band, “The Last Waltz.” “ ‘Shutter Island’ is the eighth movie I’d worked on with Marty, and it was the first time his response was, ‘Oh, man, I don’t know what to do with that.’ ”

But Scorsese is a musical director and he clearly did know what to do with it. Although he didn’t ignore the throbbing possibilities of the Passacaglia movement of Penderecki’s Third Symphony, most of the music is used so subtly that even the geekiest new-music geek will have trouble identifying everything. I think I got maybe 60%.

Robertson went through a lot of trouble to make things work as well. He pointed out that while everyone agrees the Berlin Philharmonic’s recording of Ligeti’s “Lontano” is the best, he chose the Vienna Philharmonic recording under Claudio Abbado because he thought the warmth of the Vienna sound suited the film better.

But the real brilliance of this score is that the music doesn’t cue the action or explain anything. It adds emotional texture, serving as an alternate universe for a film that has at its essence an alternate universe. Still, I do think it's one alternate universe too many to present this excellent introduction to late 20th century music on CD as horror film music.

-- Mark Swed

New Directors/New Films Series Sets Lineup (The New York Times)


The premiere of a documentary about Bill Cunningham, a photographer for The New York Times, will open New Directors/New Films, the annual series presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, the society and the museum announced. The documentary, called “Bill Cunningham New York,” follows Mr. Cunningham on his assignments for the Styles sections of The Times and chronicles his life and work over eight decades. It is directed by Richard Press and produced by Philip Gefter, a former staff member of The Times, and will be presented on March 24 at MoMA.

The festival’s closing-night film, on April 4, will be “I Killed My Mother” (“J’ai Tué Ma Mère”) by the Canadian writer and director Xavier Dolan. Mr. Dolan also stars in the film, with Anne Dorval, as a man who is consistently at odds with his mother as he discovers his homosexuality. New Directors/New Films will present 38 films, including 27 features and 11 shorts, representing filmmakers from 20 countries.

A lineup of films with descriptions provided by the festival appears below.

Bill Cunningham New York
Richard Press, USA, 2010; 84 min.
In a city of dedicated originals, New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham stands out as one who both captures the essence of the singular personality and clearly represents one himself. Entering his ninth decade, Cunningham still rides his Schwinn around Manhattan, putting miles between his street-level view of personal style and what the titans of fashion will come to discover down the road. This heartfelt and honest documentary turns the camera on one who has so lovingly and selflessly captured the looks that have defined generations, and the events and people that captivate our beloved New York.

I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère)
Xavier Dolan, Canada, 2009; 96 min.
Director Xavier Dolan’s cri de coeur bracingly exposes the limits of love. Dolan himself plays the lead character, Hubert, a fiery creature full of lust and venom. His burgeoning (homo)sexuality is distinctly and intensely at odds with his mutually parasitic maternal relationship. The more Hubert and his aggravatingly conventional mother (Anne Dorval) realize they cannot continue to live as child and parent, the more they are drawn to each other. Their intimacy can only manifest through vicious arguments, lending an Albee-esque absurdity to their encounters. Dolan brilliantly situates the violence of the relationship within an exquisite filmic structure, allowing the humor and the pathos of his tale to emerge. A Regent Releasing Film

3 Backyards
Eric Mendelsohn, USA, 2010; 85 min.
Eric Mendelsohn (Judy Berlin, ND/NF 1999) returns with this exquisite, unsettling trio of life-changing episodes set in a leafy, tranquil corner of Long Island suburbia. After his business trip is canceled, John (Elias Koteas) finds himself minutes from home yet lost and distanced from everything familiar. Part-time painter and full-time mom Peggy (Edie Falco) is delighted when asked by a celebrity neighbor for a lift to a distant ferry, but the trip has a trajectory profoundly different than what she’d expected. And when 8-year-old Christina (Rachel Resheff) runs to school after missing the bus, the journey takes her to places she never imagined existed. Endowed with the mystery of a John Cheever short story, 3 Backyards is a beautifully composed film, with light, color, sound, and action blending together to create the vibrant sense of a world full of interior and exterior secrets.

Looking at Animals
Marc Turtletaub, USA, 2009; 25 min.
After a lifetime photographing animals in the wild, Raymond retires to a small town and starts observing his neighbors.

Hélène Cattet/Bruno Forzani, Belgium/France, 2009; 90 min.
The title is the French word for “bitter” but this provocative and sensational debut is anything but. An oneiric, eroticized homage to 1970s Italian giallo horror movies reimagined as an avant-garde trance film, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s pastiche tour de force plays out a delirious, enigmatic, almost wordless death-dance of fear and desire. Its three movements, each in a different style, correspond to the childhood, adolescence, and adulthood of its female protagonist—and that’s all you need to know. Drawing its stylized, hyperbolic gestures from the playbooks of Bava, Leone, Argento, and De Palma and taking them into a realm of near-abstraction, Amer has genre in the blood. Its bold widescreen compositions, super focused sound, emphatic music (lifted from original giallo soundtracks), and razor sharp cuts make for an outrageous and intoxicating cinematic head trip.

Christoph Rainer, Austria, 2010; 13 min.
For two boys locked in a basement, boundaries become blurred between dream and reality, light and shadow, life and death.
Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol

Written and directed by James Raisin, USA, 2010; 82 min.
Born James Slattery in Massapequa, Long Island, in 1944, Candy Darling transformed herself into a stunning blonde actress who in the mid-Sixties became an active player in New York’s “downtown” scene. In her passionate act of self-creation, Candy Darling mesmerized. A party fixture, she appeared in Warhol films, and Tennessee Williams cast her in a play. She was seen and written about, and then, before she turned 30, cancer claimed her life. Using vintage footage and interviews old and new, and anchored by the presence of Candy’s very close friend, Jeremiah Newton, director James Rasin creates a critical and loving portrait of a singular and audacious life. With Jackie Curtis, Holly Woodlawn, Penny Arcade, Paul Morrissey, Fran Lebowitz, John Waters. Candy’s letters and diaries read by Chloë Sevigny.

Carmen Vidal, USA/Spain, 2010; 15 min.
A film editor working late finds himself mysteriously drawn to the raw footage he is cutting.

Bilal’s Stand
Sultan Sharrief, USA, 2009; 83 min.
For almost 60 years, Bilal’s family has run a taxi business—known to everybody in the neighborhood as “the stand”—started by his grandfather. But times are getting tougher: there’s more competition, and Bilal is thinking of leaving the stand and going off to university. Based on a true story, Bilal’s Stand is a delightful and moving look at a world rarely seen: a stable, loving, black Muslim family, struggling to keep a business alive amid both internal and external pressures. For his crew, debut director Sultan Sharrief used many of the students from EFEX, the inner-city outreach program he founded in his native Detroit, as well as many nonprofessional actors, some of whom even play themselves.

2009. Greece. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. A Kino release. 96 min.
The most perverse film of the year—you’ll be scratching your head when you’re not laughing it off. In an inscrutable scenario that suggests a warped experiment in social conditioning and control, Dogtooth presents scenes from the life of a not-so-average family that inhabits an idyllic villa compound sealed off from all contact with the outside world. In a new spin on home schooling, the head of the household has taught his adolescent children a drastically rearranged vocabulary: a salt shaker is a “telephone,” an armchair is “the sea” and—you get the idea. Moreover, to attend to the teenagers’ sexual needs, he arranges occasional visits from a female employee. With echoes of Buñuel, Arturo Ripstein and early Atom Egoyan, this is a deadpan satire on patriarchy and the sexual Pandora’s box concealed within every family.

Amy Grappell, USA, 2010; 20 min.
An unconventional look at the director’s conventional parents, who lived in a group marriage in the ’70s.

Down Terrace
Ben Wheatley, UK, 2009; 89 min.
Mike Leigh meets The Sopranos in this extraordinary family crime drama, shot in eight days largely in one location. Fresh out of jail, Bill (Robert Hill) is obsessed with finding out who snitched on him. His son, Karl (Robin Hill), also just released, is similarly concerned but has other things on his mind—namely, what to do about his pregnant girlfriend. Bill, eager to ferret out the informer, lays out a series of traps and ruses for his associates—that is, when he’s not singing old Fairport Convention songs while accompanying himself on guitar. Director Ben Wheatley (BBC’s The Wrong Door) makes a powerful feature-film debut, creating an astonishing sense of normalcy laced with jet-black humor. A Magnolia Pictures/Magnet release.

Break a Leg
Jesse Shamata, Canada, 2009; 7 min.
You talking to me? A tightly wound hit-man meets his mark for breakfast.

The Evening Dress (La robe du soir)
Myriam Aziza, France, 2009; 95 min.
Juliette lives with her two siblings and mother, and while a bit shy, seems to lead an average life. Then she develops a crush on her French teacher, Madame Solenska (Belgian-Portuguese singer Lio), who at first seems to appreciate her pupil’s admiration. Juliette becomes convinced that she’s as special to Madame Solenska as she feels the teacher is to her. But the crush veers off into obsession, as Juliette starts to follow Madame Solenska around town and even to her home. Myriam Aziza beautifully captures the stifing small-town atmosphere, as well as the complex, contradictory emotional life of this twelve-year old: even if Juliette’s feelings are misguided or naïve, they are no less susceptible to being hurt. Lio is terrific as the teacher, a proud woman comfortable with her beauty.

Every Day Is a Holiday (Chaque jour est une fête)
Dima El-Horr, France/Germany/Lebanon, 2009; 90 min.
A stunning first scene immediately establishes the highly charged atmosphere in Dima El-Horr’s carefully controlled first feature, filled with absurd moments and symbolic gestures. Three women (Hiam Abbass, Manal Khader, Raïa Haïdar) with very different motives board a bus on the Lebanese Day of Liberation to visit their husbands in jail. When the bus is stopped short by a stray bullet, the women are left to find their own way in the hot sun through mountains full of mines, amid sounds of muffled explosions, throngs of refugees, and rumors of massacres. Their perilous journey becomes an internal one towards liberation, as individual life and collective memory blend, and the personal and political are blurred.

Salomé Aleksi, Georgia, 2009; 30 min.
A Georgian woman working in Italy finds a very modern way to uphold a custom from her old homeland. A microcosm of relations in the global economy.

The Father of My Children
Mia Hansen-Løve, France/Germany, 2009; 110 min.
Inspired by the life and death of the late, legendary French film producer Humbert Balsam, Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is a work of two halves. The first follows the business dealings of Grégoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), frantically shuttling between office and home, juggling the demands of artistic egos, lawyers, and bankers and the needs of his beloved family—not to mention his surrogate family at work. Then the focus shifts dramatically to Grégoire’s wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), who together with her three daughters, must cope with devastating loss and struggle to keep Grégoire’s company going and preserve his legacy. If the first half of this moving yet never sentimental drama is among the most convincing depictions of life in the movie business ever filmed, the second is an incredibly tender look at picking up the pieces after heartbreaking bereavement. An IFC Films release.

Frontier Blues
Babak Jalali, Iran/UK/Italy, 2009; 95 min.
Iran’s northern border ranges from mountains to plains to the Caspian Sea; Persians, Turkmen, and Kazakhs share the landscape. Filmmaker Babak Jalali presents an assortment of hometown stories that evoke the potential and diversity of this unfulfilled gateway between Europe and Asia. Alam is in love with a girl he has never spoken to; Kazem owns a clothing store but can’t seem to stock anything that fits; and Hassam, at age 30, counts a pet donkey and a tape player as his only companions. Meanwhile, a minstrel who claims his wife was stolen by someone in a green Mercedes years ago is chronicled by a Tehran photographer. With a cinematic style that is a study in elegant simplicity, Frontier Blues is a sweet, slightly absurdist snapshot of desperate men, absent women, and waiting for whatever the future may hold.

The Bizarre Friends of Ricardinho
Augusto Canani, Brazil, 2009; 20 min.
A weird trainee. A stifling job. In the midst of corporate oppression, a worker passively fights back with stories from home.

The Happiest Girl in the World
Radu Jude, The Netherlands/Romania, 2009; 99 min.
Romanians are back with another bone-dry, pitch-black comedy—this time bearing a particularly cynical view on happiness, the cruelty of families, and the making of inept television commercials. In his feature-film debut, Radu Jude is already a master of uneasy hilarity. When a plucky provincial duckling of a young lady wins a contest, she must travel with her parents to the buzzing metropolis of Bucharest to claim her prize. But there’s a catch—in fact, there are several, the most troublesome aimed straight from home… Jude’s film is a bittersweet experience that’s as nasty as it is enjoyable, and as true to life as fiction can get over one hot summer afternoon. And as “the happiest girl,” Andrea Bosneag is a breakthrough discovery.

François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy, and Ludovic Houplain, France, 2009; 17 min.
Cops and robbers and wild animals, oh my! Brought to you by every possible sponsor under the sun.

How I Ended This Summer
Alexei Popogrebsky, Russia, 2010; 124m
Immersing us in the frozen wilds of the Russian Arctic, writer/director Alexei Popogrebsky makes an impressive addition to the canon of films about man’s extraordinary ability to cope with harsh nature and extreme isolation. Young Pavel (Grigory Dobrygin) arrives at a remote research station for a summer of adventure under the tutelage of the wise and crusty Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis), whose multi-year assignment to the post is coming to an end. Misplaced confidence and youthful immaturity lead to a string of potentially deadly deceptions. The deliberate pace of life in the Arctic, combined with the disorienting round-the-clock sunlight, sets the stage for a thriller infused with equal parts psychological trauma and physical endurance.

Hunting & Sons
Sander Burger, Netherlands, 2010; 93 min.
Newlyweds and childhood sweethearts Tako and Sandra lead a cute suburban life. Tako relocated from the city to marry Sandra and runs the family bike business; she seems happy working at a small employment agency. Both the couple and their apartment look ripped from this season’s Ikea catalogue—everything is perfectly lovely. Then things get even better: Sandra is pregnant. But the good news starts a small tear in the adorable façade that grows as the characters pull at it. Tako decides to take this opportunity to grow up, while Sandra, suffering from an eating disorder, starts to slim down—and the pretty scenery of their life starts to fall away. Panicked about the future, Tako takes measures that become more and more drastic. In his second feature film, director Sander Burger paints a sharp and biting portrait of the pitfalls of happiness.

Rob and Valentyna in Scotland
Eric Lynne, USA/UK, 2009; 23 min.
Long-lost — and just plain lost — cousins travel from the Ukraine to the Scottish highlands.

I Am Love
Luca Guadagnino, Italy, 2009; 120 min.
Luca Guadagnino’s third narrative feature is a thrillingly melodramatic story of family business—in more ways than one. Set in the haut bourgeois world of modern-day Milan, the film ushers us into the seemingly perfect world of sumptuous elegance inhabited by the Recchi dynasty, whose fortune is built on its successful textile manufacturing business. After the firm’s founder and patriarch transfers co-control of the business to his son Tancredi and grandson Edoardo, Tancredi’s wife, Emma (Tilda Swinton), feels pangs of empty-nest syndrome and a growing sense of living in a gilded cage—until she finds herself led down an unlikely path by unexpectedly stirring desire. This compelling yet oh-so restrained drama of the eternal conflict between family ties and personal fulfillment unfolds with dazzling visual style, propelled by John Adam’s distinctive staccato score. A Magnolia Pictures release.

Last Train Home
Lixin Fan, Canada/China, 2009; 88 min.
Each year the largest migration of people in human history happens over New Year’s when city workers leave en masse for their homes in the countryside, often traveling days by train. For the first half of this remarkable documentary, you’ll wonder how the filmmaker even shot it. But as that wonder subsides, an absorbing drama develops—a drama that plays out among families all over China yet is universally intense, powerful, and heartbreaking. With his 35mm camera, Lixin Fan follows one couple (out of one hundred and thirty million travelers!): the Zhangs, who make the long and crowded journey to their rural village. Sixteen years ago, they left their now-teenage rebellious daughter with her grandparents—and their welcome is not a happy one.

Snow Hides the Shade of Fig Trees
Samer Najari, Canada, 2009; 21 min.
Six immigrants eke out a living with humor. The bitter cold weakens the resolve of one, but not for long.

The Man Next Door (El hombre de al lado)
Mariano Cohn/Gastón Duprat, Argentina; 2009; 100 min.
The star of this dry and wicked black comedy is a building: The Curutchet House in La Plata, south of Buenos Aires—the only residence designed by Le Corbusier in the Americas. In this Argentine satire about class, the love of beautiful things, and violent urges, the landmark structure plays the fictional home of world-famous interior designer Leonardo and his wife and daughter. All cherish the privileged status conferred by living in the house. Then, horror strikes: a neighbor who wants more sun puts a window in the wall facing the family’s courtyard! Suddenly, aesthetic symmetry is destroyed, and the neighbor—too friendly, too crude, and too insistent—can now peer into their pristine and elegant abode. With scalpel-like precision, filmmakers Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat chart the ebb and flow of this dramatic disturbance.

Robby Reis, Canada, 2009; 8 min.
A young graffiti writer marks her way through Montreal’s graffiti art subculture.

My Perestroika
Robin Hessman, USA/UK, 2010; 87 min.
The history of the 20th century was bookended by the Bolshevik Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in between came the era-defining Cold War. But for Russians who grew up during this history and now live beyond it, what does it mean to be Russian today? Robin Hessman’s thoughtful and beautifully crafted documentary explores the lives of a group of former schoolmates who are finding their ways in a brave new world: two teachers, a businessman, a single mother, and a famous rock musician. Their stories, and the fabric of their lives, reveal a Russia that may or may not be worlds away from the Soviet model. Using propaganda films, home movies, and incredible access to her subjects, Hessman’s film creates a touching portrait of ordinary people living through extraordinary times.

Night Catches Us
Tanya Hamilton, USA, 2009; 90 min.
The debut feature from Tanya Hamilton exposes the realities of African-American life during the final days of the Black Power movement, as potluck suppers, run-ins with the authorities, and lingering radicalism threaten to set off a neighborhood teetering on the edge. Set in Philadelphia in 1976, Night Catches Us focuses on two former Black Panther activists (Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington) who reunite during the summer before Jimmy Carter’s election. Through two people drawn together despite their past, the film paints a fresh perspective of the era and gives an allegory for our own times in the age of Obama. As friends forced to confront personal and political demons, Mackie and Washington give spectacular performances, while Hamilton’s use of 14
an intense soundtrack (by The Roots) and moving archival footage bring to life the history of black resistance.

Northless (Norteado)
Dima El-Horr, France/Germany/Lebanon, 2009; 93 min.
Cinema’s fascination with illegal border crossings between Mexico and the United States is given a totally fresh take in Rigoberto Perezcano’s delicately poised film. Focused on how life is lived precariously between desperate attempts to cross over, the story follows Oaxaca-born Andres (Harold Torres) as he bides his time in Tijuana. He finds a little work at a convenience store and gets friendly with the two women (Alicia Laguna and Sonia Couoh) who run it. As their friendship deepens and their individual stories emerge, the emotional costs of the ties that bind are explored with great sensitivity. The sincerity of the minimal story line is balanced by a liberating humor and breathtakingly beautiful images that give life and dignity to Andres and his fellow travelers.

The Oath
Laura Poitras, USA, 2010; 95 min.
Filmed over a two-year period, The Oath interweaves the stories of Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard (now driving a cab in Yemen), and Salim Hamdan, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner charged with war crimes. Filmmaker Laura Poitras (My Country, My Country, ND/NF 2006) takes us deep inside the world of Al Qaeda, Guantanamo, and U.S. interrogation methods through a dramatic structure filled with plot reversals, betrayals, and never-before-seen intelligence documents. The second in a planned trilogy on America post–9/11, The Oath is an intricately constructed work that keeps the viewer off balance and works on several levels. Shading the complexities of her subjects in the manner of great novelists, Poitras delivers an intimate portrait that precludes easy conclusions as it builds to question the methods of America’s war on terror with uncommon eloquence.

La Pivellina
Tizza Covi/Rainer Frimmel, Austria, 2009; 101 min.
Looking for her lost dog, a middle-aged circus worker, Patti (Patrizia Gerardi), instead finds an abandoned two-year old child near her trailer. In this engaging unsentimental tale of human decency and solidarity, the little orphan finds home and family with circus folks in a trailer park on the outskirts of Rome. As they look for the mother, Patti and her friends and neighbors slowly but surely fall in love with the kid. Drawing on their background in documentary, filmmakers Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel naturally depict the easygoing rapport among generations in a small community where everyone depends on one another. The superb acting brings us close to a marginalized group rarely depicted with such unpretentious dignity, displaying a joie de vivre and infectious family vibe.

The Red Chapel
Mads Brügger, Denmark, 2009; 87 min.
Denmark launches an all-out attack on North Korea in this has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed documentary that ventures into territory somewhere between Michael Moore and Borat. Bankrolled by Lars von Trier’s Zentropa production company, the aptly named Mads Brügger travels to Pyongyang on a feigned mission of cultural exchange, bringing a camera crew and the Danish-Korean slapstick-comedy team Red Chapel. The duo consists of Simon, who aims to perform an acoustic rendition of Oasis’s “Wonderwall” accompanied by a choir of Korean schoolgirls, and Jacob, a self-described “spastic” whose mangled speech is incomprehensible to the minders assigned to “assist” the troupe. And while the duped hosts get more than they bargain for—a lot more—the Danish visitors find things aren’t as ethically clear-cut as they’d prefer them to be.

Samson and Delilah
Warwick Thornton, Australia, 2009; 101 min.
Samson (Rowan McNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson) are two young people struggling to find themselves and each other. Set in the aboriginal communities of Australia, what might have been an age-old love story explodes cliché and convention through unvarnished and unyielding authenticity. Director Warwick Thornton—who, like the principal cast, hails from aboriginal background—plunges us into red-dirt landscapes that serve in equal measure as oasis and prison. Traditions both nourish and entrap, and as boy and girl wrestle with a fate that may seem inevitable, love shows the way forward. Winner of the Caméra d’Or for best debut feature at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

Nader T.Homayoun, Iran/France, 2009; 95 min.
A man holds a sickly child in his arms, begging passersby for money with a tale of how his wife has recently died and he desperately needs help. We soon learn the man is Ibrahim, a recent arrival in the big city, and that the child isn’t really his—the boy’s actually rented from a local gang-lord to make Ibrahim a more effective beggar. Welcome to Tehroun, as Iranians call their capital city. Nader Homayoun’s debut feature presents a searing portrait of the city’s hidden, seamier side, a world of child trafficking, smuggling of just about anything, and assorted other criminal activities. A sensation in the Critics’ Week at last year’s Venice Film Festival, where it won the audience award, Tehroun marks a new chapter in the fascinating evolution of Iranian cinema.

Women Without Men
Shirin Neshat, Germany/Austria/France, 2009; 100 min.
Directed by Shirin Neshat in collaboration with Shoja Azari. Winner of the Silver Lion for best director at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, Shirin Neshat’s feature-film debut represents an assured shift from the gallery-based moving images for which she is known, to the grand screen of the cinema. Devotees of Neshat’s earlier work will recognize her signature visual virtuosity and narrative grace in the story of four women in early 1950s Iran, played by Pegah Ferydoni, Arita Shahrzad, Shabnam Tolouei, and Orsi Toth. Then as now, the ambitions and actions of these women from across the spectrum of Iranian society inform and affect the course of events—public, private, and often political. With history as a backdrop, and imagination extending the limits of lives lived under oppressive conditions, Neshat offers an exquisitely framed window onto these women’s world. An Indiepix release.