LFM Reviews Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story @ The 2013 Tribeca Film Festival; Premieres on TCM May 30th
By Joe Bendel. Clint Eastwood often argues that jazz and westerns are America’s two great indigenous art forms. Inadvertently, he thereby makes a strong case that he is one of America’s most preeminent artists. Tribute was paid to the actor-director-composer at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival over the weekend with the world premiere of film critic and biographer Richard Schickel’s Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story, followed by a special Tribeca Talks interview with Eastwood conducted by Darren Aronofsky (see a clip above).
Eastwood Directs will be included in Warner Brothers’ upcoming Clint Eastwood 40-Film Collection on DVD and the similarly titled 20-Film Collection on Blu-ray. It will also air on TCM. As one might expect, it combines talking head interviews with brief film snippets from Warner’s Eastwood library – and it is hard to begrudge the film’s hagiographic treatment of an icon like Eastwood. Clearly he is a serious figure if he attracts commentary from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Brian Grazer, and Meryl Streep. It is also especially nice to see Gene Hackman reminiscing about the film Unforgiven. Someone like Eastwood ought to find a part interesting enough to get Hackman back in the game.
Directs largely focuses on Eastwood’s special talent for directing his fellow actors, giving considerable attention to his big Oscar winners, for obvious reasons. There are some nice stories and testimonials, especially from Streep, his co-star in Bridges of Madison County. While Schickel does not spend much time on Bird, he still covers Eastwood’s longstanding passion and support for jazz in reasonable detail. Though not exactly a jazz film per se, Play Misty for Me gets its due, even though it is not a Warner property (the picture of Eastwood with Erroll Garner is a nice touch).
In fact, Misty provided one of the more telling anecdotes during Eastwood’s post-screening conversation with Aronofsky. When asked about technology, Eastwood (who still prefers film but is resigned to digital’s inevitability) spoke of his brief use of “instant replay” capabilities on his directorial debut, but quickly banished it from the set when he saw the cast and crew obsessing over it.
In Eastwood Directs, Scorsese identifies Eastwood as the living link between old school Hollywood and the modern age. It is easy to see what he’s getting at. Unfortunately, Aronofsky’s skills as an interviewer did not match the insights of Shickel’s interview subjects. However, Eastwood did his best to fit anecdotes to the broad, open-ended questions and generally just offered up his gravelly-voiced Zen master-blues piano player persona to the appreciative audience.
There is something truly American about self-reinvention – and again, this is something Eastwood exemplifies. From Rawhide through the Leone westerns and critically underappreciated Dirty Harry films to his Cannes and Oscar celebrated films as a director, Eastwood has charted an independent course, while remaining within the studio system and maintaining his popular appeal. Recommended for his fans, Eastwood Directs will be included on Warner Brothers’ collections releasing June 3 and will run on TCM May 30th. The Eastwood interview is also available for streaming for those unable to attend the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in-person.
LFM GRADE: B
Posted on April 29th, 2013 at 3:20pm.
By Joe Bendel. There is a second Cold War on and China is winning. Britain’s defense establishment is convinced that their only hope lies in devising killer androids enhanced with artificial intelligence. Oh, but perhaps they succeed too well in Caradog James’ The Machine (see clip above), which screened as a Midnight selection of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
Vincent McCarthy could make bank in the private sector, but he has personal reasons for laboring in a subterranean government facility somewhere in Wales. When Ava’s AI program comes darn close to passing the Turing Test, he recruits her for his double-secret research. However, on her very first day she cannot help noticing the dodginess of the place, particularly the guards, who double as guinea pigs. There seems to be something weirdly unspoken going on with the twitchy veterans who accepted AI implants to counteract their brain trauma.
When Ava is murdered under suspiciously suspicious circumstances, her pre-mapped brain is imprinted on “The Machine.” McCarthy coaches her/it to be human and humane – but Thompson, the ruthless project director, orders a battery of more lethal instructions. This leads to conflict.
It would be nice to see a film that considered the British and American military and intelligence services to be the good guys for a change, especially compared to the oppressive and increasingly militaristic Communist regime in China. Sadly, The Machine is not that film. There really ought to be an epilogue showing how China enslaves the world because of the resulting setbacks to the Free World’s R&D. Instead, we just get Messianic themes warmed over from the Universal Soldier franchise, which in turn were cribbed from Metropolis, R.U.R. and a host of apocalyptically promethean science fiction morality tales.
Nonetheless, Caity Lotz earns favorable notice for her dual role as Ava and The Machine. She presents two distinct personas, yet still credibly hints at connections between the two. Toby Stephens works well enough as the brilliant but short-sighted McCarthy. Sadly, Star Wars alumnus Denis “Wedge” Lawson is completely wasted as the dastardly Thompson, who seems to engage in unnecessary villainy solely to precipitate McCarthy’s crisis of conscience.
Very little of The Machine makes sense, starting with the moody Miami Vice ambiance. One would think a research laboratory ought to be well lit, but evidently this is not the case. Despite Lotz’s interesting performances, The Machine is predictable and heavy-handed. A disappointment, it screened this past weekend at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: D+
Posted on April 29th, 2013 at 3:17pm.
A new clip has been released from Kathryn Bigelow’s forthcoming SEAL Team 6/Osama bin Laden raid movie, Zero Dark Thirty, which is already receiving awards-season accolades. The film stars Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton. Special engagements for Zero Dark Thirty start December 19th, and the film opens wide on January 11th.
Posted on December 6th, 2012 at 11:01am.
A Space Race with China: LFM Reviews Control @ The New York Television Festival’s Independent Pilot Competition
By Joe Bendel. When we think of space, we think of lofty ideals, passed on down to us from JFK and Star Trek. However, an oppressive belligerent power will act the same up there as they do down here. Indeed, China’s saber-rattling off the coast of Taiwan will bedevil an American manned space mission in Josh Bernard & Bracey Smith’s Control, which screens as part of the 2012 New York Television Festival’s Independent Pilot Competition (IPC).
The NYTVF is the only meaningful festival of its kind showcasing independent talent looking to break into episodic television, in the same way scores of film festivals act as launching pads for indie films in search of theatrical distribution. There are real development deals to be won at this year’s festival. The dollar figures may not be much by studio standards, but they would constitute a significant step up compared to the budgets of many competing pilots. In the drama category, Smith & Bernard’s Control may well be the pilot to beat, which is not all that surprising, considering their Pioneer One (see here and here) won the drama competition two years ago.
The American and Chinese navies are engaged in a war of nerves in the South China Sea. Simultaneously, an American spacecraft is racing to beat their Chinese rivals to a resource-rich asteroid. Long in development, the American mission continued, even when China precipitously laid claim to the asteroid, in open defiance of international law. Apparently a quasi-private enterprise conducted with official government sanction, the mission obviously just became a whole lot more complicated.
The flight director isn’t helping much, either. Not only did he call the president a feckless ditherer on national television (but in more colorful terms), he is also carrying on a not so secret affair with the chief medical officer, who happens to be married to the flight captain.
Of all the genre-related pilots screening in the Drama 1 programming block, Control is by far the one that leaves audiences most eager to see more. Shrewdly, Bernard & Smith end on a monster cliffhanger that cannot possibly be as bad as it seems. Though the flight director resents the U.S. military’s secret involvement in the mission, he might be happy to have them around when it is all said and done. Based on the pilot, Control has the potential to become a cool submarine-warfare in space story, much like the classic Romulan episodes on the original Trek.
The tone of Control is sort of like a cross between Apollo 13 and Ben Bova’s geopolitical sci-fi thriller novels. To their credit, Smith & Bernard do not appear to have many naïve notions with respects to the current (and presumably near future) Chinese Communist regime. It also looks reasonably realistic, thanks to the control room full of computers bought on the cheap due to a tech firm’s bankruptcy (finally, the stimulus plan delivers).
Perhaps most importantly, despite all the intrigue and political infighting, it looks like it will still tap into the warm fuzzy feelings many viewers get when they think about the Space Program, particularly in its Apollo-era heyday. Showing loads of potential, Control is definitely worth seeing when it screens again this Friday (10/26) as part of the 2012 NYTVF’s IPC Drama 1 program at the Tribeca Cinemas.
Posted on October 23rd, 2012 at 10:42am.
We like to keep an eye on short films here at Libertas, so check out this interesting new short above from director Dennis Liu and writer Ryan Condal called Plurality. It went live earlier this week and as of this post has already received over 110,000 views.
Here’s the official synopsis of the film: “After the state of New York gives the police access to ‘The Grid,’ a new technology that allows people to purchase anything with a quick scan of their fingerprint, crime drops almost instantly. However, they also discover that certain people are popping up in two places at once.”
Although the film’s references to Michel Foucault and Jeremy Bentham are a bit on-the-nose (somebody’s been reading Discipline and Punish), Plurality otherwise does a nice job of illustrating how technology may already be leading us down a road to dystopia. Congratulations to the filmmakers, and a hat tip to the folks at io9.
Posted on October 5th, 2012 at 11:55am.
Courtesy of Collider, six new clips have been released from director/star Ben Affleck’s new thriller Argo. Based on a true story, Argo centers on a CIA agent (Affleck) who attempts to rescue six Americans trapped in the home of the Canadian ambassador during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The rescue mission went in under the auspices of filming a bogus science fiction movie entitled Argo.
Argo co-stars John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston and opens October 12th.
Posted on October 4th, 2012 at 10:35am.
By Joe Bendel. Alina is either tragically co-dependent or possessed by the Devil. Radically different measures would be required depending on the diagnosis – but either way, she will visit a host of trials upon her girlfriend Voichita and her fellow Orthodox convent residents in Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (see clip above), Romania’s latest official best foreign language Oscar submission, which screens as part of the main slate of the 50th New York Film Festival.
Meek and pious, Voichita appears perfectly suited to a cloistered life. Alina is a different story. However, since her former friend has no real family, Voichita arranges for her to stay temporarily in her quarters. Yet as soon as she arrives, Alina starts badgering her former friend to leave with her (see clip above). Gently rebuffing her, Voichita watches in alarm as her visitor’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and disruptive, eventually manifesting in several public meltdowns. The priest and the nuns do not want to abandon a soul in need, but after the medical establishment washes their hands of Aline, there seems to be only one remaining course of action: exorcism.
Mungiu implies a great deal in Hills, very definitely including the nature of Aline and Voichita’s relationship, while leaving just as much open to interpretation. It would also have been very easy to portray the priest and good sisters as stereotypical zealots dangerously convinced of their own infallibility. However, Hills constantly reasserts the messy humanity of each character. In fact, the ambiguity of the “possession” gives the film quite a distinctive flavor. Frankly, after about two hours of Aline acting out, most viewers will be ready to throw their lot in with the nuns, holding down the devil-woman as the priest reads the purification scriptures over her.
With a running time of 150 minutes, Hills often feels like what it is: a product of the Romanian New Wave of independent filmmaking. It probably would not have killed anyone had Mungiu shaved off twenty minutes or so. Nonetheless, he elicits several riveting performances, the most notable being Cosmina Stratan as Voichita, the confused innocent. As Alina, Cristina Flutur is also scarily convincing engaging in all manner of aggressive, self-destructive behavior. Yet it is Valeriu Andriută’s work as the priest, simultaneously severe and sympathetic, that really forestalls snap audience judgments.
Based on a novelized account of a real life incident in Moldova, Hills is not a kneejerk attack on Eastern Orthodoxy. Nonetheless, as the Russian Orthodox Church hemorrhages international credibility due to its perceived alliance with the Putin regime, it is hard not to invest Hills with an additional layer of meaning, whether or not Mungiu intended it. Given its ambiguous but evocative treatment of monastic life and supernatural possession, Beyond the Hills would be a fascinating film to see in conjunction with Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of the Angels. Challenging in multiple ways, Beyond the Hills is recommended for hardy cineastes with at least a couple of Romanian New Wave films already under their belts when it screens tomorrow (10/1), next Sunday (10/7), and the following Thursday (10/11), as part of the 2012 NYFF.
LFM GRADE: B+
Posted on October 1st, 2012 at 11:52am.
‘Justice’ in Today’s China: LFM Reviews When Night Falls @ The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival
By Joe Bendel. Ying Liang is an artist without a country. In large measure, this film is why. After it premiered at the Jeonju International Film Festival earlier this year, word reached Ying that he should not to return to China—or else. A dramatized documentary about the suspicious irregularities surrounding the prosecution (or persecution) of an accused murderer is hardly the project to curry favor with the Chinese Communist Party. Yet, any production from a filmmaker of Ying’s integrity necessarily entails risk in today’s China. As a result, When Night Falls will be even more timely and significant when it screens during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.
After suffering a severe beating at the hands of the Shanghai police, Yang Jia allegedly firebombed the police courtyard, stormed the station, and stabbed six active duty officers to death. This sounds like a man they should have recruited for their special forces. Instead, they tried and convicted him in a series of kangaroo courts, while holding his mother Wang Jingmei incommunicado for one hundred forty-three days in a Soviet-style mental hospital. None other than Ai Weiwei filed a missing person report on her behalf. By the time she is finally released, her son’s fate is effectively sealed, but the mother and a well-meaning but unwieldy group of human rights attorneys desperately try to overturn Yang Jia’s death sentence.
Without question, Night is a forceful indictment of the Chinese justice system, which the government has so cleverly rebutted by harassing Ying’s parents and threatening him with arrest. At each step of the case, Ying makes it clear the police and prosecutors disregarded their own rules to suit their purposes. Several times characters flat-out denounce the state, including the judges passing sentence, as the real criminals in this affair. That is rather bold filmmaking in contemporary China, some might even say foolhardy, but it in no way excuses the Party’s vindictive response.
Ying is a very good filmmaker, but he is also a demanding one. He definitely shares some of the aesthetic sensibilities of Jia Zhangke and the so-called Digital Generation of independent filmmakers. Severely restrained, Night is like an anti-melodrama, despite the gross injustice and tragedy unfolding around Wang Jingmei. Yet, there is no mistaking her terrible anguish thanks to Nai An’s remarkable performance. Viewers can feel in their bones how broken this woman is, as she struggles to find a way to keep fighting for her son.
Ying notably incorporates still photos (some courtesy of the real Wang Jingmei) to establish the facts of the case with economy and quiet authority. Nonetheless, though Night clocks in at a manageable seventy minutes, it is not a film for the easily distracted. Thoughtfully put together and honest in every way, When Night Falls is highly recommended for those who can handle its uncompromising style and a depressing shot of the truth when it screens this Thursday (9/13) and Friday (9/14) as a Wavelengths selection at this year’s TIFF.
LFM GRADE: A-
Posted on September 12th, 2012 at 11:25am.
By Govindini Murty. Kat Coiro’s While We Were Here (see a clip above) is the latest in a tradition of stories about travelers whose lives are transformed by Italy. From Goethe’s famous trip to Italy and its echoes in his Wilhelm Meister novels to William Wyler’s Roman Holiday, Merchant Ivory’s A Room With a View, and Mike Newell’s Enchanted April, Italy has long worked its magic on voyagers to its mythic shores.
While We Were Here presents an understated variation on this familiar theme. Jane (Kate Bosworth), a quiet and somewhat melancholy writer, journeys to southern Italy with her husband, the dour Leonard (Iddo Goldberg). Leonard, a viola player, has been invited to perform in a concert in Naples. While Leonard spends his days in rehearsal, Jane wanders the streets of Naples, experiencing life at second-hand. The mediated nature of Jane’s existence is reinforced by the fact that rather than interact with any of the locals, she spends her time listening to tape-recorded conversations of her Grandmother Eves (Claire Bloom) discussing her experiences during WWII. All this is purportedly for a book that Jane is writing, but Grandma Eves’ lively reminiscences about life during the war form a pointed contrast to Jane’s anomie in the peace and plenty of the present. One day Jane makes an impulsive decision to take a ferry to the island of Ischia off the coast of Naples – and there falls into a romance with an American lad named Caleb (Jamie Blackley) living a carefree existence on the island.
While We Were Here is essentially a three-character chamber drama that plays outdoors in the glorious settings of Naples and Ischia. All the character’s problems are of an internal nature. Jane and Leonard have marriage problems, but even as Jane tries to address them, the gloomy Leonard prefers to disappear into the work of his viola rehearsals. Jane wants to write a book about her grandmother’s experiences in WWII, but she’s worried she can’t make the book interesting because of a lack of engagement on her part.
As for Caleb, his disruptive influence on Jane and Leonard’s lives is overtly likened to that of Dionysus, with one scene taking place in a grape arbor on Ischia and Caleb himself somewhat resembling Caravaggio’s portrait of the vine-bedecked god. However, even as Caleb pursues Jane, he has no job and no plans for his life. He quotes Vittoria Colonna’s sonnets to Michelangelo as he and Jane tour an Aragonese castle, he takes Jane riding on a scooter and swimming in the ocean, but their relationship doesn’t seem destined for much more than that. Indeed, it seems to be her grandmother’s voice-over about the fun she had with her American and Belgian boyfriends during WWII that spurs Jane on to her affair with Caleb in the first place. Ultimately, Jane makes her own choices, but the person having the most fun with life in the film may just be Claire Bloom’s earthy, albeit unseen, Grandma Eves.
While We Were Here is not only an homage to the great “voyage to Italy” films, but, with its black and white cinematography, also evokes the look of classic Italian Neorealist drama. As Jane wanders through the narrow streets of Spaccanapoli, one would almost expect a young Sophia Loren, in her role as a voluptuous pizza maker in De Sica’s The Gold of Naples, to appear around the corner. And though Kate Bosworth might be the physical opposite of Sophia Loren, her slim blonde beauty and reserved quality do resemble that of such ‘60s actresses as the pixyish Jean Seberg from Godard’s Breathless (even down to the striped sailor top) and the cool, lovely Monica Vitti in Antonioni’s masterpiece of alienation, L’Avventura. Beyond looks though, Bosworth’s strong, sensitive acting forms the emotional core of the film (in particular in one standout scene with Goldberg’s Leonard), and she and Blackley have a number of amusing scenes in which their easy banter make the movie eminently watchable.
Regardless, it’s enough for me that the film is set in Naples and Ischia. Naples is one of my favorite cities, and although I haven’t yet made it to Ischia (I opted for Capri instead on a trip some years ago), it was delightful to see again the streets and sights of old Neapolis. I have many fond memories of wandering the narrow thoroughfares of Spaccanapoli (under which lie ancient Roman streets), down the long Via Toledo, through the 19th century glass and wrought iron Galleria Umberto I, and into the Cafe Gambrinus (den of literati and revolutionaries) for an espresso. Other favorite sights that appear in the film include the Teatro San Carlo, the vast hemispherical Piazza del Plebiscito with its Neoclassical church, and the impressive facade of the Bourbon-era Palazzo Real. The latter in particular has a charming old library surrounded by dusty palm trees that overlook the massive walls of the medieval Castel Nuovo (only in a land as ancient as Italy is a medieval castle described as ‘new’!). Even if the film’s characters don’t seem to revel in their surroundings, we certainly can.
While We Were Here is a pleasant diversion for a sunny summer day – which is hopefully when this film will be released. Screening at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, the film was produced by the same team behind the delightful With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, and was recently picked up for distribution by Arclight Entertainment.
LFM GRADE: B+
June 6th, 2012 at 7:15pm.
LFM Contributor Steve Greaves’ Tin Can Sailors Will Not Be Forgotten Premieres on The Documentary Channel, Memorial Day (Mon., 5/28)
Aside from Battleship and classic naval war movies, we want to encourage LFM readers to spend Memorial Day watching a touching new documentary about real-life naval heroics from LFM contributor Steve Greaves, called Tin Can Sailors Will Not Be Forgotten. The film premieres this Memorial Day, Monday, May 28th on The Documentary Channel at 9:30pm EST/PST. You can watch Steve and other folks involved with the film talk about it above.
Tin Can Sailors tells the extraordinary World War II story of the USS Morris, a Sims Class destroyer that saw action from the North Atlantic all the way to the island-hopping campaigns against Imperial Japan. The Morris participated in a seemingly endless number of decisive battles during the war, including in the Battle of Coral Sea, the Guadalcanal campaign, the fighting around Leyte Gulf – and was nearly sunk by a kamikaze at Okinawa. For her efforts, the Morris received 15 battle stars for her action in World War II, placing her among the highest decorated American ships of the Second World War.
Tin Can Sailors tells the dramatic story of the Morris, and also documents how her remaining crew members to this day reunite to celebrate their service, and to honor their fallen shipmates who never made it back. Our own Steve Greaves co-directed the film, and also composed the film’s musical score. Tin Can Sailors is a moving tribute to the brave men and women of the Greatest Generation who fought the good fight and preserved our freedom, and we encourage LFM readers to take time out on Memorial Day to watch it on The Documentary Channel. You can also purchase the film here.
Posted on May 26th, 2012 at 12:14pm.
For you classic movie lovers out there: Klara Tavakoli Goesche of the blog Retro Active Critiques recently put together this wonderful short video walking tour of the San Francisco locations of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a video which recently debuted at Turner Classic Movies’ Movie Morlocks blog, together with an interview with Goesche conducted by classic movie blogger Kimberly Lindbergs. Check the video out above.
Posted on May 16th, 2012 at 11:57am.