Archive for October, 2007

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Beyond Control

October 28, 2007

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I love to find surprising connections between seemingly disparate films I am watching (for example who would have thought there was any connection between The Assassination of Jesse James and the new Desplechin that I saw back-to-back recently? The answer: Casey Affleck is married to Desplechin’s Esther Kahn, Summer Phoenix!). But, beyond being biopics of singers, what on earth could one of the coolest film projects of the year, the smash hit Control, about Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, have to do with one of the least cool follies of recent years, Kevin Spacey’s recreation of the life of Bobby Darin, Beyond the Sea (2004)? In fact, what on earth could Mr “Splish Splash” have in common with Mr “New Dawn Fades”?

Well, the more I thought about it the more they did have in common. Curtis and Darin were both unassuming looking working-class white boys who suffered ill health (Darin had a diseased heart, Curtis was epileptic) and died young (Darin at 37, Curtis at 23). Both married teenagers (“girl-next-door” starlet Sandra Dee and literal girl next door Deborah Woodruff — played on screen by Kate Bosworth and Samantha Morton respectively, though I’d love to see those roles reversed) and fathered one child. Both modelled themselves at a young age on other performers (Darin on Sinatra, Curtis on Bowie) and both became legendary singer-songwriters with a penchant for things German (Darin for Brecht-Weill’s “Mack the Knife”, Curtis for questionable Nazi imagery).

But what struck me most of all was what was best about both films: their subjects’ unique performance style and their stars’ (Spacey and Sam Riley) expert imitation of them. Neither Control nor Beyond the Sea transcend the limitations of the biopic genre and both prove how asphyxiating those limitations are. Due no doubt to varied expectations I was disappointed by one and pleasantly surprised by the other (you can guess which). But in each film I found myself transfixed by the concert scenes. Having heard but never seen either perform before I was unaware of Darin’s hand-flapping gesticulation (the genesis of which was a TV gig where he had to sing lyrics he’d written on his fingers) and Curtis’s spastic, speeded up version of the same. Each a personal, long gestated labor of love by directors Spacey and Anton Corbijn, neither film is perfect, far from it. Spacey’s is weighed down by his attempt to create an All That Jazz style phantasmagoria out of the life of someone very few people care about today (I’m not saying they shouldn’t, just that they don’t); Corbijn’s is weighed down by his too literal interpretation of domestic strife and the dreary, inexorable slide to a foregone conclusion. But each film is more than adequate in conveying why people would line up around the block at the Copacabana or the Factory.

(I will say that John Goodman’s very Goodmanish performance as Darin’s manager can’t hold a candle to Toby Kebbell’s performance as Joy Division manager Rob Gretton, which is worth the price of admission alone. Fun trivia fact: In Shane Meadows’ 2004 film Dead Man’s Shoes Paddy Considine, who played Gretton in 24 Hour Party People, plays Kebbell’s older brother. How about that for connections?).

One last serendipity: Beyond the Sea ends the same year that Control begins: 1973. You wonder what a young Curtis, enamored of Bowie and Iggy and Roxy Music, would have made of Bobby Darin singing “If I Were a Carpenter” that year. Actually, it’s not hard to guess. But maybe he’d have enjoyed this.

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Then and Now

October 28, 2007

In response to Glenn Kenny’s new feature Then and Now, over at his superb blog In the Company of Glenn, I’d like to offer up the following Katherine Heigl edition:

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My Father the Hero (1994)

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Knocked Up (2007)

One follows quite nicely after the other, don’t you think?

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Movie poster of the week

October 25, 2007

Reprise

Reprise is a wonderful Norwegian film (the debut of director Joachim Trier) that played Sundance and New Directors/New Films this year but has yet to find an American distributor despite a rave from Manohla Dargis in the Times. The story of two aspiring writers, friends since childhood, who mail off their first manuscripts on the same day and whose lives then careen off in very different directions, Reprise is playful, thoughtful, romantic and intellectual in a way I haven’t seen since (at the risk of repeating myself) Desplechin’s My Sex Life. It may also be the first Norwegian feature I’ve ever seen. The film has been released in the UK, from whence comes this superb poster designed by the same people who did the Control campaign. Let’s hope you get to see it here.

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Movie poster of the week

October 14, 2007

Funny Games

As reluctant as I am to revisit one of the most upsetting films I’ve ever seen, I was still disappointed to hear that Warner Independent have pushed back the release of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games from October of this year to February 2008, if only because we might not be seeing this poster around town for a while. Reportedly a shot-by-shot English-language remake of his own 1997 Austrian film—though I can’t believe Haneke doesn’t have some further tricks up his sleeve for those of us who’ve seen the original film—hopefully he has learned from the mistakes George Sluizer made when invited by Hollywood to remake his own classic Dutch thriller The Vanishing, to which he added (or was forced to add) a disastrous happy ending. Mind you, if I could wish a happier ending onto any film it might well be this one. The tagline says it all for those of us foolish to go back for more punishment: YOU MUST ADMIT, YOU BROUGHT THIS ON YOURSELF.

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Review: L’Aimée (Arnaud Desplechin, 2007)

October 13, 2007

L’Aimee

It was a hard act to follow, but, for me, Arnaud Desplechin has never lived up to the promise of his 1996 romantic epic My Sex Life, or How I Got Into an Argument, undoubtedly one of the greatest films of the ’90s. To be honest, bad word of mouth steered me away from Esther Kahn (2000) and I know almost nothing about his 2003 film Playing ‘In the Company of Men’ which as far as I know has never played in New York. In 2004 Desplechin flew back into everybody’s radar with Kings and Queen, but I liked only half of that film (the Emmanuelle Devos/Maurice Garrel half).

His newest film L’Aimee (The Loved One), which premiered at Venice this year, is a 70-minute side project that started out as a home movie and has ended up as, well, one of the most beautiful home movies you’re ever likely to see. When Desplechin heard that his father was selling the family home in Roubaix in Northern France, he decided to record the house for posterity. But instead of popping over with his camcorder, Desplechin arrived with a 35mm camera and one of France’s greatest DPs, Caroline Champetier (who shot his La Sentinelle in 1992 as well as films for Godard, Rivette, the Straubs, Chantal Akerman, Andre Techine and Benoit Jacquot over her nearly 30 year career). And rather than make the kind of wry, self-deprecating self-portrait that an American documentarian like Ross McElwee or Alan Berliner would conjure up from the same scenario, Desplechin instead turns his father’s story into an oblique meditation on Vertigo (a sacred text no doubt), complete with vanished women, powerless men, doppelgangers and liberal use of the Bernard Herrmann score. Incessantly smoking and rummaging among photos and documents, Desplechin grills his very accommodating father about his mother who died of TB (in the house he’s now selling) when his father was a baby. There is very little about Desplechin himself; if this is the house he himself grew up in and has fond memories of you wouldn’t know it. The house is bustling with men (his brother—and regular cast member—Fabrice shows up with his three young sons) but the film is all about absent women. Curiously specific, L’Aimee doesn’t become the meditation on age and death and fatherhood and nostalgia that one might hope for; it feels very personal in a way that doesn’t become universal, or didn’t for me. But it is a fascinating film: full of unexpected touches (his grandmother’s letters are read over images of Lilian Gish in Night of the Hunter) and touching moments (his brother lingering in the hallway before leaving for good) not to mention a promising (to this viewer) opening rooftop shot of trees in the wind. Unclassifiable as documentary or fiction, the film’s very deliberate and perhaps staged mixture of personal narrative and patient observation, as well as its house and garden setting, reminded me most of all of another of the great films of the ’90s: Victor Erice’s Dream of Light. Now there’s another film we’re waiting for a follow-up to.

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Movie poster of the week

October 8, 2007

A Brighter Summer Day

I’d never seen this poster for Edward Yang’s masterpiece A Brighter Summer Day until GreenCine posted a thumbnail of it the other day. 2007 will always be remembered as the year we lost Antonioni and Bergman in one fell swoop, but the untimely death of Edward Yang in July hit me hardest. I wish I’d thought to petition the New York Film Festival to show the four hour cut of the film this year as a tribute. After all, they passed on the film back in 1991 (as did Cannes) and it would have been their chance to make amends. Maybe next year?

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A good idea at the time

October 7, 2007

So, a week ago I’m watching Stellet Licht at the New York Film Festival and, inspired by a particularly satisfying sequence of wind rustling through trees, I decide that it might not be a bad idea to start writing about film again. Actually what I really thought was that I had a nice title for a blog and some cool ideas for mastheads. And then I go and tell a couple of people that I’m doing it and now I have to put up or shut up. But maybe I’ll just leave it at the title and masthead for now and we’ll see what happens.