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Cineaste, Lancaster, "London Boulevard," "King's Speech," More

David Greven in the new Winter 2010 issue of Cineaste: "Judging by these first three entries of Arsenal Pulp Press's new series Queer Film Classics, the editors — Matthew Hays and Thomas Waugh — have made a brilliant innovation in queer film studies, providing a welcome queer complement to the Briish Film Institute's series of monographs on classic films. There's something irresistibly compelling about a monograph devoted to one movie, a chance to revel in the select pleasures and special world of a single film. From a queer perspective, the meditation on a single film takes on a particular urgency, one charged with political as well as esthetic and personal concerns. Each of these wonderful treatments has much to teach us, not only about the art of film but also the queer ways in which films can transmit meaning to audiences."

"Considering how perceptive I found Sam Wasson's 2009 study of the films of Blake Edwards [A Splurch in the Kisser], when I read that one of his next books was on Breakfast at Tiffany's, I was delighted," writes Peter Tonguette in the other book review online: Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and The Dawn of The Modern Woman. "Wasson's one-two punch had, I felt, the potential to equal the feat of Robin Wood following (albeit after an interval of more than thirty years) his classic Howard Hawks with his BFI monograph on Rio Bravo: a comprehensive overview of a master director's work followed by a close, careful examination of one of his best films. An Edwards revival, spearheaded by Wasson, seemed in the air.... But that isn't the book Wasson has set out to write here. Instead, in recounting the story of the writing of Truman Capote's novella, Hepburn's rise to stardom, and the struggle to make the film, Wasson tells us about Hollywood's (and America's) changing social and sexual mores in the late Fifties and early Sixties."

A few weeks ago, we saw a handful of the "Web Exclusives" pegged to this issue, Robert Cashill's "first-ever serial post" for Cineaste on TCM's seven-part series, Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, and three "Webtakes": Jared Rapfogel on Frederick Wiseman's Boxing Gym, Leonard Quart on Mike Leigh's Another Year and Robert Sklar on Alex Gibney's Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer.

We haven't seen this one, though, from Dan Georgakas: "Dark Odyssey (1954) is an early manifestation of independent filmmaking in New York City that went virtually unknown for more than four decades. Cowritten and codirected by William Kyriakis and Radley Metzger, the film's theme largely reflects the ethnic insights of Kyriakis, a child of Greek immigrants who grew up in the then heavily-Greek area of New York City's Chelsea district. The story of how Dark Odyssey was made and its exhibition history is as harrowing as the fate of the film's tragic hero and reflective of the perennial problems facing independent cinema."

Matthew Losada: "After the sentimental nostalgia that made commercial successes in Argentina of his earlier films, with [The Secret in Their Eyes, Juan José Campanella] shifts into thriller mode, wrapping a highly polished production around several time-tested plotlines — the impossible love, the tragically flawed but faithful friend, the tense police thriller — and linking sadistic sexual violence with repressive state violence. The film employs as spectacle the universally acknowledged brutality of the most recent Argentine military dictatorship — part of the film depicts the predictatorship period of Isabel Perón's brief government and the viciousness of its paramilitary apparatus, the continuity of which is acknowledged to extend beyond the subsequent coup d'état — while declining to explore in a productive way the currently pressing question of the memory of the dictatorship and its crimes."

Thorough, bracing, right, wrong: Richard Porton in Cineaste on #TIFF10: Thu Nov 25 13:42:23 via Twitter for BlackBerry® Cameron Bailey

A snippet: "Despite its humble beginnings as a small 'Festival of Festivals' in the mid-1970s, TIFF is frequently hailed as the premier film festival in North America and the festival brass has not been shy about trumpeting its status as 'one of the leading film festivals in the world' (as the codirectors proclaim in the festival catalog). From a disinterested perspective, this boast is little more than received opinion and perhaps even unassailable, but given that a vocal faction of critics, bloggers, and programmers tend to recoil from the festival hierarchy's weakness for self-congratulation, it was inevitable that submerged disgruntlement would eventually reach critical mass." In this piece, almost as wide-ranging as the festival itself, Richard Porton explains why. More festival reports: Porton on Locarno and Martha P Nochimson on the Montreal World Film Festival.

Cynthia Lucia introduces Dennis West and Joan M West conversation with Davis Guggenheim about his controversial documentary, Waiting for "Superman"; and then there are the DVD reviews: Thomas Doherty on Flicker Alley's release of Chicago (1927), Christopher Sharrett on Criterion's Red Desert (1964), David Sterritt on Criterion's 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg and Michael Sicinski: "[M]y firm contention is that, even taking into account the numerous extrinsic factors that impacted the production and curation of [the National Film Preservation Foundation's Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film 1947-1986], this is a top-drawer selection that is as fully representative of the power, beauty, and breadth of the American avant-garde as any two-disc set could ever hope to be. Its release is a genuine landmark. Its makers have earned the right to beam with pride and offer no apologies whatsoever."

"On September 3, 1981, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas brought Bernard Sabath's The Boys of Autumn for a trial run to Marines Memorial Theatre, San Francisco," recalls Michael Guillén. "A 'what-if' tale about the reunion of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn 50 years after their infamous adventures on the Mississippi, Lancaster played Henry Finnegan (Huck, of course) and Douglas his old friend Thomas Gray (Sawyer).... Honestly, I don't remember much about the play — it was fair to middling and somewhat cynical in its depiction of the duo's disillusionment with their elder years; a bit of a downer, really — but the play's failings didn't really matter somehow. What mattered was having a third or fourth row seat and being wholly starstruck, if not with the performances then with the performers themselves." Michael's still quite taken with Lancaster — who isn't? — and, for a couple of weeks now, has been anticipating the Pacific Film Archive's series Grin, Smile, Smirk: The Films of Burt Lancaster, opening today and running through December 11. He's posted a portrait gallery, a piece on the "Collaborative Spirit of The Killers" and more notes and photos related to that 1946 film by Robert Siodmak.

Lillian Gish, "like cinema itself, was born in 1893," writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "MOMA's three-week retrospective spans the very beginning of her 75-year film career, with the shorts she made in 1912 for DW Griffith, to its end, with 1987's The Whales of August. In her decade-long association with Griffith — Lillian and her beloved younger sister, Dorothy, who both began working on stage when they were barely out of diapers, were introduced to the director by Mary Pickford — the actress became the apotheosis of imperiled, virtuous womanhood." The New Yorker's Richard Brody on The Musketeers of Pig Alley: "DW Griffith's short drama from 1912, about gangsters in a slum who prey on the local strivers, combines a radical aesthetic with a conservative, paranoid view of urban life."

"Relatively rare are cinematic masterpieces adapted from literary masterpieces, and claiming as one John Ford's 1940 version of classic Depression-era novel The Grapes of Wrath makes for a more complex case than it would at first seem," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L. "Filmed during Ford's progressive-populist period (e.g., the anti-big business sentiments of Stagecoach and the pro-labor sympathies of How Green Was My Valley) and informed by his strong emotional connection to the Irish Potato Famine, Grapes is nonetheless a paradox, a work of social criticism that ever so slightly mitigates the harsh indictment of its bleak source text, and a depiction of economic injustice in which hardship is evoked in nearly unsurpassed pictorial beauty." More from Chuck Bowen (Slant, 4 out of 4) and Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 4 out of 5; see also "Great books into great movies"). At New York's Film Forum for a week.

"The fact that Yasujirô Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953) is one of the great achievements in cinematic history might be motivation enough to catch it at the IFC Center this weekend," writes Eric Hynes in the Voice. "But such talk risks pinning behind glass a work of art that still has the power to astonish, disrupt, and shatter hearts.... Ozu's long shots, knee-high camera placement, and collapsed perspective — as gorgeous and unsettling as a Cézanne — gather power over the duration, but time itself is the master's most potent weapon. Protracted sequences make you impatient for forward motion, but then, in an instant, you're left to mourn beauties hastened away." Christian Blauvelt (Slant, 4 out of 4): "In this exquisite merging of specific and universal, infinite and infinitesimal, Tokyo Story perhaps most clearly illuminates that Ozu is not the most Japanese of filmmakers, but the most human."

A month ago, Kentucker Audley made his Open Five viewable online for free for a limited time; now it's screening in a real theater, in Brooklyn's ReRun Gastropub Theater. Critical reaction to this run ranges from Richard Brody's enthusiastic endorsement in the New Yorker ("The plaiting of fiction and personal documentary — by now a classic mode of indie modernism — lends extra poignancy and self-deprecation to the low-key romantic agonies and financial struggles of ambitious yet uncertain bohemians") to Chuck Bowen's 1.5-out-of-4-star review in Slant ("It's more of a question than a movie, that question being 'Should we, like, make a movie?'"). More from Steve Dollar (Wall Street Journal), Mike Hale (NYT) and Andrew Schenker (Voice). James van Maanen talks with Audley.

"A small movie with a full heart, Undertow takes an old idea — the loving, lingering ghost — and gives it reverberant, resuscitated life," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "The story unwinds gracefully and with slow-building emotion in a tiny seaside village in remotest Peru, where, save for a few modern conveniences, people live much as they probably did decades earlier, pulling fish from the sea and bound by communal interdependence. There, a young fisherman, Miguel (Cristian Mercado), awaits the birth of his first child, an event that fills him with so much happiness that he shares his bliss generously with his beloved wife and his more adored male lover."

"Undertow isn't the first Peruvian film to feature a character coming to terms with his homosexuality (Francisco Lombardi's 1998 coming-of-age tale Don't Tell Anyone got there 11 years earlier), but it likely stands as the country's first gay ghost story." Andrew Schenker in Slant (2 out of 4): "More heart-tugging mélo than spooky thriller, however, Javier Fuentes-Léon's movie uses its supernatural elements to suggest, first, the quixotic fantasy of same-sex fulfillment and, later, the possibility of queer self-realization within the confines of a rigid, tradition-based society. But for all its beyond-the-grave fantasy, the film is mostly concerned with reality, which is to say it's about a man raised on Catholic orthodoxy and doggedly defined gender roles accepting the fact that he's gay. All of which may be pushing new ground in a country still developing its national cinema, but for American viewers burned out on simplistic stories of courageous people overcoming prejudice to assert their sexual identity, it's bound to seem more than a little quaint."

More from Ernest Hardy (Voice), Eric Hynes (TONY, 3 out of 5) and Eric Kohn (indieWIRE).

"A close-knit Latino family unravels under financial and medical pressures in Willets Point, a rough but well-meaning drama about facing fears and hanging on," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. Diego Costa in Slant (0.5 out of 4): "We are all for movies that focus on working-class Latino families dealing with unemployment, disease, and gentrification, but Willets Point is more like an epic student film with the dramaturgical caliber of an STD clinic's grossly underfunded sex-education videos." More from Michelle Orange (Voice).

"A picnic for Anglophiles, not to mention a prospective Oscar bonanza for the brothers Weinstein, The King's Speech is a well-wrought, enjoyably amusing inspirational drama that successfully humanizes, even as it pokes fun at, the House of Windsor," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The story — shy young prince helped by irascible wizard to break an evil spell and lead his nation to glorious victory — is a good one. Directed by telefilm tyro Tom Hooper from veteran screenwriter David Seidler's more-or-less-factual script, a cast of Anglo-Aussie stalwarts hit their marks with professional aplomb as Bertie Windsor (Colin Firth), the future George VI and father of England's present queen, overcomes a crippling stammer and his natural priggishness thanks to the eccentric ministrations of unconventional, adorably déclassé, transplanted Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush)."

"It isn't exactly Pygmalion, not least because Mr Hooper has no intention of satirizing the caste system that is one of this movie's biggest draws," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "Unlike The Queen, a barbed look at the royal family after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, The King's Speech takes a relatively benign view of the monarchy, framing Albert as a somewhat poor little rich boy condemned to live in a fishbowl, an idea that Mr Hooper unwisely literalizes by overusing a fisheye lens. The royals' problems are largely personal, embodied by King George playing the stern 19th-century patriarch to Logue's touchy-feely Freudian father. And while Albert initially bristles at Logue's presumptions, theirs is finally a democracy of equals, an angle that makes their inequities go down in a most uneventful way."

More from Mark Asch (L), Chris Barsanti (, 3 out of 5), David Edelstein (New York), Cynthia Fuchs (PopMatters, 6 out of 10), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 4 out of 5), Eric Kohn (iW), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, B+), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 3 out of 5), Nick Schager (Slant, 2 out of 4), Matt Singer (IFC), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times, 5 out of 5), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 9.5 out of 10). Earlier: Scott Foundas (Film Comment) and reviews from Telluride and Toronto. Interviews with Hooper: Mike Ryan (Movieline); with Firth: Mike Ryan (Movieline) and Steven Zeitchik (LAT); and with Rush: John Lopez (Vanity Fair), Gillian Mohney (Interview) and Mike Ryan (Movieline).

Local goings on and holiday viewing: Criterion's "Friday Repertory Roundup," East Bay Express, Aaron Hillis (Voice), Susan King (Los Angeles Times), San Francisco Bay Guardian, TCM and Time Out Chicago.



Dave Calhoun in Time Out London: "London Boulevard is the directing debut of William Monahan, who wrote Martin Scorsese's The Departed and Ridley Scott's Body of Lies and here adapts Irish writer Ken Bruen's novel about an ex-con in London who, through a twist of fate, becomes the bodyguard of a reclusive, nervy actress while trying to keep himself on the straight and narrow. Bruen's book was a loose spin on Billy Wilder's Hollywood tale Sunset Boulevard, hence the film's odd name and why you won't find London Boulevard on the Northern Line or indeed anywhere else on the Tube map.... Monahan draws on [a] big-name cast [Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone, David Thewlis, Eddie Marsan, for starters] and employs superior talent behind the camera such as cinematographer Chris Menges (The Reader, Notes on a Scandal) — but still manages to serve up a tired, lifeless film which fails to realise either the style or sexiness it craves and which lacks any real sense of energy or momentum in its plotting." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 2 out of 5), Alexandra Coghlan (Arts Desk), Anthony Quinn (Independent, 1 out of 5) and Tim Robey (Telegraph, 2 out of 4).

Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian (4 out of 5) on An Ordinary Execution: "Marc Dugain, the author whose first world war-set novel The Officers' Ward became a powerful movie almost a decade ago, has here directed his own adaptation of his 2007 novel — or rather, adapted just the first part of an ambitious, episodic fiction about the nature and history of Russian political power. The result is a pungently atmospheric chamber piece, set in the paranoid Soviet era of purges and disappearances... It is a strange, almost eerie film, with something of Kafka and Orwell." More from Trevor Johnston (TOL, 3 out of 5) and Anthony Quinn (Independent, 3 out of 5).

"Michael Rowe's Leap Year, which won the Cannes Camera d'Or for best first feature, proves, if you were beginning to doubt, that people still make good grown-up films," writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times (4 out of 5). "An expatriate Australian in Mexico City, Rowe brews an aromatic tale of love between a dumpy live-alone (Monica del Carmen) and the sexy sadist (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) she welcomes into — be prepared for grisly double meanings — her heart." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 3 out of 5), Trevor Johnston (TOL, 4 out of 5) and Anthony Quinn (Independent, 2 out of 5).

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