Going by the changeover on movie theater marquees, the July 4 weekend starts today. Time Out New York's David Fear reminds us that what "we're celebrating is a historical regime change instigated by guerilla militias — it's called the Revolutionary War for a reason — and you can almost picture our forefathers raising their fists to the redcoat pigs: 'Up against ye olde wall, motherfuckers!' Thus, in the actual spirit of our nation's most subversive holiday (sorry, Arbor Day), BAMcinématek has put together Contraband Cinema, a nine-day series" running today through July 8 "that gathers vintage and contemporary activist vérité, politically explicit screeds and several outsider-fiction features into one short-fused powder keg of programming."
Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "BAM's 33-film program Contraband Cinema asks, per its manifesto, 'What makes a political film?' Harun Farocki's Workers Leaving the Factory (1995) concludes that there's no other kind, reading worker alienation from a series of movie scenes set outside of factories, from the Lumière brothers to Pier Paolo Pasolini."
Update: "The range, depth, and diversity of the program — to say nothing of its intelligence and excellence — can be attributed to its collectivist mentality (itself a political statement on the art and bureaucracy of curating)." For the L Magazine, Cullen Gallagher "recently sat down with two of the series' presenters: Matt Peterson from Red Channels and Kazembe Balagun from The Brecht Forum."
The Berlin Biennale is featuring a program of George Kuchar's work on video through August 8. For Travis Jeppesen, writing for Artforum, Weather Diary 5 (1989) "is typical fare for the filmmaker, riffing on his frustration with the lack of sexual stimulation in his cooped-up motel room and the inherent dangers of the locale: the 'Tornado Alley' region of Oklahoma that Kuchar has been visiting each May for the past two decades. The result is an ongoing personal theater of absurdity, nonpareil in the world of cinema."
ALSO OPENING TODAY
"Produced for the BBC, the documentary The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector builds on an exclusive interview with Spector during his first trial — the one that resulted in a hung jury — for the shooting death of Lana Clarkson." The AV Club's Scott Tobias: "Not surprisingly, Spector argues for his innocence and complains in a half-paranoid/half-legitimate fashion about the unfairness of public perception.... But mostly, Spector (and the movie) make a case for his legacy as one of the great musical geniuses of our time, the mastermind behind the multi-layered 'wall of sound' that elevated the role of a producer in studio recordings — in his case, above the artists themselves."
For the Voice's J Hoberman, this is "less a documentary than a Top 40 opera." More from Simon Abrams (New York Press), Bruce Bennett (IFC), David Fear (TONY), Cullen Gallagher (L), Stephen Holden (New York Times, where John Anderson has a backgrounder), Andrew Hultkrans (Artforum), Glenn Kenny (The Daily Notebook), Ella Taylor (NPR), James van Maanen, Bill Weber (Slant) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).
"Team Edward or Team Jacob?" asks the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday. "For anyone who has a ready answer to that question, the arrival of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is as welcome as a northwestern breeze in the middle of a torrid heat wave. And they will most likely feel well rewarded by this respectful, unfussy installment of their beloved Twilight series, in which 17-year-old heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) inches ever closer to becoming a vampire and joining her forbidden love, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) forever."
"You have to commend the peddlers of this particular installment," argues the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "They've squared the metaphors and parallels almost evenly — bloodsuckers vs their lupine adversaries, lust vs chastity, talking vs action. Eclipse, which is based on Stephenie Meyer's books (there are four), favors discourse over derringdo, and since the filmmaking is logy and rhythmless, there's also a lot of derringdon't. But in a season of lobotomized action spectacles, watching three teenagers — one of whom happens to be as old as the hills — prattle for two long hours about their feelings is noble. If the first two movies were 'get a room,' part three is 'get a therapist.'"
Newcity Film's Ray Pride felt "as if I had walked into a secretly thrumming circle of private fetishes. I'm not entirely sure I want to fathom what emotional satisfactions the core Twilight audience gathers."
More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Noah Berlatsky (Chicago Reader), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), David Edelstein (New York), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago), Genevieve Koski (AV Club), Todd McCarthy, Drew McWeeney (Hitfix), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), AO Scott (NYT), Tom Shone (Telegraph), Eric D Snider (Cinematical), Dana Stevens (Slate),Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart (L) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Movieline's Kyle Buchanan talks with director David Slade. Video: James Rocchi talks with Stewart, Pattison and Taylor Lautner for MSN Movies.
"What happens when the worst tendencies of a poor screenplay are exaggerated by labored and unimaginative direction?" asks Andrew Schenker in Slant. "If you're not careful, you might just end up with Love Ranch, a romantic melodrama that manages to evoke the weakest aspects of a potentially fruitful genre."
Melissa Anderson in the Voice: "Helen Mirren married director Taylor Hackford in 1997; the two fell in love on the set of White Nights (1985), their first film together. Love Ranch, their second collaboration in 25 years, should be grounds for divorce."
More from Chris Barsanti (Film Journal International), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Louis Peitzman (San Francisco Bay Guardian), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Hank Sartin (Time Out Chicago), Justin Stewart (Reverse Shot), Scott Tobias (NPR), James van Maanen and Ryan Vlastelica (L). Aaron Hillis talks with Hackford for IFC.com. Logan Hill interviews Mirren for New York. So does Movieline's ST VanAirsdale — and he asks her, too: "We're 30 years removed from Caligula; three decades on, what's your relationship with — and perception of — that film?"
IN OTHER NEWS
The new issue of IndianAuteur features Satyam Berera on "The Diaristic Cinema of Tom Chomont" and a symposium of Indian film critics.
Mike Everleth has the Chicago Underground Film Festival award-winners.
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