"In the nearly 30 years I've been writing about movies for LA Weekly," begins FX Feeney, "no moviemaking genius has meant more to me than Andrei Tarkovsky, whose seven feature films will screen over the next three weekends at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Welles and Fellini struck my imagination like forked lightning when I discovered them, in the course of the same week, at age 18 - but Tarkovsky arrived later, traveled deeper and less visibly, like an earthquake. I'm proud to say I was an early and sometimes lone champion of his work in these pages, circa 1981, though it required every resource in my maturing brain to make sense of him, as much to myself as to readers." The Apocalyptic Cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky runs from Saturday through February 5.
"Chekhov is perilously difficult for filmmakers - though some of the greatest movies ever made could be called Chekhovian (Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game, Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of the Summer Night, Satyajit Ray's The Music Room and Days and Nights in the Forest), and others offer Chekhovian moments (the bankrupt aristocrat's farewell to his lost estate in Bernardo Bertolucci's Before the Revolution is straight out of The Cherry Orchard)." Steve Vineberg in the Boston Phoenix: "You might expect the sublime Louis Malle-Andre Gregory Vanya on 42nd Street to be part of the Museum of Fine Arts' Celebrating Chekhov series, or Laurence Olivier's fine, forgotten film of The Three Sisters, but you won't find them. This collection is strictly Russian, and the seven movies are obscure: versions of Uncle Vanya, The Seagull, and Chekhov's earliest play, Platonov, and of a smattering of his stories." January 27 through 30.
Also strictly Russian: A Room and a Half is screening at New York's Film Forum through February 2. "In the hands of veteran animator Andrey Khrzhanovsky, the life of Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky serves as a guide for an entire nation's magical memory tour, with archival material acquiring a surreal quality alongside the author's fictionalized coming-of-age story and charming animated interludes," writes Andrew Chan in the L Magazine. More from Stephen Holden (New York Times), Eric Hynes (Reverse Shot), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York) and Ella Taylor (Voice). Earlier: Reviews from last fall's New York Film Festival.
"Over the course of a week jammed with 12 double-features, Noir City furnishes a utopic movie universe where the Castro Theatre is always packed and the credits of unsung Hollywood talents like screenwriter Bill Bowers and cinematographer James Wong Howe win spontaneous applause," writes Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Fortuitously, the Noir City festival opens the same night as a Pacific Film Archive retrospective of producer Val Lewton's seminal B movies. The 10 films unspooling during January and February date from the same war-frayed years that the noir mood came into its own, and in many ways the Lewton films are the flipside of Noir City's disillusionment. Instead of the pathology of everyday life, here we have intensely relatable nightmares." Noir City: The 8th Annual San Francisco Film Noir Festival opens tomorrow and runs through January 31; Complicated Shadows: The Films of Val Lewton also opens tomorrow but runs through February 13.
From the Playlist: "A ten-year-in-the-making documentary on the Magnetic Fields and its notoriously private (plus misanthropic and surly) singer-songwriter Stephin Merrit is apparently mostly complete and will be screening at the San Francisco Film Society's acclaimed SF360 Film+Club, a bimonthly social screening series." February 28.
Nicolas Rapold in the Voice: "Riding high after blockbuster runs of La danse, Frederick Wiseman enters his sixth decade of filmmaking in style, with an upcoming film and a yearlong retrospective residence at MoMA. And what is that style? Sensitive and skeptical, reserved but engaged, intelligent but not imposing, Wiseman's 37 films are, despite their reputation as pure documentary chronicles, like heightened experiences of life viewed through a voracious, ubiquitous camera eye." More from Michael Atkinson in the L Magazine.
Also at MoMA, Global Lens 2010 rolls on through January 29. At PopMatters, Cynthia Fuchs reviews Granaz Moussavi's My Tehran for Sale, Rajesh Shera's Ocean of an Old Man and Zhang Chi's The Shaft. More on that last one from Jeannette Catsoulis: "Tight and tender, this small family drama is so visually expressive that listening is always subordinate to looking." Also in the NYT, Stephen Holden on Bui Thac Chuyen's Adrift, "a subtle, melancholy exploration of erotic angst and uncomfortable awakening."
Back to Jeannette Catsoulis for a moment: "Pop Star on Ice, David Barba and James Pellerito's swoony documentary about the figure-skating champion Johnny Weir, is one part hagiography and two parts psychotherapy. Together they showcase a talent both formidable and erratic, its bright and shining peaks sliding inexplicably into valleys of disaster." At the IFC Center through Tuesday. More from Diego Costa (Slant), Aaron Hillis (TONY) and Vadim Rizov (Voice).
A quick look back on a just-wrapped event from Jessica Rhys in MovieMaker. Emir Kusturica launched the Küstendorf Film and Music Festival "in a historic Serbian ethno-village, Drvngrad, nicknamed Küstendorf, that he built as a set for one of his movies (Life is a Miracle) and then turned into his personal home as well as a rustic tourist resort and national park.... As despot of this tiny kingdom of little wooden houses, cobblestone streets named after rebel heroes like Nikola Tesla, Federico Fellini and Che Guevara, a few restaurants and bars, some kittens and happy little dogs, an indoor swimming pool and incredible, timeless views of the misty, moody mountains and humble little homesteads in the valley below he has managed to pack it over the last three years with lots of young, mostly Eastern European moviemakers, journalists from all over Europe, the 'Cannes mafia' and a few high profile lefty Hollywood rogues, like Jim Jarmusch and Oliver Stone in the past, and Johnny Depp and Ralph Fiennes this year."
Speaking of Fellini, he'd have turned 90 yesterday (Die Zeit has a nice collection of photos) and the Seattle Art Museum's series Federico Fellini, Circus Master presents a few of his films through mid-March. For Charles Mudede, writing in the Stranger, Nights of Cabiria (1957) "beautifully captures Federico Fellini moving from the neorealism that shaped him to the neosurrealism that he shaped. Because it is between these poles, it is almost perfect: 8½ (1963) goes too far, and I Vitelloni (1953) does not go far enough."
"Now that Avatar in 3D has blown out our sensory grids, we could all probably use some aesthetic recalibration," writes Brian Howe in the Independent Weekly. "The Strange Beauty Film Festival, which takes over Manbites Dog Theater in Durham this Friday and Saturday, arrives in the nick of time, with an international lineup of more than 50 short films that offer quieter, subtler bedazzlements."
Images: Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1966) and Wiseman's Titicut Follies (1967).