"The glitch that sent markets tumbling Thursday was years in the making, driven by the rise of computers that transformed stock trading more in the last 20 years than in the previous 200," report Nelson D Schwartz and Louise Story in the New York Times. "The old system of floor traders matching buyers and sellers has been replaced by machines that process trades automatically, speeding the flow of buy and sell orders but also sometimes facilitating the kind of unexplained volatility that roiled markets Thursday."
This "glitch," momentarily sending the Dow Jones average down a thousand points, or around nine percent, may — let's emphasize may — have been traced to Chicago, which only amplifies the opening a movie review by Andy Webster, also in today's Times: "There's an elegiac poignancy in James Allen Smith's Floored, a documentary about the changing face of the Chicago futures exchanges. Open-outcry trading — the practice of calling out buy and sell orders in soybeans and pork bellies from the floor (the pit) — has declined, like print media, a victim of computer culture and the urgent hunger for instant new information.... Many younger traders, of course, are hip to the new technology, but “Floored” isn't interested in them; it's the old-schoolers on the way out who are its focus. The stories of this dying breed are fascinating."
"A vile culture of status-quo-inducing greed is exposed," finds Diego Costa in Slant, "the stuff that America is made of, and reaching severe heights: me, me, me, and more me. These men (with the token white lady and black suit) go after money with the kind of apolitical, indecent, and ruthless self-indulgence akin to the drug junkie willing to steal or kill to get his fix—the kind of egotistical compulsion that necessarily involves living as though the self bore no responsibility to anything that may be happening outside those cash-making walls."
More from Eric Hynes (Time Out New York), Andrew Schenker (Voice) and James van Maanen; and the site's been collecting reviews as well.
"The thesis of the new documentary from Oscar winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) should be clear from its title," writes Chris Wisniewski at Reverse Shot. "Casino Jack and the United States of Money bills itself as a 'story of what our democracy has become,' a sobering examination of the corrosive influence of money on American politics. Coming so soon after the controversial January 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, which overturned a key provision of the McCain-Feingold act prohibiting corporate support of political broadcasts, Gibney's film couldn't be more timely. But Casino Jack proves more adept at diagnosing and describing a problem than it does at scrutinizing its origins or recommending coherent solutions."
"Passionate Republican, fervent Orthodox Jew, ruthless wheeler-dealer, charismatic self-promoter, dreamer-and-doer, super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff at his height fashioned himself into a human ATM who lined the pockets of politicians on every side of the congressional aisle," writes FX Feeney in the Voice. "Abramoff's story is so much larger-than-life that Casino Jack is but one of two excellent films about the man coming out this year. The other — called Casino Jack as well, though that is reportedly about to change; starring Kevin Spacey and due in the fall — is a witty, psychological interpretive dance that persuasively imagines the climate inside Abramoff's head." Until that one's out, "Casino Jack and the United States of Money is indispensable viewing."
More from Mark Asch (L), Chris Barsanti (Film Journal), Ian Buckwalter (NPR), Stephen Holden (NYT), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager (Slant), Kenneth Turan (LAT) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Interviews with Gibney: Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Logan Hill (Vulture) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline).
"According to artist Amie Siegel, her newest film, DDR/DDR, is part of a series of works about 'voyeurism, psychoanalysis, memory, surveillance and modernist architecture,' as well as 'objectivity, authority and performance,'" notes Tom McCormack in the L Magazine. "Unafraid of big themes or broad gestures, Siegel clearly studied filmmaking at the Godard school of thematic overdetermination. Which isn't at all a bad thing — DDR/DDR is almost certainly the most interesting film opening in New York this week."
It's "a visually expansive and formally strenuous cine-assemblage that traces the peak and psychic aftermath of East Germany's clandestine surveillance program," writes Ricky D'Ambrose in Slant. "An unremittingly patient camera — its soporific tracking shots of embalmed Stasi offices and interrogation rooms, its reverence for abandoned concrete towers and hallways — becomes in Siegel's hands a chronicler of ghosts, a mournful magic lantern that meticulously transforms empty spaces into images thickened with loss and memory."
"Information was the DDR's most important product and, despite official suspicion of Western psychology, the Stasi was pleased to use group therapy as another means of monitoring the population," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Shown five years ago at Film Forum, Siegel's Empathy was a programmatically precocious inquiry into the nature of psychoanalysis; although a late addition to the corpus of Stasi art, DDR/DDR is an even more astute, precise, self-regarding piece of work."
More from David Fear (TONY) and Mike Hale (NYT). At Anthology Film Archives for one week.
Meanwhile, Michael Atkinson for IFC: "Modern life may not seem much more modern, or more alienating, than it does in Harun Farocki's surrealist documentary How to Live in the German Federal Republic (1990), in which life in West Germany in the 80s, leading up to unification, is surveyed as an artificial process, a rehearsal for something that never happens."
"A work of dense textures and enervating affect, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then employs live-action stop-motion to tell the true story of Leonard Wood, a hardware-store clerk who turned his Kentucky home into a ramshackle 'healing machine' when his wife, Mary, was diagnosed with terminal cancer." Eric Hynes in the Voice: "An emerging Orson Welles of handmade experimental cinema, Brent Green didn't just direct, write, animate, score, and narrate his first feature, but also reconstructed Leonard's tricked-out abode plank by plank."
"If the offbeat, handcrafted quality of the filmmaking mirrors the bizarrely artisanal nature of the subject's project (which included inconsistently tiered flooring and a giant tower designed to '[build] toward God'), it also has the unfortunate tendency of introducing a note of twee knowingness to the project that almost undercuts the filmmaker's serious theological reflections," finds Andrew Schenker in Slant. Nonetheless, "Gravity becomes an athiest's testament to the power of belief. Leonard may have ended up in penury and God may be a false hope, but the builder was able to 'leave behind something wonderful' with his house and, while it may be overstating the case to say that Green is able to achieve the same thing with his film, his efforts to create a similarly glorious artifact go some way toward defining the productive impulse of human aspiration."
More from Aaron Hillis (TONY), Rachel Saltz (NYT) and James van Maanen. At the IFC Center in New York for one week.
"A web of coincidence and unseen connections nets together a disparate group of Los Angelenos in, well, a lot of movies over the last few years," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club. "That description fits Mother and Child as well, a film produced by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director behind such template-setting everything's-connected films as 21 Grams and Babel. But in other respects, Mother and Child doesn't fit the usual pattern. Writer/director Rodrigo Garcia (Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, Nine Lives) stays away from Iñárritu's hard ironies, bringing a more delicate touch to Mother and Child and setting it in a world where the possibility of finding love and happiness hasn't disappeared forever, even if it sometimes looks that way."
"While not without its stilted moments and easy sentiments, Mother and Child is lucid, engaging, and novelistic in the best sense — even if it could have used that little extra aesthetic push that made Nine Lives so remarkable," finds Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot.
More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), David Edelstein (New York), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Michael Phillips (Tribune), Mary Pols (Time), Andrew Schenker (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), Benjamin Sutton (L), Ella Taylor (NPR), Keith Uhlich (TONY), James van Maanen and Armond White (New York Press). Constance Rosenblum has a piece on the film's making in the NYT. Jacob Bernstein talks with Annette Bening for the Daily Beast and Chuck Wilson meets Samuel L Jackson for the LA Weekly.
"The comic book film has become a gravy train to nowhere," argues Matt Zoller Seitz at Film Salon. "The genre cranks up directors' box office averages and keeps offbeat actors fully employed for years at a stretch by dutifully replicating (with precious few exceptions) the least interesting, least exciting elements of its source material; spicing up otherwise rote superhero vs supervillain storylines with 'complications' and 'revisions' (scare quotes intentional) that the filmmakers, for reasons of fiduciary duty, cannot properly investigate; and delivering amusing characterizations, dense stories or stunning visuals while typically failing to combine those aspects into a satisfying whole."
The piece has kicked up quite a storm in the comments that follow even though Matt's gone out of his way to highlight superhero movies he'll happily defend. The Telegraph's Tim Robey: "I agree with Seitz about several of the best superhero flicks in recent decades — The Incredibles, X-Men 2, and Robocop are three of the best. I admire his idiosyncratic defence of the widely-loathed Hulk and Superman Returns, though both have obvious problems.... Though I personally found it calculated and annoying, I can sort of understand what Kick-Ass's fans see in it, and I wonder whether part of the movie's appeal is how it responds, however snarkily, to a certain fatigue with the unending conveyor belt of lycra-and-leather champions hitting our screens each year."
Onto this week's model, then, and back to Matt Zoller Seitz, this time for IFC: "With the release of Iron Man 2, the Marvel Comics franchise is officially two-for-two — two thoroughly competent, occasionally inspired yet ultimately forgettable films that promise sly engagement with real-world anxieties, then set that promise aside in favor of corporate intrigue and endless scenes of robots bashing the crap out of each other."
"With all the fireworks, the gadgetry, the corporatized idol worship and heavy-duty charm, it finally amounts to a Marvel Studios trade show," writes Jonathan Kiefer in the Faster Times. More from Paul Constant (Stranger), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), David Edelstein (New York), Robert Horton (Herald), Craig Kennedy, Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Drew Lazor (Philadelphia City Paper), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Mike Ryan (Vanity Fair), Hank Sartin (Time Out Chicago), Nick Schager (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Scott Weinberg (Cinematical) and Stephanie Zackarek (Movieline). Geoff Boucher talks with Don Cheadle for the LAT, while, for MSN Movies, James Rocchi talks with Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Robert Downey Jr, director Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow.
"Thomas Balmès's pseudo-documentary will never be accused of false advertising," write Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Lacking narrative, dialogue or really anything that a reasonable person might expect when plunking down 10 bucks to see a movie, Babies is just a lot of shots of babies acting like... babies. They coo, they warble, sometimes they cry. End of plot synopsis.... This isn't a movie. It's a screensaver."
More from Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), David Fellerath (Independent Weekly), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Dan Kois (Voice), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), James McNally, Mary Pols (Time), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Nick Schager (TONY), AO Scott (NYT), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Lindy West (Stranger), Lauren Wissot (Slant) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline). Interviews with Balmès: Brian Alexander (Time), Steve Erickson (Nashville Scene) and Renée Scolaro Mora (PopMatters).
"The Oath is a film about two men associated with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden: Salim Hamdan, a driver for bin Laden, and Nasser al-Bahri, one of bin Laden's bodyguards." In Film Comment, Irina Leimbacher writes that Laura Poitras's film "gives significant screen time to al-Bahri, and in so doing it sheds light on the complex meanings jihad might have for a young Muslim man. But The Oath is equally about US strategies in its post–9/11 War on Terror and about belief systems and the ambiguities of loyalty, the law, and language." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Benjamin Mercer (Reverse Shot), Ella Taylor (Voice), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and James van Maanen. Earlier: Reviews from New Directors/New Films. Nicolas Rapold talks with Poitras for the Voice.
"A Dadaist delight, Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers is a direct descendant of Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures, perhaps the first and only," writes Amy Taubin in Film Comment. For the Voice's J Hoberman, it's a "gloriously desultory slap in the face of public taste," for Hammer to Nail's Michael Tully, "a proudly deformalistic American trashterpiece." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), David Fear (TONY), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Nicolas Rapold (L) and Scott Tobias (AV Club). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto and the New York Film Festival. Aaron Hillis talks with Korine for IFC. James Hansen interviews him, too.
"Francophiles understand that Vincent Lindon's presence in any film is a bonus, as few actors know how to translate sad-eyed, macho gruffness into so many different flavors," writes David Fear, reviewing Welcome for TONY. "[H]e can do casually sensitive-sexy (Friday Night), chauvinistically callous (Chaos) or an everyman in existential free fall (La Moustache), all with the brutish precision of a pro boxer. That Lindon is the best thing in Philippe Lioret's drama about a swim coach and a young Iraqi ([Firat] Ayverdi) isn't really a surprise. The fact that he almost single-handedly keeps this wobbly parable from sinking under the weight of its social-issues agenda is disappointing, but don't discount the pleasure of watching a weathered star breathe life into an otherwise banal film." More from Marcy Dermansky, Stephen Holden (NYT), Vadim Rizov (Voice), James van Maanen and Bill Weber (Slant).
"Whenever an indie film arrives with a cast full of well-known names and no advance buzz, that's a red flag. When the movie arrives with a title as awful as Multiple Sarcasms, that's more like a red bed-sheet — king-sized and flapping on the clothesline." A "C-" from Noel Murray at the AV Club. More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Brian Miller (Voice), Michelle Orange (Movieline) and Nick Schager (Slant). That cast, by the way, includes Timothy Hutton, Mira Sorvino, Dana Delany, Mario Van Peebles and Stockard Channing.
"Odds are, most Americans won't have heard of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath — aka OSS 117, the suave hero of Jean Bruce's prolific run of spy novels (91 books in 14 years, after which Bruce's widow, Josette, penned 143 more) — but they'll recognize him instantly as a Cold War relic of the James Bond variety." Scott Tobias for NPR: "The devilish genius of director Michel Hazanavicius's 2006 spoof OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and its new sequel, OSS 117: Lost in Rio, is that few alterations were likely needed to spin comedies out of Bruce's novels or the handful of 60s espionage thrillers adapted from them. Yesterday's cool is tomorrow's square, after all, and with attitudes and ambience this hilariously dated, Hazanavicius barely needs to touch the volume knob." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Michelle Orange (Voice), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and James van Maanen.
"Born and raised on a polygamous commune in the wilderness, embittered teen hippie Victor (Mark L Young) has realized that the nonconformist ideals of his elders — like his parents (odd-duck pairing Andie MacDowell and Mark Boone Junior) and a seductive hypnotist guru (Rutger Hauer) — have produced a litter of burnt-out, oversexed, downright oppressed kids without the ability to see their looming self-destruction." Aaron Hillis in the Voice on Happiness Runs: "Loosely based on writer-director Adam Sherman's similar cult upbringing and disillusionment, the film builds on a fascinating cautionary tale, but doesn't develop its characters past whatever movie-of-the-week crisis each suffers from." More from Stephen Holden (NYT).
Ocean of Pearls is "a kind of Sikh Jazz Singer," find Rachel Saltz in the NYT, and "also a bit too well mannered to make a strong impact." More from Chuck Bowen (Slant) and James van Maanen.
The Lightkeepers is opening in Los Angeles and it's "bafflingly lame in execution," finds Chuck Bowen in Slant. "The poignancy of the picture is ultimately unintentional: [Richard] Dreyfuss is bizarre-bad here." Also with Blythe Danner, Mamie Gummer and Bruce Dern.
Local roundups: Ty Burr (Boston Globe), JR Jones (Chicago Reader), Shawn Levy (Oregonian) and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
IN THE UK
"The relatives of victims of the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London have called for a boycott of Four Lions, the British feature film being released this week which seeks to satirise four aspiring suicide bombers," reports Cahal Milmo in the Independent. "The comedy, which satirist Chris Morris began researching prior to the 2005 attacks, tells the story of four young Muslim fundamentalists, including a white convert, who travel from Yorkshire to London for a bungled assault on the marathon."
The show's going on and Peter Bradshaw lays out the argument for the defense in the Guardian: "Four Lions is of course fundamentally different from suicide-bombing films such as Paul Greengrass's United 93 (2006), Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now (2005) or Santosh Sivan's The Terrorist (1999) – although there are in fact cautious jokes in Paradise Now about martyrdom videos. They all assume, on some level, that respect has to be paid to suicide bombing, and that the appropriate genre cannot conceivably be comedy. Morris does not make that assumption. His film is brutally unimpressed with the moral idiocy of suicide bombing and suggests that the only sane response is derisive laughter."
Also on the pro side are Dave Calhoun (Time Out London), Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph) and the Times. Anti: Nigel Andrews (Financial Times) and Anthony Quinn (Independent).
"It's not often in these days of cinematic sprawl and girth that you wish a film could be longer," writes Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph. "If only Craig McCall's Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff could be a 10- or 20-part series. For Cardiff, who died at the age 94 in 2009, is one of the key figures in 20th-century movie making, a cinematographer who created miracles of light on nearly every one of the scores of pictures he worked on." More from Mark Adams (Screen) and Andrew Pulver (Guardian).
"I first met the great cinematographer and director Jack Cardiff when he came to the London Film School in 1968 to show his film The Girl on a Motorcycle, which starred Marianne Faithfull," writes novelist Don Boyd in the Guardian. "I was a student there, and he presented a mesmeric lecture, which in simple, unpretentious terms explained the complexities of that film's almost hallucinogenic colour photography. He also talked about the lessons he had learned from the great painters about colour and light, lessons which had come from spending hours at the National Gallery."
BFI Southbank's Jack Cardiff season opens tomorrow and runs through the end of the month.
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