Via his blog Cinemasparagus and two Twitter accounts (@evillights and @mastersofcinema), Craig Keller has been declaring Kentucker Audley's Open Five to be "the best American film of the year." This is no off-the-top-of-the-head, caught-up-in-the-moment declaration. In August, he posted an essay constructed of argument, anecdote, poetry, images and clips exploring the "conversation taking place between" Audley's Holy Land (which he wrote about in April when it was released) and Open Five, a film completed during more or less the same period, with Joe Swanberg manning the camera and David Lowery on sound. Last night, Open Five opened the 13th Indie Memphis Film Festival and, at precisely the same moment, began streaming — in full, for free and without ads, albeit for a limited time — on Audley's site.
The New Yorker's Richard Brody: "I very much liked his first feature, Team Picture, in which Audley also stars as an easy-going but quietly impassioned Memphis musician struggling with money, art, and love (the great 'mumblecore' trio) — as well as with family ties and the pressure they apply, and with the rich local atmosphere, which inspires and awes as it also intimidates. Audley has a sense of place, and place is the subject of Open Five. It's the story of Jake (the musician Jake Rabinbach), a young Memphis rocker inching his way into recognition, who, in New York, meets Lucy (Shannon Esper), a young actress, and lures her down to Memphis for a visit. She arrives with her friend Rose (Genevieve Angelson), also an actress and blogger, who, while there, has an affair with the rocker's friend, Kentucker (played by Audley), an independent filmmaker."
"If Open Five was intended as something of a love letter to the Bluff City, it certainly succeeds," writes Chris McCoy at Live from Memphis, "but it does so in the particularly Memphis way of the Big Star song 'Nighttime.' Alex Chilton's impressionistic ode to Midtown starts out 'At nighttime I go out to see the people...' and ends with 'I hate it here / Get me out of here.' The Chiltonian tension between ecstasy and angst — and the suggestion that they may be different sides of the same coin — reverberates throughout Open Five."
Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay notes that the magazine has had its eye on Audley since 2007 and has been tracking his unusual approaches to funding, production and distribution ever since.
"Pools of deepest black nearly engulf, with strange beauty and mystery, the characters in Kuroneko, a Japanese ghost story from 1968 about two avenging spirits and the brutal samurai they tick off." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "Shot in widescreen in stunning black-and-white 35 millimeter film and directed by Kaneto Shindo, Kuroneko had a brief run in New York in 1971 and doesn't seem to have been back since. A Criterion DVD appears to be forthcoming, but for now a new print has been struck and is available for your delectation at Film Forum."
"Shindo had built his reputation on sober, realistic studies of social issues (Children of Hiroshima ), primitive survival (The Naked Island ), and human degradation (The Hole )," notes Michael Joshua Rowin for Artforum. "But though Kuroneko is a stylistic anomaly within Shindo's career, it is of a piece with his other work. The film is as much a dead-serious depiction of the corruption of power and the nihilistic seduction of death as it is of the spirit world, despite or perhaps because of its stylized treatment."
Michael Atkinson in the Voice: "Nippo-Gothic horror fables have a long tradition of proto-feminist outrage — the metaphysical issue of the genre almost always revolves around rape and sexual vulnerability in a feudal landscape." And Kuroneko "may take the cake." Time Out New York's David Fear notes that "the blend of theatrical-FX flourishes (notably the specters' eerie gliding through shadowy halls) and cynical outlook on humanity feels remarkably in tune with the last few waves of supernatural J-horror." And writing for the L, Henry Stewart: "This wacky-transcending movie is like the I Spit on Your Grave of rural Japanese peasantry, with an added anti-war angle."
As Adrian Curry notes in today's "Movie Posters of the Week" entry, Sam Smith, whose blog you should be following if you care to cultivate your taste in eye candy, shares "a few rough concepts from my process of designing the theatrical poster for Janus Films." Meantime, today's list from the Guardian is the "horror 25." Kuroneko's not on it, but who knows, a few years down the line, it may enter the pantheon.
"In The Portuguese Nun, director Eugène Green is fascinated by actress Leonor Baldaque's eyes, his own rigorous formalism, and the architecture, art, and music of Lisbon — in that order." Andrew Schenker in Slant: "Baldaque stars as Julie de Hauranne, a French actress who arrives in the Portuguese capital to film a few scenes from an adaptation of the classic 17th-century text Letters of a Portuguese Nun, which details the eponymous figure's romance with a naval officer. Given the lax shooting schedule, Julie has plenty of time to wander around Lisbon, which, despite being her mother's hometown, she's never before visited, taking in its cultural sights, uttering enigmatic observations, and looking for a sense of purpose in her otherwise driftless life. This last possibility finds potential fulfillment in two encounters — one with a nun who performs a nightly solitary prayer session at a local chapel, the other with a young, soon-to-be-orphaned boy."
"Mr Green, the American-born French director whose earlier films (in particular Le Monde Vivant and Le Pont des Arts) have made him something of a cult figure among Europhilic cinephiles, is a formalist in at least two senses of the word," proposes the NYT's AO Scott. "He shoots with exquisite, languorous care, framing his close-ups with painterly exactitude and moving his camera discreetly and rarely. And he is also an observer (again in two senses, a watcher and a devotee) of social decorum. The actors in The Portuguese Nun — including Ana Moreira as a Portuguese nun — enunciate clearly and never interrupt one another, and even their flights of sexual and spiritual ardor are tasteful, elegant and grammatically impeccable."
"A chafing awareness of art-film ghettoization runs through Nun," notes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "'The film is... unconventional,' Julie explains to her make-up lady, who translates: 'Boring, you mean.' Green deals in essential, universal emotions — but in a cinematic vocabulary alienating to most of his potential public. As French playwright Jacques Audiberti said: 'The most obscure poem is addressed to everybody.' The name of Portugal's King Sebastian I, who disappeared on a quixotic crusade at the head of a ridiculously undersized army, recurs in the film. Perhaps Green sees a kindred spirit."
More from David Fear (TONY), S James Snyder (Artforum) and Justin Stewart (L). Here in The Daily Notebook, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky has eight questions for Green — who, in turn, has answers. The Portuguese Nun is screening at Anthology Film Archives and streaming here at MUBI.
Frederick Wiseman's Boxing Gym premiered in Cannes and has since screened at the Toronto and New York film festivals (click those towns for the roundups), and now it begins its trek through the nation's theaters. J Hoberman begins his review in the Voice by recalling that, eight years ago, Kent Jones had been chatting with a group of French directors who readily proclaimed Wiseman to be "America's greatest living filmmaker."
Hoberman: "Belatedly entering this pissing contest, I'd say that, however uneven their oeuvres might be, David Lynch and Martin Scorsese have directed the strongest American movies of their epoch (and note that the incomparable Stan Brakhage — not so big in France — was still alive at the time of Jones's confab). Wiseman has never made a more jolting movie than his 1967 debut Titicut Follies, set in a Massachusetts mental hospital, nor come closer to a masterpiece than his 1975 Welfare. Still, the unhesitating French had a point. There's no disputing the cumulative authority of Wiseman's ongoing Human Comedy or ignoring the influence that his epic observational style has had on fiction filmmakers as far-flung as Jia Zhangke (Platform), Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu), David Simon (The Wire), and even Scorsese (Shutter Island) himself. Boxing Gym... is the 80-year-old filmmaker's 38th feature; despite, or perhaps because of, its relatively modest length and ordinary subject matter, it seems a crowning accomplishment, albeit in a minor key."
More from Manohla Dargis (NYT), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Noel Murray (AV Club), Michael Joshua Rowin (L), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and Farihah Zaman (Reverse Shot). Interviews with Wiseman: Bilge Ebiri (IFC) and Brandon Harris (Filmmaker).
"Paranormal Activity 2 pulls its first surprise by being a sequel, yes, but also (and primarily) a prequel, as becomes obvious early on from the alive-and-well appearances of characters who met unhappy fates in the original." Dennis Harvey for Variety: "That expectation upheaval aside, pic fares like most horror follow-ups, offering more of the same to somewhat diminished effect." More from the AV Club's Scott Tobias: "So much attention was given to Paranormal Activity's innovative viral marketing campaign that the movie didn't get enough credit for being shrewd in its own right. Yes, the DIY vid-cam aesthetic owed plenty to The Blair Witch Project and imitators like [REC], and could properly be faulted for arriving late to the party, but writer-director Oren Peli smartly integrated the reality-TV age, where seemingly everyone's on-camera, with the classic thumps and bumps of a haunted-house movie, which are still elementally terrifying. The sequel... multiplies the cameras and cast members, but mostly takes the conservative route, repeating and oh-so-slightly amplifying the lo-fi shocks that audiences liked (or could be convinced to see, anyway) in the original." More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Sam Adams, Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), David Edelstein (New York), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Mary Pols (Time), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Dana Stevens (Slate), Jim Tudor (Twitch) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).
"How would you market Henry Phillips?" asks Aaron Hillis in the Voice. "Is he a novelty folk-rock singer? A stand-up comedian with a musical shtick? Or do both descriptions trivialize his deadpan blend of observational spoken-word riffs and irreverent guitar ballads about life, love, rejection, and the end of the world? A partly biographical, drolly fabricated comedy, Punching the Clown stars Phillips as a partly biographical, drolly fabricated version of himself, and may be the funniest movie ever made about trying to hold on to one's artistic integrity in an image-obsessed world." More from Chuck Bowen (Slant), Mike Hale (NYT), Eric Hynes (TONY) and Michelle Orange (Movieline).
"Ripped from the headlines and sensationalized for your would-be pleasure, Inhale uses the appalling phenomenon of illegal organ trafficking as the basis for an almost-as-appalling hyperventilated thriller," writes Eric Hynes in the Voice. The AV Club's Scott Tobias finds it "neither remotely convincing as true-to-life drama or lurid and propulsive enough to work as exploitation. It's just bad." More from Peter Gutierrez (Twitch), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Nick Schager (TONY), Ella Taylor (NPR) and James van Maanen.
"Men hurt — oh, how they hurt! — in Kalamity, an overwrought, undercooked tale of crazy love and crazier revenge," writes Jeannette Catsoulis for NPR. "Focusing on two friends simultaneously facing the dissolution of five-year relationships, James M Hausler's third feature strains to find drama in their wildly divergent coping mechanisms: one mopes and sees visions, the other fulminates and sees red." More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Hynes (TONY), Ella Taylor (Voice) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).
"Who knows why Milk and Money, a daffy, enjoyable little film from 1996, never got much of a look the first time around," writes Neil Genzlinger in the NYT. "But it's a treat to look at now, with some great older actors, a few younger ones who went on to bigger things and a script that has nothing on its mind but seeing how many incongruities it can string together."
"Of the crop of gay-centered features from TLA Releasing at the Quad Cinema of late (Is It Just Me?, the musical Fruit Fly), the romantic dramedy BearCity certainly shows the most complexity," writes Andy Webster for the NYT. "A group portrait in the West Village-Chelsea nexus, it covers a fair bit of emotional territory, although without amounting to much especially profound." More from Aaron Hillis (Voice).
"If a WWE-produced film can't get squared-circle action right, what can be expected of it?" asks Nick Schager in Slant. "Knucklehead answers that question with middling Hallmark Channel drama and tone-deaf comedy." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Michelle Orange (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY) and James van Maanen.
Michael Atkinson in the Voice: "Ubiquitous indie gadfly, advocate, and producer, Larry Fessenden has, for a quarter-century now, busily championed the deployment of depth and experimentation in a genre that too often includes neither: the low-budget horror film, a unique career project that has netted him his first retro, at ReRun Gastropub Theater. Think of a fresh psychotronic indie from the last decade, and chances are Fessenden's name is on it somewhere." Steve Dollar talks with Fessenden for the Wall Street Journal. Viewing (3'00"). For the New York Times, Fessenden narrates an overview of several of his company's films.
"Fritz Lang's Metropolis, surely one of the most intensely studied and widely imitated films of the silent era, grows more complex and mysterious as time goes on," writes the NYT's AO Scott. The new Complete Metropolis that we've heard so much about since the discovery of a 16mm duplicate negative in Buenos Aires in 2008, a version fuller than any seen since the film's premiere in 1927, "will be shown at the Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan for the next two weeks. Next month it will also pop up on TCM and will be available on DVD and Blu-ray. An old-fashioned movie palace is surely the ideal place to encounter an ancient masterpiece, even if its current incarnation owes much to the latest digital technology."
"No symphony of a singing metropolis, Sometimes City is more a spare-parts scavenging of stories," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. Tom Jarmusch's documentary about Cleveland screens tonight and tomorrow at Anthology Film Archives.
J'Accuse screens tonight and Sunday afternoon at MoMA. David Phelps for the L: "Abel Gance's 1919 melodrama of daydreams/nightmares, provincial maids peering out windows onto dandy lovers and eventually The Great War, has medieval feeling for a modern-day ménage-a-trois. In the same year as Griffith's The Girl Who Stayed Home, with its upended cross-cuts between both spaces and times circulating freely amongst each other as if in a line of thought, Gance takes war as the essence of consciousness and movie-making."
"The seventh annual Hong Kong Asian Film Festival features more than 60 independently-made films from across Asia, but this year it will shine a spotlight on the work of Chinese directors," reports Jessica Au for the AFP. Runs today through November 8.
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