Archive for the ‘hot tickets’ category

This weekend, HRWIFF presents: “Youth Producing Change”

June 19, 2009

“I guess I just want people to know what it’s like.”

It’s a sentiment that I heard repeatedly from the filmmakers of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival’s Youth Producing Change.

The program is somewhat, well, as advertised: it showcase young people (around senior-age in high school) who have made projects demonstrative of human rights issues in their community, personal expressions, or experiences that for them are definitive.

“In Iran, no one blinked if I wore the hijab. It is not a restriction,” one filmmaker told me. “But here, it is not that way. People look at you differently. People assume.”

That filmmaker, Sahar Shakeri, was a recent immigrant from Iran, having accompanied her mother, a schoolteacher, on her path to get her Ph.D in Englsh Literature. Encouraged by her teachers, she turned her feelings about the contradictions inherent in wearing the Muslim veil into a short 7-minute film, “Thoughts in a Hijab.”

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Another filmmaker, Jessica Cele, already worked at an educational video center when she asked them if they would help her make her film.

“The center I worked for already released public-safety information, doing their own stuff,” she told me. “But I wanted to see, you know, how we’d do it. How youth could do it.”

Her film, “It’s Not About Sex,” explores issues of sexual violence in society, discovering that while it is tragic, an antidote is talking about it in public.

“In my eyes, it’s only when you talk about it, hard as it is that things can really start to change,” Jessica said.

Clevins Browne, the filmmaker of “In My Shoes”, was also on message when it came to dialogue.

“You know, my film’s about youth homelessness in New York City,” Mr. Browne told me. “When I tell most people about that, they act surprised as if they didn’t know it existed.”

But that’s what the Youth Producing Change showcase is all about: giving voices to those people to whom voices were once stifled before.

When I asked him why he wanted to make movies, Mr. Browne’s answer was simple, his smile broad and confident.

“Because people don’t know,” he told me. “And they should.”

-Nicholas Feitel, Contributing Editor

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Doing it, Digitally: A Chat with Glenn Kenny on Steven Soderbergh’s Girlfriend Experience

May 26, 2009

Steven Soderbergh has had what some would call a bipolar career, starting off with his widely acknowledged indie Sex, Lies and Videotape and ending up somewhere around Ocean’s 13 (a three-quel, not a thirteen-quel, thankfully), by way of Erin Brokovich. But even with his mainstream films, Soderbergh has burned the candle at both ends, continuing to make his farcically commercial vehicles while releasing camp, kitsch and craziness like the pastiche film The Good German or the crazy micro-budget Bubble.

The latter film is the result of his partnership with HDNet Films and producer Mark Cuban, shooting on the vaunted RED-One camera, a digital device with the quality of film, and casting mostly non-professional actors as largely versions of themselves for a heady experience that usually involves two-weeks-or-so of shooting and simultaneous video-on-demand releasing. This model, which he used previously for Bubble and his political-epic Che (a selection of the New York Film Festival 2008), is turned towards the smaller, upscale livelihood of a call girl and her personal-trainer boyfriend in his new film, The Girlfriend Experience.


I sat down with Glenn Kenny, a real-life blogger and film critic, who in the film plays a character out of a movie by Todd Solodnz or Todd Field: a smarmy “hobbyist” and rater of escort services who self-identifies as “The Erotic Connoisseur”.

Given that he himself is a blogger and that most of the people in the movie are playing themselves or something similar–Sasha Grey, the lead, is a porn star playing an escort–I asked him if he was worried about people thinking he actually was the part he played.

“Well,” he said, adopting a sardonic tone. “Let’s just say I’m lucky to be married in more ways than one.”

Kenny, a long time film critic and writer who wrote for Premiere magazine for over a decade, now blogs on the web at his site Some Came Running, a place where he talks about movies and his life, but does not in fact rate escorts.

“I was long-time friends with the screenwriters, David Levien and Bryan Koppleman and they had worked with Soderbergh just recently on Ocean’s 13,” Kenny explained. “They were holed up in a hotel room, writing another script entirely, when they saw a couple down outside the hotel which just didn’t seem right; an older man, with a much younger woman in intense clothes, hanging off him, as if for dear life.”

“One of them asked aloud, ‘What’s that?’ and another one of them replied ‘Oh, it’s the Girlfriend Experience, a service where a prostitute doesn’t just dole out sex, but simulated love as well.’ And this got them all thinking and so, David, Bryan and Soderbergh thought there was a script there and wrote it.”

However, even though Levien, Koppleman and Soderbergh collaborated on the script, the script was almost an outline and all the dialogue was improvised with the actors on set immediately, a sort of crystal-meth rush of Mike Leigh method. As a result, a script that was written in March 2007, according to Kenny, ended up heavily referencing September 2008, with the anxiety of the financial crisis and the upcoming election at the forefront.

“They would have newspapers for us on set from the week it was supposed to be and we would just sit around and talk about it,” Kenny recalled.

In the film, Chelsea/Christianne (Sasha Grey) is a practitioner of “The Girlfriend Experience”, while her boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos), a personal trainer, chases his own dreams of breaking it big in the world managing a gym or marketing a line of sportswear. Their relationship is interesting in the acknowledgment of Chelsea’s profession. “You’re the best at what you do.” Chris tells her, when she seems threatened by another escort’s popularity.

This anxiety drives Chelsea to seek “Glenn,” the character played by Glenn Kenny, who runs a website that rates escort services. One of the most sublime moments of the film occurs when Chelsea shows up at an old furniture store to be confronted with an old man who directs her to Kenny’s character, who lives in the back.

Kenny explains: “Steven really wanted to use that store. And when we got there, this old man, the store owner, was there. And Steven said let’s put him in the movie. So I was faced with this old man, who I had just met for the first time and of course it was improvised, so I thought, what could the relationship be between me and this guy and I thought–landlord–but wait, wouldn’t it just be more awful if it was my dad?”

Two more improvised riffs from Kenny also add up to some of the best moments in the film: a description of a prostitute “junket” in Dubai that “Glenn” offers as bait to Chelsea, and a stinging review of Chelsea’s services to him administered, off-screen, for free.

“We actually shot the sex scene, I had to ask my wife about that, but it was cut from the film,” Kenny told me. “And when I wrote my on-set diaries for GQ, they ended up dropping them and I can’t help but think it was because they didn’t see me naked next to Sasha Gray.”

“As for the ‘junket’, well I’m a film critic and I thought that would be funny. I actually heard some sailors I met overseas talk to me about their experience in Dubai and how the most beautiful women they’d ever seen were the Russian hookers they saw in Dubai. So I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if my character brought a bunch of high-class prostitutes to them to try to convince them to ‘buy American.'”

Those diaries, which ended up here on Martin Scorsese’s Auteur Project, are very humorous and provide more insight into the casting process as well as the improvisation on set.

Overall, I thought the film fairly successful, a Steven Soderbergh take on Two or Three Things I Know About Her, with Sasha Grey standing in for Mariana Vlady and an interesting time-capsule of an anxiety not-too-far-gone.

“I like Soderbergh even when he is working on Ocean’s 13, though like all directors he’s made up-and-down films. He just keeps throwing things at you until he gets what he wants; he’s really hands on,” Kenny said. “You know, when they called me up for the part, they told me they needed someone who could talk, who could go-on, who could expound…”

“Who could bloviate?” I offered, giving the root of the term “blog.”

“Yeah,” Glenn Kenny said with a smile. “That too.”

-Nicholas Feitel

Nicholas Feitel also writes for his own blog, Feitelogram

Yesterday’s Loner, Today’s Honoree: Talking Steve McQueen with the Film Society’s Josh Strauss

May 18, 2009

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“That’s Ironweed,” Josh Strauss told me.

I admitted I’d never seen it.

“Meryl Streep’s best performance. Jack Nicholson at the top of his game. But impossible to find. Impossible.”

He should know. Strauss, programming associate for Film Society of Lincoln Center, had had a long history trying to find prints, trying to keep them vibrant and in tip-top shape. It’s what he did before he came here for independent distributors in New York and L.A.

“That and acting,” he said. “For about five minutes.”

Mr. Strauss had made a career of loving movies, remembering them in 35 and trying to find the best way they could be shown in a theater.

“Lincoln Center is full of intellectuals,” Mr. Strauss told me. “People doing brilliant work on the aesthetics of film, doing retrospectives on that.” He gave me at least a little bit of a smile. “I can’t offer that. What I can offer are the movies I loved to see when I was a kid.”

Those movies take the form of the series Yesterday’s Loner: Steve McQueen, a retrospective of the actor’s work on films as diverse as Enemy of the People, where he plays a small town doctor fighting to keep pollutants from a river, to The Magnificent Seven, where he embodied a sort of American samurai.

And though McQueen certain has a range, he was known best as a sort of action hero, a cowboy-badass of the type that would later make Clint Eastwood a legend.

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“I did a retrospective of Charlton Heston and, well, I’d put him in the same category,” Mr. Strauss said.

His office was lined with the posters of the retrospectives he’d done and the movies he loved, including the one I had been staring at, Ironweed.

“I’m old enough to remember seeing him, seeing Steve McQueen on film.” Strauss recalled. “He was an authority to me in Saturday Afternoon matinees; a power.”

The Steve McQueen series, screening May 20th-26th at the Walter Reade theater, is lined with guest appearances by prominent McQueen collaborators, people like Candice Bergen and Robert Vaughn. “You know, Norman Jewison said The Cincinatti Kid was the first movie that he ever felt like a filmmaker,” Strauss reported. “Now 44 years later, he’ll be back to say that again, introducing the film.”

“Finding prints for movies,” Josh told me, “you just try to show things while they’re there, while they’re good. These prints of Steve McQueen’s films are still good. And people haven’t forgotten him, they just haven’t seen the movies.”

And talking, looking at the man, his posters, his enthusiasm: I felt excited for the chance now.

-Nicholas Feitel

Yesterday’s Loner: Steve McQueen runs from May 20-26 at the Walter Reade Theater. Tickets are on sale now online.

Catch the last of Jancso’s Classics tonight and tomorrow

May 8, 2009

Red Psalm

If you caught Red Psalm, part of the Jancsó Classics at the Walter Reade on Wednesday, then you may still be reeling from the sweeping and, at times, dizzying camerawork.  If you missed it, you can still catch two of his other classics, The Round Up, and Silence and Cry, tomorrow night at the Walter Reade.

Red Psalm is considered to be the most successful of the canon of Communist musicals owing to Jancsó’s proclivity for directing films: there is no other artistic medium sufficient to convey his particular vision.  Despite the fact that are fewer than 30 cuts in the whole of Red Psalm, the film reads like a feature-length montage, melding music and dance, whips cracking artfully, horses running in formation, red ribbons waving, women disrobing at will, and sparse dialogue rife with allegorical density.  The film has no main characters, only resurfacing faces and a company of extras totaling 1500 who move as one in front of an ever-moving camera, capturing Jancsó’s exhaustive choreography.  The players speak cryptically and often break the fourth wall, directly addressing the audience with recitations of socialist psalms or deep soul-searching stares.  Like any Socialist commentary, the story cannot end happily, but any cinephile can enjoy watching this ballet unfold over the fields of Hungary, even if they have to fight off a little motion sickness.

Red Psalm flaunts a diverse set of influences, from the most avant-garde early experimental films to the most garish high-budget Hollywood spectaculars, and echoes of Jancsó’s own style still resurface in cinema today.  Gyula Gazdag, a Hungarian filmmaker whose works were banned by the Hungarian government, produced Singing on the Treadmill in 1984, a satirical Communist musical that directly emulates and subverts the messages of Red Psalm, (Gazdag left Hungary to become the artistic director of the Sundance Institute Director’s Labs), and even Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000) pays homage to this Communist musical.  Jancsó’s restless camerawork may have even been the inspiration for Russian Ark (2002), the expansive historical feature shot in a single take.

Be sure to catch the last of Jancsó’s Classics tomorrow, May 9th at the Walter Reade Theater.

-Christianne Hedtke

Christianne Hedtke also writes for BananaWho.

Neo-Neo Realism: Here at a Discount

March 23, 2009
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Photo from the New York Times

A.O. Scott has a great piece here on Neo-Neo Realism (or as I call it, American Neo-Realism).

In the article, he discusses how filmmakers have gathered around the nexus of our hard times, channeling the bleakness of the Italian neo-realists in Rosselini’s Rome: Open City or De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. He cites such filmmakers as Kelly Reichardt with Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy, Lance Hammer with Ballast, Ramin Bahrani with Man Push Cart and So Yong Kim’s Treeless Mountain. Those films, he argues, show the struggle of underpowered individuals in a world they can never succeed in (thus: realism). By contrast, take the Oscar’s Slumdog Millionaire a movie with underpowered indivudals triumphing despite (and to spite) all odds, which Scott points out aptly is “the magical power of popular culture to conquer misery, to make dreams come true. And the major function of Oscar night is to affirm that gauzy, enchanting notion.”

Scott also makes some good analogies about borrowing, looking at how a film like Wendy and Lucy can take a lost dog from De Sica’s Umberto D and teach it a new trick. And indeed, these filmmakers are building on each other.

The place where many of these filmmakers meet, where the “American neo-realists” got their break, is at the New Directors/New Films Festival. Because from Kelly Reichardt (Class of ’05) to Ramin Bahrani (Class of ’06) to Lance Hammer (Class of ’07), all of these filmmakers had their breakthrough “neo-realist” films here at ND/NF. And as if to put the icing on the cake, A.O. Scott even included a film that’s playing this year at the festival: So Yong Kim’s beautiful, difficult and diffident Treeless Mountain.

So check it out. After all, in these “hard-scrabble times”, tickets are only 10 bucks for students, saving you a bit (plus a nice Q+A with those cool director-types).

After all, if this writer may opine: “Ticket to ND/NF Film: 10 dollars. Chance to one-up A.O. Scott by knowing about a good movie before he does: Priceless.”

😀

-Nicholas Feitel, ND/NF New Voice

ND/NF: Paul Giamatti in Vanya on 42nd Street…and also in Russia for some reason

March 19, 2009

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You know a film is tackling the existential ennui of creative-types when the first moment of excitement comes from an issue of The New Yorker.

But that’s what Cold Souls, Sophie Barthes’s feature debut, looks at, and it’s blessed to have such a good subject.

Paul Giamatti plays, well, a slightly exaggerated version of Paul Giamatti–I’m pretty sure he was never as suave as in an imaginary clip of his work within the film where he says “Let’s go make love”–who is trying to find his character in a performance of Uncle Vanya. This is of course, brilliant, since anyone knowing the Chekov play and the actor would know he’s perfect for the part. Yet the dilemma is that in the film Giamatti is unwilling to suffer to find his character: the superfluous man.

Thus, we are taken on an absurdist journey of soul-swapping, Russian “mules”, chickpeas and an impeccably coiffed David Strathairn. It’s a journey that seems to echo Dante or Sartre with a pinch of the internationalist films of Olivier Assayas; the search for one’s own soul, a commodity on the market between countries. And while this sounds interesting, one can’t help but wonder at the number of allusions we’re supposed to take and accept; the film sometimes seems like a class in contemporary western philosophy.

Yet what anchors Cold Souls to a reachable humanist point is Giamatti himself, a wonderful and underused actor. He is so much a schlub, a wonk, a beardo, a sufferer that it is endlessly fascinating just to get caught up looking in his face, as the film does in many expressive shots, as we search his eyes for the remnant of a soul.

In the end, Cold Souls is a smart, slight film. That it demands a high degree of literacy from its audience is refreshing after the wave of mall-cop/Tyler Perry movies offered to us as insults to our intelligence otherwise.

-Nicholas Feitel, ND/NF New Voice

Buy tickets to Cold Souls: Fri Mar 27: 9 (MoMA) and Sun Mar 29: 5 (FSLC)

How to Rendez-Vous with hot tickets at the Film Society

March 6, 2009

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Maybe it’s the sexy accents. Maybe it’s the sense of superiority that comes from seeing new César Award-bedecked French cinema before anyone else even hears about it. Maybe it’s because it’s cheaper than flying to Paris. But year after year, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema is one of our most popular programs.

That can lead to some frustrating encounters with the sold-out sign. But fear not the hordes of Francophone cineastes! The filmlinc blog spoke with sources within the Film Society’s ticketing department to get you these exclusive tips on snagging prime seats to this yearly Gallic extravaganza.

First off, last minute tickets should become available to some of this weekend’s hottest seats: SÉRAPHINE (winner of seven Caesars!), EDEN IS WEST (Costa-Gavras in person!), and THE JOY OF SINGING (Opera! Espionage! Love!).

You can always show up before a screening, sold out or otherwise, and tickets may become available to the standby line immediately prior to showtime. Just remember,  it’s Cash Only at the box office.

Further, lots of interesting films are not yet sold out. This weekend:

With a Little Help From Myself: [Sat Mar 7: 4:10] [Mon Mar 9: 1 & 6:15] This pointed social satire immerses the viewer into the world of African immigrant Sonia and the housing project where she lives. When Sonia’s ne’er-do-well husband suffers a fatal heart attack on the day of her daughter’s wedding she hatches a plan with her elderly white neighbor Robert to bury the body and keep the dead man’s pension. Thus begins an unlikely relationship between two of contemporary France’s most marginalized groups, immigrants and the elderly.

Check back next week for a spotlight on some more Rendez-Vous selections you don’t want to miss.

But remember, you didn’t hear it from us.