Posted tagged ‘tom treanor’

ND/NF: Houseguests from a polite hell in Mid-August Lunch

April 2, 2009

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From Italian writer/director Gianni DiGregorio (perhaps best known for his screenplay adaptation of last year’s Italian mafioso film Gomorrah) comes Mid-August Lunch, a sprightly comedy (almost Shakespearean in its farcical scope) that blends the viewer’s empathy for rock-and-hard-place bad luck with a bit of charming sentimentality. This film isn’t the gritty Italy of Gomorrah, but rather the small-town communion Italy eternally drenched in summer sun.

Gianni (played by writer/director DiGregorio, a one-man movie-making placeholder in the tradition of Clint Eastwood), for all intents and purposes, is a sad-sack…. He’s behind on rent, has no outlook to pay it on time, and can’t confide his financial woes to his elderly mother, with whom he lives. He’s not without hope, though: his landlord offers to forgive him some of the back pay (and even a key to the building elevator) if Gianni wouldn’t mind putting up the landlord’s mother for a weekend while he is away. Gianni certainly agrees, but the arrangement quickly snowballs…. Not only does the landlord bring his mother, but also his elderly aunt, and all Gianni can do is grin and bear it. And that he does, even more so when his best friend leaves town…. and needs a place for his mother to stay as well.

Gianni’s goodwill and hospitality makes him a one-man host, chef, and maid…. but not without a glass of white wine for himself at the ready. The screenplay is almost aggressively insular to Gianni’s third-person point of view, and this gives the viewer an interesting warm-up to the peculiarities of his weekend houseguests. These ladies, at first humble and grandmotherly (one brings Gianni a cake as gift, wrapped in a bidet towel), soon exhibit enough orneriness to keep things interesting. They gossip, they throw tantrums, they overeat and overdrink, and do it all through the grateful smiles of prudent houseguests.

Gianni’s mother (Valeria De Franciscis), almost playfully dependent on her dutiful son, is always ready to drop some gossipy complaints about their new houseguests to him, yet is sunny and polite to the point of saccharine. (Gianni’s mother, who old age has not treated terribly well, sports a lioness bouffant of a blonde wig against a face so leather-worn and oversunned that she could easily pass as a grotesquerie out of a Cormac McCarthy novel.)

Mid-August Lunch, though, in a way feels almost too easy; the beats on which the story unfolds are cute but not complicated, and I felt that a lot of the tension in a comedy like this came as unsurprising and almost typical of the situation established. In a way, Gianni is the dope who can’t win and can’t say no (a similar comparison, although a bit out-sized, would be Ben Stiller’s character in Meet the Parents), and there’s only so much layering a character like this can have without forcing the story to sacrifice its levity. Whereas the story doesn’t exactly conform to a formula, it does carry with it the dull glint of being derivative…. yet this is a small price to pay for a film that at times is so effortlessly charming.

-Tom Treanor

Buy tickets: Fri Apr 3: 6:15 (FSLC)
Sat Apr 4: 3:45 (MoMA)

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ND/NF: Every Little Step reminds us of one singular sensation

March 25, 2009

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“A Chorus Line”, arguably one of Broadway’s most successful musicals, doesn’t seem at first to be an everyman’s show. This is a musical about the casting of a musical, almost a self-indulgent exercise in the love of the stage, for and by the actors and producers of such a production. Its magnanimous success, though, is a testament to how truly audiences did connect with it: the show originally opened in 1975, played for 6137 performances until 1990, and holds the crown of Broadway’s longest running musical production. And then came opening night in 2006…. “A Chorus Line” began its revival.

And this is where Every Little Step comes in, a documentary about the casting of a musical about the casting of the musical. Don’t fear: this film is not an exercise on meta storytelling (though trying to describe it does entreat one down the rabbit hole), but rather an exclusive peek into the frenzy of standing up one of Broadway’s most beloved shows…. again.

Directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo wrangled unfettered access to the casting process of “A Chorus Line”’s revival, and in doing so give us a documentary that breaks open the drive of the original Broadway production and illuminates beautifully the original process of bringing it to the stage in the mid 1970s, starting with the very first meeting of the minds behind it. That they tell this story through the lens of producing its revival gives them solid ground to start on, if not a convenient excuse.

What makes a musical like “A Chorus Line” so identifiable, I think, is that the audience is allowed to see these characters through their struggles onto the stage through a variety of energetic and sometimes heart-rending soliloquies. I feel Every Little Step wants to travel this terrain too, to provide a parallel track for the documentary against the musical, but misses the mark with its “real life” auditioners. The history behind building the first go around of “A Chorus Line” is what grabbed my attention the most, as we get to see the real people who provided both the inspiration and the original performances. The casting of the revival almost seems like an afterthought; even though we meet the auditioners and even pull for the ones we like best, the true energy from the documentary comes from the history of the show, not its rebirth.

Despite the remarkable (and apparently never-before granted) “all access” pass given to the filmmakers (and thereby given to the viewers), I couldn’t help but feel that this documentary lacked a certain spark of originality…. Just because cameras have never been allowed to capture the casting process of a Broadway musical doesn’t mean that a documentary about it is breaking new ground. In fact, the process seemed to go just as I would expect it to go, with maybe even more compassion than I would imagine on the part of the directors of the musical. That said, Every Little Step is an enjoyable and informative documentary, and you too might leave the theatre with these iconic songs playing in your head.

-Tom Treanor

Buy tickets to Every Little Step: Fri Mar 27: 6:15 (FSLC) and Sun Mar 29: 4:30 (MoMA)

The Ram’s gearing up for his biggest match yet…the Oscars

January 20, 2009

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Allow us a blast from the past for a moment: The Wrestler closed the 46th annual New York Film Festival last October, but it’s generating a lot of Oscar buzz. And if you’re checking it out in theaters now, you may enjoy some of our past coverage:

Read NYFF festival correspondent Tom Treanor’s review.

Watch one of FilmCatcher’s excellent video interviews, this one with Darren Arronofsky.

Heck, checkout New York Mag’s hilarious “Ten Things You Need to Know About The Wrestler”

See all of our Wrestler coverage

Our in-house critics weigh in on Time’s top viral videos

December 31, 2008

As the clock runs out on 2008, there’s still time for one more year-end list. This one comes from Time magazine, which scoured the landscape of user-generated videos to find the most searing portrayals of small fuzzy animals in slapstick predicaments, grown men bringing the world together through dance, and other various and sundry viral video novelties.

We here at the filmlinc blog wondered why is it only cinematic portraits of the central Asian steppes or wrenching stories of girls and their lost dogs that get all the critical ink? So we tapped our in-house team for insights on the year’s top viral vids.

Eschewing Time’s #4 pick “Hamster on a Piano (Eating Popcorn)Film Comment’s Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa supplies this worthy alternative, “Walrus Plays Saxophone.” He says: “The walrus, long associated with the sinister and the ugly, from the myths of the  aurora borealis  representing lost souls playing ball with it’s head to Kipling’s description of the animal as an “old Sea Vitch—the big, ugly, bloated, pimpled, fat-necked, long-tusked walrus of the North Pacific, who has no manners except when he is asleep,” has finally been vindicated in this viral video which demands that we no longer think in such black and white terms as beauty vrs. beast or good vrs. evil.”

NYFF Correspondent Tom Treanor picks Time’s #7, How To Pretend You Give A Sh*t About The Election, above, as his top pick. Tom says: “The most informative news segment broadcast all year; a pointed, decisive, and altogether wildly educational crash course on how to get by at a cocktail party when discussing 2008’s favorite ad nauseum topic:  the presidential election.  When, after all, it’s hard to have a well-informed opinion about the mess of it all, it’s best to turn the discussion to the never-fail fallback: just say ‘swing state.'”

When pressed for his take on the state of viral video 2008, Film Comment Senior Editor Chris Chang issued this statement from his winter retreat in Sunset Park: “While the top ten viral-video list is indicative of salient, yet ominous, societal trends, there are more menacing tendencies at play. The contemporary bastardization of direct-cinema, Kino-Pravda, and other forms of “authentic” documentary, specifically as a means of social propaganda, continues to detract from the ontological value of documentary as such. On a purely ideological level it leads toward a forced normalization of intellectual condescension, i.e., a status quo of social elitism—or cultural fascism. Albeit a spatio-temporal impossibility, there can be only one (true) recourse: Bring PUPPY CAM back.”

[Time magazine’s Top Viral Videos of 2008]

Remember to check out our channel on YouTube. It’s filled with great director interviews and clips, and guaranteed to be 100% hamster free.

The filmlinc blog asks: what’s your fantasy double feature?

December 30, 2008

The Under the Sign of Fincher program (Jan 1-4) offers audiences the chance to see several unique double features chosen by director David Fincher himself. It got us to thinking about unique pairings and so we asked friends and contributors to come up with their own “fantasy double features.”

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Paris, Texas (1984)

Compare the perpetual motion of Leatherface with the almost static (and leathery) features of a forlorn Harry Dean Stanton. They are loosely-defined family men, in broken-family films, struggling with the transvaluation of family values. (The “female question,” in both cases, is a tough one.) While on seemingly opposite sides of the stylistic spectrum (Tobe Hooper versus Wim Wenders) the two gents are, nonetheless, part of an existential continuum of angst. Get out your handkerchiefs for Harry; but you’ll more likely need a bucket and mop for the guy with the power tool. You will feel the pain.

Chris Chang, Senior Editor, Film Comment magazine

10 Rillington Place (1971) and Alien (1979)

Sure, at first it’s just a coupling of John Hurt’s most contagious performances, from the “JFK”-like refrain “Christie did it” in Richard Fleischer’s 1971 serial crime story to the ultimate John Hurt moment eight short years later. But together this double feature of British-made thrillers provides a master class on on-screen dread–achieved mostly
through atmosphere and uncertainty–as well as a potent sense of the country’s gloom on the eve of the Thatcher-era.

Arthur Ryel-Lindsey, Editor, Film Society


Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) and Network (1976)

Perhaps no two films are as prescient and relevant when making a commentary on our media-saturated society, and no two films can better exemplify the integrity our news media has potential for….  and the three-ring circus it has truly become.  Even more fascinating:  these are movies representative of our past, yet both are keenly observant of the perversions and self-important altruism at the hand of the television news networks broadcasting today.

-Tom Treanor, New York Film Festival Correspondent

Kids (1995) & Y Tú Mamá También (2001)

Maybe it’s just the cold weather, but who doesn’t like two smart, raw, fun and sometimes dark teen flicks set during summertime? This selection offers an interesting and unique look at teens from Mexico City and NYC that will radiate warmth—at least temperature-wise. Both are about being young, rebellious, careless, and free spirited—so 2009—and there’s not a glove, scarf or mitten in sight.

-Christian Del Moral, Cine Latino en Nueva York

Me, I’d like to see Five Easy Pieces (1970) and Wendy and Lucy (2008) together. Both are Pacific Northwest-set dramas that grapple with class in an interesting way. In Five Easy Pieces, Jack Nicholson returns to his upper class family after years doing manual labor in the oil fields, and in Wendy and Lucy, Michelle Williams leaves the safety of family in the hopes of finding a good-paying job in Alaska that will save her from destitution. Both show how powerful simple stories and strong central performance can be in terms of conveying core human dramas.

Check out David Fincher’s picks (and see two films for the price of one!) all the rest of the week. And tell us your fantasy double features in the comments!

NYFF Closing Night: The Wrestler brings the camera to the arena

October 10, 2008

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Darren Aronofsky, director of the virtuoso Requiem for a Dream (2000) and last behind the camera for The Fountain (2006), is striking at new ground with The Wrestler, a film of surprising compassion about the small-town circuit of professional wrestling. Aronofsky himself mentioned at the NYFF press screening that he’s always been curious why there were so many boxing films as an American oeuvre, but none that tackle the sensation of professional wrestling. With this film, he does it graceful justice.

Ahead of the camera is a sublime, anchoring performance by Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a man well past his heyday from the sold-out crowds of his professional wrestling career in the mid-1980s. His very vitality, however, still lies with wrestling; it’s his only source of income, all he knows how to do, all he loves to do, and he moves up and down the mid-Atlantic through towns like Rahway, New Jersey and Wilmington, Delaware to do it. He’s well-respected among his fellow wrestlers, though it’s clear that he’s approaching the eclipse of his career. Playing to smaller arenas and various perversions of the standard WWF glam of the 80s (including one match involving stapleguns and barbed wire), The Ram is running out of gas, finally collapsing of a heart attack after a particularly brutal match.

This heart attack is the pivot of the film; The Ram, more aware of his mortality than ever, is adrift with a job behind the deli counter at a Central Jersey supermarket. He tries to reach out to his estranged young adult daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), though he isn’t sure of his own intentions. He tries to forge a deeper relationship with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a simpatico stripper he’s known over the years; it’s perhaps with her that he is able to grapple with hope with respect to What Comes Next in his life, and a scene where the two share a mid-afternoon beer at a dive bar is both tender and unflinching in its honesty.

The screenplay by Robert D. Siegel is a fascinating deconstruction of two people whose lives are critically connected to their jobs; both are past the prime their profession requires, and this fact alone is an inevitable threat to their respective occupations as professional entertainers. Tomei’s Cassidy serves as an effective foil to Rourke, playing both parallel and counterpoint to The Ram and thereby provides a satisfying depth of context to the film. Rightful praise is being showered upon Rourke; his performance is effortless and careful not to drift toward the sentimental. Tomei (who likely can boast more shirtless screentime than many other over-40 Oscar-winning actresses) is always a welcome presence onscreen, though this role doesn’t grant her the access to the break-out intensity of some of her past work.

Much of the pleasure of Aronofsky’s work is in his sincerity to the material. Reaching out to the professional wrestling community, Aronofsky casted only professionals as the wrestlers in his film. He’s careful to not mock his characters despite their flirtations with destitution. This ode to a fictional wrestler at the pinnacle of his life is captivating and never rings false; Aronofsky is consistently proving himself to be one of his generation’s most gifted and earnest filmmakers.

The Wrestler closes the New York Film Festival this Sunday night.

See the filmlinc blog’s complete coverage of the Wrestler

How Soderbergh’s Che sets the bar for the biopic

October 9, 2008

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Benicio Del Toro as Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Steven Soderbergh’s sweeping four-and-a-half-hour long biopic Che is a stunning masterwork of documentarian vision, likely to set the bar for future works of historical biography brought to film. Profiling Argentinean revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in both the highlight and lowlight of his life in the mid-twentieth century, Soderbergh brings to the screen an account of Guevara’s successes and defeats that is both magnificently crafted and consistently engaging. Che is divided in two halves, the first about Guevara’s triumphant campaign of motivating a socialist revolutionary movement in Cuba to overthrow the government of United States-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, and the second about his attempt to incite a similar yet unsuccessful guerrilla movement in Bolivia that ultimately led to his execution.

The film unfolds with a brave, objectivist stance that never wavers or never seems to lapse into the gratuitous fictional liberties that could overtake such a biopic as this. Onscreen, Benicio Del Toro as Guevara is a force; his conviction alone anchors the film and allows the viewer to sympathize with Che yet not at all times believe his choices to be correct. Del Toro emphasizes Guevara’s nonnegotiable desire for his guerrilla army to be educated and self-aware, and perhaps it is this sole trait that accentuates his undeniable charisma. Che pulls out a few cute casting surprises (Julia Ormond and Franka Potente are both welcome surprises), but heralds Del Toro as the rightful and undeniable star of the show.

The first portion of the film intercuts Guevara’s 1958/1959 campaign in Cuba with his speech before the United Nations General Assembly in New York City in 1964. Soderburgh shows us New York in black and white, with the handheld-camera style of a documentary, punctuating Guevara’s preparation for his speech with snippets of an interview for American television. In contrast, Cuba is given the full-color treatment for the lush Caribbean jungle, and the viewer is treated to a sly (but never lecture-like) history lesson about the 26 Julio socialist movement in Cuba and how Fidel Castro, with Che by his side, rose to power. From the jungle to the streets of the city, Che’s guerrilla army grows in number and in strength; those looking for the punch of an action film certainly won’t leave disappointed after scenes showing a dazzling display of choreographed combat.

Once the second half of the film gains its momentum, it becomes clear how Guevara’s fervor and perhaps overconfidence in charging a socialist uprising throughout the world led directly to his downfall. His campaign in Bolivia was predicated on his success in Cuba, and it is to Che’s detriment that he did not understand that the people of Bolivia were not in need or of a desire for a grassroots uprising. Soderbergh shows us a Bolivia that is harsher, drier, and less navigable than Cuba, and this contrast highlights the confidence of his directorial eye (and, to boot, doesn’t disappoint with his trademark saturation of color when the ambient hues of the dawn and dusk allow for it).

Che is a master chronicle of historical drama on film, and it will be awhile before anyone can harness the electric energy that both Soderbergh and Del Toro bring to one of the best biopics in the history of cinema.