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Posts tagged ‘Film Society of Lincoln Center’

New York Film Festival 2013 ~ So far, so good

The New York Film Festival 2013, which is now unfurling at Lincoln Center and environs, seems to be packed with more frenzied activity (and press) than ever before. The NYFF prides itself on NOT being as big a film festival as, say, Toronto. And this week it was really brought home to me why. They just don’t have the space and the number of cinemas that Toronto has to use for its’ great festival. TIFF takes over the entire city, near and far. New York does not. It stays comfortably ensconced where it’s always been for its ’51 years of existence :Lincoln Center. The Press Screenings are all held in the medium-sized Walter Reade Cinema, pleasant, charming but certainly not the biggest theater in New York. And in NY, they only show a FRACTION of the films that TIFF does.

Today I saw “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” one of the largest theaters in the AMC Lincoln Square multiplex on W.68th and Bway. And it was packed to the rafters, but a film like this with multiple, elaborate fantasy sequences needs a much larger screen than the Walter Reade. It fit there just fine. It’s very unusual for the Film Society to bond with AMC, but I guess for this charming, funny centerpiece film, it was a very good fit for all.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyable family film that will be pleased by all at Christmas time, but hardly on Oscar-seeker as it was buzzed to be. But it’s good, solid old-fashioned boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl entertainment, and should make a lot of money around the holidays. It’s fizzy family fun. With a lot of adventure thrown in. A very unusual Centerpiece for the New York Film Festival, which usually goes for much more serious fare.

Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, who plays the title role, it is loosely based on the famous James Thurber short story of the same name that ran in the New Yorker magazine in 1939. Walter Mitty, in this version, is someone who daydreams and wishes for a colordul life far-removed from the mundane black and white one he feels he’s stuck with.

True to Thurber,  Walter keeps “zoning” in and out of fantasy sequences, that escalate as the film’s action ramps up, precipitated by his blossoming romance with single mother/accountant, Kristin Wiig, in an uncharacteristic ingenue role. But she’s an age-appropriate love interest for Stiller, and has a skate-boarding son who Stiller bonds with.

His fantasies include chasing his idol Sean Penn, a world traveling Life magazine photographer, to the wilds of Greenland(never before seen in a feature film!) and also, of course, the neighboring island country of Iceland. Olafur Darri Olafson nearly steals the film as the drunken, gargantuan Icelandic helicopter pilot, he encounters in a Greenland bar drinking beer out of gigantic “boot glasses” .Yes, they’re shaped like boots. Walter Mitty, characteristically orders “a small boot.”

It’s long, but it held my interest. As did the also overlong “Gloria” a Chilean film about a still attractive, middle-aged working woman, who is trying to enjoy her change of life years in urban Santiago. She has children, but she sees them infrequently. It’s almost as though she’s childless.

A hairless stray cat keeps interrupting her “quiet life” as does her encounter and subsequent relationship with a middle-aged businessman Rodolpho (Sergio Hernandez). The film is much more interesting than it’s plotless plot  sounds. God is in the details in this well-observed film about the minutiae of female ageing in the post-menopausal years. It serves mainly as a vehicle for an iconic Chilean actress Paulina Garcia, who is quite marvelous and holds the screen throughout the 2 1/2 hour running time.

If there is any Oscar bait to be found at the NYFF, I would certainly say Senora Garcia deserves consideration for her unstinting tour-de-force performance in the title role. The director Sebastian Lilio said he created the film for her and she was involved with it even before it was written. “You have to fall in love with Paulina to do something like this.” And I have to say, I did. She’s irresistible. Alas an unknown actress in a small foreign film has no chance at breaking in to the Oscar race, where this year, it seems every actress involved already has an Oscar or two or three. But they are going to do a campaign for “Gloria” as Best Foreign Film. And Chile has submitted it as their Official Submission to that race in the Oscars. AND “Gloria” has a US distributor. Which is all wonderful news.

Another film that I mightily enjoyed and was truly fascinated by was the comedy team of Penn and Teller’s venture into serious documentary film making “Tim’s Vermeer.” This riveting doc is heading straight for an Oscar nomination and it may very well get there. In the “Applied Science” section of the NYFF, its central character,  an eccentric San Antonio millionaire named Tim Kenison ,gets his art geek on by telling his friend Penn one night in conversation that he’d “always wanted to paint a Vermeer.” And this film shows painstakingly how he does it.

Painstaking is the operative word here. Every single detail of how Tim does indeed paint his Vermeer is on the screen, but surprisingly, it is never dull. Tim had a theory, which he proves using the work of the 17th century Dutch master, that the photographically detailed paintings, which are ravishing in and of themselves on the big screen, were painted using”a small mirror on a stick” and the physics of Camera Obscura. I know this sounds deadly, but like “Gloria”, it is a great work of (documentary) film making that needs to be seen to be enjoyed.

I never would have thought of Penn and Teller as Oscar contenders, but as I type these unbelievable words, I think they very well may be. And “Tim’s Vermeer” is certainly THEIR surprising masterpiece.

icelandic Film Festival at Film Society of Lincoln Center

I have always been enthralled by Icelandic Cinema, and also dismayed by the almost complete lack of attention paid to it state-side. But the American glacier of indifference is slowly melting as evidenced by the historic Icelandic retrospective of films recently on display by the enterprising Film Society of Lincoln Center, which just had a very big spring with their Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in March.
Scheduled directly opposite the Tribecca Film Fest downtown,  this terrific retrospective tribute was struggling to gain media attention, and also public attention. But the films are very, very good, some of them unforgettable, and attention must be paid.
I was fortunate to have been in Reykjavik twice in its’ banner season of 1999-2000, when Baltasar Kormakur who is now one of the main forces in Icelandic cinema, had his first film “101 Reykjavik” a GLBT comedy/romance about lesbian marriage starring Spain’s Victoria Abril, open to record-breaking box-office attendance in Iceland.
Baltasar was also starring in the true Icelandic legend Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s “Angels of the Universe” as a stuttering madman who thinks he is a Beatle.
The Film Society proclaimed “Angels of the Universe” as “Fridriksson’s masterpiece” having seen the film four or five times now over the years(once without English subtitles!) I can only heartily concur.
“Angels” is a haunting, beautifully rendered cry of great pain from the great heart of Fridriksson as he charts the downward spiral of schizophrenia in the true story of his best friend’s brother. Based on Einar Gudmundsson’s prize-winning book, its’ a compassionate, violent and also very funny look at Iceland’s attitude towards the insane. Ingvar Sigurdsson’s Pall is wrenchingly memorable as the central character who longs to paint or play music or SOMEthing, before his world fades inevitably to black.
And  the asylum he is sent to is almost a respite from the endless white noise in his head. There he encounters Baltasar Kormakur’s crazed/shy Beatles’ maniac, who stutters and strums his way into the viewers heart with an Icelandic “Hey Jude.” Kormakur utterly captivates the audience as he befriends the friendless Pall, who doesn’t seem insane to him at all.
The scene where they, on an illicit afternoon out, end up having the most expensive and delicious dinner of their lives at the Hotel Holt (yes, the Hotel Holt. I must be Icelandic going back centuries…) and then getting arrested when they, of course, try to walk out on their bill, It’s a hilarious set-piece and also heart-breaking as you realize this will never ever again happen in their imprisoned lives.
And there  is the suicide of another chain-smoking inmate played memorably by Hylmir Snaer Gudnsasson. Who was also the star of Baltasar’s “101 Reykjavik.”
And did I mention Baltasar was also directing “Midsummer’s Night Dream” at the National Theatre of Iceland while starring in another production there of “A Doll’s House.”? He’s a one-man Icelandic powerhouse.
Iceland also produces incredibly talented and versatile actors, by the dozens(literally) who populate the films in “Images” from the Edge” over and over again. In a country which now has a population of 320,000, there is a lot of artistic overlap, and because of the small size of its’ vibrant and highly creative film and theater community, actors are expected to be as skilled at drama, and comedy, and even musicals.And they are. Because if they want to work constantly, they have to be.
Baltasar Kormakur also proved a vital action hero in this festival’s “Reykjavik Rotterdam”(2008) directed by Oskar Jonasson. It’s a pulse pounding thriller, which had the highest audience turn-out so far at Lincoln Center this Sunday. You’ll be familiar with this story of luckless drug smuggling sailors as Kormakur just directed Mark Wahlberg in its’ American language re-incarnation this spring. It was “Contraband” and it made # 1 at the box-office, the first time any Icelandic director has ever done this American hat-trick, and it has catapulted Kormakur into directing Wahlberg’s next feature starring him and Denzel Washington and Paula Patton now lensing in New Orleans.
In addition to Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s magnificent “Angels of the Universe”(2000),this towering almost -Viking figure, had THREE other films in the Festival, one of them “Rock in Reykjavik” from 1982, a doc on Iceland’s red-hot music scene, featuring a teen-aged Byork, in her then group called Tappi Tikarrass.Also “White Whales” (1987) and an installation in , off the main foyer of the Walter Reade Theater called “The Circle” or “Ring-Road” which looped constantly  in the Furman gallery, And hypnotized all who watched it as the camera,as Fridriksson described it, “moving at the speed of light” down Iceland’s all encompassing Hwy.No .1 which literally rings the island.
Set in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, this isolated volcanic island of poets, artists, actors and filmmakers touches the Arctic Circle. And anyone who seeks out any of these marvelous films(too numerous to mention here) will also be touched by this enchanted island’s magical allure. Iceland itself is always the main character in any of its’ films. I can’t wait to go back.
If only “Angels of the Universe” had been shown at the New York Film Festival when it was originally made in 2000! Now 12 years later, it’s getting its’ due But I was shocked to discover that no Icelandic film,  as EVER been shown in the prestigious NYFF. I think after this colossal “Images from the Edge” retrospective festival, things will be different in the future.
It ran through April 26.

“Midnight in Paris” FOUR Times now!

Dear Cineastes, dear readers, dear theatrelovers of literature, yes, it’s true, I’ve seen “Midnight in Paris” four times now! And I’m cautiously looking forward to a fifth! As a film critic, I NEVER see movies more than once, especially movies that I’ve liked and this one, actually, loved. “Midnight in Paris” is a runaway hit at the box-office and it has run-away with my heart *sigh*

Will it prevail at the Oscars? Well, one indication, besides the ENORMOUS box-office it is now doing is that my webmistress Oscar Goddess Sasha Stone over at the only-place-to-be-on-the-Internet www.awardsdaily.com has put “Midnight in Paris” up on her awards tracker in the Best Picture category, as well as Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories! This is serious, but of course, wonderful!

Why is this significant, at this early a stage, you may well ask?

Well, initially Sasha, who was famously, marvelously in Cannes for the second year in a row, this time with her daughter Emma (NOT the actress Emma Stone of “Easy A”) saw many, many films there and was more impressed with many of those other films to the extent that she wasn’t writing much about “Midnight in Paris.” But NOW SHE IS!?! Just like I am!

So her latest post which is as lovely and evocative as the picture itself, is now up, where in she posts a podcast of an extended interview Woody himself gave to Scott Foundas, David Edelstein & co. She accompanies this marvelous chat with a very forthcoming Woody, with a gallery of stunning stills from the film.

I so tech-tarded I have not yet learned how to bring those lovely pictures here. But they are so beautiful, this may motivate me to finally figure out how to do it.

Each time you see a movie that you’ve previously seen is pretty much a different experience.

And when you see “Midnight in Paris” with an audience that gets the jokes, the references, it’s just heaven. But if they don’t and they don’t laugh, then it’s another experience entirely.

One late night showing, they didn’t laugh at THOSE jokes, but they did laugh at other spots. Like for instance the future in-laws, the Tea Party Republicans, and Inez (Rachel McAdams) and the relationship jokes, THAT they got. Mimi Kennedy, as the prospective mother-in-law is particularly hilarious as she keeps looking Owen Wilson’s character right in the eye and dead-panning some of the films funniest lines, like “Cheap is cheap.”

But check out that podcast at Sasha’s. Particularly interesting is his description of Owen Wilson, his lead this time, and he goes on and on and on about him. Oscar hopes for a Best Actor nom? He treats him like he’s one of the great screen actors around today. And in Woody’s hands in “Midnight in Paris” He is.

He also mentions “the young actor who plays Hemingway” But doesn’t name him. But all you dear cineastes who keep reading this blog, even though I STILL don’t have pictures of the movies to go with it, know that Hemingway, who is clearly a stand-out in the Supporting cast, is Corey Stoll. An NYU Grad acting grad.

And Woody refers to him as “very charming” even though he thought basically that Hemingway was a “boor, a bully” and a general all around awful person.

Strangely he doesn’t mention ANY of the magnificent actresses in “Midnight in Paris” which is really odd, though he does mention the character of Zelda Fitzgerald, but again, not the actress, Allison Pill, who plays her so beautifully.

“I don’t know if she was as crazy as I made her moment to moment,” he says. He also notes that he was writing about the popular perceptions of these characters rather than anything like researched materials. It seems he’s done none of that. It’s all his emotional response to movies about Paris which as he describes it is “The City of Love.” But doesn’t name which movies inspired him, although “An American in Paris” is obviously a major influence. Oh wait a minute! No. He DOES mention “Gigi” and the era of La Belle Epoque. And how these were times “You would not want to have a burst appendix and go SLOWLY to the hospital in a horse-drawn carriage!” And they all laugh. Woody can’t help being funny, even when he’s deadly serious.

Seeing it so many times, you start to notice the rich, rich detail of the superb art direction of Annie Seibold. Like in Gertrude Stein’s(Cathy Bates, another Oscar slam-dunk for a nod, I think, and even a possible winner. In Harvey Weinstein’s hands, she would FOR SURE be nominated a win!) In Gertrude Stein’s famous salon, there ARE those famous Picassos on the wall behind her, including his portrait of her.

And Alice B. Toklas? Well, she opens the door to Hemingway, who brings Gil(Owen Wilson) to Stein’s salon for the first time and Hemingway exclaims heartily “ALICE!”

Then Alice disappears from view, played by an unknown French actress, she doesn’t have any more lines, but she is seen with someone of indeterminate gender knitting in the background of another room, as Bates’ Stein intones one of the great speeches in the film about art.

I could go on and on and on. And I probably will. It’s a long way to the Oscars, but “Midnight in Paris” is going there. Just ask Sasha.

Woody hasn’t had a Best Picture nomination since the ’70’s and “Hannah and Her Sisters” which garnered many nominations but landed a double win in the Supporting Categories for Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine!

Corey Stoll you better get your tux ready and Cathy Bates, your gown, madame! I know you already have an Oscar for Best Actress for playing the pyschos of pyschos in Stephen King’s “Misery” but get ready, milady, you may be going to do it again!

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