Archive for April, 2017

Apollo’s Girl

April 28, 2017

More Film

First, the Good News…

As we continue to up the truth-or-dare ante with North Korea, there is respite available downtown: the Quad Cinema has awakened from its long slumber and emerged, gleaming, as the star of a successful makeover by Pentagram, sponsored by the Cohen Media Group, and guided by programmers Christopher Wells (director of repertory programming) and Gavin Smith (senior programmer). With CEO Charles Cohen’s muscle, millions and determination, the Quad has big plans for indie, foreign and revival fare for those eager to receive the bounty. 

The makeover? It hits all the sweet spots—clean lines, stylish visuals, comfortable seats and sight lines, a lobby bar (with banquette) serving coffee, popcorn and treats, and a cafe/bar next door with alcohol and food. Did I mention the marble ladies room? Worth the trip! So, before you go back to worrying about Armageddon, bookmark the Quad to stay on top of its schedule (https://quadcinema.com/) and be thankful for its offerings.

One of them, A Quiet Passion (directed by Terence Davies, based on the life of Emily Dickinson) is a fascinating mixture of biography and between-the-lines interpretation of the inner life of this most private poet. The dialogue is drawn from her work and her letters to and from her publishers, her friends, and her family. Initially, this imposes a formality on the conversations, which offer an accurate account of how differently people thought and expressed themselves in the mid-19th century, when letting it all hang out would have been entirely unacceptable. Yet, as we become used to the dialogue and the distance it creates from emotion, we are drawn into the enormous conflicts between Dickinson’s strict religion and morality, and what appears to be a deeply sensual nature that tore at her most of her life. She remained with her family, increasingly reclusive, until she died. They were supportive of her quirks and her talents, (she was a formidable baker), but the obstacles to publication of her woman’s work and how they affected her are given their due. Because of the distance created by formal language, the emotional impact of Dickinson’s final years and death are all the more powerful, and Cynthia Nixon is Dickinson. For a deeper dive into some of her original prose and poetry, go to the Morgan Library and Museum for I’m Nobody! Who Are You? www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/emily-dickinson. On view til May 28.

A Quiet Passion will be joined at the Quad by Harold & Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (Dir.: Daniel Raim) a not-so-quiet backstage romp through the long and adventurous marriage and careers of Harold and Lillian Michelson, the go-to story couple behind Hollywood’s most successful movies and movie-makers. Think that the blockbusters you’ve relished over the years appeared full-blown on the screen? Think again. Even those based on well-known novels and biographies (or earlier film versions) were the products of armies of creatives and craftsmen. And, from the very beginning, once the directors were in place, Harold and Lillian joined the party as indispensables.

If you’ve ever become obsessed with a subject and wallowed in the joy of finding out every single thing about it known to mankind, you will “get” what happened to Lillian while she was a stay-at-home mom with time on her hands. She didn’t type, but had a ravenous curiosity, and found her way as a volunteer to plunge into the black hole that was Goldwyn’s research library. Research became her life, and the books and files (she bought them when Goldwyn decided to sell) moved with her over time from studio to studio, but she never looked back. Harold (who had always been able to sketch) developed a talent for storyboards; they were much more than stop-motion shorthand versions of the scripts they compressed, including camera angles, edits and approach. For years, even though he often worked in secret, his drawings were used by Hollywood’s biggest names on films ranging from The Ten Commandments to West Side Story, from Hitchcock’s thrillers to Rain Man and The Graduate. Ultimately, he and Lillian often worked as a team, surviving whatever life threw at them (a lot of surprises) and becoming legendary where it counted, with Harold at last winning the title of Art Director on 14 films. The feature clips in Harold and Lillian alone are a trip; what makes the film tick are the drawings, the home movies, the backstories, and the testimonials from the linchpins of the business who love and admire the subjects of this endearing Hollywood Story. 

Apollo’s Girl

April 4, 2017

Film

 

 

 

The Persistence of Memory…

I Am Not Your Negro (Dir.: Raoul Peck) (National release)
There are films that are very good, and there are films that grab you by the throat and simply refuse to release their grip. I Am Not Your Negro is all of that and more. I saw it weeks ago and admit it remains stubbornly in memory.

It has newly raised the profile of James Baldwin (whose unfinished proposal for a book about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medger Evers the film is based on) and made a grand slam for Raoul Peck, whose string of narrative features and documentaries can be described as past is prologue. Timed to open at the beginning of Black History Month, it is still going strong in national release and is, no matter what’s coming down the pike, an absolute must.

 

Much of its still-riveting archival footage has been seen before, but never has it been so blazingly defined as by Baldwin’s steely nouns and verbs—either in his clips or in voiceovers by Samuel Jackson. Baldwin’s fury still penetrates as he are reminded of our recent history; the assassinations, the National Guard protecting young black students whose only crime was pursuing an education, while white protesters scream and wave signs with swastikas. The ugliness that is part of our heritage drove Baldwin to France, where he never missed American culture, his family, his society. But it was the perfect writer’s room for him to think up and think through his projects.

Peck’s skill and dedication have made I Am Not Your Negro feel like the film that Baldwin himself might have made. It is white hot and searing and cuts deep; not only as a notable addition to the best examples of race-centered cinema, but as an axis on which that cinema will continue to spin for a very long time. And judging from the tenacity of racial bias in the United States (read: current Voter Registration laws), it demands and deserves immortality. (Currently at Film Forum, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, and Drafthouse Cinema.)

Kedi (Dir.: Ceyda Torun) (National release)

This lovely essay on the cats of Istanbul is another keeper, but for entirely different reasons. An overflowing oasis of calm and kindness, it pays tribute to the survival of an ancient race (cats) and their effect on the people they thrive among. These are street cats, most of whom live near the city’s waterfront, where fishmongers, grocers, and cafe owners are grateful for both their vermin-snuffing skills and the affection they offer most of the time. And, of course, the cats know a good thing when they have it; the handouts are generous, providing a rich and varied diet bursting with animal protein. Whatever their names and colors, these cats have made relationships with their benefactors, who relish the cuddling, scratching, and playful ways of their charges as they make their daily rounds throughout the market quarter like so many furry therapists, without prejudice.

 

Two strands run throughout Kedi: surprisingly, most of the cat enthusiasts are men. And it becomes clear that the market quarter is part of Old Istanbul. Changes are coming that will soon gentrify the area into yet another neighborhood of high-rises (a bulldozer resting in the background is visible at lunchtime)–there will be no space for the men, the cats, or the therapy.

Kedi makes a strong case for reflection and the kind of low-key filmmaking that is as endangered as the urban history it caresses. Whether or not you love cats, you will love the pulsing life of the market and the glory of the Bosphorus that DPs Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann make shine. And—trust me on this—you are likely to really fall for the cuddly cast once you realize how very special they are and what you’ve been missing. 

Closet Monster (Dir.: Stephen Dunn) (Amazon Video)

Dunn’s first feature (after nine shorts and toiling at every production role known to indie film) is a strikingly original gay coming-of-age film that just won’t go away. You’ve viewed many of its elements before (except perhaps the hero’s pet hamster, voiced by Isabella Rosselini, and a tree house that you’d love to live in). But you haven’t seen them as Stephen Dunn puts them together in his very own order, nor in his native locations. Nor as acted out by Connor Jessup, Dunn’s fictional alter ego.

Unlike most Canadian films, Closet Monster breaks the Vancouver/Toronto/Montreal nexus and celebrates the rocky glories of Newfoundland. The ways in which they have shaped Dunn’s own character can only be guessed at, but they were his choice for the film’s setting and they pique your interest from the first scene. What remains after you’ve seen it (for me, six months ago, and I find myself still pondering its amazing package) is the wit, the sorrow, the jumping-off-a-cliff flirtations with disaster, and yet the abiding sweetness and emotional generosity that color Dunn’s work.  He’s someone you’d like to know, whose work you want to follow. Can anybody tell me what he’s got up his sleeve next time around? I’d like to be there when it opens.

 



 


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