Monday, May 11, 2015

I'll See You In My Dreams

Explaining why he just bought himself a yacht, Bill (Sam Elliott), the sexy septuagenarian whose arrival at a retirement community creates a stir in Brett Haley's I'll See You in My Dreams, tells Carol (Blythe Danner) that he can't understand people who wedge themselves into a rut after retirement and stay there until they die. Carol simply listens, no longer sure where she stands on the subject. Since her husband died 20 years ago, she's been living just the sort of life Bill is sneering at, so she's well aware that there are far worse ways to pass the time than reading the morning paper by the pool in your L.A. bungalow, playing bridge or golf several times a week with your best friends, or settling into bed with your pet and a glass of wine to watch some TV before falling asleep. On the other hand, a series of small but seismic changes in her life—the death of her dog, a budding friendship with the sensitive young man, Lloyd (Martin Starr), who cleans her pool, and Bill's unexpected interest in her—is altering her longstanding routine and making her wonder if she wants to spend the rest of her life doing essentially the same thing every day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Go West, Young Man: Talking to Slow West Director John Mclean

One of the best movies at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival, Slow West, which opens in New York on May 15, is an accomplished, original Western by first-time feature filmmaker John Mclean (formerly a member of the Beta Band). In it, young Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his guide (Michael Fassbender) strike out to find a young woman named Rose. Shot in New Zealand and written and directed by a Scot, it looks at the American West through what Mclean calls “a European point of view.”

There’s a lot going on in this movie, but one of the main themes is how many different cultures came together to create the United States—from south of the border, from Africa, from all over Europe and more—and how the Native Americans who were here to begin with were shut out of that process. What made you want to focus on that part of our history?
I traveled around America a lot when I was younger, and I met a lot of Americans who said, “Oh, my grandfather was European.” So I decided to write it from a European point of view. Then I started reading up on the story of the West, and it’s a lot more tragic than all these Western movies tell it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: The Wannabe, The Driftless Area and Meadowland

Set in Little Italy, executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, and "inspired by" a true story, The Wannabe is a solid but unexceptional addition to the growing canon of gangster movies whose mobsters are not glamorous, soulful antiheroes, but canny and unprincipled brutes. Not much is known about why the real Thomas and Rosemarie Uva chose to do something as risky and, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid as robbing mafia social clubs in Queens (the Daily News called them Bonnie and Clod). In last year's Rob the Mob, Thomas is portrayed as being angry at the mob for having beaten his father when he was late with his payments on a business loan, but The Wannabe's writer-director, Nick Sandow, shows him as motivated by a childlike obsession with the mafia in general, and John Gotti in particular. Desperate to be accepted into one of the families, this version of the man somehow convinces himself that robbing gangsters as they play cards is a good way to prove that he belongs. But then, thinking isn't exactly his strong suit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: The Cut and Applesauce

The campaign of conscripted labor, systematic rape and murder, death marches, and displacement waged by Turkey against its Armenian citizens at the start of WWI, which resulted in perhaps as many as 1.5 million deaths, is marking its 100th anniversary this week. Yet it remains an extremely tender topic for Armenians, not least because the Turkish government has refused to acknowledge the extent of the calamity, sometimes even prosecuting and jailing Turkish citizens for citing the killings or calling them genocide. As a result, The Cut lived up to its title for me, creating two sets of strong, sometimes dueling reactions. The Armenian in me felt grateful to director Fatih Akın, an ethnic Turk who grew up in Germany, and his co-writer, Mardik Martin (Raging Bull), an Armenian-American, for taking on this charged topic and giving these gruesome facts a rare cinematic airing. But the film lover in me sometimes wished that The Cut, which often has the self-consciously art-directed, undead feel of a Natural History Museum diorama, were less encyclopedic and more irreverent, with more of the messy misbehavior and convincingly complicated characters that give Akin's best films, Head On and Edge of Heaven, a jittery sense of life.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: The Overnight and Man Up

Executive produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, Patrick Brice's The Overnight has a lot in common with the brothers' HBO dramedy Togetherness. Both explore the existential angst of being no longer young but not quite middle-aged yet, as experienced by a small cohort of middle- and upper-middle-class white Angelenos. And both create a sometimes cringe-inducing facsimile of the unpredictability of real life by mixing comic awkwardness with genuine tenderness and vulnerability, often in the same moment.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Monkey Kingdom

There's no proselytizing in Monkey Kingdom, the latest in Disneynature's conservation-minded documentaries. Unlike the teachers' guide Disney devised to go with it, the film never mentions that the toque macaques it depicts, who live in a picturesque sacred ruin in a Sri Lankan jungle, are part of an endangered species. Instead, the doc aims to cultivate empathy and admiration for these intelligent and highly social beings by filming them at home in their world—and by focusing on Maya, a sweet-faced underdog, and her baby, Kip, whose huge earlobes, gigantic eyes, and squeaky cry make him the epitome of helpless innocence, Gremlins's Gizmo minus some of the fur.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

100 Words On... To Sleep With Anger

Like Charles Burnett’s masterwork, Killer of Sheep, this tale of a tight-knit but embattled African-American family in the late 80s is a finely detailed work of poetic realism, but this film is shot through with a strain of surrealism as well. The hard-won bourgeois stability of Gideon’s (Paul Butler) and Suzie’s (Mary Alice) tidy home is threatened when their old friend Harry (a mesmerizing Danny Glover) comes to stay. A devil who can see into your soul and homes in on the dark parts, Harry is a semi-mythical figure who turns out to be the poison that acts as a purge, bringing together the family he almost blows up. The pace sometimes drags, but there are layers of African-American history and heartbreak in this near classic of generational conflict and the West African sense of community that proved strong enough to survive even slavery.

Written for The L Magazine

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wim Wenders, Family Therapist: Talking to the co-directors of Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth, a tour de force documentary about photographer Sebastião Salgado, is a trip around the world, including some of its least-visited corners, led by a mesmerizing tour guide. I interviewed the film’s co-directors, Wim Wenders and Salgado’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, for the L Magazine shortly before the film's March 27 opening.

[To Salgado] Why did you feel the need for someone else to direct this film with you, and why Wim in particular?

Salgado: Actually, my relationship with Sebastião when we started the film was dreadful. I mean it was a complicated father and son relationship, and it didn’t give room for interviewing Sebastião, having free chat with him.

Wim appeared in our life in 2009, and they wanted to do something together, him and Sebastião. And when it started to be possible for me to make a film about my father, it was natural that the first person I think about to help would be Wim, because he wanted to do a film about Sebastião.

Wenders: I didn’t really want to make a film about Sebastião to begin with. I just wanted to get to know the man. For years, in any interview when I was asked “Who is your favorite contemporary photographer?” I always said “Sebastião Salgado.” And eventually I thought, wow, I don’t even know him, and he’s still working. I should try to meet him. But even when I met father and son, there was no thought of a film yet.

[to Salgado] And, you know, I talked your dad out of thinking of a film when at some point he asked me: ”Do you think, Wim, there is any other way for me to deal with my photographs of [his latest photo project] Genesis than in a book and an exhibition? I’ve been doing this for a long time: I photograph for years, and then I make a book, and then I make an exhibition that travels. Do you think I could somehow put them on a screen, maybe with music or something?” I said, “Don’t! It will end up a slide show and that is not good for you.”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

SXSW 2015: Manson Family Vacation, The Goob, and Results

Manson Family Vacation is a disarmingly unpredictable tale of reconciliation between two brothers. When Conrad (Linas Phillips) shows up to visit his estranged brother, Nick (Jay Duplass), the two are revealed to be such polar opposites that it's no surprise to learn that Conrad was adopted: Big, blond, shaggy, unemployed Conrad is laidback but radiates an air of outlaw unpredictability, while dark, slight Nick, a successful lawyer, is buttoned down from his shirt to his emotions. The shock is in learning that Conrad's adoptive father and brother were relentlessly critical of him, denying him the love they shared with each other.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

SXSW 2015: Twinsters and Moonwalkers

Like a mirror reflecting the effervescence and empathy of its young subjects, Samantha Futerman and Anaïs Bordier (they're 25 as the story unfolds), Twinsters is a charming, energizing, and sometimes moving meditation on what it means to be a family. Both born in Korea and adopted by families in the West (Samantha by Americans in New Jersey and Anaïs by a French couple in Paris), the two learn of each other's existence after a friend of Anaïs's alerts her to a YouTube video starring an actress who looks eerily like her. The two start texting each other, forging an instant connection that grows exponentially as they move on to Skype, then in-person visits. Getting genetically tested to find out if they're identical twins and comparing notes on everything from the very different ways they experienced getting adopted into a foreign culture to whether or not they like cooked carrots, these two openhearted young women form an insoluble bond.

As soon as Samantha realized the significance of what appeared to be happening, she enlisted some filmmaker friends—including Twinsters co-director Ryan Miyamoto—to help her document it. The small crew blended easily into the scenes they were filming, their embedded, fly-on-the-wall style giving an emotional transparency to the footage they shot of Samantha at home, and of milestones like her first trip to visit Anaïs in Paris, Anaïs's first trip to L.A., and the two young women's joint journey to a conference for Korean adoptees in Seoul, where Anaïs found a loving antidote to the sorrow of believing she had been an unloved and unwanted infant. Editor Jeff Consiglio had hours of video footage as well as mountains of text messages and other online exchanges to sift through, and he chose well: Twinsters won the SXSW 2015 Special Jury Recognition for Editing. Read the rest on The House Next Door