May 27, 2008

"You're a tomato!"*

I really loved watching Sydney Pollack every time he appeared in a movie. He was amazing as Dustin Hoffman's agent in Tootsie. The scenes where he argues with Hoffman are delightful. He was great in Michael Clayton and even in those nice Cingular commercials about not using cellphones while in the movies. He was a wonderful actor. He produced a great variety of nifty movies big and small. He fought against colorization of black and white films. He had a long, distinguished career in Hollywood. But, let's face it, he was not a brilliant director.
A.O. Scott writes a fitting appraisal of Pollack's work in the NY Times today. He is far more generous with his directorial work than I would be. The only movies of his I like are Tootsie and They Shoot Horses, Don't They. For one, I never saw what people saw in Robert Redford (another nice guy who is better at things other than his day job), so I bypassed stuff like The Way We Were and the Condor films.
Still, I really liked Sydney Pollack. A sad loss for Hollywood.

* I love this scene in Tootsie between Pollack and Hoffman. Hoffman is being a difficult picky actor and Pollack is at the end of his rope. Lovely.

May 25, 2008

Stalinists Accuse Hollywood of Lying

Members of the Russian Communist party have called for the new Indiana Jones film to be banned in the country because they say it distorts history.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, set during the Cold War, sees Harrison Ford's character battle Cate Blanchett's evil KGB agent.
St Petersburg Communist Party chief Sergei Malinkovich told the Reuters news agency it was "rubbish".
"Why should we agree to that sort of lie and let the West trick our youth?"
He said many Russian cinemagoers were teenagers who would be "completely unaware of what happened in 1957", when the film is set.
Well, that's rich. This from people who used to erase actual people from photographs, among other sinister distortions of history.
What could be more pathetic than being a communist today? They've got to be the most clueless, irrelevant people in the planet. They would be funny if they weren't so mindbottlingly stupid:
"It's rubbish... In 1957 the communists did not run with crystal skulls throughout the US."
The Associated Press news agency quoted Moscow Communist official Andrei Andreyev as saying: "It is very disturbing if talented directors want to provoke a new Cold War."
As always, blame it on the Jews.

May 15, 2008


This excellent film by Argentinian writer/director Lucía Puenzo deals with a family's problem with hermaphroditism. That is, a couple have a teenage daughter who is half woman and half man. What is remarkable about the movie is the intelligence and the maturity with which it deals with the topic. Because she is a teenager and is starting to come of age, the family has reached a critical point in which a decision must be made about what sex is she going to be. It is hard because, Alex, the protagonist, doesn't really know it herself. The young actress who plays Alex starts out acting like a freak, a particularly difficult teenager (aren't all teenagers freaks by definition?), but one warms up to her because she goes through these extremes of pain and defiance and sheer confusion. She is amazing.
It's hard to talk about this movie without giving it away and there is so much that is bracing and interesting about it, that I don't really want to go into it. For those of you who don't live anywhere near the tiny screen of the Cinema Village where XXY is showing, I'm sure it will make it's way to Netflix. It won an important prize at Cannes last year.
In all, the cast is excellent, the script is extremely compelling, strong but moving, without ever (except in one scene) resorting to cliché or sentimentality. XXY is the movie equivalent of tough love, fierce and compassionate. Well worth watching.

May 13, 2008

That Stupid Louis Vuitton Ad

Several times, in respectable arthouse cinemas in this city, we have been subjected to an ad from Louis Vuitton, which pretends to be more like a short, dreamy movie, until you start seeing the luggage. Soft focus landscapes of rich white people traveling, always almost alone in the frame, looking bored, like all rich people. When the tagline and the brand name get revealed, the audience response has been unequivocal every time: Bronx cheers, cursing, booing, hurling abuse at the screen.
Not that I would ever buy one of those crappy bags, but the ad makes you feel like effecting a boycott anyway.
This waste of money and talent is directed to the wrong kind of people.
The people who would think this is a great commercial and would go and buy one of those preposterous shit-colored bags, are the same bridge and tunnel people who pack the meatpacking district every weekend and who buy their Louis Vuitton knockoffs in Chinatown. They are the girls who want to be like Carrie and Samantha. The people who like Pretty Woman. People who read People. And Vogue (that is, people who could not afford one measly coin holder from LV). That is, not the same people who watch obscure movies with subtitles at the Cinema Village or the Angelika.

May 5, 2008

Time to Brag

It has been rejected by a lot of festivals here in the US, for reasons that are truly mysterious to me, but my short film Close Relations has been accepted at the Swansea Life Film Festival, in Wales, and it is in the Best Short competition.
I've always liked the Welsh. They gave us, among other treasures, Richard Burton, and my beloved Christian Bale, so I am immensely grateful.

May 4, 2008

Let Us Decamp For Better Screens Elsewhere

Today in the Movies section of the New York Times, back to back articles by Manohla Dargis and A. O Scott about the lack of real women and adult men in Hollywood films. The Dargis article really hits the point. It is a fucking disgrace that Hollywood considers women a subpar product. And most of what it turns out is insulting to women. And as Manohla points out, who cares if there are more women executives in Hollywood now that ever? It's obviously not helping.
I am, as we speak, intending to be a female filmmaker. I see there are a lot of Women's film festivals. And I resent that. I don't want to be confined to a niche. Women should not be a niche. Women directors, writers, actors, should be part of the mainstream, not have their own little disadvantaged corner where to play. After all, who else fills half the seats at all those Judd Apatow's movies if not girlfriends, wives and sisters?
In other film industries in the world, particularly in Europe, this does not happen. There are more films that, regardless of the gender of its stars, are more mature, and less noxious than what passes for film here.

Pan's Labrynth

I'm not a huge fan of fantasy. In fact, I pretty much hate fantasy, a reason why extravaganzas like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter simply do not interest me. I like my stories firmly rooted in reality, which tends to be messier and more complex than parables and fables and clean fights between good and evil. Sometimes, in the hands of a master like the great Japanese animator Miyazaki, fantasy transcends its limitations and is emotionally and dramatically real. But this doesn't happen in most fantasy movies and it certainly doesn't happen, much to my chagrin, in Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labrynth.
I have been trying to understand why I disconnected from the film pretty soon after it started. I think the main reason is that, as is true in many works of this genre, none of the characters are multidimensional. They all represent something, but they are really no one. It is a credit to some of the talented actors in this film, particularly Maribel Verdú (from Y tu mamá también), that they try with all their might to infuse human verisimilitude to characters that are woefully underwritten.
The premise of the movie is potentially interesting. At the time of the Spanish Civil War, a little girl is brought to the house of a fascist captain in the woods who is still fighting the defeated Republican forces. Her mother has married this awful man and the girl, who is an avid reader of fairy tales, escapes into fantastic stories to deal with her increasingly deteriorating reality. She finds the courage to deal with the situation by inventing a fantastical quest that will have consequences in reality. So far, so good. The problem is that the Spanish Civil War was a very real bloodbath in which the Spaniards went against each other with terrible ferocity, and to this day it has left a national wound that has not really closed. If it becomes the stuff of legend, it loses its place in historical reality, which is where it should remain, in my opinion. It brought to mind that unspeakably offensive movie by Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful (give me a break), where in order to escape reality some guy clowns around in a concentration camp. Pan's Labrynth is not at all as revolting and tasteless as that, but for me, there is no room for fantasy when it comes to the history of human terror.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The intentions of Pan's Labrynth are certainly immaculate: it is supposed to be a powerful message against fascism, against those who obey without questioning, against those who hate books and imagination, against the precision and heartlessness of perfect order. But somehow, it failed to move me. Somehow it managed to make me not care about this child, and I think it was because it was too busy sending AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE. It was thoroughly devoid of wit or a sense of humor. It is a huge problem when filmmakers take themselves and their material so seriously. If they can't crack a joke, if they don't know the wonderful empathetic powers of comic relief, or at least of irony, they lose me at hello.
The fantastical creatures were not particularly engaging, and in fact, the main faun was so utterly cheesy and hammy that I resented every time he made an appearance. I disliked him intensely. This was no Puck or Ariel or any of those bona fide fairies that have a sense of mischief and a sense of humor. This was ponderous fantasy, with a solemn and important theme, and solemnity is utterly boring. Which is puzzling, because I saw Mr. Del Toro in an interview and he struck me as a smart, witty, engaging, articulate man. Sadly, little of that was in evidence in his movie.

May 2, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival: Film OD

I was given a one day free pass to the Tribeca Film Festival. I was in the midst of boycotting said event, because they rejected my short film. I Want Revenge. But after my free day pass.
I saw 4 features and like 5 shorts. At one point my head was about to explode.
I saw Theater of War, this documentary about war, Brecht and Meryl Streep and artsy New Yorkers who ride bikes and want to express their disgust of war through putting on plays. The problem with the film is that it is all over the place. And no, you don't really get to see la Streep's behind the scenes acting magic tricks, although you get to see her Mother Courage up close and she is the best thing in the movie (although much more likable in character than in person. In person she sounds like a pill).
I was totally underwhelmed by this film, even though its director had much more sense of humor in person than in his movie.
Next, this pretty impressive French movie called 57,000 Miles Away, directed by a young Frenchwoman (please do not expect me to do the homework, I can barely remember what was what). It is totally shot on video, and unfortunately most of it is handheld by a camera operator who seems to have a serious case of the shakes. Either that or he was drinking his espressos with his free hand.
A tripod here and there would have been a welcome relief. However, I thought this movie was super smart, very well written, extremely well acted, provocative, kinky and amazing. It's about how people are obsessed with connecting through technology but quite incapable of relating in person. But it is also about how technology, which supposedly is meant to bring people together, really tears them apart. And it is about the really sinister aspect of laying yourself out for all to see with webcams and blogs and avatars and je ne se quoi plus. Suffice it to say that this is the kind of movie where the most normal and well adjusted person is a transvestite dad. I really liked it.
Then I snuck into one of the short programs, mainly to see how my short compared. I think it compares pretty favorably, though the gnawing question remains, then why didn't it make it. Somebody told me that at Tribeca you have to know someone. In which case a pox on them. But it seems that mine may have put on a good fight and so I can rest easy. I was not extra impressed by what I saw except for a very well done short called The Aviatrix, which was whimsical and ironic at the same time.
Then I saw The Caller. The two reasons why I went into this movie was that it stars Frank Langella and Elliot Gould and who would not want to see them on a screen together? After a while of really non-functioning pretentious, overwrought noir (how can a noir movie have a child in it?), I was rather dreaming of an Odd Couple remake with the two greats, because this movie just yanks your chain pointlessly and was not getting anywhere fast. I actually walked out of it. I love Elliot Gould. He still has this amazing comic timing, this fresh, shlubby delivery, this intelligence. Meanwhile Frank Langella is becoming a master of minimal acting. They rock, Oscar and Felix.
Then I had dinner at Sobaya, and walked around for almost two hours to regain some urgent fresh air. I was about to call it a night, but the Swedish movie held promise, and boy was I happy to stick it out. Let the last one in is one of the most impressive films I have seen in a long time. A masterful, sweet, horrific, funny, taut, amazingly poised mashup of genres. It deserved to win the award it won. It's been three days and I can't get it out of my head. A fantastic film, I hope it gets distribution. I can see someone already buying the rights to make a stupid remake here with Myley Cyrus or whatever her name is, which would be an insult and would have none of the fierce intelligence of this film. If it is playing anywhere near you, run to see it.