Tag Archives: movies

Lame Adventure 349: Farewell 2012 New York Film Festival

Sunday night the New York Film Festival closed with several screenings of Flight starring Denzel Washington.  He is one of my favorite actors, but I refuse to shell out $20 for a film opening nationwide November 2nd that I can see at my local multiplex before noon for seven clams.  Milton did snag a ticket, but if he thought that Flight was the greatest movie ever made, he is in no hurry to sing its praises to me.  I am not feeling any suspense as I await his verdict.  It is very likely that when I see him this evening, any discussion of Flight might well be superseded by something as mundane as someone in his office misplacing the precious pizza cutter that he personally guards.

Milton and I did see two more films together – a hit and a miss.  The miss was The Last Time I Saw Macao.  We, along with our fellow audience members attending this sold out screening, chose to see this film because we were so impressed with the Portuguese director, João Pedro Rodrigues’ previous film that played the NYFF in 2009, To Die Like a Man.  That earlier film was a compelling story about a drag queen in Portugal living her life as a woman whose estranged son in the military re-enters the picture.  If this film sounds anything like La Cage aux Folles, that’s unintentional for it’s very different and ends tragically, no heartfelt singing of I Am What I Am here.

For The Last Time I Saw Macao Rodrigues collaborated with João Rui Guerra da Mata, a fellow filmmaker of Portuguese descent that was raised in Macao, a former Portuguese colony in China.

João Rui Guerra da Mata (left), João Pedro Rodrigues, and NYFF moderator Melissa Anderson.

The filmmakers original intent was to shoot a documentary about how much Macao had changed since Guerra de Mata lived there thirty years ago.  Instead, they turned it into a story with film noir-type elements about a man the audience never sees searching for an unseen friend in some sort of trouble with unseen bad guys.  If that last sentence confused you, exalt in the fact that you were not attending that screening.

The dialogue is voiceover of Guerra da Mata reading his memoir about Macao and Rodrigues reading something else I was frankly too bored to recall, but they revealed afterward that they wrote the script after they shot the film.

It showed.  We suffered.

The action is all on the soundtrack while the images are focused on various scenery including numerous stray dogs and cats, building windows, a dead rat in the gutter, a shoe, a cloth-covered bird cage, etc.  While watching these images the viewer hears the action occurring off screen throughout the entirety of the film.  Sometimes the audience hears someone terrified pleading for her life followed with the sound of a loud splash, sometimes the audience hears gunshots, sometimes there’s a fantastically loud rumble as if Armageddon is approaching.  As the ending credits rolled Milton declared:

Milton: I could have made that on my fuckin’ iPhone!

Milton’s iPhone with screensaver featuring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in “Gilda”.

Afterward during the q&a, where much yawning was emanating all around us, one of the audience members volunteered:

Audience Member: I really didn’t understand who was being killed.

The filmmakers explained that they had made “an abstract film noir”:

Filmmakers: Some people get killed.  Some people survive.  Some people turn into animals.

Milton groaned deeply.  Afterward, he told me that the woman sitting next to him didn’t know whether to laugh or sleep.  He found her struggle infinitely more interesting than what was taking place onscreen.  He issued me a dictate:

Milton: If you write about this in your blog, don’t raise it a notch and call it crap!

The next day we saw No, a vastly more entertaining political thriller directed by Pablo Larraín set in Chile in 1988 when the Pinochet government announced they would hold a vote to get the people’s permission to maintain control.  The opposition was allowed 15 minutes of broadcast time each day for four weeks leading to voting day to build a case urging the citizens to vote no.  A clever  ad man played by Gael García Bernal oversees the No campaign.  Larraín intercut many of the actual campaign spots that were broadcast in 1988 within his film which he shot on U-matic videotape, the same format used in that era.  Compared to The Last Time I Saw Macao, No received our vote for the greatest movie ever made.

Pablo Larraín sitting between Antonia Zegers (left) and NYFF moderator Amy Taubin (right).

As Milton and I were leaving Alice Tully Hall for the last time until we return to the New York Film Festival in 2013 he announced:

Milton: This was a lot of fun even though I hated most of the films.

For anyone that would like to know what are Milton’s 100 personal favorite films click here.

Milton’s iPhone gotcha shot of Pablo Larraín.

Lame Adventure 347: New York Film Festival 2012

The New York Film Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.  Milton and I have been there every day since Saturday, even though we’ve only seen three films thus far.  Milton, who has been a longtime member of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, has not been wild about the location of our seats.  For many screenings we seem to be sitting in the nosebleeds.

Guy playing the piano with his dog outside Alice Tully Hall on Saturday.

The first film we saw was Amour, written and directed by one of our favorite filmmakers working today, Michael Haneke.  He won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for this very unsentimental story set in Paris about Georges and Anne, a longtime married couple coping with the ravages of old age after one suffers a stroke and the other is the caregiver. The octogenarian actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both give extraordinary performances. Veteran actress Isabelle Huppert plays Eva, their middle-aged daughter that resides in London, who feels increasingly frustrated and helpless every time she visits her parents.  Although this film is depressing,  Haneke is such a talented filmmaker, it is riveting and packed with brilliant moments including a chilling nightmare sequence that elicited gasps from the audience.  Of course the real horror is the physical decline that likely awaits many of us as we approach our own mortality.   Yee ha.

Paparazzo Milton sees Michael Haneke milling around the Alice Tully Hall lobby pre-screening of “Amour”.

We noticed that our audience was full of senior citizens including a woman that inched toward her seat with half the energy of a sleeping snail before she settled in front of us.  All the while her friend repeatedly bleated in a thick New York accent, “Fran!  Over here, Fran!  Fran, over here!”  This agitated Milton who kept muttering fluent monosyllabic. There was also quite a lot of loud phlegmy coughing around us prompting him to mutter:

Milton:  God, we’re seeing this in a tuberculosis ward.

Fortunately, the film was excellent, even though we were sitting in row U.

The next day we had tickets to Beyond the Hills, written and directed by the Romanian filmmaker Christian Mungiu.

Milton’s iPhone gotcha shot of Christian Mungiu mingling with fans post “Beyond the Hills” screening.

We’re sitting in row T and Milton is fixated on the two and a half hour running time:

Milton:  This better be good.

I reminded Milton about the Bela Tarr screening we attended last year for The Turin Horse, a film about the futility of existence as illustrated through an ill work horse and two peasants eating potatoes. It was 146 minutes long – but we both loved it.

Beyond the Hills, is a story set in the present about two 25-year-old women that were best friends in a Romanian orphanage after they were abandoned at a very young age by their parents.  One woman is essentially an atheist, but the other has joined a monastery.  When they were in the orphanage, the relationship was sexual.  The secular woman, after working as a waitress in Germany, misses her friend terribly, so she visits her in the monastery.  She wants to rekindle what they had before but the religious woman has decided to devote her life to God.  Life in the monastery provides her with security and a sense of home. The besotted secular friend, grows increasingly unhinged.  The members of the monastery, a priest and several nuns, resort to a barbaric religious ritual to control the situation.  It ends miserably.

Milton declared this film:

Milton: Brokeback Mountain meets The Exorcist.

Milton iPhone gotcha shot of Anjelica Huston trying to slip into Alice Tully Hall through a side door.

On Monday night Milton and I had tickets to a film written and directed by Sally Potter called Ginger and Rosa.  We have third row balcony seats, seats he despises because they’re located a time zone away from the screen.

Ginger and Rosa is a pretentious 89-minute film with a terrific classic jazz soundtrack that seemed to run five hours as I drifted in and out of consciousness.  The story is set in 1962 England during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when 17-year-old Ginger, a budding radical suffering extreme anxiety about a potential nuclear holocaust, worships her best friend, Rosa, a full fledged slut, who sleeps with Ginger’s cad of a father.  The worship ends, the world continues and Ginger writes a poem where she forgives Rosa.  Milton delivered a one-word review:

Milton: Awful.

I would have almost preferred watching a black screen with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie playing on the audiotrack.

Afterward he revised it when he assessed the talent of the 63-year-old filmmaker, Sally Potter:

Milton: She’s too old to be making a film this bad.

Then, he revised his assessment a third time; he was impressed with Elle Fanning’s performance as Ginger:

Milton:  I don’t know what’s in the water those Fanning sisters drink, but they all have talent.  Too bad they can’t find a filmmaker that knows what to do with them.

Elle Fanning sitting in the center during post “Ginger and Rosa” screening q&a. Photo taken from third row balcony seat i.e., the moon.

He added authoritatively:

Milton:  This was so bad it made Beyond the Hills seem like Gone with the Wind.

Red carpet.

Lame Adventure 284: Handicapping the Oscars Lame Adventures-style

The buff guy's back.

First thing this morning (I was still in bed in a semi-coma), my four-days-shy-of-85 year-old father called.

Me (groggy):  Hey Dad.

Dad (enthusiastic): Who’s gonna win the Oscars tonight?  Don’t tell me you were sleeping – get the hell up!

Me: Probably The Artist.

Dad:  I saw The Artist.  I liked it!  I’m okay with that.  I also liked The Descendants and I liked Hugo; didn’t think I’d like that one, but I did!  It was damn good!  Did you see it?  Did you like it?

Me: Yes and no.

My father, as usual, ignores my response.

Dad: Did you see Iron Lady?  Meryl Streep was terrific!  But I hated that movie!  She should win it, but if you ask me, I’d also give it to that one that played in The Maid.  She was terrific, too!  And that was a damn good film!

Me (perking up):  You mean Viola Davis in The Help, right?

Dad: Yes!  The Help!  Did I call it The Maid?  [Insert aging male growling sound before getting second wind.] I like her!  Give it to her and the other one.

My buddy Milton shows his support for Viola with cake!

Me:  Octavia Spencer?

Dad:  Who?!  I’m talking about the other maid – the one that baked that pie!

Me:  I know who you’re referring to!  That actress’s name is Octavia Spencer!  She’s up for Supporting Actress.

Dad:  Oh!  Good.  Yeah, give it to her.  That way they both get one.  They deserve it.

Me:  Let’s hope our memo reaches the Academy in time.

Again, my father ignores me.

Dad:  Do you think George Clooney’s gonna get it?  I thought he was great!

Me:  It might go to Jean Dujardin, the guy in The Artist.

Dad:  You know what?  I’m okay with that!  I liked him, too.

Me: It’s between them [murmuring] and Uggie.

My father ignores me and changes the subject.

Classy lassie flaunting her unique brand of Oscar fever.

Post-script: For you serious Oscar-types, my dear buddy, Milton, sitting in his East Side man cave, has wrapped his noggin around this subject in a big way.  Check out his site and see if you agree with his opining.  Start an argument or send him cake!

Lame Adventure 219: The (Not) Chosen

A lovely-sounding children’s book called “The Snowy Day” is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary edition.  One of the reasons this book is such a landmark is that when it was first published in 1962, the child-protagonist was a black boy.  What would seem ho hum today was very progressive during the height of the Civil Rights era.  Milton and I shared the following email exchange:

Me: Did you ever read this when you were a kid? Since it didn’t snow in SF [I was born and raised in uber-liberal San Francisco; the most prefect place in the world to grow up], it wasn’t on my radar.

Milton: I didn’t read much as a kid. I was already favoring film.

If I recall correctly Milton nagged his mother into taking him to see Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers when he was barely ten.  A buttinsky felt compelled to warn Milton’s Mother that this film was not suitable for a child.

Milton’s Mother:  Seeing this is his idea!

Yet, this post is not about Milton’s precociousness. Recently, the boy that grew into the man that’s film-obsessed, received an invitation to attend an audience test screening of a “major motion picture” that will be released in fall. He was allowed to take a guest so I scored that seat.

Our precious ducats.

Following the screening, we would have to fill out a questionnaire and there would be a focus group discussion. The film is a romantic drama featuring a legend.  Possibly we signed our death warrants when we scrawled our signatures on a disclaimer vowing that we would not spill one ounce of our guts about this film, but I will go out on a limb and say we were extremely impressed with the lead that played the legend (my D-cup nose smells Academy Award nomination all over this performance).  Hopefully nothing bad will happen to us, such as Harvey Weinstein showing up on our doorsteps brandishing a baseball bat.  When the film opens, I will recommend it to my friends and family, and I doubt I will suffer the backlash I endured when I crowed enthusiastically about another Brothers Weinstein release back in the days of Miramax called Bad Santa, coincidentally my favorite holiday film.

Back to our test screening, Milton told me to arrive at the theater, the AMC Loews Lincoln Square multiplex on the Upper West Side, early to ensure a good place in line.  We arrived so early that the line did not exist.  A line was quickly organized and we were among the first in it.  We had a relatively short wait outside before being ushered into the theater.  Milton decided we should sit on the aisle, something we seldom do.  This was a mistake for it turned out that people could only enter and exit on our side of the row.  This forced us to get up and sit down at least sixty times and that got old quickly.  In fact, it was never young.

Organizers equipped with clipboards, conferred in sotto voce tones with one another as they sized up the audience in their quest to screen members for the focus group.  People around us were screened and selected, but we were shunned.  As Milton was trying to determine what made the selection committee choose others and exclude us I suggested:

Me: Blacks and Jews need not apply?

Milton emitted a low growl.

I think we were excluded because we both wear glasses and reek of the egg-heady scent of membership — Film Society of Lincoln Center, Independent Feature Project, (before my salary was cut) Film Forum.  The selection committee probably said about us:

Selection Committee:  How the hell did those two film geeks get in here?  They’re exactly the types that would pay to see this when it opens!

The theater filled quickly.  It was announced that the screening could start half an hour early.  As the audience applauded that welcome decision, a Plush Young Woman angled down our row so once again we had to stand to let a person through.  Reaching his breaking point, Milton groaned loudly:

Milton:  Oh, my Lord!

This drew Milton to the Plush Young Woman’s attention.

Plush Young Woman:  I don’t have my ticket to reenter the theater.  Can I have yours?

Milton’s response:

Not very subtle.

Since she was only partially stupid, she read his body language.

Fortunately, the film was entertaining.  After filling out the exhausting questionnaire, I was tired and in no mood to stay another half hour to participate in a focus group had we been chosen.  Milton shared that opinion, so possibly the organizers did not choose us because they determined we might snore during the discussion.

Lame Adventure 156: Oral Sex in the Workplace!

If your workplace is anything like mine, no one’s lapping up anything other than caffeine, but a few weeks back, my boss, Elsbeth, colleague, Ling, sidekick, Greg, and I engaged in a discussion about the film Blue Valentine before any of us had seen it.  We were familiar with the notoriety surrounding Blue Valentine and that it had narrowly escaped an NC-17 rating due to a scene where one character performs oral sex on another.

Put that away now!

Elsbeth (baffled):  Why would that cause it to get an NC-17 rating?

Greg (Mr. Explanation):  It’s because the guy goes down on the woman and she has an orgasm.

Elsbeth and Ling (attacking Greg in unison):  So?

Elsbeth (accusatory tone):  What’s wrong with that?

Lone male Greg sees a pay cut and possibly unemployment heading his way.

Greg (defensive):  I’m not saying it’s wrong!  I’m just saying what I heard!

Me (via the peanut gallery):  But if he raped and killed her that would probably get an R.

My boss and buddies agree with this assessment.  Greg narrowly escapes his own evisceration, and he hightails to his workshop to build more tile samples.

Albee and I have since seen Blue Valentine.  Had I been asked what film with an intense oral sex scene narrowly had an NC-17 rating overturned, Blue Valentine or Black Swan, I would have assumed it was Black Swan.  The oral sex scene in Black Swan is kinky erotic fun, and oh yeah, it’s between two hot women.  I’d buy that DVD.  I’d put it in my collection next to Bound.

The oral sex scene in Blue Valentine between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams is poignant.  Although it did not reduce me to tears, the way the film is edited, the voyeuristic viewer is aware of much more than the characters at that point in time and feels wistful.  It’s a very beautiful scene in a very painful story.  If the jug heads on the ratings board forced director Derek Cianfrance to cut or edit that scene that would have so detracted from the emotional weight of this film, and it’s not a film with subject matter — a crumbling marriage — that horny teenage boys would want to see.  I am very glad that Cianfrance won his appeal.  I would be even happier if whoever sits on the ratings board would read a sex manual since these romance loathing violence-lovers must suck out loud in bed.

Deserving Academy Award Best Actress nominee, Michelle Williams, with co-star Ryan Gosling, who should have received a Best Actor nomination, in a scene from Blue Valentine.

Lame Adventure 135: Watch Out For That Dove!

Milton, and many of my other friends as well as my boss, Elsbeth, revere filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, and so do I.  Whenever I feel the need to watch a film with emotional depth, I bypass my vast Ren and Stimpy collection and head straight for Sweden.

I am grateful that many of this legendary artist’s library of brilliant films are available on DVD, and I would appreciate it if one of Gotham City’s revival houses would feature another Bergman retrospective soon.  I much prefer watching films on a movie screen, especially when the prints are pristine.

My ideal Bergman double bill would be Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal chased with the Academy Award nominated short from 1968, De Düva: The Dove, featuring the screen debut of the late great Madeline Kahn.   Fellow Bergman aficionados might scratch their noggins and ask, “De Düva, what’s that one?  I’ve never heard of it and when the hell did Madeline Kahn ever work with Ingmar Bergman?  Didn’t she play Lily Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles?”

Yes she did, and you’re in the right place to find out all about De Düva … I wish the quality was better, but I urge all Lame Adventures readers and Bergman fans to stick with it. 

Adorable leopard cub that would surely love to eat a düva.

Lame Adventure 109: New York Film Festival – Black Venus

By the time this post is published, Milton should have a full-blown monster cold.  It does not help his condition that we have been attending New York Film Festival screenings almost every night of the week, but there was no way he was going to miss Black Venus, a film from France directed by Abdellatif Kechiche.  Albee and I had seen Kechiche’s last film, The Secret of the Grain, which was lengthy, frustrating, depressing and since the grain in the title was cous cous, which always looked delectable, we left the theater ravenous.  Someone could have salted our armrests and we would have devoured those.  Instead, we settled for burgers.

Black Venus, a historic drama based on Saartjie Baartman, a woman who lived in the early 19th century, has a 159-minute runtime.  When Village Voice film critic and member of the NYFF selection committee, Melissa Anderson, introduced it, she referred to the performance by Yahima Torres as “astonishing.”  I groaned in Milton’s one unclogged ear, “Hyperbole.”  Milton, clutching two fistfuls of tissues, and possibly a roll of toilet paper he absconded from the men’s room, muttered, “This better be good or I’ll be snoring fast.”

As with The Secret of the Grain, Black Venus is also lengthy, frustrating and depressing, but where it differs from Kechiche’s earlier film is that it’s excellent. Not only was it excellent, “Mortimer Snerd” (Milton’s name for Melissa Anderson) knew what she was talking about in her introduction.   She earned our respect.  Yahima Torres was brilliant.  Torres can convey more while silently smoking a cigarette than Hillary Swank babbling eight pages of dialogue.

Living a life void of mirth.

Saartjie Baartman was a tragically exploited slave from Cape Town, South Africa who traveled to Europe in 1810 with her owner where she became infamously known as the “Hottentot Venus.” This was due to her enlarged buttocks and elongated labia.  Her unusual anatomy fascinated white people.  Saartjie’s owner forced her to perform in freak shows in London and later, Paris.  In their act, she is shackled and introduced huddled inside a cage.  He constantly cracks a whip and orders her to perform a salacious dance, and it gets worse …  The on-screen voyeurs watch in sheer delight, while the off-screen viewer cringes in horror.  The film relentlessly pummels the viewer with this woman’s degradation.

She’s lonely and miserable, with no friends or family and trapped in a country where she cannot speak much English or French.   As she struggles to maintain her dignity, she tries to drown her pain with alcohol.  In a deeply moving scene where a French journalist interviews her in a carriage, she recalls the life she had before coming to Europe.  Emotionally, Black Venus is a devastating portrait of racism, sexism, and abuse, but there’s a “happy” coda at the end.  Oddly, it almost brought me to tears.

During the Q&A with Torres and Anderson, a young African American woman detonated.  She ached to give director Kechiche, who was not in attendance, a piece of her mind about how much this film offended her.  She took her anger out on Torres, but before Torres could respond, a middle aged African American woman sitting behind us, shot out of her seat and begged Anderson to let her have a say.  Anderson ordered both audience members to pipe down. Torres delivered her defense of both her character and the film which did not satisfy her detractor in the least.  She wanted a fight, and spoke over Torres.  Anderson, to her credit, lashed out at the detractor, “You’re being rude!  Let her finish speaking!”   When Torres finished, the detractor was eager to regain the floor, but Anderson gave the go ahead to the woman behind us to have her say.  She articulately defended the film, explained why it so resonated with her, and praised Torres’s performance.

Yahima Torres's interpreter, Yahima Torres and Melissa Anderson.

The audience enthusiastically applauded her remarks.

Anderson decided to close the Q&A there; so I did not get to ask my two-part question, does it have a distributor yet and when will it be released over here? I hope soon, but it is very controversial.  As Milton pointed out, “People are going to bring a lot of their own baggage to this one.”  As we left, he added, “That was so good, I forgot I have a cold.”  He continued, “I feel like we just saw the black version of Breaking the Waves.”

Yahima Torres feeling love from viewers that were impressed with both her performance and the film.

Yahima Torres' shoes. Milton also loved her fancy footwear.