Tag Archives: new york film festival

Lame Adventure 235: Christmas in October!

It is that time of year again, Christmas in October for Milton and me.   Here in the Big Apple the New York Film Festival is underway for the 49th time.

Yay, it's here!

Milton is a longtime member of the Film Society of Lincoln Center so we were able to purchase our tickets in advance in August.  This year’s festival is packed with films that already have theatrical release.

For example, opening the festival today is Carnage directed by Roman Polanski (a guaranteed no show).  This film is an adaptation of God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza’s smash hit play that won the Tony award in 2009.  It stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly.  We figure that most, if not all of them, will attend.

Milton and I were in complete agreement to pass on this one, not because we have issues with Polanski, the story, or the star-studded cast, but it will open theatrically in December.  If we do not luck into a free screening, we’ll see it in a movie theater for $13, significantly less than the $250 opening night admission price (but it will screen three more times at the festival to the tune of $40 or $20).  Milton and I are fine with waiting to see this one later in the year.

What we strive to see are films that have not scored distribution but we also indulge each other’s guilty pleasure.  This year my GP is a screening of a two-part HBO documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World.  It’s directed by Martin Scorsese and will be broadcast on HBO next Wednesday and Thursday, October 5th and 6th, the day after our screening.  I told Milton that since I can no longer afford to subscribe to HBO I’d like to see all 208 minutes of it in one sitting on Alice Tully Hall’s giant screen.  Milton swallowed hard and said:

Milton (groaning deeply):  Okay.

Milton’s guilty pleasure is The Turin Horse, possibly the last film by the Hungarian filmmaker, Béla Tarr.  It’s shot in black and white, it runs 146 minutes with minimal action, and the little dialogue that is spoken is in Hungarian.  My boss, Elsbeth, who is of Hungarian descent, wanted to get a ticket, too, but when she revealed this to me I discovered that it was already sold out.  As fate would have it, the FSLC has posted the trailer online and voila!  Tickets are suddenly available again.  I cocked my head like Nipper the RCA dog and thought:

Me:  Huh!  How’d that happen?

Painting of Nipper allegedly listening to the sound of his master's voice, but it could have also been a recording of the cat next door.

Then, I watched the 45 second trailer.  I urge all Lame Adventures readers to do so now:

Hm, I wonder if there might have been an onslaught of returns and Milton and I will have the theater all to ourselves?  I’m debating whether or not to tell my superior that tickets are available again.  I could sorely use a raise but I’m unsure if passing on this news will grant me one or get me fired.

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Lame Adventure 223: Anticipating Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene has yet to arrive, it is getting breezy outside my apartment’s window, but most people seem to have gotten the memo – streets are quiet and roads are empty.  My core group of dearest friends and I are predominantly safe (for now).

Tree outside my window that could possibly kill me if it uproots, crashes through my window and I fail to dive into my bathroom fast enough.

Even though we all share a degree of cynicism about Irene taking on Gotham City and the tristate area, no one seems too inclined to do anything too ridiculous.  This excludes my cabin fever suffering Friend From Jersey, Martini Max, who has already made an impulse purchase, specifically this poster of Theda Bara circa 1915.

Theda Bara tearing her hair out for Max. Still from her lost film called "Sin."

He intends to hang it over his TV.  Did I mention that Max is divorced?

Milton is nestled in his Upper East Side apartment with plenty of staples and some massive dessert he waxed about poetically.  While waiting for Irene we discussed our New York Film Festival ticket buying strategy for an hour.  We’re very dull that way.

My sidekick, Greg, is housebound in Brooklyn.  From his texts I’m under the impression that he’s feeling a tad grumpy.

Lola, who also resides in Brooklyn, was evacuated, but she’s made the best of a bad situation.  She’s with her boyfriend in Manhattan, taking it easy.  When I last spoke to her she said he was cooking.  What a guy.

Albee has extended his visit to California until Tuesday.

Ling texted me that she is about three hours away from the city.  On Friday Coco asked me:

Coco:  Where’s Ling?

Me:  At a wedding in Toronto.

Coco:  Oh!  Who got married?

Me:  Lowell’s [editorial comment: Ling’s guy] parents next-door neighbors’ brother’s son.

In response to that response Coco’s eyes glazed over.  Hopefully, Ling will make it back before the heavy rain starts to fall and the wind picks up.

This morning, I took some pictures of unusual sites on the Upper West Side.  Both Fairway and Trader Joe’s closed early.

Eerie site: empty fruit bins outside the Upper West Side's Fairway.

Eerier site: the store that is open every day, closed.

A Guy About My Age (GAMA or JERK) with the physique of a noodle tossed an out of body fit at the burly-direct-descendant-of-Thor-bouncer standing guard outside Fairway’s closed doors.

GAMA or JERK: Why close the store?  This is ridiculous!  The subways are running until noon!

Note:  It’s after 11 am.

Burly Bouncer:  You should have gotten here earlier.  The store’s closed.

GAMA or JERK sneers at the Bouncer, a sneer about as threatening as a Chihuahua’s sneeze.  The Bouncer returns the gaze that I translated as:

Bouncer’s Gaze:  Sucks to be you fool.

I took these other pictures in my neighborhood.

Closed Trader Joe's at 72nd Street and Broadway.

Typical TJ's cheeriness. Why I prefer to shop at jaded Fairway.

Baffled tourists trying to figure out how to escape the city reading a subway map.

MTA poster announcing mass transit closing.

One of the last 1 local subway trains entering 72nd Street station.

FedEx making deliveries.

Time Warner cable is there; but when I need them, they're always nowhere to be found. Grrrrr.

My sister, Dovima, has texted me that our 84-year-old father out on the West Coast would rather talk to me on Sunday, during the heart of Irene possibly pummeling Manhattan into oblivion and knocking out my cell phone service.  He is busy watching sports on TV tonight.   I texted her back to tell him to call me next week.

I was supposed to usher an off-Broadway play today, but all theaters on and off-Broadway are dark.

Coco lives in the meatpacking district in lower Manhattan, near, but not in an evacuation zone.  The intrepid type, in lieu of a flashlight, she has glow sticks.

Coco's glow sticks.

Donning her Lame Adventures journey(wo)man photographer hat Coco has also emailed me these pictures from downtown.

Brilliant time to be on a cruise in the Hudson River.

Apocalypse approaching?

Lame Adventure 110: New York Film Festival – Joe Dante’s The Hole

Since Milton’s nasty cold has escalated to the point where he’s now phlegm on feet, a site that does not mesh well with sequins and glitter, he gave our mutual friend and horror film buff, Ulla, his ticket to Joe Dante’s The Hole, our last New York Film Festival screening.  She was thrilled with the idea of having the crap scared out of her since this film was shot in 3D.  She said, “I’m coming prepared.  I’m wearing a diaper.”

The Hole, was attended by a very excited crowd that included director Dante’s collaborator, John Sayles, who wrote the screenplays for Dante directed comedy horror classics, Piranha (the original 1978 version), and The Howling, released in 1981.  Dante joined the moderator, Film Comment editor, Gavin Smith, in introducing the film.  To further psyche the eager audience, he walked onto the stage wearing his Dolby 3D glasses.  Smith followed Dante’s lead and donned his.

During his introductory remarks, Dante, who was born in Morristown, New Jersey in 1946 and grew up in Parsippany, mentioned that he first attended the New York Film Festival in 1965.  He did not say what he saw, but he implied that he never imagined that this elitist institution would ever screen one of his films.  Ironically, The Hole, was one of the few screenings that sold out well in advance this year illustrating that today’s audience, even in a city as sophisticated as New York, has a much greater appetite for mainstream as opposed to the more marginal-stream fare that the NYFF usually screens.  Also, the ticket price for The Hole was a bargain — $12 rather than $20 for most of the other screenings.

The Hole, full of wit and intrigue, is a taut and fun slice of horror-lite.  It is not packed with gore nor are buckets of blood spilled, but it has some nice, creepy moments.  The tale is about a pair of bored bickering brothers, who have just relocated with their single clueless mother, Susan (Meet the Fockers Teri Polo), from their beloved Brooklyn to a rental home in the town of Bensenville.

The older brother, Dane, is a sullen teenager played by heart-throbby-type Chris Massoglia.  He looks a bit like Justin Bieber, if Justin Bieber looked more like a masculine 16-year-old boy than a surfer dude-ette 35-year-old lesbian.  The younger brother, Lucas, is a sweet grade schooler, played by scene stealer Nathan Gamble, who delivers some of the film’s best lines.  During a moment of  rough housing, the boys discover a heavily padlocked door in the floor of the basement that, of course, they must open, or else there would be no film.

Only the insane or curious kids send a video camera down there.

Their new friend, Julie, the yappy Pekinese owning neighbor-girl (the competent Haley Bennett), refers to the boys’ hole as “the passageway to hell,”  and she enthusiastically adds that it is “so cool.”  This is before she realizes that the hole is full of haunting surprises that will include her.

Screenwriter Mark L. Smith has hit on an intriguing premise, a hole that recognizes the worst fears of anyone that looks into it.  Even if Dante does not hammer his audience with gross out clichés, composer Javier Navarette’s eerie music score provides chills and more than a few goose bumps.  Bruce Dern, an actor with a reputation for playing memorable whackos, makes a delightful cameo as Crazy Carl, the previous tenant of the boys’ house who is now the resident loon in an abandoned glove factory.

The Hole kids after glimpsing some crazy shit.

A bit of trivia about the climactic scene at the end – if something about it looks familiar, Dante, who shot the film in Vancouver, BC, recycled the set from James Cameron’s TV series, Dark Angel, which ran from 2000-2002.

Overall, The Hole is a family-friendly production and would be a very good “starter” horror film for children under ten.  Older kids will probably be intrigued by the hole itself.  As a certified case of arrested development, I certainly was.

Afterward, Dante, gave very generous Q&A, reflecting how horror, which was always considered grade B cinema in his youth, remains one of the most popular and successful genres today.  He said his influences for this film were Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder and Italian filmmaker and fright master, Mario Bava.

Joe Dante, seated left, during Q&A with Gavin Smith.

Even though The Hole won the inaugural 3D Persol award at the Venice Film Festival in 2009, Dante claimed that he would have preferred if it had been shot with RealD 3D technology, but due to budgetary constraints, he was forced to settle for Dolby 3D.  His likely third choice was probably No 3D.  His issue with Dolby 3D is that he thinks it looks darker, but to our untrained film going eyes we thought it looked fine.  He said he made it for around twelve million dollars, a pittance when one considers what Hollywood produced 3D films cost.  The Hole has yet to find US distribution, but it has opened in Europe.

After screening, Joe Dante, chewing the fat in the theater lobby with a fan.

While I was writing this post, Milton called to say that he felt so ill on Saturday and was coughing so violently, he was wondering if he had tuberculosis.  He slept heavily through Sunday, when he woke feeling both considerably better and ravenous.  Therefore, he ate an entire pie – the new cure for the common cold.

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.

Lame Adventure 107: Happy Birthday John Lennon

I admit that the title of this post is premature.  Next Saturday, October 9th, would have been John Lennon’s seventieth birthday.  I find this incredible, but when I consider how much middle age female Viagra (Aleve) I pop, it does make sense that half the members of the Beatles are now septuagenarian – a word I can spell, but cannot pronounce.

When Ringo Starr turned seventy last July 7th, his milestone rated morning talk show and evening news mention.  He wanted his fans to say, “Peace and Love,” at noon as a birthday gift, as if uttering that trite utopian phrase would have an iota of impact on relations between the US and Iran.  During Ringo’s magical moment, I was in the process of disemboweling the office copier and predominantly thinking, “War and Hate.”

John Lennon’s milestone touches me far more.  I loved John Lennon.  I do feel genuine affection for the other three Beatles, and I felt sad when George Harrison died, but John is by far my all-time favorite Beatle.

John Lennon - a Beatle apart.

My sister, Dovima, was a Paul McCartney fan.  She wished that he was our brother, something that never made an iota of sense to me.  If Axel, our actual brother, wished that one of his sisters were Raquel Welch, he kept it to himself.

Axel's silent prayer, "Please God, please! Make her my third cousin twice removed!"

I had no desire for John to be my brother.  Although my attraction to him was not sexual, I was drawn to his music, wit, charm, and especially, his irreverence.  In 1966, when he made the faux pas of declaring that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ, that rang true to this Catholic schoolgirl and atheist-in-the-making.  I was a hardcore Beatle believer, but religion thoroughly bored me.  My inability to memorize Catholic prayers earned me solid three’s in Religion (four was the equivalent of a failing grade), but if Sister Mary Angry had ordered me to recite every word of every Beatle song, I would have delivered that recitation accurately and with confidence.

I thought John was the coolest person in the world.  If I could have been born a Beatle, I would have wanted to be John, but I suppose what I pined for more than anything in my youth was to be that elusive fifth Beatle.  I knew this was unrealistic since I possessed zero musical talent, but if they ever needed a moppet that could play a mean triangle, albeit off-key, I was ready.

"Lads, trust me, I can give Mom and Granny the slip."

Soon, two new films about John will be released.  One is an excellent documentary packed with rare footage and audio about Lennon’s years in New York.  Appropriately it is titled, Lennon: NYC. Milton and I saw it when it premiered at the New York Film Festival where Yoko was in attendance.

Dapper Yoko with Lennon: NYC director Michael Epstein.

Our friend, Judy a.k.a. The Grande Enchilada, also attended this screening.  Milton and I agree that her review of it is spot on.  Check it out here.

PBS is going to broadcast Lennon: NYC on the American Masters series on Thursday, November 22nd at 9 pm.  It is also going to be screened for free at the Rumsey Playfield in Central Park on Saturday, October 9th.  Doors open at 6 pm, and the screening starts at 7 pm.

Lennon: NYC

Following the screening of Lennon: NYC there was a Q&A with director Michael Epstein and producer Susan Lacy.  As the Q&A was winding down, an audience member, whose name I believe was Dense Bonehead, demanded to know why this documentary only focused on Lennon’s life in New York City.  He was confounded over why it excluded coverage about Lennon’s years in Liverpool and completely baffled over why there was little allusion to what the Beatles accomplished in the Sixties.

This query from a muddled mind leads me to the second film about Lennon, a dramatic biopic called, Nowhere Boy, that opens in New York on Friday, October 8th.  It is entirely set in Liverpool providing Mr. Bonehead with a hearty fix of early circa 1950s John Lennon.  It explores his relationship with his free spirited, but troubled mother, Julia, and her grounded sister, Mimi, the strict aunt that raised him.  For anyone unfamiliar with Lennon’s youth, this film will seem like a revelation, but it’s not in the league with nuanced, less paint-by-numbers, cliche addled biopics, such as Walk the Line or Ray.

If Mr. Bonehead sees Nowhere Boy, he might gripe to the director, Sam Taylor-Wood, about why she did not show any footage of  John’s later years in New York?  This prompts my Sigmund Freud side to cry, “What do Beatle fans want?”

I know what this Beatle fan wants, and that’s to hear the music.  One devoted Beatle fan here in Gotham City is an infamous busker named Zack Heru.  Zack can frequently be seen indulging his love of the Beatles as he sings the band’s catalogue in the Fourteenth Street subway station tunnel between the Sixth and Seventh Avenue lines.  He has been doing this for at least ten years.  He told me that singing in this tunnel is his job.  I asked if he earns enough to support himself.  He answered, “I make enough to get a hotdog.”  I always enjoy hearing Zack play the Beatles music whenever I’m in that tunnel.

Lame Adventure 104: New York Film Festival SNAFU

It is New York Film Festival season, a favorite time of year to Milton and me.  Although we have ordered tickets in advance to several screenings, when we learn that tickets are still available for certain films we had not planned to see, we occasionally pick up a pair at the box office.  That was how we got tickets to a three o’clock screening of the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.  As I am walking to Lincoln Center to meet Milton to attend this screening, my cell phone rings.  The caller is Milton.

Me:  I’m almost there.  I’m five minutes away.

Milton (eerily calm; always a bad sign):  I just looked at the festival’s calendar.  The three o’clock screening is for Le Quattro Volte.

Required reading: New York Film Festival calendar.

Me:  Le what?

Milton:  The calendar says that Uncle Boonmee screens at nine.

Me (morphing into a parrot):  “Nine”?

Milton:  Yes, nine.

Me:  How is that possible?  We’re seeing Angels in America at 7:30.

The Signature Theatre Company has revived Angels in America.  Milton and I purchased those tickets two months ago.  We purchased our Uncle Boonmee tickets around eight o’clock the night before.  We were surprised that there were any tickets left to such an acclaimed, albeit difficult film, written and directed by soon-not-to-be-a-household-name, Apichatpong Weerasethakul.  Our friend, Judy, had warned us that it is best to be well rested and heavily caffeinated for this one.

Milton:  Look at our tickets.  What time is the screening?

I look at the tickets.  The musical cue is the downbeat.

Me:  Nine.

I proceed to note in language invoking images of the deity, mothers, sexual intercourse and excrement that we are in quite a pickle since this is a no exchange/no returns situation.  I bellow for the entire Upper West Side to hear, as if speaking to the Son of God himself, “Jesus Christ, do you realize that we’ve donated $40 to the Film Society of Lincoln Center?”

My stomach acid soars like a rocket to Mars.  Moments later when I see Milton smiling I open my mouth to greet him, but instead, I singe his face with flames.  In response, he morphs into a Jewish mother and blames himself for this predicament recalling that he was one-and-a-half sheets to the wind when he noticed the sign that said tickets to this alleged three o’clock screening of Uncle Boonmee were still available the night before.  I remind him that I was stone cold sober and standing next to him looking at that exact same sign.  It did not occur to either of us that the announcement was for a three o’clock screening that had happened earlier that day, i.e. a past screening.

I bounce up to the box office window like a featherweight boxer determined to make mincemeat out of my opponent, in this case a sleep-deprived woman somewhere in her forties.  Feigning calm, I explain our situation to her.  I play the humility card and admit that we were boneheads that did not look at the show time on our tickets while standing at the box office window.

Alice Tully Hall box office window; a window we now know well.

Ticket Seller:  There are no refunds or exchanges for tickets purchased for same day screenings.

Me:  This was an honest mistake we made.

Ticket Seller:  Would you like to see what’s screening today at three o’clock?

Me:  No.  It’s not Uncle Boonmee.

Ticket Seller:  Yes, Uncle Boonmee screens at nine.

Me:  We’re seeing Angels in America at nine.  If we knew Uncle Boonmee was screening at the same time as Angels, we would not have bought these tickets.

Ticket Seller:  Would you like to see something else at another time?

Milton (elated):  We can make an exchange?

Ticket Seller (completely worn down):  Yes.

Milton:  I can live with that!

We select The Strange Case of Angelica, a ghost story written and directed by 101-year-old Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira.  De Oliveira directed his first film in 1942, his second in 1963, his third in 1975, three more in the eighties, five in the nineties, and nine in the 2000s.  If he lives another 101 years, at this rate, he’ll be cranking out features weekly.  Before leaving the box office window we double-check the date and show times on our tickets forty-three times.