Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 Top Ten: Matt Singer

My list hasn't really changed from the one I posted at indieWIRE. Though I've seen quite a few movies in the last two weeks (Stick It!) the list remains essentially untouched:

1. L'Enfant
2. Children of Men
3. Flags of Our Fathers
4. Half Nelson
5. The Departed
6. Inside Man
7. Old Joy
8. The Queen
9. Letters From Iwo Jima
10. Art School Confidential

I'm sorta talked out about these movies — you can read my year-end essay on or my comments on the indieWIRE poll — but I will add this: my comment on indieWIRE about ranking Art School Confidential lower than it deserved was written in jest; that is, until I got the film on DVD as a birthday present, watched it again, and realized that even though I loved it the first time around it's even better than I initially thought. Now I'd probably rank it #6, just ahead of Inside Man (which I just rewatched again last night).

(PS -- Two movies would have made my list but they didn't qualify for indieWIRE because they won't receive U.S. theatrical releases, and so I'll simply assume to include them -- or at least consider them -- in 2007: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century and particularly Bong Joon-ho's The Host)

Speaking of Inside Man, I regret not finding a space on my indieWIRE ballot for Clive Owen's performance as bank robber extraordinaire Dalton Russell, or, for that matter, as humanity's reluctant savior in Children of Men. As Sweeney notes in his top ten, this was The Year of Clive Owen. Two great performances in two superb movies. He doesn't know it yet, but he and I are having a bit of a bromance right now.

Instead of more meaningless prattle on my top ten, how about new meaningless prattle about my second ten:

11)Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

Come for the hilarity, stay for the excessive, borderline-dangerous hilarity during the outtakes over the closing credits. On a totally biased note, I'm a sucker for making-movie movies, especially if they play making-movies as a dopey folly. Tristram Shandy is two for two in those departments.

12)Jackass Number Two

Funnier than Borat. You're disagreeing with me, I know. But guess what — I saw both movies and you didn't.

13)Dave Chappelle's Block Party

My favorite documentary of the year. The tunes are great, but the movie is more notable for its somewhat distanced and somewhat melancholy portrait of Dave Chappelle just at the point where he had obtained everything he thought he wanted and realized it wasn't all that desirable after all. Just below the surface of everything he does in the movie is an undercurrent of depression and suspicion, with fame, and money, and power, and really the whole movie comes out of his desire to do something with his celebrity than celebrate himself.


I'm also a sucker for documentaries about obsessives (Spellbound, etc.), and they don't get much more obsessive than professional crossword puzzle designers and solvers. The character profiles are stimulating but the movie really shines at the National Crossword Tournament where the natural drama was more tense than pretty much every fiction movie of 2006. There's a moment that actually made me gasp — gasp! — out loud. And afterwards I couldn't stop doing crossword puzzles.

15) & 16)The Illusionist and The Prestige

If you'd have told me at the beginning of the year that there were going to be two movies about unsavory Victorian-era magicians and both would actually be worth your time, I'd have laughed. The Prestige had the edge in performances and plot trickery but The Illusionist's cinematography had that certain I-don't-know-what, and a really exotic, romantic air about it.


As Penelope Cruz said on IFC News, in an interview I saw 35 times this year: "There is only one Pedro!"

18)A Prairie Home Companion

I thought this was a very good, not great, movie when I saw it, and I still think so, even if Altman's passing has made it a particularly fitting final work.

19)Fast Food Nation

Greg Kinnear in particular elevated this ficto-eco-liberal-survey into something more: distinctly human, steeped in the drudgery of the everyday working world. I could take or leave most of the other elements of the film, but I absolutely adored Kinnear's performance as fast food marketing exec who realizes the caliber of the product he's selling. His scene with Bruce Willis is one of those Pacino-De Niro in Heat acting classes.

20)The Fountain

The movie I hated like few others, and thought and wrote and spoke about more than any other. In my mind, that's worth something.

And there you have it. I should have 1 more year-end type post totalling up exactly how many movies I've seen in 2006 (yes I count every one) and giving a month-by-month account of my favorite old movies I've seen this year.

Related awesomeness: We've reached 1 year and just about 250 posts. Plus: Termite Art is now the #1 result on google when you search for "termite art." Rock on.

Also: a Grindhouse trailer is up!! And the news that it will actually be two 90 minute features married together instead of a pair of two-reelers is an amazing gift to fans, a grand artistic experiment, and a dangerous risk from a business perspective: why would two successful filmmakers split their box office in half? I have no idea, but I'm already counting down the days to April 6th.

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2006 Top Ten: Alberto Zambenedetti

Alberto Zambenedetti
Ph.D. Candidate in Italian Studies, NYU

1. Arrivederci Amore Ciao

Italian cinema is dead. This is a well-known fact. Which makes this Hitchcockian, bleak, gritty, blood soaked, dark, claustrophobic, anguishing thriller all the more relevant. Suspended between Notorious and Ichi the Killer, Arrivederci Amore Ciao is the story of the homecoming of a former terrorist who spent twenty years in exile working as mercenary hitman for foreign governments. With the complicity of a corrupt detective – played by a splendid Michele Placido, who drives a BMW, sports a “Just For Men” dyed handlebar moustache, and speaks with a hilarious Sardinian accent – the man travels back to Italy and becomes a bouncer in a strip club, a police informer, a thief, and finally opens up a high-class restaurant and goes (almost) legal. All of which through lying, scamming, torturing, stealing, killing, and fucking his way up in society. In the context of a national cinema that still worships the auteur and looks down upon mainstream products, this film breaks all the frames, and recuperates the idea of genre, which in the Italian tradition is always hybrid. With its totally nihilistic portrayal of mankind and its wonderfully pornographic display of ultraviolence, Arrivederci Amore Ciao is absolutely delightful…

2. The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

The plot of this utterly unconventional film is quite simple: a deranged inventor summons to his private island the best piano tuner in the world and challenges him to prove his skills in tuning a series of sound-making automata. The machines are to accompany the beautiful soprano the inventor had killed and resuscitated in a concert for his guests. Utilizing a mixture of live action and stop-motion they had perfected in The Institute Benjamenta, the Brothers Quay deliver one of their finest films to date. Delicate yet disturbing, poetic yet nightmarish, The Piano Tuner subsumes the obsessions and idiosyncrasies of the filmmakers and combines them with uncommon cinematography, framing, and mise-en-scène. The result is an uncompromising art film (or film about art) that discloses its treasures slowly, quietly, and with exquisite taste.

3. Miami Vice

Michael Mann recuperates the series he had created in the eighties and plants a new seed in the twenty-first century. Do shantung suits, fast-boats, Ferraris, gunfights and beautiful women stand the test of time? Absolutely. Are über-wealthy villains, undercover fast-mouthed cops, bizarre homoerotic breaks and loud soundtracks still enticing? Yes, indeed. At least to me. Especially when Mann himself directs, and further develops the aesthetics of the previous Collateral, which in my opinion had a few rough edges that needed some smoothing. In this respect, Miami Vice is a wonderful step forward and makes me yearn for a sequel, if not even for a whole trilogy. Few other films this year have given me such sheer thrill and excitement, despite the long running time, the open ending, and the fucking overpriced popcorn.

4. The Departed

Although I have to admit that I have not seen the original, I am pretty damn sure this was the best remake of the year. Shamefully, I also need to admit that at the time of writing I have not yet seen any of the Clint Eastwood Iwo Jima films. Which leads me to argue on previous convictions that Scorsese is the finest contemporary American director, especially when he devotes himself to mafia stories. His Bostonian cops and mean-streeters are simply wonderful, in all their unrepentant misogyny, their luscious profanities, and their blind phallocentrism. If it is true that psychological complexity seems to be bestowed on some characters only, the effect of this apparent shortcoming is hysterical, especially in the interaction between flat and deep, between protagonists and sideshows, at least until the final coup de théâtre.

5. Inland Empire

Spooky, disturbing, unnerving and utterly idiosyncratic, Inland Empire is David Lynch at his finest. Little can be said about the plot, if not that Lynch seems to be ruminating on doublings and re-doublings, further exploring the road he had taken with Mulholland Drive. Freed by digital technology, Lynch drags the viewer into a serious audiovisual nightmare whose texture, sound, editing, lighting, cinematography, and loose plotlines seem to be designed with the clear intent to violate one’s consciousness. Or, at least that’s how I felt when I saw it.

6. Borat

One of the funniest movies ever made. And in many ways, one of the creepiest, considering the fact that Borat holds up a mirror not only to the United States, but also to the West as a whole. Sacha Baron Cohen crosses every line, establishing new standards for comedy based on political incorrectness in all its facets, constantly underlining the limited understanding we have of eastern countries while staging the situation in reverse. Already a classic, this film in all probability sentences the end of a character that Cohen had played on the Ali G show, but I am quite certain that everyone who saw Borat is looking forward to follow the adventures of Bruno on the big screen…

7. A Prairie Home Companion

Silky smooth, warm and fuzzy, A Prairie Home Companion is a great way to go for a filmmaker who delivered so many wonderful and controversial masterpieces. Superb acting, a light directorial touch, and a charming frame are the strengths of this film, which turned out to be Robert Altman’s last and perhaps least ambitious project. Certainly, my judgment is influenced by the departure of the great director, but I am sure that the film would have made this top ten in any case.

8. Private Fears in Public Places

Quietly, like the snow that falls over this studio-made Paris, Alain Resnais delivers a soft-spoken masterpiece about love, loneliness, and human relations. In his adaptation of the play by Alan Ayckburn the Nouvelle Vague master grapples with the tough questions in life with taste and a self-contained modesty that befit a director of his stature. Visually spellbinding and beautifully acted, Private Fears in Public Places is a nuanced jewel that exemplifies the creative genius of an artist who, with sixty years of cinema under his belt, still finds new ways to beguile the audience.

9. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Although I hate pretty much everything on horseback (apart from the attached example) Tommy Lee Jones’s border epic kept coming back to mind in the course of the year. At the same time new and old, modern and old-fashioned, this western/southern story of subaltern rancheros touches upon politically relevant issues but packages them in universal values like friendship and loyalty. Having underestimated it at the first viewing, I give it a spot in this top ten exactly because I feel the need to see it again. Despite the fact that it does not star Bo Derek.

10. Romàntico

Probably the best documentary of the year (at least according to me) – and in some way complementary to The Three Burials – Romàntico listens to the migrants, their plights, theirs stories, and their songs. Apparently, The Battle of Algiers was screened in the Pentagon to help fight the war on terror. I suggest that this film is screened for the head of every state who is currently dealing with waves of illegal mass im/e-migrations. Twice daily.

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2006 Top Ten (Music): R. Emmet Sweeney

Mike Lyon over at Fourteen Seconds has just posted his top ten albums, and here, humbly, are mine.

1. Clipse: Hell Hath No Fury

I've been listening to "Ride Around Shining" constantly for weeks. It's the harp.

2. Alan Jackson: Red Like A Rose

It makes me want to drink scotch.

3. Jason Moran: Artist In Residence

His wife sings (operatically) for him to come home from the tour.

4. Ghostface Killah: Fishscale

"Whip You With a Strap"

5. Tom Waits: Orphans

"Altar Boy": Now I can order in Latin/Make em au gratin, Joe

6. Justin Timberlake: Futuresex/LoveSounds

"My Love": song of the year

7. Roy Nathanson: Sotto Voce

"By the Page": My father paid me to read

8. Nellie McKay: Pretty Little Head

Duet with Cyndi Lauper

9. The Coup: Pick a Bigger Weapon


10: Julie Roberts: Men & Mascara

They both run.

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2006 Top Ten: R. Emmet Sweeney

It's been a year since we started this heartfelt publication. Thanks for reading, but you should be reading Manny Farber instead. He's much better than us.

On to the goods. After some quick and dirty soul searching, I decided "Out 1" (1971)and "Army of Shadows" (1969) would be ineligible for my boffo year end list despite both premiering this year in the US, since, you know, they were made over 30 years ago. But rest assured, they hold a special place in my heart - "Out 1"'s slow descent into madness (post '68 style) and "Army of Darkness"'s unblinking violence (and flinty blue hues) are masterpieces of a high order. I don't think I'll ever shake the gooey remnants of "Out 1"'s conspiracy theories out of my head.

But yes, new stuff:

1. Inland Empire, directed by David Lynch
2. Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuaron
3. Private Fears in Public Places, directed by Alain Resnais
4. Climates, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
5. L'Enfant, directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
6. Pan's Labyrinth, directed by Guillermo Del Toro
7. Letters From Iwo Jima, direced by Clint Eastwood
8. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, directed by Cristi Puiu
9. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, directed by Tommy Lee Jones
10. Brand Upon the Brain!, directed by Guy Maddin

Honorable Mentions: A Journey That Wasn't, Breaking News, Clean, Inside Man, La Moustache, Stick It, Three Times, Man Push Cart, The Proposition, The Hidden Blade, Syndromes and a Century, Running Scared, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Miami Vice, Old Joy, Borat, Bamako, A Prairie Home Companion, Mutual Appreciation, 4, Battle in Heaven, The Matador, United 93, Art School Confidential, Gabrielle, The Bridesmaid, Half Nelson, Click, Strangers With Candy, Talladega Nights, Tenacious D: The Movie, Crossing the Bridge: The Music of Istanbul.

Film Event of the Year: "Out 1" at the Museum of the Moving Image
Male Performance of the Year: Pierce Brosnan, The Matador
Female Performance of the Year: Laura Dern, Inland Empire

Random Thoughts

1. No film affected me as viscerally as "Inland Empire." It scared me. It was the sound design that did it, those screeching, feedback laden squeals that accompanied Dern's descent into Hollywood's and her own unconscious. It all made perfect sense to me on a base emotional level - Dern suffers, frees herself from her suffering, and gains peace and a sort of redemption sitting on the couch next to Nastassja Kinski. It touches on the transformative power of performance, the destruction of actresses in the Hollywood system, and tells any number of riveting stories, none of which get resolved. It finds joy in the digression - from the homeless woman's bizzarely affecting tale of her model friend with the pet monkey to the Polish folk tale that sets everything in motion. Stories blur into stories - and they're all fascinating.

2. I am now convinced no one can play rumpled like Clive Owen. No one. Combine this with a fully realized vision of the near future and numerous delicious long takes and I'm sold. The movie's close to two hours and I thought it was halfway through when it ended. This thing moves. I don't know how since there's at least 5 credited screenwriters, but it expertly dispenses backstory in the middle of shots (like the rapid fire montage on the TV in the bus of every other city burning) while constantly advancing the plot. Not only that, but it trumps "Little Miss Sunshine" in the "pushing a stalled car" department. Not only is Children of Men's scene done in one (1!) take, but it's funnier and has Clive Owen running around in flip flops. Point to Children of Men and my new man crush Alfonso Cuaron and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

to be continued... (and be sure to check out Fourteen Seconds, Seen, and Tativille for their take on the year that was.)

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

An Affair to Remember (1957)

Though its final act revolves around a thoroughly aggravating plot contrivance ("Just tell him Deborah Kerr! TELL HIM!") and there's two dopey musical numbers by children's choirs for no reasons whatsoever, An Affair to Remember is, without question, one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen. If that last scene doesn't bring a tear to your eye, it's time to get the ducts checked by your optometrist.

Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are each engaged to be married to others (to be picky, Kerr's just in a long-term relationship, but whatever) when they meet by chance aboard a transatlantic cruise liner. As wonderful in her masochistic longing as Kerr is, this must be one of Grant's best and most subtle performances. Typically my favorite Cary Grant roles are the big, bawdy ones, I Was A Male War Bride or Monkey Business or The Awful Truth. An Affair to Remember's Grant is a bit more subdued; still witty, but dryer. He does a lot of the work with his eyes, which look upon Deborah Kerr as if she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Truth be told she isn't, but there's something about the way Grant looks at her that convinces you she might be.

The characters' affair is filled with tiny moments of authenticity; the screenplay by Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart and director (and director of the original incarnation of this story, Love Affair)Leo McCarey, is light on one-liners and heavy on true observation: Grant and Kerr's characters finish each other's sentences, think the other's speaking when they're not, reads the thoughts of the other. Supplements on the DVD say Grant and Kerr improvised some of their scenes to increase the sense of familiarity and they did a marvelous job. The pair's chemistry is undeniable, intellectually as much as sexually.

I haven't seen the original Love Affair but I'd be curious to see whether it's as well filmed as An Affair to Remember, of if McCarey's fine directorial choices reflect the knowledge he accrued over a long career. When the cruise ship lands in New York, Grant and Kerr agree to meet in six months on the top of the Empire State Building, and once they go their separate ways, the building starts to creep into backgrounds, out windows or, in one sublime shot, in a reflection just as Kerr leaves her man for good.

One shot in particular knocked my socks off: Grant's character is something of a celebrity, so everyone on the boat is watching him like a hawk. As his attraction to Kerr deepens, he can't do anything about it because everyone is watching and snapping photographs. Desperate for privacy, their feelings too powerful to ignore, the pair finally kiss, on a staircase between decks, and McCarey shoots the clinch from the waist down. For one moment, they are finally alone, free from everyone's probing eyes, including our own.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Stick It, Too

Some may have laughed when they saw Stick It, a teeny bopper movie about angry gymnasts in R. Emmet Sweeney's list of the best movies of the year on indieWIRE's film poll. But I know enough about Arrrrr to keep an open mind when he says something is good. In the section of the poll devoted to "orphans" — where critics who are the only ones to rank a movie get to defend their choice — The Sween wrote:

"Stick It" is the only film of 2006 that captured the spirit of musicals at their heyday. Bursting with sexuality, Busby Berkeley-esque gymanstic sequences, and a raft of wittily slangy put-downs, it announces Jessica Bendinger as an honest-to-goodness auteur. With this and her screenplay for "Bring It On," she's made two of the most pleasurable pop creations of the past 10 years.

Though it still wouldn't have made my own list of the best of the year, I have to report that, yes, Rob, Stick It is a damn good movie. Sometimes this guy knows what he's talking about (we'll talk later about Idlewild).

I don't know that it's really bursting with sexuality — as Rob himself noted in his Termite Art post on the subject writer/director Jessica Bendinger chose to focus on the girls' sense of self rather than their love lives — but there's no denying the highly creative Berkeley homages and the truly witty screenplay. Best of all, as Sweeney wrote, "This is not a normal teen movie, even though it apes the structure and style of it." Well said, broseph.

At least once a year, Hollywood makes a movie aimed at teens that tells them to rebel or believe in themselves, or distrust authority, but that typically just mean the characters wear Black Sabbath shirts and dye their hair black, so, in essence, the real message is reject conformity by conforming in different ways (i.e. by buying these clothes, etc.). And, at first, I was a little worried that Stick It would be more of the same; the heroine Haley (Missy Peregrym) does have a tendency to wear an excessive amount of Black Flag shirts.

But by its superb conclusion Stick It has revealed its don't-let-others-judge-you message to be more than simple lip service, and Bendinger provides an idea that could completely shake up the stodgy, uptight world of gymnastics. It teaches young women who might watch the movie to try their best and push themselves to the limit, and not to let bullshit rules determine their own self-worth. And that's pretty powerful. Good call Sween.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rocky Balboa (2006)

Call me a cruel, bitter bastard, but sitting down to watch Rocky Balboa I wanted a fiasco. As a fan of Rocky III, IV, and V I expected nothing less. No film series descended deeper into camp than Rocky; from the homoerotic racing in short shorts on the beach, to Rocky's robot buddy (!!!), Rocky was a joke long before Rocky V which killed the series deader than Sylvester Stallone's career for fifteen years. V was supposed to be the character's swansong — the basic plot of that one, fifteen years ago, was that Rocky was too old, and too brainally damaged to continue to box — but a late-career malaise of Van Dammian proportions has sent Sly back to Philly for one more climb up the art museum steps. And I'm very sad to announce it's not a total embarassment. Certainly not as Rocky movies go; hell it's hard to argue it's anything less than the second best movie of the series though that's sort of like arguing that Superman Returns was a big improvement over Superman III (i.e. -- big whoop)

Balboa is the same story as V — Rocky struggles to accept a forced retirement and finds himself unable to connect with his distant son — with a couple main differences, first and foremost that Talia Shire's Adrian (as in "Yo _________!") has passed away a few years back and now Rocky is not only a loser, he's alone too. And, much to my shock, some of these moments are intensely moving. Stallone, terrible as he is in, well, pretty much every movie he's made since 1976, reconnects with the elements that made him and the first Rocky such a crowd-pleaser; somehow, he's made the character seem like just another average schnook once again. By Rocky III, the Italian Stallion looked like he was cut from marble and by Rocky IV was nigh-impervious. Here, Stallone actually looks old, tired, sad — even his weird, off-putting plastic surgery works by suggesting the lumpy, sagging visage of a guy whose been punched in the eyesocket a few too many times. And of course there are limitless layers of meta-ness to this Rocky: Stallone's career in the toilet he has, like Rocky, essentially returned from the highest of heights back down to the gutter; Rocky wants one more shot to prove what he can do, and so does Sly.

This is in no way to suggest the movie is any good (okay so the training montage — "hurtin' bombs!" — kinda is), merely that it isn't nearly as bad as it should be. I'll have to go looking for my so-bad-it's-good fix elsewhere; Code Name: The Cleaner looks promising.

Friday, December 22, 2006

An Important Message

As the tireless Matt Singer mentioned, we've almost reached the one-year anniversary here at Termite Art, and we're going to celebrate the only way we know how - with lists! Sure, you've all gasped at the grandeur of our picks on Indiewire and IFC, but those peerless publications are so restricting. Here at Termite Art anything goes, so any festival or one-off screenings are fair game. I know my ten adorable little moving pictures will be much altered because of this promiscuity. Call us whores if you must. I won't take offense. Because we won't be doing it alone. No...we have friends. Orgy friends. Smartypants Michael Anderson over at Tativille, Mike Lyon at the soon to be resurgent Tits & Gore (it has both!), and Pamela Kerpius at Seen will be spewing forth their loves and hates of the year that was. Other poor blogless friends will also contribute, but they shant be named until the moment is right. It all starts on December 29. We look forward to your patronage.

The Good German (2006)

Sex, Lies, and Videotape was Steven Soderbergh's first breakthough. After a fallow period, Out of Sight was his second. If he keeps this up, he's going to need a third and if I had any advice for Mr. Soderbergh — a filmmaker I admire greatly and like most of the time — it would be to look at what he did in Out of Sight and compare it to his latest film, the unsatisfying curiosity The Good German.

Out of Sight was Soderbergh's adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel of the same name. The novel's good; the movie's great. I saw the movie in the theater as a teenager in the summer of 1998. It hit me like a punch in the gut: the film was so smart, so well edited, written, acted, shot, and damnit it was so friggin cool I could barely catch my breath watching it. It's about George Clooney — and let me say with my unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality, he's fabulous — and Jennifer Lopez, as a pair of doomed lovers on opposite sides of the law. They have a couple scenes so sexy they could have gotten the film an NC-17 rating even though they don't contain any nudity and little to no humping.

The Good German has Clooney (still good, but not quite fabulous) but no Lopez; Cate Blanchett's the female lead. She's a German living in Berlin just after WWII. She had an affair with Clooney years ago and now he's back, but she's now with Tobey Maguire's amoral black market dealer. Soderbergh's going concern with the film is to make an homage on a large scale to the Warner Bros. pictures of the post-war era, stuff like Casablanca, and to do so using the techniques (sound, camera, acting) of that era. Of course, even though he's using old lenses and more theatrical acting, he's also got Tobey Maguire cursing up a storm and banging Cate Blanchett with an evil grin on his face — material I have to assume was cut of Casablanca before it's theatrical release.

Here's the thing: The Good German, fine experiment in form and style that it is, is totally cold and emotionless, while the movies Soderbergh is supposedly paying tribute to are bursting with sentiment and life and humor and sadness. In his Out of Sight days, Soderbergh married experimentalism with entertainment — the disjointed narrative and messy camera work including zooms, pans, and lens flares all utilized techniques previously frowned upon to give them film an unusual texture. Soderbergh's extreme use of color filters to distinguish the film's settings (as a means of easing confusion in that twisty story) is now a very popular Hollywood trope.

Out of Sight was fun and smart — perfect pop. But now Soderbergh is like a nerdy director version of Jekyll and Hyde director: breezy fun one moment, cold and unpenetrable the next. Arguments that The Good German are intentionally distant (like Graham Fuller's on indieWIRE's film poll) are interesting but are, at best, making lemonade out of some very dry lemons.

For more on this topic, I recommend Manohla Dargis' fine piece about the film from The New York Times.

Next up: Rocky Balboa.

By the way: next Wednesday is Termite Art's 1 year anniversary. Get your noise makers ready boys.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Required Reading: indieWIRE's Film Poll 2006

Click over immediately for lists and comments from Termites Matt Singer, R. Emmet Sweeney and James Crawford, amongst many, many others. Armond White's list rocks.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lost Classics

The Guardian has a cool article about great movies that have been largely lost to the ravages of time. Good stuff -- I propose we Termites add our own favorite obscurities. #1 -- Gymkata!

Ok, maybe not.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Matt and R.'s Top Ten Lists are up on

We'll probably post them here a little later on, but if you just can't wait that long, you can head over to IFC News for a peek at our top ten lists. The linked page will take you directly to my list and my introduction to our staff picks, and there you'll find links to all of the IFC staff choices, including Alison Willmore, Mike Atkinson and, yes, our beloved R. Emmet Sweeney.

I actually want to recommend the whole of IFC News this week (which, as you no doubt know by now, updates magazine style every Monday afternoon). We've got the top ten fun, plus a podcast about the lists, an interview with Tom Tykwer about the fascinating-if-kinda-bad Perfume, my review of Children of Men, Atkinson on The Conformist, plus an ingenious feature by Willmore about the history of Rocky training montages. Wish I'd thought of that.

Seriously, look at all that kick ass content! Get reading.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Film Forum's Spring 2007 Repertory Calendar

I got the press release so I figured, why not share. I always eagerly await these seasonal missives from the FF, hoping for some grand surprise (like last year's Don Siegel fest, which got more than its share of Termite Art coverage).

There are some highlights here, particularly a Morricone retro just in time for his honorary Oscar, plus an Ophuls I've always wanted to see (Sarris called it one of his three favorite movies of all time at the recent Village Voice Film Guide event), and something called "B Musicals" which sounds absolutely fascinating.

Here, then, what we have to look forward to in '07:

January 19-25 One Week!
Eleven animated masterworks by Stephen and Timothy Quay, American
identical twins working in London, whose strange work finds its
inspiration in Eastern European literature and classical music and
art. Films include the playful CABINET OF JAN SVANKMAJER, the
haunting IN ABSENTIA, and "their crowning achievement" (Film
Comment), STREET OF CROCODILES. "These astonishing artists, working
in an unlikely form, awaken our senses. Their puppets look less like
things invented than like things discovered." - Terrence Rafferty,
The New Yorker.

January 26 - February 1 One Week!
Peter Greenville's BECKET New 35mm Print!
Starring Richard Burton Peter O'Toole
(1964) Historical epic starring Peter O'Toole (in his first post-
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA role) as England's King Henry II and Richard
Burton as his companion and confidante Sir Thomas Becket in what Time
magazine described as "a cerebral film spectacle... O'Toole and
Burton galvanize the screen, making their acting duo an acting duel."
Nominated for twelve Oscars, including Picture, Director, Actor (for
both stars), Cinematography, Art Direction, and Best Supporting Actor
(John Gielgud), and winning for Edward Anhalt's screenplay, based on
Jean Anouilh's stage triumph. Long unseen, this is its first
theatrical release in decades.

February 2-22 Three Weeks!
Three-week tribute to the most most influential and most imitated
film composer of our time, featuring movies by a diverse group of
filmmakers, from Bertolucci, Pasolini and Malick to Dario Argento,
Mario Bava and Sam Fuller -- not to mention Spaghetti Westerns by
Sergio Leone and others. Opens with new 35mm print of Elio Petri's
Morricone is receiving an Honorary Oscar at this year's Academy
Awards and will conduct a 200-piece orchestra for his first-ever U.S.
concert, at Radio City Music Hall, Feb. 3.

February 23 - March 1 One Week!
RKO LOST & FOUND All New 35mm Prints!
Six newly-unearthed 1930s classics -- all unseen for over 50 years in
any format -- from RKO Radio Pictures, including DOUBLE HARNESS, with
William Powell; RAFTER ROMANCE, with Ginger Rogers; William Wellman's
STINGAREE, with Irene Dunne; and Garson Kanin's A MAN TO REMEMBER,
which made the New York Times' Top 10 of 1938 list, but hasn't
surfaced since.

March 2-15 Two Weeks!
Starring Gong Li New 35mm Print!
(1991) Gong Li, sold by her mother into concubinage, naively enters
the world of intra-harem rivalries, in Yimou's color-drenched and
dazzlingly photographed melodrama. Widely regarded as one of the most
transfixingly gorgeous films of the 90s, inviting comparisons of its
director to master predecessors Ozu and Mizoguchi. "A film of
voluptuous physical beauty and angry passions." - Roger Ebert.
"Beautifully crafted and richly detailed... as visually striking as
it is dramatically effective. - Janet Maslin, New York Times.

March 16-29 Two Weeks! New 35mm Print!
Starring Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio de Sica
(1953) The frivolity, hypocrisy, and inability to love of fin de
siecle high society is exposed in Ophuls's stunning masterpiece,
declared "the greatest film of all time" by Andrew Sarris, an opinion
seconded by arch-rival critic Pauline Kael, who called it
"Perfection." "Should the day ever come when movies are granted the
same respect as other arts, THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE... will
instantly be recognized as one of the most beautiful things ever
created by human hands." - Dave Kehr.

March 30 - April 18 Three Weeks!
B MUSICALS 49 movies!
A lost era of Hollywood history is resurrected with this festival of
musical second features turned out by the major (and minor) studios.
Though low on budget, they were high on talent and proved to be a
training ground for such future stars as Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable,
The Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy
Dandridge, Donald O'Connor, and -- the poster girl for the festival
-- Ann Miller. The super-rarities in the festival (most have never
been on DVD and are rarely on TV), many in new 35mm prints, include
early movies by super-auteurs like Anthony Mann, Joseph H. Lewis,
Phil Karlson, and Douglas Sirk!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Notorious Bettie Page (2006)

Even if The Notorious Bettie Page doesn't completely illuminate the psyche of its subject, it makes crystal clear the scret of her success. For whatever reason — maybe she enjoyed it, maybe she was too naive to fully understand what she was doing, maybe she was a great actress if only in this one area — Bettie Page was the Pin-Up Girl of the Universe because she could take just about any picture a horny mind could imagine and make it look fun, classy, even beautiful. It's not difficult to imagine a lot of people in the sex industry are there out of desperation. Bettie never looks desperate: she looks downright gleeful.

Even if The Notorious Bettie Page isn't an outstanding movie, its notorious Bettie Page most certainly is. With that famous Bettie wig and some fine period costumes, Gretchen Mol completely disappears into the role. You often read some critic writing of an actor in a biopic than "You forget you're even watching [AWARD-CRAVING MOVIE STAR] in the role," and, nine times out of ten that is utter bullshit. Movie stars are movie stars because they are larger than their roles and we go to see movie stars in movies to see the act accordingly. That's why Mol is so good: she's been in plenty of movies, but she's certainly not a movie star and so he slips annonymously into the role. Her physical resemblence to Page helps tremendously as well, and in capturing Page's giddy fearlessness, she exhibits those traits herself.

Director and co-writer Mary Harron never fully reconciles Page's two sides, the naughty model and the God-fearing Christian, possibly because Harron can't quite rationalize the two in the same person, and really, nobody could. And the black and white cinematography by Mott Hupfel is flat and drab (vastly inferior to the cinematography in the other major monochromatic Hollywood film of 2006, The Good German) but that works to the film's advantage in one significant way: it makes the brief color sequences, particularly Bettie's trips to the beaches of Miami, seem even more luminous by comparision.

By and large, the film is perfectly cast and produced: you won't find a better melding of period stock footage and a contemporary cast, or attention to detail in costuming and production design. Nevertheless, and even with the inspiring contributions of Mol, The Notorious Bettie Page just hums along from beat to beat like a lot of biopics; there's not much passion to anything, including Page's stripteases. She was so unaffected by the bondage, so unfazed by the nudity, that, upon reflection, there's really nothing at stake. Her conservative family doesn't object, at least not vocally; for the most part, the various men in her life don't concern themselves with her modeling; and until the end of the film, Bettie manages to keep her devotion to God out of her devotion to nudie cuties. So The Notorious Bettie Page stands as a testament to her power and her accomplishments instead of explaining or exploring them in any significant detail. It's like a statue with only the most cursory of plaques to explain its importance.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Termite Television: Space Seed

I had a full on flirtation with Star Trek nerdness back in 8th grade. I even attended a Star Trek convention in New York City (just one, and no, I didn't wear a costume). I'm still sort of fascinated by the original series, with Kirk, Spock, and the rest, and I've been DVRing it here and there the last couple of months. I keep waiting for someone to put that Star Trek animated series, freshly out on DVD, on television so I can see it again for the first time since childhood, when I completely adored the reruns that used to pepper Nickelodeon's schedule the way Spongebob does now, but I guess the live-action series will have to do in the meantime.

So, Space Seed. This episode introduces Ricardo Montalban's Khan, the outlandish villain who reppears in the one Star Trek movie even non-Star Trek fans agree is actually kind of good, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In the hourlong episode, written by Gene L. Coon and Carey Wilber and directed by Marc Daniels, the Starship Enterprise stumbles on a sleeper ship drifting in space. This "SS Botany Bay" houses a race of supermen, who fled the Earth following the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s (remember those? Good times...), and have spent the last two centuries in suspended animation. Captain Kirk and his away team inadvertantly revive their leader, Khan, who returns to the ship, acts like a douchebag, causes all sort of havoc, is defeated, and then left for dead on a wasteland planet.

The idea behind the Khan character is that he is some sort of pefect human specimen; a superman, the ubermench, and so on. When they transport over and investigate, Kirk brings along a crew historian, a female lieutenant named McGivers. Despite whatever training she has, whatever allegiance she holds to her captain, her ship, and her home planet, she takes one look at Khan while he's still in suspended animation — before he's even uttered a word or shown off his awesomely manly and totally hairless chestal region — and she is so smitted she doesn't even hear Captain Kirk's orders while she thinks of at least ten different ways to bang the guy.

I love that in 1967 with all of Hollywood at its disposal, the producers of Star Trek chose Ricardo Montalban as their emblem of unchecked masculinity. Look at that man! Is that man-beauty or what?!? How the hell did he keep himself looking so brown in suspended animation? Did he freeze himself inside his tanning bed? He truly is a super man!

Khan's man-booty is so blazingly hot it's a wonder the male crewmembers don't lose themselves in his powerful eyes and Montalbanian pectorals as well (Montalbanian pectorals being defined as pectorals so choked in self tanner that they resemble rich Corinthian leather). Somehow Kirk and company take their eyes off his hotness long enough to regain control of the ship and defeat him, but not before Khan gets to tell McGivers that she "amuses" him and hiss the word "fatigue" in such a way as to make it sound eighteen syllables long.

It's remarkable that someone thought this material had the potential for a great Star Trek movie because it is one of the silliest episodes of the first series that didn't involve the crew going to a planet of gangsters or talking bunny rabbits or something. In the big Khan/Kirk fist fight, they don't even attempt to disguise the pair's stunt doubles ("Dude Khan suddenly got much more pale! And Kirk's girdle isn't as tight!"). But someone did recognize the potential, and hey it worked. This is why I don't work in movies. I just make fun of them.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Children of Men, Briefly

I'm probably not supposed to write about it yet, but I don't think Universal would be too mad with me for telling you that their new film Children of Men is a bleak Christmas present for moviegoers, but a remarkably dynamic, exciting, powerful, moving, and shocking one. From the very first scene, I was utterly hooked and for the next however-long-the-movie-is (it's one of those movies so engrossing you don't even notice the passing of time) that never changed.

I could write pages and pages on the marvelous cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki who follows his gorgeous work on The New World with an a far uglier — but far more impressive — effort. Long take fans take note: Children of Men is bursting with incredible long take goodness. And since the long takes are married with complex action scenes, replete with explosions, chases, and gun battles, it's all the more impressive. More than once I turned to a fellow film critic during the press screening just to shake my head as if to say "How the HELL did they do that?!?" And that happens way more than once.

The formal aspects are never less than impressive, but they are always in service of the story and director Alfonso Cuaron's themes. It's a total package movie: visceral but thoughtful all at once. If they had offered to play the movie again from the beginning as soon as it ended, I would have sat in my seat gladly for another go around. I can't wait to see it again.

One of the reasons I specifically wanted to write something now, a week or two before the movie comes out is specifically because no one seems to be talking about — amongst the holiday clutter of Leo and Mel and diamonds and Mayans and who knows what else (including Clint Eastwood and Letters From Iwo Jima), Children of Men seems the rare end-of-the-year flick that's underhyped. It premiered at Venice and didn't even make an impression. Why aren't people talking about this movie?!? If you ask me, it's easily one of the best movies of the year.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Essential Reading: Sylvester Stallone on Aint it Cool News

I can't stop reading the endless pages of questions and answers from Aint It Cool readers to Sylvester Stallone. It's literally page after page and you can tell it's really Sly answering these things; his responses are way too frank and sometimes too weird to be anyone else. A few of the literally dozens of higlights:

9. For the love of all that is good and Holy. How do you use the 3 seashells?!

OK, this may be bordering on the grotesque, but the way it was explained to me by the writer is you hold two seashells like chopsticks, pull gently and scrape what’s left with the third. You asked for it…. Be careful what you ask for, sorry.

What do you consider your worst film? Rhinestone or Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot?

The worst film I’ve ever made by far… maybe one of the worst films in the entire solar system, including alien productions we’ve never seen… a flatworm could write a better script then STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT. In some countries – China, I believe – running STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT once a week on government television has lowered the birth rate to zero. If they ran it twice a week, I believe in twenty years China would be extinct. Does that put it in perspective?

Name three little known facts you learned about Dolly Parton during the production of RHINESTONE (1984).

First thing, on a primitive level, I think she’s actually more endowed than she appears to be and what you see is only a subtle representative of what she is. Not that I know first hand, but Dolly always holds something back in reserve. She is an incredible woman.

I remember in the early 80s when I was sitting in a hotel room feeling sorry for myself, actors do that a lot, it’s actually considered a sport in Hollywood, self loathing. Anyway, Dolly called and we began a conversation that lasted at least two hours and by the time I hung up I thought she was the most amazing person I’d ever spoken to.

She knew something about everything. She’s the kind of woman that 100 years ago would’ve been strong enough to cross the country in a wagon train, fight off Indians if necessary, give birth without any help and then find time to strung a guitar and sing around the campfire.

Seriously, I've been reading for hours. Click over immediately!!

The Sun Shines Bright (1953)

After the commercial and critical success of The Quiet Man in 1952, John Ford made what he repeatedly named as the favorite of his films, The Sun Shines Bright. Made for a small budget for Republic Pictures, a studio known for their cheap Westerns, it's a remake of his 1934 gem Judge Priest, which starred Will Rogers. This update has no stars in the cast, as character actor Charles Winninger nabs the lead this time around. Subsequently, it was cut by ten minutes, dumped as the B side of a double bill, and was barely seen in the US upon its release.

Adapting a few of Irvin S. Cobb's short stories about the Judge, the film is packed with incident, but contains a couple main threads. The first is that Judge Priest is up for re-election, along with the rest of the local government. A slick glad-hander is running in opposition, who has lined up major support throughout the town. The other main thread is the adopted daughter of the town doctor, Lucy Lee, who is searching for the identity of her parents, whom the town assumes to be a prostitute and a Confederate General. Other events crowd in, including Lucy Lee's romance with a local prodigal son, and the attempted lynching of a black man accused of rape.

The amount of plot information is vast, but the pace is leisurely.

It is the most personal of Ford films. His brother Frances, a mentor to him as he was breaking into Hollywood during the silent era, plays, winkingly, a silent character: a backwoods hick who slugs moonshine with his son (Slim Pickens in one of his first screen roles). Other roles are filled by silent standbys, including Mae Marsh as the local gossip and James Kirkwood as the General.

Ford had long been fascinated by American rituals: the town dance, parades, funerals, marches, and the like. The Sun Shines Bright is made up of a string of these. As Howard Hawks stripped down the Western to its essentials in his masterpiece Rio Bravo, so Ford strips down the small town melodrama. The sets are few - Judge Priest's porch, the jailhouse, the town hall, and the courthouse. Most of the action takes place there or on the streets outside.

It is bursting with love. Every major character's eyes water. They water because Judge Priest tries to retain what is noble in a town soon to be overtaken by dissembling modern politicians who bellow threats instead of solving problems or listening to their constituents. His nobility is encapsulated in a funeral march. Lucy Lee's shamed mother stumbles back into town to see her daughter before she dies. The local madam promises to have a mass for her at church upon her passing. The day of the election, Priest walks alone behind the hearse, with the local whores sitting in the buggy in the funeral procession, as the local gossips chatter about what a scandal it all is. An ex Union army member steps into lockstep behind him, and in an astonishing sequence, much of the town follows in behind him, honoring a woman they badmouthed the rest of the film, their petty selfishness falling away to honor one of their own who had come to a bad end.

This procession is followed later on by another, as the entire town parades in front of Judge Priest's porch to celebrate his surprise victory. It is absurd and beautiful, the Union and the Confederate army marching past, followed by the Temperance organization - right after Priest takes a swig from his jug. It ends with the poor black community walking past, singing a gospel tune - and herein lies reservations many have with the film - its racial attitude. Early scenes include a young kid playing Dixie on his banjo grinning and jigging in a brutal stereotype of the shuckin' and jivin' minstrel. The presence of Stepin Fetchit as Judge Priest's assistant also contains condescending elements, although he often plays off of Priest's laziness as much as his own. Fetchit has often been underraed as a comic performer because of the racist connotations of his character - but his timing is impeccable.

These elements cannot be explained away. The society depicted in The Sun Shines Bright is an unequal one. It does not evade or gloss over this fact. A child is almost lynched, and the black townspeople are shown in rundown wooden shacks, while the whites live in palatial estates. It is not a revisionist film, not an empowering film, it is quite possibly a racist film, but it is absolutely a great one.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The end of the year blitz is on!

I've seen seven movies this week, and I still need to see a whole mess of others. Top ten lists are due a week from tomorrow and I take this stuff seriously. Off the top of my head: Apocalypto, Babel, The Road to Guantanamo, The Notorious Bettie Page, The Last King of Scotland, and Letters from Iwo Jima. Oh and Old Joy.

I'm seeing The Good German next week, and The Painted Veil. Plus I want to see Art School Confidential again to confirm my opinion of it.

I'm tired. Anyone else tired? And what do YOU still need to see to complete your top ten list?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Fast Food Nation (2006)

"I read this study a couple of days ago," says Ethan Hawke, and I'm thinking well, of course you have dude, you're Ethan Hawke and you're in a new Richard Linklater movie, and in these movies you've always read something you want to tell us about. In this case, the study is about how the people who follow their passion, and go into a field they truly love are happier in the long run and have fewer regrets — even if they are technically less successful — than those that don't.

I think it's safe to say Linklater is in the former. You've got to feel pretty passionate about the state of the food service industry to make a movie like Fast Food Nation, because nobody's gonna ask you to do it, you've got to take it on yourself. Hollywood loves the fast food industry because they cross-market their movies through them. Happy Meals, baby. I loved 'em as a kid.

This movie is a tough sell, even to fans of Eric Schlosser's devastatingly powerful non-fiction book which forms the background for this fiction film. Reading the book, and reading the descriptions of deplorable working conditions, poor quality meat, and literal butchery pales in comparison to actually seeing all those things on an enormous screen in a darkened room. But more than that, people who haven't read the book already (it's quite a few years old at this point) are likely choosing the path of willfull ignorance. They don't want to know; they actively choose to not think about where their food comes from.

I'll give you an example of what I mean. I was out at dinner a month or so ago with some friends. One of the women at the table ordered a steak. I ordered lamb. After the waitress took our order I was assaulted: "How can you eat lamb?!? It's a lamb!" I asked how my eating a (frankly delicious) piece of lamb was any different from her eating a steak, and she was unable to fully articulate it until we sussed out that it was actually the words itself that made her choice delicious and mine distasteful. I was eating "lamb." But she was eating "steak" not "cow." If the menu had read "cow" she might not have ordered it. By using a different word to describe the food, it distanced it enough that she didn't have to think about the animal the meat was coming from. She hated the thought of killing animals, so best not to think about that when you're eating them.

Attacking that basic idea (one I'd wager a lot of meat eaters in this country hold, consciously or not) is a key element to Linklater's engrossing though not entirely successful film. Our "fast food nation" is built upon our total lack of connection with where our food comes from; out of sight, out of mind. At the very least, if you see Fast Food Nation you will learn — to frequently devastating effect — where the meat comes from and the deplorable process by which a dopey animal becomes a tiny round patty of ground beef.

A great deal of Fast Food Nation is about disrupting the way we distance ourselves. Greg Kinnear, superbly understated in the role of a marketing exec at a fast food chain sent to investigate possible contamination at a key meat packing plant in Colorado, is laying on the bed of his hotel room when the maid, a Mexican woman (played by Catalina Sandino Moreno) enters. Kinnear barely acknowledges her existence, as many people do when staying in a hotel, but half the movie is her struggle to enter the United States, and to scratch out an existence, to make a home and a life here with her husband (the agreeably restrained Wilmer Valderrama). We don't want to think about how things get clean or how cows become burgers; it makes things simpler and easier (steak, not cow) when we don't. When Kinnear arrives in Colorado, he goes to a local franchise and orders "The Big One," the popular burger he and his marketing team helped create. He really enjoys going to the restaurant, picking his meal, interacting with the clerk, eating his sandwich. Later, after learning some of the truth, he eats another burger, and this time he pauses ever so slightly before taking that first bite. He's a bit more reluctant now.

As Kris Kristofferson puts it during his effective cameo, the meat packing industry is a machine, one that grinds up everything and anything (and, indeed, anyone) simply to make a few extra pennies on the pound. He doesn't necessarily begrudge them for it — as he observes, they're excellent businessmen — he is simply stating as fact, something Schlosser and Linklater do exceptionally well throughout Fast Food Nation: present evidence and facts, without rushing to judgment. After Kinnear speaks with Kristofferson's rancher, he then sits down with Bruce Willis' lawyer, who helped broker the deal between Kinnear's fast food chain and the unsavory meat packers. Willis gives another side of the story: yes the food's contaminated, but guess what: it's always been that way. And yes the workers aren't treated well, but guess what: they're treated and paid a hell of a lot better than in Mexico.

I greatly enjoyed Kinnear and Moreno's segments of the film. The third portion, about a naive teenager who jockeys a fast food register and later gets involved with a group of college kids trying to take a stand against the fast food industry, hits some clever notes (particularly after the teens decide to make a statement by liberating some cows) but the acting and the writing (including, sadly, Ethan Hawke's) isn't quite as sharp as the other two thirds. Linklater tries a bold structure, concluding Kinnear's storyline about two-thirds through the film, but as that part is easily the most compelling, the movie loses something once it loses him. And that overly didactic last scene is far too on the nose and belongs in another movie. But there's no denying, as Hawke implies, that Linklater (like, in some ways, Darren Aronofsky and The Fountain) has followed his passion regardless of whether anyone else will follow him to them.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Moment of Shameless Self-Promotion

Tomorrow at BAM (Monday, December 4th) there will be a gala to herald the release of "The Village Voice Film Guide," a 300+ page book featuring the best film criticism from the paper's 50 year history--and a tome into which Termite Art folks put a lot of toil (special shout out to Joshua Land, who worked as editorial assistant). To celebrate, there will be a screening of Robert Bresson's superlative parable Au Hasard Balthasar, followed by a Q&A moderated by the book's editor, sometime VV film section editor, our boy Dennis Lim. The Voice's three critical behemoths, J. Hoberman, Andrew Sarris, and Jonas Mekas will be on hand to discuss the film, their experiences at the paper, perhaps the controversies that arose over the years (over Ackerman's Jeanne Dielmann, Cassavetes' Shadows, etc.), and other movie goodness; I believe there's a reception to follow.

The Guide is chock full of reviews from the past and present, but a few articles bear special mention: perhaps the single greatest work of American film criticism I've ever read, Hoberman's piece on Blue Velvet; a few bits on 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Sarris hated, and then subsequently praised after seeing the film under the influence of "something stronger than oregano;" and a particularly unhinged Oliver Stone waxing weird on Godard, as he swtiches randomly back and forth between French and English, and laments that he doesn't live his life on danger's bleeding edge like his idol, Jean-Paul Belmondo.

I'll equivocate some other time: there is no finer elegy to the Village Voice's halcyon days than this book, which embraces films that are challenging, transformative, breathless, and alive--film as art, not crass commercialism, from a paper that used to abhor the latter. (These mild reproaches are not meant for JHobs, a mentor to a lot of us, nor Nathan Lee, whom I admire.) So come out to BAM on Monday, or pick up a copy for stocking stuffers (or better yet, do both). With fine online retailers selling them for under $12, The Village Voice Film Guide is a steal at twice the price.