Friday, July 31, 2009


Opening this weekend: Ghosted, directed by Monika Treut

Synopsis from the film's website:

Monika Treut (Female Misbehaviour, Gendernauts) returns to narrative filmmaking after a decade in documentary work with a mysterious love story about a Hamburg artist, Sophie, who is trying to come to terms with her Taiwanese lover Ai-Ling's murder. To ease her grief Sophie creates a video installation about Ai-Ling, and when she brings the exhibition to Taipei she meets the ambitious and seductive Mei-Li, a journalist who is investigating Ai-Ling's death. Unable to forget her dead lover and confused by Mei-Li's advances, she flees back to Hamburg. But when Mei-Li turns up on her doorstep, Sophie begins to suspect something strange is going on.

Gotta Dance

Opening this weekend: Gotta Dance, directed by Dori Berinstein

Synopsis from the film's website:

Who says you can’t hip-hop if you’re 80 years old? Who says your days as a performer are long gone? Who says you can’t shake things up and light up a jam-packed sports arena with your hot moves and cool attitude?

Just because you’re a card-carrying member of AARP, do you have to give up on your dreams?

No. You don’t. Absolutely not.

Gotta Dance is Bad News Bears morphed into the flip side of Mad Hot Ballroom.

Gotta Dance the movie chronicles the debut of the New Jersey Nets' first-ever senior hip-hop dance team, 12 women and 1 man - all dance team newbies, from auditions through to center court stardom.

As smooth dance moves are perfected and performed in front of thousands, aging myths and misperceptions are pulverized.

Despite swollen ankles, exhausting rehearsals, fashion clashes and seemingly impossible dance steps, the NETSational Seniors go for it, spreading joy, inspiration and cool dance moves as they hip-hop their way into the hearts of Nets fans and beyond.

Friday, July 24, 2009

California Company Town

Opening this weekend at the Anthology Film Archives: California Company Town, directed by Lee Anne Schmitt

Synopsis from

California is a state with an economy that has experienced more than its share of peaks and valleys, and many businesses that have been lucrative have dried up seemingly overnight. What become of the people who have been left behind when a branch of the California economy falls from the tree? Filmmaker Lee Anne Schmitt offers a glimpse of the wreckage left behind by irresponsible corporate practice in the documentary California Company Town. In the film, Schmitt and her camera crew visit a number of communities that were built to house the workers who manned businesses that eventually went bust -- factory towns, logging camps, farm labor camps, miner's villages, and even the internment camps that housed Asian-Americans during World War II. As a narrator explains the history of each town and what caused them to collapse and become abandoned, the images of decay and obsolescence tell their own story about the people who create these cities and the folks who once called them home. The first feature film from Lee Anne Schmitt, California Company Town was an official selection at the 2009 Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Unfortunately I couldn't find any video from the film, but there is an interview with Schmitt here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Netflix It: Jellyfish

Available on DVD: Jellyfish, co-directed by Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret

Synopsis from the film's website:

Poignant, often witty and exceedingly cinematic, Jellyfish (Meduzot), tells the story of three very different Tel Aviv women whose intersecting stories weave an unlikely portrait of modern Israeli life. Batya, a catering waitress, takes in a child apparently abandoned at a local beach. Batya is one of the servers at the wedding reception of Keren, a bride who breaks her leg escaping a locked toilet stall, ruining her chance at a dream Caribbean honeymoon. And attending the event with an employer is Joy, a non Hebrew-speaking domestic worker who has guiltily left her son behind in her native Philippines.

As this distaff trio separately wends their way through Israel’s most cosmopolitan city, they struggle with issues of communication, affection and destiny—but at times find uneasy refuge in its tranquil seas.

The film was very well reviewed, won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and, personally, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Netflix It: The Gleaners and I

Released in 2000, Agnès Varda's The Gleaners and I explores the practice of gleaning (going through a field after a harvest to pick up what's left behind). We meet gleaners in the traditional sense of the word, as well as their urban counterparts who glean from dumpsters and the rejected produce at open air vegetable markets. Varda also talks to artists who work with found materials, and draws a parallel between traditional gleaners and her work as an artist, gleaning images from here and there. The film was extraordinarily well received.

The DVD also includes The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later, which follows up on the people featured in the original film, as well as showing a bit of the public reaction to the film. Both films are so short that watching both still gets you in at under two and a half hours.
First few minutes of The Gleaners and I (the subtitles are in Spanish, so you'd do better to simply rent the film—this is just a taste):

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Age of Stupid

Opening this weekend: The Age of Stupid, directed by Franny Armstrong

Synopsis from the film's website:

Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite (In The Name of the Father, Brassed Off) stars as a man living alone in the devastated world of 2055, looking back at “archive” footage from 2007 and asking: why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?

Okay, very succinct. More expansive (and entertaining) is Armstrong's bio on the site:

Franny's directing career began in the primary school playground, aged 7, when she wrote and directed the play "Who Killed Mr Fisher?" based on the hit TV show of the day "Who Killed JR?". (Mr Fisher being the class teacher and first to his feet in the standing ovation that followed the premiere performance.) But triumph turned quickly to disaster with her next production, "Shambles the Wonder Cat", when, noticing that lead actresses get way more attention than Directors, she decided to replace best friend Sharon with herself in the coveted role of Shambles. Unfortunately this led to the second strike seen at North Ealing Primary School in the year 1979 - the first being a more traditional teachers' union action over pay - and a memorable protest involving 10 girls from class 5F marching in a circle round Franny chanting "Sharon is Shambles, Sharon is Shambles". Franny wasn't forgiven till the next school year, when she pinched some BBC headed paper from her dad's desk and convinced the headmaster to read out in Assembly a letter she'd written to herself from Jim'll Fix It saying that the girls' latest show - a full-scale production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Cats', with Sharon in the lead role, naturally - was to be performed on the real West End stage.

At the age of 11, Franny's dreams of becoming a farmer were shattered during a much-longed-for family holiday on a Welsh farm when her favourite cow, Piggy - the solitary brown cow in a herd of Fresians - was led away for slaughter after slipping and cutting her udder. The farmer explained that it wasn't economical to pay the vets' fee of £30 to sew up the 2-inch cut and that it made business sense for Piggy to become beef straight away. Franny and her sister Boo became vegetarians straight away. Several months later, Franny lost an argument with her Welsh granny about whether Christmas wrapping paper should be orgiastically ripped & discarded, or carefully unpicked and folded neatly for next year. Being unable to find any flaw in Granny's logic, Franny conceded defeat and became a lifelong environmentalist. Shortly after, her conversion was complete after she again failed to win an argument - this time with her mum who proposed letting a homeless man move into their house - and became annoyingly self-righteous on social justice issues as well.

There's about 800 more words to the story here.

Died Young, Stayed Pretty

Opening this weekend: Died Young, Stayed Pretty, directed by Eileen Yaghoobian

As you might expect, this movie has some pretty fantastic posters.

Synopsis from the film's website:

Died Young, Stayed Pretty is a candid look at the underground poster culture in North America. This unique documentary examines the creative spirit that drives these indie graphic artists. They pick through the dregs of America’s schizophrenic culture and piece them back together. What you end up with is a caricature of the black and bloated heart that pulses greed through the US economy. The artists push further into the pulp to grab the attention of passersby, plastering art that’s both vulgar and intensely visceral onto the gnarled surfaces of the urban landscape. The film gives us intimate look at some of the giants of this modern subculture. Outside of their own circle, they’re virtually unknown. But within their ranks they make up an army of bareknuckle brawlers, publicly arguing the aesthetic merits of octopus imagery and hairy 70s porn stars. They’ve created their own visual language for describing the spotty underbelly of western civilization and they're not shy about throwing it in the face of polite society. Along the way, they manage to create posters that are strikingly obscene, unflinchingly blasphemous and often quite beautiful. Yaghoobian shows these artists for what they are: the vivisectionists of America’s morbidly obese consumer culture.

Eileen Yaghoobian is interviewed here and here. Somewhat surprisingly, her own website doesn't mention the movie (or could there be two artistically-inclined Eileen Yaghoobians out there?)

Heart of Stone

Opening this weekend: Heart of Stone, directed by Beth Toni Kruvant

Heart of Stone is Kruvant's first feature-length film; her first short documentary, Born in Buenos Aires, was about the Jewish community in Argentina during that country's economic collapse in 2001. Her second film, The Right to be Wrong, "chronicles an Israeli and Palestinian friendship that brought their 'peace party' from Israel to Kansas City."

Synopsis from the film's website:

Before 1960 Weequahic High School (WHS) was known as one of the top schools in America. By 2000 it was one of the most violent schools in the 12th most dangerous city in the country. Heart of Stone is the true story of WHS’ quest to return to its former glory.

When Ron Stone took over as principal in 2001, gangs ruled the school. Crime and shootings were commonplace and during his first month on the job he watched students engage in a mass brawl in every hallway.

Stone knew his work was cut out for him and devised an unconventional plan to realize his vision of turning the school around. He started by working with the gangs and establishing the school as a “non-violence” zone. He then partnered with the committed alumni association — comprised of mostly older Jewish and younger African American alums — to raise funds for programs and college scholarships that helped transform the gang culture of the school to one of discipline and performance. At Weequahic High School, where Philip Roth immortalized his Newark, NJ as a turn of the century Camelot, we watch an unusual tale unfold where past meets present and adolescents strive to overcome adversity.

The WHS experience is a model for other inner city schools to rejuvenate by reaching into their own past. Inner cities were once proud downtown districts with excellent education programs that graduated professionals who long ago moved to the suburbs. Heart of Stone shows how disparate groups can join together to give their old communities something they haven’t had for generations…a future.

Interviews with Weequahic students before the 2008 election:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

Opening this weekend:
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, directed by Aviva Kempner

Synopsis from the film's website:

From Aviva Kempner, maker of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, comes this humorous and eye-opening story of television pioneer Gertrude Berg. She was the creator, principal writer, and star of The Goldbergs, a popular radio show for 17 years, which became television’s very first character-driven domestic sitcom in 1949. Berg received the first Best Actress Emmy in history, and paved the way for women in the entertainment industry. Includes interviews with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actor Ed Asner, producers Norman Lear (All in the Family) and Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties), and NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg.

As Seen Through These Eyes

Opening this weekend: As Seen Through These Eyes, directed by Hilary Helstein

Synopsis from the film's website:

As Maya Angelou narrates this powerful documentary, she reveals the story of a brave group of people who fought Hitler with the only weapons they had: charcoal, pencil stubs, shreds of paper and memories etched in their minds. These artists took their fate into their own hands to make a compelling statement about the human spirit, enduring against unimaginable odds.

Humpday (again)

Lynn Shelton's Humpday is getting its (limited) theatrical release tomorrow, just FYI. And you can read a whole New York Times article about Lynn Shelton here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Beaches of Agnès

Opening this weekend: The Beaches of Agnès, directed by Agnès Varda

Synopsis from Agnès Varda's website:

En revenant sur les plages qui ont marqué sa vie, Agnès Varda invente une forme d'autodocumentaire. Agnès se met en scène au milieu d'extraits de ses films, d'images et de reportages. Elle nous fait partager avec humour et émotion ses débuts de photographe de théâtre puis de cinéaste novatrice dans les années cinquante, sa vie avec Jacques Demy, son engagement féministe, ses voyages à Cuba, en Chine et aux USA, son parcours de productrice indépendante, sa vie de famille et son amour des plages.
Une femme libre et curieuse !


Returning to the beaches that have marked her life,
Agnès Varda has invented a form of documentary self-portrait. She films herself, among clips from her films, images and stories. With humor and with emotion, she shares with us her beginnings as a theater photographer and as a rookie director in the 1950s, her life with Jacques Démy, her commitment to feminism, her trips to Cuba, China and the USA, her journey as an independent producer, her family life and her love of beaches. A curious, free woman!

New York Times review here.

The Girl from Monaco

Opening this weekend: The Girl from Monaco, directed by Anne Fontaine

Synopsis from the film's website:

A brilliant and neurotic attorney (Fabrice Luchini) goes to Monaco to defend a famous criminal. But, instead of focusing on the case, he falls for a beautiful she-devil (Louise Bourgoin), who turns him into a complete wreck. Hopefully, his zealous bodyguard (Roschdy Zem) will step in and put everything back in order... Or will he?

New York Times review here.

I Hate Valentine's Day

Opening this weekend: I Hate Valentine's Day, directed by Nia Vardalos
Synopsis from the IFC website:

From the creative team behind the smash indie success, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, comes I Hate Valentine’s Day - a new romantic comedy starring Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, and a hilarious supporting cast featuring Judah Friedlander, Zoe Kazan and Rachel Dratch. Meet Genevieve (Vardalos). The owner of a flower shop in the heart of Brooklyn, NY and a romantic with a unique take on the dating game. Genevieve lives by a strict five date rule so she doesn't get dumped and never gets hurt. Then she meets Greg (Corbett). He's good looking, funny and new to town, and before they know it, both are falling for each other. Will this new romance cause Genevieve to reconsider her philosophy of love?