Friday, May 28, 2010

Short Film: The Commoners

I'm going to start posting about interesting-looking short films, when the DVDs are somewhat easily available. This one is.

"The Commoners," directed by Jessica Anne Bardsley and Penny Lane

In 1890, one man began his attempt to release every bird ever mentioned by William Shakespeare into Central Park. Almost all of the birds died, with the exception of the Starling. Today, the Starling is one of the commonest birds in America and its release is widely considered a major environmental disaster.

In the aftermath of this absurdly successful accident, "The Commoners" contemplates the purist rhetoric surrounding invasive species. Featuring beautiful murmuration footage, archival maps, and hand drawings, this film is also about the paths people forge through history, and the ways that people impact the natural world, intentionally or not.

DVD has a color insert designed by Penny Lane with drawings by Jessica Bardsley, and a screenprinted image on the DVD.

You can buy the DVD through either Jessica Bardsley's or Penny Lane's respective websites.

In Theaters: The Father of My Children

Opening in theaters today: The Father of my Children, directed by Mia Hansen-Love

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Just Wright

Opening this weekend: Just Wright, directed by Sanaa Hamri

Synopsis from the movie's website:

Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) is a straight-shooting physical therapist who gets the gig of a lifetime working with NBA All-Star Scott McKnight (Common). All is going well until Leslie finds herself falling for Scott, forcing her to choose between the gig and the tug-of-war inside her heart. Oblivious to her romantic overtures, McKnight is instead drawn to the affections of Leslie’s childhood friend Morgan (Paula Patton), who has her sights set on being an NBA trophy wife. Is Leslie destined to play the role of “best friend” forever or will Scott finally see that what he always wanted is right in front of him?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

Opening today at New York's Film Forum: Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, directed by Jessica Oreck

Synopsis from the film's website:      

Imagine cramming 128 million people onto an island the size of Montana – you would be pretty close to replicating the density of Japan. Not surprisingly, space is at a premium and ergonomic design is right up there next to godliness.

Yet even in Tokyo, the pinnacle of this figurative "can of sardines," people of all ages still make room for a tiny bit of wilderness. It is only fitting that they have become captivated by nature’s most efficient invention in space, design and function – insects.

Sold live in vending machines and department stores, plastic replicas included as prizes in the equivalent of a McDonald’s Happy Meal and the subject of the No. 1 videogame, MushiKing, from the smallest backyard to the top of Mt. Fuji, insects inspire an enthusiasm in Japan seen nowhere else in this world. Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo discovers why Japan developed this rich and enriching social relationship with insects.

Like a detective story, the film untangles the web of influences behind Japan’s captivation with insects. It opens in modern-day Tokyo where a single beetle recently sold for $90,000 then slips back to the early 1800s, to the first cricket-selling business and the development of haiku and other forms of insect literature and art. Through history and adventure, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo travels all the way back in time to stories of the fabled first emperor who named Japan the "Isle of the Dragonflies."

Along the way the film takes side trips to Zen temples and Buddhist Shrines, nature preserves and art museums in its quest for the inspirations that moved Japan into this fascination while other cultures hurtled off towards an almost universal and profound fear of insects.

Interspersed with the philosophies of one of Japan’s best-selling authors and anatomists, Dr. Takeshi Yoro, and laced with poetry and art from Japan’s history, this film becomes about much more than insects. Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is set to the rhythm of traditional Japanese values in its attention to detail, harmony, and the appreciation of the seemingly mundane. It quietly challenges the viewer to observe the world from an uncommon perspective that will shift the familiar to the fantastic and just might change not only the way we think about bugs, but the way we think about life.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Minutes, the Hours

Showing at Cannes: The Minutes, the Hours, directed by Janaína Marquéz Ribeiro

Synopsis from the Cannes website:

Yoli has always lived with her mother in a humble neighborhood of Havana. One day, a man invites her out and she decides to wait for him rejecting, for the first time, her mother’s company.

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow

Showing at Cannes: Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, written and directed by Sophie Fiennes

Synopsis from the Cannes website:

The film bears witness to German artist Anselm Kiefer’s alchemical creative processes and renders as a film journey the personal universe he has built at his hill studio estate in the South of France. In 1993 Kiefer left Buchan, Germany for La Ribotte, a derelict silk factory near Barjac. From 2000 he began constructing a series of elaborate installations there, comprising 48 buildings, a labyrinth of tunnels, bridges, lakes and towers. Traversing this landscape, the film immerses the audience in the total world and creative process of one of today’s most significant artists. Shot in Cinemascope, the film constructs visual set pieces alongside observational footage to capture both the dramatic resonance of Kiefer’s art and the intimate process of creation. This polarity - in terms of scale, sensibility and time - animates the film, creating a multi-layered narrative through which to navigate the complex spaces of La Ribotte. Here creation and destruction are interdependent; the film enters into direct contact with the raw materials Kiefer employs to build his paintings and sculptures - lead, concrete, ash, acid, earth, glass and gold...

Draquila - Italy Trembles

Showing at the Cannes Film Festival: Draquila - Italy Trembles, directed by Sabina Guzzanti

Synopsis from the Cannes website:

Why do Italians vote Berlusconi? The violence of propaganda, the impotence of citizens, questions of the economy, illicit power relationships...

And a catastrophe: the city of L'Aquila devastated by an earthquake... all these combine to show how the young Italian democracy has been subdued. The caricature of Berlusconi - one of the director’s most celebrated impersonations - strolls through Aquila’s refugee camp and wanders the deserted town like an emperor at the end of his reign. A town devastated by an earthquake - the perfect location from which to recount Italy’s drift into authoritarianism, the mess of blackmail, scandal, swindles and inertia of the political classes, the media and the citizens, that have paralysed the country. Why do the Italians vote for Berlusconi? Why do they consider democracy an unsuitable system of government? Aquila - this magnificent city laid low by an earthquake - will give us the answers. Why did the proud people of Aquila exchange their most precious commodity - their community, a dynamic town full of students and works of art - for a little apartment in a dormitory town, furnished by Berlusconi? Why did they believe TV propaganda rather than the evidence of their own eyes? And how did it happen to others too, as quickly and as deceitfully? Who was leaning on them? The days of Berlusconi’s reign seem numbered: it’s time to search through the rubble and draw what conclusions we can.

Guzzanti's website is here.

At Cannes: Countdown to Zero

Showing at Cannes: Countdown to Zero, directed by Lucy Walker

Adrienn Pal

Showing at Cannes: Adrienn Pal, written and directed by Agnes Kocsis

Synopsis from the Cannes website:

Piroska is an overweight, alienated nurse who can’t resist cream-filled pastries. She works in the terminal ward of a hospital; her life is surrounded by death. One day she sets off to find her long-lost childhood friend. While tracing her recollections, she embarks on a paradox-filled voyage within her own memory and the memory of those she encounters.

The Tree

Showing at the Cannes Film Festival*: The Tree, directed by Julie Bertuccelli

*But not in competition, because among the films in competition, not one is directed by a woman. How... interesting. Feminism: totally unnecessary.

Synopsis from the Cannes website:

After the sudden loss of her father, 8-year-old Simone shares a secret with her mother Dawn: her father whispers to her through the leaves of the magnificient tree by their house. Simone is convinced that he’s come back to protect her family. Soon, Simone’s three brothers and Dawn also take comfort in the reassuring tree. But the new bond between mother and daughter is threatened when Dawn starts dating George. Simone moves into the treehouse and refuses to come down. With branches infiltrating the house and roots destroying the foundations, the tree seems to be siding with Simone. Dawn refuses to let the tree take control of her family...

The film's website is here.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Opening this weekend in New York: Talentime, directed by Yasmin Ahmad

Synopsis from the movie's Facebook page (the website they list for the movie leads you to a wool clothing distributor...):

A music teacher, who is herself a great performer is organising an inter-school talentime. Through the days of auditions, rehearsals and preparations, running up to the big day of the contest, the characters get embroiled in a world of heightened emotions – ambition, jealousy, human comedy, romance, heartbreak – all of which culminate in a day of great music and performances.


Opening at New York's Anthology Film Archives this weekend: DDR/DDR, directed by Amie Siegel

From the Anthology Film Archives website:

“The films of artist Amie Siegel deftly transform heady philosophical musings – about history, psychoanalysis, voyeurism, modernist design, cinematic narrative – into elegantly playful and provocative mosaics of carefully loaded images and pointed associations. … The restrained self-reflexivity and deadpan humor that unite Siegel’s films lend them a rich meta-cinematic dimension that actively questions the limits of traditional nonfiction cinema.” –HARVARD FILM ARCHIVE

DDR/DDR, the latest feature by Amie Siegel, is a multi-layered and disarmingly beautiful essay on the German Democratic Republic and its dissolution, which left many of its former citizens adrift in their newfound freedom. Featured at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, the film weaves together mundane Stasi surveillance footage, interviews with psychoanalysts, East German “Indian hobbyists”, and lolling shots of derelict state radio stations into an extended and self-conscious assemblage to meditate on history, memory, and the shared technologies of state control and art.

“Siegel’s ‘ciné-constellation’ DDR/DDR combines vérité interviews with staged dialogue to excavate East German traumas associated with both the Socialist state and reunification. Siegel’s lens finds filmic lessons, too, in her analysis of Stasi information operations and her inquiries into the suppression of psychoanalysis in the DDR. Lying on a daybed in what was formerly a Stasi director’s office, Siegel intones a series of equivalencies into the camera: ‘Psychoanalyst as Stasi; Stasi as psychoanalyst; filmmaker as psychoanalyst; filmmaker as Stasi; Stasi as filmmaker.’” –Michael Wang, ARTFORUM

“[Siegel’s] polymathic style recalls Countdown (1990), Ulrike Ottinger’s account of the two Germanys uniting their currencies. DDR/DDR also evokes Godard’s SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL (1968), a provocative essay mixing a Rolling Stones session, Black Panther rhetoric, and Native Americans… DDR/DDR is an alluring and allusive dossier.” –Bill Stamets, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

In Theaters: The Oath

Opening at New York's IFC Center this weekend: The Oath, directed by Laura Poitras

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Netflix It: The Hitch-Hiker

Available from Netflix: The Hitch-Hiker, directed by Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino was the only woman director working in the 1950s. Mad props, Ida! Two things struck me about this movie: all the characters are men, which seems like an odd choice for a woman director, but maybe Lupino just really wanted to avoid a femme fatale cliché. The other is that there are sizable chunks of unsubtitled Spanish, which in movies of the time is even more unusual than an all-male cast.

Synopsis from AllMovie:

Daniel Mainwaring took this story right out of the headlines of the day, penning this true story of a mass murderer who was eventually executed in San Quentin's gas chamber. Released during McCarthy's witch-hunt, Mainwaring was not given credit because Howard R. Hughes, who produced it under RKO, refused to give credit to any "radicals." The story is that of two men on a fishing trip who pick up a hitchhiker. He turns out to be a sadistic psychopath who has committed multiple murders, a sociopath who hates humanity because of his own abuse as a child. He also has an affliction which terrifies these two men: an eye which is permanently open, thereby never allowing them to know if he is really asleep or just faking it--something which he does with regularity to scare them...letting them take off and then meeting up with them just as they feel they have escaped from him. A tense thriller skillfully directed by the only female director of the time, Ida Lupino, it is a suspenseful tale of terror on the highways.