Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ripley's Game

Available from Netflix: Ripley's Game, directed by Liliana Cavani

Though I don't think I would wholeheartedly recommend this movie (Ripley's motivations are a little too opaque for the plot to totally make sense, and it fails the Bechdel Test), it's not a bad little thriller, and it's got Ray Winstone who was once, shockingly, voted Britain's fifth sexiest actor. So there's that.

Synopsis from AllMovie:

The cool and mannered sociopath Tom Ripley returns to the big screen in director Liliana Cavani's 2002 crime thriller Ripley's Game, adapted from the 1974 novel by Patricia Highsmith. Living a life of luxury as an art dealer in northern Italy with his musician wife Luisa (Chiara Caselli), Ripley (John Malkovich) attends a party thrown by Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott) and overhears the host making critical comments about Ripley's fashion sense. Enraged, Ripley immediately plots his retaliation for this slight, which comes via a reunion with his former business partner Reeves (Ray Winstone). Reeves seeks out Ripley's help in finding an unrecognized assassin to kill a Russian gangster, and Ripley suggests he talk to Trevanny — whom Ripley knows has recently been diagnosed with leukemia and is also desperately strapped for cash. Trevanny reluctantly accepts the offer, in order to insure his family's security — but is pressured into a repeat performance, which draws the ire of Ripley. The situation quickly spirals out of control to the point of drawing the attention — and anger — of the Russian mob, forcing Ripley to intervene. But the master criminal also develops a respect for his unwitting victim, forming an unlikely friendship under the most dire of circumstances.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Other Movies at the Edinburgh Film Festival

Some other films screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival:

A Small Act, directed by Jennifer Arnold

Foxes, directed by Mira Fornay

Hotel Atlantico, directed by Suzana Amaral

Les Signes Vitaux, directed by Sophie Deraspe

Nothing Personal, directed by Urszula Antoniak

Obselidia, directed by Diane Bell

The Extra Man, directed by Shari Springer Berman

The Oath, directed by Laura Poitras

Third Star

Showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: Third Star, directed by Hattie Dalton

Synopsis from the EIFF website:

BAFTA-winning short filmmaker Hattie Dalton makes an auspicious feature debut with this poignant but still screamingly funny paean to making the most of life – while you still can. James (Benedict Cumberbatch) invites his three closest friends to join him on a road trip to his favourite place in the world. Like many an impulsive group holiday, however, the undertaking proves fraught with practical difficulties, surreal encounters and emotionally ravaging revelations... With a vibrant, witty and insightful script by Vaughan Sivell, and a quartet of excellent lead performances from the UK’s finest young actors, this is a moving, pertinent and unpredictable film, and a fantastic showcase of new and promising British film talent.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Edge of Dreaming

Showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: The Edge of Dreaming, directed by Amy Hardie

Synopsis from the film's website:
This is the story of a rational, sceptical woman, a mother and wife, who does not remember her dreams. Except once, when she dreamt her horse was dying. She woke so scared she went outside in the night. She found him dead. The next dream told her she would die herself, when she was 48. 

The Edge of Dreaming charts every step of that year. The film explores life and death in the context of a warm and loving family, whose happiness is increasingly threatened as the dream   seems to be proving true.   From the kids reaction to their horses' death (they taught the dog a new trick – called 'dead dog'),   the film mixes humour, science and married life as Amy attempts to understand what is happening to her. 

Everyone wrestles with the concept of their own mortality, but few so directly explore and confront the subject. When Amy fell seriously ill, as her dream predicted, she went on a search to change that dream, leading her to eminent neuroscientist Mark Solms, and to new understanding of the complexity of our brains. The final confrontation takes us back into her dream with the help of a shaman, revealing a surprising twist to the tale.

The Black Panther

Showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: The Black Panther, directed by Iyari Wertta

Synopsis from the EIFF website:

Disheveled private eye Nico Beamonte’s latest case comes from God himself … possibly. He wants Nico to find the mysterious Black Panther. But who, or what, is the Black Panther? And what has this got to do with a cryogenically frozen Mariachi singer and a 1950s flying saucer? Surrealism, Mexican-style – as if film noir had collided with props left over from a Ray Harryhausen film.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Showing at the Edinburgh FIlm Festival: Perestroika, directed by Sarah Turner

Synopsis from the EIFF website:

Blurring the boundary between reality and fiction, Perestroika retraces a journey made exactly 20 years previously, in an attempt to come to terms with the death of a close friend. Hypnotic and haunting imagery and evocative soundscapes draw the viewer into a mysterious space of reflection, caught between past and present. The journey itself – which interweaves footage from the original trip – becomes a metaphor for the process of remembering and reexperiencing.

Soul Boy

Showing at the Edinburgh Film Festival: Soul Boy, directed by Hawa Essuman

Synopsis from the film's website:

Nairobi, Kenya. 14 year-old Abila lives with his parents in Kibera, one of the largest slums in East Africa. One morning the teenager discovers his father ill and delirious. Someone has stolen his soul, mumbles the father as he sits huddled in a corner. Abila is shocked and confused but wants to help his father and goes in search of a suitable cure. Supported by his friend Shiku who is the same age as him, he learns that his father has gambled his soul away in the company of a spiritual woman. The teenager doesn’t want to believe it and sets about looking for the witch. When he finally discovers her in the darkest corner of the ghetto, she gives him seven challenging tasks to save his father’s lost soul. Abila embarks on an adventurous journey which leads him right through the microcosm of his home town.

Netflix It: Point Break

Available from Netflix: Point Break, directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Synopsis from AllMovie:

Kathryn Bigelow's fourth action film follows FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) as he goes undercover to infiltrate a cache of Southern California surfers suspected of robbing banks. Utah, a former football player, is assigned to Los Angeles. There, four bank robbers, who wear rubber masks and call themselves "Ex-Presidents," have executed a series of successful robberies which embarrassingly have the FBI stumped. Utah, and his partner Pappas (Gary Busey) suspect that the robbers are surfers and hatch a plan for catching them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Let It Rain

Opening this weekend: Let It Rain, directed by Agnès Jaoui

Synopsis from the film's website:

Agathe Villanova, féministe nouvellement engagée en politique, revient pour dix jours dans la maison de son enfance, dans le sud de la France, aider sa soeur Florence à ranger les affaires de leur mère, décédée il y a un an. Agathe n'aime pas cette région, elle en est partie dès qu'elle a pu. Les impératifs de la parité l'ont parachutée ici à l'occasion des prochaines échéances électorales. Dans cette maison vivent Florence, son mari, et ses enfants. Mais aussi Mimouna, femme de ménage que les Villanova ont ramenée avec eux d'Algérie, au moment de l'indépendance.

Le fils de Mimouna, Karim, et son ami Michel Ronsard entreprennent de tourner un documentaire sur Agathe Villanova, dans le cadre d'une collection sur «les femmes qui ont réussi».

On est au mois d'août. Il fait gris, il pleut. Ce n'est pas normal. Mais rien ne va se passer normalement.

Or in other words:
Agathe Villanova, a feminist who has just entered politics, returns to her childhood home in the south of France for  ten day to help her sister Florence go through their deceased mother's possessions. Agathe never liked the area; she left as soon as she could. However, the demands of women's equality in the legislature have brought her here for the next election. This is the house where Florence, her husband, and her children all live, as well as Mimouna, the housekeeper that the Villanovas brought with them from Algeria when that country gained its independence.
Karim, Mimouna's son, and his friend Michel Ronsard are filming a documentary about Agathe, as part of a collection about "successful women."
It's August, but the weather is gray and rainy. That's not normal... but nothing is going to be normal.

Stonewall Uprising

Opening at the Film Forum this weekend: Stonewall Uprising, directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner

Synopsis from AllMovie:

Filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner team up to explore the Stonewall riots, an event that served as a sharp turning point for gay rights in the United States. The setting was a Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall Inn; the date was June 28, 1969. It was a time when homosexuality was still seen as a dangerous mental illness, and raids on gay gathering spots were commonplace. When New York City police raided the mafia-run establishment, they figured the patrons could be herded into paddy wagons without a fight – they were wrong. Over the course of the next three days, gay protestors clashed with police in an uprising that made headlines across the world. In this film, participants from both sides of the conflict offer firsthand testimony about the social climate of the era, and the riots that sparked a revolution.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Out of the Ashes

Showing at the Edinburgh Film Festival: Out of the Ashes, directed by Lucy Martens and Timothy Albone

Synopsis from the film's website:

Along the way the Afghan cricket team won three tournaments to make it to South Africa and the World Cup qualifier. They were the first nation ever to rise from cricket's lowest league to this level. That a nation riven by war, marred by corruption and fractured by poverty could achieve this makes the story all the more remarkable. Out of the Ashes is the ultimate David and Goliath film.

The team, with very little funding, no facilities and a lack of infrastructure, have achieved what no one else has managed. At a time when Afghanistan is in the news for suicide bombers, drugs and rigged elections, this film shows a more human side to a country too often associated with tragedy.

We were there when the team swam in the sea for the first time, ate fish and chips, watched the samba and gate crashed an English wedding. We were there when they faced their greatest challenge in South Africa and filmed their return to Afghanistan.

Mundane History

Showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: Mundane History, directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong

Synopsis from the EIFF website:

Thai cinema continues to come of age with this exciting debut. Pun is a home nurse, tending to the recently paralysed and angry Ake, who has a fractious relationship with his father. As tensions boil, a mundane day trip reveals how fragile the universe is, and a life-affirming change takes place. Featuring an astounding planetarium scene, this deeply felt cry for change is simply spellbinding.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Girl with Black Balloons

Showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: Girl with Black Balloons, directed by Corinne van der Borch

Synopsis from the film's website:

Bettina is said to be the most beautiful woman to have ever lived in the legendary Chelsea Hotel in New York City, according to residents, yet has hidden herself away in her studio for over 40 years.  She sleeps on a lawn-chair and surrounds herself with boxes stacked from floor to ceiling, filled with works of her art that have never seen the light of day. These boxes hide a stunning body of work - but it's come at a huge cost.  Her life as a reclusive guardian over her creativity and artwork inspires us to think about the world that we have each chosen for ourselves, how we are captive of it or freed by it.

During humorous, intimate and provocative moments, first-time director Corinne van der Borch develops a delicate friendship with Bettina and gradually unveils the life of one of New York's last true eccentrics.

No trailer on YouTube yet, but you can watch the trailer on the EIFF website, on the film's website or on the film's KickStarter page. (About KickStarter—van der Borch needs a few more grand to finish technical stuff on the movie before the EIFF. Looks like a worthy cause to me!)

Monday, June 14, 2010


Showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: Donkeys, directed by Morag McKinnon

Synopsis from the film's website:

Donkeys is a bittersweet, tragicomic tale. When Alfred learns of his impending death he realises it’s time to make amends with his estranged family. However before things get better they get a whole lot worse and a blast from the past injects calamity, comedy and confusion into Alfred’s efforts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Lottery

Opening this weekend: The Lottery, directed by Madeleine Sackler

Synopsis from the movie's website:

In a country where 58% of African American 4th graders are functionally illiterate, The Lottery uncovers the failures of the traditional public school system and reveals that hundreds of thousands of parents attempt to flee the system every year. The Lottery follows four of these families from Harlem and the Bronx who have entered their children in a charter school lottery. Out of thousands of hopefuls, only a small minority will win the chance of a better future.

Directed by Madeleine Sackler and shot by award-winning cinematographer Wolfgang Held, The Lottery uncovers a ferocious debate surrounding the education reform movement. Interviews with politicians and educators explain not only the crisis in public education, but also why it is fixable. A call to action to avert a catastrophe in the education of American children, The Lottery makes the case that any child can succeed.

In Theaters: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Opening in theaters this weekend: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg

In Theaters: Winter's Bone

Opening in theaters today: Winter's Bone, directed by Debra Granik

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Act of Dishonour

Showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: Act of Dishonour, directed by Nelofar Pazira

Synopsis from the National Film Board of Canada:

In a land beset by endless strife, honour can come at a high price – even for the innocent.

Mena, a young, beautiful bride-to-be, lives in a small, remote village in northern Afghanistan, a harsh landscape that still shimmers with breathtaking colours. Respecting the deeply conservative local customs, she and her fiancé, Rahmat, have little contact yet cherish a special bond. The arrival of a Canadian film crew briefly opens a window on a new world for Mena, a foray beyond the boundaries of convention that leads her inexorably down a dangerous road.

Directed by Nelofer Pazira, the star of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s acclaimed Kandahar and co-director of the documentary Return to Kandahar, Act of Dishonour is a compelling drama in which East and West, love and honour, modernity and custom clash with tragic consequences. In this rich microcosm of a fractured society, many stories intertwine, including those of Mejgan (played by Pazira), the Afghan-Canadian translator who befriends Mena, and thoughtful Ali, a member of an ethnic minority who wrestles with the prospect of eternal exile from his childhood home.

Act of Dishonour shuns easy answers, challenging rigid moral paradigms and preconceptions on both sides of the cultural divide. This eloquent, nuanced portrait of life in Afghanistan is part lament against injustice, part testament to the spirit of a people who have survived decades of war.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Au voleur (A Real Life)

Showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival: Au voleur, directed by Sarah Petit

Synopsis from the EIFF website:

Reacting impulsively to an inappropriate crush, a respectable young teacher lays her safety on the line for a grubby petty thief. Before she knows it, she's on the run — Bonnie to his Clyde, appropriately accompanied by Depression-era American folk tunes. Wayward, warm and genuinely unpredictable, this is a beautifully directed film, and a worthy vehicle for its late lead's idiosyncratic talents.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Short Film: The Banker

Available for viewing online: "The Banker," directed by Hattie Dalton

Starring an unrecognizable Michael Sheen, "The Banker" won the 2005 BAFTA for best short. Just in case watching short films is A-OK at your place of employment, you probably won't want to watch this one within earshot of your boss.

"The Banker" and a couple of Dalton's other short films ("Just One of those Days" and "Internal Turmoil of the Plastic Kind") are available for viewing here.

Netflix It: Strange Days

Available on Netflix: Strange Days, directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Confession: I haven't seen this movie since I was a teenager, and the rape scene made me too uncomfortable to focus on anything else about the movie (though I think the sharing-senses technology would make a handy diagnostic tool for out-of-touch doctors if someone would go ahead and invent it already), but this essay from the Bitch Magazine website makes me want to give it another chance. What say you?

Synopsis from AllMovie:

Set in Los Angeles two days before the end of 1999, Strange Days introduces us to Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), an ex-cop turned sleazy hustler who hawks the newest underground thrill on the black market: a "squid," a headpiece that allows one to transmit digital recordings of other people's thoughts, feelings, and memories into their brain; as Lenny describes it, "this is real life, pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral cortex." Lenny deals "clips" (the software) as well as "squids" (the hardware) for this new and illegal entertainment system, and while sex and violence are the most popular themes, Lenny refuses to deal in "blackjack" — slang for snuff clips. Lenny is nursing a broken heart after his girlfriend, punk singer Faith Justin (Juliette Lewis), left him, and he spends a lot of time with clips he recorded when they were together. Faith is now involved with Philo Grant (Michael Wincott), a music business tycoon who once managed Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer), a hip-hop musician and political activist whose murder has sent L.A. into a state of chaos. When a clip emerges that shows that Jeriko was killed by L.A. police officers, Lenny finds his life in danger, and he tries to escape possible death on both sides of the law with the help of his friend Mace Mason (Angela Bassett).

Actually, I like this trailer better:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Finding Bliss

Opening this weekend at City Cinemas Village East: Finding Bliss, directed by Julie Davis

Synopsis from the movie's website:

Finding Bliss is a cutting-edge romantic comedy that explores the adult film industry through the eyes of an idealistic 25 year-old award-winning film school grad, Jody Balaban (Leelee Sobieski), new to Los Angeles.

After a long humbling year temping as a traffic cop on a studio lot, Jody is faced with the hard decision of taking the only well-paying industry job she has yet been offered – editing porn at Grind Productions, a profitable X-rated company run by former porn star and shrewd business-woman Irene Fox (Kristen Johnson). Irene explains that Grind is embarking on their first “real” movie, which they plan to release in art-house theaters across the country. The consummate saleswoman, she attempts to seduce the desperate Jody to edit the film by challenging her to bring a smart female point of view to the sexual content in the movie, which is the crucial element needed for the film to cross over into the mainstream.

At first horrified by the prospect of exposing herself to the cockroaches of the film industry, not to mention the effect it would have on her strict Jewish parents, Jody has a remarkable change of heart when she realizes that Grind has all the facilities she needs to make her own low budget movie – on the sly of course. Jody rationalizes taking the job on the grounds that “the means justify the ends” – by editing porn during the day, she’ll be able to make meaningful art at night.

At first, Jody’s plan seems to be working out – she prepares to shoot her film after hours and her parents happily think she has a respectable job - but things get complicated when Jody meets Jeff Drake (Matt Davis), the charming Herr Director of porn. Jeff, also an award-winning filmmaker, once had his own dreams of making ‘real’ films, but now is a hard-worn cynic who masks his disappointment behind a façade of irony. In Jody, he sees the idealism he once had, while Jody starts to face her own sexual hang-ups as she begins to get aroused by the porn she so harshly judges.
When Jody starts making her own low-budget romantic comedy at night, she hires Laura (Denise Richards), a sweet ingénue who questions Jody’s preconceptions about love and sex as and gradually inspires Jody to embrace her growing attraction towards Jeff, not to mention her unexpected affection for the lowlifes of porn, including the dimwitted but lovable porn star Richard “Dick” Harder (Jamie Kennedy).

In Theaters: Cropsey

Showing at the IFC Center this week: Cropsey, directed by Barbara Brancaccio & Joshua Zeman

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Available to buy on DVD: Mellodrama: The Mellotron Documentary, directed by Dianna Dilworth

Synopsis from the movie's website:

Mellodrama, a documentary by Dianna Dilworth, explores the rising and falling fortunes of the Mellotron — the first musical keyboard to "sample" the sounds of other instruments —  from its birth in a California garage in the 1950s, through its dominance on concert stages in the 1970s, through its almost religious cult of followers in the 2000s. From the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" to Black Sabbath to Kanye West, Mellodrama is a 50-year odyssey of musical invention, revolution, betrayal, and rediscovery.

The Mellotron is a keyboard instrument that plays prerecorded strips of magnetic tape. It was invented as the Chamberlin organ in Harry Chamberlin's Southern California backyard in the late 1940s. Harry wanted to sell his "orchestra at your fingertips" to every Aunt Mabel in America, and drove his motor home across America doing so. But his trusted salesman Bill Franson took two instruments to England, and found manufacturers to replicate the Chamberlin. Under this dubious pretense, the Mellotron was born.

Soon, through the music of the Beatles, the Zombies, and the Moody Blues, the Mellotron became the "instant magic sound." In the 1970s, the Mellotron defined the sound of progressive rock bands like King Crimson, Roxy Music, and Genesis. Though forgotten during the 1980s, when digital synthesizers hijacked pop music, the Mellotron is today again a highly desired and sought-after device, a connection for artists like Radiohead and Kanye West to the mystical lost world of invention and possibility.

Mellodrama chronicles the fascinating fifty-year history using interviews with Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Mike Pinder (Moody Blues), Rod Argent (The Zombies), Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Ian McDonald (King Crimson), Brian Kehew (Author "Recording the Beatles"), Jon Brion [Producer—Kanye West, Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann], Patrick Moraz (Yes), Jesse Carmichael (Maroon 5), Matthew Sweet (Recording Artist), Michael Penn (Recording Artist), Richard Chamberlin (The Chamberlin Company), David Kean (Mellotron Archives) Markus Retch (Mellotron Archives), Geoff Unwinn (Former Employee, Mellotronics Ltd), Tom Rhea (Berklee School of Music), Pea Hicks (Optiganally Yours), among many others.

Thanks to Mike Segretto at Psychobabble for letting me know about this movie!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Netflix It: Desperately Seeking Susan

Available on Netflix: Desperately Seeking Susan, directed by Susan Seidelman

If you haven't ever seen Desperately Seeking Susan... why have you never seen Desperately Seeking Susan? Are you a child? Please rent it right now, and bask in a vanished New York City.

Synopsis from AllMovie:

A petite New Jersey housewife finds self-fulfillment through amnesia in this new wave comedy of errors set in New York's hip '80s downtown scene. Rosanna Arquette stars as Roberta, who turns to the personals for vicarious thrills after her four-year marriage to staid hot tub salesman Gary (Mark Blum) grows stale. Her favorite classified ads trace the romance of Jim (Robert Joy), a struggling musician, and Susan (Madonna), a Soho vamp who's just narrowly escaped being murdered alongside one of her other boyfriends — a gangster who recently stole some Egyptian jewelry. Through a series of complicated missteps, Roberta ends up losing her memory and convincing both herself and a broodingly handsome young man named Dez (Aidan Quinn) that she's the elusive, adventurous Susan. Soon, Roberta finds herself being romanced by Dez and pursued separately by her husband, Jim, Susan, and by a murderous mobster who's looking for the stolen jewels. For her second feature outing, which was partially inspired by Jacques Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating, director Susan Seidelman filled her cast with hipster extras, downtown personalities, and New York thespians. Notable faces include comedian Steven Wright; future indie mainstay John Turturro; future TV stars Michael Badalucco and Laurie Metcalf; punk singer Richard Hell, who also starred in Seidelman's Smithereens; and performance artist Ann Magnuson, who would star in the director's Making Mr. Right. The big dance-club sequence was filmed at Danceteria, the disco that helped launch Madonna's career. The scene, and the film, helped propel "Into the Groove," one of the singer's all-time club classics, into the charts even though it was actually a b-side to the single "Angel."

Netflix It: Laurel Canyon

Available from Netflix: Laurel Canyon, directed by Lisa Cholodenko

Cholodenko's The Kids Are Alright will be released very very soon, but in the meantime you should check out Laurel Canyon. It went places I wasn't expecting it to, possibly because I didn't read the spoiler-y synopsis below...

Synopsis from AllMovie:

Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko follows up her much-acclaimed 1997 debut High Art with this examination of a young couple seduced into a hedonistic, left-coast lifestyle. Taking its title from its central locale, Laurel Canyon focuses on a pair of upper-middle class lovebirds from the East Coast who relocate to Los Angeles. Freshly minted from Harvard, Sam (Christian Bale) and Alex (Kate Beckinsale) are eager to continue their medical studies out West, but they need some lodging while they hunt for a home. Enter Jane (Frances McDormand), Sam's estranged, Age-of-Aquarius mom, who's more than willing to put the couple up in her lavish digs. Jane is a successful record producer whose latest charge — both in the studio and in her bedroom — is Ian (Alessandro Nivola), a brazen, libidinous twentysomething Brit-rocker. As Sam and Alex settle in at Jane's, they gradually lose their straight-and-narrow approach to life and begin to experiment. Alex takes to Ian and Jane, while Sam is wooed by co-worker Sara (Natascha McElhone). Laurel Canyon features a score by Shudder to Think's Craig Wedren; the music for Ian's band was provided by Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous and indie-rockers Folk Implosion.