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Wednesday, Nov 3, 2010
Kelly Reichardt's Meek’s Cutoff is an outsider's Western. If we were looking for a female counterpart to Gus Van Sant, I think we may have found her.

The New York Film Festival recently concluded its 48th year of operation. It’s certainly one of the stuffier festivals I’ve attended, held in uptown Manhattan at the Lincoln Center and peopled largely by old-money, high-society patrons-of-the-arts types. Being a twentysomething living in Brooklyn and getting by on a Netflix subscription and something like $20,000 a year, I naturally felt a little out-of-place trying to slip past the old ladies with mink stoles and hide the holes in my jeans.


Luckily, though, despite the sometimes-stuffy atmosphere, the NYFF’s programmers had more than the upper crust in mind when laying down this year’s slate of films. Set up as a showcase rather than a competition, a wide range of nationalities, backgrounds, and levels of relative fame were represented in this year’s choices: although the fest’s opening film was The Social Network, its closer was Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, and its centerpiece was the Helen Mirren-starring iteration of The Tempest, the real meat was to be found in the in-between zones.


One of the festival’s featured directors, for example, was Kelly Reichardt, whose Meek’s Cutoff was a decidedly un-mainstream and non-uptight affair. In addition to showing the film twice with a Q&A following each screening with Reichardt and actors Paul Dano, Neal Huff, and Tommy Nelson, the NYFF also included Reichardt in an installment of its series of “HBO Director’s Dialogues”, in which Reichardt sat down for an extended interview with the very knowledgeable critic Melissa Anderson, taking some further audience questions afterward.


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Friday, Oct 8, 2010
Based on the life of Johann Kastenberger, better known as "Pump-gun Ronnie", The Robber succeeds by subverting the normal routine for a film about robbers.

The 46th Chicago International Film Festival is packed to the gills with films, fans and critics. For two weeks, many folks will be lining up to see some of the most anticipated cinematic releases of the year: there’s Black Swan, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 127 Hours, Certified Copy, Hereafter, The Tempest and The Debt.


But, with dozens of films to watch, and very little time to watch them, why spend it all on movies that are sure to return to theaters in a matter of months? There’s been plenty written about, say, Black Swan‘s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and PopMatters contributing editor Matt Mazur provided excellent coverage of that film and many others that screened at TIFF.


This is a time to check out movies that aren’t guaranteed to screen in the U.S. after the festival. Which would be a terrible fate for a film like The Robber, a tense thriller about an Austrian marathon runner who just happened to use his skills for speed to rob banks.


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Wednesday, Oct 6, 2010
Michael Epstein's newest entry to PBS's American Masters series looks great, sounds better, and offers very little we didn't already know about John Lennon -- and glosses over a lot that we do.

One of the throwaway graphical flourishes of Michael Epstein’s LennonNYC, which premiered at the New York Film Festival this weekend, encapsulates the tone of the piece more than any of its assorted sound bites, news footage, or endless parade of archived photographs. During the many segments recounting John Lennon’s recording studio sessions, black and white sketch lines scribble themselves over candid images, following features of faces, needles of meters, microphone stands, guitar strings, outlines of hands, contours of music stands. They evoke a whimsical teenager doodling over pages of Teen Beat: her idle tracing is a crude paean to the stars and starlets she so admires. LennonNYC is a work of nostalgic devotion in the very same, criminally respectful mode. I ended up wishing it were more like this imagined girl’s brother, stealing her mags to draw mustaches and penises all over it.


Not that I wanted to see the doc gossip away Lennon’s dignity, but it would be nice to hear a little bit about how this Beatle wasn’t great. His somewhat well-known relationship with May Pang, which lasted a year-and-a-half or so after he and Yoko Ono separated—his so-called “Lost Weekend”—is sublimated to the point of teasing ambiguity. You’d think it was simply a matter of courtesy to his survivors, mainly Ono—who was, incidentally, present at the screening I attended at the Lincoln Center’s Starr Theater. When Epstein’s narrative reaches this chapter, though, she seems on the verge of mentioning the affair by name. So much so, that I conclude she did, only to be silenced in the editing process.


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Friday, Sep 24, 2010
Monkey Ghosts, unraveling ballerinas, going green with Mike Leigh, and a pox on the pioneers. This year there were four clear stand outs at an otherwise boring Toronto Film Festival.
Another Year (dir. Mike Leigh, 2010)

Lest you make the rookie mistake of thinking the legendary Mike Leigh’s newest film Another Year is about anything so black and white, cut and dry, as being “happy” or “unhappy”, the director was clear to point out to me – during the private round table interview I conducted with him and actors Jim Broadbent, Lesely Manville, and Ruth Sheen during TIFF – that this notion is completely wrong. “I think that’s twaddle – I never said that and the film doesn’t say that. That’s the very thing the film doesn’t say, if you don’t mind me saying so! Are you happy?”


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Monday, Sep 20, 2010
James Franco and Xavier Dolan come up winners, while Catherine Breillat, in an unlikely twist of fate, brings up the rear with Hilary Swank.

Time now for a few short takes before we wrap up our Toronto International Film Festival 2010 coverage with our patented “Best of the Fest” picks that will look in depth at the four clear stand outs of this year’s somewhat marginal festival.


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