Lee Daniels and Precious in Pleasantville

For tonight’s screening of Precious at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY — the neighborhood arthouse serving Deep Focus World Headquarters in Sleepy Hollow — a woman had driven down from somewhere upstate. She spoke up during the post-screening Q&A to congratulate director Lee Daniels on generating alternative multiplex fare (specifically, she mentioned Couples Retreat as the poison for which a helping of Precious might be an antidote), but also to ask him whether his portrayal of the film’s African-American single-mom household as a kind of hell on earth generated any hand-wringing among the black community. Daniels deflected the question by playing provocateur, teasing the audience with a mention of his next likely project, Selma, which looks at Martin Luther King and Lyndon B. Johnson. “We see King as we’ve never seen him before,” Daniels promised, then added wickedly, “So wait til you see that.”

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Who’s Watching Watchmen?

728_watchmen.jpgI’m not usually a devoted follower of the ratings at Rotten Tomatoes, but looking at advance reviews of Watchmen this week, I started to wonder: has there ever been a greater disparity between the tracked “T-Meter Critics” (a quite inclusive pool of online and print reviewers) and the so-called “Top Critics” (a more elite, print-centric pool of big-name writers)? As I type this, the fim’s “T-Meter Critics” rating is a very respectable 73%, which indicates that of all those reviews, 73 percent are at least marginally positive. But the corresponding “Top Critics” rating is only 14 percent.

Granted, the “Top Critics” sampling is much smaller. Essentially, 14% means that, out of seven writers, only Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly liked the film (he gave it an unenthusiastic B-). But it seems like there’s something happening here, with the larger group — mainly onliners — admiring the film and the body of more traditional critics dismissing it outright. (Before a screening of a different film yesterday morning, I overheard a conversation that started like this: CRITIC A: I saw Watchmen last night. CRITIC B: Piece of shit, right?)

I’m seeing it on Thursday night with the rest of fandom (I must be on the Z-list at Warner Bros. because I get cut from screenings of hotly anticipated films like this and The Dark Knight) so I don’t have an opinion yet. Despite my distaste at the prospect of sitting through another hypertrophied 300-style adaptation, I do love Watchmen and so I’d love for this film to be awesome — even partly awesome, or awesome in compromised ways. My fingers will be crossed.

Link Dump #5: W., Stars, Vampire Weekend, and Criterion Blu-Ray

W., un film de Oliver Stone


If this trailer (for Oliver Stone’s W.) were just a joke, it would be a great joke. We’ll see what happens with the movie.

Music Video: Stars/”Bitches in Tokyo”

“This is what you’re worried about: something called The New York Dolls.”


Music Video: Vampire Weekend/”Oxford Comma”

It’s probably too soon for the Wes Anderson homage videos, but whatever.

Criterion Collection, High-Definition Division

240_chungking.jpgSpeaking of Wes Anderson, The Criterion Collection has just announced details on its November (delayed from October) opening salvo of Blu-ray Disc releases, and it’s a doozy. Bottle Rocket. Chungking Express. (Swoon.) The Third Man. The Man Who Fell to Earth. And The Last Emperor. Five solid selections from five great directors — and two films (the one with Faye Wong and the one with Orson Welles) that I absolutely adore. I am so there.

Werner Herzog in Pleasantville


It’s not exactly the hip neighborhood, but working out of Deep Focus World Headquarters in Sleepy Hollow, NY, has its advantages. One of them is the proximity of the Jacob Burns Film Center, an arthouse triplex in nearby Pleasantville that’s several times more comfy than any similar venue in Manhattan. (Well, with the possible exception of the fairly posh Sunshine Cinemas downtown. And the similarly appointed IFC Center, also downtown. But you get my meaning.) Tonight, the Burns center hosted Werner Herzog for a screening of his documentary about Antarctic research stations and the scientists who inhabit them, Encounters at the End of the World. In the course of a highly entertaining Q&A, he held forth on his Bad Lieutenant remake, described his rescue of Joaquin Phoenix in early 2006, and told the audience what he really thinks about film theory.

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Link Dump #4


How desperate does Hollywood have to be to vandalize its own movies?. According to the usually reliable projectionist crowd over at Film-Tech.com, Deluxe sent out film prints of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that had the audio tracks deliberately fucked up as part of some monumentally misguided plan to catch pirates down the line by tracing the audio glitches in their pirated recordings. (The audio tracks of bootlegged movies are often of much higher quality than the video, since pirates have figured out how to tap directly into theatrical sound systems.) The mob at boingboing reports what seems like a high occurrence of anecdotes about screenings of the film where the soundtrack fell back to analog — or dropped out entirely. If this is true, it’s a massive “fuck you” to moviegoers, much worse than those annoying orange dots that serve the same supposed anti-piracy function. My local theaters have a hard enough time maintaining the integrity of picture and sound without the distributors making their lives even more difficult. Just unbelievable. (Via Movie City News.)

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Interviews: Wong Kar Wai, Jason Kohn

Over at my day job, I’ve done new interviews with Wong Kar Wai

The visual style of your films [shot with DP Christopher Doyle] — the

saturated colors, the way the camera moves, looking through glass or at

reflections — is very much present in My Blueberry Nights. What specifically is in the frame, how should the colors look — is that a conversation that you had with [DP] Darius Khondji?

WONG KAR WAI: Not so much about that. Darius is a very sensitive DP and very

talented. And also, given the schedule and the locations that we shot

in, it seems to me the final look of the film was a natural choice.

When we shot in New York, the restaurant was so small it was hard to

squeeze in all these cameras and a big crew, so we shot mainly [from]

outside. It also makes sense to the story, because at that point we are

still behind something, to observe what’s going on. And then the frame

of the pictures — New York is pretty much like Hong Kong. It’s a

vertical city, with vertical lines. And then when the character

Elizabeth moves on to other parts of the country, we see the vertical

lines become horizontal. And that’s why we shot in Cinemascope [2.35:1

aspect ratio].

We don’t talk much about the framing of things, because I think framing

is something the director should be responsible for. It’s a matter of

choice, a point of view. And the rest I just leave to Darius.

… and Manda Bala director Jason Kohn, whose film I caught up with — and liked a lot — after watching it win big at the Cinema Eye Awards last month.

A lot of documentaries these

days seem to be made to argue a specific political point of view. It’s

like an instrument for mounting an argument rather than —

Somebody from the PBS POV blog [POV series producer Yance Ford, in this post]

mentioned that the lowest-rated POV show is seen by more people than 99

percent of the theatrically released documentaries out there. It’s a

really important point. I don’t believe activism is a necessary or even

a very useful part of the nonfiction film genre. I don’t think

nonfiction films were born out of an activist tradition and, quite

frankly, I don’t think it’s an effective forum for activism.

So you don’t see your motivation in making your film as activist at all? Or trying to catalyze change?

Absolutely not. No way whatsoever. Let’s say the activist’s dream

scenario came true, and Jader Barbalho was ousted from power, which is

the only specific goal that one could possibly, in an alternate

reality, expect this movie to have. Nothing would change. The problems

in Brazil are institutional. This wasn’t about trying to effect change,

because I genuinely don’t believe documentary film is a great form for

that. But I do think it’s an important historical marker. It exposes

very real connections between large-scale political corruption and

violence. But first and foremost I made a film. My personal politics

are in there because they are my politics, but I was way more driven by

the oddness of the frog farm, the ingenuity of the plastic surgeon, and

the opportunity to film in a city that I didn’t think many people

really understood was as rich or powerful as it is.