Thursday, June 24, 2010

New York Asian Film Festival 2010: Dispatch Two

“Annyong Yumika,” making its North American premiere at this year's New York Asian Film Festival, takes its name from legendary Japanese porn starlet Yumika Hayashi, who also had a big career in Korea. But perhaps most intriguing about this odd nonfiction look at the woman who took top honors at the Pink Grand Prix for the softcore Japanese flick “Lunchbox”—and who met an untimely death in 2005—is that it's truly not made for Western eyes. Practically experimental in his whimsical collage approach, director Tetsuaki Matsue takes as his jumping off point the discovery of his subject's previously lost film, “Junko: The Tokyo Housewife.” That softcore Korean production, which cast Korean actors speaking Japanese, becomes the catalyst for not only retracing Yumika's life (through old home movie footage and bizarre reenactments at actual locations), but also for exploring, to use the title of one talking head professor's book, "the Japanese as seen in Korea."

To read the rest visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, “Restrepo”

Most documentary filmmakers attempt to see the world through the lens of the subjects they’re shooting, but few put their lives on the line to do so. That perhaps is what most separates first-time directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington from a few of their colleagues who didn’t take home the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Their award-winning “Restrepo” is the result of a near yearlong embedment with the Second Platoon, Battle Company in eastern Afghanistan’s deadly Korengal Valley, during which they survived like soldiers wielding cameras in lieu of guns. While the two don’t lack name recognition — writer Junger is the bestselling author of “The Perfect Storm,” and along with prizewinning photojournalist Hetherington, is a longtime contributor to “Vanity Fair” — they’ve used their critical prestige to shine a light on the identities of the little known. Like “Doc” Restrepo, a platoon medic killed in action but not forgotten at the outpost that bears his name.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2010 New York Asian Film Festival: melodrama perfected

With its lavish, sumptuous production design and attention-grabbing camerawork “Bodyguards and Assassins,” which makes its New York debut at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival is quintessential martial arts eye candy. As broadly populist as any western style action flick, this 2009 blockbuster – which boasts “more Hong Kong Film Awards than any movie in history” – follows a makeshift team of bodyguards who put their lives on the line at the turn of the last century to prevent the assassination of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a revolutionary leader arriving in the British colony to plan the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty.

To read the rest visit Global Comment.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Interview with “Wild and Wonderful” Julien Nitzberg

Julien Nitzberg, director of the cult documentary “Dancing Outlaw,” which stars the notorious Appalachian mountain dancer Jesco White, has set himself up for the same criticism that often gets leveled at fiction filmmakers like Lars Von Trier and Michael Haneke. When directors show politically incorrect behavior without passing judgment on that behavior, it rubs many folks the wrong way, leading to charges of misogyny in Von Trier's case or nihilism in Haneke's. Nitzberg's latest film, “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia,” has and will most certainly be judged exploitative for its celebratory portrayal of Jesco and his kin: poor, white, violent West Virginian drug dealers who have no qualms about smoking crack for the camera at their octogenarian matriarch's birthday party. But underlying the reality-TV hi-jinks is a true respect for the subjects. Nitzberg seems almost in awe of the Whites' ability to buck the system so thoroughly and blatantly. The Whites indeed have created their own lawless world where the primal, Biblical eye-for-an-eye rule trumps all. One can't help but think Werner Herzog would be tickled pink by both the doc and the rebel director behind its lens.

To read my interview visit Slant Magazine.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2010: Moloch Tropical

“Moloch Tropical,” which follows the political and mental disintegration of a fictional democratically elected president in Haiti, is the latest from Haitian-born director Raoul Peck, who tread similar territory a decade ago in “Lumumba,” the story of Congo's heroic prime minister Patrice Lumumba. However, it's not his own earlier work that Peck has audaciously repurposed, but Alexander Sokurov's “Moloch,” a chamber piece detailing the mundane existence of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun at their Bavarian hideaway. (At least I think that's what “Moloch” is about—having seen it in the late '90s at a surreal Russian Film Festival screening with German subtitles and a live English translation.) Peck himself is a frustrating talent, one whose grandiosity is simultaneously his strength and his weakness—not unlike the lead character of “Moloch Tropical.”

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hotel Modern’s “Kamp” at the Toy Theater Festival

One of the most astonishing theatrical productions this summer in NYC occurred at St. Ann’s Warehouse out in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, which hosted the Great Small Works 9th International Toy Theater Festival May 30th through June 13th. (Up next at St. Ann’s is the fantastical sounding Labapalooza! – a festival of avant-garde, works-in-progress puppetry June 23rd through June 27th.)

But to call “Kamp” from the Rotterdam-based troupe Hotel Modern a theater piece doesn’t even come close to describing their re-imagining of Auschwitz as a breathtaking scale model peopled by thousands of three-inch tall miniatures, looking like a European version of Mexico’s Day of the Dead figurines. Taking up the entire stage, the intricate and precise installation would fit right at home at the Whitney Biennial (in fact, there’s a temporary toy theater museum also set up at St. Ann’s) and includes not only rows of barracks and a railroad track but also the phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” emblazoned on a gateway.

To read the rest visit Global Comment.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Directors Bill Ross and Turner Ross are small-town siblings who returned for nine months to their hometown of Sidney, Ohio—zip code 45365—with a camera and a palpable passion to capture the essence of everyday rural lives. Eschewing talking-head interviews or any type of narration whatsoever, the filmmakers create a composite sketch of Sidney, allowing their camera to rove randomly like an omnipotent eye from the Shelby County fair to the local radio station, from a cop on patrol (who at one point comes to the aid of an unhappy cable customer!) to a judge campaigning door-to-door for reelection.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Hack! An I.T. Spaghetti Western

The reason The Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is one of the most innovative venues in NYC is because its artistic directors Michael Gardner and Robert Honeywell are in fact true artists - meaning they're not afraid to take risks. And now with their Too Soon Festival running through June 27th they've bet the farm on a wild array of productions with names like "Jeannine's Abortion: A Play in One Trimester" and the Salinger-themed "RIP JD." Of course, names can be deceiving and it was just my luck to pick the rare dud of the bunch. The Impetuous Theater Group's "Hack! An I.T. Spaghetti Western," unfortunately, is only half-baked.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.