Saturday, April 30, 2011

Suspended Cirque's “Subterranea: An Urban Fairytale” at the Connelly Theater

Developed from their earlier “Urbanopolis,” which ran at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, “Subterranea: An Urban Fairytale” is the latest production from underappreciated aerial troupe extraordinaire Suspended Cirque. Opening with Joshua Dean's futuristic hobo Pan making small, uh, "talk" (Pan uses nonsense-speak) with the incoming audience, “Subterranea” can best be described as Dr. Seuss gone cyber. As a synthesized voice welcomes us to our visit to this strange land, Pan helpfully pantomimes the consequences of cell phone use and photography during the performance before the curtains part to reveal three amorphous bundles dangling in midair. Bathed in red lighting against the blackness of the stage, chandeliers crafted from empty, upside-down water bottles hanging from hoops come into focus. As the purple fabric begins to writhe, the cocoons conjure up an “Alien” creepiness. After slowly unfolding from their aerial wombs, which morph into sturdy strips, a trio of gothic female extraterrestrials (the troupe's tall blonds Angela Jones and Kristin Olness as Prima and Hecate, and its petite brunette Michelle Dortignac as Echo) perform an alluring modern dance in midair. They're trying to entice our protagonist, The Man, played by Suspended Cirque's lanky vaudevillian straight man Ben Franklin, who has just descended—via a white fabric strip—into their dark underworld.

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Surfing Through Cinema: The 20th Annual Arizona Int’l Film Festival

As someone who is couch surfing with family and non-blood relatives throughout Europe and the States since I can no longer afford to pay rent, staying in high-end digs on a beautiful beach and lounging around in 80-plus weather during the day while covering the Miami International Film Festival recently was equal parts ironic and surreal. So it was something of a happy accident that while visiting my Tucson-residing best friend from high school I stumbled upon a poster advertising the Arizona International Film Festival. Since I was in town anyhow I figured I might as well check out a portion of the 100 some odd films from 25 countries screening over 20 days (to celebrate AIFF’s 20th anniversary). Certainly I wasn’t expecting the western gem that I found — a filmmakers’ oasis in the desert indifferent to the latest buzz flicks from either coast that sucked me in for its entire lengthy run. Kudos to festival head Giulio Scalinger — after two decades with little administrative turnover (most of the volunteers I talked to were either energetic young guns or had been onboard an average of ten years or more) AIFF is a well-run, highly organized, cinematic machine with a firm identity that’s local, grassroots and community-inclusive. Shrink SXSW.

To read the rest of my coverage visit Filmmaker magazine.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

“The Little Chaos” Is a Charming Brechtian Mashup

Though “The Little Chaos” takes its title from Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1966 short, it's primarily a deconstruction of the director's first feature, the deconstructionist “Love Is Colder Than Death.” Using text not only from Fassbinder's films, but also from Jim Jarmusch's “Stranger Than Paradise,” even a postmodernist novel called “The Dead Father” by Donald Barthelme, the play is a heady Brechtian mashup that surprisingly charms rather than ironically alienates.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tribeca Film Festival 2011: Klitschko

"The most intelligent heavyweights ever," theorizes one talking head in Sebastian Dehnhardt's “Klitschko,” the title an infamous surname in the world of boxing that conjures up a double threat. Dehnhardt's doc is an up-close-and-personal study of the Ukrainian brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko via an abundance of archival footage melded with candid interviews with their mother and father, their trainers, and the recognizable fighters they faced, and the six-foot-six heavyweight boxing champions of the world themselves.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Tim Hetherington, R.I.P.

The world just lost photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who impressed me as a human being and not just as a filmmaker.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tribeca Film Festival 2011: The Good Life

“The Good Life” is a perfect wedding of dynamic characters and subject. Though Eva Mulvad's delightful study of the Beckmanns—a once-wealthy Danish mother and her middle-aged daughter, Anne Mette, now living together in a small apartment in Portugal with only the elderly woman's pension as income—is being touted as a modern-day Grey Gardens, that comparison is misleading. Whereas the Maysles were accused of exploitation for training their lens on a squalor-dwelling, mother-daughter duo whose sanity could be called into question, these snappy dames, whose back-and-forth banter has the comedic timing of a vaudeville act, are undeniably of sound minds—which makes their fall into hard times all the more poignant.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Tribeca Film Festival 2011: Cinema Komunisto

Mila Turajlic's “Cinema Komunisto” is a Serbian documentary that explores a fascinating piece of history little known outside Eastern Europe. Through the eyes of actors and directors, set designers, and studio bosses glimpsed both in archival footage and in present-day interviews, we're treated to the inside scoop on the golden age of the Yugoslavian film industry, one that not coincidentally coincided with President Josip Broz Tito's ironhanded reign. Filmmaking it turns out wasn't just an interest, but a top priority for this communist dictator, a cinephile who loved westerns, Kirk Douglas, and John Wayne. From the start of Turajlic's rigorously researched doc, which incorporates catchy upbeat music from the era, adding spice to the often-surprising images, we're told that “Cinema Komunisto” is about a country that doesn't exist—except in its movies. That politics and film are both delicate realms of illusion is something Tito intuitively seemed to grasp all too well.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Monkey Talk: An Interview with “Project Nim” Director James Marsh

James Marsh is a humble low-key guy who often explores over-the-top boisterous characters. He’s also equal parts affable and driven, and a filmmaker whose work I’ve been raving about ever since “Man On Wire” rocked my world at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008. Since then I’ve chatted with James about that documentary – that would go on to take the Oscar in 2009 – and more recently about his last foray into fiction filmmaking “Red Riding: 1980,” the second in a stellar three-part trilogy based on David Peace’s novels set during Britain’s seedy “Yorkshire Ripper” days.

So when I saw that the director would be at this year’s Miami International Film Festival to support his Sundance award-winning doc “Project Nim,” which delves into the infamous experiment in the 70s that set out to teach a human-raised chimpanzee to communicate using sign language, I decided to pick his quick-witted brain once again. Sitting in the glorious sunshine outside the fest’s headquarters at the Royal Palm Hotel in South Beach we chatted about everything from “Big Brother” to Bresson to Herzog to uncovering Original Sin.

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sex On Film: Stephan Brenninkmeijer and Jennifer Lyon Bell

Check out the interview between Stephan Brenninkmeijer and Jennifer Lyon Bell in my “Sex On Film” piece on pages 60-61 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Sex and De Stad: Queen’s Day

Check out my Queen’s Day column on page 75 of Amsterdam Magazine!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Miami International Film Festival 2011

I guess it should come as no surprise that my preference for film festivals tends to follow my sensibility when it comes to films themselves. If everyone in the blogosphere and beyond is talking about the upcoming Hollywood blockbuster or even the latest offering from the mumblecore crowd, I’ll want to review what’s coming out of Kazakhstan (“The Gift to Stalin” — three stars!) or rave about an undistributed doc that takes a refreshing look at a trio of grandma-age sex workers in Berlin (Saara Aila Waasner’s uplifting “Frauenzimmer”). I often feel like I’m out of the loop as the Zeitgeist passes me by. But to be honest, I’ll happily take the sun, sand and beach perks of the Miami International Film Festival while those in the know head to SXSW any day.

To read my coverage visit Filmmaker magazine.