Feature Friday: “Mikey and Nicky” (1976)

I’ve already happily linked to online copies of two Elaine May films on Feature Friday—The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and A New Leaf (1971), both still up at YouTube. Now I’m happy to link to a third; I like Elaine May that much.

May directed Mikey and Nicky immediately after her first two films, in 1973. She shot a tremendous amount of footage—supposedly 3x more than was shot for Gone With the Wind—oftentimes letting multiple cameras role while she let stars John Cassavetes and Peter Falk improvise (which included, on at least one occasion, their leaving the set; May kept rolling). This (and the fact that production went way, way over budget) invoked the wrath of her producers, who tried to take the film away in editing. (Reportedly, May held some of the negative footage hostage, essentially blackmailing her way back into post-production.) A slapped-together version of the film was given a token release in late 1976, then finished by May in the following years. The result is a complex study of betrayal and guilt that would seem at least partially autobiographical—for one thing, May apparently named it after the world’s other fastest human, Mike Nichols.

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Feature Friday: “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One” (1968)

Don’t let the odd title put you off! It’s just some funny word meaning how things can become interconnected. Cinematically, it contains both “Psycho” and “Taxi” so how can the film be bad? And imagine how smart you’ll sound when it rolls off your tongue in front of your friends.

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm is an experimental meta-documentary by William Greaves, a documentary filmmaker and actor. The premise is very simple: Greaves auditions couples in Central Park, repeatedly running them through the same inane dialogue. Meanwhile, his crew films him filming, increasingly turning the camera on themselves to express their growing unease with Greaves’s (deliberate) lack of direction. From this cascades a loosely controlled experiment in dissolution, which quickly becomes intensely dramatic and absorbing… It’s proto-reality TV!

Greaves later revisited the project, aided by Steven Soderbergh and Steve Buscemi, in the mid-2000s, to make another version, Take 2 1/2. That you can get on the wonderful Criterion release, which the video below is taken from.

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Feature Friday: “Mostly Martha” (2001)

So I haven’t seen Mostly Martha since it came out, and I’ll freely admit that on paper, it looks god-awful. A tightly wound German chef, Martha, finds her perfectly-ordered world tipped into chaos when her sister dies, forcing her to take in her niece, Lina; meanwhile, her career is challenged by the hire of a freewheeling Italian chef, Mario. Will the 107-minute run time prove enough for Martha to learn about life and love, and wind up a happy family with Mario and Lina?

Of course. But it’s all in how one tells it …

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Bressonmania

Bresson's final film (1983) plays at the Film Forum from Jan. 17th-19th. It was based on Tolstoy's story "The Forged Coupon." One of the greatest works of art of the 20th Century, it contains all of Michael Haneke and Lars Von Trier in it's 90-minute running time.

Still from L'Argent

The Robert Bresson Retrospective is at the Film Forum right now. But it is going to other venues in the US and Canada as well: The Bresson retrospective opens this week at Film Forum in New York; Jan. 19 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Calif.; Jan. 20 at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, Mass.; Jan. 21 at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago; Jan. 31 at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.; Feb. 9 at the TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto; March 1 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; March 3 at the Cleveland Cinematheque and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; March 6 at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.; March 9 at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville; April 4 at the Pacific Cinémathèque in Vancouver, Canada; April 13 at BAM in Brooklyn, N.Y.; May 1 at Northwest Film Forum in Seattle; and May 10 at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. (Further venues and dates may follow.)

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir gives a wonderful take on Bresson and at IndieWire, two illustrious critics, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Kent Jones, talk about Bresson and Godard. Rosenbaum’s great essay on Bresson: “The Last Filmmaker

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In Memory of Raúl Ruiz (a guest post by Jeremy M. Davies)

Raúl Ruiz (1941–2011)

These are the days that try cinephiles’ souls, and I suppose one may give one’s penchant for hyperbole a little extra elbow room on such mornings. Suffice to say that if I had a favorite living filmmaker, Ra(o)úl Ruiz was he. The only film course I’ve ever taught was on Ruiz; I’ve proselytized for him (as many long-suffering friends will report) at every opportunity. [This is true. —Adam]

The fact that his Mysteries of Lisbon was picked up for U.S. distribution by the good people at the Music Box seemed to me something of a miracle given his 100+ films’ failure to make much of a mark on American moviegoers, even when the five or six that have screened in theaters here over the last twenty years got seen, reviewed, etc. You are unlikely to see a better movie than Mysteries this year—it’s showing at Lincoln Center even now, and will be traveling west with the coming weeks. [For more on that film, see this article by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.]

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A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: Midnight in Paris (and other recent Woody Allens)

[Last weekend, en route to Madagascar, Jeremy M. Davies swung by my Chicago atelier to hear my neighbor perform Mahler’s “Quartet for Strings and Piano in A Minor” on his singing saw. Fifteen minutes in, two other friends stopped by, bearing bootleg DVDs of three new films: Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, and X-Men: First Class. The singing saw forgotten, I fired up my video projector, and a marathon viewing ensued. Hours later, our guests departed, Jeremy and I recorded the following conversation.]

A D: Jeremy, when did you give up on Woody Allen?

Jeremy: Small Time Crooks.

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A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: Source Code, Friends, Woody Allen, The Man from London, Sucker Punch, Zardoz, Tron, Willow, and Shoot ‘Em Up

[Last weekend, while en route to Abu Dhabi, my good friend Jeremy swung by my cold-water Chicago flat. After a lengthy Indian-wrestling match, we headed downtown to the AMC River East 21, where we caught a screening of Duncan Jones’s latest film, Source Code. Two hours later, expelled into the brisk April evening, we hunkered down at the nearest Applebee’s and, after ordering multiple appetizers and pitchers of Stella Artois, recorded the following conversation.]

A D: Jeremy, did you like Source Code?

Jeremy: It didn’t offend me.

That’s high praise. I can envision it emblazoned across the film’s poster (which is hideous and which did offend me).

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