World Cinema – Coen Brothers’ Short Film

Back in 2007, an anthology of three-minute short films, called Chacun son cinéma, was commissioned to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. A number of big-name directors — Lars Von Trier, David Lynch, Gus Van Sant — participated, and many of their contributions were collected on the Chacun son cinéma DVD. Notably absent, however, was the Coen Brothers’ contribution, titled World Cinema, and staring Josh Brolin. Of course, today’s world being what it is, a film like that wasn’t going to sit in some studio storage closet for very long; you can now view it embedded below on the Acme Video Blog. Remember, this was the same year that the Coens’ No Country For Old Men was released (which, to my mind, still holds up as a remarkable return to form for them), and Josh Brolin doesn’t seem to have strayed too far from that movie’s Llewelyn Moss for this turn in World Cinema. Also, dig the shout-out to Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his (stunning) film Climates — I’ll have a post on him up sometime next week. Enjoy.

Your F*cking Telephone

Thanks to Olivia, who pointed this one out to me.

42 Dreams

This week in corporate-financed, product tie-in movie-making brings us ONEDREAMRUSH, an actually pretty cool little project, wherein the New Zealand vodka company 42Below has commissioned 42 directors to each shoot 42-second-long films of dreams they’ve had. A bit of a gimmick, perhaps, but seemingly trivial time constraints like this can sometimes inspire some pretty cool work. Plus the list of people recruited to submit films is impressive: David Lynch, Larry Clark, Carlos Reygadas, Mike Figgis, James Franco and Harmony Korine to name a few. Check out their website, which eventually is going to have all 42 films available for viewing (only a few are up right now). And as an added bonus, Harmony Korine’s film (titled crutchnap) has been made available free for download. Check it out here. The trailer for the project is below:

Three Films By Kelly Reichardt

kelly-reichardtOne of only a handful or so of legitimately independent American directors working today whose films are distributed and seen beyond the realm of film festivals and New York City, Kelly Reichardt (who, according to Wikipedia, is still holding down a day job teaching at Bard college) makes small, minimalist films about cash-strapped, transient people struggling for a sense of place and purpose in contemporary America. None of her films are startlingly original in terms of camera work or content, but Reichardt is really a superbly careful storyteller, and she has an exacting eye for the crucial, sudden turns of plot and character that drive these kinds of tales. Acme carries three of her titles, all of which are worth checking out —

riverofgrasscoverRiver Of Grass: Her debut, and actually the most stylistically adventurous of the three reviewed here, it’s essentially a crime/noir-cum-existentialist-roadtrip, wherein a young mother of two goes on the run from the law — while simultaneously fleeing the ennui of her new motherhood. The main character, Cozy (played by Lisa Bowman), narrates throughout, musing on boredom, fear of growing old, the ‘why’ of existence, etc. And while it wears its influences on its sleeve (Jarmusch, Godard) this is still a pretty cool little film, with solid performances from its two main leads, and loads of beautiful, vaguely eerie photography of the Florida Everglades.

OldJoy_DVDOld Joy: For what it’s worth, this is one of Acme’s more popular titles. Kind of amazing, right? I mean, here you have an 80 minute film about two old friends who go on a camping trip, get a little lost, and go home. That’s pretty much it. Very little in the way of dramatic tension. The most it can claim in terms of pedigree is that Yo La Tengo scored the soundtrack, and Will Oldham stars. Not exactly a sure fire recipe for indie-film success. And yet people rent this movie all the time. And this is where – for those of us who are interested in these sorts of things – Reichardt’s work becomes a kind of case study for the current state of independent cinema in America. My theory is that this is one of those films that lots of people who are interested in cinema have heard about — either through word-of-mouth, online forums, or film columns — but that almost no one got to see because the distributor just didn’t have the cash to really get it out there (I do recall it playing at The Cable Car for a week or two). If you’re at all interested in Reichardt, this is probably the best place to start. And make sure you stick with it to the end — the film’s coda is its most dramatic moment, frightening and beautifully shot.

wendy_and_lucyWendy And Lucy: Remains to be seen if this will prove to be Reichardt’s breakout film. It was certainly written up more than any of her previous work, and deservedly so — it’s (probably) the best thing she’s done so far. Based on a short story by Jonathan Raymond, it tells the story of a temporarily homeless woman who gets stuck in a small railroad town (as with Old Joy, this one is set somewhere in the Northwest) while trying to make her way up to Alaska. Two things, in my mind, raised the bar on this one. Reichardt gets legitimately great turns from all her actors — Michelle Williams won high praise for her role as the lead (she continues to prove a versatile, able actor), and Will Oldham, Wally Dalton and Larry Fessenden all turn in visceral, if brief, performances. And tonally, it’s a triumph: there’s a constantly looming sense of ruin, with the main character Wendy teetering perilously close outright financial and emotional collapse as a series of mishaps keep her stuck in this one small town. The character, in many ways, feels like a more clearly drawn version of Oldham’s Kurt from Old Joy — both characters are wandering and disillusioned, but Raymond’s story puts more pressure on Wendy, forcing her further and further from her comfort zone. One hopes this film is evidence of a further maturation of Reichardt’s style; American cinema is fairly starved for this kind of filmmaking right now — or anyway, even if those films are out there, we’re not seeing them.

Born To Folk

In honor of our just-arrived copy of Season 2 of Flight Of The Conchords

The best show on televion right now?

Seoul Connection

Thanks to my friend Nate, who is in Seoul, South Korea escaping the American ruse and living his dream, Acme has a few additions to the Korean film collection. He has passed along several films from past and present that are of varying type but all of which are interesting and recommended to those who enjoy Korean cinema, or foreign film in general.
gagmandg1Gagman, a 1989 film from director Myung-se Lee, is a rather funny action comedy about an unsuccessful stand-up comic who yearns to become a big-time film director.  He is joined by two friends who aspire to be actors, and the three concoct a scheme to break into films by doing bank heists, and in the process, there is much hilarity and many nods to Chaplin and Keaton. The film is the director’s homage to these great gagmen.

Friend, a 2001 film by Kyung-taek Kwak, is the director’s semi-autobiographical and tragic story of four Friendposterchildhood friends spanning a number of years in the 1970’s. At the time of its release it became the largest grossing Korean film ever (not how we really care to measure a film’s worth, mind you, but 2001 was a worldwide breakthrough year for Korean filmmakers). It is beautifully shot in and around Korea’s second largest city, Pusan, and reflects the director’s affinity for the place. To keep it interesting storywise, there are elements of sex, drugs, underworld crime, karaoke, and even murder and courtroom drama that are mostly true to life.

posterphoto5992The Power of Kangwon Province, from Sang-Soo Hong (Woman Is The Future of Man), is a release from 1998. This particular film has been regarded as a low-budget masterpiece with a feel for the slow pace and long takes of older Antonioni films but with a directness that is of more recent cinema. A young student and her married professor end a secret love affair, which we sense is very painful for her. Some time later, she travels from Seoul to Kangwon province, an Eastern resort area. Simultaneously, her ex is making his own trip there, although they never meet. The film shows both journeys through a challenging time structure which is linear as a film, but simultaneous as a story. Hong has made several films in which he follows two threads of story occurring at the same time and has said that he sees his films more as stories that fit structures he has thought up rather than films about reality. Through his subtlety concerning story, the viewer has a chance to interpret things occurring rather than being blatantly shown, which make this a very satisfying, smart, and refreshing kind of film to see.

horrorgameGawi, aka Horror Game Movie, aka Nightmare, from 2000, by Byeoun-ki Ahn, is a solid addition to the Korean horror section. It came out amidst a slew of ghost story slasher films, and is definitely one, but it is the great camerawork and visual style of this one that make it worthwhile. The storyline is nothing new – a girl is haunted by the ghost of her murdered friend, and people are being killed off one by one as the story of her death unravels.

Many thanks to Nate for sending these along. Stay tuned for reviews of new Korean films as they arrive. Anticipated releases include A Bittersweet Life and Breathless, both from 2008/9.

Robert McNamara and The Fog Of War

mcnamaraThe recent death of Robert S. McNamara – the embattled former Secretary of Defense and chief architect of the Vietnam War under both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations – gave me cause to revisit the 2004 Errol Morris film The Fog Of War: Eleven Lessons From The Life Of Robert S. McNamara. The film is essentially a one-on-one sit down with McNamara (Morris appears only as a disembodied voice) on the subject of war – and ultimately the impossibility of being able to predict, with complete accuracy, the path that war will take (hence the ‘fog’). I had forgotten what an arresting film this is, both as a remarkable biographical documentation of a man who remains among the most hated figures in the history of U.S. politics, and as a portrait of someone who caused (either directly or indirectly) an enormous amount of hurt in his lifetime and has come, now near the end of it, to reevaluate what he has done. In many ways it is Morris’s most academic film, as its step-by-step presentation of McNamara’s testimony feels at times like a finely-tuned, scrupulously informed college lecture. But Morris also has a knack for pushing his subjects just far enough out of their comfort zones – his questions, when we do get to overhear them, are blunt and poignant without coming off as callous or insensitive. One of his greatest strengths as a documentary film maker has always been, in my opinion, that he seems able to establish a certain rapport with his interviewees without compromising his own journalistic integrity. His subjects rarely seem defensive. And while many of McNamara’s answers sidestep the greater moral questions of his legacy, there are a number of moments when he does actually break down, overcome with emotion. Throughout, he appears lucid and extremely bright, despite his advanced age, and the entire film is loaded with fascinating political anecdotes from his time in office. That he struggled with the legacy of a terrible war is evident; it is to Morris’s credit, however, that he refrains from over-editorializing McNamara’s side of the story, and that he maintains the film’s focus on the nature of war, and the lessons that McNamara seems to genuinely want to impart. The film’s powerful epilogue paints a haunting portrait of McNamara and the legacy of the Vietnam War: that this man, who had a greater role than any other in the war’s design and execution, is left hollowed out and nearly broken in its wake.

UPDATE: Check out Errol Morris’s blog post on the legacy of Robert McNamara, “McNamara in Context.”