Alice Perry on cinematographer Janusz Kaminski

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James Carville once said about his relationship with Mary Matalin, “You can hate the sin but love the sinner.”

I feel the same way about Janusz Kaminski, Steven Spielberg’s longtime cinematographer. Mr. Kaminski is a real artist, a real painter of light. His sin? Working with Steven Spielberg, one of the more heavy-handed (think of a sledge hammer repeatedly whacking your head) directors.

Independent filmmakers almost exclusively use the digital medium, but we can all learn a few things from a master manipulator of celluloid like Mr. Kaminski.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Mr. Kaminski described how he made “Lincoln” look like a timeless movie—not by CG effects but by simply moving the lights.

“I felt you had to pull back a bit, so as not to jar the audience,” he explained. “One way of achieving that is to not light the walls. They were not 100% unlit, but enough so that the colors of the walls and carpets were muted. You have to think about the philosophy of light. It’s supposed to be motivated by natural sources. But if that logic doesn’t work for dramatic reasons, you adjust.”

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“For example, the gas lamps of Lincoln’s time wouldn’t give enough illumination for the cameras, which are not as sensitive as the eye,” he continues. “You cannot photograph a Spielberg movie using just candlelight. Stanley Kubrick did some shots like that, but with special lenses and just in certain scenes. If you light with just an oil lamp, you will see only the lamp and the face next to it. So I used the natural light in the scene and moved the film lights back. It’s a trick, a cheat. But it works.”

Mr. Kaminski also explained why some people believe that the acting was better during the black-and-white film era.

 “In color movies, actors are not always the main objects of illumination. Sometimes they’re not lit much at all, and audiences start appreciating things that aren’t the most important to the story. In black-and-white films, there’s no color to distract viewers. Consequently, actors in black-and-white movies are the main focus of the frame because they are often the brightest element in the frame. Because you’re not lighting the actors in color films, some attention is drawn away by that absence.”

Perhaps the use of black-and-white film in “The Artist” was the nudge that pushed the Oscar into Jean Dujardin’s hands last year.

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Alice Perry on Room 237

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“Room 237,” a documentary about obsessive fans of “The Shining” who read meaning into the film’s most mundane details, opens at the end of March, and I’ll be the first, or last–depending on those rabid Kubrick devotees–in line.

I believe that the film contains footage from a documentary that Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian, made in 1980. It’s called “Making the Shining” (yes, just “Making,” not “Making of”), and you may be able to find it tacked onto “The Shining” DVD in the Extras’ section. Here are some of my favorite bits from the doc:

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1) Jack Nicholson getting into character while swinging an ax — and almost knocking over an assistant director — and growling, “Death to pussy”;

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2) Kubrick typing up script notes at the same table where Scatman Crothers and Danny have their “Shine” conversation;

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3) a set worker tossing a bucket of fake blood on the wall;

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4) Jack N. demonstrating how he marks up his script lines, a style he says he copied from Boris Karloff.

That picture of Kubrick at the typewriter reminded me of a scene in another “making of” documentary. In “Hearts of Darkness,” a doc about making “Apocalypse Now,” there’s an image of Francis Ford Coppola also at a typewriter.

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Perhaps this is the start of a great idea: a photo book of great film directors on set at the typewriter, entitled “Directors Type.”

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2012 Best Film List – Brendan Rose

2012 will be remembered as a year of masterpieces (see the top half of this list), diverse gems from across the globe, and pleasing, if flawed, middlebrow Hollywood award-seekers, all in all making for an eclectic and exciting year for cinema.

The year’s offerings did have their shortcomings, however, especially in the American Independent world. In addition, a number of promising-seeming movies by big-name Anglo-American filmmakers fell completely flat (see ‘Biggest Disappointments’ below).

And, as with every year, there were plenty of well-regarded films, which I did not see in time for this list, especially a number of impressive-looking documentaries. With special apologies to films like Magic Mike, Red Hook Summer, How to Survive a Plague, Holy Motors, and many others, here is the 2012 list:

TOP TEN
1. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) – This elusive, visually stunning, modernist film wears its mystery plot light and its philosophical weight heavy; Ceylan takes a giant leap forward, entering the very upper echelon of world filmmakers.

2. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson) – Anderson wisely avoids a trite Scientology biopic, instead using his melancholic, drifting film to capture the post-war experience of a PTSD-plagued vet via Phoenix and to shine a light on low-grade demagoguery through Hoffman; Anderson now has two of the best American films of the last 25 years with The Master and There Will Be Blood.

3. Amour (Michael Haneke) – The Austrian master turns his rigorous camera toward the subject of love and still manages to plumb the depths of human violence; every image feels essential.

4. The Kid With A Bike (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) – Another strong child-centered film by the inimitable Belgian fraternal duo unafraid to take on the most wholesome of virtues – in this case goodness and devotion – in the most gritty of manners.

5. Oslo, August 31 (Joachim Trier) – This pitch-perfect story of addiction, compressed into 24 hours of the protagonist’s life, once again confirms Trier as the poet laureate of bohemian-bourgeois Scandinavia.

6. This Is Not A Film (Jafar Panahi) – One of the world’s preeminent filmmakers copes with life in Tehran under house arrest by frenetically plotting out scenes on his floor, screening clips of his own films and palling around with his pet iguana; both the most bizarre and the most authentic film of the year.

7. Neighboring Sounds (Kleber Mendoca Filho) – A finely wrought social drama set on one block in Recife, which may also be read as an allegory of the history of violence in northeast Brazil.

8. The Day He Arrives (Hong Sang-Soo) – A playful cinematic experience of shifting identities, overlapping angles and wistful dreams; a film that trusts the power of the moment.

9. Argo (Ben Affleck) – Stellar semi-historical thriller in which Affleck nicely balances tension-fraught high-stakes hostage smuggling and a humorous look at Hollywood absurdity.

10. Bernie (Richard Linklater) – This Harold-and-Maude gone wrong tale vividly set in small-town Texas is constantly inventive, grimly humorous, and expertly performed.

HONORABLE MENTION (in no particular order): Bonsai (Cristián Jiménez); Life of Pi (Ang Lee); Barbara (Christian Petzold); Lincoln (Steven Spielberg); Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo); Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin); Silver Linings Playbook (David O Russell)

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS
1. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow) – By far the most disappointing film of the year; in fact, the most disturbing; a technically brilliant movie that glosses over the horrors of the war on terror and avoids the real facts concerning torture and evidence-gathering.

2. Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg) – A wretched adaptation of Don DeLillo, an almost comically bad movie, which reconfirms Cronenberg as one of our most overrated directors.

3. To Rome With Love (Woody Allen) – A solid section with Roberto Benigni and some expert shower-sung opera don’t save this meandering clunker.

4. The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan) – The flaws here are legion, but I’ll highlight two: (1) an all-too unfaithful Alfred cries his way through the picture dreaming of Italy; and (2) arch-villain Bane – an at first convincing-seeming foe – is given a ridiculous, humanizing backstory.

5. Skyfall (Sam Mendes) – A bloated, feckless attempt to round out Bond’s biography; moreover, why play the James Bond-is-getting-old card so soon with first-rate 007 Daniel Craig only three films deep into the franchise?”

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Athena Film Festival 2013

“Everyone knows that the absence of strong female characters in Hollywood films is epidemic. But we’ve found the antidote, albeit one that lasts only four days: the Athena Film Festival at Barnard College. Here’s a chance to see some Crushworthy cinema.” Alice Perry, CrushworthyMoms.

Read Alice Perry’s intriguing column about the 2013 Athena Film Festival at CrushworthyMoms.com:
http://www.crushworthymoms.com/2013/02/athena-film-festival/

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The Margaret Mead Film Festival, Nov. 29 – Dec, 2, 2012

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The Hamptons International Film Festival


United Artists, East Hampton

Another year, another Hamptons International Film Festival. Celebrating the fest’s 20th Anniversary, Executive Director Karen Arikien and Programmer David Nugent put together an exceptional line-up of screenings and programs (http://www.hamptonsfilmfest.org). Knowing I would necessarily miss a number of promising films, even with three screenings a day, I managed to shoe-horn in a brunch at the Maidstone Inn with Gotham Chopra who said a few interesting words about his new doc, Decoding Deepak, a portrait of his father Deepak Chopra.

Brunch with Gotham Chopra

So I saved In Your Dreams – Stevie Nicks for another time and honed in on a variety of features, docs, and shorts programs and was duly rewarded with a smorgasbord of entertainment. Among the features, the HBO-produced docudrama The Girl was a stand-out, with an outstanding performance from Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren and Toby Jones proving mostly believable as a sadistic, sexually-frustrated Alfred Hitchcock obsessed with his latest blond actress.

Two notable docs that proved well-worth catching were The Standbys, a look at the trials and triumphs of three Broadway hopefuls who spend most of their would-be stage time in their dressing rooms waiting to see if tonight is the night they will actually go on stage. Was I worried the film might wallow in self-pity? Yes. Did it? Yes, but not over-whelmingly, just enough to remind viewers that these are, after all, people who grew up saying “Look at me!” Rounding out the docs was the excellent BBC-produced Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007, tracing the early history of the James Bond franchise, especially revealing in its exploration of the rift between Sean Connery, the original Bond, James Bond, and producer Cuby Broccoli, as well as some fascinating details about author Ian Fleming. Missing, though, was a real discussion of the famous music, opening titles and beautiful women that played such crucial roles in defining the lasting appeal of the spy thriller franchise.

Lastly, I was so glad I decided to catch the one feature-length animated film in the festival, the unusual Zarafa (http://www.patheinternational.com/en/fiche.php?id_film=701), based on the true story of the first giraffe introduced to Paris as a gift from Egypt to France’s King Charles X. This French-Belgium production is co-directed by Jean-Christophe Lie (The Triplets of Belleville, Disney’s Tarzan, Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and offers glimpses of Belleville’s quirkiness while avoiding the often crowd-pandering nature of Disney films. A beautiful film of a journey filled with drama and gentle humor, and marked by an engrossing colorful palette. The unfolding nature of the filmmaking here creates a dream-like experience that should appeal to fans of animation and prove rewarding for young viewers. Mike Fishman

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Green, written and directed by Sophia Takal

Green, written and directed by Sophia Takal

Film review by Shirley Rodriguez

I love being pleasantly surprised. I especially love a surprise when it involves creativity and passion. This was the case when I was invited to a screening of Sophia Takal’s film Green at the Museum of Modern Art. The focus of the film is the jealous nature of Genevieve, played by Kate Lyn Sheil, whose jealousy steadily begins to consume her. I attended the screening knowing very little of the film, but left wanting to know everything. It is one thing to leave a film only questioning the film and another thing to question yourself. Green is both, it grips you while you watch it and haunts you long afterward.

Genevieve and her fiancé Sebastian played by Lawrence Michael Levine, Takal’s fiance in real life, are a young couple who move from the city to the country. The move is Sebastian’s decision and it’s clear that he is the one calling the shots. The change of environment brings at first subtle changes and subsequently role reversals. It feels as if the introduction of nature brings out the primitive and not so prim and discreet behaviors witnessed in their city life. Genevieve and Sebastian meet a young local named Robin, played by Takal herself. Robin both wittingly and unwittingly shakes up the couple’s relationship. The presence of Robin as the imagined rival to Genevieve becomes integral to Genevieve’s awakening. Genevieve’s previous passive aggressive personality now has Robin as a catalyst to express what before was hidden. The effect of the film is strong even when it is being subtle; the simmering frustration of a look or seemingly simple scene that speaks volumes with its body language and symbolism.

The subject of jealousy has been visited many times before in other films, but Takal makes it personal, intimate and awkward. Those who do not or have ever felt jealousy on the level of Genevieve’s character, cannot know how painful it is. Personally, I can attest to the pain, and thus could easily empathize. I admire Ms. Takal’s bravery in addressing the issue of jealousy because she is taking something so personal and sharing it with us. For those outside looking in on a jealous woman’s behavior, it can be easy to label it as “crazy.” It may be simple to label what you cannot comprehend, but upon closer investigation there are many layers and subtleties. Full blame in this case placed entirely on the jealous woman is not the entire story. In our real lives it also deserves a respectful and compassionate understanding. I have always known jealousy to be a highly controversial topic from it’s minimal to full blown expression. Some people may defend it and some may be against it, but none of us have escaped feeling it. The motivations may vary greatly, but the emotion is universal. Jealousy does not “just appear” out of nowhere and it is important to know where it stems from. Jealousy is defined by being fearful of losing something or someone you value to a rival. It can be trivialized, hidden, shameful or denied among other things, but cannot be eliminated. It can take hold of you at your best moments and when you least expect it. Sometimes the object of your affection can benignly or purposely trigger it by doing or not doing something.

After the screening in a Q&A session with Ms. Takal that also included her fiancé Mr. Levine, she spoke candidly and at times humorously of her personal experience with jealousy. They both shared how they have worked through it and continue to, putting a welcome positive spin on it. Green causes you to examine how jealousy plays a role in your relationships. It will push your buttons without hitting you over the head. Jealousy may be uncomfortable and taboo to some, but Ms. Takal confronts it with courage in the face of uncertainty. She serves as a medium to uncover this powerful emotion in an effort to find freedom in its expression. We may not get every answer we are looking for, but sometimes just being able to ask the questions is what we need.

Thank you again, Ms. Takal.

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Brendan Rose’s Top 2011 Film List


Brendan Rose’s Top 2011 Film List

2011 has shaped up as quite the year in film, as the roster of released movies was, throughout the year, replete with strong offerings. The year was buoyed by especially provocative, original work from the international art-house cinema sector, while also including some excellent documentaries, American Indies, and even a few very stellar Hollywood productions.

In short, the embarrassment of riches made for some tough decisions when it came to winnowing down the list. As a result, I have expanded the ‘Honorable Mention’ section to account for this overabundance of quality. Even still, plenty of solid movies didn’t make my list.

And as it is now awards season—when the hype and chatter surrounding mediocre films being pawned off as masterpieces reaches nausea-inducing levels—I have added a ‘Biggest Disappointment’ list to call out a few of these underwhelming, overrated films.

With apologies to a few of the promising films I have not yet seen from 2011—amongst others, Margaret, Margin Call, My Peristroika, Mysteries of Lisbon and Silent Souls come to mind—here is the 2011 list:

TOP 10
1. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi) – Tragic drama at its best: a tight, complex tour-de-force propelled by exceptional performances, a sharp script and pitch-perfect direction from Farhadi.
2. The Interrupters (Steve James) – A moving documentary about street violence in Chicago and those who struggle relentlessly to end it.
3. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami) – A clever, pensive, elusive encounter film of the Before SunsetIn the Mood for LoveL’Avventura variety.
4. Melancholia (Lars Von Trier) – Von Trier captures deep, authentic, at times terrifying emotion by employing a literally enormous, fast-approaching conceit. Dunst is at her best.
5. Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt) – A formally rigorous, gritty yet metaphorical Western. Reichardt continues to define and dominate the American indie landscape.
6. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen) – Sheer exuberant storytelling by Allen; and oddly inspiring to all of us Paris-enchanted dreamers out there.
7. Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino) – Depicting the folk practices and everyday oddities of a Southern Italian village, Frammartino’s little hamlet contains worlds of beauty and novelty. Plus, an outstanding canine performance!
8. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong) – A biting, quiet drama with a delicately captured lyrical bent.
9. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar) – A gothic, (seemingly) absurd premise that only Almodóvar could pull off by imbuing it with his own special blend of matter-of-fact realism, rococo melodrama and humanistic intensity.
10. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick) – The nuclear family, Waco, Texas sequences in this film are perfectly realized gems that expand the boundaries of cinematic possibility.

HONORABLE MENTION: Beats, Rhymes and Life (Michael Rapaport); Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog); Hugo (Martin Scorsese); Moneyball (Bennett Miller); Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois); A Screaming Man (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun); Shame (Steve McQueen); Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS
1. The Descendants (Alexander Payne) – By far the #1 most overrated film of 2011; the insipid first 30 minutes of this movie prove it dead on arrival.
2. A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg) – Expert lead performances, sure, but Cronenberg’s Jung-Freud film is surprisingly dull and uninspired.
3. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick) – On both lists. The fatal flaw of this film is not the Big Bang-to-Humans (by way of Dinosaurs) sequence, but rather the gratuitous, unnecessary framing story of the protagonist as adult (played by Sean Penn), especially those pseudo-philosophical scenes of endless beach meandering.
4. Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols) – Yes, there’s a metaphor here, but no, it does not resonate, instead smacking the viewer over the head with pomp.
5. Super Eight (JJ Abrams) – Of course, this is no awards film, but it nonetheless received a good deal of hype upon release. The first 45 minutes were promising, but then it all fell apart with the first look at the silly aliens.
6. The Future (Miranda July) – Another cutesy, overly ironic, slacker fest from July. Is she interrogating the ethos of her drifting class or 30-somethings or merely reinforcing their excuses to inaction? I fear the latter.
7. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher) – Fincher’s version is certainly an improvement on the stolid Swedish original, and Rooney Mara admittedly gives a brave, striking performance, but in the end, an overblown disappointment by a usually solid director.
8. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius) – I enjoyed this film, but best picture consideration?? Come on!! Much of the second act drags and the nod to the silent era is often little more than superficial.

2011 Top Films List by Brendan Rose.

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