Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Doc chronicles NY Times' angst

Page One by Andrew Rossi takes us inside the contemporary world of The New York Times. And by contemporary I mean that in the widest sense. Not only is this documentary (opening July 1 at the Main) a rare peek inside the Times’ fortress. It examines the world’s most famous newspaper from the perspective of the onslaught of digital media challenging traditional newspapers, of which hundreds have closed over the past few years during the recession. In fact the photo on this film’s poster (above left) at first looked to me like a graph of the Times' company stock in decline. But when I looked more closely I found it is actually the red stairwell of the Times’ spanking new building, which ironically opened just before the paper began its precipitous financial decline bleeding tons of red (sorry) ink. In the past couple of years the price of the Sunday New York Times was actually more expensive than one of the company’s shares.....Throughout the film people both within and outside the industry speak almost in disbelief at the prospect of the storied newspaper possibly folding, only later to be rescued – with conditions - by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.....The film is fascinating for anybody who’s a newspaper junkie. Simply having an inside look at the mother of all newspapers is a rush. But it’s especially poignant given the Times’ recent distress and becomes a wider examination of the forces that are roiling the newspaper business in the online era, where Twitter updates news constantly and sites like Craigslist have devoured former newspaper classified ads.....The Times has gained some solid footing of late, thanks to Slim, as well as its astute embrace of a digital platform (one person praises the Times’ extraordinary-looking website) and the start this year of charging for online views. The Times has been put through a wringer and the film captures a lot of that, including the tearful farewells of laid off staff. And there are interviews with competing digital media who are trying to eat the Times’ breakfast, such as Gawker or The Huffington Post. The Times may be financially down but its news acumen sharp as ever, continuing to break myriad stories and be the bulletin board to which other media look for their own leads.....Much of Page One is filmed around a small group of writers and editors including media reporter David Carr, a former cocaine addict who worked himself up the newspaper ranks to a plum Times job and who ironically is chronicling the changes convulsing his world. “The messages are the media,” he says as a rejoinder to Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The drawbacks of movie cheap night

It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a movie on cheap night. I think the last time was to see As Good as It Gets (James L. Brooks, 1997) starring Jack Nicholson. Nah! Couldn’t have been that long ago – could it? In any case, I remember being squished in among a packed auditorium with the kind of crowd I seldom experience on other theatre nights. In other words a crowd that yakked, belched, threw popcorn at one another (reminding me of attending Saturday afternoon  movies as a kid) and who were generally rude and boorish.....I took myself to see Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s latest, last night. I wasn’t expecting a packed house for a Woody Allen film, at least in Windsor. Boy, was I wrong. When I arrived at the theatre for the 6.50 screening the only seats that remained were in the several front rows immediately below the aisle and in front of the screen, and two seats in the upper level. (This was admittedly one of Silver City’s smaller rooms.) I asked the usher to show me those seats, and I ended up with one at the very center of the top row. Which was great. However, on both sides of me were couples that a) seemed only there because it was cheap night and it was an eeny- meeny-miny-moe pick b) weren’t very familiar with Woody Allen films, and c) didn’t have much sense of courtesy to filmgoers around them as they talked throughout the movie. You know the kind of things people say such as explaining aloud to their seat mate something in the film that is obvious (“oh, here comes that car again!” or “oh, is he going to get in trouble now!”).....This was a delightful movie, with a story I wasn’t at all expecting. But, at the end of it, a couple in front of me got up and one said to the other, ”We should have gone to so-and-so’s place after all”.....On cheap nights the theatre fills with people who wouldn’t normally go to an Allen film. In a word, Philistines, who didn’t seem to catch the drift of a lot of the artistic or intellectual references in the movie.....A couple of other things. On cheap night the theatre lobby is packed, with line ups even at the self-ticketing kiosks, which don’t seem to work all that well anyway. For example, the kiosk I used wouldn’t accept my Cineplex Scene point card. And when it finally allowed my purchase it spat out a credit card receipt but no ticket. (See receipt picture above.) I almost wasn’t going to be allowed into the theatre save for a kind supervisor who took a look at the receipt and waved me through. Note to self: next time buy online....Another thing about cheap night. With all these people attending to save a few bucks off a regular ticket they sure liked loading up on pricey concession items. Go figure.....Finally, cheap night ain’t so cheap anymore. I paid $7.25, thinking I would only be charged about $4.50. Yes, maybe the last time I did go to cheap night was in 1997!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Film probes youthful Obama idolatry

A film that raises questions about the kind of youthful idolotry that helped elect Barack Obama will kick off this year’s edition of the Detroit Windsor International Film Festival (June 22 – 26, www.dwiff.org) The screening is by Mexican director Gerardo Del Castillo Ramirez now residing in Barcelona.....The film is called 1/20 which is the date of Obama’s inauguration. In a trailer the film blares a headline saying, “On 9/11 a Part of America Died. But on 1/20 it was Reborn.” Or so a lot of people – including those featured in the film – thought. “It is the 1/20 generation,” the director says.....The film takes both a sympathetic and critical look at youth’s desire to elect Obama and bring about “Hope and Change” after the unpopularity of the Bush administration. It’s based on a script by Matthew Roth. Though a Mexican living in Spain Ramirez says youth across many nations were swept up in the Obama euphoria. “I never see people adopt a flag so quickly like Obama´s,” he told WDF.....The film’s scenes depict characters who are extremely idealistic with others who scoff that promises – not just Obama’s but any politician’s – are illusory. ”Nobody knows anything about him,” one character says. Another proclaims, “Free health care for all!” Another headline blares: “The 1/20 Generation Has Run Away from its Teachers. But Where will it Run to?”.....Ramirez says it’s usually ”easy to convince” people with political promises but in the case of Obama he did not even “promise a lot actually” especially compared to other historical figures.....Ramirez acknowledged Americans wanted to see “a light for ending the world’s bad, I don’t understand very well why, not because I believe that some other politician was better, not at all, I’m talking about how the American people build its icons”.....Even In Barcelona, he said, youth “supported Obama more than so many local politicians, I just don’t understand, maybe they have so many TV or Play Station hours”.....The film's first screening is June 23 at 7 pm.

Monday, June 6, 2011

My introduction to experimental films

I’m not an experimental film festival guy. Short films looking at patterns in water tend to provide the nap I should have taken earlier in the day. But this year I went to an experimental film festival, if only for one night. I was at Windsor’s Media City now in its 17th year (see May 15 post below)....There were two programs. One was of the films of British director William Raban (who of course I had never heard of), the other of several international films......Raban is a resident of East London, home of Canary Wharf, the huge financial district built by Canada’s Reichmanns. Raban, a left wing filmmaker, depicts that development in the 1990s in several films including Sundial (where the mammoth central office tower serves that purpose), A 13 (about the local expressway that winds through the district), Island Race (a political take on the fight between Right and Left in a local election) and MM (about the nearby and controversial Millennium Dome).....Raban was in the audience and described the building of Canary Wharf as a kind of fitting end to the capitalism-on-steroids Thatcher era. The films varied from one to 28 minutes. Sundial, A13 and MM all had a sinister feel as if the architecture was brutal and a symbol of political policies.....But my favourite Raban film was something quite different. Called Beating the Bridges it was about a boat ride from the far west side of London to the east side travelling under the 30 bridges that span the Thames River. There was something poetic in these images taken of the underside of often beautifully designed Victorian bridges with a soundtrack by percussionist Paul Burwell.....I found the international program more interesting. And the most interesting was the kind of film I would have sworn never to see. It was one continual shot for 23.5 minutes of two mountain peaks as night broke to dawn with only occasional subtitles at the bottom of the screen. The subtitles were of a conversation by people obviously dispossessed, some brutally. But where was this? At first I thought of Central America. But no, it was of Turkey’s Mt. Ararat (where Noah’s Ark was said to have come to rest) and the more modern day conflict that forged the Armenian nation. The film is called Relocation by Belgium director Pieter Geenen.....Another fascinating film, of similar political content, was John Smith’s (British) Flag Mountain (picture above). Only eight minutes in length it was shot from the rooftops of Cyprus’s Greek Cypriot community looking north across the divided city of Nicosia to the Muslim Turkish Republic. A mosque is in the foreground. But what was amazing was a mountain behind with a gigantic Turkish Cypriot flag and which lights up like a neon advertising sign at night. Talk about rubbing one nation’s politics in another’s face.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why do mediocre foreign films get distributed?

After watching The Double Hour (Giuseppe Capotondi) at the Main last weekend I had the same feeling I’ve had on occasion after leaving the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT) – are there not better foreign flics available for international distribution? The Double Hour by first time Italian director Capotondi is competently enough made in  basically what amounts to a kind of Hitchcockian (though the director prefers to call it a revival of Eighties’ post-modern Italian cinema, of which I really can’t speak). The plot is about passion and allegiance and it throws us curves as characters Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) and Guido’s (Filippo Timi) intense crime-shrouded relationship evolves. It’s a whodunit that blurs characters’ identities. I suppose this is inventive enough. But when you get right down to it,  this is a mediocre crime movie with plot twists that manipulate the audience.....Given the lack of independent art house film screens in the Detroit area it makes me wonder why such lacklustre foreign films end up on the big screen. And it also makes me grateful I go to film festivals where I can actually see great foreign movies which, for some reason, seldom get released in North America......For example, here are just a few titles from last year’s Montreal film festival which haven’t ended up anywhere close to local cinemas: Roberto Garzelli’s The Sentiment of the Flesh (France) – about art students whose obsession with physical anatomy is a metaphor for emotional intimacy (sounds banal but it isn’t), Miss Mouche (Bernard Halut, Belgium) - about teen precociousness on the disastrous home front, Le Mariage à trois (Jacques Doillon, France) – a kind of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf among self-aborbed actors, The Cameramurderer (Robert Adrian Pejo, Austria/Switzerland/Hungary) - a thriller where a couple’s bucolic vacation is interrupted by disappearing children, and The Incite Mill (Hideo Nakata, Japan) about a group of people who volunteer to make big bucks in an experiment, one that keeps you quite on the edge of your seat.....All these films either offer considerable suspense, novelty in filmmaking, or an intriguing plot the likes of which we seldom see. And rather than walking away from a film with feelings of being had we’re exhilarated by what we’ve just seen.