Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Recreating the past and the present

The New York art house crawl continues. Back-to-back films found me first at Quad Cinema in the West Village for Marjorie Prime, followed by Nobody’s Watching, at Film Forum on Houston St….. Marjorie Prime, directed by Michael Almereyda, (photo left) based on Jordan Harrison's play, is set some time in the future, just far enough where holograms are a fact of life or when today’s millennials are well into middle age. Lois Smith is Marjorie, a near death Baby Boomer who longs for her deceased husband Walter. But in the future you can recreate former loved ones, and Walter (Jon Hamm) appears before her as a reasonable facsimile, aka hologram or “prime.” This presence seems to satisfy Lois emotionally though there are gaps in the hologram’s knowledge of their relationship. Tim Robbins and Geena Davis play daughter and son-in-law, who’ve moved in with Marjorie to support her, yet ambivalence reigns between the couple and Marjorie and even between them and Walter, who they see as an intruder. It’s sci-fi, folks, and the film raises interesting questions about whether memory should be left as it is or can be suitably re-created via an electronic stand-in…..About 10 blocks south of Quad Cinema, after taking in the only-could-be New York street scene on 6th Avenue, it was a screening at Film Forum of the Argentinian film Nobody’s Watching (Julia Solomonoff). I couldn’t get into a packed screening featuring the director a couple of nights before. The film is about Nico (Guillermo Pfening), soap opera star in his native Argentina, but trying to transform his life as a “real” actor in the Big Apple. He’s good looking, has a sort of charisma, and you’d think New York would be his oyster. But he’s having no luck. He takes factotum jobs, shoplifts to make ends meet, and his relationships with friends and lovers are unstable. Pfening plays his character effortlessly in a highly realistic contemporary slice of life drama.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why go to New York? Films of course

One of the most fun things about New York City is the number of art house cinemas. I can think of Cinema Village, Quad Cinema, IFC, Angelika, Film Forum, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Sunshine, Metrograph and I’m missing two or three if not more. Over the past week I’ve been to Lincoln Plaza, Lincoln Center, Film Forum – twice – and the Quad. So needles to say any visit to New York includes a heaping dish of cinema…..The first two movies I saw were Nocturama and California Typewriter, neither no longer showing. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello, 2016) at Lincoln Center is a tale of a group of young Parisians who plot to blow up several sites in their fine city. Yet it’s unclear what the purpose is. They aren’t overly Islamic though there are a few who appear Middle Eastern. Their motive is more to target a random number of institutions they for one reason or another detest – from a government ministry to the tower of a bank that just cut thousands of jobs. This movie had every indication of a taut political thriller. To some extent it was but the lack of ideological intent undercut the plot, and about half the movie is spent on the assailants trapped in a hideout surrounded by police, not scintillating cinema. …..Then it was a couple of blocks walk over to Lincoln Plaza Cinemas for California Typewriter (Doug Nichol, 2016). This film is, well, a nerdy if sweet documentary about a nerdy subject, the typewriter. The title is about one of the few remaining shops that devotes itself to repairing and collecting typewriters. And we learn there are some fanatical devotees to the pre-digital word processor – actor Tom hanks, who owns more than 250, and Toronto’s Martin Howard, who literally swoons at the sight of certain age old examples of the beast, such as a 19th century Sholes & Glidden. This is a better movie than Nocturama – it’s tighter and more engaging. The point of it all is to celebrate the near past we’ve almost lost – analogue inventions. Hanks, Howard and people like playwright Sam Shepard and author David McCullough laud the typewriter’s mechanical immediacy for providing a more realistic experience. As musician John Mayer says, “The typewriter doesn’t judge you. It just goes, ‘Right away sir.’” Or author McCullough: “There’s a tactful satisfaction that I think is part of our humanity.” ….More films from the East Coast in my next post.