A Spectacular Weekend of Movie Watching In Actual Theaters – Thursday March 5th Through Sunday March 8th

First off, let me just say that this post isn’t being written as a taunt to non-New Yorkers. But when a weekend like this arrives, it mustn’t just be recognized, it must be hoorayed! For those of you who won’t be anywhere near New York City during the above dates, there are certainly ways to partake in at least some of the soon-to-be-mentioned cinematic treats (for one, I order you to put Ira Sachs’ Forty Shades of Blue in your Netflix queue right now). Further, I’m sure there are other, perhaps more expensive and/or illegal ways to partake in the festivities (all region DVDs and other murky illegal download shops scattered throughout the worldwide web, etc.). Either way, let us not nitpick. Let us simply embrace the wide-ranging cinematic goodness that is for the taking this weekend, in so many different yummy forms.

RIP TORN AT ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES

Anthology’s latest must-attend program, a tribute to the astonishingly sturdy Rip Torn, runs into next week and beyond, but this weekend is particularly loaded with wall-to-wall gems.

Thursday night brings a double-header of Maidstone (1970) and Payday (1973). Maidstone was one of Norman Mailer’s attempts to defy the notion that John Cassavetes was a genuinely improvisatory director by making a film that was an unqualified work of improvisation (Cassavetes’ films were borne out of improv, but the actual shooting was more honed and refined). It’s a blunt, abrasive experiment that climaxes in a disturbing real-life brawl between Rip Torn, the actor, and Norman Mailer, the director. As a clip unto itself, the fight makes Torn out to be an absolute psycho, yet in the context of the film, it makes complete sense. Of course, pouncing on Mailer with a hammer in front of his small children mightn’t have been the most appropriate time to complete the puzzle’s desperately missing piece, but it had to be done in order for Mailer’s film to succeed on its own bizarre terms. Maidstone really can’t be categorized, and remains a fascinating indie exercise from this era, if not a ‘great’ film.

On Saturday, Torn’s earlier-career appearance in 1962’s Sweet Bird of Youth precedes a 9pm showing of Forty Shades of Blue. Director Ira Sachs will be there to participate in a post-film discussion. From my plug above, you can gather how much I love Forty Shades of Blue. It’s a work of artful maturity without ever feeling pretentious or overly calculated. See this movie!

Other films include: Coming Apart, Songwriter, One P.M., Beach Red, Time Limit, Beyond the Law, and Tropic of Cancer. Visit the Anthology website to learn more.

MOVIE NIGHT WITH JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL AT IFC CENTER

Competing with Forty Shades of Blue on Saturday night is a ticket that sounds too good to pass up. IFC Center presents “Movie Night With John Cameron Mitchell.” Mitchell’s selection is none other than John Cassavetes’ classic romantic comedy (as only Cassavetes could deliver), 1971’s Minnie and Moskowitz. Screening on a rare archival print at 9:30pm, this is very near the top of the list for Best Option of the Weekend.

RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA AT WALTER READE/IFC CENTER

Once again, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the IFC Center have teamed up to give both midtown and downtown Francophiles easier options to see the best and brightest that French cinema has to offer with their annual “Rendez-Vous With French Cinema” program. The opening night film, Paris 36, will screen at Alice Tully Hall, but the rest will be split between the Walter Reade and IFC Center. I won’t profess to having seen many of the films, but of the few that I have, I can highly recommend two:

35 Shots of Rum — I hereby order every reader of this site to see Claire Denis’ latest masterpiece at his or her earliest convenience. While it isn’t screening until next weekend (Thursday the 12th at IFC Center, Friday the 13th and Sunday the 15th at Walter Reade), I can’t pass up an opportunity to praise it once again. A cheesy, but wholly valid, alternate title for this film would be 35 Shots of Humanity, for that’s what it is. Another viewing might be necessary to write about it as vigorously as I would like, but I will simply say that 35 Shots of Rum is pure cinema and is a work to be studied and admired by film watchers and makers alike. French cinema continues to grapple with the country’s racially shifting landscape. Denis’ response is to make a film that is filled with people of color, but is utterly devoid of racial politics (at least I didn’t see it—I was too overwhelmed by the film’s colorblind humanity). This time around, her film’s silent centerpiece is a late-night dance exchange set to the Commodores’ “Nightshift,” which brought tears to my eyes.

The Beaches of Agnes — Only Agnes Varda could deliver a deeply personal documentary about her own life and keep it floating above those dangerous, self-absorbed waters where so many autobiographical filmmakers have drowned in the past. This can be exclusively credited to Varda’s own unshakably playful spirit. Varda comes off like the quirky neighbor down the street, albeit an infinitely more adventurous and accomplished one. And even when she breaks out her Rolodex of celebrities met along the way, this is a tool of enrichment, not boastful pride. Like 35 Shots of Rum, The Beaches of Agnes is another valuable lesson in how to do it right, a work to be studied by practitioners of personal essay non-fiction everywhere—female, male, or otherwise. (Screening Saturday the 7th and Monday the 9th at the Walter Reade.)

FOCUS ON FILMMAKER RAMIN BAHRANI AT MOMA

MoMA’s latest filmmaker in focus, Ramin Bahrani, continues to develop into one of American independent cinema’s most distinguished voices. See a sneak preview of his wonderful, soon-to-be-released Goodbye Solo on Thursday the 5th (where I’ll be seeing it for a second time). Additionally, there is a second screening of Chop Shop on Friday, as well as a second and final showing of his similarly lauded debut, Man Push Cart, on Saturday. Go here for specifics.

FOCUS ON IFC FILMS AT BAM

For this one, I’ll simply quote the BAM website:

BAMcinématek once again salutes the bold, adventurous independent film distributor IFC Films with a selection of its upcoming titles, including the exclusive US theatrical premiere runs of two French films—Christophe Honoré’s La Belle personne and Philippe Garrel’s Frontier of Dawn, both starring Louis Garrel.

Garrel’s Regular Lovers is one of my favorite films of the decade, if only for this scene:

I already have my tickets for Sunday’s 4:30pm showing of Frontier of Dawn (where Garrel will be in attendance). I have been burning to see this thing since it first arrived last summer. The wildly divisive reactions only have me more excited (think Two Lovers). Other standouts include Steve McQueen’s Hunger and Gerardo Naranjo’s I’m Gonna Explode, which are very different in many ways (genre, perspective, style), yet are unified in that they are two of the more visceral, alive works of the past year. Visit the series’ page at the BAM website to learn more.

ACTUAL THEATRICAL RELEASES

If all of these programs weren’t enough, there is also a bombardment of new releases that are arriving at regular theaters in town. No, I’m not talking about The Watchmen, though it sounds like this one just *might* walk away with this weekend’s box office crown. However, when it comes to non-graphic-novels-that-have-been-upgraded-to-epic-Hollywood-spectacles, there is also an interesting bit of movie-going to be found.

Tokyo!

No offense to the directors assembled—offense is aimed squarely at the feature-length omnibus concept—but I had my bar of expectation packed away in an abandoned New Jersey warehouse before walking into a recent press screening of this film. As more proof to my theory that the darker the expectation, the brighter the experience, I found Tokyo! to be a surprisingly pleasant endeavor. Michel Gondry’s “Interior Design” begins as a tender, straightforward portrait of the struggle to adapt to a new environment, but as it evolved and Gondry’s brain spilled into the story, I confess to it shooting over my head (and further confess to not feeling the urge to decipher it). Bong Joon-Ho’s closer, “Shaking Tokyo,” is a sweet love story about not just being drawn to another person, but being drawn back into life in a much more meaningful way.

For my own admittedly distorted wad of money, Leos Carax steals the show with “Merde.” Godzilla meets Dancer in the Dark meets I-Don’t-Know-Because-I’ve-Never-Seen-Anything-Quite-Like-It-Before, Carax’s return to the director’s chair feels like a defiantly, gleefully hoisted middle finger at… well, I’m not sure at whom, exactly. Japan? Hollywood? Everybody? Carax regular Denis Lavant plays an animalistic troll who wreaks havoc on Tokyo before being apprehended and forced to suffer through an excruciating trial (Carax makes sure to extend these exchanges of gibberish between Lavant and his similarly grunting attorney to the point of absurdity). “Merde” is certain to spark actual fury with many viewers. Once again, that appears to be Carax’s point. Cinemasochist that I am, I thought it was hilarious.

Everlasting Moments

Okay, so I’ve finally begun to come to terms with the shock of Waltz With Bashir losing this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar (aka, it’s way too original and great), but why wasn’t Jan Troell’s film even nominated? Everlasting Moments is like Hollywood gone right, a sweeping memoir picture that feels like it shouldn’t work (i.e., too familiar, too sentimental), yet it does. Troell sets a lived-in, personal tone with just about every element, to the point where it feels like the film really is unfolding in turn of the century Sweden. He also chooses not to overdue the creative awakening of mother and wife Maria (Maria Heiskanen). Maybe this is too subtle for the Academy? Gorgeously composed and tenderly wrought, Everlasting Moments deserves to find a nice little groove in the middle-ground marketplace.

Explicit Ills

Mark Webber’s feature-length directorial debut finds the actor perhaps biting off a bit more than he can chew; yet it’s nonetheless refreshing to be talked to (not down to) by a young voice that is driven by social consciousness. By introducing so many different Philadelphia residents whose lives don’t necessarily overlap, Webber threatens to get lost inside Crash-land, but his sensitivity nonetheless shines through. Still, by mixing his cast of well-known names and faces (Rosario Dawson, Paul Dano, Lou Taylor Pucci) with unknowns, in addition to using a dramatically different visual palate for each storyline, he produces a tonal effect that is more uneven than cohesive. Explicit Ills is clearly the work of a young first-time director, but its heart is in the right place, and it shows enough promise that one hopes Webber will continue to develop his passion behind the camera in the future.

— Michael Tully

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