Rightwing Film Geek

FilmFest DC — day 1 capsules

LOST MOON — Sudhir Mishra, India, 6

I don’t know that “discovers” is the right word, but I want to say this is “Bollywood discovers post-modernism” — taking its original title, KHOYA KHOYA CHAND, from a classic song (available here; hopefully that’ll work, leaving you to choose the player) and essentially telling a behind-the-scenes story that has some parallels to the stories of Hindi pop cinema from the mid-50s to the mid-60s, including the making of the original movie that contained that song (imagine a fictionalized Donald O’Connor in a “Behind the Music” biopic titled “Make Em Laugh” covering the MGM 1950s for the general idea). The performances are appropriately broad for their archetypal characters — Saurabh Shukla as a fretting money-conscious producer (“it will be a hit”) and Sushmita Mukherjee as a middle-aged actress-vamp (“if you can’t have the wedding, who says you can’t have the wedding night”) are both total hoots. As Camille Paglia has noted on more than one occasion, Bollywood is the only place in the movie world where unapologetic glamor, beauty and sumptuousness-for-its-own-sake can still be found. LOST MOON not only has Soha Ali Khan and Shiney Ahuja as its leads, but its “movie-set” premise uses every excuse to indulge in escapist frippery in the sets and costumes — flowers garlanding a bed and petals spread over sheets: that sort of thing. However, Bollywood movies are like Toyota Corollas — consistently enjoyable and watchable (i.e., “functional”) while rarely being great (i.e., “exciting”). In the case of this particular movie, as I implied, Khan and Ahuja both have glamor to spare, but neither can really act. I also got a strong sense that the plot of LOST MOON would have been at least more fun (if not exactly “more sensible” or “less rambling”) for Indians, who can get all the movie in-jokes than any “firangi” like myself who, though obviously a fan of the genre, has seen fewer than 50 “Hindi pop” movies. But while the fun songs are playing … really, who cares?

TAKVA: A MAN’S FEAR OF GOD — Ozer Kiziltan, Turkey, 8

This film is teetering on the edge of a 9, held back only by my utter ignorance of the details of certain (apparently) small Muslim sects. Like with LOST MOON and Bollywood history, it’s the kind of “mother’s milk” stuff for a film’s domestic audience, but which went over the head of this Polytheist Crusader and seems vital to understanding what this film is “saying,” though it’s a tribute to TAKVA that it did make me want to find out and never left me in doubt that I was watching a great film, albeit one I couldn’t quite grasp as firmly as I’d want. A small (in several senses), late-middle-aged man, Muharrem is shown to be one of the most devout members of a Muslim group in Istanbul that seems (sorry for these comparisons, but I can only speak “Christian”) to be a kind of Pentecostal or Charismatic Shi’ite sect, with prescribed liturgies. He performs regular ablutions, greets everyone with prayer formulations, prays before every meal and clearly lives only to please God. His very faithful naivete, the sheik decides, makes him the ideal man to handle the group’s worldly goods (“the wise try to trick”) and he moves in to the seminary and becomes a rent collector, and is given clothes and baubles to look the part, even though the threads are rather ill-fitting no matter the body sizes. A kind of existential crisis comes, though it’s not resolved exactly as I’d expected. And TAKVA is richly and minutely observed for its entire length — moments like Muharrem’s ex-boss telling him to get coffee (I’ve heard more than one priest note how people act differently in the presence of a collar, for good and ill) and attitudes that can only come from an honor culture with contempt for worldliness. Erkan Can is like a Semitic Paul Giamatti in build and gait and schlubiness, and, like a man who knows God’s greatness lies in his nothingness, he gives Muharrem not an ounce of self-regard (look at something as simple and second-nature as how he repeatedly handles, or rather mishandles, a cell phone). By the end of the film … speaking vaguely but SPOILERS … Muharrem the humble pious man is destroyed like Norman Bates at the end of PSYCHO, but this is not a Turkish Dawkinsism, because the manner in which this happens is a kind of Satanic (temporary) victory.

THE POPE’S TOILET — Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez, Uruguay, 5

Forget it, Adam … not only does the Pope not take a dump, but there’s hardly even any scatology in the film (none that I recall specifically right now), though the title does make it mandatory for me to say that the Digital Video used here looks like crap — all blurry and muddy and primary-color-free (I thought the film was out of focus several times), as if this movie was for posting on YouTube. An oddly uncompelling movie because it never really settles down into either “black comedy” or “caper movie” or “small town pluck” or “family drama/dramedy” territory, instead kinda falling in between all the chairs. POPE’S TOILET is certainly watchable, never really boring and occasionally funny. Lead actor Cesar Troncoso, as the man with the idea to make a fortune by charging tourists to use an outdoor toilet that he’ll build, and lead actress Virginia Mendez as his reality-principle wife are both credible and inhabit the roles quite well. My favorite bit was the family rehearsing “the pitch script” for how they will deal with the customers. And I enjoyed hearing some of the Pope chants that find their way into every language (“Juan Pablo, amigo / El pueblo contigo”). The film has a bit of an Ealing vibe, like a TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT, PASSPORT TO PIMLICO or WHISKY GALORE, also about small plucky communities with plans to get ahead. But it’s neither as featherweight as the first two (there are scenes of domestic violence and drunkenness) nor as venal as the third (the people of Melo are more naive than anything) — so the comedy never consistently takes off.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez, DC Filmfest 2008, Ozer Kiziltan, Sudhir Mishra | 2 Comments

FilmFest DC — days 1/2 grades

Sat 26
LOST MOON — Sudhir Mishra, India, 6
TAKVA: A MAN’S FEAR OF GOD — Ozer Kiziltan, Turkey, 8
THE POPE’S TOILET — Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez, Uruguay, 5

Sun 27
MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS — Wong Kar-wai, USA, 7  (technically out of festival)
SILENT LIGHT — Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/Holland, 10 (upgraded from 9) R
THE SHOW MUST GO ON — Han Jae-rim, South Korea, 6

April 28, 2008 Posted by | DC Filmfest 2008 | | Leave a comment

My FilmFestDC schedule

Just before I leave my pad to start watching, these are the films I’ll be seeing over the next week (days off work being the primary constraint).

Sat 26
300pm LOST MOON (aka KHOYA KHOYA CHAND) — Sudhir Mishra, India
630pm TAKVA: A MAN’S FEAR OF GOD — Ozer Kiziltan, Turkey
930pm THE POPE’S TOILET — Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez, Uruguay

Sun 27
300pm THE NIGHT JAMES BROWN SAVED BOSTON — David Leaf, USA
500pm SILENT LIGHT — Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/Holland
745pm THE SHOW MUST GO ON — Han Jae-rim, South Korea

Mon 28
630pm BUDDHA COLLAPSED OUT OF SHAME — Hana Makhmalbaf, Iran
830pm UNFINISHED STORIES — Pourya Azarbayjani, Iran

Tue 29
630pm LA ANTENA — Esteban Sapir, Argentina
815pm YOU THE LIVING — Roy Andersson, Sweden

Sat 3
700pm PVC-1 — Stathos Stathoulopoulos, Colombia
930pm ELITE SQUAD — Jose Padilha, Brazil

When I went to pick up my tickets at Olsson’s Books, the man chuckled after I finished the first Saturday order and said “wow … three films in one day.” I told him I’ve done seven at festivals where the scheduling allows that (FilmFestDC’s scheduling doesn’t really; I think four is the most you could do on any one day, and on most it’s just two)

April 26, 2008 Posted by | DC Filmfest 2008 | 2 Comments

Charlton Heston can’t RIP

Here is the Washington Times obituary, a second-day piece for Monday’s paper. Heston died so late Saturday night, that all the late-night crew could get before the last print run was a four-paragraph brief noting the bare facts. (I insisted Sunday that if the Washington Times ever needed a staff-byline on an actor’s obituary, it would be for Charlton Heston, and I’d have written it myself if I’d had to.)

Heston was a political figure and by design, we had a lot of that material up high. But there also was a Newsbusters account, the basis for the following paragraphs:

Such devotion offended liberal firebrands, however. Filmmaker Michael Moore sprung what many considered an unfair on-camera interview on Mr. Heston at the actors home in the 2002 film “Bowling for Columbine.” Mr. Heston was starting to display neurological symptoms at the time.
Yesterday, some progressive bloggers offered less than flattering comments about Mr. Heston’s passing.
Warner Todd Huston, who monitors liberal media for the conservative watchdog Newsbusters, yesterday drew attention to the Daily Kos, citing dozens of contributors who called Mr. Heston a “gun nut” — that’s one of the printable epithets — shortly after his death was made public.
“Too often people confuse the politics with the man and the passion for the issues overwhelms civil behavior,” Mr. Huston said.

Continue reading

April 7, 2008 Posted by | Charlton Heston | | 6 Comments

2-on-1 tag team

I’ve been tagged by two different friends — Dale Price and Steve Skojec — for the same meme  — the “Top-Five Critically-Lauded Movies I Simply Detest.”

Since I generally only see movies that have at least some critical acclaim, I could probably do this for any given year. For example, in 2006, none of the films that won the world’s three top juried festivals were IMHO worth recommending — GRBAVICA (Berlin, 5), THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (Cannes, 2) and STILL LIFE (Venice, 3).

Since Dale and Steve are both papistbuds who have named some truly detestable films, and often on grounds I’d choose (see Dale on CHOCOLAT and DEAD POETS SOCIETY), I’m gonna restrict myself to “Religious or Moral/Spiritual Films” that are widely liked in St. Blogs; several are on the Arts and Faith listing of 100 Spiritually Significant Films. Some of these films would not be considered critically praised in some of the FilmSnob circles I hang around, but well …

(1) A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (Fred Zinneman, USA, 1966) — This is the sort of film that causes many religious people to confuse the subject matter with the movie. Thomas More is a saint; this movie is a sin. It’s all respectable and britcostumey and sincere and stiffupperlippy, a lengthy episode of Masterpiece Theatuh (I can’t decide whether Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey is brilliant or just a kitchen sink gesture, SOUTLAND TALES avant la lettre). Robert Bolt never found a way to make this play into a film. And while I have a high tolerance for lengthy intellectual debates, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS just bogs down in them because that’s all there is once the basic situation is set up — there isn’t any real drama until the trial, just a lot of talk, staking out positions. And when we get to the trial, Paul Scofield’s performance is far too voicy and Zinneman’s direction far too stagy.

(2) PICKPOCKET (Robert Bresson, France, 1959) — Just about any Bresson, the cinematic Jansenist, would do here (COUNTRY PRIEST, JOAN OF ARC, BALTHAZAR, L’ARGENT) — the same somnambulent, inexpressive and unpsychological style that the uncharitable heathen (that would be me) insists on seeing as just plain empty tedium — events without drama, behavior without character. The acting would disgrace a middle-school play, even one about zombies, which is how Bresson deliberately gets his “models” to “perform.” For example, the police catch our so-called Dostoyevskian hero in a crime (imagine Crime and Punishment with Raskolnikov as an obscurely interior mumbler for a sense of how bad this is), but then immediately drop the charges **in the next scene.** He escapes a police crackdown at another point by going abroad and making a fortune and losing it all on gambling and women — we learn all that in a voiceover introducing the very next shot after he leaves Paris, which is of him returning to Paris. He doesn’t act (sic) any differently or make any reference to his foreign sojourn — so wtf is the point of our learning of it?

(3) LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (Peter Jackson, USA/New Zealand, 2001-3) — Neither Tolkien nor swords-and-sorcery fantasy are things I’ve ever been able to get into — never had either a Dungeons and Dragons or a comic-fanboy phase as a boy. Yeah … I’ve been a stuffed shirt for 35 years, all right. I’ve tried to read the Middle Earth novels, but not gotten past 40 or 50 pages because Tolkien is too in love with coining names and inventing creatures and laboriously laying out a whole universe, as if the real one isn’t good enough, so the artist-god has to create ex nihilo, that my mind’s and eye’s reaction — film and book — was just to let it pass through me like prune juice. The first film was eye-popping, but spectacle doesn’t last in my mind, and the symbology felt childishly obvious, and without a “reality” to anchor it, it could only function as symbology. The second was just “ehhh.” I couldn’t even drag myself to see the third.

(4) WINTER LIGHT (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1963) — Homer nods — maybe if I could believe a depressive collapse into suicide because China has the bomb, I could halfway credit this overschematicized whinge (though typically brilliantly made and acted). The faithlessness of Gunnar Bjornstrand’s pastor isn’t convincingly dramatized — if it’s ever shown how he got that way, I’ve forgotten it (plus GB usually played a skeptic in Bergman’s movies and so his ever being a priest didn’t convince me). With some notable bravura exceptions — Ingrid Thulin’s teacher reading her note to the camera being the most obvious example — the film feels cinematically static as though this material would work better as a play or novella.

(5) SONG OF BERNADETTE (Henry King, USA, 1943) — Typifies everything wrong with Hollywood studio-era religious movies, offensive in its calculated inoffensiveness — full of what Flannery O’Connor called “the pious voice” and what St. Josemaria Escriva derided as plaster saints. Also see above re A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and subject matter — as long as neither holiness nor sainthood is imputed through a camera lens, subject-matter per se will never impress me. Seeing this movie is not a pilgrimage to Lourdes and the notion that it is, or relatedly, that a work of art can be judged on the basis of its subject matter is one I frankly find morally offensive. Add to that the typical dramatic shapelessness of the biopic, which gets deadly at 160 minutes, and a 25-year-old woman playing a 14-year-old girl (though that is actually kinda funny)

I tag James Frazier, Adam Villani, Donna Bowman, Barbara Nicolosi, and Peter Chattaway.

April 1, 2008 Posted by | Memes | 7 Comments