14 posts categorized "Art Film"

May 10, 2017


ManifestoBy far the best film to come along in the first half of 2017, “Manifesto” is as thought and discussion-provoking as films come. It also happens to be entertaining as hell. This is one provocative movie about the ongoing culture wars that disrupt our lives in the most intrinsic ways.

Writer/director Julian Rosefeldt comments on modern life and art through a textual landscape created from different manifestos from such authors as Marx and Engels, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism.” Still the barrage of ideologies remains refreshingly transparent thanks to the social setting of each of the film's highly stylized backgrounds. 

Cate Blanchett shows off her chops in a virtuosic display in which she plays 13 different characters, each with a lot to say about art, commerce, creativity, love, hope, desire, geo-global politics, death, global warming, passion, ignorance, authenticity, capitalism and family. If that sounds like a lot, be assured that I have but scratched the surface of the ambitious ideas that Blanchett embodies with a ferocity of purpose seldom seen on stage or screen.


Even the Dogma 95 manifesto makes an appearance in an elementary classroom full of whip-smart students. There’s even a surprise ending that reveals the harmony hidden between each of Cate Blanchett’s wildly different characters.

“Manifesto” is a beautifully conceived think-piece that takes the viewer on a journey of ideas and expression. Any person interested in bold artistic statements should check out this tour de force art film delivered with virtuosic precision from one of the world’s greatest living actresses. It’s not too far a stretch to call this film a real treasure. Bon appetite.

Cate Blanchett

Not Rated. 95 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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December 11, 2014


NYMPH()MANIAC VOLUME IIThe decision to split Lars von Trier’s epic erotic journey into two parts is one of the worst cinematic travesties committed in 2014. Von Trier’s signature rigor, combined with the freethinking filmmaker’s unique instincts for penetrating universal human truths, resounds with a pure cinematic clarity that is astounding.

Provocative, droll, fearless, and cinematically sexual in unprecedented ways, “Nymphomaniac” (in its proper unedited form) is a four-hour movie with an unknown potential to alter reality.

Charlotte Gainsbourg’s sexually polymorphic character Joe represents an icon of the contradictions of modern day feminist ideologies. That Joe’s sexually adventurous self-help therapy places her in the presence of an overeducated male exploiter (disguised as her rescuer) puts a sharp grace note that carries on and on and on.


Not Rated. 124 mins. (A) (Five Stars — out of five/no halves)

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December 01, 2014



ERASERHEADDavid Lynch's filmic immersion into the surreal world of his distinctly odd protagonist Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) comes through in a creepy black-and-white black comedy that functions perfectly as a nerve-wracking exercise in existential horror. Put it down to Lynch’s concurrent introduction to fatherhood, followed by a divorce during the making of the film, which he spent five years preparing and filming. No matter how many films you have seen in your tiny lifetime, nothing can prepare you for “Eraserhead.”

Henry Spencer wears his black hair short on the sides, but long and straight-up on top in a cross between a jewfro and a pompadour that sets him apart from the gloomy industrial area of dark factories and empty lots where he works and lives. Is Henry Jewish? Does it matter? Keep asking questions. Lynch revels in all things disorienting, upsetting, and mysterious. Uncertainties hang over every scene.

Nance’s beautifully stylized comic performance harmonizes with Lynch’s high contrast visual design to give the film a sensitive emotional core. Nance’s Henry is every bit as devised as Buster Keaton’s or Charlie Chaplin’s alter egos. 

The bizarre story follows fright wig Henry through painfully slow and strange events centered on romantic relations with his seizure-prone girlfriend Mary (played by Charlotte Stewart). Mary’s primary character trait is her frequent tendency to cry. And cry she does.

EraserheadWhile on “vacation” from his printing job Henry visits Mary in her dingy apartment to meet her family for dinner for the first time. Mary’s mother (Mrs. X) skips the pleasantries. She is suspicious of “clever” Henry from the start. Mrs. X enjoys her own “seizure” during a spastic dinner Before the visit is over, Mary’s mom interrogates Henry about whether or not he has had “sexual intercourse” with Mary. Henry valiantly tries to evade her burning question, but the gig is up when Mrs. X informs him that Mary has already had the “baby” which waits to be picked up from the hospital. The onus is on Henry to settle down with Mary and get married immediately. But what of the “baby” that resembles an infant calf, at least from the neck up?

There is so little dialogue in the film that you sometimes forget that the characters can talk. The arriviste filmmaker uses a richly layered soundscape of droning frequencies, in addition to things like the unrelenting pitch of a baby that won’t stop crying, to tweak the viewer’s mind. Stanley Kubrick had nothing on his faraway pupil. Lynch’s stark lighting design provokes a heavy mood of melancholia and potential violence. Kubrick repaid Lynch’s effort when he showed “Eraserhead” to his crew in preparation for “The Shining.”

Made in 1976, "Eraserhead" provided an offset balm to the crush of Hollywood blockbusters like "Star Wars" by way of “Eraserhead’s” repertoire status as a Midnight Movie. As a viewer, you can’t help but be entranced by the filmmaker’s resourcefulness. As history revels, “Eraserhead” makes its point in an eloquently if gut-wrenching way that overloads your sensory perception. It’s not a comfortable experience, but it is a entertaining one.

Not Rated. 89 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)


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June 28, 2014


Stations-of-the-elevatedManfred (Manny) Kirchheimer fled Nazi Germany to come to America at the age of five in 1936 with his Jewish family. It was a smart move considering that the Nazis soon wiped out his entire hometown. Kirchheimer later studied filmmaking under Hans Richter at the Institute of Film Techniques in New York City, where he learned the skills that would propel him to teach filmmaking at New York’s School for Visual Arts, and engage in a lifetime of making films.

This is important information to take into consideration when viewing Manny Kirchheimer’s films — not the least of which is the one he made about New York City’s subway graffiti art in 1977 when the movement first began. The filmmaker's unique viewpoint — on New York City's simmering culture of underclass child artists, capitalist presentation of pop art ads, and factory-styled subway system — delivers successive punches of editorial substance.   


Set against a provocative score consisting of music by Charles Mingus, and indigenous sounds “Stations of the Elevated” eschews narration to tell its story. Instead, Kirchheimer relies on formal compositions of New York’s subway rail yards, elevated platforms, and surrounding locations to tell a complex tale of environmental and urban dislocation where pop art billboards — depicting gigantic hamburgers, bikini-clad women, and a male smoker whose enormous mouth issues forth billowing smoke — inform ghetto children who draw on the art and atmosphere around them to create their own original art form. Stagnate frames of architecture and endless rows of subway cars expand to reveal an implied and intrinsic context that the filmmaker patiently exposes. 

Contrasting sections of giant billboards against blue skies and a verdant countryside clash with the presence of a prison and broken down ghettos where abandoned buildings provide massive playgrounds for the kids who live there. 

Stations-of-The-ElevatedThrough precise editing, Kirchheimer finds manifold layers of political and social resonance that he then transfers onto the viewer for them to admire, judge, consider, and contemplate. “Stations of the Elevated” is like a dream that lingers infinitely in your mind and physical being. Kirchheimer shares his excitement at witnessing some of the first subway trains ever to be covered with graffiti as they roll on elevated tracks for the world to see, but he digs deeper into the subject by showing the inspiration for the raw and refined artwork on display.

Repeating shadows against a long brick wall resonate with the consecutive tags and spray-painted characters that mock and challenge the world from which the artists sprang. “Stations of the Elevated” (completed in 1981) differs significantly from art-installment films shown in museums in that it tells a specific story of social upheaval and harmony.

Manfred (Manny) Kirchheimer

Shown as part of BAMcinemaFest 2014, the film was presented at the Harvey Theater by the director, along with a 45-minute performance by the Charles Mingus Dynasty to set the mood. I count myself as fortunate to have been there to see “Stations of the Elevated” in such ideal circumstances.

Not Rated. 45 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 02, 2012


L'avventuraSmallMichelangelo Antonioni’s “L’avventura” is the first in a trilogy of modernist relationship films the auteur created to reflect Italy’s post-war crisis of desensitized culture trapped in an identity of alienation. Notable for its distinct lack of empathetic characters and slow pacing “L’Avventura” met with fierce criticism during its premiere at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival where it was widely jeered. It wasn’t until four months later that the beautifully composed film appreciated respect at the London Film Festival, where it won a prize for “the most original and imaginative entry to be shown.”

Antonioni subverted his mentor Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist ethos into an equally minimalist style, but one that examined the mindset of Italy’s upper class rather than neorealism’s exclusive concern with the working class. The enigmatic story for “L’avventura” follows Anna (Lea Massari), the daughter of an Italian diplomat. Anna’s wealthy boyfriend Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) is a disillusioned architect. Anna’s undeniably beautiful friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) joins Anna and Sandro for a boating trip to the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily with two wealthy couples whose relationships suffer. Adultery is in the air. A bored husband describes his wife as similar to Oscar Wilde. “Give her luxuries and she’ll do without the little necessities.” The nature of the remark is given context by another character that claims, “If you don’t quote someone, you die.” These are people who have everything, and yet are incapable of expressing love or respect. Only lust and desire matter.


Once on the jagged shores of the remote island, Anna and Sandro discuss their relationship. Upset at Sandro’s month-long business trips, Anna dismisses their marriage plans since they are already living like an unhappy married couple. The thought of losing Sandro makes Anna “want to die,” and yet she doesn’t “feel” him when they are together. In close proximity to the group, Anna mysteriously vanishes. She is nowhere to be found. Sandro and Claudia remain on the island while the others leave to send for a search team. Anna’s father arrives the next day. Upon discovering a bible in his daughter’s luggage, he dismisses the idea she committed suicide.

Once back in Italy, Sandro engages ineffectual local police and a journalist who covered Anna’s disappearance but nothing comes to fruition. Sandro and Claudia strike up a romance that obliterates all memory of Anna. The emotional substitution works only up to a point.


“L’avventura” is a haunting film that presages Fellini’s post-modern cinema, and informs the French New Wave that gave way to such iconic auteurs as Jean Luc Goddard. Antonioni’s depiction of Italian males as beauty-obsessed dogs flips on itself to show a similar phenomenon in the privileged women who audaciously pursue Sandro at the extravagant San Domenico Palace Hotel where Sandro hunts for fresh meat while Claudia sleeps in their room. No one is satisfied.


Not Rated. 143 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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June 04, 2012


Colossal-youth2“Ascetic,” “austere,” and “challenging” are typical adjectives that critics reach for when describing Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s enigmatic films. Costa’s theatrically bound approach to narrative structure is so striped down and existential in its nature that his audience is left to sink or swim on the still breezes of stark cinematic poetry the filmmaker provides. Working in a purely proletarian manner with a skeleton crew of three or four friends enables the director to obtain a delicacy of substance and bare dramatic inflection unavailable to most filmmakers. Windows are an essential image system Costa uses to artificially light scenes with a clinical shade of white that sears the drama into the viewer’s mind.

“Colossal Youth” (or “Forward Youth,” as its French title “En Avant Jeunesse!” translates) completes a trilogy of films placed in the since-demolished Fontaínhas district of Lisbon, where a shantytown ghetto inhabited by a community of creole-speaking Cape Verdean refugees struggle for daily survival. Heroin and methadone addiction exacerbates the hardships suffered in this dark place. Vanda — a returning character from “In Vanda’s Room,” the second film in Costa’s trilogy, is a key character here in the “houses of the dead.”

A tall thin black man called Ventura navigates between the ghetto and glaringly white project housing units built to shelter him and his destitute neighbors. Ventura is the actual man who serves as Pedro Costa’s muse for the melancholy existence that unfolds on the screen. Dressed in a black suit and dirty white dress shirt, Ventura represents a patriarchal phantom, or even prophet, visiting with friends and family members who refer to him as “Papa.” They too represent ghosts of generations of oppressed and impoverished peoples.


Ventura’s wife Coltilde inexplicably abandons him after throwing their worldly possessions out their window and stabbing him in the hand with a knife. The film opens with her giving a monologue through a darkened window while holding the small blade. She condemns everyone. Still, Ventura remains preoccupied with the idea of reuniting with Coltilde. The prematurely old-seeming Ventura frequently recites a love letter he teaches to his adult son, so that his descendant might tell it to Coltilde should she ever return. Memories and traditions are being wiped out, only to be replaced with prefab architecture and the economic constraints that go along with economically imposed slavery.

Marcel Proust and James Joyce are literary relations to Pedro Costa’s cinema of timeless recognition. How human beings learn from history in the face of unending injustice, or retain their dignity when everything is taken from them, are just a couple of the titanic issues Pedro Costa grapples with. It wouldn’t be reasonable if “Colossal Youth” weren’t a challenging film.

Not Rated. 156 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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April 14, 2012


KEYHOLEGuy Maddin's euphoric black-and-white phantasmagoria of nostalgic filmmaking washes over its audience like a storm of hot and cold hail. A dreamscape atmosphere of theatrical danger arrives with psychosexual implications, imperial gestures, tricks of light, and a fetishized appreciation for all things physical — the more worn by age, the better. Guy Maddin's love of cinematic illusion fills every crack of fractured narrative space. If all of this tightly wound passion comes across as an acquired taste, then so much better to activate a rarified audience experience.

Jason Patrick carries a mythic weight around his neck as Ulysses — a smalltime mobster returning to his family home after a long absence. A team of police waits outside while Ulysses and his men take refuge in the house, which is teeming with ghosts. Downstairs, Ulysses’s adult son Manners (David Wontner) goes unrecognized by his father who kidnapped him. Upstairs, Ulysses’s late wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) bides her time in bed with her naked and shriveled ghost of her father (Louis Negin). Fortunately for her she can open doors with her hair.

“Keyhole” is a puzzle of a movie Freud would have a field day with. Maddin might have been loosely inspired by Homer’s “Odyssey,” but you’ll have a tough time untangling the thematic threads that cross like so many telephone wires from a long gone era. The off-kilter images and fuzzy storyline are more likely to give you nightmares than daydreams. Think of “Keyhole” as an avant-garde melodrama to cleanse you palate of all of the insipid Hollywood crap you’ve ever seen over the years. You need it.

Rated R. 105 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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March 20, 2012

4:44 Last Day on Earth

Four_forty_four_last_day_on_earthFilmmaking legend Abel Ferrara adds his own installment to the cinema of apocalypse with a stagey reverie occuring, like Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” of the last day of human existence. At “4:44” am, global warming is set to come calling once and for all. Aside from a few suicides, Manhattan appears to take the doomsday alert in stride. Although the linear storyline is made up mainly of uncomfortable Skype conversations, lovemaking sessions between Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh, and a signature Abel Ferrara drug interlude, the movie holds a weird theatrical charm.

Usually, cameos detract from a picture, but brief appearances by Natasha Lyonne and Paz de la Huerta work wonders. Defoe plays Cisco, an East Village ex-junkie bohemian living in a penthouse loft apartment with his young painter girlfriend Skye (Leigh).

“Where are the experts?” Cisco’s burning question leads him to an energetic burst of anger as he shouts at people across the street from his rooftop vantage point. Inside the apartment Skye meditates without breaking concentration. Evidently, she’s used to such dramatic outbursts from her mate.

Abel Ferrara peaked a long time ago, but his unique cinematic take on Manhattan is always a welcome distraction. “4:44 Last Day on Earth” is enjoyable for those New York-informed or inspired audiences that can appreciate the drama for what it is, a work of cinematic art from a director whose taste we appreciate. The film won’t appeal to a broad commercial audience, but for those of us who love Abel Ferrara’s work for his own particular sense of filmic madness, it’s a welcome movie.

Not Rated. 85 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

February 24, 2012

This Is Not a Film

This is Not a FilmFacing almost certain jail time, and exiled to his apartment under a government-imposed house arrest and ban from making films, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi records a day of his existence with the help of a cameraman named Mirtahmasb. Some of the film was shot on an iPhone. The experimental result certainly meets the demands of its title. There is no storyline or even much of a plot except that of the external forces that threaten to come crashing into Panahi’s elegant apartment at any moment. A giant crane from a nearby construction site passes uncomfortably close to our subject’s face as he waters plants on his balcony. His pet iguana Igi likes to dig his claws into Panahi as he uses his master’s t-shirt covered chest as a ladder to gain higher ground on the couch where Panahi looks on his laptop and drinks tea. A DVD copy of the lame thriller “Buried” sits prominently on a shelf as an ironic commentary on the situation at hand.

Bored to distraction, Jafar Panahi uses some of the time to tell the camera the story of a film he wasn’t allowed to make. Talk about grace under pressure. Using tape to mark out a girl’s bedroom on a large carpet, the filmmaker slips into a kind of directorial reverie that doesn’t translate very well. Upset at the limitations of his attempt at storytelling, he allows himself to be distracted by thinks like phone calls with his attorney about his appeal against a six-year prison sentence.

Jafar-panahiSmuggled out of Iran on a USB hidden inside a cake sent to the Cannes Film Festival as a last-minute submission, “This Is Not a Film” is a rough document of life in Iran from the perspective of a persecuted intellectual. The fireworks that punctuate the night sky could easily be mistaken for gunfire. More than a clandestine documentary, “This Is Not a Film” is a revolutionary act. Hopefully, it won’t be his last.

Not Rated. 75 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

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