New York’s film scene had a quiet week, as programmers slept off the back-to-back Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals and geared up for a weekend of Oscars and Independent Spirits Awards. Lincoln Center paired the week’s ice storm with a healthy dose of wintry ennui through its continuing “Film Comment Selects” series, which included Chinese director Lou Ye‘s sullen epic “Summer Palace” on Friday night, a sort of Mandarin “The Dreamers” that switches out Tiananmen Square for the Paris student’s riots as backdrop to the sexual escapades of bored students.
On Saturday, silent Taiwanese zombie creatures made meat of people, clawed the parched earth, and had awful, graphic sex in the three angrily avant-garde cantos of Lin Tay-jou‘s “Bardo,” and movie goers got a chance to reexamine the mostly forgotten, unjustly panned 1972 film adaptation of Joan Didion‘s classic novel “Play it as it Lays.” Scripted by Didion and husband John Dunne and directed by Frank Perry as something of a self-consciously arty tribute to Antonioni, the film is unrelentingly grim in its portrayal of the empty decadence of Hollywood, though it is redeemed from becoming too depressing a slog by uniformly excellent performances, particularly by leads Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins.
On Saturday, the IFC Center kicked off its run of the Oscar-nominated Short Films (live-action and animated shorts) with an exhortation to “get a leg up on your friends and family in your Oscar pool,” displaying a realistic attitude as to why many viewers will find themselves in the audience. For those gamblers who still choose not to make a first-hand decision, the website provides Time Out‘s reasoned recommendation of Spanish director Javier Fesser‘s lovely 30 minute “Binta and the Great Idea,” (live-action short) by far the best of a good bunch of live action films, as it rambles good-naturedly through a stunningly photographed Senegalese village.
The Animated Shorts Program on view is wisely rounded out by a group of five extra qualifying films, whose failure to make the cut proves mysterious when compared to the less substantial nominees, such as the boilerplate Disney adaptation of “The Little Matchgirl,” or the “Ice Age: the Meltdown” DVD-extra “No Time For Nuts.” The standout and safe bet here, as always, is Pixar‘s contribution–the inventive, lovable “The Lifted,” about a bumbling would-be alien kidnapper, but give a chance to the un-nominated films, particularly Adam Parrish King‘s “The Wraith of Cobble Hill” or Bill Plympton‘s “Guide Dog,” and wonder if the nominations are granted to animated shorts strictly by virtue of being inoffensive.
The air was electric at the Museum of the Moving Image‘s preview screening of Tony Kaye‘s entirely offensive and altogether brilliant new abortion documentary “Lake of Fire,” Josh Rothkopf‘s selection for its “Critics Choice: Great Documentaries” series. The 152 minute, black and white film (which features footage of two actual abortions, as well as close-ups of their remnants) insists on challenging viewers on all ends of the spectrum, and a good portion of the audience was predictably pissed off, as audience members hissed and incredulously laughed throughout the film, and lobbing angry questions at the director during the Q&A that followed.
“Wasn’t this film anti-Christian?” one furious viewer asked, while another pointed out that the reproductive rights movement was trying to stray away from the clinical notions of abortion that Kaye forces his audience to consider. Kaye, seemed remarkably shy for a director who courted controversy for his “American History X” by placing a full-page ad in Variety to denounce it (because of changes that were made that he didn’t approve), stated that he wished to avoid offering any easy compromises or simplistic propaganda, instead opting to show the issue as an endlessly complicated morass of moral choices in which all sides appear to be right, and where there is no room for compromise.
Back at a sold-out IFC Center on Tuesday night, a less aggrieved, though not uncritical audience viewed the New York premiere of the new Michael Gold and Judith Helfland (“Blue Vinyl“) Sundance doc “Everything’s Cool” for the opening night of their second annual “Stranger Than Fiction” series. A multi-perspective view of global warming that acts as something of a more humane if less organized companion piece to “An Inconvenient Truth,” the film was followed up by a Q&A with the genial filmmakers, who thanked about half the audience before expressing frustration with the current state of the environment. “After Katrina, after Gore’s film, after everything, people are finally paying attention [to global warming],” said producer Adam Wolfensohn, “but so far we haven’t seen much of a practical change.” Still, the filmmakers remained optimistic, and seemed delighted to be part of the series; said Helfland to programmer Thomas Powers, “they should give you a show on IFC for that preview.”
Events coming up this week (New York):
“The 2007 New York Arab & South Asian Film Festival” from 2/23- 3/04 at various venues. See their website for a schedule.
“Black Book” (2/27, 6:30 PM, the Walter Reade Theater) directed by Paul Verhooeven, closing night of Lincoln Center’s “Film Comments Selects.”
“The Host” (2/27, 8:30 PM, IFC Center) directed by Bong Joon-Ho, released by Magnolia Pictures
“Into Great Silence” (2/28, Film Forum), directed by Philip Groening, released by Zeitgeist Films.
“Abbas Kiarostami: Image Maker” (March 1 – 19, at MoMA), a three-part exhibition film, photography and installations.
In theaters this week:
“Amazing Grace,” directed by Michael Apted. Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside Attractions, opens at select locations Feburary 23. Visit their website.
“Glastonbury,” directed by Julien Temple. Distributor: ThinkFilm, opens at select locations Feburary 23. Visit their website.
“Starter for 10,” directed by Tom Vaughan. Distributor: Picturehouse, opens at select locations Feburary 23. Visit their website.
“Gray Matters,” directed by Sue Kramer. Distributor: Yari Film Group, opens at select locations Feburary 23. Visit their website.
“Wild Tigers I Have Known,” directed by Cam Archer. Distributor: IFC First Take, opens at select locations February 28. Visit their website.