Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Top 15 list for 2013


Here's my Top 15 for 2013. The links are to the pieces I wrote about a given movie.

5. THIS IS THE END (Goldberg)
7. CEASAR MUST DIE (Taviani/Taviani)
9. 20 FEET FROM STARDOM (Neville)
10. BYZANTIUM (Jordan)
12. TURBO (Soren)
13. IMAGINE (Jakimowski)
14. CAPTAIN PHILIPS (Greengrass)
15. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (McQueen)

Honorable mentions: COMPUTER CHESS (Bujalski), ENOUGH SAID (Holofencer), GRAVITY (Cuarón), IN A WORLD (Bell).

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Recent Pieces for RogerEbert.com

In the past two months I have published a couple of pieces at Roger Ebert.com, which I finally link to below.

My answers to the Movie Love Questionnaire

My account of translating movies for my Mother

My piece on Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, which first appeared at MovieMezzanine, and was then re-published by the good folks at RogerEbert.com

A piece on Krzysztof Kieślowski's documentaries, written on the occasion of a Polish Filmmakers NYC film series I co-programmed. It was called "Different Ages, Different Voices: Polish Women in Film" and it took place between 21 and 24 November at Museum of Modern Art and Tribeca Film Center.

I also contributed to this VHS-nostalgia survey by Erik Luers at the Film Society of Lincoln Center blog.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Da (1988, Clark)

My first piece for Summer of '88 series at The House Next Door is on Matt Clark's Da. You can read it here.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Odie Henderson's Intros

Some of the seventeen great introductions by Odie Henderson to his Black American Cinema series at Off Plus Camera IFF were filmed.

Enjoy Odienator as he introduces Shaft here and Jackie Brown here. These are full videos of entire intros.

Parts of other intros were captured thanks to lensers Joanna Konik and Karolina Waschto (aka the Tablet Lady):

Coffy / Claudine
[scroll down to 2nd and 3rd video on the site]

Cooley High

Devil in a Blue Dress

Waiting to Exhale 
[scroll down to 3rd video on the site]

That guy next to The Man in all videos (except the Claudine one) is yours truly, btw.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Polish Cinema Classics Vol. 2 - My Booklet Essay on "Illumination"

It has been for the second time that I had the pleasure of contributing a booklet esay to a Second Run DVD release, after I had written about Andrzej Wajda's Innocent Sorcerers (1960) last year. This time around, my piece is on Krzysztof Zanussi's Illumination (1973). You can purchase the DVD here; I include some excerpts from the essay below:

A fiercely cerebral inquiry into the nature of happiness, truth and knowledge, Illumination (1972) was Krzysztof Zanussi’s third feature film and remains to this day his most adventurous one. Epic in scope yet extremely fragmented – told in jumps and starts – it aims at nothing less than presenting an essence of a life, while remaining as detached from it as possible. It won’t be until Peter Greenaway’s The Falls (1980) and Alain Resnais’ Mon oncle d’Amerique (1980) that narrative cinema will again come as close to resembling a gripping scholarly essay.


Illumination belongs to the most fully realized period of Zanussi’s career. After more than a dozen shorts (which included a loose Catcher in the Rye adaptation in 1961), two feature works and the 1971 TV-film masterpiece Behind the Wall (that could rival early Mike Leigh in its improvised feel), Zanussi arrived at Illumination as a thirty-three year old director of international reputation. All his primary concerns are here, just as they were first revealed in his supreme debut feature, A Structure of a Crystal (1969): focus on characters belonging to the academia, the question of validity of intellectual pursuit, adversity to portraying sex, constant sublimation of desires into the realm of the cerebral. (It’s no coincidence that Franciszek Starowieyski’s striking poster for  Illumination represents a figure whose brain has exploded outside its skull and proceeds to feed on itself.) Profoundly moral and deeply non-erotic, Zanussi’s cinema treats the body as a vessel for the mind: note the detached way in which Retman’s sexual activity in Illumination is quickly intercut with shots of ancient statues frozen forever in their stony coitus. In the world of Zanussi, a body truly is nothing but a mortal coil – and his ruminations on death will result in one of his best films, The Spiral (1978).

Brilliant, multilingual, well-mannered and well-spoken, Zanussi has successfully created a persona that made him as many friends as enemies. There’s a great ambivalence at the core of the Zanussi phenomenon, for he somehow managed to come off as both conservative and avant-garde: a flamboyant fuddy-duddy if there ever was one. Smiling his wide smile and exuding easy telegenic charm, he’s in fact extremely reserved and alienating to young Polish audience, which he often scorns for its love of “empty” pop culture. And yet one look at the formal inventiveness of Illumination – not to mention Camouflage (1977), the most brilliant expose of Communist feudalism ever put on film – reveals an artist of great subtlety of vision. Even if his later films, such as Open Heart (2008) in which postmodern philosophy is represented as literally lethal, can be irritating in their tone of moral superiority to the audience, Zanussi still produces complex, searching work like Persona Non Grata (2007).

As for Illumination, it remains a great testimony to a way of life that is first and foremost philosophical. Franciszek cannot help but treat the reality around him in all seriousness – it’s as if he couldn’t allow himself to be happy until the mystery of the universe will be cracked. Until that happens, he’s in limbo: dipping into the world now and then, dabbling in his so-called life, but essentially detached and existing in a self-imposed exile. It’s significant that in the final scene of the movie (often mistaken for an exhilarating coda just because of its faux-bucolic setting), Franciszek is once again separated from his family, as he contemplates the river with wooden debris flowing down the stream. For all the differences in tone, Illumination would make for a perfect double bill with Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man (2009) – another story of a bespectacled prisoner of life who longs to love the world but would like to understand its paradoxes first.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Door (2012, Szabó)

My latest review for Roger Ebert's website is on Istvan Szabó's new film, starring Helen Mirren: The Door. You can find it here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The We and the I (2012, Gondry)

My new review for Roger Ebert's website is on the beautiful new movie by Michel Gondry, The We and the I. You can read it here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Everybody in Our Family (2012, Jude)

My first-ever starred review for Roger Ebert's website is on Radu Jude's hilarious and terrifying family comedy, Everybody in Our Family. Read it here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Yellow Ticket (1918, Janson/Illes)

My latest piece for Roger Ebert's website is on an early Pola Negri vehicle, The Yellow Ticket (1918). You can read it here. The schedule of the screenings (featuring live music) can be found here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Lincoln (2012, Spielberg)

My latest piece for Roger Ebert's website is on Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. You can read it here.