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March 31, 2014
By Maud Doyle | Films

Finding Vivian Maier
Photo © Dots .

What we know about Vivian Maier is this: born in New York, occasional resident of France, nanny in Chicago, wore men’s clothing, took many thousands of photographs with her twin-lens Rolleiflex, which she wore around her neck—always.

That is all.

The photographs turned up in 2007, two years before Maier’s death in 2009, in a box of negatives sold at auction to amateur historian John Maloof. He eventually found more than 100,000 negatives and 2,700 roles of undeveloped film. Recognizing that, these days, one must have an artist to go with the art, Maloof set out to find the mysterious photographer’s identity, a quest documented in his cinematic tribute Finding Vivian Maier.

Maier’s street scenes and portraits echo the work of such greats as Diane Arbus, Weegee and Lisette Model, and the discovery has prompted a movement to place her in the pantheon. In the film, interviews with her former charges and employers make much of her eccentricities, bulky coats and fiercely defended privacy. It is a tragedy, they conclude, that her oddness kept her from fame.

But the artist and those calling for her recognition are working at crossed purposes. We are captivated by Maier; she was captivated by the world and all of its idiosyncrasies, humor and confusion. She saw the richness in paradox—image and identity, pleasure and poverty, humor and tragedy—with endearing frankness, and her images (including her self-portraits, one of which is pictured here) are striking : A poor man enjoying a sandwich. A child in a tutu, wandering Chicago at night. A woman sunbathing.

“I‘m sort of a spy,” one man recalls her saying. But if her guileless photographs and brief, luminous films were acts of espionage, she worked on behalf of a country she invented—one in which she could be both caretaker and artist, ambitious and uninterested in acknowledgement. Maloof and the rest are right: Maier can teach us a thing or two about where to look for artistry and delight. Now showing at IFC Center; 323 Sixth Ave.; ifccenter.com.

February 05, 2014
By Maud Doyle | Films

Artist Matthew Barney’s Latest Film Premières at BAM

River of Fundament, the long-awaited, six-hour film event by artist Matthew Barney and composer Jonathan Bepler debuting February 12 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Harvey Theater, is an epic of reincarnation and rebirth set against the rusting backdrops of American industry. The story is loosely based on Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings (1983), his take on the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It was considered one of Mailer’s most impenetrable books, and the River of Fundament experience isn’t so much one of precise comprehension as it is one of submission and absorption.

Barney, who climbed to fame unintentionally in 1991 when he used two ice hooks to scale the walls of New York’s Barbara Gladstone Gallery wearing nothing but a harness, is one of few true multimedia artists. He’s worked to great acclaim exploring bodies and sexuality through film, sculpture and drawing.

As with the artist’s renowned Cremaster Cycle video series, it is difficult not to see in River elements of the Wagnerian ideal Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art that includes all art forms. Barney and Bepler (longtime collaborators) think of the film as at least part opera. Three of its climactic scenes were live, elaborately staged events in Los Angeles, Detroit and New York, which involved a 1967 Chrysler Imperial, rivers of molten metal (including parts of the car) and a battle between the Egyptian Gods Set and Horus (played by Brennan Hall, pictured above) in a New York dry dock.

The fugue-like narrative winds around an imagined wake for Mailer, who died in 2007. Attendees include characters from Ancient Evenings (two are played by Paul Giamatti and Maggie Gyllenhaal), Mailer’s friends and widow (portrayed by Joan La Barbara) and three incarnations of Mailer himself—one of whom is played by his son, John Buffalo Mailer. The gathering takes place in a replica of Mailer’s New York apartment, which was constructed on a barge complete with the author’s original library and floated down the East River. Portions of the apartment will be reassembled as a sculpture to be shown at Munich’s Haus der Kunst next month (opening March 15; hausderkunst.de).

The film, which has two intermissions, is at once dark and comic, an intrepid exploration of mammalian bodies in various stages of life, death—in its first act, John Buffalo Mailer guts a cow and crawls inside its carcass—and birth that is both fascinating and uncomfortably close to home. We all have bodies, after all, and sometimes we need to be reminded. February 12-16; 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn; bam.org.

 

November 21, 2013
By Ingrid Skjong | Books, Films

Bruce Weber Writes the Book
Photograph of infant wearing bowler hat and sunglasses while standing on Monterey chair, c. 1940, Wolfosnia Collection by Bruce Weber

Fans of celebrated photographer Bruce Weber—renowned for his contributions to art, fashion, advertising and film—can enjoy a double helping of his work this month, thanks to the latest installment of his literary-and-art-journal series and a compilation of his documentaries.

All-American Volume Thirteen: Born Ready (teNeues.com, $125) lauds a variety of brave, risk-taking personalities via words and photos. Weber, who thinks it’s a dying art to be a character in the world today, profiles Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries, who runs the organization that the late movie producer Ray Stark started to help guide young men out of gang life in Los Angeles. Then there’s Micky Wolfson, an art collector who created his own museum, and Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, who challenged the Defense of Marriage Act and won. There’s even a spin through the world of pro motocross racing.

Bruce Weber: The Film Collection ($60 for four DVDs) is no less impressive or thought-provoking, featuring four of the artist’s documentaries, including Let’s Get Lost (1988), an Oscar-nominated look at jazz trumpet player Chet Baker, and Chop Suey, a look back at Weber’s career. “My camera lets me flirt with life,” he once said. We’re lucky enough to see the results.

September 24, 2013
By Ingrid Skjong | Films

Movie to See: <em>Muscle Shoals</em>
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a speck of a town in the northwest corner of the state, shoulders the Tennessee River and, though pretty, wouldn’t necessarily be notable except for one thing: its sound. That so-called Muscle Shoals sound—a soulful, down-and-dirty style that is as enigmatic as it is irresistible—fuels Muscle Shoals, a documentary chronicling the town’s musical heritage.

Some of the best-known songs from the ’60s and ’70s were recorded in the area, mostly at the pioneering Fame Studio by its founder, Rick Hall (pictured here with soul singer Clarence Carter). A complicated character who operated with near-legendary tenacity, Hall attracted the likes of Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett and Bob Seger. (The recording-session anecdotes are priceless.) All were drawn to the Muscle Shoals mystique; Fame’s house band, The Swampers; and the promise of producing revolutionary music.

Keith Richards, Steve Winwood, Gregg Allman, and others weigh in with stories that give new context to songs like “I’ll Take You There” (the Staple Singers), “Respect” (Franklin) and “Brown Sugar” (the Rolling Stones). Music lovers will hang on every word (and note). And while Muscle Shoals tries to unearth why the tiny town had such a pull, it ultimately proves that some things are simply best left a mystery. On demand, on iTunes and in theaters September 27; magpictures.com/muscleshoals.

May 08, 2013
By John Lopez | Films

What to See at the Cannes Film Festival
© Fruitvale Station

As the beacon of world cinema, the Cannes Film Festival (May 15–26; festival-cannes.fr) is the destination of note every year for true cineastes. However, choosing from its overabundance can be a challenge. Here, our top must-see films for those bound for La Croisette.

The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola)
Coppola’s latest adapts an article from Vanity Fair (written by Nancy Jo Sales) about L.A. teens who rob Hollywood starlets to get a taste of the glittery life. Coppola should bring an expert eye to this critique of America’s celebrity obsession.

Blood Ties (Guillaume Canet)
Mila Kunis, Clive Owen and Matthias Schoenaerts lead this remake of 2008’s Les Liens du sang. Since Canet starred in the original, this thriller about two brothers drawn back to a life of crime looks promising.

Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler)
Coogler’s powerful neo-realist debut took Sundance by storm, earning him a slot in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. Michael B. Jordan plays struggling single father Oscar Grant, whose death at the hands of Oakland BART officers enraged a community.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Preeminent jesters of the American art house, the Coen brothers come back to Cannes with a look at New York’s 1960s folk-music scene. Featuring rising star Oscar Isaac, it promises the poignant, the wry and the bizarrely American.

Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda)
Japanese director Koreeda stole our hearts with the impeccable Nobody Knows (2004). His latest—about a businessman who learns his son was switched at birth—offers up more of Koreeda’s ruminative, emotional filmmaking.

Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
The masterful American director returns to the road-movie genre after receiving his second Oscar, for The Descendants (2011). Shot in black and white, it stars Bruce Dern and Will Forte as a father and his estranged son en route to claim a sweepstakes prize.

Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn)
The Danish auteur’s neon-noir Drive (2011) soared thanks to Ryan Gosling’s charisma. His follow-up re-teams him with Gosling, an underworld thug beset by a heart of gold, with Kristin Scott Thomas as a frightening materfamilias.

The Past (Asghar Farhadi)
After the Oscar-winning A Separation, Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi delves into another intricate relationship drama with The Artist star Bérénice Bejo. Farhadi trades Tehran for Paris in this story of a man who discovers a long-hidden secret while finalizing his divorce.

A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke)
Zhangke spearheads China’s search for Cannes glory with his latest about four people in different parts of China whose lives are intertwined. A road movie with wuxia (“martial hero”) spirit, its title is a tribute to wuxia classic A Touch of Zen.

Venus in Fur (Roman Polanski)
A film by Polanski gets our attention, and his adaptation of David Ives’s play seems like choice material. Seeking a femme fatale for his erotic play, a director finds an ambitious actress who will do anything to land the role.

April 17, 2013
By Maud Doyle | Films

Five to Watch at the Tribeca Film Festival
Lukas Zentel, MPI/Dark Sky Films

The Tribeca Film Festival, which started on April 17 and continues through April 28, will screen 89 films by both established and emerging directors. While we look forward to features by the likes of Mira Nair and Neil LaBute, we are especially excited to see more from some of film’s freshest faces. Here are five emerging directors to watch for.

Daniel Patrick Carbone (U.S.): Hide Your Smiling Faces
Wandering the lakes, fields and forests of the rural American summer, Carbone’s feature-length debut Hide Your Smiling Faces promises a dose of beautiful nostalgia. Two young brothers with lovably unwashed faces grapple with death and loss in the tradition of Stand By Me and the works of director Terrence Malick, creating a film that the Brooklyn director hopes will call up viewers’ own lovably unwashed American childhoods.

Arvin Chen (Taiwan): Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
Following Au Revoir Taipei (2010), his charming debut film, Chen presents the North American première of his second romantic comedy, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, in which a married optometrist and the future are not what they seem. Chen lends a glimmer of magic to the ordinary life of the befuddled everyman, wandering through big-box stores and racquetball courts.

Scott Coffey (U.S.): Adult World
Coffey, a former actor (he appeared in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Mulholland Drive), had his celebrated directorial debut in 2005 with Ellie Parker, in which an unemployed actress played by Naomi Watts strives to make a life for herself amid the absurdities of Hollywood. For his most recent indie flick—premiering at TFF—Coffey focuses on a remote town in upstate New York, home to a reclusive writer (John Cusack) and an unemployed poet (Emma Roberts) striving to kick-start her career amid the absurdities of her job at a mom-and-pop sex shop called Adult World.

Jessica Oreck (U.S.): Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys
In her debut documentary, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (2009), Oreck traced the Japanese love for insects, shifting the ambit of the nature film from creatures-in-wilderness to cultural relationships between people and the natural world. That investigation continues with the TFF world première of Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys, which follows two reindeer-herding brothers, Aarne and Lasse Aatsinki, and their families through the wilds and winters of the Finish arctic. Oreck lived with the siblings for about nine months over a year and a half.

Richard Raaphorst (Netherlands): Frankenstein’s Army
Raaphorst, a Danish commercial director, became a genre sensation when the trailer for his zombie flick Worst Case Scenario went viral in 2007. In his first completed feature-length project, the ghoulishly sepia-toned Frankenstein’s Army (pictured above) gives horror buffs a breed of ghoul that predates the retroviruses of AMC’s The Walking Dead. The film depicts a World War II era, when limbs were sewn together and reanimated by mad Nazi scientists.

February 06, 2013
By Erin Schumaker | Films

201302-b-berlin-film-festival.jpg

© Berlinale

Berlinale, as the 11-day Berlin International Film Festival is called, is prepared to kick off the new year with a bang. From February 7 to February 17, approximately 300,000 people will gather to view 400 domestic and international films—all before a panel of judges awards the highly-coveted Golden Bear (Goldener Bär) award to the best onscreen offering.

Highlights include the opening-night gala (February 7), followed by the international premiere of Chinese director Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster. The film, an epic drama about the early life of a martial-arts expert set against the backdrop of China in the 1930s, is considered an out-of-competition entry because of Wong’s official capacity at this year’s event. “I was already greatly looking forward to my returning to Berlin to serve as the president of the international jury,” he says, “so seeing The Grandmaster presented there will make it all the more special for me.” 49-30/259-200; berlinale.de.

Where to Stay: Soho House Berlin—a two-year-old private-members’ club with 40 rooms that were recently opened to the public—is hosting a party with Studio Babelsberg on February 9 as part of its weeklong Berlin International Film Festival events schedule. Rooms, from $230; 1 Torstrabe; 49-30/405-0440; sohohouseberlin.com.

January 25, 2013
By John Lopez | Festivals, Films

Freida Pinto
Photo by John Parra/Getty Images

By Monday of the Sundance Film Festival the crowds on Main Street tend to thin out, creating a far nicer experience for those who stay behind to close out things. By then the well-brewed buzz makes it easier to choose films, and getting a ticket is actually possible.

The Spectacular Now proved worthy of must-see status. An insightful and emotionally complex coming-of-age story, it features a break-out performance by Miles Teller and another stellar turn by Shailene Woodley of The Descendants fame. Renowned Korean director Chan-wook Park’s English-language debut Stoker also lived up to expectations. The riff on Hitchcock’s classic Shadow of a Doubt soars on the back of Matthew Goode’s scene-stealing performance as Mia Wasikowska’s mysterious uncle with a wide smile that hides dark secrets. Magic, Magic, director Sebastián Silva’s second film at Sundance (the other is Crystal Fairy), also turned out to be a winner. An intelligent psychological thriller with the flavor of early Polanski, it features Juno Temple as a young girl whose mental deterioration ruins an idyllic vacation in the wilds of southern Chile.

Of course Sundance is as much about the films you don’t see as it is about the ones you do, and if the rumor mill is to be believed these features are also gems: Prince Avalanche; The Way, Way Back; Metro Manila; Escape From Tomorrow; The East; Inequality for All and History of the Eagles Part 1.

The Parties

Although the bulk of partygoers had departed, there were still a few notable extracurricular events for those who remained. New York nightlife impresario Nur Khan created a pop-up club—Nur Khan presents NK with Mint and the Branding Bee—hosting première after-parties for The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, Very Good Girls and Jobs. The Charlie Countryman party saw the likes of Shia Labeouf, Emile Hirsch and Freida Pinto, while Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen and Jake Gyllenhaal attended the Very Good Girls event and star Ashton Kutcher slated to attend Friday’s get-together for Jobs. A perennial favorite is ChefDance—a five-night roster of meals from celebrity chefs. Sponsored by WishClouds this year, Tuesday’s dinner featured a five-course meal prepared by celebrity chef Marcel Vigneron.

But sometimes it’s nice to forego the guest list and have a relaxed dinner with friends. For Sundance veterans, High West Distillery & Saloon (703 Park Ave.; 435-649-8300) is the best place to escape the festival madness. Featuring artisanal whiskies and savory cuts of elk, High West doesn’t take reservations but is well worth the wait. At least Sam Rockwell must have thought so, since he was spotted at the saloon bar sipping one of its signature variations on the Manhattan while he waited for his table—just like everyone else.

January 23, 2013
By John Lopez | Festivals, Films

Sundance Film Festival
Photo by Michael Stewart/ Getty Images

The Sundance Film Festival reached its apex on Sunday with the highly anticipated premiere of Before Midnight in the evening, the sequel to Richard Linklater’s indie classics Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke as a couple whose romance has spanned decades and continents, the newest offering continues the trilogy’s tradition of smart writing, adding an extra dimension of mature insight and emotional complexity.

Elsewhere Michael Winterbottom’s The Look of Love seemed to slightly disappoint the fans of his beloved 24 Hour Party People, though Steve Coogan shows off his dramatic chops well. The buzz around Drake Doremus’s Breathe In concluded that Guy Pearce dazzles. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was another hot ticket, filled with lush cinematography and a scene-stealing Ben Foster.

On the documentary front, The Crash Reel apparently elicited in-theater tears while Google and The World Brain didn’t quite live up to its provocative title. Blackfish made a splash—CNN Films and Magnolia Pictures acquired it for distribution.

Finally, the fuss over Fruitvale culminated in a late-night bidding war, with the Weinstein Company acquiring it for distribution. The film is a moving, disturbing story about the last day of Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by a police officer on January 1, 2009, at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, California.

The Parties

Sunday held plenty aside from movies. Celebrity football fans could catch the AFC and NFC championship games at Paige Hospitality Group’s Football Viewing Party at Sky Lodge with the likes of Adrian Grenier, Kristen Bell, Alison Brie (pictured above) and Lil’ Jon. Peter Sarsgaard hosted a celebration for BAMcinemaFest’s fifth anniversary, while Sea Wolf played at the Sundance ASCAP Music Café.

But the real draw that night, as the glitterati got ready to depart the next day, were the parties thrown by Hollywood’s powerful agencies—all within a few feet of one other on Main Street. UTA took over Riverhorse on Main with Lake Bell, Juno Temple and Daniel Radcliffe in attendance; WME occupied Wahso, where Paris Hilton, Mia Wasikowska and Toni Collette partied the night away. But the king of excess was CAA’s party at Claim Jumper, where Danny McBride, Alex Skarsgård and Miles Teller marveled at burlesque dancers and a risqué review by Simon Hammerstein The Act.

January 23, 2013
By John Lopez | Festivals, Films

Rami Jaffee
Photo by Greg Hayes 2013

By Saturday the Sundance Film Festival was in full swing, with the good and the bad emerging from party gossip and idle chatter as the movie faithful sniffed out which films were worth begging, borrowing or stealing for to see.

The first spike of celebrity fervor erupted over Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City, about a legendary recording studio in the Van Nuys district of Los Angeles. The premiere drew the likes of Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Taylor Hawkins (Grohl’s bandmate from the Foo Fighters), and many others, who later performed with Grohl during an impromptu concert. Grohl and friends, including Rami Jaffee (pictured above), also popped up at Eco Hideaway at the Chateaux for more concerts on Saturday and Sunday.

Word spread that U.S. dramatic competition entry Toy’s House enchanted viewers with a hint of Wes Anderson, while Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan highlighted Circles, an intriguing revenge tragedy birthed from the Bosnian-Serbian conflict. Chilean director Alicia Scherson’s Il Futuro succeeded in capturing the spirit of the Roberto Bolaño novel from which it was adapted, thanks in large part to Rutger Hauer’s Herculean presence. Rumor had it that Soldate Jeannette was not worth waiting in the cold, but those who endured the late-night deep freeze for a midnight showing of S-VHS were rewarded with heart-pounding horror. And buzz started building around little-known Fruitvale…more on that later.

Josh Radnor and Michael Cera fired up the late-night party scene when they descended on the Touchy Feely premiere party, hosted by Chase Sapphire Preferred. Will Smith was spotted with his son Jaden at the Toy’s House party. Those who didn’t want to endure Saturday’s rigid waitlist at Hyde attended a poker tournament hosted by Ali Nejad before moving on to James Franco’s late-night after-party and catching an early-morning cab home.

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