Monday, August 10, 2009

See What I've Been Listening To

[I always wanted to do one of these so let's see how it goes] [Update: so the links to stream songs didn't end up working at all -- except for me -- my apologies. So I added some more videos.] Some thoughts on what's been getting heavy re-play at RFC HQ...

As it hovers around the 90 degree mark today, it's not a bad time to reconsider the songs that hit my ears on cooler days. I guess we'll start at the beginning (of the iTunes library). One of my favorite albums from early this year belongs to one of the New Pornographers that isn't Neko Case, A.C. Newman. There isn't a bad song on Get Guilty though the front end is a bit stronger. It may not have an endless repeater like his 2004 tune "Drink to Me Babe", but this album features an a-bomb lead-off track in "There are Maybe Ten or Twelve..."

Then there's the album's catchy-as-hell, propulsive single:



Moving down the alphabet, and over to a different part of the pop universe, there's the more recent The Antlers album Hospice. I feel like these guys do for me what the Animal Collective doesn't, which is make highly listenable, atmospheric, slightly creepy pop songs. While I actually preferred 2007's In the Attic of the Universe, there's a rewarding mystery to these songs and in many ways Hospice is a more cohesive rock opera than Thownsend's ever written. They might not rise you out of any funks but they'll carry you along. Try out the friendly Bear when you get a chance -- in the meantime here's the pretty damn cool video for the song "Two".



Art Brut album is always good for great hooks and laughs and I have to mention a record that sings about the wonders of finding out about The Replacements. Featured line, "I can't believe I've only just discovered The Replacements / Some of them are nearly the same age as my parents" But the real gold in Art Brut vs. Satan has to be the epic Mysterious Bruises ("I can't remember anything I've done / I fought the floor and the floor won). It's hard not to get swept up into Art Brut's world of drinks, comic books and slap dash songs made for no cash.



It's also not hard to figure out why David Lynch digs Au Revoir Simone ("The Last One" from the new album Still Night, Still Night).



Okay, Bill Callahan... I was a big fan of his Smog albums and even enjoyed the (smog) days a little bit. But his last two albums under his given name have been something unexpected and special. His new album Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle is in the race for best of this year and Eid Ma Clack Shaw, Too Many Birds and Faith/Void are some of the best songs of the year. On any given day I might say that he's never topped Smog's Doctor Came at Dawn, but he's really making some of the best music around right now -- and I don't think I would have said that back in the 90's. His music was sparse and confrontational back in the day, and now it's sparse and beautiful without ever losing the dark voice he's always had.



Callahan's former label-mate Will Oldham also continues to shine though he hasn't gone back to his given name and doesn't look like he'll be dropping Bonnie "Prince" Billy anytime soon. But I wouldn't place any bets that there isn't some sort of name change or another around the corner. His last album of duets was a pretty collection, but his most recent album, Beware, has the most immediate impact, and feels like it has more staying power, than any of his work since Ease on Down the Road.



There's an old Palace song of Oldham's that's called "You Will Miss Me When I Burn". It features the line "When you have no one / No one can hurt you" and there's a great song on Beware that echoes that old tune in a sad yet playful way. It's called I Don't Belong to Anyone.



I'd never have imagined I'd say that an album by Jason Schwartzman would rank near the top of my list for most listened to, and enjoyed, album -- but here we are with Coconut Records' Davy. A Beatlesesque collection of super-catchy material that's obviously personal for Schwartzman yet never gets bogged down in pretentiousness. I'll use that dreaded word again, fun.



Another contender for album of the year is The Comet Gain's Broken Record Prayer. The album is practically a cross section of the past 30 years of music on one CD, in one lo-fi blast. By having the album opener, "Jack Nance Hair", begin with the female of the band speak-singing before launching into an addictive pop song -- it's like a hat tip to the sprawling, equally ambitious end-of-the-80s Sonic Youth epic, Daydream Nation. But the Velvet Underground tinged "Jack Nance Hair" is hardly representative of Broken Record Prayer. Before even half the album is over it's hopped from 2 minute CBGBs flavored punk rockers ("If I Had a Soul") to 5+ minute Feelies inspired jams ("Brothers Off the Block"). It's a helluva record.



While Sonic Youth came out with The Eternal this year, and it's got some good tunes (I'm a fan of "The Antennae" in particular), it's their old pals Dinosaur Jr. that continue to release rocket-powered face melters -- keeping one of the most unexpectedly successful reunions going strong. Like Portishead did a couple years ago -- it amazes me that a band can get back together after such a long break and not only pick right up where they left off but improve upon it. Dino J's second life it practically unheard of.



Dirty Projectors is one of the bands that pulled a fast one on me this year. I didn't much care for 2005's The Getty Address which lacked just about anything resembling a melody or a toe-tapping tune. But then Bitte Orca comes along and I couldn't get away from the fawning responses so with some skeptisicm I checked it out and then I found I couldn't stop listening to the thing. That's partly due to the great beats the album has and therefore being my go-to album to listen to while doing my bad back exercises. Llama!



If you like your rock n' roll recorded in a barn while a storm knocks on the door and the musicians are working on a case of beer and keeping the first take, then you will enjoy Woodstock, New York's Felice Brothers. They've released some great music prior to 2009, especially Tonight at the Arizona, but their recent is called Yonder is the Clock and it's got some new classics on it. I turn your attention to "Cooperstown". (But since there's no good video for anything off their new album... here's a highlight from Arizona.)



But let's get back to the face melting. Future of the Left is the band that rose from the ashes of Mclusky -- the only band that I would pay to see a good tribute version of. Mclusky made three of the best manic, hole-in-the-wall rock records of the decade and Future of the Left's second album, Travels With Myself and Another, improves upon the first post-Mclusky album and touches greatness at times. Angry, questioning, funny and above all, rocking. Who can't like an album with a song called "You Need Satan More Than He Needs You"?



Jarvis Cocker's been around a lot longer than you'd think by looking at the guy. The Dick Clark gene seemingly having kicked in about 20 years ago, Jarvis has been on the scene making quality mod rockers that keep the croon alive since the late 70s with Pulp. Recently, he's gone solo and grown a salt and pepper beard that allows him to show his age a little bit, but he's also stepped up his game. On Further Complications, he's gotten some assistance form Steve Albini and he's created a stellar album that from front to back is my favorite thing he's ever done. The hilarious song "I Never Said I Was Deep" features my favorite chorus of the year: "I never said I saw deep / But I am profoundly shallow / My lack of knowledge is vast / And my horizons are narrow"



When I saw Mastodon live a couple years ago in the middle of a bright, hot, sunshiny day in the middle of a Chicago park, it was euphoric. For the rest of my life I'll carry that amazing collision of sun, dirt, pot smoke and metal with me and I'll probably always look forward to their next mind fuck of a record. This year's Crack the Skye is a bit more prog-y than their others, but it's no less filled with jaw dropping moments that make me smile. And I absolutely admire the storytelling that goes into these albums -- this one being about an astronaut that does some inadvertent time-traveling and... well, see for yourself.



Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is going to be my one cheat for this list. Technically his self titled album came out over a year ago, but it's remained my favorite stumbled-upon album of the year. He's very much in the singer-songwriter mode but used dynamics and slow-builds to great effect. Love his voice, love his lyrics and it doesn't get much better than this tune, the first of the album and a perfect gateway to the rest of the fantastic album.



Two albums going by oddly similar names, Dark Was the Night & Dark Night of the Soul will finish out this behemoth of a post. Dark Was the Night performs some rehab on a format that usually gets nothing but leftovers and cast-offs. Three years in the making, the brothers Dessner from the great band The National called in some favors and ended up with a sort of state of the union of the indie rock scene -- Yo La Tengo, My Morning Jacket, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear... There are 2 CDs of songs far better than you'd think you would find on a Red Hot compilation.



Dark Night of the Soul is another beast altogether. A bizzaro colaboraiton between Sparklehorse, Danger Mouse and David Lynch, there was a distinct possibility this project would result in a mess, but in fact it is a perfectly crafted and executed album that feels complete and fully realized. I'm not sure if the Dark Night of the Soul is the future or the first and last of its kind. Actually, it isn't even really the first since EMI blocked the music from even being properly released. The limited edition book featuring a gorgeous collection of Lynch's inspired by the music photographs came with a blank CD, to be used as you see fit. Before EMI pulled the plug on the music, you could find it streaming on different websites and in the usual places you might yet to be officially released music. To me, this is like letting the fans finish the project and it just adds to it its beauty -- and it really is a beautiful project to absorb and it'll be a tough one to top this year.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Humpday

Dir. Lynn Shelton

Lynn Shelton's follow-up to my pick for 2008's best, My Effortless Brilliance, never quite matches that film's heights but that may be due to a lack of trying. Humpday is a funny movie, funnier than Brilliance, so I can't knock it too much if the stakes never feel quite as high. This is partly due to the film having a familiar set-up: the reuniting of two old friends who have gone down different paths and the emotional turmoil that results.

Mark Duplass plays Ben, a guy who's begun to settle into domestic bliss with his fiancée Anna (Alycia Delmore) and a picket fence. When Joshua Leonard's Andrew comes knocking, he quickly stirs up some dormant feelings and Ben can't help but try to reclaim some of those artistic ideals from his college days. Unfortunately they settle on creating an art project for Humpfest, an arty, homebrew porn festival wherein the average Jane and Joe reclaim pornography by submitting their own intimate, personal portraits. During an under-the-influence night at a bohemian party (co-hosted by Lynn Shelton herself as a bi-sexual frisky new friend of Andrew's), both men decide that the highest form of artistic achievement in pornography would be to feature two straight life-long friends going at it. Amidst the swirling hookah smoke, Ben even books a room for next Sunday.

The majority of the movie is Ben and Andrew, in the few days leading up to Sunday night, coming to terms with the idea and rationalizing why neither one wants to back down. We find out that if Andrew were to back out of this "art project" it would be the latest in a long line of abandoned or unfinished projects. And Ben needs to prove to himself, if not everyone else, that he's more than just a working-stiff with his best years behind him. It could be considered a detriment that the film tips its hand early and often. To a certain extent the movie spells it out rather than allow the audience to figure out the details behind Ben and Andrew's one-upsmanship. But I appreciate that the characters are self-aware -- it makes sense to me that these guys would analyze their situation to death. Maybe it does put too fine a point on it but it feels natural to me, and that is Shelton's cinematic gift.

While two old friends talking about their lack of resolve or losing their individuality doesn't carry the weight of two old friends trying to bury the hatchet, Humpday does find a lot of honesty and no small amount of terrific, cringe-worthy comedic moments in this situation. This film will hit close to home for anyone who's ever lost sight of their artistic side in favor of some security in life, or likes to consider themselves an artist simply because they live the lifestyle. Even if that's not you, chances are you've got some familiarity with these guys. And Duplass and Leonard's work here makes you feel like you've hung out with these guys many times before.

But what of Anna? In an odd bit of irony, Lynn Shelton has proved to be a master of exploring the male ego but has yet to present us with a female character as thoroughly three dimensional. Anna's given a couple nice moments in the film when she tries to get to know Andrew over half a bottle of Scotch and when she reveals a secret of her own to a helpless Ben. But it all feels a little obligatory, like Anna is a character that's only there for story needs and not part of the organic surroundings. Delmore does fine with what she's given, but it would be nice to see what Shelton could do with a strong female character in one of her stories.

In a related note - Shelton's superior My Effortless Brilliance can be viewed through Amazon.com's Video On Demand for $3.99. It's fantastic that Humpday has been able to get the distribution that Brilliance never did, and it deserves it, but it's still a shame that Brilliance remains largely hidden.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Room


Dir. Tommy Wisseau

What is The Room? A quick look at IMDb tells you it is a drama, a romance, a comedy, "a film with the passion of Tennessee Williams" and "an American black comedy about love, passion, betrayal and lies". After seeing the film for the first time last weekend, I'm still working out whether it is really none of those things, or indeed all of those things at once in every second of its 99 minutes. Honestly, there is no doubt that The Room is a bad movie. It's poorly shot, badly acted and confusingly edited. Everything about the movie, down to the costuming, is so distracting that if you tried your hardest to focus on what the hell is going on in the movie, as I mistakenly attempted, you will only encounter despair. But worst of all, the film wants to be important -- it strives for Tennessee Williams like a drunkard finding the key hole to the front door at 4am. It isn't the kind of bad you find in Wolverine or Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. This is obviously a very personal film for Tommy Wisseau and the level of heart and soul behind the film balanced against the brazenly incompetent filmmaking put The Room squarely in the ranks of the best/worst of Ed Wood rather than the works of Dr. Uwe Boll.

Released the summer of 2003 in Los Angeles, The Room almost came and went without notice like any number of other micro-released films that play the obligatory one or two theaters in a city before hitting DVD and cable. But thanks in large part to a notorious billboard of the droopy-eyed Wisseau photo and some good old-fashioned word of mouth, by 2007 it was a full-blown midnight movie phenomenon of Rocky Horror Picture Show proportions. It quickly became all about audience participation, plastic spoons and reveling in the The Room's many, hrm, mysteries?



Back in high school I'd make it to the Rocky Horror Picture Show as often as I could. In San Bernardino, California, that wasn't very easy for a 15 year old without a car. Getting to Montclair took no small amount of effort and coordination, but it was always worth it. I don't think the stars will ever align to bring about a movie more suited to audience participation than the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's got catchy song and dance, eye popping production design, sci-fi elements, Susan Sarandon in her underwear, a story that appeals to all sexual orientations, Meatloaf... On its own it's not exactly a well made movie but it has some genuinely entertaining qualities and the audience participation raises it to heights the filmmakers could never have anticipated but certainly appreciate. The Room is the flip side to this and in some ways this makes it less enjoyable than a bad genre movie like RHPS or Troll 2. The story is the definition of mundane, all the actors are people you'd rather not see in their underwear thankyouverymuch, even the songs in The Room are unbearable and, when it's in focus, the photography is flat and unappealing. To an extent it is the same problem I have with those certain episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that are so piss poor and boring that it's a chore to make it to the next zinger.

So what is the story of The Room? Well, why the movie is called "The Room" is certainly one of the more obvious and unanswered questions of the film. It's a fairly typical love triangle involving Tom- er Johnny, his girlfriend Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and his best friend Mark (Sestero! Greg Sestero actually, but I think a wise career move for the man would be to go the one name route a la Fabio. I can easily picture those seven letters in all-caps above the title of the next made-for-SyFy movie). What little life there is to this set-up comes from Wisseau's bizarre, perverse world-view. Especially regarding Lisa The Succubus. Usually the irresistible object of desire has some sort of charm or redeeming, attractive qualities. The only reason we're given for Johnny's intense devotion to Lisa is that she'll jump into the sack with him when he buys her a dress because otherwise she's hateful and self-centered to the core.



But Johnny, if there's a fault to the man it's that he's too caring, too thoughtful, trusting and wise. That Johnny is such a nice guy he's even paying for a neighborhood kid's tuition. That the neighborhood kid, Denny, seems to be a little touched in the head is besides the point. (And "besides the point" could be the film's motto.) Even the store proprietors adore Johnny. As does Lisa's mother, who tries to talk sense into her -- but she's got the cancer, so... So what, right? That seems to be the movie's interest in that little detail. Anyway, Lisa simply finds Johnny-the-do-gooder too dull for her lustful ways. Sestero, on the other had, now there's a real man. Yawn.

So is it even noteworthy that every single moment of the film is a train wreck? By mounting an HD camera directly next to a 35mm camera, Wisseau ensured that not one second of the film would be well framed. Using a revolving door policy for the hiring and firing of his crew during the filming process also helped give the look of the film some nice inconsistencies. One of the more genuinely strange aspects of the movie is the amount of characters that appear with no explanation to give advice or act concerned and in turn disappear back into the ethers. It all begs the question, is utter incompetency something to celebrate? While Wisseau certainly has passion for this project -- is his message of how cruel women can be really worth the attention, even if it is placed on a pedestal to be mocked?

There's no denying there's a fun time to be had with The Room on a Saturday night with an eager audience when the plastic spoons are flying high through the air. There is an excitement to be part of this community as they work on extracting the most fun from the film. If you go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show this weekend you'll be hearing the best ad-libs and routines distilled the past 30 years. If you go to The Room this weekend some of the excitement is being part of the process. Right now, there's some filtering to be done to pick up on the best zingers since every moment is an opportunity and you have a theater full of people waiting to let one loose. 20 years from now, the other script, the audience script for The Room, is sure to be amazing and there's a lot of fun to even just observe this process if not take part in it.

I can't imagine myself regularly watching The Room, even under ideal circumstances. The movie is just so damn bad that there's a visceral reaction within me to stay away from it. But I had a great time and recommend that everyone should experience this phenomenon at least once. Rumor is that there will be another midnight screening at the Coolidge at some point this month. Keep your eye out. I really can't imagine there being an alternative movie-going experience out there that would be more fun.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Guatemalan Handshake

Dir. Todd Rohal

While it never achieves lift-off to become the spirited absurdist tale that shines beneath some murky filmic waters, The Guatemalan Handshake has an agreeable odd-ball charm, an admirable gonzo spirit and effective stylization. Most remarkable are the gobsmackingly gorgeous shots and sequences that raise the film to heights that unfortunately the rest of it can't quite match. It isn't nearly as bad as some of the comparisons to Napoleon Dynamite might lead you (or me, at any rate) to believe but it lacks the authenticity of early David Gordon Green, as George Washington would be a more apt comparison, or the unique world building of Guy Maddin.

Unfortunately the film doesn't quite star Will Oldham, though he does provide the central character. He plays the put-upon Donald, who in the opening sequence finds some shoes, a dead dog and wanders off to no-one-knows-where, only to appear again in a few flashbacks. He's the boyfriend of pregnant Sadie and the son of the eccentric Mr. Turnupseed and the loose plot revolves around how his disappearance affects the lives of the people in his backwoods town. (There is some business involving Sadie competing in a smash-up derby -- a sub-culture worthy of a different film all its own.) But calling any character here eccentric is pointless since every one of them, except perhaps for the narrator, Turkeylegs, is in one way or another a bit of a space cadet. And not always in any sort of charming way either. The character named Stool, for example, is one of the more unpleasant creations I've come along in some time. In that way he is a bit like a character out of a Jared Hess film -- with his ironic mustache and self-absorbed nastiness. How Sadie ends up falling for Stool after Donald's disappearance defies human nature. But then Sadie isn't the most pleasant of characters either and the film doesn't seem too interested in representing any sort of commonplace reality.

I'm not one who needs likable characters to enjoy a film but I do need them to be more than just a collection of walking affectations and goofy hang-ups. This really is the ongoing crutch of the indie film, and one that doesn't seem to be going away. But for all Wes Anderson's incessant desires to deal only with over-affected characters, he always manages to give them a soul. In the case of Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely (another auteur Rohal style could draw comparisons to, at his best) the lack of a honest personality can work when it is part of the point. This is certainly something that Rohal could improve upon. But then The Guatemalan Handshake doesn't have any intentions on being a character study or anything of the like. It works best at being a series of vignettes loosely tied together by some recurring characters. The scenes that hit their mark are funny and/or poignant and are impeccably shot. There are a few of these scenes -- Mr. Turnupseed losing his temper on his shed's Master lock, Stool loosing his shit when his bus breaks down, an extended Maddin-like black & white flashback to the heroics of daredevil Spank Williams, a simple moment of Turkeyleg in a picturesque field -- and they all work more or less without any context; or, in other words, despite the unmemorable characters. The scenes that fall flat tend to feel slow or repetitive and that feeling creeps up too often.

Todd Rohal is certainly one to keep an eye on. For a first feature he's made a film with a distinct voice and an uncommonly sharp eye. If too much of the film failed to connect with me, it didn't fail to make an impression. Its unpredictable spirit is ambitious, endearingly ramshackle and handmade. If only those qualities could be sustained for an entire film and be applied to the people in Rohal's world as well, I could recommend the film a bit more.

Excellent Trailer:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Acculturation

Presented without comment, my movie options for the coming weekend.

Monsters vs. Aliens (PG, 90 min.)
12:40pm | 2:40pm | 4:40pm
Angels & Demons (PG-13, 140 min.)
1:00pm | 4:00pm | 7:00pm | 9:40pm
Imagine That (PG, 107 min.)
12:30pm | 3:00pm | 5:05pm | 7:25pm | 9:30pm
Year One (PG-13, 97 min.)
12:50pm | 2:50pm | 4:50pm | 7:20pm | 9:15pm
Land of the Lost (2009) (PG-13, 93 min.)
7:10pm | 9:25pm
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (PG, 105 min.)
12:45pm | 2:45pm | 4:45pm | 7:15pm | 9:20pm
My Life in Ruins (PG-13, 98 min.)
12:55pm | 2:55pm | 4:55pm | 7:05pm | 9:35pm

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Landlord (1970)

Dir. Hal Ashby

Hal Ashby's film school involved working as an editor for Norman Jewison, which garnered him an Academy Award for In the Heat of the Night and performing some game-changing work on The Thomas Crown Affair. Taking the advice of Jewison, Ashby stepped up to the role of director for the racial satire The Landlord and made a debut film that is alternately hilarious, moving and still manages to showcase some avant garde editing and some of the more experimental work of master cinematographer Gordon Willis.

Adapted for the screen by a central figure in 1970s black cinema, Bill Gunn (Ganja & Hess), the film stars Beau Bridges, looking all of about 16 years old, as the son of a wealthy, WASPy family who has decided to rebel a bit by purchasing a Park Slope, New York tenement building. After a disarming faux documentary introduction and jump-cut juxtaposing of Park Slope with Bridges' country club upbringing, the film settles down a bit and gets into a more standard story-telling mode. There are highly stylized flourishes throughout but at its heart is a straightforward story of growing-up and finding love and independence. It's like the new-wave, east-coast version of The Graduate.

There's a lot of fun to be had watching Bridges' Elgar Winthrop Julius Enders have his idealistic illusions towards his new job as a Park Slope landlord dashed as he meets his tenants one by one. His awkward introductions to the women of the apartment make for comedic gold. But what makes the scenes, and the entire movie, rise above even some of the best fish-out-of-water scenarios is how genuine the characters are drawn. It's easy to say that the film is free of stereotypes -- it's the contradictions and conflicted nature of the characters that make them shine. I defy you not to fall in love with Francine, the tenant played by Diana Sands (whose own life story is quite tragic), upon first sight. Her and the other characters, like Elgar and his mother (played by Lee Grant in a well deserved Oscar nominated performance), grow, evolve and reveal nuance as the film progresses.

It's this vibrant life that Ashby gives each character that raises the film far beyond an intellectual racial satire and into a film with a heart that's just as big as its brain. Like his contemporary Robert Altman, Ashby is able to turn on a dime from expressionistic montages to intense, intimate moments. It can be as exhausting as it is awe-inspiring but it works wonders in The Landlord. Ashby threads the needle throughout the film and somehow manages to tie together heartbreak, biting satire and huge laughs. For a first film, balancing all this is rather amazing.

After the tenants and his family are through their initial threats to kill him or disown him, Elgar settles into his apartment and stumbles into a relationship with a half African-half Irish dancer at a local nightclub. Their romance, like the film itself, starts out somewhat improbable before turning quite honest and touching. Marki Bey gives a strong performance as Lanie, the quintessential young, intelligent, independent, urban woman of the late 60s/early 70s. At first your not sure what Lanie sees in naive Elgar; but he is growing up, considerably so as their relationship blossoms, and as Lanie starts to fall for him, so do we.

But as naturally as boy meets girl, boy must of course lose girl before boy can really get girl. You see, one drunken night in Francine's apartment is all it took for Elgar to give himself over to her in a way that I think any hetero-minded male would jump at the chance to do. It's one of the best scenes in the film, spectacularly shot in long takes and lit by Willis in a dreamy red hue. And it's made even better by the lack of the regret-filled morning-after that usually follows these scenes. Instead, the morning after is just a continuation of Francine's tenderness and it's a refreshingly sweet moment. The regret comes a bit later, as Elgar and Lanie are settling in and Francine comes a-knocking with news that she's pregnant. This leads up to a hilarious visual joke as Elgar's mother's stands frozen and we cut away to her mind's eye as she pictures herself standing in the lawn singing to eight black children.

Even with an unexpected love-child being thrown into the picture, the film resists falling into any melodramatic traps or heading down any familiar, comfortable paths. The tone of the ending is a little typical of the rebellious movies of the time, such as the aforementioned The Graduate, but it still can't be considered predictable. The Landlord is constantly turning left when you think it's going to turn right and surprising you with its depth when you think it's going to be all style -- right up to the final scene. It's thoroughly unclassifiable and yet nowhere near the film that the cover for the VHS release was trying to sell.

There's enough bold experimentation (that works), hilariously memorable lines ("He just called us niggers" and just about everything else that comes out of the mouth of Lee Grant) and uniquely enjoyable characters to make the film a certified classic. There hardly a wasted moment or line of dialog in the film and even though it is distinctly of its time (this is indeed your daddy's Park Slope) its message and themes are still meaningful today and resonate more than most of the films that attempt to speak about race these days.

RFC and TIFF 2009

Accommodations are being made and tickets have been purchased for my first visit to Toronto and the Toronto International Film Festival. To say the least, I'm jazzed. As I'll be attempting to enjoy my time in Toronto, and hoping to see much of the city during my visit, I opted to go the route of 3x10 ticket packs to be split between myself and my girlfriend, who will probably end up seeing more of the city than myself. These ticket packages allow for a bit more flexibility than the single 30 pack I was toying with. At any rate, I plan on attending somewhere in the ball park of 20 films during the 10 day festival. Seems quite doable while causing minimal burnout. We put ourselves in for the advanced ticket program so there's a good chance I'll see some of the big name draws. But for the most part, since I have no obligation other than to enjoy myself, I'm not going to be threatening my mental health by trying to finagle myself into a Soderbergh film. I'll probably be attending the film that's playing at the right time and the right place -- but whatever I end up seeing, I'll be trying to get word back to RFC HQ in a timely manner. There seems to be a fair amount of wi-fi friendly locations around the theaters and screening rooms (as well as in my apartment), so this shouldn't be too much of a hassle.

A full list of the films to be shown is still a ways away from being complete but some of the major pieces are beginning to come into focus. Yesterday, there was a press conference to announce the Opening Night film and the Galas and Special Presentation films -- just over 20 films that are receiving some spotlight treatment by the festival. Included are Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! (which debuted a pretty terrific trailer just a couple weeks ago), Ricky Gervais' brainchild The Invention of Lying and Tim Blake Nelson's double-the-Edward-Norton-fun feature Leaves of Grass -- and those are just some of the noteworthy American films. Also announced were the inclusion of new films by Jane Campion, Bong Joon-ho, Bruno Dumont, Johnnie To and Nicolas Winding Refn. A couple of official press releases follow:

Press Releases

    7/14/2009| 2009 Festival To Open With World Premiere Of Jon Amiel's Creation

    Toronto - The 34th Toronto International Film Festival® opens September 10 with the world premiere Gala Presentation of Creation, directed by Jon Amiel (The Core, Entrapment, The Man Who Knew Too Little). Produced by Jeremy Thomas, the film tells the life story of Charles Darwin starring Paul Bettany (The Da Vinci Code, Wimbledon, A Beautiful Mind) as Darwin and Jennifer Connelly (He's Just Not That Into You, The Day the Earth Stood Still, A Beautiful Mind) as his wife, Emma.

    "The tension between faith and reason is prominent in contemporary culture and this intimate look at Darwin puts a human face on a man whose theory remains controversial to this day," says Piers Handling, Director and CEO of TIFF. "We are pleased to open the Festival with such an impassioned look at Charles Darwin, especially on the year marking the 200th anniversary of his birth."

    "We are honoured to open the Festival with Jon Amiel's latest feature," says Cameron Bailey, Co-Director of the Toronto International Film Festival. "By telling a story on many levels, weaving scenes from past and present, this depiction of Darwin promises to deeply move audiences by drawing them into the conflicted mind of a man who presented a concept that changed the world."

    Part ghost story, part psychological thriller, part heart-wrenching love story Creation is the story of Charles Darwin. His great, still controversial, book The Origin of Species depicts nature as a battleground. In Creation the battleground is a man's heart. Torn between his love for his deeply religious wife and his own growing belief in a world where God has no place, Darwin finds himself caught in a struggle between faith and reason, love and truth.

    The Darwin we meet in Creation is a young, vibrant father, husband and friend whose mental and physical health gradually buckles under the weight of guilt and grief for a lost child. Ultimately it is the ghost of Annie, his adored 10-year-old daughter, who leads him out of darkness and helps him reconnect with his wife and family. Only then is he able to write the book that changed the world.

    Written by John Collee and based on the Randal Keynes biography of Darwin titled Annie's Box, Creation was co-developed by Recorded Picture Company with BBC Films and the UK Film Council.

    Ticket packages for the Festival are now available for purchase by cash, debit or Visa†. Purchase online at tiff.net/thefestival, by phone at 416-968-FILM or 1-877-968-FILM (Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed weekends and holidays) or in person at the Festival Box Office at Nathan Phillips Square (Box Office hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week), located at 100 Queen Street West, in the white tent, west of the square. The 34th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 10 to 19, 2009.

    Press Releases

      7/14/2009| TIFF Announces Galas And Special Presentations

      Toronto - The Toronto International Film Festival is pleased to announce the addition of three Gala Presentations and nineteen Special Presentations to the programming lineup for this year's Festival, running September 10 to 19. Included are works from critically acclaimed filmmakers Jane Campion, Lu Chuan, Raoul Peck, Steven Soderbergh and Johnnie To featuring on-screen performances by Mariah Carey, Abbie Cornish, Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Ricky Gervais, Eva Green, Johnny Hallyday, Lenny Kravitz, Sergi López, Mo'Nique, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Clive Owen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sissy Spacek and Ben Whishaw.

      Ticket packages for the Festival are now available for purchase by cash, debit or Visa†. Purchase online at tiff.net/thefestival, by phone at 416-968-FILM or 1-877-968-FILM (Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed weekends and holidays) or in person at the Festival Box Office at Nathan Phillips Square (Box Office hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week), located at 100 Queen Street West, in the white tent, west side of the square.

      Galas

      Get Low Aaron Schneider, USA
      World Premiere
      Inspired by the true story of Felix "Bush" Breazeale, this stately frontier drama stars Robert Duvall as a backwoods eccentric who stages his own funeral—while still alive. Ten thousand people arrive to hear him speak and to learn why this local legend exiled himself 40 years ago to the foothills of Eastern Tennessee. Set in the early 1930s, Get Low is a story of mystery and discovery that speaks of timeless things. Can we know who we are? Should we judge anyone? Is there redemption for those of us lost in the dark catacombs of our past? Also starring Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek and Lucas Black.

      The Invention of Lying Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, USA
      World Premiere
      From Ricky Gervais, the award-winning creator and star of the original BBC series The Office and HBO's Extras, comes the new romantic comedyThe Invention of Lying, which takes place in an alternate reality where lying—even the concept of a lie—does not even exist. Everyone—from politicians to advertisers to the man and woman on the street—speaks the truth and nothing but the truth with no thought of the consequences. But when a down-on-his-luck loser named Mark suddenly develops the ability to lie, he finds that dishonesty has its rewards. In a world where every word is assumed to be the absolute truth, Mark easily lies his way to fame and fortune. But lies have a way of spreading, and he begins to realize that things are getting out of control when some of his tallest tales are being taken as, well, gospel. With the entire world now hanging on his every word, there is only one thing Mark has not been able to lie his way into: the heart of the woman he loves.

      Max Manus Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, Norway/Denmark/Germany
      North American Premiere
      The film is based on the true story of Norway's most colourful resistance fighter Max Manus, and follows him from the outbreak of World War II until the summer of peace in 1945. After fighting against the Russians during the Winter War in Finland, Max returns to a German-occupied Norway. He joins the active resistance movement, and becomes one of the most important members of the so-called "Oslo Gang", famous for their spectacular raids against German ships in Oslo harbour.

      Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire Lee Daniels, USA
      Canadian Premiere
      Lee Daniels's Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire is a vibrant, honest and resoundingly hopeful film about the human capacity to grow and overcome. Set in 1987 Harlem, it is the story of Claireece "Precious" Jones, an illiterate African-American teenager who is pregnant for the second time by her absent father and abused by a poisonously angry mother. Despite her experiences, Precious has a latent understanding that other possibilities exist for her, and jumps at the chance to enroll in an alternative school. There she encounters Ms. Rain, a teacher who will start her on a journey from pain and powerlessness to self-respect and determination. The film stars Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz and introduces Gabourey Sidibe.

      Special Presentations

      The Boys Are Back Scott Hicks, Australia/United Kingdom
      World Premiere
      Based on the memoir by Simon Carr, Scott Hicks (Shine) directs The Boys Are Back, inspired by the poignant, comic and uplifting true story of a man who must suddenly raise his two sons alone. After the untimely passing of his second wife, the ill-prepared Joe (Clive Owen), who is dealing with his own loss, is confronted with the daily challenges of parenthood while coping with his young son Artie's expressions of grief. They are soon joined by Harry, Joe's teenage son from his first marriage, who brings his own personal "baggage" into the mix. Also starring Laura Fraser and Emma Booth.

      Bright Star Jane Campion, United Kingdom/Australia
      North American Premiere
      A drama based on the secret love affair between 23-year-old English poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and the girl next door, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), an outspoken student of fashion. Intensely and helplessly absorbed in each other, they rode a wave of romantic obsession that deepened as their troubles mounted. Only Keats's illness and untimely death proved insurmountable.

      City of Life and Death Lu Chuan, China
      International Premiere
      From acclaimed director Lu Chuan comes a devastating and controversial epic film based on the most atrocious holocaust in Chinese history, the Nanjing Massacre. The story unfolds as the Japanese take over the city in 1937 and everyone is struggling to survive in a city where death is easier than life. Starring Liu Ye and Gao Yuanyuan.

      Cracks Jordan Scott, Ireland
      World Premiere
      In an austere and remote girls' boarding school, the most elite clique of girls are the illustrious members of the school's diving team. As they compete for the attention of their glamorous teacher (Eva Green), the arrival of a beautiful Spanish girl disrupts the delicate social balance. In an attempt to put differences aside, a secret midnight party takes place that will change their lives forever.

      Hadewijch Bruno Dumont, France
      World Premiere
      Hadewijch is a religious novice whose ecstatic, blind faith leads to her expulsion from a convent. Returning to her former life, Hadewijch reverts to being Céline, a Parisienne and daughter of a diplomat. However, her passion for God, rage and encounters with Khaled and Nassir soon lead her down a dangerous path.

      The Informant! Steven Soderbergh, USA
      North American Premiere
      Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a rising star at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), suddenly turns whistleblower. Exposing his company's multinational price-fixing conspiracy to the FBI, Whitacre imagines himself as a kind of de facto secret agent. Unfortunately for the FBI, their lead witness hasn't been quite forthcoming about helping himself to the corporate coffers. Whitacre's ever-changing account frustrates the agents and threatens the case against ADM as it becomes almost impossible to decipher what is real and what is the product of Whitacre's rambling imagination. Based on the true story of the highest-ranking corporate whistleblower in U.S. history.

      Leaves of Grass Tim Blake Nelson, USA
      World Premiere
      Bill Kincaid, an Ivy League classics professor, returns to rural Oklahoma to bury his dangerously brilliant identical twin brother who had remained in their native state to grow hydroponic pot. Leaves of Grass is a fast-paced comic film that contrasts two distinct approaches to life. Featuring Edward Norton in the role of each twin.

      London River Rachid Bouchareb, United Kingdom/France/Algeria
      North American Premiere
      This intimate drama tells the story of two people, a Muslim man and a Christian woman, who are immediately affected by the July 2005 London bombings. Both of them are drawn to the British capital when their children go missing on the day of the attacks. Putting aside their cultural differences, they will give each other the strength to continue the search for their children and maintain their faith.

      Mao's Last Dancer Bruce Beresford, Australia/USA/China
      World Premiere
      Adapted from his internationally best-selling memoir, the film tells the true story of Li Cunxin, a Chinese-trained ballet dancer. Plucked from his childhood village, subjected to years of vigorous training and threatened during the Cultural Revolution, Cunxin decides to leave China at great risk to himself and those he loves, for an uncertain future.

      Moloch Tropical Raoul Peck, Haiti/France
      World Premiere
      A democratically elected "President" and his closest collaborators are getting ready for a state celebration. But in the morning of the event, he wakes up to find the country inflamed and the streets in turmoil. Despite the situation, the President does not want to face reality and refuses to resign. Overwhelmed, he plunges into a deep mental confusion as the events unfold. Set in a castle in the clouds, Moloch Tropical is a Shakespearian, behind-the-scenes depiction of the end of power.

      Mother Bong Joon-ho, South Korea
      North American Premiere
      A unique noir thriller that digs into the secrecy surrounding a terrible murder and the mystery of a mother's primal love for her son. The films of director Bong Joon-ho regularly, and brilliantly, break with convention, thanks to an imagination that is not confined to the accepted parameters of humour, suspense or horror - Mother is no exception.

      Ondine Neil Jordan, Ireland/USA
      World Premiere
      A lyrical, modern fairy tale that tells the story of Syracuse (Colin Farrell), an Irish fisherman whose life is transformed when he catches a beautiful and mysterious woman (Alicja Bachleda) in his nets. His daughter Annie (Alison Barry) comes to believe that the woman is a magical creature, while Syracuse falls helplessly in love. However, like all fairy tales, enchantment and darkness go hand in hand.

      Partir Catherine Corsini, France
      International Premiere
      Suzanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a well-to-do married woman and mother in the south of France. Her idle bourgeois lifestyle gets her down and she decides to go back to work as a physiotherapist. Her husband agrees to fix-up a consulting room for her in their backyard. When Suzanne and the man (Sergi López) hired to do the building meet, the mutual attraction is sudden and violent. Suzanne decides to give up everything and live this all-engulfing passion to the fullest.

      Scheherazade Tell Me a Story Yousry Nasrallah, Egypt
      North American Premiere
      Hebba is the host of a successful political talk show in present-day Cairo. Karim, her husband, is deputy editor-in-chief of a governmentowned newspaper. When Party big shots imply his wife is meddling with opposition politics, Karim convinces her to start a series of talk shows around issues involving women. Hebba knows, of course, that women's issues are political. But she could not imagine to what extent, and the tension eventually leads to the break-up of her marriage.

      Solitary Man Brian Koppelman and David Levien, USA
      World Premiere
      Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) is feeling his age, but you wouldn't know it from the company he keeps. A former mogul with a chain of car dealerships, until legal troubles knocked him out of business, Ben now keeps a grip on the world through his relationships with women - many women. The cast also includes Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary Louise Parker and Jenna Fischer.

      Valhalla Rising Nicolas Winding Refn, Denmark/United Kingdom
      World Premiere
      It is 1000 AD. For years, One Eye, a mute warrior of supernatural strength, has been held prisoner by the Norse chieftain Barde. Aided by Are, a boy slave, One Eye slays his captor and together he and Are escape, beginning a journey into the heart of darkness. On their flight, One Eye and Are board a Viking vessel, but the ship is soon engulfed by an endless fog that clears only as the crew sights an unknown land. As the new world reveals its secrets and the Vikings confront their terrible and bloody fate, One Eye discovers his true self.

      Vengeance Johnnie To, Hong Kong/France
      North American Premiere
      A father comes to Hong Kong to avenge his daughter, whose family was murdered. Officially, he's a French chef. Twenty years ago, he was a killer. Vengeance is a moody, noir-ish tour-de-force, starring French pop icon Johnny Hallyday.

      The Vintner's Luck Niki Caro, New Zealand/France
      World Premiere
      Set in early 19th century France The Vintner's Luck tells the compelling tale of Sobran Jodeau, an ambitious young peasant winemaker and the three loves of his life—his beautiful and passionate wife Celeste, the proudly intellectual baroness Aurora de Valday and Xas, an angel who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Sobran. A fantastical creature with wings that smell of snow, Xas turns out to be an unconventional mentor. Under his guidance Sobran is forced to fathom the nature of love and belief and in the process, grapples with the sensual, the sacred and the profane—all in pursuit of the perfect vintage.

      The Special Presentations programme is made possible through the generous sponsorship of American Movie Classics Company LLC.


      About Bell Lightbox
      Currently under construction, Bell Lightbox, a breathtaking five-storey complex located in downtown Toronto will provide a permanent home for film lovers celebrating cinema from around the world and will propel TIFF forward as an international leader in film culture. Designed by innovative architecture firm KPMB, Bell Lightbox's fluid design encourages exploration, movement and play. The campaign to build Bell Lightbox is generously supported by founding sponsor Bell, the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario, The King and John Festival Corporation - consisting of the Reitman family and The Daniels Corporation., RBC as Major Sponsor and Official Bank, Visa†, Copyright Collective of Canada, NBC Universal Canada, The Allan Slaight Family, The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation and CIBC. The Board of Directors, staff and many generous individuals and corporations have also contributed to the campaign. For more information on the Bell Lightbox campaign, visitbelllightbox.ca.

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