Thursday, February 19, 2015

Film Comment Selects 2015 Preview

Film Comment Selects, Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual film series that showcases the best films from all corners of the world selected by folks at Film Comment magazine, marks the arrival of spring for New York cinephiles in otherwise dreadful February/March movie season.

This year's selections are as diverse as ever; the series blasts off with Mark Hartely's hilarious doc Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films with some of Cannon's greatest hits as the sidebar selections, includes Larry Clark's Kids part deux- The Smell of Us (skater kids in Paris, this time), the late Mike Nichols tribute to his underrated, underseen The Fortune, Philippe Garrel's rarely screened elegy Un ange passe, a special screening of the original preview cut of Joe Dante's Gremlins (featuring five additional minutes!), as well as many festival favorites- Shinya Tsukamoto's remake of Fires on the Plain, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead's Spring, Tetsuya Nakashima's The World of Kanako and Christian Petzold's new film Phoenix. The series also shed a six-film spotlight on autobiographical Danish auteur Nils Malmros.

I was able to sample films below from the series lineup. The Film Comment Selects runs 2/20 - 3/5. For more information and tickets, please visit FSLC website

THE SMELL OF US - Larry Clark
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It's been 20 years since Larry Clark made Kids. Now in his 70s, Clark hasn't changed his tune one bit. The setting now is in Paris and young skaters and hustlers are now armed with iphones to memorialize their sexual escapades. But everything else is pretty much the same. Even though there are a lot of skins and explicit shots, the impact is far less shocking to anyone in this internet age.

The thin story centers around Mat/pacman (Lukas Ionesco), a San Sebastian-esque beauty who is 'only gay for cash'. Everyone is in love with him, including his best buddy JP/Babyface and only visible girl in the group, Marie. There are a lot of flabby, monstrous old men/women lusting for young flesh in this film, including cameo from Clark himself as a drunk homeless man they call Rockstar (yeah right).

The Smell of Us makes the word 'disaffected' even more tiresome. The kids in the film are not only rebels without a cause but brain, emotions and everything that makes interesting characters. It is too obvious that only thing left to sell is their youthful body. In this day and age, I don't think that cuts it anymore.

SHOCK VALUE: How Dan O'Bannon And Some USC Outsiders Helped Invent Modern Horror
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USC, the school responsible for incubating such Hollywood filmmakers as George Lucas, Ron Howard and Rian Johnson, was also the place to be for successful genre filmmakers in the late 60s early 70s.

USC archivist Dino Everett lovingly strings together the works of USC Film School collaborators - Dan O'Bannon, John Carpenter, Charles Adair, Terence Winkless and Alec Lorimore in this no frills anthology. Obviously these are raw, amateurish student films but there are clear evidence of seeds of what's to come in genre filmmaking being planted, especially in Adair's riveting The Demon, predating Texas Chainsaw Massacre and sharing the same spirit of Night of the Living Dead and Winkless & Lorimore's Judson's Release being a precursor to Carpenter's Halloween. I would loved to have seen Carpenter's thesis film Lady Madonna- the anthology includes some of the sound recordings of the film without the picture since the negatives of the film are said to be lost.

BYPASS - Duane Hopskins
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Duane Hopkins' Bypass is yet another great example of social realism set in British working class neighborhood. It fits somewhere between the works of Lynne Ramsay, Andrea Arnold and Shane Meadows, owing everything to, of course, Alan Clarke, Bill Douglas and early Mike Leigh. Gracefully lensed by David Proctor and beautifully acted by the principles, the film rises above other depressing, small time thugs dramas set in England.
Bypass tells a story of the Locketts. Fatherless with bedridden mom, the eldest Greg (Benjamine Dilloway), a former soccer player whose dreams are crushed by the leg injury, deals in petty theft to support the family. But when he is caught and locked up, it's a sickly younger brother, Tim (George MacKay, in a star making turn)'s turn to provide for the family, dealing with pretty much the same set of local lowlifes. Things get complicated when bill collectors and child welfare services are hounding him and his younger sister and his angelic girlfriend, Lily (Charlotte Spencer) gets pregnant.

Hopkins shows his talent for effortless pacing, change of POV and smart, economical storytelling without losing sight on the characters innate goodness and warm heart. Brooding and tense, Bypass showcases another major talent in the making in British cinema.

VOICE OVER - Cristian Jimenez
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Chilean director Cristian Jimenez's Bonsai has been on my radar for a while. His new family dramedy Voice Over is a well written, well rounded film. It tells the story of Ana (Ingrid Isensee), a pretty, thirty something, unemployed, divorced mother of two young children, dealing with life's all messiness- while taking care of her two kids who are growing up fast, she finds out that her seemingly happy parents are separating, then her bossy older sister comes back home after getting Ph.D on anthropology with her hunky French husband and a new baby in tow. A failed actress, now Ana is trying to be a voice over artist for commercials. Even though Ana is the supposed protagonist of the film, Jimenez gives equal attention to each character and makes them all shine.

I really hate familial archetypes, 'quirky' characters in American comedies. Jimenez wouldn't have any of that. They are well developed, yet far from perfect people who are trying to cope with the curve balls life throws at them. There's birth. There's death, First sign of womanhood, sibling rivalry, rusty nail in the yard, veganism, heartbreaks and forgiveness, but nothing seems far fetched or outrageous for quirk-sake. There isn't a moment in life where a smooth voiced narrator explains everything that everything will be okay, like in movies. Jimenez has a real eye and ear for life's little incongruities. The result is a rich and rewarding viewing experience.

HIGH SOCIETY - Julie Lopes-Curval
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Alice (Ana Girardot) is at a stage where she is trying to find her artistic voice. The thing is, she's from a single mother household, works at a cake shop and lives in a small town in Normandy. Knitting is her thing. After many weeks of hesitation, she asks for a recommendation letter for entering a prestigious art school in Paris from a wealthy woman in fashion industry who frequents the cake shop and has a villa in Normandy. Once she is accepted by the school, she gets involved with the woman's son Antoine (Bastien Bouillon) who quits a business school to become a photographer. He is a proto-hipster, rebelling against rich parents and living that bohemian lifestyle in Paris.

For the rest of the film, we witness the education of Alice- on finding her artistic voice, on life. Even though she loves Antoine, he involuntarily keeps reminding her the deep divide in their class differences- it's in the things he says and does nonchalantly, even innocently that hurts her.
High Society is beautifully written by Sophie Hiet and director Julie Lopes-Curval. I can't think of another movie that deals with class differences so subtly (explored in Blue is the Warmest Color but better here). Rich and poor aren't grotesquely exaggerated caricatures here. Girardot is adorable as a young woman finding out that there is a bigger world out there and that there is so much to learn and explore without compromising the sense of who she is and not forgetting where she's from. A beautiful film.

TREE OF KNOWLEDGE - Nils Malmros *In Focus
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Nils Malmros chronicles bittersweet days of his adolescence in the 50s Danish intermediary school. Tree of Knowledge concerns a dozen kids in the same class, as they start noticing opposite sex- love at first sight, jealousy and heartbreak ensue. It is quite apparent that Malmros was doing way back then what the social realist like the Dardenne Bros are doing now. Almost documentary like, he gets full access to the lives of these youngsters and gets amazingly naturalistic performances. These episodic days of 13 year old boys and girls are mad affecting. Particularly, in the case of Elin, a tall sullen brunette from an ultra conservative household who gets ostracized because she is a prude, both by heartbroken, monstrous boys and cliquey, jealous girls. Then there is Niels-Ole (Jan Johansen), a leader and general rabble-rouser of the pack, falls hard for beautiful Maj-Brit (Lone Elliot), only to find out that our little Maj-Brit 'has been around with many boys'.

Malmros masterfully orchestrates 2 years of the lives of the group (here's looking at you Linklater!) and ends the film just as swiftly, leaving us wanting more and appreciating the fleeting nature of those precious days in equal measure.

*The series include following Malmros films: Arhus by Night, Boys, Facing the Truth, Pain of Love, Sorrow and Joy and Tree of Knowledge

NINJA III: The Domination - Firstenberg *Cannon Films Tribute
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Christie (Lucinda Dickey) is just ordinary working gal: she works for a phone company, climbing up the telephone polls in a cute jumpsuit, then changes to a neon colored leotard to teach an aerobics class. She encounters a dying ninja who just killed about a hundred LA cops along with his intended victim. His soul gets transferred to Christie and she becomes an unstoppable cop killer.

Ninja III, steeped in 80s typical cheesy settings- Patric Nagel poster, squiggly neon tubes on the wall and public phone booth in the living room, is an epitome of a Cannon b-picture ridiculousness. You just have to surrender yourself to it and it will reward you handsomely.

*Cannon Films Tribute includes the following masterpieces: 10 to Midnight, The Last American Virgin and Ninja III: The Domination

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