NYFF52: Hollywood Kids Makin’ Movies Of Themselves

Filmwax Radio blogger Herbert Gambill’s 4th dispatch from the New York Film Festival press & industry screenings. The Festival runs from Friday, September 26th through Sunday, October 12th.

NYFFMaps to the Stars” has a long development history. Bruce Wagner wrote the screenplay twenty years ago, adapted it into a novel, and now David Cronenberg has updated this satire of Hollywood excess to reflect the TMZ/celebrity meltdown dramas of today. It’s a caustic critique of family life in an era of so many over-medicated children sexualized at increasingly younger ages and parents who indulge in desperate, sometimes cultish solutions to their own battered, often sexually-molested pasts. We’ve seen such satires before but this one is refreshing for two reasons: first, unlike pandering fantasies like the TV show “Entourage” a show that encourages you to love and identify with moronic celebs (or at least indulge them), the subjects of “Maps to the Stars” have their indulgences called out constantly in the film. They all seem to have at least some idea of how unsustainable their lifestyles and attitudes are. And they suffer dearly for their bad actions; secondly, the performances are all so entertaining that, no matter what you think of the subject matter, it is compulsively watchable.

Mia Wasikowska plays Agatha Weiss, a burn victim (from setting her own house on fire) recently released from a sanatorium, who returns to her family in Los Angeles. Her father (an unforgettable John Cusack) is now a famous psychotherapist and self-help guru. Her mother (Olivia Williams) manages the movie career of her 13-year-old son Benjie (a terrific performance by Evan Bird of the TV show “The Killing”), who is about to star in the latest of a hugely successful series of bad babysitter films. Shunned by her family because of her pyromania, and because of a family secret of which she’s privy, Agatha finds work —via a Twitter friendship with the real-life Carrie Fisher— as a “chore-whore” for Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a once A-list actress now desperate to land the role playing her own dead mother, herself a once famous Hollywood actress. Havana is also a patient of Agatha’s father, who is trying to help her overcome years of abuse she claims to have suffered at the hand of her mother. Agatha also pursues a romance with a limousine driver and struggling actor played by Robert Pattinson who spent most of Cronenberg’s 2012 film “Cosmopolis” riding in the back of a limo. Read more

NYFF52: Due Maestri Italiani

NYFFFilmwax Radio blogger Herbert Gambill’s 3rd dispatch from the New York Film Festival press & industry screenings. The Festival runs from Friday, September 26th through Sunday, October 12th.

The plot of Eugène Green’s “La Sapienza” brings to mind Rossellini’s “Voyage to Italy.” In that 1954 film an estranged couple’s visit to Pompeii provided something of a rekindling of their love. In Green’s film a successful middle-aged French architect, Alexandre (played by Fabrizio Rongione, who also stars in the Dardenne brothers’ “Two Days, One Night,” another film in this year’s NYFF main slate), depressed by changes ordered by a client, travels with his wife Alienor (Christelle Prot Landman) to view the works of one of his heroes, the Roman Baroque architect Francesco Borromini. The couple, whose relationship has been running cold for many years, first visits Borromini’s birthplace, Ticino, in the Italian-speaking southern part of Switzerland, by Lake Maggiore, where they meet two teenage siblings who make a huge impression on them. Goffredo (Ludovico Succio) wants to study architecture himself; his sister Lavinia (Arianna Nastro) suffers from dizzy spells perhaps induced by her fear of being separated from her brother. Though Alexandre gives Goffredo a chilly initial reception, his wife talks him into proceeding to Rome with him, leaving her to tend to an ailing Lavinia. Read more

Review: 20,000 Days on Earth

20-000-days-on-earth-posterAt age 56 (he’ll turn 57 this Monday), Australian musician, screenwriter and novelist Nick Cave has been alive more than “20,000 Days on Earth“, which is also the title of Iain Forsyth’s and Jane Pollard’s immersive, subject-participatory film about the life and work of the multi-talented artist. Forsyth and Pollard are UK visual artists who have previously made videos and audio books with Cave and began their careers doing some very innovative re-staging of musical performances. There are exciting performance sequences in the doc but most of it is taken up with Cave talking about his life, sometimes directly, and other times employing various conceits: questioned by a therapist (not his own in real life), or chatting with celebrity friends (Kylie Minogue, Ray Winston) as they ride with him in his Jaguar. (Yes, he’s not an impoverished artist these days.) When it comes to record-keeping, Cave is refreshingly old-school, typing away on a manual typewriter and perusing old diaries (his junkie days, the dreadful ‘80s), and the accretion of these primary sources gives the film a rich texture. Cave rehearses songs with his band mate Warren Ellis and these sequences will be a boon for fans interested in instrumentation and process. (Ellis uses the popular mini-Korg to accompany Cave as he plays piano.) Even if you’ve never heard of Cave, as long as you’re interested in the creative process or what it’s like to be an artist on the far side of his 50s, this film could very well cast a spell on you. It’s one of the best films about a musician I’ve ever seen.

Currently screening at Film Forum through Tuesday, September 30th.  Directors will appear at select shows this weekend; check link for details.

NYFF52: Goodbye to Language, ’71 & Misunderstood

Filmwax Radio blogger Herbert Gambill’s 2nd dispatch from the New York Film Festival press & industry screenings. The New York Film Festival runs from Friday, September 26th through Thursday, October 2nd.


2014 NYFF poster (Artist Laurie Simmons)Jean-Luc Godard’s latest, “Goodbye to Language” is in 3D, and the iconoclast disrupts its conventions almost as brilliantly as he did two dimensionally in his first feature, “Breathless.” Turns out, for example, that a lap dissolve doesn’t quite work in a 3D film; neither does increasing the contrast of the image. But “Goodbye to Language” is much more than an essay about the relationship between a form of pictorial representation and its ideological assumptions. Godard continues using his most recent palette (even at times re-using some images from his “Histoires de Cinema” and references to images like Courbet’s painting “The Origin of Life”) which means only a Godard enthusiast–which I encourage everyone to be–will appreciate this 70-minute film. The minimal plot is the same one he has used in many films: a couple argues. Discourses multiply. Godard may be saying goodbye to language but not to parole (speech), a fact underscored by the sounds of an infant babbling and his dog Roxy’s barking which ends the film. There is also much of the unfortunate petulant comments about history (“Hitler didn’t invent anything.”) that sound less ironic when they are narrated as opposed to coming out of the mouth of a character. But when it comes to image, sound and the communicative and poetic possibilities and dangers of myriad discourses (used book customers distracted by iPhones), Godard always provokes in an interesting way. Maybe love means never having to say anything? Read more

The 52nd New York Film Festival Main Slate

NYFFKent Jones’ 2nd time at the helm of the New York Film Festival is an impressive one, with two major American world premieres opening this fall, a host of U.S. premieres of notable world auteurs, and 1st time appearances by several New York indie filmmakers. The 52nd festival runs between September 26 and October 12.

Opening the festival is “Gone Girl,” David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel. Ben Affleck stars as a bar owner in Missouri who becomes the prime suspect after his wife goes missing on the day of their fifth anniversary. Rosamund PIke plays the wife, seen in extensive flashbacks detailing their crumbling marriage. It will be interesting to see how Fincher treats the sometimes unreliable narration that was used in the book. Some surprising choices round out the cast, including Neil Patrick Harris as the wife’s ex-boyfriend, Tyler Perry as a superstar attorney and Emily —the model made famous by the “Blurred Lines” video— plays a coed who has an affair with Affleck’s character.

Paul Thomas Anderson is the first director to adapt a Thomas Pynchon novel but he’s chosen one of the reclusive author’s more approachable creations. “Inherent Vice,” Pynchon’s 2009 book was a comical noir set in 1970 Los Angeles concerning a pothead private eye named Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello. Anderson again casts Joaquin Phoenix, this time in the role of Doc, Josh Brolin as a police detective and Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam) as Sportello’s ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth. (Pynchon loves colorful names.) The Manson trial going on at the time underscores the story’s paranoid mood. The Festival’s centerpiece feature also stars Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Owen Wilson, and Jena Malone. Read more