By Craig Phillips

In honor of Memorial Day -- take a moment of silence for all the soldiers who have served this country over the years (and centuries), and then take another moment to think of some of your favorite films about the horrors of war.  These are mine. Post your own choices in the comments below.
(Note: I'm keeping to fictional features here, no docs allowed, for the sake of focus.

Blog entry 05/25/2009 - 11:38am

By Kevin B. Lee and Keith Uhlich

John Gianvito spent much of the '90s burning through credit cards to produce and direct The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, a multi-layered critique of the First Iraq War. Though mostly neglected upon its release, in hindsight it is one of the most relevant films to describe the political and psychic traumas of this decade. Financially and emotionally exhausted by the endeavor, Gianvito planned a more modest follow-up, a short film inspired by Howard Zinn's populist study A People's History of the United States. That project evolved into Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, an hour-long feature guided by a deceptively simple premise: a chronological tour of the gravesites of victims of social oppression as well as the activists who stood up for their rights.

The steady procession of historical narrative (as told by the tombstones), graced by a soundtrack consisting of the ambient surroundings, transforms vérité documentary into a hypnotic aesthetic that combines a meditation on nature, remembrances of past heroic struggles to better the lives of others, and a stirring call to carry their legacy into the present. These three themes permeate the following interview with Gianvito, conducted by Kevin B. Lee and Keith Uhlich at the film's 2007 Toronto Film Festival premiere.

Blog entry 05/05/2009 - 4:28pm

Gonzalo Arijon By David D'Arcy

"Because the story has already been told in Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, the 1974 best seller by Piers Paul Read, and retold in its 1993 screen adaptation starring Ethan Hawke, why again?" asks Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "The short answer is that in [Stranded: I've Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains], all 16 of the survivors, now middle-aged, tell the story in their own words." And Salon's Andrew O'Hehir finds the resulting film "intimate, terrifying and positively riveting... One way of explaining Stranded is that [director Gonzalo] Arijon's after not just the objective facts of what happened and when, which are dramatic enough, but also the subjective reality, the psychological and physiological desolation of the experience."

David D'Arcy talks with Arijon about why he's retelling a well-known tale.

Stranded is now out on DVD.

Blog entry 04/28/2009 - 12:34am

 By John Esther

Trouble the Water [trailer] looks deep and hard at America before, during and after Hurricane Katrina led to the flooding of New Orleans and, in particular, the Bush Administration's typical gross incompetence in responding to the catastrophes.

Directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary category this past year. "Save for some righteous indignation at the close," wrote Manohla Dargis in The New York Times, "Trouble the Water makes its points without didacticism. [The film] ebbs and flows like great drama."

A producer who has worked with Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11), Martin Scorsese, Bob Dylan and others, Trouble the Water is Lessin's feature debut. A co-producer on Fahrenheit 9/11, Deal's other credits include being an archivist for Bowling for Columbine, God Grew Tired of Us and Murderball. The film premieres on HBO Thursday, April 23, before making its debut on DVD this summer from Zeitgeist Films.

In this exclusive interview, John Esther spoke to Deal and Lessin about Trouble the Water.

Blog entry 04/21/2009 - 8:39am

By Craig Phillips

taxingwomanYet another in my series of fully biased reports on movies that are frustratingly absent a current DVD release here in the United States (the other two lists are here, and here.) Here are ten more neglected films -- and this is one article I wouldn't mind seeing become dated, when/if these films finally do arrive on disc:

  • The List of Adrian Messenger: I'll confess that I haven't seen this one since I was a pre-teen (on television one night), but it was one of the first mystery films I both really loved and even understood, aside from the 70s all-star Agatha Christie films. Even if there's a chance it's now dated, the pedigree -- director John Huston, actors Kirk Douglas, George C. Scott, Robert Mitchum, et al -- should alone be enough to get this one its due on DVD. A real head-scratcher that it's not
  • A Taxing Woman: Juzo Itami's wonderful film has long been OOP on DVD, which seems to occur to me every year on tax day. The titular tax agent is played by Itami's wife. Was followed by a sequel, also not on DVD in the States. Someone do an audit and find out why.
Blog entry 04/20/2009 - 11:42am

dazed and confusedBy Vadim Rizov

Last Friday, reported that at a benefit screening of Dazed And Confused, writer-director Richard Linklater said he was working on "a sort of spiritual sequel" to the film, using none of the same characters, but a similar approach to frosh stumbling through a first weekend at college in 1980. If you're a fan of Dazed (and I am, to the point of fetishism), this is good news: though Dazed has definitively replaced American Graffiti as the template for the "one coming-of-age night" genre, no one's really gotten it right since. (Can't Hardly Wait got closest, and it's basically a cartoon.)

It's easy to be cynical about why Linklater's making this movie at this particular moment. He's sitting on two movies that aren't theater-bound. It's no real surprise that his documentary profile of University of Texas coach Augie Garrido, Inning By Inning: A Portrait of a Coach, is going straight-to-DVD after being shown on ESPN; the arthouse crowd doesn't typically do sports movies, no matter how warmly intended or who's making them. But who could've guessed Me And Orson Welles would still be distributor-less half a year after its Toronto premiere, demographic-baiting star Zac Efron and all? It gets worse: in the years since the undeniable critical and commercial success of School of Rock, Linklater's worked on a rejected HBO pilot, a Bad News Bears remake that underperformed commercially and critically, a cult movie (A Scanner Darkly) that failed to justify its budget, and a didactic lecture-film (Fast Food Nation) that came and went virtually unnoticed. This is not the way one of '90s indie cinema's icons should be heading; Linklater would appear to no longer be at the vanguard of American film, a status that once went unquestioned.

Blog entry 04/01/2009 - 2:41pm

Tell No One By James Van Maanen

"Hitchcock's 'Wrong Man' scenario gets an invigorating French update in Tell No One, a long-winded but gripping thriller based on American author Harlan Coben's bestseller," writes Nick Schager in Slant, reviewing "a film whose entertainingly fleet (and sometimes downright harried) pace... and enticing central mysteries deliver the tangy kicks one craves from juicy pulp."

James Van Maanen talks with Coben and actor-director Guillaume Canet about their César Award-winner. Tell No One is now out on DVD.

Blog entry 03/31/2009 - 1:10pm

Steve McQueen By David D'Arcy

"Historical dramas often suffer from a certain stodgy remove, but in Hunger, conceptual artist and first-time feature filmmaker Steve McQueen takes his audience deep inside a particular place and time: Her Majesty's Prison Maze in Northern Ireland, circa 1981," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "McQueen wields his directorial control so tightly that at a certain point, his long takes start to look more like a stunt than the ideal way to convey information. But honestly, when a director has the eye and the feel of a McQueen, he earns the leeway to go down some blind alleys."

David D'Arcy talks with McQueen about the film that's won the Golden Camera in Cannes, among several other awards at festivals around the world.  Hunger opens in the US in NYC March 20 and in other cities soon thereafter.

Blog entry 03/20/2009 - 9:01am

Co-winner of the Audience Award at the Cinequest Film Festival, The Village Barbershop is one of those little indie films you can't help but root for. Variety's Dennis Harvey wrote: "Feeling as crustily comfortable as its titular environ, Village Barbershop is an old-hat story -- curmudgeon grudgingly takes in brash youth, with eventual life-enhancing benefits for both. But in this case, the old hat is well worn, and debuting writer-director Chris Ford has blown most of the dust off. Result is a cannily low-key charmer."

It stars John Ratzenberg (still most famous for his long-running role as Cliff Claven on Cheers, but who has also made quite a career out of doing fine voice work for many Pixar features) as that curmudgeon, a small-town haircutter whose melancholy, and rigid, life is altered when a woman shows up looking for a job as his other barber. The film was shot in Reno and Northern California and looks quite good given it's small budget.

We chatted by email with filmmaker Ford, lead actress Shelly Cole, and supporting actor Amos Glick (who plays Ratzenberg's Scrooge-ish landlord.) Each were quite candid with us about the trials and rewards of making a "small" film like Village Barbershop.

Blog entry 03/10/2009 - 11:35am

[Hammer in hand, Vadim Rizov (The Village Voice, The House Next Door) makes an astute attempt at nailing down the gelatinous zeitgeist, at least in how the symbiosis of H'wood filmmaking and filmgoing will be affected by the ongoing economic collapse. Kick back with some boot stew and check 'er out. -Aaron Hillis]

Confessions of a Shopaholic In the time between Confessions of a Shopaholic's initial wave of advertising and its release, things have (to put it mildly) changed; a lightweight chick-flick parable about a woman with a spending problem who finds love and a way to pay for her material thrills (a frilly entertainment based on a 2000 book to be released in the middle of a mild economic downturn) is now a dispatch from a different age. Even if, as the Wikipedia page claims, reshoots have taken the recession into account, the question stands: do today's depressed audiences want vicarious materialism? Or will they turn indifferently on the film and run back to the more apropos comforts of Paul Blart and its ilk?

Blog entry 02/11/2009 - 2:32pm

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