omplete QPORIT: February 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

 

RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA 2010


Chiara Mastroianni
"Making Plans for Lena"
"Non ma fille tu n'iras pas danser"
Photo credit: Jean-Claude Lother- Why Not Productions- 2009


The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents one great series after another. Currently they are about to start a special collection of films selected by Film Comment. And one of my big favorite series has just been announced:

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2010
March 11-21

Films & descriptions:

*OPENING NIGHT SELECTION
Farewell (L'affaire Farewell), Christian Carion, 2009, 113 min.
Actor-directors Emir Kusturica and Guillaume Canet co-star in an absorbing true story about a KGB colonel who gives top-secret documents to an ordinary French businessman working in Russia, helping to hasten the end of the Cold War.

8 Times Up (Huit Fois Debout), Xabi Molia, 2009, 103 min.
When a woman (Julie Gayet) struggling to make ends meet gets evicted, she and her unemployed neighbor set up a makeshift camp in the forest in this seriocomic investigation of the pressures of modern society.

French Kissers (Les Beaux Gosses), Riad Sattouf, 2009, 90 min.
The French answer to American Pie and Superbad, this hilarious and touching coming-of-age comedy follows two geeky Brittany teens on an odyssey of heavy petting, premature ejaculation and first love.

Hideaway (Le refuge), François Ozon, 2009, 88 min.
An incisive character drama about a hardened ex-junkie who is visited by the brother of her late boyfriend while recovering at a beachside retreat.

I'm Happy that My Mother is Alive (Je suis heureux que ma mère soit vivante), Claude Miller, Nathan Miller, 2009, 90 min.
Given up for adoption as a toddler, Thomas becomes obsessed with tracking down his birth mother-but if he finds her, then what? Beautifully acted by a cast of unknowns, and based on a true story.

In the Beginning (A l'origine), Xavier Giannoli, 2009, 120 min.
François Cluzet gives a tour-de-force performance as a small-time conman who convinces an economically depressed town that he has come to resurrect a long-dormant highway construction project.

Mademoiselle Chambon, Stéphane Brizé, 2009, 101 min.
A delicate, moving tale that follows Jean (Vincent Lindon), a home contractor, as he finds himself increasingly attracted by the elegant charm of his son's homeroom school teacher (Sandrine Kiberlain).

Making Plans for Lena (Non ma fille tu n'iras pas danser), Christophe Honoré, 2009, 105 min.
Recently liberated from her job and husband, Lena (Chiara Mastroianni) heads home to Brittany for the holidays-only to find her self deluged with nonstop advice as to How To Be Happy.

OSS 117 - Lost in Rio (OSS 117 - Rio ne répond plus), Michel Hazanavicius, 2009, 100 min.
A delightful, madcap comedy that follows suave Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath (Jean Dujardin)-better known as OSS 117- as he travels across Brazil with a charming Mossad agent on the trail a hidden, high-ranking Nazi.

Rapt, Lucas Belvaux, 2009, 125 min.
A millionaire businessman and playboy (Yvan Attal) is kidnapped and held for ransom in this fact-based, edge-of-your-seat nail-biter. But is his abduction a crime, or a case of just deserts?

Regrets (Les Regrets), Cédric Kahn, 2009, 105 min.
A married Paris architect (Yvan Attal) returns to his rural hometown to visit his dying mother, whereupon he rekindles his relationship with his former high-school girlfriend. A fascinating drama of romantic obsession.

Restless (Le bel âge), Laurent Perreau, 2009, 97 min.
Claire, a tomboyish teenager feeling the stirrings of first love, and her grandfather, Maurice, a former Resistance fighter, share a house but soon discover much else as well. A touching, fresh approach to the coming of age tale, with a superb performance by Michel Piccoli.

The Army of Crime (L'armée du crime), Robert Guédiguian, 2009, 139 min.
A taut, revealing thriller about the beginnings of the French Resistance, when the leaders as well as the foot soldiers of the movement were often foreigners-Poles, Jews, Armenians, Spaniards, Italians-and who often had as much to fear from French collaborators as they did the Germans. Starring Virginie Ledoyen.

The Hedgehog (Le hérisson), Mona Achache, 2009, 100 min.
A timely fable about Paloma, a young girl bent on ending it all before she becomes an adult, who learns a thing or two about life from her building's coarse, unkempt concierge (the wonderful Josiane Balasko). Based on Muriel Barbery's well-loved novel.

The King of Escape (Le roi de l'évasion), Alain Guiraudie, 2009, 97 min.
After coming to the rescue of a 16-year-old damsel in distress, a gay, middle-aged tractor salesman decides to give heterosexuality a try in this delightfully offbeat, mid-life crisis comedy.

The Law (La loi/La legge), Jules Dassin, 1959, 126 min.
Pitched between a romantic melodrama and a Fifties art film, this hugely entertaining look at a seaside Italian village wracked by barely contained tensions and jealousies features an extraordinary international all-star cast: Yves Montand, Gina Lollobrigida, Marcello Mastroianni, Melina Mercouri, Pierre Brasseur.

The Thorn in the Heart (L'épine dans le Coeur), Michel Gondry, 2009, 86 min.
A filmmaker better know for his brilliant rendering of fantasy, Michel Gondry ventures into family history in this quietly affecting portrait of his aunt, school teacher Suzette Gondry, and her eccentric, problematic son, Jean-Yves.

The Wolberg Family (La famille Wolberg), Axelle Ropert, 2009, 80 min.
Meet Simon Wolberg-energetic, enthusiastic, articulate, the mayor of a provincial French town. But does his dedication to his work blind him to everything going on at home?

White as Snow (Blanc comme neige), Christophe Blanc, 2010, 104 min.
A film noir set against snowy northern landscapes, this impressive debut features stars François Cluzet and Olivier Gourmet as brothers caught up on the wrong side of a financial scam gone bad.

"New French Short Films"
Wonderful things can sometimes come in very small packages, as this prize-winning selection of provocative short films from France amply demonstrates. See tomorrow's auteurs today

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

 

ISABELLE FOKINE AT SAN FRANCISCO BALLET


Isabelle Fokine rehearses Petrouchka with Pascal Molat
and members of the San Francisco Ballet
(R1P4552)
©Erik Tomasson
Roughly 15 years ago, Isabelle Fokine, the granddaughter of the great choreographer Michel Fokine, travelled to Russia and to Europe where she re-staged his legendary ballets with insights from her own training and her family's archival records.

For an interview with Isabelle Fokine, in which she talks about this work, please see: ISABELLE FOKINE - INTERVIEW & PETROUCHKA - SAN FRANCISCO BALLET PREMIERE.

As with many artistic renovations, this work was difficult and sometimes controversial. A film of some of this effort was recorded in "Fighting For Fokine."

The result of her work has been new productions of Fokine's ballets all over the world.

Isabelle is currently in San Francisco, preparing a new staging of Petrouchka for the San Francisco Ballet, which will have its world premiere on March 2.

Even more unique, and possibly historic for students of ballet, is that Ms. Fokine will be giving a talk as part of the SF Ballet's adult education program, "Pointes Of View"on March 3. This is one of the rare occasions, certainly in the US, that Isabelle has spoken about her work.

"Program 4
March 3
Green Room – 2nd Floor
Making its SF Ballet premier this season, Michel Fokine's Petrouchka was first performed by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russes in 1911. Isabelle Fokine will talk about reviving and setting her grandfather’s ground-breaking ballets around the world."

Note: March 4, 2010 --

For an interview with Isabelle Fokine in which she spoke with great feeling -- and gentle humor -- about her life and her work re-staging the classic ballets of her grandfather, please see the QPORIT article --

ISABELLE FOKINE - INTERVIEW
& PETROUCHKA - SAN FRANCISCO BALLET PREMIERE

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DIANE PAULUS - IL MONDO DELLA LUNA, HAIR, A.R.T.


IL MONDO DELLA LUNA
Directed by Diane Paulus
At the American Museum of Natural History
Hayden Planetarium
(l to r): Matthew Tuell (back), Albina Shagimuratova, Marco Nisticò, Hanan Alattar
GOTHAM CHAMBER OPERA
Photo by Richard Termine


Diane Paulus has become one the most important and creative theatrical directors. Some of her methods and aesthetic are evident in her recent work.

Il Mondo Della Luna at the Hayden Planetarium of The American Museum of Natural History (ANMH) was an amazing show. The music was delightful, the staging by Diane Paulus was inspired, and the idea for using the planetarium was brilliant. Both the project creators (the Gotham Chamber Opera), and the planetarium managers need to be applauded for putting this together.

The story, in the libretto behind Il Mondo Della Luna -- a recently rediscovered, and quite charming comic opera by Haydn (no relation to the nicely coincidental "Hayden" of the planetarium) -- is, of course, silly: a young man -- an unacceptable suitor -- persuades the father of the girl he wants to marry that they have all been transported to the moon, where the "emperor" of the "moon" marries him to the girl he loves (and her sister and her maid to other suitors who had also been unacceptable to the father before).

The brilliance of the directing -- by Diane Paulus -- is that she creates a silly dramatic show in which actors, singers, and dancers play their silly parts dressed in their brilliantly silly 1930's art-deco moon space-suits with such tremendous energy, committment, detail, fun and style, that she makes the "silly"compelling, even convincing!

What can be more natural than having an opera about pretending to go to the moon staged in a space designed to provide an audience the experience of the night sky?

Recent 3-D IMAX productions like Avatar have show the emotional power of a big viewing experience. The planetarium screen is a hemisphere with perhaps 5 times the viewing area of IMAX!

Images are projected on the entire hemisphere, and with the spectacular Zeiss planetarium projector, the whole sky is recreated. Moreover, Il Mondo Della Luna goes beyond film with live actors, singers, dancers and a small, fine orchestra, all in the intimate space of the planetarium seating area, under the seemingly infinite space of the dome.

(This production uses the planetarium well, and it suggests how wonderful the planetarium could be as a site for other dramatic productions -- going beyond the already extraordinary scientific planetarium shows -- specifically written and created for the planetarium space, expanding on the resources used by Il Mondo Della Luna: Imagine fully utilizing the sky, the stars (from any perspective, any period of time), the aura of the site, the huge space over the audience, the special acoustics, together with the utmost in high quality 3-D high resolution projection over the huge dome; perhaps even using other resources of the planetarium's amazing parent museum: AMNH.)

Here, from YouTube, is a brief sample of the show:



Diane Paulus is also the director of the current revival of Hair, mounted first at The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park, and then transferred to Broadway. It is a great production.

To get a sense of this production -- and I strongly recommend visiting the show on Broadway: it is powerful and profoundly entertaining -- here is a preview from a promotional cast appearance on the Letterman show.

In this appearance of the cast of Hair on the Letterman show, three of the factors that make Diane Paulus' work so riveting (and which also contributed to the success of Il Mondo Della Luna) are very clear: 1- the exuberance, the energy, and the emotion in the singing; 2 - the detail, consistency, and committment to every moment in the behavior -- the vivid life -- of each character; and 3 - the use of the physical space and the involvement of the audience in the space becoming a part of the experience.


Diane Paulus has been given the artistic leadership of the American Repertory Theater (A. R. T) -- a theater program affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Here's Diane Paulus -- in a video from last year -- on the plans for the "next" (
now, this) season of A.R.T. The website she's referring to is the A. R. T. website:

http://www.americanrepertorytheater.org/


In the last week, there have been two articles in the New York Times on her work at A. R. T.

There was a rave review, by Ben Brantley, of three projects she has brought to A. R. T.:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/theater/reviews/05notebook.html?scp=3&sq=american%20repertory%20theater&st=cse

The first project is "Gatz" a "reading" -- every word! -- of The Great Gatsby (a novel written as a first-person narration by Nick Carraway). "One morning in the low-rent office of a mysterious small business, one employee finds a ragged old copy of The Great Gatsby in the clutter of his desk and starts to read it out loud. And doesn't stop." (This production, by The Elevator Repair Company, may - or may not - be coming to New York in the fall; it is scheduled for Singapore in May, however, if you happen to be there.)

The second project is a disco version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, called "The Donkey Show," directed by Diane Paulus and her husband, Randy Weiner, which ran for years in New York.

The third project, "Sleep No More," from the British troupe, Punchdrunk, is a dance and movement piece based on Macbeth, in which the audience follows the characters as they move throughout a space (in this case set in an old school in Brookline, Mass).


The second story in the NYT described some resistance to Diane Paulus' tenure at A. R. T.:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/theater/07paulus.html?scp=1&sq=american%20repertory%20theater&st=cse

The focus of the criticism seemed to be: Is it valuable or not to have productions that attract an audience? Oddly, there was no discussion in the article about whether or not her productions were important theater. For example. there is this quote:

'“Higher education has a significant role to play in moving a culture forward, and that role shouldn’t involve taking cues from box office sales,” said Jedediah Wheeler, the executive director for arts and cultural programming at Montclair State University in New Jersey and a respected voice in the nonprofit theater world.'

In context, this seems to have been intended as (indirect) criticism of the popularity of her shows. However, it should be noted that the same quote works in exactly the other direction: Critics seem to be taking cues about the cultural significance of theater precisely from the box office: popularity is "bad;" driving audiences away must be "good" "culture-forward" theater.

It seems to me -- actually agreeing with the quote (though not the implication of its author) -- the popularity or non-popularity of a show has nothing to do with its value. The value and quality of the show should be judged on its own merits.

I think that -- in addition to the skill of her work as a producer and director -- the aesthetic of Diane Paulus is very important and very much in the spirit of the needs of theater at this time.

In a panel discussion about Hair, several years ago, she expressed the thought that the structure of the musical "Hair" is more in tune with the spirit of the times -- interactivity, multitasking, and fragmentary story elements -- than the more traditional structure of most Broadway musicals.

Using interaction with the audience, and making use of a show's specific location, marks a revival of avant-garde theater traditions current in the 60's (eg. Dionysus in 69), and again in the 80's (Tamara and Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding).

Excellence and attention to detail are also traditions that need to be constantly renewed.

She is quoted as saying, that high art and entertainment are not mutually exclusive, and "At the core of what I’m doing is a belief in the audience, a belief that populism doesn’t mean dumbing down theater but rather giving the audience a voice and a role in experiencing theater.

That quote, and Diane Paulus' work generally, is of particular interest to me, personally, as I've been developing a show called "How To Predict The Future -- an evening of science theater," (a project that is actually the parent of QPORIT, this blog of "previews") the whole premise of which is "smart" theater: that (with help from detail, exuberance and interaction) entertainment and high quality content are mutually reinforcing. I believe that interesting factual content, presented with an original slant, in something like the style of a new-product-line keynote, elevated with joy, attention to detail, exuberance, connection with the space in which it's presented, and interaction with the audience becomes a sublimely entertaining theatrical event.

IL MONDO DELLA LUNA
Directed by Diane Paulus
At the American Museum of Natural History
Hayden Planetarium
(l to r): Nicholas Coppolo, Hanan Alattar
GOTHAM CHAMBER OPERA
Photo by Richard Termine

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

 

BRAIN POWER


Experiments with primates and humans have demonstrated the possibility of reading a creature's thoughts and using that to control robotic devices.
(See video below.)

In both Avatar and Caprica the idea is used that thinking about moving can be used to guide an avatar.

In The Diving Bell & The Butterfly -- a film based on a real experience -- a person almost totally paralyzed is able to communicate by using the tiny control he has over one muscle to signal the full life going on within his head. It is like sending a stream of information through a slow, low bandwidth connection: the process is slow, but the quality of information is unrestricted.

A new study takes this idea one step further. Patients who were totally paralyzed (and clinically believed to be vegetative, since they had minimal or no response to stimuli) were able to visualize scenes in their brain that were measurable through a functional MRI.

In fact, it was possible to ask a question with a yes or no answer and have the patient answer by thinking of one scene or the other, with the observation from the fMRI able to distinguish the yes scene from the no scene.

Since a binary code (yes/no) can be used to express any message, in principle a patient who is able to think can communicate fluently without moving at all.

For the person conducting the study to communicate with the patient, it is obviously necessary for the patient to hear (or have some other sense that allows input). This study showed that in some patients who are totally immobile there is still an active life going on in the brain and an ability to hear. It is possible that in some cases where the patient does not hear but still has a life going on in their brain, that there could be some other method of communicating with them.

This was a very limited study, but certainly suggests the value of confirming this study and developing more powerful techniques for communication.

In any case, the fact that some percentage of totally immobile (and apparently vegetative) patients may in fact be alive and aware and capable mentally provides strong motivation for developing ways to communicate with them, and provides a strong motivation and reason for their friends and relatives to visit regularly and talk with them.

New England Journal Of Medicine: Feb 3, 2010
http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/NEJMoa0905370




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A QUICK GUIDE TO YOUNG LEADING LADIES OF FILM


Here's a quirky list of 28 or so major leading ladies that are quite young -- basically 19-35. I compiled this list kind-of for my own reference -- for convenience as new films come out -- remembering who is famous for what films. The list does not include actresses early in their teens, like Abigail Breslin, or established actresses like Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett. (The list is tilted toward actresses I've met and films I've seen.)

Actresses who are usually blond or redhead are often given somewhat different roles from actresses that play darker haired women, so I divided the list that way, even though hair color is hardly immutable. I did not make a separate category for bald actresses (eg Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta). (Other than that, there's no particular order to the list.)

Of these actresses, I think Kristen Stewart, Scarlett Johansson, Evan Rachel Wood, Emmy Rossum, Emily Blunt, and Natalie Portman are especially likely to show up in powerful roles in extremely interesting movies. Claire Danes has just gotten great notices for Temple Grandin. Eva Green -- in The Dreamers -- created an unforgettable character and one of the hottest ever; with another role that really fits her she will scorch the screen. In some films coming out soon Lindsay Lohan has a chance to shine. Keira Knightley was the best actor interviewee I've ever seen with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Keri Russell's August Rush is one of my favorite films.



BLONDE & REDHEAD

Kate Bosworth - SUPERMAN RETURNS, RULES OF ATTRACTION, BEE SEASON, HORSE WHISPERER
1983-01-02 (27) - 5' 5 (LA)

Lindsay Lohan - THE PARENT TRAP, FREAKY FRIDAY, MEAN GIRLS
1986-07-02 (23) - 5' 5 (NEW YORK)

Scarlett Johansson - VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, GIRL WITH A PEARL EARING, LOST IN TRANSLATION, THE HORSE WHISPERER
1984-11-22 (25) - 5' 4 (NEW YORK)

Julia Stiles - THE BOURNE FILMS, MONA LISA SMILE, O, STATE & MAIN, HAMLET,
1981-03-28 (28) - 5' 8 (NEW YORK)

Isla Fisher - CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC, WEDDING CRASHERS, DEFINITELY MAYBE
1976-02-03 (34) - 5' 3 (OMAN)

Kirsten Dunst - SPIDERMAN, MARIE ANTOINETTE, MONA LISA SMILE, BRING IT ON
1982-04-30 (27) - 5' 6 (NJ)

Amy Adams - JULIE & JULIA, ENCHANTED, DOUBT, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
1974-08-20 (35) - 5' 4 (ITALY)

Rachel McAdams - SHERLOCK HOLMES, REDEYE, MEAN GIRLS, THE NOTEBOOK
1978-11-17 (31) - 5' 5 (CANADA)

Amanda Seyfried - MEAN GIRLS, MOMMA MIA
1985-12-03 (24) - 5' 3 (PENNSYLVANIA)

Kristen Bell - VERONICA MARS, WHEN IN ROME, COUPLES RETREAT, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
1980-07-18 (29) - 5' 1 (MICHIGAN)

Anne Hathaway - ALICE IN WONDERLAND, VALENTINE'S DAY, THE DEVIL WEAR'S PRADA, THE PRINCESS DIARIES
1982-11-12 (27) - 5' 8 (NY)

Emmy Rossum - DARE, POSEIDON, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, DAY AFTER TOMORROW, MYSTIC RIVER, NOLA, SONGCATCHER, AUDREY HEPBURN STORY
1986-09-12 (23) - 5' 8 (NY)

Evan Rachel Wood - WHATEVER WORKS, THE WRESTLER, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, THIRTEEN
1987-09-07 (22) - 5' 7 (NC)

Claire Danes - TEMPLE GRANDIN, STARDUST, TERMINATOR 3, THE HOURS, ROMEO & JULIET, MY SO-CALLED LIFE
1979-04-12 (30) - 5' 5 (NY)

Keri Russell - BEDTIME STORIES, AUGUST RUSH, EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES, WAITRESS, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III, FELICITY
1976-03-23 (33) - 5' 4 (CA)

Keira Knightley - ATONEMENT, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, KING ARTHUR, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, STAR WARS I,
1985-03-26 (24) - 5' 7 (MIDDLESEX, ENGLAND)

Jessica Alba - VALENTINE'S DAY, FANTASTIC FOUR, HONEY, DARK ANGEL
1981-04-28 (28) - 5' 6 (CA)

Kate Hudson - NINE, FOOL'S GOLD, RAISING HELEN, ALMOST FAMOUS, DR T AND THE WOMEN
1979-04-19 (30) - 5' 6 (LA)


NOT BLONDE OR REDHEAD

Eva Green - CASINO ROYALE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, THE DREAMERS
1980-07-05 (29) - 5' 6 (PARIS)

Jessica Biel - VALENTINE'S DAY, NEXT, BLADE, TRINITY
1982-03-03 (28) - 5' 8 (MINNESOTA)

Natalie Portman - BROTHERS, THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, PARIS JE T'AIME, V FOR VENDETTA, STAR WARS, CLOSER
1981-06-09 (29) - 5' 3 (ISRAEL)

Kristen Stewart - TWILIGHT, THE RUNAWAYS, ADVENTURELAND, INT THE WILD, THE CAKE EATERS, PANIC ROOM
1990-04-09 (19) - 5' 6 (LA)

Rose Byrne - ADAM, DAMAGES
1979-07-24 (30) - 5' 6 (Australian, actually)

Megan Fox - TRANSFORMERS, CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE DRAMA QUEEN
1986-05-16 (23) - 5' 5 (TENNESSEE)

Zoe Saldana - AVATAR, STAR TREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN --BLACK PEARL
1978-06-17 (31) - 5' 7 (NJ)

Ellen Page - WHIP IT, SMART PEOPLE, JUNO
1987-02-21 (22) - 5' 1 (NOVA SCOTIA)

Zooey Deschanel - ALMOST FAMOUS, YES MAN, WEEDS, 500 DAYS OF SUMMER
1980-01-17 (30) - 5' 6 (LA)

Alice Braga - CROSSING OVER, I AM LEGEND
1983-04-15 (26) - 5' 4 (BRAZIL)

Christina Ricci - BLACK SNAKE MOAN, THE OPPOSITE OF SEX, THE ICE STORM, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, MERMAIDS
1980-02-12 (29) - 5' 1 (SANTA MONICA, CA)

Emily Blunt - THE WOLFMAN, THE YOUNG VICTORIA, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA
1983-02-23 (26) - 5' 7 (LONDON)



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