Sunday, September 30, 2007



The Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, is the location for most of this year's screenings of the New York Film Festival (NYFF).

As a venue for films it has both advantages and disadvantages.

The screen was big and clear. The sound was good. I ended up (you don't know what seats you have until you pick up the tickets) in the last row of the balcony, thankfully in the center, so I gave the visibility and audio a pretty good test.

The rows are wide and the seats are comfortable.

On the other hand, there are some features that are not good for film screenings:

- It would be hard -- maybe impossible -- to see from some side seats. At the screening I went to the side seats were empty, and I'm guessing and hoping that they would not be sold even if the demand for tickets was heavy.

- There is a security bar in front of each row of balcony seats. It is positioned so that anyone who is about 5'1 or shorter has an obscured view. Short people really need to bring a pillow to sit on!

- All access to a row of seats is from the side. There is no aisle in the middle. So latecomers need to cross in front of everyone to get to the middle.

All in all, a mixed grade for the theater as a film venue. I'm hoping the renovated film sites at Lincoln Center (now under construction) will be terrific!

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Someone once said (I think it was Nicholas Negroponte, from the MIT Media Lab) that a Japanese toilet knows more about you than your home computer. (This was in the days when a self-flushing toilet was the vanguard of environmental technology.) I think this was meant to be both critical of your home computer, and complimentary to Japanese toilets.

Unfortunately, bathroom technology sometimes is actually sadly lacking, and other times is getting completely out of hand. When it is out of control it may seem like those horror movies where technology develops a mind of its own, and then strikes back in revenge. However, the truth is more prosaic. The problem is not smart toilets but stupid toilet programmers and designers.

Here are some of the problems with public bathrooms: both of commission and omission, randomly ordered.

- In heavily used men's bathrooms -- such as the ones at Thruway rest stops -- the floor is nearly always all wet -- and not from the last mopping.

- Toilets which self flush often self flush while you are still close by -- or on them. And they are powerful. Which means the (lethal) spray is sprayed far and wide, and on you. (Some people fight back by plugging the seeing eye with chewing gum.)

- In fancy bathrooms (usually in fancy hotels and fancy restaurants), it's sometimes hard to figure out how to use the toilet or the sink or the dryer. It may require instructions (a manual or a tutor, perhaps) to learn where and how to wave your hands to coax some water from the sink, a paper towel from the automatic (non) dispenser, or a flush from a less agressive toilet than I described above. There have even been some men's rooms where it's not at all clear where to urinate.

- Blowers are often used instead of paper towels. While paper towels do need a disposal can which has not filled up yet, blowers blow toilet air all around -- which is not pleasant, and they don't work for drying your face or wiping your eyeglasses.

- No comment is needed on broken toilets, toilets that get stuffed up too easily, toilets that are rarely cleaned, sinks that don't work, soap dispensers that are empty, etc...

- When some bathrooms are crowded, there is no easy way to get to the sink, or having gotten to the sink, to get to the towels.

- There should, by now, be enough information on the relative usage of men's and women's restrooms at concerts and plays and other events to design and maintain enough rooms for each (though it's always interesting when some frustrated and uncomfortable woman crashes the men's room because they haven't the patience to wait long enough for the other).

- It can also be annoying when the bathroom is designed so that passers-by can look in.

- As for people issues, I don't know how anyone can bring food into a public toilet for any reason other than to throw it out. I think women are completely wrong about wanting men to put the toilet seat down: in any public M/F toilet (such as on an airplane), women should be fanatic about leaving the toilet seat up, because some men will be too lazy to lift it up before urinating (on it, as no doubt happens from time to time).

- As a sanitary practice, some people take a piece of paper towel to open the bathroom door and exit. So it would be good to have a waste basket near enough to the door so that the paper towel does not end up on the floor. Or, just have the door push out, not in.

Please add your own gripes about public toilets in the comments; or compliment and recommend some particularly well architected, designed, and maintained rest rooms.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007



The Closing Night film, August Rush

Trainwreck: My Life As An Idoit

The 2007
Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) runs from October 17th through 21st, 2007, centered in East Hampton, New York with additional events in Southampton, Sag Harbor and Montauk.

Josh Koury has returned for his fifth year of programming with the Festival, joined by David Nugent, who comes as a special consultant from the Newport International Film Festival.

This year’s event features 103 films including - 17 World Premieres, 11 US Premieres, 17 East Coast Premieres and 13 New York Premieres.

The festival has several prize categories:

and new this year,

Opening night, Wednesday, October 17th, features the World Premiere of Bob Balaban’s Bernard and Doris (US), written by Hugh Costello and starring Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes, which focuses on the twilight years of tobacco billionairess Doris Duke and her relationship with her gay butler, to whom she left her fortune.

Closing the festival on Sunday the 21st is the music-driven drama August Rush (US), starring Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Terrence Howard and Robin Williams. Written by Nick Castle and James V. Hart, directed by Kirsten Sheridan, the film follows a guitarist (Meyers) and cellist (Russell) who fall in love and have a child, yet circumstances tear them apart before their son is born. Years later, the child (Highmore) uses his musical talent to seek the parents from whom he was separated at birth. August Rush opens nationally November 21.

Among the actors, directors, and other celebrities expected to attend are:

Lauren Ambrose, Bob Balaban, John Cusack, Phil Donahue, Alison Eastwood
Chris Eigeman, Ralph Fiennes, Alex Gibney, Marcia Gay Harden, Hannah Herzsprung Famke Jansen, Harvey Keitel, Yun Jin Kim, Lisa Kudrow, Frank Langella, Blake Lively Sidney Lumet, Sirio Maccione, Al Maysles, Gretchen Mol, Jeff Nichols, Amanda Peet Scott Prendergast, Vanessa Redgrave, Keri Russell, Susan Sarandon, Sean William Scott Lili Taylor, Egbert Jan Weeber, Jess Weixler, Gahan Wilson, Alec Baldwin, and Lauren Bacall.

There will be special "conversations" with legendary actress Vanessa Redgrave, moderated by Alec Baldwin and celebrated director and East End regular, Sidney Lumet, moderated by journalist Adam Green (The New Yorker, Vogue) - on Oct 18th & 19st at the Bay Street Theatre.

I've seen Sidney Lumet's new film, "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead," and it's absolutely terrific. In his mid-eighties, Lumet is at the top of his form!

At Miss Redgrave’s ‘Conversation,’ The Hamptons International Film Festival will honor her with this year’s Golden Starfish Award for Career Achievement in Acting.

Rising Stars: There is a special program for "rising stars," young actors in important new films. There is also a panel with the Rising Stars.

This year’s Rising Stars are Hannah Herzsprung (Four Minutes), Jess Weixler (Teeth), Blake Lively (Elvis and Anabelle), Egbert Jan Weeber (Vivere).

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation hosts a panel discussing issues raised by the film they have selected.

Here is a breakdown of the different sections in the film festival, with some brief notes on the films.

Golden Starfish Narrative Competition:

Elvis and Anabelle (US, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Will Geiger – with Blake Lively & Max Minghella. Elvis is a mortician in his family’s funeral parlor. Anabelle is a beauty queen who has dropped dead. An innocent kiss brings a corpse back to life, and romance ensues.

Just Buried (Canada, US Premiere) Dir. Chaz Thorne – with Jay Baruchel, Graham Greene & Rose Byrne. A young man inherits a nearly bankrupt funeral home from his estranged father. He falls in love with the alluring young mortician, only to find out she's offing people to keep the place in business!

Kings (UK, US Premiere) Dir. Tom Collins. In the mid 1970s, a group of six young men left their homes in the West of Ireland, took the boat out of Dublin Bay and sailed across the sea to England in the hope of making their fortunes and returning home. Thirty years later only one, Jackie Flavin, makes it home - but does so in a coffin. Jackie’s five friends reunite at his wake where they are forced face up to the reality of their alienation as long term emigrants who have no longer have any real place to call home.

Turn The River (US, World Premiere) Dir. Chris Eigeman – with Famke Janssen. As this story of a pool-hustling mother and physically abused son hell-bent on fleeing from their terrible lives builds to its inevitable climax, the two desperate characters must take their one last shot at escape, against the odds, and without regard to the possible consequences.

Valerie (Germany, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Birgit Möller. The camera follows Valerie throughout a week in her life as she stumbles through Berlin trying to scrape her life back together.

Golden Starfish Documentary:

Do You Sleep in the Nude? (US, World Premiere) Dir. Marshall Fine. Featuring celebrity testimonials and footage of Rex Reed's television appearances, this documentary reveals many of the same characteristics of journalism’s enfant terrible that have fascinated the public and frightened celebrities for decades.

Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still WEIRD (US, World Premiere) Dir. Steven-Charles Jaffe. This portrait of legendary cartoonist Gahan Wilson offers a fascinating and candid glimpse into the artist’s life and work, simultaneously reveal a nightmarish perspective on modern adult life. Featuring interviews with Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Hugh Hefner and Stan Lee, among others.

I Am an Animal: This Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA (US, World Premiere) Dir. Matthew Galkin. The most well-known and controversial animal rights organization, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), is as equally reviled as it is esteemed.

Pool Of Princesses (Germany, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Bettina Blümner. Docudrama about three teenage girls struggling for personal identity and freedom in urban Germany brilliantly captures the bittersweet moments of youth as each girl talks of her hopes, desires, and fears.

Resolved (US, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Greg Whiteley. This film will destroy every stereotypical thought you’ve ever had about kids who engage in debating, the reasons they do it, and how level the debate playing field really is, or isn’t.

Spotlight Films:

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (US) Dir. Sidney Lumet – with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei & Albert Finney. "May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead," or so goes the Irish toast from which Sidney Lumet’s latest tour de force borrows its title. (Highly recommended!!! See the story below.)

Body of War (US, US Premiere) Dir. Ellen Spiro & Phil Donahue. This powerful documentary confronts the physiological and psychological effects of war as it follows Tomas Young, a wounded soldier who served in Iraq and is now speaking out against the war.

Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway (US, World Premiere) Dir. Albert Maysles. A documentary on the transition of Maysles’ 1976 documentary Grey Gardens from film to a Broadway musical.

Kabluey (US, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Scott Prendergast – with Lisa Kudrow, Scott Prendergast, Christine Taylor & Conchata Ferrell. 32-year-old loner Salman is the ne’er-do-well brother-in law of Iraq War bride and mother Leslie. In this poignant satire, Salman tries to save his brother’s family even as the children threaten his life, their mother deceives him, and the world in general abuses him.

Martian Child (US, World Premiere) Dir. Menno Meyjes – with John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Bobby Coleman, Amanda Peet & Oliver Platt. Crushed by the death of his fiancée, a writer adopts a 6-year-old boy in an effort to create a family. The boy, who desperately wants a father, is troubled by the idea that he's from Mars.

My Sexiest Year (US, World Premiere) Dir. Howard Himelstein – with Harvey Keitel, Frankie Muniz, Amber Valletta, Karolina Kurkova & Haylie Duff. The coming-of-age story of Jack Stein, a Brooklyn kid who is sent to Miami to live with his horse race-betting father. As Jack tries to adapt to Florida and to his eccentric father, he meets Marina, a model who sets Jack’s future on course.

Rails & Ties (US) Dir. Alison Eastwood – with Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden & Miles Heizer. Unable to face the possibility of losing his wife to illness, Tom Stark buries himself in his job as a train conductor. But when Tom’s train hits a car on the tracks, a young woman is killed and her son, Davey, is left to cope with the loss of his mother. The accident puts the Starks and Davey on their own collision course. But instead of leading to tragedy, this crossing could mean new hope for a woman who has only one chance left to fulfill her dreams, for a man who must learn to open his heart before it is too late, and for a boy who has never known the true meaning of family.

The Savages (US, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Tamara Jenkins – with Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. A sister and brother face the realities of familial responsibility as they begin to care for their ailing father.

The Shell Seekers (US, World Premiere) Dir. Piers Haggard – with Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell, Victoria Smurfit & Victoria Hamilton. A tender tale of romance, remembrance and renewal. The Shell Seekers spins a cautionary tale of true love and profound loss, while preferring a harsh lesson for those who know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Starting Out in the Evening (US, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Andrew Wagner – with Lauren Ambrose, Frank Langella, Lili Taylor & Adrian Lester. Heather Wolfe convinces Leonard Schiller, a past-his-prime writer, that her graduate thesis can resurrect his career. How far will Heather go in her quest to revive a man who’s been her idol? And what will her digging reveal about Schiller’s past?

Table in Heaven (US, NY Premiere) Dir. Andrew Rossi – with Sirio Maccioni, Marco Maccioni, Mauro Maccioni & Woody Allen. Sirio Maccioni, owner of the world-renowned New York restaurant Le Cirque, is the star of this delectable documentary, which chronicles the closing of Le Cirque 2000 in the Palace Hotel and its reopening in midtown’s Bloomberg building. Will the impending move turn out to be a recipe for disaster?

Teeth (US, NY Premiere) Dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein – with Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Pais, Hale Appleman & Ashley Springer. Sure to be one of the most talked-about movies this year, Teeth features an unforgettable performance by rising star Jess Weixler as a teenager who discovers – quite accidentally – that her body can be used as a weapon. Underneath the movie’s sunny, comic surface lurks a darker story about sexual power.

Trainwreck: My Life as an Idoit (US, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Tod Harrison Williams – with Gretchen Mol, Sean William Scott, Deirde O’Connell, Kevin Conway & Jeff Garlin. A dramatic comedy about a self-induced attention-deficit disordered, learning disabled, Tourette's syndrome suffering, balance impaired, ex-alcoholic young man from the Upper East Side of Manhattan and the gold-digging girl who inspires him to try to get it together. Based on the memoir The Little Yellow Bus by Long Island native Jeff Nichols.

The Walker (US) Dir. Paul Schrader – with Woody Harrelson, Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty & William DeFoe. An escort who caters to Washington D.C.'s society ladies becomes involved in a murder case.

World Cinema Features:

Caramel (Lebanon, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Nadine Labaki. Lebanon’s entry for the 2007 Academy Awards, this romantic comedy is centered on the daily lives of five Lebanese women in Beirut.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France) Dir. Julian Schnabel. This is the story of Elle France editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who, in 1995 at the age of 43, suffered a stroke that paralyzed his entire body, except his left eye. Using that eye to blink out his memoir, Bauby eloquently described the aspects of his interior world, from the psychological torment of being trapped inside his body to his imagined stories from lands he'd only visited in his mind.

Four Minutes (Germany, NY Premiere) Dir. Chris Kraus – with Hannah Herzsprung. An unlikely bond grows in an all-women's prison between a solitary piano teacher and a troubled but very talented young murderess.

House of Life: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague (US, World Premiere) Dir. Allan Miller. This documentary tells of The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, the site of layer upon layer of buried members of the once-vibrant Jewish community of the Ghetto.

Irina Palm (Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, UK and France, NY Premiere) Dir. Sam Eduard Garbarski – with Marianne Faithfull. A middle-aged Maggie must find enough money for her grandson’s lifesaving medical treatment. When a "Hostess Wanted" sign catches her eye, she naively stumbles into a sex club.

Jump! (US, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Helen Hood Scheer. A fervent documentary about stunningly talented young athletes who are devoted to an underappreciated yet attention-deserving sport: competitive jump roping.

Please Vote For Me (China) Dir. Weijun Chen. A classic election drama, although the 60 year-old candidates have been replaced with 7-year-old versions.

The Substitute (Denmark, US Premiere) Dir. Ole Bornedal. The story of a group of Danish 6th graders who discover their new substitute teacher is not merely peculiar, but an extraterrestrial.

Taxi to the Dark Side (US) Dir. Alex Gibney. This film examines the death of an Afghan taxi driver at Bagram Air Base from injuries inflicted by U.S. soldiers. Academy Award Nominee director Alex Gibney takes us from a village in Afghanistan to Guantanamo and straight to the White House.

The Unforseen (US) Dir. Laura Dunn. Executive producers Robert Redford & Terrance Malick. A documentary about the development around Barton Springs in Austin, Texas and nature's unexpected response to being threatened by human interference.

Vivere (Germany, Netherlands) Dir. Angelina Maccarone – with Egbert Jan Weeber. Fate entangles the lives of two sisters and a lonely older woman, after the younger sister runs away from home.

Wade in the Water (US, World Premiere) Dir. Elizabeth Wood and Gabriel Nussbaum. A New Orleans YMCA class put digital cameras in the hands of eighth-grade students whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Yella (Germany, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Christian Petzold. Yella is plagued by a mysterious post-traumatic stress disorder, and finds herself teaming up with a handsome, roving banker named Philipp, to unlock a secret to try to put together a new life.

Films of Conflict and Resolution in Competition:

AFR (Denmark, North American Premiere) Dir. Morten Hartz Kaplers. AFR is a mockumentary that questions the public's consumption of modern media. When the Prime Minister of Denmark is killed by a terrorist bombing, all sorts of suspicions emerge. Combining existing press materials of actual political leaders with fictional interviews, Kaplers composes the perfect investigative piece.

AmericanEast (US, North American Premiere) Dir. Hesham Issawi – with Sayed Badreya & Tony Shalhoub. Mustafa is a widowed Egyptian immigrant who dreams of opening an authentic Middle Eastern restaurant with his best friend Sam, who's Jewish. But their religious differences are just the first of many obstacles present in post-9/11 Los Angeles.

Behind Forgotten Eyes (US, East Coast Premiere) Dir. Anthony Gilmore. During World War II over 200,000 Korean women were forced to work as sex slaves by the Japanese Army. Decades later, they are fighting to tell their story before history forgets them.

Soldiers Of Conscience (US, NY Premiere) Dir. Gary Weimberg. An in-depth look at the conscientious objector experience concerning the war in Iraq, Soldiers of Conscience is an important film for anyone attempting to understand human beings engaged in violent conflict. T

To Die In Jerusalem (Israel, US Premiere) Dir. Hilla Medalia. In this powerful documentary we follow a mother who has lost her daughter in a suicide bombing as she meets the parents of her daughter's killer. One hopes that differences could be set aside to grieve, but To Die in Jerusalem shows us just how hard that can be.

Films Of Conflict And Resolution Out Of Competition:

Beyond Belief (US) Dir. Beth Murphy. A journey with two women who lost their husbands on 9/11, and decide to harness something positive through their suffering, in the form of a spiritual and literal journey: charity work in Afghanistan.

India Untouched (India). Dir. Stalin K. Motivated by ancient religious edicts, no amount of governmental encouragement has been able to stem the tragic custom that separates human beings according to their birth.

Steal a Pencil for Me (US) Dir. Michele Ohayon. Jack and Ina are Jewish, they have fallen in love in 1943 and they are prisoners in a concentration camp.


Golden Starfish Shorts:

Shorts Program 1 - Gray Matter:

Shorts Program 2 – Comedy:
Shorts Before Films:

Descriptions and synopses of short films are available on the web-site and the festival catalogue.

Undergraduate and Graduate Student Film/Video Awards:

Ticket Information:

Passes and tickets can be ordered on-line through the festival website, or through the new East Hampton Box Office location at Design Within Reach - 30 Park Place, East Hampton.

Tickets by phone – 631-747-7978. Founders Pass- $1000; Spotlight Package $350, Southampton Package $150, Film Discovery Package $100, Opening Night Package $100, Starfish Screening Member $100, Opening Night party - $75; Saturday Night Heineken Filmmakers’ Reception $75, A Conversation With - $25; Spotlight Films - $20 - $35; Panel Discussions- $10; Films- $12; Early Bird Screenings - $9, Children 12 and under –$8.

Festival Venues:
No festival can survive without sponsors. Here are some principal sponsors of HIFF:

Presenting Sponsors: American Airlines and Altour International.
Host Sponsors: Fox 5 New York.
Patron Sponsors: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, New Line Cinema, Prudential Douglas Elliman, Regal Entertainment Group; Silvercup Studios, Newsday, 91 East Productions, The Hallmark Channel, OK! Magazine, Heineken, Time Warner Cable Media Sales, VOX Magazine,, WVVH Hamptons Television

For further information on the 2007 Hamptons International Film Festival please visit .

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007



Rob Devaney as Lawyer McCoy, Kel O’Neill as Gabe Blix,
Izzy Diaz as Angel Salazar and Patrick Carroll as Reno Flake in
Directed by Brian De Palma, US, 2007; 110m
Photo: courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Redacted is one of the most harrowing movies I have ever seen. My stomach was still churning long after the screening.

Brian De Palma has made a fictional film inspired by events from Iraq: a teenage girl reportedly was raped by American soldiers, who killed her family, shot her, and torched their house. The movie describes the before, during, and after of a fictional, similar event.

Interestingly, the story would not be credible if it were not inspired by a real event, and yet it is much more powerful than any documentary can be.

The film is constructed brilliantly. It unfolds as if it were a video blog made by one of the solders; and then as a documentary made by a foreign journalist; as a surveillance video; and again as a video blog. The camcorder used by the soldier, "fortunately," has the resolution and quality of a professional Hollywood camera. (It was shot in HD.) -- This is not a grainy, soft-focus simulation of an amateur camera.

The acting is excellent. It is hard to believe, sometimes, that these are actors (mostly relative newcomers, in fact) and not real, vicious, criminal soldiers.

The film was shot in Jordan, and certainly looks like the Iraq shown in news footage.

One of the producers was Mark Cuban (who can be seen on this year's Dancing With The Stars!) and his company,
Magnolia Pictures (which recently released Fay Grim -- a picture I liked a lot) .

Some years ago, Brian De Palma made a film,
Casualties of War, of a kidnapping, rape and murder of a teen in Vietnam, in a film with Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn, written by Daniel Lang (book) and David Rabe (screenplay). (David Rabe is currently working on a screenplay about Capone for De Palma.)

At last year's
Hampton's Film Festival (HIFF), the opening night film, The Situation, was about Iraq from the point of view of a journalist... in the Green zone and visiting with friends among Iraqis. This gave a picture of a hopelessly divided country, with clueless American administrators. Another film about Iraq is at HIFF this year.

I found the title just a bit strange. Although portions of the report on the soldiers raid were shown as redacted (redacted -- prepared for publication; especially by removing portions not wanted to be made public), this hardly seeemd to be the real subject of the movie. But here is De Palma's statement about the title. After hearing about the incident, he thought,

"I told this story years ago in my film Casualties of War. But the lessons from the Vietnam War have gone unheeded. But how to tell the story today? And how did it all begin?

"How could these boys have gone so wrong? In searching for the answers, I read soldiers' blogs, books, watched soldiers' home made war videos, surfed their web sites, and their YouTube postings. It was all there, and all in video.

"To redact is to edit, or prepare for publishing. Frequently, a redacted document or image has simply had personal (or possibly actionable) information deleted or blacked out; as a consequence, redacted is often used to describe documents or images from which sensitive information has been expunged. The true story of our Iraq war has been redacted from the Main Stream Corporate Media. If we are going to cause such disorder then we must face the horrendous images that are the consequences of these actions. Once we saw them in Vietnam our citizens protested and brought that misguided conflict to an end. Let's hope the images from this film have the same effect."

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There is an awful lot of smoking lately on the big screen and small screen. Several of the New York Film Festival movies are so choked with smoke one might imagine Big Tobacco was a festival sponsor. Mad Men, set back in an ad agency that works for Tobacco, also is full of smoke.

When actors drink "liquor" onstage it's usually "apple juice" or some other benign, colored liquid. I don't know what they do for cigarettes, but acting could become a dangerous profession if there's a proliferation of shows with relentless fumes and no safe substitute for tobacco.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007



Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Photo from ThinkFilm

Evil. Pervasive evil. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (showing at the New York Film Festival, NYFF) is a brilliant film about a very insidious kind of evil, the evil that comes from a little greed, a little stupidity, a little need for love, a little carelessness, all adding up to mounting catastrophe.

Arriving on
Sidney Lumet's reading pile from a little known playwright and first time screen writer, Kelly Masterson, Lumet (who's now a very lively 83 and has another film already in post-production) made a few key changes, notably adding the stunning opening with graphic sex, to create a masterful film. This may be the best crime-caper film I've ever seen. (Caper here, though, is not meant to suggest something funny. There is nothing funny about this film.)

Beginning with the first startling moment, the film piles on layer after layer of complexity and character study, revisiting moments in the past and revealing truths from the viewpoint of different characters, until its unflinching conclusion, completing the story in a way that is both surprising and pre-determined.

The title (from the original screenplay), comes from an Irish toast: "May you be in Heaven half an hour, before the the devil knows you're dead."

Marisa Tomei
Photo from ThinkFilm

The three main characters, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers (they don't look like brothers which is distracting, yet gives the story an extra edge), and Marisa Tomei, in a sexually charged performance, are all terrific. As is the case in all great movies, every supporting player, especially Albert Finney, has depth and character.

The film, as is normal for Lumet, takes place in New York. The cinematography by
Ron Fortunato provides striking visual art. Some images, for example the dumping of a vase full of stones, are lingering in my head, like tunes that keep replaying themselves.

This is a hard film to take for anyone who likes only pure romance, but for anyone with a passion for drama and great filmmaking, this film is superb, one of the very best films of the year: a classic!

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is a kind, sad, funny, realistic look at growing older.

It started out (in the writer's head --
Hanif Kureishi, who also wrote My Beautiful Laundrette) as a story about two old men; but, in the writing and the planning for the movie, a young woman appeared. Now, the central story is about the friendship between an old man and a young woman. The central truth of the film is that, while a young woman may or may not be creeped out by an old man (and, moreover, she has a young life and nothing in the old man's life is even in her sphere of consciousness), age is irrelevant to whether or not an older man -- or an old man -- or a very, very old man is attracted to a young woman. Life and a desire for life continues to the end.

The movie is shaped by extraordinary performances from
Peter O'Toole in the main role, and by Vanessa Redgrave in a brilliant supporting role. Leslie Phillips as Peter's friend, and Jodie Whittaker (Venus) in her first big film role are also very good.

(A little note: Peter O'Toole performs, beautifully, in the best British tradition, the sonnet, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day..." to Venus, and it works, beautifully, helping to seduce her into being his friend. But, in reality, the meaning of the poem is completely different from the reality of the situation. First, the poem continues... "Thou art more lovely (yes) and more temperate (Nope, sorry!) ..." Venus is anything but temperate. And, finally, the poem is really about the poet making the subject of the poem immortal ("So long as men can breathe or eyes can see...") through his verse, which has no relevance to their relationship; and, anyway, Venus would be unlikely to be flattered by him thinking of her dying. Fortunately, Venus has no clue what the poem is really about: it just sounds nice.)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007



Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, and Owen Wilson
Photo: James Hamilton

Wes Anderson
's The Darjeeling Limited is the opening night film of this year's New York Film Festival (NYFF).

Wes Anderson is famous for movies about dysfunctional families. In the past, I've disliked several of his movies. His characters were too odd and, for me, not funny.

The Darjeeling Limited will infuriate some, bore others. I liked it, almost all of it, all the way through.

Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman play deeply disturbed brothers. Owen (seemingly the oldest) has gotten his brothers to join him on his version of a spiritual quest to India. Anjelica Huston, in a strong cameo performance, plays their mother.

I don't know how people who have a serious love for India, or have been on a sincere quest for self-healing will feel about this film; it was constructed as a somewhat screwy comedy about people who seem to be so self-absorbed (but not self-aware) that they are completely oblivious to most (but not all!) the reality of their environment as it is perceived by the people who actually live there, written by people to whom that environment is almost completely alien.

The plotting is casual, with the motivation for the brothers' journey sometimes as unfocused as the brothers' own mode of thought.

Owen's character: disturbed, drug swilling, and suicidal bears a freaky resemblance to what the public (or at least this member of the public) knows (or thinks he has heard) of Owen through the media. The press conference with the director and members of the cast -- if they get asked about these parallels and they answer -- could be quite freaky as well.

The exotic locations make for visually splendor; the quirky behavior of the brothers -- and others they meet -- is genuinely comic. The film is also at moments sad, sometimes heartless, frequently surprising, occasionally exciting, and often insightful. It can ignite conversations about healing, family dynamics, self-awareness, and the causes and cures (if any) of dysfunctional behavior.

Unfortunately, there is one moment toward the end, when the film seems to adapt a Hollywood moment (and everyone seems to "grow" -- like they teach in high school English), which is out of character with the rest of the film.

The main feature is preceded by a short, a kind of prequel to the movie, with behavior that is enigmatic, kind of fascinating, and seemingly more serious than the film that follows.

This is a fine choice for opening night. It is exotic, American and yet alien, well constructed and beautifully shot, imaginatively written, acted, and directed, yet sometimes too much in search of the next part of the story, thoughtful, even thought provoking, emotional, and possibly appreciated most by a somewhat specialized audience. It is, therefore, perhaps, an ironic, self-referential introduction to a film festival that sometimes is just the same.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007



(Ultra) Ivory conentrated dishwasher liquid claims -- in a very prominent blue oval-shaped sticker on the bottle --

gentler on hands*

Now, you might think that slogan means this bottle contains a new version of the soap, that is gentler than the version you bought yesterday; but the asterisk -- give them some points for honesty -- explains:

That asterisk * is interesting. It says: "vs. original green dish liquid"

("gentler on hands vs. original green dish liquid"): In other words, this product is more gentle than something they may have once made. I can't remember how far back, if ever, this liquid was green. Perhaps, by "original" they mean something made out of mushed grass that cavemen from the stone age first invented to clean out their stone bowls.



is a sincere, earnest, sometimes gritty, sometimes tense, yet still romanticized story of a mother, once in jail for stealing to support her heroin addiction, trying to make a new life for herself.

It is extremely well acted by
Maggie Gyllenhaal. And the supporting actors are all excellent as well.

It is an effective drama.

The only reserve I had was that -- despite all the excellence of her terrific portrayal of this deeply disturbed woman -- she still often looked way too beautiful for the character. For example, not only did she seem totally out of place at an addicts meeting, but no-one around her reacted realistically to the movie-star presence of this erotically charged woman. Two men hovered lightly around her, the way they might have, had she looked like the character she was playing probably would have looked. They were not, however, behaving like people behave in the presence of someone who truly does look like a movie star. She looked tense and stressed when the dialog called for it; but for a truly great movie she would have needed to look like an ex-junkie, ex-con, sex-starved, disturbed, strugging woman all the time.

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Monday, September 03, 2007




The 45th annual New York Film Festival (Sep 28 - Oct 4) will be an extremely rich and interesting event.

The Opening Night film will be The Darjeeling Limited, directed by Wes Anderson, set in India, and starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman.


The Centerpiece Film will be Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Josh Brolin, and Kelly MacDonald.

Closing Night will feature the animated
Persepolis, a coming of age story based on Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel about her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, with voices including Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darrieux.


The festival will also include screenings of a new film by Sidney Lumet (his first appearance at the festival since Fail-Safe 43 years ago), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei; a new "definitive" director's cut of Blade Runner, celebrating its 25th anniversary; and 4 Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, the winner of this year's Palme D'Or at Cannes by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu.

This year is unusually rich in American films. In addition to the films already mentioned, Brian De Palma will be making his NYFF debut with
Redacted, about the Iraq war. Noah Baumbach will show Margot At The Wedding, a follow-up to The Squid and The Whale with Nicole Kidman as Jennifer Jason Leigh's sister, and Jack Black as Jennifer's "underwhelming" fiance. Gus Van Sant is presenting Paranoid Park, a Cannes special prize winner. Todd Haynes is showing a film about Bob Dylan; and Ira Sach's melodrama, Married Life, with Pierce Brosnan, marks his first NYFF appearance, as does John Landis' documentary, Mr Warmth, The Don Rickles Project. And more: documentaries, avant-garde, and retrospective American films.

There will also be special sidebar events, including a gallery of informal, autographed photos of stars and celebrities, screening of three music documentaries, a set of films by Brazilian Cinema Nova director Joaquim Pedro De Andrade, Views from the Avant-Garde and films from Cathay Studios. There will also be a gala black-tie evening celebrating the films of
New Line Cinema, (with ticket prices starting at $2,500) to benefit the In Motion Capital building campaign for the new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

Tickets will be available to the public beninnging next Sunday. (Note: Because Alice Tully Hall is undergoing renovation, the festival this year will be centered at the Rose Jazz Center.)

NYFF 2006 was not only a terrific event, it was also the kickoff for many of the year's most important films (see this earlier post), including The Queen, Pan's Labyrinth, and Volver. This year's festival promises to be at least equally important, exciting, and just plain fun.

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For breakfast I had a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Then I had an English muffin with jelly, and some coffee, followed by fresh fruit: some grapes, an apple and two strawberries.

After breakfast, I looked at the New Scientist, where an article on breakfast began by saying it was a myth that a breakfast rich in carbohydrates was good brain food. "In fact," it said, near the start of the article, "eating breakfast can be worse for mental and physical performance than going hungry."

I wanted to read the rest of the article and report on it here, but I just couldn't concentrate.


1- New Scientist charges to read articles online. Here's a link to the article preview.

2- The gist of the article is a study of the way that glucose gets to the brain to nourish it.

3- My own personal, anecdotal experience has been that breakfast with eggs or other protein is most important for a good start in the morning.

4- Understanding of nutrition and its effects is a rapidly changing science, and just about every report being published now is a piece of partial information, with a clear view of the big picture still some time away. It will be especially important to understand how to personalize the nutritional needs of each individual. Information in any one story at this point is likely to be re-interpreted as more comprehensive information becomes available.

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