Friday, January 30, 2015

Film Capsule: Pierre Étaix's Yoyo (1965)

Yoyo (1965)
Directed by Pierre Étaix

A lonely billionaire lives unsatisfied in his countryside manor, yearning for his estranged son and former lover who work as traveling circus performers. In the wake of the stock market crash, he takes up with the troupe himself, the trio garnering modest success and the young Yoyo in particular growing into an accomplished entertainer. The aristocrat, as well as the adult Yoyo, is portrayed by actor-director Pierre Étaix in this surreal, not-quite-silent homage to life and love and the plight of the working class. From a script by Jean-Claude Carrière, the film protracts and suspends time as the fates of the father and son subtly intertwine. The recently rediscovered Étaix, a physical comedian and one-time assistant of Jacques Tati, is as colorful an actor as he is a dynamic director, eliciting gravity from gags and humor from human nature in a manner as proficient as his more celebrated peers. (Feb 3, 4pm at FIAF’s “Eccentrics of French Comedy”) [The L]

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Los Angeles Repertory Recommendations: January 2015

This story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Mizoguchi at the Hammer | 10899 Wilshire Blvd.

The new year of L.A. repertory offerings kicks off on a high note at the Hammer Museum with an overdue retrospective on Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi. Running through Feb. 15, the series includes such feudal, female-driven classics as The Life of Oharu and Sansho the Bailiff, but more importantly is a rare chance to see his early masterworks: Utamaro and His Five Women (Jan. 26), The 47 Ronin (Feb. 15) and the incomparable The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Feb. 6).

LACMA Classics | 5905 Wilshire Blvd.

The next weeks offer particularly note-worthy films at the city's largest art museum. In addition to a 16mm presentation of the Jules Dassin rarity Uptight (an African-American spin on John Ford's The Informer; Jan. 30), there will be 35mm screenings of Akira Kurosawa's popular action epic Seven Samurai (Jan. 29), Stanley Kubrick's ravishing period masterpiece Barry Lyndon (Jan. 31) and Woody Allen's enduring romantic comedy Annie Hall (Feb. 6).

French Cinema With Live Music | 611 N. Fairfax Ave.
In December 2013, harpist Mary Lattimore and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Zeigler performed a live score for French filmmaker Philippe Garrel's 1968 homage to the dawn of experimental cinema, Le Revelateur, in Marfa, Texas. The event was so successful that they spent the last year touring with the film. On Feb. 5, the duo brings the performance to Cinefamily, giving those who may have caught Garrel's latest film, Jealousy, during its recent L.A. run the chance to catch up with one of the director's most beautiful early works.

Forest of Bliss at Los Angeles Filmforum | 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Cinephiles suffered a loss with the recent passing of Robert Gardner, who helped pioneer an ethnographically inclined movement in nonfiction filmmaking. On Jan. 25, in tribute to Gardner's legacy, long-running nonprofit LA Filmforum will screen his 1986 documentary, Forest of Bliss, an observational portrait of ruination rituals and sacrificial rites in Benares, India, at Hollywood's Egyptian Theater. [THR]

Friday, January 23, 2015

Blu-ray Review: Allan Dwan's Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

Allan Dwan was one of Hollywood's most prolific directors, working from the silent era through the golden age of the studio system. The Toronto-born filmmaker made somewhere north of 400 films—many of them woefully obscure, unavailable, or lost—during his half-century career, and in a variety of genres and registers. As a proverbial gun-for-hire, he could have turned his productions around with anonymous influence, with little or no authorial voice to distinguish his work from the myriad other filmmakers tasked with nominally similar projects. And yet the best of his films—among them Frontier Marshall, Brewster's Millions, Silver Lode, and Slightly Scarlet—evince a psychological complexity and stylistic self-sufficiency rare for such genre-oriented fare. If Dwan's films can be categorized by their conventions, they likewise refuse to be reduced to caricature, often recalibrating symbols of American mythology (the cowboy, the criminal, the solider, the entertainer) as vessels for vocational, historical, and ideological reconsideration.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Everyday Absurdities: The Films of Ruben Östlund

Ruben Östlund’s 2004 debut feature, The Guitar Mongoloid, opens with a short clip of Swedish adult contemporary crooner Lasse Berghagen performing his cheese-ball pop anthem “Stockholm i mitt hjärta” on the annual Allsång på Skansen television broadcast as a crowd of thousands join him in singing along to the song’s blindingly earnest title refrain (“Stockholm is in my heart!”). It’s a humorous bit of sourced footage whose signal is soon interrupted by an unidentified delinquent tearing a satellite receiver off the roof of an apartment building. The literal and figurative static uniting these two scenes, one fiction and one unfortunately not, is a handy metaphor for the darkly comic sensibilities of the Styrsö-born Östlund, who has built his young career thus far on life’s everyday dissonances and the resultant absurdities. But it’s likewise, and perhaps more tellingly, representative of the forty year-old director’s concurrent transition from nonfiction filmmaking to short and feature-length narrative work, two chapters in a catalogue he’s seemingly kept distinct, even as his roots continue to influence and intrude upon his newer films in fascinating ways.

Film Capsule: Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain (1959)

Fires on the Plain (1959)
Directed by Kon Ichikawa

This harrowing antiwar film, released just as its director was reaching the height of his international renown, follows tubercular WWII Japanese soldier Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi), dismissed by his company and encouraged to commit suicide as a result of his illness, across a scorched-earth landscape of rotting corpses and cannibalistic infantrymen. Adapted by Ichikawa’s wife, Natto Wada, from a novel by Shōhei Ōoka, and without determent from any of the author’s more gruesome vignettes, Tamura’s tale of survival turns hallucinatory as he marches toward an ambiguous horizon line where the hunger for both survival and spiritual sanctification become inexorably entwined. Shooting in high-contrast black-and-white and with steely reserve reflective of both character and shooting conditions alike, Ichikawa manages to engender a sense of intimacy even as his vision of hell on earth builds to seemingly irreconcilable ends. (Jan 19, 1pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of the New York Jewish Film Festival‘s “War Against War” sidebar) [The L]

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Film Review: Claude Lanzmann's The Last of the Unjust (2013)

This piece appears in the January/February 2015 issue of Little White Lies.

Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 magnum opus, Shoah, has cast a long, lingering shadow over both the career of its creator and the discipline of documentary filmmaking in its entirity. In the 30 years since Shoah’s release, Lanzmann has continued to devote himself almost solely to the excavation of not only the histories of the Holocaust, but to the mountains of footage he himself shot over the 10-plus years of the film’s development. It’s clear that the impetus behind Shoah, along with the now four subsequent films he has created from the same reserve of original material, is less a one-off project than an ongoing ideological and artistic concern.

Film Capsule: Richard Sarafin's Vanishing Point (1971)

Vanishing Point (1971)
Directed by Richard Sarafin

A paragon of post-hippie malaise, this existential road movie shifts gears restlessly from high-octane action to contemplative counterculture study under the vague aegis of sociopolitical unrest. Starring Barry Newman as Kowalski, an enigmatic veteran turned disaffected automotive delivery driver who, having encountered further violence and corruption as a race car driver and police officer, takes to the highway in a self-imposed challenge to drive a Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in less than twenty-four hours. Fuelled on equal parts adrenaline and amphetamine, and guided over the airwaves by the spiritual monologues of DJ Super Soul (Cleavon Littte), Kowalski speeds across the Southwest disposing of patrol vehicles just as he disavows the ideological naivety of civilians still beholden to a bygone sense of idealism. An emblem from the final era of practical effects, the film is likewise indicative of a generation transitioning from rebellion to conservatism. (Jan 13, 6:45pm; Jan 14, 9:15pm at Anthology Film Archives’s Sarafin tribute) [The L]