Saturday, October 31, 2009

From the Front Row Turns 3

That's right, 3 years ago today, From the Front Row debuted on the web.

Last year, I predicted that it would continue to grow, and it has. The record setting hit count for 2008 has already been surpassed, as From the Front Row continues to draw in tens of thousands of visitors every year.

2009 has brought some changes - I began writing for In Review Online, and officially become important enough to start receiving screeners. I covered two film festivals - SXSW and River Run, and for the first time, have had my reviews linked and quoted on several films' official websites.

That may not sound like much, but considering the modest beginnings of From the Front Row, I could not be more happy about how much it has grown and the attention that it has received in the 3 years since.

I've been reviewing films since 2002, professionally since 2004, and online since 2006, spanning most of the decade. With the 2000s now coming to a close, I look to begin From the Front Row's fourth year in the face of a new decade, by looking back at the decade that was, and the films that define it. Starting soon I will begin my 2000s retrospective, and I look forward to continuing to grow and expand in the years to come.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"I Shot Jesse James" Streaming Free at The Auteurs

Samuel Fuller's directorial debut, I Shot Jesse James, is now available for free at The Auteurs.

This is one of my favorite Westerns. Not only is it great fun, but its also surprisingly psychologically astute. It focuses more on the inner turmoil of Robert Ford, after he guns down his friend and partner, Jesse James, in exchange for a reward and judicial immunity. Unlike in Andrew Dominick's masterful The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, where Ford is motivated by jealousy and mistrust, this film mostly takes place after James' death, and examines the gnawing effects of guilt and fear over the public outcry that ensued.

The Auteurs is also showing several other debut films for free for a limited time, including Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water, Agnès Varda's La Pointe Courte, Jane Campion's Sweetie.

Check them out while you can!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On "Paranormal Activity"

From The Dispatch:
The nighttime scenes as seen through the unblinking eye of the video camera are chillingly effective. The problem is that everything in between is incredibly dull. Watching "Paranormal Activity" is like being trapped in a closet with the world's most irritating yuppies. The characters are bland and annoying, and their banter is grating and obnoxious. I found myself longing for the next haunting scene but having to sit through endless scenes of ridiculous bickering.
Click here to read my full review.

Trailer: "Invictus"

As a devoted Clint Eastwood fan, I can't wait to see this. The trailer is fantastic, and from the looks of things Morgan Freeman is going to be great. Check it out for yourself:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Polanski Victim Asks DA to Drop Charges


From The Guardian:

Samantha Geimer, who was 13 years old when Polanski gave her drugs and had sex with her, today asked a Los Angeles court to drop the charges against the Chinatown director. Polanski fled the US in 1978 after pleading guilty to illegal sex. He was arrested in Zurich last month and is fighting extradition to the US.

In a court filing today, Geimer said she has been besieged by nearly 500 calls from news media since Polanski's arrest. She lives in Hawaii and long ago publicly identified herself as the victim and forgave Polanski, but said she and her family have to contend with pressure when he is in the news. She said she is being stalked by journalists from international news organisations and has received interview requests from Oprah Winfrey and CNN's Larry King.

"The pursuit has caused her to have health-related issues," the filing states. "The pursuit has caused her performance at her job to be interfered with and has caused the understandable displeasure of her employer and the real possibility that Samantha could lose her job."

In the filing she asks the court to dismiss the case and ends with: "Leave her alone."

What now, Polanski haters? How can you still continue on this ridiculous crusade, in which there is no justice? If Geimer can move on and want the charges dropped, all the people who were not victimized should be able to as well. People are salivating to see Polanski in jail but they forget the most important part of this whole thing - the victim.

This farce needs to end now. Seriously.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Paranormal Activity" Tops Box Office

Paramount's Paranormal Activity became a bona fide phenomenon this weekend, finally topping the box office after five weeks in release. Thanks in part to a brilliantly orchestrated publicity campaign and strong word of mouth, the micro-budgeted horror flick surged past Saw VI, showing that the Saw series may finally be losing steam (despite the fact that Saw VII and VIII have already been greenlit).

The marketers behind Paranormal Activity have been very shrewd in manufacturing a fan phenomenon, getting moviegoers to "Demand It" via Eventful.com, although clearly they already had plans to give the film a wide release. Still, you have to hand it to them, this may be one of the most successful grassroots marketing campaigns ever, turning this into the new Blair Witch Project.

I'm not really a fan of the film. The haunting scenes are effective but the interactions of the couple between hauntings are interminably dull and vapid. I always appreciate the less is more approach to horror (although the theatrical ending of the film takes away from that a bit), and Paranormal Activity gets it half right, much more so than the Saw films ever did, so I'm glad to see anything put Saw in its place. I just don't think Paranormal Activity is really all it's cracked up to be.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Invictus" Poster Debuts

Thanks to Rope of Silicon for drawing my attention to today's debut of the poster for Clint Eastwood's upcoming Nelson Mandela drama starring Morgan Freeman, Invictus.

Invictus is one of the big "ifs" of the Oscar season. No one has seen it yet, but it is expected to come sweeping in at the last minute in typical Eastwood fashion and be a big contender. I'm hoping for Eastwood's usual sense of quality. Only time will tell.

Grief, Pain, Despair

Charlotte Gainsbourg as 'She' and Willem Dafoe as 'He' in ANTICHRIST directed by Lars von Trier. Courtesy of Trust Nodisk ApS. An IFC Films release


Trust Roger Ebert to get down to the heart of Antichrist. In his review, he writes:
We must begin by assuming that He and She are already at psychological tipping points. She has been doing research on witchcraft, and it leads her to wonder if women are inherently evil. That may cause her to devalue herself. He is a controlling, dominant personality, who I believe is moved by the traumatic death to punish the woman who delivered his child into the world.
That may be the single most intelligent thing I've seen written about this film, and it also answers the accusations of misogyny.

Ebert may have become much more forgiving in his more recent work, but still no one knows film like he does. In his best fashion, he has drawn attention to things I hadn't considered about the film before, which is what the best film criticism does.

His review is a must read. Don't miss it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On "Where the Wild Things Are"

From The Dispatch:
The final product may be much darker and more serious than the original book, but it perfectly captures its spirit. Jonze is being frank about childhood, balancing innocence in the face of reality and the modern world in a way that is both enthralling and deeply moving. It's a mood piece, a wholly transporting and wonderful film that exists in that special realm where the young and the young at heart meet. "Where the Wild Things Are" isn't just a great children's film, it's a great film period.
Click here to read my full review.

Chaos Reigns

If you're a regular reader of From the Front Row, then you probably know that I occasionally like to post the outrageous opinions of right-wing Christian loony, Ted Baehr, a self appointed "film critic" and moral crusader for MovieGuide and the Christian Film & TV Commission.

He has outdone himself in his moral outrage over Lars Von Trier's Antichrist (IFC, 10.23 - click here to read my review.), starting a petition titled HELP STOP ANTICHRIST, which plans to lobby the MPAA to slap the film with an NC-17. Which it would fully deserve, of course, if it were to be rated.

The problem is that Baehr, in typical Baehr fashion, did not do his homework or think his little crusade through. IFC is not a member of the MPAA, therefore they do not submit their films for ratings. Baehr can petition and bellow all he wants, but the MPAA can't do a damn thing about Antichrist.

He has some pretty harsh words for it, though, saying "
it's filled with a wicked worldview, vile pornographic scenes, onscreen mutilation of private parts, and some other material which I simply cannot describe to you in a family publication." and:
This movie is an evil ode to the forces of Satan. There is no doubt that it is trying to expose that evil exists, even in our rational world, but it does so in a very cruel and pornographic way. If the world had standards, this movie would be Triple X and banned. As it is, we are issuing our strongest warning not to see it, and to complain to the MPAA for allowing a movie like this to come to theaters near you.
It's all ridiculous, of course. And one wonders how people like Baehr function in the real world when they can't even get the facts of their rants straight. Sorry, Ted. You're barking up the wrong tree. So go right ahead, keep petitioning the MPAA and protesting Antichrist, it's the best publicity IFC could possibly dream of.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: "Antichrist"

When Lars von Trier's Antichrist premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival, it sparked such contentious and wildly divided reactions, that it turned otherwise intelligent critics and journalists into frothing animals, some even going so far as to call for outright censorship. It has been called "misogynistic," "sadistic," "grossly offensive," "a punch in the face of respectability," "an evil ode to the forces of Satan," and "the most horrific horror movie of all time." Christian "film critic" Ted Baehr said of the film: "If the world had standards, this movie would be Triple X and banned." I would be hard pressed to call Baehr a legitimate film critic, much less level-headed or thoughtful, but he's not alone in his extreme, almost irrational hatred for Antichrist.

These knee-jerk reactions are not becoming of professional film critics. It is one thing to dislike a film and reasonably lay out the reasons for doing so, but I don't remember ever seeing such a virulent outpouring of blind hatred for any film, especially to the extent of calling for it to be banned.

But Von Trier has always been one to court controversy. From accusations of misogyny to anti-Americanism, his films have always sharply divided both critics and audiences. But Antichrist makes the outcry over the supposed anti-American sentiments of his 2003 masterpiece, Dogville, look positively tame by comparison. To dismiss Antichrist outright is to miss the point completely. There are so many layers, so much symbolism and depth that there is a great discussion to be had here, for or against it.

Charlotte Gainsbourg as 'She' and Willem Dafoe as 'He' in ANTICHRIST directed by Lars von Trier. Courtesy of Trust Nordisk ApS. An IFC Films Release.

Von Trier made Antichrist as a sort of personal therapy, coming out of a deep depression after the less than warm reception of his 2006 comedy, The Boss of it All. Originally, it was supposed to be a horror film about a world created by Satan rather than God (a concept it retains more in spirit than in actual reality). But after the plot was leaked, Von Trier re-wrote the screenplay, centering it around a couple known only as He (Willem Dafoe), and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who retreat to a cabin in the woods in a place called Eden to recover from the death of their infant son, who toppled out of a window while they were in the middle of a passionate tryst. He is a psychiatrist who believes he can treat she better than the doctors at the hospital, who tell her that her grieving is abnormal. Determined to prove otherwise, he takes her to Eden for treatment. But his arrogant condescension and insistence that he knows best only exacerbates the situation, and soon strange occurrences begin to happen in the woods around the cabin. Nature has come alive and evil lurks in every corner, as the true nature of She's relationship with their son is revealed, and darkness begins to overtake Eden.

Antichrist is nothing if not a flawed film. But it is a great flawed masterpiece. It is a horror film, to be sure, but an art film first and foremost. The opening sequence, despite the horrific death of a child that it depicts, is one of the most breathtaking sequences of the year, filmed in gorgeous black and white by frequent Von Trier cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire), and set to Handel's "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Rinaldo. It sets the tone for the sharp juxtaposition of the hideous and the sublime, the sacred and the profane, to come.

Charlotte Gainsbourg as 'She' in ANTICHRIST directed by Lars von Trier.
Photo credit: Christian Geisnaes. An IFC Films release.

It is a film of moods, textures, and feelings, very much in the tradition of the early surrealists. There is a bit of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou present in some of the film's hauntingly disturbing imagery - a deer with its stillborn baby still dangling from its womb, dead animal corpses, and a talking fox (one of the film's more controversial elements). Buñuel once said in his essay, Mystery of Cinema:
In the hands of a free spirit the cinema is a magnificent and dangerous weapon. It is the superlative medium through which to express the world of thought, feeling, and instinct. The creative handling of film images is such that, among all means of human expression, its way of functioning is most reminiscent of the work of the mind during sleep. A film is like an involuntary imitation of a dream.
Antichrist is, above all, like something out of a nightmare. Logic and reason no longer apply. Von Trier said that he directed most of the film without enthusiasm, using it as an exercise to pull himself out of a deep depression, and to see if he still had it in him to make a film. As such, Antichrist is a wholly fascinating and impressionistic look into a tortured artist's psyche, and a master filmmaker's artistic process. It overcomes its flaws through sheer ambition. Even in its grotesque, highly sexualized (and symbolic) violence, Von Trier is creating something both repulsive and magnetic, a lyrical, frenzied waking dream that defies filmmaking convention at every turn to create something both breathtaking and repellent. It is a film that grabs you and shakes you to your very core, a work of great power and assurance. Even working at half-capacity, Von Trier still has the power to shock and awe. No other film this year has etched itself so deeply into my memory and haunted me quite like Antichrist.

Love him or hate him, Von Trier will not be ignored. The film almost seems to dare the audience to like it, while simultaneously daring us to hate it. It is a brutal, bruising experience, almost punishing the audience for even having the audacity to show up. It's as if Von Trier is determined to make us share in his pain. But there is no greater pleasure than great filmmaking. And as intense as Antichrist is, it is never anything less than an astonishing experience just watching a master at work. It is a film that cannot be dismissed. It demands our attention and our consideration, and cannot and will not be denied. To again quote Buñuel; "The cinema seems to have been invented to express the life of the subconscious, the roots of which penetrate poetry so deeply." If that is the case, then Antichrist is cinema in the purest sense, a kind of dark, sadomasochistic poetry that transcends words and easy descriptions. It may revel in its own chaos, but chaos has never been so profound.

GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)

ANTICHRIST; Directed by Lars von Trier; Stars Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg; Not Rated; Premieres tomorrow, 10/21, on IFC On Demand, opens theatrically in select cities 10/23.

2009: The Year of the Woman

Much has been made this year about the large amount of great films by female filmmakers, especially those with shots at Oscar glory - Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, Jane Campion's Bright Star, and Lone Scherfig's An Education just to name a few. An impressive achievement to be sure, but I've noticed a very obnoxious new trend with some female bloggers out there, somehow making this year's Oscar race all about gender.

Kathryn Bigelow on the set of 'The Hurt Locker.'

I'm gay, and last year an openly gay man was nominated for Best Director for directing a film about the first openly gay man elected to public office, and an openly gay man won Best Original Screenplay. Did you hear me bellowing from the rooftops about victory for gay filmmakers? No.

I do not like it when "minority" groups use their minority status to define themselves. If all you are is gay, or female, or black, or any other number of groups, then you are doing a disservice to yourself and your group by painting yourself into a corner and becoming a walking caricature. I pulled for Adam Lambert to win American Idol not so he could become the first gay idol, but because I honestly thought he was the best. We should be celebrating these women's films, the fact that they are women should be incidental. To focus so completely on the gender of the filmmaker seems somehow regressive to me.

Jane Campion on the set of 'Bright Star.' Image courtesy of Apparition.

It's true that only three women have ever been nominated for Best Director, Campion among them. But it seems to me that looking at these women solely as great female directors rather than just great directors does them a grave disservice, and takes us back about 30 years. I'm sure someone somewhere will spin this into a chauvanistic argument, which it isn't. I'm a gay guy, I've seen this done with gay people and I know how it works. Most of my closest friends are women, and they agree with me on this. Stop making it about gender and start making it about filmmaking, which is why we're all here anyway, isn't it? Celebrate their films, celebrate their achievements, but please stop marginalizing what they have accomplished by focusing solely on one aspect of who they are.

"Hurt Locker," "Big Fan" Lead Gotham Nominations

What an odd assortment. Amreeka? Big Fan? The Gotham Awards have never really been Oscar bellwethers, but this is still an unexpected group. The Hurt Locker and A Serious Man, are, of course, serious contenders, and I expect them to go far, both here and in the awards season as a whole.

Best Feature
Amreeka
Cherien Dabis, director; Christina Piovesan, Paul Barkin, producers (National Geographic Entertainment)
Big Fan
Robert Siegel, director; Jean Kouremetis, Elan Bogarin, producers (First Independent Pictures)
The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow, director; Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro, producers (Summit Entertainment)
The Maid
Sebastian Silva, director; Gregorio Gonzales, producer (Elephant Eye Films)
A Serious Man
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, directors/producers (Focus Features)

Best Documentary
Food, Inc.
Robert Kenner, director; Robert Kenner, Elise Pearlstein, producers (Magnolia Pictures)
Good Hair
Jeff Stilson, director; Chris Rock, Kevin O’Donnell, Nelson George Jenny Hunter, producers (Liddell Entertainment and Roadside Attractions in association with HBO Films)
My Neighbor My Killer
Anne Aghion, director/producer (Gacaca Productions)
Paradise
Michael Almereyda, director; Michael Almereyda, Laurie Butler, producers (Post Factory Films)
Tyson
James Toback, director; James Toback, Damon Bingham, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)

Best Ensemble Performance
Adventureland
Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Ryan Reynolds (Miramax Films)
Cold Souls
Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, Katheryn Winnick, David Strathairn (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
The Hurt Locker
Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly (Summit Entertainment)
A Serious Man
Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed (Focus Features)
Sugar
Algenis Perez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Michael Gaston, Andre Holland, Ann Whitney, Richard Bull, Ellary Porterfield, Jaime Tirelli (Sony Pictures Classics)

Breakthrough Director
Cruz Angeles for Don’t Let Me Drown
Frazer Bradshaw for Everything Strange and New
Noah Buschel for The Missing Person (Strand Releasing)
Derick Martini for Lymelife (Screen Media Films)
Robert Siegel for Big Fan (First Independent Pictures)

Breakthrough Actor
Ben Foster in The Messenger (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Patton Oswalt in Big Fan (First Independent Pictures)
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker (Summit Entertainment)
Catalina Saavedra in The Maid (Elephant Eye Films)
Soulemane Sy Savane in Goodbye Solo (Roadside Attractions)

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You
Everything Strange and New
Frazer Bradshaw, director; Laura Techera Francia, A.D. Liano, producers
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench
Damien Chazelle, director; Jasmine McGlade, producer
October Country
Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, directors/producers
You Won’t Miss Me
Ry Russo-Young, director/producer
Zero Bridge
Tariq Tapa, director; Tariq Tapa, Josee Lajoie, Hilal Ahmed Langoo, producers

Source: IndieWire

Thursday, October 15, 2009

65 Countries in Competition for 2009 Foreign Language Film Oscar

AMPAS announced the list of eligible foreign language films today, from 65 different countries around the world. I have only seen two, Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, from France, which is a strong contender, and Havana Marking's British documentary, Afghan Star. A Prophet is a likely nominee, along with Michael Haneke's Palme D'Or winning The White Ribbon from Germany.

Leonard Proxauf as Martin (The Pastor's son) in The White Ribbon.
© Films du Losange Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics


Notable omissions include Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces, as Spain submitted The Dancer and the Thief instead, but it's not especially surprising given Spain's track record with Almodovar (they didn't submit Talk to Her or Volver either), and Broken Embraces' mixed critical reaction.


Here is the full list:

Albania, “Alive!,” Artan Minarolli, director;
Argentina, “El Secreto de Sus Ojos,” Juan Jose Campanella, director;
Armenia, “Autumn of the Magician,” Rouben Kevorkov and Vaheh Kevorkov, directors;
Australia, “Samson & Delilah,” Warwick Thornton, director;
Austria, “For a Moment Freedom,” Arash T. Riahi, director;
Bangladesh, “Beyond the Circle,” Golam Rabbany Biplob, director;
Belgium, “The Misfortunates,” Felix van Groeningen, director;
Bolivia, “Zona Sur,” Juan Carlos Valdivia, director;
Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Nightguards,” Namik Kabil, director;
Brazil, “Time of Fear,” Sergio Rezende, director;
Bulgaria, “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner,” Stephan Komandarev, director;
Canada, “I Killed My Mother,” Xavier Dolan, director;
Chile, “Dawson, Isla 10,” Miguel Littin, director;
China, “Forever Enthralled,” Chen Kaige, director;
Colombia, “The Wind Journeys,” Ciro Guerra, director;
Croatia, “Donkey,” Antonio Nuic, director;
Cuba, “Fallen Gods,” Ernesto Daranas, director;
Czech Republic, “Protektor,” Marek Najbrt, director;
Denmark, “Terribly Happy,” Henrik Ruben Genz, director;
Estonia, “December Heat,” Asko Kase, director;
Finland, “Letters to Father Jacob,” Klaus Haro, director;
France, “Un Prophete,” Jacques Audiard, director;
Georgia, “The Other Bank,” George Ovashvili, director;
Germany, “The White Ribbon,” Michael Haneke, director;
Greece, “Slaves in Their Bonds,” Tony Lykouressis, director;
Hong Kong, “Prince of Tears,” Yonfan, director;
Hungary, “Chameleon,” Krisztina Goda, director;
Iceland, “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” Oskar Jonasson, director;
India, “Harishchandrachi Factory,” Paresh Mokashi, director;
Indonesia, “Jamila and the President,” Ratna Sarumpaet;
Iran, “About Elly,” Asghar Farhadi, director;
Israel, “Ajami,” Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, director;
Italy, “Baaria,” Giuseppe Tornatore, director;
Japan, “Nobody to Watch over Me,” Ryoichi Kimizuka, director;
Kazakhstan, “Kelin,” Ermek Tursunov, director;
Korea, “Mother,” Joon-ho Bong, director;
Lithuania, “Vortex,” Gytis Luksas, director;
Luxembourg, “Refractaire,” Nicolas Steil, director;
Macedonia, “Wingless,” Ivo Trajkov, director;
Mexico, “Backyard,” Carlos Carrera, director;
Morocco, “Casanegra,” Nour-Eddine Lakhmari, director;
The Netherlands, “Winter in Wartime,” Martin Koolhoven, director;
Norway, “Max Manus,” Espen Sandberg and Joachim Roenning, directors;
Peru, “The Milk of Sorrow,” Claudia Llosa, director;
Philippines, “Grandpa Is Dead,” Soxie H. Topacio, director;
Poland, “Reverse,” Borys Lankosz, director;
Portugal, “Doomed Love,” Mario Barroso, director;
Puerto Rico, “Kabo and Platon,” Edmundo H. Rodriguez, director;
Romania, “Police, Adjective,” Corneliu Porumboiu, director;
Russia, “Ward No. 6,” Karen Shakhnazarov, director;
Serbia, “St. George Shoots the Dragon,” Srdjan Dragojevic, director;
Slovakia, “Broken Promise,” Jiri Chlumsky, director;
Slovenia, “Landscape No. 2,” Vinko Moderndorfer, director;
South Africa, “White Wedding,” Jann Turner, director;
Spain, “The Dancer and the Thief,” Fernando Trueba, director;
Sri Lanka, “The Road from Elephant Pass,” Chandran Rutnam;
Sweden, “Involuntary,” Ruben Ostlund, director;
Switzerland, “Home,” Ursula Meier, director;
Taiwan, “No Puedo Vivir sin Ti,” Leon Dai, director;
Thailand, “Best of Times,” Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, director;
Turkey, “I Saw the Sun,” Mahsun Kirmizigul, director;
United Kingdom, “Afghan Star,” Havana Marking, director;
Uruguay, “Bad Day for Fishing,” Alvaro Brechner, director;
Venezuela, “Libertador Morales, El Justiciero,” Efterpi Charalambidis, director;
Vietnam, “Don’t Burn It,” Dang Nhat Minh.