Daily | Film Comment Selects 2015

'Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films'

‘Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films’

The 15th edition of Film Comment Selects opens tomorrow and runs through March 5 at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center. At the moment, this entry is an overview of the previews and a collection of links to previously posted entries on some of the films. I expect to be updating it over the next couple of weeks, though, so we should end up with a broader picture of this year’s edition.

Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films makes a joyful blastoff for Film Comment Selects, setting the unruly mood for a series dedicated to work that doesn’t always fit into straighter, more self-consciously serious festivals, where back-room dealing, distributor strong-arming and program compromising are often par for the course. An offshoot of the bimonthly magazine Film Comment, which is published by the [FSLC], the program is small enough that it can avoid the usual festival concessions to serve up a tasty, idiosyncratic brew of genre pleasures and furrowed-brow art-film explorations. The old and the new, the good, the bad and the inexplicable all take a turn here as the gods of cinema mingle with its reprobates.”

Dargis’s preview focuses on the legacy of Cannon and its founders, the late Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus, but also includes a few words each on several other films in the program. When Electric Boogaloo screened in Toronto, we gathered reviews from John Anderson (Indiewire), Ian Barr (Cinema Scope), Scott Foundas (Variety) and James Marsh (Twitch).

“This year’s newest doozy is Franco Maresco’s Belluscone: A Sicilian Story, a documentary—or is it?—tracing satirist Maresco’s investigation into the erstwhile Italian prime minister’s connections to the Sicilian Mafia,” writes Alan Scherstuhl in the Voice. “For all its suspense and meta-journalistic daring—it claims that Maresco has gone missing—Belluscone also works, at its core, as something of a metaphor for anyone who still takes filmed art personally.” (More from Oleg Ivanov at the House Next Door.) Scherstuhl also writes about a handful of other films, the Cannon Films Tribute and the six-film program Nils Malmros in Focus (more on that in a moment).

“If Belluscone shows Italy rotting from the inside, then Spring, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s audacious follow-up to their 2012 thriller Resolution, depicts the country struggling to resolve a love-hate relationship with foreigners,” writes Jackson Arn in his preview for Film Comment, which also includes capsules on Tetsuya Nakashima’s The World of Kanako, Larry Clark’s The Smell of Us, Duane Hopkins’s Bypass and Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s Tales.

The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody on that one: “Stringing together a series of interlinked short films—which are less closely scrutinized by Iran’s censors than features are—Bani-Etemad sketches a broad array of characters in Tehran and the horrific maladies, misfortunes, and oppressions that they endure. In taxis and kitchens and doctors’ offices, she unfolds an extraordinary panorama of pain…. Bani-Etemad’s curt style converges with her seething but seemingly whispered fury.” More from Jake Cole (House Next Door) and Jay Weissberg (Variety).

Now then, Nils Malmros. The early films “deal with adolescent life in the bustling, affluent coastal city of Aarhus, Denmark,” writes Max Nelson in an essential primer for Film Comment:

To be young, in these movies, is to be a mystery to others and a source of nearly equal bafflement to oneself. Growth spurts, tongue-tied early attempts at self-expression, random social demotions and promotions, acts of cruelty dealt out and received, unexpected surges of lust, pangs of unreciprocated romantic feeling and nervous abdications of romantic commitment: the experiences with which Malmros deals are, most often, the sorts of milestones a psychologist would assign to an early “stage or phase” in a theory of development.

Indeed, one of the most attractive—and, ultimately, deceptive—aspects of Malmros’s films is their apparent neutrality, their surgical steadiness of hand. Watching them can feel like recalling a particularly turbulent passage in your life from the lucid and serene remove of a later, mellower stage. By Malmros’s fifth feature Beauty and the Beast (83), however, a second, half-hidden voice was starting to speak up from under that paternal tone.

Last year, Rotterdam staged a retrospective and Notebook editor Daniel Kasman argued that “Malmros’s films are fundamentally far more provocative than those of [fellow Dane Lars] Von Trier, and their modest but severe directness have created a quietly radical configuration of cinema.”

Films in this year’s program for which we already have entries going: David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, Duane Hopkins’s Bypass, Riley Stearns’s Faults, Shinya Tsukamoto’s Fires on the Plain, Christian Petzold’s Phoenix and Larry Clark’s The Smell of Us. At Critics Round Up, James Kang has an excellent entry on Ann Hui‘s The Golden Era (more, in the meantime, from Elise Nakhnikian at the House Next Door). And in conjunction with the “rare screening of the test preview cut” of Gremlins (1984), Michael Sragow‘s been interviewing Joe Dante for Film Comment.

Updates, 2/21: Chuck Bowen at the House Next Door on Electric Boogaloo: “To watch this documentary is to somehow mainline 300 Cannon movies in 107 minutes, and anyone inclined to watch this film at all will somehow find that statement intangibly comforting. Director Mark Hartley, who also made the similarly infectious Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, displays a quality that can’t be faked: authentic enthusiasm for disreputable material.” On a related note, in his latest “Kaiju Shakedown” column for Film Comment, Grady Hendrix considers Cannon’s ninja movies. More on Electric Boogaloo from Jason Bailey (Flavorwire).

Back to Chuck Bowen: “Spring bridges the cautionary elements of a horror film with the wish-fulfilling platitudes of a touristy romance, yielding a leisurely weird pace that initially charges the film with a promising tension. The horror scenes feel misplaced, which is to say that they authentically violate the status quo of the narrative in a fashion that’s often impossible for a genre that depends on audiences more or less knowing upfront what it is that they’re paying to see. But directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead squander that tension, as they’re more interested in telling audiences what they want to hear. Namely, that it’s possible for a man to go to Italy and have a beautiful local woman proposition him almost immediately for no-strings-attached lovin’.”

The Fortune, Mike Nichols’s sixth film, reaped anything but when it was released in 1975,” writes Melissa Anderson for Artforum, where she suggests that the flop starring Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson “is not without its fascinations, the product of strange but sometimes generative tensions and inconsistencies both on- and off-screen.” Turning to Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (1998), she notes that Carole Eastman’s original “240-page script for The Fortune had no third act and would remain unfinished, for she ‘refused to rewrite, refused to touch a word.’ Nichols pared the script down substantially, in the process ‘cutting all the good stuff out of the movie,’ according to Polly Platt, The Fortune’s original production designer, in an interview with Biskind. Taking Platt at her word, I find it hard not to prefer a phantom, resolution-less, four-hour version of The Fortune to the 88-minute film that resulted.”

Steve Erickson in his overview of FC Selects for Gay City News: “Perhaps due to its use of limited space, Faults feels like an adaptation of a play, although Stearns wrote it directly for the screen. Still, David Mamet or Neil LaBute would be proud of its twists and turns, while its hints of the paranormal are all Stearns’s own.” Steven Mears interviews Stearns for Film Comment.

At Twitch, Dustin Chang has capsule reviews of The Smell of Us, Bypass, Cristián Jiménez’s Voice Over, Julie Lopes-Curval’s High Society, Nils Malmros’s Tree of Knowledge, Sam Firstenberg’s Ninja III: The Domination and Shock Value: The Movie—How Dan O’Bannon and Some USC Outsiders Helped Invent Modern Horror: “USC, the school responsible for incubating such Hollywood filmmakers as George Lucas, Ron Howard and Rian Johnson, was also the place to be for successful genre filmmakers in the late 60s and early 70s. USC archivist Dino Everett lovingly strings together the works of USC Film School collaborators, including Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter, Charles Adair, Terence Winkless and Alec Lorimore, in this no frills anthology.”

More interviews for Film Comment: Yonca Talu with Rakhshan Bani-E’temad and Marc Walkow with Shinya Tsukamoto.

Update, 2/23: Sean Nam at the House Next Door on Un ange passe: “In Philippe Garrel’s films, at times so tender as to be ascetic, moments of conspicuous silence abound and achieve a resonance not unlike that of the use of negative space. It’s hard to think of another filmmaker in recent memory who can make the soft white buzz of a room sound so compelling—and clarifying. In the case of Garrel’s eighth feature, from 1975, this clarity materializes in the figure of his muse and lover, Nico.”

Updates, 2/28: Amy Taubin for Artforum: “Julie Lopes-Curval’s Le beau monde (2014), or as it has been inadequately retitled for the American market, High Society, is a coming-of-age romance that has its heroine negotiating a multivalent liminal space: between adolescence and adulthood, working-class and upper-class, fashion and high art, the provinces and Paris. I can’t think of another movie that articulates the conflicts in its young heroine’s life as intelligently, consistently, and subtly as this one does, while eschewing snark or exaggeration.” More from Diego Costa at the House Next Door.

Also at the House, Clayton Dillard: “If Spring Breakers saw Harmony Korine transport prior themes of unbridled antisocial behaviors into a realm of neons and pop ephemera to convincingly provocative ends, The Smell of Us neglects to locate any comparable transition or progression for [Larry] Clark.” On a related note, Film Comment‘s posted Julian Ross‘s piece on Clark’s Tulsa, the film that preceded the breakthrough book of photographs bearing the same name three years later.

Back at the House, Elise Nakhnikian finds that Cristián Jiménez’s Voice Over “sketches a portrait of an upper-middle-class family in Chile, flitting from one highly charged plot point to the next (a birth, a funeral, an illicit affair, the dissolution of a marriage) without probing too deeply into any of the characters or feelings involved.” Alejandro Veciana interviews Jiménez for Film Comment.

And Oleg Ivanov: Tetsuya Nakashima’s The World of Kanako follows ex-cop Akikazu Fujishima (Kōji Yakusho) as he bludgeons and growls his way through the grade schools, shopping malls, drug dens, and criminal underworld of Tokyo in search of his estranged teenage daughter, Kanako (Nana Komatsu)…. As the audience watches him drunkenly ambush everyone he encounters with absolute impunity, at one point even running over several cops with his car, the film increasingly strains credulity.”

New Film Comment interviews: Max Nelson with Eric Baudelaire and Nicolas Rapold with Christian Petzold.

Update, 3/2: “In Cymbeline, director Michael Almereyda, working with cinematographer Tim Orr, strikingly calls attention to the flimsiness of the story’s settings,” writes Chuck Bowen at the House Next Door. “Characters hatch out a plan at a Chinese restaurant and the audience is allowed to ineffably sense that this location was selected, perhaps the week before shooting, for the strip-mall bareness of its interior and for its overall chintziness, which contrasts with the heightened poetic dialogue that’s taken from Shakespeare‘s play of the same name…. But the film is largely an experimental stunt that features talented actors who dutifully recite material that appears to mean little to them or, in this context, to us.” More from Vadim Rizov (Filmmaker).

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