Of the seven articles now online from the new issue of the London Review of Books, at least three will be of particular interest to cinephiles. James Meek takes Mad Men to task for, first, its unrealistic beauty and its refusal “to accept that banal interiors, clashing colors, tawdry novelties and dull messiness are also ideals in their way”; and for shying away from following through on plotlines sprung from the chauvinism, racism and homophobia of the 1960s. “These are real weaknesses. But Mad Men is worth the trouble when it transcends them.”
That said: “What’s disappointing about Mad Men is the missed opportunity to use the advertising industry as a way to explore the relationship between our modern sense of self and the composite identities we assemble from external ideals. By focusing Don’s identity crisis on a concrete, specific case of illegal identity theft, Mad Men distracts attention from the artificial construction of personality that everyone indulges in. And whatever advertising does, it’s at the heart of the personality construction business.”
Related: Emma Myers, writing for the L, walks us through the Museum of the Moving Image exhibition Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men (through June 14) and, at Criticwire, Sam Adams collects early reviews of the final round of episodes premiering on April 5.
Back in the LRB, Adam Shatz reviews Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission, published on January 7, “the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre,” and finds that while it’s “deeply reactionary, it is not Islamophobic.” As it happens, Guillaume Nicloux’s The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (2014) opens today at New York’s Film Forum, drawing attention not only from the usual suspects—film critics—but from literary publications as well.
James Lasdun for the New York Review of Books: “What could easily have just been a vehicle for Houellebecq’s dependably scandalizing pronouncements turns out to be something more interesting: a portrait of the highly complicated personality in which those pronouncements gestate. Instead of polished barbs about Islam or feminism, we get a sort of muttering, murmuring stream of lowkey but amusing charm, petulance, and passive aggression, as Houellebecq passes the time with his kidnappers in their tumbledown rural hideaway, waiting for someone to ransom him. It’s quite a performance.”
“Houellebecq is the film’s greatest asset,” agrees Paris Review web editor Dan Piepenbring: “his chops, literal and figurative, make him a surprisingly effective comic lead.” More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Sean Burns (Movie Mezzanine, 3/4), Manohla Dargis (New York Times), Oleg Ivanov (Slant, 3/4), Glenn Kenny (RogerEbert.com, 2.5/4), Elina Mishuris (L), Noel Murray (Dissolve, 2.5/5), Nick Pinkerton (Reverse Shot) and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (AV Club, C).
And back again to the LRB, to Michael Wood: “It Follows, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, offers an extraordinary mixture of over and under-statement, with almost nothing in between.” And via Movie City News, we learn that RADiUS will be expanding its release to 1200 theaters on Friday.
The top of the month saw Errol Morris Week at Grantland, with new shorts, an expansive interview and a fresh critical assessment from Wesley Morris. This week sees Criterion’s releases of two early documentary features, Gates of Heaven (1978, the film that led to Werner Herzog eating his shoe) and Vernon, Florida (1981). For Eric Hynes, writing for Criterion, both are “excursions in a minor key that, in their privileging of manner over subject and the peripatetic over the pointed, stand somewhat apart from the director’s later, weightier projects but nevertheless herald a singular appreciation for language as the great hustle of humanity.”
The Thin Blue Line (1988) is also out this week; here’s Mike D’Angelo at the AV Club: “Director Andrew Jarecki and his cinematographer, Marc Smerling, have acknowledged that Thin Blue Line was a major influence on The Jinx, particularly in its use of impressionistic reenactments that metamorphose as the story being told changes or acquires new details. Respectful and proper though such hat-tips are, they’re essentially redundant, as it’s hard to find a contemporary doc involving interviews that isn’t influenced by Morris to some degree. His unique approach revolutionized non-fiction filmmaking, and its evolution over the course of these early efforts—still among his finest work—is fascinating to watch.”
Speaking of The Jinx, though, Sight & Sound‘s posted an impassioned takedown by Robert Greene.
Noah Baumbach “has changed considerably in 20 years, evolving into a more confident stylist as his characters have grown more complex (and often thornier),” writes Keith Phipps at the Dissolve. “In conjunction with While We’re Young’s release, 16 cities will be hosting the four-film series Growing Up Baumbach, which finds Baumbach’s latest accompanied by three films from his past.” Phipps “programs” three likely double features.
IN OTHER NEWS
The poster for Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2015 (Directors’ Fortnight) is better. Meantime, La Semaine de la Critique (Critics’ Week) has its jury. The president this year will be Israeli actress and filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz; serving with her: programmer Andréa Picard, director Katell Quillévéré, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and critic Boyd van Hoeij.
“Former New York Film Festival artistic director Richard Pena has joined the selection committee of the recently reconfigured Rome Film Festival, the 10th edition of which will run October 16-23,” reports Variety‘s Nick Vivarelli.
“The New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) has announced a special focus on two Japanese film legends, Ken Takakura (Black Rain) and Bunta Sugawara (Battles Without Honor), who both passed away last November,” reports Jean Noh for Screen.
New York. “While [Arthur Jafa’s Dreams Are Colder Than Death] is unquestionably the highlight of this year’s New Voices in Black Cinema festival, whose programming is culled from across the African diaspora, other films on deck necessarily deepen and widen conversations about global blackness,” writes Ernest Hardy in the Voice. Tomorrow through Sunday.
Austin. The second part of the series Jewels in the Wasteland: A Trip through 80s Cinema with Richard Linklater focuses on on films made between the years 1984 and 1986. Just as he did last year, when presenting films made between 1980 and 1983, Linklater will introduce each screening and then take part in a Q&A. The series runs Wednesday nights, beginning tonight with Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984).
Munich. “The Munich Film Museum, repository to much of Orson Welles‘s unfinished movies, will open its vaults July 7 to Aug. 2 as part of a massive screening of his works.” Wellesnet editor Ray Kelly has the extraordinary program.
IN THE WORKS
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Pamela McClintock has the latest on Harmony Korine’s The Trap, “a revenge tale set against the backdrop of the Miami music scene starring Idris Elba as a gangster rap artist and Benicio Del Toro as his best friend who took the fall for a robbery the duo committed years earlier. Elba is attached to replace Jamie Foxx, with Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson and James Franco also in final talks to join the cast.”
The Borderline Films crew—Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin and Josh Mond—are executive producing Katie Says Goodbye starring Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl). Borys Kit in the Hollywood Reporter: “Wayne Roberts wrote the script and was encouraged to direct it by Durkin and Campos, whom he’s known since their days together at NYU film school.”
“Tom Ford may be sitting down behind the camera for the first time since 2009’s A Single Man.” Once again, Borys Kit in the Hollywood Reporter: “Ford is attached to direct Nocturnal Animals, the adaptation of an Austin Wright book titled Tony and Susan. Ford wrote the script for the postmodern noir thriller and will direct while [George] Clooney will produce with his Smokehouse Pictures partner Grant Heslov.”
“Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk has optioned his fifth novel Lullaby to indie filmmakers Andy Mingo and Josh Leake,” reports TheWrap‘s Jeff Sneider. “The pitch-black story follows a newspaper reporter who suspects an African chant known as a ‘culling song’ may be behind a series of cases of sudden infant death syndrome, which also claimed his own child. After he discovers the ‘lullaby’ has the power to kill anyone whether spoken or merely thought, he begins to use it on people both accidentally and on purpose.”
Variety‘s Justin Kroll reports that James Franco‘s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle, depicting “the struggle between labor and capital in 1930s America as close to all-out warfare,” will feature Scott Haze, who worked with Franco on Child of God, as well as Selena Gomez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, Bryan Cranston and Danny McBride.
Bradley Cooper may be making his directorial debut with a fresh take on A Star Is Born featuring Beyoncé, reports Deadline‘s Mike Fleming Jr. Also, Paramount hopes to turn Key & Peele’s hit sketch Substitute Teacher into a theatrical feature.
“Sandy Whitelaw, who has died aged 84, was celebrated for his skilled work subtitling over 1,000 French films into English,” begins David Thomson in the Guardian. “But this was only one string to his bow, as he had an early career in Hollywood, represented Britain as a skier in the 1956 Olympics, and directed two films, Lifespan (1974) and Vicious Circles (1997)…. Gregarious and garrulous, Sandy had a knack of bringing his own colourful life into any topic, and joked that someone had described watching Lifespan as like being locked in a room with its director for an hour and a half and not being able to get a word in edgeways. The film featured Klaus Kinski as a Swiss businessman pursuing scientists to develop a formula for eternal life. ‘How can you be satisfied with something that has to end?’ is the last line we hear, and this would seem to have been Sandy’s credo.”
“Copenhagen’s CPH PIX is mourning the death of its head of programming Thure Monkholm, who has died at the age of 36,” reports Screen‘s Wendy Mitchell. “Before joining CPH PIX in 2009, Munkholm was part of the programming team at CPH:DOX for three years and had been running his own film magazine Mifune from 2003-2007 when it was merged with another film publication, Ekko.”
“Jytte Jensen, who worked for more than 30 years as a film curator at the Museum of Modern Art and most recently served as chair of New Directors/New Films, died Monday night after a prolonged battle with cancer,” reports Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “She was 65.” More from Brian Brooks at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.