Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fall and the Philadelphia Film Festival

Greetings Soldiers and CInephiles,

It appears the fall may actually be upon us now, which will hopefully mean an increase in the amount of good cinema being shown in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Film Festival has officially unveiled their lineup and there are definitely a few worthy entries, including new films by Jean-Luc Godard, Abbas Kiarostami, Claire Denis and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose film won Palme D’or at Cannes this year. Those will definitely be worth checking out and, as soon as I get a chance to really go through the festival films, I will come up with a more definitive guide. The festival will be Oct. 15-24. I have contacted the festival about Shooting Wall possibly receiving press credentials, which could really be great for our cause, but I am still waiting to hear back from them.

Next weekend at the Ritz we have Enter the Void which, as stated in a previous blog, could be hit or miss, but promises to at least be an interesting film; something that may even promote some heated dialogue and debates among cinephiles.

International House’s schedule picks up this week with Corpus Callosum by Michael Snow on Wednesday September 29 at 8pm with Michael Snow in attendance! For anyone interested in experimental and/or formalistic cinema, this will be quite a night. Snow has been on the forefront of the North American avant-garde since the 1960s with such canonical experimental films as Wavelength and La Region Centrale . The film is screening in conjunction with the opening reception for Many Moving and Still Works by Two Torontonians at Slought Foundation. This exhibition will be going on through the end of October featuring recent works by Michael Snow and John Oswald. This should be a fun night and an exciting exhibition definitely worth checking out. There will definitely be more coming up at International House next week and beyond, so keep checking the blog regularly for updates.

Bryn Mawr has a couple of good repertory things coming up in the next month or so including Memento, The Fly, Metropolis and Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown, but their first run films, as usual, aren’t terribly interesting.

This Week’s Recommendations:

1. The Headless Woman (2008) by Lucrecia Martel. Cinephiles, if you have not discovered the cinema of Lucrecia Martel, then now is the time to do so. For my money, she is one of the best filmmakers working right now and this is an absolute masterpiece. There have not been many films that I have seen in the last few years as amazing as this one. This is utterly brilliant film about ideas and is masterfully done in every single way. I am highly recommending everyone see this film immediately.

2. Je Tu Il Elle (1974) by Chantal Akerman. Again, cinephiles, if you have discovered the cinema of Chantal Akerman, then you are way behind. She is an absolutely essential filmmaker and this, her first feature film, is a good place to start. A grainy, formal and minimalist triumph. Once you have watched this film, then you can move on to her 3 ½ hour minimalist masterpiece Jeanne Dielmann.

3. The Beaches of Agnes (2009) by Agnes Varda. As far as I am concerned, this was one of the 10 best films of last year. Varda is continuing to make interesting, experimental and personal films. This one is part documentary, part essay and part autobiography and brilliant throughout.

4. The Connection (1962) by Shirley Clarke. American independent pioneer Shirley Clarke’s first feature film may not be very well known, but it is definitely worth checking out. The whole thing takes place in a New York City apartment among heroin addicts. Clarke is part of the group of the first wave of American independent filmmakers who started working in New York in the 1950s. This list includes John Cassavetes, Morris Engle and Ruth Orkin, Lionel Rogosin, Robert Downey Sr., Jim McBride, and Brian DePalma (before all he did was rip off Hitchock). This is an incredibly interesting period in American Cinema, which is unfortunately overshadowed by the New Hollywood filmmakers of the late 1960s and early 70s (Scorsese, Coppola, et. al.), but nevertheless a period and filmmakers worth checking out.

5. Nathalie Granger (1972) by Marguerite Duras. Probably the most well-known and easily available films by the great French novelist Marguerite Duras is fascinating and beguiling and in every way. A minimal, highly elliptic piece of early 1970s filmmaking. I only hope more of her films become available on DVD in this country very soon.

-Josh Martin

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Son, My Son and The Match Factory Girl

I finally got a chance to watch Werner Herzog’s most recent film My Son My Son What Have Ye Done last night. Bad Lieutenant was good but this film was amazing; so odd, compelling, funny, absurd and full of ideas. Herzog has definitely made a comeback with these last two films, which are miles away from most of the other garbage being put out these days. It is nice to nice Herzog not trying to make something more conventional, as I feel he had been doing with Invincible and Rescue Dawn. It is so nice to see these older directors embracing digital filmmaking as a tool to allow to them to make whatever kinds of films they want. This film and David Lynch’s Inland Empire really show how great filmmakers can use the new medium to do exactly what they want, in exactly the way they want to do it. THIS IS WHAT SHOOTING WALL IS ALL ABOUT. Using whatever means necessary to make GREAT CINEMA! There is no need for huge budgets or crews or producers; JUST MAKE YOUR FILMS! The only disgrace associated with My Son My Son What Have Ye Done was abysmally small release it received in this country. It barely played anywhere and got little to no write ups from anyone. It is such a shame to think that cinema this unique, beguiling and totally and completely fascinating made by a filmmaker considered by many to be one of the greatest living directors cannot find adequate distribution. Every Shooting Wall member should see this film, if they haven’t already.

International House will be screening Aki Kaurismaki’s 1990 film The Match Factory Girl tonight at 7pm as part of their Janus film series. I will be there. All cinephiles should attend if they can. For those who haven't seen any Kaurismaki films, this is a good place to start. He is a filmmaker who is sorely underappreciated in this country.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Since Shooting Wall did not update the blog all summer, we were unable to comment on the summer movie season. Therefore, I would like to use this post to discuss Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Inception was one of the biggest films of summer 2010 and received, largely, glowing reviews. It has a 74 score on Metacritic with 100s from eleven of the top American film critics including the Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times, Time, Variety and the San Francisco Chronicle to name a few. The film even made the cover of the July/August edition of film comment, which featured a lengthy interview with Christopher Nolan (this last one I find particularly obnoxious). And what was all of this acclaim and attention for? A so-called “intelligent” action film? What exactly does not even mean?

Christopher Nolan is regularly considered the new Hollywood wonderkid, revitalizing the action genre as more serious, thoughtful and intellectual. Many saw Inception as another Nolan success. I can admit that compared to the other trash released this (or any other summer for that matter) Inception was tolerable and, in comparison to a Michael Bay film, intelligent. But that really isn’t saying much at all. Inception is a mediocre film at best.

Inception does have ideas and Nolan does have the capacity for intelligent filmmaking, but Inception completely blows it in almost every way. The ideas, quite frankly, have been done and have been done better. Dreams have been explored more interestingly not very long ago in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for example, and in numerous films since the invention of cinema. Dreams and cinema have always been closely related and film offers a unique perspective for those interested in the idea of dreams, unless of course you are really only interested in making an action film, which is what Christopher Nolan has decided to do with Inception.

And this is the real problem with the film: it is first and foremost an action film. 90% of Inception is about plot and about action. The ideas have so little time to be fully developed in any meaningful way. The myriad of chases, gun fights and car crashes has little to no bearing on any of the so-called ideas explored in the film. This film is superficial in almost every possible way. It is so loud and obnoxious that it becomes distracting and not in a good way. Even when the characters are simply speaking to each other, music was constantly playing. Almost every bit of dialogue is used for explanation or to further the plot. Nolan was a not able to fully integrate his ideas with the plot. He shows in almost every instance that he is more interested in the plot and the action than in the ideas. If Nolan is really making a so-called “intelligent” film, then why does he insist on hiding all his ideas under constant music, special effects and overblown, overlong action sequences? Why does Nolan insist on appealing to the lowest common denominator? Where is the innovation? I don’t see it

Why is Nolan constantly receiving praise? What is exactly is an “intelligent” action film? And, more importantly, why should we care about “intelligent” action films? Is it necessary? It is truly discouraging to see someone like Nolan receiving so much praise not just from audiences, but from critics as well, for films that are only good in comparison with bad action movies. The praise is especially unfortunate when someone like Steven Soderbergh, who is also working in the Hollywood system and actually making legitimately bold, interesting and intelligent films continues to get mixed to bad reviews from critics and is ignored more and more by audiences.. As Nolan’s stock continues to rise with each more and more mainstream and idiotic film, Soderbergh’s continues to fall as he makes less accessible, yet truly intelligent films.

Has mainstream cinema become so devoid of intelligence that Inception could be mistaken for some kind of an art film? Yes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Are You Serious Cineaste?

Hello Cinephiles and Soldiers,

I received the new issue of Cineaste this week and it had The Kids Are All Right on the cover. Really? Why is it that in America just because a film is about lesbians it has to be considered an "independent" or "art house" film. The Kids Are All Right is a mainstream film. The same thing happens with foreign films. If a film has subtitles, it has to play in a small "art house" theater, when a majority of the time it just a conventional mainstream film. For example, the upcoming French film Heartbreaker is a case in point. A film that looks conventional and stupid in every way, but because it is in French, it is playing at the Ritz. This is something that I do not understand at all. If a film like Heartbreaker were made in Hollywood, it would probably star Dane Cook and Jessica Alba. I am not making any kind of value judgment about The Kids Are All Right, as I haven't seen it and probably won't, but if the film wasn't about lesbians, I know for a fact it would not be considered an "independent" film. It has Annette Bening in it!

No really anything good playing at Ritz right now. Like I said, A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop looks like it could be all right, but I don't think there is any reason to rush out and see it. I'm Still Here looks like it could be funny and absurd, but again, probably not essential. Not too much interesting on the horizon. Enter the Void could be interesting. It has mixed reviews and I am not particularly a fan of Gaspar Noe (Irreversible was a piece of shit), but as far as an interesting experiment, if nothing else, it appears promising. That opens October 1st. Otherwise, the Ritz lineup looks pretty bad. A lot of bad documentaries; kind of standard these days, I guess.

The Chestnut Hill Film Group starts their fall 2010 screenings on September 28th with Badlands. I haven't been to any of these screenings yet, but they play some very good films. attend a few of these screenings this fall. Nick Ray's On Dangerous Ground in October, Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes in Feb and Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century in March are the highlights.

Next weekend should be promising at International House with Aki Kaurismaki's The Match Factory Girl Saturday Sept. 25th and Chaplin's The Kid with a live score on Sunday Sept 26th should make for some excellent viewing.

Recommendations for the Week:

1. In a Year of 13 Moons by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. My viewing of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul has reinviforated my love for Fassbinder, so I think I need to watch some more. I am going to go with my personal favorite this week, 1979's In a Year of 13 Moons.

2. Eyes Without a Face by Hiroshi Teshigahara. This film is not nearly as famous as Woman in the Dunes, but for my money this is Teshigahara's best film. Highly original, expressive, intellectual and subversive. This, along with maybe Alain Resnais' Je T'aime, Je T'aime is probably the height of 1960s film modernism.

3. Frontier of Dawn by Philippe Garrel. This was Philippe Garrel's most recent film and along with Regular Lovers proves him to be one of the few filmmakers still working who is offering unique and challenging films. Garrel is incredibly underrated and under-seen in the United States. I will be writing more about him in the future, but everyone should see anything by him that is availble here.

4. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia by Sam Peckinpah. My favorite Peckinpah film. Violent, cynical and one of the great examples of a time when Hollywood would actually let a madman like Peckinpah make a film like this.

5. La Pointe Courte by Agnes Varda. Agnes Varda's first feature film from 1954 is one of her best. It doesn't have the same reputation as Cleo from 5 to 7 or Vagabond, but this is a key film in the development of the French New Wave and the move toward subversive "art house" cinema that would take place in the 1960s. This is a really underrated film, which I hope gets rediscovered thanks to the recent criterion edition.

I also have the latest Herzog film My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done and Docks of New York by Josef von Sternberg from criterion's new box set from netflix, which I am looking forward to watching this week.

I hope to be adding another blog or two this week as well. One about Summer 2010 highs and lows and some words about Inception.

I also want to put together a list of upcoming fall films, which are actually worth seeing.

-Josh Martin

Monday, September 13, 2010

3D and zombie movies

Resident Evil: Afterlife just made 27 million at the box-office for its opening weekend, pretty ridiculous seeing as how the plot is no different from the previous 3 installations in the series. This happened, and is still happening, with the Saw series - same movie, new money, over and over again, never going to stop. 3D can be thanked for wasting our time by prolonging these series even more, reeling us audience into theatres across the globe with the temptation of new technology. Here, put on these glasses, they'll make the movie more fun. Yeah. Right.

I didn't see Resident Evil: Afterlife in 3D, but I did see it, and by not seeing it in 3D, I prevented myself from being distracted by it, therefore allowing myself to see the movie for what it truly is - offensive. I swear it's as if the inventor of 3D has arose from the grave and created Resident Evil: Afterlife as an hour and a half long example of what his new invention is capable of doing, leaving cinema out in the cold. Cinema is lying in a gutter, alone and crying, as Resident Evil: Afterlife goes on in its demonstration of abominableness. It ceases to be a film, it's moreso equivalent to a laser light show, or -- if it weren't for the special FX -- a baby's rattle toy. No amount of 3D can save it. Its value as entertainment is insulting.

I just as much felt tortured by its plot. How old is this plot exactly? 42 years. Perhaps longer. Here it is: The main character, Alice, thinks herself alone in the post-apocalyptic world, which is inhabited only by zombies, until she flies a plane and finds fellow humans holed up in a building, which is surrounded by thousands of zombies, so she lands on the roof and joins them in their struggle to make it out alive. Is there more depth to it than that? No. 42 years now, we are still subjected to the same...god...damn...zombie plot first seen in the year 1968 in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead!

And what eagerness the movie has to hurry up into the action. Worse than Inception. No build up to the action - it's just there, suddenly, no transition, no nothing, before you know it you're stuck watching over-stylized fight sequences, the whole time wondering, "WHY?" I don't see how enjoyment is possible when what I'm watching has no meaning. I AM NOT A DOG.

I read this interview with Wentworth Miller, one of the stars of Resident Evil: Afterlife, where I found his opinion on classic horror films as very respectable, as he commends them for their use of suspense to build the horror and for having respect for the audience by not cheaply scaring the audience within the first 5 minutes. He then goes on to insult the way modern horror films betray the audience's intelligence. Why he would say this in an interview to promote Resident Evil: Afterlife is beyond me. It is the epitome of the modern American horror film which treats its audience as stupid and it furthers this insult by being in 3D - 2 gimmicks combined to make 1 pile of shit. This is the worst case scenario horror film, I cannot imagine anything more bad.

I cannot live with myself for donating $9 of my own money toward those who made me endure this experience. An innocent Sunday afternoon turned to horror, not by the scares from the movie but by my supporting such blatant anti-cinema.

- Jon Seidman

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Upcoming Cinema in Philadelphia

I will be routinely updating everyone with the good and bad screenings and cinematic events in Philadelphia.

Now Playing:

The Ritz has has had a fairly lackluster selection of films in the last few months. The new Faith Akim film, Soul Kitchen, is playing. Does not appear to be essential, but his last two films were very good, so Soul Kitchen may be worth checking out. None of the upcoming releases at The Ritz appear particularly promising, but I have heard a few good things about A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop. Hopefully, the releases will be picking up as we move into the fall, although every single list I have seen of the most anticipated fall films has been shamefully disappointing. We will see.

There is nothing particularly interesting screening at Bryn Mawr Film Institute this month either, but nothing as shameful as their playing Eat Pray Love. My sources tell me the film did not do as well as hoped, so at least that is a plus.

September is shaping up to be a rather lackluster month in the area for new films. I see nothing on the horizon worth seeing.

This month at International House has been slow, but they will be continuing their Janus Film Series on Saturday September 25 with Aki Kaurismaki's The Match Factory Girl. This is required viewing for all Shooting Wall soldiers and everyone should be there. There schedule should pick up next month, which I will go into more detail about in later posts.

Required Viewing of the Week:

I plan on listing at least five films every week, which I am hoping to revisit. If you have not seen these films, DO SO IMMEDIATELY.

1. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. This film has been a staple of mine for many years, but I realized that it has been quite a while since I have watched any Fassbinder films, so I thought this would be a good place to start to revisit him.

2. Partner by Bernardo Bertolucci. For anyone interested in political cinema, Partner is required viewing. It is not one of Berolucci's more famous films and it often gets mixed reviews, but for my money it is way better than that psycho-sexual piece of shit Last Tango in Paris.

3. Teorem by Pier Paolo Pasolini. For my money, this is Pasolini's masterpiece. This and Porcile are the apex of his work before he detours into his highly sexualized adaptations of The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights.

4. I'm Not There by Todd Haynes. I have been meaning to rewatch this film since I first saw it in the theater. A very rare biography that is subversive, interesting and consistently cinematic.

5. Three Women by Robert Altman. Altman's best film. Strange, elusive and full of ideas.

Please continue to check the blog daily, as I hope to be consistently updating it with everything cinematic and everything Shooting Wall.

The Future of Shooting Wall is Now

Greetings cinephiles and soldiers,

It has been a few months since we have updated this blog, but now that the oppressive heat of summer is over and the fall is upon us, Shooting Wall is ready to reclaim cinema. First Philadelphia and then the world.

We have spent the summer preparing the first issue of Shooting Wall, which should be coming out (hopefully) by the end of September. Karl and Jon are working on the final touches now and it is sure to incite all kinds of cinematic riots and revolutions throughout the city of Philadelphia. I (that is Josh Martin) have spoken to Karl and Jon and we have agreed that I will take over the main duties of the blog, with their assistance whenever an idea strikes them which they need to immediately get out. I plan on updating this at least once a week (sometimes more if I am feeling particularly cranky). The blog will be the outlet for day to day Shooting Wall activities, reviews, screening information and what not. I will be keeping all the soldiers up to date with all cineamtic happenings in Philadelphia. All true cinephiles will check this blog at least twice a week (daily for the truly committed).

Other than the first issue, Shooting Wall has several plans for the fall and beyond. We will be organizing various meetings, discussions and screenings throughout the city. This will hopefully be taking place either monthly or bi-monthly. All screenings will feature Shooting Wall approved local films. We hope to expand regionally as well encompassing all meaningful cinema from the region. You will have to read this blog and stay tuned so you do not miss out on the revolution. A Shooting Wall film festival is also in the works....