Friday, August 18, 2017

What the Critics are Saying About Alejandro Jodorowsky's ENDLESS POETRY

Portrait of the artist as a young man, relentlessly hounded by winged death, ceaselessly threshing the tumultuous sea in a, uh, purple boat

The Chilean-born writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky has been making films for a long time - his first feature film was made nearly 50 years ago - but he was nearly 40 years of age then, and had been active as a writer, puppeteer and mime for years before then.

In his latest film ENDLESS POETRY, the 88-year old Jodorowsky tells an autobiographical tale that, for all its veracity to the circumstances of his life, is on a par with the haunting surreal-pulp aesthetic that permeates his earlier films like THE HOLY MOUNTAIN and SANTA SANGRE.

The film, which opens today at the AFS Cinema, has been roundly lauded by critics. Here's a bit of what they're saying:

Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten offers a "guarantee the viewer will not go home unsated."

Aaron Hillis at the Village Voice calls it, "Loopy, irreverent, and more intensely personal than anything its mystic creator has invented before."

Simon Abrams of RogerEbert.com says, "ENDLESS POETRY is as galvanizing as a lightning rod because it's equally accepting, and intolerant, a pro-individualist work about celebrating and cultivating yourself."

Variety's Owen Gleiberman says, "Make no mistake: ENDLESS POETRY is still very much a Jodorowsky film, dotted with his trademark phantasmagorical conceits, which are like candified bursts of comic-book magic realism. Yet more than any previous Jodorowsky opus, it’s also a work of disciplined and touching emotional resonance."

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Joan Crawford: Forsaking All Others


The AFS Essential Cinema Series Bette & Joan, spotlighting two of the greatest film actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, is currently underway at the AFS Cinema. The series culminates in a Movie Madness party and screening of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? on August 25.

Though they shared a profession and were contemporaries, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were notorious enemies. Both were fine actresses, and both had long careers that went through many seasons, from their years of radiant youth, through to their critically acclaimed peak years, and, much later, as stars of horror and thriller films in the PSYCHO mold. For this Essential Cinema series we lightly scratch the surface of these remarkable careers. Naturally we conclude it with the film that brought their rivalry to a screaming climax, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

See the trailer here:


Born Lucille LeSueur in San Antonio sometime between 1904 and 1906, the young woman who was to later be known as Joan Crawford developed an affection for the stage at an early age. Her stepfather ran the Opera House in the family's adopted hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma and the young Lucille was exposed to a wide variety of touring performers. Her home life, however was unhappy. The stepfather was a lech at home and an embezzler at work.

The family relocated to Kansas City, where the mother and stepfather soon split up and pre-teen Joan was compelled to work her way through Catholic school, scrubbing toilets. All this time, Crawford harbored a love of show business and as she grew up she became an uncommonly beautiful young woman with enormous eyes and radiant good health. Soon, show business began to meet her halfway.

She became a chorus girl in a number of traveling revues and, while in New York, she caught the eye of a talent scout who took a screen test of the gorgeous young woman and sent it to Hollywood. MGM, then the most prestigious studio in the movie capital, signed her to a modest contract in 1924. She was to remain with MGM for nearly nineteen years, becoming in the process one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and suffering a downfall in popularity - largely caused by a decline in script quality - that mirrored the arc of her contemporary and rival Bette Davis.

During the course of her stardom she largely created the template for what we consider a glamorous movie star to be. She capped her teeth, spent endless hours toning her legs and shoulders, drove herself to study elocution, acting, modeling, etc. She made herself into a kind of dream figure and set the standard for Hollywood goddesses to follow. In GRAND HOTEL she holds her own against the stars Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. She had already become a capital-S star.

When Crawford was dumped by MGM in 1943, she pursued her comeback with the same dedication and fervor, and it worked. She signed a budget deal with Warner Brothers to do three films. The first two movies were not hits but she had her eye on one property - an adaptation of James M. Cain's novel "Mildred Pierce." It was Bette Davis who Warner Brothers' contract director Michael Curtiz coveted for the role of Mildred, but Davis turned him down. He pursued his second choice, free agent Barbara Stanwyck, but studio head Jack Warner insisted that the role go to Crawford.

The rest is history. Crawford brought all her considerable talent to the role. It was a sensation at the box office and in the critic's columns and Crawford won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Now a bigger star than ever, Crawford became the Queen of the Hollywood Melodrama and sustained this run for several years.

As her star fell for the final time, Crawford stayed active in the business world and played occasional parts. Even in such unfortunate films as William Castle's STRAIT-JACKET and the real bottom-of-the-barrel TROG, she maintained her dignity, even when the rest of the production did not rise to her standard.

Here are the remaining titles in the Bette & Joan series:

GRAND HOTEL 8/10 & 12
Edmund Goulding, USA, 1934, 35mm, 112 min

At the center of this soapy, star-studded MGM spectacular is their versatile young romantic actress Joan Crawford, third-billed after superstars Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. Amid the parade of glamour and decadence, Crawford's beauty stands out as the film’s symbol of life and hope.

JEZEBEL 8/17 & 19
William Wyler, USA, 1938, 35mm, 104 min.

Bette Davis, passed over for the part of Scarlett O'Hara, goes after the role of a spoiled southern belle with astonishing ferocity in William Wyler's still-surprising costume drama. Henry Fonda ably holds his own as her betrothed.

MILDRED PIERCE 8/24 & 26
Michael Curtiz, USA 1945, 35mm, 111 min.

Joan Crawford's career seemed to be at an end in 1945. But her will to survive was mirrored in her next part, the title role in this film, one of her career mileposts. She plays a devoted mother who stands by her daughter through everything, including murder.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE 8/31
Robert Aldrich, USA, 1961, DCP, 134 min.

One of the strangest films ever made in Hollywood, Robert Aldrich (KISS ME DEADLY) directs Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in a show business-centered thriller that allows these two great actresses and forces of nature (who genuinely hated one another) to truly vent.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

From Video Essay to Screen: Why Kogonada's COLUMBUS is a Radical Movie


COLUMBUS opens at the AFS Cinema on August 25. Writer/director Kogonada will join us in person for the August 26, 7pm screening and will also attend a free screening on the same afternoon of his collected video essays.

About 5 years ago, a video essay explicating Stanley Kubrick's use of the one-point-perspective appeared on the internet and became a sensation with the group of people I sometimes lovingly call "Criterion nerds." The piece is not only brilliantly edited, it is obviously the work of a terrifically observant and intelligent person, someone who has given cinema a LOT of thought.

Here is the piece, if you haven't seen it. Don't worry, it's short.


This video-essay is one of many. Kogonada has created nearly a score of them, and his peers and acolytes have made this form extremely popular. YouTube and Vimeo are bursting with these cinephile "super-cuts." Some are good. Some betray their makers sophomoric ideas in every frame.

No one really disputes that Koganada is the master of the form. He has since been commissioned by such heavy hitters as the BFI and, the holiness of holinesses, Criterion itself to make these videos.

Super-cut video essays are a world away from narrative films, of course, and, while Kogonada has demonstrated brilliance as an editor and re-composer of other filmmakers' images, what are the odds he could manage a set, work capably with his collaborators, understand the nuances of actors, and deliver a solid film his first time around. There was every reason to think that his frame compositions would be gorgeous (and boy are they ever), but could he be a total filmmaker?

Those of us who have seen his feature COLUMBUS know the answer. He has done it. All that promise, all that brilliance, it lights up the screen. Set in the small city of Columbus, Indiana, an architectural mecca that contains some of the most jaw-dropping examples of mid-century modern buildings, the film is about a pair who come together in the shadow of these structures to make sense of the choices (design-wise and other) that they have made in their lives. This is uncommonly thoughtful writing, by Kogonada himself, and the actors, led by John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, get it.

This is a film that has emerged from a different kind of perspective. Not just the perspective of a Korean immigrant who grew up in the American midwest - that's Koganada's story - but the perspective of a man who absolutely devoured the work of Bergman, Bresson, Kubrick and Tarkovsky via optical discs and has emerged with so many lessons. Fortunately he has the judgment and restraint to share these lessons sparsely and wisely.

Here is the trailer for COLUMBUS. Come see this film with us at the AFS Cinema starting August 25.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What They're Saying about LANDLINE, Opening this Week at AFS Cinema


Director Gillian Robespierre's (OBVIOUS CHILD) comedic second feature LANDLINE has thrown the Los Angeles and New York cinema scenes for a nostalgic loop which The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday calls "a rueful glimpse of a vanished time and place. . . often unexpectedly and guffawingly funny.

Again, here Robespierre teams with actor Jenny Slate (OBVIOUS CHILD, SNL) who stars as Dana, a befuddled twentysomething languishing in 1990s Manhattan. 




Bette Davis: That Certain Woman


The AFS Essential Cinema Series Bette & Joan, spotlighting two of the greatest film actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, starts today, August 3. The series culminates in a Movie Madness party and screening of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? on August 25.

Though they shared a profession and were contemporaries, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were notorious enemies. Both were fine actresses, and both had long careers that went through many seasons, from their years of radiant youth, through to their critically acclaimed peak years, and, much later, as stars of horror and thriller films in the PSYCHO mold. For this Essential Cinema series we lightly scratch the surface of these remarkable careers. Naturally we conclude it with the film that brought their rivalry to a screaming climax, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

See the trailer here:


Bette Davis was already an experienced stage actress before she came to Hollywood at age 21 in 1930. Signed to an exclusive contract by Universal Pictures, who could never quite figure out how to use her talents, he made a number of low-budget films for Universal and was loaned out to other studios for B-pictures.

In 1932, Warner Brothers picked up her contract and, while the directors were better, the scripts were often still poor, with EX-LADY a pretty fair example of the kind of rote story that was redeemed only by Bette's remarkable personality and presence. When she starred, on a loan-out arrangement, in RKO's IN HUMAN BONDAGE, she was finally able to fully display her volcanic talent. The parts soon got better and her reputation as one of the finest actresses of the screen spread. She won an Academy Award in 1935 for DANGEROUS but the scripts got worse again so in 1936 the headstrong Davis defaulted on her contract with Warner Brothers and went to England to make films there. Warner Brothers soon came to their senses and an agreement was reached to give Davis more prestige pictures.

JEZEBEL (1938) was a kind of gift from Warner Brothers to Davis for her trouble. Though she was considered for the part of Scarlet O'Hara in David O. Selznick's long gestating GONE WITH THE WIND project, she was never a serious candidate. The role she plays in JEZEBEL is much like O'Hara and, under the extraordinarily detailed and careful direction of William Wyler, and with Henry Fonda in support, it is one of her best vehicles and she won the Academy Award for it.

A string of excellent films followed, and Davis' reputation as a premier performer was well established. This was the period of DARK VICTORY, THE LITTLE FOXES and NOW VOYAGER, among other prestige projects. Unfortunately a losing streak at the box office followed and Davis was dropped by Warner's in 1949 only to emerge with a vengeance in 1950 with ALL ABOUT EVE, giving an iconic performance that only she could pull off. The great parts stopped coming, though and it was the sick humor and stunt casting of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, in which she starred alongside her old rival and bitter enemy Joan Crawford, that brought her back to box office prominence. The film is bitter and razor-edged, and was a major critical and commercial success. Davis was again nominated for an Oscar.

After BABY JANE, Davis found a new audience, and was cast in a number of thrillers, with greatly varying degrees of quality. Her reputation as a 'difficult' actress preceded her and may have restricted her access to the kinds of roles that an eminence of her stature might reasonably have expected. Her final film, for Larry Cohen, was 1989's THE WICKED STEPMOTHER, during the filming of which, true to form, she walked away due to disagreements with the director.

Here are all the titles in the Bette & Joan series:

EX-LADY 8/3 & 5
Robert Florey, USA, 1933, 35mm, 67 min.

Bette Davis shines in this pre-code urban comedy about a couple, played by Davis and Gene Raymond, who have an open marriage, quite a daring idea for the time. Davis, as always, brings new dimensions and a modern flair to the film.

GRAND HOTEL 8/10 & 12
Edmund Goulding, USA, 1934, 35mm, 112 min

At the center of this soapy, star-studded MGM spectacular is their versatile young romantic actress Joan Crawford, third-billed after superstars Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. Amid the parade of glamour and decadence, Crawford's beauty stands out as the film’s symbol of life and hope.

JEZEBEL 8/17 & 19
William Wyler, USA, 1938, 35mm, 104 min.

Bette Davis, passed over for the part of Scarlett O'Hara, goes after the role of a spoiled southern belle with astonishing ferocity in William Wyler's still-surprising costume drama. Henry Fonda ably holds his own as her betrothed.

MILDRED PIERCE 8/24 & 26
Michael Curtiz, USA 1945, 35mm, 111 min.

Joan Crawford's career seemed to be at an end in 1945. But her will to survive was mirrored in her next part, the title role in this film, one of her career mileposts. She plays a devoted mother who stands by her daughter through everything, including murder.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE 8/31
Robert Aldrich, USA, 1961, DCP, 134 min.

One of the strangest films ever made in Hollywood, Robert Aldrich (KISS ME DEADLY) directs Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in a show business-centered thriller that allows these two great actresses and forces of nature (who genuinely hated one another) to truly vent.