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The Visitor
Richard Jenkins and Hiam Abbas in The Visitor (McCarthy) (photo: JoJo Whilden)

Of the movies in theaters and newly available on DVD this weekend, here's what I like, with links to my reviews, if any. Young@Heart is not in this list because I walked out after about 45 minutes. It's not terrible, but I just couldn't continue, for the same reason I had trouble watching the likes of Mark Romanek treat the career and legacy of an aged Johnny Cash as his video plaything. Something about it doesn't sit well.

Opening in Theaters

  • The Visitor — Thomas McCarthy's quiet drama was a highlight of this year's Sundance (it actually premiered at Toronto before that, but I caught it later). Ed Gonzalez dismisses the film in the first paragraph of his Slant review by boiling each of the opening scenes down to a single adjective and wondering "why Thomas McCarthy didn't just call the thing About Walter." I respectfully submit that changing the title would have fucked the whole thing up. It's a lovely little film, not a masterpiece but the sort of thing I'd like to see more of, and half of the enjoyment comes from watching the title shift its object from scene to scene like a title by the Dardennes. The flaw in Gonzalez's final argument is that it supposes the film's ending is optimistic. [trailer, review, brief thoughts on the Sundance podcast, and I'll revisit the film with J. Robert and the film's writer-director on a future podcast]

Extremely Limited Release

Olivier Assayas's latest film, Boarding Gate, is arriving in San Francisco for a week. I'm curious, as always, about his films, even when his usual fans are looking askance (a "rather disconcertingly sincere stab at a particular kind of claptrap," says Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot).

Continuing in Theaters

In preferential order:
  • Flight of the Red Balloon [trailer, review, my comments about the film on our NYFF podcast, an in-depth discussion of his work on an earlier podcast]
  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [trailer]
  • Persepolis — Sony Pictures Classics is re-releasing the film with English voices, notably Sean Penn, Iggy Pop, and Catherine Deneuve. Chiara Mastrioanni plays Marjane in both versions. [trailer, J. Robert's interview with the director on the podcast]
  • Be Kind Rewind [trailer, review]
  • Snow Angels [trailer, listen to my chat with Green on the podcast, see also: my review in the March Paste]
  • Funny Games [trailer, short review]

Minor Films and Amusements

No, Thanks

Where I'll Be This Week (Bay Area)

Unlike the lists above, these are (mostly) movies that I haven't seen but plan to, this week. Join me, won't you?
  • April 11: The Immortal Story (Welles) at the PFA.
  • April 12: Sherlock Jr. (Keaton, 1924) at the Castro with the Club Foot Orchestra. Actually, I won't be there, but my wife will be, and I'm sure it'll be great.
  • April 12: All Blossoms Again: The Films of Pedro Costa (Gerbault, 2006) and Colossal Youth at the PFA. Capping the Costa series is a documentary about his process and another chance to see his latest film.
  • April 12 (alternate): Glass Johnny: Looks Like a Beast (Kurahara, 1962) at the Yerba Buena, continuing the "No Borders, No Limits" series, a celebration of the stylized gangster films produced by Japan's Nikkatsu studio in the 1960's, which by all accounts are tons of fun. (And these films aren't on DVD.)
  • April 13 (must see): It's All True (Wilson/Krohn/Meisel, 1993) plus a lecture by Joseph McBride at the PFA. And capping the Welles series is a documentary and lecture about Welles, by Welles expert McBride who will bring along clips of Welles legendary unfinished films, It's All True, Don Quixote, and The Other Side of the Windy World.
  • April 13: The Velvet Hustler (Masuda, 1967) at the Yerba Buena, part of the "No Borders, No Limits" series, see above.
  • all week: United Artists Turns 90 at the Castro. I don't know which of these I'll catch, but there are some gems in the program.
  • all week: Boarding Gate at the Clay. See above.
Posted by davis | Link | Other Weekends
Reader Comments
April 11, 2008, 07:50 PM

If Hiam Abbas looks familiar, perhaps you saw her in Free Zone.

April 13, 2008, 11:31 PM

How was the McBride lecture (and pssst- isn't it Other Side of the Wind?)

April 13, 2008, 11:56 PM

Little-known fact: Welles wanted to call it The Windy Side of the Whirled, but the producers took it away from him and renamed it right before they buried it. (It was a film about Peter Bogdanovich's hair.)

The program was good. I'm amazed at the footage that Welles shot in Brazil. It's in beautiful shape, could have been a remarkable film, and the cut that was assembled by Wilson/Krohn/Meisel reminds me of Murnau's Tabu, which didn't come up this evening at the PFA, but I believe it has several interesting connections. (For example, Robert Flaherty was somewhat involved in both projects, I think.)

I have a clearer idea now about how Welles lost control of Ambersons. It was really an unfortunate situation. McBride knows enough about Welles that he could have gone on answering questions and telling stories for quite a while, I think.

The bit of Don Quixote -- just a few minutes -- wasn't as impressive, but it's hard to draw any conclusions from one little scene. Rosenbaum is quite taken with what he's seen, so who knows what it could have been.

The other big surprise, as big or bigger than how great the Brazilian stuff looked, was the adventurous way Welles planned to cut The Other Side of the Wind. McBride had two sequences that Welles edited, and the dazzler was an expressionistic sex scene (!) in a moving car, lasting about 5 minutes and composed of hundreds of shots -- rapid hints, brief glimpses. Really interesting.

The remaining footage of that film, which Welles finished shooting, has never been printed, so no one has ever seen anything but the rushes, including Welles. McBride was involved in trying to get it all printed and assembled into some presentable format -- he talked to Lucas, Spielberg, Murch, and a number of studio executives -- but nobody seems to think much of it.

May 9, 2008, 09:03 AM

Your note about the end of The Visitor is interesting, Robert.

I was bothered by the ending when I saw it in the theater... well no, not by the ending, but by the fact that the audience cheered. They received that scene in the station (what is it with McCarthy and "station agents"?) as if it were some kind of uplift.

I didn't cheer. I was disheartened. Sure, Walter has grown in his understanding, but it's like that verse in Ecclesiastes: With increasing wisdom comes increasing pain.

How will Walter go on with what he's learned? He's caught a vision of the decline of his nation, and become aware of his own near-impotence. The powers that be are sealed away behind impenetrable walls. Families are torn apart. In the name of fear, people who are guilty of the crime of hope are punished as if they were terrorists. It was the perfect place to end the film, but it is also being misunderstood, I think, as audiences see what they want to see, but not what's really there.

FWIW, I liked this film much, much more than About Schmidt. Payne's sarcasm and condescension to his characters seemed unfair to me; it felt like a very mean-spirited Coen Brothers film. (And speaking of misunderstood endings, some found that conclusion uplifting, but it seemed deeply cynical to me.) McCarthy's lens is more compassionate. He doesn't exaggerate his character's flaws. If anything, he idealizes them too much. My gripe with The Visitor is the way that Tarek and his mother just glow, a little too appealing and perfect. But I'd rather see characters who are too attractive than characters who are distorted and scorned for their flaws.

May 9, 2008, 11:48 AM

Hey, Jeffrey. Yeah, I know what you mean. Those two characters are a little too perfect.

About the ending: Walter does seem to have a certain kind of determination as he walks through that station, but it's a mixed bag, which mirrors the opening. At the start, Walter is trying to play the piano, and we gradually learn that he's a widower, that his wife was a pianist, so it's not entirely clear if he's seeking something new or trying to hold onto something he's lost. He may not know himself. And the same is true at the end, where he once again finds himself estranged from loved ones, and although he has learned the drum better than he learned the piano, and although his new friends are alive, somewhere on earth, it's a lonely kind of comfort. He learned about himself, but the fruits of his discovery -- new relationships, new friends -- have been lost. As you wonder, how will he use what he's learned?

I don't think McCarthy sees Walter's moment in the station as anything but a faint echo of what was and what could have been, despite the change in Walter himself. It's interesting that your audience cheered. I don't believe mine did (a small press screening at Sundance, for what that's worth), but I can see how someone might prefer to squeeze the movie into that kind of pattern. I think it's more complicated than that, which I guess helps me accept some of the areas that are, admittedly, too simple.

BTW, J. Robert Parks and I revisit the film (with his fresh thoughts, and a brief conversation with the McCarthy) on the next episode of our podcast.