From the May Spree: ‘One of WNY’s longest-running film fests returns, along with a twelve-hour (!) epic’

Out 1; courtesy of TIFF

Out 1; courtesy of TIFF

My Coming Attractions column in the May issue of Buffalo Spree promoted a Toronto showing of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1, but if you did not make it to TO, the 12-hour epic is now streaming on Netflix. On to the column …

If April was the prologue to the summer movie season, May is most certainly chapter one. While a number of winter and spring series are finishing up their runs, there are plenty of treats locally and north of the border. 

Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival: For more than three decades, the Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival has brought unique, conversation-worthy cinema to Western New York. There are always gems to be found in the lineup of films, and 2016 is no exception. Opening film A La Vie tells the fascinating story of three women, all survivors of Auschwitz, reuniting fifteen years later, while the Montreal-set Felix and Meira earned director Maxime Giroux the award for Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Times vary, so check bijff.com for the full schedule. (May 6-12 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; bijff.com)

Buffalo Film Seminars/Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road at the Dipson Amherst Theatre: The final selection for the spring 2016 installment of the Buffalo Film Seminars, The Fisher King features one of Robin Williams’s finest performances, and is certainly one of director Terry Gilliam’s most audience-friendly efforts. It also stars a pre-Lebowski Jeff Bridges and, you may recall, earned actress Mercedes Ruehl an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. And as I mentioned last month, Dipson’s recent Wim Wenders retrospective concludes with the five-hour director’s cut of 1991’s Until the End of the World. That, friends, is the month’s must-see. (The Fisher King: 7 p.m. on May 3; Until the End of the World: 12:30 p.m. on May 1; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)

The History of Terrorism—No Country for Old Men: The Burchfield Penney Art Center’s “History of Terrorism” series has been a real treat, and it ends with one of the more satisfying Best Picture Oscar winners of the last decade: Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men. The brothers’ Cormac McCarthy adaptation is the brutal and uncompromising story of a drug deal gone awry in 1980s Texas. There have been few movie villains as legitimately fear-inducing as Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, but watching No Country again will remind you that the entire cast was strong, especially Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones. (6:30 p.m. on May 5; 1300 Elmwood Ave.; burchfieldpenney.org)

Cultivate Cinema Circle: CCC offers up two unique treats this month. The Royal Road, a 2015 Sundance Film festival selection, is a documentary intriguingly described as a “cinematic essay in defense of remembering [that] offers up a primer on Junipero Serra’s Spanish colonization of California and the Mexican American War alongside intimate reflections on nostalgia, the pursuit of unavailable women, butch identity, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo—all against a contemplative backdrop of 16mm urban California landscapes, and featuring a voiceover cameo by Tony Kushner.” Wow. Director Jenni Olson’s film sounds utterly fascinating, and ideal for the fab Cultivate Cinema Circle screening series. It’s set for May 26. Plus, Dziga Vertov’s experimental silent essential Man With a Movie Camera screens earlier in the month, on May 21. (Camera: 1 p.m. on May 21 at the Mason O. Damon Auditorium at Buffalo Central Library, 1 Lafayette Sq.; Road: 7 p.m. on May 26 at Dreamland Studio & Gallery, 387 Franklin St.; cultivatecinemacircle.com)

TCM Big Screen Classics—Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Is John Hughes’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off truly a classic? Hard to say; it’s undoubtedly a cult classic, and celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year. It’s certainly a fun pick for TCM’s ongoing series, and will feature specially produced commentary from Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. (2 and 7 p.m. on May 15 and 17 at Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville; fathomevents.com)

Old Chestnut Film Society—The Rainmaker: Running strong since 1983, the Old Chestnut Film Society continues to program some of the greats of the twentieth century. Its current series featuring films starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn comes to a close on May 13 with The Rainmaker. Hepburn received an Oscar nomination for the 1956 drama costarring Burt Lancaster. (7:30 p.m. in the Community Room of the Phillip Sheridan School, 3200 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore; oldchestnut.com)

The Nitrate Picture Show: While year two of the George Eastman House’s festival of film conservation actually starts in April—April 29, to be exact—I think we can get away with including it here. What makes the fest so noteworthy is that it features vintage nitrate prints from the Eastman’s world-renowned collection. The three days also feature lectures and workshops. (April 29-May 1 at the at the George Eastman Museum, 900 East Ave., Rochester; eastman.org/nps)

May at the TIFF Bell Lightbox: The month features the usual roster of classics (Fargo on May 12, Double Indemnity on May 15), unique events (the Next Wave Jump Cuts Young Filmmakers Showcase on May 9), and special appearances (author Cheryl Strayed reflects on the 2012 adaptation of her memoir, Wild, on May 9). But the highlight of May is, without question, two nights of the late Jacques Rivette’s 1971 epic Out 1. Now, this is going to take some stamina, since the full runtime is more than … twelve hours long. But spread out over May 21 and 22—episodes one through four the first night, five through eight the second—makes things seem a bit more manageable. Originally planned as a television miniseries, Out 1 was unavailable for much of the last forty years. But the unwieldy, multi-character, Balzac-inspired film underwent a digital restoration in 2015, and now ranks among cinema’s most fascinating rediscovered works. (All films at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., Toronto; tiff.net)

Fredonia Opera House: The Opera House’s ongoing cinema series takes a lighter turn this month. First up isEddie the Eagle, the uplifting (if sappy) story of British Olympic sensation Michael “Eddie” Edwards. The Taron Egerton-Hugh Jackman starrer screens on May 14 and 17. On May 21 and 24, catch the long-awaited My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. I’ve not seen it yet, but if you liked the first one … etc. Note that the latter film will also screen at Lockport’s Historic Palace Theatre on May 1 and 2. Check lockportpalacetheatre.org for showtimes.(7:30 p.m. at 9 Church St., Fredonia; fredopera.org)

North Park Theatre: One of the greatest films of all time screens at the North Park on May 8: Yasujiro Ozu’sLate Spring. Note that this is a restored version of the Japanese director’s 1949 stunner. Also scheduled this month is the recent anime film Harmony. It screens on May 17 and 18. As always, check northparktheatre.org for an updated schedule. (Spring: 11:30 a.m. on May 8; Harmony: 9:30 p.m. on May 17-18; 1428 Hertel Ave.; northparktheatre.org)

The Screening Room: It’s nearly impossible to succinctly run down the May schedule at Amherst’s Screening Room, so visit screeningroom.net for the full listing. Highlights? The low-budget horror film Darling belongs at the top. This black-and-white homage to Polanski’s Repulsion first screened on April 29 and 30, and remains at the Screening Room for showings on May 3, 5, and 7. Ridley Scott’s iconic classic Alien is set for 7:30 p.m. on May 6, 7, 10, and 14. Local film The Butcher screens at 7 p.m. on May 15, while The Light Beneath Their Feet, starring Taryn Manning, makes its Buffalo premiere on May 20. It continues on May 21, 24, and 26. (Visit website for times for Darling and The Light.) (3131 Sheridan Dr., Amherst; screeningroom.net)

Roycroft Film Society: One of last year’s most surprising Oscar nominations came in the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category. The Swedish hit The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared deserved the nom, but seeing the obscure film in the Oscar mix was still unexpected. The East Aurora-based Roycroft Film Society has chosen this adaptation of  Jonas Jonasson’s bestseller as its May presentation. (4 p.m. on March 13 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora; roycroftcampuscorp.com)

Also screening this month …

The Dipson Amherst Theatre presents the Paris Opera’s production of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust on the big screen. (11 a.m. on May 22; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)

Also screening at the Amherst Theatre is the National Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It(noon on May 15; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)

Note that Toronto’s Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, continues through May 8. The popular festival started on April 28. One of the highlights is Off the Rails, a documentary directed by Adam Irving. The film introduces us to Darius McCollum, “a man with Asperger’s syndrome whose overwhelming love of transit has landed him in jail some thirty times for impersonating New York City bus drivers and subway conductors and driving their routes.” That’s a fascinating description. Rails makes its international premiere at Hot Docs on May 4. Learn more about the film at  offtherailsmovie.com(schedule TBA; hotdocs.ca)

The twenty-sixth annual Toronto LGBT Film Festival is an eleven-day fest featuring more than 200 films and videos. That’s an impressive number. (May 26-June 5; details TBA; insideout.ca/initiatives/Toronto)

After the Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival comes to an end, hit the QEW for the final days of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. (May 5-15; tjff.com)

Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea came and went without much enthusiasm last December, and while it’s nothing special, this tale of the 1820 sinking that inspired Moby Dick is worth a viewing. The Town of Collins Public Library will show the film at 1 p.m. on May 6. (2341 Main St., Collins; buffalolib.org)

Interview: Ben Wheatley, director of High-Rise (for The Film Stage)

High-Rise-4-620x412

I was honored to have the chance to interview High-Rise director Ben Wheatley for The Film Stage. One of my favorite films so far this year, the J.G. Ballard adaptation is finally opening nationwide following a VOD release.

It’s no exaggeration to say that after Ben Wheatley’s exhilarating High-Rise made its long-awaited debut at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, audiences staggered out of the theater in a daze. While some may have found the experience overwhelming, just as many emerged with a feeling of real exhilaration. Yes, Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel is that kind of film. This story of life becoming unhinged in an imposing, endlessly fascinating tower block is violent, oozing with sex and littered with chaos. And while clearly not for all tastes, it’s almost impossible not to be impressed with Wheatley’s filmmaking prowess.

With a starry-cast — a never-better Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss — music from Clint Mansell and Portishead (the band contributes a stunning cover of Abba’s “S.O.S.”), High-Rise is the latest uncompromising visual and sonic explosion from Wheatley. The English director’s Down TerraceKill ListSightseers, and A Field in England have earned him a dedicated following. He is also known for his television work, including two episodes from the eighth season of Doctor Who.

Like his other big-screen efforts, High-Rise was written by and co-edited with his partner, Amy Jump. While promoting the film in Vancouver, Wheatley discussed how he and Jump approached Ballard’s text, why the transition from his earlier features to the world of High-Rise was not as massive a leap as it might seem, and also provided an update on his next film, the Boston-set crime drama Free Fire. Recently picked up by A24, Free Fire is executive produced by Martin Scorsese and stars recent Room Oscar winner Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, and Jack Reynor. In the meantime, the sensual menace of High-Rise is finally coming to theaters this Friday after a VOD release.

 

The Film Stage: High-Rise has always been categorized as an “unfilmable” book. Did that label have any impact on your approach to the film?

Ben Wheatley: It just depends how you define unfilmable. There are books that are structurally and formally difficult; something like Naked Lunch is formally difficult because it jumps all over the place. I don’t think that was ever the issue with High-Rise. When you actually look at the book, it has quite a linear storyline to it, and it’s quite strong visually. The difficulty comes in the way the characters act. It doesn’t have a traditional happy ending, and the characters don’t act like traditional Hollywood movie characters do. But I think High-Rise has unfairly had this unfilmable tag just because it’s been in development for a long time. It doesn’t necessarily always mean the same thing. With High-Rise, it just means there’s not been an appetite for it up until now, not that it’s been impossible to film.

 

You’ve said part of what you found appealing about Ballard as a young reader was that his work felt dangerous. Was that part of the appeal in bringing High-Rise to life — tackling something that inspired those feelings?

Yes, but when I was a kid and I read High-Rise, it was basically predictive fiction. Unfortunately, now it’s kind of come true. We’ve come to meet Ballard’s predictions rather than [see them] become less relevant. They’re actually more relevant over time. And the idea of being kind of Ballard-ian characters trapped in this modern world seems to feel more like documentary than like fantasy.

 

Do you think the story’s parallels to the present day were always there? Was that another element of your attraction to adapting High-Rise?

Yes, I think so. That’s just part of what happens when you are engaged in writing predictive fiction — your story is always [looking] into the future a little bit, so it’s got stronger legs than most novels might have. Ballard’s peers were writing about their experiences of being professors at universities and their love affairs or whatever, but those books date a lot faster than something that’s already looking to the future.

I think the main attraction for me to Ballard and for readers to Ballard is that he could look at the modern world and dissect it, and he had a very unique vision of what the modern world was. He saw beyond the bubble of reality that we exist in, the thing that makes everything seem to make sense in the modern world. I think maybe his own experiences of being a child — where he saw the world he was living in completely destroyed and reassembled again — gave him an insight into the way that the world works. [You don’t have that insight] without having that violent wrench from one reality to another reality. The modern person just feels that what’s happening to them at this moment is something that’s immutable. This is a problem with the western world, that most people don’t even think they’re going to die, let alone can see beyond their own immediate moment.

 

In terms of mounting the film, what was it like to make the transition from your earlier films to something with the size and scale of High-Rise?

I think if you look at the films I’ve made and you go from Sightseers to High-Rise, it looks like a massive leap. But the reality is that during that time I also made a lot of television and directed lots of adverts. In my films, we never had enough budget to even move the camera — everything had to be handheld because of budget restraints. I love handheld camera, but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to have a large set built and even to have extras, really. I feel like I’ve been working with a full deck of cards for the first time. Not that I mean there is anything wrong with the other films, but they were very specifically designed to be done for the budgets that we had.

 

Talk a little about the editing style? There are moments when you jump to different parts of the buildings in the same sequence, and sometimes even mid-sentence. How much of this was pre-planned, and how much was developed in post-production?

Amy tends to write the scripts with the editing in, and because she is the editor with me, she knows that she can have that control. Accepted wisdom is that the script should be as vanilla as possible going forward to the director, but because I’m going to direct it and she’s going to edit it with me, we know that anything that’s written in the script at the beginning can be executed at the end, and not in a way that will irritate the people making the movie. There’s this idea that screenwriters should know their place, and not interfere with the work the director does. But because those jobs are so blurred between our different roles, it’s absolutely fine. So quite a lot of the structure of the film was already in place before we started shooting. Obviously, some of the montage stuff was created on the fly as we made the movie. On High-Rise and on [upcoming film]Free-Fire, and even on A Field in England, we edited as we went along. That means I can [identify] shots I need as I’m in production that I can fire off to the second unit to go and get to make those sequences work.

 

In order to finance a film as bold and ambitious as High-Rise, was it essential to have a cast of established names?

Totally. It’s important in getting any film made, but at a certain budget level, you just don’t financing unless you’re swimming in that pool. And that’s the way it’s always been. But then the other side of it is that people don’t rise up to become those names unless they’re really, really brilliant as well. So it’s absolutely fine.

 

Your next film, Free Fire, is another large-scale production. Can we expect to see it make the fall festival circuit? And how fun was it to see your star Brie Larson’s success?

It’s finished, so I think it’s looking at a release in September. We’re really looking forward to unleashing it. [As for Brie Larson], we were filming well before Room was nominated; none of it had happened really. All that was happening at the time was that Room was being talked about as being really good. But it’s been an incredible ride for her. It’s quite something, really.

My latest books piece for The Film Stage: New books from A.O. Scott and Owen Gleiberman, Welles, ‘Star Wars’ and more

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It’s time for another roundup of new books on filmmaking for The Film Stage, and this one features a typically diverse bunch.

Part of the fun in rounding up recent books about (or connected to) cinema is the sheer diversity of releases. This latest collection features a dive into this history of Hollywood legends, lots more Force Awakens, compelling reads from two fascinating critics, texts highlighting the art of Batman v. Superman and The Little Prince, and more. Plus, if you’ve been coveting Constable Zuvio mentions, you’re finally in luck.

Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies by Owen Gleiberman (Hachette Books)

Movie Freak

My favorite book of 2016 thus far has arrived, and it’s Movie Freak by former Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman. For many a nineties teen, EW was something of a pop culture bible, and Gleiberman’s incisive writing was a key reason. In Movie Freak, his unguardedly personal memoir, he talks of films loved (Blue Velvet, Manhunter), friendships dashed (with the likes of Oliver Stone and Pauline Kael), and the clashes that inevitably accompany life as a critic. His last days at EW say much about how print journalism has changed in the last decade, and why magazines such as Entertainment Weekly have been forced into service asPeople-lite just to stay afloat. As a critic and parent myself, it’s hard not to swoon over Gleiberman’s closing account of his young daughter’s plunge into the world of cinema: “Whether or not she turns out to be a movie freak, she is every inch the daughter of a critic.”

Better Living Through Criticism by A.O. Scott (Penguin Press)

Better Living Through Criticism

“What’s the point of criticism? What are critics good for?” So opens New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism, a witty, self-effacing exploration of what criticism means, and what it means to be a critic, Scott pogos from his online “battle” with Samuel L. Jackson over The Avengers to a walk through the Louvre and the idea that there “are so many ways to be wrong.” Part of the fun — and it is very, very fun — is letting the great Scott bring so many unexpected diversions into his analysis. It all ends, as it should, with Ratatouille’s snobbish Anton Ego. As Scott puts it, and as a great many critics would be afraid to admit, “Anton Ego, c’est moi!”
Orson Welles Volume 3: One-Man Band by Simon Callow (Viking)

One Man Band

When actor-author Simon Callow’s third book on the life and art of Orson Welles was announced, I assumed it would bring the outsized icon’s story to a close. That is not the case, as Callow instead covers only 1947 to 1964, a time period in which Welles was exiled from America. This is a very good thing, as we’ll have another weighty stunner at some point to come. Callow brilliantly examines an era in which Welles mounted some of his most ambitious projects, including Othello, Touch of Evil, The Trial, andChimes at Midnight. The section recounting the making of Touch of Evil, in particular, is riveting. (The most memorable moment is likely a post-production face-off with star Charlton Heston. Welles authored a letter with a “merciless portrait of Heston as a goody-goody — ‘cooperative Chuck … In a word,’ says Welles, ‘he’s the Eagle Scout of the Screen Actor’s Guild.”) While the overall tone is rather somber, Callow rightfully argues for the vitality of Welles’s work during this stretch. One can hardly wait to read his account of the master’s final years.
The Essential Humphrey Bogart by Constantine Santas (Rowman & Littlefield)

Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart’s personal life has always been of interest to film obsessives, but what makes Constantine Santas’s The Essential Humphrey Bogart a noteworthy read is its deep plunge into the actor’s work. Each chapter, in fact, looks closely at a different film. By the time we reach Bogart’s final film, The Harder They Fall, we have a clear understanding of why each one of his nearly 40 pictures is so important. My favorite detail comes from the chapter on Sabrina. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bogart was not Billy Wilder’s first choice to play Linus Larrabee. But Santas says he made the role once pegged for Cary Grant his own: “Bogart had been born into privilege, and his instincts could tell him what to do when a role demanded that he play a mannered gentleman. Bogart thrives on transformation when the role demands it.”
Star Wars: The Force Awakens — A Junior Novel by Michael Kogge (LucasFilm Press)

The Force Awakens Junior Novel

Why should someone who already owns the previously released Force Awakens novelization consider picking up the “junior novel” by Michael Kogge? That’s an easy one: because it’s perfect for the kiddos. This is a short (a little over 180 pages), easily digestible breakdown of the story that is ideal for younglings. It’s also smart and well-written. (One poignant addition is Leia’s final words to Rey as she departs to find Luke Skywalker: “You won’t share the fate of our son.”)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens — Rey’s Story by Elizabeth Schaefer (LucasFilm Press)

Reys Story

Like the junior novel, Rey’s Story is another tight (around 140 pages) distillation of The Force Awakens for young readers. What makes Elizabeth Schaefer’s text such a treat, however, is the focus on Rey. This is her story, from start to finish, It’s a unique way to approach the film’s plot, and it makes for an enjoyably personal read. (My son has already worn out our copy, which is a very good sign.)
Star Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka (LucasFilm Press)

Before the Awakening

Before the Awakening might be the most essential The Force Awakens spinoff, since it details the backstories of Finn, Rey, and Poe. It is divided into three parts, and while the Finn and Rey sections intrigue, Poe Dameron’s is the best. Author Greg Rucka nicely captures the character Oscar Isaac brought to life, and the info about his pilot mother — a Battle of Endor veteran — adds much to the Poe mystique.
Star Wars: Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away — Aliens Volume 1 by Landry Q. Walker (LucasFilm Press)

Aliens Volume 1

You wanted the Zuvio, you got the Zuvio. Yes, Constable Zuvio, that oddly-helmeted figure of pre-release intrigue for Force Awakens fans due to his invisibility in the film (yet prominence on toy shelves) is front and center inTales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away. This collection of short stories is delightful, and while I don’t want to diss the Constable, it is the final tale here, “The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku,” that is most memorable.
Star Wars: Rey’s Survival Guide by Jason Fry (Fun Studio)

Reys Survival Guide

Perhaps the most clever Force Awakens-themed release is Rey’s Survival Guide, a clever, nicely designed journal of Rey’s pre-Finn adventures. Curious where exactly Rey lives on Jakku, and how she first encountered some of the planet’s surly denizens? The answers are here, along with plenty of wonderful illustrations. You’ll even learn whose pilot’s helmet Rey wears while chowing down early in the film. Jason Fry’s book ends as Rey, Finn, Han, and Chewie arrive on Takodana — and you know what came next.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice — The Art of the Film by Peter E. Aperlo (Titan Books)

BvS The Art of the Film

Now that the dust has settled, it is perhaps easier to take a more measured look at what exactly Zack Snyder was hoping to accomplish with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Whether you find those accomplishments successful or not (and I do not), The Art of the Film is an insightful read. It does not make for a better film, but having a clearer look at the late Robin’s graffiti-covered suit, Wonder Woman’s armor, and vehicles like the Batwing is certainly appreciated. In quotes throughout, Snyder and his team make the case for their dark vision.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice — Tech Manual by Adam Newell and Sharon Gosling (Titan Books)

BvS Tech Manual

The Dawn of Justice Tech Manual is the more gleefully geeky of the twoBatman v. Superman texts, and should be of interest should only to design junkies and effects-heads. The photography — of Batarangs, the interior of the Batmobile, Wonder Woman’s lasso, and the like — is gorgeous, and the book itself serves as a sterling tribute to the production design of the film.
Ian Fleming’s James Bond: SPECTRE — The Complete Comic Strip Collection (Titan Books)

Ian Fleming

Last year’s deeply flawed James Bond entry Spectre offered a number of pleasures, but the performance from Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld was not among them. A far more compelling Blofeld can be found inIan Fleming’s James Bond: SPECTRE — The Complete Comic Strip Collection. This wildly entertaining book brings together the 1960s comic strip adaptations of Fleming’s Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice. Sure, it’s a product of its time (Bond is referred to as “Limey” throughout the Spy Who Loved Me strips), but these comics are ridiculously fun and delightfully nasty.
The Little Prince: The Art of the Film by Ramin Zahed (Titan Books)

The Little Prince

The Little Prince hit a major bump just a few days before its American release, as Paramount dropped the film from its schedule. Netflix swooped in to acquire this animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novel, and until we can stream it, we can enjoy The Art of the Movie. As the book makes clear, the landscapes conjured by director Mark Osborne and his team are imaginative delights. One can hardly wait to see such visual treats as “The Grown-Up Planet” on the big… well, small screen.
Bonus: Novel Round-Up

Shaker

There are several noteworthy recent novels with links to the world of cinema. One of these is Jane Two (Center Street), the debut novel byYoung Indiana Jones Chronicles and Boondock Saints star Sean Patrick Flanery. It’s an acutely observed coming-of-age tale about a young man finding his way through life and love in 1970s Texas. A strong first effort, its lead character, Mickey, is a smart, likable creation. Jean Stein takes a stunning look at old Hollywood in West of Eden: An American Place (Random House), an ambitious tapestry that weaves together real-life figures like actress Jennifer Jones and mogul Jack Warner. And in Shaker(Alfred A. Knopf), screenwriter-turned-novelist Scott Frank has written a novel that fits nicely with some of his big-screen efforts (Get Shorty, Out of Sight, The Lookout). It’s a razor-sharp Los Angeles crime drama with a cinematic flair.

Book review: ‘Real subject of Tate biography is Charles Manson’s twisted family’

SharonTate

My first book review in a few months recently ran in the Sunday Buffalo News.

It is nearly impossible to look at the image of Sharon Tate and not think about the slaughter that ended her life. That undeniable truth presents a major obstacle for any biographer. Everything that comes before her encounter with Charles Manson’s doe-eyed acolytes – her early days as a model and actress, her marriage to filmmaker Roman Polanski, her glamorous life in the public eye – feels like a grim coming attraction to the sad feature presentation.

Clearly, the public narrative of Sharon Tate’s life, sadly, is focused solely on her ending. And in many ways, the latest Tate biography is more of the same. However, “Sharon Tate: A Life” by Ed Sanders is not really about the life of Sharon Tate – despite its title. The doomed icon is instead an entry point for a chilling dive into a fantasia of violence, sex, drugs, and celebrity.

As a biography of Sharon Tate, then, Sanders’ book is a failure. As a gripping, comprehensive, relentlessly involving revisiting of the Manson murders, however, it is a stunner. Once Sanders turns his attention from Tate’s life and career to the story of her death, “Sharon Tate: A Life” becomes the most engrossing read I’ve encountered in 2016.

Before then, we have the standard chronicle of Tate’s life: Success in beauty pageants during her youth, discovery by producer Martin Ransohoff, stardom in “Valley of the Dolls,” falling in love with Polanski during the filming of “The Fearless Vampire Killers.”

Sanders – who wrote of Manson in the bestseller “The Family” – does unearth some unique, very personal details I’ve not come across before. For example, the first meeting between Polanski and Tate’s father Paul, aka “The Colonel,” was a telling view into the couple’s unconventional relationship:

“She’s too nice,” Polanski told Tate’s father. “I’ve been trying to toughen her up.”

“I wouldn’t try too hard,” he replied. “She doesn’t get mad too often, but when she does, oh, son, you better watch out. And when she’s done with you, then you’ve got me to reckon with.”

The author certainly captures the slightly menacing vibe of the time, especially as we draw closer to “that fatal night.” Anyone who has read “Helter Skelter” or watched any of the dramatic recreations of the Manson story knows the broad strokes of what comes next. But the skilled Sanders brings the era to vivid life. It all starts on page 115, in a chapter titled, with chilling blankness, “1969: Cielo Drive and Pregnancy.”

Sanders recounts the murders with fascinating detail, including the killers’ strange life at the Spahn ranch and the backstory of the small gathering at the Polanski household that night. It all culminates, of course, in a nightmare:

“Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring were chatting in Sharon’s bedroom when the knife stabbed into the gray screen, slicing an entrance into the empty nursery at the far end of the house.”

The remainder of the book is a chronicle of real-life horror and its aftermath. And it’s enormously effective.

There are significant issues with “Sharon Tate: A Life,” and they start with the title. This is a book about death, not life. And as stated previously, Tate feels like a secondary character in her own story. At times the focus is so removed from Tate herself that things feel slightly disrespectful.

The illustrations by Rick Veitch don’t help matters. The work of the underground comic artist is generally fascinating, but here feels overly cartoony. A final illustration depicting Tate clutching her unborn baby in the clouds (called “Sharon in the Sky”) is particularly silly.

Interestingly, there was a very strong book about Sharon Tate released last year, one that focused on her life, rather than her death. “Sharon Tate: Recollection” is a lush, gorgeously composed visual appreciation by her sister, Debra, that restores Tate to her rightful place as the vibrant style icon of her era. This bold, bracing approach divorces her from the too-often-used classification of “Manson victim.” Debra Tate rescues her sister from being known by many as simply a casualty.

One image in particular – a shot of pregnant Tate in 1969, wearing a black headband – carries more emotional weight than any moment in “Sharon Tate: A Life.” She appears breathtakingly alive, a stunning force of power and beauty.

Comparatively, the Tate that appears in Sanders’ book is constantly surrounded by danger. She is emotionally scarred and threatened at all counts by a system that saw her only as a sex symbol. She is quite simply, doomed, and her collision with the Manson family feels almost predestined.

Was her murder, in fact, predestined? Was it a wrong-place, wrong-time scenario? Was Tate chosen? These questions haunt us, and Sanders. The author saves his final flourish for the afterword, nine pages of mind-detonating theories, rumors, and could-bes. It sent me racing to google “English Satanists,” and, typically, more dead-ends.

The book ends with Sanders reaching out to Charles Manson himself via letters. Sanders asks several key questions, but of course, these pleas go unanswered. This hammers home a sad truth. We’ll never really know why Sharon Tate was massacred. As Sanders puts it, “So far, no answer, no phone call.”

Interestingly, the finale successfully turns the focus back to Tate. The sad miasma of conspiracy theories that make up the afterword are, in a way, the author’s attempt at understanding and rationalizing something that can never be understood or rationalized. Whatever led to the murders, Sanders believes, is secondary to the result. In the end, it’s the deaths of Sharon Tate and her friends that truly matter:

“[E]ven though the world moves on, decade after decade, that does not prevent loose ends flapping in the multi-decade breeze, and no loose ends can prevent our sense of outrage and anger for the horrible injustice perpetrated upon Sharon Tate and her friends.”

In “Sharon Tate: A Life,” Ed Sanders brings that horrible injustice to life once more. Even if he fails to capture the life force that made Tate one of the 20th century’s most tragic icons, he succeeds in shedding new light on the horrors of 1969. This is true crime lit at its most grimly compelling.

From the April Spree: BNFF, Brando, Brazil, Holzman, and Hot Docs

TIFF Kids International Film Festival; PHOTO COURTESY OF TIFF

TIFF Kids International Film Festival; PHOTO COURTESY OF TIFF

I just realized my Coming Attractions column in the May Buffalo Spree will be posted on BuffaloSpree.com in a few days, and I’ve not posted my April column. There are still a few days left this month to enjoy these screenings, so take a look.

April was once considered a quiet time before the summer movie season, but it’s now the launch pad for dull fare like Fast Five and Captain America: Winter Solider. This year is no exception, with Disney’s live-action Jungle Book and a ho-hum quasi-sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman set to drop. Happily, it’s also busy with cinema series, screenings, and even film festivals, in WNY and beyond.

Buffalo Niagara International Film Festival (BNFF): 

Local festivals come and go, but Bill Cowell’s Buffalo Niagara International Film Festival—along with its eclectic approach—is a survivor. This year, there are over 100 features, documentaries, and shorts from Western New York and around the world, as well as workshops, a comic-con day, and a fallen soldier commemoration featuring portraits by Kaziah Hancock. Special premieres include Stanley Isaacs’ new documentary, It’s Always About the Story: Conversations With Alan Ladd Jr. (producer of BraveheartThe Man in the Iron Mask, and Gone Baby Gone) and a twenty-year reunion premiere of Larry Bishop’s Mad Dog Time(starring Diane Lane, Burt Reynolds, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Gabriel Byrne, Billy Idol, Rob Reiner, among others).

April 1–2 at Barton Hill Hotel & Spa, Lewiston; April 13–17 at the Tonawanda Castle (check thebnff.com or call 693-0912 for times and information)

Kid-Friendly Classic Film Series: Dipson Theatres began its family film series in February with a heavyweight (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), and starts April with two underrated gems, A Little Princess (Apr. 2) and The Iron Giant (Apr. 9). Two more high-profile affairs follow in Shrek (Apr. 16) and School of Rock (Apr. 23), and the month finishes with Wes Anderson’s delightful Roald Dahl adaptation, Fantastic Mr. Fox (Apr. 30). While some might quibble with the “classic” label on a few of these (Rango and The Lorax are classics?), it’s an affordable—just $4—Saturday morning option.

10 a.m. at the Dipson Eastern Hills Cinema, 4545 Transit Rd., Williamsville; dipsontheatres.com 

Kaleidotropes—David Holzman’s Diary: My days as a media study major at the University at Buffalo opened up to me an entire world of film (and video) art, and few of these made a greater impact on me than David Holzman’s Diary. Jim McBride’s 1967 satirical mockumentary still packs a dark comic punch. Diary is a perfect pick for Squeaky Wheel’s fab Kaleidotropes series.

7 p.m. on Apr. 27 at Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center, 617 Main St.; squeaky.org

Buffalo Film Seminars: Is this the best month in Buffalo Film Seminars history? It’s possible. The opportunity to see Spike Lee’s epic Malcolm X (Apr. 5), the stunning Waltz With Bashir (Apr. 19), and Michael Haneke’s devastating Amour (Apr. 26) in the company of Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian is hard to pass up. But the real treat is Beau Travail (Apr. 12), an adaptation of Melville’s Billy Budd from the great Claire Denis (35 Shots of Rum, Bastards). A tale of sexual repression among soldiers in the French Foreign Legion, Beau Travail features one of the great endings in cinema history, actor Denis Lavant’s solo dance to Eurodance thumper “Rhythm of the Night.” The discussion after this one should be fascinating.

7 p.m. at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; csac.buffalo.edu/bfs.html

Burchfield Penney Art Center: BPAC’s ambitious (and free) “History of Terrorism” banner begins April with one of the best of 2002, Fernando Meirelles’s City of God (Apr. 7). It’s a brutal, unforgettable film that interweaves several stories involving organized crime among young gangs in 1970s Brazil. Netflix drama Narcos and 2010 Mexican drama El Infierno follow on Apr. 21 and 28, respectively. Plus, this month the Beyond Boundaries: Dare to be Diverse Film Series features Up Heartbreak Hill (Apr. 14), a documentary about one year in the lives of three Native American teens.

6:30 p.m.; 1300 Elmwood Ave.; burchfieldpenney.org

TCM Big Screen Classics—On the Waterfront: The Marlon Brando documentary Listen to Me Marlon was one of 2015’s most acclaimed. Watch it, and then experience his still-stunning performance as dockworker Terry Malloy as Turner Classic Movies presents Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront.

2 and 7 p.m. on Apr. 24 and 27 at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Ave., and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Rd., Williamsville; fathomevents.com

TIFF Kids International Film Festival: The annual Toronto International Film Festival is a cinephile must each September, and the TIFF Kids International Film Festival is a fun offshoot. Last year, the fest featured greats like When Marnie Was There and Shaun the Sheep; check tiff.net for upcoming news on the nineteenth annual installment.

Apr. 8-24; details TBA; tiff.net

Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road: While April sees a number of real gems gracing WNY screens, I don’t think anything tops the Wim Wenders retrospective hitting the Dipson Amherst Theatre. The prolific German filmmaker has been creating fascinating films since the seventies, and this four-film series features several of his most important works. Starting with 1976’s Kings of the Road (7 p.m., Apr. 7), the series continues with the great Harry Dean Stanton-starrer Paris, Texas (7 p.m., Apr. 14) and the gorgeous Wings of Desire (7 p.m., Apr. 21). The final screening is downright newsworthy. The five-hour director’s cut of 1991’s Until the End of the World (12:30 p.m., May 1) has been rarely seen, and is considered a drastic improvement over the 158-version released to theaters. In any form, World is one of his most ambitious efforts, but the director’s cut of this a globe-trotting tale set in 1999 is a cinephile must-see.

Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com

Cultivate Cinema Circle: The spring season for the Cultivate Cinema Circle series features some real gems, including Jacques Demy’s perfect 1967 musical The Young Girls of Rochefort and Werner Herzog’s latest documentary. On April 16, the series features director Brandon Loper’s “love letter to, and meditation on, specialty coffee,” A Film About Coffee. The free screening is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Mason O. Damon Auditorium at the Buffalo Central Library. It’s the first film of CCC’s Public Espresso-themed trilogy about coffee and Constructivism. Next up is I Am Belfast, at 9:30 p.m. on April 28 at the North Park Theatre. Tickets for Mark Cousins’ film about Northern Ireland’s capital are $9.50. Note that the film was shot by frequent Wong Kar-wai cinematographer Christopher Doyle. That means Belfast is most certainly a visual stunner.

cultivatecinemacircle.com

North Park Theatre: Leave it to the North Park to find new ways to top itself. One of the theater’s delights is its ongoing Family Matinee Series, and the films of Hayao Miyazaki (director of animated classics My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away) have been highlights. One of the Studio Ghibli legend’s strangest and most fascinating efforts, Porco Rosso, screens at 11:30 a.m. on April 2 and 3. Yes, the film is centered on an anthropomorphic pig. But this is Miyazaki, so the results are unimaginably glorious. And at 7 p.m. on April 22 the North Park hosts the world premiere of The American Side, the Buffalo- and Niagara Falls-shot film directed by Jenna Ricker. (She co-wrote Side with Greg Stuhr.) It stars Matthew Broderick, Janeane Garofalo, and Robert Forster.

1428 Hertel Ave.; northparktheatre.org

The Screening Room: It’s a month of pleasures at Amherst’s Screening Room, and it all starts with The Fly—the original, from 1958—at 7:30 p.m. on April 1, 2, 3, and 5. Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder is set for 7:30 p.m. on April 8, 9, 12, 14, 15, and 16. Back to the Future recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, and screens at 7:30 p.m. on April 13 and 17. Also this month is some horror, featuring the local film Johnny Revolting vs. the Undead, at 5 p.m. on April 3; some zaniness, with Don Knotts and Tim Conway in The Private Eyes on April 23, 26, and 29; and director from Stratford, some Shakespeare, with Hamlet screening on April 28 and 30.

3131 Sheridan Dr., Amherst; screeningroom.net

Riviera Theatre: There’s something for everyone—literally—at the Riviera in April. First is the wonderful seventh film in the Skywalker saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens at 8 p.m. on April 1. The beloved (by some) Bette Midler tearjerker Beaches is next, at 7:30 p.m. on April 14. The Riviera’s Family Film Series presents The Land Before Time on April 17 and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on April 24. Both films screen at 2 p.m. Lastly, Lee Daniels’ The Butler is set for 7:30 p.m. on April 28.

67 Webster St., N.Tonawanda; rivieratheatre.org

Also screening this month …

  • The Shea’s Free Family Film Series presents 2003’s handsome, unjustly forgotten Peter Pan, starring Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook. (2 p.m. at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.; sheas.org)
  • The Roycroft Film Society screens Bong Joon-ho’s dark South Korean drama Mother. (4 p.m. on Apr. 10 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Ave., East Aurora; roycroftcampuscorp.com)
  • The Dipson Amherst Theatre presents the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of Don Quixote and the Royal Opera House’s production of Puccini’s Tosca on the big screen. (Quixote: 12:55 p.m. on Apr. 10; Tosca: 11 a.m. on Apr. 24; at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main. St.; dipsontheatres.com)
  • Toronto’s Hot Docs is North America’s largest documentary festival. (Apr. 28-May 8; details TBA;hotdocs.ca)
  • The Rochester International Film Festival features short films from around the world. (Apr. 14-16 at the Dryden Theatre, George Eastman House International Museum of Film and Photography, Rochester;rochesterfilmfest.org)

Review: James Franco’s short stories probe youthful angst in ‘Yosemite’

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I reviewed “Yosemite,” a film based on costar James Franco’s short stories, for the Buffalo News. I gave it 3 stars.

Say what you will about the ludicrously overextended James Franco, but never deny his ambition. What other young male actor would star in a re-creation of the sexually explicit deleted scenes from 1980’s “Cruising,” play himself in the “Veronica Mars” feature, and direct a movie about the creation of Tommy Wiseau’s epicly awful cult hit “The Room”?

Yes, only Franco has the chutzpah, for better or worse, to tackle such a head-spinningly diverse selection of projects. If his starring role in Hulu’s soon-to-debut Stephen King adaptation “11.22.63” is a shout, Gabrielle Demeestere’s intimate drama “Yosemite” must be termed a whisper.

Showing from Feb. 5 to 11 in the Screening Room Cinema Cafe (3131 Sheridan Drive, Amherst), “Yosemite” is based on two short stories written by Franco and features the actor in a small role.

While not as emotionally resonant as 2014’s “Palo Alto,” the teen drama based on a collection of Franco’s short stories, “Yosemite” shares that film’s appreciation of the somber minutiae of adolescent life.

Set in 1985 Palo Alto, Calif., “Yosemite” is centered around a trio of fifth-graders, all in the same class, all deeply rooted in a fractured suburban existence. Hovering over the film is the hunt for a mountain lion that is on the prowl, and giving pause to every child and adult in the area.

We are introduced to Chris (Everett Meckler) on an overnight trip with his recovering alcoholic father (Franco) and younger brother. The relationship between child and adult feels suitably forced; clearly, there is a distance between Chris and his old man.

Joe (Alec Mansky) is a quiet, sullen comic book fan whose parents are no longer together after a family tragedy. He was once close with classmate Ted (Calum John), but now the two are at odds.

All three of the young leads are natural, convincing actors. Perhaps the most involving character of the bunch is Alec Mansky’s Joe, a boy clearly in search of guidance and friendship.

He finds it, to some degree, from Henry (Henry Hopper, son of Dennis and the talented lead of Gus Van Sant’s offbeat 2011 film “Restless”). This loner with a stack of comics encourages Joe to read the superhero tales aloud, and seems curiously concerned with his safety.

But like most relationships in the film, there is an undercurrent of danger. There is a definite lack of follow-through on several fronts, specifically the relationship between Henry and Joe. Is he a predator? Is his interest in Joe unhealthy? Demeestere never answers these questions, and that’s clearly intentional.

In fact, the interactions between the three fifth-graders and the adults are all fraught with tension. Even the seemingly normal relationship of Ted and his insomniac father, an early user of the Internet, is, to say the least, strange. (Pay close attention to the text on the computer screen.)

The minefields of youth are clearly of interest to Franco, and Demeestere does a fine job of showing just how difficult life is for all three kids. Even Ted, the most nondescript of the bunch, suffers the loss of a pet (possibly to the mountain lion).

For all its modest successes, “Yosemite” cannot help but feel sleight. Just 80 minutes long, the film always is intriguing, but does not lead anywhere profound. There is a spiritual undercurrent that is especially pronounced in its closing scenes, but like the Joe-Henry relationship, never quite pays off.

Still, Demeestere’s work here is impressive. This small-scale drama is visually arresting and worthy of contemplation, and shows her to be a filmmaker on the rise.

Just her first feature, “Yosemite” is a strange, involving, very quiet film, and whatever it lacks in theatrics it makes up for with mood. It is another unexpected foray for Franco, and while it may garner less press than something like the high-profile “11.22.63,” it deserves an audience.

Review: Yen, Tyson make ‘Ip Man 3’ fun to watch

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“Ip Man 3” was a modest box office success this winter. I gave it 3 stars when I reviewed it for the Buffalo News.

There’s an easy way to tell whether “Ip Man 3,” the third in a series of films based on the life of iconic martial arts master Ip Man, is right for you – answer the following question:

Are you intrigued by the idea of a three-minute survival-of-the-toughest fight sequence between martial arts mindblower Donnie Yen and former boxer Mike Tyson? If you answered yes, you’ll likely emerge from “Ip Man 3” with a smile on your face.

It is an ideal bit of mindless late-January cinema, albeit one that might require a little pre-film study. The real Ip Man was the master of a style of martial arts known as Wing Chun. One of his disciples? Bruce Lee.

The two films in the series, “Ip Man” and “Ip Man 2,” are streaming on Netflix. Both are directed by Wilson Yip and star the great Donnie Yen; all three are uniquely intense historical action films that play fast and loose with the real facts of Ip’s life.

As “Ip Man 3” begins, the title character is already renowned for his mastery of Wing Chun. The rather odd story that follows first involves his son’s school, and the real estate scheme of a shady developer played by Tyson.

Tyson’s gangster, Frank, oversees brutal matches dominated by Cheung Tin-ch (Zhang Jin), a rickshaw driver struggling to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Frank’s henchmen follow through on his plan to take the school by any means necessary. Ip Man, of course, stands in the way.

After Ip and Cheung team up to protect the school, Frank challenges Ip to the three-minute challenge. It’s a gloriously fun sequence, one highlighted by the divergent styles of Yen and Tyson – I mean, Ip and Frank.

The property storyline is soon dropped, and the film’s second half is instead concerned with Cheung’s jealousy over the fame earned by Ip. He starts a competing school and challenges the mighty Ip Man to a public battle. And quite a battle it is.

Director Yip prefaces the final fight with some tender moments between Ip and his dying wife, Wing Sing (Lynn Hung), and it provides a nice counterpoint to the closing duel. Like the rest of the 105-minute film, the ending is both silly and involving.

The presence of Yen is the chief reason we stay interested. An immensely likable star who will be seen in December’s “Star Wars” spin-off “Rogue One,” Yen is known worldwide for both his extensive background as a legitimate martial artist and his filmography.

His Ip Man is calm, controlled and even sweet. Yen is as believable in quiet scenes with Hung as he is battling Cheung or Tyson.

Yip and cinematographer Kenny Tse surely deserve credit as well. One sequence, a lengthy fight scene going down a stairway that is shot overhead, is particularly impressive.

However, it is hard to know what to make of the appearance of Tyson. The still-fascinating, still-controversial Tyson is a matter-of-fact actor, one whose performance seems wildly out of place here. Yet his involvement makes that three-minute fight far more memorable.

“Ip Man 3” is unlikely to win over anyone who is not already a fan of martial arts cinema, but offers modest pleasures for action junkies. It also reaffirms Yen’s status as a worldwide star. He might be the calmest butt-kicker in cinema, and that’s noteworthy.

Review: Unflinching ‘Aferim!’ is a worthy addition to Romanian New Wave

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“Aferim!” was strange, occasionally disturbing, and surprisingly funny. Here is my 3 1/2 star review for the Buffalo News.

It is the exclamation point in the title of “Aferim!” that seems to illustrate its creators’ intentions. A harsh, unflinching Romanian drama set in the 19th century, the film is – against all odds – very, very funny. (The title means “Bravo,” and, the Wiktionary tells us, it often has an ironic meaning.)

Using the tropes of a Western and utilizing real narrative situations and dialogue from historical documents, “Aferim!” feels like an angry shout against the unbendable laws of the time. While Romania’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 88th Academy Awards did not earn a nomination, it certainly deserved one.

And what a grim, violent, prejudiced time it was. Consider that every Gypsy onscreen is referred to as a “crow,” and many are forced to work as slaves.

In this picturesque Eastern European landscape (shot in deceptively gorgeous black and white), one such Gypsy slave is on the run. He is Carfin (Toma Cuzin), and he fled his estate following an affair with a nobleman’s wife.

Tasked to find him is our “hero,” a constable named Costandin (exceptionally played by Teodor Corban). He is the type of person who thoughtfully tells a priest, “Each nation has its purpose. The Jews, to cheat; the Turks, to do harm; us Romanians to love, honor and suffer like good Christians.”

Costandin is therefore one of the more remarkably unself-aware characters in recent cinema, one fond of aphorisms like, “When a wise man opens his mouth, open your ears.”

Many of these life lessons are imparted to his teenage son Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu), who has joined him on the hunt.

He’s a father who yells at his son to try some brandy, shouting “Drink like a man.” And later, shortly before buying the boy some time with a prostitute, asks, “You’re not a Sodomite, are you? Because if you are, I’ll drown you with my own hands.”

That’s Costandin, a buffoonish authority figure who nevertheless accomplishes his mission. The duo finds Carfin shirtless and running, and gather him up, along with a luckless young boy named Tintiric.

The remainder of the film is a “Last Detail”-like march toward Carfin’s grim fate. They sell Tintiric along the way in a heartbreaking scene, and find time for a prostitute while staying at a raucous tavern.

They also ponder what to do about Carfin. Does he deserve to be killed, or at the very least beaten, by the nobleman? However they look at it, as Costandin puts it near film’s end, “That’s our law.”

The finale is the film’s most violent section, and hammers home its themes of the utter foolishness of deeply held prejudices, and the horrors that result from male posturing. Knowing that so much of the dialogue comes from historical documents means the experience is even more insightful.

In doing so, director Radu Jude has made a sharper, more memorable Western than Quentin Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight.” Jude’s third feature earned him the Silver Bear for best director at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival. It moves him to the upper echelon of Romanian filmmakers, a stellar list that also includes Cristi Puiu (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”) and Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”).

This group is responsible for cinema that is harsh, moving and relentless. “Aferim!” is funnier than most of the other entries that make up the Romanian New Wave, but it is no less powerful.

And in Costandin, we have a character worthy of being called unforgettably daft. “Man is asked to beat his wife, but with kindness,” he says. How utterly, wonderfully absurd.

New to Buffalo Spree: My monthly ‘Coming Attractions’ column

REBELS WITH A CAUSE POSTER COURTESY OF KELLY+YAMAMOTO; CULTIVATE CINEMA CIRCLE POSTER FOR A GOOD AMERICAN DESIGNED BY JARED MOBARAK

REBELS WITH A CAUSE POSTER COURTESY OF KELLY+YAMAMOTO; CULTIVATE CINEMA CIRCLE POSTER FOR A GOOD AMERICAN DESIGNED BY JARED MOBARAK

I recently started writing a column about upcoming screenings for Buffalo Spree, with the March issue serving as the official kick-off for “Coming Attractions.” Each month, the column will appear in print and as an updated version on the Spree website. Here’s the debut.

This month marks the debut of my new column in Spree, a brief roundup of upcoming local film screenings and cinema-related events. Expect to see a diverse selection of classics, recent blockbusters, experimental works, and documentaries gracing screens in Buffalo and (slightly) beyond. 

Stay tuned for more fun in the months to come. Now on to our feature presentation. (And an end to this month’s film puns.) 

Buffalo Film Seminars: It’s hard to argue against the “classic” status of every selection in this spring’s installment of the Buffalo Film Seminars. And March might be the finest month yet for the long-running screening/discussion hosted by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian. The lineup includes Sergio Leone’s epic western Once Upon a Time in the West (March 1), William Friedkin’s tough-as-nails Oscar winner The French Connection (March 8), Martin Scorsese’s Jake LaMotta biography, Raging Bull (March 22), and Akira Kurosawa’s late-life masterpiece Ran (March 29). Don’t pass up the opportunity to see the latter two on the big-screen, especially. (7 p.m. at the Dipson Amherst Theatre, 3500 Main St.; csac.buffalo.edu/bfs.html)

Cultivate Cinema Circle: In less than one year, the Cultivate Cinema Circle screening series has shared films from greats like Terrence Malick, Jean-Luc Godard, and Agnès Varda. The series has also brought newer films to town for the first time. March features two examples, both free and open to the public. Petra Costa and Lea Glob’s Olmo and the Seagull (March 1), the existential study of an actress in the late stages of pregnancy, is cosponsored by the Women & Gender Studies Program at Canisius. And Friedrich Moser’s A Good American(March 16) is the gripping true story of codebreaker Bill Binney. (Olmo: 8 p.m. on March 1 at the Canisius College Science Hall, 2001 Main St.; American: 8 p.m. on March 16 at Burning Books, 420 Connecticut St.;cultivatecinemacircle.com)

Roycroft Film Society: The East Aurora-based Roycroft Film Society follows up two stunners—the heartbreaking Timbuktu and Jim Jarmusch’s vampire daydream Only Lovers Left Alive—with a unique documentary. Rebels With a Cause is a David-and-Goliath tale, the story of a group of citizen activists intent on preserving open spaces near urban areas. Frances McDormand narrates the film, which shows how these dedicated individuals took on big industry and government. (4 p.m. on March 13 at Parkdale Elementary School, 141 Girard Avenue, East Aurora; roycroftcampuscorp.com)

Burchfield Penney Art Center: BPAC has embarked on an ambitious series of films under the “History of Terrorism” banner. This month starts with The Mumbai Massacre (March 3, time TBA), a documentary about the 2008 terror attack that grabbed the world’s attention. Next is Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (7 p.m. on March 10), the Jessica Chastain-starring chronicle of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Also screening is the documentary BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez (7 p.m. on March 17), part of the Beyond Boundaries: Dare to Be Diverse Film Series. (1300 Elmwood Ave.; burchfieldpenney.org)

TCM Big Screen ClassicsThe Ten Commandments: Celebrate sixty years of Edward G. Robinson’s most absurdly miscast role as Turner Classic Movies presents The Ten Commandments. (2 and 7 p.m. on March 20 and 23 at the Regal Elmwood Center, 2001 Elmwood Avenue, and Regal Transit Center, 6707 Transit Road, Williamsville; fathomevents.com)

North Park Theatre: The North Park’s family matinee series offers some wildly diverse films this month: the still-funny Mike Myers comedy Wayne’s World on March 5 and 6; Monster Hunt, China’s second highest-grossing film of all time, on March 12 and 13; and the local premiere of a new family film called Against the Wild: Survive the Serengeti on March 19 and 20. Star Trek: Voyager’s Jeri Ryan stars in the latter. The family matinee films all start at 11:30 a.m. And one of the most controversial—since it beat Saving Private Ryan—Best Picture Oscar winners of the late-90s screens at 7 p.m. on March 7: the wildly entertaining Shakespeare in Love is presented by the UB English Department. (1428 Hertel Ave. ; northparktheatre.org)

The Screening Room: The March calendar for Amherst’s Screening Room is so vast that, quite honestly, I could not include it here. So make sure to visit screeningroom.net for the full rundown. Rob Reiner’s much-loved (although not by me) The Princess Bride screens at 7:30 p.m. on March 1, 4, and 5. The wonderfully titled locally-made film Dick Johnson & Tommygun vs. The Cannibal Cop hits the Room at 7:30 p.m. on March 3. And the anime film Kizumonogatari Part I: Tekketsu makes its Buffalo premiere at 9:30 p.m. on March 4. It also screens at 4 p.m. on March 5 and 6 p.m. on March 8 and 10. There is plenty more to come this month, including a documentary about Swept Away director Lina Wertmüller, cult favorite Donnie Darko, the late David Bowie in Labyrinth, and the Noam Chomsky doc Requiem for the American Dream(3131 Sheridan Dr., Amherst; screeningroom.net)

Fredonia Opera House: The Opera House’s ongoing cinema series offers three unique films this month. The Oscar-nominated Brooklyn, featuring a superb performance from Saoirse Ronan, screens on March 5 and 8, while Maggie Smith leads the cast of The Lady in the Van on March 12 and 15. Finally, Joel and Ethan Coen’s already underrated 2016 release Hail, Caesar! is showing on March 19 and 22. (7:30 p.m. at 9 Church St., Fredonia; fredopera.org)

Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center: A new film from Peter Greenaway (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover) is always news in cinema, and his latest, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, is his most high-profile effort in years. The fascinating story of Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s (Battleship Potemkin, Alexander Nevsky) experience shooting a film in Mexico is coming to Hallwalls for three screenings: 7:30 p.m. on March 1, 3, and 8. Also this month, filmmakers Bill Brown and Sabine Gruffat will appear in person to present their documentary Speculation Nation, about the devastation of the global financial crisis in Spain. It screens at 7 p.m. on March 17. (341 Delaware Ave.; hallwalls.org)

Historic Palace Theatre: This month sees the aforementioned Brooklyn at Lockport’s Palace Theatre on March 1, 2, and 3. Animated sequel Kung Fu Panda 3 takes over from March 4 through 10, and Disney’sZootopia screens from March 18 to 31. (Times vary; see lockportpalacetheatre.org.) Lastly, the very odd but often cute Easter-themed film Hop shows at 10 a.m. on March 26. The day also includes a visit with the Easter Bunny and an Easter egg hunt. (2 East Ave., Lockport; lockportpalacetheatre.org)

Next month features one of the finest and most difficult to find films of the last two decades, Claire Denis’ Beau Travail. See you then.