Buffalo Film Seminars returns with ‘Pandora’s Box’ and ‘Beau Travail

 

Pandoras-Box

It’s spring semester time, so the Buffalo Film Seminars is back. Here’s the preview I wrote this week for Buffalo.com.

The Buffalo Film Seminars can always be counted on for an eclectic lineup and a fascinating opener, and the latest installment of the series hosted by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian is no exception. Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s “Pandora’s Box” screens at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 26 at the Dipson Amherst Theatre (3500 Main St.).

The silent classic stars the inimitable Louise Brooks as an uninhibited young woman who undergoes a fast rise and grim fall. The 1928 film is pre-Production Code, meaning the level of raw sexuality and violence onscreen is eye-opening even for current audiences. It’s an ideal opening selection, and Jackson and Christian should have some fascinating discussion points.

The rest of the spring series includes a number of heavyweights — Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, Sergio Leone, Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa — and, in Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail,” an absolute must-see. (The latter, an adaptation of Melville’s “Billy Budd” involving soldiers in the French Foreign Legion, is notoriously difficult to track down on DVD.)

Here is the rest of the lineup:

 
Feb. 2: “Rules of the Game” (directed by Jean Renoir, 1939)

Feb. 9: “Notorious” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)

Feb. 16: “Pather Panchali” (Satyajit Ray, 1955)

Feb. 23: “The Producers” (Mel Brooks, 1967)

March 1: “Once Upon a Time in the West” (Sergio Leone, 1968)

March 8: “The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971)

March 22: “Raging Bull” (Martin Scorsese, 1980)

March 29: “Ran” (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

April 5: “Malcolm X” (Spike Lee , 1992)

April 12: “Beau Travail” (Claire Denis, 1999)

April 19: “Waltz with Bashir” (Ari Folman, 2008)

April 26: “Amour” (Michael Haneke, 2012)

May 3: “The Fisher King” (Terry Gilliam, 1991)

Tickets are $9.50 for adults, $7.50 for students, and $7. They can be purchased at the theater box office or at dipsontheatres.com. For more information on the Buffalo Film Seminars, visit buffalofilmseminars.com.

‘Schobert’s selections’ for the Buffalo News

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You’re probably getting bored with my 2015 recaps (it’s almost February!), but here is one more. Each year, the Buffalo News asks me to ponder my five favorites from the films I reviewed for Buffalo.com/the News in the previous year. There is some crossover with my Film Stage list, but take a look, and if you haven’t seen these five, get on it.

(Note that when this ran in print, ‘Schobert’s selections” was used in the headline. I must admit, I found that pretty cool.)

My film reviewing year started with a nightmare (“Jupiter Ascending”) and ended with a disaster (the dull, pointless remake of “Point Break”). However, there was greatness in between.

The five films I highlight below rank among the year’s finest, and all count as bold, innovative, personal visions. Even lesser films from my list of reviews – “Creed,” “Crimson Peak,” “Everest,” “Irrational Man,” “The Assassin,” “’71,” even “Magic Mike XXL” – offered significant pleasures.

Heck, I even liked “Pan.”

Here are five of the year’s most memorable cinematic treats:

 
1. “Phoenix.” There are moments in this stunning, unforgettable post-World War II film that will, quite literally, take your breath away. Director Christian Petzold’s story of a concentration camp survivor’s attempt to reconnect with the (non-Jewish) husband who believes she is dead, and to learn whether he betrayed her to the Nazis, is a stunner. The film’s overwhelmingly emotional final scene cements the greatness of Petzold’s achievement.

2. “Clouds of Sils Maria.” The mysterious, wondrous “Clouds of Sils Maria” finds three individuals – director Olivier Assayas and stars Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart – at the peak of their powers. You have never seen Stewart be as compelling, as enigmatic and as utterly relatable as she is here. And rarely has a film about memory and its role in the creative process seemed so breathtakingly human.

3. “Breathe.” The directorial debut for wonderful French actress Mélanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”) is an astute study of the emotions and pains of adolescence. It tells a simple story, but one that should resonate with anyone who dealt with unpopularity, nastiness or troubled friendships as a teenager.

4. “Goodnight Mommy.” This Austrian horror-thriller is one of the most chilling films in recent memory, a fiercely compelling story of creepy, blonde-haired twins and the woman who may (or may not) be their mother. It repels and intrigues in equal measure, and there are moments in the film that make you gasp in astonishment. Featuring fascinating performances from its three leads, it is an off-kilter nightmare that dares you to not look away.

5. “What We Do in the Shadows.” An inspired, riotous mockumentary and future cult classic as sharply funny as any release this year, the film co-stars and was co-directed by “Flight of the Conchords” genius Jemaine Clement. Think vampire movies and mockumentaries have grown stale? “What We Do in the Shadows” will make you think otherwise.

My top 10 films of 2015: Carol, Phoenix, The Force Awakens and more

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It was a strong year in cinema, so strong, in fact, that I could not include many of my 2015 favorites on my top 15 list. Consider a few of the films that did not make the cut: The Duke of Burgundy, What We Do In the Shadows, ’71, While We’re Young, Eden, Paddington, Saint Laurent, It Follows, When Marnie Was There, Timbuktu, Love & Mercy, Brooklyn, Sicario, Creed, The Martian, Inside Out, Tangerine, Amy, The End of the Tour, Mistress America, Goodnight Mommy, Breathe, James White. (If I’d seen The Revenant in time, it’s possible it would have made my top 10. At the very least, it’d be in the top 15.)

Here’s what did make the cut — my top 10 list as submitted to The Film Stage, along with five honorable mentions. My top 15 films are followed by the write-ups I contributed to the site’s top 50 list: The Look of Silence, Clouds of Sils Maria, and Phoenix.

Individual Ballot:
Honorable Mention: Ex Machina, 45 Years, The Tribe, Straight Outta Compton, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
9. Anomalisa
8. Clouds of Sils Maria
7. Room
6. Son of Saul
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. The Look of Silence
3. Phoenix
2. Spotlight
1. Carol

Top 50 write-ups:
19. The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer)
Calling Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence the year’s finest documentary is not inaccurate; the film certainly deserves that crown. Yet it’s hard not to feel like such a classification does Silence a slight injustice. The film is, after all, an overwhelmingly emotional modern classic. Like Oppenheimer’s 2012 masterpiece The Act of Killing, this stunning follow-up features the actual perpetrators of the Indonesian killings of 1965–66. With shocking openness, these men discuss and even demonstrate how they killed. Killing was one of the most powerful films of the last decade, but The Look of Silence is even stronger. This time, Oppenheimer narrows his focus to one man’s tale: an unidentified (for safety reasons) Indonesian eye doctor who talks to the men responsible for the horrific death of his brother. He and the audience discover terrifying truths together. The result is extraordinarily upsetting and startlingly moving. – Christopher S.

8. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
Full of mystery and unforgettable imagery, the wondrous Clouds of Sils Maria finds three individuals – director Olivier Assayas and stars Juliette Binoche & Kristen Stewart – at the peak of their powers. As the cocky, wise-beyond-her-years assistant to a veteran actress, Stewart is more compelling, enigmatic and utterly relatable than ever before. Meanwhile, Binoche is typically enchanting as star Maria Enders. With its attention to character development and simmering emotional complexity, Clouds of Sils Maria is Assayas’s best film to date. At the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, where Clouds made its North American debut, Assayas called the drama “a reflection on the past,” one written as an homage to Binoche. As Maria states near film’s end, “I think I’m lost in my memories.” Rarely has a film about memory and its role in the creative process seemed so breathtakingly human. And rarely has one film featured performances as strong as those of Binoche and Stewart. – Christopher S.

4. Phoenix (Christian Petzold)
There are at least three moments in the stunning, unforgettable post-World War II film Phoenix that will quite literally take your breath away. Two occur near the midpoint of director Christian Petzold’s story of a concentration camp survivor’s attempt to reconnect with the (non-Jewish) husband who believes she is dead and learn whether he betrayed her to the Nazis. Another is the film’s overwhelmingly emotional final scene. When the latter moment occurs, the greatness of Petzold’s achievement is cemented. Phoenix is one of 2015’s finest films and a gloriously complex conversation-starter. Its focus on the intersection of identity and memory brings to mind a number of very good films, from Hitchcock’s Vertigo to Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, but this tackles the concept with its own ingenuity, emotion, and verve. For stars Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, and Nina Kunzendorf, Phoenix is a triumph. And for director and co-writer Petzold (here scripting alongside the late Harun Farocki), it is a masterpiece, one that elevates him to the upper echelon of international filmmaking. – Christopher S.