2005_09_nyff2_greene.jpgThere's a full week of screenings ahead at the 43rd New York Film Festival, including three of the most anticipated American films in the entire program. But as we also mentioned in the most recent Weekly Movie Guide, tonight at 7:30 PM is a very special sidebar event at the Walter Reade Theater: "Greeneland: Graham Greene and the Cinema", a presentation/lecture/screening organized by Adrian Wootton, the former Director of the London Film Festival and current chief executive of Film London. Greene was not only one of the most important novelists of the 20th century but a remarkable film critic as well. His relationship to cinema extended beyond the many filmed adaptations of his novels and stories. Following Wootton's presentation, which will include clips from such notable films as The Quiet American, The End of the Affair, This Gun for Hire, and the best of the bunch, The Third Man, for which Greene wrote the original screenplay. All of this will be followed by a showing of the rarely-screened, unavailable on home video 1937 film The Green Cockatoo, written by Greene and directed by William Carlos Menzies. Last week the Film Society of Lincoln Center web site indicated the program was sold out, but now it looks like tickets might be available. Worst case, there will be a stand-by line, and chances are some people will get in. (We've managed to do so via that line on more than one occasion.) This promises to be a great evening for film and book lovers everywhere.

Meanwhile, back on street level at Alice Tully Hall, this week features screenings of Steven Soderbergh's HD film Bubble, Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the title role of Capote, the Polish coming-of-age drama I Am, Something Like Happiness from the Czech Republic, and Sundance favorite (for good reason), Noah Baumbach's excellent The Squid and the Whale. Comments on Bubble, Capote and The Squid and the Whale after the jump:

2005_09_nyff2_bubble.jpgSteven Soderbergh is one of the most talented directors working today, and his continued desire to experiment with forms of filmmaking and the language of cinema make just about anything he does worth seeing. Yet his career has been a curious one, from bursting on the scene with Sex, Lies, and Videotape -- the film often credited with giving rise to the '90s indie film movement -- to even more complex, not always successful work such as Schizopolis or Full Frontal to big budget, commercial, Hollywood sequel tripe like Ocean's Twelve.

Bubble is the first of seven films Soderbergh plans to make on a very low-budget, shooting in Hi-Def video for HDNet Films, although the movie has been converted to film for its NYFF screenings. (The films will also receive simultaneous distribution in theaters, on DVD and via satellite channel HDNet.) Soderbergh shot Bubble on location in Ohio, using non-professional actors. He's been criticized by some for seemingly looking down on his working-class characters and their relatively empty lives, but we didn't get that impression. Rather, in this story of three people who work in a doll factory, the monotony of the daily work and the attitudes each of these people possess proves somewhat engrossing as a simple microscope on a slice-of-life in middle-America. There's not a lot of action in Bubble, however there is a very simple, linear plotline. It's when the one big event in the film happens near the end that Bubble starts to lose its appeal and become a by-the-numbers, predictable, crime drama. The title can be interpreted in several ways, but the most obvious reference is to the character of Martha (a compelling Debbie Doebereiner, who is a cashier in her daily life), who is content living in the bubble of her daily life but doesn't know how to react when an outside element arrives to disturb her routine and normal environment.

Ultimately, what Soderbergh gives us is an interesting experiment in filmmaking and storytelling that's compelling, but just for a little while before leaving us unfulfilled. The purpose of his project is, in part, to help determine and develop what kinds of stories should be made in this HD format. Hopefully, Bubble is just the beginning of this continuum. The intimacy of this little insulated world is one of the most impressive elements of the movie, but just because a story is small and simple doesn't mean it can't be a bit more complex. (Final screening tonight at 9 PM)

You know how when mentioning an actor they really like, some people will say, "Oh, I could watch him read the phone book"? Well Gothamist certainly feels that way about Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, but we became especially conscious of this sentiment while watching one scene between Hoffman's Truman Capote and Keener as his longtime friend and noted "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Harper Lee in Capote. We realized that we might as well be watching them read the phone book to each other because we couldn't take our eyes off them, but we also couldn't care less about the scene which they inhabited. Capote, like Ray last year, is a film in which the performances far outshine the movie they're supposed to service. Calling Capote no more interesting than the phone book is a bit of an exaggeration; the movie isn't particularly bad, but, again like Ray, it's not all that good either, and ultimately, a bit dull.

Rather than try to depict his entire life, the film focuses on Capote's experience researching and writing what would become his most famous and influential work, "In Cold Blood," especially the relationship he developed with one of the convicted killers, Perry Smith. Capote is one of two films about the noted author and this period of his life, and maybe the rush for first release ultimately hurt Capote. (The other is called Have You Heard? adapted by Doug McGrath from the book by George Plimpton will be released next year.) Director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman (working from the book of the same name by Gerald Clarke) give us a Capote torn between his true connection and affection for Smith and his narcissistic character always forcing him to be the life of the party. Even more tragic, though, is his selfish ambition to write the greatest literary work of the 20th Century which ultimately led to his own personal long-in-the-works destruction. But the overall film simply doesn't suck us in. In fact, were it not for the spectacular transformation and performance of Hoffman, which surely will be noted come Oscar season, there would be little reason to see Capote. Particularly striking is hearing Hoffman's normally guttural bass voice turn into an effeminate, breathy, lispy soprano that, at least from memory, seems indistinguishable from the true Capote's. His performance was enough to keep us watching even when the film itself got tiresome, and the scene where Capote sees and speaks to Smith and Hickock shortly before their executions is alone a shining example of why Hoffman is one of the best actors working today. (Screens Tues 9/27 at 9 PM and Thur 9/29 at 6 PM)

The Squid and the Whale
2005_09_nyff2_squid.jpgTruth be told, Gothamist has never been such a huge fan of Noah Baumbach. Kicking & Screaming tried to be a bit too smart, and Mr. Jealousy was just kind of annoying. We also absolutely subscribe to the theory that Owen Wilson is a much better writing partner for Wes Anderson because The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was a big dud, with the script being the primary culprit. Yet like many filmmakers, with his third effort as a writer-director in the semi-autobiographical The Squid and the Whale, everything comes together for Baumbach and he gives us an absolutely fantastic, touching and often funny look at one family's experience going through a divorce, primarily through the eyes of a teenage boy and his younger brother.

Set in mid-'80s Park Slope, Brooklyn, the film works on all its levels -- nostalgia piece, coming-of-age comedy, and family drama. All four main characters are fully realized, and the cast is excellent from top-to-bottom, especially Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as the parents. In fact, Linney is particularly remarkable as a character far more likable than her pending ex-husband while also being the person who seemingly instigated the trauma of separation which sets this story in motion. Stealing the picture, however, is none other than long-lost-middle Baldwin brother Billy William as a tennis pro who punctuates almost every sentence with, "My brother!"

The Squid and the Whale will likely have a larger impact on those children of divorce (like us) who can most identify with the situation. But what makes this film special isn't simply the honest portrayal of such events but rather the smart, funny and moving moments we witness, and Baumbach's adept maneuvers allowing us to experience more than one point-of-view and experience. The Squid and the Whale has a sensibility that isn't so different from some of Anderson's work (unsurprising since he is credited as a producer), and fans of Napoleon Dynamite and even Donnie Darko should appreciate its style and tone. If you miss it at the NYFF, be sure to catch-it upon it's theatrical release on Oct. 5. It's one of the best films we've seen this year. (Screens tonight at 6 PM and Wednesday 9/28 at 9 PM)