Gus Van Sant's soon-to-be-released Gerry is the first American mainstream film -- well, it's sort of mainstream -- to acknowledge the influence of Hungarian director Béla Tarr. His specialty is 10-minute shots of people walking away from the camera. More specifically, his characters tend to be unprepossessing Hungarians walking away from the camera in the dullest corner of their nation. Van Sant has the benefit of Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, who developed the story out of improvisations, and the scenically arresting California and Nevada desert, where the protagonists get lost for a hundred minutes or so. A week before Gerry's February 21 opening, Cinematheque Ontario mounts a mini-retrospective featuring Van Sant's short films and his first three features: Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho.
Alexander Sokurov took eight months to set up a single shot for one of the most startling films of the digital revolution. Russian Ark is a one-take movie gathering up a millennium of Russian history into a single shot that moves through the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. No one's ever accused Sokurov (Mother And Son, Whispering Pages) of doing things the easy way, and this is even more daring than something like Time Code, where at least the actors had the freedom to improvise. Russian Ark screens at Cinematheque Ontario February 21 to March 2.
David Cronenberg's Spider, a stunning portrait of schizophrenia, tracks Ralph Fiennes as he's deinstitutionalized and released into a world where he develops an unreliable relationship with temporal reality and his own history. Miranda Richardson is equally startling as Fiennes's mom, whom Spider gradually confuses with his father's mistress and with his landlady. (These days anyone who replaces Lynn Redgrave -- said landlady -- in a picture should be profusely thanked.) This is a movie that refutes the Oscar-winning notion that being schizophrenic is all adventures with imaginary pals and teaching math at Harvard. Spider opens February 28.
Phone Booth was shot before Panic Room, then delayed because everyone thought Colin Farrell would come out of Minority Report very hot, then delayed again when a sniper started shooting people in the DC area last fall. It's the story of a sleazeball publicist (Farrell) who has a freewheeling way with the truth. He suddenly finds himself pinned down by a sniper, with a corpse at his feet and a cop (Forest Whitaker) trying to disarm him, though he wasn't armed to begin with. Proof that when given millions of dollars and lots of time, director Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever) isn't nearly as interesting as he is when he has no time and less money. Another oddity: no one in the picture actually worked with Kiefer Sutherland, who voices the villain. Ron Eldard played the role originally and was then re-voiced. Phone Booth hits screens March 21.
When we last saw Frances MacDormand in a film set in the early 70s, she was the deeply concerned mom of a young rock journalist. Lisa Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon reverses the equation. MacDormand plays a veteran record producer living in a great house in the titular ravine when her straitlaced lawyer son (Christian Bale) and his bride (Kate Beckinsale) suddenly invade. Anyone else get the feeling that Bale's trying to distance himself from American Psycho as fast as he can? This is MacDormand's show, and she has great fun with it. Look for a March 14 opening.