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Laura Blum

Laura is a festival correspondent covering films and the festival circuit for She also publishes on Thalo



"Tim's Vermeer" Probes a 350-year-old Secret

  As with most great notions, the spark behind the new art documentary Tim's Vermeer began in the bathtub. That's where a Texan inventor of broadcasting and computer graphics technology had a eureka moment about the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Could the 17th-century master have used an optic device to achieve his photorealistic works? Flash forward to a fateful dinner the Texan had with his buddy, magician and entertainer Penn Jillette. Between bites he mentione...

"The Missing Picture" Fills in the Blanks

  One way of thinking about Cambodian director Rithy Panh is that he is his country's Claude Lanzmann. Panh's films explore the 1970s Khmer Rouge genocide, which he witnessed first-hand as a young teen before fleeing to Thailand and then his adoptive France. His 12th and newest feature, The Missing Picture, took the Un Certain Regard prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. It stars clay figurines reenacting Panh and his family’s ordeal, blended with previous...

"Blue Jasmine" Blossoms with Cate Blanchett

The first utterances you hear in Woody Allen's latest picture, Blue Jasmine, come from a manic First Class passenger who blabs on and on about herself. That passenger is title  character Jasmine, whose marriage to Madoff avatar Hal (Alec Baldwin) is now as finished as her 1% coffers, and who's going nowhere fast. She's also played by Cate Blanchett, which helps explain why we not only put up with her snobbish affectations, we can't g...

The Coen Brothers Get "Inside Llewyn Davis"

  It's 1961, and folk singer Llewyn Davis is down and out in Greenwich Village. Performing at the Gaslight Café and crashing on friends' sofas, he's feeling what it is to be without a home, like a complete unknown, like a... Llewyn -- who looms just before that other musician with the Welsh moniker arrives on the scene -- endures an odyssey of reckonings that links Inside Llewyn Davis to O Brother, Where Art Thou? i...

The Coen Brothers Get "Inside Llewyn Davis"

  It's 1961, and folk singer Llewyn Davis is down and out in Greenwich Village. Performing at the Gaslight Café and crashing on friends' sofas, he's feeling what it is to be without a home, like a complete unknown, like a... Llewyn -- who looms just before that other musician with the Welsh moniker arrives on the scene -- endures an odyssey of reckonings that links Inside Llewyn Davis to O Brother, Where Art Thou? i...

"The Book Thief" Snatches Inspiration from the Novel

  The elevator pitch for The Book Thief isn't exactly grabby: the story takes place in Nazi Germany; it's narrated by Death; and almost everyone gets killed in the end. Yet both the bestselling novel and its screen adaptation have that certain ich weiss nicht that keeps people coming back for more. For director Brian Percival (Downton Abbey), the uncommon choice of narrator was one of the main elements that drew him to the project, as he recently tol...

Catching Fire with Dolby's Poppy Crum

As The Hunger Games: Catching Fire spreads to theaters with Katniss's new post-apocalyptic exploits, even the blazing logo has fans whipped up. Fiery content is also consuming neuroscientists like Dr. Poppy Crum, a Senior Scientist at Dolby Laboratories. Though perhaps best known for its audio products, the company is developing imaging tools to represent fire, among other immersive experiences that can ignite moviegoers' senses across sight, sound and...

"The Rocket" Blasts towards the 86th Academy Awards

  Palm fronds swaying in the breeze, moon-lit mountains, petal-strewn altars: Laos may be the most paradisical place on Earth. But this paradise harbors a darker superlative: At nearly 80 million cluster bombs (minus the 500,000 that have been cleared), it's the most bombarded country per capita in history. Laos's beauty and bête noire are on full view in Kim Mordaunt's redemptive tale, The Rocket. The Laotian-Australian production cent...

Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" Lassos Spirited Saga

Of the many questions Alexander Payne's Nebraska raises about American individualism, the most urgent is, How to rein in Bruce Dern's unruly grey hair? On deeper reflection, the answer has to be: you don't. That wiry growth is his mane. Dern plays Woody Grant, a grizzled Midwesterner whose driving privileges and lucidity have gone the way of the mustang. Woody has been bucking for the cause of freedom as far back as the Korean War. Now freedom's frontier cuts through Linco...

"Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley"

Time hasn't done its proper work. America's first female comedian has been plum forgotten. But now the story of Jackie "Moms" Mabley is being rescued from the ash heap of history, and last century's vangard entertainer may yet claim her rightful place in this century. Leading the rescue squad is Whoopi Goldberg, with her debut documentary Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley.  "She was the first to do what she did and she's gotten no recognition for it at...

"Out of the Clear Blue Sky" Illuminates Cantor Fitzgerald

Out of the Clear Blue Sky is hardly the first documentary about 9/11, but its chronicle of bond trader Cantor Fitzgerald tells a uniquely epic tale of a corporate family. All of the 658 employees who began that dreadful day at company headquarters on the World Trade Center's top five floors lost their lives, representing nearly a quarter of the attack's total casualties.   Among the company's 302 survivors was CEO Howard Lutnick, who arrived -- at the moment the planes did ...

"GMO OMG" Delivers Nutritious Fare

The good news about Jeremy Seifert's eco-documentary GMO OMG is that it breezes into your heart as he and his adorable children explore genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The bad news is much of what they uncover and its implications for global health. Seifert, who previously directed a short about dumpster diving (Dive!), came to his current food-dunnit while probing theHaitian burning of GMOs donated after the 2010 earthquake. "It's a gift to destroy you," says Chavann...

"La Maison de la Radio" Tunes in to Radio France

La Maison de la Radio tunes in to the French airwaves more to breathe the stirring air than to stir any waves. There are no media scandals revealed, no "gotcha" journalism unleashed, but rather an invitation to take in the yeasty atmosphere of France's premier public radio entity, Radio France. France's counterpart to NPR and the BBC accompanies the daily lives of millions of French listeners. For them, the documentary puts faces to the trusty voices that entertain, inform and...

"Red Obsession" Provides a Heady Buzz

  So, the tipsiest we'll get this season may be from a documentary about wine. From its opening pan of a cellar synced to "I Put A Spell on You," Red Obsession hints that we're about to be possessed by something pretty heady. The wine trade already has. Directors Warwick Ross and David Roach begin their beguiling film in the Bordeaux region of western France. As we learn from narrator Russell Crowe, nature and two millennia of experience in fermenting grapes h...

Russellmania: The Missing Movie

No offense to Argentine screen vamp Coca Sarli, but Ken Russell is one hell of an act to follow.   This weekend the Film Society of Lincoln Center is presenting Fuego: The Films of Isabel “Coca” Sarli, and while entries like Leopoldo Torre Nilsson's The Female: Seventy Times Seven look plenty enticing – Sarli plays a femme fatale who undid both her husband and her lover – it's doubtful the three-day series will spark epiphanies like the Film Society's Russellmania.  On J...

Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil To Shake New York

Caphirinas, dee-jayed dança and Brazilian beats in Central Park – even if Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil (June 5 to 12, 2010) weren't bringing a week of new Brazilian cinema to New York, it'd still be a pretext to samba. Back for its eighth run, the week-long carnival will lead off with the Opening Night film, The Well Beloved One/O Bem Amado, followed by a festa brasileira. Guel Arraes's feature adaptation of playwright Dias Gomes's classic comedy sends up small-town politics and mores ...

Brooklyn International Film Festival Pulls a "Stunt"

Reading what Brooklyn International Film Festival executive director Marco Ursino has to say about "Stunt," the theme of this year's edition (June 4 to 13, 2010) in Brooklyn, New York, I can't help but wonder if he's been fraternizing with his title sponsor, Bushmills Irish Whiskey: "With Stunt, the festival intends to take a snapshot at some of the hottest issues affecting our times while emphasizing the weight and gravity of being on a critical collision path with histo...

BAMcineFEST Grows in Brooklyn

BAMcinemaFEST is back for year two at Brooklyn's BAMcinématek, where its slate of New York premieres stands to fuel its rep as a local Cape Canaveral of independent films. The June 9–20, 2010 spectacle is challenging lazy Manhattanites like me to rethink our scout pledge, "I'll never leave the island for culture." P.T. Barnum paraded 21 elephants across the Brooklyn Bridge, so an hour subway ride shouldn't be such an ordeal.  Especially not when it comes to attractions...

Human Rights Watch Film Festival Seeks "Accountability and Justice"

Last July, the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch put out a hefty report drawn from its prior two decades of watching dogs in some 20 countries. Called Selling Justice Short, the dossier showed why accountability was a good thing for peace and, if nothing else, could help heal victims by acknowledging their anguish. I didn't read it – nor likely did you – but the Human Rights Watch Film Festival supplies some visual Cliff's Notes. This year it gives witness to human rights violations ...

Hola Mexico Film Festival Tours Miami and Five Other Cities

Just as Cinco de Mayo revelers in Miami, Florida, are starting to sober up, another Mexican fiesta is about to intoxicate them. Hola México Film Festival pours into the "capital of Latin America" May 13 to 16, 2010, with the world's largest showcase of purely Mexican cinema. Back for its second spin through the U.S., the Festival opened this year in April in Los Angeles (Apr. 29 - May 4) and will have made had another appearance in San Francisco (May 6 - 11) before the Miami eve...

New York City International Film Festival To Debut in Times Square

Times Square may have dodged a car bomb, but now another explosive event is being planned for New York's theater district that's sure to go off. Expect sizzle and smoke August 12 to 19, 2010, when the New York City International Film Festival gets its launch in tourism ground zero. I just came back from two hours with the man who's behind the plot. Manhattan already has the New York Film Festival and the Tribeca and Gen Art -- whoops, not Gen Art -- and 50 or so other movie pageants, but ...

Provincetown International Film Festival Brings Warm Tides

The year America's oldest art colony turned 100, it reckoned it couldn't start another century without a cinema fete. Thus was born the Provincetown International Film Festival. That was 1999, and now PIFF heads into its 12th edition June 16 to 20, 2010. The Festival will once again salute "new achievements in independent film…and the work of acclaimed and emerging directors, producers and actors," as per its website. Not a peep about writers, which is the bailiwick of the N...

Nantucket Film Festival - Chapter 15 in Literary Love Story

As the days lengthen, so the Nantucket Film Festival fires up for its 15th annual storytelling blowout, June 17 to 20, 2010. The Festival, which celebrates screenwriters, screenwriting and the art of the raconteur in today's cinema, boasts "The Writers are Coming" as its motto. Wordsmiths aren't the only ones to wash ashore. Once again, 4,000 screenwriters, producers, agents, development executives and lay cinephiles are due on the Massachusetts island -- along with some 6,000 l...

Games for Change Advocates Serious Fun

Think games are just kid's stuff? One glimpse at the braintrust headlining the Games for Change Festival, May 24 to 27, 2010, should reboot your mind.  Not since Claudius Ceasar jumped into the gladiator ring have leaders and games so converged.  Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Army Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, Director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, are but t...

Hot Docs Divvies Awards

Leave Them Laughing. It's the film that took the Special Jury Prize – Canadian Feature at the May 7 awards bash for Toronto's Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April 29 to May 9, 2010). And it could be the motto for the 17th annual fest, which played to packed audiences even as business slackened at its annual market. The film, by Oscar-winning director John Zaritsky, is about laughing in the face of terminal illness. How to live despite tough odds is a challenge the d...


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