DID YOU READ

“Florent: Queen of the Meat Market,” Reviewed

“Florent: Queen of the Meat Market,” Reviewed (photo)

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Jeez, this is one hell of a restaurant.

Restaurant Florent, to be exact, a funky diner-slash-brasserie-slash-bistro in New York’s Meatpacking District. Owned and operated by French transplant Florent Morellet since the mid-1980s, the place was a haven for artists, eccentrics, outsiders, and regular neighborhood folks for several decades. As the documentary “Florent: Queen of the Meat Market” opens, all sorts of celebrities and cultural elites pay homage to the place, many of them standing right in front of the restaurant. That’s where we see the stencil on the window: “Serving 24/7 until the bitter(sweet) end: June 29.” And then below it in all capital letters: “AU REVOIR.” So we know this movie does not have a happy ending.

The story of “Florent” is a story of New York City; in other words, a story of change. When Morellet moved to the Meatpacking District it was still a working meat market. Almost singlehandedly, according to this film and the people in it, Morellet turned the area into the coolest place in town. Whether that is overstating the case, it’s clear that Morellet is a true renaissance man: a restauranteur, a political advocate, a cartographer, an artist, a philanthropist, even a children’s book author. He’s also got at least a few contradictions at his core: he loves preserving and restoring old things (like his diner, which he bought from its original owners, or the largest fireboat on the eastern seaboard, which he bought from the FDNY), but he hates nostalgia in all its forms. Given how intensely nostalgic this film is for his restaurant and for the days when the Meat Packing District was a haven for artists instead of yuppies, I wonder how he feels about it.

Yes, here’s yet another disaster we can blame on yuppies. Morellet was ultimately a victim of his own success; the transformation he helped create in the neighborhood eventually priced him out of his own restaurant. It’s a familiar story these days. Earlier this week the Upper East Side institution Elaine’s announced it, too, was closing after decades in the business. These amazing, unique places make it safe for banks and stores and cupcake bakeries; once they’ve brought in the money, they’re given the boot.

Director David Sigal lets his affection for Florent shine through, and he’s assembled a truly impressive list of celebrity testimonials, from Julianne Moore to Diane von Furstenberg to Isaac Mizrahi. His one mistake, I think, is to backload all of the actual narrative in the film — Morellet’s struggle to renew his expiring lease, his eventual decision to close, and his six week celebration of the artists and customers who made his restaurant special — into his documentary’s final 20 minutes. The rest of “Florent” is one endless series of talking heads and quirky anecdotes. It may have made more sense to organize the entire film around the closing, which then becomes the impetus to journey through the place’s history. It also would have been nice to see more of Morellet living his day to day life, rather than just constantly explaining what his day to day life is like. For documentary about such an unusual man, this is not a very unusual film.

Still, it is a fairly entertaining one, and for New Yorkers, a good conversation starter on the state of our city. Should we preserve places like the Meat Packing District? Or do we let progress and prosperity take their course? Maybe the most interesting thing about “Florent” is the fact that the film and its subject might have totally different answers to these questions.

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader as Blue Jean Committee

Sowing Their Oates

Watch Blue Jean Committee Talk About Their Old Pals Hall and Oates

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader made a smooth video for Hall & Oates.

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Kings of the “Yacht Rock” genre Daryl Hall and John Oates are kicking off a slew of tour dates this summer in an effort to raise the nation’s median concertgoer age by at least 30 years. And to announce their soon-to-be onslaught of blue-eyed soul jams, Hall & Oates have enlisted fellow “Mavens of Mellow” the Blue Jean Committee from IFC’s Documentary Now!. Reprising their laid back musical personas, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen reflected on the history between the two groups in a new video announcing the tour.

“What do you think of when you think of the Seventies? When you think of beautiful harmonies, you think of a duo who sing together to make hit songs. You think of the Blue Jean Committee and that’s who we are,” Armisen remarks. Hader continues, “Who you think of fifth, or maybe eighth, is Daryl Hall and John Oates. You know who used to open for us? Who we used to kick around? Daryl Hall and John Oates!” Strong words. Strong, smooth words.

Be sure to catch Hall & Oates on tour and check back for updates on Documentary Now! season two coming later this year.  For more Bill and Fred, check out the complete Documentary Now! archive, listen to music from the show, and watch full episodes right now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

Watch The Cast of “Willy Wonka” Reunite 40 Years Later

Watch The Cast of “Willy Wonka” Reunite 40 Years Later (photo)

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A great and mildly homicidal chocolatier once sang “There is no life I know / To compare with pure imagination.” But it would take the purest of imaginations to predict what the kids of the classic children’s film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” would look like as adults. So much older! So mustachey! And not a single one looking like a giant blueberry. How disappointing.

For the fortieth anniversary of “Willy Wonka,” “The Today Show” reunited most of its child actor cast to reminisce about the making of the film and marvel at the fact that the guy who played Augustus Gloop still dresses like that. It’s just a shame Gene Wilder isn’t there to join in. How great would it have been if he showed up in character? I must admit, when I saw the gang seated without him, I half expected Wilder to magically appear in a puff of smoke, dressed in purple velvet coat and brown top hat and trailed by a couple Oompa Loompas. If he had, how do you think the others would react? My bet’s on combat shock flashbacks a la Sylvester Stallone in “First Blood.”

If you want to view nostalgia paradise, simply look around and do it (i.e. click the video below). And then prepare yourself for the inevitable weeping over lost youth and the inexorable march of time. Life ain’t no everlasting gobstopper, folks: it don’t stay sweet and perfect forever. Or, if you’re a more cynical person, life is an everlasting gobstopper: it sucks forever until you die.

[H/T /Film]

Can’t Be At Cannes 2011, Wednesday Edition

Can’t Be At Cannes 2011, Wednesday Edition (photo)

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It sucks not being at the Cannes Film Festival. To keep you up-to-speed on all the latest developments with the minimum amount of pain and jealousy, we’ll be providing frequent roundups of all the biggest news and best reviews. This is the third; for additional installments, along with all our Cannes coverage, can be found here.

So today at Cannes, Lars von Trier called himself a Nazi and said he sympathized with Hitler. But it’s all okay, because he was joking. Oh, that hilarious rapscallion!

The comments came at the press conference after von Trier’s new film “Melancholia.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, von Trier was asked a question about his German roots, when the director opened his mouth and shoved his entire leg and part of his lower torso into it. But surely the whole thing was taken out of context, right? Right?

“For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew… Then I met (Danish and Jewish director) Susanne Bier and I wasn’t so happy. But then I found out I was actually a Nazi. My family were German. And that also gave me some pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler…I sympathize with him a bit… I don’t mean I’m in favor of World War II and I’m not against Jews, not even Susanne Bier… In fact I’m very much in favor of them. All Jews. Well, Israel is a pain in the ass but… now how can I get out of this sentence? Ok. I’m a Nazi.”

I, um, oh. So, not out of context. All righty then.

You do have to take anything von Trier says with a grain of salt — a grain of hateful, anti-Semitic salt. von Trier loves to mess with the press with provocative and borderline crazy statements — at his last trip to Cannes, with the film “Antichrist” in 2009, von Trier infamously boasted that he was “the best filmmaker in the world” — but this is excessive even by his batshit standards. Even if they weren’t meant seriously, these comments are pretty horrible (and I didn’t even include the part where von Trier “jokingly” suggested he might make a film version of “The Final Solution.” This guy’s a regular Jonathan Swift!). Hopefully at some point in the near future von Trier will realize what he’s done, and offer a clarification (I wouldn’t hold my breath for an apology). Chaos is supposed to reign, Lars, not stupidity.

So while its director has me in a melancholy mood, let’s turn to the reaction to “Melancholia.” A lot of comparisons are being drawn to Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” with their similar conflations of family and cosmic dramas, and the divisive reactions they’re drawing from critics. It kind of looks like battle lines are being drawn: Team Malick and Team LVT. THR‘s Todd McCarthy, a major “Tree of Life” partisan, dismissed “Melancholia,” saying it turns “the end of the world into a bit of a bore,” while Jim Hoberman from The Village Voice, a major “Tree of Life” hater, says that von Trier’s apocalyptic film made him feel “light, rejuvenated and unconscionably happy.”

Reviews look split about 65-35 in von Trier’s favor, but everyone seems to agree the movie looks amazing. Movieline‘s Stephanie Zacharek:

“These are somber, glorious images: They incite both dread and shivery anticipation — the effect is that of gazing deep into the sugar Easter Egg of doom. What, exactly, is von Trier trying to say here? ‘Antichrist’ was a scream of pain; ‘Melancholia’ is more like a heavy sigh, a gasp at the horrible wonder of it all. It isn’t nearly as somber as its title would lead you to believe, and it’s so beautiful to look at that it feels decadent, almost luxurious.”

Decadent, luxurious and, no doubt, very German.

UPDATE: The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s blog has a statement on von Trier from the Cannes Film Festival, which also includes an apology. It reads:

“The Festival de Cannes was disturbed about the statements made by Lars von Trier in his press conference this morning in Cannes. Therefore the Festival asked him to provide an explanation for his comments. The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology. The direction of the Festival acknowledges this and is passing on Lars von Trier’s apology. The Festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects.”

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