Frame of Mind: Film Review
Moviegoers should be at the point where they are wondering what has happened to Tim Burton. The extremely talented director appears to have lost his way, churning out easily forgetful movies that are making any future projects he creates happily avoidable--his latest being the practically disastrous Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
For fans of "Breaking Bad" who are itching to see Walter White in action again, well, he isn't in The Infiltrator. There is hope though for fans of Bryan Cranston, whose superb acting made White an iconic character. Cranston is Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator, and he's got his hands dirty once again with drugs and money. This time, he's on the other side of the law, working undercover to bring down the Colombian cartel led by none other than Pablo Escobar.
After over a decade of waiting, even longer if you’ve wiped the three prequel’s from your mind, Star Wars is back in a big way. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Episode 7 in the franchise, has arrived, and brought with it a new direction. Like the original films, The Force Awakens is all about myth building and discovery, creating a mystique that slowly unravels as the 2-hour plus space tale unfolds. We see and hear the familiar sights and sounds of the galaxy far, far away, but it isn’t long before it becomes clear that this is Star Wars for the modern age, thanks in part to the gender and race blind casting.
Italian Director/Screenwriter Lorenzo Sportiello has a very unique vision of the future, as seen in his debut feature film Index Zero. It is the year 2035, and gone are the European Countries we know so well; in their place is the United States of Europe. How this came to be we shall never know. It is accepted, as is the fact that the powers that be are not open and inviting to others. Nor is freedom an option any longer, or the ability to live your life as you wish. The new world order is bleak.
If you have ever wanted to see Richard Gere (Pretty Woman, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) at his eccentric best, watch Franny. Gere stars as the title character Franny, a wealthy philanthropist who has always been a tad outlandish. His behavior becomes altogether erratic after he loses his best friends in a car crash and he is left ultimately alone. Five years later and a call from their daughter Olivia (Dakota Fanning from The Runaways), who Franny always referred to as Poodles, and he is suddenly drawn out of his reclusive state and hell-bent on helping her and her new husband build a life. The catch is of course that Franny has deep psychological wounds following the accident that claimed Olivia’s parents life but spared his and he does not exactly know how to acclimate himself into the young couple’s life.
Simplicity. There a few films made today that act upon the word. They instead feel the need to fill space with the unnecessary, oftentimes to mask the problems that lie within the story being told. Mexican Director Gabriel Ripstein’s 600 Millas (600 Miles) takes the simplistic route to produce a film worthy of the art form. 600 Miles makes simplicity look like the best choice for a filmmaker, and viewers are sure to agree.
A mere 13 minutes would have changed the world forever, and one of the greatest atrocities in history could have been avoided. In German director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s (Downfall, Das Experiment) newest film, the WWII-centered thriller 13 Minutes (Elser), he tells the true story of how one man, working alone, tried to change the world in 1939 by assassinating Adolf Hitler. The film is by far one of the best tellings of real life heroics enacted during the time period, and it is done so as an homage to a man who went unrecognized for his valiant actions for decades.
Barney Thomson is an unassuming Glasgow, Scotland, barber. That is, until a pair of scissors finds its way into the chest of his employer, and Barney is mildly to blame. So begets the story of how Barney Thomson became a legend in his small corner of a big city. As a barber who was on his way to being fired, he now finds himself tasked with covering up a murder, maybe two. In The Legend of Barney Thomson the happenstance of murder is carefully crafted in a dark comedic style, with the guidance of actor-turned-director Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later, Trainspotting) who also plays the starring role of Barney.
The classic novel “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert has been adapted for the stage and screen on numerous occasions, the latest for the screen being director Sophie Barthes’ with screenwriter Felipe Marino. Madame Bovary is the story of a young woman who marries a country doctor only to discover the life she has been given is far from what she desires. The simpleness of country life does not suit Madame Bovary, and in order to gain fulfillment she looks elsewhere—in the beds of multiple men and in the all too inviting local merchant who tempts her with the splendors of the wealthy, regardless of cost and future detriment.
Movies that take place in the Marvel universe are hit-or-miss for the majority of filmgoers--uber fans of the characters/mythology tend to have a blind eye to a respective films misgivings. Every so often a Marvel movie gets its right, as with Iron Man and Thor. The Avengers was not so lucky, if luck really has anything to do with it in Hollywood. The pairing of a great many of the favorite Marvel universe characters has been redeemed in the follow-up sequel: Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Las Vegas. The mere mention of its name provokes Hollywood movie memories from all genres. It is an eternal movie city that can feature any sort of hijinks, madness, mayhem, murder, sin, romance, and anything else a Hollywood screenwriter can dream up to place on the page. The time has come for Las Vegas to meet Jason Statham in Simon West's Wild Card. The meeting of the pair, a city and an actor who both play the same character whenever they appear on screen, is an exciting idea that has come at a price. That price being a loss of wonder for both as Wild Card is without a doubt a disordered attempt at merging two of the movie world's best "characters" on screen.
Meet Wetlands' Helen (Carla Juri). She is in her post-teen years, still lives at home, is quite pretty with her tomboy haircut that is juxtaposed with her liking for very short shirts. She is a tiny bit insecure, and extremely precocious; exhibiting a child-like sense in her very much young adult body. Helen is also extremely vulgar in everything that she does. Obsessed with sex, sexuality, and pushing the boundaries of appropriateness there is no end to what Helen will do. Or what those around her will be compelled to do by her influence. Helen is, in a word, amazing. Solely for the fact that she exhibits everything that is wrong for a girl of her age, and you instantly fall in love with her because of this fact.
Behind the scenes of the great Künsthistorisches Museum of Vienna, as a close pan up Breughal's Tower of Babel at the end of Das groβe Museum suggests, there are a lot of people doing a lot of work. This is in fact the only moment akin to commentary in this hands-off documentary – without talking heads, voiceover, or music – unless one counts also the gentle puncturing of the traditional sanctity of such grand repositories of fine art scattered through the opening sections: an employee gliding through the narrow passageways of the office/library on a scooter to pick up a photocopy; a workman violating the parquet floor and echoing silence of an empty gallery with a pickaxe; the dusting of the groin of some giant marble Greek dude (it's Theseus).
It seems to be of little concern to Jim Jarmusch, the common journalistic shorthand that labels him as some "high priest of hip." He seems actively to be courting the title in fact, with Only Lovers Left Alive, the most languorously cool movie of his career (amidst stiff competition). It is a love story, intrinsic to which is the fact that Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) are vampires (their third wedding was 1868) whose relationship has strengthened and deepened to a near-mystical level over the years; as has their knowledge and appreciation of science, nature, and cultural figures and artifacts, allowing for the fetishisation of all kinds of musical instruments and equipment, books and literary figures: an impossible level of hipness attainable only via several times a normal human lifespan. And of course they dress to kill, and wear sunglasses at night.
A title at the end reveals that Joanna Hogg's third feature, Exhibition, is dedicated to the recently-late architect James Melvin, which should come as no surprise since the film is as much a portrait of the sleek, modernist Kensington townhouse in which it is almost exclusively set, as of the mildly dysfunctional marriage that resides therein.
Chistian Porumboiu ups the formal rigour of his last, Police, Adjective (2009), with a film composed of 17 shots, most capturing conversations for a full reel's 11 minutes, and filmed with an almost entirely static camera. His subjects are film director Paul and his actor and new bedmate Alina, rehearsing, eating, discussing the restraints (those 11-minute reels) of film versus digital, or how national cuisines developed according to the utensils used. They contrast in his shlubby demeanor and her careful, dancer-like movements; they misunderstand one another over dinner; and he wearily humors her working over the fine details of a scene, in order to achieve his aim of getting her naked onscreen.
Like Asghar Farhadi's previous film, A Separation (2011), Le passé (The Past) is a superb feat of narrative construction and mise en scène, keeping three to four characters at the centre of attention, and balancing their motives and desires with careful equanimity. The problem is that there's little more to recommend the film than this cleverness, since none of the characters are especially interesting or likable, and the third act develops into a twist-too-far detective story, before ending on a note that, albeit presumably not deliberate, is a thudding sequel set-up, and for a far more lively film to boot.
One wouldn’t necessarily guess it, but A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness, a collaborative effort by two of the leading lights of international experimental film, Ben Rivers (UK) and Ben Russell (US), is an enquiry as to where utopia(s) may exist (as noted in interviews and screening introductions). Possible locations, it is suggested, are in the present and in cinema (an art-form, the film-makers posit, which is permanently and exclusively located in the present). The film itself is nothing like as explicit.
It’s understandable that Alain Guiraudie won the best director of Un certain regard at Cannes this year, since for the most part L’inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake) is a very tight piece of work, effectively exploring the time and place of a single location and milieu, charting the uncertainties that blossom as a new relationship deepens, unfussily depicting the mores of a gay lakeside cruising ground, and building with a skillful slow-burn to a long final shot of excellent tension.
Wunderkind Xavier Dolan never seems to make it to the AFI festival because he's always off shooting his next movie (four movies by the age of 24 and Cannes prizes galore). He was in production on this one when last year's Laurence Anyways screened, a continuation and expansion of the high-pitched emotional drama of his first two films. Whether these were conceived as a triptych or not, Dolan switches tack for his fourth, adapting a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, and serves up a high-pitched psychological thriller that frequently borders on Grand Guignol.
Vic + Flo Saw A Bear is something like an expansion on Denis Côté's last, the strictly observational non-documentary Bestiaire (2012), although that in turn was a distillation of his favoured practice of looking at slightly odd characters shut away from the world. In Curling (2010) and Carcasses (2009), for example, it was by their own volition, as distinct from the animals of Bestiaire, and in Vic + Flo Saw A Bear the same is true, although rather weighted since both women are not-long released from prison.
Agnès Varda has cited Documenteur as her favourite of her own films, presumably because even more than The Beaches of Agnes (2008), it is her most personal and most emotional. She was apart from her husband Demy on her second trip to Los Angeles, at the start of the ‘80s, to develop a script (turned down), deciding instead to make her documentary Mur Murs (1981) on the city's mural art. During this time she was inspired both by her sadness of separation and by the sense of disenchantment and exile she found in Venice, to make a film that fully justifies its subtitle of an “emotion picture.”
The title R100 is a joke on the ratings system because director Matsumoto (Big Man Japan, 1997) claims that no-one who has not lived a century will understand this film. Such a pronouncement is in keeping with the striving absurdity of the movie, which is frequently funny, but overall a slightly laboured litany of craziness.
The sound of bones crunching against a tree, as a man's body tumbles down an unforgiving hill; not once, but twice. This is the sound that haunts you after watching Lone Survivor, superseding the gunfire, explosions, helicopter propellers, and painful screams of four men being ambushed in Afghanistan by Taliban forces. It could easily go unnoticed, this sound, if it were not blatantly on display, or if the scene was anything less than horrific. The success of displaying the carnage, the way in which each man's body was pummeled, bruised, battered, and riddled with gunfire, is to show the perseverance they displayed, the outward courage of these Navy SEALs, that takes on an entirely new level of empathy from the viewer.
Jafar Panahi continues to defy the 20-year ban on film-making imposed on him by the Iranian government with a new feature, co-directed and starring his colleague and frequent collaborator Kambozia Partovi, and it is an intriguing magnification of his last illicit achievement, This Is Not A Film (2011). That title was wittily, bitterly disingenuous, whereas Closed Curtain specifically evokes the shut-in existence both of the writer protagonist of the film’s first half, and that of the film-maker himself. There is an opposite sense as well, however, since more even than the previous experiment, this film both opens itself to what kind of cinema can be made under such straitened circumstances, and opens the consciousness of its writer-director; and, despite his palpable anguish, the curtain of possibility remains open at the end.
Alex Gibney’s 'The Armstrong Lie' Is The Story Of A Lifelong Liar Who Still Ends Up As The Hero Of The Story
In the sporting world, there are a handful of elite athletes who were able to rise head and shoulders above their competition. In the NFL, Jerry Rice not only still holds just about every major receiving record worth holding, but holds them all by such a huge margin that many will most likely never be broken. In the NHL, Wayne Gretsky was so dominant that the entire league, not just the teams for which he played, retired his number 99 jersey. The NBA’s Michael Jordan was a player who, every time he touched the ball, seemingly held the defense at the mercy of whatever it was that he wanted to do with it. These athletes had something special, something for which they have each been memorialized forever within their respective sports. Lance Armstrong had it, too. At least, that’s what everyone thought.
As the years go by it seems ever more likely that Dario Argento will never rescale the inspired heights of his '70s output, the hysterical horror and steely set-pieces that more than make up for wooden acting, distracting dubbing, and leaden exposition. Mother of Tears had its moments and gave one cautious hope in 2007; Giallo (2009) was familiar enough to be comforting; but while Dracula 3D feels reassuringly like an Argento film on plenty of occasions, it fails to play to his strengths, hamstrung by half-hearted literary faithfulness, strangely perfunctory in its murders, and unbalanced by far too much downtime.
The World's End is a film that cannot be summed up succinctly or without meandering off into a tangent or two. A face value it's a story about reuniting with old friends and squashing, or rehashing, decades-old squabbles, but just underneath the surface is an homage to the body-swapping flicks of the '50s. Buried even deeper, almost as a meta film, The World's End is the final piece of "The Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy," a loosely connected series of films that started with Shaun of the Dead (2004) and continued with Hot Fuzz (2007).
Blackfish is documentary filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s disturbing look into the capture and treatment of orcas, or killer whales, in aquariums and marine theme parks. Specifically, the film deals with those whales that snap, attacking their trainers. Even more specifically, the film centers mostly around one particular animal: Tilikum, a male orca who has been involved in the deaths of no fewer than three people (two of his trainers and one knucklehead who snuck into the park after hours and decided to go for a swim). Blackfish chronicles Tilikum’s entire life as an exhibition animal, from his capture, to his training at Sealand of the Pacific in Canada and his transfer to Sea World in Florida and, ultimately, the detailed accounts of the incidents that resulted in the deaths of his trainers.
Reconstructing the last day in a man's life was the difficult task put to director Ryan Coogler with Fruitvale Station. The events leading up to Oscar Grant's untimely death on New Year's Day 2009 is the basis for the story, the sensationalized media frenzy that came afterwards is left out of Fruitvale Station, giving the viewer an opportunity to know Oscar as the man he once was, and was trying to be for his family. His death caused a media uproar, shook the San Francisco Bay Area, and continues to influence the politics of how police officers act, and react, in situations. Oscar was unjustly killed by a Bart Officer coming home on New Year's Eve; a death that could have been avoided, as was seen by millions thanks to cell phone videos taken at the scene.
LAFF Film Review: 'Europa Report' Will Make Science Fiction Fans Euphoric (Dir. Sebastián Cordero 2013 USA)
Found footage has a secure home in horror movies, and with Europa Report the science fiction genre gets its best found footage film to date. From director Sebastián Cordero, his first English-language film Europa Report tells the story of a privately funded space mission to one of Jupiter's Moons. The hope of the crew, and the company behind them, is to find signs of life--albeit at the molecular level in the ice or water; or nothing at all. Europa Report takes place far in the future, where technology makes it possible to send astronauts into space for years at a time without the use of the sleeping pods the genre is so fond of, a la Alien.
There are scary movies, and then there are SCARY movies. The Conjuring fits into the latter category as it will undoubtedly frighten you to the point of laughter, make you squirm in your seat, cover your eyes, and wish you had left the lights on in the house because you will be afraid of the dark when you get home. The Conjuring is the horror movie we dream of, because its a hark back to an older style of horror filmmaking, before torture, excessive blood and guts, and the like took over cinema screens, and found-footage too.
The unhappy, bored housewife dilemma is no longer confined to narrative storytelling about heterosexual couples thanks to Concussion, a movie that gets a great deal of things right with representation, but falters when it comes to the scandalous underbelly of its story.
The blessed event of pregnancy, made unforgettably horrifying in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, has found yet another outlet to promote birth control with first-time Director Brian Netto's Delivery. Written by Netto and Adam Schindler, Delivery uses the found-footage motif to tell the story of Kyle and Rachel Massy's road to parenthood, as the stars of a new reality show, "Delivery."
Fritz Lang’s Fury is based on the same small-town California news story, but this is the real deal. Instead of an innocent man threatened by a lynch mob, Try and Get Me has returning GI (never saw combat) Frank Lovejoy struggling to make ends meet for his wife and child, falling in with startling sociopath Lloyd Bridges, and them going to jail for the callous murder of a local rich boy. The lynch mob still gathers, but infinitely more frightening than Lang’s, storming the jail in an unstoppable onslaught, rather than burning it down, captured with occasionally startlingly verité camerawork by Guy Roe.
Alice Winocour’s 'Augustine' Has Commitment And Quiet Charisma From The Stars; It's Just Not Very Interesting
Augustine is one of the harder sorts of films to write about, being handsomely mounted, with appealing leads and an interesting story, a minimum of pandering or condescension towards the audience, and fully aware of the ramifications of its subject matter. The problem is, it’s just not very interesting.
Assault On Wall Street is one of the most confounding movies you could ever watch; although I am not necessarily suggesting you watch it. Set amidst the most recent financial crisis in the United States, it tells the story of a man who has every possible negative outcome occur in his life stemming from the crisis. He loses his life savings due to a shady investment in commercial real estate, has a lien placed upon him because of the investment, loses his job, his home, and to make matters even worse his health insurance cap is reached, amongst other things. The loss of health insurance is an important part of the story as his wife needs post brain tumor therapy and without the insurance coverage they must resort to using their credit cards. The credit card debt soon piles up, the interest rates rise, and suddenly yet another problem is added to the list for the couple. The onslaught of negativity Assault On Wall Street delivers is far too much for a casual viewer, made worse by what the film does as the solution to Jim's (Dominic Purcell) problems--he becomes a domestic terrorist.
Scarecrow would have been a very different film had it starred, as originally intended, Bill Cosby and Jack Lemmon. As it is, it allowed up and coming Al Pacino and Gene Hackman to give two of the best performances of their careers, and it remains a mystery why the film has remained so long under the radar (the answer is partly that, despite winning the Palme d’Or, it was cold-shouldered by Warner’s a week into its theatrical release, in favor of pushing The Exorcist). Perhaps too, because it is about a pair of bums, with no real story aside from the picaresque of meanderings and passing encounters; but it also charts the growth of a male friendship, in a fashion extremely well-judged and genuinely moving.
The films of husband-and-wife team Frank and Eleanor Perry are amongst the most undervalued of the wave of semi-independent American films of the 70s. In titles like Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) and Play It As It Lays (1972) they tackled a specifically contemporary sense of malaise and neurosis, on both coasts, in a way comparable really only to some of Woody Allen, with a slightly gauche self-seriousness in place of the comedy.
Beloved in France but little known elsewhere, La traversée de Paris holds the distinction of being the one film by Claude Autant-Lara deemed acceptable by the young François Truffaut, in his campaign against the prevailing cinèma du qualité in 1950s France.
Cheap, tough, and drenched in shadows, The Narrow Margin was the sort of thing that the RKO technicians could knock out in a couple of weeks with no trouble at all, but is raised by particularly tight direction from Richard Fleischer, including terrific use of confined spaces, windows, and yes, lots of shadows (but also, some nice harsh sunlight); and by lived-in performances from never-quite-made-it players, Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor.
Rushlights is a twisted tale of lies and deceit, with a host of characters that get more shady by the minute. This is, of course, the extreme fun in watching Rushlights' story play out on screen. The twists keep coming, the momentum never slows down, and the near-pulpiness of the movie only helps matters.
Director William Savage creates a touching story of love, loss, and mourning with his first feature-length film In Lieu Of Flowers. Premiering at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival, audiences are sure to applaud the heartfelt sentiment found in the film. As well as the never faltering feeling of hope for life after heartbreak that permeates the narrative.
Film Rave: Eron Sheean's Fascinating And Horrifying Genetic Mutation Tale 'Errors Of The Human Body'
The subject of genetic mutations is enough to evoke fear in anyone. The lack of control humans have over their genetic material, and what horrors may exist in its intricately woven thread, is a subject science fiction and horror cinema happily investigates. In his feature-length film debut, director/co-writer Eron Sheean ventures into the territory of genetic research, that of bio-engineering, to deliver a fascinating and horrifying tale in Errors Of The Human Body.
When I was in elementary school way back in the seventies, there was a rumor floating around the playground that Christopher Lutz, the middle child from the family that was immortalized in The Amityville Horror, went to our school. He would have been in the same grade as my older sister but, of course, he wasn’t in her class. In fact, no one knew what class he was in. I never met him, and I’m not even sure that he ever attended the school, but the rumor itself is evidence of how big of a pop culture phenomenon that The Amityville Horror had become.
There is a great deal that can be inferred by writer-director Juan Solaris' Upside Down, depending on the context in which you view the film. At the simplest level it is a love story about two people from different stations in life who desperately want to be together even though it is forbidden--a tale as old as time. Another possibility is to see Upside Down as commentary on social politics, the have's and the have-nots constantly at odds with one another and the sole individual willing to risk it all to bring about equality. There is one more route you can take, that of a historical recalling and a fantastical glimpse into post-war worlds--as the two worlds created in the movie resemble greatly historical photos of post-WWII Germany or Poland versus the untarnished industrialized and thriving West. With so many possibilities Upside Down can easily please a variety of viewers, what it cannot do is uplift the viewer as it fails to delve deeply enough into any one theme, one idea, or one clear vision to warrant greatness, just mild amusement and a deep want for greater meaning that never comes.
After ten years of working on Blancanieves, writer-director Pablo Berger must have had mixed feelings about the appearance of The Artist last year. That film’s runaway success was undeniably a useful ice-breaker, however, for they are similar beasts, modern silent films made (largely) according to the conventions and constraints of the 1920s. Berger even gives Uggie a run for his money, with a perky rooster named Pepe.
When the second World War is discussed the conversation usually turns to Germany and Adolf Hitler. The same can be said for movies about WWII; more often than not, and particularly in recent film history, it is the story of the Nazi's rise to power and the holocaust that feeds screenwriter's imaginations and research. But what of Japan? For Americans the impact Japan had on WWII is a constant reminder of how our country is not impenetrable to war on our own soil in the modern age; made even more evident on September 11, 2001. Director Peter Webber's Emperor is a rarity among WWII-themed pictures, as it tells the story of the aftermath of the war.
Another year has gone by at FilmFracture and it has been full of great movies, mediocre trips to the cinema, and some downright awful wastes of time. With that said, here are the best and worst movies of 2012, based solely on their Production ratings (how they faired in other categories may have been better, or the same, click out on the titles to see for yourself). I must warn you, our choices for the best movies may come as quite a shock--who would have thought a Troma picture would make a best of list?
Now Playing On Demand: Magnolia Pictures' Deadfall, starring Eric Bana, Charlie Hunnam, and Olivia Wilde
Eric Bana once played the Hulk, in the forgettable 2003 film Hulk, directed by Life Of Pi's Ang Lee. Charlie Hunnam currently stars as Jax Teller on the hugely popular television show "Sons of Anarchy," and Olivia Wilde is on her way to becoming box office poison with the lack of success her last starring role films have had, namely Tron: Legacy, The Words, and The Change-Up. Kate Mara (10 Years), well, she is someone you always wished had a better agent, but she never seems to get one. Throw in Sissy Spacek, Treat Williams, and Kris Kristofferson for good measure, or because you can given their schedules are quite free these days, and you have the surprisingly talented cast of Deadfall.
In the wake of the release of Fox Searchlight’s long anticipated Alfred Hitchcock biopic, appropriately called Hitchcock, a different production about the master of suspense has flown under the radar. Home Box Office, in conjunction with the British Broadcasting Corporation, has made their own Hitchcock film, The Girl, which focuses on a darker side of the influential director.
Dreamworks Animation has given moviegoers some of the most treasured animated franchises; from the Shrek and Madagascar series of films to Kung Fu Panda's, as well as How To Train Your Dragon and the highly anticipated upcoming sequel coming 2014. Their newest film, Rise of the Guardians is based on a series of books by William Joyce called "The Guardians of Childhood" that brings to life a world where Santa Klaus (voice of Alex Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (voice of Hugh Jackman), Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy (voice of Isla Fisher) exist to keep the world safe; they are The Guardians and it is with the belief of children around the world as to their existence that their powers remain in tact. There is one other fabled character who has never been given much attention in the modern age, or any age for that matter, Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine). Rise of the Guardians is Jack Frost's story as to how he becomes one of the Guardians, while assisting the others in saving the world from the evil Boogeyman (voice of Jude Law).
Natural disasters are easy prey for filmmakers wherein the melodrama is grown organically out of the true story the film portrays. This is usually their downfall, as the events and performances are so over-the-top and seeping with mushiness that they get thrown onto a Cable Network and forgotten--all for the best. Then there is one that goes against the odds stacked up against it, a melodrama based on true events that takes place during a harrowing experience that is the entire film-worthy package, meant to be seen on a big screen. The Impossible, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona of The Orphanage (2007), is that movie.
AFI FEST 2012 Film Review: Post Tenebras Lux (Dir. Carlos Reygadas Mexico/France/Germany/The Netherlands 2012)
Carlos Reygadas burst on the scene as an unapologetically pretentious arthouse director with Japón , and gained instant renown/notoriety in the circles that care. This was cemented with Battle In Heaven , but the calmed down Silent Light  won over many of the off-put. For Post Tenebras Lux, however, he returns to his first inclinations with a vengeance.
Barbara’s elliptical beginning delivers the eponymous heroine, a doctor, to a provincial hospital in a seaside town. She is just released from some unspecified incarceration, and still under surveillance from the implacable secret police. Only gradually do we realize that this is East Germany in the early 80s, and only gradually do we warm to Barbara’s sour trout face and hard, defiant, watchful eyes.
Xavier Dolan stretches out with his third feature, not just in budget and length, but in matching his emotionally high-pitched material with an equally bravura style, and in tackling a subject less frequently seen on screen even than the tortured mother-son relationship of his début éclatant, I Killed My Mother , or the MMF love triangle of Heartbeats . He remains for the first time behind the camera, ceding the demanding lead role to veteran French actor Melvil Poupard – he started aged 9 with Raúl Ruiz – who gives a subtly restrained and highly appealing performance in Laurence Anyways.
The rather lovely tone of Miguel Gomes’ Tabu is set from the beginning, in a poetic voiceover prologue about a widowed huntsman in Africa, accompanied by a beautiful, simple piano piece, and dripping in that peculiarly Portuguese saudade.
Caesar Must Die is apparently a small, simple film, with one straightforward aim: to remind the viewer that lifers in a maximum security prison in Rome, no matter their crimes, remain emotionally valid and susceptible human beings. Yet to achieve this, the veteran Taviani brothers take on one of the most nebulous issues of them all, the power of art, via that most enduring of artists, in the prison production of Julius Caesar.
This is really quite a silly film, Piéta, albeit played totally deadpan, from the portentous and only-just-relevant title on down, as a punky young loan enforcer goes around crippling the poor machinist clients who cannot pay their exorbitant interest. The appearance of a silent, nicely-dressed middle-aged lady amidst the fantastic detritus of the industrial tenement setting forces him out of his lonely, cold-blooded routine, and awakens suppressed mother issues that will leave him unable to do his job, and wide open for revenge.
AFI FEST 2012 Film Review: Leviathan (Dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel US/UK/France 2012)
Leviathan is a fantastic audio-visual experiment, presented as by the Sensory Ethnography Lab. The emphasis is on the sensory, so to get the other out of the way, it is filmed entirely on and around a commercial fishing vessel and yes, it’s a hard life for these fishermen, with much of their work machinelike in its mindless repetition, and mostly at night (happily the fish-gutting is filmed with some discretion; the removal of ray wings less so).
This is unashamedly unconventional, but in a fan rather than snooty way. Using (mostly) just diegetic sound from the post-production of a fictional mid-70s Italian horror movie, Peter Strickland has followed his superb debut, Katalin Varga , with a largely non-narrative nightmare hymn both to the electronic soundtrack experiments of that time, and to the gorgeous analogue gear that made such arcane chantries of the era’s recording studios, with Berberian Sound Studio.
Thus far Daniel Craig's James Bond films – Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace – have been a mixed bag. While the former was a successful reinvention of agent 007 the latter threw most of those intriguing concepts away in favor of a humdrum story about water being our most precious resource. However, despite the inferior quality of Quantum of Solace there was a belief that Craig's Bond was still a viable hero, one that could be redeemed. And thankfully MGM too saw fit to keep the property alive with Craig, and will this week deliver the third Bond adventure for Craig (23rd for Bond), Skyfall.
There are pockets of whimsy in the Ken Loach filmography, but following 2009’s Looking for Eric, he seems more fully than ever to be embracing an Ealing-inflected lightheartedness. The Angel's Share starts off in reasonably familiar territory, as a succession of poor, unemployed Scots have their petty crimes recounted in court, and the community service sentences passed down. All crew cuts, tracksuits, and impenetrable Glasgow accents, the stage is set for some grubby grim-up-northness, but Loach’s film turns out to be anything but.
Director Tobias Lindholm's first feature film R was a gritty prison drama that upheaved the generic genre conventions that came before. His second feature takes a drastic look at a very topical subject, and one very much ignored in detail in the media--except for the sensationalizing of pirates sailing the open sea. A Highjacking is the story of a group of crew members aboard a Danish ship headed to Mumbai, sailing in waters that are not common territory for water-bound highjacking. Never say never is the shocking truth that A Highjacking brings to life, with as much intensity and claustrophobia possible.
If nothing else, Brandon Cronenberg has been quite unafraid to make a film that could pass for an earlier one of his father’s. Antiviral boasts a fertile premise that ties biological interference to celebrity obsession, is very handsomely mounted, and features a fine, committed performance from Caleb Landry Jones in the lead. But the title rings hollow as an antidote to the modern woes depicted on screen, or as representative of any of the characters’ actions or motivations – like the film itself, catchy, but little more than superficially thought-provoking.
It should be noted that the original title of Olivier Assayas’ well-received Something In The Air is Après Mai. For a film set in France in 1970, that inevitably means “after [the extensive riots of ] May 1968”. Let it be clear, however, that this is neither a political film, nor a film about politics. The Assayas surrogate takes part in high school revolutionary activity, and the context is being heavily used to sell the film of course, along with the implications of autobiography. But that title also means “after school got out in May”, because it’s basically Assayas’ “What I did in my summer vacation 1970” and it goes something like this:
Abbas Kiarostami has gone to Japan, and why not? Like Someone In Love is less obviously tricksy than his last, and his first outside of Iran, Certified Copy ; and it reveals a little more of what was obvious all along – that Kiarostami’s interests lie in people, identity, and communication (between characters, and with the audience), rather than in cultural specificity. This is no more a film about Japan than the last was a film about Tuscany, or the others – really – are about Iran.
In Leos Carax’s rather wonderful and fantastic new film Holy Motors, there are several points at which one may wonder what is real. The answer is none of it, and all of it. It begins explicitly as a dream, after all, in a cinema, with Carax the dreamer himself; but it is a dream of life, of possible lives, and a dream of the very process of cinema.
When Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master premiered at the 2012 Venice Film Festival the immediate reaction from critics in attendance was that of high praise. The festival jury agreed, bestowing best actor awards to Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix and best director to Paul Thomas Anderson; and, as is expected at the Venice Film Festival, a scandal erupted over whether the best picture Golden Lion went to The Master or Kim Ki-duk's Pieta [NY Times Artsbeat]. The admiration for filming on 65mm (to be seen on 70mm in theatres) also gave The Master an immediate boost is likability because in a dying world of film usage in lieu of the cheaper digital format a movie made on 65mm is rare beyond measure. The usage pays off as The Master is breathtakingly beautiful with its expansive extreme wide shots and uncomfortable close-ups that last far too long and cause one to stir in his seat from the intrusive nature of the shot. The trance inducing score with its methodical rhythm only further creates an almost ominous feeling surrounding the entire film, creating a place in time that is haunted by the ghosts of the characters. The technical aspects of The Master are not what will have people talking after seeing it, and the scandal in Venice has since been forgotten, as the praise for The Master continues--but the worthiness of such praise is complicated, as The Master's success or failure resides in a viewer's own perception of the material, and the material presented is difficult to process.
A writer's words can project their soul onto the page, for the world to embrace, admonish, or when such words reveal a love story beyond measure to provoke a wealth of emotion. Passing off another's work as your own is the cruelest act a writer can commit; in The Words, Bradley Cooper's character Rory Jansen does just that. But the truth behind the motivation of Rory to use another man's story in order to become a published writer is not simple. The complexity of Rory's tale tests morality, as it also reveals the truths behind the fact that having told a story may be more important than who actually wrote the story. The Words is a complicated dialogue on morals, on truth, and most of all a love story that makes the aforementioned inconsequential.
Politically charged documentaries are a dime a dozen. Documentaries of a satirical nature, that also say a great deal about world politics in an informative, engaging, and humorous way are less common. Danish Director Mads Brugger ventures into the territory of political documentary satire, or a political farce, with The Ambassador. Mads opens The Ambassador by stating, "Here ends my life as a Danish journalist." His new life venture is to become an African Diplomat, for bags of diamonds he claims he can smuggle out of his new found country as a Diplomat. His country of choice, thanks to the ease of achieving Diplomat status with the right amount of money, is Liberia. His target is the Central African Republic (CAR), a little known country to the rest of the world but a place full of what Mads wants most: blood diamonds. Mads Brugger uses his style of documentary storytelling that he calls "performative journalism" to share his experience. In performative journalism he creates an "absurd caricature of a corrupt diplomat, with hidden cameras, black-market credentials, and razor-sharp wit." The experiment is a success, to say the least.
In director Till Schauder's documentary, The Iran Job, American basketball player Kevin Sheppard travels to Iran in 2008 and joins the Iranian Super League, Iran's equivalent to America's National Basketball Association. Although Kevin's professional career has been spent overseas playing in countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Spain, China and Israel, living in Iran initially makes him very nervous. His worry, shared by his parents and his girlfriend back home, is warranted considering Iran's reputation of being one of the world's most feared countries, a safe-haven for Islamic terrorists, and suspect of being in constant development of nuclear weapons. From the very beginning of the film director Till Schauder establishes America's rocky relationship with the foreign country via old press conference footage of former President George W. Bush and Senator Hilary Clinton condemning president Ahmadinejad's calling for the destruction of Israel. Schauder also films various Iranian neighborhoods with huge anti-American street art displayed upon their walls. As if living in an "enemy" state isn't nerve-wracking enough, Kevin is being paid more than any other player to ensure the first year team, A.S. Shiraz, makes it to the playoffs.
The country of Colombia has always been a place of violence, political unrest, and consistently under scrutiny. Famously known for its Drug Cartel, and former cartel leader Pablo Escobar, Colombia continues to supply 90% of the cocaine to US drug traffickers. A rarely told viewpoint is that of the women in Colombia, from the rural villages that are caught in the crossfire between the government and guerillas. Director Nicole Karsin ventures into this unchartered feminist viewpoint with the documentary We Women Warriors. Told from the perspective of three native women, Doris an Awa from Southern Colombia, Ludis a Kankuamo of Northern Colombia, and Flor Ilva, a Nasa woman in Southern Colombia, Karsin weaves an intricate story about perseverance in a place where violence has overrun the desire for peace, but three women seek to make change with non-violent actions.
Robert Pattinson smells like sex...that is what director David Cronenberg makes clear in Cosmopolis, his new film starring Robert Pattinson as the paranoid corporate tycoon Eric Packer who is destined to fall prey to his own created schizoid demise. Adapted from the highly acclaimed novel "Cosmopolis" by Paulo Branco, Cronenberg's screen adaptation pits Pattinson against his own known screen persona, the vampire, baiting him to come forth and prove he is more than a cool and distant undead male desperately seeking affection and empathy for his cruel deeds. But Pattinson's Eric is exactly the same typographical character in Cosmopolis; the only difference being his thirst is not for blood but for money, security, and power.
British filmmaker Bart Layton came across a story that appeared more fiction than truth. A 23-year-old French-Algerian man had stolen the identity of a missing Texan boy, some three-and-a-half years after his disappearance. A master con-man, Frédéric Bourdin was in need of a new identity, being wanted by Interpol for his crimes and finding himself without any options left in Linares, Spain. A master manipulator, he posed as a missing teenager and was taken in by the Linares police after tourists phoned in their finding a scared and troubled boy. The events that occurred afterwards are outwardly shocking, and the story Bart Layton creates on screen of this real-life happening is absolutely intoxicating to watch.
Models. The word alone can send women into a panic of self-doubt and conjure body image issues galore. What is it about models that makes women intensely insecure? It is not the models, the women to be exact, that perpetuate this reaction in women but the manner in which cultures substantiate that a model is the ideal, the embodiment of perfection. To be beautiful one must look like a model. This is of course an impossible feat for a woman as we cannot all look the same way, nor should we want to--and we do not all have access to make-up artists, personal trainers, nutritionists, and all of the other necessities that go along with a life in front of the camera. The societal pressures to be perfect, to be model-like, is a constant sociological problem that has been addressed in numerous documentaries. Have you ever wondered what the aging model thinks about the entire situation? How they handle growing older in a profession that glorifies youthfulness and admonishes aging? Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders has assembled some of the biggest fashion models from the past 60-years to discuss these questions, and more, about their life as part of the modeling world in About Face.
You may want to bring some ear plugs for this, because Neil Young Journeys is a concert film shot in a style so loud and yet intimate that you may be taken with the fear of getting hit by some of the legendary rocker’s sweat and spittle. Filmed in May 2011 at Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall, Young is in peak form, playing his classics and new material with passion and verve.
Denis Côté, DP Vincent Biron, and producer Sylvain Corbeil have created a singular (beast of a) movie with Bestiaire. Offered the chance to shoot at a rather tired safari park in rural Quebec, Côté decided to make an experiment, to find new ways of making images of animals.
Ace title designer Saul Bass (and ace designer of all sorts of other things) directed only one feature, Phase IV (1974). Notoriously hard to see, it was tracked down by the TCM Classic Film Festival in a rare, original release print, scratched and kind of pink, but a real oddball treasure.
The sounds are heard around a burgeoning middle-class street in Brazil’s Recife, half of which used to be owned by silver-bearded patriarch Francisco, but which is now mostly tower blocks. First-time feature director Kleber Mendonça Filho reworks some of his shorts material to lay out a mosaic of life on this particular, present-day street, both aurally and visually, centered largely on the extended family who have always lived there. The camera wanders through a playground of kids, or spies on a kissing couple near a rooftop below. Other extras and kids pop up from time to time – the kissing girl even gets to answer to her called-out name later on – but the film concentrates on a relatively small handful of characters, following them through the inconsequential mundanities of everyday life.
At every film festival there always seems to be one movie that strikes you as a viewer more so than any other. For the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival the honor goes to Director Mads Matthiesen's Teddy Bear. The promotional image for Teddy Bear displays a hulking figure of a man, bodybuilder Dennis (real-life super-heavyweight bodybuilder Kim Kold), curling his biceps in front of a mirror with a barbell weighted far more than most people could carry with both hands. Dennis is covered in tattoos, rippling with muscles, and looks nothing like the gentile man you come to know in Teddy Bear--a juxtaposition of a title if there ever was one to the striking figure of the man it refers. But Dennis is all heart, a sweet-natured man who yearns for love but is painfully shy.
Presented by the Director himself, William Friedkin, Killer Joe played to a full house on the second night of the Los Angeles Film Festival 2012 and the entire room was laughing out loud, enjoying every minute of this dark and twisted tale. As Friedkin puts it, "It's a comedy by the way, you must not freak out."
The advent of cinema created a world where artists could create moving portraits, an artistic medium not bound my any form of limitations. Rarely a film is created that holds a transgressive quality, the ability to move you completely out of your comfort zone and violate the standard laws of filmmaking. Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar, has done just that, and more. Beasts of the Southern Wild may be classified as a magical realist film, wherein the real and the fantastic exist in the same place, simultaneously, and without pure distinction.
What a pleasure it has been to wallow in the 16-film Fassbinder retrospective this past two weeks. For various reasons it’s not been easy to see his films in the theater, but now that distributers Janus hold this selection of (very nice) subtitled prints, one can hope that they’ll resurface more frequently.
When Drag City announced a couple of years ago that they were releasing a long-lost early ‘70s album by a band you never heard of, named Death, comprising three black brothers from Detroit who made punk rock years before anyone else, the knee-jerk reaction was to assume this was just hipster bait. But your (my) knees should know better, for Drag City can be trusted by and large, and the band and their story are truly worthy of their unusual, if belated, place in the pantheon.
We’re halfway through the American Cinematheque’s wonderful Fassbinder retrospective, and if it’s demonstrated one thing, it’s that a Fassbinder double bill is a hell of a lot of cinema. His work rate was so prolific that one would assume a film here and there to have been merely tossed off. Some of them were, but his remarkable sense of how drama plays, and what can be done with the camera to enhance that drama, repeatedly finding variations on obsessive themes – the self-perpetuating hierarchy of power and control, in socio-economic or love-relationship terms, and the impossibility of freedom – is so sure that every single one is an immersive viewing experience, rich in text and subtext. It is as though Fassbinder had an innate, instinctive film-making ability, which works even when it shouldn’t: asked by Peter Chatel, his envoy to present Despair (1977) at Cannes, why there’s lots of Nazis at the start but almost none later on, Fassbinder confessed he’d forgotten to film them. Chatel protested that he couldn’t tell that to people; of course not, replied Fassbinder, just tell them that in 1933 the Nazis were a new thing, but that later on people had become insidiously inured to them. It works.
Hide Away is the simple story of a man who buys an old ship and fixes it. Even the main characters are simply named the Young Mariner (Josh Lucas), The Ancient Mariner (James Cromwell), and The Waitress (Ayelet Zuerer). The movie is not so much concerned with complicated plot lines as it is with the straightforward metaphor of man as a broken down vessel. The film relies on performance and mood to bring the myth to life, which unfortunately is not altogether successful. The actors give their all in an attempt to salvage the shipwreck and Director of Photography, Elliot Davis, is able to find sadness in nature throughout all four seasons of the year, but none of it is enough to compensate for the bare-bones script. Dialogue is replaced with silence, which would be fine if the rare conversations that did take place weren’t so wooden. The actor who sells the boat to the Young Mariner could’ve been easily substituted with a robot. The film also dwells too long in the territory of the vague. The audience’s patience wears thin as we await any hint of the Young Mariner’s back-story. When finally revealed it then turns out that the secrets should have stayed hidden as the scene is melodramatic and underwhelming. Major turning points in the plot also feel overly convenient and unearned.
According to Wikipedia, mumblecore is a term used to describe American independent films produced in the 2000s characterized by low budget production values and amateur actors. Those looking for an example of the genre need not look any further as "amateur" can certainly be used to describe this particular interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. Everything from the cheesy kung-fu fight scenes to the cheap special effects to the Yiddish rip-off of Eminem’s "The Real Slim Shady" makes watching Romeo And Juliet in Yiddish almost unbearable. It’s a fact that director Eve Annenberg employed non-professional actors and so credit must be given to her for molding her cast into acceptable performers. It's thus a shame when sound difficulties often muffle the dialogue, an unwelcome distraction even when subtitles are present. The film does sport a variety of excellent exterior shots, whether it be outside of JFK International Airport, walking the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or hanging out at Coney Island. Interior sets however, such as a scene set inside an airport security office scream for an art direction makeover. With its obvious budgetary restraints, it’s safe to say that technical excellence is not the movie’s drawing point.
The TCM Festival does a great job of getting old stars out to be fêted along with their classic films. Rhonda Fleming, Marsha Hunt and others turned up this year, but the highlight was undoubtedly the appearance by Peggy Cummins, wonderful star of Gun Crazy (1950).
One of the more unlikely career moves of old Hollywood was Dick Powell’s evolution from nice-guy hoofer to tough-guy lowlife. Between Murder, My Sweet (1944) and Cry Danger (1951), both his image and his position within the industry were transformed. The TCM Classic Film Festival had expert Eddie Mueller to introduce each of their noir screenings, and he filled us in on how Powell struck out on his own, found investment in the mid-west, and set up Olympia Productions, whose only picture was Cry Danger.
One of the big draws of the TCM Classic Film Festival is the presence of all kinds of luminaries, both of the silver screen and of the channel itself (swoon, Ben Mankiewicz). Another draw is the presentation of freshly restored old classics, and this year the festival hosted the US premiere of a brand new 4K scrubbing-up of Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion (1937). This was introduced by Le Mank in conversation with veteran actor Norman Lloyd, not especially well known himself, despite being an original member of Welles’s Mercury Theater, and turning up in Limelight, Dead Poets Society, Losey’s M and Saboteur and Spellbound for Hitchcock. More to the point, he played support in Renoir’s The Southerner (1945), and he and his wife became very close friends with Jean and Dido during their stay in Hollywood.
The modern strand in this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival was a celebration of Robert Evans’ tenure at Paramount, and part of the ongoing 100th birthday celebrations of the studio. The too-late punters for the first Raw Deal screening couldn’t be tempted by the empty seats in Love Story, but it doesn’t take much persuading to get a film buff to sit through Chinatown or Rosemary’s Baby again. Except that after a gap of many years from my first viewing, it’d take quite a lot for me to sit through the latter a third time.
One of my favorite screenings at last year’s TCM Classic Film Festival was Clara Bow in Hoop-La (1933), restored by MOMA at the urging of Bow biographer David Stenn. Stenn was on hand again this year to present Bow in Call Her Savage (1932), and to explain a bit about its background. The irrepressible Bow had fled Hollywood in disgrace a year before; the year before that she had been the No.1 box office star. She still had some clout, and decided she’d show ’em, with the sort of antics that had luminaries calling for a Production Code. Apparently her vigorous wrestling with a Great Dane (taller than she is) was a direct thumb of the nose to a published rumor that she’d enjoyed carnal relations with her own beloved dog.
The jewel of Sunday morning’s program was the recently restored, original hand-colored version of Méliès’s Le Voyage dans la lune (1902). The colored version had long been presumed lost; it turned up in 1993, but fused into basically a solid disc in the canister. A certain amount was done to try and rescue it chemically, but Bromberg had to wait until 2010 for the digital technology to evolve that would allow for an actual restoration. 95% of the original coloring was saved, the rest seamlessly filled in (13,375 frames in total), and a splendid accompaniment commissioned from Air. Even in black and white, it is a film that never ceases to astonish; the pristine, vivid colors take it to a whole new level.
Head honcho of Lobster Films, Serge Bromberg is an avid collector and preserver of film, and happily for the rest of us, he is also an enthusiastic exhibitor. He came to the TCM Classic Film Festival this year with a fascinating program of short experiments and showcases for various stereoscopic filming techniques, dating all the way back to some fantastic 10-second snippets made on paper strips in 1900. Bromberg excused their slightly naughty nature by explaining that they were French; he himself is charmingly so.
The TCM Classic Film Festival presentation of Cover Girl (1944) was special because, as festival godhead Robert Osborne declared in his typically informed and engaging introduction, it was the one screening for which he had allowed time in his busy schedule to watch in its entirety (it was some pressing matter, no doubt, that demanded his departure three quarters of the way through).
As Osborne reminded us, Cover Girl is special for a number of other reasons: the package put together by talent producer Arthur Schwartz included the first teaming of Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin; Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly producing choreography that would convince MGM to give them a freer rein; and a fantastic costume team headed by Travis Banton. Rudolph Maté handles the cinematography with the expected elegance, and presumably not making much of an impact on the finished product, but a tidbit for the geek, assistant direction was provided by one Oscar (“Budd”) Boetticher.
The popularity of Raw Deal is down to its status as the pinnacle of Anthony Mann and John Alton’s über-noir collaboration. T-Men the year before was a stone triumph of drenching B-budget sets and actors in shadows both evocative and eerily abstracting, and banging out a cops-and-robbers procedural that doesn’t let up for a moment across its taut 92-minute running time. For Raw Deal, Mann and Alton push the abstraction yet further.
It all sounds pretty French: teenage boy falls in love with his older aunt, attractive, smart, and been around the block a few times, as incarnated to perfection by Béatrice Dalle. The expected dynamic is subverted, however, even obliquely in the opening scene, and the well-worn elements of such a relationship are treated as though anew, with little interest in misplaced teenage priapism.
Since founding the COUM Transmissions collective in the late sixties, via Throbbing Gristle’s invention of industrial music, and numerous highly provocative music and art shows (sex, gender, physical alteration, domination and extremity being constant themes, with a smattering of black magic), Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has dedicated herself to exploring the (off-)limits and possibilities defined and denied by societal taboos.
Each year Russell Espinosa watches every film released in theatres; and each year he takes the time to write up an epic "best of" list. Here it is for the year 2011, and while some of his choices may seem typical, others are an interesting surprise. Enjoy!! - Kathryn Schroeder
The AFI FEST presented by Audi is fast approaching (3-10 November, 2011), and with much of the program already announced, a healthy number of interesting titles are already trailing good word of mouth from other North American and European fests. One such is Alex Ross Perry’s second feature The Color Wheel, winner of the Narrative Award in Chicago: following the oddball backwoods Pynchon riff Impolex (2009), he this time ditches surrealism and heads straight for mumblecore land.
After well-received stops at Cannes, Toronto and New York, the fourth feature from I’m Gonna Explode director Gerardo Naranjo is set to represent Mexico in fine style at AFI Fest presented by Audi, starting November 3, 2011.
Torn from the headlines, Miss Bala pitches beauty queen aspirant Laura into the murky world of the Tijuana drug cartels – it’s the title of Miss Baja California she’s going for, but bala means “bullet”, plenty of which are expended before the end of the film. The real-life Miss Sinaloa (also named Laura) was indeed arrested for her association with the Mexican drug gangs, but this is no docudrama. Laura here is an innocent, drawn into the underworld through being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and buffeted from dangerous situation to dangerous situation by the twin expediencies of self-preservation and having no other choice.
Director/producer Athina Rachel Tsangari’s reluctance to be lumped in with some nebulous Greek New Wave is as understandable as the categorization is inevitable. She has been producing the work of Giorgos Lanthimos, and her second film as director shares with his Dogtooth (2009) and Alps (2011) not only strong tonal and thematic similarities, and an interest in linguistic distortion, but also the cool white light of Thimios Bakatakis’ camerawork on the former; Lanthimos even takes the supporting role of in cast’s quartet.
Disney is a company synonymous with the art of American animation. From their Golden Age fairy-tale adaptations such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Peter Pan to their innovative computer animated hits such as Toy Story and The Incredibles, it seems impossible to think of Disney as anything but a giant in the industry. There was however a time when Disney’s dominant standing was in question. Throughout most of the 80s, a series of unsuccessful feature length films along with the competition of independent animators such as Don Bluth caused Disney to fall on rocky times. In 1989 however, Disney reclaimed their title as the top animation company with their groundbreaking work The Little Mermaid. This would lead into Disney’s Silver Age, cementing the companies place as the dominant force of 90's American animation. Now, more than a decade later since these films were released, Disney has made plans to re-release their Silver Age classics in theaters, remastered and in 3D. Their second offering of this series is the 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast, the first animated movie in history to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best picture and the second classic of the Silver Age.
Emerging from the recent trend of independent horror in British cinema, Ben Wheatley’s small-scale gangster massacre Down Terrace made a bit of a splash last year. His latest, Kill List, ups the horror ante and finds a natural home in the AFI FEST’s Midnight Movies strand this week (festival runs November 3-10).
The holiday season is upon moviegoers once again, and that means a new season of movie-watching has begun. This season is always filled with Award contenders, big name Directors making big serious pictures, and the opportunity for actors and actresses to show their best skills on screen--all in the hopes that they will take home one of the many possible awards available to them for the year's best work. There is also always the underdog independent film that will take everyone by surprise. Lest us not forget the plethora of family movies that will keep everyone occupied during those big family gatherings at the holiday's. After a lackluster (and that is putting it mildly) year of movies, this holiday season holds high hopes for moviegoers, and moviemakers alike.
Shakespearian plays have been adapted for the screen time and time again. "Othello", "Hamlet", "Romeo and Juliet", "The Tempest", the list goes on an on and the familiarity for a viewer with these stories is established before they ever enter the theatre. "Coriolanus" is a lesser know, and lesser adapted, play Shakespeare wrote. Well-known actor Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort in Harry Potter) in his first directorial effort has adapted "Coriolanus", with a screenplay by John Logan into a modern-day political film, while maintaining the original shakespearian dialogue.
It is a little alarming to hear people describe Takeshi Kitano’s latest, Outrage (Autoreiji), as a return to form, since it comes off the back of his masterpiece, Achilles and the Tortoise. What they means is that it’s a return to the straight Yakuza genre with which Kitano started his career, and into which he has injected some interesting elements at various subsequent points. Not so much here, which from anyone else would be fine, but from him is a disappointment. Nonetheless, it is a perfectly efficient gangster film, told at the usual slow-steady pace, laced with black humour, and boasting some particularly unpleasant moments of violence.
A rather appealing if throwaway cat and mouse thriller, Headhunters introduces us immediately to the forcefully charming persona and slick art-thievery methods of its protagonist, Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie). His criminal activities subsidize a career as über-successful corporate headhunter, but he makes no bones about having overextended himself for the sake of his Nordic model-beautiful wife, ostentatiously luxurious lifestyle, and 1m 68 height (5’6”).
An exquisite salmagundi of moral grey shades, A Separation explicitly hands off judgment to the audience in the opening scene, as Simin and Nader sit before a judge and address directly to camera their cases for and against divorce. She wants to emigrate, to raise their daughter, Temeh, away from the difficulties and repressions of Iran, whilst he does not want to leave his Alzheimer’s suffering father, but must provide consent for the daughter to travel. They agree to a temporary separation whilst this is worked out.
AFI FEST 2011 Film Review: Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
It’d be best to be prepared before going into this, for a long slow evening. Amongst the various aims of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s new film is the conjuring of the strange all-night atmosphere experienced by a group of officials in search for a dead body, based on the experiences of his co-screenwriter, Ercan Kesel, a doctor who partook in a similar investigation when serving in the same remote village region as depicted in the film. Another of Ceylan’s aims is an explicitly Chekhovian tapestry of apparent banalities, everyday concerns, and the passing of time, that will bring various of the characters unhurriedly to life, and add up incrementally to a portrait of something like life itself.
This is really a one idea movie, but it’s a very good idea (taken from a short story by Tom Bissell). Nica and Alex are young travelers in Georgia, engaged to be married, who depart on a trek with mountain guide Dato. And then Something Happens. To explain the Something would be to spoil the impact of the film, but one of its major problems is that to create that impact, for the first half of the film virtually nothing happens at all. The second problem is that virtually nothing happens afterwards either.
Sokurov concludes his Moloch trilogy, on evil and power, with a loose adaptation of Faust. So loose, in fact that one would be hard-pressed to recognize anything of the original save the name of the protagonist. He’s still a doctor, but poor, neurotic, and, after a while, fixated with a very young girl named Margarete. It is for a night with her, rather than for unlimited knowledge, that he finally signs the Mephistophelean pact late on in the film, and rather than the smooth persuader who will inevitably triumph, this Mephistopheles is a vile, goatish moneylender named Mauricius who ends up buried beneath boulders in a place suggestively described as “far away and very high up”.
Giorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth caused quite a splash last year, so many were eager to see what queasy weirdness his latest would offer. Alps is barely less weird, somewhat less queasy, and just as opaque. Even more than his last film, it also teeters on the verge of being merely affected.
A real Hollywood oddity, this is a cracking carnival noir charting the rise and fall of hubristic mentalist Stanton Carlisle – Stanton the Great – from cheap clairvoyant-act barker to quasi-religious swarmi, to.. well, that’d be spoiling it, but by the look on Tyrone Power’s face, he knew it had to be.
This is most definitely a film, a wonderful, essential conjuring of something from nothing, a necessity for the film-maker, and the selfless defiance of a repressive regime. The Iranian government has banned director Jafar Panahi from film-making or from leaving the country for twenty years, and at the time of this film’s making, he was appealing a six-year prison sentence; it was smuggled to Cannes on a flashdrive hidden in a cake. For what can a film-maker do if not make a film?
In an alternate universe, a Turin Horse will become the name for a movie that turns out to have nothing to do with its title. Slow-cinema maestro Béla Tarr’s latest (last?) opens with a blank-screen voiceover relating the semi-apocryphal story of Nietzsche’s madness-inducing encounter with a mistreated carthorse, and declares that “of the horse, we know nothing”. Cut to a carthorse, trudging through a hellish swirl of mist. But this is not necessarily the same horse, we are clearly not in Italy, and the film soon lets the animal retreat to the background, in order to focus exclusively on the slow, hard, regular days of the old carter and his daughter. He has an apostle’s beard and a mop of grey curls, frequently backlight-haloed, and the use of only his left arm; she has a hard, handsome face, tight-mouthed and dead-eyed, beneath long wind-whipped hair; and they live a life of emptiness and hardship in a stone croft on a barren plain.
The main draw of Hanaan is its ethnic exoticism: a Korean cop in the urban/industrial wasteland of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which is certainly not something you see every day (Stalin forcibly relocated thousands of Koreans to populate the USSR’s Asian republics). The story feels well-worn, however – like something from an American movie, as one character observes of a stakeout – with the ups and downs of drug addiction providing automatic pathos but few surprises.
What with the whole skin transplant element of Almodóvar’s latest, it was no great surprise that in his capacity as Guest Artistic Director of this year’s AFI Festival, he should pick as one of his personal screening choices, the wonderful medical horror film Eyes Without A Face.
It is a most unusual film, in story, tone and the inclusion of a remarkably unsettling face transplant – in part for the slow, tense, medical precision with which it is presented and conducted – which must have been goodness-knows how shocking in 1960 when the film was released.
AFI Festival-goers who caught Nacho Vigalonda’s Time Crimes a couple of years ago knew that it was a good bet to mark their diaries for this year’s screening of his second feature, Extraterrestrial. They were not disappointed.
The irrepressible Vigalonda explained in his introduction to the screening that he was stuck in a long pre-production process and wanted to make a quick little film. That’s just what he did, with even greater economy than Time Crimes, but with just as sure a control over the narrative logic of escalating complications. A man wakes up in the bed of a beautiful young woman, unable to remember a thing about the night before. The playing-out of a stock situation is handled with perfectly judged restraint and deadpan performance (they discover, amusingly, that they are named Julio and Julia, but she’s ditzy enough to forget his name more than once). The awkward morning after is derailed, however, when they notice that there’s no-one outside and that a 4-mile wide flying saucer is hovering over Madrid.
It boded so well. The credits play over a serene beam of moonlight on the water, while an excerpt of Tristan and Isolde tinkles gently; then we’re thrown into a noisy neon Malayan karaoke club/shack, where an unexpected, very public murder is followed by an even more unexpected, somnambulant Ave Maria. But Chantal Akerman, taking Joseph Conrad’s first novel, goes nowhere near such stylish flamboyance again and delivers much that is expected, and much that is unexpectedly unsuccessful.
There’s always some good weirdness to be found in the Midnight Movies strand at film festivals, and my top tip for the AFI FEST sponsored by Audi, starting this week, is the fantastically trippy Beyond the Black Rainbow. Let me be clear: this film has not been picking up fans at previous festivals, with complaints ranging from “deathly dull” and “unnecessarily lengthened student short” to “retro-hipster counterfeit” and “complete crapola”. It’s slow and derivative, with a jarringly misjudged ending, but far as I am from an ’80s nostalgist, I couldn’t help but fall a little bit in love with it.
AFI FEST 2011 Film Review: The Kid With A Bike (Le Gamin Au Velo) (Dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne 2011 Belgium, France, Italy)
A new film from the Dardennes brother is always cause for celebration, particularly in Cannes where they just keep being given prizes. This year it was the Grand Jury award for their latest, Le gamin au vélo, and it’s been a popular title at numerous festivals since, finally rolling into Hollywood for the AFI FEST this week (November 3-10).
Inspired by the life story of ethnomusicologist Louis Sarno, who has spent 25 years with the BiAka pygmies of Central Africa, Lavinia Currier’s film aims partly to parallel Sarno’s work: that is, to bring to world-wide attention the wonderful and complex music of the forest-dwelling hunter-gatherers. The BiAka’s music is as rich and well-practiced as any other such heritage in the world; possibly even more so, structured around an unusually long 64-beat cycle, and incorporating the natural sounds of the jungle as an integral part of the harmonious, pulsing music.
Semper Fi: Always Faithful is a documentary chronicling the struggle to make the public aware, and the Marine Corps/Government admit to their gross negligence in dealing with contaminated water at a variety of Marine Corps, and other, military bases across the United States of America.
That Raúl Ruíz describes his new film as his most theoretical might seem a bit daunting. He’s made over 100 movies in 30 years and they’re all pretty theoretical, from The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1979), to Time Regained (1999). Plus, the new one’s a four and half-hour nineteenth-century drama.
Andrew Haigh’s film Weekend concerns Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), two young British men who meet at a bar one Friday night and embark on a 48 hour affair. Haigh’s emotionally honest scripting and the pitch-perfect performances by Cullen and New lend poignancy and unexpected intimacy to this story of a brief but powerful affair.
The iconic image of Henry Spencer from Eraserhead floats across the screen as the short film How To Make A David Lynch Film begins. For all the ways this man looks just like Henry, a true Lynchian fan knows it is not; this man is an impostor, and something is awry. This trickery is of course done on purpose by Director Joe McClean for this is a film about how to make a film like David Lynch makes a film, and what better way to begin such a fete than with Lynch's illustrious main character from his first feature film.
Splice may not be traditional, but the film is all the better for it. Of course, you may not like it. You may buy a ticket and walk out of the theater cursing my name for this recommendation. So be it. The backlash on message boards is already as strong of the film's critical support. It's been accused of being anti-science, pro-rape, anti-women, ablist, misogynistic, as well as the usual filmgoer complaints of "dumb" and "boring." But if you want to see something that doesn't challenge you at all, that doesn't care about the psychological complexities of its characters or the moral and ethnical implications of their work, a film that doesn't give a lick about science or scientists, then please, don't see Splice.
I walked out of the theater after Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces and my eyes refused to adjust back from the brilliant and colorful world of the film; the real world paled in comparison. Even as I shut them now, the vibrant reds, moody blues, and roaring yellows still swim against my eyelids. Almodovar does not just use color, he speaks with color. He allows the film to move solely through colors, which results in a visual journey that remains beautiful as it carries the viewer through difficult relationship trauma. The irony: all this magnificent color for a tale about a blind man and his emotional scars.
The opening credits are accompanied by still photographs of a bank robbery. The music melancholy and foreboding. The final title frame is a portrait of the animal kingdom. The lion standing tall amongst the other animals. The films title hovers for a moment over the portrait and we immediately realize this is a film about power and dominance. What we do not yet know is how the film will depict the destructive nature of such power and it's fleeting existence.
As a spotlight film of the 2010 Feel Good Film Festival it definitely was well suited for this particular festival as you walk away from the film with a positive feeling, regardless of the somewhat uncertain and bleak ending for the two documented filmmakers. The film took home Best Director for Brent Florence at the festival. More information on the film directly can be found at its website here.
The infamous French Gangster Jacques Mesrine's life is chronicled in a two-part film that attempts to show the man behind the media sensation that he became as French Public Enemy No. 1. Part One, aptly titled Killer Instinct, begins with Mesrine's return from Algeria in 1959 to France. It chronicles his rise to a life of crime that included bank robbing, murderer for the mob, kidnapper, and a most entertaining master jail break artist. Over a span of 20 years he would become both the most wanted criminal in France and a celebrity, as shown in part two Public Enemy #1. Leading to a fitting end in a hail of gunfire at the public Place de Clichy in 1979.
[Excerpt] Taking a good look at Joaquin Phoenix at this point, and to be completely blunt, you can only think he has suffered some sort of mental break and emotional breakdown. His appearance alone is upsetting as he has gained a considerable amount of weight, has a beard that is overgrown and mangy, his hair is a knotted mess that may or may not have been washed in the past month, and even his clothing are in tatters. He smokes far too many cigarettes, partakes in various recreational drugs, drinks large amounts of alcohol, enjoys the occasional hooker or groupie and looks like he has not had a decent nights rest in years. His attitude is sometimes positive and carefree but in a moment may turn to angry, paranoid, or loopy. Phoenix is a mess, and taking him serious when he is in this condition is a difficult task. Then again, we do not know the real Joaquin Phoenix, as he made quite clear in the beginning.
Set in Hamburg, Germany, Soul Kitchen is a comedy of errors centered around Zinos, a small-time restaurant owner who has seen better days. His girlfriend is moving to Shanghai, his restaurant performing below expectations, and his parolee brother causes him the occasional amount of grief. To make matters worse, he injures his back causing a herniated disc, making it impossible for him to cook. Adding to the already full plate he has is a childhood friend who is set on purchasing the land the restaurant sits upon and he will stop at nothing to make it his own. Poor Zinos, he just cannot seem to catch a break. Thankfully this adds up to a great amount of comedy for the viewer as we watch him stumble through the multiple trials put in front of him.
Victor Maynard (Bill Nighy) comes from a family of assassins with a long legacy of deadeye pride. His mother (Eileen Atkins), who he has recently moved into a retirement home after living with her all his life, is none too pleased Victor has heretofore failed to produce an heir to continue the family trade. Lonely, exacting, socially awkward and approaching his fifty-fifth birthday, Victor is a failure. (The fact that he's the most ruthlessly efficient and expensive assassin in London does not seem to impress dear, old ma.) But when Victor is hired to kill Rose (Emily Blunt), a beautiful thief on the wrong side of an elegant criminal (Rupert Everett), it seems his legacy problems might be solved.
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, the stunning debut feature from twenty-five year old writer/director Damien Chazelle, harkens back to a time when intimate, docu-realist love stories were common and the lines between film genres weren’t so rigid. Chazelle’s film feels both classic and thrillingly new, something we haven’t seen much of since the French New Wave pioneered that kind of storytelling more then fifty years ago. Guy and Madeline is a love story set to music, scored by the jazz that he (trumpeter Jason Palmer) plays and she (Desiree Garcia) longs to share.
American writer/director Aaron Schock wanted to make a documentary about a traveling circus, but in the U.S. that kind of entertainment is a relic of a bygone era. So, he went to Mexico. The subject of Schock’s film, La Gran Circo de Mexico, is nowhere near as majestic as its name, consisting only of members of the Ponce family who can trace back their participation in the circus business a century. The leader of the family now, Tino Ponce, is a man determined to live and die by the circus.
Mandrill is a rollicking B-movie exploitation flick from Chile that gleefully references everything cool in espionage and action cinema, from James Bond to 1970s exploitation and kung fu movies. As a boy, Antonio Espinoza witnessed the murder of his parents by a ruthless gangland boss named Cyclops. Now a man, Antonio has adopted his own one-named moniker, Mandrill, and a similar profession as a highly stylized, highly efficient assassin for hire. Still on the hunt for Cyclops, Mandrill (Marko Zaror) tracks him to Peru, where he falls for his beautiful and dangerous daughter Dominic (Celine Reymond). The pair fall in love but mixing business with pleasure is never easy, as Mandrill soon discovers.
“The law is the law, but men enforce it.” That line is said to Judge Tian (Ni Dahong), a fair and honest court official dealing with the sudden death of his daughter in a car accident. Tian is presiding over the case of Qiu Wu, a poor young man accused of stealing two cars, a crime punishable in China in 1997 (when the film takes place) by death. Tian’s heartbreak is compacted by the lack of closure in his daughter’s case: there are no suspects and the only detail of the crime is that she was killed by a stolen car. Thus the moral dilemma in Judge (Touxi), from co-writer and director Liu Jie: what is fair judgment?
California, a place known for its idealistic landscapes and plethora of tourist destinations. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego lay in wait every year, welcoming people from all over the world who embark on seeing how the people of these romanticized places live. There are other parts of California as well. Places locals may refer to as pit stops along the way to better destinations. Areas where you may stop to re-fuel or grab a snack. These are the towns that go unnoticed in guide books, and barely make it onto maps. This is small town America, nestled among the bright lights of big cities; places they are so close to but feel alienated from. The film Littlerock explores one such town, through the eyes of two travelers who inadvertently find themselves stuck there, fittingly named Littlerock, California.
Certified Copy is a movie about its ideas more than about its plot or even its characters. Director Abbas Kiarostami is renowned for utilizing the tight spaces of everyday life, like the insides of cars, to give us scenes of daily life unfolding at its natural pace. Couples talk, their conversations full of pauses, hesitations, parried opinions and careful retractions.
The pattern and main theme surrounding the film Rubber is an homage to the no reason. As the introduction states, "Life itself is filled with no reason". There is no reasoning behind why a rubber tire would suddenly gain consciousness; nor does there have to be. Such is the draw to the film Rubber: to try and make sense of it only plays into the idea of life being full of things beyond reasoning. Sometimes you just have to commit to the fact that there is no explanation. There is no actual reason for an event or an action. It just happens. Just as a group of people watching a rubber tire go on a desert killing spree just happens.
[Excerpt] Boyle and editor Jon Harris construct a dizzying montage of the present and the past (Aron conjures happier memories of time spent with his girlfriend to prepare him) that is at once shocking, terrifying, gruesome and, as embodied by James Franco's performance, triumphant. The filmmakers bend over backwards to elicit emotional reactions during the sequence, although Ralston's recollections of a failed relationship with a heretofore-unseen girlfriend never gripped me. Instead, it is the physically visceral power I found most convincing. This scene--and indeed, the final twenty minutes of the movie--is so emotionally overwhelming, my palms are sweating just recalling it.
As the camera swoops along with Aron climbing up and over mountains, in small gorges and caverns, it is a fluid molding of man and lens. The camera's eye is one with his movements, it sees what he sees, and gives the viewer a clear view of what he is encountering or about to. The pivotal scene, when everything changes for Aron and his life-changing journey begins, is caught from below. His legs are rooted in a small crevice between two mountains, he is preparing to climb down into the crevice, mere feet away from the side of the mountain he wishes to propel down. His entire trip has been leading up to this climactic moment and his anticipation and excitement is at the highest peek. Then, in a haunting twist of fate, a loose boulder changes everything, and his body is sent sliding down into the cavern. His arm is wedged between the boulder and the mountain side and he cannot free himself. The camera zooms out from Aron's dark claustrophobic cavern to the wide, lonely, and uninhabited expanse of desert/mountains. Aron is completely alone. The clock now begins to tick.
Twenty-two year old Aura has just come home from college in Ohio with a degree in film theory and no idea what to do with herself. “I’m in a post-graduate delirium,” she says. Tiny Furniture plays like a post-graduate, post-The Graduate--quarter-life crises of Woody Allen if Woody Allen was a twenty-two year old girl.
If I tried to explain to you the plot of Troll 2 you would not believe me. Many have tried to dissect the nonsensical structure and chaotic visual style that's rendered it notorious; either for its outrageous ineptitude or its towering avant-garde genius, depending on your point of view. Whatever your flavor of fanaticism, Best Worst Movie attempts to document the phenomenon of the unlikely cult surrounding Troll 2, the 1990…let’s use “film” loosely, which seems to have replaced classics like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space as the coveted Worst Movie Ever Made.
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The TCM Classic Film Festival, gearing up for its fourth installment and now officially an annual event, gets bigger and better every year. The channel and its hosts, inspire even greater devotion than one would imagine, until you see the queues of people eagerly lined up to touch the hem of Robert Osborne’s garment. For four days at the end of April (25-28) the strip of Hollywood between the Roosevelt Hotel and the Egyptian will be filled with film enthusiasts from all over the country, and all over the world, gathered simply to celebrate the classic movies we love.
That is a fantastic headline to be able to write. For one reason or another, since LACMA’s series ten years or so ago, fans of German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder have had few chances to see much of his work on the big screen. Now, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his death (June 10), the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles is celebrating this most individual of film-makers in suitably expansive style, with a series of 16 first-rate titles, between May 31 and June 14, 2012.