DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: May 2009

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Terminator Salvation


Terminator Salvation (2009) dir. McG
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Goodblood, Bryce Dallas Howard

***

In the Blockbuster Summer season when a week goes by most of everything before it seems like ancient history. Terminator is like ancient history right now, after an underperformance on its opening weekend and lacklustre rotten tomato standing this film will likely be labelled failure. Doesn’t mean I can’t still like the picture, which I did.

“Terminator Salvation” plays like a rusted metal version of the last couple of T-pictures. Taking place in 2018, post Judgement Day, if you have the T-timeline in your brain, in a George Miller-esque post apocalyptic world. Los Angeles is destroyed, everything burned to smithereens, with only the metal carcasses of the machinery we created and ultimately destroyed littering the landscape.

John Connor (Christian Bale) the prophesized hero is the leader of the resistance against the machines. After an underground mission to a Skynet laboratory, a new hero emerges from the ashes of the opening action sequence – Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row man we saw in a flashback donating his body to Cyberdine Systems. Of course we suspect he’s a terminator, but he doesn’t know that. Marcus wanders the landscape fighting machinery going about his own journey of self-discovery. He meets up with none other than Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), formerly Michael Biehn from the original film, and vows to protect him.

When Reese is taken prisoner by the machines he has to convince John Connor that his motivations are malevolent, not benevolent. Connor, who only sees the machines as his enemies, is forced to go against his instincts and trust someone who could be his enemy.

Unlike the story-bloat of “Star Trek” Michael Ferris and John Brancato’s script is a focused and uncomplicated affair, which carves its own path in the franchise while linking up and respecting the lore created by its predecessors.

Thematically, "Salvation" continues Cameron’s examination of the relationship of man and machine. McG and the writers find a rather simple but intriguing way to challenge Connor’s assumptions of the future. The central concept of a robot not knowing he’s a robot is the stuff of classic science-fiction. Though an opportunity is missed to explore John’s memories of his relationship with the Arnold Schwarzenegger terminator in T2 in “Salvation” the relationship serves to test humanity’s capacity for complex emotional thought, out of which some genuine heroism and male bonding emerges.

Christian Bale as John Connor, reminds us of Bale as Batman, a muscular but cold hero with a raspy voice, without any of the warmth of previous T-protagonists. Hollywood newbie Aussie Sam Worthington is a good match for Bale. The robo-human conflict within Marcus emerges as the heart of the picture, trumping Bale’s star-casting. And I can’t go without mentioning Bryce Dallas Howard’s lovely pregnant glow as John’s wife with child.

“Terminator Salvation” succeeds solely as a stone cold action picture. There’s not an ounce of humour in the picture, which, curiously, works to its advantage (box office notwithstanding). Shane Harlbut’s subdued colour palette makes it feel like a tougher and darker “Transformers”. The robot enemies are impressive, including a huge ‘Transformers-like’ metal monster which launches superfast motorcycle-bots. This sequence forms the main second act set piece, contributing to an intense and impressive thrill ride which, overall, clocks in at under 2 hours - a miracle for summer blockbuster entertainment these days. Enjoy.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Russell Brand in New York City


Russell Brand in New York City (2009)
Documentary

**

Ok, it’s not quite a documentary and definitely not a movie, so forgive me for defying my own blog guidelines.... "Russell Brand in New York City" is exactly what the title is, an hour of Russell Brand’s stand up comedy, on stage in NYC, and sadly not up the standard which has quickly made him a budding comic star in Hollywood.

Brand burst out into North America last year with a one-two publicity punch of the scene stealing role in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and before that the hosting gig on the 2007 Brit Awards and then after the 2008 MTV Music Video Awards hosting gig. So his stand up routine was worth the shot to watch and review.

Brand's persona takes precedent over the material, or perhaps I should say his persona is his material. His extravagant glam haircut and Freddie Mercury spandex identifies him more as a rockstar than a comedian. His confident stage swagger has the same self-confident superiority as a Liam Gallagher. So how he could possibly get away telling jokes without referencing himself.

The first 15mins understandably includes bit on his new fame from his role on “Sarah Marshall” and his MTV bit. So it’s a mix of self-referential mockery and false British overconfidence.

Despite his reputation as a bad boy, his material is surprisingly tame and uninspired – much of it out of comic stand up 101. British people get knocked around a bit, same with the same old Brit-American cultural differences. Apparently he got fired from an early MTV gig when he dressed up as Osama Bin Laden the day after 9/11. That’s not particularly funny, but certainly risky. There’s little risk taken in this New York gig.

"Russell Brand In New York City" is available on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment

Friday, 29 May 2009

Man Hunt


Man Hunt (1941) dir. Fritz Lang
Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, John Carradine, George Sanders, Roddy McDowell

**

During WWII Hollywood produced a number of great propaganda films under the guise of traditional cinema entertainment. Unfortunately Fritz Lang’s Hollywood production of "Man Hunt", recently dug up and cleaned up by Fox, is not one of them.

Fritz Lang, the German ex-pat who made some of the greatest German films ever, is the ideal person to fight back against the Nazis with cinema propaganda. Unfortunately it’s a slapdash affair, an unfocused, poorly acted and sometimes completely illogical spy story. Taking place just before the war, in the opening we see a British sharpshooter, Capt. Alan Thorndike, (Walter Pidgeon) perched on the crest of a hill in the Bavarian mountains taking aim at none other than Adolf Hitler. Before he gets to take his shot he’s captured. His captor, a monocled Gestapo man Quive-Smith (George Sanders) – Note: Lang himself, was famous for wearing a monocle - desperately tries to beat out a signed confession that he was acting on behalf of the British government, but to no avail. Thondike escapes, thus beginning the ‘man hunt’.

The hunt takes him from the Bavarian hills eventually finding a British freighter ship bound for England. In pursuit is Quive-Smith and his tough assassin, Mr. Jones, played by John Carradine. Though he makes it to England, he’s still not safe. When he runs into a kindly cockney street gal, Jerry (Joan Bennett) he’s forced to bring her along in the chase. Jerry and Alan form a platonic bond, which might just be Thorndike’s Achilles Heel for the Gestapo.

Even beyond the presence of Mr. Lang, all the ingredients would suggest a cool little studio production. Fox vet Arthur Miller’s cinematography is top notch, most of the exteriors shot with a wonderfully moody layer of thick London fog, dramatically lit like Lang’s expressionistic days. Alfred Newman, one of cinema’s all-time great composers delivers a decent suspenseful score, some of the cues sounding eerily similar to John Williams' work in Star Wars.

None of these technical elements can distract us from the ridiculous adventure plotting. The opening act sets up a clever nod to “The Most Dangerous Game” – a world famous hunter trying to score the world’s most dangerous prey, Da Fuhrer himself. When Alan moves to the British freighter, young Roddy McDowell’s appearance in the film as a deckhand changes the gears toward relationships and comedy, but with the close quarters, an even greater threat against Alan. For the second and third acts, Thorndike is in London, his home turf, a place one would think he would be safe. Somehow he feels as endangered as he was in Germany. In the real world the chase could have ended in a split second if he just ran into a police station and pointed his finger at his pursors.

Walter Pidgeon makes an uncharismatic hero, though a Canadian, not a Briton, his accent wavers constantly. And Joan Bennett, a New Jerseyian playing cockney? Yikes. Only John Carradine’s menacing and imposing figure is on the mark. The propaganda is laid on thick from the opening song La Marseillese, to the theme of xenophobic distrust at home. Lang constantly shows us cutaways to random people on the streets of London, watching Thorndike with shifty eyes, warning us of the subversive enemies who may lurk among us.

The final scene which has Thorndike hiding out in a cave (in Britain??) under siege by Quive-Smith is plain old head-scratching. And his finishing move against him, a makeshift bow and arrow made from Jerry’s hatpit, is simply pathetic.

There’s nothing wrong with Hollywood war propaganda – “Casablanca” smelled badly of it too – but in “Man Hunt” without real characters and legitimate suspense it smells even worse than a regular studio bomb.

“Man Hunt” is available on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Serbis


Serbis (2009) dir. Brillante Mendoza
Starring: Gina Pareño, Coco Martin, Roxanne Jordan, Dan Alvaro, Kristofer King

***

A Filipino porno house is the setting of this late arrival from last year's Cannes Film Festival. In the style of trendy social realism we get to see the slice of life of the family that run the theatre. The hardcore nudity (an erect cock or two) has given this film a bit of notoriety but it's all very brief and doesn't overwhelm. It's still niche material though, which, for the open-minded, provides an artful break from the blockbuster escapism inundating our multiplexes right now.

Mama Flor is the matriarch of the Pineda family, anxiously waiting for the court decision against her adulterous husband. Nephew Alan and his girlfriend are a pair of young lovers who've just realized they have an unwanted pregnancy, and another mouth to feed in the family. That's about all we get from Director Brillante Mendoza (newly crowned Best Director winner at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival), who follows his characters without traditional narratives or arcs, a loose backbone for this very loose but satisfying film.

Mendoza, also an art director, paints the film with the same palette as some of the great Wong Kar Wai films. The wide-angle camera shows us everything, moving fluidly through dingy corridors and freely up and down staircases. The walls have the worn texture of cracking plaster, graffiti and all its rough edges. He takes great care to show us his characters walking through these spaces and all the mundane details of their lives. Threading a film into a projector, mopping up a flooded bathroom and the home remedy removal of a boil on a guy's ass might sound dull but it's an environment we've never seen before, and it's surprisingly refreshing.

Mundane, perhaps, but Mendoza's imagery is not without meaning; his characters desire love or romance, and everything around them, from the posters of the skin flicks to the gay prostitutes and their seedy clientele, is a continual reminder of the dispassion in their lives. Interspersed are a few graphic scenes of matter-of-fact sex; they're not played for kicks though. The sex is quick and the skin, while uncensored, is not beautified. The title, meaning "service," plays into the tone of the sex as well and the rhythm of the entire film — a day in the life of working people, observed without judgment.

To escape from the blockbuster fare, Serbis might just be that naughty little Philippine art house flick you need to see. And the final shot is a stunner too.

This review first appeared on Exclaim.ca



Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Announcement: Canadian Cinema in Revue


I’m pleased to announced an exciting new venture from Daily Film Dose and Canadian Film Dose – CANADIAN CINEMA IN REVUE – a screening series devoted to putting some cool Canadian films where they deserve to be – back on the big screen.

Starting Monday, June 8, the Revue Cinema theatre at 400 Roncesvalles Ave in Toronto. launches Canadian Cinema in Revue, a program showcasing innovative and entertaining features, related short films and the people who made them.

Curated by yours truly, the series begins with Cube, part sci-fi horror film, part creative art film, directed by Vincenzo Natali.

Made for under $500,000 through the Canadian Film Centre's Feature Film Project, Cube is an impressive achievement that has allowed Natali to move on to bigger-budget genre films, including the Hollywood production of Cypher, and the upcoming genetics-themed thriller Splice with Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley.

Natali’s short film Elevated, in which he honed many of Cube’s themes, will also be screened.

In Los Angeles during June, Natali will link up electronically with the Revue, while co-writer Andre Bijelic will attend the screening for a Q&A.

Future Canadian Cinema in Revue screenings, scheduled for once a month, will include the awesome zombie film Fido, coupled with The Big Charade; Michael Dowse’s It’s All Gone Pete Tong, paired with If I See Randy Again… and the thriller Six Figures screened with Still Life; and many others.

The program is presented with the support of The First Weekend Club, the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and Daily Film Dose.com.

Tickets for the screening will be $8 for members of the Revue and sponsoring groups; $10 non-members.





Indecent Proposal


Indecent Proposal (1993) dir. Adrian Lyne
Starring: Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson, Robert Redford

***

"Indecent Proposal" is the third Adrian Lyne film to be get the Blu-Ray treatment from Paramount Pictures. Lyne’s career output has been sparse, but remarkably focused, only making 8 films in 30 years. His elegent visual style and intense and naturalistic performances manage to transcend his often salacious melodramatic material.

“Indecent Proposal” fits in well with “Fatal Attraction”, “9 ½ Weeks” and Unfaithful”, four films unfortunately defined by the dreaded ‘erotic thriller’ genre. Each of these films are better than this restrictive definition, and "Indecent Proposal" is no exception.

Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore play Diana and David Moore, a loving couple who, like their middle class peers,  went to school, got good jobs, and worked hard to advanced their careers. But often, like in this current recession, and to quote Robbie Burns, 'the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry'. When David loses his job, the couple spiral down into debt finding themselves with no money except for the $5000 David reluctantly borrowed from his father. And so their last option is to go to Vegas and roll the dice on their future.

There they ride the ups and downs of luck, finding themselves once again in the hole. Until billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford) catches site of Diana in the casino. Whether its love (or lust) at first sight, Gage goes after Diana, and when she shoots down his advances he resorts to his money to buy a night with her. David finds himself at his version of the crossroads, faced with the ultimate decision and test of his love for his wife. When he goes for the money, he finds himself in the reverse situation as before, a comfortable life but an empty untrustworthy relationship with Diana which is ready to fall.

Lyne's great storytelling abilities are on display here. The opening half is told with a not-unsubtle, predictable path toward the fateful 'deal with the devil' Diana and David make with Gage. Once in Vegas we see the step-by-step, almost real time decisions which lead to the consummation of Gage’s offer. The pacing of the second half is completely different, playing out over many more years. Lyne exercises expert skills in compressing time yet making sense of the new lives David and Diana find themselves in.

From a storytelling point of view it’s a difficult task to make Diana's new relationship with John believable. With smart and real-world performances from Moore and Redford their blossoming relationship emerges slowly and naturally without artificiality.

Robert Redford, as the suave wealthy businessman, is great casting. Redford’s immediately likeable celeb/activist persona is a contradiction to the cutthroat big business attitude of John Gage. So even when Gage is at his most despicable something tells us that he’s not a bad man. In fact, he’s like the devil with a charming congenial exterior, testing and teasing the moral fortitude of Diana and David. But fFor Lyne, Gage is testing us, the audience, forcing ourselves into their shoes to provide our answers to their dilemma.

"Indecent Proposal" is much better than the fleshy love scenes the film unfortunately has become famous for. Enjoy.

“Indecent Proposal” is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Picture Home Entertainment

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Baghead


Baghead (2008) dir. The Duplass Brothers
Starring:

***

The old standard horror movie set-up of a group of horny youngsters holed up in a cabin for a weekend of sex and blood gets a peculiarly subversive treatment by the masters of mumblecore, The Duplass Brothers. On paper, and even in the trailer, it would seem like an oil and water concoction, but somehow the filmmakers manage to create a horror film with a heart, at times a traditional genre picture with all the chills we expect, but also a naturalistic intimate character study of a friendship put to the test by extreme events.

The film opens at the premiere of a pretentious indie art film at an underground film festival. Matt (Ross Partridge), a struggling actor, is jealous of the adulation the director receives from the film and announces to his friends the idea of secluding themselves in a cabin for a weekend to write their own brilliant feature which will help jumpstart their fledging acting careers.

So Mark along with his best pals, Chad (Steve Zissis), Catherine (Elise Muller) and Michelle (Greta Gerwig) make the road trip into the country to their 'cabin in the woods'. It’s all fun and games until a mysterious man with a bag on his head innocuously appears to several of the friends. While they concede it’s an obvious joke to inspire some creative thought for their script, no one takes blame. The group becomes subject to the old genre clichés, telephone wires are cut, car battery stolen, thus imprisoning them in the woods, with nowhere to turn except to confront the slasher - a confrontation which will lead to more dramatic revelations among themselves.

On film, it’s not hard to make a man with a bag over his head scary (coincidentally, there's an uncanny resemblance to Bryan Bertino’s bagheads in “the Strangers” also released last year). The Duplass Brothers do everything right to scare us, the bagman looking on ominously from the trees, or a quick walkpast a window creates some genuinely chilling moments. But in between these cabin-movie genre-tactics is an endearing story of these friends. Chad, the pudgy n’er do well, pines after the flirtatious but unattainable Michelle. According to Chad his best friend Mark  ‘has got game’, which makes Michelle easy-pickings to sleep with him. So Mark's dedication to Chad becomes tested when Michelle's libido heats up.

The Duplass Brothers shoot the film in what seems like classic grainy 16mm, bringing us back to the tone of other cabin horror classics, “The Evil Dead”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Unfortunately the Brothers go overboard with their indie-cred shooting style. Every shot seems to be a close-up, constantly whipping and panning and randomly zooming in and out, often distracting us from what’s happening on screen. The overtooled style is visible in the opening scenes, but as we become involved with the characters and their conflict the style virtually disappears.

The four actors are about an non-descript and unmoviestar-like as they come. Surprisingly Mark Duplass, who played such a fine affable lead in “The Puffy Chair” stays behind the camera here. But perhaps the character of 'Mark' is Duplass's alterego, a character of similar headstrong qualities.

“Baghead” received a distribution deal from Sony Picture Classics, though only a minimal theatrical release. A film like this made to thrive on DVD though and hopefully the film finds it’s audience. The Duplass Brothers are unique filmmakers and deserve some hype. Enjoy.



Monday, 25 May 2009

Three Days of the Condor


Three Days of the Condor (1975) dir. Sydney Pollack
Starring: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson

***

It would seem the reputation of “Three Days of the Condor” precedes it as one of the essential paranoia films of 1970’s. It’s certainly not a timeless classic of the genre, but as a time capsule of the cynical attitude of filmmaking in the 70’s it makes for a fun time warp to when government and big business were looked upon with distrust and contempt.

There’s a cinematic sparseness to this CIA spy-games flick, which both enhances and frustrates the viewing experience. Robert Redford plays Joey Turner, who, as it would appear in the opening moments, works for the American Literary Historical Society, located in a New York City brownstone with a curiously exaggerated amount of security. One day when Joey’s on lunch, armed gunmen storm the building systematically killing everyone inside. When Joey returns he quickly realizes he should have been dead too. His first phone call is to the CIA, where we learn Joey is a research agent codenamed Condor.

Joey’s a smart, well-read guy, and his intuition tells him to be cautious of everyone, even his superiors. At random, he kidnaps an unsuspecting bystander Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) using her apartment as a safe haven. There he plots his strategy to unravel the mystery behind the plot against him. It becomes a cat and mouse chase between the bigwigged corporate agents pulling the strings from the offices to the groundwork of hitmen whom Condor evades and fights off with skill and intelligence.

The sparseness I reference is a style of storytelling in the 70's reactive to the formulaic predictability of old studio Hollywood. The film strips out much of the extraneous chaff which would diluted the visceral impact of the action. In terms of character we don’t know anything of Joey’s backstory, he has no character flaws to overcome, or even a traditional arc to complete. Joey has a singular goal, to escape from his assailant unscathed, and the plot purifies these mechanics.

There’s inspiration in Pollack’s ability to tell a story with this kind of efficiency, though at the expense of some fundamental comprehension. There are two points of view in the picture -  intercutting between Joey’s actions and the CIA reactions. While Joey’s movements are clear and logical with quiet time even devoted to his thought-processes, the CIA scenes are played with a concerted incomprehensibility which, in 1975 may have seemed progressive, but now only feels self-consciously evasive. There’s Cliff Robertson as Higgins’ the man in charge of bringing Joey in, there’s some greyhaired heavyweights watching over him, including the great John Houseman lending some fine thespian gravitas. There appears to be a subversive faction within the CIA, but the details of which are limited to a series puzzling statements and confusing dialogue.

With ease Joey deduces an oil conspiracy cover-up as the motivation, a rushed explanation which feels forced on the filmmakers who probably would have preferred not provide any explanation at all. It doesn’t make for a dramatic reveal, because it evolves not out of action but Redford telling what his thoughts are. Using oil as the arbitrary hot button issue-du-jour it only reveals a missed opportunity make a more profound statement. 

There are some great individual scenes though including the Condor’s clever manipulation of the Bell telephone system to garner information and confuse the enemy as well as the silent but suspenseful elevator confrontation between Joey and Von Sydow’s hitman character. Von Sydow and Redford make great adversaries.

Under Pollack’s direction it’s marvelous film to look at, his anamorphic frames are gorgeous, enhanced greatly by the crisp Blu-Ray transfer. His use of the New York City exteriors add real-world realism, where 10 years prior, we would have seen studio shooting with painted backdrops.

Forgiving it’s failings we can see the influence of “Condor” on some of the corporate thrillers of today like “Syriana”, “Michael Clayton” and even the Bourne films and all their moral and political ambiguities.

"Three Days of the Condor" is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment



Sunday, 24 May 2009

Getting Straight


Getting Straight (1970) dir. Richard Rush
Starring: Elliot Gould, Candice Bergen, Robert F. Lyons, Martin Corey, Harrison Ford, Brenda Sykes,

**1/2

Guest Review By Greg Klymkiw

With the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the protests, the draft and the various political assassinations of beloved leaders such as JFK and Martin Luther King during the general mayhem of the 60s and 70s, it still feels like one event stands apart from the rest of the general mayhem of America in the 60s and 70s. Still sending shudders through many people was the Kent State University massacre in Ohio of 1970 where American National Guardsmen shot live rounds of ammunition into the throngs of a student protest. As horrific as anything imaginable, this was a case where a government turned its guns against its own people, its hope for the future, its youth. Dissent would NOT be tolerated and Big Daddy Establishment was steadfastly unable to spare the rod against its seemingly spoiled progeny.

During this period, the unrest was mirrored and examined in the popular culture – especially the movies, where filmmakers like Robert Altman, Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah and many others sought to expose the violence and hypocrisy of American life. Many of these films were not only boxoffice hits in their day, but continue to be revered and recognized to this day. And then, there’s all the rest.

While there are several worthy forgotten pictures from this era, one in particular stands out – Richard Rush’s fascinating and entertaining “Getting Straight”, a counter culture drama based on Ken Kolb’s novel about post-secondary academic hypocrisy. Rush is a great, but hardly prolific filmmaker. His biggest claim to fame is “The Stunt Man”, a wonky, obsessive and utterly anarchic look at the blurry lines between fantasy and reality in the movie business starring a completely and deliciously over-the-top Peter O’Toole whose thespian excess in the picture is rivaled only by Rush’s manic directorial style.

Looking at “Getting Straight” almost 40 years since its release (during the very year of the aforementioned Kent State Massacre) and in the context of “The Stunt Man”, one is immediately taken with Rush’s fascination with the blurring of borders. In “Getting Straight”, the divides are between old and new.

Harry Bailey (Elliot Gould) is the mustachioed, side-burned and amiably rumpled protagonist of “Getting Straight” – a Vietnam veteran returned from the war and in the last year of his English Literature Masters degree. Harry is a man without (so to speak) a country. He wants to teach – desperately, but is, alas, faced with the dilemma of being too world wise to be a true part of the youth movement he so desperately craves to reach and too hip to embrace the staid complacency of the established order of academia. He wanders through the picture, not so much torn between both worlds, but observing them and wondering how he can be a part of both. This noble effort, on the part of the character makes for fascinating viewing as we take on his perspective, but it’s also probably the main reason why “Getting Straight” has disappeared into the ether. While his conflict is real, Rush chooses to use a perspective of confusion to lead us through the narrative – a worthwhile goal and not even especially flawed, but it does make it ultimately difficult for an audience to grab onto the coattails of a character to root for him. And so, like Gould’s Harry Bailey, we wander through a world where students protest the outmoded academic ideals of the institution and Gould himself tries to utilize new methods to reach his students, but also craves to play the game of an establishment he wants to change.

Harry Bailey’s namesake is, of course, a character from Frank Capra’s stunning post-WWII classic “It’s A Wonderful Life”. The difference between the two characters is especially intriguing since Capra’s Harry is anything but indecisive. As Harry’s big brother George (in the form of James Stewart) declares, “Harry Bailey went to war, he won the Congressional Medal of Honor, he saved the lives of every man” under his command. And when Capra’s Harry returns from the war, he knows EXACTLY what he wants. Rush’s Harry is probably closer to Capra’s big brother figure, George. He wants to join the establishment in order to change it. In Capra’s post-war fantasy, George Bailey gets to do exactly that, but in Rush’s world, with roles clearly reversed, Harry learns that straddling the fencepost can never yield true change – it instead equals stasis.

“Getting Straight” is by no means a great picture, but in many ways, it comes closest to capturing the complexity of the period in which it’s set. In this sense, it has NOT dated. It is genuinely a project of its time – perfectly reflective of the complexities of the blurred lines on both sides of the old and new world orders. The two main things that work against the picture’s bid for the kind of immortality it probably craved are as follows: the aforementioned passivity of Gould’s character – it’s right for the movie and right for the world of the movie, but at the same time, fights against what the best movie drama is made of – a clear goal, clear stakes and a satisfyingly wrought conclusion. Rush does not achieve this, though in all fairness, it’s clearly not his intent to do so. The second flaw, and it is, frankly insurmountable, is the utterly dreadful performance of its leading lady Candice Bergen as the Ice Goddess grad student who is in love with Harry. Bergen is just awful. Her lines are delivered with the kind of soullessness, which goes well beyond that of the character’s shiksa-like station. Bergen’s deliveries are flat and so is her face. Though this movie was made well before the Botox revolution, Bergen wanders through the picture like a poster-child for the toxic protein of choice to render the flesh immovable and wrinkle-free.

That said, there’s much to admire. Gould, in spite of the character’s passivity, is always a fun screen presence and when he is called upon to be active, especially during a brilliant thesis-defense sequence, one can see why Gould was such a big star during this period and why he hit such a responsive chord with audiences. The supporting cast is marvelous, especially a very young Harrison Ford as a wide-eyed preppie-druggie. And Rush’s direction is suitably obsessive and detailed. There is a protest scene that is as breathtaking and chilling as anything you’re likely to see and the numerous party scenes are all infused with the kind of immediacy that allows you to observe AND participate.

At the end of the day, “Getting Straight” accomplishes much of what it set out to achieve and is, finally, an evocative window into a time and place that seems so distant, and at the same time, so current. Things never really change that much, do they?

“Getting Straight” is currently available on the Sony Pictures’ inexplicably titled and oddly programmed DVD label entitled “Martini Movies”.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Angels and Demons


Angels and Demons (2009) dir. Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård, Nikolaj Lie Kaas

*1/2

With these Dan Brown novels, Ron Howard has just about the sweetest gig in Hollywood: a veritable cash cow franchise not dependant on anything but some controversial Vatican-bashing. “The Da Vinci Code” was a pulpy novel to start, which, to the surprise of everyone, including the author, became the must-read of 2004. Even I, a casual fiction reader at best, read it and was unimpressed. The movie was a middle-of-the-road thriller in every aspect of its production. So how can anyone get jazzed by “Angels and Demons”? Not a sequel, or a prequel really, just another adventure for Robert Langdon, the Harvard symbologist and puzzle-solver-for-hire.

In this episode, Langdon is brought in the Vatican to help locate four kidnapped monks who happen to be the leading candidates for the vacated Papal office. The infamous Illuminati, another subversive organization bent on taking down the Catholic Church, have taken credit, and since Langdon knows their historical trajectory, he’s the best man for the job. He and his scientist partner, Vittoria Vetra (a stunning Israeli actress, Ayelet Zurer) scour the archives of the Vatican deciphering codes seeking to discover the location of each monk. Oh yeah, there’s also some stolen anti-matter from a local French science base which threatens to blow up Rome.

“Angels and Demons” goes so far off the deep-end, it makes “The Da Vinci Code” look like social realism. The opening sequence establishes a ticking clock device which would have seemed ridiculous in a Pierce Brosnan Bond Picture. Anti-matter? Huh? A lame attempt to incorporate a scientifically plausible theory of creationism – after all, one of the running themes of the series is creating controversy around the steadfast Catholic beliefs. There’s nothing profound in anti-matter, just bubble gum dramatics.

The attraction of “The Da Vinci Code” was the connection of religious history, sacred works of art and historical science. To give Dan Brown some credit, the core ideas were intriguing and his historical connections actually seemed plausible. In "Angels & Demon" the puzzles are hastily told to us by Langdon without the time to linger on the historical context of what he’s discovering. Even the puzzles in “National Treasure” are more interesting.

The action is episodic and seems to serve only to break-up the boredom. Langdon’s near death experience in the locked down archive basement is out of disaster-movie 101, adventure without conflict, just a contrived sequence of false jeopardy without any impact of the story.

There’s a couple of twists, which are telegraphed too accurately by Howard. As soon as the real baddie shows up on screen, we know what’s going to happen – in fact, I guessed it already from the trailer.

The saving grace of the film is the casting of Nikolaj Lie Kaas as the hitman heavy who kills with great proficiency. Kass is a Danish actor, who is largely unknown outside of his own country, but anyone who knows the work of Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen knows Kaas is a casting coup waiting to happen. Howard knows it and it’s the only inspired aspect of the film.

As with "The Da Vinci Code", everyone here ‘phones it in’ – but going by the success of Da Vinci, only the bare minimum is required to make these films successful.

Cannes 2009 Scorecard - Day 9


A L'ORIGINE (aka In the Beginning)(France) dir. Xavier Giannoli
A true story of a conman whose latest scheme, the building of a road, inadvertantly brings hope to a small dying community.

Mike Goodridge, Screendaily, calls it, "a sort of social realist Capra-esque fable set in the rain and grit of northern France...The film is crippled, however, by an extreme running time of 155 minutes which dilutes rather than strengthens the message of the story and will have even the most patient cinephiles shifting in their seats."

Xan Brooks, Guardian UK, calls it, "an engrossing portrait of small-town France in economic decline." He thinks it could be a late festival surprise, "this, too, would make a worthy winner, because it is humane and assured; a snapshot from the frontline of France's recession and a tale of how we live today."



DAS WEISSE BAND (aka The White Ribbon) (Germany/Austria/Hungary/Italy)dir. Michael Haneke
On the eve of World War I, the story of the children and teenagers of a choir run by a village schoolteacher, and their families: the baron, the steward, the pastor, the doctor, the midwife, the tenant farmers. Strange accidents occur and gradually take on the character of a punishment ritual. Who is behind it all?

Total Film, reports, "It's austerity would verge on absurdity if it weren’t for Haneke’s exquisitely taut control of every frame. For a film that burns so slow, there’s not one inch of slack...if the tie-up isn’t perfect, White Ribbon’s made from material that haunts, grips and immerses."

Eric Kohn, Indiewire, likes, "Pairing visual mastery with a quietly immersive story, “The White Ribbon” plays like a morbid version of “Our Town,” patiently revealing the inward discord beneath the surface of a settled community. It’s a frightening depiction of mortality."

Todd McCarthy, Variety, saw it too: "Immaculately crafted in beautiful black-and-white and entirely absorbing through its longish running time, Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” nonetheless proves a difficult film to entirely embrace. Stressing, as usual, a conspicuously dim view of the world,...The White Ribbon” feels like a thematic companion piece to “Lord of the Flies.”



LOS VIAJES DEL VIENTO (aka The Wind Journeys) (Columbia/Germany/Argentina/Netherlands) dir. Ciro Guerra
(En Certain Regard) In northern a parentless child makes a lengthy adventurous journey to return an accordion to the man who gave it to him, his teacher and mentor.

Justin Chang, Variety, writes, "The rugged majesty of the Colombian landscape forms a spectacular widescreen backdrop for a simple, bittersweet tale of regret and companionship ...Awash in scenic vistas and infused with a touch of the supernatural, this beautifully judged two-hander tells the story of an aging accordion player and the young wannabe musician he's reluctantly allowed to accompany him on his long trek north."

Lee Marshall, Screendaily, writes, "With its stunning widescreen landscapes, colourful musical interludes and sure human touch, The Wind Journeys occupies a niche not too far from nature-and landscape dominated world cinema releases such as Himalaya or Tulpan."



SKAZKA PRO TEMNOTU (aka Tale in the Darkness) (Russia) dir. Nikolai Khomeriki
(En Certain Regard) A lonely female beat cop goes on a journey to take her out of the darkness.

Leslie Felperin, Variety, writes, " A lonely, lovelorn femme cop mopes around a seaside town for a blessedly brief 77 minutes in the Russian drama "Tale in the Darkness." Although strong-featured lead thesp Alisa Khazanova proves watchable throughout, helmer Nikolai Khomeriki's second feature has little more going for it than the fact that it's more accessible than his last, the obscure and soporific sci-fi squib "Nine Seven Seven."



À DERIVA (aka Adrift) (Brazil) dir. Hector Dhalia
(En Certain Regard) Spending summer vacation with her family in Buzios, Filipa, a fourteen-year old girl, suffers through the rite of passage into adulthood while discovering love for the first time. A rite filled with anguish when she learns that her father, a famous author, is betraying her mother with a foreign woman who lives in the small seaside town. But, this secret is to be only the first in a series of others, both enchanting and painful, which she discovers about her family and herself as well.

I couldn't find any reviews for this film, sorry.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Adoration


Adoration (2009) dir. Atom Egoyan
Starring: Devon Bostick, Scott Speedman, Arsinee Khanjian

**

I am a big Atom Egoyan fan, which extends even beyond flag waving patriotism. Even his recent lesser-regarded films, “Where the Truth Lies”, “Felicia's Journey” dug into me and struck a chord. With “Adoration” it’s Egoyan again, his trademark multi-layered elliptical style with a peculiar story about a teenager’s conflicts reconciling the death of his parents. If this were another filmmaker’s film, I’d might call it a triumph of tonal control and metaphorical storytelling, but with Egoyan, it's something we’ve seen before, but with more preciousness and with lesser emotional punch.

Devon Bostick plays Simon, a high school student who lives with his ner-do-well, older brother Tom (Scott Speedman). We’re told by his ailing grandfather (Kenneth Welsh) that his father was a despicable man that had something to do his mother’s death. We also see, a recurring flashback at an Israeli airport customs desk where Simon’s mom (Rachel Blanchard) has problems attempting to enter Israel.

Meanwhile, Simon’s teacher Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian) convinces him to enter a drama show and pretend that his father was a terrorist and tried to heinously sacrifice his mother by planting a bomb in her luggage. Stay with me here… It seems like innocent deception until Simon posts his false story over the internet causing a huge fervour amongst the family. Slowly Sabine’s motivations are revealed and a dramatic connection to Simon outside of school emerges.

I can only gather that the purpose of the story structure is to confuse the audience, and eventually unravel the truth from the lies. It’s an hallmark of all Egoyan’s films – often jumping timelines to strategically unveil the emotion of the story. Unfortunately it doesn’t work with “Adoration.”  

We are fed blatant lies and false truths for no other the reason than to confuse us. In the first half we actually believe Simon’s dad was actually a terrorist - or maybe we do know and I was the only one in the theatre confused - I doubt it. Deceiving the characters is one thing, purposely lying to the audience is dangerous. Having bought into this dramatic bombshell magically erasing that plot point is an unfair dupe of our emotional investment.

I reviewed Brad Anderson’s “The Machinist” yesterday, and there’s some commonality in why both films don't work. Like Anderson's film, "Adoration's" 'story-guts' is contained in a truth, which is held back from the audience. With “The Machinist’s” Trevor Resnick character, he knows the truth, but his own mind is masking it. There's is little drama in the journey of either character, instead overweighted by its eventual twist reveal.

If anything, I enjoyed the performance of Scott Speedman who has said he aggressively pursued his role which was originally written for an older man. Speedman's instincts were right as his relationship with his brother, a paternal role he forced himself into, becomes the most interesting aspect of the film - a successful dramatic shift for Speedman into Cannes-worthy art house cinema.



Cannes 2009 Scorecard - Day 8


INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (US) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino's long in gestation WWII flick.. let's see the reaction:

Todd McCarthy, Variety, was entertained, "By turns surprising, nutty, windy, audacious and a bit caught up in its own cleverness, the picture is a completely distinctive piece of American pop art with a strong Euro flavor that's new for the director. Several explosive scenes and the names of Tarantino and topliner Brad Pitt promise brawny commercial prospects, especially internationally, as the preponderance of subtitled dialogue might put off a certain slice of the prospective domestic audience."

Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter, is tepid, "Inglourious Basterds" merely continues the string of disappointments in this year's Competition. The film is by no means terrible -- its two hours and 32 minutes running time races by -- but those things we think of as being Tarantino-esque, the long stretches of wickedly funny dialogue, the humor in the violence and outsized characters strutting across the screen, are largely missing."

Alex Billington, First Showing, writes, "is it a masterpiece? Not exactly. Tarantino doesn't reach those heights this time, though he does kick things up a notch in a way that even I wasn't expecting. Basterds is a bit light on the action, heavy on the talking, and full of great performances. It's as awesome as Tarantino's first two films and as entertaining as his most recent few. It's the WWII movie we've been waiting to see."



LES HERBES FOLLES (aka Wild Grass) (France/Italy) dir. Alain Resnais
A wallet lost and found opens the door - just a crack - to romantic adventure for Georges and Marguerite.

Dan Fainaru, Screendaily, writes, "Resnais is offering a deceptively simple and elegant picture, which will grow in depth and meaning with every additional viewing."

Duane Birge, Screendaily, writes, "at its roots, "Wild Grass" is merely a compilation of eye-candy fluff. It distracts with its warm visuals, but never fully fleshes out. With its thin narrative and elliptical story jumps, "Wild Grass" crashes and burns in a pretentious and unsatisfying manner."

Jordan Mintzer, Variety, writes, "the pic is marked by superb performances and a dazzling technical display by the helmer and praiseworthy cinematographer Eric Gautier. "Grass" should spread abundantly among the auteur's enthusiasts, but probably won't grow far outside the arthouse lawn."



EINAYM PKUHOT (aka Eyes Wide Open) (Israel/France/Germany) dir. Haim Tabakman
(En Certain Regard) A first feature for Tabakman, Eyes Wide Open is a gay love story in the heart of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem.

Alissa Simon, Variety, writes, "Taboo-breaking "Eyes Wide Open" is an intense, restrained drama about a married butcher who falls in love with a seductive younger man in Jerusalem's insular ultra-orthodox community. Sensitively helmed feature debut by Haim Tabakman boasts a tightly structured, multi-layered script by Merav Doster, intimate lensing and strong, credible performances."



NANG MAI (Nymph) (Thailand) dir. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
(En Certain Regard)

Twitch Film has a review and calls is, "supernaturally tinged drama...a languidly paced film...a stunning, virtuoso single take shot that tracks the would-be rape through the forest on what appears to be a blend of dolly, steadicam and crane work - Ratanaruang is beyond deliberate in his pacing of things...Though very well acted and clearly well constructed, Nymph is certainly the least commercial film of Ratanaruang’s career."

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Cannes 2009 Scorecard - Day 7



BROKEN EMBRACES(Spain) dir. Pedro Almodovar
Almodovar's ode to 40's noir, a love triangle story between a filmmaker/novelist, Penelope Cruz and domineering millionaire.

David Gritten, Guardian UK, writes, "Broken Embraces parades his many virtues, it treads water rather than breaks new ground...This premise is too convoluted for its own good, a charge that could also be leveled at Almodovar’s last disappointing film, 2004’s Bad Education. He seems so intent on jamming as many elements as possible into his story that his characters lack dimension."

Jonathan Holland, Variety, writes, "Partly a film about films and partly a film about love, Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces” can’t quite decide where its allegiances lie. A restless, rangy and frankly enjoyable genre-juggler that combines melodrama, comedy and more noir-hued darkness than ever before, the pic is held together by the extraordinary force of Almodovar’s cinematic personality."

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian UK, loves it, "a richly enjoyable piece of work, slick and sleek, with a sensuous feel for the cinematic surfaces of things and, as ever, self-reflexively infatuated with the business of cinema itself."



VINCERE (Italy) dir. Marco Bellocchio
Italian master Bellocchio returns to Cannes with a historical drama of Benito Mussolini's influence relationship with the woman who helped him rise to power.

Natasha Senjanovic of The Hollywood Reporter writes "Throughout the film, Bellocchio intersperses black-and-white archival footage, fascist-era graphics and close-ups of women whose identities are explained much later in the film, to good artistic effect. He creates an intimate mood while alluding to the general feel of the highly chronicled era without going too far over the top or reconstructing elaborate sets."

Jay Weissberg, Variety, writes, "Momentous events require suitably powerful storytelling, which vet helmer Marco Bellocchio delivers in "Vincere," the little-known story of Benito Mussolini's ill-fated first wife and son. Conceived as grand opera set inside delineated space, it's a thrilling, at times brilliant piece of staging that never forgets the emotional pull of either the tragic personal tale or the ramifications of history."

Lee Marshall, Screendaily, writes, "It’s a curious but rousingly cinematic work that for all its flashy stylistic quirks is at heart as old-fashioned as its surging orchestral score. As a study of the personal tensions behind Italian history’s grand events, Vincere lacks the sensitivity of the director’s Aldo Moro kidnapping drama Buongiorno Notte; but as a stirring portrait of a woman wronged, it delivers the emotional goods."



AMINTIRI DIN EPOCA DE AUR (aka Tales from the Golden Age) (Romania) dir. Hanno Höfer, Razvan
(En Certain Regard) Marculescu, Cristian Mungiu, Constantin Popescu, Ioana Uricaru
A Romanian compilation film directed by five of its bright cinematic stars, an unconventional personal history of the late communist period in Romania, told through its urban myths from the perspective of ordinary people. Comic, bizarre, surprising, these myths drew on the often surreal events of everyday life under the communist regime.

Mike Goodridge, Screendaily, writes, "another notch in the country’s film-making renaissance which focuses on day-to-day life ...t will be a crowd pleasing festival title around the world and could well stir up strong theatrical business in all the former Soviet nations"



DEMAIN DÈS L'AUBE aka Tomorrow at Dawn) (France) dir. Denis Dercourt
(En Certain Regard) From the director of 'The Page Turner' comes a film about the relationship between two brothers, the younger of whom is so enthralled by historical battles that he has lost touch with reality. At his mother’s request, Mathieu, the older brother, tries to free his kid brother Paul from his addiction...

Lisa Nesselson, Screendaily, writes, "Those who assume classical musicians are sissies may have to adjust their thinking after Tomorrow At Dawn, in which classical music meets historical battle re-enactments to excellent effect. ...The viewer can sense that bad things will happen without ever knowing when or in what form, and the punchline of this tale is a satisfying surprise."

Eric Kohn, Indiewire, Twittered this, "While no masterpiece, TOMORROW AT DAWN is very invigorating, suggests what ROLE MODELS would be like as a thriller."

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Taken


Taken (2008) dir. Pierre Morel
Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace

**1/2

How a film like this, with ‘straight-to-DVD’ written all over it, managed to subvert expectations and make a $125million in the box office this year is astounding. It truly is. The fact is, this atrociously scripted minimalist actioner is the type of picture Steven Seagal used to make year after year in the late 80’s, early 90’s - kidnapped daughter brings her former CIA agent father out of retirement to give some major beatdowns to the international baddies du jour.

In “Taken” it’s the Albanians that are up against Seagel... I mean Liam Neeson. The first half hour features some of the worst exposition I’ve seen on film in a while. Liam Neeson is Bryan Mills, a retired military man, divorced from his wife and 17-year-old daughter, now turned annoyingly over-protective father. This backstory is told to us with the subtlety of a blunt hammer. We can almost see the director rolling his eyes at the inconvenience of having to establish these character traits to us, before getting to the action.

Begrudgingly Mills lets his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, 25, playing a 17 year old??) go to Paris on a trip with her friend. Once in Paris, while on a phone call to Daddy, she is kidnapped. Mills immediately goes into military mode and uses his lifetime of skills and training to track down the baddies.

It’s a slogging 30mins to get through before the film really begins. Then, instantly brainchild co-writer Luc Besson and his director Pierre Morel bring the film to life. Like Jack Bauer, Mills becomes robotically obsessive about every detail of evidence he has. With not much more than a scratchy cell phone recording of the kidnapper saying ‘Good Luck’, Mills manages to systematically retrace Kim’s movements from her hotel room to the dingy brothels of Paris.

Neeson is impressive in his brainless action debut. Morel directs the action well making him look as good as Seagal but without the blackbelt and ponytail. Mills’ rampage of revenge is appropriately violent and unrelenting. Morel shows us exactly what we want to see – Neeson kicking major Albanian ass all over the place, whether it’s bone-breaking hand-to-hand combat, violent gun battles or car chases, Mills is consistently merciless.

It’s difficult to justify “Taken” truly as anything but a terrible movie, but something Todd Hallowell, one of Ron Howard’s producers, once told me in an interview about Howard’s philosophy of watching movies, “a good film is one that delivers on it’s own promise. Whatever genre, whatever it is, if it delivers on what it promised you, it’s a good film. It might not be a great film, but at least it delivered on what it said it would do.” Tempering the atrocious scripting and real-world logic with the impressive unforgiving intensity of Mill’s journey, a surprisingly decent film emerges. But a $125m film?

I think Luc Besson has become the Roger Corman of our time. After quitting directing, in the 2000’s he’s become a factory of successful euro-action flicks as writer and producer. In “Taken” there’s a deceptive intelligence in how Besson manufactures its success. As a Frenchman, he exploits America’s hatred of his own people as the one of the main audience attractions of the film. It’s clear the success of this film in the U.S. is partly due to the idea of a single American man, using his American military training to best the entire country of ineffectual Frenchmen. It would seem an unpatriotic treacherous manoeuvre for Besson, but with $125million box office bank, the joke is definitely not on him.

“Taken” is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment



Cannes 2009 Scorecard - Day 6


LOOKING FOR ERIC (UK and others) dir. Ken Loach
A domestic drama starring former soccer star Eric Cantona as a postman and familyman whose lost love 30 years ago causes him to journey into his past to reconcile his internal pain.

Sukhdev Sandhu, Telegraph UK, calls it "endearing, crowd-pleasing fare".

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian UK, concurs, "a lovably good-natured if erratic comedy...It's a bit like Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam. This is Kick It Like Eric. (Or maybe Kick Him Like Eric.) The difference is that Woody had to make do with an actor who only looked like Humphrey Bogart. Ken Loach has got the real thing (played, as it says in the credits, by "lui-même"): Cantona is excellent comic value, although his accent is still a bit impenetrable, and it isn't easy to tell if he is speaking in French or English."

Dave Calhou, Timeout, says, "It’s Loach’s most accessible film in years."



ANTICHRIST (Denmark and others) dir. Lars Von Trier
Easily the most hotly anticipated Von Trier film in years, a genre film perhaps? The Cannes synopsis reads as this: A grieving couple retreat to ’Eden’, their isolated cabin in the woods, where they hope to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse...

Peter Brunette, The Hollywood Reporter, writes "Danish director's overly fecund imagination overwhelms a slight but visually splendid story...Lars von Trier is in no danger of jeopardizing his reign as the most controversial major director working today. Visually gorgeous to a fault and teeming with grandiose if often fascinating ideas that overwhelm the modest story that serves as their vehicle, this may be the least artistically successful film von Trier has ever made. As such, commercial prospects appear slim, though many of the auteur's most ardent fans will want to see the film anyway. And they should."

Jonathan Romney, Screendaily, writes, "Some von Trier fans will welcome his return to the elaborate visual invention he abandoned with the founding of Dogme. But in the wider world, Antichrist will prove too loopy and coarse for art-house audiences, while genre horror buffs – however cleverly the film is sold to them - will spurn the film, much as they did Michael Haneke’s US Funny Games remake."

Jeffrey Wells, of Hollywood Elsewhere hated it, "easily one of the biggest debacles in Cannes Film Festival history and the complete meltdown of a major film artist in a way that invites comparison to the sinking of the Titanic"

Roger Ebert, writes, "Whether this is a bad, good or great film is entirely beside the point. It is an audacious spit in the eye of society... Von Trier is not so much making a film about violence as making a film to inflict violence upon us, perhaps as a salutary experience. It's been reported that he suffered from depression during and after the film. You can tell. This is the most despairing film I've ever have seen."

Manohla Dargis, NY Times, seemed to like it, "Chaos reigns if not narrative sense, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that this impossible movie kept me hooked from start to finish"



INDEPENDENCIA (Philippines, France and other) dir, Raya Martin
(En Certain Regard) Early 20th century Philippines. The sounds of war signal the arrival of the Americans. A mother and son flee to the mountains, hoping for a quiet life. One day, the son discovers a wounded woman in the middle of the forest, and decides to bring her home. Years pass. Man, woman and child live in isolation from the growing chaos all over the country. But a coming storm soon threatens their existence, and American troops draw nearer.

Howard Feinstein, Screendaily, writes, "Generically, Independencia is as melodramatic as they come. Besides the family narrative and the acting style, the music, as lovely as it is, is continuous, insistent, and frequently mournful, with horns, guitar, flute, violin, and cello accompanying or anticipating every element of what little plot exists."

Monday, 18 May 2009

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock


Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) dir. Leonard Nimoy
Starring: William Shatner, Christopher Lloyd, DeForest Kelly, Robin Curtis

**1/2

It didn’t take long for the Star Trek producer Harve Bennett to figure out how to continue on the adventure of the immensely successful 'Wrath of Khan'. Without the talents and instincts of Nicholas Meyer at the helm, it’s a technically proficient affair but less passionate and ultimately a softened version of the previous film.

When we last left the crew of the Enterprise, Kirk outsmarted his nemesis Khan, destroying him and his mutinous crew and launching the Genesis device thus creating the first artificial ‘Genesis Planet’, but not before Spock saved the day and sacrificed himself for his colleagues. At the beginning of SFS those warmongering Klingons have also caught on to the presence and power of Genesis and seek to harness its power for evil. On the flight home Bones starts exhibiting strange behaviour and speaking like Spock. In fact, it’s Spock soul which he had downloaded to Bones via a mind meld. And when signs of human life emerge on the new Genesis planet, it’s apparent Spock is alive and needs to join up with Bones to complete his reincarnation. Kirk and a the essential Trek crew hijack the enterprise while docked at Earth and go back to the Genesis Planet to find Spock.

Kirstie Alley’s Lt. Saavik character is recast with newbie Robin Curtis. Though less striking in pointy ears than a young Alley, Curtis delivers a fine performance in one of the key roles in the film. Saavik’s matronly nurturing of Spock provides some of the most tender moments in the series, not excluding the Trekkie wet dream version of the Vulcan lovemaking ritual.

Unfortunately Christopher Lloyd doesn’t stand up to the intensity of Ricardo Montalban’s passionate performance as Khan. It’s the first Klingon baddie on the big screen, and admittedly it was difficult to look past Lloyd’s comic persona to find the fear in his character.

The Blu-Ray’s featurette is a treasure of the intra-cast conflict of egos. Leonard Nimoy’s promotion to director seems to be a sore spot in William Shatner. A palpable bit of jealousy emerges as he freely describes Nimoy’s popularity among the Paramount brass after his performance in Wrath of Khan. He even is bold enough to suggest that because he got Nimoy a directing gig on his show, “TJ Hooker”, and there actually taught him how to direct.

Of course, a fourth Star Trek meant an even longer voyage for the crew. “The Voyage Home” which completes what’s been billed as the “Original Motion Picture Trilogy”. The journey through time back to 1987 to bring back an extinct humpback whale to the future works like that famous ‘Trouble with Tribbles’ Original Series episode – a blatant comedy episode, with little redeeming franchise gravitas.

“The Search for Spock” sits right in the middle of these two pictures, film which unfortunately charts the downfall of the movie version of the franchise, that is, until the JJ Abrams resurrection. Enjoy.

“Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Trilogy” is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment




Cannes 2009 Scorecard - Day 5


VENGEANCE (Hong Kong) dir. Johnnie To
I've never been a Johnnie To fan, and I can't understand why his films continue to screen in Competition at Cannes, but whatever. "Vengeance" tells the story of a former killer, now a chef and father who comes to Hong Kong to avenge his daughter, whose family was murdered.

Kirk Hunnycuut of The Hollywood Reporter writes, "This is a tale of two Johnnies. Renowned Hong Kong action director Johnnie To teams up with iconic French singer-actor Johnny Hallyday for a stylish, whiz-bang revenge melodrama."

Lee Marshall, Screendaily, say it's "A revenge shoot-em-up which fires mostly blanks...As always, the sensuality of To’s visual style and soundscapes and the choreography of the film’s bullet ballet provide reasons to watch, but the contrived plot, some wooden English dialogue and Hallyday’s stilted perfomance derail proceedings well before the final showdown."

Justin Chang, Variety, loves it calling it "a smoothly executed revenge thriller that finds one of Hong Kong's genre masters in assured action-movie form."



KINATAY (France, Phillipines) dir. Brillante Mendoza
On the opposite spectrum of Johnnie To is Brillante Mendoza. He was at Cannes last year with "Serbis", now he's back with what looks like a more mainstream film, the story of a criminology student, is recruited by his schoolmate to work as a part-time errand boy for a local syndicate that collects protection fees from various businesses in Manila.

Mike Goodridge, Screendaily, describes the film as "the indie shocker niche occupied by Irreversible or Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer... a nerve-shredding exploration of crime which is both repellent and grimly compelling. Offering audiences no relief or redemption, it is perhaps most notable for its daring in attempting to capture the moment a young man crosses the line into irrevocable evil."

Maggie Lee, The Hollywood Reporter, seems equally disgusted and intrigued, "Featuring shooting violence, rape and mutilation extensively in real time, from camera angles that make the audience feel like they are watching a snuff film, this full-on experience of forced voyeurism is certain to incite strong (most probably offended) responses."



LE PÈRE DE MES ENFANTS (aka FATHER OF MY CHILDREN) (France) Mia Hanson-Love
(En Certain Regard) A story of a work-aholic film producer with a wife and two kids who when his invisible career starts to teeter is forced to face the possibilty of failure.

Jonanthan Romney, Screendaily, describes is as, "insightful, mature and extremely accomplished...The film not only has brains to spare, and considerable savvy about the cinema business, it’s also guaranteed not to leave a dry eye in the house."

Justin Chang (Variety) saw it, "Marked by moments of remarkable stillness amid its emotional tumult, the film's classy, perceptive treatment of potentially maudlin material merits wider arthouse attention than it's likely to receive on local release in December. It confirms Hansen-Love as a talent worthy of a following on and beyond the fest circuit."



TZAR (Russia) dir. Pavel Lounguine
16th century. In a plotting Russia in the grip of chaos, Ivan the Terrible strongly believes he is invested by a holy mission. He establishes an absolute power, smashing with an astounding cruelty whoever gets in his way. During this reign of terror, the Head of Church, Filipp, great scholar and Ivan’s close friend, dares to stand up and raise himself against the Sovereign’s mystical tyranny.

Derek Elley, Variety, writes, "laden with Russian brooding and violence, Pavel Lungin's "Tsar" is a brief peep into Ivan the Terrible's heart of darkness via a conflict between the regent and the head of the church" and cites, "rich, atmospheric lensing by Clint Eastwood regular Tom Stern, this is a heavy meal to digest outside the fest arena."

Deborah Young (The Hollywood Reporter) calls it, "A spectacular Russian retelling of the Ivan the Terrible story..."Tsar" positions itself between Sergei Eisenstein's "Ivan the Terrible" and Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev," though without their originality and inspiration."

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Cannes 2009 Scorecard - Day 4



TAKING WOODSTOCK (US) dir. Ang Lee
The much anticipated story of Woodstock told from the point of view of a struggling motel owner in the area.

Eric Kohn of Indiewire seemed to hate it saying, "this messy historical fiction plays like a two hour “Saturday Night Live” sketch, and not a very good one, either."

Todd McCarthy of Variety was a bit kinder, though not raving, "A sort of let's-put-on-a-show summer-camp lark for director Ang Lee after the dramatic rigors of "Brokeback Mountain" and "Lust, Caution," the picture serves up intermittent pleasures but is too raggedy and laid-back for its own good, its images evaporating nearly as soon as they hit the screen."

Sukhdev Sandhu of the Telegraph UK, concurs and elaborates, "Taking Woodstock is a loving recreation of a time that holds a special place in the hearts of millions of people all across the world. But, pitched at the hypothetical half-way point between The Graduate and Almost Famous, it's almost too sweet for its own good, tasteful rather than transcendental, imbued with a nostalgia that Lee doesn't convince us he truly feels."



UN PROPHÈTE (France) dir. Jacques Audiard
Condemned to six years in prison, Malik El Djebena cannot read nor write. Arriving at the jail entirely alone, he appears younger and more fragile than the other convicts. He is 19 years old. Cornered by the leader of the Corsican gang who rules the prison, he is given a number of "missions" to carry out, toughening him up and gaining the gang leader’s confidence in the process. But Malik is brave and a fast learner, daring to secretly develop his own plans...

Though running at two and a half hours, Jonathan Romney of Screendaily was entertained, "When it comes to hard-bitten crime cinema, Jacques Audiard has few equals in Europe, and his violent, gripping prison drama A Prophet shows him extending his range with unimpeachable command. The story of a gauche young inmate who rises through the criminal ranks to become a formidable player, A Prophet works both as hard-edged, painstaking detailed social realism and as a compelling genre entertainment."

Alex Billington of FirstShowing.net writes, "I had never seen a Jacques Audiard film before today, but now I want to go back watch all of his films. I was waiting to finally discover something exceptional here at Cannes, and this it....From Tahar Rahim's stand out performance to Alexandre Desplat's amazing score to Stéphane Fontaine's wonderful cinematography, everything about Un Prophete is exceptional."

Justin Chang of Variety, describes the film as having "headlong momentum" and of Audiard's direction, "a flair for pulse-pounding setpieces."

Here's a trailer:

Un Prophète, de Jacques Audiard, bande-annonce
by telerama




MOTHER (Korea) dir. Bong Joon Ho
Playing in En Certain Regard, Mother is the newest film from the director of the The Host - another police investigative drama for Joon-Ho, about a mother's fight to exonerate her son who is accused of murder.

Jamie Graham of Totalfilm is not enthused, "Mother is slow-burner that unfurls with great deliberation...Mother is competent, no more, no less"

On the other hand, Maggie Lee of The Hollywood Reporter, loves it, "Bong Joon-ho's top opus zooms in on one character with smothering intensity to examine the primal quality of motherhood. At the same time, it is a superb murder mystery, with twists coming thick and fast yet always at the right moments."

Mike Goodridge of Screendaily, concurs with Lee, calling it "an operatic melodrama revolving around a knockout central performance from TV star Kim Hye-ja. Filled with the elegant compositions and mood-drenched cinematography which are becoming Bong’s specialty, Mother is a largely satisfying film which marks the director out as South Korea’s most versatile young auteur."



SAMSON & DELILAH (Australia) Warwick Thornton
(En Certain Regard) Samson, a cheeky 15-year-old boy, and Delilah live in an isolated Aboriginal community in the Central Australian desert. In amongst a tiny collection of houses, everything here happens in a cycle. Day in and day out – nothing changes, everything stays the same and no one seems to care. The two teenagers soon discover that life outside the community can be cruel. Though hungry and rejected Samson and Delilah fall in love. It is all they have. It is real. And when tragedy strikes they turn their backs on home and embark on a journey of survival. Lost, unwanted and alone they discover that life isn’t always fair, but love never judges.

An older review from Oz, Sandra Hall of the Sidney Morning Herald writes, "It's a demanding film, so determined to replicate the listless rhythm which governs the community's routines that you feel a need to slow your pulse beat to adapt to it. Thornton, who shot the film himself, has the action unfold in long takes which give you plenty of time to dwell on the desert vastness."

Sukdev Sandhu, Telegraph UK writing from Cannes gives is 5 Stars, calling it "an outstanding feature debut...There are shades of the Dardennes brothers here, and of Charles Burnett’s classic Killer of Sheep. Mostly, Samson and Delilah looks - and sounds (its sound design, both playful and dissonant, is terrific) – like no Australian film I’ve seen. Timeless and also utterly contemporary, it will leave hearts bruised, but aching with joy."