Saturday, April 30, 2011
Les regrets (2009)***1/2
Cedric Kahn’s tale of romantic obsession drips with confusion, passion and uncontrolled horniness. Yvan Attal stars as Matthieu, a 40ish architect from Paris who has returned to his provincial home town to sit at his mother’s deathbed. At the hospital, he accidently bumps into a sweetheart from his youth - willowy, mysterious Maya (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) – and the pair find that the intervening years have done little to dampen their animal attraction. But other things have changed; Matthieu is now married to a kind, supportive woman (Arly Jover), while Maya has wed an unstable fellow named Franck (Philippe Katerine) who is a Gallic version of what Americans would call a redneck drunk. The bulk of the film is quite good, with generous amounts of intrigue, peril and schtupping. The final reels lose some intensity, but Attal’s performance is so impressive Les regrets remains a worthy watch.
The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)****
Father of My Children (2009)***1/2
Kind of like two films in one, Father of My Children features a wonderful performance by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing as Gregoire Canvel, a film producer based in Paris. The nattily clad Canvel spends his days on a cell phone, putting out fires at various film sets throughout Europe. Despite the high pressure lifestyle, he still tries to be a good family man, spending weekends with his wife (Chiara Caselli) and 3 little girls at their country house. Directed by Mia Hansen-Love, the film captures the harried essence Canvel’s life through details that have an authentic ring. As someone who has spent a significant part of his life loitering around the offices of assorted production companies, Hansen-Love captures the buzzing intensity of Canvel’s workplace with perfect pitch. When the pressures mount to the breaking point, tragedy ensues and a shocked Caselli is left to pick up the pieces. The film then takes a surprisingly unsentimental approach and focuses on the nuts and bolts of practicality as the family attempts to dig out from the financial mess left behind. Based on a true story, Father of My Children accomplishes what it sets out do: it entertains and depresses while offering very little in the way of catharsis.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
Reviewed by Shu Zin
301/302 is a Korean thriller directed by Cheol-su Park, who here tells a story about a writer from apartment 302 (Syn-Hai Hwang) who goes missing. She has some serious issues with eating and food; her neighbor in 301 (Eun-jin Bang), coincidentally, has become obsessive about cooking. 302 addresses women’s issues in her articles, and sometimes she gets quite racy. “Terms for an Ideal Sex Life” is what she calls one of them, as the camera observes her, wittily, at her desktop. We get to know first her neighbor, and then, in bits, the writer herself, as a detective tries to figure out what has become of her.
The story is told from various points of view, and there are some understated funny bits that surprise, and an especially good solitary eating and drinking scene that delivers just a little ecstasy. Soon after, two storylines take off at a gallop into unexpected territory, and disturbing sets in. This makes the overall pacing of the film’s storytelling somewhat awkward. The timeline sashays about some, but if you go with the flow, you’ll know enough by the end, and it is so much fun getting there. The cinematography is consistently exciting, with bright contrasts, big color, and nothing blurry or shadowy. The design of the production is marvelous to look at; there are some excellent, loving close-ups of food sizzling or bubbling, or being chewed, gleaming wine glasses on a shelf, a timer on the counter of a high tech kitchen - you get the picture: a love of visual detail. Recommended.
Reviewed by Shu Zin
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Billy Casper’s attempt to train a wild bird is not so much an effort to master nature, but to unify with it, as nature offers his only visible means of escape from the unfair and peculiar strictures of the British social order. Though steeped in the distinct traditions and impenetrable accents of Yorkshire, Kes is a film that achieves a universal resonance through settings and performances that astonish with their unshakable, rough-hewn conviction.
Full Review at IONCINEMA.com
Monday, April 18, 2011
Erreur de la banque en votre faveur (2009)***1/2
Bank Error in Your Favor is a fast paced feel good comedy – as feel good as the French get anyway – that combines elements of caper films with economic populism. Gerard Lanvin stars as a personal assistant, actually a glorified waiter, to a group of bankers who gather everyday in a private conference room to plot imaginative ways of manipulating the CAC-40. When Lanvin is pink-slipped for a cheaper replacement, he decides to use some accidently heard insider information to help himself and his struggling middle-class drinking buddies. The film then becomes a swirling maze of crosses and double crosses as the bankers, angry that ordinary people are actually making money, attempt to hoist Lanvin on his own petard. You’ll be giggling as these blue collar workers forsake their usual sports conversations for heated debates on the merits of various financial instruments. It’s all good, escapist fun, with a bit of romantic steam along the way.
Buddy Rich: Jazz Legend 1917-1987 (1996)****
This lengthy disc will give you a thorough education into the life and times of this extraordinary talent who, by virtue of a demon fast left hand, accomplished things with drum kits that have not been equaled, before or since, by any human. We learn all about Buddy’s childhood as a vaudevillian tap dancer, to his big band days with Harry James to his frequent appearances on the Tonight Show, where America got an entertaining dose of his biting, caustic wit. Through rare archival footage we see Buddy’s aborted attempts to find his own musical identity, including a bluesy bebop quartet that mixed with his hard-charging style about as well as oil and water. There are the classic drum battles, where Buddy would trade paradiddles with any percussionist foolish enough to share the stage with him. Here, his blazing wrists make the great Gene Krupa look like a rather intimidated marching band reject.
Buddy didn’t really hit his musical stride until well into his 50s, with the forming of a big band consisting mainly of Eastman School graduates, but this talented incarnation produced some absolutely stunning music. In all, the disc, like Buddy’s drum solos, drags on a bit too long. But we are left with an awestruck appreciation of this man and his lightening hands.
Clara et Moi (2004)****
Arnaud Viard's quiet romance, set in Paris, is as simple and straightforward as its title implies. Here we meet a young actor named Antoine (Julien Boisselier) who happens to meet the shy, lovely Clara (Julie Gayet) on the Metro one afternoon and, somewhere between Concorde and Montparnasse, finds himself hopelessly smitten. But the couple’s bliss is threatened when some new information about Clara surfaces, forcing Antoine to make a difficult and painful decision. Clear, concise and engaging, Clara et Moi is one of the more affecting contemporary romances made in recent years, and viewers' hearts will be touched by this story of lovers placed in an impossible position by the vagaries of fate.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Reviewed by Shu Zin
TITO AND ME is a delightfully caustic, instructive story narrated by an adorable, precocious, chubby little boy called Zoran (Dimitrije Vojnov). He is stubborn enough despite a repressive atmosphere to retain his childish intelligence, straightforwardness and trenchant honesty at the age of about 12, but he is too young (thankfully for us, the audience) to appreciate his own grand sense of irony that colors many of his observations.
Zoran recounts his having fallen in love, not once, but twice, and his writing a poem for a mandatory entry into a students’ contest which answers the questions, “Do you love Marshall Tito? And how much do you love him?” Zoran’s quite hastily composed effort reflects little critical thought (and this is a small, but brilliantly made and important point) and, most likely, because of this, Zoran is rewarded by his being chosen with a group of children to visit Tito’s boyhood homeland in Yugoslavia, a punishing walking tour to be led by the comedic bureaucrat, Comrade Raja (Lazar Ristovski)
TITO AND ME is utterly charming, but devastating, as well. It has cuts from actual vintage footage of Tito and his adoring masses, impressive and very depressing. Best of all is his mewing fondness for that powerful demographic: The Children. One could see this movie as a heads up. Children are amenable and vulnerable to propaganda, but - not always! If you can set aside prejudice (as I had to do) and commit to a film narrated by a 12-yr old, this one will delight. It is subtle, intelligent, filled with nuanced humor and well-made. Goran Markovic directs. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Shu Zin
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
In White Material, director Claire Denis weaves a complex cinematic tapestry out of narrative threads as coarse and dry as Isabelle Huppert’s fiery, windblown hair. Set in an African nation in the throes of civil war, the film reduces the waning days of European colonialism to a small scale story of a coffee farmer and her attempts to remain tethered to a familiar economic model in the midst of violent collapse. The film is rife with intentional geo-political vagueness; not only is the country unnamed, the precise aims of the warring factions are never defined or discussed. Both sides wear the same tattered uniforms and employ the same brutal means, creating a swirling maelstrom of terror and confusion. The only certainty is this tortured land no longer has a status quo to defend, and the Europeans who exploited its riches will soon be caught in a crossfire that grows ever closer.
Isabelle Huppert stars – in the truest sense of the word – as Maria Vial, de facto manager of her ailing ex father-in-law’s coffee plantation, a once thriving operation complete with tenet houses, scores of eager laborers and the large, clanging machinery of agricultural industry. For years, the Vial Plantation was a shining beacon of commerce in the dark, arid vastness, but those days are long gone, as the most recent generation has decided that growing coffee is far beneath them. In this film, European men are portrayed as slightly less than useless, and that aspersion extends to the Vial clan as well. Maria’s former husband Andre (Christopher Lambert) has been virtually disowned due to his new marriage to a local woman (Adele Ado) and Maria’s 20-ish son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a pampered lay-about who seems firmly convinced that any attempt at physical labor would immediately kill him. Thus, command of the failing enterprise has fallen on Maria’s slender but determined shoulders, albeit at the worst possible time.
Like Jimmy Stewart in Shenandoah, Huppert stands stubbornly convinced that the political upheaval encircling her estate is a limited, insular affair that neither concerns nor affects the daily routine that defines her life. But by measures both strong and subtle, Denis shows us the increasingly desperate crumbling of Maria’s comfortable world. The structure of the film itself creates a disoriented vertigo, as the early reels present seemingly random events that drift unbound from chronology. Denis, who was nominated for a Golden Lion for this film, and Editor Guy Lecorne create a fluid mosaic of Maria’s past and present culled from the character’s bubbling pool of fearful memories. Amazingly, this laddered method of storytelling creates curiosity and sympathy but not a hint of narrative confusion. Indeed, Denis’ risky approach ultimately seems the perfect choice; not only is it empathic, it’s also efficient. On the macro level, Denis is able to tell a sprawling tale of political disintegration in a tidy 106 minutes, and at an intra-scene pace that rarely strays from real time.
Much of the credit must go to Huppert, who conveys more emotional turmoil with her chin than most actors can evoke with their entire bodies. Not since Heaven’s Gate 30 years ago, has Huppert taken a role so wholly dependent on her unique physicality. In an early scene, Huppert desperately clings to the side of a rusty, overcrowded bus in a life-or-death attempt to escape the advancing rebels. Her tiny arms bulge from the strain as her body is engulfed in a hot, dry wind, manifesting not only her character’s fierce determination but also her stubborn resistance. She had been offered more comfortable seating on top of the bus, but that would mean fraternizing with her former workers as equals. For the proud Maria that is a bridge too far, even in a world gone mad.
But White Material’s most haunting images are also its simplest, as Huppert, left alone on the plantation, frantically searches for her family amid an eerie and menacing silence. She is not yet aware of the full toll this conflict has taken, particularly on the unbalanced Manuel. As she paces the farm’s thick jungles and dusty roads, Denis’ lenses grow ever wider, reducing Huppert’s dominance of the frame and her environment. We are left only with a slight, fair-haired figure in a frilly pink dress, imperiled not only by the intense African sun, but also by sweaty, heavily armed demons – both real and imagined – hiding in the murky shadows.
The transfer, in 2.35:1 and personally supervised by Denis and cameraman Yves Cape, is of astonishing depth and clarity, and represents another first rate effort by Criterion. Somehow, Denis and Cape make the dominant tones of beige and umber seem like exciting, vibrant new colors. It’s as if the design of the African wilderness had been color-cued from Huppert’s auburn tresses, creating an ironic visual harmony for this story of societal chaos. To those who denigrate Blu-ray and proclaim that watching movies on cell phones is the wave of the future, we proudly submit this gorgeous disc in rebuttal.
The mix is crisp, clear and exceedingly well balanced. And it provides a perfect platform for Stuart Staples’ thoroughly modern but haunting score, as mournful cellos evoke the tortured weeping of the sun-baked African plains.
Interview with Director Claire Denis
Among the disc’s wealth of supplements is this interview with director Denis, who magnanimously credits Huppert with providing much of the creative spark during the project’s development. The production faced a number of obstacles, including the impounding of vital equipment by Cameroon authorities, and Denis details how she and the crew overcame their difficulties by teamwork and clever improvisation.
Interview with Actress Isabelle Huppert
Huppert discusses many aspects of the film in great depth, and shows a profound understanding not only of her character, but the dramatic subtext of the entire project. Her comments make one wonder if this supremely talented actress has ever had an itch to direct. She certainly has the instincts.
Interview with Actor Isaach De Bankolé
De Bankolé, who plays a militant leader known as The Boxer, first worked with Denis 20 years ago on her debut film Chocolat. He discusses how the history of political violence in his home nation of Ivory Coast helped him craft a character both charismatic and enigmatic.
2010 Ecrans Noirs Film Festival
This 13 minute documentary, shot by Denis on home video, chronicles her rather frustrating return to Cameroon for a special screening of White Material. Her happy reunion with the film’s crew is plagued by frequent technical issues that eventually threaten the entire presentation. The short is an interesting, funny and at times heartbreaking look at the perils of staging a world class event in a poverty stricken setting.
White Material Booklet
A lavishly illustrated, 22 page booklet is included and features a wonderful essay by Film Comment Editor Amy Taubin. We learn much about the background of film, as well as Taubin’s perceptive observations on how White Material is thematically a natural extension of the Claire Denis filmography.
A deleted scene and the film’s theatrical trailer complete the bonus material.
Despite it’s time-shifting storyline and exotic locale, White Material retains many comforting attributes of familiarity. Indeed, in this age of rapidly accelerated political change, the film’s occasional, and more than passing, resemblances to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now do not seem like mere coincidence. Claire Denis’ film bears witness to the death rattles of colonization, and the viewer is thrust into the center of the conflict, but from a uniquely non-judgmental perspective. If the West’s misadventures in the developing world have taught us anything, it’s that often there’s no distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. And, as Denis and Huppert brilliantly make clear, sometimes it’s best to drop your coffee beans and run like hell.
Monday, April 11, 2011
One of the great things about Dish Network is the access to international television, particularly their package of French programming. Nestled amid TV5’s comedies and newsmagazines are some real cinematic gems. Yeah, you’ll sit through a few stinkers in the process of unearthing them, but the obscure finds make the effort worthwhile. One such film is Extérieur, nuit, a murky existentialist drama about three aimless, drifting lives in the unromantic Paris of 1980.
The acting in Extérieur, nuit is consistently wonderful, featuring a cast that has gone on to long and successful careers in the industry. Lanvin, who has become ruggedly handsome in his middle years and now largely plays cops and gangsters, comes off here as a sort of cuddly Robert DeNiro; a young man rife with angst and alienation but ultimately warm and empathetic. Christine Boisson’s notorious first screen appearance was as an oversexed teenager masturbating to a photo of Paul Newman in the moderately kinky classic Emmanuelle, but here she’s all business, honing a sharp edge of sexual and emotional danger that allows the narrative to cut through the lost meanderings of the male protagonists. And there’s the great Andre Dussollier, as our eyes, ears and heart, who shows an early mastery of the subtle physical timing that made him an international star.
Extérieur, nuit has yet to be released in North America on DVD, but that will likely change as the film has undergone a re-discovery in recent years. In 2009, it was prominently featured at the Lyon Film Festival and in 2010 it was released for a theatrical run throughout France. And director Bral is back in the saddle again, currently filming a new drama called Le Noir (Te) Vous Va Si Bien in Paris.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Gather ‘round Pardners, here’s what ya’ll missed on the innernets while ridin’ the range…
My ol’ pal Wayward Muse is back an’ blogggin up a storm. She picks the good'uns to write about. Take a gander at her reviews and picher shows…
JB has a spankin’ new review of Salvador Allende that makes mine look like something a polecat drug home. That cowpoke shore writes purdy.
That nice lady over yonder in France, Miz Lawrenson, has an essay on writin’ that’ll bring tears to your eyes. Y’all pay her a visit…
My buddy Doug is still runnin’ fer President, an’ if things git anymore hinky in Warshington, he just might win!
The ol’ Retro Hound has a passel of book covers and other stuff that y’all may remember from days gone by. Everytime I visit, I git all misty fer the good ol’ days. Tell’em Bunchie sent you.
Take a second look at some Movin’ Picher gems at Quality Cult Cinema. Ol’ Tiger over there has seen it all…even Soylent Green!
Bob has been up to his usual magic at European Film Stars Postcards. I’m right partial to this post about Elizabeth Taylor, lord rest her soul. Where else kin you get educatin’ while looking at purdy pichers?
Well, I see the sun settin in the west pardners, so I better git back to punchin’ doggies.
God it’s exhausting to write in the voice of Ward Bond.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Hidden amid the joy and horror of Allende’s story is a chilling parable for our times, as a popular young President, elected on a platform of hope, ironically unleashes the worst elements and instincts of the nation he has sworn to serve.
Read My Full Review at IONCINEMA.com
Monday, April 4, 2011
In recalling the career of the late Elizabeth Taylor, I’m reminded of a lesser-known role she played in SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER, a film directed by Joseph L Manciewicz in 1959. While I didn’t see this movie til sometime in the 70s, it was a shocker, even then, and it’s hard to imagine the impact it had when it was first released.
At the risk of being a spoiler, I’ll say that it was a ground-breaker for Hollywood, in that it addressed, albeit obliquely, homosexuality and, even more obliquely, cannibalism (although some English filmmakers, and actors like Dirk Bogard and James Mason, had already proved themselves more adventurous when approaching the former). And it is none other than Elizabeth Taylor who struggles through the film trying to articulate her recent participation in events generated out of these taboo places. Liz has nonetheless to take a back seat to Katherine Hepburn as Violet. Let’s face it; no stranger to upstaging tactics and techniques, Hepburn acts the pants off Taylor. Liz does a good, if not fantastic, job as Violet’s niece, Kathy, a traumatized ingénue who has been privy to a murderous, living nightmare. Both ladies were nominated for Academy Awards.
I've seen SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER several times through the years. Every time, I’m thrilled at the brilliance of the film, riveted by the suspenseful build-up of horrifying subject matter; every time, it shocks and appalls. Katherine Hepburn as Violet delivers one of her finest performances as the very rich, fanciful, grieving mother of her only son, the beautiful Sebastian, who died...suddenly, last summer. Elizabeth Taylor is Kathy, Violet's niece, who customarily accompanied Sebastian on the annual summer trip. This time, last summer, Sebastian elected to troll for fun in white hot Spain, where he dies. When Kathy returns to America, she is deeply emotionally damaged.
The circumstances of Sebastian’s death are so traumatic, so grotesque, that Kathy represses all memory of them, except that she occasionally "babbles" a tale of horror. Auntie Violet, powerful and obsessive, and intent on preserving her son's good reputation, has Kathy committed to a private insane asylum. When Violet reads in the newspaper about a doctor (Montgomery Clift: brilliant, even though his staring eyes, as always, often disconcert) at the state insane asylum whose specialty is surgical lobotomies, Violet sees a way to remove, rather than repress, forever Kathy's memory of Sebastian's life and last days.
She offers an extremely generous and much-needed donation to the state asylum, in return for the doctor's performing a lobotomy on her niece. Right now! The production of this movie features marvelous sets, including a jungle-like conservatory full of plants so lush and thriving - even in black and white - they seem almost predatory. Lengthy meetings between Violet and the doctor and, sometimes, Kathy take place in this beautifully menacing setting.
This screenplay of the Tennessee Williams play was adapted in part by Gore Vidal, and it is superbly intelligent and dark. Tennessee Williams and Katherine Hepburn were made for each other (see LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT for another example of this exquisite pairing) and every aspect of this amazing movie, shot in breathtaking black and white, is perfect. One of the best movies of all time, in my view. A must see, if for no other reason than to celebrate the dark side of Liz.
Reviewed bu Shu Zin
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Letters to Father Jacob (2009)*****
This stark, introspective drama from Finland is all about religious belief and those that use it to define their lives. A rough edged, convicted murderer (Kaarina Hazard) finds herself suddenly pardoned and released into the care of an elderly blind priest (Heikki Nousiainen). The unlikely pair spends many hours in the Priest’s weedy, wooded yard, where the ill-tempered Hazard reads hundreds of letters from distressed souls seeking prayers. But just when we’re convinced of the film’s familiar, sentimental path, director Klaus Härö veers onto a surprising course that confounds expectations. As hushed and delicate as morning vespers, Letters to Father Jacob is a superb exercise in restrained storytelling and filmic technique. And Nousiainen’s performance is nothing short of extraordinary.
An Almost Perfect Affair (1979)***1/2
Delightfully silly crud, concerning a furtive romance between Keith Carradine and Monica Vitti, if one can imagine such a thing. Shot during the Cannes Film Festival, the movie is chock full of references to cinematic lore and part of the fun is spotting director Michael Ritchie’s next homage. The charismatic Vitti shows a real flair for comedy, while Carradine finds dramatically compelling reasons to remove his shirt. The whole goofy mess drags on a bit too long, but otherwise the film is a beguiling little time-waster.
Beware of My Love (1998)***
Fans of the enchanting Natalie Baye will find this somewhat worthwhile, but within the sphere of French romantic thrillers Beware of My Love is wholly unremarkable. It was the 90s, so there is frequent talk of oral sex and allusions to kinkiness, but otherwise the film is a straight run off the Chabrol Imitation Factory assembly line. Theatrically intense leading man Daniel Duval is featured in some impressive full frontal shots. Clearly, he was much more stimulated by the proceedings than we were.
Venus and Fleur (2004)****
Writer/Director Emmanuel Mouret apparently wants to fill the cinematic space left by the passing of Eric Rohmer, and he certainly has the late master’s ability to make a pleasant and charming film out of almost nothing. Here, two young women in full flower (Isabelle Pirès and Veroushka Knoge) spend their summer holiday at a beach house near Marseilles – sound familiar? – and fall under the spell of an earnest young man (Julien Imbert), who’s much more interested in hiking than romance. The film is so light it virtually dissipates before your eyes, but it may be just the tonic for world-weary viewers seeking a brief vacation.