Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Poster for Cannes 2012

Now that the Oscars are over, we can focus on good films and not some silly contest. Only 76 days until Cannes. Here's the poster for this year's festival, released yesterday....


Gorgeous...

Poster for Cannes 2012

Now that the Oscars are over, we can focus on good films and not some silly contest. Only 76 days until Cannes. Here's the poster for this year's festival, released yesterday....


Gorgeous...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Post-Oscar Quickies


Well, I went 3 for 5 in my Oscar predictions, not very good considering how obvious the pickins' were this year. I feel sorry for Viola Davis, she really got robbed. Meryl Streep needs another accolade like I need another peanut butter and bacon sandwich, or the world needs another song from Billy Crystal.


This was a dreadful year for the Academy Awards, with all sorts of nasty politickin' and, I suspect, some leakage of info. No one expected Streep to win until late last week, when rumors began to surface and suddenly all the big smart pundits picked her for their fantasy ballots; often using the same verbiage about her "not being denied". And the fact that The Tree of Life won, ummmm, nothing, just points out the organization's bloated moral bankruptcy. In all, this year's Oscars did a fine job of promoting Cannes as the world's leading purveyor of meaningful awards.

Now, how about some REAL French films?




The 15 Year Old Girl (1989)***1/2

A romantic triangle ensues when a 40ish divorced dad (Jacques Doillon, who also wrote and directed) invites his estranged teenage son (Melvil Poupard) to accompany him to one of those fabulous Mediterranean beach houses for the summer. Poupard refuses to go unless he can bring his girlfriend Juliette (Judith Godreche), who’s a mature 15 and bustin’ out all over. Well, you can imagine what happens during the long lazy days of summer, and before long Godreche has cast a romantic net that ensnares all of her housemates. While this idea would be recycled a couple of years later in Louis Malle’s excellent Damage, here Doillon directs in a very slow and deliberate style, building romantic tension with fleeting glances and quiet narrative spaces. The film has no profanity and minimal nudity, and defuses the situational ick in a thoughtful manner that seems normal and organic.



Fissures (2006)***1/2 (aka Ecout le temps) 
Emilie Dequenne has one of those faces the camera loves, and she lends her exquisite jaw line to this mystical thriller. Dequenne plays a sound engineer who returns to her hometown – a damp and muddy farming community in the north of France – to investigate her mother’s untimely death. When the yokel constables come up empty, Dequenne discovers that in this case walls really can talk – at least to her high tech microphone – and finds clues in fragments of voices from the past. Part police procedural, part ghost story, Fissures is one of those movies you really have to give your full attention, or you’ll be quickly lost. But Dequenne makes it easy to remain alert.




Leaving (2009)***

These days, Kristin Scott Thomas seems to make a new movie every couple weeks. And amazingly, she’s pretty great in all of them. Here she’s the bored wife of a doctor (Yvan Attal) who’s never at home. When a studly Spanish carpenter (Sergi Lopez) is hired to renovate her garage, passion blooms amid the drywall dust and Thomas decides to pursue one last chance for happiness. But it’s tough sledding to be suddenly among the 99%, and too much of the film is devoted to Attal’s angry – and justifiable – financial warfare. Leaving is well paced, beautifully filmed and Thomas, Lopez and Attal are all terrific. But somehow it doesn’t quite gel and never becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Definitely worth watching but a magical something was left on the table.




A Single Girl (1995)****

Virginie Ledoyen, who is not good looking or anything, carries this tale of a young woman starting a new job as a waitress at a snooty Paris hotel. The story unfolds in real time, and along the way we learn all about Ledoyen’s life struggles and personal issues, the majority of which are self-induced. Directed by the perpetually underrated Benoit Jacquot, A Single Girl paints an involving existentialist portrait of a quietly desperate life, and ultimately makes a compelling case for traditional values of family and responsibility.



Post-Oscar Quickies


Well, I went 3 for 5 in my Oscar predictions, not very good considering how obvious the pickins' were this year. I feel sorry for Viola Davis, she really got robbed. Meryl Streep needs another accolade like I need another peanut butter and bacon sandwich, or the world needs another song from Billy Crystal.


This was a dreadful year for the Academy Awards, with all sorts of nasty politickin' and, I suspect, some leakage of info. No one expected Streep to win until late last week, when rumors began to surface and suddenly all the big smart pundits picked her for their fantasy ballots; often using the same verbiage about her "not being denied". And the fact that The Tree of Life won, ummmm, nothing, just points out the organization's bloated moral bankruptcy. In all, this year's Oscars did a fine job of promoting Cannes as the world's leading purveyor of meaningful awards.

Now, how about some REAL French films?




The 15 Year Old Girl (1989)***1/2

A romantic triangle ensues when a 40ish divorced dad (Jacques Doillon, who also wrote and directed) invites his estranged teenage son (Melvil Poupard) to accompany him to one of those fabulous Mediterranean beach houses for the summer. Poupard refuses to go unless he can bring his girlfriend Juliette (Judith Godreche), who’s a mature 15 and bustin’ out all over. Well, you can imagine what happens during the long lazy days of summer, and before long Godreche has cast a romantic net that ensnares all of her housemates. While this idea would be recycled a couple of years later in Louis Malle’s excellent Damage, here Doillon directs in a very slow and deliberate style, building romantic tension with fleeting glances and quiet narrative spaces. The film has no profanity and minimal nudity, and defuses the situational ick in a thoughtful manner that seems normal and organic.



Fissures (2006)***1/2 (aka Ecout le temps) 
Emilie Dequenne has one of those faces the camera loves, and she lends her exquisite jaw line to this mystical thriller. Dequenne plays a sound engineer who returns to her hometown – a damp and muddy farming community in the north of France – to investigate her mother’s untimely death. When the yokel constables come up empty, Dequenne discovers that in this case walls really can talk – at least to her high tech microphone – and finds clues in fragments of voices from the past. Part police procedural, part ghost story, Fissures is one of those movies you really have to give your full attention, or you’ll be quickly lost. But Dequenne makes it easy to remain alert.




Leaving (2009)***

These days, Kristin Scott Thomas seems to make a new movie every couple weeks. And amazingly, she’s pretty great in all of them. Here she’s the bored wife of a doctor (Yvan Attal) who’s never at home. When a studly Spanish carpenter (Sergi Lopez) is hired to renovate her garage, passion blooms amid the drywall dust and Thomas decides to pursue one last chance for happiness. But it’s tough sledding to be suddenly among the 99%, and too much of the film is devoted to Attal’s angry – and justifiable – financial warfare. Leaving is well paced, beautifully filmed and Thomas, Lopez and Attal are all terrific. But somehow it doesn’t quite gel and never becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Definitely worth watching but a magical something was left on the table.




A Single Girl (1995)****

Virginie Ledoyen, who is not good looking or anything, carries this tale of a young woman starting a new job as a waitress at a snooty Paris hotel. The story unfolds in real time, and along the way we learn all about Ledoyen’s life struggles and personal issues, the majority of which are self-induced. Directed by the perpetually underrated Benoit Jacquot, A Single Girl paints an involving existentialist portrait of a quietly desperate life, and ultimately makes a compelling case for traditional values of family and responsibility.



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dude, Where's My Karma?: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)****


Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is the latest in director Apitchapong Weerasathakul’s series of highly personal abstractions. Challenging and eccentric, to put it mildly, the film is an attempt to capture the fevered visions and visitations of a dying man over the last few days of his life. It also deals with the aftermath of his passing, and a return to the banalities of earthly existence by the grieving survivors. Told with Weerasathakul’s patented meek passivity, Uncle Boonmee confounds expectations at every turn, and uses a mosaic of past and present, flesh and spirit, to contrast the mystical with the mundane.


As Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) struggles with organ failure at his farm in remote northern Thailand, he is visited by a number of family members, both living and – somehow “dead” is not the right word – long departed. As a scrawny cow humorously demonstrates sentient characteristics, even the trees, bushes and livestock at Boonmee’s estate seem to sense an imminent date with the ultimate. A group of ape-ish humanoids with glowing red eyes skulk about the jungle like shy Sasquatches, preparing to escort Boonmee on his upcoming journey. This hairy band is led by a reconstituted fellow named Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong) Boomee’s son who has been missing for years.


Meanwhile, Boonmee’s mind begins its own meditative walkabout, attempting to sort and define a life that is drawing to conclusion. At an ancient waterfall, a beautiful princess is seduced by a smooth-talking catfish; their tryst bathed in poetic blue-green moonlight. At Boonmee’s insistence, his family embarks on a spelunking expedition, where deep recesses of solid rock serve as a launch point to a vaporous new dimension.

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life deconstructed the boundaries between time and space, while Uncle Boonmee connects planes of existence, creating a reality where people and poltergeists freely intermingle. But Weerasathakul turns the horror film dynamic upside down: his spirits are kindly, but in a condescending sort of way; their temporary return to the physical world a dreaded chore, like a trip to the dentist. But eventually, the goblins depart and life goes on. After a brush with mortality, television shows and hot showers provide solace and a reminder of life’s necessities. Weerasathakul once again uses a Buddhist monk as an unlikely source of comic relief, this time as foil for the glories of hamburgers and karaoke.


Compared to 2007’s Syndromes and a Century, Uncle Boonmee seems a lesser work; its palette not quite in Weerasathakul’s comfort zone of quirk. It lacks the absurdist set pieces that made Syndromes such an enjoyable blend of high art and low comedy. But comparing Weerasathakul’s films to each other is a silly enterprise, almost as silly as comparing him to any other director. His mind simply does not work like any other filmmaker's. His ideas are not conceived over long lunches at fashionable L.A. eateries. He doesn’t calculate, or particularly care, how audiences will react to any given scene. He simply proceeds in his quiet, gentle way; reveling in the wonders of existence, the splendors of creation, both in this world and beyond.  He does so in ways that often hold deep meaning only for him. And he’s OK with that. Artistically speaking, Apitchapong Weerasathakul has balls the size of your head.




Dude, Where's My Karma?: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)****


Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is the latest in director Apitchapong Weerasathakul’s series of highly personal abstractions. Challenging and eccentric, to put it mildly, the film is an attempt to capture the fevered visions and visitations of a dying man over the last few days of his life. It also deals with the aftermath of his passing, and a return to the banalities of earthly existence by the grieving survivors. Told with Weerasathakul’s patented meek passivity, Uncle Boonmee confounds expectations at every turn, and uses a mosaic of past and present, flesh and spirit, to contrast the mystical with the mundane.


As Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) struggles with organ failure at his farm in remote northern Thailand, he is visited by a number of family members, both living and – somehow “dead” is not the right word – long departed. As a scrawny cow humorously demonstrates sentient characteristics, even the trees, bushes and livestock at Boonmee’s estate seem to sense an imminent date with the ultimate. A group of ape-ish humanoids with glowing red eyes skulk about the jungle like shy Sasquatches, preparing to escort Boonmee on his upcoming journey. This hairy band is led by a reconstituted fellow named Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong) Boomee’s son who has been missing for years.


Meanwhile, Boonmee’s mind begins its own meditative walkabout, attempting to sort and define a life that is drawing to conclusion. At an ancient waterfall, a beautiful princess is seduced by a smooth-talking catfish; their tryst bathed in poetic blue-green moonlight. At Boonmee’s insistence, his family embarks on a spelunking expedition, where deep recesses of solid rock serve as a launch point to a vaporous new dimension.

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life deconstructed the boundaries between time and space, while Uncle Boonmee connects planes of existence, creating a reality where people and poltergeists freely intermingle. But Weerasathakul turns the horror film dynamic upside down: his spirits are kindly, but in a condescending sort of way; their temporary return to the physical world a dreaded chore, like a trip to the dentist. But eventually, the goblins depart and life goes on. After a brush with mortality, television shows and hot showers provide solace and a reminder of life’s necessities. Weerasathakul once again uses a Buddhist monk as an unlikely source of comic relief, this time as foil for the glories of hamburgers and karaoke.


Compared to 2007’s Syndromes and a Century, Uncle Boonmee seems a lesser work; its palette not quite in Weerasathakul’s comfort zone of quirk. It lacks the absurdist set pieces that made Syndromes such an enjoyable blend of high art and low comedy. But comparing Weerasathakul’s films to each other is a silly enterprise, almost as silly as comparing him to any other director. His mind simply does not work like any other filmmaker's. His ideas are not conceived over long lunches at fashionable L.A. eateries. He doesn’t calculate, or particularly care, how audiences will react to any given scene. He simply proceeds in his quiet, gentle way; reveling in the wonders of existence, the splendors of creation, both in this world and beyond.  He does so in ways that often hold deep meaning only for him. And he’s OK with that. Artistically speaking, Apitchapong Weerasathakul has balls the size of your head.




Monday, February 20, 2012

They Can Give The Artist 10,000 Awards, It Still Blows: My Oscar Predictions 2012



We’ve endured the Golden Globes (a totally meaningless award), The SAG Awards (the Pro Bowl of award shows), The Directors Guild and Writers Guild Awards (these shows are not on television because most guild members don’t own tuxedos) and the only one that really counts: The Online Film Critics Society Awards (held every year at the Chilis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but they make good choices and the fajitas are awesome).

Soon it will be Oscar night and, according to custom, here are my predictions for this year’s fete. My track record is pretty good, although picking The King’s Speech last year was hardly an act of courageous genius. This year is tougher because there are two really good films, Tree of Life and The Descendants. Of course they may not win anything because The Artist has sucked all the air out of the room. And sucked is the proper verb. It's a classic anti-intellectual backlash; people who didn't get Tree of Life - and there are a lot of them - are jumping on The Artist's bandwagon to prove they are hip and edgy. They know nothing about REAL silent films, but it had James Cromwell and a dog and some French guy so it must be cool.

Anyway here are my picks…along with what SHOULD win:

Best Picture

Will Win: The Artist (Because it will really piss me off)

Should Win: Either Tree of Life or The Descendents would be OK. The Artist isn’t fit to lick the sprocket holes of either one.

Actor in a Leading Role

Will Win: That clown from the Artist. Actually this makes sense; his English is so terrible he’s no threat to the other actors. My theory has long been that Academy members vote for people unlikely to take work from them.

Should Win: I’m equally split between Clooney and Pitt. Clooney was great in The Descendents but Pitt had two awesome projects in theaters this year. Unfortunately, the two guys will likely cancel each other out.

Actress in a Leading Role

Will Win: Viola Davis, The Help

Should Win: Viola Davis. Yea! They get one right!

Actor in a Supporting Role

Will Win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners. I slept through this movie but Mrs. Undies liked it.

Should Win: The dog from The Artist. Best actor in the whole stupid mess.


Actress in a Supporting Role

Will Win: Octavia Spencer, The Help (and I’d be OK with that)


Should Win: Melissa McCarthy. Bridesmaids should get something, don’cha think?

Cinematography

Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, Tree of Life

Should Win: Emmanuel Lubezki. Hopefully the cameramen have not lost their minds. If they have  Hollywood is in deep dookie.

Directing

Will Win: The DGA threw me a major curve by giving it to The Artist (Dude, WTF?) so expect the Academy to follow suit.

Should Win: Terrence Malik

As for the other categories, don’t really care.

The good news is, by this time next week movie award madness for 2012 will all be over. And there was great rejoicing.

In fact, when it comes to the Academy Awards, Clair says it best:

Molly Sez, animation


They Can Give The Artist 10,000 Awards, It Still Blows: My Oscar Predictions 2012



We’ve endured the Golden Globes (a totally meaningless award), The SAG Awards (the Pro Bowl of award shows), The Directors Guild and Writers Guild Awards (these shows are not on television because most guild members don’t own tuxedos) and the only one that really counts: The Online Film Critics Society Awards (held every year at the Chilis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but they make good choices and the fajitas are awesome).

Soon it will be Oscar night and, according to custom, here are my predictions for this year’s fete. My track record is pretty good, although picking The King’s Speech last year was hardly an act of courageous genius. This year is tougher because there are two really good films, Tree of Life and The Descendants. Of course they may not win anything because The Artist has sucked all the air out of the room. And sucked is the proper verb. It's a classic anti-intellectual backlash; people who didn't get Tree of Life - and there are a lot of them - are jumping on The Artist's bandwagon to prove they are hip and edgy. They know nothing about REAL silent films, but it had James Cromwell and a dog and some French guy so it must be cool.

Anyway here are my picks…along with what SHOULD win:

Best Picture

Will Win: The Artist (Because it will really piss me off)

Should Win: Either Tree of Life or The Descendents would be OK. The Artist isn’t fit to lick the sprocket holes of either one.

Actor in a Leading Role

Will Win: That clown from the Artist. Actually this makes sense; his English is so terrible he’s no threat to the other actors. My theory has long been that Academy members vote for people unlikely to take work from them.

Should Win: I’m equally split between Clooney and Pitt. Clooney was great in The Descendents but Pitt had two awesome projects in theaters this year. Unfortunately, the two guys will likely cancel each other out.

Actress in a Leading Role

Will Win: Viola Davis, The Help

Should Win: Viola Davis. Yea! They get one right!

Actor in a Supporting Role

Will Win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners. I slept through this movie but Mrs. Undies liked it.

Should Win: The dog from The Artist. Best actor in the whole stupid mess.


Actress in a Supporting Role

Will Win: Octavia Spencer, The Help (and I’d be OK with that)


Should Win: Melissa McCarthy. Bridesmaids should get something, don’cha think?

Cinematography

Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, Tree of Life

Should Win: Emmanuel Lubezki. Hopefully the cameramen have not lost their minds. If they have  Hollywood is in deep dookie.

Directing

Will Win: The DGA threw me a major curve by giving it to The Artist (Dude, WTF?) so expect the Academy to follow suit.

Should Win: Terrence Malik

As for the other categories, don’t really care.

The good news is, by this time next week movie award madness for 2012 will all be over. And there was great rejoicing.

In fact, when it comes to the Academy Awards, Clair says it best:

Molly Sez, animation


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Multi-Plot Blacktop: Road to Nowhere (2010)*****

Reviewed by Shu Zin


Monte Hellman's ROAD TO NOWHERE is an elegant, original, movie that will thrill lovers of great technique who can stand being led somewhat by the nose. It is important to watch this film with your mind fully engaged. In addition to being a movie within a movie, it is a plot within a plot…within a plot; in the end, everything comes together in a totally surprising revelation. 


The story is about a young director making a film about a real event that took place in the Smokey Mountains in North Carolina, involving a politician, his young mistress, a plane crash and a big hunk of money gone missing. As the making of the film progresses, reality begins to blend with and change the story. Halfway through, you may find yourself questioning which is which, but the elliptical structure will ultimately reward you with understanding and a sense of continuity, no matter how elusive they seem earlier in the film.


First rate cast and direction, and the cinematography is stupendous, with beautiful, lush exteriors and a colonial looking hotel, dramatically lit and softly colored, with a lot of long, slow shots. This is a movie that invites you to luxuriate in its sheer beauty while seducing you into its magic. An absolute must see for movie lovers with patience and an interest in the craft.


 Reviewed by Shu Zin

Multi-Plot Blacktop: Road to Nowhere (2010)*****

Reviewed by Shu Zin


Monte Hellman's ROAD TO NOWHERE is an elegant, original, movie that will thrill lovers of great technique who can stand being led somewhat by the nose. It is important to watch this film with your mind fully engaged. In addition to being a movie within a movie, it is a plot within a plot…within a plot; in the end, everything comes together in a totally surprising revelation. 


The story is about a young director making a film about a real event that took place in the Smokey Mountains in North Carolina, involving a politician, his young mistress, a plane crash and a big hunk of money gone missing. As the making of the film progresses, reality begins to blend with and change the story. Halfway through, you may find yourself questioning which is which, but the elliptical structure will ultimately reward you with understanding and a sense of continuity, no matter how elusive they seem earlier in the film.


First rate cast and direction, and the cinematography is stupendous, with beautiful, lush exteriors and a colonial looking hotel, dramatically lit and softly colored, with a lot of long, slow shots. This is a movie that invites you to luxuriate in its sheer beauty while seducing you into its magic. An absolute must see for movie lovers with patience and an interest in the craft.


 Reviewed by Shu Zin

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mission Irresistible: Notorious on Blu-ray ****


Those looking to curl up with a sleek and stylish thriller could do a lot worse than Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious from 1946. Newly released on hi-def by Fox, Notorious is an engrossing and - at 101 minutes - efficient piece of moviemaking that artfully avoids spelling out every iota of backstory; often substituting mood and nuance for conventional plotting. It’s a film that feels very modern, despite its shaggy vintage, and incorporates enough noir elements to remain true to its lineage, while charting a narrative course for the legions of spy flicks that followed.


Written by the legendary script doctor Ben Hecht – winner of the first ever writing Oscar for Underworld in 1927 - Notorious is as lean and spare as a haiku. Through just a few laser focused scenes, Hecht and Hitchcock establish their characters’ histories, tendencies and motivations without a single wasted word or gesture. The sprawling plot will involve complex schemes with international implications, yet not a moment feels false, rushed or over simplified. The story gives us only the necessary and savory tidbits, perfectly reduced to the elemental, and Hitchcock commits nary a fumble in its deceptively simple execution.


Set in Miami, Notorious is all about Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, who has decided that oblivion drinking and easy virtue are fine methods of forgetting her troubles. During a sloppy party one night at her beachbox bungalow she meets a handsome friend-of-a-friend named Devlin (Cary Grant) and, several bottles later, Alicia finds herself reeling, both from lust and too much wine. But Devlin has designs greater than a quick roll in the hay. His employer, a nameless U.S. spy agency, has determined that Alicia has the perfect resume for a secret mission to save the world from nuclear destruction, and it’s Devlin’s job to transform this hollow-legged floozy into a competent spook.


Notorious features a cast of such stalwart talents its reductive story takes on larger and richer dimensions. Claude Rains is fun to watch as an architect of evil undone by his own mushy lapses, and makes a superb foil for Grant. The great Louis Calhern, as Devlin’s boss Prescott, reprises his sleazy diplomat role from Duck Soup - and a dozen other pictures – and it’s a joy to watch this consummate character actor ply his craft. Bergman’s apparent effortlessness is impressive, and few leading ladies could pull off her transformation from Florida party girl to reserved hausfrau as convincingly. And Grant, despite the gravity of his role, glides through with his patented elegance and beguiling sense of imminent wit.


In the Hitchcock filmography, Spellbound precedes Notorious by a year, but the stylistic differences between the films seems like decades. Spellbound, a Selznick production, feels stogy and stagebound, its sets clunky and overdecorated; brimming with an insecure person’s idea of good taste. Notorious, produced by Hitchcock himself, feels fresh and contemporary and it’s a fitting battlefield for this tale of entrenched European privilege versus the ideals of a New World. While Spellbound wallowed in shadowy plot contrivances, Notorious attacks its narrative with straightforward, determined vigor. Here, Hitchcock tells a tight, muscular story in a tight, muscular style, and provides both a model and a standard for countless Cold War spy thrillers still to come.


10 Years of The Savages

The Savages struck a vibrant chord with me when it was first released 10 years ago. It’s all about a pair of 40-ish siblings...