Saturday, May 30, 2015

La Haine Turns 20

“Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good... so far so good... so far so good.”

During the train ride from de Gaulle Airport into Paris, first time visitors are often taken aback by the wretched slums and crumbling housing projects that rather incongruously surround the world’s most beautiful city. Now celebrating its 20th birthday, Mathieu Kassovitz’s heartbreakingly superb La Haine (The Hate) offers a frank and intimate portrait of life in these rugged environs. Told through the disillusioned eyes of three young men (Vincent Cassel. Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui), the film presents a world devoid of hope and prospects that more closely resembles a war zone than a suburban neighborhood.

Over the next 24 hours, we will follow this misbegotten threesome as they roam their forlorn concrete jungle, with blasting hip hop and gangsta posturing their only relief from angry gendarmes and the constant allure of petty crime. But when Cassel’s Vinz finds a missing policeman’s pistol, those temptations turn violent. For the first time in his life, Vinz feels powerful and important. To these lost souls, the gleaming steel of the revolver becomes a symbol, and Vinz’s judgment and maturity will face a deadly test.

La Haine is a film rich in atmosphere and cultural detail, with Pierre Aïm’s harsh monochromic images perfectly mirroring the characters’ psychological landscapes. The film caused quite a stir on its release, for it was the first time many French citizens had been exposed to hip hop culture, and the growing social disfunction among their immigrant community. The film itself amplifies this sense of separation and obliviousness. When the trio go into central Paris to collect a debt, they’re awestruck at the city’s genteel splendor, and eventually feel a type of nostalgia for their squalid flats. The violent disaffection with society depicted in La Haine is not unique to French youth and, in the ensuing decades, has made its way to virtually every industrialized nation. The core issues haven’t changed, they’ve just gotten worse.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Today in Bunched History: A Matter of Taste (2000) ✭✭✭

Originally posted May 26, 2010

A Matter of Taste is a well executed film: excellent production, nicely photographed and well acted. But by the time it’s over, like the principle characters, you may find yourself feeling a bit empty. This anti-romance details the growing dependency between a filthy rich CEO (Bernard Giraudeau) and a handsome young waiter (Jean-Pierre Lorit) back during the last days of the 1990’s financial bubble. The two meet during a business dinner and Giraudeau, oddly fascinated by his young server’s demeanor and ability to identify complex culinary seasonings, hires Lorit at an astronomical sum to serve as a personal food taster.

This premise is not as preposterous as it sounds for director Bernard Rapp does a good job of selling us on Giraudeau’s unique superstitions and paranoid fears. The story appears to be headed one direction – a burgeoning gay relationship, despite the character’s protestations - but the bond between the two men slowly develops into something much larger and more mysterious than mere physicality. Giraudeau seeks a mental and physiological oneness with his young employee that can only be achieved by Lorit’s complete and absolute fealty to his employer and, to that purpose, Giraudeau sets out to break the young man’s will and utterly subjugate Lorit’s individuality.

There is really nothing romantic going on here at all. The goal is sheer unvarnished power; the power to own, and the power to remake in one’s image. Yet, Giraudeau’s authoritarian experiment makes him surprisingly vulnerable, for what is a deity without worshippers?  So whenever Lorit finds the head games just too much to bear, it is Giraudeau who must come crawling back, laden with abject apologies. If Bernard Rapp is guilty of anything it’s overstating, as he does not seem to know how to end this cycle of abuse and contrition.

The stakes get larger and larger until ultimately the whole story ceases to be a metaphorical fable and becomes an embarrassing self parody.  As an audience we feel cheated, for we have dutifully followed this trail down many blind and increasingly far-fetched alleys, only to have the entire construction topple into a heap of melodramatic hokum. A Matter of Taste does many things well, but at its conclusion, the only thing this reviewer felt was a vague sense of relief. Similar to when a neighbor's blaring car alarm finally shuts off.


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Sunday, May 24, 2015

News from Cannes 2015: And the Winners Are….


Palme d’Or: “Dheepan” (Jacques Audiard, France)

Grand Prix: “Son of Saul” (Laszlo Nemes, Hungary)

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien, “The Assassin” (Taiwan)

Actor: Vincent Lindon, “The Measure of a Man” (France)

Actress (tie): Emmanuelle Bercot, “Mon roi” (France), and Rooney Mara, “Carol” (U.K.)

Jury Prize: Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Lobster” (Greece-Ireland-U.K.-Netherlands-France)

Screenplay: Michel Franco, “Chronic” (Mexico-France)

Palme d’Honneur: Agnes Varda

Camera d’Or: “Land and Shade” (Cesar Augusto Acevedo, Colombia)

Short Films Palme d’Or: “Waves ’98” (Ely Dagher)

Ecumenical Jury Prize: “My Mother” (Nanni Moretti)


Un Certain Regard Prize: “Rams” (Grimur Hakonarson, Iceland-Denmark)

Jury prize: “The High Sun” (Dalibor Matanic, Croatia-Slovenia-Serbia)

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, “Journey to the Shore” (Japan-France)

Un Certain Talent Prize: Corneliu Porumboiu, “The Treasure” (Romania)

Special Prize for Promising Futures (tie): “Nahid” (Ida Panahandeh, Iran) and “Masaan” (Neeraj Ghaywan, France-India)


Art Cinema Award: “The Embrace of the Serpent” (Ciro Guerra, Colombia)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: “My Golden Days” (Arnaud Desplechin, France)

Europa Cinemas Label: “Mustang” (Deniz Gamze Erguven, France-Turkey-Germany)


Grand Prize: “Paulina” (Santiago Mitre, Argentina-Brazil-France)

Visionary Prize: “Land and Shade”

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: “Land and Shade”


Competition: “Son of Saul” (Laszlo Nemes, Hungary)

Un Certain Regard: “Masaan”

Critics’ Week: “Paulina”

Final aggregate ratings for all films at the festival can be found HERE.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Wind and the Lion Turns 40

“I’ve only met one real pirate in my life. His name is J.P. Morgan.” Teddy Roosevelt

Released 40 years ago, The Wind and the Lion is an action spectacular that re-imagines history on an epic scale. Written and directed by the testosterone fueled John Milius, the film tells the story of a dashing Islamist warlord named Raisuli (Sean Connery) who kidnaps a wealthy American widow (Candace Bergen) and her two children in Morocco circa 1904. While Connery’s immediate objective is to win land and other concessions from his nephew the Sultan (Marc Zuber), his actions gain the attention of American president Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith), who’s looking for a military adventure to help his chances in the upcoming election.

While the President and Raisuli engage in a long distance battle of wills, something like a grudging respect develops between the two men. As Roosevelt campaigns across America, with promises of revenge lifting his poll numbers to the stratosphere, back in Morocco, Bergen begins to see her gallant captor in a more romantic light. But this is merely the calm before the storm, for soon a battalion of Marines - complete with a brass band - reaches the dusty streets of Tangier and, to put it mildly, all hell breaks loose.

Nominated for two Oscars, The Wind and the Lion is the type of movie one should just enjoy as spectacle and not think about too much. The archaic ideas presented here are guaranteed to offend just about everyone, regardless of religious or political stripe. Its depiction of noble, genteel terrorists is tough to take seriously in a post 9/11 world, and the film’s portrayal of French and German diplomats reenforces every xenophobic stereotype in the book. Yet if one can get past these obstacles, including Sean Connery’s Moor with a Scottish burr, the film offers entertainment aplenty. And if you love movies where lots of stuff blows up, you’re in for a real treat.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

TCM for June 2015

In June TCM has a little something for everyone: 50s Sci-fi, Antonioni, Kurosawa, The Caped Crusader and even the history of Tupperware. Is this a great network or what?
My picks below. All times Eastern. Full schedule HERE.

1 Monday

Long Hot Summer kicks off a Paul Newman festival on June 1st.
8:00 PM
A drifter with a past brings a wealthy family's problems to a head.
C-117 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

10:15 PM
The arrival of an Army missile base shatters the peaceful life of a suburban town.
C-107 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

12:15 AM
A financial wizard is tempted to sacrifice his career for an affair.
C-144 mins, Letterbox Format

3:00 AM
A small town teacher tries to overcome her shyness.
C-101 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

4 Thursday

4:00 PM
A psychology student researches infidelity by becoming a platonic kept woman for four buddies.
C-113 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

6:00 PM
A stodgy young man gets caught up in his free-living aunt's shady schemes.
C-109 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

5 Friday

Peter Lorre at his craven best in M.
6:00 AM
The mob sets out to catch a child killer whose crimes are attracting too much police attention.
BW-109 mins,

8:00 AM
A railroad engineer enters an affair with his friend's amoral wife.
BW-97 mins,

6 Saturday

2:00 PM
A deformed bell ringer rescues a gypsy girl falsely accused of witchcraft and murder.
BW-117 mins, CC,

4:15 PM
A police detective whose wife was killed by the mob teams with a scarred gangster's moll to bring down a powerful gangster.
BW-90 mins, CC,

6:00 PM
A substitute teacher changes the lives of the slum children in his class.
C-105 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
Two con artists set out to take over a remote Asian land with a priceless golden treasure.
BW-129 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

9 Sunday

8:00 PM
A blue-collar worker's encounter with a UFO leaves him a changed man.
C-135 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

10:30 PM
The crew of a remote Arctic base fights off a murderous monster from outer space.
BW-87 mins, CC,

2:30 AM
In medieval Japan, four people offer conflicting accounts of a rape and murder.
BW-88 mins,

Kurosawa's underrated Sanjuro on the 9th.
4:00 AM
A wandering samurai recruits younger fighters to help him battle corruption.
BW-96 mins, Letterbox Format

9 Tuesday

8:00 PM
Three elderly men decide to better their lot by robbing a bank.
C-97 mins,

10:00 PM
A comedian and an aspiring singer try to overcome their neuroses and find happiness.
C-93 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

11:45 PM
A man robs a bank to pay for his lover's operation.
C-125 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

De Niro is fantastic in Scorsese's Mean Streets.
2:00 AM
A small-time hood must choose from among love, friendship and the chance to rise within the mob.
C-112 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

4:00 AM
A slick black detective enlists gangsters and African nationals to fight the mob.
C-100 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

11 Thursday

11:00 AM
An awkward young man and a shy older woman find comfort in each other on a Spanish tour.
C-110 mins, CC,

1:15 PM
A convent girl vacationing in Spain finds herself in a romance with a murderer.
C-91 mins, Letterbox Format

13 Saturday

2:00 AM
A psychic's girlfriend finds out that a lump on her back is a growing reincarnation of a 400 year-old demonic Native American spirit.
C-104 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

3:45 AM
A scientist tries to protect a caveman brought back from suspended animation.
C-91 mins, Letterbox Format

5:30 AM
This short industrial film focuses on the making of Tupperware.
C-29 mins,

18 Thursday

A day of Sci-fi begins with a visit to Forbidden Planet on the 18th.
8:30 AM
A group of space troopers investigates the destruction of a colony on a remote planet.
C-98 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
A scientist¿s experiments with teleportation produce a deadly hybrid.
C-94 mins,

9:45 PM
After Godzilla kills a legendary giant moth, its offspring set out for revenge.
C-101 mins, Letterbox Format

11:45 PM
Federal agents fight to destroy a colony of mutated giant ants.
BW-92 mins, CC,

1:30 AM
A cosmetics executive's search for eternal beauty turn her into a monster.
BW-61 mins,

2:45 AM
Killer bees extend their territory into the U.S., with devastating effect.
C-116 mins, CC,

4:45 AM
A scientist's experiments open the doorway to a strange and deadly world.
BW-72 mins,

21 Sunday

Monica Vitti trudges through toxic waste in Red Desert.
2:00 AM
A housewife fighting insanity becomes involved with a man passing through town.
C-117 mins,

4:00 AM
A man and women make an attempt at a futile love affair.
BW-126 mins, Letterbox Format

23 Tuesday

4:45 PM
An American woman tries to break off her relationship with her Italian lover.
BW-63 mins, CC,

9:45 PM
A game of murder among wealthy vacationers turns into the real thing.
C-119 mins, Letterbox Format

12:00 AM
Two rogue cops enlist a streetwalker to help them stop a deadly drug ring.
C-94 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

1:45 AM
BW-173 mins,

24 Wednesday

8:00 PM
A rebellious caveman leaves his tribe in search of a better life.
C-100 mins, Letterbox Format

10:00 PM
Explorers uncover a lost kingdom ruled by an immortal queen.
C-106 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

12:00 AM
A future police officer uncovers the deadly secret behind a society that worships youth.
C-119 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Jane Fonda handles a variety of phallic objects in Barbarella.
2:15 AM
An over-sexed space agent takes on a dictator and an amoral queen.
C-98 mins, Letterbox Format

25 Thursday

10:00 PM
A scientist battles the military for control of a machine that records sensory experiences-including death.
C-106 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

12:00 AM
A U.S. agent enters a martial arts tournament to spy on an international super-villain.
C-102 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

2:00 AM
A future cop uncovers the deadly secret behind a mysterious synthetic food.
C-97 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

27 Saturday

Bam! Zowie! 1949's The New Adventures of Batman and Robin serial begins on the 27th.
10:00 AM
Episode One of the Batman and Robin serial.
BW-26 mins,

28 Sunday

8:00 PM
Aliens try to use Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan to take over the planet.
C-93 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

10:00 PM
Nuclear tests awaken a prehistoric monster.
BW-80 mins, CC,

12:00 AM
In this silent film, Joan of Arc braves the threat of torture to stand fast for her beliefs.
BW-82 mins,

Godard's jazzy Band of Outsiders on the 28th.

2:00 AM
Two crooks obsessed with Hollywood crime movies plot a big heist.
C-96 mins,

3:45 AM
A tempestuous beauty comes between college friends.
BW-106 mins, Letterbox Format

29 Monday

11:15 PM
A traveling magician must outwit townspeople out to prove him a fake.
BW-100 mins,

1:15 AM
Three sisters deal with their tangled relationships amidst the wonders of New York City.
C-107 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

3:15 AM
An impoverished farming couple decides to move from Sweden to the U.S. in the 19th century.
C-151 mins,