Friday, April 30, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

The title of "How to Train Your Dragon" made me at first neglect to take it seriously. I only came to circle around it after I heard positive buzz. The title, in fact, I think is the film's worst facet, tongue-in-cheek as it is (although how are you going to change the title of a children's novel in its adaptation? It's virtually impossible, since it's all about marketing and "making connections"). And this is a film with a lot of facets. This is the first 3-D feature film I've seen in a very long time (yes, I saw "Avatar" in 2-D). So I was blown back by the insanity and intensity of the film's first, ridiculous dragon-fighting scene. I read today that Ebert has further condemned 3-D films, and I would have to say I'm mixed. It adds to the power of the film, but also, it is harder to focus on the film's aesthetic qualities through a pair of dark Real D glasses.

I was pretty disoriented at first. But that could also be the film. As I mentioned before, the first scene of the film spins fast through dragons attacking a village of Vikings. This is all narrated by Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) who speaks intensely about it in hope that he will one day kill a dragon. He is part of a society raised on violence. They've killed these dragons and the dragons have killed them for many years. There's a certain one that they've not been able to kill, and I believe Hiccup wounds it or something. That's pretty confusing.

But when he goes and finds this dragon and wants to land the final blow, he can't. This is much in stride with his whole bumbling personality. He's looked down upon as being weak and not being able to do anything well. He's basically grandfathered into dragon training, as his father (Gerard Butler) is the head of the village. And of course, he's the worst of the bunch. That is, of course, until he learns how to train his dragon. In this, as others have said, he becomes the Jake Sullyesque link between the dragons and the Vikings. But his father thinks that is not good enough to be a Viking, and looks instead to exploit the dragon that Hiccup has trained. This is not that dark, however. See yourself how it plays out.

Only 98 minutes long, "How to Train Your Dragon" is succinct and doesn't aim for too high plotwise (and thus it's nowhere near as complex as "Avatar," and I'm happy about that). It has been said (by critics such as A.O. Scott) that this film doesn't avoid populist cinema conventions. True enough. This is a sizeable flaw. But those aside, it flies into better things. It's nicely plotted and, as before mentioned, visually sound as well. But I also admired it for another reason. It has been said that Dreamworks is in a high speed race with Pixar to get the upper hand in animation. It has been often said that Pixar has won, since every film they've done has been overrated with praise. But I think Dreamworks does a nice job here. Sure, they apply, as the phrase goes, modern sensibility to old subject matter, but it's not embarrassing. Instead, it feels quick and timed well. It feels like a film that could appeal to both adults and kids, but there's none of that smart-ass wink-wink crap that Pixar uses to try to get parents to come. It's witty in the way that a kid could understand (and laugh at). Also, there are seriously nice looking visuals. Look for the time that the dragon draws a shape and Hiccup does a sort of dance to get out of it to not anger it. Or when there's a maze and one of the many dragons knocks down all of the blocks in it. Is there any reason for these images? No. They're just for the sake of the cinema, and I'm very glad they're here. "How to Train Your Dragon" isn't completely perfect. But it does very well at times, to be one of the best animated films in a while. Godspeed to it in terms of its box office (at the current moment it is the #1 film in America). I'm happy if people are watching this. B

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Square

For what the poster seemed to offer, "The Square" was disappointing, a good "thriller" (as others said) that I guess didn't realize that a zinger is not the same as the other shoe dropping. This is a good film for large portions, but that was because I was always thinking there was something around the corner. Who knows. You may find the ending that. But I didn't think it was worth it, despite it being intense in small portions.

Ciaran Hinds-lookalike David Roberts plays Raymond Yale, a construction supervisor that is unhappily married and in a job that he is trying to get kickbacks from (via Barney, Kieran Darcy-Smith). He's having one of those affairs where he's always planning to run off with Karla (Claire van der Bloom), but never does. Rather crookedly, when she sees her boyfriend (Anthony Hayes) leaving, she pushes a single square into the attic and reaches and (as people said) "finds a lot of money." We never exactly find out where this money came from. The only thing that really matters is that it is money.

She obviously brings it to Yale, who suggests that if they want to take the money and run, they should burn down her house, so the money would "disappear." They contact Billy (Joel Edgerton, who wrote the script and who is fraternally related to the film's director, Nash), who is some sort of lowlife who can make a good job of it. The only problem is, Carla's boyfriend's mom is housesitting. Yale tries to call it off, Billy's assistant tries to relay the call, but of course it's too late, and the place goes down. Billy doesn't know, and he thinks it's a clean job, but when he finds out, it's not good.

So you can see how good of a movie this could have been, as it "unravels" (IMDB). But what happens is that not enough happens. We don't get to know enough about the characters, most of all Yale's wife Martha (Lucy Bell) and Billy's assistant. And the ones we do know enough about are not relatable enough. And if these things aren't going to happen, the intense scenes aren't enough, like the "car chase" an IMDB user mentioned. The score was one-note as well. But I would say that the last shot, subtracting the dumb, somewhat uncaring use of "Feed the Fire," was well-done. But this wasn't a sterling film, one that partially did its job but didn't entirely follow through. C+

Monday, April 19, 2010


Marco Bellocchio's "Vincere" reminds me a lot of Lars von Trier's "Europa," as it has much more of an impact (as said before) "visually than narratively" (and the two are similar in their style). What I think may be a flaw is that the images are much more affecting than the characters. The film, however, may need them to be what it is (a paradox). The cinematography, as my friend said, is very good. It's a color film, yes, but the colors that cinematographer Daniele Cipri favors are black and white (it's a "dark" film, my friend et al. say), with some bits of color in there to contrast preciously. There is also a heavy use of archival footage, with heavy music and titles being played many times for you (which Nick Davis says is "self-monumentalizing"; perhaps, but it's still a great flourish). This makes the film "operatic" (as the critics have been saying) and very powerful. I mean, how could the characters live up to this? They're intense, but not this memorable.

The story is of how Ida Dalser and Benito Mussolini had a relationship where Mussolini seemed always very passionate, and where Dalser gave away everything for the founding of Mussolini's newspaper, but then Mussolini brushed her away because he already had a wife. The problem? He and Dalser had a son, and this furthered Dalser to him. Or so she thought. This doesn't really matter to the man, as he forgets all about her and she is left to yell at him and be forced away by people into a mental institution.

Up until this point, Bellocchio had meticulously controlled everything so that it was very much like an opera. There were very few sets and very few actors, as well as, as my friend said, "not much light." But, as the film follows Dalser into the institution, it gets less like this, more confusing, and more depressing, much like Clint Eastwood's much worse "Changeling" did two years ago. I don't like this genre of films very much.

This really made me down, but the film feels "classic" (as my friend said) enough to give you a reason to see this film. The film does get worse, but is very good at times. In other places it was a little flawed, too; for example, the sex scene at the beginning is a little long and the film is at places a little too "fly-on-the-wall" topical. The characters aren't the most memorable, as well, but, to use a common phrase, "they don't lack in intensity." I mean Giovanna Mezzogiorno in particular as Dalser. As others did, I thought Fillipo Timi was good in his double role (which got a little confusing) as (as said before) "father and son Benito." Overall, this is a piece that shows more work in terms of style than character, both a benefit and downsizer. B-

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Favorite Books of All-Time

I like reading, but I don't finish as many books as I do movies. But here I go:

10. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
9. The Reluctant Fundementalist by Mohsin Hamid
8. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
6. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
5. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
4. 1984/Animal Farm by George Orwell
3. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery
2. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Män Som Hatar Kvinnor/Men Who Hate Women)

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is for long periods of time a very boring, blasé piece of Hollywood-style cinema made in Sweden. The writing is bad, there are copious clichés, and there's a mystery that's good but not good enough to sit through a 2 and a half hour film about it. Especially for what happens in the periods of time that are not boring. This portion of the film is gruesome and, as others have said, perhaps "gratuitous." Could there be more artful ways of showing what happens in this film? Yes. But that's because I'm pretty sure director Niels Arden Oplev and screenwriters Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg think that it would be so intense to have a rape scene in (as Gabe Toro said) a "subplot unrelated to the rest of the film," because they know the rest of the film might not be so interesting. Editing is not used. No. We need to capture this in all of its squalor, don't we? We've got footage that's going to repulse audiences, and we're going to use it. I know films can be "unrelenting" but I feel this is just some sort of shocker for no reason.

I've tried to read the book by Stieg Larsson, and I stopped and started up until about p.85. No doubt I won't finish it now. If the film is any indication, those planning to read the books then see the Swedish films are looking forward to a hell of a lot of violence in a sea of boringness. The American remakes are supposed to be "toned down"; God let 'em, if they're going to be "made with grace and style," as Ebert would say. If they're going to be mirrors of the sloppily adapted, badly written and scored original, let's just say there's one ticket lost.

The plot, for those of whom didn't read the book (which the film whips through so fast it feels like you did futile reading): Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) keeps getting framed flowers in the mail, one per birthday, for every year since his brother's daughter Harriet, who was the "apple of his eye," was murdered. He assumes it's the killer. Okay. So then, for some reason, he wants to solve this case again. So he brings on Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who's a journalist who got set up and then cut down "for libel." There's a special reason (at least I think): Blomkvist's nanny was Harriet. But wait. He's waited this long to contact this guy if he's "the one"? And he's done it in the six months "before he serves his sentence"? Why?

Whatever. So Blomkvist comes and starts investigating and what do you know, he starts uncovering dirt that had never been found. So it takes an un-jaded reporter to get moderately far? I guess. Moderately far is the objective phrase there, though. He does blow up some pictures and he does find a bible with weird codes it (which are idiotically mistaken for phone numbers; why would someone put freaking phone numbers in a bible?), but he can't go that extra inch, as there's a photo of a guy he can't see and that would be operative to solving this whole deal, since in this picture she's looking worriedly at someone and of course, that someone has to be the killer. So he acquires a partner, after she sends him what the codes mean and does it so he can easily trace her. This is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) has been hacking Blomkvist's computer for a long time. As the characters put it, she knows everything about him, but he knows nothing about her. She writes a profile on him to give to the head of her security company, so she needs to constantly watch him and steal his information (this section is very detailed in the book and is so dashed off in the film that it will leave book readers knowledgeable but angry and film viewers blissfully ignorant; maybe we could have gotten rid of that whole "I am a sadist pig and a rapist" section that was bemoaned by Toro and heard more about this; it establishes the character of Salander much better) but she gets interested after she gets done with finding out what he's currently doing and she solves the codes and brings herself into the whole ordeal.So they spend the latter half of the film finding out things in cliché ways. For example, we're subjected to ridiculously obvious jump scares when Blomkvist goes to investigate. Also we get many scenes of people flipping frantically through library books. Plus, shots lingering forever on "photos of mutilated women," done in religious killings ripped from the Bible. Um... isn't this like a total ripoff of "Se7en" by David Fincher? (No wonder they're getting him to direct the Americanization of the material. He'll just be directing his past again.)

There were times I wished I walked out of the film. I wish I had after I saw the stupid tack-on ending and how the film delves into flashbacks of Lisbeth's childhood to try to make you watch the other films. I'm not interested enough in any way. Rapace I would agree is good. She has a fight scene with a beer bottle that is easily the film's most exciting and interesting, and it doesn't involve rape (although it does involve an attack in a subway). If she wasn't in the film, it would be bad across the board. Without her, there would be absolutely no reason to see this film. And I'll admit, isolated, the mystery of Harriet is interesting. Except for the fact that it was, as people have said, just another excuse to show "sexism" and "violence toward women" in Sweden. Ebert was right: "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is a good title. Made me read the book and want to see the film. But it's a little bit of false advertising. "Men Who Hate Women" is much more appropriate. C-

Warning: this film would be a hard R in the United States for "Sexuality including sexual assaults, violence, disturbing images, and language." Plus it committed the crime of making me feel, like Ebert feels sometimes, "dirty."

Also, if you want a film that's a mystery that's not done poorly and doesn't involve extreme violence, see "The Ghost Writer." The film's second half is amazing. It was a great film experience.

Update: the film did actually pick up an R rating after I saw it for "disturbing violent content including rape, grisly images, sexual material, nudity, and language." So I sort of called it. Not the sort of thing I would walk into if I had seen the rating.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cannes 2010 Competition Preview From a Cineaste Who Still Doesn't Know Half the Directors In Competition

The Cannes Official Selection of 2010 is announced. With less than 25 until the festival, Cannes whets our appetites by offering the films that we're all going to be dying to see. As the title mentions, I have no clue who many of these directors are, but that means I have more parts of the cinema to be introduced to. I do know a few In Competition: Mike Leigh (who won the Palme d'Or in 1996 for "Secrets & Lies") , Alejandro González Iñárritu, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Doug Liman, as well as Abbas Kiarostami (who won the 1997 Palme d'Or for "Taste of Cherry"), Takeshi Kitano, and Bertrand Tavernier as directors I've heard of but never seen. As for Un Certain Regard, we have Derek Cianfrance, Manoel de Oliveira, Lodge Kerrigan, Hong Sangsoo, Christi Puiu, and Xavier Dolan, as well as the historic Jean-Luc Godard. There are a couple of interesting things out-of-competition, and I'll get to those soon. I lastly would like to cite that, as The Playlist said, I'm depressed to see the absence of Malick in competition, as Mr. Terrence has created one of my "most anticipated films" of 2010 in "The Tree of Life" which looks monumental. Apparently there's a way you can enter late, but many think that he's going to pass on Cannes and finish his film properly. I'm so impatient, but I'm glad: when it finally gets here, it will be amazing and well-crafted.

Here's some close analysis of the films of the festival:

Competition --> President of the Jury: Tim Burton

Jury: Kate Beckinsale (weird since she was in a Valerie Plame movie, could this have an effect?), Giovanna Mezzogiorno ("Vincere"), Alberto Barbera ("member of the Jury in 1939" (IMDB),
Emmanuel Carrere ("La Moustache"), Benicio Del Toro ("Che," "Traffic"), Victor Erice ("Spirit of the Beehive"), Shakhur Kapur ("Elizabeth")

Torneé directed by Mathieu Almaric (Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes)

Almaric has been one of my favorite actors, in films such as "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "A Christmas Tale," and Cannes 2009's "Wild Grass" (which I have not gotten the chance to see). I'm glad to hear that he's directing and starring in his own film, "Tornee," in which he apparently plays the lead character named Joachim. Julie Ferrier ("Micmacs") plays herself apparently, so is there some metaphysical-ness at play? Also appearing are Anne Benoit and Damien Odoul in as-of-now unnamed roles. The film is shot by Christophe Beaucame ("Mr. Nobody," "Coco Before Chanel," "Paris"), and I think he's pretty traditional but good (although that's just from seeing the trailers for the three films). Apparently the film is about "American burlesque girls on tour in France," which sounds weird... But I'll see it for Mr. Almaric. Does it have a shot at the Palme D'or? No. Almaric maybe for best director, but I'm going to be surprised if it wins.

Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et des dieux) directed by Xavier Beauvois (Running Time: 2 hours)

This film is "a drama about Cistercian monks who stand up for their beliefs when confronted by fundementalists" (IMDB). I dunno, but I think the style is going to define this film. I don't know of Beauvois, who's apparently an actor as well as a director. His biggest directorial release by far is "The Young Lieutenant" which hit at the Venice Film Festival and was actually released in the United States (a feat that none of his other directorial efforts managed). He has an acting role in Jean-Paul Salome's "The Chameleon," which will appear at this month's Tribeca Film Festival with Ellen Barkin, Brian Geraghty, and Emilie de Ravin. Back to his newest film, which is his first appearance at Cannes as far as I know. The actors are Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, and others, although there are no character names so it could be a true to life film. The cinematographer is Caroline Champetier, who shot Leos Carax's "Merde" from "Tokyo," as well as most of Beauvois' films. Does it have a chance at the Palme? Definitely. This subject matter has a shot with any Cannes jury. But perhaps Xavier Beauvois will pull a Xavier Giannoli and miss out.

Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi) directed by Rachid Bouchareb (2 hours 11 minutes)

This guy's last film, "Days of Glory," played at Cannes four years ago and took home Best Actor ("for its ensemble"). This one, apparently a sequel to that film, is "a drama about the Algerian struggle for independence from France after WWII" (IMDB). So kind of in the vein of "The Battle of Algiers"? It has I think the same actors from the first film, as well as Almaric's cinematographer Beaucame, who I guess is now building up his cred. I wonder if this film is watchable without seeing the first film. Does it have a shot at the Palme? Yes. But will Burton head for a war film? That's the question. Bouchareb is experienced, though, and that helps.

Biutiful directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (2 hours 18 minutes)

Now I start talking about stuff I know. This was one of my most hot prospects of 2010. This is also the film that I think will dent the Oscar circuit (along with "Another Year"). The synopsis is: "A man involved in illegal dealing is confronted by his childhood friend, who is now a policeman," IMDB), which sounds enthralling. Inarritu is the director of "Amores Perros," "21 Grams," and "Babel," all three respected by the Academy Awards, so there you go. Plus, Javier Bardem is in it. This looks like one of the best films of this year's Cannes, and something I'll be able to see soon. Does it have a shot at the Palme? More likely Best Director or Screenplay for Inarritu. Considering Burton is the head of the jury it's chances are slightly diminished. But I guess.

A Screaming Man (Un Homme Qui Crie) directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (1 hour 40 minutes)

There is absolutely no information about this film online. As Ebert said, there are films that go to Cannes without IMDB pages, and this is one of them. Haroun is a Chadian filmmaker whose "Abouna" premiered at Cannes 8 years ago, perhaps his most famous film. "Darratt," another of his films, "won the Grand Special Jury Prize at Venice 2006." I haven't heard of this director, but I'm interested in seeing what this film is. Does it have a shot at the Palme? I don't know the plot details, but it's hard to say. I think Haroun has a chance.

P.S. The title is another addition to the "Man" titles that I (as well as Nick Davis) have been noticing recently.

The Housemaid directed by Im Sangsoo (1 hour 46 minutes)

This is a "remake" (as Twitch said) by Sangsoo, whose "The President's Last Bang" I hope to see soon. It seems like a horror film (as it remakes a "shocking film," of the "crime, drama, and horror" genres (IMDB and its users)), which Cannes apparently needs a couple of every year (or maybe just last year had an abundance): "A man's affair with his family's maid leads to a dark consequences" (gramatically incorrect, but okay, IMDB). I'm very interested, as it sounds intriguing. Here's a trailer, (first reported by Twitch) which makes me think the same as a commenter: "very interesting." I'm glad there are films like this to diversify Cannes. (Apparently, "Do-Yeon Jeon won Best Actress at Cannes 2007." (Youtube Trailer description)) Does it have a shot at the Palme? No. Diversify Cannes maybe, but not be the best film. It may take the Jury Prize route that "Thirst" did last year.

Certified Copy (Copie Conforme) directed by Abbas Kiarostami (1 hour 46 minutes)

As my friend said, here is a "heavy-hitter," or two, rather, with Kiarostami directing Juliette Binoche. Synopsis is: "In Italy to promote his latest book, a middle-aged English writer meets a young French woman and jets off to San Gimigano with her" (IMDB). Young French woman? Binoche is 46 years old... I dunno. I guess it's worth seeing because of the players involved, and I guess because it could be a "stylish film" (as others have said I believe), but I'm not intensely excited for a romantic comedy like this one. Does it have a chance at the Palme? It's more likely that it will be Best Actress for "Cannes poster girl" Binoche. But who knows? It's Kiarostami, so you have to give him a shot. But maybe he'll win Best Director...

Outrage directed by Takeshi Kitano (2 hours)
Kitano is a huge action director apparently, and this is his newest film, which is like the "Vengeance" of 2010. I'm really looking forward to seeing his other films and this one as well. Kitano stars as Otomo. The film already has an MPAA rating of R for "violence, language, and brief sexuality," which means it will probably drop in America between now and the Toronto Film Festival. It will probably be a summer release by its company Warner Brothers, who might put it mainstream... Cannes for the greater public? It will most definitely not win the Palme d'Or, but it may be some peoples' first Golden Palm (that is not "Pulp Fiction"). Does it have a chance at the Palme? No. Simply put, action films don't win Palmes (unless it's Pulp Fiction, and apparently The Playlist says that "Cannes loves Quentin").

Poetry directed by Lee Chang-Dong (2 hours 15 minutes)

Synopsis is "A drama centered on a woman at the end of her life in search of new meaning." (IMDB). Kind of like "Ikiru," eh? This guy is a Cannes veteran, with "Secret Sunshine" under his belt (Best Actress winner of 2007). He also did "the seminal film in the Korean New Wave" (Netflix), "Oasis." The actors are Yoon Hee-Jeong and Da-Wit Lee. Very little has been said about this film on its IMDB page. Does it have a chance at the Palme? This film is the frontrunner in my mind right now. Considering its subject matter, this movie seems to be the archetypal Golden Palm winner. It could all fall apart, but probably not. The only deterrent could be that they could give Best Actress to the actress who plays the lead character, and Cannes doesn't allow multiple awards to films.

Another Year directed by Mike Leigh (2 hours 9 minutes)

Leigh goes in with the advantage of having extreme respect. "Happy-Go-Lucky" got into my Top Ten List of 2006, and he, as noted before, won the Golden Palm for "Secrets & Lies" 14 years ago. Shot by Dick Pope (his regular guy) and (as the Playlist said) with Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton as a couple of the actors, this will be very Leigh and most likely very good. I'm really looking forward to it. Does it have a chance at the Palme? There are not a lot of double Palme winners, but I think Leigh may have an outside chance. Probably he won't get anything and maybe one of his actors will.

Fair Game directed by Doug Liman (1 hour 44 minutes)

Liman doesn't have a very impressive resumé, having directed the terrible "Jumper" and the heavily commercial "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," but he did do "The Bourne Identity," which holds up very nicely in comparison to the two films by Greengrass. The subject matter got him in, and it may get Oscars as well: the "Valerie Plame Scandal," which "Nothing But the Truth" didn't do very well with. Sean Penn and Naomi Watts star. Watts has a shot at Cannes Best Actress (and that of the Oscars) for playing Plame, as well as Penn as Joseph Wilson. Sounds interesting, and could be good if done well. Does it have a chance at the Palme? Not at all. Political thrillers don't win Palmes, either. Watts and Penn have have much better chances winning the acting categories.

My Joy directed by Sergei Loznitsa (2 hours 7 minutes)

No IMDB page, so this is futile. He did do a film called "Revue," which is apparently "a vibrant portrait of in the Soviet Union during the 50's and 60's" (Netflix) that is apparently much like Guy Maddin or Terence Davies (because of its "food for nostalgia" (IMDB user)). Does it have a shot at the Palme? The subject matter gives it all away, and we don't have it. I'll do a feature later (more detailed), but for now there's no way of knowing. I'll make a guess that it does...

La Nostra Vita directed by Daniele Luchetti (1 hour 33 minutes)

This is apparently a "comedy" (IMDB), with actors such as Raoul Bova ("Alien Vs. Predator," "Sorry If I Love You") and Riccardo Scamario (from the director's "My Brother is an Only Child") and a score by Luchetti regular Franco Piersanti. The director's biggest hit it seems was "Child," which got a US release and played at Cannes in 2007. So Luchetti is a veteran, which is a good sign for the film's award chances. Does it have a shot at the Palme? Yes, but a smaller one since it's a comedy.

Burnt by the Sun 2 (UTOMLYONNYE SOLNTSEM 2) directed by Nikita Mikhalkov (2 hours 21 minutes, making it the longest film In Competition)

This film is a sequel to "Burnt by the Sun," which Mikhalkov brought to Cannes in 1994 to win the Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. To add to that, it won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars of 1994, only the second Russian film to do so (IMDB). His last film, "12," was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 2007 Oscars as well as the Golden Lion at Venice 2007. He is considered to be the "Russian = Spielberg" (IMDB). So it should be interesting to see how well this does in America and here, although I probably won't be able to see it until I see the original "Utomlyonnye Solntsem." Mikhalkov stars as Col. Sergei Petrovich Kotov, and most of the rest of the cast is back from the first. Does it have a chance to win the Palme? I really don't think so. Mikhalkov won two prizes last time, and I don't think the jury will e as generous this time. But maybe the subject matter ("Stalinism" (IMDB) will prevail. Probably not, however.

La Princesse de Montpensier directed by Bertrand Tavernier (2 hours 15 minutes)

I know Tavernier from his 1974 work "The Cl0ckmaker" (which I've never seen, but heard of). His latest film was "In the Electric Mist," which didn't get the best critical reception apparently. Not much has been said about the plot, but I can say that Gaspard Ulliel, Mélanie Thierry, and "Of Gods and Men" actor Lambert Wilson are involved in it. Does it have a chance at the Palme? Having no plot details makes it hard. But once the profiles come out about the films, we can tell. Because of Tavernier's prestige and the possible subject matter, possibly. But I'm not sure it'll be able to compete with some of the other films up this year.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Long Boonmee Raleuk Chat) directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (1 hour 54 minutes)

Weerasethakul is a very respected filmmaker, whose "Syndromes and a Century" was proclaimed Best Film of the Decade by the Toronto Film Festival (and it was good, but a little hard-to-get). His "Tropical Malady" came to Cannes in 2004 and won the Jury Prize (and also got listed on the Sight and Sound 30 to "represent the decade." So it's safe to say he has high status. His new film is a "comedy" (IMDB), in which "on his deathbed, Uncle Boonmee recalls his many past lives" (IMDB). I don't think it has much relation to his short film "A Letter to Uncle Boonmee" from last year, which is apparently much more serious and much more symbolic and political. This sounds very good, and I'm looking forward to it. Does it have a chance at the Palme? Probably not. But Weerasethakul seems like a perfect candidate for Best Director (he's "due," says my friend), due to the history of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, a director who showed two films, winning prizes for one, and then going on to win Best Director.

Early Predictions for Competition Awards
Palme d'Or - "Poetry" by Lee Chang-Dong (or "A Screaming Man" by Mahamat Saleh-Haroun, or "Of Gods and Men" by Xavier Beavois)
Gran Prix - "Outside the Law" by Rachid Bouchareb
Best Director (Prix de Mise-en-Scene) - Apichatpong Weerasethakul (or Abbas Kiarostami)
Best Actor - Javier Bardem (or Sean Penn, Nikita Mikhalkov (which would be a good consolation prize for the Palme d'Or)
Best Actress - Juliette Binoche or Naomi Watts (I think they have equal chance right now) (or Yoon Hee-Jeong)
Best Screenplay - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Biutiful" (or Apichatpong Weerasethakul for "Uncle Boonmee...")

And I'm not going to go about predicting Jury Prizes just yet.

I've realized I don't have the strength in my to do Un Certain Regard, etc. So I'll split it up like others have done and this will be a competition feature.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Films I've Seen in the Past 5 Days (and why I didn't finish Colossal Youth)

"Ossos" (1997) directed by Pedro Costa
"Che: The Guerilla" (2008) directed by Steven Soderbergh
"Magnolia" (1999) directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
"Brick" (2005) directed by Rian Johnson

I'm not writing full reviews of any of these films (I will, however, elaborate on them in the comments if anyone wants), but "Brick" is by far the best, followed by "Che, Part 2," then perhaps "Magnolia," and lastly "Ossos," which was very, very slow (and "challenging") but still decent due to its awesome compositions and a good performance as a charitable nurse by Isabel Ruth.

And I tried, first with a friend, then by myself, to watch Costa's "Colossal Youth" (which oddly came from Netflix before "In Vanda's Room"). My friend begged to stop after about 12 minutes, but I was determined to finish it today. No dice. I only got to about 1 hour, 10 minutes. This was not only because of the miserable tone of the film, but because the main character, Ventura visits Vanda Duarte (who plays his daughter) three times, for long shots that take many, many minutes. These were long, tough scenes. By the end of the first one, I thought he was going to do other things, but he comes back twice (and probably more after that moment).

Let me tell you why this is so boring. The camera is positioned towards the two, sitting on a bed. They're watching TV. They're distracted by it. We can't see it, so we can't be. Large portions of discussions #1 and #3 are consumed by the TV. #2 is one of those "monologues on camera" that the Onion AV Club mentioned, where Duarte describes how she gave birth to her daughter and then was forced to stay in her own room for a long time. Also, how she kicked her drug habit. This, I'm pretty sure, is the subject of "In Vanda's Room." I'm wondering if the birth happened post-"IVR," because if not, this is just rehashing what happened in the previous film. I haven't seen it, so I actually have no clue.

The cinematography here is done by Costa himself (just like Soderbergh does his own). Emmanuel Machuel (who did the camerawork on "Ossos") accentuates his compositions a lot more than Costa, who does less obvious stuff. He still captures the squalor, but nowhere near as neatly as Machuel. I think he should hire him back as his guy. Also, I agree with my friend: I'm a little disappointed that Criterion decided to touch up the "Ossos" print but not this one. It's really grainy and you can't see as much.

I just feel really disappointed because I was thinking "Colossal Youth" was going to live up to the hype: both Film Comment and Sight and Sound said it was among the best/most representative of the decade. I have to say I feel let down by my favorite film magazines. "Youth" may not be a terrible or even that bad of a film, but trust me: unless right off the bat it sounds as if you can get through a 156 minute (that's 2 hours, 36 minutes, folks) piece that involves a guy talking to his grown up children (his son twice, his daughter Vanda thrice, and his daughter Zita twice as well) and some guy who works at an art museum, as well as "cardplaying" and saying the same letter over and over and over again for this other guy to memorize, all of this on a below-average print and with "static camera shots" (as Onion said) of 5+ minutes, then don't try it. Looks beautiful in spots, but "not good enough." (To explain: As my friend says, if there's not enough good imagery to balance the slowness of what Sight and Sound calls "Slow Cinema," then you might as well pass.)

Friday, April 2, 2010


"Greenberg" is cut awkwardly, written awkwardly, and acted awkwardly in that "intentionally painful" way Lisa Schwarzbaum mentioned. That's meant as a compliment. I think it's one of the best films in a while. Noah Baumbach studies a character much like Paul Thomas Anderson does in "Punch-Drunk Love." Anderson built the film and its technicalities around Adam Sandler's Barry Egan, and now Baumbach shows Ben Stiller's Roger Greenberg by making the whole film an emanation of him. I tend to really go for these movies, since it shows a director understanding a character in a deeper sense than the usual.

And I'd definitely agree with the publication that cited that this is Stiller's best performance. Absolutely. He creates a totally multilayered character, worthy of a paragraph of notes. He's simultaneously impulsive and reserved (by the end of the film you can pretty much predict how he'll approach something), an alcoholic, and afraid of too much attention (but as my friend said, disastrously self-centered). His dialogue is a stream of attempted one-liners, sardonically written by Baumbach. Most of all, as Schwarzbaum et al. said, he's a "jerk" who can't say the right thing and who handles everything clumsily. For example, he uses a stop at Florence's (Greta Gerwig) house to convince her that he should just stay and then leads straight into sexual activity. And whenever Florence wants to show attention to him, he sends her away by rampantly insulting her.

This relationship is where the film really culminates, but the basic plot is that Philip and Carol Greenberg (Chris Messina and Susan Taylor) are going to Vietnam, so they get Roger to, as IMDB says, "housesit." The film takes place over the course of six weeks, when he tries to simultaneously do nothing (as somewhat of a statement) and to get with Florence, who's a fledgling singer as well as the "Greenberg assistant" (as IMDB says).

There are also Rhys Ifans (who many have cited as being "great), who's saddening as Ivan Schenk, a computer guy that Greenberg used to be in a band with. He's sort of kind of not really Greenberg's best friend, but Greenberg uses him as another person to call and to come over periodically to not ever really interact with. When Ivan offers him a birthday celebration at Musso and Frank's, he yells at him and runs out. He also yells at him when he comes into the film in the "climactic party scene" (as it has been called), which could be considered the saddest moment in the movie as a tack on to the scene where Greenberg lets loose, takes drugs, tries to stop people from feeding beer and pizza to the Greenberg family dog Mahler, and (as a friend said) finds something weird in the pool. And when Greenberg incessantly bothers Jennifer Jason Leigh's ex-girlfriend to lunch, it creates "the most painful of scenes" (as my friend and the Playlist said). Notice how (as my friend said) Greenberg neglects to mention the sickness of Beth's mother until he's been done talking about Mahler's sickness. Speaking of Mahler, to use a cliche, he's pretty much the thread that ties the movie together. He gets an auto-immune deficiency disorder and it plays out so that Greenberg and Florence are brought together because of it.

Okay. As been much said before, "this is not for everyone." I estimate a small percentage of the population will genuinely enjoy it. I think I can say I'm a part of that. If you like films such as "Rachel Getting Married" and "Punch-Drunk Love," imagine them combined and you have, to use a cliche, something along the lines of "Greenberg." I haven't seen any other Noah Baumbach, so I can't compare, but I guess I have some viewing I might want to accomplish. But his "Greenberg" is a film that I found consistently amusing, (as the Playlist said) "very well acted," and perfectly structured, with an interesting view of society. A-

A musing (ed. June 12, 2010): Is this film (the character Roger Greenberg in particular) too close to Saul Bellow's "Herzog" and Moses Herzog? I dunno. Is this film a knockoff? I'm wondering. I think this film is more interesting than the book, but I'm still a bit troubled. hmm.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Music of My Life

I don't think I've ever really gotten into this on my blog, but I love music about as much as films. It fills me with a lot of emotion. I'm mostly into alternative rock, yes, but, for example, I still was effected by the orchestral pieces played in the trailer for "A Prophet." This blog has coined the term "movie-music moment" and those always strike me, but I'm into music on its own.

Here is some of the music I like/love. I'm just so swept away by some of it I feel the need to post it here and see if you like it as much as I do. Also just to show you another side of my personality. I'll admit, some of these videos are not exciting. I usually just listen to them and disregard what's actually being shown.

I don't write about music analytically, although I think that way about it. I've tried writing reviews, but I never can. I really just like to listen. I'm seeing a movie later today, so I'll have a review by tomorrow, but here's something in the meantime, because it's been a long time since my review of "The Ghost Writer."

She's a Jar by Wilco (I recently discovered this song, but it's been often on my mind)

There, There by Radiohead

Alone, Together by The Strokes

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart by Wilco

Up the Junction by Squeeze

Crying Lightning by Arctic Monkeys

Staring at the Sun by TV on the Radio
I dunno, comment, share your own favorite songs, try to share some music with everyone.