Monday, August 30, 2010

An Interview with George Hickenlooper, director of the Jack Abramoff biopic "Casino Jack"

Hickenlooper (right) with "Casino Jack" star Kevin Spacey

"Casino Jack” premieres at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival in the Galas section.

Flick Pick Monster: You seem drawn to outcasts: Francis Ford Coppola and his cast with “Hearts of Darkness,” Monty Hellman in your documentary about him, Andy Warhol in “Factory Girl,” Rodney Bingenheimer in “Mayor of Sunset Strip,” and now Jack Abramoff in “Casino Jack.” Would you say this is, as they say, your trademark?

George Hickenlooper: [I'm] not sure if I’m into trademarks because in general I'm against the commodification of any art form, particularly when it comes to the cinema. This trend in the last 30 years has had a very corrosive and infantilizing [effect] on filmmaking. In the independent film world in the United States, it’s this type of framing device that has created a kind of "Pottery Barn Cinema," [as] I like to call it -- where filmmakers and critics both feel a need to pigeon hole work with a kind of label or sheen that makes it more palatable for the consumer. Critics and fanboys alike love it when they can salivate over certain styles or fashions or trends which ultimately feed on themselves and the filmmakers, leading to a generation of work that might look nice next to your potpourri but at [its] heart has no real or timeless qualities that [are] demanded by meaningful storytelling. Less I digress, allow me to answer your question—I am interested in characters who are outsiders or who are in some way in a deteriorating frame of mind. My other pictures 'The Low Life', 'Dogtown,' and ‘The Big Brass Ring,' also explore this idea. For 'The Big Brass Ring', F.X. Feeney and I adapted the original screenplay by Orson Welles about a political candidate who is recovering from the loss of a major election. In our adaptation we kept that same idea of loss but made it more intimate, creating the story of a politician who suffers from the loss and guilt of a brother killed in Vietnam. It’s this sadness and tragedy of life that fascinates me to no end. I believe that characters like this are true to life and in a way they are appropriate metaphors for how life decays. We are all beautiful rockets that eventually burn out, and I like to shine my attention on those last few sparks, those last few moments of glory. Finality is what gives life its beauty. Without finality we would all be trees falling in a massive forest for no one to see.

FPM: Was the film influenced by Alex Gibney’s “Casino Jack and the United States of Money”? If not, how did this project come into being?

GH: I wasn’t aware of the relevance of [the] Gibney documentary until he started accusing me of stealing his title. Considering the fact that Jack’s universal nickname in Washington was ‘Casino Jack,’ I felt it was a bit presumptuous of him to assume ownership of the name, especially when we had announced our title first. Regardless, Gibney’s film had no influence on me. It was actually Billy Moyers’ PBS documentary ‘Capitol Crimes’ which got me interested in the story. It was so gothic and operatic in its scope, I immediately though this would make a great film. And not a political film, but a film about hubris, greed and corruption on a stage that could rival the world of Mario Puzo. It was fresh and interesting and smart and so I found the writer, Norman Snider, who is a former journalist and a Canadian, and I thought together we could come up with an interesting perspective on Jack Abramoff.

FPM: It’s interesting to see Kevin Spacey play both Ron Klain and Jack Abramoff in a span of only a couple of years. Any comment on this?

GH: I actually never saw 'Recount’ nor did I take it into consideration when I was casting ‘Casino Jack.’ I felt Kevin had a certain bravado and charm that would nicely accentuate the personality of Abramoff. I met with Jack five times where he was incarcerated in Cumberland, Maryland, so I got to know Abramoff a bit and I just felt his charisma and charm was something that might be suited to Kevin Spacey.

FPM: I appreciate the fact that you took the approach of making a biopic/dramatization, not a fictionalization. A recently example of this was Doug Liman’s “Fair Game,” which was about Valerie Plame and referred to her by name versus Rod Lurie’s “Nothing But the Truth,” which was implicitly about Plame but was sort of a concealed satire. I use this comparison because your film is similarly political and similarly about a controversy. Would you say your choice to direct a dramatization comes out of your documentarian bent.

GH: Well, for me a good story is a good story whether inspired by facts or not. Does my background as a documentarian make me more inclined to tell these kinds of stories? Not really. It just worked out that way on my last two pictures. And with respect to whether you’re Lurie or Liman, I think by virtue of the fact that we’re all telling narratives that are written by writers and ultimately played by actors, we are bound to blur the lines between fiction and reality at some point. Whether you say it’s “a true story or “inspired” by a true story, it is ultimately subject to the filmmaker’s perception and discretion, so I think your question about Lurie vs. Liman may be splitting hairs a bit. Both are very good films, and both deal with the subject of betrayal and rights of privacy in very intelligent and profound ways. You don’t necessarily have to call her character “Valerie Plame” to underscore the issues and relevance that her experience brought to our collective social mores. I felt the same way when I told the Edie Sedgwick story in ‘Factory Girl.’ I felt that I didn’t have to be slavish to the minutia of her life because her overall life experience in Andy Warhol’s factory, and her insatiable desire to achieve fame, was something completely relevant to our culture today --- loss, abandonment, and that desire to fill that deficiency with love. Consequently as a narrative filmmaker, I am not opposed to sometimes taking liberty with fact for the sake of making the story as a film work as a whole. Narrative filmmaking is always narrative storytelling and it should never pretend to be documentary unless you’re Orson Welles doing ‘War of the Worlds’ for CBS Radio. Or worse case scenario Oliver Stone making ‘JFK,’ which profoundly convinced me that Lee Harvey Oswald acted as a lone gunman.

FPM: Has the film [“Casino Jack”] been seen by anyone who is portrayed in it? If so, how did they feel about it? If not, what do you anticipate their feelings will be?

GH: Well, Jack told me in prison that he hated the movie just based on his reading of the script, which we had to smuggled into him disguised as an attorney’s document. Of course, his hating the script was part of his charm and a testament to his being an [effective] lobbyist by doing his best to convince me to take on another project instead. What he may not have realized at the time was the hours he spent talking to me and telling me stories in his effort to tell me that his story really wasn’t that interesting were stories that ultimately made it into the movie. So in a way, yes, I had my documentary cap on and art was imitating life here. Things Jack told me in prison started going directly into the movie. In fact, the very end of the film is based on a favor Jack asked me to do for him. So in an odd way, like a documentarian, I found myself a participant in my own narrative film. At moments it was surreal.

FPM: You’ve now tried biopic, narrative, and documentary. Which of them you most prefer to do?

GH: I love all three. Documentaries are pure cinema in the sense that you are using raw film to create your narrative. There’s something exciting about finding your story in the chaos of that footage. At the same time I love the elegance of narrative filmmaking and working with other great talents to create a truly magnetic narrative experience.

FPM: Which filmmakers have an influence on your work?

GH: Wow, that’s a tough question. When young film students ask me who to watch I usually suggest the following: Buster Keaton, Howard Hawks, John Ford, Robert Wise, John Schlessinger, Hal Ashby, Dziga Vertov, Jean-Luc Godard, Vittorio de Sica, Carol Reed, William Wyler, Peter Bogdanovich, King Vidor, Monte Hellman, Ernest Lubitsch, Roman Polanski… [just] to name a few…. I guess all these guys are a part of me.

Animal Kingdom

"Animal Kingdom" by David Michôd has two exceptional performances that elevate and make the movie, one by Jacki Weaver and one by Ben Mendelsohn, both heavily deserving of Oscar nominations and your attention. They are the grandmother and uncle of the main character, J (James Frecheville, well-cast) respectively, and once he comes to live with them after his mother succumbs to a heroin overdose, in the words of Weaver's character, he "gets to see a lot more of them." He also sees more of his other uncles, mild-mannered Darren (Luke Ford) and drug-dealing Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), as well as family friend Barry (Joel Edgeton), all of whom are trying to dodge the law, repeatedly reminding each other to "pull your head in." The most wanted of all seems to be Uncle Pope (Mendelsohn), who's hiding out in random locales and whose first appearance in the film is exciting. We also learn that Uncle Pope is the most merciless, in how he berates his brothers, how he repeatedly offers assistance to J, and to the depths that he plunges to save the family and to stay out of jail.

The beginning part of "Animal Kingdom" verges in certain points on being a sitcom, having an unsure tone, and plodding and meandering. But as the movie progresses, it gets better (and, like I said about "The Kids Are All Right," in light of what comes to pass, the beginning may work better on a second viewing). I can't tell you exactly how it gets better, though, or I'd be spoiling the film too much. I will tell you that Guy Pearce turns in a good, persuasive performance as Detective Leckie, who engages in a tug-of-war with the Codys to get J over to the right side of the law.

On the technical side, there is Antony Partos' score, which is good; at times excellent, at times a bit of a retread. There is also a heavy use of slow-mo which also is sometimes well-done and at other points like things I've seen before. And, as my friend and other critics (such as Laura Kern) I believe said, there is nice, floating cinematography by Adam Arkapaw.

The film has some very good sequences (as well as surprises) in both halves that make me wish that the whole beginning part held up. These sequences, as well as Mendelsohn and more so Weaver's work, are why "Animal Kingdom" works to the point that it does. It definitely is superior to previous "Blue-Tongue" effort "The Square," which, in my opinion, had an unsatisfactory followthrough. "Animal Kingdom" has exactly the reverse problem, which is better. B

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mesrine (Part 1): Killer Instinct

"Mesrine: Killer Instinct" makes a fundamental mistake that undermines it: it overuses bank robberies and gunplay. In a good "gangster pic," these elements are spread out, so that they are exciting when they occur. Otherwise, what you get is a plodding film, and that is exactly what "Mesrine, Part 1" is. It is also filled with cliches, iffy editing, a good score by a first-time composer (Eloi Painchaud) that quickly becomes monotonous, and topped off with an okay-ish title performance by Vincent Cassel, who plays the same type of role much better in "Read My Lips" by Jacques Audiard, which isn't particularly satisfying (and not Audiard's best), though it still manages to be better than this film. Cassel works best when he's "brooding" (as the critics have said). The only sequence where he does particularly well is when he's having a breakdown in solitary confinement (filmed very well), but that's not a particularly challenging arena. And to those who champion his work (which won a Cesar award for Best Actor), I direct you to the particularly histrionic scene where he confronts his father before leaving home.

This is a film that, like it's predecessor/film-that-helps-market-this-one-to-American-audiences, "Public Enemies," has very few successful sequences, although it has some nice devices and, as my friend said, very good cinematography (by DP Robert Gantz). The scenes that at first come to mind as working (if only working moderately) are the ones at the very beginning. The first (which shows how cliche this film is, even in structure) shows, with much split-screening, Mesrine's death while performing some sort of job. This is very controlled, as it is the credit sequence, and lends to the notion that this film might end up actually working, despite the fact that it ends rather strangely. The next scene is an execution scene in Algeria, where Mesrine is serving in the army and is forced to shoot someone. It is a well done, built-up sequence (with a good choice of low-quality photography in this case), though I'm not entirely sure I like it either, because these sorts of scenes are rather overused. But, again, I would chalk one up for Jean-François Richet.

The film then starts experiencing the problem that some felt (though not me) "The Secret In Their Eyes" did: only surface or "kiddle pool" (to quote Keith Uhlich) depth. It follows Mesrine's clubbing and descent into crime (with a robbery similar to one in Campanella's film), led by his friend Paul (Gilles Lellouche, who has a very small screen presence, especially as the film progresses). Paul brings him to his mob boss, Guido (Gerard Depardieu), who first takes him for a "stray dog" and learns otherwise rather fast.

He also meets and marries a Spanish gal named Sofia (Elena Anaya), who the film, in its cliche way, lights first in red and proceeds to show, once married life is underway, in dull browns. During their time together, we switch back and forth betwixt crime and life, before the inevitable collapse happens and these parallels no longer are drawn. Finally, he settles on a wife that will go with him "all the way," Jeanne Schneider (Cécile de France), whose role garnered the film comparisons to "Bonnie and Clyde" (although "Killer Instinct" is nowhere near that film in quality), and, once he moves to Quebec from France, he finds a new partner, Jean-Paul Mercier (Roy Dupuis), whom he meets at a construction site.

The film is, as my friend said, continuously violent, but being this way doesn't by default make the film good, which may have been the thinking of Richet. In some instances, such as the moderately exciting but very drawn out end (or, as my friend thought, the "stabbing scene"), it can be gratuitous. This is all the more highlighted by the fact that, as my friend said, the film does not have enough "down time." This is a major part of why the film is dull.

I'm also unsure, as a friend was, of how faithful the film (adapted from Mesrine's memoir "Killer Instinct") is to his life, and it would have an effect, though not a large one on my perception of the film. It seems at first a good idea to, as my friend said, to take liberty, but if it does more than a certain point, it loses its value as a document, which I think is something that the film has going for it. This is because, on purely an entertainment basis, it doesn't do very well. I would have been more receptive to this film if parts of this film had been made by people as Youtube videos. If that was the case, I might have been impressed. Otherwise? No.

I'm feeling like Ebert does about zombie and "fetish" movies here: are gangster movies just good as just gangster movies anymore or do they need something of a twist? Unless they're particularly well-made, I think the latter (though that might not even be the case).

I can say that I doubt I'll be seeing "Mesrine Pt. 2: Public Enemy Number One" when it bows next week. Although The Playlist says it is superior, I don't think it'll be worth another 10 bucks (on top of the money spent on the first half). If I'm truly that curious, I'll go on Wikipedia and read the synopsis, instead of risking sitting through another film like "Killer Instinct." C

Note on My Essays

Blogger is tough sometimes. That's why I did not feel like reformatting my essay on "Punch-Drunk Love" so that the pictures would fit on my regular site. You can see this essay, as well as ones in the future, on a "sidebar" of my blog, The Flick Pick Monster: The Essays. Therewill be no links on the side there, so one can fully enjoy the screenshots from the film.

Also, I will stop writing notes like these and get back to my regular reviewing.

Thank you for your time,

Nick Duval

The Flick Pick Monster

Friday, August 27, 2010

What's Coming Soon

I'm very sorry for the lack of reviews for the past month. I've been very busy, and I haven't gotten to the cinema really at all since "Wild Grass" back at the end of July. I have acquired the service of VOD, however, and will review some new IFC and Magnolia titles via that. I will also go a lot to the theaters this week, and there will be many, many reviews for you to read.

Also, I've been doing a few interviews. One of them is in the can, and, though I've revealed it on my Twitter page, I will let it be a surprise to those who follow my blog primarily through this outlet. It will be on the site on September 12th, at the preference of the person involved.

And, now that I know the schedule of the NYFF 2010 (available here), I will be deciding on what films to see there (which will produce some reviews).

Get ready! Much is to come!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Life During Wartime

Perhaps the most important thing to say in my case when reviewing "Life During Wartime" is that I have never seen any other Todd Solondz film (although I do have somewhat of a knowledge of the plot of "Happiness," which is supposedly precedes this film narratively). Todd McCarthy has said that one can go cold into this film, and that's exactly what I did.

However, even if one sees the other film, "Life During Wartime" (which as a Solondz n00b, I find tone-wise and dialogue-wise somewhat reminiscent of Miranda July's pretty much unfinishable "Me and You and Everyone We Know") I don't believe delivers. It feels incomplete, with an ending that can be seen on some level as final but not entirely. I can wonder if there will be a third part, but even so, this ending doesn't work for me. It casts a long shadow on the film, which is not for the best, as it leaves me finding strands of the plot left perhaps too loose. I have no idea if certain characters had illuminating roles in "Happiness." I find, though, that with the bulk critical reception of the film being somewhat close to mine, I don't think I'm alone in the area of having experienced an absence of catharsis.

I'm painting the film as much worse than it actually is with that last paragraph. At its best, it's very wrenching. It covers a pervert, Allen (Michael K. Williams) and a pedophile, Bill (Ciarán Hinds) and the emotional wreckage that they've laid for their loved ones. But this is a somewhat generous description of the time that Solondz allots Allen, who is in the film's first scene and in very little otherwise. The opening, which lays out a background of strange, wavy upholstery, offers hope that Allen may have "recovered" from his problem, although his marriage to Joy (Shirley Henderson) looks like it's fully broken down. But even that comfort is screamingly shattered, in a way that I'll not say to keep it just as surprising to you as it was to me. This scene also establishes the basic game plan for the rest of the film: no one can talk to anyone without something going wrong.

The film then goes to Trish (lovely Allison Janney) as she is finally dating a "normal" guy, Harvey (Michael Lerner), who she values more for that quality than for appearance or anything. Her ex-husband is Bill. And her son is Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder), a kid who, as my friend said, fears pedophilia and, with people bullying him about his father, learns that his mother lied to him about Bill having died.

Bill is very much alive, having a one-night stand with Jacqueline (Charlotte Rampling), who considers herself a monster and will not budge from that opinion. She has only two scenes, as well, a character who leaves of the picture as soon as she came in. Bill also visits his son, Billy (Chris Marquette), who emotionally he harmed extremely in his childhood. This is a scene that I thought Marquette played well for the most part, though I thought he might have slipped (though perhaps not) towards the end; it's hard to gauge, just as it is for the characters.

Joy is explored deeply as well, as she packs up from New Jersey and goes to visit Trish, her mother, and her other sister, the apparent 4-time Emmy winner Helen (Ally Sheedy), who is very conflicted and, as a result, as my friend said, "cold." Again, Solondz throws another character in for a short period of time, and doesn't even have her say goodbye to us, which he did with Jacqueline; we only hear her having sex through the walls. Plus, these scenes are somewhat soporific (though that may just be my lack of sleep showing). Another facet of Joy's life is that she has visions of her ex-lover Andy (Paul Reubens, who's burnt out and looks more like the creep he was at one point in real life than Pee-Wee Herman), who tempts her before just yelling or trying to sexually assault her. (My friend says that he's coming back from the dead, which is probably true, but I didn't think of him as being that way.)

I shouldn't be surprised that Solondz doesn't end the film (that perhaps sometimes can feel obvious in its quest to be, as the critics have been calling it, "shocking," what with adults accidentally explaining sexual encounters to their children and the like, although, to be sure, this is the name of the Solondz game) completely at piece. But it will be easier for me, as they say in the film, to forget this film rather than to forgive it, although there are parts that definitely work, like Hinds' performance and the cinematography by Edward Lachman. Solondz repeatedly introduces characters and sends them off without enough. Along with the characters mentioned above, Trish's daughter Chloe (Emma Hinz) is only given the (however funny) attributes of (as my friend said) "depression" and karaoke singing. Even Trish and Harvey are left without too much explanation, although Harvey's final scene with Timmy is heartbreaking and well played by Solondz (as well as, I believe, Snyder, whose performance I have some minor problems with but not a ton). "Life During Wartime," while you're watching it, manages to keep most of these problems with characters away from your mind, as it is, as said before, nicely put together (with some good contrasts). But that's not to stop it from seeming somewhat problematic once you've stopped. C+

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Punch-Drunk Love (Re-Issue)

Rewatched this film today, took notes, but I'm not sure if I'm going to write an essay. Here's my original review of the film, which I momentarily took off my blog:

Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love" is amazing in the way that it understands its lead character so well. Anderson embeds small details in the way he usually does. He put so much purpose in every shot, in every little fixture, making the film quite an experience. Adam Sandler has spent his career on throwaway comedies that have gotten bad critical reception. Here is where he really acts for the first time as Barry Egan, a main man at a plunger warehouse who seems to have Asperger's Syndrome. The way Anderson deals with Egan’s problem is pure brilliance. The film's structure is based on how I believe a person of such disposition would view the world. For example, when Egan is at work, the film strikes up dissonance in many, many instruments. When he is happy and with his girlfriend Lena (played wonderfully by Emily Watson in a short performance that still manages to be utterly charming), the music changes to a lighter and more romantic feel.

Not much in the life of Barry Egan is this bright. His seven unrelenting sisters get on his case about everything, bullying him to the point of madness, causing him to implode and destroy everything around him. Feeling lonely (before he gets involved with Lena), he phones a scheming sexual hotline, gives too much of his personal information and puts himself into loads of trouble when his provider asks him repeatedly for money and resorts to threatening him with a few brutes to rough him up. This provides the entrance of Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman, who delivers somewhat of an unsatisfactory performance; it lacks too much depth to be in a film such as this, where everything is so full. Although his scene is humorous and quite memorable, it just meets the requirements and doesn't expand. Not very P.T. Anderson-like. But most everything else is.

Filmed with a kinetic eye by Robert Elswit, who adds a fantastic touch to the film's look (especially with the somewhat random dreamscapes that pop up from time to time) and scored with a quirky ear by Charlie Kaufman regular Jon Brion, it feels beautiful. Anderson scripts with a hilarious and devastating pen, especially with the details about Egan and his way of using a Healthy Choice pudding gaffe to earn tons of frequent flier miles. The dialogue is quite offbeat, and it adds to the overall disorienting texture of the movie. The virtuoso work by Sandler is what really stands out and holds things together, however. It shows that the man has a screen persona behind his meta-goofy veneer, and makes us hope he reveals it again.

The only real complaint I could make about this film is very small: it's a little short for my tastes. In 95 minutes, the film's canvas bursts to the brim, whereas in a 115-minute movie, the juices may have stayed together and have been a little better flowing. But what other movie really gives an accurate portrayal of a man confounded with Asperger's? “Punch-Drunk Love” is somewhat of a modern gem with a couple of flaws. That said, it rings true so much, and with a magnetism that’s so undeniably enchanting it’s nearly impossible not to get drawn in. A

Upon second viewing, I may swing down to an A-.

Monday, August 16, 2010

2010 New York Film Festival Main Slate Preview

With the notice given by the Arts Blog at the NY Times, the "Main Slate" of the 48th edition of the festival has finally been announced, and it is awesome. I don’t think I’ll be able to attend every film here, or even all of the films I would like to, but it will be great for the times I can go.

The “3 major slots,” as they call them, Opening Night, Centerpiece, and Closing Night, are filled by The Social Network by David Fincher (in its world premiere), The Tempest by Julie Taymor (part of the Venice Film Festival Selection), and Hereafter by Clint Eastwood respectively. Of these, I’m probably most excited for The Tempest or The Social Network.

I’m more excited about the rest of the “Main Slate,” as they call it. Here, we have award winners from Cannes, including the Palme d’Or (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, which has been said to be astonishing and which I’m heavily anticipating), the Gran Prix winner (Of Gods and Men by Xavier Beauvois, which I’m less hot on, although it will be interesting to see if the Gran Prix > Palme d’Or, as it has been it recent years), the Best Actress (Juliette Binoche in Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, said by some to be the best of the Cannes competition), and Best Screenplay (Poetry by Lee Chang-Dong, another much-championed stalwart).

Other films from the Cannes selection include Competition films Another Year by Mike Leigh (Roger Ebert’s favorite) and My Joy by Sergei Loznitsa (championed by Film Comment’s Gavin Smith and The Guardian’ s Xan Brooks), as well as Out of Competition Carlos by Oliver Assayas (one film I’m definitely looking forward to, which will be shown in its Cannes cut of 5.5 hours). Also Un Certain Regard’s Film Socialisme by Jean-Luc Godard (which no one has been really able to muster a coherent response to), Romanian films Aurora by Death of Mr. Lazarescu director Cristi Puiu (which incurred the wrath of Mike D’Angelo, but got some praise via Wesley Morris et al.; I want to see who’s right) and Tuesday, After Christmas by Radu Muntean (which seems fascinating), Tony Manero director Pablo Lerrain’s Post Mortem and The Strange Case of Angelica by Manoel de Oliviera (whose Talking Picture I absolutely hated and who I will give another chance based on the positive hype for this film). Le Quattro Volte by Michelangelo Frammartino (from Director's Fortnight) also shows. Last but not least, Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, which ranked highest in Indiewire’s Cannes Critics poll, makes an appearance. The three Cannes films that I wish that the Film Society had selected: Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project by Kornel Mundruczo, Biutiful by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, and A Screaming Man by Mahamet Saleh-Haroun. But you can't get everything you want, and, actually, unless you've seen these films, like LCD Soundsystem says, you don't know what you really want.

We also have some films from the Venice selection besides The Tempest. Abdellatif Kechiche, who directed the recently Criterion-minted The Secret of the Grain, has his Black Venus (with Olivier Gourmet of The Son) at NYFF, along with Meek’s Cutoff by Kelly Reichardt, director of Wendy and Lucy. These seem like big scores to me, and I hope I will get to them. Also from the Venice Competition is Silent Souls by Alexei Fedorchenko. I wish Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky could have made an appearance, but again, a program can't be exactly what you were hoping for.

Other films include Berlin Film Festival's The Robber by Benjamin Heisenberg (excited to get another taste of that fest), as well as Lennon NYC by Michael Epstein, Old Cats by The Maid director Sebastian Silva, Revolucion by several directors such as Diego Luna, Rodrigo Garcia, and Carlos Reygadas, Robinson in Ruins by Patrick Keiller, Oki’s Movie by UCR winner Hong Sang-Soo, miniseries Mysteries of Lisbon by Raul Ruiz, and We Are What We Are by Jorge Michel Grau.

I'll write more on this later. For now, here’s the entire Main Slate, courtesy of the Arts Blog, via the Film Society of Lincoln Center:

Opening Night: The Social Network, David Fincher, 2010, USA, 120 min

Centerpiece: The Tempest, Julie Taymor, 2010, USA, 110 min

Closing Night: Hereafter, Clint Eastwood, 2010, USA, 126 min

Another Year, Mike Leigh, 2010, UK, 129 min

Aurora, Cristi Puiu 2010, Romania, 181 min

Black Venus, (Venus noire), Abdellatif Kechiche, France, 166 min

Carlos, Olivier Assayas, 2010, France, 319 min

Certified Copy (Copie conformé), Abbas Kiarostami, 2010, France/Italy, 106 min

Film Socialisme, Jean-Luc Godard, 2010, Switzerland, 101 min

Inside Job, Charles Ferguson, 2010, USA, 120 min

Le Quattro Volte, Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010, Italy, 88 min

Lennon NYC, Michael Epstein, 2010, USA, 115 min

Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt, 2010, USA, 104 min

My Joy (Schastye moe), Sergei Loznitsa, 2010, Ukraine/Germany, 127 min

Mysteries of Libson (Misterios de Lisboa), Raul Ruiz, Portugal/France, 272 min

Of Gods and Men (Des homes et des dieux) Xavier Beauvois, 2010, France, 120 min

Oki’s Movie (Ok hui ui yeonghwa), Hong Sang-soo, 2010, South Korea, 80 min

Old Cats (Gatos viejos), Sebastian Silva, 2010, Chile, 88 min

Poetry (Shi), Lee Chang-dong, 2010, South Korea, 139 min

Post Mortem, Pablo Larrain, 2010, Chile/Mexico/Germany, 98 min

Revolucion, Mariana Chenillo, Fernando Embecke, Amat Escalante, Gael Garcia
Bernal, Rodrigo Garcia, Diego Luna, Gerardo Naranjo, Rodrigo Plá, Carlos Reygadas,
Patricia Riggen, 2010, Mexico, 110 min

The Robber (Der Räuber), Benjamin Heisenberg, Austria/Germany, 90 min

Robinson in Ruins, Patrick Keiller, 2010, UK, 101 min

Silent Souls (Ovsyanki), Alexei Fedorchenko, Russia, 75 min

The Strange Case of Angelica (O estranho caso de Angélica), Manoel de Oliviera, Portugal, 97 min

Tuesday After Christmas (Marti, dupa craciun), Radu Muntean, Romania, 99 min

Uncle Boonmee Who Recall His Past Lives (Lung Boonmee raluek chat), Apichatopng Weerasethakul, 2010, UK/Thailand, 113 min

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay), Jorge Michel Grau, Mexico, 90 min

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vengeance (Fuk Sau)

Amazingly shot by Siu-keung Cheng and Hung Mo To and very well setpieced, "Vengeance" by Johnnie To is a cold film for the dish best served cold. At its center is Costello (Johnny Hallyday), a man losing his memory and thus losing his incentive for revenge. His daughter's husband was going to rat on an "expansive" crime boss, so the kingpin, George Fung (Simon Yam, goofily), sends out minions to shoot down the whole family, including the children (who are done in because one of the killers worries about being identified). In somewhat of an incomprehensible scene, his daughter, on her deathbed, tells him to get them back. And this he does, when he observes a hit put on by Fung's men and decides to withhold his knowledge from the feds and instead to get these guys on his side.

This film wouldn't be quite as good as it is without the cinematography or the tone. As Ebert said, it has the feel of a "western," with Spaghetti-style music to back it (sometimes gratingly) up. There were moments where I was completely blown away, like with the "picnic shootout" where leaves fall and the amount of light plays a role.

One element of the film that is a little dubious is Costello's amnesia, which is manifested in less convincing and somewhat unclear (yet still clever) ways than (as Ebert and my friend mentioned) "Memento" (a film that this one rips a little off of, though philosophically enough to be somewhat excused). In the film's climax, I was hoping that the film would delve farther into Costello's condition than it ends up doing, as to how he really remembers what he remembers and for how long and the real workings of his mind. This is not that kind of picture, as you may guess, although it is still a good one.

Though the ending seems a little like a cop-out when you're watching it (although I understand it now that my friend explained it to me), "Vengeance," with its "scarlet billows", is somewhat satisfying (though not completely, for reasons mentioned before and also because it's slight), a film that must have added a little spice to the Cannes 2009 Competition lineup that it debuted in. The detachnedness of Hallyday (and perhaps others) can be a little alienating at times (although this is perhaps the point, at least in Hallyday's case, though it may just be a little bad acting from everyone, including Hallyday). Overall, while being weak in spots, this is a film worth seeing, as it looks great and entertains a lot. B