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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

  1. #16
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    Jul 2002
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    PARASITE (Bong Joon-ho 2019)

    BONG JOON-HO: PARASITE 기생충 (Gisaengchung) (2019)


    Crime thriller as social commentary? Maybe not.

    I've reviewed Bong's 2006 The Host ("a monster movie with a populist heart and political overtones that's great fun to watch") and his 2009 Mother which I commented had "too many surprises." (I also reviewed his 2013 Snowpiercer.) Nothing is different here except this seems to be being taken more seriously as social commentary, though it's primarily an elaborately plotted and cunningly realized violent triller, as well a monster movie where the monsters are human. It's also marred by being over long and over-plotted, making its high praise seem a bit excessive.

    This new film, Bong's first in a while made at home and playing with national social issues, is about a deceitful poor family that infiltrates a rich one. It won the top award at Cannes in May 2019, just a year after the Japanese Koreeda's (more subtle and more humanistic) Palm winner about the related theme of a crooked poor family. Parasite has led to different comparisons, such as Losey's The Servant and Pasolini's Theorem. In accepting the prize, Bong himself gave a nod to Hitchcock and Chabrol. Parasite has met with nearly universal acclaim, though some critics feel it is longer and more complicated than necessary and crude in its social commentary, if its contrasting families really adds up to that. The film is brilliantly done and exquisitely entertaining half the way. Then it runs on too long and acquires an unwieldiness that makes it surprisingly flawed for a film so heaped with praise.

    It's strange to compare Parasite with Losey's The Servant, in which Dick Bogarde and James Fox deliver immensely rich performances. Losey's film is a thrillingly slow-burn, subtle depiction of class interpenetration, really a psychological study that works with class, not a pointed statement about class itself. It's impossible to speak of The Servant and Parasite in the same breath.

    In Parasite one can't help but enjoy the ultra-rich family's museum-piece modernist house, the score, and the way the actors are handled, but one keeps coming back to the fact that as Steven Dalton simply puts it in his Cannes Hollywood Reporter review, Parasite is "cumbersomely plotted" and "heavy-handed in its social commentary." Yet I had to go to that extremist and contrarian Armond White in National Review for a real voice of dissent. I don't agree with White's politics or his belief that Stephen Chow is a master filmmaker, but I do sympathize with being out-of-tune, like him, with all the praise of Boon's new film.

    The contrast between the poor and rich family is blunt indeed, but the posh Park family doesn't seem unsubtly depicted: they're absurdly overprivileged, but don't come off as bad people. Note the con-artist Kim family's acknowledgement of this, and the mother's claim that being rich allows you to be nice, that money is like an iron that smooths out the wrinkles. This doesn't seem to be about that, mainly. It's an ingeniously twisted story of a dangerous game, and a very wicked one. Planting panties in the car to mark the chauffeur as a sexual miscreant and get him fired: not nice. Stimulating the existing housekeeper's allergy and then claiming she has TB so she'll be asked to leave: dirty pool. Not to mention before that, bringing in the sister as somebody else's highly trained art therapist relative, when all the documents are forged and the "expertise" is cribbed off the internet: standard con artistry.

    The point is that the whole Kim family makes its way into the Park family's employ and intimate lives, but it is essential that they conceal that they are in any way related to each other. What Bong and his co-writer Jin Won Han are after is the depiction of a dangerous con game, motivated by poverty and greed, that titillates us with the growing risk of exposure. The film's scene-setting of the house and family is exquisite. The extraordinary house is allowed to do most of the talking. The rich family and the housekeeper are sketched in with a few deft stokes. One's only problem is first, the notion that this embodies socioeconomic commentary, and second, the overreach of the way the situation is played out, with one unnecessary coda after another till every possibility is exhausted. This is watchable and entertaining (till it's not), but it's not the stuff of a top award.

    Parasite 기생충 (Gisaengchung), 132 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, winning the Palme d'Or best picture award. Twenty-eight other festivals followed as listed on IMDb, including New York, for which it was screened (at IFC Center Oct. 11, 2019) for the present review. Current Metascore 95%. It has opened in various countries including France, where the AlloCiné press rating soared to 4.8.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2020 at 12:49 AM.

  2. #17
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    MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (Edward Norton 2019)



    Edward Norton's passion project complicates the Jonathan Lethem novel

    The NYFF Closing Night film is the premiere of Edwards Norton's adaptation, a triumph over many creative obstacles through a nine-year development time, of Jonathan Lethem's 1999 eponymous novel. It concerns Lionel Essrog (played by Norton), a man with Tourette's Syndrome who gets entangled in a police investigation using the obsessive and retentive mind that comes with his condition to solve the mystery. Much of the film, especially the first half, is dominated by Lionel's jerky motions and odd repetitive outbursts, for which he continually apologizes. Strange hero, but Lethem's creation. To go with the novel's evocation of Maltese Falcon style noir flavor, Norton has recast it from modern times to the Fifties.

    Leading cast members, besides Norton himself, are Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In his recasting of the novel, as Peter Debruge explains in his Variety review, Norton makes as much use of Robert Caro's The Power Broker, about the manipulative city planner Robert Moses, a "visionary" insensitive to minorities and the poor, as of Lethem's book. Alec Baldwn's "Moses Randolph" role represents the film's Robert Moses character, who is added into the world of the original novel.

    Some of the plot line may become obscure in the alternating sources of the film. But clearly Lionel Essrog, whose nervous sensibility hovers over things in Norton's voiceover, is a handicapped man with an extra ability who's one of four orphans from Saint Vincent's Orphanage in Brooklyn saved by Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), who runs a detective agency. When Minna is offed by the Mob in the opening minutes of the movie, Lionel goes chasing. Then he learns city bosses had a hand, and want to repress his efforts.

    Gugu Mbatha-Raw's character, Laura Rose, who becomes a kind of love interest for Lionel Essrog, and likewise willem Dafoe's, Paul Randolph, Moses' brother and opponent, are additional key characters in the film not in the Johathan Lethem book. The cinematography is by the Mike Leigh regular (who produced the exquisite Turner), Dick Pope. He provides a lush, classic look.

    Viewers will have to decide if this mixture of novel, non-fiction book and period recasting works for them or not. For many the problem is inherent in the Lethem novel, that it's a detective story where, as the original Times reviewer Albert Mobilio said, "solving the crime is beside the point." Certainly Norton has created a rich mixture, and this is a "labour of love," "as loving as it is laborious, maybe," is how the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw put it, writing (generally quite favorably) from Toronto. In her intro piece for the first part of the New York Film Festival for the Times Manohla Dargis linked it with the difficult Albert Serra'S Liberté with a one-word reaction: "oof," though she complemented these two as "choices rather than just opportunistically checked boxes." Motherless Brooklyn has many reasons for wanting to be in the New York Film Festival, and for the honor of Closing Night Film, notably the personal passion, but also the persistent rootedness in New York itself through these permutations.

    Motherless Brooklyn, 144 mins., debuted at Telluride Aug. 30, 2019, showing at eight other festivals including Toronto, Vancouver, Mill Valley, and New York, where it was screened at the NYFF OCT. 11, 2019 as the Closing Night film. It opens theatrically in the US Nov. 1, 2019. Current Metascore 60%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-08-2021 at 01:08 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

    [Found also in Filmleaf's Festival Coverage section for the 2019 NYFF]



    Old song

    From Martin Scorsese, who is in his late seventies, comes a major feature that is an old man's film. It's told by an old man, about old men, with old actors digitized (indifferently) to look like and play their younger selves as well. It's logical that The Irishman, about Teamsters loyalist and mob hit man Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who became the bodyguard and then (as he tells it) the assassin of Union kingpin Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) should have been chosen as Opening Night Film of the New York Film Festival. Scorsese is very New York, even if the film is set in Detroit. He is also a good friend of Film at Lincoln Center. And a great American director with an impressive body of work behind him.

    To be honest, I am not a fan of Scorsese's feature films. I do not like them. They are unpleasant, humorless, laborious and cold. I admire his responsible passion for cinema and incestuous knowledge of it. I do like his documentaries. From Fran Lebowitz's talk about the one he made about her, I understand what a meticulous, obsessive craftsman he is in all his work. He also does have a sense of humor. See how he enjoys Fran's New York wit in Public Speaking. And there is much deadpan humor in The Irishman at the expense of the dimwitted, uncultured gangsters it depicts. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian's script based on Charles Brandt's book about Sheeran concocts numerous droll deadpan exchanges. It's a treat belatedly to see De Niro and Pacino acting together for the first time in extended scenes.

    The Irishman is finely crafted and full of ideas and inspires many thoughts. But I found it monotonous and overlong - and frankly overrated. American film critics are loyal. Scorsese is an icon, and they feel obligated, I must assume, to worship it. He has made a big new film in his classic gangster vein, so it must be great. The Metascore, 94%, nonetheless is an astonishment. Review aggregating is not a science, but the makers of these scores seem to have tipped the scales. At least I hope more critics have found fault with The Irishman than that. They assign 80% ratings to some reviews that find serious fault, and supply only one negative one (Austin Chronicle, Richard Whittaker). Of course Armond White trashes the movie magnificently in National Review ("Déjà Vu Gangsterism"), but that's outside the mainstream mediocre media pale.

    Other Scorsese stars join De Niro and Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel. This is a movie of old, ugly men. Even in meticulously staged crowd scenes, there is not one young or handsome face. Women are not a factor, not remotely featured as in Jonathan Demme's delightful Married to the Mob. There are two wives often seen, in the middle distance, made up and coiffed to the kitsch nines, in expensive pants suits, taking a cigarette break on car trips - it's a thing. But they don't come forward as characters. Note also that out of loyalty to his regulars, Scorsese uses an Italo-American actor to play an Irish-American. There's a far-fetched explanation of Frank's knowledge of Italian, but his Irishness doesn't emerge - just another indication of how monochromatic this movie is.

    It's a movie though, ready to serve a loyal audience with ritual storytelling and violence, providing pleasures in its $140 million worth of production values in period feel, costumes, and snazzy old cars (though I still long for a period movie whose vehicles aren't all intact and shiny). This is not just a remake. Its very relentlessness in showing Frank's steady increments of slow progress up the second-tier Teamsters and mafia outsider functionary ladders is something new. But it reflects Scorsese's old worship of toughs and wise guys and seeming admiration for their violence.

    I balk at Scorsese's representing union goons and gangsters as somehow heroic and tragic. Metacritic's only critic of the film, Richard Whittiker of the Austen Chronicle, seems alone in recognizing that this is not inevitable. He points out that while not "lionizing" mobsters, Scorsese still "romanticizes" them as "flawed yet still glamorous, undone by their own hubris." Whittiker - apparently alone in this - compares this indulgent touch with how the mafia is shown in "the Italian poliziotteschi," Italian Years of Lead gang films that showed them as "boors, bullies, and murderers, rather than genteel gentlemen who must occasionally get their hands dirty and do so oh-so-begrudgingly." Whittiker calls Scorsese's appeal to us to feel Sheeran's "angst" when he's being flown in to kill "his supposed friend" (Hoffa) "a demand too far."

    All this reminded me of a richer 2019 New York Film Festival mafia experience, Marco Bellocchio's The Traitor/Il traditore, the epic, multi-continent story of Tommaso Buscetta, the first big Italian mafia figure who chose to turn state's witness. This is a gangster tale that has perspective, both morally and historically. And I was impressed that Pierfrancesco Favino, the star of the film, who gives a career-best performance as Buscetta, strongly urged us both before and after the NYFF public screening to bear in mind that these mafiosi are small, evil, stupid men. Coppola doesn't see that, but he made a glorious American gangster epic with range and perspective. In another format, so did David Chase om the 2000-2007 HBO epic, "The Sopranos." Scprsese has not done so. Monotonously, and at overblown length, he has once again depicted Italo-Americans as gangsters, and (this time) unions as gangs of thugs.

    The Irishman, 209 mins,. debuted at New York as Opening Night Film; 15 other international festivals, US theatrical release Nov. 1, wide release in many countries online by Netflix Nov. 27. Metascore 94%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2019 at 07:49 PM.

  4. #19
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    BACURAU (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles 2019)



    Not just another Cannes mistake?

    This is a bold film for an arthouse filmmaker to produce, and it has moments of rawness and unpredictability that are admirable. But it seems at first hand to be possibly a misstep both for the previously much subtler chronicler of social and political unease as seen in the 2011 Neighboring Sopunds and 2016 Aquarius, Kleber Mendonça Filho, and for Cannes, which may have awarded novelty rather than mastery in giving it half of the 2019 Jury Prize. It's a movie that excites and then delivers a series of scenes of growing disappointment and repugnance. But I'm not saying it won't surprise and awe you.

    Let's begin with where we are, which is the Brazilian boonies. Bacurau was filmed in the village of Barra in the municipality of Parelhas and in the rural area of the municipality of Acari, at the Sertão do Seridó region, in Rio Grande do Norte. Mendonça Filho shares credit this time with his regular production designer Juliano Dornelles. (They both came originally from this general region, is one reason.) The Wikipedia article introduces it as a "Brazilian weird western film" and its rural shootout, its rush of horses, its showdowns, and its truckload of coffins may indeed befit that peculiar genre.

    How are we to take the action? In his Hollywood Reporter review, Stephen Dalton surprises me by asserting that this third narrative feature "strikes a lighter tone" than the first two and combines "sunny small-town comedy with a fable-like plot" along with "a sprinkle of magic realism." This seems an absurdly watered down description, but the film is many things to many people because it embodies many things. In an interview with Emily Buder, Mendoça Filho himself describes it as a mix of "spaghetti Western, '70's sci-fi, social realist drama, and political satire."

    The film feels real enough to be horrifying, but it enters risky sci-fi horror territory with its futuristic human hunting game topic, which has been mostly an area for schlock. (See a list of ten, with the 1932 Most Dangerous Game given as the trailblazer.) However, we have to acknowledge that Mendonca Filho is smart enough to know all this and may want to use the schlock format for his own sophisticated purpose. But despite Mike D'Angelo's conclusion on Letterboxd that the film may "require a second viewing following extensive reading" due to its rootedness in Brazilian politics, the focus on American imperialists and brutal outside exploiters from the extreme right isn't all that hard to grasp.

    Bacurau starts off as if it means to be an entertainment, with conventional opening credits and a pleasant pop song celebrating Brazil, but that is surely ironic. A big water truck rides in rough, arriving with three bullet holes spewing agua that its driver hasn't noticed. (The road was bumpy.) There is a stupid, corrupt politician, mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima), who is complicit in robbing local areas of their water supply and who gets a final comeuppance. The focus is on Bacurau, a little semi-abandoned town in the north whose 94-year-old matriarch Carmelita dies and gets a funeral observation in which the whole town participates, though apart the ceremony's strange magic realist aspects Sonia Braga, as a local doctor called Domingas, stages a loud scene because she insists that the deceased woman was evil. Then, with some, including Carmelita's granddaughter Teresa (Barbara Colen), returned to town from elsewhere, along with the handsome Pacote (Tomaso Aquinas) and a useful psychotic local killer and protector of water rights called Lunga (Silvero Pereira), hostile outsiders arrive, though as yet unseen. Their forerunners are a colorfully costumed Brazilian couple in clownish spandex suits on dustrider motorcycles who come through the town. When they're gone, it's discovered seven people have been shot.

    They were an advance crew for a gang of mostly American white people headed by Michael (Udo Kier), whose awkward, combative, and finally murderous conference we visit. This is a bad scene in more ways than one: it's not only sinister and racist, but clumsy, destroying the air of menace and unpredictability maintained in the depiction of Bacurau scenes. But we learn the cell phone coverage of the town has been blocked, it is somehow not included on maps, and communications between northern and southern Brazil are temporarily suspended, so the setting is perfect for this ugly group to do what they've come for, kill locals for sport using collectible automatic weapons. Overhead there is a flying-saucer-shaped drone rumbling in English. How it functions isn't quite clear, but symbolically it refers to American manipulation from higher up. The way the rural area is being choked off requires no mention of Brazil's new right wing strong man Jair Bolsonaro and the Amazonian rain forest.

    "They're not going to kill a kid," I said as a group of local children gather, the most normal, best dressed Bacurauans on screen so far, and play a game of dare as night falls to tease us, one by one creeping as far as they can into the dark. But sure enough, a kid gets shot. At least even the bad guys agree this was foul play. And the bad guys get theirs, just as in a good Western. But after a while, the action seems almost too symbolically satisfying - though this is achieved with good staging and classic visual flair through zooms, split diopter effects, Cinemascope, and other old fashioned techniques.

    I'm not the only one finding Bacurau intriguing yet fearing that it winds up being confused and all over the place. It would work much better if it were dramatically tighter. Peter DeBruge in Variety notes that the filmakers "haven’t figured out how to create that hair-bristling anticipation of imminent violence that comes so naturally to someone like Quentin Tarantino." Mere vague unexpectedness isn't scary, and all the danger and killing aren't wielded as effectively as they should be to hold our attention and manipulate our emotions.

    Bacurau, 131 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, where it tied for the Jury Prize with the French film, Ladj Ly's Les misérables. Many other awards and at least 31 other festivals including the NYFF. Metascore 74%. AlloCiné press rating 3.8, with a rare rave from Cahiers du Cinéma. US theatrical distribution by Kino Lorber began Mar. 13, 2020, but due to general theater closings caused by the coronavirus pandemic the company launched a "virtual theatrical exhibition initiative," Kino Marquee, with this film from Mar. 19.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-05-2020 at 12:24 PM.

  5. #20
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    ZOMBI CHILD (Bertrand Bonello 2019)



    Voodoo comes to Paris

    If you said Betrand Bonello's films are beautiful, sexy, and provocative you would not be wrong. This new, officially fifth feature (I've still not seen his first one, the 2008 On War), has those elements. Its imagery, full of deep contrasts, can only be described as lush. Its intertwined narrative is puzzling as well.

    We're taken right away to Haiti and plunged into the world of voodoo and zombies. Ground powder from the cut-up body of a blowfish is dropped, unbeknownst to him, into a man's shoes. Walking in them, he soon falters and falls. Later, he's aroused from death to the half-alive state of a zombie - and pushed into a numb, helpless labor in the hell of a a sugar cane field with other victims of the same cruel enchantment. In time however something arouses him to enough life to escape.

    Some of the Haitian sequences center around a moonlit cemetery whose large tombs seem airy and haunted and astonishingly grand for what we know as the poorest country in the hemisphere.

    From the thumping, vibrant ceremonies of Haitian voodoo (Bonello's command of music is always fresh and astonishing as his images are lush and beautiful) we're rushed to the grandest private boarding school you've ever seen, housed in vast stone government buildings. This noble domaine was established by Napoleon Bonaparte on the edge of Paris, in Saint Denis, for the education of children of recipients of the Legion of Honor. It really exists, and attendance there is still on an honorary basis.

    Zombi Child oscillates between girls in this very posh Parisian school and people in Haiti. But these are not wholly separate places. A story about a Haitian grandfather (the zombie victim, granted a second life) and his descendants links the two strains. It turns out one of those descendants, Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat), is a new student at the school. A white schoolgirl, Fanny (the dreamy Louise Labeque), who's Mélissa's friend and sponsors her for membership in a sorority, while increasingly possessed by a perhaps imaginary love, also bridges the gap. For the sorority admission Mélissa confesses the family secret of a zombi and voodoo knowledge in her background.

    Thierry Méranger of Cahiers du Cinéma calls this screenplay "eminently Bonellian in its double orientation," its "interplay of echoes" between "radically different" worlds designed to "stimulate the spectator's reflection." Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times bluntly declares that it's meant to "interrogate the bitter legacy of French colonialism."

    But how so? And if so, this could be a tricky proposition. On NPR Andrew Lapin was partly admiring of how "cerebral and slippery" the film is, but suggests that since voodoo and zombies are all most white people "already know" about Haitian culture, a director coming from Haiti's former colonizing nation (France) must do "a lot of legwork to use these elements successfully in a "fable" where "the real horror is colonialism." The posh school comes from Napoleon, who coopted the French revolution, and class scenes include a history professor lecturing on this and how "liberalism obscures liberty."

    I'm more inclined to agree with Glenn Kenny's more delicately worded praise in his short New York Times review of the film where he asserts that the movie’s inconclusiveness is the source of its appeal. Zombi Child, he says, is fueled by insinuation and fascination. The fascination, the potent power, of the occult, that's what Haiti has that the first wold lacks.

    One moment made me authentically jump, but Bonello isn't offering a conventional horror movie. He's more interested in making his hints of voodoo's power and attraction, even for the white lovelorn schoolgirl, seem as convincing as his voodoo ceremonies, both abroad and back in Haiti, feel thoroughly attractive, or scary, and real. These are some of the best voodoo scenes in a movie. This still may seem like a concoction to you. Its enchantments were more those of the luxuriant imagery, the flowing camerawork, the delicious use of moon- and candle-light, the beautiful people, of whatever color. This is world-class filmmaking even if it's not Bonello's best work.

    Bonello stages things, gets his actors to live them completely, then steps back and lets it happen. Glenn Kenny says his "hallmark" is his "dreamy detachment." My first look at that was the 2011 House of Tolerence (L'Apollonide - mémoires de la maison close), which I saw in Paris, a languorous immersion in a turn-of-the-century Parisian brothel, intoxicating, sexy, slightly repugnant. Next came his most ambitious project, Saint Laurent(2014), focused on a very druggy period in the designer's career and a final moment of decline. He has said this became a kind of matching panel for Apollonide. (You'll find that in an excellent long Q&A after the NYFF screening.) Saint Laurent's "forbidden" (unsanctioned) picture of the fashion house is as intoxicating, vibrant, and cloying as the maison close, with its opium, champagne, disfigurement and syphilis. No one can say Gaspard Ulliel wasn't totally immersed in his performance. Nocturama (2016) takes a group of wild young people who stage a terrorist act in Paris, who seem to run aground in a posh department store at the end, Bonello again getting intense action going and then seeming to leave it to its own devices, foundering. Those who saw the result as "shallow cynicism" (like A.O. Scott) missed how exciting and powerful it was. (Mike D'Angelo didn't.)

    Zombi Child is exciting at times too. But despite its gorgeous imagery and sound, its back and forth dialectic seems more artificial and calculating than Bonello's previous films.

    Zombi Child, mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 2019, included in 13 other international festivals, including Toronto and New York. It released theatrically in France Jun. 12, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.7m 75%) and in the US Jan. 24, 2020 (Metascore 75%). Now available in "virtual theater" through Film Movement (Mar. 23-May 1, 2020), which benefits the theater of your choice.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2020 at 07:36 PM.

  6. #21
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    WASP NETWORK (Olivier Assayas 2019)



    Spies nearby

    The is a movie about the Cuban spies sent to Miami to combat anti-Castro Cuban-American groups, and their capture. They are part of what the Cubans called La Red Avispa (The Wasp Network). The screenplay is based on the book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War by Fernando Morais, and it's mainly from the Wasp, Cuban point of view, not the FBI point of view. Unlike the disastrous Seberg, no time is spent looking over the shoulders of G-men, nor will this story give any pleasure to right wing Miami Cubans. But it won't delight leftists much either, or champions of the Cuban Five. The issues of why one might leave Cuba and why one might choose not to are treated only superficially. There's no analysis of US behavior toward Cuba since the revolution.

    On the plus side, the film is made in an impeccable, clear style (with one big qualification: see below) and there's an excellent cast with as leads Edgar Ramirez (of the director's riveting miniseries Carlos), Penelope Cruz (Almodóvar's muse), Walter Moura (Escobar in the Netflix series "Narcos"), Ana de Armas (an up-and-comer who's actually Cuban but lives in Hollywood now), and Gael García Bernal (he of course is Mexican, Moura is Brazilian originally, and Ramirez is Venezuelan). They're all terrific, and other cast members shine. Even a baby is so amazing I thought she must be the actress' real baby.

    Nothing really makes sense for the first hour. We don't get the whole picture, and we never do, really. We focus on René Gonzalez (Édgar Ramirez), a Puerto Rican-born pilot living in Castro’s Cuba and fed up with it, or the brutal embargo against Castro by the US and resulting shortage of essential goods and services, who suddenly steals a little plane and flies it to Miami, leaving behind his wife Olga and young daughter. Olga is deeply shocked and disappointed to learn her husband is a traitor. He has left without a word to her. Born in Chicago, he was already a US citizen and adapts easily, celebrated as an anti-Castro figure.

    We also follow another guy, Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura) who escapes Havana by donning snorkel gear and swimming to Guantanamo, not only a physical challenge but riskier because prison guards almost shoot him dead when he comes out of the water. Roque and Gonzalez are a big contrast. René is modest, content with small earnings, and starts flying for a group that rescues Cuban defectors arriving by water. Juan Pablo immediately woos and marries the beautiful Ana Marguerita Martinez (Ana de Armas) and, as revealed by an $8,000 Rolex, is earning big bucks but won't tell Ana how. This was the first time I'd seen Wagner Moura, an impressively sly actor who as Glenn Kenny says, "can shift from boyish to sinister in the space of a single frame" - and that's not the half of it.

    This is interesting enough to keep us occupied but it's not till an hour into the movie, with a flashback to four years earlier focused on Cuban Gerardo Hernandez (Garcia Bernal) that we start to understand something of what is going on. We learn about the CANF and Luis Posada Carriles (Tony Plana), and a young man's single-handed effort to plant enough bombs to undermine the entire Cuban tourist business. This late-arriving exposition for me had a deflating and confounding effect. There were still many good scenes to follow. Unfortunately despite them, and the good acting, there is so much exposition it's hard to get close to any of the individual characters or relationships.

    At the moment I'm an enthusiastic follower of the FX series "The Americans." It teaches us that in matters of espionage, it's good to have a firm notion of where the main characters - in that case "Phillip" and "Elizabeth" - place their real, virtually unshakable loyalties, before moving on. Another example of which I'm a longtime fan is the spy novels of John le Carré. You may not be sure who's loyal, but you always know who's working for British Intelligence, even in the latest novel the remarkable le Carré, who at 88, has just produced (Agent Running in the Field - for which he's performed the audio version, and no one does that better). To be too long unclear about these basics in spydom is fatal.

    It's said that Assayas had a lot of trouble making Wasp Network, which has scenes shot in Cuba in it. At least the effort doesn't show. We get a glimpse of Clinton (this happened when he was President) and Fidel, who, in a hushed voice, emphatically, asserts his confidence that the Red Avispa was doing the right thing and that the Americans should see that. Whose side do you take?

    Wasp Network, 123 mins., debuted at Venice and showed at about ten other international festivals including Toronto, New York, London and Rio. It was released on Netflix Jun. 19, 2019, and that applies to many countries (13 listed on IMDb). Metascore 54%
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-15-2020 at 11:53 PM.

  7. #22
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    DIARY OF A SPY (Adam Christian Clark 2022)


    In Diary of a Spy, directed by Adam Christian Clark, featuring Madeline Zima, Tamara Taylor, Susan Sullivan, and Fred Melamed, Anna (Tamara Taylor), a washed-up intelligence officer, is given the chance for one last mission, recruiting Camden (Reece Noi), an asset connected to the Saudi Royal Family.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-29-2022 at 04:59 PM.

  8. #23
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    MAD GOD (Phil Tippett 2021)




    A stop motion trip through hell from the special effects mastermind behind 'Robocop,' 'Jurassic Park' and 'Starship Troopers' is a warped, nightmarish masterpiece, but too grim and lacking in narrative for 'normal' viewers

    For fans of dark animated insanity, Phil Tippett's Mad God is a must-see. Others would not want to watch it anyway, but this film, unlike last summer's NYAFF special offering from Takahide Mori, Junk Head, and Shinya Tsukamoto's 1989-1992 Tetsuo, has not only no talking, like them, but also virtually no plot at all. This means there is less to draw you in and hold you. And there may be more to repel you, more gratuitous cruelty, crude sexuality, and scatology. That said, this is a summation of over thirty years of off-and-on work by one of the masterminds of mainstream special effects. It also has early on and toward the end, moments of brightness and beauty. Tippett has worked with Lucas, Verhoeven, and Spielberg, receiving two Oscars and an Emmy for his contributions to pop sci-fi monuments like Star Wars, RoboCop, Jurassic Park, and Starship Troopers.

    Tippett led the famed Lucasfilm creature shop for Return of the Jedi, for which he was awarded his first Oscar in 1984. His last big work was as visual effects supervisor for all the Twilight saga films in the 2010's. He's more or less retired from big supervisory projects for hotshot directors now, and has worked his way up to this, letting himself enter freely into his own personal private choking oozing mass of torture, murder, and darkness, through a series of short films over the past eight years and with the help of Kickstarter.

    The first work on what became Mad God was in 1987, date of RoboCop. It's said that when he saw CGI dinosaurs, Tippett thought stop motion animation was going to be dead. But he kept on working in this very artisanal and personal format, which predominates in Mad God, though this film mixes in a number of other techniques, including some digital manipulation and brief live film segments.

    Mad God's images, which have been traced to Bruegel, Hieronymus Bosch, and multiple other influences, even Milton's Paradise Lost, seem much like the ones that teem in the minds of adolescent boys, over-imaginative, slightly (or very) warped young brains that haven't yet developed full moral awareness or a full capacity for human sympathy, and therefore can enjoy (as, inspired by certain movies and comic books, I did myself at 11 or 12, or 13 or 14) imagining howling animals, corpses full of maggots, or cool medieval tortures like the iron maiden and the thumb-screw. A person with a sound and maturing mind and stable emotions normally learns to eschew all this, as I came to prefer Austen to the Brontë sisters, Nancy Mitford to Faulkner, and now wholeheartedly plop instead for bright, cheerful stop motion animations like Wes Anderson's suave, star-voiced Fantastic Mr. Fox or Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar's joyously handmade Town Called Panic. And let's put in a plug for Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?, illustrating the words of Noam Chomsky, personally lovingly crafted by Michel Gondry in a corner of his Montmartre apartment. Those who revel in work like Tippett's Mad God like visiting dark places. There's nothing wrong with admiring this film, but firmly concluding it's not a healthy place to go. Too bad, because this kind fo work profits from multiple viewings.

    As Mad God begins, after a terrifying passage from Leviticus, a corroded diving bell descends amidst a ruined city and the Assassin emerges from it to explore a labyrinth of bizarre landscapes inhabited by freakish denizens. For a glimpse in words of what comes after, see the passage from the excellent BFI review. Mad God premieres exclusively On the horror platform Shudder in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand June 16, 2022.

    John Bleasdale, Sight & Sound:
    More than simple gross-out, Tippett’s film meticulously recreates a universe of relentless cruelty and horror. There are no good guys, no sides even – our ‘hero’ swiftly becomes another victim and is replaced – and literally no dialogue. Vicious overlords speak in baby babble. Torturers dress like doctors. Kubrickian monoliths crush people in a domino rally of death. Everything is mulch: killed, crushed and disemboweled in order to create another generation to be killed, crushed and disemboweled. If George Orwell’s 1984 posited human history as a boot stamping on a man’s face, Tippett adds defecating.

    And yet the film is so beautifully realized: every shot, a brutal work of art. The animation employs so many techniques, from puppetry to stop motion, live action (Repo Man director Alex Cox appears as a curly fingernailed mastermind) to digital as to present an exhaustive compendium of the art. Has there ever been such a combination of technical brilliance at the service of such a nihilistic vision? It’s like Pasolini made a Pixar movie. This is not for everybody: it relentlessly hammers home its point and even wild inventiveness can become paradoxically monotonous. But this is a work of a genuine visionary, and has all the makings of an instant cult classic.
    The review by Rory O'Connor in The Film Stage is also eloquent in describing Mad God and frank about its limitations. Jacob Mouradian in Film Book is even franker, saying the film's "80 minutes feels plays [sic] rather tiresome and hollow." However fantastically well-crafted, this is a film very few people will really want to watch.

    Mad God, 83 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 5, 2021, and was included in over 18 other international festivals in 2021 and 2022. It premieres on Shudder, the horror platform, Jun. 16, 2022. Metacritic rating: 65%.

    Review not to appear before Monday, June 6, 2022.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-09-2022 at 07:01 PM.

  9. #24
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    A MAN OF INTEGRITY (Mohammad Masoulof 2017)



    Beautiful oppressiveness

    With Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof is the most prominent Iranian dissident filmmaker, who works under standing arrest there and whose films cannot be shown there and must sometimes be made abroad with Iranian actors. Of Rasoulof's nine features I've seen and reviewed two of his poetic early films, Iron Island (2005) and The White Meadows (2009) and then what I called his "grimly claustrophobic" and "cold" study of bureaucratic repression Goodbye . I recently got to review the latest (feature), the 2020 There Is No Evil, certainly my favorite of the more explicit ones; but I hadn't seen the two before it, Manuscripts Don't Burn and A Man of Integrity (2017). Now that's partially corrected with this review of A Man of Integrity, which won the main prize in the A Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2017 and is now coming out in New York and Los Angeles.

    In A Man of Integrity Mohammad Rasoulof sets off rural, really pervasive, corruption in Iran by focusing on a stubbornly honest man, Reza (the ruggedly, severely handsome Reza Akhlaghirad) who keeps refusing to buckle under to pressure. The widescreen images in relentless pale blue-grays by the skillful dp Ashkan Ashkani are almost beautiful, though the relentlessness of the downbeat trajectory of the protagonist requires viewer stamina. Reza and his wife Hadis (the severely beautiful and formidable Soudabeh Beizaee), who is the local head schoolteacher, have left Teheran to escape the urban quagmire with their little boy and moved to the country where, away from the hurly-burly, he runs a goldfish farm - an ambiguous symbol since goldfish in Iran are expendable Nowruz (Iranian New Year) good luck gifts. The country provided no freedom and no escape from the long arm of national corruption. A man called Abbas (Misagh Zare Zeinab), boss of the local "company," an arm of the government so evil he is known to have killed his own daughter and gotten away with it, gives orders to have Reza's source of river water cut off and his fish all die. They are attacked by a mob of Hitchcockian crows, one of the spectacular brief moments along with an onrush of menacing night motorcyclists and a two-storey spectacularly ablaze.

    Reza is supposed to capitulate, to pay bribes, but he keeps refusing. He gets into more and more trouble, beginning with a physical clash with Abbas that he goes to jail for and that it's claimed caused Abbas a broken arm (it didn't). Hadis keeps telling him he's crazy, to start cooperating - though she admires him and the two actors have a warm chemistry and their characters, it's hinted, have good sex. But he wants none of her pleas to give in because he senses the unspoken, that the "company" wants him to become, like all the local small farmers, merely a link in a national network of corruption.

    Like so many Iranian films there is a kind of beauty, as in the even, pale, gray-green images I mentioned, and in the quiet, as it were, gray-green monotony of Reza's Jobian torments, and in his patient refusal to give in. Even though events seem a bit over-the-top, the specificity of the chronological unreeling of small details and the conviction of the actors, led by Akhlaghirad and Belzaee, make the action feel surprisingly real. (I learned to appreciate this relentless unreeling method through rewatching Asghar Farhadi's A Separation until I eventually came to appreciate its drab intricacy.)

    Those who have lived in third world countries, as I have if only briefly, may understand how the bureaucracies of a "baksheesh"-based system can relentlessly wear you down day after day and can appreciate the nobility and stamina embodied in the character of Reza. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." He does not accept that. His only escape is the fanciful one of retreating periodically alone to a hidden grotto, where he soaks and smokes. Everybody drinks endless glasses of tea; and women smoke too. These amenities are the only signs of sociability. Even Reza's frequent hot showers, and almost punishingly rigorous one he imposes on his little boy, are more acts of symbolic moral cleansing than relaxation. But what sustains the viewer is the protagonist's undercurrent of seething anger.

    One admires, but one can hardly enjoy, this kind of filmmaking (and it hasn't the variety of character and incident and you get in A Separation). Wendy Ide in Screen Daily finds it surprising, given the harsh plot-line and lack of a score or even much of a sound design, that Reza is held to a blank, almost shell-shocked impassivity and the action overall "feels a little baggy" despite recovering with "a brisk, bittersweet final act." It's noirish thriller flavor may stand out (Jessica Kiang in Playlist thinks it "ill-advised") but some fun is welcome.

    Indeed the over-and-overing of fine detail of Iranian social commentary films impresses at the cost of seeming humorless and thereby lacking humanity. And we now have a corrective in young Panah Panahi's brilliant debut, Hit the Road, which entertainingly blends political commentary with humane wit, so now we know it can be done, even with a film set in modern Iran. One reason why I clearly prefer There Is No Evil is the relief provided by the division into numerous small stories.

    A Man of Integrity / لرد ("Lerd," original title), 113 mins., debuted in Un Certain Regard section at Cannes May 19, 2017, winning the Prix Un Certain Regard; IMDb lists 38 additional international festivals including Karlovy Vary, Stockholm, Rotterdam, and San Francisco. It opened in France Dec. 6, 2017; AlloCiné press rating 4.1 (82%). Metaceritic listing (no scorer yet). The film will open at at IFC Center and New Plaza Cinema @ The West End Theatre in New York Jun. 17, 2022, and Jun. 24, 2022 at Laemmle Royal Santa Monica and Encino, Los Angeles Jun. 24. Other select cities will follow.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-12-2022 at 12:19 AM.

  10. #25
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    HALLELULAH: LEONARD COHEN, A JOURNEY, A SONG (Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine 2021)




    A modern anthem and the career behind it

    Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s respectful doc tells the story of the artist from his beginnings as a dilettantish but highly creative young man from a comfortably off and orthodox Jewish Montreal family through the life of his 1984 song," by turns a modern prayer, symbolist poem and divine gift," "Hallelujah." Cohen''s songs are anthems, and this is the anthem of anthems. To listen to Jeff Buckley's famous 1994 cover, based on John Cale's, in his seminal album Grace, is to be irresistibly reduced to tears, time after time - whether you like Leonard Cohen or not. What a songster Buckley was. What a voice, and how effortlessly he produced subtleties with it. But that is completed by superb, sonorous guitar playing, also by Jeff. The only trouble is that ever since musicians and audience members can forget the song's Cohen's, not Buckley's. Buckley's seen saying he'd rather Cohen didn't hear his rendition because it sounds "like a boy's song." And one thing the deep-voiced Cohen, who didn't sing till he was in his thirties, was not, was a boy singer.

    The original Cohen album in which "Hallelujah" came was called Various Positions. The album did not come out in the US becaause the head of Columbia Records at that time, a man named Yetnikoff, did not like it. He did not like Leonard's suit. He did not like the mix. Leonard said to mix it himself, but he did not. Eventually they got a tiny label, Passport Records, to issue it.

    There is some nice talk in this pleasant film about composition, between the seven years it took "Hallelujah" and Dylan's claim that he wrote "I and I" from Infidels, which Cohen admired, in fifteen minutes in the back of a cab. Cohen is shown saying "If I knew where songs came from, I would go there more often."

    The riches of "Hallelujah" show up in its having an initial religious version and then a whole other secular, sexy one which takes the meaning of the word "hallelujah," hail to God, into something more like "yippee!" But the other riches come from how the song began squelched by not getting a big US record release, then Cohen singing it with more and more new verses, and then with John Cale of the Velvet Underground solo with piano singing it with a selected mix of religious and secular verses. Then Bob Dylan sang it. And the immensity of this song's chameleonic virtues emerges in the dozens of name singers who have done covers of it, though none can reach Buckley's quietly transcendent rendition.

    In other words, this film wasn't a dumb idea.

    Some of the excerpted cover performances from Myles Kennedy, Bono, Brandi Carlyle, and others are accompanied by their two cents about what the song means. We see The Voice and The X Factor stages full of "Hallelulah" performers, one so stirring, her version winds up on the charts at #1, with Jeff Buckley's at #2 and Cohen's own at #36, revenge of a sort, Cohen says, for the company bigwigs who wouldn't publish the original record. Here we start to see the power an anthem has sung before thousands: "Hallelujah" has taken on a life of its own. And hearing such a song at night between two great rocks in a huge crowd and perhaps singing along is an intense collectivity and, perhaps, spirituality.

    This film that taps many voices and samples the charm and wit and gentlemanly politeness in performance of its subject, still does not escape conventions of the documentary biography format, such as heavy reliance on certain talking heads, first among them writer Larry Sloman, who has known Cohen ever since he was a young reporter even since he was a Rolling Stone reporter in 1974. An interesting one is the glamorous French fashion photographer Dominique Isserman, who became a girlfriend of Cohen remained close. Another Judy Collins. BUt while I was swept away in the final segment, couched as an "Epilogue," about Cohen's remarkable late flowering of creativity and performing all over the world agest 70 to 79, the tone for some may seem overly adulatory, one must listen to teh Playlist's Wendy Ide when she finds this film "contemplative, searching and stripped back" but also "navel gazing, ponderous and very slow." In short, it's for the enthusiastic newcomer like me, or for the fans. As an assessment and as a rounded picture of the man, it may be considered incomplete and unreliable. As an enticing calling card for newcomers, it's aces.


    Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song, 115 mins., debuted Sept. 2, 2021 at Telluride, playing also at Venice, Ghent, Vienna, Amsterdam, Copenhagen (CPH:DOC), Toronto, Berlin and Sundance. Its US theatrical release will be heralded by a Tribeca showing Jun. 12 and 14, 2022. Metacritic rating: 63%. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in select theaters Jul. 1, 2022.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-14-2022 at 08:06 AM.

  11. #26
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    MURINA(Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović 2021)



    Island fever

    This 2021 winner of the Directors' Fortnight Caméra d'Or award at Cannes, produced by Martin Scorsese, is a promising debut for Croatian filmmaker Antoneta Alamat Kusjijanović, though even with handsome underwater and seacoast photography by dp Hélène Louvart, it still feels rather old fashioned. Maybe it's the casual reliance on the rugged Adriatic coastline as a photogenic setting for a brooding quadrangle (father, wife, daughter, glamorous guest), or maybe it's the whole concept, but one feels this is familiar material - even if it's eventually ramped up a bit higher than usual and uses more up to date underwater photography equipment. And just what is the young woman swimming away from, or to, at the end, exactly?

    There are two dark Mediterranean-type males. Daddy Ante (Leon Lucev) is an insecure alpha, especially in the presence of his super rich "friend" whom he and his wife used to work for and with whom they all speak fluent English, switching to Croatian among themselves. Ante's teenage daughter Julja (Gracija Filipović)) looks very good in her sleek one-piece bathing suits, but it's spoiled by a face that's usually glum and pouty. (We will learn why.) Mom, the svelte and pretty Nela (Danica Curcic), looks like she had Julja when she was about ten. Javier, or "Javi" (Cliff Curtis) is the visiting famous and mega-rich guy who had a thing for Nela, once was their boss, and to whom Ante now hopes to sell a hunk of his rocky island property for a resort. Ante lets Nela and Julja flirt with him to keep his attention away from international cellphone squabbles.

    Only this ploy backfires because Ante is coming down with a case of toxic masculinity, doubtless exacerbated by the presence of someone a million times richer and more confident than he is. Meanwhile, Javi tells Julja she has the looks and smarts to go anywhere and do anything and she should go to Harvard, and he can get her in. Moving to an apartment in Zagreb on the property sale money and staying with her parents won't do for Julja anymore and she is about to explode.

    The screenplay tends to tease out its information gradually along the way and so it's only around midway that we come to see clearly why Julja needs to leave this island. Further along, an ordeal her father puts Julja through involving a lot of water photography is the action climax of the film. In the natural but meandering action, it takes most of the run-time for Julja to realize Javi has just been flirting. He's given to dramatic gestures, but not always to carrying them out. Maybe all that's left for Julja is to go on helping Ante with the daily work of spearing "Murina" - Moray eels - in the morning, as before. Only Ante's behavior toward her is now revealed to be crudely abusive; he's an ogre to her with bluebeard tendencies. We'll leave it there; the action is a little unclear anyway. Kusijanović's screenplay, penned with Frank Graziano, is quite good at teasing out the relationships and the expectations, but not so good at concluding.

    Murina, 96 mins., debuted in Cannes Directors' Fortnight Jul. 10, 2021, winning the top award, the Caméra d'Or, going on afterward to many international festivals including Toronto, Hamburg, the Hamptons, Tokyo, Leiden, Taipei, Rio, Göteborg and Glasgow. A US theatrical release by Kino Lobber begins with Jul. 8, 2022 at Metrograph in New York and continuing Jul. 15 at Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles. Metacritic rating: 74%. It opened theatrically in France Apr. 20, 2022 (AlloCiné press rating 3.8-76%; audience rating 3.7-74%).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-15-2022 at 11:13 PM.

  12. #27
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    PETITE MAMAN (Céline Sciamma 2021)



    Down the rabbit hole

    Petite Maman has inspired rapturous English-language reviews from critics who seem to be still entranced by Céline Sciamma's previous big hit, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Rarely are her earlier films mentioned, which have much more in common with this present effort which, however, takes a strange new turn toward meta-realism or magic realism - a turn on which this writer, alas was unable to follow. An eight-year-old girl who, while on a sort of forced Montessori child vacation (all on her own) as her parents clear out her deceased grandma's house, who funs into her twin, and it turns out to be her mother ("Petite maman" in a creepily literal sense) makes no sense. To go along willingly on this strange journey requires a fascination with precocious, slightly smug little (French) girls that some of us lack. This very talented and original filmmaker has produced a strange, hushed bore, much of which makes no real sense. It would seem that a part of Céline Sciamma would like every woman to turn into an eight-year-old, preferably a twin. This very short movie feels interminable. In the fascination with same-sex childhood I was reminded of the strange and wonderful French photographer Bernard Faucon.

    Looking back on Sciamma's distinguished and distinctive career so far, this divagation makes a certain sense. Last time's Portrait (not a favorite of mine) certainly explores the past, as this one does. But more germane are her first two films. Water Lilies (2007) is a hushed, quiet story about teenage girls who are in a synchronized water ballet team, though the main character only wants to be. How subtle this was became clearer several years later when a similar but less nuanced treatment came from Sweden She Monkeys (Lisa Aschan 2011), also about a teenage girls athletic team. The Water Lilies lead was already Adèle Haenel, the soon-to-be French out lesbian superstar who was or was to become Sciamma's life partner.

    Even more cool and distinctive was Sciamma's 2011 Tomboy (one remembers vividly the original title, emblazoned with its distinctive poster on the UGC cinema, Place Odéan, Paris) because this one is about a little girl like Nelly in Petite Maman, only she wants to be a little boy, and fashions a little boy penis to fake it in her swimming trunks. Boldness and subtlety.

    Other Sciamma memories are less vivid, but after that she pretty quickly became important, ranging wider while staying in the same place with 2014's Girlhood, a movie about formidable young women of color in the Paris banlieue. Sisters forever! Thus Sciamma embraced and explored the world of women. It was an inevitable twist for this inventive filmmaker to turn to the historical, so
    Adèle Haenel could be formidable in costume. And Sciamma has been amazing as a wrier, not only in Swiss directdor Claude Barras' 2016 stop-motion exploration of lives of challenged foster kids I]My Life As a Courgette[/I] but more touchingly and beautifully in André Téchiné's (same year) gay coming of age film Being 17, a return to form for the director and a career best (and seamless collaboration).

    The girls-on-girls focus, the interest in various kinds of formidable ones, has led in Petite Maman to a return to the very young. It is some time before Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) meets her semblable Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). Before that we have seen her help out on an adult crossword puzzle, and feed her mom an apéro (afternoon snack) of chips and soda as mom's driving and she's riding behind. And we've experienced her precocious, hushed grown-up-ness in many ways. I wish that something more human and more real had happened later, that the girl Nelly meets building a fort of vines hadn't been her twin. Sciamma unintentionally turns a tale of young girlhood into an almost-horror movie that makes no rational sense. I don't think the audience is as entranced as the critics.

    The exquisite sensitivity to girlhood this time seems in search of meaningfulness, and searches too hard. Things go distinctively south when Nelly and Marion, for one more fun thing before one of them goes off for a scary unspecified surgery, lug a big inflatable raft down to the river (what adult would allow that to happen?) and the hitherto score-less movie is invaded by annoyingly loud pop music. But everything has ceased making sense well before that.

    I don't know why the (adult) "maman" (Nina Meurisse) has to be off-putting and odd. The dad is odd-looking too but in a more appealing way, and he's "de la Comédie Française." (Stéphane Varupenne). Of course the Sanz sisters play well together and are delightful and sweeet in their way. This is an exquisite, stifling, and inexplicable work. No doubt Céline will do many great things "going forward."

    Petite Maman, 73 mins., after an early preview opening in Paris, debuted later in June 2021 at the Berlinale and subsequently showed in 42 other (IMDb-listed) festivals, including Karlovy Vary, Toronto, Telluride, and New York, in the rest of 2021. Limited US release was Apr. 22, 2022. AlloCiné (French) press rating 3.6 (72%). Metascore 93%. Screened for this review at Landmark Shattuck May 5,2022.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-06-2022 at 10:12 AM.

  13. #28
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    Messy love

    Also known as Both Sides of the Blade, this is a love triangle film centered on Juliette Binoche, whose longtime lover is Vincent Lindon, but who is blindsided when she runs into former lover Grégoire Colin. This is considerably further complicated when François (Colin) contacts Jean (Lindon) and proposes they work together in a sports management agency (Jean is a former pro rugby player) as they had before Jean served a prison sentence. Sara (Binoche) and Jean tell each other this is going to be fine. But in private Sara is emotionally disturbed; her world has suddenly turned upside down. Soon Jean leaves her to her small but ship-shape modern Paris flat, no doubt funded by Sara's successful job as a government radio presenter, where a lot of the indoor action transpires, and returns to his mother (Bulle Ogier) in the banlieue of Vitry where she has been raising his fifteen-year-old mixed-blood son Marcus (Issa Perica).

    Denis is working with very basic material in a seamless, no-nonsense way here (D'Angelo has called it, disapprovingly, "Dogme style"), in a world of the passions and the quotidian. The style is a little like her Friday Night, or perhaps Un beau soleil intérieur . There is logic in these connections because Lindon starred in Friday Night and Binoche in the other film: both are about passionate lovemaking. (The name of Lindon's character is Jean in the other film too.) And Denis collaborated with writer Christine Angot before on Beau soleil. This is Grégoire Colin's eighth appearance in a Denis film; he has an interesting history.

    Despite the overlaps, the material feels fresh, even if it has its clichéd or heavy-handed moments, mainly because of the very Claire Denis eroticism and the anger fueling things up from scene to scene, save in the blissful prelude where Jean and Sara are on a honeymoon-like vacation floating in a sea of too-good-to-be-true amorous bliss. Before François and Sara have gotten back together, Jean is already very jealous. He's seen how she looked at François at a gathering and can't bear that he kissed her on the mouth, or believe her insistence that she turned away. This is an all-too-believable, grating quarrel. Then we see François and Sara in bed together and it's beyond turning away. He wants her to turn around so he can enter her from behind and she protests as the camera, supervised by Éric Gautier this time, not Denis' regular dp Agnès Godard, shows their aging, no longer trim bodies.

    Richard Brody, in good form here, wrote an elaborate description of this film when it showed in the New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. He works out what happened between Jean and François in surprising detail given the scrappy hints provided. I don't know how he figures it out so well, but it makes sense. In some vague way François is a bad guy (did Jean take a rap for him?), though Sara's leaving him originally for Jean, was that "right"? Should the kind of sleuthing Brody has done be necessary to make sense of a movie plot?

    There is a secondary theme of the son and race. As Brody puts it, "Jean tries to give [Marcus] a lesson in race-blind autonomy, and it doesn’t take." This "lesson" for the sullen boy, who is rudderless at fifteen and seems without hope, is disturbing to watch because Jean cluelessly lectures his son and doesn't listen to him, but this element is nonetheless carefully handled by the African born and raised Denis, who also introduces a radio interview by Sara with a real African talking about white privilege, citing Franz Fanon.

    With the sketchy information we're given about the characters and the unresolved, broken ending, Fire leaves one unsatisfied, perhaps longing for the kind of genteel love relations we get in Éric Rohmer's films, which are free of anything like the two repetitious, angry yell-fests between Jean and Sara we have to sit through here, so lacking in French logic or elegance. But Fire is an appropriate film for our disturbed, hostile times and in fact the mask-wearing and vaccinations in includes make it very much of the present post-pandemic era. I'd agree with Brody Fire is "a work of shocking emotional immediacy." The difference is this doesn't quite feel to me like Denis in top form. What she does capture in the verbal fights that's rarely so clear - though the big yell-fest in Baumbach's Marriage Story is similar, if more interesting - is how lovers can show they don't know what they think or feel but that they only know that everything has gone wrong. And nobody else could have made a movie quite like this.

    Fire/Avec amour et acharnement ("With Love and Relentlessness") 116 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 12, 2022 where Denis won Best Director; a few festival showings since then, mostly in the US, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Sun Valley, Florida, Wisconsin, San Francisco (SFIFF). US theatrical release Jul. 8, 2022, French release Aug. 31, 2022.

    A French pre-release review: RFI.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-09-2022 at 07:05 PM. Reason: FIRE (Claire Denis 2021)

  14. #29
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    Jul 2002
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    Wrist surgery in early December kept me from driving to movies, and I couldn't type very much at first either, so I watched some old ones I remembered with pleasure. This list starts Jan. 1, 2022. Not counting movies I saw in theaters or reviewed.

    THE LAST SEDUCTION. (John Dahl 1994). I remember Dahl made the best neonoirs ever, for a little while. Linda Fiorentino excels as the vagina dentata the killer femme fatale who will stop at nothing. But she comes across as a little too evil. She needs some touch of weakness, some saving grace. There is none.

    CHINATOWN (Roman Polanski 1970). Well before John Dahl Polanski made the best neonoir ever. Only Robert Towne's great screenplay, especially compared to Dahl, is so grand and historical and political, it lacks the fly-by-night quality of the usual noirs. There are lines I remember not from the film but from somebody quoting them to me like the woman who calls Jack Nicholson asking "Are you alone?" and he replies "Isn't everyone?"

    FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (David O. Russell 1996). This tale of a man, played by Ben Stiller, who was adopted and raised by a neurotic New York Jewish couple and when grown up goes looking for his birth parents out in the American hinterland, was hilarious then, and it's still hilarious now. With Patricia Arquette and Téa Leoni, and featuring George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore as the adoptive parents who are drawn into the fray. The great cast includes supporting roles from Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin as a holdover couple from the Sixties and Josh Brolin and Richard Jenkins as a gay couple in law enforcement who come along for the ride. Unlike Demme, Russell went on to do more great independent movies.

    THE LOST DAUGHTER. In theaters now but also on Netflix. I wrote a review of this which I did not enjoy but admired, as I did both enjoy and admire Sorrentino's THE HAND OF GOD also on Netfilx, which I enjoyed a lot; and others I will publish later from screeners. I also saw and reviewed Adam McKay's DON'T LOOK UP this way and discussed it with my friend Jessica, who enjoyed it more.

    LA COLLECTIONNEUSE (Eric Rohmer 1967). This contains some of the most obnoxious men in any Rohmer film. But the pretty young girl is bulletproof: nothing fazes her. One of my least favorite Rohmer films; I probably forget watching it because I repress it. Evidently I don't appreciate the satire.

    KILL ME AGAIN (John Dahl 1994). This comes before THE LAST SEDUCTION and features a less horrible female - and Val Kilmer as the fall guy private detective. The violence and rapacious cruelty of the women in these two pictures might be called out as blatantly sexist today. But the movies have a durable seediness. Rarely do any American films today capture the down-and-dirty danger and sheer tackiness of neo-noir, and not with such fluency.

    THE BLUE LAGOON (Randal Kleiser 1980). This was despised and mocked; I had never seen it. Now it's a beautiful escape. The cinematography of Nestor Almendros, who shot a lot of Éric Rohmer's films, including LA COLLECTIONNEUSE, was justifiably Oscar-nominated, and Chris Atkins got a best newcomer Golden Gloves nomination. This is a Victorian story, and a dream of Paradise. I take it straight: innocent, not soft-core porn. Netflix.

    MARRIED TO THE MOB (Jonathan Demme 1988). Demme made this and Something Wild, two delightful, light, hip, original pictures with no special agenda, and then went astray. He deserved little credit for the sick, homophobic Silence of the Lambs and sought absolution with the middlebrow, dull AIDS picture Philadelphia, and for no good reason got festival attention for the tedious, overlong Rachel Getting Married. The fun never returned, alas. Michelle Pfeiffer is great as the sweet but ballsy Mafia widow who dares to break away from The Family and try to move to the Lower East Side and be a hairdresser. Matthew Modine is in his prime as the boisterous, physical young FBI agent who gets into a flirt with the Pfeiffer, the lady he's supposed to be tailing, and Mercedes Ruhl shines as the ball-buster gangster wife. The whole thing is a romp that ends up with a shootout like the final of Ridley Scott's TRUE ROMANCE scripted by Tarantino under the influence of John Woo - but that came five years later.

    SOMETHING WILD (Demme 1986). This is really more interesting than MARRIED TO THE MOB because it takes us into some trippy head-spaces, while still remaining basically an eccentric rom-com romp - though one that turns deadly when yuppie Jeff Daniels, who's been kidnapped for the weekend by wild young woman Melanie Griffith, is menaced by ex-con husband Ray Lotta who turns up at a high school reunion. All three of these actors are in their prime and turn in sensational performances. This shows Demme's lifelong musical hipness (discussed in this NPR piece) like nothing else, with street performers popping up in location scenes and Sister Carole literally stepping out of her role as a cafe waitress to stand on the sidewalk at film's end to deliver her unique island version of "Wild Thing." This film has the freedom and excitement of the French New Wave, with a whole new layer of American vernacular vibes.

    LOVE [or CHLOE] IN THE AFTERNOON/L'AMOUR L'APRÈS-MIDI (ÉRIC ROHMER 1972). Frédéric, the protagonist, is a silly, idle bourgeois with a posh Paris office job and a correct wife in the suburbs (and a tot and a babe enroute) who consents to flirt with the sexy, elegant, and unstable Chloé. A subplot is girl-watching which is shown to be in Paris justifiably a fine art; and the glamorous, gorgeous women, who Fédéric fantasizes being able to bend to his will with a magical amulet, as well as several pretty and extravagantly dressed young men, including the always impeccably dressed Frédéric, who we see carefully shopping for accessories, exemplify a new world where men as well as women wear flashy, fashionable hairstyles and designer clothes. All this is gorgeously photographed in luminous color by the great Nestor Almendros.

    This is one Rohmer fans watch over and over. New observations are that it includes a 16-year-old Fabrice Lucchini with long blond hair, a skinny boy, playing Vincent, the would-be boyfriend of Laura (longtme Rohmer favorite Béatrice Romand). It is also amusing to note that the actor, Jean-Claude Brialy the older man who flirts with the young girls who have young boyfriends and finally gets to touch the knee of young stunner Claire (Laurence de Monaghan) was gay. And openly so. He was important in Nouvelle Vague films like Le Beau Serge and Les Cousins. Apart from being desirable, Claire isnl't very interesting - in the French sense of having good conversation. But the conversation is all between Jerome (Brialy) and his older woman friend Lucinda.

    THEY ALL LAUGHED (Peter Bogdonovich 1981). Watched as a homage to Bogdonovich, who just died. I don't understand it, but I didn't want to watch Targets. The forgotten The Thing Called Love touches me, but it's hard to watch films with River Phoenix in them, too sad. There are a few very positive readings of this movie, but it tends to be dismissed as a flop.

    ELEVATOR TO THE SCAFFOLD/'ASSENCEUR POUR L'ECHAFAUD (Louis Malle 1958). Some dismiss this too as being interesting chiefly only for the splendid, spare, improvised Miles David score (as Richard Brody has recently argued). However while I love that as I also love the MJQ one for No Sun in Venice, this reads like a classic to me. I like seeing Georges Poujouly, the little boy on the René Clément's heartbreaking Forbidden Games, grown up into a juvenile delinquent foreshadowing Godard's use of Belmondo in Breathless. Jeanne Moreau's all-night walkaround forshadows her walkaround in Antonioni's [I]La Notte in 1961.

    WEST SIDE STORY (Robert Wise 1961). Someone of my vintage would be expected to have seen this but I avoided a lot of stuff when I was younger because it didn't interest me. I watched it now to prepare for seeing Spielberg's remake. Pauline Kael did one of her pans for KPFA radio, seven years before she got the New Yorker job. She is wrong to dismiss Jerome Robbins' choreography, which is one of the important things, even if it's over-the-top. This won a raft of Oscars, often a bad sign. It seems Kael is right about one thing: this debases the Shakespearean material. These middle class older white men didn't know anything about teenage gangs. I am sure Spielberg's version will try to be more knowing, using more unsubtitled detailed Spanish dialogue, but they are still older middleclass white men. We are more knowing about some things. If someone made Lawrence of Arabia today, it would have more than three Arabic words in it. But after all, Spielberg was doing a homage, not a whole new musical. And musicals aren't meant to be realistic anyway.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-10-2022 at 06:24 PM.

  15. #30
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    GASOLINE ALLEY (Edward Drake 2022)



    A very glib talky COVID confinement two-hander that winds up going around in circles

    This is, inevitably, a closet drama. Filmed over ten days for television, and doubtless well suited to the small screen, it depicts a period of home COVID lockdown of a man and woman (they have a child) who profess, at the outset, to cordially dislike each other and not to look forward to the prolonged time together this situation will entail. These are two excellent actors, but despite some very fluent, not to say glib, writing from the fluent pen of Dennis Kelly, they cannot, alas, save the proceedings from being uneventful, talky, highly theatrical, and ultimately forgettable. Those actors are James McAvoy ("He"), Sharon Horgan ("She"), and young Samuel Logan ("Artie"), a small family in London together for long months of confinement. The time doesn't feel so long so much as repetitive and unproductive. The film skips through it, using intertitles to highlight successive chunks of it. The film feels long nonetheless, because a super-talky but otherwise eventful film about COVID is not what most of us probably need to see right now. Not now, if ever. But Stephen Daldry: he's a good director, right? And James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan: ace actors, right? How can we go wrong? Well, this is a well-made kind of unambitious film that you probably won't remember beyond next week. McAvoy puts on "his" cute Scottish accent, she her mildly colorful English one. They talk a lot. It's very static.

    The theme is of a man and woman forced to re-evaluate themselves (a little) and their relationship as a couple (at length) through the reality of the COVID-19 lockdown. Tjeu have a child and a nice house, but normally they are away much of the day. And now, all of a sudden, they are together. They're presumably the kind of posh people who can work at home. This is a topic that is neglected - the work; toward the end we learn his company has gone under, but little else about it except that he's the one who's had to tell employees they've lost their jobs. But after flirting with the idea of getting married, she assures him they should stay together. They love-hate each other too much to want to be with anyone else. The ups and downs of their feelings as a couple are marked by intertitles showing the successive dates. External events are indicated by things they say, but not in great detail.

    This is a very low-keyed drama. Imagine a story in which a big action moment in the last quarter comes when he makes aubergine (eggplant) fritters, which upon Artie's confession that he does not like aubergines, he throws in the garbage. Most of the time they are in the kitchen. They talk. They come and go and then they talk some more. Time passes. Feelings shift. In the end, they feel a little bit less hostile - if they ever really were hostile and not just playacting - than they did at the beginning, and their relationship has, after all, survived.

    The setting is a cozy, homely kind of nice London house. There's an upstairs, because that's where the kid goes, the young son who's hardly used at all in this two-hander of lengthy addresses across the fourth wall to us, about themselves and their relationship.

    The theme is that hate is a kind of love. This is an exploration, as COVID lockdown could be, of whether a couple can stand each other. "He" and "She" begin by stating that they absolutely despise each other. He hates her mouth. She hates him. No reasons why, they just do. They've been together too long, the love, if there ever was any has drained away, and being in close proximity 24/7 looks like an eternal damnation. All this feels artificial, especially so since it is declared with frequent turns of the head to us, the audience, who are not really there.

    Vicariously, at a distance, the big centerpiece event is the death of her mother, who is in a care home (a nursing home) and taken to a hospital very ill with COVID, where she dies. A doctor they know is with her, and while she is only allowed to be with her mother for fifteen minutes, the doctor promises to be there when she passes, and then he isn't, because he has another patient who had no one, who is also passing.

    McAvoy has also begun wearing a man-bun. Horgan keeps the same hair-do.

    After a pause, the revelation is that "He" and "She," of all things, have begun having sex. Regularly, solidly. Sex! Not dreamy, sensational sex, but it's good. And good for them. Eventually they go over an incident of some mushrooms in which she, or was it he? out of anger or spite fed the other wild mushrooms with the indention not of murder, but doing serious harm. This is an example of the cover-all writing that leaves us with nothing, because as it turns out she remembers wrong and he got the mushrooms, and they both ate them, and they did no harm. A sin of ill intent, one supposes, but a fairly notional one. This is the kind of thing that on a stage, with dramatic acting, might be more effective. In McAvoy's kind of flowing, understating, which never ceases to impress, it's more of a "let's just forget about it" kind of climax.

    What she cannot forget about is the death of her mother, and with him in the background, she goes into a monologue on the theme that she now thinks her mother was "killed." Teo explain this she describes the government's failures, its crucial delays in beginning to address the pandemic and Boris Johnson's idiotic behavior, the way nursing homes were virtually force-infected with COVID patients.

    Meanwhile relations are sort-of better: "I don't think I hate you anymore," he declares, and "So let's f'ing get married, then." More talk follows, recounting bad behavior on her part around vaccine-getting. It's March 2021, and they are having bad relations again.

    And then, after another story of bad COVID behavior by a non-mask-wearer in a convenience story who gets up far too close to an employee, and an employee's cool reaction to his (McAvoy's) gush about how she's a "hero," it finally comes, they hate-love all over again and his declaration: "I sort of love you." It is a very bittersweet kind of love. But they are staying together, for now, and they kiss. And kiss again, more sweetly. THE END.

    Together, 93 mins., was released in Canada, Ireland, England and the USA in June and August 2021. It has not fared well with US critics, as indicated by the Metacritic rating of 59%. Reviewed here as part of San Francisco's Mar. 2022 Mostly British festival, showing 3:15 PM, Sat., Mar. 12, 2022.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-02-2022 at 11:04 AM.

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