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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

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

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


    LEE SON-KYUN AND JO YEO-JEONG IN PARASITE

    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.


    PARK SO-DAM AND CHOI WOO-SIK IN PARASITE
    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: MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (2019)


    GUGU MBATHA-RAW AND EDWARD NORTON IN MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

    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]

    MARTIN SCORSESE: THE IRISHMAN (2019)


    AL PACINO AND ROBERT DE NIRO IN THE IRISHMAN

    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)

    KLEBER MENDOÇA FILHO, JULIANO DORNELLES: BACURAU (2019)


    SONIA BRAGA (CENTER) IN BACURAU

    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)

    BERTRAND BONELLO: ZOMBI CHILD (2019)


    LOUISE LABEQUE AND WISLANDA LOUIMAT (FAR RIGHT) IN ZOMBI CHILD

    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. https://www.filmmovement.com/zombi-child
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2020 at 07:36 PM.

  6. #21
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    WASP NETWORK (Olivier Assayas 2019)

    OLIVIER ASSAYAS: WASP NETWORK (2019)


    GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL AND PENELOPE CRUZ IN WASP NETWORK

    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.

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    THE VELVET UNDEERGROUND (Todd Haynes 20210

    TODD HAYNES: THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (2021)



    STILL OF LOU REED FROM THE VELVET UNDERGROUND

    A beautiful look at the short-lived but seminal rock band

    This is one of the most visually stunning music documentaries I've ever seen, and it concerns a band that, though little publicized, is considered by some as influential as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, or Bob Dylan, but about which there's never been a film before. In a 2013 YouTube review of the band's first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico , Anthony Fantano, "internet's busiest music nerd," calls the four LP's the band issued from 1967 to 1970 "one of the most influential discographies in rock music - ever." (For details of the making of the first album, go here.) No wonder this mew film debuted at Cannes and is one of the doc stars of the year.

    The exquisite visual quality this film maintains, even within a conventional music documentary format, reflects some of the dash and originality Haynes put into his six-actor cubist Bob Dylan portrait I'm Not There (NYFF 2007). This time the striking look may partly arise from the need to compensate for an almost total lack of live concert footage of the band. (Where were all Warhol's cameras when we needed them?) The solution is extensive use of split-screen, which continues through the entire film. That includes highly effective use of Warhol's "screen test" portraits, his 100-foot-reel 16mm static B&W Bolex movies of people at the Factory just staring into the camera. Haynes' opening fifteen minutes or so are dazzling. He has clips from "I've Got a Secret" where John Cale was brought in for his having performed a John Cage composition in which a single page of musical notes had to be played over 800 times leading to an 18-hour performance.

    Oddly, Haynes spends more time on Cale than lead singer/song writer Lou Reed for the first forty minutes. He appears to want to depict the band as more avant-garde, as Cale was, than rock n' roll, as Reed was. (And Cale was available to interview now and Reed is gone.) Haynes uses the expressionless Warhol-filmed screen test face of young Lou Reed in split-screen-flanked by shifting random archival footage to illustrate a voice-over from his sister about his suburban childhood.

    There are contrasting split screens of monochrome film clips toned in solid colors throughout. All through, the handsome use of split-screen makes this look like an art film, a museum piece. Bit split-screen is also a way to pack in two or three times as much visual information and still make it look good on the screen. Haynes's editors, Affonso Gonçalves and Adam Kurnitz, deserve credit for how well this works to tell a story as well as delight the eye.

    The elegance is most welcome in a usually tired genre. But it means room has been left for future, more dogged docs on the band. Missing here are details of the unique drumming style of Maureen Tucker ("Moe"), not to mention more about the complex emotional dynamics of the group that led Lou Reed to "fire" Andy Warhol and soon after John Cale and then walk away from the band himself.

    We do get the band's beginnings, when its name got changed constantly because they were so bad at that point they had to hide who they were to get hired. When they become the Velvet Underground, with Reed, Cale on viola, keyboard, and other instruments, Moe Tucker on drums, and guitarist Sterling Morrison, it was after being seen at Cafe Bizarre that they were invited to Warhol's Factory and became its house band. Warhol brought in the German model and actress Nico, who had appeared in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, to sing with the band, which Reed didn't like, but which worked.

    It's okay for this to be for a while yet another Warhol doc because it shows how the Factory, as Cale says, "was all about work." Warhol's collaboration led to his traveling multimedia show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable developed (from the sound of it one can't say "refined") at the Dom hall in St. Mark's place (1966–1967), a touring silver balloon and sound and light show incorporating the band. It feels as though these Dom multimedia performances, attended by society people and where Nureyev and the whole New York City Ballet came and danced, represented a high point in the band's life.

    The tour took them to the West Coast, not a positive story. As Moe the drummer recounts, and others mention, the Velvet Underground hated hippies: instead of giving flowers to people, Moe says, they should find them places to live. Even if the Velvet used drone sounds, their style was mostly very hard-edge. California didn't seem to get them. (According to John Waters, neither did Cape Cod.) When they performed at Bill Graham's Fillmore West, Graham openly wanted them to fail. Nonetheless their sound-and-light show proved far more sophisticated than his. West Coast light shows, it's said, consisted of projecting an image of the Buddha on a wall.

    There is a softer side to the band. Anthony Fantana's discussion of "Sunday Morning" sung by Nico revels in its warmth and gentleness. Reed too could sing or chant in a very gentle voice. The complexities of the Velvet Underground's style aren't something this film fully unpacks for us.

    In addition to being aggressive and hostile in person and an unreliable hard-drug user, Reed was also sexy and creative, recognizing the unity of writing as an activity, whether fiction, poetry, or song lyrics. What he brought to rock n' roll, David Bowie is heard saying here, was a mindset close to the French poètes maudits, to Baudelaire and Rimbaud - a literary sensibility a step beyond even the sophisticated song lyrics of Bob Dylan. And Reed was always writing. It's he who explores the sexualities of The Factory; the life of a prostitute; the experience of being a heroin addict who decides to "nullify" his life; and what it's like waiting for your dealer.

    Warhol's connection with the band was obviously central, making them like the Factory "superstars" famous, but famous also in the service of Warhol. Allen Ginsberg, notably visible in the opening of the 1967 Pennebaker film about Bob Dylan Don't Look Back, also appears here as a Warhol cohort, reminding us how in the sixties American cultural (or "countercultural") figures were like a little band of brothers. Ginsberg nods also to the Lithuanian-born Jonas Mekas, who appears here as a talking head. He was the founder of Anthology Film Archive, godfather of American avant-garde film," and a major organizer of art events who died before this film was released at the age of 97. Warhol toured with the band, doing nothing as "producer" of their first album but get it produced through his celebrity and provide the 'banana" album cover. But he got them the album, and he gave them a lot of encouragement.

    Personal antagonisms had been heightened by the pressures of the California tour. On the road there was increased use of speed, resulting on the focus of the White light/White Heat album and the in-fighting when it was being made back in New York after they found the Dom taken over by Bob Dylan.

    The band is already disintegrating even though this is only the second of four albums. The gradual decline of a band is a familiar trope even Haynes's stunning visual stylishness can't make very original. But the film's imagery does some typically snappy stuff to evoke an amphetamine high. There is an explosion of split- and multiple-screen archival images at the end showing multiple careers post Velvet for Reed, Cale, the others, and the 1990s temporary reunions of Reed and Cale, including their collaborative musical narrative portrait of the then late Andy Warhol,Songs for Drella.

    The Velvet Underground, 110 mins., debuted at Cannes out of competition Jul. 7, 2021, and is included in some other major festivals, including Telluride, Zurich, New York, Chicago, Woodstock, BFI London. In reviews it has met with very high praise (current Metascore 89%). US release in theaters and on the internet Oct. 15, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Today at 01:22 AM.

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    SURGE (Aneil Karia2020)

    ANEIL KARIA: SURGE (2020)


    BEN WHISHAW IN SURGE

    Ben Whishaw is virtuosic in a mime-heavy version of a wild London crime spree

    Aneil Karia, who's made some much-admired shorts and directed edgy UK TV shows, presents an able feature playground for the great Ben Whishaw to go into full neurotic crackup mode. The action has something in common with the Safdie brothers' Good Time, which provided another, more gorgeous male star a chance to do 24 hours of challenging wildness. Only this is as if the manic, clumsy crook Robert Pattinson plays and his character's mentally deranged brother were combined in one character, Joseph (K? Whishaw), a British airport security line inspector (as seen here, a most disturbing job) with wildly dysfunctional parents (Ellie Haddington and Ian Gelder) who seem to push him over the top into a flurry of illegal acts. It's a fantastic, largely mime performance by Whishaw - full of tics that all seem real. If only the camera had been less jumpy and expressionistic and kept a bit more distance, we'd have been able to see better what's going on.

    At the job where it's his duty to pat down people who have set off the metal detector, Joseph is forced into intimacy with two crazy, drunken-looking men; one claims the metal-detector burns him. At lunch, it feels like his coworkers notice him only to gibe at him. That it's his birthday may push long-held desperation to a tipping point. At first he only fidgets and twitches, but it shows he's not quite right.

    When he visits his mum and dad for this occasion, his habit of biting down too hard on things, accelerated by their neurotic tension, causes him to bite off the edge of a glass and cut his lower lip. The sight of his own blood when he looks in the mirror seems to derange him, like a mad dog, starting his wild rampage, which may be seen as him experiencing a continuous adrenaline rush that makes him feel for the first time truly alive. He goes to work again but can't take it and wigs out. He's on his rampage now. But at first he merely visits a coworker he fancies, Lily (Jasmine Jobson), to resolve a problem she described the day before, and hook up her laptop to her new TV for her. She needs a cable, which he goes out to get.

    He can't pay the 4.99 for the cable, because the ATM eats his card. This leads him to rob the bank. Back to the convenience shop with wads and wads of cash, he buys the cable and returns to Lily, with motorcycle cops whizzing round and the filmmaker's camera (by dp Stuart Bentley) wildly swinging as if attached to his neck - distracting from rather than enhancing Whishaw's vivid, meticulous performance.

    But nothing can ruin the manic brilliance of it. Or the three-person invention's inclusions of humor and tenderness along with the hysteria. (Rupert Jones and Rita Kainejais did the screenplay with Karia collaborating on the story.) When Joseph has hooked up Lily's new cable, he takes as reward a hookup of another kind, grinning, both laughing, standing up. The bank robbery went so well, he stages two more. The cut on his lower lip from the glass he broke off causes him to grimace, wiggle, and grin; he tilts his head; waves his arms in the air, that gesture perhaps partly inspired by the myriad travelers he has seen raising their arms to be searched. When Joseph's running in full manic mode makes the street blur by in a busy roar of colors and then the bag of bills explodes with a red dye pack, the Safdies' Good Time is most strongly evoked.

    There's plenty more to come. Joseph is going to trash a luxury hotel room in a quite original way, and invade a big wedding luncheon and put a rude speaker in his place. The adrenaline is still kicking in, with a wild ride and a bump and a fight also to come. Then a return to mum and dad. One of the triumphs of this film, which may seem alienating to many viewers, is the intimacy it nonetheless achieves at times - starting with the uncomfortable, forced intimacy of body-searching travelers.

    After the return home Whishaw goes into his beautific ode, which gets an objective correlative in a group of Indian dancers in the street whose music sees out this very creative take on a familiar yet somewhat uncommon genre. A flawed but very promising beginning from Aneil Karia and another remarkable, almost sublime performance from Ben Whishaw.

    This feature grew out of a short called Beat that Karia, Whishaw and movement coach Laura Williamson Biggson made earlier in which Whishaw dances spasmodically through the streets of North London, provoking people into beating him up. This explains why Surge seems like a one-man mime show or overextended short film. Truly only Ben Whishaw makes it work. But he does.

    Surge, 105 mins., debuted at Sundance, Whishaw receiving a special jury award there for his performance; showing also at the Berlinale and a number of other international festivals. US release in theaters Sept. 24, 2021. On demand everywhere Sept. 25.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-15-2021 at 10:53 PM.

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    EVER SINCE WE LOVED 万物生长 (Li Yu 2015)

    LI YU: EVER SINCE WE LOVED 万物生长 (2015)



    A Beijing med student and his love affairs

    Ever Since We Love (or Loved, which seems more grammatical) is coming out online in a nice print with good subtitles (you could find it before, but with blurry images and illegible English subtitles jammed next to Chinese ones). It's important mainland Chinese Woman director Li Yu's sixth film. (She's since made two more, both this year, 2021.) This one is adapted from the second in a coming-of-age trilogy set in the nineties from 2005 by Feng Tang, a writer notorious in China for his semi-pornographic style. The original title of the book and film translates in English as "All Things Grow." There is in that a kind of homage to biology, as perhaps befits a young medical student who specializes in gynecology. This seems an odd choice to adapt for Li Yu. But both the popularity and the sensationalism of the books probably appealed to her, and she may put more emphasis on the women in the protagonist's life than Feng Tang did.

    Li Yu is a wildly disordered filmmaker, but her films are full of life, and there can be vibrant moments when you may least expect them. Sometimes it's just fun to watch the scenery flow by, the Beijing street scenes of beggars and peddlers and random kids in Lost in Beijing, the garish foot massage emporium; in Buddha Mountain, it's the rampages the trio of buddies go on, their sun-drenched ride in an open freight car.

    This time she has descended into jokey pop-style coming-of-age fiction in an apparent effort to be more mainstream, or perhaps only to capture the outrageousness and variety of her literary source. There is some fresh, original material here you wouldn't be likely to find in more conventional examples of the movie coming-of-age genre, even if it gets rather lost in the shuffle. I was scornful of the fake, attention-getting slo-mo explosion of the giant classroom glass case full of embalmed skulls used to start things off with a bang at the outset. But I loved the medical students' cramped personal quarters. And some of the later scenes, though over-romanticized, are undeniably pretty. The medical school scenes may provide material of historical interest, though one doesn't know how accurate they are.

    The raucous medical students' hijinks are random and not particularly funny. This is supposed to be an "elite" medical school; but for much of the run-time seems to have only one teacher. When he points out they are sophisticated now so male and female students are in the same class and can discuss gynecological exams, one remembers the little carved ivory "doctor's lady," a Chinatown souvenir once used for Chinese female patients to point out to a male doctor where the trouble was. More of a sense of how rapidly things have been moving in Chinese social custom and medicine would have been interesting.

    The main character is a man, Qiu Shui (Han Geng) (the original of author Feng Tang), whose POV and voiceover ground the action, but there are several women in his life who seem to have more spunk than he does and likely matter more to the female writer-director. A female fellow student, Bai Lu (Qi Xi), is his present girlfriend. His first love, Xiaoman (Li Meng), is about to marry an official, but she has second thoughts, and tragedy awaits her. In a rather unconvincing scene in a hotel lobby, Qiu Shui by chance meets a successful older woman, Liu Qing (Fan Bingbing). She seems the desirable one now. It's a lot for the young man to deal with, and he sometimes gets exasperated in what seems more a comedy of errors than a sentimental education.

    This is Li Yu''s fourth film in a row featuring her apparent muse Fan Bingbing. Qiu Shui's friendship with Liu Qing, who co-runs and owns a medical supply company with an older man, Mao Da (Lv Xing) - who incidentally once attended Qiu's medical school - leads his current gf Bai Lu into some outrageous behavior inspired by jealousy. Li Yu never hesitates to present grotesque, comic, or vulgar behavior, and the way she stages Bai's insulting rudeness toward Liu when she gets jealous descends into gross-out slapstick. But for all I know this is faithful to the book, which I haven't read.

    Sometimes, as in Lost in Beijing, rural lack of polish and/or the crudity of the nouveau riche are defining. Here at times it feels like the whole society, undergoing warp speed changes, is losing all sense of decorum or rigor. But this is one of the things that infuses Li Yu's films with their raw energy. As in the two other Li Yu films I've seen so far, Lost in Beijing and Buddha Mountain, only that raw energy clearly holds all the parts together. Here in this genre mash-up it can't.

    As the narrating young would-be doctor Qiu Shui, the actor Han Geng is ordinary-looking like Tong Dawei, who played the window cleaner from the provinces An-Kun in Lost in Beijing, but without any of his sexiness. Han Geng provides steady calm, a sense of normalcy and of fitting in. Fan Bingbing unfortunately isn't up to the task of portraying the magical, unattainable woman who's also highly accomplished and a shy teaser - admittedly a tall order. She neither seems mature and confident enough to be a successful entrepreneur, nor projects the sense of a consistent person from scene to scene - from hotel meeting to bungee-jumping jaunt to friendly, then intimate,tête-à-tête.

    Consistency, of course, isn't really Li Yu's long suit. A more conventional and correct filmmaker would tell this kind of story more simply and clearly, yet Li Yu gives us moments we don't get anywhere else, even here. However, this is a mishmash, not up to Lost in Beijing or Buddha Mountain. Li Yu doesn't seem a sophisticated, first-rate sixth generation Chinese director on the level of Jia Zhang-ke or (among younger ones) Bi Gan. Here particularly she seems ready to mix genres wildly like the kind of popular Indian cinema that combines adventure, comedy, romance, and musical all in a single movie.

    Ever Since We Love[d] 万物生长, 106 mins., according to IMDb opened in China and the US in Apr. 2015, and showed at Busan that Oct. It will be released online in the US by Cheng Cheng Films in New York with (optional) English subtitles Sept. 17, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-17-2021 at 12:26 AM.

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    BECOMING COUSTEAU (Liz Garbus 2021)

    capsule for Mill Valley:

    LIZ GARBUS: BECOMING COUSTEAU (2021)



    From adventurer to ecologist to prescient profit of doom

    Liz Garbus is a frantically productive doc maker known for among others Bobby Fisher Against the World (2011) and What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) Made in collaboration with the Cousteau Society and co-produced by Cousteau’s widow Francine and children Diane and Pierre-Yves, this documentary may seem like "a whitewashed, official version" (Screen Daily), film could risk feeling like a whitewashed, official version of Cousteau’s life, a work that aims "to burnish a legend" rather than "explore ... personal depths" (The Wrap;"). But his failings are here, and this is, however conventional, a richly illustrated depiction of an immensely important man in his time whose clarion cries are more relevant than ever today.

    Why do I feel sometimes, though, that I've been fed most of this information before? Because I saw it rehearsed in dramatized form in Paris in the film L'odyssée (Jérôme Salle 2016), starring the excellent Lambert Wilson and Pierre Niney, which I saw a second time in the Rendez-Vous at Lincoln Center in 2017. No matter: this is the authoritative, authorized documentary version, with access to the wealth of lifelong film documentation that's available. "Je m'amuse," Cousteau says in one of the many recordings. "Im having fun." And it is fun to watch him, even when he is saddened and his vision turns dark.

    Cousteau got a Pathé camera at age 12; it helped conquer his shyness. Later a very bad car accident that broke 12 bones led him to swim: it helped him heal. Then he started to dive, and to photograph, and the rest is history.

    He was naval officer, hence "Captain Cousteau." At first he began diving with two others. The "three musketeers of the sea" ("Les Mousqemers") fellow naval officer, Philippe Tailliez, Maurice Fargues . they became two when they started going deep and Sept. 17 1947 one of them, Fargues died going down 120 meters, using the new aqualung to set a world record for diving depth; they had not yet learned (one would have liked more about this whole process) that at such depths consciousness is affected and a diver can endanger himself without knowing it (undersea high).

    His documentary film The Silent World (1957) was immensely popular. His show on ABC "The Undersea world of Jacques Cousteau" (1966-1976) became one of the most popular television shows of all time. An important aspect of the success was this quintessentially French guy's and his sons' ability to function fluently in English. `The show, which was managed to be both popular and urgently important, unveiled the wonders of the sea, and, gradually, its unmaking. The Cousteau family were and are formidable defenders of this huge underwater part of planet Earth. Jacques was early in recognizing that the sea had been trashed; the fragility and importance of coral reefs; the disintegration of icebergs. He saw how the planet's climate hinges on the condition of Antarctica: he saw it all, forty years ago, global warming, droughts in the United States, famine in Africa.

    .Calypso (rechristened no doubt) was "basically a mine-sweeper;" they got it in 1950 art a bargain price with a grant from a wealthy conservative British supporter, Thomas Loel Guinness. "It's a person not a boat," Cousteau said. It became the heart of his world as an explorer, impresario, filmmaker: The Life Aquatic with Jacques Cousteau. Their first voyage had "le partum de l'aventure, de la nouveauté, l'iréel" (the fragrance of adventure novelty, the unreal).

    Calypso was an empire, Jacques-Yves the king. His sons Jean-Michel (more a manager) and Philippe (an explorer like their father) were also part of the world. His wife Simone was a manager, wedded not to the sea but to the boat, always on board, Jeanne-Claude to his Christo, the only women on board, avoiding being in the films, but in photographs plainly having a good time.

    Cousteau seemed about to sell out to the petroleum industry - he did discover major oil in the Persian Gulf - but he saved himself from such a sellout by beginning his ABC television show "The Underwater World," in 1968. "On January 8, 1968, "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" debuted on ABC. The show is vintage Cousteau, featuring the French adventurer-slash-scientist wearing a red cap, a skimpy bathing suit, and smoking like a chimney." (He and his two sons wore red caps and black outfits, their uniform. He had lean dash and dazzle, pearl-gray swept-back hair, flashing teeth.) Chris Higgins: "If you've seen The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and you haven't seen the Cousteau films, you're in for a treat."

    When Cousteau began on American television he was 58, and he did not look young. Who was this old French guy? The audience soon learned. And then Cousteau became a crusader for ecology, for saving the ruined, trashed sea. And he founded The Cousteau Society. He claimed 160,000 members in the late seventies; now it has 50,000. Perhaps it is outstripped by son Jean-Michel in 1999.

    He was devastated by the death in a private seaplane crash of his son Philippe at 39 (in in 1979,. He blamed himself for allowing his son to fly, and declared that his punishment would be that he would work to the end. It's said he aged ten years, and became more pessimistic about the future of the sea. We learn that ABC dropped Cousteau's specials in the late seventies "because he was getting too dark."

    He was fed up with the cult of his own personality and more and more hopeless about saving the planet, which he thought was too late. "WE spoil the planet every day, more and more."

    At this point the film introduces Cousteau's second wife, Francine, a 41-year-old French woman diver who married him when he was 80, a year after his wife Simone died of cancer at 71. But wait! His two children with Francine were born in 19;80 and 1980, long before his wife Simone died. The relationship with Francine was not talked about, but everyone knew about it. On board. But Simone kept secret how sick she was and went on a last Calypso voyage when she was dying, with widespread cancer. She said theCalypso was the reason why she was alive. The young kids with Francine had when Cousteau was 70 may have revived his smile. They are vibrant kids - divers, of course.

    The film ends on a triumphal note against the odds. Cousteau is successful in getting a multi-nation treaty to leave Antarctica intact for 50 years. He is a major figure at Rio 1992, the earth conference, the only one standing as an equal of heads of state. He is heard expressing optimism about mankind's anility to learn. And he gets a funeral at Notre Dame cathedral. His eighties were spectacular. he had an impressive old age. Let's hope his optimism is validated, not his pessimism. The film ought to have ended on a stronger, more honest note; it would have been fairer to the man's legacy of intense eco-awareness to do that. But he wouldn't even have liked the title. He was insistent that his work was not about him.

    Becoming Cousteau 91 mins., debuted at Telluride Sept. 2, 2021, showing also at Toronto Sept. 11, Camden, Hamptons ,London and Mill Valley in October. Us release Oct. 22, 2o21.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 11:05 PM.

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    WIFE OF A SPY (Kiyoshi Kurosawa 2020)

    KIYOSHI KUROSAWA: LIFE OF A SPY (2020)


    ISSEY TAKAHASHI AND YU AOI IN WIFE OF A SPY

    Love and independence in pre-WWII Japan

    Sometimes even Kurosawa's best work since the early horror masterpieces Pulse and Cure can seem a letdown, and Life of a Spy has a somewhat bland, polished surface that's a little dull. But to begin with it's unusual because it's his first costume film, being set before and during the Second World War. And then, it has things to say that may never have been said in a mainstream Japanese film before about this period.

    This is a radical couple, whose anti-war, anti-jingoistic views run totally against the tide of events in a Japan moving toward militarism and joining up with the Axis powers to seek world domination. They are sophisticates, artists. And the beauty of the tale is the way the couple comes together. At first the wife thinks her husband's ideas outrageous. Then she comes to understand and sympathize with them. Then as their views put them in mortal danger and they must flee the country, they must separate to do so. It's a subtle, beautiful structure that grows on you as it gradually unfolds. This is an historical romance drama for television of a very high order. And no wonder its theatrical version was selected in the main competition section of the 77th Venice International Film Festival and won the Silver Lion there.

    This is a slow burner, the sort of film that one begins to appreciate more after it's over. And incidentally, one can revel in the period accoutrements, not just the old cars as usual (including a magnificently clunky Rolls Royce) but the tasteful clothes, which evoke the era without jiving on it or resorting to kitsch. The clothes express the taste and restraint of these people subliminally. Wife of a Spy offers many quiet pleasures.


    Wife of a Spy スパイの妻,, 115 mins., opened on TV in Japan Jun. 6, 2021, the theatrical version showing in competition at Venice Jun. 8 receiving the Silver Lion, showing at about 16 other international festivals. It is released by Kino Lorber in the US, opening Sept. 17 at IFC Center in NYC and Laemle Royal in LA Sept. 24.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-10-2021 at 06:15 PM.

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    THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOY IN THE WORLD (Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri 2021)

    KRISTINA LINDSTROM, KRISTIAN PETRI: THE MOST BEAUTFUL BOY IN THE WORLD (2021)


    BJORN ANDRESEN NOW AND THEN

    The story of Björn Andrésen, the boy who played Tadzio

    It had to be told, this story, because as Tadzio, the impossibly beautiful boy von Aschenbach dies for in Luchino Visconti's 1971 film version of Death in Venice, 15-year-old Björn Andrésen became an instant icon - an icon that weighed its innocent human original down for life. This is a mood piece and if you like that sort of thing, it's done well, with its intercutting of dark scenes from different periods with the tracing of a picture of Björn Andrésen man and boy that strangely overlaps in beauty and sadness.

    There are not many revelations here. That's not the point. It may be a shock to see that Andrésen, a heavy smoker, in his mid-sixties now has a heavily lined face and a long grey beard. He looks curiously small, given that as a 15-year-old he looked tall for his age. But he still has a magnificent mane of hair, and there is a prettiness about him (he photographs well, and has some dash in a long black leather coat), and he seems always to have kept the same frail, ephebe body. So this is not one of those big bodily transformations.

    It's a surprise to learn of how, a few years after Death in Venice, Andrésen somehow went to Japan and became a different pop culture icon there. His blond ephebe look was regarded as miraculous perfection. The delicate young male type is highly regarded in Japan; note the adulation in which the figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu is held, how the ice is showered with teddy bears in his honor every time he performs. A very pretty white version of the tyipe was even more exotic and wonderful. He was musically talented and so he became, incredibly, a pop star, learning to sing songs in Japanese. (He says he had a good accent.) In addition his looks inspired some very important manga and continue to fifty years later.

    Filmmakers Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri invade Andrésen's life. We begin with his first interview and screen test with Visconti, who had apparently been contemplating Death in Venice and searching for a Tadzio for years, a boy with the appropriate chilly perfection. He knows when he sees Andrésen that he's the one. But he is an astonishingly brutal, crude man. His response is more predatory than worshipful. Later at Cannes, where the film became world-renowned, Andrésen is there beside Visconti at the press conference, but happily spared the director's mean joke about how the boy's already past his prime because Visconti expresses it in French, which he does not know. These old films show how the sensitive boy was hurt by the process that made him famous, preparing the way for the further hurt of the fame itself and a life of little success and much unhappiness.

    At the same time, in parallel, the film shows us the dark mess of the man's current life, unreeling images of a bossy girlfriend who later breaks up with him on the phone but helps him clean up an apartment that's such a pigsty the rental board is threatening expulsion. Later still, it becomes clear that Andrésen's alcoholism, in his thirties, wrecks his marriage and in his view led to the death of his young son. The grownup daughter, seen now, seems okay.

    As the film moves along it unearths the roots of sadness in a tragedy involving his mother that occurred years before Andrésen became Tadzio. And the casting itself might not have happened, and Andrésen instead saved from a fame he wasn't strong enough to deal with, had it not been for a pushy grandmother.

    The art of the filmmakers is of the manipulative kind. They enter into Andrésen's apartment and film him with his girlfriend and the apartment hassle. They film him with his daughter, and one feels they are performaing for the closeup camera. They take him to Japan: this is well done, because they find someone who produced him as a singer, and the chief manga artist who cannibalized his looks. They take him to Paris because at 20 he was kept in an apartment there for a year and feted and shown off by various rich gay men; he recognizes today this was a naïve mistake and he let himself be exploited. Alas, he lacked reliable family support to protect him from such exploitation. They take him to Venice, to revisit scenes of the film.

    Despite handsome, atmospheric photography and good editing and useful travel, this is a depressing, unpleasant film. It's a sad story and though Andrésen as Tadzio remains the iconic beautiful boy (Visconti made no mistake in the casting) sadly also the film to me has always seemed uniquely false and maudlin and somehow a lie, confusing the tragic with the tacky, masking as a pursuit of ideal beauty what appears to all intents and purposes to be a pathetic unfun example of unfulfilled pederasty. Whether or not this confusion is better resolved in Mann's novella, Visconti seems out of his element, and this a flashy but unconvincing film, a sign of his decline.

    The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, 93 mins., mainly in Swedish, debuted at Sundance Jan. 2021, showing at about a dozen other international festivals, releasing online in the US Sept. 24, 2021.

    __________________________________________________ _______________

    KRISTINA LINDSTROM, KRISTIAN PETRI: THE MOST BEAUTFUL BOY IN THE WORLD (2021)


    BJORN ANDRESEN NOW AND THEN

    The story of Björn Andrésen, the boy who played Tadzio

    It had to be told, this story, because as Tadzio, the impossibly beautiful boy von Aschenbach dies for in Luchino Visconti's 1971 film version of Death in Venice, 15-year-old Björn Andrésen became an instant icon - an icon that weighed its innocent human original down for life. This is a mood piece and if you like that sort of thing, it's done well, with its intercutting of dark scenes from different periods with the tracing of a picture of Björn Andrésen man and boy that strangely overlaps in beauty and sadness.

    There are not many revelations here. That's not the point. It may be a shock to see that Andrésen, a heavy smoker, in his mid-sixties now has a heavily lined face and a long grey beard. He looks curiously small, given that as a 15-year-old he looked tall for his age. But he still has a magnificent mane of hair, and there is a prettiness about him (he photographs well, and has some dash in a long black leather coat), and he seems always to have kept the same frail, ephebe body. So this is not one of those big bodily transformations.

    It's a surprise to learn of how, a few years after Death in Venice, Andrésen somehow went to Japan and became a different pop culture icon there. His blond ephebe look was regarded as miraculous perfection. The delicate young male type is highly regarded in Japan; note the adulation in which the figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu is held, how the ice is showered with teddy bears in his honor every time he performs. A very pretty white version of the tyipe was even more exotic and wonderful. He was musically talented and so he became, incredibly, a pop star, learning to sing songs in Japanese. (He says he had a good accent.) In addition his looks inspired some very important manga and continue to fifty years later.

    Filmmakers Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri invade Andrésen's life. We begin with his first interview and screen test with Visconti, who had apparently been contemplating Death in Venice and searching for a Tadzio for years, a boy with the appropriate chilly perfection. He knows when he sees Andrésen that he's the one. But he is an astonishingly brutal, crude man. His response is more predatory than worshipful. Later at Cannes, where the film became world-renowned, Andrésen is there beside Visconti at the press conference, but happily spared the director's mean joke about how the boy's already past his prime because Visconti expresses it in French, which he does not know. These old films show how the sensitive boy was hurt by the process that made him famous, preparing the way for the further hurt of the fame itself and a life of little success and much unhappiness.

    At the same time, in parallel, the film shows us the dark mess of the man's current life, unreeling images of a bossy girlfriend who later breaks up with him on the phone but helps him clean up an apartment that's such a pigsty the rental board is threatening expulsion. Later still, it becomes clear that Andrésen's alcoholism, in his thirties, wrecks his marriage and in his view led to the death of his young son. The grownup daughter, seen now, seems okay.

    As the film moves along it unearths the roots of sadness in a tragedy involving his mother that occurred years before Andrésen became Tadzio. And the casting itself might not have happened, and Andrésen instead saved from a fame he wasn't strong enough to deal with, had it not been for a pushy grandmother.

    The art of the filmmakers is of the manipulative kind. They enter into Andrésen's apartment and film him with his girlfriend and the apartment hassle. They film him with his daughter, and one feels they are performaing for the closeup camera. They take him to Japan: this is well done, because they find someone who produced him as a singer, and the chief manga artist who cannibalized his looks. They take him to Paris because at 20 he was kept in an apartment there for a year and feted and shown off by various rich gay men; he recognizes today this was a naïve mistake and he let himself be exploited. Alas, he lacked reliable family support to protect him from such exploitation. They take him to Venice, to revisit scenes of the film.

    Despite handsome, atmospheric photography and good editing and useful travel, this is a depressing, unpleasant film. It's a sad story and though Andrésen as Tadzio remains the iconic beautiful boy (Visconti made no mistake in the casting) sadly also the film to me has always seemed uniquely false and maudlin and somehow a lie, confusing the tragic with the tacky, masking as a pursuit of ideal beauty what appears to all intents and purposes to be a pathetic unfun example of unfulfilled pederasty. Whether or not this confusion is better resolved in Mann's novella, Visconti seems out of his element, and this a flashy but unconvincing film, a sign of his decline.

    The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, 93 mins., mainly in Swedish, debuted at Sundance Jan. 2021, showing at about a dozen other international festivals, releasing online in the US Sept. 24, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 10:39 PM.

  13. #28
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    KAREN CINORRE: MAYDAY (2021)



    Young women killing men for sport: a fantasy island you'd not want to visit

    This beautifully photographed, "stylish yet surface level" film, with a luminous score and beautiful underwater shots set on an island is a violent feminist fantasy evoking "Little Women meets The Wizard of Oz meets The Hunger Games (RogerEbert.com); with "equal parts Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan" (BFI), which joins the ranks of "recent [filmic] female revenge fantasies Promising Young Woman and Assassination Nation" (Variety). That its world-building is very sketchy would be acceptable were "the script (the dialogue in particular) not so unsubtle" (BFI). It has also been pointed out the women are all blandly alike, waifish and white. This man-hating fantasy that sings and charms and yet is mean spirited and thin.

    The Alice in Wonderland moment comes at the outset when a girl with long red hair called Ana (for Anastasia; Grace Van Patten) at a dead-end catering job "attempts" suicide (or perhaps she succeeds) by putting her head in a oven, winding up falling through the looking-glass onto a fantasy island with a rugged, dangerous shoreline where a handful of young long-haired women in makeshift Girl-Scout outfits (including Juliette Lewis), led by an imperious Brit with no eyebrows called Marsha (Mia Goth), amuse themselves by killing young airmen and drowning ships full of sailors.

    A scene stands out in which Marsha comes upon a fallen airman dying of his wounds, pretends to be a nurse, and then in his most need torments him. In other scenes the women take potshots at airmen with various weapons, killing them.

    Another sport, source of the film title, is to send out a "Mayday" disaster at sea message -"mary, alpha, yankee, delta, alpha, yankee" - received by (all presumably young) sailors who promise to come and rescue them, and then immediately have their ships mysteriously sunk by the ladies. Great fun. An attraction, a charm if you will, of the piece are the lovingly executed old-timey accoutrements, like the ship radio equipment used for these "Mayday" entrapments and the weaponry adopted to pick off the airmen. Another charm is the cosiness and affection that develop among the young women, with distinct lesbian overtones. It's the only human warmth in the course of a thoughtlessly mean and cruel story that does draw one in at moments.

    What pushes one out is the killing men for sport, an unsavory angle that, for me, was what ultimately made the highly touted Bacarau of Kleber Mendonça Filho, though much more richly imagined, also ultimately a repellant watch. I agree wholeheartedly with Kelli Weston of BFI's opinion that "Karen Cirrone’s gorgeous if ultimately myopic feminist fantasy drama Mayday never fully realizes its interesting premise nor its ideological ambitions." Moreover it made me fall asleep repeatedly: there is too little that is solid for the mind to get a grip on. Perhaps one is taking it all too seriously. A confident Wes Anderson note is set at such times as when a group of airmen out of doors perform a ritual formation and dance like in a musical. And after all Ana, the character with whom the audience most identifies, decides the island world is not for her.

    Mayday, 100 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2021 and also showed at Rotterdam; no other festival showings are listed on IMDb. It has been picked up by Magnolia for US distribution and opens Oct. 1 in theaters and on demand. (No Metascore yet.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-10-2021 at 07:05 PM.

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