Tag Archives: Ben Wheatley

Scorecard: January 2012

This was a pretty dismal month in terms of movie-watching, but since I was filling my time with things like getting married and going on honeymoons, I guess I can forgive myself for slacking off in the movie department. Got through six new-to-me films this month, including a few new releases that eluded me toward the end of December, and a relatively decent number of rewatches. Now, we’ll have to see in February if the wedding excuse is accurate, or if I just need to buckle down a bit more and watch moar movies.

What I Loved

Haywire

For me, this is exactly what a popcorn action movie should be. It’s not cerebral, it’s not complicated, it’s not flashy, and it doesn’t rewrite any rules of the action thriller genre. But it is solid, well-shot, well-acted, well-directed, as clever as it needs to be, and has some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen ever. The story is pretty much what’s laid out in the trailer – Gina Carano is a private security operative, she’s betrayed by her employers, and then she beats the crap out of them. In real life, Carano is an MMA fighter, and it shows. Every hit looks (and sounds) sickeningly real, and the way she moves, the way she fights, even the way she runs are all totally believable. Soderbergh knows just how to support her, too, holding long shots instead of cutting away, as if to say, yeah, she can really do this. But it’s not just a showcase for a fighter – the story is simple, but it’s effective, and Carano is nearly as convincing an actress as she is a fighter, and the supporting cast is all superb, fitting in perfectly with the ’70s aesthetic Soderbergh pulls out here. I’d trade most any big-budget blockbuster if we could get two mid-budget action films like this in their place.

2012 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton.
Seen January 21 at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.
Flickchart ranking: 475 out of 2880

What I Really Liked

Hugo

I was so afraid Scorsese’s early cinema homage masquerading as a children’s film would leave theatres before I got a chance to see it (yes, in 3D; I was hopelessly curious), but either thanks to the sheer number of screens in LA or the multitude of Oscar nominations the film got last week, we made it with time to spare. I’m not sure I can totally say I loved it, though, quite as much as I wanted to. I did really like it, and the last twenty or thirty minutes are like crack if you’re interested in film history or early cinema (which I am), but a lot of the earlier parts of the film are uneven, the comedy with Sascha Baron Cohen doesn’t always totally work, and it’s overlong as a whole. Even so, by the end, I found myself really enjoying even all the day-to-day station vignettes that had kind of annoyed me earlier – whether they really worked better or I was feeling magnanimous because the Méliès stuff was bringing me to tears, I’m not sure. In any case, I walked out happy, even if the confection wasn’t quite cooked all through.

2011 USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sascha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee.
Seen January 23 at Arclight Sherman Oaks, in 3D.
Flickchart ranking: 510 out of 2880

Carnage

This turned out to be quite difficult to find only a few weeks after its release – we had to hit up the independent theatre chain at 11:00am on a Saturday to see it. I wonder what’s gone wrong with the marketing for this that there’s so little buzz around it? Are people just hating on Polanski that much? Because this is a solid and often hilarious film, with one of the best scripts of the year (unless you’re an Academy member, apparently), performed with vicious glee by four tremendous actors. It all takes place essentially in one room, as two sets of parents meet to discuss what’s to be done after one of their sons brains the other pair’s son with a stick. The situation quickly devolves from forced politesse to frank screaming, and everything in between. Informal alliances between characters shift rapidly, as it becomes clear that these couples’ marriages aren’t all they should be, and months and years of repressed frustration come out. But yes, despite all this, this is a laugh-out-loud comedy, with all four actors clearly enjoying the hell out of it – none more than Christophe Waltz, who proves Inglourious Basterds was no fluke. Pretty lightweight when you get down to it, but a whole lot of fun.

2011 France/Germany/Poland/Spain. Director: Roman Polanski. Starring: Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly.
Seen January 28 at Laemmle NoHo.
Flickchart ranking: 525 out of 2880

Drop Dead Gorgeous

I gotta say, I was a little surprised when Jonathan picked this out as one of the films he wanted me to watch. I mean, a movie about a bunch of girls vying for a beauty pageant crown? But it wasn’t very far into the film that I understood. Miss Congeniality this ain’t. It’s a mockumentary in the style of Christopher Guest, with a bunch of soon-to-be-famous starlets as the Minnesota girls (seriously, we were all like, hold up, is that Amy Adams? AND IT WAS) trying to win their podunk town’s pageant, from feted favorite Denise Richards (and her stage mom Kirstie Alley) to trailer park resident Kirsten Dunst, and everything in between. I’m pretty sure a good chunk of the reason Jonathan likes it can be traced to the satire on Minnesota itself, but everything else is pretty spot-on as well. This film should’ve gotten way more attention than it did – I remember it coming out, but only as a little blip on my late ’90s pop-culture consciousness. And I was watching everything in 1999. Almost not exaggerating there.

1999 USA. Director: Michael Patrick Jann. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, Kirstie Alley, Denise Richards, Amy Adams, Brittany Murphy.
Seen January 27 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 717 out of 2880

What I Liked

Down Terrace

I missed watching this when other film blogs were talking about it a year or two ago, but after loving Kill List, I had to go back and check out Ben Wheatley’s earlier film, said to be in the same vein in terms of out-of-the-box genre filmmaking, but applied to gangster films instead of hit-men and horror. There are definitely resemblances, though Kill List is a step up in confidence, I think. Down Terrace starts off really slow and casual, to the point that it’s really difficult to figure out what even is going on or who these guys are as they sit around and chat. But that’s all very deliberate, and when shit starts going down, SHIT GOES DOWN. I’m still not totally sure what the ground zero event was that set everything in motion, but it doesn’t really matter – what matters is how it plays out, with suspicion leading to accusation leading to murder leading to cover-ups, etc. Plus there are a lot of surprisingly funny scenes, like when a cleaner comes to take care of a potential loose end but brought his kid along and thus can’t get with the violence the way he needs to in order to finish the job. The beginning is a bit of a slog, but it’s definitely worth it for the second half.

2010 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Robin Hill, Robert Hill, Julia Deakin, Michael Smiley.
Seen January 29 via Instant Watch.
Flickchart ranking: 1064 out of 2880

Casanova

It’s pretty unusual for the Silent Treatment folks to show a non-American film; generally it’s rare and forgotten Hollywood films that they pull out of their vaults, but this time around they snagged a French film with a Russian director and cross-European cast, telling the oft-told story of Italy’s most famous lover. Of course, with silent film this doesn’t matter very much (and didn’t then, as intertitles don’t present as much of a language barrier problem as subtitling). The film itself is a pretty good romp, following Casanova through various love affairs and skirmishes with angry husbands and the law, including a bit of a tussle with Catherine the Great herself. The tone of the film is difficult to pin down, alternately comic and melodramatic, with a bit of rather fun if totally unbelievable special effects as Casanova convinces one town official he’s a magician. It’s a bit overlong, too, and suffers a lot from the fact that in the 18th century, everybody wore white wigs that made them all look identical. Especially the women – I know based on how Casanova acted that a few of them were repeat lovers, but I couldn’t tell you who or how they all fit into the narrative. Still, lead actor Ivan Mozzhukhin is pretty charming – thanks to his stellar career in Europe, he was hand-picked by Carl Laemmle to be the next Valentino, but conflicts with the studio and the coming of sound forestalled his American career after only one film.

1927 France. Director: Alexandre Volkoff. Starring: Ivan Mozzhukhin, Suzanne Bianchetti, Diana Karenne.
Seen January 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1620 out of 2880

Rewatches – Loved

Pierrot le fou

I missed a good bit of Cinefamily’s Godard retrospective due to being out of town, but of all of them, this is probably the one I wanted to share with Jonathan the most (outside of Band of Outsiders, which I made sure to show him very early in our relationship, heh), so I’m glad the scheduling worked out. For me, Pierrot le fou is the culmination of Godard’s pre-1968 style – not his most extreme (Week End) or most elusive (2 or 3 Things I Know About Her) or most pop cultury (Made in USA), but the most coherently synthesized example of his style and themes, starring his two most enduring and iconic actors. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun. This is probably the fifth time I’m seen it, so I don’t really have anything new to say from this viewing, except that I loved it once again, and was very glad to see it in a theatre full of people who actually understood it’s a comedy. The first time I saw it was in a museum screening, and my gosh those people didn’t even crack a smile ONCE. It’s okay to laugh when things are funny. Just saying.

1965 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina.
Seen January 25th at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 44 out of 2880

L.A. Confidential

It’s been several years since I last saw L.A. Confidential, and I honestly wasn’t sure it would hold up. AFter all, last time I saw it, I was a greenhorn at the whole movie game, just barely starting to get into film noir at all – now that I knew more about what L.A. Confidential was homaging, would the homage seem as good? But I think the film actually improved for me this time around. There’s not a wasted moment here, and that’s a wonderful thing in a movie longer than two hours (it feels much, much shorter). The balance between the mystery and the character arcs is held perfectly, and while there’s not a lot of humor, a sardonic wryness sneaks through anyway (and a broader irony overlays thanks to Danny DeVito’s tabloid voiceover). The cast is magnificent, introducing Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe to American audiences with a bang that I’m not sure either of them have totally matched since, and the narrative unfolds its twisty-turny path with remarkable clarity, yet without ever hand-holding or condescending. It’s a fantastic film, and putting fifteen years on its clock hasn’t changed that a bit. (Relatedly, HOLY CRAP, L.A. Confidential is fifteen years old.)

1997 USA. Director: Curtis Hanson. Starring: Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell.
Seen January 19 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 88 out of 2880

Rewatches – Liked

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I watched this along with L.A. Confidential for a podcast, and like L.A. Confidential, it had been a while since I first saw it. Unlike L.A. Confidential, however, I hadn’t loved Kiss Kiss Bang Bang the first time I saw it. Thinking back, I couldn’t really pinpoint why nor remember the movie that well (though my capsule review that I unearthed after rewatching it is pretty spot-on), so I’d been meaning to rewatch anyway. Especially since I know a lot of people who practically worship this movie. And….it’s still fun, and I still don’t love it. It’s a bit too clever and stuck on making everything funny to actually make its story work. That isn’t always a problem for me, but in this case, writer-director Shane Black tried to have his cake and eat it too, and didn’t quite make it, though he came close. See also my Rewatched and Reconsidered post on Row Three.

2005 USA. Director: Shane Black. Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan.
Seen January 16 via Zune Marketplace.
Flickchart ranking: 945 out of 2880

Week End

I happened to be volunteering for Cinefamily one of the nights this played, or I probably wouldn’t have rushed back to see it. Or maybe I would have, because my experience with Godard tends to be that I don’t totally get his films the first time I watch them, but the second or third time they click and become, like, my favorite film of all time. Slight exaggeration, but not by much. Maybe the same thing would happen with Week End? Only kinda sorta. There are a lot of things about Week End that I like very much, even love. Actually, I’d say I love the whole first 2/3 or so, with the petit bourgeous couple wandering through the French countryside aimlessly. It’s savagely funny, and bits here and there are awesome (like when they hit another woman’s car and start driving off, and the other woman tries to get them by serving tennis balls at them; or when they interrupt Jean-Pierre Leaud having a sung conversation in a phone booth; or yes, like the traffic jam). But the film flies completely off the rails for me toward the end, just before they run into the cannibals. Up until this point, the narrative at least follows some internal sense of flow, but it breaks just there, and never recovers. I get that Godard is being purposefully confrontational and to some extent “destroying” cinema, and I don’t mind that, but after that point, the film just doesn’t work for me.

1967 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Jean Yanne, Mireille Darc.
Seen January 11 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1617 out of 2880

Scorecard: November 2011

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

Even though I just finished recapping all the AFI films in their own posts, I went ahead and included them here as well, just because I like seeing how they all came out in relation to each other. All the capsule text is exactly the same as in the other posts, so if you read them in one of the AFI posts, don’t bother looking at them again here, but I figured, hey, nice to have them all in one place and be able to see they all compared in my overall rankings, plus if anyone happened to miss any of the previous posts, here you go. There are also a few non-AFI film capsules crossposted from the Movies We Watched series on Row Three. Hey, I’m just reusing and recycling, doing my part for the environment. You may notice I included my Flickchart rankings for each film this time – I’m going to start doing that for the monthly recap posts from now on, I think. Flickchart is a great site built around a deceptively simple premise – it presents you with two films and asks you to choose which one you like better. Do that enough (I’ve done it over 45,800 times as of this second) and it builds your list of films from favorites to least favorites. Take these with a grain of salt, though – I think these are roughly accurate, but my Flickchart changes every day.

What I Loved

Le cercle rouge

My one repertory screening of AFI Fest, thanks to Pedro Almodóvar programming a Jean-Pierre Melville film I’ve wanted to see for quite a while. And it was totally worth giving up a new movie to be able to see this one for the first time in a theatre with a full, appreciative audience. It’s a crime story, like most of Melville’s films, an intricately plotted combination of criminals on the run, police on the chase, the mob on the make, and a well-planned jewelry heist. All these elements get their due, with great characters in every part. It’s not quite fair to give a 40-year-old film my “best of fest” vote, but it was unquestionably my favorite. Full review on Row Three.
1970 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Alain Delon, Bourvil and Gian Maria Volonté.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 76 out of 2828

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Now here’s one that will DEFINITELY be on my top ten list this year – I was expecting a lot from this film based on the buzz from other festivals and advance screenings, and it delivered even more than I could’ve hoped. Almost a psychological horror film, delving into the disturbed psyche of a mom whose son seems to be a child of the devil. But whether the boy really is astoundingly fiendish or whether she’s an incapable mother (or more likely, somewhere between those two extremes, as they both bring out the worst in each other) is left ambiguous, as Lynne Ramsay builds a portrait of a woman who’s lost everything and vascillates between blaming everyone else and assuming blame herself. The film is structured with a series of flashbacks and flashforwards, keeping the audience in doubt as to the exact chain of events until a chronology starts building up to a terrible end – this structure, standout performances from everyone involved, and an enormously effective soundscape combine to make this one of the most terrifying pictures about parenthood ever made.
2011 UK. Director: Lynne Ramsay. Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly.
Seen November 9 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 78 out of 2828

Melancholia

It stands to reason that Lars von Trier would be a stellar director for a film with the end of the world as a metaphor for depression. It isn’t a particularly subtle film, but it’s nonetheless a perfect depiction of “melancholia” in both metaphorical and literal terms, as Kirsten Dunst gives an incredible performance as a woman struggling with depression, seemingly the only person who truly understands the import of the planet hurtling toward earth (dubbed “Melancholia”). Her sister, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, tries to help her through the depression, but when it becomes clear that Melancholia is not going to miss Earth as predicted, she falls apart – the shifting roles of the two sisters brings a dynamism to a film that can get downright stately (in a good way). No one but von Trier could make this film, but it is probably his most accessible in years.
2011 Denmark. Director: Lars von Trier. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgaard, Stellan Skarsgaard, Charlotte Rampling.
Seen November 6 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 223 out of 2828

Attenberg

My first foray into the new wave of Greek cinema emerging over the past couple of years was an unmitigated success, at least for me. I have yet to see either of Yanthos Lorgimos’s films (which I need to do, especially Dogtooth, as it’s a frontrunner in current Greek cinema), but I pretty much loved Attenberg, from his friend and collaborator Athina Rachel Tsangari, from start to finish. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I got is something very similar to a Czech New Wave film, closely focused on a single twenty-something character and her struggle to come to terms with her father’s impending death and the way that’s all tied up her late-blooming sexuality. On the surface, not a whole lot happens here, but there’s a lot underneath, and that’s what I like to see. Right now this is in my top ten for the year. We’ll see if it can hang on through the final month of big-name releases. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Greece. Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari. Starring: Ariane Labed, Yorgos Lanthimos, Vangelis Mourikis, Evangelia Randou.
Seen November 9 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 246 out of 2828

Cafe de Flore

Parallel stories seemingly connected only by the importance of the title song in each take place in 1969 Paris and present-day Montreal. In 1969, a mother devotes herself to her Downs Syndrome son, their close bond threatened only when the boy becomes attached to a Downs girl he meets a school. In present-day, a DJ leaves his wife of many years for a young beauty. Both stories are concerned with multiple loves, lost love, new love, and letting go, and they may be connected even closer than that. This film will sneak up on you with how good it is, rising to an amazingly edited and scored crescendo. There currently isn’t US distribution for it that I’m aware of, and that’s a crying shame. This is one of the best films of the year.
2011 Canada. Director: Jean-Marc Vallée. Starring: Vanessa Paradis, Kevin Parent, Hélène Florent, Evelyne Brochu.
Seen November 6 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 326 out of 2828

This is Not a Film

This is not a film because Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been placed under house arrest and banned from filmmaking for 20 years by the Iranian government, because his films are seen as subversive and politically dangerous. This is not a film also because what he’s doing instead of making a film is having a friend record him telling his next screenplay, and a description of a screenplay is not a film. But this is a very real, very heartbreaking, very frustrating, and surprisingly very funny documentary about a man denied the ability to do what he does. It’s fantastic, and the knowledge that Panahi’s appeal was denied in the middle of October only makes it more poignant. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Iran. Directors: Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi. Starring: Jafar Panahi.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 342 out of 2828

Extraterrestrial

I’m a big fan of Nacho Vigalondo’s time travel film Timecrimes, so when I saw his new alien invasion film was coming to AFI Fest, it was an immediate must on my schedule. I’m not as big on alien invasion films as I am on time travel films, but that’s okay, because this is far from your typical alien invasion film, focusing on a quartet of characters left behind the evacuation when an alien ship appears. Their biggest fears, though, are the secrets they’re keeping from each other and the theories they hatch about each other. Great script and performances to match from the young cast make this a hugely fun time from start to finish. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Spain. Director: Nacho Vigalondo. Starring: Julián Villagrán, Michelle Jenner, Carlos Areces, Raúl Cimas.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 343 out of 2828

Kill List

Main character Jay has been out of work for eight months, a situation that he seems okay with, but his wife Shel most certainly is not. At first, it’s not clear what he does for work, but as the film wears on and a former colleague approaches him with a potential job, it becomes clear that he’s a hit man. As they take on the job, which consists of a list of people to be killed, the situations get weirder and weirder until the film takes a turn that switches it from slow burn to high-octane in almost a split second. That turn may not work for everybody, but it worked like gangbusters for me. Even the earlier kills have a bit of the old ultraviolence to them, and the twist at the end is horrible, but not necessarily unearned. At least, not in terms of the emotional and adrenal impact. I’m not sure the whole trajectory of the story makes logical sense in any way whatsoever, but by the time Jay and his cohort are being chased around in a set of dark, dank tunnels, it doesn’t really matter anymore. Terror takes over, and I have to say, this is one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen lately, even with a whole month of horror films just behind me in October. I loved it.
2011 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 612 out of 2828

Headhunters

A downright fun thriller with a heavy dose of dark comedy, as a mousy headhunter who uses his contacts as a way to find potential targets for his side business as an art thief ends up embroiled in a scheme way over his head and has to overcome his many character weaknesses just to survive. The plotting is intricate, but rarely confusing, and the cast (including Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known in the US for his villainous Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones) carries off all manner of ridiculous situations with believable aplomb.
2011 Norway. Director: Morten Tyldum. Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Aksel Hennie, Julie R. Ølgaard, Synnøve Macody Lund.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 617 out of 2828

What I Liked

Born to Kill

I hadn’t heard of this noir film until a friend of mine mentioned that he’d bought it and offered to lend it to me, and I ended up really liking it. But then, I like most noir, so that’s not really surprising. This one has a few intriguing twists on the genre, though, and two of the most watchably despicable characters I’ve seen for a while. Trevor’s next-door-neighbor gets killed by her jealous boyfriend (Tierney) when he catches her with another man (whom he also kills), but he escapes being noticed by Trevor, who discovers the bodies but then skips town rather than involve herself by, like, calling the police. She and Tierney end up on the same train, neither knowing who the other is, and their lives continue to be intertwined after that. Tierney is almost an homme fatale, the guy who simply won’t scram out of Trevor’s life and entrances her with his bravado and charisma, even though she knows he’s bad for her. But at the same time, she turns out to be hardly a straight-and-narrow kind of person herself, pulling double-cross after double-cross as she realizes who Tierney is (while Tierney interestingly stays pretty true to his admittedly amoral ideals). And of course, there’s the obligatory supporting turn from Elisha Cook, Jr., the staple of so many great noir films, and he’s just as great here as ever as Tierney’s mousy friend who has to do most of his dirty work. In fact, there’s great supporting work from everyone involved, especially Walter Slezak as a mostly kind but also kinda sleazy detective, and Esther Howard as a well-past-her-prime matron who doggedly pursues her friend’s killer – her performance and appearance may well bring new definition to the word “camp.”
1947 USA. Director: Robert Wise. Starring: Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook, Jr.
Seen November 25 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 684 out of 2828

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

This is one I went into with really no quality expectations whatsoever. I chose it because I’d never seen a Turkish film, and because I like slow burn procedural films – to a point. I was a bit concerned that this would go past that point, because it is very long and I was perfectly prepared to be bored stiff. But even though it is very slow, it is never boring, and I ended up liking the film a whole lot more than I thought I would. A caravan of police and army officers are escorting a pair of suspects in the middle of nowhere, trying to find a body that one suspect says is out there, but can’t remember exactly where. This odyssey takes all night, and along the way, different groupings of the police and suspects talk. The topics of conversation are as mundane as anything, but over time, this mundanity becomes the real focus, and takes on in importance even greater than the body they seek. It’s a narrative subversion that only works because of a really solid script and believable acting turns by the whole cast, and it’s a welcome one – by the end, you care more about these people’s individual lives than the mystery itself. There’s a lot more dry humor in it than I expected, too, which actually made the nearly three-hour runtime go by rather quickly.
2011 Turkey. Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel.
Seen November 10 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 859 out of 2828

Snowtown

Everything I’ve heard from Australian bloggers and other festival-goers indicated that this film was a) really well-done and b) really hard to watch. That’s not far off, although I didn’t find it as difficult to watch as I thought I might. It’s based on the real-life John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer, but it’s far from a standard biopic. It filters its portrait through the character of Jamie, a teenage boy growing up in a single-parent, low income home. We spend a good bit of time with Jamie and his family before John shows up, suddenly Jamie’s mom’s new love interest. John is charismatic and heroic to Jamie and his younger brothers, someone who protects them from the pedophile next door but slowly brainwashes Jamie into his bigoted and violent worldview – but what at first seems to be just extreme vigilante justice against actual bad people soon turns into more and more self-serving kills. Some of these are very hard to watch, and I admit to closing my eyes a few times, but even more disturbing is how John brings Jamie into his group, and how he treats his “friends” at any provocation. It’s an extremely effective approach to Bunting, but probably not something I’d want to watch again.
2011 Australia. Director: Justin Kurzel. Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Bob Adriaens and Louise Harris.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 860 out of 2828

The Dish and the Spoon

Greta Gerwig is an indie goddess for a reason, and this little film proves why. Taking a simple story of a woman angry at her husband’s infidelity and throwing in some adventures with a young unmoored British man, Gerwig finds a character arc and runs with it, alternating funny, awkward, raw, and quirky as needed. The film is something of a collaboration between director, writer, and stars, and though things like this can get loose and uncontrolled very quickly, that doesn’t happen here, and the film remains charming and cohesive. Full review on Row Three.
2011 USA. Director: Alison Bagnall. Starring: Greta Gerwig, Olly Alexander.
Seen November 6 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 867 out of 2828

The Kid with a Bike

I’ve never seen a film from the Dardenne brothers before, but I know them by reputation, and they seem to often do stories that deal with unwanted or unwelcome children. In this case, the main character is an eleven-year-old kid whose dad puts him in an orphanage (“temporarily”) but then ends up abandoning him totally. A kind neighbor takes him in, despite a rather inauspicious meeting, but they’ve got several bumps in the road left to go, not least of them the kid’s temptation to fall in with a bad crowd. It’s a bit on the sweet side, but doesn’t stray too far into saccharine territory – really good turns from Doret and De France help a lot, making an unlikely relationship realistic and meaningful. There’s not enough in the film to really push it over the edge into “loved” territory for me, but it’s solid for what it is.
2011 Belgium. Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Starring: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jérémie Renier.
Seen November 10 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 972 out of 2828

Buried

An extreme form of one-room film, with the whole thing set in a coffin buried somewhere underground. Ryan Reynolds carries the film admirably as an army contractor who gets taken hostage and buried alive with just a cell phone and a few other items, with the intention that he will get a sizeable ransom from the US government for his release. As we know, the US government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, leaving Reynolds hoping that the dispatched search and rescue team will find him before his air runs out. The film ratchets up tension admirably, keeping the audience engaged through 95 minutes of basically nothing happening except a man talking on a phone. There are nitpicks to be made, and I do wish there had been some better explanation for why he didn’t try to dig out through the obviously loose and relatively shallow dirt above him, but for the most part, it’s pretty effective as a tight-space thriller.
2010 USA. Director: Rodrigo Cortés. Starring: Ryan Reynolds.
Seen November 24 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 1113 out of 2828

The Day He Arrives

This one has been at the top of my must-see list for the festival since it was announced, since Hong Sang-soo’s film HaHaHa was my favorite film of last year’s AFIFest. And I did see it, but I’m disappointed to say that I was exhausted and zoning in and out throughout it. As such, I can’t really justify reviewing it fully, but here’s a few bits about it from my half-remembered daze. It’s got a lot less story than HaHaHa did, but similar to that film (and other Hong films, from what I’ve heard), a lot of it involves people conversing over drinks. In fact, that’s mostly what this film is, but Hong is so good at sussing out great little moments and character interactions in social situations like this that it remains enjoyable to watch, and I expect would be really good if I had been awake enough to catch more nuances. The main character is a filmmaker who arrives in a small town, intending to meet up with a friend, but he gets waylaid by a fan first, then a bunch of film students, then visits a former girlfriend (awesome awkward conversation there), then ends up killing some time with a friend of his friend, since his friend isn’t home. Eventually there are four of them, hanging out over drinks and chatting – this stuff is great, and seems to come really easily to Hong. This basically feels like a recharge film, a quickly produced affair maybe as he’s working on something more complicated. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There are some really interesting conversational tacks, all carried out with aplomb by the charismatic cast. There’s also some timey-wimey stuff going on – one section of the film is repeated almost verbatim twice, but with slight differences, and the end is basically the beginning, except his friend turns out to be home. I’m dying to see it again to connect that stuff up properly, but I can’t, having dozed off enough to make deciphering timey-wimey stuff impossible. The worst part is I have no idea when, if ever, I’ll get a chance to rewatch this – Hong’s stuff is not easy to find in the US.
2011 South Korea. Director: Hong Sang-soo. Starring: Jun-Sang Yu, Sang Jung Kim, Bo-kyung Kim, Seon-mi Song.
Seen November 8 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1252 out of 2828

Bonsái

An opening voiceover tells us that all we need to know about this story is that at the end, Emilia is dead, and Julio is not dead. “All the rest is fiction.” I love when stories play with storytelling itself, and that’s what this film does, giving us a multi-layered look at a relationship that may be real, or may be partly real, and certainly is partly fiction. Julio is a wanna-be writer who tries to get a job typing up the latest work of a famous novelist. When he fails to get the job, he tells his girlfriend about it anyway and starts making up the story based on the brief logline the novelist gave him, tying it back to a relationship he had nine years earlier with a girl in college. At some points he seems to be telling their story exactly, but other times it’s clear that filtered through both memory and fiction, it’s vastly different than what actually happened, if indeed, anything actually happened at all. The story owes a lot to Proust, whose opening lines in Remembrance of Things Past get repeated a few times (Julio and Emilia also met over them both pretending to have read Proust) – I won’t repeat them all here, but they have to do with the main character falling asleep reading and in a half-wakeful state imagining himself to have become part of the book he was reading. That’s very much what’s going on here, and I loved it. The love story (or stories, both the remembered one with Emilia and the current one with his girlfriend) is sweet and genuine, and though the film as a whole is pretty slight, it’s very enjoyable and made me want to read Proust myself. So there’s that.
2011 Chile. Director: Cristián Jiménez. Starring: Gabriela Arancibia, Cristóbal Briceño and Julio Carrasco.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1265 out of 2828

Pina

After thinking that Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Dreams was the best use of 3D I’d seen so far, I figured I’d give Herzog’s countryman Wim Wenders a chance to challenge with his dance documentary/tribute to groundbreaking choreographer Pina Bausch, who died while working a film with Wenders. He abandoned the film upon her death, until her dance company convinced him to complete it as a tribute to her. The film itself is lovely, a collection of dance performances, some on stage, others in various urban and rural laces throughout Germany, intercut with brief interview excerpts from members of the company about Pina and her approach to dance. The 3D, though…something may be wrong with me, but I find it impossible to focus on movement in 3D, and dance is a LOT of movement. The still parts look pretty cool in 3D (including, surprisingly, the interview segments, which are done as a shot of the dancer not talking with their quotes given in voiceover – more effective than you might think), but as soon as the dancers move with any speed, it’s just a blur and trying to focus on it gave me a massive headache. I think I would prefer to watch this in 2D. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Germany. Director: Wim Wenders. Starring: Ensemble of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.
Seen November 5 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1267 out of 2828

Dementia, aka Daughter of Horror

What a bizarre and intriguing little curiosity of a film. Shot in 1953 completely silent, but released in 1955 with an added voiceover narration, the film screened at Cinefamily with live narration from a local comedian, who read the voiceover script when called for, but filled in the many non-voiced parts with MST3K-style joking around. So it’s not an experience that’s likely to be repeatable, but it was certainly memorable and hilarious to see it that way. The film itself is a nightmare-scape, with a woman waking in the middle of the night and taking a noirish odyssey through the dark streets of a city populated with winos, pimps, and scumbags. Is it really happening, or is she dreaming? Who knows? It’s rather surreal, and filled with memorable details like a midget newspaper seller, a graveyard flashback with images of fatherly abuse, a swinging jazz club, a gluttonous lech, and a crisscross of legs blocking a vital piece of evidence – all rendered in high contrast black and white with long shadows and striking angles. The pacing is often disjointed, and the acting often simply bad, but there’s something mesmerizing about the film that I think exists apart from the amusing commentary we got that both enhanced and diffused the film’s nightmarish impact. I enjoyed the experience greatly, but I hesitate to say the film would be unwatchable without it (as most MST3K films are). There’s more inherent interest in it than that.
1955 USA. Director: John Parker. Starring: Adrienne Barrett, Bruno VeSota, Ben Roseman.
Seen November 16 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 1421 out of 2828

The Loneliest Planet

I’m not entirely sure what to say about this film, even after having had a few weeks to think about it. It’s an extremely slowly-paced film, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – unless it’s 10pm the last day of an exhausting festival, which, oh wait, it was. It was difficult to stay awake in the film, but again, that’s not the film’s fault, and though I struggled while watching it, thinking back about it has made me appreciate a lot of what it was doing more. Hani Furstenberg and Gael Garcia Bernal play a couple about to be married who are vacationing in the mountains of Georgia (the country, not the state), backpacking and camping along with a mountain guide. A lot of the film is just them walking around, maybe taking a few minutes to wander around an abandoned house or interacting with village locals before heading out into the wilds. They converse some, trying to learn about their guide (who is actually played by one of the premier mountaineers in the world) and practicing bits of Spanish, but a lot of it is also wordless. Somewhere in the middle a traumatizing event causes Furstenberg’s character to start distrusting Bernal’s, which leads to some darker places in the rest of the film. A lot of this is pretty subtle, and I was frankly too sleepy to catch all the acting nuances all the time, but the Q&A and thinking over the film in the subsequent days has definitely made me want a rewatch at some point.
2011 Germany/USA. Director: Julia Loktev. Starring: Hani Furstenberg, Gael García Bernal, Bidzina Gujabidze.
Seen November 10 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 1753 out of 2828

The Last Command

I’m consciously trying to watch more Josef von Sternberg films, just because he’s got a healthy reputation among early Hollywood film directors – especially for his work with Marlene Dietrich, but also for late silents like Underworld and The Docks of New York, and this film, which is especially notable for being one of two films to bring Emil Jannings the very first Best Actor Academy Award ever. (They gave awards based on all films an actor appeared in that year; in this case, the other is The Way of All Flesh, which exists now only in fragments.) But I don’t quite get the von Sternberg thing. All three films of his I’ve seen, including this one, are fine, but I haven’t loved any of them, and none of them seem that distinctive to me. In this one, I liked the framing narrative that puts Jannings as a Hollywood extra who claims to have once been a general for the Czar – most everyone laughs him off, but the majority of the film is a flashback showing him leading the Czar’s army in 1917 and how he escaped Russia penniless during the Revolution. Jannings is really strong, especially in the current-time period (the flashback gets a little long and dull), and it’s fun seeing a really young William Powell as the revolutionary-turned-director who recognizes him in Hollywood. The ending goes for emotional resonance over logic, which didn’t quite work for me, either. But back to von Sternberg. I liked how he shot Brent as the lone female character, clearly gearing up for his work with Dietrich, but aside from that and Jannings’ performance, the film is honestly pretty flat. I guess I need to see more von Sternberg to get the hoopla.
1927 USA. Director: Josef von Sternberg. Starring: Emil Jannings, Evelyn Brent, William Powell.
Seen November 2 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 2447 out of 2828

What I Thought Was All Right

Beyond the Black Rainbow

I had no expectations at all of this, other than a recommendation from one friend who likes weird genre stuff and random Internet reviews that hated it. The trailer’s pretty trippy, so I was expecting that. Turns out there is a sci-fi story of sorts involving a happiness clinic, a girl held there against her will, a creepy psychologist-type guy, a bunch of androids or something, and…other stuff. The best part is the almost fully abstract flashback that sort of (but not really) explains the girl’s background; the parts that try to be story-led are just kind of off putting.
2010 USA. Director: Panos Cosmatos. Starring: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands.
Seen November 2 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 2461 out of 2828

Coriolanus

This adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays boasts a strong cast including Ralph Fiennes (who also makes his directing debut), Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and James Nesbit. But there’s a reason that Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays. It’s frankly not that interesting, even transposing its story of a military hero double-crossed and banished into a modern setting. The acting veers from classical overblown Shakespearean antics to more minimalist approaches, giving the film a very uneven feel – only Redgrave and Cox seem to know how to navigate switching between these two as the material calls for it. Chastain is really underused. There are some great moments, particularly Redgrave’s tour-de-force scenes as Coriolanus’ mother, but the whole thing is unwieldy and uneven. Full review on Row Three.
2011 UK. Director: Ralph Fiennes. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain.
Seen November 7 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese.
Flickchart ranking: 2462 out of 2828

Faust

I quite liked Alexander Sukorov’s one-shot odyssey through Russian history in Russian Ark, but this film is nothing like that. It does have the framework of the Faust story, but a whole lot of the film is taken up by angsty philosophy (“where does the soul reside”) that might’ve intrigued me a little more if I knew more German and Russian philosophy, and a bunch of random running around as the devil and Faust hang out, crash parties full of women, wander through a city and the woods, etc. There’s some pretty cool imagery here and there, and after Faust actually signs his soul away, the rest of the film is good. But everything up to that (which is a LONG TIME) is really dull. Really.
2011 Russia. Director: Alexander Sukorov. Starring: Johannes Zeiler, Anton Adasinsky, Isolda Dychauk.
Seen November 4 at AFI Fest, Mann Chinese Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 2463 out of 2828

What I Didn’t Like

Target

I so wanted this to be good – a Russian sci-fi film about a group of people who seek out this target-shaped area in Thailand with a well at the center of it that supposedly grants eternal youth. Seems like a good deal, but all is bound to go wrong. That much I figured, but it goes wrong in really offputting, cruel, and pointless ways. By the end of its two and a half hour runtime, I didn’t care about any of the characters and just wanted it to end. There are some great visuals spread throughout, and it’s shot and acted quite well, but it’s just…punishing to watch.
2011 Russia. Director: Alexander Zeldovich. Starring: Vitaly Kishchenko, Danila Kozlovskiy, Nina Loshchinina.
Seen November 7 at AFI Fest, Grauman’s Chinese.
Flickchart ranking: 2643 out of 2828

Rewatches – Love

The Thin Man

As you can see by my Flickchart ranking below, this is one of my favorite films of all time, and I’ve been really excited to show it to Jonathan for quite a while, so I was glad he picked it out of my collection to watch. It’s a decent little mystery that keeps you guessing all the way up until the Agatha-Christie-spoofing “gather all the suspects for dinner” finale, but the real joy is watching William Powell and Myrna Loy play off each other as Nick and Nora Charles. I’ve said many times, and I hold it to be absolute truth, that the Charleses are the best example of a married couple in all of cinema history. They have a depth of knowledge about each other and trust of each other that doesn’t even need to be verbalized – you can see it right there on the screen in the way she responds to his story about another girl being his long-lost love child, and the way he teases her about how she spends her money. They’re helped, of course, by some of the most sparkling dialogue in any movie ever (by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich), and a wide range of excellent supporting characters right down to the gangster and his moll who have about five lines of dialogue each but are utterly unforgettable. Thirties movies excelled at using character actors to good effect, and The Thin Man is right up there with the best of them. I could gush forever about this film, but I won’t.
1934 USA. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan.
Seen November 25 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 21 out of 2828

Totals

Films seen for the first time: 25
Rewatches: 1
Films seen in theatres: 23
List of Shame films: 0
2011 films: 19
2010 films: 2
1970s films: 1
1950s films: 1
1940s films: 1
1930s films: 1 (1 rewatch)
1920s films: 1
American films: 8 (1 rewatch)
British films: 3
Canadian films: 1
French films: 1
Belgian films: 1
Danish films: 1
Norwegian films: 1
Spanish films: 1
German films: 1
Russian films: 2
Greek films: 1
Iranian films: 1
Turkish films: 1
South Korean films: 1
Australian films: 1
Chilean films: 1

AFI Festival 2011: Day Two (Saturday)

Getting a little hopelessly behind on these (hopelessly because the fest has now been over for several days), but I’m going to go ahead and do them in order as planned anyway. Saturday was the fullest day of movies, with five features all in a row starting just after noon. Had some close connections to make (including running down the street from the Chinese to the Egyptian in about two minutes flat), but I made it to everything, just barely. And what’s a fest without a few close calls, eh?

Snowtown

[Rating:4/5]

Everything I’ve heard from Australian bloggers and other festival-goers indicated that this film was a) really well-done and b) really hard to watch. That’s not far off, although I didn’t find it as difficult to watch as I thought I might. It’s based on the real-life John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer, but it’s far from a standard biopic. It filters its portrait through the character of Jamie, a teenage boy growing up in a single-parent, low income home. We spend a good bit of time with Jamie and his family before John shows up, suddenly Jamie’s mom’s new love interest. John is charismatic and heroic to Jamie and his younger brothers, someone who protects them from the pedophile next door but slowly brainwashes Jamie into his bigoted and violent worldview – but what at first seems to be just extreme vigilante justice against actual bad people soon turns into more and more self-serving kills. Some of these are very hard to watch, and I admit to closing my eyes a few times, but even more disturbing is how John brings Jamie into his group, and how he treats his “friends” at any provocation. It’s an extremely effective approach to Bunting, but probably not something I’d want to watch again.
2011 Australia. Director: Justin Kurzel. Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Bob Adriaens and Louise Harris.

Le cercle rouge

[Rating:5/5]

My one repertory screening of the festival, thanks to Pedro Almodóvar programming a Jean-Pierre Melville film I’ve wanted to see for quite a while. And it was totally worth giving up a new movie to be able to see this one for the first time in a theatre with a full, appreciative audience. It’s a crime story, like most of Melville’s films, an intricately plotted combination of criminals on the run, police on the chase, the mob on the make, and a well-planned jewelry heist. All these elements get their due, with great characters in every part. It’s not quite fair to give a 40-year-old film my “best of fest” vote, but it was unquestionably my favorite. Full review on Row Three.
1970 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Alain Delon, Bourvil and Gian Maria Volonté.

Pina

[Rating:3.5/5]

After thinking that Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Dreams was the best use of 3D I’d seen so far, I figured I’d give Herzog’s countryman Wim Wenders a chance to challenge with his dance documentary/tribute to groundbreaking choreographer Pina Bausch, who died while working a film with Wenders. He abandoned the film upon her death, until her dance company convinced him to complete it as a tribute to her. The film itself is lovely, a collection of dance performances, some on stage, others in various urban and rural laces throughout Germany, intercut with brief interview excerpts from members of the company about Pina and her approach to dance. The 3D, though…something may be wrong with me, but I find it impossible to focus on movement in 3D, and dance is a LOT of movement. The still parts look pretty cool in 3D (including, surprisingly, the interview segments, which are done as a shot of the dancer not talking with their quotes given in voiceover – more effective than you might think), but as soon as the dancers move with any speed, it’s just a blur and trying to focus on it gave me a massive headache. I think I would prefer to watch this in 2D. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Germany. Director: Wim Wenders. Starring: Ensemble of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.

Bonsái

[Rating:3.5/5]

An opening voiceover tells us that all we need to know about this story is that at the end, Emilia is dead, and Julio is not dead. “All the rest is fiction.” I love when stories play with storytelling itself, and that’s what this film does, giving us a multi-layered look at a relationship that may be real, or may be partly real, and certainly is partly fiction. Julio is a wanna-be writer who tries to get a job typing up the latest work of a famous novelist. When he fails to get the job, he tells his girlfriend about it anyway and starts making up the story based on the brief logline the novelist gave him, tying it back to a relationship he had nine years earlier with a girl in college. At some points he seems to be telling their story exactly, but other times it’s clear that filtered through both memory and fiction, it’s vastly different than what actually happened, if indeed, anything actually happened at all. The story owes a lot to Proust, whose opening lines in Remembrance of Things Past get repeated a few times (Julio and Emilia also met over them both pretending to have read Proust) – I won’t repeat them all here, but they have to do with the main character falling asleep reading and in a half-wakeful state imagining himself to have become part of the book he was reading. That’s very much what’s going on here, and I loved it. The love story (or stories, both the remembered one with Emilia and the current one with his girlfriend) is sweet and genuine, and though the film as a whole is pretty slight, it’s very enjoyable and made me want to read Proust myself. So there’s that.
2011 Chile. Director: Cristián Jiménez. Starring: Gabriela Arancibia, Cristóbal Briceño and Julio Carrasco.

Kill List

[Rating:4/5]

Main character Jay has been out of work for eight months, a situation that he seems okay with, but his wife Shel most certainly is not. At first, it’s not clear what he does for work, but as the film wears on and a former colleague approaches him with a potential job, it becomes clear that he’s a hit man. As they take on the job, which consists of a list of people to be killed, the situations get weirder and weirder until the film takes a turn that switches it from slow burn to high-octane in almost a split second. That turn may not work for everybody, but it worked like gangbusters for me. Even the earlier kills have a bit of the old ultraviolence to them, and the twist at the end is horrible, but not necessarily unearned. At least, not in terms of the emotional and adrenal impact. I’m not sure the whole trajectory of the story makes logical sense in any way whatsoever, but by the time Jay and his cohort are being chased around in a set of dark, dank tunnels, it doesn’t really matter anymore. Terror takes over, and I have to say, this is one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen lately, even with a whole month of horror films just behind me in October. I loved it.
2011 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson.

Heading to the AFI Film Festival 2011

One of my three big festivals of the year starts today (for me; the opening night premiere was J. Edgar last night, but I didn’t go to that), and there are a boat-load of fantastic films at AFI Fest 2001 Presented by Audi. Thanks to Audi’s sponsorship (among others), tickets are again free for all screenings this year, and if you’re in the LA area, there’s still time to reserve tickets to various screenings at the AFI Fest website. A lot of things are still available, other things aren’t right now, but they always release more tickets the day before the screening online, or at the box office the day of, or you can wait in the rush line and there’s a good chance you’ll make it in. The fest gathers the best of the other festivals throughout the year, with high-profile films from TIFF, Venice, Cannes, Sundance, SXSW and others showing up. Here’s the list of what I’ll likely be seeing (getting some major things I won’t be out of the way first). My main reviews will be going up on Row Three, but I’ll try to get festival impressions and capsules up over here as well.

All the trailer links open in a lightbox, so you won’t have to leave the site to watch them.

Big-Name Films I Won’t Be Seeing

Some of these are gala screenings I’d hoped to see but ended up not being able to get tickets, a few others are ones that fell to the vagaries of scheduling because as much as I wanted to see them, they were against ones I wanted to see more. The good news is most of these are going to be easily available in regular release within a few weeks, so it’s no great loss.

The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Béjo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller
Country: USA/France
Synopsis:Silence is golden in director Michel Hazanavicius’ delightful and dialogue-less black-and-white feature about Hollywood’s bumpy transition from silent films to “talkies.”
My take: Let’s see, a B&W silent film made in 2011 set in Hollywood during the late 1920s? HELL YES. This movie was friggin’ MADE for me, and the fact that it’s gotten raves at every festival so far this year doesn’t hurt, either. Most anticipated not just of the festival, but of the year.

Carnage

Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly
Country: France/Germany/Poland/Spain
Synopsis:Razor-sharp and acidly funny, CARNAGE strips away the thin veneer of civilization to find the savage heart beating just below the surface. Adapting Yasmina Reza’s smash comedy play “God of Carnage” to the screen, Roman Polanski assembles a dream cast to portray two sets of New York City parents locked in a showdown after their children clash on a playground.
My take: Polanski plus these four actors piqued my interest already (as well as hearing very positive feedback from the play), but seeing the trailer sealed the deal. This looks HILARIOUS in the best way.

Shame

Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie
Synopsis: A searing examination of sexual compulsion, the film features two extraordinary performances. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a seemingly normal New Yorker trapped by his erotic compulsions. Carey Mulligan pivots 180 degrees from her sweet and vulnerable performance in AN EDUCATION as Sissy, Brandon’s needy, neurotic sister.
My take: This sounds both incredible and really hard to watch, at least it would be for me. I want to see it eventually, though, for sure, if only to see what is almost sure to be an Oscar-nominated performance from Fassbender.

My Week With Marilyn

Director: Simon Curtis
Starring: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper
Country: United Kingdom
Synopsis: Michelle Williams gives a luminous performance as Marilyn Monroe, ably supported by Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench in this intimate portrait of the tragic Hollywood icon.
My take: Advance reviews from people I trust take the film down a few notches for being pretty much your standard biopic, reinforcing the legend more than looking at the actress, but have had nothing but praise for Williams’ performance. As a huge fan of both Williams and Monroe, that’s enough for me.

A Separation

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Babak Karimi, Merila Zarei
Country: Iran
Synopsis: Winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin, this drama is a complex portrait of an Iranian family torn apart by a divorce and an escalating feud.
My take: This is Iran’s official Oscar entry, and everything I’ve heard about it has been great. As I said above, I’m into Iranian film lately, but I’ve mostly seen the underground variety; I bet this is not one of those, what with the country choosing it to represent them at the Oscars and all.

My Planned Screenings

I likely won’t make it to quite all of these, because some of my schedule for later days is still a bit in flux. But they’re all at least tentatively on there for now. I’m also planning on hitting two or three of the short programs, but I don’t usually research those in advance, just fit them into my schedule as possible. I will recommend Shorts Program 1 if you’re attending the fest because it has The Eagleman Stag in it, which was easily the best short I saw at LAFF – it won the best short subject award at that fest, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t come up for an animated short nomination at the Oscars.

Melancholia

Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Brady Corbet, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland
Country: Denmark/Sweden/France/Italy
Synopsis: Denmark’s most celebrated and notorious filmmaker returns with a drama about depression, severely dysfunctional families, and the end of the world.
My take: I’m generally a fan of von Trier, provocateur that he is, and if anything, this looks like his most accessible, most lyrical film in…ever, really. It’s getting praise even from people who don’t like him, while not losing the support of those that do. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.

The Day He Arrives

Director: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Yu Jun-sang, Kim Sang-joong, Song Sun-mi, Kim Bok-yung
Country: South Korea
Synopsis: In director Hong Sang-soo’s sublime black-and-white vision of Seoul in winter, a filmmaker’s visit to an old friend reverberates with déjà vu-inducing parallels and repetitions.
My take: Hong Sang-soo’s HaHaHa was one of my favorite films of last year’s AFI Fest, so I was excited about this as soon as I heard about it a few months ago and was really hoping AFI would program it.

This is Not a Film

Director: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Starring: Jafar Panahi
Country: Iran
Synopsis: Banned by Iran from filmmaking for 20 years and threatened with imprisonment, Jafar Panahi offers a remarkable portrait of an artist at the crossroads.
My take: I’m slowly gaining a thing for Iranian film, especially underground Iranian film (I’ve seen and enjoyed one at every festival I’ve been to so far), and though I haven’t seen any of Jafar Panahi’s films, I’ve certainly heard of some – The Circle and Offside are both well-known in world cinema circles. Filmmaking is risky in Iran, though, requiring permits and government approval – Panahi’s personal account of running afoul of the government is sure to be amazing.

Pina

Director: Wim Wenders
Country: Germany/France
Synopsis: Wim Wenders captures the world of choreographer Pina Bausch and her dance company in spectacular 3D with thrilling performances of many of her most famous works.
My take: I’m not a huge fan of 3D, but my best experience with it was Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams last year, and I think Wenders’ use of it in a dance performance piece could be amazing as well. Even the 2D clips in the trailer are pretty exhilarating.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Country: United Kingdom
Synopsis: Tilda Swinton gives a remarkable performance as Eva, a reluctant mother whose life is shattered beyond repair by her son’s Columbine-like atrocity.
My take: Personally, I don’t gravitate toward school-shooting movies, but everything I’ve heard about this one says that it’s far from your typical take on the genre, instead focusing on the parents in a way that almost turns the film into psychological horror.

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