Tag Archives: Michelle Williams

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.

Continue reading

Links I Like: June 29, 2011

I had meant to do this feature every week or so, but with film festivals and other commitments, I haven’t had very much time to read other sites or gather good links. That being the case, some of these are several weeks old and you may have already read them. But in case you haven’t, I still think they’re worth taking a look at.

The Cultural Vegetables Debate – Dan Kois, A.O. Scott, Manohla Dargis, Jim Emerson, Glenn Kenny, AND MORE

It all started with this article in the New York Times Magazine, when Dan Kois admitted that he has a tough time watching certain critically-acclaimed movies (especially slow-moving ones like Solaris or Meek’s Cutoff) and terming them “cultural vegetables.” Fellow NYT critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis responded with “In Defense of the Slow and Boring”, arguing that slow and boring isn’t necessarily bad, and what’s more, often mainstream films like The Hangover Part II are far more boring than arthouse slow cinema like Meek’s Cutoff. Soon, other critics and bloggers put in their two cents as well, including Glenn Kenny, Jim Emerson, Richard Brody, Matt Singer, Bilge Elibri, Vadim Rizov, etc. Andrew O’Hehir’s article in Salon may summarize things the best. Then Kois, Scott, and Dargis all got together for a follow-up article. And now Glenn Kenny is tired of the whole thing. In a way, it’s gotten blown out of proportion from Kois’s original personal and sincere article, but the various points brought up by various authors are all very interesting and enlightening, to one degree or another, in a culture where both critics and laypeople can feel marginalized by the other.

Comment on “No Comment” – Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at Mubi

The last frame of Jean-Luc Godard’s lastest film is the text “No Comment,” which many have interpreted as Godard’s sort-of playful, sort-of standoffish way of deflecting criticism, a way of tossing a bunch of seemingly nonsensical images up on screen for 90 minutes and then refusing to respond to questions or criticisms of them. Vishnevetsky argues that instead, Godard is declining authorial control, inviting the audience to participate in making meaning of his film. In short, it’s not a dismissal, but a deferral, and rather than being standoffish and closed, the ending slide is open and welcoming. This fits with how I see Godard’s early films, as well as his tendency to make films about the death of cinema as well as the death of language.

10 Best Michelle Williams Performances – Kevyn Knox at Anomalous Material

I see I’m not alone in my belief that Michelle Williams is possibly the best Hollywood actress of our generation, and Kevyn Knox has gathered together a slew of performances that prove it. I’m ashamed to admit that I have only seen a handful of these – looks like I’ve got a lot more Williams to discover, which is a wonderful thing.

Academics vs. Critics: Never the Twain Shall Meet? – David Bordwell in Film Comment

Bordwell outlines the somewhat tense relationship between what he terms “cinephile critics” and academics – the difference between someone like Andrew Sarris, who popularized the auteur theory in the United States and had a deep understanding of film history and art that showed through his weekly reviews and columns at the Village Voice (and later the New York Observer), and someone like Christian Metz, who used linguistic theory to probe how audiences process visual narratives. It’s a line that I’ve struggled to understand myself, as I have just enough academic in me to want to sometimes use esoteric theory or historical minutiae when thinking about film, but I also identify strongly with the Sarris-style cinephile critic. Bordwell actually argues that the twain can and should meet, noting the different purposes each type of criticism is for and how the two can be complementary.

Blu-ray Consumer Guide, June 2011 – Glenn Kenny at Some Came Running

Kenny runs through an amazingly long list of Blu-ray releases, with a paragraph on each talking a little bit about the film and whether it’s worthwhile, but mostly about this particular blu-ray release and what it does or does not bring to the table. It’s a daunting post even to read; I pale at the amount of work (both writing and viewing all the discs) that must’ve gone into it, but the recommendations or warnings are very welcome. Discs discussed include: A.I., All the President’s Men, early Antonioni, The Black Pirate, Blow Out, The Comancheros, Diabolique, Great Dictator, Kes, Lolita, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Flower, Senso, Some Like It Hot, El Topo, Topsy Turvy, and a lot more. A lot of Criterions, but that’s fine with me!

Kiss Me Deadly: The Thriller of Tomorrow – J. Hoberman at Criterion Current

Kiss Me Deadly just came out on Criterion DVD and Blu-ray, and J. Hoberman looks at the film in its historical context – especially the way it uses and modifies Mickey Spillane’s basically amoral “hero” Mike Hammer as a comment on modern society, and the relationship the film and its director Robert Aldrich had with the McCarthyism running rampant at the time of its release. The film is a great one on a straight crime noir level; I’m looking forward to rewatching with more of a historical context in mind.

“It’s Just a Bit of Fun”: Why Defensive Fans Are Bad News for Movies – Helen O’Hara at Empire Online

Whenver a Hollywood blockbuster comes out and film critics lambast it, there’s always a chorus of “but it’s just supposed to be fun, stop bashing it” from commenters and fans of Hollywood blockbusters. The latest round is in relation to Transformers: The Dark of the Moon, and Empire Online put up this piece in response to the comments they’ve been receiving on their review of the film. O’Hara makes a lot of great points, and so do several of the commenters on this post, about critics responding to blockbusters, and how it’s okay to want more from blockbusters – not necessarily that they be Citizen Kane, that would be silly, but that they aspire to the greatness of blockbusters like Back to the Future or The Terminator, which had good scripts, storytelling, and acting, and were also a whole lot of fun. As O’Hara puts it, why wouldn’t you want “a film that has giant robots but is also a good film?” (her emphasis) Amen.

Initial Reaction: The Tree of Life – Kevin J. Olsen at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies

Although Kevin put up a full review a few days after this initial post, I love this stream-of-consciousness approach to Tree of Life. The film itself follows an associative logic rather than a linear narrative logic, and as Kevin points out, it’s difficult to talk about such an unconventional film in a conventional writing style. I think this bulleted list of things the film made him think about and associations it drove him to make is possibly the best way to talk about Tree of Life.

Misreading the Tomatometer – Jim Emerson at scanners::blog

It’s something I’ve said time and time again, but Emerson explains quite well how the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer works – that 75% Fresh means 75% of critics gave it a positive review (that is, somewhere between 5 and 10 on a ten point ranking scale), not that all critics gave it a 7.5 out of 10. You could theoretically have a movie that’s 100% Fresh because every critic gave it a 6 out of 10 – that’s an extreme and unlikely example, but the system is highly imprecise. He also goes into the difficulties of assigning a positive/negative score to mixed reviews that don’t use a star or numeral ranking system. There are good ways to use Rotten Tomatoes (like as a portal to actually read a bunch of reviews), and the Tomatometer score isn’t always a bad indicator of general critical climate, but it needs to be understood properly to be very useful.