Archive for May, 2013

May 28, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Abel (Voyeur)

abelTo stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #8: Abel (Voeyur) (1982)

Director: Alex Van Warmerdam

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Borgman

When I went to look up Abel on Netflix, it was described as emotional and scary. Oh boy! I ended up watching about 2 minutes of the Spanish language Abel directed by Diego Luna until his title card came up and I realized it was the wrong one. Whoops!

Alex Van Warmerdam’s Abel (pronounced AH-ble for the pretentious out there) is anything but emotional or scary. In this bizarre dark esoteric comedy, the eponymous Abel, played by the director is a thirty-something living at home with his parents, Dove (Olga Zuiderhoek) and Victor (Henri Garcin). The catch is that he has literally never left his house. Ever. It’s unclear if it’s because his parents keep him there or if it’s by his own choice, but it’s most likely some combo of the two. Either way, all hell breaks loose when Abel asks for a TV.

This is one of those rare films where the plot was wholly unimportant to my enjoyment of the movie, but I am hesitant to reveal anything else about the story. I can say that I it is purely unique in tone. I don’t really have words except to say imagine Dogtooth but as an 80s comedy in Dutch. Everything looks like it cost about $80 to make and all of the “city” shots are shamelessly just cardboard boxes against a colored backdrop. But that’s okay. In fact, that all makes this movie way more fun. From awkward dancing to his ingenious method of killing flies (cutting them in half with scissors!) each very bizarre character makes his or her own mark on the film.

I am almost certain that there is some kind of Cold War analogy to be made here, but I think it would be a disservice to the film to talk about it when there are themes that still ring true 30 years later. Now with laptops and iPhones people never need to leave their houses. How will we experience the world? Will we end up like poor disinterested Abel? And what is the role new technology should play? Certainly a filmmaker would have a difficult time condemning television and movies, and Van Warmerdam never even pretends to do so. Abel might make you ask these questions. But more likely it will just make you want to annoy your parents. And that’s okay, too.

 

May 25, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Swimming Pool

swimming-pool-5To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

Movie #7: Swimming Pool

Director: François Ozon

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Young & Beautiful (Jeune et Jolie)

No genre gets more flack than the erotic thriller. Even at the sound of the words I can see Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs and I’ve never even seen Basic Instinct. But there is a world in which the erotic thriller is a noble cause to make some sort of commentary on the fucked-up sexual politics of modern society.

Swimming Pool is not the movie for the job. When the author of a series of stuffy British crime novels, Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling), needs time to find inspiration for her next book, her publisher (Charles Dance) lets her use his country home in the south of France. After a few successful days of writing there alone, her publisher’s bizarrely accented teenage daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) shows up to enjoy the summer. The two co-habitate, if not always happily, until Sarah becomes more interested in the wanton sex and detached life that Julie leads.

Even as I write out this plot description, I’m getting titillated, but the formal styling of Ozon really gets in the way. The deliberate pacing of the movie I’m sure is meant to let tensions simmer, but instead allows them to evaporate. Any real advancement, character or plot wise, is given time to breathe but no air. Everything sits quietly in its place until it gets its one chance to gasp for air, but then its stifled back down by some British repression.

Although if you’re here for the erotic and not the thriller, you’ll get your fair share. Even Charlotte Rampling shows off her stuff. And boy does Ludivine Sagnier look good. I just wish I got to see Tywin Lannister strip down… Alas.

May 18, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: The Virgin Suicides

the-virgin-suicides-kirsten-dunst-188910_1020_576To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

Movie #6: The Virgin Suicides

Director: Sofia Coppola

Her Cannes 2013 Movie: The Bling Ring

I feel like I’m starting all of these mini reviews with a confession, but I need to confess something. The only movie I’ve ever walked out of the theater during was Marie Antoinette and I have no affection for Lost in Translation. I pretty much forced myself to start watching The Virgin Suicides, even though I was expecting it to be Melancholia: The Teenage Years.

Then it turned out to be freaking delightful. This is not a movie about sad rich people. It’s only about sad people.

When the youngest of five daughters takes her own life during an incredibly awkward party, her family spins just so slightly out of control. The four daughters are led by the magnetic Kirsten Dunst as Lux. She is only 14, but Lux has the bad girl attitude of someone far beyond her years. Girls just wanna have fun, right?

Coppola is the real star of this movie though. She makes a beautiful statement as a director, especially one distinctly different than her father. Every scene not only has a teen nostalgia not seen since John Hughes, but also has a slightly dark sinister edge. As an audience, you never truly learn who these girls are or what their motives are. But that’s part of the mystery.

I’m certainly still unraveling my thoughts on this movie a day later. Why did these girls kill themselves? Isolation? Exposure to bad influences? Lack of exposure to bad influences? Their loving, but kooky parents? I’d rather not know, but Coppola gives you enough food for thought along the way.

The cast across the board is top notch. I always forget how much I love James Woods, Josh Hartnett is the pinnacle of weird ’90s attraction, and Kathleen Turner does not get enough work. The soundtrack is incredible, pulsing with teen angst and hope for adulthood. But while these girls probably can’t wait to be adults, the boys who are tracking them just want to be kids again. Relive those mysteries. So maybe I’ll let this mystery sit and re-live the magic later down the road.

May 16, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Strictly Ballroom

sb_142PaulMercurioTo stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way? 

Movie #5: Strictly Ballroom

Director: Baz Luhrmann

His Cannes 2013 Movie: The Great Gatsby

I have a 16 year old cousin and the only thing she can talk about right now is how much she loves The Great Gatsby soundtrack and how she wants to be Lana Del Ray when she grows up. She’s been sick so to cheer her up, I thought I would do the only thing I know how to do and recommend a movie. So I went to her house and we watched Strictly Ballroom, the movie that started it all for Baz.

And somehow Baz seems almost unrecognizable as a filmmaker between the two. Where The Great Gatsby is only polish and finishings with no real attachment, Strictly Ballroom is under art directed, under finished, and kind of cheesy. But somehow that’s all part of the charm. It all works. There is so much real love and emotion in the bones of this movie that all of the elements that stray towards camp or B-movie territory are just written off as incredibly earnest. And one thing we do not see enough today is earnestness (Exhibit A: Silver Linings Playbook dance scenes).

The plot is the same as every other dance movie or movie that ends with a dance. Ugly Girl likes Boy. Boy gives Girl a chance. Girl takes off glasses and she’s beautiful. There is a big misunderstanding where Girl thinks Boy is insincere. Boy wins Girl back with a big gesture. Strictly Ballroom just does it with the weirdest supporting cast ever assembled. While I would argue that the leads Scott and Fran (what a great ugly turns pretty girl name) are given so much life by Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice. But Scott’s mother Shirley steals things from the first minute, Scott’s father Doug steals things with his kooky spotlight dance numbers, and Barry Fife is adance villain for the ages. 

I hope Strictly Ballroom gets remembered because it has the ability to age well. It’s utter sincerity in its message gives it more strength and power than anything else. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that the last scene of the movie involves everyone dancing. And that’s all you want to do when the movie is done – dance. 

 

May 15, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: The Arbor

the-arbor01-LST079362To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

Movie #4: The Arbor (2010)

Director: Clio Barnard

Her Cannes 2013 Movie: The Selfish Giant

Since this whole DIY festival is to increase my own awareness of world cinema, I need to confess another blind spot: documentaries. For the past couple of months I’ve been trying to watch at least one documentary every week. Netflix Instant has an amazing repository of many of the most famous documentaries of all time – Grizzly Man, Man on Wire, Hoop Dreams, The Thin Blue Line – and that’s just off the top of my head. In order to sneak a couple of documentaries into this festival however, I needed to look outside of Netflix for this one.

And I am glad I did. This odd little curio is a depiction of the life of Andrea Dunbar, a famous playwright of whom I had never heard. Well, to be more accurate, it looks at how her life affected her daughters Lorraine and Lisa. The catch, which I’m sure you’ve heard about by now, is that the audio track for the movie consists of original recordings of Andrea, her daughters, and a performance of her play. The catch is that the people you see on screen are actors lip-synching to the audio track. Whether this is still a documentary or not is someone else’s problem. What it does for the film is mine.

And I think it only enhances the film. We are able to get these incredibly haunting reenactments that don’t feel at all like reenactments. A couple of times you even forget that the voices don’t match up with the people. It all heightens the mood, makes everything feel risky and fantastic, yet it’s all grounded in a poor British neighborhood.

The scenes of where Dunbar’s play the Arbor is produced are set outside, on the lawn, with all of their neighbors watching. At first I thought, “Oh it’s a documentary and the neighbors came to watch.” But did they? Were they part of the scene too? The audience? What are we watching?

As the movie repeatedly asks these questions in a thousand different ways, the story unfolding is entirely compelling on its own. Andrea’s struggle with alcohol and racism, Lorraine’s struggle with an abusive mother, Lisa’s struggle with a wayward sister, all set against this dreamy atmosphere.

I have an easy time liking a documentary and a hard time loving one. So many I just see as a collection of talking heads, and maybe they have huge real world resonance, I rarely feel the need to see them again. I plan on re-watching The Arbor almost as soon as this competition is over.

May 14, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: A Screaming Man

Youssouf Djaoro as Adam in ``A Screaming Man.''To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

Movie #3: A Screaming Man (Un Homme Qui Crie) (2010)

Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Grisgris

Plug your ears. Here comes a bad joke. Ahem. For a movie called “A Screaming Man” it sure is pretty quiet! I will be here all week. In all seriousness, wow is this a quiet movie. Even scenes involving the radical Chad military are just nearly silent. It’s not there’s no dialogue. It’s just simply stated and no one ever raises their voice.

Full disclosure: That’s just not my kind of movie. If you’re going to be all quiet and somber, give me visuals! Music! Anything! A Screaming Man relies on the quietest, most stoic of figures to carry the story. Adam (Youssouf Djaoro) and his son Abdel (Dioucounda Koma)  are both pool attendants at a fairly posh hotel in Chad. When new management takes over, Adam is made redundant, but they let him take on a job as a gate attendant, a far less noble job than pool attendant. Obviously. His humiliation and sadness drives the rest of the movie as money problems and an erupting civil war slowly simmer in the background.

Unfortunately, when these things do come to the foreground, it’s all pretty understated. I can’t really put my finger on what I didn’t like about this one besides the fact that it was quiet. But that’s no reason to dislike something… right? Usually if I’m not invested, the first place I turn to are the stakes. Are they high enough? While and old man’s quiet dignity isn’t riveting, his relationship with his son deepens and as Adam runs out of options financially, he starts considering some pretty dark ideas. There is military everywhere. People are dying. And what’s more is Adam, Abdel, and a couple of the other characters are quite likable. So that’s not it.

I guess it all comes down to pacing. At 89 minutes, you’d have to think that there is no such thing as slow, but somehow this one seems to march to a funeral dirge. The distance between “important” events feels like an ocean of time. Thankfully, Djaoro takes every chance to add just a little more grief and despair to every minute of Adam’s sad life. His performance truly saves this movie from unwatchability to the point where I can imagine many people seeking this film out specifically for that performance. For me though, it just didn’t click. The gears were jammed. And quite frankly, I could have done with just a little more screaming.

May 14, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: Election

election-050507To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

Movie #2: Election (2005)

Director: Johnnie To

His Cannes 2013 Film: Blind Detective

While I would say that I am more versed in Chinese cinema than the average person, which is to say I’ve seen a total of… 5 or 6 Chinese language movies, I’m still no expert. So with this year’s new film from Hong Kong director Johnnie To, I get to expand that horizon just a little bit more.

According to IMDb, Election is the movie To is most known for, so I feel like it was a great starting place. To say that this is unilaterally a film about the Triad gang in China would be an understatement. It is literally about nothing else. Is that a bad thing? Not really.

After about 15 minutes the puzzle pieces are in play. It opens with all of the elders, translated as “Uncles,” voting on who should be the next Chairman of their mafia for the next 2 years. We have yet to really meet the 2 candidates at any length. Some support Lam Lok (played by Simon Yam) and others support Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai). It takes all of 3 seconds to learn that Big D really is a big d. He’s been bribing everyone, and when a couple of the Uncles cross him, he boards them up into crates and rolls them down a hill. We have a villain. And a deliciously fun villain at that.

Thanks to the kindly man who seems to carry the most weight (it’s a pun… trust me) with the mafia, Lam Lok wins the chairmanship. Big D refuses to acknowledge this and a gang war ensues. That’s about it. The rest is just a gruesome, bloody, twisty-turny power struggle.

Johnnie To proves himself to be an incredible manager of all these chess pieces. In a movie that has more plot than North by Northwest, he never lets the audience forget who is on what side and what stakes are at play. It’s so fast, so engaging, and there are some really neat set pieces… but what’s the point? It’s just a good vs. evil fairy tale. Nothing more. If you’re not looking for fantastic higher meaning in your Chinese Crime Drama, then look no further! It’s like John Woo meets Martin Scorsese.

While writing that last sentence I had the idea that it could be some greater political message about the Chinese government and its relation to Hong Kong. To that point I say… sure. Go write your thesis on that. As someone who is actually invested in Chinese politics, I didn’t see it. But it could be there.

P.S. I am not a racist, but I was worried that in a movie with all Chinese middle aged male actors, I wasn’t going to be able to tell the characters apart. It’s a problem I have regardless of race. I honestly can’t tell main characters apart in The Godfather. They all look the same! I was pleased to find out that by 20 or 30 minutes in, I knew who everyone was, what side of the war they were on, and why they were important. To that I say, Bravo, Johnnie To.

May 13, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: The Grifters

Annette Bening in The GriftersTo stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

Opening Night Film: The Grifters (1990)

Director: Stephen Frears

His Cannes 2013 Film: Muhammed Ali’s Greatest Fight

 

Stephen Frears is one of those directors nobody really talks about and he doesn’t have the worst career either. The man has 2 oscar nominations (1 for this, the other for directing The Queen) in addition to helming High Fidelity and Dangerous Liaisons. On top of being a director nobody talks about, The Grifters feels like it is his least talked about movie. Now having seen it, I have no idea why. It’s bananas.

John Cusack plays Roy, a grifter who likes taking people in the short con, sleight of hand tricks and quick gambles. His extremely young mother Lilly, played by Anjelica Huston works as a gambler for her ridiculously named mob boss Bobo. To round out the trio is Roy’s casual hookup Myra, the wonderful Annette Bening. As far as a cast goes, it’s pretty much it. It’s nice to see a movie that has enough confidence in its actors and its characters to really let you focus on them. And what characters! All of them are broken, confused weirdos you come to love and adore.

But let’s get serious. When Frears is operating like one of the grifters, everything seems smooth, fast, and fun. The long-con scenes are wild, while the short cons give you just that quick hit of dopamine. However, Roy, Lilly, and Myra all have the same problem – they let their need to be on the grift get in the way. In an under-seen film with more reveals than just Bening’s pair of perky Annettes, I don’t want to discuss anything in the way of plot. Instead, I’ll just say that whenever plot mechanics take over, it all loses a bit of the magic. But just a bit. 

Finally, let’s just talk about the only thing that matters. If you’ve seen American Beauty, you know that our dear Annette can play whack-a-doodle fun. If you’ve seen The Kids Are All Right, you know that the Bening can be callous and wounded. But never, NEVER have I seen her perky and sexy. And excuse me, but I felt like that wolf whose eyes go AH-OOOO-GAH! I was caught off guard from minute one. She embodies Myra with such a joie de vivre not only for Roy, but also for the love of being in a con. Bening has always been a physical actress, acting right down through her toes. Here, she gets to do that with such sexy force and fun, I feel as if I’ve been steamrolled. Her eyes light up with electricity like I’ve never seen before and can only hope to see again.

 

 

May 12, 2013

You Cannes Do It Yourself

Two years ago I went to the 64th Cannes Film Festival and had an incredible cinephile experience. Last year, I sat at home grumpily as critics were able to watch Amour, Rust and Bone, and Holy Motors before I even knew they existed. I was furious. In vain, I tried to counter-program my very own festival. I made it 8 films in without any great discoveries. This year, I plan to change that.

I figured that the world cinema scene is so big and crazy, that Cannes is a great way to filter out some of the noise. Each year, between the main competition, Un Certain Regard, the Director’s Fortnight, Critics Week, and films just casually playing out of competition (not to mention unpublicized films in the secret distributors market), there are usually about 100+ movies getting screened for the first or second time. This also means that there is usually an impressive line up of directors whose work I have woefully never seen. I vow to take this time to pick up the slack and catch up on some of their earlier favorites. Who knows what I will discover?

If you want to follow along, I’ve already combed through the internet to figure out what movies I’m going to be watching. I decided to watch one film for each director that I could. After that, my main criterion was, “Is it on Netflix?” So thank you, Netflix Instant, for supplying 17 of the 20 movies I’ve selected.

  • The Arbor – Clio Barnard
  • Tell No One – Guillaume Canet
  • Barton Fink – Ethan and Joel Coen
  • The Virgin Suicides – Sofia Coppola
  • White Material – Claire Denis
  • Los Bastardos – Amat Escalante
  • The Grifters – Stephen Frears
  • A Screaming Man – Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
  • Nobody Knows – Hirokazu Koreeda
  • Dead Man – Jim Jarmusch
  • Strictly Ballroom – Baz Luhrmann
  • Audition – Takashi Miike
  • 5×2 – Francois Ozon
  • Citizen Ruth – Alexander Payne
  • Rosemary’s Baby – Roman Polanski
  • The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch – Jerome Salle
  • Valhalla Rising – Nicolas Winding Refn
  • And Everything is Going Fine – Steven Soderbergh
  • Election – Johnnie To
  • Voyeur (Abel) – Alex van Warmerdam

This line-up is a great diverse list, representing old favorites whose filmographies I’m missing just a couple spots, but mostly several directors by whom I’ve never seen anything. Jim Jarmusch? Claire Denis? I need to correct this. Who knows how many I’ll get through or what I’ll find. Last year, of the 8 I ended up actually watching, I really only fell in love with one (Michael Haneke’s Funny Games) and I found a couple that I despised (NEVER SEE SHADOWBOXER!) (The other 6 being The Wind That Shakes the Barley, The Fly, Chopper, Woman on the Beach, The Lovers on the Bridge, and Silent Light). Here’s hoping I make it through more this year. I’ll start tomorrow. Wish me luck!