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Friday
May132011

Cannes Summary: Woody Allen through Gus Van Sant

Hi All. Robert (author of Distant Relatives) here. As Nathaniel has mentioned, MUBI.com is really the place to go for lots and lots of Cannes reviews. But in case you don't want to sift through lots of reviews or fear leaving the warming embrace of The Film Experience, I thought I'd sum up some of what people are saying about the first few Cannes Films, right here.

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris opened the festival and while a few viewers are suggesting it's an unnoteworthy truffle, most of the reaction has been positive though not exhuberant. Still, with expectations growing lower and lower for Mr. Allen's releases, it's nice to see that he can still enchant an audience. Seriously, you've never seen the words "charming" and "pleasant" and "whimsical" so much in one place. Here's the MUBI summary.

Sleeping Beauty, the first film by author Julia Leigh is one of a handful of films this year that feels like Cannes attempt to recapture that uncomfortalbe sexual Antichrist buzz. Here, Emily Browning plays a newbie prostitute whose specialty is being drugged and taken advantage of in her sleep. Detractors here seem to be in the slight majority calling the film "cold" and "psychosexual twaddle." But there are still some reviewers who find the film "enthralling" and have high praise for Browning's performance and desire to break free from studio stuff. MUBI summary.

Nathaniel has already touched on We Need to Talk About Kevin and the great notices coming Tilda Swinton's way (Roger Ebert referrs to her in his tweeting as Saint Tilda and I must admit that name is sticking in my brain). It's also nice to see excitement greet a Lynn Ramsay film (whose Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar I assume must have been some of the better DVD discoveries of the past 10 years). Alas the film itself is getting a bit of a mixed reaction. MUBI summary.

Gus Van Sant's teenage romance Restless opened Un Certain Regard and it's hard to ignore the bad reviews piling up. While there are a few nice sentiments, like Mike Goodridge's declaration that it's a "gentle moving hymn to life" most of the agreement seems to be that the film is a "dud" not to mention "intert" or "emo goo." MUBI summary here.

Friday
May132011

Lars & Marty Picking Apart The Past

JA from MNPP here, highlighting an exciting bit of news making the rounds today. We'd heard back in February the rumor of this, but now it's seeming official - next year Lars Von Trier will be redoing his Five Obstructions experiment with Martin Scorsese. Excuse me, make that "Oscar-winning pool of awesomesauce, Martin Scorsese."

If you're unfamiliar with The Five Obstructions, in 2003 Von Trier had his mentor the Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth remake a short film of his own five times under five different sets of limitations. He was forced to shoot it in difficult locations like Cuba and the red light discrict of Bombay; he had to make it in animated form.

And now Von Trier will be training his cinematic sadism on one of the living masters of American movies. But the big question remains - what film will Scorsese be remaking? When the rumor first popped up it was attached to Taxi Driver, but now that Variety's confirmed the project's happening there is no word on if that's true or if it'll be a different film of Marty's. So I ask y'all - what movie do you most want to see Scorsese tackle again under Von Trier's ever-brutal thumb? And what limitations would you like to see set for him?

Friday
May132011

Unsung Heroes: The Sound Design of 'Searching for Bobby Fischer'

Michael C here from Serious Film to showcase an achievement in a film that has been near and dear to my heart for almost two decades.

What is the sound of a person thinking?

Most of us probably don’t often consider such lofty questions, but when you are a sound designer dilemmas like that crop up all the time. The sound design team behind Stephen Zallian’s 1993 chess prodigy drama Searching for Bobby Fischer faced that challenge and then some when they set out to make a chess story work on screen despite it being the least cinematic subject imaginable, give or take the Dewey Decimal System.

Zallian’s solution was to ignore the intricacies of the game, constructing the matches as stylized montages that emphasize the emotions of the players over tactics. The sound designers – under Head Sound Editor Beth Sterner - outdo themselves in these scenes, building crescendos out of the furious clacking of pieces and the occasional island of stillness. Not only does this make chess palatable for general audiences but, more importantly, it gets to the heart of the material.

For a serious chess player, especially a seven-year-old one, the stakes are life and death. When, for example, a queen is blundered away, the echo of the piece against the table perfectly captures the sudden pit of the stomach realization of an irrevocable screw up. Without a moment spent explaining the rules, much less the advanced strategy at play, the sound design allows us to the grasp the changing balance of power every step of the way.

Beyond sidestepping the tedium of the game, the sound team deserves praise for creating a series of distinct aural environments to show the journey of the young chess genius. During the first joyful scenes of play in the park the soundtrack is bursting with life. The main action has to jostle for room in the mix with the sounds of players, passerby, and city life. The more Josh is pulled into the insular world of serious chess the more the life is leeched out of the soundtrack. By the time young Josh is having his final confrontations with his teacher, you would think they were playing in a monastery the way each sound echoes in isolation. From the sound design alone we can understand the sacrifice that is being asked of this boy in order to be the best.

At one point, the chess hustler played by Laurence Fishburne insists Josh remember that his opponent is not the pieces on the board but the flesh and blood person sitting across from him. The filmmakers take their lead from this, letting the emotions of the characters, and not the strategy of the game, take center stage. In its own modest way the sound team, with help from the stellar editing of Wayne Wahrman, does for chess what Scorsese did for Raging Bull, abandon the literal reality of the sport in order to get at the subjective experience of what it feels like to be in thick of the battle. 

Friday
May132011

This & That: Ryder, Swank, Clooney, Allen

Buzzfeed has "20 celebrities who used to be hot" which is mildly amusing but at least a couple of the choices are people who still definitely have it goin' on -- hi, Helen Mirren! -- so deduct points for ageism.
MovieCityNews asked you to rank all of Woody Allen's films
New York Times Glowing Sutton Foster profile. Love her. Is Tony #2 coming in June? Anything Goes.

Vulture this brief piece on Winona Ryder's co-starring role with James Franco in The Stare is almost amusingly vague with a capital V. It tells you nothing. Neither will Noni!
Art of the Title Sequence YAY. I've been hoping for this. They've interviewed Angus Wall (who TFE interviewed round Oscar time) on the opening credits to HBO's Game of Thrones.


Ultimate Addict wonders which George Clooney effort will hit with Oscar: The Ides of March or The Descendants. If you're curious my next Oscar chart update will be directly after Cannes. No time for it this week. Busy busy.
Anne Thompson briefly checks in with Hilary Swank on her new role as a producer (Something Borrowed). Sayeth La Swank:

I don't read reviews.

Girl, maybe you should. You know, if you're going to be on the filmmaking side of the equation. Just a thought (It's a pet peeve of mine when stars act like they're above reviews. You can a learn a lot from film criticism, provided that the critic is a good one.)

Thursday
May122011

Reason #487 To Love Sir Ian McKellen

He posts this type of photo and caption on his flickr stream.

Photograph © Peter Jackson

THE HOBBIT is being filmed in 3D. Even wizards have to wear the glasses.

Thursday
May122011

We Need To Link About Kevin

Given that many of you are on pins and needles about the new Tilda Swinton tour de force (no, we haven't seen it. But it's getting easier and easier to assume given her recent track record) We Need To Talk About Kevin...

Critics aren't tossing tomatoes but bouquets to Tilda in "We Need To Talk About Kevin"

Given that I have been weirdly unwilling to post the multiplying clips out there (I get in these moods where I don't wanna know see anything for movies I'm especially looking forward to) I should cave enough to link up to the raves. Perhaps you don't share my sudden unwillingness to read anything longer than a twitter length review for movies you can't see yet. Too many critics -- even the best ones! -- no longer worry about spoiling the experience in crucial ways.

Ezra Miller ("Kevin"), Tilda, the incredible Lynne Ramsay and Reilly in CannesMorvern Callar, the last Lynne Ramsay film, was way back in 2002, so add Ramsay to that "slowpokes" list of directors we were discussing. That earlier film with an indelible mysterious performance from Samantha Morton was such a startling and visceral experience that I want to experience We Need To Talk About Kevin in the same way. Which is to say, I'm going in cold!

But if you're less nervous -- MUBI has a collection of the raves. Might we see Tilda Swinton picking up "best actress" but zero Oscar attraction (you know how they ignore her brilliance 95% of the time)? Time will tell. In roughly two weeks and then again in the winter when precursor season kicks in.

Have any of you read the book this film is based on?