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Saturday
Sep192015

Jungle Book Teaser

Manuel here to give you a glimpse into a Disney Live Action Phase 2 teaser trailer.

Yes, Maleficent paved the way ($758 worldwide) and Cinderella was a modest hit ($542 million worldwide), so Disney will continue remaking their own animated classics until… well, until they run out of them I’m sure. Next year brings another one: Jon Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book (not to be confused with Jungle Book: Origins which will come out in 2017 and be directed by Andy Serkis).

You would be easily confused seeing as how this trailer’s most chilling moment comes courtesy of a Planet of the Apes-looking ape...

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Saturday
Sep192015

TIFF: Berlin and Venice Winners, "Taxi" and "Desde Allá"

Amir continues our coverage of TIFF '15 with reviews of this year's Golden Bear and Golden Lion winners.

The studio Celluloid Dreams recorded a remarkable success this year by winning the top prize at all of Europe’s big three festivals. The journey started in Berlin with the Golden Bear for Taxi, continued into Cannes with the Palme d'or for Dheepan (review) and ended just last week with Venice's Golden Lion for Venezuela’s Desde Allá. Jafar Panahi’s Taxi is the film that piqued my interest most, both as an Iranian, and as a fan of the auteur’s complex career, which I have followed in real time since his first film—a children’s movie—back in 1995.

Taxi is filmed digitally with incredibly modest means, borne of the director’s complicated situation with government authorities...

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Saturday
Sep192015

TIFF: Anomalisa, Victoria, Youth. Is one pass enough?

Herewith three of the most distinctive films from TIFF. The only problem is: I'm not sure what I think of them. How often does that happen to you at the movies: walking out, unable to answer the question of "did I like it? was it good?" Some movies just refuse to settle quickly. Or, they're hard to parse in the film festival setting (due to seeing so many movies back to back). Which is to say that I'm going to need more time with each of these. All three are familiar and alien at once and, in their dissimilar ways, ambitious. All three are beautifully made... yet at this writing, I have trouble imagining the desire to watch any of them a second time. (Well, no. I'd like to see Youth again)

ANOMALISA (Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman, US)
Though I was a critical holdout on the oft revered miserabilist Synecdoche New York -- in which I learned that I most definitely prefer Kaufmann as a screenwriter than as a director -- I was eager to see this. That anticipation was partially for the novelty aspects. It's a stop motion film with many characters but with only three voice actors. The similar voices serve the plot in an obvious conceptual way when you're watching it (which I won't spoil) but they also indirectly expose the monotony and limits of a singular POV and male gaze, in this case Kaufmann's. The story involves a gray-haired customer service guru of some reknown, deeply unhappy and ready to cheat on his wife during a one night stay in a Cincinatti hotel. There are a few indisputably grand jokes, some stale ones (hotel room keys that don't work. hahaha) and moving beats within the discomfort and laughter. There's even a Jennifer Jason Leigh singing Cyndi Lauper sequence that's sublime. But there's also a feeling of "and...?" about the whole effort and even "why is this animated?" since it only becomes surreal a couple of times. At only 90 minutes this is stretched thin, given that some of the sequences play out in what painfully feels like real time like the businessman's cab to and check in at the hotel. I'm mystified by the "MASTERPIECE!" excitement around it but Kaufman's work is always worth mulling over. 

[Crass Oscar Note as I'm sure Kaufman had no interest in Oscars when he was making this: the critical hosannas Anomalisa was greeted with followed by the news that it would Oscar qualify this year led a lot of armchair pundits to think Inside Out suddenly has real competition for the Animated Oscar. That is not the case. This is too strange and dispiriting and even too dull to take the gold though the critical reception could certainly help it to a nomination if they'd like to acknowledge that animation isn't only for kids -- this one is entirely for adults given its themes and the animated sex scenes.] 

VICTORIA (Sebastian Schipper, Germany)
Victoria (Laia Costa) is a lonely barista from Spain who has spent three months in Berlin. She still doesn't know anyone when one night out dancing she meets drunk but charming Sonne (Frederick Lau) and three of his drunk up-to-no-good friends. Thus begins an unbroken 132 minute long continuous shot as we follow Victoria in real time through her inebriated misadventures. Schipper, who started as an actor (he's in many of Tom Tykwer's films), gets natural work from his entire cast who are all speaking rough English since that's their only common language. You truly feel like you're there with Victoria and her new friends on a neverending night you know you'll always remember. Or you'll hope to forget; parties can't last forever and one foolish decision can lead to another and another and soon you're in way too deep. Schipper and his technical team deserve all the praise they've received for this absolute technical triumph -- not only was the film all shot in one take, it's pulled off without a visible hitch, and it feels artful but effortless too since there are well timed musical breaks of one sort or another (including a phenomenal piano scene) and the lack of cuts only escalates the tension. The film has an inexorable energy since you don't feel you can escape. You're with Victoria and her German buddies until the end. But do you want to be? This is a grueling sit from the tension and eventual violence and the two hour plus running time so it's hard to imagine watching it a second time. Still, immersive film experiences like this are all too rare. 

Caine and Keitel spy on a tryst in the woods

YOUTH (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)
An easier sit than Sorrentino's Oscar winning The Great Beauty but then it is half as long! Like that film, this one features amazing gilded tableaus and wealthy lost souls. We also get sharp performances from well loved Oscar-winners (Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz) and movie troupers (Harvey Keitel and Paul Dano), all of them getting at least one showcase moment. Youth has some truly vivid sequences / images but does it all cohere? I'm not sure that it does: It's covering a lot of ground very quickly and its many diversions, both fanciful, humorous, or sad are highly uneven. At a hotel/spa retreat for the rich and famous, the characters all come together: Caine is a retired legendary composer staving off requests to conduct again with his personal assistant daughter (Weisz); Dano (in a strange bit of casting) plays a sad movie star who hates his fans and the film he's best known for;  Keitel is a famous director whose work is not what it used to be. Jane Fonda appears in a much-showcased cameo as a legendary movie star diva. (That the movie is about aging showbiz types certainly won't hurt its Oscar chances given the Academy's demographics). Sorrentino seems to be borrowing from Fellini again and a friend of mine groaned about a scene involving a telescope in which Keitel pontificates on the different between youth and old age -- but I personally loved the scene. (Perhaps you have to be middle age or older to feel it though it's easy enough to "get") The movie may be chalk full of faux profundities like that one but better surface beauty and trying to say too much than drab looking movies with only one or two things to say.

 Grades: TBA

Saturday
Sep192015

Washington's August Wilson Deal

Manuel here with some big Denzel Washington news. While talking at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Washington revealed he has signed a deal with HBO to bring all ten of August Wilson’s plays to the screen. Yes, all ten!

More...

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Friday
Sep182015

Interview: Gillian Armstrong on Her Orry-Kelly Documentary and Why the Film Industry Needs Affirmative Action 

Jose interviews the director of a new costume design documentary at TIFF 

Orry-Kelly with Kay Francis. Photo courtesy of Scotty Bowers

In Women He’s Undressed, the extraordinary Gillian Armstrong paints a delightful portrait of Australian costume designer Orry-Kelly whose bold designs changed Hollywood forever (he was the first costume designer to draw the actors' faces on his designs!). The brilliant man behind Ingrid Bergman’s tasteful suits in Casablanca, Rosalind Russell’s larger than life gowns in Auntie Mame, and Marilyn Monroe’s nude dress from Some Like It Hot (he did Jack and Tony’s dresses too) had an exciting life that had him leave his small hometown to find a career in a budding industry across the world. From gangsters and plays with an unknown Katharine Hepburn, to affairs with Cary Grant and uprisings with Bette Davis, Orry-Kelly’s life was so rich that one wonders why no one had done a film about him before.

In typical Armstrong fashion, the documentary is told with whimsical flourishes (Darren Gilshenan plays Orry who reads from letters and adds commentary) and features interviews with Colleen Armstrong, Michael Wilkinson, Jane Fonda, Catherine Martin, Angela Lansbury and the legendary Ann Roth, all of whom express their admiration for Orry, and share anecdotes about working with him. The film played at the Toronto Film Festival, and I had the opportunity to talk with Ms. Armstrong about discovering Orry’s work, working with Ann Roth (“someone should do a documentary on her next, she’s extraordinary”) and her thoughts on the way the industry treats women.

Orry-Kelly, Australian Oscar winners, and artists as film subjects after the jump...

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Friday
Sep182015

Tim's Toons: Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet

Tim here. To the right kind of viewer (e.g. the kind writing this review), Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet is THE animated event of 2015. Which does not, unfortunately, turn out to mean that it is THE best animated film of 2015, or even in the running for that title. But let us not accentuate the negative; it's still a special and enormously idiosyncratic little movie, and its failures are honorable.

The film is a long-simmering passion project for producer Salma Hayek, one of the many ardent fans to accrue to Gibran's 1923 English-language collection of essays (Gibran was Lebanese, as was Hayek's grandfather). When, exactly, she decided that the adaptation needed to be done in animation is anyone's guess, but it was exactly the right choice: the book consists primarily of a series of spiritual lessons in the form of prose poetry, with the ghost of a narrative connecting them. The film by necessity fleshes out that narrative considerably and literalizes it, but the meat of the film is still those essays: eight out of Gibran's original 26, each handed off to a different luminary in the world of international animation.

Those eight sequences are easily the best reason to see The Prophet.

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