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Saturday
Oct152011

NYFF: "The Skin I Live In" It's Alive!

Michael C. (Serious Film) here with one of my most anticipated titles of 2011.

Dr. Banderas and his monster?

Dammit, Pedro. I just can't stay mad at you.

Even as he never reaches the emotional impact you expect from an Almodóvar production - as is the case with The Skin I Live In - his filmmaking is so alive in every moment one can't help forgiving him his flaws. Is this a top tier work from the man who made All About My Mother? No. Was I still glued to the screen in every moment as I am with few films? Hell, yes.

To call The Skin I Live In "Almodovar does Frankenstein" is both an accurate description and wildly reductive. Accurate in that, yes, Antonio Banderes plays a mad surgeon with a creation of his own held captive in his mansion. It is reductive because Pedro is not about to be satisfied simply delivering his take on lightning bolts and things jumping at you out of the darkness. The horror in Skin is of a far more unsettling variety involving attacks not just on one's safety but on one's sanity. It touches on Almodovar's familiar themes of sexuality, identity, and stopping everything dead so we can watch a beautiful woman sing a beautiful song.

more sans spoilers after the jump.

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Oct152011

Beauty Break: Vanessa Redgrave, Bewitching in Any Season

♪ if i ever i would leave you
how could it be in springtime?
knowing how in Spring, I'm bewitched by you so?
oh, no, not in Springtime...

Summer...

Winter...

...or Fall 

No never would I leave you.... at all ♫.

Sigh.

So excited to see Vanessa again in Coriolanus, aren't you? And potentially at the Oscars?

Just recently I was suddenly remembering how perfect she's been in virtually all the seasons of her career. I love her in Camelot (1967) but mostly for her gorgeousity and because the Arthurian Legends have bewitched me since I was a kid. My favorite Vanessa performances are off the top of my head..

  1. If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000)
  2. Julia (1977 -Oscar win)
  3. The Devils (1971) 

Share yours, please! Is it from the spring, summer, winter or fall of her career?

Saturday
Oct152011

Actresses (2009): On Being A Female Actor

Alex BBats here, dishing about about a film that has been on Nathaniel’s must-see radar, the South Korean film The Actresses. (Nathaniel, you will LOVE this film!)

The Actresses recently screened in Los Angeles at the Korean Cultural Center Los Angeles as a part of their bi-monthly film-screening program.  Though it is usually a projected DVD affair, it is free and I have fond memories of this venue because it was the first place I saw a movie in LA.  Jail Breakers, four long years ago …good times. If you’re in the LA area, why not give it a shot (hint: cheap date night). 

Time passing is one of the main topics of discussion in The Actresses.  Get ready for lots of discussion, because that’s all that happens.  Six actresses ranging from 20 to 60 years old get together to talk about acting, public pressures, rivals, boys, failed marriages, fashion, face size, while drinking and smoking.  The entire film happens within the set of a Korean Vogue photo shoot, minus a few driving and apartment shots at the beginning.  They start out seemingly like archetypes, Ok-bin Kim (Thirst and this year's Korean Oscar submission The Front Line) as young and eager to please starlet and Yeo-Jong Yun (The Housemaid 2010) being the fiery, no-nonsense veteran (who seems to be dealing with ageing better than everyone else), but the character deepens as they have legitimate discussions and debates about the benefits and drawbacks of being an actress and what has changed in the landscape of Korean and Asian entertainment. 

Some very funny and awkward set pieces make for a great start like Ok-bin running to get coffee when one of her seniors wants some, only to show up a hair too late. The entire scene of the actresses meeting at the beginning of the day is very enjoyable.  The only other people to have any sort of dialogue are the make up team, and you will enjoy their bitchiness  (“I heard you had a pearl inserted in your nose.” Gold.) There’s a bit of forced drama between Choi Ji-Woo (TV drama Stairway to Heaven) and Ko Hyun-jung (Woman on the Beach) that’s about...Hyun-jung not liking Ji-Woo, I guess?  That portion falls flat, but the real meat is last hour of the film which occurs around a table set for Christmas dinner.  The director, E J-yong, said each scene was improvised around certain scenarios, and the ladies let loose here, emotionally peaking during a discussion about how divorce stalled and nearly ruined some of their careers.  

The cast at the shoot

Why is the shoot taking place on Christmas Eve? Who cares. I could think of much worse ways to spend a holiday than with six gorgeous women chatting about the culture of fame and beauty.  I ended up just like Kim Min-hee (Hellcats) at the end of the film; a fly on the wall, listening to wise women speak of love and film with a smile plastered on my face.  

Friday
Oct142011

NYFF: 'Goodbye First Love'

Kurt here. Whereas the NYFF title My Week with Marilyn finds it necessary to blatantly announce that “first love is such sweet despair,” French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve's third feature, Goodbye First Love, offers the same sentiment in a kind of long whisper, stretching out its meaning over 110 minutes and eight long years. The film would be even stronger if the whisper were fainter still, and if Hansen-Løve (The Father of My Children) were a touch less eager to reach out a helping hand, but as it stands, it's an earthy, sprightly, intuitive expression of how an indelible romance can affect the shape of a life.

Its chief subject is Camille (Brittany Murphy lookalike Lola Créton), a shy young lass not unlike a number of girls I know, who've had to redefine themselves after leaving the man who defined them. At the start of the film, 15-year-old Camille is inseparable from Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), the boyfriend who rules her heart but, more importantly, helps her make sense to herself. Things start to rapidly unravel as the day approaches when Sullivan will leave Paris for a 10-month trek through South America, the kind of worldview-enhancing, coming-of-age adventure he wishes Camille would have on her own (he attacks her childish ignorance with married-couple tough love). But that's an unfathomable thing for the heroine at the outset, as is the thought of Sullivan leaving, which creates such fear in Camille it's almost as if she starts seeing the whole natural world around her as a threat, with wind and spiders and the buzz of insects cruelly heralding Sullivan's drift into the wilderness (much of the film, including almost all of the first act, takes place in a remote cottage surrounded by nature).

And drift Sullivan does, first physically, and then entirely, after giving up trying to communicate with a bitter and depressed Camille via snail mail (“I won't call,” he says in memorable voiceover, “because every detail hurts you, like my experiences are insults to us”). With one forcedly symbolic winter and a passing reference to Candide (“is this the best of all possible worlds?”), Hansen-Løve then shifts matters to a very sharply defined second act, wherein Camille gets a haircut, gets a new job, and goes to school. Supporting a running metaphor that yields many rewards despite (again) pushing a tad too hard, Camille studies architecture, and in her earlier classes, we see that her restrictive heartache is manifesting in her work – high-rises with tiny rooms, moat-like ponds that hinder exploration. But, of course, this also becomes Camille's outlet to rebuild herself and her life, and it opens up a world of opportunity for the director in terms of atmosphere, with Camille and her classmates visiting and examining all sorts of interesting structures.

And yet, nature keeps creeping in amid all the man-made marvels, specifically water, as Hansen-Løve makes swimming the ultimate pastime in an effort to establish an ongoing rinse cycle. Camille moves on, begins to make a name for herself in the architectural world, and even sparks up the old cliché relationship with a teacher decades her senior (she's nearly 23 as the film winds down). But Sullivan indeed returns to the picture, with feelings that are indeed still reciprocated, only to leave again. And with the recurring scenes of swimming, Hansen-Løve implies that Camille isn't continually baptizing herself anew, she's refreshing her tender, but also toxic, devotion to her first love, the one that “lives inside her like a disease.” When we finally leave Camille, she is, once again, taking a dip in the river. And though Sullivan's hat, which she brings along for the afternoon, is knowingly swept away and taken by the current, the scene expresses one thing most of all: Rinse. Repeat.

Friday
Oct142011

Complete the Sentences. If I Could Live...

If I could live inside of one movie I've seen this year it'd be ____________ because ______________ .

I'll start you off. If I could live inside one movie I've seen this year it'd be The Artist because Old Hollywood is so magical. And also: holy hell that is a great movie. Expect it to make a run for double digit nominations at the Oscars.

Okay... one more. And if I could be in one movie from the Hollywood's Golden Age, it'd be _________ because _______________ .

Friday
Oct142011

Distant Relatives: Modern Times and WALL•E

Robert here with my series Distant Relatives, which explores the connections between one classic and one contemporary film. This week we jump into the admittedly pointless but always fun Chaplin vs. Keaton debate and contrast it with the Pixar vs Dreamworks animation debate. The important thing is to remember that you can love all of these films and it's not a competition.

But if it were a competition (and it's not), we start with Chaplin and Pixar because they're the obvious frontrunners. By that I don't mean that they're better, but they have the name recognition, the marketing, the cultural branding. Chaplin built for himself an image that now almost a century after his first shorts, is still recognizable. Pixar meanwhile, in just over fifteen years in the feature business has introduced a slew of films and characters that have become iconic. While quality is mostly the cause, it doesn't hurt to have most of your films named after their title characters (why Nemo will always be more recognizable than Carl Fredricksberg). So, Chaplin and Pixar are both heavyweights. They share that. They also share a sense of style and innovation, a desire to elevate their genre beyond it's conventional expectations, a love of traditional arcs, and a soft spot for over-sentimentalization.

Lovelorn tramps in the future

Among the Pixar canon, the best film for our Chaplin comparison is WALLE because, well a fair portion of its marketing to the online film geek world involved the constant reminder that animators took much inspiration from Charlie Chaplin, although the connections were already pretty evident. To put it another way: you didn't have to read an article on the Chaplin/WALLE inspiration to see it, but you probably did. WALLE follows a hapless, lonely, poor protagonist who falls in love and must suddenly achieve something great to get the girl while simultaneously getting the girl to achieve something great. It's one of the few Pixar films that places a strong emphasis on its romantic plot, and WALL•E himself, the nearly silent, occationally prat-falling protagonist is the perfect Chaplin descendent. So WALLE is an easy choice, but why Modern Times?


Modern Times
is unique among Chaplin's films in that a unusually strong focus is placed on the source of The Tramp's discontent. In most other films, The Tramp is a generic vagrant, downtrodden for many unnamed reasons. In Modern Times, he's not a vagabond, he's a worker. His oppressor isn't whatever bully or police brute or aristocrat might be antagonizing him that scene, it's the whole out-of-control industrial complex. It's the giant face of the uncaring corporate class. Yes, it's undeniably political. And so is WALLE. As much as Pixar attempted to quell controversy, insisting that any politics present were simply there to serve the story, there's no escaping the fact that WALL•E's oppressor is also a giant corporation that cares far less for its workers (in WALLE's case robots) than for its image and its profits.

Romance and politics and a happy ending.

For both films controversy was unavoidable, and in both cases the filmmaker's weren't shy about subtley commenting on what they were stirring up. A scene in Modern Times where The Tramp inadvertantly leads a communist parade and ends up cast out from society was prescient in regard to Chaplin's eventual career. As for WALLE, it's hard not to see a sly wink to that year's upcoming US presidential election in a scene where the whole of humanity decides that "blue is the new red." Yet, overtly political as they are, both films do a good job of avoiding platitudes and focusing their attention on their little man main characters whose humanities are being crushed under the threat of their brave new world. Of course, throughout it all, love prevails. Love, that great cinematic motivator, proves that our heroes are more than just cogs in a machine, and capable of doing great things; little great things in the case of The Tramp or big great things in the case of WALL•E.

 

This is probably the most significant thematic difference between the two films. Chaplin's Tramp wants to get the girl, but WALL•E is tasked with getting the girl and saving the world. Of course, WALLE's plot gives the film no other choice. Perhaps it the modern mindset that demands a whole world-saving happy ending, or perhaps it was impossible to place that old trash compator WALL•E in a trash-ridden world and not expect him to exceed in the biggest scale imaginable. Either way, Chaplin's film can leave the world a mess while Pixar's cannot. Still, both films serve up a decent serving of uncertainty for their finales, emphasizing that the real important goal, the pursuit of love, has been met and the rest will somehow be okay. Sentimental yet socially conscious, Modern Times and WALLE are brethren that aim to entertain and enlighten and propell their lovable protagonists into a satisfying future.

Other Cinematic Relatives: Meet John Doe (1941), The Apartment (1960), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Avatar (2009)

Thursday
Oct132011

8 Short Docs & 63 Foreign Films Advance Toward Oscar

Ethan McCord's request to see a mental health professional after a terrible scene of carnage from which he rescued two children, was ridiculed by his superior officer. "Incident in New Baghdad"AMPAS has announced the documentary short finalists, eight of them to be precise which will then be whittled down to five, four or three lucky nominees, so as to make either three, four, or five of these finalists feel like absolute shite on Tuesday January 24th.

THE FINALISTS (links go to official sites if we could find)

 

  • The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement 
    (civil rights doc about a barber and barbershop which was a civil rights hub)
  • God Is the Bigger Elvis
    (37 minutes)
  • In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution
    (38 minutes)
  • Incident in New Baghdad
    (Iraq War and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Pipe Dreams
    (Environmental doc about a tar pipeline set to cross the largest fresh water resource) 
  • Saving Face
    (About a plastic surgeon helping acid attack victims in Pakistan. Strangely the company's site has not been updated since March despite this big Oscar news!?!) 
  • The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
    (Described as "a stunning visual poem about the ephemeral nature of life and the healing power of Japan's most beloved flower") 
  • Witness

 

It is my humble opinion that "finalist" lists should always be at least double the amount of actual nominees, so that misery can love its company and not feel like the only girl in the room not invited to the dance.

Who can convince the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to change their unstable cruel ways? Categories should be set in stone: five nominees or three. Finalist lists, when necessary, ought to be double that. Five or Three should be the only Two options for shortlists for the great good of spreadsheets, statistical percentages, charts and the mental health of pundits everywhere or at least this pundit right here.

Nevertheless AMPAS continues with their "we might do this / we might do that" keep-you-on-your-toes ways. 

In much bigger news Oscar has also finally released the Official List of Best Foreign Language Film contenders. It's sixty-three wide this year. If you or anyone you know cares about this category, you'll want to check out The Film Experience's Beautiful Foreign Film Oscar Charts and please do share them with your friends. You can peruse the entire category visually instead of just reading this boring list of as-yet-meaningless names.

But we'll include the list here as well for SEO purposes. If the titles are in bold they're rather high profile as these things go, but keep in mind that high profile doesn't always equate with "future nominee" status.

Click to read more ...