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TWO OPINIONS ON MAPS TO THE STARS
Nathaniel's Julianne Spazzing & Glenn's Cronenberg Finger Wagging 

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Entries in Mike Leigh (10)

Sunday
Sep072014

TIFF: Vignettes with Mike Leigh

Nathaniel's adventures at TIFF. Day 2

Day 2 was just magical from start to finish with 3 great movies and 1 solid one. Two of the films you've already read about here in Sweden's stellar Oscar submission Force Majeure and Norway's Out of Nature about one man hiking around in the wilderness on a long weekend. I like to think of the latter as Norway's counterpart to Reese Witherspoon in Wild - which I'll be seeing soon - though I doubt Reese takes her clothes off for a wank and runs around starkers. Day 2 was something of a vignette day since I will remember it primarily as the day I saw Mike Leigh twice and hid from the rain with him (long story - save it for the podcast!), the day I scarfed down melted cheese sandwiches with Nick & Joe in an highly unglamorous take-out setting, and a day of not one but 2 great movies composed of vignettes.

WILD TALES. an amazing Argentinian delightVignette films, like their cousin the omnibus, are tough beasts to pull off because you're essentially asking the audience to reinvest in the movie every 20 minutes or so, as if they've stumbled into a short film festival. They're also bound to feel uneven with some segments much richer than others. But here's two films that pull it off with real aplomb...

Argentina's Wild Tales is directed by Damián Szifrón but produced by TFE's favorite Pedro Almodóvar who I imagine is just thrilled with the results. It seems like a movie he would love what with its colorful characters, amusingly melodramatic and twisty stories, and at least three vivid female characters though it's not as actressy as his movies. Let's just say everyone in this six story movie is ...on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown, and not just the women. Wild Tales was a big hit at Cannes earlier this year and it might possibly be Argentina's Oscar submission. It's easy to see why since the title is accurate. You feel like anything could happen primarily because not so very many minutes into the terrific opening vignette, it does. It starts just like any movie might with a beautiful woman being chatted up by a handsome older stranger as their flight takes off. But then they realize they have an acquaintance in common. Another passenger overhears them, interrupts and...

No, I shan't tell you more because this movie is best seen cold as the surprises are half the fun. Let's just say this free-fall into insanity sets the tone for the whole film which plays like a highwire act of dark comedy, violent thrills, and romances gone awry. Of the six segments, of which only one is just "good" (that'd be the one starring Argentinian cinema's Mr Ubiquitous Ricardo Darin), I had two favorites. The third vignette takes place on a long stretch of dusty highway where two men piss each other off while driving. Neither of them can let any affront go. It's a stretch of cinema that should make the majority of the world's action directors ashamed of themselves for not bothering to pack in as many thrills and cleverly choreographed beats into 2 hours that Szifron manages in 20 minutes. The final sequence centering on a wedding reception that goes sour and descends into utter chaos is also pretty damn great, and funny too. Don't read anything more about it and if gets released, jump in. A-

VENICE GOLDEN LION WINNER!
Sweden's A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting On Existence comes from one of Mike Leigh's favorite directors Roy Andersson. Hence the first Mike Leigh sighting of the day since he came to the show with Mr Turner's primary non-Timothy Spall Oscar contender Marion Bailey. The room was jam-packed with press many of whom were laughing out loud and very frequently which is not all that common in critics screenings, I have to tell you.

A Pigeon... which does indeed include pigeons sitting on branches (albeit mostly offscreen),  bills itself as the final part of a trilogy of what it means to be human. And it starts with three short scenes called "Three Encounters With Death" which are beyond hilarious. I will never forget the ancient little lady hanging tightly on to her purse because she wants to take it with her when she goes. Every scene in the film is its own little continuous shot vignette in which the camera does not move but the things within the frame do, albeit sometimes very slowly. The two most frequently recurring characters are gag salesmen who keep announcing that they're there to help people have fun but are the glummest downers you ever did see, perpetually frowning, failing, frumpy and shuffling as if they're zombies across Andersson's often brilliant mise-en-scène . Not that anyone in the frame looks "alive" per se, since Andersson's figures are nearly all chalky white with a touch of ginger in their hair. The salesmen turned out to be my least favorite running gag in the movie and definitely wore out their welcome a bit though they're super funny at first. My favorite recurring bit was the generic repetitive dialogue heard whenever anyone onscreen answers a telephone. As if all the disconnected oddness weren't perplexing enough, there are three amazing period piece scenes involving warring soldiers, a musical number in a diner, and a slave ship (a very disturbing sequence).

Andersson strikes me a singular director, but there is one comparison point I feel comfortable sharing. I kept thinking of Jacques Tati, because the longer you stare at the sometimes crowded sometimes spare shots, the funnier they become and the bigger their comic payoffs whenever anything changes within the frame you've been visually searching for more things to discover or giggle about. I'm still scratching my head over this film but I'm already kicking myself for having missed Andersson's previous films. Several people have told me that I would love them. They were right and I am a fool for taking so long to get to them. A-

one of many screamingly funny but morbid scenes in "A Pigeon..."

Can you tell that I'm having a great great festival this year?

Saturday
May172014

Cannes Diary Day 3: Mr Turner & Timbuktu

Diana Drumm is reporting from Cannes for The Film Experience on two new films that have won strong reviews.

Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner

Mr. Turner
Mike Leigh’s latest (and the current Palme d’Or frontrunner though we're only a few days into the festival) opens on a pastoral landscape of seemingly neverending fields. A windmill in the middle-ground and sunlight speckling through the vastness give hints of perspective. As the camera lingers, two women ease their way into frame and jolt the viewer into the 19th century. Chatting back and forth and carrying their errands’ loads, they breathe human life into the painterly image (lensed by Leigh's regular cinematographer, Oscar nominee Dick Pope). The camera follows this humble pair until it spots a graying stout figure staring off into the field and sketching near-furiously. Sticking out like a sore crooked-toothed thumb in this panorama, this is J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall), the controversial but influential British painter best remembered for his Romantic oil painting landscape and seascapes though he also worked in watercolor.

Spanning the final quarter decade of the artist's life, Mr. Turner eases through the artist’s autumn loves, losses and disappointments. The film opens with Turner leading the life of a discontented bachelor. His ex (Ruth Sheen who led Leigh's last, Another Year) and two daughters live elsewhere, though they call on him regularly enough to nag and harbinger guilt about his lack of involvement in their lives. His two main companions are his father (Paul Jesson), who acts as his studio assistant buying paints and hosting potential clients, and his housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson), who he occasionally rogers from behind. Their relationship resembles a bizarrely reticent S&M relationship more than institutionalized employer-employee rape.  

More after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
May132014

Cannes Monologue: Secrets and Lies

Andrew with a Cannes edition of our monologue series...

The 2014 Cannes Film Festival begins tomorrow and The Film Experience is doing its part to keep things Cannes focused with our list of favourite Palme D’Or winners, Diana’s upcoming coverage on the ground, and more. To continue the party let's turn to the Palme D'Or winner that topped my own team ballot, Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies (1996).

Brenda Blethyn plays Cynthia Purley, a woman who spends much of her time jabbering away (often incoherently). Like Anne Baxter, featured last week, it’s Brenda’s domination of her scenes that fool you into considering her scenes are more monologue-driven than they actually are.

[18 year-old spoilers follow...]

Secrets and Lies has a fine ensemble but it's impossible to look away from Brenda Blethyn's fantastic turn even when you want to - Cynthia can be draining, even overwhelming and exhausting to watch. Cynthia's arc is composed from a string of breakdown scenes wherein she's reacting to family secrets and issues and they are all pitched perfectly. The one which is most significant comes midway through the film when she meets the daughter she gave up for adoption some decades ago when she was a teenager.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan012014

Interview: Sally Hawkins on Cate Blanchett, Woody Allen, and Godzilla

One of the most delightful surprises of the season was the Golden Globe Supporting Actress nomination for Sally Hawkins in Woody Allen's latest hit Blue Jasmine. While Cate Blanchett rages through the movie like a force of nature as Jasmine (née Jeanette) and has won dozens of prizes, Hawkins has the less showy but difficult task of keeping the movie grounded and the mood breezy while navigating her screen sister's stormiest weathers. Blue Jasmine, which comes to DVD and BluRay on January 21st, is yet another reminder, that Hawkins is one of the stealth MVPs of current cinema.

Sally and I had spoken once before (at length) during the Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) press tour and getting reacquainted was unusually good fun; I've rarely laughed so much during an interview. To give you a sense of the easy rapport and how delightful Sally is in person, I've included a little audio segment of my favorite bit of our conversation, when we were talking about her key directors: Woody Allen (2 films together) or Mike Leigh (3 films together) again. 

Nathaniel: So anyway… Blue Jasmine. When I first saw it I thought ‘this is good’ But then it just wouldn't leave my head. So it’s moved up in my estimation.

SALLY HAWKINS: Those films that sit and resonate with you, that you keep thinking about, are really interesting.

Do you experience that when you're reading a script? Or is that something you don’t discover until you’re on set. Like ‘oh, this one is going to be good.’ [more...]

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
May082012

"Maleficent" - Now With More Mike Leigh!

Had a private double take giggle last night when I read the news of Maleficent's latest cast members. Maleficent herself Angelina Jolie and Sleeping Beauty Elle Fanning will be joined by Brit prestige actors like Oscar nominee Miranda Richardson (who will be play the fairy queen aunt of Maleficent), Sam Riley (Control), Kenneth Cranham (Made in Dagenham), and.... wait for it... Mike Leigh thespian goddesses Imelda Staunton & Lesley Manville as Beauty's protectors (two pixies instead of three fairies).

Imelda and Lesley will protect Sleeping Beauty in "Maleficent"

Suddenly I was picturing Mike Leigh in the director's chair!

Imagine the gritty British realness. Picture Angelina Jolie rehearsing for six month to suit Leigh's process. Hee. The insights into Maleficent's psyche- the grotty castle home she's lived in for decades, centuries worth of raven droppings, her unspoken trauma from past society shunnings, the weight of the horns on her head and how it's left her with a permanently sore neck. Imagine Angelina and Miranda diagramming their entire history as relatives in a quiet rehearsal space and writing their own lines. The pixies vibe would include stunted maternal instincts and adoptive parent sorrow "We have to give the wee lass back?!?".

Mike Leigh's Maleficent wouldn't break $200 million but I'd buy several tickets. 

In the eternal "Pink... no Blue" fairy godmother debate, we figure Imelda gets the pink if she wants it.

She owns the pink. 

P.S. If they were to add a third fairy godmother, excuse me "pixie" who should join Imelda & Lesley to raise narcoleptic Elle Fanning? Cast it in the comments! 

Saturday
Dec032011

Link Hunters

The Guardian Ken Russell was nearly finished with a new screenplay adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, to be made as a risque musical. Will it still be made with a new director?
Nullco Preorder The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack and download a sampler
Rope of Silicon first look at Sam Worthington in Wrath of the Titans and a curious plot synopsis
Thompson on Hollywood talks to one or our favorite craftsmen, production designer Jack Fisk (of Terrence Malick and Mr Sissy Spacek fame.)
24 Frames Hugo steps up as a powerful Oscar contender.

Empire wonders if paranormal romance Smoke and Bone about an angel and a demon that fall in love will be the next big movie franchise? Have any of you read it?
Inside Movies Deliverance actor Bill McKinney has passed away. 
Wipe Your Feet "Watching Melancholia is like..." I love the movie but this is totally LOL. 
Pop Watch tries to imagine Buffy alum Michelle Trachtenberg as Bella Swan. Supposedly, it could have happened.
Hollywood News talks to Will Reiser about 50/50 and the power of Anjelica Huston. 
IndieWire Mike Leigh will head the jury at February's Berlinale. (This year's jury picked Oscar buzzing Iranian film A Separation as the best of the fest. Good luck topping that one!)

Finally, EW has released the first photo of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

I don't want to be bitchy about it since we've seen so little -- the trailer hits next week -- but doesn't it seem like revisionist fairy tale revisions and dark leathery bad-ass costuming are getting a little, shall we say, generic these days? How will this distinguish itself?

And when will Jeremy Renner star in a drama again after all this time spent Bourne Avenging Impossible Missions With Witch Hunters ? Does he want to be Samuel L Jackson that badly? Seems like a waster after his dramatic brilliance in The Hurt Locker.