Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Micmacs (Sony Pictures Classics, 5.28), has a brand new English trailer to accompany its limited American theatrical run two months hence.

Left to Right: Jean-Pierre Marielle as Placard, Dany Boon as Bazil
Photo taken by Bruno Calvo, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Micmacs is a whimsical, satirical comedy about a man whose father was killed by a landmine, and has a bullet lodged in his own head, who bands together with a group of homeless misfits to bring down the weapons-manufacturers who created the objects of their affliction.

For me, the film is a messy attempt to recapture the charm of Amélie, relying a forced sense of quirkiness and shallow character development to try and create some sort of social significance. It doesn't work, but I know Jeunet has his fans, and the film received surprisingly positive reactions from SXSW earlier this month. You can judge for yourself when the film opens stateside May 28. Until then, here is the film's new trailer:

MySpace has the exclusive red-band trailer for Magnolia Pictures' upcoming The Good Heart (4.30, On Demand 4.2), starring Brian Cox and Paul Dano.

Brian Cox in THE GOOD HEART, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The film tells the story of a curmudgeonly bartender with a bad heart who takes in a homeless, suicidal young man, and gives him a new lease on life by training him to be his successor. The highlight of the film is without a doubt Brian Cox's performance, and is worth seeing for him alone. I enjoyed the rest of the film until the end, which is pretty terrible and almost ruined the film for me. Still, Cox is excellent and until the obvious and cloying conclusion, the film is pretty strong.

Check out the trailer, featuring lots of Brian Cox's Gran Torino-esque profanity, here:

From The Dispatch:
While you may come away wondering why all the Vikings have Scottish accents (the presence of Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson is a hoot) it's a film that delivers on pretty much all levels. Gorgeously animated, and accompanied by a rousing score by John Powell, "How to Train Your Dragon" is a delightful adventure with a surprising dose of heart. It is truly a film with something for everyone, the kind of film with the power to awaken the child in everyone, and a journey well worth taking.
Click here to read my full review.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The struggle for Tibetan freedom is one that has gained quite a bit of popularity in recent years, especially when the movement gained greater international attention during protests in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Yet beyond hipsters plastering "Free Tibet" bumper stickers on their cars, the cause has largely remained a distant and abstract one for most Americans.

The face of the movement has always been the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959, during which the citizens revolted against the Chinese occupation. Living in exile ever since, the Dalai Lama has been an international symbol of peace and pacifism, but he has also been a man without a country. For the people of Tibet he is a spiritual leader and a beacon of hope. And for those who seek Tibetan independence, he is the ultimate symbol of the plight of the Tibetan people.

Surprisingly enough, however, the Dalai Lama does not support Tibetan independence. He supports what he calls the "Middle Way," a compromise that would allow Tibet autonomy while still under Chinese control.

That issue and more is explored in great detail in Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam's new documentary, The Sun Behind the Clouds, which explores the history of the Tibetan struggle for freedom. Using a peaceful, yet controversial march from India to Tibet as a backdrop with which to frame their story, Sarin and Sonam examine the intricacies of the issues facing Tibetans today, including the desire for independence by the younger generation, standing in stark contrast to the Dalai Lama's pacifist Middle Way. While many cannot reconcile their reverence for the Dalai Lama and his philosophies with their own desire for independence, many wonder if his need to provide an answer that coincides with Buddhist teachings is hindering his ability to make the correct political decision as the leader of the Tibetan people.

It is, in many ways, a clash of the generations, where religion and politics collide. Sarin and Sonam use candid interviews with Tibetan activists and historians from all over the world, as well as an extended interview with the Dalai Lama himself, to examine the history of the struggle and the current inner conflicts in a very personal and intimate way. The filmmakers have a clear understanding of the complexities of the issue, and they present them in a very clear and concise manner, making the film easily accessible even to those unfamiliar with the cause.

Structurally, The Sun Behind the Clouds is pretty straightforward, often feeling like it may feel more at home on PBS than in cinemas. But the goal here is to spread the word, and if playing this film in theaters brings the cause home to more people, then it has done its job. It is a movement facing a crossroads, as the Dalai Lama ages (he is currently 75), Tibetans are beginning to think about a time when His Holiness will no longer be with them. Will the legacy he leaves be the Middle Way, which many see as a toothless capitulation to the Chinese, and still others see as the best spiritual way, or will it be one of independence to inspire future generations, to be carried on by his successor?

There are no answers here. Sarin and Sonam merely provide the questions. While it is clear both support Tibetan independence, they leave the how up the audience. While it feels more like a historical document and journalistic cultural study than a passionate call to action, The Sun Behind the Clouds is a rare peek at a struggle whose true ins and outs are still unknown to many, and with a film like this to illuminate, it may just open some eyes as well.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

THE SUN BEHIND THE CLOUDS; Directed by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam; Not Rated; Opens Wednesday, March 31, at the Film Forum in NYC.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I've been watching films over the past few days in preparation for the upcoming RiverRun Film Festival in Winston-Salem, NC. I see a lot of films, many more than the average movie goer. I see films that will never light up a multiplex screen, and many that are lucky just to be at a festival, where a select group of cinephiles will ever see it.

I see great films, I see good films, and I see a lot of substandard filler. The programmers at RiverRun have always done a good job of avoiding that last category, but when you're in my line of work and see as many films as I do, the good to bad ratio always seems to fall in favor of the bad.

Which is why it is so gratifying to come across a film like Osadné. This is the reason I watch movies and cover film festivals - in hopes that while sifting through all the junk I will find a hidden gem like Osadné.

Osadné is a charming fish out of water documentary about a small Slovakian town on the very fringe of the European Union, and its attempts to be noticed by the world. With a population of 196, Osadné is quickly disappearing. The local priest has performed 50 funerals and only two baptisms in the last year. So its officials decide to do something about it. Together, the mayor, the priest, and a Rusyn activist who dedicated to preserving his people's heritage, set out to lobby Parliament to build a large spiritual center in Osadné to breath new life into the dying village. It plays almost like a real life Borat in places, as these three small town men take on the big city, but in the end Osadné is a gentle and poignant portrait of a beautiful village, overlooked by the rest of the world, just trying to shout out "we exist!"

I want movies to show me something I've never seen before, to introduce me to other worlds and cultures I would never have known about otherwise. Osadné does just that. It is a gently funny and bittersweet ode to the disappearing cultures of the world that must not be forgotten.

Osadné will have its North American premiere on April 16 at 2.00pm at the a/perture cinema in downtown Winston-Salem. Click here to purchase tickets.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It is nearly impossible to examine, much less appreciate, Atom Egoyan's Chloe (a remake of the 2004 French thriller Nathalie...) without viewing it through the lens of high camp. It is a film that deals in the over the top, psycho-sexual histrionics of camp cinema, even while hiding beneath the veneer of glossy respectability. This is a soap opera, make no mistake; a classy soap opera, but a soap opera nonetheless.

Camp is generally seen as an aesthetic sensibility, defined by Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay, "Notes on 'Camp'" as seeing "everything in quotation marks. It's not a lamp, but a "lamp"; not a woman, but a "woman." To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater."

Chloe belongs to a more theatrical form of camp. Stylistically, it is a slick production, shot in the kind of softly lit, light tones so common to this sort of romantic drama. It is its attitude that defines its campiness, evoking a kind of emotional hysteria and sexual excess that borders on exploitation and soft-core pornography, but therein lies its deliciously trashy charm.

Amanda Seyfried as Chloe Photo taken by Rafy/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Part of the great joy of watching films like this is watching films like this is seeing great actresses unleash their inner diva, chewing into the emotional fireworks with passion and relish. For Julianne Moore, who stars as Catherine Stewart, Chloe is a showcase, and she more than rises to the challenge, turning in one of her finest performances; one that, remarkably, considering the surroundings, shows great emotional restraint. Catherine is a successful gynecologist with a picture-perfect life - a doting husband, David (Liam Neeson) and a handsome, athletic son Michael (Max Thieriot). She is in the middle of setting up a huge surprise birthday party for David, but at the last minute he misses his flight home, and the party must be canceled.

She is disappointed of course, but she understands. That is until she finds a mysterious text message on his cell phone the next day, and a photo of him with his arm around a beautiful young woman. So she turns to Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), an enigmatic young prostitute that she met and consoled in a restaurant bathroom, hiring her to present herself to David to temp him and see if his reaction confirms her greatest fears. The result leads to a strange relationship, as Chloe seduces David, and reports back to Catherine with graphic, minute by minute descriptions of their encounters, as Catherine listens, both enraptured and repulsed. Eventually, she is living her sexual relationship with her husband through Chloe, but it soon becomes clear that Chloe has other, much darker plans in mind, and by the time Catherine discovers them, the fabric of her entire family may be at risk.

Left to Right: Liam Neeson as David Stewart, Julianne Moore as Catherine Stewart
Photo taken by Rafy/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Egoyan clothes his film in an air of high minded respectability, but let's not kid ourselves here - Chloe is trash. And it knows that. But it is its ultimate embracing of its more base, soap opera instincts that it succeeds. Moore owns this film, and while the rest of the cast more than hold their own, Moore is in a class by herself. Seyfried's wide-eyed innocence is perfect for the role, her pure beauty and confidence masking the troubled and scared girl beneath. But as a character, Chloe is the most problematic, falling victim to the screenplay's unfortunate penchant for awkward purple prose. While films such as this are often marked and defined by over the top dialogue, here it seems more of a hindrance, drawing away from the erotic emotional hysteria as classy adult drama facade.

As a whole, Chloe is a hard film to take completely seriously. But I also don't think it was meant to be looked at that way. This is a film that embraces its campy ridiculousness with stylistic restraint, and comes away as being a shamelessly entertaining mess.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

CHLOE; Directed by Atom Egoyan; Stars Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Max Thieriot; Rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language; Opens tomorrow, March 26.
Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard is not your average fairy tale. Unlike many of the sanitized versions of fairy tales that American audiences are used to, neutered of their violent, sexual underpinnings, Bluebeard is a film steeped in the dark, gruesome sexual politics that so often permeated the world of fairy tales.

For US audiences, such Gothic frankness may be shocking in this sort of story, based on the classic French fairy tale by Charles Perrault. But Breillat pulls no punches, and plunges us right into the depths of a grisly nightmare as seen through the eyes of children.

Breillat frames the story with two little girls, Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites) and her older sister, Anne (Daphné Baiwir), reading Perrault's tale in a dark and musty attic. Catherine, takes great pleasure in scaring her older sister, drawing out and relishing in every gory detail for maximum effect as she reads the book aloud.

Dominique Thomas, Lola Creton, in Catherine Breillat's BLUEBEARD
Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing

The two girls are based on Breillat herself and her own sister, who used to relish the tale of Bluebeard in similar fashion when they were children, and she realizes the story as it might be imagined by a child, filtering it through the lens of their own experience, as a way of inserting themselves into the story. The heroine's name is Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton), and she lives the life of a peasant in the medieval French countryside with her mother and older sister. Together they live in the shadow of the castle of the notorious Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas), an aristocrat with the reputation for marrying young women and then killing them in short order.

When word gets out that Bluebeard is seeking a new wife, families from all over turn up to try to marry their daughters away to a wealthy lord, thereby assuring their own financial security. Marie-Catherine's family, deep in debt after the death of their father and living in poverty, decides to present Bluebeard with their eldest daughter, Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti). But it is Marie-Catherine who catches his eye, and soon she finds herself married and living in his cold, cavernous castle. Determined to be the wife that finally tames the savage beast, Marie-Catherine uses her youth and beauty to her advantage, holding Bluebeard at bay and charming him with her innocence and devotion, and soon begins to wonder if the rumors were even true. But she soon learns the truth, and it takes every bit of her feminine cunning to try to outsmart the murderous Bluebeard.

Daphne Baiwir, Marilou Lopes-Benites, in Catherine Breillat's BLUEBEARD
Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing

Unsurprisingly, Bluebeard is ultimately a tale of female empowerment, a common theme among Breillat's work. It is a twisted fairy tale with a feminist edge, channeling Breillat's own childhood dreams and fears into a deeply personal and modern take on a well known story. The costumes and sets almost feel like children playing dress up from ornately gaudy costumes found in an old trunk, very much rooted in the mentality of a little girl's fantasy. Breillat's goal is to tap into the frightened child in all of us, gleefully devouring scary stories in the dark under the covers, or huddled in the corner of a dusty attic, willfully scaring ourselves silly. And in that regard she succeeds. But she has also crafted a film of great and tremulous beauty. Bluebeard is a breathless whisper, a haunting and wholly satisfying journey into the heart of human darkness as filtered through a child's eyes, in all its larger than life fearsomeness.

Breillat has breathed life into an enchanting feminist fairy tale for a modern age, at once wistful and nostalgic, and eerily macabre. Its distillation of her childhood fantasies mixed with her own adult sensibilities makes for something both magical and frightening. It is an engaging, layered fairy tale; a beautiful gilded dagger of a film - lavish in its appointments, that cuts straight to the bone.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

BLUEBEARD; Directed by Catherine Breillat; Stars Dominique Thomas, Lola Créton, Marilou Lopes-Benites, Daphné Baiwir, Lola Giovannetti; Not Rated; In French w/English subtitles; Opens tomorrow, 3/26, in limited release.
Several months ago, presented a gay themed triple bill in several cities, which included the films Misconceptions, Watercolors, and Murder in Fashion. This Friday, in conjuction with Here Films and Regent Releasing, they are opening yet another triple bill this Friday, March 26, at Clearview's Chelsea Cinema in New York, and will expand to the Laemmle Sunset 5 in Los Angeles on April 2.

A scene from DREAM BOY. Photo courtesy of Regent Releasing.

Like the last series, the films are a mixed bag, but at a time when gay themed films and queer cinema in general are woefully underrepresented in mainstream culture, they cater to an often under-served market, for whom these three films may provide a welcome respite from typical, hetero-centric multiplex fare.


If you've ever seen a gay love story before, you've seen Dream Boy. Based on the novel by Jim Grimsley, Dream Boy is the tale of a shy, gay high schooler named Nathan (Stephan Bender), who moves into a small, southern town, where he meets and falls in love with his next door neighbor, Roy (Max Roeg), a closeted country boy.

It is a tentative, forbidden romance, filled with furtive glances and quiet longing over late night study session, and carried out under the nose of Nathan's abusive, alcoholic father (Thomas Jay Ryan). Filmed in sunny, nostalgic tones suggestive of its 1970s setting, Dream Boy is an often quite sweet, if cliche, love story with two genuinely likable protagonists. But its third act twist comes out of nowhere and is completely unearned, serving little narrative purpose and completely failing in its aim to explore the nature of homophobia and self loathing in an oppressive, intolerant society. It feels like a cheat, going for the typical gay love story finale rather than rising above it and bringing something new to the table.

Directed by James Bolton; Stars Stephan Bender, Max Roeg, Thomas Jay Ryan, Diana Scarwid; Rated R for sexual content, and some violence including a rape - involving teens.


Just Say Love would make a very good play.

Which, in fact, it is. But this is not a play, it is a movie. The dynamics are just different, but Bill Humphreys' adaptation of David J. Mauriello's play remains stubbornly trapped on the stage. It is an interesting look at the arbitrary nature of gender when it comes to love, and Platonic notions of love as seen through the eyes of two men - one an openly gay man and the other a straight, married construction worker who meet one day on a park bench and strike up no strings attached physical relationship. For one, it is just an easy means of sexual release, but for the other it comes to mean much more.

This is a movie of ideas, and they aren't necessarily bad ones, but this is not a movie, it's a filmed stage production - and not in Brechtian Dogville sense. Just Say Love's screenplay is frustratingly theatrical, based around conversations between the two men and a couple of monologues, broken up only by the occasional scene change or lighting cue to denote the passage of time. It's a story I would very much like to see on stage, and as a souvenir of a play it's well produced, but as a film it just doesn't work.

Directed by Bill Humphreys; Stars Matthew Jaeger, Robert Mammana; Not Rated.


Of all the films playing as part of the film series, this charming Spanish comedy is the most easily recommendable. It's an infectious screwball comedy, and while it often plays out like a second rate Almodovar impersonation, the crowd pleasing effectiveness of Manuela y Manuel is hard to deny.

Manuel is known to most people as Manuela, a flamboyant drag queen with no use for men's clothing. His life is in crisis, his longtime boyfriend, Toño, has left him, and he spends most of his time pining away for him in long, rambling internet videos. Until one day, his best friend, Coca, gets pregnant from a soldier who runs off as soon as the deed is done. Afraid to face her strict, traditional family, she asks Manuel to pose as her fiance, and the baby's father, to soften the blow. Of course, what is supposed to be a one time thing is turned into a huge affair as Coca's father demands the two of them marry, and Manuel is forced to act like a man for the first time in his life.

Manuela y Manuel is a big, loud, gaudy party of a film that walks the line between screwball comedy and ludicrous soap opera. It may often be over the top, and Coca is a woefully underwritten and under-explored character, but the film delivers in its attempt to provide a raucous good time.

Directed by Raúl Marchand Sánchez; Stars Humberto Busto, Elena Iguina, Luz María Rondón, Emmanuel Sunshine Logroño, Marian Pabón; Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving sexuality and language.

Dream Boy, Just Say Love and Manuela y Manuel open Friday, March 26, at Clearview's Chelsea Cinema in New York.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The US advertising art for Gianni Di Gregorio's Mid-August Lunch incongruously proclaims that it is "a delicious comedy from the makers of Gomorrah!" It seems like a strange match, using the name of a violent, true life mob drama to entice people into seeing a light hearted jaunt like Mid-August Lunch, but the point, of course, is the prestige.

Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone is the producer of Mid-August Lunch, but you would be hard pressed to find two more disparate films. Mid-August Lunch the very definition of charming; miles away from the stark violence of Gomorrah. It is a beguiling, cheerful tale of a middle aged man taking care of four elderly women for an evening, with humorous results.

Gianni Di Gregorio acts as writer, director, and star, filling the lead role of Gianni, who lives with his good hearted but often overbearing 93 year old mother in a rickety old apartment, reading her bedtime stories and cooking her meals and generally taking care of her every need.

A scene from MID-AUGUST LUNCH. A film by Gianni Di Gregorio.
A Zeitgeist Films release.

He is also deep in debt, and facing eviction if he can't make rent. With the board of directors breathing down his neck, the building managers offers to help Gianni out if he will take care of his mother during the Pranzo di Ferragosto, the Feast of the Assumption, one of Italy's biggest holidays. He agrees, but when the manager arrives with his elderly aunt in tow as well, he gets more than he bargained for. His problem is compounded when his doctor asks for a similar favor with his own mother. Soon, Gianni is playing host to four elderly women, each with their own quirks and needs, as he tries desperately to keep them all happy and out of trouble.

At only 75 minutes long, Mid-August Lunch may seem like a trifle, but that is exactly the point. Di Gregorio's assured direction and droll sense of humor make for an extremely pleasurable viewing experience. His cast of senior citizens are a hoot, a completely lovable and entertaining bunch with a penchant for nagging and awkward bluntness.

A scene from MID-AUGUST LUNCH. A film by Gianni Di Gregorio.
A Zeitgeist Films release.

There's a refreshingly old fashioned sense of timing at work here. This is character based comedy without jokes or punchlines, but filled with a sparkling dry wit that arises from the situations themselves. Gianni almost resembles Buster Keaton, with his hangdog, world weary charm, just trying to keep up with four fiesty old women. There is charm in its simplicity, a laid back joyfulness that hits the spot with the kind of zesty brevity suggested by its title.

Mid-August Lunch is a wholly enchanting confection of a movie, a fresh, jaunty comedy arriving in the US just in time for Spring. It is the kind of film whose warm-heartedness is completely infectious, as crisp and bracing as a glass of champagne on a warm summer evening, going down easy and hitting all the right notes along the way.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

MID-AUGUST LUNCH; Directed by Gianni Di Gregorio; Stars Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria de Franciscis, Grazia Cesarini Sforza, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Cali; Not Rated; In Italian w/English subtitles.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

This is by no means comprehensive. There are plenty of films I have not seen from the past decade, and while I tried to give the films a basic order, it's not exactly written in stone, as it's a highly subjective process. But I think it closely represents my choices for the 100 best films of the 2000s.

1. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)2. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2004)
3. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
4. The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001, 2002, 2003)
5. "The Battle for Iwo Jima" (Clint Eastwood, 2006)
6. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
7. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2002)
8. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, 2008)
9. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2005)
10. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2008)11. Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2001)
12. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominick, 2007)
13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)
14. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)
15. Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000)
16. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
17. Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)
18. In the Bedroom (Todd Field, 2001)
19. Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2001)
20. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2006)21. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
22. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2001)
23. Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)
24. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
25. House of Sand (Andrucha Waddington, 2006)
26. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
27. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
28. Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002)
29. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
30. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003)31. Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005)
32. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005)
33. The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002)
34. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)
35. Cowards Bend the Knee (Guy Maddin, 2004)
36. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
37. Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, 2001)
38. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)
39. Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
40. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)41. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2001)
42. Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, 2004)
43. Still Walking (Kore-Eda Hirokazu, 2009)
44. Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
45. Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 2000)
46. Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
47. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar, 2002)
48. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron, 2002)
49. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
50. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007)51. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
52. Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008)
53. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
54. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)
55. No Country for Old Men (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 2007)
56. Still Life (Jia Zhang Ke, 2008)
57. Munyurangabo (Lee Isaac Chung, 2009)
58. Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani, 2009)
59. 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, 2009)
60. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
61. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)62. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2008)
63. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2007)
64. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
65. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007)
66. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
67. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003)
68. Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003, 2004)
69. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
70. Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)
71. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)72. Late Marriage (Dover Kosashvili, 2002)
73. Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)
74. The Door in the Floor (Tod Williams, 2004)
75. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2003)
76. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
77. 12:08 East of Bucharest (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2007)
78. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2004)
79. Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2009)
80. Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2003)
81. The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet, 2003)82. In America (Jim Sheridan, 2003)
83. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
84. Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, 2003)
85. Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, 2003)
86. The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, 2004)
87. The Story of the Weeping Camel (Luigi Falorni, Byambasuren Davaa, 2004)
88. Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July, 2005)
89. Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad, 2005)
90. Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
91. I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)92. Millennium Actress (Satoshi Kon, 2003)
93. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
94. Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006)
95. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (Ki-duk Kim, 2004)
96. Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar, 2004)
97. The Idiots (Lars von Trier, 2000)
98. Babel (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2006)
99. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)
100. King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005)

Friday, March 19, 2010

For those of you who live in North Carolina, the RiverRun Film Festival in Winston-Salem is one of the biggest film related events of the year. And since The Dispatch is based in Lexington, which is just down the road from Winston, it's also a chance for me to shine the spotlight on some films that may have otherwise gone overlooked in this part of the state.

I will once again be covering the feature for The Dispatch. And from the looks of it the lineup of films this year is quite impressive, including a few I have already seen, such as Jessica Hausner's Lourdes (my favorite film of the year so far), and Xavier Dolan's much touted debut feature, I Killed My Mother. Other high profile screenings will include I Am Love starring Tilda Swinton, Alex Gibney's Jack Abramoff doc, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, Mao's Last Dancer, and OSS 117: Lost in Rio, the sequel to the hit French spy spoof, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. Here are the films that will be playing in competition:

A scene from Jessica Hausner's Lourdes.

I Killed My Mother
Katalin Varga
Letters to Father Jacob
Mid-August Lunch
Who's Afraid of the Wolf?
Women Without Men

Irlan Silva in Only When I Dance.

Cooking History
General Orders No. 9
His & Hers
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
Last Train Home
Only When I Dance
Soap and Water
The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

For a complete list of films, click here. To purchase tickets, click here. Ticket prices are $8 unless otherwise noted for special presentations. The festival opens on April 15 with the gala premiere screening of Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini's The Extra Man, and will close on April 25.
It shouldn't be surprising that there is already talk of an American remake of Niels Arden Oplev's hit Swedish serial killer drama, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, before it is even released in the US. After all, it's already the most successful film in its home country, why shouldn't Hollywood be salivating over the prospects of taking it for a spin with the no-subtitle crowd?

Based on the novel by the late Stieg Larsson, the first in the so called Millennium Trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is steeped in Larsson's self professed love for American crime fiction. It is, at its heart, a potboiler, and Oplev embraces that with unabashed aplomb.

The film introduces us to Mikael Blomkvist (Micahel Nyqvist), a disgraced journalist who is being sent to prison for slander after publicly accusing the CEO of a successful financial institution of several serious crimes. In the six months before he is to begin his three month prison term, Blomkvist is approached by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), a wealthy retired businessman, to help solve a decades old case in which his 16 year old niece. Harriet, whom he treated as his own daughter, disappeared without a trace.

Intrigued by the prospect (and its high pay grade), and not wanting to cause his employers any further embarrassment by his presence, Blomkvist agrees to investigate the case. Along the way he meets and enlists the help of an enigmatic young hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), who has a dark and troubled past and is under the thumb of a reprehensible guardian. Together, they uncover a link between Harriet and a series of ritualistic, religiously motivated murders. As they work to uncover the past, it quickly becomes clear that someone does not want them to fund the answers, the very someone who Harriet may have once discovered herself more than 40 years ago.

At its heart, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a cheaply entertaining piece of pulp fiction hackery, a beach read come to life in film form. There's nothing new under the sun here. Oplev uses every tired trick in the book - red herrings abound, shadowy figures dart across the frame accompanied by quick musical exclamations from the score. It's a dime store paperback novel as a movie, walking the well trod path of serial killer dramas that came before it.

To its credit, however, it never tries to be anything more. As a lurid late night distraction, a midnight movie cable channel surfers, it works just fine. It knows its place, and stays there, even if it never quite earns its bloated 152 minute running time. Genre cliches abound (can we please retire the whole "villain reveals entire dastardly plot when he thinks he has the upper hand" device now?), but while his back of tricks may be decidedly old hat, Oplev keeps the film consistently entertaining throughout. It doesn't hold a candle, however, to the similarly themed but far superior Red Riding trilogy, which was released earlier this year, which are true examples of how to transcend the material and do this kind of thing right.

One has to wonder just how different a Hollywood version of this would be. It already has all the trappings of a big budget Hollywood thriller, except it's in Swedish rather than English. Maybe Lisbeth won't sodomize a sadistic anal rapist with a giant dildo? Who knows? It will doubtlessly retain its tawdry gumshoe kitsch, but given the origins of its source material, it really shouldn't be any other way.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO; Directed by Niels Arden Oplev; Stars Micahel Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber; Not Rated; In Swedish w/English subtitles; Opens today, 3.19, in select cities.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

For anyone who has ever seen Kevin Macdonald's excellent 2004 documentary, Touching the Void, the dangers and inherent suspense of mountain climbing are well known. Touching the Void was an ingenious mix of documentary and narrative film, mixing interviews with the subjects and filmed re-enactments of their ordeal to create a truly gripping film experience.

Philipp Stölzl's North Face takes a more traditional approach to a similar tale. Set in 1936, North Face tells the story of two teams of mountain climbers, one German, one Austrian, who set out to conquer the supposedly unconquerable north face of Switzerland's Eiger Mountain. In the days before the Berlin Olympics, the Nazis seek a symbolic victory over Austria, and turns to Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas), two young, free spirited soldiers who would rather be shirking curfew and climbing mountains than serving in the army.

Jumping at the chance to become the first to ever reach the summit of the Eiger, even after so many men had lost their lives trying, Toni and Andi travel to Switzerland to face off against teams from around the world to claim the victory. Their closest competition is a pair of crackerjack climbers from Austria, who are determined to keep the Germans from claiming the mountain first, and keep close tabs on them on the ascent up the mountain.

Also along for the ride is Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek), a photojournalist with eyes for Toni, who accompanies her boss, a newspaper reporter, to the mountain to document the climb. As the eyes of the world watch from below, the two teams race to the top of one of the deadliest mountains in the world over sheer faces of ice and rock. But as the weather takes a turn for the worse, and the climbers find themselves in increasingly hostile environment, it no longer becomes a quest for personal and national glory, but a fight for survival.

It's a harrowing real life adventure tale, and Stölzl imbues it with a riveting sense of urgency and historical weight. With sweeping, moody cinematography and an ominous score by Christian Kolonovits, Stölzl ratchets up the tension from the start and never lets up. The film is a slow burner, and all the more effective for it. Nearly half the film is spent on setting up the fateful ascent, creating suspense simply by anticipation. The audience knows what's at stake from the very beginning (an old UFA newsreel informs us of past tragedies on Eiger Mountain), and is on edge even before Toni and Andi begin their climb. In fact, the Eiger itself is almost its own character, looming over the film like the great bloodthirsty ogre that is its namesake. Its shadow extends over the entire film, and even when it is not onscreen, its presence is keenly felt.

North Face is the kind of period adventure film that many seem to have forgotten how to do. The period trappings never get in the way of its strong story, and Stölzl keeps the focus intimate and engaging, if occasionally a tad melodramatic. This is gripping stuff, a tautly directed, white knuckle suspense yarn with a keen sense of time and place. It puts the audience in the face of danger, and doesn't blink.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

NORTH FACE; Directed by Philipp Stölzl; Stars Benno Fürmann, Florian Lukas, Johanna Wokalek; Not Rated; In German w/English subtitles.
It's telling that Treeless Mountain director So Yong Kim is one of the producers of Bradley Rust Grey's The Exploding Girl. Grey has the same kind of neo-realist goals in mind as Kim's naturalistic, and superior, slice-of-life tale, but has filtered it through the much more improvisational, mundane lense of the mumblecore genre. Mumblecore has sparked much debate among critics and cinephiles as to its merits and indeed even its viability and legitimacy as a cinematic movement. It has seen the rise of directors like the Duplass brothers (The Puffy Chair, Baghead) and Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Beeswax), and countless words have been poured out from critical keyboards in defense, disdain, and definition of it; but the question remains, what is mumblecore other than the improvised ramblings of bunch of disaffected twenty-somethings? What is its purpose as a movement? Is it even an actual movement?

I have yet to be truly impressed by any self proclaiming mumblecore films. I didn't mind the Duplass' Baghead, but found its scripted moments to be the best thing about the film. As a whole, I generally find them bland and uninteresting - the self absorbed useless ramblings of boring, directionless young people.

In that sense, The Exploding Girl is business as usual for the genre. College student Ivy (Zoe Kazan), is home for spring break. Her best friend, Al (Franklin Pipp), is also in town for break, and in need of a place to stay, so Ivy and her mother (Maryann Urbano) agree to put him up for the week. Ivy spends most of the break trying to get in touch with her boyfriend, who never seems to be available, and is growing more emotionally distant by the day, as he takes care of a hospitalized ex-girlfriend far away from Ivy. Even in the face of her own relationship woes and dealing with epilepsy, Ivy tries to help Al with his own romantic quests, as he sets his eyes on a mutual acquaintance. Unbeknownst to her, however, her friendship with Al is growing stronger by the day, and evolving into something much deeper that neither of them ever expected.

Like most mumblecore films, The Exploding Girl feels wholly real, as is a camera crew followed real people around and simply captured their lives on film as they happened. Its purpose is to wholly immerse a film into the every day life of someone else, but the problem with is that there is ultimately not much there to build a film around. The dialogue feels realistic, but almost self consciously so, a common pitfall of many mumblecore films. The characters are often downbeat and aimless (hence the 'mumble' in mumblecore), it's strenuously real, not effortlessly real.

Zoe Kazan, on the other hand, makes for an appealing lead. Her presence centers the film, and she carries it well. It is mostly thanks to her that the film overcomes its somewhat rambling nature and achieves some sort of emotional connection. It is a film that revels in day to day banality, taking naturalism to a nearly formless extreme. But it is that precise lack of narrative form that somehow draws you in. The Exploding Girl is a film that sneaks up on you. It rambles on for most of its running time in typical, prosaic mumblecore fashion, but then packs a surprising emotional punch.

Grey builds to a quietly moving climax, and while there isn't much of a story to build on, he builds on character emotions and the atmosphere of the city, be it in the sound of a flock of birds at sunset or just the sounds of passing cars, to create something disarmingly beautiful. It is unlikely to revolutionize the genre by any means, but The Exploding Girl makes the most of its bare bones story to create a free flowing and even lyrical look at the fuzzy line between friendship and love.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

THE EXPLODING GIRL; Directed by Bradley Rust Grey; Stars Zoe Kazan, Franklin Pipp, Maryann Urbano; Not Rated; Opens tomorrow, 3.19, at the Cinema Village in New York.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I've made my love of film scores no secret over the years. And since these scores are often overlooked and overshadowed by the films they accompany, I wanted to highlight them here.

These are my pics for the ten best scores of the 2000s:

(Howard Shore, 2001, 2002, 2003)A staggering achievement by any musical standards, Shore's massive score for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy set a new standard for epic film scores. With a vast array of themes and leitmotifs, Shore created not only great accompaniment to a modern classic, he created a fantastic stand-alone symphony as bold, vibrant, and timeless as the story it compliments. Listen.

(Clint Mansell, 2006)Already well known for his score for Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, it was Clint Mansell's powerful for work for Aronofsky's metaphysical mind bender, The Fountain that really demonstrated the powerful range of his capabilities. Utilizing the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai, Mansell crafted a haunting blend of classicism and modernity that perfectly captured the film's love story across the centuries. Listen.

(Jonny Greenwood, 2007)
Eyebrows were raised when Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood was hired to score Paul Thomas Anderson's towering epic of oil, greed, and religion. But upon the film's release, any doubter was quickly silenced by a musical masterpiece every bit as impressive as the film itself. Greenwood's dissonant, often atonal score perfectly captures the soul eating avarice at the film's dark heart. Its being ruled ineligible for an Academy Award because of use of the composer's own Popcorn Superhet Receiver is one of the greatest Oscar injustices of all time. Listen.


(Philip Glass, 2002)
The driving rhythms and repeating phrases of Philip Glass' iconic style has never been more beautiful or more effective than in Stephen Daldry's The Hours. Glass' gorgeous music links three stories over three different time periods together, ingeniously symbolizing their connections and repetitions. It's one of the composer's finest works in a long and illustrious career. Listen.


(Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, 2000)
Hans Zimmer has been endlessly criticized in certain circles for his patented, muscular "Media Ventures" sound, but in 2000, in collaboration with Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerrard, Zimmer crafted the perfect marriage of his epic action style with a softer, much deeper soul. At once pulse-pounding and intimate, Gladiator stands as one of the composer's career highlights. Listen.


(Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, 2007)
For Andrew Dominick's elegiac western, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis eschewed typical affectations of the genre for a delicately haunting, meditative take on the film's themes of loneliness and hero worship. Cave and Ellis collaborated before on The Proposition, and again later on The Road, but it's the evocative strings and gossamer piano musings of Jesse James that will be remembered as their most impressive achievement. It's one of the main reasons the film lingers in the memory as long as it does. Listen.

(Elmer Bernstein, 2002)
Todd Haynes set out to recreate the lavish Douglas Sirk melodramas of the 1950s, and brought along composer Elmer Bernstein, no stranger to the era, who composed the score to To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the all time greatest achievements in film music. His score here masterfully recalls a bygone era, in a lush and gorgeous style of another time, almost speaking the forbidden emotions the characters dare not express. No other score this decade so completely and masterfully evoked another time and place so well, or so beautifully. Listen.

(Nigel Hess, 2005)
Both the film and its score were unfairly overlooked upon their release. The directorial debut of actor Charles Dance, the film, starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Daniel Bruhl is a nice, beautifully acted little character piece, but its score by Nigel Hess is a truly stunning achievement. Centered around a concert movement played by Bruhl's character on violin at the film's climax, the score branches off this single piece to create something of aching beauty, a score sounds that more like a great classical work than a film score. It could be the work of any of the great masters, and that is a truly impressive feat. Listen.

(John Williams, 2005)
Maestro John Williams has composed more masterpieces than just about any other film composer. And while the last decade saw a definite slowing of his pace, it hasn't shown a slip in quality. Probably his strongest achievement of the decade (even in the decade that saw his now iconic work for Harry Potter) is his heartfelt work for Steven Spielberg's Munich. Often overshadowed by his work for Memoirs of a Geisha the same year, Munich recalls his greatest score, Schindler's List, in its powerful violin work, but asserts its own personality with wrenching vocals. It stands proudly among the master's best. Listen.


(Joe Hisaishi, 2002)
Just as Hayao Miyazaki's films exude a childlike wonder, so too do Joe Hisaishi's scores to his films, and his work on Spirited Away is the very essence of childhood innocence. At once epic and wistful, Hisaishi's score is both a bittersweet elegy for childhood and a hopeful ode to growing up. Listen.

The Door in the Floor (Marcelo Zarvos, 2004)
Lust, Caution (Alexandre Desplat, 2007)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Alexandre Desplat, 2008)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Tan Dun, 2000)
The Village (James Newton Howard, 2004)
Talk to Her (Alberto Iglesias, 2002)
House of Flying Daggers (Shigeru Umebayashi, 2004)
A Single Man (Abel Korzenowski, 2009)
Frida (Elliot Goldenthal, 2002)
Memoirs of a Geisha (John Williams, 2005)