Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From The Dispatch:
Without Fey and Carell, "Date Night" would be just another throwaway comedy. But they're the reason to see this film. They make for a terrific on-screen pairing, and both are at the height of their "comedy of awkwardness" game. Given better material, one wonders just how good "Date Night" could have been. But in the end, they're a pairing that's just too hard to resist.
Click here to read my full review.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The 2010 RiverRun International Film Festival has officially come to a close, and the winners have been announced. They went pretty much how I thought they would go, but there were a few surprises. Here is the complete list of winners:


Narrative Feature Jury

Best Performance – Hilda Péter – Katalin Varga

Best Cinematography – Martin Gschlacht – Lourdes & Women Without Men

Best Director – Giorgos Lanthimos – Dogtooth

Best Screenplay – Edgar San Juan & Rigoberto Pérezcano – Northless

Best Feature – Katalin Varga


Documentary Feature Jury

Special Jury Prize for Nonfiction Storytelling – His & Hers – Director: Ken


Special Jury Prize for Editing – Marek Sulík – Cooking History

Best Cinematography – Robert Persons – General Orders No. 9

Best Director – Susan Gluth – Soap & Water

Best Documentary – Last Train Home

Narrative Shorts Jury

Best Narrative Short – Ivadelle – Director: Nicole Dorsey

Documentary Shorts Jury

Best Documentary Short – A Song for Ourselves – Director: Tadashi


Honorable Mention – Wagah – Directors: Supriyo Sen & Najaf Bilgrami

Animated Shorts Jury

Best Animated Short – Please Say Something – Director: David O’Reilly

Student Shorts Jury

Best Student Narrative Short – Almost Normal (Kimat Normali) – Director:

Keren Ben Rafael – School: La Femis

Best Student Documentary Short – A Song For Ourselves – Director:

Tadashi Nakamura – School: University of California – Santa Cruz

Best Student Animated Short – Touchdawn of the Dead – Directors: Pierre

Mousquet, Hubert Seynave & Marc Deleplanque – School: ENSAV –

La Cambre

Audience Awards

Best Narrative Feature – Letters to Father Jacob – Director: Klaus Härö

Best Documentary Feature – The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls – Director: Leanne Pooley

Monday, April 26, 2010

Since From the Front Row is a movie blog and not a music blog, I don't generally post music videos. But I'm not kidding when I say that the controversial new video for M.I.A's "Born Free" by Romain Gavras (son of Costa Gavras), may quite possibly be the greatest music video of all time.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

It's not just a music video, it's a short film all its own. And it's a masterpiece. Already banned from YouTube for its graphic violence and nudity, "Born Free" is making major waves, and takes the art of music videos to the next level. Don't miss it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

NOTE: This is an edited version of my original SXSW review that was published here on March 14, 2009.

What do you do when you've made what many consider to be the worst film of all time?

Celebrate it of course!

Well, at least that's what former child star Michael Paul Stephenson is doing with his new documentary, Best Worst Movie, which chronicles the making and subsequent cult phenomenon behind Troll 2, which was once listed as #1 on IMDB's bottom 100 list (it has since been unseated by Night Train to Mundo Fine).

I knew nothing about Troll 2 before seeing this movie. Conventional wisdom usually names either Plan 9 From Outer Space or Manos: The Hands of Fate as the worst film of all time. But from the looks of Troll 2, it could definitely give either one of them a run for their money.

Stephenson, who starred in Troll 2 as Joshua, a little boy who discovers that a gang of hungry vegetarian goblins (yes...goblins...there are exactly zero trolls in this film) are out to turn he and his family into plants so they can eat them, treats the subject with a kind of affectionate bemusement. The film starred a cast of unknown actors, led by a local dentist named George Hardy, and was directed by Italian director Claudio Fragasso, and has absolutely nothing to do with the original Troll.

So why has an ineptly made piece of direct to video, low budget horror schlock like Troll 2 had such an enduring legacy? Well that's what Stephenson aims to find out by interviewing cast members, fans, and ultimately following George Hardy around on a national screening tour with Troll 2. What follows is a something of a real life Christopher Guest movie, featuring a never-ending parade of quirky characters that are just too strange for fiction. From the self absorbed director who considers his film an important work of art, to the kooky actress (a role that would be perfect for Guest regulars Catherine O'Hara or Jane Lynch) who compares Troll 2 to Casablanca without a hint of irony, the world of Troll 2 is a phenomenon like no other.

Even the fans will admit that Troll 2 is a horrible film, and look on it more as an entertainment to be mocked and enjoyed for its sheer camp goofiness and ineptitude. So its amusing listening to the director defend its artistic and cultural merits, continuing to insist that its an important film and that anyone who disagrees doesn't know what they're talking about. He seems genuinely surprised when he attends a screening in which the audience howled with laughter at things that were not meant to be funny.

It's that kind of self seriousness that turns Best Worst Movie into an examination of an underground cultural niche into a full blown comedy. Stephenson directs with a sense of irony and a knowing twinkle in his eye. It's interesting to watch the evolution of the characters, even the genial dentist George Hardy seems to get caught up in his sudden stardom, only to have things put back into perspective by some disastrous horror convention appearances.

The film does seem to veer into exploitation territory when it heads into the home of Margo Prey, who played the mother, Diana, in Troll 2. A recluse who takes care of her elderly mother, Prey clearly doesn't have a firm grip on reality and one wonders if she would be better off with a psychiatrist rather than being played for (some admittedly really funny) laughs in a documentary.

The real triumph of Best Worst Movie however, is its ability to place Troll 2 in the proper context, by examining not just the fan base, but how it affected the lives of its stars as well. The human drama that unfolds isn't necessarily profound, but it becomes a fascinating exploration of the widespread effects this film has had on the mostly ordinary people who made it, for better or worse, and how it has become integrated into their everyday life. It is obviously a work of passion for all involved, even if it is a kind of tongue-in-cheek, bemused passion, it’s hard to deny the strange affection the filmmakers feel for Troll 2.

Is Troll 2 the worst film ever made? Perhaps, perhaps not. But Stephenson has ensured that it won't soon be forgotten either way. Best Worst Movie takes cinematic trash and turns it into comedy gold.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

BEST WORST MOVIE; Directed by Michael Paul Stephenson; Not Rated; Now playing in Austin, TX, expands to additional cities soon.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One of the greatest joys of going to the movies is the surprises. It's a common theme here at From the Front Row, and one of my chief goals as a critic, to shine a spotlight on films that may otherwise go unnoticed. So when a film comes along like Bahman Ghobadi's wholly remarkable No One Knows About Persian Cats that does just that, it's cause for celebration.

Using the power of cinema to illuminate the heretofore hidden underground music scene in Iran, Ghobadi paints an unforgettable portrait of art struggling to survive against all odds. Our guides through this world are two struggling musicians, Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) and Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad), who have just been released from prison, and are looking to form an indie rock band. Since most Western forms of music are banned in Iran, and females are forbidden from singing at all, Negar and Ashkan must go underground to find Iran's best musicians, who continue to make the music they love despite the Iranian government's strict policies.

Arash Farazmand in NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS directed by Bahman Ghobadi
Photo Credit: Mijfilm. An IFC Films release

It is a search that will lead them to some of Iran's greatest undiscovered talents, playing to an audience that is breaking the law just by listening. Yet they continue to play, and to sing, for the love of music itself. The real crime, however, is that these musicians have not been heard outside of Iran until now. Ghobadi populates the film with actual underground Iranian musicians, who perform everything from indie rock to rap, throwing the curtain back on a vibrant and talented music scene that is being systematically suppressed by the ruling regime.

It's hard not to look at the film and not see certain similarities to John Carney's Once in its free flowing look at two musicians whose relationship is defined by music. But here the stakes are higher and there is a real danger inherent in what they're doing. Ghobadi never shies away from what is at stake here, even while celebrating these unheralded talents. In that regard, it's as much a documentary as it is a narrative film. It's not a documentary, but it might as well be. Its narrative is built around the music, and the music is the star. And what glorious music it is. No One Knows About Persian Cats has its finger square on the pulse of a talented and restless generation of young Iranians crying out to be heard at all costs, refusing to be silenced. It is as much the story of the youth of Iran as it is about music, the more modern, liberal generation that rose up and exerted their existence and power in the controversial election of 2009. This film is their voice; the music, their soul. It is clear that Ghobadi is aware of that, and he takes the responsibility seriously.

Ashkan Koshanejad as Ashkan in NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS directed by Bahman Ghobadi
Photo Credit: Mijfilm. An IFC Films release

This is fearless, revolutionary filmmaking, whose very existence is an act of open defiance. As its trailer proclaims, it shouldn't even exist. But it does. It demands, no, deserves to be seen. Ghobadi's lyrical evocation of the music, with its hopeful glimpse of an Iran that could be, even with a sobering reminder that it isn't, is simply extraordinary. While it could be written off as a series of well produced music videos, the film is always consistently compelling, and adds up to more than a satisfying whole. Each new song illuminates a new genre and a new dimension to an Iran that the world has never had a chance to see, and this rare glimpse into a world that, on paper, shouldn't even exist, is a thrilling experience.

No One Knows About Persian Cats is a bracing and vibrant film, one teeming with life and the overwhelming, sustaining power of artistic expression. It is a rare and unique window into another world that has gone unseen for far too long, but hopefully now thanks to Ghobadi, the world will never forget these Persian cats ever again.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS; Directed by Bahman Ghobadi; Stars Negar Shaghaghi, Ashkan Koshanejad, Hamed Behdad; Not rated; In Persian w/English subtitles. Now showing in select cities and via IFC On Demand.
From The Dispatch:
The entire film is steeped in comic book culture and references, but most importantly, it's just a lot of fun. It's also surprisingly dark; Vaughn pulls no punches in making his characters face the consequences of their actions and illustrating the real-life obstacles to being an actual superhero. It isn't always pretty, but it's a brazen, irreverent and wildly entertaining experience that distills the clichés and standards of the genre and turns them on their heads.
Click here to read my full review.

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's a strange phenomenon that seems to happen year after year, where the worst nominated film wins the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. This past year was no different. Although in the later days of the race, some pundits began calling it for Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes, most still anticipated that the award would go to the far more acclaimed and more deserving A Prophet or The White Ribbon.

Alas, it was not to be, and Juan José Campanella's exceedingly mediocre The Secret in Their Eyes walked away with one of the nights few upsets.

The fact that it won the Academy Award had no bearing on the quality of the film, however, and comparing it to the other four nominees isn't fair nor is it valid film criticism. The bottom line is that The Secret in their Eyes is a weak film, that had no business being nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. But that is neither here nor there. It's just a weak film, period, Oscar nominee or not.

Left to Right: GUILLERMO FRANCELLA as Sandoval, RICARDO DARÍN as Benjamín Espósito. Photo taken by MARÍA ANTOLINI, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The film never really engaged me from the beginning. But there was one moment in particular that sealed the deal. Seemingly out of nowhere, a sweeping aerial shot swoops in over a city and into a stadium filled with people, right up to a specific person in the crowd, and continues for several minutes uninterrupted. It is a stylistic anomaly in an otherwise intimately shot film, completely unconnected and dramatically unjustified. The shot is jarring and distracting, and is ultimately indicative of a larger problem affecting the film - it's just completely uninvolving, and this random attempt to spice up the look with this pointless grandiose shot seems like too little, too late.

Granted, it is a sprawling story, unfolding over the course of 25 years, as a court investigator, Benjamin Espósito (Ricardo Darin) decides to write a book about an unsolved rape and murder that plagued him a quarter century before. He returns to his old firm for research, only to be reunited with a former colleague, Irene (Soledad Villamil), who is now a judge, and whom he had always had deep feelings for. Over the course of the film, Espósito relives the troublesome case, and reawakens old wounds and old flames in the process as he tries to come to terms with his past, and put a definitive ending to his book.

Left to Right: SOLEDAD VILLAMIL as Irene Menéndez Hastings, RICARDO DARÍN as Benjamín Espósito. Photo taken by MARÍA ANTOLINI, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

As is often the case with films that span such a long period of time and rely so heavily on flashback, the narrative is often disjointed, and in this case, strangely lackluster. It's a curiously bland melodrama that never feels completely unified or particularly compelling, with all the makings of a soap opera without the over the top histrionics. As a whole, the tone is pretty downbeat. The Secret in Their Eyes is primarily a film of missed connections and unrequited longing, which can be interesting if done right, but here the mix of romance and murder just never quite jells. There is a lot of moping and quiet longing, but it never takes it to the next level, staying perpetually stuck in a conundrum of its own devising, before tying things up in a simplistic way.

No matter what, I always seemed to want more from it, but it plods where it should tread lightly, and drags when it should be nimble. It just never becomes a cohesive, satisfying whole. For all its drama, it feels painfully forced and trite, as dour and dull as it is unfocused. Even the talented leads can't save its rambling, mostly unmemorable plot. The Secret in Their Eyes is the kind of film that is nowhere near as deep as it thinks it is, and evaporates almost immediately after the credits roll. In the annals of Oscar history, it will be a footnote quickly forgotten.

GRADE - ★★ (out of four)

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS): Directed by Juan José Campanella; Stars Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Carla Quevedo; Rated R for a rape scene, violent images, some graphic nudity and language; In Spanish w/English subtitles; Now playing in select cities.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The 2010 RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, NC, will open this Thursday, April 15, with Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman's The Extra Man. I will be covering the festival with an article and series of capsule reviews in The Dispatch on Thursday, but until then, I wanted to run down the five must-see films playing at this year's RiverRun.

(Jessica Hausner, Austria)Jessica Hausner's haunting meditation on faith, doubt, and the nature of miracles isn't just the best film playing at RiverRun, it's the best film of 2010 so far period. This is powerful, masterful filmmaking, a deeply reflective and transcendent work of art that is a nearly spiritual experience in its own right. Click here to read my full review.

(Klaus Haro, Finland)

No other film this year, or in recent memory, has moved me as deeply as Letters to Father Jacob. I've made no secret that I'm a big crybaby when it comes to movies, but this one turned me into such a blubbering wreck I literally soaked my shirt collar with tears. It is a simple and profound tale of a convicted murderer who is pardoned, released from prison, and taken in by an elderly, blind priest, who hires her to help him and read and respond to letters people write him from all over seeking help and spiritual guidance. Even to the non-religious like me, Letters to Father Jacob is a profoundly human film of great grace and compassion, that finds something of the divine in simple human kindness. It was also Finland's official entry into this past year's Best Foreign Language Oscar race.


(Peter Strickland, Romania)
Those who know me well know that I am a big fan of Romanian film. While director Peter Strickland is may be British rather than Romanian, his film retains some of the qualities that I love so much about Romanian sensibilities. In some ways, this is Romania's answer to the infamous I Spit on Your Grave, a raw and intense film about a woman who is kicked out by her husband upon learning that their son is not his, and sets off across the country to enact revenge upon the men who raped her all those years before. Strickland builds an almost unbearable tension, utilizing brilliant sound design that recalls Lars von Trier's Antichrist, but without the graphic violence. Strickland finds other ways of getting his point across. This is an emotionally violent film, which makes it all the more disturbing.

(Tamra Davis, USA)This vibrant, energetic documentary tells of the short, extraordinary, and ultimately tragic career of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a graffiti artist turned world renowned painter who shook up the art world in the 1980s before his untimely death at the age of 27. Through intimate interviews by a friend with Basquiat himself, and friends and colleagues who knew him, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child paints a fascinating portrait of an unlikely rise to stardom. At the end, however, Basquiat remains the enigma he was at the beginning. But that, I think, is exactly how he would want it.

(Michael Stephenson, USA)There may be other films playing at RiverRun this year that are technically "better," but I guarantee you none of them are this fun. A loving tribute to what many consider the worst film of all time, this documentary follows the bizarre and hilarious cult phenomenon that sprung up around Troll 2 and its largely non-professional cast. A crowd pleaser in every sense of the word. Click here to read my full review.

Also don't miss: Dogtooth, Last Train Home, Mid-August Lunch, I Killed My Mother, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, Osadné, His & Hers.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

Sunday, April 11, 2010

As some of you may know, I'm something of an amateur filmmaker myself. I don't just critique films, I try to make them whenever possible.

My newest one is called Cottingley Lane, a kind of tribute to W.B. Yeats' "The Stolen Child." It's probably the most difficult thing I've ever had to make, but it's also probably my favorite, as it is the most personal and dearest to my heart. It was born out of ideas that have been swirling around in my head for several years now, and while the original idea proved impossible to do, it gave birth to something completely new and creatively satisfying for me in a whole different way.

It still has its temp score, culled from various film soundtracks, so I'm sure some of you will recognize a lot of the music. Hopefully one day I will find a composer to breathe new life into it.

Until then, I hope you enjoy it. Feedback is always appreciated.

Cottingley Lane from Matthew Lucas on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

2010 is shaping up to be another fantastic year for documentaries. Already we have seen films like Sweetgrass and Prodigal Sons, and even better films like Last Train Home, Best Worst Movie, and Casino Jack and the United States of Money are all on the horizon. Perhaps my favorite of all, however, is Tamra Davis' vibrant and energetic Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child.

The film, which tells the story of the short life of renowned artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, from his start as a graffiti artist on the streets of New York, to hobnobbing with the likes of Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel, to his untimely death at the age of 27, opens July 21 at the Film Forum in New York, and will also play locally at the RiverRun Film Festival in Winston-Salem, NC next week. But to give you a little taste of this truly excellent film, check out the film's opening scene courtesy of its official website. Don't miss this one.

Friday, April 09, 2010

I have seen a lot of films this year. And I mean a lot. Probably more so by this point in the year than I ever have. There has been a lot of great stuff (Lourdes), and some really bad stuff (Murder in Fashion). Some really good major releases (How to Train Your Dragon), and the usual studio junk (The Wolfman).

A scene from Jessica Hausner's LOURDES.

The good news for film buffs, is that most of the really good stuff hasn't even been released yet. So rejoice! 2010 has a lot to offer, you just don't know it yet. If I were to list the 5 best 2010 releases I have seen this far and included those that have not yet been released, but will be sometime later this year, my first quarter report would look radically different. But this is about what the quarter actually looks like in terms of releases. So here are the 5 best films 2010 has produced thus far:
  1. Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, Austria)
  2. Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat, France)
  3. Mother (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
  4. Terribly Happy (Henrik Ruben Genz, Denmark)
  5. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, France)
I still for the life of me can't figure out why The Ghost Writer didn't open wider than it did. It's a first rate thriller with great mainstream potential, but for some reason Summit ghettoized it to a limited platform release and barely promoted it. One of my favorite films I've seen this year, Bahman Ghobadi's No One Knows About Persian Cats, opens next week, but sadly not in time to be included in this run down. There are also quite a few festival films, like Katalin Varga, Romania's answer to I Spit on Your Grave, or the wonderful Bulgarian film, The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (shortlisted, but shamefully not nominated, for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this past year), that you will hear me talking about a lot in the future, if they ever get US distribution.

Then there's the other side of the coin. The worst films so far this year. And that's a much wider playing field.
  1. Murder in Fashion
  2. The Wolfman
  3. Repo Men
  4. Just Say Love
  5. Valentine's Day
But let's not dwell on those. The less said about them, the better. There are some goodies on the horizon for 2010, the deeply moving Finnish film, Letters to Father Jacob, festival favorite Best Worst Movie is finally coming to theaters after more than a year on the festival circuit, Alain Resnais' sublime tale of obsessive love, Wild Grass, the shocking Greek sensation, Dogtooth, which plays out like The Village as collaborated on by Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier, Alex Gibney's incendiary Casino Jack and the United States of Money, plus other unseen gems yet to be discovered. It's still too early to call of course, but right now, 2010 isn't looking too shabby.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

There is a certain tremulous beauty to Shirin Neshat's Women Without Men, a timely and well intentioned look at the lives of four Iranian women set against the backdrop of the 1953 CIA assisted coup.

The film is dedicated to all those who have given their lives for Iranian freedom, "from the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 to the Green Movement of 2009." With the Iranian election in 2009 attracting international attention and support, Women Without Men arrives at a time when the struggle for freedom in Iran is very much still in people's minds. Taking that to heart, Neshat, making her directorial debut, adapts Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel of the same name into a tribute not just to the those who have fallen trying to bring freedom to Iran, but to the women that society has overlooked.

It is a tale told with great empathy and sincerity, made all the more powerful not just from its uniquely Iranian perspective, but in that it is directed by an Iranian woman.

Told from the perspective of four different women, Women Without Men is a portrait of a country in upheaval, on a collision course with history that will eventually result in the Islamic revolution in 1979 and the institution of much more restrictive religious law. There is Fakhri, a middle aged woman caught in a loveless whose world is suddenly turned upside down by the arrival of an old flame, and whose husband is ready to throw her to the curb in favor of a new wife he finds more satisfying. Munis, a young, unmarried woman living under the thumb of her tyrannical brother, whose only way to be set free is through death. Her friend, Faezeh, knows only of her desire to marry Munis' brother, even after being brutally raped by two men from a coffee shop. And finally there is Zarin, a prostitute, sick of being used by faceless men to the point that she literally can no longer see their faces, and seeks to cleanse herself of her past.

Seeking an escape from the pressures of her marriage in Tehran, Fakhri purchases a lush orchard away from the city, that soon becomes a haven for for Faezeh and Zarin, far from the political turmoil that Munis finds herself in, at last an active participant in the world even in death. The orchard is an oasis, an escape for these women, who have each been abused by men in some way, and through each other find their only escape.

There is a certain timelessness to the film that is extremely appealing. The orchard seems like a place separate from time, where these women can escape their male oppressors and live apart from the civil unrest around them. But it is also a world that will soon come crashing to an end, and Neshat never lets us forget. Its magical realist aspects, although inherent to the work on which it is based, are often a bit disjointed and never really jell into a satisfying whole. Each character, even though united by the orchard, still seems strangely disconnected from the others. Since that relationship is really at the core of the film, it never feels as strong as it really should

However, it is hard to deny the voices of history that seem woven into the film's very fabric. It has a unique and singular perspective on a world few have seen clearly from the outside, with a remarkable sense of time, place, and atmosphere, even if it falls just short of compelling. The true accomplishment here is that Neshat gives voice to the voiceless, and Women Without Men is an impassioned cry for freedom that echoes across generations.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

WOMEN WITHOUT MEN; Directed by Shirin Neshat; Stars Pegah Ferydoni, Arita Shahrzad, ShabnamTolouei, Orsi Tóth; Not Rated; In Persian w/English subtitles; Opens tomorrow, 4.9, in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

From The Dispatch:
Even though all it is meant to be is a loving send up of '80s comedy, all it really does is make one long for the real thing - which sadly isn't saying much for "Hot Tub Time Machine." I'd much rather stay at home and spend an evening with Bill and Ted than this. And that may be the most damning criticism of all.
Click here to read my full review.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The trailers just keep on rolling in today. Here we have the trailer for the new documentary by Oscar winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), Casino Jack and the United States of Money (Magnolia, 5.7), exclusively at Apple.

For his latest film, Gibney tackles infamous Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, from his meteoric rise in the Republican party, to his shaping of modern politics, to the scandal that eventually brought him down.

Casino Jack is an incendiary and timely film, not just as a look at one man gone wrong but a portrait of the hijacking of an entire political party by a bunch of overgrown frat boys out for personal gain, creating a poisonous atmosphere in Washington where our government is no longer out for us, but for themselves, directly leading to the current financial crisis.

The film opens May 7 from Magnolia Pictures. See it. And check out the new trailer.
Apple has the exclusive trailer for Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love, which opens in the US on June 18 from Magnolia Pictures.

Marisa Berenson, Pippo Delbono, Tilda Swinton, Alba Rohrwacher, Mattia Zaccaro, Flavio Parenti and Maria Paiato in I AM LOVE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The film centers around the powerful Recchi family, whose patriarch, Eduardo, Sr., is stepping down as head of the family's lucrative textiles business, and handing over control to his son, Tancredi, and his grandson Edo. Tancredi's wife, Emma (Tilda Swinton), is going through something of a mid-life crisis amid all the change, and takes a shine to Edo's friend, Antonio, a world class chef, and their affair will rock the family's foundation down to the core.

It's a beautiful and sumptuous film, elegantly shot and designed, and Swinton is fabulous as always, but it's also remarkably shallow. I loved the look and feel of the whole thing, but just didn't feel that there was much going on beneath the surface, and the ending feels rushed and a bit contrived. It's worth seeing for Swinton and the cinematography alone though.

You can judge for yourself on June 18. Until then, you can check out the film's trailer by clicking here.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Sometimes a film comes along and just blindsides you out of nowhere. That's how I felt after seeing Bahman Ghobadi's wholly remarkable film, No One Knows About Persian Cats (IFC, 4.16).

Pouya Hosseini, Arash Farazmand, Ashkan Koshanejad as Ashkan and Negar Shaghi as Negar in NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS, directed by Bahman Ghobadi. Photo Credit: Mijfilm. An IFC Films release

A heartfelt love song to the world of underground music in Iran, No One Knows About Persian Cats follows two indie rock musicians from Tehran who have just been released from prison, trying to find a way out of the country to practice their music, while putting together a band of the most talented musicians they can find. It is a truly engrossing look at the Iranian underground music scene, oppressed by harsh Islamic laws on musical content and female singers, and the musicians who risk their lives for their art. Nearly a year after the wildly controversial elections in Iran, the film acts as a portrait of a new, younger generation of Iranians whose values stand in stark contrast to their hardline conservative leaders. This is a bracing and vibrant piece of filmmaking that demands to be seen, and despite its being condemned in Iran, this is the kind of thing that absolutely needs to find its way into the hands of young Iranians. It's an impassioned rallying cry against oppression and censorship through the power of music. And what music it is. The soundtrack, a mix of indie rock, heavy metal, and rap, covers many aspects of musical expression, it's a veritable cultural melting pot in and of itself.

No One Knows About Persian Cats will be released in the US on April 16. Until then, check out the trailer: