Thursday, June 30, 2011

The third installment of Michael Bay's Transformers franchise opened yesterday to an impressive $37.315 million haul, the best opening day take of 2011, Variety reports.

It's probably the best film in the series, with Bay redeeming himself for the dreadful second installment, delivering some of the most spectacular action of his career. Those looking for human drama and character development should stay far away, but Transformers: Dark of the Moon is tremendous, if mindless, summer fun. Expect this one to make a lot more money before it's all said and done.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Smithsonian's Photographic History Collection is showcasing a series of  "stereographs," or 3D moving images from the Civil War-era.

Click on the image to view animation.

NPR describes the process as follows:
A stereoview is two photographs of the same scene taken from two slightly different perspectives, mounted side by side on a card; the photos combine and appear three-dimensional when seen through a viewing device called a stereoscope.
It's a pretty fascinating look at the early history of motion pictures. And while they may not necessarily be movies as we know them today, they provide a compelling insight into the evolution of the medium we know today.

To see more animated stereographs from the collection, click here.
I'm always game for a new Spielberg film, but I'm mixed on the trailer for his latest film, War Horse.

There are parts of it that are undeniably gorgeous, but it also reeks of Spielberg corn at its most cloying. I'll reserve judgement for the final film.

War Horse opens December 28.
From The Dispatch:
It's the kind of film that sounds better on paper than it actually is — a relative comedic minefield that goes largely untapped. It tries to be both a raunchy dark comedy and a romantic comedy but never really commits to either, ultimately resulting in a film that is neither here nor there, caught in a strange in between place that is merely mildly diverting when it should be razor sharp.
Click here to read my full review.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Director Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was the first feature film that heralded to the world that arrival of the so-called Romanian New Wave in 2005 (it didn't arrive on US shores until 2006).

The movement would continue with other filmmakers such as Cristian Mungiu (who delivered the movement's vanguard, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days) and Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest, Police, Adj.), but Puiu has the distinction of being the first (if you don't count Cătălin Mitulescu's 2004 Cannes winning short film, Trafic).

Now he has returned to the world stage with his latest film, Aurora, and has delivered yet another one of the movement's strongest works.

Naturally, a three hour long Romanian film composed with long takes, few edits, and minimal music will be a hard sell for a majority of the American public, but for those willing to challenge themselves, Aurora is a compelling and rewarding piece of cinema.

Cristi Puiu stars in AURORA. Photo courtesy of The Cinema Guild.
A fascinating study of the mind of a killer, Aurora is anything but what you would expect of a film of its subject matter. It centers around Viorel (played by Puiu himself), a 42 year old divorced father of two who one day sets out to buy a gun. We don't know why, or what he plans on doing with it, but Puiu follows Viorel with a growing sense of tension. And even when we finally discover what he plans on doing with his gun, we still do not understand his motives. For nearly three hours we follow Viorel on his grim quest with a voyeuristic intensity that is so intimate its almost uncomfortable. Puiu places his camera in such a way as to place the audience into the film as a spectator, following Viorel as he follows others through the streets of Bucharest. We are in his shoes, a voyeur, a participant, and therein lies much of the thematic heft of Aurora.

“There is no such thing as a murderer, only people who kill,” Puiu says. The essential conceit of the film is that killers are people too, and Puiu is enamored with the idea of the killer as a normal person. On the surface, Viorel is just like any other man, who also happens to be capable of something that, to the majority of people, is considered completely heinous and unacceptable in civilized society. Puiu treats the act of killing as a mundane occurrence, completely normal in its existence in Viorel's life. Here, it is a fact of life, as commonplace as pouring a glass of orange juice.

Cristi Puiu stars in AURORA. Photo courtesy of The Cinema Guild.
By the time we are shown Viorel's confession, Aurora takes on an almost satirical view of not only the justice system, but how we as the audience view his crimes. The almost flippant nonchalance with which the police treat Viorel's confession (and his crimes themselves), are an indictment of just how jaded we have become to acts of violence. One thing even many fans of Romanian films often miss about them is just how funny they are, and Aurora is no exception, despite its deeply serious subject matter. Puiu displays a wry sense of humor that is often so dry as to be nearly imperceptible, but its definitely there.  The Romanians use satire as a scalpel, a razor sharp instrument of social commentary that cuts deep.

Aurora is a measured, expertly crafted exercise in ambiguity, where killing has no reason and no explanation. Puiu has set out to make a film that avoids any kind of pat explanations for that which has no explanation. Killing is a senseless act, and Puiu never tries to explain it away or rationalize it. It simply exists, without thought, without reason, as an inescapable part of everyday life. Without glamorizing or trivializing, Aurora is an engrossing, naturalistic portrait of violence that is the antithesis to any Hollywood study of the same subject. It never once feels like a three hour long movie - it simply exists as an unnerving, and wholly lived in, moment in time. It's an academic think-piece disguised as a thriller, whose lingering questions hold up an unnerving mirror to our own propensity for violence. In a world where violence is so commonplace, where killing is without reason or remorse, when and where does it end? In Puiu's world, rational thought cannot explain away that which by its very nature is senseless, and Aurora wonders just how well we can ever truly know another person, or what that person is capable of. In a species as irrational as ours, anything is possible. And that is the film's most disturbing idea of all.

GRADE - ½ (out of four)

AURORA | Directed by Cristi Puiu | Stars Cristi Puiu, Clara Voda, Valeria Seciu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Catrinel Dumitrescu, Gelu Colceag | Not rated | In Romanian w/English subtitles | Opens Wednesday, June 29, at the IFC Center in NYC.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

We're halfway through 2011, and it's already the strongest year for movies in recent memory, even if a majority of the films haven't been seen outside of a few large cities. Lack of availability aside, 2011 has seen some very strong stuff indeed, and here are the ten (in alphabetical order) that have touched me the most.

(Janus Metz, Denmark)

(Abbas Kiarostami, France)

(Lu Chuan, China)

(Karim Ainouz & Marcelo Gomez, Brazil)

(Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy)

(Xavier Beauvois, France)

(Lee Chang Dong, South Korea)

(Terrence Malick, USA)

(Radu Muntean, Romania)

(Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

From The Dispatch:
This is not a movie that is watched, it is a movie that is felt. "The Tree of Life" is like a prayer on film, a breathless whisper, a burning bush on a mountaintop, an intensely moving and heartbreakingly beautiful masterpiece that may come to define Malick's career as a filmmaker. One almost wonders while watching the film if, just perhaps, ingrained somewhere deep in its celluloid, Malick has captured a spark of the divine.
Click here to read my full review.
A fair warning to all comers - Michael Rowe's Leap Year (Año Bisiesto) is NOT a romantic comedy starring Amy Adams, despite sharing the same English title as the Adams vehicle from last year.

In fact, we're just about as far from romantic comedy territory as it is possible to get in this raw, sexually frank journey into Hell. Hell, in this case, being the day to day existence of a lonely young woman named Laura, a 25 year old journalist living alone in a run down apartment in Mexico City.

Having moved away from her family in Oaxaca, Laura has been stuck in an aimless existence, away from everything that was once familiar. She has no friends, no close family, and essentially no life. When her mother calls, she makes up friends and plans that don't exist, filling her life with the imaginary schedule of a girl far more confident and settled in life.

Instead of going out with friends, she sits at home watching TV over a sad dinner of canned beans, or watches the happy couple across the courtyard while masturbating, dreaming of a human connection, of some modicum of happiness. Her only human interaction comes at night, when she goes out in search of sexual fulfillment, coming home with a different one night stand every time, most of whom rarely even know her name. It's a sad existence, but her desperation outweighs her better judgement, with her pursuit of anonymous sex counteracting her pursuit of love.

Then one night she brings home Arturo, an aspiring actor with a sadistic streak. Their first encounter leaves her shaken, but soon discovers that Arturo's domination excites her more than scares her. Together, the two of them embark down a dark and dangerous road of increasingly degrading sadomasochistic encounters that will lead her to a strange kind of healing - two kindred spirits who fulfill a need in one another that will either heal them or destroy them both. In this most dangerous game of sexual Russian Roulette - there can be no in between.

Leap Year is no easy film to watch. It's a graphic, intense experience that pulls no punches in its depiction of Laura's sexual self destruction, but it's also a very wise evocation of loneliness. It captures a lost young woman adrift on the stormy seas of life, spiraling out of control with unblinking honesty. The two leads throw themselves completely into their roles, and their dedication is astonishing. Laura is homely and plain, the type of person you wouldn't look twice at in the supermarket. Yet she spends most of the film completely naked, exposed and vulnerable, seeking acceptance of who she truly is at any cost. When the source of her depression and her ultimate solution is finally revealed, we have been drawn into her world, and the results are devastating.

The film's action never strays from Laura's sad little apartment, just as trapped by its peeling walls as she is. Rowe never judges her relationship with Arturo, instead placing his camera so as to be an impassive observer. He doesn't shy away from the explicit details, but we are left to our own judgements. It's often repulsive, yes, but Rowe ultimately discovers a strange beauty in the connection they find together. Rarely has sex been so deeply unattractive, but it's real, it's honest, and it's painfully, achingly true. Pain seems etched in every line of Laura's prematurely careworn face, and her sexual masochism becomes an extension of her inner turmoil. Leap Year is a window into a troubled soul that is as revolting as it is engrossing. Rowe's debut film is a powerful and wrenching experience distinguished by an uncomfortable emotional veracity that is nearly impossible to turn away from.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

LEAP YEAR (AÑO BISIETO) | Directed by Michael Rowe | Stars Monica del Carmen, Gustavo Sanchez Parra | Not rated | In Spanish w/English subtitles | Opens Friday, 6/24, at Cinema Village in NYC.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It would be easy to say that nature films are a dime a dozen. Nature docs have been a staple of the medium as long as documentaries have been with us, and yet somehow they continue to find ways of showing us things we've never seen before.

Turtle: The Incredible Journey is certainly not the first time the story of the sea turtle has been told, and it probably won't be the last. Anyone who has ever watched the National Geographic channel is familiar with its perilous migration. But never has it been told quite as memorably, or as beautifully, as this.

Presented by Sea World and narrated by Miranda Richardson, Turtle: The Incredible Journey follows the life of one little loggerhead turtle, from the beach on which she was born, through her harrowing migration through the Gulf Stream, on a 21 year odyssey to motherhood that will complete the circle of life.

A turtle's life begins in TURTLE: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY.
It will be a long and dangerous road. The little turtle will not only face hungry crabs mere minutes after emerging from the sand, but hungry jellyfish, sharks, birds, and even human predators as she journeys to adulthood. It is a herculean effort, staggering in its scope and awesome in its singular perseverance. Director Nick Stringer films our turtle protagonist like a conquering hero on a grand adventure, and saves us the pandering of anthropomorphizing her into a warm and fuzzy humanized creature.

One wonders, however, just how much of this "documentary" was staged for cameras. Scenes in which the turtle encounters a massive freighter and a group of fishermen who catch and then release her are particularly suspicious, not to mention the sheer implausibility that this is the same little loggerhead turtle over the course of the entire film, which supposedly spans 21 years.

The little turtle that could in TURTLE: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY.
But to focus on shortcuts made for the sake of creating a compelling narrative is missing the point. The film assembled here is a stunning portrait of one of the natural world's greatest migrations, and even if the turtle portrayed in the film is not the same turtle all the way through, it's still representative of a journey made by thousands of similar loggerheads. There are lots of amazing sights to be seen here, and while gorgeous natural scenery is one of the selling points of the film, it's still a compelling story of survival.

It gets a bit melodramatic at times Henning Lohner's score, while at times quite powerful, is often overbearing, and seems to over score moments that would have been better served by subtlety, allowing the images to speak for themselves. Still, it's hard to pull focus away from the sheer majesty of the story and its stunning imagery. Stringer displays an appropriate awe in the face of mother nature that is infectious, making this one incredible journey that is well worth taking.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

TURTLE: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY | Directed by Nick Stringer | Narrated by Miranda Richardson | Rated G | Opens Friday, June 24, in New York, Los Angeles, and SeaWorld locations in San Diego CA, San Antonio, TX, and Orlando, FL.
This lovely little documentary, a presentation of Sea World that will also open in select cities across the country, follows the life of one little loggerhead turtle as she journeys from the place of her birth on a harrowing 21 year journey to motherhood.

Turtle: The Incredible Journey - Trailer from Rockfish on Vimeo.

Turtle: The Incredible Journey opens June 24 in New York, Los Angeles, and Sea World locations in San Diego, San Antonio, and Orlando.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nikki Finke is reporting that Hugh Jackman is being considered for the role of Jean Valjean in Tom Hooper's adaptation of the Broadway musical version of Les Miserables.

Les Mis is my favorite musical so the prospect of a film adaptation is exciting, even if cinematic incarnations of stage musicals have a spotty track record. Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) is not exactly a brilliant director, but he is a capable filmmaker. I wasn't among the King's Speech haters, even if I didn't think it was Best Picture material, let along Best Director material.

Still, the mention of Jackman in the lead role is encouraging. Valjean is one of the great roles in musical theatre. His signature song, "Bring Him Home," is probably one of the most powerful things I've ever experienced in a theater, when I saw it on Broadway in 2007. Jackman would be perfect for the role and would lend the necessary star power to the project. Plus he's obviously a talented singer and dancer (remember the 2008 Oscars?), and already has a Tony under his belt for The Boy From Oz.

Finke reports that there have been no official talks or offers made as of yet, but the prospect is certainly exciting, especially for fans of the show.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided once again to change their Best Picture rules again, a mere two years after expanding the field of nominees from 5 to 10.

Now, there can be anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees. Rather than using 10 as an arbitrary number, only the number of nominees deemed appropriate by the Academy will be nominated. So if voters only believe there were 6 deserving nominees in a given year, only 6 films will be nominated. AMPAS executive director Bruce Davis explains:
“In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies. A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number.”
Here's how it will work according to the Academy's press release:
During the period studied, the average percentage of first place votes received by the top vote-getting movie was 20.5. After much analysis by Academy officials, it was determined that 5% of first place votes should be the minimum in order to receive a nomination, resulting in a slate of anywhere from five to 10 movies.
I can see both the pros and the cons about this. I like the idea of not being obligated to nominate 10 films if there aren't 10 deserving nominees, which could curb the presence of head scratching nominees like 2009's inclusion of The Blind Side among the Best Picture nominees. It would solve the problem of making the field more inclusive of smaller fare, while retaining the air of exclusivity. A Best Picture nomination must be earned.

At the same time, it seems like yet another stunt to try and maintain interest in an aging (some would say archaic) institution whose influence is waning. I will always respect the air of class and prestige associated with the Oscars, even if my tastes have becoming increasingly estranged from theirs as they have matured. I kind of wish they'd just settle on a number and be done with it rather than play this silly guessing game. It also seems to defeat the purpose of expanding the field in the first place, which was to give smaller films with smaller bases of support an opportunity to break through, as well as open up the field to animated films and documentaries.

In an added twist, the actual number of nominees will remain unknown until the nominations are announced. That sound you heard was a hundred Oscar prognosticators' heads exploding.
From The Dispatch:

Abrams is a fine director with a keen eye for striking visuals and complex action sequences, but this strange mash-up of “Cloverfield,” “ET” and “Close Encounters” just ends up feeling like an ungainly hybrid of Spielberg and his own work that never quite molds itself into a unique being. It’s nice to see a summer film that is at least an original concept, that isn’t a part of an established franchise or comic book series, but “Super 8” feels more like a faded memory than a movie.

Click here to read my full review.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Historically, I've never been a big fan of prison dramas. I don't know if its the genre itself I find off-putting, or if it just so happens that none of them have ever really spoken to me. Either way, its a genre that I haven't found particularly interesting, even when everyone else seems to (I think The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most grossly overrated films of all time).

I found myself in a similar boat two years ago when Jacques Audiard's A Prophet was getting praised by seemingly every other film critic out there, while I found myself oddly indifferent to the film.

Tobias Lindholm and Michael Noer's new prison drama, R, plays out like a Danish remake of A Prophet. However, I think it is actually a superior film. It eschews Audiard's more grandiose elements that I felt hindered that film, opting instead for a simpler and more streamlined narrative, albeit one that has a definite air of familiarity.

Lindholm and Noer have stated that they did not want to make a typical prison film, that they "wanted to set ourselves free of cliches." And while I do not believe they achieved that goal, they did make a pretty solid film, which is an achievement to be proud of in itself. They took a familiar storyline and turned into a strong and effective drama without all the fuss.

The titular R stands for Rune, a new prisoner who is brought into Denmark's toughest prison to serve time for assault. With only a two year sentence, he doesn't have much time to serve, but his journey will not be an easy one. R follows his attempts to navigate the intricacies of daily prison life, as he tries to survive by carving out a niche for himself in order to climb the inmates' social ladder. The method he chooses is drug trafficking, enlisting the help of an Arabic inmate on another floor to help. But soon he begins to attract the attention of various gangs within the prison, and his enterprise is no longer free. Rune's situation becomes extremely perilous as his loyalties run up against a series of conflicting interests with potentially deadly consequences.

It's surprising just how much the film's plot resembles that of A Prophet, although I don't think it was intentional. Lindholm and Noer take the story in a different direction, and the film is all the better for it. They even make a brave choice about 3/4 of the way in that could have spelled death for the film, but instead it adds a greater emotional impact. Violence begets violence in a neverending cycle, and R's outlook is undeniably bleak. Even its title is dehumanizing, referring to Rune only by the first letter of his name, stripping him of his identity and individuality. He is just another prisoner, a statistic among many. It's both a damning portrait of Denmark's prison system and a surprisingly introspective thriller, dealing with the psychological toll prison begins to take on Rune.

It does, however, suffer from some of the same mundane trappings of its genre. It's ultimately a film about a new guy trying to find his place in the rough edged prison hierarchy, which is nothing new. Rune must survive by listening to others, cleaning their cells, carrying out hits. It's all very familiar territory, albeit well done and powerfully acted, and even contains moments of disarming beauty. Thankfully, it never once feels staged. Lindholm and Noer create a very naturalistic atmosphere, aided by on location shooting at Horsens State Prison, Denmark's most notorious prison, which was shutting down as the film was beginning photography. It adds a sense of history to the film, a dark, never-ending spiral of violence and despair contained within its dank walls. You can almost smell the sweat and the blood, and if that is a compliment, then R gets it just right.

GRADE - ★★ (out of four)

R | Directed by Tobias Lindholm & Michael Noer | Stars Pilou Asbæk, Dulfi Al-Jabour, Roland Møller, Jacob Gredste, Kim Winther, Omar Shargawi | Not rated | In Danish w/English subtitles | Opens Friday, June 17, at the Quad Cinemas in NYC.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Earth's honey bees are disappearing, and no one knows where they are going. Most plant life on Earth cannot survive without their pollination. It's a frightening doomsday scenario, a mounting crisis that can no longer be ignored.

But Taggart Siegel's new documentary, Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?, cannot be bothered with the kind of alarmist sensationalism so common of documenta
ries such as this. It is a film about a crisis, yes, but it's a film with a solution. Rather than wallow in fear-mongering, Queen of the Sun instead offers practical, real world solutions to a problem it still sees as reversible.

This is an ultimately hopeful film, that takes an almost spiritual look into the often misunderstood world of bees. And most specifically, the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been responsible for the disappearance of countless beehives in the United States.

It lays most of the blame at the feet of agricultural corporations, who have not only been genetically engineering their bees, but have also been disrupting the environment by planting such wide swaths of the same plant, effectively destroying the diversity of the bees' diet. As a result, bees must be shipped in from around the world to pollinate their crops in environments that cannot sustain their populations, not to mention introducing foreign diseases that American bees are not prepared to fight.

Siegel isn't out to play the blame game, however. While the film spends a lot of time explaining why bees are so important to the environment and to human life in general, it doesn't do it just to set up the gravity of the crisis. It is genuinely reverent of the bees. The film has an almost spiritual tone, interviewing beekeepers, scientists, and philosophers to create a well rounded appreciation of the honey bee. These people genuinely love bees, and their enthusiasm is undeniably infectious.

On the other hand, while I applaud Siegel's refreshing avoidance of any kind of doom and gloom, I would have liked to have seen him explore the "canary in the coal mine" theory in greater depth. In his pursuit of a full portrait of the honey bee, the true gravity of the crisis seems to get lost. His subjects are so laid back and so gentle that the urgency of the situation is never really felt. It could have used just a bit more of that tension to give it a greater sense of gravity without falling into the trap of hyperbolic doomsday hysteria. The film's subtitle is "What Are the Bees Telling Us?" but that question is never really asked. Is their disappearance a warning? If so, for what? That's what I really wanted to hear, not necessarily a love story between man and bee.

The final film feels more like an educational film on bees rather than the social advocacy documentary it is obviously trying to be. It's clear Siegel doesn't want to stir the pot, but you have to be a little bit forceful if you want to make any real change. I'm not advocating the in your face Michael Moore approach, but some tougher questions of the agricultural companies whose business practices are a major contribution to Colony Collapse Disorder would have been most welcome, since he lets them off pretty easy. That's really my biggest issue with the film - it's clearly a passionate film, and a beautiful one to boot, but it's also a strangely passive one. It offers some smart solutions to the questions it raises, but it almost seems timid when it comes to examining the root of this crisis. It's a disaster movie without a disaster, and while it's heart is in the right place, Queen of the Sun doesn't quite hit that perfect call to action bullseye.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

QUEEN OF THE SUN: WHAT ARE THE BEES TELLING US? | Directed by Taggart Siegel | Not rated | Opens Friday, 6/10, at the Cinema Village in NYC.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The most unusual thing about Ben Sombogaart's otherwise rather straightfoward romantic drama, Bride Flight is the presence of the hobo with a shotgun himself, Rutger Hauer. He's actually the highlight of the film, despite his extremely limited screen time.

It isn't spoiling anything to say that Bride Flight opens with Hauer's death. Here he plays Frank, the elderly owner of a vineyard whose vineyard brings three women to his winery in New Zealand to mourn his passing. Who are these women, and what was their relationship to Frank?

The film answers these questions mostly through flashback, when all three were young brides flying from Holland to New Zealand to start a new life and populate the relatively new country. The titular flight is only small part of the film. The important stuff actually happens later, after the flight is over. For these three women, the flight is only beginning of a new and exciting new chapter in their lives.

There is Esther, an aspiring Jewish fashion designer running from the tragedies the befell her family during the Holocaust; Marjorie, whose idealistic dreams of a perfect family seem forever out of reach; and then there is Ada, who makes a special connection with Frank during the flight despite being promised to another, more traditionally religious man whose baby she is carrying. Together the three women embark on a new adventure in a strange and foreign land. It's a sweeping romantic tale in the tradition of Out of Africa and Nowhere in Africa that recalls a kind of grand filmmaking we rarely see anymore.

The problem it that it often seems like a pale imitation of that sort of film. It's a pleasant and agreeable experience for those that enjoy this sort of thing, but there's nothing particularly extraordinary about it. A conflict involving Marjorie's inability to conceive, leading to her secret adoption of Esther's child provides the film with a shot in the arm about halfway through, but at 130 minutes long, the film has a tendency to drag.

If Bride Flight were an American film, it would be the kind of prestige fare that studios release at the end of the year in hopes of garnering Oscar nominations, and indeed the film has the feel of a typical Best Foreign Language Film nominee - finely crafted and nice to look at but ultimately schmaltzy and hollow. I would hesitate to call Bride Flight hollow, but it is occasionally uneven. Director Ben Sombogaart has a fine, if not exactly groundbreaking visual sense that makes the film consistently watchable, but it seems to be missing something somewhere, that extra spark to make it truly memorable. The characters don't really stand out, and their relationships with Frank remain underdeveloped and uninvolving.

I kept wanting for Rutger Hauer to play more of a role in the film, but his presence is pretty much limited to the opening scene, after which he is a body in a casket for the rest of the film. I just wanted more from it. It's a perfectly nice film, but a film should aspire to be more than just nice. It's a stubbornly pedestrian art house beach read, a yuppie book club selection of a film that entertains in the moment but is forgotten just as quickly.

GRADE - ★★½ (out of four)

BRIDE FLIGHT | Directed by Ben Sombogaart | Stars Elise Schaap, Karina Smulders, Karina Smulders, Waldemar Torenstra, Rutger Hauer, Pleuni Touw, Petra Laseur, Willeke van Ammelrooy | Rated R for a strong sex scene and some graphic nudity | In Dutch w/English subtitles | Opens Friday, 6/10, in select cities.
From The Dispatch:
Vaughn returns the series to its former glory by focusing on the story’s innately human elements while still delivering thrilling action sequences and dazzling visual effects. “First Class” is a smartly written and tightly plotted summer blockbuster with the gumption and drive to feature fully fleshed out characters, remarkably realized by a solid cast. While there may be some continuity issues with the other films, those are easily overlooked in light of how well it works as its own, standalone film.
Click here to read my full review.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Apple has the new American trailer for Michael Rowe's Leap Year (Año Bisiesto).

I'm a bit surprised that they're marketing this as a kind of sexy thriller, because this film is anything but sexy. The sex scenes are graphic but they're disturbing and off-putting, almost anti-sexy. It isn't meant to excite in any way.

Still, it's an excellent film despite the trailer's misrepresentations.

Leap Year opens in New York on June 24.
Well this will be a great tagline for the eventual US poster of Tom Six's The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) - "BANNED IN ENGLAND!"

Empire is reporting that the British Board of Film Classification has rejected the sequel to last year's cult hit, saying that it "poses a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers" and "would be unacceptable to the public." As such, the film will not be allowed to show in theaters or be released on DVD in the UK.

You can read the BBFC's full reasoning here (warning: it's pretty graphic), but I have to say that this is an outrageous decision. A country as advanced as the UK should not be banning or censoring films. Who are they to decide what is acceptable or not acceptable for adults to watch? Every member of this board should be ashamed of themselves.

I was not a big fan of the original film, but just because they found the content of the sequel objectionable does not mean they have the right to tell people they cannot see it. It's a tyrannical, puritanical decision that should be condemned by all freedom loving people for its chilling implications. This is not about horror or whether or not people want to see the depravity present in the film - it's about freedom. And anyone who believes in freedom should be against this decision.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

I don't always agree with Christy Lemire (I found her take on Uncle Boonmee borderline offensive), but her take on Godard's Film Socialisme for "Ebert Presents At the Movies" is spot-on.

The emperor has no clothes and she has no fear in pulling back the curtain. She nails Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, especially when he can't come back from her "if this wasn't Godard, would you still like it" jab.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Thursday, June 02, 2011

There seems to be a lot of movies about elephants coming out this year. Water for Elephants, One Lucky Elephant, The Woman with the Five Elephants - 2011 seems to be the Year of the Elephant.

Despite my love for the novel, I was disappointed by Water for Elephants. Going into Lisa Leeman's remarkable new documentary, One Lucky Elephant, I had no such expectations. In fact I knew very little about it. But I came out not only pleasantly surprised, but deeply moved. It is one of the most deeply pleasurable documentaries to come along in a long time - a totally endearing, decade spanning love story between a man and his elephant that reaches down deep and touches us in wonderful and unexpected ways. It's a real life Water for Elephants that is somehow everything I wanted that film to be but never was. Its protagonist may be a three ton pachyderm, but it's one of the most human tales you're likely to see on the big screen this summer.

David Balding and Flora, as seen in the documentary ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT, directed by Lisa Leeman, produced by Cristina Colissimo & Jordana Glick-Franzheim. Courtesy of David Balding.

For 16 years, David Balding and his elephant Flora have been performing in the Circus Flora, Balding as her owner and the circus' owner, Flora as the star attraction. Not having any children of his own, Flora has in a way become the daughter he never had, filling a void in his life he never realized was there. But after 16 years, he begins to come to the painful realization that Flora no longer enjoys performing, and that being with him may not be the best thing for her. So he decides to retire her, and begins making arrangements for a new, permanent home for Flora amongst other elephants, something he wishes that he would have done long ago.

However, finding Flora a new home proves more difficult than Balding anticipated, and deeper than that, parting with her is the most difficult task of all. Balding likens it to watching a child leave the nest and go off to college. But when he finally finds an elephant sanctuary that will take her, he is forced to make some difficult decisions that could separate the two of them forever. It's a heartbreaking reminder that sometimes the hardest part of love is letting go.

Flora, as seen in the documentary ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT, directed by Lisa Leeman, produced by Cristina Colissimo & Jordana Glick-Franzheim. Courtesy of David Balding.

It only runs a brief 81 minutes, but its emotional impact is huge. One Lucky Elephant is a tender and thoughtful examination of the plight of animals in captivity, especially those in circuses and zoos whose lives completely revolve around humans. As deep as the bond between Balding and Flora runs, she has never truly been allowed to be an elephant, and she almost seems torn between the wild and the human world when she is finally allowed to be with her own kind. Eventually she becomes caught in the middle of a debate about her own well-being, after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Balding must sacrifice his right to visit her completely in order for her to move on.

Shot over the period of a decade, the film evolved into something even the filmmakers could not have expected. It's a disarmingly emotional tale, an epic drama played out on an intimate scale. Make no mistake, this is a love story, but a love story with wide ranging implications. It's about animal rights, it's about humanity's role in the lives of the animals we choose to care for, but ultimately, it's about how far we're willing to go for love. You'll find no truer or more empathetic documentary on the big screen this year. One Lucky Elephant is a treasure.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT | Directed by Lisa Leeman | Not rated | Opens Wednesday, June 8, at the Film Forum in NYC.
I'm not going to lie, the new trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes actually looks pretty cool, even if the animation of the main ape isn't quite convincing.

I'm still not sold on the idea that showing us how the apes took over Earth is necessary, though. It seems to take away from the power of the original's now iconic ending. But I'll go in with an open mind.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes opens August 5.
At the end of his 1967 film, Weekend, legendary director Jean-Luc Godard famously declared the "end of cinema." It was a bold, and some would say narcissistic statement, and a prediction that ultimately proved false, both literally and figuratively.

And although cinema didn't end, it certainly did spell the end for the film movement that Godard had helped give life to, the French New Wave, sending the filmmaker into a period of underground, often extremist filmmaking from which he never quite reemerged.

But even if cinema isn't over, you couldn't tell it from Godard's latest work, Film Socialisme, a film that is as doggedly impenetrable as it is anti-cinematic. If Godard truly thought cinema was dead, his declaration has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This isn't a film - it's a completely unwatchable ordeal. I've never had a root canal, but I'm pretty sure it would be preferable to Godard's pretentious naval-gazing.

Nadège Beausson-Diagne as Constance in Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME.
Courtesy of Lorber Films.

Neither narrative nor documentary, Film Socialisme is more of an essay on film (I hesitate to call anything about it cinematic, because it's anything but), an aggressively cerebral screed on the decline of the European Union. The film is largely set on an ocean liner, a garish Capitalist tourist trap Godard shoots in everything from 35 mm to a cell phone camera, making for a largely disjointed and disorienting viewing experience. Godard clearly has something to say here, but it's buried amid the seemingly random, aimless ditherings of a director who is clearly punking us. There are arbitrary shots of cats, disembodied laughter, and terse, choppy dialogue interspersed with quotes from literary giants such as William Shakespeare, Jean Paul Sarte, and Joseph Conrad.

There are times when Godard even seems to be going for a David Lynch type vibe, but none of his ideas are ever present long enough to create any kind of lasting impression, much less a cohesive presence. It's almost as if the entire film is Godard's idea of a joke, tricking the audience into thinking they're going in to see another work by one of cinema's greatest masters, only to be hit with this pretentious collection of free-associative ramblings.

Patti Smith as La chanteuse in Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME.
Courtesy of Lorber Films.

There are moments of beauty in Film Socialisme, flashes of the once great director we all know and love. But unfortunately they never jell into anything resembling a film. It appears as if Godard is going for an avante-garde evocation of the state of the EU, but his thesis is completely obstructed by his stubborn refusal to allow the audience in. He pushes us away at every turn, almost as if he never wanted us to get the point in the first place. It's a Brechtian nightmare, a film stuck frustratingly inside its own head. Godard even ends the film with a black title card, with bold white letters boldly proclaiming "No comment." Like his brazen declaration of "End of film. End of cinema" at the end of Weekend 40 years ago, it's as if Godard is once again flipping us the cinematic bird, but this time he doesn't have the substance to back himself up. It's an insulting, condescending move that displays nothing but contempt for his audience.

One of the phrases that pops up in the film is "successful dissonance." I actually can't think of a better phrase to describe the film, save for the successful part. It's dissonant, all right, maddening and obtuse all once - but all Godard has succeeded in doing here is burying his head firmly up his own ass.

GRADE - zero stars (out of four)

FILM SOCIALISME | Directed by Jean-Luc Godard | Stars Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Jean-Marc Stehlé, Robert Maloubier, Patti Smith | Not rated | In French w/English subtitles | Opens Friday, June 3, in NYC.