Review: “The World’s End” is a bold, funny end to Edgar Wright’s trilogy

world's end

Last week, I reviewed “The World’s End” for the Buffalo News, and gave it 3 stars. I quite liked it, and have been wondering whether it deserved 3 ½ … Hard to say. This is as strong a 3 star review as I can give.

For the first 40 minutes or so, “The World’s End,” the third collaboration between U.K. director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is a bold, funny, downright insightful film about that horror of horrors: getting old.

We open on a grim support group meeting, and the sad face of Gary King, played by Pegg (“Star Trek’s” current Scotty). The chipper Pegg has never looked quite like this, and I don’t just mean the dark hair. He looks aged, and exhausted, and maybe even a bit ill.

But Gary comes alive when describing a bender that took place two decades ago in the British town of Newhaven, in which he and his four friends almost completed an epic pub crawl – the “Golden Mile,” consisting of 12 pints in 12 pubs, ending at a bar called the World’s End.

And so does the movie. Zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead” and small-town cop romp “Hot Fuzz” were the first two parts of Wright, Pegg and Frost’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” (named for a U.K. ice cream that appears in all three, but also humorously referencing filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy). Both had the same gleeful mixture of dark comedy and winking satire that kicks in before “World’s” opening credits.

Childhood friends Andrew (Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (“Hobbit” star Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) were part of that failed Golden Mile effort, and unlike Gary, they’ve moved on to successful careers.

Gary is not successful. So when the idea of a reunion and renewed attempt at finishing the Mile hits, it represents a chance at reclaiming the failed glory of his Sisters of Mercy T-shirt-clad youth.

His four cohorts – “just like the Five Musketeers!” – are unconvinced. As Frost’s Andrew puts it, “You remember the Friday nights; I remember the Monday mornings.”

But the allure is too great, and the friends have soon descended upon Newhaven, all to a soundtrack of early-’90s pre-Britpop classics (Primal Scream, Blur, Suede).

The first stretch of the Golden Mile is dripping with great moments, like Gary’s response to Andrew’s order of H2O, or Gary’s line about the chains that have taken over the bar scene – “part of a nationwide initiative to rob old pubs of all discernible character.”

It is all a brilliant middle finger to the phony let’s-get-the-gang-back-together frivolity found in most movies of this sort. It feels shockingly real, equal parts pathos, comedy and beer.

And then Gary uses the men’s room. And attempts to start a conversation with a surly teenager. And gets in a fist fight. And the chap’s head pops off, triggering a bum rush of all the young robot dudes.

Newhaven, you see, has been taken over by aliens who are trading out humans, “Body Snatchers”-style, for robot duplicates.

Now, this is not shocking, “spoiler alert!” news. The trailers made it clear that “The World’s End” starts as boys-gone-wild and becomes an alien invasion comedy.

But that does not make it any less of a bummer. The film was almost saying something extraordinarily wise … and then it is not.

As disappointing as that embrace of genre tropes is following the opening, that does not make it unenjoyable. In fact, the film moves briskly and stays funny, with Pegg and Frost, especially, doing some of their finest work.

Considine, Freeman and Marsan are well-cast, and Rosamund Pike provides a real spark as Oliver’s sister.

Proceedings take another strange turn at the end, coming to a close with a bleak conclusion that felt a touch at odds with the rest of the proceedings. Let’s just say “The World’s End” is both a title and an indicator of where things are going.

So even though it is not the film it could have been, “The World’s End” is mostly a frothy good time at the movies. Wright, Pegg and Frost have found a way to end their “Cornetto Trilogy” with verve, humor, beer and aliens. I would have preferred verve, humor and beer, period.

Weekend Preview: Wong Kar-Wai’s long-awaited “Grandmaster” arrives

grandmaster

 

With TIFF so close, and so much to do before then, my updates here will be a little shorter than normal. But things will be back to normal once my time at TIFF is complete. Here is a quick look at what’s opening this weekend.

“The Grandmaster”: I will certainly have more to say about Wong Kar-wai’s latest film after TIFF; it is his first release since “Ashes of Time Redux” and his first new feature since “My Blueberry Nights.” Reviews have been mostly positive, and the trailers are stunning … But I’m a bit worried about all the cuts.

“Getaway”: If this “Taken”-meets-“The Transporter” Ethan Hawke vehicle (see what I did there?) is a hit, I think the actor is officially summer’s MVP.

“Closed Circuit”: Solid cast (Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Jim Broadbent), ho-hum story.

“One Direction: This is Us”: Well, the kids’ll love it.

Buffalo Film Seminars: On Tuesday (September 3) Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” (1934) screens, and guess what? This one is as good as its reputation.

The Screening Room: More big-screen Marilyn at The Screening Room — it continues to celebrate Monroe and the 60th anniversary of “Niagara” with 7:30 screenings today, Saturday, and Sunday.

VOD: Brian De Palma’s bad TIFF12 entry “Passion” is making its theatrical and VOD debut.

Etc.: For the latest releases at Dipson’s Amherst and Eastern Hills theaters, visit the official Dipson site.

Photo courtesy of the Weinstein Company

Morrissey returns to Buffalo TONIGHT … on the big screen

Morrissey-25-Live1

I’m sad to say I missed Morrissey’s last visit to Western New York, at the Rapids Theatre in Niagara Falls. But I have had the pleasure of seeing him twice, and both times came away stunned — the man is a showman, truly. (I saw Mozzer as a teenager at Kleinhans Music Hall, and then in 2009 at UB’s Center for the Arts. I looked pretty different at both shows — and so did he.)

He is also a character, and so are his fans. Many of the latter are onscreen in the concert documentary “Morrissey 25: Live at Hollywood High,” and perhaps some of them will attend tonight’s screening at the Amherst Dipson (7 and 9:30 p.m.).

Some info from the film’s official site:

“Filmed live during Morrissey’s most intimate gig in decades at the Hollywood High School in Los Angeles on 2 March 2013, this is the first authorised Morrissey film for nine years and marks 25 years of the solo career of one of the world’s most iconic and enigmatic performers.

“The film opens with fans talking about their unwavering devotion to the singer and the unique appeal of this unusual venue — a striking contrast to the sold out arena concert at the StaplesCenter on the previous night. Tickets to the concert in the 1,800-seater school auditorium were sold out in 12 seconds and this now legendary concert became Morrissey’s penultimate performance on the U.S. tour. Featuring many classic tracks from the artist’s prolific repertoire including ‘Meat Is Murder,’ ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday,’ ‘Please, Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,’ and ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side,’ ‘Morrissey 25: Live’ is an unmissable cinema event for fans worldwide.”

Check out the setlist, which surprisingly features two tracks from his underrated 1997 album “Maladjusted,” including the great “Alma Matters”:

  1. “Alma Matters”
  2. “Ouija Board, Ouija Board”
  3. “Irish Blood, English Heart”
  4. “You Have Killed Me”
  5. “November Spawned a Monster”
  6. “Maladjusted”
  7. “You’re The One for Me, Fatty”
  8. “Still Ill”
  9. “People Are the Same Everywhere”
  10. “Speedway”
  11. “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”
  12. “To Give (The Reason I Live)”
  13. “Meat Is Murder”
  14. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”
  15. “Action Is My Middle Name”
  16. “Everyday Is Like Sunday”
  17. “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris”
  18. “Let Me Kiss You”
  19. “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side”

Wednesday Round-Up: TIFF talk heats up with only 8 days to go

dallas buyers

With the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival just eight days away, you can expect TIFF talk here and elsewhere to go into overdrive. Maximum overdrive, even. Almost every day from now until the end of the festival, I’ll be posting something TIFF-related — although not tomorrow; note I said ALMOST.

The majority of my coverage will be for Indiewire’s The Playlist, for The Film Stage, and for the November issue of Buffalo Spree, but I will certainly post here, and I will also be posting lots on FilmSwoon’s Twitter and Facebook pages, so please hit those up while I’m at the festival (September 6-9).

One TIFF entry I am hoping to see — honestly, it’s all up in the air at this point — is “Dallas Buyers Club,” a.k.a., The Film That Matthew McConaughey Lost All That Weight For. It is a fantastic concept for a movie, and represents another unique choice for its star. The Playlist posted some new pictures for the film — its release date was just moved up to early November, a very confident move — and an official synopsis:

“In 1986, the AIDS crisis was still a misunderstood horror, withering then taking its victims, alarming the public and confounding the doctors who sought a cure. In Texas, Ron Woodruff stood beyond the fear of AIDS. He was clueless. So when this boozing, foul-mouthed, womanizing heterosexual contracted HIV, his response was instinctive: Bullshit.

“‘Dallas Buyers Club’ draws on his true story. When Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) is told that he has only thirty days to live, he pleads with a doctor (Jennifer Garner) for what was then an experimental drug, AZT. But he refuses to submit to a clinical trial, so he steals the drug — taking his first dose with a beer chaser and a snort of cocaine. When the AZT dosage makes him sick, he seeks out alternative medicine. Never one to heed rules, Woodruff smuggles unapproved treatments over the border from Mexico. Along the way, he strikes up an unlikely alliance with Rayon, a sleek but troubled drag queen, played with stunning conviction by Jared Leto. The pair teams up to sell treatments to the growing numbers of HIV and AIDS patients unwilling to wait for the medical establishment to save them. It’s a classic story of American enterprise.”

The Playlist and The Film Stage are two of my favorite sources for news and info as TIFF draws closer, and I don’t just say that because I’m a contributor for both.

The rest of this week’s round-up:

Photo: “Dallas Buyers Club”

Some years are better than others: “Carlito’s Way,” “Short Cuts,” “True Romance,” and more from 1993

CarlitosDying

Looking at Entertainment Weekly’s recent fall movie preview got me thinking.

By the time autumn 1993 came around, I was a full-fledged movie fanatic. But most of what I knew came from a few books, like Roger Ebert’s latest “movie companion,” the occasional newspaper or magazine articles I would come upon, and whatever I could find on TV that related to cinema.

Around that time, I started subscribing to Premiere and Movieline, as well as Entertainment Weekly, and to this day, I still recall the joy I felt when paging through EW’s fall 1993 movie preview.

That was 20 years ago now (!), but I still consider that one of the best cinematic seasons ever. Okay, so that was also the year of “The Good Son,” “Striking Distance,” “Warlock: The Armageddon,” and “Mr. Nanny.” They can’t all be gems.

Take a look at some of what was released that fall:

 

September 3:

“Kalifornia”

 

September 10:

“True Romance”

 

September 15:

“Household Saints”

 

September 24:

“Dazed and Confused”

 

October 1:

“The Age of Innocence”

“A Bronx Tale”

“M. Butterfly”

 

October 3:

“Short Cuts”

 

October 8:

“Gettysburg”

“Ruby in Paradise”

 

October 15:

“Fearless”

“The Nightmare Before Christmas”

“Farewell My Concubine”

 

November 5:

“The Remains of the Day”

 

November 12:

“Carlito’s Way”

“The Piano”

 

November 24:

“A Perfect World”

 

December 15:

“Schindler’s List”

 

December 17:

“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”

 

December 25

“Tombstone”

“Heaven and Earth”

“Philadelphia”

 

Also opening around that time was “Three Colors: Blue,” “The Scent of Green Papaya,” “In the Name of the Father,” “Naked,” and “Cronos.” And earlier that year came “Groundhog Day,” “Jurassic Park,” “In the Line of Fire,” “The Fugitive,” “The Firm,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “King of the Hill,” “Searching for Bobby Fisher,” “The Sandlot,” “Menace II Society,” and “The Wedding Banquet.” And I’m probably missing some greats here.

Just think, in a matter of months came new films from Martin Scorsese, David Cronenberg, Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Jane Campion, Peter Weir, Robert Altman, Oliver Stone, Jonathan Demme, Mike Leigh, Ang Lee, Steven Soderbergh, and Tim Burton. Wow.

So … what does this all mean? Nothing, really. Just that — to paraphrase the Smiths — some seasons, and some years, are better than others. I happen to think 2013 has not been bad, thanks to some memorable small releases.

Perhaps, if TIFF13 has some biggies, 2013 will carry on 1993’s legacy. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Photo from “Carlito’s Way”

Wilder, Bogdanovich, Jarmusch, and … Luhrmann? It must be Buffalo Film Seminars time

deadman

The onset of fall means back to school, and back to the Market Arcade for the Buffalo Film Seminars. The Bruce Jackson- and Diane Christian-hosted series is a Western New York tradition, a screening and discussion of perennial classics (“8 ½”) new greats (“Oldboy,” “Chunking Express”), well-regarded blockbusters (“The Dark Knight”), and some left-field picks (“A Fish Called Wanda”).

Last spring, for example, saw a screening of Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate”; as I wrote in Buffalo Spree, “the filmmaker’s follow-up to ‘The Deer Hunter’ [is] the notoriously earth-shattering financial flop that helped sink United Artists. But in the years since, the story of the battle between European immigrants and greedy land barons in nineteenth century Wyoming has undergone something of a critical reevaluation. While some still scoff, for many seasoned viewers, it is now seen as a sumptuous, stunningly ambitious epic. Its status as undervalued masterpiece was confirmed in late 2012 with the Criterion Collection’s remastered release of the film on Blu-ray and DVD. Buffalo Film Seminars’ screening offers an opportunity to look past the years of controversy, and with hosts Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian, view it with fresh eyes.”

Well said, me. I love the idea of Jackson and Christian selecting a film with a mixed reputation.

This fall’s lineup, which kicks off tomorrow with Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer,” is typically eclectic. There are the obvious cinematic masterpieces (“The Grand Illusion,” “Double Indemnity”), some ’70s favorites (“Network,” “The Last Picture Show”), an offbeat bit of ’90s indie-cool (Jarmusch’s Johnny Depp-starring “Dead Man”), and even Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby.”

It also includes Jackson and Christian’s acclaimed 1979 documentary “Death Row,” and it should lead to an insightful discussion.

Here is the fall schedule in its entirety:

  • August 27 — Alan Crosland’s “The Jazz Singer,” 1927
  • September 3 — Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night,” 1934
  • September 10 — Jean Renoir’s “The Grand Illusion,” 1937
  • September 17 — Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity,” 1944
  • September 24 — Delmer Daves’s “3:10 to Yuma,” 1957
  • October 1 — Kon Ichikawa’s “Fires on the Plain,” 1959
  • October 8 — Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show,” 1971
  • October 15 — Sidney Lumet’s “Network,” 1976
  • October 22 — Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian’s “Death Row,” 1979
  • October 29 — Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man,” 1995
  • November 5 — Pedro Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her,” 2002
  • November 12 — Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York,” 2008
  • November 19 — Wim Wenders’s “Pina,” 2011
  • November 26 — Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” 2013

Note that the BFS website features a history of the seminars, “goldenrod handouts,” and a list of all the films that have screened. Films are screened 7 p.m. on Tuesdays at the Market Arcade Film and ArtsCenter; 639 Main St.; see buffalofilmseminars.com for more info.

Photo from “Dead Man”

TIFF 2012 Revisited: Exhaustion, Exhilaration, and a Sore Coccyx

Anna Karenina

After TIFF comes to a close, I write a feature for Buffalo Spree’s November issue discussing my experience at the fest, and also attempting to give readers a brief look at what’s to come during the rest of the cinema-going year. Here is my Spree piece from TIFF 2012. (Please note that I totally changed my mind on “Something in the Air.” Now I love it!)

It was somewhere around Yonge Street when the drugs began to take hold. I of course mean the Motrin, a necessity after a day that included two aborted interviews, six (!) cab rides, one bad burger, and queue after queue after queue. It was day two of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and that feeling — of exhaustion, exhilaration, and a sore coccyx — is something I long for all year.

By the time TIFF itself begins, Spree cohort Jared Mobarak and I have studied the press and public screening schedules like the Torah, considering plans, back-up plans, worst-case scenarios, and lots of maybes. The eleven-day September festival is a glorious whirlwind of adventure that sees Hollywood, Bollywood, and, for all I know, Dollywood, converge upon Toronto, ready to anoint this year’s Oscar frontrunners, see what elicits boos, and trumpet the season’s “it” girl or guy. The city throbs with cine-mania far beyond the venues: our hotel, the gorgeous Royal Fairmont York, was abuzz with activity all weekend, while the bars and restaurants, especially those around the venues, were happily overstuffed. Even the hot dog vendors seemed a tad flustered.

It’s easy to feel that way, due to the sheer number of films—more than 300, from sixty-plus countries. Indubitably, this means you’re sure to see some greats. Pablo Larrain’s “No,” for example, is a subtle stunner, a technically bold and wildly smart crowd-pleaser about the way advertising helped oust Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in the late ’80s. The film was one of the most joyous experiences of the festival. That can’t be said for “White Ribbon” and “Caché” director Michael Haneke’s Cannes-winning “Amour,” but that’s okay, since joy is replaced by overwhelming dramatic force. It is, quite possibly, the best film ever made about the realities of aging, and that toughness makes it an emotionally devastating work. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva star as a long-married couple whose lives are turned upside down when she suffers a stroke; what follows is pain, sadness, and, ultimately, acts of real love. Far sunnier is Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” a satisfying gum drop of a film. This fresh, funny Shakespeare adaptation was shot at the director’s house over twelve days. (I reviewed Much Ado for Indiewire’s The Playlist site, and it was noteworthy for me — the first review I’ve ever written completely on my iPhone “notes.”)

Meanwhile, Bernardo Bertolucci’s first film in almost a decade, “Me and You,” is a wonderfully incisive look at adolescence, while “The Impossible,” a harrowing true story of survival about the 2004 Pacific tsunami, is moving and sincere, if a bit narrow. (The film rarely shows anyone who is not white and vacationing.) Still, stars Naomi Watts and Ewan MacGregor are fantastic, and the child actors are stunning — loud sniffling filled the ornate Princess of Wales Theatre, much of it from me. Some less-heralded but equally involving films included the Lisbon-set “Imagine,” an enchanting work about a school for the blind, and “The Gangs of Wasseypur,” a two-part Indian gangster epic that feels like the freshest take on the genre in years.

Other films were solid doubles, if not home runs. Joe Wright’s Tolstoy adaptation of “Anna Karenina” has an innovative approach—the film is “staged,” if you will, bringing a glorious sense of tongue-in-cheek theatricality to the proceedings. Yet Anna (Keira Knightley) and her lover, the dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor Johnson), are the least interesting characters onscreen, and that’s a problem. Still, it’s a truly innovative creation from Joe Wright. “Crying Game” director Neil Jordan’s epic vampire tale Byzantium is the director’s most muscular work in some time, while Kristen Wiig shines in the sitcom-y “Imogene.” And Rian Johnson’s time-travel odyssey “Looper” was the most frustrating film at TIFF, since it is three-quarters brilliant, innovative sci-fi, and then, suddenly, one-quarter WTF?-“Omen”/”Twilight Zone” rip-off. That one-quarter was a crushing disappointment, since until that point, I felt I was watching a possible classic. Even with its ill-advised quasi-horror direction, “Looper” is a film to be admired—certainly a near-masterpiece. (It reminded me that as a parent, I now find “children in peril” story elements to be manipulative and upsetting, an accusation one could also throw at “The Impossible.”)

One notable miss was Olivier Assayas’s autobiographical “Something in the Air.” This look at students in Paris continuing the struggles of post-May ’68 life is handsomely made but pretty vacant. Another, Brian De Palma’s “Passion,” takes the prize for Saddest Exercise in Self-Parody. I’m a longtime De Palma fan, but this one makes even “Black Dahlia” look restrained by comparison. Of course, time often changes my opinions. Seeing Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz” at TIFF 2011, I was horribly disappointed. Watching it again months later, outside the pomp and circumstance of the festival setting, I adored it. There’s hope for you yet, “Something” — but probably not you, “Passion.”

As always, there were many films I did not get to see, including several biggies. I wanted to catch the TIFF People’s Choice Award-winning “Silver Linings Playbook,” but missing David O. Russell’s Oscar favorite, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, meant I had time to read Matthew Quick’s fast, funny book — certainly a silver lining. I skipped Ben Affleck’s crowd-pleasing thriller “Argo” and the audience-dividing Wachowski Bros.-Tom Tykwer epic that is “Cloud Atlas,” since both were scheduled to open in October. Others that drew major buzz were “Rust and Bone,” which could bring Marion Cotillard another Oscar, and Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha,” starring Greta Gerwig in a black-and-white love story.

I was left most fascinated by five fiercely idiosyncratic films: the aforementioned “No” and “Amour,” Rodney Ascher’s “Room 237,” Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder,” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.” A documentary on various fan theories about Kubrick’s “The Shining,” “Room 237” left me almost tearful with excitement. It captures something, I think, about the sheer power of cinema, and the ways it can capture (if not steal) our imaginations, in ways both intentional and unexpected. You’ll never look at the Overlook Hotel in quite the same way.

It was fitting that the final two films I saw, Malick’s “To the Wonder” and P. T. Anderson’s “The Master,” were the most jagged, fascinating pair of the festival. “Wonder” is the more aesthetically mystifying of the two, taking the life-as-a-series-of-memories style of his controversial, Oscar-nominated “Tree of Life” to what might be its breaking point. This is introspection to the point of absurdity — “Do you know what you want?” asks Rachel McAdams, and many will shout, “No!” — but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Despite being Malick’s least successful work, it is still imaginative, thrillingly opaque filmmaking, all the more for featuring almost no dialogue. (Seriously — prepare for narration, some bad poetry, and many, many shots of lovers in cornfields.) Even with its flaws, I found it mostly intoxicating, especially the lead performance of Olga Kurylenko.

By the time you read this, you’ll have had a chance to see “The Master,” the film that, more than any other I’ve seen in 2012, makes me want to sit, think, read, and process. (Remember that word — “process.” Once you see “The Master,” you’ll understand its relevance.) Anderson’s film is, then, “Room 237”’s spiritual cousin, a rigorous, hypnotic, unsettling film that in some ways is unlike any other ever made. Sure, there are shades of others, including Anderson’s own “There Will Be Blood.” But there’s a new cinematic language on display here, I think, one more accessible than “To the Wonder”’s but no less ambitious. Yes, the film is about Scientology, and religion, but less than one might think. Anderson and his cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amy Adams all deserve Oscars) have created something about failure, fear, self-delusion, family, and man’s longing for inclusion. Trust me when I say that whether you like “The Master” or not, you’ve never seen anything quite like it before. I can’t imagine we’ll see a better film this year.

Both “Wonder” and “Master” offer little in the way of explanation. They both are about pain and poison in literal and figurative senses, they both seem to be puzzles with several missing pieces, and they both shrug their shoulders when accused of practicing mindf—ery. These are the kind of films that make TIFF so virile, so complex, so ultimately enjoyable. Where else within two hours of Buffalo can the act of sitting in a darkened theater, eating popcorn (when allowed — I’m talking about you, Ryerson Theatre), and waiting for the L’Oreal commercial to finish and the movie to begin feel almost spiritual?

Like those obsessed viewers in “Room 237,” the puzzle pieces of “To the Wonder” and “The Master” haven’t all fit together for me yet. There’s an inherent thrill in searching for a missing piece, and if that doesn’t symbolize the point of watching, rewatching, and, yes, processing, I’m not sure what does.

Photo courtesy of TIFF

Rent It: The Devastating “Amour” is Ideal for Home Viewing

amour

One of my favorites last year at TIFF was Michael Haneke’s “Amour” — in fact, it was my pick as last year’s best film. To tie in with its release on DVD and Blu-ray, I wrote a bit about the film for BuffaloSpree.com. It really is a film that is ideal for viewing at home, and despite how difficult it is to watch, I hope it reaches a new audience.

There are certain films that are just made for the big-screen — if you’re going to see “Pacific Rim,” it is probably theater or bust — and there are others that seem ideally suited to an intimate setting. Michael Haneke’s overwhelmingly emotional “Amour” is one of the latter picks.

The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film arrives tomorrow on DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and my guess is many who were turned off to the idea of seeing a film about a long-married couple whose lives are turned upside down when the wife suffers a stroke will rent it. I expect they’ll come away moved, especially since so many of us have gone through similar situations in our own families. When I saw the film at a Saturday night public screening at last September’s Toronto International Film Festival, I became aware, early in the film, of the sounds of sobbing. As the film progressed, these sounds became more and more pronounced.

Some of this reaction is due to the note-perfect performances from legendary stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, but I could not help thinking that for many in the audience, “Amour” was hitting close to home. It certainly did for me—it was my pick as last year’s No. 1 film.

I am not exaggerating when I saw that this film might be the finest ever made about love and aging. It is certainly Haneke’s (“The White Ribbon,” “Cache,” “Funny Games”) most human creation, yet it retains the air of mystery and unease that defines his best work. Most films that arrive with this level of praise are a letdown, but this is not the case when it comes to “Amour.” It is a game-changing film.

The DVD and Blu-ray both include a making-of feature, as well as a Q-and-A with the soft-spoken Haneke. Even if you’ve already seen “Amour,” revisiting is wise. That’s another sign of a great film. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; 2013)

Left to Right: Director Michael Haneke, Emmanuelle Riva, and Jean-Louis Trintignant

PHOTO BY © DENIS MANIN, COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

Weekend Preview: A “Spectacular” Teen Movie is Another Great Summer Indie

SpecNow-Still-1080x669

I’ve written several times here that I think this has been a particularly weak summer for big-budget extravaganzas, and a particularly great one for indies. Films like “Blue Jasmine,” “Before Midnight,” “Frances Ha,” “Fruitvale Station,” and more. Even lesser picks like “The Way, Way Back” or “The East” is still worthy of mention.

“The Spectacular Now” is another, a smart, subtle, emotionally involving film with two stellar lead performances from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. It’s now playing at the Eastern Hills Mall, and I can tell you its high level of praise from Sundance to now is not unwarranted.

It’s the third film directed by James Ponsoldt, the follow-up to his solid alcoholism drama “Smashed.” (His first was the Nick Nolte-starring “Off the Black.”) “Smashed” was undeniably well-made, but never quite grabbed me. “The Spectacular Now” is his strongest work yet, and much of that is thanks to the performances of his two stars.

This is not surprising; Teller stole the dour Nicole Kidman drama “Rabbit Hole,” while Woodley gave the best performance in “The Descendants.” Here, playing a funny-cool, alcohol-guzzling high-schooler and the shy girl who wins his heart, respectively, they are just right.

It’s easy to underrate a film like this (and to overrate it). When I initially left the theater, I considered it a fine, entertaining teen movie. But the more I ponder, the more I think “The Spectacular Now,” like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” pulls off two very difficult things: it is utterly believable, and it does not talk down to its audience.

There are great supporting performances from “Smashed” star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the great Jennifer Jason Leigh, a dazed Kyle Chandler, the lovely Brie Larson, and “Mr. Show”’s Bob Odenkirk (!), but this film belongs to Teller and Woodley.

The duo, and director Ponsoldt, have brought the summer to a lovely close. (I’d go 3 ½ stars.) Check out Ponsoldt’s very cool countdown of the best coming-of-age films here.

The other entries at the box office are typically eclectic. The horror film “You’re Next” has built great buzz, and I imagine it will join “The Conjuring” as an inexpensive summer hit.

I reviewed the long-awaited third film from Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright, “The World’s End,” for the Buffalo News, and found it a very good — and almost great — picture. As I put it in my review, which I’ll post here soon:

“For the first 40 minutes or so, ‘The World’s End,’ the third collaboration between U.K. director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is a bold, funny, downright insightful film about that horror of horrors: getting old.”

It remains entertaining and fun, but it abandons what I loved about the opening for a killer robot/alien invasion subplot. Still, it’s a worthy third outing for the trio.

It might make me sound old, but I have no idea what “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is. I’ve seen some ads. I’ve seen some posters. But I can’t tell you what it is, because I have absolutely no idea.

A video on demand note: David Lowery’s acclaimed “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” starring Rooney Mara (swoon), Casey Affleck, and Ben Foster, comes to VOD today. Along with “The Spectacular Now,” it was one of the most acclaimed films at Sundance 2013, and I can’t wait to watch it.

Earlier this week I talked about Marilyn Monroe, and BPAC’s “Misfits” screening. Now, you can experience her brush with WNY, “Niagara,” as tonight, tomorrow, and also on August 28, 30, 31, and September 1, The Screening Room celebrates the film’s 60th anniversary with 7:30 screenings.

Meanwhile, Bacchus goes Bond with “Skyfall” on Wednesday (August 28) and the UB North Campus closes its summer session with “The Great Gatsby” tonight. South Campus is all wrapped up.

Next week, I’ll discuss the Buffalo Film Seminars’ fall 2013 schedule in its entirety, but note that the series kicks off on Tuesday (August 27) with 1927’s “The Jazz Singer.” I don’t need to tell you what that is, correct? Good.

And note that next Friday sees the Buffalo opening of Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster.” I’ll be there.

Photo: Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in “The Spectacular Now”; courtesy of A24 

Claire Denis, Jia Zhangke, and Jafar Panahi are TIFF13 “Masters”

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The complete list for the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival has arrived, and it features — get this — 288 films. When all is said and done, between press screenings, public screenings, and pre-fest screeners, I’ll probably end up seeing around 10 to 15 of these, and dammit, I think that’s pretty good.

TIFF kicks off in exactly two weeks (!), and I have lots of reading and pondering to do before then. The public schedule is up, the press schedule dropped yesterday, and sites like Indiewire have helpfully put together complete breakdowns.

I’ll be talking TIFF quite a bit here over the next few weeks, and pretty much every film site in the world will be doing the same. One of my favorite “programmes” at the festival is the “Masters” lineup, which last year included Michael Haneke, Christian Mingiu, Abbas Kiarostami, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Olivier Assayas, among others.

This year’s Masters list is a bit less “sexy,” and lacks some of the names I was really, really hoping might still squeeze in. It was unlikely that the Coens or James Gray would end up here, but I held out hope … Instead, they’re joining Spike Jonze and Ben Stiller for a particularly explosive New York Film Festival lineup.

(I’ve actually been a little hung up on these titles that are NOT coming to Toronto, to the extent that I have not properly judged the films that actually WILL be there. I need to get over that …)

But there are some biggies here. Claire Denis has been on a fascinating run, and “Bastards” drew wildly mixed notices from Cannes, which excites me. Also featured are the latest from Jia Zhangke, Hong Sangsoo, Jafar Panahi … Some usual suspects? Perhaps. That does not make it any less impressive.

Here is a rundown of TIFF”s 2013 Masters programme, with descriptions from Tuesday’s press release:

“A Touch of Sin” (Tian zhu ding) (Jia Zhangke, China/Japan, North American Premiere) — An angry miner, enraged by the corruption of his village leaders, takes action. A rootless migrant discovers the infinite possibilities that owning a firearm can offer. A pretty receptionist working in a sauna is pushed to the limit when a wealthy client assaults her. A young factory worker goes from one discouraging job to the next, only to face increasingly degrading circumstances. Four people, four different provinces.

“Abuse of Weakness” (Abus de Faiblesse) (Catherine Breillat, France/Belgium/Germany, World Premiere) — An extraordinary collaboration between two legends of French cinema, Catherine Breillat’s brutally candid autobiographical drama stars Isabelle Huppert as a stroke-afflicted filmmaker manipulated by a notorious con man.

“Bastards” (Les Salauds) (Claire Denis, France, North American Premiere) — Supertanker captain Marco Silvestri is called back urgently to Paris. His sister Sandra is desperate; her husband has committed suicide, the family business has gone under, and her daughter is spiraling downwards. Sandra holds powerful businessman Edouard Laporte responsible. Marco moves into the building where Laporte has installed his mistress and her son, but he isn’t prepared for Sandra’s secrets, which muddy the waters. Starring Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni.

“Closed Curtain” (Parde) (Kambozia Partovi and Jafar Panahi, Iran, North American Premiere) — A house by the sea; the curtains are pulled shut, the windows covered with black. Inside, a man is hiding with his dog. He is writing a screenplay, when suddenly a mysterious young woman appears and refuses to leave, much to the writer’s annoyance. But at daybreak, another arrival will flip everyone’s perspective.

“Concrete Night” (Pirjo Honkasalo, Finland/Sweden/Denmark, World Premiere) — A 14-year-old boy in a stifling Helsinki slum takes some unwise life lessons from his soon-to-be-incarcerated older brother, in Finnish master Pirjo Honkasalo’s gorgeously stylized and emotionally devastating work about what we pass on to younger generations, and the ways we do it.

“Home From Home — Chronicle of a Vision” (Die Andere Heimat — Chronik einer Sehnsucht) (Edgar Reitz, Germany/France, North American Premiere) — Edgar Reitz tells this dramatic story of love and family against the backdrop of rural Germany in the mid-19th century, a time when entire poverty-stricken villages emigrated to faraway South America. The story centers on two brothers who have to decide whether they will stay or go.

“How Strange to be Named Federico: Scola Narrates Fellini” (Che strano chiamarsi Federico: Scola racconta Fellini) (Ettore Scola, Italy, International Premiere) On the 20th anniversary of Federico Fellini’s death, Ettore Scola, a devoted admirer of the incomparable maestro, commemorates the lesser-known aspects of Fellini’s personality, employing interviews, photographs, behind-the-scenes footage as well as Fellini’s drawings and film clips.

“Moebius” (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea, North American Premiere) — South Korea’s celebrated perennial provocateur Kim Ki-duk (“Pieta”) returns with this twisted family chronicle perched somewhere between psychological thriller, grotesque comedy and perverse ode to the pleasures of sadomasochism.

“Norte, The End of History” (Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan) (Lav Diaz, Philippines, North American Premiere) — In Philippine cinematic luminary Lav Diaz’s latest work, partially influenced by Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” a man is accused of murder while the real killer roams free.

“Our Sunhi” (Uri Sunhi) (Hong Sangsoo, South Korea North American Premiere) Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s latest follows an aspiring young filmmaker who becomes the object of desire for three very different men, in this smart, resonant dramedy.

Incidentally, Quebecois filmmakers Robert Lepage and Pedro Pires’s “Triptych” (Triptyque) was previously announced as part of the Canadian features lineup, and one additional title was announced in the Midnight Madness programme: the world premiere of Alex de la Iglesia’s “Witching & Bitching” (Las brujas de Zugarramurdi). I took a look at the other MM films a few weeks ago.

Photo from “A Touch of Sin” courtesy of TIFF