Review: ‘The Assassin’ will intoxicate fans of cinema

Heropage-980x560_44

I missed “The Assassin” at TIFF15, but I jumped at the chance to review it for Buffalo.com. Here is my three-star review.

There are moments during Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s “The Assassin” in which it seems reasonable to call the film one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous in cinema history. Some of these shots – two figures on a mountaintop, mist over a gray pool of water – deserve to be paused, printed and framed.

This is not hyperbole. Hou’s film earned him the best director prize at last May’s Cannes Film Festival over the likes of the already acclaimed and soon-to-be released “Son of Saul” and Todd Haynes’ “Carol.”

Did Hou deserve the honor? Hard to say, but watching “The Assassin,” it’s easy to see why the Cannes jury flipped for the latest effort from the director of 2007’s lovely“Flight of the Red Balloon.”

The director’s fellow visual master Wong Kar-wai went martial arts with 2013’s stunner “The Grandmaster,” but Hou’s first film to dabble in that genre is a much different affair. The slow-paced “Assassin” will simply not work for filmgoers anticipating unrelenting, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”-style action.

The setting is ninth century China, the era of China’s Tang Dynasty. It is a time of sudden, unpredictable violence and rigidly defined social structure. Perhaps that is why the assassin of the film’s title is such an intriguing, unpredictable figure.

This mysterious individual is named Nie Yinniang, and she is well played by Shu Qi, star of Hou’s 2001 treat “Millenium Mambo.” As a 10-year-old, this daughter of a prominent general was taken by a nun and trained to kill without mercy.

Years later, Yinniang emerges from exile on the nun’s orders, tasked with returning to the land of her birth to murder her cousin Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), the governor of the powerful Weibo province – and the man she was once set to marry.

Intriguingly, it is widely known that Yinniang has returned, and the sight of her lurking in the shadows, while causing some discomfort, is seemingly greeted with acceptance. This makes for a complex and often hard to follow story, one filled with long pauses and furtive glances. It is no exaggeration to call the film, at times, confusing.

Quite honestly, the film’s plot feels like an excuse for the visuals – but my goodness. The visuals. Indeed, enjoying the film requires a complete immersion into the ravishing scenery and beguiling setting.

Really, Hou’s visual mastery cannot be overstated. Even if the film’s languid pacing and head-scratching plot confound, it is impossible to turn away.

Also effective is the character of Yinniang. Unlike the governors, their families and their protectors, she is free to travel in the shadows, strike quickly and disappear again. It’s refreshing to see a female – in ninth century China, no less – who is dependent on no one.

In addition, despite the difficulties of the story, there are lines of dialogue in the Hou co-authored screenplay that linger in one’s memory. “Your mind is still hostage to human sentiment” is one. But the dialogue that most startled me with its somber simplicity comes from Tian Ji’an: “When I was 10 I had a serious fever. The doctors were no help. A small coffin was prepared.”

Hou is undoubtedly a visionary. While this Taiwanese master has made a film that will surely alienate audiences, those with a deep appreciation for cinema will find the world of “The Assassin” to be intoxicating.

Cannes 2014, Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival, “Peyote,” and more: Weekly Round-Up

twodays_onenight_3-e1399574936106-620x329

I am continuing to mainly post links here due to an excessively busy schedule. The last week saw some festival previews, a review, and more.:

The day before the 2014 Cannes Film Festival began, The Film Stage posted its 30 most anticipated films, and I contributed entries on three of them: David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars”; Olivier Assayas’s “Clouds of Sils Maria,” starring three heavy-hitters: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloë Grace Moretz; and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s “Two Days, One Night,” starring one my favorite performers, Marion Cotillard. Hopefully all three will make their way to TIFF 2014.

I gave a D grade to Dan Fogler’s ambitious but awful “Don Peyote” for The Playlist.

And for the Buffalo News I wrote about “Chinatown,” which is showing at Amherst’s Screening Room, as well as a feature on the Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival.

As always, more is on the way.

Rent It: The Sexy and Mysterious “Embraces” is Almodovar at His Most Hitchcockian

broken embraces

In honor of Pedro Almodovar’s deeply nutty-looking “I’m So Excited” opening in Buffalo this weekend, I have decided to revisit Almodovar’s last two films, both of which garnered 4 stars from me in the Buffalo News. The first, “Broken Embraces,” ran on January 15, 2010.

The early word on Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar’s latest stylish creation, “Broken Embraces,” was that it represented a letdown. This was “lesser Pedro,” the Cannes critics said.

Happily, the early word was wrong. While it might not achieve the emotional heights of his Oscar-winning “All About My Mother” or “Talk to Her,” it is involving, sexy and wonderfully mysterious. It’s Almodovar at his most cinema-adoring, and is certainly his most Hitchcockian story to date.

“I used to be called Mateo and was a film director,” begins screenwriter Harry Caine as “Broken Embraces” begins. He is “a self-made writer made by himself,” and he is also blind, the result of a tragic accident we fail to learn the details of until close to film’s end.

Harry is played by an actor I was unfamiliar with before now, Lluis Homar, and his lack of recognition so far in the end-of-year awards derby is criminal. For Homar pulls off something few actors can — he creates two distinct personalities for the same character, each believable and understandable.

In flashback, as the director Mateo Blanco, he is passionate, emotional and in control. As Harry Caine, he is quieter, more subdued, a man who knows he is forced to rely on others and is not entirely pleased about it.

Harry is visited by a strange, rather obnoxious young filmmaker known as Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano), and the story he wants Harry to write is one that is lifted from Mateo’s past: It’s “a son’s revenge on his father’s memory,” and the man Ray X describes — a violent, powerful homophobe who destroyed several lives — is instantly recognizable to Harry.

The blind Harry’s face betrays his surprise, but he turns down the idea. He is not the proper writer for this, he says. “You are,” Ray X explains, “more than you know.”

The meaning of this cryptic statement takes up the remainder of the film. It involves Mateo, a beautiful woman named Lena (played, perfectly, by the en fuego Penelope Cruz), her domineering husband Ernesto (Jose Luis Gomez), his awkward teenage son Ernesto Jr., and Mateo’s faithful agent Judit (nicely played by Blanca Portillo).

While the proceedings have been quite remarkable up to this point — especially an oh-so-Almodovar sex scene shot from behind a sofa, with only a rising back and stretching feet visible — it is the appearance of Cruz that takes “Embraces” to another level of intrigue.

Currently praised for a sultry turn in “Nine” and following a deserved Oscar for her unhinged role in “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” Cruz’s performance as Lena reminds us that she is truly Almodovar’s muse. Her work here is more subtle than her earthy mother and abused wife in his “Volver,” but no less impressive.

As we learn of her involvement with Mateo, and the making of a never-released film he directed and she starred in, “Broken Embraces” develops into a love story, a searing mystery, and a heartfelt drama of passion and its consequences.

It is melodramatic, yes, and not without fault. Almodovar makes a shocking directorial decision near the end, allowing a major character to tell us key details of what happened so many years ago, instead of showing us. Luckily, the film is strong enough to withstand the error. But it’s a rainbow of color and sight — any single frame could be studied for its composition and design — that is acted and directed with feeling and panache.

Almodovar is now in the group of major filmmakers whose work is invariably compared with their past masterpieces, rather than judged on its own merits. Therefore, a great film might not seem to be a classic — even though it is. (See David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” or Wong Kar-Wai’s “2046.”) Here, he has created a work about the power of the camera, and the glory of sight and sound, that rivals anything he’s done before.

“Broken Embraces” is one of 2009’s finest films, and a lesson that “lesser” Pedro is something to be thankful for.

Rent It: Matteo Garrone’s “Reality” is a Fresh, Moving Look at Reality TV Culture

Reality_66

Here is what Matteo Garrone’s “Reality” is NOT: Yet another dull study of reality television, only this time set in Italy. No, “Reality” is something far more fresh, and infinitely more incisive. It is a film about reality culture from the outside looking in, and it is one of the most involving, moving, darkly funny films I’ve seen all year. (It’s a 3/12- or 4-star movie for me.)

When “Reality” premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, it garnered a respectful, if subdued reaction from critics. But the jury, led by Nanni Moretti, awarded the film the Grand Prix, essentially the runner-up to the Palme d’Or (Haneke’s mighty “Amour”).

This was, remember, the year that saw Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” shut out. I would have ranked “Motors” above “Reality,” but after finally seeing Garrone’s film, I can certainly understand its allure for the jurors.

Still, not all were satisfied, including The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw:

“Matteo Garrone’s ‘Reality’ won the Grand Prix, which really had me scratching my head. This is an amiable, but essentially sentimental and predictable satire about an ordinary guy from Naples who becomes obsessed with getting on to the Italian version of ‘Big Brother’ and becoming a big star. This film wasn’t anywhere near as good as his earlier ‘Gomorrah’: a more defensible choice, it seems to me, would have been for the jury to have given ‘Reality’ the best actor prize, for its lead, Aniello Arena, who gave a very good performance. However, as Arena is in fact a convicted criminal who is serving 20 years in prison — he was allowed out on day-release to shoot the picture, but not permitted to come to the festival – this might have created some diplomatic problems.”

Bradshaw’s point is legitimate — perhaps best actor would have made more sense, so believable is Arena. (The actor’s backstory, as indicated by Bradshaw, is almost unbelievable, yet true.)

I cannot disagree that the Grand Prix was a surprise, but, then again, Garrone said the same: “It’s a surprise. This award is more important than what I could have imagined before the ceremony. This Grand Prix will help the film to find a bigger audience.”

Oscilloscope picked up “Reality” for American distribution, and I’m thrilled they did. (It is being released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 13.) It is a subtle film, one that starts with a flourish — a stunningly garish horse-driven coach rides through Italy in one long shot — and utter confusion. But slowly, its story, of a good-natured fishmonger obsessed with the idea of appearing on “Big Brother,” comes into focus.

Various scenes here are as memorable as any in recent cinema, specifically a gorgeous sequence in which a previous “Big Brother” star, the beloved Enzo, flies above a club crowd, just out of reach. Arena’s Luciano watches him with wonder.

On paper, “Reality” is not dissimilar to films like “The King of Comedy,” yet it has a humanity, and a level of emotion, all its own. Bret Easton Ellis may have Tweeted it best: “Matteo Garrone’s ‘Reality’ is the funniest and most visually stunning film I’ve seen so far in 2013. A problem movie but also ravishing …” (The “American Psycho” author included it on his recent list of 2013 faves, along with Best of 2013 so far: “Before Midnight,” “Frances Ha,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “Room 237,” “Like Someone In Love,” and “56 Up.”)

Garrone’s previous film, “Gomorrah,” was a somber blast of 21st-century gangster cinema. I reviewed it for the Buffalo News on March 27, 2009; my 4-star review was headlined “Street life Two young toughs run afoul of the mob and pay the price.”

As you read this, Italian journalist Roberto Salviano is likely in hiding. Since the 2006 publication of nonfiction masterpiece “Gomorrah,” a passionate, cry-in-the-night about the corrosive Mafia-like Naples organization known as Camorra, Salviano has received death threats, resulting in armed guards, hiding and a well-deserved reputation as a national hero.

Matteo Garrone’s film of “Gomorrah” is Salviano’s revenge, a grim intertwining of mob middlemen, couriers, upstarts and victims. It’s the finest street-level crime drama since “City of God,” another saga of the violent and disenfranchised. Yet “Gomorrah” packs an even stronger punch.

There has never been an organized-crime epic quite like this, a masterpiece that takes to heart the hollow core behind “Scarface’s” prophecy of selfish consumption: “The world is yours.” This line has spawned a thousand cocky wannabes, kids who seem to forget that Tony Montana was shot down in a hail of gunfire — kids like Marco and Ciro.

Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) could be any age between 15 and 25, but mentally are a couple guys intent on shooting guns, robbing arcades for cash and playing too tough with strippers. The undynamic duo — who feature in the film’s most oddly affecting scene, shooting machine guns in a dingy lake in their underwear and sneakers — see Al Pacino’s Montana as their hero.

Yet, they evidence their youth by trying to steal from the all-powerful Camorra, and they pay the price. So does Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo, in the film’s best performance), a sweet-natured haute couture tailor who secretly brings his designs to a Chinese factory, under Camorra’s nose.

We also meet Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), a young grocery delivery boy in a Beckham jersey, who is recruited by drug dealers. There is the aging Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), a somber money-carrier. These are all sad, defeated people, and all are in Camorra’s web in one way or another.

Salviano and Garrone’s boldest step is in not only focusing on the guns and drug-running of organized crime, but also on its foothold in “legitimate” industries — fashion, shipping and waste management. How can an organization be brought down when its influence runs so deep? (The film’s ending tells us that Camorra is involved in funding the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site.)

“Gomorrah” is not a gangster epic like “The Godfather” or, especially, “Scarface” — I hesitate to even recommend it to fans of “mob movies.” There is no one to root for, and no one can be called a lead character.

The cast is unknown on these shores. The settings are grungy, and the film quality is grainy. In its focus on the tense dreariness of criminal life, it could be called a very distant cousin of Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” (Scorsese himself is “presenting” the film to American audiences), but even this is misleading. There are no real laughs or nostalgic soundtrack, or even hints of happiness — some will likely find it boring and hard to follow.

But its strength lies in its complexities. The same is true of Salviano’s stunning book. How many of the goods we own have passed through the bloody Naples docks? It’s a good question — and an answer we’d rather not hear.

Salviano co-wrote the screenplay with Garrone, and I imagine its international success is a stunning victory for him, a sign that perhaps the world is beginning to pay attention to the world he put under the microscope. He has helped develop a new style of crime epic, one in which the admittedly intoxicating milieu of “Scarface” is bludgeoned back into reality.

As “Gomorrah” aptly demonstrates, the world is not yours. In Naples, at least, it’s theirs. Everyone else is just in the way.

 

Photo: Aniello Arena and Giuseppina Cervizzi in “REALITY.” Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Rent This: “White Elephant” is a Predictable But Worthy Study of Buenos Aires Slum Life

w elephant

Sometimes a film that can only be called so-so at best is still worth watching, and such is the case with Pablo Trapero’s “White Elephant,” a well-made film about priests in Buenos Aires that never quite connects. I reviewed this 2012 Toronto International Film Festival entry last September for The Playlist, but I had forgotten about it until noticing it is now available on Netflix, Amazon Instant, etc. Here is my review:

Pablo Trapero’s “White Elephant” is a smartly acted, beautifully scored, often bracingly directed film of good intentions and big ambition. Yet it can only be called a modest success, and, in light of how strong some of its individual elements are, even a slight disappointment. Word from Cannes, where the film premiered last May, was that writer/director Trapero’s study of two Catholic priests working in the slums of Buenos Aires never quite connects, and was probably the least successful of the Latin American films on display at the film festival. (It was no “No,” apparently.) That buzz was accurate, but that doesn’t make “White Elephant” without value. It just means Trapero stopped at second following a base hit that should have led to an easy triple.

Trapero’s previous film, 2010’s acclaimed crime drama “Carancho,” starred the actor who is the greatest asset in “White Elephant”: Ricardo Darin. Best known stateside as the sad-eyed star of the Oscar-winning “The Secret in Their Eyes” and the twisty con-tale “Nine Queens,” Darin plays Father Julian, a devoted man of the cloth working to fight the drugs and crime that run rampant in the Buenos Aires streets so many call home. He is referred to at one point as “the slum priest”—a better title than “White Elephant,” perhaps?—and it is his job to bring new priest Nicolas (played by Dardenne Brothers’ favorite Jeremie Renier) up to speed. (The “white elephant,” incidentally, is an abandoned, never-completed hospital now filled with squatters.)

Nicolas is at an emotional and spiritual low following a massacre in the village in which he worked. He is haunted by his inaction (“I don’t deserve God’s love,” he tells Darin, weeping); a wounded man seeking a path to redemption. In the slums, and with Julian, he finds a chance. For this is a place that is ignored by the world at large—“This isn’t even on the maps,” Julian tells Nicolas, looking out over the sprawling mess of buildings. Trapero’s long, unbroken shot of Renier’s introduction to the “white elephant” complex is a stunner, an immersive bit of filmmaking that is both stimulating and eye-opening. He makes us feel as if this is the entire universe, and that no other future lies beyond. “If you leave, the slum will go out and find you,” says one youngster, ominously.

Julian and Nicolas are joined in their efforts “to fight violence with love” by a caring social worker, Luciana (played wonderfully by Martina Gusman, who co-starred with Darin in Trapero’s “Carancho”). Throughout, while we’re involved with the characters and their individual journeys, the overall story and motivations are often fuzzy and hard to follow; when a romance develops between Nicolas and Luciana, it seems not just sudden, but utterly unsupported. And its lack of consequence is not just odd—it’s downright unrealistic.

As Nicolas and Luciana fall deeper for each other, drugs and violence take center stage, and Trapero’s script veers into the obvious. The film never seems to reach a strong conclusion, ending with a death that is nowhere near as emotional as it should be. Trapero’s script is simply too vague and predictable, and his direction, while spot-on at several points, lacks the visceral kick to the shins of similarly themed films like “City of God” or “Pixote.” Perhaps wisely, he never attempts the “documentary” feel that those two films achieved. But that invariably makes for a less memorable work.

The acting is top-notch across the board, with Darin and Rennier doing some of their finest work, and Gusman a clear star in the making. The film’s other most notable triumph is its music from composer-pianist Michael Nyman. While Nyman’s work here lacks the inimitable majesty of his soundtrack to Jane Campion’s “The Piano,” the music brings a suitable air of grace to the harsh setting of “Elephant.” Its somber yet soaring sound is a surprising but welcome accompaniment to the action, especially upon Julian’s arrival to a grieving Nicolas. It is undoubtedly one of the most memorable scores I’ve heard in months, yet it is used too infrequently, and, it must be said, often feels too epic for what’s onscreen. The emotion of the moment is occasionally dwarfed by the emotion of the soundtrack.

Upon final analysis, it is difficult to tell whether we are meant to feel emboldened by the small, baby-step achievements we see onscreen, or saddened over the big-picture disappointments. (“It’s easy to be a martyr,” Julian tells Nicolas. “To be a hero, too. The hardest thing is working day after day knowing your work is meaningless.”) I hate to come down too hard on “White Elephant,” since it gets so much right. While it never fully transcends the feeling of I’ve-seen-this-tale-before, it is certainly a worthy, mostly realistic journey. It marks Trapero yet again as a filmmaker to watch, and Darin, especially, as a performer who gets better each time he’s on screen. It never breaks the shackles of predictability, but even with its missteps, “White Elephant” deserves an international audience. [B-]

The Great Bernardo Bertolucci is in the News, But Still No U.S. Release for “Me and You”

io_e_tePoster

Indiewire has a quote (from a Reuters article) from filmmaking legend Bernardo Bertolucci today on his current preference for TV over movies: “[T]he American films I like now do not come from Hollywood studios but from television series, like ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘The Americans.’ I like when they last 13 episodes but then there is a new series coming with another 13 episodes.”

Despite the fact that I’m watching more movies than television series right now, it’s hard to disagree. And surely, hearing that opinion from the director “The Conformist” and “Last Tango in Paris” is pretty meaningful.

The piece reminded me of Bertolucci’s most recent film, “Me and You” (“Io e Te”), which I had the pleasure of seeing at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. Whether to see the film or not had been a tough choice — looking back at my notes, I see it was playing at the same time as “Frances Ha” and “Like Someone in Love.” Considering I’ve now seen “Frances” and “Like Someone,” but “Me and You” has yet to see release in America, I’m satisfied with my decision. The Playlist recently posted the film’s lovely trailer, but pointed out that while it is set for U.K. release, it has no stateside distribution deal. “Me and You” is an intimate, occasionally claustrophobic film that would work nicely as a VOD release. (Oddly, Bertolucci initially intended to shoot it in 3D.) Hopefully, a studio will step up and bring the film to the States soon.

The critical response from TIFF (and, before that, Cannes) was mostly negative, which I guess puts me in the minority. Covering the fest for Buffalo Spree, I called “Me and You” “a wonderfully incisive look at adolescence,” and I stand by that belief. The performances from young star Jacopo Olmo Antinori as unkempt, perennially headphones-wearing teenager Lorenzo, and Tea Falco as his drug-addicted half-sister, Olivia, are note-perfect. The soundtrack is rather wild for Bertolucci, featuring the Arcade Fire, the Cure, and Muse. And the cinematography by Fabio Cianchetti, who also shot “The Dreamers” and “Beseiged,” is extraordinary. Yes, it is certainly “slight” when compared with some of Bertolucci’s other epics, and does not quite hit the highs of his previous effort, “The Dreamers,” but it is still a worthy addition to his canon.

In other Bertolucci news, the 73-year-old director recently unveiled a 3D restoration of “The Last Emperor” at Cannes, and will serve as jury president at this fall’s Venice Film Festival.

“Blue” Draws Raves and Criticism (But Mostly Raves), Warner Bros. Gangster Classics, and More

chi-cannes-2013-winners-001

A few quick hits on this Memorial Day.

  • Todd McCarthy breaks down the Cannes winners for the Hollywood Reporter: “Whether it had won or not, this was already destined to be the year of ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color,’ given how everyone had to see it just for the unprecedented and protracted realistic sex scenes between Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux in Abdellatif Kechiche’s close-up, three-hour portrait of a female love affair.”
  • Manohla Dargis takes issue with “Blue,” and it will be interesting to see if her opinion will be shared my other major critics as “Blue” heads to the States: “‘It’s disappointing that Mr. Kechiche, whose movies include ‘The Secret of the Grain’ and ‘Black Venus’ (another voyeuristic exercise), seems so unaware or maybe just uninterested in the tough questions about the representation of the female body that feminists have engaged for decades. However sympathetic are the characters and Ms. Exarchopoulos, who produces prodigious amounts of tears and phlegm along with some poignant moments, Mr. Kechiche registers as oblivious to real women.”
  • However, reports Michael Phillips, “Spielberg and his fellow jurors took the unusual step of awarding the top prize not simply to director and co-writer Kechiche, but to the film’s two lead actresses. The jury, he said, felt ‘privileged’ to watch this three-hour film of ‘deep love, deep heartbreak’ evolve at its own pace and rhythm.”
  • I take a look at Warner Bros. new “Ultimate Gangster Collections” today on buffalospree.com. The sets, divided into “classic” and “contemporary,” are pretty stunning; perhaps the film I’m most looking forward to watching again is Michael Mann’s “Heat.” It’s sad to think that De Niro and Pacino have made only a handful (if that) of relevant films since then. But my goodness, that L.A.-set crime epic is pretty special.
  • Speaking of Michael Mann, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky recently penned an interesting short analysis of the director’s “Miami Vice” film, a movie that was received with a collective shrug upon release but now, he says, “has emerged as a major touchstone for my generation of critics. If you’re young and you’re writing seriously about the medium, there’s a good chance that you’re a ‘Miami Vice’ fan.”
  • The “Much Ado About Nothing” hype machine will soon go into overdrive, which kind of thrills me, since I’m hoping to see my name continue popping up. It is NOT mentioned in this NY Times piece, but it’s a good read all the same.

It’s a lovely, sunny Memorial Day in Buffalo — time to get away from the computer and enjoy it.

Image of Cannes winners Abdellatif Kechiche, Léa Seydoux, and Adéle Exarchopoulos, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Spielberg’s Cannes Jury Goes “Blue”

Blue-Is-the-Warmest-Colour-Poster-535x726

One of the most acclaimed, and intriguing, films at Cannes this year was the French lesbian coming-of-age drama “Blue is the Warmest Color,” and the predictions were correct: Steven Spielberg’s jury has awarded “Blue” the Palme d’Or. It instantly rockets to the top of my hope-it-plays-TIFF list.

The Playlist has the complete winners list; here is a rundown:

  • Palme d’Or: “Blue is the Warmest Color,” Director: Abdellatif Kechiche (also shared by stars Adéle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux)
  • Grand Prix: “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
  • Prix de la Mise en Scene (best director): Amat Escalante, “Heli”
  • ‘A Touch of Sin’Prix du Scenario (best screenplay): “A Touch of Sin,” Writer: Jia Zhangke
  • Camera d’Or (best first feature): “Ilo Ilo,” Director: Anthony Chen
  • Prix du Jury (jury prize): “Like Father, Like Son,” Director: Kore-Eda Hirokazu
  • Prix d’interpretation feminine (best actress): Berenice Bejo, “The Past”
  • Prix d’interpretation masculine (best actor): Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”

Weekend Preview: Forget “Furious” and “Hangover” — Three Dramas From TIFF 2012 Have Finally Arrived

reluctant

Okay, let’s get the biggies out of the way first.

Make no mistake, “Fast & Furious 6” — I love these titles — is going to be huge. I actually think the latest Vin Diesel-starrer could hit the $100 million mark from Friday through Sunday; if it does not, it will easily hit that mark over the four-day holiday weekend. I have to hand it to Justin Lin and all involved in this series for knowing their audience, and finding new ways to liven up the series. I haven’t loved any of the “Fast” films, but they’re nothing if not fun.

The same can’t be said about “The Hangover” series. Every installment has been worse, culminating in the disastrous “Hangover Part III,” a movie that I think will disappoint even the biggest Wolfpack fans. I would expect it to open with $40-50 million, but this will not have strong word-of-mouth, and should be the lowest grosser of the series.

I almost didn’t notice that the animated “Epic,” which I feel like I saw a trailer for several years ago, opens this weekend, as well, and that’s a nifty bit of counter-programming. It seems to have the kid market all to itself until “Monsters University” on June 21.

Far more unique than those behemoths are three films that played at TIFF 2012 (I missed all three) and are set to open in Buffalo today: The Dennis Quaid-Zac Efron-starring “At Any Price” and “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” The most interesting thing about “Price” is its director, Rahmin Bahrani, the director of several strong features (“Goodbye Solo,” “Chop Shop,” and “Man Push Cart”), and the great short “Plastic Bag,” memorably narrated by Werner Herzog. I recall “At Any Price” had one of the more off-putting TIFF program descriptions, ever, something about the competitive world of agriculture. Hmm.

“Fundamentalist” is Mira Nair’s first film since the god-awful “Amelia,” and with this pedigree — based on the best-selling book, and with a diverse supporting cast that includes Om Puri and Keifer Sutherland — it is certainly interesting on paper, even if TIFF reviews were mixed.Critics were kinder to Francois Ozon’s “In the House,” which also opens in the Queen City. The latest from the director of “Swimming Pool” stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner, both of whom can currently be seen in the Cannes world premieres “Only God Forgives” and “Venus in Fur,” respectively.

Speaking of Cannes, Sunday is awards day … So expect some Twitter madness.

One last note: In 24 hours, it was first reported that the North Park Theatre on Hertel would close, but the latest update is … it will stay open. Consider this, then, a happy ending to very sad news. It is the most beautiful, ornate moviehouse in Buffalo, a place that is the closest approximation to the theaters my parents told me about. I had noticed it seeming a bit under-populated during my last few visits, but the public outcry over that initial news could give it new life. Nice!

Photo courtesy of IFC Films

Wednesday Round-Up: Coppola, Cannes, Tarkovsky, and More

coppola

I feel like Wednesday is a good day for another round-up, and we start with some very cool news involving the man I like to call FFC:

  • The Hollywood Reporter says Francis Ford Coppola is working on “an untitled film that will chronicle an Italian-American family and span from the 1930s to the 1960s,” and that, my friends, is intriguing. In recent years, Coppola has made mention of mounting an epic drama (not his abandoned “Megalopolis”) and it sounds as if this could be it. Coppola’s most recent film, “Twixt,” was a fascinating mess. My colleague Jared and I saw it at TIFF 2011, and as I put it way back when, “while it was a joy hearing Francis Ford Coppola discuss his horror film ‘Twixt’ at a post world-premiere Q-and-A, he has made what is probably the worst film of his career. (‘Jack’ was scarier.)” Completists and the curious will be pleased to know that the Val Kilmer-starrer is coming to Blu-ray and DVD sometime in 2013.
  • Another interesting bit of FFC, also from The Hollywood Reporter, finds him discussing his role writing the screenplay for Robert Redford’s 1974 “Great Gatsby.”
  • Speaking of Robert Redford, the Cannes consensus seems to be that he gives an Oscar-worthy performance in J.C. Chandor’s “All is Lost,” the “Margin Call” director’s almost-dialogue-free survival story.
  • The last two films from director Claire Denis rank among my favorites in their respective years of release — “35 Shots of Rum” in 2008, and “White Material” in 2009 and that excites me for her latest, the controversial “Bastards.” As Mike D’Angelo put it for The AV Club, “Word from the first screening of Claire Denis’ ‘Bastards,’ inexplicably playing in Un Certain Regard rather than in Competition, was that it was nigh-well incomprehensible.” D’Angelo gave the film a B, comparing it with Olivier Assayas’s “Demonlover” (a film that’s sure to come up on this site sooner or later); it has already drawn a very, very mixed response, and I can’t wait to see it for myself.
  • Film Comment talks “Behind the Candelabra,” which premieres Sunday night on HBO and screened at Cannes to strong reviews.
  • I’m a bit crestfallen at the negative reactions to Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives” — yep, it got booed — although, quite honestly, I’m not shocked, either. Interestingly, Peter Bradshaw raves in The Guardian, but … That’s about the only truly positive review I’ve read so far.
  • Since I wrote about it a few days ago, “Blood Ties” has been picked up for American distribution by Lionsgate.
  • Manohla Dargis talks Cannes 2013, specifically the Coens’ “comedy in a melancholic key.”
  • Did you know that all seven of the late Andrei Tarkovsky’s films can be watched online, free?
  • And last, but certainly not least, it’s never too early for some Toronto Film Festival news: Deadline reports the Godfrey Reggio-directed “Visitors,” featuring music by Philip Glass and presented by Steven Soderbergh, will have its world premiere on September 8 at the suitably ornate VISA Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre. Reggio is the director of the much-loved “Koyaanisqatsi.”

 

Photo from The AV Club