"As unrepentantly grandiose and ludicrous as its title, Luca Guadagnino's visually ravishing third feature suggests an epic that Visconti and Sirk might have made after they finished watching Vertigo and reading Madame Bovary while gorging themselves on aphrodisiacs." Melissa Anderson in the Voice on I Am Love: "That it works so well — despite frequently risible dialogue and a notion of feminism that carbon-dates around the time Kate Chopin published The Awakening — is a testament to the film's loony sincerity and seductive voluptuousness, anchored by the magnificence of Tilda Swinton."
"Amid all the luxuries on display in the Italian film I Am Love — the chandeliers, tapestries and paneled walls, the paintings, statuary and white-gloved servants — nothing holds your gaze as forcefully as Tilda Swinton's alabaster face." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "The first time you see that vision, her character, Emma Recchi, a Russian who's married into a wealthy Milanese family, is stage-managing the lavish birthday party that opens the film. By the end of this often soaringly beautiful melodrama, which closes with a funeral, Emma's face will have crumpled into a ruin. But it will also be fully alive, having been granted, like Pygmalion's statue, the breath of life."
"The urgent strings of John Adams's monumental score don't just usher you into the movie — they all but yank you in." In Reverse Shot, Elbert Ventura notes that, in the countless interviews they've given since the film premiered in Venice last year, Guadagnino and Swinton "invoke a lost tradition of swoony, sweeping melodrama. Their nostalgia permeates every frame of I Am Love, but that hardly makes the movie musty."
More from Mark Jenkins (NPR), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Nicolas Rapold (Film Comment), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Nick Schager, Henry Stewart (L) and Armond White (New York Press). Stephen Garrett talks with Guadagnino for Time Out New York. So, too, does Miriam Bale for the L Magazine. Interviews with Swinton: Erica Abeel (IFC), Sam Adams (Salon), Brooks Barnes (NYT), David Ehrenstein (LA Weekly), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix) and Anne Thompson (video).
"Fifteen years after ushering in a new era of CGI animation, and 11 years after a colossally successful pre-millennial sequel, the Toy Story franchise returns to a changed world." Eric Hynes in the Voice: "Its irresistible conceit and snappy good humor remain largely intact, though now it also hauls a saltier and more anxious sensibility. Inanimate figurines don't age, but they do get nicked up and discarded, and that tension between immortality and irrelevance remains the central conflict in Lee Unkrich's Toy Story 3."
"Toy Story 3 is as sweet, as touching, as humane a movie as you are likely to see this summer, and yet it is all about doodads stamped and molded out of plastic and polyester," writes the NYT's AO Scott. "Therein lies its genius, and its uncanny authenticity. A tale that captured the romance and pathos of the consumer economy, the sorrows and pleasures that dwell at the heart of our materialist way of life, could only be told from the standpoint of the commodities themselves, those accretions of synthetic substance and alienated labor we somehow endow with souls."
"You know what's hard?" asks Dan Kois in The Awl. "To actually make a funny movie, and a sad movie, and an exciting movie, and a thoughtful movie, and an artful movie, and a challenging movie, and a sophisticated movie, and a surprising movie, all at once. To make it with integrity and wit, to never insult your audience — whether that audience is five or 35 or 65 — and to do it again and again and again, eleven times and counting. That's a miracle. That's why the people of Pixar are currently America's most important filmmakers."
More from Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Mike D'Angelo (Las Vegas Weekly), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Ed Gonzalez (Slant), Robert Horton, Glenn Kenny, Peter Keough (Phoenix), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Todd McCarthy, Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Nathaniel Rogers (Towleroad), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Tom Shone, Steven James Snyder (Techland), Dana Stevens (Slate), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Joe Utichi (Cinematical) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).
In the NYT, Mekado Murphy introduces us to the new characters. FirstShowing's Alex Billington interviews Unkrich and Susan King profiles him for the LAT. The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit interviews Pixar's storyteller-in-chief, John Lasseter. In a video slide show for Slate, Dan Kois argues that Pixar's secret weapon is its "voice-over mascot," John Ratzenberger.
"In the magazine this week, David Denby reviews Cyrus, by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark," blogs the New Yorker's Richard Brody. The film "features Jonah Hill in the title role, as a troubled young man who does his best to end his mother's relationship with her new boyfriend. David criticizes the directors for not pushing the movie squarely 'in one of two directions: toward wild comedy or toward anguish and rage.' He's right that it doesn't go to either extreme, and the fact that it doesn't fit squarely into a genre, and that it shifts moods and emotions in a heartbeat and blends them uneasily, is among the film's great virtues."
That was on Monday. On Tuesday, he noted that "reviews and tweets are beginning to come in, and one trend worth noting with dismay is the unyielding resistance to the film, on the part of some critics, because of the emergence of its directors, the Duplass brothers, from the so-called mumblecore group of independent filmmakers... Here's what I think is going on: cinephiles who are devoted to the great works of classic Hollywood, and who have an ongoing auteurist fascination with the films of today's Hollywood, have developed a fealty to Hollywood's styles — its gloss, precision, and dramatic concentration — that is hardly weaker than that of mass audiences.... As a result, some of the most original and personal independent filmmakers find themselves pilloried by critics — even their contemporaries, who, in a kind of neo-classical rage, complain the way that some art critics used to complain about Jackson Pollock."
Glenn Kenny registers "some not-insubstantial reservations about this film," but "for all those reservations, it did make me laugh, pretty often, and quite hard, and as Roger Ebert has suggested elsewhere, if a self-proclaimed comedy has succeeded in making you laugh, it's done the most significant part of its job." He's "inclined to believe that the film is both too worthwhile in its particulars, and at the same time finally too generally inconsequential, to necessarily deserve the insistently well-argued takedown leveled against it by Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot. The need for the takedown comes from what I believe is the mistaken perception that this film represents something like a world-cinema-historical moment, where 'mumblecore' meets 'movie stars,' or something. Or maybe it's just that there's little else for intelligent cinephiles to talk about this summer."
"Despite their indie cred, the Duplasses are mainstream," argues the NYT's Manohla Dargis, "hence the movie's status quo finish. Cyrus is more finely tuned than their earlier movies (The Puffy Chair, Baghead), but it shares a similar, almost aggressive lack of ambition."
More from David Fear (TONY), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Noel Murray (AV Club), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Mary Pols (Time), Nick Schager (Slant), Dana Stevens (Slate), Henry Stewart (L), Ella Taylor (Voice) and James van Maanen. Interviews with the Duplasses: Durga Chew-Bose (Interview), Eric Kohn (NYT) and Lisa Rosen (LAT). Video interviews: Alica Van Couvering (Filmmaker) and David Poland. Interviews with John C Reilly: Nathan Rabin (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY) Josh Horowitz (MTV, video). Kyle Buchanan (Movieline) and Aaron Hillis (IFC) talk with Jonah Hill. Meantime, if you haven't yet studied Vadim Rizov's "brief taxonomy of mumblecore," you should.
"In Let It Rain," begins Andrew Schenker for Artforum, "a pair of clueless, bumbling documentary filmmakers worry over the tiny details of their framings: whether a fern in the background gives a halo to the subject or whether a poppy pinned to another subject's dress is 'overdoing' it. Director Agnès Jaoui, who is certainly far from clueless, is only a tad less exacting, but her mixture of off-kilter framings, and disorientingly close handheld tracking shots (amid more conventionally studied long takes) imparts an appropriately rough-hewn quality to her messily comic look at the familial, racial, and especially sexual resentments of a half-dozen men and women living in or visiting a provincial French town."
"Navigating the rocky straits of the serious-minded comedy, Let It Rain maintains a breezy tone while hinting at deeper concerns," writes Eric Hynes in Reverse Shot. "Such comedies are always tricky endeavors, as too much levity squanders efforts at gravitas, and self-importance stifles laughs. For every film that succeeds in mining comedy for serious Chekhovian pathos (Rules of the Game, Crimes and Misdemeanors), there are films like the contrived, schmaltzy Life is Beautiful, or the justly forgotten Mel Brooks goes homeless knee-slapper Life Stinks. On the whole Let It Rain manages just fine. If its balanced approach occasionally has the feel of compromise, of a middle course overly plotted to avert danger, the film nevertheless exudes a warm, world-weathered integrity."
"In a sense," writes Sam Adams at the AV Club, "Let It Rain is pure template: moneyed French people, with a few representatives of the lower classes thrown in for balance's sake, working out their kinks with talk and sex. But Jaoui and [husband, co-writer and co-star Jean-Pierre] Bacri are ace practitioners of the form, as dramatists and as performers."
More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), David Fear (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Kohn (iW), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Ella Taylor (NPR) and James van Maanen.
"The brash violence of Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me — adapted from Jim Thompson's merciless and enthralling 1952 pulp novel about a psychotic West Texas sheriff — began dividing audiences last January at Sundance," begins Stephanie Zacharek and, heaven knows, there's no arguing that point. Two weeks ago, the film opened in the UK, ostensibly Winterbottom's home turf, where sides were taken and stands were defended and offended. And here we go again.
Instead of rehashing all that, here's J Hoberman in the Voice: "The Killer Inside Me isn't even so much a novel, let alone a thriller, as a vacuum that inexorably sucks the reader into a moral black hole. The book has to play inside one's head to work. Perhaps this malign fiction could have been filmed in the manner of Isidore Isou's notorious Venom and Eternity — a black screen and an unending rant. Or, alternately, it might have been played for amoral Blood Simple slapstick. There's a bit of the latter strategy in the movie's apocalyptic finale but, basically, Winterbottom's version is Classic Comics. The characters are stiffly drawn, the action is fastidiously staged, the production design is self-consciously retro (reinforced by a soundtrack surplus of western swing). The poster is stronger than any image in the movie."
"It's not a perfect film," concedes Vince Keenan. "But it's one I won't soon forget." More from Bruce Bennett (IFC), Eric Kohn (iW), Victoria Large (Not Coming to a Theater Near You), Noel Murray (AV Club), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nicolas Rapold (L), Nick Schager, AO Scott (NYT), Scott Tobias (NPR) and Keith Uhlich (TONY). In Slate, James Verini argues that "Winterbottom may be the most consistently absorbing and challenging director working in English-language cinema today." And Drew (Playlist) and Alison Willmore (IFC) talk with him. Interviews with Casey Affleck: Sam Adams (AV Club), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY) and Sara Vilkomerson (New York Observer). Listening. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore discuss "antiheroes at the movies."
"Wandering the lazy dub jungles between the passionate, if terminally silly, post-ska acumen of Sublime's 'Can't fight against the youth'-isms and the self-deprecating reggatta de blanc of the Lonely Island's 'Ras Trent,' Wah Do Dem is a brief, peripatetic love letter to Jamaican tropes scrawled on hemp stationary." Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant: "Conceived and executed by a collective of musician actors and audiophile filmmakers who serendipitously scored a cruise to Jamaica in a raffle, the lo-fi movie ambles along in percussively improvisational fits and starts, deliberately but unenergetically observing the impromptu vacation of its tourist protagonist get Trenchtown rocked by endemic shysters, thugs, and witch doctors."
"Just because your microbudget Amerindie movie was partially filmed in the Caribbean doesn't make it immune to mumblecore-ish pitfalls," warns TONY's David Fear. "[L]ike its hapless hero, Wah Do Dem simply mopes along before aimlessly stumbling to a halt."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Aaron Hillis (Voice) and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail). For Filmmaker, Brandon Harris talks with Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner.
"Though it has bad word of mouth, Jonah Hex is generally better, sprier and more diverting than most of the action flicks now playing," argues the NYT's Manohla Dargis. "The director of Hex, Jimmy Hayward, whose first feature was the animated children's movie Horton Hears a Who!, isn't Sergio Leone, but he maintains a lightness of touch throughout, a welcome change from the lugubriousness that tends to weigh down so many big-screen adaptations of comic books." More from Josef Braun, Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Drew McWeeney (Hitfix), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nick Schager (Slant), Matthew Sorrento (Bright Lights After Dark) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).
Cath Clarke in the Guardian on Raavan: "Bollywood golden couple Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan star in this absurdly extravagant melodrama, rife with cliches, song-and-dance showstoppers, macho action sequences and lush tourist board-approved landscapes." More from Just Another Film Buff, Adam Keleman (Slant) and Rachel Saltz (NYT).
"We'd all like to get to the bottom of the titular conundrum posed by Roger Nygard's The Nature of Existence," writes Andrew Schenker in the Voice, "but traveling around the world asking religious leaders, skeptics, scientists, and a few ringer celebrities 'life's big questions' is probably not the best way to pursue such a personal journey — at least, it doesn't seem terribly productive in the case of Nygard's travelogue." More from Chuck Bowan (Slant), Mike Hale (NYT), Lisa Rosman (TONY) and James van Maanen.
"Excavated from the deep 50s, Michelangelo Antonioni's Le amiche (known in English as The Girlfriends) is an unexpected treasure," writes J Hoberman. "Or, perhaps, an expected one: Largely dismissed when it briefly played here in 1963, the movie was among the few to find favor with the two Voice critics Jonas Mekas and Andrew Sarris. Mekas and Sarris both made the same observation, noting that this detached look at life among the rich and vapid anticipated Antonioni's 1960 breakthrough L'avventura by five years. It was with Le amiche that Antonioni found his métier (modern art galleries, cocktail parties, fashion shows), his modus operandi (multiple mysteries, many pretty women), and his dramatic meat (enigmatic emptiness, self-annihilating ennui)."
"The film unfolds in a bourgeois Turin of sharp angles, harsh, clear light, endless looks, and poses, with people urging each other to connect but unable to do so themselves." Aaron Cutler in Slant: "They are constantly separated by buildings, doorways, the paintings on the walls, the clothes on their skin.... Neorealist films like Open City, Ossessione, and Shoeshine make a pretense of happening organically, the scenes permitting whatever natural light and action enter; by contrast, the psychological realism of Le amiche, Antonioni's fifth fiction film and by far his most controlled to that point, feels moment-to-moment perfectly composed. Critic Eugene Youngblood has rightly claimed (in a brilliant commentary track on the Criterion DVD for Antonioni's L'Avventura) that many of the director's images aren't metaphoric so much as metonymic; they advance the story both figuratively and literally at once."
More from David Fear (TONY), Glenn Kenny (Daily Notebook), Tony Pipolo (Artforum), Benjamin Strong (L), AO Scott (NYT). At Film Forum for one week.
And more local roundups. Ty Burr (Boston Globe), JR Jones (Chicago Reader), LA Weekly, San Francisco Bay Guardian and Time Out London.
IN THE UK
Alain Resnais's Wild Grass sees a limited release in the US next week, but today's the day it opens in the UK.
Adrian Martin for Sight & Sound: "Resnais is a director who has always complicated drama with comedy, realism with surrealism, philosophy with pop culture — and vice versa. Invention and surprise are his watchwords: as the French critic François Thomas once remarked, Resnais's gambit as an artist is to outrage or confound viewers at the start of a film, but hold them in their seats to the very end. Wild Grass is a relatively gentle work when placed beside Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) or Providence (1976), but it still has the pundits guessing: what is this brazenly youthful film from a man of 87 – deadly serious, or an extended joke? A summing-up of the œuvre, or a taking-off into unknown skies? It manages, magisterially, to be all of these things at once."
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), David Jenkins (Time Out London), Jasper Rees (Arts Desk) and Tim Robey (Telegraph).
IN OTHER NEWS
"José Saramago, the Portuguese writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998 with novels that combine surrealist experimentation and a kind of sardonic peasant pragmatism, has died at his home in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands," reports Fernanda Eberstadt in the NYT. "He was 87.... Mr Saramago, a tall, commandingly austere man with a dry, schoolmasterly manner, gained international acclaim for novels like Baltasar and Blimunda and Blindness. (A film adaptation of Blindness by the Brazilian director Fernando Mireilles was released in 2008.)" More from Michael David Lukas (VQR) and Benjamin Kunkel (n+1).
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