"From Vidas Secas to Central Station, Brazil's northeast has long held a cinematic place as a sweltering netherworld of struggle, madness, and stark landscapes," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "It's an area that holds particular interest to writer-directors Karim Aïnouz and Marcelo Gomes, who have examined its rapport with characters in previous features (Love for Sale and Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures, respectively) and who team up for a far more experimental take in I Travel Because I Have To, I Come Back Because I Love You."
"Road movies don't get any purer," writes Mark Holcomb in the Voice. This is one "visual reverie that is Bressonian in its austerity and transcendence, only with truck-stop hookers. Narrated by José, an unseen geologist (Irandhir Santos) who is on a 30-day assignment in the Brazilian backcountry to scout a possible canal route, the film consists of a succession of subjective shots of the passing landscape and seemingly endless highway."
"Coming in at a tight 75 minutes, this strikingly original travelogue glides on the lovely lilt of Mr Santos's Portuguese narration," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Listing the contents of a backpack (magnet, chloric acid, machete) or yearning for the absent beloved, his voice caresses the film's portraits of soon-to-be-evacuees — a woman snipping rose petals from pink Styrofoam; two brothers stuffing straw mattresses, oaken faces buffed with sweat — like melancholy music. The sway of young prostitutes and a couple dancing in a nightclub, a tiny baby nestled between them, keeps time."
Alison Willmore in Time Out New York: "It's a dizzying, dazzling DIY travelogue whose age is nearly impossible to pinpoint, thanks to its aesthetic hodgepodge of Super-8 and digital-video clips interspersed with stills; it literally and figuratively goes from sharp-focused to blurry and faded, and back again. But the movie's true brilliance comes from its portrayal of how the world curls around you in the grip of heartache — every song on the radio, every face you see, every story you're told reflecting only what you've lost."
"Haunting, effortlessly lyrical and subtly topical, Conor Horgan's One Hundred Mornings was the most overlooked film to bow in Park City last year," argues Brandon Harris at Hammer to Nail. "Horgan, a well regarded Irish photographer and commercial director, has made a fourth feature film that makes big-budget, civilization-wide disaster movies like The Book of Eli and 2012 pale in comparison; it provides emotional multitudes where those films supply plot points and CGI spectacles of collapsing metropolises. Everything about Horgan's way of detailing the effects — physical, societal and psychological — of whatever catastrophe has taken place feels like a breath of alarmingly plausible, startlingly fresh air… A gorgeously photographed, delicately paced glimpse at the harrowing emotional difficulties of a pair of couples stranded in the Irish countryside after some unnamed event has caused civilization to at least partially collapse, One Hundred Mornings is an insidiously intelligent post-apocalyptic drama, as achingly humane and stringently observed in its own quiet way as Michael Haneke's Time of the Wolf."
"The world has ended so many times in cinema that it's hard for a filmmaker to really shock us anymore," writes Chuck Bowen in Slant. "Horgan's somewhat novel hook is the time period in which he chooses to set One Hundred Mornings. While most films concern either the race to stop the end of the world or the ultra barbarous wasteland that awaits us hundreds of years in the future, Horgan instead concentrates on a society's transitional phase from unchallenged civility to survival-of-the-fittest amorality. Horgan, refreshingly, doesn't push the material in our faces: He favors a number of medium shots with precise but not too fussy blocking that reveals the shifting dynamics of the foursome with confidence and precision."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT) and Andrew Schenker (Voice). At Brooklyn's ReRun Gastropub Theater.
Glenn Heath Jr in Slant: "Quentin Tarantino used words to transcribe the initial slaughter of helpless Jews in Inglorious Basterds, while Steven Spielberg opened Saving Private Ryan with an iconic image representing their hope for salvation: a sepia-toned American flag waving in the wind. Amazingly, Tony Gatlif infers the devastating brutality of the former while deconstructing the overt symbolism of the latter with the staggering first shot of his WWII drama Korkoro, in which the separate rows of a barbed wire fence bob up and down mirroring the hopeful piano keys playing on the film's enigmatic soundtrack. The image foreshadows a requiem for many dreams, none more so than the band of Roma gypsies populating the film's disturbingly quiet landscape. Mostly though, the image retains a magical, almost organic feel to the horrific references just beyond the frame."
"It has all the outlines of a Hollywood ham-fister," concedes Eric Hynes in Time Out New York. "But tragic story or not, Gatlif remains less interested in melodramatic consequence than he is in celebrating the textures and rhythms of the Roma."
"Such ethnographic specifics provide depth to a dramatically skimpy affair involving the clan's relationship to a young orphan (Mathias Laliberté) and efforts to evade persecution with the help of an humane veterinarian (Marc Lavoine) and schoolteacher (Marie-Josée Croze)." Nick Schager in the Voice: "The plotting is two-dimensional, but in the tormented visage of Taloche (James Thiérrée) — a clichéd holy simpleton enlivened by irrepressible physicality — the film seethes with full-bodied fury and anguish."
More from Rachel Saltz (NYT) and Scott Tobias (NPR).
"In Semih Kaplanoglu's Bal (Honey), Turkish beekeeper Yakup (Erdal Besikçioglu) risks his life scaling tall trees in search of elusive black honey, prized for its healing properties as well as its rich taste." Sam Adams at the AV Club: "The film, which details the childhood of the poet Yusuf (Bora Altas), portrayed in Kaplanoglu's Yumurta (Egg) and Süt (Milk), is set in a rural village where sweetness is hard to come by, and its pursuit can be dangerous, even life-threatening. But its simple, unadulterated pleasures are matchless, and the same can be said for Bal's best moments."
"It's the rare director who can imbue the outdoors with a soul of its own," writes Andy Webster in the NYT. "Sure, John Ford made Monument Valley, in Utah, an indispensable co-star for John Wayne. But Nicolas Roeg, in 1971, made the Australian outback almost sentient in Walkabout." With Bal, "Kaplanoglu enables the lush mountain forests of Rize Province, near the Black Sea, to express what its young protagonist cannot… It has no musical soundtrack (and barely any dialogue), only a quiet, unforced, organic rhythm. And those spellbinding images."
"Unsentimental scenes of kids behaving badly à la early Kiarostami come into play," notes Time Out New York's David Fear. "Nothing much seems to happen, even when tragedy strikes, yet the slow-and-low poetic style imbues every small gesture with monumental importance. We've seen all of this before, in various languages and with different backgrounds, but the effect remains the same. And that's part of the problem: Though the movie's elliptical, delicate take on lost innocence more than earned it the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear award last year, there's a creeping sense of déjà vu in almost every drawn-out meditative moment."
More from Andrew Schenker (Slant, 3/4) and Ella Taylor (Voice).
Bill Weber in Slant: "Attempting to refract the enduring conflict within the Israeli state through the lives of Palestinian women, director Julian Schnabel fails in Miral, based on an autobiographical novel by journalist Rula Jebreal, where he succeeded in Before Night Falls, his biopic of Cuban dissident Reinaldo Arenas: in penetrating the impassioned partisan's heart. Instead, the new film's span of nearly 50 years doesn't lend it the scope of a political or personal epic; skimming along the traumas and victories of its heroine and her forebears, it feels undernourished as drama and incomplete as narrative, as if whittled down at the price of its characters' depth and even the coherence of their identities."
"Accusations of a pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli bias on Mr Schnabel's part are further evidence that the discussion of Middle East politics may be more polarized and poisonous than ever," suggests the NYT's AO Scott. "To the extent that Miral espouses an ideology, it is the tolerant, somewhat wistful humanism that is the default setting of Western liberalism… But to say that Mr Schnabel's film is innocuous is not to say that it's any good. Like so many other well-intentioned movies about politically contentious issues, it is hobbled by its own sincerity and undone by a confused aesthetic agenda. A grand, complex human drama is reduced to platitudes and pretty pictures, as some fine actors become ciphers of suffering and resilience in a strained and superficial pageant."
More from Sam Adams (AV Club, C+), Mark Jenkins (NPR), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 2/5) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 4/10). Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto. Interviews with Schnabel: Kyle Buchanan (Vulture), Deborah Sontag (NYT) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline).
"Portuguese filmmaker Ricardo Costa contemplates his hometown, Peniche, by re-encountering his former nanny (Maria José), 50 years later, in Mists," writes Diego Costa in Slant. "Akin to Pedro Costa's meditations on affect and geography through the delicate probing of real people doing real things, this is a lovely essay film/documentary about the ruthlessness of time and the soothing power of remembrance." More from Neil Genzlinger (NYT), Michelle Orange (Voice) and Alison Willmore (TONY, 2/5).
We've covered Potiche so thoroughly by now — see Venice/Toronto and Rendez-Vous rounds — that it simply has to fall to the "Briefly" section this week. Nevertheless, a refresher from Nicolas Rapold in the L: "Meticulously lite, François Ozon's 1977-set retro romp prides itself on taking none of its pop feminism seriously enough to mean much or offend. Traipse along with Catherine Deneuve — as Suzanne, a factory owner's trophy wife given the reins during labor strife — and a cast of luxuriantly coiffed 70s action figures: Suzanne's arrogant philandering husband (Fabrice Luchini) and his loyal secretary mistress, a spiteful conservative daughter, an artsy lefty son. Ozon's snappily edited adaptation of the original play tracks Suzanne's presto transformation, finding easy laughs in fun-with-chauvinism (especially during her verse-scribbling housewife stage) before marking time with family-business intrigue and limp romantic farce." More from Edward Champion, Karina Longworth (Voice), Noel Murray (AV Club, B+), AO Scott (NYT), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 3/5), Bill Weber (Slant, 2/4) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 6.5/10). Interviews with Ozon: Elise Nakhnikian (L) and Nigel M Smith (indieWIRE).
"Families are wacky!" exclaims Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. "This applies doubly to the dysfunctional Meyerwitz clan, whose youngest member, Nathan (Ben Schwartz), has authored a Philip Roth–esque novel that hits a bit too close to home. It's all true: Oldest brother Jack ([Michael C] Hall) is a porn-addicted pushover; sister Cheri ([Sarah] Silverman) is a screechily conceited bitch; and middle sibling Joel ([Rainn] Wilson) is a perpetual fuck-up. We get to know each of these sad sacks as they prepare to attend a 70th-birthday dinner for their monstrous — and monstrously successful — father (Ron Rifkin), who'd rather be boffing the sweet, young thing at his side than visiting with his own flesh and blood." For the NYT's Manohla Dargis, Peep World is "a family circus of dysfunction that's so familiar you may feel tempted to place bets on how everything will shake out, and painless enough that you might not resent doing so." More from Christopher Bell (Playlist), Jesse Cataldo (Slant, 1/4), Sheri Linden (LAT), Karina Longworth (Voice), Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, where Jen Yamato talks with Silverman).
"Ripped from the headlines or a pool of similarly themed movies, the fiction film Illegal traces the ups and increasing downs of an immigrant's struggles to stay in her adopted land," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. Melissa Anderson in the Voice: "Laudable in intent if creaky in execution, Olivier Masset-Depasse's second feature awkwardly combines a scalding condemnation of Europe's immigrant detention centers with maternal melodrama." Kalvin Henely in Slant: "Since Belgium is one of the more lenient countries on illegal immigration, recently offering citizenship to over 25,000 illegals while France and Italy tightened their border control, the film's clear ideas on human rights issues, though commendable, can sometimes seem superfluous, but as a movie about the treatment of women, here a woman who just happens to be an illegal immigrant, it flows better and its lack of background works in its favor. Ultimately, you're hoping that Tania and Ivan get reunited as a mother and son, and because of this, their identity as illegal immigrants is merely circumstantial."
"All the good intentions in the world can't save White Irish Drinkers from playing like the baldest of retreads," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "A low-budget coming-of-age drama set in outer Brooklyn during the mid-1970s, writer-director John Gray's film is personal filmmaking that feels bizarrely impersonal, with generic elements and attitudes skimmed from Mean Streets, Saturday Night Fever, the films of James Gray (no relation), and every story ever written featuring an abusive, alcoholic Irish dad named Paddy." More from Michael Atkinson (Voice), David Fear (TONY, 2/5), Stephen Holden (NYT), Elvis Mitchell (Movieline, 3/10), Nick Schager (Slant, 1.5/4) and Henry Stewart (L). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.
"The first feature from fan-boy-fave director Zack Snyder that's not an adaptation of another work, Sucker Punch is so thoroughly derivative that, while watching it, one feels almost certain that it's a movie version of a bad graphic novel, or several video games… or some other movie, or something." Glenn Kenny for MSN Movies: "Matter of fact, were one asked to come up with a concise précis of the movie — not an easy task, given its convolution — one could conceivably get away with Sin City meets Brazil, only really, really bad.' … [I]t kind of sucks out your soul while you're watching it. The average male heterosexual might look at the trailer and say, 'Hey, a bunch of attractive women' — the co-stars include Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung, all appealing and energetic screen presences, to say the least — 'in skimpy clothing, kicking ass. What's not to like?' Seeing the movie, you WILL find out what's not to like." More from Chris Barsanti (PopMatters, 5/10), Jaime N Christley (House Next Door), Richard Corliss (Time), Todd Gilchrist (Cinematical), Jesse Hassenger (L), Elvis Mitchell (Movieline, 3/10), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, C), Nick Schager (Slant, 1/4), AO Scott (NYT), Daniel Walber (Spout) and Mike Wilmington (Movie City News). Geoff Boucher talks with Snyder for the Los Angeles Times.
Nick Schager in the Voice: "A plucky young heroine, a mystical quest to save the environment (and a missing father) from callous corporate-military development, and a band of mysterious monsters who protect a gargantuan Tree of Life: You'd be forgiven for mistaking Mia and the Migoo for the latest animated effort by Hayao Miyazaki." Still, for the NYT's Manohla Dargis, the "evidence of the human hand, and all the labor implied by such work, is part of the low-wattage charm" and "the most notable aspect of Mia, which won as best animated feature at the 2009 European Film Awards." More from Simon Abrams (Slant, 1.5/4) and Keith Uhlich (TONY, 3/5).
"A youth-centered franchise without superheroes, magic or vampires is a rare thing these days, which imbues the otherwise rudimentary Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules with a strange kind of 'burb-bound, kid-powered charm," writes Robert Abele in the LAT. More from John Gholson (Cinematical), Mike Hale (NYT), Mary Pols (Time), Tom Russo (Boston Globe, 3/4) and Nick Schager (Slant, 2/4).
"Screaming 'vanity project' from every hackneyed frame, Drawing With Chalk is yet another example of midlife American males doing all they can to avoid acting their age," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. More from Diego Costa (Slant, 1/4) and Michelle Orange (Voice).
IN THE UK
Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian on David Keating's Wake Wood: "This macabre, black-comic horror, set in rural Ireland, is in the tradition of Don't Look Now, The Wicker Man and the communal nightmares of Ira Levin; it's a low-budget film that entertainingly takes its audience to the brink of pure absurdity. But it also riffs nastily and effectively on ideas of taboo, on our perennial yearning for ceremony and ritual to alleviate the sadness of life, and on Larkin's idea that what's truly scary is not dying but being dead." More from Nigel Floyd (Time Out London, 3/5) and Tim Robey (Telegraph, 3/5).
Last week brought a more varied batch to UK moviegoers, with two first features — Lance Hammer's Ballast, for which I rounded up reviews following its premiere at Sundance in 2008 and again when it saw a limited release in the October that followed, and Richard Ayoade's Submarine (see the Toronto 2010 and Sundance 2011 roundups) — and two "new movies by a pair of respected veterans," as Ryan Gilbey puts it in the New Statesman, Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Ken Loach's Route Irish. "Between them, Allen and Loach have been directing for cinema for a combined total of 89 years. They made their film debuts within a year of one another. Allen's first directing credit was for What's Up Tiger Lily?, his 1966 redubbing of an existing Japanese spy movie, with his first original picture, the mockumentary Take the Money and Run, arriving three years later. Loach moved to cinema from television (a medium to which he has returned consistently ever since) with Poor Cow in 1967… Loach and Allen don't have much in common, but it's striking to note that their new films share a fatal flaw: the failure to translate ideas into drama. They're good on paper, but dead on screen."
MORE FROM LAST WEEK
What with SXSW on and all, last Friday came and went without my being able to do much about it. Still, let's sample a bit of what was said about a few of that week's releases, starting with the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Scott Foundas, who handily covers two of them in one blow: "[Y]ou don't go to a movie like The Lincoln Lawyer expecting a directorial master class, but a hatchet job like this does make one long for the solid, unfussy craftsmanship of a competent journeyman like Gregory Hoblit, whose Primal Fear and Fracture remain the recent high-water marks for this brand of courtroom potboiler. The final verdict: Matthew McConaughey gets out of movie jail, but Brad Furman awaits trial for reckless endangerment of an audience."
Then: "I was pleasantly surprised by Tom McCarthy's Win Win — surprised because any movie billed as 'from the director of The Station Agent and The Visitor' sounds like a lose-lose proposition to me. And when the movie in question is called Win Win, and its central character is a lawyer/high-school wrestling coach (Paul Giamatti) whose losing team is a metaphor for the general downward slide of his life, there's even more reason to be wary. But unlike McCarthy's two earlier insufferable exercises in can't-we-all-get-along piety, Win Win carries itself lightly. It's the first of McCarthy's movies to give the characters some breathing room, the first in which they aren't completely boxed in by the machinations of the plot, and the first in which they feel like actual people." McCarthy's a recent guest on Elvis Mitchell's The Treatment.
Paul Constant in the Stranger: "If you've seen the trailer for Paul, you've probably wondered why it isn't funny. The movie is directed by Superbad's Greg Mottola, it stars and was written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and it appears to be some kind of Shaun of the Dead–meets-E.T. sci-fi comedy, which sounds promising. Further, the cast includes every single funny person in Hollywood today: Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch, Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Kristen Wiig. With all that talent, how did they manage to make an unfunny trailer? Does a trailer editor somewhere need to get fired? But no, the answer is both simple and unfortunate: This movie is profoundly unfunny." Mottola's been Elvis Mitchell's guest as well.
Not everyone's going to agree with the argument Ray Pride lays out in Newcity Film, but here we go: "The giddy high-concept Bradley Cooper star vehicle Limitless is a lot of things, and it's at least a big bowl of Adderall-laced grown-up storytelling candies. It may also be something more fiercely accomplished, say, a 21st century artifact where the best of 1948 meets the best of 1999: Let's describe Neil Burger's latest as director 'Abraham Polonsky's The Matrix.' It's a hyper-local amped-up Manhattan melodrama that pulses through one man's mind, one user's bloodstream."
"The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman, a dizzying period pop extravaganza from China, explodes with brio," writes Andy Webster in the NYT. "Directed by Wuershan, a veteran of commercials who is making his feature debut, the film ricochets in a breakneck delirium from ham-fisted comedy to solemn revenge drama to antic martial-arts thriller, a crazy quilt of energy and style." Earlier: Reviews from Toronto.
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