"Liv Ullmann wasn't Ingmar Bergman's muse, she was his partner in angst - a fellow weary existential traveler conspiring with him to invent some of the most psychologically complex men and women in cinema history." In the L Magazine, Benjamin Strong previews BAMcinématek's Ullmann retrospective (through December 6), arguing that it "provides a timely opportunity to reassess the oeuvre, to see anew how varied and experimental a body of work it really is." Persona, for example, is "a movie that's too often remembered solely for its gorgeous B&W framing of its two lead actresses and not for the pair of rather startling montages (is that a hairy penis I see before me?) with which the film begins and ends - philosophical passages that still look as formally daring as anything by more celebrated postmodern radicals like Jean-Luc Godard."
"As Ullmann diversified beyond Bergman," writes Michael Atkinson in the Voice, "she became subject to Hollywood and grande dame calcification, but she also began to direct, eventually arriving back at Bergman. She directed the latter half of his scripted family-history quartet, Private Confessions (1996) and Faithless (2000), both throwbacks to the days when imported 'specialty films' could be hair-clenching psycho circuses erected upon elliptical symbolism and acres of heartbreaking talk. Fittingly, all Ullmann and Bergman were ever actually doing was the work of therapy: telling painful women's stories, no holds barred."
Not only is François Truffaut: A Winter Portrait still on at Alliance Française in New York through December 22, but Small Change sees a one-week run start today at the IFC Center. Darrell Hartman for Artforum: "'I never tire of filming with children,' François Truffaut once said. 'All that a child does on-screen, he seems to do for the first time.' More than any of the director's other works, Small Change (1976) is devoted to cataloguing these magically fresh exploratory acts and gestures."
"Though uniquely optimistic, Small Change belongs to an extraordinary cycle of French films about childhood survival that began with Truffaut's The 400 Blows," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "He later produced Maurice Pialat's debut, L'enfance nue (1968), following a hot-potato foster kid, while Jean Eustache's boyhood memoir, Mes petites amoreuses (1974), couldn't exist without 400 Blows."
"Truffaut is no stranger to the sensual allure of films, or to the Cupid's spell they can cast on people of all ages," writes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York.
"If you haven't heard," notes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, "Disney, the company that immortalized pale pretties like Snow White and the zip-a-dee-doo-dah of plantation living in Song of the South, has made a fairy tale about a black heroine, a character whose shoulders and story prove far too slight for all the hopes already weighing her down."
"An act of revitalization as much as continuation, The Princess and the Frog seeks to breathe fresh life into both a moribund 2D animation field crushed under CG's foot and a Princess brand that's lucrative at the cash register but hasn't made substantial big-screen noise since 1991's Beauty and the Beast." Nick Schager in Slant: "Little Mermaid heavy-hitters Ron Clements and Jon Musker have been brought in to energize Disney's latest royal saga while also carrying on - after Princess stepsisters Pocahontas and Mulan - the franchise's 'recent' trend of multiculturalism, here epitomized by the first African-American tiara-wearer Tiana (Anika Noni Rose)."
TONY's David Fear: "Eye-candy–wise, the film plants a big wet smooch; everything else about this happily-ever-after tale, however, feels like a mere air-kiss."
More from Justin Chang (Variety), Scott Foundas (Voice), Jesse Hassenger (L), Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times) and Mary Elizabeth Williams (Salon).
"[T]he truth about Walt Disney seems much more complicated and nuanced than either his enemies or supporters would have you believe," argues Neal Gabler in the LAT, where Susan King talks with animators Clements and Musker.
Brian Miller in the Voice on Ninja Assassin: "Isn't that a tautology - both ninja and assassin? Redundancy aside, having braved zombies in 28 Days Later, Naomie Harris now faces a centuries-old clan of ninjas who have been hiring themselves out, Blackwater-style, as government mercenaries. Sad to say, the undead were more fun."
More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Peter K (Twitch), Nathan Rabin (AV Club) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Yvonne Villarreal talks with director James McTeigue for the LAT. S James Snyder interviews Rain for Techland. Online listening tip. IFC's Matt Singer and Alison Willmore "look over the careers of other leading men from East Asia who've tried to transition into American film, and wonder why the same old patterns seem to keep popping up."
"Old Dogs doesn't deserve a bad review so much as it deserves to be sent back in time for a good Puritan shunning," argues the Oregonian's Mike Russell. It stars Robin Williams and John Travolta and it's "an absolutely punishing viewing experience, the worst kind of cynical Hollywood junk." More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Kevin B Lee (TONY), Drew McWeeney (Hitfix), Keith Phipps (AV Club) and Nick Schager (Slant). Dave Itzkoff profiles Williams for the NYT.
IN OTHER NEWS
"A Swiss court on Wednesday granted bail to the filmmaker Roman Polanski, who was being detained as he fights extradition to the United States to face sentencing on child-sex charges," reports Matthew Saltmarsh for the NYT. "The Swiss Federal Criminal Court granted Mr Polanski's appeal against detention in exchange for 4.5 million Swiss francs, or $4.5 million, together with other guarantees like the surrender of his identity papers to ensure he does not leave the country, the federal tribunal said."
Meantime, the Best of the Decade lists are still coming in; keep an eye, too, on our ongoing Manny Farber series.
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