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Cannes 2011. Out of Competition. "Wu Xia," "Pirates 4," "Bollywood," More

Updated through 5/20.

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, which opened the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, already has its own entry, of course (and it's still being updated, too), but it's here that I'll collect all that's notably linkable related to the films in the Official Selection yet screening Out of Competition (excluding Special Screenings, which'll have their own upcoming roundup). We already have plenty on Jodie Foster's The Beaver here; and I'm sure Christophe Honoré's Beloved will warrant an entry of its own when it closes the Festival on May 22.

 



"Bursting with light and color, and a torrent of martial arts action both swift and savage (arguably the best that lead actor Donnie Yen has choreographed for years), Wu Xia is coherently developed and stylishly directed by Peter Ho-Sun Chan to provide unashamedly pleasurable popular entertainment," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter, where Karen Chu interviews Chan. "Set in 1917, on the cusp of China's transition from monarchy to republic, Wu Xia depicts the internal moral struggles of a detective and a paper-maker who may be a renegade mass murderer. Unfolding like a noir mystery in which Colombo meets CSI, it represents Chan's ambition to bridge the gap between Chinese and international tastes by giving a modern spin to the genre, while paying homage to the golden age of Hong Kong martial arts films through the special appearances of legendary action star Jimmy Wang Yu and Kara Hui."

"Channeling David Cronenberg's A History of Violence by way of 1917 China, this clever if over-amped thriller tackles themes of identity, honor and the latent killer instinct with a playful spirit that's never at odds with its underlying seriousness," writes Justin Chang in Variety. "Either very erudite or very imaginative in matters of Eastern medicine and physiology, Aubrey Lam's script not only deploys acupuncture and reflexology as plot devices but delights in presenting the human body as a strong yet unexpectedly vulnerable object. Wu Xia is set in a world where a person's emotions can be controlled with needles, and a single, well-aimed blow to a pressure point can destroy a man, as depicted in perhaps one too many computer-generated close-ups of a victim's organs, blood cells and nerve endings right at the moment of rupture."

"Wu Xia begins, surprisingly enough, as a detective story," notes Todd Brown at Twitch. "When a pair of thugs try to rob the general store of a remote town, they are fought off by local paper-maker Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen) and killed in the battle. The subsequent investigation — led by  quirky detective Xu Baiju (Takeshi Kaneshiro) obsessed with solving crimes by observation of minute details and a rich knowledge of human physiology — quickly confirms who the dead men are and how they died, but while the town is busy proclaiming the humble paper-maker a local hero, our detective becomes convinced that there must be more to him than meets the eye. For no untrained man could have dispatched two hardened criminals in such fashion." All in all, Wu Xia is "one of the better films of the type from recent years and a welcome attempt to push the historical epic in a new direction."

Like most reviewers, the Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth notes that The Weinstein Company has already picked up Wu Xia (they'll be calling it Dragon) and advises that they cut "10 to 15 minutes out of this thing if only to get the story moving along. The lush cinematography by Jake Pollock and the rock 'n' roll like score are also highlights, but they don't hide the fact that Wu Xia is mostly a period melodrama with a few fights to keep things interesting."

Micropsia collects grades, while the Festival has notes and audio from the press conference.

Update, 5/15: "Hong Kong actioners have never shortchanged their audience when it comes to lavish set pieces, but Chan, working with his star Donnie Yen as action choreographer, ups the ante here," writes Fionnuala Halligan in Screen. "A saloon brawl is first staged and then re-staged in slow motion as Takeshi Kaneshiro's detective sits inside the shots, forensically dissecting the proceedings. It's hard to top this gleeful inventiveness, although third-act showdowns with the triad parents from hell come a close second, and Wu Xia launches a race across the village rooftops which is at once an homage to and a progression of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's own nods to the Shaw Brothers classics of old."

Updates, 5/17: "The quick guide to Wu Xia goes like this: kung fu yes; everything else no." Matt Bochenski for Little White Lies: "With action choreography by the masterful Yen, the film kicks all kinds of ass in three or four brilliantly staged fight sequences…. When the fighting subsides, what we’re left with is one of those slightly soapy, overwrought Chinese films whose dramatic camera flourishes and massive sets are meant to evoke a sense of scale and grandeur, only to uneasily recall the campy wackness of Busby Berkeley."

"Peter Ho-sun Chan's martial-arts morality play is as lithe as it is forceful, and a lesson in how to make an internationally appealing action film with taste, depth and feeling," finds Time's Richard Corliss.

Update, 5/18: Daniel Kasman finds Wu Xia "showing with pleasure how mainstream auteur films can have a place on the Croisette."

 



"A new director and some key cast changes do little to right the ship for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the oversized fourth installment in this decreasingly entertaining franchise," sighs Tim Grierson in Screen. "Chicago director Rob Marshall brings back all the familiar elements — swashbuckling action, big set pieces, Johnny Depp's self-mocking camp performance — but this lumbering enterprise seems far removed from the freshness and charm of the 2003 original."

"The only way was up from At World's End, the lethal third installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series," writes the Telegraph's Tim Robey. "Surely one of the most exhausting summer spectaculars ever devised, that film never swashed — it just buckled, breaking into expensive CGI smithereens, and going on for what felt like days. Proposing a fourth one to viewers staggering out at the time would have been like offering Lusitania survivors an action-packed cruise around Cape Horn…. Out of the hands of director Gore Verbinski, whose indulgent brand of stoner-surrealism has found a satisfying new home in Rango, it has instead fallen into the clutches of Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine). The movie he gives us is at once more eager to please and all the more blatantly third-rate. It clomps along, doing all the baseline things you expect from it, and nothing besides."

"Depp is his usual mincing self," writes the Guardian's Steve Rose, "but Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have walked the plank when aboard clambers Penélope Cruz, as a duplicitous old flame of Jack's. Being Cruz, she's Spanish and feisty, and that's about it. And fitting right in as the new villain of the piece is Ian McShane's Blackbeard – a mystically powered captain whose orange, leathery complexion suggests he's spent long years trapped in a tanning salon."

For Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek, "at the very least, On Stranger Tides has a good-natured glow about it." But Time Out London's Tom Huddleston finds it "simply lifeless, a reductive, insulting moneymaking exercise with as much charm and depth as a slot machine." More from Ray Bennett (Hollywood Reporter), Kristopher Tapley (In Contention), Drew Taylor (Playlist) and Anne Thompson. Micropsia gathers more critical ratings.

Brooks Barnes has a backgrounder in the New York Times. Gregg Kilday talks with Marshall for the Hollywood Reporter and the BBC interviews Geoffrey Rush. Meantime, Anne Thompson reports that Marshall and Depp will reunite for a remake of The Thin Man.

Update, 5/16: "Its use of 3D as uninspired as its staging, plotting, and characters (and its weak stabs at humor), On Stranger Tides proves its title to be a patently false bit of advertising," argues Andrew Schenker in Slant. "There's nothing strange — or in any way extraordinary — about this dim-witted bore."

Updates, 5/17: At MSN Movies, Glenn Kenny notes that "the Pirates movies have, from the beginning, tended to be bloated, overdetermined, noisy and nonsensical. They tend to not really 'work' as movie narrative the way that a lot of critics like them to work. But I myself think that kind of misses the point. For as logy and simultaneously action-packed and incoherent the Pirates movies are as cinematic stories, they are in fact very effective and welcome movie environments. They are genuinely pop, as in 'popular,' versions of what the somewhat cultier and more highbrow filmmaker Quentin Tarantino calls 'hangout movies.' I, for one, don't see anything wrong with that." 3 out of 5 stars for this one.

"If I bear a grudge against this Pirates," explains Time's Richard Corliss, "it's because its caretakers have frittered away the buoyancy of the original film. Stranger Tides doesn't rethink and reboot the franchise, as Fast Five did for the Fast and Furious series. Instead, it plays like an episode of a long-running sitcom in its seventh-season, autopilot phase. It lumbers through most of its action set-pieces, and the addition of 3D in some scenes sparks only the corniest of sword-in-your-tummy effects. The mood is leaden and perfunctory, as if most of the folks involved were laborers in a Chinese factory, knowing that if they make a product, no matter how slipshod, people will buy it."

Updates, 5/18: "This time it's in 3D," notes Jasper Rees at the Arts Desk. "As in Dumb, Dumberer and Depp."

For Nick Schager, writing in the Voice, "the visual murkiness comes off as a blatant attempt to mask the shoddiness of the special effects and the unoriginality of the combat choreography, and ultimately proves directly at odds with a story driven by its characters' desire to escape death's everlasting darkness. Jack will no doubt live to prance another day, but from Depp's fey bon mots to a cameoing Keith Richards's scraggly visage, his swashbuckling series is showing its age."

Joshua Rothkopf for Time Out New York: "Disney has finally arrived at ocean's bottom: an automated money-minter that hardly requires its audience to stay awake."

Updates, 5/20: "On Stranger Tides isn't a return to the grand form of the first Pirates, which will always have the element of surprise, but it's certainly equal to the underrated second," argues Michael Sicinski in the Nashville Scene. Geoffrey Rush, "fresh off his King's Speech triumph, is the MVP here. Without undue showboating, Rush has outfitted this supporting character with a thick husk of grizzled attitude while retaining an air of genuine menace — a decidedly un-Disney-like anarchy he can summon when the occasion calls for it."

More from Ali Arikan (House Next Door), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 3/5), Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 2/4), Jasper Rees (Arts Desk), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, C), AO Scott (New York Times), Dana Stevens (Slate) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline).

 



For the Hollywood Reporter, Nyay Bhushan talks with Shekhar Kapur, who's presenting Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, co-directed by Bollywood filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and documentary filmmaker Jeff Zimbalist (Favela Rising, The Two Escobars). Kapur: "I wanted to avoid the usual documentary style of interspersing one interview after another but instead focus on the songs. I want to see if the product can sell itself without any analysis because that stops you from falling in love…. The audience should see why over a billion people are having a love affair with this kind of cinema. Its been quite a delicate process to do this, including clips from almost a 100 films from black and white to today's cinema."

Update, 5/15: Kapur's approach doesn't seem to work for the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt, who finds the film to be "very much a mixed blessing. Finally, the Festival de Cannes, which has an historical blind spot when it comes to Indian cinema, has at least acknowledged a certain kind of Indian movie by bringing a documentary to the Croisette about Hindi-language films produced in Mumbai. Yet the very kind of movies the documentary celebrates is swiftly vanishing from Indian screens today. Worse, the film… provides little context for this 81-minute wallow in Bollywood dance numbers. A tiny bit of commentary from such Bollywood stalwarts as superstar-of-superstars Amitabh Bachchan, daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, choreographer Saroj Khan and long-ago heartthrob Dev Anand doesn't even kick in until about an hour into the film. A non-Indian seeking to get acquainted with Bollywood cinema would be utterly lost."

Update, 5/16: "It's a monumental piece of editing and sound work, a true labour of love, but the viewer often struggles to join its dizzying dance with this entrancing industry," finds Fionnuala Halligan in Screen.

Update, 5/18: "Playing like a promo reel for a docu yet to be made, the pic offers superficial thematic presentation and only minimal talking heads, with no identification, making it neither a primer for Bollywood first-timers nor a substantive trip down memory lane for aficionados," writes Jay Weissberg in Variety.

 

 

Update, 5/18: "A hyper-stylised, hard-boiled Mexican cop drama which doffs the cap at its Hong Kong and Japanese crime compadres, Dias de Gracia attempts to peg itself to the World Cup, with the action taking place over three consecutive tournaments," writes Fionnuala Halligan for Screen. "Managing three plot strands and more than one twist, ambitious first-time director Everardo Gout, working with cinematography Louis Sansans, throws the kitchen sink at the screen: from black and white to heavy saturation and bleached-out colors, fades, blurs and dissolves to jump cuts, steadycam, multiple perspectives, slow motion. And that's just an average scene. Underscored by Nick Cave's droning beats throughout, this is about as relaxing as sitting in a dentist's chair."

Update, 5/20: "A breathlessly paced adrenaline rush, Days of Grace is the second violent film in Cannes this year (after Miss Bala, which is mild in comparison) depicting Mexico as a lawless land of drug lords, kidnappers, and corruption so endemic it goes 'all the way up to the top,'" writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "The hero, a handsome young cop, is as ruthlessly macho as the snarling, tattoed killers he battles, yet the film's pace is so furious, there's little time to worry about the ethics of sympathizing with him as he goes about breaking arms and cracking skulls."

 



"La Conquête, a scathing portrait of Nicolas Sarkozy's rise to power — the first French feature film brave enough to tackle a serving — will be shown on La Croisette after a row over whether officials wanted to sideline it to spare the Elysée's blushes," Angelique Chrisafis reported in the Guardian last week. "Inspired by the merciless British satire In the Loop, and subtitled 'The man who won the presidency, but lost a wife,' it hopes to skewer Sarkozy's rage, ambition and problems with women. But it faces the same problem as Italian director Nanni Moretti's Berlusconi-inspired The Caiman: how do you parody a man who has already become a parody of himself?"

Updates, 5/18: "Corridors-of-power satire The Conquest (La Conquête) may not be the most trenchant of current-affairs studies, but it's still a classy, witty portrait of French president Nicolas Sarkozy — and a very rare example of a political biopic made while the subject is still in power." Jonathan Romney for Screen: "Closer to Stephen Frears's Blair-and-Brown drama The Deal than to either Oliver Stone's W. or Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo, Xavier Durringer's film is a realistic but mischievous portrait of Sarkozy, successfully blending a dash of cartoonishness with a still-fresh-from-the-front-page energy."

Even so, "the Elysee should have little to fear from this amusing yet lightweight political farce, which adds nothing new to a story that most Frenchies followed closely throughout the five-year period ending on election day in May 2007," finds Jordan Mintzer, writing in the Hollywood Reporter. "Kicking off with the caveat, 'Although based on real people, this film is a work of fiction,' The Conquest functions entirely on the viewer's pleasure in seeing many of France's most famous contemporary political figures lampooned onscreen."

"Performances by Denis Podalydès, interpreting Sarkozy, and Bernard Le Coq, playing Chirac, may be tremendous, with all the right mimics, tics, grimaces and more importantly the perfect voice intonations, however, La Conquête suffers from a lack of cinéma," argues Agnès C Poirier in the Guardian. "It remains factual, journalistic…. Perhaps, even more worryingly, La Conquête serves Nicolas Sarkozy's cause. It depicts a man with boundless energy, proud not to play by the rules, so impudent it almost makes you smile. It portrays a man, half child half Zeus. As for Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin, it shows how wrong and stupid they were to think they could stop the Sarkozy machine…. It is the biggest irony of this film. Originally designed to denounce Sarkozy's unbearable cheek, La Conquête, makes him an endearing figure, the kind the French may reluctantly choose to re-elect in 12 months' time."

Updates, 5/19: "'Politics is a stupid job done by intelligent people,' remarks the fictional future President, and most of the film seems to illustrate this notion, though intelligence here more often than not equates to ambition and a certain ruthlessness." Boyd van Hoeij in Variety: "The real-life French president never made a secret of wanting to become one, and this kind of raw honesty and drive is expertly portrayed here by Podalydes (Nothing Personal), who delivers on the public figure's mannerisms and voice, as well as his charisma (whenever the cameras are on) and occasional cantankerousness (when they're not). His scenes with the privately foul-mouthed Chirac, played by Le Coq in equally fine form, strip the French political machinery of any mystery or elegance. Though it's hard to say how much truth these scenes contain, they certainly prove diverting in all their theatricality, even for those without much knowledge of French politics."

"Sarkozy is hot-tempered, opportunistic and Machiavellian," writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "He can't hold on to his wife Cecilia (Florence Pernel), who only appears on the campaign trail under sufferance. Even so, this isn't a hatchet job either. Watching the movie, you can't help but root for Sarko. There is something strangely engaging about his shameless ambition."

Cannes 2011. Index: Reviews, interviews, coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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