"Neds," "Applause," "Mamma Roma," More

"Just when you thought British cinema was in danger of stalling in its default mode — classy crowd-pleasing, with award-worthy millinery — along comes Neds to give it a rude and vital kick up the rear," and Tim Robey's cheering it on in the Telegraph. "This is Peter Mullan's first film as a writer-director since The Magdalene Sisters (2002), and he has lost none of his power to rattle, rage and occasionally confound. Mullan's filmmaking is stripped-down and direct, lost in the moment: you have no idea where it's going, and you sometimes wonder, in the best way, if he does either. He doesn't spell out his themes — disaffection, unfocused rebellion, volatile individualism — so much as charge them up and set them flying."

Neds "is set in a 1970s Glasgow as alien and menacing as the futureworld of Kubrick's droogs in A Clockwork Orange," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It's arguably too long and there's a touch of self-mythologising but with compelling flashes of rage and nauseous black comedy, and some brilliant and bizarre images — a gruesome encounter with the crucified Christ and an hallucinatory walk with wildlife."

More from Dave Calhoun (Time Out London, 4/5), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Veronica Lee (Arts Desk) and Anthony Quinn (Independent, 3/5). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto. Interviews with Mullan: Cath Clarke, Andrew Pulver (video) and Damon Wise (all three for the Guardian).





Also opening in the UK this weekend is Eugène Green's The Portuguese Nun. "Elegant, eccentric and absolutely captivating, this is simply a gem," declares the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It's a film with a heartfelt love of Lisbon beautifully and calmly photographed — and with serene, almost eerie self-possession in its long, slow takes and stylised, decelerated speech… Come to it with an open mind, and you might well see one of the best films of the year."

Kieron Corless for frieze: "A French actress of Portuguese descent, Julie (played by Manoel de Oliveira regular Leonor Baldaque) arrives in the so-called white city, which she's never before visited, to play the role of a nun distraught at being abandoned by her soldier lover, in an art film inspired by a 17th-century French text, The Portuguese Letters. Julie, we learn, is herself recovering from a series of brief, unsatisfactory love affairs. During downtime from filming she wanders through Lisbon, which starts to casts its spell through several strange encounters, some wrenching fado (melancholic Portuguese folk music), and — most poignantly — an encounter with a young nun she discovers praying each night in a chapel near her hotel. Green constructs the film as a series of mirror images, in each case provoking a sense of mystical merging — between Julie and the two other nuns in the film, but also between Julie and Lisbon itself… Green is one of the most unique, mysterious talents in contemporary cinema, and — to allude to Quentin Tarantino, a director as far removed from Green as it's possible to imagine — The Portuguese Nun might just be his masterpiece."

"The Portuguese Nun is often obtuse, maybe even rarefied, yet it sparkles with a playfulness that manifests itself in some delightful ways," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "I liked it that Green casts himself as the frazzle-haired director-within-the-film, hanging out at the local nightclub and trying to dance with an unreceptive young woman, only to conclude that 'hipness can be pretty depressing.' And the fairy-tale rhythm of the narrative, reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut or Rivette's Céline and Julie Go Boating, is spellbinding."

"Gorgeous to behold, graced by a lovely fado score, this is exquisite cinema," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. And in October, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky had several questions for Green.





To the States and Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "Art imitates life in Applause, though usually it just imitates incomparably greater art. A Danish movie unwisely under the influence, it turns on an alcoholic actress, Thea Barfoed (Paprika Steen), struggling with her boozing ways, estranged children, former husband, fleshy neck and apparently brilliant career. I was great, she says after one performance. I'll have to take her word for it."

"Danish director Martin Pieter Zandvliet, making his feature debut, co-wrote Applause with Anders Frithiof August expressly as a vehicle for Steen, a Dogme vet best known stateside for her work in Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration (1998)," notes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "As besotted as Zandvliet obviously is with the combustible Cassavetes-Rowlands collaboration from 1977 [Opening Night] — one of the best about the echo-chamber effect of performers playing performers and the disintegration between stage and real life — his film too often relies on slack maternal-weepie material."

"Whether sulking, screaming or stepping over personal boundaries, Steen sketches out a woman unable to reconcile a lifetime of neediness and narcissism," writes David Fear in Time Out New York. "Her emotional acrobatics are reason enough to sit through Applause's parade of pain, though it's a movie to admire rather than enjoy. You'll put your hands together for the powerful performance — and clap louder once it's over."

More from Sam Adams (AV Club, B), Diego Costa (Slant, 3.5 out of 4), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nicolas Rapold (L), James van Maanen and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7/10). Sam Adams interviews Steen for the AV Club.





Im Sang-soo's The Housemaid, a remake of Kim Ki-young's 1960 classic, is "a horror movie about how the rich take care of their problems and how divisions of class and sexual power make enemies of potential allies," writes Andrew Schenker for Artforum. "As Eun-yi (Jeon Do-youn), a young woman two parts naïf and one part seductress, starts a new job working for a wealthy womanizer and his pregnant wife, Im's camera quickly sexualizes her. Before long the film's objective gaze gives way to subjective shots from Eun-yi's boss Hoon's (Lee Jung-jae) point of view. Soon, the two are having an affair (in which Eun-yi is largely complicit). But when Eun-yi becomes pregnant, Hoon's domineering mother-in-law begins a series of attempts at forced abortion designed to look like accidents. Hoon's wife, equally screwed over by Hoon, evinces a brief moment of sympathy for the maid, suggesting a possible compact between these two victims, but before long she's swept up in the imperatives of preserving appearances. The film plays the ensuing escalation with a touch of campy knowingness, with the startling, fiery penultimate image bringing about an appropriately near-apocalyptic conclusion."

In Reverse Shot, Genevieve Yue reminds us that Kim Ki-young's films, "The Housemaid chief among them, with their stylistic daring and brazen address of social taboos, are cited as major influences among Korea's top auteurs, including Bong Joon-ho, Kim Ki-duk, and Park Chan-wook. In 1997, the year Kim's work was featured in a retrospective at the Pusan Film Festival, the cult veteran seemed poised for a comeback until he and his wife died in a tragic house fire. Before Im Sang-soo's version premiered at Cannes last year, The Housemaid had already been remade four times by Kim himself, each version further twisting an already deformed tale of a ferocious femme fatale who enters a middle-class home and tears apart its nuclear family. With its discordant clumps of piano chords, a recurring bottle of rat poison, incessant rain, and an ominous staircase, this psychosexual morass has earned Kim comparisons to Poe and Buñuel. It is, in a word, weird, that Im's Housemaid resembles the former only superficially by retaining the same basic plot and not much else. Normally I find the tendency to measure remakes or adaptations against their implicitly superior originals rather unhelpful, but the problem with Im's Housemaid is that without its predecessor to give it structural heft, it's only a flimsy façade."

For the NYT's AO Scott, it's "a lurid cocktail of titillation and betrayal that never quite lives up to its intoxicating potential." More from Christopher Bell (Playlist), Jesse Cataldo (Slant, 2.5/4), Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Nicolas Rapold (Voice), Henry Stewart (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B-), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 3/5), James van Maanen and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 8/10). Nigel M Smith talks with Im for indieWIRE.





"As the titular, tragic prostitute, Anna Magnani executed one of the great roles of her career in Mamma Roma, a variation on the passionate, larger-than-life earth-mother persona with which she shook the screen in Roberto Rossellini's Open City 17 years earlier," begins Bill Weber in Slant. "Separated by her work with Jean Renoir, Luchino Visconti, and American luminaries like Marlon Brando and Tennessee Williams, the two portrayals are also set apart by the filmmaking sensibilities and cultural moments that yielded them. Unlike the martyred, anti-fascist Pina, Mamma Roma, as conceived by writer-director Pier Paolo Pasolini, discovers that her ideals — centered around 'respectability' and an ascent into bourgeois life for her loafing, diffident teenage son Ettore (Ettore Garofolo) — are built on the weak foundations of her true nature and inescapable identity as a streetwalker. For all the energy of Magnani's performance and the plot's climactic turn into operatic sorrow, Pasolini's camera often observes mother and son coolly, from medium-long distance, lost or shrunken in a hardscrabble, unforgiving city that's a mirror image of Rossellini's ennobling moral tableau."

"Rife with Catholic symbolism — Ettore undergoes a fevered prison ordeal evoking the crucifixion, while a window view of the Vatican consistently reappears to mock hope — Mamma Roma plants the seeds of the Freudian conflict that would weave its way through the first half of Pasolini's short but intense career," writes Michael Joshua Rowin for the L.

TONY's David Fear: "Virtually unseen in the US until Martin Scorsese played patron saint in the mid-90s, Mamma Roma is more of a tribute to Magnani than to her director; her dominating earthy demeanor, not to mention that braying laugh, were never used to better effect. Pasolini himself reportedly thought she overpowered the movie (he's not wrong), and this was the filmmaker's last foray into pure neorealism, before diving headfirst into the mystic and the Marxist. Superior works were on the horizon: The Gospel According to St Matthew, Teorema, Salò. Still, this is a key transitional work for the cinematic subversive, a seriously damning portrait of maternal martyrdom and, in a killer final shot, upward mobility."

At New York's Film Forum for one week only.





"Ivan Reitman, master of the high-concept, big-budget Hollywood comedy (Ghostbusters, Dave), would seem an unlikely candidate to direct No Strings Attached, an extremely low-concept, low-key romantic comedy of contemporary sexual mores centered on the dating foibles of attractive nerds." Karina Longworth in the Voice: "Fully devoid of the fantasy contrivance that often sets a Reitman film in motion, Strings is, for the most part, extremely narrow in focus: It's 'just' about two people in lust struggling to put away their respective baggage in order to have a real relationship with each other. Its thesis is that for those of us who are not, say, academics-turned-paranormal-exterminators or regular joes forced to impersonate a coma-bound president, love in itself can feel fairly high-concept." And "at times, No Strings Attached feels almost shockingly attuned to the particular angst of its time and place."

But for Jesse Cataldo, writing in Slant, this is "a desperate movie, scrambling to patch its by-the-numbers story with hastily tacked-on bona fides. Following the inevitable progression of Adam Franklin (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma Kurtzman (Natalie Portman) from friends to lovers to soul mates, the film sets off coarse jokes like signal flares, positioned to distract from its otherwise dowdy makeup. Like Adam's aging father, Alvin (Kevin Kline), a former TV star clinging to youth via recreational drug use and Lil Wayne fanship, it hides its mustiness through surface touches, burying itself in of-the-moment signifiers."

More from Mark Asch (L), Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/4), William Goss (Cinematical), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 1.5/5), Oliver Lyttelton (Playlist), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Keith Phipps (AV Club, B-), Tom Russo (Boston Globe, 3/4), AO Scott (NYT), Bill Stamets (Newcity Film), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (NPR) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7/10). For Movieline, Jen Yamato talks with Reitman and Greta Gerwig.

 

BRIEFLY


"Kiran Rao's Mumbai Diaries (Dhobi Ghat) is a shimmering, loving homage to the formerly named Bombay in all its teeming, crowded vitality," writes Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times, where Susan King profiles Rao. "With its key settings in a crowded, largely decrepit, congested yet beguiling, picturesque older portion of this city of 14 million inhabitants, the film is like a rich tapestry in which are interwoven the intersecting lives of three people. It marks a subtle, assured and altogether distinctive feature debut for writer-director Rao and its radiant leading lady, rock star and stage performer Monica Dogra." More from Simon Abrams (Voice), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 6.5/10), Rachel Saltz (NYT), Nick Schager (TONY, 2/5), Andrew Schenker (Slant, 2.5/4) and Ella Taylor (NPR).





"As in the source novel by Emmanuel Dongala, a refugee from civil war in his native Congo, Johnny Mad Dog's narrative is divided between two adolescent protagonists, drifting through an unnamed African war zone," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire loses Dongala's perspective on Euro-American reaction to African anarchy, and blurs the writer's protean storytelling with delirious, abrasive spectacle… Numb close-ups of beautifully lit black faces, a bathetic climax, and soundtrack interpolations of Nina Simone's 'Strange Fruit' or MLK's 'I Have a Dream' speech indicates a lofty social purpose, but Sauvaire, hesitating between a protest picture and a glam-squalid imagist orgy, only succeeds in scattering human rubble across the screen." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant, 3/4), Elise Nakhnikian (L), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 2/5) and James van Maanen.

Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski's Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch "is one of the most thorough and entertaining rock & roll documentaries since Ondi Timoner's Dig!" declares Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle. "Like its subject, it's by turns philosophical, brash, and thoroughly kickass… Up close and personal is not a phrase that springs to mind when discussing Motörhead — you'd be stone deaf forever, for one thing — but Lemmy nevertheless manages to render the man in if not exactly human terms, then something approaching demigodness." More from Steve Dollar (GreenCine Daily) and Andy Webster (NYT).

"Gabi on the Roof in July, winner of best narrative feature at last year's Brooklyn Film Festival, concerns a brother and sister who're like Mumblecore equivalents of Astaire and Rogers," writes Henry Stewart in the L. "Yes, Gabi, shot on fire escapes, in living rooms and city parks, is about overeducated, underemployed youths in Brooklyn apartments who drop a Guy Debord reference as casually as their pants." For Eric Hynes, writing in the Voice, this "product of intense collaboration, intuitive improvisation, and evident commitment from all of its featured players… has more process than produce to yield." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Craig Keller and Eric Kohn (indieWIRE). At the Rerun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn.

"Evangelion: 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance is the fourth movie to pick over the bones of the Japanese television series Neon Genesis Evangelion," notes Mike Hale in the NYT. And it's "the first movie to recapture some of the distinctive feeling of the series, which combined terrific battle scenes with a sophisticated take on teenage loneliness and alienation, and it looks great. But to what point?… It's strictly for the fans, who will furiously parse the changes in the narrative (including a new female pilot) and the nonsensical stew of philosophical and religious symbolism."

We've had two roundups already on Peter Weir's The Way Back, but it seems to be slowly expanding, sparking more reviews across the nation. For the Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns, it's "a gorgeously mounted epic that for all its virtues remains maddeningly remote." Mileage varies, though, as you'll see in further reviews from Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 3/4), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2.5/4), J Hoberman (Voice), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Elvis Mitchell (Movieline, 7/10), Mary Pols (Time), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, B) and Neil Young. Interviews with Weir: Josef Braun, Nick Schager (IFC), Damon Smith (Filmmaker) and Keith Uhlich (TONY).

A year after its premiere at Sundance, The Company Men, is back after its second roundup as well. The Chicago Reader's JR Jones: "What Up in the Air only promised, The Company Men delivers. John Wells, a longtime writer-producer in series television (ER, The West Wing), makes his feature debut with a compelling story about three executives (Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones) who get canned after long careers with a manufacturing conglomerate called Global Transportation Systems (GTX)… More than anything else, Wells reminds you how much people let their jobs define them, and how little can remain when their work identity is unexpectedly yanked away from them." More from Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 3/4), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/4), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Kimber Myers (Playlist), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Ray Pride (Newcity Film) and Dana Stevens (Slate).





In George Cukor's A Double Life (1947), Ronald Colman "stars as Anthony John, a celebrated stage actor with a nasty temper who winds up playing the title role in a production of Othello opposite his ex-wife Brita (Signe Hasso), who has been cast as Desdemona," writes Matt Sussman in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "As John gets deeper into his character, his own lingering frustrations over his failed marriage become cross-wired with Othello's jealous rage resulting in a fatal instance of life imitating art… Cowritten by husband-and-wife team Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin (who themselves were no strangers to the stage) and photographed with Expressionistic verve by Milton R Krasner, A Double Life is — true to its title — filled with mirror imagery, split frames, and opposites locked in conflict. It also sets the stage, if you will, for the other titles in this year's Noir City program, many of which turn on a character struggling to keep from splitting in two." Noir City's on through January 30 and, for SF360, Adam Hartzell talks with one of the festival's "biggest fans," Patrick Marks, owner of the City's Green Arcade bookstore.

Kaneto Shindo's Kuroneko (Black Cat, 1968) is at Seattle's SIFF Cinema and for the Stranger's Charles Mudede, "It's a perfect movie."

Criterion posts another globe-spanning "Friday Repertory Roundup."

 

LISTS AND AWARDS


"Your well-intentioned, list-making slave children have returned with yet another annual edition of TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films," announces Bill Georgaris. "The January 2011 list of the 1,000 Greatest Films has primarily been compiled by using 2,138 individual critics' and filmmakers' personal lists/ballots of their favourite/best films. That's 97 more ballots than our January 2010 list."

Senses of Cinema's 2010 World Poll is up, and it's a mammoth browse, a collection of lists more diverse and international than most.

Five writers have "pooled our collective movie-going experiences and have come up with the Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow's own Top 100 Japanese Films list."

"Quentin Tarantino will receive a special prize next month at the Cesar Awards in Paris," reports the BBC. Xavier Beauvois's Of Gods and Men "has been nominated for 11 awards, including best movie of the year. It will compete against Roman Polanski's The Ghost, which has received eight nods. Joann Sfar's biopic Gainsbourg, about the famed French singer, was also nominated in eight categories including best film, best first film and best actor for Eric Elmosnino. Bertrand Tavernier's The Princess of Montpensier and Mathieu Amalric's On Tour received seven nominations… Jodie Foster will preside over the annual awards — dubbed the French equivalent of the Oscars — in Paris on 25 February." Guy Lodge has the full list of nominees at In Contention.

 


IN OTHER NEWS


"Paul Picerni, a prolific television and screen actor best known as Agent Eliot Ness's right-hand man in the hit 1960s series The Untouchables, died on Jan 12," reports Dennis Hevesi in the NYT. "He was 88… In a career that spanned nearly four decades, Mr Picerni appeared in more than 60 movies and 450 television shows. His best-known film character was the romantic young man in the 1953 horror movie House of Wax, one of the first 3D productions by a major studio."

"A real legend of the industry, Greek born costume designer Theoni V Aldredge, has died aged 88 years old," writes Chris Laverty at Clothes on Film. "Designing for both stage and screen since 1950s, Aldredge was perhaps best known for her work during 70s-era Hollywood on films such as Three Days of the Condor (1975), Network (1976) and Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)."

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