Manoel de Oliveira turns 102 today and, as Vitor Pinto reports in Cineuropa, the Portuguese are celebrating with a re-release of his debut feature, Aniki Bóbó, made back in 1942. The AFP reports that the world's oldest living director still has no plans to retire: "'I have several projects up my sleeve,' including another film based on Portuguese author Agustina Bessa Luis's latest book A ronda da noite (The Night Watch). 'I would not want to go from (this life) to the other without' making this film, he told Lusa news agency, but added: 'Before making it I have other ideas.'"
At Cargo, Ekkehard Knörer posts that remarkable clip of a sprightly dance, recorded when Oliveira was a mere 99 years old. Meantime, I've only seen one new year-end best-of-2010 list so far today, but it's a mighty fine one. Topping Michael J Anderson's top ten is Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and, as it happens, in spot #10 is Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelica, "a work," he wrote in October, "of uttermost freedom — like his recent Belle Toujours (2006) — with the director's interest typically alternating between cinema's original edge capabilities. Of course, Oliveira also commemorates and embalms, whether it is his career, the cinema, the ways of life of his Oporto home or a Europe whose decline the director has been sketching as long as he has been making his last."
Also today, Jean-Louis Trintignant turns 80, and if you scan the biographies, one of the first roles mentioned is Marcello in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970), a film returning to New York this coming week as part of a Bertolucci retrospective at MoMA (see Manohla Dargis's preview in today's New York Times). Wishing Trintignant a happy 80th today are Daniel Kothenschulte (Frankfurter Rundschau) and Gerhard Midding (Berliner Zeitung).
Molly Haskell reviews two new biographies of Hedy Lamarr in the NYT Book Review: "Lamarr was a complicated woman, deserving of a more serious appraisal than the numerous tabloid accounts that till now have stood as the public record (not least of which was her own lurid memoir, Ecstasy and Me). Perhaps Stephen Michael Shearer [author of Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr] and Ruth Barton [Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film] were both drawn by the startling contrast between her eerie on-screen stillness and a life full of drama and agitation to the point of incoherence."
Steve Ryfle: "Michael Gregg Michaud's Sal Mineo: A Biography is the first thorough profile of the Bronx-born son of a Sicilian casket maker, who was mentored on Broadway by Yul Brynner, twice nominated for an Oscar for supporting actor and who incited teen fans to 'Mineo mania.' Writing in matter-of-fact, workman-like style, Michaud delivers a credible if sometimes detached account of the actor's life." As you may have heard, James Franco may be planning a biopic.
Also in the Los Angeles Times, Ed Park on William H Patterson Jr's Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century: "This volume, the first of two, bears the workmanlike title Learning Curve: 1907-1948, and at times the slope is hard to discern. Perhaps because this is an authorized biography (commissioned by Heinlein's late widow, Virginia, in 2000), an impressive amount of material remains lightly processed, establishing chronology but often overpowering the thematic richness of the material."
The Guardian's Andrew Pulver has a book out on Jules Dassin's Night and the City (1950): "Two distinct versions were completed: one for release in Britain and its empire, and one for the US and the rest of the world. [Gerald Kersh's novel] and movie(s) don't bear a huge relation to each other, apart from Fabian and his predilection for bone-splintering wrestling promotions, but Night and the City is a kind of prism that refracts a number of fascinating subjects, including noir, British pulp cinema, communist crime novels and the mythology of Soho."
The New York Review of Books is running Andrew Delbanco's essay from MoMA's collection, Frederick Wiseman, published in conjunction with their year-long retrospective of Wiseman's work that'll be drawing to a close on Friday.
Via Bookforum's Omnivore comes word of a new special issue on film from the European Journal of American Studies as well as Adam Rosen's interview for Gelf with Josiah Howard, author of Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide, Pamela Robertson Wojcik's piece for Rorotoko on her book, The Apartment Plot: Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945 to 1975, and Thomas F Bertonneau's review for the University Bookman of Thomas S Hibbs's Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption.
More book reviews? How about 20 more book reviews. Twenty. You'll find them in Issue 18 of Scope, only recently posted online.
For now, though, a bit of unfinished business, namely, a roundup of what the critics are saying about the films that've opened this weekend that I simply ran out of time and space for yesterday.
"David O Russell's The Fighter is a boxing movie about second chances and unlikely redemptions — not least the director's." Elbert Ventura in Reverse Shot: "It's been six years since Russell last had a movie in theaters, and the hiatus has not been kind to his reputation. His last movie, I Heart Huckabees, flopped, his tantrums on that set became the stuff of YouTube legend, and another project, Nailed, was aborted after Russell clashed with his actors and the funding stopped. Too smart for the multiplex, and too wild for Hollywood? It figures that Russell would make his return with a film blanched of idiosyncrasy."
"At last, the famously pugilistic filmmaker David O Russell (he once yelled at his Three Kings star George Clooney, 'You want to hit me? Come on, pussy, hit me!' then grabbed him by the throat) has found a set of characters more quarrelsome than he is," writes New York's David Edelstein: "two half-brothers, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Edlund (Christian Bale); Micky's bartending squeeze, Charlene (Amy Adams); their boozy, bottle-blonde mom, Alice (Melissa Leo); and their fearsome armada of big-haired sisters. Ironically, the title character, Wahlberg's Micky, is the movie's peacemaker. He just wants everyone to get along so he can pummel people outside the family to a pulp."
Tom Shone: "With his thinning hair and sunken eyes, which threaten at times to simply roll out of his skull and across the floor, Bale recalls something of the lean, crackerjack energy of De Niro's Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, powering this film along to such a ferocious degree that, for its first hour at least, The Fighter seems unbeatable. Scene by scene it has more of an unpredictable crackle, more coarse vitality, than any film released this year." But "Wahlberg can't hold the screen on his own... [Y]ou can't help but wonder what a film The Fighter would have been if Russell had yoked to his film to a real powerhouse performer, or at least shown us why Mickey fought — who's face he imagined on the end of his glove. De Niro's Jake La Motta boxed his own shadow, fighting 'as if he deserved to die' in Scorsese's words. Stallone's Rocky soaked up punches masochistically, on behalf of a country daring itself to win again. Wahlberg simply punches away, as if at a side of meat. You have no idea where those punches are coming from, or what they're connecting with."
More from Richard Brody (New Yorker), Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 3.5 stars out of 4), Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), David Fear (Time Out New York, 3 out of 5), J Hoberman (Voice), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix, 3 out of 4), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Mary Pols (Time), James Rocchi (MSN Movies, 3.5 out of 5), Michael Joshua Rowin (L), Nick Schager (Slant, 2.5 out of 4), AO Scott (NYT), Matt Singer (IFC), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B+), Kenneth Turan (LAT), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zackarek (Movieline, 5.5 out of 10).
For the NYT, Melena Ryzik talks with Russell and Dennis Lim profiles Bale. Steven Zeitchik talks with Russell and Wahlberg for the LAT. Peter Keough interviews Wahlberg for the Boston Phoenix. Listening (63'47"). Matt Singer and Alison Willmore have "devoted this week's IFC News podcast to boxing at the movies, from 40s films like The Set-Up to the evolution of the Rocky franchise to Raging Bull to the girl fighting of Girlfight and Million Dollar Baby. Adrian!"
"Comfort food for the corporate class in crisis, The Company Men fakes wrestling with the Great Recession through the travails of three executives 'separated' from a shrinking Boston-area shipbuilding company," begins Bill Weber in Slant (1.5 out of 4 stars). "Bobby (Ben Affleck), a 37-year-old paper-pusher, is blindsided by his layoff, the shame of his lapsed golf-course membership, and his adolescent son's sacrifice of his Xbox; Phil (Chris Cooper), an account rep pushing 60, bristles at a headhunter's advice to dye his hair, takes to midday drinking and hurls rocks at the corporate HQ; and Gene (Tommy Lee Jones), weary right-hand man of the callous CEO (Craig T Nelson), finds himself discharged for disloyalty after arguing against massive downsizing.... Bobby's construction contractor brother-in-law (Kevin Costner, grittily amusing save for his leftover Thirteen Days accent) serves as a mocking salt-of-the-earth chorus, but John Wells's directorial feature debut only has eyes for upper-income tragedies." The film "concludes on a note of optimism that feels like whistling in the dark in the face of turn-of-the-millennium 'bubble' capitalism undergoing an unpenalized restoration."
"Wells, a sometime-producer for auteurs as disparate as Robert Altman, Todd Haynes, and John Waters, is better known as the showrunner of massively successful network TV franchises such as ER and The West Wing," notes Karina Longworth in the Voice. "Wells's filmmaking stamp, if you can call it that, hews closely to his iconic TV brands: Character is paramount over story, and style — embodied by Wells's idiom-thick script, Roger Deakins's coolly detail-oriented cinematography, and Robert Frazen's cross-cutting — serves primarily to elevate relatable types into archetypes, heroic and/or tragic and/or triumphant and/or martyred. Wells's weakest link in terms of craft is pacing... The whiplash-quick happy ending, probably intended as inspirational wish fulfillment, actually comes off as kind of a joke."
More from Stephen Holden (NYT), Noel Murray (AV Club, B), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 3 out of 5), Armond White (NYP) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 9 out of 10). Gillian Mohney talks with Wells for Interview.
Next up, The Tourist. Slate's Dana Stevens sets it up: "Angelina Jolie is Elise Clifton-Ward, an Englishwoman of mystery (cop? spy? con artist?) who boards a train to Venice after receiving an enigmatic summons while sitting in a Paris cafe. On the train, she meets and inconclusively flirts with an American math teacher on holiday, Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), whom she may or may not be setting up as the fall guy for the team of Interpol agents and Scotland Yard detectives who are hot on her trail."
"The truth is that it takes an exceptional director to prevent an entertainment as flimsy as this from collapsing under its own weightlessness," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "Alfred Hitchcock pulled it off with Grant and Kelly in To Catch a Thief, a bauble that sparkles like a jewel because of the world-class scenery, its stars included, and because of, well, the directing. Stargazing is the only reason bonbons like The Tourist are made, dreams of box office bonanzas aside. But stars need just the right setting and a director who knows how to make them shine, as Steven Soderbergh does with [Brad] Pitt and George Clooney in the Ocean's franchise. The director also needs to hold his own, which, from the generic look and feel of The Tourist, clearly wasn't the case with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck."
What's more, adds Tim Robey in the Telegraph, "the man who directed The Lives of Others like Swiss-manufactured clockwork, can't mount an exciting action sequence to save his life." More from John Anderson (Washington Post, 1.5 out of 4), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 2 out of 5), Josef Braun, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2 out of 4), Trevor Johnston (Time Out London, 1 out of 5), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 1.5 out of 5), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 2 out of 4), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Mary Pols (Time), Nick Schager (Slant, 1 out of 4), Neil Smith (Arts Desk), Ella Taylor (NPR), Scott Tobias (AV Club, C-), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 9 out of 10). Kyle Buchanan talks with Henckel von Donnersmarck for Vulture, Larry Rohter profiles him for the NYT and James Rocchi interviews Depp and Jolie for MSN Movies.
Nick Pinkerton in the Voice on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: "A massive project, taken up lightly by Disney in the giddy post-Lord of the Rings atmosphere and dropped upon failing to return the requisite billions, this third adaptation from CS Lewis's seven-volume (!) Chronicles of Narnia comes underwritten by a new studio, 20th Century Fox, and with a new director, Michael Apted, working from one of the best-loved of Lewis's books.... The Narnia films have each come with a distinct visual identity: ice thawing into vivid, heraldic colors in Wardrobe; the gloom of 16th-century Spanish court in Prince Caspian. Much of the same production design crew returns on Dawn Treader, outfitting the Viking longship in Art Nouveau trappings, including curvilinear handrails and stained-glass forecastle windows that survive a sea monster. It's good to see the spirit of English craftsmanship alive, even if applied to ephemeral effects."
Andrew O'Hehir in Salon: "As my friend and colleague Laura Miller (author of the The Magician's Book, an affectionate, skeptical rereading of Lewis) observes, the [Andrew] Adamson-Apted Narnia movies have been significantly Christianized, in the sense that 21st-century American Christianity is a much different animal from the high-Anglican, early-20th-century version Lewis was preaching. This retelling of Dawn Treader is relentlessly goal-oriented — our heroes must collect seven swords, and free a bunch of people imprisoned in mysterious green mist — in a way Lewis's book simply isn't. It's also prodigiously sentimental about the sanctity of the nuclear family, an article of American faith that would have seemed totally mysterious to Lewis and his age, when middle-class or upper-class English children grew up barely acquainted with their own parents. While appearing to argue the unchanging verities of faith, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader illustrates how much our ideas about God are shaped by culture."
"At stake is the future of this once-promising movie property, and of course the lucre and luster it can deliver to the two companies most invested in it," reports Brooks Barnes in the NYT. "If Voyage of the Dawn Treader does not succeed, it is unlikely that the remaining four books in the series will be produced." For the Atlantic Wire, Erik Hayden gathers reports on how Fox aims to keep the franchise alive. First, they're going to have to work their way around critics' grades like these: Simon Abrams (Slant, 1.5 out of 4), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 2 out of 5), Richard Corliss (Time), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3 out of 4 stars), David Gritten (Telegraph, 3 out of 4), Jesse Hassenger (L), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 2 out of 5), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 2 out of 4), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 7 out of 10), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, C-), Betsy Sharkey (LAT), Zack Smith (Independent Weekly), John Swansburg (Slate) and Keith Uhlich (TONY, 2 out of 5). Interviews with Apted: Kyle Buchanan (Vulture), Mary Jo Murphy (NYT) and Jason Solomons (Observer, video).
"Messing around with Shakespeare is the bedeviling vice of directors. Saving him from their excesses is the great and noble duty of actors." AO Scott in the NYT: "This tension between extravagantly visionary stage (or screen) craft and disciplined acting may be the story of Shakespeare in our times. It is certainly present in the latest filmed version of The Tempest, directed (and also, according to the credits, written) by Julie Taymor. In this noisy, stormy adaptation, an energetic and for the most part excellent cast marshals considerable resources of wit, discipline and timing in a struggle against the hectic inventiveness that is, characteristically for Ms Taymor, either the vehicle for interesting theatrical ideas or a sign of their absence." More from Michael Guillén, Ernest Hardy (Voice), Mark Jenkins (NPR), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 7.5 out of 10), Keith Phipps (AV Club, B-), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 1 out of 5) and Armond White (New York Press). Matt Zoller Seitz's slide show at Salon: "The Shakespeare film canon."
"Based on a posthumously published Ernest Hemingway novel, Hemingway's Garden of Eden stars Jack Huston as a young writer and WWI veteran who meets flighty heiress Mena Suvari in Paris in 1927 and embarks on a whirlwind romance that takes a turn to the bizarre," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "The film isn't erotic or profound. It is occasionally comic, though — like reading the finalists for one of those Bad Sex in Fiction awards." More from Michael Atkinson (Voice), Jesse Cataldo (Slant, 1.5 out of 4), Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Benjamin Mercer (L), Mark Olsen (LAT), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 5 out of 10) and Keith Uhlich (TONY, 2 out of 5).
IN THE UK
"Joanne Froggatt was a deserving winner at the British Independent Film awards this week for her powerful performance in a film that doesn't match the subtlety and intelligence of her acting," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. Just 2 out of 5 stars, then, for Brian Welsh's In Our Name; but 4 out of 5 from Dave Calhoun in Time Out London. Frogatt plays "a private in the British Army who returns to a rundown estate in Newcastle after a stint in Iraq and finds it tough to reconnect with her daughter (Chloe Jayne Wilkinson) and squaddie husband. It doesn't help that the husband, Mark (Mel Raido), is a hot-head with his own battle scars who believes his wife is unfaithful. As each tries to pretend all is well in their heads, their nerves become so frayed that even the smallest crisis threatens their sanity and the safety of those around them."
4 out of 5 stars, too, for Enemies of the People from both the Financial Times' Nigel Andrews and the Guardian's Xan Brooks. Andrews: "War crimes cinema gets a new wrinkle, or scar of honour, in Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath's enthralling investigative documentary. Sambath, our Cambodian guide and narrator, goes up against the very regime, or its survivors, that slew his parents and brothers during the killing fields era."
And finally, Catherine Shoard's 3-out-of-5 star mini-review of Colm McCarthy's Outcast merits quoting in full: "If Andrea Arnold met Eli Roth you might get something like this lyrically shot, energetically acted, medium grisly and totally bonkers Scottish social realism supernatural horror film. Red Road's Kate Dickie stars as witchy Mary, forever daubing the walls with her own blood, urging her son not to cop off with the Romany girl next door so he can save himself for various mumbo jumbo duties and putting instant-effect curses on housing officers. Hairy James Nesbitt is an avenging angel with a thing for pigeon guts and ambitious tatts. The impressive seriousness of purpose is only occasionally undermined by the endless animal sacrifice and copious masturbation."
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