"Super 8," "Viva Riva!," "The Trip," "Cría cuervos," More

First, a quick reminder that entries on several films playing here or there have been updated through today: Film Socialisme, Agrarian Utopia, Road to Nowhere and The Tree of Life. Alright, on with the weekend...

"JJ Abrams imitates to flatter with Super 8, an homage to the seminal science fiction films of Steven Spielberg that succumbs to empty nostalgic pandering," argues Nick Schager in Slant. "As with his Star Trek, Abrams's latest puts a modern spin on classical material, though here reinvention isn't the goal so much as slavish duplication embellished with muscular CG effects. It's akin to returning to a cinematic womb of Spielbergian father-son issues, suburban households under extraterrestrial strain, and teen romance, friendship, and maturation via out-of-this-world circumstances. The effect of such a modus operandi is initial coziness quickly giving way to disheartening familiarity, with Abrams's own preoccupations (if he had any to begin with) becoming subsumed beneath the root themes, dynamics, and imagery of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, more fundamental still, E.T."

"Remember Three Mile Island?" asks AO Scott in the New York Times. "Remember 'My Sharona'? Remember CB radios? Remember Blondie and disco? Mr Abrams certainly does, and he evokes that bygone world with a sense of period detail that sits right on the line between uncanny and neurotic. His 1979 is more like 1979 than the real 1979, which hardly seemed like a time of innocence and eager wonder. But no time ever does, except in retrospect, and Super 8 attempts the difficult feat of balancing self-consciousness about the olden days with wide-eyed, headlong, present-tense fun. For about an hour it succeeds marvelously. The modest letdown that follows exposes the limitations of Mr Abrams's imagination. He is clever and sincere — a generous showman, as his work on television series like Lost and Alias has frequently shown — but still, at least on the big screen, more student than master. Like his previous features, Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek, Super 8 is an enticing package without much inside."

"Opening three weeks before July 4th, this Steven Spielberg-produced, kid-centric 21st-century disaster flick could well hang on at theaters till the 10th anniversary of 9/11 —  an event that haunts Abrams's surefire blockbuster nearly as much as it did his earlier production Cloverfield, or his major influence, the master's War of the Worlds." J Hoberman in the Voice: "Set in a small rustbelt town during the summer of '79, Super 8 basically refracts — or re-refracts — a familiar 50s sci-fi trope, even as Abrams riffs on the freshly minted sense of suburban wonderment that Spielberg brought to the material in the late 70 and early 80s."

"In short," explains Steven Hale in the Nashville Scene, "the story revolves around a group of budding adolescent filmmakers who witness a train wreck (read: hard-core special-effects porn) and investigate the strange events that follow. Abrams aims for an E.T. by way of Jurassic Park creature feature, and he succeeds — insofar as we recognize that he wants us to recognize his aim."

More from Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle, 3/5), Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 3/4), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3.5/4), David Edelstein (Vulture), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 3.5/5), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Keith Phipps (AV Club, B), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly, C+), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5), Tom Shone (Telegraph, 3/5), Matt Singer (IFC), Dana Stevens (Slate), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Daniel Walber (Spout) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 6.5/10). Richard Corliss interviews Abrams for Time. At Ain't It Cool News, Quint has an epic, career-spanning conversation with Spielberg. Profiles of Elle Fanning: Geoff Boucher (LAT) and Megan Conway (BlackBook).

Update, 6/12: "The artificial lens flare is a manufactured defect, a means of approximating the fallibility of human vision even when all or part of what's being glimpsed by the camera eye has been created in a digital void — making it the perfect aesthetic signature for the CGI era." Adam Nayman for Cinema Scope: "[T]he best thing about Super 8 is a scene that directly interrogates its director's relationship to cinematic spectacle — a scene framed by, you guessed it, a lens flare."

 



"The best crime sagas are stories sparked by the thrill of shortsighted dreams that ultimately lead to a violent, messy end," writes Robert Abele in the LAT. "Congolese writer-producer-director Djo Tunda Wa Munga's feature debut Viva Riva! is one such gangster drama, a nastily effective, sociologically pungent genre piece about a hedonistic, low-level operator (Patsha Bay Mukuna) with a truckload of stolen fuel to sell in corrupt, gas-starved Kinshasa."

"Frequently fanning wads of cash, the hustler hits the clubs and the whorehouses, soon falling hard for Nora (Manie Malone), the flame-haired moll of a porn-addicted kingpin." Melissa Anderson in the Voice: "Sweaty copulation, whether paid for (the dominant mode), consensual, het, or lez (not as radical as the coupling in 2001's Karmen Gei, from Senegal), breaks up the scenes of torture and bullet-spraying, if not the moments of sloganeering. 'Money is like poison — it always kills you,' Nora tells Riva after a vigorous workout in a bathtub; meanwhile, Munga revels in the rising body count."

"The first major motion picture to come out of Congo in decades happens to be one of the best neonoirs from anywhere in recent memory," writes Eric Hynes for Time Out New York. "Mukana's hedonistic Riva is a fascinating antihero, thrilling to watch but impossible to love, while Malone's femme fatale perfectly mixes sauciness with soulfulness. Rather than saddle the film with political portent, first-timer Djo Munga holds fast to the rules of the genre, slipping in symbolism through the back door. It's a world without innocents, where soldiers shake down civilians, priests extort gangsters, and everyone has a price. Munga's restrained, surprisingly mature visual style actually deepens the impact of Viva's swift turns to brutality, and his taste for rampant kinky sex — cunnilingus through a gated window is the film's idea of a first date — is a genuine turn-on. Más Riva, please."

"Frenetic, sleazy, and entertaining as all hell," agrees Alison Willmore at the AV Club. "There are undercurrents of deeper themes of past colonization and war, of old values vs. the allure of greed, but it's first and foremost an unapologetic B-movie." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), D Indalecio Guzman (Cinespect) and Violet Lucca (L). Daniel Kasman caught the film in Toronto last fall. Interviews with Munga: Steve Dollar (GreenCine Daily), IndieWIRE, Susan King (LAT) and Stephen Saito (IFC).

 



"The deadpan, sporadically funny road movie The Trip is the newest chapter in the saga of British director Michael Winterbottom, and his frequent leading man, Steve Coogan, attempting to get mileage out of ridiculing Coogan's narcissistic on-screen persona." New York's David Edelstein: "Winterbottom cut the movie together from a six-episode, semi-improvised BBC2 series, the premise of which is that Coogan, commissioned to act as food critic by the Observer newspaper, and actor Rob Brydon, allegedly the last choice among his mates for a traveling companion, embark on a voyage to the north of England to sample the fare at various high-end restaurants. Over several days, doleful Coogan and chipper, long-faced Brydon banter, mock-insult each other (or is it so mock?), recite Wordsworth and Coleridge, and compete to do the best imitations of sundry movie stars, among them Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Liam Neeson, Al Pacino, Hugh Grant, Anthony Hopkins, Roger Moore, and Woody Allen. The film would be rather a slog without those dueling impressions. With them, there's at least one thing to look forward to around the next bend."

"Coogan and Brydon have played 'themselves' before," notes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon, "in Winterbottom's 2005 Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, which both was and was not an attempt to adapt Laurence Sterne's pre-postmodern 18th-century novel, and that The Trip is arguably a spinoff from or sequel to that movie. I think the right way to put it is that sometimes Coogan and Brydon really are playing themselves, sometimes they're playing caricatures of themselves, and sometimes they're playing stock British comedy figures…. Like Tristram Shandy, The Trip is both what it's pretending to be — in this case, a story about combative old friends taking a food-and-wine vacation; a sideways Anglo remake of Payne's Sideways — and an attempt to rip away the veil of fiction and expose the backstage machinery of the entertainment industry and the everyday silliness of those who live in it. I end up feeling unsure whether Winterbottom is spoofing the spate of movies about self-pitying middle-aged guys or perfecting the genre, and I further suspect there's no difference."

Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek: "Winterbottom trusts his actors completely — that's one of his hallmarks as a director, but here, especially, he seems to have let Brydon and Coogan roam as far afield as they wish. The Trip, like many road movies, is something of a meandering work; you wouldn't call it concise. And yet somehow, the result is piercingly direct."

More from Manohla Dargis (NYT), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), J Hoberman (Voice), Craig Kennedy (4/5), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 3.5/5), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Noel Murray (AV Club, B), Vadim Rizov (GreenCine Daily), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 5/5) and Ilya Tovbis (Slant, 1.5/4). Earlier: Reviews from Toronto 2010. Interviews with Coogan: Karina Longworth (Voice) and Marshall Sella (New York); and interviews with both Coogan and Brydon: Robert Abele (LAT), David Fear (TONY) and ST VanAirsdale (Movieline).

 

BRIEFLY


"There's no denying the 'aww' appeal of a man and an elephant walking down a street, hand in trunk," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "That is one truth in One Lucky Elephant, a sweet, heart- and trunk-tugging, modestly sized documentary — except for its 10,000-pound title subject — about a circus man and the wild animal he foolishly bought, helped to train, loved like a (captive) daughter and finally, tearfully, tried to do right by, mostly by letting her go." More from Melissa Anderson (Voice), Christopher Campbell (Spout), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant, 3/4), Will McCord (L), Alison Willmore (AV Club, A-) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7.5/10). IndieWIRE interviews director Lisa Leeman. At Film Forum.

"One of the priciest Dutch-language films ever made, Bride Flight has the hard shell of a stuffy period piece and the gratifyingly gooey center of a globetrotting, decade-spanning melodrama," writes Alison Willmore for Time Out New York. "Three prospective brides meet the dashing Frank ([Waldemar] Torenstra, a charismatic heartthrob with disarmingly prominent ears), aboard a 1953 KLM flight competing in the London-Christchurch air race. Though the ladies are all leaving the Netherlands for New Zealand to marry their waiting fiancés, this handsome stranger will end up changing all of their lives — especially the pretty, pregnant Ada ([Karina] Smulders), who's promised to a strict Protestant…. As for the present-day framing story involving three women and a funeral, it's primarily notable for offering a brief glimpse of Rutger Hauer in his first role in a Dutch feature in more than two decades." More from Sam Adams (AV Club, C), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michelle Orange (Voice) and Andrew Schenker (Slant, 2/4).

 



"Gargantuan trolls are alive and well and roaming the Norwegian forests and fjords, and the proof is in a disappeared documentary crew's 283 hours of footage-serendipitously 'found' and edited down to a manageable hour and a half and presented here as Trollhunter." Justin Stewart in the L: "This Norwegian addition to the fertile 'found-footage' genre adds little to the Cloverfield Witch Activity basics." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NPR), Mike Hale (NYT), Noel Murray (AV Club, C), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 7.5/10), Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 3/5). James van Maanen talks with director André Øvredal. Update, 6/12: "The Troll Hunter just might be a crypto-satire," suggests Ignatiy Vishnevetsky here in The Notebook.

"Some movies make you remember being a child," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "Some movies treat you like one. Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer does both. This is good news for the 8-year-olds who've read Megan McDonald's books, which began to arrive in 2000. They might not mind the movie's relentless determination to be both an arts-and-crafts project and dessert." More from Liz Elkins (Stranger), David Fear (TONY, 2/5), Roger Moore (Chicago Tribune), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, C), Stephen Saito (IFC), Nick Schager (Voice) and Andy Webster (NYT).

"Comedy generally doesn't benefit from having any goal beyond making people laugh, but for Ahmed Ahmed, a prominent Egyptian-American stand-up and ringleader of a tour through Arab countries chronicled in the documentary Just Like Us, the opportunity seems too great to pass up." Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "Post 9/11, with American tensions with Arabs and Muslims running hot, Ahmed seized on the chance to use comedy to build bridges between disparate cultures and lighten the mood a bit. It's an admirable mission, but the bridge-building doesn't serve the comedy, which generally searches for a common denominator, and it definitely doesn't serve the documentary, which at times veers into an earnest, self-serving PSA." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Gary Goldstein (LAT), Nick Schager (Slant, 1/4) and Andrew Schenker (Voice). Ahmed is Marc Maron's interviewee on this week's WTF.

Nick Schager in the Voice: "A conceptual stunt without much substance beneath its initially enticing exterior, Reversion is set in an alterna-LA where the population is split between average humans and 'mutants' who experience the past, present, and future simultaneously." Cullen Gallagher in the L: "Despite the seeming clarity of its premise, though, Reversion actually feels rather unfocused and half-baked. Directed and written by Mia Trachinger, whose previous feature Bunny garnered a couple Independent Spirit Award-nominations (including Best Feature), Reversion suffers from being inarticulate and overly sparing with the details." More from Neil Genzlinger (NYT) and Glenn Heath Jr (Slant, 2/4). Brandon Harris talks with Trachinger for Filmmaker. At Brooklyn's ReRun Gastropub Theater.

 

IN THE UK


The Telegraph's Tim Robey: "None of this week's new films is a patch on Carlos Saura's 1976 Cría Cuervos (Raise Ravens), a spookily intent melodrama about the legacy of Franco's rule in Spain, as obliquely experienced by three orphaned sisters in a walled mansion." The film's screening as part of the series Good Morning Freedom! - Spanish Cinema After Franco running at BFI Southbank through July 7.

 



Virginie Sélavy in Electric Sheep: "Shot in the summer of 1975 as General Franco lay dying, Cría Cuervos perfectly captures a moment of transition: that of a child into an adult, of life into death, and of a dictatorship into an unknown future. Focusing on eight-year-old Ana [Ana Torrent, of Spirit of the Beehive] over the course of a summer after the death of her father, a high-ranking officer, the film is an achingly personal examination of the past that is also obliquely, but no less powerfully, political."

Dave Calhoun in Time Out London: "Ana is convinced she is responsible for her father's death, and we see a number of episodes, past and present, real and fantastical, which sketch her uneasy position in an world where children are party to adultery, patriarchy, unhappiness, conflict and scary raw chicken feet in the fridge."

"Now Ana and her two sisters are to be brought up by an aunt Paulina (Mónica Randall) and the worldly maid Rosa (Florinda Chico), from whom Ana must gradually hear the truth about her family," continues the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "She is, however, preoccupied with memories of her late mother, superbly played by Geraldine Chaplin, who appears to Ana in quasi-supernatural scenes which Saura calmly interleaves with reality with absolute assurance: Chaplin also plays little Ana as an adult, reminiscing about the current action. In one sense, the child stands for the whole of Spain's younger generation, brutalised by the Franco regime, tensely and miserably waiting for it to die out, but wanting to have killed it. The claustrophobic household stands for Spain, but Carlos Saura could as well be addressing Europe generally: a Europe in uneasy postwar denial about that country in its midst which was an ideological and military proving ground for Nazi Germany, and whose unapologetic fascism survived the war. The film is a masterpiece of form and technique, and Chaplin and Torrent are both outstanding."

Criterion's Michael Koresky: "When she met Saura in 1967, Chaplin was already en route to establishing her own identity outside of her family: after years of ballet training, she had turned to acting instead, landing a leading role in Jacques Deray's Crime on a Summer Morning (1965), with Jean-Paul Belmondo, before her Doctor Zhivago breakthrough. Meanwhile, Saura had become one of Spain’s most important artists, managing to make political films right under Franco’s nose. Crime on a Summer Morning had shot in Spain, and Chaplin adored the country, ironically finding personal freedom in a place that, as she soon discovered, was in thrall to a dictator. She wanted to stay and work in Spain, and was soon introduced by casting agents to Saura, who was in preproduction on the expressionistic Peppermint Frappé (1967); this eventual Berlin Film Festival Silver Lion winner would be their first project together, as well as the beginning of their romance and her entry into political movies. For the next decade, the two would make acclaimed, daring films that subtly critiqued the Franco regime."

In another piece for Criterion, Jan Harlan recalls securing a print of Cría cuervos for Stanley Kubrick and how he and all his guests in the screening room were riveted — despite the lack of subtitles.

 

ELSEWHERE


Sion Sono's at Cinefamily in Los Angeles tonight and tomorrow for screenings of four of his films. And the Stranger's Charles Mudede recommends Deron Albright's The Destiny of Lesser Animals, screening tomorrow at the ongoing Seattle International Film Festival.

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