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"The Robber," "13 Assassins," "Thor" and More

"What makes Johann run — and rob?" asks Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "Benjamin Heisenberg's second feature is as taut, lean, and fleet as its title character, played by Andreas Lust and based on the real-life Johann Kastenberger, who was both Austria's most-wanted bank robber of the 1980s and a champion marathoner. Writing the script with Martin Prinz, who adapted his own 2005 novel about the notorious criminal, Heisenberg forgoes backstory and psychological explanation, structuring his film as a series of adrenaline spikes."

"Lust's character in The Robber is familiar from European crime movies," suggests Noel Murray at the AV Club. "He's the stoic loner who doesn't say much, lest he inadvertently reveal some kind of motivation. When he robs banks, he wears a thin mask that doesn't look all that different from his face, and when he goes on a date with his caseworker, Franziska Weisz, he's more amused by her reaction to a movie than he is by the movie itself. To make a protagonist this blank engaging, a filmmaker needs the artistry of Jean-Pierre Melville, or the kineticism of William Friedkin. The Robber's writer-director, Benjamin Heisenberg, has neither."

But for Cinespect's Ryan Wells, The Robber is "a realist masterpiece in the same vein of Bresson or early Malle. And what a pleasure to see." More from Mike Hale (New York Times) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5).

 


"When Eiichi Kudo's 1963 Thirteen Assassins was first released in Japan, it was widely criticized as a low grade reworking of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, released nine years before," writes Joel Neville Anderson in Cinespect. "An early entry in a new brand of period films termed zankoku jidaigeki — or 'cruel historicals' — coming at the start Toei's transition from it's previous focus on jidaigeki ('period films') to yakuza eiga (contemporary or recent history pictures depicting the world of Japan's indigenous gang culture), Kudo's film differed from Kurosawa's in that its story was relatively limited to the political sphere of the samurai class (military nobility)." And it's "generally considered to be overshadowed by Kudo's The Great Killing of the following year, which depicts lower class samurai closer to Kurosawa's protagonists and goes as far layering audio from student demonstrations into a battle scene. Takashi Miike though, is no stranger to decadence on film — and these warrior bureaucrats of the waning samurai era suit his varied themes of excess, revenge, self-mutilation and (somewhat) self critical misogyny just fine."

"Fans gush (and hurl) endlessly over each and every Miike defilement of all that is sacred, but rare is the mention of his fairly conventional and humble beginnings as Shohei Imamura's assistant director," writes Martin Tsai in the Critic's Notebook. "We actually got a sneak peek of his classical sensibility in Audition of all things, up to the point when the movie finally breached the boundaries of decency and earned cinematic infamy. His new film 13 Assassins, though, is that true classical jidaigeki feudal epic that those who have seen Audition know he has in him. And Mr Miike executes (pardon the pun) it so beautifully that it's breathtaking."

More from Manohla Dargis (NYT), Mark Jenkins (NPR), Daniel Kasman (here in The Daily Notebook), Victoria Large (Not Coming to a Theater Near You), Michael Nordine (Hammer to Nail), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nicolas Rapold (L), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 5/5), Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle, 3.5/5), Nick Schager (Slant, 3/4) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 9/10).

 

BRIEFLY


"Sympathy for Delicious does everything it can to disguise the fact that it's ultimately a Christian morality play," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "But despite its gritty setting, unlovable protagonist, and bizarre turn into music-world satire, Mark Ruffalo's directorial debut can't help but reveal the mushy heart we'd expect from a movie about a homeless man discovering he possesses Christ-like healing powers. The result is not so much a hard-edged take on potentially sentimental material, but an odd mishmash that leads to some headscratchingly bizarre moments, while ultimately skirting incoherence of purpose." More from Sam Adams (AV Club, C+), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michelle Orange (Voice), Henry Stewart (L), Justin Stewart (Reverse Shot) and Alison Willmore (TONY, 3/5). Ruffalo interviews and profiles: Scott Macaulay (Filmmaker), John Marchese (NYT), Amy Plitt (TONY) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).

 



"A letter from the past prompts present-day pain in We Go Way Back, a gentle survey of the chasm between youthful dreams and adult reality," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "Written and directed by Lynn Shelton (it had its film festival premiere in 2006, several years and artistic eons before her terrific Humpday), this languid study of dawning self-knowledge follows Kate (Amber Hubert), a mildly depressed actress with a small Seattle theater company." More from Michael Atkinson (Voice), Chuck Bowen (Slant, 2/4) and James van Maanen. IndieWIRE has "asked Shelton to reflect back on the 2006 Slamdance award-winning film and dissect one of her favorite scenes from the drama." At Brooklyn's reRun Gastropub Theater.

"A boppy, precision-engineered cinematic extrusion of cheery, cute, hot-teen perkiness such as is most vividly dreamed of in Disney philosophy, and subsequently manufactured by said entity to fairly exacting standards, Prom is an entirely cute and harmless motion picture that ought to be of zero interest to anyone over the age of 17-and-a-half who isn't an industry professional or aspires to be." Glenn Kenny for MSN Movies: "Granted, this over-50 reviewer got caught up in the hijinks, see-'em-from-a-mile-away plot reversals, and hilariously lite depictions of certain species of teen angst, but I went because it was my job to go." More from Neil Genzlinger (NYT), Ed Gonzalez (Slant, 2.5/4), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 7/10), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Ella Taylor (NPR), Scott Tobias (AV Club, C-), Keith Uhlich (TONY, 3/5) and Armond White (New York Press).

"Pennsylvania, as James Carville once memorably described it, is 'Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in the middle,'" recalls Matt Prigge in the Philadelphia Weekly. "Located some 90 miles west of our city, Lebanon decidedly registers as the faux-Deep South… It's to these backwater digs that Philly ad man Will (Cougar Town's Josh Hopkins) retreats after word that his father, who relocated there some years prior, has died…. Ben Hickernell's indie drama Lebanon, PA takes an anthropological interest in the clusterfuck that ever so gradually forms…. It's strange to see an Amerindie so retro, but also one that, with great calm, limns our culture clash without pandering to either side." More from Diego Costa (Slant, 1.5/4), Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Hynes (TONY, 2/5), Andrew Schenker (Voice), Daniel Walber (Spout) and Alison Willmore (AV Club, C+).

"The newest auto-documentary, Exporting Raymond, is amusing and annoying in the wrong ratio, maybe 30/70," finds New York's David Edelstein. "Directed by its protagonist, Phil Rosenthal, creator of the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, it has a fertile comic premise. Rosenthal is dispatched by Sony Pictures International to translate the series into Everybody Loves Kostya, for a Russian audience, with Russian collaborators, and he sets out to document the inevitable culture clash…. He and Romano created a household of wishy-washy, often childlike men and dominating mothers and wives, and when told that the dynamic is different in Russian homes, he thinks they're practicing self-deception. This is how it is everywhere, he says, and they just won't admit it…. I don't mean to lambaste Rosenthal, who seems a decent man and created one of the more bearable sitcoms of recent years. But his sense of entitlement is all too scarily American." More from Mike Hale (NYT), Mark Holcomb (Voice), Noel Murray (AV Club, B), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly, B-) and Scott Tobias (NPR). Alan Sepinwall interviews Rosenthal for Hitfix.

 

LOCAL SCENES


The Seattle International Film Festival presented the lineup for its 37th edition on Thursday. It'll be opening on May 19 with Justin Chadwick's The First Grader and closing on June 12 with Kevin Macdonald's Life in a Day. Sean Axmaker: "Among the 257 feature films from 74 countries (a record cinematic representation of nations for the festival) are seven world premieres (mostly from the US), 26 North American Premieres (including the biopic Bruce Lee, My Brother from Hong Kong and the UK comedy Killing Bono) and 18 US premieres, including a Special Presentation of Tran Anh Hung's adaptation of Haruki Murakami's novel Norwegian Wood. 184 shorts will also be presented throughout the festival, 44 of them world premieres."

One event going on in New York that hasn't been mentioned yet is the Tales from the New Cinema series running through tomorrow at the Museum of the Moving Image. For background, see the April 3 entry "Chinese Independents."

The Boston Globe's Ty Burr and the Chicago Reader's JR Jones each pick out the highlights of their respective local agendas.

 

IN THE UK


Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin is being "re-released by the BFI in a Deutsche Kinemathek-restored print, with restored original censor cuts, title cards and graphics and a revised version of Brecht-collaborator Edmund Meisel's rousing score," notes Wally Hammond in Time Out London.

 



The film's "depiction of a (partially) successful rebellion against political authority disturbed the world's censors," writes Ronald Bergan at the Arts Desk. "The French, banning it for general showing, burned every copy they could find. It was shown only in film clubs in London, where it had been banned. Initially in the USA it was forbidden on the grounds that it 'gives American sailors a blueprint as to how to conduct a mutiny.' In Germany the War Ministry forbade members of the armed forces to see the film. A few years later, after Stalin came to power in the USSR, a written introduction by Leon Trotsky was removed by the Soviets and replaced by a quotation from Lenin. However, the one aspect of The Battleship Potemkin that has never aroused any censorship is Eisenstein's mischievous homoeroticism, which is evident to modern audiences more than ever."

Michael Wood, writing in the London Review of Books, finds it "striking that this revolutionary film, with its motto from Lenin clearly displayed near the beginning ('Revolution means war – this is the one lawful, reasonable and just, truly great war of all the wars that history has known'), centres its moral point on the avoidance of fighting and killing."

Jasper Rees at the Arts Desk: "As genres go, it's a broad church: the tale of the alien who visits our world (our world obviously being contemporary America) encompasses everything from The Man Who Fell to Earth to Galaxy Quest. The story tends to riff on the same tension: how our planet shapes up in the eyes of intergalactic visitors. It can be done for laughs, for thrills, even for tears (see, if you are indeed an alien and haven't already, ET). Thor, in which the titular Norse god is exiled to small-town New Mexico, makes a play for all three."

"Thor is billed as the latest film from 'the studio that brought you Iron Man,'" notes Leo Robson in the Financial Times, "but it is also the latest film from the director who brought you Henry V and Hamlet. There's plenty of clashing metal on display, but also sibling rivalry, attempted regicide and dynastic squabbling. Kenneth Branagh adapting a Marvel comic sounds like a bad joke, but the result is a rich brew — a little too rich, perhaps."

 


At In Contention, Guy Lodge argues that "if Thor, with its eccentric split personality, ragged construction and hot-and-cold technical contributions, still emerges as fizzier, heartier and more generous than most comparable blockbusters cluttering the release schedule, the actorly empathy of its director may be what makes the difference." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 3/5), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London, 3/5), Kingsley Marshall (Little White Lies), Kim Newman (Sight & Sound) and Tim Robey (Telegraph, 3/5). Dave Itzkoff has a backgrounder in the NYT.

This year's London Palestine Film Festival, running through May 11, "showcases 30 works by artists working in 12 different countries, and across genres from video art to biopic, puts up work for UK premieres (16 this year), and shows cutting-edge documentaries such as Mahmoud al Massad's mesmerising This Is My Picture When I Was Dead." Karma Nabulsi in the Guardian: "It also regularly celebrates archive gems, this year showing the recently restored Far from Vietnam (1967), on which Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Claude Lelouch, Alain Resnais and Joris Ivens all worked. The result is a carnival of cinematic styles and concerns that transcend and unite the historical, the aesthetic, and the political in film, and that is why it works so well."

Steve Rose rounds up more film events in the UK.

 

IN OTHER NEWS


"William Campbell, who guest-starred in two memorable episodes of the original Star Trek TV series, died Thursday." Mike Barnes in the Hollywood Reporter: "Campbell also sang with Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender (1956) and starred in the violent Dementia 13 (1963), produced by Roger Corman and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Other film credits include Operation Pacific (1951), Battle Circus (1953), The High and the Mighty (1954), Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) and Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971), written by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry." More from Wikipedia.

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Thanks for the mention, David. Glad the folks at Mubi are reading Cinespect.

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