"There are few contemporary filmmakers who grasp narrative as an expressive instrument in itself, and even among them Apichatpong Weerasethakul seems special," begins Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Like other influential artists from the provinces — he grew up in the rural northeast of Thailand — Apichatpong has developed a sui generis style by rethinking the shape of the container. When the transitional cinema of 2000-10 is recalled, his shorts, gallery installations, and five primary features (let us now praise them: 2000's Mysterious Object at Noon, 2002's Blissfully Yours, 2004's Tropical Malady, 2007's Syndromes and a Century, and now 2010's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) will appear uniquely evolved."
"The acme of no-budget, Buddhist-animist, faux-naïve, avant-pop magic neorealism, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a movie in which conversing with the materialized spirits of the dead and watching the so-called living on TV exist on the same astral plane." J Hoberman in the Voice, where Eric Hynes interviews Apichatpong: "As marvelously eccentric as it is modest, Weerasethakul's sixth feature (winner of the Palme d'Or last year at Cannes) is, like many of his previous movies, set mainly in the forests of remote, poor, northeast Thailand, a place where multiple times co-exist and parallel lives converge. The pre-credit sequence of humans and water buffaloes hunkered down by smoky fire in the woodsy dawn could be a scene out of Pather Panchali, until a glimpse of a humanoid 'monkey ghost,' red eyes glowing like coals, signals that we have entered the filmmaker's primeval realm. The unblinking creatures are borrowed from the cheap horror flicks of Weerasethakul's youth; the untethered buffalo could be an earlier incarnation of his protagonist, Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar)."
"Boonmee is suffering from kidney disease," explains AO Scott in the New York Times, "and as he goes briskly about his everyday business, accompanied by his sister-in-law, Jen (Jenjira Pongpas), and the young men he has hired as caretakers, it becomes clear that he is saying goodbye. His present life is shadowed by regrets, only some of which are alluded to, like his actions during a long-ago period of political violence. One evening, as he and Jen are having dinner outdoors, they are joined by the specters of Boonmee's long-lost son (Geerasak Kulhong), who has assumed the shape of a man-size monkey, and of Boonmee's wife (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk), whose appearance is more traditionally movie-ghostlike. The living and the dead converse calmly and matter-of-factly, as if nothing especially unusual were going on, and this undramatic blending of the bizarre and the banal is one of Mr Weerasethakul's signatures. Though he is heir to a long tradition of cinematic surrealism, he does not traffic in shock or discomfort, or seek to upend the tyranny of conventional logic. Rather, he uses the illusion-making powers of the medium to propose, politely if also mischievously, an alternative way of seeing things."
Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek finds Apichatpong's films to be "oblique and concrete at once, gorgeous to look at, and dappled with jokes that connect the real world with the dream one (like the way Jen asks the monkey ghost, with a faint air of motherly disapproval, 'Why did you grow your hair so long?'). Uncle Boonmee was shot by two cinematographers, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Joe's regular collaborator) and Yukontorn Mingmongkon, who don't so much capture the stillness of the countryside as pick up on its every minute vibration. Their compositions are restrained but never static: During that dinner-table ghost visitation, a lantern glows nearby like a facsimile moon, a reminder, perhaps, not to take the natural world at face value."
For Time Out New York's Keith Uhlich, "there's a deadly serious undercurrent to the fantasy — a still-photo montage of soldiers horsing around with a bigfootlike beast is particularly surreal and disturbing — so the film never feels like an indulgent lark. Even when Weerasethakul takes you down some impenetrable paths (the transmigratory ending is sure to inspire numerous head scratches), what you see and hear always seems perfectly natural, even if you can't exactly say why."
Daniel Kasman spoke with Apichatpong in September. Earlier roundups: Cannes and the New York Film Festival.
Updates: At Hammer to Nail, Michael Tully advises us not to read any reviews. This is a film "that makes outward interpretation seem disruptive and — dare I say it — disrespectful. Or, to put it another way: This film doesn't deserve our language." IFC's Matt Singer: "The only genre this movie belongs to is the funky, freaky, fascinating films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul."
Updates, 3/3: "Throughout, technology and spirituality are shown to have an interlinked relationship, with photography (and, by extension, film) associated with death and the supernatural," writes L Caldoran at Cinespect. "Boonsong's transformation into a Monkey Ghost stemmed from his hobby as an amateur photographer, a Bigfoot-like image glimpsed in the background of a picture in his darkroom. The custom of photographing funerals is referenced: while many Americans nowadays would find this morbid and gauche, one must remember that post-mortem photography began, and hit its peak, in the Western world during the Victorian era. (One may also recall that the protagonist of Manoel de Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelica was brought to his own fate after he photographed a beautiful dead woman at her family's request.) Perhaps most tellingly, Boonmee relates a vision of future events depicted through a series of stills (recalling that other tale of time-travel, La Jetée): in this reality, travelers from the past are hunted by soldiers and treated to a punishment and execution with strong cinematic overtones."
For the New Yorker's Richard Brody, "the movie hits something of a metaphysical wall. The world at hand is shown to be full of dangers — Uncle Boonmee lives with the painful memory of having killed Communists while a soldier, and a final scene shows news footage of today's Thai army engaged in skirmishes — yet Weerasethakul's spirit realm, for all of its thick air of mystery, is about as threatening as Casper the Friendly Ghost… The movie's peaceful spirits suggest something of a persuasive aspect, as if Weerasethakul were representing them to materialists, or to Westerners, with a salesman-like benevolence. I wonder whether he believes this — whether he contemplates a spiritual realm that is solely a relief from the world's turmoils, or whether he doesn't want to suggest the prospect of souls facing pains even greater than those of the body."
"The magic of Uncle Boonmee is that it makes all viewers feel like the strange ones," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE.
More interviews with Apichatpong: AV Club and Matt Mazur (PopMatters).
Ella Taylor for NPR: "Weerasethakul gives no quarter to giddy Western notions about Eastern serenity and rebirth — Uncle Boonmee is as anxious and afraid as the next man meeting his end — and the director is not asking us to decode metaphors or distill meaning. He wants us to experience the thrilling unity of our inner and outer lives, the casual commingling of the worldly and the spiritual, the imagination meeting the world as it is."
Updates, 3/4: "After Apichatpong's black-and-white debut, Mysterious Object at Noon, all of his films have been marked by their rich colors," notes Steve Erickson in Gay City News. "His cinematographers are devoted to the fine gradations among the thousands of potential shades of green, gray, and brown. Apichatpong has a painter's eye for light and color, as well as an ability to use darkness as counterpoint. In an early scene in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, a water buffalo escapes its rope and wanders off into the forest. Its journey is a feast for the eyes. If you're interested in this film, don't wait for Netflix. Many of its scenes are so dark that they're bound to look unbearably muddy on a home monitor, even a big one."
An "A" from the AV Club's Scott Tobias: "Weerasethakul is a master of sensual experience — real movie magic — and Uncle Boonmee rewards whatever faith and intuition viewers are willing to invest in it."
The L's Mark Asch: "A potential weakness of this aesthetic project or interpretive lens — whichever it is — is that, if everything is everything, then that permits or explains anything on screen, without necessarily understanding it; the slack or passive or poorly thought-out or self-indulgent becomes impossible to distinguish from radical openness. But Apichatpong's filmography — as with, say, the New York School poets and their overheard culture, or the French New Wave's impulsive referentiality — becomes indelible for its consistency and singularity; Uncle Boonmee is held together by soothing scenery, hushed and lush; by sweet, sometimes awkward, searching performers, often breaking out into hokey grins; by simple, daring transmutations of story and identity. Not worldly but cosmic, at peace with death and barely possessive of the self, Uncle Boonmee is about as far away from modern urban life as a movie can take you."
Christopher Bell interviews Apichatpong for the Playlist.
Update, 3/5: Viewing (3'39"). Ebert Presents At the Movies: Christy Lemiere and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky disagree on this one.
Updates, 3/7: "Apichatpong developed Uncle Boonmee out of the Primitive project, a multi-format investigation of life in Isan, the northeasternmost section of Thailand," writes Colin Beckett in the Brooklyn Rail. "Alongside the semi-professional cast's understated, familiar dynamics, it is Apichatpong's attention to this region's particularities that tethers Uncle Boonmee's mystical flights to an apprehensible context… This is not a devotional fable, but its converse: an account of the kind of ecstatic spiritual experience that religious doctrine can only hope to delimit."
"It's the sort of movie that sends you out into the night finding familiar things suddenly a little stranger than before," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360.
"That Uncle Boonmee has been so widely hyped and won the Palme d'Or at Cannes does not, for me, signify that it is a masterpiece as distinct from his other work," writes Brad Nguyen at Screen Machine. "The praise that Weerasethakul has received recently is praise that may be applied to his entire oeuvre, to his artistic practice as a whole. It's attention that is well-deserved too."
"This year's FESPACO Film Festival sees the hot, dusty streets of Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, come alive with festival goers from across Africa and, indeed, the world," writes Tom Pointon in an overview for Little White Lies. "Over the last 20 years the emphasis of the festival has shifted and a new generation of filmmakers, heavily influenced by the success of Nollywood, has moved away from a cinema of auteurs, bankrolled by the French government or the EU. African cinema is now a legitimate commercial venture, and African business is supporting homegrown filmmakers to take advantage of low-cost digital video."
"Ouaga Paradiso is a sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, but always gripping documentary about four African filmmakers plying their trade as they negotiate between cinematic hell and paradise," writes Leela Jacinto for France24, noting that the film features "some of the giants — such as Idrissa Ouedraogo and Mahmut Haroun Saleh — displaying a surprisingly modest, nurturing side of successful African filmmakers." FESPACO is on through Saturday.
Cinekink is on in New York through Sunday and Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has asked festival director Lisa Vandever to point out a few highlights. At the House Next Door, Lauren Wissot reviews Michael Skiff's Kink Crusaders, "a documentary shot during the 2008 edition of the International Mr Leather contest, held annually in Chicago for the past 30 years."
Reynold Reynolds's Secrets Trilogy is at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin through April 3. The Found Footage Festival is touring California at the moment and Scott Timberg has an overview in the LA Weekly. And today through Saturday, the International House Philadelphia will be screening films by Joseph Strick.
Contrary to movie folklore, The Cable Guy (1996) did not bomb; it actually turned a tidy profit. But as John Sellers explains, introducing an interview for Vulture, much more was expected at the time: "Directed by Ben Stiller and produced by Judd Apatow, it was tarred with the 'bomb' epithet because it didn't jibe with expectations: Jim Carrey, coming off of the Ace Ventura sequel (which grossed $108 million) and Dumb & Dumber ($127 million), earned Hollywood's first $20 million paycheck for The Cable Guy, and his fans expected more dumb-guy humor and cartoonish gesticulating. While Carrey's vengefully lonely cable man was goofy on the surface, with a lisp and fever for karaoke, he was also creepy and sinister, and the movie was a bleak social satire. Many bewildered Carreyites were confused and turned off, while critics piled on, and it was declared a disaster. Over time it became a cult favorite, and now, fifteen years after its original release, it is being rereleased on Blu-ray today, with a new commentary from Carrey, Stiller, and Apatow. We called up Apatow and asked him to tell us his story of what it was like to be sure he had a hit, only to have it be called something else entirely."
"Looking back," writes Dave Kehr in the NYT, "The Cable Guy seems like a seminal film, not only for the careers it sputteringly helped to start (it contains early appearances by Leslie Mann, Jack Black, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, David Cross and Owen Wilson) but also for the striking new tone it helped to establish. It was one of the first 'cringe comedies,' in which the humor is grounded in the painful humiliations experienced by its protagonist — in this case, a wonderfully stoic Matthew Broderick, playing the unfortunate young real estate executive who, in a moment of moral weakness, tries to bribe his cable installer into giving him the movie channels free. The Cable Guy plays beautifully in the 15th Anniversary Edition just issued on Blu-ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. And the unusually extensive collection of deleted scenes and extended sequences make clear that the film was even darker and more daring at some point in its evolution, presumably before it started being chopped in reaction to preview audiences."
In 1966, "revolution was in the air," writes Paul Tickell for Sight & Sound, "and pop culture was restyling itself as the counterculture. It's this moment — to a Johnny Dankworth score rather than the sound of incipient psychedelia — that Karel Reisz's Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment captures so accurately and so comically, though its humor is tinged with melancholy… On one level, Morgan can seem very dated; on another, it's of its time in an exhilarating way — a bit like one of its closing sequences, in which Morgan rides his motorbike through the streets of an eerie, somnambulist London: uneasy rider meets William Blake."
Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily: "Danny Boyle may well be one of the most overrated big-name directors working today, constantly cutting between anything and everything like a frenetic coke fiend unaware of context. And yet, 127 Hours is easily his most rewarding movie since 2004's undervalued Millions."
DVD roundups. Sean Axmaker, Gary Dretzka (Movie City News), Ed Gonzalez (House Next Door), Mark Kermode (Observer), Peter Martin (Cinematical), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Stephen Saito (IFC) and Nigel M Smith (indieWIRE).
IN OTHER NEWS
Words Without Borders introduces its "At the Movies" issue: "In two stories of film's international reach, Ryu Murakami's yakuza finds a soulmate in small-town Texas, while João Paulo Cuenca's Brazilian slacker aspires to la dolce vita. Montreal's Robert Paquin describes the delicate art of dubbing profanity. Japanese director Nishikawa Miwa recalls the nightmare origins of her Sway, and Michelangelo Antonioni's assistant director Flavio Niccolini shares his diary from the set of the masterpiece Red Desert. Strega Prize-winner and screenwriter Domenico Starnone recounts the beginning of his lifelong infatuation with film. And the great Saadat Hasan Manto pens an amused portrait of the Pakistani star Nur Jehan."
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