On Friday, Inception pretty much sucked all the air out of the media bubble. So, to catch up with what's being said about the other films opening this weekend...
"After the increasingly black comic violence of his Pusher trilogy and Bronson, Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn — who apparently never got over A Clockwork Orange — goes left-field with Valhalla Rising, a movie as maddeningly ponderous and self-important as its black-metal title," writes Vadim Rizov in the Voice.
"[M]aybe you could think of it as a more introspective version of Aguirre, The Wrath of God," suggests Paul Matwychuk, "only with Christian crusaders losing their minds instead of conquistadors. Our hero is One-Eye (a forceful, dialogue-free performance from Mads Mikkelsen, wearing a topknot and a permanent scowl that both recall Toshiro Mifune) — a powerful warrior in 11th-century Denmark who breaks free from his captivity at the hands of a small tribe of Norse pagans and falls in with an equally ragtag group of Christians preparing to sail to the Holy Land and reclaim Jerusalem from the heathens. But with no map and no navigator to guide them, the group goes wildly off course, landing not in the Middle East but in what appears to be Quebec. It's a film of elemental emotions — brutality, desperation, madness — and punishingly free of sentiment."
More from Mike Hale (New York Times), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Henry Stewart (L), James Van Maanen and Lauren Wissot (Slant; she also interviews Refn for Filmmaker). Bilge Ebiri talks with Refn for IFC, and here's an interview to listen to: Aaron Hillis at GreenCine Daily. The Playlist has the basics on four projects on Refn's plate.
"In 1964, [Henri-Georges] Clouzot was an acknowledged titan of French cinema, venerated for films like The Raven (1943), Quai des Orfèvres (1947), The Wages of Fear (1953) and Diabolique (1955)." AO Scott in the New York Times: "It had been four years since he had made a film, and in that time his traditional methods had been challenged by the iconoclasts of the New Wave. Piqued by their bravado and impressed by Federico Fellini's 8½, Clouzot conceived an ambitious project — to be called L'Enfer — a story of sexual jealousy and psychological instability that would encompass an array of new and radical techniques."
Andrew Schenker for the L Magazine: "For Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno, filmmakers Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea draw on the 185 extant reels from the lost film, intercutting a generous sampling of original footage with scenes of contemporary actors reading from the script and interviews with original crew members, providing viewers with both the troubled backstory of the disastrous shoot and an approximation of what the finished film might have looked like."
"Rather than communicating his protagonist's madness, Clouzot appears to be documenting his own," writes the Voice's J Hoberman. "For all the irrationality that fueled Clouzot's project, it's reasonable to assume that the finished Inferno would never have been any better or more evocative than this arrangement of its shards."
More from Richard Brody and Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Graham Fuller (Artforum), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and James van Maanen.
"Ever since Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin's 1953 charmer Little Fugitive, indie filmmakers have gotten a lot of mileage out of the premise of children out on their own in a big city, confronting its wonders and dangers." Noel Murray at the AV Club: "Lance Daly's Kisses lands squarely in that pre-teen runaway genre, though writer-director Daly is more preoccupied with the danger than the wonder.... Compared to movies like Little Fugitive or The 400 Blows or Shane Meadows's recent Somers Town — all of which balance the harsher realities of life with a strong sense of the individual human spirit — Kisses is dreary to a fault. It looks fantastic, with its shadowy Dublin alleys illuminated by the heroes' light-up Heelys. But the writing doesn't have that same glow."
More from David Fear (TONY), Stephen Holden (NYT), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Matt Singer (IFC), Ella Taylor (Voice), Ryan Vlastelica (L), Bill Weber (Slant) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).
"There's a way of imparting an air of mystery in a film that creates in the audience a desire to penetrate the unknown, that introduces an aura of the intriguingly sinister to the film's world," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant. "Then there's a weirdness that feels like obfuscation. Everything in writer-director Marta Mondelli's relationship drama/whodunit The Contenders (the circumstances of the central death, the motivations of the characters, the surreal asides) has an air of obscurantism, the sense of a director trying to cover up her lack of control over her material by a logic-free intrusion of the offbeat." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT) and Eric Hynes (Voice).
"Mildly amusing for the first 30 minutes, Operation: Endgame is a foul-mouthed spoof of secret-agent silliness," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. "Boasting 'one of the coolest all-star casts ever assembled' (according to the press notes), Operation: Endgame reduces Ellen Barkin — playing a queen-bee killer named Empress — to a randy cougar and Zach Galifianakis to an irrelevant lump in a hazmat suit. When even the stellar Bob Odenkirk disappears into the (uniformly depressing) scenery, it's time to recognize that assembling a cast may not be enough. You also have to give them something to do besides swear and rampage."
Eric Hynes in Time Out New York on To Age or Not to Age: "Fascinating science meets shoddy filmmaking in this scattershot exploration of emerging antiaging studies." More from Diego Costa (Slant), Stephen Holden (NYT), Andrew Schenker (Voice) and James van Maanen.
Seattle's Stranger features Charles Mudede on Helsinki, Forever: "The documentary, which is directed by the film critic Peter von Bagh and is a part of the From the Land of the Midnight Sun series at Northwest Film Forum (it includes Finnish shorts, music videos, and another documentary, The Living Room of the Nation), is about the city and the art form that, as Walter Benjamin once pointed out, best represents it: cinema."
Then there's JR Jones (Chicago Reader), the LA Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
"Four were made by studio cofounder Isao Takahata and four by four different directors. These latter four, however, are all immediately identifiable as Studio Ghibli products, from their spunky teenage protagonists to their pictorial realism in everything from the play of shadows through the trees to the raising of sticky windows. The latest, Kari-gurashi no Arietty (The Borrowers), features direction by veteran Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi and a script by Miyazaki himself. It is a simply told, beautifully animated delight that, like the best Ghibli films, speaks straight to the heart and imagination of the child in all of us."
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