"We have exciting news on the horizon for Kôji Wakamatsu fans," tweeted Kino Lorber a few days ago. "An official theatrical release of United Red Army???" asked Kenji Fujishima. The answer was coy but promising: "Maybe..."
Parisians won't have to wait. The Cinémathèque française's Wakamatsu retrospective opens today and runs through January 9, accompanied by the publication of Koji Wakamatsu, cinéaste de la révolte. Marc Saint-Cyr at Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow: "Hopefully this retrospective and publication will be signs of things to come for English viewers and readers eager to learn more about this fascinating filmmaker. In the meantime, though, there is a pretty great book already out there to tide people over: Jasper Sharp's thoroughly-researched Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, which features a fair bit of information on Wakamatsu, his rise in the pinku eiga ranks and his remarkable collaboration with Masao Adachi."
"The old bump and grind receives a squeaky-clean workout in Burlesque, a backstage tease-o-rama about life in and out of corsets and garters," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Sparkly and smiley and thoroughly goofy (sleepy and dopey make appearances too), the story turns on an Iowan refugee for whom the Big Time means doing the hoochie-coochie in a Los Angeles club. There, where the dancers are dollies with Pilates physiques, the mistress of ceremonies should be Alan Cumming (who shows up now and again, giggling on the sidelines), but turns out to be Cher, trying her darnedest to play older and wiser but without, you know, the wrinkles and gray."
"The comparison between the 1995 Paul Verhoeven film Showgirls and Burlesque, the Steven Antin film that opens today, is fairly inevitable," notes Nicole LaPorte in the Daily Beast. "Both movies are about young naifs who arrive in the big city (Las Vegas and Los Angeles, respectively), wide-eyed and determined to do whatever it takes to win a part as a nightclub dancer. Both movies feature an abundance of feather boas, glitter makeup, and dressing-room catfights. Both of the films' stars (Christina Aguilera in Burlesque; Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls) are blond and sexy and have the kind of bodies that contort in physics-defying positions while wearing very little clothing and very tall shoes." And off she goes (LaPorte, that is), drawing parallel after parallel, seemingly unaware all the way that Showgirls, "considered, pretty unanimously, one of the most awful movies of all time," has long since been ushered into the warm company of films maudit.
More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com, 3 out of 5 stars), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2 out of 4), Ed Gonzalez (Slant, 2 out of 4), Jessica Grose (Slate), Karina Longworth (Voice), Mary Pols (Time), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, B-), Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times), Scott Tobias (NPR), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York, 3 out of 5) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7.5 out of 10). Frank Bruni profiles Cher for the NYT. So, too, does Krista Smith, for this month's cover story in Vanity Fair. Amy Kaufman profiles Aguilera for the LAT.
"It's astonishing to think that Tangled is Disney's first traditional fairy tale since 1991's Beauty and the Beast," writes Christian Blauvelt in Slant (3 out of 4 stars, by the way). "Who would have thought, when The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King were winning over critics and audiences alike that the tradition of hand-drawn animation was in its death throes and would be all but nonexistent a scant decade later? Of course, as it was in the waning days of other lost arts like silent film or radio theater, hand-drawn animation produced some of its most dazzling achievements near its end, even if they were often denigrated by puritanical critics on the left and right who foolishly chose to identify Disney films as the ultimate battlegrounds for discourses on race, sexuality, consumerism, and, I suppose in the case of Aladdin, American foreign policy."
"The legend of Rapunzel gets a snarky, modernized CG update with Tangled, Disney's 50th animated feature, in which the flaxen-haired princess (Mandy Moore) escapes captivity with the help of dashing rapscallion thief Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi)," blogs Nick Schager. "Mechanically hitting its prescribed notes while borrowing liberally from its predecessors (especially Snow White and Beauty and the Beast), yet generally devoid of the regressive gender dynamics that plague most of those films, Tangled may not break any new ground, but for better and worse, it's the most inoffensive Princess affair to date."
"Disney knows how to bewitch a crowd, but the sense that Tangled was made more by corporate mandate than artistic spark remains constant throughout," finds Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York (3 out of 5). More from Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 4 out of 5), Dan Kois (Voice), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 7 out of 10), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, B+), AO Scott (NYT) and Kenneth Turan (NPR). Brooks Barnes (NYT) and Dawn C Chmielewski and Claudia Eller (LAT) are all wondering what's next for Disney Animation.
"From a jaunty Spin Doctors-scored opening to a teary, Regina Spektor-cued finale, Love & Other Drugs will switch to any style, station, or frequency to keep you entertained," writes Eric Hynes in the Voice. "Or at least not bored. (Maybe awake?) The most egregious four-quadrant pander-party of the year, Ed Zwick's latest middlebrow atrocity has been so carefully market-tested — crudeness counteracts romance, slapstick leavens disease-of-the-week melodrama — that it needn't even be seen, just administered directly into the bloody mainstream."
The L's Mark Asch: "Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are so frequently naked in Love & Other Drugs, and in such consistently awkward positions and casual circumstances, that, even accounting for their respective fitness percentiles, the movie offers a consistently believable rendering of how two people who are about to bone, or are boning, or have recently boned (there's-a lotta boning!), look and act around each other. What's funny about it, though, is that this frankness is just one element of a bewilderingly schizophrenic movie."
The NYT's AO Scott: "Love & Other Drugs is a sometimes intoxicating, sometimes headache-inducing cocktail: a sweet, libidinous love story; a candid comedy of bedroom and workplace manners; and, most bravely, if also most jarringly, a medical melodrama involving a chronic and very serious disease.... And it is to Mr Zwick's credit that Love & Other Drugs almost works, sustaining its blend of melodrama, low comedy and graceful wit for a good hour or so, but then succumbing to treacle, evasion and maudlin convention at the end."
More from Roger Ebert (Sun-Times, 2.5 out of 4), David Edelstein (New York), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Mary Pols (Time), Betsy Sharkey (LAT), Dana Stevens (Slate), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B-) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 6.5 out of 10). Tom Shone profiles Zwick for the NYT.
"In Kawasaki's Rose, directed by Jan Hrebejk and scripted by Petr Jarchovský, Milan Mikulcík plays a TV sound man who learns that venerated Czech dissident Martin Huba may have collaborated with the police during the communist era, as part of a scheme to screw over a romantic rival," writes Noel Murray, giving the film a B- at the AV Club. "The problem with Kawasaki's Rose is that the theme is far more compelling than the movie." More from Mark Jenkins (NPR), Nick Schager (Voice), AO Scott (NYT) and Matthew Sorrento (Bright Lights After Dark). At New York's Film Forum through December 7.
"When the red-tailed hawk known as Pale Male landed in New York City, he would experience some of the things New Yorkers hope to avoid (homelessness, the wrath of a co-op board) and a few they can only fantasize about (the attention of Mary Tyler Moore, sex on the terrace of Woody Allen's penthouse)." Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT: "Chronicling close to two decades in the bird's — and its fan club's — eventful life, The Legend of Pale Male is a sugary, aggressively anthropomorphized story of one avian interloper and a whole bunch of human obsessives." More from Eric Hynes (TONY, 2 out of 5), Nick Schager (Voice) and Andrew Schenker (Slant, 2 out of 4). At the Angelika in New York.
"After all the baby-sitting he's been doing in movies such as Tooth Fairy and Race to Witch Mountain, it's a twisted relief to see Dwayne Johnson shoot a telemarketer early on in the new revenge picture Faster before we've even gotten to know who's who and what this telemarketer ever did to deserve such nasty customer interaction," writes the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips. "This is an overpacked suitcase disguised as a movie, which is appropriate, since Johnson is a bulging array of musculature disguised as an ordinary human." In Newcity Film, Ray Pride finds this one to be "a solid B-movie written by brothers Tony Gayton and Joe Gayton and directed by Chicagoan George Tillman Jr (Men of Honor, Soul Food). Genre touches include a bickering duo of detectives, one of whom is ten days from retirement; a hitman in therapy who wants to complete one last contract before settling down to raise a family; and flashbacks to a crime scene via an incriminating video." More from Roger Ebert (Sun-Times, 2.5 out of 5), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 7 out of 10), Keith Phipps (AV Club, C+) and Benjamin Sutton (L).
"Your Thanksgiving turkey has arrived on schedule and it's called The Nutcracker in 3D," writes Gary Goldstein in the LAT. "Director Andrei Konchalovsky's gassy spectacle, inspired by Tchaikovsky's classic ballet score and its fairy tale source material (ETA Hoffmann's short story), comes off like a wan mash-up of The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story and, frankly, Willard, but with a manufactured sense of wonder and tension." J Hoberman in the Voice: "Sigmund Freud is repeatedly name-checked, but the influence of another onetime Vienna resident is far more evident: The evil rodents who take over the city in a bit of 9/11-evoking terror are nothing less than Ratzis — they even operate an extermination camp for children's toys, complete with crematoria.... The wildest thing about this movie is its faith that what kids (and parents) really want for Christmas is a Nutcracker version of the Final Solution." More from Roger Ebert (Sun-Times, 1 out of 4), David Edelstein (New York), Mike Hale (NYT), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, D-), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY, 1 out of 5) and Nick Schager (Slant, 1 out of 4).
IN OTHER NEWS
Via Catherine Grant comes word of "Cinema/Photography: Beyond Representation": "For this Special Issue of Screening the Past, guest editors Des O'Rawe and Sam Rohdie bring together a collection of original articles on the aesthetic and institutional relations between film, photography, and the visual arts, in particular writing that is attentive to cinematic forms and their recon figuration within the contemporary visual arts. Complementing this Special Issue, Screening the Past #29 features several other articles that 'speak' of the rapport between films, filmmaking and still photography."
"Mankada Ravi Varma, one of the best photographers in Malayalam cinema, passed away in Chennai on Monday," reports the Hindu. "He was 85 years old. Ravi Varma had shot into international acclaim working with directors such as G Aravindan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and PN Menon; turning their insight into human situations to tones of black and white."
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