"Wild Grass," "Dogtooth," Fests, Events and Goodbyes

Fortunately, we have Knight and Day behind us, but I'm glad to be updating that same entry still with fresh takes on Restrepo. In this roundup: What the critics are saying about the other films opening in theaters today, a few notes on local scenes — and too many sudden departures.

Alain Resnais's Wild Grass "has been characterized as a comeback for this French New Wave veteran, who turned 88 on June 3," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It isn't that he's been absent from film. His last feature, Private Fears in Public Places, a chamber piece set in a winter key, was released in the United States in 2007. Rather, in its harmonious balance between the playful (in tone and form) and the serious (in form and feeling), Wild Grass is among his finest in years, which makes it an event. Unlike his greatest work — [Last Year at Marienbad], Hiroshima Mon Amour, Muriel, The War Is Over and the Holocaust documentary Night and FogWild Grass doesn't advance film language, but it does confirm its director as one of the giants of the art."

"[T]he film has the feel of a final testament, much like the latest (or last) works of Resnais's nouvelle vague colleagues Eric Rohmer (The Romance of Astrea and Celadon) and Jacques Rivette (Around a Small Mountain)," writes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. "Yet death is not something to fear in this universe. The transformative finale suggests rather that it is something to smile at, cheekily, yet acceptingly. The journey may end, but the sublimity (and frequent ridiculousness) of our time on earth remains, forever and always."

"Wild Grass has plenty of fans — it copped an award at Cannes in 2009 and was tapped to open last year's New York Film Festival — but I don't see what they see." For the Voice's J Hoberman, Resnais's "latest is an insufferable exercise in cutie-pie modernism, painfully unfunny and precious to a fault."

This is "a movie so good-natured and ebullient that it's impossible to tell how much of it is a put-on," finds the AV Club's Noel Murray. "Whatever it is, Wild Grass is so overtly artificial and aggressively trifling that it's bound to put some viewers off, though it's also so bright and funny that it's hard not to be at least a little enchanted. Resnais' music is so sweet, even when his words are nonsense."

More from Mark Asch (L), Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Richard Brody and David Denby (New Yorker), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Stephen Holden (NYT), Mark Jenkins (NPR), Glenn Kenny, Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Jeff Reichert (Reverse Shot) and James van Maanen. Interviews with Resnais: Gilbert Adair (Guardian) and Nicolas Rapold (Time Out New York). Eric Hynes talks with Mathieu Amalric for Reverse Shot (video). Jonathan Rosenbaum: "Three Key Moments from Three Alain Resnais Films."





Another 2009 Cannes winner, Dogtooth "is hyperrealist sci-fi detailing an (anti)social experiment gone awry," writes Karina Longworth in the Voice. "The matriarch and patriarch of an upper-class Greek family have taught their three nameless, college-age offspring an alternate language ('A sea is a leather armchair, like the one we have in the living room. A pussy is a big light') to protect a larger deception: that the world outside the family's high-walled home is so dangerous that the "kids" won't be mature enough to explore it until one of their canine teeth falls out.... Director Giorgos Lanthimos lays out the rules largely through action rather than exposition, which allows Dogtooth to play as a richly satisfying, blackly comic mystery in spite of its delayed, horror-sourced housebreak plot."

The parents, played by Christos Stergioglou and Michelle Valley, "have raised three seriously infantilized adults, but Dogtooth opens at a point where their influence has weakened, and the film evolves into a tense, disturbing, often savagely funny struggle between chaos and control." Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "It's an exhilaratingly unpredictable experience, and not an easy one to shake."

Bruce Bennett for IFC.com: "What initially plays like self-consciously cultivated Euro-creepy art movie remove in the Michael Haneke (Funny Games), Ulrich Seidl (Dog Days), and Gaspar Noé (Irreversible) style, has the effect of putting the cast in the emotional driver's seat instead of the camera, and each actor in Dogtooth does yeoman's work constructing characters that live more or less comfortably in a genuinely discomforting milieu."

More from Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Michael Sicinski and AO Scott (NYT). Interviews with Lanthimos: Sam Adams (AV Club), David Fear (TONY), Sam C Mac (Playlist) and Aaron Hillis has one you can listen to at GreenCine Daily. Here in The Daily Notebook, Adrian Curry rounds up Dogtooth posters from Spain to Russia. Update, 6/27: Nicolas Rapold talks with Lanthimos for the NYT.





"There's a shrewdly but skeptically revisionist tone about Oliver Stone's new documentary South of the Border, one that oddly seems designed to abate any political enthusiasm that the film's headily socio-economic incisiveness might instill." Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant: "Interpolating archival media coverage of and personal interviews with a collective of South America's most demonized and yet most financially savvy leaders (including Hugo Chávez, Fernando Lugo and Raúl Castro), Stone steadily shapes an intermittently muddied but more often piquant video essay that softly defends its maligned subjects. But while the film admirably offers US audiences a more nuanced sense of contemporary Latino perspective, it ultimately lacks the fiery feel of a polemic that might melt our erroneous assumptions down and smith them into a much-needed emotional revolution against capitalist hegemony."

But for Benjamin Strong, writing for the L Magazine, "Oliver Stone's laughable, naïve documentary about the rise of democracy in Latin America plays like a student film made by an undergraduate recently inducted into the cult of Che Guevara."

More from Christopher Campbell (Cinematical), David Denby (New Yorker), Stephen Holden (NYT), Karina Longworth (Voice), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Keith Phipps (AV Club) and Keith Uhlich (TONY). Aaron Hillis talks with Stone for IFC.com; for the Financial Times, Matthew Garrahan talks with both Stone and Chávez. Update, 6/26: Larry Rohter meets Stone for the NYT.





"Grown Ups doesn't try very hard for its laughs," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "Adam Sandler asked some of his funny friends — Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schneider — to hang out with him for the time necessary to shoot this movie about childhood friends (and former preteen basketball champions) reunited for a weekend of family-friendly nonsense at a lake house. If you've ever wondered what The Big Chill would be like with old Saturday Night Live castmates — well, why would you ever have done that?"

"Is there really an entire mini-generation of middle-aged dudes out there who remain totally befuddled by the demands of adulthood and fatherhood and economic self-sufficiency, who find themselves halfway paralyzed between a life of unwashed sweats and Bud-for-breakfast and another one of lawnmowers, pleated shorts and stinky diapers?" asks Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Mind you, I'll happily take the failed-adulthood comedies of [Judd] Apatow and [Todd] Phillips and their ilk, from Old School to Knocked Up to Hot Tub Time Machine — I'll take them, please — over a condescending and witless paean to supposed real life like Sandler and director Dennis Dugan's Grown Ups. This duo has a long track record of making dopey hit comedies, from Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy to I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry and You Don't Mess With the Zohan. No, I'm not the world's biggest fan, but compared to Grown Ups, those movies are the collected works of Orson Welles, Oscar Wilde and God."

More from Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Stephen Holden (NYT), Robert Horton (Herald), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nick Schager (Slant), Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Michael Wilmington (Movie City News) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline).

 

FESTS AND EVENTS


Outside New York City, that is. Because we've just covered that.

The 17th Chicago Underground Film Festival is underway, running through July 1, and CINE-FILE and the Chicago Reader havecapsule previews. The Tribune's Michael Phillips has a few notes, while Mike Everleth has the "8-bit-tastic" festival trailer and the Reader's Ed M Koziarski collected trailers for a handful of the films. And JR Jones rounds up "This Week's Movie Action" in Chicagoland.





The Pacific Film Archive series El Futuro Está Aqui: Sci-Fi Classics From Mexico "offers a rare chance to see several choice nuggets in their original-language form and in pristine prints," writes Dennis Harvey in the Bay Guardian. "As a result, they seem more conspicuously well-crafted (on par with major studio Hollywood B movies of the 50s), even — dare we say — dignified, than you'd expect. Which is not to say they aren't frequently nuts as well." Through Sunday. Also in San Francisco: The Bay Guardian's collection of reviews of films on local screens and Frameline, running through the weekend; keep checking here for updates.

To Los Angeles. "Remember when the National Lampoon was funny, when it was a reliable brand-name signifying a generation's iconoclastic, revolutionary impulses channeled through the art of making people (and not just like-minded people) laugh?" asks Dennis Cozzalio. "Well, the Cinefamily does, and as part of their 2nd Annual Comedy Festival, Hadrian Belove and the folks at the Cinefamily are marshaling together a 40th Anniversary tribute to the cultural legacy of the Lampoon, from whence an entire generation of writers, actors and directors (The Not Ready for Prime Time Players, Harold Ramis, Doug Kenney, John Hughes, et al.) sprung and refashioned the world of movie and TV comedy in their own rambunctious images." Meantime, Tribeca Film is sending some of its Film Festival selections out west and Ernest Hardy has an overview in the LA Weekly. For more local goings on, see Susan King in the Los Angeles Times. And of course, the Los Angeles Film Festival runs through the weekend; check the entry for updates.

Silverdocs is on in DC, also through the weekend, and Cynthia Fuchs has been posting daily dispatches at PopMatters. Christopher Campbell's there for Cinematical.

In Boston? The Globe's Ty Burr is your guide.

"It is no surprise that the golden era of Hungarian film was the golden era of Hungarian football, too." Footballer (or, if you like, soccer player) Zoltán Gera is patron of the Hungarian film festival Check the Gate, running at the Riverside Studios in London until Monday, and he offers a brief overview. Also in the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw: "It is Festival Brazil in the UK this week, and as a part of it, the director Fernando Meirelles is coming to London next Tuesday evening to talk about his movies and Brazilian cinema in general." And Time Out London rounds up its reviews of films opening in the UK this weekend. More from Antonia Quirke in the Financial Times.

Meantime, the Edinburgh International Film Festival rolls on through the weekend; that entry's being continuously updated, too.

 

GRIMLY REAPING


"German actor Frank Giering, who played a courteous psychopath in Michael Haneke's 1997 film Funny Games and starred in hit German crime series Der Kriminalist, died Wednesday in Berlin. He was 38." Further in, the Hollywood Reporter mentions two of his best performances: "He specialized in playing the outsider, whether as 1970s terrorist Andreas Baader in Christopher Roth's Baader (2002) or as a man caught in a loveless marriage in Romuald Karmakar's Nightsongs (2004)."

 



Remembrances in the German press: Markus Ehrenberg (Tagesspiegel), Julia Jüttner (Spiegel Online), Tobias Kniebe (Süddeutsche Zeitung), Daniel Kothenschulte (Frankfurter Rundschau), Michael Seewald (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Julia Teichmann (Berliner Zeitung) and Peter Zander (Welt).

"Tracy Wright garnered tremendous respect and admiration from peers and followers as an actor of substance and taste, but her legacy is that of an under-the-radar star," writes James Bradshaw in the Globe and Mail. "The adventurous actor died Tuesday at the age of 50 of pancreatic cancer in Toronto. She was best known for some of her later roles, such as the marijuana-smoking, 40-something radical Linda in the 2006 comedy Monkey Warfare, one of several films she made with husband Don McKellar."

More from Brian D Johnson (Macleans), Chander Levack (Eye Weekly), Peter Saltsman (National Post) and Johnnie Walker (Torontist): "Somehow, it seems fitting to leave you with this scene from the end of Me and You and Everyone We Know. Goodbye, Tracy Wright. You will be missed."

Alice Keens-Soper in the Guardian: "Polly Renton, who has died aged 40 in a road accident in Kenya, together with her four-year-old daughter Sita, was an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Her notable films included My Mate Charlie (2000), about cocaine use in Britain; Waiting for Sentence (2001), about the experience of prison; and Sex Bomb (2002), about sexually transmitted diseases, which won a Royal Television Society education award for best independent programme. All were first broadcast on Channel 4."

"The most searching and inspiring conversations I have ever enjoyed with a filmmaker I had with Kimberly Reed, the director of the extraordinary, autobiographical documentary Prodigal Sons," writes Nick Davis. "I still think that film is the best commercial release of 2010 so far, but coextensive with its narrative and aesthetic virtues is an extraordinary act of tricky, lucid, personal compassion from a sister to a brother. Marc McKerrow, Kimberly Reed's brother, never had an easy life. It only got harder, partly for reasons he might have tried harder to control, but largely for reasons exceeding his control, and which surely caused him more grief than they did anyone else."

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