30 May 2008
Kino will release the Oscar-nominated Beaufort, from Israel, on 30 September. New Yorker will release the Sri Lankan drama The Forsaken Land on 26 August, as well as Davide Ferrario's documentary Primo Levi's Journey on 19 August. IFC Films will have How to Rob a Bank, starring Nick Stahl, Erika Christensen, Gavin Rossdale, Leo Fitzpatrick and David Carradine, on 2 September.
Lionsgate will re-issue Love and a .45, with Renée Zellweger and Gil Bellows, on 19 August. Strand is releasing Karim Ainouz's (Madame Satã) Love for Sale on 26 August. The Weinstein Company will have Dario Argento's hilariously awful Mother of Tears, starring his daughter, out before Halloween, 23 September to be exact. My half birthday! First Run Features will have The Sacred Family (La sagrada familia) on 19 August. And that looks to be all for now.
27 May 2008
Scarlett Johansson has been getting a lot of shit lately, not just for being absent at the premiere of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but for her new album, Anywhere I Lay My Head, which consists mostly of Tom Waits covers. The critical maligning isn’t without merit; the album is kind of terrible, despite being produced by Dave Sitek and Ivo Watts of 4AD. However, she can just add “singer” alongside her credentials as “actress,” with the quotations being essential. I thought we already figured out she couldn’t sing when she did a hackneyed karaoke version of The Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket” in Lost in Translation, but I suppose not. Johansson isn’t the only actress these days trying her luck at music, as Zooey Deschenel, that cute actress who juggles respectable projects (All the Real Girls, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) with trash (Failure to Launch, The New Guy), has released her own singing project alongside M. Ward, under the moniker She & Him. She & Him’s album isn’t as bad as Johansson’s, but it’s just as forgettable, combining alt-country with Deschenel’s interesting, if not striking, vocals. The words “don’t quit your day job” keep fluttering through my head.
However, not all actress-turned-singer endeavors have been as ill-conceived. Many aren’t aware of Milla Jovovich’s musical career, back in the days when she was still known as Milla and not being cast as the perfect being. She released her first album in 1994, entitled The Divine Comedy, and surprised most of her fans with a laid-back, acoustic, melodic recording. Critics tossed it off, similarly to Johansson, but it surprisingly stands up well today. She still sporadically records music under her full name. Check out “The Alien Song (For Those Who Listen” for a fine example. Also, God bless Juliette Lewis, from her PJ Harvey covers in Strange Days to forming Juliette & the Licks, she'll always have a spot in my heart.
Oh, the covers album. It seems essential for most artists to release one, even if it’s just to show off their good taste or out of laziness in recording new music. 2008 has become a fine case-and-point of the varying effects of the cover album from known artists, with Cat Power’s Jukebox and Adem’s Takes sitting on opposite sides of the spectrum. Though relatively unknown, Adem released his third album this year with little hoopla, and when I got it, I was unaware that it was a cover album. I looked at a few of the tracks and thought, “Oh, awesome, he’s got a PJ Harvey cover on here. Wait a minute…” Cat Power, the musical alter-ego of Chan Marshall, released her second covers album in January, a bluesy tribute to the artists who inspired her. For Adem, Takes serves the same purpose, with covers ranging from Harvey, Björk, The Breeders, Low and even Aphex Twin. The fact is that, unfortunately, none of his covers are that remarkable, outside of his acoustic rendering of Bedhead’s “Bedside Table” and Pinback’s “Loro.” And what’s worse is that the songs lack cohesion and feel like a decent bout of karaoke from the artist, which is probably the biggest fear of musicians releasing a cover album. It doesn’t help that Adem and I obviously share nearly the exact same taste in music, as he covers personal bests (in my not-so-humble opinion) of Björk (“Unravel” off Homogenic) and Pinback, the former almost unlistenable.
For Cat Power, her covers don’t stand as a useless nod to her favorite artists; Jukebox actually allows her to grow as an artist and vocalist. From the opening track of “New York,” the album beautifully flows into Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man,” re-titled “Ramblin’ (Wo)man,” one of the album’s highlights. Jukebox allows for Marshall to explore, whereas Takes allows Adem to coast.
It’s no secret that I admire PJ Harvey to a limitless extreme (hell, I mentioned her in every single segment here). White Chalk was easily the best album I heard all last year, and she continues to amaze me with everything she releases. However, I’d like to point your attention to one song of hers, “Memphis.” Released as a B-side on the “Good Fortune” single off Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, “Memphis” is important for one drastic reason; it’s the first song where PJ sings in her own voice. Now that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but let me go on. Notoriously averse to the scrutiny of tabloids and music journalists, Harvey has kept her personal life under lock-and-key, occasionally offering bits to slip, like her relationship with Nick Cave, though most of her other romantic flings remain under question, particularly that with Vincent Gallo. “Memphis” is sometimes listed as “Memphis (For Jeff Buckley,” as it’s no secret that the song was written for the late singer-songwriter. As she’s stated in numerous interviews, her music is works of fiction, and as any fan will tell you, image is an ever-changing facet of Harvey’s artistic statement. One critic, who’s name I forget at the moment, described her as a more subtle David Bowie or Madonna, reimagining and envisioning herself with each album; you might notice not only a change in her music videos by the album, but her dress and hairstyle can always be attributed to one of her albums. With “Memphis,” Harvey removes the fictional, artistic personifications and actually begins to sing in “her own voice.” It’s a requiem for Buckley, whom Harvey may or may not have dated during her recording of To Bring You My Love, and it’s the first time we hear Polly Jean Harvey, as opposed to PJ. “Memphis” is unfiltered Harvey, and it’s remarkable outside of being notable.
Here’s my current playlist.
Milla – The Alien Song (For Those Who Listen)
PJ Harvey – Memphis
Cat Power – Metal Heart
LCD Soundsystem – Get Innocuous
Sufjan Stevens – Star of Wonder
Kaki King – Life Being What It Is
Goldfrapp – Happiness
Slowdive – Slowdive
The Smiths – Hand in Glove
Beirut – Cherbourg
The Breeders – Divine Hammer
Cocteau Twins – Otterley
The Verve – Virtual World
The Radio Dept. – I Don’t Like It Like This
Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner) have been best friends since childhood, bonded together by their love of literature. Both aspired to become writers, and Reprise opens as the two friends, now at the age of around 23, drop their novels into the mail, anxiously awaiting word from the prospective publisher. Writer/director Joachim Trier, reportedly a distant relative of Lars Von Trier, then takes us into the troubling effects the publication of Phillip’s novel takes on the two men, treading on territory that’s deceptively familiar. Phillip’s publication, in addition to his intensely passionate relationship with Kari (Viktoria Winge), causes a spiral of mental illness, attempted suicide and disillusionment, which lands him in a mental hospital for the better part of a year. Reprise isn’t just a chronicle of ambitious youth in modern day Norway (though it really could have been set anywhere; Trier stated that several critics called his film very un-Norwegian), but an alarming fantasy that cleverly disrupts stylistic and narrative clichés in ways deeply poignant and unsettling.
The opening moments of Reprise are rather off-putting. A narrator quickly summarizes the events leading up to Phillip and Erik’s completion of their novels and brazenly suggests scenarios which would likely follow, from casual affairs, critical response and a Parisian locale for the completion of their further works. However, each time the film adheres to these annoying motifs, Trier throws them out the window before you can have your own acid flashback to Trainspotting. These fantasies become juxtaposed (I hate that word) with a harsh reality. Both instant success and an inability to deal with his first serious relationship render Phillip unable to deal with the world around him; the suggestion that Erik is talentless moves him into a state of monotony, both in his personal and romantic lives. In a way, Trier is making fun of these “hip” cinematic bells-and-whistles, bringing a grounded truth in to offset the gloss.
However, the motifs serve as the tragic fantasy of Reprise. The film, both in its fantastical elements and otherwise, exists in a world of ideals. Phillip and Erik make up two members of a no-girls-allowed band of guys, who spend their days reading and intellectually discussing art and literature. The group is so exclusive that Erik is scared to bring his girlfriend Johanne around; for most of the film, Trier doesn’t even show us her face. One member of the group, Lars (Christian Rubeck), goes on a misogynistic rant about the defeating nature of men falling into a relationship, relinquishing their intellectual spirit for the mundane. “How many girls have actually introduced you to a worthwhile music group?” he poses. “If they have, it’s likely that it was someone their father, brother or ex-boyfriend listened to. And how many girls have introduced you to books that you didn’t already read in high school?” It’s an alarming statement, but it’s one that isn’t totally supported by the film itself. All of the film’s female characters are far richer than Lars’ cynical statements would suggest, but these statements paint the world for the characters.
The motifs then project the further installment of the fantasy, in which young artists get backing, move to Paris and go down in history. Reprise is rather astute in dispelling these fantasies, though it does bring suggestion that literary publication in a less common language would prove to be easier than trying in English or French, languages spoken outside of their native country. It’s perfectly bittersweet and utterly assured from its first-time director. It’s not often that one gets to say, “every time you think the director is making the wrong move in his film, he quickly dismisses this and gives you more than what you bargained for.”
Update: I actually left a few acquisitions off the list. Magnet/Magnolia picked up Jennifer Chambers Lynch's Surveillance; Liberation took the omnibus Tokyo!, from Leos Carax, Michel Gondry, and Bong Joon-ho. According to IndieWire,
25 May 2008
Entre les murs [ The Class ] - dir. Laurent Cantet - France
Nuri Bilge Ceylan [ Three Monkeys ] - Turkey
Gomorra - dir. Matteo Garrone - Italy
Benicio del Toro [ Che ]
Sandra Corveloni [ Linha de Passe ]
Il divo - dir Paolo Sorrentino - Italy/France
Jean-Pierre, Luc Dardenne - Le Silence de Lorna - Belgium
Prix de 61st Festival de Cannes:
Catherine Deneuve, Clint Eastwood
Camera d'Or [First Feature]:
Hunger - dir. Steve McQueen - UK
Special Mention, Camera d'Or:
Ils mourront tous sauf moi - dir. Valeria Gai Guermanika - Russia
Films in limbo now include: Kim Ki-duk's Breath, Koen Mortier's Ex Drummer, Brad McGann's In My Father's Shoes, Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light (though I don't know if the studio had actually picked it up as they were dying by the time this was released), György Pálfi's Taxidermia, and Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer.
The Jury Prize (which I would imagine to be second prize): Tokyo Sonata - dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa - Japan/Netherlands
Coup de Cœur Award: Cloud 9 [Wolke Neun] - dir. Andreas Dresen - Germany
KO Prize (I hope that isn't just a stupid pun): Tyson - dir. James Toback - USA
Hope Prize: Johnny Mad Dog - dir. Jean-François Sauvaire - France
The prizes of the official selection, including the Palme d'Or should be announced later today.
24 May 2008
Also thanks to Gala.fr, I found some photos of my favorite contemporary French actor, Romain Duris, during his first audition for Cédric Klapisch's Le Péril jeune. He was barely 20 and surprisingly dreadlocked. He would go on to act in five other Klapisch films: Chacun cherche son chat [When the Cat's Away], Peut-être, L'Auberge espagnole, Les Poupées russes [Russian Dolls] and the most recent, Paris.
Back to Pasolini, I found an interesting video entitled Enfants de Salò, which is featured on the French DVD of Salò, of four controversial French filmmakers talking about the impact the film had on them. Gaspar Noé (Irréversible), Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl), Claire Denis (Trouble Every Day) and Bertrand Bonello (Tiresia) each discuss the power of Pasolini's final film and how it reflected on their own work, or at least understanding of the cinema. The film is entirely in French and without subtitles, so non-French speakers beware.
23 May 2008
22 May 2008
Johnny Guitar - dir. Nicholas Ray - 1954 - USA - with Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Scott Brady, Ernest Borgnine
...Somewhere in Between:
The Untouchable [L'intouchable] - dir. Benoît Jacquot - 2006 - France - with Isild Le Besco
La chinoise - dir. Jean-Luc Godard - 1967 - France - with Anne Wiazemsky, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Juliet Berto, Michel Semeniako, Lex De Bruijn (Yeah, I know...)
20 May 2008
You, the Living [Du levande] - dir. Roy Andersson - 2007 - Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark/Norway [And by good, I mean really fucking good]
The Edge of Heaven [Auf der anderen Seite] - dir. Fatih Akin - 2007 - Germany/Turkey/Italy - with Nurgül Yesilçay, Baki Davrak, Hanna Schygulla, Tuncel Kurtiz, Patrycia Ziolkowska, Nursel Köse
Frownland - dir. Ronald Bronstein - 2007 - USA - with Dore Mann, Paul Grimstad, David Sandholm, Mary Wall, Paul Grant
North by Northwest - dir. Alfred Hitchcock - 1959 - USA - with Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason [I'm embarrassed to admit that this was the first time I'd seen this]
Rolling Family [Familia rodante] - dir. Pablo Trapero - 2004 - Argentina/Brazil/France/Germany/Spain/UK - with Graciana Chironi
Irina Palm - dir. Sam Garbarski - 2007 - UK/Germany/France/Belgium/Luxembourg - with Marianne Faithfull, Miki Manojlovic, Kevin Bishop, Siobhan Hewlett, Jenny Agutter - Review here
Teeth - dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein - 2007 - USA - with Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Hale Appleman, Lenny von Dohlen - Review here
Funny Games - dir. Michael Haneke - 2007 - France/UK/Austria/USA/Germany/Italy - with Naomi Watts, Michael Pitt, Tim Roth, Brady Corbet
SoulMaid - dir. Jeffrey Maccubbin, Jeffrey Thomas McHale, Dan Mohr, Josef Steiff - 2007 - USA - with Joe Schenck, Tom Bailey, Becca Connolly
Be with Me - dir. Eric Khoo - 2005 - Singapore [I seem to be the only person I've found that disliked this film this strongly.]
Poor Boy's Game - dir. Clément Virgo - 2007 - Canada - with Rossif Sutherland, Danny Glover
Lost in Beijing - dir. Li Yu - 2007 - China
...And Somewhere in Between:
The Golden Compass - dir. Chris Weitz - 2007 - USA/UK - with Dakota Blue Richards, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Eva Green
The Banishment [Izgnanie] - dir. Andrei Zvyagintsev - 2007 - Russia - with Konstantin Lavronenko, Aleksandr Baluyev, Maria Bonnevie
The Guatemalan Handshake - dir. Todd Rohal - 2006 - USA - with Will Oldham, Katy Haywood, Ken Byrnes, Sheila Scullin, Rich Schreiber
My Brother Is an Only Child [Mio fratello è figlio unico] - dir. Daniele Luchetti - 2007 - Italy/France - with Elio Germano, Riccardo Scamarcio, Diane Fleri - Review below
Mister Lonely - dir. Harmony Korine - 2007 - USA/UK/France/Ireland - with Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, Denis Lavant, James Fox, Anita Pallenberg, Leos Carax
19 May 2008
The spirit of revolution has been a recent source of cinematic reflection among European directors in the past few years. Bernardo Bertolucci addressed the student riots of Paris in 1968 with The Dreamers, as did Philippe Garrel with Regular Lovers. Cannes is celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the events as I type this. Though My Brother Is an Only Child is set in Italy and only briefly mentions the events in France, it still falls into the same category of films: an idealistic portrait of the spirit of a political youth movement that spread across Western Europe during the 1960s. As important of a time period as it was, its sudden reappearance in European cinema is beginning to feel a little passé, and of no real fault to director Luchetti, I couldn’t allow the familiarity to disperse.
My Brother Is an Only Child depicts the struggle between two brothers who fall on different sides of the political fence. Accio (Elio Germano) is a rambunctious shit-disturber who quits his goal to become a priest in favor of becoming a communist. Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio) is Accio’s dreamy older brother, who becomes a union leader at the factory. And, of course, there’s a girl in the mix to bring further strife to the brothers, a half-French beauty named Francesca (Diane Fleri) who turns to her political opposite, Accio, for comfort as a result of Manrico’s constant snubbing. Ties are broken and mended throughout the film, as Accio’s devotion begins to swagger and Manrico’s involvement grows deeper.
As I said earlier, there’s nothing particularly wrong with My Brother Is an Only Child. It’s rather well-acted by the two leads, and Luchetti doesn’t infuse the film with an unwanted sentimentality or with easy solution. However, I couldn’t help but find the film unremarkable in both scope and dramatic resolution. Co-written by Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli, who wrote the screenplay for the four-and-a-half-hour long The Best of Youth, My Brother Is an Only Child feels rushed, unable to achieve the scale and detail of The Best of Youth, leaving its audience with neither a striking immediacy nor a lingering strength.