29 June 2007

Ease on down...

Red Road - dir. Andrea Arnold - 2006 - Denmark/UK

When writing about film, the writer must come to terms with the idea that he or she can often demystify the art of film with their own words. Demystification, or even the literary expression of mystification, can take its reader, and potential film-viewer, out of the realms of the magic of cinema. Some individuals, myself included, prefer to not read about a film before seeing it, but even that proves difficult as one must have some idea of the nature of the film before embarking upon it. With Andrea Arnold’s Red Road, I had the complete pleasure of knowing nothing, aside from its win of the Grand Prix at last year’s Cannes film festival and its casting of My Summer of Love’s Natalie Press, an actress I’ve made note to seek out. If you wish to quit reading here (which I may recommend if you haven’t seen the film), remember this: Red Road is possibly the most fascinating, suspenseful, and brilliantly-crafted film I’ve seen in a great while, and as I cared for the film so strongly, I might suggest blindly walking into it for you likely won’t be sorry.

With the stated praise above, I must confess that Red Road isn’t the out-of-nowhere masterpiece I truly desired. Its suspense buildup is so palpable and unnerving that, really, any resolution would have been a disappointment. Though I doubt similarities have been discussed at any length, Red Road has a lot in common with Michael Haneke’s Caché. Both films take a similar perspective in their treatment of voyeurism. Jackie (the amazing Kate Dickie) works surveillance in Scotland, patrolling the streets of her town from a video desk, seemingly detached from the action that transpires on her screens. That is, of course, until a familiar man emerges from the shadows that makes Jackie snap.

Both Red Road and Caché place the viewer in the same position. The films contain a fiery secret that lies within their central characters, one that neither wish to utter, even as things begin to get dirty. In Caché, Georges’ (Daniel Auteuil) secret escapes in an argument with his concerned wife (Juliette Binoche), but it’s the ramifications and underlying darkness that remain unspoken. In Red Road, our secret is buried deep inside Jackie. Other characters hint toward it, but Arnold realizes that this secret only belongs to her and that an explanation from anyone else would have been cheap. The secret leaks about three-fourths of the way through the film, with alarming results. As stated above, the intensity and trepidation of Red Road could never be matched by the unveiling of its secret, unless, of course, the secret was never uttered, yet what's wrong with the uttering of the secret is that there's so little more to dissect or examine once it's on full display. Failure on the part of Arnold to correspond her suspense with the film’s outcome cannot be wholly blamed on her, for Red Road is the first installment of an experiment created by the Danes. Lars Von Trier, Anders Thomas Jensen (The Green Butchers), and Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) selected Arnold as the first director of their Advance Party trilogy, in which the same actors, characters, and location will be examined by three first-time filmmakers. I have no word on what the second installment will entail, but it seems highly unlikely that it could match the brooding craftsmanship that Arnold (a previous Academy Award winner for her short Wasp) displays with Red Road.

Regardless of its faults, Red Road remains on the short list of the finest films released in the US this year. Whether you find yourself played the fool with Red Road’s conclusion or find it the emotional satisfaction the film needs, the film is still undeniably fascinating. Dickie, in her first film, is consistently amazing throughout the film’s change in tone. Arnold’s talent, in her feature debut, bleeds all over the screen, similar to fellow Scotswoman Lynne Ramsay, whose first feature Ratcatcher was equally enthralling. If you ended up reading past the disclaimer I used for the film, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The demystification of Red Road already existed within the film itself, and the way I’ve chosen to write about it could still provide the visceral ecstasy I felt throughout the first three-fourths of the film. Hopefully, you can feel it too.

06 June 2007

A Guy Who Hates Summer Movies' Guide to Summer Movies

I don’t know when Hollywood officially declares their summer onslaught of CGI, franchise, and tie-ins, but I’m certain it’s already started. So far, three “thirds” have come (and just about gone), due to piss-poor critical reaction and bad word-of-mouth. Millions were wasted, on both sides of the deal, with Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Shrek 3, none of which carrying the “magic” they had with their predecessors. Ocean’s 13 is on the horizon, and word from Cannes is that it blows. Out of those four so-called trilogies, I’ve only seen the first Spiderman, so I can’t really comment on being let down. I can say, summer 2007 isn’t looking good. I’ve compiled a guide to some safer bets, some releases far removed from the braindead studio execs milking their product for more than it was initially worth (yes, they’ve already announced more Pirates, Shrek, and Spiderman already).

Out Now:
Two young female directors, one of them unfortunately deceased, have been making surprise splashes with their small films. Sarah Polley’s Away from Her, starring the wonderful Julie Christie as a woman dealing with Alzheimer’s, has gotten around-the-board raves; the late Adrienne Shelley’s Waitress has become the word-of-mouth success of the year so far, being the film you don’t have to feel guilty seeing with your mother. John Carney’s Once is probably the best reviewed film to come out this year, getting universal praise from both critics and friends of mine urging me to go see it. Catch William Friedkin’s Bug, one of those truly love-it-or-hate-it flicks, at the local multiplexes as Ashley Judd begins to think bugs have been planting themselves within her skin. Don’t mind the awful marketing from Lionsgate, or you might expect something along the lines of Saw. Instead, Bug is what I like to call a psycho-chamber-drama, a claustrophobic creeper-outer based on a successful off-Broadway play.

Also on a multiplex-scale, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up has been getting a handful of raves, but the mix of gross-out laughs and forced sentimentality that he played with in The 40-Year-Old Virgin leaves me skeptical. Plus, I don’t like Freaks and Geeks nearly as much as everyone thinks I should. Paris, je t’aime, an anthology of vignettes centered around various arrondissments of the City of Lights, has opened (albeit with mixed reviews) in limited release. The directors include Olivier Assayas, the Coen brothers, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Gérard Depardieu, Alexander Payne, Walter Salles, Tom Tykwer, and Gus Van Sant; the cast features Gaspard Ulliel, Steve Buscemi, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Javier Cámara, Miranda Richardson, Leonor Watling, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Nick Nolte, Ludivine Sagnier, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Fanny Ardant, Bob Hoskins, Elijah Wood, Emily Mortimer, Alexander Payne, Rufus Sewell, Natalie Portman, Ben Gazzara, and Gena Rowlands, so I’m sure you can find something you’ll enjoy there. Also in extremely limited release are Bruno Dumont’s Flandres, Tsai Ming-liang’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, Apichatpong Weerasethekal’s Syndromes and a Century, Lars von Trier’s The Boss of It All, and a rerelease from Janus Films of Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche. I’m pretty sure Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book is still playing around, his first Dutch production in a long while… so play with your options.

After his brilliant trailer upstaged both of the feature films in Grindhouse, Eli Roth’s Hostel Part II became instantly more exciting of an endeavor. Lionsgate pushed it from its spring release to summer (usually a good sign), and rumor has it that the ending is absolutely phenomenal. This isn’t to mention the strange, interesting casting of Welcome to the Dollhouse’s Heather Matarazzo alongside Roth regular Jordan Ladd and trash-queen Bijou Phillips. I can’t say I’m uninterested. On a smaller scale, the Édith Piaf biopic, La vie en rose, will also be out on Friday in limited release. Piaf is easily far more juicy a film subject than some of the more recent musician biopics, and Marion Cotillard is supposed to be lovely as the tragic diva. Though Angelina Jolie’s star-power may have been an initial turn-off for Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart, the true story of widow Mariane Pearl, the Cannes audience responded well to both Jolie and the film. Oscar “buzz” floated around, but it’s too early to call such shots.

Parker Posey’s renaissance has come full-circle after Fay Grim, as she is also starring in Broken English, Zoe R. Cassavetes’ romance about a woman who retreats to Paris. The cast also includes Cassavetes’ mother Gena Rowlands, who’s always a welcome face even when she’s in Hope Floats, Drea de Matteo, Justin Theroux, and Time to Leave’s Melvil Poupaud. Timed perfectly along Barack Obama’s plans for his health care campaign, Michael Moore’s Sicko, which even warmed over Fahrenheit 9/11 detractors this year at Cannes, will open wide at the end of the month. Wanna cry? Check out Focus Features’ Evening, which boasts a huge, impressive cast including Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep, and Toni Collette, about a dying woman.

In limited release, Hell House director George Ratliff’s Joshua will come out just after the 4th of July. The film stars Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga as parents of some Damien-esque child, who starts going crazy after his newborn sister joins the family. Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn, with Christian Bale, will also be out the same day, essentially a narrative remake of his documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. It will also mark Herzog’s first use of computer-generated effects, as he just couldn’t pull off numerous plane crashes without serious injury to his crew.

Don’t tell me you’re not worried about the Hairspray remake. The cast is amusing (other than the snooze casting of Queen Latifa as Motor Mouth Mabel), but, c’mon, it’s directed by the douche bag who brought thinly-veiled racism to the multiplexes with Bringing Down the House. Danny Boyle’s Sunshine sounds a bit more promising, a film about astronauts starring Cillian Murphy. Sounds fine to me. Milos Forman’s Goya’s Ghosts, with Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman, is supposed to be pretty bad, but it’ll be out mid-July. And finally, Shane Meadows’ follow-up to Dead Man’s Shoes, entitled This Is England, sounds pretty grim… but I’ll take a giant helping of grim over anything that has to do with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

So far the only studio picture with any artistic merit announced for this summer is The Bourne Ultimatum. You know director Paul Greengrass, who directed Supremacy, must have really been swooned by the screenplay as he chose this to follow up United 93. I’m planning on staying away from Becoming Jane, the Jane Austen biopic with Anne Hathaway, but maybe if you’re lucky, your girlfriend will give you an HJ during it. Rush Hour 3 is only notable for the casting of Roman Polanski in it, but we all know how well Brett Ratner does with the third part of a franchise. Superbad, from the Knocked Up crew, looks passable if only for that charming Michael Cera (aka George Michael from Arrested Development).

Christina Ricci will play a pig-nosed princess in Penelope, a modern-day fantasy which IFC is releasing mid-month. Reese Witherspoon also stars. Justin Theroux, dreamboat-squared, makes his directorial debut with a NYC romantic comedy Dedication with Mandy Moore and Billy Crudup. Unfortunately, Theroux won’t be in front of the camera, but the supporting cast, which includes Amy Sedaris, Martin Freeman, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Bogdanovich, Christine Taylor, Tom Wilkinson, and Diane Wiest, sounds mighty promising. If you want to scare yourself, keep reading. Ethan Hawke has written and directed a movie. Yes, you thought writing a shitty book was bad… Mark Webber (of Storytelling) and Catalina Sandino Moreno (of Maria Full of Grace) sound like appealing romantic leads… but Ethan Hawke? Bah; the film is called The Hottest State. With a title like Wristcutters: A Love Story, how can you say no? Plus, it’s got Tom Waits in it. Unfortunately, it’s been on hiatus for two years, so maybe you can resist. And, remember, Waits was in Roberto Benigini’s last film.

03 June 2007

In a Lonely Place

In another Cannes acquisition, The Weinstein Company have picked up Control, the Ian Curtis biopic, for a 2007 release. The film, which was the runner up for the Camera d'Or (which awards best first films), is just one of the many lucrative deals the Weinsteins made at the festival this year which also include Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights. No U.S. deals have been announced yet for a number of foreign-language films that premiered this year, other than the Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.

And, just because I couldn't allow myself to not mention this fiasco, I watched Norbit this past week. Imagine the nastiest, grossest torture scene from the Saw movies or Hostel and multiply it by three and you may begin to get an idea of how I felt sitting through this piece of shit. Like most people out there, I have completely forgotten why people found Eddie Murphy funny to begin with. I also wish people would start standing up for quality when it comes to Hollywood filth. If a skin product was released on the market that somehow made your flesh melt off, it'd probably have to come off the shelves. Norbit is no different.