25 May 2011

Film Socialisme

Written & Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
Full credits at IMDb

Come take a Mediterranean cruise with Jean-Luc Godard and get 97 minutes of abstract and abstruse dialectics, which might be better enjoyed as a museum installation than as a feature film. Film Socialisme is a highbrow, non-narrative mash-up of aural and visual fragments both lofty and quotidian, in which all the usual mechanisms of cinema seem to have disintegrated: broken sound, broken images, broken dialogue—broken form, function and content. Background noise, sound effects and dialogue, all frequently distorted, pop in and out without much logic—but with loads more than that which seems to have gone into the subtitling: in a rebuke to the global hegemony of the English language, the subtitles are at worst streaming nonsensical commentary (“French northamerican/German Jew Black/love only friend”), at best a broken-English, haiku-like translation of the dialogue.

Keep reading at The L Magazine

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Tuesday, After Christmas

Directed by: Radu Muntean
Written by: Alexandru Baciu, Radu Muntean & Razvan Radulescu
Full credits at IMDb

The once Ceausescu-haunted Romanian New Wave is transcending its political origins, applying the movement’s aesthetic principles to stories with themes more universal. Director and cowriter Radu Muntean’s Tuesday, After Christmas—like Cristi Puiu’s Aurora, which also played at least year’s New York Film Festival, and which will also open soon at a West Village theater—concerns a troubled marriage, depicting its domestic dramas in long, long takes. Five years ago, Romanian directors used the unbroken shot to instill punishing realism into portraits of social ruin; now, they’re doing it to tales of emotional devastation.

In Tuesday, those extended shots intensify the intimacy: they imprison the audience within sessions of pillow talk, goofery, and minor spats, making the viewer feel as much participant as witness, a player in the dull routines of dentist visits and foot massages...

Keep reading at The L Magazine

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23 May 2011

The Assault

Directed by Julien Leclercq
Written by Julien Leclercq & Simon Moutairou
Full credits at IMDb

The Assault (L'Assaut), with its gorgeous black-and-white recreations of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group's 1994 hijacking of an Air France flight, looks like a Tom Ford-directed documentary about terrorism. Director Leclercq suspensefully, sensationalistically cross-cuts between the government's backroom operations, special forces' preparation and the tense mood on the plane between hostages and hostage-takers; that is, he reduces a real-life terrorist event to a stylish Hollywood thriller, set to dramatic swells of Middle Eastern music; he even creates a hero—one of the French commandoes—and carelessly explores his relationship with his wife and impossibly cute daughter. Leclercq also builds to a rousing finale, in which the plot to crash a plane into the Eiffel Tower is foiled by highly trained military personnel. The director seems to want to establish the French's badass, terrorist-battling bona fides—hey, we saved our tower—in the most riveting but trashiest way imaginable, with its beautiful slow-motion deaths. Filtering actual terrorism through Hollywood cliches isn't just distasteful—it's fucking immoral, stripping real tragedy of its heft. Grade: C-

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13 May 2011

Scream 4

Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson & Ehren Kruger

Wes Craven is modern horror's grandpa: he helped establish the guidelines of the genre's post-Romero-reinvention with 1972's The Last House on the Left and, roughly a decade later, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Both of those films have been remade in the last several years, along with a slew of other horror classics. And so what better subject for Craven's return to the self-conscious Scream franchise—so self-aware it bemoans self-awareness—than The Reboot? But more than just a snarky commentary on the genre's changing conventions, Scream 4 is a diatribe from its pioneers (writer Williamson has some cred, too, as the penner of the original Scream; Kruger, as author of the third, has none), a Return of the Olds to show these kids what's what. The series' film-within-the-film, Stab, has become a joke, up to its sixth sequel; characters lament the gruesome anonymity of torture porn. "One generation's tragedy," now-sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) laments, "is the next one's joke." Then let the tragedy return!

In this Part Four, Scream's perennial last girl standing, Sidney (Neve Campbell), has reinvented herself as an author, penning a memoir that doubles as self-help catnip, a tale of distaff strength and survival. But when she returns to Woodsboro on her book tour—coincidentally, right around the anniversary of the original killings—she's pulled into a new series of Ghostface slayings. Sidney stands in for Craven and Williamson: she's trying to do something new, to switch genres, but gets sucked back into the old slasher game. Of course, that game has changed: as the live-streaming bloggers in the old Randy-role point out, "reversals have become the new standard." The new rule is that there are no rules (groan): cliches can be violated or embraced; either way reinvigorates them. Craven takes that rule to heart: his knives are more old-school phallic than they ever have been, and he also relishes at least one classic horror motif—the violated home. The phone calls through which Ghostface has historically terrorized his victims are his way of breaching the boundaries of suburban safety; the film's only on-screen parent is killed by a knife through a mail slot, the tiniest vulnerability in the home fortress exploited.

The filmmakers return the movie to a high school in a leafy suburb, where the non-summer camp slasher belongs—and where today classrooms clang with a chorus of ring tones—by centering on Sidney's teenage cousin (Emma Roberts) and her friends (including my favorite Culkin, Rory). Once the killings start, much of the film's poignancy stems from Sidney's forced observance of a new generation going through the same things she did (dead friends), and the feeling that just her presence negatively affects the lives of kids she cares about. She feels old; so does the movie. There are a lot of cheap shots at the Millenials, painting them as a twisted generation addicted to web video and the amateur fame it can bestow. "I don't need friends," the killer proclaims. "I need fans." (Double groan.) The original Scream was so great because it captured a paradigm shift, when pop culture fluency became so rampant that young people stopped creating art based on their lives, and instead based their lives on art. The rest of the series abandoned that zeitgeist-capturing relevancy, so at least give Scream 4 credit for trying to get some of it back with its fame-addicted Gen Yers. "You think this is all about you!" Sidney's cousin says to her in rebuke. "You think you're the star." But by the end it's clear who thinks he's really the star—Wes Craven. Grade: B-

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Directed by: Anthony Burns
Written by: Anthony Burns, Brandon Freeman, Heath Freeman
Full credits at IMDb

Skateland, a pretty—and pretty conventional!—coming-of-age story, takes place when the 70s became the 80s, a nationally transformative era that director and co-writer Burns reduces to a time of personal upheaval: Ritchie (Shiloh Fernandez), the manager of the titular roller rink and "a writer," watches his parents split up and Skateland shut down. He lives in a suburb—you know, one of those places where all the girls look like movie stars—and so part of growing up involves deciding to leave his hometown; you can't make anything of yourself in the sticks. As such, he joins a long line of movie Palookavillians, from those in 1977's Saturday Night Fever to this March's White Irish Drinkers. "I gotta get outta here," Ritchie's sister says, quoting Tony Manero almost verbatim.

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Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz & Don Payne
Full credits at IMDb

Thor has a respectable pedigree, of a level we don't usually see in these popcorn pushers—from America's favorite Shakespearean, Kenneth Brannagh, in the director's chair to our best actress, the ubiquitous, Academy Award-winning Natalie Portman, in the co-starring, love-interest role. (Her character's name is Jane, highlighting that she plays the Jane to Thor's Tarzan.) What difference does such reputable talent make? Well...at least it's not tiresomely militaristic, or some mess of reactionary, half-baked ideologies, right? And there sure was a lot more crying than usual. I thought Brannagh & Co. brought to Thor basic levels of competence often missing from these things; it's pretty inoffensive, but hardly anything to get excited about.

Keep reading my discussion with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine

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09 May 2011

Beyond the Black Rainbow

Written & Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Full credits at IMDb

Mescaline-mystical mindfuck Beyond the Black Rainbow could announce a new subgenre: glacial horror. The movie has the booming synths of a John Carpenter score and the primary-color lighting scheme of some Dario Argento classics. But this dystopic, retro-headed science-fiction film—characters in the credits include "mutant" and "sentionaut"—moves at the pace of a mind on powerful hallucinogenics, as though it can't move forward because it's so fascinated by the objects in its field of vision. Like last year's impressionistic Amer, director Panos Cosmatos's feature debut reduces cinema to its basic elements: to the image, the implication, the general feeling. And that feeling is one of tremendous apprehension.

Keep reading this (belated) dispatch from the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival at The L Magazine

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