REVIEW: Post Tenebras Lux

3 06 2012

Cannes Film Festival

There is a fine line between art film and a nutcase who happens to have a camera and a reel of Kodak; Carlos Reygadas walks the wrong side of that line with his movie “Post Tenebras Lux.” It’s everything you could ever hate about impressionistic film all served to you on a silver platter in just one movie. It would have been an almost humorous form of torture had I not been subjected to it myself, although it become a quick punchline and punching bag afterwards.

To be fair, Reygadas’ film, a collection of totally unrelated scenes including a bathhouse orgy, a young girl chasing cows in a rainstorm, people chopping down trees in a forest, and a man literally pulling his own head off his body, is practically begging to be lampooned. It’s like a five-year-old missed the door for “Cars 2” and then accidentally stumbled into “The Tree of Life,” suddenly receiving a revelation that they could shoot pretty shots of nature too and tie them together. I now even further appreciate Malick and his Palme D’Or-winning film from 2011 as sometimes it takes someone doing something so horribly wrong to make you appreciate someone who does it right.

At least Malick had purpose with his film. Reygadas is just self-indulgent and an aimless vagabond wandering around with a camera, stringing together vaguely similar shots and scenes with laughable dialogue and an annoyingly grippy kaleidoscope lens. There are no themes to be had here, no story to be found. Just beams of light emanating from a projector, empty, pointless, and void of purpose.





REVIEW: On the Road

2 06 2012

Cannes Film Festival

Jack Kerouac and his pals were some of the most interesting people to walk the planet in the 1950s. They did as they wanted, lived in the moment, and thankfully had the memory and the brains to put it all onto paper for their adherents in future generations to admire as a holy text. So why on earth is the film adaptation of his seminal text, “On the Road,” such a bore to sit through?

That’s the question that kept going through my mind as I went sporadically in and out of sleep during the film. (I would not have nodded off back in the States, but the feeling of boredom and tedium definitely would still be in the air.) Granted, I haven’t read the source material, but the general spirit of liveliness just seemed totally absent, replaced by the same ennui that hipsters rebel against. I’m now caught in a conundrum: should I read the book to redeem and perhaps better understand Walter Salles’ film, or is my lack of enthusiasm an indication that reading Kerouac’s prose would just be an exercise in futility?

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REVIEW: Killing Them Softly

1 06 2012

Cannes Film Festival

A year after “Drive” took the Croisette by storm with what I saw to be an empty promise of genre revitalization, Andrew Dominik arrives with “Killing Them Softly,” a movie is the real deal for action fans. A whip-smart heist flick, Dominik seems to be channeling Stanley Kubrick with his aestheticized violence, hauntingly ironic music usage, and an emotional detachment. His film politicizes and stylizes the mob and the heist film, delivering a deliriously gory kick in the head.

The more I think about the film, the more I realize how it shouldn’t work. The character development, save James Gandolfini as a sleazy aging and boozing hitman, is minimal. The plot is familiar. The plot unfolds with relative predictability. Come on, it’s a mob movie – if you don’t know that almost everyone is gong to wind up dead, then you have some serious Scorsese to watch before you are allowed to come anywhere near “Killing Them Softly.”

But perhaps Nanni Moretti, president of the Cannes jury this year, holds the key to understanding why the movie transcends so many of its obvious shortcomings. He made an off-the-cuff observation that among the competition directors this year, many “seemed more in love with their style than their character[s].” While this could have applied to any number of directors I saw at Cannes (Wes Anderson, Carlos Reygadas, David Cronenberg), it seems particularly directed at Andrew Dominik. But while Moretti meant his remark to be construed as a negative, the style of “Killing Them Softly” is so abundant that it becomes a character in and of itself, taking the place of traditional “substance.”

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REVIEW: The Hunt

30 05 2012

Cannes Film Festival

I wasn’t invited to serve on Nanni Moretti’s jury this year, but if I had been, my vote for the Palme D’Or would have gone to Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” without question or hesitation.  More than any of the twelve competition films I saw, it captivated me from the outset and proceeded to shake me to my core all the way to its jarring ending.  Much like “In a Better World” or “The Class,” this film has the ability to play well in any country and in any language due to the universality of its story.

I quickly forgot I was reading subtitles as I got drawn into the film’s narrative.  Vinterberg’s film, which he also co-wrote with Tobias Lindholm, has echoes of Arthur Miller, one of the biggest compliments I can provide to a piece of writing.  This contemporary “Crucible” follows Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas, a Danish kindergarten teacher, as he must fend off accusations of indecent exposure to a young child and the ensuing social stigmatization.  While Lucas is reserved, Mikkelsen never lets us doubt for a second that his character is an upright man who is merely the victim of a child’s curiosity being spun into something untrue.

And Mikkelsen, rightful and deserving winner of the Best Actor prize at Cannes, keeps our eyes glued to the screen as we watch the harrowing toll of these false charges on his psyche as well as his estranged son.  The story unfolds rather predictably for the first two acts (no thanks to Arthur Miller), but Mikkelsen really goes unhinged in the film’s finale and absolutely kills it.  As the metaphorically hunted of the film’s title, he begins to strike back against those who defiled his reputation based on baseless and circumstantial evidence.

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Marshall Takes Cannes: Day 10-12

28 05 2012

The festival is over and I have so much to report from these last few days!  I don’t know if I was in Cannes for my whole life or a nanosecond; in some strange way, I feel like it’s both simultaneously.  Now that the all the awards have been handed out and everyone has left the Palais (and basically the city of Cannes as well), I figure I’ll put a bow around my tales of Cannes to wrap it all up.

To all those who have been reading, thanks for following my adventures!  If you felt even a fraction of the thrill I felt at the festival, then I feel truly blessed to have brought even the smallest pinch of excitement into your day.  I’m traveling throughout Europe for the next 11 days, but I’ll try to post some outstanding reviews during my trip.  I wound up seeing 12 of the 22 competition films, which was far more than I ever expected!  I was very blessed and fortunate, and hopefully I can convince you to see or skip what I saw!

Day 10 – Friday, May 25

Thought about rushing “Cosmopolis” in the morning … yeah, that didn’t happen.  Still feeling a little queasy and definitely feeling extremely tired, I slept past that 7:00 alarm to get up for an 8:30 screening.  I arrived around 11:30 A.M. to rush the 1:00 P.M. screening, and no one from the rush line was able to gain entry to the screening.

Not wanting to waste another day without seeing a movie, I didn’t mope for long and went almost straight to the line outside the 60th Room (a rooftop tent theater on the roof of the Palais – yeah) for the reprise screening of “The Paperboy” at 2:00 P.M.  But I should have known something was up when the movie didn’t start on time.  I found two friends in the theater and we talked vaguely about people’s reactions to the film.

Then, at 2:30 P.M., the film started … in Spanish.  I suddenly realized that I was not going to be seeing Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy” with stars like Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron.  Instead, I mistakenly walked into “Post Tenebras Lux,” the Mexican expressionist film that seriously made me want to rip my head off.  Thankfully, a character in the film showed me what that would look like, and that pretty much talked me out of it.

The Pavilion where I worked held a big party that night, which mostly hosted our normal guests (and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” director Benh Zeitlin) plus a few big names including Macy Gray and Lee Daniels, Oscar-nominated director of “Precious” and “The Paperboy.”  Don’t worry, I finally got a picture with a celebrity – not a blurry shot taken from God knows how far away!

Day 11 – Saturday, May 26

This one would be an early morning, though, as I managed to score a ticket to the morning press screening of Jeff Nichols’ “Mud.”  It was much different than I expected, veering away from the visual and visceral brilliance of “Take Shelter” and more towards a plot-driven mainstream Hollywood film.  I’m curious to see what this means for Nichols’ career and onto what trajectory this launches him.

I then quickly ran to see if I could spot Reese Witherspoon at her photo call on the roof of the Palais.  It was initially unsuccessful, but I would not be deterred!  I lingered around the back of the building hoping she would come out of the star entrance, and my loitering eventually paid off as I eventually spotted she and Matthew McConaughey walking across the bridge into the main building!

Naturally, I ran into the building hoping to catch her before she got into her car, but that never panned out.  I decided to go into the Palais to use the restroom, and I walked past a TV that showed the press conference for “Mud.”  Thanks to getting lost a decent amount of times in that Death Star, I knew exactly where press conferences at Cannes were held.  I decided to wait outside the room near the elevator where I assumed she would have to go; there was also another area closed to the entrance to the press conference room, but I thought she would pay them no attention.

Well, I was an idiot.  I never should have doubted that Reese Witherspoon is magnanimous.  Turns out, she went over to the other area and signed a few autographs before leaving – not out the elevator, but through some back entrance.  Grr.  I did get to glimpse her magnificent beauty and become dazzled by her radiant smile.  She’s even better than I ever could have imagined over the past ten years.  Here’s the picture I did get; Reese is the blonde blob in the middle.

The day was destined to go downhill from Reese sighting, but I didn’t think it would get as bad as “Cosmopolis.”  The Robert Pattinson-starrer was a serious disappointment, mainly due to the dialogue and direction.  R-Pattz wasn’t half bad, and I actually thought he was pretty good at the end.  Maybe there is hope…

It was also the last beach screening, which was listed as a “surprise screening” on the schedule.  Rumors circulated like mad about what the movie could be – I had heard “The Dictator,” Brian DePalma’s new film “Passion,” and footage from the new Bond film “Skyfall” all mentioned as possibilities.  Turns out, it was only a short film program that lasted for over an hour and a half.  I was a little underwhelmed and upset to say the least.

Day 12 – Sunday, May 27

The last day of the festival meant a lot of packing, a lot of cleaning, and a lot of goodbyes.  There wasn’t much of a wasted moment to be had – oh, and every single one of the 22 competition films was replaying again.  I got a chance to see “Holy Motors,” the French film featuring Kylie Minogue and Eva Mendes getting her armpit licked, and that was pretty fun.  I also saw “Beasts” director Benh Zeitlin yet again, just chilling and seeing a movie like a regular Joe.  Gosh, I hope he wins an Oscar or something – the man just seems so humble, modest, and unassuming.

I thought about trying to see “The Paperboy” after my Friday fiasco, but I ultimately wound up opting for food and fun with friends.  I’ll get to see it in no time at all back home in the States.  After convincing myself that I would go out on a high note with “Holy Motors,” the jury announced all the awards.  There was one big winner that I still had the chance to see – “Reality,” winner of the Grand Prix (essentially second place).  I quickly caught a bus from my apartment and made it to the theater in time to see the movie.  Don’t know that it was worth the trip, but I’m glad I can say I saw it – especially since it looks like Oscilloscope is going to hold it for release until 2013 in the US.

Oh, and going to the bathroom in the artist’s entrance finally paid off as I saw Emmanuelle Riva, the leading actress from the Palme D’Or-winning “Amour.”

I wound up seeing all but one of the North American films, the Palme D’Or, Grand Prix, Best Director, Best Actor, and Camera D’Or winners, as well as a smattering of other films that ran the gamut from great to God-awful.  Overall, a very interesting festival – hopefully, it won’t be my last.  There’s plenty of unfinished business I have left with Cannes, and so many things I want to do better in the future.  But for now, as I close this chapter, I am satisfied and truly grateful.

Much thanks to my parents for making this trip possible!  Hopefully, Cannes 2012 is just the beginning of many great things to come.





REVIEW: Amour

25 05 2012

Cannes Film Festival

So often, films about illness and death are milked in a rather maudlin fashion for tears, sentimentality, and catharsis. None of those things interest Michael Haneke though. His latest film, “Amour,” is set almost entirely in an octogenarian couple’s apartment where the wife is slowly headed to the grave after a debilitating stroke. He chronicles the slow descent with patience and control through a deliberate and patient lens that doesn’t dare cut out the messiness, monotony, or misery.

It’s the cinematic equivalent of a still-life as this film moves about as slow as molasses and only amplifies the glacial pace with long shots and even longer takes. While such a technique might infuriate a viewer if it were employed on a different subject matter, those willing to stick with the movie to the end should ultimately admire the tightly controlled and delicately constructed film. At times, it can be fairly difficult to watch … but how hunky-dory do you want movies about death to be? How can you even begin to comprehend the ennui of watching someone slowly lose their grip on life when you are treated to watch from a coolly removed distance?

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What I found to be particularly interesting about the film was how Haneke shoots the film in such a straightforward and unambiguous fashion, an apparent change from the intricate machinery behind his puzzlers “Caché” and “The White Ribbon.” In a way, such a style wouldn’t make sense for “Amour,” but I do think it serves another purpose as well. It makes the audience complacent and allows Haneke to really put an emphatic exclamation point on the end of a cinematic sentence that doesn’t seem to require such an emphatic punctuation.

The performances from French veterans Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ailing wife and her husband are impressive in their control and their naturalism, as is Haneke muse Isabelle Huppert as their grief-stricken daughter. But “Amour” is definitely a Haneke showcase above all, a movie that may seem familiar at first but inextricably bears his stamp.





Marshall Takes Cannes: Day 9

25 05 2012

Remember on Sunday when I said I thought I had hit the wall? That wasn’t the wall; that was a curb.

Day 9 – Thursday, May 24

I went to bed with a slightly upset stomach and unfortunately woke up in the morning with the same feeling. Why doesn’t sleep always function as a reset button? Anyways, on top of that, despite getting around 8 hours or so of sleep, I still felt deliriously tired.

But after the crushing disappointment of being shut out of the “On the Road” premiere, I wasn’t going to go another day eased without seeing a film. So I sucked up and got in line for the rooftop screening of “On the Road,” and I arrived early enough to not only gain admittance but also land a pretty good seat. Too bad the movie’s quality didn’t match my seat.

I then went to work where standing up felt like getting water boarded between my fatigue and unsettled stomach. Thankfully, I got to end the day by seeing the end of a late-night beach screening of “Jaws.” I feel like Steven Spielberg would very much approve of the venue and ambiance.

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