REVIEW: Salvo

24 09 2014

SalvoCannes Film Festival – Critic’s Week, 2013

In my second year at the Cannes Film Festival, I told myself I would expand my viewing beyond the Official Competition to enrich my experience.  (For those who might not know, the festival also has two officially recognized sidebars that boast impressive selections of their own.)  I feared I had run out of time to check out a film from Critic’s Week but noticed that, in a small pocket of freedom, I could catch a repeat screening of the winner, Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s “Salvo.”

Perhaps seeing the high expectations surrounding a newly crowned champion are to blame for my intensely negative reaction.  Or maybe I was just fatigued given that this was my fourth film of the day.  But I don’t think I had a more miserable viewing experience at that festival than “Salvo.”

The filmmakers commit themselves to minimalism, which is certainly not an immediate cause for dismissal.  But the reservedness does not draw us in further or illuminate the characters.  It’s the case where nothing just means nothing. “Salvo” has an interesting enough plot – an Italian mafia hitman has a crisis of conscience when faced with the prospect of having to whack a blind girl – but it’s executed with such an excruciating lack of urgency that it renders the final product practically unwatchable.  D / 1star

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REVIEW: The Immigrant

1 07 2014

immigrant_noquote_finalCannes Film Festival – Official Competition, 2013

Over a year ago, I had the distinct honor to attend a panel in memory of my hero in the realm of film criticism, the late Roger Ebert, in Cannes.  His widow, Chaz, was in attendance a little over a month after his passing.  We all took a “500 Thumbs Up for Roger” picture (if you like a good Where’s Waldo puzzle, try to find me in this picture) and signed a book letting Chaz know how much her husband meant to everyone who cherishes film.

But it was not the words that I left her that mattered that day; rather, it was the words she left me and everyone else in attendance.  Kicking off the panel, she remarked, “Roger said that the cinema expands your imagination.  And when it’s done well, what it will do is allow the individual to be transported beyond linear boundaries and to take you to a world that you hadn’t seen before and allow you inside and outside to become a better person.”

People that take the time to write seriously about these illusionary worlds of light, shadow, and pixel have most likely achieved this exhilarating narrative transport.  It’s a difficult and thus extremely rare feat for a film to pull off.  Yet the sensation feeds the soul in such a sublime manner that it’s worth seeking out even if it means wading through seemingly endless mediocrity.

By year’s end, I manage to let the awards hype delude myself into thinking I have experienced this transcendent feeling multiple times.  In actuality, however, these little miracles only occur every few years or so.  I’m overjoyed to report that James Gray’s “The Immigrant” is one such film.

Most movies nowadays return me to the same spot from which I departed.  This masterpiece, on the other hand, picked me up at one place and deposited me at a higher ground.  The story of “The Immigrant” alone left me feeling spiritually enriched.  The complete package assembled by producer, writer, and director Gray left me renewed and reaffirmed in the power of the cinema.  I remain so stunned in slack-jawed awe at this exquisitely beautiful work that few words can fully capture my strong sentiments.

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REVIEW: Blue Is the Warmest Color

15 06 2013

Blue is the Warmest ColorCannes Film Festival – Official Competition

Producers of the upcoming film adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” I have found your director.  Thank me later.

In the past three weeks since I’ve seen Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” I have gone back and forth on whether I deem it to be pornography.  What I can say without a doubt, however, is that it features the most graphic depictions of sexuality between any two people that I have ever seen on film.  It takes that honor away from Steve McQueen’s 2011 masterpiece “Shame,” which used pornographic aesthetics to ironically point out just how little pleasure was present in the carnality occurring before our eyes.

Kechiche’s camera, whether voyeuristic or artistic, captures human sexuality between the timid young Adele (newcomer Adele Exarchopolous) and the nubile Emma (Lea Seydoux) at an extremely intimate level.  On the one hand, it seems almost animalistic as we feel their every body movement, see the saliva drip, and hear their every moan.  Yet at the same time, it’s also highly erotic.  Kechiche seems more focused on capturing the act from every angle and less on the experience that Adele and Emma are having.

The story just stops as we are left to gaze at Adele and Emma entangling in a frenzied sexual embrace.  Acting halts as well since the camera just cares about Exarchopolous and Seydoux’s extremities, not their faces.  In addition, Kechiche’s segues into sensuality are so abrupt and unexpected that once the first scene occurs, it’s impossible not to be constantly wondering if the next edit will lead into intertwining limbs or passionate moans.

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Cannes 2013: Let me explain…

31 05 2013

So I know you’ve all been wondering where all my updates from Cannes were this year.  Last year, I did a pretty intensive journal and wrote most of my reviews during the festival itself.

Well, no one year at Cannes is quite like the other (or so I’ll generalize from my two years at the festival).  This year, the movies were better, the experience was better, and the time was maximized.  Not that my readers and my writing isn’t important.  But all my writing can get done later – the festival is there for 12 days and then it’s gone.

It also didn’t help that my Wi-Fi was poor at the hotel where I stayed.  I could have written from my phone like I did last year, but that got me into a number of binds where I was low on battery at crucial moments – and I wasn’t too keen to repeat those instances.  If I had to worry about conserving my phone battery, it could limit my opportunities.  I also could have brought my laptop into Cannes, but it would be bulky and could get stolen.

Plus, this year’s festival was pretty simple for me.  I worked, I ate, and I saw movies.  25 of them, to be exact.  (Paradise for me, right?!)

I also had to sign a confidentiality agreement for my employer this year, so that limited what I could write about.  Rather than tell tales of eating yet another Nutella banana crepe or waiting in yet another line, I figured I would spare myself the effort to journal.  And at the same time, you all would be spared my monotony.

And yes, the festival did end 5 days ago – but I’ve been in transit getting from France to home to school.  I’ve been living on planes and out of suitcases.  It’s been exhausting, and I normally get too drained to write reviews.  But starting tomorrow, June 1, I will begin to document my thoughts on the Cannes titles I saw.  You’ll get my opinions, don’t you worry.  A little later than Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, sure.  But if all you want is immediacy, then you probably shouldn’t read me anyways.

Thanks for your patience.  I hope you enjoy the sneak preview of a fantastic year in cinema that awaits!





Cannes Deux (Pronounced “Can Do”)

14 05 2013

Last year was the age of YOLO (You Only Live Once), so the phrase “YOCO” circulated around my friends at Cannes last year – standing for “You Only Cannes Once.”  The point was, you should live it up this year because you only have one time at the Cannes Film Festival.

Well, all those times I said “YOCO” last year were a lie.  Because now I’m back at Cannes for a second year at the festival.  So prepare yourself for another two weeks of reviews.  I’ll be attempting to diversify outside my mainly official competition, primarily American slate from last year.  Although it’s going to be hard because there are so many fantastic American films in competition this year…

But this place hasn’t aged a day since I left.  And I’m excited to see what kind of great experiences await in 2013.  Go like the Facebook page for Marshall and the Movies for more instantaneous updates on my time at Cannes!

Palme





REVIEW: Mud

19 01 2013

Cannes Film Festival 2012 / Sundance Film Festival 2013

(NOTE: I saw “Mud” at the first showing in Cannes last May.  I have no idea if the movie being shown in Utah is the same one I saw in France.  I have some lingering suspicion it might have been reworked and tweaked a little bit since it disappeared from the festival circuit for eight months.)

Third features are, for most filmmakers, really the first time we can gauge their capabilities and career trajectory.  A debut film is, well, a debut film.  Unless you are Orson Welles, whose first film “Citizen Kane” is the best of all-time to many, the first time behind the camera is rarely one that produces much beyond the promise of great things.  While many directors break out with their second film, some would consider that they still have the training wheels on the bike.

By the third film, however, we generally stop cutting them slack or grading them on a curve.  It’s do or die, make or break.  If you haven’t quite figured out how to make a good movie, perhaps it’s time to consider a career change.  Just to provide some perspective, Scorsese’s third film was “Mean Streets,” Spielberg’s was “Jaws,” Malick’s was “The Thin Red Line,” Jason Reitman’s was “Up in the Air,” and Ben Affleck’s was “Argo.”

Jeff Nichols, an emerging American filmmaker, made his first two movies with a very independent spirit.  His debut, “Shotgun Stories,” had an interesting concept but was poorly executed.  His second film, “Take Shelter,” was a superb ambiental drama that effectively visualized the state of economic and personal anxieties in the age of the Great Recession.  But his third feature, “Mud,” is so different that it almost feels like a first film.

With “Mud,” Nichols makes what I believe to be a very conscientious leap towards the mainstream.  It definitely plays more towards satisfying audience expectations with familiar storyline and aesthetics, not jarring them with the uncomfortable or the unknown.  And there’s nothing wrong with that; he’s fairly adept at capturing that boyish spirit in the coming-of-age movies that Steven Spielberg among others made so well in the 1980s.  But after the brilliance and originality of “Take Shelter,” I was hoping Nichols would not just fall in line.

And to reiterate, I don’t disdain “Mud” simply for daring to be similar.  It’s still quality filmmaking, but it feels more like a harbinger of things to come than something substantial in and of itself.  This transitional film is too populist to be indie; however, it’s also a little too indie to be truly mainstream.  I don’t usually talk about forces competing for the soul of a movie, yet it feels totally relevant for “Mud” as these two entirely different spirits of filmmaking run amuck throughout the movie.  Each claims a scene here or there, and the ultimate victor is unclear.

I would argue that the real winner of “Mud” are the characters, written with love and care by Nichols and brought to the screen with compassion by the cast.  Matthew McConaughey, the new king of career turnaround, beguiles as the titular character Mud.  He fancies himself an urban legend, an almost mythic figure of sorts.  Yet it’s fascinating to watch the man slip out from underneath his tough facade and see his guilt and shame manifested.

Though the movie is named for his character, Jeff Nichols’ film isn’t really about Mud.  It’s about the two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan from “The Tree of Life,” albeit totally changed since that film was shot so long ago) and his sidekick Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who stumble upon Mud hiding out in a boat in the trees.  While Mud drives the narrative forward, the movie’s real story and power comes from the way those events affect these two adolescents.

“Mud” mainly follows Ellis as he navigates a new world, one where nothing seems clear-cut or black and white.  Mud teaches him what love and trust really are when they are together away from society, and then he reemerges to find alternative meanings of such concepts.  Sheridan lends a real authenticity to the struggles of growing up and realizing hard truths in a performance that evokes Henry Thomas’ Elliott in “E.T.,” a movie that feels like quite a kindred spirit of “Mud.”

To tap into a fraction of what Spielberg achieved is quite an achievement.  Now, it’s time for Nichols to relocate his old voice of originality and create a work just like “Mud,” only with that old aesthetic brilliance and creativity.  B2halfstars





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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