Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cannes Film Festival Winners

PALME D'OR: Winter Sleep- directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
GRAND PRIX: The Wonders- directed by Alice Rohrwacher
PRIX DU JURY: (tie) Mommy- directed by Xavier Dolan; Goodbye to Language- directed by Jean-Luc Godard
BEST DIRECTOR: Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
BEST ACTOR: Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner
BEST ACTRESS: Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
BEST SCREENPLAY: Leviathan- Andrei Zvyagintsev
CAMERA D'OR: Party Girl- directed by Marie Amachoukili-Barsacq, Claire Burger & Samuel Theis

Cannes 2014 has selected its winners from a jury headed by Jane Campion.  In the end it was longtime Palme D'Or bridesmaid Ceylan that won the big prize, while the rest of the field was an eclectic assortment of newbies (Dolan), legends (Godard) and Oscar hopefuls (Miller, Spall.)  Oh, and wait...the great Julianne Moore won Best Actress for playing a has-been actress in David Croenberg's gonzo Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars!!!!!!!!!!!  As an aside, Moore, while never an Oscar winner despite four nominations and two absolute deserved wins, joins an elite club that  Juliette Binoche (also in Cannes this year with Clouds of Sils Maria), Sean Penn, Isabelle Huppert and Jack Lemmon are the only members of-- the Triple Crown winners of the festival circuit, winning Cannes, Venice and Berlin.  Moore won Venice for Far From Heaven and shared the Berlin actress prize with The Hours co-stars Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman.
Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis
arie Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis
arie Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis

Monday, May 19, 2014


Gareth Edwards' Godzilla did something few recent films, especially epically budgeted summertime beasts, have managed to surprised me.  In this increasingly homogenized, made-by-committee-Hollywood-blockbuster-filmmaking-of-now culture, there's become a routine formula of what to expect to see on the screen.  There's running climaxes, the expected strokes of the musical score and the typical beats of propulsion and exposition to keep it going and going and going, hopefully ending with enough of hook so that we will all return for more and more and more.  And then return again for the eventual reboot (what a hideous word.)  The machine keeps rolling, but this latest version of Godzilla, while totally within the franchise filmmaking game, plays almost at odds with the contemporary summer blockbuster structure-- it's almost anachronistic and plays as something not made by committee but by an imaginative, resourceful and singular artist looking to share a bustling and joyful artistic expression.  That this such expression involves monster vs. monster attack scenes matter not at all.

It's rather amazing that Edwards got the gig at all, considering he has but one feature film to name-- the micro-budgeted (approximately $500,000) 2010 import Monsters, but he proves just the right director to be tasked with a $160 million property, infusing a gorgeously rendered, humanistic design to the monster bash.  It would be silly to call his Godzilla a master stroke of artistry, but it sets a high water mark for the impending summer assault season.  It would also be silly to invite cinematic comparisons, but for a film that adorns its influences proudly and mightily, perhaps not as reductive a call as typically.  For this Godzilla of 2014, is in my eyes, the best summertime escapism since 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  The comparison is apt, as both film reshaped and gathered from the dust of properties that long ago were disregarded by the pop cultural mass and surprised with an astonishingly visual ingenuity and uniquely sharpened sense of popcorn utopia.  Both film evoked a child-like sense of wonder and wealth of imagination and glints of awe because they weaved surprising joy amidst all the bombast and (presumed) studio they both pretty much (digitally) destroyed the tony city of San Francisco in the process.  Yet, for even greater measure, Edwards cites and rests his Godzilla on the great Spielbergian treats of yore.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Amazing Spider-man 2

I had a beef with The Amazing Spider-man when it premiered in July 2012.  The update of the series (a mere five years after a three-run film franchise) seemed more out of necessity of distributor Sony keeping its prized cash cow within its fold than anything else, and still does.  The first film, which like the sequel was directed by Marc Webb, was full of raw ingredients (some good, others more sketchily drawn) that never seemed to coalesce into a firm reason for being.  While I try my hardest not to hold onto any pent-up bias when entering a movie house to see something for the first time, sometimes it's not quite so easy to let go.  To get personal for just a moment, I admit that and that my personal taste generally doesn't gravitate towards the comic book spectacle variety either-- although there is greatness engrained the fabrics of the Batman, X-Men and, yes, even the Spider-man film franchises.  That non-true believer stamp may render what follows completely unnecessary, but here goes anyway as The Amazing Spider-man 2 has marched into cinemas, ushering in the 2014 summer movie season.

To date, this marks the fifth Spider-man movie in twelve years and second in this updated faction, perhaps making the marketing tagline "his greatest battle begins" seems a bit, well, silly.  However, times have changed since Sam Raimi unveiled and first Spider-man flick back in the dog days of 2002, and now comic book franchises have grown stately in stature and demand an entire cinematic universe to hold them.  With that being said, there's a lot of ground to cover.  The constraints of doing so much heavy lifting all within the confines of reasonably light span of two-and-a-half hours almost merits a pity cause in favor of director Webb, who is fashioned to a machine bigger than the bona fides anyone could possibly earn from one go around at superhero play and as helmer of indie romantic comedy-- his first film was the charming 2009 film (500) Days of Summer.  At the very least, The Amazing Spider-man 2 (whose major downfall is overcoming its title-- The Inconsistent Spider-man 2, though more appropriate likely wouldn't have sat will with the Sony executives), while never fully recovering its sense of redundancy, improves on the first outing in the human elements of the story and is a bit sprier all around.  Plus, there's two aces in the films favor in the adroitly gifted Andrew Garfield, returning as Peter Parker, and Emma Stone, on again as girlfriend Gwen Stacey.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot- "3 Women"

The Film Experience honors Robert Altman's under-seen 1977 cult totem 3 Women for Hit Me With Your Best Shot this week.  With that comes a confession-- I've never seen the film before.  Which is particularly shameful because I adore Altman and 3 Women stars Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek.  I know better than to trust much (especially something as elliptical as this) on first viewing, but found it be a creepy, feminine fun house representing perhaps the most eclectic specialties of a group of singular artists.  So, if the film on first visit (there's absolutely enough to lure a second one) reads perhaps like a riff on Ingmar Bergman's landmark actress classic Persona as it studies its two leading ladies as their identities start to bleed into one another, I know better than to trust my initial response.

The film opens in a sort of dream space and never quite leaves even as on the outset many sequences (especially in the first hour or so) seem fairly straight forward.  Curiously, 3 Women came about allegedly from Altman's own dreams-- in action that surely should be one of the great backstage stories of the much lionized American cinema of the 1970s, Altman was able to sell this strange story without a completed screenplay to a major Hollywood studio (in this case, Fox) based solely on reputation.  The opening titles themselves seem to immediately sell 3 Women as a go-all-in sort of feature-- surrender to it!

Millie (Duvall, who won the Best Actress prize at Cannes that year) works at a senior health spa.  She's a talkative, confident, endearingly independent woman.  Yet there's something off right away about her, for when she speaks (that would be often), her colleagues, neighbors and "friends" don't even bother to pretend to acknowledge her, they even sometimes openly mock her.  She's absolutely delusional, but an indelibly offbeat characterization.  Millie's world is changed by Pinky (Spacek), a fresh in town Texan who begins to work with Millie and quickly build up not just a friendship, but a possessiveness of Millie.  Pinky, by contrast to Millie's outwardly plucky demeanor is timid, fragile, a bit frightening and possibly borderline autistic-- all arriving a year following Carrie White. Slowly, Pinky ingratiates herself into becoming Millie's roommate and things just get weirder from there.

There's a third woman (as the title suggests)-- that would be Willie (Janis Rule), and the odd lot they create as the film reaches its twisty, confounding conclusion.  Or maybe not.  The draw and the magic of 3 Women seems to shroud the leading actresses in a sort of loosely designed set of limbo as they reflect and refract from one another.  Visually, it's sumptuous and arguably one of the most audacious in the entire Altman canon as the characters all seemingly float along and pick and take from one another.

My favorite scene in the film (I'm not even sure yet why this my favorite scene in the film or if that will extend on further viewings or not) revolves around nothing particularly dramatic, yet the eerie undercurrent of future horror rears its head nonetheless.  Pinky has just moved in and Millie is preparing dinner.  The scene starts, seemingly innocuously as Millie is describing the ideal way to make tuna melts and Pinky is altering a sleeping gown given to her by Millie.  The camera snaps a shot of a reflected Pinky and Millie.  Suddenly Spacek, so short and so fragile, has grown in stature and just barely towers over Duvall, a stark change in everything, mostly reality- just like the movie.  A perfectly subtle cue for the power ploys that face the relationship later on.  That the image is just slightly out of focus adds to the shady allure and dreaminess.


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