Cristian Mungiu's new film simply can't connect the dots
- Critic's Rating C-
- Readers' Rating A+
CANNES - Cristian Mungiu arrives at Cannes this year as a sort of conquering hero, finally bringing a full-length follow-up to his breakthrough hit, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," which won the 2007 Palme d'Or. This is only his third film, and all three have been invited to the festival, which certainly makes it seem like this is a home for him and for what it is he has to say as a filmmaker. Considering it's taken him five years to make his third film, it's safe to say that expectations were running high when "Beyond The Hills" made its debut two days ago.
It is, then, no fun to report that "Beyond The Hills" feels like a pretty serious misstep, overthought and overwrought, with some big ideas buried beneath a leaden approach and a cast that simply can't enliven material that never manages to lurch to life. I don't fault him for ambition, and I can certainly see how the film's core idea could be a springboard for great drama. It just doesn't feel like the execution pays off any of the material's potential.
Brandon Cronenberg is most definitely his father's son
- Critic's Rating B-
- Readers' Rating n/a
CANNES - Well, as the old saying goes, the diseased and throbbing apple does not fall far from the penis-shaped flesh tree. Or at least, that's a variation on the old saying that seems applicable when you're talking about the debut film from Brandon Cronenberg, son of the king of body horror, David Cronenberg.
"Antiviral" is playing here as part of the Un Certain Regard section of the festival, and I walked into it knowing nothing aside from Cronenberg's parentage. I wasn't even sure if it was in the same general realm as the work that made his father a legend in horror. After watching a steady stream of people bolt for the exits during the film's screening, I think it's safe to say that he has inherited his father's knack for making people deeply uncomfortable about topics that are personal to the point of feeling invasive. I don't think he's just imitating his father, either. While there may be some thematic similarity, Brandon Cronenberg has made a darkly comic, deeply unpleasant first film that deserves to be considered on its own merits.
Caleb Landry Jones, last seen on movie screens as Banshee in "X-Men: First Class," stars here as Syd March, a guy who works for a company that specializes in selling celebrity diseases to people. Yes, you read that right. Celebrities make exclusive deals with biotech firms which harvest their various illnesses, distill them, and then inject them into regular people who want to share something in common with their favorite movie star or model. Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) is one of the most important of the clients that are signed by the company that Syd works for, and as the film opens, we see him infecting a fan named Edward Porris (Douglas Smith) with Hannah's herpes, right where he would have caught it if she kissed him.
Prohibition-era hillbilly mythmaking at its finest
- Critic's Rating B
- Readers' Rating A+
CANNES - John Hillcoat has carved out a very strong presence in world cinema with just a few films, and while I respect both "The Proposition" and "The Road," I would have a hard time claiming to love either of them. His new film, "Lawless," made its debut at Cannes first thing Saturday morning, and the most striking thing about it at first glance is that Hillcoat seems to have learned some new shades as a filmmaker, and for the first time in his career, it feels like he's actually having some fun. It helps that he's got Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeaouf, and Guy Pearce heading a strong ensemble cast, and that the based-on-a-true-story script by Nick Cave is a rowdy bit of hillbilly mythmaking, a purely American tale written in blood and bullet casings.
Matt Bondurant's book, "The Wettest County In The Word," tells the story of his family's role in the bootlegging trade of the '30s in Franklin County, Virginia. Forrest (Tom Hardy) is the hard-boiled center of the family, the balancing point between the wild, untamed lunacy of big brother Howard (Jason Clarke) and the hesitant, good-natured Jack (Shia LaBeouf). They each have their skills, and they all help perpetuate the legend that Bondurant boys are invincible, a story that began when Howard was the only member of his platoon to return home after World War I.
Sundance sensation lives up to the hype at its Cannes debut
- Critic's Rating A-
- Readers' Rating A-
CANNES - Fiercely original, richly imagined, and blessed with one of the great child performances, "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" may have made its premiere at Sundance this year, but it was embraced wholeheartedly by crowds at Friday's Cannes Film Festival, and for good reason. Horribly beautiful and deeply felt, the film is a spectacular example of how much more important imagination is than budget, and it may be the first great new fairy tale on film since "City Of Lost Children."
How do you even begin to capture something as delicate, ethereal, and feral as the performance of Quvenzhane Wallis, who stars as Hushpuppy, the film's main character and narrator? It's one thing to imagine a world of washed-out beauty like The Bathtub, but it's quite another to make it such a tangible and well-realized place that it feels like you just stumbled across it and set up cameras there. Director Benh Zeitlin and his entire crew deserve accolades for finding a way to create such a carefully detailed world on what looks like a very tight budget, and for sticking to an ambition that feels totally uncompromised in execution. It would be impressive enough if it was just a case of great art design, but then to populate the world with this iconic, fascinating people struggling to survive in a world that wants them to disappear is nothing less than humbling to behold.
Another strong entry from the director of the acclaimed 'Gomorrah'
- Critic's Rating B+
- Readers' Rating n/a
CANNES - Matteo Garrone made an international splash with his film "Gomorrah" in 2008, an unblinking look at the modern Mafia in Italy, and deservedly so. The film had a remarkable sense of time and place, and there was an unvarnished honesty to it that stripped away decades of cinema's romanticism of organized crime. This morning, his new film "Reality" made its debut, and it is a wildly different type of film, a biting social satire about the modern age and its media-driven obsession with fame. It is a Job story, at times quite funny, at other times painful, but always shot with a precise, masterful eye, and impeccably performed by the entire ensemble.
"Big Brother" is a global phenomenon at this point, and it seems based on the reading I've done that it is bigger in several countries than it is in the US. Domestically, it's a solid ratings performer, but in some places, it seems like it is a pop culture juggernaut. In "Reality," Garrone looks at the pervasive influence of the show and the way it drives one poor bastard in particular completely mad, and the way the film is structured, it makes its points clearly and with a brute force wit. It helps that Aniello Arena, who stars as Luciano, has a great movie face and a lovely soulful quality that shines through even in the film's strangest or darkest moments. Garrone makes this an experiential movie, almost all of it absorbed from Luciano's perspective, and he is a captivating lead.
A beautiful piece about the scars that define us lands early knockout blow at Cannes
- Critic's Rating A
- Readers' Rating A+
CANNES - We all pick up scars as we move through life, some visible, others not, and it is how we deal with these physical and emotional traumas that defines who we are.
Jacques Audiard has been steadily putting out small films of enormous power for the past decade or so, and I first tuned into his work with "Read My Lips" in 2001. "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" came next, and for many people, "A Prophet" was the moment they realized just how strong a clear a voice he has as a filmmaker. Because of that film's international success, there was much expectation focused on the 8:30 AM screening of his new film today at Cannes, and based on the trailer I'd seen for it, I walked in expecting one film. Instead, I got something much richer, more prickly, and more deeply felt than I expected, and I am once again convinced that Audiard is a major voice, an artist of note, and a gifted humanist filmmaker.
Sincere in its intentions, the film never manages more than polemic
- Critic's Rating C
- Readers' Rating n/a
CANNES -Well-intentioned, unfortunately, is not enough for a film to work. If it were, then most films would be great and that's simply not the case.
Yousry Nasrallah's new film, "After The Battle," has huge ambition, and on that level, I can certainly empathize with the film's goals. Set during the Arab Spring of last year, the film tells the story of Reem (Menna Chalaby), an Egyptian woman who works in television commercials, who is incredibly passionate about the possibility of a new democracy in Egypt. She's tired of dealing with the way women are treated in Egyptian society, and she believes that the revolution has a chance to change things. Her beliefs are challenged when she meets Mahmoud (Bassem Samra), a horseman who was part of the "Battle of the Camels," where armed camel and horse riders swept into Tahrir square to attack anyone who was staging anti-Mubarak demonstrations. Very quickly, the protestors turned the horsemen away, attacking and injuring many of them, including Mahmoud, whose image ends up on YouTube, a symbol of the way the country is rejecting old values.
A warm, heartfelt look at first love and community, 'Moonrise' is Anderson at his best
- Critic's Rating A
- Readers' Rating A
CANNES - By now, if you are at all familiar with the work of Wes Anderson, you have no doubt come to some opinion about his general aesthetic choices. He has a very particular sensibility in his work, and it has evolved over time, although his harshest critics might claim it has ossified. I like his voice, his approach to character, and his compositional sense, and in general, I find Anderson's films to be enjoyable because I know what I'm getting when I sit down to one. All that changes is the story he's telling, and in the case of "Moonrise Kingdom," I think he's at his very best, energized by the subject matter and blessed with a cast that came ready to play.
"Moonrise" takes place in the days before a historic storm that sweeps through a small island community in 1965, as Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), two 12-year-olds, run away together, sure that they have no place in their respective families and desperate for a connection that means something. Their decision ends up sending shockwaves through the community around them, including Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), Sam's scoutmaster (Edward Norton), and the sheriff of the island (Bruce Willis). Like much of Anderson's work, the film is often very funny, but there is a deep longing that underlines everything we see, and in the end, I was moved by what he's saying here, and by the work of his entire cast.
Befuddling in concept, frustrating in execution, this is why people hate summer movies
- Critic's Rating C-
- Readers' Rating C-
"Battleship" is, in a word, ridiculous.
Even sitting down to write about the film, I feel ridiculous. It's a movie in name only, a simulation of a movie, and it is by far the strangest thing that Peter Berg has ever put his name on. I do not see the director of "The Rundown" or "Friday Night Lights" in this film at all. That's not to say it is without any personal touches, but they feel more like him distracting himself from the absurdity of the material than a real connection to what he's making, and the result is a wannabe-blockbuster that should be studied in film schools as a perfect example of what happens when commerce becomes more important than concept.
Written by a computer program that Universal cleverly named "Erich and Jon Hoeber," I'm still not even sure what the actual premise of the movie is. I can tell you what happens in it, but plot is not premise. I cannot imagine the meetings in which grown, rational people sat around planning this film, because nothing about it makes sense. You would think someone involved in signing $250 million worth of checks would have at some point spoken up and said, "Is it okay that none of this is even remotely coherent?" Evidently, it's fine, because the film almost seems to delight in the specific form of nonsense that it offers up, and there's not a hint of shame to the enterprise. It is blissfully, cheerfully stupid, and it doesn't remotely care about reality.
It's hard to believe, but we're actually back on the air
It has been a while.
I could offer up excuses, but the truth is that things just plain got away from Scott Swan and me, and there's no other way to put it. Our best intentions were repeatedly frustrated by real-life obstacles, and we let them build up week after week.
The only reason we finally sat down to do this again is because you have all been so vocal about wanting a new podcast, and I take your feedback seriously.
This week, we decided to talk about Mother's day and the long tradition of mothers in movies. We also brought back Movie God, the game that broke me in our final episode of Season Two, and we welcomed Patrick Morgan, known to AICN readers as Henchman Mongo, to help us kick off this year's version of the game.