Wednesday, October 8, 2008

New York Film Festival, Press Week IV

A remarkable single-shot short about the process of loss, told completely in silhouette. Just remarkable.

LA MUJER SIN CABEZA (The Headless Woman)
Take the skeleton of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, then send it wandering off into the last half hour of Mulholland Drive but preparing for a Last Weekend at Marienbad, and you have the idea of where this remarkable mindmelter from Argentina's Lucrecia Martel. It so much subtler than any of those films, though, and filled with so much possibility. This and Synecdoche, NY are proving the films from this northward sojourn that I want to dwell in repeatedly, again and again. If there is any justice, this film will get some kind of further distribution.

C'EST DUR D'ETRE AIME PAR DES CONS (It's Hard Being Loved by Jerks)
A battering ram of a documentary that illustrates the trial of the publishers and editorial staff of French weekly Charlie Hebdo, which printed those infamous twelve cartoons which portrayed the prophet Mohammed. The film has countless things to say about the role of the press and the courts and religious authorities, and all of it is pretty fascinating even if lack of access to the actual courtroom proceedings lends a surreal air to the whole thing. Certainly worth seeing, and as provocative a way as any for me to finish up my time at the 46th Annual New York Film Festival.

Friday, October 3, 2008

New York Film Festival, Press Week III

Week Three of the NYFF is what we like to call the big ticket week. This was when the big names and the big films showed up, with longer lines and security searches.

A/K/A Che Part I. We were shown what is being called The Roadshow Presentation, which has no credits or specific differentiation of title, so I'm going from the standard titling of the two. This was a cinemascope biopic on the rise of Che, with the occasional high-contrast black & white interlude from his speech before the UN in the early sixties. It jumps around in time a bit, but you're always kept at a distance from the material. It's well-acted, but it's not all that.

A/K/A Che Part II, when everything gets kind of nuts and handheld and 1.85 and visceral. Guerilla is not quite Tropical Malady, but it's damned close, and both as an extended thinkpiece and an emotionally draining experience, here's what makes it all worthwhile. It's good enough to mkae me realize and acknowledge that The Argentine is pretty good as well. But in the battle of the Ches, put me down solidly for Part II. IFC Films has this for the U.S., and in Nashville, that usually means Belcourt. So send in your eMails and bloggables if you want to show some Che pride, or are intrigued at exploring the fall of such an absolutist ideology. Either way, there's something here for you.

Cutesy short about love truly being a universal language. Not essential, but not unpleasant.

L'HEURE D'ETE (Summer Hours)
Following up his globalization trilogy (Demonlover, Clean, and Boarding Gate), Olivier Assayas turns his focus on the family and makes one of the most beautiful and restrained dramas of the year. One mother, three children, five grandchildren, two dogs, a housekeeper, and an exquisite country house. There are no big scenes, no flare-ups or crying jags, just a rapturous dive into the eddies and whorls of the time we spend as families. This one's my first four-star feature at NYFF08 (hopefully not the only), and IFC has it for the US. Keep an eye out for this one, it will floor you. Bring Mom and Dad with you as well.

An interesting (and non-maliciously deeply misogynist) short from Germany about loneliness and store policies. It would seem to clever for its own good were it not so devastating.

And the Academy Award goes to... Mickey Rourke. The story is conventional, and it appears our boy Darren Aronofsky's been watching some Dardenne brothers films in the past few years. But it's edited like a normal movie, and Rourke (and Marisa Tomei) are just exceptional. The story is pretty conventional, so it plays against Aronfsky's arthouse instincts beautifully. And how can you not love a film whose soundtrack is half 80s hair metal and half trap-rap. The way that Guns 'n Roses's "Sweet Child O' Mine" is used in this movie made me tear up like a damned fool.Fox Searchlight is releasing this in NYC and L.A. on December 19th, with the rest of the country to follow soon after.

A three-minute documentary that is effective and scarring.

The good news is that Clint Eastwood is still an amazing director, Angelina Jolie knocks it out of the park, there are quite a few moments that are of unearthly power, and it starts with the old-school Universal logo from way back in the day. The bad news is that the script is a mess, it's way too long, and there are a few scenes (mostly involving a necessary subplot) that are just embarrassing to behold. This one makes some of the same mistakes that Mystic River did, and it makes them bigger. Am I jaded because hyperstylized and violent representations of violence against children just don't affect me anymore? I should be horrified seeing axe murders and nonconsensual electroconvulsive therapy, but none of that holds a candle to some of Angelina's scenes with the child-who-is-not-hers. Worth seeing, absolutely. But one of Clint's best? No.

The latest evolution in Mafia movies. A colleague compared it to The Wire and found it wanting. There's some tense moments, and its indictment of blustery machismo is refreshing, but after two-plus hours, I just wanted everyone to get shot in a surprise fashion and for the thing to be over with. That said, a couple of connoisseurs of gangster films said it was a spectacular acheivement, so go with that if you're so inclinced. IFC has it for the US, so it'll be around.