What a seedy man is Günther Bachmann. Embodied, body and sallow soul by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last completed role, the German secret agent at the center of John Le Carre’s 2008 thriller had a spot of trouble back in Beirut and wound up in Hamburg for his sins, part of a deeply undercover cell of spies that observes and infiltrates the lives of suspected terrorists who might lead them further up the food chain of international bad actors. His superiors, plus a concerned American spy (Robin Wright), want to keep Bachmann on a tight leash, but he wants his counterterrorist team to stay as rogue as can be. There are many melancholic Le Carre-style exchanges, including Hoffman to Willem Dafoe’s banker character. “Which one? The one you want to fuck. She’s too young for you, Tommy. She’s too young for both of us.” (As well as the compact weariness of “Men who trusted you died.”) Read the rest of this entry »
(Pardé) Jafar Panahi, under house arrest, has been ordered by the Iranian regime not to make movies for twenty years (or, to give interviews, a ban that he has also broken). After “This Is Not A Film,” Panahi co-directs his second, forbidden film from internal exile (along with Kambozia Partovi). The first, shot in his Tehran apartment, took on the impossibility of a director not “directing” as part of its allegorical project, while also demonstrating his spirit of resistance. “Closed Curtain,” shot from inside a house along the Caspian Sea, swirls ever more with allegory, comprising a shifting limbo of mingling memories and reenactments and the apparition of what are essentially ghosts of former selves. It’s a deeply sad self-portrait of the inner workings of an artist’s stymied imagination. Read the rest of this entry »
It was years and years and years and years ago, just past the turn of the twentieth century. 2001, to be precise, January, only a few months before, well, you know. That single day. When everything supposedly changed.
We’re in Park City, Utah, at the largest of the Sundance Film Festival venues, the 989-seat Eccles Center. The latest film by Richard Linklater is about to debut, and there are whispers that afternoon that this showing will be a tightrope act. Two hard drives had arrived too late to test, only just in time to show, from a then-pioneering video effects company in Europe called Swiss Effects. There’s a primary and a backup of Linklater’s first animated feature, a movie about all time set in no time at all, “Waking Life.” A deep breath: this is new technology, made on computers in Austin, finished in Switzerland. It might not work at all. There’s no time left.
Of course, it worked. (So did “Waking Life,” the film.) No one in the audience knew the difference unless they’d heard the chatter. The illusion of onrushing narrative in continuous time swept us all away, as it has a way of doing. Not too long after that, Linklater shot the first portion of contained annual bursts of what was eventually entitled “Boyhood.” He hoped to trace the rituals of childhood, with a soulful-eyed, pout-lipped little casting find named Ellar Coltrane trusted with holding the center of the narrative for the twelve years to come. His character, Mason, would grow from the age of six or so to eighteen, from 2002 to September 2013, from pouty little boy to willowy, pillow-lipped man. Read the rest of this entry »
Fragile, autistic thirteen-year-old Ricky (played by nonprofessional Jesus Sanchez-Velez, who himself has Asperger’s), prone to skipping class, takes off after one chiding from Queens’ Rockaway Beach to a circuit of the New York subway, encountering the proverbial mass of humanity even as “Superstorm Sandy” approaches landfall. Sam Fleischner’s “Stand Clear Of The Closing Doors,” shot guerilla-style, captures a rare, teeming intimacy while also invoking the real-life, larger disaster about to hit. (Fleischner’s own neighborhood was demolished by the storm three-quarters of the way through the planned shoot.) The individual behaviors caught and measured make for splendid orchestrated cacophony. Read the rest of this entry »
(Bella addormentata) The seventy-four-year-old Italian master Marco Bellocchio remains steeped in all the vitality and fury of life and politics in “Dormant Beauty,” a keenly etched tragedy based on an occasion where Italy was inflamed by the case of a woman in a coma and an ensuing public battle about euthanasia. Bellocchio twines four stories, each with their own moments of volcanic dramatic power, into one pulsing mosaic. Read the rest of this entry »
No big-budget action film about one kind of apocalypse or another is complete these days without a rapid-fire, melancholic montage at the beginning, invoking the present day, the beginning of these particular end times. “Snowpiercer,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “World War Z,” and, of course, the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011). So it goes with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” In a few fleet images atop a murmurous soundtrack, the deed is done, “simian flu” eradicates nearly all of mankind, and ten years have passed. A few humans, led by a former law enforcement officer played by Gary Oldman, are left in the center of San Francisco, while miles away, up in the mountains, under the trees, a civilization of super-smart apes begins to, well, dawn. Matt Reeves’ skills as a director, and orchestrator of talents, show a fantastic advance from “Cloverfield” and the fine “Let Me In.” Read the rest of this entry »
With “Snowpiercer,” the eminently talented South Korean genre-bender Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” “Mother”) aims beyond the fences again with his fevered free adaptation of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s 1984 French graphic novel, “Le Transperceneige.” Bong and co-writer Kelly Masterson (“Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”) get a running start, depicting a worldwide attempt to forestall global warming on July 1, 2014, an experiment that freezes the planet. “The rattling ark” of a visionary industrialist’s vast, perpetual motion train that makes a circuit of the globe once a year is then the film’s allegorical setting. (In the novel, the train is 1,001 carriages long, to throw in another allusion.) For seventeen years, the Snowpiercer has stayed in motion. The oppressed of the farthest reaches of the tail of the train are prepared to revolt, to make their way to the front of the train, to…? They know no other world, not even sunlight glinted off the expanses of barren snow and frozen cities they circuit past. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the most bittersweet end credits I’ve seen in recent movies comes at the end of Paul Haggis’ melodrama about jealousy and point-of-view, “Third Person”: “To all the Belgian tax shelter investors.”
Haggis laughs when I say this on a recent sunny Chicago afternoon resounding with fire trucks and ambulances on the street below the high-up hotel suite. “I had to leave this country to get financing for this film,” he says at a fast clip with a light Canadian cadence. “I knew it was going to be a European film in many ways, anyways. It’s a European sensibility, this film. Besides the fact that two of the cities, Paris and Rome, are European. That didn’t trouble me too much, but it is a shame. We didn’t even bother to think of taking this to studios. We didn’t even try. Why would we? This is nothing a studio would make today. The days of studios making adult dramas is, sadly, long past.”
The look and feel of the movie does hark back to multiple eras. “We shot a lot of interiors at Cinecitta [studios in Rome]. Some we built on locations,” he tells me. “All the hotel suites, the hotel corridors, everything’s built there. I wanted two hotels that had the same footprint exactly. It’s part of the story. Even though [production designer] Larry Bennett changed out the windows and the dressing and the coving and everything, I wanted them to feel like… ‘Is this the same place?’ No, it’s not. ‘Is it?’” Read the rest of this entry »
Beneath Clint Eastwood’s easygoing, even somnolent direction of “Jersey Boys” lies a wittily constructed screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on their book to the 2005 Broadway musical (Brickman’s other co-writing credits include “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery”). But the small strokes of dialogue and rhyming bits of business are smothered by deadly pacing, among other things, including the whisper of “Goodfellas” at its back. The latest of eighty-four-year-old Eastwood’s late career surprises harks back to a filmmaking era that never existed, a backlot-driven, quiet, even spectral elongation of the terse framing and blocking of his mentor, Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”). The combination of the gentility of the settings, sometimes-slapstick comedy, shameless profanity, casually staged musical numbers and erratic casting make for an eccentric, underwhelming, but intermittently eye-opening failure. Read the rest of this entry »
The readily scandalized, readily titillated portion of the press pack at Cannes 2013 exulted in the apparition of Amat Escalante’s “Heli,” a grisly portrayal of the brute violence that narcotics gangs visit upon Mexico each day. Escalante cites Kubrick, Argento and Leone as influences, but “Heli” goes beyond influence, both in moments of stillness and of action. With such potentially repulsive subject matter, I’m more partial to a more nuanced, playful approach, like in Gerardo Naranjo’s fine “Miss Bala,” one that encompasses terrible events, yet heightens them in a literary or lyrical fashion rather than relying, as “Heli” does, on blunt shock. (Torture, child rape, mutilation, a penis set ablaze.) Read the rest of this entry »