Guy Maddin goes more madly Maddinesque than ever in “The Forbidden Room,” an eye-popping, mind-throbbing palimpsest of film-historical apocrypha, co-directed with Evan Johnson and aided and abetted by elder poet John Ashbery. To attempt synopsis would be to tempt word salad at apex, swirling into its ever-concentric concatenation of vivid, vibrant visions of forms of filmmaking that resemble fever dreams past, but exist only within its own cloud of visual perfume across two hours of unceasing melodramatic phantasmagoria. Maddin and Johnson frame their stories with an Ashbery ditty about bathing, then moving on to seventeen or so tales-within-tales including a doomed submarine crew chewing the oxygen out of flapjacks, child soldiers, lumberjacks, vampires, wolf men, volcano sacrifices, a teeming array of intertitles and the expected digital experimentation with the lovingly lousy look of the lowest, boldest rungs of twentieth century moviemaking. Read the rest of this entry »
The dream life of angles: In Pascale Ferran’s “Bird People,” at a Hilton hotel near Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, Gary, an American engineer (Josh Charles) who squirrels himself away while impulsively on the run from his life (job, wife, encroaching middle age) meets a young French maid, Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier) whose fantasies are altogether surprising. The parallel tracks of their stories, the hopes of each for transforming their lives, enchant as much as what seems like a fated union. While the film’s first half finds fascination in details of the quotidian of Audrey’s day-to-day life, “Bird People” finds its form once enough surreal details burst to the surface. (The title offers a clue to the film’s key flight of whimsy.) Two people, adrift, one observant, one not, near a place where others take flight each day: the conceit is plain, simple, wispy and largely lovely. Read the rest of this entry »
“There is something in sadomasochism which is not dissimilar to theatre,” Roman Polanski ventures in the press kit for his adaptation of David Ives’ “Venus In Fur” (based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella). “You become a director in your own fantasies, you play a part, you get somebody else to play a part. That theatricality is something the film plays with, that play within a play: a place where domination and submission, theater and real life, characters, reality and fantasy, all meet, switch places and blur boundaries.” While “Venus In Fur” takes place almost entirely within the confines of a single theater stage, even Polanski’s other movies, in larger, wider worlds, also sally with subterfuge, consider the shimmering of identities, the salvage of self by throwing oneself wholeheartedly into what seems the annihilation of oneself. So? Polanski, like many a great artist, is also a great narcissist and in the end, the work is about himself. Or in this case, his wife of twenty-four years, Emmanuelle Seigner, arriving in a lightning storm, late to an audition, embodying the vitality of the character she is about to read, and for the play’s director, sex itself. Read the rest of this entry »
The masterful French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin’s nine feature-length films aren’t precisely sui generis but they’re endlessly dissectible. The bits and pieces can thrill even when the overall fabric mystifies or transitions jolt. “Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian),” is a Western of sorts, but also a sweetly strange intellectual adventure, based on “Reality and Dream,” an obscure book by French anthropologist, psychoanalyst and scholar of Native American culture George Devereux, a contemporary of Claude Levi-Strauss. In the film, Devereux (Mathieu Amalric), is dispatched to the Menninger Clinic in Kansas in 1948 to treat Jimmy Picard, a Blackfoot Indian (Benicio del Toro) who has been diagnosed as schizophrenic after fighting in France in World War II. Desplechin’s screenplay (written with Julie Peyr and film critic, Scorsese collaborator and New York Film Festival director of programming Kent Jones) works from the style of case study but never descends into simple seminar. Read the rest of this entry »
“What does it mean to spend money? A dollar. A million.” With “Cosmopolis,” David Cronenberg and Robert Pattinson create a day in the life as they hop into the soundproofed pages of one of Don DeLillo’s minor novels and wreak a compelling, if detached succession of compartmentalized dream-scenes about the fall of money. Cronenberg adapted DeLillo’s 2003 novel, which, while looking back to September 11, 2001, is oddly prescient about 2008 and 2012 as well. It’s unapologetically cerebral stuff. The dialogue, esoteric, hermetic, unwieldy, is drawn almost entirely from DeLillo and it’s a thrill to hear the writer’s gnomic interior-monologue-spoken-aloud staccato brought to life by good actors, which include Pattinson, cool and damped as Eric Packer, a twenty-eight-year-old billionaire asset manager who senses the pixels and numerals seeping from his stratified, Ponzified, algorithmic mastery of rarefied fiscal air. He’s made an ungainly bet against the Chinese yuan, and wants only to cross Manhattan in his white stretch limousine, armor-plated, “Prousted” with cork, to get a haircut from his old barber. Read the rest of this entry »
Freed from establishing the background of the French gangster in “Mesrine: Killer Instinct,” director Jean-François Richet (“Assault on Precinct 13,” 2005) is able to leap into courtroom escape and prison-break setpieces for their own explosive pop movie virtues in the second film, “Mesrine: Public Enemy # 1.” The joy that crosses Vincent Cassel’s plumped-up face as he challenges authority, whether bankers at work or judges in their courtroom, is splendid to observe, less a matter of capturing the gangster’s shameless exploits than as a demonstration of actorly verve. You’re conscious of the seductive Cassel as a fine showboat more than him being able to embody the urges of Mesrine as he revels in his newfound notoriety as France’s most wanted crook. Despite all the wigs and mustaches in the world, Mesrine, or Cassel, is always standing out in a crowd. Mathieu Amalric (an Arnaud Desplechin regular) is wry as a criminal accomplice and Olivier Gourmet a cocky cartoon of a police adversary. The reported $80 million budget for the two films again provides for a rich eyeful of 1970s period details. 130m. Widescreen. A review of “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” is here. (Ray Pride)
“Nobody kills me until I say so!” There’s a gangster’s declaration for you, the tagline from the fictionalization of the life and exploits of French crime kingpin Jacques Mesrine. Told in two parts, drawn from a memoir, both directed by Jean-François Richet (“Assault on Precinct 13,” 2005), “Mesrine” takes the shape of a sleekly fitted suit for a plumped-up Vincent Cassel more than a fully-fashioned crime epic. But the movie doesn’t aim for “Godfather”-style complexity or Olivier Assayas-style impressionism (as in the forthcoming five-hour “Carlos”), but rather for a rapid-fire action bauble built on scenes of Mesrine’s rise, then ending abruptly in anticipation of the second film (due for release next Friday). Don’t expect the astringent experiments of a movie like Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” or the code-of-honor classics of Jean-Pierre Melville (“Le Samourai,” “Le Cercle Rouge”): it’s just a rapid-fire bit of brute pop gangsterism with chewy star turns (aside from the magnetic Cassel, there’s a nice cameo from Gérard Depardieu as a mentor to Mesrine). The latest foreign-language release from adventurous Music Box Films, “Mesrine” likely won’t be the success that “Tell No One” and the Millennium Trilogy (“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and autumn’s “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”) have been fiscally, but if anyone is going to get mileage out of kicky big-screen foreign-language fare in the U. S. market, it’s that Chicago-based distributor. With Ludivine Sagnier, Cécile de France. 113m. (Ray Pride)
“Mesrine: Killer Instinct” opens Friday at Landmark Century. The second feature opens next Friday. The trailer is below. Read the rest of this entry »
(Les herbes folles) “Wild Grass,” octogenarian master filmmaker Alain Resnais’ dippy freefall of a neurotic near-farce movie-movie romance is startling, strange and terribly sweet. I’d even venture it’ll be the youngest-feeling movie made by an 88-year-old director this year. Based, quite literally at times, upon a novel, ” L’Incident,” by Christian Gailly, “Wild Grass” is deliriously playful in how it stacks the forces of fate in its duo of characters’ overlapping lives and their mutating fantasies about each other, which begin with a purloined purse and a returned wallet. Wildly red-maned Resnais regular Sabine Azéma plays Marguerite, a middle-aged dentist and small-craft pilot who gains the unhealthy attentions of Georges (André Dussollier), a wealthy man her age, married and with grown children, after he returns her wallet. Obsessions and fears overlap and erupt in Paris and the suburbs they live in, to alternately funny and peculiar result. “Wild Grass” is also a study in the unreliable narrator: scenes of plausibility clash with utterly fantastic ones. Visually, it’s a treat, with color treated as a fantastical element and not a literal one: the decors are ADD Almodovar. The cryptic final scenes are weird and wonderful and genteelly surreal. Kitty treats, indeed. This is grown-up whimsy of a high order. The score is by Mark Snow (“The X-Files,” “Smallville,” “Private Fears In Public Places”), and the cinematography by the limber, inventive Eric Gautier (many Olivier Assayas films, “Into the Wild,” “The Motorcycle Diaries”) soars, literally, often, with great delight. With Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, Anne Consigny. 104m. (Ray Pride)
“Wild Grass” opens Friday at the Music Box.
By Ray Pride
1. “In the Mood for Love,” Wong Kar-Wai, 2000
Repetition, proximity, music, exchange of glances. Looks of desire, clouds, rain. Unconsummated romance = cinema.
2. “Yi Yi,” Edward Yang, 2000
Perfection. It’s taken for granted because it seems so simple, so easy, so natural. Family as lovingly detailed soap opera; at just under three hours, the late Taiwanese master made a multigenerational epic worthy of a novel. And, strangely befitting his background in computer science, he knew precisely where to place the camera for the most dynamic effect.
3. “Before Sunset,” Richard Linklater, 2004
Linklater knows there’s grandeur in the smallest of shared, skittery moments. This couple that never was, with dreamy memories of their one-night stand, are different people now, older, oft-disappointed, yet despite underlying melancholy, still straining for a moment of genuine contact. Read the rest of this entry »