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Review: Venus In Fur

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Venus In Fur Still 4RECOMMENDED

“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 »

Review: Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian)

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


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 »

Review: Cosmopolis

Drama, Recommended No Comments »


“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 »

Review: Chicken With Plums

Drama No Comments »


Marjane Satrapi follows up her autobiographical animated feature “Persepolis” (2007), adapted from her graphic novels, with a live-action tale inspired by lore about her mother’s late uncle, a despondent tar player. (Once more, Vincent Paronnaud is her co-director). “Chicken with Plums” adapts her 2004 graphic novel “Poulet aux prunes,” titled after the favorite dish of the Persian musician portrayed in their second collaboration. Mostly set in Tehran in 1958, this “lovely, sad love story,” as Satrapi calls it, relates the last eight days of a heartbroken violinist revisiting his past, which included a concert career abroad. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mesrine: Public Enemy # 1

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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)

Review: Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Action, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema 1 Comment »


“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 »

Review: Wild Grass

Comedy, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


(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.

At Zeroes End: Best Films, 2000-2009

The State of Cinema No Comments »

By Ray Prideinthemoodforlove-2jpg

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 »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2008: Film

News and Dish No Comments »

Top 5 Domestic Filmsslumdog-1

“The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan

“Che,” Steven Soderbergh

“Paranoid Park,” Gus Van Sant

“Rachel Getting Married,” Jonathan Demme

“Ballast,” Lance Hammer

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Films

“Man on Wire,” James Marsh

“Reprise,” Joachim Trier

“Happy-Go-Lucky,” Mike Leigh

“Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle

“A Christmas Tale,” Arnaud Desplechin

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Films

“Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle

“Ballast,” Lance Hammer

“Hunger,” Steve McQueen

“The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan

“In The City of Sylvia,” Jose Luis Guerin

—Bill Stamets

Top 5 Films

“Milk,” Gus Vant Sant

“The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan

“Man on Wire,” James Marsh

“Let the Right One In,” Tomas Alfredson

“Rachel Getting Married,” Jonathan Demme

—Tom Lynch

Top 5 Performances – Female

Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”

Kristin Scott Thomas, “I’ve Loved You So Long”

Kate Winslet, “Revolutionary Road”

Kat Dennings, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Performances – Male

Benicio Del Toro, “Che”

Sean Penn, “Milk”

Mathieu Amalric, “A Christmas Tale”

Michel Blanc, “The Witnesses”

Ben Kingsley, “Elegy”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Supporting Performances – Female

Ann Savage, “My Winnipeg”

Nurgul Yesilcay, “The Edge of Heaven”

Viola Davis, “Doubt”

Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

Zoe Kazan, “Revolutionary Road”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Supporting Performances – Male

Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road,” “Shotgun Stories”

Danny McBride, “Pineapple Express”

Richard Dreyfuss, “W.”

Toby Jones, “W.”

Anil Kapoor, “Slumdog Millionaire”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Directors

Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Joachim Trier, “Reprise”

Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Tomas Alfredson, “Let the Right One In”

James Marsh, “Man on Wire”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Screenplays

Fatih Akin, “The Edge Of Heaven”

Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, “Reprise”

Simon Beaufoy, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Charlie Kaufman, “Synecdoche, New York”

Martin McDonagh, “In Bruges”

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Domestic Documentaries

“Encounters at the End of the World,” Werner Herzog

“The Order of Myths,” Margaret Brown

“At The Death House Door,” Steve James, Peter Gilbert

“The Unforeseen,” Laura Dunn

“Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father,” Kurt Kuenne

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Foreign Documentaries

“Man On Wire,” James Marsh

“Of Time and the City,” Terence Davies

“Waltz With Bashir,” Ari Folman

“Up the Yangtze,” Yung Chang

“Young@Heart,” Stephen Walker

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Follies

“Speed Racer,” The Wachowski brothers

“The Fall,” Tarsem

“Adam Resurrected,” Paul Schrader

“Australia,” Baz Luhrmann

“My Blueberry Nights,” Wong Kar-wai

—Ray Pride

Top 5 Films You Can’t See Yet

“24 City,” Jia Zhang-Ke

“35 Shots Of Rum,” Claire Denis

“The English Surgeon,” Geoffrey Smith

“Liverpool,” Lisandro Alonso

“Voy a Explotar (I’m Going to Explode),” Gerardo Naranjo

—Ray Pride


Where the Hearth Is: Talking “A Christmas Tale” with Andre Desplechin

Comedy, Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »

By Ray Pride

Andre Desplechin’s hilarious, bravura, restlessly generous dark comedy, “A Christmas Tale,” is of a piece with earlier work like the furiously engaged mega-talkathon “My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument” (1996) and the jaw-dropping “Kings and Queen” (2005), which led me to write that “Sometimes too much is simply too much and other times, too much is bliss.” Of the same movie, critic Kent Jones wrote, “Arnaud Desplechin is a protean, mercurial, supremely gifted filmmaker in a depressingly linear and single-minded age. His generous, super-abundant films look and feel like no one else’s—by contrast, almost everything else seems a little careful and self-contained.” Those words hold true still.

The French writer-director’s latest finds a splintered family coming together at Christmas because mother Junon (Catherine Deneuve) has fallen ill with leukemia, which had killed her eldest son. Father Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) rounds up their three grown children: Elizabeth (Anne Consigny), a miserable playwright married to a mathematician (Hippolyte Girardot) and a troubled teenage son, Paul (Emile Berling); Henri (Mathieu Amalric), who was banished from the family by his sister several years earlier, and the conciliatory younger brother Ivan (Melvil Poupaud), who brings along Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni) and has two quirky sons. Family members are tested to see if they’re possible donors, leading to the family whirl, which includes Henri’s girlfriend, Faunia, played by Desplechin regular, the brilliant Emmanuelle Devos. Christmas, and family, and battle, ensue.

“A Christmas Tale” is the “home for the holidays” primal scene as primal scream: from the first moments, as we’re introduced to the characters, we realize they can be chilly and abrupt, capable of pettiness and outright cruelty. And that’s just the set-up. Individual scenes and transgressions and bouts of grief that unfold in the family home have led Desplechin to compare the house and the film to an Advent calendar, or a Joseph Cornell box, little corners filled with treats and tricks at every turn. When I suggest it’s also like a dollhouse, like a spiteful child would furiously demolish, he quickly agrees with a burst of generous laughter.

Desplechin likes to quote an observation that movies need to have four ideas each minute. “I think what Truffaut was saying was not a big philosophical concept. It could be very silly ideas. It could be small ideas. Very subtle things, which suddenly pop up in the middle of the movie. There are great directors who have deep, profound ideas for twenty minutes. I’m thinking of Tarkovsky, and I have great admiration for him but I wouldn’t be able to film that way. When Truffaut was giving this line, I think he was thinking about details, making storytelling a bit faster, a bit funnier.” Like putting a poster in the corner, or a funny hat, a piece of music coming from a car? “Yeah. Very practical things, like an odd way of answering a question. Or a surprising reaction or that everything is expressed by a gesture. Or something a character has in his pocket.”

The eight features he’s made are fraught with telling detail, from composition to décor to music to dialogue to behavior, but he’s not concerned that you can take it all in, or have to get the implications of using cut-out animation to tell bits of backstory, done after the style of American artist Kara Walker, whose own cut-out work has depicted tableaux from the violent history of slavery. Letters often play in Desplechin’s films, but the characters’ communication always seems epistolary in another way, as if communication were only possible where no silence can live. “I think the way Americans use language is fascinating,” he tells me, warming to the subject. “The comedies, of the thirties or forties, the sheer pleasure of exchanging words. But we are, each time I like the way the character are not speaking like in natural life. The sound of it, the sound of the dialogue. I would love to be able to write dialogues which are [simply] beautiful. Which means that even if someone young sees it on TV or on DVD and let’s say that she is 12 or he is 12, would get the mood of it even if she cannot understand each word. The mood of it, or the way of acting those words, y’know, it would be just like breathing. I love when the father is reading Nietzsche lines to his daughter [in the film]. He wants to comfort her but he does not know the words. He doesn’t know what to say. So he’s picking up a book and reading the lines. Period. I love the fact that with the lines, the sounds fades, and you just have the music. And silence. After that you can have the words again, but what it means is that to listen to the words, the meaning, to listen to the music is largely enough. So perhaps, it’s because it’s close to my own way of looking at films. I am looking at the film [and] I am 12. I am not listening to all the words, I am just listening to the music of it.”

Hitchcock liked to say that audiences didn’t want a slice of life, they wanted a slice of cake. “Cake, yeah,” the 48-year-old writer-director says with his ready laugh. “Oh yeah. I certainly agree.” “A Christmas Tale” builds on that, I joke, it’s an entire patisserie. His laughter is almost as gratifying as his tremendously touching rumpus of a movie. Almost. But not quite.

“A Christmas Tale” opens Friday at the Music Box.