Thursday, March 31, 2011

SUCKER PUNCH

USA
2011
110 minutes

300 director Zack Snyder's live-action follow-up to his smart adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen is a richly imagined but dramatically airless surreal fantasy, where The Matrix meets Terry Gilliam inside a steam-punk video-game staged by Baz Luhrmann gone burlesque. Its astonishing visual imagination and outrageous mash-up sensibility mark it as a truly original piece, especially coming from the cookie-cutter blockbuster culture of contemporary Hollywood, and it's a testament to mr. Snyder's current position in the major studio hierarchy that he could get it done on his terms.
Sucker Punch is essentially a meditation on the nature of escapism and storytelling (or escapism as storytelling), as a young girl (Emily Browning) institutionalised by her wicked stepfather at a theatrical Gothic asylum copes with her tragedy by hatching an elaborate escape plan revealed through the dreamworlds she retreats to inside her mind. The problem is that this trip through nested dreams-within-dreams, a la Inception, quickly settles into a deliriously self-indulgent showreel of increasingly out-there visual ingenuity harnessed to a basic videogame structure (collect the five items that will unlock your way out). Such delirious creativity ends up drowning the quaintly old-fashioned Dickensian melodrama of the poor orphan girl at its centre, effectively presented in a silent pre-credit intro that may be the best thing about the film; it also wastes a game, talented cast in two-dimensional parts (it's a miracle that Ms. Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone and Carla Gugino actually manage to make affecting characters out of all the cliches).
Undoubtedly destined for cult oddity status, Sucker Punch is a well-stocked toy box for a talented but sprawling director who may have overstretched himself; the risk isn't any less valid for all its flaws, but you wish there was something more than just eye candy.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha

Starring Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac; with Jon Hamm; and Scott Glenn.
Directed by Zack Snyder; produced by Deborah Snyder, mr. Snyder; screenplay by mr. Snyder and Steve Shibuya, based on a story by mr. Snyder; music by Tyler Bates and Marius de Vries; director of photography (Technicolor, Panavision), Larry Fong; production designer, Rick Carter; costume designer, Michael Wilkinson; film editor, William Hoy; visual effects supervisor, John Desjardin. 
A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation, in association with Legendary Pictures, of a Cruel and Unusual Films production. (US distributor and world sales, Warner Bros. Pictures.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Columbia Tristar Warner screening room (Lisbon), March 24th 2011. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

PINA

Germany/France
2011
103 minutes

It's fair to say most people will approach Wim Wenders' latest foray into documentary filmmaking with some trepidation, seeing as his recent fiction has been mostly below par. However, such trepidation is unnecessary, since Pina, the German director's homage to the late choreographer Pina Bausch, is not only a welcome return to form; it's also one of his most vital and heartfelt films, and certainly his most heartfelt in a long time.
Key to this particular triumph is not only the much-ballyhooed 3D effect, but above all mr. Wenders' long-term friendship with ms. Bausch. Both had been discussing a film collaboration for the best part of twenty years and only when 3D became sufficiently developed did mr. Wenders feel the moment had come to shoot. Tragically, ms. Bausch died as filming was about to begin, and the director considered cancelling the project altogether until her company insisted he move forward. The result is a vivid collage: excerpts of four of her best-loved pieces, shot as stage performances, are interspersed with the company's memories of working with ms. Bausch, solos from the dancers filmed in actual Wuppertal and Essen locations, and archival footage.
Mr. Wenders uses the 3D technology, in accordance with ms. Bausch's wishes, not as a circus sideshow gimmick but as an actual dimensionalisation of the pieces: the relief is merely an expansion of the screen landscape that allows the dancing to recapture its spatial dimension, perspective, movement and depth of field intertwining. The camera is just another dancer, attentive to each step and breath of its companions, perfectly realising one of the dancers' statements that "Pina was a painter that used the dancers' bodies as words". And the director takes a step back to merely record the choreographer's concept of "dance theatre", with the film becoming, more than just a documentary, truly a window into her creative world, all egos (even mr. Wenders') disappearing and blending into one moving, heartfelt love letter to ms. Bausch's work.
Pina is likely to be, after James Cameron's Avatar, the next truly extraordinary step in the evolution of 3D as a serious filmmaking tool rather than just a gee-whiz technology.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha


Directed and written by Wim Wenders; choreography by Pina Bausch; produced by mr. Wenders, Gian-Piero Rangel; original music by Thom Hanreich; directors of photography (Cinepostproduction Geyer, 3D), Hélène Louvart and Jörg Widmer; art director, Peter Pabst; costume designers, Marion Cito, Rolf Borzik; film editor, Toni Froschhammer. 
A NFP Marketing & Distribution presentation of a Neue Road Movies production, in co-production with Eurowide Film Production, ZDF and ZDFtheaterkanal; in association with ARTE; in association with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Pina Bausch Stiftung, L'Arche Éditeur and Pictorion das Werk; with the support of Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Deutscher Filmförderfonds, Filmförderungsanstalt, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, BKM, Centre National du Cinéma et de l'Image Animée. (German distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures. World sales, Hanway Films.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, official selection (out of competition) advance press screening, Berlinale Palast (Berlin), February 13th 2011. 


PINA - Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost - International Trailer from neueroadmovies on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

EL PREMIO

Mexico/France/Poland/Germany
2011
123 minutes

For her debut feature, Mexico-based, Argentinian screenwriter Paula Markovitch delved into her own memories of growing up under a totalitarian regime in the 1970s, turning them into a moody meditation on innocence lost. Seven-year-old Cecilia settles with her mother in a dilapidated beach house in provincial coastal Argentina, running away from the police after the disappearance of her father in hope they will not be found. Cecilia eventually enrolls in the local school where she quickly makes friends, even though the obviously pro-regime teacher thinks there is something unusual about the new student, with things coming to a head when the Army shows up with a vat of cocoa and a writing competition.
Ms. Markovitch, best known for her co-writing credits in Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke's deadpan, wry satires Duck Season and Lake Tahoe, has a very personal eye for framing and gets a lot of mileage out of her careful handling of the non-professional kids she has cast. This is crucial for what is essentially a coming-of-age story, with Cecilia (a wonderful Paula Hertzog) having to face adult emotions at a very early age, but though there's nothing inherently wrong with the movie you do feel that Ms. Markovitch is hammering the point home for much longer and a lot harder than she should, the totalitarian metaphor being obtrusively underlined at every moment. While El Premio is a creditable debut, the general claustrophobic palette of grey dreariness and the sprawling length reinforce the feeling that the whole thing was so close to the fledgling director's heart that the film may have simply got away from her.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha

Starring Paula Rafaelli Hertzog, Sharon Herrera, Laura Agorreca, Viviane Suraniti, Uriel Iasillo.
Directed and written by Paula Markovitch; produced by Izrael Moreno; music by Sergio Gurrola; director of photography (colour, widescreen), Wojciech Staron; production designer, Bárbara Enriquez; costume designers, Victoria Pugliese, Macarena Pazos; film editor, Lorena Moriconi.
A !Kung presentation/production, in co-production with Mille et Une Productions, Staron Film, Iz Film, Altamira Film, Niko Film; with the support of Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía, Conaculta, Foprocine, FONCA, World Cinema Fund, Polish Film Institute, Fonds Sud Cinéma. (World sales, Umedia.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, official competition screening, Urania Humboldt-Saal (Berlin), February 12th 2011. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

CAMINO

Spain
2008
144 minutes

Javier Fesser's devastatingly Buñuelian satire of religious fundamentalism swept the Spanish Goya awards by storm in 2009 - and deservedly so, as it's rare for a movie so densely packed with thought-provoking provocations to be as entertaining as this two-and-a-half-hour rollercoaster. Inspired by the true story of Alexia González-Barros, a Spanish teenager currently en route to canonisation, Fesser tells of the last six months in the life of the devout tween Camino, daughter to an imperious Catholic mother connected to the Opus Dei, who is diagnosed with advanced terminal cancer just as she has her first crush on the cousin of a schoolmate (appropriately called Jesús).
Fesser cleverly and swiftly moves back and forth between the drab, painful reality of sacrifice and devotion through a harrowing series of treatments, and Camino's colorful, romantic fantasies of a lush heaven where she and Jesus can be an item, inserting a series of adroit flashbacks to fill in the family backstory as it disintegrates around the girl; the kind father doubts more and more of his wife's well-meaning obstinacy in finding solace in religion, while the meek elder sister struggles mightily with her own vocation as an apprentice nun. The film steers well clear from condemning faith, but doesn't hesitate in pointing fingers at the hypocrisy of a meticulously organised system that purports to revel in real life but forbids any engagement with the world, through a respectfully subversive usage of convention and narrative that evokes Buñuel's sly Mexican melodramas as well as his corrosive Viridiana. However, Camino is its own beast - and a fine one it is.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. All rights reserved by the author 

Starring Nerea Camacho, Carme Elías, Mariano Venancio, Manuela Vellés; Ana Gracia, Lola Casamayor, Lucas Manzano, Pepe Ocio, Claudia Otero, Jordi Dauder, Emilio Gavira, Miriam Raya.
Directed, written and edited by Javier Fesser; produced by Luis Manso, Jaume Roures; music by Rafael Arnau, Mario Gosálvez; director of photography (Technicolor, widescreen), Alex Catalán; art director, Cesar Macarrón; costume designer, Tatiana Hernández; visual effects supervisor, Ferran Piquer. 
A Peliculas Pendelton/Mediapro production, in association with Wild Bunch; with the participation of Televisión Española and Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha; with the collaboration of Televisió de Catalunya, Institut Català de les Industries Culturals and Catalan Films & TV; with financing from Instituto de Crédito Oficial; with the support of Instituto de la Cinematografia y de las Artes Audiovisuales. (Spanish distributor, Warner Sogefilms. World sales, Wild Bunch.) 
Screened: DVD, Lisbon, March 17th 2011. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

BAL

Honey


Turkey/Germany
2010
103 minutes

A young boy growing up in rural Turkey will only speak, in whispers, with his beekeeping father; but one day the father doesn't come home from work.

Amiable but slight, seductive but strangely unmemorable, Bal seems to be the sort of arthouse film tailor-made for little more than a berth at film festivals. And, indeed, Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu's fifth feature charmed the Golden Bear off Berlin's 2010 jury presided by Werner Herzog. It isn't hard to see why - this lovely tale of an idyllic (but far from perfect) rural childhood is as much observational character study as contemplative look at rural traditions and lifestyles unchanged for centuries (only occasionally does the modern world intrude), suggesting comparisons to Malick and Tarkovski (a particular favourite of Kaplanoglu's).
Sadly, the film's romanticised view of nature, lushly photographed by Baris Özbiçer, and its quietly sensitive view of childhood are not conducive to a structured narrative: the visuals aren't dazzling enough to make up for an episodic, meandering plot, the deliberate absence of music lending it an austerity that undoes the dreamlike charm of some moments. There are many wonderful things in Bal, but it ends up ultimately being less than the sum of its parts.
©2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Bora Altas, Erdal Besikcioglu, Tülın Özen, Alev Uçarer, Ayse Altay, Özkan Akçay, Selami Gökçe.
Directed and produced by Semih Kaplanoglu; written by mr. Kaplanoglu, Orçun Köksal, with the collaboration of Leyla Ipekçi; director of photography (Sinefekt), Baris Özbiçer; art director, Naz Erayda; film editors, Ayhan Ergürsel, mr. Kaplanoglu, S. Hande Güneri.
A Kaplan Film Production/Heimatfilm presentation/production, in co-production with ZDF, with the collaboration of ARTE, with the support of Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen and Eurimages. (World sales, The Match Factory.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Medeia King 1 (Lisbon), March 16th 2011.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MARGIN CALL

USA
2011
110 minutes

A young associate at a troubled investment banking firm finds out just how much the company is at risk from a series of bad investments.

One of the best compliments you can make to J. C. Chandor's debut feature is that there's such a mature sensibility at work here that it hardly looks as if it's a first film - or, for that matter, a first screenplay, since this is very much a writer's movie. Everything in Margin Call is focused on the word, the power and delivery of the dialogue; it's not the visual film-making but the script and the performances that propel the film forward - and that's another compliment, especially in these days where screenwriting seems to be some sort of lost art (despite Aaron Sorkin's well-deserved plaudits for The Social Network). American reviewers have evoked Glengarry Glen Ross and it's a good point - this tale of the financial meltdown seen through the eyes of a troubled investment banking firm could very well be a David Mamet ensemble character-driven pieces (again, compliment).
As a director, Chandor is serviceable and effective (although there's a bit too many shot/reverse shot combos for comfort), but it's as a writer and director of actors that he really impresses, thanks to the snowballing, carefully constructed plot, perfectly rendered through the dialogue and the pitch-perfect performances. Honours in that camp must go to Kevin Spacey for an unusually self-effacing turn, Paul Bettany's smartly ambiguous presence, and co-producer Zachary Quinto's (Spock in the Star Trek reboot) ease stepping up to the plate with the big leagues.
Margin Call is the sort of film that the majors used to put out in the years when their schedules were blockbuster-free territory; these days, it needs scrappy independent financiers to happen. A shame - this smart B-picture is so much better than Oliver Stone's Wall Street sequel, and would deserve a proper major-studio release.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell; with Demi Moore; and Stanley Tucci.
Directed and written by J. C. Chandor; produced by Joe Jenckes, Robert Ogden Barnum, Corey Moosa, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson and mr. Quinto; music by Nathan Larson; director of photography (Technicolor), Frank de Marco; production designer, John Paino; costume designer, Caroline Duncan; film editor, Pete Beaudreau.
A Myriad Pictures/Benaroya Pictures presentation of a Before The Door production, in association with Washington Square Films, Untitled Entertainment and Sakonnet Capital Partners. (US distributors, Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate. World sales, Myriad Pictures.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, official competition screening, Urania Humboldt-Saal (Berlin), February 12th 2011.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SCHLAFKRANKHEIT

Sleeping Sickness


Germany/France/Netherlands
2011
92 minutes

Berlin School director Ulrich Köhler transplants wholesale its clinical, formalist aesthetic to Africa in his third feature, an oblique meditation on displacement and identity that asks tough questions about the connections between Europe and Africa. Some have seem in it a sort of German answer to Apichatpong Weerasethakul's animist fables (as in the Thai director's work, Sleeping Sickness is neatly split in two halves), but it might be wiser to match Köhler's waking dream to the subterranean sensuality of Claire Denis. The first half follows German doctor Pierre Bokma's uneasy decision to leave his NGO work in Cameroon to return to his wife and daughter in a country he no longer truly recognises; the second picks up a couple of years later, as French son of African parents Jean-Christophe Folly visits the continent for the first time in order to evaluate the programme the doctor is still leading.
Inspired freely by his own experience as the son of NGO workers in Zaïre, Köhler underlines the alien, almost narcoleptic landscape as an acquired taste that gets under your skin and challenges your very notions of reality, identity and belonging. He isn't interested in painting Africa either as a playground for dissolute Europeans or a culture clash for second-generation migrants, though he fleetingly touches both; he's aiming at something far more mysterious and indescribable, perfectly summed up in a particularly appropriate title. The film moves forward as if in a dream, running either at half speed or full jet-lag; the medical programme at the centre of it all is aimed at eradicating sleeping sickness, and the irony is that those that attempt to understand it seem condemned to contracting it themselves. It's a seductive, intriguingly opaque puzzle well worth a second look.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Pierre Bokma, Jean-Christophe Folly, Jenny Schily, Hippolyte Girardot.
Directed and written by Ulrich Köhler; produced by Janine Jackowski, Maren Ade, Katrin Schlösser; director of photography (colour), Patrick Orth; production designer, Jochen Dehn; costume designer, Birgitt Kilian; film editors, Katharina Wartena, Eva Könnemann.
A Komplizen Film production, in co-production with Öfilm, Why Not Productions, IDTV Film, ZDF das kleine Fernsehspiel; in collaboration with ARTE; with support from Filmförderungsanstalt, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Deutscher Filmförderfonds, Filmförderung Hamburg-Schleswig-Holstein, Film Fonds Nederlands, Hessische Filmförderung, Centre National de la Cinématographie. (German distributor, Farbfilm Verleih. World sales, The Match Factory.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2001, official competition advance press screening, Berlinale Palast (Berlin), February 12th 2011. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

GIANNI E LE DONNE

The Salt of Life


Italy
2011
89 minutes

If you didn't particularly enjoy Mid-August Lunch, the surprise hit comedy that revealed screenwriter Gianni di Gregorio's talents as a director and actor, it's unlikely you will enjoy what is, essentially, a rerun of the same loosely-scripted, quasi-improvised comedy. If you did enjoy it, on the other end, you may be disappointed that Di Gregorio avoided doing Mid-August Lunch Part II.
To be fair, The Salt of Life harnesses the same format in the service of a different ambition. Even if Di Gregorio stars again as another fictional Gianni who is essentially a "handyman" to all the women around him, the film explores the bittersweet realisation of aging and what that means to one's self-image and self-confidence. This Gianni is a sixty-year-old "househusband" who becomes suddenly aware his age has counted him out of the sex game; complaining he has become "transparent", and unwilling to go gently into that good night, he attempts desperately to reverse his misery to dispiriting returns, in the best tradition of classic Italian comedy.
It's a more constructed and less slight film that Mid-August Lunch, but despite the greater seriousness, you feel that Di Gregorio hasn't necessarily grown as a filmmaker: there's still the sense of a single-serving joke stretched very thin to feature length, and the plot doesn't so much wrap up toward the end as peter out with no actual sense of closure. Still, the film's sincerity and spirited hand-made feel make Di Gregorio the one contemporary director openly working within the classic Italian comedy tradition.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Gianni di Gregorio, Valeria de Franciscis Bendoni, Alfonso Santagata, Elisabetta Piccolomini, Valeria Cavalli, Alyn Prandi, Kristina Cepraga.
Directed by mr. Di Gregorio; produced by Angelo Barbagallo; screenplay by mr. Di Gregorio, Valerio Attanasio, based on a story by mr. Di Gregorio; music by Stefano Ratchev and Mattia Carratello; director of photography (Technicolor), Gogò Bianchi; production designer, Susanna Cascella; costume designer, Silvia Polidori; film editor, Marco Spoletini.
A Bibi Films/Isaria Productions/Rai Cinema presentation/production. (World sales, Fandango Portobello.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, Berlinale Special press screening, Cinemaxx Potsdamer Platz 9 (Berlin), February 11th 2011.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

TROPA DE ELITE 2: O INIMIGO AGORA É OUTRO

Brazil
2010
115 minutes

An incorruptible Rio de Janeiro SWAT cop is promoted to an institutional desk job where he realises the extent to which political corruption has infiltrated the state system.

As someone once said, "since when are second helpings about necessity?". Well, Brazilian director José Padilha would beg to differ in returning to his box-office hit Elite Squad for a second helping, as he claims there was still a lot left to say. A bona fide phenomenon in 2007 Brazil and a controversial Golden Bear winner in Berlin 2008, that film followed the special police teams sent to clean up the Rio de Janeiro favelas from drug dealers and drew attention to the complex, powder-keg situation the city was sitting on, under the guise of a gung-ho actioner somewhere between City of God and an Hollywood action-thriller.
For this sequel, Padilha reconvened the key cast and crew of the original to upgrade the tale out of SWAT recruiting poster heroics into more nuanced political thriller territory (blink and you'll miss the wink to genre stalwart Costa-Gavras, president of the jury that awarded Elite Squad the Golden Bear), as incorruptible cop Nascimento (Wagner Moura) is promoted to a nominally powerful desk job only to find himself blindsided by the unsavoury connections of Brazilian politicians.
Padilha directs as nervously and edgily as ever, but is blindsided himself by the conventional, cursory TV-level plotting that was also the original's weak spot (Nascimento's family troubles are straight out of TV Drama 101); and despite his sincerity in moving the story to the next level, there's a sense he can neither bring anything new to the table nor make his samba-flavoured take on the political thriller singular enough to warrant the attention. While there's no denying the technical proficiency, and this sequel actually broke all box-office records in Latin American history, this is really a case of unnecessary second helpings.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Wagner Moura, Maria Ribeiro, Milhem Cortaz, Irandhir Santos, Seu Jorge, Taini Müller, Sandro Rocha, André Mattos; and André Ramiro.
Directed by José Padilha; produced by Marcos Prado, mr. Padilha; screenplay by Bráulio Mantovani, mr. Padilha, from a story by mr. Padilha, Rodrigo Pimentel, mr. Mantovani; music by Pedro Bromfman; director of photography (Megacolor, Cinecolor), Lula Carvalho; art director, Tiago Marques; costume designer, Cláudia Kopke; film editor, Daniel Resende.
A Zazen Produções film, in co-production with Feijão Filmes, Riofilme, Globo Filmes; sponsored by Claro; with the support of Agência Nacional para o Cinema. (World sales, IM Global.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, Panorama Special press screening, Cinestar Sony Center 3 (Berlin), February 11th 2011. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

POTICHE

France/Belgium
2010
103 minutes

A trophy housewife finds out her real talents when she must replace her tyrannical husband at the helm of the family business.

Potiche is the closest French wonderboy auteur François Ozon has come to a surefire commercial movie since his 2002 global breakthrough with the tongue-in-cheek all-star musical murder mystery 8 Femmes. But the new film is a slyer, more layered confection, twisting a theatrical hit farce into a gently satirical allegory of a macho, misogynistic France that hasn't changed as much as it thinks he has.
The tale of a trophy bourgeois housewife that finds her true self after her success at running the family company for her ailing husband is on the surface a taut, precise comedy about a woman at a crossroads, cheerfully portrayed by a delightfully dressed-down Catherine Deneuve, ably supported by a dream cast where everyone is clearly having a ball. But Ozon's clinical way with genre and satire also allows him, by retaining the original late-seventies setting, to play with the open theatricality of the set-up and to offer a distorted mirror of social mores and manners that speaks to contemporary France, under the guise of an affectionate, parodic throwback to French film comedies of the era.
To be clear, the retro mood can seem a bit too facile, and you sense Ozon is biding his time until a more ambitious project such as the ill-fated Angel or his masterpiece Le Temps qui Reste. But, with its skewed look at family and its rich portrait of a woman, Potiche is still recognisably of its director, and its fizzy mood and sheer pleasurable fun make it very welcome in a landscape that has been sadly short in good comedies.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author


Starring Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godrèche, Jérémie Rénier.
Directed by François Ozon; produced by Éric Altmayer and Nicolas Altmayer; screenplay by Mr. Ozon, based on the stage play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, Potiche; music by Philippe Rombi; director of photography (Eclair), Yorick le Saux; production designer, Katia Wyszkop; costume designer, Pascaline Chavanne; film editor, Laure Gardette. 
A Mandarin Cinéma presentation of a Mandarin Cinéma/Foz/France 2 Cinéma/Mars Films/Wild Bunch/Scope Pictures co-production; with the participation of Canal Plus, TPS Star, France Télévisions, Région Wallonne; in association with La Banque Postale Image 3, Cofinova 6, Cinemage 4, Soficinéma 6. (French distributor, Mars Distribution. World sales, Wild Bunch.)
Screened: Venice Film Festival advance press screening, Palazzo del Casinò - Sala Perla (Venice), September 4th 2010. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

COPACABANA

France/Belgium
2009
105 minutes

Annoyed that her conventional daughter doesn't want her at her marriage, a free-spirited aging hippie finds a job as a time-share saleswoman.

Odds are that French writer/director Marc Fitoussi's sophomore feature would not raise much interest, if it weren't for the surprise casting of the divine Isabelle Huppert in a rare comedy role.  Copacabana's highwire tightrope act of a character comedy balanced between the Dardenne brothers' downbeat look at working-class lives and the current crop of comedies of discomfort symbolized by Ricky Gervais' The Office and most of Judd Apatow's oeuvre can only be pulled off by a sympathetic cast. And Huppert's game, big-hearted performance as ditzy aging hippie Babou, who becomes a surprisingly successful sales rep in wintry Ostende to win back her daughter's respect, ably supported by Aure Atika as her fed up supervisor and Jurgen Delnaet as the dockworker who falls for her, more than qualifies.
It's another take on her recent stock role as a woman colliding head-on with reality, but a highly unusual one for the actress and one that seems to have been hugely pleasurable, starring opposite her own daughter Lolita Chammah (whose minimal role doesn't allow her talent to register either way). Without Huppert's performance, Copacabana would collapse; with her, it holds up as an amiable, if somewhat aimless, satire.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Isabelle Huppert, Lolita Chammah, Aure Atika, Jurgen Delnaet, Chantal Banlier, Joachim Lombard, Guillaume Gouix, Magali Woch; with the participation of Noémie Lvovsky; with the participation of Luis Régo.
Directed and written by Marc Fitoussi; produced by Caroline Bonmarchand; music by Tim Gane and Sean O'Hagan; director of photography (Eclair), Hélène Louvart; production designer, Michel Barthélémy; costume designer, Anne Schotte; film editor, Martine Giordano.
An Avenue B Productions presentation/production; in co-production with ARTE France Cinéma, Mars Films, CRRAV Nord-Pas de Calais, Caviar Films; with the support of Région Picardie, Région Nord-Pas de Calais and Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds; with the participation of Canal Plus, Cinécinéma, TV5 Monde and Centre National de la Cinématographie; in association with Banque Populaire Images 9; with the support of PROCIREP, ANGOA-AGICOA, MEDIA Programme of the European Union. (French distributor, Mars Distribution. World sales, Kinology.)
Screened: Estoril Film Festival 2010 advance DVD screener, Lisbon, November 4th 2010.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

MIC MACS À TIRE-LARIGOT

Micmacs


France
2009
104 minutes

After a stray bullet lodged in his brain throws him onto the street, a homeless young man finds shelter with a resourceful group of junk recyclers who help him set up his revenge on arms manufacturers.

It should be fairly obvious by now that it's unlikely that Jean-Pierre Jeunet will ever repeat the global popularity of Amélie, but to his credit Mic Macs à Tire-Larigot is closer in spirit to the gleeful baroque anarchy of Delicatessen, reminding that the French director has a lot more in common with the handcrafted whimsy of Terry Gilliam - even down to the usual stop-start plotting - or the visual sleight of hand of silent slapstick.
Toplining French star comedian Dany Boon as Bazil, a video-store clerk whose life was torn apart by two rival arms manufacturers (in the shape of the landmine that killed his soldier dad and the stray bullet that remains lodged in his brain), Micmacs is an exacting series of clockwork setpieces describing how Bazil takes his revenge with the help of a motley crew of resourceful if eccentric junk recyclers. It's set in Jeunet's usual airbrushed, colour-tinted, mythical Paris, every set art-directed to within a nano-inch of its life, and its savagely satirical look at arms dealers is a mere excuse for the director, co-scripting with his usual co-writer Guillaume Laurant, to give full rein to his love of physical comedy. The result is a paradox: a film that could not have been made fifty years ago, but that wants desperately to be one and look like one (down to the continuous quotes of classic movies and film scores), while continuously aware it cannot be.
Still, Jeunet is such a visual stylist that the sheer momentum of his ingenious, precisely calculated Rube Goldberg setpieces is enough to instill the sense of wide-eyed wonder in the viewer even as one realises it's all elaborate eye-candy. But superbly realised eye-candy nonetheless.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Dany Boon; with André Dussollier, Yolande Moreau, Dominique Pinon, Omar Sy, Michel Cremadès, Julie Ferrier, Nicolas Marie, Marie-Julie Baup; and Jean-Pierre Melville.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet; produced by Frédéric Brillion, Gilles Legrand and mr. Jeunet; written by mr. Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant; music by Raphaël Beau; director of photography (Arane Gulliver, Panavision), Tetsuo Nagata; production designer, Aline Bonetto; costume designer, Madeline Fontaine; film editor, Hervé Schneid; visual effects, Alain Carsoux.
An Epithète Films/Tapioca Films presentation/production; in co-production with Warner Bros. Entertainment France, France 2 Cinéma and France 3 Cinéma; with the support of Région Île-de-France; with the participation of Orange Cinéma Séries, France 2, France 3. (French distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures France. World sales, TF1 International.) 
Screened: DVD, Lisbon, March 12th 2011. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

FILM SOCIALISME

Switzerland/France
2010
101 minutes

An audiovisual essay in three movements on European history past, present and future.

Welcome to the good ship Europe, where the passengers are dazzled by the bargain basement bright lights instead of looking out the window into the sea. Jean-Luc Godard's latest abstract film essay may hold together less coherently than its predecessors Notre musique and Éloge de l'amour, but it's still a sucker gut punch from a curmudgeonly agent provocateur for whom form and function are interchangeable elements in an audiovisual construction.
Densely layered, in both sound and vision, with meaning and suggestion, throwing up more ideas per minute than most auteurs are able to pull of in entire careers, Film Socialisme is a subversive, flat-packed, some-assembly-required construction that deliberately leaves behind the instruction sheet, so the viewer can work it out (or not) at his leisure. Culture and history melt together in another virtuoso collage that may be closer to museum art than to conventional cinema. An acquired taste? Yes, definitely. So what? There's still nobody out there thinking, and making, film like JLG. That alone means something.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Jean-Marc Stehlé, Mathias Domahidy, Quentin Grosset, Olga Riazanova, Maurice Sarfati, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Bernard Maris, Marie-Christine Bergier, Nadège Beausson, Robert Malembier, Dominique Devals, Alain Badiou, Elias Sanbar (cast, first movement); Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Marine Battaggia, Gulliver Hecq, Élisabeth Vitali, Eye Haidara (cast, second movement). 
Jean-Luc Godard (director, writer, camera, editor), Ruth Waldburger, Alain Sarde (producers), Jean-Paul Battaggia, Fabrice Aragno, Paul Grivas (camera), François Musy, Renaud Musy, Gabriel Hafner (sound), Louma Sanbar, Yousri Nasrallah, Anne-Marie Miéville (collaborators).
Vega Film, Wild Bunch, Télévision Suisse Romande, Canal Plus, Suissimage, Fonds Régio Films, ECM Records, Office Fédéral de la Culture, George Foundation, Fondation Vaudoise, Ville de Genève (production companies). (French distributor and world sales, Wild Bunch.)
Screened on DVD, Lisbon, March 13th 2011.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

LES AVENTURES EXTRAORDINAIRES D'ADÈLE BLANC-SEC

France
2010
103 minutes

In 1911, a thrill-seeking journalist returns from Egypt with a mummy in tow to help save her cataleptic sister, but finds Paris prey to a reborn pre-historic pterodactyl.

French wonderboy Luc Besson has always wanted to prove that European filmmakers could make big-budget blockbusters on an American level. He has gone on to prove it is feasible as a producer, through the assembly-line output of his Europacorp studio (responsible for Jason Statham's Transporter series and the surprise US hit Taken), but his newfound responsibilities as tycoon have also put a damper on his directing work (neither Angel-A nor the ill-advised Arthur series have registered).
With this adaptation of the cult Adèle Blanc-Sec comic books by acclaimed French artist Tardi, Besson moves to recapture the freewheeling sense of ambition and possibility of his earlier work. The offbeat adventures of a meddling journalist (a pitch-perfect Louise Bourgoin) in Belle Époque Paris respect Tardi's influences from dime novels, serialised stories and film serials like Feuillade's Fantomas.
If the visuals are as stylish as you'd expect (and I'm not sure the occasional rougher effect is not deliberate), the scripting, combining plotlines from at least three of the original stories, is haphazard and most of the star cast is wasted in what are little more than cameos. Mathieu Amalric's presence in particular, as one of the series' recurring villains that is completely redundant to the film's main plot, is mystifying. But the film's general cheerfulness and tongue-in-cheek humour are confident and charming enough to make this a lively time-passer, even if it's not a patch on The Fifth Element, still the closest Besson has ever come to a sort of state of grace.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. All rights reserved by the author

Starring Louise Bourgoin, Mathieu Amalric, Gilles Lellouche, Jean-Paul Rouve; Jacky Nercessian, Philippe Nahon, Nicolas Giraud, Laure de Clermont, Gérard Chaillou, Serge Bagdassarian.
Directed by Luc Besson; produced by Virginie Besson-Silla; screenplay by mr. Besson, based on the Adèle Blanc-Sec graphic novels by Jacques Tardi, Adèle and the Beast, The Mad Scientist and Mummies on Parade; music by Éric Serra; director of photography (LTC, Scanlab, Panavision), Thierry Arbogast; production designer, Hugues Tissandier; costume designer, Olivier Beriot; film editor, Julien Rey; visual effects, Pierre Buffin; visual effects supervisor, Geoffrey Niquet.
An Europacorp/TF1 Films Production/Apipoulaï Prod co-production, in association with Sofica Europacorp and Cofinova 6, with the participation of Canal Plus. (French distributor and world sales, Europacorp.)
Screened: DVD, Lisbon, March 4th 2011.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS

USA
2008
88 minutes

New York filmmaker Abel Ferrara visits the legendary Chelsea Hotel, interviewing current and former residents.

Abel Ferrara's fond, impressionistic look at NYC's legendary Chelsea Hotel is not exactly your usual cinéma-vérité documentary; the famously combative director is physically unable to step outside his own frame, whether by design or by accident, carried by his own reaction to the interviews with current and former residents.
The film is more of a highly personal essay on a lost era of multicultural bohemia, where reportage and documentary tropes and some archive footage meet with loose reenactments of a couple of the most scandalous episodes in the hotel's history. It also works double shift as a plea for the preservation of the memory of the Chelsea as a pivotal place in New York culture, as it was shot in the middle of a legal battle between owners wanting to turn the Chelsea into an expensive boutique hotel and Stanley Bard, the manager that made its reputation.
While technically a minor work in the Ferrara oeuvre, Chelsea on the Rocks is a summation of where the director stands: as a defiantly independent filmmaker ready to pursue his vision against all odds and willing to resist against the encroaching conformity, come what may. The Chelsea's struggle is, in many ways, a metaphor of Ferrara's – and the fact that he hasn't shot a fiction feature since 2007's disappointing Go Go Tales is as ominous as the Chelsea's ultimate defeat at the hands of its owners.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. All rights reserved by the author.

With Vito Acconci, Jamie Burke, William S. Burroughs, Christy Scott Cashman, R. Crumb, Giancarlo Esposito, Milos Forman, Adam Goldberg, Ethan Hawke, Gaby Hoffmann, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Janis Joplin, Shanyn Leigh, Rockets Redglare, Sid Vicious, Andy Warhol.
Directed by Abel Ferrara; produced by Jen Gatien, David D. Wasserman; written by David Linter, Christ Zois, mr. Ferrara; music by Rob Burger, Tony Garnier, G. E. Smith, Giancarlo Vulcano, Jim White, produced and supervised by Hal Willner, Gavin Friday; director of photography (DuArt), Ken Kelsch; production designer, Frank de Curtis; costume designer, Nile Cmylo; film editor, Langdon Page.
A Deer Jen presentation/production; produced in association with Apollo Films. (World sales, Wild Bunch.) 
Screened: distributor advance DVD screener, Lisbon, March 4th 2011.

Friday, March 11, 2011

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU

USA
2011
104 minutes

A New York senatorial candidate falls in love with a dancer he meets by accident, but discovers that their love is not part of the pre-ordained plan his life has to follow...

The latest bowdlerization of a story by visionary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, Ocean's Twelve and The Bourne Ultimatum screenwriter George Nolfi's directorial debut is a smart, nifty throwback to 1950s B-movies, resembling nothing so much as a Hollywood gloss on Alex Proyas' masterful Dark City.
Brooklyn politician David Norris (a solid Matt Damon) is unwittingly exposed to the existence of the Adjustment Bureau, a supernatural society devoted to ensuring that humans follow a masterplan predetermined by the Chairman. Feel free to read it as a religious allegory – the trick of Nolfi's movie is to make sure the mystery angle can be read any way you'd care to, while focusing the engine on the romance between perfectly-matched Damon and Emily Blunt, as the free-spirited ballerina whose love-at-first-sight meet-cute in a hotel bathroom throws a wrench into the best laid plans and forces the Bureau to work overtime to undo it.
Dick fans should know better by now not to come to The Adjustment Bureau in search of the writer's hallucinatory worldview; the movie is essentially a love-conquers-all romance in metaphysical trappings, but an enjoyable, unpretentious one, smartly playing to its strengths and weaknesses. It raises enough questions about fate vs free will to make sure what looks like an undemanding night out at the multiplex is in fact more satisfying than the average zero-calorie blockbuster.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Matt Damon; Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly; and Terence Stamp.
Directed by George Nolfi; produced by Michael Hackett, mr. Nolfi, Bill Carraro, Chris Moore; screenplay by mr. Nolfi, based on the short story by Philip K. Dick, Adjustment Team; music by Thomas Newman; director of photography (Technicolor), John Toll; production designer, Kevin Thompson; costume designer, Kasia Wasicka Maimone; film editor, Jay Rabinowitz; visual effects supervisor, Mark Russell.
A Universal Pictures/Media Rights Capital presentation of a Gambit Pictures production in association with Electric Shepherd Productions. (US distributor and world sales, Universal Pictures.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), March 2nd 2011. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

MADE IN DAGENHAM

Great Britain
2010
112 minutes

In 1968 England, fed up with being treated as second-class workers, the girl machinists at Ford Dagenham go on strike for equal pay.

Another in the long line of feel-good, triumph-of-the-underdog Britcoms that gave us forgettable crowdpleasers such as The Full Monty, Made in Dagenham romanticizes a real-life episode of the labor struggle in swinging sixties England, when 187 women machinists at Ford's suburban London plant went on strike in 1968 for equal pay and equal treatment and unexpectedly brought industrial England to its knees.
Breezily directed by Calendar Girls' Nigel Cole, it's a cheerful if formulaic (and pretty harmless) comedy, done with the effortless care that we have come to recognize from a British period production, with strong performances from a stellar cast (with Miranda Richardson as a particular standout). The only difference between it and The King's Speech, a movie that belongs to the same league of subject matter and production values, is the publicity machine behind it.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author.

Starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, Geraldine James, Rosamund Pike, Andrea Riseborough, Daniel Mays, Jaime Winstone; and Richard Schiff.
Directed by Nigel Cole; produced by Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley; written by William Ivory; music by David Arnold; director of photography (Deluxe, widescreen), John de Borman; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; costume designer, Louise Stjernsward; film editor, Michael Parker.
A BBC Films/UK Film Council presentation, in association with Hanway Films, BMS Finance and Lip Sync Productions, of a Stephen Woolley—Elizabeth Karlsen/Number 9 Films production, in association with Audley Films; in association with Compton Investments; in association with Whistledown Productions; a We Want $ Ltd/Number 9 Films production in association with Audley Films. (UK distributor, Paramount Pictures. World sales, Hanway Films.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), February 24th 2011. 

Saturday, March 05, 2011

HOW DO YOU KNOW

USA
2010
121 minutes

A softball player just cut from the national olympic team and a well-meaning businessman framed as a scapegoat by his ruthless father meet on the worst night of their lives.

All contemporary romantic comedies should be as well written and performed as How Do You Know, and we'd hardly be lamenting the genre's current sorry state. Writer/director James L. Brooks (he of the Academy Award-winning Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good as It Gets) has lost none of his knack for writing smart, snappy dialogue, perfectly delivered by perfect casting: the luminous Reese Witherspoon as a softball player that has literally crashed onto the end of her career, Paul Rudd as a neurotic manager caught in a financial trap set by his own father, and Owen Wilson as a well-meaning but intelectually limited baseball player.
The problem is elsewhere: Brooks has never so much been a director as a writer, and in this instance he is so focused in getting story (a clear-eyed, bitter-sweet, ironic look at real-life love) and dialogue right that he neglects the visuals, dragging How Do You Know down into sitcom territory. A sitcom with first-rate production values, lushly photographed by Janusz Kaminski, and a cast to die for, granted, but a sitcom nonetheless, lacking rhythm and momentum, jerking forward in halting movements that never feel as organic as the scripting. You have to ask the question: shouldn't Brooks have given it to somebody else to direct?
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd; and Jack Nicholson; Kathryn Hahn.
Directed and written by James L. Brooks; produced by mr. Brooks, Julie Ansell, Paula Weinstein, Laurence Mark; music by Hans Zimmer; director of photography (DeLuxe), Janusz Kaminski; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; costume designer, Shay Cunliffe; film editors, Richard Marks, Tracey Wadmore-Smith.
A Columbia Pictures presentation of a Gracie Films production. (US distributor and world sales, Sony Pictures Entertainment.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Columbia Tristar Warner screening room (Lisbon), February 25th 2011.

Friday, March 04, 2011

RANGO

USA
2011
106 minutes

A dilettante, lonely chameleon finds himself in a Nevada desert town inhabited by rodents, lizards and amphibians who hail him as their sheriff and protector of the town's water. Affectionate parody of westerns as surreal, pun-wielding animation; technically well-crafted and full of clever conceits and movie-buff references but stuck in a no man's land for being too adult for kids and too weird for adults.

With the voices of Johnny Depp; Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone; Timothy Olyphant as the "Spirit of the West".
Directed by Gore Verbinski; animation director, Hal Hickel; produced by mr. Verbinski, Graham King, John B. Carls; screenplay by John Logan, based on a story by mr. Logan, mr. Verbinski, James Ward Byrkit; music by Hans Zimmer; cinematography consultant, Roger Deakins; production designer, Mark "Crash" McCreery; film editor, Craig Wood; visual effects supervisors, Tim Alexander, John Knoll. 
A Paramount Pictures/Nickelodeon Movies presentation of a Blind Wink/GK Films production. (US distributor and world sales, Paramount Pictures.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), February 24th 2011. 

Thursday, March 03, 2011

SHI

Poetry


South Korea/France
2010
137 minutes

A small-town Korean grandmother signs on for a poetry course at the moment she finds her sullen grandson is involved in the suicide of a school mate. Hauntingly delicate, quietly mesmerising melodrama of morality that is exquisitely performed and handled.

Starring Yun Jung-hee; Lee David, Kim Hira. 
Directed and written by Lee Chang-dong; produced by Lee Joon-dong; director of photography (colour), Kim Hyun-seok; production designer, Sihn Jeom-hui; costume designer, Lee Choong-yeon; film editor, Kim Hyun.
A Unikorea presentation, in association with Diaphana Distribution, Next Entertainment World and KTB, of a Pine House Film production. (World sales, Fine Cut.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Medeia King 1, Lisbon, February 23th 2011.