Saturday, April 30, 2011

WASTE LAND

Great Britain/Brazil
2009
99 minutes

It isn't hard to see why Waste Land was one of the five films nominated for the feature documentary Academy Award. British director Lucy Walker's consummately polished story of how an artist's desire to give back to the community changes the lives of impoverished slum dwellers is an unequivocally feel-good, uplifting real-life tale that cries out for a Hollywood make-over and follows a time-honoured narrative arc from tragedy to triumph.
     And yet, ms. Walker's glossy, smart film doesn't shy away from the moral quandaries its central premise raises: is New York-based, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz's work with trash pickers at Rio de Janeiro's Jardim Gramacho landfill truly helping these people build a betrter life, or raising their dreams and expectations beyond what's feasible? Is it truly art for art's sake when there's an avowed social purpose underneath (mr. Muniz's portraits of the landfill recyclers, built out out of the same trash they pick daily, are to be auctioned with all profits reinvested into their community)?
     There are no clear cut answers and both mr. Muniz and ms. Walker make it clear that, in many ways, what comes out of this admirable experience is unable to be controlled. The film is not so much about mr. Muniz's artworks per se, as it is about the impact their creation and production has on their subjects (and full credit to the director for that). But the film still retains a fairy-tale, story-telling structure that conforms far too easily to narrative conventions, and its glossy finishes undermine the feeling of spontaneity and doubt that runs through much of the footage. This makes Waste Land into an awkward hybrid: a thought-provoking crowd-pleaser, as intriguing as it is a bit too pat for its own good.

Directed by Lucy Walker; co-directed by João Jardim, Karen Harley; produced by Angus Aynsley, Hank Levine; music by Moby; director of photography (Casablanca lab and transfer, Estúdios Mega post-production), Dudu Miranda; co-directors of photography, Heloísa Passos, Aaron Phillips; film editor, Pedro Kos. 
     An Almega Projects presentation of an Almega Projects/O2 Filmes production; supported by ANCINE, by the Cultural Incentive Law of the Brazilian Federal Government and Brazilian Ministry of Culture. (World sales, E1 Entertainment.) 
     Screened: distributor advance DVD screener, Lisbon, April 24th 2011. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

O ESTRANHO CASO DE ANGÉLICA

The Strange Case of Angélica


Portugal/Spain/France/Brazil
2010
96 minutes

Look no further than O Estranho Caso de Angélica to find an explanation for centenarian Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira's continued acclaim from critics and fellow filmmakers (if not from audiences often confounded by his rarefied, old-fashioned style). Mr. de Oliveira is likely to be the last living link to the pioneer era of filmmaking: a director who lived through a whole century of technical evolution without ever turning his back on what he regards as the essential original traits — long, fixed-camera takes, a painterly eye for shot composition, a flat, almost theatrical approach to performance. And yet, such a recipe for fusty arthouse dogma is transfigured in mr. de Oliveira's films, especially in O Estranho Caso de Angélica. It can be seen either as a testament or, more certainly, as a metaphor of the power of the moving image to mesmerize and guide, through the tale of a photographer (Ricardo Trêpa) who falls in love, to the point of obsession, with the dead Angélica (Pilar López de Ayala) whose deathbed portrait he took.
     A whimsical fantasy originally written by mr. de Oliveira in the early 1950s but only now brought to the screen, the film retains the director's famously arcane, stilted way with dialogue and plotting. But it receives unexpected grace notes from the charmingly archaic visual effects (evoking early Méliès) and its leisurely, almost lackadaisical rhythm. Of course, the unrelated chatty digressions typical of his work can be a drag; and mr. Trêpa (the director's grandson and a recurrent leading man in his later films) remains an uneven actor, though thankfully what is asked of him here plays to his strengths rather than to his weaknesses. But this slight, melancholy ghost story is probably the most accessible that mr. de Oliveira has been in a long time; and it may prove a good entry point for those intrigued by his critical acclaim and willing to take a chance on his prolific production.

Starring Ricardo Trêpa, Pilar López de Ayala; with the participation of Leonor Silveira, Luís Miguel Cintra and Ana Maria Magalhães.
     Directed and written by Manoel de Oliveira; produced by François d'Artemare, Maria João Mayer, Luís Miñarro, Renata de Almeida, Leon Cakoff; director of photography (Image Film), Sabine Lancelin; art directors, Christian Martí, José Pedro Penha; costume designer, Adelaide Maria Trêpa; film editor, Valérie Loiseleux. 
     A François d'Artemare/Maria João Mayer/Luís Miñarro/Renata de Almeida/Leon Cakoff presentation of a Filmes do Tejo II/Eddie Saeta/Les Films de l'Après-Midi/Mostra Internacional de Cinema production; with the support of the Portuguese Ministry of Culture-Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual, Spanish Ministry of Culture-Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual Arts, Brazilian National Cinema Fund, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian and Ibermedia Programme; co-financed by Radio and Television of Portugal. (Portuguese distributor, Zon Lusomundo Audiovisuais. World sales, Pyramide International.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, São Jorge 1 (Lisbon), April 15th 2011. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

MOTHER AND CHILD

USA
2009
127 minutes

Hovering at the edges of Hollywood and Indiewood for the past decade, Colombian-born Rodrigo García (son of writer Gabriel García Márquez) has made his name on television, directing and writing for Six Feet Under or In Treatment, but is already on his fifth feature since his breakthrough with 1999's Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her. For Mother and Child, a dry-eyed yet intensely emotional meditation on regrets, he threads together three stories connected by their theme of adoption: those of Karen (Annette Bening), a bitter spinster haunted by the child she gave away as a teenager; Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), a coldly clinical, high-powered lawyer who was herself given for adoption; and Lucy (Kerry Washington), a high-strung young wife who, unable to conceive, rushes headlong into an ill-advised adoption process.
    The unwritten laws of mosaic filmmaking imply that the three stories will come together at some point. But mr. García evades all contrivances in letting each of them play themselves out at a leisurely pace, avoiding all of the obvious off-ramps and allowing his first-rate ensemble cast, in uniformly well-rounded, remarkable performances (though ms. Bening and Samuel L. Jackson, as ms Watts' intrigued and ultimately seduced boss, are standouts), to breathe life into his carefully-written characters. That's not enough to undo the feeling that Lucy's story is surplus to the film's narrative economy and the only one that is more of a screenwriter's conceit, designed to wrap up the film all too neatly.
     But that's a minor quibble since what really matters in this smart, sensitive melodrama, a modern-day equivalent of the classic "woman's picture", is not so much what is said as what is left unspoken, admirably performed and carefully, sensitively handled by mr. García and his cinematographer Xavier Pérez Grobet.

Starring Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits; and Samuel L. Jackson; S. Epatha Merkerson, Cherry Jones, Elpidia Carrillo, Shareeka Epps, David Morse, Eileen Ryan, Amy Brenneman, David Ramsey, Britt Robertson, Lisagay Hamilton, Elizabeth Peña, Marc Blucas.
     Directed and written by Rodrigo García; produced by Julie Lynn, Lisa Maria Falcone; music by Edward Shearmur; director of photography (Efilm), Xavier Pérez Grobet; production designer, Christopher Tandon; costume designer, Susie de Santo; film editor, Steven Weisberg.
     A Sony Pictures Classics presentation, in association with Everest Entertainment, of a Mockingbird Pictures production. (US distributor, Sony Pictures Classics. World sales, Westend Films.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 11 (Lisbon), April 13th 2011.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

SUBMARINE

Great Britain/USA
2010
96 minutes

Actor/writer Richard Ayoade's debut feature has been roundly acclaimed as one of British cinema's most auspicious debuts in a long time, and it is easy to see why: this gentle, off-kilter adaptation of Joe Dunthorne's novel breathes fresh life into the geek-coming-of-age tale, as Welsh schoolboy Oliver (an excellent Craig Roberts) plans and plots on how to become his school's coolest kid but only succeeds inside his hyperactive inner world.

     What mr. Ayoade gets best is the exact tone of being adolescent: that impatience and insouciance mixed in with the first inklings of desire, the awkwardness of not knowing how to go about becoming adult, the sense that every step you take is a massive blunder. Oliver's on-and-off relationship with the too-cool-for-school Jordana (Yasmin Paige) might fit into the current Judd Apatow school of "sympathy for the geek", but are handled in a distinctly British, melancholy key, as seen in the clever way mr. Ayoade uses both Oliver's parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) and the return of an old flame of his mother (Paddy Considine) as both mirror of his own insecurities and premonition of what his life may become if he keeps up blundering like this.

   This is very clearly a writer's movie, but one where the writer knows perfectly well what he wants to get from his cast, how to get it, and how to make his conceits work visually; it's all in the presentation, and the pitch-perfect, heightened mood of timeless, awkward memory mr. Ayoade achieves, like a flamboyant, filtered flashback of one's own adolescence, seals the deal.

Starring Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige; and Sally Hawkins.
     Directed by Richard Ayoade; produced by Mark Herbert, Andy Stebbing, Mary Burke; screenplay by mr. Ayoade, based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine; music by Andrew Hewitt; songs by Alex Turner; director of photography (Deluxe colour), Erik Alexander Wilson; production designer, Gary Wilkinson; costume designer, Charlotte Walter; film editors, Nick Fenton, Chris Dickens.
     A Film 4/UK Film Council presentation, in association with Wales Creative IP Fund, Film Agency Wales, Optimum Releasing, Protagonist Pictures and Red Hour Films, of a Warp Films production. (UK distributor, Optimum Releasing. World sales, Protagonist Pictures.)
     Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, Forum screening, Kino Arsenal 1 (Berlin), February 16th 2011. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

THE HOLE

USA/Canada
2009
92 minutes

Joe Dante's long-awaited return to directing has become a strange orphan - unveiled at the 2009 Venice film festival, this little-seen tribute to classic low-budget scary movies of the 1950s has yet to open in its native US while receiving staggered releases around the world. It may be - it is - a minor work from the director of The Howling and Gremlins, but it's also a recognisably solid entry that fulfills mr. Dante's avowed desire to do an entry-level scary movie meant for younger audiences, a mild fairground ride that draws exactly on the continuing appeal of the genre: the fears the darkness preys on.
     Those are made literally physical here, as surly teenager Dane (Chris Massoglia) and his tween brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble) find a bolted trapdoor on the basement of the smalltown house they just moved into, opening it to find a seemingly bottomless hole whose discovery brings up a number of strange visions and events. The Hole's strengths are also its weaknesses in the current film environment: mr. Dante knows how to deploy its limited cast and budget to maximum effect, and he proves that you don't really need to show the scariest things, but that old-fashioned simplicity looks somewhat out of step in these days of graphic, more-is-better genre filmmaking.
     As in so many genre titles of the 1950s (and that throwback is cheerfully admitted by mr. Dante), the 3D is merely a gimmick tacked-on for novelty value (the film doesn't really need it), but at least it's done tastefully; somehow, it's hard to think of this slight but charming throwback to early horror modes finding its way to modern-day multiplexes when it has more in common with the teenage drive-in material the director cut his teeth in working for Roger Corman and that never fit properly on "decent" theatres.

Starring Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble; with Bruce Dern; and Teri Polo.
     Directed by Joe Dante; produced by Michel Litvak, David Lancaster, Vicki Sotheran, Claudio Faeh; written by Mark L. Smith; music by Javier Navarrete; director of photography (Fotokem, 3D), Theo van de Sande; production designer, Brentan Harron; costume designer, Kate Main; film editor, Marshall Harvey; visual effects supervisors, John Gajdecki, Robert Skotak.
     A Bold Films presentation, in association with Benderspink, of a Michel Litvak production; produced with the participation of the Province of British Columbia Production Services Tax Program. (World sales, Bold Films.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), April 14th 2011. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

international title: World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles


USA
2011
116 minutes

You might be forgiven for thinking Battle: Los Angeles was going to be another alien invasion movie in the wake of Independence Day, War of the Worlds or Skyline. But that is actually merely an outer shell surrounding a core of Marine Corps recruiting poster heroics, professionally presented but seemingly assembled out of tried and true (and occasionally hoary) war-movie clichés without any distinctive personal features. Chris Bertolini's heavily signposted script sees a combat-ready but untested Marine platoon, led by a rookie lieutenant (Ramon Rodriguez) and a grizzled sergeant (the ever-excellent Aaron Eckhart), head out on a civilian rescue operation after a biomechanical alien armada lays waste to Los Angeles. There is the occasional background nod to the complex issues of the contemporary military (more than one of the characters are scarred by Iraq memories), but what Battle: Los Angeles is interested in, really, is watching Marines kick alien butt and, duly billeted, South African horror-genre stalwart Jonathan Liebesman carries out the mission with minimal frills. Technically proficient but anonymous in the extreme, Battle: Los Angeles (flagrantly retitled for its overseas release to try and hide the extent of its American-centric plot) is really an old-fashioned, cookie-cutter flagwaver for the U. S. Marines disguised as science-fiction.

Starring Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo; and Michael Peña.
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Ori Marmur; written by Chris Bertolini; music by Brian Tyler; director of photography (DeLuxe prints, Panavision widescreen), Lukas Ettlin; production designer, Peter Wenham; costume designer, Sanja Milkovic Hays; film editor, Christian Wagner; visual effects supervisor, Everett Burrell.
A Columbia Pictures presentation, in association with Relativity Media, of an Original Film production. (US distributor and world sales, Sony Pictures Entertainment.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Columbia Tristar Warner screening room (Lisbon), April 11th 2011.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

48

Portugal
2009
97 minutes

Portuguese documentarian Susana de Sousa Dias returns, after her 2005 feature debut Natureza Morta, to what she sees as the crux of contemporary Portuguese history - the totalitarian regime of António de Oliveira Salazar that endured for 48 years, from 1926 to 1974. Those 48 years give the film its somewhat misleading title, since it is about only a fragment of that near half-century of life under a stifling dictatorship: the struggle of the political activists, mostly (but not exclusively) with the then-illegal Communist Party, who were imprisoned and tortured by the secret police.
48 weaves together the memories of two dozen survivors to create a sense of foreboding and disquiet, an approximation to the mood of what it was like to live in such difficult times. It does so by entering a philosophical, quasi-experimental realm; matching its desire to make us remember and understand a forgotten pan of recent history with a stunningly conceptual approach that retains only the voices of the survivors, superimposed over static mugshots taken of each speaker either on entering or leaving jail - an approach not dissimilar to the visual manipulation of archival material essayed by Ms. Sousa Dias in her previous feature, but here taken to a new, radical limit.
The result is immensely powerful, often disturbing and a true immersive experience. 48 becomes essentially an oral history amplified by the absence of any sort of imagery other than the mugshots (and, on one occasion, a particularly outstanding long take of darkness), suggesting a sense of kinship with Claude Lanzmann and Marcel Ophüls' epoch-making documentaries on the Holocaust: how do you film the unfilmable, show the unshowable? Ms. Sousa Dias' answer, as simple as it is radical, as powerful as it is disarming, is simply to do neither. She just lets the words do all the talking. And, in doing so, signs nothing short of a masterpiece.


Directed and written by Susana de Sousa Dias; produced by Ansgar Schäfer; director of photography (black and white), Octávio Espírito Santo; film editors, ms. Sousa Dias with Helena Alves; sound design, António de Sousa Dias.
A Kintop presentation/production; with the support of Ministério da Cultura-Instituto do Cinema e Audiovisual and Rádio e Televisão de Portugal. (Portuguese distributor, Alambique. World sales, Kintop.) 
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Cinema City Classic Alvalade 2 (Lisbon), March 25th 2011. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A CIDADE DOS MORTOS

The City of the Dead

Portugal/Spain/Finland
2009
62 minutes

With his previous feature, 2004's acclaimed Lisboetas, Portuguese documentary filmmaker (and former director of the DocLisboa festival) Sérgio Tréfaut went in search of the immigrant communities hiding in plain sight in Lisbon. For A Cidade dos Mortos, he traveled to Cairo in search of the community hiding in plain sight in the Egyptian capital's graveyards, one million people living in an area a quarter the size of the city, side by side with the tombs and mausoleums to the leisurely rhythm of what almost seems a country village within the borders of the metropolis.
Neither tourist postcard nor social pamphlet, A Cidade dos Mortos is instead a prolonged, attentive look at a community that has learned to live with death in a way very little modern societies do, within the framework of what is commonly designated as "cinéma du réel", looking for narrative threads within real life but without forcing them in any way. The main drawback of mr. Tréfaut's voyage into the City of the Dead (as the cemeteries are known in Cairo) is that, at merely an hour's length, this compelling documentary is more of an appetizer than a main course; some more detail and context would have been welcome, though this should not discourage the viewer. For its commercial release, A Cidade dos Mortos has been paired with the 20-minute short Waiting for Paradise (2010), where mr. Tréfaut and his editor, Pedro Marques, assembled footage of wedding parties taking place at the cemetery that didn't fit the longer feature.

Directed and produced by Sérgio Tréfaut; narrated by Ashraf Fakhoury; camera (colour), Nancy Abdel-Fattah, Inês Gonçalves, Carlo lo Giudice; sound, Sameh Gamal; film editor, Pedro Marques.
A Faux/Ático Siete presentation/production, with financial support from the Portuguese Ministry of Culture-Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual, Radio and Television of Portugal, Junta de Andalucía, Canal Sur, YLE-Teema. (Portuguese distributor and world sales, Faux.)
Screened: DVD, Lisbon, March 20th 2011. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

SOURCE CODE

USA/Canada
2011
92 minutes

For his sophomore feature, British director Duncan Jones returns to the high-concept territory of his acclaimed debut Moon, now within more recognisable Hollywood boundaries but using again a science-fiction concept to explore issues of humanity and identity. Source Code is the codename of a top secret military experiment that sends Afghanistan vet Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) into the body of a teacher aboard a Chicago commuter train that will be blown up in eight minutes, to relive those eight minutes until he can discover who the bomber is. Like Sam Rockwell's character in Moon, Stevens is confined to the innards of a machine for half the film's brisk length, but here there is also an outside world embodied by his increasingly distraught military handler (Vera Farmiga) and the lovely girl (Michelle Monaghan) traveling opposite him on the doomed train.
Adroitly shifting between the laboratory and the alternate realities created by Stevens' looped attempts at solving the mystery, mr. Jones effectively spins a thought-provoking tale that follows sci-fi's time-honoured tradition of smart, satisfying B-movies with something to say, and injects a measure of Hitchcockian whodunit in a tale with a twist difficult to see coming. What it lacks, for all that, is a sense of ambition and drive; you get the feeling mr. Jones isn't so much stretching as playing it safe, but nothing wrong with that when the results are this entertaining.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright.
Directed by Duncan Jones; produced by Mark Gordon, Jordan Wynn, Philippe Rousselet; written by Ben Ripley; music by Chris Bacon; director of photography (Technicolor colour, Deluxe prints), Don Burgess; production designer, Barry Chusid; costume designer, Renée April; film editor, Paul Hirsch; visual effects supervisor, Louis Morin.
A Vendôme Pictures presentation of a Mark Gordon Company production; with the participation of the Government of Canada Film or Video tax credit and of the British Columbia Film Commission. (US distributor and world sales, Summit Entertainment.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), April 12th 2011. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

RIO

USA
2011
96 minutes

Fox-affiliated animation studio Blue Sky doesn't get half the attention of bigger-profile competitors Pixar and Dreamworks, but it's our loss, not theirs. Chris Wedge's outfit has quietly become an underrated performer in the family-friendly stakes since their crowd-pleasing start with the first of the three Ice Age films (a series that has grown in stature with each new instalment). Blue Sky's output has been consistently solid, no-nonsense fare that strikes a middle course between Pixar's organic, handcrafted storytelling and Dreamworks' high-concept wisecracking comedies, and Rio is their strongest entry so far, a classic fish-out-of-water tale that overcomes its standard cookie-cutter plot through careful attention to detail.
Here the fish out of water is Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), a Spix's macaw poached at an early age from his native Brazil and stranded in Minnesota, transplanted back to Rio de Janeiro to mate with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the lone surviving female of his kind, to ensure the species goes on. But Blu is a sort of "40-year-old virgin" suddenly thrust out into a big bad world, with predictably funny results. Blue Sky stalwart Carlos Saldanha, himself a Brazilian, steered the project to fruition through a number of years, simultaneously embracing and dodging all the stereotypes we associate with his native country (samba, soccer, carnival), working in a smart conservationist/ecological agenda and a classic screwball comedy tempo in the feistily voiced Blu/Jewel give-and-take. The stunning opener, a riotous homage to Busby Berkeley entirely choreographed by exotic birds, is such a standout Rio only intermittently returns to such superb heights, but there's a lot to enjoy in what comes next, not least a perfectly-pitched turn from Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement as the dastardly villain Nigel (a former TV star cockatoo fallen on hard times). It's highly unlikely you'll look at Blue Sky again as also-rans after this.

With the voices of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Mann, Tracy Morgan, Will.i.am, Rodrigo Santoro, George Lopez; and Jamie Foxx.
Directed by Carlos Saldanha; produced by Bruce Anderson, John C. Donkin; screenplay by Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia and Sam Harper, based on a story by mr. Saldanha, Earl Richey Jones and Todd Jones; music by John Powell; cinematography (DeLuxe, widescreen, 3D), Renato Falcão; art director, Thomas Cardone; film editor, Harry Hitner.
A Twentieth Century-Fox Animation presentation of a Blue Sky Studios production. (US distributor and world sales, Twentieth Century-Fox.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 9 (Lisbon), April 4th 2011. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

LONDON BOULEVARD

USA/Great Britain
2010
103 minutes

For his directorial debut, The Departed screenwriter William Monahan stays firmly within genre territory with this adaptation of Irish writer Ken Bruen's riff on Sunset Boulevard, about a London ex-con torn between leaving his past behind and giving in to it, with entertaining but seriously mixed results. Unsure whether it wants to be a breezy, stylish crime caper or a more brutal, serious crime drama - in essence, The Italian Job or Get Carter - mr. Monahan keeps shifting abruptly between both, in a way mirroring its own central character, thoughtful ex-con Mitchel (Colin Farrell), hired as handyman for reclusive film star Charlotte (Keira Knightley) while being pulled back into the life by inept mate Billy (Ben Chaplin).
Contrasting the seedy, exotic glamour of London's underworld with the neurotic, rarefied one of Holland Park, the film plays fast and loose with an enticing retro patine; despite the presence of cellphones grounding it in contemporary reality, the movie, scored by Kasabian's Sergio Pizzorno, lovingly fetishises record players, sideburns, vintage British cars and other period trappings. But mr. Monahan's clumsy attempts at stylisation, lushly photographed by the revered Chris Menges, never truly gel into a cohesive whole, unhelped by the sketchy archetypes (nutty sister, reclusive celebrity, vicious gang boss) most of the characters are turned into and the occasionally clunky cutting.
Thankfully, the cast, superbly led by a charismatic mr. Farrell (in his best role in years) and a toweringly menacing Ray Winstone, fleshes them out brilliantly and has a ball with mr. Monahan's cracking dialogue (David Thewlis' druggy failed actor is a wonder, but ms. Knightley, saddled with an impossible role, is paradoxically the one bum note). And the nicely matter-of-fact, no-nonsense approach to the material makes London Boulevard a brisk, enjoyably unpretentious time-passer, even if the talent involved promised a much better film.


Starring Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley; David Thewlis, Anna Friel, Ben Chaplin; and Ray Winstone.
Directed by William Monahan; produced by Graham King, Tim Headington, Quentin Curtis, mr. Monahan; screenplay by mr. Monahan, based on the novel by Ken Bruen, London Boulevard; music by Sergio Pizzorno; director of photography (Technicolor), Chris Menges; production designer, Martin Childs; costume designer, Odile Dicks-Mireaux; film editors, Dody Dorn, Robb Sullivan.
A GK Films presentation of a GK Films/Henceforth Pictures/Projection Pictures production. (UK distributor, Entertainment Film Distributors. US distributor, Film District. World sales, GK Films.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), March 31st 2011. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

V SUBBOTU

Innocent Saturday


Russia/Germany/Ukraine
2010
98 minutes

Russian screenwriter Alexander Mindadze's second film is a thought-provoking juggernaut that uses the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster as trigger and background to a cautionary tale of comeuppance. On the night of April 26, Valery (Anton Shagin), a minor party officer in the nearby city of Pripyat, is one of the few people that is aware of the actual danger posed by the explosion, but his attempts to leave before something worse happens are thwarted at every step by his personal ties, namely his girlfriend and the rock band he used to play in before his rise within the ranks soured the relationship. While everyone around him keeps going on with their lives, oblivious to what's going on, Valery finds himself living a sort of surreal fever dream heightened by sleeplessness and vodka, being constantly pulled back to the Pripyat hotel where friends are getting married - a metaphor for the inability to let go of one's past, for the danger of forgetting it, but above all for the realisation that none of that will happen until you come to terms with it.
Even though mr. Mindadze is a veteran screenwriter, Innocent Saturday has a lot in common with new Russian filmmakers such as Sergei Loznitsa, Alexei Popogrebsky, Alexei Fedorshenko or Andrei Stempkovsky. But, unlike those often opaque or observational features, Innocent Saturday thrives on a careening, frenzied urgency and on a (very Russian) wry, absurdist humour, the handling constantly on the move suggesting a mouse caught in a mousetrap - and mr. Mindadze, much helped by Oleg Mutu's stupendous camerawork, manages to keep it up during the film's entire length. The film can be occasionally unfocused, but the smart writing, strong performances (not least from mr. Shagin, an appealingly human rendering of a right bastard) and powerful handling allow it to keep gaining speed until an ironic, muted ending brings it all crashing down.

Starring Anton Shagin, Svetlana Smirnova-Marcinkevich, Stanislav Ryadinsky, Vassili Guzov, Alexei Demidov, Vyacheslav Petkun, Sergei Gromov, Ulyana Fomicheva.
Directed and written by Alexander Mindadze; produced by Alexander Rodniansky, Sergei Melkumov, Matthias Esche, Philipp Kreuzer, mr. Mindadze, Dmitri Efremov, Oleg Kohan; music by Mikhail Kovalev; director of photography (Cine Postproduction Bavaria, Salamandra, widescreen), Oleg Mutu; production designer, Denis Bauer; costume designers, Irina Grazdankina, Ekaterina Himicheva; film editors, Dasha Danilova, Ivan Lebedev.
An Alexander Rodniansky/Sergei Melkumov/Matthias Esche/Philipp Kreuzer/Oleg Kohan presentation of a Non-Stop Productions/Bavaria Pictures/Passenger Kino/SOTA Cinema Group production, in co-production with ARTE and MDR; with the support of the Russian Ministry of Culture, Fond-Kino, Ukraine Cinema Agency, Filmförderungsanstalt, Deutsche Filmförderfonds; in collaboration with Mosfilm and Bavaria Film. (Russian distributor, Kino Bez Granic. World sales, Bavaria Film International.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, official selection screening, Kino International (Berlin), February 15th 2011. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

KHODORKOVSKY

Germany/France
2011
112 minutes

A lot more entertaining than any serious investigative documentary has any right to be, German director Cyril Tuschi's film on the affair of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch imprisoned for the past eight years, is part journalistic primer on the case, part Boys Own adventure, as the director travels the world interviewing an impressive array of friends, relatives, colleagues and politicians (but, not surprisingly, no Russian politicians). No traditional documentarist (his sole previous feature was a fiction), mr. Tuschi starts out from a different question than most people ask: not "why was Mikhail Khodorkovsky arrested" but "why did Mikhail Khodorkovsky allow himself to be arrested". The (plausible) thesis he develops is that the oligarch is setting himself up as a sacrificial lamb, a moral example seeking some sort of redemption or penance for a wealthy way of life that simultaneously pushed Russia forward into a modern consumer economy but also led to a post-Perestroika regime more restrictive than desired, using his prison as a loudspeaker to advertise the pitfalls of post-Soviet polity.
Undeniably idealistic but also incredibly attuned to the peculiar workings of the Russian soul (as a son of Russian immigrants himself), mr. Tuschi leads us into a universe of shifty and shadowy politics that suggest a Cold War thriller updated for the media age, told with the insouciance of a student picking up new knowledge as he goes about traveling the world. Not surprisingly, the ultimate message the film sends is that the only people who want mr. Khodorkovsky free are the Westerners who can't do anything about it, caught between the harsh reality of economic interests and the idealistic dream of perfect human rights records. At no point does mr. Tuschi excuse or idolize his subject, but in the course of his investigation, we learn a lot about the way the world actually works behind the curtains - maybe a lot more than we'd ever want to know.

Directed, produced and photographed by Cyril Tuschi; narrated by Jean-Marc Barr, Harvey Friedman; music by Arvo Pärt; film editors, Salome Madoridze, mr. Tuschi.
A Rezo Films/Farbfilm presentation of a Lala Film production, in co-production with Le Vision and Bayerische Rundfunk, with the support of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, MDM, Deutscher Filmförderfonds. (World sales, Rezo Films.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, Panorama Dokumente official screening, Kino International (Berlin), February 14th 2011.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A ESPADA E A ROSA

Portugal/France
2010
142 minutes

And now for something completely different: the debut feature of Portuguese director João Nicolau is a deliriously playful oddity, a lively, shapeless homage to classic cinema combining elements of fifties sci-fi and musical comedy, under the guise of a no-budget adventure movie about growing up and facing real life. For most of its rambling, sprawling length, it's a fake pirate movie following the odd adventures of average joe Manuel (Manuel Mesquita), who sets sail with a crew of pirate friends seasoned in the use of the mysterious primeval substance known as plutex, whose awesome powers can destroy the world if fallen in wrong hands. Not that it really matters anyway, because A Espada e a Rosa is mr. Nicolau's stake at harnessing the stuff that dreams are made of to say something about the moment all of us must leave our dreams behind.
Strongly close to the studied casual aloofness of his countryman Miguel Gomes' work (with whom he shares a production company and some of the crew), mr. Nicolau's film throws into the bargain a wider-eyed sense of innocence and a strong touch of cheerful whimsy to invite his audience to come play make-believe with a game cast mainly made up of friends (some of whom without any prior professional experience). The whole is alternately chaotic, disconcerting, endearing and infuriating, occasionally getting lost in its own labyrinth of ideas and trying so hard to be meaningful that it ends up being meaningless. But there's no denying there's obvious talent at work here, even if not entirely harnessed yet; and despite a sense that the loose plot loses steam towards the end, if you're in the right mood, A Espada e a Rosa can be a very enjoyable experience. Mr. Nicolau is definitely a director to keep an eye on.


Starring Manuel Mesquita; Luís Lima Barreto, Nuno Pino Custódio, Pedro Faro, Joana Cunha Ferreira; Hugo Leitão, Mariana Ricardo, Lígia Soares; Alice Contreiras, Tiago Fagulha; Crista Alfaiate, Caroline Deuras, Julie Duclos, João Lobo, Justin Taurand; Helena Carneiro, Sinem Erdogan; Márcia Breia, Pedro Leitão, Armando Nunes; Michael Biberstein, José Mário Branco, Luís Miguel Cintra.
Directed by João Nicolau; produced by Sandro Aguilar, Luís Urbano; written by mr. Nicolau, ms. Ricardo; music by München; director of photography (Tobis), Mário Castanheira; art director, Sílvia Grabowski; costume designer, Vera Midões; film editors, Francisco Moreira, mr. Nicolau.
An O Som e a Fúria/Shellac Sud presentation/production; with the support of Ministério da Cultura/Instituto do Cinema e do Audiovisual, MEDIA Programme of the European Community; with the investment of Fundo de Investimento no Cinema e Audiovisual; with the support of Conseil Général Bouches du Rhône; with the participation of Rádio e Televisão de Portugal, Multimed. (Portuguese distributor and world sales, O Som e a Fúria.)
Screened: private screening in advance of the Venice Film Festival, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), August 24th 2010. In competition at the Venice Film Festival - Orizzonti sidebar. 


A Espada e a Rosa_Trailer Cinema from o som e a fúria on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

ROAD TO NOWHERE

USA
2010
120 minutes

For his first proper feature in slightly over twenty years, cult American auteur Monte Hellman certainly doesn't make it easy on himself. Written by long-time collaborator (and Variety editor) Steven Gaydos, Road to Nowhere starts out as a more or less traditional film noir, set in the world of contemporary independent cinema, as a director (Tygh Runyan) becomes obsessed with the actress (Shannyn Sossamon) he has hired for the lead in his film version of a real-life murder case. But that's before mr. Hellman moves the film, first, into a moody, oblique spin on Alfred Hitchcock's immortal Vertigo, and then into a Russian-doll structure played out in fragmented time signatures, until fact and fiction, dream and reality become indistinguishable.
Shot in digital with the Canon 5D camera on a shoestring budget, Road to Nowhere can be intriguing and preposterous, ingenious and derivative, but its flaws are part of its triumph: the clumsy performances from a third-tier cast and occasional bum notes in its all-digital look become part of its quest for emotion and spontaneity within a time-honored genre framework, and add grace touches to a story that shifts smoothly between a whole lot of levels to become a comment on, and a stunning love letter to, the power and possibilities of film. It's one of those films whose spirit, drive, sincerity and desire transcend what is on the screen to become an insight into the nature of cinema itself - and the best comeback we could wish for its long-absent director.

Starring Cliff de Young, Waylon Payne, Tygh Runyan, Shannyn Sossamon, Dominique Swain; also starring John Diehl, Robert Kolar, Nic Paul, Fabio Testi.
Directed by Monte Hellman; produced by Mr. Hellman, Steven Gaydos, Melissa Hellman; written by mr. Gaydos; music by Tom Russell; director of photography (colour), Josep M. Civit; production designer, Laurie Post; costume designer, Chelsea Staebell; film editor, Celine Ameslon.
An E1 Entertainment presentation of a Road To Nowhere production. (World sales, E1 Entertainment.)
Screened: Venice Film Festival advance screening, Palazzo del Cinema - Sala Darsena (Venice), September 9th 2010.

Friday, April 08, 2011

QUINZE PONTOS NA ALMA

Portugal
2011
92 minutes

The directing debut of Portuguese screenwriter Vicente Alves do Ó is a painfully sincere but dismally gauche attempt at an updated, stylized woman's picture, undone by a glossy fetishism that all but drowns its schematic, fanciful plot. This tale of a well-off, upper-crust woman who throws her perfect life away chasing the chimera of a man she only met once is haunted by any number of vintage Hollywood melodramas and a lot of Hitchcock — it's impossible to not think of Vertigo when looking at Rita Loureiro's blonde get-up and at the movie's premise of a woman leading a double life.
But mr. Alves do Ó's tenderly loving nostalgia becomes slowly an airless, risible mausoleum that entombs any attempt at drama, a screenwriter's concept and conceit mistaking advertising gloss for glamour and self-indulgence for obsession. The cast performances are all over the place, plotting seems cut and pasted rather than organic, the dialogue strives for wit and credibility but ends up being merely arch and occasionally laughable, and the handling is wildly inconsistent, with a penchant for grandiose tracking shots that feel tacked on to the film's narrative. There's no denying the sincerity of the intentions and the genuine love for classic cinema it shows, but the results are so mannered and arch that what was meant as grandiloquent and post-modern becomes silly and artless.


Starring Rita Loureiro, João Reis, Marcello Urgeghe, Carmen Santos, Dalila Carmo, Ivo Canelas.
Directed and written by Vicente Alves do Ó; music by Pedro Janela; director of photography (colour, widescreen), Luís Branquinho; art director, João Nunes; costume designer, Paulo Gomes; film editor, João Braz.
A Filmes de Fundo production; with the support of Instituto do Cinema e Audiovisual-Ministério da Cultura, Rádio e Televisão de Portugal; in co-production with Ukbar Filmes. (Portuguese distributor, Zon Lusomundo Audiovisuais.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), March 23rd 2011. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

HAEVNEN

In a Better World


Denmark/Sweden
2010
116 minutes

It's no secret that the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film is usually a missed opportunity - and in a year when the superb Of Gods and Men was outrageously ignored by the nominations, to give the award to the underachieving In a Better World (over the bewildering but intriguing Dogtooth, for instance) adds insult to injury. An undoubtedly proficient but anonymously tasteful family melodrama with a veneer of well-meaning but hopelessly naïf activism, it revolves around the uneasy friendship between two outcast kids in rural Denmark, both reeling from family shakeups: cosmopolitan Christian's (William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen) mum has just died, bullied Elias' (Markus Rygaard) parents are divorcing.
The kids' growingly dangerous games (posited as cries for help from conflicted, overwhelmed minds) are superimposed on Elias' dad Anton's (Mikael Persbrandt) experiences as a volunteer doctor in Sudan, but this becomes the weakest link in a hopelessly muddled plot that spreads itself too thin by wanting to say too many things at the same time, without actually ever finding out what it is it really wants to say. Had Susanne Bier and her screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen refrained from grafting the African plot superfluously onto what is already an overloaded family drama, In a Better World might have been more interesting; as it stands, though, it's a hopeless mess, wasting the solid performances and good production values.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha. all rights reserved by the author

Starring Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen, Markus Rygaard.
Directed by Susanne Bier; produced by Sisse Graum Jørgensen; screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen, from a story by ms. Bier and mr. Jensen; music by Johan Söderqvist; director of photography (Nordisk Film Shortcut, widescreen), Morten Søborg; production designer, Peter Grant; costume designer, Manon Rasmussen; film editors, Pernille Bech Christensen, Morten Egholm. 
A Zentropa Entertainments 16 presentation/production; in co-production with Memfis Film International, DR, Sveriges Television, Film i Väst, Trollhättan Film; with the support of the Danish Film Institute, Film Fyn, Nordisk Film & TV Fund, Swedish Film Institute, MEDIA Programme of the European Union. (Danish distributor, Nordisk Film. World sales, Trust Nordisk.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Castello Lopes screening room, Lisbon, March 15th 2011. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

CORIOLANUS

Great Britain/USA
2010
123 minutes

The key problem in any film adaptation/updating of Shakespeare is how to transcend its language: how to overcome the fact that what is being said is often designed to replace that which could not be recreated on stage, and how to make a contemporary cinema audience relate to something whose archaic construction was so obviously meant for being spoken and performed on a theatre. There have been a great many attempts on all points of the quality spectrum; Ralph Fiennes' fiercely intense update of Coriolanus is a more than honourable try, even if no masterpiece.
For his directorial debut, mr. Fiennes and Gladiator screenwriter John Logan transpose the tragedy of Roman general Caius Martius, a consummate warrior with zero diplomacy skills who turns on his city when confronted by venal politicians as a dictator-in-waiting, to a modern-day state that forcefully reminds us of both the Balkans and Iraq, smartly debating the shifting games of power-hungry politicians. Mr. Fiennes, who plays Caius Martius with a a fearsome, almost desperate intensity, eschews all-star dramatics by casting solid character actors rather than film stars (the exception being Scotsman Gerard Butler, who was likely cast for his British theatrical roots rather than his current status as Hollywood action hero); he then gives them room to breathe and create their characters within a political thriller framework, with the divine Vanessa Redgrave all but running away with the film through her regal performance as the ambitious matriarch Volumnia. More solid than outstanding but done with obvious care, it's an intelligent piece that runs the risk of falling into the media limbo most contemporary adaptations of the Bard tend to head to; more's the pity.

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox; and Vanessa Redgrave; Jessica Chastain, Paul Kani, James Nesbitt, Paul Jesson, Lubna Azabal, Ashraf Barhom.
Directed by mr. Fiennes; produced by mr. Fiennes, John Logan, Gabrielle Tana, Julia Taylor-Stanley, Colin Vaines; screenplay by mr. Logan, based on the play by William Shakespeare, Coriolanus; music by Ilan Eshkeri; director of photography (DeLuxe, widescreen), Barry Ackroyd; production designer, Ricky Eyres; costume designer, Bojana Nikitovic; film editor, Nicolas Gaster.
A Hermetof Pictures/Magna Films/Icon Entertainment International presentation, in association with Lipsync Productions and BBC Films, of a Kalkorrie/Artemis Films/Lonely Dragon production, in association with Atlantic Swiss Productions and Magnolia Mae Productions. (World sales, Icon Entertainment International.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, official selection advance press screening, Berlinale Palast (Berlin), February 14th 2011. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS

USA/Great Britain/France
2010
90 minutes

You should learn to expect the unexpected from Werner Herzog - and that includes seeing the famously idiossyncratic German film-maker jumping on the 3D bandwagon for one of his esoteric, thought-provoking documentary essays, closer in spirit and form to later-period pieces like The Wild Blue Yonder or Encounters at the End of the World. Given the opportunity to shoot inside the restricted-access Chauvet cave in France, where the earliest man-made cave paintings were found in 1994, mr. Herzog jumped at it, assuming 3D would be the only way to render vividly the alien singularity of this "time capsule" available exclusively to scientists and researchers and even then only during a limited time period every year.
Mr. Herzog's approach was to mirror the cave's singularity by making the film into a time capsule of its own - a snapshot as awkward and austere as the paintings themselves are, "a frozen flash of a moment in time" to quote the director's narration. Its concern with spirituality and intuition rather than science and fact, underlined by the solemn compositions of frequent collaborator Ernst Reijseger, is typical of mr. Herzog's obliquely wired way of seeing things, enough to make this rather grave exercise (leavened by offbeat touches) more of a treat for the long-suffering hardcore fans of the director than an entry point for newcomers.

Directed, written and narrated by Werner Herzog; produced by Erik Nelson, Adrienne Ciuffo; music by Ernst Reijseger; director of photography (colour, 3D), Peter Zeitlinger; film editors, Joe Bini, Maya Hawke.
A History Films presentation of a Creative Differences Productions production; produced in association with More 4; in partnership with the French Ministry of Culture and Communication; in co-production with ARTE France Cinéma. (US distributor, Sundance Selects. World sales, Visit Films.)
Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, official selection (out of competition) advance press screening, Cinemaxx Potsdamer Platz 7 (Berlin), February 13th 2011. 

Sunday, April 03, 2011

LOONG BOONMEE RALUEK CHAT

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives


Thailand/Great Britain/France/Germany/Spain
2010
113 minutes

A lot has been written about Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's unexpected Palme d'Or winner at the 2010 Cannes film festival, most of it blown up out of all proportion due to the "exotic" origin of its recipient. But Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a much more accessible entry point into the director's dreamy universe than previous work such as Tropical Malady or Syndromes and a Century, with a streamlined, structured narrative and a fable-like tone (probably carried over from mr. Weerasethakul's avowed desire to tell his story as he would a children's tale).
The story of the reconciliation of a terminally ill Thai farmer (Thanapat Saisaymar) with his approaching death, surrounded by his living and dead relatives (including a ghost wife and a hirsute monkey son), Uncle Boonmee is a gentle drift through mr. Weerasethakul's usual theme of recurrence, of the continuum between life and death, past and present, history and art, done at a leisurely pace, with some sly, cheerful humour and always bearing in mind there is a lot to enjoy and appreciate in the ride itself. Part of a multimedia project about the Northeastern Thai region of Khon Kaen, created around its history and memory, Uncle Boonmee is the perfect calling card for those who want to know what the fuss is all about.
© 2011 Jorge Mourinha

Starring Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Natthakarn Aphaiwong, Jeerasak Kulhong, Kanokporn Thongaram. 
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul; produced by Simon Field, Keith Griffiths, Charles de Meaux, mr. Weerasethakul, Hans W. Geissendörfer, Luis Miñarro, Michael Weber; screenplay by mr. Weerasethakul, inspired by the book by Phra Sripaiyattiweti, A Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives; music by Koichi Shimizu; directors of photography (Kantana Lab, Image Film), Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Yukontorn Mingmongkon, Charin Pengpanich; production designer, Akekarat Homlaor; costume designer, Chatchi Chaiyon; film editor, Lee Chatametikool.

An Illuminations Films presentation of a Kick The Machine Films/Illuminations Film Past Lives production; in co-production with Anna Sanders Films, The Match Factory, Geissendörfer Film- und Fernsehproduktion, Eddie Saeta; with the participation of Fonds Sud Cinéma; with the support of the World Cinema Fund, Hubert Bals Fund of the Rotterdam Film Festival, ZDF/ARTE, Louverture Films, Haus der Kunst, Fact, Animate Project. (World sales, The Match Factory.)
Screened: Curtas Vila do Conde 2010 official closing screening, Teatro Municipal de Vila do Conde (Screen 1), July 10th 2010.