Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Free State of Jones is a Gary Ross strikeout

I will say I was very much looking forward to Gary Ross' Free State of Jones. Ross has always been a filmmaker that delivered what was asked of him in such a professional and gracious manner: Pleasantville, Seabiscuit and The Hunger Games all consummate and entertaining Hollywood vehicles. Judging from these early reviews though Free State of Jones will likely not make it 4 for 4. I skipped this morning's press screening, I had a few things to attend to, but it seems like I didn't miss much as these reviews have been horrendous. I presume that Warner Bros. now has second thoughts about giving this guy the reigns to its all-female Ocean's movie. Again, I haven't seen this new Matthew McConaughey film, but it looks like a complete strike out by the hints of it. I'll be catching a screening on Friday afternoon.

Nate Parker's flawed, but sometimes thought-provoking "The Birth of a Nation" gets a trailer

Recounting the story of Nat Turner, an African American Slave that lead a rebellion in 1831 to free African-Americans in Virgina. There’s blood soaked, sweat induced, passion in every frame of Nate Parker’s flawed film. You can never discount this kind of brazingly ferocious filmmaking, even when it’s by a first-time filmmaker still learning his narrative steps. The aptly titled film is bound to cause a stir when it gets released later this year, choosing the title of D.W Griffith’s grand, but very racist, 1915 masterpiece is a sign that the times might be in fact changing. Winning the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award is a sign that this movie is about to take Hollywood by storm. It was made to piss people off and get them out of their seats shouting, what more could you ask for in a movie?

"American Honey" -one of the year's best movies- finally gets a trailer

Andrea Arnold's American Honey finally gets a trailer. I saw it at Cannes and, suffice to say, was quite impressed by its loose, structure-free narrative. It's a pummeling 160 minutes, but has moments of sheer beauty in its inner and outer contours. I don't think there is much awards hope for this one as it is too "out-there" for the academy to consider, but a push by critics for their awards is inevitable. It's a love it/hate it movie, but consider me with the former as I dis find its take on 21st century Americana quite breathtaking. 

"Andrea Arnold’s American Honey  was an even more polarizing film. A 160 minute road trip to Americana hell, if you will. An On the Road for and about millennials. Cannes is not the last we’ll hear about this movie and I’m perfectly fine with that. No one should dismiss it, for it has so many great moments in its scattered running time that one might have to look through a bit of rambling incoherence to find them.
Non-professional actress Sasha Lane plays Star, a lost American soul that decides to hop onboard a bus full of Magazine-selling kids that go cross country to make money and sell magazine subscriptions. On the way they listen to pop radio and have sing alongs. Those sing-alongs end up taking up the full-length of a song. Some are quite exceptionally moving and exciting, whereas others meander. It’s just that kind of a movie, either you go with its flow or you just don’t. I did.
It’s not just singalongs. There’s an admirable sense of free-wheeling going on here. Arnold is depicting an American society of millennials that are disconnected and disconcerted with the American way. They’d rather sell their bodies than live in a capitalist-run society trying to live the “American dream”. As the film jogs along we get a fuller sense of the dynamics at play here. The structure, which is infuriating at times, runs constant repetitive circles, and yet we are fully engaged with much of what we see. There’s an overall sense of unimaginable freedom in Arnold’s filmmaking. It’s a vital, great movie that could probably use a trim."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Personal Shopper > The Conjuring 2

Over at Hollywood Elsewhere Jeffrey Wells is pondering how The Conjuring 2 is getting well-reviewed and, yet, Personal Shopper's reviews have been mixed so far. You can read the post HERE.

Yes, I'll agree the latter is an above average chill-inducing stunner that will deserve all the love and support come its release this fall season. The Conjuring 2 seems to be repeating the usual tropes that have made the horror genre go down the drain these last couple of years. Of course James Wan is a talented "horror" filmmaker, but he doesn't even come close to having the artistic chops of an Assayas or even a John Carpenter at his peak. The Malaysian born filmmaker is a competent and well-informed filmmaker that can carry a film to a certain extent, but not further enough to make great art.

This is an excerpt from my Cannes review:
"This is top-notch filmmaking with an impeccable performance by Stewart, who hasn’t really had to carry a full movie on her own until this one. She is alone in many scenes throughout the picture and does an admirable job leaving you in a state of hypnosis with her mannerisms and quirks. Assayas, a great director, quite clearly wanted to create a supernatural atmosphere, with much influence on the 1960 classic The Haunting. As far as those kind of movies go, there is nothing wrong in putting Personal Shopper next to them. The film is meant to be absorbed for what it is: A taut, terrific venture into the unknown."

Monday, June 20, 2016

"O.J: Made in America" is better than almost any 2016 movie I've seen so far

"O.J: Made in America" is better than almost any 2016 movie. I've been to Sundance and Cannes as well, almost nothing comes close to the gripping, assaultive nature of this 464 minute documentary. I found it was more engrossing than its FX counterpart, which, by the way, was pretty great, because it meticulously fleshes out the larger picture as compared to the aforementioned mini-series which had to balance informative content with dramatic obligations. The fact that this documentary splits the screen time between the racial issues in Los Angeles and O.J. Simpson's story is a decision of sheer genius and, really, the definitive way to tell this story. All this to say that it is a towering achievement for director Ezra Edelman whose only other work as a director came from ESPN sports docs. He does have one hell of a story to tell though, one that is both tragic and hilarious. I'll update this post later on with more thoughts on the film. I'll leave you with a quote from the L.A. Times review of the film "Historically meticulous, thematically compelling and deeply human, O.J.: Made in America is a masterwork of scholarship, journalism and cinematic art."

Michael Haneke's disturbing use of silence

If you ever decide to watch a Michael Haneke film make sure you’re in the right mood for something either punishing or provocative. It’s not to dismiss the Austrian auteur’s singular vision, but embarking into the world of his films is to often have your spirit and soul drained out. His work is rigorous, restrained and controlled cinema with an emphasis on the dehumanization of modern society, all done through the prism of the most potently realistic acts of violence imaginable.
Haneke’s use of violence is one of the more disturbing assets of his style. It usually comes in short bursts and in ways that are both shocking and disturbing. He knocks you down with his absolute and masterful control. The mise en scene is tightly fashioned in a detail-obsessed manner, with every tiny detail needing to count because what he’s trying to do is not only horrify you, but shock your system with memorably precise visual and sound. It is the complete and utter control of the viewer and the response to the act of violence that makes it all the more horrifying.
“Haneke makes us hear and see terrible things. Despite his critical success the backlash has been extreme,” goes the opening of Elsie Walker’s video essay “Taking Time to Hear…” which takes into account Haneke’s use of silence as a way to give shape and form to the content. In other words, the wordless interludes that proceed Haneke’s most torturous sequences are meant to act as a kind of salvation.
The video is meant as a rebuttal to the critics that claim he is a sadistic and cruel filmmaker. Walker seems to be implying that they are missing the point. As the video shows us, Haneke asks the viewer to hear the victims’ pain compassionately through slyly inserted silent interludes. Walker also states that “this quiet is not about the aggressors, but the victims, including the people who make themselves suffer by hurting others.”
Six acts of violence from six different films are given as examples. From a mother tied up and bound, standing next to her dead son’s body right after he’s been shot in “Funny Games,” to the famous suicide in “Cache,” Haneke has always maintained a hyper-tight control of what he wants his audience to see, feel and think. If you’re up for it, it can make for absolutely devastating cinema.
You can check it all out HERE

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