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Friday, February 13, 2009

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek has a completely different take from A.O. Scott's regarding the Guggenheim Museum set piece in Tom Tykwer's The International (see my post from yesterday). Where Scott found Tykwer's film "undistinguished," Zacharek seems to find it anything but, calling it an "audacious action-thriller" that "proves Tykwer is continually building on his promise as a filmmaker, not squandering it." Here is an excerpt from Zacharek's review:

Tykwer revels in working subtle, sleight-of-hand tricks with the camera: A figure who passes by in a blur just made something happen, but what? A sharpshooter sights his target with workaday confidence, only to realize that a shooter even sharper than he is has already worked out a better angle -- the camera gives us just enough clues without giving the whole game away. Tykwer pulls out all the stops in a fantastically choreographed shootout that unfolds, with steady and brutal grace, inside the nautilus of the Guggenheim Museum. (Frank Lloyd Wright devotees should know that no ramps were harmed in the making of this picture. Aside from a few establishing shots, the sequence was filmed inside a giant replica built in Berlin.) So many contemporary action-movie directors just crash through a violent action scene, knowing they can add faux energy in the editing room later. Tykwer, on the other hand, honors the laws of physics: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, although it can be converted from one form to another and transferred from one object to another. In the Guggenheim sequence, in particular, Tykwer does all that converting and transferring visually. He has planned his shots so carefully that the editing feels organic.

In fact, The International gets most of its narrative shape not from the dialogue but from the visuals. Shot by Frank Griebe, who has frequently worked with Tykwer, the picture has a somber, elegant look. Even though it hops from one glamorous location to another (Istanbul, with its collage of sun-warmed rooftops, looks particularly resplendent) the images never have that stiff, flattened, travelogue quality. They always look like places where people work and live, and where time passes.

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe's Ty Burr asks, "Will the Guggenheim shoot-out in The International go down as one of the most rip-roaring action sequences in movie history?" For "perspective," he looks at other "slam-bang" classic movie moments, including one from Brian De Palma's The Untouchables:

Brian DePalma has some nerve: The Union Station gunfight between Eliot Ness and several of Al Capone's meanest is modeled on the Odessa Steps sequence from the 1925 Russian classic The Battleship Potemkin - right down to the runaway baby carriage.

Burr begins his review of Tykwer's film by stating, "Two-thirds of the way into The International comes an action sequence so audacious, so supremely well crafted that I don't want to tell you anything more about it. I'll have to, in a bit, but if you want to retain a moviegoer's constitutional right to be surprised, just stop reading and go. I can promise you a fairly good thriller with mixed-bag elements: preposterous plot, smartly elegant direction, one of the worst recent performances by a major actress, and a dynamite stick of an action scene that can stand close to the greats (the car chase in The French Connection, the single-take battle sequence in Children of Men) and from which the movie never really recovers."

Posted by Geoff at 11:03 AM CST
Updated: Friday, February 13, 2009 11:22 AM CST
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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The New York Times' A.O. Scott is unimpressed by Tom Tykwer's new film, The International, which will open in North American theaters tomorrow after premiering at the Berlin Film Festival last week. Scott acknowledges that Tykwer's films have been stylish up to now, but calls the director's new work "undistinguished," imagining what someone like Brian De Palma might have brought to the table instead. Here is an excerpt from Scott's review:

And what about Tykwer's destiny? When Run Lola Run came out - was it really 10 years ago? - he seemed to be at the forefront of an emerging generation of brash, pop-savvy, globally minded young filmmakers. Since then he has drifted toward hackery without quite surrendering his initial promise. Perfume, his 2006 adaptation of Patrick Süskind's novel, may have been dreadful, but it was not without style.

The International, in contrast, is so undistinguished that the moments you remember best are the ones that you wish another, more original director had tackled. In the hands of Brian De Palma, for instance, a tense showdown at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan might have turned into a fugue of architectural paranoia, but Tykwer is content to turn Frank Lloyd Wright's creamy spiral into a chaotic shooting gallery. Similarly, a climactic foot chase through a Turkish bazaar needed the kind of breakneck precision Paul Greengrass brought to the last two "Bourne" movies. And when a cloud of bats suddenly took wing, I wished they were pigeons, and I wished for John Woo.

Posted by Geoff at 7:59 PM CST
Updated: Friday, February 13, 2009 11:07 AM CST
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Monday, February 9, 2009
A Film Addict blogger named Katchita provides more information about the Berlin discussion that followed the screening of Rie Rasmussen's Human Zoo last Thursday, and suggests that Luc Besson's participation may have been in name only... Here is what Katchita wrote:

The post-film environment smacked of conspiracy, into which the audience sank with palpable satisfaction. Prior to the screening, Berlinale staff indicated it wouldn't be followed by a Q&A as they didn't believe the director was present. Afterward, however, the supporting male actor, Nick Correy, jumped on stage and angrily denounced Luc Besson, much of the time without a microphone, until one belatedly surfaced, the Berlinale crew all the while indicating that scheduling didn't allow for a Q&A. He talked about obstacles to the film's financing and production, then Rasmussen showed up very briefly on stage, after which they both took it outside the theater. Their message was that, short days before the Berlinale, a non-disclosure agreement had been signed and Besson's name had, from complete absence, been elevated to a prominent place on the credits, this being the first time a film with his involvement had been chosen to open the Berlinale Panorama. Interestingly, IMDB has nothing linking him with this film as of this writing. Outside, the press swirled around and I thought to myself, this film will be a hit. We'll see, but with a beautiful, angry and talented actress/ex-model-cum-director/writer at the center of an artistic controversy, it has all the elements. Run, don't walk, to see this film. The screening today was not even sold out; the final one is next Saturday evening and I can't think of a better way to spend Valentine's Day.

Daniel Schieferdecker at jetzt.de caught up with Rasmussen in Berlin. Asked about the sex and violence in her film, Rasmussen says that she is concerned with aspects of reality, and that she naturally shows sex from a female point of view. Schieferdecker later suggests that the focus on shoes in the film only confirms old cliches about women. Rasmussen, tickled that Schieferdecker noticed this, states plainly that "that is not a cliche, that is a fact: girls like shoes."

A couple more reviews of Human Zoo have popped up-- here are some links and excerpts:

Film Addict Katchita:

The film was not perfect, with a couple of confused plot twists that may have been due to either over-writing, over-editing or a combination of the two. But when I see this sort of energy in a director's first feature film, that's something to which I play close attention.

Not for the faint at heart, Human Zoo takes up the sociopathy of betrayal, in the context of love and war. Writer/director Rie Rasmussen also plays the main character, a woman of mixed Serbian-Albanian parentage narrowly saved from rape or worse in 1999 Kosovo by a man who is, aside from a quirky feminist streak, strictly psychopathic. During her subsequent time with him in the anarchic mafiadom of Belgrade, the camera returns to her wrist wounds from the war. She worries them open again and again; we see quiet drops of blood, richly red, artistic, fall onto an etched glass bowl in one scene, contrasting with some of the more effective portrayals of violence I've seen in recent years in the cinema. We observe the betrayal of nearly every norm of decent society as Rasmussen rages at this world of ours. It's a particularly female form of rage, and I, for one, think it's about time the world take note.

Ray Bennett at the Hollywood Reporter:

The film demonstrates that Rasmussen has much to offer as a filmmaker although it's too uneven to be called a success. The Belgrade scenes are performed in the local language and are entirely convincing but the sequences in Marseilles are done in English and suffer greatly for that.

Rasmussen holds the screen credibly but while Corey is a hunk and gets to frolic with Rasmussen in some very explicit sex play, he's a lightweight compared to [Nikola] Djuricko, and the stilted English dialogue leaves even the wonderful [Hiam] Abbas (The Visitor) stranded.

Posted by Geoff at 7:55 PM CST
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Saturday, February 7, 2009

The above shot from Rie Rasmussen's Human Zoo may look like something out of Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes, but Screen Daily's Dan Fainaru suggests that Rasmussen's film is a cross between two of my very favorite films-- De Palma's Femme Fatale (which Rasmussen also appeared in) and Luc Besson's Nikita. It turns out that Besson co-produced Human Zoo wih Rasmussen.

Besson had cast Rasmussen in his final live action film as director, 2005's Angel-A (which was shot by Besson's regular cinematographer, Thierry Arbogast, who is also the cinematographer on Human Zoo). According to one blogger who was at the premiere in Berlin, Rasmussen and costar Nick Corey indicated that Besson hates Human Zoo, as the two traded insults aimed at Besson. Rasmussen apparently mortgaged her house to make this feature, and her post-screening discussion almost did not happen. Here is how "scribe" describes the event in a Kunstblog post:

With the film over, I waited to leave. But then Nick Corey, the actor who played Shawn, jumped on-stage (with the lights still down), and the drama became a farce. He told us the director was outside the screening room and wanted to speak to us. The woman who had done the introductions appeared with a mic (and a spotlight) and explained there was no time for a post-screening discussion.

Cue Rie Rasmussen, who strode on stage. No messing with her. She and Corey traded insults directed at Luc Besson, who is credited as producer but apparently hated the picture. She also said the story had personal resonance, in terms of the immigration and trafficking theme (a sub-plot of the film), as her adopted sister's mother had been trafficked to Russia.

Extraordinary stuff, but it was cut short to make room for the next screening. Corey repaired outside and continued slagging off Besson and bigging up Rasmussen, who mortgaged her house to make the film. Then she held court. I was quite interested to hear her views on the reversal of gender roles in the film, with Adria taking an all-action stance while Shawn is a support. Once she started talking about women's natural function being reproduction, I rather lost interest--biological determinism is so 20th century.

From reading the several reviews already posted, Human Zoo, which Rasmussen wrote, produced, directed, and edited, appears to feature wild shifts in tone, extreme violence, and explicit sex. Here are some excerpts:

Dan Fainaru at Screen Daily :

This strangely downbeat 2009 Panorama opener begins as a political drama which attempts to explore such weighty issues as Balkan war crimes and illegal immigration in the West only to turn very quickly into an oversexed thriller. First-time director Rie Rasmussen also produced, wrote and edited the film as well as playing the lead and it's obvious she took on too much, starting out with something akin to Lorna's Silence but ending up with a cross between Femme Fatale and Nikita...

Rasmussen's script feels arbitrary, under-developed and shaky; the dialogue is, at best, declamatory. DoP Thierry Arbogast lets himself go at times with an orgy of kinky angles interspersed with long, languorous shots. Overall, it suggests a limited budget. The performances are equally skimpy. Rasmussen expresses distress by posing in a smouldering stance and mustering up a sexy pout while Nick Corey seems bemused by the thinly-sketched character he has to play. Nikola Djuricko, however, appears to thoroughly enjoy himself as the brutish Srdjan.

Leslie Felperin at Variety :

Rasmussen shows moderate skill as a helmer only in the scenes featuring graphic sex and violence, which at least have a sort of visceral immediacy. Elsewhere, her lack of skill is painfully apparent, particularly in the editing department. Given the pic's obviously substantial budget, which stretched to extensive location use, one has to wonder why Rasmussen took on this job as well.

scribe at Kunstblog :

Part war drama, part jet-black comedy, part romance and part social commentary, the film is wildly uneven in tone. In Serbo-Croat, French and English, the dialogue varies from astute to embarrassingly obvious. The film takes a wild left turn when the heretofore timid, restrained Adria suddenly turns into The Terminator and starts chopping off hands and shooting up strip joints. Most bizarre.

The director, who also played Adria, has very strong views on gender roles and I think somewhere in this picture is a comment on violence and strength but I found the ending a huge copout.

Rich Cline at Shadows On The Web :

This fascinatingly bold drama centres on a woman reliving her horrific past during the ethnic cleansing war in Kosovo as she tries to reassemble her life in Marseilles. Stylish and energetic, with a fiercely feminist attitude, it's a clever look at the issue of refugees mixed with an examination of how much of our identity comes from our nationality. It's a bit populist and Besson-like, but keeps you thinking.

Leonardo Lardieri at Sentieri selvaggi :

This review from Italy mentions the confusing tonal shifts in the film, but also notes the scene pictured above, where the protagonist, who has just slaughtered the managers in a brothel, is followed by the camera from above as she moves through corridors and the camera catches the aftermath in each of the rooms. Lardieri notes that the scene brings to mind Chan-wook Park's Oldboy.

Abel at Berliner Morgenpost :

This review from Germany suggests that the wild and often crude film has the "unmistakable" handwriting of Luc Besson.


Posted by Geoff at 3:28 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, February 8, 2009 12:14 PM CST
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Friday, February 6, 2009
Rie Rasmussen's directorial feature debut, Human Zoo, kicked off the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival yesterday, and will screen several more times this weekend. Rasmussen also stars in the non-linear film, which was shot by Thierry Arbogast. Rasmussen met Arbogast on the set of Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale in 2001, where she shadowed the cinematographer to learn about filmmaking. Human Zoo is about a young woman who is a Balkan refugee now living as an illegal immigrant in present-day Marseille. Rasmussen also wrote the screenplay.

Posted by Geoff at 11:06 AM CST
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Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Filmbo at Filmbo's Chick Magnet has posted a comparison between Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir and Brian De Palma's Redacted. Filmbo had a problem with Folman's use of real video at the end of his mostly animated film (the film was drawn and animated after using actors to stage scenes for reference). Filmbo writes:Though more egregiously, the videos at the end of Waltz with Bashir attempt to garner support for the film's political agenda by appealing to the emotions of the spectator. The film actually uses pictures of dead, Palestinian babies to manipulate the opinions of its audience. It's quite a decision by the filmmakers, who up until this point resembled Alain Resnais and Richard Linklater.

It reminded me of the end of Brian De Palma's Redacted and the film's near-decision to commit the exact same manipulation. But Redacted is a smarter film. I'm not sure whether it is important to credit Magnolia with this and believe the Hi Mom!-esque controversy over their decision to redact De Palma's images, or whether you should credit De Palma and see the controversy as a scripted "Be Black, Baby" stunt meant to emphasize the film's satire over its politics. The impact of the film's ending carries the same treasure trove of meaning either way. The redaction of the "dead baby" images are the final punchline to Redacted, for it says that even De Palma's film can not exist without some form of censorship. And like the youtube clips that run throughout the film, Redacted's finale is yet another jab at the empty means and empty language with which some people express their politics.

Actually, it's final punchline is Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir, a film Redacted prophetically satirized more than a year in advance.

Posted by Geoff at 1:23 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 1:24 PM CST
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Saturday, January 31, 2009
UPDATED February 3 2009

Pop Music Notes yesterday ran a post about music videos that have been reshot for certain markets. Included is a comparison of the three videos shot for Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax. The first one "featured what can best be described as a leather bar/sex club setting," according to the post, which was perhaps a little risque for regular music channels. Godley & Creme then directed a more standard performance video with a laserbeam theme. And later on, to help promote Body Double, which featured the song as kind of a centerpiece, Brian De Palma directed a video for the song that included scenes from his film. However, there is often confusion about this rare clip, as the scene in the film itself plays much like a music video (the clip taken directly from Body Double is all over YouTube, and that is the one originally posted at Pop Music Notes-- it has since been corrected).

The actual music video (posted above) features extra shots that are not in the film, including a close-up of the "Indian" walking around the club, and the members of the band on stage (laserbeams included), and later, looking through telescopes set up at the club's window and seeing several scenes from Body Double, including said "Indian" about to murder Gloria Revelle (the video ends with the suspension of the murder and the lead singer turning his head from the telescope, looking directly at the audience as he sings "Come" and the frame freezes-- as if to say "go to the movies to see what happens!"). Also included in the video is a very funny parody of Flashdance, a film De Palma was almost coerced into directing. Around 1982, De Palma had signed on to direct Flashdance believing that if he did this one for the team, the producer would help De Palma get his pet project on the Yablonski murders in gear. However, De Palma quit Flashdance after two weeks.

In the Relax video, a man (who may or may not be a member of the band) dressed up as a woman in a wig and a dress (another De Palma staple given extra weight in a film called Body Double) does a Flashdance-type routine on stage that culminates with the money shot of the transvestite pulling the chain that lets the water loose onto his/her body as it sits in a chair, just as the music breaks (and just before the lead singer lets out the song's trademark "huh!"). As Drew points out in a comment to this post, the joke's origin also seems to lay in the fact that "the Flashdance filmmakers famously used a male body double for several of Flashdance-star Jennifer Beales' more complicated dance moves," including a breakdance audition scene. (Thanks, Drew!)

They should really include this video on any future DVD release of the film.

Posted by Geoff at 12:17 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 12:12 AM CST
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Monday, January 26, 2009
At Tractor Facts this past Thursday, "Fox" posted an essay about last Tuesday's screening of Hi, Mom! in Austin, Texas. According to Fox...Before the show, our emcee prefaced it with a shaky disclaimer of "if you're offended by anything in this film, just remember what era it's from". He also admitted feeling a tad uneasy knowing that "this was the movie we were showing on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated". Having seen Hi, Mom! before, I immediately knew what our timid host was referring to, and that was the (in)famous "Be Black, Baby" sequence that practically takes over the second half of the film.

But what our host completely misunderstood, was that "Be Black, Baby", and the entirety of Hi, Mom!, makes for the most ideal type of viewing on a day when a black man was sworn into our nation's highest office. Because even though we just elected our first African-American president - and probably because of that - our culture has become more gun shy and eggshell aware than ever before. The elephant in the room that is "race" has been shrunk and is now hanging around the neck of every American daring to engage in a discussion of social politics.

Once again, in taking a step toward "political progress", what's sadly come along with that is an underbelly of weak-kneed cultural distress and a hesitation over open discussions.

Fox's post was challenged in the comments section by The Cooler's Jason Bellamy, which led Fox to clarify in a subsequent comment:

So to take the elephant in the room being "shrunk" thing, yeah, it does sound like I'm saying it's lessened, but what I meant to imply was that everyone now carries it with them wherever they go. It's not just in the room, it's around our necks, hanging over our heads, behind our eyes, etc.

More clearly, yes, I think race is even more touchy a subject now that Obama is president. That's not the President's fault, it's just the current climate...

But I think you may be missing my point about Hi, Mom!. (And again, I will concede that I may have done a not so swell job of laying it out...).

I'm not saying that it's so socially relevant today because it openly confronts race issues (which it does), but rather because it highlights both a soft-headed, submissive mentality (the audience members in Hi, Mom! who feel that going through the Be Black, Baby gauntlet grants them instant enlightenment the way many people feel an Obama election grants the country instant salvation) and militant-style discourse (the radicals that who put on the play and confront people on the streets with the notion that only their point-of-view is the just one) that is currently dominating our political culture.

Mind you, I don't mean to imply that the above is exclusive to a leftist/liberal ideologie, it's just the phase we're currently in, and what DePalma chose to target for this particular film. (Still, he makes it clear that Jon slides along the ideological scale, becoming a right-wing bigot in the end after commiting a terrorist attack).

Fox mentions this latter point in his original post:

The final scene in Hi, Mom! brings us back to Jon Rubin, who, overnight, has gone from leftist urban guerrilla to hawkish right-wing bigot. DePalma is showing the fine line that exists between these two ideological fringes of extremism. As a good friend often says to me, when you move too far along either end of the political spectrum, eventually you may find yourself around onto the other side.

After ripping through a slur-filled rant to a news reporter, Jon looks at the screen and says "Hi, Mom!". Freeze shot, the end. And what a timely image for a post-Election '08 American audience to take in in this age where the cult of personality is raging like I've never seen it before.

Also in the insightful essay, Fox says a few words about De Palma and the many labels attached to him over the years before delving deeper into the context of "Be Black, Baby" within the whole of Hi, Mom!, using frames from the film to illustrate the confused motivations between promoting and participating in the radical theater production.

Posted by Geoff at 3:11 PM CST
Updated: Monday, January 26, 2009 7:52 PM CST
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Thursday, January 22, 2009
The editors at Cahiers du cinéma have chosen Brian De Palma's Redacted as the best film of 2008. Number three on their list is Matt Reeves' Cloverfield, a film that shares a similar technological theme with Redacted. Joel & Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men was number four on the Cahiers list. You can see the entire top 10 list by clicking here-- if you go down the page a bit, there are several links to articles about Redacted stemming from the magazine's cover story last February.

Redacted, which was released in the U.S. in 2007, had made at least six critics' top 10 lists for that year: Glen Schaefer (#6 on his list), Mick LaSalle (#5), Scott Foundas (#10, tied with No End in Sight and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Stephanie Zacharek (#10, tied with No End in Sight), Christoph Huber (#6), and Bill Krohn (#10). Now for 2008, there are at least two more French critics who have placed Redacted on their top 10 lists. According to the January-February issue of Film Comment, French film critic and radio personality Frédéric Bonnaud has placed Redacted at number 10 on his list. Bonnaud's number one film was James Gray's Two Lovers, which was number five on the Cahiers editors' list, and which seems to have made the top 10 lists of many in France-- Gray's film opens in the U.S. on February 13th. Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited was number three on Bonnaud's list.

Fiches du cinéma critic Pierre-Simon Gutman listed his top 10 in no particular order-- it includes Redacted, Appaloosa, Grace is Gone, and, listed first (although there is "no order" intended), Two Lovers. The latter film was also chosen as best of the year by the Fiches editors. Sean Penn's Into The Wild topped the Fiches readers' poll of best films of 2008.

Posted by Geoff at 12:33 AM CST
Updated: Monday, January 26, 2009 12:43 PM CST
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Erik Van Looy's Loft, written by Bart De Pauw, opened to great success last October in Belgium. The film apparently features several nods to Brian De Palma. Variety's Boyd Van Hoeij wrote that the film features "a nod to Brian De Palma in a standout sequence at a casino." FilmFreak's Alex De Rouck mentions that Van Looy and De Pauw emphatically wink to De Palma "in his Hitchcock period (especially in the long scenes in Dusseldorf and in the casino)." The film currently has no release date for the U.S., but, despite both critics' feeling that the film has one twist too many, it seems worth keeping an eye out for...

Posted by Geoff at 6:01 PM CST
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