We've moved!

We're packed up and headed over to the freshly redesigned IFC site:

The new home of this blog is here (and here's our new RSS) — you'll noticed we've now been designated "Indie Eye" in order to distinguish us from IFC's just-launched music blog (which would be the ear) and political blog (which would be some other part of the branded body).

The IFC News site has also moved, to here (and here's that new RSS feed). There you'll find Aaron Hillis' awfully endearing interview with George A. Romero, in which he refers to various people as "cat"; Michael Atkinson's musings on two films from two different eras of Godard; Neil Pedley's round-up of what's new in theaters this week and more to come.

+ Indie Eye (IFC)
+ IFC Film News (IFC)

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A simpler, kinder, more muscled time.

We're on the teetering edge of a website redesign, so the rest of the week's IFC News will be posted on the new site due up tomorrow. In the meanwhile, here is this week's podcast, on how the 80s muscle movie has become an odd cultural symbol of innocence lost.

+ IFC News Podcast #65: A Simpler, Kinder, More Muscled Time (IFC News)

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Critic wrangle: "Diary of the Dead."

Chomp. George A. Romero's "Diary of the Dead" has been drawing mixed reactions since its premiere at Toronto — some critics find the zombie update nothing short of brilliant, others heavy-handed and ponderous. Of the first school is Premiere's Glenn Kenny, who proclaims that "besides an examination of us-against-them and us-against-us politics and a trenchant commentary on the it's-okay-to-torture-under-the-'right'- circumstances mentality that's been foisted on the American public, Diary is one of the most revealing and fascinating critiques of image-making since Michael Powell's Peeping Tom." Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, in a hefty review that offers more depth than the film it's addressing, writes "It's a zombie movie by way of Brecht and Godard: Where most directors strive to elide the audience's awareness of the physical filmmaking process, Romero delights in exposing the rivets and joints holding together his movie's disparate pieces." In another lengthy piece brought on by the film, Slant's Jeremiah Kipp salutes the use of the first-person camera: "The front-line imagery forces audience identification, so when monsters trudge toward us in the distance or pop up around the corner, the shock feels personal and direct."

"Romero initially conceived the project for Web-only broadcast, and if Poppa Zombie isn't quite the second coming of McLuhan when it comes to media critique, his return to small-scale indie filmmaking delivers big genre kicks," writes Nathan Lee at the Village Voice. "Diary of the Dead isn't bad," shrugs Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman. "It's a kicky B movie hiding inside a draggy, self-conscious-work-of-auteurist-horror one." "Even bad Romero is a far sight more interesting than the coolly sadistic guts-porn that currently passes for mainstream horror," claims Slate's Dana Stevens, who does add that "Diary's constant stream of sociopolitical speechifying, most of it channeled through Deb's voiceover, often sounds like an old crank on the corner waving a 'The End Is Nigh' sign." A similar sentiment from Michael Koresky at indieWIRE: "[A]s smartly staged, and even emotionally tender as it often is, Romero's latest, with its central and oft-repeated mistrust of the "new information age," also can't help but seem a little like the product of aged paranoia--like your pissed-off grandpa, a little preachy and slightly doddering."

Amongst the disappointed: "Diary asks some compelling questions about documentarians' responsibility to the people they're chronicling. Then it asks them again and again and again, wasting scores of valuable brain-munching opportunities in the process," sighs Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club. "There’s some striking filmmaking in 'Diary of the Dead,' but there’s also a lot of less-than-elegant speechifying," writes the New York Times' Manohla Dargis. "Having already scared the stuffing out of us with his past films, Uncle George has decided it’s time for a good talk." "It should be said that Romero’s lack of oomph is not just a sign of his age. It’s also a matter of conviction," suggests David Edelstein at New York, adding that "Romero can’t make a first-person movie without indicting his own techniques." And at Salon, Andrew O'Hehir proclaims a life-long soft spot for Romero, and then addings:

"Diary of the Dead" is a limp and dreary experience, at least after you get past its intriguing premise. It's poorly written and woodenly acted, completely formulaic and hopelessly imprisoned by both its genre and finally its form. I mean, it's great that George Romero knows about MySpace, I guess, but spicing up a middling, muddling zombie flick with a few electronic-lifestyle fillips is beneath him, frankly.

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Critic wrangle: "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation."

Pelé! The title of Cao Hamburger's "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" is euphemistic. The main character, a 12-year-old boy named Mauro, is the child of activists in 70s Brazil who are forced to stow him with his grandfather and go underground in order to avoid arrest — only his grandfather has died, and Mauro is instead cared for by the residents of his multi-ethnic São Paulo neighborhood. What has the potential to be (under darker auspices) a little sentimental is, according to the critics, in fact a little sentimental — not necessarily a terrible thing. The New York Times' A.O. Scott finds the film "is most seductive when it focuses on the details of daily life in the lower-middle-class São Paulo neighborhood Bom Retiro. The rhythms of commerce, worship and domesticity — the sounds of apartment house courtyards, synagogues and shops — frequently overshadow what turns out to be a fairly conventional and sentimental story." Andrew Sarris at the New York Observer adds that "I found the film fascinating for showing me entertainingly a world I still know very little about. The performance of Master Joelsas and Ms. Piepszyk demonstrate once more that this is the golden age of child performers here and abroad." At the Village Voice, Jean Oppenheimer writes that "this warmly engaging film benefits from its understated approach (it suggests rather than spells out the political turmoil), and its light, comedic tone never mitigates the drama of the central story." And Nick Schager at Slant declares that "while there's nothing seriously objectionable about Cao Hamburger's film, there's also little to distinguish it from the pack, save for a pleasingly light directorial touch." "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" was on the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film, but didn't ultimately make the final five.

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Odds: Thursday - China regrets (it's unable to lunch today).

Beijing. Mia Farrow releases a victory statement in her battleground of choice, the New York Post's Page Six, after shaming Steven Spielberg into leaving his role artistic director of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At BBC News, China expresses regret, passive aggression:

"It is understandable if some people do not understand the Chinese government policy on Darfur, but I am afraid that some people may have ulterior motives, and this we cannot accept," [Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao] told a news conference.

"China is also concerned about the humanitarian situation in Darfur. [But] empty rhetoric will not help. We hope that relevant people will be more pragmatic."

Anthony Kaufman tackles what's "not exactly a cinematic new wave. A clique, maybe? No, too fashionable. A band of outsiders? Too self-conscious. Maybe the best way to describe them is a filmmaking family" at the Village Voice. We'd hoped to see a mumblecore rumble on the horizon, but the piece is actually about producer Paul Mezey and Journeyman Pictures.

Elliott Gould briefly discusses his namesake sandwich (at the Stage Deli) with Esquire:

ESQ: What is bologna, anyway?

EG: Sometimes they say it’s a lie. Don’t give me the bologna or malarkey. But it’s some junky thing. I thrive on being honest. When I was asked if I’d like to have my hands and feet at Grauman’s Chinese -- and I was younger and I didn’t have perspective -- I said no thank you. But obviously, I got a sandwich named after me, so I deserved it.

The "leaked Diablo Cody screenplay" at Something Awful (via Reverse Shot) is almost harsh enough to reverse the "Juno" backlash-backlash-backlash, or wherever we're at these days.

In her review of "Jumper," Slate's Dana Stevens describes previous Hayden Christensen project "Shattered Glass" as "'Saw' for journalists."

From the AP: "A construction worker has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, admitting he strangled actress Adrienne Shelly while trying to rob her in her New York City apartment... Diego Pillco will receive 25 years in prison when he is sentenced on March 6."

+ China 'regrets' Spielberg action (BBC News)
+ The New American Realism (Village Voice)
+ The Elliot Gould, Stage Delicatessen, New York (Esquire)
+ honest to blog . . . (Reverse Shot)
+ Super Frat Boy (Slate)
+ Guilty Plea in Adrienne Shelly Killing (AP)

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That tricky directorial debut.

"Only when you taste lemon do you understand what sugar is." There are two conflicting critical impulses one has to fight off before ever seeing (and presumably honestly reviewing) a film like Madonna's directorial debut "Filth and Wisdom," whose Berlin Film Festival premiere yesterday was described by many as the hottest ticket in town, even if that warmth was generated by a desire to see La Madge commit acts of cinematic hubris. On one side is the urge to wield the long knife one's probably been sharpening since the film's presence at the festival was announced, and on the other is, perhaps, that wild contrarian compulsion to hold up the sure-to-be-maligned film as a misunderstood masterpiece. Unfortunately, no writer's been willing to go as far as the latter in the reviews of the film so far, but there has been a lot of "Hey, it's not actually awful!" A sampling of the range, from wretched to "huh": 

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian: "Well, it had to happen. Madonna has been a terrible actor in many, many films and now - fiercely aspirational as ever - she has graduated to being a terrible director."

Leslie Felperin, Variety: "Having contributed to arguably the worst films of some other big-name helmers (i.e. Warren Beatty's 'Dick Tracy,' John Schlesinger's 'The Next Best Thing' and Abel Ferrara's 'Dangerous Game'), Madonna seems to have learned little about directing from her experiences in filmmaking. Her stylistic approach seems most akin to that of late-'80s/early-'90s pop videos, wherein story is often revealed without dialogue in music-backed montages, the likes of which abound here. It's as if she's taken her video for 'Papa Don't Preach' as her main dramaturgical template."

Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily: "While Filth And Wisdom may not quite inhabit the same Hall of Shame as Shanghai  Surprise, Body of Evidence and (God save us) Swept Away, it's likely to be forgotten as quickly as most of them. The big surprise is that she's chosen to make her directing debut with a cheap and cheerful London ensemble comedy that's no better or worse than the average creaky low-budget Britflick."

Sheila Johnston, Telegraph: "The movie is - disappointingly, perhaps - not an outright embarrassment; there are even a couple of intentional laughs in it. It's not an entirely unpromising first effort. But the director would do well to hang on to her day job."

Ray Bennett, Hollywood Reporter: "'Filth and Wisdom' is unexpectedly sentimental, too, but the three leads are sufficiently engaging that while chaotic and more than a bit silly, the film in the end conjures up a surprising amount of goodwill."

James Christopher, London Times: "Despite its many shortcomings and an ending so mushy and neat it would embarrass Richard Curtis, Madonna has done herself proud. Her film has an artistic ambition that has simply bypassed her husband, the film director Guy Ritchie. She captures that wonderfully accidental nature of luck when people’s lives intersect for a whole swathe of unlikely but cherishable reasons. Altmanesque would be stretching the compliment too far, but 'Filth and Wisdom' shows Madonna has real potential as a film director."

Daily Motion has a clip from the film here.

+ Filth and Wisdom (Guardian)
+ Filth and Wisdom (Variety)
+ Filth and Wisdom (Screen Daily)
+ Filth and Wisdom: Don't give up the day job, Madonna (Telegraph)
+ Filth and Wisdom (Hollywood Reporter)
+ Review: Madonna's Filth and Wisdom (London Times)
+ indieWIRE: Madonna's "Filth and Wisdom" (Daily Motion)

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Kon Ichikawa, 1915-2008.

Lute. Kon Ichikawa, the Japanese director responsible for, among other things, the great anti-war films "The Burmese Harp" and "Fires on the Plain," passed away yesterday in Tokyo. From Douglas Martin in the New York Times:

Mr. Ichikawa’s career reached what many consider its high point when Americans were streaming to art-cinema houses in the 1950s and ’60s to see movies by emerging masters like Ingmar Bergman. In those years some critics rated Mr. Ichikawa on a level with Akira Kurosawa. He was “once hailed as one of the world’s greatest directors,” Olaf Möller wrote in 2001 in Film Comment.

From Mark Schilling at Variety:

Best known abroad for "The Burmese Harp" (1956) and "Fires on the Plain (1959), pics that vividly, if grimly, portrayed the human costs of WWII, as well as the 1964 Tokyo Olympics docu "Tokyo Olympiad" (1965), Ichikawa was the last directorial giant of Japan's now vanished studio studio system, which reached its peak in the 1950s and early 1960s, before succumbing to the advance of television.

Michael Atkinson wrote about "The Burmese Harp" for IFC News:

A decade after Hiroshima, a Japanese filmmaker makes the most heartbreaking anti-war film of all time. Little about "The Burmese Harp" seems groundbreaking today — it is simply a cudgel on your tear ducts, and arguably the first war film made anywhere that suggests that war finishes nothing, and indeed creates traumas and responsibilities without end.

+ Kon Ichikawa, Japanese Film Director, Dies at 92 (NY Times)
+ Ichikawa dead at 92 (Variety)
+ "The Burmese Harp" and "Un Chant d'Amour" (IFC News)

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"Diary of the Dead."

"Seeing things through a glass, you become immune." With "Diary of the Dead," George A. Romero has retconned his zombie apocalypse series back to its beginnings, before the burdens of upping the scale in each installment backed things into tough-to-swallow scenarios like "Land of the Dead"'s fortress for the wealthy. In "Diary," it's present day, the dead have just commenced with the rising and the munching and everyone else is willfully resistant to accept how bad things are becoming. There's a guy, a girl, a few of their more edible friends and the end of the world — and, oh yes, a camera with which to record it all. The unpolished filmmaking techniques that gave 1968's "Night of the Living Dead" the disconcerting air of a documentary have been traded in for new ones that explicitly signify the same — shaky camerawork, uncertain lighting and actors repeatedly shrieking at an unseen shooter to just put the damn camera down already. Like "Cloverfield" and chunks of "Redacted," "Diary of the Dead" channels its story through the lens of one of its characters, the mostly unseen Jason Creed (Joshua Close), a Pittsburg film student who's directing a mummy movie out in the woods when everything goes to hell and, on the upside, provides him with some more compelling subject matter. Creed, a handful of fellow students and their hard-drinking British professor head out to find their families in the RV they were using for the production. We probably needn't tell you the trip doesn't go well.

Aside from the richly difficult-to-pin-down parallels of his first film, Romero's rarely shown what could be called a light touch with satire or subtext. "Diary" takes on its chosen target of truth and power in media by having its characters talk, sometimes endlessly and at the cost of scares and interest, about truth and power in media. The living are often more dangerous to each other than the sluggish dead in these films, but "Diary"'s characters have such a tendency toward taking ethical stands or speechifying during impractical moments that you start to feel like they deserve their inevitable chomping. The issue of how anyone could keep filming through the devouring of his friends by animated corpses is explained away as an obsession/coping mechanism for Jason, but no excuse is offered for how his girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan) can keep railing on the fact — "If it didn't happen on camera, it didn't happen," she snips at him. We know Debra's due for a change of heart, because she also somberly narrates the film, presenting it as something edited together from Jason's footage with music for effect, because, as she says, "I am hoping to scare you, so that maybe you'll wake up."

Even with its serious ham-handedness, "Diary" has resonance: Jason posts what he's shot on the web, where it's a magnet for those wanting to get to the truth through the noise of misinformation from official sources, something that unmistakably recalls amateur coverage of Iraq, and what Brian De Palma did even less elegantly in "Redacted." There's both a virtue and a cost to this documentation, a cause to which Jason, it's not so much a spoiler to write, martyrs himself. "Diary" also martyrs itself to making its point — as a horror film it has some scares, but also an overabundance of didacticism and listless downtime. The rare and ridiculous moments of humor — a "don't mess with Texas" bit, a meta-rebuke of the recent rapid-undead trend and a mute Amish farmer — are more than a relief. They're a gesture to the fact that "Diary" is, after all, a zombie movie, and that the audience is owed a little fun.

+ "Diary of the Dead" (Myspace)

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Strike is over (if you want it).

"Forget it! I'm stayin' right where I am." The WGA strike is officially over — Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood has the official statements from both sides.

In the wake of the three-month battle, everyone's struggling to determine who, exactly, won. New York's Vulture blog points out a few of the judgments — Variety criticizes the writers, David Carr at the New York Times calls it more of a win on principalle than in practicalities — while Patrick Goldstein at the LA Times divides up the winners and losers, among the latter the Golden Globes and its neglected prizewinners. Meanwhile, John Doyle at the Globe and Mail argues that, despite the claims of some, the ending of the strike had nothing to do with a joint desire to save a certain major movie award ceremony, and that TV was the real driver: "The mucky-mucks in Hollywood could live with a scaled down Academy Awards celebration, but they couldn't live with the prospect of the 2007/08 TV season being thrown into chaos by the strike. No shows, no biz. Simple math."

+ STRIKE OVER: Hollywood Back To Work! (Deadline Hollywood)
+ So Who Won the Strike? (New York)
+ The WGA strike's winners and losers (LA Times)
+ The real reason that the strike is over (Globe and Mail)

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In the works: The Coens adapt Chabon, Tomei plays a stripper.

"My homeland is in my hat." Trailer du jour: For "The Forbidden Kingdom," here. Director Rob Minkoff, of "The Lion King" and "Stuart Little," seems to have made an outrageous, unblushing asiaphile mash-up, with Jet Li playing a taciturn white-clad fightin' monk, Jackie Chan as a drunken kung-fu master, Li Bing Bing playing a variation on The Bride with White Hair, Liu Yifei as the Zhang Ziyi stand-in and "Snow Angels"' Michael Angarano as the inevitable white kid who learns martial arts, saves all of ancient China and makes the film palatable to a wider demographic.

In the works: The Coen brothers have their next project, after the already completed "Burn After Reading" and "A Serious Man" — they'll be adapting Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," a (quite, quite awesome) hardboiled detective story set in an alternate America in which the State of Israel crumbled in the late 40s and displaced Jews were offered Alaska as a temporary settlement. Thrilled! The winking, but actually deadly serious alternate history genre tale is almost too perfect a fit for the brothers C. [Variety]

Marisa Tomei has been cast as the female lead in Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler." She'll play a stripped to Mickey Rourke's retired pro wrestler. [Variety]

Lone Scherfig, the Danish filmmaker behind "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself" and the Dogme film "Italian for Beginners," will direct "An Education." The film, adapted from a Lynn Barber essay published in Granta and adapted by Nick Hornby, will star Peter Sarsgaard (♥!) as dashing older man romancing a 17-year-old suburban girl (Carey Mulligan). [Hollywood Reporter]

Acquired: Our sister company IFC Films has picked up "Diminished Capacity," that Sundance Matthew Broderick/Alan Alda amnesia/senility road trip movie, for a yet unannounced release date. [Hollywood Reporter]

Magnolia has purchased the rights to another Sundance title, Brit horror film "Donkey Punch. (Our review from the festival is here.) [Hollywood Reporter]

Sony Pictures Classics has bought the rights to the Russian film "12," Nikita Mikhalkov's loose adaptation of "12 Angry Men"  and a nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. [Variety]

And the small distribution company Anywhere Road has picked up doc "A Very British Gangster," which premiered at Sundance last year and which traces the life of Brit crime lord Dominic Noonan. [Variety]

+ Trailer: "The Forbidden Kingdom" (Yahoo!)
+ Coens speak 'Yiddish' for Columbia (Variety)
+ Tomei joins Aronofsky's 'Wrestler' (Variety)
+ 'Education' gets four stars (Hollywood Reporter)
+ IFC picks up 'Capacity' (Hollywood Reporter)
+ Magnolia partying with 'Punch' (Hollywood Reporter)
+ Sony Classics bets on Russia's '12' (Variety)
+ Anywhere Road grabs 'Gangster' (Variety)

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IFC News: "Two guys walking around talking for two hours."

Belgium. This week at IFC News:

Matt Singer starts on the first of three parts of his 40th anniversary guide to the "Planet of the Apes" films, pointing out metaphors, continuity errors and the best examples of Charlton Heston badassery.

Michael Atkinson does "The Films of Sergei Paradjanov" and "El Cid." On the Kino set:

The films — "Shadows [of Forgotten Ancestors]," "The Color of Pomegranates" (1969), "The Legend of Suram Fortress" (1984) and "Ashik Kerib" (1988) — are all based on folk tales and ancient history (Ukranian, Armenian and Georgian), but only "Shadows" is centered on narrative. It's also the most visually dynamic; unfolding a tribal tale of star-crossed love and familial vengeance in the Carpathian mountains, the movie is one of the most restless and explosive pieces of camerawork from the so-called Art Film era, shot in authentic outlands with distorting lenses and superhuman capacity, and imbued with a grainy, primal grit.

Aaron Hillis talks to "In Bruges" director Martin McDonagh:

It seems like theater people who get into filmmaking tend to make flat and stagey work, but "In Bruges" is rather cinematic for a playwright's feature debut.

Well, exactly, that's exactly the kind of film I didn't want to make: Two guys walking around talking for two hours, or sitting on a bench and talking for two hours, or sitting somewhere else. That was my biggest fear. I grew up loving films. I never really had much of an interest in theater as a kid because I wasn't ever brought to it; you know, I didn't really have the money to go to it. Film was always my first love, and is something I wanted to get back to, and all of my influences are cinematic ones. All the De Niro-Scorsese films, Terrence Malick, Kurosawa, Sam Peckinpah, David Lynch… um…

… Nicolas Roeg?

Roeg, yeah. I wouldn't have said an influence necessarily, but "Don't Look Now" is very much a template of this, of trying to capture a town as a character.

On the podcast, we debate A.O. Scott's points from last week on the current sad state of the romantic comedy, pick out the few recent pairings we can came up with that display genuine chemistry, and look at a few undeniable stars who nevertheless seem incapable of generating a romantic spark with a costar.

And Neil Pedley has what's new in theaters.

+ IFC News

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02. 8.08

Great moments in film criticism.

"A life without orgasms is like a world without flowers."Some highlights from reviews of "The Hottie and the Nottie," the film that seems primed to give Paris Hilton what's surely a record four titles in the IMDb bottom 100:

"Bonus point for Hilton's straight-faced delivery of the sentence: 'Do you think I'm a pod person?' Unfortunately, I'll have to take it right back for the inclusion of Randy, a retarded albino stalker." — Nathan Lee, Village Voice

"The film is said to star Paris Hilton. This is not entirely accurate. Paris Hilton is present in it." — Kurt Loder, MTV News

"It would be easy to blame Heidi Ferrer's script. But since thesps sometimes appear to be floundering improvisationally, it's not always clear there is a script." — Dennis Harvey, Variety

"Yay, a feature-length adaptation of the Spice Girls' 'Wannabe'!" — Ed Gonzalez, Slant

"Rumor has it that Hilton wants to spinoff this crapola as a TV series. You've been warned. But it's still better than Fool's Gold." — Tom Putnam, Rolling Stone

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02. 8.08

Critic wrangle: "The Band's Visit."

"Just to hear the music.""The Band's Visit," the first feature from Israeli director Eran Kolirin, was Israel's Foreign Language Film Oscar submission until the Academy rejected it for having too much English dialogue. The film is about how an Egyptian police force brass band headed for a performance at the opening of an Arab cultural center ends up in the wrong town in Israel, and there's a lot of English because it's the only language the townspeople and the band members have in common. That a film that's actually about cross-cultural confusion and communication gets disqualified from the category makes the idea of a "foreign language film" prize even sillier — are subtitles really the end goal? Anyway, much love all round from our crowd of critics.

"[W]hat Kolirin achieves is—given our current hit-you-over-the-head cinematic climate—just about remarkable: a tender, poignant allegory for Arab-Israeli tensions that never makes a single overt gesture toward articulating its larger concerns," writes Nick Schager at Slant. "In the hands of another filmmaker, that same basic set-up might have made for an overly earnest exercise in getting to know thy former enemy" adds Scott Foundas at the LA Weekly. "But Eran Kolirin, the 34-year-old writer-director of The Band’s Visit, has a sense of humor as dry as Bet Hatikva’s arid desert wind and is too smart to bore us with ham-fisted humanistic bromides." Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club finds that "[t]onally, The Band's Visit steps gingerly on the line between 'sweetly humane' and 'cloyingly quirky,' but Kolirin pulls back the reins just enough, maintaining control by expressing as much with his framing as with his script."

At Salon, Andrew O'Hehir also suggests the film is worth sticking with through a seemingly sickly set-up, finding that it "has an irresistible tragic and romantic undertow," and that in the end, all the band's "encountered along the way is a few people and a few moments; almost nothing, really, but enough to suggest an entirely different world." "[T]he comedy eases you into the story and obscures the currents of seriousness swirling under the film’s surface," notes Manohla Dargis at the New York Times. Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly lauds that way that "something marvelous happens as the filmmaker, in his first feature, expertly metes out small scenes of communication between people taught, for generations, to be wary of one another: This Band swings with the rhythms of hope." "'The Band's Visit' remains an astute crowd-pleaser without sacrificing its core emotional honesty," finds Michael Koresky at indieWIRE, while Anthony Lane at the New Yorker writes that "what [Kolirin] has conjured up is not some cloying, heal-the-world paean to political harmony but a meditation... on the tough art of rubbing along."

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02. 8.08

Critic wrangle: "In Bruges."

"It's in Belgium." After a glowing critic reception as the opening night film at Sundance, playwright Martin McDonagh's feature debut "In Bruges" opens in theaters to somewhat more mixed reviews from our favorite critics. Liking it the most: Roger Ebert, who describes the film as "an endlessly surprising, very dark, human comedy," and raves that McDonagh "has made a remarkable first film, as impressive in its own way as 'House of Games,' the first film by David Mamet, who McDonagh is sometimes compared with." Also a fan is Glenn Kenny at Premiere, who notes that despite the film's marketing representing it as a kind of Guy Ritchie road movie, and "for all its very snappy dialogue and daringly crass humor, In Bruges aims to be about, in one character's words, 'guilt and sins and hell and all that.'" "All the leads are perfectly cast, and they help turn a light farce with thriller overtones into something deeper and sweeter," writes Tasha Robinson at the Onion AV Club, adding that the film is "an endless pleasant surprise."

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times deems "In Bruges" "a goof, both diverting and forgettable," concluding that McDonagh "talks a blue streak beautifully, but he has yet to find the nuance and poetry that make his red images signify with commensurate sizzle and pop." "McDonagh's basic ability is undeniable," writes Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE. "He writes carefully wrought duets for dialect, accommodates generous space for his actors to build character, and knows how to pack a scene with ballast... Then the question comes: what's the sum of these scenes? What's the angle in another hit man movie?" "Tolerably well-crafted, In Bruges is also mighty pleased with itself, and not entirely without reason," allows Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly, while finding that  "there's something glib and derivative about this clever chatter, and for all McDonagh's genuflections to Bosch, who never met an original sin he didn't want to commit to canvas, both the look and the moral agenda of In Bruges suggest warmed-over Italian surrealism with a dash of early Scorsese." Anthony Lane at the New Yorker adds that "you could argue that McDonagh is staking his claim to the infernal Boschean tradition; he even prepares the way by having Ray and Ken mull over the quandaries of guilt and damnation that they learned at school. Nice try, but I don’t buy it."

"For In Bruges to click, McDonagh needed either to get more real or more fake," suggests David Edelstein at New York, while Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum thinks the problems is that "McDonagh hasn't yet solved the construction of a feature film. The writer in him lets his characters declaim and banter too indulgently, and the theater guy in him positions his thespians as if envisioning stage-set changes, his eye not quite attuned to the cinematic requirements of movement through real space."

Liking the film the least: Nick Schager at Slant, who writes:

The tenor of [McDonagh's] material is hopelessly off, especially in the comedy department, here amounting to Farrell making jokes at little people's expense, having hoods slander each other as "gay" (or "poof"), and taking some crude, unearned jabs at boorish Americans that—considering the film's empty, self-consciously "clever" vulgarity and sizeable debt to stateside crime (and crime-buddy) pics—come off as the height of hypocrisy.

And Armond White at the New York Press (whose "here's what you should be talking about" choices this round are, distractingly, "Hitman" and "War") claims that "It’s deeply insulting to movie audiences when an award-winning playwright thinks that this sub-Tarantino nonsense carries the essence of cinema in some way."

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02. 7.08

Odds: Thursday - "Parnassus" lives on, at least on the internet.

Parnassus.What's to become of Terry Gilliam's unfinished "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus"? Christopher Plummer's earlier interview comments on the possible CGI resurrection of star Heath Ledger have been countered with more rumors that the production has been shut down; meanwhile, a holder page website has gone up, the marketing campaign apparently chugging onward like a ghost ship into the night. Defamer turns up a leaked teaser still from the film.

James Christopher at the London Times reviews "There Will Be Blood": "The year is 1898. Women have yet to be invented."

The 79-year-old Tokyo house that caught the eye of Hayao Miyazaki and was used in photographs in his book "Totoro no Sumu Ie" (The House Where Totoro Lives) is going to be preserved and made into a park, reports the Mainichi Daily News.

David Pescovitz at Boing Boing points out a how-to video for DIY decapitation effects: "There comes a time in every filmmaker's life when he needs to lop off a head."

Vincent Gallo is ankling Dario Argento's "Giallo," in which he was supposed to play a hit man, because his ex Asia Argento has joined the cast. Ben Widdicombe at the New York Daily News quotes him as saying: "I'd rather not be in a movie with her. I'm not a fan. I was a fan of her father's. I'm retiring." Or is it just that he feels his "Brown Bunny" blowjob has been shown up by her tongue-kissing a Rottweiler in "Go Go Tales"?

Will the nascent "Juno" franchise be spawning a video game? Gamespot is rumoring... yes? Maybe. You'd think this would be an easy opportunity to pour another round of "Juno" haterade, but we're having trouble coming up with anything.

 + 'Parnassus' Marketing Machine Kicks Into Gear, Despite Uncertain Fate Of Film (Defamer)
+ There Will Be Blood (London Times)
+ 'Totoro's house' slated for permanent preservation (Mainichi Daily News)

+ HOWTO do a movie decapitation (BoingBoing)
+ New York Minute: Gallo bails on 'Giallo' (New York Daily News)
+ Juno getting game treatment? (Gamespot)

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