Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cannes Report 2013 - The Hunt

By Moira Sullivan 
Denmark has certainly become a conservative country of late with required language tests for foreigners and an ultra nationalist party in the parliament. Worse yet is the provincialism in the smaller islands, and The Hunt (Jagten in Danish) directed by Thomas Vinterberg is one of those areas. 
Maads Mikelsson plays Lucas, a man who has lost his job and who takes a position as a preschool teacher. In Sweden, male employees are not allowed with children, but in this Danish childcare center, they are. 
In a complicated set of circumstances involving Lucas’ school  and hunting buddies he finds himself the hero of a young preschooler who makes up the story that he has touched her improperly. Almost no one wants to believe him, especially his old friends. His relationship with his son is strained as a result. He becomes involved with Nadja, a woman of Polish descent (Alexandra Rappaport), before he is fired and although she believes his innocence there is still doubt. 
The film shows the systematic ostracization of Lucas from the community and his zapped energy in dealing with the torment and persecution. This escalates to the point of Lucas being assaulted in a market. What is amazing about this character is his endurance and even when he finds support he must always watch over his shoulder. 
Maads Mikelsson won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Lucas. Thomas Vinterberg has succeeded in telling a convincing story with many facets without losing momentum. Dark secrets are common themes in his films and child abuse is one of his particular interests.  In Festen (The Celebration) from 1998  a son of a child molester confronts his father at a wedding. In The Hunt, the situation is reversed for although Lucas son must come to terms with the accusations against his father , Lucas must look inside himself for strength to stand up to his accusers.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 05/25/13
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cannes Report 1 - 66th Festival de Cannes

By Moira Sullivan 
Nearly 4,000 accredited journalists descend upon the city of Cannes for a week and a half of cinema magic and what looks like heavy rain for the first few days. The opening festivities for the 66th Cannes Film Festival revolved around the out of competition The Great Gatsby.

On May 20, the independent film company Troma, the oldest in the US with over 40 years of “reel experience”, proposes a manifestation outside the Carlton Hotel for the “Occupy Cannes team” to fight for the rights of independent filmmakers. Then, on May 21 there will be a mass demonstration in front of the Palais at 5.30 pm.

According to founder Lloyd Kaufman: “Troma’s goal is to spotlight the opportunity disparity between independent artists and mega-media corporations as it plays out at the Cannes Film Festival”. 
Today Troma sponsored a lesbian wedding on the beach as a gesture of celebrating marriage equality, an important issue for Occupy Cannes. Two actresses from “Return to Nuke ‘em High”- Catherine Corcoran and Asta Paredes tied the knot. The film will be screened in Marché du Film on May 21.

With some irony the Director’s Fortnight world premiere of “The Congress” directed by Ari Folman was screened tonight to an audience bearing umbrellas. It looks at the transformation of acting roles in the film business, particularly for women over 30. Robin Wright, who produced and stars in the film, plays a women in her forties whose only option is to allow her face and body to be scanned for use in synthetically created films, an advanced stage of motion capture.

Robin Wright, who plays herself in the film, is forced to choose between being scanned for motion capture for any conceivable future project or becoming obsolete in the film business. As a condition of her contract, she is forbidden from acting anywhere else. She signs, nudged by her agent played by Harvey Keitel. Wright’s decision to raise her children during her acting career angered the head of Miramount Theatres (Danny Huston). Twenty years in the future people either live as their “avatar” or age and experience natural death - “on the other side” of the fantasy world. Wright appears at a “Miramount -Nagasaki Congress” and confirms that her children are foremost in her life. The foreboding futuristic message of “The Congress” is created through animation and live action.

Earlier on the Croisette, Jennifer Lawrence appeared to promote “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, for Marché du Film, a film with another alarming futuristic message.

The Last of the Unjust was screened Out of competition by veteran documentary filmmaker Claude Lantzmann. His 3,5 hour epic documentary on the last Jewish elder of a town given by Hitler to the Jews, the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, was an important and challenging film to watch.  Lantzmann refuses to simplify his work and make it comfortable for his audience and so the length of the film was the time necessary to go back into this history. Lantzmann also revisits the Theresienstadt ghetto nearly 40 years later to present this account.

Most of the documentary consists of interviews from 1975 during one weekend in Rome with Lantzmann and Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein. The rabbi worked for Adolf Eichmann from 1938 and was the person who did the logistics of the Final Solution, and the forced emigration of Austrian Jews from Vienna.

Joel and Ethan Cohen’s Inside Llewyn Davis has so far garnished the most points from selected journalists for “Screen”, the market journal that is most relied on at Cannes for film ratings. It is one of their least ambitious projects with the least to say, so it is unsettling that the film has become so popular. One reason could be the short scenes with punchy dialogue delivered by some excellent actors: Oscar Issac as Llewyn Davis and Carey Mulligan as Jean Berkey. But the substance of the dialogue is empty such as what a horrible man Llewyn is for getting Jean pregnant, and how there is no money in his music. Many scenes have to do with a cat that escapes from one of the sofas he crashes on as an underemployed musician. His life as a folk singer is unrewarding and he is about to escape to the Merchants Marine and pack it in. In the end, the emergence of Bob Dylan as a young folk singer with a ratchety voice and profound lyrics eclipses his career. 

Takashi Miike’s Shield of Straw was also one of his least ambitious projects. He has made several films about serial killers, such as Ichi the Killer (2001), and Audition (1999) so he has a good background in presenting the psychology of the criminally insane assassin. Based on a novel by Kazuhiro Kiuch, a billionaire offers a huge reward for the execution of Kunihide Kiyomaru (Tesuya Fujiwara), the murderer of his granddaughter. The offer appeals to many low income and down on luck Japanese. Several attempts on the killer are made while police try to escort him to trial, including attempts by the police themselves. In this respect the film has something to say:  how far can someone go to defy the justice system with a vigilante reward, with more dead as a result. No one can be trusted and orders come from high up to execute the killer, since a condition for collecting the reward is that the government sanctions the execution. Fujiwara is excellent as the killer but in general there is far too much dramatic screaming going on in the film. Takashi was in attendance with his two actors Nanako Matsushima and Takao Osawa who play the two cops who try to bring in Kiyomaru for sentencing in defiance of the billionaire’s offer.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/21/13
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Baz Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby'

By Moira Sullivan

Leonardo DiCaprio on the Red Carpet at Cannes (Anne-Christine Poujoulat (AFP)

The Great Gatsby belongs to America’s folklore. Is it any wonder that we are protective of it when it is recreated on film? Baz Luhrmann’s production is shot in Sydney all the way through and most of the actors are Australian, but it doesn’t matter, really, since most of the film is the result of elaborate special effects and the dialogue coaches did a great job. Fortunately Ziegfeld Follies in Times Square is spelled right in the film, though not in the trailer.

There is one aerial shot of New York, but mostly it’s a Sydney set.  In the beginning and even middle of the film, the cardboard city works, but towards the end it feels confining to be so far away from home. The ingenuity recreating this classic story by F. Scott Fitzgerald is enchanting – the mansions, New York and Long Island.  But the journey from Long Island to NYC and back is two black roads with a make believe Big Apple in the background. The artifice is heavy and faithfulness to the plot means that the ride back and forth from NYC is followed like a trail of breadcrumbs.  In between the Big Apple and the Long Island mansions is a run down little town where some of the more serious decadence of the film takes place.

The beauty of location shooting in Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 Gatsby is that it was filmed on Fifth Avenue, the Waldorf Astoria, Manhattan, New York and Rhode Island.  The beauty of Luhrmann’s production is that he had the fantasy and vision to recreate something without even being there. It is clear that his art direction staff will win awards for their inventiveness. Coppola based his script on Fitzgerald and Luhrmann’s Gatsby script is penned by himself and Guy Pierce based on the novel.

As for casting, most of the leads stand out especially Leonardo Di Caprio as Gatsby. His commanding performance will win over the audience as the poor suitor who believed he was God and whose destiny for being in the right place to rescue a rich sea captain was one of many fortuitous happenings. Even when fortune eluded him bootlegging put him in the right direction. It was however all done for one girl, Daisy, who he met before going off to war. Carrie Mulligan plays the girl and her acting is brilliant. Less convincing is Toby Maguire as Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story in voice over. He is supposed to be the guy in the wings as far as a character but he makes a dull impression gathering together the threads of the plot.

The direction of the film is captivating mostly in the beginning since audiences will love the spare no expense expanse of the set. As Fitzgerald wrote, it was a time when liquor flowed freely without restriction and all classes participated in its consumption.  Dialogue from the novel is of course a bit clichéd for example when Nick Carraway declares he is "going to get royally drunk". And there are just too many "old sport" comments by Leonardo’s Gatsby

Alcohol is a main character in the story—it is the impetus behind the wild parties, the infidelity, the free love and in the end a car accident and murder and of course how Gatsby acquired his wealth.

The Great Gatsby for the uninitiated is about a simple man from South Dakota with dreams. The class structure of the American society weighs heavily on anyone wanting to climb ahead even that is what so many wealthy citizens did, from everywhere, and lot of them through bootlegging such as John F Kennedy’s father and grandfather. But the disgrace of being poor is what keeps the Gatsby in place and defines his actions.

The segregation of whites and blacks is a minor point of the film where African Americans are used rather exotically to complete the setting: a trumpeter across the way in a small town, a carload of partiers off to New York, a woman hanging out of a window gazing at the city and dancing girls at clubs. These characters catch the eye of Nick Carraway but are not narrated. Segregation is known through dialogue not voice over, whereas class is given ample space.

The pull of Gatsby is in part because the alcoholic writer Fitzgerald spent time in Hollywood at lavish parties like the ones in the film. He called himself a Hollywood "hack" and here you can appreciate the irony of the title The Great Gatsby with "Great" added as an afterthought. In the end, the story teases about a wild life that looks exciting but is full of undercover crime, broken dreams and ruined lives. 

Baz Luhrmann's film opens the Cannes film festival on May 15 out of competition. The Great Gatsby will command the box office for its promises and inventiveness.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/15/13
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ip Man: The Final Fight

By Moira Sullivan
Herman Yau’s Ip Man The Final Fight had its European premiere at the Far East Film Festival in Udine April 23, closely following its release dates in China , Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam in March and April. It’s quite a feather in Udine’s cap to get Ip Man to Italy before any other festival outside of Asia. This is proof that Udine remains the number 1 portal of festivals for popular Asian cinema outside Asia.

The film is shot mostly in a studio in order to recreate the time period in which Yip Kai Man also known as Yip Man and Ip Man lived in Hong Kong during the early 50s. He learned his special form of martial arts Wing Chu in China and was the grandmaster.  As the legend goes, the name according to Yip Kai Man came from Kim Wing Chun, a woman during the Qing dynasty who refused to marry a warlord and challenged him to combat to free herself from his claim on her. She won and taught the style to her husband. Wing Chun is called the Snake/Crane style. This style was later taught to master Bruce Lee by Yip Kai Man who he meets in the beginning of the film. There is certainly enough reverence already from the opening moments of this narrative in the transmission of martial arts skills from grandmaster to master. The distinctive striking in rapid speed and grappling to offset attack is known to audiences from the first and second Ip Man films directed by Wilson Yip. Herman Yau directed a prequel Ip Man The Legend is Born in 2010.

Careful attention was paid to the props and interiors, costumes and design in Ip Man the Final Fight. It is a colorful extravaganza with brilliance in detail. The story line is a little thin, however and unfortunately the art direction doesn’t help. Much of the film is Wing Chun action sequences. Yip Man is followed around by his students who worship him. For the romance angle, his wife is called back to the mainland. Later in an outdoor club Ip Man comes to the rescue of a beautiful young singer played by Zhu Chouchou who is harassed by patrons. The deadpan performance of Ip Man by Anthony Wong is the same whether in combat or in love : he never twitches an eye. The only act of violence that goes over the edge is when his young admirer gives him a drink to ease his powerful back pain. She is scorned by his protégées who are jealous of his attention to her and they are not altogether sure of her intentions. But it turns out she is sincerely interested in him and he as well, in sickness and in death. The screenplay by Erica Lee is especially observant of this special relationship, which in many ways is the heart of the film.

Ip Man The Final Fight was made with full endorsement of Yip Man’s son, and in the end of the narrative,  authentic footage of Yip Man shot by his son is shown.

The film aims to entice viewers with the claim of a final fight between Yip Man and his protégées against Dragon and the Triad. Dragon is severely scarred on his bald head, which makes him a noticeable bad guy, and the fighting tactics include drugging opponents and pounding them to oblivion.

Ip Man the Final Fight is a nostalgic trip to Hong Kong of the 50s and 60s and an honor to one of the best martial artists of modern times.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date:05/01/13
Movie Magazine International