Thursday, December 25, 2014

Carlos Sauras' "Flamenco, Flamenco"

By Moira Sullivan
Flamenco, Flamenco 
Opening Dec 26 at Landmark Opera Plaza is a rare film by the Spanish Veteran filmmaker Carlos Saura called “FLAMENCO FLAMENCO”. At the screening  Nina Menendez, artistic director of the 10th Annual Bay Area Flamenco Festival , will introduce the films.Saura made the Flamenco Trilogy of the 1980s (Blood Wedding, Carmen,a nd  El Amor Brujo). This 1995 film is in the documentary format and filmed by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro who has worked on many films such as Last Emperor and Apocalypse Now. I was struck by the performers –musicians and dancers and the extraordinary professionalism of ensemble as filmed by Storaro.

For the uninitiated, this is an excellent introduction to the art form of flamenco.

Saura filmed at the Seville Expo ’92 Spanish pavilion commemorating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus (1492-1992).

Paintings by artists such as Goya, and Picasso and Klimt serve as backdrops to famous flamenco dancers and musicians - singer Rocio Molina, dancer and choreographer Israel Galvan, dancer Sara Baras, singer Estrella Morente, and guitarist Paco de Lucia who together show us the evolution of flamenco. All elements of this folklore art from Andalusia include the traditional palo or cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), the proud baile (dance) and the body percussion of the palmas (handclaps).

Each dance, each song is highly stylized and the composition of the frame is superbly blended by Saura. There are several memorable performances of the dancers on a black shiny dance floor where the sound of the acoustic guitar is louder than the dance and handclaps.

The screenings at Opera Plaza with the right acoustics and screening opportunities should take you into a world that is handcrafted to deliver the ultimate experience in flamenco and a journey into another world.

© 2014- Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 12/24/14
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Norwegian North Sea thriller 'Pioneer'

Norway stakes its oil claim in the North Sea

By Moira Sullivan

Norway prides itself on its economic independence and always boasts that it has its fish and its oil and is financially solvent for years to come. Pioneer is a Norwegian film by Erik Skjoldbjærg that looks into just how Norway got its oil and the subject is pretty fishy. The technology to build a pipeline came from the USA and in this film the clandestine operations that were behind the creation of a pipeline in the Norwegian sea are taken to task.

Set in the 80’s, Norwegian deep sea divers embark on a mission to install a gas pipe.  This involves time in  a real-life decompression chamber on an oil rig. The film centers on Petter (Aksel Hennie) and his brother Knut André Eriksen) who risk their lives to discover oil for Norway. The cinematography evokes the time period with its grainy almost yellow film stock and the film has the dramatic form of a thiller, although based on a real life story. While in the compression chamber, an accident occurs and Petter is relentless in getting to the bottom of the story.

Five Norwegians lost their lives onboard the drilling rig 'Byford Dolphin ' as the result of decompression explosion. The rig was contracted by British Petroleum. Just how this accident happened it taken to task in Pioneer. In real life the families of divers took this case to court in Norway and were awarded compensation due to faulty equipment in the operations.

There are two roles for women that come across as very B-like and stagey in comparison to the parts for men – Knut’s wife, Maria of Mexican descent is exoticized (STEPHANIE SIGMAN )  and  the wooden ANE DAHL TORP as PIA who works on the oil rig and wants to know how much Petter know about the fatal accident in decompression chamber. 

Skjoldbjaerg may have had a hit on his hand but now Sony Pictures is in negotiations to pick up the remake rights for an adaptation to be produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/17/14

Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

New Italian Cinema at the San Francisco Film Society

Asia Argento, Gabriel Garko and Charlotte Gainsbourg at Cannes premiere of "Misunderstood".
The San Francisco Film Society presents another weekend of new films from world cinema, New Italian Cinema.  Opening Night is Nov 19 featuring two short films of Edoardo Ponti, who will be in attendance. The first is The Nightshift Belongs to the Stars, starring Julian Sands, Nastassja Kinski and Enrico Lo Verso.  Kinski plays Sonia, an unhappy married woman and Lo Verso plays Matteo, both of whom have underwent cardiac surgery and meet after six months in the Dolemites of northeastern Italy.

In Ponti’s other short film, the magnificent Sophia Loren stars in Human Voice based on a play by Jean Cocteau’ as Angela. Loren gives a brilliant solo performance as a woman who speaks on the telephone with the man she loves who is leaving her for another woman. It is to be their last telephone and Loren executes every line as a master of acting. 

Asia Argento’s Misunderstood also screens on Nov 19, a film that was selected for the "Un Certain Regard" section at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year.  The film is about Aria, (played by Giulia Salerno) the 9-year-old daughter of celebrity parents, not unlike Asia own parents - actress and screenwriter Daria Nicolodi and cult director of the gothic horror giallo or crime fiction, Dario Argento. Aria shuffles back and forth between her parents, unable to find peace in her visits, and inevitably thrown out by her father who has a daughter from a previous marriage. Aria’s mother is a renowned pianist played by (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her father is an Italian TV star played by Gabriel Garko. Beyond the story is a magnificent set design with extraordinary colors and touches that are to Argento’s credit as director and also to cinematographer Nicola Pecorin and costumes by Nicoletta Ercole.

On November 20 Controra will screen by Rossella de Venuto in a "giallo". In  this Irish Italian co-production, Megan played by Fiona Glascott decides to accompany her husband Leo (Pietro Ragusa) to Italy for the reading of his uncle’s will, Domenico. Megan is somewhat clairvoyant and has visions and nightmares of her husband’s family in this supernatural thriller.

All in all there are 12 features in the "New Italian Cinema" section of this series and two shorts, representing the very finest of Italian Cinema.

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 11/19/14
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

United Nations Association Film Festival turns 17.

The 17th UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival), will be held from October 16-26, in Palo Alto, Stanford University San Francisco. This year the theme for the festival is "BRIDGING THE GAP", and to that aim, high quality films will be screened
on human rights, environmental themes, population, migration, women’s issues, refugees, homelessness, racism, health, universal education, and war and peace, all in all 70 films from all over the world.
These are some of the outstanding film this year, that explore cultural writers, celebrities, scorned leaders and the manipulation of images created by media that drives public opinion.

“Regarding Susan Sontag”, a film about the late intellectual and cultural critic will be screened at Stanford University on Oct 18. The film made by Nancy Kates skillfully weaves archival footage with testimony of the people who remember her life. Actress Patricia Clarkson reads Sontag’s own words from her writing. Sontag was an open critic of war and proclaimed that the terrorist actions of 9/11 were a proclamation against the US as a superpower, a viewpoint that brought strong criticism. She held her own with her contemporaries and was outspoken on a number of issues. She refused to be called a woman writer -  just a writer. This film fits well with the film festival’s theme of Bridging the Gap.

“Brave Miss World” by Cecilia Peck chronicles the experiences of former Miss Israel, Linor Abargil who was kidnapped, assaulted and raped in Milan, Italy six weeks prior to the Miss World competition. She was only 18 at the time, and later decided to come out in the open and speak about her experience. She traveled to parts of the US where she openly addressed groups of primarily women and encouraged them to send to her their survivor experiences.  The film screens Oct 20 at Stanford University.

“In the Wake of Stalin” is a French Russian coproduction by Thomas Johnson. 60 years after the death of the dictator and 20 million people under his watch, comes the disturbing news that his legacy is being positively revived and for some as a person who was a hero of the Soviet Union. To counteract this propaganda human rights activists in Russia tell the truth about his deadly regime, and are interviewed in this film. The documentary screens Oct 19 at Stanford.

“Valentino’s Ghost” by Michael Singh in collaboration with  the  Center for Asian Americans takes its title from the image of Rudolph Valentino in “Son of the Sheik” in 1921 , where the famous actor is dressed as an Arab. From this Singh explores the U.S. media portrayal of Arabs and Muslims and its relationship with the American foreign policy agenda in the Middle East. The filmmakers speak with a panel of experts and try to piece together how media images originally allowed Americans to project their fantasies on the Middle East and later were induced to loathe Arabs, Muslims and Islam. Although there was a romantic attraction to the Middle East for adventure and excitement with films starring Valentino to Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, the conquest of the Middle East by the British changed this image. When these countries tried to regain their land they were called ruthless or barbaric savages.  "Valentino’s Ghost" is an exceptional documentary that turns the tables on Middle Eastern history perpetuated by the media and its representation of this area of the world. The documentary takes up the Palestinians who shot and killed Israeli  athletes in 1972 at the Olympics in Berlin,  a turning point for the representation of Arabs.  This was followed by the representation of Islam as the religion of disobedient Muslims. The film screens Oct 25 in Palo Alto.

Other exceptional films this year tackle subjects such as city slums, global warming, black photographers, mental illness, revolution, spirituality, and civil disobedience .

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/15/2014
Movie Magazine International

Bertolucci Film Series at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco

By Moira Sullivan

On Saturday October 18 a special film series dedicated to Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci will be screen at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. The program is organized by the Istituto Luce-Cinecittà in Rome, the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco and program director Amelia Antonucci. (Last year Antonucci presented a film series on Pier Paolo Pasolini with the same sponsors, and actor Ninetto Davili was a guest).

Four films including the centerpiece,  a  3D screening of a newly restored version of THE LAST EMPEROR will be screened that was presented for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival last year. In honor of this occasion, actress Joan Chen who appears in the film,will be present at the Castro to see the new version for the first time.  Joan Chen plays Empress Wanrong,the wife of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China . The Japanese government proclaimed Puyi as the first Emperor of Manchukuo and Wanrong as Empress in 1932.  Wanrong, whose husband was often away became a heavy opium addict. Joan Chen was excellent in the film in playing the Empress. She remarked in Arthur Dong’s brilliant documentary "Hollywood Chinese" that had she been a white actress her career would have taken off after the critical acclaim she received.
 THE LAST EMPEROR spans Pu Yi’s life in the Forbidden City in Bejing from 1908 up to the Cultural Revolution where he is displaced and imprisoned by Chinese communists.
THE LAST EMPEROR was also the first feature film to be authorized by the Chinese government to be filmed at the Forbidden City.
The film won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, three BAFTAs including Best Picture and four Golden Globes including Best Director.

The other films in the Bertolucci series are:

THE CONFORMIST (IL CONFORMISTA) (1970) based on the novel by Alberto Moravia starring Jean-Louis Trintignant Stefania Sandrelli and Dominique Sanda. Trintignant plays Marcello Clerici, an Italian who is going to assassinate his teacher living in exile in Paris for the fascist cause, and falls in love with his wife played by Sanda.

THE SHELTERING SKY (IL TÉ NEL DESERTO) (1990) – is an adaptation of Paul Bowles’s novel and stars John Malkovich and Debra Winger. They play a couple who have been married for 10 years and who attempt to breathe new life into their relationship in the African desert.  

LAST TANGO IN PARIS (ULTIMO TANGO A PARIGI) (1972) – stars Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando, a couple who meets after the suicide of Paul’s wife and who embark on a clandestine sexual encounter. The film was improvised and many of the scenes were made without Schneider’s approval. She was angry with Bertolucci for many years for exploiting her on screen. Her next film, The Passenger by Antonioni opposite Jack Nicholson shows what she could have done as a serious actress had it been her first film.  

BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI was born in Italy in 1940 and first served as an apprentice to the late Italian director Pier Paulo Pasolini. Many of his films are critical studies of fascism in Italy such as 1900 and Il Conformista. One could say that the sado masochistic relationship of Schneider and Brando is also an exploration of fascism.

An interview with the late Maria Schneider will air on Movie Magazine on Oct 22. 

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date:10/15/14
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Yasoumi Umetsu’s 'Kite' set to live action

By Moira Sullivan

Kite is a sci-fi revenge thriller, a low budget property of Harvey Weinstein,starring Samuel L Jackson as Detective Karl Aker, and 20-year-old India Isley, as Sawa, a deadly teen assassin who is a hit girl for corrupt detectives and bad guys.Set in the future, this is a live action rendition of Kite Yasoumi Umetsu’s anime with human traffickers and rampant corruption. Umetsu from Fukushima Japan is best known for his anime Kite and Kite Liberator.

Sawa wants to forget her parents were murdered, and at the same time is out to revenge their death. Amp is a drug she uses to suppress memory and Sawa is hooked. Deep within Sawa is the orphan who lost her parents in a gory murder. Karl Aker, her father’s partner, looks after her, as does a young fellow assassin who knew her parents, Oburi played by Callan McAuliffe.

Sawa is a skilled fighter and plows through the targets for whoever hires her. Her specialty is her use of bullets that penetrate the body and cause it to explode.India Isley has a standout role as Sawa and her versatility as a victim and a violent perpetrator has just the right momentum.

The set design of the film is grungy and dark, but works, concerning how little money was actually spent on it. Most of the cars used in the film are from today. The set is reminiscent of Sucker Punch in its drab colors and freaky futuristic characters. Contrapuntal to all these dark colors is Sawa’s fire engine red wigs and clothing, offset by black and white costumes. The human traffickers, predominately black South Africans, are reminiscent of the cannibals of I Am Legend.

The live action film like the anime is graphically violent and R rated. Some of the cut out bad guy characters are opulently dressed with gaudy, colorful suits and some of the dialogue is also a bit stagey, like “I want her head in a sandwich bag”. The color that is used in the film comes from the clothing or blood, otherwise it is a dark dark universe.

Kite opens October 10 at theatres and on iTunes. The anime has a cult following and so will this film.

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/08/14
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

“These are the Rules” by Ognien Svilicic takes home best actor award in Venice Orrizzonti

By Moira Sullivan

“These are the Rules” by Ognien Svilicic

The Venice Film Festival, which ended on September 6, screened an exceptional film in the Orrizzonti section: “These are the Rules” by Ognien Svilicic, a Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian co-production. Set in modern day Zagreb, the film is about a middle age couple, Maja and Ivo (brilliantly performed by Jasna Žalica and Emir Hadžihafizbegovićwhose teenage son Tomica (Hrvoje Vladisavljević) returns home early in the morning and locks himself in his room. The couple is routinized. but not without affection towards one another and certainly towards their son. Ivo is a bus driver and Maja, a housewife. They go through the daily rituals such as preparing lunch - cutting vegetables and setting the table even with this new development preoccupying their minds. Knocks on Tomica’s door are in vain when finally he emerges clearly pretty beaten up in the face. His concerned parents take him to the emergency room and the attending physician barely looks at him or even takes an x-ray. Later at home, Tomica faints in the bathroom and is rushed to the hospital and never regains consciousness. 
The filmmaker states that the story is based on real life events. What is most astonishing about the film is the indifference almost every person involved in this situation displays towards the incident, Tomica and his parents. A classmate shows Ivo a video of the assault by a classmate. When Ivo shows the video to the police they claim that it is not evidence and he must find more evidence.
The manner in which the story enfolds is the most compelling aspect of the film, apart from the story. The daily routines of this couple in their apartment and the ways in which their truths slowly emerge are subtle yet powerful. There is no increasing tension,  dramatic acting or dramatic music to intensify the story.  It is told simply and truthfully.
This film had much in common with Chaitanya Tamhane’s “Court” which won the Lion of the Future, Court.  The absence of drama, the kind that really belongs to the theater does not always belong in a film. Tomica’s parents are outraged by the incident that involves their son in which he is beaten to death on the streets of Zagreb and they express their grief in their own ways. Their sorrow is intimately felt and yet as a spectator it is not easy to refrain from feeling indignation towards the careless police emergency physician and hospital personnel. Tomica dies as the result of his injuries, a gentle and sensitive young man, who like his parents lives an honest life and is subjected to careless disregard and irresponsibility. Tomica’s empty room with the artifacts of a short life are important to behold  and feel as is the sadness that his parents feel in losing their only son. All of this is expressly related through high quality performances and cinematic style making “These are the Rules” one of the best films screened at the Venice Film Festival this year.
The SPECIAL ORIZZONTI AWARD for best actor went to Emir Hadžihafizbegovic for his role as Ivo.

Emir Hadžihafizbegovic

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/24/14
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence wins Golden Lion in Venice

By Moira Sullivan

Typical Roy Andersson mis en scène

The big news from the "Venice Film Festival" that ended on September 6 is that Sweden’s best arthouse filmmaker after the late Ingmar Bergman, Roy Andersson  won the Golden Lion for his film A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. It comprises 39 separate but thematically connected sketches on two traveling salesmen and  is part of a trilogy of films that began with  his grand prize at Cannes in 2000 (Songs from the Second Floor). After that Andersson was hard at work again crafting a by now clearly recognizable product as far as form and content is concerned. “You, the living” (2008) was made seven years after his Cannes award and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence completes the trilogy.

Andersson’s work is so completely different from anything that directors in Sweden are producing today that he is comfortably in a class of his own. His feature films follow the same visual style since 1991 with his film entitled Härlig är Jorden , "World of Glory", a cynical slice of Stockholm life, a series of handcrafted vignettes with carefully composed mis en scène and artfully arranged slices of life. The scenes are filmed in medium or long shots, with no close-ups, and virtually no camera movement. The color of the interiors - Swedish apartments, offices or pubs recreated in Andersson’s Studio 24 in Stockholm is always “nausea green”, a little like the green tint in "Soylent Green" from the 1970s.  

There is a frosty chill to these interiors with a decadent fuzzy color stock superimposed on decrepit and deteriorating facades. These interiors could be filmed anywhere in Europe and they often look like East Berlin before the wall came down but they are made in Stockholm.

Today Stockholm is one of Europe’s most elegant and beautiful cities, but in the suburbs of Roy Andersson’s concern, time stands still with ugly brownstones and high rises from the 1960’s. Most of the inhabitants have sparsely furnished dwellings. They are sub-basic and on the verge of spiritual decline as far as utility. The interiors most certainly seem to match the mentality of the characters.

The idea of a series of side-by-side visual vignettes evolved out of Roy Andersson’s career as a commercial filmmaker. His three latest films represent a personal artistic renaissance after years of making commercials and a return to features.

 The archetypal Swede is the central character in an Andersson film,  sometimes referred to as a  “zombie”, an unattractive stereotypical label awarded because of lulls in conversation, sparse functional language, a shyness for helping others and showing compassion when someone has misfortune, and a general lack of warmth and emotion. There is also a ritualized reverence to protocol and a generational and dutiful transmission of the moral codes of the culture. Andersson’s commercials are often good-natured digs at the conventions of Swedish society.

Andersson’s Sweden is reminiscent of the late cold war or an impending catastrophe. A static group pose is present in almost every Andersson vignette:  people standing in line for a bus, sitting in a bar or waiting for an elevator. No one small talks with their neighbor because they don’t really know them even if they have seen each other for years.  These generic qualities have perhaps given Andersson the distinction of making universal films with universal themes. But his films rightly so are particularly Swedish. More than anything there is a sense of impending doom which makes Roy Andersson a unique and cathartic art house director. His latest edition

"A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" was inspired by a Bruegel painting with a birds eye view entitled "Winter Landscape with Skaters and a Birdtrap".

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/10/14
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

'Force Majeure' at Cannes

By Moira Sullivan

The Swedish Entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar is FORCE MAJEURE by Ruben Östlund. It was part of the Official Selection of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize Winner during Pablo Trapero’s reign as Jury President for this division.

Swedes love to travel to the French Alps and this typically Swedish family takes time out for such a winter holiday. They are first snapped by a professional photographer on the slopes and look like the ideal family with father, mother and two children. The holiday, however, seems uneventful and routine, almost sterile in the depiction of traveling up the alps by ski lift and down by skis, retiring to the hotel room and piling in the bathroom with the family brushing their teeth together. Only the hotel cleaner knows that something is amok with this family who wind up spending time outside the room and eventually have a major family crisis.

It is customary at ski resorts to blast the snow to bring on fresh powder in the form of controlled avalanches. This happens when the family is lunching out of doors and a very real avalanche approaches the family and other diners. In that moment Pappa Tomas runs away from his wife Ebba and children to save himself. Ebba is alarmed by this and starts to reevaluate their marriage. At first Tomas brushed it off but eventually he started to get in touch with his desertion and in every way starts has a major guilt attack because of his deficiencies. Everything is turned upside down when the avalanche descends upon this family.

Östlund populates his film with minor characters who symbolize the imperfection in relationshsips: a married Swedish woman who picks up young men in the alps and a 40-year old man friend who has a young girlfriend that reminds him of why his wife left him.

Ruben Östlund is one of the most successful directors in Sweden with several interesting films in his repertoire such as THE GUITAR MONGOLOID, which won the FIPRESCI Award at Moscow in 2005. The Swedish director took his film INVOLUNTARY to Cannes and Un Certain Regard 2008. And he won the Golden Bear in Berlin for INCIDENT IN A BANK, a short film-. His third feature film PLAY (2011) was part of the Cannes Director’s Fortnight where he won the ‘Coup de Coeur’ Prize.

FORCE MAJEURE is Östlund's fourth feature film and illustrates a detached yet insensitive focus on a family on the rocks, a narrative that disrupts the notion of the idyllic family holiday on a charter trip with a close introspection into their fragility. It is a sober portrait of a family man who turns out to not be as wholesome and devoted as he thought.

© 2015 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 5/28/14
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cannes Film Festival Report 2

Nicole Kidman plays 'Grace of Monaco'
The 2014 Palme d'Or went to "Winter Sleep" by Nuri Bilge Ceylan on May 24. Ceylan is a veteran who has received other runner up prizes. The universal appeal of "Winter Storm" with many philosophical comments about life spoke to the jury headed by Jane Campion. The presenters of the top award, Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman, were in Cannes for the "Cinema de La Plage" (cinema on the beach) screening of "Pulp Fiction". "Pulp Fiction" was a milestone in film history, but the night belonged to Ceylan whose film is a 210 minute morality tale about a former actor who runs a hotel in remote Anatolia. As winter approaches, he is alone with his young wife and her sister going through a divorce. The cold weather makes the hotel not only a shelter but a site where the three must confront their feelings.

There were critics who would have preferred that the Palme d’Or went to Xavier Dolan from Canada who seemed likely to become the youngest Palme d'Or recipient at age 25. Had he won with his latest film "Mommy", he would have beat Steven Soderbergh's record for being the youngest recipient to win this top award. At age 26 Soderberg won the Palme d'Or for "Sex, Lies and Videotapes"(1989). His candid portrait changed the way that films were made by demonstrating that you could make a film with a low budget and realistic dialogue of high quality. The same is now being said about "Mommy" and its innovative film language. Dolan saluted Jane Campion when accepting his award: "You have written magnificent roles for women, with a soul, neither victims nor objects", and he hopes in turn to create open female characters.

"Mommy", like the films of Jean Luc Godard, has broken ground, and ironically Dolan shared the jury prize with the French New Wave director with the daring hand held camera and jump cuts. Godard's film "Adieu au Langage" (Goodbye to Language) in the official competition uses partially colorized scenes and fragmentation in a rather well shaped non-linear narrative. Godard seems to be keeping up with innovation, and recently announced that he was working on colorizing "Breathless" (1960), his first feature made when he was 30, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.

Dolan's "Mommy" represents a paradigm shift for cinematic language. Defying established aspect ratios, Dolan and his DOP (director of photography) André Turpin used a perfectly square 1.1 scope instead of today's widescreen formats. "Mommy" shot on 35mm explores futuristic Canada with new mental-health laws in this film about a mother with a violent son.

Olivier Dahan took a beating with his opening film "Grace of Monaco". The film takes place at the time when Grace Kelly was thinking of returning to Hollywood to star in Marnie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. At the time she was inundated with the responsibilities of being a monarch and her growing homesickness for America. Dahan’s film is a moving story of how France tried to take over Monaco in 1963 with the help of Prince Rainer’s sister. Through Grace Kelley's efforts in her work with the Red Cross, Charles De Gaulle was swayed to leave Monaco alone. The Royal Family of Monaco boycotted Cannes and issued a statement that it "was not a biopic". Nicole Kidman who plays Grace does an excellent job and issued a statement that she can understand that Prince Rainer’s and Grace Kelley’s children would have issues with a film about their mother. Dahan on his behalf said that the film that was finished was Harvey Weinstein’s idea who wanted a commercial film and that many of his artistic touches were taken out. Weinstein has announced that Grace of Monaco won’t open in the US.

Next week more from the Cannes Film Festival from Movie Magazine International. MMI was one of 4000 journalists at the Cannes Film Festival that was held May 15 to May24.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan 


© 2014 Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/21/14

Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

'Movie Magazine International' at Cannes

Jane Campion, President

Movie Magazine International will again be at the Cannes Film Festival, this time for the 67th festival held from May 14 to 25th with Jane Campion as Jury President. The festival started off with the debut of the out of competition film "Grace of Monaco" directed by Olivier Dahan and starring Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelley, and Tim Roth as Prince Rainier. The film will not be released at least for now in the US according to distributor Harvey Weinstein. The Royal Family of Monaco has boycotted the Cannes festival because of the film, which takes liberty with details about life of Grace Kelley. It is generally understood that Grace Kelley was ambivalent about her life as a princess in Monaco and was homesick for the US, and preferred speaking English as much as she could. Dahan claims that his film is not a biopic, but reality, and that the film is about cinema. Critics have blasted the film, not because of the controversy but because of the shallowness.

Dahan brought Marion Cotillard to fame with his film about Edith Piaf, but there was not a follow up for success with this film. The extraordinary makeover by Cotillard gave her an Academy Award. Many view Nicole Kidman as an established actress who often plays elegant characters, and so the role of Grace Kelley did not require the ambition that Cotillard brought to the screen. The choice of the film at any rate puts women at the center, something Cannes receives just criticism for not doing.
There is also this year’s jury president Jane Campion, the only woman to win a Palme d’or in the history of the festival. Campion instructed her jury to not read any reviews of the films, which is good advice- there are two women in the official competition, the Italian filmmaker Alice Rorhwacher, who presented "The Wonders" starring Alba Rorhwacher and Monica Bellucci, and "Still the Water", by the Japanese director Naomi Kawase.

Jean Luc Godard is back at Cannes with a new film "Goodbye to Language" about a man, a woman and a dog. Other veteran directors include the Dardenne Bros from Belgium with "Two Days One Night", Atom Egoyan with "The Captives" from Canada, Ken Loach UK - "Jimmy’s Hal"l, David Cronenberg, Canada, "Map to the Stars", the young Canadian Xavier Dolan, "Mommy", Mike Leigh UK "Mr Turner", Olivier Assayas from France, "Clouds of Sils Maria" and Nuri Bilge Ceylan with "Winter Sleep" from Turkey. Tommy Lee Jones is at Cannes this year with "The Homesman".

There are also several sidebars to official competition:

Cinema Foundation selections, Un Certain Regard, Cinema Acid, Cannes Classics, which presents spaghetti Westerns International Critics Week, a selection of short films vying for the Camera d’or and the Queer Palm competition.

Next week more from the Cannes film Festival.

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/14/14
Movie Magazine International

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Young and Beautiful and Formulaic

By Moira Sullivan
*Spoiler Alert*

Debuting at the Cannes film festival last year in the official competition was Young and Beautiful, in French young and pretty (Jeune et Jolie) a typically French film involving lots of sex with a beautiful woman. It displays the kind of homework that Lars von trier could have done for his film Nymphomaniac Volume 1 and Volume 2. This time it is Francois Ozon who missed some classes on his subject. His tabloid film form of four seasons and four songs does not succeed in imbuing the film with any notable quality. It is the film where every scene is filled with the beautiful face of his lead actress 24 year old Marine Vacth. As such it is a role that will bring her forward in her career and even like Catherine Deneuve who transcended playing the beautiful prostitute from home, and not from the street, (Belle de Jour, France 1967) it will be the cornerstone of Vacth's by which all subsequent films will be judged.

The 17 year Isabelle has sex for the first time on the beach with a young German. From all indications it is not a wonderful experience, perhaps for him but certainly not for her. She had been looking forward to this and as it turns out it is not only uncomfortable and unpleasurable but purely mechanical. This is perhaps the most realistic part of the film. From there, by chance, while her family is watching TV she sees an ad for an escort service online. She makes a profile and begins receiving clients. All of the experiences are like her first one: unsatisfying and mechanical. Her clients pay her for the sex and shortchange her if they aren’t satisfied along with calling her names and putting her down. 

She meets Georges (Johan Leysen) an older man who turns out to be the most sensitive of them all. After several encounters, while having sex he dies of a heart attack. She is discovered leaving the hotel by the surveillance cameras and tracked to her home. Her mother and stepfather find out. They don’t have the most ideal marriage since the mother is cheating on her partner and Isabelle discovers this. Isabelle is sent to the worst kind of psychiatrist who looks a little like the man who dies from a heart attack. Throughout the film are four old sappy love songs sung by women that convey the myth of love with the right guy. Isabelle tries to have a normal life after the police discover her with a regular guy but she has become addicted to the causal anonymous and ungratifying sex with high pay. She has learned to be flirtatious and get attention and power from men. She later meets the kind of guy her parents would approve of and the sex she has with him is not shown. Only the sensational illicit love with strangers is photographed in the film. Because of this preoccupation, the sex becomes gratuitous and sensationalized and it is hard to see the necessity in making a story about Isabelle. This kind of film has been made over and over in France and it is not unusual that it winds up in the official selection at Cannes by a veteran filmmaker, since it is a viable commercial product for the French market.

Charlotte Rambling is also a stable commodity in the French cinema market and has appeared in other films made by Ozon. In Young and Beautiful she plays Alice,the wife of the client with the heart attack who seeks out Isabelle to be in the same room as her husband and pays for sex that she presumably never has.

The cinematography of the film is high quality by Pascal Marti (Paris je t’aime) but we must remember that most of the film is about Isabelle and her clients. Attempts are made to understand Isabelle’s social background but the premise of the film is, that you can always fall in love and live happily ever after, but the danger and excitement of prostitution is held in higher regard. It seems impossible for Isabelle to ‘reform’ nor is it presented as desirable.

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/07/14
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Nymph (O) maniac Volume 2 = (0)

By Moira Sullivan
Lars von Trier: rebel without a cause

I reported on Nymph (O) maniac Volume 1 by Lars Von Trier last week and will now review 'Volume 2' of this project by the Danish director who has brought talented actors such as Stellan Skarsgard, Uma Thurman, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jamie Bell to the table. The second part of the film opens this weekend at the Landmark Theaters in San Francisco.

To be in a von Trier film has its rewards and virtues. It is usually a fast lane to Cannes, and to international attention in the film market.What you should know about both volumes is that von Trier doesn't really know what a nymphomaniac is. As Seligman (Skarsgård), says to Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), "you’ve had sex with hundreds of men - why would one more make a difference" as he attempts to force himself on her. Joe is a woman making a confession of her deeds through the years to this supposedly insightful and sympathetic man. The entire time we are made to believe that there is an engaging relationship with the two only to find out that Seligman’s motives are dishonest and abusive. Joe’s introspection is told through the years to us, just as Seligman, and in the end von Trier doesn’t care  if we understand it or not. To understand or misunderstand is the provocation; von Trier makes sure that all illusions are smashed, like a clapboard wrapping up a scene.

von Trier’s film is the construction of a character who has had sex with hundreds of men and is labeled a nymphomaniac. The director bragged about making this film in Cannes when he brought ‘Melancholia ‘to the festival and as he said, "there will be lots of sex", clearly thrilled with his originality.

Women who have repetitive meaningless sex often reveal that they were incest survivors. The case can be made that Joe is one too. She has a strangely close relationship with her father, played by Christian Slater, who dies when she is a teenager.  There are frequent shots of them in the forest away from  town. Her mother despises her for some reason, and it can be claimed because of the affection they have for one another.

von Trier uses sex as a choreographic act, a tactile pageant that commands attention. He throws in Jamie Bell who sadistically assaults Joe, with her permission, as it is her fault, her 'sins', bearing the sins of her father(s) (Slater and von Trier). Along with the other tortured women of his films, such as Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, Bjork in Dancing in the Dark, Nicole Kidman in Dogville, and Gainsbourg in Antichrist, Gainsbourgh serves the same function.  She has the job of becoming as malleable as a piece of clay for the purposes of von Trier putting his imprint on her. She functions as a canvas, with dull dialogue that is as uninventive as it is unrevealing - a woman who is positioned by the director into as many sexual encounters as possible. 

Nymphomania is a designation used to describe women, but in this film Gainsbourgh’s character is subjected to countless assaults by the director, rather than the characters she interacts with. The men are equally used in this staging of sexual abuse as is the spectator.  

Lars von Trier added von to his name in his 20s, which is a designation of nobility. No matter how many additions he makes to his name , he can only claim one success in this films: his choice of actors or crew, in this case the cinematographer, the Chilean Manuel Alberto Claro, who otherwise would have created a rich and lustrous tapestry, had there been an entirely different story. To call Lars von Trier a 'provocateur' is unwarranted in the absence of any meaningful cause for him to champion. 

© 2013 - Your Name - Air Date: MM/DD/YY
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

On My Way

By Moira Sullivan
For the past several years, Catherine Deceive has not chosen films where she can be a diva; she is an actress that is interested in doing good work. That doesn’t bar others from others seeing her as a cult goddess. She made her career in early films such as Belle Du Jour in which she plays a high-class prostitute who in actuality is a bored housewife. Films like this brought her to fame, but in later years she began to play  women who were realistic.

There is a mystique around Denueve and in part she has contributed to it but in her latest films she lets her hair down and takes on roles that don’t always put her in her best light. Her latest film is On My Way  directed by Emmanuelle Bercot (scriptwriter for jury prize winner at Cannes Polisse, France 2011).  Deneuve provides a personal touch. She plays Bettie, a former beauty queen (Miss Brittany) who soon after winning is in a car accident of major consequences. She then decides against running for Miss France.

Years later, Bettie is in her mid 60s and runs a restaurant.  One day after years of routine and a failed marriage, she loses it and takes a road trip to get her life together or at least get away from the old one. At the end of the line is the beauty pageant reunion of winners like her from other provinces in France.  A random series of encounters brings her to a bar hosting a dart contest, having a rolled cigarette with an old man and a one-night stand with a young man in a bar. In the end she decides to babysit  her grandson to help our her estranged daughter and they make their way to the beauty pageant reunion in a plush hotel.  Deneuve pulls all of these encounters off admirably and as Bettie we are able to see here once again  in a new role that confirms her versatility and talent.

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 04/02/14
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Von Trier's NYMPHOMANIAC (misnomer) - Volume 1

By Moira Sullivan
Renaissance style photo used to promote 'Nymphomaniac at Cannes 2011.

The press conference with Lars von Trier after the screening of his 'in competition' film Melancholia at the 2011 Cannes gave insights into the workings of his mind. There had been a lot of discussion about the comments that led him to being banned from the festival that year, bungling comments in bad humor that came across as anti-semitic, and it was obvious to all that the Danish director has poor people skills. Claiming his next project would be a porn film with Kirsten Dunst (who immediately said no) and Charlotte Gainsbourg, the two actresses in Melancholia smiled nervously and laughed away the alleged film that von Trier was planning. That film is now out in limited release, Nymphomaniac, Volume 1.

The claim that von Trier writes “great parts for women” is not altogether true unless you applaud him for writing parts for tortured women. One of von Trier’s early student films is about an old man who preys on young women.  Charlotte Gainsbourg plays a woman who is burned at a stake for being a women’s studies professor in Antichrist (2009) and  Emily Watson allows herself to be sexually used by men at her husband’s suggestion in Breaking the Waves (1996). Actually, women don’t seem to hang around von Trier for long, great parts or not. He doesn’t have a stable of regular actresses like Ingmar Bergman or Woody Allen. Where is Emily Watson today? Björk, who was in Dancer in the Dark (2000), refused to speak to him after the film was finished and screened at Cannes, and although he begged Nicole Kidman at another Cannes press conference to be in a sequel to Dogville (2003) as part of a ' trilogy' (as yet unfinished), she has yet to return.  There is one actress that is breaking that cycle, Charlotte Gainsbourg. who won the best actress award in Cannes for Antichrist. The message could not be clearer:  if you suffer as a woman to the point of a physical meltdown, this is called 'art' and you win a prize at Cannes. Gainsbourg said of her role in Melancholia, “we are not women, we are Lars”, a truly insightful revelation.

In Nymphomaniac Volume 1 (the volume part suggests a distribution plan for cutting an epic length film) , the film that came off as a joke at the Melancholia press conference, is the story of a 'nymphomaniac': the young Joe ( Stacey Martin ) and the older Joe (Gainbourg) whose first sexual encounters are with a playmate in her bathroom and later a young man working on a motorcycle (Shia Leboeuf) who later becomes her employer. There are plenty of such encounters for the next two hours and von Trier seems to get a pubertal kick out of staging one raw sex scene after another within his sophisticated 'mis en scéne'.  

The film’s conceit is that it purports to be an 'intellectual treatise' about the rampant sex.  Borrowing from Quentin Tarantino’s style of writing numbers on squares over the screen space is a scene with a car parking in a space that is too small, which is (over) explained mathematically. Joe competes with a young girl to have sex on a train with strangers, and has a system of numbers for rejecting suitors by casting dice. This includes the married man of 'Mrs H' (a Danish sounding Uma Thurman), who comes to Joe's apartment to confront her with their three sons after her husband decides to abandon them.

Cinema's contribution to the arts is its mobile visual language, and here von Trier sets the clock back. Other numeric elements include a nonsensical use of the Fibonacci sequence and the approximation of the golden spiral. Split screens are used to juxtapose the young nymphomaniac and a leopard (adolescent symbolism of raw sexuality), and comparisons are made with fly fishing and feathered bait (the same), further vulgarities of cinematic language.  Joe is prey for the Danish director and he has cast out his line to catch her in moments of rapture which is just dull, mechanical sex. For anyone who finds this erotic, the joke is on you. The young girl's father (Christian Slater) is a physician who loves the trees of the forest and walking alone with her in them, and she loves her father and then there is that aloof and distant mother who really doesn't love her father like Joe does, a scenario that often suggests incest. The superficiality of the script and the visual language is transparent, and far from translucent.

Charlotte Gainsbourg as the older Joe is seen in the beginning of the film lying on the ground in an apartment complex. She has been beaten up and is discovered by her neighbor (Stellan Skarsgård) who takes her home and listens attentively to her life story, as we also try to make sense of it. This is a setup as we will learn in Volume 2.

The cinematography and art design of the film apart from mechanical shots of mechanical sex is brilliant,  set for the most part in the 1990s with huge cell phones. The soundtrack is the almost comic "Waltz 2 "by Shostakovich used contrapuntally in Stanley Kubrik’s failed erotic saga ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. Here you can almost hear von Trier chuckling over an obvious rib at the late filmmaker and Nicole Kidman, for  the Dane's film is a hit and miss that is equally unsuccessful. It is a mystery how such a stylish film has such a banal story. Had he something to say instead of throwing numbers at the screen to intellectualize subject he is not able to comprehend, it could have been one of von Trier’s best visual films.

We never know who beat up Gainsbourgh’s Joe in V1 but her constant lament that it was her fault and that she has sinned,  a failure that seems more of a mea culpa for Lars. After all, Joe is not a woman, she is Lars, as Gainsbourg explained about von Trier's mutilated women when Nymphomaniac was a loose fantasy in the mind of this director.

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 03/19/14
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Girls In The Band - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

For music lovers who don’t know any better, girl bands tend to be a supplement to a study of the real bands, conducted and staffed by men.  “The Girls In The Band” is an illuminating film about real bands conducted and staffed by women.  Once upon a time, Ina Ray Hutton was one of those band leaders.  She was not a musician but she knew how to assemble and organize a good band, and she could dance, which added to her group’s appeal.

During the forties, when many male musicians were serving in the military overseas, great girl bands were welcomed and appreciated onstage.  Offstage, they faced the same problems as the men, suspicion and all the assorted pitfalls of one night engagements.  Some chose to remain on their touring buses when they weren’t performing: it was easier than dealing with racial bigotry, and endless hassles with hotels and restaurants.  After the war, a number of gifted female musicians chose to leave their bands and move into teaching.  The women didn’t disappear into the shadows and often returned as much honored living legends. 

Remember that “Great Day In Harlem” photograph capturing so many jazz greats of 1960 - and two women?  In 2000, another picture was taken of an all women jazz gathering.  See “The Girls In The Band”: It’s a treasure and the music is wonderful.  “The Girls In The Band opens this week at The Opera Plaza in San Francisco, The Rafael Film Center in San Rafael and the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland. 

© 2014 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 01/15/14
Movie Magazine International

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Slipper And The Rose - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

Not too many people know about "The Slipper and the Rose" and that's a shame.  To be sure, there's a surfeit of "Cinderella" movies on video shelves competing for our attention, but this version has always been among my favorites.  It was originally released at 146m., an uncomfortable length for children, and reissued in 1980 at 127m.  The late 1970's were not a particularly receptive time for musicals, unless they reinvented the genre, like "Saturday Night Fever", "Grease", "Rock'n'Roll High School", "All That Jazz", "The Blues Brothers" or "Fame."  "The Slipper and the Rose" was definitely a musical out of its time.

There's much to appreciate in Bryan Forbes' valentine to the classic fairy tale, though.  For one thing, there's Richard Chamberlain as Prince Edward.  Then in the swashbuckling phase of his long career, Chamberlain is clearly having a rattling good time in the role of a prince charming.  Cinderella herself (Gemma Craven) is lovely, if a bit subdued, but the best British character actors in the business keep things moving along with energy to spare.  Annette Crosbie, often cast as British Queens, is the Fairy Godmother, trying to bring a bit of fun into Cinderella's grim life with her mean Stepmother (Margaret Lockwood in her swan song) and nasty stepsisters Palatine (Sherri Hewson) and Isabella (Rosalind Ayres).  The King (Michael Hordern) is eager to find a bride for Edward and suggests that he make his selection at the Grand Ball.  Edward doesn't much like the idea ("It's like being a judge at a cattle show"), but reluctantly submits to the event where he expects to be bored out of his mind.  And bored he is until Cinderella makes her entrance.  We all know the drill after that.

The Sherman Brothers, clearly influenced by Gilbert and Sullivan, composed a score of new songs designed to set the tone & advance the plot.  So we hear Chamberlain singing "Why Can't I Be Two People?" and Craven doing a duet ("Suddenly It Happens") with Crosbie.  The closest thing to a patter song is the "Protocoligorically Correct" number the King does with Lord Chamberlain Kenneth More, General Peter Graves and the Palace Ministers.  It's all great fun to watch (the costumes by Julie Harris are stunning) and listen to: a soundtrack album was even issued.  At another point in movie history, "The Slipper and the Rose" might have been appreciated on its own terms.  If you catch it on late night cable or DVD, it still can be.

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