Wednesday, October 15, 2008

NYFF 3: Wrestling With Bashir

So each year I plan to give you an insanely detailed NYFF report and invariably I get sidetracked and only have time for quick roundups. Alas. Alack. Things get so BUSY in October. But since the festival wrapped a few days ago, I really ought to wrap it up myself.

Tulpan
(pictured left) tells the endearing visually satisfying tale of a sheep farmer with limited ambitions --no big changes or city life for him. He wants to stay in the inhospitable terrain of the Steppe and make his life there. The problem: you can't really make it on your own and his oversize ears spoil his wedding plans much to the dismay of his frustrated sister and brother-in-law. The ears in question aren't actually that big but you'd have a complex about them too if your would be fiancé (the title character) cited them as her reason for rejecting you. The film is full of memorable bits and scenes (live animal births, naturalistic acting, sandstorms) and it's a modest gem [This is Kazakhstan's Oscar submission] -B

Serbis
I'm not sure I really "got" this Philippine film from the prolific auteur Dante Mendoza which was the first Pinoy film in 25 years to compete @ Cannes. I'm guessing I'm missing allegory or subtext since I have next to no knowledge of Pinoy history or culture. But, like his earlier very similar film The Masseur, it's a semi-explicit tale focused on sexuality as commerce (the new film is set in a porn theater instead of a massage parlor), absent or dead fathers and dismal economic realities. It's not for everyone but it has its moments and Mendoza is definitely committed to staring these issues between the eyes. B-

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Hunger Trailer [*NSFW]

Hunger Artist Steve McQueen's (not the dear departed movie star) debut feature zeroes in on of Irish activist Bobby Sand's hunger strike. The film's depiction of prison hell is so harrowing it makes the second act of the current Blindness look like grade school recess... I'm exaggerating but this is harsh stuff. It's politics seem pointedly vague but the human horror of two unmoving forces (The Irish Republican Army and the British Parliament) and their collateral damage is well captured. Maybe it errs on the side of bravura filmmaking but it's riveting stuff. [The film will open on US screens in 2009] -B+/A-


Waltz With Bashir -Director Ari Folman has made a rather unique self-analysis documentary about his young days in the army during the Lebanon war and his difficulty, as an adult, of remembering the events. Some may quibble with the "documentary" label but that's what it this is though it falls squarely within the subgenre of the 'personal essay' as non-fiction filmmaking goes. Bashir starts strongly with a riveting dream sequence starring vicious dogs and there are return trips to sublime hallucinatory images like soldiers emerging naked from the water as a city burns. But something about it feels limited and even misguided -- a last minute dose of documentary footage seems especially self-defeating. The story is also so inwardly focused (Folman's navel: adequately studied!) that it doesn't always leave enough room for the audience. It'll have major fans but I'm not certain this is going to get an Animated Feature nomination with Oscar. [Opens December, 2008. It's hoping for both foreign film and animated Oscar consideration... the same track Persepolis tried to take last year for France] B-

Gomorra -This Italian feature took second place at Cannes and like Hunger, detailed above, it's tough stuff. It offers up a mosaic of the effects of organized crime on the lives of slum denizens. Gomorra doesn't always connect emotionally -- it's going for something like a bird's eye view of the situation, trying to take it all in -- but some sequences are duly tense and upsetting. It takes awhile to pull itself together but I'd call it a limited success upon reaching its grim summary. [Italy's Oscar submission. It will open in the US in spring 2009 --banking on a nomination, one presumes.] -B

The Wrestler tells the story of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler in his 50s who has long since passed his prime. Unfortunately it's the only life he's ever known. Mickey Rourke will earn a well deserved Oscar nomination for this major comeback (though astute moviegoers already noticed he still had "it" with that sly and expertly crafted "best in show" performance in Sin City). Not everything operates on Rourke's level here -- it can be predictable and a major plot element, his relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) has awkward moments, but it's one of the year's best films. Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) may finally get some Oscar credit too. We'll see. You'll be hearing about The Wrestler a lot. You'll be hearing about it so much, in fact, that I fear that December 19th release date will only harm it. You see, months of hype can sometimes raise epic-sized expectations and this is essentially an intimate character study. B+/A-

Best of the Fest
I didn't see all of the entries so take the following with that brick of sand in mind. My most frustrating omission was Cannes winner The Class but it screened while I was out of town [sniffle]
Pic -The Wrestler (runners up: A Christmas Tale which opens on US screens in November and Hunger, now slated for 2009)
Director -Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler. I wanted to say Arnaud Desplechin for A Christmas Tale just to surprise but the film is perhaps even messier than his oft-illuminating messiness can be whereas Aronofsky is so tightly focused that one must applaud. Speaking of tightly focused: Steve McQueen for Hunger. He isn't going to let one frame of that movie escape wounding capacity. The visual composition skills of Juan Campos (Afterschool) are admirable as some critics have mentioned but the film is limited.
Actress -Michelle Williams, Wendy & Lucy
Actor -Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler. I'm not sure if he can win the Oscar but boy will that nomination provoke smiles. (Runner up: Michael Fassbender, Hunger)

Supporting Actress -The women of A Christmas Tale: Catherine Deneuve & Emmanuelle Devos are feathers in any film's cap ...but you knew that already. Anne Consigni and Chiara Mastroianni are also intriguing. (Runners up: Kinga Preiss as Anna in Four Nights with Anna. She doesn't have much to work with given that she's but a target of voyeurism but it's a pleasing full sketch. Plus: Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler is dependably watchable. Bonus points: still looks great naked)
Supporting Actor -pass
Screenplay -Arnaud Desplechin & Emmanuel Bourdieu for A Christmas Tale
Costume Design -Deborah Hopper for Changeling
Cinematography
-Sean Bobbitt for Hunger


Too Much of a Good (?) Thing -NYFF could use a little more emotional range. They favor auteurs which is a given (and a blessing) but even when they go Hollywood (Changeling) they err on the side of the funereal and violent. Mix it up a little, fellas.
Switcheroo
-The programmers were insane to reject Rachel Getting Married (brief thoughts) and include Changeling (my review). Insane in the membrane!

27 comments:

Michael Parsons said...

Now my mouth is all wet to hear about Michelle Williams. Very interesting to see your take on Waltz with Bashir. It looks like the type of movie that feel important, but leaves you emotionally cold, even if you are visually stunned.

Heard many good things about Hunger too. Will have to check that out as well. Stelios from '300' who knew?

Anonymous said...

Funny how you thought Hathaway was better than Jolie. It's not Jolie's fault that her character was written that way. The funny thing is that most critics said Changeling was Jolie's best performance. Also you know that if Jolie had Hathaway's role in Rachel Getting Married, she would have blown Hathaway off the roof like in Girl Interrupted, Playing By Heart, or Gia.

NATHANIEL R said...

This happens every year though. Someone cries in a movie and people say it's their best work. ;)

This also happened with Brad Pitt in Babel and that wasn't anywhere close to his best work. Everybody's already forgotten that peopel said that was his best work in the early reviews

But if something is gunning for Oscars and the star cries... chances are someone somewhere will forget all about their other best work !

I'd rate Jolie's top five like so...

1. A Mighty Heart
2. Gia
3. Girl, Interrupted
4. Playing by Heart
5. Changeling

the order might change if you ask me on another day. i love her... so I'm always eager to see her in whatever.

Anonymous said...

It's nice of you to mention Kinga Preis - she's one of our best actresses and probably the only one who has so far managed not to take part in dull TV shows, soap operas and even duller romantic comedies that have taken over Polish cinema over the last few years. She's also great in Polish 2006 Oscar submission ("Komornik").

Howler
Howler

Anonymous said...

Re:nathaniel
But don't you think that if Jolie had Hathaway's role in RGM, then she would have blown away Hathaway, and nailed the performance? But I'm glad Jolie hasn't taken anymore dark characters, because I don't want her to be typecasted. I love her recent choices as mourning mothers/wives in A Mighty Heart and Changeling. Hopefully Atlas Shrugged starts soon. Jolie said in the November 2008 issue of W that a script was ready, and they are looking at various directors such as Clint Eastwood.

NATHANIEL R said...

anon --not really. I think Hathaway is terrific in the picture so I'm not sure what could be improved upon?

Very few actors have as much potent of screen charisma charisma as Angelina Jolie but plenty of people can act as well as she.

howler i was really impressed with her. She just has a few lines here and there in that picture but even from a distance it seems like she knows her character so to speak. good stuff.

Anonymous said...

OT, but I thought The Good Shepherd was very underrated: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=EEO3uwa62xo

If 40 minutes were cut, and the editing was fixed, then it would have been a really good film. But I still give it a 7/10.

NATHANIEL R said...

i never saw that one so i can't say a word about Jolie's performance therein. That was one of those December glut pics i opted to skip for lack of time and sudden non-presence Oscar wise.

Anonymous said...

i never saw that one so i can't say a word about Jolie's performance therein. That was one of those December glut pics i opted to skip for lack of time and sudden non-presence Oscar wise.
----------------------------
Zodiac didn;t have Oscar prescence but it was still a MASTERPIECE. Anyways, TGS was a good but very flawed filn. It's only problem is the editing. If they could have cut down about 40 minutes, then it wouldn't have seemed like you were watching for HOURS. Another problem was to edit the screentime for each character. Jolie's character was very underwritten, and only popped up to complain about the state of their marriage. Anyways, the highlights of the film for me were the very short supporting performances by Jolie and Tammy Blanchard.

Rob said...

"The funny thing is that most critics said Changeling was Jolie's best performance. Also you know that if Jolie had Hathaway's role in Rachel Getting Married, she would have blown Hathaway off the roof like in Girl Interrupted, Playing By Heart, or Gia."

Changeling actually probably IS Jolie's best performance -- though she's never been great before. The role is pure Oscar bait, but I don't think that diminishes the level of the performance.

That said, she wouldn't know what to do with the part of Kym in "Rachel Getting Married," and Hathaway is perfect in it, so it's kind of a stupid thing to say that Jolie would have "blown Hathaway off the roof" (and not just for awkwardly mixing your metaphors).

Anonymous said...

If you like Jolie, Nathaniel, you should watch "George Wallace" and "True Women". you might find her better in those than in Changeling

liuek

The Jack said...

By the way...

Nathaniel on Frost/Nixon in March: "Watch for abundant "OMG... FrankLangella IS RichardNixon" style reviews"

Todd McCarthy: "By these final scenes, Langella has all but disappeared so as to deliver Nixon himself"

I know it's off-topic, but I found it funny. It begins.

Simone said...

I'm glad you see that you thought so highly of 'Hunger' and Michael Fassbender. I saw it in Toronto during the film festival. I got my fingers crossed for it to receive at least several Oscar noms. We'll see. :-)

Anonymous said...

German Changeling Poster: http://www.worstpreviews.com/images/posters/changeling/changeling2_large.jpg

Anonymous said...

Changeling actually probably IS Jolie's best performance -- though she's never been great before. The role is pure Oscar bait, but I don't think that diminishes the level of the performance.
----------------------
Never been great before? She was great in Girl Interrupted, Gia, George Wallace, Playing By Heart, Foxfire, Hackers, The Fever, and A Mighty Heart. Unfortunatley these performances are overshadowed by her mindless action blockbusters.

Anonymous said...

If you like Jolie, Nathaniel, you should watch "George Wallace" and "True Women". you might find her better in those than in Changeling
----------------------------
Yeah, but those are very old TV Movies. So very few people have probably seen them. But the reviews I've read said she was great in them.

Anonymous said...

That said, she wouldn't know what to do with the part of Kym in "Rachel Getting Married," and Hathaway is perfect in it, so it's kind of a stupid thing to say that Jolie would have "blown Hathaway off the roof" (and not just for awkwardly mixing your metaphors).
--------------------
The role of Kym looks like it was inspired by Lisa in Girl Interrupted, but with more screentime.

Anonymous said...

OT: Sorry for turning this into a Jolie thread, but look at these adorable pics of Clint, his wife & daughter, and Jolie: http://www.usatoday.com/life/l081016_jolie_changeling/flash.htm?gid=734&aid=3528

CoCo said...

Turning this back in a different thread. I very happy for Anne Hathaway getting a little bit of buzz. Especially since for two years in a row she had to watch her castmates getting glory (although well-deserved) and I love the fact that it's not your obvious oscar-bait role. I really fell in love with Anne in her last scene of Brokeback Mountain

Kamikaze Camel said...

All these anonymous commenters is so confusing.

But, I would suggest to the Anonymous Jolie obsessive that just nobody (not even a professional fulltime actually-gets-paid movie critic) can see every single movie that is released and considering The Good Shepherd excited nobody of worth Nat was probably right to ignore it. And, as you say yourself, it's no masterpiece and is too long so you're not exactly making a good case for the movie. :P

And, just because a character is written a certain way, doesn't mean it needs to be performed that way. Sure, Eastwood may have quelled Jolie in that department, but if somebody thinks Hathaway was better than Jolie in a completely different movie then there's no point debating what she would've been like in said movie. She's not. So stick to comparing the two performances as they are (unless, of course, you haven't seen them, which is surely the case).

And, honestly, as good as Jolie is in Girl Interrupted there were plenty of other crazy characters before it that Kym could have been inspired by.

ANYWAY. I'm looking forward to The Wrestler (here's hoping it's a hit so Aronofsky can get his next few films up without trouble!) and Gomorrah. Hunger hardly sounds like a film to say "I'm looking forward to!" about, so I won't, but it sure has piqued by interest.

Waltz with Bashir was released here about a month ago. I decided to pass. I just wasn't that interested, especially considering the animation looks so crass.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it funny how different someone can see the same thing! I too saw The Wrestler,in Toronto, and I preferred Evan Rachel Wood to Marisa Tomei.

But, I'm a woman, and I know what it is like to have a father that wasn't there.

One critic called it scalding anger. I get that.

Sally Belle said...

Hathaway is more talented then Jolie. There...I said it.

Hathaway sings, dances, acts.

Just as a film actor, she is better then Jolie was at her age. She is arguably better then Jolie is now.

Jolie has a powerful persona and is, indeed, a more interesting and intriguing person. A real movie star...but, Hathaway is a triple threat. Period.

Anonymous said...

I want to see "The Wrestler" like now already. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

If we're pitting this as a simple A vs. B debate over talent, I'd take Angelina Jolie over Anne Hathaway any day of the week. Her filmography is stronger overall, and as it was mentioned already, Angelina's screen presence is downright incendiary, and few can really compare to it. I think there's more depth there with Jolie, and I've yet to be wowed by anything Anne Hathaway's done. That's why I'm anticipating "Rachel Getting Married" so much. This could really be her chance to quell her critics and raise her cred considerably with an against-type Oscar vehicle. The trailer's amazing to "RGM" BTW.

mrripley said...

how was one of your faves tomei in the wrestler.

nick plowman said...

Okay, I haven’t seen half of these – like most non-awesome (read: non NYC/Toronto hoppers) people – but I have seen ‘Hunger’ and ‘Gomorrah’ and found them both to be great.

I’ve also heard that ‘Hunger’ opens in limited release in the US on the 5th of December 08, which is great.

Anonymous said...

Changeling was drab boring, one dimensional character study with buckets of tears thrown in.. and Angelina's character grated on my nerves! .. RGM explores layers of character study and Anne was mindblowing.