In the kingdom of the blind the one eyed man is...the narrator. Danny Glover's eye-patch wearing sage leads us by the arm through Fernando Mereilles' arresting & stylish studio pic.
If you can buy into the high concept 'world gone blind' premise then there's much in the flick to enjoy, although Julianne Moore's immunity to the blindness virus is harder to swallow.
Mereilles confines most of the action to an isolation hospital with nameless characters who rapidly devolve into basic human archetypes according to their moral standpoints. It's especially satisfying to see Gael Garcia Bernal play a villain for a change.
The human degradation & coarse poiltics are brutally depicted, often shocking but exquisitely photographed by César Charlone. He sets up unforgiving tableau reminiscent of Lucian Freud's paintings in their 'warts & all', flesh & filth depiction. Special photgraphic processes are used throughout masterfully to induce blindness in us the viewing audience. This is supported by stellar sound editing work & a moving & original score by Marco Antônio Guimarães.
What could have been a generic B-movie disaster pic in the hands of a lesser director BLINDNESS is elevated to A status by Mereilles & his technical team & also an oustanding cast. Mereilles chose wisely character actors such as Ruffalo, Moore, Bernal, Glover whose impeccable performances are the true standouts of the film. Expect award nominations for at least Julianne Moore.
WALTZ WITH BASHIR
It's encouraging to see another adult oriented animated project in competition after last years' 'PERSEPOLIS'. Contrary to Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical memoir of being raised amid Middle Eastern conflict, it's an account Ari Folman's quest to remember what happened to him during his days in the Israeli army.
Folman has said he chose animation as his medium because he had no other option-it would have been just talking heads if in live action & there is little video footage of the Lebanon war from this period. Instead he illustrates the war-time experiences of his comrades as they relate their memories in voice-over. Stylistically the artwork is just as bold & graphic as Persepolis but more realistic, similar to Linklater's 'WAKING LIFE' or 'A SCANNER DARKLY' but not rotoscoped.
A talented team of artists evoke the surreal horror of war expertly & often poetically.
It's a moving & gripping account of one man's desire to understand how he came to be part of one of the worst massacres of the Israeli/Palestine conflict.
Folman plans to use animation for his next project-an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's 1971 sci-fi novel 'The Futurological Congress'.
Two hours spent in an Argentinian womens prison feels like a life sentence in Pablo Trapero's 'LEONERA'. A ballsy central performance from Martina Gusman sustains interest but the bleak tone is wearisome.
KUNG FU PANDA
Despite a plot as thin as rice paper 'Kung Fu Panda' still kicks ass! Dreamworks strings together several bravura action sequences interspersed with numerous comic moments to create a satisfying if shallow picture. Jack Black is miscast as a voice performer-his physical appearance seems to have won him the role & the Furious Five animal martial arts experts seem to exist purely for merchandising & toy potential. Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu & Seth Rogen are wasted in their roles. However Dustin Hoffman, Randall Duk Kim & James Hong are inspired casting & bring gravitas & originality to their characters. One can see how their vocal performances inspired the animators.
Technical achievements set new benchmark for Dreamworks Animation with luscious visuals, appealing character designs & a particularly stylish opening credit sequence produced in 2-D animation. Magnificently orchestrated action sequences dazzle with the 'prison escape' the most impressive & the dumpling duel' a comic highlight.
Dreamworks are expecting a massive hit with this & it should give Pixar's 'WALL-E' a run for its money this summer. (I predict a round 2 face-off come Xmas between KUNG FU PANDA toys & radio controlled Wall-E's!) The studio is hoping for another franchise property in PANDA but how they can squeeze another flick out of such a meagre premise is down to Hollywood's black belt script masters.
Highly watchable documentary of the rise & fall of arguably the greatest boxer of all time. Tyson addresses the camera with honesty & emotion, confiding in his offscreen confidante & director James Toback. A self confessed 'extreme personality' Tyson is entirely forthcoming on all aspects of his life & career. The pic is entirely subjective but fascinating to hear Tyson's version of events-we come to learn about the man behind the animal. He gives his version of controversial episodes such as the ear-biting & the rape conviction. Although denouncing Desiree Washington as 'that wretched swine of a woman' & admitting he 'took advantage of other women but not her' is weak justification & illicits little sympathy in the viewer. Laughs are found in his opinion of manager Don King & the film is most touching when Tyson laments the loss of his early mentor & guardian Cus D'Amato. This father figure managed to stabilise Tyson's personal volatility & instilled in him the ruthlessness & discipline to become 'a God in the ring' as Tyson aggrandizes. One wonders if D'Amato had lived longer whether Tyson's life would have proved so tumultuous.
A terrific documentary & a great sports film, this would have been a strong contender in the main Competition category.
A fat Danish man wakes up in his Bangkok apartment next to his Thai Bride, they getup, shower, make breakfast. He goes out to the shops. He comes back. They go away for the weekend to visit a temple. . . This black & white film starts off slowly & builds to a relentlessly slow pace. Half the audience I saw it with were exasperated & walked out! But they missed the 3rd act switch to colour & the surreal Blue Velvet like dénoument.
The slow pace is oddly engaging & even played for laughs in one scene lingering on an old lady with a walker for an interminable duration.
Tough going but intriguing, Thomas Clay's film is for arthouse movie fans & even then may struggle to find an audience with sufficient patience.
A contemporary mafia movie done the Italian way. Based on a best selling novel Matteo Garrone's multi-stranded mob pic switches between 4 young boys & two middle-aged men on the fringes of the mob & their resistance or attraction to the criminal life.
Based on the infamous Neapolitan Camorra families who exert a stranglehold on not only Italian interests but worldwide too-final subtitles reveal even the World Trade Center renovation has Camorra investment.
More an Italian 'Goodfellas' than 'The Godfather' it traces the mis/fortunes of the lower ranks-foot soldiers, money runners, teenage wannabes, crooked toxic waste disposal contractors.
The myriad strands & characters & their relationship to each other is often difficult to keep track of but fans of Roberto Saviano's source novel will no doubt get more out of it.
INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
After almost 20 years you would think they could come up with something better than quicksand, ants & waterfalls . . .and gophers! What's with the bloody gophers!
Sure these perilous obstacles (except the gophers) were staples of the classic serials that originally inspired the series. However even the pre-digital fx original films offered much more inventive cliffhangers & set-pieces. For all of Spielberg's insistence that digital fx were used sparingly SKULL plays more like a film in the MUMMY series with its nuclear explosion & ant-swarms, even those Indy influenced films restrained from using a stretchy rubber snake as a rope! Skull is a parody of the Indy series- & not even a good one. The jokes aren't funny, the new characters are under-developed, there's no suspense. They should have made this 10 years ago when everyone involved still had some fire in them. Apparently Lucas stubbornly insisted on the 'skull civilisation' macguffin & rejected all other scenarios. I would love to read Frank Darabont's draft on which he worked for a year & was reportedly a cracker. The story Lucas preferred is more like one of those lightweight supernatural Indy novellas that have been published in the intervening years.
Even with his considerable cinematic genius Spielberg couldn't save this-it's arguably his worst film. Towards the finale someone laments 'so much of human life is lost in waiting' with which after 19 years, 2 hours in a queue & 2 hours viewing I regretfully agree.
JOHNNY MAD DOG
After the turgid 4th Indy film creaking under the weight of it's overblown nonsensical script it was an utter relief to be blown away by Jean-Stephane Sauvaire's 'JOHNNY MAD DOG'. A 'platoon' of young soldier kids roam the Liberian countryside killing, raping & terrorizing villagers before besieging an un-named city. The brutality of their atrocities is outweighed by their apathy & callousness. Their adult general has brainwashed them to think of their guns as their parents & any sign of parental longing results in execution. They have been stripped of their childhoods & their humanity allowing them to act without empathy or guilt.
The camera-work is frenetic & intense, the soundtrack blisteringly loud, the young cast totally convincing. It will be hailed as this year's 'CITY OF GOD'.
I want a T-shirt that states I survived the marathon that is Steven Soderbergh's 'CHE'. Screened as a work in progress at Cannes the 4 hour 28 min. version we saw will ultimately play as two seperate movies- 'The Argentine' and 'The Guerilla'. The Cannes version was thankfully split in two by an intermission, dividing Che Guevara's life into two basic acts; the successful Cuban revolution & the failed Bolivian revolution. The film is meandering & could certainly be tightened significantly in the edit suite-it's more intimate than epic-probably due to budgetary restrictions. Throughout the sprawling narrative there are many moments of brilliance (Che addressing the UN) & Del Toro's performance is subdued but powerful. It will be interesting to see if Soderbergh takes the critical response constructively & fashions a new version-maybe a single film around the 3 hour mark-intercutting the colourful brilliance of the first half with the muted tones of the second Bolivian set section.
I hope this project doesn't suffer the same fate as Richard Kelly's 'Southland Tales' that screened in Cannes to derisive boos only to resurface a year later in a re-cut but just as poor version.
I love the films made from Kaufman's scripts thus far but didn't warm to 'Synecdoche'. Kaufman makes an auspicious debut as a director-it's visually inventive & he seems able to draw strong performances from his cast. However the characters aren't very sympathetic especially Seymour Hoffmann's naval gazing playwrite. The aging & 'multiple actor characters' soon becomes tiresome. The neurotic introspection is lightened on several occasions-notably Hoffman 'salivating' before chewing his food!
An incestuous relationship between a longlost brother & sister in a remote Hungarian river delta. Slow moving but enthralling-music & sound building the tension until the brutal climax. Director Kornel Mundruczo takes advantage of the stunning Danube backdrop & has stated it was this landscape that inspired the film.
The brother & sister build a house in the middle of the river as a refuge from their abusive family & the narrow minded villagers. A bumper harvest of fish encourages them to invite everyone to a party hoping to temper the villagers' prejudices but it turns into tragedy. The primordial setting & human passion is almost Biblical in tone with the lead actress' harrowing performance supporting the picture.
Odd Horten is about to retire from his job driving the high speed trains that cross the snow bound Norwegian countryside.
Picture follows his him on his first night of retirement where he inadvertently gets caught up in successive surreal encounters.
Gentle Norwegian humour plays like a nordic 'After Hours'. Odd is a passive but charming character. Early scenes aboard the train passing through tunnels & the white wilderness are visually arresting.