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Director Fatih Akin has poured his heart and soul into THE CUT, a film that has the kind of scope not often seen in films this delicate.

Tahar Rahim, terrific in A PROPHET and THE PAST, plays Nazaret Manoogian, an Armenian blacksmith with a wife and twin daughters. It’s 1915, the first third of the bloody first World War and they live in Mardin, in the southeastern corner of Turkey. Nazaret is conscripted by the increasingly desperate Turks to do manual labor for the army. As the Ottoman Empire shudders in its death throes the Turks take their frustration and bigotry out on the Christian Armenians. Nazaret’s road gang is summarily executed by having their throats’ slit by the Turks but Nazaret is saved by one conscientious objector who merely pierces his neck.

The charade saves his life but leaves him unable to speak. To compound his woes he discovers that Mardin has been sacked and his wife murdered. He never learns the fate of his daughters.

Despising God and aimless he is saved by a Muslim soap-maker who takes him in alongside other refugees. After the war ends Nazaret joins a village showing of Charlie Chaplin‘s THE KID, where he is told by another former resident of Mardin that his daughters are still alive. Thus begins a quest to find them that takes him from Jordan to Cuba, to Florida, to Minnesota, to North Dakota.

Rahim carries the film on his often motionless, but never emotionless, face while Akin manages to keep the audience enthralled in this tale of animalistic cruelty and inhumanity which easily could have become repellant.

For all that I had hoped for a more cathartic ending then the one Akin is prepared to give and seems to admire from Chaplin, as he shows the final heart-rending, ultimately uplifting ending of THE KID. To spend so long with one man’s search, watching rape, stonings, and mass murder it would have been more like a movie and less like real life, to have had a more triumphant finale.
7.9/10

Much like the THE HUMAN STAIN and ELEGY, the Philip Roth adaptations that precede it, THE HUMBLING is a May/December romance that mixes powerful characters with a seriously creepy vibe.

Al Pacino plays Simon Axler, a famed actor who takes a header off of the stage and decides to retire. Not allowing him to go gently into that good night, or anywhere else for that matter, is his goddaughter, Perdeen, played by Greta Gerwig. She’s long idolized Simon and she takes it from mere admiration to sex, even though, as we’re repeatedly told, she’s a lesbian.

Like STAIN, where Nicole Kidman character, Faunia Farley, played the hyper-sexualized seductress talking so dirty that poor Anthony Hopkins‘s character, Coleman Silk, has to stand to and be a man, there’s more than a bit of “it’s not my fault” at play here.

Certainly there are some winning moments from director Barry Levinson and cast. A sequence where Simon has to take dog tranquilizers and is left nearly incomprehensible to Perdeen’s parents and his old friends, is quite funny.

But the movie is still quite creepy and that overshadows everything else.
7.5/10

Director Benoit Jacquot has made all kinds of films from 1995′s widely lauded A SINGLE GIRL (which was, for me, a tedious extended tracking shot) to 2012′s Versailles drama FAREWELL, MY QUEEN.

THREE HEARTS is an immensely watchable French potboiler with three excellent leads in Benoit Poelvoorde (also seen in Venice in THE PRICE OF FAME), Charlotte Gainsbourg (also here in the extended cut of NYMPHOMANIAC I and NYMPHOMANIAC II), and Chiara Mastroianni (also in THE PRICE OF FAME).

Poelvoorde plays Marc, a tax auditor who, stressed out, is pacing the streets of Lyon one night when he runs into Sylvie (Gainbourg). They have an immediate attraction towards one another but, instead of rashly acting out on it, they promise to meet in Paris the next Friday, at 6:00PM. Sylvie goes home to her long-suffering boyfriend and announces that she’s fallen in love with someone. The next week Sylvie makes the rendezvous but Marc suffers a minor heart attack and is late. Sylvie goes back to her boyfriend who announces that he’s been reassigned to America and he wants her to go with him, which she does.

A few months later Sylvie’s sister, Sophie (Mastroianni) seeks tax advice. Sylvie had run the books at their mother’s antique store but some irregularities were found. Marc offers to help Sophie and they strike up a romance that blossoms into a marriage and, later, a child. Though Marc is unaware that his new bride is the sister of his passionate one-night romantic encounter he clearly feels he had missed out on the love of his life and has settled, a fact not lost on the girls’ mothers, played by the stately Catherine Deneuve (who, incidentally, is Mastroianni’s real mother). Sophie and Sylvie, dearly beloved sisters, have no idea that one is married to the man that the other nearly left her boyfriend for.

Slowly, though, and this is where Jacquot has the most fun, Marc begins to suspect a possible connection between his wife and his near-fling. Certain phrases are used by both. Certain gestures. Most delicious is the spiral staircase in the girls’ mother’s home. The base has photos of their sisters when they were girls. Marc fears going up the staircase to see the age progression.

When Marc and Sylvie finally reconnect, on Skype of all things, they set in motion a series of events the Greeks would be proud of. Well, the French should be proud too.

8.1/10

The first stinker, out-and-out stinker at Venice is HUNGRY HEARTS about a new mother, played with creepy effectiveness by hot, new Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher. The young woman’s theories of impurities and her son’s faultlessness are symptoms of the mental illness that causes her to nearly starve her newborn baby to death. Hot young American actor Adam Driver plays her increasingly concerned husband, and both actors convincingly portray a couple fraying at the ends. You play the increasingly annoyed audience member.
4/10

Strong performances by Andrew Garfield and particularly Michael Shannon make Ramin Bahrani‘s 99 HOMES a real estate WALL STREET. After Rick Carver (Shannon) evicts Dennis Nash (Garfield), Nash’s son and his mother (Laura Dern) out of the house that has been in their family for years Nash strikes a Faustian bargain. He becomes Carver’s right-hand man, succumbing to the chance at easy money and the possibility of buying back his repossessed home.

Bahrani depicts this world of greed, of broken promises, and loss extremely well. But, as we all know, a change of heart must occur and Nash must be thoroughly motivated to do so. Thus, when Mom and his boy evince horror at his new profession and reject the McMansion he’s bought for them, over the evictee hotel they’ve been living in, it doesn’t wash. The final act of the film layers it on even thicker, which takes away from the very good film that came before it. 8.2/10

I’ll never give up on director David Gordon Green but MANGLEHORN definitely had me wanting to move back to my mother’s for a while. Al Pacino plays the titular character, a locksmith who has locked his heart away. He’s awful to everyone including his son played by Chris Messina and even the cute teller at the bank, played by Holly Hunter, who for reasons only screenwriter Paul Logan must know (cause Green doesn’t), thinks this bitter, distant old man is a real catch.

The straw that had me packing my bags and putting the kids in the station wagon was the carwreck/watermelon scene, followed closely by the message parlor scene, which features Harmony Korine. 5.8/10

Review: SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY

August 31st, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (Comments Off)

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is a silly, old-fashioned, sometimes cringe-inducing, endearing comedy from long-dormant director Peter Bogdanovich. It’s also surprisingly, though infrequently, extremely funny.

It’s surprising because those laughs come in the middle of the film after a lugubrious first 15 minutes, which seems like watching an old Catskill comedian running through his opening. We meet fabulously successful actress Izzy, played by Imogen Poots (still looking for the role that will fit her obvious talents), being interviewed by a journalist (Illeana Douglas). Izzy recounts her meteoric rise to fame, dishing some kiss-and-tell, and talks about old Hollywood stars (nostalgia, the tip-off of any older person). Judy, for her part, must secretly be peeing her pants with excitement because she is getting access and asking questions that no publicist in their right mind would ever allow their client to answer. Not even a Kardashian.

See, Izzy, before she became a fabulous actress, was a prostitute (inset rim-shot). Even with her heavy NewYaaak accent she must be particularly good at what she does because she has a judge (Austin Pendelton) so smitten he’s hired a gumshoe to tail her and a famous film director so enamored after one night with her he offers her $30,000 to leave her life of easy virtue.

The director is Arnold Albertson and he’s played by Owen Wilson. Arnold’s a serial philanderer whom you’d think would have other things to do. He’s directing his wife, Delta, played by Kathryn Hahn, in her return to Broadway and she’s bringing their kids along.

Arnold’s also managing a high strung lead actor, played by Rhys Ifans, whose taking the lead role in what sounds like a truly awful play, “A Grecian Evening,” written by a nebish screenwriter named Joshua (Will Forte). Joshua is dating the worst psychologist in the world, a foul-tempered, scolding woman named Jane (Jennifer Aniston), who sees both Izzy and her judge as clients, though neither of them knows this.

When Izzy decides she’s going to take her windfall and pursue her dream of acting it has her auditioning for “A Grecian Evening,” running lines against Delta as Arnold squirms in his seat. Hilarity ensues.

Actually, for several stretches, hilarity does ensue. Aniston hasn’t been this funny since the start of the Obama administration. Screwball spitfire delivery, a grandparent of sitcom patter, suits her. A rondelet at a local Italian restaurant, where all the principals are in attendance, has great comedic momentum as does a hotel sequence anchored with another great performance by Lucy Punch, as an Eastern Bloc prostitute.

But there are still a number of moments that stop the movie cold or least make its back seize up. Izzy’s accent would have made Jean Hagen‘s Lina Lamont from Singin’ in the Rain plug her ears. The appearance of Cybil Shepard and Richard Lewis, as Izzy’s parents, also seems like Bogdanovich calling in old favors, those he’s doing himself none by having them. Lewis is particularly painful to watch as he seems ill.

But, for all its cinematic lumbago there are enough laughs, that SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY strikes one as Bogdanovich’s wistful delivery of the kind of movie they don’t make anymore.

7.5/10

The Price of Glory (La Rancon de la Glorie) is based on the bizarre but true story that took place in the waning days of 1977, right after Charlie Chaplin had died. In this forgotten saga two men came up with the hare-brained idea to dig up his corpse and attempted to to ransom it back to his family. The two criminals here are Eddy, played by Benoit Poelvoorde, and Osman, played by Roschdy Zem. Neither Eddy nor Osamn are very good as kidnappers. Osman is a family man with a young daughter and a sick wife, which makes him desperate to figure out a way to cover her medical bills. Eddy is a seemingly dim bulb who comes up with the scheme.

The film is directed by Xavier Beauvois, who is best known for Of Gods and Men, which is a much more somber picture. But Beauvois has managed to make Price of Fame tender and sweet. It is however, also overly long at 114 minutes, isn’t terribly funny, for a film that bills itself as comedy, and it is absolutely drowning in an otherwise quite pleasant score by Michel Legrand. Scene after scenes has the score ladled over it and dripping down the sides. 7.2/10

TALES, directed by Rakshan Bani-Etemad and written by her and Farid Mostafavi is a compilation of personal stories of people struggling with the day-to-day travails of living life in Teheran, Iran. There are no jihadists or honor killings in the film but there are a lot of adulterers, druggies, and illiterates. This may come as a minor shock to others besides me but heroin and meth are talked about more here than I would have thought supportable.

Though some of the stories are compelling much of it makes you feel like you’re working the front desk at the Iranian Customer Complaint Bureau and these particular arcs in the film outstay their welcome. 6.7/10

BIRDMAN Review

August 27th, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (0 Comments)

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s ambitious, existential, stream-of-consciousness, comedy/farce BIRDMAN is an audacious gamble and a grand stage for actors, particularly for those who have never had a chance to show their serious chops on the big screen. (Any big actor who has fallen from grace should be ringing Inarritu’s agent this weekend for his next film.)

First and foremost among these is Michael Keaton. He plays Riggan Thomson, a movie actor who walked away from a successful superhero franchise entitled “Birdman” (any similarities between this film and the “Batman” character that Keaton assayed in the ’90s is purely coincidental. Purely.). In a full-throttle performance Keaton upends most of what we’ve ever thought of him and his toolkit as an actor. He doesn’t appear to be baring his soul, he appears to be working his ass off, using an arsenal of intellect and empathy to create a character from whole cloth. Where we’ve formerly seen humorous, improvisational riffing we can now see deep understanding, where we once saw responses to a situation we now see a man in character, where we once saw a jester, we now see a king.

But there is a wealth of opportunity in Inarritu‘s innovative, collaborative screenplay. A rich, funny take on the desperately hard act of creating art, a critique on current societal norms and our possibly bankrupt culture, and a fascinating character study, credit is shared with three others: Nicolas Giacobone (who co-wrote Inarritu’s last film, the searingly painful, beautiful BIUTIFUL), Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo, who also co-wrote BIUTIFUL). It must be noted that, were this a true super-hero film, the presence of more than two writers would likely be mocked.

Keaton’s Riggan is trying to mount a Broadway stage production of Raymond Carver‘s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” that he himself adapted, is directing and is starring in. When we meet Riggan the rehearsals are going so badly that he arranges for a stage light to fall on one of his actor’s heads to get the hack off the stage. But that’s just one of Riggan’s many problems. He may have impregnated his co-star, he’s in debt, he’s fighting addiction, and, worst of all, battling against the super-ego voice in his head that sounds a lot like the gravely voice of Birdman. And, in a classic example of sticking with “the devil you know,” his injured actor’s replacement, is the trained stage actor Mike, played with playful energy by the phenomenal Edward Norton. Mike both disrupts and improves the preview performances but has no respect whatsoever for Riggan, which, really, is what the former movie star craves most of all.

In the press conference for the film Inarritu stated that the inspiration for this entire enterprise was Phillipe Petit, the performance artist who walked a tightrope from one World Trade Center building to the other, documented in the film MAN ON WIRE. That can be seen in nearly every frame. Numerous scenes are gasp-inducingly long takes, with tracking shots in tight corridors that seem impossible, while these tightrope walkers are turning in the performances of their lives. Inarritu breaks this style up with short, shocking, visionary moments of Riggan imagining he truly has super-powers, that he sees a Wormwood like destruction of the world while his own personal Birdman flies behind his shoulder filling him the worst advice possible. You can almost see the pole bending and Inarritu steadying himself and his cast and crew several times in the film.

Also allowed to show a grittier and less oafish side, in a small but critical role, is
Zach Galifanakis, who plays Riggan’s producer. Galifanakis is comic relief but in a way that he’s never been before. He’s not aping another, nor swishing his way across the screen. He’s a scared, lifelong friend of Riggan’s whose career is on the line.

But every actor here is in top form. Naomi Watts and Emma Stone give possibly the performance of their lives and Andrea Riseborough continues to prove herself one of our most compelling actresses.

BIRDMAN is indeed a tight-wire act between the towers of creativity and acting and the film ends up on the other side with both hands high in the air in triumph.

9/10

Venice Primer – For Me, At Least

August 26th, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (0 Comments)

The first thing I was surprised to discover about the Venice Film Festival, old news to old pros, is that it doesn’t take place in Venice proper. So there is no taking gondolas from one venue to another, which is a very good thing. In the map below Venice is the island at the top and the Lido is highlighted in the oval.


The Lido is also the name for the long beach that faces the Adriatic Sea. If you’ve ever seen Luchino Visconti‘s DEATH IN VENICE then the Lido is the stretch of endless cabanas outside of Gustav von Aschenbach’s (Dirk Bogarde) magnificent hotel, where Aschenbach pines for a young Polish boy. Incidentally, the magnificent Grand Hotel des Bains, which had fallen into disrepair and had to be fixed up and reopened to be used by Visconti in 1971, was converted into condominiums which never sold and now is sadly boarded up. Not suffering the same, tragic fate as its neighbor to the south-west, The Hotel Excelsior.


Giants have stayed and strode at The Excelsior. It’s so venerated I believe there is a standing Venetian edict that the article “The” in “The Hotel Excelsior” has to be capitalized.

We had lunch there on the beach terrace, fighting off the jet-lag, and watched as the pickpocket pigeons waited on perches for anyone to become distracted so they could swoop in and steal food. Tim Roth; was there as well, he’s on the In Competition jury this year, and had to fend off not only the pigeons but the patrons who overcame their embarrassment to approach him for a photo. He politely declined (the man was in the middle of a conversation when they barged in). Nearby execs from Fox Searchlight planned out the BIRDMAN premiere.

Just up from The Hotel Excelsior is the center of the action on the Lido, the Palazzo del Cinema (below). It’s the equivalent of the Grand Theater Lumiere in Cannes. When we arrived the Palazzo del Cinema was still primping for her week in the world spotlight.


The poster this year is by artist Simone Massi and was inspired by the final shot of THE 400 BLOWS as director Francois Truffaut freezes on the forlorn? quizzical? rebellious? face of child actor Jean-Pierre Leaud, playing Truffaut’s alter ego, Antoine Doinel. Why a film from the French New Wave was chosen over something more…Italian, is a mystery to me.


In his third year of creating the poster for the festival Massi “imagines the boy surrounded by flying fish: an element of fantasy that mitigates the quizzical dimension of his gaze, as he prepares to plunge into the sea of life.”

Yeah, sure, okay.

Last week, reporters attending the Television Critics Association’s Summer Press Tour enjoyed a private screening of Fox’s “Gotham”. Based on the origin stories of a young James Gordon and a younger Harvey Bullock (played by Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue), “Gotham” is one of the most highly anticipated new shows on the fall schedule.

What the actors and series executive producer Bruno Heller probably were not anticipating was the reaction of some critics, that “Gotham’s” pilot is essentially a grim cop show missing the key element that makes this particular universe special: its headliner, Batman.

For the record, this writer disagrees with that assessment. Sure, the pilot isn’t perfect, but I found it to be true to the Batman universe and would confidently recommend it to fans of the Dark Knight. A full review of “Gotham” will post closer to its premiere at 8pm on Monday, September 22. In the meantime, I sat down with McKenzie and Logue at the Beverly Hilton earlier this week to find out what they thought about a few early and very vocal critical reactions to the pilot.

Spoiler alert — they were not amused.

IMDb: You two have fielded a lot of questions about how “Gotham” will work without a superhero.

Ben McKenzie: I’ll jump right in there, if you want.

Donal Logue: That’s absurd. Really? It’s uninteresting to see Gotham, Oswald Cobblepot, the development of all these people before they became villains? It seems like a tired kind of criticism.

McKenzie: It’s a strange criticism to me in the sense of, the people who are fans of Batman and the Batman world are incredibly passionate, and they’ve watched all of these different iterations of this universe, from the comic book 75 years ago, all the way through the Adam West TV show, through the movie versions which – how many different versions of that have there been? Three or four different auteurs taking on this mythology. And throughout all of that, when we take a side angle at this universe, your criticism is, “Well, there isn’t a Batman”? Well, you must love these other characters too, right?

And there is a Bruce. You see Bruce when he’s twelve. We’re not going to jump forward. We’re going to take this one day at a time, and show how this city descends into the anarchy that ultimately manifests the need for a Batman.

Logue: As a fan of Tolkien, although I know he wrote it in order – if, say, for instance, Lord of the Rings came out and someone said, “Would you be interested in seeing The Hobbit, to see what happened before that?” I’d say “Hell yes!”

McKenzie: That’s what’s beautiful about our origin story. It allows us to mine the familiarity of these characters, for an audience that is predisposed to understand what we’re talking about, in terms of the broad strokes of who these characters are. But we’re not beholden to any interpretation, because this is 20 to 30 years before they are who they’ll become.

IMDb: From my perspective, the cops are integral to this universe. There’s a huge political element to the world of Batman, with all the corruption within the police department. And then you have Carmine Falcone ruling the criminal underworld. All of these are elements, if you look at it, which would make a great procedural kind of show with an extra mythology layered in.

Logue: I thought they did an excellent job in the animated series.

IMDb: I did too.

Logue: In a weird way, this is a bit of an homage to that, presented to a wider audience in a different kind of format. But always, to true aficionados, even those things of what Jim and Harvey went through early on are deeply important. To me, [the critical reaction] seemed a bit kneejerk…when I saw it in print I thought, “Man, some 13 year old smart ass is writing that. ‘Nope. Pass!’”

IMDb: You also have to realize that a number of people said that about “Smallville” too.

Logue: What I like about some of this stuff, like with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, it is more difficult in some ways, in that you know that they exist but they can’t just walk into the room. That seems to handcuff them in a really hard way. But with us –

McKenzie: We show everybody. We can show Bruce, and Oswald, and Nygma — every single character, we have access to. The only character we don’t have access to is Batman, but that’s because we’re taking it 20 years before. Eventually he will become Batman, but at this point he’s a 12-year-old boy. You’ll see him struggling with all the issues, psychologically and otherwise, that will eventually compel him to put on the cowl… For people who aren’t familiar with David Mazouz’s work, he’s a great actor. And I think watching him process all of what he’s going through at such a seminal moment in his life, it’s just going to be riveting.

And the battle between Jim and Alfred over Bruce’s soul, the conflicting philosophies that they have – they’re both trying to steer Bruce down a path, but those paths differ – they’re trying to make Bruce not choose this path of vengeance and vigilantism. But they’re going to fail.

IMDb: Let’s take away all of those criticisms we talked about. What would you tell someone who is coming to this show, knowing what Gotham is, but otherwise coming in cold? Would you say “Gotham” is more like a procedural, or that it’s part of the Batman, comic book universe but without a superhero in it?

McKenzie: My answer that I would give to anyone on any show, even if I didn’t work on the show, is: “Watch the pilot. Just watch the pilot. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it.” It’s such an easy answer.

Logue: Look, this is a group of people who are so actively engaged in [this universe] that of course there’s going to be criticism. It’s amazing, the confidence with which people have opinions and dismiss it without having seen it! But to me, per some of earlier questions that we had, it’s the absurdity of, for example, how satisfying could Chinatown be if the rich guy gets away with murder at the end? Well, exceedingly.

McKenzie: And this idea has been around for a while! Back to Oedipus Rex!

Logue: …And so, yes, there’s a procedural element to it, which I really like, and I think the crimes are really interesting.

McKenzie: Because it is a little noirish, the crimes are odd and they’re not…it’s not like we have to go through eight different procedural points to discover this huge reveal of who it could possibly be. It’s more about how bizarre, twisted and crazy the world that we’re entering into is. … It’s fascinating and [the crimes] all give you a small window into how completely compromised every aspect of Gotham is, from the church to the police force, to the political powers that be. Everyone is on the take, and so weird crimes manifest in strange ways, and people behave in a bizarre manner because they’re without hope. And Jim’s the only hope there is.

IMDb: Also, in the end, none of these people are metahuman. They’re all just people doing crazy, heightened things.

McKenzie: Yes!

Logue: I’ve always loved the DC world because it’s rooted in, like, a Jungian-style human psychology where people take actual masks to match their shadow. I think that really bodes well for us, because it’s rooted in this visceral part of human nature. So when you’re talking about, “How can you do a show that explores the darker side of human nature, and how it behaves in an overly urban environment?” If you can’t see that there’s no limit to the storylines there, then I don’t know what to say.

It’s OK. Look, we’ll take whatever criticism comes our way, and we’ll even take it before someone’s actually tasted the meal, but that comes a little with this universe, I think.

Test Post

August 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Michelle Nelson in Toronto - (0 Comments)

This is a post for the Toronto Film Festival.




Before the Fest Starts — Academy Award-nominated composer Alexandre Desplat (pictured) has the enviable or un-enviable task of heading the In Competition jury for Venice. He will either butt heads or lock arms with various members of his eclectic jury including highly-skilled filmmaking artisans such as: