Gorgeous, depressing, magnificent, infuriating. Love, lust, and something else that embraces and evades the two; what a show. Rachel Weisz is terrific.
The Hunger Games is one of the most commercially savvy literary franchises in history. Novelist Suzanne Collins hijacked the bonkers concept of the Japanese novel and film Battle Royale, in which a group of schoolchildren are rounded up and set at each other’s throats in a televised reality game, and yoked it to the story of a strong-willed, hardscrabble heroine whose lifelong experience struggling against poverty gives her an edge against more privileged opponents.
Shot mostly silent, in black and white, and with the squarish, Academy-ratio framing that predated widescreen cinematography, writer-director Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist is a Frenchman’s tribute to old-school Hollywood filmmaking. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, one of those silent-film actors who scoffed at the popularity of talking pictures until their careers hit the skids. Bérénice Bejo, who co-starred with Dujardin in Hazavanicius’s secret-agent comedy OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, is fangirl-turned-starlet Peppy Miller, who looks to George as a mentor. But George, a generation her senior, refuses to embrace the talkies and his career fades to black as Peppy becomes a marquee name in her own right. As you might imagine, this situation leads to professional jealousy, personal resentment and, eventually, redemption through the love of a good woman.
There’s an irony in the fact that, while Woody Allen’s latest movie explicitly rejects nostalgia, it’s also his comfiest throwback in years. Midnight in Paris feels exactly like the kind of modest picture Allen might have made back in the 1980s — a gently played, loosely extended lark that culminates in a prescription for life well lived.
Certified Copy, which opens on a lecture consigning the concept of originality in art to the Academy of the Overrated, is an awesomely playful intellectual romance (or is it a farce?) from the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. When I say playful, I mean confounding in the manner of Last Year at Marienbad, which basically dared viewers to say which competing, contradictory story threads represented real events in the film’s world. I mean bewildering in the style of Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, which had two different actresses playing a single character. And when I say that, what I really mean is that it’s a bracingly reflexive exercise that flouts basic rules of narrative cinema and manages to come out ahead of the game.
My review of Broken Embraces is online at FilmFreakCentral.net:
The box describes Broken Embraces as an “acclaimed tale of sex, secrets and cinema,” which makes me go, “Uh-oh.” Pedro Almodóvar reliably delivers heady blends of glamour, melodrama, and emotional turmoil, but such stuff still runs hot and cold from movie to movie. So although I liked his Bad Education, a film that was all about “sex, secrets and cinema,” the prospect of Almodóvar returning to the tortured-filmmaker well filled me with trepidation.
I first encountered Monika Treut when wandering the aisles of The Video Station, the great video-rental emporium in Boulder, Colorado, where her playful, enigmatic, and slightly unsettling lesbian art film Virgin Machine sported perhaps the most provocative box art in the entire German-language section. I liked Virgin Machine a lot. But then there are many things I liked a lot in 1989 that I’d be vaguely embarrassed by today. After I finished watching Ghosted, Treut’s newest film, I found myself digging out my decades-old VHS copy of Virgin Machine to try and square my memories of Treut’s earlier film with my experience of her latest. Virgin Machine still seemed weird and wonderful, and its star Ina Blum, first researching the idea of romantic love in Germany, then searching for her mother in the Oz of San Francisco, felt like she could be Treut’s Anna Karina, her face and form the text and subtext of so many shots early in the film, before Susie Bright (nee Sexpert) shows up and helps her learn to have fun exploring eroticism. Its black-and-white, borderline expressionist aesthetic aside, Virgin Machine feels a little like an early Godard film where the anti-capitalist screeds have replaced by cheerful pro-sex polemics.
My review of True Blood: The Complete First Season is online at FilmFreakCentral.net.
There’s something refreshing about True Blood, a show that approaches the idea of loving the undead with healthy helpings of humour, viscera, eroticism, and subtext. The tongue-in-cheek storytelling and routinely bloody tableaux aren’t especially remarkable, but True Blood is pretty packed with sex, even by HBO’s standards. Over the course of True Blood‘s first 12 episodes, we learn that Bon Temps, Louisiana, and environs are home to not just a handsome Civil War vampire but also a plucky telepathic waitress and a shapechanging bartender, as well as assorted “fangbangers” (humans with a thing for screwing vampires) and addicts in thrall to V juice, the street term underscoring the intoxicating, potency-enhancing effects vampires’ blood has on humans.