Godard 21's Cinephile journal

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Well, the Venice film festival is over.

Before the festival's closure, Kenneth Branagh unveiled his new film, The Magic Flute, which is based on Mozart's famous opera, only now set in the trenches of WWI. Apparently, this reinterpretation of Mozart's opera obtained some decent reviews, although some pointed out several flaws (oversuse of CG was one for a critic).

Today, the Venice festival gave out its awards. Surprisingly, the frontrunner The Queen did not win the golden lion, but a chinese independent film entitled "Still life" by director Jia Zhang-Ke won the award in a surprise. This film was the last film to enter the Venice festival and was rushed in as a surprise entry earlier last week, so the director must be very happy over his film's prize. The film revolves around the opposition of a small group of individuals to the Three Gorges Dam project.

Helen Mirren obtained the best actress award for The Queen as predicted. Peter Morgan, the film's writer, won the best screenplay award.

Surprisingly, Ben Affleck won the best actor award for his role as George Reeves in Hollywoodland. Having just seen the film, I am thoroughly confused by his win. Although I admit that it is Affleck's best performance in a considerable while, that is not really saying much. Personally, I did not think Affleck was the actor needed to do the role justice, nor did he have the acting ability to do so.

Veteran filmmaker Alain Resnais won best director for his film Private Fears in Public Places.

A Best Technical Contribution award went to Emmanuel Lubezki for Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, which has obtained some positive reviews (and features Michael Caine as a hippy, which is reason enough to see it).

Emanuele Crialese's film Golden Door, which was praised by critics and a Lion contender, was merely named the "revelation" of the festival and did not win any awards. Even though it did not win any awards, this film is supposedly one of the best in the festival and I personally can't wait to see it.

Well, that was the Venice film festival. I will move on to better things in the following weeks such as a summary of Toronto film festival highlights after its closure.

Although unrelated to the Venice film festival, earlier this week, the new host for the 2007 Academy awards was announced. After the succession of male hosts in the past three years, next year, Ellen DeGeneres will be hosting the Academy awards. A surprising, but quasi-interesting choice. We'll see how she does in March 2007 (unless they move the awards show earlier).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

David Lynch's Inland Empire and Bobby

Whilte there are a few films which are falling through the cracks in my Venice film festival coverage, I will address them later in a summary of the festival's highlights (and no, one of those highlights is not the appearance of Scarlett Johanson, although the news reporters seem to think it is).

Wednesday, David Lynch received a life time achievement award at the Venice festival. He thoroughly deserves it. Afterwards, he unveiled his new film "Inland Empire" starring Laura Dern and Jeremy Irons to a Venice audience. The film is approximately 180 minutes long (yikes!!). Suffice it to say, the film did not go over too well with some critics and the audience were left puzzled by the film's incomprehensibility. Apparently, the film includes a scene in which a family spontaneously possesses rabbit heads and go about their daily lives (I need to see that!!). Variety and Lee Marshall both panned the film and declared it devoid of meaning despite its ambiguous and confusing nature. They also both faulted the film for its use of digital video (Lynch, like other directors, recently decided to now film using DV) which they claim made for poor visuals and cinematography. However, George Macnab from the Guardian Unlimited appeared to enjoy it in his review and recommends that one view the film without struggling to grasp its precise meaning. All the reviews also commend Laura Dern's performance in the film and some do agree that the film does possess some positive notes. Although, the general opinion is negative, some calling the film an incoherent mess. One correspondent after the film's screening even asked Lynch if he was alright, you know, in the head. Others tried to coax him into an explanation (especially of the rabbit head scene), but Lynch, as always, refused to explain it. At the conference's beginning, Lynch even declared to a confused press that the film is meant to make perfect sense.

Then again, since when have Lynch films been coherent? Eraserhead surely was not, but there was meaning behind the film's ambiguous and strange nature. Like The Fountain, another film which I was eagerly awaiting to see has been plagued with negative criticism. Yet, I will still need to see the film to judge it properly and, since I am a Lynch fan (I may even be doing a film studies graduate proposal revolving around his films), I may end up liking it regardless of bad press. Oh well, at least, Satoshi Kon's Paprika was well received.

As for Emilio Estevez' Bobby, a historical/ fictional film about the assassination of Robert Kennedy has obtained some positive reviews, namely from Lee Marshall. However, I will need to scour the vast plains of cyberspace in order to find more critical appraisals of this film.

On a side note, the Toronto International film festival premieres tomorrow, but I will stick with Venice till its closing and then move on to the TIFF.

UPDATE: According to The Guardian, Aranofsky's The Fountain received a 10 minute standing ovation at its public screening despite the booing at the earlier press screening. Strange that only the Guardian has revealed this news tidbit and other news reporters have continued to emphasize the boos at the press screening. Boos and standing ovations??? Now, I don't know what to think of the film and my poor old head can not take anymore confusion.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Fountain's negative reception and other Venice news

Other receptions for films at the Venice film festival.

Ethan Hawke's The Hottest State starring Catalina Sandina Moreno is not doing very well critically at the festival. Reviewer Lee Marshall, however, likes it.

Alfonso Cuaron's science fiction film Children of Men about a dystopic world in which women are infertile(due to some mysterious cause) is receiving an overall positive response, although some critics consider the film flawed due to the cold performance of Clive Owen, misuse of Moore, and some misteps in terms of writing. However, many have praised the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki (The New World, Sleepy Hollow, ...) and Cuaron's direction which has raised the material, a P.D. James novel (of all things), above mediocrity.

However, the biggest surprise is the negative reception of Daren Aranofsky's ambitious science fiction film The Fountain, a film that I was eagerly awaiting. According to some sources, At the end of its premiere, the film received some boos from the audience because of its ambiguous and incomprehensible nature. However, it must be noted that several other sources have reported some applause at the film in addition to the "boos" and that several reports have over-emphasized the latter as in the reportage of the Marie Antoinette premiere at Cannes. The word "pretentious" has been thrown around in a virulent review from Variety. In response to the negative reception, the websites CHUD and cinemablend posted defenses of the film.

Right now, the film's response varies from mixed to a pretentious mess. The surprising part of this response is that many individuals have seen The Fountain at test screenings prior to the festival and have only written overtly positive comments about the film, some calling it one of the best films of 2006. The film has even been one of the most hyped films of the fall and yet this Venice response will probably disappoint the expectations of many, myself included.

At this point, there is not means of truly gauging the film's quality until more reviews come in (there has only been one written so far and it is by Variety). There is still the possibility that the film is good, but let's not delude ourselves yet. The early negative response to the film should not be dismissed yet.

UPDATE: A day has passed and a new negative review of Aranofky's The Fountain from the Hollywood Reporter came out as well as repeated news stories about the film being "roundly booed" at the festival. Other negative reviews came from Lee Marshall, although had positive comments about the film's score by Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet (who also wrote the great score for Requiem for a Dream). Although, in the Hollywood Reporter review, Ray Bennet implicitly aligns Aranofsky with terrorist suicide bombers in the first lines of his review:

"Early in "The Fountain," writer-director Darren Aronofsky's flatulent dissertation on the benefits of dying, someone says, "Death is the path to awe." Aw, shucks, isn't that what suicide bombers are led to believe?"

I find this comment overtly irrational and just bizarre (what is a side comment on terrorism doing in a review of a science fiction film?). Although, the line "Death is the path to awe" is not really an example of great writing and could be criticized in this regard, but this escapes Bennet. Despite Bennet's review, the film has a few defenders, but mostly from websites like AICN and Jo Blo's emporium (should I trust a review from someone referring to himself as Jo Blo?).

On the fanboy/fangirl side of The Fountain controversy, fanboys (and fangirls) are blindly invoking what I like to term the "2001 defense". Upon its release, Kubrick's 2001: a space Oddysey was initially panned critically, but is now regarded as one of the best science fiction films ever made, so it must logically follow that the boos directed at The Fountain are a sign of the audience's inability to understand the 'complex' film and thus soon enough The Fountain will receive the acclaim it deserves as did 2001.

I'll admit that I had high expectations for this film, but this argument strikes me as a case of extreme denial coming from the film's fanboys/fangirls. The film may just not be that good and they may soon have to accept it (it will probably crush their fanboy/girl hearts). Then again, festivals are occasionally notorious for overeacting towards certain films and harshly judging perfectly competent films. (The critical division over the Dancer in the Dark win at Cannes comes to mind as well as the disappointment at Polanski's win at the same festival for the Pianist).

In the end, I will still go see it (at least, the film's score promises to be interesting, if nothing else) and judge it for myself.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More Venice film festival reactions

First, I'd like to thank the filmgoers at the Venice film festival for booing Oliver Stone's World Trade Center (I hated the film) and giving it the reception it deserves. Karma does exist in the world of cinema. I will now be able to sleep a little easier (coming from an insomniac, that is not saying much).

In contrast, Spike Lee's documentary When the levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts was applauded by its Venice audience. I have actually seen this film and it is a very well constructed documentary which exposes the failings of the Bush government and FEMA in helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Stephen Frears' The Queen has received a very positive response and the reaction to Helen Mirren's performance as Queen Elizabeth II has been great. The film's director and cast even received a 15 minute standing ovation after the film which is usually a sign of quality (usually, although not always).

However, the film "A few days in September" featuring Juliette Binoche and John Turturro has received mixed to negative reviews and comments.

Veteran filmmaker Alain Resnais has received very good response from Venice critics for his film "Private Fears in Public Places," thereby proving that he has not lost his talent.

Paul Verhoeven's film Black Book, about the Dutch anti-nazi resistance, has, overall, obtained a positive response from critics, although one critic had minor complaints. Verhoeven usually directs horrible films like Showgirls, Starship Troopers and the excruciatingly painful Hollow man, so this very positive reaction to his Dutch film will no doubt help his career.

Satoshi Kon's unique animated film Paprika, the only animated film in competition for the Golden Lion, received a standing ovation after its premiere. Now, I can't wait to see it (more so than before.

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's Daratt (Dry Season) has also been well received at the festival.

I will update the blog with more information later.